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Flynn Center Blog

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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Summer FlynnArts Buzz

by Christina Weakland, Director of Education

FlynnArts summer class and camp registration is now open and are filling fast. Register at www.flynnarts.org.

History Comes Alive! campers.

Summer is just around the corner, and the Flynn will be buzzing with young people learning about the arts, and more importantly, themselves.

We love their energy and thirst for learning, not to mention their fantastically creative souls! That’s why we make it our mission to provide all kinds of programs in which our community’s youth can discover their unique capabilities, nurture talents, make new friends, and celebrate their shared love of making something from nothing.

Most of our 30+ camps encourage youth to release their own voices, styles, and genius. Some programs, particularly Summertime Jazz and the Summer Youth Theater productions, give young artists the opportunity to develop their skills in a supportive, inspiring environment. This summer’s teen musicals include the hilarious satire Bat Boy and the heartfelt Once on This Island, and we’re thrilled to announce a Junior show for ages 10-14, Disney’s The Little Mermaid Junior.

Also this summer, we continue our camp partnerships with Vermont Public Radio, Burlington City Arts, the Shelburne Museum, the Fletcher Free Library, Shelburne Farms, and the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Burlington’s Off Center and Champlain College are gracious hosts for other Flynn camps.

We’re thrilled to launch some new partnerships, notably with Burlington’s King Street Youth Center, Vermont Shakespeare Company, and a terrific camp program run by Peter Gould called Get Thee to the Funnery! In this collaborative venture, students from the community and from King Street’s programs join together in playing with Shakespeare, ultimately working toward the presentation of scenes from Romeo and Juliet. It just so happens that Vermont Shakespeare Company is producing the same piece by the Bard this summer, and they invite campers to work with them on scenes, and to visit their professional set and perform on it themselves.

All camps held in Burlington have access to optional after-camp care from 3-5 pm, and this year we’re starting camps at 8:30 am to make life easier on working parents. If you’re a parent, a grandparent, an aunt, or an uncle, please share the news of these wonderful opportunities with the youngsters in your life, and get ready to watch them come alive!

Camp enrollment began in early February, and many fill fast, so visit us at www.flynnarts.org.

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Spring Came Early

by Michael Freed-Thall, Burlington Writers Workshop

Review of Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy at the Flynn on February 18, 2015.

Winter-hardened Vermonters had the when will it be over look as they trudged silently into the Flynn on Wednesday, February 18. Heads down and shoulders hunched, people were enduring another cold day in Burlington. They were coming for an infusion of Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy’s creation, Visions from Cape Breton and Beyond: A Celtic Family Celebration.

My own anticipation was high after seeing a YouTube video and talking to several Vermont fiddlers. Mark Sustic, the founder of Young Tradition Vermont told me, “Natalie performed at our annual Champlain Valley Festival when she was about fifteen, in the mid-1980s. I invited her (by calling her mother) without the benefit of knowing a thing about her. Others I respected told me, ‘You really need to hear this great young fiddler from Cape Breton.’” Now it’s two master fiddlers, their talented children, and a very accomplished band.

“Holy smokes Burlington, How are we doing tonight?” Natalie yelled as the concert got underway. This was the third night of a sixty-show tour, and I wondered how they could possibly sustain this intensity.

But as the evening evolved, their enthusiasm grew, like revelers approaching midnight on New Year’s Eve. It felt like we had been invited to join their family party. “That’s the most awesome fiddling I’ve ever heard,” a friend in the audience told me at intermission.

Awesome indeed. Beginning with the children—ages nine, seven, six, four, and two—who shared the stage with their parents briefly, step-dancing and fiddling with verve. “Where did all these kids come from? This is our retirement plan,” Natalie quipped.

Natalie and Donnell’s repertoire included traditional tunes and songs they wrote, virtuosic solos and beautiful harmonies. I heard strands of jazz, Irish, and Quebecois, along with the strong Scottish foundation in their music, and underneath it all was pure magic. How is it possible to move a bow so quickly while step-dancing and darting enthusiastically across the stage? At one point Donnell bent over and pulled a note out of his shoe.

One piece they played, It’s Getting Dark Again, was inspired by an epic Cape Breton house party, which began in the afternoon, went into the evening, through the next day, and for the second time into the dark again. This piece was full of mood changes and joyful rifts. Donnell’s fingers were flying all around the neck while his bow arm transitioned from short, rapid staccato strokes, to long sweeps across the strings.

But it was the emotions behind their performance, even more than the masterful technique, that will transport me through the rest of winter. Donnell and Natalie’s music is rooted in tradition—the source of the passion beneath their virtuosity. As they played, scenes of the forests, mountains, coastline, and dance halls of Cape Breton, as well as Donnell’s Ontario family farm, played on a screen behind them.

When the audience filled the lobby after the concert, there were animated conversations, flushed cheeks, and smiles. We had just spent two hours in Natalie and Donnell’s living room. Spring had arrived early.

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Inside The Wong Street Journal

by Kristina Wong

The Wong Street Journal is a new solo theater work written and performed by acerbic humorist Kristina Wong. Part psychedelic TED lecture, part amateur hip-hop extravaganza, and part nonsense, The Wong Street Journal breaks down the complexities of global poverty and economic theory using uneasy-to-read charts, never-before-proven economic survival strategies, and riveting slideshows of how Wong, a not-so-white savior, became a hip-hop star in Northern Uganda. Wong combines self-skewering personal narrative with heady economics in a “nearly-finished work-in-progress” developed during an artist’s residency at the Flynn. See it in FlynnSpace on Wednesday & Thursday, February 25 & 26 at 7:30 pm.

When I proposed the making of The Wong Street Journal several years ago, I had no idea specifically what I was going to find. I just knew I was tired of talking about myself and my own mania in my work. My identity, Asian American women’s mental health, cats, living without a car in LA, and the topics of my past shows had been toured so much they had long since felt myopic.

I’m a third generation Chinese American, and it might seem that the next logical exploration in my work would be to go to the “motherland” of China where I’d churn out a solo show about stepping foot onto China—an outsider with the same skin, looking for the villages that my grandparents fled, and peppered with enough orientalist detail to keep an audience baited. But frankly, other artists and memoirists have done it. I always feel like I find out what I really am in any setting that isn’t quite home. I decided to bypass the China trip altogether and instead, do research in the Mother of Motherlands—Africa.

I often work with communities of color in the US, and yet if you asked me in 2011 what I knew about Africa, I’d parrot back the media images of African people that have painted that continent with one brush—a monolith of disease, chaos, and war. What kind of artist am I if I buy into the cultural stereotypes that my work supposedly confronts?

I decided to go to Africa specifically because I knew so little about it. I’ve learned quite a lot since, but in no way am I any sort of expert. I looked at the opportunity as a chance to learn about global economics and delve into the ever-expansive politics of global poverty; subjects I never got the chance to study in school, but was curious about. The biggest challenge would be how to talk about poverty and traveling in Africa in a way that was sensitive, humanizing, but also fun to watch.

As part of my research, I worked with Women’s Global  Empowerment Fund and Volunteer Action Network (VAC-NET) in Gulu, Uganda. These organizations provide microloan and education programs for women in Northern Uganda. In my work with WGEF, I assisted in producing their annual theater festival where WGEF microloan clients perform original works.

Before I left for Uganda I had many questions, among them:

My past work has always illuminated my own identity as a marginalized person in America.

What would happen if I went someplace where I was suddenly in a place of privilege?

Do microloans work?

How do they work if everyone in the area
is poor?

Do people who receive microloans do better at the expense of people who have not received loans?

How do we end global poverty?

How do I take the issue of global poverty and filter through my trademark humor without diminishing the depth of the issue?

How do I find humor in this show that doesn’t come at the expense of mocking African people or poor people?

Instead of clear-cut answers to any of these questions, I returned from Uganda with many realizations. First, America has a f*cked up way of looking at Africa. Period. For starters, we keep referring to any of the 54 countries as “Africa” as if it’s a monolithic whole of orphans, chaos, starving children, warlords, and HIV. Like any place on earth, there’s a lot more going on than what we see on TV.

America has a f*cked up idea of charity. We associate alleviating poverty with giving food and clothes to “needy” people, rather than investing in education, small business, and the power of poor people to self-direct their own lives. I believe that America sustains the same poverty it attempts to alleviate because so much of the money going to “aid” is only towards short-term solutions. There are many Ugandan people who are working hard to improve their lives. There are organizations founded by Ugandan people to improve the lives of their communities. We never get to see Uganda being their own saviors; instead, we only see their suffering and see ourselves as the saviors who can help them. The reality was that when I got there, I wasn’t of much use to the office. I couldn’t speak the dialect of their clients. And there wasn’t much I’d change in a few weeks or even a few months while there. It was so uncomfortable to have to confront my own privilege there.

Unexpectedly, while in Gulu, I met some local rappers and collaborated on a five-song rap album called Mzungu Price. This album is a living diary of my encounters with local grassroots feminism, my personal negotiations with privilege, and the surprising discovery that I, a performer and writer, was considered a ‘rich white woman’ in Uganda. These songs still play on local radio and in nightclubs in Gulu. This music and the story of becoming “Uganda’s Vanilla Ice” are incorporated into The Wong Street Journal.

I was fortunate to have the summer to workshop the play at the Montalvo Arts Center. This is where I decided that what this show needed was a set sewn out of felt. I think that having everything from charts, to hashtags, to televisions sewn out of felt has made the themes of the work that much more playful. When I think of intimidating images of economics and stockbrokers, I imagine fast ticker tapes, male stockbrokers screaming, and men making millions off of things that exist in theory.

In my research I went to Toronto for a residency at York University and interviewed a former trader. He explained all the wild hand signals, what exactly they were buying and selling so frantically, and the theatrics of the stock floor were fascinating. Despite having had the stock market explained to me multiple times, I still don’t quite get what those stock traders are buying and trading. Perhaps because it is so difficult for me to grasp, that the stock market and people bidding on “futures” really does confirm my worst fears . . . that speculation and the “imaginary” is a lot of what drives this strange machine that is our economy. This made the artistic choice of sewing a “play set” feel so appropriate.

If this concept sounds like an unnecessarily gaudy and inappropriate oversimplification of an unsolvable and difficult topic—trust me, it is! The Wong Street Journal continues in the tradition of my work—taking an offbeat approach to exploring intense social issues to illuminate the strangeness of our times. And always, reporting from my life as the starting point of experimentation. The Wong Street Journal is the first time I step out from my mental interior and fly face-first into the most complex of global issues.

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Moving Right Along

by Marly Schneider, Vermont Artists’ Space Grant

Marly Spieser-Schneider of South Burlington is the newest recipient of the Vermont Artists’ Space Grant. During the 10-week creation process, Spieser-Schneider works to develop a work-in-progress dance piece that premieres on Wednesday, April 1 in FlynnSpace. Apply now to be considered for the next Vermont Artists’ Space Grant.

The project is moving right along. All of the dancers are familiar with all of the material that will be incorporated in the piece and now we are at the hard part. The last few rehearsals have been all about the dancers constructing their own “solos.” These solos will not be presented as such since they will be on stage in groups most of the time. However, I have given them each a personal order of the phrase work as well as general spacial instructions. The last few rehearsals have been spent largely on them practicing and integrating their own movement order and floor pattern. It is a brainy process and I am very grateful that they are all sticking with me on this as I know it is exhausting! We will dedicate another rehearsal or two to really cementing this work so that each dancer is firm in their understanding of their own “solo.” From there, the rest of the time will be dedicated to placing these solos within structures. Below is an example of a set of directions I may give a group. Keep in mind, they are all working with their own material and spacial pattern within these parameters.

Sample Structure: Stuck 

- All dancers begin with own phrase work and pathways

– One dancer becomes “stuck” in a moment (not still but repeating 1 or 2 movements like a broken record)

– Other dancers follow on own time

– Once you become stuck you must remain that way until all dancers are stuck, only then can you choose to continue with your phrase

– Eventually, all dancers are back on their own trajectory

– Once everyone is moving again, the dancers are to observe someone else as they dance (I am not sure yet whether partners will be assigned or not)

– The next stuck point you try to “become stuck” at the same time as the person you are observing

– Again, everyone waits until all dancers are stuck

– This time, everyone tries to get “unstuck” in unison

– The last stage of this exercise is that all dancers on stage try to get stuck and unstuck together – if this does not happen on the first attempt, then they try again. Once it does happen, the piece is over

This structure is really all about being able to both fully inhabit your own material and to be incredibly aware and observant of your surroundings and of the other dancers. Much easier said than done but it should be an interesting process nonetheless!

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The Infinite, Undefinable, Space of Being

by Cynthia Close, Burlington Writers Workshop

Preview of Indian dancer Shantala Shivalingappa at the Flynn on Saturday, February 21 at 8 pm. Get tickets at www.flynntix.org.

The Flynn has presented some amazing and diverse dance programming during the 2014-15 season, so I was pleased to see an opportunity to experience yet another creative, original approach to this art form in the work of dancer, actor, singer, choreographer Shantala Shivalingappa.

“Fusion” is a word that aptly describes Shantala the person, as well as her approach to performance. Born in Madras, India; raised in Paris and introduced to dance by her mother, dancer Savitry Nair, Shantala was trained in the classical dance form of Kuchipudi at a very young age. Her desire to share Kuchipudi with western audiences has taken her around the world, ultimately landing her here at the Flynn on February 21.

On her richly informative website, you can see exactly how Shantala’s form of cultural fusion takes place exemplified in a video clip of a duet between herself and “Lil Buck”  Riley. He’s a practitioner of “Jookin’”, a street-dance style from Memphis, Tennessee and she with her movements rooted in Kuchipudi. They seem to have absorbed each other’s histories to form a new unit of measure where you can clearly see the remnants of the DNA of each, but the results are a new, unique whole.

Shantala struck me as being simultaneously young and ancient. Youthful exuberance shines from her smiling face but her fingertips and toes are tinged with the red dye of India from centuries past.

Images of an elaborately dressed solo female performer, usually involving plenty of glittery gold and red colored fabrics, with the inevitable, decorative “red dot” on her forehead right above the root of her nose, comes immediately to mind at the mention of classical Indian dance. Although Shantala does on occasion dance solo, she is at heart a collaborator. She is the artistic director of a six-member team involving her mom; artistic advisor Savitry Nair, singer composer Ramesh Jetty, and musicians Ramakrishnan Neelamani, Haribabu Balan Puttamma and flutist Kikkeri Suryanarayana Jayaram. She also uses a three-person lighting design and technical support team.

Akasha, the 90-minute piece Shantala will be performing at the Flynn was first performed in 2013. Vempati Ravi Shankar contributed as choreographer. It has been performed at a number of venues including Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.  This piece appears to be more centrally placed in the classical vein, as we are told on her website that “in Sanskrit, Akasha means Sky or Space.” It is perceived by a vibration, originating in sound, manifesting a form of energy and movement. The space created in the piece is simultaneously internal, as well as extending beyond space-time. This experience of infinite space-time seems very Zen to me, perhaps creating a welcome respite in the middle of a Vermont winter that already seems way too long.

I look forward to being transported into “the Infinite, Undefinable, Space of Being” by Shantala at the Flynn on February 21.

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Gregory Porter Work Song

by Stu Lindsay, Burlington Writers Workshop

Preview of 2014 Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Gregory Porter on the MainStage on Thursday, February 19 at 7:30 pm. Get tickets at www.flynntix.org.

I’m out working in my little shop and as usual, I have the music on. Nothing special—I’m mindlessly listening to the Jazz Channel to keep me company. The anonymous DJ’s tend to recycle the same songs over and over, occasionally sprinkling in a new tune every now and then to freshen the rotation. I’ve gotten used to their format and after the first note or two I know what’s coming up next.

Almost always.

A cascade of piano notes trickle out. Cannonball? Nat?  Another copy of a familiar old chestnut?

And then, slowly, a sonorous voice

Breaking up big rocks on the chain gang

I stop what I’m doing

 Breaking rocks and serving my time

 I turn the volume up

Breaking rocks out here on the chain gang
Who is that?
Cause I’ve been convicted of crime

I turn the volume up louder

Hold it steady right there and let me hit it well
Well I reckon that ought to get it, yeah yeah
I’ve been working
I’ve been working
Oh well and I still
Got so terribly long to go

Now I stop working completely, totally absorbed by the driving sounds of this interpretation of one of the classic jazz compositions: Work Song.

That was my introduction to Gregory Porter.

I don’t pretend to know a whole lot about jazz. I can’t carry on a conversation dealing with the attributes of this horn or that reed or the power of a diminished fifth. But I know what I like when I hear it. And I like the sound of Gregory Porter.

But don’t just take my word for it. Listen to some of his pieces on YouTube or Spotify. Make up your own mind. And then come to the Flynn and take in one of the best concerts of this season, sure to be remembered for years to come.

See you there!

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Flynn Center for the Performing Arts

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