Dancing on the barricades in HOME: the metamorphosis

The metamorphosis of my immediate downtown neighborhood absorbs my attention daily, so I was glad to see an artist and her collaborators take up the subject. Stephanie LeathersHOME: the metamorphosis, which repeats once more tonight, Nov. 12, begins to look at the new developments and alteration of old buildings that is currently changing Durham overnight, night after night, and how this landscape in flux affects our bodies and the ways we move through the environment.


Ally Lloyd, front, and Myra Weise climb the fence in an earlier, Sunday SITES, dance exploration. Photo: Chris Cherry.

Leathers built this multi-media, multi-location performance work with movement culled from her Sunday SITES series of exploratory dances in places in flux (construction zones) in and near downtown Durham, and from video made during those, along with still photographs she has made around downtown, accompanied by typed poetic fragments by Chris Vitiello. Leathers is joined in her peripetic program by three other female dancers: Alison Lloyd, Kristin Taylor (particularly nice to watch) and Sydney Vigotov, and they are all joined at the final location by musician Jonathan Hunter-Watts Le Sueur.

The program begins at the new Empowerment Dance Studio at 109 W. Parrish (next to Loaf), where you can buy your ticket, and where the photographs are hung. The dancers will appear around 6:30 to lead you outside, for a movement section along the construction fence and the orange and white barricades. This was, to me, the most successful segment of the piece, because it occurs in a disorderly constricted space, with oncoming traffic inches from the dancers, while the roar and light and dirt of the rising 27-story tower continue behind them.

From there, the dance parade makes a couple of stops before reaching its final destination, the old Fishmongers at 806 W. Main, which is currently in a pleasing state of deshabille. Almost everything has been ripped out, the ceiling is down, the back is open to the front–but the black and white tile floor remains to support the building’s next identity.


Kristin Taylor dancing in the old Fishmongers space. Looks different at night. Photo: Stephanie Leathers.

Limpid Beethoven at CPA Unequal to Election-eve Anxiety

Isabelle Faust- Alexander MelnikovPhoto: Marco Borggreve

Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov appeared at Carolina Performing Arts. Photo: Marco Borggreve.

I had thought, when I calendared a concert the night before Election Day, that surely Beethoven would surge over the roiling anxiety, drowning it for an hour or two. But the three-sonata concert by Isabelle Faust, violin, and Alexander Melnikov, piano, at Carolina Performing Arts lacked the over-aweing force that might have quieted the panicking inner voice.

The world as I know it will change by the end of this day. If it goes one way, well and good; if it goes the other way, as I kept thinking during the program, concerts like this may become few and far between, their suavity and cultivation being the opposite of the crass, coarse and crude. It’s cold comfort, but I remind myself–Beethoven survived even the Nazis (although only because he was already dead).

A chamber music concert by highly accomplished musicians playing works by one of Europe’s greatest artists ever pretty much defines the upper reaches of a rarefied type of Eurocentric high culture. For each two concert musicians of this caliber, thousands have been winnowed. That is how is goes with art: not everyone is among the best. There is a hierarchy. These are not characteristics to appeal to the deplorable mob. Artistic greatness can attract a vast, varied audience, but that rarely happens with classical music. This is “high culture,” which requires an “elite” audience, and on November 7, UNC’s Memorial Hall was far from full. Although, as far as I can tell, all that is required to be among the elite is the ability and willingness to sit very still and focus your hearing–to use your ears like you use your eyes in a museum.

Sometimes a painting is too subtle to attract your notice–too quiet in its purity, and that is how the music seemed last night: too quiet for my unquiet soul. Faust plays a Stradivarius with a silken ethereal tone, and her long bowed lines draw out like warm caramel–but there was a singular lack of emotion and emphasis in her and Melnikov’s interpretation. At times, one could barely hear the violin over the piano, although when the two instruments were in conversation, both were clear. Once again, political analogies raised their sorry heads.

Faust and Melnikov were both youthful prodigies. Separately and together they have won numerous high-level prizes (including one for their recording of Beethoven sonatas) and are now in successful mid-career. While their interpretation was elegant and utterly clean, it seemed to lack sympathy for the struggling parts of the music. To my taste, later Beethoven–further from the classical, closer to the romantic–is more powerful, so the two earlier pieces they played, Sonata in A minor, op. 23, and the F Major, op. 24 “Spring,” were of less interest than the later Sonata in G Major, op 96, which came after intermission. It’s a much more emotionally compelling piece of music, and both players gave us some beautiful passages…but it was not magnificent. I got more satisfaction out of the pretty Viennese pastry of the F Major. However, the sugar rush led to the inevitable sugar crash and return of existential nausea. The dramatic element of soul-cleansing catharsis was absent from this program.

Just Passing Through: The Open House, at Manbites Dog Theater


L TO R: J Evarts, Matthew Hager, Marcia Edmundson, Michael Brocki, and Michael Foley as Father, in THE OPEN HOUSE by Will Eno. Directed by Jeff Storer, at Manbites Dog Theater October 27 – November 12, 2016. Photo: Alan Dehmer.


Manbites Dog Theater has staged works by Will Eno in the past, including the messily brilliant Oh, the Humanity (and other exclamations) in 2010, Middletown, and Thom Pain (based on nothing), all directed by Jeff Storer. Now Storer has staged Eno’s 2014 The Open House, directing a cast well known to him and to each other, in a play that puts some of Eno’s ideas about people and mortality into firmer form that his previous works.

In The Open House, an emotionally messed up white middle-class family is trying to have a nice day together. Or, some of them are trying; the other one is a chronic tyrant in a wheelchair. Father is a mean old bastard, casually but self-consciously cruel to his wife, son and daughter, and his brother, who lives with the family. It’s Father and Mother’s anniversary, and the grown children have come home, and nobody has any thing to say, or if they do, they don’t know how to say it, or they can’t say it, because they’ve lived a lifetime with Father’s verbal battering.

They are caught in amber. You can almost see it rising up around them, almost see it sucking at the bottoms of the son’s and daughter’s shoes as they escape to errands. Derrick Ivey’s design and Chuck Catotti’s lighting emphasize the dingy colorless stuckness of the family’s life, and the closed nature of their feedback loop.


Hand to hand resuscitation in THE OPEN HOUSE. Marcia Edmundson, left, with J Evarts, finally has someone pay attention to her bad wrist. Photo: Alan Dehmer.


But change is coming: the wheels of life will turn; transformations will occur. (It is, after all, a play–Eno is not so relentless in reminding us of that in this script, but he keeps it stagey.) It would spoil matters to tell you about them.

I found The Open House very sad, although it has plenty of laugh lines and ridiculous moments. All these people in the same room, each alone and longing and incapable of taking action, it’s rather Beckettian.

Father, cold and controlling of those around him, literally cannot–a stroke (ah, Malign Fate) has crippled him. Michael Foley gives one of his finest performances ever. With Father nearly immobile in his wheelchair, Foley must do it all with voice, facial expression, timing and small gestures, usually with the newspaper he uses as a shield and a prod. He crackles with animosity, which makes his slide into confusion even more painful to watch.

Michael Brocki as Uncle also does very fine work here, especially later in the 85-minute one-act. Marcia Edmundson, as always, is a joy to watch. Although she uses many of the same behaviors for each role, I can never spy the actor behind the character on stage. The Son doesn’t provide as much scope for Matthew Hager–he’s good here, but it would be nice to see him in a bigger role. J Evarts makes every role a big one, and she’s a dervish in this one.


Manbites Dog is not a repertory company, but it might as well be. It’s a theatrical home to some wonderful actors and directors and designers, many of whom have worked together for three decades now to mine the human psyche and put its intricacy and simplicity before us through the words of playwrights they’ve pondered together. If there is ever to be a great pax humanitas, it may rise up from a theatre such as this, where the hard work of the humanities goes on late into the night, year after year.


Michael Foley, left, and Matthew Hager, in THE OPEN HOUSE, by Will Eno. Directed by Jeff Storer. October 27 – November 12, 2016. Photo: Alan Dehmer.



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