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Archive for April 2010

Red at the Golden

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Redfile0487 by John Logan
Alfred Molina (Rothko); Eddie Redmayne (Ken)
London’s Donmar Warehouse Production
Golden Theater, 45th and Broadway, NYC

Alfred Molina makes a compelling artist. In the movie Frida, he played muralist Diego Rivera. In John Logan’s Red on Broadway Molina is Mark Rothko at the top of his game, defensive about the pop artists about to kill off their Abstract Expressionist fathers. Molina and the gifted young Eddie Redmayne, Rothko’s new assistant Ken, out- perform Logan’s ambitious play. Theater is a tough way to show the drama of art. But this staging direct from London’s Donmar Warehouse does an exceptional job turning the Golden Theater into Rothko’s 1950s’ Bowery studio. Here are the life- size stretchers ready to be primed and pondered. Here, the acidic artist ready with the intellectual retorts and philosophizing. The drama is not in the staccato talk but in Neil Austin’s lighting and Adam Cork’s sound design, which uses music Rothko loved. Rothko slipping Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier onto the turntable (this is 1958). Bach plays softly while the artist fires questions at the assistant.

What do you see? “What do you feel?”

Rothko is working on the murals for Park Avenue’s Seagram’s Building, a Philip Johnson commission, the murals will go in the Seagram’s Four Seasons Restaurant. He natters about his theories, his miseries, his insistence an artist be civilized. Finally Ken has had enough: What is Rothko afraid of. Why is he putting these murals in a restaurant? The ultimate temple of consumption?

Red’s finest moment is the priming of a canvas with vermillion. Orchestral music pours from the artist’s turntable then an aria. The beauty of good sound design is that it doesn’t upstage the acting. A whirlwind of chaotic criss-crossing commences as the men slap their industrial size brushes over the white surface. Blood red covers faces, heads, overalls. The priming mirrors the fate of Rothko’s life- size, pulsing paintings. (Will his red be swallowed by the black that Ken suggests Mark Rothko fears?) Who will attend these murals? The Rothko Chapel is far away in time and geography. Red in New York could use more silence. But there is much to praise.


Written by Lesley Valdes

April 22, 2010 at 2:32 am

Sierra Premiere at Revamped Baptist Temple

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Mendelssohn Club Chorus:
Roberto Sierra’s “Missa Latina”
Alan Harler, conducts,
guest soprano, Heidi Grant Murphy,
Concerto Soloists Chamber Orchestra,
Inauguration of newly renovated Baptist Temple at Temple University
Saturday, April 24, 8:00 pm
$20 and $30
Phone: (215) 735-9922

Rose Window & Stairs at Baptist Temple

Written by Lesley Valdes

April 21, 2010 at 9:19 pm

Brava Joan, Bravo Danco

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40th Anniversary Concert II
April 15-18
Perelman Theater

Who isn’t happy Philadanco’s Joan Myers Brown just won the Philadelphia Award — this city’s Nobel Prize. The founder and artistic director of the Philadelphia Dance Company (PhilaDanco), Brown is the 89th recipient of the award that old patrician Edward Bok created for those who improve this town.
Brown’s Dance School celebrates 50 years in May; her company is in it’s 4th decade. She’s drained her savings, her checking, remortgaged homes, fought off lawyers, and always shone. She’s spoken up and out not just for her dancers but for the arts nationwide. The $25,000 honorarium she will receive (May 10) will be put to good use.
The recent programs the Kimmel Center sponsored to honor Danco’s 40th anniversary brought three works from the 1980s and a Philadelphia premiere from 2008. These dancers, extension, extension, technique, and passion, are so good, you hope every time you see them, that they won’t be lost to a New York company (as so often has happened, i.e. the Ailey Company, among others.)

Talley Beatty’s A Rag, A Bone, A Hank of Hair from 1984. The corps dressed in a riot of Crayola colors, their Hermes sandals as fleet as Mercury to Prince & Earth, Wind & Fire. TP. Joy in every angled extension, and the extensions here are limb defying. Beatty’s use of space and momentum is fine and Danco’s nails it.
All is gravity and tension in The Element in Which it Takes Place, Milton Myers setting of Koyanasquatsi by Phillip Glass and Meredith Monk. Egyptian and first the women then the men of the corps dance, when lifts are achieved, the women are often caught in flight, which is thrilling. The dance is full of arresting moments, only some of the unison motions look cliched. A final tableau with Jermaine Terry lifting Rosita Adamo is spellbinding.

Jeremiah Terry has the grace of a wild panther. The moves so natural from the hip socket from the shoulder. How can a man move so easily, so wildly with such control. The mystery of dance.

Elegies are hard. Too much emotion can creep in. That’s what happens in Gene Hill Sagan’s choreography for Elegy set to Ralph Vaughan Williams, a dance whose fine dancers could not elevate it. The starry night backdrop over- emotes too. The men are ill used in this one lots of flutter. Little substance.

By Way of The Funk. Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s 2008 work to Parliament Funkadelics featured Lamar Baylor (there were other standouts) in dancing deft and down and working. Makes you think this team’s been doing squats and lunges since the Millenium. Every muscle working from the hip, the shoulder. The quads, the gluts. Every funky thing imaginable from these beautiful, artful bodies of supreme control and quiver.

Now, the Philadelphia Dance Company goes on tour: first stop, Reston, VA.

Written by Lesley Valdes

April 19, 2010 at 12:15 am

Poetry Month: Dunbar Opera at Clef Club

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Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadows:
An Opera Based on the Life and Love of
Paul Laurence Dunbar & Alice Ruth Moore
Steven M. Allen, composer and libretto,
Opera North, Inc.
April 11, 2010
The Philadelphia Clef Club
Broad & Fitzwater Streets

Paul Dunbar fell in love with Alice Ruth Moore from a photo: like Tamina looking at Pamina. The moment is caught in Allen Stevens opera about the Dunbars: Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadows, whose first act was presented at the Clef Club Sunday. Opera North presented with a cast drawn largely from here and the D.C.. April is poetry month. Allen wrote the music and the libretto working from the pioneering black poet’s biography and the letters Dunbar wrote to Moore, the writer who would become his wife, then leave him. Dunbar and Moore corresponded for two years before meeting. Her mother was against the marriage. Dunbar may have been famous but he was three shades darker than Moore’s family – who had pretensions and their own prejudice and more money. Dunbar worked his way up in Dayton, Ohio where he was the only black man in high school class of the Wright Brothers. He worked as an elevator operator when his second book of poems, Major & Minor, came out, the one that drew mainstream accolades from Wm. Dean Howells, although Howells chose to single out only the poems in dialect, not the poems (In Major) written in standard English. This stung Dunbar and rightly so.

Allen’s score is classical with a tinge of nostalgia, built into the fine writing for voice, clarinet and flutes. It’s good if at times a bit too look at me I’m in earnest. (The composer is working on a doctorate at Catholic University.) The libretto is convoluted: too many words. Without supertitles, the English sung by this cast is sometimes hard to make out. Lisa Edwards-Burrs as Alice Moore and Gregory J. Watkins as Dunbar were excellent choices, so was Syvlia Twine as Matilda Dunbar. A boy soprano and countertenor also were good news; Brandie Sutton was convincing as Moore’s sister; Jessie Baden-Campbell an imperious naysaying mother. Iris Fairfax took the role of the glamorous Victoria Matthews at the 11th hour when the scheduled singer was indisposed.
Allen conducted a chamber octet of strings, winds, keyboard. His arrangements for acoustic piano alone with the voice sometimes sound clunky, better the work with flute, oboe, bass clarinet. There are fine love duets in the third section which, includes Dunbar’s famous poem to Alice. Also a trio for baritone and boy sopranos, well, one boy soprano and a counter-tenor.

(I couldn’t tell if there were other Dunbar poems in this libretto: the diction was not always clear enough. But this is only one act – more will follow.) The pioneering poet –“We wear the Mask,” “Dreams,” “The Debt” lived only 33 prolific, achieving years. The love story was tumultous.
Allen’s libretto may need to cut back on the exposition to play up the drama. Though it’s important. having Dunbar’s agent sing of William Dean Howell’s glowing if backhanded review of Dunbar’s second book, Majors & Minors is labored. Dunbar had reason to loathe that mainstream review: The critic singled out the poems in dialect, ignoring the ones in standard English.
Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadows have operatic conflicts in the Moore daughters’ scenes with their negative mother but they are presented so statically the scenes lose a bit in the telling. The audience caught the sly comedy.
Projections are used with a simple staging and lighting. More images, please.
Opera North does a lot of its work behind the scenes, in schools and the community. It employs fine singers. Leslie Burrs is the artistic director.

Written by Lesley Valdes

April 12, 2010 at 3:04 am