Category Archives: Arts

Berkeley RADICAL focus of Cal Performances new season

The Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela will play Beethoven's Ninth at the Cal Performances gala in September. Photo: Nohely Oliveros
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A gala outdoors performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a novel mixture of Olivier Messaien and Berkeley photographer Deborah O’Grady, a rare visit from Paris’ Ensemble Intercontemporain, and Twyla Tharp’s 50th anniversary tour are among the highlights for Cal Performances 2015-16 season, which was announced this week.

The season marks the launch of Berkeley RADICAL (Research and Development Initiative in Creativity, Arts, Learning), a new framework in which artists will engage with Cal Performances through commissioning, creation, presentation, documentation and dissemination; with the university’s community of scholars and students; and with the Bay Area public.

Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela kick off Berkeley RADICAL with a week-long residency centered around performances of Beethoven’s final three symphonies. The Ninth Symphony will be performed at a gala performance at the Greek Theatre on Friday, Sept. 25.

“I can’t think of a better way to launch Berkeley RADICAL than with this music, this conductor and this orchestra,” said Matías Tarnopolsky, executive and artistic director of Cal Performances. … Continue reading »

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Poetry and jazz: Surging together in Berkeley

Raymond Nat Turner
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The unassuming apartment complex at Seventh and Allston doesn’t look much like the cradle of a creative movement, but for spoken-word artist Raymond Nat Turner the West Berkeley locale provided everything he needed to launch UpSurge!

Working as roadie, manager and all-round assistant for Donald “Duck” Bailey in the 1980s, Turner started frequenting a weekly jam session hosted by the jazz drum legend at the Wellington Hotel at Seventh and University (where La Quinta stands today). With a steady flow of young musical talent from Berkeley High attending the sessions, Turner found the personnel he needed to launch the politically charged jazz/poetry ensemble that celebrates its 25th anniversary 8 p.m. Friday at the Berkeley Art Festival performance space on University Avenue, just a mile east of where the project first came together in the fall of 1990. … Continue reading »

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Sublime (but dull) to ridiculous: Dior and I / Kung Fu Killer

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Sometimes, when the choices are limited and a deadline looms, I’m compelled to review films that just don’t appeal to me. Are you a romantic comedy? Your meet cute and final reel clinch are an insult to my intelligence. A western? This town ain’t big enough for the both of us. A biopic? I’d rather read the book.

“But wait”, you say, “I remember the time you gave biopic X an excellent review!”, and it’s true: I’ve frequently enjoyed or appreciated films I didn’t expect to enjoy or appreciate. With
Dior and I (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, April 23), however, I got exactly what I feared I’d get: a commercial disguised as a documentary.

Haute couturier Christian Dior was, according to the film, a revolutionary, and prior to his premature death in 1957 truly did change the world of women’s fashion. Despite the film’s best efforts to convince me otherwise, however, his life simply wasn’t very interesting: while he designed some beautiful garments, there’s simply not enough (ahem) material here to sustain a feature length documentary. … Continue reading »

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Ambitious and dramatic: ‘Head of Passes’ at Berkeley Rep

l to r) Cheryl Lynn Bruce (Shelah) and Michael A. Shepperd (Creaker) perform in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Head of Passes, a poignant and poetic new play about the journey of family and faith, trial and tribulation at Berkeley Rep.

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We often wonder why tragedies occur, particularly when they affect good people. It’s a question as old as the story of Job or Jesus’s cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” In Head of Passes, playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, a 2013 MacArthur “genius” grantee, presents us with the deeply religious widow Shelah, who, when faced with personal tragedy, prays, pleads, and confronts her God with a biblical fervor worthy of Job.

Shelah (great performance by Cheryl Lynn Bruce) lives in a remote marshy area of Louisiana where the Mississippi River divides and meets the Gulf of Mexico, known as the Head of Passes. Before the play begins, we see a man (Sullivan Jones) in a tuxedo sitting on the stage. From the cast list, we glean that he may be the Angel. He didn’t add much to the drama, except perhaps a misplaced sense of the supernatural. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley teacher illustrates rad City Lights kids’ book

Kate Schatz (left) and Miriam Klein Stahl work on "Rad Women A-Z," a feminist children's book out this month from City Lights. Photo: Lena Wolff
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When City Lights publishes a children’s alphabet book, you can bet that the “A” won’t stand for “airplane.” Try “Angela Davis” instead.

The recently released Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries Who Shaped Our History…and Our Future! is an encyclopedia of feminist icons, written by Alameda-based Kate Schatz and illustrated by Berkeley High School art teacher Miriam Klein Stahl. For each of the 26 women featured in the book — activists, artists, scientists, Supreme Court justices — Stahl created a striking paper cut-out portrait against a boldly colored background.

But eager readers had to wait in suspense to see them. Rad Women, the first children’s book from legendary San Francisco publisher City Lights, sold out almost immediately after it was released on April 7. (Update: As of Monday morning, April 20, we hear it is back in stock and available for purchase.)

“It’s an awesome problem to have, but it sucks for going on book tour,” Stahl said earlier this month, as she prepared to travel to the Pacific Northwest for readings. “It’s obviously hit a nerve. We first thought that feminist moms would be totally into this book but it’s clearly gone well beyond that demographic.” … Continue reading »

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Five Play quintet gives Tony Corman a replay

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For Tony Corman, Five Play is all about second chances. The guitarist and composer co-leads the quintet with his wife, pianist/composer Laura Klein, and the band’s impressive track record speaks to his cussed refusal to let his body betray his passion for music. Featuring reed expert Dave Tidball on saxophones and clarinet, veteran bassist Paul Smith, and drum maestro Alan Hall, Five Play performs 8 p.m. Saturday at the California Jazz Conservatory with special guest Ron Horton, a brilliant New York trumpeter who rarely gets to the Bay Area.

When I first met Corman at the North Berkeley house where he and Klein have lived since the mid-1980s he was a formidable tenor saxophonist and I was writing the liner notes to an artfully entertaining album Deconstruction Ahead (SeaBreeze Records) by the horn-laden band Three Tenors No Opera featuring Corman and fellow saxophonists Tidball and Jim Norton. The album received glowing reviews and the band played several high profile gigs, but then Corman seemed to drop out of view, and it was several years before I ran into him and discovered that he had been forced to reinvent himself. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley looks at public art fee for private developers

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The city of Berkeley is crafting a new law to require private developers of many buildings to spend 1% of their construction costs on public art.

Under a recommendation put forth by Mayor Tom Bates and approved in concept by the Berkeley City Council at its March 17 meeting, the “private percent for public art” legislation would apply to all new commercial and industrial buildings, and residential buildings with at least five units, except for projects in downtown Berkeley. The one-time fee would pay for publicly accessible art on-site, or the developer could instead pay into a new city pot for public art.

At the same meeting, council expanded the city’s definition of art to include installations, performance and social practice works, and other types of original displays. Continue reading »

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‘Cheatin” showcases Bill Plympton’s remarkable animation

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The animation of Bill Plympton is definitely an acquired taste. If you spent a lot of time watching MTV in its early days, you’re probably already familiar with his work: ballpoint pen drawn and long on grotesque characterization, it’s instantly recognizable, but tends to repulse as many viewers as it attracts. Pretty it is not.

Though he’s since done great work developing couch gags for ‘The Simpsons,” by and large I’ve never been much of a Plympton fan. The arrival of a new feature-length Plymptoon (Cheatin’, opening at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood on Friday, April 17), however, provides me an opportunity to reassess his work.

Most animation incorporates exaggeration and overstatement, but few animators exaggerate or overstate as much – or as effectively – as Bill Plympton. His world is one where bodies elongate, expand, and shrink, where tears flow and fly like gigantic watery tennis balls, and where physical characteristics – breasts, waists, muscles, wrinkles – are taken to the extremest of extremes. … Continue reading »

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

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EARTH DAY The Brower Center is hosting its first-ever Earth Day Festival, on Saturday, April 18 from noon to 6 p.m. There will be hands-on workshops, live music, family arts activities and organic food tastings, all focused on “protecting and honoring the planet we call home.” Three panels during the afternoon look at carbon farming, climate-friendly consumption and fighting climate change at the neighborhood level. The Ecology Center hosts workshops to show how to reuse common household items and there will be screenings of film shorts on carbon farming. The full schedule is here. Berkeleyside is a media sponsor of the Earth Day Festival. Admission free ($10 suggested donation), The Brower Center, 2150 Allston Way.  … Continue reading »

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Matt Ross may play a greedy tech titan in ‘Silicon Valley,’ but in Berkeley he’s just a regular guy

Matt Ross
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If you were one of the millions of people who tuned in Sunday to watch the season 2 opener of HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” you might have had a chuckle when tech titan Gavin Belson, the CEO of Hooli, delivered a speech about his competitor’s product:  “I don’t want to live in a world where someone else makes the world a better place better than we do.”

The words were delivered with a perfect arrogance. And a straight face. And if the actor who said those lines looks familiar, it may be because you have watched the show “Big Love,” or seen the movie “Good Night and Good Luck.” Or it may be because you saw the actor, Matt Ross, browsing for books at Mrs. Dalloway’s, or at the Claremont branch of the Berkeley Public Library.

Yes, Ross is a Berkeley resident. He lives here with his wife, Phyllis Grant, the writer behind the popular food website Dash and Bella, named after the couple’s two children. Ross is a classically trained actor (he went to Juilliard) who once thought his future lay in theater. But he has become critically acclaimed for numerous roles and the feature films he writes and directs. … Continue reading »

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New film will tell the story of salvaged Moe’s Books film

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First there was the remarkable salvaging from the city dump of a reel of film shot at Berkeley’s venerable bookstore Moe’s in 1965. Then the discovery that the film was shot by none other than Academy Award nominee and Bladerunner screenwriter David Peoples. Result: one happy bookstore owner, Doris Moscowitz, who has been able to relive some of the glory days of the store founded by her father, Moe. And one great story, in two parts, that was reported by Berkeleyside.

Now local film producer (and former Berkeleyside staffer) Siciliana Trevino has set out to make a short film of her own about the whole, compelling tale. Last week, Trevino launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the $8,500 that will enable her to finish shooting (she’s already done two of the three days she needs), and get the film through editing and post-production.

“It’s such a sweet, romantic story,” Trevino said recently, talking about what inspired her to take on the project. “It took throwing the film away for Doris to see it. It shows us how objects are the source of memories, how they are imbued with meaning but not necessarily valuable.” … Continue reading »

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Over 300 authors sign up for first Bay Area Book Festival

Photo: Paulo Slachevsky
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The Bay Area Book Festival, a free weekend, walkable book festival to be held in Berkeley, is on schedule to launch the weekend of June 6-7. More than 300 authors have signed up to participate in around 100 sessions, and the center of the city will be alive with an estimated 125 exhibitors, from independent bookstores to literary magazines, nonprofits, and writing programs.

The festival, which hopes to attract an estimated 100,000 people to the downtown over one weekend, will be spread over a 14-block area and venues for talks include the Freight & Salvage, the Marsh Theatre, the Brower Center, the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art & Life, the Berkeley Public Library, the Berkeley Shambhala Center, and the East Bay Media Center.

Sponsors, exhibitors and authors continue to sign up, according to founder and executive director, Cherilyn Parsons, who said there is about $100,000 left to raise. … Continue reading »

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‘Talley’s Folly’ is terrific at Aurora Theatre’s Harry Upstage

Sally (Lauren English*) tends to an injured Matt (Rolf Saxon*) in Aurora Theatre Company’s Talley’s Folly. Photo: David Allen
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Those who are fortunate and fast enough to find tickets for Aurora’s Theatre’s Talley’s Folly will enjoy a first-class theatrical experience.

Celebrated author Lanford Wilson (1937–2011) deservedly won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for this tender two-person, one-act romantic comedy. It’s one of the plays in Wilson’s famed trilogy about the wealthy Talley family of Lebanon, Missouri. Aurora will be presenting the two other plays in the trilogy, Wilson’s Fifth of July from April 17 through May 17, 2015, and four private staged readings of the less produced Talley & Son in April.

Noted Bay Area veteran actor and director Joy Carlin directs inspired performances by Lauren English, as the unmarriageable 30-year old Sally Talley, and Rolf Saxon, as 40-something Matt Friedman, a Jewish émigré accountant from St. Louis, who shows up on July 4, 1944 at the Talley boathouse (or folly) to propose marriage to Sally. … Continue reading »

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