Category Archives: Arts & Entertainment

Indie Scare Flick ‘Spring’ Weaves a Dark and Affecting Spell

SpringWhen it comes down to brass tacks, you could call Spring (opening tonight at the Grand Illusion) a horror movie, but it sure doesn’t feel like one for much of its running time. That’s because co-directors Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead (working from a screenplay by Benson) have crafted a film that works believably as a drama and a romance, well before things get creepy.

Twenty-something sous chef Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) loses his mother to cancer, and when his short-fuse temper leads him to kick the crap out of a drunk jerk at a bar, he finds himself in trouble with the California police. Seeking a literal and metaphoric change of scenery, Evan impulsively takes off for Italy, ending up in a small coastal town overlooking the Adriatic Sea. There he meets Louise (Nadia Hilker), an enigmatic local girl, and sparks fly between the two of them. Exotic, gorgeous, and fiercely intelligent, Louise almost seems too good to be true. After a heated night of lovemaking, Evan falls hard, but soon things get weird. It’s not impossible to gauge what happens next (even without the semi-spoiler-y trailer, ads, and advance reviews), but suffice it to say Evan’s new love isn’t all that she seems.

Spring takes its time getting to the scares, and that’s a significant part of its effectiveness. The unhurried pace effectively parallels the setting, a humbly beautiful locale that’s serenely untouched by time. Benson and Moorhead present this place with a refreshing lack of pretense, painting it with character and enough dark corners to sidestep superficial travelogue prettiness. The romance between Evan and Louise evolves gradually and realistically as the two open up aspects of themselves little by little: You’ll definitely see Richard Linklater’s Before films woven into Spring’s DNA, with Evan’s earnestness thawing out Louise’s initial aloofness amidst patches of effective and funny dialogue (Pucci and Hilker, both terrific here, establish an affecting chemistry right away).

Benson and Moorhead certainly navigate the mucous-and-tentacle-laden creepy bits well, but it’s the slow-burn atmosphere that makes their sophomore feature so special. Like the original 1940 Cat People and An American Werewolf in London, Spring is—at its heart—a darkly romantic fairy tale, masterfully wrapped in monster-movie drag.

‘Totally, Imaginatively Original': the Forsythe Showcase at PNB

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The first impression left by Pacific Northwest Ballet’s opening performance of an all-Forsythe repertory (through March 22 at McCaw Hall) was that this choreographer’s work suits the company through and through. The choice of pieces gave an opportunity to show off large numbers of the company from principals to corps members in solo or semi-solo roles, and everywhere there was good dancing, sometimes stellar.

There were three pieces on Friday’s program at McCaw Hall, two new to Seattle: “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude” and “New Suite,” and one already in the company’s repertoire: “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated.”

“Exactitude” has been described as 30 minutes telescoped into ten, and requires lightning speed of movement–which nonetheless never looked rushed on Friday. Danced by three women, Leta Biasucci, Carrie Imler and Margaret Mullin; and two men, Benjamin Griffiths and Jonathan Porretta; it uses music from Schubert’s Ninth Symphony. Biasucci danced these fast and intricate steps so cleanly she sparkled, Porretta’s energy lit up the stage, with the other three dancers closely with them.

Forsythe’s genius lies in his creative use of classical ballet moves and the way he combines them both for individuals and in couples, and in relation to the music. He also makes use in his own way of the oppositional balances used to such effect in Greek and Roman statuary, as was pointed out in the preconcert lecture, and this is noticeable throughout, though in fleeting images. Nothing ever looks contrived and it’s totally, imaginatively original.

All this showed particularly in “New Suite,” nine short pas de deux for eighteen different dancers: four set to Handel’s music, one to Bach, and three to that of Luciano Berio.

A slow, flowing Handel largo became embodied in the performance by Elizabeth Murphy and William Lin-Yee. Murphy’s entire body carried through the beautiful shapes of the music’s phrases and the two married to that the unceasing flow of their movements. This set the tone for a series of fine performances, the choreography for the Berio much edgier, very different in emotional quality from the Handel and Bach. Ezra Thomson, Angelica Generosa, Karel Cruz, Sarah Ricard Orza and Jahna Frantziskonis all stood out in what was a very high level of company dance.

In between these two, the PNB orchestra under Emil de Cou played the overture to Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro. This season the orchestra has been showcased with a work by itself at every performance in celebration of its 25th anniversary. This time, its unfortunate placing in the program meant there was a buzz of conversation as everybody discussed “Exactitude” after the curtain went down, and they went on talking throughout the orchestra’s performance.

The longest piece, “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” doesn’t use the orchestra but is set to electronic music. Setting, costumes and music are reminiscent of a large gym in which one can hear in the background what could be the thwack of balls on rackets, the clang of machines, and the thuds and bumps of crashing cacophony. Add to this nine dancers in dark leotards, with the muscles rippling on the men, particularly Seth Orza and, for the set, just an interrupted band of lighter color high on the back curtain.

An undercurrent of competition goes on and even a little sexy encouragement with some hip sways by at least one–Lindsi Dec in this performance–as one dancer or two comes to the fore to show off prowess. It’s a long piece, perhaps a little too long given the unremitting clash of the music, though not for the dance itself; and high energy, which the dancers kept up to the end.

All in all this is a fascinating program, the first time in this country that there has been a program entirely of works by William Forsythe. It had enough variety to sustain that, and indeed it might take more than one visit to assimilate it.

Robyn Hitchcock: Beaming in Classic Songs from Another Dimension

Love the shirt: Robyn Hitchcock at Columbia City Theater, August 2014. (photo: Tony Kay
Love the shirt: Robyn Hitchcock at Columbia City Theater, August 2014. (photo: Tony Kay

I’ve seen Robyn Hitchcock play at least five times since I first became a fan some 27 (yipes!) years ago, but for the last decade I’ve been guilty of having taken the very prolific, one-of-a-kind English singer/songwriter for granted. After seeing him play Columbia City Theater last August, that’s a mistake I’ve vowed not to make again. He returns to Columbia City Theater for a live set this coming Monday, March 16 (tickets, $22 in advance, are still available). Do yourself an enormous favor, and catch him if you can.

To these ears, Hitchcock stands as one of rock’s great troubadours. He essentially does with lyrics what Salvador Dali did with paint, capturing the absurdities, horrors, and wonders of life, love, and the universe with surreal brushstrokes that—outright weird as they sometimes get—always maintain an affecting core of universal truth. A lot of musicians play-act at boundless creativity and eccentricity: for Hitchcock, it’s as unaffected and natural as breathing.

His career as a rock musician began in the late 1970s as lead singer, guitarist, and principal songwriter for The Soft Boys. Hitchcock firmly established his MO with the band—classic English rock songcraft wedded with sometimes strange, sometimes hilarious, always devastatingly effective lyrics. Hitchcock struck out on his own beginning with 1981’s Black Snake Diamond Role, and he hasn’t stopped since.

After establishing a dedicated cult with his solo work, he and his second backing band The Egyptians landed a major-label deal with A&M Records. The first release during that flush of success, 1988’s Globe of Frogs, introduced a lot of people (myself included) to the man’s unique world view and gift for indelible melodies.

Globe of Frogs bowled me over when I first heard it all those years ago, and I listened to it obsessively for months. Hitchcock’s brilliance didn’t form in a vacuum, of course—he’s openly acknowledged Syd Barrett’s influence on his knack for vividly-bizarre lyrics, and his melodies largely draw from Beatles-style harmonics and Dylan-esque folk—but he lent his own distinctive signature to those familiar elements. Insidious melodies abounded (try not to bounce your head happily to the jaunty, endearingly goofy “Balloon Man”), but the rest of Globe of Frogs was musical painting of the richest variety.

The record’s title track, with its sparse exotic percussion, spectral piano, and Hitchcock’s elliptical but evocative words felt, literally, like stepping into some mysterious, secret world. And unconventional as his lyrics were, they often hit with bracing directness. In the eerie sea-shanty/dirge “Luminous Rose,” he croons a line that remains one of the most profound strings of words I’ve ever heard in a pop song: “God finds you naked and he leaves you dying/What happens in between is up to you.”

After experiencing that record, Hitchcock’s back catalog and successive releases persistently occupied my stereo for the better part of a decade. Most striking about all of those efforts was how he was able to easily switch back and forth between trippy psychedelia (“The Man with the Lightbulb Head”), sterling pop (“So You Think You’re in Love”), and fragile British melancholy (the achingly gorgeous “Autumn is Your Last Chance”), touching on an array of classic influences without being subsumed by them.

Hitchcock’s muse has remained incredibly consistent over the years. After migrating from A&M to Warner Brothers in the ‘90s, he set up camp with indie label Yep Roc Records in the early 2000’s, and catching up with the lower-profile but still great albums he’s released in the ensuing decade-plus has represented some of the most rewarding music-nerd catch-up I’ve ever experienced. His voice—a singular, reedy tenor that swings between angelic sweetness, the impish playfulness of a truant British schoolboy, and a sometimes eerie deadpan—hasn’t aged a day, and his latest long-player The Man Upstairs combines Hitchcock’s still-sharp original songs with some well-chosen covers (his spare acoustic version of the Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost in You” will make you swoon). The album, like so much of Hitchcock’s work, feels classic and timeless in equal measure.

He also delivers one of the best live shows you’ll ever see. Hitchcock usually plays solo sets, and he’s capable of summoning up all the richness of his most psychedelic work with nothing more than his voice and an acoustic guitar. Best of all, his onstage banter alone merits the price of admission. Expect stream-of-consciousness tangents that include everything from minotaurs to giant irradiated astronauts, and blasts of hilariously pointed socio-political commentary. Once you see him onstage you’ll be hooked, and here’s hoping that unlike me, you’ll never take Robyn Hitchcock for granted.