Category: Features

Nick Cannon tempts his sweet tooth at state’s newly opened Sugar Factory

by MIKE CHAIKEN

Editions editor

MASHANTUCKET– Surrounded by a rainbow of candy of all shapes and sugar content, entertainer Nick Cannon couldn’t resist the temptation.

Cannon was on hand for the grand opening of Sugar Factory at Foxwoods Resort Casino on Saturday, April 1. Sports Illustrated and Maxim model Nina Agdal was there as well for the red carpet walk and ribbon cutting.

Sugar Factory, which has locations around the globe, now has an 8,000-square-foot location consisting of a full service café and confectionary shop, retail shop, indoor dining room, and full service bar at the Connecticut casino.

For most passers-by, the brightly colored candy shop with huge, ceiling-high glass tubes filled with everything from gummies to sugary-bursts in the shape of yellow rubber ducks (the icon for the chain) was the main attraction.

And even Cannon—who is known for his music, as well as a multitude of movie and television gigs—took advantage of his press availabilities in the store to do a little candy shopping on his own.

In a quick interview, Cannon said he loves candy.

Jawbreakers were his candy of choice at the opening, Cannon said, as he held up a plastic baggie filled to the brim with the mouth-filling sized candies. “I’m already stocked up,” he said.

Why jawbreakers? Cannon said it was “it’s the heaviest candy in the building.” Sugar Factory sells candy by the pound and jawbreakers “last the longest,” said Cannon.

Other than jawbreakers, Cannon said his favorite candy is licorice. “It’s what my family grew up on, going to the movie theater. Watching movies, it was licorice and popcorn. It was always the thing to do.”

Besides photographs, ribbons, and candy, Cannon was on hand to play a special DJ set for the VIPs at the opening

Last year, Cannon released a remix album, “The Gospel of Ike Turn Up: My Side of the Story.”

Talking about the genesis of the effort, Cannon said, “It’s been really cool. You release projects based on how you’re feeling. That was just one project. We have another project coming out soon called ‘Model Music’ and after that one is ‘The Summer School’ project.

“The way the music industry has shifted, you don’t have the time to wait to release a whole album,” said Cannon. “You have to put out a body of work by streaming. So, it’s been outstanding.”

For “The Gospel of Ike Turn Up…,” Cannon has told the press he was inspired by the music of the ‘90s.

“Specifically, ‘90s R&B was really at a time where a lot of classic, golden music was made. Now this [current] generation is kind of just beginning to open their eyes and ears to it a little more. It’s kind of cool,” said Cannon.

For his next release, “Model Music,” Cannon said he’s influenced by “more vibes. More chill. It will make every woman feel like a supermodel. It gives everybody that cool chill vibe when they get ready and stuff to get going.

Noting that the opening of Sugar Factory coincided with the 25th anniversary of Foxwoods, Cannon said, “I love celebrating people’s 25th birthdays. It’s good times. Twenty-five is a good year.”

Nina Agdal was making her first ever visit to Foxwoods for the event at Sugar Factory. “It’s so pretty,” she told press. “All these streets and everything. I want to come back.”

“This was kind of just an in and out experience,” said Agdal of her visit to Foxwoods and Sugar Factory. “I got the call last night (in New York while I was hanging with friends) and said, ‘Let’s do it.’… We only have an hour to check out stuff.”

The previous weekend to her visit to Foxwoods, Agdal had celebrated her birthday, she said. And inside Sugar Factory, Agdal got to continue the birthday celebration as she was photographed with Sugar Factory’s trademark “Lollipop Passion” 60 ounce cocktail served up in a huge goblet with dry ice so the ice vapor cascaded over the sides as the waiter delivered it.

Agdal also was served The Signature Sugar Factory burger, one of Sugar Factory’s “Insane Milkshakes,” and a humongous sundae delivered with sparklers shooting off—an appropriate sweet delicacy for the birthday girl.

Sugar Factory Foxwoods is located at the Foxwoods Resort Casino, 350 Trolley Line Boulevard, Mashantucket, Conn. Sugar Factory American Brasserie is open for lunch and dinner Monday to Thursday starting at 11 a.m. Breakfast, lunch and dinner will be served on Saturdays and Sundays starting at 9 a.m. The restaurant will remain open until 2 a.m. Fridays through Sunday. The café is open daily starting at 7 a.m. Reservations and large-group bookings are available by calling (860)312–SUGR, directly at the Foxwoods concierge desk or through OpenTable.com. The restaurant is

located in the main concourse of the Grand Pequot Tower on the casino level. Parking is available in the Grand Pequot Garage.

A night among the SWANs

by MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

Audiences celebrated the 10th anniversary of SWAN (Support Women Artists Now) Day on March 25 with a good dose of music, art, crafts, body painting, live painting, and burlesque.

The event organized by Bristol native Jennifer Hill was held at Trinity-on-Main in New Britain.

Here are some images from this year’s event.

PHOTOS by MIKE CHAIKEN

10 years of SWANs celebrated Saturday

by MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

Ten years have passed since Jennifer Hill launched the first SWAN Day.

And what started out as an arts festival designed to not only pay tribute to film and music but include other art forms created by women has continued as a tradition that tears away the spotlight from male artists and puts the focus on creative women.

This year’s SWAN (Support Women Artists Now) Day is March 25 in New Britain.

In press materials, SWAN Day explained, “While searching for grants for both her music and her students, (musician) Jennifer Hill found a non- profit organization called Women Arts…Just as Hill was exploring ideas to produce a show, Women Arts wanted to start a holiday to celebrate women in the arts…. ‘I wrote to (the organization and said) I love what you’re are doing. Would it still be a SWAN event if we featured bands, burlesque, and art. And (they) said ‘Yes! we’ve never thought of doing that.we are just starting out.’ So Hill ran with her idea and started producing a SWAN DAY for Connecticut and called it SWAN DAY CT. The first one was in 2008.”

Artist Kerry Kennedy, who paints a canvas live, was one of the first performers in SWAN Day when it was started 10 years ago and she hasn’t missed one first.

“SWAN Day was the catalyst for my first live painting, which has become a signature of my portfolio and had expanded the breadth of my work over the years,” said Kerry.

As one of the first creatives to sign on with SWAN Day, Kerry said she was attracted to an event that celebrated women because, “Gender bias is a reality in the visual arts world as much as it is in any profession. As a freelancer, it has worked in my favor that I have a gender-neutral name. My advisor in art school only used her initials to sign artwork for the same reason.”

“Female artists are often pigeon-holed into certain styles of work,” said Kerry. “Art museums feature more paintings of naked women than they do paintings BY women,” said Kerry.

“I was hungry for a dedicated event showcasing the diversity of styles and broad range of talents that artistic women possess,” said Kerry.

Singer Gracie Day of Bristol came across SWAN Day more recently.

“I was thrilled when I found out about SWAN Day because the music scene is mostly full of men, so it’s exciting to be a part of an event led by females,” said Gracie. “Last year was my first time in SWAN Day and the most valuable thing I personally took away from it, was making connections with other female artists. There was a camaraderie and support system all about raising each other up.”

“As a women in the music industry, I unfortunately experience sexual harassment,” said Gracie. “And because it’s not a regulated industry—especially for independent musicians— there is no (human resources department) to report to or anything.”

“SWAN Day (which is an international movement as well as local) is particularly significant for women in developing countries, whose talent and crafts have been historically undervalued and unappreciated,” said Kerry. “Giving these women a platform to celebrate their skills can enable them to establish income from their work in a way previously not explored.”

“Here in Connecticut, SWAN Day enables all the women at the venue to support each other for one night without worrying about how they will ensure their work gets noticed in an industry that still favors men,” said Kerry.

“SWAN Day is needed especially in this current political climate where women’s rights seem to be threatened,” said Gracie. “I think in this third-wave feminist movement, especially in the creative arts, there has been a focus on eliminating competition amongst one another. SWAN Day has that spirit.”

“We are sisters who have suffered in the same ways and who have soared in the same way,” said Gracie. “We are there for each other.”

Have things gotten better for women since the first SWAN Day?

Gracie replied, “I think once these questions stop being asked it will be indicative of equality.”

Beyond events like SWAN Day, to make things better, Kerry said, “It will take successful artists of all sexes and genders holding each other up and lending their influence and power to those women who need it. Artists need advocates, just as women need advocates in the corporate realm to break that glass ceiling.”

“SWAN Day is not just about women and feminism,” said Gracie, “It’s also just a chance to shine the spotlight on women in charge in the male-dominated music scene.”

The SWAN Day musical line up is Murderous Chanteuse, Tiny Ocean, Nan Roy, Parlor Walls, Elizabeth Dellinger, Nikki Mathi, Patti Rothberg, Canyon, Scarlett, That Virginia, Gracie Day,Terri Gladwell,Sarah Golley, and Jen Taylor. Hosts are Ryan Kristafer from WTNH’s “CT Style” and artist/designer Ebony Amber Parish. Dj Breakdown will fill in the musical voids and Cupcake Wars winners, Hardcore Cupcakes, will be on hand for your sweet tooth. Burlesque acts will be performed by Mistress Leona Star, Vivienne LaFlamme and Harley Foxx. Live painting onstage will be offered by Kerry Kennedy. Both stages run separately so everyone can catch all the happenings of the evening. The show is for everyone 18-plus or all ages if accompanied by an adult. Tickets are $18 resale online and $20 at the door. Tickets can be found at www.showclix.com/event/SWANDAYCT2017

The doors open at Trinity on Main, 60 Main St., New Britain at 4:30 p.m., www.trinityonmain.org

When is a rock show not a rock show… ask the performers at ‘Game of Thrones’

by MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

I went to a classical music concert on a recent Saturday.

But the audience didn’t arrive in the stereotypical jacket and tie or designer dress.

There were t-shirts, blue jeans, nightclub dresses with short skirts, and thigh high boots.

And rather than champagne and wine, they had beer, popcorn, and pizza.

The show also wasn’t presented in an historic theater with a velvet curtain and a balcony. It was held in an arena that recently hosted a professional lacrosse game and would host a country music concert a few weeks later.

Of course, they didn’t dub it a classical music concert.

They dubbed it the “Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience.”

The show at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Feb. 25 focused on the soundtrack compositions from the cable series, “Game of Thrones.” And it had all the trappings of a big production rock concert.

There were huge video screens across the length of the arena, showing clips from the HBO fantasy series, “Game of Thrones.” There was an elaborate stage that stretched from one end of the arena floor to the other, with trap doors, rising platforms, snow falling, fog, pyrotechnics to emulate a dragon’s flight, and sound effects. There was an intricate light show and there was a top notch sound system.

It was like a Pink Floyd concert—without Pink Floyd.

But it clearly was not a rock concert.

There were no electric guitars or basses. There was no drum kit.

Instead, there was a 30-plus piece orchestra with strings, woodwinds, and (non-rock and roll) percussion. There was a violin soloist. There was a soprano. There was a choral ensemble dressed as monks who harmonized wordlessly as they marched through the arena, across the stage, and behind the symphony.

And there was the music of “Game of Thrones” soundtrack composer Ramin Djawadi, which was not mere background music. Instead they were compositions full of drama, bombast, sturm und drang, and enough heft to give Wagner and Beethoven the blues.

All that said, however, it definitely was not rock music.

However, the crowd at the Mohegan Sun Arena was definitely a rock and roll crowd. They would have been right at home at a Def Leppard show

But don’t tell them they were at a classical music performance.

In many ways, the folks at Live Nation and HBO, who organized the “Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience” had a great idea. It was like putting gooey melted American cheese on broccoli. The broccoli is good for you but is not always the favorite of a junk food nation. But if you dowse it in orangey cheese, you get your vitamins and it’s tasty too.

And that was the case here. As music, the work of Ramin Djawadi is very good. It’s complex. It successfully evokes a mood and an atmosphere for the violent and stormy world portrayed in “Game of Thrones.” It definite egghead material. Performance wise, I was impressed with the orchestra. Clearly, they brought along A-game professionals who not only play with skill but passion.

Even without the trappings of pyro and mammoth sized video screens, Djawadi’s work and the performance still would take you on an aural journey.

The tour also mines the rabid fandom surrounding “Game of Thrones.” And the audience loved it. When the screens projected certain characters or portions of storylines, they cheered loudly as if their favorite team had taken to the field. The show was a great opportunity for fans of the show—which is entering its seventh season– to immerse themselves in the show again.

Classical music recently has had a tough time. Its audience is older, and by the nature of an aging population, you lose members over time. Many orchestras are cutting back on their performance schedule as budgets shrink, corporate donations disappear, and audiences distract themselves with other pastimes.

Many orchestras try to find a golden elixir to bring back the crowds. They do pop series, such as an evening of Pink Floyd music or the Beatles or “Star Wars” theme music. Hartford Symphony Orchestra even brought out the spotlight for the compositions accompanying video games.

But HBO and Live Nation clearly found a formula. Rather than force pop culture into the classical music format, force the classical music into a pop music formula. Give the audience dungeons and dragons, give them fog machines, and give them fire and explosions—and let the violins, cellos, and bassoons play along.

At the Mohegan Sun, the crowds enthusiastically filed in… for a classical music performance– and walked away with the rock and roll t-shirts as well.

Overall, I’d give “Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience” 3 out of 4 stars… only because at times, as someone who is not GoT fan, I was lost watching the video projections. And if part of the experience was the video, a portion of the appeal of the show was lost on me. I’m not sure, th ough,  how you would fix that.

But “Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience” was definitely a show thoroughly embraced by the GoT fandom.

PHOTOS by MIKE CHAIKEN

Bring a mask when you celebrate Mardi Gras

By MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

Behind a mask, you can be anybody you want to be.

And at Mardi Gras, the anonymity is all the better.

According to MardiGrasNewOrleans.com, “In the beginning, masks worn during Mardi Gras allowed wearers to escape society and class constraints. When wearing a mask, carnival goers were free to be whomever they wanted to be, and mingle with whatever class they desired to mingle with.”

As for the festivities themselves, Smithsonianmag.com explained: “Mardi Gras made landfall in the United States back in the 17th century when the French explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville set up camp 60 miles from New Orleans on the day that the holiday was being celebrated in France. He called the location Point du Mardi Gras. But, Mardi Gras and the accompanying masked balls associated with the holiday were outlawed when the Spanish governor took control of the area in 1766 as well as when it came under U.S. rule in 1803. But by 1823, the Creole population convinced the governor to permit masked balls. By 1827, wearing a mask in the street was legalized in New Orleans.”

Mardi Gras – complete with the traditional masks— takes to the colorful halls of carousel horses and artwork this weekend when the New England Carousel Museum hosts its annual Mardi Gras Party..

The fundraising event will be held on Saturday, Feb. 25 from 7:30 p.m. to midnight. There will be music, food, bourbon, and beads. The Al Fenton Band will perform as guests dance the night away in the museum ballroom. There also will be a 50/50 raffle, face painters, temporary tattoos, balloon twisting, magic, bourbon, and wine tastings—activities all worthy of the Speakeasy.

And, of course, there will be masks for sale in the museum’s gift shop.

After all, when you’re in a mask, no one needs to know your name at Mardi Gras.

The New England Carousel Museum is at 95 Riverside Ave., Bristol. For more information, go to TheCarouselMuseum.org. Tickets are $50 and are available online.

Steampunks, cinema converge at premiere

By MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

This Friday night, Connecticut audiences can experience a unique partnership between the steampunk universe and the cinematic universe.

“Tales of a Broken Reality: Fragments” is a nationwide, collaborative series where anyone with a camera and an afternoon can create their own episode for the show.

The Airship Wendigo, a local collective in the steampunk universe, will present the premiere of its entry into the “Tales of a Broken Reality” universe on Friday, Feb. 10 from 7 to 10 p.m. at Innovate Hartford , 20 Church St., Floor 17, Hartford

We caught up with Bryan Oliver, creator of “Tales of a Broken Reality” and Chelsea Renaldi, the director for Airship Wendigo, via email to speak about the endeavor.

Observer: Talk to me about the original inspiration behind creating “Tales of a Broken Reality?”

Bryan: I originally set out to make a movie with some of my friends. We knew it would be low to no budget but was just something fun we thought we would try. I have a background in commercial production and figured I would use those skills for something a little more unique. I was also told I could not pull it off so that definitely motivated me.

O: Why establish essentially a crowd-source web series where anyone can participate?

B: I chose this path because so many steampunks have created great characters, but have very little chance to show off who their character is. Normally when putting on the gear for a con or special event, there isn’t a lot of opportunity to actually “Be” the character. This allows for that. I chose to have it be open to nearly anyone because there are many great stories to tell, each group has their own way of seeing the project, and it allows for a larger series without putting all of the weight on one particular group.

O: Is there a central plot, or is it like an anthology series like the old “Twilight Zone?”

B: Yes and yes, there is the main series called “Tales of a Broken Reality,” which focuses on the story of a character called Tin Man and the people he encounters.

There is a side series of shorter works called “Fragments,” which tells individual stories that are loosely related but are stand alone for the most part.

O: How long is each episode? Does it vary based on the creators?

Chelsea: The main series clocks in at about 30 minutes per episode. “Fragments” has been broken up into more bite sized pieces, running under 10 minutes each. The special episode we are premiering, “Jaws of Hell” is about 30 minutes.

O: Why a steampunk context for the series?

Bryan: I love the look of Steampunk, I love the mixture of science fiction with the Victorian era and the Wild West. That and I know a ton of really unique steampunks who own their characters rather than doing cosplay of something that is copywritten.

O: Are the cast members all from the steampunk community or are you pulling in actors outside of the circle as well?

Chelsea: Everyone on the Airship Wendigo cast and crew is a Steampunk fan to some degree. Due to no budget, we focused on casting individuals who could provide their own Steampunk costume.

O: How many episodes have been filmed so far, what is the ultimate goals for how many series you create?

B: We have four main episodes that have been filmed so far, and we have 12 “Fragments” that have also been completed. I want to keep the series as its two sections but I have no limit on how many episodes they will contain.

O: Where has the filming thus far been taking place?

B: So far we have filmed in Louisiana, Colorado, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and even the Netherlands. We hope to get groups to participate from all 50 states and as many other countries as we can. Our next bit of production will take place in Arizona during Wild Wild West Con in March.

C: Airship Wendigo’s episodes were shot throughout Connecticut in Shelton, East Hartford, and Wolcott, as well as Southern Massachusetts.

O: Talk to me about the Feb. 10 event, why have a “premiere” event? What can people expect from the event?

C: We wanted to reach out to the community and give recognition to those involved, like Bryan and our venue, Innovate Hartford. TBR and Airship Wendigo both have more fun stories in store, so this event doubles as a fundraiser for all of the volunteers involved in this project to keep creating them.

Outside of TBR, Airship Wendigo is a budding Steampunk collective. This screening will not only showcase our contribution to TBR, but all of the talent that went into it. We will have Steampunk vendors, including Wendigo members, Big Bear Trading Co. and Smoke & Steam Productions. We will have a Steampunk bake sale, lovingly made by another member of our team, and photo ops with custom pieces from the episode. There will also be a mini fashion show featuring costumes from the film and a costume contest for guests. To top it all off, the composers for our episode, The Eternal Frontier, will be performing live.

For more information about Airship Wendigo, go to http://chelsearenaldi.weebly.com/airship-wendigo.html

For a trailer, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvRkhrcjfl4

For episodes from “Tales of a Broken Reality,” go to https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCh6nwJRTjmNXeGlgm4u5zAw

Southington native among dance luminaries highlighted in new photo exhibit

By MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

The history of dance in Connecticut will be illustrated with photographs.

And as part of an upcoming exhibit, which was organized by the Connecticut Dance Alliance and was due to open Jan. 19 at the Connecticut Historical Society, the opening night focus was to be placed on a Southington man who helped shape the dance world… not only in Connecticut but across the globe.

Bring up the name of Alwin Nikolais in casual conversation in his hometown, you might get a “Who?” or a blank stare.

But in the world of dance, his name looms large.

And he is one of the names that pops up in “Connecticut Dances—A Visual History,” was organized by the Dance History Project of the CDA.

Jill Henderson, the director of the Dance History Project, said Nikolais – born in 1910 and who passed away in 1993— was an important arts figure, not only in the Nutmeg state but across the globe.

“He had a small (dance) company in Hartford,” said Henderson. He was part of a dance troupe at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford. And he was a figure on the international stage. (For example, his piece “Schema” was performed in Paris in 1980, the same time his choreography for an opera by Gian Carlo Menotti was performed at the Vienna Staatsoper.)

“He was very much a presence,” said Henderson. “He was a luminary of Connecticut dance.”

Describing the life of Nikolais, Henderson explained he arrived in the world of dance at an age much later in life than was typical for dancer.

When the Southington native graduated from Lewis High School (now Southington High School), said Henderson, Nikolais was a musician not a dancer. He played in the high school marching band.

But as a young man, he attended a dance performance. The performance was very different from the classical ballet he had seen before.

“He was very inspired,” said Henderson.

In a 1992 interview with Susan Beaucar Palmer, which was provided by CDA, Nikolais said, “I was born in Southington, Connecticut and I was taken to see Mary Wigman. She was Truda (Kaschmann)’s teacher. (Kaschmann brought modern dance instruction to the Hartford School of Music.) I fell in love with what I saw Wigman do.”

During his time in Hartford and Connecticut, Nikolais eventually worked with the legendary Chick Austin, who turned the Wadsworth Atheneum and Hartford into one of the THE places for the arts in the 1930s and 1940s. (In the 1992 interview, Nikolais said, “Chick Austin was the ‘big bad boy’ of the arts in Hartford… and a wonderful stimulation to all of the arts.”)

Nikolais also had his own theater in Southington (“We scraped down an old burned fish market and made a little theater of it. We did plays which didn’t require royalty payment. So along with Michael Adrian, I very often directed parts of things or whole little plays,” he said in 1992.) He worked with the Hartford Federal Theater in the 1930s as a choreographer— brought their by Adrian— who had been a Hollywood director at that point.

Henderson said Nikolais was a trailblazer in that he was one of the first “total theater” performers. He did everything. He handled choreography He created his own sound design. He created the light design  as well.

As a choreographer, said Henderson, Nikolais was unique in how he used his dancers. Typically, he used his dancers as objects to create “visually astonishing effects… so the dancers always became integral with what audience was seeing.” He used dancers, explained Henderson, more like props on stage.

Henderson said there were many possible figures in the world of dance in the state who could have served as a figure for the opening night of “Connecticut Dances: A Visual History.” But the decision was made to dedicate the opening to Nikolais because of his international renown and his radical and creative approach to choreography.

As part of the evening, the Dance History Project even invited the sole remaining member of the 1940-42 Nikolais’s dance company, Ruth Grauert, 97, to speak about the man. Also a former soloist with Nikolais Dance Theatre, Lynn Needle, was invited to perform Nikolais’s “Noumenon.”

The Connecticut Dance Alliance in partnership with the Connecticut Historical Society will present “Connecticut Dances- A Visual History” at the Connecticut Historical Society, 1 Elizabeth St., Hartford through March 4.

The exhibition is the culmination of a crowd-sourcing initiative “All About Dance in Connecticut” that documents the many facets of the history of dance in Connecticut through an on- line gallery collection of over two thousand photographic images submitted by members of the Connecticut dance community over the past two years. The total collection of images can be viewed at www.flickr.com/groups/2734781@N25/.

“Connecticut Dances- A Visual History” eventually will travel throughout Connecticut. The tour listing as it develops can be found on www.ctdanceall.com.