Category: Arts and Entertainment

Christy Altomare and company of Anastasia. Photo Courtesy of Joan Marcus.

 

When the long-anticipated Broadway adaptation of the cartoon classic Anastasia (1997) debuted under the bright lights of the Broadhurst Theatre, the audience was tightly packed and diverse: thick Eastern European accents were offset by the squeals of American women in their teens and early 20s, eagerly anticipating their favorite story brought to life. Indeed, all of the audience members were likely intimately familiar with some form of the story behind Anastasia— whether the “true” history of the ill-fated Tsarevna Anastasia Nikolaevna, allegedly murdered by the Cheka (Bolshevik secret police) in 1918, or the whimsical tale of 20th Century Fox’s “Anastasia Romanov(a),” with its talking bat and mad villain Rasputin hunting the Romanov family to near-extinction, with its train crashes and hexes and wild run to the streets of Paris— but few could predict what would happen when the lights grew dim and these two stories intersected in a new translation of the classic tale.

With the introduction of Anastasia to the stage, Rasputin gave way to the Russian Revolution of 1917 (specifically the February Revolution and the fall of Winter Palace) and the rising Russian Communist movement; the new adaptation brought new “villains” to the story. But as Anastasia grew closer to real life, so did its conflict. Instead of employing the black and white morality shown in the movie, the Broadway play Anastasia thoroughly developed its villains and their drives. This idea of gray-moral conflict was embodied by the well-rounded character development of the main antagonist Gleb (Ramin Karimloo), who faced a moral dilemma threatening his identity even as Anastasia came to recognize her own.

Despite these major changes to the plot, the majority of the characters and music that made Anastasia the movie a success remained in the play. In fact, not only were iconic songs like “Learn to Do It,” “Journey to the Past,” and “Once Upon a December” beautifully rearticulated, but also the original songs like “My Petersburg” performed by Dmitry (Derek Klena) and “Stay, I Pray You,” which featured nearly the entire cast, were instrumental in exposing the raw nerve endings of a country torn apart by revolution and giving new depth to the characters.

“Stay, I Pray You” was a particularly timely addition for today’s audiences, given its thematic focus on the struggles of leaving a war-torn country to seek refuge away from one’s home. Dmitry and Anya (Anastasia) may have been full of hope, but they, along with the refugees they accompanied, still called:

Stay, I pray you.

Let me have a moment,

Let me say goodbye;

Harsh and sweet

And bitter to leave it all,

I’ll bless my homeland

Till I die.

The eyes of the cast at this point twinkled with tears in the bright stage lights. The audience was not immune from the sudden onset of emotions.

Anastasia is inherently self-aware: a nostalgic story centered around nostalgia; a story about respecting the past while growing to make new decisions respecting its past and growing into new decisions. And for the audience members not satisfied by this balance of whimsy and historical realism, a near-topless Derek Klena and a bejeweled Tsarina, stunning graphics that expanded the small stage into a platform crossing international boundaries and spectacular Russian choreography filling the stage in thrusting limbs and fluttering skirts— these seemed to have been enough of a distraction from defamiliarizing plot elements.

In the course of the night, very few technical or performative issues arose. The opening of the first scene, featuring a young Anastasia and her Grandmother the Grand Duchess as the Grand Duchess says goodbye before departing to Paris, was a bit choppy, seeming to be a near-direct quotation of the movie lacking the vivid character of the rest of the play, and Ramin Karimloo (Gleb) sounded slightly nervous at the play’s start; that is, Karimloo’s first two vocal performances were a bit more breathless than breathtaking. However, these minor issues were quickly eclipsed by the interactions between the young Anastasia and her family, the collapse of the Grand Duchess at the news of their deaths (a tear-jerking performance), and Karimloo’s heart-stopping second reprise of “A Simple Thing,” in which his voice persisted where many other actors would have failed.

Altogether, Anastasia overshot all expectations of success and managed a seemingly impossible feat with its reconciliation of history with fantasy. Its near-perfect opening performances can only improve as the actors and actresses continue to bring the streets of Leningrad (ne Saint Petersburg) to our very own West 44th Street, between 7th and 8th Aves.

Netherlandish Proverbs by  Brugel

Getting ready for an Art Humanities final? To help you study, we’re sharing notes written by Colin Howard, CC ’17 that will make sure you’re ready to ace the exam.

Overview & Agenda

  • Exams will cover different material depending on the instructor. For example, Knox’s section does not cover Frank Lloyd Wright or Corbu, so this session will not focus on those, and her final is not cumulative.
  • The point of Art Hum is to help students learn visual literacy; in others worrds, how to read a work of art: its formal aspects, functions, expressive content, and aesthetic merits.
  • Understanding the different media, tools, and methods used to create a work is also important
  • This class traces the evolution of mimesis, illusion, and representation in Western art. That’s why we start with Greece – the human form represented in the way it appears to us in “reality.” This review session will follow that evolution.

Important Questions

  • What is art?
  • Why do we look at art? What are we looking for? (Hint: art wants you to understand different things in different eras.)
  • Who collects and commissions art? What’s the purpose of art from their perspective?
  • What is a masterpiece and does that matter?
  • What do the visual arts share with literature? With music?
  • Why do we make art? What purpose does it serve? Some examples:
    • Religion
    • Politics
    • Economic (status, wealth)
    • Social (identity)
    • Awareness of the Human Body
    • Beauty
  • How does a work of art comment on:
    • the personal life of the artist?
    • the historical context of the work?
    • the subject? (e.g. portraiture)
    • gender?
    • how we engage with space?
  • How do we respond to art:
    • physically?
    • conceptually?
    • spiritually?
    • emotionally?
    • sexually?
  • Does art have a history? It may help us to track the evolution of various genres:
    • history painting (or “grand narrative” painting),
    • portraiture and self-portraiture,
    • the nude,
    • landscape (which really arises after Bruegel), and
    • still life (which Knox’s section didn’t focus on too much).

Key Terms

  • Mimesis – the imitation or representation of aspects of the sensible world
  • Representation – causing a work of art to replicate an aspect of “reality,” insofar as it is possible
  • Illusion – how a work of art appears to be something it is not (e.g., when a painting appears three-dimensional)
  • Medium – the physical materials used to create a particular work
  • Composition – how materials are used to create order in a particular work
  • Naturalism – an attempt to reconcile art with the reality we perceive
  • Abstraction – working with art on a higher level, removed from reality (cf. naturalism)
  • Modernism – a philosophical and artistic movement interested in re-examining inherited truths and artistic methods, and finding truth and beauty in everyday life

The First Half of the Course

  • The Parthenon & Greek Sculpture
    • Order – as in the various orders of columns used in the Parthenon. The construction of structures is regulated as much as possible for ease of replication.
    • Proportion – harmony, as in using the proportions of the human body in architecture.
    • Contrapposto – one approach to representing an understanding of how the human body turns and is most comfortable.
    • Naturalism – an interest in presenting the human body that looks appropriate, rather than awkward (e.g. the sculptural program at the Amiens cathedral) or abstract (e.g. Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon).
    • Mimesis – as before.
  • The Gothic and Amiens Cathedral
    • Vaulting – upward-gesturing vaults, as opposed to rectangles in Greek architecture and semicircular arches in Roman architecture, increase the space available.
    • Houses of Worship – French Gothic architecture in cathedrals focuses less on housing the gods, and more on housing the worshippers.
    • Light – opening up a building for a sense of the spiritual.
    • Transparency – a structure is both decorative and structural at the same time.
    • Hieratic Scale – the positioning and relative size in figures in sculpture meant to emphasize their relative importance or existence in the order of things.
    • Being vs. Becoming – the spiritual (being, as in the statue of Jesus on the door jamb) versus the temporal (becoming, as in the spear-holder of ancient Greece).
    • Anagogical Form – a medieval form that seeks to speak to the mystical and miraculous. Art doesn’t have to appear real but does have to speak to a higher form to see God (e.g., stained-glass windows).
  • Early Renaissance Painting
    • Linear perspective – a system that allows artists to think about placing figures in space based on a vanishing point (becomes essentially canonical for four centuries).
    • Alberti – codifies this and many other parts of this system in representational art.
    • Chiaroscuro – the use of heavy contrast between light and dark.
    • Humanism – the centering of the individual using secular Greek and Roman texts.
  • Raphael and the Human Figure (portaits and the Stanza della Segnatura)
    • Julius II – sponsor of many works of religious art, including St. Peter’s Basilica, the Stanza della Segnatura, and many other works by Raphael (and Michelangelo).
    • High Renaissance – pinnacle of the systems described by Alberti.
    • Portraiture – for the first time in the Renaissance, artists were not just painting the aristocracy but the merchant class as well.
    • Iconography – the practice of understanding symbolic meaning on multiple levels.
    • Rebirth of Classical Antiquity
  • Michelangelo
    • Sculptural Theory of Subtraction – when the removal of material from a larger whole is the central aspect to creating a work of art.
    • Concetto – the idea leading to a work of art.
    • Neoplatonism – a religion and philosophical school of thought that sought to combine Platonic philosophy with Christian dogma. Michelangelo was a strong adherent.
  • Bernini
    • Baroque – the period of art subsequent and responding to Renaissance ideas. Emphasized passion, drama, and psychology.
    • Pictorialism – using material to tell a story.
    • Paragone – is painting or sculpture or literature better? Bernini and other Baroque artists are explicitly responding to this question.
    • Spectacle – when a work is designed for public attention and consumption.
    • Gesamtkunstwerk – the total work of art (e.g. the Passion of St. Theresa).

The Second Half of the Course

  • Northern Renaissance Painting
    • Empirical Perspective and Intense Observation – van Eyck and Bosch aren’t aware of the scientific perspective work done by their Italian counterparts, so they use intense observation to closely replicate a scene. This is called “empirical perspective” because it arrives at, rather than starts from, first principles.
    • Oil Paint – a new material allows for greater control of form.
    • Panorama – larger landscapes come to greater fruition when Bruegel tackles them.
    • Intricate Allegory and Irony – painting starts to incorporate narrative and parable.
    • Merchant Class – quickly becomes a large part of artists’ patronage.
    • Distribution – prints and the printing press change the way art is consumed and by whom it is consumed.
  • Bruegel
    • Protestant Reformation – the needs of the church are different (no more decorative objects in churches, because that’s worship of false idols!), so painting becomes much more secular.
    • Rise of the Merchant Class – again, who is purchasing the art changes its subject.
    • Urbanism – art begins centering not around cities where the church is powerful but around cities that have a strong mercantile economy.
    • Allegory – when artists are aware of what’s happening in literature (Erasmus’ In Praise of Folly) and respond to it.
    • Humanism – Bruegel’s work expresses a common humanity – everyone can relate to these images!
    • Landscape – Bruegel becomes the first master of the landscape genre, in which there is little-to-no emphasis on human life
    • Peasantry and Stereotype – the peasant class is the topic of much of Bruegel’s work – is he celebrating them or mocking them?
  • Rembrandt (cf. Bernini and the Baroque)
    • Wolfflinian terms – linear to painterly, plane to recession, closed to open, multiplicity to unity, absolute clarity to relative clarity.
    • Realism – images of “real life;” Rembrandt dresses up and paints the local populace to practice and show off his skills.
    • Theatricality – there’s an element of performance to Rembrandt’s work, his portraiture especially.
    • Portraiture – there’s a lot we can get out of Rembrandt’s very deliberate portraiture – self, duo, and group. Hands and facial expressions are a great place to start.
    • The Nude – Berger’s dichotomy between naked and nude.
    • Etching, Engraving, and Printing – objects Rembrandt creates and replicates are widely distributed, each with small changes that reflect the artist’s hand and his experimentation with form.
  • Goya
    • The Enlightenment and Romanticism – Goya is often seen as the painter of the Enlightenment, but a more accurate characterization of him would be as the painter who bridges the gap between the Enlightenment and Romanticism, and questions both.
    • Spanish Cultural Moment – crucial to understanding Goya’s work. Look at the difference between his court portraits of the royal family and his history paintings (also commissioned by the Spanish government).
    • Satire and Irony – incorporated into Los Caprichos, but mostly absent from The Disasters of War.
    • Printing and Reproduction – Los Caprichos, later shut down by the Inquisition, sought to poke fun at many aspects of society
    • Fantasy and Imagination – the first time (apart from Bosch) a major artist incorporates these elements into his body of work. The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters is a key example of this.
    • History Painting – many aspects of the historical moment, as well as a focus on emotional happenings, are incorporated into the Second of May and the Third of May – in short as electricity as well as emotion.
    • Pueblo/Illustrado/Maha – Goya and the Spanish court adopt many aspects of lower-class culture (including fashion) in an attempt to appear connected with the people.
  • Manet
    • The Academy & the Salon – quasi-public forces that dominated French art for decades, requiring strict adherence to what were believed to be high standards.
    • Haussmanization and the Second Empire – the demolishment and rebuilding of Paris under Napoleon III and Haussman allowed for the rise of cafe culture, spectacle, and the mixing of the classes.
    • Flaneur – a stroller, someone who would walk around Paris simply to see and be seen, with a sense of alienation.
    • Positivism – a philosophical system that believes that technological innovation results, in the end, in progress for the betterment of the human condition.
    • Optical Consumption – the understanding of what we see as spectacle, sponsoring an awareness of the world around us as foreign and other.
  • Early Monet
    • The Impressionist Eye – the goal of painting what we actually see as opposed to what we believe we should see. Also worth noting: Charles Baudelaire calls artists to “paint modern life.”
    • Optical – two-dimensional rejection/unlearning of what are understood as the three-dimensional tricks of the trade. The subject of the painting is still recognizable, but the shift towards the optical means we see paintings (and reality) as a two-dimensional sphere, not as mirrors reflecting a three-dimensional world.
    • Leisure and the Bourgeois – part of the modern moment, in which generally middle-class Parisians would leave the city and enjoy otium in the countryside.
    • Photography – because the invention of the camera could make the absent present, previously thought to be the purpose of painting, painting needed to do something different.
    • Japonisme – Japanese prints believed by French and other modern artists to be a new way of understanding the world, as the Eastern tradition developed without the representational techniques of the Western canon.
  • Late Monet
    • Quasi Scientific Series – playing with atmosphere, light, time of day (these, not necessarily the scene itself, are the subject of the painting).
    • Neo-Impressionism – Seurat and others have a new color theory, and they use tension between colors to implement a visual and emotional response to the painting itself (as opposed to its content).
    • Dematerialization – moving further away from capturing the subject matter, to dematerializing forms as seen visually.
    • Abstraction – in art, abstraction is the opposite of the mimetic, because its project is not to represent. It attempts to convey something that can’t simply be copied because it’s wholly in the artist’s mind.
  • Picasso
    • The Gisante – in the Demoiselles d’Avignon, the gisante is lying down, not standing – Steinberg gets this because he looks at how the painting evolves over several drafts
    • Sexuality and Self-Discovery – originally called the “Brothel of Avignon,” this work and others by Picasso respond to and incorporate Freudian psychoanalysis, attempting to understand sex as a means towards self-discovery and self-actualization.
    • Modernism – modernization is advancements in technology. Modernity is an era characterized by a questioning of norms and practices, especially in the arts – but which happens at the same time as industrialization, urbanization, secularization, individualism, and positivism. Modernism is a philosophical and artistic system that sought to find truth in the everyday and other sources commonly overlooked in the pre-Enlightenment and pre-Romantic era.
    • Fauve – literally a “wild beast,” a fauve was a member of the “fauvist” movement, headed by Matisse and Braque, at the beginning of the 20th century, in which color and form became one.
    • Form and Content – form is the style, techniques, media, and design elements in a work of art; its content is what is being depicted and how that and the form are interpreted.
    • Cubism and Deconstruction – both analytic and synthetic, cubism was a short-lived artistic movement that sought to deconstruct and reconstruct visual forms and structures in an abstract way.
    • Re-Presenting vs. Representing – the idea of representing physical reality versus presenting a work completely anew.
    • Anti-Imitation – Picasso and others avoided imitating
    • Spatial Relativity
    • Primitivism
    • Freedom of Exploration
    • Psychological Investigation
    • Surrealism
    • Political Commentary
  • Pollock and Warhol
    • Gestural Automatism – psychological state induced by allowing the body to involved with releasing inner demons (from Jungian psychoanalysis, which Pollock underwent) – essentially a stream of consciousness in physical form.
    • Action Painting – moving around a canvas (notably, on the floor – not on an easel) and using a variety of techniques while in the process of painting it.
    • Abstract Expressionism – in abstract expressionism, the act (of expressing) more important than the work (the end result of that act) itself.
    • Clement Greenberg – an art critic who loved Pollock and disliked Warhol.
    • Pop Art – an artistic movement interested in incorporating elements of popular culture into works of art, challenging traditional standards of what constitutes fine art.
    • Mechanical Reproduction – the reproduction of images in and from sources going into art, the reproduction of images in the process of making that art (silk screen printing), and the subsequent reproduction of those works of art.
    • Commodity Culture – a culture in which everything (up to and including intangibles like beauty, happiness, and love) is bought or sold and has a monetary value. Mocked/celebrated by artists who believed commodification had proceeded in Western culture to the point of absurdity.
    • Celebrity Obsession – a culture in which individuals and society are intrigued by, enamored with, and obsessed with celebrity figures (sometimes for no discernible reason), often proceeding to the point of commodification. Marilyn Monroe can be bought or sold just like cans of tomato soup.
    • Labels, Logos, Advertising, Consumerism – the incorporation of these elements into works is a key characteristic of pop art.
    • Death and Violence – the use of death and violence as compelling spectacle (car crashes, assassinations, suicides, capital punishment, etc.) for the viewer.
    • Appropriation – the act of reusing or re-presenting the artistic and/or cultural characteristics of the other with little-to-no transformation or original additions, and (problematically) often without due credit or acknowledgement.

Have a study guide of your own that you want to share? Email it to us at submissions@columbialion.com.

Image via Stocksnap

It’s finals season, which means it’s time to pull out your finest procrastination techniques. For those of you who have little success with this throughout the rest of the year (I’m looking at you, Butler all-nighters), I’ve put together a little how-to for you, focused on the best way to procrastinate: film.

1. Re-watch the classics:

There are some fantastic new titles on Netflix these days, including the classic Forrest Gump, Diane Keaton’s Something’s Gotta Give (fun fact: my mom based our kitchen off that movie), and the tear-jerking Schindler’s List. On Amazon, you can laugh at Caddyshack, delve into the world of Indianna Jones, or dance along to Footloose. If you’re looking for a two-hour study break, I’d definitely recommend watching one of those great films.

2. Binge a comedy:

If you haven’t watched all of Friends in one full reading week, do you really go to college? And if you have, have you done the same with Seinfeld, How I Met Your Mother, Arrested Development, and 30 Rock? By the second season of each, you can just leave it on on the background of your computer while you “work,” and the jokes will just soak into your skin like delightfully comforting rays of sun.  

3. Watch a chick-flick:

I know, I know, you’re too mature for the ridiculously over-dramatic and non-realistic world of chick-flicks. But let me tell you, there’s nothing as comforting as taking a break from your hours of studying to watch Jay Mohr win Jennifer Aniston’s heart in Picture Perfect, or listen to Hugh Grant’s deliciously attractive accent in any of his films. I’m telling you, chick-flicks will make you smile, and I have a feeling you haven’t been doing enough of that this week.

4. Head down to Broadway:

Yes, it’s reading week, but it’s also one of the only times you’re in New York without class, so take three hours to go downtown and see a fantastic Broadway show. This month, Matthew Perry is making his playwriting debut in The End of Longing, and shows like The Lion King, Wicked, and The Book of Mormon are still going strong. For cheaper tickets, check out off-broadway’s Avenue Q or The Fantasticks, which closes this month after over 50 years on the stage. (Protip: download the app TodayTix or head over to the TKTS booth for discounted prices).

5. When all else fails, watch The West Wing:

It’s the greatest show to ever be on television. You’ll thank me.

Have a great summer, everyone! Keep on watching!

Yael

 

Image via IDBD

Gloria Estefan was a trailblazer. She was one of the most successful female artists of all time, the most successful Latin-American crossover artist, and her voice is a force to be reckoned with. So when I took my seat at the Marquis Theater to watch her story come to life onstage, I had high expectations. But alas, I was disappointed.

The show On Your Feet: The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan has all the promise in the world. With songs like “Congo,” “On Your Feet,” and “The Rhythm is Gonna Get You,” the writers had a lot to work from. I practically congo-ed into the theater, eager to dance and clap along to Gloria’s famous beats and ready for Broadway’s liveliest show yet. But instead, I found myself falling asleep.

Broadway has had a history of success with these kinds of musicals. Jersey Boys, which was based on Franki Valli and the Four Seasons, is a smash hit. Mamma Mia!, written around ABBA’s famous songs, has been solidified as a classic. But for On Your Feet, it felt like Broadway gave up.

The opening number of On Your Feet is slow, boring, and actually quite confusing. For the first ten minutes of the show, scenery and time shifts at a mile a minute, and we are left extremely disoriented. First, a young Gloria awkwardly dances with strangers on the street while her mother jokes about the laundry, then solemnly sings to her father who is serving in the Korean War, and then all of sudden she’s all grown up and taking care of her MS-stricken father. Emilio enters the scene incredibly quickly, and before we know it Gloria is singing with his band and they fall in love without even a hint of a glitch. The entire first act happens quicker than you can imagine (and yet still manages to drag on with only the slowest of Gloria’s songs!) The act’s ending number, “Conga,” Gloria’s biggest hit, gave me hope that the second act would be livelier.

But of course, it wasn’t. The start of Act Two continued on in the same way, skipping so many years and milestones. All of a sudden Gloria is the biggest female artist in America, but we are given no details about how she got there or what her life is like. Only ten minutes into Act Two she is hit by a truck and the remainder of the show follows her road to recovery, once again choosing the slowest songs in her repertoire. In the final number, a coda after the story ends, the cast belts out “On Your Feet” and showcases some epic dance moves, but it was only the second number that had me smiling.

Of course, the show did have its highlights. Ana Villafane, who plays Gloria, is fantastic, and her pipes sound eerily similar to Gloria’s. The dialogue is well-written, well-acted, and actually quite funny. Gloria’s abuela, played by Alma Cuervo, is the show’s most entertaining and sentimental character, and overall the show’s arc is gripping. Where On Your Feet fails, however, is in its music choices and rough transitions. Perhaps if it had followed Jersey Boys’ example and blended much more fun with the serious, it might have been more exciting to watch. My Grade: B-

 

The Must-Watch List: If you are looking for a show to see, I’d definitely recommend getting tickets to Andrew Lloyd Weber’s School of Rock. The show will blow your mind with its insane music and witty dialogue, and you’ll be floored by the completely live musical performance by the show’s star children. If you loved the movie, you’ll love the musical even more. My Grade: A

 

Photo Courtesy of Joan Marcus

After a previously sold-out run off-Broadway, Lynn Nottage’s breathtaking play, Sweat, opened recently at the Studio 54 theater. The show, based in Reading, PA, focuses on deindustrialization and its lasting ramifications. In our current political climate, Sweat’s arrival could not be more timely. The show forces its audience to fully delve into the lives of blue-collar workers in America. In a country becoming increasingly divided, as evidenced through the 2016 Presidential Elections, Sweat explores and explains with breathtaking eloquence and clarity the malaise that has spread through many segments of the nation.

For those who have not seen the show, it focuses on the lives of friends working together at a local steel mill. Slowly, as jealousy flares and the workers realize their jobs–and the cultural status that came with them–are dwindling, they each begin to turn on each other. In trying so hard to save themselves and clinging to the work ideals many of their past family members have learned to expect, they are forced to find new work as the impacts of globalization and deindustrialization affect their town.

The show’s strong text is paired with skilled actors and a mundane yet detailed set. The play is primarily set in the local bar, where audience members watch the lives of these workers unfurl as if they were flies on the wall. In each interaction, one can see the close friendships of the characters. In particular, the show focuses on the close bond between two friends: Tracey (played by Johanna Day) and Cynthia (played by Michelle Wilson). In initial scenes, the two characters laugh and drink, jovially sharing stories about their students and their factory jobs, just like normal close friends do. However, after Cynthia is promoted to a role off the factory floor, jealousy flares as Tracey copes with not getting the promotion she truly wanted. As this jealously increases, tensions rise with conversations about race (as Tracey becomes convinced Cynthia was promoted solely for being Black) and the responsibilities of friendships.

To learn more about the show and how it came to be, we sat down with its playwright Lynn Nottage who–in addition to playwriting–is a Professor at Columbia’s School of the Arts. Nottage, originally from Brooklyn, studied at Brown University for her undergraduate degree and later studied and taught at the Yale School of Drama. She has won two Pultizer Prizes and received both the Guggenheim Fellowship and MacArthur Grant.

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