Thursday, April 24, 2014
Just in time for the rebooting of the Cosmos series, a company’s announced intention to build an elevator to the moon; the recent re-generation of The Doctor, and not to mention, it’s Pi Day — this morning the Science Museum of Virginia revealed to reporters the $2.2 million revitalization of its Dome, which opens Saturday. It’s come a long way since The Hat took a glimpse of the progress in January. 

One might say, if one was predisposed to lame puns, that it’s out of this world. But I wouldn’t say that, not to you, The Hat audience expects so much more of me. 

SMVA CEO and Chief Wonder Officer Richard Conti explains that this was one of the first domes of its kind, built in 1983, and there aren’t many like it. “They don’t literally build domes like this anymore,” Conti says, “Around our planet, one this size was constructed in the past five or six years.”

You sit in comfortable rocking chairs with cup holders, surrounded above by a quarter acre of screen — the Old Dominion's largest — comprised of 480 fitted aluminum panels. The new, five-unit Christie projection system can throw out 29 million pixels. “Because this is a state contract, we had to count all those pixels,” Conti assurs us. I’m assuming, too, that all the pixels are documented aliens. You know, otherwise the Men In Black might show up. 

The visual information comes from 40 computer servers containing 40 terabytes of data. “Whatever arcane galaxy you want to see, we got it,” Conti says.

No brag, just fact.

I was hoping for some drama when the new Dome commander Justin Bartel took over — some kind of Star Wars-y or Doctor Who-y  music, but no, he just took us out to the night sky. And the new 2014 hotness quite soon obliterated the 1983 old busted hotness. 

Bartel nonchalantly piloted us through the starry universe beginning with tonight’s night sky two hours afer sunset, offering a slight wry apology about scale. Despite the immense size of the screen, “Our stars are kind of squished together. The universe is a bit bigger than this room."

He then gave us the constellation Orion, from its component stars to the mythic mighty hunter. He gave us a mnemonic for finding our way — Never Eat Soggy Waffles — pointing out that Orion is in the Soggy Waffles quadrant. Which reminded me that I arrived too late to take full advantage of the breakfast buffet. Then the figures of 84 constellations appeared on the roof, like that HBO commercial where they digitized all the characters from their various series into one awkward dinner party. 

Bartel sadly didn’t ask “Have you been to the moon lately?’ but “Who’s been to the moon before?” Nor did he play “Fly Me To The Moon,” or a cut from Dark Side of the Moon. But it zoomed us close enough to see the craters. “Take a few pictures. Make sure your space suit fits,” he instructed. It gave us a real “The Eagle has landed” moment. 

Then we were whisked off to Mars, which looked vivid and real enough to walk on, and we soon descended through the perpetual spinning avalanche of rock and ice that make up Saturn’s rings.

Then Bartel really opened her up and let the throttles roar (in my mind) on the warp drive, through the Oort Cloud where comets are born, past “blue circles we know that have solar systems,” we got the impressive effect of our universe filled with whirling and tilting galaxies. Outside the Milky Way, which in technical terms is a “Barred Spiral Galaxy,” located in the Local Group that sounds like a development firm that sponsors science programming on PBS.

A few more galaxies popped up, some 100 billion of them given original names like Abel 2124, 2107, 1983, Fornax Cluster (which I think is used to clean dirty bathroom tiles), Perseus Pisces Supercluster, and something called the Great Attractor (not my nickname). Beyond all that is the cosmic microwvae background radiation, the leftover light from the Big Bang. Then back home to the 300 billion or so stars of our Milky Way.

All that emptiness and silence teeming with gas giants and icy rocks and stars — you get to feeling lonely.
The film "Great White Shark" will show Saturday in the newly renovated Dome.

Then came a trailer reel and swooping and whooshing clips from upcoming shows, which you can see mentioned here – finally we got a booming soundtrack appropriate for the The Dome. The titles presented a mixture of nature, history and cosmic wow: Tornado Alley, The Last Reef, The Earth Wins, Mysteries of the Great Lakes, Flying Monsters 3D, Exoplanets, Earthquake, The Little Prince, Cosmic Advenures, Robot Explorers, Lamps of Atlantis and so forth. 

Conti brought us back to Earth: “You are officially late to work. When they ask you, 'Where did you go?' You can tell them.”

Afterward, I chatted up Prabir Mehta about the Cosmic Expeditions programs, and a week from today, Mehta and Bartel will team up for the monthly astronomy/space show. Expect there to be some fun with the Moon Elevator. 

Take us out, gents.

The Great Gig In The Sky - Pink Floyd from GoodMusic on Vimeo.

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Sally Bowring
This Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m., you can go from the Anchor to the LoveBomb and all around town. It’s the second annual 1708 Gallery artists' studio tour and covers not only the city’s geography but its artistic and cultural history and life.

It’s connected to the gallery’s 35th anniversary and its annual auction on Saturday, March 29. But unlike the white gloves used to present the art at the formal festivities, this tour takes you into studios that are established and those that are still in the making.

Director Emily Smith explains that the initial impulse was to offer an opportunity for the public to gain access to working spaces and practices of artists. “We’d like to cultivate a collector’s base,” she says. Based on the success of the first tour last spring, the gallery chose to connect it more closely to the auction. The featured artists are contributing work to the bidding.
Amy Chan

The participants include those who've been involved with 1708 for decades, as well as some artists who are new to the area and others who work in established spaces or who have moved to different places in town. “It reflects the spectrum and also allows people to see the seriousness with which the artists are working. We want to share that in a way that’s fun, engaging and rewarding. We hear often how our general audience likes to interact with the artist. They want to know, ‘How did you make that?’ What were they thinking about in the place where they made it.”

Artist’s studios are a bit of a mystery to whose who perhaps have not been in one. There’s the curiosity: Are the spaces messy or tidy, color coordinated or splatters everywhere? “It’s enlightening to see the reality,” Smith says.
Amie Oliver

Last year’s tour comprised three close together areas, but the 2014 version will take visitors across the city. “This demonstrates the adaptability of an artist,” Smith says, “I’m going to make a space for myself and do it here. It’s intriguing.”

And full disclosure: Having married into it, I’ve sunk work gloves into rubbish heaped behind the building near Hull and Pilkington streets that my partner-in-art Amie Oliver is rehabilitating to serve as studios for herself and others. 

The artists and studio spaces include: Sally Bowring, North Side; Amy Chan, Scott's Addition; Tom Condon and Michael-Birch Pierce at the Anchor Studios on Broad and Foushee; Heide Trepanier/ LoveBomb, Manchester; Amie Oliver and Chris Mahonksi, Manchester; and Brittany Nelson, Fulton Hill Studios.
Chris Mahonski

If you want to know how to find them, after the auction ticket purchase, which includes the tour, you’ll receive a map. If you can’t make the auction, separate admission is $35 per person through the 1708 website or by calling 1708 Gallery at 643-1708.

Finally, the 1708 Auction, “35 Candles,” is on  March 29. The honorary chair is New York-based painter Kristen Baker, who burst upon the scene with paintings that referenced auto racing. The new work created for 1708 Gallery’s Annual Art Auction is emblematic of this signature style. Baker is not new to Virginia, though. Her painting The Prig is in the collection of the VMFA.

“35 Candles” includes live and silent art auctions, featuring work from more than 50 of the region’s artists. Baker is contributing a large work and an edition of silk screens, all made especially for the event. 

There’s also a raffle for three custom portraits including a Man’s Best Friend Portrait by Matt Lively, a Free-Motion Embroidered Portrait by Michael-Birch Pierce and a Miniature Papier-Mâché Portrait by Rachel Leah Cohn.

Raffle tickets are $20 each or six for $100, and can be purchased in advance at 1708 Gallery. The drawing will be held at the auction, though the winner does not have to be present.
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Lisa Elmaleh, “Lindsay McCaw, Keezletown, VA,” 2013
Coming up: pictures of musicians and communities off the main highways and an African American musician who collects the paraphernalia of hate groups and a freeform collective on their way to greater recognition inaugurates a music series, right here in old Richmond town, down on Broad Street. 

Things start all up and down the Arts District in advance of the First Fridays event.  

Tonight (Thursday) from 5 to 8 p.m at the Candela Gallery, there's a preview and artist talk by Lisa Elmaleh for her "American Folk" exhibition and Applachian style music from fiddler Ben Townsend and perhaps others.

Candela’s Amy Ritchie explains how Brooklyn-based photographer Elmaleh goes on the road with a truck that she sleeps in and where she develops her collodion tintypes. She becomes part of the communities she visits. “We think of Appalachian folk music as of the  past,” Ritchie says, “but Lisa’s photographing solid, well-thought-of musicians who are keeping this tradition alive. What’s interesting to her is that these are all present-day people very much entrenched in an American tradition. They are alive and breathing, but they have a timeless quality.”

They are not coated by a mainstream sheen. Nor are the images blown up for some false sense of heroics, but human sized – not quite ordinary.

Candela isn’t showing the tintypes — an alternative traditional process — but archival pigment prints, a technical term for a digital print. Thus, a form that goes back more than a century is brought into the present. 
Brandon Thibodeaux, “Birds in Field, Mound Bayou, MS,” 2010

Sharing the bill is Brandon Thibodeaux’s “When Morning Comes.” The Dallas-based photojournalist takes digital photographs produced as archival digital prints. Ritchie explains that Thibodeaux went on a  “personal vision quest” into the Deep South. He became enamored of communities where Starbucks and 7-Elevens aren’t on every corner. “He met people in these places, established relationships over time and started photographing them.” His work possesses elements of portraiture although the land and architecture figures into them, too. “He’s an outsider coming in to see the community as opposed to how the community sees itself.” 

Tonight and/or tomorrow, look for musicians photographed by Elmaleh to provide their interpretation of the scene, including Aviva Steigmeyer and Roy Pilgrim of the Keezletown Strutters, who are coming by arrangement of Elmaleh.

Nearby Candella, at 7:30 p.m., the Black Iris studio gallery presents Love & Radio's newest creation, "Silver Dollar.”  This follows along the present exhibition, "Public Eye: A Civil Rights Case Study" an investigation into the worlds of surveillance, race and power as seen in the visual and aural archives of the Richmond Police Department, extended through March 15. New York City's Village Voice will soon print its take on that show.

Curator Benjamin Thorp explains that the Love & Radio creator, Nick van der Kolk, after gigs in Chicago and Oakland, recently moved to Richmond. Since Black Iris is a recording studio, Thorp brings in sound art as parallel programming. He wants to have more of these “listening sessions” when the occasion arises. Silver Dollar is about African-American musician Daryl Davis, who is obsessed by collecting paraphernalia about supremacist groups. 

This is a story about understanding hate and the varied ways society reacts to it. The audio presentation  will be followed by a Q&A with van der Kolk. Love & Radio is the multiple-award-winning radio program. “It’s the only NPR show with an explicit content warning tag,” Thorp says.

 The suggested donation for the event is $5 (no one will be turned away), 
with $4 drinks, and proceeds go to Connor's Heroes.

Tomorrow evening (Friday) around 9 p.m., Thorp is inaugurating what he’d like to see as another series. It begins with Matthew and the Arrogant Sea (MATAS)  “giving an intimate performance in the speakeasy-style bar” in the back of the gallery. The group is headed for an upcoming performance on NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series. “What I’d like to see is a “Tiny Band” series to start here; after stopping in at the galleries along Broad, they can come by and see a show like this.”  But MATAS isn’t tiny, even if the space is intimate.

MATAS’ multiple and rotating personnel  — 15, count’em — revolve around the central singer songwriter, Matthew Gray. One critic says that the band moves “effortlessly through different genres, rendering pop, country, folk, and psychedelic rock in spare and compelling form, and another poetically says the members are a “straggly fleet of ships, each bearing a small, sweet story, drifted over some unknown ocean and into Gray’s head. There's a suggested donation of $5 to $7, $4 drinks, with proceeds also going to Connor's Heroes.

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San Francisco Chronicle writer Joshua Kosman posed this query pertaining to Richmond-raised and Northern California-based Mason Bates’ approach to modern symphonic composition:

How radically is Bay Area composer Mason Bates shaking things up with his works for orchestra and electronics? It sort of depends on whom you ask.

"Everybody gets so hung up on, 'Oh my God, there's electricity involved,' " Bates said during a recent interview. "But really, this is just part of the evolution of the orchestra, which I find to be a limitless medium. It's like the world's greatest synthesizer."

Bates, who attended St. Christopher's School here, is in town this weekend with his home team, the Richmond Symphony, that he grew up experiencing, to perform a violin concerto that he wrote specifically for performance by visiting violinist Anne Akiko Meyers. Meyers is an energetic player; in a recorded conversation with symphony music director Steven Smith, Bates describes her as “a real firecracker.” 

While this concerto doesn’t include his interest with electronica, it uses acoustic instruments in different ways. The string section, for  example, includes tapping on their cellos and basses, and there are exotic percussive insruments like Thai gongs and Tibetan prayer bells. You can listen to his conversation with Smith here:

While in town, Bates also returned to St. Christopher’s on Friday to hold a master class workshop with area students. For the concert, he shares the card with the Shostakovich Symphony No. 10. The program, in the Carpenter Theatre at CenterStage, is at 8 p.m. on Saturday (March 1), and 3 p.m. Sunday (March 2). Tickets are $5 to $76. 

For a preview, here's a previous performance by Meyers of the Bates piece.

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Elli Morris, a writerphotographer, recent filmmaker, former New Orleans resident and sometime mermaid, has traveled the world and, about three years ago, figured Richmond needed its own Mardi Gras celebration. This year it happens twice, March 1 and 4 in  Manchester.

The concept came to her in 2011 while, well, portraying a mermaid in Cozumel, Mexico, for a photographic shoot by Chris Crumley. Which is really where our tale begins.

“While down there, they were having Carníval and I got on a float as part of the festivities. I wanted to get back down there but instead I figured, heck, I can’t go to Cozumel every Carníval, so why not do it in Richmond?”

She participated with the Ground Zero Dance Co. when its Dogtown Dance Theatre opened in Manchester. When her Mardi Gras brainstorm hit, she called Ground Zero artistic director Rob Petres about hosting a Mardi Gras-style event in and around the center to benefit the company.

This makes some sense; Richmond is an old town that grew out of the mercantile trade along its docks, wharves and canal. Out in Fulton, Rockett’s and Shockoe were taverns and hostelries that catered to mariners. Rambunctious is one word that might describe their characteristics.

In these recent decades of attempting to reshape itself as the next this or that, perhaps the city should’ve looked toward sisters of another sorority – Charleston, S.C., Savannah, Ga., and New Orleans, towns that: a) can party, b) and then have varying degrees of guilt about it later – but possess a built-in repentance system. Richmond cannot compete with The City That Care Forgot, and despite itself is trying to shake its tendency to turn into a Footloosesque City That Fun Forgot. Elli, for at least two days, wants to make Richmond “The Little Easy.” 

Richmond isn’t on the Gulf Coast or near the Caribbean, and the weather in March can be on the chilly side. Morris says, “I wanted a parade, and they felt like since it’s a theater, take advantage of this space and make a real unique event.” 

The concept has grown this year to three hours of performances upstairs in the theater. The sense of a street festival is retained by programming almost non-stop action as though parade units came swinging up to the spectators to vie for their attention.  

The two separate events were created to accommodate more kids and families that may have too many obligations on the actual Fat Tuesday though both, Morris says, are definitely child-friendly. Lily Lamberta of All the Saints Puppets will lead the Tuesday parade. 

The theme his year is Rio de Janeiro, “because Carníval happens in many different countries,” Morris says. She’ll be dressed for it, making her easy to find. “I’ll have this huge headdress to be a Mardi Gras Mama — I’m doin’ it up for Rio.” 

Costumes, by the way, are encouraged. Bring an appetite, too. Food trucks will be around, as will Brazilian dishes made on the premises. There’ll also be salsa and samba music to get you moving. 

The parade takes a mile-long route that wraps around Dogtown Dance Theatre, along Bainbridge and Porter streets. One day, Morris hopes it’ll grow enough to go along Hull Street. But for now, the parade is a block off the main drag. The participants include the Virginia Commonwealth University Bhangra dance troupe and the VCU Poppers dance group.



The Armstrong High School marching band is also scheduled for Saturday. I mean, how can you have a parade without a marching band?

Saturday is strictly for automobile floats — a business may enter for $75, nonprofits or groups, $30, and registration is allowed up until Friday evening.

Tuesday is the non-motorized parade. “We got walkers, bicyclists, if you have a donkey or a horse, skateboarders — but no motorized vehicles. That’s for Saturday."

The parade is from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and the show runs from 7 to 10 p.m. Tickets are $10, but free for those younger than 12. 

Other performers will include Host of Sparrows Aerial Dance, Khalima Dance — last year she wore a costume that lit up — the Dogtown Hoop Mafia and, of course, Starlet Scarlet’s Pole Pressure pole dancing competition. No, really.

And modern dance by Annielille Gavino-Kollman. 

An addition to the festivities this year is one of those living statues like you’ll see in the French Quarter.  “I’ve wanted to have one in the mix for years,” Morris says. “The thing is, we have a pretty strong corps of people that puts it on and without them, it would never happen. Normally, the day of event, I just show up and have fun.”

Which is what she encourages all of us to do.

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