Monthly Archives: October 2009

The Rite of Spring

Igor StravinskyIt is impossible to assess Igor Stravinsky’s composition The Rite of Spring without touching on the history of the piece, notably the initial reaction upon its opening night performance. By the accounts of the DVD and Wikipedia page the premiere essentially erupted into a riot. And if The Joffery Ballet’s interpretation is in fact the closest thing to a reconstruction of the original performance, it is not difficult to see why the audience would react in such a manner.

While traditional ballet is typically rooted in flourishes of gracefulness, The Rite of Spring is truly anything but. Not only is the pagan theme of a girl who dances herself to death rather gruesome, but the actual music and accompanying dance is also quite jarring. Picture the audience sitting and awaiting the rise of the curtain. Instead of plucking strings and swirling violins, they are greeted by a purported “misuse” of the bassoon and off kilter drums. And the dancing is equally offsetting, as the long, flowing motion typically associated with ballet is replaced by jittery, up-and-down movements – quick and choppy. Jaws must’ve been hitting the floor throughout the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.

If not for the thunderously omniscient score, interpreted to varying degrees of success since its inception, the performance would still remain revolutionary in its motion to completely break down the confines that defined ballet and interpretive art in general during that time.

No post on The Rite of Spring would truly be complete without mentioning Fantasia. Although there are claims that Stravinsky was not happy with the outcome of the segment tied to his piece, the sheer wonderment of the animation tied to the depiction of evolution from single-celled organisms to the eventual demise of the dinosaurs still stands as one of the greatest achievements of Disney to this date. If it took a misrepresentation of Stravinsky’s work to come up with such a moving portion to such a monumental film, then I say, so be it. Like The Rite of Spring in ballet, Fantasia is a groundbreaking work that will be carried on throughout the annals of film history.

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Freestyle

The most noteworthy thing I observed about Anita O’Day from watching her documentary, Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer, is her brash attitude that remained with her throughout her life. During her younger years, she did not seem to fear the negative repercussions that could have been slung her way for working with African-American artists during a time period when it was beyond taboo. Even the way she interacted with him on stage in their back-and-forth dialogue was done in a way that came off as carefree.

In her elder years, she maintained that similar attitude that would generally come off as rude and crotchety in most older people, but is dismissed by her bright sense of humor. The clip of her toasting herself with what appears to be a whiskey drink for being chosen in one of her early performances is especially amusing.

As for her music, my initial reaction was one of awe when I realized that she was actually improvising most of the singing in her live performances. Often times in live performance we see interaction between the singer and the band to drive the piece as a whole. With Anita, it seems as if she lets the band make the first move and then proceeds to fill in based on the music they’re creating, but never in sense where it seems lagging. The best analogy I could come up with is that of a rapper riding a beat. The best at their work know how to fill in the holes and complete a track rather than letting the beat control them. Anita perfectly demonstrates this. Mastering the music, while not overtaking the music.

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Opening Night

Not being familiar with Michael Tilson Thomas, Dawn Upshaw, Thomas Hampson, or any of the players associated with the Carnegie Hall Opening Night 2008 cast (aside from Yo-Yo Ma, for no reason other than his eccentric name), I can say I was pleasantly surprised as I found myself tapping and swaying my chair in time with their performances of Leonard Bernstein.

Thomas and company succeed in transferring Bernstein’s work into grandiose, sailing compositions fit for orchestral performance all while maintaining the thematic playfulness associated with the originals. This is especially true for the pieces featuring singers that actually got to work with Bernstein, each victorious in providing their own unique flare to the tribute. Christine Ebersole contributes bombastic, bouncy vocals to her war-time ode to womanhood, “I Can Cook Too” from On The Town, and Dawn Upshaw and Thomas Hampson lend their operatic voices to their respective pieces.

Christine Ebersole

Christine Ebersole

The music itself, provided by the San Francisco Symphony, sets the tone and creates the driving force that distances Thomas’ interpretation from the Bernstein originals. The percussion section is especially poignant here with their echoing thumps cutting above the rest. Yo-Yo Ma, who has been performing the music of Bernstein for 15 years, reminds us that we are witnessing a symphony and not a Broadway musical with his somber performance of “Meditation No. 1” from Mass. The look of precision on his face and in his hands moving around the cello fret brings down the tempo of an otherwise romping performance, but to an effective degree as it provides the viewer with a glimpse into the shear virtuosity of Bernstein’s work.

“Gee, Officer Krupke” from West Side Story closes out the program and the five drama and vocal arts students from The Julliard School leave us with a warm lasting impression. They jaunt around stage, sitting on one another’s shoulders and impersonating mothers, police officers and psychiatrists to tell the story of a troubled youth. Their vibrancy and vocal buoyancy provide just another layer to the brilliance that is Bernstein.

The PBS program itself really benefits from the interviews between Thomas and the featured guests that open five of the seven performances. They tell the history of the music and allow the participants to converse over Bernstein, providing visual evidence of just how inspired they are by this man’s work. One particular conversation between Thomas and Jamie Bernstein, Leonard’s daughter, is especially touching as they go back-and-forth gushing over Bernstein’s incorporation of Latin flavor.

Michael Tilson Thomas

Michael Tilson Thomas

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BoSoma Review

Here is my review of the Boston Somatic Dance Company’s Oct. 2 performance at Hampshire College. For this review, I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone and take in a style of performing arts that is new to me. Enjoy.

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My history with live dance performance is thin. My parents took me to see The Nutcracker when I was nine and I was less than enthralled. My cousin has taken dance for as long as I can remember and has invited me to countless performances, but I never felt the slightest inclination to attend. Once again, my fear of boredom got the best of me.

None of this really mattered Friday night, as I sat in a tranced state of heightened bemusement and sheer wonderment during the Boston Somatic Dance Company’s performance at the Hampshire College Main Dance Theatre.

The BoSoma ensemble, now in their sixth season, consists of nine women, each meticulously trained in various styles of dance, and perform in venues throughout Greater Boston and New England.

They played two shows, Friday and Saturday, at Hampshire College and the company has deep ties to the Five Colleges. Co-Artistic Directors Irada Djelassi and Katherine Hooper both received their Bachelors of Fine Arts in dance at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, in 2000 and 1997 respectively. Three dancers are also UMass graduates and one from the Smith College graduate dance program earlier this year.

The nearly full Main Dance Theatre sat about 75 patrons and acted as an ideal intimate environment for the engaging performance. The sound system made a couple of the performances really pop, especially some of the more tribal, bouncy numbers. Although the lighting was minimal and caused delays, as it took a couple minutes between each performance to change color schemes, they were successful in establishing a unique mood to each song.

Overall, there were seven separate dances, each containing unique costume and lighting changes. The music ranged from works from Italian composer Giovanni Sollima to Japanese drum ensemble Kodo to ambient maestro Brian Eno.

The standout performances of the night came from Tara McCrystal and Amanda Rey, the only dancers to take part in all seven scenes, including a duet entitled Between Lines (2009). Set to a two part composition from Sollima, the two, one in an all red dress, the other black, begin with a sensuous display of mutual worship before escalating into a feverish standoff and display of anything-you-can-do.

The pieces ranged from transcendent, Habitual (2009) mostly due to the music from the pling-plong plucking of Meredith Monk, accented by the stream of conscious vocal arrangements, to forgettable, the second act opener Tapestry (1997), perhaps outdated, as it is the only piece that originated outside of this decade.

The next dates for BoSoma are set for Nov. 6 and 7, the Massachusetts Dance Festival Inaugural Performance at the Boston University Dance Theatre. Even if you have no interest in dance, I suggest attending one of their performances for nothing more than the potential to expand your horizons.

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Baggin Classics

cubanlinxii200

As a self-aware connoisseur of all things rap, I have to admit my tastes have become suspect over the past couple years and not by my own admission. The definition and subsequent spins of ‘What’s Hot’ on the radio has aided in corrupting not only my ears, but the ears of hip-hop heads nationwide, forcing millions to dumb down or ditch their respect for the art-form all together. Hell, my favorite rap release of last year came from Rick Ross, the self proclaimed ‘Boss’ who once rhymed 22 with 22 for eight straight bars.

That is why I, along with millions of others, let out a large sigh of relief when the Chef, better known as Raekwon, also known as Lex Diamond, decided to don the Superman cape and drop Only Built 4 Cuban Linx pt. II, the  long awaited, oft delayed sequel to his ’95 timeless classic, that has served as a much needed reminder that hip-hop does in fact live. It is easily the best rap release since 2006 and possibly since his partner in crime, Ghostface, released my all time favorite, Supreme Clientle, at the dawn of the century.

So it came as a surprise when reviews started trickling in and none were able to capture all of the glaring aspects that make this new album what it is: meeting the hype created by its status as a sequel to possibly the most hip-hop album of all time, the chopped up production from a laundry list of lauded producers that perfectly coincides with Rae’s undercurrent flow, and the pitch perfect guest list of co-conspiritors, including, but not limited to all of the Wu members, mysteriously excluding U-God.

But then about a week following it’s release, I stumbled upon a review from our class’ favorite music review site, Pitchfork. And surprisingly the review touched on all the points I mentioned, including the glaring absence of U-God (possibly that he was killed off at the end of the original OB4CL), all without their trademark pretension.

I included a link to the review, as an example of an ‘A’ review, for its ability to finely capture all that I, along with everyone who knows anything about Shaolin Shadow Boxing and the Wu-Tang sword style, recognize about the greatness that is OB4CLII. I also chose to include a video after the link from the albums second single, House of Flying Daggers, produced by the late J Dilla and featuring fellow Wu’s Inspectah Deck, GZA, Ghostface and Method Man.

link

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