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Dance: Ashwini Ramaswamy's solo turn

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: January 28, 2014 - 9:42 AM
Ashwini Ramaswamy / Photo by Ed Bock


When Myron Johnson, artistic director of Ballet of the Dolls, took the Ritz Theater stage on Saturday night to introduce Ashwini Ramaswamy, he reminded the audience that a dancer’s first solo show is a “rite of passage.” It’s an opportunity, he said, “To do your own thing.” And Ashwini, a member of Ragamala Dance, did just that in “Swarupa (Revelation).”

A live Indian orchestra accompanied Ashwini, who was dressed in a costume of brilliant red and gold, as she performed the south Indian dance form known as bharatanatyam. Vocalist Lalit Subramanian, Rajna Swaminathan (percussion), Anjna Swaminathan (violin) and Ashwini’s mother, Ranee Ramaswamy (co-artistic director of Ragamala with Ashwini’s sister Aparna Ramaswamy), chanted the spoken syllables that add another layer to the complex rhythms. Dance and music have a strong bond in bharatanatyam, and this symbiotic relationship was on display throughout the evening.

Ashwini performs with all the grace and beauty commonly associated with bharatanatyam, but she also brings a level of athleticism, ferocity and even a touch of mischief into her dancing. In “Pushpanjali, Manikya Veena, and Alarippu,” choreographed by bharatanatyam luminary Alarmél Valli (guru to all the Ramaswamys), Ashwini showed her maturity with the difficult choreography but as her eyes darted side to side playfully she also demonstrated the extraordinary physical control required of her craft.

Ashwini also shared her lyrical side in “Bho Shambho” and “Alaipayuthe” (both choreographed by Valli). During the former she covered the stage with her joyful steps in celebration of the Hindu deity Shiva while the latter was marked with moments of stillness.

The evening concluded with Ashwini’s own creation, “Thillana,” which showed her light-hearted side in full effect. Dancing with confidence, joy and, always, control, Ashwini delivered a complex and exciting work that perfectly reflects her outgoing personality. It is always special to see an artist coming into her own. The standing ovation Ashwini received was a fitting salute to all of her hard work.

Dancing into the dark

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: January 20, 2014 - 3:21 PM

Sally Bowles (Kira Lace Hawkins) and dancers in "Cabaret." The Theater Latte Da production features choreography by Michael Matthew Ferrell. Photo by Michal Daniel.


Choreographing for “Cabaret” must feel exhilarating and daunting. After all, whoever tackles this job is following in the footsteps of first Ronald Field and then Ron Marshall on Broadway, not to mention the legendary Bob Fosse on film. But Ivey award winner Michael Matthew Ferrell proves he is up to the task in the new production of the famed John Kander and Fred Ebb musical now playing at the Pantages Theatre. 

“Cabaret” captures a specific moment of time – the blinkered days leading into Hitler’s cruel domination of Germany and Europe. Berlin has an atmosphere of thrilling sleaziness but something far more ominous is brewing, and there’s nothing fun about it. The story evolves from carelessness into darkness, as if the entire city itself transitions from a playful dream into a years-long nightmare. Ferrell picks up on this pivotal transition in his choreography for the Peter Rothstein-directed staging, produced by Theatre Latte Da and Hennepin Theatre Trust.

Because “Cabaret” takes place in a underground nightclub, the dancing is sexy-as-all-get-out, propelled by pelvic thrusts, swaying hips and nearly bare bottoms. It would be easy to rely on a stock bump-and-grind approach for the early musical numbers but Ferrell’s movement choices consciously hint at the danger to come.

Tyler Michaels as the Emcee is a sneering, audience-teasing, glittery dynamo and often joins in with the bawdy chorus who stomp through their paces with a frankly impatient sensuality. They aren’t in jackboots (yet) but there’s clearly a force afoot to transform these hedonists into either enemies or allies of the state (“Mein Herr” with its militaristic forcefulness, led by the gutsy Kira Lace Hawkins as Sally Bowles is a prime example).

Ferrell completes these connections with his movement choices in the second act. A high-kicking chorus line devolves into goose-stepping and Nazi salutes. Partygoers waltz prettily before joining in with Fraulein Kost’s (Aeysha Kinnunen) rendition of the chilling hymn “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” Michaels and a monkey-suited dancer happily hoof toward a horrific climax: “If you could see her through my eyes … she wouldn’t look Jewish at all.” The Emcee can only make such a joke in a society primed to accept it so the combination of the upbeat tap dancing and the deadly statement is all the more rattling.

Ferrell, along with Rothstein, exposes the beating heart of “Cabaret.” It’s a story about transitory liberation, about abandoning troubles at the door, about being true to one’s self, others be damned. But of course we all ignore our surroundings at our own peril. We can only dance so long before the music stops playing.

“Cabaret” ends February 9. For further information visit www.hennepintheatretrust.org 

Hilary Hahn and Hauschka, live at Aria

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: January 7, 2014 - 4:06 PM

Though it doesn't look like the chilly North Atlantic of Iceland, where American violinist Hilary Hahn and German pianist Hauschka recorded their 2012 CD "Silfra," this music video (by Hayley Morris) from one of the album's tracks has a captivating, stop-action charm that matches the music's forward-spinning energy.

The two musicians discussed the CD for two years, but when it came time to record it with producer Valgeir Sigurðsson in Reykjavik, they did it without scores, and mostly in single takes. In all but one of the CD's tracks, Hauschka plays a "prepared" piano, with various objects and dampers placed on the strings.

Hahn and Hauschka (born Volker Bertelmann) will perform "Silfra" at a show Sunday evening at Aria in Minneapolis, the opening date of a new concert series presented by the Schubert Club. Called Mix, the series (being done with Liquid Music) presents two more shows this winter/spring, including pianist Anthony de Mare (April 13) and alt-chamber group Ethel (June 3). De Mare will reinterpret songs by Stephen Sondheim for solo piano. Ethel will present works by contemporary composers, including Mary Ellen Childs, as well as video projections.

The Hahn/Hauschka show has just a few standing-room tickets remaining, which will be sold at the door on Sunday. Tickets for the two later shows are still available.

These plays coming to Jungle Theater next year

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: November 14, 2013 - 1:13 PM

The Jungle Theater brings back "The Mystery of Irma Vep," with Steven Epp (at left) and Bradley Greenwald, as part of its 2014 season. Star Tribune photo by Tom Sweeney.

Wendy Lehr, currently wonderful in "Driving Miss Daisy" at the Jungle, will be back a year from now when the Minneaplis theater presents her in "On Golden Pond." Bain Boehlke directs and costars in that show about a couple celebrating 48 years of marriage at a lake cabin. (Nov. 7-Dec. 21, 2014).

Also in the 2014 Jungle season:

"Shakespeare's Will," by Vern Thiessen. Boehlke directs Cathy Fuller in the one-woman play about Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway. (Feb. 7)

"Detroit," the play by Lisa D'Amour, won an Obie and was a Pulitzer finalist. Joel Sass directs. (April 11-May 25)

"The Heiress," a Tony-winning play by Ruth Goetz & Augustus Goetz based on Henry James' novel "Washington Square," will be directed by Boehlke. (June 20-Aug. 10)

"The Mystery of Irma Vep," by Charles Ludlam. The high-speed Victorian comedic melodrama won good reviews in 2010, and returns, again directed by Sass, with Steven Epp and Bradley Greenwald. (Nov. 7-Dec. 21)

Season tickets are now on sale. 612-822-7063, www.jungletheater.com.

Mom, dad and Pat Conroy

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: November 13, 2013 - 12:45 PM
Pat Conroy at Talking Volumes, Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, on 11/12/13. Photo by Tom Campbell.
As millions of readers know, Pat Conroy has major parent issues.
The bestselling author of such hit books as "The Great Santini" and "The Prince of Tides" was in St. Paul on Tuesday night as part of Talking Volumes, a series that brings writers to town for live interviews at the Fitzgerald Theater.
Much of his hour-long talk with Kerri Miller of Minnesota Public Radio centered on his beautiful, "beloved mom" and his violent, abusive and egomaniacal dad. (Conroy always used "mom" and "dad" in referring to his parents, not "mother" and "father.") 
Conroy described the rage and frustration he experienced as a boy when he couldn't protect his mother from his father's violent abuse. He described how he and his siblings learned to duck and hide from Donald Conroy's wrath.
His new book, "The Death of Santini," is a memoir that revisits some of the horrors of growing up as well as the changes he said his father underwent in the latter years of his life. "My dad had a great second act," Conroy said, referring to his father's occasional realizations that he had been a bad parent and that all his children "hated his guts."
Conroy's hair-curling stories of his violent, peripatetic childhood were softened by his folksy-dark humor. When his fighter-pilot dad said, "I should have beaten you more, you'd a been a better writer," Conroy says he replied, "If you beat me any more, I'd be Shakespeare."
His father belittled Conroy's decision to become a writer as "gay," so Conroy later got a Hollywood studio write to his father telling him that  they had decided to cast Truman Capote to play him in the movie, "The Great Santini." (In fact that part was played by Robert Duvall.")
Conroy said that while he wasn't wild about cold weather, he thought he would make a good Minnesotan because everyone here is so unhappy. Later he asked, "Does everyone in Minnesota keep a journal?"
Asked for his views on religion, Conroy said that for him, writing had a spiritual aspect, and that he would like to see the Catholic Church make writer Flannery O'Connor a saint.
Conroy praised his mother for encouraging her children to read, and praised the novelist Thomas Wolfe for turning him on to the glories of fiction. "When I read 'Look Homeward, Angel,' I was changed forever," he said.
As one audience member commented via Twitter: "#PatConroy has the audience shifting swiftly between shared tears & brilliant laughter."
Star Tribune books editor Laurie Hertzel recently profiled Conroy,here.
The conversation with Conroy will be broadcast Nov. 25 in the 11 a.m. hour on MPR. More quotes and comments from the evening can be read on Twitter, under the hashtag #TalkingVolumes.



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