Horsing Around

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In keeping with tradition, Ballet Pensacola is beginning their performance season in a ghoulish manner.

For the past few years, the ballet company opened with “Dracula.” This year however, a new tale will be told with “The Headless Horseman” ballet.

“We have really created our own version of the story to make it the most effective for dance,” said Richard Steinert, artistic director for Ballet Pensacola. “I particularly liked the challenge of this, its feeling of Americana, and the opportunity to meld numerous different versions of ‘The Headless Horseman’ and ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.’”

Using a fairy tale as the inspiration for a ballet is fitting due to their shared magical elements, Steinert explained.

“When it comes to knowing if a story will translate into ballet, I can only say that I have learned to trust my instincts,” he said. “Everyone told me ‘The Matrix’ would never succeed as a ballet, and it is one of Ballet Pensacola’s biggest selling works. I think there is a story in most everything you say or do. Then it’s up to the skill the choreographer has to translate it to wordless speech.”

Beyond the magic of storytelling, creating an original ballet begins and ends with trust.

“Building ballets for a living is mostly about trusting your own voice—if you hear yourself clearly, chances are you can make others hear too,” Steinert said.

“The Headless Horseman” will be debuting at the second half of the evening, with the first half dedicated to pieces choreographed by Steinert’s wife, Ballet Mistress Christine Duhon and the grand pas de deux from “Don Quixote.”

“Christine and I toss around a number of ideas before we settle on one, and this slot of the season is always ripe with ideas for spooky type works,” Steinert said.

“I feel fortunate to work every day with my wife and my best friend,” he added. “We each bring our own ideas to the table, are each prepared to give up a little, get a little, and walk away with a product that is innovative and fits the desires of our audience.”

Six new dancers will be making their debut with Ballet Pensacola this season. Steinert said this year proves to have a “strong and provocative company.”

“This is a great group with strong voices, so I try and listen as I build ballets,” he said of the company. “It makes the ballets more real, more honest and gives the dancers a sense of ownership in the not just the performance, but the process as well. And if the process is true and strong, you have given the artists the best foundation you can to meet an audience with an open heart and willing soul.”

Perhaps one of the most interesting characters to take the stage opening night will be the horse-like structure created for “The Headless Horseman.”

Steinert, Duhon and Production Designer Lance Brannon work closely together when it comes to creating a full show.

When it came to choosing “The Headless Horseman” for the opening show, Steinert said he knew it would require some technical innovation. Luckily, Brannon is just the man to execute his vision.

“It’s great to work with a guy like Lance, who you can go to and say, ‘build me a fully articulated horse that can show emotion and can be ridden’ and know that he will do it,” Steinert said.

Small teasers of the horse Brannon created have made it to the ballet’s social media. In the company’s online video series titled “Life in the Mirror,” you can see a sneak peek of the structure that was built with PVC pipe.

“When I was told we were going to be doing ‘The Headless Horseman,’ my initial reaction was, ‘Then we’re gonna need a horse,’” Brannon said. “I was excited about tackling that challenge.”

When creating his design, Brannon took a cue from the Broadway production of “War Horse,” which featured a life-size horse puppet.

“As a designer, you always want what ever you are creating to be yours,” Brannon said. “However, I looked at their creation and saw that the basic design was solid and felt that there was no reason to reinvent the wheel, so to speak.”

Whether you’ve been anticipating the return of Ballet Pensacola productions or you’re a ballet neophyte, “The Headless Horseman” and accompanying repertoires are guaranteed to entertain you or maybe even spook you—tis the season after all. To get even more in the Halloween mood, audiences are invited to wear their best costumes.

“I do like to keep the opening season Halloween-ish,” Steinert said.

Seeing the World Through Steve McCurry’s Lens

NGM Cover, June 1985

 

When photographer Steve McCurry took a portrait of a young Afghan girl while traveling with refugees in Pakistan in the early 1980s, there was probably no telling what would come of the picture. This was, after all, a time before digital cameras.

However, the photograph, titled “Afghan Girl,” went on to be more than just a quick snapshot. The photo was the cover of the June 1985 issue of “National Geographic” and became a symbol of the 1980s Afghan conflict. The cover is one of the most recognized in the magazine’s 126-year history.

“You can never know the extent of the impact,” McCurry said. “It’s always great when your work gets published in major magazines, but you just do the best you can and hope your pictures communicate with people.”

Out of the newsroom and into India
McCurry started his photography career after college in the “Today’s Post” newsroom in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. He said it was a great learning experience.

“Working in a newsroom requires producing work rather quickly, and you’re in a variety of situations,” he added.

After “Today’s Post” and several years of freelance work, McCurry traveled to India—a first of many trips.

“I’ve been traveling since I was 19 and never stopped,” he said. “When I went to India, it was with the goal of photographing what was there and representing the culture and life of that region of the world.”

Putting a human face to the issue
McCurry’s travels were not your typical vacation. Instead, the photographer did everything he could to adapt to the culture.

During that first trip to India, McCurry spent several months traveling the subcontinent with a bag of clothes, film and not much more. When he arrived in Pakistan, he met a group of refugees from Afghanistan. While embedded with the Mujahideen, McCurry dressed in traditional garb and grew a full beard.

That trip brought the world its first images of the Afghan conflict and put human faces to the issue.

McCurry, who traveled to Afghanistan several times in the past three decades, said he found the refugees to be “extremely hospitable and fun to be around.

“The people who suffer, who get caught in the middle of war, are civilians,” he said. “The refugees take the brunt of the destruction.

“They don’t want to be refugees,” McCurry added. “They’ve been driven from their home. It’s a sad situation.”

“Afghan Girl,” with her piercing stare and bright green eyes, resonated so much that there was an ongoing search to identify the then-adolescent. In 2002, a “National Geographic” team traveled to Afghanistan to locate the subject. Using iris recognition, they found Sharbat Gula, who was around the age of 30 at the time.

Working abroad
McCurry has literally traveled the world with passport stamps from Asia, Africa, Europe and South America, but there are still places he’d like to explore. Iran is one place that comes to mind.

When preparing to travel, especially to countries that are in the middle of crisis, McCurry studies up.

“Before I travel, I study and research to understand the culture,” he said. “I talk to friends that have been to the destination before to learn about places to avoid. It’s important to have a sense of place.”

McCurry travels with an interpreter. He stresses the importance of “working with good people.

“Your life is in their hands,” he said.

McCurry counts Henri Cartier-Bresson, a French photographer known as the father of photojournalism, as a major influence. Bresson was known for waiting for the exact moment to click the shutter of his camera to get the image he wanted to create. When it comes to documenting life, McCurry doesn’t necessarily pay attention to how many pictures he’s taking.

“Just shoot however many pictures you feel is needed,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a specific number to it. Everyone has their own way.”

For anyone looking to start a freelance photography career abroad, McCurry says to be flexible.

“The main thing to learn is to adjust,” he said. “You also need to be informed, everybody needs to.”

Coming to Pensacola
With an award-winning career that spans a few decades, McCurry is a wealth of knowledge for anyone interested in photography, travel or both.

This month, you cannot only see McCurry’s work in the gallery at the Anna Lamar Switzer Center for Visual Arts at Pensacola State College, but you can see him in the flesh at Saenger Theatre.

“We’re unpacking the photographs now, all 74 of them,” said PSC Visual Arts Department Head, Krist Lien.

The college sought to bring McCurry to the area to expose the public to works that appeal to everyone, Lien said. PSC also facilitated Christo’s visit to Pensacola almost four years ago.

“McCurry’s photos are an easy sell,” he added. “Just about everybody can recognize his work.”

For photojournalists and artists alike, the chance to experience McCurry’s work up close and hear about his experiences is a great opportunity for students.

“His work and the way he assimilates with the culture as much as he can is amazing,” Lien said. “There’s so much to learn.”

While his work is featured in galleries and publications, McCurry doesn’t refer to himself as a photojournalist or an artist, but as a documentary photographer.

“I document the world I see, and the world we live in,” he said. “Sometimes your vision can get to a level that is considered art, like Bresson. But I think it can achieve both things.”

As seen in Independent News

The Tree House Picture Show

It has a new name and new equipment, but the same dedicated staff. Movies 4 in Gulf Breeze—now Tree House Cinema—is back.

Tripp Jordan had only been working at the theater for about six months before he decided to take a giant leap from employee to owner in July.

“I always wanted to have my own business and bring this theater to a great place,” he said.

Jordan took out a loan to purchase brand new digital projectors and audio equipment, which was long overdue. The theater’s choices in movies to show were rapidly dwindling as 35 mm film became harder and harder to find.

“My soul is on the line,” Jordan said.

Previous owners and management thought of raising funds via Kickstarter since upgrades costs tens of thousands of dollars per screen, but it never came to fruition.

The projectors not only give more film options, but prevent technical mishaps and give the audience a better movie experience.

“It’s about the films first and foremost,” Jordan said.

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Tree House Cinema Manager Dylan Carroll worked the film projectors in the past year he’s worked there.

But Jordan is looking to do more than buy projectors. With a background in cooking, he sees the theater becoming a hang out by offering more snack options, coffee, beer and wine. Already Jordan has added a few table and chairs to give the theater lobby a café feel.

“A lot of the times, I’d see people coming out of a movie just standing around,” he said. “I want to create a place that’s kind of nostalgic where you can come see a great movie and have a drink with your friends without breaking the bank.”

Helping to create his vision is Dylan Carroll, who just stepped into the manager position after working at the theater for a year-and-a-half.

“Potential—that’s the word for the theater,” he said.

Carroll said he remembers coming to the theater as kid. For a time, it was the only movie theater in Gulf Breeze.

The small theater, tucked away in a small shopping plaza, didn’t and doesn’t look to compete with the big screens to the east and west. Instead, it has always strived to provide locals an alternative by showing limited release, independent films with a mix of new releases. And as ticket prices skyrocketed at big theater chains, you could always walk out of Tree House Cinema—then known as Movies 4 or Cinema 4, without spending a fortune.

Even with the newly-installed equipment, Jordan and Carroll said they want to continue to show the same quality movies with a few surprises, like incorporating anime in the lineup.

“There’s a place for IMAX and 3-D—that’s just one of many different ways to see a movie,” Carroll said. “But a movie like ‘Boyhood,’ I don’t want to see that film blown up. It should be in a 125-seat capacity theater, in that intimacy.”

“We’re going to try to show a mix with two or three art house films, family movies and a blockbuster,” Jordan added.

Dylan Carroll

Dylan Carroll

Choosing movies for the four-screen theater can require a lot of time. But for movie buffs like Jordan and Carroll, it’s fun.

“We watch trailers all day at work,” Carroll said with a laugh.

Jordan sees Tree House Cinema to be a “community theatre,” collaborating with other organizations and even being a place for local filmmakers to showcase their work.

“Already we’ve worked with more organizations in the past two months than we have in a year and a half,” he said.

And just as the new cinema looks to engage with its community, it will need the community to reciprocate to ensure its future.

“We’re relying on the people,” Carroll said. “We have a lot of loyal customers who come in, but also a lot coming in by accident. Even on busy nights, I’ve thought ‘These seats should be sold out.’”

 

As seen in Independent News

InWeekly Pet Issue

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Instead of posting the stories like normal, I want to share this issue of InWeekly with you because it’s so great (as they always are).

In the third annual Pet Issue, you can learn:

how to turn your pet into an internet star. (By the way, follow my cat on Instagram) Page 13

how to give your pet CPR. Page 14

and..

how to mourn your pet. Page 15

 

 

‘A Glimpse into a Different World’

For anyone who’s been having a little cosplay withdraw, Blue Morning Gallery is featuring some of your favorite pop culture characters in its new exhibition, “The Art of Pensacon.”

Since the first convention took over Pensacola with costumes and comics last February, it seems that Pensacon has made a lasting effect on the arts and entertainment community.

“We were having such a good time during Pensacon weekend seeing all of the costumes during Gallery Night that one of our artists, Jim Sweida, decided to contact Pensacon staff and see about doing a show,” said Connie Wendleton, president of Blue Morning Gallery.

“The Art of Pensacon” is a different type of art exhibition for Blue Morning Gallery—or any gallery for that matter—as it presents convention culture in a downtown art gallery.

A fan of Wonder Woman for years, Wendleton said she’s excited to see some comic book art, as well as introduce the gallery to a whole new set of artists and viewers.

“We’ve had guest artists before, but never had this kind of show before,” she said. “It’s a real breakout. I’m excited. I’ve been reading comics since I was old enough to know what those little bubbles said. I still have some of my ‘Wonder Woman’ comics.”

“The Art of Pensacon” will feature four artists: two visiting comic book artists and two local painters.

A comic inked by John Dell.

A comic inked by John Dell.

John Dell, based in Louisiana and from the Escambia County area, has been working in the comic book industry since 1986 working with smaller, independent companies and then transitioning to Marvel and DC Comics. He’s worked on well-known titles such as “Superman,” “Batman” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Mitch Byrd, from Mississippi, has lent his distinct style to titles such as “Green Lantern,” “Spawn” and more. He currently works for 3 Alarm Comics and was the selected artist for the Pensacon 2015 logo.

Pensacola-based painters Johnny MacPhail and Ashley Waner were both volunteers during Pensacon weekend.

The convention was an inspiration for Waner’s art, which is typically nature-based.

“It made me feel empowered to do what I wanted to do,” she said. “All of the different types of art I saw were inspiring.”

When she was contacted for the show, Waner immediately went to work on several paintings including Jack Nicholson as The Joker from the 1989 movie “Batman” and Kit Harington in his famous role of Jon Snow from the HBO series “Game of Thrones.” Those two paintings will likely be her picks to show.

MacPhail will have two oil-based paintings in the show—portraits of the popular “X-Men” character Wolverine and of everyone’s favorite meth-dealing teacher, Walter White, from “Breaking Bad.”

“It should be a pretty interesting exhibit,” he said. “I hope it shows that there are other artists in Pensacola that don’t just do beach paintings.”

While comic books can easily be disregarded as a form of art, Waner said comics are just as much a medium as painting or sculpting. In fact, they’re referred to as the ninth art in France.

“There are a lot of world problems reflected in comics, which make them relatable,” Waner said. “In a way, the artist is saying how they want the world to be through their comic.”

The artist said she hopes that visitors to the show will view comic book and comic book-inspired art differently. As a fan of comic book culture, Waner said she already has notes and sketches done for future comic-book inspired pieces.

“I hope that they find an image they relate to—take that image, take it home—and bridge that gap between comic books and art,” she said.

As comics are re-imagined through reboots, movies and TV shows, “The Art of Pensacon” also introduces timeless characters through a different outlet.

“The exhibit gives the characters a fresh, new take for younger generations to reach back into the past,” she said. “It’s a glimpse into a different world.”

The art also gives a fresh, new take for gallery viewers.

“I would hope that we see new faces,” Wendleton said. “The idea of any art gallery can seem so stodgy, but we are one of the friendliest.”

But a different kind of art on the guest artist wall could be just the thing to invite kids of all ages into the gallery.

“Comic art speaks to the child in all of us and makes us feel young,” Wendleton added. “You see and think of things differently.”

This won’t be the last collaboration between Blue Morning Gallery and Pensacon. Wendleton hinted about another event scheduled for the fall.

During the next Gallery Night on Aug. 15, you can expect the kind of fanfare that Pensacon does best, with some costumed characters and a lot of fun. All of the involved artists will be at the gallery for the event.

But outside of the convention world, would the artists be willing to show their true nerd status in cosplay?

“In a heartbeat,” Waner said. “Wouldn’t be a question.”

As seen in a very cool issue of Independent News