Tag Archives: Stevie Wonder

Caminos Flamencos’ Canciones November 30

4 Dec

A drizzly Sunday matinee took Brooke Byrne and me to the Cowell Theatre at Fort Mason to see the matinee of two performances of Caminos Flamencos’ Canciones with Yaelisa’s seven stalwarts, Manuel Guiterrez, Marina Elena, Fanny Ara, Melissa Cruz, Devon Le Russa, Molly Rogers and Christina Zanfagna. The singers included Jesus Montoya and Jose Cortes with musicians Jason McGuire “El Rubio’, drummer/cajon player Marion Aldana and Paul Martin Sounder on the upright bass.

Canciones implies lyrics of which there were aplenty. Alas, those in Spanish were not clarified with an English translation so that words like “Luna,” and “Corazon,” proved the principal Spanish words most in the audience understood. Doubtlesst  many Spanish-speaking flamenco aficionados were in the audience; for us ignoramouses a tadt of translating would go a long way to intensify the experience of Yaelisa’s continued invention.

Out of the fifteen separate numbers in the program, eight were created and danced to popular lyrics, featuring individual dancers in their own choreography, performed following a Verdiales by the company and a rousing Zapateado rendered by the musicians.

Yaelisa led off with L. Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ before the company danced to the Beatles ‘Because’. The songs chosen lent themselves to turns and taconeo as well as flamenco port de bras, adapting to the lyrics. This was particularly true for Fanny Ara’s interpretation of Arcade Fire’s “My Body Is A Cage,” where her arms lunged outward, as if her body was pressed against jailhouse bars.

Manuel Gutierrez ‘s performance to Leon Russell’s “A Song For You,” sung by Ray Charles, was enhanced by three pools of light and three successive encounters with women who simply moved on. Gutierrez uses his feet in a most elegant manner and positions hat and jacket to theatrical effect.

Just before intermission the company gathered for “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,” sung by The Police. Following intermission, the company danced to a Stevie Wonder rendition of “Pastime Paradise,.” a multi-hued umbrella adding cheek and spice.

The last two interpretations of pop songs were danced by Devon La Russa, “Wake” to Linkin Park, La Russa in Black and dancing with strong modern dance overtones; Melissa Cruz selected “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” sung by Aretha Franklin, Cruz attired like a ragamuffin; mismatched clothing, a substantial blue scarf.

The three musicians then changed the ambiance with Contratempo A La Luz de La Luna, and the orthodox flamenco section began with Fanny Ara. Ara’s Tangos de Malaga was enhanced by a cream-colored sheath,  small ruffles at hem, neckline and sleeves of ombre rusts and brown were a knockout, emphasizing the luxurious swivel of her hips and the insistence of her taconeo. Brooke Byrne remarked, “For my money, Fanny Ara and Melissa Cruz can do no wrong.”

Alegrias was interpreted by Marina Elana, small, tawny of hair, dressed in white with a tasseled white scarf which she manipulated as the dance required her body to turn left and right as her feet emphasized a pattern with heel and metatarsals, all with the air , “Oh, you think so – well, I’ll show you.” This combative quality ending with a flourish after she had divested herself of her scarf, and, at the last minute, thrust it around her shoulders, “So there!”.

Manuel Gutierrez interpreted a Fandangos, frequently considered a couples dance and with castanets. Minus castanets, Gutierrez made his interpeetation memorable.

Yaelisa likes closing programs with Siguiriyas. It suits her, the eloquence of her arms and hands. In addition to this distinction, her interest in stretching the flamenco medium into something typically contemporary in American pop music is to be applauded, even though for me, the tradition remains the most exciting part of her faithful ensemble.

The audience clearly loved the program, and when Gutierrez’ little son came tripping across the stage and was persuaded to exercise his small feet in a barrage of taconeo. The image of the ensemble warmly encouraging this representative of the next generation was quite endearing.

David Szasla is to be congratulated on the spare ambiance of his lighting design.

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USA IBC’s Tenth Opening Ceremony, Thalia Mara Auditorium June 14, 2014

5 Jul

Opening Ceremonies are known for honorifics; USA IBC’s Tenth such was no exception; speeches, mercifully short preceded a handsome display of past and present to familiar music played by the Mississippi Symphony directed by Ramona Pansegrau.

The slightly yellow-hued printed pages named the event The Gertrude C. Ford Opening Ceremony. Ford was serious about the arts, a student of Shakepearean literature and an accomplished musician, and married to Aaron Lane Ford, an attorney and one time U.S. Congressman. Established in 1991, The Gertrude C. Ford Foundation’s focus is on education, health and youth services, 2008 assets listed as over $45 million. Support of music is a consistent theme; in the recent Thalia Mara Auditorium renovation, the orchestra pit bears Ford’s name.

Comments about the renovation are elsewhere, including the post-Ceremony reception.

This year a quartet from the Mississippi Chorus replaced the usual soprano soloist leading the Star Spangled Banner, sparing us the possibility of screeching at the high notes. The honors for the U.S. flag and Mississippi State were accomplished by the Germantown High School Marine Corps JROTC Color Guard, notable for the quartet’s varied size and serious demeanor.

Twenty-five year veteran Sue Lobrano’s opening remarks were followed by Tony Yarber, the handsome African-American Mayor of Jackson; short, congratulatory, welcoming. He was followed by Haley Fisackerly, Board Chair of the USA IBC and completed by 1982 Senior Gold Medalist Janie Parker, representing Luigi, the Tenth Competition’s Honorary Chairman. She stated her qualifications arose from classes in modern dance and jazz in Atlanta, Georgia prior to study at the North Carolina’s School of the Arts.

Down came the screen to run Celebrating 35 Years at the USA IBC. Edited by John Stockwell of Times Fly Productions, the audience was treated to glimpses of Thalia Mara teaching class, a brief second or two of Robert Joffrey, and a kaleidoscope of winners. The video warrants being attached to the USA IBC Web page.

Sir Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance #4 provided the background for the ninety some competitors to march down Thalia Mara’s left aisle, cross below the stage and step up, the first of any group or a single competitor bearing the flag of the country represented. Garbed in black sweats and hooded jackets courtesy of Capezio Ballet Makers, Inc., youth and its energy caught the throat, swelling the chest with near patriotic fervor, the pleasure of their massive presence.

Flags ranged behind them, the competitors stood as the Jurors and the Dance School Faculty were introduced to the strains of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Included were the Competition’s Host and Hostess, Wes Chapman and Susan Jaffe. Finally, to Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, Joseph Phillips, USA IBC’s Junior Gold Medalist in 2002, strode with distinct measured stride down the same left aisle, climbed the stairs to lit the Competition Torch, raised back stage center. Everyone clapped and it was time for intermission.

Complexions, the New York City-based company of thirteen dancers, founded by Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson in 1994, was the post intermission invited company, dancing a 2013 Rhoden choreography titled Innervisions, to a suite of Stevie Wonder songs, the work partially supported by the NEA and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, partnering with the City Council.

What a talented mix of dancers that Complexions presents demonstrating multi-culturalism at its best and most skilled! From all parts of the U.S. – Long Island, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Detroit, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Washington State, Ohio were represented; not surprisingly, a number of the locations have high schools emphasizing the arts. Cuba, Japan and Korea also contributed to the mix. Women whose thighs or height precluded membership in any company of note’s classical corps de ballet yielded nothing in technical brilliance, phrasing or presence, to their more willowy sister dancers. They plunged briefly into the arms of partners or in equally short sisterhoods to the over-miked voice of Wonder. As baseball rookies or contract players, the men’s walk and physique yielded nothing to those already in the game. The collective energy level spilled across the footlights as easily as simulated fog, but did not dissipate; it continued throughout the disparate choreography performed. There was no sonata allegro form in the dance witnessed and perhaps just one discernible ensemble phrase of any length. Virtually everyone commented on one small dancer performing downstage left whose ability to fall to the floor and raise himself with equal swiftness testified not only to a flexible spine but abdominal muscles of major flexibility; he was mesmerizing. Little wonder that, beyond the loose format, the audience gave Complexions a roaring ovation, standing.