Archive for July, 2009|Monthly archive page

Let the Sunshine In

Here’s some rough but spirited snapshots/outtakes from our recent Hair photoshoot. The actual photographer’s selects are still to come. It was a fantastic experience…bonding us further as a “tribe”, and connecting us with the true spirit of the show. Yes, the men’s hair needs to grow longer…there is time for that (and/or wigs). In the meantime, enjoy this small taste of what’s to come…

Let the Sunshine InLet the Sunshine In...againThe TribeTribal Hug

I’m (as Berger) at far left in the second photo, at center of the third photo, and at far left (partially cropped) in the final photo.

“Cheese Berger”

I come bearing REALLY good news. As a follow up to my The Year of Hair post, I’ve been cast as Berger in “Hair”, at the Alameda Civic Light Opera. (Now I get to try to make you forget Treat Williams.) The amazing Ryan Rigazzi, a 9-year Beach Blanket Babylon star is my “other half”, Claude! And, the inspired Amanda Dolan, a fellow sexy mover (ie: Phantom) from Ray of Light Theatre’s Rocky Horror Show LIVE our Sheila.

We’ll be performing in the historic Kofman Theatre, September 12, 13, 19, 20, 25, 26, and 27. Come see our show and support local theater!

My postings will be sporadic, at best, as I need to bury my nose in my script for a while, and will be deep in rehearsals through August.

cheeseburger

“My name is George Berger, but I don’t dig George, so just call me Banana Berger, or Cheese Berger, Unzipper Berger, Pull ‘em down Berger, Karma Berger, Pitts Berger, Take ‘em off Berger, Up your Berger, Any Berger and I’ll answer you.”

The Best Things in Life Are Free

(No, contrary to this title, this is not a post about Janet Jackson’s 92 hit.)

I have since discovered that in the blogosphere this is hardly news, but as we sat on our couch, and watched one of our weekly favs, CBS Sunday Morning, it was news to us. I was quickly swept away by the warm, fuzzy possibilities of it…a vision of society rapt in mutual love and celebration. It was as if the participating cities were joining together in one big Coke-like I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing “Be-In”. Being an idealist, this is just the sort of thing that tickles my fancy (or ivories…read on).

San Francisco had hearts, Cincinnati pigs, and Chicago cows. I have always supported and been drawn to these sorts of large scale, outdoor, public art exhibits…but this takes the cake! Leave it to the Brits to show us up, and come up with the winningest idea.

The What

Introducing: Play Me, I’m Yours, a pretty radical idea…one part interactive art, one part sociology study, in the form of a fleet of street pianos. I’ll let the well phrased deets (in quotes) from the Cow Pianowebsite speak for themselves.:

“Street pianos are appearing in cities across the world. Located in skate parks, industrial estates, laundrettes, precincts, bus shelters and train stations, outside pubs and football grounds, the pianos are for any member of the public to enjoy and claim ownership of. Who plays them and how long they remain is up to each community.”

The Why

“The pianos act as sculptural, musical, blank canvases that become a reflection of the communities they are embedded into. Many pianos are personalised and decorated. Questioning the ownership and rules of public space ‘Play Me, I’m Yours’ is a provocation, inviting the public to engage with, activate and take ownership of their urban environment.”

It’s no surprise that placing a free-to-use musical instrument smack dab in the middle of a busy civic setting is a welcome gift that can be a balm to soothe (or annoy the periodic grump), a spark to connect, or even just a momentary diversion to amuse. It all depends on the musical offering of the player…the receptiveness of (a) likely passer(s)-by…and the mingling of their two or more spirits! Or, a lone player on an empty street can enjoy a rare stolen moment.

The Where

“The first pianos appeared in March 2008 when 15 pianos were placed into the streets of Birmingham, UK.”

More recent sites have included Sao Paolo (’08), Sydney (’09), Bury St Edmunds (Suffolk, England: ’09)…and currently London (check out the piano map)!

Photo: Oli Scarff, Getty Images

Photo: Oli Scarff, Getty Images

The Who

It is an arts project by Luke Jerram, a self-described “colour blind installation artist, who fuses his artistic sculptural practice with his scientific and perceptual studies.”

Lighting London on Fire: More Proof

I now leave you with this classic, which Londoners rightfully own.:

Hopefully the next stop will be SF, so we can all gather ‘round and sing “Go West”, by the Village People. What song, in your current hometown would you most want to hear/play/sing-along with on a street piano?

Post With the Most @ Gay Sports Blog

My post with the most “hits” ever (ok, that’s only since February ’09, but it’s still notable) has also just found a home over at gay.com’s Gay Sports Blog. Clearly peeps just can’t get enough of Johnny.

My originally titled “Pop Star on Ice” @ The Castro Theatre is now enjoying a second coming here: Review: Johnny Weir’s “Pop Star on Ice”. (Special thanks to Aaron. Hey, I scratch your back…you scratch mine!? jk)

Photos: Jay Adeff, Anon., and Kevork Djansezian / AP

Photos: Jay Adeff, Anon., and Kevork Djansezian / AP

It’s always lovely to reach an even broader audience.

Keep an eye out for a screening near you!

To Subscribe or Not to Subscribe?

Telemarketing Sales Calls…Oh My!

As I continue to field a slew of these sorts of calls from all the big gun Bay Area performing arts companies (ie: San Francisco Opera, SF Ballet, and more), I am reminded how much my own entertainment purchasing habits have changed (not to mention that of the entire market), and how little interest I have in committing to a subscription for any of their seasons. No kidding (I swear on my own grave), I just got a call from the SFO about a subscription for the upcoming season, as I edited this post. Could I be any more topical!?

Being a graphic designer, and even myself having worked and working on some past and future SFO campaigns, I feel for the telemarketers…but in the heat of the moment it doesn’t make the disruption much easier to swallow.

telemarketing woesI still laugh when I remember the technique my feisty grandmother touted for dealing with such calls. She said she would ask them to hold while she got the person they asked for (sometimes herself)…then she would set down the phone for a good long while, until they gave up.

Thanks for the Memories

Back in the mid-90s I enjoyed my one-and-only complete 12-part subscription to the SFO. This was back in the hey-day, when their seasons were really jam packed (unlike the current 9-part season). I also purchased a 6-part series one season shortly after. The year of my 12-part series, I enjoyed sharing in theme nights with operagoing friends, attending a french restaurant before Massenet, German before Strauss, and so on. But, that was sort of a one-season thrill, and lost momentum after 4 or 5 operas…perhaps a bit too tedious after a while.

I do remember feeling rather enslaved by the demands of the subscription schedule, having to go nearly every weekend in Nov./Dec., and wishing I also had time for other pleasures on-the-town (movies, dance, clubbin’). I’m an opera fanatic, but even in my experiencing of opera I like variety…sometimes cheaply from standing room or even a lucky student rush ticket, sometimes (rather expensively) from my favored Dress Circle section, sometimes from the stage (as a “Super”), and so on. I even enjoy attending the opera with different friends, to experiencing their varying perspectives and knowledge bases…some offering me new insight, some enjoying mine.

Subscription Guilt

I am certain that subscriptions are the life-blood of performing arts orgs, and so part of me has felt guilty for not being a more faithful patron, as I’ve begun reveling in single ticket livin’. But, now that I freelance from home, and have my own design business, that guilt is washing away…clearly a sign ‘o the times.

Surveys Galore

I realize that companies are having to reinvent the way they engage their audiences too (ie: with complete design your own series, etc., which didn’t exist on this scale 5+ years ago). Extensive marketing surveys have become so common, it seems one hits about every six months. It is clear that these companies are trying to get a pulse on their changing audiences in a fast evolving and tight time. I actually enjoy giving my two-cents, and always hope it makes some sort of ripple, however small.

One of these surveys was conducted shortly before David Gockley signed on as General Director of SFO. One of the questions was, which operas would you most like to see. Thankfully, two of the operas on that list have been presented since: Porgy & Bess, and Die Todt Stadt (at the end of Pamela Rosenberg’s tenure).

What motivates my interests? I most want to see the oft ignored chestnuts that haven’t been mounted here in eons (or ever), and that I have yet to see LIVE in any venue. I also, of course, will try not to miss a production if the singers are first-rate (and deserved) “stars”, or if the production has been critically acclaimed or promises to be provoking and well suited to the work itself.

My Updated Wish-Lists

My submitted wish-list remains largely intact. Unless noted, I have not seen these works, and eagerly await my first encounter with them.:

Die Frau ohne Schatten (seen twice)
Così fan tutte
(seen once)
Andrea Chenier
Maria Stuarda / Lucrezia Borgia / Roberto Devereux
La Gioconda
Capriccio
Dialogues des Carmélites
Les Troyens
wish list I Capuleti e I Montechi
Les Huguenots
I Puritani
Prodaná nevěsta (The Bartered Bride)
Martha
Lakme
Theodora
Falstaff
Die Schweigsame Frau
Mignon

Another question in the Gockley survey was which singers we’d most like to see. (Sadly, Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson was on that list.) Here is my newly crafted list.:

Pendatchanska

Pendatchanska

Soprano:
• Heidi Melton
• Anne Schwanewilms
• Mlada Khudoley
Alexandrina Pendatchanska

Mezzo/Countertenor:
• Andreas Scholl
Bernarda Fink
• Waltraud Meier
• Olga Borodina

Kaufmann

Kaufmann

Tenor:
Jonas Kaufmann (Gockley has publicly stated his admiration of this singer, so hopefully it won’t be long!)
• Peter Seiffert
• Lawrence Brownlee (fortunately I’m seeing him in Semiramide at Caramoor)

Bass/Baritone:
Réne Pape
• Vitaly Kowaljow
• Bryn Terfel

Thankfully, other likely wish-listees Nina Stemme, Ewa Podles, Stephanie Blythe, Juan Diego Florez, and Paolo Gavanelli are all appearing next season.

Olympic Reigns Ending: Likelihoods or Naysaying?

While I’m on the subject of Olympic pairs skating (ie: Shen & Zhao), I was doing a little poking around to see what kind sort of history-making we’re likely to witness in Vancouver, barring any miracles…which I’m always open to! That’s why I’m calling these “likelihoods”, not “predictions”.

2010 Olympics Logo Ice SculptureMy focus here is just on medal trends per country, and which countries have historically reigned in various divisions. (It’s WAY too early to purport any individual medal predictions.) A lot of these thoughts have certainly been floated online, but I really wanted to dig up and share the stats, to express the gravity of it.

Frankly, I prefer to see the spotlight passed around. For example, I think the recent upsurge (a new reign?) by ladies from Asian countries has been a welcome evolution, giving them their “moment”, but also offering the sport and other skaters a healthy push towards further growth.

Russian (URS/EUN) Gold Reigns

Russian Flag

The only complete stranglehold any one country has had on a single Olympic division over three or more decades is in pairs. However, unless the chinese teams and Savchenko & Szolkowy (GER) spend the competition on their asses, it will likely be the first time since 1960 that the pairs champions are not Russian (URS/EUN), discluding the ’02 Skategate scandal, in which two sets of gold medals were awarded. (Yes, Savchenko is Russian by birth, but that doesn’t count.) Just to clarify, I’m not a Russia-hater, but I’d prefer a single country (including the US) not to completely dominate a division like this.

Also, we are likely to see the end of their impressive five-Olympic reign of the men’s title. The recent champions have been: Victor Petrenko (EUN, ‘92), Alexei Urmanov (‘94), Ilia Kulik (‘98), Alexei Yagudin (‘02), Evgeni Plushenko (‘06).

Torvill & Dean (‘84) and Anissina & Peizerat (‘02) already put a kabosh on a Russian reign in ice dance. (Yes, Anissina is Russian by birth, but that doesn’t count either.)

US Podium Reign

American FlagAnd, finally, it may also be the first time in 11 Olympics (40+ years…yes, that’s since ’64) that an American lady doesn’t make it to the podium. I hate to be a naysayer, but the top four ladies at ’09 Worlds looked unbeatable. And, PLEASE proove me wrong!

BTW, I spied some cute Vancouver Games wallpaper here.

 

“That’s Huge”: Shen & Zhao Are Back

Thanks to the Susan over at Lifeskate (both are huge), I came upon this video, which provides an enticing glimpse of pairs team Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao in training for the Vancouver Games. What a sight for sore eyes they are, helping to brighten my skating perspective this week, after the deeply sad Bobek news! (And, btw, they’re “huge” too.) This shows them at work on their Long Program, to Albinoni’s “Adagio”. I’m not terribly excited about this selection, as it’s too played and rather dreary, but I trust they will make it their own and breathe new life into it. It’s very reassuring to see them already seemingly in top form, as best I can judge from this brief segment.

 

jcm was one of the earliest online voices to focus the comeback spotlight on them, with this poll, and this post. With all the talk of Cohen, Kwan and Plushy/Zhenya they continue to get unfairly lost in the shuffle…at least in the US.

They’re pretty much guaranteed a spot on the Chinese Olympic Team since there is no true fourth contending team at this time. For them to skate well would alone make the trip to Vancouver worth it. But, for them to take gold, or a medal of any color would be a triumph for all “mature” (yes, even in their 30s!) skaters and athletes…a reminder that it’s not just a sport for little girls (although they’re “huge” too…but I didn’t mean in THAT way…apologies to Jenny Kirk), and that sometimes maturity and experience can prevail. This is a message our sport dearly needs.

I’m hoping they add to their already amazing legacy, as 3-time World Champions, and 2-time Olympic Bronze Medalists! At ages 31 (Shen) and 36 (Zhao), this would be their fourth Olympic Games, which surely only a handful of pairs teams have accomplished. If they medal, they’ll be the second pairs team in history to do so three times. Andrée Joly (later Brunet) and Pierre Brunet (FRA: 2 golds, 1 bronze) were the first and only other team to reach this competitive milestone. All other Olympic pairs teams achieved theirs with at least two partners: Artur Dmitriev (RUS: 2 golds, 1 silver) with Mishkutenok and Kasakova, Irina Rodnina (RUS: 3 golds) with Ulanov and Zaitsev.

Here are the full details on their announced programs for this season:

 Short Program               Long Program              
Who Wants To Live Forever
by Queen
performed by David Garrett
choreographed by Lori Nichol
Adagio
by Tomaso Albinoni
performed by Eroica Trio
choreographed by Lori Nichol

They are slated to compete in this season’s Grand Prix circuit at both Cup of China and Skate America. They would not face their main competition, German’s Savchenko and Szolkowy until the Grand Prix Final, if they both make it there. So, the truest suspense of how those two teams will match up will be saved for then, or at the Vancouver Games themselves. Savcheko and Szolkowy have momentum on their side, but both teams promise some MAJOR competition!

"That's Huge" “That’s huge”!

Violetta à trois

Netrebko, Pérez & Futral: A Study in Contrasts

Part of the fun of experiencing multiple divas in a single role, particularly in the same production run, is drawing up comparisons. Sometimes the differing quality of an “A” and “B” cast can be seen from a mile away, but in the case of the recent run of La Traviata at the San Francisco Opera, all three Violettas offered equally worthy performances. Anna Netrebko can sell tickets like no other, but the goods delivered by the other divas were not disproportionate. And, can you imagine a more beautiful trio of divas? I can’t.

I enjoyed portions of performances and dress rehearsals (sometimes vocally “marked”), from on-stage, backstage, as well as over the dressing room speakers! Perhaps this is not the most complete, or un-biased manner in which to judge a performance, but is a very broad and diverse one. I had some fun comparing and contrasting this wealth of riches, especially as I don’t imagine this opportunity will come again soon.:

NetrebkoAnna Netrebko:

Voce: Dark and throaty

 

Presence: Brooding and tempestuous

 

Diva comparison: Moffo and Vischnevskaya

 

Libiamo: White Russian (pardon the pun…rich and creamy, but with a kick)
 

Violetta traits: Embodied true glamour, and launched vocal climaxes with a surprisingly spinto-scaled soprano.
 

Best Act: Act III, delivered a deeply felt sense of tragedy

 

 

 

PérezAilyn Pérez:

Voce: Round and buoyant

 

Presence: Vulnerable and feminine

 

Diva comparison: De los Angeles and Scotto

 

“Libiamo”: Cosmo (contemporary and chic)
 

Violetta traits: Created a sympathetic, verismatic characterization, and elicited real pathos. Brought refulgent, unforced tone in the middle voice. Wooed with her bright, expressive eyes.
 

Best Act: Act II, rendered heart-breaking tenderness

 

 

 

FutralElizabeth Futral:

Voce: Bright and flexible

 

Presence: Gamine and lithe

 

Diva comparison: Albanese and Sills

 

“Libiamo”: Champagne (sparkling and light)
 

Violetta traits: Offered free and flirtatious movement, and really worked the entire stage. Hit pin-point accuracy in coloratura, as if played on a keyboard.
 

Best Act: Act I, reigned in “Sempre Libera”, with the lone high E flats in the run (much appreciated, despite being interpolated). Her use of mezza voce were also masterful and well modulated.

 

 

Addio, Addio Violetta!

Here’s one of my favorite photo moments from the run. Sadly, my service to Violetta comes to an end with today’s matinee (tear). Signing-off Violetta…

Me as Chauffeur, with Anna (post-Act I)

Me as Chauffeur, with Anna (post-Act I)

Audience Etiquette: Some Prudent, Some Dull

In his weekly online Music News column, Janos Gereben, at the San Francisco Classical Voice, “The Go-To Place for Classical Music in the Bay Area”, just posted the following editorial. It provoked quite a bit of reaction: both laughter and debate. I posted a response to item 3, which in turn elicited further banter. See my comments below, and other’s responses at the bottom of the Music News link.

Polite Suggestions for Audience Behavior

Benedict Nightingale, theater critic of the Times of London, pulled together the top 15 rules of etiquette, and we offer just eight of them it would behoove concert and opera audiences to observe:

A Proper Audience Member* Never whisper, let alone talk, during the performance. Don’t hum along with songs, even if they’re by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

* Always apologize if someone is forced to stand as you make your way to your seat, but if you are late (and you should never be) reduce your apology to a quick, sorrowful nod.

* Don’t clap actors’ entrances, even if they’re famous, or their exits, even if they make them in the swaggering style that half-invites applause. All this is dated and naff and makes you look like a celeb-hungry prat.

* Have nothing to do with standing ovations unless a performance is close to a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In America such ovations have become meaningless and, if they don’t occur, they indicate disapproval. We don’t want them to become regular here.

* No need to dress up, let alone wear dinner jackets and evening gowns, as was once the case. But try to be a little better dressed than the critics, who often look as they’ve been grabbed from a washing machine that hasn’t yet been turned on.

* If you see a sleeping critic don’t necessarily wake him or her up, as guilt is likely to ensure that his or her review is more favorable than it might otherwise be. But don’t let him sleep too deeply or he may (and this has happened) crash into or across an aisle, causing injury to the innocent.

* If critics irk you by scratching notes on a pad, be forgiving. They’re only doing their jobs. And virtually all critics accept that lighted pens, once common, are now verboten. If you see a critic turn one on, whisper something tactfully germane, like “you blind sod, switch it off.”

* If the child you’re bringing is chatty, gag it. If it’s fidgety, handcuff and shackle it. And if you’re altruistic enough to bring a school party to a Shakespeare matinée, threaten potential wrongdoers with tickets to the next revival of Timon of Athens, to be followed by a ten-page essay on the ethics of Apemantus.

jumping clapping man says:

June 30, 2009

“Although the “Polite Suggestions” are clearly as much tongue-in-cheek as they are real, I wholeheartedly disagree with item 3: “Don’t clap actors’ entrances, even if they’re famous, or their exits, even if they make them in the swaggering style that half-invites applause.”

In Netrebko’s 3rd performance of Traviata at SFO she got some applause as she sexily lifted her leg in the back seat of the 1929 Chrysler, and made her first stage entrance. I thought it was an appropriately quick nod to a much loved diva returning after a too long hiatus, and given the glamour of her arrival, via limo, in the right, festive spirit (she is, after all arriving at a party).

I always crave a bit of the unabashed audience passion shown so overtly at La Scala, and even at times at Salzburg (ie: disgust at Mortier’s “Fledermaus”, in the form of whistles and storming out of the house). A too polite audience is also a dull, status quo one. I want electricity! No, I don’t want lots of music or singing to be drowned out by applause, but supportive and brief applause can be a lovely accent to a vibrant performance…and a lovely nudge to a diva/divo from a knowledgeable and appreciative audience to really “bring it”! Don’t we want at least a dose of the unhinged adoration and excitement of the Golden Age? Well, the audience plays a role in that as well.

The beginning of the live recording of “Scuoti quella fronda” (the Flower Duet from Madama Butterfly) by Price and Horne, from their LIVE from the Met concert is accompanied by an enthusiastic outburst of applause from the audience. I have become so used to the performer/audience connection reflected in that recording that I always miss that when I hear another rendition of the duet. Yes, it was a concert, not a full stage production, but it really ignited the moment.”

“Pop Star On Ice” @ The Castro Theatre

Johnny in heels

When my friend booked my ticket to “Pop Star on Ice” at the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, I knew the flick would dish up plenty of bitchy humor and celeb-style entertainment, and figured it would reveal Johnny Weir as a fascinating, but also superficial and narcissistic personality. Instead, he thankfully comes out looking disarmingly and utterly real, complex, insanely and innately gifted, and truly one-of-a-kind. And, the documentary itself is a lovingly crafted piece, telling the story of his life, not just to frivolously entertain, but also to enlighten and inspire.

I’ve always rooted for Johnny, especially when pitted against Evan (Lysacek). My tendency towards the underdog, and his vulnerable, straight shooting (pardon the pun) personality has always drawn me to him. Clearly, as 3-time National Champion one could hardly call him an underdog, at least a few seasons back, but the traditional expectations and desired mold purported by the US Figure Skating Federation and community against which he has had to push qualifies him as such, in my mind.

I will try not to divulge too much detail about the movie, as I’d hate to steal any of the thunder of your experiencing it fresh, but I want to at least help tout this excellent film by dangling a few carrots.

The opening titles are accompanied by critical sound bits about Johnny, narrated in multiple dialects/accents, with hysterical comedic flair: flamboyantly gay, Paris Hilton Valspeak, Minnesotan housewife, Russian, and so on. At the end we discover that this is not the voice of just any narrator, but Johnny himself…yet another skilled and entertaining facet of this performer and personality. If you don’t mind a spoiler, of sorts, watch this intro segment here.

One of the opening scenes sets the tone…clearly Johnny does not take himself too seriously (off the ice), and is just as willing to make fun of himself as others, which is very endearing. He sits naked (presumably) in a frothy bubble bath with his best friend Paris Childers, wearing a campy blond wig, whilst interviewing him in a thick Russian dialect. He asks him questions about Johnny (himself), and Paris answers in queeny fashion. Johnny says they’re so close, “we’re like a married couple without the sex”. Wait, married couples have sex? jk!

Paris & Johnny

 

The story-telling of the documentary is crafted along a graphic timeline (complete with illustrated icons!) of Johnny’s skating career, and the three primary locales in which he has lived (Quarryville, Pennsylvania; Newark, Delaware; Lyndhurst, New Jersey). It moves back and forth along this timeline to give you a perspective of a competitive season, but also a bigger picture of an athlete’s progress over a longer span. This technique helps build drama, as we see Johnny train, and then how he holds up in competition (although the results are of course not a surprise, it makes the story more interesting).

We soon meet Priscilla Hill, Johnny’s coach from age 12 to 2007. Interestingly, he was drawn to her because she too was a clockwise spinner/jumper. Their relationship is just as complex as Johnny himself is. They clearly have/had a great love and admiration for one another (one part mother/son, one part fag hag/fag), and she helped make him what he has become, but also they had reached a point where they perhaps knew each other too well, and were steeped in some bad habits, which was leading to unsuccessfully training and poor competition results. As with any artist, sometimes one just needs freshening up, a new setting, and/or a new team to collaborate with. I even feel this in my profession, where every 5 years or so have found it best to move on to new horizons, and change things up a bit (of course, economic-related lay-offs have helped this along!). You learn different things from different people, and it would foolish to expect one person to be able to offer everything one would need in such an evolving sport.

Priscilla & Johnny

 

It is moving to see Johnny return to his childhood home, where he has both sentimental memories, as well as anxiety, as he is hardly the Quarryville status quo. His first-grade teacher Tawn Battiste is a big fan, and they share a mutual admiration. He visits her current class, and poses for a photo with them.

Other skaters Evan Lysacek, Brian Joubert and Stephane Lambiel have a presence in the film, and some are even interviewed. Johnny’s realness is magnified when contrasted with interviews by Evan, who feels much more calculated, and as if he is carefully measuring what he says, likely to please. Although I have nothing against Evan, think he has much to offer, and certainly believe he deserved to be ’07 National Champion, I was highly amused by (and shared in) the audience hisses at The Castro Theatre, anytime he appeared on screen. He comes across as a villain/antagonist-of-sorts in this film, which is exacerbated by the general media’s highlighting of their “rivalry”.

Given that Johnny was inspired to start skating in his backyard, after seeing Oksana Bauil win the ’94 Olympic Gold, it feels particularly fateful, and fortuitous that he leaves Hill to train with Galina Zmievskaya, Bauil’s former coach. Her more demanding approach, less “friend” or “mother” than Hill had become, appears to be a smart move for Johnny, at least for his ’07-’08 season.

A fallMore than any other source I’ve experienced, this film really allowed me to symphatize with the trials skaters and athletes must push against, and the roller-coaster ride of ebbing and waning commitment, passion, connection to one’s sport/art, etc. It is unbearable to watch Johnny train for the ’07 Nationals. We see a quickly edited succession of his multiple jump attempts (and frequent falls). The toll this takes on the body is so easily understood when seen in this way. We see him distracted, without focus, looking quite underweight, and also struggling to work well or even communicate with Hill. It was clear the outcome would not be good.

Perhaps I should find it more frustrating that Johnny does not “come out” even in this context, but after watching this film, I feel he is withholding little about his life. Some notion of his romantic life would have been welcome, and the lack of it leaves him looking a bit asexual, but frankly, that is his business, and perhaps is better fodder for his tell-all autobiography (in 2020?).

Johnny with the directorsThe question of whether Johnny is a Pop Star, or not, is answered in that he is indeed one in the eyes of “Johnny’s Angels”, and his fans throughout Russia, Asia, and yes, even America. But, as to whether he’s a true, mainstream Pop Star, not yet…once his competitive career is over (after Vancouver, I presume), I’m sure he could be easily launched into that ether, if he so chooses…as he has all the makings of one, and will have more time to nurture his “brand”.

I was heartened to discover that this same directing team of David Barba & James Pellerito will be involved in the upcoming 8-part reality series about Johnny’s quest for Olympic Gold. At the end of the film there was a Q&A with them. Their involvement in the reality series compelled me to ask the following (to paraphrase): “Since training for the Olympics is such a grueling process, how do you remain transparent to Johnny so that your filming, or the “celeb” aspects of being in a reality series are not a distraction for him?

The director’s responses were that they remain pretty invisible to Johnny and his team, and have developed a good relationship with him/them, so that if they felt their presence wasn’t welcome in a given context, they could give him/them space. But, Johnny and the team got so used to them that they weren’t playing for the camera, or really noticing them in the training contexts.

The reality series, which will pick up where this documentary left off, will air early next year on the Sundance Channel, building up to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics!

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.