Performing arts reviews

PERU NEGRO: The Lima troupe's style at George Mason seemed to be a close cousin of Afr-Caribbean and African dance.
PERU NEGRO: The Lima troupe's style at George Mason seemed to be a close cousin of Afr-Caribbean and African dance. (Columbia Artists Management)
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Monday, January 24, 2011


Peru Negro

Dance is often at its best when it's a cooperative enterprise between movers and musicians, with all the artists deeply and instinctively attuned to the others' rhythm, timing and energy. This was certainly true of Peru Negro, whose spirited Saturday performance at George Mason University Center for the Arts was marked by a clear sense of ease and cohesion.

Based in Lima, the troupe was founded more than four decades ago to preserve the Afro-Peruvian music and dance traditions that blossomed after Spanish colonists brought slaves to Peru.

Not surprisingly, the steps look to be close cousins of those seen in Afro-Caribbean and African dance - fast-swiveling hips, pitter-pattering feet and hard-snapping shoulders. Peru Negro, however, put a different stamp on them: Instead of grabbing the audience with whiplash-inducing intensity, they charmed with a style that was more playful and relaxed.

Many dances on the program in some way reflected on the experiences of slavery-era Peru. "Zamba Malato," performed by female dancers wearing aprons and toting buckets, and "Afro," which opened with a dancer getting whipped, showed the obvious hardship of slavery but also cast light on the strong feeling of community and camaraderie that some slaves shared. "Toro Mata," one of the evening's strongest numbers, mocked the stodgy European-style court dances that slaves may have seen their masters perform.

In all the works, this troupe focused on unison, not precision. One dancer might toss his arm or roll his shoulder slightly differently from the next, but it was strangely effective in maintaining the evening's informal, carefree vibe.

The musicians of Peru Negro were joined by veteran singer Eva Ayllon, whose lush, assertive vocals lent an added layer of depth to an already rich music ensemble.

- Sarah Halzack

classical music

National Symphony Orchestra

It was instructive to hear conductor Christoph Eschenbach, at Saturday's National Symphony Orchestra program at the Kennedy Center, lavish the same attention to nuance and layered sonorities in Bernstein and Gershwin that he brings to the symphonies of Bruckner and Mahler. Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story" received a reading of rare perception and tonal luster, with a string-heavy balance of almost Ravelian lushness in "Somewhere" and a bracing treatment of the Varese-like riot of percussion in the "Mambo."

Yet the piece's jazz and blues roots were given equal attention, as they were in Gershwin's Concerto in F, where Eschenbach's expansive, seductively phrased treatment of the Adagio's sultry opening was both gorgeous as sheer sound and idiomatically spot-on. Piano soloist Tzimon Barto gave a mesmerizing, personal interpretation of Gershwin's keyboard writing - alternately puckish and introspective, phrases unfolding as if being improvised, virtuosic flourishes tossed off with throwaway ease, all with a swing deeply grounded in the jazz world. It was refreshing to hear both of these over-familiar works treated as richly colored masterpieces, rather than as pops crossover fare.

The program (which will be repeated on Monday evening at 7 p.m.) also included Bernstein's Copland-cum-Broadway "Fanfare for the Inauguration of JFK" and Peter Lieberson's restless, searching, thoroughly handsome piece of Americana, "Remembering JFK (An American Elegy)" - a work the orchestra premiered earlier in the week - with actor Richard Dreyfuss an unlikely, but pointedly eloquent, celebrity narrator for the interwoven excerpts of Kennedy's speeches.

- Joe Banno


The Dismemberment Plan

Michael Jackson would have to rise from the grave and release a new album as good as "Off the Wall" for another music story to generate as much breathless hype around these parts as the reunion of the Dismemberment Plan, the beloved, wildly inventive D.C. indie art-punk-funk quartet. After nearly eight years away (save for a pair of benefit gigs in 2007), the group reconvened for a string of shows preceded by a performance on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" last Thursday.

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