Ephrat Asherie Dance Mixes Choro and Street Dance in Philadelphia

Last night, February 8, 2020, Ephrat Asherie Dance performed “Odeon” at the Zellerbach Theatre at the Annenberg Center in Philadelphia. The production was presented in coordination with Next Move Dance and opened on Friday February 7.

I was interested in attending this performance because of the music. “Odeon” is the title of Ernesto Nazareth’s most famous composition. Ernesto Nazareth is well known in Brazil in the context of 19th and early 20th century composers who were the foundation of Brazil’s samba. Along with Francisca “Chiquinha” Gonzaga, Antonio Callado, Pixinguinha and others, Nazareth improvised in choro ensembles, and composed maxixes (Brazilian tango) and other forms. Nazareth was trained in European music, as were many of his contemporaries in Rio de Janeiro, but combined this with popular and contemporary rhythms (of Afro-Brazilian influence), to create a “Brazilian” national (popular) music.

The performance of “Odeon” by the dance company, was energetic, upbeat and fun. At the very beginning, it was announced that the choreographer, Ms. Ephrat Asherie, herself, wanted the audience to “relax, enjoy and respond.” And that we did! The company of six dancers, (Manon Bal, Teena Marie Custer, Val “Ms. Vee” Ho, Matthew “Megawatt” West, Omari Wiles, and Ephrat Asherie) interpreted a joyful program, full of exhilirating interactions to live music. The instrumental ensemble included Ehud Asherie (music director and pianist, and the choreographer’s brother), Eduardo Belo (bass), and percussionists, Sergio Krakowski, Vitor Gonçalves and Angel Lau.

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Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

The musical selections included: Brejeiro, Odeon, Fon-fon, Tenebroso, Apanhei-te cavaquinho, Ouro sobre azul, Confidências, Ven cá, Branquinha and Bataque. Some of the musical numbers were with piano and others were percussion only. There were also instances when the dancers themselves created the sound and rhythm, with clapping and stomping, as in the opening. The style of their dances was a mix of street dance, acrobatics, samba no pé, voguing, African dance, to name a few.

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Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

The dancers were well rehearsed, but at the same time, it all felt spontaneous and fresh. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves onstage and this positive energy was transmitted to the audience. Each dancer cultivated and demonstrated a unique personality and atitude but when they danced in unison they fit together perfectly. There were selections when  the percussionists came into the center of the stage and directly related to the dancers. The pandeiro (Brazilian tambourine) and other percussion instruments were played in a call and response to the dancers’ movements in some selections.  The dancers and musicians were always in synch and this was truly a collaboration on all levels.

At the end of this breathtaking display of fast and fancy footwork, and stunning orchestration, the audience gave them a well-deserved standing ovation.  Ephrat Asherie Dance company transmitted the exhuberance of Nazareth’s pieces through their spirited execution of the imaginative choreography.

To learn more about Ephrat Asherie Dance and their upcoming performances, please visit their website. To see what’s coming up at the Annenberg Center, please visit their website.

 

 

Bakosó: Afrobeats de Cuba…A New Genre of Street Music!!

Today, May 31, 2019, I had the enormous pleasure to view the new documentary Bakosó: Afrobeats de Cuba, by independent filmmaker, Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi. This documentary features DJ Jigüe (Isnay Rodriguez)  a Cuban musician who Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi (from Puerto Rico) met over 20 years ago.  Eli’s brother, Kahlil (based in New York City) is a co-producer along with Dj Jigüe. The Philadelphia Latino Film Festival presented the hour long documentary at the University of Arts, and afterwards there was a talk-back with Eli and DJ Jigüe. Kahlil, also present, offered support from the audience.

The film is making the rounds at different international festivals and has already premiered in California in the United States.

Bakosó follows the path of DJ Jigüe from Havana to Santiago de Cuba to the Afro-Latino Festival in NYC. Along the way he stops at Palma Soriano in Santiago, where he was born, to visit his grandmother. His grandmother is a santera, who practices the yoruba (lucumi) based religion, more popularly known outside of Cuba as santería. Although DJ Jigüe’s mother worked as a teacher in Angola, it is his grandmother, Cuca, who affirms that their African heritage, traditions and religion are of utmost importance in their lives.  These traditions and links have been passed down for generations in his family.

Throughout the fast paced documentary, we are introduced to these different neighborhoods in Cuba and the street music culture to trace the origins of Bakosó. DJ Jigüe meets up with various musicians doing this kind of music, who I, and I believe most people outside of Cuba, are not familiar with, such as: El Inka, Maikel el Padrino, Kiki Pro, and the singer Alva. The children’s dance group, “Sangre Nueva” is also featured.

The fusion of music, storytelling, performance and image is seamless and powerful in Bakosó, and make this documentary a joyous delight to experience. The crowds and unnamed people in the streets of Santiago, dance  expertly, yet naturally with abandon, and you can see how much they enjoy it. Their enthusiasm jumps out of the screen. But this is not just another movie about popular music or about Cuba. It delivers a glimpse into the heart and soul of people who were born to make music and dance in the steps of their ancestors. The connection with Africa is the focus of Bakosó, and the  dance of Eleggua, the orisha of roads/paths, begins and ends the film. Eleggua must open every santería ritual and he is also a messenger of Olofi, one of three manifestations of the Supreme god in the Yoruba religion.

While watching the documentary, I was reminded of rumba dances and chants to the orishas that I heard decades ago in Havana, and how music and dance have been cultivated in Cuba by way of the Afro-Cuban religions and by the government in the schools and conservatories. African rhythms and dances have existed in Cuba since Africans were brought to Cuba and enslaved in colonial times. Bakosó also mentions the 35,000 Cuban soldiers who fought in Angola, and the many Africans studying medicine in Cuba, as more contemporary connections to the mother continent. Bakosó is a mix of these many influences and rhythms. Some of the rhythms mentioned are: Kuduro, afrobeats, conga, rumba,  conguita and makuta.

The recital hall on the 17th floor of the University of the Arts building, where the film was screened, was nearly full to capacity. Many excited and happy audience members also stayed for the question and answer session afterwards with Eli and DJ Jigüe. At least 7 or 8 questions were answered in English and Spanish, and it could have gone on for another hour at least! To raise money, tee shirts and hats were sold at a table in the lobby. In answer to a question, DJ Jigüe said that each time he left the island, one of his most important goals was to show the world what Cuban artists were doing in Cuba, since Cuba has been in isolation due to politics for some 50 years. He did that and more with Bakosó. Overall, it was a rare opportunity to meet the director and producers of this documentary, to discover what new music is being developed in Cuba, and feel the alegría (joy) and spirit of the musicians and dancers of Santiago de Cuba.  I highly recommend this documentary–if it comes to your city, don’t hesitate, just GO see it!

For more information about this new Cuban genre and the producers, check out: https://jigue.bandcamp.com/track/bakoso

https://www.facebook.com/BakosoCuba/  

Eli’s films

@BAKOSÓ_CUBA
#BAKOSÓ

 

Electroacoustic Music in Philadelphia: Live/Wire Ensemble & Opera Company

Live/Wire Ensemble and Opera Company, performing at Temple University, presented an innovative festival of electroacoustic premieres to a packed audience on July 29, 2018. The Festival, which opened on July 26, btought to Pressler Hall at Temple University, a program including,  Radiance  (Jon Paul Maysee), The Sun Gate (Carlos Johns-Dávila) and Pacamambo (Zack Settel). Each of these three works utilized technology in a distinct way. Besides showcasing computer orchestration, amplification and visual projections, these pieces also complemented each other in their inspiration and narratives. (Check Deslumbrar for interviews with the composers last week)

Radiance, which featured bassoonist Dominic Panunto, is based on Christian scripture passages: (Genesis 1:2), (1 Kings 17), (Luke 9:28-36), (Revelation 21:19) and (Exodus 34:35). Lighting effects were generated by the bassoon which were filtered through a computer program. Most of this composition consisted of long sustained notes played by the bassoonist, with corresponding flashes of colored lights in discs and a large space on the ceiling above the musician. For both Radiance and The Sun Gate, performed in the orchestra practice room, the audience was invited to sit on three sides, either on chairs or on the floor. In Radiance, the sole instrumentalist and the visual projection were the center of attention.

In contrast, the audience seemed to become part of the performance of The Sun Gate. There was a lot going on and so much to watch in this piece. The mirrors, projections, and 360 degree camera, bounced images on the walls AND on the people sitting on the floor or in chairs, who surrounded the “stage” where the dancers and musicians performed. Two flexible and engaging dancers, Morgaine A. De Leonardis and Elisa Hernandez, starred as the Incan gods Viracocha and Inti. In addition to the movements they did on the floor, I also found myself watching their shadows on the wall, which intersected with the geometric patterns that were projected. This created another depiction or layer of the story, which had been carefully researched and based on Incan mythology. I interviewed Carlos beforehand, so I was excited to hear and see him play the Quenacho flute that he had purchased in Perú. The flute provided a sense of authenticity to the piece, and I would have liked to have heard more of it. The melody played on the piano near the end recalled Andean tonality and reminded me somewhat of indigenous music I’d heard played on panflutes in the past. This mix of the European and indigenous is key to Carlos’ approach and inspiration. The world created in sound and image (human and geometric) was definitely creative and otherworldly and something I would like to experience again now that I know what to expect. I felt teased by the actual live music included in The Sun Gate and wanted to hear more. The colorful moving geometric patterns, the live dancing and the careful positioning of real roses on the floor were entrancing.  Vishaal Ravikumar (Lighting/Projections Designer) and Sarah Celona (Set Designer) are to be commended for their work on this multifaceted production.  Here is a clip from its New York premiere:

Pacamambo rounded out the trio with another spiritual narrative, this one about death and the afterlife. This comtemporary opera focuses on a young girl Julie (Carly Baron) and how she handles the death of her beloved Grandma “Marie-Marie” (Gillian Booth). Other parts were sung by Max Avery Vitagliano (The Psychiatrist), Andrew Shaw (Le Chien) and Julia Bokunewicz, (La Lune). Isaac Dae Young was the Music Director/Conductor, Carolyn McDemus (Assistant Music Director), and Jon Paul Mayse handled the electronics. Pacamambo utilized computer technology in a more subtle way than the other pieces. It consisted of additional instrumental parts and harmonies. These were programmed by the composer and passed on to the Live/Wire Ensemble and Opera Company to use in their performance. Since I also sing opera, I try to avoid reviewing operas and singers (conflict of interest) but I must say that the conductor and cast were astounding in their commitment to render this score and their performances were exquisite. Pacamambo was sung in French and they never missed a beat. It was obvious to any musician in the audience, that this was a challenging score  but the cast and conductor handled it with aplomb. The subject as well was quite a departure from traditional Western European grand opera and I was impressed that these young singers held their own in a genre that they probably have not had much experience in (since it is not mainstream) or regularly performed in opera companies or conservatories. The chamber environment suits it well and the audience recognized the dedication and skill of the cast and production crew with a standing ovation.

In my opinion, the score should be revised a bit, cut and pared down, swapping some of the “rap” for a more lyrical accompanied recitative. The “rap” idea was fun at first, since it was different, but the composer definitely could write some harmonies and melodies, and did that well in Act 9. The constant raps tended to slow down the action. The story itself is compelling and although it is a short opera, of only 1 hour, the lack of dramatic tension and release in the music, as well as dynamic and tempi changes, made it drag in some places.  That was not the fault of the singers or the conductor. A revision of course, is a task for the composer, not the singers or conductor, to consider.

All in all, Live/Wire Ensemble and Opera Company is to be congratulated for taking a risk and staging three relatively new electroacoustic works to an enthusiastic Philadelphia audience. I welcome your comments and discussions about these performances! Please write something if you were there at one of the performances and want to contribute your thoughts. 

For more information on Jon Paul Mayse, please visit: https://jonpaulmayse.com/
To more on Carlos Johns-Dávila: https://www.newperuvian.net/

 

A Tropical Dream: DanzAbierta’s “Malson”

Five dancers, 3 women and two men, relate on the stage and with projected videos. They are in the videos sometimes, walking up and down a staircase, sitting on the Malecón (pier) in La Habana, overlooking the sea, and fighting each other in a car. Sometimes the video projection is a scene from a busy street in La Habana, where Cubans rush shoulder to shoulder. These frantic images and the peaceful ones, watching the waves and the sky, juxtapose with the action on the stage as if in a dream. “Malson” is the name of an hour long dance piece by the Cuban modern dance company DanzAbierta. Malson is Catalán for nightmare, but also can have a double meaning in Spanish.  “Mal” is bad or evil, while “son” is a typical Cuban rhythm/musical genre.

DanzAbierta means “Open dance” in Spanish. This is a fitting name for the company, which was established in 1988, by Marianela Boán. From its inception DanzAbierta, considered itself “avant-garde” and within that context, infused different forms of art into its choreography. Malson was choreographed by Susana Pous, a dancer originally from Barcelona, who currently resides in Cuba. In a video clip, Pous explains that her style of choreography is based on improvisation and includes lots of input from the dancers. She will present a theme to the company and they will begin to create together. Therefore, the resulting dance is much more organic and related to each dancer’s body, style and personality:

Malson by DanzAbierta, was performed on March 22, 2018 and Friday March 23, 2018, in Philadelphia, and is part of a larger Cuban Arts Festival at the Annenberg Center Live. The Artistic Adviser and Designer for Malson is Guido Gali, and music and videos are by X Alfonso. General Adviser is Noel Bonilla-Chongo. The phenomenal dancers are: Mailyn Castillo, Lissett Gallego, Diana Collumbié, Gabriel Méndez y Marcel Méndez.

On stage the nimble dancers interact with each other and with a big moveable block. The women wear dresses in black or gray and high heels–note that this is not the contemporary dance of barefeet and leotards, typical of modern dancers in the United States. Much of the music is new and electronic/instrumental, but there are a few traditional Cuban songs with lyrics in Spanish. The movements of the dancers range from salsa steps to more lyrical choreography, as well as sharp and frenetic actions. They cover the entire stage and various levels–from rolling on the floor, to lifts and flips. The choreography is polished yet natural and appears to come from within the dancers, illustrating Pous’ explanation of a collaborative process that brings out the uniqueness of each dancer.   Sometimes the dancers are in couples. They also dance in unison or like robots/dolls to represent the struggles within the relationships.

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What is most innovative to me is how the choreography relates to the video that is projected on the screen behind the dancers. The dancers seem to interact with themselves and the people and environment on the screen. This creates a tension between the video, dancers and audience. It is not just a pretty backdrop as used in some productions–it is an intrinsic para of the drama and the dance. It creates a visual experience that is interactive. One of my favorite instances was when the camera moved through a Havana street. It was as if the action was taking place in that very street and I was along for the ride. Most poignant and poetric were the scenes on the Malecón, overlooking the ocean.

Running time: 1 hour.

Malson by DanzAbierta goes next to Washington DC, on March 30, 2018. For more information check Susana Pous’ website or DanzAbierta’s Facebook page.  For upcoming events at the Annenberg Center Live in Philadelphia, visit their website.

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.

 

 

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.

“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

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.

 

 

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*****