Veloz and Yolanda, whose fascinating lives have been lost to history, were once heralded as the greatest ballroom dance couple of all time.
Until the Beatles came along, they held the highest attendance record at the Hollywood Bowl. They were stars of stage and screen, with eight films to their credit, including the 1943 Academy Award nominated documentary short film, “Cavalcade of Dance.” They appeared on-stage at Carnegie Hall and on the cover of Life Magazine. They hung out with the A-list of their day, both criminal and celebrity; there even are streets named for them in the San Fernando Valley.
Their now-forgotten but melodramatic life story is being told as an original full-length ballet in “An American Tango ‚Äî Veloz and Yolanda” presented by The State Street Ballet of Santa Barbara at The Broad Stage this weekend.
The Santa Barbara Independent described it as a “classic rags-to-riches story about two kids from poor, New York immigrant families who rise through the ranks of ballroom dance to become stars.” Music by Gershwin, Duke Ellington Fats Waller and others provide the soundtrack.
The show was conceived and written by the couple‚Äôs youngest son. Their daughter curates a public exhibit of her mother‚Äôs original gowns, on view in the lobby along with video footage from their films.
Two performances take place at The Broad Stage, Saturday at 8 p.m., with a VIP reception at 6:30, and a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. Two-for-one matinee tickets are available with the code “2 to Tango.” Tickets at (310) 434-3200 or thebroadstage.com/americantango.
Mixing boxing and dance
In a one-man tour-de-force of physicality, Joe Orrach tells the autobiographical tale of his rough-and-tumble youth, his abusive dad and the ultimate freedom he found through boxing and dance. They both involve fancy footwork, and that‚Äôs the highlight of this production, called “In My Corner,” at the Odyssey Theatre.
Live music accompanies the fleet footwork and childhood challenges played out on-stage by this life-long professional stage and screen dancer. In tap, salsa, syncopated rhythms and dazzling boxing displays, Orrach tells and dances the story of his life.
But I don‚Äôt know if that‚Äôs enough to make me care deeply. While it‚Äôs obviously a brilliant physical production, it‚Äôs also so personal that it may provide more of a release for the performer than real insight for the audience.
Also at the Odyssey, while I wish I could cheer in solidarity with the feminist spirit behind the Los Angeles Women‚Äôs Shakespeare Company‚Äôs 20th anniversary all-female production of “Hamlet,” I‚Äôm afraid I can‚Äôt.
This production is unevenly acted and much of it is overwrought. Lost is the pacing and the beauty of the language; this is especially ironic when one of the reasons that the company exists is to speak the words that Shakespeare wrote for all his male characters.
When Lisa Wolpe sped through “To be or not to be,” I couldn‚Äôt understand that dramatic choice but I think it‚Äôs emblematic of the play‚Äôs direction.
However, if the unusual experience of an all-woman production is tempting enough, it runs through Oct. 27 at the Odyssey Theatre in West L.A. Call (310) 477-2055 or www.OdysseyTheatre.com for tickets and info.
Salinger out of hiding
If he‚Äôd had his way, perhaps there would not be a documentary about J.D. Salinger, who was renowned for two things: publishing “Catcher in the Rye” in 1951, possibly the most iconic book of all time, and his life as a recluse in the hills of New Hampshire.
What we discover in the new documentary, “Salinger” by Shane Salerno is that the reclusiveness may have been calculated and not really so reclusive after all, and that there are posthumous publications coming out in the next few years. Salinger never stopped writing. Only time will tell if the works he toiled over for decades in his solitary writing cabin will have literary merit.
Salinger is a complex man, and this is a complex film, not always flattering but still leaning toward validation of the author as a true literary figure, not just a one-shot cult wonder.
There is a good deal of reconstruction of events alongside rare, never seen footage of Salinger and a photo of him writing “Catcher in the Rye” during World War II.
His life story includes a privileged upbringing, dismissal from a prestigious school ‚Äî much like his protagonist Holden Caulfield, the original “alienated youth,” a phrase that defined a generation of disengaged postwar baby boomers.
As playwright John Guare notes, three different young men, the killers of actress Rebecca Shaeffer and Beatle John Lennon, and one who shot President Ronald Reagan, cited “Catcher in the Rye” as inspiration.
Salinger set out to be a writer with the aim of getting published in The New Yorker, and stuck with that goal until he made it happen. It‚Äôs a long, winding tale.
Salinger was deeply scarred by his World War II experience; he walked into a concentration camp at war‚Äôs end, and as one friend says, he never walked out.
His life is not without controversy. He had a penchant for very young women, an aspect that is touched on in an interview with perhaps the most famous of his young acolytes, Joyce Maynard. She‚Äôs since written a book about her painful relationship with him, as has his daughter. Neither account is laudatory. Other women in his life speak, as well.
While literature should be judged on its own merits, it‚Äôs hard not to look at Salinger‚Äôs writing through the lens of his autobiography as told in this film.
There‚Äôs probably Oscar buzz for this film because it took utter dedication on the part of filmmaker Shane Salerno, who spent $2 million of his own money over 9 years to make the film. Now he‚Äôs got the backing of the Weinstein Company.
Salinger is a long film, long on detail and featuring many people in Salinger‚Äôs life as well as those influenced by him and affected by him. It‚Äôs worth your time.
“Salinger” screens at the Landmark Theatres in West Los Angeles. Find screening times. For details, visit landmarktheatres.com or call (310) 470-0492.
Sarah A. Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for NPR and former staff producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She has also reviewed theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.