Monday, March 29, 2010

From Russia to Delaware, with Love

People in Wilmington are always talking about the city’s small-town feel. Take that small community, and divide it many times over, and you have the dimensions of a very dense, interconnected Arts community thriving in Delaware and Greater Philadelphia.

Fellow blogger Margaret Darby and I were recently at the Exchange on Market after our performance at the Wilmington Library. We struck up a conversation with two dashingly handsome and personable waiters, Jake Allison and Nukri Mamistvalov, who turned out to be dancers from First State Ballet Theatre. They encouraged us to attend their upcoming performance of Swan Lake.

Graciously, the company’s artistic director, Pasha Kambalov invited me to attend a dress rehearsal of the famous ballet, choreographed to Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky’s glorious music. This vibrant young company has its roots in the Donetsk Ballet. Originally the Russian Ballet of Delaware, the company celebrates its tenth anniversary this season. Pasha Kambalov and his wife Kristina, ballet school director, are co-founders of the growing company, which is based at the Grand Opera House.

Swan Lake is the epitome of true classic ballet: graceful lines and delicate beauty based on a tragic fairy tale. Angela Zintchenko was lovely as the ill-fated Odette-Odile, paired with Justin Estelle, a convincing Prince Siegfried. Outstanding was Mamistvalov as the villain Von Rothbart as he cut an evil swath through the stage with his mysterious black-feathered costume. During a dress rehearsal, one often gets to see a director’s vision in its final stages of realization. Because it was the company’s first rehearsal for the production on the main stage, Pasha Kambalov was tweaking the spacing and overall look of the production. His gentle, yet firm direction to the dancers resulted in refined and beautifully spaced tableaus.

Next year, the company’s production of The Nutcracker will include a live performance by The Delaware Symphony Orchestra, since last year’s collaboration on the selections from the work was so successful.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ten Months: Connecting with Wilmington’s Voices

Under siege and starving for change: that’s how our city is portrayed in Anna Marie Cammarato’s Ten Months, The Wilmington Voices Project, at the Delaware Theatre Company. The bare, white scaffolding onstage—intended to represent ongoing urban development—underscores the empty, gritty feeling of many Wilmington streets. Projected family snapshots, videos and archival photographs from the Historical Society of Delaware created a rich, striking sense of people and place. Wilmington is “a city with a broken heart,” as one character suggests. Cammarato, who conceived and directed this powerful production writes, “I cannot think of a better forum than our theatre to show everyone that there is poetry, pain, sorrow and true beauty in our everyday thoughts, conversations and dreams.”

The docudrama takes us through the heyday of Market Street with its upscale department stores and lively crowds, to the riots of 1968 and subsequent national guard occupation (lending to the title “10 Months”), the days of “white flight” and to the present—when shootings and violence are a stark reality, juxtaposed with the serenity of newly rebuilt neighborhoods. Using interviews, poetry and material from the Facebook page Tired of All the Killings in Wilmington :(. Cammarato creates a riveting, multi-faceted drama. Adding to the rich tapestry of the evening was the Delaware Historical Society’s lobby exhibit Full Circle: A History of Change on Market Street, which featured photographs of the street from over the years.

Three actors, Ben Cherry, Taïfa Harris and Erin Moon, each play several roles: teenage, middle-aged and older “voices” of different races, genders and backgrounds. The actors are moving and convincing as they glide effortlessly into the different personas. The two white Middle Voices have names, yet the African-American is simply “Woman,” perhaps suggesting both the facelessness and universality of her story: she stands each day on a city street, holding a poster of her murdered son, asking passersby to look at his picture and think about the meaning of his life and death. Her words become a theme, a stark reminder of the city’s brutal, senseless violence that weaves through the play, as she repeats her story like a chant.

After the show, I had the pleasure of speaking to Taïfa Harris, NYC-based actress. Her excitement about the production and her experience of Wilmington was contagious, and she encouraged us to return for the second act of the show, which includes an informal discussion with some of the people interviewed for the project. Though one audience member I spoke to felt the show perpetuated the misconception of Wilmington being an uninhabitable city, I found the production to be honest, poignant and, yes, full of hope.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Reaching Through Roots

The Delaware Symphony Orchestra’s New World, New Music concert took us across the ocean, borders and back to our American soil. It was the ensemble’s premier of Chris Thile’s Mandolin Concerto, “Ad astra per alas porci” (To the stars on the wings of a pig). Also on the program were Aaron Copland’s El Salón México and Antonin Dvořák’s beloved From the New World (Symphony No. 9, op. 95, E minor).

Informative and light-hearted, the pre-concert talk by Music Director David Amado and Mark Mobley, Director of Community Engagement, included information about the upcoming season, and the DSO’s first CD, (This fabulous CD scheduled to be released this week, features the LA Guitar Quartet and music of Joaquin Rodrigo and Sergio Assad.)
During these forums, I always learn some interesting details about performance practice or musicology not found in the program notes: Amado talked about the pleasures of collaborating with composers and performers and the challenges of reading and interpreting Dvořák’s messy manuscripts.

If ever there were a way to combine bluegrass, “classical” music, jazz and rock n’ roll, Chris Thile has found it in his Mandolin Concerto. The first movement, “A March, a Waltz and a Jig” introduced us to the variety of sounds he is able to pull from this diminutive instrument. Slightly amplified, Thile whips out a partly improvised cadenza. As a siren from the street chimed in, a wide smile spread across Thile’s face. It continued on, weaving itself into the texture of the music. After the concert, he told me he thought for a split second the siren might have been an instrument entering just a half step under pitch. As a veritable “Jimi Hendrix” on the mandolin, Thile often seemed surprised by his own prowess, and the instrument almost appeared to be playing him. The second movement, “Air on the F Train” (clearly a play on words- who isn’t dying for air on the F Train?), embodied the lurching of that old train on its tracks. The melodies, weaving up and down and back again, came to a peaceful resolution. In the last movement “The Fifth Glass” the orchestra itself became a large mandolin as the playful repartee between instruments and sections mirrored that of the soloist. Thile graced the audience with a striking rendition of the Gigue from Bach’s Violin Partita in D minor. His phrasing was both stylistically appropriate and deeply musical, even though he had joked the string section to put on their invisible earmuffs.

Amado created an onstage utopia with his interpretation of Dvořák’s symphony. Dvořák bends and twists distinctly African American sounding melodies into brooding large swaths of sound. His style is reminiscent of Brahms’: a tragic melody tries to interrupt the calm setting, with brass and timpani taking over. The entire orchestra seemed to be joined by some invisible forces and the beauty of the music was sometimes heart breaking. The audience rose to their feet at the end of the concert, and it was clear the players had enjoyed their experience. As I left the Grand Opera House, Doris Loder (Viola) told me the Dvořák touches the soul, and that she was so glad have the opportunity to play the concert again on Saturday.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Going Local, Going Original!

Kicking off a marathon month of original works, Bootless Artworks presented Simply Short: An Evening of One Acts. City Theater Company follows up with By George! a collection of short plays by the company’s resident playwright and actor, George Tietze. Rounding off this exciting month, the Delaware Theatre Association will present the daylong DTA Fest at Middletown’s Everett Theater on March 27.

Bootless Artworks’ presentation of Amanda Healy’s Coffee and Rain, directed by Malika Oyetimein, is a drama that unfolds on a New York City street and explores a difficult mother-daughter relationship. The Homeless Man, played by Brooks Banker, controls the setting as he snaps his fingers, adding wise, magical commentary and giving depth to the work.

Joseph Pukastch’s hilarious Nectar provides a window into a support group for those with bizarre sexual fetishes. Andrew Mitchell as Joshua is wildly funny as he exposes his “vegesexual” desire for fruit plates and salads. Puktasch, who also directs the production, has a gift for rich, playful language. He leaves us wondering about the “teasing with a tilapia” and the havoc “otherness” and obsession can wreak in a person’s life.

Prelude to a Kiss is a sweet drama of love gone wrong between a man and his new bride. Artfully pared down to a one-act format by director Rosanne DellAversano, the play is moving as it touches on themes of lost love and innocence. Lindsey Burkland (Rita) was lovely as both the young bride and her “body-snatched” double. Along with Nectar, this Prelude will be presented at the DTA Fest.

In BY GEORGE, Tietze’s short plays are billed as comedies, though some of the material is distinctly dark. He doesn’t shy away from difficult or squirm-worthy subjects. The opening piece, G Dub, directed by Kevin Regan, is a farcical scene of George Washington and his lackeys paddling across the Delaware. As George, Brian Couch is vain and absurd. Like Pukastch, Tiezte gets mileage out of “therapy” theme: In his two-person play A to Z, directed by James Kassees, Kate Brennan is the unloved, misunderstood wife (She) who tries techniques she has learned in couples therapy on her beleaguered husband (He), played by Anthony Bosco. The actors handle Tiezte’s rapid-fire repartee and shifts in power with finesse, and the scene comes to an interesting climax and somewhat unexpected resolution.

Outstanding was Voodoo Barbie, a dark and almost unwieldy comedy, directed by Todd Holtsberry. Melissa Dammeyer’s portrayal of a drunken, abandoned wife (Rachel) is both comical and heart-wrenching. Lucy Charles is wonderful as Margie, the forgotten daughter who acts out scenarios using her forbidden Barbies and serves a commentator on her parents’ pathetic lives. Kevin Regan appears only at the end of the play as the personified voice of Bob, the wretched husband and father who is the drama’s center. His remorse is so complete, his voice so sincere, that we almost wish Rachel would pick up the phone and let him back into their lives.

See DTA Fest:

See Bootless Artworks:

See City Theater Company:

Monday, March 8, 2010

DCAD Makes History with Wilmington's Skyline

On a beautiful bright Saturday morning, 262 people-young and old-gathered on the seventh floor of the Renaissance Centre on King Street to help break the Guinness World Record for “The Most People Contributing to the Same Painting Simultaneously.” Sponsored by the Delaware College of Art and Design, the group effort was coordinated to surpass a record set in 2008 by 152 people in Germany. Jessica Sturgis, the college’s Director of Communications invited me to the event, which was coordinated by Valerie Jermusyk, the school’s Director of Development.

Long strips of paper had been rolled out on the floor and tables in this L-shaped room that boasted a glorious view of entire downtown area. The riverfront, the newly revived LOMA district, the Delaware Memorial Bridge and the Courthouse were visible from this swanky loft-like space. Each person was asked to sign in, take a paintbrush, and wait for directions.

As part of the College’s first ever alumni and family weekend, the event was so well-attended they ran out of standard paintbrushes, and some people had to use the tiny doll-sized ones that came with the miniature watercolor sets given as party favors. Treviss Givens (’09 Animation) was there with his daughter, who was having a wonderful time, along with the other children. A freelance web designer, he was happy to be part of the effort.

As the start time approached, some people became very territorial about their plot of paper. When I tried to squeeze in, a couple told me, “Oh no, you can’t paint here. We’re putting the Chase Center right here on the corner.” Once the start time was announced, everyone was required to paint for three minutes without stopping. When the painting was finished, the experimental band, CoCoSyn performed and everyone enjoyed lunch. Wilmington looks forward to making history!


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Art Loop Scoop: 3.5.10

It was a beautiful Friday night for the March Art Loop in Wilmo—people all over the streets, and it was a fantastic sight! The hubby and I started our night with a quick stop at Kathleen Buckalew's exhibit at Gallery 919. After soaking in her sharp, luminous infrared and inkjet images of the historic site of the Dupont's Powder Mill Hagley, we headed to Wilmington Library for a performance by vocalist/guitarist Jessica Graae and pianist Margaret Darby.

This dynamic duo collaborated on a diverse program including Rodgers & Hammerstein selections from Carousel, works from Brahms as well as Danish composer Carl Nielsen, and finishing with Spanish Renaissance songs. Jessica’s strong yet soothing vocals blended naturally with Margaret’s skilled playing. Their lilting sound carried throughout the expanse of the building, drawing in a solid crowd of patrons as soon as they entered the doors. Four Brahms’ pieces, in German (and how hard is that to sing?), seemed effortless between the two. In Von ewiger Liebe, voice and piano together would grow then subside, ebb and flow like waves. Both women were so expressive in their performances; they drew me into the emotion of each piece and their enjoyment in playing them. I hope we’ll enjoy them on more Loops to come!

Other highlights of Loop night: The artwork of Carl Lightburn, Sr., at the Grand, with my favorite piece, Madrinas Journey. The abstract of mixed greens, browns, and yellows had a shadowy figure at its center, seeming to stand strong against the swirling winds of color.

Onto Christina Cultural Arts Center and the intricately detailed and impactful mixed media/wood images by Tanya Murphy Dodd; welcoming us through the doors was the rhythmic sound of a drumming class going on upstairs.

Next stop: the New Wilmington Art Association Group Exhibition. NWAA shows are always hopping and this one was no exception, drawing a widely varied crowd. Pieces that particularly struck me: Felise Luchansky’s Redemption, a mixed-media piece composed of S&H green stamps, bingo markers & other 50s kitsch; Esteban M. Pilonieta Vera’s A Hunger Artist (Dedication to Kafka), a found art piece including porcelain, mud, hay and—believe it— horse manure! A bonus with this visit: A tour of the soon-to-be-open Shipley Lofts, which provide affordable downtown housing for artists. We saw two semi-complete units, and the huge windows, open layout and exposed brick really gave the feel of a Manhattan loft. The place was packed with onlookers, all excited about the buzz this place is creating.

End of the night found us sharing a bottle of tempranillo and tapas at Orillas, and that, too, was filled to capacity. Wilmingtonians, this truly is an exciting time for the Arts and nightlife in our city!