A Homage to Chiquinha Gonzaga: A New CD by Brazilian pianist, Hercules Gomes

I’ve spent the last several years intrigued by the life and music of Brazilian composer, Francisca “Chiquinha” Gonzaga. She was born in the mid-19th century and was a pianist and conductor as well. I’ve written about her (on this blog even), sung her songs and presented about her life and music. Today, I heard for the first time about Hercules Gomes, a pianist from São Paulo, who is raising funds to create a new recording of pieces in homage to Chiquinha Gonzaga. It is called “No Tempo da Chiquinha.” He’s arranged some of her pieces, adding some of his own style and modernizing her original scores with influences over the last century.  This is his arrangement of one of Chiquinha’s most famous works, Corta jaca:

This is one of my favorites. It is bouncy and danceable. Hercules says that this was his first arrangement of one of Chiquinha’s works, in 2014, for the site: www.chiquinhagonzaga.com.  One can contribute to the funding of this recording by going to the secure crowdfunding site: https://www.catarse.me/notempodachiquinha, and also receive different gifts for a contribution.

Another video that Hercules has put out is of Joaquim Callado’s Querida por todos. Callado was a flutist and instructor, and a mentor to Chiquinha. He is considered the “father of choro.” Although, this piece was not written by Chiquinha, it was written in homage to her, and fits right in with theme of the recording. Playing flute is Rodrigo Y Castro.

Rodrigo and Hercules, who often play together, discuss what Callado meant for flute playing in Brasil. For more information about Hercules, check his website:  http://herculesgomes.com/en/bio/  and his youtube channel for videos: Hercules Gomes

 

 

 

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Tango Fire: Then and Now

The piano, violin, bandoneon and bass players are the backdrop for this dark, sultry tango café ambiance. I imagine myself in early twentieth century Buenos Aires, in a dive in a back alley at about midnight. Men finely dressed in suits and ladies in black and white period dress and hairstyles recreate the lively interaction on Wednesday January 31, 2018 at the Merriam Theater (Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts) in Philadelphia, PA, in the United States. A packed theater, full of dance, music or Latin American fans, were taken away to that back street in Buenos Aires for two hours in German Cornejo’s Tango Fire. 

The initial dance that opened Tango Fire is a throwback to the past. The couples dance the same steps in sync and the tango singer, Jesús Hidalgo, sings in Spanish with a handheld microphone. Various vignettes take place in the first half of the show, including a serenade with a guitar to a lady on the bench.

Although this half is meant to depict the early origins of Argentine tango–with music by the great masters, Piazzolla, Pugliese and Gardel, it is plainly evident that these dancers on stage are much more skilled and virtuostic than the European immigrants and Argentine locals who danced the tango socially over a century ago. The dancers display lots of clean and fancy footwork, characteristic of tango, but also some low lifts and jumps, pirouettes, leg extensions and high kicks and backbends, which attest to the ballet and acrobatic training of these formidable dancers. The company includes: German Cornejo (choreographer), Gisela Galeassi, Sebastian Alvarez & Gloria Saudelli, Marcos Esteban Roberts & Louise Junqueira Malucelli, Ezequiel Lopez & Camila Alegre, and Julio Jose Seffino & Carla Dominguez.

The second half of Tango Fire goes beyond tango’s humble origins and showcases some dances and movements that effectively and excitingly  push the boundaries of the genre, without losing touch with it. This is no small feat for the choreographer, German Cornejo, since tango has been so codified in the ballroom, dance school and even in the social tango context. The music performed by Quarteto Fuego (Clemente Carrascal–bandoneon, Gemma Scalia–violin, Matias Feigin–piano and Facundo Benavides–contrabass)  in the second half is more experimental and contemporary with some dissonance, but still accessible. In this act, the women dancers let their hair down (literally!) and the choreography is more varied. The interactions between the dancers seem more personal, more intense and smoldering. There are many lifts, spins, and level changes—from poses kneeling on the floor, to throwing a dancer in the air. There are also group dances that connect women and men, men and men and women and women, in ways that go beyond the traditional male/female partners in social or ballroom tango.

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Jose and Carla

The costumes throughout the show are spectacular. They are beautiful to look at, colorful, with sparkles and different styles and periods.  In addition, they are appropriately comfortable for strenuous dance movements. In the second half there is more individuality for each couple’s choreography and costumes and each one makes its mark. German and his partner Gisela, exhibited complete concentration and synchroneity in their numbers and a distinct sharp or percussive gesture at times, which created contrast with tango’s typically smooth body phrasing–this enriched the overall effect of their choreography and execution.

Here is a video of German and Gisela from a few years ago:

The Quarteto Nuevo played with gusto for the entire performance. The only break was intermission. The pianist, Matias Feigin, performed a solo that was robustly applauded by the audience in the second act. The ensemble transitioned seamlessly from 20th century tango to more contemporary pieces, with a jazz influence. The concert ended with an encore by each couple after a rousing standing ovation. The Tango Fire company continues this tour around the United States, and it is a must see for ballroom dance and tango aficionados.

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For more information and the schedule for upcoming concerts, please visit their website at: Tango Fire or the Facebook page. Next stop is Queens, NY this weekend!

German Cornejo: Emergence of a Modern Tango Choreographer

I had the pleasure of speaking with choreographer and tango dancer, German Cornejo in a phone interview, conducted in Spanish, on January 29, 2018. He and his company TANGO FIRE, are performing around the United States. 

German Cornejo knew that he wanted to dance early on. At home in Argentina, in the province of Buenos Aires, German was surrounded by music and dance. Folkloric dances such as the la chacarera, el gato, la zamba y el malabo, were part of his childhood.  At 8 years old he began to study these folkloric dances, and soon after would learn the tango. His grandparents and other adults in the family would tango at parties and other family gatherings, and when German’s mom saw him imitating his grandparents while listening to tango at home, she asked him if he would like to really learn it. Once he began to study tango at age 10, he loved it and decided dance would be his life.

In our conversation, German spoke of tango dancers and teachers who influenced him, such as Roberto Herrera and Nelida Rodriguez, but also of international pop stars like Prince, Michael Jackson, the Beatles, and Madonna. He listens to many different types of music and the unique lives and styles of these international artists serve as models of how to break out of one’s genre, take risks and blaze a new trail.

In addition to tango and folkloric Argentine dance, German has also trained in ballet and jazz, which enrich and add more depth and breadth to his dancing and choreography.

Tango Fire, headed by German, is both the name of the tango company from Buenos Aires, and their show currently on tour in the United States.  On January 29, 2018, they performed in Virginia Beach, and on January 31, they will present Tango Fire in Philadelphia at the Merriam Theater, part of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. German explained that this particular show features historical tango and more avant garde tango. Some of the company’s other shows include tango electronico, tango breakdance, Hollywood music and tango, as well as Piazzolla. In this way, German has stretched the boundaries of traditional tango to include other types of music and dance forms.

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German Cornejo and Gisela Galeassi. Photo by Oliver Neubert

The Tango Fire company is comprised of German, his dance partner, Gisela Galeassi, Sebastian Alvarez, Victoria Saudelli, Marcos Esteban Roberts, Louise Junqueira Malucelli, Ezekiel Lopez, Camila Alegre, Julio Jose Seffino, and Carla Dominguez. They are accompanied by musicians of Quarteto Fuego, and the tango singer, Jesus Hidalgo. They have traveled and performed tango all over the world.

The company will rehearse for 8-9 hours per day depending on the show. German says that his choreographic process varies with the piece, and that usually it will take about a month to create a new work and polish it. Sometimes German will pick the music first, and has in his mind what the steps and movements will be.  In other instances he will involve the dancers earlier on in the process and have them improvise to music.

My last question was about milongas. Do they still go to these informal social dances and do tango? He jovially replied, “Yes, but when we have down time and aren’t intensely preparing for a show. When we are rehearsing tango 8-9 hours per day, we need a break from it!”

At the end of the interview, German stated that he hopes the people of Philadelphia will come out to the show Tango Fire, because it traces the history of tango, features different styles, showcases a cast of fantastic dancers, and is accompanied by live music by four incredible instrumentalists and a vocalist!

I can’t wait!! Check back at the end of the week for a review of Wednesday’s performance! 

Tango Fire performs on January 31, 2018 at 8:00 pm at the Merriam Theater–250 S. Broad Street in Philadelphia. To purchase tickets to this spectacular show, call the box office at 215-893-1991 or purchase them online.  For more information about Tango Fire’s extensive tour schedule (and to check when they are coming to YOUR city), visit their website.

 

 

Historia en la Avenida de la Constitución

En la ciudad de Granada, en la Avenida de la Constitución, se encuentran diez esculturas de figuras históricas que tienen que ver con la provincia. Inauguraron esta galería de arte al aire libre el  26 de marzo de 2010–con aparencias y presentaciones del alcade del momento (José Torres Hurtado) y algunos descendientes de las figuras comemoradas.

La primera estatua es de un militar de la época de los reyes católicos, Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba. Nació en Córdoba pero peleó en Granada. La escultura es de su cabeza, nada más, y es muy grande. Lo llamaban el “Gran Cápitan.” Dirigió tropas de los reyes católicos en las guerras contra los reinos musulmanes en el siglo 15. Miguel Moreno Romera es el artista. Otras estatuas son de Elena Martín Vivaldi, Federico García Lorca, Manuel Benitez Carrasco, San Juan de la Cruz, Manuel de Fall, Pedro Antonio de Alarcón, María de la Canastera, Eugenia de Montijo y Frascuelo.

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Federico García Lorca. (c) Celeste Mann

Manuel de Falla, gran compositor de música española, que vivió en Granada y se interesó por lo folclórico y F. G. Lorca, el dramaturgo/poeta, son muy famosos e integrados en la historia y cultura de Granada.  Ramiro Megías hizo la escultura de Manuel de Falla, y Juan Antonio Corredor hizo la de Lorca.

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Manuel de Falla (c) Celeste Mann

Pedro Antonio Alarcón era un escritor de origen humilde. Su escultura lo muestra sentando en un banco leyendo un libro. El nació en Guadix en 1833 y murió en 1891. Escribió “El sombrero de tres picos” –también es un ballet del maestro de Falla. La acción toma lugar en Andalucía. Su estatua fue hecha por Manuel Barranco.

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Pedro Antonio Alarcón. Photo by Celeste Mann

Pero también hay mujeres representadas en este desfile de grandes. Por ejemplo, Maria de la Canastera nación en Granada el 27 de febrero de 1913 y era bailarina de zambras, y gitana. Su estatua la tiene en una pose de flamenco con tres sillas. Lleva un traje tradicional de flamenco con una flor en el cabello. Su cueva es aun muy famosa y visitada para el baile.

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María de la Canastera. Photo by Celeste Mann

¡Visite esta calle bonita de Granada para conocer la historia y disfrutar de esa maravillosa arte!

Lorca Crosses Over in Philadelphia: Wilma Theater’s Blood Wedding

Federico García Lorca is Spain’s most popular playwright/poet of the 20th century. Unfortunately, his life was cut short by events leading up to the Spanish Civil War, but his poetry and plays live on in the hearts and minds of the people. Blood Wedding or in Spanish, Bodas de sangre, is part of a trilogy of plays that includes the phenomenally well known La casa de Bernarda Alba  (The House of Bernarda Alba), and the less often produced, Yerma.  Almost everbody in Spain and most of Latin America is familiar with these plays. In addition, the Repertorio Español in New York, has had La casa de Bernarda Alba in repertory for decades, and in Philadelphia, a captivating bilingual version was recently staged in the 2016 Fringe Festival.  Wilma Theater’s new production of Blood Wedding in Philadelphia is further proof that there are no national borders that limit the appreciation of Lorca’s art.

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– Jered McLenigan, Campbell O’Hare and the Company of The Wilma Theater’s 2017 production of Blood Wedding. Photo by Bill Hebert

In my opinion, Lorca’s plays in English tend to be less successful than those done in Spanish or bilingually, even though they are more accessible to an American audience, many who have never heard of Lorca and don’t speak Spanish either. There is a poetry, a cadence, a rhythm and passion to the words that is sometimes lost in translation. Also, when producing his plays in English, there may be an attempt to “make it Spanish” with realistic set, period costumes and even Spanish music, but that can seem superficial alongside English words and inauthentic gestures/body language.

Wilma Theater employs an original English translation by Nahuel Telleria, and takes a novel approach to Blood Wedding. It avoids the previous mentioned pitfalls, by stripping Blood Wedding down to its pure emotion and action.The plot revolves around a young woman who is going to marry a man that she does not love. She has been involved with another man who comes from a family that is notorious for violence, and there is an ongoing feud between her fiance’s family and the old lover’s family because of previous murders. Hungarian director and choreographer, Csaba Horváth, builds a world onstage that is full of movement, intensity and sound. This production has a sparse set and dramatic lighting, both designed by Thom Weaver.  Sound design is by Larry D. Fowler, Jr. and Oana Botez fashioned simple costumes that are appropriate for the physical movement required. Blood Wedding  incorporates live (non-Spanish) music composed by Csaba Okros, and sung and played by the actors themselves.

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 Lindsay Smiling, Campbell O’Hare, and Matteo Scammell in The Wilma Theater’s 2017 production of Blood Wedding. Photo by Bill Hebert.

Blood Wedding as physical theatre works. The action is riveting and all attention is on the performers since there is no fussy set to distract. The choreography is innovative and utilizes the entire stage and a balcony on a second level. The characters also sing, chant and play instruments. But the music, like the interactions, is earthy and raw. This fits in well with the rural characters’ motivations, frustrations and passions.

The ensemble has been preparing the movement in Blood Wedding for over a year. Most of the cast are members of “Wilma HotHouse” and include: Ross Beschler, Taysha Marie Canales, Sarah Gliko, Justin Jain, Jered McLenigan, Campbell O’Hare, Jaylene Clark Owens, Brett Ashley Robinson, Matteo Scammell, Lindsay Smiling and Ed Swidey. As the Bride, Campbell O’Hare is most expressive in her dancing and physical movement. She is able to convey the desire and insecurity of a young woman marrying a man she doesn’t love while pining for another. Ed Swidey, as her father, handles Lorca’s words naturally–the part seems written for him. As the groom’s mother, Jaylene Clark Owens’ is a strong, yet wary matriarch.  Lindsay Smiling, as Leonardo (the old flame) in terms of dance/physical technique, is a supportive partner in the pas-de-deux with both his wife, played by Sarah Gliko,

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The Company of The Wilma Theater’s 2017 production of Blood Wedding. Photo by Bill Hebert.

and lover (O’Hare). He communicates his conflicting feelings through the choreography. Sarah Gliko stands out, not only for her acting and movement, but for her singing and playing musical instruments throughout the show.

Wilma Theater is known for its experimental theatre, so it is in its tradition to do something “different” with one of Lorca’s masterpieces. This Blood Wedding is an experience that will appeal particularly to those who appreciate experimental approaches, dance and physical theatre. If you are looking for flamenco, Spanish costumes, an elaborate set, and want to revel in the sound of Lorca’s verse, look elsewhere. Movement and pure emotion take center stage in this production.

Please note that the running time of Blood Wedding is an hour and fifty minutes, with NO intermission.

Granada Symphony

The morning is loud and busy as children rush into the playground eager to see their friends, high up on the hill in the Albaicin, the old moorish neighborhood. An owl´s hooting keeps a constant pulse amidst the children´s exuberant laughter and high pitched chatter. An occasional patter of feet running and the sweet whistle of another bird provide some counterpoint.  Dropping off children, moms and other passerbys speak in low hushed tones, as they begin their day.

After the siesta, later in the day, I walk around the Albaicin, on the way to the Corte Inglés department store, located in the more modern part of Granada. Gingerly descending the ¨Cuesta de María de la miel¨(Honey Mary) I hear the sounds of a guitar in the distance. There are many ¨cuestas¨, steep hill paths in the Albaicin. At the next landing I encountered a man playing the guitar. I think the piece was Spanish Romance. I dropped a one euro coin in his cup and listened discretely from across the street as he plucked expertly.

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I kept walking down the hill finally reaching the Gran Via. Now there would be easy walking, no more cuestas! While on Calle de la Virgen, behind the Corte Ingles, I caught the Pachabel Canon by a string quartet: 2 violins, a guitar and a cello:

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The short street has a pedestrian walkway between two roads for cars. Each end opens up to a plaza with its own fountain. With gushing water bookending this tree lined avenue at sunset, listening to the music, the effect was just simply sublime. Little children strolling by with their mothers spontaneously broke into dance–whether making ´flores´ with their hands flamenco style, or swinging each other around by the arms. The look of delight on their faces as they approached the group and heard the music was unmistakenly touching and heartwarming.

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On the way out after shopping, the group was still there playing something else, surrounded by a small crowd. I rushed past this time as I had decided to walk up to the Mirador San Nicolás and it was getting dark. I figured I could save a couple of euro, burn some calories and save some time by walking back, instead of waiting for the little red bus at Plaza Nueva, which was bound to be crowded at the end of the workday–no seats available!

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Starting my ascent at the base of the Albaicín, I passed by store after store. Unfortunately,  I was moving slowly since I was behind a couple carrying some type of fence up the hill. This was an amazing feat in itself considering the path was about 5 feet wide and teeming with people. The tiny stores overflowed with Moroccan items: lamps, prayer rugs, slippers and scarves, teas and other souvenirs. Teterías (tea houses) awaited tourists who were brave enough to taste strange food with their hands and smoke a hookah. The new stands, or sits, of women in traditional dress offering henna tatoos clogged the path too. They had replaced the ubiquitous male vendors who would sell a sign or card with your name written in Arabic.

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Beyond this marketplace, a trio sat on the steps on a plaza and played some upbeat folk music. They had their CDs out for sale too. There was quite a large crowd listening and offering support. And 20 metres up the hill another guitarist sat on a  ledge tuning…

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Darkness set in as I trudged up La cuesta de María de la miel, my breaths heavy yet rhythmic. I had left my bedroom window open–perfect to hear the soothing flow of water from the fountain in the patio next door.

“Azul”, a new play by Tanaquil Márquez: Getting Under Picasso’s Skin!

Two women, Inez Korff and Liliana Ruiz, in traditional black dresses dance the fiery flamenco. No music is even necessary because their feet beat the rhythm in a precise yet complex zapateo. Later, the guitar and drums, played by Blane and Donna Bostock, join in—their soulful and passionate sounds make a grand match with the dance, to bring out the duende, first theorized by Federico Garcia Lorca, Andalucía’s native son. The flamenco comes from Spain, specifically Andalucía, from the “Roma” people, los gitanos, or more universally known as “the gypsies.” In her new play, Azul, Tanaquil Márquez weaves flamenco dance, movement, Spanish music and multilingual spoken dialogue into a collage of Pablo Picasso’s life before he became famous. Azul, presented by La Fábrica at The Drake Theatre in Philadelphia, is also directed by Márquez, and the score is composed by Blane Bostock.

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Márquez dives into the reason or motivation for Picasso’s “Blue Period,” hence the title, which means blue in Spanish. Azul is a play packed with the love affairs, friendships, and eccentricities of Picasso’s early life. His painting “La Vie” (the life), is the point of departure and also the cohesive element connecting the music, dance and the scenes. Two of the characters, Carles, Picasso’s best friend, and Germaine, a woman they were both involved with and who both tried to kill, are seen as subjects of the painting La Vie” in Azul. Picasso’s blue period is characterized by an emotional despondency, triggered by the death of his best friend. In this phase of his life, his art was seen at the time by collectors as “depressing” and not “sellable” due to the subjects and the limited palette.

Azul is an ambitious and epic work, more than two hours long. It requires much attention from the viewer, since the characters speak Spanish, French and English. There is a poem recited in Catalan by Carles too. Picasso at least translates it into Spanish in the scene.Márquez (in her writing) and the cast handle the languages expertly—they flow naturally and effortlessly. As a fluent speaker of Spanish and English, and a former student of French, following the language shifts was not a problem for me, but I imagine for monolingual English speakers, especially those without much knowledge of Picasso’s life or work, it could be challenging. In that case, Azul would offer a completely different experience.

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Nevertheless there is enough going on with the music, dance and movement to captivate even the monolingual audience member. Particularly strong are the scenes in the second act which incorporate dance, choreographed by Liliana Ruiz: when Picasso visits the woman’s prison and the bullfight/dance with Germaine. Both captured the respective moods and communicated the message without words.

Márquez also directs the extremely talented ensemble of performers. As Picasso, Zach Aguilar, is a very likeable protagonist, perhaps much more than Picasso himself and he delivers well in both Spanish and English. He has a commanding stage presence that reflects the charisma that Picasso probably had in real life. Paloma Irizarry as Odette, was a sweet and sympathetic lover, and she also displayed versatility as the other “positive” women in Pablo’s life, Nina, Conchita and Fernande.   I was impressed by her natural quality in both French and Spanish.

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As Germaine, Sol Madariaga was cruel and brazen. Madariaga excels as the villian, displaying a calm unfeeling exterior at times, and then bursting into a rage. She was the one who rejected Carles, and later engages in a dysfunctional and obsessive relationship with Picasso. Germaine was appropriately over the top, aggressive and irritating. She was the perfect contrast to Odette, and she was the menace loved and hated by Carles and Picasso. Germaine is depicted as a negative influence on both men, yet she appears as a subject of “La Vie.” As Carles Casagemas and Max Jacob, friends of Picasso, Cameron Del Grosso, shows tremendous acting range. Carles comes across as a fragile yet romantic and sincere artist, while Max is confident and much more in control. Inez Korff, Yajaira Paredes, Veronica Ponce de Leon Placencia and Liliana Ruiz round out the cast and deserve extra praise for dancing and playing both male and female characters convincingly. Dramatic and effective lighting was designed by Alyssandra Dochtery and costumes by David Reese Hutchison.

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Azul is definitely a “must-see” for artists and lovers of Picasso’s art, if only to commiserate in the representation of his struggles. It provides background information about his life and his creative inspiration. It shows onstage the dilemma of “how do I sell my art and still be true to my own self/voice” that all artists face at one point or another. Flamenco aficionados will enjoy the dancing, and Spanish speakers will appreciate the opportunity to attend theatre in the language in Philadelphia.

Hopefully we will be seeing more of La Fábrica and of works by up and coming playwright, Tanaquil Marquéz. Azul plays through Sunday August 29 at the Drake Theatre in Philadelphia. For tickets: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/azul-tickets-35309378301

For more information about La Fábrica: https://www.facebook.com/LaFabricaTheater

To read a review about Azul in DCMetro Theater Arts: DC Metro Theater Arts