2015 Hampton Roads Fall Arts Preview
Modern dance isn’t famous for explanation. Most of the time, you get an evening of graceful movement, dramatic lighting and incredible abs. Viewers are left to fill in the gaps. Even the description of Vertigo Dance’s “Reshimo” reads like cryptic New Age poetry: “the imprint of a past impression left within ... a journey of the receptive soul.” But don’t let the lofty language and abstract imagery fool you. The Israeli-based Vertigo Dance Group has their feet planted firmly on the ground.
In 2007, founder and choreographer Noa Wertheim created the Vertigo Eco-Art Village, a self-sustaining oasis of creativity and eco-conscious living nestled in a valley between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. By slowly peeling away the layers of modern society and freeing themselves from the constraints of consumerism, Wertheim and her families (actual and artistic) found creative inspiration in living simply. Take a closer look at the fruits of their social experiment with this evening of evocative modern dance.
Menopause The Musical: The Survivor Tour
Nov. 3, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 5, 7:30 p.m.
Sandler Center for the Performing Arts, Virginia Beach
This show is more than a musical. It’s a support group with singing and dancing. Menopause The Musical definitely connects with its key audience, garnering more than its fair share of head nods and laugh-out-loud moments. When it debuted in 2001, the show was praised for finding humor in the “silent passage.” But this touring version adds another level, beyond jokes about hot flashes and night sweats and songs about sex and chocolate. “The Survivor Tour” shines the sisterhood spotlight even brighter with a cast of breast cancer survivors in the roles of four women who bond over life at a lingerie sale. A portion of the proceeds will go to benefit the Susan G. Komen Foundation, and all men in attendance will be awarded a special Certificate of Bravery (just kidding ... sort of).
Things that are no longer cool are sometimes referred to as “so last year.” Meaning that they’re over and done with and no longer relevant to life as we know it. But describing this show as “so last century” is actually a compliment—because there are few times in American history when life held more passion and promise than the turn of the
20th century. It was a time of prosperity, industry and immigration, with New York City as its epicenter. That setting comes to brilliant life in Ragtime: The Musical. Based on the 1975 novel by E. L. Doctorow, Ragtime tells the parallel and intersecting stories of African-Americans, upper-class white society and Eastern European immigrants. The cast sings their way through everyday struggles, hopes and dreams, with an occasional celebrity cameo by folks like Houdini, Henry Ford and Booker T. Washington. The 1998 Broadway blockbuster has been reworked for this touring production, with a “less indulgent” interpretation designed to make a more personal connection with the audience. We like to think of it as a kind of toe-tapping, sing-along version of a Ken Burns documentary.
Talk about international flavor. Europe shows up in force when Germany’s Munich Symphony Orchestra arrives in Newport News. The performance features the conducting and solo stylings of legendary French pianist Philippe Entremont as well as solo and quartet performances by The Romeros, Spain’s “Royal Family of the Guitar.” No matter if you show up to support your favorite country or simply to enjoy the music, the evening should be just as exciting as the World Cup, but with much less kicking and clarinets instead of vuvuzelas.
Every piece of art in a museum has the same problem. There’s always more than what visitors see hanging on the wall, enclosed in a frame or isolated by velvet rope. Art is more than the physical material. Beyond the canvas or behind the photograph, there are concepts and context. There is history. There is a story.
And sometimes, there is a story behind the story.
Tseng Kwong Chi: Performing for the Camera at the Chrysler Museum of Art, is the long-overdue retrospective of an influential photographer and a labor of love for the late Amy Brandt, former McKinnon Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.
Born in Hong Kong, Tseng Kwong Chi moved with his family to Canada when he was 16. After studying art in Paris, he found his way to New York City as the art scene was exploding. Surrounded by vibrant creativity and culture, he rarely left his apartment without camera in hand.
“It was a particularly complex period,” said Jeff Harrison, the Chrysler’s retired chief curator. “His work is a beautiful celebration of downtown New York City in the 80s.”
Tseng became Keith Haring’s “official” photographer. For years, Tseng chronicled the pop artist’s adventures spreading his iconic street art across New York City. He tagged along as Haring tagged the town. It wasn’t long until Haring’s doodles moved from the subway platform to Manhattan’s hottest galleries.
As Tseng watched contemporaries like Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kenny Scharf skyrocket to fame, he remained on the outskirts of blockbuster success.
Tseng’s conceptual black-and-white photography explored social, political and philosophical ideas. By adopting the persona of a naive outsider, Tseng was able to mingle, blend and travel freely through all kinds of crowds. Sacha Baron Cohen would follow the same blueprint when he created the character of Borat more than 20 years later.
Tseng’s best known works, the East Meets West and Expeditionary photographic series are central to the exhibit. Both self-portrait collections feature Tseng in his trademark “Mao suit,” a central part of his conceptual work. While the East Meets West photos put a smiling Tseng beside high-profile guests at parties and special events, the Expeditionary series casts him as a shades-wearing foreign tourist, standing alone in front of famous landmarks.
“You could say he was the first guy to do selfies,” said Harrison.
Tseng’s artistic journey ended in 1990 when he died of AIDS at 39.
But 25 years later, one person made sure that his creative legacy lived on.
Amy Brandt was already a fan of Tseng Kwong Chi when she stumbled across two of his photographs among the more than 30,000 items at the Chrysler Museum of Art. That’s why the McKinnon Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art plucked both from the archives of and put them on the wall. Two was better than none. But Brandt wanted more.
Brandt connected with Tseng’s sister Muna, who shared stories and opened up personal collections of Tseng’s unexhibited work. The idea for a comprehensive show gained momentum, and in April of 2015, the first major museum retrospective of Tseng Kwong Chi’s work opened at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery.
“His work stands at the crux of issues that remain important to artists working today,” wrote Brandt. “Such as identity politics and the exclusion of minorities, not only from social and political life, but also from the canon of art history.”
The exhibit received glowing reviews from the New York Times, and stands as a significant achievement for the Chrysler Museum of Art. But the retrospective comes with a subtext of sadness. Amy Brandt’s passing on May 15 makes the arrival of Tseng’s work bittersweet.
“This show was very close to Amy’s heart,” said Harrison.
While the absence of both Tseng and Brandt will be felt deeply, maybe both of them would suggest focusing on the sense of fun that permeates the photographs. As Brandt wrote in her essay about the artist’s work, “Tseng’s images focus on the pure enjoyment, self-indulgence, and gratification of the participants ... It’s a happy-go-lucky world, miles away from the tragedy that ensued at the end of the decade.”
Trenton Doyle Hancock, Amanda MacCavour, Andrea Dezso
Now Through Dec. 31
Virginia MOCA, Virginia Beach
When it comes to new work at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, good things come in threes. Texas-born Trenton Doyle Hancock creates a colorful and chaotic world based on his own personal mythologies and an epic narrative about characters he calls “The Mounds.” His style is Dr. Seuss meets Hieronymus Bosch, equal parts playful and terrifying with a dash of whimsy. Amanda McCavour crafts ethereal three-dimensional “drawings” from thread. Flowers and furniture dangle from the ceiling and sway in the breeze, transforming rooms into what it might look like if a spider decided to take up interior decorating. And illustrator Andrea Dezso showcases her haunting “tunnel books,” inviting gothic dioramas that look inspired by Frida Kahlo and Tim Burton. Perfect bedtime reading if you never, ever want to get to sleep.