Vince Paterson, “Birdcage” choreographer, remembers Mike Nichols, Robin Williams 2

Dance · Film

“I had the joy of working with Mike [Nichols] twice. First on “The Birdcage,” and then on “Closer,” I directed Natalie [Portman] and Clive [Owen] in some movement.”

We were chatting with choreographer Vincent Paterson on the sad occasion of the death of director Mike Nichols. Paterson worked with Nichols on “The Birdcage,” creating on the spot a hilarious and now infamous dance number for star Robin Williams. Paterson reminisced:

vincent-large“I was very excited to hear Nichols was directing “The Birdcage.” He was intent on using Steve Sondheim for the music and Tommy Tune as choreographer.

“I went to Julie [McDonald, his agent] and asked her to get my reel to Mike. She told me Tommy Tune got the gig. I said, ‘I don’t care, I am right for this project. I need to do it.’

“I flew to New York. I wasn’t in the Broadway circle, I wasn’t known in New York at all.

“Mike and I had a fantastic lunch – and I was hired.

“Mike was such a sweetheart, so humble and strong, so down to earth. I just told him, ‘This is what I do. I do it with Madonna, I do it with Whitney Houston. I know how to make women look great.’

“I showed him how I would do dances for men in drag.

“He loved my work. But he said, ‘I would like you there from the beginning.’

“Right from the table readings, I was there by Mike’s side. I was at 75% of the shooting, at Paramount stage and then down in Miami.

“I went through the script with Mike and Elaine May  — suggesting where we could impose movement.

“Now, I wasn’t that enthused about Sondheim – not danceable, sexy music to use. In fact, Steve had a fire in his house, and he pulled back. So it worked out. I brought in a friend. Mike said, “Run with it, Vincent.”

the birdcage-1995
When asked about the “Fosse Fosse Fosse” bit for Robin Williams, Paterson burst into laughter.

“That was not part of the script,” he said.

“I knew Robin. I had choreographed for Robin, Whoopie Goldberg and Billy Crystal for Comedy Relief four or five years in a row. I had directed him in a Turner documentary on Dr. Suess. So during shooting, Robin pulled me aside and he said, ‘I’m so tired of playing the straight man. Eveyrone is getting laughs. It’s driving me crazy.’

“I said, ‘Give me till the next break.’

“So on the next break we went behind the set wall and I said, ‘What about: The History of Dance in Thirty Seconds?’

“We were behind the walls of the set. I gave him a little scenario. He did it. He said, ‘I can’t make it perfect.’ I said, ‘DON’T make it perfect!’

“So we came back to shoot the scene. Cameras were rolling. He did it and everyone was laughing and laughing. But it wasn’t in the movie.

“Mike said, ‘That was really wonderful. But let’s move on.’

“Robin fell to his knees and begged, ‘please please please’ on his knees.

“Nichols said, ‘Alright, we’ll shoot it again, but no promises.’

“We shot it two or three times. We never thought it would become what it has. It’s iconic.

“Just a few weeks ago I was on the line at Gelson’s [grocery store] and some guy was telling his friend, ‘Fosse Fosse Fosse.’ I had to tell them I created that number.”

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Classical music meets Burmese art courtesy of Jacaranda

Architecture & Design · featured · Music · Visual arts

A beautiful fundraiser had an unusual focus when Jacaranda, the decade-old Los Angeles contemporary classical music series, hosted an exquisite program of chamber music in a super-cool private home on a recent autumnal Sunday. Rarely viewed works of contemporary Burmese art lent visual, cultural, even political, impact to the event.

Jacaranda board chairman Thomas Aujero Small and his wife Joanna Brody hosted the party at their urban oasis in Culver City. It came as no surprise that the home, customize-designed by music-loving architect Whitney Sander, beautifully ratcheted up in artfulness with the sound of great music and presence of fine art.

  1. New works from Myanmar hung in the beautiful home of board chair Thomas Small before the event
  2. Board chair/host Thomas Small welcomes guests
  3. Curator Paula Tin Nyo, pianist Steven Vanhauwaert, music director Mark Alan Hilt, artistic and executive director Patrick Scott, and Lyris Quartet violinist Shalini Vijayan
  4. Curator Paula Tin Nyo and board chair/host Thomas Small
  5. Curator Paula Tin Nyo of Yone Arts, Emerging Contemporary Art introduces the featured works and artists
  6. Pianist Aremen Guzelimian and tenor Ashley Faatoalia perform
  7. Tenor Ashley Faatoalia, artistic and executive director Patrick Scott, and pianist Armen Guzelimian
  8. Featured new works from Myanmar
  9. Music director Mark Alan Hilt, composer Anne LaBaron, and artistic and executive director Patrick Scott

photo credit: Bonnie Perkinson

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Review: L-E-V’s “House” of dance invention @ REDCAT

Dance · featured · Reviews

Not since Dawn of the Dead did as stricken a posse of emaciated weirdos tromp before your eyes — all the better to experience, in real time, at REDCAT performance space. The stalwart black-box theater is rendered even more dark by Avi Yona Bueno’s gorgeously murky lighting design for “House,” choreographer Sharon Eyal’s futuristic ballet for Israeli dance troupe, L-E-V. We highly recommend “House,” which gets two further performances this weekend.

Gadi Dagon1The work’s simple name is misleading; it’s a little house of horrors. It’s the freaky configuring of Eyal, a 23-year veteran of Batsheva Dance Company, along with her collaborator, Gai Bahar, a producer of disco-raves. What a treat to see this Batsheva alum’s work just weeks after viewing the Mother Ship itself at Royce Hall in Ohad Naharin‘s magisterial “Sadeh21″ [review here]. Naharin’s deep-digging Gaga technique gets even further excavation from Eyal’s bone-skinny, highly precise dancers.

This wicked, unforgiving and groundbreaking work, set to sound artist Ori Lichtik’s techno music score mixed on site, receives pinpoint, cult-like interpretation by L-E-V’s dancers. Not only does Eyal stretch her dancers’ physicality to a new level, but she matches our weird universe (the one that lurks outside the theater) beat by beat. “House” is very now, which means it’s very scary; it’s just as harrowing as a click onto NPR news at five pm. And it offers as little comfort. I love watching dance move into that realm, being real, less escapist, reflecting through artful body language the destruction and decay of our society.

When the bearded man saunters on stage clad in designer Odelia Arnold’s leather body stocking and high spike heels, you know you’re not in Kansas anymore. You’re in Los Angeles being confronted by our troubled civilization — the woes of which words have failed to assuage– through the power of dance.

photo: thank you New York Times, Gadi Dagon for L-E-V

L-E-V House | REDCAT | thru Sunday Nov 23


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Pre-Thanksgiving ballet weight gain @ Segerstrom Center

Dance · featured
  This stunner of a high-attitude position, poised on a set of million-dollar legs comes from Mikhailovsky Ballet ballerina Veronika Ignatyeva, as Cupid, in “Flames of Paris.” The French Revolutionary ballet, first created in Stalinist Russia in 1932, will be on view Nov 28-30 at Segerstrom Center for the Arts over Thanksgiving weekend. The production, ...

High culture at the movies, courtesy of Laemmle Theatres

Dance · Film · Music · Theater · Visual arts
At the other end of the civilization spectrum from AFI Fest’s recent pepper-spray incident (ironic, isn’t it, that fisticuffs broke out at a screening of a new bio-pic about British painter William Turner), is the marvelous roll-out, now in its third month, of Laemmle Theatre’s “Culture Vulture Mondays.” The series is just one way that ...

Culture war erupts over cellphone useage @ AFI Fest

Language & ideas
It was the aggrieved versus the entitled in an unsurprising yet noteworthy altercation that broke out at AFI Fest, as the shared public viewing experience ratchets down. The depressing incident (ironically occuring at a screening of a new biopic on British painter William Turner) perhaps serves as a cautionary tale for those of us aggrevated ...

Pharrell Williams “happy” to jam with Herbie Hancock

Fashion · Music
A highlight of last Sunday’s 2014 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition was pianist Herbie Hancock kicking it with Pharrell Williams, the massively popular young r&b vocalist and music producer. The duo reworked Williams’ percolating hit song “Happy” as a jazz arrangement. Williams won my approval with his cool fashion, his trademark chapeau by model-turned-hat-designer Nick ...

Tyrone Power, divine, disheveled

We’re super looking forward to seeing Tyrone Power in a less discombobulated state than in this make-up test for “Nightmare Alley.” That is on offer Friday night at a screening of jazz movie, ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND (1938), at wonderful Barnsdall Art Park. The 100th birthday party for the handsome actor will feature introductions by his children, ...

Bill Clinton, jazz guy

featured · Music
TMIJ, Show Nov. 9, 2014
First, an incredible “pick-up band” comprising Jimmy Heath, Joshua Redman and Wayne Shorter (saxophones), Stefon Harris (vibes), Jon Faddis (trumpet), Herbie Hancock (piano), James Genus (bass), TS Monk (drum) performed “Flying Home” in his honor. [It was played at his first inaugural ball.] Then Kevin Spacey imitated him, razor sharp. [“I love jazz,” drawled Spacey ...

Review: Ohad Naharin’s masterful “Sadeh21″ @ CAP-UCLA

Dance · featured · Reviews
Several days after watching Batsheva Dance Company bring choreographer Ohad Naharin’s splendid full-evening work, “Sadeh21,” to vivid life in its U.S. premiere at the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, I am struck by how inadequately still photography captures the dance’s essence. Certainly the benign ring-around-the-rosy image (above) does not represent the multi-chaptered ...