wet earth

Paper, Water, Dreams

It’s not uncommon to be familiar with the changes a landscape seems to undergo when we view it from the window of an airplane—what is craggy becomes smooth, what is vast and undefined becomes organized by shape and color, by the unfolding of sharply-defined symmetries where from the ground there appear none.  Less common is the view from above that is not so aerially high: say, the height at which we fly in our dreams.

It is this dreamy, mid-range perspective that is highlighted in exhibit of watercolors by Zoya Scholis, at the Pacific Grove Art Center.  Scholis’s paintings, a selection of works from 2009 to the present, celebrate the imagination with rich colors and an unusual balance of precision and dreamy abstraction.

In “Dog Park,” the scene is one of joyously unruly motion, dogs running on the grass and paths that Scholis has delineated with the use of stencils.  The energetic bird’s eye view is both blurred and precise, a dynamic quality that informs many of the works on display.  I was reminded of the way the vivid setting of a dream can seem both mystifying and yet utterly precise.

Another work is “After Kandinsky,” suggesting the influence of an earlier painter of vibrant geometries, but throughout the exhibit I was reminded more of Diebenkorn and Thiebaud, especially in a painting like “San Francisco Roof Gardens,” with its striking perspective, both looming and collapsed.

“Aquatic Floral” (above) is a gorgeous, sumptuous work, in which the dense rainbow layering of color and form results in a celebration of biological exuberance, the flowing arc of life contained in a single bouquet.

I was less drawn to three other floral still lifes, grouped together on the same wall, in which a starker relationship between foreground and background suggested to my eye something brittle and unsettled.

Many of the works on display are presented without frames, and this offers those of us who are passionate about paper the opportunity to really enjoy the full paper-ness, soft-rough edges and all, of these fine watercolors.  A good watercolor is as much about the paper as the water; a frame and translucent covering can sometimes obscure that.

Most of the works here are abstractions or still lifes, but one delightful narrative piece reveals Scholis’s skill at telling a story.  In “Sailing by the Book,” a girl sits in a boat, wearing a peach-colored bonnet, absorbed in a book whose cover is red.  Under a speckled sky the boat is becalmed, safely fastened to the deck; somewhere in the sky there is a pale imprint of a boat, like a watery shadow from above.  The painting seems to offer a quiet homage to the creative imagination: the boat has no sail, but then none is needed when the transport of words, of art, is at hand.

“Magic Carpet Ride,” a selection of recent watercolors by Zoya Scholis, is on display in the Elmarie Dyke Gallery at the Pacific Grove Art Center, 568 Lighthouse Avenue, through August 30.  Open Wednesday through Saturday, 12:00-5:00, Sunday 1:00-4:00.


A Message of Love

As I prepare to write about an upcoming production of The Laramie Project, I find myself thinking about a great quote from an interview I did for a blogpost a couple weeks ago.  In response to a question about the concept of “preaching to the choir,” Jon Selover, of the Western Stage, replied that the choir doesn’t necessarily know all the words to the song.

That is so true: There are some plays that everyone would benefit from seeing, whatever their political or cultural persuasion.  Documentary plays like Dustin Lance Black’s 8 and Moisés Kaufman’s Laramie Project, which is being presented for one weekend only at the Indoor Forest Theatre, in Carmel, expose us to a range of opinions, experiences and emotions that are rooted in the rawness of real lives, and encourage us to think deeply about important issues, more deeply than we would if our only understanding came from snippets on television or the Internet.  Even if you’re already part of the choir, even if you strongly believe in the rights of same-sex couples to marry and the rights of gay men and women to enjoy dignity and respect and full equality in the eyes of both the law and their communities, you still may not know all the words of the song—in this case, a complex song, with many voices, about a community’s reaction to the brutal death of a young gay American in their midst.  (Photo of Matthew Shepard above)

This production of Laramie Project is presented under the auspices of the MPC Summer Director’s Project, a program that gives young, upcoming directors who have taken directing classes the chance to mount a full show, not just a scene.  Director Renee Infelise has been wanting to do Laramie Project for awhile.

“I have a personal connection to the play,” Infelise says.  “The play is over ten years old but is still relevant.  The issues in the play are representative of what’s being discussed in society right now—topics like hate crimes and gay rights—and as someone who is gay and is struggling for her own rights, I wanted to bring these issues to my own community.”

Infelise, who has taken theatre classes at MPC and directed The Vagina Monologues at CSUMB, says she envisions the play as a kind of dance.

“The actors are creating a lot of different characters,” she says.  “I see it as this one giant flow of movement, very fluid and movement-based, as if the audience were in the middle of a town square, and this powerful community story is flowing around them.”

The notion of community is what drives Infelise’s approach to theater.  “I want to get more than entertainment out into the community,” she says.  “What will get people to come out of their comfort zones?”  Her goal is to pursue graduate studies in theater arts, with an emphasis on bringing theater to the community as a means of positive change and social transformation.

Certainly much has changed since the Magic Circle Theatre, in Carmel Valley, mounted a stellar production of The Laramie Project ten years ago.  (You can read my story about that production here.)  In 2002, few dreamed that, in a handful of states at least, gay men and women would be saying their loving vows on American soil, with the blessing of an American president.

Yet despite the incredible progress of these ten years, gay children are still not safe from bullies, nor from the terrible feelings of shame that may infiltrate their minds and cause them to harm themselves.  And the gay civil rights that have thus far been established are still subject to the uncertainties of the ballot box, the politician’s vote, the preacher’s condemnation.  So much sorrow still exists, all because some people cannot accept the beautiful complexities of human desire.

“I really feel passionate about this play,” Infelise says.  “It has such a strong message about love.”

The Laramie Project, at the Indoor Forest Theatre, Mountain View Avenue and Santa Rita Street, Carmel, August 9-12, Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm, Sunday at 2 pm.  Admission is free, with a $5 suggested donation to support Rainbow Speakers and Friends.

Midsummer Arts Roundup

Last Saturday I went to CSUMB for an afternoon of student monologue performances.  It seems that almost every time I drive on the the CSUMB campus I get lost, or, if not exactly lost, then driving on a road that leads me into the old abandoned section of Fort Ord—decrepit buildings, shattered windows, broken slabs of concrete, waist-high weeds—until either instinct or dumb luck prevails and I turn right or left and then am suddenly back on campus, with its attractive buildings and excellent programs.

One such excellent program was this year’s first Summer Arts season, a series of masterclasses and performances in the visual, literary, media and performing arts.  It is a statewide CSU program and will be hosted by CSUMB for another four years.  Next year I will go to more events.  Unfortunately it coincides with the Carmel Bach Festival, and this year I went to many Bach Festival concerts, but for the next four years I think I may spend more time at CSUMB.

The event I attended was the culmination of a two-week Solo Performance class.  For a little over an hour I watched in admiration, awe, and, at times, deep emotion, as thirteen individuals, one at a time, got up on stage and performed, most of them from memory, an original four-minute piece.  Many of the pieces were an exploration of self-doubt and self-acceptance.  What impressed me was how the instructors had clearly worked with the students to turn the performances into real performances, with expressive movement, the use of gesture, vocal inflection, judicious use of props, and command of the stage.  Some of the pieces were humorous, as when a woman turns her encounter with a mugger into a flirtation, others quite dark, but all in the service of transforming the moments of a life into art.

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Of the many Carmel Bach Festival concerts I attended, my all-time favorite was one I almost missed.  (Thanks, Marty!)  It was the last day of the Festival, the Saturday morning “Viennese Concertante” showcasing music by Mozart and his father Leopold.  Emlyn Ngai performed Mozart’s delicious Serenade in D Major, the “Haffner,” with extraordinary artistry and virtuosic ease; I felt completely taken over by the energy of the piece and my body was abuzz and humming with musical effervescence all day.  (It was the same day I went to CSUMB, and I also attended that evening’s smashing Best of the Fest concert.  The next day I was exhausted.)

As I wrote last week, this year’s Bach Festival was filled with many marvelous concerts.  One concert did disappoint: the Friday evening “Music of Dance” symphony program.  The program included a Bach Orchestral Suite and Stravinsky’s Suite from his ballet Pulcinella, followed by Brahms’s Second Symphony.  The orchestra seemed tired, especially the strings, where intonation was frequently approximate.  Paul Goodwin conducted the last movement of the Brahms, Allegro con spirito, at a punishingly fast speed.  It was an idiosyncratic, unsatisfying performance.  Throughout the symphony, there was a detached crispness, with little of the Romantic swell and shapely phrasing that is so vital to Brahms.

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Speaking of shapely, the Olympics are on, and a beautifully athletic body in exquisite motion can be in itself a form of art.  Pacific Repertory Theatre is presenting the Olympics, Mondays through Fridays from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, in the renovated Golden Bough Theatre on their new large screen.  This is from their press release:

“PacRep is proud to present the newly improved stage in the Golden Bough Theatre - now featuring state-of-the-art multimedia capabilities.  In an effort to mark the Bough’s new capabilities, PacRep is offering the community FREE viewing of the 2012 Olympics on the Golden Bough’s Big Screen.  PacRep will be screening the local NBC affiliate (channel 6).  For scheduling information, please consult your local TV Guide or call the box office for the daily line up (831-622-0100).”