Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mozart's Requiem

I would call this a diatribe, but that would be a lie. It's less of a diatribe than a very long-winded enthusiastic response to what I feel to be a performance worthy of much more.

So, I suppose this preface is more of a warning of the hopelessly pathetic gushing that is to come and I urge any readers who have the inclination, to skip reading it without any feelings of remorse -or in the worlds of Cage, "if any one is sleepy, let him go to sleep."

So, the Cincinnati Ballet's performance of Mozart's Requiem premiered last night at the Aronoff center for the Arts. It can hardly be said that the ballet was a dance interpretation of Requiem, but then the playbill seemed to have a difficult time describing it also, calling it a "non-narrative drama," which seems like a contradiction in terms to me. In fact, a very clear narrative is evident, with an obvious conflict encompassing the first half and an evident resolution in the second.
A minimalist set was used to its full potential, with the artistic director, Victoria Morgan, relying on several props suspended from the ceiling and the illumination of objects in the background to convey messages regarding the situation playing out onstage. Light was also artfully used to suggest changing venues while allowing the audience to perceive a change in scene and in mood. The scaffolding that filled the background of the stage and the bare, uncluttered dance space worked well within the theme of the ballet, accentuating the ideas of harsh reality, without the pretenses of of something more beautiful, even superficially. The ultimate transition from darkness to light at the climax of the performance was also artfully communicated through these minimalist means, with a sparse use of modern art pieces and a generous helping of light and color cues. Costuming was similarly simple, with dancers attired in black or white, leaving the dance itself to speak, without interruption or background noise provided by costume (female dancers did, however, wear their hair down, using its movement with the choreography to emphasize the emotions inherent in the dance).
The choreography itself was likewise stunning, contrived of classical technique without any of the oft-attached classical conventions. Modern dance influences were ubiquitous throughout the performance, glimpsed in the tendencies of dancers to use combinations in ways that were unexpected, often filled with allusions to crude contortion, yet with ease and athletic finesse. The emotions portrayed through the movement in the first half of the performance were immediately apparent. Tension, angst and struggle -both internal and external- were common elements in all of the dancers' motions as they made their way across the stage, sometimes charging and leaping in desperation or anger, sometimes limp and listless like marionettes or rag dolls. The use of lifts was liberal and also worked to enforce the ideas of pain, with female dancers posed in such a way that suggested struggle or unwilling compliance. A stark contrast between the powerful and the powerless was made evident in such movements.
The second half of the show was immediately a contrast to the first, yet with references to the struggle encountered in the later. The company began clad in white with a solemn march in circle formation, dancers sometimes exhibiting those puppet-like movements, but with a clear soberness, hinting to a desperation for some sort of salvation. Then, two figures dance to the middle of the circle, shouldering red capes and garbed in a simple, white attire that makes the rest of the company appear to be clothes in a dingy yellow. Their fluid movements free from any of the stress and tension thus far seen in the other dancers, the two figures dance with each other, as opposed to against one another, their movements working in a harmony and paralleling to create a sense of content equality, rather than a power struggle. Their mirrored motions and lifts that convey a sense of flight starkly contrast the dancers who had thrown themselves about the stage earlier. The pair represents freedom and redemption and as the act progresses, the sense of puppetry and struggle dissipates. Though the rest of the company never reaches the grace of the two dancers in white and red, the transformation makes evident that a healing has taken place. Finally, the dance ends with the company following the two red-caped figures out into a painfully white light, away into a hopeful unknown.
Though paired with a legendary classical score, I can't express how pleased I was to find the accompanying ballet did not fall into classical ballet conventions. Yet I also greatly appreciated the adherence to technique and good ballet form as filtered through modern influences. The intense emotion conveyed and the subsequent freedom could easily have been executed in a generic sense, but doing so through precision and technique added a stylized flair that elevated the performance in an admirable way. I was also impressed by the powerful subject matter portrayed onstage and its presentation in such a way that made it accessible by all present without insulting the intelligence of the audience.
On a final note, I felt that this performance was a beautiful example of a dance and musical score that can each stand alone and independently. Undeniably paired with a fantastic score, the ballet could easily have been overshadowed by the musical performance, the dance being relegated to a mere echo. Thankfully, this was not the case. The artistry and mastery that was displayed onstage rivaled that which was taking place in the orchestra pit. This could have been disastrous under other circumstance, becoming a battle for the audience's attention. I'll admit that the music sometimes failed to permeate as my attention was fully absorbed by the visual phenomena, but in the end, I think an excellent balance was struck as the two stand-alone performances succeeded in creating an epic dialogue. What could have been a fight for the spotlight became a veritable duet in which both parties maintained beauty and integrity.
I left the theater feeling tingly in my elbows, weak in my knees, and light in the head. Unable to speak about the performance and yet unable to think of anything else, I've concluded that it might be worthy of recommendation to any readers of this blog who have managed to get all the way to the end of this long-winded, excessively wordy play-by-play.
It really was quite wonderful.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sounds of the Cell

New technologies bring with them new sonic phenomena all the time. Cage was autely aware of this and embraced it as a perquisite of progress (and later changed his mind a bit on the issue, but we'll overlook that for right now). I was thinking about this the other day and decided that one such technology that has undoubtedly brought with it its own "soundtrack," as it were, is the telephone. With all man-created sounds, the telephone has introduced noises into popular culture that today are universally recognized. The dial tone, the busy signal, various recognizable rings, even the "low battery" sound on many cell phones has become largely self-evident. It's amazing how these sounds have become so ingrained into our upbringing in this country that their identification is now second nature.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Seedy Seeds (and others)

So picture a group of three musicians. Now imagine a mixture of guitar, precession, banjo, accordion, and occasional kazoo offered by these musicians. Trust me, it's marvelous, and I'm lucky enough to be able to say this from personal experience. The eclectic group, the Seedy Seeds, performed last night at the Southgate House in Newport, Kentucky. The group shared the stage with local bands Come on Caboose and Margot & the Nuclear So and Sos, but clearly stole the show with their fun, upbeat performance. Their self-introduction taken from their webpage is as follows:

" The Seedy Seeds don't know you, but they already like you.

With a completely original sound and presentation, including

banjo, accordion and toy keyboard beats, The Seedy Seeds

create upbeat, melodic, danceable indie music that is equally

at home alongside pop-punk, alt-country, and lo-fi."

The band was allegedly formed in 2005 when members Mike and Margaret threw around the idea of performing as a group with the instruments they owned but didn't exactly know how to play at the time. Percussionist, Brian, joined in 2008 and the group has been writing, recording, and performing music ever since. In addition, the group has been the recipient of three Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, including Best Live Act, Album of the Year and Best Indie/Alternative Artist.

You can go check them out at

And I think you should.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Solo Album

Have you ever listened to the work of a group and liked it, and then found out that one or more of the members have a solo album out? Or, how about this: the band breaks up and then one or more of its former members releases an album? Or what about: one of the group members leaves in a huff and the next month releases a solo album just to spite the other members, it seems? Regardless of the circumstances, I'm sure everyone has a least heard of this happening before and lately, I've been thinking about what these solo works say.

Many will attest to the trend that most of these albums are never any good. Perhaps this is so, but what I'm more interested in is what they say about the artist and what they contributed to the group while they were in, and what they do now that they're out. The most recent example of this that has caught my interest is the Beatles -which isn't recent at all, but I'm a little behind on these things. After the breakup of the Beatles, John and Paul went on to release their own solo work, and while listening to a sampling of each of these, in conjunction with the work the Beatles were turning out while together, I began to wonder...

John's influence is very heavily seen in the work that the Beatles did together, and this is perhaps easy to see because of his lead vocals in so many of their songs, but when listening to Paul's work, one is able to see the creative contributions he added to the group's work also. Part of me also wonders if the solo works of each respective artist are actually representative of each man's contributions to the group, or if they are what they are because each man decided to take advantage of the opportunity to do something completely different. And how much influence did the Beatles have on each man's solo work? It's all very convoluted and I'm not sure that these guys could have told you themselves.

I did, however, come to some personal conclusions which are completely subjective and possibly ignorant, but I will state them here anyway. I listened to Paul's Tug of War and John's Mind Games and, based on these works, decided that Paul is more like Mozart and John like Beethoven. What do I mean? Well, Paul's work seems to be more laid back, fun, and freely creative, while John's work always seems to be reaching for some objective, angsty, trying to make a statement, and is all around much more serious. If these men were painters (yes, painters, because I'm biased toward the visual arts) Paul would be a Georgia O'Keefe, painting things simply because they were beautiful and John would be Keith Herrig, constructing works with images and symbols aimed at communicating a specific message.

And now I can't help but wonder about the painting techniques of George and Ringo...

Monday, March 1, 2010

Happy Birthday Chopin!

Yes, today is Chopin's birthday. I heard a piece on the radio today about his funeral march (you know, "dun dun dun-dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dunnnnnnnnnn"). It's become ubiquitous in popular culture and parodied by everyone from Monty Python to Porky Pig. Funny how just a few notes can be almost universally recognized that way... I also learned that this march was actually inspired by/a variation on a funeral piece from an Italian opera -and it's sad that the world can know the variation so well, but I can't even remember the name of this particular opera. Oh, well.