I was halfway through the 1933 Academy Award winner, Grand Hotel, and ready to give up on it when all the character development and plot lines soared upward into a great story. The art deco sets and cinematography probably kept me hooked up till then. The characters are a broke baron/cat burgler (John Barrymore), a sexy, hard-shelled stenographer (Joan Crawford), a high-strung prima ballerina (Greta Garbo), a dying nobody (Lionel Barrymore), and a German industrialist (Wallace Beery). The hearts of these vulnerable people are laid bare in the second half of the film. The importance of money to their safety and self-respect became painful to acknowledge, due to history and the present times validating the underlying truth of it. GH was shot during the Great Depression and as I watched it in 2011 when our economy is sliding into an abyss and our cities are Occupied by the 99 percent, I realized nothing much has changed, except our behavior is perhaps lower in standard and our architectural styles a lot uglier. Grand Hotel has a lot to say and a beautiful, visual means of expressing itself. Plus there’s a shock in the last half (I did not see coming), which made the ending all the more powerful. I recommend you Netflix this one.
My brother and I attended the 7PM Saturday performance of Dracula, performed by Ballet Pensacola. It was a fresh take on the story and beautifully choreographed by the Ballet’s Artistic Director, Richard Steinert. It began with a trap door opening in the stage floor. From this void, two “creatures” (Dustin Simmons and Kristopher Williams) extended limbs that appeared to be multi-jointed and literally coming to life from some long-dormant state. The effect of Lance Brannon’s lighting on their musculature was dramatic in contrast to an otherwise dark stage. Their dance was strong and masculine, but graceful and modern. Throughout the production — as if the creatures’ evolution never progressed beyond the demon realm, their movements were always weirdly contorted. This was a wonderful counterpoint to the delicate, classical ballet danced by Kristen Springer and Kayla Bartlett in their roles as Lucy and Mina.
Following the creatures’ emergence, “bats” crawled out of the open space in the floor until thirteen filled the stage. The bats, Ballet Pensacola’s corps, were ingeniously costumed by Christine Duhon. Their sleek hair was parted in the middle; their leotards were patterned in an op-art check like something from an Escher drawing and had sleeves that were puffed above the elbow. They wore large pointed black belts and slim black trousers that flared from the knees. According to the choreography, the bats movements looked mechanical or flowing a la classical ballet and the full sleeves or the fluid hems helped create that impression. Ranks of bats dove in and out of each other, filling the stage. It was wonderful.
Dracula’s brides were Goth chicks with cherry red hair and black skirts that hung in funereal strips over black leggings. Tyler Day’s Dracula was lithe, dominant, and seductive. I loved the pas de trois where Samuel Joseph Mounce’s Harker danced to save Mina from Dracula. Dracula’s pas de deux with Lucy, culminating with his bite was sensual and romantic. Later, the creatures’ attack on Lucy was an altogether different dance, a choreographed act of brutality. This was a very interesting ballet, by turns sensual or perverse, romantic or violent.
A dominant feature of Lance Brannon’s set design was a steampunk conglomeration of cogs and wheels. The trapdoor led to an underground mausoleum with coffins and oven-style cypts like you see in New Orleans’ multi-tombs. The storyline broke from Stoker’s novel, but I won’t tell you how — just in case they perform it next year. I hope Ballet Pensacola will repeat Dracula as a Halloween tradition, just as The Nutcracker is for Christmas. If so, don’t miss it.
I had such a good time with my friend DeAnna at a dinner for the Friends of the West Florida Public Library, Friday night. The speaker was novelist Alex Kava, whose thrillers have been New York Times bestsellers. Neither DeAnna nor I had ever read Alex Kava. In preparation, we read her latest, Hotwire. Well, now we’re fans. Kava has a neat economical style that I can’t quite pin down. You know all about a character’s personality very quickly without having been aware of reading a description. She writes short chapters with cliff hangers. Her protagonist, FBI agent Maggie O’Dell, is easy to relate to on a personal level; she’s kickass but also someone you might know. Hotwire’s plot revolves around a possible government conspiracy and weird shenanigans with the nation’s food supply. DeAnna and I would text each other, saying, “Man, I’m never eating out again!” or “I’m giving up meat!”
As a speaker, Alex Kava was wonderful. She was funny, self-deprecating, and warm. She talked a lot about what it was like starting out. How subjective the feedback was; one rejection letter saying, “it needs more detail” and the next rejection letter saying, “it needs less detail”. And how there’s a double standard for crime-fighting protagonists such that Maggie O’Dell really can’t develop a drinking habit or swear a lot or cat around. She spoke movingly of her respect for the contribution that libraries and librarians make to community life. She encouraged aspiring writers to stay true to their vision and believe in themselves. She talked about her friends who live in Pensacola and who were in attendance. She spoke of her friends’ mother having been a lifelong supporter of our library and of their father, on whom she based one of the characters in the Maggie O’Dell novel, Damaged. It turns out, she bought a house here in Spring 2004. This made the audience laugh ruefully. It was Fall 2004 when Hurricane Ivan made landfall at just under Cat 4 strength and devastated our region. Alex buckled down under the storm with her two friends and used the experience to write the plot for Damaged set against a hurricane.
Tortured by heightened senses and haunted by depression, Malcom lives in seclusion on his English estate under the care of professionals paid to watch his every move. On his mind, under his skin, and just out of the corner of his eye, is the woman linked to the catastrophic event that sealed his fate. An original short story from the upcoming anthology, Night at the Demontorium, by Naima Haviland.
The violent death of sexy, vivacious Téa shocks her husband’s conventional family. But an impressionable niece discovers that nothing can kill Téa’s addiction. An original short story from the upcoming anthology, Night at the Demontorium, by Naima Haviland.
Dodging bullets in a speeding car, Sparky’s leap to freedom catapults him into unknown realms where death and identity are subject to change at any time. An original short story from the upcoming anthology, Night at the Demontorium, by Naima Haviland
A star pupil teams with the problem student on a business class project. But there’s more to this pairing than meets the eye, and soon the project is successful beyond their instructor’s wildest nightmares. There’s a market for anything, and demand can barely keep up with supply. An original short story from the upcoming anthology, Night at the Demontorium, by Naima Haviland.