"Hagoromo" at Brooklyn Academy of Music

by Steven Pisano

Hagormo at BAM(All photos by Ross Karre Arts Documentation.)

Part theater, part dance, part chamber opera, Hagoromo, which played last week to sold-out houses at BAM’s Harvey Theater, is based on a centuries-old Japanese legend that is a staple of Noh theater. It is a slim story about grand themes, partly about the ephemerality of beauty and art, and partly about the spirituality of the mortal versus the eternal.

Developed by America Opera Projects and directed by David Michalek, the production gathers together dancers, musicians, singers, and puppeteers to form a multi-art whole. At the center of it all is retired New York City Ballet (NYCB) principal dancer Wendy Whelan as the tennin. The work was created by Michalek specifically for her (they are married). The fisherman was performed by another NYCB principal dancer alum, Jock Soto.

But, dance aficionados expecting City Ballet fireworks from two such eminent ballet luminaries as Whelan and Soto, could not help but be a little disappointed by a production adhering closer to Noh traditions than to the flights of Balanchine. There was much graceful movement to be sure, but little of what could be described as dancing, even at the climax of the story when the tennin performs her celebrated celestial dance for the simple fisherman.

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Kacey Musgraves at The Apollo Theater

by Nick StubblefieldIMG_4501 (1)

Last Saturday, Kacey Musgraves became the first country artist to headline the famed Apollo Theater.  This historic event was met with the style you’d expect of an event described as a "Country and Western Rhinestone Review."  The audience was on their feet singing along the entire evening, while her back-up band, “The Runner-Ups,” rocked pinked suits with light-up fringe.  If you’re going to be the first country act at the Apollo, you might as well do it right.

After an electric opening set from Sugar and the Hi-Lows, Musgraves opened with “Pageant Material,” the title track off her latest record.  Mingling classic country themes with a down-to-earth modern outlook, Musgraves' witty lyricism (“Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy”) and absolute command of the stage made you think for a moment that you were sitting in Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. That is, until she covered TLC’s “No Scrubs.”

Her song “It Is What It Is” was one of the highlights of the set: an almost love-song about casual romance, and the loneliness of being with someone that may not be just right.  It’s not every day you hear a lap steel guitar at the Apollo, but The Runner Ups knew just how to use the signature country instrument to bring the tender emotion to a boil.  Luckily, they also knew how to get the crowd smiling and laughing with a quick and silly Talent Show.

Kacey Musgraves shared stories as a young girl working to make it as a singer, turning mean Stage Mom comments into clever tunes like “Dime Store Cowgirl.”  All night, her gratitude and positive energy lit up the stage, telling the crowd that New York has been very supportive of her music.  With her passionate support of social issues such as marriage equality, Musgraves sounds right at home in NYC - and makes her a perfect fit for The Apollo.

The First Annual BRIC JazzFest Marathon

by Steven Pisano


(All photos by Steven Pisano,)

If I had thought about it too much ahead of time, I probably would have stayed home. Five hours of nonstop jazz, on three stages, with overlapping start and finish times for each set. Instead, when I finally walked out of the first annual BRIC JazzFest Marathon - at nearly 12:30 in the morning - I was disappointed that the music wasn’t continuing on til dawn. 

During a week when the 35th CMJ Music Marathon, the 26th New York Cabaret Convention, and the start of the 6th White Light Festival at Lincoln Center all were in town at the same time, the idea of introducing yet another music festival seemed to be sheer lunacy. But jazz fans should rejoice—BRIC has established a new festival that is sure to be here for many years to come, destined to become just as much a fixture of the borough's musical scene as Celebrate Brooklyn (also run by BRIC).

Sometimes, a musician’s instrument has a special personality. It’s more or less the same hunk of metal or wood that you or I can buy at any music store, but certain musicians can draw out a special character in their instrument (think Miles Davis' trumpet, or B.B. King's guitar) that only he or she can evoke. 

Such is the case with Donny McCaslin and his saxophone. Nominated for a Grammy for his work as a sideman, as well with his own quartet, McCaslin’s sax has a big sound, infused with explosive rock energy. Fortunately, wherever McCaslin went with his playing, the other players followed, building pyramids of soaring sound. It was nothing short of exhilarating. 

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"Persona," a New Opera: Finding a Voice at National Sawdust

by Steven Pisano Lacey Dorn and Eve Gigliotti in "Persona"(All photographs by Steven Pisano.)

Last weekend at National Sawdust, Williamsburg's hip new venue for contemporary music, Beth Morrison Projects presented Persona, a new chamber opera based on the 1965 Ingmar Bergman film with music by Rome Prize-winning composer Keeril Makan, a libretto by Jay Scheib (who also directed), and starring Amanda Crider, Lacey Dorn, Eve Gigliotti, and Joshua Jeremiah.

The production takes place in a room dominated by a camera on a swinging boom, which follows the characters around the stage. We in the audience watch the actors on stage, but we also watch the cameraman filming the actors, and we view on the different monitors the video that the cameraman has captured--all simultaneously. (Production support for cameras and monitors was by Joshua Higgason, Kim Madalinski, and Ashley Tata.)

The inevitable questions are raised. What is real? Who is the observer? What part do we the audience play?

Persona is essentially the story of two women, one who is mute, and one who can’t shut up (or, in this case, stop singing.) We first meet Elisabet Vogler (Dorn) in a hospital. A noted stage actress, Dorn one day suddenly stopped talking during a performance of the play Electra. Sister Alma (Crider), a nurse, is assigned the task of getting the actress to talk again.

The closeness of the two characters can be argued to be the duality of a single personality. Indeed, near the end of the story, Elisabet’s husband comes to visit her and mistakes Alma for his wife, and makes love to her. So maybe both women are the same person. Or, maybe not.

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