Parsons Dance Company, Ahn Trio
Classical music's sibling sensation, the Ahn Trio, pushed David Parsons to new levels in its appearance with the Parsons Dance Company on Tuesday at Wolf Trap. But the ensemble's simple, lush sound pointed to more superficial moments in Parsons's work when his choreography only imitated the music, rather than entering into conversation with it.
The trio performed Kenji Bunch's music for "Slow Dance," in which Parsons's choreography functions as musical visualization. Partners lunge away from each other, the tension of their connected arms emulating the violin and cello strings' elasticity, then piano tremolos touch off tremors in the dancers' upper bodies. But as the music built, the choreography flatlined, still following individual instruments rather than matching the trio's full sound.
In "Swing Shift," also to Bunch's music, Parsons proved he could add dimension to the Ahns' musical offerings, particularly in duets borrowing pretzel-like interweavings of the arms from swing dancing. In the final section, the company's excellent dancers hurled themselves through a fast circle, seemingly capable of dancing 100 miles per hour for hours on end.
Parsons is the slickest of contemporary choreographers; his signature solo "Caught" may be the best dance gimmick ever. Howell Binkley's strobe lighting makes the dancer (the fiercely athletic Sumayah McRae) appear to fly, repeatedly showing her only at the height of her jumps.
Gimmicks do not always work, as antics during the Ahns' "Orange Blossom Special" showed. Ten hands wiggled their way through a hokey dance, waving fingers and making ballpark-worthy waves. The music should have been left to stand on its own. For a dance audience, the Ahn Trio, particularly in its rendering of Astor Piazzolla's "Oblivion," made the night a musical treat.
-- Clare Croft
It was a rehearsal and performance rolled into one Tuesday as more than 100 sopranos, altos, tenors and basses from about 20 choruses congregated for a singalong at Western Presbyterian Church in Foggy Bottom. Members of the leading Washington area choruses -- in a town that is easily America's magnet for world-class choral organizations -- gathered for the session, as well as choristers from the Metropolitan Opera Chorus and several European groups. J. Reilly Lewis, director of the Cathedral Choral Society and the Washington Bach Consort, conducted a sensitive and robust "performance" of Mozart's Requiem after a run-through of critical choral passages. The superb soloists were soprano Jennifer Casey Cabot, a Mozart specialist who has sung with the Washington and New York operas and the Deutsche Oper Berlin; mezzo Andrea Schewe; tenor Harv Wileman; and baritone Lewis Freeman. Dianne Shupp was the powerful, responsive accompanist.
The event opened a series of five consecutive sessions at the church led by the area's outstanding choral conductors and first-rate soloists. The singalongs were begun by Paul Hill and his chorale and sponsored by the New Dominion Chorale for the past decade. The latter's artistic director, Thomas Beveridge, is also music director of Western Presbyterian. The remaining sessions, featuring major requiem masses, will be conducted by Robert Shafer (Faure), Beveridge (Verdi), Donald McCullough (Durufle) and Paul Traver (Brahms). All conductors and soloists volunteer their time and anyone can participate.
-- Cecelia Porter
Neko Case and the Sadies
Of all the sundry musical backers with whom charming chanteuse Neko Case works, none feel as right for her as the Sadies. The Canadian quartet, led by perpetually tall and thin brothers Travis and Dallas Good, spins a soulful country web that allows Case's smoky voice to soar. The Sadies were behind Case at the Black Cat on Tuesday night, where she was making up a show canceled earlier this year (when longtime guitarist Jon Rauhouse fell ill). Though equipment malfunctions kept her from really getting comfortable, she reaffirmed her status as alt-country's most mesmerizing figure.
Case's 90-minute show, interrupted early on when her amp fizzled out, followed her usual concert template: a casual stroll through her rich back catalogue mixed with a few choice covers and a couple of surprises. So alongside the stinging honky-tonk of Loretta Lynn's "Rated X" and a lively arrangement of Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Soulful Shade of Blue," Case's unexpected moves were the unveiling of a handful of new songs -- some to be featured on a live album recorded with the Sadies, some on the studio follow-up to 2002's "Blacklisted." Fleshed with the Goods' impeccable country-surf guitar flourishes, the new compositions rang with Case's trademark mix of heartbreak and humor.
But ultimately, attending a Neko Case show is about soaking up her voice, and whether it was her own "With Bees" or "Furnace Room Lullaby" or a song by Catherine Irwin or Hank Williams, the crowd was drenched by that immaculate sound.
-- Patrick Foster