Monday, March 31, 2008

'Jump!' just one interesting film at festival

To the average Joe or Jane, the Sarasota Film Festival may not necessarily be about attending parties or hob-knobbing with the stars. It may just be simply about the films.

One of several films getting a lot of buzz at this year's festival, which begins Friday, is "Jump!" — a documentary about jump roping as a competitive sport. The film will screen 7:30 p.m. April 10 and 1:15 p.m. April 12 at the Hollywood 20 in Sarasota.

I'm not talking about your typical elementary school "Jump Rope for Heart" kids. This film highlights teenagers and young adults who perform back flips, dance tricks and other creative, daring stunts to the skip of a rope.

"Jump!" is directed by Helen Hood Scheer, who will be in attendance at the screening of her film with the championship team, The Summerwind Skippers. The group will give a live demonstration. It's an opportunity that shouldn't be missed, especially if you have children who fancy the jump rope. The film follows several jumpers — including the Summerwind Skippers — across the country as they make their way from regional competitions to the world competition of jump roping. Yes, I said WORLD. Apparently, jump roping is a very big sport, not only in the United States, but in Japan, South Africa and Europe. I find that amazing.

I'm not as coordinated to jump rope like the folks in "Jump!" Growing up, I thought it was an achievement to just get 10 jumps into a fast-swinging set of double dutch. The last time I attempted to jump rope was about three years ago during a scavenger hunt with friends in downtown Savannah. Our task was have the whole group (15 or so of us) successfully jump rope all at once at least five times to get our next clue. Getting about 30 feet to move at the same time is a real challenge. The task took about 20 minutes. Jumping isn't as easy as you would think, so I commend all the jumpers in Scheer's film.

Be sure to jump your way to the movie screening. —January Holmes

Friday, March 28, 2008

Syesha needs a new sound on 'Idol'

Sarasota's Syesha Mercado found herself in the bottom two on "American Idol" this week while fellow contestant Kristy Lee Cook found herself completely safe for once.

You may be wondering what is wrong with the world or America for that matter.

Well, I'll tell ya. Syesha's near-defeat after a well-sung performance of Stephanie Mills "If I Were Your Woman" this week, came because Syesha hasn't dared to step out of her musical boundary much. Most of the songs she has sung have been strictly R&B tunes with the same soulful, predictable sound we're used to hearing from Syesha. Not that doing R&B hits is wrong. She's just not bringing anything tremendously unique to them. If she wants to win this thing, she should show more versatility or at best, bring a seriously funky style to her R&B choices — like David Cook has been doing with his rock 'n' roll choices. I love the version of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" he performed on the show Tuesday night.

So Syesha, please do some pop hits, maybe a rock 'n' roll ballad. You shined so beautifully when you performed "Yesterday" for Beatles week No. 2.

As for Kristy, the only reason she's safe this week is the fact she picked a patriotic song to perform. No one in their right mind would vote off someone who sings "God Bless the USA." That's just unpatriotic. Next week, I predict she'll be back in the bottom three, unless she sings another patriotic tune.

As for my top five "American Idol" predictions — David Cook, Brooke White, Carly Smithson, dare I say Jason Castro (teenage girls seem to love him, though he's starting to bore me) and of course, the too-adorable-for-his-own-good David Archuleta.

If Syesha can change her song-choice strategy, then she'll be destined for the top five in no time. - January Holmes

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sarasota Ballet has ambitious plans for next season

I got a sneak peak at the Sarasota Ballet Company's upcoming season last Friday at a special dinner before the opening night of "Vespri, Grosse Fuge and Elite Syncopations" at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

The sad part, though, is I can't really tell you what it is yet until the "official" season announcement later on in April (due to pending legalities the company is ironing out). What I can say is that artistic director Iain Webb, who has already created an ambitious season during his first year with the company, is kicking it up a few steps higher with plans for 15 shows for the 2008-09 year. That's nine more than this year!

Thirteen of the shows will be new to the company and two season favorites from this season will return (which I'm very excited about). Another exciting tidbit is that one of the shows for the upcoming season will be held at the newly renovated Sarasota Opera House.

Back to last weekend's show, which was a sight to see. I really enjoyed "Grosse Fuge" more than I thought I would. The piece, choreographed by the highly respected Hans van Manen of Holland who was in attendance Friday, was very contemporary and visually stunning against a stark white backdrop that turned from "warm" to "cool" with great use of lighting. It was like watching a work of art at the Tate Modern Museum of Art (a very chic modern art museum in London) come to life.

"Elite Syncopations" had a fun, lively dance hall appeal featuring the ragtime music of Scott Joplin and others. But it seemed odd watching it performed without a backdrop. The stage wings were removed to make room for the live musical ensemble (a first for the ballet, I hear), leaving the backstage area open for all to see. But the costumes were very colorful and festive — even the ensemble was decked out in stripes and funky hats. I would have rather liked to see the ensemble dressed in the standard black tie, but it was a good show.

Overall, it was another nice evening at the ballet. Stay tuned to and the Bradenton Herald for the official season announcement on the upcoming Sarasota Ballet season.
— January Holmes

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Syesha's parents, fiance in audience

Being one of the bottom three contestants on last week's "American Idol" gave Sarasota's Syesha Mercado the "kick in the butt" she's been needing to make herself into an Idol stand-out, she said last night on the show.

I was glad to hear that and her great performance of The Beatles hit "Yesterday," which the judges gave rave reviews on. I agree with Simon Cowell when he told her afterwards that the song was her best performance so far on the show. The transformation was like night and day between Tuesday night and past performances. Let's hope she can keep it up.

Another reason for Syesha's new-found inspiration could have been her parents sitting in the audience for the first time, along with her fiance, Hess Wesley, who I believe has been supporting Syesha from the Hollywood sidelines for the past two weeks.

Overall, I found last night's show boring, even Simon said it was a weird night. I love The Beatles, but to have semi-amateurs sing these tunes for two weeks in a row just isn't cutting it. Hopefully next week, they will be singing tunes they are more generationally familiar with.

Who may go home this week:
Kristy Lee Cook, let's put an end to the misery. Her performance of "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" was lackluster and emotionless.

Michael Johns, he's been hit and miss with me. I don't think he's a great stage performer. His "A Day in the Life" was so off key in parts, I couldn't believe my ears. Poor Paula Abdul was trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, saying that he was not accustomed to wearing an ear piece as he sings, but moments later, he admitted there was no ear piece!

Ramiele Malubay might be saying good-bye to "Idol" too with another lackluster performance of "I Should Have Known Better" that didn't show any spunk whatsoever. But at least she tried to do something different. Maybe a bottom three vote will wake her up too, if she survives another week.

Surprise performances for the night:
Syesha's "Yesterday," it was like a breath of fresh air for someone who seemed to be barely getting by on the show.

Brooke White's "Here Comes the Sun" did look a little forced, especially the "dance" moves, but the vocals were great. She's likely to make top three.

David Cook wowed me again with another one of my favorite Beatles' hits "Day Tripper" — during the song, he also let loose on a voice box. It was excellent.
— January Holmes

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Thoughts on 'Idol' top 12

Well, we're down to American Idol's top 12 contestants. This is where the fun really begins.

And what better way to showcase the cream of the crop than with songs from the Lennon/McCartney song book. Though, I believe a few of the contestants massacred the classic tunes. Ruining a Beatles song should really be considered a crime.

I digress. Our Syesha Mercado of Sarasota is still in the mix. On Tuesday night, when she sang "Got To Get You Into My Life," she was a little shaky in the beginning but was able to hold her own in the end. She'll be safe this week, I imagine, but I'm still waiting for her to have another "wow" moment on stage, something that will definitely set her apart from the other talented singers. So far, my favorite performance of hers has been "Tobacco Road."

Who may be out: Kristy Lee Cook with her campy and horrendous country version of "Eight Days a Week" or maybe Ramiel Malubay with her sleepy version of "In My Life." David Hernandez may be on the chopping block too for his over-the-top version of "I Saw Her Standing There," but I think he'll last a while longer because he's nice to look at.

Surprise performances from last night:

Chikezie Eze "She's a Woman" — I've never seen him let loose so much. I was impressed.

David Cook's rock 'n' roll version of "Eleanor Rigby" — I typically haven't liked David in this competition until now. This song is one of my favorite Beatles hits and I think he did an outstanding job with it, which is saying a lot.

Amanda Overmyer's southern rock version of "You Can't Do That" — This is the first time in a while that I've seen Amanda perform with confidence. It was a good fit for her.

Catch FOX at 9 tonight to see who goes home and who's still in the competition. — January Holmes

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Five reasons to see 'Best Seller!'

Five reasons you should go see "Best Seller!" at the Manatee Players:

1. It's an original play written by Sarasotan Don Crabb, making its world premiere on the Manatee Players stage — so it's history in the making, you could say. Playwrights who have debuted their work there have gone on to great things, including Broadway and working on TV shows such as "ER."

2. Clothes come off — well, not entirely — in a funny musical scene that will having you laughing your socks off.

3. Southern accents, I don't get to hear enough of them here in west Florida. Reminds me of home back in Georgia.

4. Jerry Lee Cosby, evangelist-tycoon with a soft spot for money and tambourines.

5. "Best Seller!" is a sell-out. Many of the performances are selling faster than hotcakes, I'm told. Get your ticket now before the show closes Saturday. — January Holmes

Friday, March 7, 2008

Fuzion Dance Artists a joy to watch

Last week, I had the opportunity to sit in on a rehearsal by the Fuzion Dance Artists for its "Voices of Fuzion" show.

A few of the dancers in this up-and-coming troupe rehearsed a contemporary piece called "Delicate Strains of Consciousness," which is based on an Eduardo Hernandez Santos photograph called "Corpus Fragile."

The photograph, I must admit, is quite strange. It's a black-and-white picture of a bald guy being pulled in by a flower that seems to dangle in mid-air.

Luckily, Leymis Bolanos Wilmott, choreographer and co-founder of Fuzion Dance Artists has a very beautiful and almost playful take on the photo.

Wilmott spiritedly interprets the photo by depicting a sensual relationship between a man and woman. In the dance, the woman draws the man to herself (at her feet), and though the man seems to do all he can to resist her attraction, he is finally pulled in completely. But before the dance is over, the roles reverse and the man is the one who draws the woman to his feet.

Sounds a lot like real life, huh?

Wilmott said many of the dances in the show are based on life. Don't miss Fuzion Dance Artists perform this weekend. Performances are 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday at the Historic Asolo Theater. - January Holmes

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Catty talent show is addictive

Besides "American Idol" there's another talent show that has caught my eye for being more catty than "Idol's" cute.

It's CW's "The Pussycat Dolls Presents: Girlicious," which airs at 9 p.m. Mondays and is the last show on Earth I thought I'd be into. But it has grown on me.

Robin Antin, who created The Pussycat Dolls, is looking to jump-start her next girl group through this show. So far, 10 girls remain. Only three will be chosen for "Girlicious."

Most of these young women are really full of themselves, especially the catty Natalie, 19. Nearly every week she raves about how she's entitled to be in "Girlicious" to the point it makes me ill. So of course I decided to root for the underdog — 19-year-old Ilisa from West Palm Beach.

This week's show was mainly about how tomboyish Ilisa didn't feel like she fit in very well with the pack. She sticks out because of her height, her red hair and her less-than-girly-personality.

The other contestants looked down on her and laughed when she offered help with dance steps. On Monday's show, she was the last to be chosen as three of the contestants were picking their teams for the performance challenge. It played out like kids in middle school.

"It's Girlicious, not tomboyishious," Natalie remarked behind Ilisa's back.

But Ilisa was redeemed by a group of critical tweens who gave Robin feedback during a contest for who had the most charisma during a performance. The tweens responses were harsh for many of the contestant to hear, but dead-on. When Ilisa was on the chopping block, you could see the tears starting to form in her eyes, preparing for the worst, but the young crowd praised her to the other contestants' astonishment.

That moment gave Ilisa a renewed confidence in herself. She decided to open up to the group about a tragic event in her life where she was pronounced dead for 30 minutes after a sudden heart attack during a dance recital. Her speech helped fellow "Girlicious" contenders show a little more respect towards her.

I hope Ilisa makes it to the end to prove to those other girls that she really does have what it takes to be a star. - January Holmes

Monday, March 3, 2008

Words of advice for 'Idol' contestant

My friends and co-workers agree that our area "American Idol" contestant, Syesha Mercado of Sarasota, has a great voice but they also say she needs to become more of stand-out among other "Idol" contestants. That may be the only way she'll be able to grab the "American Idol" crown.

I'm not saying Syesha should morph into a Sanjaya — last season's stand-out contestant (who was a more of a "performer" than quality singer) and the only reason I tuned into the show's top 12 at the time. But she should let more of her personality show while she's singing, when she's talking to the judges — basically anytime the spotlight is on her.

She should ooze charisma — like fellow "Idol" contestant 17-year-old David Archuleta of Utah who seems to melt audiences' hearts every time he sings, displaying an irresistible cuteness while still remaining humble. He has a great shot at winning. Then there's the sassy Danny Noriega who can shake his head like no other at Simon Cowell when the "Idol" judge gets overly critical. You can tell he loves being overly dramatic.

Another example is 24-year-old Brooke White of Arizona, who is just starting to come alive on the show after her performance last week of "You're So Vain," supplying some of the instrumentals with her guitar.

"American Idol" thrives on contestants with unique personalities who can capture and keep a crowd's attention. Of course, there are other factors involved, but simply having a great voice may not get Syesha to the very top. — January Holmes