“Real Enemies” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

by Steven Pisano

  20151118-DSC_3582(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

“Anyone not paranoid in this world must be crazy." Edward Abbey

Americans are suckers for a good conspiracy theory. Were those gunshots on the grassy knoll? Is Paul dead? Is Elvis alive? C’mon, we all know they filmed the lunar landing in Arizona. And, be careful what you say: The government is listening to your phone calls.

Who believes this stuff? Well, a lot of people. And by the way, at least one of these far out theories is actually true. But which one? And how do we know for sure?

Real Enemies, playing through Sunday at BAM’s Harvey Theater, is a galvanizing musical exploration of American conspiracy theory and paranoia, stretching back into the 1950s. Composer Darcy James Argue and his dazzling 18-piece big band Secret Society have worked with filmmaker Peter Nigrini, writer/director Isaac Butler, and scenic and lighting designer Maruti Evans to create a highly engaging and intelligent production.

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Bulgarian Pianist Tania Stavreva Brings "Kaleidoscope Rhythms" to Tenri Cultural Institute

by Nick Stubblefield


Great music and art from all corners of the globe can be found in New York all year round -- so much so that deciding which event to attend next can be overwhelming. Bulgarian-born pianist Tania Stavreva solved that dilemma for me on Saturday when she invited me to a program she dubbed "Kaleidoscope Rhythms" at the Tenri Cultural Institute.  

Located in Greenwich Village, the Tenri Cultural Institute serves the surrounding community by, among other functions, providing performance space for local musicians. The clean, white minimalist room is visually and acoustically appealing, with the relative proximity to the Steinway grand enhancing the clarity of sound. 

Stavreva jump-started a program of mostly Bulgarian compositions, opening with her own, "Rhythmic Movement." Her piece referenced motifs and ideas from the second number, also titled "Rhythmic Movement" by Pancho Vladigerov. Both works drove forward with a calculated energy: dense harmonies overlapped in rapid succession, relentless from beginning to end. It was also brief, lasting only a couple of minutes. In fact, the entire program was a refreshingly succinct Bulgarian sampler platter, clocking in at just over one hour. 

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"You Us We All" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

by Steven Pisano


(All photographs by Steven Pisano.)

Shara Worden has done it again. Best known as the lead singer of My Brightest Diamond, Worden brought her new faux opera You Us We All last weekend to the BAM Harvey Theater. Based on the frivolous court masques of the seventeenth-century, You Us We All fuses ideals from the Baroque and the modern day, in a way that's both varied and eccentric.

The opera, which was directed by Andrew Ondrejcak, showed its quirky face from the time upon one’s entrance into the theater -- its narrative does not “begin,” but instead gives the feeling that it's already been happening and is only continuing for an audience to participate in. Its set is modest, having only a fairly vacant (but shiny) stage with lucite chairs placed in a disheveled manner, a screen with the words “Thee” and “Nd.” written on it, and a man in his underwear and a white ruff laying face down on the ground. (He is "Time", a humorous drunkard played by Carlos Soto.) Its futuristic appearance, characterized by a multitude of images on a display which resembled a Mac computer monitor, gives no hint to a specific location -- instead presenting the illusion of a place in which no time or space passes. Thus, location is less specific than metaphysical, a "place" in which all human emotion is centralized.

The five performers were meant to embody five ideals: Love (Martin Gerke), Death (Bernhard Landauer), Hope (Worden), Virtue (Helga Davis), and Time (Carlos Soto). But the names were mostly arbitrary. The songs each sang did little to illustrate his or her nature. The great delight of the show was Ms. Worden herself: her voice is a glorious and supple instrument that stimulates the pleasure center of the brain like an intravenous blast of endorphins.  When she sang a series of coyly couched songs to pop icons such as Beyonce, Britney Spears, and Mariah Carey—eliciting simultaneous smiles and groans from the audience—there was nothing to be got from them, except mild amusement.

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Christine and the Queens at Webster Hall

by Steven Pisano

  Christine and the Queens
(All photographs by Steven Pisano.)

To an English-speaking audience, the name Héloïse Letissier (le-TISS-ee-ay) was probably destined to drop to the bottom of the sea. But, reimagined as the semi-alliterative Christine and the Queens, Ms. Letissier has surfed across the Atlantic on a perfect wave of media hugs and kisses from Spin, The New Yorker, Pitchfork, and others, who have heralded not only her brightly appealing dance pop, but also her gender-bending persona, often dressing in men’s-style suits.

Touring this fall in support of Marina and the Diamonds, Christine and the Queens headlined the Grand Ballroom at Webster Hall on November 11, playing to a sold out audience including a sizable French-speaking contingent. Technically speaking, Christine and the Queens is not a group, but a solo project. But Ms. Letissier tours with others—in this case, two dancers, a guitarist, and a guy on keyboards and electronics. She likes to run back and forth on the stage, moving in a manner that reminds some people of Madonna-style vogueing.

Ms. Letissier is an extremely beguiling performer. She's a bit goofy, a bit romantic, screams, whimpers, and throws herself headlong into every song. In her own words, she is your weird cousin who sits at the end of the table during dinner, playing with her fork. Her English is flawless, which should help her bypass the resistance some Americans have toward Continental Europeans.

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