June 9, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 23
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Sunday, May 31, 2020



Bits & Bytes
Prairie Home Companion charms & delights, Balanchine's 3-part Jewels a winner for PNB, SIFF continues salute to Gay, Lesbian films
by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

It's another great week for Seattle entertainment fans-and for Bits&Bytes. The Seattle International Film Festival continues its salute to fans of GLBT cinema-and its archival series continues to please film fans. Pacific Northwest Ballet ends its two-week run of Jewels and plans two other major events this month. Robert Altman's Prairie Home Companion-a hit at SIFF earlier this month-returns today for a commercial run where it is sure to be an art house hit of the summer season. Read on:


When Robert Altman is good, he is very, very good. When Garrison Keillor, creator of radio's Prairie Home Companion, is good, he is very, very good. Ditto for Hollywood's Lily Tomlin, Woody Harrelson, Kevin Kline-when they are good, they are very, very good. When they're not, well&.

Thankfully, Altman and Keillor team together with magical results-the film is a fictional tall tale of the origins of the highly popular NPR hit with a series of characters that are from the radio program and from Hollywood's central casting. Bits&Bytes has never heard a complete broadcast of the NPR hit, and-like many in the early press screenings-had no idea at times of who is "real" (as in really on the radio show) and who is not. But, no matter, as a lifelong Altman fan, Bits&Bytes didn't care-the film speaks for itself. (Based on SIFF comments, fans of the "real" radio show seemed less enthusiastic about the finished film than those who didn't have strong associations with the radio characters and the original "performers"-many of the characters are "voices" of various cast regulars while the film, naturally, has to use different actors to portray these classic favorites.)

Like most of Altman's major works, the large cast rotates in and out of the story. Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep, as Rhonda and Yolanda Johnson, the remnants of the Singing Johnson Family, steal every scene they are in. Their strange, disconcerting appearance on this year's Oscar telecast-incredibly funny and incredibly puzzling as they gave Altman a special honorary Oscar for his lifetime contributions-turns out to be a sneak preview of their characters in Prairie Home Companion.

Their overlapping dialog in the film, their self-depreciation-"we're the last ones," Streep's Yolanda deadpans, "the others had talent"-their genuine talent in vocal numbers make them the stars of this starless cast.

But, don't overlook Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly as Dusty and Lefty, The Old Trailhands, a foul-mouthed duo that is always causing censorship problems in their country/western repertory. Singing about a courting ritual, Harrelson questions how to succeed with a reserved woman-"liquor, he said, and lick her I did" he smiles in that trademark Harrelson smirk.

Kevin Kline is a delight at Guy Noir, a double-pun of Hollywood history. Virginia Madsen, the "find" of Sideways, is cool and reserved and mysterious as The Woman In White who obviously is the angel of-well, the angel of something or other. Keillor himself is a screen find playing himself&or at least Altman's version of himself.

Prairie Home Companion is a constant delight. It opens at several theaters today and is sure to charm audiences throughout the summer. See it this first week-it's one of "those films" that people will talk about and you will want to be in the know.


Fans of Pacific Northwest Ballet have waited a long, long time for Georges Balanchine's three-part Jewels to finally arrive in Seattle. Balanchine, affectionately knows as The Master, created Jewels in 1967, but revised it slightly a decade later. The 1967 work, in itself, was an extension of an idea for a work composed for the Paris Opera in 1947.

Jewels is often considered the first full-length plotless, abstract ballet. Each section-Emeralds, Rubies, Diamonds-is danced to classical works by different composers, Faure, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky. Using highlights, combinations, full-length works, Balanchine's Jewels is unified only by the concept of using various jewels as an inspiration for each abstract section and by costume elements in each ballet. It is often considered the best "first" ballet for new dance audiences because it has such a varied feel to each act.

PNB added Rubies to its vast Balanchine repertoire many years ago-in 1988-and it has been encored many seasons since then. Local dances fans have waited a long, long time to see the three section presented as The Master originally conceived them-and the program exceeded expectations when it opened last week. Alas, the two-week run ends Sunday, giving local ballet fans and fanatics only four more chances to see the work-tonight, at the matinee and evening performances tomorrow and at Sunday's 1 p.m. matinee.

For the record, Bits&Bytes attended the opening night gala where a cheering audience greeted Jewels, and returned for the Saturday night performance, where most of the members of the Thursday night casts repeated their roles.

As usual, PNB uses a rotating cast of principal dancers in the leading roles and many local dance fans "always" return to see and new and upcoming dancers and compare and contrast their work with the more established PNB casts. With balcony seats starting at $20 (and soaring to $134 for center orchestra), budget-minded dance fans can easily justify the return trips.

On opening night, Emeralds was a hypnotic vision of ethereal dance-two minor works by Gabriel Faure, the famous French composer, gave a "French Impressionism" feel to the work. The four leading dancers often seemed to float on the stage. The Saturday night encore visit found the work to be just as beautiful as Thursday's memory suggested.

Rubies, a longtime PNB favorite, is danced to Stravinsky's Capriccio For Piano and Orchestra-and the spirited work always proves to be a winner. Kaori Nakamura and Jonathan Porretta were infectious as the main couple, but it was Ariana Lallone who stole the show as the long-legged Queen Bee.

As she often does, Lallone ruled the stage-a balletic version of Joan Crawford en pointe. The jazzy score, the terrific dancing, the clever choreography all combine to make Rubies a constant delight. Thursday and Saturday audiences were equally charmed by Nakamura and Porretta's teaming-his audience-pleasing smile radiated charm and the joy of dancing, her clever, sprightly demeanor added to the charm of the work.

Diamonds, the most challenging work of the three-part evening, featured polished work by the principal dancers on opening night but a "not-quite-ready-for-prime-time" feeling from the corps de ballet. As expected, those problems were corrected by Saturday night-the complex work for the large company simply needed more rehearsal and/or performance time.

Patricia Barker and Stanko Milov teamed as the Diamonds' leads-and they were a thrilling pair both nights. Opening night was especially emotional. Barker, a dancer with PNB since 1981, had just announced her retirement at the end of next year's season and many in the audience had (incorrectly) thought that Diamonds would be her last work with the company. (Relax, folks, the talented dancer from Richland, WA, has a full season ahead of her.)

Barker, with her cool Grace Kelly-like elegance, was perfect for the Diamonds diva, and Milov was the perfect partner. They both were polished favorites again on Saturday. When Milov took stage center for a series of 16 perfect kick turns, the audience went wild.

The major difference between the opening night and the Saturday evening was in the tremendous improvement in the work of the corps de ballet. Group sequences were often a muddle on opening night-legs, arms, bodies at odds with the famous Balanchine precisioned discipline. But, miracle of miracle, Saturday found the company in excellent form-Balanchine's fabled formations clear and crisp.

Jewels continues through this Sunday's matinee-note the unusual 1 p.m. curtain time (McCaw Hall ushers report a steady stream of late arrivals for the Sunday matinee each program). Ticket information is available at 441-2424.


Not content with its incredible Jewels delighting Seattle dance fans for the past two weeks, Pacific Northwest Ballet has added a season-closing program, 8 Encores, for Sunday night at McCaw Hall. The 6:30 p.m. event features major highlights and some full performances from "hits" of the current season.

Rubies, the jazzy highlight of the full length Jewels, returns for an encore less than four hours after its closing Sunday afternoon. Selections from Nine Sinatra Songs, In The Night, Jardi Tancut, Time And Other Matter join full length performances of Mopey, Kiss and Red Angels, short ballets that are welcomed encores. With tickets starting at just $20, this special 8 Encores is the ballet bargain of the year-eight major dance works for just $2.50 each.

Ticket information and details are available at 441-2424.


"See The Stars of Tomorrow On Stage Today" is the theme of PNB's June 17 annual School Performance, featuring students from PNB's highly respected ballet school. The two performances celebrated the 25th anniversary of the school performances.

The noon performance features one group of beginning students and the 3:30 p.m. program features more advanced students and the Men's Division. Tickets starts at $20 for each program for $30 for the two. While the audiences will be mainly family and friends of the dancers, the general public is welcome and often has an "incredible experience" watching the up-and-coming dancers. Tickets at 441-2424.


The Seattle International Film Festival starts it final 10 days today. Many of the Festival's 26 (and counting) Gay and Lesbian titles are planned in the final days of the 2006 series. Pick up a free copy of the Queer Interest flyers-Part One and Two. Small Town Gay Bar, Strangers With Candy tonight's Another Gay Movie and France's Time To Leave all look promising.

The Festival's series of archival films is also worth a special look. Sunday's The Man Who Cheated Himself, made in 1950 and starring Lee J. Cobb, has not been screened for more than 50 years. The Fest uses the Moore Theatre for the June 16 screening of the 1927 circus-set silent, The Unknown, featuring Lon Chaney and the young Joan Crawford. The Moore screening uses an original contemporary score that will be performed live. Tickets and info at 324-9996. Check it out.

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