The 'In' Series:
'Leaves of War'
Carla Hubner's itinerant "In" Series has found a congenial home at the Source Theatre. This makes sense. "In" Series productions tend to be designed to illuminate poetry with music and music with poetry, to involve a small number of performers and to draw strength from intimacy. Source offers a wonderful venue for all of that.
At Friday night's presentation, "Leaves of War: In Search of Walt Whitman," soprano Fleta Hylton, bass David Brundage, actor-dancer Joseph Perna and pianist Ruth Rose collaborated on a smoothly choreographed mosaic of dramatic readings, largely from Whitman's "Leaves of Grass," with songs by Ned Rorem and by Civil War-era composers Stephen Foster and George Root. There were also snippets of other pieces by Kurt Weill and Louis Moreau Gottschalk, and even a little Verdi and Bellini. (It turns out that Whitman was an opera buff.) You got the feeling, as the evening unfolded, that everyone in the company had a hand in putting this together and that a lot of restraint and good common sense had prevailed in cutting and trimming both the poems and the songs.
Some of the poetic lines were tossed from actor to actor, smoothly and with no loss of rhythmic flow, but with a considerable ratcheting up of drama. Some were spoken chorally and others simply recited. The songs emerged from these recitations, and Perna, a vivid dancer and actor, added color and a dollop of the exotic to what was otherwise a touching but somewhat static commentary on the realities of war.
Costumed to suggest the Civil War era, Hylton seemed much more comfortable in her motherly and reflective role than did Brundage as a more ambiguous soldier/father, who seemed to loom over the scene and, sometimes, to struggle with the poetry.
The show will be repeated Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
-- Joan Reinthaler
Carla & Company
The Israeli choreographer Amir Kolben identifies himself on his Web site as "[butt]-head." Why is a mystery. His head is clear, funny, sharp, inventive and practical. So is his choreography. Saturday at Dance Place it transported Carla & Company's annual concert to new and richer territory.
Carla Perlo retired from performing last year and, to keep her company moving ahead, decided to begin bringing in guest choreographers. Clued to Kolben by local dancer Meisha Bosma, who danced with Kolben's Kombina Dance Company in Jerusalem, Perlo wisely coordinated with the Israeli Embassy, the Jewish Community Center in Rockville and the Alexandria Performing Arts Association to bring about a multi-week residency at Dance Place for this veteran Israel artist with the elfin grin.
"Waltz," a section from a larger work about Bertolt Brecht, deals with pre-World War II happy abandon turning to regimentation. To a garish oom-pah-pah waltz, the girls pose cabaret-style on chairs while one or another of them silently mouths a passionate oration. It builds to the group babbling loudly, then quiets as dancers sit passively in a line. One remains to harangue the audience, and we finally hear the words: "Chicken! Chicken cutlet! Chicken-fried steak!" Oppression doesn't make any sense.
Kolben is a master at making dancers look good, no matter what their skill level. Hiding such flaws helps make a success of Kolben's new "BU(ty)lies," which deals with lies and truth, illusion and reality. A woman holds up an umbrella. She moves away and we see that it's suspended. A woman performs a solo. "Everyone who liked my dancing stand up," she says. Everyone in the audience graciously stands. Hmm. Is everyone telling the truth? Kolben succeeds when he suggests an idea because he's so good at leading everyone sheepishly to the same "aha!" moment.
Also of note on the program were Perlo's "All Wrapped Up," which feels like a hug, and Bosma's affecting "In Plaster," set to an introspective poem by Sylvia Plath.
-- Pamela Squires
As a professional-level chamber chorus, the Woodley Ensemble, led by Frank Albinder, fills an important niche in the city's musical life. It can set a performance standard for a whole repertoire of early music, and entice the curious or the wary to join what is already a sizable and avid audience base.
On many of these accounts, the Woodley Ensemble is doing beautifully. Its concert Saturday at St. Peter's Catholic Church on Capitol Hill, guest-conducted by Peter Phillips, featured Palestrina's intricately structured "Missa Repleatur Os Meum" and the motet by Jacquet de Mantua that the Mass parodies (a time-honored Renaissance and baroque practice of borrowing and elaborating). The rest of the program offered rarely performed 16th-century motets that included pairs of settings of the Christmas motet "Quaeramus Cum Pastoribus" by Jean Mouton and Thomas Crequillon, and of the "Pastor Noster" by Josquin des Prez and Jacob Handl.
The chorus handled all of this with exquisite balance and admirable pitch. In the splendid acoustical ambiance of St. Peter's sanctuary, they sounded vibrant and rhythmically exciting, assured and alert.
But there are a few things that their leaders need to pay attention to. Exciting as the sound was, it might have been profoundly more so if it hadn't spent the evening being so loud. Dynamics is an exercise in contrast; without that, there are no polyphonic textures, just complicated masses of sound. There were nearly two hours of densely textured pieces, unrelieved by moments of transparency or of homophonic sonorities. For even the most devout fan of the Renaissance, let alone the early music novice, this was asking a lot.
-- Joan Reinthaler