Live Music: The Best Memorial Day Party Ever! Paul McDonald’s Big band at the Typhoon Jazz Restaurant.

May 28, 2015

By Norton Wright

Santa Monica, CA. One of the unique experiences on today’s jazz scene is “Big Band Night” at Typhoon Restaurant at Santa Monica Airport in Los Angeles. On Memorial Day evening listeners are ready to experience a veritable bacchanal as the band on stage is Paul McDonald’s big, powerhouse, 17-piece orchestra.

The band hits at 8 p.m. but you should get to the Typhoon as early as 6p.m., not just for the scenic view of the flight line’s airplanes from the restaurant’s top floor, because it is you who are about to fly. The excitement is palpable – and wow, does it ever grow!

McDonald is already there in the working togs of shorts and a t-shirt setting up the band’s music stands, laying out the charts for each band member, positioning eleven microphones with their maze of cables leading to the sound mixing board of Typhoon’s indefatigable audio engineer, Toro. These two gents have worked together before and move deftly through the all-important sound check under the watchful eye of Typhoon’s owner, Brian Vidor.

Vidor has run this massive, jazz room for twenty-five years, his crowd of regulars is already piling in to the bar and the restaurant’s thirty tables. The conversation level begins to boom! Lots of gleeful greetings, talk of jazz, what’s going to happen tonight? You get the feeling that this jazz ritual has been going on forever. Evocations of Shelley’s Manne-Hole, Donte’s, The Lighthouse, maybe even Toulouse Lautrec’s Bal Taberin. Lautrec always surprised, so like him, what has McDonald got up his sleeve tonight?

7p.m. – one hour to show time, but already the band members are arriving. They’re old friends, gathering early, clearly enjoying one another’s company. Adjusting the lights on their music stands, organizing their charts, unpacking their instruments, their pace leisurely like cool gunslingers again prepping for a night at the O.K. Corral.

7:30 p.m. – Paul McDonald reappears in sartorial splendor, dark suit, necktie, neat handkerchief in his breast pocket. He’s mellow but also keenly attentive to any missed details in readying for the band’s 8pm start. He greets his band members, then moves about the restaurants saying hi to old friends, but he’s regularly checking his wristwatch. This is a genteel producer and showman at work. He sees his band settling into their seats and holds up ten fingers to them. Ten minutes before start time. The crowd is quieting in anticipation. Five fingers to the band, five minutes to go!

Paul McDonald

Paul McDonald

8 p.m. – McDonald at his electric piano counts off the up-tempo beat for the opening number  – and the band explodes into “This Can’t Be Love”! The sax section puts you away, drummer Steve Pemberton drives the band up and over, and the night flight takes off! Paul Young is 200 pounds of roaring trombone solo, Ron Barrows, super casual in a baseball cap, answers with his own sizzling trumpet solo, and you start to remember that all theses musicians are solo stars in their own right.

The Paul McDonald Big Band

The band quickly propels through the applause into the second number, the Cubop standard “Mambo Inn,” and you hear why McDonald has added a second percussionist to the band. MB Gordy’s array of conga drums, bongos, and timbales absolutely crackle with polyrhythmic intensity.

About now you may be thinking that the guys in this band are awesome – but wait till  you hear the band’s two lady musicians. There are all kinds of ways of being beautiful, and Barbara Loronga’s trumpet and Lori Stuntz’ trombone are just outrageously gorgeous! Loronga’s soloing throughout the night (deftly using a mute on some numbers) reminds of Lee Morgan’s blazing yet note-perfect virtuosity – and in the night’s most poignant moment, as the classically-trained trombonist Stuntz is soloing through her beautiful take on West Side Story’s “Tonight, Tonight,” the hushed crowd is so moved that from the back of the room some start to reverently sing the lyrics.

In the audience, Susan Watson, one of the original performers in 1958’s production of West Side Story, is so taken by the by the grace of Stuntz solo that she gets outright weepy!

A word about composer/arranger/pianist/bandleader Paul McDonald’s consummate showmanship and his West Side Story medley that closes the first set. In this first hour, you’ve already been treated to the amazing speed of Gary Herbig’s alto and Dean Roubicek’s tenor on every solo they take. (Eric Morones is in the hunt too, joyously jousting with Roubicek as to who’s the fastest sax in the West). Mike Parlett is at home with the entire array of woodwinds from alto sax to flute, and young Caesar Martinez equally impresses, doubling on baritone sax and clarinet.

So adding some of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story score to this hot mix heralds a heart-thumping finale! McDonald kicks it off on electric keyboard with a dazzling solo, Ken Wild switches from acoustic bass to electric bass propelling the band into overdrive. The familiar themes of  “I Want To Be In America,” “Maria,” and “Tonight, Tonight” rise up in McDonald’s arrangement joyfully reminding of Bernstein’s jazz heart, — and in the last bars of this West Side piece Tony Bonsera’s trumpet goes stratospheric! What a way to end the first set!

Now what can McDonald do to top this in the upcoming second set? And he’s got the additional challenge that during the intermission the packed crowd is now roaring in conversation. But if Leonard Bernstein was a good choice to end the first set, how about another American musical icon, Aaron Copeland, to start the second set?

And so it is that without any introduction, the band just blasts off the second set with the opening of Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, the four-person trombone section (Young, Stuntz, Duane Benjamin, and Robbie Hioki) sounding the profound gravitas of the fanfare as the trumpet section soars atop, all in a display of brass firepower so awesome that it immediately quiets the reveling crowd. McDonald moves the number into a jazz groove with a keyboard solo evidencing what an exceptionally intense, soloing artist he is, and again MB Gordy’s congas – and tambourine! –  add wicked, hard-throbbing grooves to the fanfare. It all would have made Aaron Copeland kvel!

Next, the night would be incomplete without a blues number, and McDonald gets into it at the keyboard with his own composition, “Forget About The Past,” so down that it poses the question, “Why do the blues make listeners so happy?

The crowd has been waiting for Steve Pemberton’s drum solo and he does not disappoint, starting with brushes on snare and cymbals, then letting that soft touch escalate into dynamite drumstick work and kicking off the tune “Seven Steps” with trumpeter Jeff Jarvis burning the joint down with his fast and fiery solo.

So is there another surprise that showman McDonald can call forth in this last set to top off the evening? Yes, and she arrives in the person of the lissome songstress, Marianne Lewis. If you’re not acquainted with Lewis you may wonder how she is going to fare in a big-band context given that her website credits include her choir directing, leading of spiritual, consciousness-raising, empowerment groups, and listing CD’s of her own song compositions sung with gentle jazziness. You may be expecting Mother Teresa — but you are blissed out when Lewis arrives on the bandstand in a sexy, slinky, black-lace evening dress! With three background singers, Jacquelyn A. Brown, Ramon Pratt, and Valerie Chevanaugh Fruge – she launches into “Let the Good Times Roll,” “Something’s Gotta Give” and a jazzy, funky take on Earth Wind & Fire’s “In The Stone.” Clearly Lewis is bringing it tonight, and you’re in for a very good time.

Later after a quick costume change into a short white lace dress, she spots heartthrob singer, Dave Davis, in the audience and gets him to join her on stage for an impromptu and flirtatious duet on “Do Nothing ‘Till You Hear From Me.” During the song, Davis fixes on Lewis’s come-hither dance moves and short dress as if hoping for a wardrobe malfunction. Clearly this wolf is appreciating the swan in more ways than one, and the crowd just loves them.

As the evening heads for the finish line, the band and Lewis run through “Stormy Weather,” “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” Sergio Mendes’ “Mas Que Nada” – and by the time the band hits its  arrangement of Tower of Power’s  song, “A Little Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing,” everyone in the crowd is up and DANCING!

It’s an exuberant finale — and what a memorable way to end a Memorial Day weekend!

P.S. The Paul McDonald Big Band is such a celebration of jazz music , soloing stars, and genuine surprises that this orchestra merits bookings at the likes of the Playboy Jazz Festival, the KJAZZ Radio Summer Benefit Concert, and other major jazz venues.

And L. A.’s Chamber of Commerce, City Council, and Mayor Eric Garcetti should be proud to have the legendary Typhoon Restaurant as “Big-Band Central” in Los Angeles. In just the last month this attractive and spacious location has hosted the jazz orchestras of Emil Richards, Clare Fischer (directed by Brent Fischer), Steve Spiegel, Mark Hix, Tim Davies, Mike Price, and Charles Owens.

For anyone coming to visit our city, of course Disney Philharmonic Hall, the fountains of the California Center, the New Getty Museum, and the like are must-sees.  But no visit to Los Angeles is complete without catching Big- Band Night at Brian Vidor’s Typhoon Restaurant so aptly located at Santa Monica Airport where the great American art form, jazz, proudly takes flight every week.

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To read more posts by and about Norton Wright click HERE.


Live Music: Bill A. Jones at Vitello’s

May 28, 2015

By James DeFrances

Bil A. Jones

Bil A. Jones

Studio City, CA. The E-Spot lounge in  Vitello’s restaurant was the site of the latest performance by baritone vocalist Bill A. Jones. Backed by the energetic jazz trio of pianist/arranger Paul McDonald, bassist Kirk Smith and drummer Steve Pemberton, Jones entertained the packed house last Saturday night in a way only he could have done.

Jones’ repertoire ranged from serious straight ahead swing standards to Broadway classics. His graceful stage presence and witty charm would surely turn anyone into one of his many fans after a song or two.

The set included anthems like “Where or When,” “Fly Me To The Moon,” “Ive Got You Under My Skin,” and more! Jones has performed frequently at Vitello’s in Studio City for some years now. But, although he has had an extensive music career he also has lately been drawing attention for his role as “Rod Remington” on the smash hit TV show Glee.

Bill Jones and Sally Struthers

Bill Jones and Sally Struthers

Adding to the excitement of the evening Jones brought out classic TV icon Sally Struthers to sing a duet on stage with him. The audience roared as Struthers made her way to the riser and addressed the audience in her familiar high pitched voice. They performed the classic Jule Styne number “Just in Time” together much to the delight of the audience.

Later in the night Jones performed engaging versions of “What Kind Of Fool Am I?,” Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” and finally “Mack The Knife”.

‘Twas a night of fine music, fine dining, elegance and humor in the Valley – one that will surely stay in the minds of those who were there. Until next time!

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Photos by James DeFrances. To read more reviews by (and about) James DeFrances click HERE.

 


Dance at the Music Center Presents: Tania Pérez-Salas’s “Ex-Stasis” and “Made in Mexico” at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles

May 17, 2015

By Jane Rosenberg

In the magnetic opening sequence of Tania Pérez-Salas’s Ex-Stasis, a lone woman stands in a spotlight, long hair shrouding her face. Music erupts and, as a scattering of dancers recline on the stage, watching her intently, she begins her solitary dance. At first her movements appear to be simple rifts on Sixties’ rock or Seventies’ disco. Momentum builds: her arms flap, her head whips, her hair flies, and her torso shudders. Throbbing with intensity, she merges with the pulsing music, becoming a Maenad in a Dionysian revel. Does she express joy, rage, animal desire, or all three at once? It’s a breathtaking foray into raw emotion – a precisely choreographed, yet uninhibited exploration.

If only the choreography continued at this level of investigation – then the ecstasy of Ex-Stasis could have opened our minds and bodies to the rewards and perils of letting go. As it progressed, however, clichés mounted; and the ultimate experience was dampened by a loss of focus owing, in part, to curtains of thin, plastic sheeting used to mostly distracting effect.

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“Ex-Stasis”

 

In one effective sequence, however, the plastic sheeting works as a poetic device. Three female dancers, topless and wearing nude colored briefs, stand at evenly spaced intervals behind the wall of translucent plastic. They press various body parts against the material; they push, claw, and tug at it, turning their bodies this way and that. References abound: fetuses in the womb, hatching larvae, sci-fi creations in the laboratory. The plastic, however, continues to be used scene after scene, and its overuse overwhelms the choreography, which becomes merely a push/pull with the sheets.

When finally an ensemble takes the stage and we have an opportunity to see what the troupe can do, for no discernible reason the dancing occurs behind yet another wall of plastic, obscuring our engagement with the dancers. Even when at rest and hanging in the background, the sheeting distracts us from the dancers. This is partially the fault of the lighting design, which flattens and obfuscates the dancers rather than creating sculptural, solid, and vivid forms.

Tania Pérez-Salas, born in Mexico City, founded her company in 1994. Though they have traveled to dance festivals worldwide, this is their first time in Los Angeles. For their short run at the Ahmanson Theatre, they are performing both Ex-Stasis, choreographed in 2010 and Made in Mexico (Macho Man) from 2014. Though both dances date from the present century they have the feel of decades gone by.

The dance vocabulary used by Pérez-Salas could be a catalogue of popular dance moves from the nineteen seventies: undulating torsos, rocking pelvises, arms held overhead and spun, and the bouncing bodies of boy bands from the sixties. She also favors collapsing bodies onto the floor, all too ubiquitous in contemporary choreography. One might call it Pop Art in dance, but given her statements about channeling emotion and instinct, this seems too intellectual a slant for her perspective on movement.

Made in Mexico suffers most from its references to the past. In her statement of intent she seeks to “illustrate male and female gender roles in contemporary Mexican society as perceived through the culture’s strong emphasis on masculinity…” – a relevant and commendable objective to be sure, but one that suffers from an over reliance on clichés and stereotypes.

Riding a bucking bull or horse, fingers pointing like guns, male strutting and posing, are all movements that conspire to undermine any subtlety Pérez-Salas achieves in the more nuanced segments. What does compel is the coupling of male and female partners in their dominant/submissive entanglements. Office chairs, rolled across the stage, are used to often surprising effect, as they become a third partner in the dance.

Unfortunately, two women, dressed in disco black, dance in a scene that, for me, derails the piece. They strut in high heels and shiny leggings – the image of punk party girls. Reveling in their powerful femaleness, they mouth the words to “Complejo de Amor,” but the impact is lost, made comical by the reference to karaoke. For sheer power and a statement on female gender roles, nothing beats Angelin Preljocaj’s chorus line of women in his ravishing, Les Nuits, as they move from super-model posturings to gestures of domination and anger.

Pérez-Salas walks a tightrope in Ex-Stasis and Made in Mexico. She’s caught between her desire to make commentary on male and female stereotypes and the dangers of allowing her dances to fall into those stereotypes. Perhaps one of the two pieces paired with her 1998 work, Waters of Forgetfulness, or The Hours, inspired by Michael Cunningham’s novel, would have been a more diversified introduction to her work from a choreographic, musical, and visual standpoint.

At its best, her vision offers us a theatrical, entertaining, and sensual experience provided by a troupe of committed dancers who manage to carve out their individual personas in these two works. In the future, one hopes that we, in Los Angeles, will see more subtle explorations from this choreographer who clearly has a passion for dance.

Dancers:
Jairo Cruz, Nicole Erickson, Veronique Giasson, Sabra Johnson, Eduard Martínez, Sarah Matry-Guerre, Marcus McCray, Jose Roberto Solís, Diana Sorokova, Po-Lin Tung, Myrthe Weehuizen

Production Ex-Stasis:
Choreography: Tania Pérez-Salas
Music: Meredith Monk, Monolake, Pan Sonic, Chris Isaak, Gustavo Cerati y Digitalverein
Scenography: Juan Alberto Orozco
Lighting design: Xóchitl González Quintanilla
Costume design: Sara Salomon, Miguel Garabenta
Music editing: Tono MX, Claudio Pezzoti y Federico Quintana

Production: Made in Mexico (Macho Man)
Choreography: Tania Pérez-Salas
Music: Nortec Collective, Tropa Vallenata, Todos Tus Muertos, Panóptica Orchestra, Rojo Córdova & Cuarteto Latinoamericano, Javier Álvarez
Lighting design: Gabriel Torres Vargas
Costumes: Cía Tania Pérez-Salas

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Photo by Andrea Lopez, courtesy of Dance at the Music Center

To read more opera, dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

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Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children.   Jane is also the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  

 


Live Music: The Real Vocal String Quartet in a Siskiyou Music Project Concert

May 11, 2015

By Don Heckman

Talent, Oregon. “Real Vocal String Quartet.” The words on the program guide seemed almost contradictory. What was it to be? One or the other? A vocal ensemble or a string quartet?

But when the four gifted members of the Real Vocal String Quartet began their concert Sunday night in the performance room of the beautiful Paschal Winery in Talent, Oregon, all the seemingly contradictory aspects of their name immediately disappeared.

The transformation began with “Kyili Turam,” a piece inspired by the Quartet’s fascination with world music, in this case from Macedonia. Starting with a full bodied string quartet opening, the four instrumentalists – still playing — moved close to their vocal microphones and enriched the string sounds with lush, four voice harmonies. The effect was astonishing, orchestral in its size, utterly gripping in its emotional impact. And it was just the beginning of the memorable program offered by the versatile artists of the Real Vocal String Quartet – violinists Irene Sazor and Alisa Rose, violist Matthias McIntire and cellist Jessica Ivry.

The Real Vocal String Quartet at the Paschal Winery

To say that the music was imaginative in every aspect of the word would only begin to describe a program that reached across a boundary-less array of genres. Classical, jazz, blues, Americana, fiddle music, world music and much more, all of it performed via a mesmerizing blend of authenticity and brilliant inventiveness – vocally, instrumentally and in combinations of both.

Titles were either unannounced or identified too quickly to register. But no matter; the significant information resided in the fact that most of the music was original, written or arranged by the four players – offering even more evidence of the expansive skills of this remarkable ensemble.

There were far too many highlights to list in the group’s eclectic selections. One of the most fascinating was a free improvisation, a completely spontaneous, unwritten, on-the-spot, brilliant four part composition. It’s a technique other groups have tried – dating back to the free jazz era of the ’60s. But I’ve rarely heard it delivered with the Vocal String Quartet’s inventive musical authority.

Another piece – violist Matthias McIntire’s whimsically titled “California Residents Blissful Despite Impending Earthquake” – displayed another quality, employing the group’s vocal/instrumental timbres with impressionistic impact.

The Real Vocal String Quartet (Matthias McIntire, Jessica Ivry, Irene Sazor and Alisa Rose)

In addition to their remarkable skills as an inventive musical collective, the four principals of the Vocal Jazz Quartet also displayed unique solo abilities. Each revealed convincing improvisational abilities. The two violinists – Irene Sazor and Alisa Rose – tossed riffs back and forth, slipping and sliding through blues licks, with the ease of a bebop jam. McIntire added an equal jazz authenticity to his soloing. And cellist Jessica Ivry energized the rhythm with Ron Carter-like bass lines interspersed with arching, classical counter melodies.

It was, in short, an evening overflowing with much to enjoy. The Real Vocal String Quartet, despite its seemingly confusing title, left this listener, no doubt among many others, with an evening that will be long remembered.

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First photo by Faith Frenz.

Second photo by Lenny Gonzalez, courtesy of Real Vocal String Quartet.


THE MUSIC CENTER’S 2015-16 SEASON OF DANCE IN LOS ANGELES

May 7, 2015

Los Angeles. This coming season of Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at The Music Center includes Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra (October 8-11, 2015), the West Coast premiere of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, The Second City (November 6-8, 2015), The Music Center debut of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan (January 29-31, 2016), Complexions Contemporary Ballet (April 15-17, 2016), Compagnie Käfig (June 17-19, 2016), and American Ballet Theatre (July 8-10, 2016).

At the same time, new Music Center initiatives will showcase some of Los Angeles’ up-and-coming dance ensembles, which are forging new ground and attracting new audiences, and provide ways to engage audiences in their own dance experiences. This includes the introduction of a site-specific series, The Music Center Presents Movies After Dark™ (July 13, 14, 20, and 21, 2015). Held on the nights in which The Music Center theatres are typically “dark,” or not in use, Movies After Dark will present works by Ate9, Lula Washington Dance Theatre, Ana María Alvarez, and BodyTraffic. Also presented will be the return of the much-in-demand Dance Downtown on Friday nights during the summer on The Music Center Plaza (June 5 and 19, 2015; July 3, 17, 2015 and 31; August 14 and 28, 2015), as well as Los Angeles’ National Dance Day public celebration (July 25, 2015).

Dance at The Music Center 2015-2016 Season

Mariinsky Ballet and OrchestraAlexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella (Southern California Premiere), October 8-11, 2015, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center

St. Petersburg, Russia’s world-renowned Mariinsky Ballet (formerly the Kirov Ballet) opens the season with the Southern California premiere of its celebrated work, Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella. Set to Sergei Prokofiev’s haunting score, performed by the Mariinsky Orchestra, Ratmansky’s Cinderella takes a fresh look at the classic story-ballet with vibrant choreography, feisty humor and a glamorous 1930s twist. Commissioned for the Mariinsky Theatre and premiering in March 2002, the ballet launched Ratmansky onto the world stage. He weaves together a magnificent array of different styles that are interpreted through virtuous classical language along with a monumental, dramatic score. The result is a fresh, witty and sardonic account of the story. Ratmansky combines the grand spectacle of ballet from Soviet Russia with innovative choreography that has a contemporary edge, offering audiences endearing characters and a sense of sophistication.

Cinderella is portrayed as a lonely dreamer and her stepmother as a vicious, tantrum-prone social climber. The choreography builds to a pas de deux of aching beauty and tenderness between Cinderella and her prince. The performances are complemented by spectacular sets and costumes that portray a more modern world of the 20th century. The Washington Post said, “Ratmansky’s treatment echoes the sharp and piercing modernism in the score…” while The New York Times said, “[Ratmansky] appreciates how Prokofiev’s ballet is poised between touching romance and biting sarcasm.”

Founded in the 18th century and originally known as the Imperial Russian Ballet, the Mariinsky Ballet is one of the world’s leading ballet companies. Valery Gergiev is artistic and general director of the Mariinsky Theatre.

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Hubbard Street Dance Chicago + The Second CityThe Art of Falling (West Coast Premiere), November 6-8, 2015, Ahmanson Theatre at The Music Center

In an example of contemporary dance meets comedic excellence, Dance at The Music Center presents Hubbard Street Dance Chicago + The Second City, with a unique collaboration, The Art of Falling, from two of Chicago’s most creative and compelling companies. This lively, charming and sometimes absurd performance is the brainchild of five choreographers, four writers and more than 30 dancers and actors. Helmed by Jeff Award-winning director Billy Bungeroth, The Art of Falling combines contemporary dance with comedy in three distinct, interwoven storylines punctuated by short vignettes. The cross-disciplinary creative collaboration spotlights the improvisational nature of contemporary performance. “Second City may have pioneered sketch comedy since its formation in 1959, but this latest collaborative project takes the art form to visually spectacular and emotionally satisfying new heights,” proclaimed The Huffington Post, while the Chicago Tribune praised the performance as “Hugely entertaining and strikingly emotional…not-to-be-missed.”

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s core purpose is to bring artists, art, and audiences together to enrich, engage, educate, transform and change lives through the experience of dance. Currently celebrating its 37th season, Hubbard Street continues to be an innovative force, supporting its creative talent while presenting repertory by major international artists.

Rooted in the improvisational games of Viola Spolin, and founded by Spolin’s son, Paul Sills, along with Howard Alk and Bernie Sahlins, the Second City opened in Chicago in December 1959 and began developing its entirely unique way of creating and performing comedy.

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Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of TaiwanRice (The Music Center Debut), January 29-31, 2016, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center

Making its Music Center debut, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, Asia’s most renowned contemporary dance company, and the first contemporary dance company in any Chinese speaking community, presents a stunning production of Rice. With dancers trained in meditation, Qigong (an ancient form of breathing exercise), internal martial arts, modern dance and ballet, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre transforms ancient aesthetics into thrilling original performances that integrate the use of spectacular visual sets.

Created by Founder and Artistic Director Lin Hwai-min, who has been heralded as one of the most important choreographers in Asia, Rice was inspired by the landscape and story of Chihshang in the East Rift Valley of Taiwan, a farming village that was tainted by the use of chemical fertilizer, but which has now regained its title as the “Land of Emperor Rice” by adapting organic farming methods. Lin’s creation includes exuberant, powerful movements that are woven into his story of the land and the contemplation of the destruction of the Earth. To emphasize the messages, the production uses projection of vivid video images of flooding, growth, harvesting and the burning of the fields. The soundtrack mixes Hakka folk songs, Western opera, Taiwanese and Japanese drums and the sound of nature – wind, rain and thunder recorded on-site.

Rice was heralded by The Guardian as “a sharply moving synthesis of man and nature, east and west, death and rebirth…Lin’s own song of the earth.” The New York Times said, “Lin Hwai-min has succeeded brilliantly in fusing dance techniques and theatrical concepts from the East and the West.”

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Complexions Contemporary BalletProgram TBD, April 17-17, 2016, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center

New York-based Complexions Contemporary Ballet is a contemporary ballet company run by two esteemed alumni of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Artistic Directors Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson. Founded in 1994, the Company has a focus on reinventing dance with an emphasis on the artistic and aesthetic appeal of the multicultural. The Company combines technical precision, athleticism, passion and the occasional pop song, using 20 incredibly trained classical and contemporary dancers.

Winners of many awards, including The New York Times’ “Critics Choice” Award, Complexions has appeared throughout the United States and internationally. Heralded by the Washington Post as “Cross-cultural ballet with attitude…wearing toe shoes has never looked like so much fun,” the Company creates an open, continuously evolving form of dance that reflects the movement of the world and all of its cultures as an interrelated whole. According to Rhoden and Richardson, dance should be about removing boundaries, not reinforcing them, and should transcend a single style, period, venue or culture. The Company will deliver an exciting genre-bending performance that blurs the boundaries of ballet and contemporary dance.

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Compagnie KäfigKäfig Brasil and More (To Be Announced) (The Music Center Debut), June 17-19, 2016, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center

In a Music Center first and making its Music Center debut, Franco-Brazilian Compagnie Käfig will explore the confluence of the many arts subgenres that have contributed to the development of Hip Hop globally. Established in 1996, the Company flavors its works with dare-devilish circus skills, street dance, martial arts and the fun and energetic Hip Hop vocabulary. Compagnie Käfig brings the street to the stage with an all-male cast of 11 dancers who combine Hip Hop, Capoeira, Samba, electronic music and the Bossa Nova for a performance that showcases astonishing acrobatic skills along with energy and invention.

Led by Artistic Director Mourad Merzouki, who applies a multidisciplinary approach to the exploration of Hip Hop, the company will present Käfig Brasil, a rhythmic and muscular dance that the Times Union said is, “…animated by waves of energy, as if volts of electricity were travelling from muscle to muscle and limb to limb. Then that tightly controlled power explodes into fireworks.”

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American Ballet Theatre – Mixed Repertoire including Firebird (The Music Center debut), July 8-10, 2016, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center

The 2015-16 season of Dance at the Music Center concludes with five performances by American Ballet Theatre (ABT). ABT Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky brings his choreographic vision in a full evening of works, including his 2012 Firebird and a selection from the Company’s 2012-2013 presentation of Ratmansky’s Shostakovich Trilogy. Ratmansky’s reimagined Firebird, set to the iridescent music of Igor Stravinsky and performed by a live orchestra, tells an enchanting tale of a mythical bird who possesses magical powers and helps two lovers overcome an evil sorcerer.

American Ballet Theatre’s “Firebird”

Firebird takes audiences on an extravagant adventure. The ballet received its world premiere under the title L’Oiseau de Feu by Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes in Paris on June 25, 1910, with choreography by Mikhail Fokine and scenery and costumes by Alexander Golovine and Leon Bakst, and premiered in the United States as Firebird with the same company in New York on January 17, 1916. Firebird, with choreography by Adolph Bolm and scenery and costumes by Marc Chagall, first entered the repertory of ABT on October 24, 1945, at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. This new production, with choreography by Ratmansky, had its world premiere in Southern California at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa on March 29, 2012. The Los Angeles Times said, “…choreographer Alexei Ratmansky has updated the iconic ‘Firebird’ into an extravagant and fanciful adventure…” while The Wall Street Journal called it “…a freshly told fantastical tale.”

Recognized as one of the premier dance companies in the world, American Ballet Theatre brings the highest quality dance and dancers to audiences across the globe. Under the artistic direction of former ABT Principal Dancer Kevin McKenzie, the Company remains steadfast in its vision as “American” and continues to bring the art of dance theater to the great stages of the world.

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Season tickets/subscriptions for Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at The Music Center are on sale now. For information, call (213) 972-0711 or visit http://www.musiccenter.org/1516dance

Firebird photo by Gene Schiavone


The Herb Alpert 2015 Award in the Arts

May 1, 2015

 By Don Heckman

Herb Alpert

Herb Alpert

 

Herb Alpert’s at it again, encouraging young talent to display their skills by acknowledging their abilities with supportive rewards.

Today, in a lunch at the Herb Alpert Foundation in Santa Monica, the 21st annual Herb Alpert Award in the Arts was presented to five exceptional mid-career artists.

The awards recognize past performance and future promise to artists working in Dance, Film/Video, Music, Theatre and Visual Arts; an outstanding candidate in each genre receives a prize of $75,000.

Herb Alpert with winners Maria Hassabi, Taylor Mac, Sharon Lockhart and Julia Wolfe

“It’s exciting,” said Alpert, “to be able to support these five unique artists who are always on the hunt for something they don’t yet know, something real that touches us in a deep place. Whether they are writing a concerto, making a film, an installation, a ruckus or a dance, they always look for something special and original to say. These are artists with the passion, talent and the restlessness that never makes them stop. They HAVE TO make art not just for themselves… but for all of US.”

The five 2015 winners, with the Alpert panel’s explanations for granting the awards,  are:

DANCE:
Maria Hassabi, for changing the nature of spectatorship, for challenging conventional ideas about performance, for stripping away busyness and the ornamentation of dancing to allow for rare contemplative experience.

FILM/VIDEO:
Sharon Lockhart, for her films which combine structural rigor, formal exactitude, exquisite beauty, intimate attention, commitment to a cinema of duration, and a sympathetic ethnographic eye in a post–minimalist aesthetic entirely her own.

MUSIC:
Julia Wolfe, for her fresh, uncompromising artistry, her vibrant, direct, and emotionally powerful works generous and bold in spirit and her engagement with socially conscious issues, a tradition that is passionately and unapologetically American to the core.

THEATRE:
Taylor Mac, for his fierce, disarming, beautiful, transgressive, emotionally vulnerable work; for social critique disguised as glitter, ambitious scope, and for effervescently rearranging audiences perceptions while creating a great time.

VISUAL ARTS:
Tania Bruguera, for the complexity, longevity, and urgency of her work, for her strong formal clarity and ongoing contribution to international conversations on freedom of speech and illegal immigration. The panel honors her for her commitment to resisting market pressures in order to seek an ethics of what art can do, and recognize the innovative ways she has reinvented the language of activism within contemporary culture.

* * * * ** * *

Herb Alpert photo by Faith Frenz.  Group photo by Steve Gunther.


Live Chamber Music: Christopheren Nomura at Southern Oregon University

April 27, 2015

By Don Heckman

Ashland, Oregon. Chamber Music Concerts topped off their 2014-2015 season Friday night with a rare and memorable treat. It wasn’t a climactic closing event filled with choral high notes and trumpet fanfares. In fact, there were only two performers on stage at SOU’s Music Recital Hall: baritone Christopheren Nomura and pianist Daniel Lockert.

And that’s all that was needed. Nomura’s program was a fairly typical set of music for a vocal recital: Schubert’s The Wanderer’s Night, Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Ravel’s Don Quichotte a Dulcinee and songs from 20th century composers Richard Hundley and William Bolcom.

Nomura sang each exquisitely, accompanied with complete understanding by Lockert. Blessed with a magnificent voice, which he used with intimate musical understanding, he reached into the unique qualities of each song, from the lyricism of Schubert, the darkness of the Mahler and the colorful musical palette of Ravel to the two contemporary songs.

Christopheren Nomura

But Nomura had much more to offer, as well. He introduced each work with a narrative that was informative, communicative and often whimsical. A veteran of the opera stage, he expressed himself in music and dialogue with an engaging, even entertaining, quality that perfectly underscored and supported his interpretations.

The result was a performance calling up the best pleasures of chamber music at its finest, an ideal closing for the Chamber Music Concerts 2014-2015 season. And, as Nomura concluded with a delightful Gershwin encore, the final response from this listener (and perhaps many others) was the hopeful wish that Nomura would return for the 2015-2016 season as well.

( If, that is, he can find an open spot in the Broadway show he’s scheduled to do in the fall season. If not, we’ll have another good reason to spend some time in the city that never sleeps.)


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