Friday, January 24, 2014

2014 Interview with Ana Isabel O

Internationally known biologist
and writer Dr. Ana Isabel Ordonez is constantly embarking on new projects. Educated in Europe and a self-taught Victorian patchwork maker since the early 90s, Ordonez has presented her work in France and Luxembourg. As a scientist she holds Masters and PhDs in Genetics, Forestry and Animal Biology and has lectured extensively throughout Europe, Africa, Japan, China, New Zealand and South America on insect-plant pathology and biological control research. She has also written several articles on the value of nature. Ordonez, however, has not confined her interests to the world of science. A true Renaissance woman, she is also a reputed jazz editor, independent filmmaker, music/art promoter and producer. In 2012 she contributed tirelessly to the Dizzy Gillespie Memorial tribute with Christopher Kennedy Lawford, because she believes in her heart that true valuable art of any kind must never be forgotten. Five years earlier, in 2005 with trumpeter Herb Robertson she had founded Ruby Flower Records with the plan to produce avant-garde music, exclusively for connoisseurs and purist audiophiles with the slogan "Creatively speaking...Where the talents blossom". Only recently she decided to expand the company's offerings to also include poetry and literature for children. Her children's books have been so popular, she has written a new one, continuing the joy of her Musical Forest. Her nephew Geronimo is doing the rest of the illustrations, but Ana still paints every day. The book will be available on in about a month. It will be distributed worldwide. 

As I read the new story about Aye Aye and her association with Professor Tekyp and the Hyperbrits and Euricoty, I was amazed at how much of your science background is working its way quite nicely into the stories. Tell me about your friend John and his role. How he came to be Tekyp in the story.

One has to pass the torch. The thing I learned after many years of studying and working in sciences is to share. That's why gifts are given to us. Prof Tepyk’s story was in hibernation,  after I wrote vol II; I wanted to enter into the biology subject with a lot humor.  You mean Professor F.R.S John Pickett.  Let me tell you something, I have a great admiration and respect for who and what John is. He's a fascinating character. I was just a Ph.D student in France when I first listened to one of his speeches. I was blasted with his knowledge and Briton sense of humor and wanted to be part of his team. We met again in Japan and then in China for Chemical Ecology congresses where he was the chairman and accepted my presentations. We discussed my wishes. It was in China that I knew I had to apply for a grant if I wanted to learn from John's team. Two years after when the Marie Curie Research Training Grant was awarded by  the European Union, I was appointed as a Post-doc fellow to his laboratory with the objective of  learning about isolation, production, formulation and application of bio-pesticides. This subject made part of his famous "Push Pull Strategy". Of all the people I worked with,  John and his team stand apart. I have only great remembrances. A great team led by a great man!

How did you decide what animal each character would be?

Oh, that was easy because John is gifted as an artist too and plays the trumpet (Jazz!) very well, so for me it was logical to choose a wild leopard to represent him. Christine Woodcock works in John's lab. She's a fabulous trombone player and I always enjoyed the Sundays I used to go to the local pub where they played. Christine is extremely smart and a warm soul; I never forget how she masters the chromatographe and her work with insects. I chose her to be a butterfly. For the banjo I chose Barry Pye because when I arrived at the experimental station, John appointed him as my direct boss, and it was brilliant! Barry taught me many things. The afternoons in the spray area doing our bio-assays with the track sprayer he invented were very nurturing to me. Barry played the banjo for John's band; in my story he takes the banjo again and joins the band! Through my years in the UK I began to build for Barry a pig collection, actually a pig and rhino collection. Every time I traveled I always brought him a pig or a rhino. I do recall the bargain in Kenya to buy the rhino (hahaha). Barry makes me laugh and I never forget people who make me laugh. I decided he will be the wild pig banjo player! The name of the characters changed of course.

Tell me about the trick and what scientific significance it shows, if any. Or is it just utilized to be entertaining and fun?

(she laughs) That's how open- minded John is. You know we had
a Xmas party (parties!) every year, and when I went to the first one, I met colleagues from all around the world; we were all together at a table. We were eating, and then all of the sudden John took some vodka (which I call for the children " magic potion") and fired his tummy hairs with a match (I call it "the burning bees", they are protagonists in another story!).  Man, that was a hell of a trick!  He didn't burn himself; he mastered the technique. (hahahaha)  He would play with his band afterwards. So, nice souvenirs, very funny! Britons have a particular sense of humor, which I love. I've called the band "The Hyperbrits" in the story. 
Euricoty is so precious. Is she patterned after someone you know?

Euricoty is Euricoty floridana, the scientific name of the cockroach species I studied for my Ph.D : sexual communication in insects;  cockroaches were the insect tool. Actually when I saw John in China I spoke 15 min about the sexual phenomena on that insect. I had to bring on the subject in a book, but first she needs to do her appearance in the story. I decided that Eurocoty will be John's pet and he will give it to Aye Aye when traveling back to his alchemist world.I told you I knew many cockroach stories (hahahaha!)

How many more stories do you plan for the Musical Forest? It seems to me a project of unlimited possibilities with so many different animals.

Absolutely! I was trained as an Animal Biologist and Insect Pathologist and I want children to
know in a simple way the things I know; I want them to laugh too. I’ll always write children’s
stories since the animals are now free in the Musical Forest! When I read the story to children and they laugh at my illustrations, I laugh too. It means I can touch their hearts. There are no standards for laughter!

Will each story have a new lesson in ecology?
I want to give a human dimension to all I do. My books were sent to a bush school and wildlife orphanage in South Africa.  I’ll  spend a few months there. Every week children comeover; they learn to get to know their wildlife. Those kids don't have access to see wildlife and that makes a big part of their heritage! A great film maker and friend wants to do a documentary about the Aye Aye. It’s so awesome what's happening in my life right now! Ireconnected with real friends from the past, I mean decades ago. People with whom I lived amazing adventures and I never forgot. My friends : I have ideas from a very talented poet and artist 
Adiela; my friend Maria Clarita works with autistic children and she has been a great help.
Faride works for the Theater and is anartist too; we are discussing a puppet adaptation of one of my books. I heard through Eliana about an eco-ville she wants to establish. At first I laughed at the idea, but then I realized it was an interesting point and whatthey are doing in South Africa in that orphanage is very close to her ideal. So she will join me there and my nephew wants to come too! It’s going to be an awesome experience, I'm really looking forward to it!

Discuss briefly what inspires you most.

For me, inspiration has shades.  I have met and am still meeting many amazing characters; after traveling all around the world, I have developed an eye for detecting things that make me laugh : pathetic, nasty acts, envious comments, gossip, territorial things. It can be funny; gives me a good laugh! So, I like to reach into darkness to enlighten things. You see what I mean?.  On the other hand, kindness, caring, love, support,  sincerity totally influence and inspire me... nuance.   I get influenced and inspired from the good and the bad! You know, I like laughing at and mocking myself! You’ve got to keep a sense of humor !
Anything to report in your participation in the music world?

Besides this work I also have releases coming up on my label. Recordings I have already done with Marshall Allen from Sun Ra Arkestra and Elliott Levin plus another one with Elliott and David M. Hotep (also from Sun Ra Arkestra) with poetry of Trudy Morse. This was a project we planned with Trudy two years ago. It's going to be be available on Amazon this year. Also... I'm trying to help someone who really has an educational concept I like, and he should be known. There is so little money for Jazz in this country where the Jazz is considered an American art form! I love new music and avant garde, and I'm committed to it. It's for the sake of that music that I found my way!.

Tell me about the latest venture in Europe to help fund your concert/dance version of the first book next fall.

Continuing with what I just said about the music business, it’s hard to fund projects in the US.
It’s in Europe where artists make money. So, I went to Europe to find sponsors for the
Martha Graham Academy of Contemporary Dance choreography on The Extraordinary
Love Story of Aye Aye and Fedor . There will be live music, narration by a Hollywood Theater actor and also video installation from shootings of the orphanage in South Africa. We have scheduled our performance for winter 2014/2015.

Sum up your feelings.

At times this planet seems so unsettled, but being spiritual helps. I believe in my strength to do the work I like to do. I'm sharing it and in doing so, we are building treasures on Earth. I'm setting my hope on the treasures of creation - trees, animals, insects, children, wildlife, jazz, poetry, dance, theater, sunsets, stars-are wonders to my eyes, a balm to my heart. The world may pass away but affection doesn't... because it never fails. The rest is irrelevant.
This way of life is finally the true way, a very sweet and peaceful one. I totally have my feet planted on this path. I have found my Musical Forest to look through. A lifetime commitment!

Monday, January 6, 2014

2014 Interview with Icon Chita Rivera

(photo right by Monica Simoes/ October 7, 2013)

Triple threat Broadway legend Chita Rivera will bring her iconic class and showmanship to the Valley Performing Arts Center January 25 for one performance only at 8 pm. In our chat she tells us a little bit about the new show and talks in great detail about the joys of her career.

Can you give us a tease as to what you will be doing in your show Chita Rivera: A Legendary Celebration at the Valley Performing Arts Center on the 25th?

Numbers that I’ve done in my night club act…down memory lane. Very similar to the show that we did for Broadway Cares in New York on October 7 this past year, but I will not have Ben Vereen or Tommy Tune or my six boys with me.

You by yourself onstage will be a treat.

You have amazingly starred or co-starred in well over 30 great Broadway shows since the 1950s. I’ll give you a show, not in any particular time sequence, and please respond, if you will, with your fondest memory/memories of the show or…the first thing that pops into your head about it…

Zorba the Greek (1969)

I had a great time with Zorba…we travelled a lot…I was almost run over by our star John Raitt; he had to dance with me, and he was a big man. It was wonderful, but he almost ran over me; had he run over me, we wouldn’t be talking. My daughter was in it (Lisa Mordente); that was great; she could travel in the show with me. It was a great show to do.

Sweet Charity (1967)

The movie was great with Paula (Kelly) and Shirley (MacLaine). We had a blast. And when I did the National Company, I remember a basketball team saying they would hate to run into me in a dark alley at night. I think that was a compliment about how tough that show was to do for Charity, how much stamina you’d have to have.

The Rink (1984)

That was delicious. It was a little odd playing Liza’s (Minnelli) mother, but, aside from that, we got a couple of laughs out of that. It was divine, because she’s my buddy and it was just a fabulous experience to be with Freddy and John (Kander & Ebb), and Liza, and Scott Ellis and all these guys. It was a lot of fun.

West Side Story (1957)

Jerome Robbins. That’s the thing that comes up. And I got married in that show, I had my baby in that show; a lot of memories of that show. I mean…Jerry said “The Sharks are not to even speak to the Jets.” Well, I showed him. I went and married one. (Tony Mordente)  West Side was a change of life practically.

Kiss of the Spider Woman (1992)

Well, that was rich and dark and sensuous and sad and violent…and Brent Carver was just totally amazing. It was a fabulous show; I thought it was a perfect show. It’s a story that should be told about the differences in people. I considered it a love story. These two men who were so opposite would normally think they would not need each other; in actuality, they did. They formed a great bond. It was such a dramatic and exciting show.

Bye Bye Birdie (1960) 

Fun…a comic strip…Paul Lynde, Dick Van Dyke, who’s just the greatest thing walking…that was the other side of the coin. West Side on one side and Bye Bye Birdie on the other. It was one of the most fun times I’ve had.

Can-Can (1953/1988)

Can-Can was great. That was my introduction to Gwen (Verdon) in New York, and then when I did it with the Rockettes, we went to Japan. We went all over. It’s a girls’ show. I love it. It’s great dancing, Alan Johnson’s dancing, great music, so it was a great experience.

Nine (2005)

Antonio Banderas. Do I have to say any more? (we laugh) Antonio Banderas. I thought it was beautifully directed and designed, and to work with Antonio was just amazing. He’s far greater than anybody even realizes. He should still be doing theatre. He should have won the Tony that year. It was a joy working with him, and actually, I took that show, because I knew that he would blow the top off Broadway. I just decided that I wanted to ride on his tail.

The Visit (2001)
There were several incarnations of this show. What’s changed from production to production?

Direction. And cast. We’ve done one and then an Aids benefit for it. We’re going to do another, and this will actually be our third incarnation. It’s dark, rich…everybody thinks it’s a story about revenge, it’s not. It’s a love story. It’s a real European love story. The cast is extraordinary, the score is fabulous…we just can’t wait to do it.

Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life (2005)

That was a blast, to be able to tell the stories and to look around and see my buddies dancing with me. And to expose myself, my real self like that. I thought it was wonderfully done. Then and now, young dancers have said that they learned a lot from the different styles of the choreographers. It was meant to be an educational thing also. I just loved it; I really had a great time.

Chicago (1975)

I saw you do that show about 10 times on Broadway. Your entrance from beneath the stage was thrilling.

Wasn’t that something?!

Why did it take 20 years for Chicago to pick up the awards it deserved?

I don’t think you can compare our show with the show today. We had a show; we had a huge show. The original show was the show. And Gwen (Verdon)? ...OMG… You know, time and life has its…it calls its own shots. A lot of time, money has something to do it. Please… you never know...Chicago's turned into something else now. I love the fact that it’s on and all of that, but it’s not what it was, that old great Vaudeville, old-style Chicago gangster thing.

Do you have a favorite of any of those shows?

I really can’t say. They were all the cat’s meow. West Side opened the door for so many of us. But…they’re all a huge part of me. I loved Spider Woman.

I can’t believe that you didn’t win a Tony for West Side Story. It doesn’t make sense.

It doesn’t always make sense. If you go into it thinking “I really want this!”, you don’t have any satisfaction. And it really doesn’t matter. It honestly doesn’t.

You did a drama a few year ago, The House of Bernarda Alba at the Mark Taper Forum. Did you enjoy doing this non-musical?

I did, but I thought it was odd that I had two Asian daughters. I said, “Ok, art!” Several people jumped the fence, but…I loved that play, and I would love to have done the play again, in another way.

Would you like to have done more dramatic roles?

You know something…I don’t want to say I would like to have done anything. I have had, and am still having a fabulous time. I’ve had a tremendous quantity of wonderful experiences. I tell a story in my show about…a few years ago, walking down a street and seeing a poster of the revival of Bye Bye Birdie. I went, “Oh, that’s nice!” I walked a little further, and there was a great poster of a blonde in a short black sequin dress, straddling a chair and it said Chicago. And I went, “Oo…that’s fabulous!” All of a sudden a big old bus goes by and it says West Side Story. And I say to myself, “Shouldn’t I be some place at eight o’clock tonight?” (we laugh) You know what I mean. There’s three right there....still playing.

They’re still going strong, just like you!

And I’m still having beautiful experiences. This Broadway Cares Benefit on October 7, that we raised so much money for…that was an extraordinary experience.

Are there any young triple threat artists, who are up and coming, that you particularly like?

Laura Benanti, I like a lot. She’s a beautiful girl. She was great in Nine. She’s having a good time, and I told her she better have a good time. This is her life. And you’ve got to have a good time; you have to be in your moment.  You can’t be someplace else.

What’s your secret for longevity and a great life?

I really appreciate my life. I honestly appreciate my family. The fact that I am alive and able to do what I really love to do. I’ve got the best friends in the world.

And we really appreciate this great lady! See her up close and personal in Chita Rivera: A Legendary Celebration at the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge one night only Saturday January 25.

Here are Chita's exclusive tour dates for 2014:

January 22 – Vitterboro University-Fine Arts Center, La Crosse, WI
January 25 - Valley Perf Arts Center, Northridge, CA
8:00 PM  Box Office: 818.677.3000

January 26 – Haugh Performing Arts Center, Glendora, CA

February 21 – McCallum Theatre, Palm Desert, CA
8:00 PM
Box Office: 760.340.2787

February 23 – Venetian Room at the Fairmont, San Francisco, CA
3:00 PM & 7:30 PM  -   City Box Office (415) 392-4400.

 February 24 & 25 – Harris Center, Folsom, CA
Box Office: 916-608-6888

March 7 – Aventura Arts & Cultural Center, Aventura, FL
8:00 PM

Box Office: 954-462-0222

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Group rep Gives Back to the Community at Christmas

The Group Rep Gives Back
Written by Steve Peterson
left to right: co-chairs Irene Chapman and Janet Wood
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, especially for the Group Repertory Theatre Company, which for more than three decades has provided holiday cheer for children-in-need.

In the beginning, a merry band of ten actors, directors, writers and producers, with Santa in tow, would visit various group foster homes, play games with the kids there, put on a show, and bring a gift for each child. The event has grown over the years, as the holiday tradition continued and the need grew, the Group Rep moved the Kids Holiday Party to their theatre. Today, many company members serve as volunteers and performers, the show is more sophisticated, and a hot lunch is served up by the company.

Longtime GRT members Irene Chapman and Janet Wood organized this year’s event.  The planning and fundraising for the event begins as early August. This year, in addition to contributions from GRT members’ family and friends, employees of the Turner Entertainment Network Original Programming Group, the Rotary Club of North Hollywood, as well as M
arina Haroutunian, Christine Holmes and Hilary Wagner have made the Holiday Kids Party their charity for toy donations.

“As the date approaches,” past Board President Janet Wood explained, “The company members wrap the gifts and decorate the theater from stem to stern.  On the day of the event, the Helper elves (our company members) come in holiday costumes to extend the holiday spirit and host the day.  For many of these children, this is their first experience of live theater.  These children live in foster care facilities (not individual foster care homes) and most will stay there until they are 18 years old.  We have been able to watch some of these kids grow up and help the little ones in their group.  All in all, it is a terrific, heartwarming day!”
left to right: Sandra Cusimano, Leo Weltman as Santa, Cynthia Bryant

The groups of children’s charities change each year; most are foster group homes, but in years past, it has also included a group of children battling cancer. This year, guest organizations included group homes Hathaway/Sycamores, Hillsides, Penny Lane and Vista Del Mar.

“Each year always brings added precious memorable moments,” said event co-chair, Irene Chapman . A couple of years ago the "We Can" cancer group took part in the event, and there was one five-year-old boy who was sheer joy to behold.    Even though his condition was tenuous, he participated well in all that we presented and with great enthusiasm.  His gentle and humble demeanor affected us all.   It stirs and warms the heart.”

Everyone’s experience with the kids exceeds any gift they could possibly imagine; except for one former member, Alan. Starting in 1995, Alan served as Santa Claus for several years in the annual kids show.  Although his involvement in the company had waned, Alan was asked again to perform as Santa at the 2002 Kids Holiday Party.  After the show, Santa gives out gifts to all of the kids.   As Alan aka ‘Santa’ made his exit, he felt his Santa pants falling down and he turned around to find this little child, tugging at Santa’s pants to get his attention. Natalie (not her real name) looked up and said, "Santa, thank you for the greatest Christmas I have ever had.” Alan shared the story about the little girl with his fiancĂ©.  She said, “That's a nice story.  Maybe we could look into foster care or adoption after we‘re married.”

“We married in February 2003 and around May 2003 we started the discussion again about foster/adoption. We took a five-week training class for foster parents at a local adoption agency; these used to be called orphanages.   During a break in one of the sessions, I was looking out of the classroom window when, across my sight line ran Natalie.  I had no idea she was at this foster agency. I called my wife over to the window and said "there's that girl that I told you about." 
We spoke to the class trainer and inquired about Natalie and if she was available for foster care or adoption.   The trainer made an inquiry on our behalf, and we found that Natalie was on track to be reunited with her parents and was not a viable candidate.   We got busy with our careers, and put foster care and adoption on the backburner.
left to right: Lloyd Pedersen, Troy Whitaker, Stan Mazin, Jay Silverman, Henry Holden

In May of 2005, two years later, we received a phone call from the trainer asking if we were still interested in fostering a child. We decided we were. My wife and I began to meet with Natalie and her staff at the foster agency,” continued Alan. “We started slow by taking her out to lunch, then dinner then a movie, then a play.  Soon it was overnights and after about three months she came to live with us for good.”

Late in the process, just before Natalie came to live with Alan and his wife, they learned that she had a younger brother.  He spent time with them on weekends and then came to live with them as well. Eventually, both Natalie and her brother were adopted and the family was complete.

In December 2010, the Group Rep called and asked Alan to play Santa again.  He had lost a significant amount of weight in the ensuing years, but he donned the costume and did so again at this year’s Kids Holiday Party.

Most, if not all of the theatre members and volunteers, knew nothing of this story until a couple of years ago, when they met Alan’s kids at the 2010 Kids Holiday Party.   When Alan told them the story, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.  And, to paraphrase what Janet Wood said earlier, “All in all, it was a terrific, heartwarming day!”