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PERFORMING ARTS

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Pearsonwidrig Dancetheater

Pearsonwidrig Dancetheater's love song for a waterlogged city is both heart-wrenching and wryly comic, offering a gratefully non-reportorial look at the recent tragedy that befell New Orleans.

"Katrina, Katrina: Love Letters to New Orleans" serves both as a paean to a lost world and a testament to survival, with its finely tuned choreographic moments, projected photographs and video of the destruction, a selection of savory jazz, blues and -- most telling -- personal accounts from 12 Tulane University dance students. The 65-minute work, part of the National College Choreography Initiative, was presented at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage on Thursday.

Choreographers Sara Pearson and Patrik Widrig had been scheduled to make a site-specific work in New Orleans between 2005 and 2007. They quickly shifted gears and returned this spring to work with members of the Newcomb Dance Company of Tulane University. The two have a knack for making dancers of all skill levels look good by crafting large-scale group phrases that swoop across the stage and for designing movement reflective of the city, with its buildings askew, levees washed away and debris everywhere.

At times, Pearson and Widrig also exhibit a bittersweet humor: The Tulane dancers toss water bottles -- a precious commodity in the storm's immediate aftermath -- back and forth like footballs until the stage is littered with them. The black-clad dancers sport touches of bright blue -- the color of the ubiquitous government-distributed tarps. Then one dancer's plaintive accusation delivers "Katrina, Katrina" to the political arena: "George Bush, how do you sleep at night knowing you have helped destroy the greatness of this country?" Love, indeed, hurts.

-- Lisa Traiger

Liars

Liars isn't the kind of band that offers quaint anecdotes about its songs before playing them. The band also prefers to wander. So the show the trio played at the Black Cat on Thursday night -- the first of more than 30 North American dates over the next month and a half -- resembled the Liars' current record, "Drum's Not Dead": a dense, murky and pulsating affair with no clear starting points that was alternately aimless and brilliant.

The new disc is supposedly a thematic meditation on creative motion and paralyzing self-doubt, but the compositions worked better when torn from such confining narratives. For many songs, such as the rippling "A Visit From Drum," Julian Gross's drum kit was supplemented by a smaller one, which guitarist Aaron Hemphill pounded on, sending singer Angus Andrew into bone-shaking tribal contortions. Like a cross between Nick Cave and Gibby Haynes, Andrew was his usual visually galvanizing self, a singing spook and dancing freak.

If the trio -- hatched in Brooklyn, based in Berlin -- gave over too much space to the noisy sampler washes and creaking, delayed guitars of such songs as "To Hold You, Drum," those unfocused lulls served to make lunges such as "Let's Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack" or an encore of "Broken Witch" sound that much fiercer. And on a night when the Apes' latest lead singer led the local band through a fierce opening set, the headliners sounded glorious between extremes. When Gross's arrhythmic-pulse beats, Andrew's falsetto-to-bellow vocals and Hemphill's reverb-drenched, rusty-wire guitar lines converged during an Eno-like melody, it was easy to believe that Liars were delivering a kind of post-rock gospel truth.

-- Patrick Foster

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Maybe they didn't have to rub it in so much. On Thursday evening at Meyerhoff Hall, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, led by the gifted maestro Roberto Minczuk, gave a must-hear concert of consistent quality and polish. Yet, in placing a beautifully shaped and luminous Beethoven symphony next to a surprisingly even-keeled concerto of his teacher and sometime rival Hadyn, the performance gave a distorted view of the relationship between these two towering masters. Yes, Beethoven went beyond Haydn, but he certainly never left him completely in the dust.

Haydn's Cello Concerto in D is a pleasant enough work with flowing tunes and some colorful orchestral accompaniment. Missing is the overflowing charm typically associated with his works. The concerto does place the spotlight squarely on the soloist, and BSO principal cellist Ilya Finkelshteyn made the most of it with some lovingly shaped themes that highlighted the cello's burnished sound. Even if the music drew less on Finkelshteyn's virtuosity than his ability to phrase cleanly, he played with panache and flair after settling down in a tepid opening movement.

In comparison, Beethoven's Symphony No. 4 in B-flat, Op. 60, was all color and energy. In the trick cadences and passages of uncommon tenderness, Beethoven shows his brilliant fusion of the wit of his teacher with a newfound sense of poetry.

Credit for that spontaneity goes to Minczuk, who led an incisive account that prized detail and clarity of texture. The chamber-size orchestra -- anchored by the broad shouldered tympani -- brought crystalline organization and rhythmic verve.

-- Daniel Ginsberg

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