Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thursday Night in Williamsburg: SummerStarz movie "The Incredibles" at East River State Park

Tonight we stayed in Williamsburg and walked over to East River State Park for the Summer Starz free movie, The Incredibles.

There was a surprisingly small audience of families with kids, young couples, a few hipsters (including mommies and daddies) and a few of us oldsters. But as the sun set and the river breezes cooled us off, it was a really nice, intimate, pleasant way to while away a midsummer night.

The movies that they're showing at Summer Starz are all kid-friendly, from animated ones like tonight's The Incredibles or Babe or Wall-E. Next Thursday is Bend It Like Beckham. According to the postcard we picked up one morning at the Greenpoint Starbucks, the Thursday events start with a children's hour at 6 p.m. (tonight, for example, Rock City Theatrics, a Williamsburg kids' theater workshop, was scheduled) and then live music at 7 p.m. (tonight a Staten Island band Fenix Down, which we've seen described as red-state hard rock with a video game feel) but we didn't get to the park until after 8 p.m., just a few minutes before the movie started.

There were some families at picnic tables, and the kids near us came back to the table with hot dogs, telling their parents, "They're free!" There was free popcorn as well. We moved around a little but mostly sat on one of those little concrete parts, maybe 18 inches high around the perimeter of the concrete. Some families were watching from picnic blankets on the grass to the side.

SummerStarz 2009 is sponsored by Town Square, which says on its website that it's
a volunteer community-based 501(c)(3) organization in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, two neighborhoods experiencing dynamic changes. Founded in 2005, our mission is to build a vibrant community and enrich the quality of our lives through activities that inspire creativity and imagination, teach respect and cooperation, and celebrate the joy around us.

This is the fifth year of SummerStarz, which was previously held in McCarren Park. The big sponsor is The Edge, and the woman introducing the evening's film gestured to the towers looming over the south side of the park. Before the movie, we got to see this ad for the condo on Kent Avenue:

We first saw The Incredibles soon after it opened, on the weekend after the 2004 election when John Kerry lost to President Bush and we lost our race against Florida Republican Congressman Ander Crenshaw. We were living in Davie, Broward County, Florida, and we saw it near our apartment at the AMC Ridge Plaza 8 on State Road 84 off I-595. It made us feel better than and we enjoyed it tonight. A.O. Scott, putting it on his ten best list for 2004, called it "[a]n almost-great movie about the dangers of mediocrity, and a drama of midlife frustration cleverly dressed up as kid-pleasing action fantasy."

The generator on the truck to the side made some noise, but we could hear the action (whenever there were words or subtitles - from a French-speaking villain in the movie, there were Spanish subtitles). The film stopped dead once - "a small glitch, also known as an 'oops,'" said one of the presenters - but it started up where it left off after about seven minutes. (Still, a bunch of families with sleepy kids took that time to leave.)

It was a pleasant evening, and the view of the river, the skyline, the planes and boast going by, made for a nice atmosphere.

Back when we lived in Florida, we went to the movies nearly once every weekend for a matinee back when it cost us six dollars. There were some great theaters in Broward County, mostly the Gateway in Fort Lauderdale and the Sunrise 11 closer to where we lived in West Broward, that then played lots of art, indie, foreign and gay-themed films.

Here in New York the last three years, because of the high prices and our more limited income, we have only gone to regular movies twice. We miss it, but New York offers us other pleasures, and we get to go to a bunch of free screenings from the wonderful School of Visual Arts, where we teach writing and literature to photography and animation major.

We miss going to first-run movies.

(Painting by Mikayla Butchart)

On Monday evening at the amazingly excellent McNally Jackson bookstore in Soho, we'll be reading our piece "The Forgotten Movie Screens of Broward County" from the recently-published anthology Life As We Show It: Writing on Film, co-edited by Brian Pera and Masha Tupitsyn.

Joining us will be Masha and Donal Mosher, the talented Portland-based writer/filmmaker/photographer, who will read from his essay on the making of October Country, which he co-directed with Michael Palmieri and which just had its international premiere at the Locarno Film Festival.

October Country, which documents the multi-generational story of Donal's working-class family - won the SILVERDOCS Sterling Award for best US Feature last month. “We have chosen a film that has resonated with us long after we viewed it,” the Sterling Award Jury said of October in a statement. “It is a film that is subtle and intuitively creative while presenting important social issues in a surprising way.”

We hope you can come to hear us read at McNally Jackson on Monday at 7 p.m.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tuesday Evening in Glendale: Valerie Green/Dance Entropy at Forest Park

This evening we went out to Forest Park in Glendale, specifically to the Dry Harbor Playground on the park's northern edge of Myrtle Avenue, to see Dance Entropy, Valerie Green's Long Island City-based modern dance company perform a trio of their works, including the popular "Splash," for an audience of kids, parents, and unrelated oldsters like us. It was a terrific show, esthetically pleasing as well as fun for humans of all ages.

Once we learned to drive, the Queens park that we probably spent the most time at was Forest Park in Glendale. Our first girlfriend lived on Kings Highway and Church Avenue (the little sliver of just a couple of houses was technically East 58th Street), and we sometimes picked her up on a Saturday morning and drove through nearby Brownsville onto the curvy Interboro Parkway (now the Jackie Robinson) into Forest Park.

Later in the 1970s, we dated a guy who lived in Ridgewood and met halfway between our neighborhoods, on Pennsylvania Avenue in East New York, and again, Forest Park was just a parkway ride (albeit one with lots of blind spots - but our relationship had them too) away. And it's a beautiful setting to walk in alone or with a friend.

Anyway, we hadn't been to Forest Park in years - the nearest we've come are our trips to the The Shops of Atlas Park "lifestyle commons" a bit to the north on 80th Street by Cooper Avenue; it reminds us of the centers like Desert Ridge Marketplace and Weston Town Center near our homes in Phoenix and South Florida.

Tonight we took the L train from Lorimer Street to Myrtle/Wyckoff, which is where the Q55 bus begins its run east on Myrtle through Ridgewood and Glendale all the way to Richmond Hill. We got off by the park's entrance (and the entrance to the Jackie Robinson Parkway) and walked across to the playground, which is named Dry Harbor because that was the original colonial name for Glendale.

We spotted pretty flowers on the way.

The dance company was just being introduced when we got there. Between fifty and seventy people were in the audience, sitting on blankets or bicycles or sitting or standing on the imaginative playground equipment.

After reading obituaries yesterday of the great and legendary Merce Cunningham, we wanted to see some dance performance this evening, preferably (as usual) one for free. Valerie Green is a talented choreographer and a dancer who's received excellent press notices. For example, the Village Voice, reviewing a performance at the Cunningham Studio in February 2005, wrote:
Valerie Green channels feminine power. Two solos showcased her articulate, fearless, intelligent dancing. In Naked Heart, a collaboration with Mariko Tanabe, Green threw herself into intricacies of phrase variation. Whipping her Pre-Raphaelite hair into animalistic frenzy and driven by urgent, grinding hips, she seemed a courtesan imprisoned by the solitude of her sex, before pausing to recall serenity. The naturalism and ritualistic quality of Loss and Desire illuminated her roots as the daughter of a Serbian mother and as a member of the Erick Hawkins troupe. After performing an invocation with water, Green lumped piles of earth into the approximate form of a human body while Gypsy music crescendoed. Planting herself in the dirt and holding a stone aloft, she became both mourner and symbol of hope. A trio danced by Ashley Smith, Jessica Weiss, and Jill Causa, Echo of a Trace, captured an elemental feminine energy in what might have been Green's retelling of the Arachne myth.

Her troupe's work is, however, accessible to kids; the most impressive thing we noticed this evening was that the dancers had the kids, by and large, in rapt attention, and that held true for probably ballet-mad little princesses of five or six or the tween boys who watched attentively from their bikes outside the gates on Myrtle Avenue.

Walking around the crowd during the performance of the three pieces, we overheard a boy of maybe 10 say to his dad, "This wasn't made just for kids, was it?" He thought the movements were "weird" and "funny" but he intuited that behind the playfulness and enthusiastic energy, there was something more there, something he figured he was too young to "get."

The reason this was such a great example of arts education and arts appreciation for kids was not just that it invited audience participation in each of the three works, but that it didn't talk down to children. Even the crowd-pleasing "Splash," done using buckets of water in all of its mundane uses (from swimming to crying), wasn't - um - watered down.

We aren't Jack Anderson, Clive Barnes, Deborah Jowitt or that sourpuss lady at The New Yorker whose name we can't recall, so we share with the kids a lack of vocabulary to discuss the works critically in a sophisticated way. Obviously someone who really understands dance would "get" stuff that we or the 10yo boy can't.

The first piece, "Dandia," Valerie explained, is based on an Indian dance with sticks. Her company held these sticks with orangish ribbons and used them to varied effects during the performance. Okay, we Googled when we got home and found that, originating in northern India,
this dance form is actually the staging of a mock-fight between the Goddess and Mahishasura, the mighty demon-king, and is nicknamed "The Sword Dance". The sticks of the dance represent the sword of Durga. The women wear traditional dresses such as colorful embroidered choli, ghagra and bandhani dupattas (traditional attire) dazzling with mirror work and heavy jewellery. The Men wear special turbans and kedias, but can range from area to area.

The dancers whirl and move their feet and arms in a choreographed manner to the tune of the music with lots of drum beats. The dhol is used as well as complimentary percussion instruments such as the dholak, tabla and others. The true dance gets extremely complicated and energetic. The Raas is associated with bhang also known as marijuana whereas the dance of Punjab, Bhangra is associated with alcohol, and both of these dances are associated with the time of harvest.

We also found an article in the Tribune during Valerie's trip to India. We like the Indian English in this report from Chandigarh (where one of our closest friends goes often to visit her relatives):
No exaggeration. There are two kinds of people in this world—ones that can dance and others who just exist! For the ‘so-called’ mere bodily movements are a universal language, way of life, in short, parallel existence!

On Wednesday another testimony to the fact, called Valerie Green, came calling. The New York based artist possesses all the credentials to be ‘one-stop-shop’ for modern dances.

Says Valerie, “I have been dancing since I was three and been into it for over three decades now.” Here to conduct a workshop on Contemporary Modern Dance Techniques brought by the Chandigarh Institute of Performing Arts, she’s looking forward to her two weeks stay in India.

Not just teach, she’s here to learn as well and will be receiving training on various folk dance forms; Bhangra, ghoomar, dandia. She says, “I’ve always been dancing, became interested in teaching and do choreography as well. In America they say, I wear many hats.”

What’s her dance like? Says Valerie, “It’s very organic, free flowing and the basis of movements initiates from the pelvis.” Organic? She adds, “It’s done barefoot. Something like ballet is not organic. Also, you make it from nothing.” So one can create a dance about war, struggle etc.

“Like there’s this one dance on waters and abstract on twilight and other using colourful music different costumes.” Spelling it to T; ‘Erick Hawkins based modern dance techniques’, is how she has named her technique. Graduate in dance from the university of Wisconsin-Madison, Valerie formed her own Dance Company in 1998 and has a studio.

Is it from genes? She says, “My mom did folk dance in Serbia, former Yugoslavia.” When the subject meanders on dance can the music be far behind? She says, “I use Balkan music, Indian gypsy music, French music.” Before winding up, a pearl of wisdom, straight from the expert, “It’s better to understand one particular form because that creates a solid foundation.”

Anyway, the kids got involved at the end of "Dandia" as they were given their own thin little sticks (chopsticks?) for them to dance with.

The next piece, "Chiquita Chiquita," was our favorite of three excellent works. It used wonderful props such as colorful straw hats, blankets, little plastic windmills, in imaginative ways.

The Dance Entropy website calls "Chiquita Chiquita" "[a] humorously, absurd performance manipulating and transforming a multiplicity of props used in unexpected ways. This colorful work, full of surprises is accompanied by the retro-exotica lounge music."

The sprightly music was as finely tuned to the story of the dance as the performers' movements and gestures. The 18-minute work is playful and bold, entertaining for kids - who later were showcased as they came up (very enthusiastically, with ooh, ooh arms raised to participate) to discuss the various expected and unexpected ways the props were employed - but you didn't have to be a kid to appreciate both the cleverness and the complexity of the physical double entendres.

The last piece, "Splash," was pure magic. Since it was performed a couple of months ago at Harry's at Water Taxi Beach in Long Island City, presumably it works for adults, even inebriated ones, that it's not a kids' dance.

Originally created for a drained outdoor pool (McCarren?) with 14 dancers in brightly colored buckets filled with water, "Splash" worked really well in the outdoor setting of the playground; we liked seeing the foot and car traffic on Mytrle Avenue in the background.

This dance is a structured improvisation to an exciting collage of music about water by such artists as Sound Gallery, Parliament, Led Zeppelin, Bilja Krstic, Doobie Brothers, Rusted Roots, Streams, Esquivel. Louis Prima, Las Toalistas, and Dakota Station.

We especially loved "Cry Me a River" and "Up a Lazy River" and how the dancers used them in the 11-minute performance.

Afterwards, the kids, joined by some adults, came to the little buckets for their own movements, guided and not by the Dance Entropy company, whose members include Amy Tennant Adams, Andrea Brown, Sarah Hartley, Erin Hunter Jennings, Joanie Johnson, Kristin Licata, Jen Painter and Ashlea Palafox.

The kids and parents and the rest of us in the audience applauded the dancers and their interactive selves.

It really was a wonderful event, and if you can get a chance to see Valerie Green/Dance Entropy, you'll be as lucky as we were.

We left the playground and Forest Park in a good mood, which wasn't spoiled even when a crazy young man came up to us while we were waiting for the Myrtle Avenue bus back to the subway to Williamsburg and said, "You know, you remind me of Mel Gibson."

He proceeded to talk our ears off with psychotic nonsense during the Q55 ride, but we were filled with good feelings from the performance so we didn't quite mind learning his opinions of Halle Barry's various hairstyles or why Terence Howard was a better choice for a role than Don Cheadle.

At least we couldn't have made a better choice of an event for the early evening.

Tuesday Morning in Marine Park: Breakfast by Gerritsen Creek

We left Dumbo Books HQ in Williamsburg early, hoping to take ourselves to a quiet, peaceful place near the water. At 7:30 a.m. we were on the G train to Fulton Street, where we walked to the subway entrance by the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building (One Hanson Place) for the D/Q Brighton line. We were headed for Gerritsen Creek and the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Marine Park, near where we grew up.

We got off the Q train at Kings Highway. Growing up, this was, along with the Junction (Flatbush/Nostrand) terminus of the IRT, our subway station.

(Photo courtesy of one of Brooklyn's best neighborhood blogs, the excellent

We used to come out here in 1965-66 in our sophomore year of high school, spent at The Franklin School on the Upper West Side. It took three trains and one bus 90 minutes to get home, the major reason we transferred to Midwood H.S. the next year.
Always we got out by East 16th Street and Quentin Road (unlike what they say on Broadway, between Avenue P and Avenue R there is no Avenue Q).

As we got older, Kings Highway, the shopping area between Coney Island Avenue (approximately East 10th Street, if there were such a thing) and Ocean Avenue (would-be East 20th Street) was where we went to at night when we were teens craving bright lights and a place to hang out. This was where we bought the Village Voice and the New York Times, since the papers weren't available in Old Mill Basin.

We went to the Kingsway and Avalon movie theaters here, got pizza and ices here, had lunch at Cooky's - a restaurant whose cookyburgers we still recall and which had locations on the East 16th Street BMT stops at Avenue M and Avenue J as well (Wendy Wasserstein's mother ordered Thanksgiving meals there, even from Manhattan)

- and we watched our friends buy cigarettes here (when kids could buy tobacco products, no problem) and look cool smoking and posing on a street corner.

We actually went only once or twice into Dubrow's Cafeteria on the northwest corner of East 16th, but we passed it for much of our young life.

After we got our drivers' licenses (and sometimes before: we drove in the neighborhood more times than we can recall when we were under 17), "The Highway" was also a teen cruising spot, a la American Graffiti.

When we got a little older and were active in politics, we'd accompany our candidates here, as in this pic we took of 1970 Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Congressman Dick Ottinger (he and the appointed incumbent Sen. Charles Gooddell - father of the NFL commissioner - lost to Conservative Party candidate, the sainted Jim Buckley).

Anyway, there is a Facebook group for people from 11229. We are actually 11234 people, and we headed there, to Marine Park, by bus.

Three choices: the B100 (the once-privately owned Mill Basin bus that used to take us home), the B2 up Avenue R mostly, then down Flatbush to Kings Plaza), and the one we spotted first, the no-longer-endangered B31 (Gerritsen Beach bus) which let us off at Gerritsen and Avenue U. (If we remember correctly, the B31 used to run from the Avenue U subway stop back in the day.)

(Photo courtesy of Forgotten New York, one of our top bookmarked websites and all-time favorite places, which has this great tour, among many brilliant ones of lesser-known NYC nabes, of this area)

This used to be The Flame restaurant, with "charcoal burgers," where we once stopped eating when we spotted a mouse running across the floor (though we didn't tell our lunch companions from college: our girlfriend, her future husband and his former fiancee). It's been the Chinar Restaurant for years now.

We finally got to Marine Park. Mostly when we were young, we stayed on the other side of the park, which stretches from Avenue U north to Fillmore Avenue. When we were young, the southern part of the park by Gerritsen Creek wasn't much, but with the Salt Marsh Nature Center and the trail and the help of the wonderful Urban Park Rangers, it's now thriving.

But it's still quiet early on a weekday morning (the Nature Center doesn't open until 11 a.m.) and we enjoyed our quiet time here.

Luckily, a little nature goes a long way with us.

After enjoying our time in the wetlands wildnerness, we hopped on a just-in-time B3 bus down Avenue U to civilization, this being for us the mall where we were maybe five times a week from the day it opened in early September 1970 until we left New York for Florida in January 1981. At the Flatbush Avenue entrance, there are some nice photos of old Brooklyn.

By the escalator is this scene of a big beach day at Coney Island.

We had a nice time at Marine Park and Gerritsen Creek before it got too hot. We're grateful for summer mornings off from work so that we can explore the less hectic parts of the city.