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John Ollom’s Women

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An out prima ballerina, Barbeau does Garland, New Directors’ gay slant

Choreographer John Ollom developed three new pieces at Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project, which will have their world premiere at The Clark Studio Theater on March 30 (prismaticproductions.com). Titled “Anatomy of Woman,” Ollom described them as “a celebration and reverence for the feminine within men and women. In doing research on hate crimes against the LGBT community, I found that there was more of a hatred of feminine men than masculine women. I realized that this hatred was not because of what they do sexually, but a perception of men becoming women. This is considered to be a step ‘down’ on the social scale, and, therefore, is misogyny.”

Ollom’s findings paralleled those of “The Da Vinci Code,” when he researched “the value of the Goddess in many cultures and her ability to create and destroy as in the cycles of nature. Older cultures valued this feminine cycle, but today only male linear power is validated. The Goddess was demonized by the Christian powers. The feminine is usually not valued in this phallic, competitive current society. Therefore, to see a bisexual man, like myself, choreograph about female heroines shows man’s reverence for women, instead of sexual objectification as we see in the work of George Balanchine. The spirit of each woman is acknowledged, instead of demanding that the man’s perception of her beauty is her only worth.”

Ollom’s original version of “Spectre de la Rose” features Amber Nalle, an out lesbian. Ollom identified her as his muse here because “her athletic drive portrays masculine strength, but her hair and her demeanor imply feminine allure. That perfect union of masculine and feminine within men and women is beautiful. Nalle can execute male jumps, but with feminine articulation. An out lesbian ballerina is a truly unique phenomenon.”

Howard Rosner is the gay composer featured in “The Yellow Dress.”

“This eight minute composition is eloquent,” said Ollom, “and reflects a solitary female voice losing its strength as men dominate her. Men’s movement is linear, encouraging women to worship the vertical power of the phallus instead of striving for homeostasis.”

“Du fond de l’abime” was inspired by a female friend of Ollom’s, whose father had survived a Russian concentration camp and whose partner survived Vietnam, both of them left with post-traumatic stress disorder: “Our heroine encourages us heal, but ‘du fond de l’abime’ [the bottom of the abyss] haunts us daily and men are pulled into the darkness,” Ollom said.

Stepping into those daunting ruby slippers of Judy Garland is Adrienne Barbeau of “Maude” and “The Fog,” who is portraying her in “The Property Known as Garland” at The Actor’s Playhouse (212-239–6200). Written by her husband, Billy Van Zandt, that rare straight man who adores Garland, Barbeau describes him as “an anachronism. When we met, out of our 500 albums we had maybe four in common. He had Judy, Rosemary Clooney, show tunes, while I had rock and folk. He was sitting in his office, looking at his Judy books, and thinking how he never liked the way she’s always portrayed as the victim, in her darkest hours. He thought of her as a survivor and incredible performer, and, at that point, I guess I walked by, and he thought, ‘Someone like Adrienne should play her.’ He wrote it with me in mind, but I put the kibosh on it because all I knew were those tapes he was listening to, and thought, ‘Golly, I don’t think this is gonna be fun for me,’ and forgot about it. But then a year later, we were on vacation and I read the script when he was out of the room and found it to be fantastic, and an enormous challenge and opportunity for an actor.”

Barbeau only previously knew Garland as a singer, but as she watched her movies, became fascinated by her natural wit, her storytelling, as well as her dancing ability. She hasn’t seen either Tommy Femia or Mary Birdsong do their respective Judy impersonations, but said, “I didn’t want to do an impersonation or sing, which was the one thing that led to my saying yes. Billy and my director, Glenn Casale, said, ‘This is not an impersonation of her, you don’t have to worry about it. Because that’s not my talent, I couldn’t do that. I think of this as a representation of her.”

Barbeau, of course, did sing on Broadway, in the original production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” and as her Tony-nominated Rizzo in “Grease.” That led to her being cast in Norman Lear’s “Maude,” which she remembers as a career highlight. She received a master class in comic timing from Bea Arthur and said, “As a matter of fact, at our first preview last night, the audience was just roaring and I found myself, because there was so much laughter, unconsciously doing a take which I’d never done before. I thought, ‘If that isn’t Bea, I don’t know what is!’”

Although personally not a fan of horror films, Barbeau does treasure her status as Horror Queen from films like “Creepshow” and “Cannibal Women in the Avocado Patch.”

“I’ve attended a couple of horror fan conventions and it’s shocking. There are 20,000 people, so incredibly loyal and 18-year-olds tell me, ‘I loved you in ‘The Fog’ or ‘Escape from New York.’ It’s a genre that’s being perpetually reviewed.”

Barbeau has three sons, including a pair of identical nine-year-olds from Van Zandt that she gave birth to at age 51. The oldest, Cody Carpenter, son of former husband, director John Carpenter, is a rising composer-singer, who has just scored his first Showtime film, “Masters of Horror.” She also has a memoir, “There are Worse Things I Could Do,” where you can read about her arriving in Moscow to film “Burial of the Rats” on the night of the Russian coup “when they were firing on their White House and I thought I’d never see my family again.”

New Directors/New Films at Museum of Modern Art and Walter Reade Theatre runs through April 2 (212-708-9400) and features movies with definite gay appeal. Auraeus Solito’s “The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros” is about an effeminate 12-year-old Filipino boy (amazing Nathan Lopez) who takes care of his crime-prone family in a Manila slum. He falls in love with a handsome policeman (JR Valentin), and becomes torn between the law and family loyalty. Cam Archer’s edgy but negligible “Wild Tigers I Have Known” was produced by Gus Van Sant and Scott Rudin, and is about a young, lonely boy, Logan, infatuated with the older Rodeo, while wild mountain lions roam through the area.

Robert I. Douglas’ charming “Eleven Men Out” starts when a hunky Icelandic soccer star declares his homosexuality to a female journalist in the locker room, igniting a myriad of problems for his wife—a former Miss Iceland—and surly teenaged son, as well as his team. Unstinting in its scenes of male nudity and refreshing ambiance of tolerance, this is a feel-good movie in the best sense of the word.

Contact David Noh at Inthenoh@aol.com.

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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