Posts Tagged ‘peter grimes’

A Dance Labyrinth by Kyle Abraham

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

By Rachel Straus

The world premiere of Kyle Abraham’s Pavement, seen at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse on November 3, evokes a vision of urban youth careening through a dark world. Abraham begins Pavement by marking a spot with his downcast arm.  Then he lassoes his body, drawing a circle with his outstretched limbs. He moves loose, full force and in searching manner, as if looking for a clear compass. When a white dancer enters, he stops Abraham, lies him face down on the floor, and brings his hands to the base of his spine. Abraham’s arrest is done without emotion. This lack of drama makes the event feel doubly devastating.

Pavement’s racially provocative introduction occurs to the accompaniment of Fred McDowell’s rasp-voiced blues song “What’s the Matter Now.” Its lyrics suggest impending violence, but the brutality in Pavement never occurs on stage. It transpires through sound bites from John Singleton’s 1991 crime drama Boyz n the Hood in which young men lose their lives to gang violence.

The recent violence of Hurricane Sandy robbed Pavement of its intended set design. Yet the square stage’s red outline and the presence of a basketball hoop, whose backboard occasionally projected visions of a housing project, gave the 70-minute work a clear sense of place. Abraham’s casting—four black male dancers (Abraham included), two white male dancers, and one black female performer (the powerful mover Rena Butler)—augured a dance about race. Yet Pavement is far from being a modern-day West Side Story. A tale of black against white never comes to the fore. Like T.S. Eliot’s modernist poem The Wasteland, Abraham creates scenes that don’t necessarily fit together or have clear beginnings and endings. They are snippets of everyday life (Abraham asking for a dollar) and dream evocations, in which his remarkable dancers’ limbs weave in and out of each other to the accompaniment of a red strobe light.

Pavement’s stream of conscious structure is also created through a collage of 12 pieces of music. The recorded selections include a J.C. Bach and Mozart aria (performed by the French tenor Philippe Jaroussky), two ballads by Sam Cooke, and an excerpt from Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes (about homosexual oppression). Almost all of the musical selections, listed in the playbill by the composers’ names only, carry metaphorical weight. Unfortunately, it requires research to understand the connections Abraham is making between the music and his messages regarding the slipperiness of love, gender and race.

In the program notes, Abraham excerpts a quote from W.E.B Du Bois’ 1903 Souls of Black Folk. Du Bois developed the theory of a black person’s double consciousness. He called it the veil. When Abraham’s dancers do the high five, the gangsta walk, and behave too cool for school, they appear to be acting out today’s veil. When they launch into pure dancing sections, they move beyond coded acts of identity. They become unveiled.

Pavement ends with a pile up of bodies. The dancers, however, don’t look dead; they appear to be sleeping, lulled by the sound of Donny Hathaway singing “Some Day We’ll All Be Free.” Here again Abraham transforms a violent image into one that is doubled or fractured in meaning. This shirking of didacticism makes Pavement more porous than concrete. Here is a dance work that becomes a labyrinth, one that is as puzzling as it is fascinating.

Rocky Seas, a Waltz and a Violin Concerto

Friday, October 26th, 2012

By Rebecca Schmid

The programming of the Berlin Philharmonic, while reportedly having gravitated away from the players’ specialty in German repertoire since Sir Simon Rattle took the reins a decade ago, not only gives equal weight to post-Romantic repertoire but consistently illuminates connections between works which seem disparate at first glance. Andris Nelsons conducted the orchestra on Wednesday in a program of Britten, Widmann, Debussy and Ravel that yielded a powerful sense of emotional coherence. Jörg Widmann, a prolific German clarinettist and composer whose opera Babylon premieres in Munich next week (also featuring New Artist of the Month Anna Prohaska), combines neo-Romantic expressivity with avant-garde textures and unrestrained modern angst, much in the spirit of his teacher Wolfgang Rihm, yet in its own impulsive search. His Violin Concerto unfolds in a single, approximately 30-minute movement with a driving, lamenting melody at its center, alternately spurring and diffracting the colors of the orchestra. Structurally, it recalls Rihm works such as Gesungene Zeit, a chamber concerto written for Anne-Sophie Mutter.

Soloist Christian Tetzlaff, who premiered Widmann’s concerto in 2007, brought out the music’s direct dramatic qualities in plangent lyricism that escalates into an existential struggle richocheting throughout the orchestra. The players of the Philharmonic performed in precise coordination and with sensitivity under Nelsons. After a long pause toward the end of the piece the music returns with a violent snap in the low strings until the soloist, supported by the violins, climbs out of its tortured state. A celeste chord and gentle gong crash provide closure. This sense of eerie loneliness also penetrated the final moments opening work, the Passcaglia op.33b from the opera Peter Grimes. The soulful viola solo performed over celeste at the close, foreshadowing the death of the persecuted fisherman’s second apprentice, evokes a deserted beach and grey skies, a struggle already expired. Nelsons intelligently gave the viola section emphasis by placing it downstage in front of the celli. The aching string passages in the body of the work, punctured by anxious woodwinds, were a bit studied in this reading by the Philharmonic, but the fluid communication of the players kept the balance naturally in place.

A more lively vision of the sea emerged in Debussy’s poetic masterpiece La Mer, a series of three ‘symphonic sketches’ whose free structure and painterly landscapes have inspired everyone from Luciano Berio to John Williams. The orchestra found its stride in the second movement Jeux de vagues, capturing the music’s buoyancy with more ease than the surging, mysterious quality of the opening De l’aube à midi sur la mer, although wind solos were impeccable throughout. Nelsons brought sweep and youthful energy to Debussy’s vision of dancing waves which escalates into a battle between wind and water in the final Dialogue du vent et de la mer. The impending turbulence emerged with keen dramatic timing before subsiding into triumphant serenity. Ravel’s La Valse, conceived as a poème choréographique, follows the opposite trajectory, gathering its forces into a Viennese waltz à la Johann Strauß before marching brass attacks and Spanish-inflected castanets force the melody to fragment and spin out of control. Program notes infer that Ravel was not only impacted by the fall of the Hapsburg Empire in the First World War but the death of this mother in 1916. The strings of the Berlin Philharmonic reaffirmed their elegant culture of playing as the demonic dance unfurled with a sense of desperation that had been tacitly present the entire evening.