Saturday, September 11, 2021

Becoming Led Zeppelin - Part One - Three Mighty Documentaries at the Venice Film Festival

Jimmy Page on the Red Carpet for Becoming Led Zeppelin
Photo: La Biennale di Venezia - ASAC by A. Avezzù

(Venice, Italy) The Sala Grande on the Lido is one of my favorite cinemas in which to screen a film. The original theater was inaugurated on August 10, 1937 for the fifth edition of the Venice Film Festival. Over the years it has been expanded and improved until in 2011 it was completely overhauled and reconstructed, inspired by the original 1937 design by Luigi Quagliata. Normally it seats 1031, but because of COVID restrictions this year it only seats 518. It is a magnificent theater, even with half the audience. The thrill of watching a movie on a big screen and going on a mind journey with fellow human beings in the same physical space and time is a treasured experience. 

I screened three documentaries — Becoming Led Zeppelin, Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song and Life of Crime 1984-2020 — in the Sala Grande in the 2:00 PM slot, a time where members of the film delegation watch the movie together with the audience after they appear on the red carpet. The audience is a mix of accredited guests and the general public — not just industry people like other screenings — so it is a distinct way to screen a film. 

The people who create the movie are eager to see how their labor of love will be received. The journalists who will write about the film watch it with a critical eye. The general public is something other — they have bought tickets to an adventure, arriving from everyday life to the bustling village of the film festival, where there are lights, cameras, and lots of action — a red carpet and squirting water fountains and the magic of the movies wafting through the air. Putting these different elements together in one theater can create interesting reactions to a film.

Initially I was going to combine my impressions of all three documentaries into one post, but have since decided to write three separate pieces. Here is Part One - Becoming Led Zeppelin.

Becoming Led Zeppelin

Jimmy Page with director Bernard MacMahon 
Photo: Cat Bauer

The public audience for Becoming Led Zeppelin was a surprising mix of old and young, from little kids with their parents to hip Gen Zs to grannies out for a day at the movies. I morphed straight into a groupie when I realized that Jimmy Page was at the screening in the flesh. Booking tickets this year even with accreditation has been a real challenge, so you take what you can get as fast as you can get it — it wasn’t until I was walking into the theater and caught a glimpse of Jimmy Page out on the red carpet that I knew he was there — it was a grand surprise. When he appeared up in the gallery, radiating Rock Star energy, the audience roared to their feet and gave him a standing ovation that seemed to go on forever. They made us bag our devices so I doubt anyone has footage except for Jimmy Page, who whipped out his phone.

After growing up in New Jersey with Led Zeppelin playing in the background of my teenage life, to arrive at the point where I was watching a film about Led Zeppelin with the founder of Led Zeppelin sitting in the audience at the Venice Film Festival 50 years later was a surreal experience. I kept thinking, I can’t believe that Jimmy Page is sitting right there!

Unlike most bands, Led Zeppelin was not a group composed of a bunch of friends who grew up together. Each member was a solid musician in his own right, respected amongst fellow musicians, but unknown to the public. Jimmy Page did have some public presence as a guitarist with the Yardbirds through his friendship with Jeff Beck, who had left the band, which broke up completely in 1968 while still committed to a Scandinavian tour. Page put a new group together composed of singer Robert Plant, drummer John Bonham, and John Paul Jones on bass and keyboards — they were all master musicians, but working for a paycheck. From the moment they played their first song at Page's home studio, they had electric chemistry and a new sense of freedom — it was a life-changing experience. They went on tour as the New Yardbirds before transforming into Led Zeppelin. 

By that time, Jimmy Page was not only a guitar god, he was smart and had been around long enough (at age 24) to know that for the band to control their own music it would be better to record it first and then present it to a record label. Because he had toured in the States with the Yardbirds, Page knew that underground FM radio in the USA was playing entire sides of albums, not singles, and constructed the first Led Zeppelin album with that concept in mind, paying the costs of recording himself. 

The gamble paid off and thus began the supernova composed of the 20th century pagan gods that would become Led Zeppelin — they started a UK tour in September 1968, signed with Atlantic Records in November, and began a US tour before the end of the year. While on tour, on January 12, 1969 (three days after Page’s 25th birthday) the first Led Zeppelin album was released in America and reached number 10. In their first whirlwind year, they played four US and four UK concert tours and recorded their second album. And the rest is history.


This is the first documentary ever approved by the band, who all appear in it except for John Bonham, who died on September 25, 1980 at the age of 32 after a day and night of uber-heavy drinking. The filmmakers, director Bernard MacMahon and writer/producer Allison McGourty managed to dig up a forgotten interview that Bonham did in 1971 in Australia, so he, too, is poignantly present. 

The filmmakers said they wanted to make a musical documentary, which is what this is — they have included live versions of entire songs recorded when the band was on tour, so you feel like you are actually at a Led Zeppelin concert. At the end of each song the audience in the theater whooped and applauded together with the audience in the movie, who are preserved forever in celluloid from the 1970s. The simultaneous clapping in past and present created a kind of time warp — like attending a virtual 50-year-old Led Zeppelin concert but in real present-day life with other human beings thinking in the same key, one of whom was Jimmy Page. (The documentary focuses on a very specific period from 1968 to 1970, so “Stairway to Heaven” is not in the movie.)

Bernard MacMahon said that they “saw the film as a series of life-lessons from four very different people on how to achieve your dreams through dedication to your craft, hard work and perseverance.” Unlike standard documentaries, there is no behind-the-scenes dirt of the band’s notorious antics, nor any commentary by anyone other than the band members themselves. Since there would be no Led Zeppelin if Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were not control freaks, it is not surprising they continue to control their legacy. I’m just grateful that the stars aligned and I got to watch Led Zeppelin become Led Zeppelin together with Jimmy Page.


For some reason, I am unable to embed the trailer, so you are going to have to click over to watch it on YouTube. As of this writing, a release date for Becoming Led Zeppelin has not been announced.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Monday, September 6, 2021

Venice Is Alive: Venice Film Festival, Accademia Galleries, Venice Glass Week & Variety Party at Hotel Danieli + More

The Adriatic Sea seen from the roof terrace of Palazzo del Cinema on the Lido - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) It seems like every cultural organization in Venice schedules events and openings around the same time that the Venice Film Festival kicks off. There is a slew of international press in town, and the hope is that the press will attend and shine a headline or two their way — so we’ve got major openings at the Gallerie dell’Accademia and Palazzo Grassi (Hypervenezia) and Palazzo Ducale (Venetia 1600 - Births and Rebirthswhich will have their own posts in the future, as well as the Venice Glass Week scattered in venues and galleries all over the city. Venice can careen from ancient Renaissance to glam Hollywood to glitzy haute couture without missing a beat. The Queen of the Adriatic is exploding out of lockdown in a town brimming with celebrities and dignitaries, as well as ordinary folk.
This year a new element was added to the mix when Dolce & Gabbana electrified the city with fashion shows, dinners and parties in Piazza San Marco, the Rialto and Arsenale just before the film festival opened, ushering in a bevy of celebrities and ritzy clientele who got very wet. You can read about it in Vogue: Dolce & Gabbana’s Stunning Alta Moda Show in Venice Boasted Both a Lightning Strike and a Rainbow and Inside Dolce & Gabbana’s Lavish Three Days in Venice—See J.Lo, Helen Mirren, and More.

Final Day of August, 2021

Power Circle
Roberto Cicutto, President of La Biennale di Venezia
Toto Bergamo Rossi, Director of Venetian Heritage
Simone Venturini, Venice Councilor of Tourism & Economic Dev.
Dario Franceschini, Italian Minister of Culture
Luca Zaia, President of the Veneto Region
Photo: Cat Bauer

Gallerie dell'Accademia
On Tuesday, August 31, the day began with the opening of two new salons of the Gallerie dell’Accademia in the company of Dario Franceschini, the Italian Minister of Culture, and Luca Zaia, the President of the Veneto Region, among other dignitaries.

I like the headline from the press release of the Gallerie dell’Accademia:


Scourge of the Serpents by Giambattista Tiepolo (c.1732-34) Photo: Matteo De Fina

The most riveting painting in the new salons is the Scourge of the Serpents by Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770) an enormous work of art more than 42 and a half feet long (13 meters) depicting a horrific attack of snakes on what seems to be innocent children, women and men — an infant appears to be suckling at the breast of his dead mother. 

Scorge of the Serpents (detail) Tiepolo - Photo: Cat Bauer

Apparently the Lord had sent venomous serpents to punish the Israelites for criticizing him and Moses. Moses is at the center, raising a bronze serpent on a rod. The painting was restored by Venetian Heritage in memory of its founder, Lawrence D. Lovett.

I had never heard of this dramatic story before, so I did a little research. Here is the Biblical passage from Numbers 21:4-5 that the painting portrays:

The Bronze Snake

They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.  The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

It seems that Tiepolo caught the moment just as Moses was raising the bronze serpent because there were a lot of Israelites already dead with snakes coiled around their bodies. I will confess that after having been raised on a benevolent Jesus Christ it is difficult to wrap my mind around Christ having such a cruel father -- and that is supposed to be the universal image of the one god? It is a magnificently disturbing work of art.

Revelers at Benedetto Marcello Conservatory for Venice Glass Week - Photo: Casadorofungher

The Venice Glass Week
Next we segued over to Palazzo Franchetti for the Venice Glass Week press conference, an international festival dedicated to the art of glass. From September 4 through September 12, there are hundreds of events that celebrate glass — installations, exhibitions, conferences, lectures, demonstrations, workshops, film screenings, performance, guided tours and parties. The Venice Glass Week has a website where you will find everything that is scheduled, both physically in town and virtually, so even if you are not in Venice you can participate. There are conversations in English with international glass maestros such as Lino Tagliapietra and Dale Chihuly on the YouTube channel Conversations on Glass by Apice
Academy Award-winning film-maker Bong Joon Ho at Variety bash at Hotel Danieli - Photo: Cat Bauer
Variety Bash at Hotel Danieli

A change of clothes, then over to the Variety party co-hosted by Hotel Danieli, a Luxury Collection Hotel on their magnificent rooftop terrace on the eve of the grand opening of the Venice Biennale International Film Festival. It is a beloved tradition that combines the provincial with the international, and Hollywood with Venice. It was not held last year due to the global pandemic, so it was wonderful to be able to celebrate again. 

The bash honors the President of the Jury of the Venice Film Festival with whimsical food and creative drinks based on his or her body of work set against a backdrop of the lagoon with the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore omnipresent in the background. This year the party celebrated the work of the Academy Award winning film director Bong Joon Ho, who won four Oscars in 2020 for his masterpiece Parasite -- Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film. 

The Venice Lagoon from Terrazza Danieli - Photo: Cat Bauer

Alberto Fol, the Executive Chef of Hotel Danieli's Terrazza Danieli Restaurant, paid tribute to Bong with an evening entitled The Stairway to Paradise, inspired by the class struggle in the film. The menu combined the proletarian with the aristocratic, and featured delicacies that I am taking straight off the press release:

  • La Roccia della Ricchezza - Scampi prawn tartar with gold leaf and Gochugaru (Korean chili powder) 
  • Parasite Pizza - Steamed pizza with oriental vegetables and burrata
  • Parasite Jiapaguri - Ramen and udon mix with premium beef sirloin
  • Chicken - with prune syrup and honey
  • Birthday Skewer - Sausages and prawns with bulgogi sauce
  • Peach and Tofu - with Chopinamu berry
  • Da-Song Chocolate Cak
The mixology was by Hotel Danieli's Lorenzo Ricci, pairing the chef's creations with the refreshing "Core Evolution" cocktail -- gin, mint syrup and champagne. 
Cat Bauer at Variety party Hotel Danieli
Century after century, Venice has hitched up her skirts and lowered her décolletage after overcoming impossible challenges. Venice is 1600 years old this year, born March 25, 421 at noon at Rialto. The Grand Lady may have some wrinkles, but she is still a dynamo, going strong.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Sunday, August 29, 2021

The Swiss Artist with the Very Cool Name: Not Vital in Venice - House to Watch the Sunset and snow & water & ice

House to Watch the Sunset by Not Vital (2021) - Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) House to Watch the Sunset by Not Vital, the Swiss artist with the very cool name, shimmers inside the 16th-century Benedictine Church of San Giorgio Maggiore designed by Andrea Palladio. The majestic contemporary aluminum tower was constructed by Italian craftspeople and is the fifth iteration of Vital's ambitious global project, which is to produce a House to Watch the Sunset on every continent on the planet, each structure built with different local materials, but each with the same very specific mathematical form and dimensions -- which are:

tower 13 X 3.40 X 3.40 m
3 outside stairs
1 with 13
1 with 26
1 with 39 steps
each 1 is 25 X 25 cm +
45 degrees
the 1st floor has 1 door
the 2nd 1 door + 1 window
the 3rd 1 door + 2 windows
the 4th 1 door + 3 windows
4 rooms 3 X 3 X 3 m
+ 1 bed + 1 table + 1 chair
no water or electricity
just enough
to make the sun set

Vital was born on February 15, 1948 in Sent, a village in the Engadin Valley in the Swiss Alps, and has lead a nomadic life, living also in the U.S., Niger, Italy, Brazil and China while maintaining his Swiss base. He is a sculptor and a painter and practices the art of SCARCH -- an acronym for sculpture-architecture -- which is also the name of the exhibition and includes seven other works displayed inside the sacristy and abbey. 
Tintoretto 2020, 2 silver boxes, 27 X 29 X 29 cm by Not Vital 
Photo: Nally Bellati of Contessanally
Four of the works are silver "portraits" in the form of two silver boxes made by silver smiths in Agadez, Niger, "the result of a strict mathematical model that converts a date of birth into abstract form."  The silver box portraits are of Andrea Palladio, who designed the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, Tintoretto, whose paintings adorn the church, Pope Pius VII, who was elected Pope in the Benedictine monastery of San Giorgio (in Venice, not Rome!) and crowned in the church on March 21, 1800. The fourth 2 silver boxes portrait is of Pope Francis.
SCARCH is a collateral event of the Biennale International Architecture Exhibition, and runs through November 21, 2021.

Not Vital, 700 Snowballs, 2001, installation view
Vital had previously had an exhibition with a mathematical theme at the Abbazia of San Giorgio Maggiore in 2013 entitled 700 Snowballs, curated by Alma Zevi, which consisted of 700 glass balls individually blown by the Vetreria Pino Signoretto glass makers on the island of Murano.
Val Sinestra (2019) by Not Vital at ALMA ZEVI Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer
Now, ALMA ZEVI presents snow & water & ice, Not Vital's first solo exhibition at her Venice gallery. Part of the exhibition is Val Sinestra (2019), an installation that originally consisted of 80 transparent glass bottles blown by Finnish glass makers and was exhibited in 2018. Val Sinesta refers to a location in the mineral-rich springs of the Grisons region in Switzerland, famous for their healing  properties. Vital put water from the Val Sinesta springs into the glass bottles. During the exhibition, over time, the mineral-rich sediment split from the water and sank to the bottom of each vessel.
For the Venice exhibit, Vital has recreated the Finnish exhibit. However, instead of 80 bottles, there are 42, and he has substituted the water from the Grisons region with the water from the Venice lagoon to see if any changes in the water take place during the exhibition. 

Since Not Vidal is so keen on numbers and plotting exhibitions with mathematical equations, I was curious as to why there were 42 bottles in the Venice exhibit. It is a very specific number. I asked Alma Zevi's assistant. She said, "I don't think there is a particular reason." I said, "That makes no sense. Forty-two is a weird number." She paused. "He does seem to have a thing for numbers."

I then asked Alma Zevi. She paused, and then confirmed that there was no particular reason, which I again found difficult to believe. I wondered: Had the people surrounding Not Vital become so jaded that the monumental significance of the numbers lurking beneath the surface, hidden in plain sight, was commonplace to them?

Not Vital in Venice, August 27, 2021 - Photo: Cat Bauer

Then Not Vital himself arrived and went into Alma Zevi's gallery, which is a small space -- certainly nothing like the soaring ceilings of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore. He was sort of like a contained electrical storm. I lifted my iPad to take his photo, and he charged into a closeup. I asked him why there were 42 bottles. I expected to hear something like a Divine Mathematical Equation written on tablets from the heavens. He paused, then motioned to another fellow outside the gallery: "Ask him."

I went out the door and up to the guy, who turned out to be a clever fellow named Eric, an expat from Pennsylvania by way of Beijing, who was Not Vidal's assistant. I said, "Not Vital told me to ask you why there are 42 bottles in this exhibition." I waited to hear the Answer to Life.

"Because that is how many bottles could fit in the car," said Eric. "We drove to Venice from Switzerland."
snow & water & ice is at the Alma Zevi Venice Gallery at Salizzada Malipeiro until November 6, 2021.  

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Monday, August 2, 2021

Burano Is a Neverland, Yet it Exists - Celebrating 30 Years of Martina Vidal Venezia

"Burano is a neverland, but it exists." From Semplice Determinazione by Andrea Bettini

(Venice, Italy) On Friday evening, July 30, 2021, I was whisked across the waters of the Venice lagoon to Burano -- the island of colorful houses, fisherman and lace -- in a boat taxi provided by the atelier Martina Vidal Venezia. The occasion was the launch of a book entitled Simple Determination, celebrating the 30 years that the family lacemaking company has been in business. 

"For visitors, the island of Burano became the natural backdrop for their dreams. For residents, it was the best place to live in the entire world. That's what Burano was. A happy landing. A beloved home. ...At exactly nine o'clock on the morning of July 31, 1991, the doors to Artigianato del Merletto da Martina were thrown open."

Martina Vidal and her brother, Sergio, were born into a close-knit family of lacemakers and are constantly finding ways to refresh the ancient tradition by hauling the past into the future. The siblings grew up on Burano watching their grandmothers, aunts and mother work together with needlepoint to create dainty masterpieces call "punto in aria" or "points in the air."

Sergio Vidal, Cat Bauer, Martina Vidal at Semplice Determinazione launch  
Photo: Roberto Rosa

Researchers have concluded that the ingenious inventors of needlelace or "merletto" -- working independently from a backing fabric, indispensable in embroidery -- were aristocratic women during Renaissance Venice. Surrounded by bold, refined ideas, the noble women and their intimate circles would spin their artistic urges into delicate lace while enjoying enlightened conversations.

Thanks to its exceptional quality, Venetian lace gained fame throughout all of Europe. Lace became the top fashion accessory for the ruling classes. As time went on, thousands of craftswomen were needed to keep up with the demand, providing work for the proletariat, with Burano as its center. 

Sergio Vidal, Federica Repetto, presenter, Andrea Bettini, author (on screen), Riccardo Petito, presenter, Martina Vidal at book launch for Semplice Determinazione

Next the French and Flemish got in on the act, and new technologies paved the way for mass production. Fashions changed; revolutions overthrew aristocracies, and lace was no longer in vogue. Needlelace became a domestic hobby, passed down from mother to daughter, going through periods of decline and revival.

Then, thanks to the efforts of Countess Andriana Zon Marcello and backed by Princess Margherita of Savoy, a lacemaking school opened on Burano on March 24, 1872, reviving the local economy -- which is where the Vidal's great-grandmother learned the art. Sadly, the rally was shortlived. By 1973, the school had closed and is now the Burano Lace Museum.

"Burano is a neverland, but it exists... Burano was the center of the universe for its inhabitants -- especially for its children, who left the island for Venice only when they started high school. Because Burano was their own fantastic world." 

The Vidals are at the forefront in keeping the art of merletto alive. Martina said, "The biggest problem is finding lacemakers." The local population has dwindled to about 2400 residents, and these days the painstaking, intricate art is practiced by only a handful of older women, each excelling in one stitch, which is then put together to create the final product. Real handmade lace from Burano is precious and rare. Atelier Martina Vidal Venezia supplements their handmade lace with contemporary, high-quality linens and luxury bespoke collections made from silk, cashmere and the finest cotton, and collaborates with top designers and fashion houses. They have a discerning clientele that includes celebrities and royalty, but the only name they were willing to reveal was that of Magic Johnson, who has publicly declared his passion for their fashion.

Garden of Martina Vidal Venezia, former home of artist Umberto Moggioli
Photo: Cat Bauer

Sergio said, "When the sun sets and the tourists leave, the Buranelli have the island back to themselves." The atelier is located in the reinvented home of Umberto Moggioli, a member of the Burano School, a group of struggling artists who, in the early 1900s, found inspiration on the island, attracted by its haunting landscapes and modest way of life. Moggioli's wife Anna turned their home into a gathering place for artists like Gino Rossi, Arturo Martini and Pio Semeghini, members of the Burano School who would go on to find success, and whose work can be seen today in Ca' Pesaro, Venice's International Gallery of Modern Art. At the beginning of the 20th century, Burano was a humble paradise where fishermen, lacemakers and artists lived side by side.

Trattpria Da Romano & Atelier Martina Vidal Venezia - Generations on Burano

Artists have to eat, and the local Barbaro family fed them at their small bottega. In return, the artists gifted the family with works of art. Around 1920, Romano Barbaro transformed the bottega into Trattoria Da Romano.

Da Romano is renowned today for over 450 paintings on its walls, and the names of celebrities like Hemingway, Charlie Chaplin, Maria Callas, Fellini, Robert De Niro and Keith Richards recorded in its 26 "Libroni." It's also a favorite haunt of designer Philippe Starck, who used a table at the trattoria as his office for more than ten years, and has maintained a home on Burano for decades. 

The book launch was held in the garden of Umberto and Anna Moggioli's former house and artist hangout, now headquarters for Martina Vidal Venezia and their friends and clients. And the food was provided by Da Romano, which is still owned by the Barbaro family. 

Inside Martina Vidal Venezia - Photo: Cat Bauer

"This book was born of a desire to rediscover ourselves, to focus on the path we have followed together, but above all from a desire to understand where we want to go from here." 

The subtitle of the book encapsulates the secret of the Vidals' success: Simple Determination. Because good people can do great things.  

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Portions of this article were originally published in a slightly different form in the Spring/Summer 2019 edition of Luxos Magazine.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

A Tribute to Ismael Ivo the "Ebony God" at Ca' Giustinian, Venice Biennale Headquarters

Ismael Ivo

(Venice, Italy) On the evening of July 22nd, here in Venice we celebrated the life of Ismael Ivo, the dynamic and much loved Brazilian dancer, choreographer and director of Biennale Danza who died of Covid-19 on April 8, 2021 at the age of 66. 
The Body Is a Document of Today: A Tribute to Ismael Ivo was inaugurated in the Portego of Ca'Giustinian, La Biennale di Venezia's headquarters on the Grand Canal. The tribute reminded us of the power Ismael conveyed during the years that he was here in Venice, a force that still reverberates today.

The exhibition was curated by Wayne McGregor, the current Director of the Dance, who raided La Biennale's vast Historical Archive (ASAC) to organize a touching memorial for Ismael Ivo. According to McGregor, the tribute is:

A celebration of the adventuresome spirit and poetic humanity of Ismael Ivo in documents, photos and video from the Historical Archives of Contemporary Arts of La Biennale di Venezia.

"Adventuresome spirit" and "poetic humanity" describes Ismael Ivo beautifully, and I am grateful to Wayne McGregor for putting together this memorial, and to La Biennale for inviting me to the opening. It was the closure I needed to accept that this wonderful spirit who impacted my life is no longer here on the planet.

Robert Mapplethorpe Adjusting Ismael Ivo for a Portrait (1984) © Gudrun Stockinger

Ismael Ivo was the director of the Biennale Dance sector from 2005 through 2012. But he first captured my heart several years earlier when I saw him perform Mapplethorpe at the Dance Biennale in 2002, a dance monument he created in memory of Robert Mapplethorpe -- a performance which is still burned into my memory nearly two decades later. 
The show began with a completely naked, astonishingly beautiful man on stage. He had luminescent ebony skin and a perfect body and was fearless, physically breaking down a wall accompanied by the music of Steve Reich while wading through calla lilies.
Ismael's performance created a sensation throughout Venice and the dance world, and an unscheduled repeat performance was quickly planned for the next night. I still have my agenda from 2002, and I have it written on both May 7 and 8, which makes me wonder if I saw it twice. 
Ismael Ivo in Mapplethorpe

The Inspiration for Mapplethorpe, the Dance

According to a 2007 article in La Repubblica, and an article in entitled I Neri di Mapplethorpe (The Blacks of Mapplethorpe) in 1984 Ismael, then 29, had accompanied Gudrun Stockinger, an Austrian photojournalist, to an interview at Mapplethorpe's home studio in Manhattan. She wanted to photograph Mapplethorpe, and he said he would only agree if Ismael would agree to be photographed by him. (Ismael had been transported to New York by his talent after being plucked off the stage in Brazil by Alvin Ailey, who had seen him perform while there on vacation.) It was agreed, and that is how a topless Ismael Ivo came to be photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe, an encounter that jolted Ismael to such an extent that he later would create a performance based on the experience.
In 1989, Ismael was in Germany (again transported by his talent) and read that Mapplethorpe was dying of AIDS. He called Mapplethorpe and told him that the day he was photographed was one of the most beautiful and intense days of his life, and he wanted to thank him for his kindness. Mapplethorpe replied that "you don't know how important it is to hear these words. The only thing I regret is that I will no longer be able to photograph you because for me you are the ideal model." Two weeks later, Mapplethorpe was dead.
Then, nearly two decades later, in the Italian interview with Il Repubblica, Ismael explained that he replicated the magical exchange of energy of that photography session when he conjured up Mapplethorpe -- the silence in the room, the way Robert Mapplethorpe choreographed Ismael's pose as he sat on a chair, his intense gaze:

"For me the show is an aesthetic dialogue with Mapplethorpe, a genius who had an obsession  

with the body. Mapplethorpe broke a taboo in American society by showing the black man's body  

and his personal fantasies about it in the sunlight. He broke an erotic and racial taboo."


 "The show begins with my naked body breaking a wall, the prison of taboos. I think that only a  

genius like him could break a taboo that went back to the colonial era. He succeeded because  

he was good and because he translated the erotic model into luminous, perfect images." 


"...Mapplethorpe not only stripped my body but also my soul. He forced me to open my interior...

           he was like an anthropologist. He studied that body for a deeper unveiling."

Like handing off the baton in a relay race, Ismael Ivo took Mapplethorpe's distinct images of the black male body, infused them with his own passions and transformed them into dance. He then passed this mystical conversation without words onto us, the audience. The performance went down in history.

By then, Ismael had co-founded the Vienna International Dance Festival and was head choreographer at the German National Theater in Weimar. He became Director of La Biennale Dance in 2005, and then created L'Arsenale della Danza, a company of young dancers from all over the world, who arrived in Venice for master classes with selected mentors, followed by live performances. The dances of the students were so popular that it became almost impossible to get a seat.
Roberto Cicutto, President of La Biennale & Wayne McGregor, Director of Dance

The Ebony God

While researching this post, I stumbled on an article in Black Brazil Today entitled:
Dancer/choreographer Ismael Ivo: The ebony god that Brazil didn’t know and the world revered dies from complications of Covid-19
I thought that "ebony god" described Ismael Ivo even better than his "adventuresome spirit" and "poetic humanity." (Can you imagine knowing such a man!?) About midway through the article, which seems to have more than one author, Kauê Vieira writes:
Ismael Ivo had the color of the night. A black man, with muscles defined by the work of a career of over 30 years abroad, Ivo was the perfect definition of an Deus do Ébano (Ebony God), as Ilê Aiyê sang so well.

The article is a fascinating recap of Ismael's life told from the perspective of his own country, Brazil, to which he had returned. He took over the direction of the Balé da Cidade de São Paulo in 2017 and was the vice president of the State Council of Culture of the Government of São Paulo when he died. 

According to the article, São Paulo Governor João Dória announced that he would create the SP Escola de Dança Ismael Ivo (Ismael Ivo School of Dance), which “will offer technical and artistic training, with a 100% focus on the formation and training of professionals in choreography and performance.”

May the memory and trajectory of Ismael Ivo serve to inspire Brazil to understand that there is no evolutionary possibility without art. But art that includes and fights against historical prejudices, such as racism. The rest, dear readers, is a sham and has a commitment to oppression.

“Culture is an element that transforms life,” Ismael Ivo.

To read more about the Ebony God go to Black Brazil Today.

Tribute to Ismael Ivo on the Terrace of Ca' Giustinian, La Biennale Headquarters - Photo: Cat Bauer
The Body Is a Document of Today: A Tribute to Ismael Ivo
Here in Venice, at the inauguration, Roberto Cicutto, the new President of La Biennale di Venezia said, "We are proud that the material gathered in this Exhibition today can indeed make us feel the presence of Ismael Ivo, who recently passed away, and brings his work to the attention of those who might choose to embrace it and those who might wish to disseminate it."
The images and videos of the tribute were deeply moving, and I became teary-eyed remembering the precious moments I had shared with Ismael, a man filled with passion and compassion, strength and kindness. He was a man who was as beautiful on the inside as he was on the outside, and who used his medium to challenge the world to its core and probe the depths of its foundation.
 Afterwards we all went up to the roof and continued the celebration on the terrace of Ca' Giustinian, a setting that has one of the most spectacular views in Venice. Surrounded by such magnificence, we could indeed feel the presence of Ismael Ivo radiating from the heavens. 
Addio, caro Ismael. Rest with the angels.

Cat Bauer at Ismael Ivo Tribute - Ca' Giustinian Terrace
Cat Bauer at Ismael Ivo Tribute - Ca' Giustinian Terrace
The exhibition The Body Is a Document of Today - A Tribute to Ismael Ivo is open every day in the Portego at Ca' Giustinian from 8am to 8pm, and admission is free.The inauguration was the pre-opening of Biennale Danza 2021, the 15th International Festival of Contemporary Dance, which runs through Sunday, August 1st. Go to La Biennale di Venezia for tickets and further information.
Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Standing Ovation at Teatro Goldoni for Kae Tempest, Winner of Venice Biennale Theater Silver Lion

Kae Tempest at Teatro Goldini in Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) Kae Tempest is a wordsmith wizard who spins thoughts into gold. Tempest's performance of The Book of Traps & Lessons at the Teatro Carlo Goldoni last night, July 10, was riveting and received a standing ovation -- which illustrates the power of the piece, since the Italian world premiere was a 45-minute spoken-word poem performed entirely in English. 

It was a COVID-distanced full house, with every other seat occupied all the way up to the highest balcony. The written program was in English and Italian, but it is nearly impossible to translate such a complex narrative from one language to another and capture the original meaning. Tempest said something like, "I don't know if you can understand the words, but maybe you will understand the feeling." Judging by the reaction of the audience, the message was delivered.

I've never heard Tempest perform before, either live or on record, so I don't know the journey the artist took to arrive at the Goldoni. I've read  interviews and listened to excerpts of previous performances, all of which included music. The performance last night was just Tempest with a mic. No music. The words were so compelling and the voice so pure, I didn't miss the music.  

Know the wolves that hunt you 
in time they will be the dogs that bring your slippers
Love them right
and you will feel them kiss you
when they come to bite
--- from Hold Your Own by Kae Tempest

Kae Tempest was born Kate Esther Calvert in Westminster, England on December 22, 1985 and came out as non-binary in August 2020, which means that I am supposed to use the pronoun "they" instead of "she," which I don't want to do because the grammar is too awkward in the English language (surely there must be another solution). So I am going to try to write this entire post by avoiding the whole thing.

In 2013, Tempest won the Ted Hughes Award for Brand New Ancients, and was named a Next Generation Poet by the Poetry Book Society, an honor that only happens once in a decade. The albums Everybody Down and Let Them Eat Chaos were both nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. The third album, The Book of Traps and Lessons, that we heard last night was released in 2019 and was nominated for the Ivor Novello Award.

I have seen the lions turn to cubs
And I have seen the hunters turn to prey
The lessons will come again tomorrow
If they're not learned today
---  from Lessons by Kae Tempest

Tempest said that last night would be the last time the words of The Book of Traps & Lessons would be spoken publicly. Italy holds a special place in the evolution of the work, and performing the piece in Venice seemed to give it closure. The piece had been written five years ago in Umbria, and went "very deeply in and very vastly out." 

She said - we are born of collision
We are divisions of a bigger vision
And yet we run around like hamsters
Spinning the wheel
Spinning the wheel
Spinning the wheel
I was on my knees then
Begging for pardon
I was old and clothed in white garments
In a vast red desert
Where the rocks were dark blue and varnished
And a voice said
This is the garden
Now you better start sowing
Or there won't be a harvest
--- from Holy Elixir by Kae Tempest

The G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors were having their summit here in Venice at the same time that we were watching Tempest perform at the Teatro Goldoni, which Tempest acknowledged, saying: "There is another gathering of people in this city tonight. Let's reach out to the unreachable."

Outside Teatro Goldoni, Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer

In addition to recording albums and performing live, Tempest also writes novels, non-fiction and plays.  Paradise, a version of Sophocles’ Philoctetes opens at the National Theatre in London on August 4th. The play's text published by Picador launches on August 5th. It is Tempest's work as a playwright that La Biennale di Venezia honors with the Silver Lion award. 
The Venice Biennale 49th International Theater Festival runs from July 2 to 11, 2021, and is directed by Stefano Ricci and Gianni Forte (ricci/forte) who entitled this year's festival "Blue."
Pre-order at #VeniceBooks
Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Music in the Maze: The Borges Labyrinth on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice has its Own Soundtrack

The Borges Labyrinth on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore - Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) I remember when the magical Borges Labyrinth was unveiled here in Venice on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore a decade ago, back on June 14, 2011, to mark the 25th anniversary of the death of the renowned Argentinian writer and poet, Jorge Luis Borges, who died on June 14, 1986. 

The Borges Labyrinth is a reconstruction of the maze that Randoll Coate, the British diplomat, maze designer and Borges friend, designed in Argentina inspired by the short story The Garden of the Forking Paths. It was created at the behest of Maria Kodama, the widow of Borges, who wished to commemorate her husband's love of Venice. The aim of the project was to "create a garden full of spiritual meaning in memory of Borges" and generate public interest in his work. 

Renata Codello, Andrea Erri, Ilaria D'Uva, Antonio Fresa (not posing:-)

Now, 10 years later, we celebrate the opening of the Borges Labyrinth for the first time to the public with a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack composed by Antonio Fresa and performed by the Teatro La Fenice Orchestra, which was presented by Renata Codello, the dynamic new Secretary General of the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Andrea Erri, the Managing Director of Fondazione Teatro La Fenice, Ilaria D'Uva, CEO and owner of D'Uva, and Antonio Fresa, the composer himself.

I have walked the maze before accompanied only by the sound of birdsong and silence. This time, as I wandered the maze with a handful of others, I actually felt like I was in a movie -- a real-life movie -- with Teatro La Fenice Orchestra playing the score. I became misty-eyed by the music wafting through the headphones and the gentle twists and turns of the path. Fresa said, "Walking the Labyrinth is a four-movement suite that tells the metaphor of existence flowing backwards, experienced through evaporation, solidity, chaos and the origin of life." 

And that is what it felt like -- that time was flowing backwards, and I was in the same labyrinth, starting in the present and zigzagging my way back through time, feeling the same way I felt back in 2011 when it first opened and then forward and backward throughout the years when it was open for special events, and now here I was in the labyrinth again in 2021 with the music of Teatro La Fenice in my ears, the theater which has burned and resurrected and burned and resurrected throughout time -- it felt so familiar and wonderful that these heavenly vibrations cannot be destroyed but resurrect and still hover in the air for more than a thousand years on the ancient Island of San Giorgio Maggiore and that I could bear witness.

The Borges Labyrinth - A Sountrack Experience - Photo: Cat Bauer

Everything about the Borges Labyrinth is loaded with symbolism and profound thought, including The Garden of the Forking Paths, the short story that inspired it, which, on the surface appears to be a spy thriller set during the first World War. Wikipedia says: "The story's theme has been said to foreshadow the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics." Here are some excerpts:
"The advice about turning always to the left reminded me that such was the common formula for finding the central courtyard of certain labyrinths. I know something about labyrinths. Not for nothing am I the great-grandson of Ts'ui Pen. He was Governor of Yunnan and gave up temporal power to write a novel with more characters than there are in the Hung Lou Meng, and to create a maze in which all men would lose themselves. He spent thirteen years on these oddly assorted tasks before he was assassinated by a stranger. His novel had no sense to it and nobody ever found his labyrinth."

"Under the trees of England I meditated on this lost and perhaps mythical labyrinth. I imagine it untouched and perfect on the secret summit of some mountain; I imagined it drowned under rice paddies or beneath the sea; I imagined it infinite, made not only of eight-sided pavilions and of twisting paths but also of rivers, provinces and kingdoms.  ...I thought of a maze of mazes, of a sinuous, ever-growing maze which would take in both past and future and would somehow involve the stars."

"An invisible labyrinth of time."

"At one time, Ts'ui must have said, 'I am going into seclusion to write a book,' and at another, 'I am retiring to construct a maze.' No one realized that the book and the labyrinth were one and the same."

"Differing from Newton and Schopenhauer, your ancestor did not think of time as absolute and uniform. He believed in an infinite series of times, in a dizzily growing ever spreading network of diverging, converging and parallel times."

Until now, it was only possible for the public to see the Labyrinth from the terrace of the Branca Center, not actually walk it. Seen from above, the Labyrinth looks like an open book with 3,200 box hedges arranged to form the name Borges forward and in reverse, dotted with references to the works of the Argentine writer: a walking stick, mirrors, two hourglasses, a huge question mark, a tiger, the name Jorge Luis and the initials of Maria Kodama.

After I twice journeyed through space and time inside the labyrinth, I joined the other travelers at the San Giorgio Café, which has also reopened, for drinks and nibbles with a view of the sailboats along the quay. And just like meeting a familiar acquaintance on a forking path inside the labyrinth, it turned out that I knew the new chef, Najada Frasheri, about whom I had written for LUXOS Magazine back in 2018 when she was cooking at Vecio Fritolin (which has sadly closed), and who has now manifested on the Island of San Giorgio. Najada assured us that visitors will leave the San Giorgio Café well-fed. 

Tomaso Buzzi exhibit in the Longhena Library - Photo: Cat Bauer


Antonio Fresa has also composed a soundtrack to accompany the tour of the Vatican Chapels which are located in the woods of San Giorgio Maggiore, which I have seen previously, but not heard. In addition, there is a tour of the Giorgio Cini Foundation itself, and a free tour of the whimsical sketches in the  Venezia è tutto d’oro. Tomaso Buzzi: disegni “fantastici”1948-1976 exhibition in the Longhena Library, as well as different combinations of all the tours. 

In order to visit the Borges Labyrinth and the other excellent offerings under the umbrella of the Giorgio Cini Foundation on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, you must make a reservation. At the time of this writing, if you go to the English Visit Cini dot Com website, you will see that it says "Tour Temporarily Not Available." Actually, that is not true -- the tours are available, but only if you make reservations on the Italian website. So, for those who do not understand Italian, here are some clues to help you wind your way through the reservation labyrinth: First go here to the English website so you can see what tours are available (some are listed in English, but not all), then go here to book which tour you would like after you decipher the Italian site.

 "I leave to various future times, but not to all, my garden of forking paths."
Ts'ui Pen 
from the Garden of the Forking Paths
by Jorge Luis Borges 
Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer