A CHRISTMAS KADDISH

A World Premiere Holiday Play

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Richmond Triangle Players at the Robert B. Moss Theatre, 1300 Altamont Ave, RVA 23230

Performances: November 17 – December 18, 2021.

Ticket Prices: $10 – $40.

Info: (804) 346-8113 or rtriangle.org. Richmond Triangle Theater has returned to full-capacity seating and requires proof of vaccine or recent negative PCR test results for entry. See the theater’s website for their COVID-19 precautions, digital programs, and more.

For more years than I can remember, the Christmas season has been heralded by the return of The Nutcracker ballet and a unique holiday-themed play by Richmond Triangle Players. This year’s RTP Christmas production took a new twist with the world premiere of a new musical conceived, created, and directed by the creative team of Levi Meerovich, Nora Ogunleye, and RTP Artistic Director Lucian Restivo.

To make the twist even twistier (I know, convoluted would be a better word choice, but, you know, candy canes and all), one half of a queer couple wakes up in a hospital on Christmas day, having spent four days in a coma. Instead of contemplating presents, Jay and Leigh are contemplating matters of life and death and come to blows when Jay considers signing a DNR.

Taking a page from A Christmas Carol, Jay has flashbacks to previous Christmases – a Groundhog Day style reunion with their parents, the first meeting with Leigh – each preceded by a staticky segue partially unintelligible (or partially intelligible, if you prefer) voices from an ambiguously unidentifiable entity.

To assist with the otherworldly visitations, there is a long runway style ramp where the center aisle would normally be located. This is where Claire Bronchick (Jay) begins the show and the site of several entrances and other-worldly encounters.

The cast, a dynamic quartet consisting of Emily Berry (Leigh), Bronchick (Jay), Amber Marie Martinez (Dr. Martinez), and Eddie Webster (Rabbi Aaron Edelstein) is energetic and have ear-pleasing voices that partner well with Levi Meerovich’s music and lyrics. Indeed, during their first encounter, Leigh jumps up and admonishes Jay, in their characteristically snarky voice and aggressive attitude, not to sneak up on strangers and start harmonizing with them.

There is obvious love between Jay and Leigh, more powerfully demonstrated when Leigh sings, “I Will Care For You” while Jay sleeps that in any spoken words. But Jay’s unnamed illness – some sort of cancer, it seems – is like an intrusive third party in their relationship. Jay easily balances talk of DNR forms with jokes that slide easily off the tongue, much to Leigh’s chagrin. They are both, it seems, grieving Jay’s imminent departure, but in diametrically opposed ways. When Jay wails, “When you’re dying on Christmas, Christmas doesn’t seem so great,” there is a hint of humor, but when Leigh screeches, “you want to un-alive yourself,” it feels desperate. There is a lot of door slamming, and I hope the set can hold up to the trauma for the duration of the run.

Leigh rebuffs all attempts to help, brazenly insulting Dr. Martinez and ordering Rabbi Edelstein to get out of the room. And that brings up another question. What, exactly, is the deal with the spiritual elements of A Christmas Kaddish? There’s more than just the obvious Judeo-Christian background and conflicts, by the Christmas decorations that adorn Leigh’s large private hospital room and the persistence of Rabbi Edelstein, who so graciously persists in the face of Leigh’s escalating anger. There’s a third spiritual element, but I don’t want to spoil the fun, so after you see the show, comment here on this blog, and let us know what it was.

The cast’s voices and Meerovich’s music and lyrics are supported by an unseen musical quartet: Kim Fox, Mike Goldberg, Joy Lubman, and Bea Kelly. Nia Safaar Banks designed the costumes, and there were some interesting nuances for Leigh (lots of fishnet and cutouts), and a particularly interesting mini dress ensemble for Jay during one of their time-traveling encounters, but it was the costumes and hair (designed by Luke Newsome) for the extra, largely unnamed characters including Jay’s parents and the Rabbi’s deceased daughter, that really demonstrated creativity. Sometimes it was the costume, sometimes it was the total transformation of the character that was most captivating.

There are many moving parts to A Christmas Kaddish, and the production had a lot of wonderful moments even on opening night, but for me, some of these moments didn’t hit the target. I suspect that I might come away with a different overall feeling if I saw this same show later in the run, when the cast and all the elements have had a chance to bond more and develop that distinctive character that distinguishes each show and each cast. Looking at the extensive and talented creative team, I wonder if the individual contributions of each has yet to meld into a cohesive unit – maybe it just isn’t done yet. For now, it was a pleasant night of live theater in one of the most comfortable venues in the region, but I suspect – and hope – that the production will grow and become better than simply good. After all, this is the annual RTP Christmas Show, and Rabbi Edelstein has prayed really hard for it.

A CHRISTMAS KADDISH

Conceived by Lucian Restivo, Levi Meerovich, and Nora Ogunleye

Book by Nora Ogunleye and Levi Meerovich

CAST:

Leigh – Emily Berry

Jay – Claire Bronchick

Dr. Martinez – Amber Marie Martinez

Rabbi Aaron Edelstein – Eddie Webster

CREATIVE TEAM:

Directed by Lucian Restivo and Nora Ogunleye

Music and Lyrics by Levi Meerovich

Scenic Design by Lucian Restivo

Costume Design by Nia Safaar Banks

Lighting Design by Austin Harber

Sound Design by Share Barber

Hair and Make Up design by Luke Newsome

Properties Design by Tim Moehring

Assistant State Manager: Nathan Ramos

Production Stage Manager: Lauren Langston

Orchestra Prepared and Conducted by Kim Fox

Musical Director: Levi Meerovich

Photos:

UPDATED TO INCLUDE Photos by John MacLellan

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MOVING MONOLOGUES

KDance Shorts, Eighth Edition

A Dance-Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Presented by: KDance, the Resident Dance Company at The Firehouse Theatre

At: The Firehouse Theatre, 1609 West Broad St., Richmond, RVA 23220

Performances: November 7-9, 2021

Ticket Prices: $25

Info: (804) 355-2001 or firehousetheatre.org.

After eight years of presenting the annual Shorts program, Kaye Weinstein Gary still has new tricks up her sleeve. This year’s program, MOVING MONOLOGUES, was a collaboration between Gary (choreographer, director, performer), Adam Turck (actor), and Irene Ziegler (playwright). While previous Shorts programs have been marked by innovative storytelling combined with movement, this is the first time the stories were all connected.

What a treat it was to reconnect with Kitty, the potty-mouthed fourth-grader introduced by Gary in her most recent YES! Dance Festival (April 2021, https://jdldancesrva.com/2021/05/01/k-dance/). Here, Ziegler has written additional monologues that introduce Kitty’s mother, grandmother, and dad, all of whom are embodied by Gary and Turck, after a brief introductory warm-up set to Erik Satie’s Piano Works #7, Nocturne II. The “Prologue” also introduces the program’s main prop: a pair of crystal clear “ghost” chairs that magically reflect and refract the light and create stunning visual effects.

“Thank you, sensei, for showing me the way.”

-Kitty

“Kitty” has been enhanced to point to connections with the new monologues. Against a background of Ana Roxanne’s non-melodic, ambient soundscape (it sounds like what your mind would sound like if you could record the sound), Kitty moves through postures of dejection and defiance – until she discovers the “superpower” of her imagination. “I have a superpower. Holy shit!” Oh, I did mention she’s been sent to her room because of her vocabulary, didn’t I? Dressed in purple leggings and white coverall shorts, Gary delightfully embodies the spirit of the fourth-grader.

But it just keeps getting better. Next up is Adam Turck as Kitty’s dad, Rodney. Dressed in shorts and carrying a gym bag, Turck, drops the bag just as the beat drops, and it’s MC Hammer’s Too Legit to Quit. Turck, a real-life certified personal trainer, moves through the paces of a man-twerk, slaps himself on the butt, and begins to record a hilariously awkward online dating profile.

“The best you can hope for is to find someone

whose baggage doesn’t clash with yours.”

-Rodney

After a bit of shadow play with a fabric veil, we get to meet Martha, Rodney’s mother. It isn’t clear whether she is in the early stages of dementia, or just lonely. When she receives a package from an unseen delivery man (a potential fourth character for a potential sequel) she drags out their interaction as long as possible. “Can you see me?” Martha asks. “I thought I was made of vapor.” Martha smells like loneliness and goes on eBay at night to order hope. Oh, and that package? It contained the cremated remains of her late husband.

The final monologue in this iteration of Moving Monologues has Rodney talking to his dad’s ashes and returning to the lake house where he spent time with his family when his father was alive, and his mother didn’t feel invisible. Is it just coincidence that the current occupant of the house is named Manny – the same as the delivery guy? The door has been left open to continue this series, much like a serial novel in words and movement.

Ziegler’s script make no direct mention of the pandemic, but Martha’s need to know that she exists feels very much like post-traumatic pandemic syndrome (I don’t know if that’s a real thing or not, but there is such a thing as Pandemic-related PTSD). It’s actually quite remarkable to watch Gary transform from the hopefulness of Kitty to the giddy despair of Martha. She does both so well, adapting her posture and movement dynamics to the character. The words and the movements are measured out teasingly, revealing just enough to keep the narrative flowing, but not enough to answer all our questions. A post-show discussion revealed just how much latitude there was for personal interpretation.

There were so many layers in this short piece, and multiple perspectives played out simultaneously – the same story told by different characters who are all connected. There was a through line, but the sections were not necessarily linear or chronological. In fact, I would be curious to see what would happen if these same five scenes were performed in a different order.

As for the cast, Gary is a dancer who is extremely comfortable with speaking and acting, and it was great to see Turck, an actor, moving with such abandon. MOVING MONOLOGUES is not fully dance and not fully theater but a hybrid niche that Gary claims as her own. While the piece could be performed by a cast of four (Kitty, Martha, Rodney, and Manny – or the Ghost Chair), I think it’s highly effective and serves the multi-layered effect to have it performed by just two. It was such a delight to see and hear these stories on stage, in person. Sometimes less really is more.

MOVING MONOLOGUES

Written by: Irene Ziegler

Cast:

Kaye Weinstein Gary

Adam Turk

Production Team:

K Dance Artistic Director: Kaye Weinstein Gary

Lighting Designer/Scenic Consultation: Matthew Landwehr

Assistant Lighting Designer: Casey Walsted

Production Stage Manager: Ginnie Willard

Assistant Stage Manager: Jason Wineberger

Sound Designer/Production Manager: Todd Labelle

Sound Operator: Emily Vial

Webmaster/Social Media: Emily Gerber

Graphic Artist: Douglas Fuchs

Run Time:

About 45 minutes with no intermission

Performance schedule:

Sunday, November 7 @3:00PM

Monday & Tuesday, November 8 & 9 @7:30PM

​”Everyone who enters Firehouse must be fully vaccinated and wear a face mask.”

Tickets:

$25

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NEVERMORE!

Edgar Allan Poe: The Final Mystery

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Produced by: CAT (Chamberlayne Actors Theatre)

At: Atlee High School (indoors), 9414 Atlee Station Rd., Mechanicsville, VA 23116 & Gayton Kirk Presbyterian Church (outdoors), 11421 Gayton Rd., Henrico, VA 23238

Performances: October 8-10, 2021, at Atlee High School & October 15-16, 2021, at Gayton Kirk

Ticket Prices: $24 General Admission; $20 Seniors

Info: (804) 262-9760 or https://onthestage.tickets/chamberlayne-actors-theatre

Many individuals and companies went into the pandemic not knowing what to expect from these unprecedented times and came out strong. For CAT, the Chamberlayne Actors Theatre, self-tagged as “Richmond’s professional theater with the community heart,” things are, well, complicated. Prior to the lockdown, CAT had been in delicate negotiations with the owners of their long-time home on No. Wilkinson Road in Henrico County. Now they are producing their first show in 18 months under the banner “stray CATs,” and a hobo stick has been added to their logo kitty. The temporarily homeless theater company good-naturedly bills their 2021-2022 season as a “touring” season.

CAT has long had a tradition of producing an annual mystery, and this year’s opening show is based on a real-life mystery. On September 27, 1849, Edgar Allen Poe boarded a ferry in Richmond, VA, headed to New York. He never made it to New York. He was found wandering around Baltimore, MD, October 3, delirious. He was hospitalized and died a few days later, on October 7, without ever regaining full cognition. They say truth is stranger than fiction; who could make up something like that?

Julian Wiles’ NEVERMORE!: Edgar Allan Poe: The Final Mystery (1994) enlists Poe’s own life, poems, and stories to explore what might have happened during the final five days of Poe’s life, which remain an unsolved mystery. A full-length play in two acts with one intermission, NEVERMORE! is being performed as a collaboration between CAT and the Atlee HS’s Raider Players, many of whom have worked with CAT as interns, actors, or crew members over the years. Further strengthening this tie, CAT’s Executive Board President, Charles A. Wax, is also a Drama teacher at Atlee HS.

NEVERMORE! has a cast of four principals: Mark Lacy as Edgar Allan Poe, John Marshall as his friend Jeremiah Reynolds, Paige Reisenfeld as Capt. Nimrod aka Satan/Lucifer, and Caitlin Nolan as Poe’s mysterious love interest, Annabel Lee. There is also an eight-member Ensemble made up of both professional and student actors: Sandra Clayton, William Henry, Mary Huhmann, Barbara Johnson, Maddie Moralez, Carter Mullen, Audrey Sparrow, and Camden Sparrow.

The play’s synopsis is promises to be interesting, and the script calls for a number of attention-grabbing magic tricks and the cast approached the production with enthusiasm. But there were several impediments to the successful execution of this show.

First, due to COVID-19 and the protocols of the venue, a Hanover County public school, everyone had to wear masks – including the actors. They all wore the ones with clear windows, so we could see most of their faces and watch their lips move, but the sound was still muffled, and the masks were distracting, giving a kind of sci-fi or horror-movie look to what would otherwise have been a classic traditional mystery.

Second, the uncredited set design was a rough-hewn affair consisting of three platforms of varying sizes and heights, with a few steps, and a sheet or sail stretched across the middle platform that was used to project the background scenes. The screen appeared to get swallowed up in the vastness of the stage.

Third, the company was unable or chose not to execute all the magic tricks as described in the script. To be clear, they did include a couple of disappearances or character switches and one attention-grabbing return from the dead. Overall, given the blended cast, the location, and the very real challenges of a new space, a blended cast and crew (many of whom played multiple roes or wore multiple crew hats) and an on-going pandemic that led to last minute cast changes, NEVERMORE! looks and feels more like a high school production than a professional one. The actors appeared to occupy the space, rather than own it and given the short run in two different venues, I really don’t see a way for this production to meet its own or the audience’s expectations.

NEVERMORE! Edgar Allan Poe: The Final Mystery

Written by Julian Wiles

Directed by Charles A. Wax and Jon Piper

CAST:

Mark Lacy as Edgar Allan Poe

Paige Reisenfeld as Captain Nimrod

John Marshall as Reynolds

Caitlin Nolan as Annabel Lee

ENSEMBLE: Mary Huhmann, Sandra Clayton, William Henry, Maddie Moralez, Audrey Sparrow, Barbara Johnson, Carter Mullen, and Camden Sparrow

CREATIVE TEAM:

Stage Manager: Sue Howells

Assistant Stages Manager: Drake Leskowyak

Lighting Design: Jason Lucas

Sound Design: Jenn Fisher

Costume Design: Alison Eichler

Lights Operator: Jason Lucas

Sound Operator: Jenn Fisher

Program and Graphics:: Jason Lucas

Photos provided by Ann Davis

Performance Schedule:

Friday, October 8 at 8pm – Atlee High School (inside)

Saturday, October 9 at 8pm – Atlee High School (inside)

Sunday, October 10 at 2:30pm – Atlee High School (inside)

Friday, October 15 at 8pm – The Gayton Kirk (outside)

Saturday, October 16 at 8pm – The Gayton Kirk (outside)

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The COMMON wealth & The COMMON debt

Stories in the Soil by The Conciliation Project

Observations on a Research-based Performance by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Pre-recorded at the VCU’s ICA (Institute for Contemporary Art) and on location in Richmond; live-streamed on YouTube

Performance: Sunday, November 15, 2020 at 3:00 PM; available for a limited time thereafter (see link below)

Ticket Prices: free

Info: https://youtu.be/yrbIGTA0WYg

There is no getting around the fact that 2020 has been a most unusual year. It has brought unprecedented challenges to our arts. Yet, as history confirms, art always prevails. Theater and dance has found new ways to exist and mined new ways to create.

The Conciliation Project is a Richmond-based social justice theater company under the direction of Dr. Tawyna Pettiford-Wates (Professor of Graduate Pedagogy in Acting and Directing at Virginia Commonwealth University) and Dr. Ram Bhagat (educator, peace-builder, community healer, and co-founder of Drums No Guns). With heavyweights like these at the helm, it should come as no surprise that The Conciliation Project offers research-based programming that reveals, examines, and demands a response to racial stereotypes and racial injustice.

The script for “The COMMON wealth & The COMMON debt” was developed from conversations with Richmonders, with a focus on the history-defining events of 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial (in-)justice protests that resounded around the world in the weeks and months following the murder of George Floyd.

“The COMMON wealth & The COMMON debt” is not a play in the traditional sense. It is reminiscent of Ntzoke Shange’s self-described “choreo-poems” or the eye-opening work I saw as a teen-ager at what was then the mecca of Brooklyn’s Black culture, The East. (For a description of The East, look at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_East_(Brooklyn) and http://www.corenyc.org/omeka/items/show/320). In other words, this is work that exists to educate and enlighten as well as to entertain.

Conciliation: The process of winning over from a state of hostility or to gain the goodwill of. The building of bridges to connect two points that are distant, and/or disconnected from one another.

Among the topics presented by the voices in “The Common wealth & The Common debt” are the definition of the word “commonwealth,” diverse perspectives on the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia (the middle passage, slave markets, Jim Crow and other racial injustices), the value of Richmond monuments, the Civil War, racism, power, segregation, urban farming, and more. In one moving scene, Keaton Hillman has a conversation with an ancestor, Callie, a woman sold into slavery and later freed. “Help break the cage for someone else,” she says before returning to the ancestral plain. The next scene shows a group of protesters marching in cadence to “no justice, no peace.”

Against the backdrop of a chain link fence and passing traffic, masked performers sing, “We Wear the Mask.” Contemporary voices blend with traditional fables, history, and storytelling in a non-linear way that the modern western mind might struggle to comprehend. Experiencing “The COMMON wealth & The COMMON debt” is a bit like being inside the production while watching it; similar to the way one might dream and awaken to wonder where the dream state ends and reality begins.

“I think we could definitely do a better job at creating monuments that glorify actual heroes instead of being used as an intimidation tactic, which is what they were originally put there for.”

The creative team organized a solid ensemble consisting of Calie Bain, Juliana Caycedo, Keaton O’Neal Hillman, Zakiyyah Jackson, Dylan Jones, Jamar Jones, Todd Patterson, and Mariea Terrell. The acting ensemble is supported by Drummers lead by Ram Bhagat and dancer Alfumega Enock. In a live post-performance discussion, we learned that the stories and interviews were collected by the Graduate Applied Theatre Class at VCU as well as members of the Ensemble, with support from the ICA. “The COMMON wealth & The COMMON debt” should be accessible for the remainder of the week of November 15. Catch it, if you can.

RICHMOND BALLET: GRACE IN THE RIVER CITY – A REVIVAL & A PREMIERE

RICHMOND BALLET STUDIO ONE: GRACE IN THE RIVER CITY

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Richmond Ballet Studio Theatre, 407 E. Canal St., RVA 23219

Performances: November 5-10, 2019

Ticket Prices: $26-$46

Info: (804) 344-0906 x224 or etix.com

chiaroscuro
noun
chiar·oscu·ro | \kē-ˌär-əˈskyu̇r-(ˌ)ō\

  1. pictorial representation in terms of light and shade without regard to color 
  2. a: the arrangement or treatment of light and dark parts in a pictorial work of art

    b: the interplay or contrast of dissimilar qualities (as of mood or character)

merriam-webster.com

The Richmond Ballet opened its 2019-2020 season (19/20 for short) with the theme “Grace in the River City.” The Studio One program, held at the company’s Canal Street studio, included Artistic Director Stoner Winslett’s “Ancient Airs and Dances” and Ma Cong’s “Chiaroscuro.”

“Ancient Airs and Dances,” set to three suites of 17th and 18th century Italian and French lute songs by Ottorino Respighi, was revived in honor of Winslett’s 40th anniversary with the Richmond Ballet. The work for four couples was Winslett’s first work for the professional company. Dressed alike, but in different colors (navy, purple, aubergine, wine) the four couples begin with a formal promenade, tracing figures on the floor. At the end of the introductory movement, they toss away their masks and begin to reveal their separate personalities.

First is Ira White and Eri Nishihara (purple). They appear to be the playful couple, moving lightly, teasing and skipping offstage. Next up, Abi Goldstein and Anthony Oates (aubergine) who present themselves as the romantic duo. They are more dramatic, and Goldstein is very strong, demonstrating a freedom of physicality as when she rolls across Oates’ back. When Cody Beaton and Mate Szentes (navy) dance, the woman’s skirt and man’s vest have been shed and the movements seem more contemporary and exploratory, less formal, and finally Melissa Frain and Marty Davis’ (wine) dance seems to be about reconciliation and commitment or longevity as they seem to linger in one another’s presence and movements. In the final section, the four couples gather in a folk dance and each couple briefly reprises their duet before ending in a rotating figure like a carousel, with the women held aloft, parts of a whole.

During her tenure at Richmond Ballet, Winslett has commissioned more than 75 works, by more than 35 choreographers (facts she revealed during her Tuesday evening Choreographer’s Club curtain talk). For Studio One, she brought back Ma Cong for his fifth new work in ten years.

“Chiaroscuro” is a collaborative work, with choreography by Ma Cong, Music by Ezio Bosso, costumes and set by Emma Kingsbury, lighting by Trod Burns, and photography by Sara Ferguson. The nine dancers – 4 women and 5 men – move through Bosso’s music illuminated by Burns’ lighting with Ferguson’s larger-than-life black and white images of themselves projected onto Kingsbury’s set. It might be a rock, or a cliff, but wait – what is that long, thin thing sticking up out of middle of it? “Nothing’s perfect,” was Kingsbury’s enigmatic response when questioned about it.

Images change subtly; where there were hands there is now a face; where there was a face, there are now two, no three! The costumes, in shades of black and gray, echo the chiaroscuro effect  – the contrast of light and dark, the constantly shifting light and the movement of human sculptures.  Hmmm, a Chinese choreographer; an Italian composer; an Australian designer; an American ballet company – was this, too, part of Cong’s vision, or was it serendipity?

The cast – Cody Beaton, Elena Bello, Melissa Frain and Eri Nishihara, Marty Davis, Trevor Davis, Fernando Sabino, Mate Szentes, and Ira White – seemed to enjoy performing this piece as much as the audience enjoyed watching it.

“Chiaroscuro” begins with Fernando Sabino (who has announced his retirement at the end of this season) o the floor. As he rises, his movements are strong, emotive, not all lightness and grade. As the other dancers enter, the women are lifted in swirling arcs, tracing figure eights in the air. When the men arc backwards, they turn their knees inward. This ballet is not technique as usual. A diagonal line turns inward and wraps around like a spiral segment of DNA. Dancers unite and separate. Elena Belo is lifted about a cluster of men and held aloft in a running pose. Three men intertwine, heads popping out and leaping through hoops made of arms like a game of whack-a-mole.

On the screen, a large white rose emerges; but the end of the dance it has wilted. On the stage, a white parasol weaves its way across the stage. I somehow felt the rose and the parasol were connected. Partnering in “Chiaroscuro” is intriguing. In one section the women shed their skirts, becoming de-sexualized. Dancers morph into oddly intriguing positions, finding new ways to connect. One may be held by an ankle, a toe, or back of the knee. Dancers’ arms and legs become hooks from which to suspend bodies and legs and thighs become step stools leading to higher dimensions.

Like previous works by Cong, “Chiaroscuro” encourages the viewer to explore new perspectives of human emotion, as he did with “Lift the Fallen,” a 2014 work in which he deals with the loss of his mother. But “Chiaroscuro” is even more immersive, more compelling. It is a beautiful work that elevates both the dancers and those watching them.

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

———-

Photo Credits: Sarah Ferguson

 

Books available on Amazon.com; click on cover for link.

 

KARAR DANCE COMPANY PRESENTS: CIRCADIAN, an evening-length work

019 DOGTOWN PRESENTER’S SERIES: KARAR DANCE COMPANY

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Dogtown Dance Theatre, 109 W. 15th Street, RVA 23224

Performances: October 18-26, 2019

Ticket Prices: $20 General Admission; $15 Students

Info: (804) 230-8780 or dogtowndancetheatre.com

 

Circadian is a mesmerizing evening-length work for five dancers. The creative offspring of Kara Robertson, Artistic Director of Karar Dance Company, Circadian was inspired by a series of black and white photographs by Fan Ho (1931-2016), an award-winning Chinese photographer, film director, and actor who was known for his mastery of light and shadow. An image of his work entitled Approaching Shadow first caught Robertson’s attention some three years ago, and after much research, and some six months of intensive work with her company of dancers and collaborators, resulted in a 40-minute dance inspired by Fan Ho’s body of work captured in his book, Hong Kong Yesterday. [Hear the choreographer explain how her movement was inspired by the photographs: https://www.facebook.com/KARARDANCECOMPANY/videos/397277210947427/]

Fan Ho photo
Fan Ho image, Approaching Shadow

The first thing that strikes you about Circadian is the space; it is performed in the round, with two rows of seating on each side of the dance space. The second thing you might notice is the light; there are bright lights at each of the four corners of the dance space, and Weston Corey has designed numerous special effects, some quite subtle and some deliberately startling. This four-sided performance space with this moody, atmosphere-changing lighting, creates a world all its own that pulls and lulls the audience so that one loses track of time. A wooden lattice-work frame – the work of Crux Scenica – hangs above the dancers; I was so caught up in their motion and the mood of the lights that both surreptitiously and overtly direct our gaze, as well as by the sometimes hypnotic, sometimes dynamic original score by Ryan Davis that I didn’t notice it until near the end. It came as a total surprise that we had watched 40 minutes of uninterrupted dancing – and that the 5 dancers had been onstage moving for all that time.

Circadian begins with a simple walk. Dressed in simple but elegant two-piece black garments (kudos to designer Damion Bond) with wrap-around pants and cropped athletic tops that remind of yoga, meditation, and other healthy, healing practices, the five navigate the circumference of the space with measured and deliberate steps, articulating each action of the foot. Their arms are not yet engaged as they complete this counterclockwise procession with frequent interruptions of the precise cycle as one dancer then another breaks the formation by changing position, cutting across the space, widening or closing the gap between dancers, or moving into the center for a solo. These diversions only increase the mesmerizing power of the deliberate cycle.

Company dancers David Alexander Deegan, Caroline Echevarria, Amy Mulder, Amy Perkinson, and Haley Wall worked well as an ensemble, taking their cues from one another’s breathing or a fleeting glance, the briefest eye contact and seeming to move from a shared pool of energy. This synergy is most palpable and powerful when the music pauses, seeming to take a breath of its own so that the dancers and audience can experience the power and natural rhythm of silence.

 Gradually the patterns become more complex, the movements engage the arms and the entire body, often using a position from a Fan Ho photograph to initiate a movement phrase or transition from one section of the dance to another. The precision and focused intent of the walking is countered by softer shapes in the center, rounded spines and shoulders, a gentle firmness when they make contact that feels safe and secure yet daring at the same time.

There are spaces for the dancers and the music to breathe, only to continue as if the silence and stillness were natural parts of the cycle, of the circadian rhythm. They end on the floor, face down, as if taking a collective breath. I liked everything about Circadian and it is even more special to see such high caliber work from a small, young, local company. If time permits, I will see Circadian again, and choose a seat on a different side of the room to see if that substantially affects the viewer’s experience of the piece.

Karar Dance Company is a young organization; the company debuted in 2017 with a goal of becoming a collaborative conduit for artistic expression and a commitment to things homegrown. Kara Robertson as well of 4 of her 5 dancers – David Alexander Deegan, Amy Mulder, Amy Perkinson, and Haley Wall – are all graduates of the VCU Department of Dance and Choreography. Caroline Echevarria is also local – a native of Richmond and a graduate of Elon University’s department of Dance Performance & Choreography.

The presentation of Circadian was made possible by Dogtown Dance Theatre’s Presenter’s Series. Now in its fourth year, the Dogtown Presenter’s Series (DPS) annually places the spotlight on an independent artist or Richmond-based organization, producing a two-week series that provides the artist with all the major resources needed, including rehearsal space, technical production, marketing, public relations, and a stipend. The goal of the DPS is to introduce Richmond audiences to choreographers who reflect the rich cultural diversity of the city, and I hope more people in Richmond and the surrounding counties find or make the time to visit the Manchester neighborhood and support our local artists.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Michael Keeling – Karar rehearsal photos; Fan Ho – Approaching Shadow image

 

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CHRISTINE WYATT: Affirmative Reactions

PROVOCATIONS PERFORMANCE: Christine Wyatt | Affirmative Reactions

Observations on a Performance Art Experience by Julinda D. Lewis

At: ICA (Institute for Contemporary Art), 601 W. Broad Street, RVA 23220

Performances: September 20 & 21, 2019 at 4:00pm

Ticket Prices: FREE

Info: (804) 828-2823 or ica@vcu.edu

Stepping off the spacious and artistically designed elevator at the ICA into the soaring space of the third floor True Farr Luck Gallery on Friday afternoon was a transformative experience. The open airy space is filled with Rashid Johnson’s installation – a modern yet historically and culturally evocative structure ironically titled Monument. Constructed of steel, it is simultaneously modern architecture and ancient temple. It invites the viewer/participant to sit in quiet contemplation or to walk around and through its structure and absorb the rhythms of long-forgotten memories.

Both calming and energizing, it is provocative, and on this occasion, the space was being activated by an Africanist dance ensemble led by choreographer Christine Wyatt. A libation was poured, and  ancestors acknowledged. Some of the participant/observers joined in, others were shy or unfamiliar with the custom. Six dancers and three musicians – although these are both artificial and arbitrary labels, as the musicians move through the space and the dancers sing and speak – then began to move around Johnson’s structure, first walking in silence, gradually adding gentle movements that hinted of ritual and blood memories.

One woman activated our heartstrings, pulling a bow across her violin. Soon, the space was activated with childhood stories of constructing and playing Chinese jump-rope, the soul-stirring strains of spirituals, and the wordless and universal communication of scat. At one point, the energy rose, the dancers moved faster, slicing through space and time. Some of us rose from our seats to follow their movement while others remained seated in quiet contemplation, as wave after wave of movement was birthed. Both responses were correct and necessary. At one point, the dancing women removed their royal blue dashiki-patterned caftans, stripped down to white tank tops and black leggings. They built a pyramid – that echoed the Johnson’s structure – only to collapse in laughter. The gathered in a circle on a rug – sharing a moment of unity, sharing this time of contemplation and collaboration. Their final act was to gather quietly in the center of the space and just. . .breathe.

Provocations offers a new/old way of experiencing art. It is not visual art or sculpture or music or dance. All the elements, sight, sound, movement – even smell, as I was taken back in time by the aroma of Florida water from the libation – united to create a life-affirming experience. “Affirmative Reactions” is a much-needed reminder to breathe, to take time to remember who and where we come from, to recognize and honor our ancestors and each other. It connects the past, the present, and the future.

It is a liberating experience and if you have the time and ability to get to the ICA on Saturday, please go. “Affirmative Reactions” starts promptly at 4:00pm and runs for about 30 minutes.

ADDENDUM: The cast of “Affirmative Reactions” includes Amena Durant, Lani Corey, MiKayla Young, Mary Manzari, Christina Collins, Jaylin Brown, Kenneka Cook, Reyna Pannell, and Christine Wyatt.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Julinda D. Lewis & additional photos courtesy Christine Wyatt

 

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RENDEZVOUS: 1 Woman, 2 Men, 3 Choreographers, 4 Nights

RENDEZVOUS: A Meeting of 3 Choreographers

An Extended Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Grace Street Theater, 934 W. Grace St., RVA 23220

Performances: September 6 & 7 and 13 & 14 at 8:00pm

Ticket Prices: $10 general admission

Info: Grace Street Theater Box Office (804) 828-2020 or https://bit.ly/2Z1dtdk

RENDEZVOUS: A Meeting of 3 Choreographers is the first dance performance of the 2019 Fall season. It is also the first joint performance by this trio of young, contemporary performers. So, this is not going to be a traditional review, but more of an introduction and overview of some of the artists and the works that represent the future of contemporary dance in RVA and the region.

In a brief program, running exactly one hour, Callie Moore, Robert Rubama, and Jelani Taylor offered a sampling of their new and recent works.

Moore’s three selections stood out due to her use of videography.  In “Snap Soup” she has her dancers placed against a blindingly white background that delightfully challenges the viewer’s sense of space and perspective. Due to the lack of shadows six dancers, dressed in black tops and pants in shades of blue and purple, appear to float when they lay down. When one dancer passes behind another, it creates the illusion that she is rising to another level. Moore’s movements, accompanied by Julia Wolfe’s “Dark Full Ride,” a composition of light percussion (snare drums, cymbals) are playful and athletic, punctuated by unusually long pauses and empty white space. The performers: Hallie Chametzky, Courtney Darlington, Eslie Djemmal, Len Foyle, Katlyn Lawhorne, and Zoe Wampler.

“Melodramatic and Self-Indulgent” is almost the complete opposite of “Snap Soup.” In this solo, a woman (Callie Moore) in denim shorts and a white tank top performs small movements, subtly shifting her weight or wrapping her arms around her torso. She is backed into a dark corner and accompanied by a sound score of  “Brown Noise” (think super-amplified white noise and you get an idea of what it sounds like). The subtlety of the movement and occasional close-ups, focusing on the pulsing of the dancer’s breathing, her hand pinching the tight skin of her sternum, or her taped and battered toes, is a philosophically interesting exercise, but eventually becomes less and less interesting to watch.

In Moore’s third selection, “Rosy,” two women (Brittany Powers and Jada Willis) drive to the country, park their car, and dance outdoors in beds of leaves, on gravel, and on the pedestrian crosswalk of a bridge. Nature and traffic provide abundant scenery and I was enamored of the opening scene where the two women walked off into the distance and as they faded away in the background they simultaneously re-emerged in the foreground – a sort of reverse fade out leading to the main movement. Overall I truly enjoyed Moore’s experiments with videography. Her work is visually compelling and emotionally challenging.

Robert Rubama, interestingly, presented the opening and closing works. The program opened with his duet, “::flux,” which he performed with Robin Auerswald to the accompaniment of Steve Reich’s “Music for 18.” Rubama established a motif of organic movement fueled by loops and spirals that extend. His solo, “Down,” set to Bobby Vinton’s “Mr. Lonely” and “A fool persists” by Infinite Body (an instrumental piece that reminds me of the opening of an epic film) is a sensuous indulgence, long-limbed and languid. Even his sharp movements are smooth. His falls are soft, and he offered more of those lush spiraling movements that extend into infinite space as he articulates every possible muscle – back, neck, wrist.

Jelani Taylor – who, disappointingly did not dance in any of the works – presented two duets, “Solemn Wish” performed by Michelle Knight and Sydney Wiggins to the plaintive, prayerful song, “Father, Father” by Laura Mvula with Metropole Orkest and “Remembering Memory,” performed by Jenna Beardsley and Taylor Bonadies to the familiar Joni Mitchell song, “Both Sides Now.” Both duets are emotionally charged and full of yearning. “Solemn Wish” repeats variations of a slow walk with one arm raised, and the dancers execute long, slow looks that seem sadly unfulfilled. “Remembering Memory” begins with the dancers entwined, and at one point they roll, pressed together, as if clinging to life. Holding hands leads to a fall, which leads to a spin, which leads to a lunge. The movements are simple, what is compelling is the transitions, which are subtle and almost imperceptible, making the work fluid and organic.

It’s hard to produce new work. It’s hard to produce dance here in Richmond. People are familiar with the Richmond Ballet; the Latin Ballet of Virginia has a target audience and loyal following; Starr Foster has been around long enough to have developed a reputation, and Kaye Weinstein Gary has integrated dance and theater to find her niche, and both Foster and Gary annually produce festivals that bring a wide range of dance from the region and sometimes from abroad to enrich Richmond. The University of Richmond annually brings at least two internationally known dance performances to the Modlin Center, but the world of dance in Richmond does not attract the numbers that the Richmond theater community can expect – and many of them struggle to fill seats. If residents are surprised at the variety of theater companies we have, many know even less about our dance talent. That said, I have a few thoughts about Rendezvous.

The printed program was nicely executed and attractive, but I would have liked a bit of information about the participants and a few moments between dances when the house lights come up enough to allow the audience to glance at the program, so we know what’s coming up next. I overheard someone in the lobby remark that there were no posters advertising the show. I heard about it through social media, and posters can be posted there – saving both printing costs and trees. One thing the presenters were able to do that I have been advocating for is that the program is being presented over two weekends, not just one. So, while opening night had, sadly, fewer than a dozen audience members in attendance, there is still time to get out there and support our local artists. The show runs exactly one hour and it’s only $10!

Need some additional encouragement? Below is a link to Jelani Taylor’s work, “Remembering Memory” and some biographical information on each of the three choreographers. My work here is done.

Follow this link to Jelani Taylor’s work, “Remembering Memory.”

https://www.facebook.com/eradanceco/videos/421815151760206/

Choreographer, film-maker, and dancer Callie Moore graduated from VCU with a BFA in Dance and Choreography in May 2017 and founded her company Snap Soup Dance (yes, the same as the name of one of the works she presented) in 2018, with the goal of captivating everyone with her work, not just “dancers” and “artists.” Based in Richmond, VA, Snap Soup seeks to work with artists and creators across all disciplines to further their mission of making dance and art more accessible to all.

Robert Rubama is a native of Virginia Beach, Virginia and a graduate of George Mason University with a BFA in Dance. He has performed in works by Andrea Miller, Donald Byrd, Mark Morris, Soon Ho Park, Nick Pupillo, Ivan Perez, and Yin Yue as well as with Agora Dance and RawArts Dance at various venues in the Washington D.C area. He is the founder of Terre Dance Collective, a DC-based dance company that has presented works in New York City and Washington D.C.

Jelani Taylor is a dancer and choreographer from Virginia Beach, Virginia and a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a BFA in Dance and Choreography. At VCU Jelani performed in works by Melanie Richards, Martha Curtis, Helen Simoneau (Guest Artist), Ching-I Chang Bigelow (Guest Artist), Scott Putman, and Dr. E. Gaynell Sherrod. He has also performed in works by Johnnie Cruise Mercer and Rady Nget. Jelani’s own choreography has been showcased at Inside/Out at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, the International Association of Blacks in Dance Conference (IABD), American College Dance Association’s (ACDA) National College Dance Festival, National Dance Society Conference (NDS), Sans Limite Dance Festival, Small Plates Choreography Festival, Dogtown Dance Theater, Grace Street Theater, and ODU University Theater. Jelani is the artistic visionary of Richmond-based ERA Dance Company, a contemporary modern dance company with a mission to create a body of work that is reflective of cultural truths that are intended to engage and empower the larger community.

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Photos and posters courtesy of Jelani Taylor.

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Callie Moore

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Robert Rubama

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Jelani Taylor

 

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SHORTS 2019: Small Plays with Dance Make Big Impact

K DANCE PRESENTS SHORTS: Short Plays & Contemporary Dance

A Dance & Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad St, RVA 23220

Performances: March 28-30, 2019 at 7:30pm & March 30 at 4:00pm

Ticket Prices: $25 general; $15 for RAPT (RVA Theatre Alliance) & Students

Info: (804) 270-4944 or firehousetheatre.org

K Dance’s 2019 production of Shorts, five short plays interwoven with choreography by Kaye Weinstein Gary, challenged performers to express themselves through words and dance and treated the audience to a delightfully diverse evening of performances. Now in its seventh year, the Shorts brand appears to have been refined and enhanced in terms of timing (the program ran just under 90 minutes, including intermission), talent (there were some new faces and bodies onstage and off), and technical aspects (the lighting, sound design, and costuming seemed particularly creative).

Jacqueline Jones directed two of the small plays. “Chicks (Biology Etc. Day 3)” written by Grace McKeany featured Dean Knight as Miss Mary Margaret Phallon (I’m surprised he wasn’t Sister Mary Margaret) as a Kindergarten teacher giving life lessons on wholly inappropriate topics, such as sex and adult deception. The lesson relied on word play that resulted in double entendre and other age-inappropriate pronouncements. Knight, by the way, looked the part in what I’ll call light drag – a simple dress and conservative wig.

Jones also directed one of the more serious scenarios of the program. “Just Before the Drop” written by David-Matthew Barnes, featured Kaye Weinstein Gary and Andrew Etheridge in a weird and strangely touching story about a wife who first meets her husband’s male lover right after the husband has jumped to his death from the roof of a building. The encounter occurs on the roof top after the police and ambulance and nosy neighbors have left, and between the delicate steps of a deadly dance discuss which of them will keep their loved one’s shoes.

Luke Schares and Patrick Rooney contributed perhaps the funniest moments of evening as a pair of cockroach brothers who, along with a lone critic, were the only survivors of an apocalypse that apparently occurred in and around a struggling theater. Surrounded by trash and a gigantic candy bar wrapper, the two wore hilariously accurate cockroach costumes – complete with extra legs and arching antenna – designed by Kylie Clark. Reminiscent of the adults in “Peanuts” cartoons who are represented only be a saxophone sound, the critic was represented by a piggish grunt. (“They were not looking in your direction,” a friend reassured me after the show.) This humorous tale by Jacquelyn Reingold bears the improbable title of “Joe and Stew’s Theatre of Brotherly Love and Financial Success.”

But wait, there’s more. The lovely and lithe Mara Elizbeth Barrett and Tim Herrman warily negotiated the roles of a couple attempting to reunite after some sort of unspecified absence or separation. Andrew Etheredge directed the piece which effortlessly integrated contemporary dance movements into the fabric of the story and speaking of fabric, he also designed the actor/dancers’ patterned bodysuits. This was the one play that left me with unanswered questions. Why did they break up? Why did he come back? Without some background information or additional context, “In Transit,” written by Steve McMahon, was decidedly unfulfilling.

Thankfully, this was not the final play. That honor was saved for “The Closet,” by Aoise Stratford. “The Closet” gave us an inside look at abandoned toys. Etheredge, a gruff-voiced toy dinosaur named Bernard was the senior resident of the closet, along with Twinkles, a simple-minded and somewhat annoying “Tubby” toy names Twinkles, played by Katherine Wright with a vertical red pony tail. (You might want to Google “tubby toys” to get the full effect.) These two abandoned toys were joined by a reluctant Bart Sponge (Round Trousers), played by Dean Knight in a button down shirt and khaki shorts with suspenders. Like every good movie villain, he pleaded his innocence until Bernard/Etheredge pulled a confession out of him – thanks to his cigarette fueled gravelly voice, no doubt.

Even though Shorts is a dance theater experience, like most Richmond dance programs it has a short run (no pun intended) of just a few days, so if you’d like to see it – and I think you should – don’t hesitate but purchase your tickets and go – just do it!

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Sarah Ferguson

 

WOMEN’S THEATRE FESTIVAL: A Warm Memoir

WOMEN’S THEATRE FESTIVAL: Pretty Fire

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: TheatreLab, The Basement, 300 E. Broad St, RVA 23219

Performances: March 27, March 31, April 6,  April 12, April 17, 2019

Ticket Prices: $25 general admission; $20 for RAPT card holders; $15 for students

Info: (804) 359-2003 or 5thwalltheatre.org

5th Wall Theatre (Carol Piersol) and TheatreLAB (Deejay Gray) have joined forces once again, this time to co-produce the Women’s Theatre Festival, featuring 4 shows in 4 weeks by 4 companies. The festival opened Wednesday, March 27, with 5th Wall Theatre’s production of Charlayne Woodard’s 1995 autobiographical work, Pretty Fire, directed by Piersol starring Haliya Roberts.

I first remember seeing Haliya Roberts last fall in the Heritage Ensemble production of Living in the Key of B Unnatural. Then she caught my attention again with a strong performance as the assistant producer of a radio show, Linda MacArthur, in the 5th Wall Theatre production, Talk Radio earlier this year. Roberts has raised the bar and moved to a whole new level with her stellar performance in Pretty Fire.

Woodard’s one-woman play is a warm and familiar memoir of a black woman who, wonder of wonders, grew up in a strong, loving family just outside of Albany, NY – with both parents and two sets of grandparents. The story begins with Charlayne’s premature birth in the family’s bathroom on a snowy winter night. For those who are not familiar with upstate New York, Albany is quite rural. The baby weighed less than two pounds and the doctors had little hope that she would survive the night. She was “blue black and fuzzy” and her fingers were still webbed but her paternal grandfather found the hospital chaplain, went to the chapel, and prayed with confidence and conviction.

Roberts takes ownership of this character so that, as one friend said after the opening, it would be hard to imagine anyone else playing this role. Piersol has staged this show very simply, with just a bench and some lights (credit Erin Barclay) and some very effective and well-placed sound effects (Kelsey Cordrey is the Festival sound designer). I don’t know what Piersol told Roberts, or how much guidance she provided, but whatever it was, it was just right.

Roberts mastered the little girl’s voice, the grandmother’s testimonials and hallelujahs and the mother’s sometimes unconventional and unexpected words of wisdom. She also captured the history and anecdotes with authenticity and accuracy. Her recounting of taking a bath with her younger sister in a large tin tub in her maternal grandmother’s home in Georgia brought back memories of my own childhood, taking baths in a similar tub in my great-aunt’s house on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The water had to be obtained from a spigot (or in my case, from the backyard pump) and then heated on top of the kitchen stove before being poured lovingly into the tub set on the kitchen or dining room floor.

The revelation of her secret – being bullied and molested by a neighbor who lived between her house and the local grocery store – brought me to the edge of my seat, ready to seek revenge on her behalf. But Pretty Fire isn’t about abuse or defeat; it is positive, uplifting, life-affirming – and there are only four more chances to see it!

BTW, playwright Charlayne Woodard, may be familiar to some as an actress who appeared in the Tony Award-winning Broadway show Ain’t Misbehavin’ and on television in the recurring roles of Janice on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Sister Peg, the nun with a mission for prostitutes and junkies, on Law and Order: SVU (2002-2011).

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: 

 

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