Archive for the ‘ Phoenix New Times ’ Category

One more reason to move to Arizona

for Broad Street Review
Posted: 3/10/12

In Warsaw 12 years ago I attended an afternoon concert and afterward dashed across the square to the Teatr Wielki to see if I could get into a Nijinsky Gala on just that one night. The box office was closed, but I stuffed 20-zloty notes into the pockets of two apple-cheeked ushers— “For piwo (beer),” I explained— and they sneaked me in.

The choreographer Emil Wesolowski’s fabulous reconstruction of Nijinsky’s Jeux was just beginning, with Slawomir Wozniak Sr. dancing lead. After Wesolowski’s over-the-top Rite of Spring, I went backstage to meet him.

When each of us exhausted our respective supplies of Polish and English, Wesolowski took me to Wozniak’s dressing room. Still in his dance belt, Wozniak became our interlocutor. Upon hearing his excellent English, I asked if he’d been to the States.

“Oh, every year I go to dance Nutcracker in some place called Phoenix,” he replied.

When I laughed, he asked archly, “I said something funny?”

Oczywiscie (of course),” I explained. “I have a home in Phoenix where my husband teaches, but we’re never there over Nutcracker season.”

The dance world can be as small as it’s grand. Wozniak eventually moved to Phoenix permanently and now is the director of its Master Ballet Academy, where the recent Bolshoi defector David Hallberg trained as a youngster. Wozniak’s sons, now entering their 20s, are dancing with Ballet Arizona.

Sneaking in, again

Now fast-forward 12 years. I was flying from Philadelphia to Phoenix a few weeks ago, planning to see the Trisha Brown Dance Company at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts and hoping to see works by Will Bond and Michael O’Connor in Phoenix as well. I’d also hoped to pop in on David Krensing, the former Pennsylvania Ballet principal, who now lives in Tucson but teaches at Ballet Arizona on alternate Saturdays.

But once seated on the plane, when I picked up US Airways Magazine, it opened to a page about Ballet Arizona and its director, Ib Andersen. Lucky me. That weekend Ballet Arizona was dancing Sleeping Beauty, and I immediately changed my plans so I could catch the last show at 5:30 Sunday night.

Yes, Phoenix is still a sleepy town, with just about everything happening an hour or two earlier than we Eastern folks are accustomed to. The State of Arizona was celebrating its 100th anniversary— that is, it’s been around as long as Sleeping Beauty slept.

At the box office, I introduced myself and asked if they could get me in. Once inside, I went to the bank of dancers’ photos to see who was new and whom I might remember from years past. I was happy to see Paola Hartley was still there, dancing that night as Fairy of the Enchanted Garden with her Cavalier, Zherlin Ndudi. The great Astrit Zejnati was still there too.

Familiar faces

I found many new faces since I’d last seen Ballet Arizona. But Ilir Shtylla, an Albanian (like Zejnati) who first danced at Pennsylvania Ballet when he came to the States in 1999, has been with Ballet Arizona since 2003. So the Ballet Arizona boasts a strong core that upholds its institutional memory while bringing in fresh and hungry young upstarts as well.

As I pored over the photos, it was déjà vu all over again as I caught the young faces of two such young upstarts: Michal and Slawomir Wozniak, sons of the dancer I’d met in Warsaw.

In Sleeping Beauty, they performed several roles, with Michal dancing Bluebird the night I saw it, to thrilling heights in his jêtés, but also as an equally thrilling stage presence. The brothers alternated in the Bluebird role on different nights.

It was one of those unforgettable nights in the theater. The newly refurbished Phoenix Symphony Hall’s fantastic acoustics perfectly caught the conductor Timothy Russell’s sparkling reading of the Tchaikovsky score. The sumptuous sets (which filled the huge stage) and costumes were borrowed from the Boston Ballet, via the Royal Ballet circa 1970. The house was almost sold out, with many yummy little girls in gumdrop-like outfits on display.

In a big, story ballet like Sleeping Beauty, all 34 of Ballet Arizona’s dancers had roles. But best of all was Ib Andersen’s faithful yet fresh interpretation of the original 1890 Marius Petipa choreography.

From Taiwan, via Pennsylvania

It’s in the big ballets that Andersen’s light touch and meticulous attention to detail really shine. Even at over two and a half hours (minus intermission), Andersen’s Beauty never put anyone to sleep (other than the court on stage).

On my program, Natalia Magnicaballi, who’s been with Ballet Arizona since 2002, danced the Lilac Fairy and Shtylla played her Cavalier. The exquisite Taiwanese and Pennsylvania-trained Tzu-Chia Huang took command of the stage as Princess Aurora. In Act II, a century later (well, it seemed that way, waiting for him), Zejnati finally appeared as Prince Désiré (yes, can you take the subtlety?).

Zejnati’s pas de trois with Magnicaballi and Huang, after he kisses her awake, gave a taste of the glory to come in his grand pas de deux with Huang. There, his footwork and strength as a leaper contrasted with Huang’s unutterable delicacy and poise. The Wozniak brothers acquitted themselves like true Slavs in the Polonaise/Mazurka finale. I hope I’ll be lucky enough to follow their careers for many years, whether in the East or the West.


Spammer Alert!

Note to Spammers: I am a professional writer with more than 20 years experience. I write every single word that I upload onto my blog and use the blog as a repository for my published work. I would have no need to hire any writers especially at .01 cents per word. What sort of person would write for such peanuts? But you can hire me for $1.00 per word. Merilyn

February 9, 2012

By Merilyn Jackson

Few choreographers have the power to effect life-altering changes the way Pina Bausch did over the course of her 50-year career, and, even now, three years after her untimely death. That is what Pina does. She changes your life. She changed mine and she changed the lives of others I know. She altered my life so much, before and still long after I met her, that I have always felt touched, blessed, and saw my own work stretch to a level beyond what I had achieved. I’m even writing a poem about her effect called Pina, Queen of the Desert.

German filmmaker Wim Wenders in a recent NPR interview spoke about the first time he went to a performance by Bausch and her Tanztheater Wuppertal. “I found myself on the edge of my seat, crying like a baby after five minutes, and crying through the entire thing,” he recalled. “I was hopelessly, helplessly crying, and didn’t know what was happening. It was like lightning struck me.” The work? It was Café Müller, from 1985, and he says it changed his life.

Anyone who’s seen the film Pina (I have, three times, in previews in Philadelphia and New York) is struck with wonder, even if they haven’t seen it in 3D. I made a new friend: a German professor teaching in the U.S., he had not known about Bausch, but was so taken by her and the film that he ordered it in Blu-Ray for his university library, yet hasn’t seen it in 3D. I told him he can’t imagine the adrenaline rush of nearly ducking when a sheer curtain flies toward you, a Wuppertalian monorail car feels as if it will run you over, or buckets of water come splashing at you.

To read the remainder of the article:

When I crave a cheese steak in Philly I always order a cheese steak hoagie with mayo, fried onions, provolone, lettuce, and tomato. The ketchup goes on last, by me. Lee’s, which started out at 19th & Cheltenham when I was a kid and grew to a huge franchise, still makes the best Philly cheese steaks. It has since downsized, with one location in West Philly.

In South Philly, Franco & Luigi’s is my go to. Sure there’s Pat’s and Geno’s, but having been born in 19130, I’m no tourist. Besides, I want to see my steak sizzled in front of me, not glopped on a roll from a mound of graying meat sitting on the grill. And I want the steak to be hot enough to MELT the cheese on the sandwich. You don’t get that at Pat’s or Geno’s.

That’s why Whiz came into play. They figured out that the warm goop of oil product would seem as if it had melted onto the sandwich and it wouldn’t matter if the meat wasn’t hot from the grill. You are always taking a chance on a food-born illness when you go to a place that doesn’t cook the meat to order.

Moreover, Joey Vento, Geno’s owner, is a rampant racist who thinks freedom of speech allows him to decree that his product be ordered in “English Only.” These signs on his establishment are in direct response to the influx of Mexican kitchen workers who fled New York’s crackdown on illegal workers in its kitchens. They came to Philadelphia over the last ten years in droves, filling necessary jobs in Philadelphia’s always brilliantly bustling restaurant scene and opened wonderful Mexican restaurants of their own.

The Washington Avenue corridor that used to be dominated by Vietnamese restaurants, now shares the neighborhood with great Mexican foods. So Vento was feeling the competition and annoyed by his Mexican and Asian customers who could not always order in English. It didn’t matter that Vento’s own mother barely spoke English. Wonder if he ever said, “Yo Ma, This is America. Speak English. Cabish?”

Still the corner is a scene in any season, especially after 2 am, when the bars close. White and black stretches belly up to SUVs, VWs, whatever, and the fluorescent and neon-lit line of shit-faced people looking for some sobering protein, stretches around Passyunk and down Wharton in this micro Steak Square.

My favorite steaks come from a place with no scene at all and which has recently borne scandal as racially-colored as Geno’s due to its name: Chink’s. Chink’s has been up on Torresdale an easy off from I-95 for about half a century but the name was never objected to until a few years ago.

Somehow they held onto the name, but the scandal didn’t increase their fame as much as it did Joey Vento’s. What they do have over Vento is the best steak in Philly. I zip up the highway to Chink’s with visitors so they can try the best, and then test all the rest. Chink’s always wins.

Back here in Phoenix there is no choice. As far as I’m concerned Corleone’s is the ONLY steak shop in town. It’s a “Family” run biz with three locations in the Valley. Fortunately the “Family” is from Philly, owner Joe Bobbie’s family ran Denofio’s at Castor and Hunting Park, not too far from Chink’s until they sold out seven years ago to come out to Phoenix.

The steak is cooked right there before your very eyes. It is deeply authentic. The meat never has any gristle, the rolls fresh with a good bite to them. They are not like having a steak on a hotdog bun as Seth Chadwick (in his 2006 Feasting in Phoenix piece) seemed to think they should be served. He kept raving about the “soft roll.” But his barometer was Jim’s Steaks at 4th and South Streets in Philly, much better than Pat’s and Geno’s but yet just another tourist haven. Corleone’s rolls are almost as they ought to be: hefty enough to absorb the meat juices, yet crusty enough to provide a nice contrasting crunch to the squishy meat and cheeses. Since I get them as take out, I ask them to toast them a bit so they hold the ten minutes to my house. They always smilingly oblige.

The only thing I would want to change is perhaps a sharper provolone. Because despite the menu’s description of a sandwich called the “Philly Original Whiz, Wit,” sharp provolone gives a better counterpoint to the sweet meat and fried onions. And Philly natives who aren’t knuckle-draggers don’t actually ask for a cheese steak “Whiz, Wit.” If you want a steak with Whiz, you just say “Steak, wit.” If you don’t like Whiz, you supply your own wit.

Many years ago I pitched the Arizona Republic’s food editor a pre-Thanksgiving story. She said “Oh you’re from Philly. What do you know beyond cheese steaks?”

I said “Well, in Philly we only put Cheese Whiz on our steaks, not on our Thanksgiving tables like you do here.”


I’d Like to Buy the World a Kosher Meal

By Merilyn Jackson Thursday, Mar 28 2002

When I was 16, I met a handsome guy with a perfect shiny black pompadour who told me his name was Alan Conti. Three weeks later he confessed that his real name was Alan Waldman. He was Jewish, not Italian, and had been afraid I wouldn’t go out with him if I knew he was Jewish.
Years later I told the story to my friend Doug Kahn, who asked if I continued to date Alan.
“Of course,” I said, “I had a big crush on him. And he was in hairdressing school, so he did my mother’s and aunt’s hair when he came over. By then, despite my family’s prejudices, he had inveigled his way into their hearts.”
Doug’s double takes were always swift. “He imbagled his way?”

Compagnie Jant-Bi

Sun Dance

West African dancers in Compagnie Jant-Bi (the sun) bring the power of Senegal to Gammage

By Merilyn Jackson Thursday, Apr 5 2001

When German expressionist choreographer Susanne Linke visited Senegal in 1998, her collaboration with the men of Compagnie Jant-Bi produced Le Coq est Mort(The Cock Is Dead). And this Euro-African dance theater production, coming to Gammage Auditorium on Wednesday, April 11, is a 70-minute tour de force worth crowing about.


The Pound of Music

The Pound of Music

STOMP motion comes to the Orpheum

By Merilyn Jackson Thursday, Jun 14 2001

Audiences for STOMP, the dance and percussion spectacle that swept the globe in the 1990s, range in age from toddler to octogenarian.

It’s no accident these hooligans of dance have such broad appeal. Before STOMP, there was stomp from A to Z: Appalachian Stomp, Kansas City Stomp, Louis Armstrong‘s Mahogany Hall Stomp, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown‘s Okie Dokie Stomp, and Zydeco Stomp. I can still do the DovellsBristol Stomp — the rage for pre-Beatlemania teens. By the time STOMP, the phenom, arrived, the stomp concept was stamped on our collective consciousness like an S.O.S. laid out in gunpowder on a beach.



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