SPRING TRAINING through April 28, and no, it is not baseball

PlayMakers Repertory Company is wrapping up an intense year with a fascinating PRCpresentation by the theatrical troupe Universes, in the Kenan Theatre. April 24 saw the world premiere of Spring Training, co-commissioned by PRC and Carolina Performing Arts as part of The Rite of Spring at One Hundred project. Since Universes is neither a dance company, a traditional theater company nor a traditional music ensemble, but a group that uses theatricality to fuse poetry and politics with mouth and body music, the result of their investigation of The Rite of Spring is quite different from any we’ve seen or heard during this extended Spring season. Chay Yew, artistic director of Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theatre, guided and directed this production.

The troupe Universes, at PRC2 through April 28, with the commissioned work SPRING TRAINING. Photo courtesy PRC.

The troupe Universes, at PRC2 through April 28, with the commissioned work SPRING TRAINING. Photo courtesy PRC.

Spring Training opens with the well-known notes played by the bassoon–but here sung by Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, as her cohorts commence creating a layered set of rhythms. The music they make with vocalizations and body-beats is fantastic, and the complex rhythms and counter-rhythms are quite Stravinsky-esque. For a few moments, it seems that this will be a musical performance. But soon the stories begin, and four characters appear from the words. They do not initially seem connected, except by the tissue of rhythm and chorus in which they nestle, but commonalities emerge. They are stories of people struggling in the the spring of their lives, and reflecting on that “spring training” in their latter days. In each story, there is something about community, and something about wisdom from the elders. And in each story, there is death.

One notable thing among the many that set this Rite apart is the absence of the idea of sacrifice. In the original Stravinsky/Nijinsky/Roerich music/ballet/visualization, and in most of the subsequent dance versions, the Chosen One is sacrificed by the community for its ongoing good, and she acquiesces in that, as it is her community, too. In Spring Training, death is not so methodical or purposeful. A random drive-by shooting has no renewing effect. In one story, a man tries to get his family to safety when a riot breaks out in his own neighborhood. His car is stopped by the mob; he proves his solidarity by shouting out “let the motherfucker BURN” and they let him pass. This soundeth not like springtime, pagan or otherwise.

Shifting the focus toward the individuals within the community–to each of us dancing to the death–and the painful acquisition of wisdom while surviving life really flips The Rite around. I’ve lost track of how many versions I’ve seen and heard since the inception of CPA’s project last September, but none of them has made me so completely reconsider the whole matter. Now that’s art.

Spring Training continues in the Kenan Theatre of the UNC Center for Dramatic Art, Chapel Hill, only through April 28 (two shows on Sunday). This is the small theatre–reservations recommended. http://www.playmakersrep.org

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Basil Twist’s Enchanted Air Ballet Premieres at CPA, program repeats 4/13

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The end of Twist’s CPA-commissioned THE RITE OF SPRING, in development at the Basil Twist Residency, March 2013; Memorial Hall, Chapel Hill, NC. KPO Photo.

“This is the program I’ve been most nervous about in the last three years, and it means the most to me,” said Emil Kang in his slightly giddy introduction to the world premiere performance in Memorial Hall April 12.

Basil Twist. Photo courtesy CPA.

Basil Twist. Photo courtesy CPA.

Coming up was the final of the artist projects that Carolina Performing Arts commissioned as part of its season and year-long “The Rite of Spring at One Hundred” series. Basil Twist, the renowned puppeteer (for lack of a better word), was about to present his puppet ballet set to Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. The Orchestra of St. Luke’s was already in the pit; the house was packed and buzzing with anticipation. Kang was nervous–but he would have already known how completely marvelous the work is.

Creating the work during the Basil Twist Residency, March 2013; Memorial Hall, Chapel Hill, NC. KPO Photo.

Creating the work during the Basil Twist Residency, March 2013; Memorial Hall, Chapel Hill, NC. KPO Photo.

Basil Twist’s The Rite of Spring is a total work of art, an enchanted place/time of power and mystery, and it fills the viewer with amazed delight, foreboding, tenderness and a host of other responses. The experience of the stage action is not separable from the music rising from the orchestra, made by people you can’t see but whose warm humanity you feel acutely in contrast to the abstract dance of forces and objects on the cooly lit stage. (There are people–the puppeteers carrying out the magic–but they are dressed and shrouded in black, and barely register in the image.) When a live human dancer appears to dance the Chosen One’s “dance to the death” section, it tears at your heart. He’s so alive. You feel a huge rush of awe at the human body, how beautiful it is, how marvelous in all its joint and muscle. It is impossible to make this sacrifice abstract. A human will die. And, Twist has come up with a brilliant solution to express that moment–and, I think, to say something about how it is not only social ritual that snares us, but larger, ineluctable, forces.

Animated curtains at the Basil Twist Residency, March 2013; Memorial Hall, Chapel Hill, NC. KPO Photo.

Animated curtains at the Basil Twist Residency, March 2013; Memorial Hall, Chapel Hill, NC. KPO Photo.

This Rite goes so far beyond object theater that I don’t know what better to call it than ballet. But it is also painting and sculpture and architecture and projected image in addition to puppetry and dance. Twist’s definition of puppetry is completely open-ended: a puppet can be anything that can be animated, that is, given the life through movement. For The Rite, he animates the atmosphere, giving appearance to the motion of the air with smoke and billowing silk. I may be a little biased about how fantastic this was, because I love cloth so much, but to see so much glowing silken cloth hanging from the flies to the floor was wonderful. The curtain rises on–another curtain, this one hanging straight and flat. Suddenly brought to life with light and released, it falls in sensuous motion with a slight hiss. Behind is another…and another…I lost track–there are several. I couldn’t count and look at the same time–I went into pure sensory mode. I’m going to try to write on this again, when the verbal part of my brain returns from this image land.

The show opens with two enjoyable and rather different works, to Stravinsky’s Fireworks, Op. 4, and the Pulchinella Suite. They are charming in themselves, but also lead the viewer down the road toward the new world to be encountered in The Rite. The Orchestra of St. Luke’s sounded wonderful; a small part of my brain was available to note how different they sounded from the Mariinsky, and that warm, softer-edged sound suited Twist’s dance very well.

The program repeats tonight, Saturday, April 13. If you are in the area, I suggest going. This chance won’t come again. Tickets at http://www.carolinaperformingarts.org

Sarah Howe, puppeteer, potter and ELF driver.

Sarah Howe, puppeteer, potter and ELF driver.

On a local note: Quite a few local puppeteers, object theatre artists and suchlike are involved in this production. To my surprise when I read the program, I saw the name Sarah Howe–who I know slightly because she sells her pottery at the Durham Farmers Market each Saturday. She was there today, looking electrified. Not only had she worked the performance, she had gone to Chapel Hill and back in her beta-test model ELF–a bicycle vehicle made in Durham.

Aren’t people wonderful?

The ELF is made in Durham by Organic Transit. The 3-wheeler has solar power assist and LED headlights.

The ELF is made in Durham by Organic Transit. The 3-wheeler has solar power assist and LED headlights. Howe hauls pottery in the rear cargo area, and goes about 20 mph.

Turn Out for Turn About: BROADWAY TWISTED at Local 506, one night only, 4/15

“We have the medical and public health tools we need to halt the HIV epidemic and enable people living with HIV to live relatively healthy lives. What we need now is the political will and community commitment to make sure every North Carolinian living with or at risk for HIV has the information, support, and healthcare they need.”

— Claire Hermann, NC AIDS Action Network
Undergrads from UNC's Dept. of Dramatic Art rehearse for Broadway Twisted, 4/8/2013.

Undergrads from UNC’s Dept. of Dramatic Art rehearse for BROADWAY TWISTED.

I know, I know, the causes and projects vying for your attention and cash are just overwhelming. But once in a while, somebody cooks up a fundraiser so good-humored and good-hearted that it revives a spirit drained by the continual supplication of Good Causes. Broadway Twisted, coming up Monday, April 15 in Chapel Hill’s Local 506, is such a one. For a mere $10 donation, you can enjoy an evening of show tunes sung by a cadre of actors singing across the gender divide–and your money will go to the NC AIDS Action Network, and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. The concert will showcase some high-class singing and carrying on, but what makes it great is that it showcases people at their best. Giving their time and talent, men and women from the theater community are joining forces to do something about a problem it is easy to lose sight of if you are not, for instance, one of the tens of thousands of people in North Carolina who are living with HIV.

Broadway Twisted is the brainchild of Nathaniel P. Claridad, an MFA student in the UNC Professional Actor Training Program, and pretty boy Bobby in the current PlayMakers Rep production of Cabaret. PRC/Cabaret, along with Manbites Dog Theater and its upcoming production, The Homosexuals, are the official presenters, with Tim Scales and his company Wagon Wheel Arts Promotion donating production assistance. Claridad will direct the concert, and PlayMakers’ affable associate artistic director Jeffrey Meanza will emcee.

Taylor Mac, right, in PRC's Cabaret. Josh Tobin as the Gorilla. Photo: Jon Gardiner.

Taylor Mac, right, in PRC’s Cabaret. Josh Tobin as the Gorilla. Photo: Jon Gardiner.

The biggest draw is Cabaret’s Emcee, the New York performance artist and Obie Award-winner Taylor Mac.  One wonders what gender-swapping may mean in his case. Lisa Brescia, the powerful Broadway singer currently in the Sally Bowles role in Cabaret will also appear, along with the show’s excellent music director and band leader Mark Hartman. Local community favorites include Julie Fishell and Ray Dooley, PRC members also in Cabaret. (All these people are performing gratis on their one night off.) Will Ray sweep in wearing his Lady Bracknell dress, or may we hope for something scantier?

Doors open at 7:30, Broadway Twisted starts at 8, and will run about 90 minutes. (Due to NC Liquor Laws, membership is required to attend shows at Local 506. Memberships are $3 and available at the door on the night of the performance.) Tickets $10 at the door, or at http://www.local506.com. You can spend your extra cash on raffle items. It’s for a good cause.

“36,500 people are living with HIV in North Carolina. One in five don’t know their status. Treatment can reduce transmission by up to 96% according to a recent UNC study, but only 30% of people diagnosed with HIV in NC are getting the care they need to be virally suppressed. “

— Claire Hermann, NC AIDS Action Network

The NC AIDS Action Network (NCAAN) is North Carolina’s only statewide advocacy organization dedicated to fighting for the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS, their loved ones, and those at risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS in North Carolina. NCAAN and our thousands of Action Team members advocate for sound policies that improve access to care and prevent new cases of HIV, educate the public about HIV/AIDS related issues, challenge stigma, and strengthen our statewide community of advocates living with HIV/AIDS and allies. www.ncaan.org

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BC/EFA) is one of the nation’s leading industry-based, nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations. By drawing upon the talents, resources and generosity of the American theatre community, since 1988 BC/EFA has raised more than $225 million for essential services for people with AIDS and other critical illnesses across the United States. BC/EFA awards annual grants to more than 450 AIDS and family service organizations nationwide and is the major supporter of the social service programs at The Actors Fund, including the HIV/AIDS Initiative, the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative, the Al Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic, The Dancers’ Resource and the Stage Managers’ Project. www.broadwaycares.org

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