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February 2012 Archives

February 14, 2012

Orphée--A Love Story to Dismember Forever

On Valentine's Day when sappy love stories abound, the Dresser is processing the odd love story presented in Philip Glass' opera Orphée. On February 12, 2012, she saw Virginia Opera's impressive production of Orphée, the first of three operas in Glass' Cocteau trilogy. Costumes, sets, sound design, and projected titles for the Virginia Opera presentation came from the 2007 production by Glimmerglass Opera. Orphée was commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the American Repertory Theater. It received its premiere in 1993.

The opera credits read "An opera in two acts by Philip Glass with a libretto by Jean Cocteau, adapted by Philip Glass and edited by Robert Brustein based on the film by Jean Cocteau. The libretto is in French. The libretto with two mentions of Glass and Cocteau doubles what goes on in the opera. Every main character has a non-singing twin. When all the silent doubles are on stage, the visual effect is like an Escher painting with robotic people defying the gravity of the situation.


The root story from Greek mythology is of course the poet-musician prophet Orpheus trying to bring back his beloved wife Eurydice from the Underworld. Cocteau's story puts the despised-by-the-avant-garde but popular poet Orphée (Matthew Worth) in the Paris salon of a wealthy woman known as La Princesse (Heather Buck). Orphée falls in love with this power broker of the arts while meanwhile Eurydice (Sara Jakubiak) announces she is pregnant. As the opera opens, the princess is hosting a party for Cégeste (Jonathan Blalock), a young upstart poet idolized by the intelligentsia. Drunk, Cégeste leaves the salon and is immediately hit and killed by passing motorcyclists. The audience sees the twin motorcyclists carry in Cégeste's body. Here the story turns and the doubling begins.

orphee_p13Princess.jpgIt seems that La Princesse is a grim reaper who conveys her targets through life's mirror to the other side. In death, there are two figures: the one looking into the mirror and the one looking back from the mirror. The Dresser likes how this surreal treatment by Cocteau echoes the structure of Glass' repetitive music. However, repetition is only in the orchestral line that serves as a foundation for the lyrical vocal score. What makes this opera, and other Glass operas such as Satyagraha, so moving is how Glass floats the vocal line above the insistent orchestral base. While the overall singing was richly satisfying, Heather Buck as the sexy but sophisticated La Princesse stood out for her ability to voice emotional depth and for her acting.

orphee_p16P-E.jpgParticularly strange is that La Princesse is put on trial in the Underworld for overstepping her bounds and taking Eurydice to the Underworld. Not only does Orphée love this Angel of Death more than his wife, but also La Princesse loves Orphée despite telling him that no one loves in the Underworld. So the judges condemn Orphée to return to his former life but he must not ever look at Eurydice though they will live together. One other complication of this story is that La Princesse has a chauffeur named Heurtebise (Jeffrey Lentz) who has fallen in love with Eurydice. He asks the court to lead the couple back to their lives to help with the transition. Sara Jakubiak makes for a most comic Eurydice as she drops to the floor and hides behind the household furniture to avoid Orphée's gaze. It doesn't work of course and in come the motorcyclists, who are La Princesse's henchmen, to take away Eurydice. However, Cocteau throws in one last reversal--La Princesse sacrifices her love for Orphée and so Orphée and Eurydice are given another chance with no memory of what has happened to them. They end as just a happy couple waiting for their first child.orphee_p19O-E.jpg

The Dresser thinks it would be worth spending some time savoring this libretto and seeing the Cocteau film by the same name. For example in La Princesse's salon, there is talk of her literary journal that has blank pages and that is labeled literary "nudism," something along the lines of the emperor having no clothes? In the Underworld courtroom, the judges while drinking coffee in unison ask Orphée what he does for a living. He says he is a poet and they say they don't know what a poet is. The explanation is that a poet is someone who writes without being a writer. To prove this, La Princesse later asks for a pen from him to sign court documents but Orphée doesn't have anything to write with.

To understand the emotional energy of this work, one should know that Glass wrote this intimate chamber opera after the sudden death of his wife, the artist Candy Jennings. It's also important to know that Glass studied composition with the famous Parisian grande dame of the 20th century music world Nadia Boulanger but struck out in his own direction. Glass' Orphée says a lot about sacrifices made for art, the immortality of art, and how love transcends death.

When Dora Malech writes in her "Love Poem" "you'll dismember this night forever," the Dresser knows exactly why this hip love poem speaks so loudly to the crazy surreal love in the Orpheus story that is Jean Cocteau ratcheted up by Philip Glass' emotionally spiraling repetitious music that allows for gorgeous vocal lyricism. So, Dear Reader, the idea is to get over the lunacy and enjoy the pop-goes-the-weasel surprises, including the cream filling. If Glass has a bright equation for Orphée and the other two operas in his Cocteau trilogy--and could some opera company as good as the Virginia Opera do them soon, the Dresser thinks his compositional strategy was all about the love he had for Candy. Now, that's some Valentine!


If by truth you mean hand then yes
I hold to be self-evident and hold you in the highest--
K.O. to my O.T. and bait to my switch, I crown
you one-trick pony to my one-horse town,
dub you my one-stop shopping, my space heater,
juke joint, tourist trap, my peep show, my meter reader,
you best batteries-not-included baring all or
nothing. Let me begin by saying if he hollers,
end with goes the weasel. In between,
cream filling. Get over it, meaning, the moon.
Tell me you'll dismember this night forever,
you my punch-drunking- bag, tar to my feather.
More than the sum of our private parts, we are some
peekaboo, some peak and valley, some
bright equation (if and then but, if er then uh).
My fruit bat, my gewgaw. You had me at no duh.

Dora Malech
from Say So

Copyright © 2011 Dora Malech

Photo Credit: David A. Beloff

February 17, 2012

e-Geaux [beta] & TWT Slam--Where Advertising Meets Poetry

The world of entertainment is changing. On February 17, 2012, at the Artisphere in Rosslyn, Virginia, the Dresser attended two events where everyone was encouraged to use smartphones during the performance. In fact, prizes were awarded for such behavior.

The two events headlined as "Art Gets Social: Social Media Meets Performance Art" were part of "Global Social Media Week." If you are suspicious that this is connected to advertising, be assured you are correct, but also be aware that the line between advertising and entertainment is so fuzzy now that even Andy Warhol's artistic vision seems too understandably clear. Come on now, Dear Reader, you can tell the difference between soup and art!

Event #1 (oops, the Dresser should not confuse the Twitter world by using the number sign # because in today's world that is a hashtag connecting tweets to topics that matter)--the Dresser will start again. egeauxTeam.jpgThe first event called "e-Geaux [beta]" was an improv performance piece cum tech demo to sell a software application by the out-there tech company Pepys Inc. e-Geaux would help Facebook users avoid friending uncool individuals. Part of the allure of this performance was that the performers asked audience to allow the e-Geaux team to access audience Facebook pages. So photos were pulled from audience Facebook pages and projected on a huge screen. Yes, even the Dresser's current Facebook profile photo appeared on screen.

egeauxManiacs.jpgMeanwhile folks were encouraged to tweet using #egeaux while the performers ran through options in their software with labels like e-Geaux Amigo, e-Geaux Trip, e-Geaux Stoke, Alter e-Geaux and even e-Breaux. As it evolved, a super tweeter in the audience (55 tweets in one hour!) was recognized as an e-Geaux Maniac and given a paper crown. The Dresser thought the conceit of the show, which had about 100 people in the audience with the average age of 32, was clever but could probably use another couple of performances to get the improv aspects working more fluidly. This was definitely a show that was all about me and the luck of the draw.

Event number two was a TWT Slam hosted by poet Holly Bass. What's a TWT Slam? It's like a poetry slam only the writer has a maximum of 140 characters to "impart poetic wisdom." As is Holly's hosting tradition, she began with an OPP (other poet's poem) by Gowri Koneswaran. Gowri K's poem "Techno Friends" dealt with the issue of "friends" on Facebook. Here, Dear Reader, applaud loudly for Holly Bass and her social consciousness. She does not make her poetry programs all about her, though she could because she is an outstanding and prolific performer.

About eight tweeters signed up to face and recite to an audience of about 75 people. Three judges--Angie Goff of NBC4, Glory Edim of Scoutmob, and Amy Saidman of Speakeasy DC--gave a one to ten rating for each performance (content and delivery) with 10 being the best rating. At Holly's urging, and who could resist her charm?, the Dresser stepped up to be the sacrificial goat--the writer who offers up a poetic tweet so the judges can set the rating bar.

Here's how the Nuyorican Poets talk about the goat poet:
"At the National Poetry Slam event, this is called the "Calibration Poet", but at the Nuyorican, we call these poets "Sacrifical Goats" and it means the same thing. This is a poet who is not participating in the Poetry Slam that night, but comes up at the start of the show as a way to give inexperienced judges a chance to practice their scoring skills before the "real" Slammers for that evening perform."

Using phrases from her poem "Diana au Courant," the Dresser offered:

She was a flippy lady

A real sixer in a deck

Of nines. Knew

Handle from

Muzzle, click

Of the cock

From squeeze 

Of trigger. Oh

She listened.

The judges ranked the sacrificial goat poem as 8, 8, 7. Seconds later the Dresser's tweet of this poetic fragment reaped an RT (another poet re-tweeted the Dresser's tweet poem to his followers) and then another tweet from some unknown tweeter offering free mobile porn. The Dresser was left to ponder soup or art?

Among the competing tweets were political (how Rick Santorum treats women versus gays), social media (is a girl still a virgin if she shows her boyfriend her tweets?), and personal topics (advice to oneself--give up the graviton to play spin-the-bottle). Among the competitors making the scene was publisher of The Folly print magazine Andrew Bucket. The winner of the TWT Slam won $140. Here is performance poet DJ Tao:

Although the Dresser didn't stick around until the end, she was glad she had attended both events in the "Art Gets Social" lineup. There is much to learn about social media etiquette and the boundaries of self-promotion.

February 21, 2012

Opening the Wells of Mugham & Turkish Music

If you aren't thirsty, even an oasis in the desert may not garner your appreciation. The Dresser says this by way of having wandered in the recent past into the world of Turkish, Azerbaijanis, and Mugham music. In our fast Western world of rapid communication and transportation, the Dresser thinks the average Western music lover may need not only to adjust his/her ear but also breathe deeply to slow down and sharpen up the senses.


Jeffrey Werbock, an American who passionately promotes Mugham music, says that at the time this music started, the world was a dangerous place and people craved a transcendental experience to escape the body and the assaults from a hostile world. Mugham, a folk music coming from Azerbaijanis, Iranian, Arabic, and Turkish sources, marries classical poetry and musical improvisation.

Mugham music may be characterized as monophonic, modal, microtonal, meter free, and highly ornamented. However, if monophonic means one melody line, ornamentation can change the musical texture to heterophony, a variation working against the melody and not so familiar in Western music. Likewise modal is associated in Western music with measurable tones in a scale but the Mugham performance builds in intensity and rising pitches, particularly in the singer's voice, that are not well measured by modern scales. Microtonal particularly plays against the Western expectation that music is made from a system of twelve equal intervals to the octave. The microtone falls somewhere in between.

In a program sponsored by Karabakh Foundation on December 22, 2011, the Dresser heard Jeffrey Werbock speak and perform at a senior citizens community in Silver Spring, Maryland. He performed with Vladimir Gamarnik. The acoustics were bad and visibility was worse since it was a huge ballroom with chairs flat on the floor with no risers. The Dresser went right up to the front of the room to take some videos and could feel the excitement coming from these musicians who are modern day troubadours sharing their love for this music to people who probably have never been exposed to such sound.


Kronos-Qasimov.pngOn February 18, 2012 at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park, Maryland, the Dresser heard the Kronos Quartet in performance with the Alim Qasimov Ensemble. A winner of the prestigious IMC/UNESCO Music Prize for performers (others who have won this award include Ravi Shankar, Yehudi Menuhin, and Benny Goodman), Alim Qasimov performs regularly in important concert venues with a variety of musical forms from pop to classical, including with Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble.

Qasimov's music is Azerbaijani classical music in the mugham tradition. For this performance, his ensemble included singer Fargana Qasimov (his daughter), Rauf Islamov on kamancha, Zaki Valiyev on tar, Rafael Asgarov on clarinet and balaban, and Javidan Nabiyev on naghara. Both singers played the daf, a wafer-like frame drum. The kamancha is a bowed string instrument with a long neck and a lower bowl-shaped resonating chamber made from a gourd or wood. Often the bowl-shaped bottom has a foot, which accounts for its English name--a spiked fiddle. Precursor to the guitar, the tar is a complicated stringed instrument with a double bowl shape and three double courses of strings. It is played with a small brass plectrum. The balaban as it is called in Turkey and among the Azerbaijanis is a double-reed woodwind with a cylindrical shape that makes it sound somewhat like a clarinet or saxophone. The naghara is a long folk drum held under the arm and hit with the bare hand. The naghara is described in the Azerbaijani literary epic, "Kitabi Dada Gorgud" (Book of Dede Korkut--The Book of my Grandfather).

The Kronos players--David Harrington, violin; John Sherba, violin; Hank Dutt, viola and Jeffrey Zeigler, cello--opened the concert playing a dreamy composition by Michael Gordon that made the Dresser feel she was on a dock watching sea birds circle lazily while calling to each other in what might have been microtonal yelps. "La Didounak Sayyada" ("I'll Prevent the Hunters from Hunting you"), a love song by Omar Souleyman picked up the tempo and urgency with plucked cello and driving beat. It was decidedly Middle Eastern in its texture and color. "Tenebre," an east coast premiere by Bryce Dessner created a hypnotic effect that made the Dresser think, this is a lullaby for the 21st century.

Next the Qasimov Ensemble without benefit of the Kronos Quartet--Kronos left the stage as the Ensemble entered and climbed onto a raised platform outfitted with an array of pillows--played Shur Destgahi, a traditional spiritual piece that has a Muslim talking to the Almighty.

In the second half of the program, Kronos joined the Ensemble for a set of secular music that included love songs of various kinds including one that translates as "My Spirited Horse," which is about an offspring trying to make it home to his or her mother through mountain fog in snowy mountains.

While she loved how Kronos introduced the Qasimov Ensemble, what the Dresser wonders after this experience of the highest order with mugham is why she thought she needed to be on chaise longue by the sea with a bowl of grapes at hand.


On February 17, 2012 at the Takoma Park Community Center Auditorium in Takoma turkish_jewish_0118Sm.jpgPark, Maryland, Washington Musica Viva presented a program of Turkish Jewish music. This included Adnan Saygun's Suite for violin and piano, Op,33; Darius Milhaud's Poèmes Juifs and Mordecai Seter's Partita for violin and piano. What's always a treat from Carl Banner, founder and pianist of WMV, is that he teaches something about each of the pieces he plays. And to this program, he added musicologist Ronit Seter, the daughter-in-law of Mordecai Seter. Not only did Ms. Seter talk about Seter's Partita, but also she put it in perspective with the compositions by Saygun and Milhaud. Saygun began Turkish modern classical music. Milhaud merely alluded to Turkish and Jewish influences and was clearly a French composer. The Dresser stresses now that this program was neither mugham nor improvisational music but it was Western music with accents of Turkey and the Middle East. Darius Milhaud was Jewish but not of Turkish extraction.

Continue reading "Opening the Wells of Mugham & Turkish Music" »

February 27, 2012

Bending the Rules of Dance: Twyla Tharp Vs. Eiko & Koma

Coming out of studies with Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham as well as work with Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp made her reputation in modern classical dance by combining elements of classical ballet with modern dance, off-the-wall experiment with Broadway jazz, and uptown shiny with downtown dirty. Her dance style is known for its quirky and often comic movements: squiggles, shoulder shrugs, and little hops. She was the dance artistic director who put older and younger dancers on stage together as well as dancers of all different heights.

Tamas Krizsa, Nayon Iovino, Corey Landolt- CL and NI Small.jpgOver the years, the Dresser has followed Tharp seeing her choreography done by American and International companies--New York Cit Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, and Hubbard Street Ballet as well as The Royal Ballet and Paris Opera Ballet--and superstar dancers, like Mikhail Baryshnikov. On February 23, 2012, she saw "Twyla Tharp: All American," a retrospective done without sets and presented by the Washington Ballet. This included Tharp's seminal crossover work Push Comes to Shove (world premiere American Ballet Theatre, 1976), Surfer at the River Styx (world premiere, American Dance Festival, North Carolina, 2000), and Nine Sinatra Songs (world premiere Twyla Tharp Dance, 1982). Tharp in her customary workout clothes and high top sneaks was among the well-dressed Washington, DC, Kennedy Center audience and took a bow with the company in apparent appreciation for the good show.

The performances by these young dancers were uplifting and energizing. Jared Nelson in Push Comes to Shove gave a standout performance. He has the strength and grace to make his leaps effortless. Surfer at the River Styx is a barefoot piece that includes moves that look like football tactics and kickboxing, but what made this composition exceptional was the live percussion by provided by Donald Knaak, a. k. a., the Junkman. The Dresser's favorite piece of the Sinatra Songs was "That's Life" with strong performances by Audra Johnson and Jared Nelson.Emily Ellis and Corey Landolt in Sinatra by Brianne Bland_2sm.jpg

The February 22 viewing of the installation piece "Fragile" by Eiko and Koma in concert with the Kronos Quartet at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center etched stark contrast into the Dresser's mind versus the joyful and exuberant "Twyla Tharp: All American" by the Washington Ballet. Eiko and Koma studied with Japanese dance legend Kazuo Ohno, one of the originators of butoh, also known as the dance of darkness. Butoh often involves extreme or absurd environments, dancers in white body makeup who move with hyper-control and at an extremely slow pace. While it can be playful, it is usually grotesque and shocking.

The stage setting for "Fragile" was a plot of fragrant mulch augmented with a shroud-like cloth, black feathers, reeds, and dried leaves. Eiko and Koma in white body makeup but no clothing or shoes lay in the dirt and debris and made minimal movements as the music and text recordings played. The text clued the audience into the meaning of this installation as voices talked about the recent nuclear disaster in Japan at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant but there were also other texts listed in the program that spoke to other assaults on our planet and natural environments such as sounds of Weddlell seals, (the Dresser guesses the sound of these seals speaks to the issues of global warming) 1967 riots by Japanese students at Haneda Airport, reports of the 2011 Tohoku tsunami, a recurring playing of the recording of the Peace Bell from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

The Kronos Quartet sat on chairs on the perimeter facing across this plot of ground toward the audience who were free to find seats on boxes positioned around the black box theater, sit on pillows tossed on the floor near the performers, stand, and to come and go at will. The performance with one twenty-minute break ran from 5 pm to 9 pm.

TeahousePond.jpgAs an installation, the performers also built special rice paper walls with embedded feathers that led into the darkened black box theater. Ghostly images hung on the entry wall of the Kogod Theatre. In the lobby of the Clarice Smith Arts Center, Eiko and Koma built a teahouse with a pond. Then they projected an image of themselves into the water. The Dresser found the pond spooky because the water moved occasionally as if the dancers were actually under the water creating the sudden ripples.Painting2.jpg

The Dresser showed up for this performance around 7:30 pm. While she got a program listing the pieces Kronos would play, she was unsure where they were in the list. Because of the non-restrictive environment, the Dresser was able to peer over the shoulder of the cellist Jeffrey Zeigler and of course what came up next was "Flow," a composition by Laurie Anderson that the Dresser knows for its characteristic and pleasing musical stutter. What was essential and engaging to the Dresser in her experience of "Fragile" was the close up performance of the Kronos Quartet, who have been in residence this semester at the University of Maryland. The Dresser also heard "Takeda Lullaby," a traditional piece arranged by Kronos; some lieder by Gustav Mahler; Wagner's "Siegfried Idyll"; "Boyiwa," a song of mourning over a corpse, songs from Henryk M. Gorecki; Morton Feldman's "Structures"; Osvaldo Golijov & Gustavo Santaolalla's "Darkness 911" and "Quartet No. 5: III" by Philip Glass.

If, Dear Reader, you want to know if the Dresser liked "Fragile," she would have to say it made a lasting impression, much like seeing The Garden of Early Delights by Hieronymus Bosch or the grotesque surreal landscapes of Salvador Dali or René Magritte. In "Considering Magritte," Marilyn McCabe's five-part poem (three sections are shown here), the dual problems of appearance and how things fit with the norm speak to the world of movement crafted by the choreography of Twyla Tharp and the performance art of Eiko and Koma.


3. Le mouvement perpétuel

My head's a ball.
I dress myself in multi-
syllables. High brow? Yes,
all that's left of the old hare-
brained circus act, back and forth
on my trapeze. I repeat myself.
Have I told you this?
Have I told you this before?

4. Problems and Affinities

A door is a hole: leaf
a tree: boulder mountain: man
his own death.
Q. How is the rain
like a cloud? A. Like a puddle's
like a buffalo: roaming, amorphous.
The problem of water
is that we are all water
but look so much like ground.
The problem of sky
is it looks like surface
but things fall off it all the time.

5. Entr'acte

Between acts we dismantle ourselves,
blow the spittle from our tongues,
empty our legs of bone debris
and attempt reduction by means of flame,
half-heartedly. It seems strange
to speak so plainly through grease-
paint, scratch so visibly
under our wigs as if we weren't bald
or balding, to chew Turkish delight
under incandescent light. It's not easy

here. We're ourselves in sheep's
clothing, naked in some veils,
repeating lines we thought we knew, slacklip-
staring at tattered copies of our scripts.
What's my line? What's the time?
We're neither here nor there.

Marilyn McCabe
from Perpetual Motion

Copyright © 2012 Marilyn McCabe

Photo from Nine Sinatra Songs: Brianne Bland

Photo from Surfer at the River Styx: JoAnn LaBrecque

Photos from Eiko and Koma's "Fragile": Karren Alenier

About February 2012

This page contains all entries posted to THE DRESSING in February 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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