Last fall we raved about the energetic and exhilarating OntheFloor, a wild and crazy participatory performance by the Dance Cartel held in Liberty Hall downstairs at the Ace Hotel. For ninety minutes, a talented group of dancers moved and grooved through the dark space as the audience followed them around. Conceived and choreographed by Dance Cartel founder Ani Taj Niemann and codirected by Sam Pinkleton (Witness Relocation), OntheFloor returns to Liberty Hall on March 2, beginning a four-month residency that continues April 6, May 4, and June 1. You never know quite what’s going to happen or who’s going to show up at the fast-paced evening. Native New Yorker Taj recently gave twi-ny the lowdown as she prepared for the new set of performances.
twi-ny: What was the genesis of OntheFloor?
Ani Taj: The seed for OntheFloor was a short performance the Dance Cartel did at an art party called BjorkBall at Kent285 in Williamsburg, where we decided to move the crowd around us as we danced to create a shifting performance space. That idea was born largely out of my excitement about recent months I’d spent in Bahia, Brazil, where dance and music saturate everyday experience. In Bahia you get a lot of percussion in the streets, crowds dancing, spontaneous unison choreography in parades and concerts — people are constantly participating in rhythm and movement whether they like it or not. So when we got the offer to create an evening-length work based on the way we did BjorkBall, I thought I’d like to create an environment where people would have that same kind of permission to dance and participate, whether they’re dance savvy or not. Over time we’ve made a home for ourselves and our audiences at the Ace, but we keep it fresh with new material and guest artists for new collaborations.
twi-ny: How did you come upon the Ace?
Ani Taj: We really embrace the idea of making dance happen in unexpected places so that people outside of the usual dance crowd can have access to it. Ken Friedman (of the Spotted Pig and the Breslin restaurants) had the vision to bring us into Liberty Hall after seeing us at Kent285. There are challenges since the space is not intentionally outfitted for performance, but that’s part of the thrill of moving into new territory.
twi-ny: What do you tell dance fans who might be thinking twice about going to a show in a dark basement where they’ll have to move around for ninety minutes, being careful not to accidentally bump into the performers?
Ani Taj: Our MC offers a few simple guidelines at the top of the show, but mostly it’s common sense: if you see a body flying toward you, move; if you like the beat, groove. Part of the fun is that you're being asked to be aware of your own body in space — as you would at a crowded concert or club.
twi-ny: The show begins with a series of short acts from various genres, from comedy and video to participatory performance art. How are the acts chosen?
Ani Taj: Actually the evening you saw was unusual — that night there was a partnership with a publication that created that whole preshow. Usually we start off with just the Cartel, and sometimes there is a guest performer (usually musical) midway through the show. We are lining up our guests for the spring now — we’ll keep you posted.
twi-ny: OntheFloor is the type of show where anything can happen. What’s the craziest thing you’ve experienced while performing the show?
Ani Taj: I’m happy to say there have been no major train wrecks, only happy convergences between unexpected groups of people. There was a great night where a dozen businessmen accidentally rolled in toward the end of our show, loved the feel, and they just cut loose and stayed dancing with us and our Brazilian drummers for a couple of hours. Our collaboration with Team Hotwheelz was also an incredibly gratifying, out-there experience; we cocreated a dance with two pioneer performers who happen to be in wheelchairs, Ali Stroker and Chelsie Hill, and then for that show we suddenly had multiple audience members in wheelchairs doing the Dougie with us.
twi-ny: You and Sam also teach the Dance Dancing Dance Company Class. Is that a class for anyone? What is the focus?
Ani Taj: The Dance Dancing Dance Company Company Class (DDDCCC) is very much a class for anyone — we’ve had everyone from trained dancers to sound designers to philosophy students, and the class is crafted to be both challenging and fun (yes, fun; dancing can be fun!) for people with disparate backgrounds. I think for both Sam and me, a sense of humor and an accelerated heart rate are important parts of the dance we want to see more of in the world. Students can expect to get low and sweaty and have a stupid good time but also to be challenged to capture the dynamics and rhythmic details of real dance sequences in the choreography portion of the class.
NEW YORK INTERNATIONAL CHILDREN’S FILM FESTIVAL
Multiple venues throughout Manhattan
[Not for] Children Film Festival Benefit: February 28, $300 - $1,000
March 1-24, $13 (opening-night $20-$40)
All-Access VIP Pass: $400
Since its beginnings in 1997, the New York International Children’s Film Festival has been dedicated to bringing more intelligent movies to kids ages three to eighteen. Part of GKIDS (Guerrilla Kids International Distribution Syndicate), NYICFF hosts programs year-round, but its bigger-than-ever sixteenth annual festival is scheduled to take place March 1-24, spread out across such venues as Asia Society, the IFC Center, Tribeca Cinemas, FIAF, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Scholastic, the DGA Theater, and the SVA Theatre. More than one hundred features, shorts, documentaries, and animated films will be presented from France, Belgium, Canada, India, Japan, the Netherlands, Italy, Taiwan, America, and other nations, in addition to workshops, a filmmaking camp, a prefestival not-for-children benefit (showing films that were submitted to NYICFF but are clearly not for kids), and the opening-night gala, the U.S. premiere of Benjamin Renner’s animated Ernest & Celestine, followed by a catered reception. This year’s jury, which includes such actors, writers, directors, and producers as Geena Davis, Gus Van Sant, Susan Sarandon, Jeffrey Wright, Christine Vachon, and Michael Modine, has also selected such films as Laurent Boileau and Jung Henin’s Approved for Adoption, Enzo D’Alò’s Pinocchio, the English-language premiere of Koji Masunari’s Welcome to the Space Show, and the Spanish-language version of Wreck-It Ralph called ¡Rompe Ralph! Eric Beckman, who cofounded NYICFF in 1997 with his wife, Emily Shapiro, was only too happy to discuss this year’s festival and the state of children’s films in general.
twi-ny: What prompted you to form GKIDS and NYCIFF in the first place?
Eric Beckman: NYICFF was formed to fill a void in the marketplace for exciting, meaningful, diverse, nuanced, eye-opening, thought-provoking film for young people. At the time we launched back in the late 1990s, the indie film movement was in full swing, and on any given weekend in New York City you could see maybe one hundred different films for adults — edgy indie films, French art films, romantic comedies, teen sex comedies, high-brow Oscar bait, action pictures, silent film retrospectives, and so on — literally any kind of film you could imagine was on tap for adults. But for kids there would be just one movie playing, which seemed just wrong for a city like New York. So the germinating idea for the festival was that we would bring a hugely exciting world of film to NYC every winter so that for four weeks during the festival, there would be the same kind of cinematic diversity and creativity and range of experience for kids that there is for adults.
twi-ny: How has the festival changed over the years, since its debut in 1997?
Eric Beckman: We’re much bigger (the largest in North America). NYICFF is now an Oscar qualifying festival, we have more films — and perhaps equally important we have a paid staff. We have also secured a reputation as a significant industry event on par with the prestige “adult” festivals in terms of important feature premieres and our record of introducing significant new directors to U.S. audiences and debuting future Oscar nominees. But the core concept is still exactly the same — uncompromising, excellent film for ages three to eighteen, including shorts, features, animation, live action, docs, and experimental films from six continents.
twi-ny: Do you think children’s films themselves have changed over the last sixteen years?
Eric Beckman: Yes and no. The Pixar animated CGI picture has supplanted Pocahontas/Lion King as the model to emulate. And more recently, with companies like Laika and others producing pictures every few years, there has been a wider variety of films out there — which has been great. But the underlying market forces that limit what is available for children have remained, and if anything have gotten stronger. Unlike films for adults, there is no independent circuit for children’s movies, so pretty much everything that is released is engineered to reach a mass audience. Amour at $4 million box office gross is a critical and financial success — but The Pirates! at $31 million is a potential write-down, even though it is a wonderful movie. So this pressure to reach mass audience to achieve $150 million domestic box office continues to affect the types of children’s films that get made in the U.S. — and severely limits the number of independent or foreign titles that can get a release. NYICFF and GKIDS are working to build that indie-for-kids circuit — and we have had some notable success at the Oscars and getting films attention and distribution, a trend we expect to continue.
twi-ny: With everyone, including children, having more access to films of all kinds over the internet, on cable, and on handheld devices, should parents worry more than ever about what their kids are watching?
Eric Beckman: This is a parenting question, so I will take off my film festival director hat for a moment. I have three children, and to be honest I am not overly worried about content. I am more concerned with limiting screen time, making room for reading, exploring art, theater, music, and other activities — and encouraging creative use of technology rather than passive consuming. Yes, there is some terrible stuff out there, but hopefully you raise your kids to make good choices rather than making the choices for them.
twi-ny: You have another prestigious jury this year. What do you look for in a jurist?
Eric Beckman: That is an often-asked question — as clearly Gus Van Sant and James Schamus do not jump to mind when you think of children’s films. But it is exactly that take we are looking for. We reach out to jurors who love and understand and are involved in creating great films. Not great children’s films, but great films period. Our jurors generally fall into one or more of three categories: actors or filmmakers (many of them parents) who we saw were coming to the festival so were already fans and supporters; innovative and provocative filmmakers who support a wider and more interesting range of film being made for young people; and renowned foreign filmmakers whose works first found U.S. audiences through the festival.
twi-ny: On February 28, there’s a specifically “not for children” benefit. What can adults expect from that?
Eric Beckman: The NY Int’l [Not for] Children’s Film Festival is a really, really fun and slightly naughty event. Every year NYICFF receives submissions that are so “not for kids” that you have to wonder what the person submitting the film was thinking. This began at the very first festival, with a film made with Barbie dolls that would definitely garner an NC-17 rating. So a few years ago, we decided to show a few of these films at a private cocktail party we were doing for board members, staff, and other friends of the festival. Everyone had so much fun we made it the theme of our fundraiser that year, and thus began the tradition.
The event takes place Feb 28, the night before Opening Night. You will want to reserve your babysitter now! It is at Tribeca Film Center and involves a screening of very inappropriate films that were submitted to the festival, plus food, cocktails, drinking games, prizes (courtside Knicks tickets, racecar driving school, all-access family passes to the festival . . .) and more things that I am not even aware of, since I am not on the benefit committee. The proceeds benefit the festival’s FilmEd program, which assures that economically disadvantaged New York City families have access to the festival’s programs and filmmaking classes. So it is a great event for a great cause.
“What they don’t tell you when you sign up to become an author is how many times you will end up reading your own book,” jazz guitarist and vocalist John Pizzarelli writes in the finale to his first book, World on a String: A Musical Memoir (Wiley, October 2012, $26.95). “I can also tell you that I have been around the block so many times with this manuscript that I’m beginning to have issues with this vaguely familiar John Pizzarelli character who seems to get a lot of airtime in this book.” The son of legendary musician Bucky Pizzarelli, John, now fifty-two, has been recording original songs and covering standards for more than thirty years, playing with such greats as Skitch Henderson, Paul McCartney, Rosemary Clooney, James Taylor, and many others, including his wife, Jessica Molaskey, and his father. On his most recent record, Double Exposure (Telarc, May 2012), John reinterpreted a wide range of jazz, pop, rock, and folk classics by the likes of Neil Young, the Beatles, Elton John, Elvis Costello, Steely Dan, and the Allman Brothers.
For his memoir, Pizzarelli teamed up with longtime friend Joe Cosgriff, who wrote one of Pizzarelli’s most popular hits, “I Like Jersey Best.” (The book includes a riotous section on how John and Bucky went to the Jersey State Assembly when the tune was being considered for official state song.) John and Joe, a pair of Jersey-born Red Sox fans who are both proud members of the Yankee-hating BLOHARDS group, will be at powerHouse Arena in DUMBO on Monday night, February 25, in a benefit for the Brooklyn institution, which suffered significant damage from Hurricane Sandy. Pizzarelli will read from and sign copies of World on a String and will perform a rare solo set. Admission is a mere twenty bucks for what should be a unique and wonderful evening. Pizzarelli and Cosgriff recently discussed their collaboration, the Boston Red Sox, meatballs, and Sandy with twi-ny.
twi-ny: You’ve been friends for some thirty years; how did the writing process go?
Joe Cosgriff: It took us a little while to hit our stride. We started out face-to-face, which was a blast but didn’t produce finished pages. And John submitted about a third of the book in written form. But what worked best were the voice files and CDs he sent from the road. They were hilarious, and John’s prodigious output of these helped us catch up with the publisher’s deadlines.
John Pizzarelli: That’s it! Mostly we wrote about what subjects Joe thought we should explore. Then for a follow-up I would put more exact answers onto a CD.
twi-ny: Were there moments that you wanted to kill each other?
JP: Joe was really great about specific things he may have gotten wrong. If I said, “I think it happened this way,” he was more than happy to fix things. So there was no head banging, sorry to say.
JC: John and I have collaborated on projects previously, although nothing as ambitious as this one in terms of sheer volume. We had other bumps in the road — three editors and counting — but never any issues with one another. He is a natural storyteller, worked hard on the book, and he helped to make the experience about as enjoyable as it could be.
twi-ny: When will you be starting on the sequel?
JC: Sequel? We need to do a better job of letting people know about this book first.
twi-ny: You’re both Jersey boys who love the Red Sox and live in New York City. That can’t be easy.
JC: It’s not an easy road and not one I’d recommend. Yankee Stadium, especially the previous one, was not hospitable. But our little club, the BLOHARDS, has a lot of fun at our two annual luncheons, and John and I have a good time preparing the material. “My Bobby Valentine” was one of last year’s best songs.
JP: My first recollection of baseball was the ’67 World Series [between Boston and St. Louis]. I loved the look of that Red Sox team, especially [Carl] Yastrzemski. Since there were no Red Sox uni’s then available in New Jersey, I was [Yankees second baseman] Horace Clarke for about a year, till about 1981-ish, when the Yanks fired Dick Howser.
twi-ny: John, you’ve put out dozens of albums and played thousands of shows. How has public and critical reaction to the book compared to what you’ve gotten throughout your career as a musician?
JP: The entire routine is like putting out a CD and waiting for the reviews, etc. The book has been largely well received, which has been a very pleasant surprise.
twi-ny: Joe, you worked for a printing company for several decades before recently retiring. What’s it like to have your name on the cover of a book for the first time, after having printed so many millions with others’ names on them?
JC: Good question! The best part of this “author thing” has been hearing from people who connected emotionally with the book. A couple of people at John’s shows had tears rolling down their faces talking about what we wrote about Zoot Sims and Dave McKenna. Those experiences have been powerful and unexpected.
twi-ny: How were John’s son Johnny’s meatballs at the annual Birdland after-party? I understand that they were not made at their usual location, Cosgriff’s kitchen.
JP: We did use Joe’s stove for an earlier meatball fest. I had to get out of there, though. I didn’t want to get used to that stove; it’s tremendous. When we do anything at Joe’s, wine tasting, meatballs, or book editing, he plays the best music — Zoot Sims, Anita O’Day, Oscar Peterson.
JC: Johnny is a meatball machine at this point. There were some time constraints this time with the Birdland gig, so they did the prep on the West Side. And the prep is half the fun. One common denominator about parties with Johnny's meatballs — no leftovers!
twi-ny: John is playing a Sandy Benefit Concert at the powerHouse Arena in DUMBO on February 25. Were both of you affected by the hurricane, either directly or indirectly?
JP: I was lucky on the Upper West Side. Our cabin up north lost power for two weeks — lost some oxtail ragu that was in the freezer, but nothing else too bad. I am happy to help out any way I can to those affected much worse than I was.
JC: My apartment lost power for five days, but this was nothing compared with the devastation sustained by friends of ours in Brooklyn. And I am traveling this week in California with friends from the Jersey Shore whose home still needs significant repairs. When we heard about the damage to powerHouse, we told them we’d like to help, and that is how this event came about.
ATHENA FILM FESTIVAL
117th St. & Broadway
February 7-10, $12 per screening, $65 all access pass ($20 for students)
The third annual Athena Film Festival returns to Barnard College this week, consisting of four days that celebrate women and leadership with film screenings, workshops, panel discussions, and other special events. Created by Kathryn “Kitty” Kolbert, director of the Athena Center for Studies at Barnard, and Melissa Silverstein, founder of Women and Hollywood, the festival runs February 7-10, presenting such shorts, features, and documentaries, primarily by and about women, as Sara Lamm and Mary Wigmore’s Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and the Farm Midwives, which examines birthing methods from the 1970s to the present; Cecilia Peck’s Brave Miss World, about a former Miss World fighting for victims of physical and sexual abuse; Margarethe von Trotta’s Hannah Arendt, a biopic about the highly influential political philosopher and writer; and Bonnie McFarlane’s Women Aren’t Funny, in which stand-up comedian McFarlane and her comedian husband, Rich Vos, explore the world of women in comedy. Most of the screenings will be followed by Q&As with the filmmakers, subjects, and experts in the field, including Fishman, Peck, McFarlane, Fran Drescher, and many others. Among the free, ticketed talks are “A Hollywood Conversation with Gale Anne Hurd,” honoring this year’s winner of the Laura Ziskin Lifetime Achievement Award, and “In Her Voice: Women Directors Talk Directing,” with directors Gini Reticker, Agnieszka Vosloo, Aviva Kempner, Courtney Hunt, Jodie Markell, and Emily Abt. This year’s Athena Award winners are director and distributor Ava DuVernay, film critic Molly Haskell, Film Society of Lincoln Center executive director Rose Kuo, and Paley Center for Media president and CEO Pat Mitchell. Kolbert and Silverstein recently discussed the festival and its growing impact via e-mail.
twi-ny: The third annual Athena Film Festival begins on February 7. What did you learn from the first two years, and how has that affected this year’s event?
KK & MS: We learned that there was a real hunger for a conversation about women’s leadership and that film is a wonderful media to jump-start that conversation. We learned how important it is for women and girls to have role models and also for men to see women leading in a wide variety of circumstances. We also learned that talking about women’s leadership should not be like taking medicine, so we look for movies that get the point across with humor and with inspiration.
twi-ny: What has been the general reaction of the film industry to the festival? Do you see the overall attitude toward women, in all aspects of the business, changing, or is it still an old (white) boys network?
KK & MS: There are women working at all levels of the business, but most of the top leaders and decision makers continue to be men. Amy Pascal [of Sony] is still the only female studio chief. It’s changing but very slowly.
twi-ny: Melissa, a few weeks ago you wrote on "Women and Hollywood" about the sexist treatment of Kathryn Bigelow in the media over various Zero Dark Thirty controversies, explaining that it "smells like shit." It’s one thing to help develop more woman writers, editors, directors, actors, producers, techs, etc., but what can be done about the media’s role in all of this?
MS: One of the things we need to do is to keep talking about these issues. Kathryn Bigelow is a unique situation, and her experience lends to a much-needed conversation about the status of women directors in Hollywood. When there is only one woman and she gets treated the way she does people notice.
twi-ny: This year’s Laura Ziskin Lifetime Achievement Award is going to Gale Anne Hurd. Are women like Ms. Hurd and the late Ms. Ziskin anomalies in the film world, or do you see a new generation of such talented women on the horizon?
KK & MS: Producing is one of the places where you see amazing women making movies at all levels of the business. Gale Anne is one of the best, and she has had an amazingly prolific career making films that break stereotypes. She’s at the top of her class and other producers both male and female should learn from her, especially how she has been able to transition between TV and film because that is vital nowadays.
twi-ny: Kitty, along those lines, do you envision a time when leadership programs for women, such as the Athena Center, will be unnecessary?
KK: We have a very long way to go. In the U.S., women are leaders in only 18-22% of most industries. Among Fortune 500 companies and in Hollywood it is much less. And of course it varies considerably across the globe. I certainly believe that there will be plenty of work ahead for the next several generations.
twi-ny: What are some of the films at this year’s festival that you’re most looking forward to?
KK & MS: We have a particularly strong lineup this year. We are so unique because we have films that have wide distribution, such as Beasts of the Southern Wild and Brave, to films that many people would not be able to see. We hope your readers will come spend the weekend with us.
After more than seven years and several transformations, the hit off-Broadway musical Forever Dusty has settled comfortably into its home at New World Stages, where it opened in November and is currently scheduled to run through March 3. The biographical show examines the career of Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien, better known as British singing sensation Dusty Springfield — dazzlingly channeled by Forever creator Kirsten Holly Smith — from her childhood to her superstardom through her death in 1999 at the age of fifty-nine. The ninety-minute musical also delves into Springfield’s personal life, including her long estrangement from her brother (played by Sean Patrick Hopkins) and her relationships with women, embodied in the show by a composite character named Claire (Christina Sajous). There are family matters going on behind the scenes, too, as Smith cowrote Forever Dusty with her husband, journalist and author Jonathan Vankin. Smith, who is from Pittsburgh, has previously appeared in such plays as Three Sisters, Of Mice and Men, and Twelfth Night and such films as Isle of Lesbos and Firecracker, while Vankin, who hails from Williamstown, Massachusetts, has written for comic books, the New York Times Magazine, and Salon as well as authoring books in the Greatest Conspiracies series. Below the two discuss their collaboration and their still-growing admiration of Dusty Springfield.
twi-ny: Whose initial idea was it to create a show about Dusty Springfield? What was it about Dusty that drew you to her?
Jonathan Vankin: Forever Dusty is Kirsten’s idea, her vision, her baby. I came on as her writing partner a few years into her process. So on one level, it is Kirsten Holly Smith who drew me to Dusty.
That said, I’ve always been a huge fan of ’60s music in general and, specifically, the era that Dusty came out of — the British Invasion, Swinging London era. I knew about Dusty and of course I knew “Son of a Preacher Man,” like everyone. But once I became involved in this project and started to listen to every song that Dusty ever recorded and watch every bit of film and video I could find, I immediately became a die-hard fan. Our show covers her life story, which was tragic and triumphant in itself and has become something of an obsession for me over the past few years. But sometimes I have to take a step back, put on one of her records, and just let myself be astonished by how unbelievably good Dusty really was.
Everyone starts with her Dusty in Memphis album, and that is an excellent place to start. But I’d also strongly recommend seeking out her other albums from the 1960s, especially my favorites, A Brand New Me, which was her Philadelphia soul album, and Dusty . . . Definitely, her final British album before her relocation to America.
There are some fantastic female vocalists out there today. Adele, for example, is a phenomenal talent. But I don’t think anyone can or will ever equal what Dusty Springfield was able to do with her voice, her uncanny instinct for selecting great material — and her incredible charisma.
Kirsten Holly Smith: Looking back, I would have to say I was naive about where this journey would take me. It has taken a lot of courage and commitment to not give up on this piece. Somehow we just kept going and a few miracles happened. We are very fortunate and excited to be open off Broadway at New World Stages.
The first thing about Dusty that drew me in was her voice. There was a vulnerability, a grit. The soul that I heard in it — I was immediately fascinated. Then came her look: the blonde beehive, the black panda eye makeup, the incredible costumes and theatrical gestures. The whole package pulled me in. I slowly became obsessed. As I started to learn more about her story, it was like gold. I knew it had to be told. She was the first to stand against apartheid in South Africa and was put under house arrest. She was gay when it was literally a crime in England. Her deep love of soul music, which led her to produce a televised concert called The Sound of Motown with Little Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, and others. She in many ways inspired a nation and introduced them to soul and R&B music. You can still strongly see her influence today with artists like Adele, the late Amy Winehouse, and Duffy.
twi-ny: In doing your research, what was the most surprising thing you learned about Dusty?
JV: Well, as far as surprises go, it’s hard to say because there are so many. After studying her life and career for the past four or five years, I’d think I should know everything about her. But in fact, every time I go back into her story, I find something new. One of my favorite fun facts about Dusty that I think would surprise a lot of people is that she was responsible for the career of a little band some people may have heard of, by insisting that Ahmet Ertegun, the legendary head of Atlantic Records, sign them. Which he did, sight unseen, on Dusty’s suggestion alone. That band went on to have a pretty decent career, despite their funny name — Led Zeppelin.
KHS: I think the most surprising thing about Dusty is that no matter how much I learn or listen or study about her, there is always something new that pops up that I don’t know. Or someone who was close to her will reach out to me or come see the show and tell me an anecdote about her. I am always learning and discovering new things about her, and that is after many years of research. She is endlessly fascinating as a character study. I am grateful that I picked a character that continually inspires me. Not to mention all the cool and lovely people who are now in my life because of doing this project. Thank you, Dusty!
twi-ny: What do you think is the most misunderstood aspect of her career?
JV: It depends on who’s doing the understanding. I think that for today’s generation, it’s very difficult to understand the intense struggles that Dusty faced in her era — being a woman in the music business, especially. Dusty was producing her own records from the start of her career, but she was never given or took credit for it because she knew that the industry, and for that matter the public, wouldn’t tolerate the idea of a woman controlling her own career the way she did. I think that’s very difficult for people in our era to understand — even a female superstar like Dusty was supposed to stay in her “place.”
KHS: I think there was a lot about her career that was misunderstood, but [I agree that] one thing that comes to mind is that she produced her own records at a time when women did not take that kind of role in the studio. Although she never really took credit for it, she really pushed producers in England into that soul sound.
twi-ny: Do you have a particular favorite Dusty song?
JV: Hard to pick one. Like the Beatles, she recorded so many great songs that my favorite changes on an almost daily basis. Lately I’ve been listening to the lead track on her final album, A Very Fine Love (though the original, and better title, was Dusty in Nashville). The song is called “Roll Away,” and given its place in Dusty’s life and career, it’s a very moving epitaph and a beautiful number.
KHS: That’s really tough for me. Dusty literally recorded hundreds of great songs and many of them hits. I would probably have to break it down by decade. Early ’60s: “I Only Want to Be with You.” Mid-’60s: “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” Late ’60s: “Son of a Preacher Man.” ’70s: “Crumbs Off the Table.” (She also recorded a lot of backup vocals in the ’70s under the pseudonym Gladys Thong; I love that. Fun fact: She sang backup on Elton John’s “The Bitch Is Back.”) The ’80s: “What Have I Done to Deserve This” or “Soft Core.” I also love her version of “Can I Get a Witness” and her cover of a Baby Washington song called “Doodlin’.” But . . . if I was stranded on a desert island and only had to pick one song, it would have to be “Son of a Preacher Man.”
twi-ny: Kirsten, you make a lot of eye contact with the audience during the show. In general, how have the crowds been?
KHS: In general, I only make eye contact in the context of there being a live performance that is incorporated into the story. As much as I can, I see the audience through that filter in my imagination. That is, the filter of what part of the story I am telling when I am singing that particular song to the audience.
I am also aware of the audience and how they are responding. I do my best as an actor to just focus on what is happening onstage; listen, receive, and respond to the other actors in the moment. That is my job, and that is hopefully where most of my focus lies during the performance. We move through the story at a fast pace. I do feel that if I am off my game in any way that the audience directly responds to that, so I do my best to be in the moment. Being in such an intimate space as the 199-seat house we are in at New World keeps me very grounded and honest in my work. I can’t really fake it, and it makes me work harder. It’s a good, fertile training ground to make me stronger as an artist and performer. I also think it gives the audience a direct experience with the artist, and I believe that can be very powerful to experience.
JV: I can say that just from being in the crowd myself at quite a few of the performances so far, audiences love this show. People are on their feet at the end of every show, and when Kirsten heads into the lobby afterward, she’s always swarmed with autograph and photo requests — all of which she happily obliges.
KHS: In general the crowds have been really supportive. I do go out to meet the audience in the lobby after the show and people can be very emphatic about the show. It’s delightful and makes me feel like all of our hard work is worth it. The audience members seem to have a very positive and emotional reaction to the story and the music. I get a lot of, “I didn’t know that about her.” And “Thank you for keeping her memory alive.” Or “I loved the music; you brought me back to my youth.”
There are younger people too who are just getting to know Dusty and are coming to the show; they too really love the story and are moved by it. Forever Dusty is a slice of rock-n-roll history and one that I think is really cool for younger people to take in as well. I feel very moved, proud, and grateful when people are inspired by the piece. Art is all about sharing and inspiring people. Theater is a very direct medium for storytelling: There is no filter; you are living the story. When theater is done right, it is truly a very powerful experience for the audience.
JV: What I find most meaningful is when people who actually knew Dusty in her life come to see the show (and there have been a number of them). Inevitably, they have tears in their eyes when they approach Kirsten and tell her that she brought Dusty back for them. What could mean more than that?
twi-ny: You wrote the show together. Do you work well with each other, or can it get a little crazy?
JV: To tell you the truth, it went great. Any collaboration has its bumps in the road, but in this case we know each other’s talents and abilities so well that we always knew what to expect from each other and what we each had to contribute.
KHS: Jonathan and I did write this version of the show together. The show was born out of a piece that I started writing in 2005 that ended up being produced in 2008. Then Jonathan and I got together and wrote a screenplay that encompassed more of Dusty Springfield’s entire story. It was a big, sprawling biopic about her life. We went in and did a lot more research, fleshed out the story, added a lot more music. Our screenplay was twice a finalist at the Sundance Screenwriters Lab 2.
While we were writing the film script, we were working on getting the play up in New York, but there was not a lot of movement happening with it so we decided to flesh out the play script that was produced in L.A. (which was a one-woman musical) and create a bigger theatrical piece. This eventually became Forever Dusty, the show we currently have in place, which has five actors and four band members onstage. I am really proud of where it landed.
I think Jonathan and I work really well together. Yes, it can get crazy, but we seem to somehow always be able to work through it. We balance each other out well; it’s a strong partnership.
Jonathan has extensive experience as a writer and editor, and I always learn an immense amount working with him. He’s very detailed about the choices a character makes and why they make them. He has an incredible talent. I have seen few people who can craft a story and character with the depth and ease that Jonathan does. It is truly a gift and honor to work with him. He is more of a mentor to me when it comes to writing. I am a strong ideas person and creative. It can be really fun bouncing ideas around and coming up with dialogue.
twi-ny: Do you have plans to write together again?
KHS: I will always work with Jonathan, but he is busy with other projects right now. I think he just finished a screenplay for a producer and is now working on writing another play for another producer. We have talked about several other projects that could work. I guess time will tell. Right now we are still pretty focused on building Forever Dusty into the long-term success we know it can be. We need all the support we can get right now from the community.
JV: Sure, we’d love to write together again. (And here’s a secret — we already have.)
GRAHAM PARKER & THE RUMOUR
Saturday, December 1, the Concert Hall at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, 2 West 64th St., $45-$75, 8:00
Sunday, December 2, the Paramount, 370 New York Ave., Huntington, $25-$49.50, 8:00
Since the mid-1970s, Graham Parker has been making his unique brand of pub/punk/pop music, featuring smart, incisive lyrics in all-out rockers and sweet, tender ballads. Although he has never stopped putting out outstanding albums and touring with various backing bands or playing solo, the London-born, New York-based Parker came out swinging, releasing a string of seminal records between 1976 and 1980 with the group he is most associated with, the Rumour. Consisting of Brinsley Schwarz and Martin Belmont on guitar, Andrew Bodnar on bass, Bob Andrews on keyboards, and Steve Goulding on drums, the Rumour helped define Parker’s angry-young-man sound on such classic discs as Howlin’ Wind, Heat Treatment, and Squeezing Out Sparks, ending their five-year run with 1980’s The Up Escalator (without Andrews). After thirty-one years, Parker and the Rumour have reunited for Three Chords Good, another exceptional record on which Parker examines the current state of America, taking on the conservative movement, war, and love in these critical times as only he can. (You can stream the new album here.) “I practice mass hypnosis / You’ll get sucked in by osmosis / But here comes my gnostic gnosis / (and guess what my gross is),” he sings on “Snake Oil Capital of the World,” continuing, “I’m suffering from psychosis / But I’ll give you my diagnosis / You need my medicine (in massive doses).” On the lovely “Long Emotional Ride,” Parker, who just turned sixty-two — and plays a musician named Graham Parker in the upcoming Judd Apatow film This Is 40 — acknowledges his past in a song that relates to the Rumour reunion. “I thought I was a cold, cold man / As a writer you have to be / Got to observe everything from a distance / Record it for posterity / But lately I’ve been feeling things / That I’ve never felt before / Maybe I’m just getting old or something / But something broke down my resistance / And opened the door.” Graham Parker and the Rumour will be playing the Concert Hall at the New York Society for Ethical Culture on December 1, with Parker’s previous backing band, the Figgs, opening up, followed by a highly anticipated show December 2 at the Paramount in Huntington with another British legend still making great new music, Ian Hunter & the Rant Band. As Parker and the Rumour rehearsed last week in Poughkeepsie for the tour, which began November 24 in Tarrytown, we corresponded with the irrepressible Goulding, a drummer’s drummer whose wide-ranging resume includes playing with the Mekons, the Cure, Poi Dog Pondering, Elvis Costello, Carlene Carter, Gang of Four, Nick Lowe, and many others.
twi-ny: How did you first find out about the reunion?
Steve Goulding: Graham asked me and Andrew Bodnar to play on his new album, so I said, “If you asked Martin and Bob and Brinsley, you’d have a band!” So he did, and much to my surprise, they all agreed, even Brinsley, who used to be hard to get on the road.
twi-ny: Is it something that you ever thought would happen?
Steve Goulding: I didn’t really think we’d get back together until I heard Brinsley had agreed to do the album.
twi-ny: Did you guys gel instantly upon getting back together, or did it take a while to find the old magic?
Steve Goulding: Yes, it was pretty instantaneous. The recording sessions were like buttah.
twi-ny: The tour is about to start. What are your expectations for the live show?
Steve Goulding: I just hope an audience turns up! The show will be more, er, mature. If we remember the beginnings and endings of the songs, and play the bits in the middle okay, I will be happy.
twi-ny: Will it be odd having one of Graham’s other backing bands, the Figgs, opening some of the shows?
Steve Goulding: I think opening the shows may be odder for the Figgs than for us, as they’ve now played with Graham about three times as long as we did. I hope they don’t feel too bad about it.
twi-ny: How is the Graham Parker of 2012 different from the GP of 1976?
Steve Goulding: Graham is probably a bit happier and has a bigger song catalog to choose from. But he’s really not much different from 1976. He still has a certain prickly energy about him.
twi-ny: What about you?
Steve Goulding: I’m much nicer than I was in 1976. And fatter.
twi-ny: Who are some of the drummers who most influenced you?
Steve Goulding: My early influences were Keith Moon, Ginger Baker, Ringo, Charlie Watts — the usual suspects. Later I got into Bernard Purdie, Max Roach, Jim Gordon, Tony Williams, Al Jackson, and a whole bunch more. Everybody I listen to influences me a little bit. It’s hard to stop things sliding into one’s subconscious.
twi-ny: You are also a member of such bands as the Mekons and the Waco Brothers, and you regularly play with such solo artists as Megan Reilly, Laura Cantrell, and Garland Jeffreys. How is your approach to playing the drums different, if at all, in so many musical genres?
Steve Goulding: I try to listen to what people around me are playing and go along with that. The artists you mention are stylistically very different but they all have similar points of reference. So it’s not that difficult to play with all of them. If Sonny Rollins and Slayer were in there, that’d be much more impressive!
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has been captivating audiences for more than fifty years, amassing a repertoire of more than two hundred works from more than eighty choreographers since its founding by Alvin Ailey in 1958 at the 92nd St. Y. The inspirational company returns to City Center in Midtown for its annual season November 28 through December 30, comprising world premieres, new productions, company premieres, and Ailey Classics. Robert Battle is now in his second season as artistic director, having taken over in July 2011 from the legendary Judith Jamison, and he has put together another exciting series of shows. Last year’s all-new program contained Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16, Battle’s Takademe, Rennie Harris’s Home, and Alvin Ailey’s Streams, and they are all back again. The new works for 2012 are Garth Fagan’s From Before, Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort, Kyle Abraham’s Another Night, Ronald K. Brown’s Grace, and Battle’s Strange Humors. The special programs include Revelations with live performance by Jessye Norman, Anika Noni Rose, and Brian Stokes Mitchell, Saturday afternoon family matinees followed by Q&A sessions, and a tribute to Renee Robinson, who is retiring after more than thirty years with the company. As AAADT prepared for opening night, we asked nine of the dancers which piece they were most looking forward to performing on the City Center stage. (Below photos by Andrew Eccles, Eduardo Patino, and Paul Kolnick; for a chance to win free tickets to the December 12 performance, go here.)
Marcus Jarrell Willis: I think I’m most excited to perform Grace by Ronald K. Brown this season. I’ve been watching the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater on videos since I was a child, but I never had the chance to see the company in a live performance until just before moving from Houston to study at the Ailey School twelve years ago. Grace was first on the program and I fell in love. So now having the opportunity to be a part of it almost takes me full circle, and I’m thrilled.
Aisha Mitchell: I am really looking forward to premiering Kyle Abraham’s work, Another Night. The choreography is electric and set to music by Dizzy Gillespie. Also it’s the sole world premiere in our repertoire this season, so I’m ready to get onstage and share with our audiences something they have never seen before.
Kirven James Boyd: Our home season is my favorite time of the year because we’re able to perform all of our current repertory as well as a number of returning favorites. This season there are so many works that I’m looking forward to performing, but one of the most important roles for me this season would have to be A Song for You from the Ailey Classics program. This solo is an excerpt of a ballet called Love Songs, which was choreographed by Mr. Ailey in 1972. For the men in the company, being cast to perform this ballet holds the same weight as a woman being cast to perform Cry. For me, this is by far one of the biggest highlights of my career and I’m looking forward to discovering new layers of my artistry through this work.
Daniel Harder: The ballet I'm most looking forward to performing this season is Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort. I think the ballet is going to present a great challenge for me because it provides the perfect blend of ballet and modern vocabulary and allows me to tap into a quieter sensuality and power. Also, Kylián is an iconic choreographer, so I’m excited to have the opportunity to perform his work this season.
Antonio Douthit: I am so excited that Mr. Battle brought Grace back into the company’s repertory. Grace is one of the ballets I saw when I first joined the company nine years ago and was just in awe of what Ron Brown did with the movement and how he used the dancers in the space. I am happy to be taking on this ballet and growing from it.
Samuel Lee Roberts: I am looking forward to performing Robert Battle’s Strange Humors the most. Having been a founding member of Battleworks Dance Company, I performed the role for many years in the past. Coming back to it will be like seeing an old friend! I also look forward to performing with Mr. Boyd (a force of nature). I am sure that the Ailey audience will fall in love with this ballet.
Yannick Lebrun: I am most looking forward to performing Grace by Ronald K. Brown this season. The first time I saw the ballet six years ago as a student in the Ailey School, I immediately fell in love with it. After joining the company four years ago, I always hoped and wished that it would return to the repertory, so now that I have an opportunity to perform it, it’s almost like a dream come true, because I’m able to interpret a ballet that inspired me so much long ago and that has a deep meaning. I hope the audience is moved by my performance of the work just as I was so many years ago.
Michael Francis McBride: It is really difficult to pick just one work that I am most excited about performing this season because the repertory has an expanding diversity and every piece is so different. If I had to pick three, I would say that I am really excited to perform Robert Battle’s Strange Humors, Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort, and Ronald K. Brown’s Grace. These three made the list because they are new to this year’s repertory and they challenge me in new and exciting ways.