Tag Archives: BBC

Dance meets competition

Jessica Phillips dances in “Paquita” with Ballet Arizona (Photo: Rosalie O’Conner)

For most folks, the film “First Position” will be a rare glimpse into the world of competitive youth ballet. “First Position,” scheduled to open late May in Scottsdale and early June in Tucson, follows the adventures of six dancers as they compete in the Youth America Grand Prix — the “largest  competition that awards full scholarships to top ballet schools.”

But Jessica Phillips, who has danced professionally with Ballet Arizona as an apprentice since 2009, has already gone behind the scenes of the prestigious competition — competing several times as a soloist and as part of an ensemble from the Bay Area Houston Ballet and Theatre in Texas.

Phillips began dance lessons when she was eight years old, but says she “didn’t take it seriously” until she was 12. That’s when a teacher suggested Phillips enter the Youth America Grand Prix, and Phillips was game. “I remember being so nervous,” she recalls, “knowing that I’d been working for months and months and months.” It all turns on a single dance, and anything can happen.

“Dancers have good days and bad days like any job or day in life,” muses Phillips. “The day of the competition there’s so much stress thinking about all the sacrifices you’ve made.” No matter how well you do, she says, you never feel like it was exactly how you wanted it to be. “You can always be better,” insists Phillips.

Phillips participated in the Youth America Grand Prix when Rebecca Houseknecht, one of the film’s six featured dancers, was competing as well — and the two became friends while housed together during their competition days. Phillips recalls admiring Houseknecht because she “really puts herself out there” as a competitor.

Still, Phillips says it isn’t all about winning. “It’s a learning process,” she adds. Though recognized for being in the top 12 during her third year of competition, Phillips went home feeling something more — the inspiration of seeing other beautiful dancers and they ways they work. Also a new sense of her own unique strengths and style.

The world of competitive dance isn’t for everyone — but Phillips recommends it for dancers who are are passionate and like performing. Especially those who dream of being a ballerina. Phillips recalls running across some not-so-nice dancers and stage moms, but says she met plenty of folks who were “sweet and kind.” Her best advice? “Don’t compare yourself with others.”

“Stay focused on yourself,” suggests Phillips. “Everyone has their own journey.” It’s self-destructive, she says, to start “freaking out” over people you have no control over. Phillips recalls listening to music before taking the stage because it “helps to get the stress out.” Whatever the outcome, competing “gets your name out there.” And the travel is another plus.

“First Position” promises to take audiences on a “yearlong journey around the world” — following both the struggles and successes of its central characters. Another dance film, opening May 18 in NYC, offers a behind-the-scenes look at one of the country’s longest-running dance festival. It’s called “Never Stand Still: Dancing at Jacob’s Pillow.”

Those who’ve tired of “Dance Moms” divas can get a glimpse into the world of competitive ballet when the CW Network (in cooperation with the BBC) premieres a reality TV show titled “Breaking Pointe” on May 31 — which features Ballet West in Utah, headed by artistic director Adam Sklute.

I’m eager to see both films, and the new series — but hope folks who enjoy them will take dance appreciation a step further by enjoying live dance performance in their communities. Dance on the big or small screen is lovely. Dance on stage is magnificent.

— Lynn

Coming up: Tackling bigotry with plays, poems and songs


Ode to the Oliviers

Scene from "Matilda the Musical" featuring characters Matilda and Mrs. Phelps (Image: Quirk Books). The show earned seven 2012 Olivier Awards.

I spent a lovely afternoon at Sunday’s Lawrence Olivier Awards in London thanks to a live online broadcast that’s got me appreciating all the modern technology I’ve typically scoffed at until now.

I was just a teen when the awards, first dubbed The Society of West End Theatre Awards, originated in 1976, but married and in graduate school when they became the Lawrence Olivier Awards in 1984.

In between, I studied for a year in Europe — but spent most trips to London exploring museums and architectural wonders rather than theater offerings. One of many oversights committed during my youth.

The awards are run by the Society of London Theatre (SOLT), which commissioned sculptor Harry Franchette to create the award that’s an elegant take on the young Lawrence Olivier as Henry V at the Old Vic in 1937.

I was struck by several aspects of the ceremony and its broadcast. Though the SOLT’s partnership with MasterCard is evident, there were no tacky commercials or other interruptions we accept too readily as American television viewers.

Instead, breaks during various portions of the ceremony were filled with live performances — of works nominated for an audience award — on a beautiful outdoor stage surrounded by theater fans.

The BBC Radio 2 Olivier Audience Award, voted for by the public, went to “Les Miserables” — a musical Arizona audiences can enjoy at ASU Gammage come September.

I was struck as well by the tasteful fashions worn by presenters, nominees and recipients — despite the ceremony’s lovely lack of obsession over such things. Way to rock the flats, “Matilda” girls. You’ll need those ankles for future roles.

“Matilda the Musical” led the list with ten nominations, and waltzed away with seven awards. The Royal Shakespeare Company production is based on Roald Dahl’s charming tale.

The musical’s director noted early in the ceremony that “productions are like children” — sharing that he’d still love both if one of two nominees he directed was chosen best new musical. Later, the award went to “Matilda the Musical.”

There’s a point in the musical, he explains, when Matilda pummels three times into her pillow — then looks up and shares the final bit of the story. Seems it’s “a metaphor for the healing power of imagination.”

“Matilda the Musical” director Matthew Warchus then delivered my favorite remarks of the evening — All kids have it. We all have it. Our educational system should promote it more. That was the gist of it — but there’s more.

Creative imagination, says Warchus, is the key to surviving life and improving it for all of us. It’s more important, he reflects, than science, math and testing — perhaps even literacy.

His riff made me wonder — Might more children achieve the literacy we so value if reading and writing were pressed more often into the service of creative imagination rather than the mere consumption of content?

They’re heady things, these British award shows. Words and ideas loom larger than the flashy sorts of sets and such we seem to favor for award shows on this side of the pond. Dry wit and genuine humility trump the faux and flashy.

Sunday’s ceremony included special recognition of the 60th anniversary of “Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap” — which continues to enjoy the theater world’s longest continuous run.

Seems Christie grandson Matthew Prichard, who shared remarks during the presentation, was given rights to the show for his ninth birthday — but admits to feeling fonder at the time of the gift with two wheels. Prichard notes that he gives income earned on the show to lots of charities.

I learned of the Mousetrap Theatre Projects, which serves more than 12,000 students each year, during remarks from its founder — which inspired me to explore other outreach efforts like the SOLT’s own “Autism and Theatre” program.

The Society of London Theatre presented two special awards during this year’s ceremony — one to Dame Monica Mason, honoring her career with the Royal Ballet, and another to lyricist Sir Tim Rice.

Rice shared reflections on the journey of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” from school show to musical theater sensation, and his reluctance to make the original “Jesus Christ Superstar” album — also noting that NYC audiences are fonder by far of current “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Evita” revivals than NYC theater critics.

My own budding theater critic, Lizabeth, had perfectly lovely things to say about both shows — but did share that seeing Ricky Martin shake his bum during “Evita” was rather the low point of it all. I’ll have to add seeing a slew of West End theatre productions together to my bucket list.

While I adored every performance during Sunday’s Olivier Awards show, a few will likely live longest in my memory — a stunning pas de deux that should be required viewing for all those “Dance Moms” settling for sickening alternatives to actual artistry, the vocal performance of a haunting song from “Whistle Down the Wind” that I first heard when Lizabeth performed it during a Greasepaint Youtheatre fundraiser, and the lavish “Circle of Life” from the cast of “The Lion King” — which made me remember the magic of seeing the musical with Lizabeth long before her NYC theater adventures.

I’ll be more mindful of the bridge between Broadway and the West End thanks to that one magical evening I felt honored to be part of the virtual audience for the 2012 Olivier Awards. London, anyone?

— Lynn

Note: Click here to see the full list of Olivier Award winners and highlights from the ceremony — plus here to enjoy West End news reported by Broadway World.

Coming up: Musings on “Smash” and “New York 22”

Songs of Travel and Other Verses

Robert Louis Stevenson books housed in a Samoan museum dedicated to his life

I found this gem of a title while reviewing a long list of works by Scottish novelist, essayist and poet Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94). Treasure Island. A Child’s Garden of Verses. Essays in the Art of Writing. New Arabian Nights.

Also The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, written in 1886, which explores the duality of human nature, the battle between rationality and irrationality, and contrasting elements of London life during the Victorian period.

It’s been repeatedly adapted for film. John Barrymore played the lead in 1920, Fredric March in 1931, Spencer Tracy in 1941. David Hasselhoff got the gig for a 2001 television version dubbed “Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical.”

Of course, every time that vision pops into my head, I rush to play a cast album — original or revival — of the musical adaptation performed on Broadway. Like “Sweeney Todd,” it’s got truly touching loves songs mixed in with all that murder and mayhem.

An adaptation of the Stevenson tale by playwright Andrea McFeely is being presented Oct. 13-15 by the performing arts department at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, which performs at the Arnette Scott Ward Performing Arts Center.

It’s being directed by Shalynn Reynolds — and features Sam Allen (Dr. Jekyll) and Guy Valentine (Mr. Hyde) in the lead roles. There are 13 people in the cast, described by Reynolds as “extremely dedicated actors who have worked tirelessly to create a work of art.”

“All the actors,” explains Reynolds, “have worked really hard on various British and Cockney accents.” Reynolds sounds especially proud of the set, which “has the ability to transform into multiple locations between scenes.” She also shares that “some of the items in Jekyll’s lab are actually from the late 1800s.”

Reynolds says the show “would be rated PG-13 due to the violence of several deaths onstage” — adding that she had to spend a lot of time getting Valentine “to be creepy, callous and murderous.” Sounds like a good way to get into the Halloween spirit, though you might leave the show wishing their costume people made house calls.

While reviewing the program for the show, I was struck by the tone of genuine gratitude. We take each other too often for granted, in theater world and the world at large. It’s refreshing to find folks who express appreciation with such elegance and ease.

I was impressed as well by a series of statements shared in the program under the heading “Why do we need Theatre?” They read as follows:

  • Theatre prepares students for life in the real world by guiding personal development and refinement of interpersonal skills.
  • Theatre has the ability to affect students on a personal level by contributing to mental, emotional, and social growth.
  • Theatre helps students develop a sense of community and social responsibility.
  • Theatre gives students the opportunity to voice opinions, explore personal concerns, and produce viable solutions to problems.
  • Theatre encourages diversity and the exploration of human experience.
  • Theatre asks students to be active participants and advocates for others, aware of surroundings and their ability to mediate and effect change.
  • Theatre communicates the fact that as many ways as we humans are different, we share common bonds and can connect with everyone on some level, bringing new understanding and compassion to our lives.

I’ve never seen students from Chandler-Gilbert Community College perform, but this glimpse into the way they approach the world and the craft of theater intrigues me — and I’m eager to experience their work.

This weekend will find me in New York City, creating my own variation on “songs of travel” — so I’ll have to miss this and many other works being performed on Valley stages.

But I’ll be keeping an eye out, as I visit NYC libraries and museums, for all things related to Robert Louis Stevenson — a man with much to teach us about the complexities of all sorts of travel.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for details about this and other CGCC performing arts offerings, and here to learn about a BBC drama based on Stevenson’s travel writings and personal letters.

Coming up: Art meets homeschooling, Got blue?

Kids remember 9/11

This 9/11 Peace Story Quilt on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was designed by Faith Ringgold. It features three panels created by NYC students ages 8-19.

Folks in NYC have plenty of art-related opportunities to reflect on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 this week. An art installation “made from 9/11 dust” and paintings “which contain ash from ground zero.” A quilt featuring NYC’s skyline and a quilt with three panels crafted by NYC students (pictured above). www.metmuseum.org.

A roving memorial called “Dances for Airports.” A concert for peace featuring the Juilliard String Quartet. A release of balloons inscribed with poetry in several languages. Even a human chain open to anyone who wants to join hands in Battery Park at 8:46am on Sept 10.

Work by a student from the Calhoun School class of 2006

My favorite events and exhibits feature the words and works of youth — like a series of collages created by 31 thirteen year olds who started 8th grade together at Calhoun School that tragic day. Their “9/11: Through Young Eyes,” a project coordinated by teachers Helen Bruno and Jessica Houston, will be exhibited at the D C Moore Gallery in Chelsea Sept 8 – Oct 8. www.dcmooregallery.com.

Several Arizona youth are participating in a community memorial service called “Moving Memories — Moving Forward.” The Sun, Sept 11 event is being presented by the Arizona Interfaith Movement, which seeks to “build bridges…through dialogue, service and the implementation of the Golden Rule.”

It’s taking place from 11:30am-12:30pm at the 9/11 memorial located at Wesley Bolin Plaza. The plaza is adjacent to the Arizona State Capitol at 17th Avenue and Adams Street just west of downtown Phoenix. Program highlights include remarks by Donna Killoughey Bird, a mother of two whose husband Gary Bird (a UA grad and longtime resident of Tempe) died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

High school student Kris Curtis will play the national anthem on trumpet after emcee Pat McMahon opens the ceremony. Following several prayers and speakers, ten children will “say the Golden Rule from ten different faith traditions.” www.azifm.org.

Eighth grade students from the Temple Emanu-El Kurn Religious School in Tucson will lead a “9/11 Interfaith Memorial Service” Sun, Sept 11 (10am) at Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging. www.handmaker.org.

A new book titled “Art for Heart: Remembering 9/11” (with introduction by Alice M. Greenwald) features drawings, murals, paintings and poems by children who were affected by the terrorist attack.

“The Day Our World Changed: Children’s Art of 9/11” (by Robin F. Goodman, Ph.D. and Andrea Henderson Fahnestock) began as a project of the New York Child Study Center in NYC. It was published several years ago, but it’s every bit as compelling today.

Many of the works featured in “The Day Our World Changed” have been donated to the 9/11 Memorial Museum in Lower Manhattan, which first opens for families on 9/11 this year. The general public can visit the museum (with pre-purchased tickets due to high demand) starting 9/12. My daughter Lizabeth plans to tour the museum this week with other students from Pace University. www.911memorial.org.

NBC airs a Darlow Smithson Productions documentary titled “Children of 9/11” tonight, Sept 5, but folks who miss it can watch local listings for rebroadcast information. More than 3,000 children lost a parent on 9/11, and this special follows 11 of them for a period of one year.

The Day Our World Changed includes this work by Matthew Sussman

If you missed the Sept 1 broadcast of “What Happened? The Story of September 11, 2001,” a 30-minute Nickelodeon program geared for younger viewers, you can watch it online — then read an online discussion guide created by psychologist Robin H. Gurwitch, Ph.D. for Nickelodeon and the American Psychological Association. www.nicknews.com and www.parentsconnect.com.

Stories of more than 40 twins who lost a sibling on 9/11 are the subject of a BBC Wales documentary titled “Twins of the Twin Towers.” It’s being broadcast on Sun, Sept 11 on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).

Be thoughtful, in the days ahead, about how much time you spend watching programs that show the traumatic events of 9/11 in graphic detail. Most aren’t suitable for children, and even kids who didn’t lose a loved one on 9/11 can feel traumatized by exposure to the events of that day.

— Lynn

Note: Donna Killoughey Bird will share her story several times in comings days. Hear her speak Tues, Sept 6 (noon) at the Mustang Library auditorium or Thurs, Sept 15 (6pm) at the Civic Center Library auditorium in Scottsdale (Register at www.scottsdaleaz.gov). Or meet her Sun, Sept 11 (3pm) at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, where she’ll be signing “Nothing Will Separate Us” (part of the proceeds go to scholarships, service awards and educational support for young adults). www.changinghands.com/event.

Coming up: 9/11 takes center stage, Children’s books inspired by 9/11

Update: Find a collection of children’s drawings from “The Day Our World Changed” at www.pbs.org/newshour/multimedia/911children

Film takes flight

Arizona Audubon shares tales of Pale Male at this year's Nature Film Festival in Scottsdale

I’ve got a serious case of bird envy. Turns out there’s a Red-tailed Hawk who thinks he’s got his own Fifth Avenue penthouse in NYC.

I’d be lucky to catch a cab on Fifth Avenue, let alone perch there long enough to ogle the passersby.

The bird, dubbed “Pale Male,” started “raising his young atop a Fifth Avenue high-rise” during the 1990s. Apparently it wasn’t enough for “Pale Male” to garner the attention of urban “birdwatchers, movie stars, poets, children, dogs, reporters and celebrities.”

He’s flying high on the prospect of fame, having already starred in one movie. Naturally it’s called “Pale Male.” But come Wed, June 15, he’ll be spotted near a Scottsdale high-rise as “The Legend of Pale Male” is screened at Harkins Camelview 5 Theatre — where I enjoyed seeing “The Beaver” with my daughter Lizabeth Monday afternoon.

The latest tale of “Pale Male” is one of two films being shown during Audubon Arizona’s “9th Annual Nature Film Festival & Silent Auction.” Don’t expect “Pale Male” to coast in for the event. He doesn’t do personal appearances.

Your family can read about Pale Male before enjoying the Nature Film Festival together

I wonder how he feels about sharing top billing with a bunch of hummingbirds. Their film, titled “Hummingbirds: Magic in the Air,” will also be shown that evening.

Sounds like a fun way to introduce kids to the magic of film festivals — especially if you couple the evening with reading about “Pale Male” or birds of other feathers.

The Audubon Arizona event kicks off at 5:30pm with a “picnic supper” and silent auction. Organizers promise “one-of-a-kind” items including “unique art, jewelry, restaurant certificates, sporting and cultural events.” Also “travel-themed packages, including local resort stay-cations and a thrilling African safari!” Films start at 7pm.

It’ll be quite a step up for me, since most of my animal time involves watching nature shows on PBS. Lately I’ve had great fun getting to know more about birds featured in the BBC “Wild Australasia” and “Wild Caribbean” series. (I remember my mom doing the same thing when she was my age.)

Hummingbirds: Magic in the Air from the PBS Nature series will also be shown

Seating for the film festival is limited, and RSVPs for advance admission are due no later than June 12.

Tickets are just $25 in advance and $30 at the door (if space is still available) — and include the two bird films, a picnic supper, popcorn and soda.

You can pop for a VIP ticket if you’d like to enjoy reserved seating and express auction check-out. VIP tickets are $100, and include a $75 donation to Audubon Arizona.

General admission and VIP tickets can be purchased through Valerie Ramos at 602-468-6470, ext. 103 or vramos@audubon.org. They’ll be held for you at the door. Unless, of course, part of the “Pale Male” entourage sweeps down to snatch them up for nesting material.

— Lynn

Note: Lizabeth and I both enjoyed “The Beaver,” but wouldn’t recommend it for children. It’s solid storytelling with fine acting and direction. Those who find its premise absurd don’t know the power of depression. Watch the credits carefully for a movie-related website with mental health resources.

Coming up: Arizona arts with a Tony Awards® twist?

Got Spam?

"Spamalot" opens tonight (Feb 15) at the Mesa Arts Center

You can “Spamalot” this week as Theater League brings the 2005 Tony Award winner for best musical to Mesa and Phoenix stages.

Spamalot” creators say the musical — complete with cows, killer rabbits, show girls and french people — is “lovingly ripped off from the classic film comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

It’s a very grown-up take on the legendary tale of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table, though the legend may be fading fast in the absence of disco versions of knight battles made for various home and pocket entertainment systems.

Even worse perhaps, is the fact that so few of our children have ever met a can of actual Spam, a product of the Hormel Food Corporation. It faded from popularity as things like sushi and arugula marched in, but I think a Spam-sushi mash up of sorts might be fun.

The fine folks of “Spamalot” will gladly take you through the tale of King Arthur’s quest in a little online ditty titled “What is all this rubbish?” They also make a convincing case for “Spamalot” as the world’s oldest musical.

The “Spamalot” you’ll see on Valley stages this week features book by Eric Idle and score by Eric Idle and John Du Prez. Hence you’ll enjoy both words and music in addition to dancing knights in tights.

But what, you may be wondering, is a Monty Python? And has it anything to do with that “Flying Circus” of yore? It does indeed, as explained ever so eloqently by a BBC piece you can enjoy by clicking here.

Whether you’re a lover of musical theater, of British comedy or of unadulterated genius, check out the touring production of “Spamalot” at the Mesa Center for the Arts and/or the Orpheum Theater in Phoenix.

And always look on the bright side of “Spam.”

— Lynn

Note: Click here for an overview of the legends of King Arthur by Michael Wood for the BBC.

Coming up: Reflections on Rosie’s House, The fine art of stage combat, ASU Gammage readies to unveil its 2011-2012 season, Tales of Tom Chapin

Scottsdale meets Dr. Strangelove

I’ve got L.A. on the brain this week as Lizabeth prepares for West Coast audition travels. While she’s readying for the trip, L.A. Theatre Works will be performing at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

They’ll present “The Real Dr. Strangelove: Edward Teller and the Battle for the H-Bomb” based on Peter Goodchild’s biography of Teller this Thursday (Feb 10) at 7:30pm.

Susan Albert Loewenberg is the producing director for this “classic black comedy” you may know from the 1964 film directed by Stanley Kubrick.

Teller was “a Hungarian-born physicist who believed in peace through strength.” His life and times, and his work on nuclear weapons, make for fascinating historical and theatrical fare.

Folks who register can learn acting tips from L.A. Theatre Works cast members Thursday afternoon. Lizabeth would love to attend, but I suspect the ASA theater teachers whose classes she’s missed while auditioning in NYC would rather see her smiling face over at Phoenix Theatre.

Happily, we own a radio — which means we can tune to broadcasts of L.A. Theatre Works productions.

Finally, something that doesn’t involve a chalkboard and little cut out figures strung together to form conspiracy theories and end of days scenarios.

Fond as I am of radio broadcasts, I’m delighted by the opportunity to see a live production featuring this non-profit media arts organization devoted to presenting, preserving and disseminating classic and contemporary plays.

Their distinguished company members are too numerous to name here. But think John Lithgow and Annette Benning. Hilary Swank and Ed Asner. Neil Patrick Harris and Hector Elizondo.

Cast members for this production include John Getz (Oppenheimer), who is featured in the film “The Social Network,” as well as John Vickery (Teller), who was the original Scar in “The Lion King” on Broadway.

There’s also Michael Canavan (“Bones,” “Big Love,” “Mad Men” and more) and Geoffrey Wade (“Law & Order,” “Bold and the Beautiful” and more).

L.A. Theatre Works’ outreach efforts benefit all sorts of audiences — from Americans living in rural communities to students studying in underfunded classrooms. They also house a huge collection of recorded plays.

Original docu-dramas produced by L.A. Theatre Works include “The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial” and “Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers.”

Recently I heard an education expert address the need to return science and art to equal footing with math and language in American classrooms.

This play, and other L.A. Theatre Works offerings, do a brilliant job of elevating both art and science — and demonstrating the natural connections between the two.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about American physicist Edward Teller (1908-2003) — and check back later today for a post on ASU’s “Dreaming Darwin.”

Coming up: Musings of a “negligent” stage mother, Fun with fruit, Artsy alternatives to those pesky “pajamagrams”