Halcyon Fosters a More Creative DC

The suggested attire for a recent event on a loading dock in DC’s Warehouse District was “revolutionary.” The “classical music rave” featured a full orchestra performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, along with world-class ballet dancers spinning beside audience members invited to dance the night away with them.

Granted, we’re talking Union Market’s Dock5, a space known for hosting trendy and experimental gatherings catered to culture-hungry urbanites. But the event’s intention was apropos as cries of resistance grow ever louder across the city.

And what was behind this pagan revelry? Halcyon.

One of the District’s newest and most exciting nonprofits, Halcyon grew out of S&R Foundation’s Halcyon House in Georgetown – a well-supported, in-residence incubator for social entrepreneurs founded in 2014. Halcyon launched this year as a standalone organization with the mission to “catalyze emerging creatives striving for a better world.”

The incubator remains a major part of Halcyon, where the types of projects fellows develop are businesses geared toward greater social good.

“These are not dating apps, as we like to say,” says Kate Goodall, Halycon’s CEO. “They are meaningful companies that are actually going to respond to what we’re seeing as a shift in consumer culture around what they want the products that they’re buying to be doing.”

Along with the incubator, Halcyon introduced its arts lab this spring, a sister program for civic-minded artists. Eight artists selected from DC and around the world will have the opportunity to partake in a nine-month fellowship that grants funding, resources, entrepreneurial support, and creative and intellectual collaboration. Fellows will live in the historic Fillmore School in Georgetown, and will broaden their community impact through a creative mentorship program with local high school students.

“[Halcyon] is about providing haven,” Goodall says. “It’s about creating a safe space and community for creative people to produce…and this idea of supporting and really being devoted to the power of creativity, which we think will be more and more important in the 21st century.”

For Halcyon’s team, that desire for meaningful creation also translates into desire for meaningful shared experience, the impetus behind the Rite of Spring event. So, in addition to the incubator and arts lab, the organization is taking collaboration and creative engagement into the community with several programs, including Halcyon Stage, Halcyon Stage pop-ups and Halcyon Dialogue.

Enter Septime Webre.

The city’s beloved and charismatic choreographer stepped down as artistic director of the Washington Ballet last June, after 17 years.

“I think what we’re seeing in Washington, DC is a kind of breaking of molds in lots of ways,” notes Webre, who says that his new adventure at the helm of Halcyon Stage is “dizzingly exciting.”

“As we started to envision how we might foster a dialogue about the nature of creativity in the 21st century, we knew that we needed to de-silo the conversations,” he says. “Creativity was happening in lots of places, but not in any sort of way that one could experience it the way we experience life, which is all of these exciting things abutting each other. And so that was the premise. We wanted to be as eclectic as our lives are, and be somewhat comprehensive, but also develop programming that was not being developed by other organizations, so that it would be unique.”

The resulting programming is indeed eclectic – from more intimate experiences like an incubator and artist meet-and-greet beer garden, to a one-man show with NPR’s Ari Shapiro, to the explosive DC premiere of BalletX with works from choreographers Trey McIntyre and Matthew Neenan set to the music of Amy Winehouse and the indie rock band Beirut (on May 13).

The stage events like the Rite of Spring rave and BalletX come with a price tag, but Webre and the other organizers seem aware that inclusivity and outreach is crucial. Halcyon Stage pop-ups and experiences “to activate the whole neighborhood” compliment ticketed evening performances. For example, at noon on May 14, there will be a pop-up dance performance to the music of Beirut right at Union Market, with a different three-minute public concert at Dolcezza at 12:15 p.m., another behind Cotton & Reed at 12:30 p.m., etc.

And while the pop-ups are sure to be a draw for the Union Market and Ivy City distillery-going crowds, beyond the urban elite, Webre says a suite of educational engagement programs are critical to help “unleash the creativity inside” everyone.

Halcyon Stage House Party, which culminated last month, for example, was both a public concert and a workshop run in partnership with KIPP Public Charter Schools. Using the theme “visions of the future,” one group of students composed and performed an original hip-hop song, while another group choreographed a dance to it, and still another 20 students painted original works inspired by their peers.

“That was the kind of empowering, educational [and] engaging program that we will replicate over time,” Webre says.

DC is a smart city, and one full of people and organizations pushing boundaries to make change in the world. But there are also changes happening here, now – and with everyone looking for their bite of the capital’s apple, it is critical that we all play an active role in making those changes the right ones. If Webre’s vision is any indication of what that might look like, Halcyon appears to have the promise of DC’s big names doing it right.

“We can find beauty all around our lives,” Webre says. “So it’s not just a moment for the community to come together, it’s also a really important metaphor – instruction, really – for how we should walk through our neighborhoods, the places we live in, the places we call home, and see the beauty all around us.”

Learn more about Halcyon and the organization’s upcoming events at www.halcyonhouse.org.

Stage & Screen Events may 2017

Stage & Screen Events: May 2017

I Ought to Be in Pictures
Screenwriter Herb Tucker is quite surprised when he finds his abandoned daughter of 16 chilling on his front steps demanding a career in the movies for leaving her as a child. A fair trade, I’d say. It’s later revealed that Libby doesn’t long for a life of fame, but instead for a relationship with her estranged dad. Neil Simon lends his knack for warmth and comedy in this father/daughter tale, and translates the message that it’s never too late to start anew with family. Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20-$30. Theatre on the Run: 3700 South Four Mile Run Dr. Arlington, VA; www.petersalley.com 

Laura Bush Killed a Guy
Remember during Trump’s inauguration when we witnessed George W. Bush playing with a poncho, and collectively swooned and wished him and his wife back into the White House? This play might change our minds. Written by Ian Allen, DC theater collective The Klunch’s Laura Bush Killed a Guy shines a light on the first lady’s upbringing in Texas, her marriage to Bush and that one time she ran a stop sign and killed someone. Accident? Murder? Alternative facts? Various dates and showtimes. Tickets are $25. Caos on F: 923 F St. NW, DC; www.theklunch.com

30th Annual Evening of Comedy
If you feel like spending an evening laughing, then the 30th Annual Evening of Comedy is for you! Three performances of back-to-back stand-up entertainment will be placed before your very eyes. Who will it be? We don’t know until we get there. Isn’t that the best part? Not knowing? Reminds me of all those times I never told a guy when I had a crush on them, and now they’ll never know. But you’ll know who is performing when you get to Wolf Trap, for sure. Friday at 8 p.m., and Saturday at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $25-$28. The Barns at Wolf Trap: 1635 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org

5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche
It’s the annual quiche brunch meeting in a small, quiet town in 1956. The women of the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein are meeting to discuss business. When the conversation turns to the possibility of an atomic bomb being dropped on their homes, tensions rise (and so do skirts). Trapped in a small space with what could be the very last quiche on Earth (a true tragedy), what happens next just might surprise you. Monday, and Thursday through Saturday, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $30. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.monumentaltheatre.org

Timon of Athens
Timon is a popular and rich nobleman with one major flaw: his generosity. Surrounded by friends, fame and fortune, what could possible go wrong? It isn’t until one major happenstance halts Timon’s life forever that his money and friendships begin to fade away. Helen Hayes Award winner Ian Merrell Peakes, who has also portrayed title characters Othello and Macbeth, tackles the role of Timon in this gripping Shakespearean tragedy of a man undone by his goodness. Various dates and showtimes. Tickets are $35-$75. Folger Shakespeare Library: 201 E. Capitol St. SE, DC; www.folger.edu

If you’re afraid of clowns, you might want to sit this one out. If not, it’s all you! BrouHaHa, described as a state of social agitation when a minor incident goes out of control, is a devised work comprised entirely of clowns. The existential escapade is inspired by Samuel Beckett, and for those familiar with the playwright, I’m sure you know what you’re in for. I hear there’s quite the ensemble to been seen here, as well as lots of comedy and even music! Wednesday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15. Reston Community Center Stage: 2310 Colts Neck Rd. Reston, VA; www.happenstancetheater.com 

When children inherit their parents’ intelligence, we talk about it. We praise them and claim that our genes provided them with their smarts. But what happens when a child inherits their parents’ mental illness? Do we boast about it? Talk about it? Or push it under the rug? Join the players as they tackle the familial movements between sanity and brilliance in this spellbinding show. Wednesday through Saturday at 7:45 p.m., Sunday at 1:45 p.m. Tickets are $45-$50. Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab: 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd. Olney, MD; www.olneytheatre.org

Whoopi Goldberg
Do I really even need to elaborate on this or try to convince you to go? This is Whoopi freakin’ Goldberg. Ghost! Sister Act! Winner of a Grammy, Emmy, Golden Globe and Tony Award! Want to get up close and personal with this hilarious and badass actress? Then you’ll be at this show. Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $65-$130. The Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. Bethesda, MD; www.strathmore.org

Photo: Barbara Salisbury Photography
Photo: Barbara Salisbury Photography

CityDance to Host DREAMscape at Lincoln Theatre

CityDance’s DREAMscape is an ‘un-gala,’ according to Alexe Nowakowski, CityDance President and CEO.

“We wanted to leave the traditional sit-down gala in favor of something that would match our mission – transforming lives and communities through dance,” Nowakowski says.

DREAMscape, held this year on May 6 at DC’s Lincoln Theatre, is an annual event that melds different dance acts together into one larger-than-life performance. The gala engages attendees through – not just for – dance, inviting them to experience its power firsthand.

This year’s lineup features contemporary, classical, tap, ballroom and modern dancers from around the world. Performers include Brooklyn Mack of the Washington Ballet, ballroom stars Denys Drozdyuk and Antonina Skobina, the Bruce Wood Dance Project, Cloud Movement, and guest artists from Complexions Contemporary Ballet. There will also be special appearances by CityDance students. Debbie Allen, nationally-acclaimed dancer and executive directing producer of the TV drama Grey’s Anatomy, will host the event. She describes the program as an “exhilarating downtown experience” for an “enthusiastic audience of dance lovers from the DC community.”

The best part of attending, though? Supporting the organization’s DREAM program, its keynote arts education initiative.

DREAM uses dance as a pathway to success by providing underserved youth with dance classes, performance opportunities and mentoring. The nationally-recognized program aims to help young people discover their potential and pursue their dreams.

“DREAM places dance training and education at its core, integrating academic and family services that address the needs of the whole child,” Allen says. “The DREAM program helps break the cycle of disenfranchisement so many youth experience because of their zip code.”

All gala proceeds benefit the program and help fund the DREAM Center for Dance, the organization’s newest building addition. The DREAM Center will allow CityDance to expand the DREAM program to include a free pre-professional dance training program, a full academic and college preparatory curriculum, and in-house counseling and family services.

DREAMscape promises an evening of passion and inspiration, all in support of a cause with deep roots in DC communities. It’s an artistic experience that no dance aficionado or arts education supporter should miss.

“Our goal is for DREAMscape to be DC’s premier dance spectacular,” Nowakowski says. “Each year, we continue to build our amazing base of supporters who want to celebrate dance, our youth and our vibrant city. We hope you can join us for 2017.”

Tickets can be purchased here. General admission starts at $25. Sponsorships start at $250, and include an exclusive after party with the artists hosted by television personality Paul Wharton.

Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC; 202-888-0050; www.citydance.net

Photo: Judith Stuart Boroson
Photo: Judith Stuart Boroson

Urban Bush Women: Walking with ‘Trane

Cigarette smoke swirls inside the crowded blues club at midnight in the 1950s. John Coltrane puts a saxophone to his lips, transforming music forever and touching the soul of a generation. Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, founder of the New York-based dance troupe Urban Bush Women, first listened to Coltrane’s music in college. Years later, she became spellbound as she stayed up all night with a biography of the artist.

“I was just vibrating as I read it,” she said during a special Q&A session after the Friday night performance.

The two-night performance (April 7 and 8) at the Kennedy Center started off quietly, as one dancer moved through sfumato-like lighting in silence. As the first half of the composition, or “Side A,” continued, six dancers joined her each lost in their own world. Ultimately, they achieved a frenzy of ancient and contemporary movement – a rapture found in the black churches of Coltrane’s childhood.

“Imagine a ping-pong ball hitting the bone, hitting the tendon,” explained company member Amanda Castro.

It took four years to develop the program inspired by ‘Trane, as he was called, a passionate research project for each dancer in the company, who would then channel that knowledge into an unforgettable experience. Each seeks “the emotional state, the physical state, the musical state of being,” said choreographer and dancer Samantha Speis.

“It allows me to go beyond what I think I’m capable of.”

The intensely chaotic scene is pure expressive form. During the research phase of the project, the dancers immersed themselves in words, visual art and of course music of the 1950s – Coltrane’s era. The climax of the first half of the performance is punctuated with sweet and guttural vocals from Courtney Cook, achieving bliss. Like the fiercely energetic brush strokes of Jackson Pollock or Grace Hartigan, their movements are not a series of studied steps, but instead an all-encompassing reaction to their surroundings, welling up from deep within body and soul.

The second half of the program, “Side B” was entirely different. Instead of recorded music, composer George B. Caldwell seated himself at a grand piano and his sounds alone accompanied the dancers for the rest of the performance.  His original composition of riffs and runs, marked with improvisation, conjure Coltrane’s style in response to modern times. The dancers are no longer lost in isolated rapture, but respond to one another in an expression of joy and fun and good times. Stephanie Mas, with her slicked-back hair, recalls the boys from West Side Story – cocky and full of bright, shiny youth. But it is Speis who steals the show. Her vitality and raw power are uncontainable with each twitch of her shoulders and leap across the stage. Watching her, the spirit of the program is clear. She has become the drum, the horn, the very essence of music.

Urban Bush Women’s next event closest to the DC area is April 22 in Norfolk, Va., where they will debut Hair & Other Stories at the Attucks Theatre. Tickets available here.

Learn more about Urban Bush Women here.

Photo: C. Stanley Photography
Photo: C. Stanley Photography

Power Plays at Arena Stage

Last November, Arena Stage announced the launch of its Power Plays, a series of 25 new plays and musicals from 25 writers produced over the next 10 years. Each play will tackle the subjects of politics and power, from tales of American presidents to equal voting rights. And as far as representing political parties, these plays will not fall along party lines.

“[The plays] will challenge all of us, and I am eager to provoke these discussions,” says Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith.

Smith hopes that audiences will learn and understand more about the impact of politics and power over the decades to “make us more informed as a democracy, and shed light on how we can come together as a nation to face personal and political adversaries.” She says there’s no other place in the country where these plays could have such an impact, and no better time to launch this massive commissioning cycle than right now.

The initiative’s third production, Jacqueline Lawton’s political thriller Intelligence, is based loosely on Valerie Plame and runs through April 9. Arena’s previous Power Plays include John Strand’s The Originalist and Lawrence Wright’s Camp David. The fourth installment, the world premiere of Mary Kathryn Nagle’s Sovereignty, is slated for next January and centers on the Cherokee Nation under Andrew Jackson’s presidency.

With six additional projects in developing stages, Arena Stage is eager to feature plays highlighting some of the most pivotal events that have shaped our country.

“It is one way to learn, debate and grow as a people,” Smith says. “As a theater focused on free speech and American artists, we look forward to the conversation.”

Learn more at www.arenastage.org.

Photos: Tony Powell
Photos: Tony Powell

Dawn Ursula Brings Ruth Younger to Life in ‘A Raisin in the Sun’

“Honey, life don’t have to be like this. I mean, sometimes people can do things so that things are better.”

So says Ruth Younger to her husband Walter in a poignant moment in A Raisin in the Sun, at Arena Stage through May. The characters from Lorraine Hansberry’s groundbreaking play from 1959 are bold to the point of being larger-than-life as they tell the tale of the Younger family.

Together, the Youngers suffer from racism, poverty, the usual family dynamics and the rift between generations. These themes are all the more compelling for their timelessness – and timeliness – considering the plight low-income African American families still face today.

Ruth is a character that resists easy categorization. She is not the grand matriarch of the family, Lena, or the ambitious, “modern” younger sister, Beneatha. Ruth is in the middle in every way possible. She’s a wife who wants to better her marriage, a daughter who respects her elders and a mother raising a son in a difficult climate. Her role in the family is defined by her relationship to others, and she does not have much voice of her own.

Enter local actress Dawn Ursula. This is her second time playing Ruth, but the elusive character is complex enough to keep challenging her.

“Ruth is the bridge to everyone,” Ursula says. “She is the peacekeeper. At the same time, [in] moments of great desperation, she asks for what she needs.”

It’s these moments where the actress shines best, though you’ll never forget her presence hovering in the background while the rest of the characters argue with one another and fight together for a better life.

Ursula is a powerhouse player who has been acting in the DC area for more than 20 years, including her previous Arena Stage performance in 2013’s Love in Afghanistan. She is the winner of two Helen Hayes Awards for her work, including performances at Round House, Woolly Mammoth, Everyman and the Kennedy Center.

“I’m lucky and fortunate that I can say I’m doing this full-time,” the genuinely humble actress says of her career.

For Ursula, part of the appeal in playing Ruth was the chance to work with director Tazewell Thompson again.

“Tazewell has been doing this forever, and he knows how to put an ensemble together,” she says. “He is one of the most encouraging and empowering directors I’ve ever worked with.”

He is also sure to give the actors and crew much-needed downtime, which seems to work well. Ursula says that he’s consistently telling them, “Go home. Enjoy your family. Do your laundry.”

With fewer hours in rehearsal, the cast and crew give time together their full attention. Ursula is particularly excited to perform in the round on Arena’s Fichlander Stage.

“I’ve not performed in the round before,” she says. “I love how it allows me to interact with the other characters.”

Ursula also credits Hansberry with developing a cast of characters that are recognizable to almost anyone. The actress says the playwright’s genius was “to write this intimate, personal family drama and yet deliver these huge, epic, socioeconomic and political ideas and themes.”

“It will be refreshing and surprising,” Ursula says of Arena’s production. “Your soul will nod in agreement. This play is so relevant, and immensely powerful – like a new play.”

A Raisin in the Sun runs through May 7 at Arena Stage. Visit the website for ticket prices and showtimes.

Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; 202-488-3300; www.arenastage.org

Illustration: Courtesy of Pointless Theatre Co.
Illustration: Courtesy of Pointless Theatre Co.

A Multimedia Experience in ‘.d0t:: a RotoPlastic Ballet’

Robots aren’t made of cardboard. At least, they aren’t supposed to be. The blueprints drawn up by mad scientists in basements, or the tech team at Google, don’t include the brown, fragile material you can freely acquire from Walmart after 10 p.m. as required materials. Also, robots don’t do ballet – at least not the Terminator or the ghoulish bad guys battling Will Smith in I, Robot.

However, in the inception of .d0t:: a RotoPlastic Ballet, at Flashpoint’s Mead Theatre Lab starting April 6, cardboard AI are the majority. The minority is a cardboard human, NAVI, who provides the thumping rhythm, or heartbeat, to this technology-populated sentient future world. Pointless Theatre Co.’s original puppet ballet proves a riveting story is more important than scrap metal and digital voices.

“Artificial intelligence is the motherboard of the city, Olive,” composer Navid Azeez says. “It’s Google. It’s Skynet. It’s NAVI and Skynet kicking it in the mainframe room. There are two robots who make up the band. The city is the artificial intelligence’s body, and the last human has been kept alive because of the pulse. This thud keeps the city moving, and they need a human to provide it.”

.d0t:: a RotoPlastic Ballet is the result of an 18-month-long collaboration between Azeez, Aaron Biden, Patti Kalil, Alex Leidy and Matt Reckeweg. Pointless Theatre cofounders Kalil and Reckeweg say a story about robots and the future was always on the docket.

“I think it speaks to the idea of how universal the idea of post-human, or end of humanity, is,” Reckeweg says. “It’s a topic that so many mediums and artists have been inspired and compelled by to make something.”

At the top of the show, NAVI controls the pulse, and interacts with his robot neighbors. And over the course of the play, the tide changes. From there, questions of a human’s obsoletion in a world of machines becomes prevalent as his purpose and authority is slowly stripped away.

“It’s an allegory for how authority responds to social change,” Reckeweg says. “At the end, this last human is left with not knowing if there is room for him in this new world.”

Pointless Theatre’s production is in large part inspired by futurist artist Fortunato Depero’s “visual world,” a welcome departure from typical sci-fi trope (think stark imagery and tonal colors erring on borderline grayscale). Depero’s approach to the impending post-human society mirrored the palette of a rainbow.

“He has a series of paintings with robotic landscapes that are both colorful and whimsical, and not what you might expect from a robotic landscape at all,” Reckeweg says. “There’s all these different paintings of these figures, and we know academically that he employed these robots as rudimentary puppets that were used to perform.”

From there, the crew was off to the races in visualizing a world in the same vein of these vibrant mechanical horizons.

“Those were pretty strict limitations, but once we knew that, we could craft the story,” Reckeweg says. “The more we constructed the story, the more we found things that spoke to us as contemporary artists, and as it developed, we lost the emphasis on Depero.”

For Pointless Theatre, the idea of using toys is normal, as the company incorporates multiple mediums (dance, theatre and music) – but always with puppets.

“What makes the toy theatre interesting is how simple it is,” Reckeweg says. “There comes a challenge in having to boil down a big idea into a painted piece of cardboard, and it has made us as artists and storytellers narrow in on what we’re trying to say, and what this moment is about.”

As the scenes came together, the songs formed around them by proxy, Azeez says.

“With Mike Winch, we essentially built all the songs from scratch. I wrote acapella to counts, where we built beats underneath. We created this sort of organic movement with how it was going to go.”

From Daft Punk to a 100-year-old record, and hardware sounds in between, the music was made to represent a world dominated by devices. The duo even ventured to a 70-year-old machine shop in Baltimore, where they flipped the “On” switch for hundreds of appliances, creating drum samples as the devices provided sound.

The movements of the puppets fall back to Reckeweg, who has a background in dance. The play’s title contains the word “ballet” in it, but when I think of the genre, my thoughts are dominated by twirls and balance. I asked him, “How could a cardboard puppet have such grace and fluidity?” He chuckled.

“This show takes the idea of ballet and strips that classical vocabulary away. The puppets are very, very simple. What’s interesting about ballet is that it’s more than just the classical postures. It’s storytelling that brings together visual composition and movement all set deeply to music. And what I like about ballet is that it’s more than just the dance.”

There isn’t a definite on how old this dancing, rapping puppet NAVI is, or whether or not the audience should be rooting for him.

“We kind of see this show as a Rorschach test,” Azeez says. “There’s a sense that [NAVI] is not a good guy, [and he’s] not a bad guy. I would love it if everyone left the room with a different opinion of him.”

As for Pointless Theatre as a whole, the company is simply continuing their mission to make cardboard as rad as possible.

“We’re making original work and dedicating our souls to a theatrical experience,” Reckeweg says. “Sure, I hope people think of puppetry in a new way, but I hope that audience members are [also] pleasantly surprised by how we blend all of these disciplines together.” 

.d0t:: a RotoPlastic Ballet runs from April 6 to May 6. General admission tickets are $30. Learn more about the play and showtimes at www.pointlesstheatre.com.

Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint: 916 G St. NW, DC; 202-315-1305; www.culturaldc.org

Photo: Alexandre Galliez
Photo: Alexandre Galliez

An Ingredient For Fun: ‘Cuisine & Confessions’

The marriage of acrobats and cooking may seem like an odd pairing, but the theatrical showcase Cuisine & Confessions by Canadian troupe The 7 Fingers of the Hand has been wowing audiences across the world, finding the perfect recipe for success.

The event, a combination of dance, acrobatics, theatrics and cooking onstage, plus a mini-festival that includes food trucks in between performances, will come to George Mason University’s Center for the Arts on April 8 and 9, with two shows on Saturday (2 p.m. and 8 p.m.) and one on Sunday (4 p.m.). The mini-festival will occur on April 8 from 4-8 p.m.

The 7 Fingers were formed in Montreal 15 years ago by founder Shana Carroll, who was looking to create an off-shoot of Cirque du Soleil. Designed as a circus company built on a human scale, the troupe has produced a dozen shows, with over 4,200 performances to date in 300 cities in over 40 countries. It has also been behind the staging of Pippin on Broadway and the off-Broadway cabaret Queen of the Night.

For Cuisine & Confessions, the troupe utilizes circus acts and acrobatics to depict scenes of family meals and intimate moments in the kitchen. At the same time, one of the members will be cooking a signature dish while telling an intricate story that adds to the theatrics of the scene.

Matias Plaul, an Argentine-born acrobat whose specialty in the show is performing tricks on the Chinese pole, spends time in the show cooking pasta and telling stories about the foods his mother would prepare for him after his father was “kidnapped” by a dictatorial regime.

“I tell the story of my father, which is really a dramatic moment,” Plaul says. “I like the humanity of the show. Normally when you do circus, it’s very cartoonish, but this show has something very real where people come into a theater and we open our kitchens and our homes to them. Because we are talking about personal things, there’s real empathy and trust.”

Each of the seven members of the act are onstage performing while they take turns cooking, telling their tales and engaging in conversations with the audience.

“One of our directors is an excellent cook and has a huge kitchen where we always go to eat, so the idea came from him, and it was decided that we wouldn’t write anything at first, but would be inside a kitchen and do our act and tell our stories,” Plaul says. “Once everyone started telling their food stories, that developed into this show.”

Not all the stories are as deep as Plaul’s, but they are all personal and lively. For instance, performer Melvin Diggs speaks of his absent father leading into an incredible hoops act with Sidney Bateman; Pablo Pramparo juggles giant utensils while urging everyone to try cooking; and Nella Niva goes from preparing breakfast in bed to performing an acoustic version of “You’re the One That I Want” from Grease.

“The show is very moving, but also very funny as well,” Plaul says. “Audiences don’t always know what to expect, but at the end of the show, they often stay and want to talk and share their own stories about food and family.”

Between shows on Saturday April 8, attendees can enjoy food and further entertainment on the plaza outside the Center for the Arts, as trucks will sell snacks and dinner as a series of artsy outdoor demonstrations are enacted. Participating food trucks will include Doug the Food Dude, offering healthy wraps and rolls; Steak and Shake, known for its all-American favorites; and Captain Cookie and the Milkman, serving baked goods and ice cream. There will also be an onsite “confessions” photo booth in the Center’s lobby, where attendees will reveal their guiltiest food pleasures.

Cuisine & Confessions will be held Saturday, April 8 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. (with the mini-festival taking place in between at 4 p.m.) and on Sunday, April 9 at 4 p.m. in the Concert Hall at GMU’s Center for the Arts.

George Mason University’s Center for the Arts: 4373 Mason Pond Dr. Fairfax, VA; 888-945-2468; www.cfa.gmu.edu 

Photo: Holger Badekow
Photo: Holger Badekow

‘The Little Mermaid’ Reimagined at the Kennedy Center

Think Hans Christian Anderson, but infused with contemporary music, an eerie mood and voiceless, in-motion actors. John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid is a curious combination of these components. Neumeier’s rendition of the classic tale, at the Kennedy Center through Sunday, will leave you heartbroken, fascinated and wanting more.

His ballet opens with a bright, cheery scene on a ship, quickly shifting gears to the mystical world beneath the water. Here we meet the Little Mermaid herself, and watch as her romance unfolds with her beloved Prince. The ballet constantly, yet seamlessly, alternates between these earthly and more ephemeral scenes, guiding audiences through the ballet’s two coexisting worlds.

As a musician, perhaps I’m slightly biased, but the ballet’s music is what struck me the most. It’s eerie and ungrounded almost supernatural. It’s Stravinksy-like in its atonal and rhythmically unpredictable passages. The music’s intensity mirrors the ballet’s most gripping moments, ensuring that audiences not only see the story, but hear and feel it, too.

For me, the most enthralling and heartbreaking scene was at the end of Part I. The Little Mermaid has transformed into a human to pursue the Prince, only to discover his affection for another woman. She watches in vain as the Prince falls in love with another, helpless to the power of her infatuation.

As she watches them kiss, she realizes the man she loves truly belongs to someone else. She is alone in the foreign world she now lives, left to tend to her pain by herself.

The Little Mermaid offers unconditional love, but it’s unrequited,” Neumeier says. “The story tells us that no matter how much we love, this does not guarantee it will be returned.”

The ballet concludes with the marriage of the Prince and his love, with the Little Mermaid serving as a bridesmaid. She emotes utter angst and devastation in one final, wildly emotional solo dance. Ironically, she is wearing a pink dress the same color the Prince’s love wore on one of their first meetings.

Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid is painfully tragic, performed in a way that communicates the Little Mermaid’s emotion with authenticity and passion. The play is about unrequited love, but it’s also about emotional connection. Through movement and music, we as audience members are able to feel the Little Mermaid’s heartbreak perhaps even connecting it back to our own lives.

“Watching a ballet performance is much more than just following the story related in the synopsis,” Neumeier says. “I believe that dance is the living shape of emotion.”

The Little Mermaid captures this emotion with poise and authenticity. It’s a ballet that is as impactful as it is tragic, promising us all an experience we won’t soon forget.

Neumeier says he sincerely believe that watching a live performance is an enriching experience for each member of the audience.

“It tells them something about who they are. I hope everyone who attends the performance takes that away with them.”

The Little Mermaid runs at the Kennedy Center through Sunday, April 2. Buy tickets here.

Opera House at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org 


Young Prose Night: The Select (The Sun Also Rises)

The Shakespeare Theatre hosted Young Prose Night on Friday, March 24th 2017 at Lansburgh Theatre. Young professionals from around the greater DMV area attended The Select (The Sun Also Rises). Based on the novel The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway and directed by John Collins. A complimentary drink after the show was included with their ticket. Photos: Trent Johnson.