Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Choreographers' Showcase

Now in its 23rd year, the Choreographers' Showcase, a mainstay of the local dance season each winter, has jump-started the careers of many a dancemaker and dancer in the region. This year, seven works were selected from 55 entrants who had traveled from as far as New York and southern Virginia to audition.

Saturday at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center Dance Theatre, the results featured locally based stalwarts sharing the stage with a few newcomers. Previous participant Nejla Y. Yatkin's "Lost in Memory" mines the complexities of remembering and forgetting, living and dying. The six student dancers from the University of Maryland, College Park, hid and revealed themselves from beneath lengths of white paper, illustrating the ideas of scientist/novelist Alan Lightman, whose projected text about memory defined the piece. Yatkin, best known for her compelling solos, has yet to find proficiently expressive and exacting dancers to replicate the strength and sensitivity she demands.

Seattle-based Tonya Lockyer's "Two Miniatures: 1914," performed by Baltimore's Sandra Lacy, is a smartly crafted distillation to Stravinsky's Three Pieces for String Quartet. Lacy, a dynamically eloquent performer, quotes freely from Vaslav Nijinsky's angular, turned-in stances, reminiscent of "Petrouchka" and "Rite of Spring," and borrows Isadora Duncan's unbridled expressiveness. "Bite," Shane O'Hara's tartly satiric take on Eve and the forbidden fruit, features eight performers from the choreographer's home base at James Madison University, to excellent effect. Clad in Pamela S. Johnson's Grecian-like robes with jewel-toned cummerbunds, the women undulate, their arms flinging and flailing with abandon. Marlita Hill's introspective solo, "In My Own," unfurls her elegantly studied rhythm tap. She's a newcomer to keep an eye on.

Other works included Laura Schandelmeier and Stephen Clapp's excerpt from "The Dragons Project: Power Play," hinting at the politics of war, and Gesel Mason and Helanius J. Wilkins's teasing "What If . . . or Not," a sultry war game of the sexes.

-- Lisa Traiger


The songs of BeauSoleil, whether traditional or contemporary, tell stories, but Michael Doucet offered a few of his own at the Barns of Wolf Trap on Sunday. Recalling the first time he met Cajun fiddler Varise Connor, BeauSoleil's own bow man said his hero was slow to play at first, then played and played: "I need some diesel," the old man said at one point. "Some black-label diesel."

What fueled BeauSoleil was the energy generated by an enthusiastic, fancy-stepping crowd at this barn dance, as well as the innate qualities of the music. Cajun and zydeco are among the most extroverted of musical forms, and the high notes of Doucet's fiddle and voice combined with those of Billy Ware's triangle as if to scream "Wake up!" -- but charmingly.

As it has done for nearly 30 years, the group used tradition as a jumping-off point. "La Femme Qui Jouait Aux Cartes," about women who smoke, drink and carouse -- or, as Doucet called them, "my favorite ladies" -- opened with fusillades from the twin fiddles of Doucet and Al Tharp but eschewed traditional Cajun rhythms for something between Afro pop and Dave Matthews-style funk.

The mood was high all night, even when darker themes intruded. "Another depressing song," Doucet quipped about "Recherche d'Acadie," but the waltz's passion was as sorrow-purging as the blues, and audience and band alike recalled a culture that, time and again, was nearly lost. Before his composition "La Terre de Mon Grandpere," the Louisiana-born Doucet spoke a bit about hurricanes, then dismissed the topic with "Long Story Short" and let the music do the talking.

-- Pamela Murray Winters

St. Martin in the Fields

Few classical-music recording collections go without at least a couple of discs by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the British chamber orchestra forever linked with its founder and longtime leader, Sir Neville Marriner.

Given the group's popularity, it was no surprise that the Washington Performing Arts Society sold out the Music Center at Strathmore for the ensemble's Sunday evening performance, which featured superstar Israeli violinist Gil Shaham as soloist and guest director. This pairing sent sparks flying as the players attacked each score with skill and abandon, creating a beautiful sound that sacrificed none of the music's shape and unity.

The go-for-broke approach went to the guts of Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 in A, K. 219. There was all the formal elegance and crystalline detail that one expects in the composer's music, but the musicians brought out its emotional underpinnings. Shaham's pure and beaming tone was out in full glory, especially in the cadenzas.

The forthright yet warm sound also worked well in two Russian string essays that flanked the Mozart. The ensemble gave Tchaikovsky's "Souvenir de Florence," Op. 70, a luminous reading with transparent textures and well-shaped melodies. The first movement was as surging as the second movement adagio was tender, while the third movement saw gorgeously wrought solos before launching into the pulsing finale. Shaham sat in the first chair, giving direction to the interpretation and working felicitously with the other musicians like an experienced concertmaster.

The ensemble played it cooler in the concert opener, Anton Arensky's Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky, Op. 35a. Putting too much into this relatively simple if engaging work might have had a distorting effect, and the reading by turns brought out the vigorous, sweetly lyrical and elegiac character. Constantly there, too, was the glowing ensemble work that defines the academy's pleasingly familiar style.

-- Daniel Ginsberg

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