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

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"Last Look," a noirish rendering of nuclear fallout, opens with nine bodies in a pile at stage right. The dancers rise, shaking off convulsions. On a stage full of mirrors, they pair up to dance as if their very survival depended on a pas de deux. One by one, the dancers collapse, and at the end just Christopher K. Morgan is left to dance frantically with his own image.

CityDance excels in darker, character-driven works like "Last Look." "Images" is decidedly brighter, and while this suite of mythological abstractions was well executed, the dancers need to lighten up. The jumps could have been higher and more carefree; the arms more pliant. It took several movements before the women cracked a smile. Alice Belle Wylie was alluring as the Oracle, and in "Totem Horses," the diminutive dynamo Jason Garcia Ignacio played gleeful chariot driver to four scampering fillies.

Is it the end of Taylor's oeuvre as we know it? Not when companies as bold as CityDance remember to take the reins.

-- Rebecca J. Ritzel

MUSIC

Cathedra Chamber Choir in Bach's 'St. Mark's Passion'

Life and property were not Dresden's only losses in 1945. The firebombings incinerated the only choral score of J.S. Bach's "St. Mark Passion" as well. Its performance then becomes a tall order, undertaken Friday evening in Malcolm Bruno's U.S. premiere reconstruction and sung by the newly formed Cathedra Chamber Choir, the Washington National Cathedral's concert ensemble under the direction of Michael McCarthy.

Accompanied by an orchestra of period instruments pitched a semitone low, the eight voices of Cathedra (six men and two women) carried amply owing to crisp German diction and limited vibrato. Soloists drawn from the group performed with uniform authority and unembellished conveyance of text appropriate to a Passion account.

Reconstructing this work is a forensic puzzle. Yet assisted by the surviving libretto and Bach's extant "Trauer Ode," which shares similar metric scansion and instrumentation, musicologists have made educated guesses -- the latest, and perhaps most honest, of which is Bruno's. Rather than fabricating spurious recitatives to be sung by the Evangelist, Bruno uses an actor, Stan Cahill, who spoke the narrative in vernacular English while working the entire performance area, altar included. His reading was palpable and factual-sounding, all the better given Bach's evangelical bent.

This was not the grandiose Bach of Sir Thomas Beecham, or Stokowski for that matter. Using only 21 musicians, McCarthy's reading was intimate if not familial, authentic in intent, and -- let's be real -- affordable. Others will follow suit. The rules have changed.

Friday's performance was the third of a four-concert Lenten Series, with the final program scheduled Friday.

-- Alfred Thigpen


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