Monday, April 16, 2018

'Provocative Pairings' with a Pair of Poets

By Christine Facciolo
Artistic endeavors which cross boundaries can be highly exciting affairs. This is especially true when composers and poets collaborate, because their art forms naturally flow well together and magic happens.

Mélomanie and The Twin Poets created that sort of magic at the ensemble’s final concert of its 25th season Sunday, April 8, 2018 at The Delaware Contemporary. The audience contained lots of new faces as well as regulars, who said this was the best Mélomanie concert they’d ever attended.

Mélomanie and the Twin Poets collaborate on United Sounds of America.
Photo by Tim Bayard.
The Twin Poets are Al Mills and Nnamdi Chukwuocha. Governor Jack Markell bestowed the shared title of Poets Laureate on them in December 2015, praising them for their artistic excellence and extensive experience in outreach to underserved communities as well as their love of poetry and the spoken word would benefit all Delawareans.

The brothers told the audience how they developed a love for writing: when they were growing up, their mother made them work out their disputes by writing to each other.

As adults, their poetry is deeply rooted in their social work. The sons of William “Hicks” Anderson, an activist in the local Civil Rights Movement, an advocate for children and namesake of the community center in West Center City, the twins have carried on their father’s legacy of speaking for the most vulnerable. Selections on this program spoke of street life and the challenges of poverty, absentee parents as well as those who would sooner buy drugs than provide for their children.

Particularly powerful was Mills’ account of a veteran suffering from PTSD while grappling with the guilt of his wartime deeds, actions his commanders termed “patriotic” at the time.

The tone as reflected in the music by Mark Hagerty and Jonathan Whitney addressed the cultural, political and social dissonances in American society. Telemann’s Chaconne in E minor added a wistful afterthought.

There were messages of hope as well. Some poems spoke of the power of education, personal responsibility, self-determination and working toward a dream.

The twins also presented poems that offered lighthearted takes on parenting, kids hating homework and an adolescent’s ill-fated attempts at romance.

The program also featured selections from Aegean Airs composed for Melomanie in 2013 by Robert Maggio, chair of the Department of Music Theory, History and Composition at West Chester University. Like 
Mélomanie’s 'provocative pairings of early and modern music,' Maggio’s work draws on compositions from Ancient Greece as well as the pop-folk music the composer heard while on vacation one summer in Greece.

The program concluded with the world premiere of the twins’ just beautiful United Sounds of America with music by Mark Hagerty adapted from Robert Glasper’s Gone which itself is after Miles Davis.

See www.melomanie.org and arts.delaware.gov/poet-laureate/

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Experience "What's Going On" Through Dance & Music

What's Going On created and performed by Dance Place.
Photo by Jonathan Hsu.
Christina Cultural Arts Center welcomes Dance Place of Washington, DC to celebrate Marvin Gaye's landmark music brought to life through exuberant dance. The one-night-only performance will be held at The Tatnall School's Laird Performing Arts Center in Wilmington, Delaware on Saturday, April 21, at 4:00pm.

Dance Place Artistic Director Vincent E. Thomas looks through the lens of Marvin Gaye's transcendent music and finds a reflection of today’s world. Gaye's insights into life, love and social justice are given fresh perspectives through Modern, Jazz and West African dance choreography by Thomas, Ralph Glenmore and Sylvia Soumah. 

The program is a full-length dance piece set to the groundbreaking music of Marvin Gaye, including classic hits like Heard it Through the Grapevine, Let’s Get It On, Mona Lisa, Inner City Blues, Got to Give It Up and many more. 

What's Going On seeks to evoke thoughtfulness and sparks conversations in each community it touches.

Vincent E. Thomas (Artistic Director) is a dancer, choreographer and teacher. His choreographic work has been presented nationally and internationally. He is Artistic Director of VTDance and Professor of Dance at Towson University. Ralph Glenmore (Choreographer) is a former principal dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. His illustrious Broadway career includes A Chorus Line, Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ and Bubblin’ Brown Sugar. Sylvia Soumah (Choreographer) is Founder/Artistic Director of Coyaba Dance Theater, performing traditional and contemporary West African dance and music. The What’s Going On company is made up of eight new and established dancers, many familiar to the DC dance scene.

Tickets are $22 or $16 for students, all available now at ccacde.org

This project is made possible, in part, with support from Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation Delaware Special Presenter Initiative Grant.  

See ccacde.org and danceplace.org

Thursday, April 5, 2018

"Dirty Dancing" Down Memory Lane at The Playhouse


By Charles "Ebbie" Alfree, III

Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage opened Tuesday, April 3 at The Playhouse on Rodney Square to a very excited audience! Based on their reaction, I assume most (if not all) had seen the movie and knew the story of Frances "Baby" Houseman’s romance with bad-boy dancer Johnny Castle, during her well-to-do family's vacation at a resort in upstate New York. 

"Baby" & "Johnny" have the time of their lives in
Dirty Dancing  – The Classic Story on Stage.
Photo courtesy of
The Playhouse on Rodney Square.
Assuming they knew the movie, that also meant they knew the soundtrack. I think anyone who was 4 or older in 1987 probably knows at least one or two of the songs by heart! (I recall those songs playing constantly on the radio 'back in the day.') 

Dirty Dancing, the film, was a phenomenon. Let’s face it: Most people going to see the stage version are looking to recapture the memories of a blockbuster movie of the 1980s. From what I overheard of people exiting the theater at the close of the show, it did the job! I heard many recounting the first time they saw the movie, comparing the stage actors to the original characters in the film.

Yes, this Dirty Dancing stays true to the film. You’ll recognize the dance moves, the music (with a few period songs added), the characters and every famous scene from the movie (you can probably guess them all). Minor changes have been made to this production — including a subplot about the Freedom Riders — but for the most part it, the original tale stays intact.

Although some may long for the film actors, I think most will be pleased with many of the actors in this production, especially Aaron Patrick Craven as Johnny Castle and Anais Blake as Penny Johnson. Both are incredibly strong dancers, and it was hard to keep my eyes off them as they recreated those iconic dance moves on The Playhouse stage. 

Christopher Robert Smith as Dr. Jake Houseman (Baby’s father) brought a youthful feel to his character that was refreshing and that made him a little more relatable. Erica Philpot, who sings many of the famous anthems from the film, has a beautiful voice and brought new depth and feeling to the memorable songs.

I admit, like most others in the theater that night, I became a little nostalgic watching the show. It took me back to being 13 years old and seeing the movie for the first time with my family. It was nice to "relive" my youth and the fun of the 80s…even though the show is set in the 60’s!

Come relive the time of your life while Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage is at The Playhouse on Rodney Square through April 8. For tickets, visit www.thegrandwilmington.org or call 302.888.0200.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Wilmington 1968: New Website Empowers Community Reflection

This post content comes from a press release from the Delaware Art Museum...

Twenty area organizations collaborated to launch the Wilmington 1968 website, a tool for community reflection. Via www.wilmington1968.org, Delawareans can access community resources that teach about the local Civil Rights Movement through words and pictures, and address present-day racial and social justice issues. Additionally, the community can share memories of their own to contribute to cross-generational conversations about this historic event. These oral histories will be archived for future generations. The Wilmington 1968 website will also serve as a hub for information about related exhibitions, performances, events, and forums. It will be available to the community through January 2019.

Following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Wilmington high school students converged on Rodney Square. Subsequent to these protests, looting and fires prompted a request for the National Guard to restore peace. Although other American cities experienced the same level of uprising after April 4, 1968, Wilmington, Delaware experienced the longest peace-time occupation in modern times. Wilmington remained under martial law for nine and a half months. This extensive patrol of Wilmington by the National Guard drastically changed the city from the inside out. Residents went about their days and nights watched, restricted, angry, and fearful. Numerous businesses along Market Street closed.

If it is true that we are destined to repeat the lessons we haven't learned, today's youth are adamant that we will not get left back. Youth-led movements such as #NeverAgain-nationwide protests stemming from the latest school shootings-are taking center stage in our social consciousness and awaking a new generation of activists. 


In 2017, Simone Austin (2017 Alfred Appel, Jr. Curatorial Fellow with the Delaware Art Museum; current graduate student, University of Delaware, History Department), was instrumental in bringing this shared history to the forefront as the primary contemporary researcher on these events for the Delaware Art Museum's summer exhibition series. 

The community-wide reflection beginning this spring will bring "both answers and questions," says Austin. "People of my generation and those who are not from Wilmington will start to understand what happened, why Wilmington looks the way it does today, and why people have certain perceptions of the City of Wilmington and of Delaware. I also think in terms of questions because the work that I've done is not the end. There are so many stories that just aren't found in traditional sources and I'm hoping that more people will come forward and share their experiences."

The Wilmington 1968 partners see the upcoming events, performances, and forums as ways to constructively process the physical and emotional toll on our city stemming the uprising and its aftermath. Our community needs to know that we, representatives of the arts & culture community, are not oblivious and unaffected by this quest for healing, and support all Wilmingtonians as they contribute to these necessary cross-generational conversations about race and reconciliation.
Drawing inspiration from the protest art of the 1960s, Squatch Creative — the design firm that created the Wilmington 1968 website — blends technology and art to empower activism. Marcus Price, the site designer, shared, "While creating the aesthetic for the Wilmington 1968 remembrance, I wanted to do justice to the people who lived through this experience. It's different than creating a website for a product or a brand. It was an entire movement and people. I wanted to be sure that I honored that and the spirit involved." 

Partner Organizations in Wilmington 1968 project:

Monday, April 2, 2018

Creating 'Provocative Pairings' with a Pair of Poets

This post is from an excerpt of Out & About magazine's April 2018 issue...

Musical quintet Mélomanie prides itself on creating what they coin “provocative pairings” in their music and partnerships. This month is no different (yet very different), as they celebrate a first-time collaboration with phenomenal spoken-word duo Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Albert Mills, known as the Twin Poets and Delaware’s current Poets Laureate.

Mélomanie. Photo by Tim Bayard.
In a program entitled United Sounds of America, two performances — Saturday, April 7, at 4:00pm and Sunday, April 8, at 2:00pm — will be presented at The Delaware Contemporary, completing this mash-up of artistic genres. Guest artist Jonathan Whitney will join them on percussion.

The Twin Poets are thrilled at the prospect of this new artistic endeavor. “We’re honored to share the stage with Mélomanie,” Chukwuocha and Mills say. “Through music and spoken-word, we’ll depict the challenges, hopes and aspirations of our great nation. Throughout America’s proud history, the most significant moments have always been when we stood united, demonstrating our true strength. In response to the chaotic divisiveness spreading throughout our country and world, this performance will ‘build a wall’ of love and empowerment, highlighting the transformative power of the arts.”

“I deeply admire the work of the Twin Poets,” says Mélomanie Artistic Director Tracy Richardson. “Their words and performances articulate the human situations of our time and the human condition of any time, contemporary or ancient.”

The Twin Poets. Photo by Joe del Tufo.
Mélomanie asked the Twin Poets for the opportunity to combine their respective art forms and offer a new experience to audiences. “We’re continuing in the earliest traditions of the union of poetry and music,” says Richardson.

Richardson says audiences can expect new poetry and favorite past works from the Twin Poets as well as new and favorite music from Mélomanie. For the performance, the Twin Poets have created a poem reflective of the event title, United Sounds of America.

The ensemble and duo will perform together and separately during the program, with composer Mark Hagerty creating and arranging music to accompany the Twin Poets. Mélomanie will perform contemporary regional composer Robert Maggio’s Aegean Airs and German Baroque master Georg Philipp Telemanns’ Chaconne

Tickets are $25, $15 for Delaware Contemporary members and students 16 and older. Those up to age 15 are admitted free. Advance purchase is recommended at melomanie.org.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Ayreheart Makes the Lute ‘Cool’ Again in Wilmo

Ayreheart is Ronn McFarlane, lute; Willard Morris, fretless bass, violin & colascione; 

Mattias Rucht, percussion. Photo courtesy of Ayreheart.
This post is from an excerpt of Out & About magazine's April 2018 issue...

Market StreetMusic keeps its vibrant music roster going into spring with the return of Renaissance-and-modern music trio Ayreheart. The ensemble — Ronn McFarlane, lute; Willard Morris, fretless bass, violin and colascione (a kind of bass lute); and Mattias Rucht, percussion — brings the lute and related period instruments into the 21 Century with all the energy of a traditional rock band. The Friday, April 20, 7:30pm concert is the second appearance for the group in Market Street Music’s lineup.

“Ayreheart returns to Market Street Music because they are simply remarkable!” says Market Street Music Director David Schelat. “These musicians, who all have backgrounds in rock and jazz, create a level of energy that jumps off the stage and into the audience. It really is a bit like a rock concert, except the music is from the 14th to 17th Centuries.”

So, let’s back up. What’s a lute, exactly? It’s a stringed instrument (similar to a guitar, although it is plucked rather than strummed) with a long neck of frets, a round body and flat front. Descended from the Arabic oud, the lute was the most popular instrument in the Western world during the Renaissance.

The Ayreheart ensemble was founded in 2010 by Grammy-nominated lutenist McFarlane, who had long been writing and performing music for solo lute and found many of his ideas were more expansive than for just a solo instrument.

“It was a natural evolution to expand into an ensemble that could play all the parts,” says McFarlane. “There’s also an exchange of ideas and energy with an ensemble that becomes more that the sum of its parts.” 

In addition to original music, Ayreheart performs Renaissance music, “…from the time when the lute was considered the ‘Prince of Instruments,’” as McFarlane notes. “There’s a tremendous amount of music that exists from that period…that appeals to us very much.”
The last time Ayreheart played at Market Street Music, they presented an all-Renaissance music show. This time around, McFarlane says they’ll offer up a generous helping of Celtic music as well as his original music in the mix.

“I want audiences to come away happy and uplifted by our music, but also to hear the lute as an expressive instrument for modern as well as Renaissance music,” says McFarlane. “It’s exciting to break new musical ground for the lute, combining Renaissance and modern instruments, and creating a new body of music that blends elements of folk, Celtic, bluegrass and classical,” he says.

Tickets are $20 ($10 students) online at marketstreetmusicde.org and $25 at the door the evening of the show. 

See www.marketstreetmusicde.org