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Einstein’s Dreams

by Marly Spieser-Schneider, Vermont Artists’ Space Grant

Marly Spieser-Schneider gives a work-in-progress performance of her piece 3 May 1905 in FlynnSpace on Wednesday, April 1 at 7:30 pm.

Read a preview of Marly’s performance in this week’s Seven Days.

We have been exploring the previously mentioned structures in rehearsal and it is really fun and exciting to see how they are evolving and how different each run is.  The dancers are becoming more and more comfortable with allowing themselves to make decisions within the structures and explore the possibilities.  As their confidence and willingness to play and try new things develops it makes for more and more intricate and interesting outcomes.

In preparation for the upcoming showing (April 1st!!!!) we are beginning to establish what we want to share and how to give the audience a true taste of the process.  We have settled on sharing a semi-polished “chunk” (say 25-30 minutes) of material.  Then, taking a break to work out some kinks and re-approach each structure just as we would in rehearsal.  Perhaps even have the audience ask a few questions/offer comments at this point.  Then, we will re-run a few of the structures (possibly with different music, starting positions, or slightly different rules) in order to share with the audience how each structure results in an entirely different performing and viewing experience each time.

We are all really looking forward to sharing what we have been doing in the studio with an audience!

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From the Banks of the Nile

by Cynthia Close, Burlington Writers Workshop

Preview of The Nile Project on the MainStage on Saturday, March 28 at 8 pm. Get tickets at www.flynntix.org.

An estimated 137 million people from 11 different east African countries live on the banks of the Nile, the longest river in the world. Access to this vital resource has caused conflict and strife for generations between the many varied cultures whose livelihood depends on it.

In 2011 two San Francisco based East Africans, Mina Girgis, an Egyptian ethnomusicologist and Ethiopian-American singer Meklit Hadero had a vision to use music to educate, engage and raise awareness in the hope of reaching across cultures to address the challenges facing the environmental viability of the Nile. They brought together performing artists and musicians from those African cultures who had a vested interest in solving the issues plaguing the Nile.

This rich musical collaboration spawned workshops and education programs aimed at university students globally with the goal of advancing understanding of this fragile ecosystem and fostering creative thinking to come up with new solutions. From this valuable experience the hope is that these students in turn would become ambassadors, spreading the word in ever widening circles, like rings around pebbles tossed in water. The Project offers a Nile Fellowship and a Nile Prize to further encourage university students to become active “doers” rather than passive “listeners”.

However, it is in the listening to the music that we become captivated and entranced by The Nile Project. This collaborative rings out with vocals in over ten different languages, along with rhythmic harps, drums and lyres. Twenty-eight musicians, many born in Africa, are featured on the group’s website: male, female, black and white and every shade in between. Each one shares an impressive diversity as is evidenced by Alai K., born in Mombasa with a Swahili upbringing; his music demonstrates elements of Mijkenda, Taarab, Swahili and Sengenya music. He integrates Swahili poetry and storytelling in his lyrics and merges the instruments chevoti and chakacha together with what is referred to in his biography as a Qaswida influenced singing style that he calls “SwahiliSoul.”

The group has released a new CD called Aswan. When I listened to samples on their website the music made it impossible to sit still. I think the Flynn may have to allow for dancing in the aisles when The Nile Project comes to town.

The environmental and cultural challenges along the Nile basin are emblematic of the issues all the worlds people face, including Vermonters struggling with the ever-declining water quality of the rivers and lakes we depend upon for our survival. At first glance, The Nile Project may seem exotic, far away from the shores of Lake Champlain. But I think we all have something to learn from this performance and I look forward to be moved by the musicians of The Nile Project on March 28.

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Beyond the Bog Road

by Josh McDonald, Burlington Writers Workshop

Review of the St. Patrick’s Day celebration with Eileen Ivers at the Flynn on March 13, 2015.

“Do you not get it, lads? The Irish are the blacks of Europe.” Or so claims the 1991 film The Commitments, about a band of Irish musicians playing African-American soul music.

Eileen Ivers, in her Beyond the Bog Road tour, doesn’t say it so explicitly, but the sentiment is there. Her sets, while predominantly Irish-traditional, are seasoned liberally with works by Leadbelly and Louis Armstrong – whose song Irish Black Bottom toyed with this point some ninety years earlier. “I was born in Ireland,” claims the jazz legend. And in a sense it’s as true of him as of most in this country who celebrate the Feast of Saint Patrick this month.

Ivers often introduces her songs with bits of Irish-American history which further sells the point that, similar to the African-American tradition, Irish music finds its heart and its energy from the long-suffering history of its people. The story of the Irish in America is of a people who go from vilified immigrants to jovial (if demeaning) stereotype, to seeing pieces of their culture and heritage enveloped into and mass-marketed by the larger American culture. The story of the Irish in the US is ultimately the story of every people brought to these shores.

If this all sounds rather dry and academic, it may be worth noting at this point that Eileen Ivers has been called “the Jimi Hendrix of the violin.” And watching her performance, one quickly sees that it’s not hyperbole. When she really gets going, and especially when she starts throwing in some classic Hendrixian distortion, it’s unmistakably clear that classic rock is as strong an influence as her own Irish-American heritage.

But then, classic rock would fit into the “American” part of “Irish-American,” wouldn’t it? As would bluegrass, Appalachian folk, and Country. Ivers takes on all these genres and more, bringing out the Celtic influences that underlie all these American traditions. If America is the Great Melting Pot, Ivers demonstrates, that pot is heavily seasoned with some good Irish stout.

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By The Pricking of My Thumbs

by Michelle Watters, Burlington Writers Workshop

Preview of Shakespeare’s Macbeth performed by The Acting Company on the Mainstage, Wednesday, March 25 at 7:30 pm. Get tickets at www.flynntix.org.

Before Game of Thrones or House of Cards, there was Macbeth. Macbeth is considered to be one of Shakespeare’s darkest tragedies. A political thriller combined with the supernatural.

I was first introduced to the plays of Shakespeare in a high school world literature class. We read aloud from a book as thick as an old dictionary. The first play was Romeo and Juliet. I was sixteen and had already romanticized forbidden love so of course it was a favorite. Second, was Hamlet. I couldn’t decide if my favorite characters were Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, or the hopelessly poetic Ophelia. We did not read A Midsummer Night’s Dream in that class. I read that a year later after watching the black and white film adaptation on public television.

The last play we read was Macbeth. Being a teenage girl I couldn’t relate to the political power that Macbeth lusted after. I felt more of a kinship with the witches, also known as the weird sisters, who told Macbeth of his prophecy to be king. Unlike Lady Macbeth who commits suicide the weird sisters felt like powerful central characters.

I feel grateful to have developed an appreciation for Shakespeare. I imagine most teenagers suffer through a teacher’s dry explanations with the sour smell of coffee on their breath. I remember the dispassionate drone of some of my fellow classmates when called upon to read. Not me though, all the passion, turmoil, and uncertainty of life unfolded in Shakespeare’s plays. I was dramatic and Shakespeare knew how to write drama.

We all know the fate of Romeo and Juliet. A miscommunication that in the hands of Three’s Company would be slapstick , but with Shakespeare becomes a tragedy. Hamlet and Macbeth both experience an existential crisis. Hamlet gave his crown away to Prince Fortinbras after watching his entire family die from either suicide or poisoning. Macbeth gains the crown but as a result loses his wife and his humanity.

On March 25, something wicked this way comes when The Acting Company performs Macbeth on the the Flynn stage. There will be death, battle, weird sisters, and lots of drama. There is even a curse attached to the play aptly titled “Curse of Macbeth.” It has been said that Shakespeare included actual black magic spells in the incantations of the witches. Those who appear in the play, or mention the name Macbeth in the theater, bring evil spirits upon them. I bet they didn’t tell you that in high school English class.

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From FlynnArts to Broadway

by Zoe Williams

Oscar Williams, a longtime FlynnArts student and member of the Flynn’s Junior Show Choir, was recently cast in the Broadway production of Fun Home, based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel. His mother shares his journey from theater-loving kid to Broadway actor.

 

I’m writing this from New York City, where my son Oscar is in rehearsals for Fun Home on Broadway. Looking back on how we got here, I feel so thankful for this wonderful community, full of people and organizations that nurtured Oscar and made this possible.

Oscar’s first theater experience, at age seven, was a Very Merry Theater summer camp. He loved it and wanted more. The Flynn was offering local kids a chance to audition to be Munchkins in the National Tour of The Wizard of Oz, so Oscar tried out. He wasn’t cast. It was his first experience dealing with the rejection that comes with this business, and he wanted to learn from it. Christina Weakland, the Flynn’s director of education, suggested that Oscar could use some dance training in order to pick up movement quickly in an audition setting. He had been singing in the Essex Children’s Choir but had little dance experience, so Oscar began studying dance, enrolling in Lois Trombley’s class and a FlynnArts acting class.

The Flynn’s classes and camps facilitated his growth as a young performer, with great advice, guidance, and even unexpected opportunities. For example, Christina recommended Oscar to a local production company looking for children for a TV commercial. Oscar booked the commercial and has been doing commercials ever since. He continued gaining stage experience with Very Merry, took private dance classes with Kate Whalen, and voice lessons with Bill Reed.

In January 2013, Oscar auditioned for Lyric’s Oliver. He was cast as an orphan, and while excited to do a Lyric show he was also deeply disappointed that he wasn’t called back for the role of Oliver. I was talking about this with the parent of another Oliver orphan, Rebecca Raskin, who empathized with Oscar’s disappointment and told me a story that became important to our lives.

Rebecca’s older daughter Amelia Mason, along with several Flynn Junior Show Choir students, had auditioned for the Broadway production of Matilda. Unexpectedly, Amelia had gotten very close to being cast, making it to final callbacks three different times
(which was a total of 13 callbacks) and was even considered for the title role! But in the end, she wasn’t cast. Rebecca talked me through the disappointment they felt and how they dealt with it. It seemed an uplifting story to share with Oscar to help him process his own sadness. His response was, “Wait . . . are you saying you can live in Vermont and audition for Broadway?” That wasn’t what I was saying, but Oscar now had a new goal: he was determined to audition for
a Broadway show!

We wanted to support our son but knew nothing, so I looked for Broadway open auditions and found one for The Lion King. Hundreds of kids shuttled through, and nothing came of that. He auditioned for two more shows, but still, nothing. Soon Matilda was re-casting, a show we knew would involve strenuous dance, and we weren’t sure Oscar was prepared. We spoke with Christina, who knew a New York City dance coach that could help with the specific style used in the Matilda audition. He was hooked! We got him a manager and an agent, and auditioning for Broadway shows became a regular part of our schedule. Constant rejection is part of the process. Keeping up with positive performance opportunities and training at home was very important. In addition to all his lessons, he joined the Flynn’s Junior Show Choir and flourished in that environment.

The summer of 2013, Saint Michael’s Playhouse put on a production of Fiddler on the Roof, and Oscar was cast. He loved the experience of his first professional show, and it probably helped him get cast in a New York gala benefit concert for Fiddler’s 50th anniversary with the original Broadway and film cast, and creative teams—his first time singing on an NYC stage.

With lots of auditions now under his belt, Oscar won a few roles in local productions, including Stowe Theatre Guild’s Secret Garden, and the title role in Middlebury Community Players’ Oliver. At the same time, things in New York were starting to click:
he was consistently making it to final callbacks for Broadway shows.

Then in November, at age 11, Oscar was offered the role of Christian in the exciting new Broadway musical Fun Home. He was overjoyed!

Through all of this we found the classes and opportunities offered through the Flynn to be a strong foundation for Oscar. We are so lucky to live in a community that cares about fostering the arts so much. It takes a village and without all of the caring and nurturing educators, Oscar would not be where he is today.

When he is done with his time on stage on Broadway he will eagerly return to the Flynn community that he calls home!

 

Registration for Summer FlynnArts classes and camps is open now.

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The Flexibility of the Vermont Artists’ Space Grant

by Marly Spieser-Schneider, Vermont Artists’ Space Grant

Marly Spieser-Schneider gives a work-in-progress performance of her piece 3 May 1905 in FlynnSpace on Wednesday, April 1 at 7:30 pm.

So we are finally to the fun part of the process, or at least what I think is fun. In the most recent rehearsal, and in the next few weeks leading up to the in-progress showing, we are working on using the phrase material that all the dancers have learned to explore various structures that I have developed. In a previous blog I gave an example of one of the structures we would work with. So far we have explored that structure (“Stuck”) as well as a second structure we will call “River.”

This structure was inspired by the following passage in Einstein Dreams: “In this world, time is like a flow of water, occasionally displaced by a bit of debris, a passing breeze. Now and then, some cosmic disturbance will cause a rivulet of time to turn away from the mainstream, to make connection back stream. When this happens, birds, soil, people caught in the branching tributary find themselves suddenly carried to the past.

Persons who have been transported back in time are easy to identify. They wear dark, indistinct clothing and walk on their toes, trying not to make a single sound, trying not to bend a single blade of grass. For they fear that any change they make in the past could have drastic consequences for the future.”

The structure I developed to emulate this passage follows these rules:

– All dancers start in one corner of the space and travel in a narrow corridor to the opposite corner.

– They start on their own time and all are doing the same phrase material.

– The goal is to dance fully and if contact between two dancers is made, to make who was “displaced” and who did the “displacing” clear.

– The dancer who was “displaced” leaves the corridor (or “river”) and runs back to the starting point – the dancer then makes their way through the other dancers, this time, working to avoid any contact with anyone.

– When the dancer who was displaced makes it back to the physical place on stage where they had left off, they pick back up with the phrase material.

– The goal is for all dancers to get offstage, depending on the level of contact/“displacement” between dancers the piece could last 3 minutes or 15—duration will vary depending on the level of interaction.

We had a very lively and informative rehearsal last Monday and I look forward to several more during which we will continue to attempt the same structures, coming at the process from different angles in order to get a sense of what works best but maintaining the spontaneity of the work. We may very well discover that there are a couple different ways to approach any given structure and it is likely that we will decide to share more than one of these approaches in the showing—this flexibility and malleability of process woven with set structures and movement is exactly the sort of pairing I am interested in exploring and I look forward to what it yields.

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The Champ

by Josh McDonald, Burlington Writers Workshop

Preview of a St. Patrick’s Day Celebration with Eileen Ivers on Friday, March 13 at 8 pm. Get tickets at www.flynntix.org.

Eileen Ivers is a nine time All-Ireland Fiddle Champion. I’m not sure what that means— one doesn’t typically think of music as a competitive sport. Participants don’t score points for knocking down another fiddler and there’s no such thing as defensive fiddling (not as far as I know, anyway—though I’ve never been involved in music on the championship level). But whatever it takes to become a fiddle champion, Eileen Ivers has done it—not once, but nine times.

Not only that, but she’s won one championship on the banjo and holds a total of thirty musical championships in all. So whatever criteria they’re using, it’s no fluke. She’s just that good. She could launch into a chorus of Queen’s We Are the Champions (and play the heck out of it) and really mean it.

And she plays well with others—such others as the Chieftains, Hall and Oates, Sting, Riverdance, the Boston Pops, the London Symphony and scores of other orchestras, bands, and musicians of all types. Her music draws on her Irish-American heritage, with as much emphasis on the “American” as the “Irish.” She plays a full melting-pot of jazz, Cajun, bluegrass, and other World Music traditions, blending them into a style that is eclectic, vibrant, energetic, equal parts traditional and innovative—her fiddling runs the gamut of enthusiastic adjectives.

So basically, Eileen Ivers is a musical champion of the highest level. We’re talking she should have her jersey-number retired, be advertising Nike on TV, and have a personalized line of fiddle-bows with her name on it level-champion. Instead, she’s bringing a St. Patrick’s Day musical celebration to the Flynn. Don’t miss this show—it promises to be a winner.

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Peter and the Starcatcher: Transformative Storytelling at its Best

by Christina Weakland, Director of Education

Peter and the Starcatcher is the winner of five 2012 Tony Awards and named one of the New York Times, New York Magazine, and the New Yorker’s top ten shows of the year. Get tickets to see it at the Flynn on Tuesday, April 14 at 7:30 pm.

I saw this wildly theatrical and wonderfully inventive prequel to Peter Pan when it took Broadway by storm in 2012, and knew I was in for something special the moment I walked through the door.

That ornately gilded Broadway proscenium? It wasn’t plasterwork at all, but a cleverly constructed facsimile made of rolling pins, kitchen timers, corks, and hairbrushes. In fact the entire set is made of salvaged and sustainable materials: old scaffolds, pallets, buttons, records, and even a door that fell off the bodega next door to the theater during a fire!

I’ve even heard that the touring set is made up of assorted items sent to the designers from theaters around the country. This kind of inventiveness takes my breath away, because it’s what theater is meant to be: making something out of nothing. The whole idea of the show is that your destiny is not limited by anything except your imagination; what you can imagine, you can create. The artistic team certainly practiced what they preach!

My wonderment only grew as the show began and a ragtag troupe of Victorian actors—tinged with Steampunk style—entreated us to join them. “Supposing all these planks and ropes are now the British empire. And we are lords and captains, mothers, orphans, sailors, pirates, tropical kings. Use your thoughts to hoist the sails . . .” That’s right, I thought. We can only create this world together; artist and audience engaged in that mystical exchange of energy that makes live theater great. The ingenious creativity continued: a simple rope became a door, a window, a ladder, a cramped chamber. (My director-self started taking notes.) Actors captivated and tickled us, jumping in and out of over 100 different characters, regularly reminding us that we were there together to weave the story. “We haven’t got all night Smee, people have paid for nannies and parking!”

And what a story they wove! J.M. Barrie’s imaginative tale of the boy who never grew up is has enchanted generations of children, but Peter and the Starcatcher has been called the “adult-ified prequel.” Based on the bestselling novel by humorist Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, it has all the elements of the best childhood adventure tales—a dangerous journey, an unlikely friendship, and discovery of a new world, and the most cleverly-staged shipwreck you ever saw (and I directed Lyric’s Titanic on the Flynn stage!). It evokes every ounce of child-like wonder we have buried down deep under our day jobs and mortgages and adult responsibilities, but manages to do so without ever feeling childish.

But maybe, in the end, we should all follow Peter’s lead and refuse to grow up now and then. I can’t wait to revel again in the wonder of Peter and the Starcatcher, and I hope this time you’ll be there to share the truly magical experience!

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A Luxury Theater Experience

by Erin Duffee

Review of Indian dancer Shantala Shivalingappa at the Flynn on February 21, 2015.

The Flynn has presented a truly diverse and lovely collection of artists this season. Writing for the blog has given me the unique opportunity to see almost all of the dance performances and I could not be more grateful. Shantala Shivalingappa’s performance of Akasha this past weekend was one of the most divine presentations I have seen yet. Every element that I long for in a dance performance was presented with painstaking attention to detail and exquisite artistry. The show offered incredible live music, luxuriously beautiful attire, a simple, but lovely set, and last but not least, magnificent dancing. Am I gushing? I am! But this troupe deserves a good gush.

It was so refreshing to see a performance that drips with artistic intent. So often in contemporary dance, I feel that artists leave gaping holes in the presentation of their work. It is a practice inadvertently born out of the post-modern movement we explored earlier this season with Steve Paxton. Back in the 1970s, Paxton and his affiliates at NYC’s Judson Dance Theater felt limited by the traditional parameters of dance in performance.  They questioned the validity of these parameters with genuine curiosity – Do we need music? Sets? Costumes? Why? The modern dance movement that preceded Paxton and his comrades still carried many of the deep seeded traditions of classical ballet. In the 1970s the concept of leaving out multiple structural elements in a dance performance was still a fairly new idea. Paxton led the post-modern movement, also often referred to as the “deconstructionist,” movement, by embracing purity of form and concept, in any stage of development. While the early modern dance movement established freedom of physical expression, the post-modern movement established freedom of context.

The early work of Judson Dance Theater continues to influence dancers into the present day, in some ways that seem more productive than others. The continued popularity of Contact Improvisation and Movement Based Research, for example, are two positive extensions of the post-modern deconstructionist movement. I am less impressed by the ongoing and seemingly omnipresent practice of omission. Omission of music, omission of intent, omission of set choreography. I suppose there are no structural elements of performance that could be called crucial in this day and age, however, playing roulette with the structural elements of performance seems a great deal less thought provoking in 2015, than it did back in 1975. It has become de rigueur and quite frankly, a snooze. I am ready for something new . . . something new that’s actually quite old—the consideration of dance as full-scale theater art, including articulate, expressionistic movement, relevant attire, and LIVE music. That’s right, not white noise, not randomly selected songs, or pre-recorded pop tracks but LIVE, in the room, on the stage or in the orchestra pit, MUSIC. The dancers deserve it, the musicians will offer it, and we, the viewers, should demand it.

In researching Shivalingappa, I found an interview of the dancer and her mother, fellow kudipuchi dancer Savitry Nair, in which the two women discuss the relationship between dance and music in their chosen art form. Nair claims that to be a dancer, you must also be a musician. The Kudipuchi training method requires that every student put in as much time learning to sing or play an instrument as they do learning to dance, reinforcing the integral nature of these two expressive forms. The interview was recorded following the premiere of Akasha at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival 2013 and you can access it here.

Now that I have given my soapbox speech on live music and performance ethics, I suppose I should also provide some information on the show itself! Akasha is an evening-length performance exploring the concept of space – space around us, space of the universe, and space beyond the conceivable universe. Akasha is a Sanskrit word that literally translates as “ether,” the first material element of the astral world. In Hinduism the word as has taken on a deep and time honored meaning as the basis and essence of all things. Through movement and music, Shivalingappa’s troupe expressed the beauty and immensity of Akasha, as “the luminous source of all.” Each dance was inspired by a god or goddess of the Hindu tradition . . . The Supreme Being Ganesh, The Child Krishna, The Goddess Mother Durga, The Divine Couple (Goddess Alamelu Manga and God Venkateshwara) and finally The God Shiva, who is not only the divine protector of all but also the Lord of the Dance. Shivalingappa performed a dance for each divine being, dancing straight for nearly two hours, without ever faltering in expression or poise. Her only respite was a fifteen-minute break before the last act, during which she retreated backstage, allowing the musicians to take the full spotlight.

As I proposed in my pre-show post, this show was a glorious retreat from the bitter cold and gray skies of February. I left feeling enriched and positively inspired by the artistry of Shivalingappa and her musicians. Thank you! Dhanyawādāh!

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The Akasha

by Cynthia Close, Burlington Writers Workshop

Review of Indian dancer Shantala Shivalingappa at the Flynn on February 21, 2015.

Shantala’s mischievous smile and traditionally dyed red-tipped fingers and feet helped warm up the welcoming crowd who braved yet another bitter, snowy, windswept night in Burlington to attend her performance on the Flynn’s MainStage.

Even Steve MacQueen, the Flynn’s artistic director, seemed relieved to see the sizable crowd when he told us how grateful he was to see so many occupied seats given the effort we all had to make to get there that night. I noted more than a few yoga instructors and practitioners in the audience, which was not surprising considering the cultural roots of yoga and its popularity in this Vermont city.

Having had only a cursory idea of what constitutes traditional Indian dance I was not sure what to expect. The “Akasha,” as the overall title of the program was called, actually consisted of a series of five separate, loosely linked performances or “movements” each featuring Shantala as the solo dancer. The stage was minimally arranged with a small Buddha-like statue hanging high above a centrally lighted scrim from which Shantala would emerge and into which she would dissolve at the end of each segment of the program.

There were four male musicians, including one vocalist who sat cross-legged on each side of the stage throughout the entire 90-minute show. Sound had an important symbolic and experiential role to play, as did an introductory poem read at the beginning of each section. The poem briefly described the story line and the main characters we were about to see. All the roles, both male and female were danced by Shantala. While her body movements communicated much of the action, you really needed to be sitting close enough to the stage to see her stylized and at times extreme facial expressions denoting the emotions of fear, jealousy, and rage as she moved through the various characters to tell the story. Luckily we had perfect seats, and I was often struck by the intensity that seemed to emanate from her eyes.

The story/poems came from traditional sources, some as early as the 13th century, but the performance combined classical form with choreography first performed in 2013, reaffirming Shantala’s “deep desire” to bring her unique interpretation of the practice of Kuchipudi dance to western audiences. Judging by the standing ovation, this audience was glad they had come.

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Flynn Center for the Performing Arts

Flynn Center for the Performing Arts
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