by Mei Higashi
The delightful Denk performance at the Wallis ended in a long standing ovation from the discerning crowd of classical piano enthusiasts. The emotion, energy and intensity of his show was apparent and anyone planning to see this show in person will surely be at the edge of their seats throughout the show. A treat indeed, Jeremy Denk solidifies why he's received so much praise where even other renown performers come to experience in person.
The bare stage of Wallis Annenberg’s Bram Goldsmith Theater spotlights a simple piano set, and the crowd’s applause welcomes the talented American pianist. As the lights dim, the audience eagerly sits forward and Mr. Denk begins to play ‘Rondo in A minor, K.511’ by Mozart; beginning an evening of an exciting, scintillating performance.
Denk’s fingers passionately strike the keys, lightly tickling the notes and elegantly transitioning into wild tunes. He carefully pauses in between the music before beginning another piece. His performance features music from Mozart, Prokofiev, Beethoven and Schubert, effortlessly playing each song with grace and immense focus.
After the performance, the audience was full of endless praise and cheer. Certainly Denk's fingers deserved a rest and while he left everything on stage, even the audience was ready to silently reflect on the magical performance witnessed. The beautiful shows at the Wallis are always thought-provoking, leaving you inspired and in this performance – in awe.
Blues in The Night
By Frederick Minser
Blues in The Night makes you want to physically get up and dance with the actors. The stage is composed of three separate rooms that make up the character’s homes, each with a sign illuminated above reading Hotel, Jazz, and Bar. The talented live jazz band on stage complemented the beautiful performances by the actors; each actor having an amazing presence and vocal range that was combined for some outstanding harmonies. The lighting and technical cues added another layer of realism to enhance the experience. The staging made for some beautiful tableaux, not to mention the amount of talent each actor had. Being triple threats, Yvette Cason, Bryce Charles, Chester Gregory, Paulette Ivory are what made this show work. Demonstrating three very unique and different characters allowed for each song to feel like a new experience told from a different point of view.
Blues in the Night
Blues in the Night was a musical treat and lively performance that consisted of jazz sounds of the 1930’s while allowing insight to the character of three dynamic women.
The performance focuses on three different women and one man, as they sing songs both as soloists and together in harmony. The characters all embodied different personas. The Lady from The Road offered a more comedic side through her musical choices. The Girl with the Date was young and naive, but still showed ferocity and spunk. The Woman of the World seemed to long for love and was presented in a soft, elegant manner. Having one male in the surrounding female cast was interesting to highlight a different perspective from the rest of the cast, while also emphasizing the female dominance and empowerment. The setting of the performance took place in a hotel in Chicago, and there were designated areas of the stage that portrayed the living quarters of each women. Through this set up, the audience was able to see a personality and different aspect of each women’s lifestyle.
Along with the captivating stage set up, the live band was placed in the back behind the main stage. Having live music elevated the experience for the audience. The costume choices were fitting for the time period, with the man dressed in a dapper suit, and the women draped in long dresses. The song selections were mostly lively and upbeat, but there were also songs that were more sorrowful. Overall, the song selections depicted the time period of the late 1930’s and the emotions of the characters. There was no dialogue in the entire show, but the music and lyrics were able to still depict the meaning to the musical. Through solely singing, the three leading women portrayed all emotions of joy, pain, and sorrow. The three women all faced some sort of heartbreak but as they sang songs of blues, this gave the women strength and independence as the play came to an end, which showcased the developing character of the three ladies.
By Kate O’Carroll
From the moment the company entered screaming, I knew wild Up would be a memorable show. wild Up: Future Folk is an orchestral group based in Los Angeles. However, “orchestral group” does not begin to scratch the surface of what happens at their shows.
The audience entered to two of the musicians already performing, a guitarist and bassist seemingly having a laid-back jam session, playing “Endless Bummer.” However, after the show started, the chill spirit suddenly lifted and gave way to oddball intensity. The entire company entered the space and stood within the audience holding white sheets painted with blue and black symbols. One woman on stage, Jodie Landau, played the xylophone, and the company - also known as Future Folk personnel - flung their sheets up and dozens of ping pong balls suddenly filled the theater. The personnel flooded the stage, wearing the white sheets, and scream-sang a single note in unison. Chris Rountree, artistic director and conductor, took center stage and conducted the cast drumming, clapping, and singing. Once the audience processed the unusual music, Rountree announced: “And now a reading from a book.” Rountree recited a passage from a book about seances.
After the short literary break, the orchestra was back to playing. Not only did wild Up utilize traditional orchestral instruments, but in Egyptian Two-Step, some of the personnel played spray bottles; their music was the sound of pressurized air. Arguably the audience’s favorite piece was Narayana’s Cows, which just epitomized how unpredictable and unique the show was as a whole. Rountree offered the audience a math problem about the number of cows seventeen years after the birth of one cow. To help us better comprehend the answer, the orchestra played one note per cow and slowly went year by year, until the audience and orchestra both were going crazy listening to the never ending sonic insanity of cows. As Narayana’s Cows reached its bitter end, the audience was fully invested in whatever was going on onstage. The company immediately went into soft piano playing, giving no time to processing the cow problem. Rountree then asked for six audience volunteers, and far more than six rushed the stage. Rountree conducted the orchestra as Jodie Landau conducted the volunteer chorus in singing and howling. I couldn’t discern Future Folk personnel from audience since so many volunteers were on stage. Grandparents, kids, and friends were all together chanting and singing. For the finale, an unfinished Scriabin piece entitled “Mysterium,” Rountree explained that legend says you know you’ve completed this piece because the world will end immediately after. The world did not end after “Mysterium,” instead the audience chorus and the Future Folk personnel stood together as the stage lights went out.
wild Up cannot be explained, as I have learned. I wasn’t sure if I was watching a concert, a play, or an immersive art installation. The audience was engaged, surprised, and thrilled throughout. wild Up raises questions about what defines theater, what defines music, and what defines an audience. I left the theater with those questions in mind, and they have stayed with me since.
By Kate O’Carroll
Last month, the Wallis presented the world premiere of Jackie Unveiled, a one-woman show starring Saffron Burrows about Jackie Kennedy. Written by Tom Dugan and directed by Jenny Sullivan, Jackie reminisces on her life through a box of photos and grapples with suicide on the night of Robert Kennedy’s assassination. She only wants safety for herself and her children, and feels that Robert’s death will strip her of that safety since Robert protected them following JFK’s death.
The first act follows Jackie through this night in crisis, and the second act is decades later, after her second marriage has long ended and she has learned to live without the safety of a companion. Instead of suicide, Jackie is fixated on the phone awaiting a call from her doctor about the results of a cancer test, which the audience knows is ultimately her cause of death. Act 2 Jackie is older, wiser, and has more perspective. While Act 1 Jackie looks back on her life with fear, Act 2 Jackie looks back on her life with peace. Jackie spoke to the audience knowing that we were watching in the future, discussing the “comfort of hindsight.” Burrows directly addressing the audience gave the show an intimate, familial atmosphere, heightened by the small theater space. The show began with politics but ended personal: she entered in a blackout to Robert Kennedy’s campaign song, and she exited to open the door for her grandkids.
One-woman shows often struggle with being sustainably entertaining for a few hours, but Burrows’ complex acting and Dugan’s gripping storytelling kept me engaged throughout the performance. Burrows held an impressive agency over the stage as the sole performer. While many have tackled Jackie as a character, writing and directing about such a well-known person is not an easy job: Dugan and Sullivan had to balance politics and personal, balance the famous stories with unique details and anecdotes that distinguish this Jackie with the countless other Jackies in art over time. They succeeded, and the audience was able to get to know Jackie as a fresh character rather than a one-dimensional historical figure. Dugan used well-known stories such as JFK’s political history. However, what set this Jackie apart was the honesty with which he wrote and Burrows acted.
Burrows’ Jackie was honest about her relationships, motherhood, and alcoholism. She maintained that reserved presentation so integral to Jackie’s character while speaking openly about her life, which was a powerful reminder that she lived her life trying to be perfect in the public eye. Even as she is in crisis mode, she is still stuck inside her facade of perfect presentation. Francois-Pierre Couture’s detailed set of Jackie’s apartment - childrens’ toys, crystal bowls, and a Robert Kennedy campaign hat on the floor - provided a rich background to the layers of Jackie. Jackie Unveiled presented a distinct and honest version of Jackie Kennedy, yet posed the question: Will we ever truly know Jackie?
The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk
By Kate O' Carroll
Marc Chagall was turned from artist to subject at the Wallis in February, in the US premiere of The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk. The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, written by Daniel Jamieson and directed by Emma Rice, follows the life of artist Marc Chagall and his wife Bella falling in love and living in early 20th century Russia as Jews. Flying Lovers takes place under the backdrop of antisemitism, the Russian Revolution, and the World Wars.
The titular Vitebsk is the Chagalls’ hometown in Russia. The secondary romance in the show really is Marc and Vitebsk. He begins the show by lovingly describing his town, and throughout the play, as the couple move around to escape the World War I draft and to help Marc’s career, he expresses sorrow about the downfall of the city, which was under Nazi occupation during World War II. While the setting changes, their passion for home continues through the show.
While many would focus solely on the life of Marc, writer Jamieson gives equal respect to Marc and Bella. Marc, played by Marc Antolin, easily steps into the role of icon and plays the character honestly. Daisy Maywood, who plays Bella, captures the complexity of loving an artist and fearing for her family’s safety. The pair have cohesive chemistry that makes the story powerful. In a show where art is central, the set design dazzles. The stage setup by Sophia Clist is well utilized and striking yet simple. The set design also allowed for impressive choreography to take place with ease.
Art seeps through the political and historical themes in various forms: a small band acts as the ensemble, the show has a several moments of song, and of course, the dancing. A Jewish wedding scene could not happen without a dance break, and the audience was overjoyed and highly entertained by the hora, during which Marc and Bella entered wearing chair costumes - a genius touch by Sophia Clist. The infectious energy of the wedding scene was largely due to the music, the Jewish wedding tunes. The music throughout the production varied widely in culture. There were Jewish, Russian, and French themes throughout that gave the show a diverse sound.
Flying Lovers carries a childlike wonder throughout, a perfect joyous spectacle for every age group with mature historical themes that will interest adults. The production has a winning balance of dark and light themes. The gravity of the political climate is ever present even during the lighter scenes, and the love and passion is evident even in the grim scenes. Flying Lovers introduces the world to Bella Chagall, a widely unknown character behind the widely known paintings.The show is also a story about beauty in the face of terror, a theme that will always be relevant. The audience is exposed to how exactly Chagall’s life and art was influenced by the dark global events going on around him, a reminder that politics and world events make an impact on every person’s life.
The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk (Feb 23 - Mar 11, 2018)
By Panna Gattyan
As the writer and the director of The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk gazed at one of Marc Chagall’s paintings, it began shifting, colors dancing and characters singing, until it broke through the canvas and came alive on the stage. This Kneehigh (a UK company) performance reveals Marc Chagall’s and his wife Bella’s life and love in the whirlwind that is 20th century Europe. Before the play began, the stage was already fully revealed. It simply held a slanted, square wooden floor which represented a room, although three of the four walls were missing. Objects were strewn about in seemingly random order. Silently, subtly, a man took his place by the piano beside the makeshift room and began to play. Then another man, without notice, took up his instrument. These were the two musicians. Both in all black, two actors, Marc and Bella, strolled on stage, imperceptibly. Their faces were covered in white makeup, Marc’s more so than Bella’s. While this bothered me, my mom who I watched this with thought it was a nice touch to make the play seem more like a story of artists.
The play began with a song about making believe that Marc and Bella are with each other. The music and the singing was beautiful, very strong and effective. With only two characters in the entire performance, Marc and Bella, and two musicians who occasionally helped with props, the story felt like an intimate view into this couple’s minds, which never strayed far from each other. Caught up in their fantasy world within an impoverished and warring nation, the two soon found themselves pushed from their loving home, Vitebsk. The melding of Yiddish, Russian, and French songs portrayed the Chagalls’ exile and feelings of being lost during the wars. I almost watched the play again with my father the next day but unfortunately they weren’t performing on Sunday. I’ve ceaselessly recommended it to friends since.
By Frederick Roman Minser
David Mynne’s one man show of Charles Dickens Great Expectations is something of wonder. The amount of object and character work is astounding. Being able to accomplish so much with so little is what made this show truly great. Using different household objects such as a mirror or a handkerchief to represent different characters he's portraying, not to mention his diversity of accents made his performance a spectacle to watch. Having only a table with a box, David had to use unique techniques to tell the story. The friendliness of the story and the overall lesson learned at the end is one that everyone will delight in seeing. The comedy kept the audience filled with joy even during the more traumatic moments. This show is one that both children and adults can enjoy together with an astounding actor to marvel over.
Ory Shihor - February 13, 2018
By Grace Mesenbring
World renowned pianist, Ory Shihor, did not originally play piano. He studied violin, but was instead at 5-years-old magnetically drawn to the piano because of its machine like composure and its ability to produce beautiful music at the touch of his fingers.
His mother listened to classical music, so hearing renowned artists, such as Schubert, continuously influenced him at home.
When Ory was 15-years-old he moved to The United States from Israel to pursue piano more seriously. By this time, he had already played at esteemed concert halls. He trained daily and attended Juilliard College in NYC, or “the Chanel of music schools,” as he joked.
“When I was growing up, people weren’t thinking about [what we were going to do when we grew up],” Ory said. “I just did it.” Ory did not recognize what career he was working toward until he was a young adult, around 19 or 20 because he was simply doing what he was working hard at which was what he loved.
Even now, Ory does not always feel like he has achieved fame and success. He is aware that he must be conscious about separating personal identity from identity as a performer. “They’re separate,” Ory said. “It’s about being content and happy, not just to sell more,” he said.
“In art it’s about the journey,” he said. “There’s risks that have to be taken.” Ory praises the process of learning from mistakes and failures, and attributes much of his inspiration to failures.
“A failure can be not playing my best,” he said. “But, you have to walk away and say, I’ve done my best. I’m human.” There are so many different variables that factor into any performance, according to Ory. “Too much coffee, not enough sleep, too much sleep, nerves or too much talking before a performance can distract a performer,” Ory said. He believes that these imperfections make artists more interesting.
Ory tries to practice 1-2 hours each day, but when he has upcoming performances, he practices 4-5 hours. Ory’s goal when performing is to “reach people, and tell stories.” Classical music has emotions, powerful feelings and unspoken stories, according to Ory.
When Ory collaborated with Hershey Felder to layer spoken word relating to Schubert’s alongside Schubert’s music, Ory found the experience to be a unique opportunity to share Schubert’s complicated and tragic life.
“So much for Schubert’s last emotions were expressed in his music,” Ory said.
Ory’s advice to young people pursing a career in the arts is to “have a great mentor in your field of choice, keep in touch with those mentors, and be genuinely kind to everyone.” Ory claims the art community to be a small and connected one. Ory plans to continue teaching students, playing concerts, and creating educational programs and ways to share classical music.
Teaching is “gratifying to see students develop in their technique, interest level and increasing passion,” Ory said. “It is very inspiring.”
The Heart of Robin Hood
By Anna Polin
The Heart of Robin Hood was a great musical showing the original story with a twist. This show illustrates a new version of Robin Hood, a braver and stronger version with stunts that will make your jaw drop and songs that will make your heart melt. The Heart of Robin Hood is the perfect combination of action, comedy, and romance. The costumes intrigued me with their ruffle details along with how different each costume was and how well it matched the personality of the character. The music was both action packed and lovely with a phenomenal ensemble.
I would also like to point out how well the actors expressed their characters. Their acting skills rose above my expectation. However, due to the theme of the story I would suggest children over the age of eight see this musical due to mild violence and intense action. All in all, the show was a great success and will definitely leave you wishing to see it again.
Sandoval Jazz Weekend
By Fred Minser
Seeing a single jazz performance is always a wonderful experience, but seeing three very unique groups is incredible. These three different jazz groups incorporated music from their own cultures to make a very versatile performance. Being taught under Arturo Sandoval and being a part of The Arturo Sandoval Institute has brought these musicians to perform together at The Wallis. Max Haymor phenomenally played the piano to kick off the show with his talented band. The next amazing singer and trumpet player, Linda Briceno was multi-talented. Miss Briceno switched seamlessly from singing to playing the trumpet, and her band had many show stopping moments. Finishing the show was the astounding Cuban harp player Edmar Castaneda and his band. His fusion style of harp playing almost seemed like a dance. You could tell how passionate they were based on how they all felt the music and poetically complemented each other with their instrument. Even During short breaks while the crew was setting up for the next performance there was fantastic music and commentary by the infamous Arturo Sandoval himself, which was a real treat. These short breaks were met with learning about the art and the performers on stage. The diversity in instrument choices and music from around the globe made this a night you'll never forget.
Lula Washington Dance Theater
By Kate O'Carroll
During MLK weekend, Lula Washington Dance Theatre brought their energy to the Wallis, discussing social and political issues through dance. LWDT, a native LA company, presents messages often about race in America using the artistic medium of dance. The first piece, The Little Rock Nine & The Movement , told the Civil Rights Era story about nine black students that integrated a school in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. Washington respected each student’s individuality, and their distinctive choreography reflected that individuality. The lighting by Micheal David Ricks changed through the personalities of the teenagers. The dancers perfectly captured the youthful spirit and fear in their body language. The Movement honored Civil Rights leaders Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr,” the dance within the larger Movement piece, featured stark march choreography. On the projection screen, a slideshow featured graphic and violent photos of lynching and the KKK. Unfortunately, the Confederate flags and the white hoods in the photos implied a shocking timeliness. The five-minute pause after The Movement was useful, since the gravity of the subject matter would have weighed down the following piece, the short and sweet Snowy Day. Snowy Day told the tale of a young boy and his friends playing around, presenting with profound simplicity, joyful black kids living in a Charlie Brown-like storybook plot. The fun dance was a perfect antidote to the heaviness of The Movement. The next piece, Reign, was an audience favorite. The song reflected club music, and both the costumes - red dresses - and the choreography allowed the dancers to show off to the audience and let loose. The freedom of Reign empowered the dancers and acted as a celebration of black beauty. The Message, an alternative and contemporary dance featuring real-life characters such as a soldier, pushed the envelope by ending with dramatic statements professed to the audience: statements explicitly mentioning Russian collusion, Trump, Dreamers, and Hillary Clinton. The Message communicated a modern message to an audience, and was a valid reflection of the first piece, which tackled historical issues. The piece was shocking initially but artistically justified. The final piece, Open Your Eyes, acted more as a fantasy set to disco music than reality-based dances such as The Message or The Little Rock Nine. Open Your Eyes boasted impressive lighting and the most dazzling costumes of the show by Terri James, most memorably the eye catching half-human half-bird rainbow capes. The costumes and the graceful choreography contributed to the otherworldly atmosphere of Open Your Eyes, a perfect
cap to the usually grounded show. Overall, the Dance Theater troupe provoked thought about history. The numerous breaks in the program sometimes decreased the momentum of the show, but meaningful pieces quickly brought the flow back. The show reminded us of the bravery of people in the not-so-distant past fighting for civil rights, and applauded how far they’ve come while also staying aware of today’s realities. Lula Washington Dance Theater was a celebration of blackness in past, present, and future.
Lula Washington Dance Theatre
By Frederick Roman Minser
The great thing about this performance was how different it was from what you might expect from a dance show. The monologues spoken overhead while the performer dances the emotion behind the words and the powerful visuals while the dancers paid tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr were a unique choice. The dramatic pieces mixed in with the more comedic made a very versatile experience for the audience. The third dance, Snowy Day, felt almost like an episode of Charlie Brown with the dancers having fun on a snowy day. Though these drastically different performances made it a more fulfilling experience some things were a bit extreme. Small children in the audience were quite alarmed to see dead people hanging from trees in the slides projected on stage. These images being historically relevant and a part of the civil rights movement might make families avoid the show. Apart from these shocking images, the performances were moving, fun, and unexpected all in one.
A Refreshing Take on an Old Tale
The Heart of Robin Hood
By Liza Freiberg
Winter, a season for passing plates and passing down traditions. This December, The Wallis Center for the Performing Arts is offering up a new twist on an age-old story. David Farr’s The Heart of Robin Hood is more than a story about a gallant outlaw, a sneaky fox, or men in tights; it’s a myriad of anachronistically accepted characters in medieval England -- a black title character, an effeminate attendant, a cross-dressing daughter of a duke, and a prince whose misogyny is reflective of evil.
In addition to Farr’s unique character renditions, directors Gísli Örn Garðarsson and Selma Björnsdóttir had stage designer Börkur Jónsson create an impressive forest set: what at first glance appears to be simply a background wall of greenery, but is also a colossal slide and ladder for dramatic and creative entrances and exits; a hole in the stage, used as a bottomless pit; and a miniature pond, spewing splashes of water at all the right cues. Upon entering the theater, nearly each audience member found his or her seat, only to reach into a pocket or bag to snap a quick shot of Jónsson’s masterpiece.
The performers were not just actors; they trained and built their bodies to defy gravity, running up and down the background wall, or even side to side. Robin Hood and his band of brigands all strutted toned arms and ripped abdominals, making the intense fighting scenes seem like a stroll through the park. But there’s no doubt Moe Alafrangy, both henchman and stuntman, stole the show with his flying flips and tricks. His presence on stage commanded great attention in action-packed scenes, yet it did not create chaos, rather eliciting an ethereal energy. All in all, the fight scenes, if not completely realistic, were masterfully choreographed and brought many watchers to the edge of their seat.
The show had an unusual amount of self-awareness to it. The rustic band and lead singer that introduced and explained scenes were often swept into the plot’s antics, and receding into the background just as quickly. At certain pivotal points, characters entered the scene from the audience’s domain. However, the fourth wall had not broken totally broken until Sarah Hunt, playing Maid Marion’s gold-digging sister Alice, asked members of the audience the size of their estates in an attempt to find a suitable sugar duke. To the delight of the audience, she equated residents of the Valley with peasantry. Right before the conclusion of the show and the show’s defining romance between Robin Hood and Marion, Alice settles on a bad boy, running off with one of Hoods hoodlums.
The comedy, the shenanigans, the excitement, the soul searching and the romance; all of it pales in comparison to the final scene, a satisfying flying wedding between Hood and Marion. By the end of the show, it would be a challenge to find someone in the audience who’s heart was not won over by this adaptation on the tale of the bandit with a heart of gold.
Sarah Chang and Julio Elizalde
By Kate O'Carroll
Violinist Sarah Chang and pianist Julio Elizalde united to present a late-Romantic era concert earlier this month. The concert travelled chronologically back in time, beginning with a
Bartok piece from 1915, then presenting two pieces from the 1880s: Brahms’ Sonata No. 3 in D minor and Franck’s Sonata in A major. Before the concert, a piano centered an otherwise bare stage. Even as Chang and Elizalde took to the stage, not even a spotlight shone on the players. The simplicity of the environment created a heightened audial experience. Chang and Elizalde were not even facing each other, the timing of the two instruments syncs seamlessly together from the first note of Bela Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances. Bartok’s piece was a perfect opener, since the folk dance music was upbeat. Brahms created more instrumental tension between the instruments than the Folk Dances. The violin and the piano were at odds for the majority, as if fighting to command attention, with only a few fleeting moments of harmony. Sonata No. 3 features constant tension, not to mention epic crescendos. The final piece after an intermission was Cesar Franck’s Sonata in A major, clearly the main event of the night. This Franck sonata was famously composed as a wedding gift to the violinist Eugene Ysaye, who then played it with a guest at the wedding ceremony. The piece was meant to evoke a tumultuous relationship. Elizalde and Change were a perfect match, and Elizalde in particular was able to impress the audience more than the previous pieces. The dynamics of the instruments mimicked each other well, turbulence rising until the final
movement, Allegro poco mosso, which is a joyful celebration of love and marriage. Sarah Chang shone throughout the concert. In particular, Chang’s skilled vibrato
produced gloriously melancholy long notes. Chang also effortlessly fluctuated between forte and piano, arco and pizzicato. Unbeknownst to me before the show, she was a musical prodigy in her youth, being accepted to Julliard at five and recording an album at ten. The violin is second nature to her, which is evident even today as she exercises total agency over the instrument at all times. Chang’s passion for her craft also proved itself. She physically embodied the fierce sonatas, pacing the stage and breaking three bow hairs in the process. While violent in her passion, she also immediately cracked a smile after the last note of the final sonata. Julio Elizalde controlled the flow of the entire concert since oftentimes, the piano was playing the first notes of the piece. Elizalde acted as the solid musical pillar so that Chang could take risks. Elizalde commanded attention on the piano even when playing softly. He did not
rush, but instead took his time with every rich note. The pair even played an encore: the lively tango piece, Por una cabeza. The concert ended in raucous applause. Chang and Elizalde’s performance impressed and excited me, a teenager widely unfamiliar with classical music, and surely would impress and excite anyone.
The Heart of Robin Hood
By Mei Higashi
Forget everything that you have ever known about Robin Hood - this elaborate production is a comedic tale that goes rogue from the stereotypical story. Created by
writer David Farr and directors Gisli Örn Gardarsson and Selma Björnsdottir, all is not well in the sweet countryside of Nottingham. The cruel tyrant Prince John is terrorizing the town, poor peasants are paying dreadful taxes through the nose, and Robin Hood and his unmerry men are stealing from the rich - but they haven’t figured out the other missing piece. To the rescue comes brave and bold Marion, who sets out to show the gang that there is more to being an outlaw
than just purloining gold and jewels. After being violently rejected by Robin Hood, a determined Marion decides to create her own fearless duo of swashbucklers with her trusty servant, Pierre. The two, disguised as Martin of Sherwood and Big Peter, come in direct competition with Robin and his band of men. The dramatic, “good versus evil” plot hangs from a thread,
concluding in a joint effort to rescue the pair of children that are running from the cold grasp of Prince John. Impressive props support the magnificent performance, such as a steep forty-five-foot hill, a bottomless pit, hidden waterholes, and a pond. Additionally, an enchanting band featuring Icelandic singer, rapper, and actress, Salka Sól Eyfeld, takes the musical
direction by storm - to a whole new level. The Heart of Robin Hood is a romantic, comedic and dramatic play that will have you head-over-heels with the fast-paced theatricals.
The Heart of Robin Hood
Before the show has even started the audience is immersed into an extravagant forest with sounds of birds and running water capturing your ears. The on stage orchestra was wonderful as they set the tone of each scene and made comical instrumental cues for each characters. The twist that Robin Hood steals for himself and not the poor was definitely a new take on the character. Families will be delighted by the wonderful singing that accompanies fun fight scenes. The entrances for the characters are over the top in every scene as the stage slopes upward allowing for the actors to slide into the action. This made for some very comical moments as well as some cool acrobatics. The stunt choreography was spectacular; the crazy things they pulled off reminded me of a circus as they swung themselves around on ropes. Families of all ages will enjoy this new telling of a famous classic.
L.A. Dance Project
By Liza Freiberg
An assortment of ages, backgrounds, and personalities all working as one – this is L.A. Dance Project. On November 3rd, 2017, ten brilliant dancers took the stage of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, performing Benjamin Millepied’s and Noé Soulier’s choreography. Their work is not solely a form of entertainment, but a method of self-expression through art, as is especially conveyed through the title of Benjamin Millepied’s In Silence We Speak – one of the two pieces performed for the first time on the West Coast.
Millepied’s title is not a misnomer – the silent, still moments struck the audience mightier than the sporadic frantic episodes, demanding more attention to comprehend a deeper meaning from what seems to be a simple position. In these moments of stillness, the dancers exhibit a degree of total control over their bodies: a much harder task than moving without coordination. Bulging muscles and popping veins softened by a pleasant face, coupled with years of technique training – that’s the mark of an exceptional dancer; L.A Dance Project has ten of them.
Performing for one hour and fifty minutes, there’s no dispute that the show put the dancers to the ultimate physical test. The shortest dance reached an astounding fifteen minutes, what probably seemed impossible to some of the company members back in their two-minute-solo competition days. But what sets apart L.A. Dance Project from other dance companies is not the stamina; it is the unison with which the company performs. The dancers can be on random parts of the stage, moving at differing heights, presenting alternative movements of one theme, yet still breathing as if they comprised one entity.
Attention to such minute details and their perfect execution amazes an audience, all the more when it lasts for the entirety of a dance as long as twenty eight minutes, the case of Soulier’s Second Quartet. How is it that an audience is not bored by a dance almost as long as a Seinfeld episode? Again, the audience marvels at the meticulousness of the choreography, not necessarily attentive to the meaning of the movement. Both the dancers and the audience members struggle to keep up with the detail, entertaining a challenge for Soulier’s masterpiece.
L.A. Dance Project
L.A. Dance Project was a vibrant performance which showcased the dance company’s artistic, unique movement. The first piece, Closer, was performed by two dancers who relied on each other throughout the dance. There was a strong connection between the partners as they used each other’s bodies by leaning, hugging, or embracing each other. They made beautiful artistic shapes and lines with their bodies. The dancers had grace and strength, making the movements appear light and airy; the complex lifts seemed so effortless for them to execute. Even at times when the dancers were not physically connected, they danced separately but were still in sync with their choreography. Paired with the amazing technique, there was simplistic lighting and costuming which elevated the performance.
The second piece, Second Quartet, was a more contemporary and stylistic movement. There was free form choreography which matched the unique musical beats, drums, and chimes. The dancers represented the different accents of drums and symbols through the quirky shapes they made with their bodies. Although there was four dancers altogether, the dancers would alternate on and off stage with different pairings. For instance, in one of the duets, the connections made with both of their bodies were creative and different, as they glided off one another for support. When all four dancers were on stage at once, they performed with no music which drew attention to their movement and allowed the dancers to make the music themselves.
In Silence We Speak, two female dancers created a beautiful partnership. The ladies seemed attached to each other emotionally and physically, as they held and supported each other. The dancers also had a soft look in their eyes and meaningful expressions of care. Their movement could be felt as they fully extended through their fingers and arms. In the piece, there was a more urbanized feel to the music with hard hitting beats. When they danced without music, the art of the movement through shapes and lines were fully recognizable. Overall, the performance was angelic, which was created by the dancer’s relationship as well as the soft lighting and musical choices.
The final piece, Orpheus Highway, was visually captivating because of the projection in the background that displayed videos of the dancers dancing. Most of the choreography in the background video mirrored the dancer’s choreography on the stage. The video in the background was not just dancing, but it also told a story; it was like a movie. This aspect made the overall performance more intense. This piece involved the whole dance company, as they performed in groups, duos, or trios. Most of the piece was contemporary movement, and as a group, they executed the choreography cleanly. Although the video projection the background was very captivating, and added to the intensity of the performance, it may be difficult to follow both the video and the live performance simultaneously. Overall, The L.A. Dance Project performance was captivating and dynamic, as all four pieces were unique, through display of different emotions and styles.
The Wars Within Us
LA Dance Project
By Panna Gattyan
The LA Dance Project performed four dances on November 2-4 as the Wallis Annenberg Center’s first company-in-residence. The artistic Director, Benjamin Millepied (who choreographed the movie Black Swan), choreographed most pieces except one called Second Quartet, which is choreographed by Noé Soulier.
The first dance, Closer, intertwines two people in nightclothes. The man and the woman continuously touch as they move. Soft lights and movements, a live piano score accompanies the dancers. The man lifts the woman with ease, moving in sync, completing each other. Their shadows dance in the background while the music swells intensely then mellows out again. Towards the end the lovers increasingly dance on the floor, like puzzle pieces missing then finding each other again.
Following this classical piece of piano and lovers is Second Quartet, which lacks both the traditional music and movements. In Soulier’s words, “The movements presented [in this piece] are not immediately recognizable. Rather, they are motivated by concrete goals—such as avoiding, striking, throwing, pushing, and resisting…[The] body parts used during the movements are ill-suited for their goals.” This statement perfectly encompasses the jerky, inhuman movements of the dancers. Some movements include trying to push invisible things using the throat, abdomen, or thighs. By not representing the targeted object, the audience pictures their own “physical memory.” The music accompanying the awkward movements is an even more awkward soundtrack of whirring, cracking, wave and clacking sounds. The dancers wear everyday clothes, leaving the stage randomly and often lying or flopping on the ground. Although sometimes in sync, there’s no intimacy between the dancers. At least, not until later in the piece when a man and a woman continue their pushing movements, but touching. They dance as if they can’t move without using the other person’s body. Sometimes there’s no sound at all, and all we hear is the movement of the bodies.
The third dance, In Silence We Speak, begins with two girls in pale onesies and a light tapping sound. The music sometimes morphs into a medieval choral with lyrics including “you will love me” and “you will turn to dust.” This piece has a lot of cool moves.
The last dance, Orpheus Highway, was the most powerful. Dancers performed on stage while a video on screen showed a similar dance but outside. The dance interprets the Ancient Greek myth of Orpheus.. His wife, Eurydice, dies on their wedding day, and Orpheus travels to the underworld to retrieve her, enchanting Hades, the god of the underworld, with his music.This piece includes some tap dancing, mostly used by the ‘devil’s horde’ dancers in an attempt to intimidate Orpheus and his wife. The desert represents the underworld in the video. Hades allows Eurydice to return with Orpheus on the condition that neither of them look back as they leave. Orpheus walks in front, with Eurydice behind him. When Orpheus makes it to the threshold of the underworld, he looks back at his wife in joy. At that moment, Eurydice gets sucked back and Orpheus loses her forever.
By Canyon Clark
I recently saw a performance of Dorrance Dance (at the Annenberg Center for The Performing Arts) This was a phenomenal show that I recommend seeing . After the performance I was lucky enough to ask Michelle Dorrance a few questions.
What is the inspiration for your choreography?
Dorrance responded that she wanted to “show the audience, particularly non tap dancers what I see hear and experience as percussion with the body” Dorrance focuses on creating sounds of rhythm in order for viewers to “hear” the rhythm. She paralleled this to rhythms and beats of today’s music with percussive beats. Dorrance’s goal was to “juxtapose tap sounds with no sounds” that would give viewers a different perspective on tap, while simultaneously and unintentionally telling a story about her outlook on life. For her third piece, called Myelination Michelle said she was interested in the brain and the fatty tissue that contributes to learning things. Through Myelination she expresses that “Anything you practice to become good at that becomes part of your natural instinct, whether you’re playing something or writing something …” She also explained that this could work in a negative way such as being quick to anger or having a bad attitude will also affect your natural instinct.
How did you get into tap dancing?
“I grew up as a daughter of a dance school owner” Dorrance’s mom created a dance academy where she spent most of her time. This is where she found her love for tap and music. Her mom ended up being her mentor and teacher.
Do you enjoy choreography or improvisation more?
She responded that her “heart lives with improvisation, but I love the challenge of executing choreography and I love the feeling of dancing with my crew” this is because of her love of music and the process of composing.
When you dance do you portray more of your personal feelings or about society?
Michelle said, she believes that “many times those both intersect. I think you guys are in this generation growing up with a really outrageous political time… It enrages me personally what’s happening in this country in every direction.” Dorrance confessed that the problems in society keep her up at night. She then goes on to explain the history of tap dance and its origins from slavery. Tap dance is a “subversive language at its core, and that it’s an art form that is not respected the way it should be. Tap is so sophisticated and music at the same time and people just write it off as entertainment.” She also talked about how she includes politics when she taps. The background of her including politics is because tap dancers have died without money because of racism and sexism.
Feathers of Fire
By Kate O’Carroll
When you hear “shadow puppets,” you probably think of grade school birthday party. In Feathers of Fire: A Persian Epic, however, shadow puppets are presented in a whole new light - no pun intended. Feathers of Fire, created and directed by Hamid Rahmanian, tells the story of star-crossed lovers in ancient Persia through the use of shadow puppet headpieces that the actors wear while performing behind a screen and some handheld puppets used for transition sequences and wide-frame scenes. The unconventional medium of shadow puppetry resembles the art and design of ancient Persia, honoring the inspiration for the play.
Feathers of Fire, produced by ShadowLight Productions, is based on the Persian epic Shahnameh, written around 1000 C.E. by Ferdowski. Shahnameh, which translates to Book of Kings, incorporates mythology within history to chronicle the story of Persia. The hefty book - about 100,000 lines long - contains countless stories, and Feathers of Fire is an in depth retelling of a small portion of the epic.
Feathers of Fire details the life of Zaul, who is abandoned at birth by his widowed father, a knight. Zaul is raised by a majestic bird, Simorgh, but re-enters civilization in his adolescence. The conflict centers on Zaul’s relationship with Rudabeh, a princess of Kabul. Political and familial tensions hinder Zaul and Rudabeh from being together. Rudabeh and Zaul’s star-crossed love is a familiar motif, but avoids cliche. Their romance feels fresh though predictable.
The target audience for Feathers of Fire ranges from 5 to 85, and everyone is able to enjoy different aspects of the show. Children will delight in the colorful visuals, and can easily comprehend the plot through the narrative style. Some of the moments are even familiar to children, such as when Rudabeh, atop a balcony, like Rapunzel lets down her hair for Zaul. Adults in the audience will appreciate the humor in the scene, as Rudabeh’s ditzy maidens swoon over the handsome Zaul.
When I saw Feathers of Fire, the entire audience was mesmerized by the ornate designs of the shadow puppets, handcrafted by Neda Kazemifar and Spica Wobbe. I myself felt as awestruck as the six-year-old next to me when Simorgh the bird appeared, multicolored wings pumping protectively over Zaul. Her gorgeous, intricate feathers resembled stained glass and took my breath away every time she flew onto the screen. The original, Persian-inspired score by Loga Ramin Torkian and Azam Ali also contributed to the trance that I felt throughout the show. Rahmanian’s passion for the story overflows through his directing, and his passion for Persia is evident through the visual homage to the time period. Although the original Book of Kings is over one thousand years old, Rahmanian’s innovative choices create an atmosphere that feels contemporary and reminds you of the magic of live theater.
Romance in Shadows
Before the cinematic shadow play began, the creator, Hamid Rahmanian, walked on stage to remind us that the performance was live. Apparently, many people believed, having left the theatre, that they had seen a movie of the play. At first I thought that was quite foolish to think, but soon I understood where the confusion may have arisen.
Feathers of Fire narrates one of the love stories in the Persian epic Shahnameh. In the creator’s words:
Shahnameh has four love stories, four tragedies, and endless battles. My goal was to create something that is in the universe of Shahnameh. This is the longest poem written by a single poet. His name is Ferdosi. In 1010 he basically collected and put together the old epic tradition of Iran into sixty thousand heroic verses. The reason we Iranians to this day speak in Persian is because of this book. The regions of Egypt, Syria..etc lost the language to Arabic. We kept the language alive because we had this book.
In Feathers of Fire, a noble son—Zaul—raised in hiding by a bird goddess (because he was born with white hair) returns to the land of men, swiftly falling in love with the first woman he sees. This woman happens to be the daughter of Zaul’s family’s enemy, and thus their marriage appears doomed. However, through love, support, and courage, the couple marry with a happily-ever-after. Although some of the writing seemed stilted, there was also some extremely rich figurative language.
Using a complex web of shadow puppetry and shadow acting, as well as sound effects and screen graphics, I can see where people might have thought this was a recording. Nevertheless, the play clearly took a lot of effort, with thousands of puppets and only a dozen helping hands. After the play, Rahmanian brought the audience backstage via a camera which projected onto a large screen. The creator showed us how the play worked and how the puppets and costumes looked (since all we saw were their shadows). The puppets and costume heads are beautifully crafted, with colored panels and multiple layers.
Plays performed behind screens are less understood and accepted by mainstream society than conventional plays, and unfortunately such risqué projects lack sufficient funding. Rahmanian explained frankly, “Idea is plenty but money is scarce. We have ideas but this project is very expensive to put together. We always suffer from the funding.”
Rahmanian has devoted a huge part of his life to bringing Shahnameh to wider and more modern audiences:
In 2013 I created a new illustrated edition of Shahnameh. 600 pages of illustration with a new translation, very accessible, very eloquent translation. So based on this illustration I made many offsprings. For instance we created a pop-up book, another puppet show, this one, a comic book, and an audiobook which is full 13 hours of sound effects and design with the dramatization of the entire text. So this is my last ten years.