Toni Erdmann @ The Ross

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Meet Toni Erdmann (Peter Simonischek)

The lengths a father will go just to spend time with his daughter are explored in German director Mauren Ade’s film Toni Erdmann. The title of the film is not about a person by the name of Toni Erdmann and all of her or his adventures. Toni Erdmann is an alias. Winfried Conradi, a music teacher with no students, assumes the personality Toni Erdmann with the sole purpose of crashing in on the world of his daughter, Ines. After the death of his dog, Winfried, played by Peter Simonischek, longs to be more present in his daughter’s life. So, he shows up unannounced at her home in Bucharest.

Ines, played by Sandra Hahlur, has no patience for nor the inclination to grant her father’s wishes. She is a young strategist who successfully has climbed the corporate ladder; of course she is busy—always taking calls, going to meetings, giving presentations – sigh – to her father’s disappointment. What is worse she complains to her friends during lunch about how her father’s visit made for the worst weekend. So Winfried, feeling unwelcomed and unappreciated, packs up and returns home–or so Ines thinks.

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Toni Erdmann in costume

As soon as Ines turns around in a restaurant in the company of her girlfriends or looks around on the rooftop talking to her superior or at her naked-only birthday party, there he is – Toni Erdmann, bumbling around as an ex-con, a style consultant, or a German Ambassador made up with buck teeth and a shabby wig or in a bizarre costume that would scare bigfoot back to its cave. Where will Toni Erdmann appear next?

Peter Simonischek brings Toni Erdmann to a kind of crazy loopy peculiar life, and you can’t get mad at him. Every person in Ines’s life takes to him. Simonischek deftly manages his unpredictable character, and you can’t help but give over your heart to him. In fact, he is a kind of insufferable huggable lovable poppa.

When you see the film Toni Erdmann, be sure to pack a lunch or dinner; it is a long movie—almost 3 hours. And don’t count on a music score to guide your feelings—no—no violins or drum rolls here. Peter Orth, the cinematographer, lingers his camera on people; the camera outwears its welcome at parties and business meetings–even the goodbye between father and daughter is long in the tooth. Ade, however, refuses to pick up the cinematic pace; she makes you wait. The wait is well worth it.

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Erdmann with daughter, Ines

Winfried’s own reflection to his daughter on life uncovers the bright and shining gem in Toni Erdmann. What is worth living in life? Ines asked her father during one of his personality performances. In the backyard of his late mother’s house, father, without costume and daughter with no cellphone come together and alone and without distractions. Winfried finally gets the chance to answer her question. He begins, “The problem is it’s so much about getting things done … you do this or that but in the meanwhile life is just passing by. How are we supposed to The Ross logohang on to moments?  Now I just sit sometimes and remember how you learned to ride your bike. … but you only realize that afterwards … in the moment itself … it’s not possible.”

Toni Erdmann in German with English subtitles.

Jackie @ The Ross


Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy

Funny thing about death. When it calls for a loved one be it human or pet, grief accompanies the grim reaper. You choose the casket and write the obituary and plan the services and decide on the outfit for the deceased. Everyone acquainted with the family offers their sincerest condolences at the wake. Mailboxes are overstuffed with Hallmark cards or … in today’s technological saturated world, ‘Likes’ and ‘Hearts’, and ‘Teary Man’ are checked on your Facebook page. Then. [sigh] It is all over as the last mound of earth slides from the shovel.

Let me rewind to the planning of funeral services for it is the kernel of Pablo Larrain’s film Jackie, starring Natalie Portman. There is so much to say and feel about the iconic Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. She allowed the world to mourn with her as she exhibited poise during the funeral procession of her slain husband, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1963.

But have you ever wondered, exactly, what went into the fashioning of President Kennedy’s funeral? Was there any resistance to Mrs. Kennedy from the white house? If so, how did she handle it?



Jackie with her brother-in-law Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard)

Let me rewind again: Have you ever thought about the atmosphere aboard Air Force One when Lyndon Johnson is sworn in as the 36th President of the United States as Mrs Johnson and Mrs Kennedy stand-by? Moreover, aside from shock and dismay, how do the people aboard Air Force One and, later, those within the White House react to and interact with Mrs. Kennedy after the national tragedy? Does the new widow keep it together? More to the point, how does the transition take place when the Johnsons move into the White House as Mrs. Kennedy still moves about the national home planning and packing and tending to her children John John and Caroline? Pablo Larrain superbly interprets these intimate occurrences. I have studied Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy right down to the style of shoes and the brand of stockings she wore, and I can tell you this movie gets her. It is obvious – maybe too obvious — that Portman studied each jot and tittle of Mrs. Kennedy’s voice and mannerisms. At times, though, I grew weary of her feathered ‘R’s and the open ‘A’s, spoken like ‘Ah’ in her well-known breathy voice.

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Jackie with Pablo Casal (Roland Pidoux)

Larrain remarkably imagines the Kennedy-Johnson transition as one of obvious discomfort and, surprisingly, irritation. Yes. irritation. In Jackie, Larrain plays up the tenuous situation between Mrs. Kennedy, the white house staff, and the Johnsons – the majority of these scenes shot in close and tight spaces. Some want to get on with matters of the state, as does President Johnson’s confidant, Jack Valenti, played by Max Casella. He has no patience for a discussion with the former first lady about her change of funeral plans. Others seem to … tolerate … the First Lady as does Lady Bird Johnson, played by Beth Grant. Stephane Fontaine’s cinematography and Mica Levi’s soundtrack pull together the necessary cinematic accents to amplify each prickly yet sensitive state of affair. Also, the behind the scenes details of private moments whereby public events meticulously are organized evoke sheer honor and respect for place and ceremony.

Yes. There is something about death and what it requires. Pablo Larrain’s Jackie dramatizes the necessity for its closure from the point of view of a former First Lady whose children, John John & Caroline, had to plan their mother’s memorial upon her death in 1994.


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Jackie plays through January 26th at the Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

Also playing at The Ross through January 12 is the French film Things to Come.

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The Eagle Huntress @ The Ross


Screen Shot 2017-01-20 at 1.59.42 PM.pngWhen have you defied tradition against all odds to answer a fervent call to move into the unknown? When have you taken a leap into the abyss on a string of faith?

Documentary Filmmaker Otto Bell has made a breathtaking documentary called The Eagle Huntress. In this film, Bell focuses on a young girl named Aisholpan Nurgaiv, a 13-year-old Kazakh, who hails from generations of eagle hunters, a centuries old custom dominated by men. As she finds honor in her father’s own talents in capturing and training his eagle, she aspires to take a leap into the culture. If she is successful, she will become the first eagle huntress in her family’s 12 generations; and second in the modern history of Kazakhstan.

The Eagle Huntress is brilliant, and Daisy Ridley wonderfully introduces the true story of a young girl’s discipline and perseverance. Simon Niblett’s cinematography captures some of the most breathtaking scenes of nature in Kazakhstan, a transcontinental area in central Asia; Bell, too, gives the audience intimate access to the socio-cultural objections made by the men in Aisholpan’s community:

“This is not good”, laments one eagle hunter.

“They don’t know how to properly approach the eagle”, says another.

“Anyway, she will have to get married at one point or another”, predicts another. …

… you know, the usual suspects of doubt and protest.

But when dad and granddad consult with each other and agree to allow Aisholpan to compete in the Golden Eagle competition, the young girl hits the ground running to learn every skill necessary to realize her dream—and here is where Niblett’s genius unfolds.

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Aisholpan with her father Rys observing her captured eagle

Aisholpan’s father, Rys, instructs his daughter on the process for developing trust between her and the eagle as he prepares her for the Golden Eagle Festival. Once trust is established, the avian learns to listen to her call. One of the most heart-felt scenes is Aisholpan conversations with her Eagle after she has fed it. They must compete the next day, and amidst its cries for more food, she cautions her ward, “You might not be able to fly if you eat too much”. It calms down. I could not help but to feel a bit melancholy, however, when the eagle protests its capture from its nest but all subsides as Aisholpan meticulously cares for it.

Visions of courage abound as Bell makes sure to translate Aisholpan’s training into an adventure of reverence to a time honored tradition. You will absorb the grandeur of Aisholpan on horseback riding proudly with her eagle holding strong on her arm in the company of men.

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As I close my review, I leave you with the words of Aisholpan’s mother: “She decided on her own to become an Eagle Hunter; and I believe it is a woman’s right to choose.”

The Eagle Huntress comes back February 3 at the Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.



Booker T. Mattison ~ The Interview


Booker T. Mattison. Filmmaker. Novelist. Screenwriter. Professor. Want to know more about Mattison? Read The Interview.

Who named you “Booker T.” and why?

My father’s best friend is named Booker T., and dad and his friends called him “BT”. They were very close. BT was killed in a car wreck; so, when I was born, he and mom gave me the name to honor his memory.

Your parents are from South Carolina. You spent summers there. A summer’s vacation with southern relatives is a common right-of-passage for many African American children. What were your summer experiences like in contrast to living in the big city?

I am a hyper-sensory person, so I am really plugged into how things feel, taste, and smell.

Actually being on the family land in Williamston—which is considered “the country”—well, my grandfather owned a huge amount of land there. I know the history of the people to whom he sold the land … just knowing that the entire area was all owned by my grandfather—just knowing my history and having a street named for the Mattison family name gave me an incredible sense of self. The people who came before me did incredible things—even my family. It is an awesome feeling.

Your writerly voice is impressive. Let me read the opening lines from your novels, published by Revell in 2009 and 2011 respectively.

Unsigned Hype:

Somebody’s banging on my front door and it’s rocking the house harder than the beat I’m laying down in my bedroom.

 Now, from your novel Snitch:

It’s cold tonight. So cold that if you listen hard enough, you can hear the ice that’s wedged in the cracks in the street expand and make greater fissures.

These are very visual openings. They sound. They move.


I’m a hyper-sensory person, so I am really plugged into how things feel, taste, and smell. It gives life to my voice as an artist. You mentioned “hearing” sound in those lines, well sound is so important in how I describe experiences. While at Tisch [School of the Arts], I lived in the metropolis of New York, so I listened and watched how the city functions in the seasons.

What contributed to your hyper-sensory perception?

It comes from being an artist and wanting to communicate with the world in any way that I can. Most of the artists I know are in tune with the senses and what is going on around them. We are aware of the affect our experiences have/had on us.

How do you move into telling your story on the white page? What does literature do for you as a storyteller?

The dilemma of the blank page is terrifying. I do not enjoy writing—the process to get to a draft is not pleasant. This is a recent development for me that happened last spring in a creative writing class. I learned in that class, however, that it does not matter what you write, you can’t even make it great until you write it first; it doesn’t matter if it is bad … horrible.

Directing is probably … the easiest for me to do because as a director, it enables me to traffic in all of my gifts …

As a creative writer myself, I’d like to know how do you manage the writer’s fear as you move to write on the white page?

Literature for me is fuel—knowing that when I write a product from my efforts will emerge. Really, writers have to remove the critical brain because it has no place until there is something on the white page to criticize. The rewriting … the editing … these are where and when the gems appear.

When did stories matter to you?

I’ve always had stories in my head and worlds I wanted to shape, mold, and create. I wrote a novel when I was 9 but I did not realize it. I had characters but it was only later I was able to articulate exactly what I was doing.

You are a novelist as well as a screenwriter as well as a filmmaker — three different media. Discuss the challenges you meet when approaching each genre. You’ve touched upon literature in the last question. Let’s continue with screenwriting …

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The goal is the same for all genres: to tell a story. The novel is a complete art form. I write, edit, and publish—there it is … it is complete–done. Notice I said “I write” because in the strictest sense it is not collaborative until you interact with an editor. As for screenwriting, it is the blueprint for the film … it’s collaborative … a team usually is involved to get that story on the screen. The story will move and morph in very different ways. Personally, it is far more difficult writing for screen than writing a novel because it is the form of writing that I have done for the least amount of time. As I keep writing screenplays, however, I am finding that I am getting better at it.

Film …

It’s incredible to create and watch a film I have made. Directing is probably out of the three — author/screenwriter/director — the easiest for me to do because as a director, it enables me to traffic in all of my gifts: storytelling, visual, creating characters and worlds, and it gives me tools that I do not have when writing a novel or screenplay …

Specifically, what tools?

If I want to show intimacy or a tense situation, I can use the film form called the close-up. If I want to give the audience a full range of the environment wherein my story takes place, I can pull my camera back and show depth of field which gives the expanse of a setting. I can use lighting, color, and other visual effects to enhance the images onscreen. And sound … sound is fifty percent of the movie. I can use sound to horrify and to excite; to augment and intensify the sense of sight. In other words, I can direct the audience’s emotions through sound … Being able to capture tone, mood … it’s amazing!

My work encourages and uplifts by examining dark and disturbing aspects of who we are but providing triumphant and uplifting endings that builds people up … that offers hope at the end of the day.

The Gilded Six Bits is a short story written by Harlem Renaissance novelist Zora Neale Hurston in 1933. In 2001, you produced a film short of the same name. What drew you to Hurston?

An African American lit course at Norfolk State; it is a rare love story from the Harlem Renaissance. I found it refreshing to read something that wasn’t dealing exclusively with racism. Had she done what all of the other Harlem Renaissance writers were doing, a degree of her uniqueness would have been lost …

In your opinion, what made Hurston stand apart from her Harlem Renaissance contemporaries or contributed to her “degree of uniqueness” you have mentioned?

The Gilded Six Bits is a love story set in the 1930s. Typically literature from that period … the focus is on the struggle against racism and oppression in the United States; but that was not Hurston’s voice. She tells us that racism was not the only concern among African American people. Hurston was very interested in the day-to-day life of African Americans—how they lived and interacted with each other. The story, in particular, has an emphasis on the relationship between a young married African American couple living in the south. She specifically focuses on how one couple would enact forgiveness after a betrayal.

Joe (Chad Coleman) and Missy Mae (T’Keyah Crystal Keyman) in The Gilded Six Bits

… and what had to be forgiven … who could do it …

Exactly. Hurston takes on the power of forgiveness. People told me post-screening that a whole lot of midwives saved a whole lot of marriages. It’s Zora’s genius, really. I went back and forth through the story with calendars to figure out who fathered that baby but I realized Hurston regards love and family to be more important than betrayal.

Were you guarded in your interpretation of the story for the screen?

I did not want to offend her fans! I paid close attention to Zora’s voice as I read her. I wanted to “hear” her voice on the screen. At the film’s screening, I was holding my breath. Judging from the audience’s reactions, I gathered that I was true to her vision of the story and the message she wanted the audiences to take away from it.

… it doesn’t matter where you go to film school just learn the business. Learn the craft. Learn the culture–that’s equally important.

National Black Child Development Institute recognized Unsigned Hype. To that recognition you stated, “I am called to uplift, encourage and challenge readers, but to do it in a way that is morally and ethically responsible. As a media professional, I am acutely aware of the power that media has to introduce and nurture ideas in the minds of young people. And it is these ideas that ultimately shape their worldview.” How do you see your work encouraging and uplifting your readers and viewers?

My work encourages and uplifts by examining dark and disturbing aspects of who we are but providing a triumphant and uplifting ending that builds people up … that offers up hope at the end of day …

You earned an M.F.A. from the Tisch School of the Arts, after earning your Bachelor’s from Norfolk State University in Virginia. So you are credentialed in filmmaking. There are plenty filmmakers – successful filmmakers — who are making films without the formal college degree. How important do you deem formal education in the visual arts? Is it necessary?

No. it is not necessary. There are far too many people who are successful without the formal degree but it is helpful. Tisch has a conservatory environment, and I absolutely needed to be in a culture and setting that catered strictly to people who aspired to become filmmakers and/or already were working in the field. Formal education, I do believe, is beneficial but it is expensive! You can be so starry-eyed about a school but the financial debt has to be weighed in the decision. If you decide to go, it doesn’t matter where you go to film school just learn the business. Learn the craft. Learn the culture–that’s equally important.

Booker T. Mattison currently is Assistant Professor, Entertainment & Media Studies of Film Studies in the Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Georgia-Athens. For more information on Mattison visit  

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Little Men @ The Ross

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Tony (Michael Cavelli) and Jake (Theo Taplitz)

One of the hardest things for parents to realize is that some decisions made by them can alter the exterior and, even more important, the interior lives of their children for a lifetime.

Some decisions can be altered given the circumstances; others cannot be helped no matter how many the twist and the turn.

Independent filmmaker Ira Sachs tackles the emotional turmoil of two families whose hearts are torn asunder because of one decision surrounding a piece of property: a brownstone in Brooklyn, New York. His film Little Men, starring Greg Kinnear, Paulina Garcia, and Jennifer Ehle, is a neatly packed drama focusing on the friendship between Jake Jardine and Tony Cavielli, played with remarkable emotional insight respectively by Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri. After the death of his grandfather, Jake’s parents Brian (Greg Kinnear) and Kathy (Jennifer Ehle), move into a Brooklyn brownstone willed to them by Brian’s father. Living and working below them is Leonor Cavielli, Tony’s mother, an accomplished entrepreneur who utilizes the space as a sewing center and dress shop. Dire financial circumstances undercut the “new adventure” taken by family Jardine. Kathy has been supporting the family on her income as Brian pushes for a career in theater. To where does Kathy look to augment their income? Leonor’s dress shop.

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Brian and Leonor negotiate

While Leonor, Kathy, and Brian go back and forth through some very unpleasant negotiations, the middle schoolers Jake and Tony enjoy the city of Brooklyn and cast day dreams about their hopes and plans for the future. In just a few months, little does Jake know, the choices made by his parents will alter his friendship with Tony beyond repair. What is more, neither he nor Tony will have control no matter the demonstration to the Jardines the emotional impact on these little men.

Sachs is genius in the portrayal of male teenage angst. Within Jake’s and Tony’s innocence, Sachs intersperses a raw critique of the high cost of living in Brooklyn, New York. You know, adult stuff. Through Leonor the desperation to hold on to a home promised to her by the late Elder Jardine who failed to write her into his will is downright soul shattering. Paulina Garcia interprets Leonor’s economic anxiety—if not torment—with such honesty, and you will want to rescue her from these troubles and teach the Jardines a thing or two about compassion.

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Ryan Grovey ~ The Interview


Ryan Grovey, MIXXEDFIT National Trainer (photo courtesy of Dee Bernal)

Ryan Grovey currently is a National Trainer for MIXXEDFIT, a popular group fitness program founded by Lori Chung out of her studio Dojo 3 in the greater Washington state area. Want to know more about Ryan Grovey? Read The Interview.

TDR: Ryan, you are living your passion as a National Trainer with MIXXEDFIT. You exude joy for the dance in each video and/or picture you post with trainees and the founder, Lori Chung. No one can miss your enthusiasm for what you do! Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to talk with me. Let us start with some insight into life before MIXXEDFIT. Tell us something about your parents.

RG: My mother, Patricia Yvonne Grovey, and my father Trenedy [“Trent”] Schavaz Grovey graduated from Oklahoma State. They moved to New Mexico after they married. My father, a petroleum engineer, found work in oil there. My mother stayed home for a while but she dreamed of working with children. She worked in banking but later she founded her own non-profit agency which includes four early childhood facilities that serve over 500 low-income children and their families as well.

TDR: What an impressive bio sketch of your parents; we will learn more about them later. For now, let’s move into a discussion of your passion for dance fitness.

As I danced during that demo with the MIXXEDFIT instructor, I was like OMG! This is what I need in my life! The door has opened. This is my new beginning!

RG: I’ll begin with school. In junior high I played basketball and football; I excelled in both. I knew early that academics were it, though. In 10th grade, something changed: I felt like I really wanted to do strictly academics.

TDR: What are “strictly academics”?

RG: I continued to play but I noticed I slowly was walking away from sports. I became involved in student council. I stopped playing sports altogether my senior year because I wanted to be all involved with my class. So, for instance, I was in charge of the senior prom. I worked closely with the principal. Still, I maintained a B average no matter how active I was.

TDR: You have a strong background in sports and academics yet no mention of being a dancer and even taking a dance fitness class during your high school years. When did dance fitness catch your attention?

RG: Well, my mother organized some fitness classes at her facility and I always participated in them with her. I would dance around the house. I wasn’t trained but I loved to dance! My friends would tell me all the time that I was a good dancer. I did teach a hip-hop class to young adults once but dance fitness or dance fitness as an industry … I just was not aware of an industry …

TDR: So, after high school …

RG: I enrolled in New Mexico State University. I don’t know why but during one of my trips home my mother suggested to me to take a Zumba fitness class already happening at her place of business. Let me pause for a moment to say something about my mother: She is my heart. If not for my mother, I would not be where I am today.

TDR: What a lovely homage to your mother …

RG: Thank you. She is my best friend! Well, I was home for Christmas, and I tried the Zumba classes at one of mom’s facilities. I absolutely fell in love with Zumba!

TDR: Zumba is your first intro to dance fitness after the Hip Hop class you taught?

RG: Yes. It was. I borrowed my mom’s Zumba DVD’s, and practiced the routines with my roommates when I returned to college after Christmas break. That summer, I took Zumba the whole time I was home. My mother noticed my moves. “You have a talent!” she said. She told me that I was super good, and encouraged me to become an instructor. I thought she was crazy! But she and I, along with two other staff members, registered for Zumba Instructor training held in Albuquerque. I received my certification June 2009 at the age of 19!

TDR: Did you start teaching right away after your certification in Zumba?

RG: Yes, but it was kind of sad because my father passed away in May 2009—a month before my Zumba certification. He really didn’t get to see my success! He sees it now, though!

TDR: Would he have supported this endeavor?

RG: Sure! Even though his thing was sports, my dad would have supported anything I was passionate about. He was a basketball and track star in high school in Duncan, Oklahoma. He was state champion in track and was all district in basketball and football. He enrolled me in sports camps, and he always encouraged me from the sidelines.

My goal is to change lives. For just one hour, I give my all to my students. You never know what is going on with anyone, and that’s why I teach to make a difference.

TDR: You were brought up by talented and focused parents who for certain inspired your own interests. Your mother is an entrepreneur; your father, was an athlete, an engineer, and an actor. Both parents were political activists—your mother still is politically aware. I am curious about what particular lessons you learned from them.

RG: My parents instilled in my sister and me an appreciation for discipline, practice, and hard work! My father said, “I want to make sure that you are successful”, and he did. My sister is an anesthesiologist. I opened my business at the age of 20. Mom and dad really invested in our futures and made sure to grow our confidence.

TDR: It’s your first class teaching as a Zumba instructor. How did that feel?

RG: I was so nervous!! My girlfriend was there. I was freaking out just from the nerves! That class was a success, though, and it gave me confidence to develop as an instructor and grow my business. I started expanding like crazy! I taught at a nutrition spot on a patio—pretty ghetto but I did it! I taught at all of the gyms in Las Cruces, New Mexico. I co-taught with a cheerleader from Hobbs High. I even taught it to my Kappa Sigma frats. As my reputation grew, people encouraged me to open my own studio, and I did! My grandfather and my mom supported me through everything.

TDR: How did you grow your business?

RG: Word of mouth! People felt I brought so much joy to my dancing; they loved my teaching style. My classes were packed. Before I knew it, I was in high demand in the city of Las Cruces. People told their friends! After a while, I wanted to be more than just a Zumba instructor; I wanted to go higher.

TDR: What is “higher” in the Zumba organization of instructors?

RG: The Zumba Jammer.* I applied in 2011 but I didn’t make it. Everyone was shocked. I was like ‘whatever’ because, really, I felt I needed to push harder. The second round 2013 I made it.

TDR: What contributed to your success the second time around?

RG: Well, it helped that the organization outlined exactly what they wanted to see in the audition. I was glad I made it because the training provided at the Zumba Jammer level helped me in my development as a dance fitness instructor.

TDR: You resigned as a Zumba Jammer in 2014, but in January 2015, you danced right into MIXXEDFIT. What drew you to this particular program?

RG: A Zumba instructor in one of my Jam sessions asked if I would host a MIXXEDFIT demo in Las Cruces. I made it happen. As I danced during that demo with the MIXXEDFIT instructor, I was like OMG! This is what I need in my life! The door has opened. This is my new beginning! I determined right then and there to host a MIXXEDFIT Instructor certification. I also determined that no one else but the CEO Lori Chung was going to do our certification. I personally contacted Lori, and after a lot of convincing she agreed to come.

MIXXEDFIT music uses only American Top 40 music and yesterday’s hits; we are not Asian-, Latin-, African-inspired … and our moves? Our moves are explosive! They are huge and powerful! These are the features of MIXXEDFIT that separate our program from all others.


Ryan with MIXXED FIT founder and CEO Lori Chung

TDR: How does Lori Chung fuel your enthusiasm for MIXXEDFIT?

RG: She is people inspired! I appreciate her passion, commitment, and hard work for growing MIXXEDFIT. She personally invests in her instructors and her national trainers. She promotes our workshops through the MIXXEDFIT page. The personal development? Outstanding! Many group fitness programs do not offer this kind of attention to its instructors and trainers.

TDR: Your mother saw something in you and encouraged you to become a Zumba instructor. Lori saw something in you, and brought you on board as a MIXXEDFIT National Trainer. What affect does the belief your mother and Lori have on you?

RG: Their belief in me strengthened my own belief in myself. My mother … see … I watched the process she went through to own her early childcare business. Her determination … her discipline—all of her strength let me know I can do it too! As for Lori–Lori respected my talent. She asked me about my own vision … my own desires, and went about seeing how these could be brought about. My career as a dance fitness instructor started in MIXXEDFIT, and I know that was due to Lori personally seeing my performance, energy, and talent during the certification training. People would say to me always “Ryan you should be on those [Zumba Fitness] videos” but I never had that chance. I am in MIXXEDFIT training videos now.

TDR: Was the switch from Zumba to MIXXEDFIT a smooth one?

RG: I think so. Mom had all faith in me, yes, but she advised me to be cautious in my transition from being a Zumba Jammer to becoming a MIXXEDFIT National Trainer. She did see I had more opportunities with MIXXEDFIT that I did not have through Zumba but she understood the business side of things. Everything worked out nicely, really well.

TDR: MIXXEDFIT and Zumba are both dance fitness formats whereby the common denominator is choreographed dance. What are the particular differences?

RG: MIXXEDFIT music uses only American Top 40 music and yesterday’s hits; we are not Asian-, Latin-, African-inspired … and our moves? Our moves are explosive! They are huge and powerful! These are the features of MIXXEDFIT that separate our program from all others.


TDR: How are you using MIXXEDFIT in the community:

RG: My goal is to change lives. For just one hour, I give my all to my students. You never know what is going on with anyone and that’s why I teach to make a difference.

TDR: What are some of your personal goals outside of MIXXEDFIT?

RG: Just to have enough of my own personal wealth where I can be free! I’m in no hurry. Eventually I will have a family with about like eight kids! My mom is like “I want a grandchild!”

But right now, I am living life to the fullest! I am living my dream … I am living Ryan!

To learn more about Ryan, visit him on Facebook and Instagram. For more information on MIXXEDFIT and its mission statement, how to become an instructor, to bring MIXXEDFIT to your city, local events, find a class, and to purchase MIXXEDFIT gear, visit To meet the founder Lori Chung, visit

*A Zumba Jammer (ZJ) … specializes in Zumba choreography and … provide[s] ZIN Members with new choreography routines to integrate into their Zumba classes. (


Indignation @ The Ross

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Marcus (Logan Lessman) and Olivia (Sarah Gadon)

What is it about mom and dad? What is it about parents, period? They seem to know everything about the future in the present, don’t they?

We all have heard parental cautions, each one accentuated by a pointed finger or hands cupping your face: “Now you listen to your mother” or “You mark my words” or “I’m your father; I know what’s out there in that world, you don’t.” You would think that after having 18 or 20 years of life experience, parents at least could acknowledge your own awareness and understanding about life.

Rarely do parents assess themselves and conclude, “hey, I made it through all of the obstacles in life; I believe my child will too.” Ironic, isn’t it?

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Max Messner (Danny Burstein)

But for Max Messner, the Jewish father (Danny Burstein) in James Schamus’s film Indignation, one little mistake–one false move–can destroy a person’s life. These are the words of caution he delivers to his son Marcus (Logan Lerman) as he prepares for college during the time of the Korean War. Mr. Messner’s fear is fueled after attending funerals of his son’s friends and relatives who returned to the states in body bags after having fought in the war, and Mr. Messner knows the privilege of his son’s exemption from the draft as result of his acceptance into a conservative Midwestern college in Ohio; the future shines before him, and it is dazzling.

But one false move warns Mr. Messner …

As Marcus adjusts to Midwestern culture, he is exposed to the usual suspects of college life. In particular, members of the Jewish fraternity approach Marcus about membership; he does not wish to join much to the consternation of his parents.


Mrs. Messner (Linda Emond) warns her son

Framed within the socio-cultural norms of the 1950s, Schamus brilliantly portrays the intense demands for compliance, if not, obedience to institutional rules and regulations and societal codes of conduct by the college student. In the process, Indignation dramatizes the heavy weight of self-determination that can implode as it enacts within such strictures; even romance and love are stifled within these constraints. Sarah Gadon plays Olivia Hutton, Marcus’s troubled love interest, and her liberal attitudes towards sex lands on no ground except that of the campus strumpet. Marcus does not care; but mother Messner, played by Linda Emond, does. She swoops down on The Ross logoMarcus as would an eagle to its prey to warn her son against marrying Olivia.

In the end, the movie boomerang’s the father’s major concern as Marcus’s fate pivots on one false innocent move, and this will leave you heartbroken. Sometimes, my father counseled me, you have to follow the rules even if you do not want to or suffer the consequences … if you get caught …

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Mabel Robinson ~ An Interview


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Mabel Robinson as Billie in the film Cotton Comes to Harlem

Mabel Robinson. Her artistic skill has made possible opportunities to perform across the genres of dance, theater, film, and television as an actress, director, choreographer, and instructor. She has performed professionally with distinguished companies such as the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Martha Graham Dance Company, the Juilliard Dance Theatre, and the Hava Kohav Dancers. Ben Vereen, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Carol Burnett, among other actors and personalities, have shared the stage with her. You may remember, however, her intense interpretative dance scene in the film Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970), directed by the late actor/director Ossie Davis.

Gerald Hirschfeld’s cinematography in Cotton Comes To Harlem guides the audience to myriad locales throughout the city; one place is Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater. Here, in this hallowed space of African American entertainment, Ms. Robinson (Billie), costumed in full slave regalia, advances the story with burlesque panache to George Tipson’s song Cotton Comes to Harlem. Her dance on top of the bale of cotton that came to Harlem not only entertains, the performance, also, informs audiences of the African American journey from the southern cotton fields to the concrete jungle of the northern urban city.

Ms. Robinson has enjoyed a rich and varied career both on and off screen. It is no surprise. My interview with her brings to relief an artist who respects and honors her craft. This is a story about her sheer love for her talents and abilities, and how this love requires not only practice, focus, and discipline, but also it needs patience, and the right mentors and teachers to fertilize the ground for its growth. Correspondingly, Ms. Robinson makes known the choices an artist has to make when life intervenes and changes the course of direction.

TDR:  How did you nurture your desire for the performing arts?

MR:    My nurture of the arts began when I was an infant—or so I have been told. I loved to dance, according to my grandmother. She told me when she turned on the radio, I would pull up on the crib and jump for hours. She said that’s how she could get her laundry done!

TDR:  So, this nurture came from within your home.

MR:    Yes! My mom was a single parent. Mom went to New York to get a better job. She left us with grandmother in Savannah, Georgia where I was born. When she found a job, she came back for my sister and me. Whatever I did, I had to be the best. My mother said I had to be.

TDR:  You talk of your mother with pride …

MR:    My mom was a very determined and focused person—always. She was a seamstress who tailored men’s clothes; she made the muslin cloth patterns for clothes. Later she went to work at this company and became their bookkeeper; she ended up becoming an accountant. She didn’t finish high school until I finished college, but the way she attacked things–the way she finished things–it made people admire her ability to be such a perfectionist without having the book learning. Then she enrolled in college courses. In essence, my mother guided me to look and move beyond the norm.

TDR:  Were there other men and/or women who encouraged your love for the arts?MR:    Vereda Pearson, a little short black woman who played the piano, was a teacher in the public schools in New York who taught after school in the community center. Well, mom and Ms. Pearson became really good friends. She taught her students to articulate, to learn opera … she worked with [vaudeville actor and the first Black comedian to ever appear in the cinema] Bert Williams, so she had an awful lot to give to us. She was theater for me in a sense.

When you’re 11 and 12 years old you’re trying to get into your own, and she did not allow us let up. She said “there will be no insecurities here!” Her guidance helped me a great deal to be nurtured as far as the arts was concerned.

TDR:  From the crib to the community center, the arts seemingly followed you. Discuss your high school years.

MR:    I entered the High School of Performing Arts. When I enrolled I hadn’t had much technical training. The one thing I did have, though, was the love for dance. I remember I was a week late getting to school because our car broke down. At registration, all of the modern dance classes were filled so I had to go to the ballet classes. Blacks were discouraged from ballet, so luckily I only had to do half year of ballet before I became a double major. This meant having equal classes in ballet and modern techniques. The modern technique allowed me more freedom of movement. Ballet is a highly disciplined genre, and the learning of it, as far as freedom of movement … it’s restricting. The dancer, then, has to have the discipline to get her body to do what she wants it to do.

The most important things any person interested in the arts must do is have a respect for the discipline, learn to be professional, and learn to work for quality. On the whole, the arts take discipline but the artist has to make it look like magic.

TDR:  You mention that blacks were discouraged from ballet. Growing up I remember hearing the reason was the African American body could not express the kinds of movements ballet required. Why the discouragement?

MR:    The ballet establishment believed the African American body could not accommodate the discipline of ballet because we were built with a curvature, had large buttocks, and flat feet–of course you can build up the feet up to stand on point.

TDR:  Yet, in spite of that belief, there are African American ballet dancers …

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Janet Collins, Prima Ballerina

MR:    Janet Collins was the first notable African American ballet dancer in America. Later, [African American dancer and choreographer] Arthur Mitchell challenged these notions about the Black body and ballet. He established The Dance Theater of Harlem, and it is all ballet, even children doing ballet. Louis Johnson, who was the person that I worked with a lot, came [from Statesville, North Carolina] to D.C. He later went to dance with the New York City School of American Ballet and performed with the New York City Ballet. Now, Misty Copeland is a shining example that deletes the statement about Black dancers and ballet.

TDR:  You are a graduate of the High School for Performing Arts and Juilliard School of Music. That you attended these schools leads me to believe that you were/are a very focused and talented individual who knew exactly what she wanted to do.

MR:    The arts always have been a saving grace for me. Dancing is not only about steps or being musical or having a high kick. No. I found that I must be able to tell stories or to “talk” through my movements. When you first work with individuals, I observed they don’t necessarily embrace that approach, so I searched for those who allowed me to do that.

TDR:  Why the dance?

MR:    Dancing was something I had to hold on to; it made me feel good; it made people like me. Those feelings and emotions are important to me.

TDR:  You have performed on Broadway and in film and television. How important do you believe education is when it comes to performing? Is it necessary? Why?

MR:    The most important things any person interested in the arts must do is have a respect for the discipline, learn to be professional, and learn to work for quality. On the whole, the arts take discipline but the artist has to make it look like magic. So, performance, in the eye of the public, is magical. As for the formal degree, it is up to the individual. People do not think about the hard knocks; they only think of the end result. But you asked about education. I think education is important. It establishes a “fit-in” … how you fit … education continues … It’s not only book education, it is also social–how you deal with people and their energies. Hopefully you are studying what it is that you want to do in the future …

The arts always have been a saving grace for me. Dancing is not only about steps or being musical or having a high kick. No. I found that I must be able to tell stories or to “talk” through my movements.

TDR:  When cast in a show, how do you prepare for your character?

MR:    Characters, I think, are extensions of yourself; however, certain things you may not have experienced in life can be projected through your character. When this is realized, the performer has to research and get the information. Then the information has to be interpreted by the performer to establish a frame for that character. If the role has been done or established, the performer still has to make it her own.

TDR:  You are a dancer and a choreographer. In what ways do you prepare your instrument (the body) to be ready for a performance? (i.e., eating habits, exercise, etc.).

MR:    I was very fortunate because of my eating habits; diet is very important. I have a temple and I have to keep it moving. Not only do I deal with nurturing or taking care of my body, I have to eat well. My body tells me what to have and what not to eat. The minute you abuse your body you will get hurt. You have to prepare your body because the body was not built to dance so to speak but you train the body to do those things … you have to warm it up; that’s why athletes, to continue to do what they do, have to warm up and stretch …

TDR:  You participated in the era in film history called Blaxploitation, and the title caused a political backlash by those who filmmaker Melvin van Peebles sarcastically called “the black intelligentsia”. This backlash contributed to the nadir of the era. What are your thoughts on the title of that era and this backlash?

MR:    People became embarrassed and/or hurt by that name. You know, I don’t know whether it was a backlash. It was an era that gave black artists an opportunity to work. During the period I was so happy that there was work for black artists. [The studio heads] had to determine what was going to sell–what was commercial. Because of [director] Ossie Davis’s high respect for theater as was his wife Ruby’s, all of that went into his film work. As a director [of Cotton Comes to Harlem], he demanded excellent artists. He demanded good producers who respected his artistic opinions. As with anything else, if you lose respect for the craft and you are just going for one goal—the money–then you have to deal with the consequences.

TDR:  Do you feel that the the Blaxploitation era was a productive one in terms of the kinds of images, stories, fashion, and dialogue it produced during that time?

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Mabel Robinson as Billie

MR:    Blaxploitation gave us a transition from the intensity of the 1960s. For some it became their lifestyles; a lot of people didn’t know where they wanted to go so the images influenced them in myriad ways.

TDR:  How did you come to be involved in Cotton Comes to Harlem? What was your reaction when you were cast in the movie?

MR:    I felt wonderful because I knew Raymond St. Jacques. He suggested that I audition for the part.

TDR:  The theater scene in Cotton Comes to Harlem is very poignant. There are so many historical registers that are performed: blackface, gospel, dance, the bale of cotton …

MR:    That theater scene upheld the points of the civil rights movement; it kept a certain respect. It made us uphold a certain respect. It showcased the plight of black people through history even with the white man coming entering the stage in blackface — there were a lot of teaching moments in there, yes.

TDR:  Your dance is what takes the audience through those historical registers. Discuss your dance choreography. How did you come up with the theme? What did you hope to accomplish during the routine?

MR:    I should note that Ossie Davis hired me as an actress—not as a dancer because he did not know that I could dance. It was a collaboration as well as an understanding of all creative energies working on the film. Louis Johnson choreographed the scene after Ossie told him what he wanted. I offered to Louis to envision moving through our history within the dance; he said exactly right! We agreed on how we were going to approach the performance. It was only to be 30 seconds but those 30 seconds turned out to be 4 minutes.

TDR:  How was it working with Ossie Davis?

MR:    It was fantastic to work with a director in whom you can find all of the nuances necessary to bring a project to fruition. Ossie not only was an actor, he was a writer as well. He encouraged all actors to try new ways of interpreting characters. I think it was a connection that every one who worked on Cotton Comes to Harlem made. It was a really nice feeling. He had all of those creative energies to put into the film to encourage all actors to go that way or to try something else. I think the connection made by all people in Cotton Comes to Harlem was really a nice feeling.

TDK:  The scene is over, and the director moves on to block other scenes in the film. What are your thoughts?

MR:    Everyone said I did a good job so my performance affirmed something. I felt there was nothing more I could do for that character because it already was notated. Film is not like live theater. In live theater, you have a chance to revise and reinterpret your character every night of a performance.

TDR:  What did you do after Cotton Comes to Harlem?

MR:    I came back to Broadway and continued to dance. I did some assistant directing. Then, in 1972, I had a son so I did some touring but I did not travel out of the country as much. I felt my son needed structure and discipline. I worked in companies that were off-broadway so that I could keep my craft alive and, more important, continue in my discipline. I was fortunate because black theater was alive and booming then. I was very fortunate because I would swing in some of the shows I was cast in.

TDR:  Define ‘Swing’ …

MR:    To ‘swing’ means to learn more than one role. Those actors who could swing were treasures because not everyone can do that. It’s different from being an understudy whereby you learn one role only. So, for instance, in some shows, I would learn all of the female parts so if something happened, I could be in costume and go on stage and play that part.

TDR:  Among other projects, you went on to work in Funny Lady with Barbra Streisand in 1975.

MR:    I had finished [the musical revue] Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope. I took over Hope Clarke’s part in that production, and toured with the show in Canada and San Francisco. Herbie Ross called me to do Funny Lady because I had worked with him in 1963 at the Spoleto Festival [Italy]. Herbie Ross remembered me.

TDR:  What was your experience working with Barbra Streisand?

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Ben Vereen (center) and Mabel Robinson (right)

MR:    For me it was the most fun to dance and sing with both Streisand and Ben Vereen. The quality of the [Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie] routine was sort of Ragtime-ish, and it gave me a chance to do a variety of styles. We were kind of Ross’s skeleton crew which took the edge off and gave you a feeling of importance and leadership during the project.

TDR:  You played a munchkin in The Wiz with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson in 1978—two very different movies from those produced during blaxploitation. Discuss your experiences on the set of these movies.

MR:    Well, Funny Lady was a mixed cast; the stars were mixed, too. The Wiz caught on. Sidney Lumet, a white director, signed on to direct the movie with Diana Ross as its lead. This production gave me the chance to explore my knowledge as a choreographer as I worked on big group production numbers. I was assistant choreographer in that movie and responsible for the choreography performed by Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, and Ted Ross; I would learn their routines. Louis Johnson and I had to be in contact with all of the stars, the dancers, and the models.

TDR:  What are some of your thoughts on the entertainment industry today?

 MR:    I strongly believe that we must keep Black Theater going! Collaborations in theater are so important. If we can just think about opening ourselves up to the possibilities, there will be a great future for the arts. I am glad to see that the young people are so free and doing what they do and how they do; however, I wish that they would take the time to see where it came from. Some do.

TDR: So history plays an important role in theater …

MR:    Those who do not take time to look at the history fall short. I believe that if you just research where you came from–even though you did not come of age during that time– you can learn. I am trusting that there are enough of young people who will understand the history of their art to get a full picture of what is happening politically in the arts; to gain a sense of how things connect. I try to teach my students that, and there are about six of them who are writing their own scripts and doing the big productions.

TDR:  Why did you decide to become an artistic director and instructor?

MR:    First thing, the body starts to break down. Personally, I became limited as a dancer and, on top of that, I had to consider what was necessary for my son and me. Also, I had to find a way to continue to hone my craft. What is more, there were challenges to living in New York City. So, I moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina to work for Twin City Stage Theater; I started the musical theater department. I went into churches and universities and found so much talent to cast! As I worked with these individuals, I realized that I just wanted to direct and choreograph. In 2007, Larry [Leon Hamlin, the Artistic Director] passed away, and the board asked if I would assume the role at the North Carolina Black Repertory Company.

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TDR:  Now, you have retired! Why?

MR:    As far as my retirement, it is my 77th birthday present to myself. If I couldn’t do things that I have been trying to catch up on because I didn’t have enough time … commitments at work require me to be there all time, and I feel obligated to carry them out. I try to respond and help the community out as much as possible.

TDR:  Do you have some projects in the works now?

MR:    Yes I do. I have a ballet called Mother’s Tree which is a tribute to my mother and grandmother; it really covers about 3 generations. I want to convert that into a play. It has been successful as a ballet because all of my work has a strong movement background. With that experience, I could see it as a play or an operatta; I could use spoken word. Also, at this stage of my life, I am trying to do different things. Companies have asked me to come and create some projects but I could not when I was working. My friends warn me that once people know I have retired many projects will come my way. Now, I have a choice to at least be able to tell them “I can do it. Let’s try it!” At least I am able to say I have the time …

Only Yesterday @ The Ross

Taeko in the safflower fields

Taeko in the safflower fields

If you are over 5 ft tall and 12 years of age, you may have considered or even taken part in a summer’s activity called detasseling. No frolicking on the the beach or riding the tea cups at Disneyland or touring, say, Universal studios for you. It’s off to a farm in Nebraska or in Iowa to learn the value of work in the cornfields underneath a sweltering July sun!

Meet Taeko, the main character in Academy Award nominated Isao Takahata’s animated film Only Yesterday. Taeko, a 27-year-old unmarried young woman from Tokyo is going on vacation. Rather than a trip abroad, Taeko determines to pick one of humanity’s oldest crops: fields of safflowers. This trek is not the first of her rural adventures; the vacation before, she harvested rice. Despite warnings from friends that she is not getting any younger and needs to settle down, Taeko, packs her bags and travels by train to meet and work with her second family in the countryside.

Taeko w/ Friends (5th grade Taeko upper right)

Taeko w/ Friends (5th grade Taeko upper right)

What is fascinating about Takahata’s Only Yesterday, is the feature of a universal conundrum: how to make peace with the past. Specifically, how to reconcile pain and humiliation that happened to you and that which you caused other people.

Each of us has a desire to reach into the past … to reconstruct it … to look all pretty, neat, and clean. Do not be fooled: The Past? It is a powerful phenomenon, and Takahata strongly suggests some aspects of yesteryear will follow you around as would an abandoned child until you attend to it. In her attention to only yesterday, Taeko contemplates exactly what her fifth-grade self is telling her to do.

Taeko sad over math grades

Taeko sad over math grades

Bring your Kleenex because you will be surprised how Taeko develops her own wings—right there on a colorful safflower farm.

Made 25 years ago in the legendary Studio Ghibli, Only Yesterday is making its film debut here in North America. Daisy Ridley of Star Wars fame voices the adult Taeko and Allison Fernandez dubs Taeko in the 5th-grade.

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Only Yesterday plays through May 5th at the Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

Also showing through May 5th at the Ross are City of Gold, Hello My Name is Doris, and Miles Ahead.

Miles Ahead @ The Ross

Don Cheadle as Miles Davis

Don Cheadle as Miles Davis

How can yours truly do justice to Miles Ahead, Don Cheadle’s directorial debut in the biopic of the late musician extraordinaire Miles Davis? I honestly do not know if I can pull it off.

Miles Ahead–this film … it is deep; like waaay d e e eeeep; like real down in the ocean deep. The film required two screenings just to get the breadth and scope of Cheadle’s project. He co-wrote and stars in Miles Ahead, and the film is a very rich narrative full of improvisation. If film was jazz, Miles Ahead would be it. Genius. Cheadle handles the iconic Jazz superstar with such care that we see the man—the human being—behind the music. There is no ‘I was born in narrative’; non-existent, too, is the story behind Davis’s interest in his instrument and the genre of Jazz itself.

Ewan McGregor plays Dave Brill, a journalist with Rolling Stone magazine, intent on interviewing Davis in hopes of getting the musician’s comeback story. The film is set in the late 1970s when Miles seemingly has run his course in the Jazz world. He is weary-worn, if not emotionally and artistically spent. He looks unwell and, more significant, out of sync with himself. It is obvious that a facture has occurred between him, his instrument, his music. As a result, he sets himself up in exile in his own Upper West Side apartment. His friend? cocaine, and Dave Brill arranges a drug score from a student drug dealer at Columbia University. A kind of joy ride on the Miles Davis highway of life ensues, as journalist and musician duck & dodge wicked music producers and managers after Cheadle retrieves a tape stolen from his home by one of them.

In all of his darkness, there is love. Davis’s first wife Francis, played with courage and power by Emayatzy Corinealdi, haunts him.

Miles Ahead is a daring project, and Cheadle lands where he wants to be with his subject: a story about a man … an artist who has lost his artistic center but not knowing how to go about finding out what is the matter.

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Miles Ahead plays through May 5th at The Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

Also The Messenger, Su Rynard’s exploration of our deep seated connection to birds, plays through April 28 at The Ross.

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