Keep your movie stars: A sexy tutu beats red carpet glamour at Cinema Arts Festival

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Still from Brent Green’s Gravity was Everywhere back Then.

In this very space, when I was pretending to be a fashion writer, I mentioned that only ballerinas should wear tutus. After seeing David Hillman Curtis’ Ride, Rise,  Roar, (and David Byrne’s live show) I’d like to amend that statement., only ballerinas and Byrne, who looks simply smashing in a fluffy white cloud of tulle while belting out “Burning Down the House.”

Sure, I’ve already fussed over the live events at the Cinema Arts Festival, but I don’t even need to pretend to be a film writer to have something to say about Ride, Rise, Roar, screening on Saturday at 9:45 p.m. and Sunday at 6:45 p.m. at Edwards Greenway Palace Stadium, as much of it is about the integration of dance into Byrne’s live show.

While the rest of you are Isabella Rossellini, John Turturro and Shirley MacLaine gawking, I am still swooning over Sam Green (Utopia in Four MovementsBrent Green (Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then) andAnnie-B Parson, one of the chief choreographers for the Byrne tour, co-director with Paul Lazar of Big Dance Theater and mastermind behind Byrne’s famous tutu.

(OK , maybe I swooned a little over Turturro. Let it be known his film, Passione, begins and ends in motion. And, the guy can dance. “I’m a great dancer,” he joked with the crowd last night.)

“David looked awesome in that tutu; he’s into white,” says Parson, who just won a Bessie Award for Comme Toujours Here I Stand, which I had the great pleasure of seeing at last year’s Fuse Box Festival. (Houston audiences remember Big Dance Theater’s spellbinding The Other Here atCynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts.) Parson, a fan of Byrne’s work, jumped at the chance to choreograph the show, along with Noemie Lafrance and the robbinschilds partnership of Sonya Robbins and Layla Childs (recently seen in Dance With Camera at the CAMH).

“David had seen our work,” remembers Parson. “We were steeped in Byrne aesthetic of the 1980s.”

Parson’s eclectic vocabulary, combined with her ability to animate objects, made for a dazzling combination. Having seen Byrne’s show at Jones Hall, I know just how well Parson’s clever moves fuse with Byrne’s punchy tunes. Microphones, office chairs and electric guitars dance along with performers Lily Baldwin, Natalie Kuhn and Steven Reker.

“The office chairs were his idea,” Parsons says. “But we both got the idea about the electric guitars at the same time in crossing e-mails.”

I also sat down with Brent Green, creator of Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then and Donna K, an actor and collaborator, for a lively conversation covering everything from shape notes to brain science atDiverseWorks last week over a glass of wine (me) and coffee (them). Brent’s career has had a meteoric rise, including raves in Art in Americaand The New York Times. He’s mostly pleased that he gets to continue to make stuff from his rural Pennsylvania outpost.

And he made just about everything you see in Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then, showing in a continuous loop at DiverseWorks alongside his installation that virtually leads you into the delicate world of the film. Scrawled on the DiverseWorks’ south wall is the statement, “And we stood with our shovels in our hands looking upward/forward/toward any kind of temporal cure for this wholly temporary world,” the last part of which is also written on a wonky and wavy looking banner floating below the ceiling.

The sentiment of celebrating extraordinary people, like Leonard Wood (the man who built the healing house for his wife documented in the film), forms the heart of Brent’s current concerns.

“These are the people who make our society great,” the self-taught artist says.

Like everything Brent does, it’s both grand and gentle. I know those two adjectives don’t normally go together. When you see his work you will know exactly what I mean; the level of dedication, detail, authenticity, thoroughness is nothing short of startling.

“Well, I did build a whole town in my backyard,” he says with characteristic humility. “I’m drawn to problem solving, difficult and  impossible things.”

Brent and Donna K. generously share the intricacies of doing stop-motion animation with live actors.

“Even the blinks were choreographed,” Donna K says. The quivering nature of the actors’ movements is unsettling; it appears to flicker rather than flow, amplifying the fragile and precarious nature of Leonard’s predicament.

“Your work makes us lean in, then  pushes us away.” I tell Brent. He nods in agreement.

The live version with a soundtrack by Brent, Donna K., Brendan Canty and John Michael Swartz is, of course, different every time. “Sometimes it’s like a rock show,” he says.

Brent’s film is paired with Sam Green’s Utopia in Four Movements as part of Live Cinema at FrenetiCore on Friday and Saturday, co-presented byAurora Picture Show. It’s not so nutty for Sam to perform with his film, he’s a teacher, comfortable with talking in front of a crowd. In this case, the subject dictated the form.

“The idea of watching a movie about Utopia alone in your room is tragic,” says Sam, who is drawn to the more unpredictable nature of live performance. “Film is done, you can’t change it anymore. In live performance we can keep changing things and I do. We tried a new end recently, even new songs. Once someone even asked a question in the middle of it. It’s totally different in the way you engage with it. ”

The Quavers and Dave Cerf  join Sam in the live show.

Sam also has a collection of his short films, which he lovingly refers to as his “ditties,” showing in the flickerlounge at DiverseWorks, also a co-presentation of Aurora Picture Show.

“For me, short films are a great way to experiment with new ideas or filmmaking techniques. It’s also a way to explore something that’s small,” he says. “The film I made, for example, about the young man who was killed at Altamont and the fact that he’s buried in an unmarked grave (lot 63, grave c) — it’s a small little thing — a poem. Same with Pie Fight ’69; that movie is a love letter to some San Francisco filmmakers who staged a crazy pie fight at the opening night of the SF Film Festival many years ago.”

There’s so much for a performing arts writer to engage with at the Festival, after all it’s a Cinema Arts Festival. Two films shout out as a powerhouses messages for the preservation of the arts in the schools, a favorite topic of mine. Chekhov for Children chronicles Phillip Lopate’s experience producing Uncle Vanya with New York City fifth and sixth graders, and filmmaker Sasha Waters Freyer’s memories of being part of the project.

The film makes a strong case for the power of introducing classic literature to children. I will be participating in Meet the Makers: The State of Criticism: Film and The Arts on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Edwards Greenway Lopate will be moderating the panel. Since Darren Aronofsky’s psychological ballet thriller Black Swan was just added to the festival maybe we do need a dance writer around.

Thunder Soul is another re-visiting story, this time telling the tale of Conrad “Prof” Johnson, the music teacher at Kashmere High School who transformed the jazz band into the stuff of legends. The trailer had me in tears and there isn’t even a snippet of Houston’s legendary Kashmere Stage Band on it.  The reunion Kashmere Reunion Band will be playing after the film showing tonight at Discovery Green.

Know that there’s much more, but I’m running off to see Isabella take me on A Journey to Italy.

Reprinted from Culturemap.

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