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James Bakkom of Minneapolis has won the USITT's top award for a lifetime of creativity.
Artist and set designer James Bakkom was working with found objects before found objects were cool -- and he proceeded to make them cool. Bakkom, who did set design for the Guthrie Theater from 1964 to '74, became known for his "Garbage to Grandeur" workshops in which he taught designers on a budget how to recycle free and low-cost materials into fabulous props costumes and scenery. He went on to teach at several universities and do freelance design projects for theater, television adn corporate clients.
This year the United States Institute of Theatre Technology is marking Bakkom's many-faceted career with its top honor, the USITT award, to be presented at its annual conference in Forth Worth Texas, in late March.
More recently Bakkom, 76, has focused on painting and sculpture, including a "Scarecrow" series that can be seen on his website, jamesrbakkom.com. Minneapolis filmmaker Mark Wojahn made a documentary about Bakkom, "Getting Lost in My Own Art," in 2009.
Though he was diagnosed last year with Parkinson's disease, Bakkom told broadwayworld.com that he plans to attend the USITT conference.
Osmo Vanska announced his joy at being part of the Minnesota Orchestra's Grammy win for classical recording. Vanska issued a statement through his London-based manager early Monday morning.
"I am absolutely thrilled that this recording of Sibelius Symphonies 1 and 4 -- works so close to my heart -- has been honored with a Grammy Award. I am immensely happy and proud to have been able to achieve this in partnership with my dear and devoted friends at BIS record label and with the remarkable musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra. it is the greatest honor to be presented with such a distinctive award by our peers -- and I convey my genuine thanks to The Recording Academy for this wonderful recognition."
Vanska has been busy lately with guest conducting gigs in Europe and in San Francisco. He quit the Minnesota Orchestra on Oct. 1, to protest the inability to forge a new collective bargaining agreement.
He has not said publicly what his plans are in regards a possible return to Minnesota. A Facebook post was reported to have said he'd like to return but he needs to be asked.
The Grammy-winning disc was the second in what had been intended as a full Sibelius symphony cycle. The first disc was nominated for a Grammy last year.
Local screenwriter Michael Starrbury ("The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete") is coming off a remarkable week and looking forward to another one.
On Jan. 15 he dined at the White House, where his dramatic comedy about a pair of hard-luck New York City minority kids was presented for an audience including the First Lady.
In addition to dinner and a bag of official White House popcorn, "I got to meet Mrs. Obama. It was an incredible experience. She's so humble and sweet," he said.
She had nice things to say about him at the event as well, leading a round of applause for his work and smiling, "Well done, well done... This movie ws so powerful to me." (The comments begin at the 12 minute mark of the video above.)
And on March 1, the day before the Oscars ceremony, Starrbury will be at the Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, Calif. He's nominated for best first screenplay prize.
"I've had calls from people telling me they likes it and they're voting for it," he said, "but the main thing is to go and chill out and get out of this Minnesota weather for a minute."
While he's there, Starrbury will be pitching a new feature for Universal Studios, a kids' comedy.
He'll also attend New Line Studios live reading of his upcoming script "The Great Unknown," based on the graphic novel by Duncan Rouleau. Also attending will be the project's director Jorma Taccone ("MacGruber.") The project is a low-fi action comedy about a daydreaming slacker convinced that telepathic thieves are stealing all his great ideas.
PARK CITY, UTAH --
The sad and lovely musical biography “Low Down” stars John Hawkes as the late Joe Albany, a talented but troubled jazz pianist who recorded with Charlie Parker and Lester Young in the 1940s.
It’s a typically observant piece of work by Hawkes. He transforms himself with chameleon skill into a tender father and unreconstructed drug addict raising his adoring daughter (played by Elle Fanning) in a seedy Hollywood hotel.
The most breathtaking aspect of the performance may be the extended scenes of Hawkes fingering the keyboard in perfect synch with Albany’s punchy bop recordings. It’s the type of commitment Hawkes typically brings to his work. After all, he learned to type with a mouth stick for his role as a quadriplegic journalist in last year’s “The Sessions.”
Director Jeff Preiss covered similar jazz-noir ground as cinematographer for the Oscar-nominated 1988 Chet Baker documentary “Let’s Get Lost.” Preiss lauded Hawkes’ commitment following a screening at the Sundance Film Festival. Hawkes, a guitarist and songwriter himself (he’s on the “Winter’s Bone” soundtrack) worked intensely with musician Ohad Talmor, who assured Preiss that Hawkes was ready for his turn in the spotlight.
The film’s first music scene, a trio playing at a bohemian party, is a complicated bit of choreography that showed the Alexandria-born Hawkes playing from several angles. “We left it till the end of the day,” Preiss said. “All day John had a little keyboard in his trailer. He just sat there concentrating. Came the time, he went through the whole tune on the first take. I was looking at the monitor aw we were roving the room and there’s John playing. We go back to his hands and it’s perfect. We come off and go around and back to his hands. It’s perfect, two or three times. End of the song, I say ‘Cut,’ and there was the sound of a stampede in the hallway.” The door banged open as the off-set crew, who had monitored the proceedings on video screens, burst in.
“They could not believe they had just seen something that didn’t seem possible,” said Preiss, who has directed music videos for everyone from Iggy Pop, Malcolm McLaren, REM and the B-52s to Mariah Carey, said, “it’s an amazing feat that John Hawkes did, an incredible example of his brilliance as an actor.”
Sally Bowles (Kira Lace Hawkins) and dancers in "Cabaret." The Theater Latte Da production features choreography by Michael Matthew Ferrell. Photo by Michal Daniel.
POST BY CAROLINE PALMER, SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE
Choreographing for “Cabaret” must feel exhilarating and daunting. After all, whoever tackles this job is following in the footsteps of first Ronald Field and then Ron Marshall on Broadway, not to mention the legendary Bob Fosse on film. But Ivey award winner Michael Matthew Ferrell proves he is up to the task in the new production of the famed John Kander and Fred Ebb musical now playing at the Pantages Theatre.
“Cabaret” captures a specific moment of time – the blinkered days leading into Hitler’s cruel domination of Germany and Europe. Berlin has an atmosphere of thrilling sleaziness but something far more ominous is brewing, and there’s nothing fun about it. The story evolves from carelessness into darkness, as if the entire city itself transitions from a playful dream into a years-long nightmare. Ferrell picks up on this pivotal transition in his choreography for the Peter Rothstein-directed staging, produced by Theatre Latte Da and Hennepin Theatre Trust.
Because “Cabaret” takes place in a underground nightclub, the dancing is sexy-as-all-get-out, propelled by pelvic thrusts, swaying hips and nearly bare bottoms. It would be easy to rely on a stock bump-and-grind approach for the early musical numbers but Ferrell’s movement choices consciously hint at the danger to come.
Tyler Michaels as the Emcee is a sneering, audience-teasing, glittery dynamo and often joins in with the bawdy chorus who stomp through their paces with a frankly impatient sensuality. They aren’t in jackboots (yet) but there’s clearly a force afoot to transform these hedonists into either enemies or allies of the state (“Mein Herr” with its militaristic forcefulness, led by the gutsy Kira Lace Hawkins as Sally Bowles is a prime example).
Ferrell completes these connections with his movement choices in the second act. A high-kicking chorus line devolves into goose-stepping and Nazi salutes. Partygoers waltz prettily before joining in with Fraulein Kost’s (Aeysha Kinnunen) rendition of the chilling hymn “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” Michaels and a monkey-suited dancer happily hoof toward a horrific climax: “If you could see her through my eyes … she wouldn’t look Jewish at all.” The Emcee can only make such a joke in a society primed to accept it so the combination of the upbeat tap dancing and the deadly statement is all the more rattling.
Ferrell, along with Rothstein, exposes the beating heart of “Cabaret.” It’s a story about transitory liberation, about abandoning troubles at the door, about being true to one’s self, others be damned. But of course we all ignore our surroundings at our own peril. We can only dance so long before the music stops playing.
“Cabaret” ends February 9. For further information visit www.hennepintheatretrust.org.
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