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Photo: Darian Volkova, courtesy of State Academic Mariinsky Theatre

Review: Mariinsky Ballet’s Paquita at the Kennedy Center

A young girl and her father are sitting across from me on the shuttle bus to the Kennedy Center. She’s wearing colorful dinosaur tights. I look down at my own tights – black with a small tear threatening to become a hole. The other people on the shuttle are dressed in crisp suits and elegant dresses. We’re all on our way to see the Mariinsky Ballet perform Paquita

I worry that once I step inside the building, I’ll feel even more out of place. The stereotype of the stuffy ballet attendee doesn’t coincide with my thrift store dress or the fast food I ate for dinner. Am I couth enough to see a ballet? Am I couth enough to use the word couth?

I’m not sure how ballet took on this reputation, but Paquita was far from stuffy; it was whimsical, exciting and heartfelt. A storybook narrative that came to life with every twirl of a cape or swish of a skirt. The picturesque painted sets and hanging props served as a beautiful backdrop for the romantic tale of Paquita and Andres.

As a ballet beginner, the playbill proved a great companion. The clear synopsis quelled my fears of confusion. While normally spoilers are unwanted, they were helpful in knowing what’s happening while still being able to focus on the dancers. It also provided history about the production and the Mariinsky Ballet. You don’t have to know the difference between a pirouette and a plie to understand the storyline or appreciate the talent involved. 

Maria Khoreva was stunning as the spirited, strong-willed Paquita. Stolen from nobility at birth, Paquita now lives as a street dancer with a traveling group. She has many adoring suitors, but it is Andres who she asks to prove his love. Andres joins the travelers but finds troubles when the group is accused of theft. The third and final act ends in a grand pas wedding that features lead performers and soloists.   

I found myself being caught off guard by the moments of humor. I genuinely didn’t know that ballet could be so funny. One scene featured two men dancing, perfectly in sync, beneath a horse costume. A third man proceeded to try and ride said horse. The audience was audibly amused. Several times throughout the performance awes and exclamations could be heard throughout the arena. It felt like we were all watching a sporting event together and our team was doing really well. 

Outside of the opera house is a glass case featuring the costumes worn in the show. Every handsewn bead is a reminder of the work put into the show. Every tutu was perfectly fluffed. Every note of the orchestra, lead by Gavriel Heine, was at the exact right moment. The amount of syncretization that goes into the production is unfathomable to me – I can’t even get all of my friends to show up for lunch at the same time. Yuri Smekalov managed to create a nearly three-hour dance routine that never became dull or tedious.   

You can wear an expensive suit or dinosaur tights and it doesn’t matter because ballet is a form of escapism. Who doesn’t want to enter a world where all conflict is fought through dance and everything ends with a big wedding? There is a reason why the Mariinsky Ballet has been putting on performances since the 18th century, and it has nothing to do with the disposition of the audience. It’s the combination of beauty, passion and skill that makes going to the ballet a timeless event. 

The Mariinsky Ballet’s Paquita is being performed at the Kennedy Center through October 13. For information on tickets and showtimes, visit here.

Kennedy Center: 2700 F Street, NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org 

The Tempest at Synetic Theater

Stage and Screen: October 2019

THROUGH SUNDAY, OCTOBER 20

The Tempest
Originally premiering in 2013, Synetic is bringing back its unique take on The Tempest. Join the sorceress Prospera, played by Synetic co-founder Irina Tsikurishvili, as she creates a sea storm that gets out of hand. As a part of their Wordless Shakespeare series, The Tempest is brought to life through movement and a 1,200-square-foot pool flooding the stage. Water is a powerful element in this magical play of enemies, deception and vengeance. Tickets are available in the “splash zone” with ponchos provided. Various dates and times. Tickets $19-$60. Synetic Theater: 1800 S Bell St. Arlington VA
www.synetictheater.org

THOUGH SUNDAY, OCTOBER 27

Pride and Prejudice
Kate Hamill’s Pride and Prejudice adaptation brings a fresh take to the beloved story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Mrs. Bennet wants her five daughters married, including the headstrong Elizabeth. When rich, handsome, but standoffish Mr. Darcy moves in, Elizabeth and the Bennet family are forever changed. In a time where class rules society, can Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy ever see eye to eye? Various dates and times. Tickets $35-$50. Next Stop Theatre Company: 269 Sunset Park Dr. Herndon, VA; www.nextstoptheatre.org

THROUGH SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 3

Escaped Alone
Making her Signature Theatre debut, Caryl Churchill’s Escaped Alone is not what it seems. DC actress Holly Twyford directs this tale of three old friends and a neighbor having afternoon tea in the garden. Through their mundane conversation, it becomes clear there is a horror that lives in each of these women. The frightening undertones allow for cutting humor as well as an eerie sense of doom. Various dates and times. Tickets $40-$90. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington,VA; www.sigtheatre.org

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 9 – MONDAY, OCTOBER 14

Broadway Center Stage: Footloose
Based on the popular film starring Kevin Bacon, Footloose is dancing its way to the Kennedy Center. This musical is about a small town that outlaws music and dancing, and the teen who fights these unfair changes. Musical numbers include hits such as “Holding Out for a Hero,” “Let’s Hear it for the Boys” and, of course, “Footloose.” The show has a star-studded cast including three-time Tony Award nominee Rebecca Lu and four-time Tony Award nominee Judy Kuhn. Various dates and times. Tickets $59-$175. Kennedy Center: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 11

Rocky Horror Picture Show
Let’s do the Time Warp again! Join the Sonic Transducers, DC’s one and only Rocky Horror shadow cast, as they lip sync and act alongside the cult film. This midnight showing is an interactive movie experience. Purchase a $1 prop bag filled with rice, confetti, hot dogs and other items to throw. Other ways to get involved include yelling call backs at the screen and dressing up in costume. 11:59 p.m. Tickets $10. Landmark’s E Street Cinema: 555 11th St. NW, DC;
www.landmarktheatres.com

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 17

The NoSleep Podcast: Live for Halloween
“The NoSleep Podcast” began in 2011 and has been scaring listeners ever since. Beginning with people sharing their frightening tales on the forum website Reddit, “NoSleep” is once again hitting the road and bringing the horror with them. Coming to DC just in time for Halloween, “NoSleep” will share stories never heard on the podcast, accompanied by a live score performed by Brandon Boone. Doors at 6:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets $20. The Miracle Theatre: 535 8th St. SE, DC; www.themiracletheatre.com

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 17 – SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 17

Little Shop of Horrors
In this musical comedy written by Howard Ashman with music by Alan Menken, Seymour discovers a strange plant that soon becomes famous. He names the plant after his crush and coworker, Audrey. Just when everything seems to be going right, Seymour discovers that Audrey II can talk and is craving blood. Human blood. Come to Skid Row to see the six-foot plant puppet that is Audrey II. Various dates and times. Tickets $25-$55. Constellation Theatre Company: 1835 14th St. NW, DC; www.constellationtheatre.org

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 18 – SATURDAY, OCTOBER 19

Mystery Science Theater 3000
Named as one of Time Magazine’s “100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME” in 2007, Mystery Science Theatre 3000 is coming live to a theater near you. Currently on the Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour, creator and original host Joel Hodgson and his robots will be riffing some of the best, worst cheesy movies. This is Hodgson’s final tour, so don’t miss the chance to see the hit Netflix show in person. Various dates and times. Tickets $59-$99. National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. DC; www.thenationaldc.com

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 27

RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE: Werq the World Tour 2019
Get ready to werq! After taking DC by storm last year, The Werq the World is back again. Join your favorite queens from the VH1 series Rupaul’s Drag Race, including Aquaria, Detox and Valentina, who will be pulling out all of the stops in the biggest drag production ever produced. With stunning queens, dancing, lights and projections. This is live drag like you’ve never seen it before. Doors at 6:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m. Tickets $52-$162. The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.theanthemdc.com

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 30 – SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 10

What to Send Up When it Goes Down
Coming to four stages in the DMV before it’s Woolly Mammoth run, What to Send Up When it Goes Down is sure to provide several conversation-provoking performances throughout October. Written by the author of Is God Is, Aleshea Harris, this play, pageant, ritual is “first and foremost for black people, but non-black folx are welcome if they are prepared to honor this.” As a response to racialized violence, this story of black empowerment is told through colorful vignettes. Using theatre, music and dance, actors and audience members will come together to reflect, cleanse and heal. Various dates and times. Tickets $20-$29. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St.
NW, DC; www.woollymammoth.net

Swan Lake by the American Ballet

Stage and Screen: Aziz Ansari, Swan Lake, Aladdin and More

THROUGH JULY 14

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui
In 1930s Chicago, Arturo Ui would stop at nothing to become the next tyrant. Ui would’ve been just a stranger you met on the street, a neighbor in your local market; but influenced by greed, money and power, he conquered the cauliflower industry. Playwright Bertolt Brecht’s clear depiction of a modern-day Hitler is renewed in this production directed by John Doyle. Times vary. Tickets $25-$45. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

TUESDAY, JULY 2

Aziz Ansari:  Road to Nowhere Comedic Tour
After a fall from grace following a sexual misconduct allegation in early 2018, comedian Aziz Ansari will return to the public eye in his first tour since the controversy. His argumentatively contentious allegation has created a new discovery in his comedic expression. Ansari uses his witty, sarcastic and socially progressive charm to push the conversation forward. The set will highlight his life after public scrutiny and what lies ahead for him as a public figure. There’s no doubt all seats will be filled, laughs will be heard and questions hopefully answered. This is the official return of Aziz Ansari as a comedic artist. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets $30. DAR Constitution Hall: 1776 D St. NW, DC; www.dar.org/constitution-hall

TUESDAY, JULY 9

Pilobolus
Dance company Pilobolus continues to push the limitations of human physicality through performance art. Using the medium of poetic movement, this group continually challenges their bodies, whether stretched, bounded or morphed together, to better create a versatile view of humans in the physical form. Join in this interactive performance as they create a unique narrative using the only thing they came in with: their bodies. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets $29-$69. The Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, MD; www.strathmore.org

THURSDAY, JULY 11 – SATURDAY, JULY 13

American Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake
This timeless ballet classic involves a love story combining magic, romance and tragedy to tell the tale of Odette and Prince Siegfried. Based on reputation, American Ballet Theatre’s rendition has continually exceeded expectations, providing majestic movements in gracious unison that have left audiences in awe for generations. Under the choreography of Kevin McKenzie, Wolf Trap hosts this romanticized depiction of an essential classic. Starts at 8:30 p.m. Tickets $25-$80. Filene Center at Wolftrap: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org

THURSDAY, JULY 11 – SUNDAY, JULY 14

UrbanArias: Juliet Letters
Elvis Costello’s Juliet Letters was drafted to create several musical interpretations of Shakespeare’s famed character Juliet. Filled with passion, despair and betrayal, UrbanArias will perform a series of narratives by Costello and Brodsky Quartet in a cabaret setting. The show features characters ranging in age and backgrounds to provide a dynamically dramatic performance to pay tribute to some of Shakespeare’s best written work. Thursday to Saturday shows at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets $47. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, Virginia; www.sigtheatre.org

THURSDAY, JULY 18

RuPaul’s Drag Race: Season 11 Tour
The Emmy winning RuPaul’s Drag Race continues to strut its stuff for the 11th season, and the starring queens don’t plan on stopping any time soon. The queens, dragged in style and grace, are once again ready to head down the runway and put on a show. Make sure your wigs are secure and edges laid, because this show is going to be one for the books. They are coming to break necks! Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets begin at $37. Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC; www.thelincolndc.com

THURSDAY, JULY 18 – SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 7

Disney’s Aladdin
Come enjoy the hit Broadway musical Disney’s Aladdin, as it graces the JFK’s center stage. From the producers of The Lion King, comes the magic fairy tale of a young lad and his Genie. Tony Award-winning James Monroe Iglehart gives a performance of a lifetime bringing nothing but comedy, beauty, and magic to the stage as Aladdin’s very own Genie. So strap in your magic carpets, grab a lamp and be ready to discover a whole new world. Times vary. Tickets start at $39. Opera House at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

SUNDAY, JULY 21

DC Improv: Murder Mystery Comedy Show
Die Laughing Productions is back in DC with another night of comedic fun. Taking it back to the 90s with “Hit Me ‘90s One More Time,” this show features comedians involved in a narrative pitting their characters against one another for the hottest concert ticket of the year, Ace of Base. This fun-filled night will have you laughing out of your seats and enjoying nostaligc flashbacks, all while trying to uncover a murder mystery. Come out and celebrate the 90s with the DC Improv group, and just maybe you’ll make it out alive! Starts at 7 p.m. Tickets $19. DC Improv Comedy Club: 1140 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; www.dcimprov.com

Illustration: courtesy of "All Fantasy Everything"

Best Podcast Available All Fantasy Everything Selects DC For Live Tour

Podcasts are a dime a dozen these days. They’re easily created and just as quickly forgotten. Name a comedian, sports writer, author or filmmaker, and they’ve probably dabbled in coordinating a program discussing most anything. There’s plenty of reasons for these folks to give podcasting a shot: there’s money to be made and ears to grab, and it’s a great promotional tool for other types of programming, whether it be a standup special or an opinion column.

The brainpower behind “All Fantasy Everything” agreed with the sentiment. Founded by comedian and television writer Ian Karmel, the podcast is a show of three to four people sitting around fantasy drafting anything and everything: from Tom Hanks films to road trips.

“[Karmel] just wanted a way to interview people,” says cohost and comedian Sean Jordan. “He wanted a podcast where he could talk to his friends. He came up with the idea [and] shopped it around.Originally, people weren’t receptive. We did one together one day and it stuck.”

“All Fantasy Everything” debuted on the Internet in 2016 and is recorded weekly in Portland, Oregon with new episodes populating feeds every Friday. While episodes have featured a roulette of guests, including The Late Late Show host James Corden and NBA writer Zach Harper, the constant staples are Karmel, Jordan and standup comedian David Gborie. On July 13, locals will actually be able to sit in the same room as these folks as they live draft on Black Cat’s stage.

“It’s a very natural feel,” Jordan continues. “If you’re going to listen to people sit and talk, it has to have that real feel. We have running jokes, but I think one of the reasons it’s so good is because it sounds as if we’re just sitting in the living room watching basketball. It makes people feel at ease, as if they’re there.”

The format is predictable, which you’ll know if you’ve ever tinkered with any kind of fantasy draft. The hosts and guests each take turns picking something involving the theme, followed up by an explanation. The true magic of the show is in these unscripted moments where the listener is thrown into a full-fledged discussion either celebrating or dissecting the preceding selection. The ribbing is delightful and sincere and rarely, if ever, nasty or offensive.

“Sometimes there’s that feeling if someone is making a joke and it goes down the wrong road, it’s tricky because we’re three straight dudes,” Jordan says candidly. “We’re quick to wrangle it in. We just like to talk about how cool stuff is and how cool people are, and how often we cry.”

The transition from a studio or couch to a live crowd seems like a surreal thing for a podcast built upon the idea of shooting the shit among friends while debating which villain is more interesting or what fast-food items reign supreme among lit drive-thru menus. And while they do present differences in the flow of a normal show, the comedians aren’t afraid to ratchet it up for the crowd.

“[The live shows] are a lot trickier to rein in because the crowds are very hyped,” Jordan says. “When it’s a live show, I’m so excited and thrilled that anyone cares about anything I’m part of. I’m not sure anyone knows for certain that people will care about what they do, so when a thousand people are there to see them, you try to give them a show.”

Undoubtedly, the most intriguing aspect of the pod is the themes chosen. Jordan says they try to align it with whatever guest they’ll have, but often they opt for a general topic anyone could dive into without a huge amount of research.

“Even if you don’t know anything about it, it’s fun,” Jordan says. “Like vegetables – I hate vegetables. Sometimes, we’ll just decide randomly. It’s pretty easy. You don’t have to prep – just wing it. It’s just an excuse to sit around and bullshit, so it usually works.”

Themes for upcoming live shows – including the one in the District – have yet to be decided, but Jordan says they’ll be figured out beforehand. And though I tried to get the comedian to spill the beans on what it could be, he holds firm and doesn’t budge, only divulging the most generic of information.

“We try to keep it local but broad enough,” Jordan says. “It’s hush-hush for now.”

As of right now, there’s more than 100 episodes available to get listeners hyped for their DC show. So plug in your headphones while you prep for your own upcoming fantasy drafts, and pray we get a theme as wacky as celebrity sex tapes or stuff to do when you’re drunk.

“All Fantasy Everything” comes to Black Cat on July 13. Tickets $20. Stream the podcast at www.headgum.com/all-fantasy-everything.

Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; 202-667-4490; www.blackcatdc.com

Photo: Julieta Cervantes

Hello, Dolly!’s Analisa Leaming Provides Podcast Aimed at Motivating Artists

Broadway legend Betty Buckley is currently starring as the titular role in the national tour of Hello, Dolly!, playing at the Kennedy Center through July 7. The classic musical, with a book by Michael Stewart and songs by Jerry Herman, tells the story of Dolly Gallagher Levi, a middle-aged marriage broker in 1880s New York City, who navigates a colorful collection of characters in search of love. 

One of those characters is Irene Molloy, played by Analisa Leaming, whose Broadway resume includes stints in School of Rock, The King and I and On The 20th Century. She was also the understudy for Irene on Broadway, going on about a dozen times. 

When she got the call to do the national tour, she, her husband and dog packed up the car and began traveling from place to place. 

“I love that this show is light and fun and joyful,” Leaming says. “With everything going on in the world today, we get to be that two-and-a-half hours of joy every night.”

Being on Broadway was always something Leaming knew she wanted to do. In fact, when she was in sixth grade, her teacher inscribed in her yearbook, “I know I’ll see your name up in lights some day in Hollywood,” and she asked him to scratch the last part out and put “Broadway” instead.

Although her first Broadway show –  Rebecca – was cancelled the night before rehearsals started, and it took three years for her to get another chance, she stayed busy doing regional and Off-Broadway shows. 

In addition to her theater work on stage, Leaming is also passionate about promoting mindfulness and sustainability for artists who work in what can often be a stressful field. 

In that vein, Leaming hosts a podcast, “A Balancing Act,” which features conversations with other working artists about how to navigate the industry and create balance and happiness as a performer. 

“What happened to me with Rebecca is kind of like someone who gets drafted by the NFL, and [then] hurts their Achilles and doesn’t get to play; it’s that level of disappointment,” Leaming says. “It had been this thing I had been dreaming about my whole life. When it was taken away, I had to do some deep searching and what I found is that as artists, it’s very easy to wait for things to happen.”

She explains that includes waiting for calls about roles and always comparing yourself to others.

“I went on my search inward and I just had to share it with others so I created this podcast,” Leaming says. “What I found talking with other artists is that we all share these same fears. These are things that we don’t often talk about. It’s been very helpful.”

Among her guests have been Rebecca Luker, Gavin Creel and John Tartaglia. Tony winner Jessie Mueller will be on soon.

“Because it’s not a weekly podcast, I have plenty of time to edit and so I invite people to be as vulnerable as possible and if they want something taken out, I can totally do that, and I think that has helped create some really honest and emotional conversations,” she says. 

Now in its third season, Leaming originally did all the interviews in person, but being on tour, most of the interviews are recorded over the phone.

“I talk to these incredible people and learn from them and it helps me stay on my own path of where I want to be,” she says. “This is my way of changing my corner of the world.” 

“A Balancing Act” not only hears the stories of these artists, but gets tips on how they reduce stress and cope with the challenges that come with pursuing and maintaining a Broadway career. 

“What I’ve learned is how imperative it is for artists to have other things that we love and are actively doing, and being a more balanced person,” Leaming says.   

See Leaming in Hello, Dolly! at the Kennedy Center through July 7. Showtimes vary and tickets are $49-$159. For information about the show, visit here. Podcast episodes of “A Balancing Act” are available here

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

Awa Sal Secka (Shanti), Kevin McCallister (Caesar), Chris Hoch (Blackbeard), Christopher Mueller (Jake), and Lawrence Redmond (Samuel) in Blackbeard at Signature Theatre // Photo: Christopher Mueller

Blackbeard Costume Designer Helps Pirate Live His Best Life

For Signature Theatre’s world premiere of Blackbeard, the cast and crew has to look magnificent. The famed pirate, upon learning he is wanted by the British Army embarks on a fantastical journey across the globe to raise an undead-pirate army from the depths of the sea. To fully depict this fantastical spirit, costume designer Erik Teague was able to create a variety of colorful and outer-worldly outfits for this show, and he spoke to On Tap about his experience working on the production before the show begins its run on June 18.

On Tap: What brought you into costume design?
Erik Teague: I was that weird kid who loved comic books and movies, still true today, but the oddball component is that I really enjoyed opera. I thought I wanted to be an opera singer. As I studied, my love of music never changed, and I realized the thing that was exciting about the performance was the transformation. I finally realized,  oh wait I’m just a designer, okay great!

Illustrations: courtesy of Signature Theatre

OT: Did you know the Signature team prior, if not what was the collaborative process for you in terms of creativity?
ET: This is my very first time working with the team at Signature, they are a company I have long admired because of the ambitious nature of what they do. It is always interesting to come into a different artistic family than your own, this group of people has a long history of working together. I’ve had to figure out where to fit in, but overall it has been very good, we have been able to communicate with each other well and share ideas fluidly.

OT: Why did you choose to join the team for Blackbeard?
ET: An adventure fantasy musical that centers around pirates, I thought that was super exciting, and super in my artistic wheelhouse. Meaning there would be lots of sword fights and swashbuckling and swinging on ropes, which I find very interesting. Building costumes for these types of performances has different methods than other performances where you just walk across the stage and deliver your lines. The construction methods are different, it is always exciting to find out what a performer needs to be supported to do their choreography.

OT: What is your favorite moment of the show?
ET: There are a couple of good ones, but I will say the I am pretty proud of the zombie pirate horde. We have done some highly theatrical gestures, by a couple, I mean we have created a horde of skeleton pirates who glow in the dark by using tandem puppets. Three of them can walk in a line together, I worked with Kylie Clark, a talented artist who made the puppets, and helped to get them functional.

OT: What is your favorite costume in the show, if any?
ET: Definitely Blackbeard’s two coats, they are a wonderful show in contrasts. His first coat is very distressed and lived in, and looks like it could have walked off the Pirates of the Caribbean movie set. Versus the second coat, his afterlife coat. Blackbeard is living his best life in his afterlife. He has been beheaded as per the real history. He finally becomes the myth and legend he has been trying to live up to the whole time. I gave him the opportunity to look the best, [a] red velvet coat with black beading all over it, and black Venetian lace trimming.

Blackbeard opens at Signature Theatre June 18, running through July 14. For more information and tickets visit www.sigtheatre.org.

Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; 703-820-9771; www.sigtheatre.org

Kathryn Tkel (Emmy) and Holly Twyford (Nora) in A Doll’s House, Part 2 // Photo: Lilly King

A Doll’s House Part 2 Offers Unique Characters Arcs In Round House Sequel

The radiantly captivating Kathryn Tkel lends a tearful and droll performance as Emmy in Round House Theatre’s DC premiere of A Doll’s House, Part 2, showing at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre.

Written by Lucas Hnath in 2017, A Doll’s House, Part 2 resumes 15 years after protagonist Nora, played by Holly Twyford, forswears varying degrees of commitment to achieve her version of love; freedom.

Emmy is the youngest child of Nora and in the original A Doll’s House, written in 1879 by Henrik Ibsen, she is little more than a prop in the background. However, as a young adult, she provides a thoughtful voice, often challenging her mother’s perspective on life.

“You’ll learn from Emmy that everyone has their opinion of marriage and people are willing to stand up for their world view, whether or not it aligns with others,” Tkel purports. “There’s something about a younger woman speaking up that makes this conversation deeply important to witness.”

The characters in A Doll’s House, Part 2 are few in number, but prove powerful in the story. Including three self-identifying women and one man, the cast produces an emotional tale full of self-reflection and self-actualization. Tkel stands tall among giants, as she supports other characters played by DC notables like the aforementioned Twyford and Craig Wallace, as Torvald.

Before the performance, the main question for me was how does Tkel bring so much to the table while surrounded by veterans of the craft.

“I see many parallel narratives as a theater practitioner working on the play and as a character,” she says. “These actors and actresses have a longer history of working together, and I am the youngest actress and this is my first time working with these artists. Their characters were in the A Doll’s House.”

“Whereas my character, Emmy, is very much so removed. I have to think about how Emmy’s voice is different in the story and how she herself is different in the room,” she continues. “It’s freeing coming from a different place than others. You have more freedom to have a different take because you don’t know it’s different.”

The predominantly female cast brilliantly addresses issues found in the mid-19th century still felt today. The barriers circumventing women’s equality and independence underscore the humor that makes this play a quality hit.

“[There’s] room for women to have different opinions on stage and in the story, discussing their ideas about marriage and what it means to be a woman,” Tkel gleams.

It’s an eclectic collection of empowering perspectives that will cause the audience to question where their loyalties lie within the conundrum of gender identity and gender roles.

“It’s a very exciting play. [A] play everyone will have at stake in because it is about marriage, divorce, agency and independence for women and men,” Tkel explains.  

Further noting the very complicated societal dynamics layered with the necessary levels of vulnerability, Part 2 annihilates the boundaries of female and male normative behaviors. But where do the men factor in? How will they respond to the performance?

“I think men will like the play. Through Nora’s husband, Torvald, the writer has a lot to say about what society and women may want from men.”

Torvald, played by critically acclaimed actor, Craig Wallace, offers a strong masculine take on love and commitment, showcasing an uncommon vulnerable side.

“The play absolutely stands on its own and you’ll get so much from it,” Tkel encourages. “We’ve all had relationships and family. Whatever your history is, you will pick up pretty quickly that Nora is returning to territory that she used to be in, in a very different fashion.”

“Because the subject matter is so engaging, your own personal feeling about loyalty love, commitment and family will make you question your own view structure.”

A Doll’s House, Part 2 is simply relatable and as Tkel puts it: “Ripe for the picking.”

Round House Theatre’a A Doll’s House, Part 2 runs at Lansburgh Theatre through June 30. Tickets are $50-$61 and can be purchased at here.

Lansburgh Theatre: 450 7th St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.roundhousetheatre.org

Photo: Ryan Scherb

Amanda Gookin Discusses Forward Music Project

Classical music is not generally associated with political activism, but that’s what Amanda Gookin hopes to change with her Forward Music Project at the Dupont Underground. The project presented by National Sawdust Projects is a part of Kennedy Center’s ongoing DIRECT CURRENT programming celebrating contemporary music. Removing the stuffy connotations of classical music, Forward Music Project seeks to make the genre more accessible and use it as a force for good. Commissioning works from all-female composers, Gookin incorporates music, storytelling, chanting, staging effects and projection art to create a stimulating and immersive experience.

On Tap: Can you tell me about the Forward Music Project and how it came to be?
Amanda Gookin: At the end 2015, I started to incubate the idea of commissioning work by women for solo cello. Women are very sorely underrepresented in classical and contemporary programs, and I just wanted to do my part in helping to contribute [a] new repertoire that could get out there and be performed more often. I also started to ask myself the question of involving identity politics in music and why we don’t use classical music as a platform more often to speak out about human issues, social justice and political issues. I always felt that in music programing, we were conservative and not really taking those kinds of risks. So, as somebody who is very dedicated to social justice and women’s issues and gender issues, and those who might not fall into the binary, I wanted to give a platform for women to not only write music, but also to use it as an opportunity to share their personal story or to highlight an issue they thought was important to them.

OT: What can people expect to see at your performance at the Dupont Underground?
AG: At the Dupont Underground, I will be performing the first iteration of Forward Music Project. It’s a commission project that is ongoing. In the first year, I commissioned seven works and along with that is projection art created by Katy Tucker, who is my collaborator. I will be performing those seven pieces that were in the original show that premiered at National Sawdust in March 2017.

OT: Forward Music Project aims to use classical music as a means of political activism. What kinds of issues do you focus on on?
AG: I think the project is really centered around issues of women and girls, although it is expanding to those who engage with femininity. I would say the pieces, in one form or another, tackle issues of women or girls. Some of the women wrote stories that are very personal to them about their family heritage or being assaulted. Others shared stories that they did not relate to directly, but felt were very important to bring to the table such as sex trafficking and child marriage.

OT: In your TEDx Talk, you mentioned a lack of diversity and a sense of elitism that is present in classical music. Do you think that is changing?
AG: It’s slowly changing. I think the rate at which things are charging is very slow for where we would want to be at this point. A very low percentage of American orchestras are comprised of black and latino musicians. If we consider conductors, an even smaller percentage are people of color or women. So, it is still true that there is a very low representation of diversity in our orchestras. In my TEDx Talk, I was referring to your typical classical music audience. When you conjure an image like that, to me, I conjure an image that is primarily white and privileged. If you go to a great hall, the tickets in the front row are extremely expensive, and just by shear cost, it already signifies that only a certain type of person can sit in these rows.

OT: Your style is far from traditional. You chant, play cello, and incorporate digital elements into your performance. How did discover your unique approach?
AG: I think that was an organic process. I’d always been interested in the avante garde, and I’d always been interested in pushing boundaries. I grew up in a pretty conservative environment, and I was always considered the subversive one, even though I was wearing pearls, khaki and such. There was something edgy that needed to come out. As I started my professional career, I was lost in terms of what I wanted to do. I got into the Mannes School of Music, which is a really great conservatory in New York City. When you graduate from a conservatory, you feel like you have three tracks: you can be an orchestral musician, a teacher or a soloist. I felt like I was destined to do something really different and so I started to experiment a little bit. I saw an ad that was looking for a female violinist or a string player to compose and perform music for an all-female Romeo and Juliet production. So I responded to the ad and met with the director and they hired me. I had to figure out how to write music and how to improvise. That led to writing music for even more plays, and I just kept going. I had to create modern sounds and I was getting experimental with objects to create sounds and other percussion instruments so it wasn’t just me with the cello. I had a tambourine at my foot, a symbol next to me, I had bells, I had bottles that I would scrape.

OT: Have you ever received backlash from classical music purists about your style?
AG: Oh yeah, for sure. I really haven’t received any backlash about my style per se because there’s nothing out of the ordinary in terms of contemporary music. I’ve seen some performances that are even way beyond what I’m doing. I think from a musical standpoint I haven’t received much backlash. I have mostly received backlash about content. Some people have pushed back against classical music or any sort of performance music art classical instrument being political – that we should just perform music for music’s sake, which I think is beautiful too. I don’t always perform music that is heavy handed in social justice, but when I’m very outspoken about it, that’s when some people start to get uncomfortable.

OT: What do you want your audience to take away from this project?
AG: Well, everyone is different and I feel like this conjures a wide range of emotional responses. It depends on how the person is entering into the performance. If it’s somebody who identifies with some of the content of the pieces, I hope that it’s a hand that reaches out and says, “I hear you and I’m here for you. You’re heard and understood. This is a safe space.” If it’s somebody who is super into feminist ideology, I hope they would feel even more empowered to go forward and do more good work. For somebody who may be skeptical, I would hope that they would at least have an open mind and hear the music and maybe begin to think about things they hadn’t considered before. I feel a lot of my project is about planting seeds. While I do receive a lot of great feedback in the moment, I do hope that it has a longer-lasting effect on the listeners.

Check out Amanda Gookin’s Forward Music Project at Dupont Underground on March 29 at 9 p.m. Tickets are $20 and available here. Learn more about Forward Music Project here.

Dupont Underground: 19 Dupont Cir NW, DC; 202-846-1474; www.dupontunderground.org

Photo: Michael Coleman

Barrie Has the Best Time at Ground Control Touring Showcase

The first set I caught upon arrival in Austin, Texas happened to be Barrie, and I regret to inform all the bands I’ll see in the future, that they have big shoes to fill. I’ve only been keen on Barrie for about three weeks now, thanks to the modern miracle of the Spotify algorithm. While I much prefer finding music organically, every now and then the robots (are they robots? What IS “the algorithm?” a column for another day, perhaps) prove that they know me better than I know myself.

I’d been on a kick of lo-fi pop, mostly in an effort to summon the weather I associate with this kind of music: breezy, 70s, driving with my windows down. It must have worked, because I hear back home in DC you’ve had such fortune. You’re welcome. Anyway, back to the music! That’s why we’re all here, right?

Much in the vein of No Vacation or Hana Vu, Barrie bring an 80s bedroom-pop vibe to the ever growing alt-pop table. They’re more than welcome here, though, because their camaraderie oozes from their sound and made me want to go home and hug my friends (hey guys, I miss you!).

Bassist Sabine’s clearly having the best time, riffing her silvery lines off Barrie’s (the band’s namesake) guitar playing. Guess what? Now I’m having the best time too. This band’s proof that with the right group of people you can do anything, and anything can be fun. I hope they stick with each other and keep summoning the feeling of spring weather forever.

Photo: Courtesy of Black Girls Rock!

BLACK GIRLS ROCK! Comes to The Kennedy Center

After more than a decade since its inception, BLACK GIRLS ROCK! has become an unstoppable force in the fight to empower black women in the arts and in the world. In its latest venture, BLACK GIRLS ROCK! has partnered with The Kennedy Center’s Hip Hop Culture to launch the inaugural BGR! Fest beginning on International Women’s Day.

“I think it’s going to be pretty awesome,” says Beverly Bond, founder and CEO of BLACK GIRLS ROCK!. “It’s really a great gathering of black women artists. Black women don’t always get those mainstage platforms. The combination of everybody we have on the show, together in this one space during International Women’s weekend, is going to be a powerful statement.”

The three-day event features a free welcome party with celebrity DJs Mc Lyte and Bond herself, a book talk, panels, a concert with headliner Jazmine Sullivan, DC’s own Maimouna Youssef and more.

“The crazy part is that the panel sold out before the concert,” Bond says. “And Michaela Angela Davis, who is actually one of the panelists, had to stop for a minute and say, ‘You know what? I appreciate that the panel sold out before the concert! Black women are here to fix it!’”

Bond worked closely with The Kennedy Center’s Director of Hip Hop Culture Simone Eccleston while producing BGR! Fest. It wasn’t the first time they’d worked together.

“This is the second touch point with BGR,” Eccleston says. “Back in 2014, the center had a multi-week festival celebrating hip-hop culture known as the One Mic Festival. As part of the three weeks of programming, there was a collaboration with BGR to present Rock Like a Girl.”

After connecting at the One Mic Festival, Eccleston and Bond established a professional relationship and a genuine friendship. It was only a matter of time before they found a mutual cause to bring them together again.

“Within the Hip Hop Culture program, one of our specific areas of focus has been celebrating women,” Eccleston says. “We’ve continued with that throughline over the arc of the season, and it would only be fitting that Beverly Bond be back and for us to have BGR!Fest.”

The timely collaboration between BLACK GIRLS ROCK! and The Kennedy Center on International Women’s Day weekend signifies the recognition of black women and their contributions to arts and society.

“The goal of the program is to provide audiences at large with an understanding of the breadth and depth of the culture and its impacts, not only on contemporary society, but its role in

shaping culture,” she continues. “If we’re talking about communities that have shaped culture and sparked innovation, you cannot have that conversation without having black women at the center of it.”

While the BLACK GIRLS ROCK! organization has achieved great success and popularity, the movement has inspired black women and girls to assert themselves with its now famous namesake phrase.

“I want them to know that black girls rock,” Bond said. “If they’re taking away one thing, it’s to support our art, support our artists and to help elevate our voices.”

Join BRG! Fest at The Kennedy Center on March 10 at 8 p.m. Concert tickets are $59-$119 and available at here. Learn more about BGR! Fest here.

The Kennedy Center: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org