PERFORMING ARTS

Performing Arts: Alison Brown, CityDance Ensemble, Cathedra Chamber Choir

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Monday, March 15, 2010

MUSIC

Alison Brown at Kennedy Center KC Jazz Club

As career moves go, Alison Brown's decision to move from investment banking to banjo picking appears downright prescient these days. "I think we may see more of that," quipped the Grammy-nominated multi-instrumentalist at the Kennedy Center's KC Jazz Club on Saturday night.

Brown's seasoned quartet doesn't exactly qualify as a jazz ensemble, but then it doesn't exactly qualify as anything genre-specific. Its charm derives in large part from a delightfully colorful repertoire that manages to sound both rooted and fluid, traditional and contemporary. Not surprisingly, bluegrass inspired some of Brown's finest banjo picking, a sound illuminated by sparkling finger-roll patterns and the occasional chromatic flourish.

When she switched to acoustic guitar, she saluted Doc Watson with a self-penned homage titled "Deep Gap," one that evoked his flat-picking virtuosity with the requisite down-home ease. Even so, the focus more often than not was on the ensemble sound, with pianist John R. Burr and drummer Larry Atamanuik playing prominent roles. When the band was firing on all cylinders, the music often took on a contemporary jazz flavor or, in the case of "The Wonderful Sea Voyage of Holy St. Brendan," vibrant cinematic qualities.

A family affair, the band featured bassist Garry West, Brown's husband and a steady source of rhythmic propulsion, and, in a cameo performance, 7-year-old daughter Hannah West, who sang "You're a Grand Old Flag" with winning poise and pipes. The early show ended with a seat-of-your pants romp inspired by Scots-Irish fiddle tunes and some lighthearted detours.

-- Mike Joyce

DANCE

CityDance Ensemble at Lansburgh Theatre

Last weekend in New York City, the Paul Taylor Dance Company closed out its annual three-week season. The revered choreographer turns 80 this year, and even as audiences were awed by his two newest works, many had to be wondering: What does the future holds for his vast repertory?

On Saturday in Washington, CityDance Ensemble offered a reassuring answer, at least for two of Taylor's 130 works. At the Lansburgh Theatre, this plucky local troupe became the first company other than Taylor's own to perform the apocalyptic thriller "Last Look," from 1985, and "Images," a 1977 suite set to music by Debussy.

CityDance should be lauded for programming such challenging works; what's problematic is shoehorning mirth and melancholy into the same act. This program had dancers awkwardly segue from "+1/-1," a lengthy new piece about losing a partner, to "Entangled," a pithy duet featuring live music by a local beatboxer. Thankfully, an intermission separated these works from Taylor's end-of-the-world classic.


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