April 2008                     back

Miami City Ballet: April 27th at McCarter Theater

RaymondaVariations- choreography: George Balachine, Music: Alexander Glazounov

Sonatine- choreography : George Balanchine, music: Maurice Ravel

Tarantella- choreography George Balanchine, music: Louis Moreau Gottschalk

In The Upper Room- choreography Twyla Tharp, music Philip Glass

When I read dance reviews by Alastair Macaulay of The New York Times or Robert Johnson of The Star Ledger, their deep insights into all things to do with dance are so well-informed and enlightening that I sometimes feel unworthy to write about the subject. But I'll say the same thing about dance that I often say about music, which is that the only expertise I claim is to be expert in what I like, and I liked this about as much as anything I've seen. I can't describe in technical terms exactly what transpires on a dance stage, I can only talk about how it makes me feel.

While I lack technical schooling in the art of dance, I do have a well developed sense of appreciation for good dancers and good choreography. I was 14 years old the first time I watched a ballet. My grandmother called me into the living room and said "watch this guy and tell me what you think". The "guy" was Edward Villella (who happens to be artistic director of MCB) and I immediately recognized his athleticism and the effort and training it took to do what he was doing. I can't say that I became a dance fan right away, but it laid the first brick for a job that Judy would finish almost 10 years later.

I realized MCB is deep with talent during Raymonda Variations when I couldn't spot a weak link among 14 dancers all of whom were in sync and in perfectly straight lines. Sonatine featuring Haiyan Wu and Jeremy Cox, was stunningly beautiful and also featured extraordinary pianist Francisco Renno. He also performed on Tarantella, which was danced by Jeanette Delgado and Alex Wong. All three performances reminded me of the greatness of George Balanchine and of how New York City Ballet has squandered his legacy.

The highlight of the show was Twyla Tharp's In The Upper Room which is one of her most highly regarded pieces. The company was as sharp with modern dance as they were with ballet. There were times when the intensity gave me goose bumps and at the conclusion of the piece the crowd erupted into a well deserved standing ovation. Here's a video segment of another company performing the piece: (In The Upper Room)

After the show, our group of four went out to eat and talked about the program and dance in general. I asked our friend Robin, a former ballet dancer, what she would say about the performance if she were writing the review.  She said she'd say it's nice to see that someone is keeping Mr. Balanchine alive, because NYCB certainly isn't. She added that during In The Upper Room she made a little game out of trying to spot what element Twyla added to the dancing each time Glass added an element to his minimalist music.

We ate, drank and talked about a great performance as well as telling stories of personal encounters with various dance personalities including Edward Villella, who Robin encountered in her dancing days, and Jacques D'Amboise who I had a long conversation with on a subway a few years back. It would be difficult to imagine a day more well spent.    

 

  Melissa Errico: April 24th at Joe's Pub

 This was a good show but I'll start with how I ended up at it because that's a better story. I received an e-mail from my friend Steve, who offered me his extra ticket to see Justin Currie from the Scottish band Del Amitri. He instinctively knew that he didn't have to spell out the time and day because I refer to the Joe's Pub schedule at least a couple of times a week so I always know what's going on there. In the same e-mail he mentioned that Estelle was going to be on Letterman on Thursday night. We had seen Estelle together very recently at Joe's Pub.

 I had quite the hectic week and somehow his message entered my brain as Justin Currie, Thursday. I waited outside of Joe's Pub a little while and eventually decided to wait inside. Most people there know me, so it wasn't a problem when I told them that my friend with the ticket was running late and I would wait at the bar. In my conversation with Ed the bartender it began to dawn on me that I'm at the wrong show! This was Melissa Errico, Justin Currie was on Saturday!

Melissa Errico is a well known Broadway singer (My Fair Lady, High Society, Dracula...), so I knew who she was, but I can't say I was particularly familiar with her work. Ed told me she had just released a CD of children's songs and lullabies at which point a lewd word came to mind. But hey, I was there, and I'm open to new things, so there was no good reason not to stay.

I ended up being very pleased that I stayed, the show was really beautiful. There were a number of classic lullabies and children's songs like Rockabye Baby and Mockingbird, but the jazzy cabaret arrangements by her producer and pianist Rob Mathes, turned them into impressive nightclub fare.  The arrangement of Hushabye was hauntingly beautiful.  See for yourself: (Hushabye)

For a change of pace, she slipped in an up-tempo bluesy version of I'm A Woman, recorded by numerous people most notably Peggy Lee, and country tinged pop tune called Wildflowers, from the CD's title Lullabies and Wildflowers. Gershwin's Someone To Watch Over Me also fittingly found its way into the set.

The CD was inspired by the birth of her first child two years ago with husband Patrick McEnroe (John's brother). The set list and her stories of new friends and new experiences clearly illustrated how much she's been changed by the community of motherhood. It all made for a very restive oasis in my very hectic week. Maybe the universe just sent me what I needed. 

Here's a video of the show I didn't see: (Justin Currie)

 

Shawn Mullins: April 9th at Joe's Pub

Atlanta native Shawn Mullins briefly flirted with fame in the late 90's with Lullaby, which was a big hit in this country, and Shimmer which was big a hit in Australia. At the time, I was aware that he existed but didn't become a big fan until I heard his beautiful 2000 release Beneath The Velvet Sun. I've been wanting to see him since then but it never worked out until now. It was a long wait but he didn't disappoint.

He's got a very distinctive voice. It's slightly gravelly and always recognizable, a blessing in a world full of non-descript sound alike singer songwriters. His songwriting style falls somewhere between infectious pop tunes with great hooks, reminiscent of the Raspberries, and country tinged ballads which bring Kris Kristoffersen or Neil Diamond to mind. Of course, you'd never mistake the rough finish on his voice for the Raspberries. His character studies and socially relevant lyrics also bring comparisons to Tom Waits and Bob Dylan.

This show featured a collection of songs from his new release, Honeydew, along with a sampling of songs from throughout his career. The older material included the two hits as well as Something To Believe In (2000), Beautiful Wreck (2006) and Blue (2003).

I was impressed by all the new material which included the single All In My Head, which was in an episode of Scrubs a while back, Home, Leaving All Your Troubles Behind and Fraction Of A Man. His new song For America sounded so much like Neil Diamond that I wondered if it wasn't a tribute to Diamond, although I'm not sure of Neil's position on the anti-Iraq war lyrics.  (All In My Head)

His between song banter also contributed to the enjoyment level of the show. Before performing Shimmer, he told the story of his first time in Australia when he went bar hopping with the local police in their paddy wagon. Another amusing story was of how he and Pete Droge woke Matthew Sweet from a nap to ask for help on a song they had been working on. Matthew rubbed his eyes and spewed out some psychedelic lyrics which ultimately became Shawn's favorite verse in the song Blue.

This was a truly enjoyable show and I'm going out right now to pick up Honeydew. There's a good chance you'll see it on on my list of favorites for 2008 in the near future.

 

Lura: April 5th at Montclair State

If you've been keeping up with me, then you know that Lura is one of my favorite young singers on the World music scene. Born in Portugal of Cape Verdean parents, she's one of a number of European artists who have re-discovered the musical traditions of their Cape Verde heritage.

She performs the Morna style, made famous by Cesaria Evora, as well as lesser known Funana and Batuque. She enjoys telling the story of how Funana was prohibited as "too erotic" in colonial Cape Verde, just before performing the style complete with sensual dancing. Always a highlight of her shows!

Her two internationally released CD's Di Korpu ku Alma (Of Body and Soul) and M'Bem di Fora (I Come From Far Away) are both beautiful works that I listen to on a regular basis. For this show, she performed selections from both, but when she came out for her encore she performed a beautiful Morna which I had never heard. It began with gentle piano and I almost thought I was about to hear some beautiful jazz standard ala Ella or Billie, which would have been quite a surprise, but the song was unfamiliar. I'm sure that Ella or Billie would have been proud to record such a beautiful tune. It was one of the highlights of the show and I hope to eventually get more details, but it can sometimes be difficult when you don't understand the language.

I should add that Alexander Kasser Theater at Montclair State is a beautiful "state of the art" theater with good sound and very comfortable spacious seating. It was my first time there, but I suspect not my last.