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Jonelle Walker

Artists Cause/Change at Gallery Opening in Columbia Heights

Every artist dreams of a gallery show or even a museum retrospective dedicated to their singular artistic vision. In the reality of the working artist, however, more often than not one must find a way to let individual artistry shine in group exhibitions. One gallery show opening last week is confronting that challenge head-on by presenting a variety of artists who share little but passion.

On November 5th, Columbia Heights arts and community center BloomBars hosted an opening-night reception for Cause/Change, a new art exhibition bringing together an eclectic group of artists. The exhibition features seven creators, billing themselves cheekily as The November 5thArtists Group: Rebecca Clark, Richard DuBeshter, Joel Bergner, Pat Goslee, Clarke Bedford, Sean Lee Bourne and Andrew Krieger.

“Kestrel 1”, a drawing by Rebecca Clarke, is one of the pieces featured in the show Cause/Change, opening this Saturday at Bloombars

The exhibition description states that the artists share a “skilled passion” that might “change the way we see and respect our roles in the greater harmony to one another and the cosmos.” Just as broad as their aesthetic range are the artists’ backgrounds and level of notoriety.

Most prominent of the bunch is Joel Bergner, – otherwise known as Joel Artista – a mural artist, educator, and activist who has facilitated community art projects all over the globe. Bergner is perhaps best known for the Kibera Walls for Peace project, which sought to empower youth and promote peace in the lead up to the 2013 election in Kenya through graffiti.

Rebecca Clark, who creates realistic line drawings of both flora and fauna, and Pat Goslee, whose work reminds one favorably of both Picasso and mammalian entrails, have similarly impressive CVs, with a number of group and solo exhibitions both in the United States and abroad.

Nocturne Angelus by exhibiting artist Pat Goslee

Some of the artists are more experimental with form: Andrew Krieger works in multimedia, creating three-dimensional pieces which often blur the lines between painting, sculpture, and installation. Others live a multi-hyphenate life: Sean Lee Bourne has used his skill as a painter to design album art for DB Records record company and manages a record store, in addition to his art.

While it has no overarching theme or central political statement, Cause/Change includes everything from colorful, politically active murals to stirring black and white line drawings – perhaps something to suit the tastes of every regular gallery-goer.

Cause/Change will be on display at BloomBars from opening night November 5th at 7pm to its closing on December 11th. The BloomBars gallery is open Sunday’s 1-5pm, and by special appointments. More information is available on the exhibition’s Facebook event and the BloomBars website.

This article was originally published on UrbanScrawl.

Make Film Great Again?

A still from “Blow Up”, one of the films screening in the Noir City DC Festival at AFI

Before the late night screening of Blow-Up at the AFI Silver Theatre on Saturday night, film scholar Foster Hirsch joked in his introduction, “It’s the witching hour … perfect for a drug-laden, sexy film.” The late hour of the screening was indeed an ideal complement to the evening’s context, as it brought to a close the first day of the AFI’s Noir City DC festival.

The festival, running through October 27, will screen 20 significant films from the film noir genre as curated by the Film Noir Foundation. Film noir is difficult to define, but characterized by its brooding dark themes, equally dark lighting, and an obsession with the gumshoe detective story. It has birthed such mid-century American classics as The Maltese Falcon and Rear Window, but its influence can be seen in today’s thrillers and parodies like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The genre is considered a distinctly American form, and a representative from the Foundation – joining in Hirsch’s jovial mood – joked that she believed preserving it was “the most important work in the world.”

While she was clearly joking, the representative’s statement inspires a real question: Why have a film noir festival in 2016? With its morally gray male heroes and often villainous femme fatales, what about the film noir is worth preserving or reliving? During this final wind up to the election, one is reminded of Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” Those focused on preserving film noir – which had its heyday in post-World War II America – are in a sense idealizing the genre, making film great again, as well.

Saturday night’s screening brought audiences to another politically fraught period in our national history.

Blow-Up is an outlier both from the rest of the festival’s offerings and from film noir as a whole: it was released in 1966, it was filmed in color; and it was directed by Italian auteur Michaelangelo Antonioni. All of these elements make Blow-Up a far cry from the stark black and white Los Angeles so often seen in noir films. However, Hirsch argued in his opening address, the film is a “neo-noir” pulling plot tropes from those older films with nostalgia.

Blow-Up follows one day in the life of hip fashion photographer Thomas (David Hemmings) as he photographs models, cavorts around London, and stumbles upon a possible crime in a public park. After photographing a mysterious beauty (Vanessa Redgrave) in the park, he notices something suspicious in the photos as he develops them. It’s not clear to Thomas that he may have photographed a murder until he makes blown-up prints of the photos, tightening his focus on key details until the truth comes to light.

The film is an intriguing take on the film noir plot, possibly enhanced if you’re familiar with other films from the genre. The crime at the film’s center takes place in a park during the middle of the day, which is an unsettling contrast to the shadowy ne’er-do-wells of classic noir. Antonioni’s meandering cinematic eye also gives the viewer freedom to put the pieces of the puzzle together independently.

Blow-Up uses color to great effect within Antonioni’s well-crafted and visually stunning shots. The earth tones of an antique shop, the bright green of park grass, and startling blue of Hemmings’ eyes all make for memorable scenes. The film’s famous and fluffy scenes of fashion shoots are especially delightful; it’s almost as if Antonioni knew how outrageous Technicolor 1960s fashion would seem to future viewers.

What stands out most about Blow-Up in the current political climate is its representation of gender and gender roles. Most film noirs center on a shady man and a shadier woman, but this film turns that subtextual battle into text. As a fashion photographer, Thomas spends his entire day rolling around his studio with half-naked models (scenes which, again, add little or nothing to the plot.) His own femme fatale uses her sexuality to play him for a fool. His lover similarly refuses to leave her husband. What’s being communicated to straight men, then, about relationships is to always be the player and not the played; photograph the women, but never let them get to your heart because they are often cold, deceptive, untrustworthy …This may appropriately begin to sound like the public characterization of a certain candidate for the presidency.

That brings us back to the question posed earlier: what is being preserved when we preserve film noir? If film patrons hold nostalgia for genres from a time when civil rights were minimal for any but white men; when LGBTQA folks were unsafe outside the closet; when women were shackled to the home, perhaps they are then also holding nostalgia for that time more broadly. The Film Noir Foundation does important work preserving films, and making sure they’re not lost to history, but should some films (like some social attitudes) be lost to history?

Interested readers will have a good time taking these questions into the theater and deciding for themselves. The Noir City DC festival runs through October 27 at the AFI Theater in Silver Spring. Show times and more information is available here.

The article was originally posted on Urban Scrawl.

Inbal Pinto Speaks on Shimon Peres and her ‘Wallflower’

The Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollack company performing ‘Wallflower’ in 2015

The eyes of the world have turned to Israel this week following the death of Shimon Peres. Twice the prime minister of Israel and a member of the Israeli parliament for more than thirty years, Peres was a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and a prominent advocate for peace. Peres’ death has put Israeli politics in the news this week, but Israeli culture is also having a moment here in D.C. – live and on film.

This Sunday you can see Ohad Naharin, the founder of the Gaga dance movement style and Batsheva Dance Company, in the award-winning documentary about him — Mr. Gaga – at the Jewish Film Festival. And the following Thursday, the Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak Dance Company will perform their choreography Wallflower live in a one night stand at The Clarice.

Inbal Pinto got her start as a dancer with Ohad Naharin/Batsheva in the early 1990s. Joining forces with Avshalom Pollak – an experienced actor – the company creates distinct artistic visions. I spoke with Pinto by phone to ask her about the Company’s upcoming performance at The Clarice, the piece the company will be performing – Wallflower – which was first performed at a museum, and the legacy of Shimon Peres.

Jonelle Walker: What was the inspiration for Wallflower? What generated it among the company?

Inbal Pinto: First of all, this piece was created for the Tel Aviv Art Museum and, so, it was basically the first time we did a piece outside of a normal stage and the fact that it’s in the museum has a big effect on the process of the creation, of building it. The way that we approached it was using our bodies in the craftiest ways. Like, imagining our bodies like a plastic artist using his tools and materials. Refining our bodies as texture, as different textures. Almost like imitating strange combinations of materials, and how we define those in our own bodies … Of course, we are talking about human beings, so that creates all kinds of images when you are using your body as a metal … it defines your communication with others.

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Washington Ballet looks to past to begin future with Julie Kent

The Washington Ballet with Artistic Director Julie Kent (Photo: Dean Alexander)

When new leadership takes the reins of an arts institution, the focus tends to be on where the company is going in the future. For the new Artistic Director of The Washington Ballet, Julie Kent, however, her first season will open with a celebration of the company’s past.

On September 30, The Washington Ballet (TWB) will present its one-night-only 40th Anniversary Celebration in the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater. The evening will be a three act program featuring signature works created for the company by former artistic leaders Choo San Goh and Septime Webre, as well as well-loved excerpts from TheNutcracker, Swan Lake, Don Quixote, and Theme and Variations.

Julie Kent, Artistic Director, Washington Ballet (Photo: Dean Alexander)

Julie Kent, Artistic Director, Washington Ballet (Photo: Dean Alexander)

Kent thinks the diverse retrospective is the perfect way to start her tenure with the company: “It’s a wonderful starting point for everybody to look back and appreciate everything that has been accomplished for the company in the last 40 years and the more than 70 year legacy [founder Mary Day] left with the Washington School of Ballet.”

Kent comes to Washington from the American Ballet Theatre, where she was a principal dancer until June, 2015 and served as the Artistic Director for their summer intensive programs until joining TWB on July 1. However, some might recognize her best from her role as Kathleen Donahue in the cult-classic dance film Center Stage.

The 40th Anniversary Celebration, in addition to recognizing a milestone, will also serve as a symbolic transition of power from former Artistic Director Septime Webre to Kent. Webre’s work as a choreographer will be highlighted in the second act of the program as representative of a key turning point in the company’s history. The Celebration will be the first performance for the company which will place Webre in its past instead of its present.

“[W]e have to celebrate and pay tribute to [Webre’s] contribution to growing the company to the size it is now … and all of the lives that we have helped shape through studying of a classical art, which I’m a huge advocate for,” said Kent.

In addition to creating original pieces for the company during his 17 year tenure, Webre developed some of the company’s key community programs including a residency at THEARC in southeast DC, a program with DC Public Schools, and the well-regarded collaborations with Imagination Stage.

Webre was not the first artistic leader to make his mark with TWB.

Singaporean choreographer Choo San Goh was invited by TWB founder Mary Day to join the company as a resident choreographer in 1976. Goh would go on to become the company’s Associate Artistic Director. “40 years ago that was a really big idea,” Kent said. “At that time, that was very unusual for a small company of this size and smaller then to have its own choreographer creating works for the company.”

Before his untimely death at the age of 37 in 1987 from complications related to AIDS, Goh inspired international interest – including from dancer-turned-Artistic-Director Mikhail Baryshnikov, who as Artistic Director brought Goh’s choreography to American Ballet Theater. In addition to his work for TWB, Goh’s commissions include works for Joffrey Ballet, Houston Ballet, Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and the Dutch National Ballet.

During his time with TWB Goh created 14 original pieces including “Fives” which will be performed as the first act of the 40th Anniversary Celebration next week. The Washington Post once called “Fives” the company’s “signature piece,” noting in a 1993 review that its finale almost always “brings down the house.”

With a rich history of works and choreographers, TWB fans might be wondering if Kent will continue the tradition of commissions.

“I feel that any thriving arts institution has to have the creative process as a part of its internal dynamic for dancers, for the audience, for the community to have the opportunity to create art that is reflective of our time and what’s happening now,” she said.

While she could not confirm details, Kent did say that her first commission as Artistic Director will arrive before the end of this season: a planned world-premiere to be presented at the Kennedy Center on Memorial Day weekend 2017.

“[T]he creative process is an important part of the big picture here,” she affirmed.

The third act of the program for the 40th Anniversary will be a medley of famous and demanding ballet masterworks, which Kent hopes will demonstrate the company’s commitment to excellence, which is “at the heart of the company.” A commitment that she thinks Washingtonians can take pride in and hopes they will support as she looks to grow the company’s prominence on the national stage.

Ultimately, Kent hopes that this retrospective will “inspire great excitement and investment in taking this company to even greater heights” in the future. While the company has a past to be proud of, she insists there is still work to be done to establish The Washington Ballet as an international force, a major focus of her vision for the next 40 years.

As the company looks to the past, Kent foresees a future of hard work as the company continues to grow and maintain its excellence. Kent emphasizes that it will take enormous effort from the company and support from the community. “Diamonds don’t come cheap!,” she added with a laugh.

For now, however, the company will celebrate.

The Washington Ballet presents its 40th Anniversary Celebration on September 30 at 8pm in the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater. More information and tickets are available here.

This article was originally posted on DC Theatre Scene

Manifesting Premieres Works by Mauceri, Graf, and Reid at NextNOW Festival

On Saturday, September 9, 2016, at the University of Maryland’s NextNow Festival, three playwrights premiered first drafts of new commissioned works. The plays were commissioned by the University of Maryland as part of the Festival.

Maria Ortiz and-Becca-Ballinger. Photo by-Dylan Singleton.

Maria Ortiz and Becca Ballinger in ‘Shirt Too Big, or Do You Like It?” Photo by Dylan Singleton.

Shirt Too Big, or Do You Like It?, by Sam Mauceri, explores the complex, fraught territory of sexuality and gender identity, following two bisexual students, April (Maria Ortiz) and Evan (Becca Ballinger), on a date in Evan’s bedroom. Both Ortiz and Ballinger turn in strong performances, giving life to Mauceri’s naturalistic dialogue and smartly navigating the more heavy-handed discussions of identity.

The play has interesting in-depth discussions of bisexuality butShirt Too Big feels like a short selection from a longer play: key background details are unclear, secondary characters are underdeveloped, and the central conflict arises too rapidly to be satisfying. The play leaves one wanting for full-length version and, with any luck, Mauceri will have the opportunity to develop it.

MaryamFoye in 'Rock,-Paper, Photo by Dylan-Singleton. Open with

Maryam Foye in ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors.’ Photo by Dylan Singleton.

Everything Will Be by Joe Graf, explores an apparently simple late night encounter between two strangers on a park bench. A smoker (Maryam Foye) and a non-smoker (Noah Israel) meet coincidentally and, after a slow start, the non-smoker confesses that he has been struggling to find his way after graduating from college. Graf’s plot isn’t a great grab and Everything Will Be fizzles a bit by the time it reaches a climax. Moriamo Akibu’s sophisticated direction and the performances from Israel and Foye helped the play spark.

A deconstructed theatre work, Rock, Paper, Scissors, by Sisi Reid, pulls apart the identity of a black queer woman. Rock, Paper, Scissors doesn’t have a traditional plot or characters; Black (Foye), Queer (Ortiz), and Woman (Ballinger) fight it out in high-stakes rounds of rock, paper, scissors. Through each “shoot out” the characters try to understand each other, but of course ultimately one wins while the other loses, reflecting the difficulty of integrating distinct identities. The performances and direction were weaker for Rock, Paper, Scissors than for the other plays, possibly simply because instructive works are particularly difficult to execute without cliché. Reid’s work was a clever way to end an evening that was also about young people finding their way.

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NextNOW is the Final Arts Festival of the Summer

For many of us, summer means hot evenings out attending arts festivals. Music fans travel hundreds, even thousands, of miles to attend big music festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo. And locally, the DC area has the Capital Fringe Festival, the more traditional Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and more.

As summer winds down, there’s one final festival where you can soak up both the waning heat and pop culture: NextNOW Fest. Produced by the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, NextNOW Fest includes two days of concerts and performances September 9th and 10th.

If you’re concerned about the cost of the Uber to and from College Park for the festival: all events are free. You read that right: FREE.

Musical group Black Masala will be performing a free show Saturday evening at NextNOW Fest. Photo by John Shore.

Musical group Black Masala will be performing a free show Saturday evening at NextNOW Fest. Photo by John Shore. 

Saturday 5:30-6:30 pm you can catch local group-on-the-rise Black Masala. Alternately tagged dance, funk, and soul, Black Masala plays a hybrid of gypsy punk (popularized by Gogol Bordello) and New Orleans street jazz. Their new album drops October 30 so expect audience favorites and soon to be favorites.

Later Saturday night is New-York-based, Japanese-born, MitskiRolling Stone called Mitski’s recent album “one of 2016’s most striking.” Her songs draw on emotional themes like romance and identity, with an ethereal/nostalgic 90s alt-pop feel; think: The Cranberries mixed with Celine Dionne. “I tend to be flung around by my emotions,” Mitski said in a recent interview with NPR Music.

Musical artist Mitski -- performing a free show Saturday night at NextNOW. Photo by Ebru Yildiz.

Musical artist Mitski — performing a free show Saturday night at NextNOW. Photo by Ebru Yildiz.

More established acts will be performing at NextNOW through The Clarice’s Artist Partner Program, including Bandaloop. The San Francisco-based Bandaloop—who are celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2016—have danced on the side of skyscrapers in India, christened new buildings for Hermes and Virgin Galactic.

Bandaloop. Photo by Atossa Soltani.

Bandaloop. Photo by Atossa Soltani.

The San Francisco-based Bandaloop—who are celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2016—have danced on the side of skyscrapers in India, and christened new buildings for Hermes and Virgin Galactic. For NextNOW, they’ll take to the air in The Clarice’s Grand Pavilion throughout the two-day festival. Check the NextNow website for more details on when to see the self-described “pioneers in vertical dance performance.”

Megan Pagado, lead curator of the Festival and associate director of The Clarice’s Artist Partner Program, described NextNOW as central to The Clarice’s mission. “It’s a priority for us to create an environment that celebrates the creativity of our campus community and facilitates active exploration of the arts,” she said.

As Washington begins to wave farewell to the sweltering days of summer, don’t miss the emerging and established artists of NextNOW Fest.

Full event listings and tickets for some events are available at The Clarice’s website.

This article was originally posted on DC Metro Theater Arts.

The Circus Isn’t Coming to Town (But It’s Already Here)

With the recent announcement that The Big Apple Circus will be ending public performances, circus lovers might be worried about where to get their clown fix. No need to worry: the DC-area is home to an array of accomplished clowns, mimes, and physical theatre companies.

Local theater artist Elena Day is likely DC’s most famous clown. Currently working with the world-renowned Cirque du Soleil, Day is recognized for creating one of the Cirque’s signature characters: the Green Bird from La Nouba. When she’s not on tour, Day performs and teaches for local companies including The Studio Theatre Conservatory and The Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning through the Arts.


Photo courtesy Elena Day –

Day believes clowning has a universal appeal. “Perhaps this is because the style is often based in physical comedy and situations, specifically involving failure,” she said. “We can all relate to these situations that involve failure and overcoming that failure…. People need to laugh [a]nd the quality of laughter that clowning evokes is emotionally connected.”

Local theater artist Matthew Pauli founded DC’s Clown Cabaret in 2010 with fellow performers Karen Beriss and Rich Potter. The mission of Clown Cabaret is to teach audiences about clowning and to provide clowns a space to practice their craft. The company hosts monthly shows at the Fringe Arts Space that are an opportunity to catch new acts.

“We really want to put as many different styles of clowning out in front of people as we can,” Pauli said. “We occasionally teach classes, but mostly, we let the variety of performers who come to us with their material carry the message.”

Several local theater companies, including Happenstance Theatre and Faction of Fools, have made serious artworks integrating the traditional clowning form Commedia dell‘Arte. Using Commedia dell‘Arte, actors improvise based on established character types signified by masks.

Faction of Fools associate artist Annetta Sawyer first encountered Commedia far from her current home in DC, growing up in Italy. “My cousins would perform the Commedia characters for us,” she said. “I’ll always recall how my neighbor laughed out loud during a school play and I realized – I could make people laugh!”

Preview Party at the Baldacchino Gypsy Tent 2010 Capital Fringe Festival July 1, 2010 Photo copyright 2010 by Paul Gillis Photography

Photo copyright by Paul Gillis Photography

Sawyer says that the relationship between the audience and the clown performer is key: “[W]hen the audience responds – it’s great! We conspire together! There’s so much room for so many feelings in clowning.”

While the news of The Big Apple Circus folding its tent heralds change, local performers like Elena Day,  Annetta Sawyer, and Matthew Pauli aren’t discouraged.

“This work will never die,” Sawyer said, “There’s too much wrong with the world. At least laughter is somewhat of an antidote.” Pauli agrees. “I may sound a bit hokey when I talk about this,” he said. “[B]ut I really do believe that there is something wonderful about the connection that clowning can create between people.”

Pauli also insists that clowning is more prevalent in popular culture than audiences realize: “There are people who say that they hate clowns but love Will Ferrell.  Ferrell is a clown, plain and simple.  He just doesn’t wear the circus makeup.”

Day added, “It’s hard to run a circus company in America [because] we don’t have the governmental support other countries have. [The closing of The Big Apple Circus] is a big loss for the audience, and all the folks who’ve worked on or in a Big Apple show.”

This article was originally posted on UrbanScrawl and DC Theatre Scene