“Las Mujeres:” A New Play by Erlina Ortiz

“Healing, Educated, Opening, Love, and Empowerment.” These were several of the words that audience members shouted out in the Talkback after Saturday’s powerful performance of Las Mujeres (The Women), produced by Power Street Theatre Company  (PSTC) in Philadelphia. Written by Erlina Ortiz, a Dominican-American, Las Mujeres, despite the Spanish title, is performed in English at the West Kensington Ministry in the Northeast part of the city. The show was sold out and most of the enthusiastic and appreciative audience stayed for the conversation afterwards.

To quote Ortiz, “Las Mujeres seeks to educate and inspire audiences by providing comedic and dramatic insight on the challenges women and Latinx people face when assimilating into traditional male dominated spaces.”  She has written a solid script that is clear and direct, with frequent humor. The characters include two contemporary women, as well as four icons: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, an intelligent and well-educated nun from Mexico’s colonial period, Frida Kahlo, Mexico’s most famous female visual artist, Rita Hayworth, (whose real name was Margarita Carmem Cansino, and was of Spanish and gitana descent) and Minerva Mirabal, who along with her sisters, fought against the oppressive dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic.

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Photo by Corem Coreano

The cast includes Gabriela Sanchez (also the Founder and Managing Director of PSTC), Krystal Lizz Rosa, Diana Rodriguez, Anjoli Santiago, Marisol Custodio, and Lorenza Bernasconi. Tamanya M.M. Garza, director, created a tight ensemble that deftly interpreted the script. As Frida, Diana Rodriguez had many of the comic lines that inspired robust laughter. I particularly enjoyed the characterization of gentil Sor Juana (Anjoli Santiago) and the use of her poetry in the interaction. Lorenza Bernasconi, who has a sweet  and well projected voice, also sang as Rita Hayworth. Rounding out the women from the past, Marisol Custodio was a sober and strong Minerva Mirabal.  Krystal Lizz Rosa, (Lena) performs for the first time outside of Temple University, and she is a promising talent. The most difficult role was that of Marlene, played with conviction by Gabriela Sanchez. She experiences a range of emotions throughout the play and must relate to four dead women from different countries and centuries!

Power Street Theatre is working hard to bring the audience to the performance. In addition to offering discount tickets for industry, students, veterans, community residents and senior citizens, economical ticket prices ($10-25), audience members can take advantage of child care services while at the show by reserving 24 hours ahead of time! High school students 18 and under are admitted free! So there are no excuses… don’t miss this new evocative play about a latina’s experience.

Running time: Approximately one hour and 40 minutes, no intermission.

Las mujeres plays through March 17, 2018, performing at the West Kensington Ministry–2140 N Hancock St, Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, purchase them online.  Tickets are also available at the door an hour before showtime.

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Songs You Left Behind: An Evening of Cultural Pride

On February 21, 2018 at the Kimmel Center, several Latino musicians and bands entertained a wall to wall enthusiastic audience. The concert was free and the fourth annual one of an initiative between the Kimmel Center and Javier Suarez, the Vice President of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.  “Songs You Left Behind” was held in the SEI Innovation Studio, which is located in the basement of the Kimmel Center. The goal of the event is to “bring the music of the Americas to new audiences.” This was definitely successful on Wednesday evening, since the sold out audience was comprised of people familiar with the music (of their homelands or ancestors) and many people who were curious but who did not know the songs or genres.

Javier Suarez and a representative from the Kimmel Center, acted as emcees. The setup was similar to a cabaret with a song or a few from each vocalist or band and then stories, jokes or interaction with the audience about music and related topics. The musicians represented Colombia, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Mexico and the United States. Since all but one were individuals or small bands, they were well served by the venue. The last group to perform, Banda Retoño, a Sinaloan (Northern Mexico) ensemble from New Jersey, really needed a much larger space. They have 15-16 musicians who play a variety of instruments, including clarinet, tuba, trombones, trumpets and percussion. Their numbers were superbly performed, but it was much too loud for the space.

The concert began with solo vocalist, William Eduardo, representing Costa Rica.  He sang “América, América” to a recorded accompaniment. He came back later in the evening with another ballad, “Jamás” (by Camilo Sesto from Spain) in which he encouraged the audience to sing along, and we did! I had great fun listening to him and enjoyed his “in your face” style, which is typical of Latin American singers of pop and ballads. A nod to the music of the mid-twentieth century, it was an interesting contrast to some of the dance music performed in the evening. Here is a youtube recording of  “América, América” by Spanish singer Nino Bravo:

In addition to Banda Retoño, Marla Jimenez also sang a Mexican song, “Mi querido viejo” made famous by Vicente Fernandez.  Ms. Jimenez was accompanied by Berto and Giovanni on guitars and she explained that the song was sung to her often by her father. She became emotional sharing this since her father had passed away and she was inspired to sing this song in his memory. From Colombia, Miguel Reynoso and De Tierra Caliente (USA/Colombia) played a few songs, including “Como un sueño” written by percussionist, “Papa Buda,” and a cover of “Carito” by Carlos Vives.  Although “De Tierra Caliente” sings in Spanish, they definitely have a United States sound, more like funk than salsa in “El sonido”, which they also performed in “Songs You Left Behind.”

A highlight of the evening was Magdaliz Roura and Crisol, who I have heard in different venues over the years. I was impressed with the virtuosity of the flutist and drummer, and Magdaliz’ evocative singing, while she expertly played the guitar. The group dedicated their three songs, two of them from Puerto Rico, to the Puerto Rican people.  “En mi viejo San Juan” by Noel Estrada (1942) was a perfect rendition that began with a flute solo. Their second song was “Bucha y pluma na ma” by Rafael Hernandez (1958), which is one of my favorites. This song was made famous by Puerto Rican vocalist, Myrta Silva, who sang with Cuba’s La Sonora Matancera before Celia Cruz. Magdaliz and Crisol played with gusto and feeling, clearly communicating the hilarity of this song.

They ended their set with an impromptu version of  the Colombian cumbia “La pollera colorá.”

A few audience members got up and danced throughout the evening, and the atmosphere was festive. With only several groups a wide variety of music was performed. This is definitely an event that the Kimmel Center should keep doing each year. Perhaps in a bigger venue for the large ensembles, and a piano?

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

 

 

 

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.

Manuel de Falla

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.