viernes, abril 24, 2015

Christopher Wheeldon brings some Paris magic to Broadway

Adapting a classic like
An American in Paris for the stage can certainly be a double-edged sword. On one hand, you get to work with a widely known work of cinema, but on the other, you take the risk of falling short to that piece’s high standard of artistry.

Christopher Wheeldon, one of the most remarkable choreographers nowadays, has embraced the challenge of directing, none other than for the Broadway stage, an adaptation of that marvelous movie. To his advantage, he does have access to a terrific set of songs, written by George and Ira Gershwin, and to what’s definitely more important: lots of inspiration for making dance.

Wheeldon’s link to An American in Paris goes back to his childhood. As soon as he saw the movie in his native England when he was 7 years old, he decided he wanted to dance like Gene Kelly. Wheeldon’s rise to dance’s elite has been nothing but impressive: his formal education began at the Royal Ballet School, where he was later accepted as a dancer; but the next year he decided to be part of New York City Ballet, where he didn’t just dance -he also became the troupe’s first resident choreographer.

Wheeldon’s outstanding talent has made him one of the most sought-after choreographers in the world. Throughout the last ten years he has created ballets for prestigious companies like Royal Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, National Ballet of Canada and Miami City Ballet.

In fact, it was one of those ballets -Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which Wheeldon created for the Royal Ballet and was vastly successful when it was streamed in movie theaters around the world- that put his name on the map of An American in Paris’ producers. (It is also worth noting that Wheeldon had already made a ballet to that Gershwin score for New York City Ballet.)

Wheeldon embarked upon adapting An American in Paris, approved by the Gershwin estate, aiming at transforming that enchanting homage to the City of Lights into a celebrated production for the theater. His work received sensational praise by the audience and critics in Paris, where it was premiered last year for a short run of shows.

On Broadway, it has been equally received by the public. As a matter of fact, An American in Paris has become one of the most commercially successful musicals during the last couple of months.

Wheeldon has been celebrated by this genuine homage to the French Capital, one that has been treated with delicacy, grace and a modern approach to classicism. The world of ballet is in desperate needs of a talent like Christopher Wheeldon: a choreographer that looks up into the future while paying respect to the traditions that has made of dance the most fascinating of the performing arts. 

domingo, abril 19, 2015

La Philharmonie de Paris defines a musical experience for the 21st century

The location of La Philharmonie de Paris, the recently inaugurated concert hall in Paris, is a statement in itself: it’s based right next to the Boulevard Périphérique, which is some sort of an eastern border for the French capital.

That Boulevard separates the wealthy Parisian center from the less fortunate suburbs. Hence, La Philharmonie aspires to become into much more than a music venue -it’s committed to a social purpose.

“This is a new vision for a concert hall”, says Laurent Bayle, the Philharmonie’s Director. “Classical music has been concentrated in the west of the city, which is wealthy; the Salle Pleyel, Radio France, the Théâtre des Champs Elysées. From this place, we can reach out to a whole new audience – we can unite the suburbs and the city centre”. With this in mind, Bayle aims to “break down the barriers, shake up the ritual of the concert, prioritise education programmes for young people and make links between musical genres”.

The most recent and direct precedent of a music hall conceived for the 21st century is la Cité de la Musique, a small venue that materialized the ideas Pierre Boulez had for how music should be played in these times. (That building offers flexibility for contemporary works and also hosts a museum and rooms for educational events.)

Paris audiences for classical music are aging at an alarming rate -the average age is around 60-, so the new hall’s leaders are making a significant effort in putting up what they call “eclectic programming”, one that includes jazz, world music, hip-hop and electronic music. (There are special promotions for families with tickets for concerts at 12 euros.)

La Philharmonie is a concept that could only be feasible in a country like France, where culture and education are considered fundamental pillars of the society, supported by a great financial aid from the government. The construction of the hall reached almost 400 million euros, which generated controversy -political disputes, strikes, budgetary miscalculations- enhanced by the fact that the opening was recurrently delayed. (Even when it took seven years to finish it, the concert hall was opened with unfinished details.)

The other feature that has been unanimously praised by the critics is the structure of the hall. Designed by Jean Nouvel, la Philharmonie is a juncture of two approaches on the architecture of the concert hall. On one hand, it’s based on the traditional shoebox model established by 19th century theaters; and on the other, it takes inspiration from the more recent “vineyard” model from the 20th century, where the orchestra is located in the center and the audience “surrounds” the musicians. This setup allows the public to be fairly close to the action. La Philharmonie possesses banks of seating that offer what several reviewers have described as an intimate experience.

Besides the 2,200-seat concert hall, la Philharmonie has rehearsal rooms with public galleries, workshop spaces where staff can take care of the children while their parents enjoy the concerts, and there’s also a gallery space that currently hosts the vastly successful exhibition on David Bowie paraphernalia. (Cafés and restaurants are also part of the complex.)

La Philharmonie de Paris represents what music must be for the 21st century: all-encompassing, accessible, thought-provoking. Performing arts administrators not only must inject enthusiasm to classical music, they also need to exploit the social component inherent to making music. At the end of the day, sound is nothing but alterations, so music should shake us, putting us in touch with the artists who create those beautiful vibrations. In that contact belies the social in music -and that’s what la Philharmonie seems devoted to.