The Dirty Tricks Department

John Lisle

St. Martin’s Press

Hardcover; 338pg; photos

Spy vs. Spy vs. batbombs to biological warfare

Science historian John Lisle’s ‘The Dirty Tricks Department’ delves into the activities and operations of the Office of Strategic Services, the espionage agency established in 1942 in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Lisle investigates development of the OSS’s secret weapons and grotesque experiments aimed at neutralizing enemies by any means necessary from foot soldiers to secret agents, by concocting lethal weaponry, including vectors of biological weapons including bubonic plague, typhus, anthrax, and other nerve agents within enemy territory with little regard on collateral damage to civilian population.

It was headed by Colonel “Wild Bill” Donovan, a WWI hero, and chosen by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a former Ivy League classmate FDR. Donovan in turn recruited the once mild-mannered Stanley Lovell, a chemical scientist from MIT who hatched some diabolical weapons of mass destruction to be used in espionage mission against the Germans, Italians and Japanese. The battalion of operatives and newly recruited American and foreign spies in the field to carry out covert missions behind enemy lines.

Many of the schemes that failed spectacularly, for instance the gathering of thousands of bats that were sedated and outfitted with bombs for deployment to Japan. Or cluster bombs ignited from pens, to firearms strapped to the body that could be triggered by breathing heavily as to expand ones chest. Or how about mixing explosives in Aunt Jemima pancake mix that could be detonated. Or bribing German farmers who supplied food for Hitler’s mountain fortress, to lace it with female hormones so his moustache would fall out and he would grow breasts. At one point they spray painted foxes to make them ghostly, transporting them to Japan on the off chance that enemy soldiers would see them and think it was an omen that the war was doomed. Needless to say, many of these project barely got off the ground before the schemes literally blew up in their faces.

  The book has an episodic structure. The Camouflage Division and Undercover Missions and the first half focuses on the agency’s desperate attempt to develop viable secret weapons. As entertaining as some of them might be in a mad scientist sort of way. Lisle is a noted expert on US Intelligence systems and the chapters focused on US spy cells and secret military operatives on field missions are much more interesting. Those undercover agents working with the freedom fighters of the French Resistance, for instance, sabotaging Nazi trains and decoding propaganda.

 Tracking agents captured, escaped, or outwitted their captors. Virginia Hall joined the resistance movement in France and was a fearless saboteur. After recovering from losing her leg from a gun accident, she returned to field, and disguised herself as a peasant woman in a perilous climb through the Pyrenees Mountains (a range that astronaut Chuck Yeager dubbed “the bitchiest bitch” of a Trek. Hall survived all and was awarded the Medal of Honor by Truman (which she declined.)

Another was George Langelaan who had radical face surgery, in part because he wanted to be handsomer, but mainly to disguise himself to infiltrate German intelligence cells. He was caught. Spend a year of hard time being starved in solitary but had devised a morse code transmitted (by tapping) via prison pipes among fellow prisoners on death row, planning their successful escape from imminent death.

 One of the most fascinating OSS operative was Moe Berg, who quit being a professional baseball player to become an OSS spy. Berg was known as “the brainiest guy in baseball.” The OSS was also impressed with the fact that he spoke 10 languages. He even had film footage of Tokyo shot from rooftop when he was on a baseball exhibition series in Japan with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in 1934. The film that OSS found valuable for some strategic planning. Berg was dispatched on a mission to assassinate German physicist Heisenberg who was part of the group developing Germany’s atomic bomb. After the war Berg was awarded the Medal of Freedom, but he refused to accept it,  

The political and espionage suspense kicks in with the chapter on the hunt for Germany’s heist of Europe’s Uranium mines and Heavy Water stockpiles. Lovell and European agents piecing together the trail and timeline of launch sites for the atomic bomb. Germany was well on its way with prototype of atomic bombs in the 1930s, by the time Oppenheimer was recruited for the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos.

Division 101 first deployment was a near disaster and they lost lives, Unprepared initially to destroy the Japanese tactical airfield that launched from the Narazi jungle in India. Daredevil pilot Carl Eifler headed the mission who Donovan sent back to the US, even after his fearless infiltration into enemy encampments, for which he suffered serious injuries and PTSD. He eventually went to divinity school and “tried to distance himself from the demons of his past.” Lisle reports. At a reunion of OSS personnel, Eifler intimated “And you know,” he said, “If we had our just desserts, we’d all be hung as war criminals.”

Another major project getting off the ground was the creation and infiltration of propaganda and counterintelligence misinformation. Methods that we now live with daily now has dominated the news not only in the United States, with our enemies around the world and home-grown fringe groups as Q Anon and nationalist militias armed with weapons of war and embracing fascism, all working overtime..

But as John Lisle exposes in his book The Dirty Tricks Department. The worlds of secret codes and disinformation and aggressive propaganda are nothing new…only deadlier than ever in its destructive reach.




Night Journeys

from Days of Mercury

A time sketch summons from

someone else’s dream

Lyric in sense memory

a pulse of escape

trapped inside reason

a vaulted motive

recalled by forgotten objects yet

of such vibrant emotion,

the bodies rewound out of the room

Sometimes shards of music

fade in or out

sometimes collapsed bloodcells

are heard

sometimes amniotic touch is felt

times a whispered beat is not heard

Dance shadows of planets

a simulant echo

in the womb of the dead

the livid pool

of mercury spirals

vanished at horizon

Rarer still

overtures of dying

rarer than soundproof grief

rarest still,

the soul’s maze

its battlements crumbling

in the concert of the days

The formal dismissal

heralded by trumpets

that left

your heart

your room

your halls

your house

as the specter

turned away

from the glare

off the iron gate

that let me float out.

Still, your voice

echoing in me

down that vanished path.

DeeDee, Kurt, Christian, Yashushi & Clarence

 Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour

Verizon Hall, Philadelphia

April 8, 2023

MJF65 tour ensemble ~ Christian Sands, Lakecia Benjamin, DeeDee Bridgewater, Kurt Elling, Yashushi Nakamura & Clarence Penn


Monterey Jazz Festival tour ensemble Make It Real

The Monterey Jazz Festival is 65  and their annual tour brings together inter-generational jazz ensembles for their annual tours and this year was no exception, indeed it was one for the books indeed with veteran vocalists Dee Dee Bridgewater and Kurt Elling in concert with the new vanguards- saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin, pianist Christian Sands, bassist Yashushi Nakamura and drummer Clarence Penn. The MJF ensemble swung into Philly for a brilliant concert that was so electric that the audience stood six times during the performance.  

Musical director Sands orchestrated a concert that was so musically distinct and radiant with ensemble energy that this Philly audience was on their feet with lusty applause six times during the performance.

The MJF sextet opened with a extended version of “Too Close For Comfort”  Bridgewater and Elling made the Sinatra standard a romp for their vocal chemistry, flirty, antagonistic, and scatting up and down the scales. . They are both jazz belters, like a Broadway stage veteran they reserve it for when it counts and their vocal chemistry and sense of fun is magic right out of the gate. especially when back up by percussive alchemists Sands, Penn and Nakamura and Benjamin’s sax solos.

Among the many highlights in this near two-hour concert.

Elling solos on a comic number about being on the road and making sure to “Call Her Today” or text his spouse. The novelty number turns into a vocal tour with regional accents from Manhattan snark to West Coast cool and even a few lyrics this side of the Smokeys.  

Christian Sands assured the Lakecia Benjamin would be taking promised “taking the roof off” and she did just that with her composition “Trane” to honor Philly’s legendary jazz couple John and Alice Coltrane with her own composition ‘Trane’ Benjamin’s blazing flights of breathless lines soar with thrilling staccato runs that never lose immediacy as Benjamin channels John Coltrane’s lush sound. And laced in is universal clarity of Alice Coltrane’s cosmic harmony.  The audience bounded to their feet and cheered.

Christian Sands slowed things down a bit and quoted lines from Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’ and Rono ala turk’ and told of his experience of being a 13 year old pianist already playing in a club (with his mother’s approval) and , and in one performance he played bits of  Dave Brubeck. A friend of Brubeck approach Christain and asked if he would like to meet one of him. And he did three weeks later when he spent the day with Brubeck, where they played piano together. Sands then played the tune learned from Brubeck that day- “Strange Meadowlark” in an intimate and warm homage to Brubeck.  

Dee Dee Bridgewater has performed at Monterey Jazz Festival seven times and recalled her first appearance in 1973 where she was walking through the raceway and saw a man coming toward her, his horn in tow, and she realized it was the great trumpeter Thad Jones told the audience that her first performance at MJF was in 1973, where she met Jones and he told her that one day they would be working together and 20 years later, that dream came true. 

Bridgewater introduced her number by admitting that she might not do it complete justice, since it was composed by two jazz legends, She reminiscied about her friendship with Chick Corea, who died in 2021. Bridgewater said in preparing for the concert she was determined to deliver on Corea’s seminal hit ‘Spain’ first made famous by Al Jarreau who wrote the lyrics. She of course didn’t have to worry, her interpretive artistry on this classic pure gold.

Kurt Elling mused on the generational camaraderie of jazz musicians and the gift of being able to honor the legacies of the music and be part of defining the future path along the way. Elling honored Wayne Shorter and spoke of their collaborations and then launching into Shorter’s jazz ballad with Joe Zawinul (from their Weather Report years) “A Remark You Made” Elling’s warmth and intimacy backed up by Penn, Nakamura and Sands whispering accompaniment.

The finale was their barn burning rendition of Gene McDaniels 60s protest song “Compared to What” made famous in versions by Les McCann.   Now still shaking the rafters in the concert hall by the MJF troubadours. Nakamura extended duet with Penn was front and center with his fiery cadenza took centerstage and framed by with Sands on electric keyboard ala 70s fusion at its best. Penn taking over with concussive drumbeats as Sands weighs in with a 70s era electric organ.

Benjamin singing a rap lyric in a call and response with the audience. Meanwhile Bridgewater and Elling belting out ‘Trying to make it  Real’ and belting out ‘Real’ for 16 or so bars. Monterey Jazz Festival ensemble made it real and more on this night- This was a Philly jazz night to remember and savor.   



, ,

Composer Matthew Aucoin on Opera

“The Impossible Art- Adventures in Opera is composer Matthew Aucoin’s is part memoir and deep dive into the dynamics of creating an opera. Aucoin is a composer and conductor leading orchestras including the Chicago Symphony L.A. Opera and the Metropolitan  Opera.

Opera is the original of multimedia artform that requires collaboration between musicians, librettists, classically trained singers, choral directors, and design artists, Aucoin notes where artform can “collide and transform one another.”

Aucoin writes that he has long wanted to write a book that explore  the “generative. impossibilities. But I wasn’t sure when, if ever, I’d managed to step off the merry-go-round of musical work, composing, performing, traveling long enough to gather my thoughts

The opportunity came during the industry shutdown. After Aucoin had just conducted the debut run of his own opera ‘Eurydice’ at L.A. Opera in 2019, which was also scheduled for the East Coast premiere at the Met in 2021, conducted by Yannick Nezet-Seguin, In the interim Aucoin and his husband Clay returned to their farm in Vermont  giving him time to write his book   

In his introduction he encourages readers to skip around to chapters about their favorite operas or composers, or famed productions. He covers works by composers from the baroque, classical, romantic eras, and up to date analysis of contemporary operas including works by Thomas Ades (“The Exterminating Angel”), John Adams (“Doctor Atomic”), Chaya Czernowin (“Heart Chamber”) and Nico Muhly (“Two Boys”),

As a Verdi aficionado, Aucoin deconstructs the innovations Verdi brought to his operas based on Shakespeare’s plays such as the radical orchestral elements in Macbeth , the earthy inventiveness of his portrait in Falstaff and the vocal innovation Verdi created in Otello

In his chapter ‘The Firewood and the Fire” he examines the often antagonist interplay between composer and conductor he one of the rare instances of mutual respect between the Igor Stravinsky and gay poet W. H. Auden’s collaboration on their opera “The Rake’s Progress.”.

Stravinsky had a reputation for pushing librettists around- telling Jean Cocteau, for instance, that his libretto for ‘Oedipus Rex” was “too Wagnerian” then ordering him to make it “very banal.” But the composer did not have problems with Auden and considered him an artistic equal. But, as Aucoin intriguingly reports, Auden’s lover, writer Chester Kallman, who was a lifelong opera goer, and librettist who flagged problematic plot points in Auden’s narrative, (before Igor saw them)  knowing they wouldn’t translate to the stage.

In his chapter “Finding Euridice” Aucoin talks about his own creative collaboration in a transcribed conversation with playwright Sarah Ruhl who wrote the libretto for his opera.

The elements of the creative process history is particularly relevant now as opera companies worldwide are programming composers from musical genres that never would have been considered a generation ago. Creatively, it is one of the most prolific and artistically ambitious eras in opera history. But the astronomical costs of bringing new work to the stage is more  a whole set of often impossible challenges for creative artists and opera  .

 Despite the external hurdles of an ever-changing opera industry there is producing work that connects to audiences, and notes that “We still can’t explain why some melodies and not others lodged themselves unshakably in the minds ear….There is no reliable way to predict what will make a convincing musical embodiment of love. Jealousy or rage?” 

For opera artists this is a must read and for opera buffs a wry, insightful behind the curtain expose of the often-hellish creative process. As Aucoin illustrates it can be a thrilling ride to Hell and back making an impossible art possible. Cue Music!

The Impossible Art| Adventures in Opera |by Matthew Aucoin

Farrar, Straus & Giroux | Softcover; 299 pgs;




Denneny looks back ‘On Christopher Street

‘On Christopher Street’ is a collection of articles by Michael Denneny, editor and co-founder of Christopher Street Magazine, the influential periodical that chronicled GLBTQ culture and politics of the post-Stonewell years of liberation and two decades of social justice activism in response to the devastation of the AIDS epidemic.

Denneny also assembled a coterie of gay and lesbian writers who wrote essays, stories, poetry, profiles, and advocacy pieces, and also was one of the few openly gay editors at MacMillian Publishing, when he founded St. Martin’s Press and advocated for books by openly gay writers who had been routinely ignored, along with gay readership, by most houses.

His unique perspective representing gay authors was key in what emerged as a gay literary renaissance. Many of his sociopolitical essays still resonate the most in this collection. And many pieces address the fractious strategies of a visible queer community that ultimately were united in confronting homophobia by religious and right-wing politicians.

Denneny at his analytic best as he lays out strategies vis-à-vis  gay politics, culture, individual and community action. It still resonates as the right-wing culture wars rage on against GLTQ+ communities across the US,

“My attempt to survey the gay political situation at the beginning of the 80s, a decade after Stonewall and just before the epidemic was about to break over us. Being gay is a more elemental aspect. Who I am then? My profession, my class, or my race?” He provocatively wrote in his essay “Gay politics and its Premises.”

  ”It is the basic tactic are weirdly homophobic culture uses to destroy us. -first isolate, then terrorize, then make disappear by self-denial.” “If society tries to destroy us by first isolating us, it follows that what is necessary to fight back is it not only defiance, but the acknowledgement of a community and the construction of a world.”

Denneny’s polemics on strategic ideas and insights about GLTQ solidarity in the face of bigotry and hate in the 80s still inspire.

Meanwhile, he was not a publisher hiding away in an editorial ivory tower. Denneny was out and about in the gay community and was working stories-. From covering gay French philosopher Michel Foucault’s sell-out lectures in Manhattan to interviewing a ballet dancer who also worked on Broadway and made just as much money as a  go-go ballet dancer-escort in the bars.

His interview with bestselling author Felice Picano about his nonfiction novel’ The Lure’ about a serial killer in the rough trade and leather bar community of the 70s, articulating the author’s non-voyeuristic approach in the telling of this story in contrast to the release of William Friedkin’s exploitive film ‘Cruising’ which igniting street protest of its depiction of yet another psychopathic gay killer, at its specious depiction of the leather bars.

“On Christopher Street” honors the many author-activists whose work Denneny championed and he includes many of his private notes and letters with writers and activist in the first decade of the AIDS epidemic. His chronicles of writers and AIDS activists Paul Monette,  Vito Russo, John Preston, and many others, that are moving documents the historic impact of their activism.   

Denney’s revisits the power of Larry Kramer’s j’accuse tactics, first in his incendiary editorial “1,112 and Counting”, the alarming much attacked screed published in all of the gay newspapers in March 1983, was not only a battle cry to gay community action ae tactics, whose all or nothing strategies, for better or worse, led to the formation of GMHC and ACT-UP. .

One of the most moving is his ‘Eulogy for Allen Barnett’ which he delivered at St. John the Divine for the author  of writer who died at age 36 of AIDS, just after the publication of his first book “The Body and Its Dangers” with the profoundly resonate story “The Times as It Knows Us.” Denneny writes “The first time I read that story; I almost couldn’t breathe. But how much more harrowing must it have been the act of writing it.… That comes when the imagination is infused by a naked courage.”

Denneny was in the literary and social justice fight from the start. His direct-action speech on gay rights delivered at a gathering of writers at Giovanni’s Room bookstore in 1982 in Philadelphia. Reprinted here as his manifesto-  “Win or lose, it’s the fight that counts, that strengthens us, which means we win every time.” Words to live by more than ever as state legislators are banning books, legislating against GLBTQ rights and vilifying transgender and nonbinary Americans.

On Christopher Street | Life, Sex, and Death After Stonewall By Michael Denneny | University of Chicago Press




Miss Memory Lane

Colton Haynes

Atria Books


In 2018 actor Colton Haynes received the Human Rights Campaign’s ‘Visibility Award’ for his GLBTQ+ advocacy. The ‘Teen Wolf’ and ‘Arrow’ star was on a mission to ‘pay it forward’ as an out gay actor and to expose an industry that tried to rob him of his gay identity. Haynes decided not to play along, but not before going on a bender of self-destructive, personal crisis. He tells the tales of his unlikely journey to stardom and its inescapable hazards in his memoir ‘Miss Memory Lane’ now available in paperback.

 It might sound pretentious for an actor in his mid-30s, rare in a celebrity memoir that is not ghostwritten and one that is well crafted as this. He chronicles’ his harrowing childhood, his parents often battling each other in alcoholic rages, which resulted repeated separations and reconciliations. Colton and his brother Clinton absorbed all of the dysfunction. Their two two older sisters went to live with their grandparents.

Haynes describes growing up in a broken family and his perilous journey coming out as a teen, being secretly involved with several men, before  becoming a teen model in New York. coping through self-destructive partying. Haynes’ relationship with his mother was lovingly codependent but often volatile in the extreme .

 And at the heart of this, this is not a ‘star is born’ story, it is a survival guide for LGBTQ+ minors dealing with family rejection and Haynes grew up in Florida, Texas, Arkansas, New Mexico. By age 14, his mother had moved her sons to a relative’s farm in rural Kansas. Haynes was taking many risks being an out teen and navigating the maze of his queerness being an open secret in his family. He became bestie to a fellow semi-pro model and theater student who was also getting cast in professional productions.

One night they went to the area’s only gay club, Haynes disguising himself as old unsuccessfully, & was kicked out of the club. He swiped an id from one of his tricks and later gained entry, a talked the owner in letting him be a go-go boy. But by the time he was a teen, he was sexually active with several boys. At 16 he was involved with a 42-year-old police officer, who he writes in the book he seduced, even though the legally the man would have faced sexual abuse of a minor charges.

 When he came out to his mother after being caught with another boy, she refused to accept it and he ran away. She eventually called social services to report him as a runaway minor. He was picked up and placed in a group facility for teens with mental issues.

Haynes was determined to become a model and lying about his age, ended up dancing at a gay club in Wichita Kansas He started to perform in plays in high school as he was scoping out modeling jobs in Wichita, where scam agencies would hold ‘auditions’ for an entrance fee. Even with these missteps, Colton landed a summer modelling job in NY. Shoot for teen ‘Abercrombie & Fitch.’  was also sexually active.

Episodes of ‘acting classes’ in Hollywood that asked the performers to do naked scenes so they could ‘get comfortable with their bodies. Haynes taking phone sex jobs and industry ‘assistant’ modeling jobs.

Still trying to make it as a model with an edge, his ‘lost boy’ of sinewy muscled ‘lost boy’ appeal, he describes not eating enough and taking Adderall which led to nonstop partying. The harrowing opening chapter of the book describes what could have been the end of the destructive road for Haynes. But he had long reconciled with his parents. And when his mother and he diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, he supported her and was by her side when she died in 2018. His memoir is dedicated to her.

Haynes was also becoming a social media star, with millions of fans, and was landing more commercial endorsement and making even more money. But at the height of his success, during a months-long series shoot and completely miserable living in Vancouver, he holes up in his digs, isolates from everyone, drugging and hook-up with men, but feeling more lost than ever. Haynes walked away from series television and went of a bender that almost resulted in accidental suicide.

He walked away from acting parts because of contract disputes, feeling exploited and more on principle than ego. And now Haynes is embarking on a different path with this book. In its unique structure leaving years of personal information off the page, you wonder when this successful model, actor turned GLTQ+ activist and now author will be penning a sequel.

Meanwhile, this is a fine non-fiction debut by a GLBTQ+ star advocate, so is ripe for right-wing politician for book banning hit list, which makes it a must read for GLBTQ+ youths.

BalletX Winter Dances&Dreams

Seeds | Choreographer: Gary W. Jeter

Photos: Vikki Sloviter 

BalletX Winter Dances & Dreams

BalletX  presented their vibrant Winter series program for a sellout run at their home in the Wilma Theater on Broad St. with premieres by choreographers Amy Seiwert, Gary W. Jeter II, and Jorma Elo. All three dancemakers were onstage before the performance to talk about their work with Philadelphia Dance Journal podcaster Charles Tyson.

The program opened with Jeter’s ‘Seeds’ his first ballet during his choreographic fellowship with the company. He was a member of BX for several years and before that danced with Complexions, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Philadanco.

In a short film about the ballet, Jeter told the audience it was inspired by his experience as a father and husband, with themes of nurturing something unique, the universal idea as expressed choreographically by dancers Eli Alford, Shawn Cusseaux, Francesca Forcella, Savannah Green, Jared Kelly, Annika Kuo, Skyler Lubin, Jerard Palazo, Ben Schwarz, and Ashley Simpson

Jeter composed much jazz piano music with a meditative voiceover about family life for the piece. The cast enters in long hooded earthy tunics, over satin pants by costume designer Martha Chamberlain, the outer layers cast off at key moments during the performance.  

Jeter’s tight ensemble balletics morph into more meditative dance expression. The rigorous ensemble sections of unison jumps and sculpted configurations. Shawn Cusseaux is hypnotic as he moves away from the group in solos that are both spasmodic and lyrically expressive. The ensemble passages may look overpacked with ideas in moments, but throughout display and dynamic ideas.

A Long Night | Choreographer: Amy Seiwert

 Next, Amy Seiwert’s  comedic dance ‘A Long Night’ aka a miniature ballet adaptation of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’   It is set to songs The Pied Pipers, Patsy Cline Harry Nillson and other dreamy songs, the first being Pink Marini’s ‘Dream a Little of Me’

 Puck is as rakish as every sprinkling his fairy dust on the double-star-crossed lovers Eli Alford, Shawn Cusseaux, Francesca Forcella, Skyler Lubin, Jerard Palazo costumed in Benjamin Burton’s forest couture, except for Puck who is donning a gold sequin magic-to-do ensemble. And in a breakout role for Alford, his lithe technical artistry and witty performance made him a Puck dreams are made of.  

Seiwert is based on the West Coast, is a former dancer and award-winning choreographer and her  ballets are typically non-narrative, with no characterizations, this ballet has so much wit and dance charm you would ‘A Long Night’ was her first try at a story ballet. 

Scenes View 2 Choreographer: Jorma Elo

Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo’s ‘Scenes View 2’ is an update on  a work he made on BalletX  in 2006  the first year co-artistic directors Matt Neenan and Christine Cox and Matthew Neenan, then dancers with Pennsylvania Ballet, formed the company. 

Elo’s ballet looks choreographically dynamic now, on this a completely different BalletX cast 17 years later. Scored to piano music by Bach, Elo’s quick, sharp, ballet architecture scored to Bach  with dance rhythms reflective of Bach’s Partita for Violin’s  rhythmic counterpoint.  Elo’s and the dancers’artistry, proved even more impressive in this revival. This was a thrilling closer to a program that showed range and ensemble esprit. Kudos also to Alyssandra Docherty, for her the atmospheric lighting designs unique to each work.

With over a 100 commissions of new works by dozens of innovative choreogrpahers, artistic & executive director Christine Cox and Tara Keating, the troupe’s associate artistic director continue to craft the company’s the aesthetic template.  

BalletX Winter Series | March 1-5,2023 | The Wilma Theater, Broad & Spruce St. Philadelphia PA

Philadelphia Ballet’s Forward Motion


Mayara Pineiro and Sterling Baca of Philadelphia Ballet in “CIRCUMSTELLARS” choreography by Andonis Foniadakis. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev

Philadelphia Ballet artistic director Angel Corella has restaged a dozen or more classic story ballets since becoming artistic director in 2014, from ‘Swan Lake’ to ‘Cinderella’  and the company is currently in rehearsal for Corella’s lavish production “Sleeping Beauty” opening next month at the Academy of Music.

 But Corella is equally invested in commissioning new ballets for the company’s ‘New Works’ series of ballet forward pieces by some of today most dynamic choreographers looking to bring new ideas and styles to the artform.

‘Forward Motion’ ’is the latest in the series in performance at the Perelman Theater in the Kimmel Center, a more intimate space than the Academy, that provides an up-. close look at the choreography and the dancers in works by Juliano Nunes, Hope Boykin and Adonis Foniadakis. The only similarity between their ballets is that all the dancemakers had 3 weeks to put this dynamic program together and all of the ballerinas danced en pointe in each piece..

The concert opened Nunes’ “PS”  which he describes as “A laboratory” The curtain comes up on 16 dancers in powder blue unitards designed by Mikaela Kelly, posed in silhouette, moving in classical ballet positions. The cast of mostly principals, soloists, and a few corps de ballet dancers, The rhythmic score by Alexander McKenzie and Sune Martine, starts to soar with propulsive rhythms and dancers not skipping a beat, Nunes igniting the company’s strong precision and neoclassical technique.

Throughout the ballet, Nunes laces in a series of couples duets  packed with intricate lifts patterns and body sculptural phrases that just keep flowing.

Nunes is particularly inventive with two trios, the first danced by Nayara Lopes, Zecheng Liang, and Austin Eyler and another variation with Liang, Arian Molina Soca, and Jack Thomas. In the finale duet Liang and Yuka Iseda’s are hypnotic artistry and chemistry in pas de duex at the end of the ballet. It is no surprise that Nunes is the Philadelphia Ballet’s 2022-23 resident choreographer, he crafts works that show both the ensemble strengths and esprit de corps of the company.   

Next is African American choreographer Hope Boykin’s “ENdure” is a movement mosaic  of human behavior for a cast of nine, with themes of personal struggle, human connection, and loneliness. It is scored to introspective piano music by Bill Lawrence.  

Boykin is an African American dancer-choreographer from Durham, NC. Boykin started her professional career in Philadelphia as a member of  Joan Myers Brown’s Philadanco, then joined the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. Boykin . She created pieces for many companies including Philadanco and BalletX.

The dancers dressed in loose fitting red outfits designed by Marc Eric, along with introspective piano music by composer Bill Lawrence instantly sets a mood for Boykin’s  thought provoking movement meditation of everyday life.  Boykin’s pedestrian movements that  glide into arabesques, turns, plies, and maybe a chance partnering- an equally casual dance vocabulary of their everyday language, connecting or not with others, but enduring no matter what they face down the road.

Boykin’s central duet performed by Jack Sprance and Sibohan Howley was danced with lyrical strength and haunting mystery. And kudos to apprentice dancers Vinicius Ferreira Freire and Ashley Lewis making strong debuts in this work.. The minimalism also gives way to expressive solos, episodes of defeat and personal fortitude. Boykin’s repeated motif of flight, with dancers bolting across the stage mid phrase seemingly at any moment symbolizing so much.

The concert closer was Greek choreographer Andonis Foniadakis’ “Circumstellars” is an atmospheric mosaic of bodies in propulsive galactic flight  with four women and five men in second-skin costumes of muted green and purple designed by Anastasios Sofroniou. The dancers dramatically emerging through lighting designer Sakis Birbilis’ a curtain of laser lighted smoke in what

Foniadakis described the scene as “a vortex.”  The ballet’s breakneck pace sustained fluidity that never looked overpacked. The cast executing Foniadakis’ mach-speed choreo full of feral jetes, off-angled lift patterns, and hotwired immediacy. The body as exploding dance stars.

The choreographer’s longtime music collaborator Julien Tarride composed the symphonic ‘Musicbox Ballerina’ for the ballet.  Principal dancers Mayara Pinero and Sterling Baca partner throughout the piece with increasing speed and thrilling  athleticism. This program showed Philadelphia Ballet covering a lot of  emerging trends, the choreographers creating potent ballet forward concepts.  

Philadelphia Ballet  | Forward Motion | Perelman Theater

Kimmel Cultural Campus, Philadelphia PA

February 3-11, 2023




from Days of Mercury

visible silence

of amniotic nova

hidden spirals

hurling into the savage voids

flights of unseen


solar continuo

drawing reverse


Casandra still whispering

secretly, the math of Troy

venal truths for ages.

(We traveled then

to the promontory unseen)

on an infinite if

Will I come home or

is there unlocked illusion elsewhere

mocking this place

Will we know infinity

& still misread everything in its path.

(I woke with knowing nothing again) all but the phantom soul with John Anthony

my momentary love infinite

he told me on 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

even when Narcissus had drowned in the surface.

He whispered “back sometime soon….t’amo” as he

embraced my shadow

or I seem to dream a full silhouette running against

the rock & fire mountain in the distance.

or did the shadow explode

primal ways of escape

(lust of consciousness)

as ivy lights around the body

absorbs the veins

covers the spiral of hope

& then we’re unsheathed

by radiant birth of stars & all the pagan gods

(for John Anthony Nespoli)

Terrence Blanchard~The E Collective~Turtle Island Quartet Andrew Scott | Gordon Parks: An Emphatic Lens


, , ,

hazy photo: LJW

Jazz virtuoso Terrence Blanchard is currently on an international tour with his stellar E-Collective Quartet performing music from their  Blue Note release ‘Absence.’ Joining them on this tour is the string ensemble Turtle Island Quartet and the group was in Philadelphia Oct 12. for a one-night only concert at Penn Live Arts Annenberg Center Mainstage.

The lobby of the Annenberg filled up for Blanchard’s pre-show conversation with University of Penn music scholar Guthrie Ramsey. Blanchard recalling his days as a young musician working with jazz legends Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, and Art Blakey, but also praising his early music teachers who encouraged Blanchard to seek his own path beyond their syllabus of all classical training

And that is something Blanchard continues to do, expand his musical reach, on all fronts, musically and otherwise collaborating with different genres and artistic forms. The Penn concert a multi-media performance in tribute to jazz master Wayne Shorter and /photographer Gordon Parks.

Visual artist Andrew Scott’s Gordon Parks| The Emphatic Lens screen behind the players with live shots of the musicians superimposed on the film in real-time.

The voice of Gordon Parks is heard as a montage of his photographs appear on the backdrop screen behind the musicians as guitarist Charles Altura, pianist Taylor Eigsti, bassist David Ginyard Jr and drummer Oscar Seaton open with title track ‘Absence’. (Ginyard) and a few bars in Terrence Blanchard saunters onstage plays a lush trumpet lead that just entrances as it engulfs the amphitheater.

The start of a 100- minute set of music from ‘Absence’ with its era mixing genres with focus the dynamic sounds and innovations of 70s era electronic genres. A journeying mix of jazz-funk, blues, ballade, hardbop, electronica and contemporary classical music fusion with The Turtle Quartet.

On Blanchard’s composition ‘I Dare You’ with string passages by the Turtle Quartet with a driving Beethoven-esque riff that gives way to the Collective’s rowdy jazzfunk orchestral. the title a quote Shorter when someone asked him how he would define jazz music and Shorter’s response was ‘I Dare You.’

Ginyard’s ‘The Vision’ is an elegantly somber string piece with a sonorous cello bassline, with Taylor’s bluesy electronica chambers swirling around and Seaton splitting atoms on the drums.

 Dark Horse- Charles Artura’s Dark Horse a trippy blues guitar, passionate and mystical West Coast atmospherics. The E Collective’s interplay with the Turtle Island is equally dynamic, in its agency and play between traditional classical forms and jazz, blues and progressive genres.

The concert concluded with music from Blanchard’ release ‘Breathless’ and explained that the E Collective wanted to inspire young musicians to play different jazz genres, focusing on electronica and fusion. But in the wake of more gun violence, he explained, “with young people getting gunned down in the streets, Blanchard noted ” we changed our purpose.’   The group visited “cities, where there was gun violence and there was (opportunity) for civic engagement and played a concert.” The music on Breathless “dedicated to social workers in our communities.”

The final extended selection a scorching social statement ‘I Can’t Breathe’ and in recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement Seaton’s solo opening an edgy jazz orchestral then Artura’s, Guiney & Eigsti in aggressive counterpoint to Seaton’s ballistic beat, and Blanchard blazing trumpet primal scream & afterburn, ala Hendrix, of the Star-Spangled Banner.

Blanchard has continued to be a jazz innovator as well as performing, recording, and teaching. He is the first Black composer to have his work staged at The Metropolitan Opera with ‘Fire Shut Up in My Bones’ based on the memoir by NYT’s writer Charles Blow, which opened their post-pandemic 2021 season.