Category: 08/09 Performances (0)
Late April holds a major anniversary date for South Africa: Freedom Day, celebrated on April 27th, memorializes the country’s first democratic elections, and 2009 marks the fifteenth anniversary of Freedom Day. This year, the South African holiday was all the more significant as it coincided with the country’s fourth general election.
Peak Performances celebrates this milestone in South Africa’s history by hosting Via Katlehong Dance, formed in 1992 in the “old” South Africa and named for the Katlehong township near Johannesburg. The company’s piece, Woza (translated as the invitation “come”), will be given its U.S. premiere as the final work in the Peak Performances 2008-2009 season.
In Woza, twelve performers present a combination of dance forms, the most contemporary of which, Pantsula, is a South African township urban dance similar to the American hip-hop tradition. Pantsula is mixed with the older Gumboot dancing that originated as a workingman’s dance in the 1950s. These two distinct styles are then filtered through tap dance, which should give some idea of the aggressive and vibrant quality of the movement. This hybrid dance form, which Via Katlehong calls “mogaba,” uses the dancers’ entire bodies: stamping feet, hand clapping, and rhythmic shouts.
On first watching Four Short Musicals—Sled Ride, From a Childhood, The Highwayman, and Blood Drive—it’s hard to see a connection. The musicals are as diverse in subject matter as they are in musical style, their characters range in age and type, and the settings cover a hundred-year span. Sled Ride is a modern re-imagining of Edith Wharton’s 1911 novel Ethan Frome. From a Childhood is a haunting piece based on a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke. The Highwayman is a funky, hip-hop version of a 1906 Alfred Noyes poem. And Blood Drive is an original piece that takes place in the present day.
So what draws these pieces together into one cohesive evening of theater? According to director Scott Davenport Richards, it is the simple fact that all the characters, throughout each of the four pieces, are fundamentally people in need. Pair this great need with a limited time of (at most) twenty minutes to resolve one’s conflict, and the stakes become extremely high. Read more »
MSU students wrote responses to the Department of Theatre and Dance’s recent production of the Meadowlands Project. Below is a random sampling of the students’ reactions. Read their take-aways and then add your own. We’d love to hear from you!
“Whether you hate it while you are stuck there or not, when it comes down to it everybody loves their home town. No matter how disgusting or smelly it is, or full of snotty people, you just can’t resist it sometimes. Loving where you are from is a key point to Rogelio Martinez’s tale of an area destroying its inhabitants. Martinez provides very good insight into how a simple act of carelessness can affect a large amount of people…. Debbie Saivetz’s direction focuses on the fact that sometimes we have to take matters into our own hands to secure the safety of our loved ones and others. All the characters tie into the same topic and bring a sense of urgency to the matter at hand. With no true ending to the story, it really shows that it is left up to us to make the outcome a happy one.” Read more »
Modern theater is not the ideal way to tell a story. With the ease and ability to travel through time and space offered by film, the traditional narrative isn’t served by the limitations of performing live. So why bother with the medium? If theater’s audience capacity and practical storytelling ability is so hindered, what’s the point?
Lolita: An Imagined Opera indirectly answers that question. Joji Inc., the company behind Lolita, clearly has little interest in narrative. Their concern is largely aesthetic and psychological, combining video, a live actor, two dancers, and a chamber ensemble to engulf the audience in its disturbed protagonist’s mind.
I don’t know what the experience of Lolita was like for those poor souls in the audience unfamiliar with the source material, but it must not have been easy. Composer Joshua Fineberg and director/designer Jim Clayburgh seem to have little interest in telling a linear, coherent story. And honestly, that’s fine by me. Anyone who wants to know the story can seek out Nabokov’s original text or see the Stanley Kubrick or Adrian Lyne film versions.
Lolita is intense. It never lets go. Protagonist/pedophile Humbert Humbert surrounds the audience. He picks at us, at our assumptions. Articulating my thoughts on Lolita is difficult, since it’s less an intellectual pursuit then an emotional experience. Sure, an understanding of Nabokov’s prose deepens the experience, but nothing I say can translate the way I felt, watching Humbert’s face in close-up, the musicians plugging away at conflicting tones, two dancers silhouetting the titular nymphet literally inside Humbert’s head.
Technically, the piece was an accomplishment. Taking theater/opera to another level, videographer Kurt D’Haeseleer, Fineberg, and Clayburgh deserve credit for pulling it off. Johanne Saunier’s choreography was well suited to the performance and absolutely essential. And François Beukelaers, the lone actor, took us deep into the recesses of a place I certainly didn’t think I’d want to go.
Kubrick made Lolita a sort-of comedy. Lyne went the route of a straight-up romantic drama. By tossing aside almost everything but a faint outline from the source material, this production seems to have gotten to the heart of Lolita. I’m glad I had the opportunity to visit Humbert’s consciousness for a night, even though it’s a place I never want to visit again.
David Clarke is an undergraduate in MSU’s English department.
High up in the Austrian Cultural Forum (ACF) in Manhattan, composer Joshua Fineberg gazed over a laptop near the glass wall. Argento Chamber Ensemble took their seats: five string players, two flutists, and clarinet. With Joanna Chao’s piano alongside Fineberg, conductor Michel Galante called this first rehearsal of Lolita to order. There was space in the white chamber for a couple of visitors, but only just—an intimacy appropriate to Fineberg’s “imagined opera,” in which Nabokov’s most familiar creation, pedophile Humbert Humbert, makes fresh tracks amidst spectral orchestration and startlingly generative voice electronics. After warming up in the rhythmic minefield of Lolita’s final passage, Argento readied for an initial run-through of Fineberg’s 70-minute opus.
It seemed an accurate setting, as the sleek, spine-width ACF building became a rare icon of progressive architecture at its opening in midtown in 2002, while over the past decade Argento has been establishing a lauded position in new music. Their mission is to play composers who advance compositional knowledge and test new forms (the New York Times glowingly reviewed their recent concert of Georg Friedrich Haas’s music). With Joshua Fineberg, specifically with Lolita, his first evening-length work, Argento has their eager, able hands full. Read more »