As summer starts, city shifts gears from ballet to opera

Summer is often a season of danceable mash-ups and kooky collaborations. (Afterall, who would have imagined Snoop Dogg and Katy Perry hooking-up on a track?) In a partnership slightly less-likely to produce a radio hit, Cincinnati’s finest Fine Arts performance organizations have teamed up, with members of the Cincinnati Ballet dancing in the Cincinnati Opera’s performance of Die Meisteringer von Nurnberg, the lone comedy created by Richard Wagner.

This production opens the 90th Anniversary Season for the Cincinnati Opera, and comes on the heels of a scintillating season finale for the Cincinnati Ballet. Performing The Sammy Project! in early May at the Aronoff Center for the Arts, the Ballet showcased the world premiere of Darrell Grand Moultrie’s The Sammy Project! and a performance of dancemeister Twyla Tharp’s (Nine Sinatra Songs, Broadway’s Movin’ Out) In the Upper Room. The works were prefaced by For Kristi, a biographical work telling the story of company member Kristi Capps and her time with the Cincinnati Ballet; her retirement after that night’s performance would conclude a fourteen-year-long relationship.

Here, I confess that despite an affection for dance, my knowledge doesn’t extend much beyond being able to identify the odd grand jete’. But here, I found, was the show for me. Set to classic Sammy Davis Jr. tunes that oscillated between brassy, buzzing, and sultry, Moultrie’s choreography in The Sammy Project! took his dancers through acrobatic and explosive combinations that did not seem so far removed from mainstream dance television such as So You Think You Can Dance?

With memorable music, jazz-inspired steps, and stylish costumes inspired by the Rat Pack-era — untied bow-ties often straddled male necks with gem-colored shirts and cocktail dresses the rule of thumb, throughout — there seemed an almost palpable exuberance on-stage and in the house. And while restraint may not have been the chief strength of the piece, Moultrie staggered and layered the entrances of his dancers — who very often operated in couples for entire dances — as they joined and subsequently left geometric formations, adding much-needed dynamics with a sort of visual crescendo and diminuendo.

To call the performance a whirlwind would be apt, and while dance-fans of more discerning tastes may have preferred more than token efforts at subtlety — each down-tempo, more balletic number evaporated almost as soon as it finished — it would be difficult for the newly-initiated like myself to be much less than enthralled by the sheer athleticism and buoyancy of the work, as a whole. At the conclusion of the Moultrie work, my companion at the performance said wide-eyed, and just a bit breathlessly, “I never imagined that ballet could be like this.”

Watching In the Upper Room, a work by Twyla Tharp consisting of a single, extended piece, one could still see something of the tide-like entrances and manic energy brought to bear in Moultrie’s work. However, where Moultrie aimed for ebullience, Tharp seemed committed much more toward the cryptic:  owing much of its emotional shape to Phillip Glass’s beautifully expansive and cascading score, In the Upper Room is constructed like an Escher sketch.

Calling for twitchy little jumps and mechanical lines from the performers, Tharp’s choreography repeats entrances, steps, and blocking until they begin to coalesce into a slowly-emerging, discernible pattern.  Then, introducing the smallest variation in that pattern, Tharp disturbs the complex orbits she has set in motion, deconstructs them, shifts small segments around, and then resets whole thing, to start up again.

New variations are introduced each time, and the work seems almost to expand as it moves forward. The choreography is quirky, with limited vertical movement, and more scurrying about than big, graceful movements. But as fog is pumped across the stage and begins to inhibit visibility, dancers soon are materializing from upstage as if from thin air, one after another, each a surprise. The fog eventually obscures the proscenium, that divide between the stage and the seats, and with so much action along the “Z”-axis and one’s mind trying to decipher Tharp’s puzzle of patterned movements, a pattern that always seems about to be understood, even as it resists solving, one begins to feel pulled into this dreamlike world. If The Sammy Project! takes one’s breath away with thrills and joyfulness, In The Upper Room achieves the same end with mystery, intrigue and rapture. It creates a sensation somewhere between drifting to sleep and drowning at sea.

For neophytes, this season finale provided a near-ideal buffet of ballet: a navigable narrative, an accessible, multifarious revue, and an engaging but slightly more abstract work. Additionally, by showcasing a new piece by an up-and-comer, alongside both locally produced work, and dance imagined by one of America’s preeminent modern choreographers, the Cincinnati Ballet closed 2009/2010 with a useful sampler, hinting at the breadth of what one might expect to see in the coming season.

Those anxious to indulge in some classic performing arts during the Cincinnati Ballet’s summer hiatus, were able to enjoy the final performance of Cincinnati Opera’s Die Meisteringer von Nurnberg on Saturday, June 26.   Information on the rest of the 2010 season can be found at, while information on the upcoming Cincinnati Ballet season can be found at

Cincinnati’s spring Fashion Finale just the beginning

While designers the world-over work on their fall clothing lines in these sticky summer months, plans are also being put into place to continue nurturing Cincinnati’s fashion scene, on the heels of a very successful inaugural Fashion Week this spring.

“Cincinnati Fashion Week was the first stepping stone on our fashion-movement,” said Nathan Hurst, founder and CEO of Cincinnati Fashion Week. “I was proud to be a part of something that brought sixteen designers into the spotlight and helped develop a platform for working artists to showcase their talent and businesses.”

According to Hurst, this summer is seeing the development of a web-property that will connect designers, consumers and fashion enthusiasts.

“We are currently working on Cincinnati Lookbook, a fashion and lifestyle ‘blog-i-torial’ that will feature local and national artists for lavish jewelery, stylish apparel, and modern home goods,” he explained. “The blogging platform will feature style tutorials, community spotlights, and fashion editorials shot by local photographers.”

While spring Fashion Week here may have concluded with a runway show called the Fashion Finale, Hurst and the rest of the fashion community hope that the Finale actually points to the next frontier.  Below, view a gallery of photos from the Spring Fashion Finale event, held in the Grand Ballroom of the Downtown Hyatt, as Cincinnati’s fashionistas look toward Fall 2010.

Thousands witness Cincinnati Rollergirls kick off 2010 season

The Cincinnati Rollergirls kicked off their third season of interleague competition at the Cincinnati Gardens on Saturday, with the varsity Black Sheep taking on the San Diego Wildfires, and the JV Silent Lambs facing off against the Circle City Socialites of Indianapolis. Although the home-team split the matches — beating Circle City in the undercard 112-30, but falling to San Diego 128-109 — there was little doubt that the season opener was a success.

Tailgating, $1 beer specials, and a burgeoning reputation for exciting sport turned out 3,222 fans that produced explosive cheers (and boos) in reaction to the action on the floor. Though the organization started just a few years back in 2005 and features entirely unpaid athletes and staff, the atmosphere on March 27th was electric, and nothing if not first-class.

The Cincinnati Rollergirls take the track next on Saturday, April 17 when they play host to the Arch Rival Rollergirls of St. Louis at 7pm at the Cincinnati Gardens (map).

Neighborhood Summit Recap

Over 600 concerned local citizens turned up at last weekend’s Neighborhood Summit, Step Two in involving the public in Plan Cincinnati, a new comprehensive plan being drafted by the City. While the meat and potatoes of the event were the small-group sessions focused on seven “Project Elements” (Housing and Neighborhood Development; Economic Development and Business Retention; Transportation and Transit; Health, Environment and Open Space; Historic Preservation; Urban Design; and, Arts and Culture) the highlights of the day were the two featured speakers: Scott Bernstein of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, and Anthony Williams JD, former Mayor of Washington D.C.

Williams’ talk was a straight-forward explanation of the Washington D.C. Comprehensive Plan that he oversaw in office, and while his delivery utilized dry wit and the invocation of insights from our Founding Fathers, it was Bernstein’s presentation that fascinated outright, striking at some of the key issues Cincinnati must address with its Comprehensive Plan.

Bernstein spoke predominantly on the drawbacks of an automobile-centric transportation network and two points especially stood out. First, he shared a graph charting the rise and fall of gas prices, followed by a graph almost perfectly shadowing the first line, but on a lag of about six months time: the rate of foreclosures. Our level of fuel dependency is dependent on our living locations, to the point where many people are just plain stuck when gas rises to excruciating price-points.

Expanding on that idea, Bernstein then demonstrated how chasing lower housing costs out away from a city’s center could actually wind up crippling a household’s financial flexibility. Since transportation costs are largely a function of the distance one lives from work, social and educational opportunities, the two expenses ought to be looked at together, and Bernstein showed that in a “Drive Til You Qualify” market — areas that are chiefly auto-dependent — a commitment to suburban and exurban life is also a commitment to increased transportation expenses.

Bernstein demonstrated that, on average, a household saving $6k in monthly housing costs ends up sinking up 77% of their income into housing and transport, combined. Spend that extra $6,000 to live closer to where you learn, work and play, and the average household could end up with over 50% of their income still in their pockets — money which can then spur growth in a diverse local economy. Preemptively addressing the mass-transit critic, who might scoff at New Urbanist cities such as Portland, Bernstein quipped, “People who maybe don’t travel a lot think, Oh, Portland, they’re a ‘fuzzy’ kind of people. Well, yeah: they’re fuzzy all the way to the bank.”

After Bernstein spoke, citizens weighed in on the Project Elements in their respective small groups, offering opinions on how initiatives should be prioritized, and brainstorming ways to achieve goals such as being “a city with inviting and engaging public spaces” and having “economically diverse, mixed-income neighborhoods.”

Even after three such hour-long sessions, the real work is ahead; over the next six months working groups will meet to turn the initial feedback from the Neighborhood Summit into strategies aimed to realize each element. The working groups are open to all. Visit for more information.

Shepard Fairey Retrospective Review

You can be certain that fans of ABC’s Lost will be found in front of their televisions on May 23rd, as the labyrinthine TV fantasy/sci-fi/adventure show wraps up its six-seasons-long narrative. Lost diehards are desperate for a conclusion that will bring closure to and make sense of countless loose ends that have frayed into an ever-more-complex knot of high-minded mysticism and philosophical allusion; anything less than an airtight explanation might suggest that the previous six years of their lives could have been better spent.

Personally, I hope that creators Damon Lindeloff and Carlton Cuse have both the stomach and sense of humor to play a practical joke of epic proportions by tying everything up in a neat little package with a card that reads “It was all a dream.”

Locally, the ongoing Shepard Fairey retrospective at the Contemporary Arts Center has made a splash with its own cocktail of ambitious subtexts, and I had the chance to follow the buzz and visit the show on Sunday of its opening weekend, with free admission offered as part of the Fine Arts Fund Sampler Weekend. I admired the boldness and the commitment of the artist to his purpose, as well as much of his technique, particularly in his large-scale murals: weathered textures and patchwork patterns abound.

The vast majority of the work in the two-floor exhibition belonged to Fairey’s on-going “Obey Giant“ project, done in service of one goal: to create a complex art-you-live aesthetic that changes the way audiences look at the rest of the world. Lofty stuff… yet, I could never shake the suspicion that there was far less going on intellectually than Fairey would have us believe.

Crowds outside the CAC for the Shepard Fairey opening night party – photos by Jeremy Mosher.

Premised on a head-scratching concept — that a sticker of Andre the Giant that doesn’t appear to sell anything will make the public question the images around them — Fairey has subsequently cited existential philosophy (in this case, Phenomenology) as the underpinning of his work, essentially evading explanation instead of offering clarification. As with Lost, rather than resolving tenuous connections between images or occurrences, we’re told to just keep digging deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole: the truth is there, have faith. What truth? And why not share it here? For that matter, when is Shepard Fairey? Well, you got me. But, if the meaning of a statement is elusive, it doesn’t necessarily make the statement meaningful.

No, by invoking the terms “propaganda” and “dissent,” by using an Orwellian poli-speak in posters and incorporating an ever-widening range of historical and philosophical allusions, the Fairey retrospective merely trades in Big Ideas without really committing to any. It’s all sizzle, and the promise that maybe there is a steak in there if you look hard enough and can talk yourself into it. Ultimately, the work on display is far less nuanced than the politically- or commercially-charged imagery Fairey wants to call into question: neither as sneaky nor as clever as proper propaganda. “In lesser gods we trust?” Puke.

The line to get into the CAC wrapped around the block along Walnut Street – photos by Jeremy Mosher.

Still, if Fairey’s work is reductive and far less subversive than it aims to be, it remains extremely topical, and I’m thrilled to see the CAC book such a timely and interesting show: it’s the artist like Fairey that can move the arts into the fore of a city’s consciousness. Afforded the chance to see these much-talked-about, widely-popular works from our own day, I can’t recommend strongly enough that Cincinnatians take a visit to see what all the fuss is about.

But once you’re there… don’t believe the hype. If you look too hard for a satisfying explanation for the island, the jumps through time, and whatever else happened after I gave up on a game that couldn’t be bothered to come up with any set rules, you might just make your head hurt.