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September 19, 2014

The Last Impresario: Michael White

The Story of the Playboy Producer Who Mentored Kate Moss

Kate Moss said he was the only one who could keep up with her. To Anna Wintour, he knew everybody on the planet. Billed as “the most famous person you’ve never heard of,” enigmatic British producer Michael ‘Chalky’ White steps into the limelight with Gracie Otto’s comprehensive feature documentary, The Last Impresario. Set against the heady cultural backdrop of the 1960s and 1970s, the London theater and film tycoon took a slingshot to the establishment with his trailblazing productions that included The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Pina Bausch and Yoko Ono,. “To be a successful theater producer you also have to be a gambler, and Michael was prepared to take incredible risks,” says Otto, who became engrossed with White following a chance encounter at Cannes. “He created an amazing network of friends: Facebook before Facebook was created.” White, who was awarded a Lifetime Achievement award at the prodigious Olivier Awards in London earlier this year, comes across on camera as a man of few words but his vast archive of off-duty snapshots of Jack Nicholson, Nicole Kidman and Christopher Reeve speaks volumes. “Kate Moss and Michael share a birthday, and people said he discovered her,” adds the director. “She hardly does any interviews so it was a real coup, and she was completely happy to share stories of Chalky.”

The Last Impresario is released in UK cinemas and on demand from September 26.

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Highrise

Benjamin Millepied’s LA Dance Project Turns Ace Hotel Downtown LA Into a Multi-Storey Stage

Dancers Rachelle Rafailedes and Nathan Makolandra twist and turn in a stirring duet captured at the recently launched Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles. Directed by Ricky Norris, the short previews Benjamin Millepied’s forthcoming performance, Reflections. Ahead of the star choreographer and filmmaker's milestone residency at the hotel’s revived theatre, NOWNESS presents Millepied’s love letter to Los Angeles.

To love LA, you have to get to know LA. I was always attracted to the diversity of the architecture, the way you go through areas that are stuck in time. It can feel like the 60s, 70 or 80s, with this stunning light. There's also possibly the greatest record store in America in Los Angeles.

I’ve been living for four or five years in Los Feliz, but the LA Dance Company’s home is in Downtown. When I first moved to here, I spent time visiting the old theaters that fascinated me. You have places like the Los Angeles Theater where Charlie Chaplin opened City Lights—there are pictures of Albert Einstein walking out after the show. It touches the heart, a Louis XIV theater that needs to be renovated as soon as possible. LA Dance Project’s new home is the old United Artists Theater at Ace Hotel; because of its proportions and sight lines, it’s really the best old theater for dance in Los Angeles.

The new shows scream LA. All of these dancers are a growing part of the city, with Reflections having visuals by Barbara Kruger and music by David Lang, who was born in Los Angeles and still has family there. LA artist Sterling Ruby designed the set for Justin Peck’s Murder Ballads, with Bryce Dessner from The National creating a fantastic score for us. The third show is by the Japanese choreographer Hiroaki Umeda who created the set and the music, exploring the relationship with technology and movement on stage, something I wanted to explore with the dancers. I couldn’t be happier, because part of my commitment is an understanding of the past in order to move forward, caring for the existing American repertory alongside new commissions.

The LA Dance Project launches at The Theater at Ace Hotel, Downtown Los Angeles (formerly United Artists Theatre) with performances on February 20, 21 and 22.

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Spotlight

The Lure of Soho

Indulge in the Heyday of London's Salacious Square Mile with Photographer John Deakin and Artist Neal Fox

Newsstands and drag artists sit alongside Soho’s inner circle in this nostalgic black-and-white series. Known for his links to the artists and writers who frequented the area throughout the 60s and 70s, John Deakin photographed its notorious watering holes, from the now-closed Colony Room to the French House. The latter supported such artist regulars Francis Bacon and playwright J P Donleavy by showcasing their works. Here illustrator Neal Fox, co-founder of the punkish Le Gun art collective, whose works depicting the French House’s debauched past made it into French House landlady Leslie Lewis’ cutthroat selection, takes a trip into the heart of Soho past and present.

When I was growing up I used to hear stories about my granddad drinking in Soho. There was a photo of him and my gran on the wall, him in a black hat and trench coat drinking a whiskey in the French pub. It became a kind of mythical place in the back of my mind and gradually I started drawing pictures about my granddad. He was a writer and publisher and ex bomber pilot called John Watson. When I was at the Royal College of Arts I did a show where I had his old desk covered in my drawings and a recording of his voice.
 
In a way it’s like a village but in the middle of London, a dysfunctional village of maniacs. You can drop in there and you will bump into people you know, a lot of whom are a bit outside of the norm, imaginative hedonists, the drinking class.
 
The French is one of the few really unique places left to drink in London now that everything is becoming a homogenised Starbucks shit parade. When I went in there that first day I met Carla Borel who was working behind the bar and she asked me to do a show in the pub with all these drawings I was doing about my granddad. So I did that and then the gallerist Daniel Blau came in by chance and asked me if I wanted to do a show at his gallery in Munich. I felt like my granddad was helping me out, looking over my shoulder.

I like Trisha's on Greek street: it’s a basement place full of pictures of the rat pack. Tony Soprano used to drink there and there's a nice man in there who talks to an imaginary dog. The Groucho is fun too for bumping into people and seeing Harry Styles sitting on Damien Hirst's knee. Some people call it the Celebrity Death Camp.

The best place in Soho was the Colony Room, which is no longer with us. Going up there was a bit like being transported into a debauched Verona green Narnia of booze. I've still got the carpet from there in my mum’s shed. I was given it for my final show at college and the security guards made me leave it outside for three days for health and safety reasons. It's covered in a hundred thousand fag burns and John Hurt's jism and almost seems alive and full of energy like some kind of Soho demon.

Under the Influence: John Deakin, Photography and the Lure of Soho is published by Art/Books and available now. The accompanying exhibition runs at the The Photographer’s Gallery April 11 through July 13 2014.

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