Charlottesville’s culture bin

Schuyler Fisk
Gravity Lounge
Tuesday, April 25

music O.K., first things first: So how did Sissy look? Like a million bucks, as usual. In fact, as she took the stage with her cute-as-a-button daughter, someone yelled out, “Are you sisters?,” and it was hard to tell if she was kidding. The laid-back, informal vibe continued throughout the night as Fisk, the actor and budding singer/songwriter, and her Oscar-winning mom (Sissy Spacek, don’tcha know) harmonized delicately through a set comprised almost entirely of Schuyler’s ethereal, sweetly voiced (if occasionally derivative) originals.
    While the girl definitely has a good ear for an alt-country hook (and a voice to
die for), interchangeable love-song bromides like “You’re looking so lonely, and
I can’t stop looking at you,” and “I’m
so caught up, but I can’t let you go” started to blur together as the night wore on. Still, the Spacek-family reunion jocular-
ity and endearing onstage ban-
ter kept the audience smiling. (Schuyler: “Make sure to stop by the table and buy some of my sister Madison’s buttons.” Sissy: “Run, don’t walk!” Schuyler (feigning panic): “Hold on! Wait ’til the show’s over.”) Ultimately, it was easy to forgive the Coal Miner’s Daughter’s daughter her occasional lapses into cliché. She’s still an ingénue, after all, and it seems all-but-certain that her songwriting talent will grow with time. Besides, anyone who can share a stage with Sissy, and still grab the spotlight, is not to be underestimated.—Dan Catalano

Miami City Ballet
The Paramount Theater
Tuesday, April 25

dance Mary Carmen Catoya for president! And while we’re at it, Deanna Seay for Minister of Love! Those, in short, were my sentiments after the final curtain calls on Miami City Ballet’s joyous performance last Tuesday. I’ve read that the nation might be ready for a female president, and I have my candidate.
    Edward Villella’s fleet-footed, charming troupe (now 20 years old) brought an all-Balanchine program to town. A quartet of show-stoppers, the dances all fell into the master’s “appetizer” and “dessert” categories (George Balanchine used to famously say about programming a ballet show that it must be like a fine dinner with appetizer, main course and dessert). If there were no “heavy” modernist entrees like “Stravinsky Violin Concerto” or “The Four Temperaments” on the bill, never mind. We got the next leader of the free world instead.
    So, getting back to Mary Carmen Catoya. The woman can dance! Mile-high leg extensions? Check. Technically assured leaps and dives, including the always-rousing fish dive? Check and check. Razor-sharp footwork? You know the answer.
    Catoya, while an uncommonly daring and musical performer, has many peers in Miami City Ballet when it comes to technique. (Indeed, despite oddly virginal pink-and-blue costumes in “Donizetti Variations,” which opened the program, that dance was a thrilling introductory showcase to the troupe’s near-perfect technique—such port de bras!) But Catoya has something more: presence.

Perform-ing with Re-nato Penteado in “Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux,” Catoya married a regal bear-ing with physical con-fidence so complete she seemed almost casual in her virtuosity. But the well-heeled crowd understood the pedigree before them and answered with the closest thing the Paramount may ever see to a hollaback. There were audible comments and gasps (al-though, sadly, not one “you go, girl” was heard), and then, fittingly, a standing ovation and several curtain calls.
    Catoya will need a cabinet should she undertake to restore this country to its former greatness, and when that happens she can look to Deanna Seay. Diaphanous, tender, aching yet not desperate, skimming the stage with the shimmer of a young leaf bearing rain droplets, Seay was Catoya’s equal in terms of technique and her exact opposite in terms of flavor. In “Sonatine,” which she performed with Kenta Shimizu, Seay had a considerable advantage in dancing to the live piano accompaniment of Francisco Renno, who played Ravel’s score (the rest of the program was performed to recorded music). She responded intimately to each note, dancing like the softest sigh, moving through balances and leaning into the air before the tender arms of her partner righted her.
    Like everyone in this energetic ensemble company, Catoya and Seay seem to be in love with what they’re doing right now. Which, I suppose, means we should wait to order the “Catoya for president” bumper stickers. Doesn’t matter. These two earn my vote in their current offices, too, as leaders in Miami City Ballet.—Cathy Harding

Gatsby’s Girl
By Caroline Preston
Houghton Mifflin, 303 pages

words What a superb idea for a novel: An older woman named Mrs. John Pullman (born Ginerva Perry) receives a call from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s daughter, Scottie, who says, “My father always used to talk about you. He said you were the first girl he ever loved.” Scottie has something amazing to show Ginerva—but Charlottesville resident Caroline Preston cunningly saves that for the novel’s coda. Hearing from Scottie moves Ginerva to reminisce about her relationship with Fitzgerald, and explore his writing for the first time. Lo and behold—she was the inspiration for, among other characters, Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby.
    Preston based her novel on Fitzgerald’s actual relationship with Ginerva King. They met in Minnesota in 1916. He was a 19-year-old Princeton student and she was three years younger. They corresponded for a few years, and then she dumped him. Unlike in Preston’s novel, Ginerva King maintained that she couldn’t care less about Fitzgerald’s writing.
    Preston’s sensitive and appealing version of the story is smoothly executed. Her decision to tell it in Ginerva’s voice, however, will put a crimp in some readers’ aesthetic enjoyment.
    If Daisy Buchanan is Ginerva’s fictional counterpart, it follows that Ginerva is a soulless, wispy creature. Preston captures what such a nonpersonaltiy (improved somewhat with age) would sound like, but, paragraph by paragraph, it doesn’t make for very compelling reading. The Great Gatsby just wouldn’t be the great American novel it is without narrator Nick Carraway’s (i.e. Fitzgerald’s) stylistic flourishes and acute insight.
    Preston will read from the novel at New Dominion Bookshop on Friday, May 5, at 5:30pm.—Doug Nordfors

A Writer’s Life
Gay Talese Knopf, 448 pages

books Gay Talese is one of the greats, a New Journalist who never gets old. At 74, he’s still as omnivorously curious as a puppy intent on sniffing out the entire universe, as proved in his new book, A Writer’s Life. His prose style is stodgier than his New Journo colleagues Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson. The true star of their stories is the colorful lens of the author’s personality, but Talese is an old-time shoe-leather reporter who builds his immense books out of innumerable bits of other people’s reality, patiently piling up and sifting clippings and his own notebook gleanings until, after many years, he emerges from his study with a new opus.
    What originally made his journalism “new” was his distaste for the daily deadline and the obvious news hook: In his most famous essay, 1966’s “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” chosen by Esquire editors as its greatest ever, he made a virtue out of not getting an interview with his untouchable subject, concentrating instead on the Chairman’s entourage of nobodies, yielding a story, a perspective no one had seen before. Talese’s first book was titled New York: A Serendipiter’s Journey, and he remains the most serendipity-dependent of writers, going his own way, confident despite not knowing at any moment precisely where he is going.
    Publishers put up with his dilatory ways because the books are often best sellers of the most distinctive sort: the analytical 1969 tell-all The Kingdom and the Power, about his former employer The New York Times; the 1971 Bonanno Mafia family romance Honor Thy Father; the silly but extraordinarily lucrative 1981 work of sexual investigatory journalism Thy Neigh-bor’s Wife; and his own Italian immigrant family saga Unto the Sons.
    Alas, Talese hit a dry patch after that 1992 multigenerational memoir. A short stint with Tina Brown at The New Yorker produced little besides a 10,000-word piece on Lorena Bobbitt and her impromptu penisectomy on her husband. The article fell to Tina’s editorial knife, swifter and bloodier than Lorena’s excellent 12" kitchen cutlery. He had boxes full of bits not yet assembled into a book on the literati at Elaine’s, the celebrated Manhat-tan restaurant; other stalled projects involved an old place he calls “the Willy Loman building,” where 11 restaurants in a row went belly-up, and his colorful acquaintances on the New York cuisine scene, whose adventures he’d hoped to stitch together into his own version of George Orwell’s first book, Down and Out in Paris and London.
    Instead, he produced this outrageously desultory semi-memoir, sort of a chronicle of his own career with a few pointers for up-and-comers who want a job like his. Call it Up and In in Manhattan and the Hamptons. Orwell was young, hungry and focused; Talese is old and aimless. “I had nothing that I could rightly point to as a book in progress,” he confesses of Life’s long gestation. “I was motivated by the notion I might rise above my state of indecision and discontent by writing about other people’s discontent and despair” in a book possibly to be called Profiles in Discouragement or The Loser’s Guide to Living.
    As Life erratically unfolds, Talese keeps bewailing his wandering: “What did I intend to do with all this material? What was my story?” Contemplating his loser-building book, tentatively titled We Shall Now Praise Unfamous Men, he wonders, “Has the waywardness of my own life made me compatible with the floundering forces that apparently guide this place?”
    As floundering accounts go, this one’s fairly readable. Talese rattles off disconnected vignettes and vaguely connected ones about Sinatra, some fun annals of Bobbittry, the epochal civil rights battle in Selma, Alabama, heroic loser boxer Floyd Patterson, the Bonanno clan, and even a Chinese soccer player who loses a championship match in front of the entire world. To these he adds glimpses of his own biography, from scrappy youth to happy marriage (to mogul Nan Talese, publisher of faux-journalist James Frey) to bewildered maturity. Since he makes so little effort to unify the scraps-from-a-shoebox narrative, the reader is encouraged to make his own connections. I savor the little verbal echoes: When Jackie not-yet-Kennedy whispered disappointedly right after her defloration, “That’s it?” it reminds me of what the volunteer rescuers of Bobbitt’s penis said as they held it aloft in the ER: “Is this it?”
    Both of these phrases sum up my reaction to Life. It’s a good notebook dump, but not a great notebook dump. But any decade now, Talese is going to come up with a real book, and I’m betting it’ll be a keeper.—Tim Appelo

Our Lady of 121st Street
Live Arts
Through May 6

stage Stepping into the Live Arts Down-Stage to see a performance of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Our Lady of 121st Street is like attending a funeral gone awry. The elaborate set features a row of chairs facing an open coffin with no body inside. As the play progresses, we learn that the dead person in question is Sister Rose, once a teacher at a Catholic school in Harlem, and that the church where the coffin lies is a crime scene, as the body has mysteriously disappeared. We also meet a group of men and women—former students of the nun—who have come together to pay their respects, and now must also deal with the strange turn the funeral has taken.
    All this might sound like a match made in hell between Ghost and The Big Chill, but Guirgis’ vision commands much more respect. Over the course of the second half of the play, the story becomes a profound and singularly down-to-earth meditation on the quest for spiritual fulfillment.
    The problem is that hollow characters, dialogue that goes nowhere, and vapid jokes dominate the first half. The action has no substance (presumably to show that much of real life is meaningless—yet that’s not enough to sustain a play), and it appears that director Satch Huizenga tried to fill the void by encouraging the 12 actors to either indulge in histrionics, or turn their characters into caricatures.
    Surprisingly, this method flirts with success. Juniee Oneida is often affecting as the spiritually bankrupt pothead Rooftop, and Richelle Claiborne is consistently magnetic as the fast and loose Inez, just to mention a few examples. Discriminating viewers, however, will spend the first half of the play wondering where Sister Rose disappeared to, and wishing they could join her.—Doug Nordfors

Eccentric Soul: The Deep City Label
Various Artists
Numero Records

cd Since a small and fanatical army of DJs raided the wide world of American soul, it is no longer possible to ignore the myriad small labels that preserved and pushed R&B through the ’60s and ’70s.
    Prized by modern crate-diggers (even though it created only a handful of songs), the Deep City label earned its ongoing underground reputation by making maximum impact with its limited resources. Denied the slick studios and armies of musicians available to labels like Motown, the arrangers and producers of City judiciuosly used reverb and a mixing style that emphasized the grit of the process, creating a harshness perfect for dancers exhausted after a long blue-collar week.
    This compilation is definitely not a stroll down oldies-but-goodies lane. Like all nothing-to-lose soul music, the Deep City sound exists in both the past and future, challenging us to reject all shallow substitutes.—James Hopkins

All the Young Dudes
Mott the Hoople
Columbia Records

cd This newly remastered and expanded Dudes is a crystal-clear reminder of why Mott The Hoople will never really be respected by a media establishment that craves simple responses to the loss of old hopes. In between the heavy guitars, Mott embraced the contradictions of the middle ’70s, an era when smarter songwriters (like their producer David Bowie) forged an artistic connection between their  ’60s faith in the spiritual power of rock and their growing mistrust in themselves. Out of such all-embracing honesty came unashamed poetry with a fat beat—a truth understood by the glitter kids trying to find a new hope.—James Hopkins

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