Arts & Events

Robert Wilson & Mikhail Baryshnikov Stage Nijinsky’s Diaries

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean with Kathryn Roszak
Friday November 18, 2016 - 02:27:00 PM

When the curtain goes up in Letter to a Man, a collaboration by director Robert Wilson and dancer/actor Mikhail Baryshnikov based on the diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky, a man in white face, Mikhail Baryshnikov, is seated onstage and spotlighted. He speaks in Russian and a male voice is heard speaking ostensibly the same thing in English. Supertitles also give the English version. The words are, “I understand war, because I talk with my mother-in-law.” These words in Russian and English with their English supertitles are repeated again and again, perhaps ten times. Is this a mother-in-law joke or a sign of Nijinsky’s madness? This is only the beginning of a 75-minute hodge-podge of a one-man show put on by Cal Performances purporting to reveal the genius of Vaslav Nijinsky, who was perhaps the greatest dancer as well as one of the greatest choreographers of the 20th century, perhaps of all time. It is also the beginning of a show devoted to Nijinsky’s decades-long slide into schizophrenia. Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall hosted this show November 10-13. -more-

Lianna Haroutounian Stars in MADAMA BUTTERFLY

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Friday November 18, 2016 - 02:16:00 PM

Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian, who made such a sensational debut here in 2014 as Tosca, returned to San Francisco Opera for ten performances November 6-December 4 as Cio-Cio-San in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Haroutounian has been hailed by Opera Today as “one of the major voices of our time,” and her interpretations of Puccini’s soprano roles are already considered benchmarks. Haroutounian’s Cio-Cio-San at the November 15 performance I attended was incandescent, both vocally and dramatically. Haroutounian sings with perfect pitch, precise diction, an exquisite sense of dynamics, and luscious lyricism. Her soprano voice is voluptuous in the lower register and scintillating in the upper register, with no break whatsoever between the chest tones and head tones. Dramatically, she portrays both the delicacy and vulnerability of her Butterfly character and the power and pathos of Butterfly’s love for the American sailor Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton. This interpretation, with its acknowledgment of vulnerabilty, sets Haroutounian’s Cio-Cio-San somewhat apart from the Patricia Racette version of this role that has reigned here from 2006 to the present, for Racette, who sang beautifully, emphasized the steely and unyielding quality of Cio-Cio-San from beginning to end, whereas Haroutounian traces the changing trajectory of her character from vulnerability in Act I to steely albeit desperate resolve in Act II. -more-

National Bird: America's Symbol Is No Longer the Eagle

Reviewed by Gar Smith
Friday November 18, 2016 - 01:22:00 PM

Opens at SF's Roxie Theater on November 18

National Bird, executive produced by Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire) and Errol Morris (The Fog of War), is a slow, chilling excursion through the haunted lives of three US drone vets—two women, one young man. Director Sonia Kennebeck's presentation intentionally lacks razzle-dazzle and focuses, instead, on grim silences and intense, quiet monologs.

The film begins simply with a grainy black-and-white aerial video and a woman's voice. We watch as a man on the ground casually walks down a street in his Afghan neighborhood.

"We hover and watch for days," the voice recalls. "Sometimes we get intel that he's a 'bad guy' and we blow him up. Just drop a Hellfire missile on him."

The figure on the screen stops walking. He appears to sit down to rest. In the next second, he's gone—replaced by a volcano of smoke and dust and chared body parts scattered on the ground.

You've just seen the "tip of the spear" in Washington's so-called "War on Terror."

Cost to US taxpayer for this cowardly act of automated assassination? One $47,000 Lockheed/Martin/Raytheon Hellfire missile.

The cost of "counterterrorism" is neither cheap nor effective—drone attacks actually serve to "recruit" new enemies—but, if you're a "defense" contractor, it's damned profitable.