CULTURE WATCH — Santa Monica has its own Nutcracker! Westside Ballet of Santa Monica, now in its fifth decade, returns to the Broad Stage, in collaboration with Santa Monica College Symphony, to present the holiday dance classic, from Dec. 13 – 21, nine performances only.

Comprised primarily of dancers from Santa Monica and surrounding communities, featured performers include Westside Ballet alumnae Joy Womack, now an international ballet star with Kremlin Ballet Theatre, and Lyrica Blankfein, currently touring with “Little Dancer,” soon to appear on Broadway.

For information and tickets visit www.westsideballet.com. The Broad Stage is located at 1310 11th Street.

 

‘TIS THE SEASON FOR DOCUMENTARIES

There are two terrific documentaries opening tomorrow.

“Monk with a Camera” is a moving meditation on the life and work of photographer and Tibetan Buddhist monk (now Abbot) Nicholas Vreeland, grandson of fashion icon, Diana Vreeland (Vogue magazine).

And “She‚Äôs Beautiful When She‚Äôs Angry,” is a truly edifying, entertaining and historic overview of the feminist movement.

“She‚Äôs Beautiful” was an eye opener for me. It‚Äôs funny how when you‚Äôre living through an era such as the 60s and 70s, you can‚Äôt really get the big picture or see the impact of the history unfolding around you. Growing up in this period, confronting many of the same issues they did, I personally felt the fights that feminists fought on my behalf while fighting my own battles in my own way.

Notwithstanding the suffragette movement, with its more-than-century-old history that took decades to give women the right to vote, it’s easy to forget how new the rights that feminism brought us really are, how relatively quickly the changes came to pass— and how threats to our liberty as women are rearing their ugly heads again.

This film focuses on women who don’t immediately come to mind when discussing the movement and/or women’s liberation. We all know who Gloria Steinem and the late Betty Friedan are, but this film focuses on unsung but crucial figures whose histories might otherwise have been overlooked.

How many of us remember the collective that created “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” the worldwide phenomenon that gave women their first glimpse into the mysteries of female anatomy? It‚Äôs still being revised and updated and continues to sell millions of copies globally.

We learn about the beginnings of NOW, the National Organization for Women, founded when gloves and hats were still mandatory for proper ladies.

Sexual freedom may have been easy for men, but birth control became the responsibility of women. We meet the leaders of the pro-choice movement, and creators of the abortion underground during the days when it was still illegal.

This is a really important documentary that brings us into contact with the grassroots organizers of the movement and the different factions within it.

I highly recommend “She‚Äôs Beautiful When She‚Äôs Angry,” which was funded via a Kickstarter campaign. Go see it as soon as you can at Landmark‚Äôs Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles. It opens on Friday for a short run.www.landmarktheatres.com.

 

MONK WITH A CAMERA

While women’s liberation came out of the actions of women banding together to change their world, Buddhism is a practice that looks to make the world a better by making changes from within.

Perhaps the least likely man to become the Abbot of one of the most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in exile, Nicholas Vreeland, the son of a diplomat who’d been raised in Europe and lived in New York City, was a wealthy, privileged member of high society, and a fashion dandy who loved women.

One passion that he pursued to perfection was photography. Through his grandmother’s connections, he apprenticed with two of the most famous photographers of his (and all) time, Irving Penn and Richard Avedon.

With his mother facing a diagnosis of cancer, he began to wonder whether there was more to life than superficial pleasures, something more spiritually fulfilling. Following a break-in resulting in the theft of all his camera equipment, he decided it was a sign of a new beginning. Having met one of the Dalai Lama’s own spiritual teachers, he began to study Buddhism.

A life-changing trip to India ultimately brought him to a then-rundown monastery that served as a way station for Tibetan monks in exile, fleeing a harsh crackdown by China which had taken control of their country.

Vreeland met the Dalai Lama, who saw something in him and advised him to begin his Buddhist practice in earnest at the Rato Monastery in India. Without a camera for many years, Vreeland focused on practicing Buddhism and studying to become a monk.

The Dalai Lama would later tell Vreeland he could be an important link between Tibetan Buddhism and the Western world. So he returned to the U.S. to study with the Dalai Lama’s now-aging master, Khyongla Rato Rinpoche, a founder of the Tibet Center in New York.

Although Vreeland struggled with the question of whether it was right for a monk to take photographs, ultimately he found both his own and his mentors’ approval to resume his art.

And it is this art that made it possible for him to rebuild the monastery, which was bursting at the seams. An exhibition of pictures he shot at the monastery raised the needed money for its reconstruction, with a few bumps along the way.

Recently, the Dalai Lama appointed Vreeland as Abbot of the Rato monastery, making him the first Westerner in Tibetan Buddhist history to attain such a highly regarded position. “Monk With a Camera” chronicles Vreeland‚Äôs journey from playboy to monk to artist.

His photos will be on view through Jan. 23 at The Royal Theatre, part of the Laemmle “Art in the Arthouse” series; the film opens on Friday at The Royal, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd. in West L.A.¬†www.laemmle.com

 

Sarah A. Spitz spent her career as a producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica and produced freelance arts reports for NPR. She has also reviewed theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.

 

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