Kay Bourne Arts Report – Issue #72

June 4th, 2009  |  Published in Kay Bourne Arts Report


by Kay Bourne
(pictured: Rey Guity as Ben and Ilanga as the Trumpeter)

629 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #72 “Tony Williams’ The Urban Nutcracker,” (now going into its 9th season) has been wonderfully successful; his new choreographed dance sensation “BEN’s TRUMPET” deserves a similar future.

Co-sponsored by WHEELOCK FAMILY THEATRE – and being danced at their attractive house on the Fenway – the world premiere work based on RACHEL ISADORA‘s Caldecott Award winning picture book “Ben’s Trumpet” (1979) is every bit as exuberant, imaginative, endearing, and expressive as the Tchaikovsky/Duke Ellington hybrid. You can see this extraordinary theatrical dance concert through JUNE 7, Friday or Saturday at 7:30 pm or matinees Saturday at 1pm or Sunday at 3pm.

The BalletRox at WFT production is actually three dances culminating in “Ben’s Trumpet.” It’s a program that favors narrative, although the opening piece only in its derivation.

First, there’s the elegant, frothy “LA FAVORITA” (a 15-minute selection from the 4-act opera) choreographed by Williams in 1994 to music by bel canto composer Gaetano Donizetti and nicely exhibiting the traditional ballet artistry of five of Williams’ in-house professional dance corps: Matt Anctil, Caroline Cohn, Janelle Gilchrist, Autumn Hill, and Olga Marchenko.

That work is paired with choreographer Samuel Kurkjian‘s animated and witty staging of Serge Prokofiev‘s entertaining classic introduction for children to the orchestral musical instruments, “PETER AND THE WOLF” (as narrated by Leonard Bernstein).

Interestingly, there is an historical tie-in with Tchaikovsky‘s “Nutcracker.” When the Children’s Theatre Centre was opened in Moscow in March of 1936, Prokofiev attended the first concert and was tickled at how enthusiastically the children responded to “The Nutcracker Suite.” The manager of the center noticed Prokofiev’s pleasure and asked him to write an orchestral fairy-tale that would help children understand more about the instruments of the orchestra. Prokofiev also wrote the text for the narrator to speak. He first called it “How Petya Outwitted the Wolf” but changed the title when he realized it gave away the drama’s outcome. The work which he wrote very quickly debuted only a month or so following “Nutcracker.”

Matt Ancti, who nicely served as the sole male dancer in “La Favorita,” made an appealing Peter whose naïve boldness and compassion for the imperiled bird and duck is very boyish. The wolf danced by Rick Vigo was suitably scary (his red eyes and mangy fur enhanced his terrifying demeanor). Olga Marchenko was an hilarious duck whose confusion leads to tragedy, while Autumn Hill twittered for all her worth as the Bird who knew to get into a tree when danger approaches. The rubbery Yo-el Cassell made a wonderfully predatory cat with one eye on the bird as a tasty treat and the other on the wolf who posed a danger. Illanga was apt, hobbling along as the crotchety grandfather. Kimber Lynn Drake, Kamau Hashim, and Joe Gonzales were the sort of hunters that keep the rest of us indoors during hunting season.

Both “La Favorita,” which was a study in dark pink and frosty white, and “Peter” with its furry and feathery animals, the hunters garbed in bold plaids, and grand dad, like Peter, in traditional Russian peasant clothes were marvelously costumed by Clyde Nantais (a founder of the Boston Dance Company with James Reardon in 1992).

“BEN’s TRUMPET” tells a story inspired, perhaps, by the 19th century philosopher and woodsman Henry David Thoreau, who advised “let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

The eight or nine year old Ben so adores the jazz he hears drifting from the clubs in his Roxbury neighborhood that he plays a pretend trumpet on the sidewalk outside. The other children tease him but the jazz players understand. The story is set in the 1940′s when jitter buggers flocked to ballrooms or elegant supper clubs to dance to the big bands.

Choreographer Williams has largely followed Isadora‘s text which is told mostly through her black ink and pencil Art Deco style illustrations that convey the intensity of the music so well they seem to pulsate off the page. It makes sense that Williams would be so simpatico with Isadora, as both of them were dancers and, coincidently, both with the Boston Ballet during their dancing careers.

Isadora’s career as a children’s book author/illustrator began when a foot injury forced her to leave dancing. Her impressive string of children’s books includes “On Your Toes,” which illustrates ballet terms from A to Z for the very youngest dancers. She has a knack for story telling that appeals to adults, as well as children – a gift she shares with Tony Williams.

On opening night, REY GUITY, who looks very much as Isadora drew the character, played Ben (two other youngsters alternate in the part on other nights). A lively dancer, he’s also a good, little actor. The trumpeter who has caught Ben’s heart was danced well by Ilanga, who emanates a caring persona. Ben lives in a multi-generational household with a grandmother whose ample figure provides a cozy lap for the child to cuddle in and confide his dream to play the trumpet, nicely played by Doris J. Smith. His parents, a stay-at-home mom and a debonair dad, are dancers Kimber Lynn Drake and Gilbert White, who can swing around the living room as they must have once cut the rug in the clubs; a nice portrayal from both of them.

The poker players Yo-el Cassell, Alex Levine, Gilbert White, and John Wyche bring some zest to the game with their by-play and stepping about in a rousing interlude. Later Cassell, well known to BalletRox audiences for his humorous dancing as Mini-Meyer in “The Urban Nutcracker,” brings that verve to the role of the maitre’d in a club scene that harkens back to the days when clubbing was a fancy night out, although feelings could run high should a gent flirt inappropriately with another man’s date. Kamau Hashim has a funny bit as the chef whose dish disappoints.

The smart set design by Charles Baldwin , which strikingly approximates Isadora’s illustrations from a cityscape to the Zig Zag Club’s marquee, won enthusiastic, well deserved applause when the curtains parted to begin “Ben’s Trumpet.” The mood and changing times of day were further accentuated by Scott Clyve‘s lighting design. The costumes by Dustin Todd Rennells were a sumptuous recollection of when men wore their hats acey ducey and women dressed to the nines to go out clubbing.

Congratulations are in order to the sound design and technical side of the evening in which words play a crucial role. First, there is Bernstein‘s taped, witty chat with the children in the audience and his description of the action in the “Peter and The Wolf” choreographed by Samuel Kurkjian. Later, the lyrics from jazz standards sung by everyone from Louis Armstrong, Hot Lips Page, Billie Holliday, the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra and the Mills Brothers to Ella Fitzgerald with the Chick Webb Orchestra are part of the sound track for Ben’s Trumpet, (and important to Williams’ inventive choreography). The speaker system broadcasts both the narration and the big band era music so that they can be heard distinctly, but not blasted at you.

Words and lyrics are unusual aspects to an art that is usually mute. For dance enthusiasts interested in innovation, Williams‘ investigation into the rhythm of words is one of the important draws to this production. Also, Williams has capitalized on the element of conversation to devise his choreography. Luckily he has dancers who are lively actors who interact well with one another, along with enjoying the dancing feats Williams asks of them.

The dances for the thirty-five or so children in “Ben’s Trumpet,” who are a delight in the concert, also evidence Williams’ interest in aspects of rhythm with his choreography of the playground beats such as skipping rope, hand clapping games, hop scotch, and the ball coming off the bat in a pick up baseball game. Joining the children is an organ grinder who juggles, as well, played with charm by Myron Allukian, Jr.

There is a carry-over of the incidental beat as well, to the adults who snap their fingers sometimes to the music and pick up on the rhythms through their swagger and strut.

For some reason this writer doesn’t comprehend, Boston dance movers and shakers have never really warmed up to jazz dancing excepting for the annual visit of the Alvin Ailey Dance Troupe, seeming to put their imprimatur only on the more abstract or traditional work. They’re missing out if they don’t take this opportunity to re-evaluate the importance of dance to a jazz beat and to the innovative interest in the narrative in dance that choreographer Tony Williams brings to the stage.

BEN’s TRUMPET ticket information

by Faylis Matos
The only time of the year where you can see and hear Chewbacca bellowing in the Prudential Center’s food court, witness a samurai sword fight, and double check your calendar to see if you’ve missed Halloween! ANIME BOSTON is the largest Anime Convention held annually at the Hynes Convention Center. Anime fans from all over spend their weekend cos-playing as their favorite characters, screening their favorite anime shows, purchasing art and collectibles, or fixed in front of a screen in the Video-Gamers room.

Friday (the first night) had an excellent line up: The opening ceremony, AMV (anime music video) Contest, the MIT Dance Theater Ensemble’s presentation of “LIVE ACTION ANIME 2009: MADNESS AT MOKUBA” and the Techno/Rave party to end the night.

The opening ceremony was a delightful introduction to the convention, announcing events, guest voice actors and performances, and the rules for the weekend. I was really looking forward to the MIT Dance Theater Ensembles’ presentation, however I was glad to leave during its intermission. The show was flashy, at best, with extravagant colors and lights. The giant robots on stage and costumes were exceptionally well designed, but the storyline of the performance was hard to follow – weak and confusing. I could hear the quiet whispers of people saying, “What just happened? What’s going on? What the [explicit]?” They were saying exactly what I was thinking.

In-between pulling my guy friends out of the Video Gamer’s Room, I screened a few favorites such as: Afro Samurai, Samurai X (Rurouni Kenshin), the Garden of Sinners and Howl’s moving Castle until the AMV Contest began.

The AMV’s were very well done with great timing and creativity. A special presentation of Monty Oum‘s ‘Dead Fantasy III’ was a thrill that sent the audience screaming and cheering with excitement. He creates elaborate battle scenes between characters from two popular video games: Dead or Alive and Final Fantasy.

The night ended with people fiercely twirling glow sticks and break-dancing at the Techno/Rave dance party. Water was provided and although the room was crowded people were kind if you accidently stepped on a shoe or were hit by a flying glow stick.

Anime Boston is a thoroughly entertaining weekend you don’t want to miss. Whether one is screening AMVs, shows, performances, dancing, being drawn ‘anime style’ in the art room, or simply watching the cos-players go by, there is never a dull moment. (I recommend purchasing an extra memory card for your camera).

FILMMAKERS COLLABORATIVE presents the MAKING MEDIA NOW Conference on JUNE 5. A day filled with workshops on making media in today’s digital age, distribution, marketing and more. To sign up and for more information click HERE. This is not to be missed for aspiring and experienced filmmakers.

Saturday JUNE 6, 12 – 5pm is the 5th ANNUAL HARLEM BOOK FAIR ROXBURY, (In case of rain, the Book Fair will be held at the Vine Street Community Center on the corner of Dudley & Vine Streets) with book signings, writers’ workshops and author talks featuring Dr. Deborah Prothrow Stith “Murder is no Accident” on violence in the Black community; Mel King “Streets” on neighborhoods and communities; Bob Hayden, historian on African American History; Erline Belton “A Journey that Matters” on creating your legacy and more. The Book Fair ends with an evening of “GUMBO” at 5:30pm, a rich, thick, mixture – will have Bostonians share their experiences in poetry and prose, featuring SAM CORNISH, Poet Laureate of Boston, and other well-known Boston poets and more.

The 1st ANNUAL SALEM ARTS FESTIVAL will be held in downtown Salem, MA, JUNE 5 – 7. All events are free and open to the public. The Festival features a collaboration of world-class artists and will include interactive events for children. For the full schedule and more information visit the website at www.salemartsfestival.com

  • For show times, ticket information and reservations call the box office at (617) 562-4111.

    HAWTHORNE YOUTH AND COMMUNITY CENTER invites you to POETRY, PLEASE! a publication party, hosted by Sam Cornish, Boston Poet Laureate, Saturday, JUNE 13, 2-4:45 p.m. at the Dudley Branch Library, 65 Warren Street, Roxbury. There will be readings by seniors, families, and teens whose poems celebrate their impressions of Dudley Square and memories of Dudley Station, entertainment and refreshments. For more information call (617) 427-0613.

    The KENDALL SQUARE CONCERT SERIES is a free lunch-time concert series at Cambridge’s Kendall Square, in the outdoor plaza at 300 Athenaeum Streetevery Thursday, noon – 1:30pm, beginning JUNE 18 presented by BERKLEE COLLEGE OF MUSIC. Performers include Berklee students and alumni playing original jazz, Latin, hip-hop, rock, folk, funk, and reggae. Concerts will be postponed in inclement weather. June 18 brings Casimir Uberski, a student from Belgium whose original music is sprinkled with hints of Monk, Jarrett, Coleman, and Ray Charles. For information about this series and other Berklee free outdoor summer series, click HERE.

    THE INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ART (ICA) partners with BERKLEE COLLEGE OF MUSIC to present HARBORWALK SOUNDS, a popular series of summer concerts showcasing some of the best new talent Berklee on Target Free Thursday Nights in JULY, from 6 – 8:30pm, on the waterfront Putnam Investments Plaza at the ICA. For more information, call ICA at (617) 478-3100 or click HERE .

    FREE MUSEUM ADMISSIONS Most museums and art galleries offer free admission on certain days or weekends. Go to Free-Attractions.com for a list of availabilities in your area. Also visit the website for the Bank of America’s “Museums on US” program HERE. for locations of more than 100 museums nationwide who offer free admission on the first weekend of every month. In Massachusetts this includes The Boston Museum of Fine Arts; The DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, in Lincoln; The EcoTarium (museum of science and nature,) in Worcester; The Danforth Museum of Art, in Framingham, and The Harvard Museum of Natural History, in Cambridge.

    Beginners SABAR DRUM classes, 3 – 4 :30pm every Sunday taught by dynamic master Sabar drummer Babacar Moha Seck, $10 per class, at the YWCA, 7 Temple Street, Central Square, Cambridge, MA. For Info call 617-602-7320. If you have your own sabar or djembe drum, bring it.

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