La Fábrica Presents Venezuelan Play in Philadelphia!

Creator and director, Ibrahim Guerra, has been in residence to mount the Philadelphia version of this compelling experience. Don’t miss it!  image

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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

“Caliban Revisited” – Latin American Art in Philadelphia

Caliban Revisited,” a juried exhibition of contemporary Latin American art just opened on June 7 at Da Vinci Art Alliance in Philadelphia.  15 artists are represented in the show, hailing from 8 different countries: Abel Vázquez, Ada Trillo, Ana Vizcarra Rankin, Brandon Lopez, Carlos A. Gil, Daniel Villarreal, Danny Torres, Jacqueline Unanue, Lina Cedeno, Marilyn Rodriguez, Melva Medina, Paula Meninato, Pedro Zagitt, Pedro Ospina. Henry Bermudez, originally from Venezuela,  judged the artwork, and first, second and third place prizes were awarded. Casa de Duende organized the exhibition, which is  subtitled: Of Castaways, Explorers, Amazons, Cannibals and Monsters. A Mythological Reimagining of Latin America in the 21st Century. 

I attended the opening at the gallery and was excited to see this diverse collection of works. The media include sculpture, watercolor, acrylic, glass, oil on glass, photography, mixed media, as well as works on paper. Most of the artists were at the opening, along with David Acosta of Casa de Duende and Henry Bermudez. Both spoke at bit about the artists and the selection process. Mr. Bermudez stated that since the quality of the art was so high, it was very difficult to select the three winners. The themes that he considered when choosing were 1) that the work was political and referenced Latin American heritage and culture and 2) that it be contemporary.

First place winner Brandon Lopez, entered a glass sculpture:

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Second place winner, Paula Meninato, is originally from Argentina. She entered portraits from “Memorias Persistentes.” This is a series of portraits of disappeared people from the military dictatorship, which began with the 1976 coup d’etat in Argentina. The subject matter is definitely political and historical and the medium, oil on glass, is not  traditional.

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Third place winner Ada Trillo, presented works in gold leaf on wood panel! This one is called “Rebirth.” 2_AdaTrillo_Rebirth copy

My personal favorites included photos by Pedro Zagitt from his “El pagador de promessas” series, and watercolors by Abel Vazquez. Zagitt photographed a reenactment in the street by Mexicans in Norristown at St. Patrick’s Church. “Via Crucis”: 34287382765_da4f2e1c01_z

Abel Vazquez, is an artist working in Mexico and his watercolors are somewhat abstract but reference nature: IMG_8794

Vazquez’ wife, Melva Medina, also exhibited interesting works in graphite and charcoal in Caliban Revisited.

The DVAA art gallery, which is on 704 Catherine Street in the Bella Vista area, is an intimate space and the curators have made the most of it. The descriptions of each piece is written in both Spanish and English. Caliban Revisited can be viewed until June 25, 2017. On June 25th there will be a closing reception with performances from 3-5 pm!

Please visit the DVAA website or the Facebook page for more information, directions and gallery hours.

A música na sala de aula

O público estava de pé. Algumas pessoas estavam dançando e cantando. Todo o mundo irradiava entusiasmo. O grupo de dança terminou seu concerto com um convite para o público: “Levantem-se! Dancem e cantem conosco!”. Eu lembrei de algumas palavras das canções familiares que tinha escutado no Brasil e cantado com eles. A energia do Balé Folclórico da Bahia era contagiosa — como não cantar, como não se mexer? Centenas de estadunidenses se comportavam como se assistissem a um concerto de rock e não a um espetáculo de dança! Mas tudo isso reflete a cultura brasileira.

O Brasil é conhecido por seu soft power. A cultura brasileira chega aqui nos Estados Unidos em forma de dança, de canção, de música, de cinema, de futebol. Com certeza, o Brasil tem muitos destaques nas artes plásticas importantes mundialmente, e no teatro e na literatura também. Sem falar da culinária e das telenovelas. Porém, são as expressões artísticas por meio da música que deslumbram o maior número de estrangeiros. Sendo a música uma “linguagem” universal, pouco importava que 75% (ou mais) das pessoas que assistiram ao concerto não compreendessem o português, e nem tivessem pisado no Brasil. A música as levou para o país na sua imaginação naquele momento.

Acho que são a qualidade e a variedade das músicas brasileiras (e para falar na música portuguesa, também o fado) e a sua singularidade que fazem que seja tão natural, tão orgânico, incluir a música nas aulas de Língua Portuguesa. Mesmo numa aula de iniciantes de Português, pode-se usar uma canção para mostrar pronúncia, ou para cultivar os ouvidos do aluno aos sons do Português. Dá para mostrar um vídeo de dança ou até ensinar movimentos de dança aos alunos que não conseguem falar muito, para uma lição de cultura. Com uma turma mais avançada, obviamente temos um sem fim de oportunidades para introduzir a música na sua aprendizagem. Uma das atividades que gostava muito era comparar a música nos filmes, Orfeu e Orfeu negro, com as da obra de teatro original Orfeu de Conceição de Vinicius de Moraes. Os alunos de Português são apresentados a grandes músicos e poetas brasileiros e, assim, aprendem melhor o vocabulário e mais palavras, analisam filmes, poesias e estrutura das canções. Sobretudo, podem ver como a música, e não somente as palavras faladas, tem a ver com a emoção e a expressão dos personagens nas versões brasileiras do mito grego de Orfeu. Make Some Noise!

Quando eu ensino sobre o Nordeste, sempre mostro vídeos das diferentes danças e suas respectivas músicas: forró, frevo, xaxado, etc. É uma cultura muito diferente do Sul e do Sudeste do país. Quando eles veem o xaxado, em recentes registros do Youtube, e como a representação do cangaço (especialmente Lampião e Maria Bonita) continua viva, eles compreendem e sentem que eram figuras históricas essenciais nessa cultura regional.

Uma das minhas atividades preferidas com música é explicar a literatura de cordel e o repente. Uso a canção “O que é a literatura de cordel” de Francisco Diniz. Essa canção explica a literatura de cordel numa canção estilo forró. Os alunos fazem sua própria literatura de cordel em grupos como projeto final. Durante a preparação, falamos sobre a história do cordel comparando com meios de comunicação modernos. Assistimos a vídeos sobre o cordel e o repente. Também , antes de escrever e recitar seus poemas, os alunos praticam e recitam poesias famosas e simples como repentistas, com pandeiros plásticos. Fazem modificações no tom de voz e na projeção dela com essas obras para sentirem-se mais confortáveis com o ritmo e usarem suas vozes. Assim, o aluno melhora seu conhecimento da cultura, sua capacidade de usar a língua portuguesa ao escutar e fazer a música ele mesmo.

Sou artista, então para mim, as artes são imprescindíveis para entender o Brasil, Portugal ou qualquer cultura. Aliás, as artes em seus muitos gêneros, às vezes, representam e manifestam os pensamentos de um povo e não somente ideias de indivíduos. Também surgem em resposta à turbulência política. Eu sei que muitos colegas gostam de tocar canções de MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira) especialmente Bossa Nova e músicas da Tropicália. Uma canção forte como Cálice, de Chico Buarque, dá arrepios em si por causa de seu arranjo e o significado da letra. Mas explorar a história da apresentação mostra como a censura da ditadura militar que começou em 1964 operava – cortaram o som quando ele e Gilberto Gil iam tocar a canção em Festival Phono 73, em São Paulo. No caso de Portugal, os alunos escutam Grandola, Vila Morena, quando aprendem sobre a Revolução dos Cravos, comemorada no dia 25 de abril.

Emprego a vida e a música da maestrina Francisca “Chiquinha” Gonzaga, para ensinar língua e História brasileira. A compositora nasceu em 1847, quando o Brasil era ainda monarquia e mantinha a escravidão. Morreu em 1935. Ela viveu num período no qual ocorreram importantes movimentos históricos no Brasil, como a Guerra do Paraguai, a abolição da escravatura, a Revolta do Vintém, a queda da monarquia, o início da república, o governo Getúlio Vargas…sem falar de sua própria história pessoal, riquíssima em acontecimentos, como a publicação de suas partituras, obras de teatros e sua intensa vida boêmia. Os alunos leem uma biografia juvenil dela, veem partes da minissérie, participam de um têm um sarau, e fazem outras atividades relacionadas à história e à música dela.

Acho que podemos transmitir uma parte da cultura lusófona a nossos alunos na sala de aula. Com certeza, essa experiência na aula de Português não equivale ficar num país lusófono e experimentar a vida e a cultura diretamente. Porém, às vezes nossos alunos não têm essa oportunidade, ou a aula é seu primeiro encontro com a cultura e a língua. Devemos fazer com que eles apreciem e sintam essa cultura, que ouçam nos ouvidos e no coração a música desses países. Assim, é uma maneira de comunicar — e daí a importância de nosso trabalho.

Talking About Chiquinha Gonzaga…

Next week I travel to Charleston, SC, to give a presentation with songs about the Brazilian maestrina Francisca “Chiquinha” Gonzaga. Chiquinha’s music is timeless–people are still dancing and singing “O Abre Alas”, and musicians around the world play compositions that she wrote in the 19th and early 20th century. Chiquinha is considered the “mother” of Brazilian popular music. Along with Joaquim Callado and others, she mixed African rhythms with European music to create something new. She was a woman before her time–the first woman in Brazil to conduct an orchestra and she wrote over 300 songs and musical pieces. She was an original founder of the SBAT, Sociedade Brasileira de Artistas Teatrais, which sought to support playwrights, lyricists and composers. Chiquinha is also known for her political activism. She was an abolitionist and an in favor of a republic. Celeste Mann 3 29 17 lecture on Chiquinha Gonzaga (1)

“Me acerco y me retiro:” Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Set to Music

I rarely write about myself in my blog, but I have a concert coming up on February 12, 2017 in New York City and that’s my focus for the next week. The theme and title is “Amor Latino/Latin Love.” I’m performing this with two other singers, Celia Castro and Anna Tonna, and pianist/composer, Max Lifchitz. Here’s a link to an article about it: http://www.cbs8.com/story/34362238/amor-latino-spice-up-your-valentines-day

This concert is exciting to me for a few reasons. First, the opportunity to work with such engaging and passionate artists, and to explore this theme in Spanish and Latin American music. Some of the works that will be performed come from Spain, but my music this time is all from Latin America. I’ll be singing Claudio Santoro’s Canções de amor (1ra serie) and two of Francisca “Chiquinha” Gonzaga’s songs. Both of these composers are Brazilian and I am looking forward to presenting Brazilian music for the first time in New York.

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But this article is supposed to be about Sor Juana set to music. For the third time I’ll be performing the duet “Me acerco y me retiro” which is roughly translated as “I approach and then I back away.” This duet was written for Anna and me by Max Lifchitz.  Max is a composer/ pianist originally from Mexico. He’s made his home in the USA for a while now. We first performed the duet in a concert of art songs that we did for Cinco de mayo in New York in 2015, and again in November of 2015 in a retrospective of Lifchitz’ music.

Sor Juana is an interesting historical figure from the 17th century. Born in Mexico, which at the time was still part of Spain, she is probably the most important poet in its history. She was a brilliant woman, born ahead of her time. Too smart when women were not really supposed to be independent or intelligent. Little choices were available to such women, and they usually ended up stifling their intellect or joining a convent. Sor Juana ended up a nun, but was that really her desire?

Recently, channel 11 in Mexico has created a series about Sor Juana Inés, called “Juana Inés.” This series is now being played on Netflix, so there is a much broader audience. Here’s a trailer (in Spanish):

Me acerco y me retiro is an intense piece. As mezzo, contralto, and piano, we intricately weave the verse, mostly about an unrequited love, in melismas, consonant and dissonant harmonies and fierce piano interludes. Her poem ends (translation by Max Lifchitz):

A vivir ignorado
to live unobserved
de tus luces, me ausento
by your eyes, I now go
donde ni aun mi mal sirva
Where never pain of mine
a tu desdén de obsequio.
Need flatter your disdain. 

 

In addition to the duet, Me acerco y me retiro, there will be a premiere of Lifchitz latest composition based on Sor Juana’s poetry, called Rosa divina. This is a solo piece for a soprano with piano, which will be sung by Celia Castro.  I am hoping that with time these pieces, and others that Lifchitz might create, will give the world another glance at Sor Juana’s poetry in a different medium, through music.

Join us at the National Opera Center in New York City, February 12, 2017 3:00 pm (FREE!) or LIVE STREAMING online at https://www.youtube.com/user/NatOperaCenterLIVE