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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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A few spins of "Emergency & I" - the 1999 album on which the Plan's legacy now largely rests; newly released on vinyl, occasioning the tour - was all it took to prime a novice (hey, some of us had important TLC albums to listen to back in the Clinton years!) for Friday night's Black Cat show, a benefit for Fort Reno and the charity organization We Are Family. One needn't have been present the first time around to feel the warmth and excitement of the homecoming. (The Plan also headlined the larger 9:30 Club on Saturday and Sunday nights.)

No one wept with joy that I saw, and a few 30-somethings groused that standing at concerts hurts more than it used to. But from the moment frontman Travis Morrison spoke the Plan's friendly battle cry - "We're the Dismemberment Plan, and we're from Washington, D.C." - the crowd seemed to ripple as one organism for the whole of the loose, 110-minute set. Pleading the flu, bassist Eric Axelson spent a good chunk of the show sitting down, but rallied to his feet for "Do the Standing Still," an indictment of too-cool-for-school, arms-folded show watchers. With the exception of that one, and "Ice of Boston," which prompted its customary stage invasion, it was the "Emergency" tunes that elicited the most enthusiastic response. The gig's apex may have come with the oblique self-affirmation anthem "You Are Invited," when someone fired off a can of silly string overhead. Goofy and inclusive, the moment made a newbie grateful to be there, and a little sad for all the shows he'd missed.

- Chris Klimek


Pianist Sofya Gulyak

The Washington Performing Arts Society brought Sofya Gulyak back to Washington for a recital on Saturday afternoon in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. After the Russian pianist's dramatic win at the William Kapell International Piano Competition in 2007, she went on to become the first woman to win the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2009. Strangely, for a competition regular to play a program centered on romantic music, this was a performance that seemed curiously restrained.

In Schubert's "Three Piano Pieces," D. 946, Gulyak went for poetry by narrowing the tone of her right hand to a sometimes spidery thinness, without making her left hand transparent enough to complement it. Even in the moody middle piece, this reticence seemed to chop up the melody, preventing a smooth legato from spinning out. The results were disappointingly similar in Chopin's Second Sonata, where a reserved quality made technically challenging passages exciting without the thrilling feel of being pushed to the edge of safety.

The best playing came in the contrapuntally meaty Prelude, Chorale and Fugue by Franck, with more melodic interest to occupy that powerful left hand. Gulyak gave subtle detail to a rather sugary Faure nocturne, especially in the lovely harmonic surprises in the closing measures, but Ravel's outrageous transcription of "La Valse" could have gone off the rails more. Only in a set of three encores did Gulyak seem to open up and take risks - especially the big, broad chords of Rachmaninoff's C-Sharp Minor Prelude, Op. 3, No. 2, and the flashy filigree of the concluding Presto of Clementi's Sonata in C, Op. 33, No. 3.

- Charles Downey

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