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Let Us Give Thanks for Second City

by Barbara Alsop, Burlington Writers Workshop

Chicago sketch comedy group Second City performs on the MainStage on Thursday, October 2 at 7:30 pm. Get tickets at www.flynntix.org.

Second City comes to the Flynn on October 2 for its 55th Anniversary show. They’ll reprise many of the group’s greatest hits along with showcasing brand spanking new material to delight and titillate fans.

Second City has been an incubator for some of the most famous names in comedy during its entire fifty-year tenure, and we’ll have a chance to relive characters and skits that were wonderful years ago and still as timely as the newly minted sketches of today. And don’t forget the insane art of improv that Second City stars have been famous for from the very beginning.

Let us now give thanks for the greats that Second City has produced in its 55 years of comedy, including Alan Arkin and the late, great Joan Rivers.

But for many of us, the crown jewels of the early days of Second City were the nucleus of those first episodes of Saturday Night Live. The comedy chops of John Belushi, Gilda Radner, and Dan Akroyd, followed closely by Bill Murray, were all honed in the footlights of Second City. They gave us some of the most famous skits of early SNL.

A listing of later stars should turn your head, too, including Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey, Mike Myers and Eugene Levy, Chris Farley and Amy Sedaris.

What is it about this venerable institution (and doesn’t the word “venerable” seem out of place in a comedy troupe that reinvents itself every year with raw talent on its way to the big show?) that has allowed such continued excellence in the discovery of talent and the production of timely shows? Second City has not faltered, as did its younger sib SNL on a number of occasions over the years. It has just keeps on keeping on with wonderful shows and fabulous finds of talent. How has it made such contributions to the pantheon of comedy? One can only assume that the best young talent flocks to Second City for a rare spot on its stage, knowing that this is the place to start.

It helps that SNL was a further springboard for so many characters, including the wonderful Roseanne Roseannadanna, Lisa Lupner, and Emily Litella, who were all gone too soon. John Belushi alone as the Samurai chef, or as a Blues Brother alongside Dan Ackroyd, was an exemplar of the insanity and genius rewarded by the Second City troupe.

When Tina Fey played Sarah Palin, the whole world cheered, again applauding Second City for its illustrious offspring. With other alums including Amy Poehler, Steve Carell, and Keegan-Michael Key, the excellence of this troupe, this company, cannot be gainsaid.

So what does this mean for the Flynn? Why nothing short of an opportunity to see the performances by the stars of tomorrow today, as they skit us and improv us to death, or at least to hilarity.

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Get Happy*, Indeed

by Ana Hernandez, Burlington Writers Workshop

Review of Pink Martini at the Flynn Center on September 24, 2014.

Last Wednesday, Pink Martini opened the Flynn Center’s 2014 season with a show so intimate, it felt as if they had invited us to a party.

An elegant party for which the “little orchestra” dressed in black suits and flanked China Forbes (vocals), in a floor-length gown and sparkling necklace. A party in a lovely setting, as the Flynn is an engaging venue offering clear, crisp views and sound from both balcony and orchestra. A raucous party—audience excitement was palpable crossing City Hall Park as we trotted in (one lone couple walking in the opposite direction wondering “What’s going on at the Flynn, tonight?” turned around to watch the gathering crowd).

From start to end, the applause, occasionally punctuated by shouts of approval, encouragement, or simple release, threatened to drown out performers’ commentary about songs or each other.

China Forbes was a consummate hostess—richly talented, warm, never lingering too long, elegant.

The cast of friends included Timothy Nishimoto on vocals, percussion, and, coincidentally, owner of a wine bar, who often played a bright red scratcher as he swiveled between the others; Antonis Andreou, stiffly attentive until he brought his trombone to his lips; Nicholas Crosa on violin, to whom the “insiders” were quietly deferential, and so we were, too; Brian Davis and Anthony Jones on percussion—slightly more somber except when Brian pulled out the whistle—perhaps especially grieving, feeling their way through the void left by Derek Rieth, another percussionist who died last month.

The guests of honor were four members of the von Trapp family, great-grandchildren of Maria and Georg. While introducing the the Trapps and describing their collaborative work, Thomas Lauderdale (piano and artistic director) mentioned, perhaps with a little longing, his desire to hear “The Lonely Goatherd” over and over. The piece was featured toward the end of the program, during which Lauderdale worked himself into a sweat, quickly wiping his upper lip as he played in his light, yet vigorous, style and finally mopping his brow before the last notes had finished ringing.

And, of course, Lauderdale—a charming, disarming, slightly disheveled host, invited people to dance onstage or conga in the aisles and then ran to film them on what looked like his own phone. He squeezed in as many anecdotes and funny observations as possible (“This song [‘Hang on Little Tomato’] was inspired by an advertisement for Heinz tomato catsup,” in a 1964 issue of Life magazine, he explained, then launched into a description of the goal of every tomato to fatten up, ripen up, and be chosen for Heinz, and maybe even one day be paired with a burger. “It’s a song about hope.”). He was respectful, inclusive, and even loving of his musical antecedents, guests, and colleagues.

And who were we, the rest of the guests? Forbes and the von Trapps have deep and widespread roots in Vermont, and frequent mention was made of their family and friends’ presence last night at the Flynn. The uproarious reception and applause lavished on the band at every opportunity, and the sold-out crowd, might have spoken to this, also.

Forbes spent some of her childhood in Chelsea and greeted her “Verm-aunts and Verm-uncles.” The four von Trapps were raised in Montana, but proved distance is relative when they acknowledged their nervousness at singing for the first time before their extended family in the audience. There were some new fans who buzzed with delight during intermission, and some established ones who erupted into spontaneous applause and whistles as Forbes, for her first song, broke out the gorgeously long and powerful opening note and lyric to “Amado Mío,” or sang along to favorites like “Hey Eugene.”

Pink Martini is as much an original as it is a cover band, paying homage to music of the mid-20th century. “Amado Mío,” for example, dates to Gilda, a 1946 film, and “Hey Eugene,” a classic pop tune written by Forbes “about a boy I met at a party in New York City, a very flirtatious boy,” is the title track to a 2007 album, although it had been in concert rotation for years before. The group offers a range of genre—including tango, jazz, lounge, pop in a dizzying number of strains—to which they pay skilled attention by way of a diverse “little orchestra” comprised, last night, of at least piano, violin, guitar, big bass, drums, congas, the aforementioned scratcher, castanets, trombone, trumpet, an assortment of tambourines and shakers, and a whistle. Forbes’ voice, silky and powerful, alternately leads and corrals a collective musicianship that can fly from high-energy Afro-Cuban salsa to an introspective violin concerto. Together, they pour a lovely evening cocktail—retro, a little kitschy, classy, very polished, and incredible fun.

[*Get Happy is the title of a 2013 Pink Martini album, for which the title track is a cover of a duet between Judy Garland and a “very young” Barbra Streisand in 1963. Their duet, in turn, borrows from various compositions in the early 1930s, including the original Warner Brothers’ “Merrie Melodies” theme music in 1932.]

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Looking Deeper: Intensives for Contemporary Dancers

by Hannah Dennison, dancer and choreographer

Led by a different guest artist each month, Flynn dance intensives are designed specifically for practicing contemporary dancers and dance-makers in our region. Sign up at www.flynnarts.org.

Samuel Wentz,  teacher of October 12 intensive.

Samuel Wentz, teacher of October 12 intensive.

A bit of background – I have been making work, developing ensembles for the projects, and performing in the area for almost 40 years. After a long hiatus, I returned to creating with the tribute dance/theater piece in 2012, Dear Pina. I had the pleasure to work with many of the region’s best dancers and was excited to continue our explorations into what makes a strong and compelling performer. For 2013/14, I organized a regular laboratory, led by various dance artists, to address that exploration. I am grateful to the Flynn for picking up where we left off and giving us more opportunities to train and hone our skills.

This year, the Flynn is addressing what has been a gap for contemporary dance artists in the Burlington area. Along with a strong line-up of weekly technique classes geared towards contemporary technique, the year-long series of intensive workshops on Sundays will focus on the ingredients central to successful contemporary dance creators and performers alike.

The last period I recall there being a thriving dance community in the Queen City was during the 1980’s and early 90’s. I remember Sara McMahon’s classes in the Loft, full to capacity and vibrant with energetic focus, a true place of practice.  (You can dance with Sara at the Flynn on Tuesday mornings, Wednesday mornings, or Friday evenings. Click here for class listings.)  During that time, the Flynn put its young institutional clout and resources into the contemporary dance community with summer workshops on the main stage. We came together with teachers Peter Schmitz, Penny Campbell and Susan Sgorbati where we focused on constructing/deconstructing dances and moving together for both the study and joy of our shared passion. In the same time frame, the Flynn partnered with Vermont choreographers two times to present Vermont Dance at the Flynn, where dance-makers from around the state presented their work on the main stage to full houses.

The ensuing years saw a dearth of high quality performing and training opportunities and that had a dampening effect on Burlington’s dance community. The re-focusing on the part of the Flynn is welcome and very much needed.

So far, the line-up of leaders for these workshops is very exciting, most of them hailing from New York, and in residence or on staff this year at Bennington and Middlebury Colleges. Lucky us!

October 12 is led by Samuel Wentz who is based at Bennington. Wentz has been a New York-based dancer and teacher for the past eight years. He has worked with the Trisha Brown Dance Company (09-14), Wally Cardona and Jennifer Lacey, Mark Morris, Gerald Casel, and Christopher Williams. In addition to performing, he has taught master classes, nationally and internationally, in contemporary technique. He has taught at: P.A.R.T.S.(BE), University of Washington – Seattle, University of Milwaukee – Wisconsin, UC Berkeley, University of Arizona – Tucson, as well as teaching regular classes for the Trisha Brown Dance Company. His class is influenced by his studies with Barbara Mahler, Gerald Casel, and the work of Trisha Brown. Wentz is currently pursuing his MFA from Bennington under the supervision of faculty member Terry Creach.

November 9 is led by Dai Jian who is also at Bennington for the year. New York-based Dai is an artist from China with roots in contemporary dance, classical dance and martial arts. He creates improvisations, performance installations and visual art, and collaborates across disciplines. Dai graduated from Madam Yang MeiQi’s program at the Beijing Dance Academy. She was deeply influential in his career path.  He has received numerous prizes and awards in China for his excellence, and was invited by Shen Wei Dance Arts to dance in the USA from 2005 to 2008, during which time he assisted Shen Wei in the choreography for the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremonies. In the USA, he has performed with Trisha Brown Dance Company and choreographer/ dancers Yin Mei  and Hou Ying. He has taught at Arizona State University and Pomono College, CA.

December 14 is led by Scotty Hardwig who is currently the 2014-15 Artist-in-Residence and faculty member at the Middlebury College Dance Program.  Scotty is a dancer, choreographer, and digital media artist originally from the Appalachian mountains of southwest Virginia.  His installations, dance-for-camera films, and stage works have been shown nationally and internationally, with a focus on an interdisciplinary creative processes that involve techniques as wide-ranging as architecture, musical composition, computer programming, poetry, sculpture, fashion design, film, and a physical performance technique based heavily in contact and performance improvisation. Using the body as a medium and various technologies as mediators, his work explores the relationship between the flesh and the digital, and seeks to find the boundaries of the human spirit in an increasingly fragmented time. He received is MFA in dance from the University of Utah, and has received critical accolades for his dance films from the International Screendance Festival, and recently received a 2014 ACDFA/DANCE MAGAZINE award.

January 11 is led by Polly Motley from Stowe. Polly is a choreographer, performer, collaborator and teacher.  She trained in classical and contemporary dance forms—ballet, jazz, tap, modern and post-modern styles—as well as Contemplative Dance Practice, dance ethnology, and improvisation. Her collaborators include dancers Barbara Dilley, Steve Paxton, Dana Reitz, Simone Forti; musicians  Sean Clute, Charles Amirkhanian, Takehisa Kosugi, Fred Frith; filmmaker Molly Davies, and poets Anne Carson and Jack Collom. Her Master of Fine Arts from the University of Colorado regarded the interactive relationships of video and performance.

February 22 is led by Tzveta Kassabova who is a member of the dance department faculty at Middlebury College. Tzveta is an Bulgarian born choreographer, costume designer and installation artist, named one of the ’25 to watch’ in 2012 by Dance Magazine. At different times she has been a gymnast, physicist, and meteorologist and has danced with many wonderful artists including David Dorfman Dance, PearsonWidrig DanceTheater, Shua Group and Ed Tyler companies. Her work as a choreographer has been presented both in the US and Europe and she has been the recipient of numerous awards. She holds three Masters degrees, has been on the faculty of University of Florida, University of Maryland Baltimore County, George Washington University and Montgomery College. Tzveta believes that dance is a visual art form. She has always been fascinated by the concept of space, and is constantly trying to address it, both in her choreography and design.

March 22 is led by Susuan Sgorbati from Bennington. Susan has been seriously investigating improvisation as a method for teaching and performance for twenty years. For the last ten years in collaboration with scientists, she has been exploring the relationship between dance and music improvisation and complex systems.  Her work has led her to three residencies at The Neurosciences Insititute in La Jolla, California under the tutelage of Dr. Gerald Edelman and an going dialogue with Dr. Stuart Kauffman, who was in residence at Bennington College in the fall of 2004.  In 2006, she went on a national tour with her “Emergent Improvisation Project”. Her book was recently published, “Emergent Improvisation: Where Dance Meets Science on Spontaneous Composition”. She has been on the faculty at Bennington College for twenty-five years and is also a professional mediator.

April 26 is led by choreographer, educator, performer, writer, and activist Christal Brown. Christal has toured nationally with Chuck Davis’ African-American Dance Ensemble and internationally with Andrea E. Woods/Souloworks, performed with and managed Gesel Mason Performance Projects while apprenticing with the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange in Takoma Park, Maryland. She also apprenticed with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company before finding a home with Urban Bush Women, where she spent three seasons as a principal performer, community specialist and apprentice program coordinator.  Brown is the Founding Artistic Director of INSPIRIT, a performance ensemble and educational conglomerate dedicated to bringing female choreographers together to collaborate and show new work, expanding the views of women of all ages, and being a constant source of inspiration to its audience as well as members. Founded in 2000, INSPIRIT has been honored to show work at Aaron Davis Hall, St. Mark’s Church, Joyce Soho, The Lincoln Theater of Washington, D.C., and various other venues across the country.  Combining her athleticism, creativity, love for people, and knack for teaching, Brown continues to teach and create works that redefine the art of dance and the structure of the field.

May 24 is led by Elena Demyanenko who is at Bennington. Elena is a Russian-born graduate of the Academy of Theatrical Arts in Moscow. Since Elena’s relocation to New York City in 1998, she has had the honor of working with Stephen Petronio, Trisha Brown, and Martha Clarke; in addition to creating work with Joe Poulson, Jimena Paz, Dai Jian, Lindsey Dietz Merchant, and many other downtown artists. Her latest work is built around the intricacies of relationships; where mind-bodies with unique backgrounds, behaviors, languages, and cultures sutured together to provoke a third presence unique to each performance.

We very much hope you join us at this brand-new venture, and be a part of this effort to meet the needs of the contemporary dance community!

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Slam Dancing with Accordians

by Jeffery R. Lindholm, Burlington Writers Workshop

Los Lobos performs on the MainStage on Wednesday, October 1 at 7:30 pm. Get tickets at www.flynntix.org

Los Lobos are on a 40th anniversary tour? Forty years? That means the guys have been in the band for forty years, which would make them . . . oh, over thirty, for sure.

I’m old enough to remember when we were told not to trust anyone over thirty (and you might remember that, too). Rockers then were all very young, very good-looking guys (and a few gals) with shiny teeth and hair—often long (the hair, that is). Back then, the life expectancy of a band was a couple of years, tops, before the hits and the screaming fans all faded away, and guitar players were told to get a real job to fall back on.

But now we’ve got bands like Los Lobos celebrating forty years rocking across the land. Heck, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks and others are looking at fifty years as rock and roll bands. Who would have thought

Sure, there are some (quite a few…lots) of bands who are just out there doing their old hits over and over and over again (you know who I’m talking about), with maybe one original member (sometimes none). But other musicians keep on growing, doing new albums, playing concerts, writing songs, relevant songs about issues we face in the 21st century; consider Neil Young, Ry Cooder, Patti Smith, Dr. John, and many others, including, perhaps, Los Lobos.

Los Lobos have also dodged the disappearing-band-members bullet. Four of the six guys in the band (guitarists Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo, bassist Conrad Lozano, and drummer Louie Perez) were all there in the beginning, and saxophonist Steve Berlin came along not too long after. Drummer Enrique “Bugs” Gonzalez is the only “new guy.”

According to legend (and the band’s official bio), they started out as Los Lobos del Este Los Angeles, playing traditional Norteño music that reflected their Mexican-American heritage, often at weddings. But they were young and there was a thriving punk rock scene in L.A., so Los Lobos added electric guitars to their guitarróns and accordions and went on the road with L.A. rockabilly-punk band the Blasters. By then they’d had their first hit, Will the Wolf Survive?

That’s where I first encountered them, in a smoky, beer-drenched bar in Richmond, Virginia, in a frenzied crowd just rife with leather jackets adorning both the punks from the local college and the greasy bikers from who knows where. There was slam dancing, I tell you! Slam dancing to Los Lobos! And no accordions were broken.

But that was thirty years ago. To help me jump the temporal fence, I watched a video from one of their 30th anniversary concerts. I was struck by how they’ve expanded beyond the Latin-music and/or punk tags they wore in the olden days. Their sound ten years ago was traditional, yes, built also on blues, rock, rockabilly, a bit of jazz, and maybe a hint of country. A truly representative overall American rock sound then, with the Latin base to pull out as needed. And when was the last (or first) time you saw a singer-guitarist drop his Gibson Firebird to take a totally smokin’ violin solo?

So I’m not sure what to expect from Los Lobos now, but I’m excited about seeing those old dudes again. I don’t expect that the Flynn encourages or even allows slam dancing, but you never know. See ya there?

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Young Artists

by Barbara Williams Sheperd, Burlington Writers Workshop

Soovin Kim & Fred Child join Alexi Kenney, Yoo Jin Jang, Steven Laraia, and Jin Lee in FlynnSpace on Saturday, September 27 at 8 pm. Get tickets at www.flynntix.org.

The words “young artist” caught my attention as I scrolled through the Flynn Theatre’s impressive Calendar of Events recently.

Working thirty years in Vermont schools, most of them as a high school counselor, I’ve been delightedly entertained by thousands of talented and aspiring young people. I sat through decades of concerts and recitals, and even was the guest of one remarkable young man when he won the Jon Borowicz Memorial Scholarship and played a violin concerto at the Barre Opera House with the Vermont Philharmonic Orchestra. I often remark to friends that if one wants to see the development of a soul, one only needs to watch the freshmen in any high school performing group and see their confidence grow in the next two to three years.

But, with all the raw talent around us, few have the motivation and self-discipline to put in the time, practice, and become really great.

My own daughter, Sarah, did me proud. She graduated from high school, and to the surprise of both of us, went off to college and was discovered to have a talent for singing opera. She morphed into a very credible young opera mezzo and sang for ten years on the big stages throughout the country, and even in London.

So, I’ve been in some grand halls and heard some beautiful music, which in no way qualifies me to say anything about a musical genius like Soovin Kim.

At the risk of sounding naïve and un-informed, I admit that I first became aware of Souvin Kim this past summer when I came across a schedule for the Champlain Chamber Music Festival at the Ellie Long Center. Mr. Kim’s nine day program for instrumentalists, vocalists and composers, saturates Burlington with high quality chamber music and shines a spotlight on young performers.

I made a few inquiries of artistic acquaintances in the Burlington area, and it turns out that Mr. Kim and I have mutual friends. I am told that he grew up in Plattsburgh, NY, and played with the Vermont Youth Orchestra. One friend remarked that Mr. Kim is a very nice person, a talented, humble man. Surely, using his talent to lift the careers of others speaks to the purity of his character.

Soovin Kim and his colleagues, along with Fred Child from VPR, are at the Flynn on Saturday, September 27 at 8 pm. It’s sure to be an unforgettable evening.

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Retrospectives

by Ana Hernandez, Burlington Writers Workshop

Pink Martini performs on the MainStage on Wednesday, September 24 at 7:30 pm. Get tickets at www.flynntix.org.

A warm, calm house surrounded by quiet woods loves music, I think, so early one winter evening I played bits of 1969 (Pink Martini, with Saori Yuki) for Kim.

Yuki was born just after the end of WWII and quite literally grew up with the genre of kayokyoku emerging from cultural and artistic struggles and convergences, and variously described as both postwar Japanese music infused with Western elements, and “like foreign food with Japanese style.”

Years later, Yuki relived her debut with an international audience in this collaborative work with Pink Martini, the imaginatively self-styled 1962 house band of the United Nations.

Sleet clicked and slid against the darkened glass as she sang about the “footsteps of the seasons.”

“I wonder if your mum would like it?” I mused.

Kim’s mother, Fumi, married her father while he was stationed in Japan and came to the US when his tour was over—still a teen but on her own already for many years—to a family with deep roots in rural Massachusetts that she’d not yet met. Neither spoke the other’s language.

I see Fumi as archetypal of a survivor of war and a nation’s loss of much of its past and its future. Who are you? How do you comprehend what comes next? She will tell me, easily, of extreme childhood poverty and of having decided to marry the first man who could promise her a roof and that she would not be hungry again.

Kim’s father was that, and an unexpected love.

I imagine her, early on, as committed to make work whatever this future might hold. She is, to me, accomplished and courageous beyond compare—she built a house, has been a guest speaker at her children’s schools, converted to Catholicism, learned to make Western food and clothing better than most in her new community, opened her home to friends in need, and cheated dramatic deaths—by fire, Legionnaire’s disease, a brain aneurysm—all square on, with equal aplomb.

I try to imagine, suffuse myself with such resolve, and quickly hear myself devolving, railing bitterly, “why won’t you even try to learn Japanese,” “I want to go home,” “this food is too coarse, too heavy,” “stop bothering me.” So instead, I ask Fumi her stories and write them down. I want to keep her close, of course, but also I vaguely suspect that I have yet to learn that which she has to teach.

And I ponder the humanness of turning moments, like notes, that span miles and years—winter evenings, meals, houses, Legionnaire’s disease, debuts, questions—into moods and stories, into melodies, that enrich as they endure. Sweetness, self-invention, diaspora, grief, love. How moments become richer in memory, how tellings and retellings clash and meld, how lives unfold into music.

In memory of Derek Rieth.

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An Overview of the Season

by Steve MacQueen, Artistic Director

This year’s season kicks off with Pink Martini (Wednesday, September 24), the ultimate sophisticated lounge band (that’s a compliment!). The group draws from musical traditions around the world and across genres of pop, jazz, and classical. On Wednesday, October 1, we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Los Lobos, whose music is influenced by rock and roll, Tex-Mex, country, folk, R&B, blues, brown-eyed soul, and traditional music such as cumbia, boleros, and nortenos. Second City (Thursday, October 2) opened in 1959 to present a mix of sketch and improv comedy, and became the starting point for generations of America’s best and brightest comedians, including Joan Rivers, John Belushi, John Candy, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, and Tina Fey. Featuring top global choreographers, distinctive groundbreaking works, and virtuoso dancers, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet (Saturday, October 18) is one of the most dynamic, athletic, risk-taking contemporary ballets around. Wynton Marsalis calls Marcus Roberts (Friday, October 24) “the genius of modern piano.” Roberts and his 12-piece band, which includes Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra veterans alongside some up-and-coming jazz musicians, play an evening length original composition, Romance, Swing, and the Blues. R. Buckminster Fuller was quite a guy: architect, designer, engineer, inventor, linguist, writer, and philosopher. Documentary filmmaker Sam Green and indie-rock band Yo La Tengo pay homage to Fuller with a live-performance, multimedia documentary, The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller (Thursday, October 30; co-presented by the UVM Lane Series).

Winner of 31 International Bluegrass Music Association Awards and two Grammys, the Del McCoury Band (Sunday, November 2) was hand-picked by Woody Guthrie’s daughter Nora to set previously undiscovered lyrics to bluegrass music. The legendary Martha Graham Dance Company (Friday, November 21) carries on the legacy of Graham’s focus on expressive movement. The New York Times says that “Graham’s choreography remains a true, living American document.” An absolutely astonishing vocal group that’s been around for more than 40 years, Sweet Honey in the Rock (Thursday, December 4) sings spirituals, freedom songs, and protest songs in unspeakably beautiful five-part harmony. A landmark in the funny-nun genre, Sister Act (Thursday, December 11) started out as a Whoopi Goldberg film before becoming a big Broadway hit.

Returning to the Flynn for the 33rd year, Nebraska Theatre Caravan’s A Christmas Carol (Friday, December 12) is true a holiday favorite. Emerging choreographer Camille A. Brown (Saturday, January 17) creates pieces that are high energy, provocative, and theatrically electrifying. Grease (Friday, January 23) is not only the word . . . it’s also a fun sing-a-long, so dress up in your favorite Grease outfit and sing along. Terri Lyne Carrington (Friday, January 30) was the drummer of choice for 20 years, playing with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Stan Getz, Cassandra Wilson, and many more. Money Jungle is her tribute to the Duke Ellington/Charles Mingus/Max Roach album, but it stakes its own territory, and takes off like a rocket from the first downbeat.

Nice Work If You Can Get It (Monday, February 2) is like a jukebox filled with George and Ira Gershwin songs: Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off, ‘S Wonderful, I’ve Got a Crush on You, Someone To Watch Over Me, and of course, the title tune. The plot holding the songs together is great, frothy, screwball fun. The family matinee of Schoolhouse Rock Live! (Sunday, February 15) brings back all your old favorites, like 3 Is a Magic Number, Conjunction Junction, and How a Bill Becomes a Law. This performance is sensory-friendly for people with autism, which means that the house lights are a little brighter and the rules a bit relaxed. Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy (Wednesday, Februrary 18) are two great Cape Breton fiddlers who happen to be married. Along with the music and step-dancing, you’ll hear stories about Cape Breton, and catch glimpses of their family life (and even some family members). While Gregory Porter’s (Thursday, February 19) voice may recall the heyday of early ‘70s folk geniuses such as Bill Withers and Donny Hathaway, he’s a jazz singer, having won the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album. Kuchipudi is classical Indian dance, as challenging and precise to perform as classical ballet. Shantala Shivalingappa (Saturday, February 21) makes it look easy with Akasha, a program of five solos accompanied by live singing, flute, and percussion.

Lily Tomlin (Sunday, March 8) studied acting under Charles Nelson Reilly and made her TV debut on the Merv Griffin Show, but it was Laugh-In that made her a star. Since then she’s won two Tony Awards, a Grammy, and the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize. Nine-time All-Ireland Fiddle Champion Eileen Ivers (Friday, March 13; co-presented by the UVM Lane Series) is not only the original musical star of Riverdance, but she’s also a founding member of Cherish the Ladies. She joins us this year for our annual St. Patrick’s Day Celebration. The Acting Company returns to the Flynn with one of Shakespeare’s most popular and enduring (and bloody!) tragedies, Macbeth (Wednesday, March 25). The Nile Project (Saturday, March 28; co-presented by the UVM Lane Series) is an electrifying all-star band that embraces numerous musical cultures under one roof, but it’s also a much larger project that embraces sustainability, clean water, and sharing of resources across borders of countries through which the Nile flows.

Peter and the Starcatcher (Tuesday, April 14) is the critically acclaimed prequel to Peter Pan and winner of five Tonys, including sound design, light design, costume design, and scenic design. The New York Times said, “With grown-up theatrical savvy and a child’s wonder at what it can achieve, this show never stops flying.” The iconic title design was created by Vermont woodworker John W. Long. Miwa Matreyek (Wednesday, April 15) is an incredible experimental filmmaker who creates hallucinatory dreamscapes, and then backlights herself into the action to create an immersive, in-the-moment film experience you haven’t had before. The African Children’s Choir (Thursday, April 16) started off as a way to assist children in Uganda, but they now have numerous choirs and seven homes for children who have been displaced by war or famine. Their performances are celebratory and jubilant. Gilberto Gil (Monday, April 20) is one of the world’s greatest and most influential musicians. As a co-founder of the Tropicália movement, he helped reinvent Brazilian popular music by incorporating rock, reggae and funk into traditional Brazilian rhythms. In concert, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (Tuesday, April 21) offers a funny, virtuosic, twanging, awesome, foot-stomping evening as they jump from Tchaikovsky to Nirvana via Otis Redding and Spaghetti Western soundtracks. This American Life host Ira Glass joins dancers Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass in Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host (Saturday, April 25), a funny, lively evening of dance and storytelling. It’s This American Life . . . with dancing. Anything Goes (Monday, April 27) won three Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical. Featuring Cole Porter favorites such as I Get a Kick Out Of You, It’s De-Lovely, and the title track, the story follows two unlikely pairs setting off on a course to true love, while on a ship heading out to sea. The New York Times calls Wendy Whelan (Thursday, April 30) “America’s greatest contemporary ballerina.” A longtime principal dancer for the New York City Ballet, Whelan enlisted four of the most dynamic young choreographers today and commissioned duets from each of them. In Restless Creature, she dances these duets with each choreographer.

Cirque Mechanics (Sunday, May 10) returns to the Flynn with Pedal Punk, which features the Gantry bike—a pedal powered circus caravan that moves around the stage as the performers —acrobats, cyclists, equilibrists, and funambulists—throw themselves around on the moving structure.

Explorations in FlynnSpace

Sometimes, you want something a bit more intimate and offbeat than the usual. For the Flynn, which has long had a commitment to cutting-edge work designed for smaller audiences, those moments generally occur during our Explorations Series in FlynnSpace, where the connection between artist and audience is immediate and magic seems to happen on a regular basis. These dance, theater, and music performances feature artistic perspectives from Vietnam, Japan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda, as well as various parts of the US. All of them have provocative, interesting artists with something to say, and we’re delighted to give them a place to say it.

Tri Minh Quartet, Sounds from Hanoi (Sunday, September 28)
A new musical voice from Vietnam, Tri Minh and his Quartet combine electronica, acoustic instruments, and traditional motifs in a program of collaborative and improvised works. Tri Minh’s evocative soundscapes have attracted international attention and he has worked with some of today’s top DJs and electronic musicians, though his music is equally evocative of classical music infused with regional sounds.

Andy Milne, Strings & Serpents (Wednesday, October 29)
Strings & Serpents is the latest venture from adventurous jazz pianist Andy Milne, who teams with French pianist Benoit Delbecq, the Japanese TsuguKaji KOTO duo, and animator Saki Murotani to create this fascinating tapestry of sight and sound. A multi cultural collaboration that marries Japanese and Western forms through improvisation and rhythm, set against the backdrop of Murotani’s startling animations, Strings is based on Japanese Rainbow Serpent mythology. The work was commissioned by the Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts and supported by the Japan Foundation through the Performing Arts JAPAN program.

Look Backward, Dance Forward: Tales from Home
Faustin Linyekula, Le Cargo (Friday, October 31)
Panaibra Gabriel Canda, The Marrabenta Solos (Saturday, November 1)
This unique two-evening dance-theater program features two remarkable dancers offering artistic perspectives on the complex histories of their countries. Hailing from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Faustin Linyekula presents his first solo piece Le Cargo, which recounts his return home and things lost and found on his journey. Panaibra Gabriel Canda’s Marrabenta Solos examines Mozambique and its struggles with colonialism, nationalism, and modernity. Accompanied by virtuoso guitarist Jorge Domingos, Canda tells the story through marrabenta, a dance that mixes local traditions and European influences. Both Canda and Linyekula are first-rate storytellers, both through words and movement, and their stories are well worth hearing.

Steve Paxton & Jurij Konjar, Bound (Thursday, November 6)
Dubbed “a titan of the 1960s and ‘70s avant-garde” (New York Times) and the founder of contact improvisation, Vermont resident Steve Paxton’s impact on modern dance is nearly incalculable. An early dancer with Merce Cunningham and one of the key figures in the deeply influential Judson Dance Theatre of the ‘60s and Grand Union of the ‘70s, Paxton (recently awarded The Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in Dance at the International Dance Festival of the Venice Biennale) makes his Flynn debut with a restaged version of his 1982 work Bound. He’s not actually dancing it, however; he set the work on Slovenian dancer Jurij Konjar, and advance notice on the piece is fabulous. Before Konjar’s performance, Paxton is interviewed by Polly Motley in the Amy E. Tarrant Gallery.

Raphael Xavier, The Unofficial Guide to Audience Watching Performance (Saturday, November 15)
Philadelphia-based hip-hop dancer/choreographer/spoken- word artist Raphael Xavier’s The Unofficial Guide to Audience Watching Performance is hip-hop dance as performance art, an autobiographical culmination of Xavier’s 30 years in the business. Xavier plays with the rhythms of rap, dance and narrative, deconstructing them along the way to give insight into the artist’s life and work. Visceral yet deeply thoughtful, the show, directed by Ralph Lemon, reflects an artist’s view on hip-hop’s influence and history as the form—and its practitioners—age.

Mat Fraser & Julie Atlas Muz, The Freak & the Showgirl (New date: Thursday, January 8) Mat Fraser is a writer, actor, musician, cabaret host/performer, and disability advocate, while his partner Julie Atlas Muz is an actress, burlesque celebrity, and former Miss Exotic World. The two will perform an evening of no-holds-barred, explicit, adults-only cabaret that will challenge the audience’s perceptions on a variety of topics.

Kristina Wong, The Wong Street Journal (Thursday, February 26)
L.A.-based performance-artist Kristina Wong concludes a week-long residency with an in-progress performance of her (by then) nearly finished work, a scathingly satirical look at global economic inequality, inspired by her trip to Uganda. Hilarious and fearless, Wong is a provocateur, solo performer writer, and cultural commentator who’s unafraid to live her life in public (her hysterical romantic pursuit of NBA star Jeremy Lin is a small example). Wong has five solo shows already to her credit—including the lauded Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which examined the high rate of suicide among Chinese-American women— and when she takes the stage in FlynnSpace, that number goes up to six. During her residency, Wong is also active in the community, working with high-school students.

Terry Galloway, You Are My Sunshine (Saturday, April 11)
Performance artist Terry Galloway performs her one-woman show, based on her experience as a deaf woman who received a cochlear implant well into adulthood, and her struggles/revelations as a person who suddenly emerges into a world of noise. A mesmerizing storyteller, Galloway is alternatingly thoughtful and hysterical, often one when you expect the other. While in residence, Galloway also reads from her memoir, Mean Little Deaf Queer, and hosts a performance workshop.

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Remembering Joan Rivers

by John Killacky, Executive Director

Comedians Jason Lorber and Joan Rivers at the Flynn in April 2012.”

Comedians Jason Lorber and Joan Rivers at the Flynn in April 2012.

Two years ago, I was nervously waiting for Joan Rivers to arrive for rehearsal with local musicians the Flynn had hired as her musical back up.  I expected a feral tigress; instead I welcomed a kindly grandmother type, chicly dressed in black.

She got right down to work. Going through musical cues, the comedian told the band, “I really like you, but when the show starts I might not be so nice. Don’t take it personally.” At one point, she explained, “I will fall down and beg you to help me up, but don’t make a move. It’s funnier that way, and I like funny.”

Local comedian Jason Lorber had been invited to perform a short warm-up set.  After his sound check, Rivers told him, “Don’t worry if you bomb, the audience is here to see me.” Not the most reassuring praise for a fellow artist.

After the rehearsal, I handed Ms. Rivers her check in an envelope that she immediately opened.  “It’s the right amount, thank you,” she said with a smile and a wink.  This was an artist who knew her finances.

Hours later, her raspy, foul-mouthed brilliance came alive on stage.  My jaw dropped as she began her barrage of insults: telling the old people to leave, attacking the obese, and chiding the lesbians who didn’t love her as much as the gays. Nothing was off limits, and the audience at first seemed uncomfortable.

Within a few minutes, however, we relaxed as she goaded us to “Oh, grow up!” and laughed at things no one else would dare talk about in public. This brash idiosyncratic icon was in top form, demonstrating her life-long mantra, “Life is tough, so you better laugh at everything.”

After the performance, she had agreed to do a ‘Meet and Greet’ with Flynn supporters. Instructions were precise: visitors were to stand in line and Ms. Rivers would pose for photographs.  And that she did, smiling for each and every photo-op until the last person got their memento.

What an honor it was to present this legend. Fifty years ago she broke down the male bastion of comedy on mainstream television. Then, through personal tragedies and professional setbacks, she continually reinvented herself: day-time talk show host, shopping network maven, celebrity apprentice, reality show star, and red carpet fashionista.  “Can we talk?” was always her invitation as she tackled societal taboos with irrepressible chutzpah.

On her way out of the Flynn that evening, she turned to me and sweetly said, “Thank you for bringing me to your beautiful theatre.  Hope you will have me back.”

You are most welcome Joan Rivers. You were such a fierce artist, a comic genius with unstoppable determination. Thank you for all the laughter you allowed us.

This commentary first appeared on Vermont Public Radio.

 

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At the Intersection of Art and Disability

by John Killacky, Executive Director

The Flynn has a long-standing commitment to access and inclusion. In 2011, we received our second award from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters and the METLife Foundation for our work in accessibility and inclusivity for artists and audiences with disabilities. This year, the Surdna Foundation gave the Flynn a three-year grant to continue this kind of programming and outreach. The grant is augmented by support from The Gibney Family Foundation and Courtney and Victoria Buffum Family Foundation, as well as generous local foundations and individuals.

Marcus Roberts & The Modern Jazz Generation (MainStage, October 24)
Preeminent jazz pianist Marcus Roberts is in residence at the Flynn from October 20-24, which culminates in two performances with his 12-piece band, one for students and one for the general public. While in residence, Roberts visits multiple communities including Burlington’s Integrated Arts Academy and the University of Vermont Big Band. In addition to being a jazz genius, Roberts, blind since age five, has made extraordinary breakthroughs in the development of adaptive technology that enables blind composers to write complicated musical scores. The Vermont Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired is one of the Flynn’s community partners for the residency. Large Braille programs and audio descriptions are available at both the student and evening performances and an online study guide is available for teachers, parents, and homeschoolers.

Thodos Dance Chicago (Thursday, February 5)
As part of our Student Matinee Series, Thodos Dance Chicago performs its beautiful A Light in the Dark based on the lives of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. The Flynn is excited to give students a new way to look at The Miracle Worker—as a dance piece rather than a theater piece—and open lines of understanding about differently-abled populations and art-making. Planned residency activities include an onstage “touch tour” of the sets, props, and costumes for the visually impaired. Pre-show workshops are devised in collaboration with VSA Vermont and the UVM Deaf/Blind Project (part of the Vermont Sensory Access Project at the Center on Disability and Community Inclusion), to give audiences a stronger line into understanding both contemporary dance and the experience of having impaired sight and hearing. The performance is audio-described for the blind and visually impaired and interpreted in ASL for the deaf and hearing impaired. An online study guide is available as well.


“Schoolhouse Rock Live!” (Sunday, February 15)
This adaptation of the Emmy-winning ‘70s Saturday morning cartoon series is presented as an autism-friendly performance: the content remains the same,teacher nervous about his first day relaxes by watching TV, characters appear and show him how to win over his students using imagination and music. The Flynn worked with the artists in the touring company and the National Autism Theatre Initiative of Theatre Development Fund to learn how to create a supportive environment for audience members diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder or other sensory issues. We also convened a local advisory group that chose this particular performance, and will work with us to spread the word statewide. This is an inclusive performance to which all family audiences are invited.

In FlynnSpace

Mat Fraser & Julie Atlas Muz: “The Freak and the Showgirl” (New date: Thursday, January 8)
Mat Fraser and his wife Julie Atlas Muz bring their provocative, adults only, burlesque spectacle The Freak and the Showgirl, asking us to leave political correctness at the door as they challenge perceptions on disability and the body. Born with a thalidomide syndrome of shortened limbs, Mat has long been a disability activist on stage and in film as an actor and musician. Their cabaret extravaganzas have been seen in London, Seattle, Holland, Portugal, Baltimore, Adelaide, Leeds, Liverpool, New York, and Key West.

Terry Galloway: “You Are My Sunshine” (Saturday, April 11)
Terry Galloway brings her autobiographical one-woman show, You Are My Sunshine, about her transition from deafness to suddenly being able to hear after receiving a cochlear implant. For decades, Galloway has been deaf activist and her performance art has been produced internationally. You Are My Sunshine explores the struggles and revelations of a person thrust into a new world of sound after 40 years of deafness. In addition to her performance, informal community gatherings are planned with the LGBT and deaf communities, and Galloway will do a reading from her bitingly humorous memoir Mean Little Deaf Queer.

In the Amy E. Tarrant Gallery
In association with the GRACE Gallery in Hardwick, next June the Flynn exhibits the work of artist and autism advocate Larry Bissonnette. A high fever at the age of two damaged his nervous system and he was institutionalized as a child, but now lives with his sister. Bissonnette has been drawing prolifically since the age of five. His work is exhibited nationally and internationally and is in the permanent collection of the Musée de l’Art Brut, Lausanne, Switzerland and in many private collections. He has been a featured presenter at many educational conferences and has written and spoken on the topics of autism, communication, and art. Three disability related films on the work of Larry Bissonnette, Mark Utter, and Gayleen Aiken will also be screened.

Universal Design for Learning
This season, the Flynn continues its work with VSA Vermont and Burlington City Arts providing professional development for teachers and teaching artists’ residencies at the Integrated Arts Academy in Burlington. A component of this training focuses on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles in relation to arts-integrated curriculum. UDL is a set of curriculum development principles that considers multiple learning styles in order to give all individuals equal opportunity to access learning in intentional and meaningful ways. These are particularly relevant for students with physical and cognitive disabilities.

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Dance at Bennington College: 80 Years of Moving Through

by John Killacky, Executive Director

Dance at Bennington College: 80 Years of Moving Through
An exhibition drawn from Bennington College’s archives
September 12 through November 29, 2014
Amy E. Tarrant Gallery at the Flynn Center

Martha Graham in lift with Erick Hawkins 8” x 10” Photographer unknown

Martha Graham in lift
with Erick Hawkins
8” x 10”
Photographer unknown

Dance enthusiasts claim that modern dance is America’s indigenous art form; jazz fans may disagree. Nevertheless, modern dance artists from this country continue to exert a profound aesthetic influence worldwide. Most remarkably, this genre found its first American home in Vermont at Bennington College. In 1934, the college created a center for the study of modern dance under the stewardship of Martha Hill. That summer, she invited Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, and Hanya Holm to teach, create, and perform.

This initial summer school, attended by 103 students, validated these choreographers and helped them develop their distinctive teaching technique and vocabulary. The Bennington School of the Dance was formally born. Other icons such as Sybil Shearer, Erick Hawkins, Bessie Schönberg, Merce Cunningham, José Limón, Ana Sokolow, Anna Halprin, and Alwin Nikolais soon visited Bennington. Louie Horst, Martha Graham’s music director, taught dance composition and New York Times critic John Martin helped students and faculty learn how to talk and write about this nascent art form. Without hyperbole, the case can be made that modern dance would not be where it is today without Bennington College.

In subsequent decades Sophie Maslow, Jack Moore, Steve Paxton, Remy Charlip, Harry Shephard, Min Tanaka, Eiko and Koma, Ulysses Dove, and many others visited, giving students access to the most creative dancemakers alive. Currently, the faculty includes Terry Creach, Dana Reitz, Susan Sgorbati, and Elena Demyanenko.

For the Flynn’s exhibition, historic photographs are drawn from Bennington’s archives that feature many of these figures in the development of American modern and post modern dance. Related to the exhibition are the following Talking Dance lectures in the Amy E. Tarrant Gallery:

Friday, September 12, 5:30 to 8 pm
Opening reception and discussion about the history of dance at Bennington with dance professors Dana Reitz and Terry Creach and Flynn Executive Director John Killacky.

Thursday, November 6 at 6 pm
Pre-performance discussion with Stowe-based choreographer Polly Motley and dancer Steve Paxton, whose solo piece Bound is performed by Jurij Konjar in FlynnSpace at 7:30 pm.

Friday, November 21 at 6:30 pm
Pre-performance conversation with Martha Graham Dance Company Artistic Director Janet Elber and Flynn Artistic Director Steve MacQueen.

For more information, visit the Amy E. Tarrant Gallery page.

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Flynn Center for the Performing Arts

Flynn Center for the Performing Arts
153 Main Street, Burlington, Vermont 05401
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