Saturday, October 31, 2009

The art of show: Michael Jackson's This Is It

It would have been a shame not to release the footage. Captured by multiple cameras during live show rehearsals and background production sequences, the many hours of HD video edited down to This Is It's 2 hours and 1 minute runtime is a fitting tribute and a rare keepsake of an extraordinary talent. It is also an exceptional film that will influence live show production standards for decades.

Yes, every superlative you've heard about Michael Jackson's performance and all that fans have come to expect, is brilliantly evident. While his singing is restrained (an often referred to effort to preserve his voice for the pending 50 concert stint at Great Britian's O2 arena) it is beautifully on pitch and confident. His dancing is precise - so clean and exact as to appear second nature to his every movement. Michael Jackson's stage presence looks to be easily twenty years younger than his 50 years. This Is It's public glimpse into the planning for Michael Jackson's "comeback" is in every way worthy of his tremendous talent. It both adds to his formidable legacy and to our appreciation of his dedication and tremendous professionalism.

What This Is It is too, is a somewhat unanticipated surprise. For the many talents that are required to stage a modern concert spectacle, This Is It will become a production documentary, a kind of primer on executing an art form at its very highest levels. For all disciplines, there are a wealth of fascinating glimpses into the creativity of the artist. But it isn't the big set piece or the high tech tools brought to the production that impart insight, it is Michael Jackson's soul as an artist and his sensitivity to his fellow performers, his audience and to his art itself.

Given an unusually personal point of view through the cameras that roamed the Staples Center during the rehearsal process, every moment becomes an all access pass to witness first hand, and often close up, artist and director working out what would be, as Michael describes for his cast, an experience that his audiences had never seen before. Using his tremendous catalog of hit material as a jumping off point, it is his personal vision that is clearly the focus of every effort contributed by supporting cast and crew.

When the camera captures one on one conversations between Michael and his director Kenny Ortega (a man with too many exceptional choreography and movie directing credits to list), the exchanges fascinate. Even in a sequence where Ortega prods Michael to stay safe by not letting go of the rail of a rising stage lift, the scope of production concerns highlight the complex atmosphere that blends creativity, artistry and practicality into one seamless show. Testing of pyro stage effects (effects that carry extra weight when put into the context of Michael's 1984 stage accident), lighting discussions, audio monitoring discussions - all of the technical work that is fundamental and crucial to live performance, offer rare insight to the depth and scope of Michael Jackson's and Kenny Ortega's talents and their mutual trust and respect.

Particularly for young people considering careers in live show production, aspiring dancers, musicians and singers, This Is It is an absolute must-see. For those, it is a true glimpse into the dedication and commitment required of talent to succeed at the very highest levels of their art form. Two hours of rehearsal footage under the direction of Kenny Ortega, while sharing the stage with Michael's performance legend, bring clearly to light what it takes to be a performer relied upon to offer his or her best at every stage of production - from tryouts to opening night.

For the dancers, the singers, musicians and technical crew, there is simply never a moment of letting up, of holding back or of not remaining fully aware. As Michael Jackson himself starts and stops numbers, asks for changes or expresses his personal vision, he is so completely in command of his art as to inspire nothing less than awe AND absolute attention. For aspiring talent schooled on television competitions like "American Idol" and "So You Think You Can Dance", This Is It unveils what it takes to stand with the best. It should become an enduring example of pushing toward personal excellence.

Those very personal moments of seeing Michael Jackson's artistic sensibilities so unashamedly captured are alone worth watching and re-watching This Is It. His decades of performances, deep personal relationship with his material and his passionate love for his art are touchingly complimented by his loving and caring for the artists who surround him. Those who shared his rehearsal stage were indeed witness to greatness. Happily, through the release of the film, we can join them and share at least a tiny piece of that experience.

1 comment:

  1. Well at least our boy Cris Judd got to work with him. Closest we'll ever get. Three degrees??


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