October 2006          back

Garth Fagan Dance Company: Oct 17th at The Joyce Theatre

There is a famous picture of Albert Einstein playing a violin which serves to remind us that people generally have multiple interests even if they're primarily known for one particular thing. It's obvious from this web site that I have a particular interest in the performing arts but I also go to dog shows, have a garden, follow sports, compete in bi-athelons and follow politics, to name a few other interests.

I'm also a science buff which brings me back to Einstein and relativity. How much I seem to know or not know about dance is relative to your own experience. For the casual dance fan, people who've only seen The Nutcracker or people who don't follow dance at all, I'm sure I seem to have a certain expertise.  But for dancers, choreographers, dance critics or people for whom dance is their overwhelming passion, I'm more of a moderately well-informed fan. I've often said that the only expertise I claim for myself in dance, or even music, is to be expert on what I like. It should be obvious from my several other reviews of this company that I like this company.

This performance was book ended with pieces I've seen before, opening with "Prelude", which had the entire company performing to the jazzy music of Abdullah Ibrahim and Max Roach, followed by an excerpt from "Dancecollageforromie" which had Norwood Pennewell and Nicolette Depasse dancing a beautiful pas de deux to the music of Dmitri Shostakovich. The first portion of the evening concluded with the entire company performing a segment of last years "Light: Dark/Light" to the music of jazz violinist Billy Bang.

On the back end was "Translation Transition" which uses the music of the Jazz Jamaican All Stars playing a series of jazzy reggae tunes featuring horns and vibes and incorporating the tune "I'll Take You There" made famous by the Staple Singers. The infectious music and mixing of modern, ballet and Afro Caribbean movements makes this one of my favorites.

In the middle was the world premiere of Garth's new work called "Senku" which utilized a live performance from concert pianist William Chapman Nyaho. The work did not draw me in as most of Garth's work often does.  I had the sense that it may be a work in progress, but there were some notable highlights including the second movement called "Talk: Ms./Mrs." a  pas de deux with Nicolette DePass and Annique Roberts which was stunningly beautiful and emotional. Khama Phillips also filled in for Guy Thorne on very short notice and was impressive in the first segment called "Talking Drums". It may take another viewing, and some tweaking, for me to fully appreciate this work but in the end this was another very satisfying evening of dance.


Vienna Teng: October 16th at The Living Room

In the middle of her set, Vienna said she's often asked what kind of music she plays but always fumbles for an appropriate answer usually stringing together a random list of adjectives with the typical response being "Oh". She added that her father recently told her that he described her to a neighbor as being like Paul Simon except not a guy and not a guitar.

Coincidentally, before the set Judy and I were having a nice conversation with a pretty young woman named Camillia who said she describes Vienna as a cross between Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan. That's a really good description. Her vocal quality and singing style is easily compared to both artists along with her haunting melodies and personal, and sometimes poetic, lyrics. I would add that she also brings some classical influence, a la Rufus Wainwright, to her playing.

Performing solo, she played a handful of songs from her new release "Dreaming Through The Noise"  including the up tempo pop tune "City Hall" which celebrates a drive to City Hall to get married after ten years together. The lyric "if they take it away again someday, this beautiful thing won't change" was uncharacteristically optimistic. The classically influenced ballad "Now Three" also had a positive theme reveling in the joy of being in bed with her love knowing that they'll soon be three.

Not to stray too far from her darker side, "Now Three" was performed right after a song about being pregnant and not knowing the father's whereabouts. Also from the new CD was the beautifully depressing "I'm Nothing Without You" where she sings to her future love "I'm nothing without you, but I don't know who you are".

She also performed some earlier material including the energetic "Harbor" from her second release, "Warm Strangers" and the haunting a cappella song "Passage", from the same CD, which is sung from the perspective of a young person killed in a car crash a few days, a few months, a few years and several decades after the accident. Vienna apologized for performing such a depressing song and added that she only performs it when the vibe is right, but no apology was necessary, it was a moving experience.

Vienna, who's originally from San Francisco but said she'll be making New York her home for a while, will be playing in an around the city in the coming months. I highly recommend seeing her if you're able.