The Rightest RITE: Nederlands Dans Theater’s CHAMBER, and more, at CPA

Nederlands Dans Theater 1 is one of the most thrilling and powerful dance-theater companies anywhere, and this week they are performing in Chapel Hill, as part of Carolina Performing Arts‘ The Rite of Spring at One Hundred series. On April 3, NDT presented CHAMBER, NDT choreographer Medhi Walerski’s and composer Joby Talbot’s intense examination and remaking of The Rite of Spring. CPA was one of several co-commissioners of the work, which received its US premiere in Memorial Hall, where it was the centerpiece of a mind-blowing 3-dance program. NDT will return Friday, April 5, with a different program (see below).

An instant in CHAMBER, a CPA co-commission that received its US premiere April 3. Photo:

An instant in CHAMBER, a CPA co-commission that received its US premiere April 3. Photo: Rahi Rezvani.

My review, excerpted below, of the April 3 program was published 4/4/13 on, with the title “Knockout Nederlands Dans at Carolina Performing Arts.”

Chamber is the freshest, least labored, reconsideration of the influential Rite that we have seen during this saturation season….

Although the score (30 minutes total) is marked Allegro insistente/Adagio minaccioso/Scherzando con malizia/Adagio risoluto—allegro brutale, the work as a whole feels less violent than Stravinsky’s Rite. Talbot’s Chamber Symphony is certainly explosive, and rises again and again to overwhelming pitches of sound and emotion, but it lacks the martial qualities that make The Rite so terrifying. The raw power of Chamber is more purely sexual. As in almost every dance version of The Rite, the stage is filled with a large number of dancers in continual intense motion, but in this dance, the interplay between individual and community makes this work distinctively 21st century. Walerski quotes Nijinsky at times, both directly and obliquely, but the balance of power between group and individual is quite different in Walerski’s choreography…This shift to the dancers choosing, rather than being chosen, is key to the music and the motion, and places Chamber squarely in the now. The dance contains many motions that I saw as growth, a bursting forth from the seed, and the sounds are sometimes like this, too—something regenerating, genetically altered but of recognizable parentage….



The dancers entered CHAMBER through reversing panels. Jordan Tuinman’s lighting, switching between blue and gold, added to the rhythms. Photo: Rahi Rezvani.

All three works performed on April 3 highlighted the NDT’s profound theatricality, and the brilliant simplicity of their visual designs. The side and back drops in Memoires d’Oubliettes, for instance, are made of tautly stretched elastic cord. What appeared at lights-up to be a curtain was in fact a series of lines, which the entering dancers parted with prayer-paired hands. Warm spots picked them out against the black, and there was something deeply moving about seeing those pairs of hands appear in the same plane but at differing heights, before the heads emerged above them. The piece opens with a flickering screen, like scratchy old movie credits. We see the title, then a series of type animations, where letters drop down to form other words giving clues to the remembered forgotten. When the hands emerge, the verbal, the safely mediated ideas, vanish into the compelling nonverbal world of the dance, in which “safety” does not exist.

One of the frightening, breathtaking, moments from MEMOIRES D'OUBLIETTES. Photo: Jason Akira Somma.

One of the frightening, breathtaking, moments from MEMOIRES D’OUBLIETTES. Here, the enclosing elastic “walls” give in response to the dancers’ weight.  Photo: Jason Akira Somma.

The dramatic beginning of SPEAK FOR YOURSELF. Photo: Rahi Rezvani.

The dramatic beginning of Leon and Lighfoot’s SPEAK FOR YOURSELF. Photo: Rahi Rezvani.

The evening’s final dance, Speak for Yourself, had even more expressive lighting than the earlier two, and also pointed up the rather fantastic technical capabilities of Memorial Hall. I mean, not only could they rain aluminum cans from above in Memoires, they rained actual rain onto the stage for Speak for Yourself. The rain blended with smoke rising from an unseen source, and the effect was extremely beautiful, somewhat like torn clouds in a storm over the ocean.

When I first saw the photos below, I thought they’d been doctored. But this is what it looked like–the magic of light on water. It looks so free and natural, but to dance in these conditions requires hyper control and balance. Not to mention trust.

Dancing in the rain in SPEAK FOR YOURSELF. Photo: Rahi Rezvani.

Dancing in the rain in SPEAK FOR YOURSELF: no slipping, only sliding. Photo: Rahi Rezvani.

Beautiful geometry in their forceful extensions

Such beautiful geometry in their forceful extensions and sinuous curves. Photo: Rahi Rezvani.

NDT returns to Memorial Hall on Friday, April 5, with two dances by Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot, set to Beethoven. Sehnsucht (Yearning) and Schmetterling (Butterfly) examine love, with the help of lighting by Tom Bevoort, who lit Speak for Yourself. Sadly, the company will not reprise Chamber at this time.

SCHMETTERLING. Photo: Rahi Rezvani.

SCHMETTERLING. Photo: Rahi Rezvani.

SEHNSUCHT. Photo: Rahi Rezvani.

SEHNSUCHT. Photo: Rahi Rezvani.


Faith, Fate, Fado: Queenly Ana Moura in Durham

I fell for fado when I visited Portugal nearly 14 years ago. I went after the Lisboa Olympics, and before Portugal went on the euro and was still very affordable–and before fado had become a world music sensation. This very Portuguese music is in some ways similar to the blues–melancholy and capable of accommodating many lyrics within simple musical structures–and to the smoky sounds of flamenco. This latter characteristic comes from the Moorish music that informed fado as it developed in the 19th century, in the ancient Moorish quarter of Lisboa, the Alfama. Traditional fado uses a small group of instruments and a vocalist–the Portuguese guitar, with its 12 ringing strings; a bass guitar, and perhaps a six-string guitar. The sound of its musical poetry is  very intimate. Many of Portugal’s poets have written for the form, or their poems have been adapted by singers to the format.

Ana Moura, fadista. Photo courtesy Duke Performances.

Ana Moura, fadista. Photo courtesy Duke Performances.

In this century, fado has begun to push out from its simple form. Young singers like Mariza made it into a flashy show–very fun, but not very satisfying. But another young singer found a truer path. Ana Moura, brought to Durham’s Carolina Theatre on March 29 by Duke Performances, began as a traditionalist. Her voice is low, husky, sensuous, and she cites the greatest of fado singers, Amalia Rodriguez, as her inspiration. Yet Moura has increasingly experimented with other musical forms, other languages–but she imbues them with the spirit and sound of fado. On the 29th, she performed a number of songs from her new CD, Desfado, and all were fado, even if they began as something else.

The best example is Moura’s version of Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You. I’ve never before heard anyone other than Joni sing Joni’s songs that I thought was worthy. (Judy Collins–no.) But Ana Moura got right to the soul of the song, “so bitter and so sweet.” She  can’t go to the high notes, but that is OK, it’s beautiful, it’s right, it’s in her blood “like holy wine.”

I don’t know enough Portuguese to do more than pick out a few key words, but it doesn’t matter. I’ve told people before that listening to fado is like listening to Nina Simone sing in Portuguese. In some ways the words simply provide shapes for the feelings, the deep emotions, which are revealed by the sounds and textures of the voice.  Moura’s band could hardly be separated from her singing. They form a very tight unit, especially the core players Ângelo Freire on the Portuguese guitar, Pedro Marreiros on acoustic six sstring guitar, and André Moreira on acoustic bass. Freire could blister that instrument, which looks somewhat like an overgrown mandolin. I kept imagining him showing up at Merlefest and astonishing the old-time crowd. The more contemporary songs require key boards and drums, which were played with both verve and reserve by João Gomes and Mário Costa, respectively.

Moura is a big international star now, accustomed to playing large theaters and huge stadium venues. She’s well into a worldwide tour in support of Desfado. But her show in the modestly-sized Carolina was beautifully mounted (wonderful lighting) and she was warm, gracious and unhurried, treating the adoring crowd to kind words, modest bows and a sweet encore. I think everyone there was already a fan. If by chance you are unacquainted with her music, start with her website, where there are several videos, or the interview with video clips on DP’s The Thread blogsite. Youtube is replete with videos, bootleg and not, including her singing in Lisboa’s enormous stadium with The Rolling Stones on No Expectations. Mick looks a little stunned when her voice swells out…and the crowd was in her hand, just as if she had them all in a tiny club.  A case of her is just not enough.

Another brilliant member of the Zinn family–who happens to be a freshman at UNC–just completed his first film. Of course, I’m a sucker for a bow tie, but this is very smart and charming.

the written reel

oor_SSI am very excited to announce the creation of my film company, Zinnfandel Films. I can’t afford a lawyer so consider this my legal claim to the naming rights. With the introduction of Zinnfandel Films, I am also proud to present my first short film Object of Refraction. This is a project I have been working on for several months, and I hope you all enjoy it. My hope is that this is a stepping stone to greater, more audacious productions in the future. I treated this first foray into cinema as a learning experience (and boy have I learned a lot). As a result I have high hopes and expectations for the future of Zinnfandel Films. Please drop a comment and let me know your thoughts. I would like to thank all TWR’s readers for their continued support of my efforts; I am extremely grateful.

Here is the…

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