Monday, May 21, 2012

She Who Will Not Be Denied in 'Venus in Fur'


is not just a pornographic trope. It plays out in any relationship in which one person has an upperhand.

“Venus in Fur,” enjoying an extended Broadway run and transfer at the Lyceum Theatre through 17 June, has none of the whips and chains associated with the S&M oeuvre. The battle of the sexes in David Ives’ Tony-nominated play simply takes on a highbrow kink.

In “Venus in Fur,” Thomas Novachek (Hugh Dancy) is exasperated after a long day of auditioning inadequate actresses to play Vanda von Dunajew in his adaptation of Baron Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s “Venus in Furs.” Then he is ambushed by the undereducated but savvy Vanda Jordan (Nina Arianda).

Vanda takes the coincidence of the names as a sign as she enters Thomas’ studio amid claps of thunder. She is late for the tryouts and curses the weather and the trains. Thomas wants to go home, but Vanda cajoles and bullies him into letting her read for the part. (See video above).

The gothic touches of melodrama, like the storm that makes the lights blink on Vanda’s entrance, add to the mesmerizing effect of “Venus in Fur.” Walter Bobbie’s direction creates as much tension in the silences as it finds in the dialogue. “Venus in Fur” is funny and dramatic.

Nina Arianda as Vanda and Hugh Dancy as Thomas in "Venus in Fur." Photo by Joan Marcus.

It’s a play-within-a-play, as Thomas and Vanda tease out the script of his adaptation; the process brings out NA’s fire and lightning. Vanda Jordan completely transforms herself into Vanda von Dunajew. NA moves seamlessly between two very different women, a sloppy modern girl and a sophisticated 19th-century aristocratic freethinker.

NA, a best actress nominee for her role as Vanda was also nominated for her Broadway debut last year in “Born Yesterday.” In the latter work she played the stupid-smart Billie. But make no mistake, NA has not been typecast, though Vanda is also a stupid-smart character. So much of her range is on display in “Venus in Fur.” She giggles and roars; is polished and vulgar, cute and endearing, and, of course, sexy.

Like her character, NA will not be denied. She is a whirl of energy, circling the stage, pouncing on HD's hapless, misogynistic Thomas. The young man is also a pedantic prig for whom the fetishized is dreary rather than lighthearted. Thomas responds to Vanda in reasoned tones; he is not having fun.

Thomas resists, but both the Dunajewa and Vanda Jordan have his number. She leads, he follows.

Visit to learn more about “Venus in Fur.”

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

'A Night in Harlem' Holds Music and Promise

Macy Gray, Dr. John, Lou Reed and Christian McBride on stage at the Apollo Theater at last year's "A Night in Harlem" concert. Photos courtesy of Jazz Foundation of America.

WHAT a bill! What a lineup!

Who's on? Bettye LaVette, Stanley Jordan, Sweet Georgia Brown, Essie Mae, Paquito D'Rivera, Bono, more than 40 others and some surprises. And special guest Quincy Jones.

The gala concert, planned for Thursday at the Apollo Theater, brings together musicians across genres for a mega jam session. It’s all good fun for a good cause. The occasion is the Jazz Foundation of America's (JFA) 11th Annual "A Great Night in Harlem." The night also plays host to a post-concert dinner and after-party. It starts at 7 and goes until late.

The evening is JFA's main fund-raiser for its Jazz Musicians Emergency Fund, which provides holistic assistance to jazz and blues artists with a capital “A.” Everything from keeping a roof and the lights to medical care and work worthy of their prodigious talent.

Hot 8Brass Band takes it to 126th street after the main concert at the 10th "A Night in Harlem.”

The fund-raising goal for the evening is $1.6 million. At this writing an additional $500K or so will close the gap. Concert tickets can be had for as little as $55. A $500 concert ticket is good for an invitation to the after-party.

Visit to learn more about the Jazz Foundation of America and “A Night in Harlem.”

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Depp, Burton Cast 'Dark Shadows' in Shards of Light

ONCE upon a time mere mortals were afraid of vampires.

Once. But no more. Wary, yes. Afraid, no. Starting as far back as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (film and series) right through to “True Blood” and other tales of the undead, vampires are not the dreadful, terrifying creatures of yore.

All of this brings into the conversation “Dark Shadows,” the Johnny Depp-Tim Burton film inspired by the gothic 1960s soap opera of the same name. The film opens nationwide today.

Wisely, JD and TB keep it light. But who really expected the pair to go the road most traveled? Not anyone who is familiar with their many collaborations. Besides, it would have been akin to driving a stake into the heart of a vampire to make the film scary instead of funny. (See video above).

"Dark Shadows" both spoofs and reimagines the soap. JD’s Barnabas Collins resurfaces in the year 1972 after two centuries of captivity at the hands of a jealous witch. Her spell transformed him into a vampire. Barnabas' return to his beloved Collinwood Manor is bitter-bitter. The family's Maine estate is in disrepair and his progeny is a despairing and lost lot. It is left to Barnabas to set things aright in this strange world with his even stranger kin. These circumstances drive much of the comedy and camp in the film. JD gets solid support from Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter, among others.

JD fans will love the film. “Dark Shadows” fans maybe not so much.

Dark Shadows is rated PG-13 for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Speed, Precision Propel NYCB’s ‘DGV’ and ‘Les Carillons’

Andrew Veyette, Tiler Peck and Christian Tworzyanski in Christopher Wheeldon's “DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse.” Photos by Paul Kolnik.


is sometimes as simple as creating movement on one body, or as complex as orchestrating movements of a large group of dancers.

Christopher Wheeldon’s ballet, “DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse,” is one for a crowd. It is enjoying an encore in May at the David H. Koch Theater.

CW is a modern ballet maker who explotis both the athleticism and the grace of his dancers. Ballet is one of the collaborative arts, and New York City Ballet is at home performing CW’s works. After all, he was a member of the company in the early 1990s; from 2001 until 2008, he was NYCB’s first Resident Choreographer.

During the fall premiere, NYCB, represented in the leads by Teresa Reichlen, Craig Hall, Ashley Bouder, Joaquin De Luz, Maria Kowroski, Tyler Angle, Ana Sophia Scheller and Amar Ramasar, gave “DGV” the stirring presentation it deserves.

As the name suggests, “DGV” moves at an exhilarating pace. In fact, every facet of this production involves speed. The “Danse” is set to “MGV (Musique à Grande Vitesse)” by Michael Nyman. The score in turn commemorates the 1993 inaugural of the high-speed French train known as TGV.

New York City Ballet dancers in “Les Carillons.”

Led by Clotilde Otranto, the orchestra, too, travels rapidly through “DGV.” CO conducts with her whole body, making her in effect another dancer in the piece.

Pulsating to the tempo of a very fast train, with the dancers quick-stepping in imitation of gears in motion, “DGV” is a great combine of progress. Both the music and the choreography bring the train to life. “DGV” is one of the most pleasant and invigorating balletic rides around.

Also dependent on speedy measures for its durable beauty is “Les Carillons.” Set to a suite by Georges Bizet, which closes with echoing horns that mimic the sounds of church bells, “Les Carillons” is a ballet without a plot. It features five couples simply vamping.

“Les Carillons" had its world premiere on the fall schedule and is also enjoying an encore in May.

As with “DGV,” it has a chorus behind the central characters: Tiler Peck, Robert Fairchild, Wendy Whelan, Gonzalo Garcia, Kowroski, Tyler Angle, Scheller and Daniel Ulbricht. (See excerpts from “Les Carillons” and an interview with Tiler Peck at

Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia in “Les Carillons.”

The entire “Les Carillons” cast exhibits a masterly and fine technique. The leaps are grand. On occasion, the women look like they are skating en pointe. The work shows pomp, ceremony and a sprightly spirit of fun.

Mark Zappone’s strapless gowns with splits make the most of everyone. The elegant costumes especially flatter Sara Mearns’ long legs.

Visit to learn more about “DGV,” “Les Carillons” and the New York City Ballet repertory.
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