Monday, March 28, 2011

Debra Winger in Conversation - A Journey Through American Cinema

Debra Winger on stage in Rome
On Saturday evening in the Teatro Studio at the Auditorium Parco della Musica regular hosts Mario Sesti and Antonio Monda introduced their first, very special guest in the 2011 season of Viaggio nel cinema americano (A Journey Through American Cinema), the hugely popular American actress Debra Winger.

Following the usual winning formula for these events, in which informal conversation is interspersed with clips from the guest's most famous movies, this was a relaxed evening with a warm, very funny and radiantly beautiful Debra Winger, and for many of the Italian fans in the audience more used to seeing her in dubbed films, a chance to hear her characteristic husky voice for an hour live on stage. So distinctive, in fact, is her voice, that when Stephen Spielberg was making E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, the director invited her to record some vocal tracks that may have eventually made their way into the final mix for the alien's voice – when asked about this by Sesti she confirmed the story and we were even treated to a quick “Elliot” E.T. voice impersonation! When a clip from the 1993 Richard Attenborough film Shadowlands was shown, the Italian version was used so that the actress could hear for herself the voice that dubber Emanuela Rossi lends to her performances in Italy.

Debra Winger, of course, became famous in the 1980s in films such as An Officer and a Gentleman, Terms of Endearment, Black Widow and in 1990 The Sheltering Sky, and clips from all of these films were shown, as well as a clip from her most recent big screen appearance in Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married, playing the mother of a troubled daughter (Anne Hathaway), a clip which was paired interestingly with Terms of Endearment in which she had played the daughter opposite Shirley MacClaine in the mother role. Sesti and Monda were clearly avoiding the obvious with their choice from An Officer and a Gentleman and resisted the temptation to show the moment when Richard Gere comes to fetch her from the factory in full naval dress uniform to the strains of Up Where We Belong – an obvious choice, maybe, but undeniably an iconic scene that has been parodied dozens of times and is now part of 1980s cinema history; it would have no doubt been met with the same cheers it received when shown at an encounter with Richard Gere some years ago if they had added it to the reel on this occasion too.

When footage from her early television appearances as Wonder Girl alongside Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman in the now cult 1970s TV show was teasingly shown, she explained that at the time she would have accepted any role in order be be known for anything other than her rather dubious debut movie. In one of the funniest anecdotes and the real scoop of the evening she spilled the beans about how her ingenuity as a young actress just starting out in the business had led to her accepting a part in what turned out to be a soft porn movie Slumber Party '57 - she ended up locking herself in the bathroom on set when she realised that the film wasn't quite as innocent as she had first imagined from reading the (very short) script! I'm telling this story because I'm too old to care about this stuff anymore, she laughed!

Asked about the kinds of films or roles that she was most interested in playing she pointed out that almost all her films, in fact, have been love stories of one sort or another, and that she only ever wanted to make love stories, but felt optimistic that there were other important parts still awaiting her in the future – indeed, she had one in mind, but for a woman older than she is right now. Refreshingly outspoken against plastic surgery, she had little sympathy for fellow actresses of her own age who “cut themselves” to look younger and then complain that there are no roles for older women. Whilst respecting Rosanna Arquette 's need to make the documentary about women in cinema entitled Searching for Debra Winger, she admitted that she didn't necessarily empathise with the opinions of the other actresses interviewed or the difficulties they claimed to face, explaining also that the working title of the film had originally been State of the Art when she had agreed to participate and she had never actually seen the completed film in its entirety.

I was also personally excited to hear that she would love to work with one of my favourite directors P.T. Anderson saying: I think he's the real deal. What a wonderful pairing that would be!

Clearly delighted to have been able to visit Rome she made a personal plea at the end of the evening – she joked that she had been struck with Stendhal syndrome after visiting the Sistine Chapel, but had been so distracted after the visit that she had left her iPad in the taxi and asked the press to please spread the word and help her find it again. So I'm obliging this request in my own small way and hope that somebody will return it!

Watch a video of Debra Winger graciously posing for photographs with fans and signing numerous autographs at the end of the evening below or click here to watch on YouTube.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rafał Blechacz | Auditorium Parco della Musica | 25 March, 2011

CD signed by Rafał Blechacz after concert
When Polish classical pianist Rafał Blechacz swept the board at Warsaw’s prestigious Chopin Prize in 2005, winning all of the top five awards, the judges made the decision not to give a second prize at all that year. The piano star made a very welcome return to the Santa Cecilia concert hall at the Auditorium Parco della Musica yesterday evening, playing not only music by Fredrick Chopin this time, but also allowing us to witness his prodigious talent in pieces by Mozart, Debussy – the sweepingly orchestral L'isle joyeuse was my personal favourite in the opening half of the recital – and Szymanowski.

Stepping out onto the stage to warm applause – applause that would get even warmer and eventually turn to rapturous cheers of bravo as the evening progressed - at first glance the 25-year-old Blechacz seems, if anything, even younger than his years; with his angelic looks and slight figure, he strikes a boyish pose, until of course, his hands touch the keys and that deceptive youthfulness is tempered by a maturity in his playing that leaves one quietly awestruck. With the second half of the programme entirely devoted to Chopin's dances, polonaises and mazurkas, this was predominantly an opportunity to appreciate Blechacz's extraordinary musical relationship with the work of the illustrious Polish composer.

After an utterly exquisite Chopin nocturne as a first encore was greeted with a standing ovation from most of the house, a spontaneous cheer of approval erupted at the pianist's offer to play what seemed to be an impromptu second encore – a scherzo from Beethoven – played with the perfectly focussed energy and clarity that had been the hallmarks of the evening as a whole. Unmissable - catch him if you can!

Making a personal appearance in the book shop at the Auditorium after the concert to meet and greet concert-goers and sign copies of his CDs, he was utterly charming, smiling and greeting each person individually and taking the time to exchange a few words (in impeccable English) with his admirers.

Full programme:
9 Variations on "Lison Dormait" by Dezede, K 264
L'isle joyeuse
Sonata No. 1, Op. 8
Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23
Polonaise in C sharp minor, No. 1, Op. 26
Polonaise in E flat minor, No. 2, Op.26
Four Mazurkas, Op. 41
Ballade No. 2 in F major, Op. 38
Unpublished C sharp minor nocturne
Scherzo from sonata in A major Op. 2, No. 2

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tian Mansha in 'Sigh' | Auditorium Parco della Musica | 23 March, 2011

Accompanied by the Shanghai Theatre Academy and Xiqu Workshop

Tian Mansha in 'Sigh'
Tian Mansha, one of China's most important and influential contemporary performers and directors was in Rome this week with an extraordinary and moving piece of theatre - Qing Tan (Sigh). Written and staged by the actress, this one-woman opera was originally created for Berlin's House of World Cultures and was presented in Sala Petrassi at the Auditorium Parco della Musica as part of the continuing series of events to mark the Chinese Culture Year in Italy.

The award-winning Tian Mansha is also a teacher at the Opera Academy in Sichuan and her work seeks to renew traditional Sichuan Opera or Chuanju by introducing the traditional elements of Chuanju costume, music and percussion into pieces of modern experimental theatre.

In Sigh, she explores the impact of the Cultural Revolution through the intertwined lives of three Chuanju performers: as heartbroken Jiao Guiyin, she is a tragic female heroine from a late Ming dynasty play, performing in full Chuanju costume and facepaint; as an elderly actress, in anonymous blue sexless overalls and apron she is prohibited from performing, yet transcends the mundane rituals of her life as a cleaning lady, and continues to perform Chuanju from her memories of the past; and finally, of course, as Tian Mansha herself, she is the modern performance artist struggling to learn the elegant dance steps and water-sleeve movements of Chuanju, and who has seamlessly combined all three lives into a sublime and deeply poetic work.

Tian Mansha is a mesmerising performer who deserves to be widely recognised beyond the borders of her home country - catch this show if you get the opportunity. Highly recommended!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Aleksandr Deineka: The Soviet Master of Modernity at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni

Future Aviators © Tret'jakov National Gallery, Moscow
Ever since I read Camilla Gray's The Russian Experiment in Art, 1863-1922 as a student, I've always had a fascination with Russian art and in particular, the impact of that extraordinarily creative period at the beginning of the last century which saw the abstract paintings of artists such as Kasimir Malevich and Wassily Kandinsky influence the course of modern art in the Western world. Gray's wonderful book closes the story in 1922 in the early years of the Soviet regime and only mentions in passing the following generation of artists such as Alexander Deineka (1899 – 1969) who would once again embrace figurative painting in a style tagged Socialist Realism. I confess, my own knowledge of the period stopped at the end of Gray's book too, so the discovery of Deineka's work via the major retrospective currently on show at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni – the first ever to be held outside of Russia – has been immensely rewarding.

The Defense of Petrograd
© The Central Museum of the Armed Forces
The Soviet Russian painter, graphic artist, mosaicist and sculptor is now considered one of the most important Russian modernist figurative painters of the first half of the 20th century and this extensive exhibition, which launches a year of cultural exchanges between Italy and Russia, is a beautifully curated show sure to garner numerous new international admirers. Being unfamiliar with the artist, my expectations for a show of politically motivated modernist Soviet art were that I would be inevitably confronted with historically interesting, but possibly slightly kitsch propagandist work – I was totally unprepared for the sheer beauty of most of the paintings. Addressing the fundamental formal concerns of a great painter – composition, light, colour and space – Deineka's art utterly transcends the political.

The show places the artist firmly within his political oeuvre from the outset, however, and opens with his iconic 1928 painting The Defense of Petrograd - propagandist yes, but with its dynamic composition and cinematographic feel, this image cannot fail to fascinate. The Interventionists' Mercenary (1931) is another overtly political painting, but cropped like a snap shot and painted using a limited palette, the image has the power of the best photojournalism - the unflinching stare of the mercenary soldier standing above the corpses of three victims and posing, hand on hip, is genuinely disturbing.

Race © The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Whilst the Italian Futurists had celebrated the modern age of speed with frequent references to motor cars and planes, Deineka's Socialist Realism instead put man at the centre of progress at the beginning of the century – sport and fitness are recurrent motifs in his work and there are plenty of runners, skiers and footballers in this exhibition. Once again, these paintings are surprisingly beautiful - Race (1932-33), which depicts five youths running on a race track watched by a girl, is so carefully observed and compositionally so pleasing, that I found myself gazing at it for quite some time. When planes are featured, they are there in the distance, representing the future of the younger generation, as in the gorgeous The Pioneer from 1934, in which a young boy has set down his book to watch two distant aircraft, or in the image which is being used in the poster campaign for the show and is appearing on buses and billboards all over town right now, Future Aviators from 1938.

Roman Road © Tret'jakov National Gallery, Moscow
There is something rather appropriate about the fact that Alexander Deineka's first monograph show outside Russia should be in Rome. Travelling to the city on a study trip in 1935, the artist created several important works here including Roman Road. Its dazzling blocks of colour – the carmine cassocks of two cardinals, an azure sky animated by a solitary cloud and typically ochre plaster on a Roman palazzo, with a dark suited, anonymous passer-by filling the foreground – reminds one of a Mediterranean-style Edward Hopper.

With over eighty pieces of work on display including not only paintings, but also graphic work such as posters and illustrations, bronze sculptures, as well as mosaics and a fascinating and highly effective video installation look at the oval mosaic ceiling panels at the Moscow Mayakovskaya Metro Station, this is a hugely enjoyable exhibition that I'll be returning to several times during its run. Highly recommended!

Aleksandr Deineka: Soviet master of modernity is curated by Irina Vakar, Elena Voronovič and Matteo Lafranconi and continues at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni until 1 May 2011.

Copyright on all images in this post as indicated (web-resolution, fair use rationale).

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