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Boston Art Museum Preview

26 Feb

It may already be February, but it’s not too late to resolve to make art a bigger priority in 2013. Below are four suggestions to start you off on the right cultural footing:

MFA Boston

testino - demi-moore-nude

Mario Testino photograph of Demi Moore

As you embark on your journey to explore Boston’s eclectic cultural offerings, The MFA Boston will serve as your home base. We are fortunate to have the fifth most visited museum in the US right across the river. If you’ve never explored the expansive museum, it’s worth reserving a full day just to explore the permanent collection. As you’d expect from one of the largest museums in the US, the permanent collection of 450,000 objects covers everything from the ancient to contemporary, textiles to musical instruments, and a comprehensive look at artistic achievements from every corner of the globe.

If your heart is set on seeing many of the MFA’s most iconic masterpieces, however, you may leave disappointed. As is common practice, the museum has lent several works to other museums to flesh out special exhibitions. That’s not all that is missing, however. Joining other exalted museums including the Phillips Collection in DC and most recently the Baltimore Museum of Art, the MFA Boston is engaging in what is shamefully becoming too common place: renting paintings to private companies and institutions for large sums of cash.  Select works are already back on the walls, but between the loans to other museums and the revenue-raising leases to private companies, don’t expect to see all of your favorites.

Fortunately, the MFA Boston has several worthwhile special exhibitions to keep you busy. From 1900 until the widespread adoption of radio and the telephone, Americans and Europeans went crazy for postcards. For The Postcard Age, curators selected 400 of the 100,000 postcards in the Leonard A. Lauder collection to illustrate why so many people became obsessed with collecting these tiny canvases.

While many famous artists at the time produced postcards, the exhibit’s charm comes from seeing how many uses were found for postcards. From the commercial (advertising Dutch railway schedules and trying to sell home electronics to women) to the political (one work depicts a little girl sitting on her father’s lap asking, “Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?,” others compel patriots to buy war bonds), the exhibit attempts to shine a spotlight on the forgotten postcard craze.

Also worth your time is “Art in the Street,” a look at the original street art. At the same time Europe experienced the postcard craze, it went through “poster mania” with colorful posters advertising consumer products at the turn of the century. Be sure to take advantage of the rare opportunity to see Cezanne’s The Large Bathers, on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

If you missed the electrifying fashion photography exhibit “Mario Testino: In Your Face,” which I’m assuming most of you did since attendance was disappointingly low until the very last weekend, his portrait series of the British Royal family is still on view. It may not be quite the same experience as seeing larger-than-life prints of nude celebrities like Demi Moore and Naomi Campbell (full disclosure: this was the first time I’ve ever been aroused at a museum), but it will serve as a useful introduction to one of today’s most important photographers.

Even if you have an allergy to paintings and sculptures, the MFA can offer you a month-long retrospective of the films of legendary director Stanley Kubrick including “Dr Strangelove” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Finally, I’m tempted to remind you not to miss the Dale Chihuly sculpture in the lobby, but considering the icicle tower is 40 feet tall, weighs 10,000 pounds, and is lime green, you won’t have a choice but to pass by it. The MFA Boston is free for Harvard students.

465 Huntington Avenue, Boston

Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston

David Hammons, "How Ya Like Me Now?," 1988. Photo courtesy of John Kennard/ICA

David Hammons, “How Ya Like Me Now?,” 1988. Photo courtesy of John Kennard/ICA

While the MFA requires several full days to do every gallery justice, the ICA asks for just an hour or two of your time. This Seaport District contemporary art museum has produced exciting shows such as the first solo museum exhibitions of street artists Shepard Fairey and Os Gemeos, but only a small fraction of the building is dedicated to displaying art.

In addition to offering one of the best views of Boston’s Seaport, visitors will be treated to the first major US museum retrospective exploring the art of the 1980s. This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics doesn’t shy away from hot button political issues such as the HIV/AIDs crisis, globalism, and the dominance of mass media. Among the 90 artists on display are Robert Maplethorpe, Cindy Sherman, Keith Harring, and Jeff Koons.

You’ll get the most out of your ICA visit if you attend First Fridays on Mar. 1, two days before the 80’s exhibit closes. For $15, you’ll be treated to a screening of Oscar-nominated short films, invited to roam the galleries, and be rewarded with pizza and popcorn in the café. Advanced reservations are recommended.

100 Northern Avenue, Boston

SoWa Artist Guild

If you prefer to peruse contemporary art while juggling a glass of wine in one hand and a cheese plate in the other, then make your way to the South End on the first Friday of each month. Over 60 artists in the SoWa Artist Guild open their doors monthly from 5-9 pm to bring the art-loving community together. During February’s event, not only was I impressed by the breadth of local talent, but delighted by the extensive opportunities for people watching. Impromptu tango classes anyone? Best of all, the affordable and essential Boston restaurant Myers + Chang is a mere two blocks away if you didn’t fill up on free cheese.

450 Harrison Ave, Boston

Ed Ruscha Standard

Ed Ruscha, “Standard Station” (1966)

Rose Art Museum

Asking students to leave Cambridge’s comforting bosom to make the quick jaunt into Boston is a tough enough sell, but students willing to make the 45 minute journey by train to Brandeis University will be rewarded with a stellar retrospective of Ed Ruscha. This comprehensive survey spanning the 60 year career celebrates one the most prominent living artists with 70+ paintings, photographs, prints, and films drawn from the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). You are guaranteed to leave with a better understanding of how this artist closely associated with Pop Art and Los Angeles continues to influence architecture, graphic design, and modern art. Admission is free for the general public.

415 South Street, Waltham

Avi Roth: Coffee as Art

26 Feb

Dinner and theatre, whiskey and female rock bands, art and extreme sports. When two of my favorite things are combined, I sit-up and take notice. That’s why I just had to see what artist Avi Roth was doing with coffee.

For Roth, coffee doesn’t just fuel his creativity – it’s his medium. About the process from Pardon my French, who presented Roth’s work to benefit the Armory Center for the Arts in my native LA:

“Artist Avi Roth uses coffee as his medium to create truly iconic images. Coffeegraph® – the process of applying coffee grinds and coffee by-products as organic pigment without a binder to solid and porous surfaces by way of staining, layering and water burning. Subsequently the artwork is converted into digital data, from which limited edition impressions are reproduced by various printing methods. Coffegraphs are storytellers, communicating images of imagination that engender contemplation between the seen and unseen, between thought and feeling.”

Avi Roth’s own site waxes poetic about our special relationship with coffee:

“For centuries, the most intimate kind of conversations has taken place over a cup of coffee. In many urban centers around the world, from the coffee houses of London and the terraces of Rome to the bohemian haunt of the Latin Quarter in Paris, intellectuals, lovers and dreamers came to share their feelings and secrets. We will never know their discourse, but the spirit of reticence lingers deep in the coffee cups that brought them together. When those precious moments were over, the spell was broken and memories were wandering in the obscure and distant valleys.

“Through an encounter of events and with the passion, creativity and aesthetic sense of an artist, Avi Roth has connected with those wandering memories and created with them his own dimension of personal space and creative expression. It has become his canvas. A canvas of tales conveyed by forces of nature.

“Hidden at the bottom of every coffee cup is an image of what was. The swirls and patterns of coffee reveal the secrets veiled by time through a silent language of their own. It took the creative genius of Avi Roth to discern these hidden messages and become the pioneering liaison of a new universal vocabulary. Roth, a graduate of the London Film School and an international photographer of unique and extravagant objects, was drawn to these quaint formations, and after years of rumination he began to understand how to channel them into a space of light and shadow. Hence, preserved is the language of Coffeegraph®.”

Can’t wait to gaze at Avi Roth’s work in person and contemplate where my life would be without coffee and art. In the meantime, I’ll be at Voltage Coffee & Art in Kendall Square.

Star Power Illuminates “The Glass Menagerie”

16 Feb

The Full Cast of the Glass Menagerie (Image courtesy of A.R.T.)

The Full Cast of the Glass Menagerie (Image courtesy of A.R.T.)

A version of this review previously appeared in The Citizen newspaper

This may come as a bit of a shock, but in the 32-year history of the American Repertory Theater, the celebrated pillar of the local theatre community has never staged a Tennessee Williams play. Armed with some serious star power thanks to Cherry Jones as Amanda Wingfield and Zachary Quinto as her son Tom, Tony Award-winning director John Tiffany is delivering the production of William’s most autobiographical play Cambridge has been waiting for.

Neither Jones (Awake, Ocean’s Twelve, 24) nor Quinto (Heroes, Star Trek, 24) are strangers to traversing between the stage and small screen. The challenge and inimitable beauty of live theatre, especially one featuring a small and talented cast, is recognizing that the audience’s own experiences and openness to emotionally engage allows for a play set in 1937 to feel fresh and urgent.

Sometimes an audience member’s ability to draw upon personal perceptions and experiences can work in an actor’s favor. From Amanda’s elegant dresses that have seen better days, to the way her tired hair struggles to maintain its curls while she effortlessly strings together a series of biting criticisms, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own grandmother.

Born in 1920’s Winona, Mississippi, my Grams will never let you forget that she’s a true Southern Belle, representing the last of a dying breed even though life hasn’t always been so kind to her. Just as Amanda exhumes a faded, ostentatious dress from her charmed youth when expecting company, my grandmother still primps for hours and talks wistfully of her modeling days before heading to her job as a WalMart greeter.

Watching Jones gracefully float across the cramped apartment, I can see why Tiffany was so insistent on recruiting her. There are few actresses still in the game who grew up among these larger than life Tennessee matriarchs, and it’s quite the coup that Jones agreed to come to Cambridge.

Conversely, the audience’s previous experiences can give an actor an unfair disadvantage. Quinto delivered a solid performance, but as he lurked in the shadows generously provided by gifted lighting designer Natasha Katz, I wanted to shout “Watch out Laura! Sylar is about to cut open your head!” Fortunately, I think a majority of the audience remembers him from the JJ Abrams Star Trek reboot, and unless Quinto throws on some pointy ears, there’s no confusing the tumultuous Tom with the stoic Spock.

As Tom warned in the opening monologue, the play shifts tone when he brings home a coworker (Brian J. Smith) to meet his sister Laura (Celia Keenan-Bolger). “Being an emissary from a world of reality that we were somehow set apart from,” the Gentlemen Caller’s unbridled charisma brightens up the drab apartment. As he attempts to psychoanalyze the emotionally crippled Laura, the chemistry between the two is undeniable.

The strong cast worked well together, but the true star of the play was the set designed by Bob Crowley. The one constant throughout the play is an imposing and winding fire escape that serves as a constant reminder that restless Tom is forever trapped in this suffocating apartment because of his love for his sister. This beautiful sculpture dominates the sparse set, and wouldn’t look out of place next to the Chihuly currently in the MFA Boston’s lobby.

Besides the rare but distracting line flubs, first by Jones and the next night by Smith, there’s little to criticize. Instead, I’m compelled to consider the missed opportunities. Tom emphasizes the surrealist nature of the play at the very outset, “Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic. In memory everything seems to happen to music. That explains the fiddle in the wings.” The illusion of Laura seamlessly slipping through the couch to enter and exit the stage reminds us that each character eschews the real world in favor of the safety of their preferred illusions – going to the movies for Tom, glass animal figurines for Laura, and Amanda constant retelling of the time when she received 17 gentlemen callers in a single day. I’m glad the focus was on the strong performers and the script by Williams, but perhaps too much restraint was shown and a few more whimsical touches would have further developed the memory play theme.

Another unexploited opportunity was utilizing the placid reflecting moat meant to emphasize how the characters and apartment exist only in memory. Considering how much effort must have been spent on creating a reflecting pool with black goo, a few more risks by the director could have made this a definitive production of this iconic Williams’ play.

Fortunately, the Loeb Drama Center isn’t afraid to take a few risks by allowing audience members to enjoy a cocktail from their seats. As an agitated and inebriated Tom stumbles about, you will be grateful you got that Berkshire Mountain Corn Whiskey on the rocks so you can get in the spirit and toast to a praiseworthy production.

The Glass Menagerie at the Loeb Drama Center runs through March 17. Tickets available at ART.

‘The Nutcracker’ Gets a Dazzling New Paint Job by the Boston Ballet

10 Dec

The Nutcracker Prince's Kingdom by Robert Perdziola

The Nutcracker Prince’s Kingdom by Robert Perdziola (illustration courtesy of Boston Ballet

A version of this review previously appeared in The Citizen newspaper

I’m not sure why I originally decided to see Boston Ballet’s new production of The Nutcracker at the Boston Opera House. It’s never been a favorite of mine, but perhaps I wanted to be there opening night to experience the unveiling of the much buzzed about new costumes and sets.

Lately, I’ve gravitated towards bold, modern, and masculine ballet. The most powerful theatre experience  I experienced this year was the West Coast premiere of Benjamin Millepied, of Black Swan and Mr. Natalie Portman fame, choreographed performances by Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève and featuring Marc Jacobs costumes.

How would an old standby like the Nutcracker compare? As the nights get colder, I was craving something to jumpstart my first New England winter holiday season. By this measure, The Nutcracker was a wild success. In a way, it is a sleeker, bolder Nutcracker. With the old sets and costumes put out to pasture after 17 long years, and mostly new choreography by Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen, this reliable holiday ritual has a dazzling new paint job.

Calling sets jaw-dropping is normally a hyperbolic crutch for hungover reviewers on a deadline, but my mandible really did come dangerously close to becoming unhinged once Robert Perdziola’s brilliant set was fully unveiled. It enabled me to recapture the holiday spirit and innocent joy I first experienced when I saw the Nutcracker 18 years ago.

Mouse King by Robert Perdziola (illustration courtesy of Boston Ballet

Mouse King by Robert Perdziola (illustration courtesy of Boston Ballet

With over 200,000 jewels used in the costumes, they definitely sparkle, but they act to accentuate the dancer’s elegant movements, not conceal them like many Nutcracker pageants as ballet you’ve experienced. Nissinen’s new choreography admirably attempts to return more focus to the dancers in the second half, but the dancing never quite shines as bright as the costumes and sets. Surprisingly, the strongest performances were by Brittany Summer and Lasha Khozashvili in the Arabian dance featuring old choreography. Fortunately, the quaint racism of the Chinese dance was kept short.  Other performances were fine, but never soared.

As much as I appreciated the efforts to update and reimagine, we can’t lose focus that it is still the Nutcracker. Every time a child did a little twirl on stage or a dancer completed a simple lift, the crowd erupted into applause. The Nutcracker is like catnip for white people. You probably already know if you want to see it. If you equate the Nutcracker with the holiday season and go every year, you won’t be disappointed. Ballet-lovers seeking something daring and fresh, wait until March when Boston Ballet brings three iconic works by Czech-Nederland’s choreographer Jirí Kylián. For the rest of us, it’s like an old book you pull off the shelf every five years. With even the Opera House’s lobby bursting with boughs of holly, this new edition is worth a reread.

The Nutcracker runs through December 30, 2012 at the Boston Opera House. Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased online or over the phone at 617.695.6955. A limited number of student rush tickets are available for each performance.

Music Monday Mixtape: Turkey Drop Edition

26 Nov

“Take Care of Yourself” – a projection of a breakup email received by artist Sophie Calle

It’s been four months since I started graduate school and I’m still adjusting. Not only is the life of a grad student quite different from my several years in the 9-5 cubicle life (how I miss those paychecks!), but differences between an undergraduate education at a public behemoth like UCLA and the experience of a grad student at an Ivy League deserves a blog of its own.

One thing that hasn’t changed from my transition from undergrad on the West Coast to grad school on the East Coast is the Turkey Drop. If you’ve never experienced the time-honored tradition of the Turkey Drop, it is when someone in a relationship starts school, and after months of struggling with the distance, the relationship ends when the couple reunites for the first time around Thanksgiving. I remember being trained as a Resident Assistant at UCLA on how to deal with an influx of breakups among my residents.

Sadly, several of my beautiful and brilliant friends went home this past weekend fearing that they would fall victim to this phenomenon. Knowing that words can only do so much, I decided to make a mixtape. Before I joined the indie masses scouring Pitchfork for music news (and to a lesser extent Paste), I wasted countless hours of my youth on AbsolutePunk.net whose mantra is “Music Mends Broken Hearts.” With that universal truth in mind, here are 30 songs to help you on the road to recovery.

Download the mixtape here

The above image is by French artist Sophie Calle who received an unexpected breakup email from her lover. She didn’t know how to respond to the letter, so instead she gave the letter to 107 woman of different professions and asked them to interpret it in their own way. It resulted in a dancer interpreting the letter through dance, a teacher correcting the letter’s spelling, and a secret service analyst encoded the letter, etc…

In Sophie’s in words, “I received an email telling me it was over. I didn’t know how to respond. It was almost as if it hadn’t been meant for me. It ended with the words, ‘take care of yourself’. And so I did. I asked 107 women, chosen for their profession or skills, to interpret this letter. To analyze it, comment on it, dance it, sing it. Exhaust it. Understand it for me. Answer for me.  It was a way of taking the time to break up. A way of taking care of myself.”

To my friends near and far who are experiencing heartbreak, please take care of yourself and remember that I’m always there for a hug or a stiff drink.

Election Season Gets Bloody: Exploring the Legacy of Andrew Jackson through Song at SpeakEasy Stage

6 Nov

A version of this article originally appeared in The Citizen newspaper

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson SpeakEasy Stage

Andrew Jackson (Gus Curry, far left) takes on the Washington Establishment (from left: Joshua Pemberton, Ben Rosenblatt, Tom Hamlett & Ryan Halsaver) Photo courtesy of Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo.

There may be no better political theatre than the creative storytelling and mythmaking broadcast live 24-hours a day during the current presidential election season, but SpeakEasy Stage’s production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson comes pretty close for those of us who just can’t get enough horse-racing and realpolitik. Instead of suffering through songs by Toby Keith, 3 Doors Down, and Taylor Hicks at Romney campaign rallies, audiences of this political pageantry get to enjoy a fist-pumping emo-rock score while exploring the legacy of our blood-letting seventh President.

On the surface, the musical attempts to answer the question posed by our wheelchair-bound, pink Crocs wearing narrator, “Was Jackson a great president, an American hero or a genocidal murderer?” The brawling, dueling, slave-owning Andrew Jackson became a national hero for his role in the War of 1812. Tired of an unresponsive bureaucracy controlled by northeastern elites who ignored the needs of Americans on the frontier, Old Hickory attempted to bring the presidency to the people. With a corrupt system mobilized against him and facing seemingly impossible challenges including the “Indian Problem,” the audience must accept the uncomfortable task of exploring the legacy of the founder of the Democratic Party.

At the show’s core, however, is an attempt to address the role of populism in our present day political system. When writer Alex Timbers and songwriter Michael Friedman first proposed an emo rock musical about King Andrew I and adolescent America in 2006, it was really meant to poke fun at President George W. Bush. When Jackson is denied the presidency in 1824 despite winning the most popular and electoral votes in 1824, it’s hard not to think of Bush v. Gore during “The Corrupt Bargain” musical number.

“John Calhoun says, ‘We need to find a scheme to keep the power in the hands of the chosen few.’

John Quincy Adams says, ‘If my dad was president, I should get to be president too.’

Henry Clay says, ‘I’ll make you president if you make me Secretary of State.’

Alexis de Tocqueville says something in French that none of us can translate.

All you educated people, you can talk of liberty. But do you really want the American people running their own country?… Let’s Dance!”

When I saw the musical’s world premiere in Jan. 2008 at the Kirk Douglas theatre in Los Angeles, it seemed like perfect commentary for the populist campaigns of Huckabee and Edwards. When the show made its journey from LA to Off-Broadway and then On-Broadway in 2010, it seemed like sharp commentary on the rise of Sarah Palin and the Tea Partiers. With the Obama and Romney election coming down to the wire, there’s no better time to experience the play that explores what it means to be an American and the challenges of being a direct representative of a divided people.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson SpeakEasy Stage

Andrew Jackson negotiates with Indian tribes. From left: Evan Murphy, Joshua Pemberton, Gus Curry, and Tom Hamlett. Photo courtesy of Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo.

Don’t let me give you the wrong impression. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is not all talk of corruption, the spoils system, and the forcible relocation of Native Americans during the Trail of Tears. For every uncomfortable truth we are forced to confront about our bloody history, there’s a couple cheerleaders making out in the Oval Office and an irreverent couplet like, “Would you like to see my stimulus package? I’m gonna fill you with Popula-jizz-m.”

Normally relegated to the director’s chair, this project allowed writer Alex Timbers to embrace his inner history nerd (he studied at Yale, but we won’t hold that against him). With allusions to Reagan’s Morning in America ads, political activist Susan Sontag, and French philosopher Michael Foucault, there are plenty of Easter eggs for the political nerds among us. Songwriter Michael Friedman uses the rock and post-punk score to explore the politics of pop music as well as the role of pop music in politics. The Green Day musical American Idiot will surely come to mind when enjoying the loud, irreverent songs and nasal delivery throughout Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, but this musical benefits from actually having something to say.

The Boston premiere of the most relevant show this political season features a comically gifted cast under the direction of Paul Melone and an electrifying set designed by Eric Levenson. Musical director Nicholas James Connell does a commendable job as bandleader, but his solos fall a bit flat in comparison to the laudable vocal performances by the rest of the cast. Gus Curry possesses the intensity, rock star presence, and vocal talent to pull off the challenging role of Andrew Jackson.

The Era of Jacksonian Democracy may be long gone, but the legacy of the deeply controversial and complicated veto-wielding President is still unsettled. The script continued to evolve as new scholarship emerged on this polarizing figure responsible for expanding our territories and preserving the union, as well as the deaths of countless Native Americans. Jackson may be on the $20 bill, but his role in shaping our current political system often goes unnoticed. It’s about time this important period in our nation’s history got the pop-culture treatment. As the show’s poster promises, “History just got all sexy pants.”

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson runs through Nov. 17 at the SpeakEasy Stage, Boston. Tickets are available at speakeasystage.com with student rush tickets available for $14 at the Box Office window an hour before curtain.

MassMouth: Connecting Boston through Storytelling

24 Oct

This story originally appeared in The Citizen, a newspaper of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

140 character tweets. Ten word emails hastily composed on our smartphones while walking to class. Three sentence life updates sent to friends on Gchat while watching pithy one-liners being traded on TV. Technological advances have improved the efficiency and convenience of communication, but there is a real concern that online engagement is leading to offline isolation.

We are fortunate to attend a school where isolation is difficult by design. As an undergrad at UCLA, I could go a whole day without bumping into anyone I knew during my 15 minute jaunts from class to class. At the bite-size Kennedy School (UCLA had parking structures that could fit three of our campuses), the challenge is not finding a familiar face. Instead, the challenge is resisting the urge to interrupt a friend who is furiously finishing a problem set in the Forum. By being organized into cohorts, familiarity comes naturally.

HR Britton, Audience Winner (Photo courtesy of Paula Junn, MassMouth)

Despite the advantages of this uniquely engineered environment, we often find ourselves struggling to communicate on a personal and more meaningful level. We were repeatedly reminded during orientation to resist the natural tendency to fall back on the typical “Where are you from? What do you do?” elevator conversation. Much of our time around the water cooler (or free coffee machine in the study) is spent commiserating about upcoming exams and piling up homework…err, I mean “problem sets” since we are professionals. When was the last time you heard a fully-fleshed story that was moving yet comical, animated but personal?

For me, it was just last week. I stumbled upon a story slam at folk music venue Club Passim in the heart of Harvard Square. The concept of a story slam is simple: audience members can throw their name into a hat, and if selected, step up to the mic and tell a short personal story related to that evening’s theme. What’s harder to describe, however, is the feeling you get as an audience member listening to these incredible stories by that guy who may also be your waiter at your neighborhood restaurant.

“Everybody uses and appreciates stories,” explains professional storyteller and MassMouth co-founder Norah Dooley. “This comes as a standard feature of the human ‘operating system.’ Stories help us understand and value our own lives. Since the dawn of human language, people have shared wisdom, joy and troubles through story.”

Daniel Joan tells an unbelievable tale of paranormal activity

Co-founders Dooley and Andrea Lovett have been hosting MassMouth events for over four years, but even after my very first slam, I know that Dooley was right that there is something hardwired in us that responds to the simple and pure beauty of storytelling. For the first time since arriving in Cambridge, I felt connected to my new community.

Take the evening’s winner Justin Werfel, for example. I doubt he even saw my face in the crowd as he told his story under the stage lights, yet I feel like I know him. As he recounted his race against the sun to complete a prank during Rush Week at MIT under the security of darkness, I felt like I was right there getting my hands dirty with him. I was grateful for the cover of darkness in Club Passim as runner-up Ayala Livny, program manager at Harvard Square’s homelessness drop-in center Youth on Fire, talked about one magical night under a meteor shower as a camp counselor; without the darkness, everyone would have seen just how much her story moved me. The audience’s favorite was HR Britton, who brilliantly incorporated music into the world’s oldest story, the circle of life.

It appears that I’m not alone in this desire to connect with my community. I found MassMouth serendipitously through a failed attempt to attend The Moth at Cambridge’s Oberon Theatre. The Moth began in founder George Dawes Green’s New York living room in 1997. The Moth’s success on public radio prompted an expansion to four new cities this season, including a Boston premiere last week.

Justin Werfel, Winner of the Storyslam (Photo courtesy of Paula Junn, MassMouth)

Unfortunately, I failed to beat The Moth’s bizarre system where 50 advanced tickets are sold online for $16, and the last 150 or so seats are sold for $8 to story lovers willing to wait in line for over an hour. After Nadir Vissanjy (MPP1) and I were turned away following 30 minutes of waiting, I was ready to admit defeat and return home to finish a problem set. Fortunately, enterprising MassMouth volunteer Dan Dahari explained that another story telling event was taking place down Mass Ave. Since my new goal of saying yes whenever possible, especially if it’s out of my comfort zone, has contributed to some of the most memorable experiences of my short life, Nadir and I were on our way.

In addition to providing an opportunity for Boston residents to enjoy the timeless magic of live storytelling, MassMouth brings this experience to local school children. MassMouth is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that goes into local schools and teaches students how to share their own stories. Slam attendees donated $114 to go towards providing prizes for the best storytellers at these schools.

As public narrative students can testify, each of us has a story to tell. We’re fortunate to have organizations like MassMouth providing opportunities to tell, and most importantly hear, each other’s stories.

The next story slam at Club Passim will be Nov. 19 and the theme is “Foodie.” Tickets are $6 for students. Find a complete schedule of events and download MassMouth podcasts at massmouth.ning.com

Brazilian Street Artists Os Gêmeos Invite You to Enter their Surrealist World

30 Sep

back-in-the-days

Back in the Days, 2008

Portuguese twin artists Os Gêmeos first captured my imagination at the Aug. 2011 Art in the Streets exhibit at LA’s MOCA. Their vivid and surreal depictions of urban and rural characters were intoxicating. And the colors – not enough can be said about  their trademark palette. I was tickled when I noticed the above work at the current solo exhibition at the ICA Boston, because it is actually owned by MOCA’s embattled director Jeffrey Deitch, currently the most hated man in the LA art world. Below is my article that appeared in the Sep. 25. 2012 issue of The Citizen newspaper.

A street art exhibit featuring Portuguese twins who alternate between playful depictions of rural traditions and critiques of social inequity – the Institute of Contemporary Art’s Os Gêmeos seems custom-made for Kennedy School students. Need further proof? It’s free for Harvard students.

upside-down

Amanheceu De Cabeca Prabaxo (Upside Down Sunrise), 2012. Mixed media on panel

The first US solo museum exhibition of the São Paulo twin brothers Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo runs through Nov. 25 and is well worth the T ride to Boston’s waterfront. As with all great graffiti success stories, the twins’ tale begins during the explosion of hip-hop in mid-1980s New York City.

Inspired but lacking affordable spray paint and concrete knowledge of how the New Yorkers did it, Os Gêmeos were forced to pave their own path. Armed with paint rollers and latex paint pigment, the twins developed a signature style featuring yellow-tinged characters and surrealist scenes. While they are known for their large-scale murals celebrated around the world, their paintings that incorporate household objects and wood sculptures are among the most moving in this exhibition.

stars-fish-out-of-water

The Stars Are Fish Out of Water

On the 3rd Sat. of each month, local musicians will bring the sonic sculpture Os Musicos to life. A Brazilian or hip-hop soundtrack would be a welcome addition the rest of the time, but I suppose it may interfere with the enjoyment of the free audio guide.

last-station-of-spring

The Last Station of Spring, 2010

After you exit the small one-room show and relish the breathtaking views of the expansive waterfront on your four-story descent, your surrealist street art journey is far from over. Armed with newly acquired insight and perspective, it’s time to find the twins’ murals around town. Start at the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway at Dewey Square, where you’ll find a controversial but awe-inspiring 70-ft mural on a Big Dig ventilation building. Then make your way to Stuart St.’s Revere Hotel before completing your journey at Webster St. in Somerville’s Union Square. The cross-town journey will be rewarded with the chance to experience the artists’ talents the way it was originally appreciated: on the streets and on a massive-scale.

os musicos

Os Musicos

Os Gemeos runs now through Nov. 25, 2012
Institute of Contemporary Art
, Boston

 

Red Bull Cliff Diving Boston 2012: Jumping 95 Feet Off a Boston Museum

11 Sep

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Making the Daring Leap 95 Feet over Boston Harbor

Boston had the distinct honor of being the only US stop for the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. On Aug. 25, the best high platform divers from across the world continued their battle to be named the best (and in my opinion, craziest) in the world. The location couldn’t have been more perfect: divers made the leap from a custom built 95-foot platform on the roof of the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) into the harbor.

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47,000 spectators and hundreds of boats came out for the competition, but luckily I stumbled upon a great viewing spot while on my search for beer. Speaking of beer, the $6 draught options were Harpoon IPA, Harpoon Summer, Coors Light, and Blue Moon. Harpoon was obviously the way to go.

$9 Red Bull cocktails were also being served, but I couldn’t bring myself to violate my deeply seated beliefs that energy drinks and liquor should never be combined, even for “research” sake.

Orlando Duque

Orlando Duque

Another nice surprise was the appearance of Greg Louganis as a judge, one of the most decorated divers in history. I love his Twitter bio: “If your looking for the guy who hit his head on the diving springboard in the 1988 Olympics, you found him. Namaste, Greg.” I only wish they had let him do the commentary instead of “Motorsports Marketing Manager” Dustin Webster who was obviously jacked up on way too many Red Bulls.

The Divers

The Competitors

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My mere words cannot match the intensity of the jaw-dropping athleticism and bravery of these competitors. With divers reaching 90kph, splashing head first is not an option. If you over or under rotate just a few degrees at such heights, you can get seriously hurt.

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One highlight of the event was the premier of a new dive by Blake Aldridge (UK):  a back armstand 2.5 somersaults with 4 twists free.

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Another highlight was seeing the 46 year old Ukranian diver Slava Polyeshchuk reach the finals in his last professional appearance.

“Honestly, I feel so happy to be here among my friends, everything else just isn’t very important to me,” explained Polyeshchuk. “I know that my dive worked out pretty well today, but still, at some point you have to stop being ridiculous. I think this moment is about to arrive.”

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Two other takeaways from my hours of watching diving while drinking beer: the sheer intensity on the divers’ faces is inspiring, and damn, I need to spend more time at the gym.

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Red Bull Air Force

Red Bull Air Force Member Miles Daisher Opens the Show

Opening the festivities was a crowd-pleasing appearance by the Red Bull Air Force. After watching the “soldier” descend 9,000 ft, I was tempted to write a policy memo recommending that the US Air Force draft these daredevils – North Korea wouldn’t know what hit them.

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Red Bull Gives Miles Daisher Wings

Boston Results:

1) Gary Hunt (UK)

2) Orlando Duque (Colombia)

3) David Colturi (USA)

4) Arlem Silchenko (Russia)

5) Steven LoBue (USA)

6) Jonathan Paredes (Mexico)

8) Slava Polyeshchuk (Ukraine)

Here’s a nice little video recap put together by Red Bull:

Lenny Kravitz

While I was looking forward to the event, I must admit that I was still surprised at how much I enjoyed it. We stayed until the bitter end – but the day still had another surprise in store. As we left the event, a stranger informed us that there was a free Lenny Kravitz concert only a few blocks away. I’m not sure how far out of my way I would go to see Lenny Kravitz, but I can tell you that it’s at least three blocks. He did not disappoint, especially his mesh see-through shirt straight out of his 90’s heyday. I can only assume he has a closet full of them, ranging from fine mesh to slutty see-through.

I’ve only lived in Cambridge a few weeks now, but every time I’ve made the journey into Boston, I’ve been surprised and amazed by the unique things I’ve stumbled across. Can’t wait to see what’s next!