ClassicalPhilly

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Maestro Tovey rings in 2020 with humor & musical class

British composer-conductor Bramwell Tovey
(photo: courtesy Philadelphia Orchestra)

 

British conductor Bramwell Tovey was back on the Philadelphia Orchestra podium for a spirited ‘musical tour around to globe’ on New Year’s Eve.  Tovey has a unique relationship with the Fabulous Philadelphians; he has composed new music in both classical & jazz genre, he has guested as piano soloist and his sharp wit continues to delight Philly audiences when he leads the orchestra’s year end holiday programs, always bringing surprises on top of the traditional seasonal classical fare.

True to form, maestro Tovey rang out the ragged decade with a rousing NYE concert in Verizon Hall, peppered of course with his wry asides. The first half of the program plum with showpieces from Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Brahms, and the second half the inevitable Strauss waltz carousel, with a piece of Mahler as the entre-acte.

To open, Tovey bounded to the podium and launched the band into the rousing orchestral fireworks of George Gershwin’s ‘Strike Up the Band.’ After-which he picked up the microphone and had the audience laughing right out of the gate with some ribbing about the antics of the coming Mummers parade and even working in a loaded line about New Jersey drivers coming to town for the cine-bomb movie ‘Cats.’

He told the wayward maritime tale of how Rimsky-Korsakov composed ‘’Capriccio espanole’ when the Russian composer was then a merchant marine’ who never actually set foot in Spain, but heard the music from his ship off harbored off shore, “Isn’t that what they all say?” he quipped. But adding Tovey how brilliant a Spanish-Russian symphonic fusion Rimsky-Korsakov made. Tovey’s interpretive detailing bringing it to its full musical dimensions in the fast shifting tempos and stellar orchestral passagio. Among the outstanding soloists Peter Smith (oboe), Patrick Williams (flute) and Associate concert master Juliet Kang, essaying those haunting gypsy lead violin lines.

Tovey set up the fantasy story of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake about a Prince falling in love with a Swan, joking all the way, but also noted that he was playing the composer’s original version which had been tampered with on the ballet stage many times after Tchaikovsky’s death   ‘He’s a de-composer now.’  but adding that his ballet music is “So transparent…in expressing the tenderest feelings of love.”

In Tchaikovsky’s original Act II ‘White Swan’ pas de duex- The harp -violin dialogue representing the Prince/Swan duet onstage.  Juliet Kang’s violin and Elizabeth Hainen’s harp were dancing on air and into our souls.  The orchestral elements though proved a bit wayward in this arrangement. An unscheduled infant’s soft crying was heard from the balcony (like Baby new year trying to bust in early, no?), it was, indeed, a magical moment in Verizon Hall.   

As urbane as the maestro is he is also not afraid to bring a POPs Orchestra sentimentality via in waltz miniatures by American composer Leroy Anderson in works including ‘Belle of the Ball’, ‘Forgotten Dreams. ‘ Then the fireworks of ‘Bugler’s Holiday.’ The last a virtuoso walk in the park for trumpet trio Robert Curnow, Tony Prist and principal David Bilger, returning to the orchestra after recovering from shoulder reconstruction and leading those staccato triplet lines in fine form. Later, Bilger also stellar in the trumpet solos in Gustav Mahler’s tone poem ‘Blumine’ that opened the concert’s second half.

The highlight of the entire concert was Brahms’ Hungarian Dance’ no. 5. In the 1938 arrangement byMartin Schmeling. As in the Rimsky-Korsakov, Tovey showcasing the dynamics of the orchestra in top form, as well as the brilliance of the music.

“A chance to have a fresh start and begin again.’ and ‘Let’s have a good time tonight.” Sincere sentiments from the maestro in light of the fact that Tovey told arts journalist Susan Lewis for the live NYE broadcast on WRTI that he had missed a half year of conducting because he had just recovered from cancer treatments. And in light of that it is particularly inspiring to observe how dancerly maestro Tovey continues to be in performance. 

For Johan Strauss’ ‘Emperor’s Waltz’ Tovey set the scene for us to imagine being a lady in a 19th Vienna ballroom waiting for the Viennese gentleman-officer to ask you to dance and raising your hand reach his in “long white gloves covering up most of your tattoos.”

Strauss’ The Kunster Quadril’  a waltz mash of 19h century greatest hits tropes of Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, & Schubert, which Tovey dubbed “classical elevator music.” but made it more than a pastiche piece.  

On Johan & Josef Strauss’s ‘Pizzicato Polka’ which Tovey announced he was recreating his first time conducting with many “bad habits then.” He hilariously (& lithely) emoted through the music as he wielded two batons and characterized the music ala- la- Looney Tunes maestro. The comedy continued with the Strauss Champagne Polka, punctuated by a cork popping instrument, but Tovey also brandishing a bottle of fine bubbly popping the last cork note almost on cue and pouring the wine into flutes then handing out glasses to cellist Yumi Kendall who just got married ‘to a wonderful man’ Tovey enthused. Then slugging back a glass himself, complete with a soft-shoe spin on the podium.

The concert closer, inescapably ‘Blue Danube‘  that waltz to dance us into a new decade.  The encore which the British Tovey introduced in a Scottish B(urr)ogue of “Rrrobbie Burns”  Auld Lang Syne. Tovey raising his voice in song, his eyes sparking with hope and resignation for us all to face the music and dance.

DanceMetros

BalletXmas’time

Wilma Theater, Philadelphia

Dec. 4-15, 2019

http://www.balletx.org

A scene from Jo Strømgren‘s The Moon
photo credits: Bill Hebert

BalletX artistic director Christine Cox requested holiday themes from choreographers Jo Strømgren and Matthew Neenan that would have their premieres for two weeks in December at the Wilma Theater. Strømgren created ‘The Moon’ a dance-space odyssey, and Neenan ‘s ‘Twelve Bells’ mused on more traditional yuletide dance scenarios. All things being relative both making the point everybody does not have such a best time observing holiday traditions.

Norwegian choreographer Jo Strømgren is a prolific theater and opera director, and ‘The Moon’ is choreographed around a spoken drama about astronauts played by Andrea Yorita and Zachary Kapeluck who are winding down their space mission and get back to earth for the holidays.   They chat about his marriage breaking up, as good flirty colleagues would do, when their spaceship runs into a meteor shower and they are knocked off course.

Meanwhile, Strømgren has the other eight BalletX dancers behind this narrative moving in abstract configurations, that can also seem to be expressive of the astronauts’ emotional desires and fears. Whether they are meant as Greek dance chorus or just bodies moving in weightless space, the choreography just keeps evolving in such dynamic ways- with streaming duets, trios, and hypnotic group motion in what seems like a gravity less stage.

The choreographic flow is so dynamic that it overshadows Strømgren’s domestic drama. The choreography and the performances by these dancers, is so dynamic without any literal translation, that the astronaught story is a bit lost in space.

Yorita and Kapeluck outpace the pedestrian dialogue as consummate actor-dancers that they are. Eventually, they shuck their spacesuits and join the ensemble.

Strogmen’s MOON choreographic landing

Jorge Cousineau’s video projection of looming images of the moon surface, and the vastness between, with the earth in the distance. The cinematic interplay between dancing bodies moving in space is captivating. Composer Mette Henriette’s is musically intriguing, and jarring cine-sonics substreams used to great effect in tandem with the visuals.

Neenan’s ‘Twelve Bells’

Neenan’s ‘Twelve Bells’ chimes in

Matthew Neenan’s ‘Twelve Bells’ opens with Chloe Perkes in front of a scrim in a vanity chair looking forlorn in a yellow skirt and pointe shoes, she piques across the floor, before she flops on the floor and ties up her limbs in frustration. Behind the scrim, the other dancers paint a mosaic in slow partying motion and she decides to join them.

Composers Rosie Langabeer (in her 4th collaboration with the company) and Tara Middleton perform their score of songs, a mix of holiday ballades and campy instrumentals.  Both are also vocalists and multi-instrumentalist and they move around the stage in various tableaux along with bassist Josh Machiz.

Neenan lacing in comedy and technically demanding pointe work for Perkes. In a gorgeous combination Perkes pull up from a deep lunging position on one leg, a pure strength move that can be very precarious on one toeshoe.

Perkes’ character is stressed out, but then dresses for the party in a gorgeous pink tulle, tights and toe-shoes ensemble. Andie Yorita sits at a keyboard and solemnly decorating a Christmas tree, but forlornly knocks it over. Meanwhile, Roderick Pfeifer and Blake Krapels portray a gay couple at the party who are having the best time, rolling on the floor in their own love hangover, rescuing the tree that Yorita had put up and then in despair knocked down. Wonderful to see an unambiguous duet by a same-sex couple reflected on the dance stage.

Richard Villaverde returned to BalletX earlier last season after a hiatus and is in top form, an athletic and lyrical dancer, he danced full force in both ballets. 

As the ensemble gathers around the singers, Yorita dances alone, still separating herself from the festivities. And they have the moves for some organ grinding basso nova beat by Rosie Langabeer. 

Meanwhile, a party breaks out with Neenan responding choreographically with witty showdance ala Shindig circa 1966. Neenan’s has comic dance signatures, (flat-footing pointe work come to mind) but in ‘Twelve Bells’ he fuels it with breezy balletics mixed with free dance moves (some evoking the 60s ala Shindig) and keeps his more familiar moves packed away.  

Neenan weighs in with a predictable editorial on the commercialism of the holiday season, with dancers prancing around with gift bags, ‘Look what I got’ flaunting or sneering at the contents.  A chance for the dancers to show off their swag and swagger. Meanwhile, costume designer Christine Darsh’s sharp eye for millennial urban chic gives BalletX dancers fabulous couture in this or any other holiday season.

This is Neenan whimsical, warm and choreographically unfussy, and another romp with dancers onstage with musicians. And perhaps a somber coda by the dancers in Neenan’s ringing of the bells finale.

BalletMetros

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Mr. B’s Nutcracker dances on

Pennsylvania Ballet

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker

at the Academy of Music, Philadelphia PA through Dec. 31

http://www.paballet.org

Artists of the Pennsylvania Ballet
Photo credits: Alexander Iziliaev

 For years Pennsylvania Ballet’s production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker had little competition from other live productions, but now all through December there is a bounty of holiday fare (and alternatives) to choose from.   But, The Nutcracker remains one of the biggest audience draws, a family affair for many, and if the Dec. 8 performance was any indication it has turned into Saturday date night for both young straight and gay couples.

Pennsylvania Ballet is one of only a few companies that is licensed to perform it, (in the current version since 1987) and some years have been better than others but consistently solid revivals even with some inevitably rote performances during the near month long run. And part of the reason was the ballet itself. 

Act I can lumber along if everything isn’t moving with character energy as the adults socialize with each other, while their children play games, open presents, before the guests break into a tepid parlor mazurka. Then there is E.T.A. Hoffman’s scary Russian 1816 folk tale about a young girl’s Marie’s fantasy dream about her toy Nutcracker coming to life and battling the Mouse King, can come off as too bizarre or even campy.

Marie’s brother Fritz is the bad boy little brother and otherwise the life of this dull holiday party. Herr Drosselmeier enters with his oversized toy boxes with his life-size dancer dolls. First the Concubines in a charmingly mechanical duet. Next the toy soldier is wound up and dancing to Tchaikovsky’s symphonic march by Ashton Roxander with steely eyed (and haunting) precision,  Later Roxander is the sinewy hoop jumping commando of the buoyant Candy Cane troupe.

Charles Askegard doesn’t modernize Herr Drosselmeier, he gives a vintage classic performance punctuated with pantomime of old world theatricals.

Balanchine’s minted version had its premiere on New York City Ballet in 1954. It remains an amalgam of Russian classical ballet from the Imperial Ballet school of his youth, but in a more streamlined Americanized version. The Dewdrop scene, for instance, has the luster of clever showdance that Balanchine was fond of after working in Hollywood and the Broadway stage.  Still, by now this 50s classic can look dated to contemporary audiences.

The ballet kicks into high gear at the end of act I as when the ballerina snowflakes blow through the corps de ballet Snowflakes scene.   The voices of the mighty Philadelphia Boys Choir serenading the dancers from the Academy’s balcony boxes. The Snowflakes fly, in this choreographically intricate scene with its breezy, quicksilver pointe work and unison patterns that keep evolving. The PABallet corps de ballet women danced it with in this precision and glittering esprit.

Since becoming PABallet artistic director Angel Corella has been polishing Act I to make it more animated within the aesthetic requirements of the Balanchine Trust. Also fueling performance vigor throughout the run by rotating five lead casts in the principal dance roles as well as switching off plum character roles among the soloists, demi-soloists and corps de ballet, and most vital, sharper focus on the technical aspects of Balanchine’s neoclassicism.

And the Act II Divertissements allows for vintage Russian choreographic magic by Balanchine. Among the standout soloists in this performance.

Sydney Dolan commanded as Dewdrop, with mile-high battement, and breezy jetes and point work. A little jagged transitional phrases, but overall a gives a dazzling performance.  

Russell Drucker and Marjorie Feiring flawless in their deportment of European drawing room hosts, get to let loose in the Act II with Drucker as a clown drag diva Mother Ginger, with her 8 Polichinelles children dancing out from under her skirt.  And Feiring proves the sultriest spell (and technique) as Coffee in the Arabian dance solo.

Balanchine’s most lustrous classicism is built into the grand pas de deux in the Nutcracker finale, danced by principals Mayara Pineiro and Zecheng LIang as The Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. Thrilling pacing and clarity of movement by these dancers in their technical and interpretive artistry. Liang is a muscled and a lyrical prince.  He can execute adagio grande pirouettes as controlled and centered before he pumps them out at high speed.  His circular jete run around the Academy stage is one for the books. Pineiro arabesques are diamond hard, her pirouette runs and expressive carriage is riveting prima ballerina classicism .

And kudos to all of the child performers, many attending PABallet’s school of dance. Ellie Sidlow as Marie and Aoile Mary DiPalma her little brother (and scene stealing mischief maker) Fritz. Rowan Duffy returns as Drosselmeier’s gallant Nephew/Nutcracker.

Ballet Orchestra Conductor Beatrice Jona Affron detailing and pacing with the dancers sumptuous.  Tchaikovsky’s vibrant symphonic rhythms fueled by Ballet Orchestra’s percussion line, pulsing through the strings and powering those flute arabesques. Among the outstanding soloists in the Academy pit, Harpist Mindy Cutcher, violinist Luigi Mazzocchi who once again makes Tchaikovsky’s violin lines breathtaking every year.

BALLET

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PABallet premieres thrill

Pennsylvania Ballet

World Premieres

Nov. 7-10

Merriam Theater, Philadelphia

http://www.paballet.org

Pennsylvania Ballet’s recent World Premieres program at the Merriam Theater featured danceworks created for the company by three contemporary choreographers- Yin Yue, Garrett Smith and Juliano Nunes. The concerts proved a substantive modern ballet sampler bursting with choreographic muscle and thrilling artistry by the dancers.

Cast of Yin Yue’s ‘A Trace of Inevitability
~Photo: Alexander Iziliaev~

 The curtain came up on Chinese choreographer Yin Yue’s ‘A Trace of Inevitability’ scored to original music by Michel Banabila for the cast of nine dancers. Yue is director of her own internationally acclaimed company and was BalletX’s first choreographic fellow in 2015 and has created what could be a signature piece on PAB.

Yue’s ballet idioms fused with grounded modern movement and cultural classicism is vital choreographic ground. As danced in the November 9 evening performance, it flows with urgency and liberated technical precision.

Yue‘s  opening duets stating some of the intricate choreographic themes, and vividly danced by partners Aleksey Babayev-Kathryn Manger, and Alexandra Hughes-Albert Gordonas, and soon other partners  sweep onstage  in distinctly different movement scenarios, some more abstract that others, and not hinting at any gender character roles.

Banabila’s score ‘Dragonfly II’ progresses from lyrical themes to a more industrial rhythmic drive, as the full ensemble gathers in cryptic unison configurations that seems cut loose from what came before. Though the final partnering with one of the dancers slumped in another’s arm adds another layer of mystery.

The propulsive drive of ‘Inevitability’ is matched by the dramatic images of the next ballet, Connection by Brazilian choreographer Juliano Nunes. Scored to haunting orchestral music by Enzio Bosso, the curtain comes up on 10 dancers in fleshtone micro-corsets in sculptural ensemble circles with bodies seeming to bloom out in communal ritual.

Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet in Juliano Nunes’ Connection
~Photo: Alexander Iziliaev~

But at the end of one of those configurations Zecheng Liang is shoved away and it becomes a different narrative. 

Lyrical classicism is laced with explosive solos and duets. Liang is a consummate technical dancer and dancer-actor in both story ballets and abstract works. Also in top form, a dramatic duet by So Jung Shin and Russell Drucker who hypnotize with Nunes’ geometric interlocks.

There is a most riveting moment when Nayara Lopez flies in the air in an arc-back leap partnering Jack Thomas and an electrifying trio danced by Oksana Maslova, Jermel Johnson and Arian Molina Soca. 

American choreographer Garret Smith’s Reverberance is scored to Bach Cello suites ‘recomposed’ by virtuoso Peter Gregson who plays the live accompaniment with passages also supplemented with electronica. 

Even though the cellos are danced in and out against the cobalt blue light and visually has playful charm, enhanced by bluenoir atmospherics by lighting designer Michael Mazzola. Garrett’s uncluttered choreography has such a naturalness of ballet classicism, but the hook of the cello props, however playfully the partnering, runs out of steam.

But Reverberance has many entrancing pure dance elements and admirably Smith keeps Gregson’s musical variations of Bach the equal partner onstage.

Smith’s concept is the varying responses to the music, perhaps in moments, ala Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco, where the dancers embodying the string lines, but also idiosyncratic reactions of the music, that are abstract and not meant to be symbolic and unforgettable moments like Yuka Iseda and Sophie Savas-Carstens darting through the air in a gravity defying straight line. Wonderful silky blue ensembles designed by Monica Guerra also give a dreamlike quality.

Peter Weil, Sophie Cavas-Carstens & Yuka Iseda in Garrett Smith’s Reverberance
~Photo: Alexander Iziliaev~

Since becoming artistic director Angel Corella has been upping Pennsylvania Ballet’s expansive artistic goals, with productions both on conventional tracks with revivals of story ballets, as well as a re-alignment of a neoclassical aesthetic of George Balanchine. This program definitely one of the most dynamic for PABallet dancers making the most of in ballet fusion styles and Corella continuing to strengthen a new generation of stars.

Stage

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Alexandra Espinoza, Bi Jean Ngo, Loenard C. Haas & Catherine K. Slusar in ‘Eureka Day’

InterAct Theatre Company

Eureka Day

By Jonathan Spector

Directed by Seth Rozin

www.InterActTheatre.org

Oct. 30-Nov. 17.

Jonathan Spector’s ‘Eureka Day’ is InterAct Theatre’s strong season opener, directed by Seth Rozin, a drama that addresses the serious issues surround child vaccinations and a biting satire about our increasing inability to communicate with each other.

The school board members of the Eureka Elementary School meet in the library surrounded by artwork and messages about inclusion and respect for differing points of view, they routinely make school policy by consensus. But they can’t agree on anything is when they are faced with the crisis of a mumps outbreak that threatens to close the school.

They try to approach the mumps crisis rationally, but when it becomes apparent that there are pro-vaccine vs. anti-vaxxers and that applied policy needs to be established as they continue to wade into the sandbox of loaded semantics and ‘framing’ the dialogue. The white American members of the group who are ostensibly most concerned with minority views.

Don the board chair, recites meditative runes to get the positive energy flowing, and everyone is encouraged to weigh in. Suzanne is all about inclusion and hearing other points of view, but is so busy talking about her progressive views that others have trouble getting their views heard.  Eli is the endlessly articulate academic, who also happens to be a chief financial patron of the school.

Meiko is a young Asian-American mother whose child is down with the mumps but is recovering as just runs a non-threatening course and is suspicious of western medicines.  Carina is an African American mother and the newest member and is knows early on that as ‘inclusive’ as this group is, she has her doubts.

There is a brilliantly written scene when Don decides to moderate a discussion on Skype  As the members start to discuss the issues, and people start weighing in and the discussion starts to devolve into inane text spats, slurs and personal attacks between the pro-vaxxers & anti-vaxxers. Then everyone starts to turn on the panel and gets very personal.

Belief systems collide and the moral high ground is up for grabs- the issue is not the issue, but thew fight about the issue. Sound familiar.

At two hours, the theatrical arc of this play is impressive. Spector has a fine ear for the rhythms of natural dialogue that gives the actors a lot to work individually and as an ensemble.   InterAct director Seth Rozin’s precision direction, particularly orchestrating the riotous Skype scene, is masterful throughout.

Catherine K. Slusar is the longtime board member who has a personal tragedy that causes her to take a position that is at odds with Carina. with who has started to push back against her manipulative banter.

Alexandra Espinoza projects a lot between the lines about what she is feelings about the dysfunction of the group. Bi Jean Ngo’s Meiko, like Carina, remains mostly silently through the meetings, but her expressions and body language speak volumes.

Inclusiveness is an all things are relative concept in this ‘progressive’ wealthy community. Lucas Haas as the ineffectual peacemaker whose good will is only aggravating the crisis. Dan Hodge is terrific as the articulate Eli who can barely speak contemplating the fate of his critically ill son.

This is a talky play and Spector has a great ear for naturalizing dialogue that sound authentic out of these characters. InterAct director Seth Rozin directs this strong cast and balances Spector’s careening serio-comic elements.   Terrific production design by Janie E. Howland at The Drake’s Proscenium Theater,

 

Stage

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EgoPo Classic Theater

Buried Child

By Sam Shepard

Directed by Dane Eissler

Latvian Society Theater

7th & Spring Garden St. Philadelphia PA

through-Nov.10

www.egopotheater.org

Walter DeShielfs & Damien Wallace in a scene from Buried Child (photo courtesy of EgoPo Classic Theater

EgoPo Classic Theater explores the fertile theatrical ground of Sam Shepard this season in revivals of ‘Curse of the Starving Class’ ‘Fool for Love’ and his Pulitzer Prize winning stunner ‘Buried Child’ currently on stage at the Latvian Society Theater in Philadelphia.

The play is one of Shepard’s most scabrous works. A true tagi-comedy about myths of the American Dream. it is set on the fallow Illinois farm of Dodge and Halie, an elderly couple whose marriage has descended into a constant argument, often centered by the wayward paths of their two sons.

Halie is preparing to go out from her upstairs bedroom and hectoring Dodge about stopping smoking and taking his pills, her voice booming down the stairwell.  She laments over her sons, Bradley and Tilden, once having promising futures, now aimless and underfoot. Dodge, meanwhile, is camped out downstairs on the couch coughing his head off, as he swills bourbon, pops pills and chain smokes.   

Tilden has been profoundly affected by their disappointments. Once was star football player, ‘All-American,’ Hallie is fond of reminding him, he has just returned to live back on the farm from New Mexico, perhaps on the lam and trying to get his bearings by clinging to familial relationships and remnants of his former life.

Bradley ostensibly tries to keep things in order, or so he thinks. He cuts his hair when he is passed out, confiscates his booze and cleans up around him.  Dodge fights off Bradley’s fussing and theirs is a mutually bullying relationship.  Halie, meanwhile, has moved on in a fashion to cope with all of this dysfunction carrying on a fantasy relationship with a church pastor.

The drama and the comedy heats up when Tilden’s son, Vince, turns up after a six-year disappearance with his girlfriend Shelly and all hell breaks loose when no one seems to know him, except for Halie.  Secrets, lies, resentments, jealousies and betrayals flare up through this strange reunion. Halie returns from church to discover all of the mayhem unfolding in her house and then all hell breaks loose.  

Director Dane Eissler turns up the volume of Shepard’s more surreal plot twists in this family drama. There are increasingly puzzle and chunks of exposition are just more pieces to the puzzle. It is American gothic portrait at its most poignant and corroded.  A satiric character study, with echoes of No Exit with a Twilight Zone twist or three.

 Even with some bumpy transitional scenes as the scenario get more absurd, Eissler and a strong ensemble cast deliver Shepard’s electrifying dialogue cycles that resonate more than ever 40 years later.

Simpson and Wallace give great performances, and their dramatic gravitas and well as their adversarial comedic chemistry is riveting. Walter De Shields is haunting as Tilden, who zones out and becomes a silent child at any given time, giving up trying to communicate with Halie and Dodge, instead receding into an almost catatonic state. Carlo Campbell’s Bradley is alternately aggressive, perhaps compensating for any feelings of physical vulnerability because he has a prosthetic leg.  

Merci Lyons Cox and Mark Christie have a lot of heavy lifting as Shelly and Vince, as the outliers who turn the linear narrative inside out.  Shelly wants to get out of there, but finds herself thrust in the middle of the ugly family meltdown.  Cox and Christie’s millennial naturism to these roles gives this couple, and the play, a more contemporary feel.

The production design by Colin McIlvaine is vintage 70s Americana down to the earth tone furniture, wood vaulted windows and creepy stairwell. The symbolism is rich, especially in tandem with Molly Jo’s slashing filmic lighting design and Chris Saninno design of meditative music that flames out ominously.

Shepard died in 2017 from complications of ALS and there has never been a more appropriate time for EgoPo to remind us what an adroit and passionate observer of the delusions of the American psyche he was, now when we need it most.

&poetries

Libra from Days of Mercury

visible silence

of embryonic nova

that corrosive spiral

hurling into the savage voids

flights of unlocked

azimuth

or solar

continuo

writing reverse

timemaps

as Casandra secretly does the math of Troy

whispers

venal truths of the ages

We traveled then,

to the promontory unseen

on the infinite if.

Will I come home

is there illusion elsewhere

that mock this place

We fed on the knowledge of infinity

& misread everything in its path

I woke with knowing nothing

phantom soul with John Anthony

my momentary lover ad infinitum

he told me that day that would be his last watch

but wanted to get home in time so we could swim by

the cliffs while there was still enough light

but there are flashes

that narcissus had drowned the surface.

He whispered “back sometime soon….t’amo mon amie” as he kissed me

or I seem to dream later that full silhouette running against

the rock, fire and lava

mountain in the distance.

or did the shadow explode

to primal ways of escape

bled out thoughts

the lust of consciousness

ivy grows around the body

absinthe absorbs the veins

covering the spiral of rot

& then we’re unsheathed

by the radiant birth of stars and pagan gods

( for John Anthony Nespoli)

Summer (Dance) reading&writing

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Summer (Dance) reading & writing

Dance is the most ephemeral of the performing arts and writing about dance, as a reporter or a critic in meaningful ways is a precarious journalist venture.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, how does a dance writer report two hours of living, breathing moving pictures in a dance concert with three choreographers presenting different concepts in dance? 

The challenge brings to mind Hans Christian Anderson’s observation “Where words fail, music begins” which definitely applies to dance, since both art forms are languages unto themselves. For dance writers, translating movement into concrete and hopefully interesting text is often insurmountable.

Consider Martha Graham sage words “The body doesn’t lie.” Not to mention her metaphysical pronouncement that “Dance is the hidden language of the soul,” so perhaps beyond the realm of what can be articulated in words. But that doesn’t stop journalists who write about dance from trying to decode what they see and hear. A dancewriter’s checklist would include things like aesthetic intent of the choreographer, the music, the production values, the performances of the dancers- and substantiate the critical points that brings it all together or make it deflate. And usually in under 700 words.

In the 20th century during the heyday of daily American newspapers, dance writers dealt with editors (still) routinely considered the dance a merely decorative art at best and many clueless about the genuine artistic or physical components. Music critics were often dispatched to cover dance, sometimes a sportswriter would have been better suited. Now, with few exception dance as a subject worthy of consistent coverage in any newspapers ‘Arts’ section is to be consistently on the chopping block.

The good news is that there are more outlets online that provide comprehensive coverage, and it’s not a stretch to think that it will ever get better for print publications, including dance niche magazines, which continue to shrink. The bad news is that fees for all arts writers continue to be reduced almost all across the board. Meanwhile, dance writers, cultural archivists and arts journalists continuing to document the art form in all of its manifestations continues no matter how meager the pay. 

Feature stories about dance usually interface with broader cultural resonance and that is fine, but often to the exclusion of other areas of dance, which remains as important from a technical understanding alone, but as an ephemeral art form, a vital record of dance expression over millennia, as important as any of the allied arts. Outside of popular tv dance contests, dance-theater and the world’s most influential choreographers and dancers are virtually invisible to the popular media culture.

Also he movie reviewing with its thumbs up, thumps down mindset has had a dumb-down effect on live performance in general and sad to say that dance magazines in their physical form continue to shrink.  

To write about dance with authority one must have a working knowledge of a schools of dance, both cultural and formal dance disciplines. A partial list would include- the various schools of ballet technique, and no less important, neoclassicism, folkloric, acrobatic, sacred, |social, baroque, ritual, mystical, abstract, classical, postmodern, tribal, fusion, ceremonial, showdance, psychological, comedic, erotic- and any combination of those categories including of course the physics of dance that evokes pure movement of bodies in space without any literal or defining an inherently enigmatic context- (see Cage & Cunningham as a starting point).  

For a business that continues to be in freefall, one positive trend, for the moment at least, is that there are more dance books being published and here is a preview of three this year’s notable titles, starting appropriately enough, with a compendium of the good, the bad and the ugly of more than a century of indigenous dance writing.

Dance in America | Library of America | www.loa.org

With commentary by editor Mindy Aloff and a foreword by Robert Gottlieb | Library of America

Library of America’s ‘Dance In America’ is a fascinating, and an often frustrating anthology of articles, reviews, essays, poems, and bio-history of dance in America. 

Editor Mindy Aloff  contextualizes each entry with bio-history of the writer and subject of the piece.  Aloff teaches dance history and criticism at Barnard College, how difficult it was to chose the pieces to include in the book and admits to giving in to subjectivity.  In his forward to the book, Robert Gottlieb also explains in some cases there also may be difficulty in getting author, publisher, or in the case of deceased authors, estate permissions. Also costs also might be a factor that would prohibit re-publication. 

But even with these disclaimers, this volume covers a lot of ground and many of the entries belong in everyone’s permanent dance–theater-music library. If just for the words of American dance legends Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis & Ted Shawn, Martha Graham, Katherine Dunham, Paul Taylor, Jerome Robbins, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, Agnes de Mille, and Russian ex-pat George Balanchine and Ballets Russes/Red Shoes star choreographer Leonide Massine, among many others lesser-known, but equally important dance artists.

Then there are the literary figures who are inspired by the dance- from poet Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harte Crane, Charles Dickens, and 20th century dance enthusiasts from American balladeer/songwriter Johnny Mercer to writers Susan Sontag and John Updike.

 Thumbing through the book, here are a few indelible passages: Stuart Hodes’ essay ‘Onstage with Martha Graham’ takes us through Martha’s rigorous technique class with always started with which always began with Martha cueing the dancers with “And” to execute the rigors of her meticulous methods. Hodes writes “Working with Martha was like going into battle. Physically demanding, emotionally charged and fraught with danger…an adventure of a lifetime.”

African-American Choreographer Katherine Dunham who was also a ethnologist, anthropologist applied to her choreography and ‘physical anthropology’ of dances of Africa, Caribbean and island culture. Dunham was also an international stage star of the American musical theater and social activist who knocked down racial barriers on stage and screen. In her essay “Thesis turned Broadway” she writes of her growing interest “to know not only how people dance but, even more importantly, why they dance as they do.”

Isadora Duncan was the earth mother of dance, embracing classicism as a new form of modernism as the anti-ballet creating modernist movement template by reclaiming pagan classicism and putting it all in perspective by writing “I am asked to speak upon the “Dance of the Future” – yet how is it possible?In fifty years I may have something to say.”

Meanwhile, the clarion voice of Mark Morris has a lot to say in his essay on the relationship of music and dance as vital human ‘ritual’ in a reprint of his commencement speech at the Longy School of Music.

Aloff’s collection is both a survey of dance literature side-by-side with dozens of samples of critical writing over the last century from the leading dance critics including Anna Kisselgoff, Jennifer Dunning, Joan Acocella, Deborah Jowitt, Alastair McCauley. Et, al. and genre defining writers like critic and poet Edwin Denby.      

One of the most interesting, and instructive aspects in this collection is how the same critic, can completely hit a home run in describing a performance but also, completely strike out, by being overly descriptive or not descriptive enough. The challenge remains, if every picture tells a story, then movement onstage can tell a thousand in one night. We can all take a lesson from their journalistic hits and misses. 

 Dance in America is slight on a lot of important aspects of contemporary dance history. Just glancing reference to Lucinda Childs, Anna Sokolow, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane, for instance, so one can only hope that there is a follow-up more inclusive volume, to make up for this edition’s slights to giants in the field and a new gen of dance artists that have emerged in this century.

 There are three articles by Arlene Croce, but missing is any commentary about Croce not attending choreographer Jones’ 1994 docudance ‘Still/Here’ in The New Yorker but still reviewing it, because she argued that it was outside her critical reach because Jones cast with people living and dancing with terminal illness, insisting it was “victim art.”  Putting that aside, does include Croce’s seminal piece ‘Dance in Film‘ that is not only engrossing dance history but a masterclass essay in critical analysis.

And there is a huge chunk of missing history with little reference about a generation of gay dancers and choreographers lost during the 80s & 90s to AIDS, many of the artists creating dance while battling the disease. The impact of their work and deaths and the impact on the entire dance world is inestimable and should never be forgotten.   

look for part 2 of this essay later this month- Dancemakers finally explain it all for you –   Three upcoming titles of indelible note are autobiographical books by Jerome Robbins, Mark Morris, and Twyla Tharp.

Stage

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Shakespeare in Clark Park

King Lear

Directed by Kittson O’Neill

Youth Symphony, Andres Gonzales, musical director-conductor

Set & Costumes by Sebastienne Mundheim

July 24-28, 2019

Clark Park, West Philadelphia

www.shakespeareinclarkpark.org

Charlotte Northeast, Kimie Muroya & Jessica Money as Goneril, Regan & Cordelia are summoned by Lear

On July 26 about a thousand people in West Philadelphia gathered in the natural amphitheater dubbed “the bowl” Shakespeare in Clark Park’s production of King Lear. Director Kittson O’Neill orchestrated a spirited ensemble cast of veteran and new-gen Shakespeareans, as well as a Community ensemble of actors, is supporting players that including military Veterans as King Lear’s loyal Knights.  

 The costume design by Sebastienne Mundheim an inspired mix of period Globe theater rustic tunics for the noble underlings- belts, silk doublets and battlement couture- contrasted by stunning court Japanese Kabuki Theater designs for Lear and his daughters.

Mundheim also used fabrics and simple block set pieces, staging tents and modular scrims that worked the sloping main staging area of Clark Park’s panoramic environs.  Visually it worked perfectly.  

 “King Lear” has so many crisscrossing plot lines and court intrigue in Lear that the plot points can be hard to follow.  O’Neill and dramaturg Meghan Winch streamlining the play with surgical cuts and sharp scene focus, all the while eliciting some of the most exciting performances of the year.

 Dan Kern is both entirely regal Lear and completely fragile father. His interpretive skill lets both the dialogue true breathe and the soliloquies resonate to every dramatic and poetic dimension. Brian Anthony Wilson equally moving as loyal, blinded Gloucester. His physical performance after he is blinded just riveting artistry and command is unforgettable.  Another protean classical actor Dan Hodge as Kent, impeccable naturalizing of the dialogue cycles, but losing none of the dramatic intensity.

Brian Anthony Wilson & Ezra Ali-Dow as Gloucester & Edmund in King Lear

 Charlotte Northeast’s masterful portrayal of Goneril can cast more Bardian shade than the majestic trees in Clark Park.  Northeast is the lusty and conniving Goneril, who betrays her husband the Duke of Albany. Kimie Muroya’s Regan proves she can be just as calculating to get what she wants as they divide up the spoils after Lear’s abdication.  And Jessica Money’s Cordelia has all of the deportment to make Cordelia earthy and heroic.

David Raine plays Albany who has few lines in before the denouement but weighs in mightily in the final scenes of the play.  Dan Hodge pitch-perfect as in dual roles Kent, and his alias as undercover rogue spying on Lear’s enemies. 

Breakout performances by younger players Cameron Delgrosso as Edgar, who also dons another persona as the mad beggar to navigate the court intrigue and to save Gloucester from death. Ezra Ali-Dow as Edmund, Edgar’s lusty false friend who has an affair with Regan.  

Play On! Philly’s Youth Symphony scores King Lear

 In the Arden over the staging area, the 19 musicians of the Youth Symphony presented by Play On! Philly musical education project. Andres Gonzalez, Musical Director, Play On! Philly, conducted The Youth Symphony, working in some Baroque interludes, as well as dramatic cinematic scoring, including some cracked note court heralds, that definitely would have sounded on involved period horns. The entire band performed appropriate percussive rain and wind score 20-minute scene during the storm. (& birds chirping & busses wheezing and whistles during some of the bawdier love scenes)  the classical excerpts and F/X atmospherics performed by  Youth Symphony from Play On!Philly

Jenna Kuerzi & Dan Hodge as The Fool & Kent in King Lear

Another musical highlight came as Lear starts to go mad, musing on “this great stage of fools.” And we were all fools in love for Jenna Kuerzi’s starry night, performance as Lear’s court Fool keeping in straight with ironic wisdom about life’s inescapable paradoxes. We were all fools in love for Jenna Kuerzi’s starry night performance belting out the Animals classic House of the Rising Sun-  Kuerzi a fine blues hollerer in Shakespeare in Clark Park’s holler. 

O’Neill’s dynamic use of the natural environment while maintaining scene focus keeps the play’s theatrical arc at a thrilling clip with clarity. O’Neill orchestrating this ensemble lead cast and the Community Ensemble actors tackling more than a dozen small roles made for rich moments.  Zounds! those Philly accents were as resonant as ever delivering Will’s timeless truths.

Concerts

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Patti LuPone & Brotherly Love sing out on Philly Pride Day

Verizon Hall, Philadelphia

June 9, 2019

Patti LuPone in concert Photo credit ; Rahav iggy Segev / Photopass.com

Patti LuPone sauntered  on the Verizon Hall stage on Philly Pride Day in strappy black heels and stylish cocktail dress circa 60s de La Renta and launched into Cole Porter’s “Please Don’t Monkey With Broadway” rarely sung anymore in anybody’s repertory, but this audience knew it and were already hooked.    “I’ve seen theaters torn down… and sage old 42nd St. turned into the Disney walk of shame.”  Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a full-throated diva shady night.

Accompanied on a Steinway is the gifted arranger and show tune piano virtuoso Joseph Thalken for close to 2 hours, LuPone still has a ball with her audience, just don’t get out a cellphone or a camera or there will be a theater rumble to this side of “West Side Story.”  And speaking of that show, she told the audience that she always wanted to play either female lead in that show, so in her concert rep she sings both in ‘A Boy Like That’ a vocal switch-blade duel, with Patti the mezzo-lethal Anita and Patti the virginal soprano Maria.  True theater high camp gold.

LuPone also sang her favorite songs from that early Bernstein/Sondheim score- Like many singers, struggled with those tricky time signatures and descending notes of “Something Coming” but made up for it with her sumptuous vocal power on “Somewhere” which she admitted is a song that is always emotional for her to get through. LuPone still has a dyed in the curtain call Broadway belter delivery, even if she now makes, at 70, some upper range adjustments.  

Hilariously recreating her first singing role on as one of the hookers in Sweet Charity, singing ‘Big Spender” but, at saying that at 17, she didn’t realize what it was really about.  LuPone recreates herself doing the number in hilarious deadpan, Fosse flexing her hand on the mic stand and slumping her torso, by the final notes though, she was blowing the hall away.  

She sang many songs from shows she was in, especially in her pre-Evita days, but she didn’t get to sing until now.  One that should have been a hit for her is “Meadowlark” by from Stephen Swartz’s show The Baker’s Wife, which closed in two days.  But she sang a rousing version of “Lot of Livin’” from “Bye, Bye Birdie” and quiet drama to “Easy To Be Hard” from “Hair” ..(How can people have no feelings How can they ignore their friends Easy to be proud Easy to say no..)

LuPone soared on “Some People” from Gypsy, without over-singing, its already bombastic luster. And that was her warmup for the role that sealed her star in London and Broadway, “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.”  Thalken’s stellar piano intro setting the scene and somehow sounding like a full orchestra, as LuPone gazed over the audience in character as Evita and proceeded to devastate the concert hall with her vocal command. She created the role of Eva Peron on Broadway in 1979 and she still owns it.  

It was Pride Day in Philly and the 12- member Brotherly Love ensemble from The Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus joined her for the second set.  She launched into ‘Trouble in River City’ from Music Man with the men exaggerating her call and response chorale reactions over the town delinquents who are not following the straighter straight narrow.  

The finale of songs from Stephen Sondheim and it is impressive that she doesn’t sing them the same way twice is in the moment with the song, this pianist and this audience.  A fast tempo ‘Another Hundred People’ from Company sung with the sharpest edge and “Not While I’m Around” from “Sweeney Todd” was sung as a resistance anthem to a troubled world. Gorgeous. “Being Alive” will always be a showstopper for LuPone, and it was in Verizon Hall too. What tops that, only one encore with Patti wielding a martini and toasting triumphantly “The Ladies Who Lunch.” But on this Philly Pride Day, another highlight was “Sleepy Man” a vintage chorale lullaby from a forgotten show called “The Robber Bridegroom.” Patti’s back to the audience as she sang lovingly to the PGMC choristers “Always love my dear…I’m right here.” The many theater queens in the audience were feeling the love righteously from one legendary Broadway Baby.