With two exhibits in as many continents in less than one year, emerging artist Vaughan Risher is realizing his ambitions. His first exhibit Colorful Greys showed in London, December 2016.
Risher has a certain purpose in a new exhibit entitled Calyx at TAJ ART Gallery. It is to highlight the beauty in things that we tend to take for granted.
Calyx is an exhibit of photographic artworks at TAJ ART in Eagle Rock, showing June 17 to July 1. Risher, 38, is a multimedia artist working in photography, paint, digital collage, graphic art and film. He notes that all of these different mediums and technologies interact.
Just as those mediums and technologies intermingle, our own interaction with nature is the driving force of Calyx. A selection of photographs from four artists serves to mark the artistry of Mother Nature herself. Ted Dayton, Kaz Kipp, Edgar Kim and Vaughan Risher will each bring to light the beauty of our world with their artworks.
Part of the curator’s statement notes, Calyx delves into the beauty found in nature all around us, while simultaneously evoking the beauty within the viewer.
We often overlook this connection to beauty within both nature and ourselves. It is precisely that — the sometimes overlooked — that Risher strives to illuminate in his works.
“There’s a clear sense of innocence and wonder in the query of his practice; it’s almost as if he is seeing his subject for the first time ever,” said Erika Hirugami, the exhibition curator. “I had the privilege to see him shoot some of the images selected for the show and he is restless. He will examine the subject until he achieves something rarely seen….. From my days at [Museum of Latin American Art], I have truly grown to believe that there are amazing artists in Long Beach and I am happy that I get to highlight the work of one of them.”
Risher has four works in Calyx. In each one, light is prominently featured. His late father, Christopher Risher, a renowned architect and artist, and his artist mother, Catherine Howard Vaughan, raised the young Risher to appreciate light.
While obtaining a fine arts degree in filmmaking, he developed a defect in his field of vision after a grueling 70-hour music video editing session. Ghostly double images started to appear whenever he looked at bright lights, causing him to feel lost in what he referred to as “a sea of glow.” Eventually, after spending some months distressed, this feeling of loss didn’t become more acute. Instead, he became fascinated by it, using it to provoke and stimulate his artistry.
Every time he saw the color of white light — which he clarified was actually a range of colors — he would see the actual color of light rather than just white. After seeing colors of light combined with his experience of ghosting, he felt he had a unique vision of the world even though his vision had been compromised. He wants to share this vision in his photos.
“It’s a study in contrast, how light works with the world,” Risher said. “We see light because of dark.”
Multimedia artist Doug Aitken is a great inspiration to Risher. Upon attending Aitken’s show Electric Earth at the Museum of Contemporary Art at Geffen this past year, Risher felt an instant kinship. He said Aitkin blended a mastery of cinematography and sound design with technical precision and sophistication to realize a masterpiece of modern conceptual art.
Aitken’s achievements were inspirational to Risher.
“Throughout his career, he blended disciplines whenever he could and worked in every medium that caught his interest,” Risher said. “Though he had photography at the show, he wasn’t a photographer. Though he had sculpture at the show, he wasn’t a sculptor. Though he had film at the show, he wasn’t a filmmaker. At the same time, he was all of those things.
“Although I am in the beginning stages of my art career, I see my goals the same way, above and beyond the medium in which I work.”
Visual elegance is captured in the photography within Calyx. All of the photographs are one of a kind pieces, none of which will ever be printed again to sell.
TAJ ART Gallery is a participant in the Pacific Standard Time LA/LA, (Latin American and Latino Art in Los Angeles). It exhibits works by renowned and emerging artists. A closing reception is scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m. July 1 at Taj Art Studio Gallery, 1492 Colorado Blvd. in Los Angeles.
To trumpet player, composer and producer Christian Scott, expression is supreme. His stretch music is a conversation of different cultures from both today and the past.
Scott, who performed a show June 4 at the Roxy in Hollywood, expresses a musical diaspora including West African sounds, hip-hop, funk, trap, Caribbean, New Orleans bounce and, of course, jazz.
Scott, or Christian aTunde Adjuah — as he’s been known since changing his name — speaks on matters of both social injustice and the heart through his song titles and compositions.
With stretch music, he creates a language that with which everyone can identify. His fans were just as diverse as the music.
Members of his quintet were featured heavily in this show. Flautist Elena Pinderhughes kicked off the opening number, mesmerizing the audience. Her energy was subtle, fluid and unstoppable.
On another hip-hop-flavored number, Scott led in with an extended haunting echo in his horn. As the beat soon quickened, Pinderhughes jumped in. The swirls of complementary forces merged in harmonic masculine and feminine expression.
A great surprise followed. Bass and drums carried through a bluesy opening on the keys that dropped into a deep funk. Gripped into a huge groove, the room was unsuspectingly arrested by a crystal clear tone of the trumpet. Out walked the prodigious Theo Croker with the sound of his horn raining down. Scott joined Croker and Pinderhughes’ flute completed the crescendo.
Croker and Scott both come from musical DNA and they have been playing together since they were 10 and 12 years old, respectively.
Scott described his band as building something as a collective. He was equally in awe, with good reason, of each individual player in his quintet. Scott said his keyboardist Lawrence Fields “decodes seemingly disparate vernaculars of music and makes it fit.” Drummer Corey Fonville is “strong and dedicated.” Fonville wanted to join the ensemble at 13. That didn’t happen but he diligently waited until the time came when he could join. Of Pinderhughes, Scott said she “plays in a space musically that (Scott) has never let anybody into.” In an emotionally dense moment, when she was only 17 years old, the flautist made Scott reevaluate how he communicated music. Now at 22, he said she is also one of the best singer-songwriters of this time. Bass player Kristopher Funn brings a powerful resonant sound that was felt throughout the night. Together, this group is a powerful force.
Scott announced that the band is working on a Centennial Trilogy project that represents the first 100 years of jazz. It is made up of his albums: Ruler Rebel, released this past March; Diaspora, to be released in June and The Emancipation Procrastination, which does not have a release date as of yet.
Ruler Rebel characterizes the beginning of jazz rhythms and the dialect played over those rhythms to come out of New Orleans. It includes Afro-Native American music, New Orleans bounce and trap-influenced beats.
Diaspora is about seemingly distinct cultures that are actually one family. Its influences are from Nordic pop music, traditional Korean music, impressionist music and Russian classical music. It stretches out, showing connectivity between these civilizations which have related rhythmic bases.
This intersectionality of music is something Scott strives to illuminate as a way of life, which he will explore further in the third album. The Emancipation Procrastination is about reexamining the way people interact and communicate with each other.
They closed with a serene number called The Last Chieftain. Scott, who is part Native American, said it is only heard at the pow wow’s he attends. As Fonville unleashed a backdrop of Native American drum beats, Scott’s trumpet echoed sensuously above the vibrations.
Before the night ended, Scott said two true things happen in society. First, generally we all fully agree with each other to help and second, we celebrate successes too early. He said the younger generation has an opportunity to eradicate social ills and corruptive situations.
He illustrated with the example of the passing of Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which restored worker protections against pay discrimination. From this then, Scott said women need to reach out to help [people of color] and then they need to reach out and help the LGBTQ population.
“People need to stand up for each other,” Scott said. “Class warfare is here. If you see something going on, address it. You saw it. Don’t build and combine tribes, states and nations with hate; create a space of love.”
By Jesse N. Marquez, Founder and Executive Director of Coalition for a Safe Environment
A Wilmington Emergency Preparedness Plan and Community Evacuation Maps are being prepared by the Coalition For A Safe Environment from a grant awarded by The Harbor Community Benefit Foundation. What makes this project unique is that a community organization is leading the project with a Wilmington resident Community Advisory Committee participating to assure that information and maps prepared can be easily understood by residents in a real emergency.
Port harbor communities face unique challenges when it comes to preparing for natural disasters and industrial accidents, which can occur at a port or as freight is being transported out of a port to a customer.
The general public is accustomed to hearing news about earthquakes and preparing for the “Big One,” but how do you prepare for a Tsunami? We are always told that a big Tsunami can never occur here but that is not necessarily true, one can occur if there is nearby offshore underwater earthquake and if there is supper large earthquake up in Alaska, which sends waves down the western U.S. coast.
A Tsunami out at sea can travel as fast as 500 mph, can be over 100 feet tall and travel miles inland. You cannot outrun a Tsunami when it arrives on a coast and a Tsunami destroys everything in its path. These are some of the real facts we have to consider.
The Port of Los Angeles has petroleum marine terminals, which import jet fuel, gasoline, diesel fuel, ship bunker fuels and partially refined fuels. These get processed to meet California’s strict air pollution standards. What do you do when an earthquake hits and a ship is unloading jet fuel at a dock. The reality is that the ship and storage tanks on the dock will probably blow-up and burst into flames.
What do you do if a big rig truck traveling north on the Harbor Freeway crashes or a train on the Alameda Corridor derails and they are carrying barrels of toxic chemicals, which turn into a toxic gas cloud when released into the atmosphere?
What if the earthquake hits at night, there is no power, all the lights are out, you are a single mother with four children and the car is not running, what do you do?
These are some of the challenges, questions and ideas that are being researched by this grant project team. The project has created a Wilmington Community Advisory Committee so that residents understand the difficulty in finding solutions and can participate in choosing the best alternatives.
The project will create a Wilmington Emergency Preparedness Plan in English and Spanish for residents to use to assist them in preparing their families for a major disaster or emergency. Six different Community Evacuation Bilingual Maps will be designed and printed, one for an earthquake, tsunami, truck crash, train derailment, petroleum terminal incident or port property chemical release.
The project, when near complete, will also be presented to the Port of Los Angeles, City of Los Angeles and other governmental agencies for their review and comment. The project is expected to be completed by October 2017.
It is the Coalition For A Safe Environment’s plan to submit an additional grants to prepare an Emergency Preparedness Plan and Evacuation Maps for all harbor communities with the next being San Pedro.
Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre is collaborating with Los Angeles Opera, Los Angeles Maritime Institute and marine research incubator AltaSea to bring an immersive art experience to the Los Angeles Maritime Institute’s twin Tall Ships in San Pedro.
Heidi Duckler, a choreographer renowned for “site specific” performances — that is, a performance that is tied to a location — has taken her dance company around the world since 1985. The nomadic troupe has no permanent performance space. Instead, it brings the audience out of the dark setting of theater and into the radical environment of everyday spaces.
Nevertheless, the Tall Ships in San Pedro would not be considered an everyday place, unless you were part of a sailing crew in the 16th century. This is where the dance-opera story of sirens and sailors will resurrect a multi-sensory work that tackles themes of collaboration, sustainability and the influence of humanity on the environment.
The performance began as collaboration between AltaSea and the Duckler Dance Theatre.
Duckler will bring her company to San Pedro for the unique performance, which will celebrate the history and aesthetic of the Tall Ships juxtaposed with the contemporary volume of traffic in the port, contextualizing the performers by connecting past and present within the piece.
The performance gives a nod to the 100th birthday of Leonard Bernstein, the composer of the soundtrack for On The Waterfront, the Elia Kazan film.
“We have our own composer, who has based his music on the process of Leonard Bernstein, which is in the style of mise-en-scène — creating multiple scenes within a scene … very much how Elia Kazan also directed,” Duckler said.
She said this is also how she choreographs her performances. Her objective is to use every aspect of the reality that is present in the environment. The ships and sounds of horns and sea gulls are evocative of where the audience views the performance. This is how Duckler has staged previous performances in more than 200 diverse locations such as laundromats, parking lots and hospitals. In her TED Talk, Duckler stated that it is her goal to reveal the substance of our lives.
The Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre dancers Teresa “Toogie” Barcelo, Isaac Huerta, Corina Kinnear, Jillian Meyers and Ryan Walker Page will be joined by Los Angeles Opera singers soprano Jamie Chamberlain, soprano Lisa Eden (2017 Grammy Award, Best Opera Recording) and mezzo-soprano Melissa Treinkman as the sirens with an original score by composer Juhi Bansal. The audience will sit on the wharf of City Dock No. 1, the oldest pier at the Port of Los Angeles.
Time: 8 p.m. June 24 Cost: $50 Details: (213) 536-5820; heididuckler.org/beyond-the-waterfront Venue: Port of Los Angeles, 2456 S. Signal St., Berth 58, San Pedro
June 23 Clayton Cameron Sextet
Clayton Cameron has a dynamic career that has already crossed many barriers in the world of music. Time: 6 p.m. June 23 Cost: Free Details: www.lacma.org Venue: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles
Learn new dance moves and show them off in a judgment-free zone. Times: 7 to 10 p.m. June 23 Cost: Free Details: http://grandparkla.org/event/dancedowntown Venue: Grand Park, 200 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
Artie Webb, Dan Weinstein
Dance your face off with live salsa and Latin jazz, then stuff it back on with food from the market. Time: 7 to 9 p.m. June 23 Cost: Free Details: www.farmersmarketla.com Venue: The Original Farmers Market, 6333 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles
June 24 Suite for Ma Dukes, New Originals
Miguel Atwood-Ferguson pays homage to hip-hop producer-rapper J Dilla. Times: 8 p.m. June 24 Cost: Free Details: www.grandperformances.org Venue: Grand Performances, 300 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
June 24 Concert under the Guns
Experience the sounds of the Battleship Iowa. The event will include food trucks, beverages and fireworks. Time: 6:30 p.m. June 24 Cost: Free Details: (877) 446-9261 Venue: Battleship Iowa, Pacific Battleship Center, 250 S. Harbor Blvd., San Pedro
June 24 The Annual Bayou Festival in Rainbow Lagoon Park
In its 31st year, the Long Beach Bayou Festival is proud to continue its time-honored legacy in the city by the sea. The Long Beach Bayou Festival offers patrons a weekend filled with cultural music, cuisine and dance from a place called home — New Orleans and the Louisiana Bayou Country. Time: 12 p.m. June 24 and 25 Cost: $21 to $31 Details: http://longbeachbayou.com Venue: Rainbow Lagoon Park, 400 Shoreline Drive, Long Beach
June 24 Young Pianist Showcase
The Studio of Dr. Linda Govel presents a Young Pianist Showcase and Awards Recital.
Her students have won prestigious awards, including Artists of the Future Concerto Competition, Bellflower Concerto Competition, Long Beach Mozart Festival Concerto Competition and Concerto Fest Austria. Time: 4 p.m. June 24 Cost: $15 Details: https://alvasshowroom.com Venue: Alvas Showroom, 1417 W. 8th St., San Pedro
June 25 Nori Tani
This Japanese jazz band is comprised of players who graduated from universities in Japan. Time: 4 p.m. June 25 Cost: $30 Details: https://alvasshowroom.com Venue: Alvas Showroom, 1417 W. 8th St., San Pedro
June 25 Rancho Los Cerritos Concert
The Rancho’s popular free concerts are back this year, kicking off with The Mastersons, a Los Angeles-based duo. For the past seven years, The Mastersons have kept up a supremely inexorable touring schedule, performing as both the openers for Steve Earle and as members of his band, The Dukes. Time: 4:30 to 7 p.m. June 25 Cost: Free Details: rancholoscerritos.org Venue: Rancho Los Cerritos, 4600 Virginia Road, Long Beach
June 25 Gray Caballeros
Favorite local band, Michael Herzmark and friends play classic rock ’n’ roll. It is the best of pop, country, and rhythm and blues hits from the 60s and 70s. Time: 4 p.m. June 25 Cost: $20 to $30 Details: www.grandvision.org/grand-annex/events.asp Venue: Grand Annex, 434 W. 6th St., San Pedro
June 26 Salt Petal
The Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association presents the kick-off of this summer’s Concerts in the Park(ing Lot) with a performance by Salt Petal.
Los Angeles-based collective invigorates audiences and critics alike with a tropical surf sound in a category all its own. Time: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. June 26 Cost: Free Details: (562) 426-9115 Venue: Georgie’s Place, 3850 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach
June 27 Long Beach Municipal Band
Celebrate 107 years of the Long Beach Municipal Band. Come out with your friends and family for music under the stars. Time: 6:30 p.m. June 27 Cost: Free Details: (562) 570-1710 Venue: Whaley Park, 5620 E. Atherton St., Long Beach
June 28 Long Beach Municipal Band
The Long Beach Municipal Band kicks off its 108th season with the theme of “Strike Up the Bands.” This is a salute to the Big Band Era when Swing was king and dance floors across the nation resounded with the music of great dance bands such as Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Glen Miller and Duke Ellington. Time: 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. June 28 Cost: Free Details: http://tinyurl.com/LBCerritosParkDirectory Venue: Los Cerritos Park, 3750 Del Mar Ave., Long Beach
June 30 Floyd & The Fly Boys
Chill out to some blues and rhythm and blues, then chow down with food from the market. Time: 7 to 9 p.m. June 30 Cost: Free Details: www.farmersmarketla.com Venue: The Original Farmers Market, 6333 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles
Chill out with live jazz in front of the museum. Time: 6 p.m. June 30 Cost: Free Details: www.lacma.org Venue: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles
June 30 DJ Nights
Dance, dance and dance some more. Time: 9 p.m. June 30 Cost: Free Details: http://grandparkla.org Venue: Grand Park, 200 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
July 1 ShipKicker
The Queen Mary goes country once again with ShipKicker, the annual country music festival at the Queen Mary Events Park. The lineup includes: Lee Brice, Jerrod Nieman, The Swon Brothers and James Rensink. In addition to a full day of some of the greatest live music the country scene has to offer, ShipKicker will offer concert-goers line-dancing lessons, food vendors, a beer garden, cocktails, mechanical bull rides and yard games. Time: 1 p.m. July 1 Cost: $49 to $59 Details: www.queenmary.com Venue: The Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach
July 7 James Intveld
Enjoy a bit of country, then chow down with food from the market. Time: 7 to 9 p.m. July 7 Cost: Free Details: www.farmersmarketla.com Venue: The Original Farmers Market, 6333 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles
July 9 Sabine Trio
Sabine is widely respected as an award winning classical pianist in the United States and Europe. She also is respected greatly as major jazz pianist from her work with Scotty Barnhart Quintet. Time: 4 p.m. July 9 Cost: $20 Details: https://alvasshowroom.com Venue: Alvas Showroom, 1417 W. 8th St., San Pedro
July 9 The Pine Mountain Logs
The Pine Mountain Logs play covers that range from Led Zeppelin to OutKast and everyone in between. Time: 5 to 7 p.m. July 9 Cost: Free Details: http://tinyurl.com/MB-Summer-Concerts Venue: 1601 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach
July 14 Jennifer Keith Quintet
Enjoy classic American jazz and swing, then chow down with food from the market. Time: 7 to 9 p.m. July 14 Cost: Free Details: www.farmersmarketla.com Venue: The Original Farmers Market, 6333 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles
Dance, dance, and dance some more. Time: 9 p.m. July 14and 28 Cost: Free Details: http://grandparkla.org/calendar Venue: Grand Park, 200 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
July 15 L’orchestre Afrisa International
Explore polyrhythms and guitar jams with Afro-Cuban and pan-African styles. Time: 8 p.m. July 15 Cost: Free Details: www.grandperformances.org Venue: Grand Performances, 300 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
July 15 Artyom Manukyan Trio
Cellist Artyom Manukyan first made his name as a musician to watch in his native Armenia and traveled the world as the youngest member of the BBC World Music Award-winning Armenian Navy Band.
Currently living in Los Angeles, Artyom is equally at home on the stages of jazz clubs, concert halls and rock festivals, performing with major international artists. Time: 8 p.m. July 15 Cost: $20 Details: https://alvasshowroom.com Venue: Alvas Showroom, 1417 W. 8th St., San Pedro
July 16 Blue Breeze Band
The Blue Breeze Band is an eclectic mix of Motown, soul, funk, jazz, blues and rhythm and blues. Time: July 16 Cost: Free Details: http://tinyurl.com/MB-Summer-Concerts Venue: Polliwog Park,1601 Manhattan Beach Blvd, Manhattan Beach
This a free dance party celebrating Los Angeles’ house music scene, featuring music from Kristi Lomax, Thee Mike B, Lars Behrenroth and Mark de Clive-Lowe. Time: 2 to 8 p.m. July 16 Cost: Free Details: http://grandparkla.org Venue: Grand Park, 200 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
June 23 Frida
The Long Beach Opera brings a mix of mariachi and ragtime jazz to the life of Frida Kahlo. Time: 8 p.m. June 23 Cost: Free Details: www.grandperformances.org Venue: Grand Performances, 300 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
June 29 The Taming of the Shrew
For Shakespeare by the Sea’s 20th anniversary season, community members will be able to enjoy William Shakespeare’s famous comedy The Taming of the Shrew. The professionally crafted productions are presented free. Time: 8 p.m. June 29, July 1 and 7, and Aug. 19 Cost: Free Details: www.shakespearebythesea.org/wp/calendar Venue: Point Fermin Park, 807 Paseo Del Mar, San Pedro
June 30 Macbeth Macbeth explores the damaging physical and psychological effects of political ambition on those who seek power for its own sake. Time: 8 to 10 p.m. June 23, 24 and 30, July 6 and 8, and Aug. 18 Cost: Free Details: www.shakespearebythesea.org/wp/calendar Venue: Point Fermin Park, 807 Paseo Del Mar, San Pedro
July 9 The Taming of the Shrew
For Shakespeare by the Sea’s 20th anniversary season, community members will be able to enjoy William Shakespeare’s famous comedy The Taming of the Shrew. The professionally crafted productions are presented free. Time: 7 p.m. July 9 Cost: Free Details: www.shakespearebythesea.org/wp/calendar Venue: Fred Hesse Jr. Community Park, 29301 Hawthorne Blvd., Rancho Palos Verdes
June 25 A New View A New View features new member artist Susan Soffer Cohn, jewelry artist Nancy Comaford and painter Parrish Nelson Hirasaki. Time: 4 to 7 p.m. through June 25 Cost: Free Details: (310) 265-2592; artists-studio-pvac.com Venue: Artists’ Studio Gallery at Promenade on the Peninsula, 550 Deep Valley Drive, #159, Rolling Hills Estates
June 26 Urbano
Marymount California University Arts & Media Presents UrbanoBy Dario Gonzalo Tavoni. URBANO by Dario Gonzalo Tavoni is a series of physical and digital paintings, which adapt characteristics of graffiti art to depict feelings and concerns toward judgment and society. Time: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, through June 26 Cost: Free Details: (310) 303-7311 Venue: MCU Klaus Center for the Arts, 430 W. 6th St., San Pedro
July 8 Riverrun
Ray Carofano’s Riverrun is a suite of photographs capturing seldom seen images of the 51-mile storm drain still flatteringly called the Los Angeles River. Carofano turns his subject into the narrator. The river narrates itself as it makes you want to look and, more importantly, look again.
The exhibition runs through July 8. Time: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays Cost: Free Details: (310) 315-3551, firstname.lastname@example.org Venue: DNJ Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave. Suite J1, Santa Monica
July 9 National Watercolor Society Member’s Show
The exhibit is juried by nationally known Bob Burridge. The artwork ranges from realistic to non-objective and features 89 paintings. Time: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, and 12 to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through July 9 Cost: Free Details: (424) 225-4966 Venue: National Watercolor Society, 915 S. Pacific Ave., San Pedro
June 9 Justin Favela: Gracias, Gracias, Thank You, Thank You!
Following a tradition of social commentary practiced by notable Latino artists such as Coco Fusco, John Jota Leaños, and Alejandro Diaz, Justin Favela’s pinata-shaped sculptures meld memory with humor to reveal difficult to communicate experiences of identity and place. Time: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays, and 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays, through July 9 Cost: Free Details: www.pvartcenter.org Venue: Palos Verdes Art Center, 5504 Crestridge Road, Rancho Palos Verdes
July 30 From The Desert to The Sea: The Desolation Center Experience
Before the era of Burning Man, Lollapalooza and Coachella, Desolation Center drew punk and industrial music fans to the far reaches of the Mojave Desert for the first of five events, “Mojave Exodus,” in April of 1983. Cornelius Projects pays tribute to Desolation Center’s pioneering vision with an exhibition featuring painting, photography, sculpture, video and ephemera. Time: 12 to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays, through July 30 Cost: Free Details: (310) 266-9216 Venue: Cornelius Projects Gallery, 1417 S. Pacific Ave., San Pedro
June 25 Grunion Run Schedule
Cabrillo Marine Aquarium’s Fish-tival celebrates all things grunion. Grunion may be collected by people with a valid 2017 California Fishing licence and by hand only. No license is required for those younger than 16. Time: 11 p.m. June 25 and 11 July, 10:40 p.m. July 24 Cost: Free Details: www.cabrillomarineaquarium.org Venue: Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, 3720 Stephen M. White Drive, San Pedro
Miss Belize California Beauty Pageant 2017
Contestants representing the districts, towns and communities of Belize compete for the crown of Miss Belize California 2017-2018. Time: 4 to 9 p.m. June 25 Cost: $12.99 Venue: SOL Venue, 313 E Carson St., Carson
June 30 Cars & Stripes Forever!
Cars & Stripes Forever!® is a free community celebration to kick off Independence Day weekend, featuring a classic car show (with more than 100 cars built before 1971), an exotic car display, live bands, food trucks, a beer garden and a grand fireworks finale. Time: 5 to 10 p.m. June 30 Cost: Free Details: http://tinyurl.com/POLA-Cars-Stripes Venue: 600 N. Harbor Blvd., San Pedro
July 1 First Peoples, New Voices
Poetry, music and dance from various artists from indigenous North American communities. Time: 8 p.m. July 1 Cost: Free Details: www.grandperformances.org Venue: Grand Performances, 300 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
July 3 TransPac Race
The Transpacific Yacht Race, Transpac, is an offshore yacht race starting at the Point Fermin buoy in San Pedro and ending at the Diamond Head Lighthouse in Honolulu, a distance of about 2,225 nautical miles (2,560 miles). Started in 1906 by Clarence W. Macfarlane, it is one of yachting’s premier offshore races and attracts entrants from all over the world. Time: 1 p.m. July 3 Cost: Free Details:https://2017.transpacyc.com Venue: Point Fermin, 807 W. Paseo Del Mar, San Pedro
July 4 All-American Queen Mary
Enjoy an “All-American” summer aboard the Queen Mary. Come experience special live entertainment, family games, arts and crafts, special historic tours and a patriotic theatrical movie in the Queen Mary Theatre. Time: 2 p.m. July 4 Cost: $24 to $99 Details: www.queenmary.com Venue: The Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach
4th of July Block Party
Enjoy live performances, DJs, games, art and, of course, fireworks. Time: 2 p.m. July 4 Cost: Free Details: http://grandparkla.org/calendar Venue: Grand Park, 200 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
July 6 Beer 101
OK, maybe no live music, but there will be beer and knowledge. Time: July 6 Cost: Free Details: http://www.grandperformances.org Venue: Grand Performances, 300 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
July 7 Downtown Line Dance, Two Step
Learn new dance moves and show them off in a judgment-free zone. Time: 7 p.m. July 7 Cost: Free Details: http://grandparkla.org/calendar Venue: Grand Park, 200 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
July 8 Letters From Iraq
With a string quintet, oud and percussion, Rahim Alhaj explores challenges faced as an Iraqi political refugee. Time: 8 p.m. July 8 Cost: Free Details: www.grandperformances.org Venue: Grand Performances, 300 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
July 14 18th Annual Port of Los Angeles Lobster Festival
The Port of Los Angeles Lobster Festival, winner of four Guinness World Records is back. Maine lobster meals are flown in fresh daily and cooked on the spot. Time: 5 p.m. July 14, 11 a.m. July 15 and 16 Cost: $12 Details: https://lobsterfest.com/ Venue: Ports O’Call Village, San Pedro
July 20 Taste is (Almost) Everything
Become a better beer nerd. Time: 7 p.m. July 20 Cost: Free Details: www.grandperformances.org Venue: Grand Performances, 300 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
The Port of Los Angeles is a major contributor to Southern California’s economic system. In 2016, the Port of Los Angeles facilitated $272 billion in trade. One in nine jobs are connected to port operations. But not everyone benefits equally from port commerce.
On June 15, shopkeepers and truck drivers spoke to this inequity and pleaded for help at the Harbor Commissioners board meeting.
“Working at Ports O’Call Village is our way of life,” said Fernando Diaz, one of the long term tenants who owns botanic shop. “It is how we [workers] support our families. Now [the port and developers] want us out by October 2.”
About one year ago, the Los Angeles Harbor Commissioners approved a 50-year lease agreement with developers to overhaul Ports O’Call. But the developers, which include Jerico Development and the Ratkovich Co., are not expected to start renovations until 2020. The village tenants are confused and frustrated by the gap between displacement and new development.
Commissioners David Arian and Anthony Pirozzi expressed interest in going with port staff to meet tenants and explain what must happen in the next three years for Ports O’Call development to continue.
Michael Galvin, director of waterfront and commercial real estate at the port, explained the port’s rationale behind the gap.
“We are contractually obligated to deliver a certain parcel [of land] to the developer [by certain dates],” Galvin said. “Before we can turn the site over to developers we have to remove structures, remediate the site and prepare the sea wall. There is no way to do this without vacating the site.”
The tenants present understood this. But they objected to the port allowing more financially successful businesses, including the San Pedro Fish Market and Acapulco, to continue to operate.
“[That] is not fair, you and the developers are being selective and giving priority to the restaurants,” said Gloria Larajoni, owner of Dryer’s Ice Cream and three other shops. “We should meet and come to an agreement to all leave at the same time.”
Louie Cruz Beltran Embodies the Last Soldier of Spirituality
By Kym Cunningham, Contributing Writer
Although many musicians speak of feeling the rhythm of their music, few embody it the way that percussionist, singer and all-around musician Louie Cruz Beltran does. He has a kind of natural corporeality to his auditory artistry.
Beltran’s explanation of this was surprisingly simple.
“When you’re around something all of the time, it’s natural,” said Beltran, who grew up around music. “It’s like breathing and eating…. It was in our blood since we were kids.”
Beltran, who will perform at the 2017 Long Beach Bayou and Blues Festival, describes his percussion as an extension of his heartbeat. His varied harmonies surround him like skin and hair.
“[My] textures of voice, I picked up from everyone — everyone from Elvis to Frank Sinatra to Lisa Fernandez to … the great Mexican operatic mariachi singers,” Beltran said.
He is drawn to music born out of pain and suffering, the kind of naked beauty that only exists when music is stripped of its privilege.
“Growing up, I didn’t gravitate too much towards the rock ’n’ roll,” Beltran said. “I was more into a cultural sound. I loved the Afro-Latin sound. That’s what I fell in love with.”
It is this passion for music that has led Beltran to success, producing several hit singles and performing for crowds diverse as those at Dodger Stadium, the Playboy Jazz Festival and the Ronald Reagan Library. A regular headliner at the annual LA Vida Music festival, which celebrates the influence of Latino/a culture in the arts. Beltran has played alongside some of the most renowned artists of our time, including Tito Puente, Francisco Aguabella, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Poncho Sanchez and Santana.
“The highlight of my career has been playing with some of these great musicians,” Beltran said. “I’ve done a lot of associative gigs with just about everybody in the business.”
As demonstrated by the breadth of genres on his musical résumé, Beltran’s variety embodies California’s amalgamation of tastes and cultures. It is as though he has incorporated the heterogeneity of his home state into both his musical ethos and his very being.
A Family of Entertainers
Beltran comes by his musical talent honestly, originating from a long line of natural musicians.
“Music has always been in our family,” Beltran said. “At one time, my mom’s family were migrant workers; they worked the fields throughout the Southwest of the United States — Texas, California, Arizona. They followed the crops…. My grandfather and his brothers, they had acoustic guitars and they sang in the fields and during the evenings.”
Beltran’s mother carried on the aural tradition with her sisters. Growing up, she was a part of a five-piece gospel group and this spiritual connection with music translated into a lifelong passion.
But Beltran’s father — a great singer in his own right — also came from a lineage of musical performers.
“On my father’s side … we had a famous flute player who actually played a mass for the Pope,” Beltran said.
Louie Beltran’s brother, Robert, is also a renowned actor, famous for his role as Commander Chakotay on Star Trek: Voyager.
Beltran’s mother encouraged him and his brother to pursue their passion for the arts, while maintaining the importance of receiving a good education.
Even with the support of his mother, Beltran originally did not think that he wanted to pursue music professionally. In the 1970s, Beltran received his bachelor of arts in social work, while minoring in music. After he graduated, he got a 9-to-5 state job as a juvenile counselor, moonlighting musical gigs for fun. But then, Beltran was asked to audition for an rhythm and blues/Latin jazz ensemble, Starrfire. When he received a call-back from the band, he knew he had a life-altering decision to make.
“To give up a secure job … it was a big step and I took it,” Beltran said. “I just plunged right in and I never looked back.”
After touring the world with Starrfire, Beltran returned to the States to formulate his own band, which primarily plays gigs on the West Coast.
Under his mother’s tutelage, Beltran grew up collaborating with other people in music. He remembered that his mother would refuse to allow him and his brothers to sing in unison.
“She made us sing in harmony,” Beltran said.
As such, it makes sense that Beltran looks to other members of his musical community for artistic inspiration.
“I’m inspired by listening to music,” Beltran said. “I gather with other rumberos — that’s what we call guys who sit down and play congas. You pick up different rhythms and you pick up different styles…. You have to be open-minded.”
Beltran said that listening to music is like window-shopping. These myriad influences and the versatility that lies beneath may be the key to Beltran’s success.
A Stage Dynamo
But more than his incredible versatility, Beltran is known throughout the music industry for his dynamic stage presence. Onstage, Beltran jumps from little humorous one-liners to brief insightful history to music lessons to thought-provoking commentary on social issues.
“I try to make my audience know that we’re not just instruments on the stage playing; we have blood and skin; we have brains,” Beltran said. “[It’s] important to communicate a sense of what we do and [to] talk about present issues a little bit …. But you can’t have a guy up there talking all day because you’re there for my music.”
Beltran tailors each of his shows to his crowd, resulting in completely unique performances every single time.
“You have to have a gauge and read your crowd,” Beltran said. “I check out what kind of music is being played, I check out how people are vibing … and I follow through the best that I can.”
Education’s Undercover Ambassador
Beltran’s passion onstage easily translates to his passion for championing social justice issues, while also addressing the dearth of fine arts in public education. In many ways, Beltran viewed passing on his musical knowledge as part of his duty as a musician, recognizing how many people have helped him succeed in his career.
But more than just social responsibility, Beltran believes he can use music to connect to Californian students. Growing up Latino in California, Beltran remembered experiencing first-hand the prejudice that can derail a student of color’s educational pursuit. Beltran recalled that on the first day of school, his teacher had pointedly said, “‘No one here will speak Spanish.’”
“I knew who she was talking to: she wasn’t talking to the white kids,” Beltran said. “I saw in school how things could cause a child to feel negative, subconsciously, about his environment.”
Now, Beltran uses the positivity of his music to teach inclusive workshops at a variety of schools: he has worked with students at universities, private schools, farm labor camps and the under-resourced areas of South Central and East Los Angeles.
Beltran doesn’t just teach music in these workshops. Rather, he uses music as a vehicle for other knowledge.
During these workshops, Beltran will impart mini-history lessons, explaining that the rhythms in rap and rock ’n’ roll are derived from the beats of the conga drum, or that the music of coastal Mexico stems from the confluence of Aztec, Mayan and African cultures.
“I am a diplomat of education, an ambassador,” Beltran said. “I go out and relate music because I think music helps people be creative, to use their imagination. It helps them in any field they go into…. It’s the last soldier of spirituality.”
LB Bayou Festival
Beltran intends to bring this spirituality to life at the 2017 Long Beach Bayou and Blues Festival, leaving each listener with a piece of his soul. Attendees can expect a crossover of music on the part of Beltran, who will implement elements of everything from salsa to R&B to classical and Latin jazz.
“You got zydeco going all night and all day,” Beltran said. “Then Louie Beltran’s going to give you cake, but he’s also going to put a little bit of frosting and chocolate pudding on the top. They’re going to get chocolate with me, that’s for sure. I’m as brown as they come.”
Louie Beltran will be performing on the New Orleans Stage at the Bayou Festival at 3:30 p.m. on June 25.
China Shipping is moving its operations to the Port of Long Beach, leaving the Port of Los Angeles which was the subject of a landmark lawsuit settled in 2003. The lawsuit forever altered how environmental reviews are done under the California Environmental Quality Act.
But the underlying lease agreement remains. POLA has just released a supplemental environmental impact report, or SEIR, to compensate for 11 mitigation measures that were never implemented from the original EIR approved in September 2009, along lines set out in the settlement.
These two announcements were made almost simultaneously by POLA Executive Director Gene Seroka at the port’s board meeting on June 15; the announcements left a familiar air of distrust and confusion in their wake.
“This project is a long-standing example of how the port undermines the trust of the community,” said Kathleen Woodfield, vice president of the San Pedro Peninsula Homeowner’s Coalition, a plaintiff in the original China Shipping lawsuit.
“Does POLA and C[hina] S[hipping] skate out of doing the mandatory court case settlement mitigation?” asked Jesse Marquez, founder of Coalition for Safe Environment, in an email, citing signals of what was to come. “[The Natural Resources Defense Council] took the position of being patient and wait for the POLA to come with a plan to fix things. Now, we may get nothing.”
Not so, NRDC senior attorney Melissa Lin Perella told Random Lengths News.
“The CEQA document attaches to the permit or the lease,” she said. “It doesn’t move with the tenant.”
Still, there are troubling unanswered questions. “What’s really going on with the move to begin with?” And “What are the consequences?”
“China Shipping, and its future companies, including COSCO line have made a strategic decision to move cargo away from our Berth 100 at the Port of Los Angeles to their terminal in Long Beach, because they have less stringent mitigation measures at that facility,” Seroka told the Harbor Commissioners.
“This is another example of businesses choosing the Port of Long Beach because of our outstanding customer service and unrivaled environmental record,” said Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero, in contrast, via email.
“With China Shipping merged with COSCO, COSCO’s previously approved POLB Final EIR did not include China Shipping and therefore the significant extra environmental impacts are not being mitigated in Long Beach and Eastside Wilmington,” Marquez noted, earlier.
Things have been shifting for some time, POLA spokesman Phillip Sanfield told Random Lengths via email.
“China Shipping has moved about 60 percent of its cargo away from their terminal since July 2016,” he wrote. “Since then, independent liner service operators have been calling at the terminal under China Shipping’s existing permit. POLA, at that specific terminal, has seen a net loss of approximately 200,000 TEUs since last July.”
A spot check of daily records showed more Yang Ming ships than any other line but also Maersk, NYK and others.
Another question is who actually holds the lease at Berth 100. This past year, China Shipping merged with COSCO, China’s other mega-shipper, as part of an industry-wide wave of consolidation in the face of massive losses in the wake of the Great Recession. But the lease remains in China Shipping’s name, Sanfield said.
“If there is a change in the permit, it will go through the Harbor Commission and a public process,” he said.
Could this be yet another loophole for China Shipping to slip out of? It might seem farfetched, but after residents and environmentalists successfully sued the port for trying to build the terminal without an EIR, China Shipping turned around and successfully sued them for delaying the process. Then, China Shipping walked away from the 11 mitigation measures, which resulted in the latest SEIR. The port has a terrible record of failed relations with China Shipping. One more unexpected failure would surprise none of its critics in the community.
When Random Lengths sought further clarification, we ran into a brick wall.
“We are in the midst of the CEQA process for the SEIR,” Sanfield responded. “It’s not appropriate for the port to comment beyond what is in the document.”
Perella had not yet seen the SEIR, but explained that NRDC would be seeking to discover whether the port discloses “how much excess pollution was born by the community based on the full failure to implement certain mitigation measures for ships, trucks and equipment … [and ] if it discloses what the health and environmental consequences are from that failure — increased cancer risk, childhood asthma, premature deaths, all the normal great stuff. And then what the port is going to do about its failure.”
It will be interesting — but it starts off under decades-long cloud. None of the mess was created under the current leadership — from the mayor on down. In a sense, that’s exactly the problem. Even the best-intentioned individuals are only in place for a few years, while the projects they approve last for decades.
“The governing boards at the ports will change, several times at least, over the life of the lease, but the community and those that are harmed remain the same,” Perella said. “The community that was harmed back in the late 90s, when the port first violated CEQA is the same community that believed the port in 2008, that they were going to implement 52 mitigation measures. And, that’s the same community in 2017, that is grappling with the fact that the port broke its promise.”
“In my opinion, there was a concerted effort to keep the community in the dark, and that effort included terminating the PCAC, which was the strongest thread of consistent communication between the port and the community,” Woodfield said.
PCAC, the Port Community Advisory Committee, was created by Mayor James Hahn in 2001 and was given explicit oversight responsibilities in the 2003 China Shipping settlement. The port was obligated to monitor compliance at least annually in the Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Program, the last of which was produced in 2011, according to a Public Records Act request filed by Random Lengths. PCAC was disbanded at exactly the same time. With outside oversight gone, internal compliance stopped, too.
PCAC’s co-chair at the time, June Smith, understands why its presence was resented. She knows how port staff tends to see them.
“When it comes to the citizens, we’re always attacking them, we’re never supporting them,” Smith said. “We always want something that’s going to cost them money, or pain, or whatever. And so, that’s an immediate hurdle, as soon as you will walk in and talk to them.”
Smith is still considering how to change that.
“We as citizens have to learn to talk better to them, in terms of money, in terms of ultimate benefit,” she said. “The problem is that they might see that 20 years down the line, but they [have] a bottom line this year.”
“This terminal has been an endless debacle, with mayors, port staff and harbor commissioners moving in and out of power, taking actions without accountability and leaving the community to live with the consequences,” Woodfield said.
“The port has a history, with respect to this terminal, of both mismanaging the CEQA process, and what seems to me the business relationship with China Shipping,” she said. “The port has a lot of excuses for why it hasn’t implemented the mitigation measures they say that they were going to back in 2008. But at the end of the day, everyone, including government agencies, are only as good as their word and now they have an even longer history of broken promises with respect to China shipping terminal, and both in terms of CEQA compliance and mitigation.”
Everyone would like to believe the port has changed: the port’s stated goals certainly have. But the port continues to deny its history and the role played by community activists, dragging it kicking and screaming into its newfound “enlightened” state. To make this new reality really work, we have to re-learn how we got here, how not to repeat mistakes.
The ongoing tensions Smith spoke of “aren’t going to be resolved in any easy way,” but they can be addressed much more diligently.
“That’s what PCAC did,” she said. “It provided the forum for us to come together in comity and reasonableness when we had … to work things out. Now that that is gone, we’re back to the old ways of paranoia on both sides.”
It would be good, she suggests, for Mayor Eric Garcetti to “consider reconstructing something that will provide a forum to allow us to continue to work both short-term and long-term interests for the community, for the immediate community as well as the greater LA community, and the nation.”
Stakeholder working groups, which Garcetti has already committed to with respect to global warming goals, are a good idea. But they leave out the biggest stakeholders of all — the community as a whole, both current and future.
“My son was in a baby stroller when I first got involved,” Woodfield said. “Now he is in college.”
The symbolic swearing-in ceremony of Councilman Joe Buscaino took place simultaneously with the grand re-opening of the 290-acre Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park at Machado Lake on June 17. The former home of Reggie the Alligator, Harbor Regional Park is the crown jewel of Proposition O-funded projects to improve the water quality across Los Angeles. The park renovation cost some $111 million and took 54 years from the time the city purchased the property in 1971 to the present. For most of those years, the regional park was mostly ignored except by one man — Ken Malloy — who spent those years inspiring new generations with his vision. Malloy died in 1991, across from the park at Kaiser Hospital, never seeing the end results of his efforts.
Back in the 1950s and 1960s, locals still referred to the area as Bixby Slough, named after the cattle rancher who once owned much of the surrounding area and grazed his cattle on the hills of Palos Verdes.
It was mostly ignored by commuters driving off the hill heading to the aerospace factories in El Segundo and Hawthorne, before the Harbor Freeway was extended from Sepulveda Boulevard into San Pedro.
The “slough” was one of the historic wanders of the Los Angeles River that led to the bay, down to what is now North Gaffey Street, an area where the water table still resides just below the asphalt.
In the obituary that ran in 1991, Malloy was described, as the “San Pedro preservationist,” a retired longshoreman, one-time grocery store owner and early member of the California Conservation Corps. He was perhaps best known for leading the fight for the purchase of the 320-acre park by the City of Los Angeles. During his lifetime, Malloy not only spearheaded the development of the park’s overnight youth campground and wildlife sanctuary, “but also personally tended the grounds as meticulously as a gardener would care for a flowerbed.”
In our story covering the 2014 ground breaking, we wrote:
Ken Malloy’s love affair with Harbor Regional Park began before it was even considered a park. In 1937, when he bumped his car into some grazing cattle, it was pasture land bordered by oil wells to the south and east. According to a brief biography, written by his son Thomas, Malloy was a Teddy Roosevelt conservationist who loved the outdoors. Malloy was a member of several nature or environmental clubs, including the Izaak Walton League of America and the Sierra Club.
Malloy couldn’t leave the park alone, returning again and again until he was moved to organize like-minded people to lobby the city to buy the land and turn it into a park. Malloy fought many battles over the years, such as leading the charge to prevent the military from taking the White Point Navy property back to build Air force housing for its officers. Malloy’s efforts and mentoring turned out to be seeds he planted along the way.
Though they never met in life, Martin Byhower took up Malloy’s torch. He, along with his mentor and Audubon Society President Jess Morton, visionary and Park Advisory Board President Frank O’Brien and Park Advisory Board members JoAnn Valle, Joyce Fredericks, Greg Donnan and Roxy Lowe should have been celebrated for their volunteer efforts over the years to restore this park. Instead, the restoration of the park was used as one more “selfie” event to be posted on the councilman’s endless digital re-election campaign.
Even so, this landmark environmental restoration project with all of its family-friendly amenities can, in the end, only be viewed as a flawed solution. As I will once again remind the citizens of this area, along with exorcising many of the invasive species from Machado Lake, the Recreation and Parks Department also evicted some 167 homeless souls onto the streets of the surrounding communities, exposing one of the city’s greatest hypocrisies: a rogue alligator received better treatment than people in need.
Clearly, with any kind of forethought, the council office and the City of Los Angeles could have carved out one acre of the 290 for the purposes of creating an emergency shelter to address the homeless crisis. But they did not. It is a sad commentary om our elected leaders and our agencies that they are be so myopically focused on solving one problem. Then, when they literally stumble across a much bigger one, they don’t stop and ask, How do we solve both problems with one solution?”
Read more about Ken Malloy Park in the RLn archives at The 21st Century Johnny Appleseed, April 2014 RLn and see historic pictures of the area at http://www.utopianature.com/kmhrp/historical.html, and at http://tinyurl.com/Martin-Byhower.
When basing a work of art on historical figures or events, you should ask yourself: Would this be interesting if it were pure fiction? This must be an old adage, but it’s not popular enough, because too often such works seem to lean on the crutch of audience familiarity, as if the fact that we know/care about real-life such-and-such means the artist is halfway home before putting pen to paper or note to staff.
Too often they’re right. You would not believe how many times I hear audience members make clearly audible sounds of appreciation (“Mmm”) at any reference they recognize. Stick a bunch of pop-culture references in a comedy, and no matter how bad your jokes are, half the audience is automatically rolling in the aisles.
Without making any statement about her merits as a painter, Frida Kahlo is a pop icon. Everyone’s heard of her, and a lot of people love her and those well-deep eyes staring out beneath the world’s most famous unibrow. That fact alone means many people who otherwise would never go to the opera will come out for Robert Xavier Rodríguez’s Frida, and many who’d have no taste for it were it pure fiction will eat it up. I’m sorry to say that those are the only people to whom I can recommend this curiously conceived and poorly-fleshed-out work.
We meet Frida (Laura Virella, who definitely looks the part) as a rather leftist prep-school student (they study Marx) just as the Mexican Revolution is coming to an end. They look forward to being a generation that will realize the promise of a people whose country that has suffocated the proletariat for so long. A couple of years later Frida’s own promise nearly meets a premature end, as she narrowly survives a horrific bus accident. She is damaged for life, but a new artistry is born as she lay convalescing, painting the first of those now-famous self-portraits. “I was full of life dancing in a world full of color,” she sings. “[…] I’m old in an instant. […] Death dances around my bed at night, but I refuse to die. […] I’ll create the Frida I want to be.”
The second half of Act II is so centered on Diego Rivera (Bernardo Bermudez) that you start to wonder who this is really about. Diego has a falling out with the communists. Diego wants to move to America. Diego is the toast of New York. Diego gets a commission from Rockefeller. When Frida opens her mouth, it’s Diego, Diego, Diego. By the time she has a miscarriage just before intermission, she’s become as a supporting character in her own story.
To be fair, in real-life she was pretty damn into Diego back then, and he was definitely a big deal, so okay. Plus, Frida’s back at the center of things in Act II. Unfortunately, the plot here is so thin that if I tell you that Frida has a hard time with Diego’s philandering, Frida start philandering on her own, Frida paints, and Frida’s health deteriorates, I’ve given everything away but Trotsky. And while such a dearth of plot points is not necessarily a death sentence, Rodríguez and co-writers Hilary Blecher (book) and Migdalia Cruz (lyrics/monologues) committed a far less venial sin: they skimp on depth. Emotional exchanges between characters are expressed at a telenovela level, while expositional monologs (a lot in Frida is spoken rather than sung) are often so unadorned that it feels like this is workshop narrative holding the place for the eventual finished lines. A full scene of monolog that is Frida talking to her photographer lover (not even a character in the opera) adds nothing to the plot and brings the proceedings—which were weak on momentum, anyway—to an awkward halt. This exemplifies how most of Frida—and almost everything after the bus crash—simply skims the surface of Kahlo’s life, landing momentarily on a well-known plot point, then skipping on to the next.
All might be forgiven were Frida musically compelling, but I really don’t know what Rodríguez is trying to accomplish. His hodgepodge technique of drawing upon the Gershwin-esque, vaudeville (!), and a host of incongruent elements in unsatisfying short bursts (way too frequently concluded with a cymbal choke) left me cold and left no-one with a single melodic memory we could carry away with us. Just as puzzling is why Mexico is not more present in the score. Considering how fiercely Mexican Frida Kahlo was and how much of Frida takes place in Mexico, the statelessness of the music makes me wonder whether Rodríguez tried too hard play against perceived expectations of a Mexican-American composer writing about a Mexican woman.
Because Rodríguez’s style here is so momentum-averse, Frida‘s best musical moments never last long. There probably aren’t four songs—good or bad—that go three minutes without a drastic shift—and often such shifts come every 10 or 20 seconds. I was hoping the lovely flugelhorn-themed, marimba-backed opener of Act II would develop into an aria. Nope. I also would have loved more of the Greek chorus of Calaveras (Alejandra Martinez, Joanna Ceja, Jonathan Lacayo, and David Castillo, all of whom also play several other roles). They first appear during Frida’s bus crash, jumping in with a whiny warble of high-pitched monotone (a distinctly Mexican style of singing for which obviously I lack the proper term) that, along with a dramatic shift to red lighting, immediately transports us to another headspace. It’s an inspired move, but Rodríguez gives them only 15 seconds here and comes back to them maybe three more times in the entire opera (and only once at length). It was interesting and effective every time, and every time it put me in mind of the opera I wish Rodríguez had written.
Because Rodríguez gives his soloists so few opportunities to stretch their vocal legs, it’s hard to judge their performances. Clearly Virella is a solid mezzo-soprano, Bermudez’s baritone always rings out clear and true, and they are always within their comfort zones; we just never get to hear them explore or expose themselves at length, nor do we get to hear much interesting back-and-forth between them. The closest we get are a couple of all-cast numbers, but because of Rodríguez’s hodgepodge style, what is most compelling sonically is how the physical separation of the voices create auditory horizontal breadth.
Frida Kahlo is not going to lack for fans anytime soon. But considering that Frida gives us less insight into her life—and her soul, I’m afraid—than does her Wikipedia article, with as little as the music gives audience’s to hold on to, I doubt she’ll garner any new ones from the opera bearing her name. But if you’re already a fan, hey, it’s fun to see history brought to life, right?
FRIDA LONG BEACH OPERA • 562.432.5934 LONGBEACHOPERA.ORG • fridaY–SUNDAY 8PM • $29–$150; STUDENT RUSH TIX $15 • JUNE 23 @ Grand Performances (350 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 90071; JUNE 24–25 @ Museum of Latin American Art (628 Alamitos Ave., Long Beach 90802)