Category Archives: Arts

Berkeley 14-year-old photographer goes to White House

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Andrei Crandall, a 14-year-old student at Longfellow Middle School in Berkeley, got the opportunity of a lifetime recently when he was invited to the White House by the President’s personal photographer, Pete Souza, and ended up snapping his own shots of Barack Obama.

Andrei and his two mothers, Kathleen Crandall and Lori Gitter, were invited to meet Souza on Sunday March 30 for a private tour of the photographer’s offices in the executive building, as well as the West Wing and the Oval Office.

The middle schooler was then invited back the following day to the White House to take photographs of the President at the ceremony on the South Lawn honoring World Series winners the Boston Red Sox.

Crandall took pictures alongside photographer Chuck Kennedy in a special area set aside for the White House photographers.

It all started over a year ago when the then 13-year-old emailed Souza asking him for advice, and Souza not only responded, but became something of a mentor for the aspiring snapper.

But the path to the White House started even further back than that, as Crandall showed promise from an early age. … Continue reading »

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Review: Berkeley Playhouse’s ‘Spelling Bee’ is a winner

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If you only see one musical this year… you don’t go to enough musicals, my friend. But you’re in luck: Berkeley Playhouse has opened a one-month run of the Tony-award-winning The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The show is a winner on its merits — with a sweet, funny, rollicking story — but also provides a great opportunity to appreciate how theater works to create place, mood and emotion out of seemingly thin air.

The musical, which originated as an improvised skit set in a school spelling bee, involves a handful of finalists in the titular Putnam County bee, along with moderator, Rona Lisa Peretti (proud champion of the 3rd annual bee), troubled Assistant Principal Douglas Panch, and “comfort counselor” (a parolee armed with hugs and juice boxes), Mitch Mahoney.

The show is reminiscent of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (coming in Berkeley Playhouse’s 2014-15 season) in having adults play children, though there are adults, both present, and painfully absent, here too. Spelling Bee contains some wonderful (verging on the heartbreaking) acknowledgment of the impact of adults on a kid-centric world, e.g., in the “tiger parenting” that drives contestant Marcy Park, or the void that contestant Olive Ostrovsky hopes desperately to fill. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley’s long-shuttered UC Theatre to get new life

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For the last seven years David Mayeri has had a dream: to refurbish the old UC Theatre on University Avenue, which has been closed since 2001, and re-open it as a state-of-the art concert venue.

Mayeri, the former chief operating officer of BGP, the successful concert company started by Bill Graham, has come tantalizingly close over the years to pulling off the project. He got city approval to refurbish the 1,400-seat landmarked theater in 2009 and seed money from the now deceased millionaire music lover Warren Hellman. … Continue reading »

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Barbara Chase-Riboud in Berkeley: Revelatory, ravishing

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Barbara Chase-Riboud: The Malcolm X Steles, is an exhibition not to miss. It’s inspirational, revelatory, ravishing to look at, and a dramatic contrast to The Possible: the experimental, hyper-interactive, buzzing, booming art-making project organized by local artist David Wilson that will occupy most of the Berkeley Art Museum through May 27.

Chase-Riboud had her first solo exhibition at the UC Berkeley Art Museum in 1973, at the invitation of the museum’s founding Director (now Emeritus) Peter Selz. At the time she was only the third female artist to have had a solo museum show in the United States. She was certainly the first female African American artist to have earned that singular recognition.

This stunning installation of Chase-Riboud’s sculpture and drawings is a home-coming of sorts: the triumphal kind of homecoming you dream about, where the locals are amazed by the magnificent things you’ve accomplished in the intervening years. One good reason for our amazement is that the artist has lived in Europe, Paris mostly, since the 1960s. And while she’s well-known in Europe — not only for her visual art but also for her numerous novels and books of poetry — we in the U.S. are only just catching up with her work. … Continue reading »

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The It List: Five things to do in Berkeley this weekend

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CAL DAY This year, Cal Day‘s theme is “One day. A million stories,” but it should probably be “One day. A million things to do.” The annual UC Berkeley open house is filled with lectures, tours, family-friendly events and information sessions for prospective students. Highlights include an exhibit featuring “the most disgusting animal on earth,” a panel of Cal’s Nobel laureate professors, and a student fine-art sale. The campus will be abuzz with activity beginning 9 a.m. on Saturday, April 12. For full details, visit Cal Day 2014 online. … Continue reading »

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Free events celebrate Berkeley’s revamped libraries

Kids browse the bookshelves at the December 2014 opening of the South Branch. Photo: Richard Friedman
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Call it a “library warming.”

As a way to celebrate the completion of its branch renovation campaign – and highlight the dozens of community programs it presents each month – the Berkeley Public Library is hosting a month-long party.

The Branch Out! celebration will bring concerts, art exhibits, pop-up libraries at food truck gatherings, a sleepover party for stuffed animals, mindfulness meditation, and that beloved event – author readings – and much more to a branch near you in April. … Continue reading »

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Review: ‘The Galapagos Affair,’ a gripping documentary

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Remember that awful film version of the board game ‘Clue’ that came out in 1985? No? Despite featuring a solid cast (including Martin Mull as Colonel Mustard and Christopher Lloyd as Professor Plum!), Clue (the movie) really was pretty forgettable – but for some reason I couldn’t get it out of my mind while watching The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden, a gripping documentary about small-island intrigue opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, April 11.

We last visited the Galapagos Islands during teen sailor Laura Dekker’s brief stopover in Maidentrip. The Galapagos in this film, however, seem quite different: seen almost exclusively in black and white via thoroughly remarkable (and almost too good to be true) footage shot during the early 1930s, the islands project an aura of bleak, ominous majesty – hardly a welcoming rest spot for ambitious young sailors. … Continue reading »

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Review: ‘Flash Boys’ by Michael Lewis

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Bestselling Berkeley author Michael Lewis has been spending a lot of time back East lately. After researching and writing his blockbuster fifteenth nonfiction book, Flash Boys, currently the country’s #1 bestseller, he’s now juggling interviews and appearances triggered by the fallout. I can’t recall any book that has ever before struck such fear into the denizens of Wall Street.

Flash Boys tells the tale of the arcane and long-secret phenomenon known as high-frequency trading (HFT). The book reads like a thriller, showcasing the author’s legendary writing talent. Like the best fiction, it’s centered on people, not abstract processes or institutions, and the prose sings.

As Lewis discovered, HFT is one of the ways that Wall Street cheats investors — and not just small-time investors like you and me, but also the elite folk who manage multi-billion-dollar pension funds and mutual funds (and thus, indirectly, us as well). Initially, the practice was limited to a handful of traders working in small, independent shops, many of them Russian immigrants with advanced degrees in math or science. However, in the course of Lewis’ exploration of this complex and clever technique to game the system, he learned that many of the big Wall Street banks bought into the process as well and gained enormous profits as a result. Altogether, Lewis attests, HFT has robbed the investing public of billions of dollars. … Continue reading »

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Lost and found: Nathan Clevenger Group and the Lost Trio

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When it comes to discovering new bands, musicians make the best sources. Over a quarter century covering music I’ve found that the surest way to hit upon unfamiliar sounds is by paying attention to the colleagues mentioned by musicians. Which is why my ears perked up a few years ago when several players I greatly respect made a point of praising Albany guitarist/composer Nathan Clevenger, who leads a talent-laden sextet dedicated to extended dreamscapes that unfold with their own quirky, internal logic.

The Nathan Clevenger Group performs Wednesday at the Berkeley Arts Festival performance space at 2133 University Avenue as part of a double bill with the Lost Trio, a collective ensemble featuring saxophonist Phillip Greenlief, bassist Dan Seamans and drummer Tom Hassett. A long-time Oakland resident, Greenlief is an inveterately inventive improviser with a three-decade track record as a creative force. He was one of the first players to drop Clevenger’s name to me, noting that he’d watched him develop from an avid listener in the mid-90s to a composer and bandleader possessing his own unmistakable sound. … Continue reading »

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Not to be missed: Shotgun Players’ ‘The Coast of Utopia’

The Coast of Utopia: Salvage
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Sir Tom Stoppard’s famous, award-winning trilogy, The Coast of Utopia (2002), centers on a group of Russian philosophers, radicals, anarchists and socialists in pre-revolutionary Russia (1833-1866). If the subject matter doesn’t sound enthralling, rest assured that one of Stoppard’s gifts is exploring arcane subject matters and infusing them with excitement, humanity and heart.

Shotgun Players produced the first two fascinating productions, Voyage and Shipwreck in 2012 and 2013. This year, the final and best, Salvage, as well as the first two plays, can be seen in repertory now at the Ashby Stage. Led by Artistic Director Patrick Dooley, Shotgun has taken a very complex series of plays, with difficult language, numerous characters and copious scene changes, and succeeded in presenting intriguing and beguiling dramas … all with fine acting.  … Continue reading »

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Big Screen Berkeley: The Missing Picture

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And still they come: it’s already April, and last season’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominees continue to saunter lackadaisically into Berkeley. This week’s tardy contestant is L’image manquante (The Missing Picture), a Cambodian-French co-production opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, April 4.

Written and directed by Rithy Panh – best known in these parts for his grueling 2003 documentary S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing MachineThe Missing Picture is a genuinely unique feature. Part fictional, part semi-autobiographical, the film blends clay recreations of pre- and post-revolutionary Cambodian life with rare archival footage of the aftermath of Democratic Kampuchea’s ‘Year Zero’. You really haven’t seen anything else quite like it. … Continue reading »

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A journalist discovered, undercovered: Vivian Maier

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The most mind-blowing fact about Vivian Maier isn’t that she managed to shoot more than 120,000 photos while supporting herself a nanny. Or that the families for which she worked had little clue about her double life. Or even that she often took her charges into rough Chicago neighborhoods while she captured intimate images of life on the street. What’s hardest to comprehend is that she acquired such an exquisite sense of composition while never seeing most of her shots, which were discovered as undeveloped negatives shortly before her death in 2009 at the age of 83.

Now Maier’s vast and breathtaking body of work is coming into view via photography books, documentaries, and exhibitions like See All About It: Vivian Maier’s Newspaper Portraits at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism’s newly endowed and just-christened Reva and David Logan Gallery of Documentary Photography in North Gate Hall. Featuring 23 beautifully printed photos drawn from the Jeffrey Goldstein Collection, the exhibition officially opens Wednesday April 2 with a late afternoon reception and lecture by Richard Cahan and Michael Williams, authors of Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows (the show remains on view through May 1). … Continue reading »

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Alvin Ailey’s genre-stretching adventure back in Berkeley

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Is the juice worth the squeeze?

It’s the unexpected question Robert Battle, now in his third year as Artistic Director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, asks himself every day. The “squeeze” is the hard work of running a dance company and the dollars an audience spends to attend a performance. The “juice” is the legacy-upholding, future-building, legendary output of the company’s indelible dancers and choreographers.

Inheriting the heavy mantle of a dance company founded in 1958 by choreographer and activist Alvin Ailey, Battle succeeded former Ailey dancer Judith Jamison’s 1980 to 2011 term of leadership. As the troupe’s third artistic director, Battle says that during the first season, audiences showed up to see a spectacular season already fine-tuned by Jamison, a signature Ailey dancer. The second year, they were simply curious about the new leader’s imprint. In 2014, record numbers during the company’s New York City performances in December, have given him courage. … Continue reading »

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