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.