I spent 12 hours on Thursday absorbing events and
performances of the 2012 World Choir Games. My "day pass" gave me way
too much to write up in detail, but here are some highlights and random
Show Choirs: I spent several morning hours at the Aronoff Center (which was "sold-out" — no empty seats, before 10 a.m.!) watching groups perform in the manner popularized by the TV series Glee. Some followed the familiar model completely — glittering costumes, athletic dance numbers, lots of fist-pumping and high energy. They were fun to watch, but the international filter provided by groups from the Bahamas and Venezuela provided a whole new filter. The 26 members of the Bahama National Youth Choir dispensed with flashy costumes — young men and women wore khaki pants and skirts, topped with navy blue blazers and white shirts. But, boy, could they dance: From "It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing" to Michael Jackson's "Beat It." And when they finished (to a standing ovation), the next group, Orfeón Universitario Rafael Montaño from Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela, dazzled us with a salsa-inspired Spanish-language set with costume changes for every number — at one point including a dozen women with palm trees atop their heads! About half the numbers utilized wonderful soloists, mature women with incredible voices backed up by the choir in tributes to pop singers from the world of Hispanic music. The group's performance was a riot of color, dancing and joyous outbursts of energy.
Barbershop: This is a first-time category for WCG, a popular choir form in North America that's not practiced much elsewhere. But based on the big crowd for the competition at Music Hall, I'd say that singers of the world might be adopting this happy form of choral performance that involves close harmony, typically by groups that are all male or female. I smiled at a group of 32 from Minnesota, the North Star Boys Choir, and enjoyed the "mature" group of women, the Cincinnati Sound Chorus, who clearly enjoyed their set, opening with "As long as I'm singing my song." Three more choruses in colorful costumes — A Cappella Showcase (from Canada), Greater Harrisburg Sweet Adelines Chorus (from Pennsylvania) and Bay Area Showcase Chorus (from California) were all dazzlingly entertaining.
Friendship Concert: Departing from Music Hall late in the afternoon, I encountered a big crowd in Washington Park surrounding the bandstand. Patiently waiting for the moment to begin was a chorus of kids from Goteborg School in South Africa. The surrounding crowd was dotted with other performers, young African-American girls in maroon choir robes and pale girls from Russia in floaty pastel chiffon dresses with flowers in their hair, looking like escapees from a fantasy bridal party. I was tempted to pass by until the South African choir started to sing: They were elementary aged children who sang with lusty enthusiasm, and I couldn't tear myself away from listening to their rhythmic songs and high spirits. The crowd responded accordingly.
After dinner at Bakersfield on Vine Street, I went on to the day's real highlight, the Cultural Showcase at the Aronoff — another completely full house at the P&G Hall starting at 7:30 p.m. The Venezuelans I'd seen earlier in show choir mode were back doing a program of somewhat less flashy folk music numbers. There was still plenty of energy and costumes, as well as more work from the outstanding soloists. The next group was 65 boys from Kearsney College, a high school in Botha's Hill, South Africa. Half their program was sung in blue-and-white choir robes with a brilliant yellow icon of Africa on the front; this was a powerfully emotional set, full of the rhythms and zest that I've come to expect from South African ensembles. The second portion of their program focused on Zulu folklore and one of its heroes, King Shaka. For this portion the boys dressed in black shirts and pants with cardinal red belts and knee-high rubber boots, like those worn by miners. This set of music was non-stop athleticism, dancing, acrobatics and lusty singing. The audience responded warmly to this off-the-hook segment, and conductor Bernard Krüger told the audience that he loves Americans because they really know how to cheer. The final set of performers were from Istanbul, Turkey, the Bogaziçi Jazz Choir. This was a different kind of folk music from a country about which I don't know much, but watching their earnest, sometimes serious sometimes humorous delivery, I feel that I understand their character more fully. They concluded with several songs in English that warmed the audience even more — earning two standing ovations.
My final observation on the evening: It was so satisfying to be in an audience that truly loved what they were witnessing and expressed their joy at the performances with honest reactions. These were some of the most genuine standing ovations I've ever witnessed. I was proud to be in this crowd, and I have to believe that it was a truly memorable experience for the performers.
A final observation: Every choir I've heard from South Africa has deeply moved me. Knowing that nation's history of apartheid and seeing choirs of mixed races reveling in music gave me hope that music can indeed heal the world. That's a great lesson to learn from the World Choir Games.
The intense energy between Principal dancers Cervilio Amador and Janessa Touchet is so palpable you can feel it — even when their hands aren’t touching.
Their expressive duet in Heather Britt’s world premier “Opus 5.5” provided an inviting opening to Cincinnati Ballet’s annual Kaplan New Works season opener last Thursday evening.
The production offers a rare chance to see dance up close, as it takes place in the company’s home performance studio at the Cincinnati Ballet Center.
There’s nothing like watching live performance, but there’s something even more exciting and visceral about seeing the dancers glowing and their muscles flexing.
Full of emotion, Britt’s sweeping contemporary new work has the dancers really moving all over: across the stage in sculptural lifts, through the air in expansive leaps and extravagant extensions. But it’s really the rare moments of stillness and quiet that grab you and draw you in closer.
New Works’ stock in trade has always been pushing stylistic boundaries.
But this year is noteworthy for another reason: For the first time, all of the choreographers featured are female.
Dance-wise, the women also stand out in the spotlight this year more than usual. Though, as always, there are plenty of equally fine turns by the men as well.
Paige Cunningham Caldarella’s “Without Consideration,” the program’s most offbeat piece, presents a topsy-turvy look at social media and its pleasures and pitfalls.
Its five short sections comprise a modern dance piece cut with classical ballet. It’s by turns satirical, ominous and oddly compelling.
Clad in a lime green tee-shirt and a short, ruffled floral skirt, Corps de Ballet dancer Courtney Hellebuyck shines in her solo.
She attacks each movement with ferocious intensity. Her dramatic facial expressions and stage presence are spellbinding. She and the other four dancers appear equally comfortable switching between styles — instant, by instant — in this mash-up of ballet and modern. The women even manage to perform modern floor drops in pointe shoes.
A physical wall (think social media) covered in paper provides the backdrop and set piece. The dancers write on it, hurl themselves against it, and press into it. They connect and disconnect, or nearly connect with each other. But at times, they just miss, undulating away from each other. Individual gestures are repeated, such as one’s own hand suddenly turning the head and face away in a slo-mo sideways “slap.” It seems to suggest the struggle to turn one’s attention away from staying online all day.
Amy Seiwert, San Francisco-based Resident Choreographer for Smuin Ballet (where she was also a longtime dancer), has created a thoroughly delightful getaway world in her world premier modern ballet ,“Think of You Often.”
The weather is balmy. The light-colored clothing, designed by the Cincinnati Ballet Wardrobe Department, is carefree and casual. The women collectively become an ocean tide, even in their pointe shoes. Its feel-good soundtrack, music by the Swedish group Koop, delivers effusive swing and a touch of Latin flair.
Principal dancer Sarah Hairston warmly embraces her role, full of flirtation and feline sassiness. First two, then four men lift and sway her — and no doubt cater to her every need.
But don’t let the piece’s escapist playfulness belie its underlying choreographic sophistication. The partnering throughout is highly complex, original, and technically demanding.
In a most striking duet, Zach Grubbs and Jacqueline Damico make the most intricate sequences look as easy and natural as an ocean breeze.
Jessica Lang’s contemporary neoclassical work “La Belle Danse” (2007) presents a slightly quirky court dance of sorts. Set to a score of the likes of Handel and Mozart, it’s the sole work here that the Ballet has presented previously, in 2009.
It’s the most classical piece on the program — relatively speaking — yet unexpectedly it marks the only one where the women wear soft shoes.
Displaying a very different, more sacred type of passion in this role’s solo, Hairston demonstrates her versatility as dancer, and a performer.
The large cast brims over with expressive dancing, filled with plenty of leaps, turns, waltzing… and conducting gestures.
Amador and Touchet rapid-fire their way through pirouettes and petit allegro galore. Although their style here sharply contrasts their opening duet, this superb pairing brings this production — one of the best New Works in recent years — full circle.
Jason Bruffy will leave his position as artistic director of Know Theatre of Cincinnati on Sept. 4 to lead the Salt Lake Acting Company (SLAC) in Utah.
He became Know's artistic leader in 2004 and oversaw the company's 2006 move from a church basement in Over-the-Rhine to a remodeled, two-story building on Jackson Street in another part of the neighborhood that has become a focal point for Cincinnati's performing arts scene. His departure coincides with that of Know founder, Jay Kalagayan, who announced earlier in the summer his intention to relinquish his responsibilities as the 11-year-old company's development director. Managing Director Eric Vosmeier will be Know's interim leader while a search is conducted for Know's next artistic director.
The Audience Pick, voted by theatergoers, went to Gravesongs (pictured), Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati’s intern showcase, a piece by local playwright Sarah Underwood written for the five actresses who spent this season at ETC (Rachel Christianson, Emily Eaton, Lauren Shiveley, Rebecca Whatley and Elizabeth L. Worley). It was directed by another ETC intern, Elizabeth Maxwell. The script is about death from the perspective of women in their early twenties.
I wish I could point you to a good production of a Shakespearean play today, since it's the Bard's 446th birthday. But Cincy Shakes is presenting Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband in a delightfully enacted production that ranges from witty humor to heartfelt emotion. It's definitely worth seeing.
For the ninth time during Ed Stern’s tenure at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, a show by Stephen Sondheim will be presented. Stern, the Playhouse’ Producing Artistic Director, has a soft spot for the great American composer and lyricist who turned 80 a year ago. He will bring back Tony Award-winning director John Doyle (pictured) to stage Merrily We Roll Along in a production that uses actors who also provide the musical accompaniment. The show will be presented next year in March.
It's easy to spend time writing about exciting new developments in our local theater scene. But who got things started?
It could be argued that F. Paul Rutledge was the guy who laid the foundation. He passed away a week ago at the age of 91. Rutledge was a theater pioneer in Cincinnati, and many people who shaped what we have today were inspired by him.
Earlier this week, Bicycles: Love Poems by Cincinnati-native and Virginia Tech professor Nikki Giovanni went on sale. The poems in this collection are meant to serve as a companion to her 1997 work, Love Poems. This is her 27th work. In the book, she addresses, among many things, the tragedy at Virginia Tech. Hear an interview with Giovanni and read an excerpt on NPR here.
Sure signs of springtime in Cincinnati: The Reds are playing (and
winning), trees in Over-the-Rhine are covered with white blossoms — and
Know Theatre has announced the lineup for the upcoming Cincinnati Fringe
Festival. 2013 is a significant year for the Fringe: It's marking the 10th anniversary of the annual celebration of weird creativity. Last
evening a big crowd gathered at Know Theatre's Jackson Street facility
to hear what's in store for the May 28-June 8 festival.
Know's producing artistic director, shared the news that, building on a
decade of success, the Fringe received a
record number of applicants for 2013, with 70 percent of the
applications coming from brand-new producers. That's one of the best
parts of the Fringe, the fact that a new jolt of energy arrives annually
from performers that haven't been seen locally. Sixty-three percent of the 2013
applications were from out of town, including several from
international producers. There will be 35 productions in all, by 17
local groups and 18 from out of town. There will be 19 plays, seven solo
shows, two dance pieces, two musicals, and five multimedia/variety
Vosmeier said that it was no easy task for the Fringe selection committee to assemble this lineup. The group was made up of theater professionals from Greater Cincinnati: Heather Britt, Michael Haney, Dave Levy, Miranda McGee, D. Lynn Meyers and Torie Wiggins. “The quality of applications continues to get stronger and larger each year," he said. "I'm so happy to have these amazing leaders of the local theatre community as a part of our jury, and we're grateful for their time in deciding the 2013 lineup.”
The official CityBeat Fringe Kick-Off Party takes place Tuesday, May 28, at Know Theatre. This year's event will also be a 10th birthday celebration, with many of the festival's founders in attendance. The evening, which kicks off at 6 p.m., will feature Indie rock group Bethesda and food from a half-dozen local eateries. The evening (suggested donation: $5) is an opportunity to meet Fringe artists, staff, volunteers and other audience members.
full Fringe schedule will be published in CityBeat's May 15 edition,
but you can get some information at the refreshed website: www.cincyfringe.com.
I'm looking forward to return visits by Wonderheads (from Portland,
Ore., who did some amazing work with masks in last year's Grim and Fischer; their new piece is titled LOON), Four Humors Theatre (from Minneapolis, whose always creative troupe will be staging Lolita: A Three Man Show) and Tanya O'Debra (from New York City; whose Radio Star was a much admired work in 2012; this time she's in a two-person piece, Shut UP, Emily Dickinson).
Performance Gallery, based here in Cincinnati and a regular annual
presence every year is staging Mater Facit, "an absurd look at
motherhood, nationalism, war, sex and sacrifice." Tangled Leaves
Theatrical Collective, another Cincinnati-based group popular with local
audiences, will produce Vortex of the Great Unknown.
Of course, the real fun of Fringe is being surprised by new material and performers, and this year's lineup offers plenty of that: Poe and Mathews: A Misadventure in the Middle of Nowhere (Los Angeles); Questions of the Heart: Gay Mormons and the Search for Identity (Bloomington, Ind.); The Bubble and Other Displays of Moral Turpitude (from Cincinnati-based North American New Opera Workshop); The Elephant in My Closet (New York City); and a production of Cincinnati playwright Catie O'Keefe's The Space Between my Head and my Body (by Shark Eat Muffin Theatre Company). I could go on and on — Know's announcement news release is 20 pages! Based on a decade of Fringing, I like to say that the festival is "theater roulette": You never know what's going to happen when you show up for a performance, and serendipity is the only predictable element. That's what makes it fun. I don't want to wish away springtime, but is it May 28 yet?
Even cheap bastards like you deserve a good scare. Here are a few homebrew haunts we found out about. They’re all free, so check ’em out and enjoy.
16 rooms, a tunnel, cabin and chainsaw killers.
Dusk to 9 p.m. Halloween.
2759 Niagra St., Northgate
Terror on Timberlake
An extensive home haunt with a children's area.
7-10 p.m. Halloween.
300 Timberlake Ave., Erlanger, www.wescareyou.com
Walker Cemetery Yard Haunt
Free yard haunt courtesy of Damien Reaper’s dad, Grey Ghost. (Damien Reaper is a character at the Dent Schoolhouse.)
5-9 p.m. Halloween.
5142 State Route 128, Cleves, 513-353-2556
If you want the real haunted house scare, peruse CityBeat's reviews of 17 area attractions here.