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Flynn Center Blog

The Wisdom of Duke Ellington

by Brian McCarthy, jazz musician and educator

Terri Lyne Carrington Quartet performs Money Jungle, an inspired tribute to the classic 1963 Duke Ellington album, on the MainStage on Friday, January 30 at 8 pm. Get tickets at www.flynntix.org.


“If Jazz means anything at all . . . it means freedom of expression.” —Duke Ellington

Terri Lyne Carrington invokes the wisdom of Duke Ellington in her Money Jungle project, not just in the English language, but also in the language of jazz. Travel back to 1962, a time of civil disobedience in a post-Brown vs. Board of Education world still uneasy or unwilling to define “freedom” in America. Jazz in any time period reflects the world around it, and it’s the musicians who tell that story. Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach are some of history’s great orators of the music and each represent a different generation. Mingus spoke to the hypocrisy of politics, corporation, and certainly race and freedom in America.  Roach redefined and evolved jazz drumming in the Bebop generation, and Ellington was one of the greatest forerunners of the music. 1962’s ‘Money Jungle’ brings this multi-generational matchup to the recording studio, and the creative energy of this titan trifecta creates a firestorm of clash, controversy, groove, gratitude, agreements, disagreements, progress, or more simply put, a reflection of the world at that time. Whether you feel this 1962 recording works or not, it is undeniable that three of jazz’s greatest speak their peace, hold a debate of freedom through this American art form, and make no apologies for what they have to say. And why should they? If Jazz means anything at all, it means freedom of expression.

Flash forward to today. Terri Lyne Carrington imagines New York City on a warm and rainy day in September of 1962, and pays her respect to a recording session that reverberates through history with an album of her own, Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue.’Terri Lyne and her modern day titans set out not to reproduce that day in 1962, but to say in their own “words” what they need to say. It’s clear they do so with a responsible and informed voice, knowing the footsteps they follow should never be recreated only used as a suggested path. Perhaps Carrington’s greatest nod to the spirit of the original album is capturing the spirit of multi-generation collaboration, with the appearance of the great impresario Herbie Hancock, and perhaps the most respected elder of the music, Clark Terry, whose motto to this very day is “keep on keepin’ on.”

On January 30, the Flynn presents Terri Lyne Carrington’s homage to Ellington, Mingus and Roach. Carrington brings with her Aaron Parks on piano, Jaleel Shaw on saxophone and Zach Brown on bass. It’s like taking a piece of New York City’s jazz lifeblood with her to the frozen tundra of Vermont in the dead of winter. With their fire and energy, those who are in attendance can forget the bitter sting of sub-zero weather for a time, and experience freedom of expression through America’s original art form. After all, if jazz means anything . . .

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Review of Camille A. Brown and Dancers

by Erin Duffee

Review of Camille A. Brown and Dancers on the MainStage on Saturday, January  17.

Camille A Brown’s show was a soul-stirring, three part collection of dances, examining black life in America. The show started with excerpts from Mr. TOL E. RAncE, a soulful exploration of minstrelsy. Next up was Black Girl: Linguistic Play, a work in progress that depicts the complex nature of positive identity development for black females in urban environments. The finale New Second Line was a jubilant celebration of dance, drawing on the brass band parades of New Orleans. There is beauty and darkness to be found in all of Camille’s compositions and it is the contrast between these two forces that makes for a richly complex and provocative theater experience. Her brilliant inclusion of live musicians on stage, Scott Patterson on the piano and Tracy Wormworth on the electric bass, made the performance even richer.

Although I loved all three of Camille’s presentations, I felt most drawn to Mr. TOL E. RAncE. Several years ago in my studies at the University of Vermont, I took a wonderful class with Professor Paul Besaw called Jazz in American Dance. The class focused on the influence of African-derived dance forms on American dance, beginning with early slave traditions, and moving through minstrelsy, jookin’, and beyond. The class challenged the confusing juxtaposition between mainstream America’s appreciation for African art forms and our violent rejection of African people, the cultural beholders. Unfortunately that juxtaposition still exists in 2015, and some might argue that it as much contrasting evidence as ever before. Without getting too political, I will just say that the appropriation of black cultural forms remains a very relevant subject to me.

As the name suggests, the main thrust of Mr. TOL E. Rance is just that – tolerance. The work examines the racism and exploitation that black performers have tolerated throughout the years, as well as the questionable social tolerance for modern day minstrelsy in pop culture. The backdrop of the piece was a larger than life video reel of black comedic performers, spanning the time frame of early minstrelsy, all the way up to modern day TV sitcoms such as Good Times and The Jeffersons. The dancers used a retrospective dance vocabulary that followed the trajectory of the video screening behind them. The mood was jubilant and energetic when the dancers were moving, but as soon as they slowed down, a dark cloud of sadness took over. This energetic shift is a poignant portrayal of the double consciousness that the black performer often lives by. Double consciousness is a phrase most famously used by black writer W.E.B DuBois to describe the feeling of being caught between one’s self-conception as an American and a person of African descent. He claimed that double consciousness was a, “sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

As an extension of double consciousness, the black performer often takes on a performance persona referred to as the “mask of survival.” This mask allows the performer to entertain the audience, often at the expense of their own dignity, while protecting the true self from the pain of degradation. But the mask becomes a burden, somehow even more draining than vulnerability, because it is a lie. Bert Williams, one of the most successful minstrel performers in American history was once described by fellow vaudevillian W.C. Fields as “the funniest man I ever saw – and the saddest man I ever knew.” During the question and answer session that followed the performance, one of the dancers explained it like this: if you feel like your place is on the stage and you love to perform, you’re going to find a way do it no matter what the sacrifices are. People give up so many things to follow their dreams and for black performers throughout history, the chance to engage with audiences and do what they love, dancing, music, comedy, etc. was a reward great enough to sacrifice personal happiness and health.

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A Show of Divine Proportions

by Erin Duffee

Review of The Freak and the Showgirl in FlynnSpace on Thursday, January 8.

 

On January 8, I had the pleasure of attending The Freak and the Showgirl in FlynnSpace. The show was a series of cabaret numbers created and performed by Julie Atlas Muz and Matt Fraser. Part circus, part gin joint, with a dash of exotic showgirl, I’ve never seen a show like this at the local theater before . . .  .but I sure would love to again! Julie and Matt are true entertainers – they exude charm, good humor, and a near-constant flow of buoyant energy. Their easy and charismatic presence on stage allows them a certain amount of freedom, in terms of introducing challenging subject matters, without distancing themselves from the audience. They are inclusively subversive, if you will. Last weekends show was a mixed bag of the absurd and the all too real, including: singing pubic hair, police humor, feminist power, disability arts, necrophilia, and gender roleplay.

The audience was feverish with laughter from start to finish. I’m talking sore, can’t breath, might’ve peed my pants a little bit, barreling laughter. As a former member of both Burlington’s Spielpalast Cabaret and Mickey Western’s raucous rock opera series, I know first-hand how challenging it is to create original cabaret numbers that are equal parts entertaining and thought-provoking. In this way, Julie and Mat are a cut above the rest…They are not afraid to wake the sleeping beast and they do so with a cheeky aplomb that is impossible to resist. And I don’t plan to! For those who are interested in seeing Julie again, she regularly performs in NYC at the Galapagos, The Slipper Room, The VaVaVoom Room, The Coral Room, the Marquis, Mo’ Pitkins House of Satisfaction, Rififfi and a host of other locations. If you are really lucky, you might find Mat there as well, although his ongoing role as “Paul the Illustrated Seal,” in AMC’s American Horror Story has him currently stationed in New Orleans.

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Boost Your Inner Artist

by Angie Albeck & Marianne DiMascio, Stealing from Work

See Stealing from Work’s new performance A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Front Porch Forum at the Off Center starting February 4. Get tickets at www.flynntix.org.

Vermont Artists’ Space Grant applications are accepted at any time and reviewed on an ongoing basis. Apply now to be considered for the next Vermont Artists’ Space Grant.

It’s been nearly three years since we presented our work-in-progress at the FlynnSpace as recipients of the Vermont Artists’ Space Grant. Since that very first reading, on a cold February evening in 2012, Stealing from Work has staged two full productions of original sketch comedy, performed for a Barre Opera House fundraiser, received a grant from the Vermont Community Foundation, and performed at the Green Mountain Comedy Festival. We are now in rehearsals for our third show, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Front Porch Forum, and we are participating in OC@OC, the inaugural season of original content at the Off Center for Dramatic Arts. For us, it all began with the Vermont Artists’ Space Grant.

We’ve carried on the tradition, started while developing our work-in-progress, of gathering the company for readings of developing sketches. Hearing the work out loud and learning from others’ perspectives has been an indispensable component of our process. This year we even invited in some new voices, people whose work we respected but who weren’t previously part of the primary company. Our family is larger now, and we have the benefit of even more points of view.

Because of the generosity of a Vermont Arts Endowment Fund grant from Vermont Community Foundation, we were able to offer one performance of our second production at a “pay what you can” rate. It was a huge success, bringing in many new audience members who might not have been able to pay the ticket costs. We’re doing it again for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Front Porch Forum. No tickets will be sold in advance for opening night, Wednesday, February 4th. People can gather up some change from the floor of the car and come see a show.

For Stealing from Work, the Vermont Artists’ Space Grant was the catalyst, the fertilizer, the inspirational midnight pep talk from the wise and trusted mentor. It was the springy board that launched us on this creative journey and inspired us to keep working and trying new things. If you’d like a similar boost, don’t hesitate. Apply! Your inner artist will thank you.

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Review of Camille A. Brown & Dancers

by Lindsay Rae, Burlington Writers Workshop

Review of Camille A. Brown and Dancers at the Flynn on Saturday, January 17.

Camille A. Brown and Dancers gave a beautiful and meaningful performance on Saturday night. We saw three different works: Act I of the award-winning Mr. TOL E. RAncE; Black Girl, which is still in development; and New Second Line. To wrap up the evening, Camille A. Brown & Dancers, along with its musicians, came out on stage to respond to audience questions and comments about what we had just seen. Altogether, it made for an enjoyable and enlightening evening, where I sat in awe of the dancers’ talents and their willingness to explore the intentions behind their works.

The first work, Mr.TOL E. RAncE, was perhaps the best example of the company’s strength and fortitude. Never have I seen dancers exude such palpable levels of energy while on stage. The dancers maintained an incredible level of intensity throughout the duration of the piece. Laughing, joking, and exclaiming on stage, they all just looked like they were having a lot of fun. In the background, a number of cultural references and nods to black television slid across the projection screen. I was definitely singing along when they burst out into the theme from Fresh Prince of Bel Air. But otherwise, I was unfamiliar with most of the references, and was thus left with a sense of curiosity as I tried to make connections.

It seemed appropriate to me that there would be aspects of this particular work that I didn’t fully understand, the obvious grounding in minstrelsy tradition being just one of those. This came up during the dialog at the end of the show, and I was grateful for the light that the dancers shed on this point. An audience member asked about how the dancers felt performing a work so embedded in minstrelsy, a theater tradition that began in the 1800s that continued to be popular throughout Reconstruction and the Jim Crowe era. In the minstrelsy tradition, white and also often black actors would perform in black face, offering grossly exaggerated portrayals of black culture that lead to harmful and enduring stereotypes. An exhibit for the University of South Florida libraries, “The History of Minstrelsy,” explains the tradition, saying, “If slavery was the commodification of black labor, minstrelsy, with its focus on presenting authentically black songs and dances, was the commodification of black culture.”

In response to the audience question, one of the dancers paid homage to Bert Williams, arguably one of the most famous African American performers, and one of the actors who turned minstrelsy on its head and used it to bring a black political agenda to white stages. The dancers explained that, while there was a painful aspect to this minstrelsy history, there was also a feeling of honoring those who took part in that tradition. The sum of these parts equaled a powerful mix of shame and pride in this piece that the dancers said was much more apparent in Act II, which we unfortunately didn’t get to see. It was amazing to see into the densely packed layers of context and emotion that had been built into Mr. TOL E. RAncE. It’s no wonder that this work has won awards.

While I wish we had been able to see Act II of Mr. TOL E. RAncE, in some ways, I’m glad we didn’t. It made room for Black Girl, a new work still in development that has evolved even in the short time the company has been in Vermont. This was my favorite piece of the night. It spoke to the idea of Sisterhood and opposing forces of tearing down while building up that are inherent in these complex and important relationships. Percussive elements that were prevalent throughout the night were a keystone in this particular work. At the start, two dancers beat and scraped their feet in rhythmic patterns to accompany the bass player who had come out on stage. The minimal lighting and the casual clothes the dancers wore created a sense of intimacy. For me, it was as if these two women were rocking out in the sanctity of their bedrooms and we were voyeuristically witnessing them enjoying a private, intimate moment. These periods of intimacy seemed to speak to the struggle to be an individual while still feeling a part of the Sisterhood. Finding the balance between being you and pleasing others is something that I think many people can identify with, and was an overarching theme of this piece that I could really relate to.

It was exciting to hear that aspects of this work had “just been added yesterday” during the dialog portion. One of these was the “hair bit.” At one point in the choreography, the dancers sat on the edge of the set and proceeded to do their hair. Each woman practiced a different technique on her hair, examining herself as if she were looking into a mirror. This resonated with many members of the audience, and with me as well. To me, all of us (regardless of credence) have had the experience of trying to tame what we see in the mirror so that it obeys our command. What I learned more about from the dialog portion at the end of the show was the unique relationship that the black community in particular has with hair. Many audience members empathized with the time, love, and attention that are required for appropriate care—“the beauty and the pain” of having black hair. I learned that black hair serves as yet another distinct source of both pride and shame. Black women and men work to embrace their natural hair in the face of an American society that doesn’t accept it and treats it as an anomaly.

Pride and shame—feeling both of these at the same time about aspects of the black self and black heritage. While I realize I will never understand completely, I feel like after seeing Camille A. Brown & Dancers, I now have a better grasp of what W. E. B. Dubois meant by “double-consciousness,” that sense of “twoness” felt by black Americans. To see it played out so elegantly on stage made it all the more meaningful and powerful.

I really could go on about Camille A. Brown & Dancers—the choreography, the intensity, the humor, and the incredible musicality all came together for a truly breath-taking performance. But, above all, I commend these dancers for making themselves vulnerable for the sake of enlightening their audiences. I couldn’t help but think about the emotional energy required to have that same tough dialog at the end of every performance. As the goal of the company is to “foster cultural and educational dialogues among audiences and local communities while instilling a sense of curiosity and appreciation,” I would say, mission accomplished.

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Human Stories

by Erin Duffee

Preview of Camille A. Brown and Dancers on the MainStage on Saturday, January 17. Get tickets at www.flynntix.org.

This weekend, Camille A. Brown presents Mr. TOL E. RAncE and Black Girl. Both works explore current and historical concepts of race through dance, theater, and music. As a former clarinetist, music a driving force in Brown’s work. In her eyes, the composition tells a story and choreography brings it to life.

Brown’s ability to express impactful narratives through movement has brought her much recognition. In recent years she has received commissions for new work from several big name dance companies, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Urban Bush Women, Complexions, Ballet Memphis and Hubbard Street II.

“Overall, I am striving to build a strong sense of storytelling from a black female perspective, stories that are based in current times and historic times, constantly connecting history with the contemporary; not a history lesson, but a journey and understanding of what is relevant to our present day lives. In this way we are able to provoke dialogue, to be technical and to be free of its constriction, moving between the tension of form and expression, story beyond technique. What we do is to bring those things together. Not just looking at the technique of the body but the language of the body and the history it carries. At the root, these stories are human stories.” —Camille A. Brown, Artistic Statement

Brown’s ability to express her own narrative while simultaneously acknowledging her place in the collective nature of the human narrative is so powerful. Particularly with there being so much heavy racial conflict in the world right now. We need art that engages audiences and fosters dialogues. Brown’s accomplishes this in the framework of a beautiful live dance and music experience.

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The Sharing Economy

by John R. Killacky

Note: This commentary is by John R. Killacky, executive director of the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. It first aired on Vermont Public Radio

Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center

 

 

 

 

I work in the nonprofit sector, so I depend on the largess of many friends and supporters to underwrite programs my organization presents. This generosity comes in many forms, and I’m grateful for all of it, but not long ago, I benefited from a novel approach taken by Main Street Landing, a wonderful multi-purpose building on the Lake Champlain waterfront in downtown Burlington.

Since 2011, they’ve screened classic films on a weekly basis – for free.  Mariah Riggs, who created this initiative, introduces each title with interesting backstories and context. And although there’s no admission charge, audiences are asked to consider making a donation to benefit a different nonprofit each month.  The chosen nonprofit brings concessions, and the audience is invited to “Take what you like, give what you can.”

In this model, nonprofits are considered essential partners and not competitors. There’s no mentality of scarcity – only the refreshing belief that we secure a stronger community by working together and everyone wins in a sharing economy.

Past beneficiaries have been diverse – from the Vermont River Conservancy and Meals on Wheels, to Women Helping Battered Women and the Intervale Center.

Last month my own organization was a recipient and it was great fun to be part of such a diverse and devoted cross-section of film buffs. For many, this is a weekly gathering spot for community building. Concession donations ranged from pocket change to twenty-dollar bills. And in this congenial environment, the focus isn’t on ‘selling’ anything, but rather, having conversations involving film, the arts, and community.

At one screening during the holidays, in addition to hot cocoa, candy canes, and other food items, a festive spirit was kindled by the audience of 200 singing songs of the season. There was a strong feeling of connection in the multi-generational audience that spanned a broad socio-economic spectrum.

Classic films to be featured this month on Tuesday nights include Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire in Funny Face, James Cagney in Angels with Dirty Faces, and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.   And this month donations benefit Prevent Child Abuse Vermont.

I can attest that the audience is fun, and seats are comfortable. But I especially appreciate the philosophy that underlies it all – to take what you like, but give what you can and share it forward – all for the sake of a good cause, and a strong community.

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Capturing the Essence of a Composition

by JD Fox, Burlington Writers Workshop

Preview of Johannes String Quartet with Fred Child: Beethoven and Bartók at the Flynn on Sunday, January 18 at 7 pm. This performance has limited tickets available. Call the FlynnTix Box Office at 802-863-5966 for more information. 

Johannes String Quartet       

Strings.

They can build universes, connect communicating cans, or animate otherwise lifeless puppets.

Or they can be stretched across a piece of otherwise silent wood, a bow drawn against them, and fill our world with music that communicates an incredible range of emotions as the notes dance out of that contact and into our ears.

They can at least when you have the talent that is the Johannes String Quartet doing the drawing. They will be in concert this coming Sunday at 7 pm inFlynnSpace. Their performance will pair Bartók and Beethoven, finding the musical link between these two renowned yet so different composers. Acclaimed violinist and quartet leader Soovin Kim was kind enough to take time from his busy schedule to answer some questions about their music and this show in particular:

Q: Why “Johannes” String Quartet?

SK: Johannes in the classical music world is usually associated with Johannes Brahms, certainly a favorite of our group—and not coincidentally the repertoire of our first commercial CD that will be released later in 2015.  It is not that we feel Brahms is “better” but that he is among our favorites and most satisfying to play.

Q: The Frank Solomon website says, “Their collaboration was forged at the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont….”  What attracted you to each other? What is it about the individual members—and their particular contributions—that allow you all to work well / play well together? 

SK: As with most quartets, the ways in which the individual relationships, and subsequently the group relationship, develop are numerous and not always intentional. String quartets are often described as a marriage to three other people—and the quartet marriages can be arranged by “parents” (mentors), could be setups by a mutual friend, or can even be a celebrity stalking as there are certainly “star” performers in our world.

In our quartet’s case the three others who were playing at the time in Philadelphia Orchestra (in 1997) really wanted to play string quartets in addition to their full-time jobs, and they needed a fourth member. I was a student at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia at that time and knew the other three members peripherally from past summers at music camps and the Marlboro Festival. We never planned on playing quartets for the next eighteen years, as we have. Another example of how life takes unexpected turns.

We each have our particular role in the quartet, partly defined by our individual personalities that form chemistry as a group of four people, just as four friends or four work colleagues in any profession. But in any string quartet’s case the roles are critically defined, as well, by our musical roles in string quartet writing—essentially the first violin being the soprano and often the lead voice, the second violin and viola being supportive inner voices that are often the rhythmic motor and the creme filling of the pie, and the cello being the bass and the foundation of the group.

Q: Why violin? And how is being a violinist different from playing other related instruments?

SK: I don’t know why violin—it was just the only instrument I wanted to play when I was  three years old and was finally given when I was four. I was exposed to music at home through recordings—my parents were not musicians but are music-lovers—and at concerts that I attended. Several of my friends began Suzuki lessons around that age, and so I think I became jealous of their new toys.

Being a serious violinist certainly demands a neurotic persistence and discipline, even just a bit more than on other string instruments, because of the delicate and potentially squeaky nature of the violin. There is a fine line for us between sounding shimmeringly beautiful and shrill, just as with sopranos. We are often the most exposed instrument, sitting at the top of the orchestral and chamber music textures. Violin soloists are also often accused of being divas—again, not unlike sopranos. Great violin soloists cannot shy away from being absolutely exposed—they have to embrace it.

Q: Are there certain musical aesthetics that drives your playing and/or that you think contribute most to a “successful” performance? What about the group as a whole?

SK: I firmly believe that the most powerful listening experience might happen when the essence of the composition is captured—not just the essence of the performer. A brilliant performer, just as a brilliant actor, can play any few notes and be captivating. But once the instrumental and interpretive brilliance of the performer are in sync with the goal of the composer—whether that be some sort of emotional or philosophical experience—then the performance can be most magical.

Q: Why Beethoven and Bartok? What makes this project artistically compelling to you and how did you decide upon it?

SK: These two quartets are part of a program that we are presenting along with Mendelssohn Quartet in F minor, op. 80, that is entitled “Last Words.” The Beethoven and Mendelssohn works were written in those composers’ final year of life, and Bartok’s 6th quartet was his final quartet and written just a few years before he died. It is fascinating to experience how each composer represented that final phase of life through their music in different ways. This is also a special project because it is a presentation in conjunction with Performance Today radio host Fred Child. In this presentation he introduces the works historically and then illustrates specific fascinating musical examples that we demonstrate before performing the entire work.

Q: Obviously you want to put on a “good” show and for the audience to “enjoy” it, but are there certain things that you hope particularly stand out to the audience and/or that they “get” from the performance? 

I hope that the audience will not only receive an immediate emotional and intellectual gratification from the performance, but I hope also that they will be inspired to further explore these works, these composers, other string quartets, and music in general. Perhaps those who are quite familiar with these works will be given a new perspective that makes them even more enjoyable.

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Camille A. Brown & Dancers Preview

by Lindsey Rae, Burlington Writers Workshop

Preview of Camille A. Brown and Dancers at the Flynn on Saturday, January 17 at 8 pm. Get tickets at www.flynntix.org.

I’m lucky to know dance. Not only have I been privileged enough to see it, but I have also come to understand it. From the time we could walk, our parents took my sister and me to all manner of performances. We were fortunate to have parents who were—and still are—so interested in dance.

We didn’t just see The Nutcracker every Christmas, but Alvin Ailey, Baryshnikov, Riverdance at Radio City. My sister even danced competitively while we were growing up, and since then, the way I look at dance has immutably changed. For me, dance goes beyond a series of lyrical movements and has become bodies in space communicating with me on a primal level. Limbs take on their own consciousness conveying a shared and ancient message with the audience. When I’m watching, I can feel that innate to-my-core connection to the human condition; we are all humans, and we all have bodies, and our bodies are wonderful and miraculous things.

I didn’t know Camille A. Brown prior to deciding to attend this performance. But because I know dance, from what I’ve learned, I know that I will see talented dancers pushing boundaries with their bodies. I feel confident that I am going to see energy, personality, and even comedy in the varied choreography.

What I don’t know is the Black experience, which seems as integral to Camille A. Brown & Dancers as their technical talent and choreographed arrangements. The primary piece that I will be seeing, Mr. TOL E. RAncE, draws inspiration from Spike Lee’s controversial film Bamboozled, and Mel Watkins’s 1999 book On the Real Side: From Slavery to Chris Rock. Dancers facilitate the audience’s exploration of the “double-consciousness” that blacks, and black performers in particular, experience in relation to persistent stereotypes in popular culture. W. E. B. Dubois describes this “double-consciousness” as the inner struggle to reconcile and unite conflicting “African” and “American” identities.

“One ever feels this twoness—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” W. E. B. Dubois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903

Along this same vein, Black Girl, one of Camille A. Brown’s new works, tackles this same issue of negotiating identity from the more modern perspective of a black woman in urban America. Together, these two pieces speak to “the mask” that blacks wear to survive.

But, as I said, I don’t know the black experience. I don’t know the black experience because I’m white. Very white, if there is such a thing. I’m a white woman living and working in one of the whitest states in the US. I grew up in white suburbia while attending a privileged, primarily all-white school. My friends, my family, my colleagues, from all facets of my life—nearly all of them, white.

Which is why what I discovered about Camille A. Brown & Dancers made me feel simultaneously intrigued, humbled, and ultimately self-conscious when I thought about approaching this post. Because, by my very nature, any attempt of mine to appropriately describe and interpret the works of Camille A. Brown & Dancers will never do them complete and proper justice.

Ferguson, Eric Garner, BlackLivesMatter, and other related events have raised current awareness and created opportunities for deeper conversations around these issues. Perhaps the most important things I’ve taken away are perspective and the conviction that I cannot hope to speak for people whose experiences and histories I can never fully understand. Black voices are calling for action, and rather than speak on them, I want to stop and listen. From Camille A. Brown’s artistic statement, she writes that she and her company “aim to present authentic performances that will foster cultural and educational dialogues among audiences and local communities.” I very much look forward to sharing in this experience, and to listening to the black voices and black bodies on stage as they beautifully and lyrically tell me their stories.

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Dance! Glitter! Distortion! Circus Tricks! Music! Tassles!

by Erin Duffee

Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz perform The Freak and the Showgirl in FlynnSpace on Thursday, January 8 at 8 pm. Limited tickets remain at www.flynntix.org.

 

Julie Atlas Muz and Matt Fraser’s Freak and the Showgirl is coming to Burlington this Thursday and it promises to be a show of true delights and horrors. The show is a thick slice of New York City’s wildly seductive neo-burlesque scene; bursting with love, scandal, humor and intellect. Neo-burlesque is a bold revival of the burlesque movement that ruled New York City during the 1930s and ’40s. During these tough economic times, many women stripped in private nightclubs, baring all just to survive. Famed dancer Gypsy Rose Lee was just one of many out of luck women on the night club circuit, until she started combining her background in vaudeville with striptease. Lee created original characters, costumes, and songs to keep audiences excited and wanting more. Her success helped to shift the power dynamic of burlesque back into the hands of the performers.

Over the past few decades, the trend towards more teasing and less stripping has gained even more popularity. Partial to full nudity is still to be expected at most burlesque performances, but today’s dancers regularly combine a heavy dose of humor and sharp wit with their shimmy and shake. Muz’s artistic statement listed on her website further explains this modern approach to burlesque, stating, “Through the power of dance I tell stories that are beautiful, political, and emotional, with a bold and theatrical irreverence. I use humor, positive sexuality, and glamour to address serious topics in a playful manner”. In short, Muz strives to be as equally thought provoking she is visually titillating. Matt Fraser, Muz’s partner in performance and life, is a London born actor specializing in theater, cabaret, and sideshow. Fraser also currently holds a recurring role on AMC’s circus-themed “American Horror Story.” Since meeting in 2006, Fraser and Muz have developed several new cabaret-style shows, including multiple variations of Freak and the Showgirl, Apocastrip WOW, and Beauty and the Beast.

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Flynn Center for the Performing Arts

Flynn Center for the Performing Arts
153 Main Street, Burlington, Vermont 05401
Tickets: 802-863-5966, voice/relay calls welcome
Administrative Offices: 802-652-4500 (P) 802-863-8788 (F)