The Sweetheart of this RODEO

I first met Wilmington, NC, musician John Fonvielle a little more than two years ago, when my sister brought him to a family get-together, where he charmed the churlish clan and wowed us with a little picking and singing. Next thing I knew, I was making her wedding dress and he–in addition to playing solo and in two bands–was recording an album of the lonely songs he wrote before she came along. After the usual torturous efforts, the ten-song disc RODEO (Step Right Up Productions) was released October 4  with a party in the listening room at Ted’s Fun on the River in Wilmington.

John Fonvielle, at Ted's. Photo: Harry Taylor.

John Fonvielle, at Ted’s. Photo: Harry Taylor.

Now, I’m sure I’m not the only critic with this abiding fear: You meet an artist, really like him…but the art is not so good….and you have to say something about it. Not a problem here! It is with the greatest relief that I can now report that not only does John Fonvielle sing well (in a Drambuie kind of voice, smooth and potent), and play guitar, bass, mandolin, piano and organ, he can flat write a song. Working in the Americana singer-songwriter tradition, he crafts lyrics at once familiar and enigmatic, about love and heartbreak; about leaving town and about coming home; about finding oneself and finding “a soft place to land.” You can hear some influences, but only the best kind: Tom Waits, Gram Parsons, Joni Mitchell, Kris Kristofferson, Emmy Lou, even the late great Jesse Winchester.

Wilmington supports a rich local music scene, and Fonvielle (whose family goes back generations in the Port City) works with a crew of fine players, many with deep Wilmington roots. Musicians on the album include Jeff Reid, who also engineered the tracks in the Tiger Den at Reid Recording, and mixed and produced the album along with Fonvielle. Listen to a little of the music, or buy the beautifully produced CD/download at There’s some poetry on there.

And I’m not saying that just because he’s my brother-in-law.

Waitress brought the coffee

Flavored with a spoon

A short stack of cakes

Looking like a Harvest Moon

Keep the cream, I take mine black

It was then I remembered you ain’t

coming back

—from “If Love Never Dies”

John Fonvielle with a couple of his well-travelled instruments.

John Fonvielle with a couple of his well-travelled instruments. Photo: Jean Dobbs Fonvielle.

YOU ARE ALL BEAUTIFUL: Gaspard Louis Premieres New Work

Forming a dance company must be one of the most difficult undertakings in the arts. The costs are enormous; the obstacles many. It is not hard to understand why so many aspiring choreographers present work with few dancers, and in oddball venues, or why so often their bold ventures dwindle after two or three years. Yet Durham choreographer Gaspard Louis continues to keep the dream alive and growing. Last night–the program repeats tonight, 9/19–Gaspard & Dancers  presented its sixth annual concert in Duke’s Reynolds Theater. The program features the premiere of both Louis’ Tota Pulchra Es (You Are All Beautiful) and the music for it, by  William Banfield, the Mallarmé Chamber Players performing. Next weekend, Gaspard & Dancers will have its New York debut at the Pace University Schimmel Center, where the company will perform Louis’ Haitian Trilogy.

Heidi Morgan and Rivkins Christopher in one of Gaspard Louis' joyous moments. Photo: Robin Gallant.

Heidi Morgan and Rivkins Christopher in one of Louis’ joyous moments. Photo: Robin Gallant.

Although that Trilogy ends with the powerfully positive L’Esprit (performed on the 18th with crispness and smiling sass–Taquirah Thompson and Rashidi Lewis both were particularly fine), the three works together surely took an emotional toll on their maker, even while giving him the relief of expression for his feelings about the terrible Haitian earthquake. The first segment, Souke (Shake), is also on this program. Followers of Gaspard & Dancers will have seen this piece by the Haitian-born Louis at least once before, but the performance this time is the strongest yet. The quality of the dancing makes the sudden falls and the sad piles of bodies even more poignant than in earlier versions. The two bookends of the Trilogy, on this program, sandwich not the souls of the earthquake dead swimming through purgatory on their way to redemption in Annatations, but a bubbling little duet.

Danced by Gaspard Louis and Imani Simmons, Magical Cusp is a delicious little balancing act between a man and a woman, both dressed in cadmium orange (costumes by Melody Eggan) set to bubbling music by Andy Hasenpflug and lit with his usual pizazz by David Ferri. Imani Simmons is perfectly delightful–a small woman with lots of hair, she is spritely and sensuous at once, and next to Louis with his smooth head, powerfully developed musculature and intense presence, she seemed like a Monarch butterfly flirting with a jaguar. This happy piece made a good transition from the gray dusty wreckage of Souke to the unquenchable L’Esprit.

All that comes after the intermission. First, the Mallarmé Chamber Players, in the pit, perform, opening with the andante movement from Brahms’ Violin Concerto in A major (op. 100), then Mahler’s Piano Quartet in A minor, “Nicht zu schell.” The Brahms was a bit on the wan side, but the Mahler was rich, with the piano notes cool and radiant against the harmonious braid of  warm strings. Then Julia Thompson switched from page turner to percussionist and the first notes of William Banfield’s new work sounded as the curtain rose on the dancers en tableau.

Tota Pulchra Es is itself beautiful–and completely lacking in conflict or suffering. It seems as if Louis needed to make something purely lovely after the long travails of the Trilogy–something “calme, luxe et volupté.” The poses are graceful and the dancing between them is pretty, as are the costumes by Mahalia Stines, especially the women’s floaty skirts. All is buoyed up by Banfield’s score, and kept from pulchritudinous excess by his sly and slightly acerbic beats in the complex percussion set-up. The dance showcases the strengths and elegancies of the dancers, as well as their witty humor–and their enjoyment of dancing. In a mad world of incomprehensible conflict and struggle, a dream of beauty embodied in beauty feeds both those who make it and those who receive it.

Tota Pulchra Es. Photo: Robin Gallant.

Tota Pulchra Es. Photo: Robin Gallant.

Lux Aeterna: Doug Varone and Dancers Close a Brilliant Season at ADF

Just one more night for the 2015 edition of the American Dance Festival. The 82nd season closes as it began, with kinetic consideration of the relationships between painting and dance, or said another way, of dance as a kind of painting. We began with Shen Wei, but these final images are by Doug Varone and Dancers. The concert repeats tonight in the Durham Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m.

Doug Varone Dancers in LUX, at ADF July 24, 2015. Photo: Grant Halverson.

Doug Varone Dancers in LUX, at ADF July 24, 2015. Photo: Grant Halverson.

It begins with the heart-opening Lux, from 2006, in which eight dancers dance by the light of the moon, the moon. (Dancing must be the most ancient art, after singing perhaps.) As lighting designer Robert Wierzel’s full moon rises in the sky upstage, and Philip Glass’ The Light surges and recedes like the incoming tide, they frolic and frisk, twirling and tumbling, Liz Prince’s fluid dark-revealing-light costumes flaring around them. They dance. This is not concept in motion, it is not calculated performance movement. It is the soul expressing its state of joyous oneness with a universe at once orderly and always in flux. Doug Varone is a humanist, I think, an artist for whom the human experience always lies at the core, and that includes both physical and psychic experience. Some of the most primal of both experiences find expression in Lux.

Doug Varone, THE FABULIST, at ADF July 24, 2015. Photo: Grant Halverson.

Doug Varone, THE FABULIST, at ADF July 24, 2015. Photo: Grant Halverson.

Varone has also lived long enough to attain some wisdom about our bifurcated states of being. He merges them beautifully in the solo for himself that he premiered at ADF last year. The Fabulist was very very new in 2014; in the intervening year it has muscled up, become more clear and definite. Again, the lighting and costuming are important to the stage pictures. The stage is black–then there appears a man in a sharply focused, narrow cone of hot light (powerful design by Ben Stanton). Doug Varone, not at this life-stage a slim-built man, seems both presented like a jewel and imprisoned by the light. He begins to dance, and stories unfold from his body, stories from a lifetime, stories like flesh on the skeleton of a human. Tears began to flow from my eyes almost immediately, and at times I shook with stifled sobs. Of course, this might have happened just from listening to the accompanying music, David Lang’s exquisite Death Speaks, but I also think that the man in the light would have brought them without the music, with his danced memories of blazing passion and his acceptance of Death’s empty presence along the dark edges.

The finale is a new work co-commissioned by the American Dance Festival and The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. In Recomposed, Varone works with, or from, pastel images by the American Expressionist Joan Mitchell. In the pastels, you can read the artist’s struggles with color, line, placement and relationships, but those records of her clarifying of her inner state have often made me uneasy–too close to chaos for my order-loving self. I’ll never look at them the same way again, after seeing the process kineticized at stage-scale. Before the moment depicted below, the dancers wear sheer white coveralls over their bodysuits, and late in the piece begin removing them, as images clarify, to reveal the definite blacks and clear colors that had been obscure (costumes by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung). The choreography and the dancing are not dissimilar to those of Lux, but the tone is very different. Once again, Varone demonstrates his musical acuity, setting this piece to Michael Gordon’s Dystopia. Moving in Robert Wierzel’s splendid, gorgeous washes of colored light, the dance-makers place and arrange and overlap, overturn and scrub out their marks, making an ever-disappearing record of effort and dissatisfaction. Until–a turning point…something is right, something can be added to, something is worth keeping. Out of unknowingness, fear and obfuscation, something is created. A picture. A dance. A life.

And it is good.

Doug Varone Dancers, arriving at clarity in RECOMPOSED, in its premiere at ADF, July 24, 2015. Photo: Grant Halverson.

Doug Varone Dancers, arriving at clarity in RECOMPOSED, in its premiere at ADF, July 24, 2015. Photo: Grant Halverson.

This Day in North Carolina History

The people and places of the Tar Heel state day by day.

Linda Frye Burnham

Laissez les bons temps rouler


A topnotch site

Joshua Starmer - Composer, Instrumentalist and Scientist

Follow me into the studio, onto the stage and into the lab.

The Selfish Seamstress

Because I only want to sew stuff if it's for me.

Art Menius

Roots Music, Culture, and Social Change

Mae Mai

Boldly going where no cellist has gone before...

The Upstager

All the world's an upstage.

Literary Life in Italy

Looking at Italy through literature

The Five Points Star

Cultural criticism, news, schmooze and blues radiating from Durham, NC

Silvina Spravkin Sculptor

A sculptor who makes her art in different media, such as marble, stone, and mosaic, in Pietrasanta, Italy


An urban farm in Durham

The Reverse Angle

Just another site

Italy Chronicles

The Italy You Don't Know

monica byrne

writer & playwright

Losering Books

David Menconi's book blog


Tamara Kissane in the blogosphere


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 158 other followers

%d bloggers like this: