Leo, Leaps and Love

Shutter Island, the psychological thriller that marks the fourth collaboration between Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese, opened on Friday, February 19. In a rare move for me, I saw the movie in the theatre on opening day. When I arrived, I remembered why I don’t normally go to a new movie on opening day, and as I sat and waited for the movie to begin, I remembered why I don’t go to movies in the theatre, opening day or otherwise, very often. After washing up and buying my popcorn, I approached the entrance to the auditorium only to find there was already a line to get in – 35 minutes before the movie was set to start. Fortunately, I ended up getting the seat I would have normally chosen, but that’s not always a guarantee. Lesson learned: When Alice in Wonderland opens, wait at least until its second weekend to go see that fantastical world in 3-D. Then, while waiting in my choice seat for the movie, I had the pleasure of listening to a woman behind me complain about everything, give procreation advice and drop an F-bomb as every third word. Seriously, if I were on a naval ship I wouldn’t have heard so much cursing. This woman had a bad attitude that was, I learned from her loud talking, no doubt exacerbated by the fact that she just had surgery. I love Leo, but if I’d just had surgery, I would be home, either on the couch or in bed – not in a movie theatre. And definitely not in a scary movie. (I actually tried to watch a thriller – at home – after oral surgery. It didn’t work. I fell asleep, missed the clues and was altogether completely discombobulated.)

Despite the pre-show aside, the movie itself was very good and thoroughly engaging to watch. I won’t say too much about what happens so as to allow you to experience it for yourself, but the basic set up is Leo’s character is a federal marshal who, along with his partner played by the always good and understated Mark Ruffalo, is sent to investigate a disappearance from Shutter Island, home of an asylum for the criminally insane.

Leo is great here, committing fully to a demanding role and totally immersing himself in the painful world of Teddy Daniels. Daniels is tormented by flashbacks of his deceased wife and of his time as a soldier, when he saw the aftermath at Dachau. There are moments when the camera focuses only on Leo’s face and there’s no dialogue and no musical cues. They aren’t needed. Leo’s eyes tell the story of a traumatized man trying to make sense of it all. In each new movie I watch him in, I think, “This is his best performance to date.” Like a fine wine, Leo just gets better with age.

The technical aspects of this film are nothing to sneeze at, either. Scorsese uses his camera to help tell the story. When the focus is on Leo’s character, or we’re seeing something from his perspective, the edits are quick and sharp; snippets of the same scene are overlapped and spliced together out of order, adding to a sense of uncertainty. Meanwhile when our focus is on the surroundings and we’re out of Teddy’s head, the shots are long and flowing. We see bright colors and understand that because this perspective is so different, something is definitely out of joint on this island.

The movie is helped by great supporting actors, too. As mentioned above, Ruffalo is reliably good as Leo’s new partner. He is so soft spoken but also sturdy and strong. It’s a delicate balance that Ruffalo strikes just right. Sir Ben Kingsley is also effective here, being slightly creepy and impossible to read – in a good way. You can never quite tell what he’s up to which works perfectly for his role. And Patricia Clarkson shows up near the end and is, as always, terrific. These great supporting actors help to round out a movie that could have easily been the Marty and Leo Show, but instead turned out to be an ultimately satisfying film.
(Check out this interview Roger Ebert recently conducted with Leo.)

The Saturday matinee at City Ballet was an All Robbins program so I knew I’d be in for a treat. The program consisted of two pieces: The hour long Dances at a Gathering (which I’d never seen before) and the West Side Story Suite (which I’d seen several times before.) Both were fantastic.

Dances at a Gathering really did seem like dances at a gathering. The whole piece felt like a school dance flashback. First, we watched a solo male dancer as if he was dancing a memory, moving about the stage with a both wistful expression and a slight hesitancy. Watching him, I felt like was watching him get ready for the dance. Next we saw a couple, perhaps on their way to the dance, also dancing from memory. They danced around each other with a youthful playfulness as they relived a bygone era. The next couple came out with such exuberance – they must have been at the dance already – and were energetic and fun. The whole group of ten dancers (mostly principal, with a couple of soloists) was extraordinary; the dances were like little tableaus you might see at a dance. First you watch this group dance. Then this couple. Then this trio with partner swapping. One boy-boy pas de deux could have been subtitled “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better.” And watching two virtuosic dancers show off for each other was a real treat. Standout dancers from this piece included the gravity defying Jonathan Stafford, the nimble and skilled Jared Angle and the whimsical Maria Kowroski.

After an intermission that was full of fun people watching came the West Side Story Suite. This is how West Side Story is supposed to be danced. I love seeing this piece because it’s the best of West Side Story – the music and the dancing. In the Suite, which Robbins adapted for ballet after adapting some of the numbers for Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, we’re treated to the song and dance of the prologue, “Something’s Coming”, the dance, “Cool”, “America”, the rumble and “Somewhere”.

The prologue started it off. You know how it goes. The snap that turns into snaps that turns into rough-and-tumble gang boys leaping across the stage. Watching the Jets and Sharks jete in unison is nearly breathtaking. Next is “Something’s Coming”. Benjamin Millepied was playing Tony and watching him bound across the stage asking “who knows, could it be…” made me want to be that thing that was “twitching at the dance.” At that dance, the Jets and the Sharks let off steam the only way musical theatre characters know how: Through dance. I remember watching the movie of West Side Story as a kid and wanting to learn the entire dance routine. I still do! The dance is also where Tony and Maria meet. I always liked their tender encounter, with the wilting knee circles and the snaps. Millepied and soloist Kathryn Morgan did not disappoint.

Once Tony and Maria meet, Bernardo immediately tries to put the kibosh on the fledgling romance, raising temperatures for all the Sharks and the Jets. So, the Jets go to cool off. “Cool” is such a cool number. It’s different in the show from what’s in the movie with regard to its context and tone, but the beautiful choreography remains the same. This group of 13 dancers, led by the talented principal dancer Andrew Veyette as Riff, snap, crackle and pop across the stage with uncontrollable teen angst. These kids just have to get something off their chests and in each leg lift or jump or jazz hand, you see that energy coursing through their body. Same goes for the Sharks’ ladies, led by the sassy Anita. Played by corps de ballet member Georgina Pazcoguin, Anita is vibrant as she and the ladies rejoice in the freedom found in America.

Next is the rumble and the “Somewhere” ballet. Both are done very well here. The rumble is pretty standard. There isn’t too much impressive dancing to be done but the music is phenomenal (thanks, Leonard Bernstein) and the goings on are integral to the story. Finally, the Suite ends with “Somewhere”. Someone should tell Arthur Laurents that this is how the sequence is done. No random child singing with Tony and Maria. Just a heavenly place where the lovers can be together and where the two sides can come together – no more fighting – and just be one. It’s is beautiful and powerful, and a wonderfully bittersweet end to the Suite.

The greatness of the Suite reminded my why West Side Story is one of the greatest American musicals of all time but it also made me upset that the current revival of the entire show isn’t up to par. I fear that young people coming to see West Side Story at the Palace won’t be inspired to engage in musical theatre or dance the way that I’ve been by great theatre over the years. I mentioned this to a friend and he suggested that perhaps it’s because of my knowledge of theatre and my discerning taste that I have that view; that maybe kids with little or no exposure will watch the revival and, not knowing it could be greater than good, will be inspired. I hope he’s right. For now, I’m just going to listening to my West Side Story tribute album, featuring Selena singing “A Boy Like That” and Chick Corea and Steve Vai dueling it out in percussive virtuosity during the rumble.

Later on Saturday night, I headed over to Joe’s Pub to catch “The Bare Bones of Joe Iconis and Michael R. Jackson”. Joe Iconis is a songwriter I’ve been following for a few years. He’s my peer with a loyal following, particularly among the NYU theatre crowd. (He’s an NYU alum.) Usually, Iconis’s shows are jamborees, with him at piano and tons of friends helping him out on guitar, drums, kazoos and vocals. These are raucously fun events, but Saturday night’s program was more stripped down. Jackson and Iconis relied on a piano, a guitar for one number and a few guest vocalists who helped them out on several numbers. Jackson’s songs are a little darker and don’t quite stand on their own as well as Iconis’s do. You see, many of both songwriters’ songs are taken from musicals they have written or are writing. Iconis’s songs are witty and snappy and can hold their own on their own. Overall, the bare bones sounded great, and it’s always a good time when you’re spending the night at one of the best live venues in town.

On Sunday, I saw Hair for the 11th time. I totally get why Spinal Tap like to take it to 11. The show was awesome, as always. The treat, for me, was seeing Paris Remillard (who is staying with the NY Tribe once the other Hippies cross the pond) go on for Claude. You could tell he was having a great time with the role and I really liked some of the choices he made in order to make this his Claude. The bonus to all this was that I was there with my family. My younger cousins see me post things about Hair on Facebook on a daily basis so it was especially nice to get to share the Age of Aquarius with them. It was even nicer when one of them came with me to dance on stage during the curtain call. It is always a wonderful way to release all the energy and emotion that has built up during the show. The extra-bonus was spotting pond-jumping Luther Creek taking notes in the audience and chatting with him after the show. (Fun side note: Luther was the first Roger I ever saw in Rent.) He’ll be playing Woof in London, a role originated in this iteration by the magnetic Bryce Ryness. Luther seemed truly excited to get a crack at the show and even a little reverential to be filling Bryce’s shoes. Have a jolly good time, Luther, et al, and break your bones!