Saturday, September 8, 2007

Oakley Hall

It's got to be a bummer to start a tour right before a new album is released. Oakley Hall's fabulous "I'll Follow You" comes out Tuesday, but the noisy country-rock sextet kicked off its tour a week earlier and its visit to the Rock & Roll Hotel on Thursday came without the benefit of the rave reviews the new album is sure to receive. The lack of buzz meant that only 30 or so people witnessed the Brooklyn band's performance, but they were treated to an hour of blissful, organic psychedelia from a prolific group that is hitting its stride in a major way.

"I'll Follow You," the band's fourth album, finds Oakley Hall perfecting its modern take on classic Americana. Most of Thursday's set was culled from the new album, and the songs work even better in a live setting, as each band member fills his or her role perfectly. Claudia Mogel's violin playing alternated between weepy and dissonant, the voices of singer-guitarists Rachel Cox and Pat Sullivan were perfectly matched for their frequent duets, and the rhythm section of Jesse Barnes and Pat Wood was always locked in, even though Wood joined up just before this tour.

Guitarist Fred Wallace was the constant standout, though. He looked as if someone had just jolted him awake from a very enjoyable nap, but his precise, smooth leads were the highlight of just about every song, particularly the fragile, beautiful "I'll Follow You" and the more muscular "No Dreams."

Each of the dozen songs was mesmerizing in its own way. "All the Way Down" began as a down-home country tune, with Cox's vocals floating gracefully over multiple guitars, before exploding into a psychedelic jam that recalled the Grateful Dead circa 1972. "Rue the Blues" stayed in the same decade for its influence, achieving a bright and bouncy AM radio sound, while "Confidence Man" was a throbbing rocker but still plenty tuneful.

-- David Malitz

Ballet of Monterrey

How many angels can dance on a stage the size of the head of a pin? The answer: 10, if you belong to the Ballet of Monterrey. This superb Mexican company danced full-out on the size-challenged stage of the National Museum of the American Indian's auditorium on Thursday. To their great credit, the dancers didn't let on how terribly difficult it must have been.

Of all the mostly Latin-flavored works, the charming and quirky "Callejeadas" was emblematic. It paired the whooshing and guttural sounds of an a cappella song in an indigenous Indian dialect with a dour duet. This was just the opening salvo. A long silence at the end of the duet was shattered with a blast of brass and a hard-charging tango that exaggerated the genre's best-known moves. True, the men led masterfully, but they did so by dragging virtually somnambulant partners, prone, across the floor. Yes, the women followed, but they carried it to an extreme, letting the men throw them over their shoulders like sacks of potatoes.

This tongue-in-cheek quality peppered other works, as well. In "Grapatango," Argentine choreographer Carlos Libedinsky has the men dip their partners, then drop them on the floor and walk away. The men leap sideways on all fours in push-up position, oozing machismo and looking cool as cucumbers.

Even in the three elegant works by the company's former artistic director Robert Hill, a leap could be followed by a slouch, or a plie could begin smooth as a descending elevator, then crumple.

The supernova of the evening was Angel Laza. In the grand pas de deux from "Diana and Acteon," his jumps were liquid and clean. He did eight pirouettes, then slowed up on the last one and finished by remaining still and suspended on half pointe.

Marco Reyna's flirtatious costumes paired tutus with bicycle shorts and leather bustiers.

Hats off to the Cuban-born and relatively new artistic director, Luis Serrano (also a longtime dancer with the Miami City Ballet), who keeps this salsa-hot company on a trajectory to continued acclaim.

-- Pamela Squires

© 2007 The Washington Post Company