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Jacob’s Pillow Puts Skates on Pittsfield’s 10x10 Festival

By Sharon Smullen

If ice dancing leaves you cold, Jacob’s Pillow knows how to make it sizzle.

Instead of watching sparkly Olympic skaters waltz to bland music, on Friday, Feb. 16 the Pillow will present “Vertical Influences” by Alexandre Hamel’s Montreal-based dance company Le Patin Libre (Free Skate) at the Boys and Girls Club ice rink in Pittsfield, Mass.

You won’t find Disney princesses or points-driven postures in this skating show. Hamel replaces competitive and commercial constraints with cutting-edge choreography that turns fancy frozen footwork on its head.

He mines contemporary dance for inspiration, in particular urban dance forms like hip-hop and b-boy, creating new vocabulary rooted in the unique potential of ice-driven movement, with the “glide” at the heart of the experience.

“We can stand there but keep the momentum going and move through space,” Hamel explained. “Reversely, we can make a movement typical to human locomotion but stay on the spot because of the absence of friction.”

Hamel spoke from Holland during a multi-country engagement — they tour European dance and arts festivals several times a year. A competitive figure skater in hockey-crazed Canada, Hamel didn’t encounter the arts until university. “I didn’t even know contemporary dance existed,” he said. “I was flabbergasted.”

Photos by Alicia Clark, courtesy of Jacob’s Pillow

He created Le Patin Libre in 2005 during a time of “teenage rebellion.” After clumsy early attempts to combine dance with ice skating — they were considered “skating punks” — through hard work and “years of reflection and rethinking of our medium” his efforts paid off. Now the company of four Canadians and one Parisian has earned its place in the contemporary dance world.

While festival appearances reach arts-savvy audiences, general performances attract wider interest.

“Skating is popular and fun, with an aura of glamour and excitement,” Hamel said. “We open a door to art for a new audience, people who wouldn’t necessarily see a dance show.”

Audiences often include strange bedfellows: figure skaters and hockey players. The former, Hamel explained, “will go see anything on ice skates because they love the medium.”  As hockey players can’t skate that night because of the show, Hamel, a big fan, provides tickets.

“Vertical Influences” is viewed first from bleachers, then from chairs on ice mats to feel the chill and moving air. Performers wear street clothes and dance to music composed by cellist, electronic DJ and company skater Jasmin Boivin, his silences accentuating the swish of blades.

Europeans and Canadians embraced Le Patin Libre years ago, but Americans are just discovering them.

“I was astonished by how great they were,” said Pillow director Pamela Tatge. “What impressed me was the caliber of the choreography set in a contemporary dance tradition.” The dancers have the athleticism and ability for tour de force moves, she noted, but “it’s not about virtuosity, it’s about taking people on a journey. Intensive exposure to another artist can sometimes change your creative trajectory,” she said.

The presentation is part of Pittsfield’s annual 10x10 Upstreet Arts Festival of art, words and music and more running from Feb. 15 to 25. New this year are Berkshire Historical Society’s time-traveling photo exhibit “Turning Points” and Ted Rosenthal Trio’s Gershwin tribute “10, By George.” Returning favorites include Barrington Stage’s 10 short plays, and short films at Beacon Cinema. 

Pillow Pop-Up: Le Patin Libre
Friday, Feb. 16 at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $25; youth tickets: $10, available here.
Pittsfield Boys & Girls Club
16 Melville St., Pittsfield, MA
Following the performance, the audience is invited to a cast party at nearby Methuselah Bar & Lounge.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 02/05/18 at 09:02 PM • Permalink

At The First Hudson Jazz Fest, The Lineup Doesn’t Miss A Beat

Sheila Jordan

By Jamie Larson

Hudson Hall at the Historic Hudson Opera House has been breathlessly expanding its programming since reopening and relaunching last year, lofting high its immaculately restored performance hall as its figurehead. Even now, during Hudson’s (less and less off) off-season, the Hall is about to put on an ambitious three-day jazz extravaganza sure to please aficionados and casual music lovers looking for something to break up the winter doldrums.

The inaugural Hudson Jazz Festival will run from February 16-18 and features an impressive lineup of performances by musicians from around the globe, films, workshops and more. The truly international event has been curated by Hudson’s own renowned jazz pianist, Armen Donelian, and every evening will be headlined by the likes of Sheila Jordan and Dominique Eade, The Ara Dinkjian Quartet and Quarteto Moderno.

Armen Donelian

You know it’s going to be good when the event has already garnered notice from living legend Sonny Rollins.

“The Hudson Jazz Festival has been a long time in the making,” Rollins said. “I first moved to Germantown in 1971 and I became a contributor to the Hudson Opera House (now Hudson Hall) when it opened in 1992. And here we are in 2018, and I’m proud to support the Hudson Jazz Festival because it enriches our community and makes it a better place to live.”

Holding the festival at this unconventional and chilly time of year makes the event stand out even more. It also gives the busy performers a unique chance to share a stage at a time when they can be the center of attention.

James Francies

“I see this festival as a rare opportunity both to raise regional jazz awareness as well as to reward loyal jazz fans with a first-rate presentation,” said Donelian. “We are extremely proud to grace this beautiful venue with an exceptional lineup of world-class performers.”

This is also the first major event hosted at Hudson Hall since Tambra Dillon officially took over as sole executive director of the organization at the beginning of the year. She had been co-director for a few years and has a mile-long resume, but this festival is still no small undertaking for her first turn at the wheel. But like any good captain, she’s always quick to give the credit to her small but exceedingly able crew.

Thomas Chapin

“I’m really excited that Armen has put together a program where there is really something for everyone,” said Dillon. “We are featuring some all time greats and some things that go beyond the jazz spectrum. Our staff has really stepped up and made the impossible possible. We are trying to create a program that stitches together the main stage and the community. It’s so important that we balance that.”

The festival kicks off Friday evening, Feb. 16 with The Ara Dinkjian Quartet, an instrumental collaboration rooted in Turkish, Armenian and Macedonian Roma; headed by world-renowned oud player Dinkjian; and featuring award-winning clarinetist Ismail Lumanovski. Donelian will open for the quartet with a solo piano set of Armenian-inspired romances.

Ara Dinkjian

On Saturday, Feb. 17, “jazz matriarch” Sheila Jordan and vocalist, composer, lyricist and instrumental arranger Dominique Eade close the evening, following an afternoon of jazz solo piano immersion with “the Picasso of Jazz piano” JoAnne Brackeen, along with critically acclaimed NYC jazz scene favorite Aaron Goldberg, and young lion James Francies. Festival audiences can then enjoy a free screening of Night Bird Song, director Stephanie Castillo’s award-winning portrait of the life and premature loss of the great American jazz talent Thomas Chapin.

Students are invited to a multi-generational hands-on jazz improvisation workshop on Sunday morning taught by Donelian and saxophonist Marc Mommaas, co-founders of Hudson Jazzworks. The festival then comes to a fiery close at mid-afternoon with the wild and spontaneous Quarteto Moderno.

Hudson Jazz Festival
Friday, Feb. 16 – Sunday, Feb. 18
Hudson Hall
327 Warren St., Hudson, NY
Tickets start at $25, with weekend passes available for $90, which include priority entry and seating to every performance. For online ticket purchasing, check the website or call (518) 822-1438.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 01/30/18 at 07:45 AM • Permalink

In ‘Served,’ Forklift Dancers Fuse Food Services And Dance

Photos courtesy of Forklift Danceworks

By Sharon Smullen

According to Allison Orr, dance and dancers can take many forms. As artistic director of Forklift Danceworks, she finds her inspiration in the most unlikely places.

Take the world of institutional food service. Day and night, these often invisible workers move through dining halls and kitchens catering to the needs of hungry hordes. At Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., their lives revolve around feeding wholesome food to students oblivious of their efforts.

Next weekend in Paresky Center, Forklift Danceworks presents “Served,” propelling the kitchen workers into the spotlight by transforming everyday occupational activities into dynamic dance routines.

Instead of burgers and honeybuns, a new menu of moves includes a mop-wielding trio (Gene Kelly fans take note) and some sharp synchronized knife skills. Dinner service will never be the same.

The program begins with small group tours of dining facilities — kitchen prep, bake shop, stockroom — to see staff at work. A 30-minute performance by some 50 employees follows in the Great Hall, viewed from balconies overlooking the large open space. The event ends with a banquet prepared as part of the dance.

Composer Graham Reynolds replaces dining hall clatter and chatter with an original score performed by a nine-piece student jazz ensemble joined by guest luminaries digital violinist Todd Reynolds, bassist Avery Sharpe and drummer alum Jason Lucas. The production is enhanced by Stephen Pruitt’s lighting and set design.

Top: Allison Orr. Below: Krissie Marty.

Based in Austin, Texas, Orr and associate choreographer Krissie Marty spent two years visiting Williamstown, building relationships and researching the kitchen staff’s daily activities. Through observation, dialogue and experimentation they worked with the volunteer participants, forming a creative collaborative community.

For 15 years, Orr has choreographed municipal groups including sanitation workers (captured in the award-winning documentary “Trash Dance”), fire fighters, baseball players — even pole-dancing Venetian gondoliers — attracting crowds of up to 3,000 spectators.

This is her first educational institution, with a tiny audience capacity of 200. ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance producing director Randal Fippinger invited the company east for a non-traditional residency involving staff instead of students.

Orr describes her approach as making dance with people that don’t identify as dancers, through choreography inspired by the movement of everyday work. From the outset, she explains there’s more to dance than toe shoes and tutus. No pirouetting in the pantry here, or a conga line of cooks.

Orr credits her mentor, noted choreographer Liz Lerman, with helping her blend twin passions of dance and anthropology. But there’s nothing new about vocation-driven content, she noted. As Williams director of dance Sandra Burton observes, people have been making dances about work forever.

In this collaboration, participants “curate how they’re represented, what stories they want told about themselves and their work,” Orr said. Many have worked at Williams since high school, and have a real expertise, caring deeply about their work and the students they serve. There’s a long connection to the dignity of labor and hard work in New England, where doing a trade well is admired and respected, she noted.

The finale includes elements of the whole kitchen community. Just like a conventional dance production, in kitchen service everybody contributes to a whole that couldn’t happen without their involvement. “It’s greater than the individual,” Orr said.

As Williams Dining Services takes great pride in its mostly made-from-scratch food offerings, the staff will share a banquet with the audience following the performance. That was very important to the employees, who asked from the very beginning what people would be eating, Orr noted.

While her husband didn’t have silverware in mind when he named the company Forklift, in “Served” Orr will throw everything, even the kitchen sink, into a celebration of food service staff and their work.

“Think of it like a cooking show to music,” she suggests.

To see other Forklift productions in action, check out this video.

“Served,” a dance for college campus employees
Friday, Feb. 2 at 8 p.m. & 3 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 3 at 8 p.m.
Paresky Center, 39 Chapin Hall Dr., Williamstown, MA

Tickets are free and reservations are required.
(413) 597-2425

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Posted by Lisa Green on 01/22/18 at 03:42 PM • Permalink

At Hudson Hall, The Mother Of All Operas

R.B. Schlather. Photos by Tobin Del Cuore.

By Sharon Smullen

“The Mother of Us All” is not your grandma’s opera — unless she’s a fan of Gertrude Stein’s words and wit, Virgil Thomson’s modernist music, and Susan B. Anthony’s civil rights and suffrage struggles. Then perhaps it is.

Director R.B. (don’t ask, he won’t tell you) Schlather is staging the 1947 work at Hudson Hall to celebrate the centennial of New York State granting women the vote and the restoration of the country’s oldest surviving theater in the historic Hudson Opera House.

He describes the rarely performed opera about Anthony by longtime collaborators Thomson and Stein (her final work) as a musical pageant that “zig-zags between humor and gravitas,” where real and imagined characters address themes of gender equality, diversity and acceptance, still unassailable anthems of today.

Known for bold staging, Schlather frequently kicks against convention and the cultural elite by hauling opera out of grand concert halls and into art museums and civic venues used by everyday people. He views Hudson Hall as a room, not a theater, one charmed with the weight of many mythic American personalities, where Anthony shared her message three times. “It’s a perfect place for listening,” he says.

Teresa Buchholz as Anne, with Michaela Martens as Susan B. Anthony.

Thomson’s nostalgic, original score evokes the bygone America of a community bandstand, and the reduced 10-piece orchestration plays more like a dance band than a symphony orchestra, says Schlather.

The staging brings to mind Rockwell’s Freedom of Speech town meeting, seen through a 21st century lens.

“You are in the middle of the speeches,” Schlather explains, “in touch with where we are today as a society, and how weird it is we’re still dealing with the same social justice themes.”

Audiences can sit, stand or move about among the diverse, gender-defying characters, real and imagined, from Jo the Loiterer to John Adams.

With globe-trotting Met mezzo-soprano Michaela Martens singing the “huge, bravura role” of Anthony, included in the 30-member cast are a few accidental opera singers like Shakespeare & Company powerhouse Ella Loudon, and Ngonda Badila, aka band singer “Lady Moon” of the exceptionally talented Badila family. Avant-garde composer Phil Kline, for example, has “a fantastic tenor voice,” says Schlather, who was drawn to enthusiastic occasional singers rather than more serious and formal professionals.

Nancy Allen Lundy as Gertrude Stein, Michaela Martens, Teresa Buchholz and Kent Smith as Virgil Thomson.

“The Mother of Us All” is less traditional opera and more about Stein’s idiosyncratic text keenly set to music by Thomson; as Schlather describes it, a vehicle for “starting conversations about the social justice issues that it depicts.”

He first saw a production in 1998 at age 12 at Glimmerglass in his native Cooperstown. “It captivated me,” he recalls, “I saw it six times that summer.”

The 70-year-old work has ripened with age, he says. Stein’s grammar now has a contemporary feel, like a disconnected scrolling Facebook feed, quite visionary by today’s standards. And, based on its creators and context, he adds, “it’s the ultimate gay opera, like a big queer narrative.”

The production marks Schlather’s artistic debut in the town he and his husband, dancer and choreographer Adam Weinert, call home. The local creative team includes designer Marsha Ginsberg, music director Tony Kieraldo and Stein scholar Joan Retallack, plus Schlather’s longtime lighting wizard JAX Messenger.

Schlather’s international career has lately taken the East Coast by storm. Last year, he came close to home with a mesmerizing peripatetic production of David Lang’s Pulitzer-winning oratorio “The Little Match Girl Passion” at The School, Jack Shainman’s Kinderhook, New York uber-gallery.

When it comes to inclusion, Schlather walks the talk, offering low-cost standing room tickets and post-show salon-style “not-talk-backs” on themes from Queer Narratives to Black Dada that are free to everyone. There’s also an experimental reading room, and a pop-up canteen by Lil’ Deb’s Oasis open 3 to 8 p.m. each performance day.

“It’s my response to the community, the history of the site and our shared culture,” he explains. “Since Nov. 8, I’m trying to be a more responsible citizen, and this project is a part of that.”

“The Mother Of Us All”
Hudson Hall, 327 Warren St., Hudson, NY
4 p.m. Saturdays & Sundays Nov. 11–19, plus Wednesday, Nov. 15.
Tickets: $15–$55. 
(518) 822-1438

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Posted by Lisa Green on 11/07/17 at 10:21 PM • Permalink

Live On The Lawn: Outdoor Concerts In The RI Region

By Amy Krzanik

This list, by no means exhaustive, offers a starting point for you to explore some of our region’s many outdoor music events, where you don’t need to have RSVPed to drop in on the scene. Some venues offer food and drink for purchase, and some are BYOS (bring your own snacks). Most of the events are free (unless otherwise noted) and all of them are located on the gorgeous grounds of public and private parks, historic mansions, museums and other sites boasting some of the area’s most amazing views. Don’t forget to bring a chair or blanket! 

Shaker Barn Music, Pittsfield
Hancock Shaker Village is kicking off summer with a new American roots music series in its 1910 Barn, which hasn’t seen more than hay and cows in 100 years. Sip local beer and spirits while you take in a view of the fields and forests of an authentic Shaker village. The series kicks off on Friday, June 16 at 7 p.m. with Dom Flemons of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and continues through Sept. 23. Tickets: $15 advance/$20 day of show.

Music After Hours, Lenox
Enjoy free music on the Terrace at The Mount on Friday and Saturday evenings in July and August from 5 to 8 p.m. Food and beverages are available from the Terrace Café, and a pop-up of the delicious downtown Pittsfield restaurant Lucia’s Latin Kitchen will offer kebabs, veggie rice, plantains and more. Don’t miss local favorite Wanda Houston, who will perform on the first night, Saturday July 1, and again on Saturday, Aug. 5 as part of the Lift E’vry Voice Festival’s Struttin’ with Some Barbecue.

The Chalet, North Adams
Every Thursday night this summer, beginning June 29 and running through Aug. 31, MASS MoCA opens up The Chalet, artist Dean Baldwin’s riverside beer garden. Mixed drinks are also available. The bar opens at 5:30 p.m. and events begin around 8. Don’t miss a special night of karaoke with Bang on a Can on Aug. 3 and A Musical Celebration of Unity, a community event that begins in the Nick Cave gallery on Aug. 17. The music and chilled out atmosphere are free. Bring cash for the bar. 

Naumkeag at Night, Stockbridge
On Thursday evenings from June 29 – Sept. 7, relax with friends on the patio or lawn and enjoy live music from some of the area’s most popular bands. Sip cocktails while you take in what is sure to be an amazing sunset over Naumkeag’s famous gardens. Members: $5, Nonmembers: $10.  

Concert in The Fields, Ghent
Experience a unique concert of global music with the artists-in-residence of Music Omi, presented in The Fields Sculpture Park. The new music collaborations will be set amid the 80+ works of contemporary sculpture in Omi’s 120+ acre pastoral landscape. Saturday, Aug. 26 at 5 p.m. Free.

Harmonies on the Hudson, Germantown
Clermont State Historic Site will host a free outdoor concert series kicking off on June 22 with local singer Kayla Rae. On one Thursday night each month through September, guests are invited to relax on the shores of the Hudson River with a BYO picnic (no alcohol allowed). Musicians include James Mongan of Star Children in a solo acoustic set and Sin City Woodstock. Concerts begin at 6 p.m.

Front Porch Concert Series, Red Hook
Red Hook Public Library will kick off its second annual free summer music series on Friday, June 9 from 5-8 p.m. This first of three live concerts features performances from four local musicians. Enjoy folk, pop and original music from Dave Feroe, Frank Murasso, Katie Pierce and Matthew Kobalkan. The series will continue on the second Fridays of July and August and will feature 4–5 musicians at each event. Bring a blanket, chairs and dinner and make yourself at home on “the porch.” 

Music in the Parks, Hyde Park
Free Wednesday night lawn concerts at the Vanderbilt National Historic Site and the Staatsburgh State Historic Site will begin at 7 p.m. during the months of June and July, and at 6:30 p.m. in August. The series will offer an eclectic mix of music that includes big band, orchestra, fiddle music and more. Check the sites to see which groups are performing at each venue.

Free Summer Concert Series, Poughkeepsie
You might want to get your dancing shoes ready for the upcoming Tuesday night concerts at Greenvale Park (rain moves them to the Poughkeepsie Senior Center). From June 27 – Aug. 22, shake off the mid-week blahs with rock, country, blues, swing and soul groups. Performances begin at 7 p.m. during the months of June and July, and at 6:30 p.m. in August. 

Summer Sunset Concert Series, Millbrook
The Millbrook Arts Group will host summer concerts on select Saturdays, beginning on June 24 with the band Buffalo Stack. The free concerts will begin at 7 p.m. and include rock, big band, bluegrass, country, funky blues and American roots groups. All performances will be held at the Bandshell on Franklin Avenue except for the final one, on Sept. 9, which will feature the band Long Steel Rail on the Village Green.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 06/05/17 at 09:11 PM • Permalink