Friday, October 24, 2014

Cervantino 2014: Ballet of Belgrade's Mesmerizing Night of Dance

FIC$@ photo by Claudio Reyes
I watched Alexandro, Alexander the Great's life as imagined by choreographer-librettist. Ronald Savkovic, through my skin -- as sheer dance without a thought about meaning. For the first hour of the 80 minute millennial ballet. I felt I was in the presence of a work of genius, a word I don't use lightly. Words fail me, except for saying that Savovic sees the work as semi-autobiographical. Instead, I''m providing a link with two dozen photos of this contemporary ballet as a reprise if you were there and an up-close look if you were elsewhere.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cervantino 2014: Unhappy Endings

I knew the music but was seeing the ballet
for the first time. FIC42 photos -Claudia Reyes
I have written so enthusiastically about FIC42 that I may be losing credibility with you, dear readers, So, even though this has been an incandescent Festival, I do have some reservations.

First of all, as reporting on each event takes more time than you might think, I skirt writing up theater or dance events that bore me. Think 1.8 of the two dance productions I've seen so far this year at the State Auditorium.

I broaden my perspective as I go to more dance and theater. I thought that although Coriolanus gripped me most of the way through, the end of this modern version let me down when it failed to suggest the noble funeral given the superhero. After seeing how Tiger Lillies staged the aftermath of Ophelia's death, I was even more skeptical of the company's decision.

In this small photo, a closer look would show
Romeo is grimacing  not smiling
At Edipo, I felt unhappy about the staging at the end. As always, Edipo/Oedipus gouged out his eyes, but then suddenly the backdrop shone a brilliant sky blue. I nay have an idea of what the director intended but he didn't knit the themes of the play together as I would have liked.

Again, during the final scene of the nearly perfect Romeo and Juliet ballet, at the end suddenly a great deal happened very fast. I consider the problem to lie with Prokofiev (or some say Stalin), not the choreography or dancing. In fact, the company from Monterrey kept me wide-awake until after eleven when the ballet ended.  

Monday, October 20, 2014

Cervantino 2014: Shakespeare Two Ways [Proyecto Ruelas; Tiger Lillies/Theatre Republique]

Energetic, costumed actors in scene from HEnry V

I thought I was in heaven or at least in the Old Globe Theater as I watched scenes from Shakespeare performed without a set for the audience on all sides in Plaza Mexicamora. We were watching young actors from the Guanajuato neighborhoods Arboledas, Cupulas, Martires 22 de abril, Lomas del Padre and Cervera, directed by Luis Martin Solis (please forgive the lack of accents) put on scenes from Shakespeare. We saw scenes ranging from tragedy (Lear and Hamlet) to comedy Two Gentlemen from Verona)and the history play (Henry V) shown at the right.

I wish I had a photo of Lear's fool, but the creature in a teddy bear costume moved too fast for me or was facing away at strategic moments. The actors had been trained to act for an audience on two sides, my only quibble with the production. At any rate, I hope I'll be seeing more of this this budding actress.. .

By the way, this was my second time watching stripped-down Shakespeare in a Cervantino. Several years ago a Colombian company put on a colorful Hamlet originally prepared for high school audiences in their own country. At last, I could follow the plot.

FIC Photo, Carlos Juica
Press tickets were limited, so I only entered Teatro Principal during the intermission of Tiger Lillies/Teatro Republique's production of Hamlet, notable in a different way from Proyecto Ruelas, but I soaked in enough to know I won't forget this emotionally complex, theatrically exciting evening at the Principal. .

The theater itself will never look the same to me again. The five person cast used the full depth of the stage with the three musicians in the foreground at either side. Unfortunately the Cervantino photographer focused on the characters instead showing them in front of the visually simple but technically complicated set that heightened the power of the production. I don't have a photo, either, of the projection of huge ocean waves against the back wall for Ophelia's death by water, imaginatively shifted to the open sea instead of the tranquil English Avon familiar to Shakespeare..

The dramatic intensity of the play came from the singing of the pianist-narrator who could have come from 1930s Berlin, from the actors (Hamlet spoke impeccable British English) and the Queen was perfectly cast,and from the musicians pounding out their sometimes punk, sometimes blues music, at the side of the stage.

For me, this Hamlet was a thoroughly satisfying evening in the theater with all facets reinforcing each other. Mercifully, Fortinbras wasn't brought in at the end to mitigate the sight of the corpses littering the stage. While Hamlet was dying, his pause before saying "The rest is silence" was perfect.

Note: by typing Theatre Republique into Youtube you can see a short clip that gives a visual sense of the production. Tiger Lillies Hamlet will take you to Tiger Lillies' whole Hamlet album.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Cervantino 2014: Kora player Sona Jobarteh at the Alhondiga

A classically trained musician, Sona Jobarteh is the first Mandinka woman to play the kora, by tradition a man's instrument
Sona Jobarteh, the granddaughter and daughter of kora players, played her melodic 21-stringed instrument in the press room before going onstage at the Alhondiga. There, backed by five male musicians--two drummers and three guitarists-- she played, she danced, she sang--in short, she charmed her audience.

In Gambia, traditionally the kora was played to accompany oral storytelling, epics really, recounting the history of families. Sona explained that in the days of kings, the royal griot (bard) was an important asset to the royal family and continues to be for individual families. Her father, a griot, accompanied himself on the kora. Sona's family is proud of her for maintaining the family's musical heritage.

Foreigners have become interested in the kora but she said Madinkas have an advantage in learning the instrument because they have grown up hearing kora music. "The technique does not take so long to master, but the musical side is much harder."

Sona Jobarteh currently has three women among the students she teaches. She emphasizes that besides their learning to play, she sees a rise in the women's self-esteem.

After listing to Sona Jobarteh, I believe the Wikipedia article on Madinka music understates the importance of kora music to Gambians and others in West Africa. Here's a more reliable link that can lead you to  more about the kora. .

Your comments on this and other Cervantino events please!..

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Cervantino 2014: What a Show They Put On!

Director Koryu Nishikawa with two singers and samisen player

The Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo folklore puppet company is a team, depending on more than puppets and puppeteers. The singers, who sit on a platform, give voice to the puppet characters. Meanwhile, the twanging, rhythmic samisen sends signals to the audience.

The main part of the evening was a two-course event: the first a play about a jilted maiden who turns into a giant sea serpent worked by three puppeteers, the other a comic piece with a pair of characters reminiscent of Don Quixote & Sancho Panza.

The puppetmasters are always visible, sitting on rolling boxes behind the puppets
After what seemed like the curtain call, two members of the company walked up the aisles holding yellow butterflies on flexible poles over the heads of the audience while people watched a comical monster ham it up onstage. When the creature finally lumbered off waving a Mexican flag, more laughter and more applause. To top it all off, as the grand finale, Koryu Nishikawa, a fifth generation Kuruma Ningyo ("rolling car" puppetmaster, delighted the audience with his dancing puppet wearing Mexican clothes.

Puppeteering is not for sissies. Years of practice underlay the success of this ninety-minute show. .

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Cervantino 2014: New Yorker's Alex Ross on Writing about Music

Alex Ross & interpreter at press conference
With the Cape Verde beat, hiphop, post-Shakespearean choral music, and the complete cycle of Beethoven sonatas already behind us, what a pleasure to listen to a speaker who has considered how so many musical forms meet in this millennium.

Alex Ross, the New Yorker music critic and currently the only one writing full-time for a magazine in the United States, opened the Cervantino’s Training Workshop on Criticism in the Performing Arts and Music. His topic: The Present State of Music Criticism. 

The respected, widely read critic started by saying “Journalism is a declining industry, Critics in general have been disappearing from the printed page, including music critics." 

"My job is to report honestly on unrepeatable events What I listen to represents a great deal of work by the composers and performers. A critic has the responsibility to explain.”

He mentioned that until the beginning of the nineteenth century, performers mostly played the contemporary music of their era. By 1875, however, work by dead composers dominated the scene, as it still does.

Joroge Volpi taking Alex Ross to see the Juarez
A former English major, the speaker advised workshop members to use strong, colorful, precise language, saying they should read great prose and poetry. On his desk beside a style guide, he keeps a book of poems by his writing hero, Wallace Stevens. 

Ross, who started at the New Yorker when he was twenty-eight, gives his editors credit for guiding him in writing well. “From them, I learned a minute change can make a difference.”

He said writing for an audience with varying degrees of musical knowledge is a challenge. Writing a review can take three to four days. “I am fortunate in not having to meet a daily deadline.”

Afterward, an audience member asked Alex Ross about studies on educating children to a broad range of music. “I wish I knew of some,” Ross replied with interest, adding that children often respond well to music by Stockhausen and other contemporary composers.

[For a deeper look, see Ross’s The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (2007) and Listen to This (2011), available in both print and ebook editions].

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Cervantino 2014: Two Festival Jewels

Many Cervantino events I remember for years have taken place in the smaller spaces. This year is no exception. I came out of the Cervantes walking on air after watching the dance company Tumakka't DAnza Contemporanea perform Rua de Lavradio, named for a street in Rio de Janeiro. Afterward, everyone I
 knew was smiling except for one sober-faced fellow who turned out to feel the same way as everyone else.

dance photos courtesy of FIC 42, G. Morales
The Festival commissioned the work from choreographer Fernando Melo, born Brazil but who lives in Europe. The dancers in the troupe hail from Mexico, Venezuela, Panama and Cuba and Belize. Mauricio Ascencio of Mexico City working with Melo, created a set of five planks that the dancers used first one way and then another.This multi-talented guy also designed the costumes and the lighting.

Altogether, a lucid, colorful performance, adding up to fifty minutes of pure pleasure and for sure a jewel in this year's Festival crown.

Ohnishi combines an American hairstyle with her habit of bowing.
Photo courtesy of FIC 42, Christa Cowrie

In the Salon de Consejo of the University the audience listened to the Japanese musician Takae Ohnishi play music from France and contemporary pieces by composers of Asian ancestry. She played suites by Louis Couperin (1626-1661), the the uncle of the other Couperin and by Antoine Forqueray (1671-1745), interlaced with a piece by the eminent 20th century Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, whose work is familiar to Salon audiences;  the Cervantino program describes him as one of the authentic sound poets of our time; Rain Dreaming comes from one of his less experimental periods.

After lulling us into a meditative state with the French pieces and the first movement of a work by Lei Liang,
Ohnishi cut loose with the jazzy, contemporary rhythms employed in the rest of Liang's piece and in the short pieces by Machiko Asaoka. I'll never listen to a harpsichord again without forgetting these other possibilities.

Tadae Ohnishi is one of many musical border crossers. Born in Japan, she now lives in San Diego and tours her homeland.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Cervantino Festival 2014: An unforgettable Coriolanus

If you didn't see Shakespeare's play at the Principal this year, look for what Mexico's National Theater Company offers at a future Festival. I am not automatically a Shakespeare fan, but by preparing online I was ready to take on the bard  for this one with its shifting alliances. The program handout helped too, spelling out the themes of the play rather than summarizing the plot.

What I saw and heard was spectacular (pun intended). Under David Olguin's direction, the staging, costumes, music, set, lighting and acting all came together to make for an unforgettable evening in the theater.
Whether Coriolanus existed or not doesn't matter at all or that this is one of Shakespeare's least-known plays. T.S.Eliot praised it for its structure and I could see why.

Within minutes I was caught up in the power struggles of ancient Rome in a way I had never been taking three years of Latin. The low, threatening music played while the audience was settling in and then the costuming, a brilliant blend of ancient and modern, thrust me into the play immediately. I loved hearing the characters speak to each other in modern Spanish. I didn't have to follow every word to appreciate the interplay among the characters or Shakespeare's tribute to Roman rhetoric. Besides, the play has a fascinating female character in Coriolanus's mother.

I'll skip to the next-to-last scene to say that the actual stabbing of Coriolanus caught me by surprise, just as it did its victim. Olguin is a consummate director who spurred the characters to keep acting even as they listened. My only disappointment: the staging at the end. When I came home, I went to the original script online to find out whether the fault lay in the playwright or the director. Shakespeare won, hands down.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Listening, Really Listening to Guanajuato

By accident, I walked into the Meson de San Antonio while the Brazilian expert.on soundscapes, Dra. Janete El Haouli, was speaking. Although in her city of Londinas she produces a radio series on New Music for the Thinking Listener, on this occasion she was talking about everyday sounds. 

What is a soundscape? The word is a riff on the English word landscape, a photo or painting of what we see around us. A soundscape or paisaje sonoro is a taped record of the sounds of a place and even its silences.

DRa. El Haouli sharing her enthusiasm for soundscapes
Dra. El Haouli, with a halo of curly black hair and a passionate speaker, talked about the value of noticing the ordinary sounds that give a place its particular "flavor." 

So what does Guanajuato sound like to a musician-scholar-producer? With enthusiasm, she said twice, " I will think of the church bells sounding."

Dra. El Haouli played many taped examples so the students of communication and their professors, could listen to harbor sounds, city sounds, even an unedited tape of hundreds of croaking frogs. She asked the audience to guess the cities, which they did, underscoring her point. She spoke emphatically of the importance of the value of listening instead tuning everything out.

As I thought about what Dra. El Haouli was telling us, I remembered the way Guanajuato cafeterias used to be when I moved here in 1999. When few people had laptop computers or cell phones, these places used to be filled with the sounds of conversation, along with the sounds of cups being picked up and set down.  People without land lines went there to connect with their friends. Now the same cafeterías, at least in the daytime, are silent places where people sit together, but look down at their cells instead of talking. Then there are the folks, many ot them tourists, who glued to their laptops ignore the people and everything else around them. 

If only I had a soundscape of the mingled voices in my favorite coffee house not so long ago! But at least I do remember Jorge Ibarguengoitia's witty take on the sound of the bells.

Maybe as a result of Janete El Haouli’s lively, informative talk, Radio Universidad will create a new series of sound bites of the many soundscapes of Guanajuato--its early Monday mornings and late Thursday nights, the sound of raindrops falling and high heels clacking on dry pavement, the clamor in schoolyards, the quiet in a callejon. Changing soundscapes that change and the ones that stay the same.

I would listen.

The Dirección de Extension Cultural of the University of Guanajuato made  Dra. El Haouli’s lecture possible, UG's is one of ten sites in the state participating in the 10th International Radio Biennial. Laura Lozano of Radio Universidad presided. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Guanajuato Quartets Offer Shostakovich, Dvorak & More on a Single Weekend

The first violinist of the newly formed Cuarteto Rivera, Hector Hernandez, played Shostakovich's Quartet #8 and Mozart's Quartet #19 Saturday evening, went home to get a good night's sleep, and the next afternoon as a player in the Casa Cuarteto played Dvorak's "American Quartet" and works by Beethoven and Borodin.

The Rivera playing in Mas+Ahuas (photo courtesy of the gallery)
How lucky we are that Hector and six other OSUG musicians have the will to make up these groups after their symphony workday ends. Now Guanajuatenses and visitors can hear some of the greatest works in the chamber music repertoire from a few feet away.

Afterward I was fortunate in sitting with the US Consular Agent, Ed Clancy, in Guanajuato with a friend to buy Cervantino tickets. I think we broke through a few stereotypes, buoyed up by what we had heard, while talking of this and that, including the July Film Festival. Amusing to note that I thought San Miguel showed the best movies, and they thought the best were shown in Guanajuato.
The Rivera dressed up for their concert in Maz+Ahuas, the Casa dressed down in cotton shirts and jeans to play in the restaurant, the degree of formality uncorrelated with  the hours of rehearsing that led up to both concerts.

So which did I enjoy more? At both, I was hearing dedicated musicians play music they loved, sharing their passion with the audience. I could follow the music more easily in the quiet of Maz+Ahuas but liked sitting at a table while sipping a ginger lemonade in El Midi. But, breaking news: Julie and Veronique will gladly sell drinks for concert-goers to carry across the hall. The background noise in the restaurant, while not raucous, does take its toll especially on less familiar pieces.I was glad I heard Mozart's "Dissonant Quartet," new to me, in Maz+Ahuas. Price: Mas+Ahuas $40; El Midi, at least a drink.

The rosters:: Cuarteto Rivera (aptly named for the Guanajuato-born artist): Pedro Zayas (violin), Anazantli Oropeza (viiola), Luis Barajas cello, in addition to Hernandez; for the Casa, the Toc brothers (violin and viola), Michael Severens on the cello, and Hernandez.

If you missed both concerts, take heart. The Rivera will repeat its program at the Gene Byron, I believe the second weekend from now. And possibly Mas+Ahuas will host a series of chamber music concerts. The Iconografico and the Gene Byron continue to host chamber music too. Nowadays, the devil is in the deciding. .            .