For ‘Holidaze’ creator Neil Goldberg, life is but a Cirque Dream

Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, Neil Goldberg was incredibly famous in corporate America … and virtually unknown to the public at large. He wasn’t a CEO or banker or lawyer; he specialized in parties. Huge, lavish soirees that were common … at least until the Dot-Com bubble burst and belt-tightening became the order of the day.

Goldberg still stages huge events for private clients, but for more than a decade he has become more famous as the man behind Cirque Dreams, a theatrical enterprise that puts on lavish spectacles in shows across the globe. His signature Christmas show, Holidaze, plays at the Winspear through Sunday.

The journey from party planner to impresario isn’t such a big one — especially not considering where he started. Growing up in an Orthodox Jewish family, Goldberg stood out from an early age. Rather than showing an interest in becoming a physician or businessman like his brothers, Neil was the gay one who wanted to be a scenic designer. He did that for years, from window designs to stage productions. A theatrical spirit is in his blood.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: “Michael Jackson Immortal”

The immense cheesiness of the show is embodied in this overblown campy moment from the show, which is lip-synched.

Michael Jackson Immortal did something no other Cirque du Soleil show has ever done: Bored me.

Cirque truly is a magic-maker, having almost single-handed reinvented the concept of the circus, turning it into something unmissable rather than might-as-well. The trick of Cirque shows is that they combine the simple elegance of feats of athleticism with beauty and muscularity, while employing cutting edge technology in startling ways. Its best shows — Ka and Love, two of the permanent shows in Las Vegas — seamlessly wed plot, engineering and the human form.

Immortal does none of that. Yes, there are some pyrotechnics (the best of these, an indoor fireworks display, comes too little, too late) but the entire production feels conceived as an after-thought, some second-tier acts tacked on to boring choreography and muddled production values.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson Immortal show tonight

Remember the time

Dallas Michael Jackson fans will come close to the real thing tonight thanks to Cirque du Soleil’s tribute to the singer. But this is far beyond any regular tribute show. Cirque brings its thrilling reputation to the game making Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour both a concert and an experience. With the three-year anniversary of his death this week, the show even seems more poignant to his fans. And don’t expect to sit, applause and repeat for this Cirque event. They want to rock with you.

Read more about the show here.

DEETS:

—  Rich Lopez

This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

The Bruce Wood Dance Project has three more performances of the choreographer’s new show at Booker T. Washington in the Arts District, including an encore of the first program, which debuted last night (with Gary Floyd providing beautiful vocals to the stunning new “I’m My Brother’s Keeper”). Wood is up to his old tricks: The technical beauty of classic ballet combined with the muscular physicality of modern dance plus Wood’s own unique contributions of humor and an emphasis on the potential of the male form. Don’t miss it — it ends this Sunday.

Also over this Sunday is Oklahoma! at Lyric Stage; don’t miss it, either (you have a busy weekend ahead of you!). As we’ve come to expect, director Cheryl Denson has crafted a massive and engaging piece of classic theater with a huge cast, full orchestra and dazzling sets. You have more time to see Jersey Boys at the Winspear Opera House — it’ll be around almost another month — but it’s just as unmissable.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Cirque du Soleil’s “Quidam” in Frisco

Little girl lost

Zoe is a a lonely, little girl with a huge imagination. A big enough one to create magical characters, leaping acrobatics and a even a ringmaster by the name of John. This is Cirque du Soleil’s Quidam which has landed in North Texas for a quick stint. The always stunning spectacle even features some local flavor in the name of Mark Ward, from Denton, who portrays the ringmaster.

DEETS: Dr. Pepper Arena, 2601 Avenue of the Stars, Frisco. Through March 11. $51–$100. Ticketmaster.com.

 

 

 

—  Rich Lopez

The princess and the KING

Rihanna can’t seem to get from under that ‘Umbrella’, while Cirque du Soleil extends Michael Jackson’s legacy with ‘Immortal’

Cover-3188-copy

STRAIGHT TALK | Rihanna returns with her strangeways in her sixth album ‘Talk That Talk.’

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Rihanna is a workaholic, pumping out albums faster than Black Friday shoppers busting out the pepper spray.

She was still finding her voice after 2009’s forgettable Rated R, but 2010’s Loud was a success.

She’s back in fine form with Talk That Talk, her new CD. But there’s more potential than perfection here; perhaps it could have been better if she took more time between releases.

Rihanna sings of naïve love with clichéd perspectives on this, her sixth album.

And while the lyrics work, the delivery doesn’t. Starting with “You Da One,“ she takes a page from Beyonce’s book a la 4.

There’s no onslaught, but instead a chill groove with some reggae touches on this decent opener. Although it instills an (unannoying) earworm, it gets messy in its structure.

Energy courses through Talk with “Where Have you Been.” It begins as a dance tune but veers into weird, house music tones. After discovering “da one,” she’s asking where have you been all my life. But producers Dr. Luke and Cirkut (Ke$ha, Flo-Rida) ruin the beat with a mish-mash of breakdowns pulling the song off its trajectory.

The album’s lead single, “We Found Love,” is addictively produced by writer Calvin Harris. The tone, while strong, feels like it would be more at place in the early ‘90s … but that’s not so bad. The keyboards are refreshing and even though the lyrics don’t stray far from the we-found-love-in-a-hopeless-place center; it’s the album’s strongest early offering.

Jay-Z doesn’t add much other than ego to the title track, but it’s here where Rihanna switches from blind love to an assertive woman eager to please. She submits to her lover with tell me how love to you, tell me how to hold you / I’mma get it right on the first try for you. The dancehall groove works and continues into “Cockiness (I Love It),” which leaves little to the imagination with lyrics like suck my cockiness / lick my persuasion. But she starts trying too hard, like Christina Aguilera on Bionic. It doesn’t help the song is poorly constructed.

The songs balance out Talk starting with “We All Want Love.” As straightforward pop, it adheres to a clean structure, which is a reprieve from the schizophrenia before. The lovey idealism returns more so with “Drunk on Love.” Feeling  hopelessly romantic, she’s also creepy-weird. When she moans about craving love, you think if you got in a relationship with her, a restraining order is not out of the question.

Still, the track stabilizes the album, as does “Roc Me Out,” the CD’s best track. Rihanna brings the intensity of her bigger hits. She may never have another “Umbrella,” but this one comes close.

She channels some Janet Jackson in the sexified flirtation “Watch n’ Learn,” but closes with the gorgeous ballad “Farewell.” She’s in broken-up stalker mode with lyrics like even though it kills me that you have to go / I know I’ll be sadder if you never hit the road. Talk about a no-win sitch. But it ends this chapter of Rihanna on a high note.
…………………………..

Speaking of Jacksons, Michael makes a sort of return with Immortal, the soundtrack to Cirque du Soleil’s newest Vegas-style show celebrating the King of Pop. The album recalls his work from the Jackson 5 up to 2001’s Invincible, his last solo album. (Thankfully, none of the 2010 embarrassing posthumous release Michael is in this mix.)

While the majority of the songs are still by Jackson, they have been reworked, remixed or reimagined by Rihanna producer Kevin Antunes. The double disc of 29 songs is a gloriously clean listen to some of the biggest hits in music.

Where this could easily have been an exploitation of his work (and maybe it is), it only feels like respectfully updated versions of pop classics. When Fergie and Kanye West did their remakes for Thriller’s 25th anniversary, they were almost blasphemous; here, they are merely amplified with tweaks that never take away from that Jackson hit-making magic.

The subsequent tracks of “Gone Too Soon” and “Childhood” display his tender voice in crystal clarity and are tear inducing because they remind he’s no longer here. The added spoken word could have come across as cheesy, but it works.

Immortal reads like a greatest hits with all the obvious inclusions. “Smooth Criminal” retains its power but in shorter time; the “Beat It/State of Shock” coupling is just short of brilliant; and the “Immortal Megamix: Can You Feel It/Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough/Billie Jean/Black or White” belongs more on the dancefloor than onstage.

Given all the hits on here, there is a surprising omission with “Rock With You.” As big of a song as that was, it doesn’t get its own redux. But Antunes clearly has a love for Jackson and this collection lifts the singer far above any controversy or strangeness that plagued him and instead reminds of both his genius and his legacy.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 2, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Kylie vs. Of Montreal tonight

Gay fans win either way

Kylie Minogue with DJ Erik Thoresen

When this show was announced, there was a collective squeal from the gays. Minogue has never been Madonna or Britney, but she’s built a following that rivals both. Her concerts have a reputation of being visual spectacles as well that apparently rival the likes of some Cirque du Soleil shows. That alone is worth the ticket. Station 4 DJ Erik Thoresen was tapped to be the opening entertainment so this big pop-stravaganza also has big time local ties.

DEETS: Verizon Theatre, 1001 Performance Place, Grand Prairie. May 18 at 8 p.m. $50–$125. Ticketmaster.com.

Of Montreal

While Of Montreal is too smart to be considered a party band, their brand of indie dance music is something more than infectious. The high energy and trippy lyrics get into your soul and skin and turn you into a dancing monster. OM is perfect for the mid-sized venue. Imagine a packed house and sweaty dancing bodies. Singer Kevin Barnes should put on quite a physical show.  We love when he gets all sexy and dirty, but we’re just sorry he has to compete with Kylie for attention. That’s like Sophie’s choice. No fair.

DEETS: With Painted Palms. South Side Music Hall, 1135 S. Lamar St. May 18. Doors at 7:30 p.m. $20. GilleysMusic.com

—  Rich Lopez

Every inch a lady

INSECT ASIDE | Michelle Matlock forms part of a romantic triangle in Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Ovo.’

All abuzz over Michelle Matlock, the lady-loving ladybug of ‘Ovo’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Michelle Matlock is the female romantic interest in the Cirque du Soleil show Ovo — a role that, Hairspray aside, rarely befalls bigger girls. And girls of color? And openly gay? Well, she’s basically the only one. Like, ever.

“I think it’s pretty special,” she says from a break in performing under the grand chapiteau in Frisco. “Not only for me being a big girl but a black girl. You don’t see us being a love interest  much — even though I’m a bug.”

Yeah, did we leave that part out?

Matlock plays the giddy, delightful ladybug, wooed by a handsome housefly to the dismay of the other members of her garden of tight-knit insects. About 10 different acrobatic acts perform in the show, but Matlock is one of the story anchors, a clown who has her own share of tumbles, pratfalls and jumps.

Clowning might seem a far cry from Matlock’s classic training at the National Shakespeare Academy in New York, but she doesn’t see it that way.

“My base is theater, but over the last five, six years, clowning has dominated my career,” she says. “It’s actually a culmination of everything I learned [at the conservatory]. I used almost everything I’d ever experienced to help create the role. I had intensive clowning [there], and we had ballet and modern dance — a well-rounded program. I just never thought that seven weeks would actually be the kind of work I’d be doing the rest of my career.”

Not the entirety of her career, though. Matlock is also the creator of a one-woman play called The Mammy Project, about stereotypes of black woman, especially ones of size. The idea came about when Matlock was asked to audition to be the face of Aunt Jemima pancake mix. The play begins with the first woman to create Aunt Jemima, back during the 1893 World’s Fair, and goes up through Hattie McDaniel’s performance as Mammy in Gone with the Wind and Matlock’s own experiences. It’s one reason Matlock is so pleased that she could create the Ladybug as a romantic figure.

And create the role she did. She auditioned for Cirque du Soleil in 2004 after several years’ experience clowning in other circuses, but while the audition went well, they didn’t have a part for her at the time. “But we have some shows in the works,” they told her.

More than four years later, in November 2008, she became part of the team that created Ovo. She’s been touring with the show ever since and just signed to stay with it through 2011.

That schedule has taken its toll on her relationship with her girlfriend, who has remained in New York (she also works in theater).

“It’s been difficult, especially at the beginning, maintaining a long-distance relationship,” she says. “Fortunately, we’ve gotten over that. It has been nice for us. And now that I’m signed through 2011, she might come and join me on tour. She is a stage manager and very organized. She might work for Cirque. And then it’ll be another challenge: Working together.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

Egg-cellent

GRAVITY BE DAMNED | The slack-wire act, left, and the spider contortionist are some of the feats of physical skill in ‘Ovo,’ a thrilling big-top circus extravaganza.

Ovo, Cirque du Soleil’s new insect-themed cavalcade of jaw-dropping wonders, is reason to drive to Frisco

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

The opening of Ovo, the new Cirque du Soleil touring production, sounds like an attack of locusts, which is sort of the point. The concept of the show is A Bug’s Life, set to abstract music and eye-popping feats of physicality.

As a concept, it works terrifically. Cirque shows traditionally have themes that establish the look, but don’t really tell a story. None of it matters — it’s just a pretext for the juggling and high-wire acts. But here, there really is a romance between a ladybug and a housefly, played out with clownish bravado. And even better, the acts seem to tie into their characters.

That’s due in large, large part to the gorgeous costumes, which are as colorful and varied as the microcosmos of the insect world itself. (And, let’s say it, sexy.) The design mirrors what the acts are supposed to do: Crickets with extended haunches bounce off walks faster than a meadow on a warm summer night; a spider — the slack-wire gymnast, all of 95 pounds, clad in a skin-tight exoskeleton — scurries across a strand of his web, doing handstands and rolling on a unicycle; fleas flick their bodies nimbly through the air as if the dog show just got to town.

All in all, there are about 10 acts in the two-and-a-half hour production under la grand chapiteau in the parking lot of the Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco. It’s been a long time since Cirque came to North Texas; it’s worth the drive to check it out.

The awesomeness is difficult to describe — or to put in context. After the parade of characters, the main event kicks off with a small display: A firefly who contorts while balanced on his h

and. It sounds simple, even ordinary, but the skill involved astonishes you. Then out come a crew of waif Asian girls who juggle — balls, ottomans, each other — on their feet, passing human bodies around as effortlessly as a salt shaker at the family dinner. It takes the spool juggler — basically, a yo-yo artist extraordinaire — to drop a few to realize these are, in fact, humans who make mistakes. The illusion is that effective.

There’s something for almost every taste, from the elegant aerial ribbon flight of the butterflies to the oh-my muscularity of the trapeze-swinging beetles to the silly, wild dancing of the inchworm. I don’t remember the circus being this fun — or this sexy — when I was a kid. Here’s to progress.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.


—  John Wright

Weekly Best Bets

Saturday 01.29

Guess that’s why they call it the blues
While KERA is holding their pledge drive, KNON is trying to raise money of their own. The station, home to Lambda Weekly and The Jesse Garcia Show, hosts its 12th Annual Bluesfest with a hefty lineup. But really, you haven’t lived until you see R&B legend and Dallas native Bobby Patterson throw it down old school style. That’ll change your life.
DEETS: Poor David’s Pub, 1313 S. Lamar St. Through Sunday. 3 p.m. $10. KNON.org.

Sunday 01.30

Talk about ‘Ovo’ the top
In Cirque du Soleil’s new show Ovo, they create a colorful ecosystem of insects. Only these bugs do crazy acrobatics and contortions. Only Cirque can think so out of the box to make a “world of biodiversity” centered around a mysterious egg and a love story between a ladybug and neighborhood bug.
DEETS: Dr. Pepper Arena, 2601 Avenue of the Stars, Frisco. Through Feb. 27. $45-$250. CirqueDuSoleil.com

Tuesday 02.01

‘Faces’ in the crowd
Photographer Jorge Rivas’ Faces of Life was such a hit at last year’s Pride that the campaign is being relaunched during ilume Gallerie’s Super Week. With new photos and an exclusive jewelry line, the gallery extends its hours so everyone can take a peek and sign up for their own photo session.
DEETS: ilume Gallerie, 4123 Cedar Springs Road. Through Saturday. FacesofLifeProject.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28, 2011.

—  John Wright