I had the honor of writing several pieces for the Santa Barbara Visitor’s Magazine this year, as well as serving as the copy editor. To read the magazine in its entirety, click here.
THE NEW MUSIC DIRECTOR OF NEW WEST SYMPHONY BRINGS HIS GRAMMY AWARD–WINNING TALENT TO THE VENTURA COUNTY ENSEMBLE’S 25TH SEASON.
After winning the 2019 Best Opera Recording Grammy Award for The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, New West Symphony’s (newwestsymphony.org) new music director Michael Christie is bringing his own kind of (r)evolution to the West Coast.
“We threw a lot at the audience,” Christie says of his first concerts in his new role with the Thousand Oaks–based symphony this past October. “Our concert format is slightly tweaked,” he says, “and we had our new venue [Rancho Campana Performing Arts Center in Camarillo], so people had a fair amount to take in.”
Patrons were treated to a Gershwin concerto, Corigliano’s “Salute” with kazoos, and a “Scheherazade” performance that Los Angeles Times critic Mark Swed praised as, “supplying far and away the most spectacular playing from what should no longer be considered a regional symphony.”
“The biggest difference,” says Christie, “is that we are using intermission as an opportunity for people to experience some new things if they choose.” This includes a question-and-answer session with the guest artist and an entr’acte. Up next is the global celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday on January 25 and 26, featuring the Eroica Trio, whom Christie calls, “three very vibrant, genius women who are just amazing [with] the energy that they bring.”
Christie has led top orchestras all over the world and served as music director for Minnesota Opera, The Phoenix Symphony, and the Brooklyn Philharmonic (now defunct). He now lives part-time in Ventura County, while his wife, Alexis, who is a physician, and their two children are in Minneapolis.
Much of the life of a musician-conductor is spent on the road, says Christie, a trumpeter, who first conducted when his middle school band director let him give it a try back in Buffalo, New York. “I was never sure how one became a conductor,” he says. “I just knew I wanted to know more about it. People were very generous with their time and always willing to answer questions.”
In February he’ll pay it forward with a one-month teaching and conducting stint at Indiana University. Christie is eager to communicate with students about the duties of an American music director, which he says, “are very specific to our particular situation of creating artistic vision and raising lots of money. It’s very particular to our country. I feel a great sense of responsibility for helping to convey that information, having lived it for the last 25 years. It’s fun to be asked to help the next generation start to figure that out.
“We [music directors] are the face of the organization in many ways,” Christie says. “We should be viewed by our audience as open, friendly, fun, and adventurous but also sensible, engaging, and concerned for our community, what it’s going through, and what it’s aspiring to be. And none of those words really say Mozart or Gershwin,” he says, laughing. “It’s all kind of wrapped together.”
The golden age of Hollywood glamour is alive and well at celebrity-makeup artist Ashley Ann Harris’ new The Starlet Studio (thestarletstudio.com) in Westlake Village. Taking inspiration from her grandmother Marilyn L. Riess—a dancer and background actor who appeared in films starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra—Harris says, “The studio was designed to emulate a starlet’s dressing room, but with a modern twist. It is a lush, old Hollywood atmosphere, where you can escape from the everyday and feel like a star with your own personal makeup artist in your private dressing room.”
Harris, who has worked with Brooke Shields, Anna Kendrick, and Hilary Duff, among others, says, “Just like your favorite celebrity getting ready for a red carpet event, you can now enjoy personalized makeup services.” Book early to glam up for the season’s holiday celebrations.
So, I had the honor of writing up the Santa Barbara Independent‘s Best of Santa winners this year. It was a huge, fun project. People were so happy to hear from me and so excited to have won! You can read the whole thing (203 winners at last count) by clicking here, or on the PDF below.
Falling down stairs, crashing motorcycles, and taking death-defying leaps off the sides of cliffs are all in a day’s work for Levi Gilbert, a 2017 Santa Barbara High School graduate who got his first Hollywood stunt job as soon as he turned 18 and was legally allowed to perform. This might seem like a crazy career choice to some, but stunt performing is in Gilbert’s blood. His grandfather Mickey Gilbert’s career dates back to the 1969 classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and his father, Lance Gilbert, was Mel Gibson’s personal stuntman.
“I got started doing stunt work with the guidance of my dad,” says the 20-year-old Gilbert, who has already appeared in TV series such as 9-1-1, 13 Reasons Why, Ballers, Daybreak, Silicon Valley, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as well as the upcoming Ford v Ferrari film, which is generating Oscar buzz. “He has always helped me by giving me every opportunity to learn something new and expand my skill sets.
“Directors know exactly what they want from the stunt performers, but it’s up to you to make it happen safely,” says the youngest of the Gilbert family stunt artists. “The most dangerous stunts I have done so far in my career would probably be stair falls.” He starred as a young naval lieutenant who fell to a dramatic death in an NCIS: New Orleans episode this year.
“Difficulty and danger often go hand in hand,” he says. “But for me the hardest stunt isn’t a stunt at all—it’s acting—which is something I am working on and trying to understand the art of.”
The beauty and artistry of ballet can belie the sometimes painful truths that exist behind the dance.
“Those dances by George Balanchine and other 20th-century neoclassical choreographers reveal how the idiom of classical ballet has institutionalized and subverted American racism,” said Ninotchka D. Bennahum, a professor of dance and performance studies at UC Santa Barbara.
These ballets — such as the iconic, Civil Rights-era Balanchine ballet “Agon” from 1957 — reveal the complex relationship ballet and preeminent cultural institutions share with racial consciousness in the United States before and after World War II, she added. “Dance artists asked to undertake these roles have the capacity, the moral responsibility to shift our consciousness or to raise our consciousness. No work of art belongs solely to its time,” Bennahum said.
These topics and others will be considered when distinguished scholars and world-class performers gather Monday, April 29 in UC Santa Barbara’s ballet studio for the colloquium “Race, Ballet, American Dance,” a day of discussion and demonstration. Co-curated by Bennahum and Stephanie Batiste, an associate professor of English and of Black studies, the conference is the inaugural event of the International Colloquium for the Study of Dance and Performance Studies.
“We will pose the question, ‘What is the value of these actual works of ballet as historical archive?”
Combining elements of live performance and music, discussion and filmography, the multidisciplinary colloquium — which is free and open to the public — will explore the critical role of art in capturing and commenting on American history, specifically examining how racism has been institutionalized in American classical ballet.
“The history of the civil rights movement is written by ballet choreographers and modern choreographers,” said Bennahum. “Dancing bodies play a vital role in getting audiences, in raising public awareness to issues of injustice, to issues of joy and love and sexuality, and things that are not so easy to articulate with words.
“But these are not happenstance dances, these are dances that happened in very particular moments of time,” she added. “The relationship between African American vernacular dance, African American choreographed ballet and Russian, British, American ballet, really became a symbol of race relations in the United States.”
Participants will enter the event through a lobby exhibition featuring an archival collection of photographs curated by Bennahum from the Jerome Robbins Dance Division of The New York Public Library, the largest and most comprehensive archive in the world devoted to the documentation of dance.
“I really feel that it’s very important for students that we show them dancing bodies they cannot see in Santa Barbara,” Bennahum said. “The gravitational center of dance in the world is New York and I just felt we had to bring it to them, and we had to bring it in the form of performance and in the form of art exhibit, images on the walls, so they see that this is an intellectual, academic subject they can study. But it cannot happen without performance because without that the archive is missing. You have to have a sense of the geography of the stage. For these kids learning to dance, to know and feel their way through history, kinesthetic awareness is really significant.”
Further to that end, the colloquium’s featured guests include Heather Watts, former principal dancer of New York City Ballet and a distinguished lecturer, who will present and stage two seminal works: George Balanchine’s “Agon,” with music by Igor Stravinsky, and Jerome Robbins’ “Afternoon of a Faun,” with music by Claude Debussy. The pieces will be danced by Calvin Royal III (principal dancer, American Ballet Theatre) and Unity Phelan (soloist, New York City Ballet), accompanied by New York City Ballet Orchestra pianist Cameron Grant.
“In different ways, at their premieres both Balanchine’s “Agon” (1957) and Robbins’ “Afternoon of a Faun” (1953) addressed issues of race,” said Watts. “I’m looking forward to sharing and examining these works at the colloquium, focusing on their impact felt not only in the mid-century civil rights era in which they were created, but also today as they live on through new generations of dancers.”
Also performing is Alicia Graf Mack, chair of dance at The Juilliard School and former principal dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Alonzo King/LINES. Her piece will be followed by a conversation with Lynn Garafola, professor emerita of dance at Barnard College, Columbia University and “preeminent ballet scholar in the United States who, with her husband (American historian Eric Foner of Columbia University) is a really important race scholar,” noted Bennahum. Garafola also will lecture on the African American Presence in Postwar American Dance.
An artists’ roundtable early in the day will provide insight direct from dancers themselves, while a later artist-scholar discussion will offer a multi-pronged analysis of what has taken place during the conference.
“My research on Black dance often has a lot to do with analysis of form and in terms of movement and repertoire,” Batiste said. “Dancers often think about dance in ways that are really different from how scholars think about dance. Those two approaches to how the body makes meaning together in one space show the value of what scholars bring and what dancers bring to same work of art.”
Batiste gave much of the credit to Bennahum for putting together the colloquium, while Bennahum extended credit to Watts, to donors John and Jody Arnhold and to Majewski. “Dance is very expensive,” said Bennahum. “Classical ballet is very expensive and they have made this possible for the university, and believed that UC Santa Barbara, above every other place in the country, was the place to create a laboratory, a think tank, about race and ballet.
“We’re at a very tense moment in history,” she concluded. “Art plays a significant role in that conversation in these moments in time.”
Originally published in The Current (UCSB) on April 23, 2019.
Ma’s visit to Santa Barbara — which includes a free, open-to-the-public, master class with UC Santa Barbara students, and the above-mentioned lecture, “Culture, Understanding and Survival” — marks a high point for the program.
“Our relationship with Yo-Yo is very special,” said Celesta M. Billeci, A&L’s Miller McCune Executive Director. “I think it’s unique to any program in the country, and I can say with confidence he has a very special relationship with us.” That relationship, she added, extends to Chancellor Henry T. Yang and his wife, Dilling.
This season, A&L has also co-commissioned a project with the Grammy Award-winning Silkroad Ensemble, founded by Ma in 1998. The genre-defying global musicians will perform the world premiere of “Take Their Stands” Friday, April 26, at the Granada.
“This is really research in action in the arts,” Billeci said. “We gave the money to this ensemble to create new work. They’ve created five new pieces they will premiere and will tour all over the world. And we did this here at UCSB. So that’s a real testament to the quality of this program and to being a leader in the arts.”
During the week prior to their performance, the musicians will be on campus working with students in the music, dance and religious studies departments and in the Givertz School of Education.
For example, Silkroad members Haruka Fuji and Sandeep Das will conduct a lecture/demonstration and Kayhan Kalhor will conduct a Dastgah practicum in world music; Kojiro Umezaki and Cristina Pato will hold a workshop with Gevirtz School of Education student teachers; Ahmad Sadri and Wu Tong will lead a meet-the-artist conversation on Asian religious traditions; and Aparna Ramaswamy will share Bharatnatyam dance traditions with students in the theater and dance department.
Education, Billeci stressed, is at the heart of A&L’s programming. “Its purpose is to really be intertwined with the academic program and be a supplement for the academic experience of students on this campus,” she said. “It’s not peripheral; it’s definitely to the core of the academic mission.”
To that end, Billeci, Associate Director Roman Baratiak and their team, particularly program manager Heather Silva, work closely with academic departments and individual faculty members to set priorities for the types of lectures and performances they bring to campus. “The speakers and artists we bring are not just coming here and doing their public presentation,” explained Caitlin O’Hara, A&L writer and publicist. “They’re going to campus for class events or master classes. They’re very heavily enmeshed in the campus as part of their stay.”
Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s recent visit is a prime example. Prior to her public lecture she met with honors students from the College of Letters and Science. “Frankly, I think some of our speakers are shocked at how much we expect them to do,” Baratiak quipped.
“We also present a lot of free events for students,” added Billeci, noting the recent concert with ukulele wizard Jake Shimabukuro in Storke Plaza. “This is the second time we’ve had him do that. He did it before and the students went nuts for him. They just love him. And he just loves them. He’s a great ambassador for our program and for music overall.”
Plans to bring performers to A&L are often in the works years ahead of time. With the dance series, for instance, Billeci meets with faculty members several times throughout the year to understand who they are interested in having come to campus. Professors and lecturers often build class visits into their curricula, and when these companies perform, hundreds of students are in the audience.
“On our lecture side, our education coordinator will reach out to academic departments and individual faculty members and say, ‘Here’s an opportunity,’” explained Baratiak. They can elect to send their students to an event or, if time can be spared in the performer’s or presenter’s schedule, he or she might meet with students. “We have collaborations with the College of Creative Studies, the writing program, pretty much most departments,” he added.
“I think we’ve got one of the most exciting and interesting public lecture programs in the country,” said Baratiak, whose 40-year tenure with the program began when he was a student at UC Santa Barbara. “So it’s obviously something that I think all of us are proud of here at A&L.”
Baratiak is particularly enthusiastic, he added, about the annual free summer film series presented at the Santa Barbara Courthouse in collaboration with the Santa Barbara County Office of Arts and Culture.
The truth is, over the last 60 years, A&L has enabled Santa Barbara audiences to spend time with some incredible individuals and performers: Upton Sinclair, Robert Oppenheimer, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Allen Ginsberg and The Dalai Lama (on three separate occasions), to name a few.
In addition to Yo-Yo Ma, A&L has more recently brought to the local stage Joan Baez, Trevor Noah, Laurie Anderson, Gloria Steinem, Bill T. Jones, the NYC Ballet, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Sonny Rollins and Twyla Tharp.
A&L also presented talks by Pakistani activist and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai (“We were the only university in the country that got that date,” Billeci pointed out) and comedian Jon Stewart (“We presented him to 5,000 students in the Thunderdome”), and a concert by alumnus Jack Johnson, who performed at Harder Stadium.
The talk by former vice president Joe Biden at the Arlington Theater also stands out. “We were doing a free simulcast for students on the campus, and as soon as it ended he jumped in the car and came to campus to meet with the students who’d watched the simulcast,” recalled O’Hara. “He sat and talked with them. I’ve had so many students talk to me and say how impactful that was.”
Similarly, a recent — and free — lecture by Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo Movement, also was a high point for students, according to O’Hara. So many students wanted to hear her talk that simulcasts to overflow rooms were required to accommodate them.
“If you go back 60 years,” Billeci remarked, “this program is really really amazing.”
On the community outreach side, the A&L initiative dearest to Billeci’s heart is ¡Viva el Arte de Santa Bárbara! The program offers free performances and educational activities to students, at-risk youth and families in Santa Barbara County. “We have made the long-term commitment to bring high quality arts — not average or mediocre — the very best in music and dance to these communities and to the folks who live there,” Billeci said.
Putting on more than 100 events every year is a team effort, and Billeci is quick to credit the contributions of A&L staff, which includes roughly 75 work-study students. “Often Roman and I get a lot of credit, but this does not work without the amazing group of people that make this machine move,” she said. “For the size of this program — a nationally respected, top-five program in the country — this group of people is so dedicated and so hard working and it’s my privilege and my pleasure to work with them every day.”
More information about A&L, including and a schedule of events, is available at www.artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.
Originally published in The Current (UCSB) on April 19, 2019.
The New Yorker calls them, “Singers of superb musicianship and vocal allure.” National Public Radio praises New York Polyphony for a “rich, natural sound that’s larger and more complex than the sum of its parts.”
Hear them for yourself when UCSB Arts & Lectures presents the two-time Grammy Award-nominated vocal chamber ensemble New York Polyphony in its Santa Barbara debut on Wednesday, February 20 at 7 p.m. at Music Academy of the West’s Hahn Hall (1070 Fairway Rd., Santa Barbara).
The provocative program Faith and Reason includes Thomas Tallis’ Mass for Four Voices and Gregory Brown’s Missa Charles Darwin—the inspiration behind his brother Dan Brown’s latest Da Vinci Code novel—which honors the conventions of its musical antecedents but replaces sacred texts with excerpts from Darwin’s writings. Of special note, this performance marks the return of Music Academy of the West alumnus Christopher Dylan Herbert, the group’s baritone, to his alma mater.
For tickets or more information, call UCSB Arts & Lectures at 805/893-3535 or purchase online at ArtsAndLectures.UCSB.edu.
Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on February 19, 2019.
As a way to thank everyone who supported and made the Film Festival possible, Santa Barbara International Film Festival will once again be showing select award winning films from the 2019 SBIFF during the 3RD WEEKEND!
“As a thank you to our community, films we will be shown for FREE! No tickets necessary, seating will be on a first come first served basis at SBIFF’s Riviera Theatre,” according to the organizers.
In the world of professional sports, no athlete ever came back from a mental health disorder—until Ron Artest, now known as Metta World Peace.
Saturday, February 16 – 7:30 p.m.
In Love and War (I krig & kærlighed) – Winner Audience Choice Award sponsored by The Santa Barbara Independent
When Esben flees the trenches of WWI after three years at the front, it’s so he can return to his beloved wife Kirstine and son Karl. But everything at home has changed.
Sunday, February 17 – 7:30 p.m.
Babysplitters – Winner Panavision Spirit Award for Independent Cinema
When two couples with mixed feelings about having kids hatch a plan to have and share one baby, it seems like the perfect compromise—until things spiral out of control.
The Riviera Theatre is located at 2044 Alameda Padre Serra, Santa Barbara.
Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on February 12, 2019.
A spirited toast to all things alcoholic! by Leslie Dinaberg
Guests at the 34th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF)—which runs from Wednesday, January 30 through Saturday, February 9 in downtown Santa Barbara—will get an extra warm welcome from our local winemakers.
Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation is sponsoring the festival and providing wine at nightly Filmmaker’s Happy Hours and post tribute Studio Parties from member wineries, including Au Bon Climat, Brander Vineyard, Brewer-Clifton, Brick Barn Wine Estate, Cambria Estate Vineyards, Folded Hills, Hitching Post Wines, Mail Road Wines, Margerum Wine Company, Nielson Winery, Pence Vineyards & Winery and Temperance Cellars.
“This is the second year the Vintners Foundation has sponsored SBIFF and we are proud to continue our support for this showcase for filmmaking and the community education programs that SBIFF organizes throughout the year for local students,” says Katy Rogers, president of Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation, the charitable umbrella under which Santa Barbara Vintners conducts its philanthropic work.
At the Opening Night Gala on Wednesday, January 30 in Paseo Nuevo, the wines of Brewer-Clifton, Cambria Estate Vineyards and Nielson will be served. The Gala follows a showing of the film Diving Deep: The Life and Times of Mike DeGruy at the Arlington Theatre.
Belvedere Vodka will also be on hand as the sole liquor sponsor of the 34th annual festival, serving signature cocktails like the Belvedere Classic Martini and Belvedere Expresso Martini, among others. Belvedere is the official sponsor of the Cinema Vanguard Award honoring Michael B. Jordan on February 7, where the brand—named “Vodka Producer of the Year” three times in a row by the International Spirits Challenge—will spotlight its “Beautiful to see. Beautiful to experience.” campaign.
When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”
Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on January 30, 2019.