Saturday, April 23, 2016

Masque Aspect: AirDance New Mexico

On a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 is a show by Cirque du Soleil  and 1 is walking across a bed of nails, the show Masque Aspect by AirDance New Mexico is a definite 8. It was a show full of beauty and surprise. This was a show that will be enjoyed by dance lovers and non dance lovers alike. We highly recommend it!

The AirDance group is a company of dancers that works on the ground and in the air with aerial silks, low-flying trapeze, aerial hoops, aerial cube, and more. The show has live music with original works by the band Chicharra specially made for this show. They have been around for 5 years and they have a large production each spring and fall always featuring original choreography. This inspiration for this show was masques. Some masks were face paint, others were partial and even full masks. I can just imagine how difficult it must have been to barely be able to see what you are doing. As the program reads:
"As we began working in earnest on our anticipated mask-themed show, we found ourselves posing questions about aspects of our individual characters and debating wants and needs. Who am I? How do I want to live my life? ...Our search for identity and direction took us inward to examinations of our motivations, aspirations, and self-imposed obstacles... Now the question is, what mask do you choose to wear now?"

I had been to one show by this company a few years ago and they have grown so much since then. The previous show was good, but it had the feel of amateurs performing. My biggest complaint of the previous show was that the transitions in between pieces felt awkward. There was complete silence and we watched the tech group lift away some of the apparatuses and lower others. This show was entirely different in that the artistic director herself, Debra Landau, acted as the show's clown on the steroid Prednisone. Each time there was a transition period of a set change, we got to view her gradual progression from being on Prednisone for 2 weeks all the way through 12 weeks. Her jokes were hilarious and made me wonder if she has recently had a knee surgery and had to be on Prednisone for such a long period of time, as was the story of her character. The best part was how each of the costumes of her skits featured the creative use of hospital face masks.

Featured works included pieces with the whole company, solo works, and everything in between. Though I won't write about each and every one of the eight pieces featured in the show, I will write about 3 pieces which really stood out to my husband and I.

Firstly, Tasha Books' performance in "Accommodation: I am I" was outstanding. After hearing Stella Young's TED talk "I'm not your inspiration, thank you very much," I am very careful about looking to disabled people for the wrong type of inspiration (as an example: "you have no excuse because life is much harder for her"). However, I was literally shocked as Books began to climb the aerial silks and perform beautiful spins. I suppose there is something to say about the masks the disabled put on themselves and the masks the able-bodied put on the disabled in their minds. Perhaps one such mask may be pity because of ignorance. Yet Books teaches gymnastic vaulting when she's not dancing. I love that Books shared the gift of such a beautiful performance with us to help us expand our vision of what is possible when living with passion.

Next, "Arrogance: The Red Death," inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Masque of the Red Death" was a piece worth sharing. This performance featured two aerial silk teams of two. The pair on stage left performed first followed by the pair on stage right. In turn, they each make remarkable shapes in the silks and would perform partner work which didn't seem possible. The stage became sufficiently creepy in a way only Poe could inspire as a dancer in stilts eventually circled the stage. In her twitchy red ways, she caused the death of all aerialists on stage and reined victorious as she reached her hands up to the sky. The shocking and creepy mood created was made possible by the lighting crew and brilliant choreography.

Finally, Christina Cavaleri's outstanding solo performance on trapeze while wearing a welding mask made "Burden: With A Heavy Head" my favorite piece of the night. She constantly shocked me by accomplishing feats that didn't seem possible. Like when she completed a back-to-back series of somersault-like spins over the bar. I know there were at least 3 spins here, but to be honest, I was so shocked that she just kept on going that I lost track and there may have been 1-2 more! Likewise, when she finally brought her body above the level of the bar, the way she mounted didn't seem like it should have been possible. She gripped her hands in a certain way and then it was like her body just popped up! The beauty and grace of her movements was one that I forever try to seek when I go to performances. I applaud the work she put to choreograph and perform such an inspiring piece. And don't forget that she did it all in a welding helmet!!!

The night ended with a well deserved standing ovation. This is a must-see show of the highest quality. They still have two more performances tonight (April 23, 2016) at 8:00 pm and tomorrow (April 24, 2016) at 2:00 pm at the AirDance ArtSpace at 3030 Isleta Blvd SW, Albuquerque, NM 87105.

Tickets can be purchased at the door. Prices are as follows:
$15 regular price/adults
$10 discounted tickets for military, students, disabled, and seniors (62+)
$5 children (6-12 years old)

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Oklahoma!: Rio Rancho High School

 On a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is a performance where you literally fall asleep and 10 is a show that makes you laugh out loud the entire time, the performance of Oklahoma! by Rio Rancho High School ranks a high 7.

Historically, Oklahoma! was Rogers and Hammerstein's first musical. It opened on Broadway in 1943 and was later made into a film starring the choreography of Agnes de Mille in 1955. It is set in the Oklahoma Territory in 1906 and it is a comic filled love story between the cowboy Curley McLain and the farm girl Laurey Williams. A secondary romance occurs as well between Will Parker and his overly flirtatious fiance Ado Annie. The story follows the youth in the town of Claremore as they prepare for a dance including an auction to raise money for the school. It ends in three marriages and a death.

The performance by Rio Rancho High School was extremely enjoyable. The stage was full of energy, the live pit orchestra was spot on, the scenery was beautiful to look at, and the actors gave me everything I would have hoped for from this age group (and sometimes more).

I would not feel right without giving due credit to a few outstanding individuals. Firstly, when I heard Lillian Ridout sing as Laurey, I hoped that her song would never end. Her work and practice in developing such a great voice was very apparent. I hope she continues to sing her whole life! Secondly, Chris Cates' performance as Ali Hakim was quite possibly the best rendition I have ever seen. He played the perfectly pleasant portrayal of all sides of a peddler: looking out for the best deal and for himself. His comic relief was exactly what the show needed. Finally, the dancing of Daniel Blake as Will Parker in the early Kansas City Scene was very noteworthy.

I was really impressed with how deeply uncomfortable I was with the character Jud Fry. Likewise, it is ridiculous characters like Ado Annie that make this show memorable. Coming from a dance background, I was most looking forward to the "Dream Scene" when the indecisive Laurey finally comes to realize who her heart truly desires. The dancing and lighting of this scene did not disappoint in the least.

The scene that I feel this group performed the very best was the scene where Curley was being judged. The actors were so great about performing their lines in such rapid succession following one another that the audience couldn't help but be truly present in the moment. Thus, it was so easy to get caught up in the rapid fire jokes being passed around. Aunt Eller's joke about bending the law rather than breaking it was my favorite of the night!

There were a few issues with the microphones and being able to hear lines clearly over the orchestra, but that was only a small problem. The one thing I would have wanted more of was more choreography in almost all the songs. Regardless, this performance was extremely enjoyable and I wish these actors and actresses the best of luck in their future productions!

Make sure you give some a "Persian Goodbye" or an "Oklahoma Hello" today!