New Latino Art at PAFA!

At first glance this looks like a friendly happy painting. It is large and depicts a picnic in the park. A family sits at a table conversing, waiting for the food to be ready. Closer to the viewer, in the bottom right corner, we see workers cutting up produce. Behind them three men slaughter an animal. The title of the painting is “Slaughter.”

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The violence in Mexico is a topic that comes up regularly in discussions with Mexican nationals. This is a concern for those who live in the U.S.A. with family in Mexico as well as those actually living in Mexico, and visitors to Mexico. I spoke to the artist who created “Slaughter”, Juan Pablo Ruiz, at PAFA (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts) on May 13, 2016. He said that violence was a major theme in his artwork. This painting combines three locales that are important to Ruiz, Mexico, Chicago and Philadelphia. We can see the Chicago skyline in the distance, Fairmount Park in Philadelphia and the Mexican landscape on the right of the painting. Ruiz was born in Mexico, grew up in Chicago and attended PAFA in Philadelphia. “Slaughter” won a Fellowship Juried Prize.

On the 2nd floor of the exhibition, Mr. Ruiz has three paintings that he said were meant to be shown together. They are called “ Prometeo, Falla and First Eighth.” The theme of violence is present again, he said. It begins in the Classical age and is traced to present day Guadalajara. Mr. Ruiz’ painting technique is astounding, in my opinion. Some of the work in the exhibition is more contemporary and abstract, but Ruiz excels in and owns his realism. His paintings are thought provoking as well as aesthetically beautiful. For more information about him and his artwork, please see his website: http://www.jpabloruiz.com/

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The 115th Annual Student Exhibition is currently open at PAFA (Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts) in Philadelphia. PAFA was founded in 1805 by artist/scientist Charles Wilson Peale, who painted portraits of the founding fathers. The 115th Student exhibition is from May 13-June 5, 2016. The entire modern museum building (Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building) is full of student artwork, including prize winners from the concluding academic year, and graduating undergraduates and masters students.

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Another young artist who I spoke to on Friday evening, was Diego Rodriguez Carrion. He is still in school at PAFA, but had won prizes for three artworks in the exhibition. I was attracted to his woodcuts/wood engravings, because this is a rare art form practiced in the United States. Woodcuts have a long tradition in Latin America, especially in Brazil, but also Spanish speaking cultures. Mr. Rodriguez-Carrion is from Puerto Rico and his woodcuts depict scenes, people and places that he recalls from his upbringing and native island.  He also draws and paints. Check out his website to see: http://www.diegohiromi.com/

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Overall, there is something for everyone at PAFA’s Student exhibition, and many of the works are for sale! It is particularly encouraging and exciting to see the pieces by emerging artists Diego Rodriguez Carrion and Juan Pablo Ruiz. “Slaughter” follows in the footsteps of Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, Orozco and Siquieros, depicting Mexican realities. Meanwhile, Rodriguez Carrion’s woodcuts remind us of a beloved medium that is familiar and popular, grounded in folk art and culture, but at the same time worthy of fine art distinction.

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VISIT PAFA’s website: www.pafa.org

Drapetomania: Grupo Antillano and the Art of Afro-Cuba

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La Habana Vieja, by gildemax, wikipedia commons

The African American Museum in Philadelphia hosted the exhibition “Drapetomania” in February and March of 2016, on two floors, in its Galleries No. 3 and 4. The museum’s vertical space and multiple floors, lends itself to smaller and less traditional exhibitions.

Grupo Antillano’s mission was to highlight Afro-Cuban influences in the participating artists’ work. There are works by more or less twenty Cuban artists featured in the exhibition, although not all of them were active members of Grupo Antillano. However, their works are in the spirit of the group since they focus on Afro-Cuban culture and images. The most well known artist included is Manuel Mendive, whose work is internationally famous.

There are different types of media represented, such as sculpture, video, oil/acrylic on canvas, and mixed media. The most striking piece, in my opinion, is Resurrección , by Rafael Quenedit Morales, the founder of Grupo Antillano. It is a sculpture, and one of the first pieces one sees on entering Gallery 3. At first it appears to be a very typical  sculpture of the Latin American colonial period: an angel in front of a wood cross. However, on further examination one notices that this angel has a bi-colored face–white and red, and that its wings are red, white and blue. In addition, it carries a scepter that appears to be topped with a symbol from an Afro-Cuban religion.

Adelaida Herrera Valdés uses old shutters in her piece, Vecinos. Discolored receipts and letters are stuck in the slats.  http://www.queloides-exhibit.com/grupo-antillano/grupo-antillano_artistas_adelaida.html There is a connection with the neighbor, but at the same time these worn down shutters may remind the viewer of the weariness and difficulty of life in Cuba.

Some of the artists, such as Leandro Soto and Juan Roberto Diago, reference Afro-Cuban religion in their titles: Los juguetes de Elegguá and Yo soy monte. In Los juguetes de Elegguá (2012), Leandro Soto (b. 1956 Cienfuegos), uses 2 large canvasses in red and black. There are many items recognizable in this compendium of toys for Elegguá, one of the orishas, or divinities in regla de ocha, an Afro-Cuban religion. These toys in the painting include: elephants, bells, clovers, keys, cups, boats, machetes, candles, cars, hearts, chalice, shells, spades, buildings, clubs, paths and roads. Elegguá is considered a messenger and has many roads. One reason he is important is because he connects the other orishas with humans.

http://www.leandrosoto.com/leandro-soto-artist-bio.html

In Yo soy monte, Juan Roberto Diago evokes the idea of el monte.  Although the English translation in the museum is “I am mountain”, el monte in Afro-Cuban culture has referred to wilderness or the clearing in the forest, specifically the place where religious rites can occur, or historically, a refuge. For more about Mr. Diago, visit http://havana-cultura.com/en/visual-arts/juan-roberto-diago

Perhaps the most politically charged piece in the exhibition is La suerte del mayoral (The Overseer’s Luck) by Santiago Rodriguez Olazabal (2012). This painting has only three colors, white, black and red. A man is tied to a tree, rendered in black charcoal, and red paint splurts from his chest. View the painting on this site:  http://www.afrocubaweb.com/grupo-antillano/pages/N.%20Olazabal-%20La%20suerte%20del%20mayoral.html

The African American Museum in Philadelphia is to be commended for bringing this exhibition to Philadelphia. There are very few opportunities to see so much Cuban art at once in the United States. In light of the recent attempts to reestablish trade and travel with Cuba, hopefully this will not be the last exhibition of Cuban art in the area, and is a sign of more interaction between the U.S. and Cuban artistic communities.

The African Museum in Philadelphia is located in Old City, and open from Thursday through Sunday. http://www.aampmuseum.org/

 

 

 

 

 

Concert for piano, guitar and voice for Musica de Camara of NYC (Anna Tonna)

What follows is a blog post that appeared on Spanish Song Slinger by Anna Tonna:

The tireless Eva de la O, soprano, producer, arts promoter and artistic director of Musica de Camara of NYC has been a supporter of my activities for many years now.  She first programmed me in a s…

Source: Concert for piano, guitar and voice for Musica de Camara of NYC

Ballet Hispanico At the Annenberg in Philadelphia

Ballet Hispanico, a professional dance company from New York City, presented three pieces in their dance concert at the Annenberg Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia on February 5, 2016. Very different in theme, each dance contained hispanic inspired music (Bury Me Standing uses traditional gypsy melodies, which are recognizable today by many in Spanish flamenco)  and also showcased the versatility, artistry and innovation of the company: Sombrerísimo, (choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa in 2013), Bury Me Standing (1998 by Ramón Oller) and Flabbergast (2001 by Gustavo Ramírez Sansano).

The first dance, Sombrerísimo, featured male dancers with hats, hence the name, which translated from Spanish, would be something like “extremely hats.” According to the program it was based on the artistic works by Belgian René Magritte, which were of men wearing bowler hats. The style was mostly “modern” with a little bit of latin (as opposed to classical ballet), in which the feet and the rest of the body are able to take on movements outside the ballet vocabulary. The hats were tossed around and became characters as well.

The longest and most serious piece of the evening was Bury Me Standing.  I love the title. It comes from a Romani proverb, referenced in the book by Isabel Fonseca: “Bury me standing, I’ve been on my knees all my life.” This refers to the oppression that the Roma (aka the gypsies or gitanos) have experienced for centuries. Ms. Fonseca’s book, Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey, was published in 1995, based on her own observations drawn from four years of living with the Roma. The choreographer is from Spain, and Spain has a huge Roma, or gitano population in Andalusia. Having spent part of last summer in Granada, I visited Sacromonte (the Roma part of town) and flamenco was all over Granada so  their culture was still fresh in my mind.

Bury Me Standing is a tribute to the Romani, but never replicates the footwork or the intricate handiwork of the flamenco, although there are glimpses of it. The choreographer goes beyond what we usually see as gitano or flamenco dance to invoke a mood and tell the story. Only the men do the hand movements at one point. Everyone is barefoot in the dance so even in a lined up formation, no noise could be made or heard from the stylized footwork that recalls zapateo. The style is contemporary or modern dance, with some flamenco/gypsy inspired movements. The choreographer makes excellent use of the stage–there is no part of it that is not used at some point in the piece. Levels are also varied, with some steps taking place with the dances on the floor, on their knees, or jumping. There is a table too, and two women relate on the table. All of this results in a very multidimensional and multilayered performance.

Through the intense choreography and imaginative staging, they communicated the somewhat foreign context of the Roma. The emphasis on the collective, the group consciousness and unity was evident, as well as a charismatic male leader, who had a few solos. We see some of the conflict that occurs in this group, as the women walk on their knees, gossip and cross themselves repeatedly. Some men also walk on their knees, but the group of women doing it is singled out and very striking. The Roma are more traditional and patriarchal than mainstream Spanish culture today, and this was well depicted through the dance. At the same time, the crawling and walking on the knees, refers back to the Roma proverb, and is a reference to the oppression that the Roma have experienced for so long, no matter what country they live in. The dance ends with all of them running in place, which could have various interpretations–perhaps a more positive one is that they are standing up and empowered. Bury Me Standing is a  moving tribute to the Roma, these “nomadic” people who have spread throughout Europe and even to the United States.

The last dance, Flabbergast, was light and funny, and a good ending to the evening. They broke the fourth wall, sung while they danced: “voy a bailar, ” and talked to each other. In this dance, which the program says ” exposes with humor our stereotypes and preconceived ideas about new and foreign places… telling the story of a newcomer coming to a place for the first time”. somebody is always doing their own thing on stage! Ballet Hispanico ended the concert with a pose and a smile–after a varied and polished program that entertained and encouraged the audience to think, laugh and feel.

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Ballet Hispanico was founded in 1970 by Tina Ramírez. The company specializes in Spanish and Latin American inspired dance. In addition to their professional touring company, they also maintain a thriving school to train young and aspiring dancers in Spanish dance, Classical Ballet and Contemporary Dance. The current Artistic Director is Eduardo Vilaro.

 

 

ESCUELA: Too much lecturing, not enough drama

At the end of the play, the guerrillas stood in a circle, each one with pistol in hand. It was New Year’s Eve, or at least that was their cover. Real shots rang out from the guns announcing the new year and the end of the lessons, and the performance. Unfortunately, for some in the audience, that was a relief…

ESCUELA, (SCHOOL), a play by Chilean playwright Guillermo Calderón,  produced by FRINGE ARTS in Philadelphia, offers the audience lessons in how to fight back against an unjust government.  At the same time it is a tribute to Chileans who suffered through the Pinochet dictatorship–those who endured it, those who fought it as well as to those who were tortured and murdered. According to the playbill, it is supposed to take place in 1988 when the dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, put forth a referendum to govern for 8 more years. Some Chileans were excited to vote on it but others saw through this ploy–Pinochet remained as commander in chief of the army until 1998, even though the dictatorship officially ended on March 11, 1990.

The structure of the performance oscillates between different lessons about what one needs to understand about the regime, guerrilla consciousness, and shooting practice. At first this set-up seems promising, but in the end there was no dramatic arc to the play–it was essentially didactic and static, and after an hour, it became somewhat tedious since the audience knew what to expect.

Nevertheless, on Saturday January 30,  the cast and director (Guillermo Calderón) deserve accolades for the seamless and well rehearsed production. The delivery of the lines was exceptional and crisp. There were English subtitles for the non-Spanish speakers and they did have to stop for a few minutes to fix it due to a glitch, but otherwise it worked well. The acting was natural within the context of the dramatic structure, of a training cell.

The set was simple, composed of a table, some chairs and a chalkboard. The subtitles were projected above the chalkboard, and images related to the lessons and the revolutionary cause were projected onto it. The play opened with protest songs. The singing was well done. I didn’t know anything about the play, other than that it was about Chile  and guerrilla tactics, and with mistaken delight I thought that it was going to be a musical when they started singing.

In addition to how to fire a weapon, other topics covered in  ESCUELA, included: “What is Exploitation;” the military, conspiracy, change of the government, psychological warfare and handling bombs. The characters all wore scarves to cover their faces. This makes sense, because it is quite likely that they would do that in real life if they were guerrillas in training. However, this tactic does not help to endear characters to the audience or establish some kind of connection with their struggle. We don’t know anything about these people until near the end, when we find out that one had fought in Libya and another was dressed up in a sequined outfit and heels because she was told the “cover” was a New Year’s Eve party. There is also a photo from 1987 projected onto the screen that references the playwright–and it is explained what those 4 revolutionaries, including Guillermo Calderón, went on to do in their lives later.

Although I understood the device used, of recreating the “school” or lessons that the guerrillas would have been taught in training, and I thought it creative, it did not go far enough to engage the audience. I am not an expert at all in Chile or Chilean politics, but I am a Latin Americanist, familiar with the continent.  I believe that a non-Spanish speaker, who came off the street to see this play, would understand very little (even with the subtitles). There is too much history and backstory. ESCUELA is very specific and requires a good deal of knowledge about Chile to appreciate it.  The history and politics are accentuated, yet it comes off as impersonal.  It uses the “school/la escuela” format, but this does not encourage us to identify with the struggle or support the characters’ motivations.  We do not see their faces, we do not know their individual stories. We do not know what is in their hearts. We can only guess by their clothing and voices who they might be.  This is enough to keep the audience paying attention for about an hour, and then it becomes routine.  Was the playwright attempting to say that all these guerrillas or protestors were essentially the same? That it didn’t matter who they were, that they didn’t matter against the regime?

ESCUELA, superbly performed for what it was, depicts and explains a guerrilla training process. Depending on the audience member’s knowledge, the play may feel like a solemn tribute to Chile or an animated how-to-conspire manual. At any rate, FRINGEARTS in Philadelphia should be commended for featuring and supporting theatre from Latin America–we don’t see enough of it!

 

 

SAMBADELFIA! BRAZILIAN SAMBA DANCE CLASSES IN PHILADELPHIA

BRAZILIAN SAMBA DANCE WORKSHOP In Philadelphia February 14th at 11:30 am. Where? at The Performance Garage 1515 Brandywine Street, Philadelphia PA

It’s Carnaval season, so take advantage of this one day samba dance workshop with professional dancer and choreographer Angelica Cassimiro.

*The class starts with a 25-minute warm up that exercises basic isolation of the body, following by stretching and strengthening exercises. After the warm up, Angelica introduces the students to samba no pé (basic samba step) and passo marcado (simple choreographies), typical of the Rio Carnaval. The whole class is accompanied by the sound of upbeat and irresistible Brazilian music. Be ready to sweat!!

*Come with comfortable clothes and be prepared to be barefoot -PRE-PAY RATE -$16 per workshop class Payment accepted via PayPal following the link below: https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=UEQAV9WGQG5TA

DROP IN RATE day of class- $18 per workshop class CASH only day of the event Please email, text or call Angelica with any questions or concerns at: Cassimiroa@gmail.com 973-220-7784

****Classes don’t happen weekly at this time because this young but experienced dance artist is constantly on tour. Be sure to spread the word and experience these classes while you can*****

 

 

 

 

 

¿Música erudita mexicana? Sí, existe.

Cuando se piensa en la música mexicana, se suele recordar a la música popular o folclórica–los mariachis, las rancheras. Sin embargo, México tiene un legado de música de salón o música de arte. La exhibición en el Centro Cultural de Santo Domingo en Oaxaca, México, es una colección de capas de partituras musicales.

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La exhibición comienza con la música de salón, con un piano y la música religiosa y secular característica de la clase alta. La exhibición muestra las partituras, algunos cuadros de temas musicales, instrumentos y escenas de miniaturas relacionadas a la música.

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Los compositores más famosos de la música de arte (y del siglo XX) como Manuel Poncé, Silvestre, Augustín Lara y María Grever tienen partituras suyas en el último salón de la exhibición. También hay algunas partituras de zarzuelas mexicanas, y muchos tangos, polkas, valses y boleros.

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Visitas a esta exhibición en el Museo de las Culturas (Ex-Convento de Santo Domingo en Oaxaca, México) están incluidas en la entrada general al museo. Es de $65 pesos, salvo el domingo, cuando la entrada es gratis para nacionales mexicanos. ¡No pierdan esta exhibición única! Para más información:

http://sic.gob.mx/ficha.php?table=museo&table_id=105

 

 

Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra at the Barnes: Mystical Connections

The Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra is a professional orchestra based in Philadelphia, started by its conductor, Jeri Lynne Johnson, eight years ago in 2007. They presented “Through the Oceans of Time” on December 19, 2015 at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. The orchestra consists of 40 members, and on Saturday evening they were joined by student instrumentalists of the Settlement Music School’s Trowbridge Chamber Orchestra, for this diverse musical program.  The Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra is to be commended for its outreach to the community and its mission to music education. According to the evening’s program booklet:  “The BPCO spends approximately 30 weeks each year presenting programs in Philadelphia public schools and community centers that offer young people the opportunity to engage with classical music.”

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At the beginning of the concert it was announced to the audience that Dr. Barnes used to have a weekly lecture on music and art in the art galleries and that the night’s event was in the spirit of that tradition. For sure one can make connections and notice similarities between composers and visual artists (especially contemporaries), and paintings and musical works. In order to elucidate the connections among the musical works, Maestro Johnson gave a brief explanation before each piece. We, the audience, were also invited to browse and stroll through the galleries during the concert to further experience these linkages. Even though the Barnes has art by some of the most important impressionists and others (such as Cezanne, Renoir, Modigliani, Miró, etc.) very few people took advantage of this. There were maybe 3 or 4 people visible in the galleries during the musical performances but most stayed in their seats to listen up close.

Although I thought it was a seductive and different idea, I also felt that it would reduce the live music to accompaniment while viewing artistic masterpieces. Since I came to hear the music, particularly Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No. 9, for me it would defeat the purpose of attending a live concert–that it would turn the live orchestra into a soundtrack. In that case, I could just bring my IPOD and walk around the galleries and examine the paintings. That was not why I was there–I was there for the music.  Nevertheless, I recognize and applaud the effort to make these connections and add some layers to the viewing (of art) and listening (of music) experience.  These are highly technological times and many people have short attention spans–this multitasking approach to visual art and music might appeal to some!

The highlight of the evening for me was the last piece of the program by Brazilian composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos–Bachianas Brasileiras  No. 9. After playing with aplomb, the Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major, and the very challenging Stravinsky Concerto in E-flat “Dumbarton Oaks”, the orchestra launched into the hauntingly beautiful “Prelude” or vagaroso e místico (slow and mystical) of the Villa-Lobos piece. Villa-lobos gave a name to each movement with an explanation in parenthesis. The Prelude is almost 3 minutes long and then comes the Fugue, or poco apressado (a little hurried) which lasts about 6-7 minutes.  The sound of the orchestra is very lush and (neo) romantic in this selection.

Villa-Lobos uses counterpoint and fugue. These elements are also found in the other pieces in the concert, which are by Mozart, Bach,  Vivaldi and Stravinsky. That is one of their connections across time and space. Specifically Villa-Lobos is identified with Bach in the Bachianas due to these forms. But that is where the resemblance ends. This piece was originally written for voices, but later Villa-Lobos scored it for instruments. The Prelude begins with a chord and a sublime and poignant melody for one part. Throughout the prelude or “slow and mystical” the melancholy is evident. This invokes saudade, which is typical of the Portuguese musical genres, the modinha and the fado, which both influenced Brazilian music. So much of Villa-Lobos’ music is about nature. There are no words in this instrumental version, but the vastness of the Brazilian landscape is felt in the thick, multilayered sound and majestic gestures of the music–very different from the other works on the program.

 

This outstanding piece, expertly played by the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra, was a strong ending to an entertaining concert, but I wished it wasn’t so short!

All in all, the orchestra, the youth ensemble, the soloists and the music director (conductor) distinguished themselves in a unique venue. There is something gracious and inviting about music in the museums. Even if we do not walk around in the gallery looking at artwork while the orchestra plays or the singers sing, the presence of the art and the beautiful surroundings, create a synergy with the music, the musicians and the audience. This is the ethereal connection over oceans of time and space. This is a connection that is a win win for everyone!

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Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia (Photo by Smallbones)

For more information about the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra: http://www.blackpearlco.org/web/home.aspx

For more information about the Barnes Foundation:  https://www.barnesfoundation.org/

A Grand Night for Singing: The Hispanic Society Presents Works by Enrique Granados

It was dark outside. By 5:00 pm in December the sun has set in New York City. Walking out of the subway at 155th Street, I was worried that I would get lost. The map on the wall in the station was of no help since the Hispanic Society wasn’t even listed. The one and only time I had been in this neighborhood was back in the late 1990s, visiting the Hispanic Society to look up zarzuela scores and libretti.

As soon as I reached the corner, my heart leapt as I spotted an image of the Goya’s Duchess of Alba on a sign. To my right, ahead, across the big avenue, I recognized the looming campus.  There is something about the design of this Beaux Arts building, along the Audobon Terrace–the walkway, the iron bars, that is so reminiscent of Europe, so Madrid.

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By Asaavedra32 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I was very excited to attend this concert  of Granados’ music–From Barcelona with Passion: Enrique Granados in New York, on December 10, 2015.  Two friends were singing, Anna Tonna and Gustavo Ahualli, along with soprano Anna Belén Gómez, Anna de la Paz (dancer), Diane Lesser (English horn) and Borja Mariño (piano). The concert had been advertised on Facebook since September, and “everybody” involved in Spanish music was going.

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This was indeed a grand night of music, a unique retrospective of Granados’ pieces. Many of them were performed in their original versions for the first time in New York City at this concert. Aside from the passionate performances, what made this event different and special, was its venue. The exterior of the building is majestic. Inside it houses some of the most cherished Spanish artwork outside of Spain, as well as an archive of literature and music.

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The performance took place in the interior courtyard. “Orchestra” seats were on the ground level and filled up fast. I arrived 20 minutes early and was seated near the back. The guest list was five or more pages of typed names and I wondered where they would put everyone if many of them showed up.  Once the first floor was full, guests were directed to the second floor, the “balcony,” where they had a view of the entire floor below of both performers and audience.

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On both floors we were surrounded by priceless works of art and entranced by the Spanish atmosphere. The art, the architecture, and the music, combined to make this a fascinating and singular event. Even the reception included Spanish wines, a Rioja and a white. Our senses were stimulated and satisfied a la española. Did I mention all this was FREE?

For more details about the concert please visit Anna Tonna’s blog, Spanish Song Slinger: https://spanishsongslinger.wordpress.com/