Archive for the ‘style & fashion’ Category

Vancouver Games: Week 1 Supersized Recap

I’m battling a terrible cold and sore throat. Staying up past midnight nightly watching these Games likely hasn’t helped. Why, oh why is the left coast on such a delay? More advertising dollars for NBC? Pathetic! I’m sure a lot of potential viewers drifted away because of this poor decision.

Opening Ceremonie$


When I sat down to watch the opening, all I could think of was how unlucky Vancouver was to have to follow Beijing. Beijing spent over $300+ million, and have a culture that is already primed to partake in such a large-scale, perfect orchestration of the masses. However, I respected Canada’s aim to keep it less expensive (even if that still meant a walloping $30+ million). After all, the Olympics are important for national pride, and international athletic competition and camaraderie, but it shouldn’t replace feeding mouths and rebuilding cities.

We Are the World…again, REALLY? At least J-Hud was in the mix, making it a bit more legit. In the initial, historic portion of the ceremony, I really appreciated the strong presence of the indigenous native nations, particularly the aboriginal people, and the nod to their cultural impact.

The greeter minions (see photo, in background), decked out head to toe in snowy white, looked like rather vacuous members of an Eskimo cult, or life-sized “It’s a Small World…” mascots, courtesy of Disney. One in particular caught my eye on multiple close-ups. He was highly entertaining, and had the infectious enthusiasm and gloriously bad dance moves of one of The Wiggles. I was reminded that believing you’re really good is half the battle in convincing others that you actually are. The female greeters also called to mind the great ole winter icon Suzy Chapstick.

In the parade of athletes, it was a pleasant surprise to see so many figure skaters bearing their flags: Kevin van der Perren (Belgium), Julia Sebestyen (Hungary), Alexandra Zaretsky (Israel), Song Chol Ri (N. Korea), and medal contender Stéphane Lambiel (Switzerland)! NOONE waved their flag with more fey elegance than Stéphane. I was struck by some of the more memorable athlete names: Hubert von Hohenlohe (sounds like a drunk ‘n merry Austrian prince), and Bjoergvin Bjoergvinsson (what were his parents thinking?)!

K.D. Lang was channeling Wayne Newton. She sounded fantastic singing Leonard Cohen’s (unfortunately overdone) “Hallelujah.” Her voice is very well-preserved, after 25+ years as a recording artist. The digital video images projected on the floor were stunning, especially when a simulated school of orcas (spouting out their air holes) passed across the ocean surface. The artistic highlight of the ceremony was the aerial dance “Who Has Seen the Wind”, performed by Montreal’s Thomas Saulgrain, to Joni Mitchell’s acoustic recording of “Both Sides Now.” It was spiritually transcendent, filled with sincere wonder, and his journey reminded me a bit of Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.”

The most compelling moment was the minute of silence, for Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili (Team Georgia in photo, above right). How rare it is for a group of that enormity to share in silence, and what a reminder it was that modern society works far to hard to fill up all the still or quiet moments in life. Silent meditation is so rife with meaning…as much or more so than activity. Near the end, Measha Brueggergosman did her best Jessye Norman impersonation, complete with protruding neck veins, unhinged jaw, and mother nature/goddess delivery. I enjoy her art, and appreciated her inclusion, but this presented her as an operatic caricature.

Overall, the host country did a great job of milking their budget, as it didn’t feel cheap at all, and the silly mishaps were easily forgiven.

Continue reading recap —>

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Manic laughter + a few too many high-Fs!

“Rock Me Amadeus” (moi)

Mozartean Laughter

Haha-hahahahahahaha-hahaha!!!

Some inspiration! And, the fabulous original song from the two-hit-wonder Falco.

Poser!

The “Queen of the Night” (CJ)

Wanna kiss?

Glam Close-Up

It's hard work bein' a queen!

On a good night!

On a bad night! This delicious kitsch mash-up was also inspiration for our rock/opera costumery.

Help give birth to a drag queen!

So, Halloween is just around the bend, and if the stars align, I’m aiming to make my drag debut. I sort of got trannied-up last year, but that doesn’t really count.

Although the birth of my drag persona should have been reality TV fodder, the best I can do for now is invite you to help pick my name. I’ve narrowed to a short list of the most appropos names I’ve come up with. Please submit your votes!

The names either play on my love of opera/singing, my horoscope (Taurus: the bull), my white skin, general drag puns, and/or my (sometimes) upbeat and playful nature.

If ya don’t know who Cunegonda is (I do a mean “Glitter and Be Gay”), thank heavens for Wikipedia…or, what a “fach” is, ditto!

A friend of mine came up with some amazing foreign drag names (as well as the third option in the poll). I HAVE to share them with you here, although I don’t think they are right for me, or my presumed drag persona.: Chesty Kumallova, Vaselina Alloverya, Marina Fishnetskaya, Lieselotte Sprekenzidoitch. And, although it’s tempting to be über-trashé, I’m passing on some other new gems I dreamt up, including Ismelda Fart, Anja Knees, and Amanda Doo, because that’s just NOT moi!

“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!

 

Pinch Me! A Diva Tale

Here’s a neat little side dish to jcm’s current experience as a “Super” in San Francisco Opera’s current production of Verdi’s verismo masterpiece La Traviata. Cindy Warner, a SF Examiner writer included my story of working with/around Anna Netrebko as a part of her review article about opening night. My contribution starts about midway through.:

Anna’s chauffeur talks: A Super story

Act I, Scene I Entrance: Chauffeur, Violetta, and Doctor Grenvil

Act I, Scene I Entrance: Chauffeur, Violetta, and Doctor Grenvil

What is a Super, you ask? As the official Supernumerary Handbook states, it “is a nonsinging actor (extra)…As a supernumerary volunteer you are a valued member of the Opera Company…”

8 performances, and 2 more Violettas to go…

— “Chauff”

A Very Early Snow: USOC Preview

…and, when it snows, it pours. Or, something like that.

These USOC Winter Portraits” were taken at Smashbox Studios, in LA (May 12 & 15th). They serve as a very exciting preview of all the US Olympic aspirations the upcoming season holds. I felt like a little boy who got a big peak into his biggest gift under the Christmas tree. See the entire photoshoot at Universal Sports’ photo gallery. But, trust me, these snow angels give the best face in these selects.

Evan sure appears to be sending a cold breeze up Johnny’s back:
“Brrrrrrr” (translated from Russian). Looks like Jeremy is hoping to summon up “may the force be with you”, in his Obi-Wan Kenobi look-alike portrait. And, Mirai’s on-ice exuberance seems to be MIA in her shoot…thankfully, she shines when the pressure is on. Speaking of MIA, no M.K.? The door is closing fast!

Now, enjoy our US hopefuls as the Brady Bunch (if you’re too young to get that, enjoy this morsel of ’70s cheese.):

Evan & JohnnySashaJeffrey & AlissaRachael & Belgosto

Zhang & McBruDavite & WagnerMroz & Nagasu

“No one is Jesus” —Sparkly Boy

PSoI PosterPop Star on Ice

Saturday, June 27, 11:00am
Castro Theatre, San Francisco
SF International LGBT Film Festival

“How many other Olympic athletes would let themselves be filmed in a bubble bath and blonde wig gleefully play-acting the Russian interviewer to another naked man (in this case, “best friend” Paris)?” — Jeff Campbell

I am sooooo there!

Find the screening nearest you.

…Comes in Threes

> “Violetta”, “Manon”, “The Countess”

> La Traviata, Manon, Capriccio

> Verdi, Massenet, Strauss

> Lacroix, Lagerfeld, Galliano

> Levine, Armiliato, Summers

ALL this and more:
The Metropolitan Opera Opening Night
,
Starring Renée Fleming

San Francisco channel & airdate (check local listings):
KQED TV9/HD
Sun, Mar 22, 2009 — 1:00 pm

Although she is one of the favorite operatic punching bags of online opera-queens, she got where she did for a reason (sumptuous tone, undeniable beauty, and commitment to her craft), and has a lot to offer. No, she may not dig to the deepest levels of kunst-divadom, and has her jazzy and often unidiomatic way with phrases, but when I’ve seen her live she has always delivered… and then some. So, don’t miss out on this historic gala!

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Here’s the promotional pitch:
“Renée Fleming, one of the world’s leading sopranos, headlines the opening night gala of the Met’s 125th anniversary season (recorded last September), featuring fully-staged excerpts from three of her favorite operas. Joined by tenor Ramon Vargas, baritones Thomas Hampson and Dwayne Croft, and bass Robert Lloyd, Fleming appears in the second act of Verdi’s La Traviata, the third act of Massenet’s Manon, and the final scene from Strauss’s Capriccio. Music Director James Levine and Maestros Marco Armiliato and Patrick Summers share the podium for this gala event.”

YSL & Warhol @ the de Young

Never in the 15 years that Golden Park has been my backyard do I remember the de Young Museum offering TWO shows that were of such great interest to me, and also so relevant to one another: Yves Saint Laurent, AND Warhol LIVE. (In 1972 Andy Warhol painted four portraits of Saint Laurent.) YSL is only showing for another month, so be sure to catch it before it closes.

YSL drawingYSL was a revelation for me. I had no prior knowledge that his initial intention and chosen path was to become a costume designer. However, Dior helped nudge him down the path of haute couture, and he became his apprentice, and then upon his too early death (at 52 years old, in ’57) found himself (at the age of 21) the head designer of the House of Dior. In 1964 YSL designed costumes for the theater including The Marriage of Figaro and Il Faut Passer par les Nuages (You Have to Go Via the Clouds) by the Renaud-Barrault Company, so he didn’t turn his back entirely on actual costume design, but it is by no means his greatest legacy.

The de Young exhibit is beautifully paced and displayed, as one would expect. Walking through the museum space is both like walking through the decades, as well as through exotic places. You can almost smell the spices of, and hear the sounds of an African setting, through the ’67 “Raffia” collection. I found myself gathering poise as I experienced more of the collection… as the bar for elegance is so high one begins to wish they were on the runway themselves (well, maybe not everyone, but at least this gay boy did).

AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere

AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere

As with any experience of fashion or art, favorites began to emerge. Pieces that spoke to me on that higher level. Ones that I wished to linger on longer, or marvel at the construction of even further. They included a ’65 Evening Cocktail Dress, after Serge Poliakoff (ie: see purple, red and charcoal dress in picture to right), an ’81 black Taffeta evening gown (crisp layers of all black fabric), and a ’67 Evening Ensemble with a suede tunic, bronze sequined knit sleeves and wool jersey (the sequins were otherworldly looking, almost like a modern chainmail, but still feminine). My tastes, at least for haute couture, are probably just right of center. I tend to like clean lines, and restraint. I’m sure this is due to my graphic design training, but also just personal leanings.

Out of the more flamboyant pieces, I most enjoyed the Picasso (triangular jester patterns) and Matisse (blue and white ruffles) inspired dresses.

Walking amongst his masterpieces at the de Young, the theatrical influence and inspiration were readily apparent. I dreamt of seeing operatic productions based on these creations, where they would serve as costumes. It would not be a stretch to craft from these collections productions of Turandot, Ariadne (ie: the Picasso dress noted above), Lulu, Les Pêcheurs de Perles, Don Giovanni (ie: the ’81 black Taffeta favorite noted above), Carmen, and more.

In the Imaginary Voyages section the de Young shared that he rejected the traditionally viewed and favored way for designers to gather their new inspiration: travel. Instead, he felt that images of the exotic and far lands, or experience of their art was enough for him. Perhaps his birthplace of Oran, Algeria offered even some exotic memories to draw upon. The Body Revealed section showed how YSL used cut-outs in the dress fabric to create new shapes and lines, and sensual peeks. The image used for the museum marketing features the most distinct of these, in the shape of a lyre.

Photo: Alexandre Guirkinger

Photo: Alexandre Guirkinger

And, yes, there were quite a few gawdy, garish, pieces which CJ imagined would be chided if they were seen on Project Runway today (even if you separated out the issue of changing taste of fashion through time). The Van Gogh sequined jackets (aka Alexis Carrington) were just one step away from your mom’s favorite Christmas sweater. Perfectly crafted, but overwrought.

“Nothing is more beautiful that a naked body. The most beautiful clothes that can dress a woman are the arms of the man she loves. But for those who haven’t had the fortune of finding this happiness, I am there.” — YSL (1983)

“He died on June 1, 2008 of brain cancer at his residence in Paris. According to The New York Times, a few days before he died, Saint Laurent and (Pierre) Bergé were joined in a same-sex civil union known as a ‘civil pact of solidarity’ in France.” — Wikipedia

Warhol LIVE:

Warhol’s worship of and effect on pop culture is well known, and still lives on. However, I was happy to discover his lesser known passion for opera and classical music, and his earlier work that directly dealt with those arts. In the ’50s he designed/illustrated covers for Opera News. In ’65 he attended the legendary Metropolitan Opera Norma, with Callas. He was a big fan of La Divina’s.

La Forza del DestinoThe de Young had an extensive, and broadly displayed collection of Warhol’s own LPs and tapes (pirate and studio). They included more popular fare like Judy Garland, Elvis, The Shangri-Las, and Rosalind Russell’s Wonderful Town, but also Price’s La Forza del Destino, Crespin’s Der Rosenkavalier, Callas’ Mexico City Traviata pirate, and more. And, of course he designed up to 50 record covers himself, for such artists as The Stones, Blondie, Aretha Franklin, etc.