Tag Archives: on stage

Kanopy ‘entwines’ with Martha Graham-taught choreographer Pascal Rioult

Acclaimed choreographer Pascal Rioult is joining Madison’s Kanopy Dance for a Valentine’s concert of passion. Rioult: Hearts Entwined will feature three of his works and two of his dancers, in a program running Feb. 12 to Feb. 14. 

“They really are very sensual, sexy duets speaking about love in two different ways,” says Rioult, founder and artistic director of RIOULT Dance NY. “Even though my work is not romantic all the time, this definitely will be.”

“His choreography is beautiful, touching, dark, entertaining,” says Lisa Thurrell, Kanopy co-artistic director with Robert Cleary. “He is a force in New York City and France.”

Kanopy will perform Rioult’s dance Wien, set to Ravel’s La Valse. Two other duets will feature Rioult dancers Charis Haines and Jere Hunt.

“What the audience will get out of these duets is what my work is about, which is sensuality and musicality,” says Rioult. “That’s what I’m known for. And also, of course, very high level dancing.”

A native of France, Rioult came to America in 1981 to study dance. He eventually became a principal with the Martha Graham Dance Company; Graham created the Death Figure role in her ballet The Eye of the Goddess expressly for him. 

In 1984, Rioult’s first choreographed works premiered at New York’s cultural center 92nd Street Y. In 1989, while still with Graham, he choreographed Narayama and Harvest, which were danced by her company at City Center. He founded RIOULT Dance NY in 1994. His works have since been performed by many troupes in the United States and Europe.

Rioult says both of the duets programmed for Hearts Entwined should be considered highlights. The first, “Summer Wind,” is an excerpt from a larger piece called Views of the Fleeting World, set to Bach’s The Art of the Fugue. “This is full of the very, very exuberant, youth-energy of love,” he says, “all the wonderful fun and teasing kind of energy.”

“You just want to be them for a minute,” he adds, laughing. “They still make me smile.”

The other duet is an excerpt from Rioult’s On Distant Shores, featuring a commissioned score by Aaron Jay Kernis. “It is totally different,” says Rioult. “It’s about Helen of Troy. It’s kind of a romantic fantasy about: What if those men had not died on the Trojan shores for her sake, but had lived for her? What sort of relationship would she have had? She, in a sense, revives them. 

“It (shows) very subtle but different aspects of a relationship between a man and a woman. It’s very sensual but there is a sense of frantic energy and love in the part of the man and kind of an allusion to maternal instinct on the woman.”

Of his style of choreography, Rioult says, “It’s much more musical than Martha (Graham’s) ever was and not so angular. I use that (technique) from time to time, but my movement is much more fluid. And then there’s the influence of my European upbringing and my culture, which always seems to mix things up.”

He remains committed to Graham and American dance technique. “I believe in it firmly,” he says. “I took that essence as the principle and then I made up my own departure and version of it. I should also say it’s very physical. That’s also an American thing.”

Part of that physicality comes from his youth. “My mother is a musician and teacher,” says the former track and field star. “And so the love of music and the love of physical activity — the best marriage of those two is dance. Dance is physical, and I mean extremely physical.”

He notes that contemporary dance has tried to set itself apart from the Graham tradition, “which can be a little bit old fashioned. The principles of it — as old as they are — I still love today, but of course you have to take it somewhere else.”

Kanopy Dance’s co-artistic director Thurrell is a veteran of the Graham school as well and Rioult says he believes she’s trying to do much the same thing with her company as he is. “(Thurrell’s) doing a great job carrying that tradition. I’m so excited about that. I really admire what they’re doing and I’m very happy that she asked me to collaborate with her.”

ON STAGE

Kanopy Dance will present Rioult: Hearts Entwined Feb. 12 to Feb. 14 at the Overture Center, 201 State St., Madison. Tickets are $29, $22 for students and $14 for children. To order and for showtimes, visit overturecenter.com or call 608-258-4141.

In addition, Pascal Rioult will conduct a master class for intermediate and advanced dancers at 11 a.m. on Feb. 13. Space is limited. Visit kanopydance.org for more details.

 

images_-_wigout_-_021116_-_KanopyPascal

The Sets List: Colors and Chords, Local H, Louis Prima Jr. and more

On stage in Wisconsin: Colors and Chords, Local H, Louis Prima Jr. and more

Colors and Chords 

7 p.m. Nov. 24 at Turner Hall Ballroom, Milwaukee. $25. pabsttheater.org.

Want to help children and young adults on the autism spectrum develop graphic design skills with the help of professionals in the field? Of course you do. So you should stop by Colors and Chords, the fundraiser that pairs seven local bands (including Nineteen Thirteen, Testa Rosa and Jon Mueller and Chris Roseneau of Volcano Choir) with seven local artists, who’ll create works on the spot inspired by the bands’ 20-minute sets. You can discover more about the nonprofit they’re supporting, Islands of Brilliance, at islandsofbrilliance.org.

Local H 

9:30 p.m. Nov. 28 at High Noon Saloon, Madison. $13, $15 day of show. high-noon.com.

Chicago-based punk rock duo Local H has been performing with new drummer Ryan Harding for two years and so far he and original guitarist/vocalist Scott Lucas are living up to the 25-year reputation set by the band, cranking out singles, covers and a new album (Hey, Killer). And, most importantly, their live shows are still as chaotic and exciting as ever. They’ll return for a set to High Noon Saloon, with Madison acts The Hussy and Dumb Vision opening.

Louis Prima Jr. & The Witnesses 

4 p.m. Nov. 29 at Turner Hall Ballroom, Milwaukee. $40. pabsttheater.org.

Ready for a full day of big band and swing music? That’s what WMSE is offering for its second annual Big Band Grandstand, a fundraiser to support its operations. Headlining the day is Louis Prima Jr., heir to one of the swing era’s biggest names and a fine jazz and pop musician in his own right. He and his big band The Witnesses will be joined by the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra’s Rhumba ensemble.

Kid Cudi 

8 p.m. Dec. 2 at the Orpheum Theater, Madison. $45, $50 day of show. madisonorpheum.com.

Kid Cudi burst on the hip-hop scene in 2008 with “Day ’n’ Nite,” but as his career’s progressed, he’s shifted from breakout star to cult favorite. That’s arguably a good shift for him — it’s given him the opportunity to experiment with unique sounds including frequent flirtation with indie rock. His latest record, Speedin’ Bullet to Heaven, is set to drop in less than a month, so glimpses of it should be visible in his set at the Orpheum.

Best Coast 

8 p.m. Dec. 2 at Turner Hall Ballroom, Milwaukee. $17. pabsttheater.org.

Sophisticated, sparkly and psychedelic — that’s Best Coast in a nutshell. The LA-based duo released its third studio album, California Nights, earlier this year, revealing it to be yet another dreamy yet dark exploration of the West Coast aesthetic they’re surrounded by. Hopefully they can bring some of that California sunshine along with the gloom to their Turner Hall gig. Midwestern indie rock band Cloakroom opens.

The Sets List | Wild Belle, Lucinda Williams, Passion Pit, more

Wild Belle

8 p.m. Oct. 12 at Turner Hall Ballroom, Milwaukee. $12, $15 day of show. pabsttheater.com.

Brother-sister duo Elliot and Natalie Bergman made waves with Isles, their debut album so named because of their goal to make each song have an isolated, unique musical genre. They haven’t released any hints as pithy for their anticipated followup, Dreamland, so their Turner Hall show this month might be the easiest way to get a glimpse of what’s coming soon. Local synthpop band Canopies opens.

Lucinda Williams

8 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Pabst Theater, Milwaukee. $40. pabsttheater.org.

Few artists can bare their soul quite like Lucinda Williams, the measured, brilliant country and folk singer/songwriter who’s earned herself a place in music history for albums like Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. This notoriously slow recorder has picked up the pace in recent years and her current tour is supporting Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, a 2014 release on her own record label. She’ll be joined by her longtime backing band, Buick 6.

Passion Pit

8 p.m. Oct. 17 at the Rave, Milwaukee. $27. therave.com.

When a new Passion Pit album drops, the big question isn’t as much whether you should pick it up — it’s which catchy earworm is going to burrow its way into your brain before you notice. For Kindred, the indietronica band’s third album, the most likely contender is “Lifted Up (1985),” the upbeat, romantic lead single. But the truth of the matter is just about anything Passion Pit frontman Michael Angelakos comes up with has the potential to stick with you — and if you don’t believe us, his live show should prove it. 

Conor Oberst

8 p.m. Oct. 16 at the Barrymore Theater, Madison. $25. barrymorelive.com.

If it feels like Conor Oberst was just here, you aren’t crazy. The indie folk artist has a lot of projects on his plate and one of them — a rare reunion of ‘00s emo/punk band Desaparecidos — was just at Milwaukee’s Turner Hall Ballroom in September. But when Oberst shows up in Madison this month, it’s all about him. And since his solo work is characterized by intimate and personal songwriting, expect to get to know him just about as well as you can get to know anyone standing on a concert stage.

Garbage

8 p.m. Oct. 18 at the Orpheum Theater, Madison. $38 to $50. madisonorpheum.com

Twenty years after the debut album that made their name, alt-rock band Garbage will return to the city where they got their start. Starting as an informal jam session between producers Steve Marker, Duke Erikson and Butch Vig (of Nevermind fame), the group added Scottish vocalist Shirley Manson and exploded onto the scene a few years later, with a crossover pop sound that challenged the waning grunge genre. The band has released four albums since, but you can be sure this show will be heavy on the classics.

Arlo Guthrie

8 p.m. Oct. 21 at the Union Theater, Madison. $30 to $100, $10 for UW-Madison students. uniontheater.wisc.edu.

8 p.m. Oct. 23 at the Pabst Theater, Milwaukee. $45. pabsttheater.org.

When a song is 18 minutes long, you can’t perform it every time you’re on stage, no matter how good it is. That’s why Arlo Guthrie, son of the legendary Woody Guthrie and a magnificent folk singer in his own right, only breaks out “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” the talking blues song about how he got a citation for littering that inadvertently kept him from getting drafted, every 10 years. Luckily, the 50th of those years has rolled around, so Guthrie’s hitting the road to spread the tale once again.

 

The Sets List: Joan Armatrading, Brandi Carlile, Shania Twain, Blitzen Trapper, Glass Animals

Joan Armatrading

8 p.m. Oct. 6 at UW Union Theatre, Madison. $35, $45, $55 or $100, with student tickets for $25.
uniontheater.wisc.edu.

We have good news and bad news about Joan Armatrading’s latest tour, passing through Madison this fall. Let’s start with the downer: The award-winning, prolific British musician has announced that this will be her final major tour, after more than 40 years on the road. On the other hand, this is also Armatrading’s first-ever “solo” tour — just her, a guitar, a piano and that voice of hers — which is sure to make this farewell to one of music’s greatest singer/songwriters even more poignant. Americana singer/songwriter Kristina Train opens.

Brandi Carlile

8 p.m. Sept. 29 at the Pabst Theater, Milwaukee. $40.
pabsttheater.org.

Largely due to troubles booking a headliner for the date, Brandi Carlile opened for The Avett Brothers at Summerfest this year to an unimaginably sparse Marcus Amphitheater crowd. Make it up to her when she takes the Pabst Theater stage on her own terms. Carlile’s here supporting her latest album, The Firewatcher’s Daughter, an energetic, sprawling Americana album that cements her reputation as one of the better folk artists recording today. 

Shania Twain

7:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at the Kohl Center, Madison. $44 to $134. uwbadgers.com.

Shania Twain thought she might never sing again. That’s how damaged her vocal chords were in the mid-to-late ‘00s, weakened by performance and stress and forcing her into early retirement. But careful rehabilitation helped restore the voice that gave us “You’re Still The One,” “That Don’t Impress Me Much” and “Come On Over.” And one Vegas residency later, Twain is back on the road. This tour, her first in more than a decade, is a preemptive strike for her upcoming fifth studio album, planned for sometime in the next year. Gavin DeGraw opens.

Blitzen Trapper

8 p.m. Oct. 6 at Turner Hall Ballroom, Milwaukee. $20, $22 day of show. pabsttheater.org.

You got lucky, Milwaukee. Portland-based country/folk band Blitzen Trapper is coming to Milwaukee on Oct. 6, but their new album, All Across This Land, is dropping on Oct. 2. That means you’ve got a whole weekend to bone up on the alt-country album that the band considers its best yet, and show up Tuesday night just as jazzed about their new material as they are. Don’t disappoint.

Glass Animals

8 p.m. Oct. 6 at the Orpheum Theater, Madison. $25. madisonorpheum.com.

Try not to be intimidated by the fact that Glass Animals frontman David Bayley picked up a degree in neuroscience while his band’s demos took the Internet by storm. Pushing aside your insecurities leaves you wide-open to explore Glass Animals’ experimental, innovative debut, Zaba, a tropical, psychedelic record that promises much from this young band. They’ll make their Madison debut with special guest Hinds.

American Players grows, with new leadership and broader artistic goals

The stage has been set in Spring Green for another bravura season from American Players Theatre. Now in its 36th year, APT long ago took Shakespeare out into the sticks and proved that if you produce it — and do so exceptionally well — they will come. 

Audiences ever since have been coming in increasingly larger numbers, not only from nearby Madison, but also Milwaukee, Chicago, the Twin Cities and points beyond. Rave reviews are the norm, not only in local publications, but also through regular mentions in the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Clearly, the classics have defined a distinct niche for APT.

But tradition is eventually followed by change. The 2015 season marks the first turnover in leadership for the classical company since David Frank became APT’s artistic director in 1991. Frank retired at the end of 2014, and his formidable theatrical shoes are now being filled by two executives, one new to APT and the other a longtime veteran.

Brenda DeVita, an Iowa native who studied with Sanford Robbins at the University of Delaware’s Professional Theater Training Program, has been an APT company member for 20 years, most recently as Frank’s associate artistic director. She has now been named the company’s artistic director, overseeing APT’s creative side with an eye to keeping pace with 21st century theatrical changes.

Carrie Van Hallgren, APT’s new managing director, is more familiar to Milwaukee theatergoers. Originally from Platteville, Van Hallgren has worked with the Milwaukee Rep, Milwaukee Shakespeare (now defunct), Next Act Theatre and other local companies. Van Hallgren, who holds an MFA in theatrical management from Yale University, will take over the management and administrative duties of Frank’s former position.

Together, DeVita and Van Hallgren face the formidable task of meeting and exceeding audience expectations for what has become one of the country’s best-known classical theater companies. The pair took time to talk about the coming season and what APT’s future holds.

APT has long been known for the quality of both its material and performance standards. What does 2015 look like?

Brenda DeVita: I think it’s a penetrating and provocative season. It’s utterly APT, but adventurous in some respects. It’s challenging, but I think we’re poised to take a new turn, one that’s evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

Carrie Van Hallgren: There are so many factors in selecting a season! The discussion of the season always starts in Brenda’s office, but as soon as there are titles to be discussed, APT’s senior staff is involved. 

We will never put a play into the season that we aren’t excited to produce and eager to share with audiences. But we do have 1,100 seats per performance to fill in the Up the Hill Theatre and so we certainly take (marketability) into account when assembling a season and determining which plays play in which space and when they open.

How have things changed under the new administration and what does that mean for APT productions?

DeVita: The kind of change that happens at APT is indicative of its geography. It’s very organic and very much who we are. It’s about sustained growth. It’s our job to look at the collective consciousness of the past, what the future of theater will be and which are the remarkable works that will stay current over time.

Van Hallgren: We also consider our core company of actors and our relationships with directors and designers. We need to consider the repertory nature of our work and the fact that we need to be able to move the scenery from an afternoon play to make way for the set of an evening play performing on the same stage two hours later.  

The repertory also demands that our actors play roles in several plays, all of which they rehearse at the same time. And we pay close attention to our production budgets. Putting together a season is an enormous puzzle and we all have a role in assembling it.

APT has changed from primarily a classical company to one with a much broader repertoire. How do you decide on what material to produce?

DeVita: It’s easy when something stands the test of time and we always go back to drink from that well. But a classic is something that has many facets to it. There is no hard and fast definition, but it’s dependent on the way you interpret the term. That’s a responsibility that I take seriously.

In terms of an artistic ethos … well, no one is getting rich and famous working for APT, but I truly believe they become better artists and this place helps define them for themselves. I try to find performers who are taken with the idea of working on a really hard play in the middle of nowhere where there is nothing else to do. That’s really where the core company came from.

From a business standpoint, APT has long been a solid financial performer, even opening the $4.6 million Touchstone Theatre in 2009 at the height of the recession. What are your future plans?

Van Hallgren: APT has finished in the black for over 20 consecutive seasons. This has helped us to weather financial downturns, manage unexpected equipment failures and gain the trust of our supporters. In an effort to improve the housing for our seasonal staff, we purchased four apartment buildings in Spring Green last year. This year we went live with a new ticketing software system that was years in the making.

In 2017, we plan to rebuild our outdoor stage and on June 9 will embark on a $5.1 million capital campaign. The stage is literally falling apart and has two years of life left to it. Our plan is to raise funds not only to rebuild the stage, but also make improvements to the lobby and to the backstage storage and dressing room areas. 

To date, we’ve raised 60 percent of that figure. We are already dreaming about some of the plays we will be able to present on our new stage and the kinds of designs we can employ with increased storage and more flexibility.

To that end, how will APT continue expanding its repertoire? What playwrights’ works haven’t you tapped that you’d like to bring to the stage?

DeVita: That’s a very interesting conversation that we have all the time when comparing what we do to the emerging conscience of the nation.

The works of August Wilson absolutely belong on our stage when we are ready and able to present those plays with the mastery they deserve. Tony Kushner’s plays deserve a place with us, but I wonder about Sam Shepard. 

We’re looking for authors with a sense of poetry in their writing. I’d like to do some William Inge and more by John Steinbeck. I also want to consider Lorraine Hansberry and other female playwrights. But it will not serve our audiences well if we are not doing those plays in the best way we can.

Van Hallgren: The quality of the work on our stages is always the most important thing and we strive to make that work better and better. We’ll never be satisfied, we’ll never feel that it is good enough. Because of that, we will never be done growing.

APT’s 2015 Season

American Players Theatre in Spring Green broadly defines the classics during the 2015 season. Here is a complete list of productions. Tickets range from $45 to $74 and can be purchased at 608-588-2361 or americanplayers.org.

UP THE HILL

Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor

Opens June 6; last production Oct. 4

Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire

Opens June 8; last production Sept. 8

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

Opens June 19; last production
Sept. 26

Noel Coward’s Private Lives

Opens July 31; last production Sept. 26

Shakespeare’s Othello

Opens Aug. 7; last production Oct. 3

IN THE TOUCHSTONE

An Iliad, an adaptation of Homer’s epic poem 

Opens June 6; last production Oct. 18

The Island, by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona

Opens June 21; last production Sept. 8

Edward Albee’s Seascape

Opens Aug. 3; last production Oct. 17

Marivaux’s The Game of Love and Chance

Opens Oct. 30; last production Nov. 22

Florentine raises a glass to season-ending ‘Elixir’

When William Florescu, general director of Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera, raises a glass on the opening night of Gaetano Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love,” he’ll toast the opera with the Florentine’s own wine.

The Florentine Reserve, produced by The Wine Foundry in Napa, California, is a classic Bordeaux blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot and petite verdot, says marketing and communications director Richard Clark.

“We knew that a love of great opera and a great wine would make the perfect pairing to end our 81st season,” Clark says. 

It’s also a clever tie-in for the Florentine’s version of Donizetti’s comic opera, which has been migrated from the Basque Country in northern Spain, circa the 18th century, to 1930s California wine country. 

“Since the opera’s premise is that a quack traveling doctor is trying to pass off a bottle of Bordeaux as a love potion, we knew wine country would be a perfect location for our version,” says Florescu, who’s directing the production. “It was one of those updates that would be plausible without changing the logic of the piece.”

In fact, the itinerant quack Dr. Dulcimara (bass Musa Ngqungwana) arrives just in time to find a love triangle in the making. Poor Nemorino (tenor Rolando Sanz), a simple man in love with wealthy landowner Adina (soprano Diana McVey), can barely attract her attention. When the self-important Sgt. Belcore (baritone Corey McKern) begins to court Adina, Nemorino turns to the medicine man for a love potion.

“The Elixir of Love,” a Florescu favorite that he ranks as one of Donizetti’s best operas, was relatively unknown to audiences after its initial performances in 1832. Famed tenor Luciano Pavarotti changed all that when he popularized the aria “Una furtive lagrima” (“A furtive tear”) in the ‘90s. It became one of the late Italian tenor’s signatures.

Donizetti wrote some 70 operas and a few sacred works, but most of them are no longer performed. His broader contribution to opera is having popularized the bel canto (“beautiful singing”) style of opera, along with Vincenzo Bellini and Gioachino Rossini.

“Elixir” contains several bel canto moments, Florescu says, most notably the five duets performed among the four major characters.

“‘Bel canto’ describes a style of singing, but also describes an opera era that was the golden age of singing,” Florescu says. “The style is generally thought of as having a beautiful lyric line and some fast notes. In bel canto, the orchestra played a subservient role, whereas later the orchestra became a sort of protagonist to the singers.”

The opera’s use of bel canto is punctuated by its comic characterizations. Those would become source material for some of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most famous parodies, Florescu says. The “patter songs” familiar to fans of”The Mikado” and “The Pirates of Penzance” first appeared in bel canto operas.

He also thinks the opera has unique implications in choosing to empower its heroine financially and romantically. “What’s fascinating about this piece, which was adapted from a French libretto, is that you have a single woman in a position of independence and power with a young man mooning over her,” Florescu says. 

Donizetti’s strength as a composer adds to the opera’s appeal even beyond its comic leanings, Florescu adds. He was a craftsman who composed operas on commission to earn a living, but he was also an artist whose works foreshadowed operatic compositions yet to come.

The composer’s strength was his naturalistic compositional style, Florescu explains. While Bellini and Rossini usually relied on musical “hooks,” Donizetti was able to adapt his style to suit the material for which he was composing, whether it was a comedy like “Elixir” or a tragedy like “Lucia.” However, the composer did have his weaknesses.

“He wrote at a quick pace and pumped out at least two operas a year,” Florescu says. “The sheer prodigiousness of his output meant that some of his stuff became workmanlike to the point where it didn’t contain any memorability.”

Fortunately, “The Elixir of Love” doesn’t fit into that category, standing as one of the composer’s best efforts. Florescu expects audience members will feel the same way.

“I think people will love hearing the voices working together, especially in the five duets,” Florescu says. “They’re just fantastic pieces that give each voice a chance to shine, but they also do a great job moving the actions forward.”

ON STAGE 

The Florentine Opera’s production of Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love” will be performed in Italian on May 8 and May 10 at the Marcus Center, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee. Tickets are $27-$121 and can be ordered at 414-273-7121 or florentineopera.org.

IN THE GLASS 

To taste The Florentine Reserve, join opera fans at a Florentine fundraiser to be held at the Lake Country home of Dr. Karen Madsen and Dr. Peter Drescher. The event will take place on May 2 at 6:30 p.m. and also feature duets from “The Elixir of Love” performed by the Florentine Studio Artists. 

Tickets are $50 and include samples of the Napa Valley red and food catered by Zilli’s. For details or to reservations, call 414-291-5700, ext. 212, before April 27.

Hubbard Street Dance embraces the ‘original’ art form

Think of humanity’s earliest forms of art, and the average expert may point to the Paleolithic painting of a dun horse in the Lascaux Caves in southwestern France as a prominent example. Glenn Edgerton, artistic director of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, suggests we look elsewhere.

“Dance is one of the earliest forms of expression and each culture has its own style,” Edgerton says. “The human body is the truest and most natural instrument available to you, and dance is a means of communication.”

Edgerton and his troupe will be using that natural instrument April 15 at Madison’s Overture Center. It’s the latest in a long line of visits to the venue, a destination that Hubbard Street looks forward to every time, the creative director says.

“We always love coming to Overture,” Edgerton says. “We’ve been there enough that there is a momentum and excitement from the audience, and that’s always a nice experience for us.”

Founded in 1977 as the natural evolution of founder Lou Conte’s dance studio, Hubbard Street has managed to stretch the boundaries of modern dance in multiple directions, says Edgerton, an Orange, Texas, native who spent time at Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet and other international dance companies before becoming Hubbard Street’s artistic director in 2009.

“Hubbard Street is focused on bringing the best contemporary dance possible to the most people as possible,” Edgerton says. “We use the work of both established and new choreographers and we keep experimenting. That’s the beauty of the company.”

Hubbard Street’s set list for Overture contains programming elements both new and familiar to Madison audiences. It’s a blend typical of the troupe’s commitment to a variety of dance forms and styles that provide compelling and sometimes artistically complex performances.

The evening opens with “Falling Angels,” choreographed by Jiří Kylián, considered one of the most influential artists in western contemporary dance. Danced to the music of Steve Reich, the 15-minute work involves eight female dancers whose group fractures and combines in endlessly inventive patterns.

The second piece, Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Pacopepepluto,” is a men-only dance to music made popular by crooner Dean Martin and Martin’s number one interpreter Joe Scalissi. The seven-minute work taps stanzas from “That’s Amore,” “Memories Are Made of This” and other songs Martin made famous, while dancers interpret Cerrudo’s esthetic austerity and sharp wit.

“Waxing Moon,” which opens the performance’s middle segment, combines the choreography of Robyn Mineko Williams with “The Ivory Coast,” composed by Robert F. Haynes and Tony Lazzara. The 20-minute minimalist work contemplates the process of “becoming” as the protagonist considers the possibility for his future while confronting two figures.

The five-minute “A Picture of You Falling,” choreographed by Crystal Pite, focuses on “the shared narratives that live in our bodies — the familiar, repetitive storylines that move across cultures and generations — and the body’s role as their illustrator,” according to Pite herself.

“I’m curious about the ways in which the body can convey profound meaning through the simplest of gestures,” she added, “and how distortion, iteration and analysis of familiar human action provide opportunities to recognize and re-frame ourselves in one another.”

The performance will close with “Gnawa,” Nacho Duato’s 22-minute choreographed composition created for Hubbard Street in 2005 and already familiar to Overture audiences from prior performances. Set to evocative music by Hassan Hakmoun and Adam Rudolph, the vibrant ensemble work taps the Mediterranean spirit of North Africa and Duato’s native Spain. 

All of the works go far in helping meet Edgerton’s definition of dance. Although a complicated concept, dance is not hard to understand once you appreciate its purpose.

“Dance is a way of communicating, a brilliant form of expression,” Edgerton says. “When there is imagination involved, when you put your mind into expressing something with your body, movement becomes dance.”

ON STAGE 

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago will perform at 7:30 p.m. April 15 at Overture Center for the Arts, 201 State St., Madison. For tickets, call the Overture box office at 608-258-4141 or visit
hubbardstreetdance.com.

‘Ten Questions’ asks us to balance science and faith

It’s been almost a century since the Scopes “Monkey” Trial so famously fictionalized in “Inherit the Wind,” yet the battle over teaching evolution and/or creationism in schools still rages on. But while the central question may have remained the same, the cultural landscape has changed since the 1925 trial that challenged a state law against the teaching of evolution, or that 1955 play that revived its themes and conflicts.

A new era of debate requires new plays to illuminate it, and Next Act Theatre has just such a play on tap. “Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher About Evolution,” a world premiere work by Stephen Massicote, depicts a contemporary classroom thrown into chaos after an inquisitive 16-year-old derails a teacher’s biology class. 

Director Shawn Douglass says the play subsequently focuses on the relationship between the teacher, Ms. Kelly (Deborah Staples), and the student, Raymond (Kyle Curry), as they try to negotiate each other’s worldviews and come to an understanding. Each has an ally: Kelly is supported by interim principal Mr. Lester (David Cecsarini), who has ulterior, romantic motivations for helping, as well as professional ones; Raymond is championed by his mother, Lynn (Mary MacDonald Kerr), a single parent and evangelical Christian who sees “Darwinism” as a threat to her faith.

It’s this tight, intimate focus that Douglass believes is a strength of Massicote’s play. “A lot of the noise around this issue is around the political aspects of the fight,” he says. “Lawsuits and those types of things. What’s attractive about (“Ten Questions”) is that you get to see that play out on a very personal level.”

While the play ultimately comes down on the side of science, Douglass says it never ceases to paint a clear picture of the spiritual and emotional needs that faith can fulfill, and Raymond and his mother are treated just as sympathetically as the other two characters. In a sense, he says, the play is about how to bridge that divide, and teach those who place their trust in science and evidence and those who trust in a higher power and belief system to coexist and value each other despite their differences.

“Sometimes as we hear these discussions on the news,” Douglass says, “we tend to think of both sides in terms of ‘the other.’ ‘Those funny Christians’ or ‘those atheist scientists.’ What the play does masterfully is form a connection between two people who may not agree with each other all the time, but are open to each other, are interested in each other and care about each other.”

One of the challenges in working on a play as complex and sensitive as “Ten Questions” comes from having no other production to rely on. Douglass has never directed a Massicote play (although Next Act has previously produced two: “Mary’s Wedding” and “The Clockmaker”), and since “Ten Questions” is a world premiere, he and his actors must build their world from scratch. “That’s been a new experience for me, to build that reality from the ground up,” he says. 

To help them do that, Douglass asked actors in rehearsal to focus on talking with each other about the play’s issues, trying to understand where their characters’ attitudes come from.

The conflict between religious and secular worldviews is once more in the public eye of late, due to the firestorm set off by Indiana’s “religious freedom” legislation. Given that, Douglass thinks it’s more important than ever that society understand where many of their fellow Americans are coming from, to enable dialogue and understanding. “There’s a sense, I think, for many Christians, especially those on the right end of the spectrum, that they feel under threat, and they feel like they are being forced to live in a world with different values than they hold,” he says. 

He believes Ten Questions might offer a framework for coexistence — as long as both sides can accept each other for who they are, and care for each other as fellow human beings.

ON STAGE

Next Act Theatre’s world premiere of “Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher About Evolution” will run through May 3 at 255 S. Water St., Milwaukee. Tickets range from $28 to $38, and can be purchased at nextact.org or 414-278-0765.

Christopher Durang blends Chekhov’s style with autobiography in ‘Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike’

Playwright Christopher Durang’s most famous work, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” may be strongly influenced by the plays of 19th-century Russian writer Anton Chekhov. But it’s the contemporary elements he’s woven in, including quasi-autobiographical details pulled from his life and that of friends like Yale Drama School classmate Sigourney Weaver, that gives its characters the energy, vitality and pathos needed to rise above stereotypes and give the play its lasting comedic appeal.

Winner of the 2013 Tony Award for best play, Durang’s classic/contemporary mashup will conclude Forward Theater’s 2014–15 season, running April 9-26 at the Overture Center.

“What I love in all (Durang’s) plays is that these are really human characters with beating hearts, and the comedy comes out of their circumstances, not from them being cartoons,” says Forward’s artistic director Jennifer Uphoff Gray, who is directing the production. “The play treats them with a profound amount of compassion, which is a lovely tonal layer on top of the comedy.”

The play’s references to Chekhov are deliberate and overt. Vanya, Sonia and Masha’s names are taken from Chekhovian canon, as is the name of an additional character, Nina. The play also blends comedy with semi-tragic situations in a way similar to Chekhov works like “The Seagull” and “The Cherry Orchard.”

But Durang himself says “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” is not merely a parody of Chekhov, nor does one need to know the Russian writer’s plays to appreciate this contemporary one.

“I do like Chekhov’s plays and got to read them in my 20s and 30s,” says Durang. Now 66, Durang left New York City several years ago and moved to rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania, with his now-husband John Augustine. The play is set in that same county and reflects an urban/rural tension.

“A lot of Chekhov’s characters are unhappy with their lives and regret the things they didn’t do, and those who live in the country seem to be unhappier than those who live in the city,” Durang says. “I thought, ‘What if I wrote a play that incorporated the themes of Chekhov and set the play in modern day?’”

Durang’s question became the genesis of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” and drives its successful comedic trajectory. 

The story is set at the home of Vanya (James Ridge) and Sonia (Sarah Day), siblings who live together in Bucks County. Unemployed, they have spent most of their adult lives caring for their now-dead parents, literature professors who loved Chekhov and named their children after Chekhovian characters. They currently survive thanks to their movie star sister Masha (Julie Swenson) covering their living expenses.

The pair’s static environment ruptures when Masha returns home with her latest fling, boy toy Spike (Travis Knight). Sonia’s insecurities and Masha’s competitive nature spark a series of arguments which Vanya must try to mediate, all while Spike flounces about the house distracting the trio with his muscular, often scantily clad body. It quickly becomes clear that Masha is intent on selling the family home, which would leave Vanya and Sonia destitute.

Durang says the play’s characters share some similarities to his own life, but it’s their differences that helped him maintain a necessary distance while writing the work. “I realized that I was the age now of Vanya in the play and I am very much that character,” Durang says. “But it’s more of a what-if scenario. I feel very lucky that I was able to pursue a career in theater after college, but the Vanya character is what I think I would be if I didn’t get to follow my choices.”

The play is largely motivated by jealousy and sibling rivalry, another what-if scenario for Durang, an only child who nevertheless had to play peacemaker between warring parents.

“The characters had to take care of parents who had Alzheimer’s disease for 15 years. I didn’t have that because my mother died of cancer at age 30,” Durang says. “Before that my parents fought all the time. My father had a drinking problem and I constantly had to be the peacemaker.”

Vanya’s sisters have ties to reality too. Durang says he created Sonia as a composite of several women he’s known, and the narcissistic Masha is inspired by Weaver — or rather, by a similarly self-involved character she played in college.

“I’m not saying that any part of Masha is based on Sigourney Weaver,” Durang says, “but I thought she would have fun playing the role, and I was lucky to get her.”

The Tony Award-winning Broadway production, which featured Weaver as Masha, also starred David Hyde Pierce and Kristine Nielsen as Masha’s siblings and Billy Magnussen as Spike.

Durang says the characters in the play must deal with feeling left behind as times change, and the struggles people face in their attempt to coexist and come to terms with their gains and losses. But he rejects the opinion of The New York Times drama critic Ben Brantley, who described “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” as “a sunny new play about gloomy people.”

“’Gloomy people’ might describe Chekhov, but there is something much more energetic about my characters,” Durang says. “I think the characters in my play are likeable and you sort of root for them. ‘Gloomy’ doesn’t suggest energy, and my characters are full of energy.”

The play’s energy certainly helped drive the nominations and awards the work has received. Is addition to his Tony, Durang has also received a Drama Desk Award, New York Drama Critics Circle Award, and many more.

Best of all, the play pleases its creator, who may be the toughest critic of all.

“I am very lucky with this play,” Durang says. “It was a nice surprise.”

On Stage

Forward Theater’s production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” runs April 9-26 at the Overture Center for the Arts, 201 State St., Madison. For tickets, call 608-258-4141 or visit forwardtheater.com.

At 50, Milwaukee Rep’s internship has evolved into one of the nation’s best | WiGOUT Cover Story

There’s a saying around the Milwaukee Rep that “the company is built on the backs of interns.” That sentiment might come off as a joke if the people saying it weren’t so appreciative, or acutely aware that it’s true. 

For the past 50 years, the Rep’s intern program has been a vital part of the theater, recruiting developing actors, directors, technicians and designers to support the established artists in the public eye. Originally just a way to solve the need for understudies and ensemble members, as well as resident company members, the program has blossomed. It’s now considered one of the top programs for actors and directors in the country — although few outside the theater community even know it exists.

Rep interns have done more for Milwaukee than just support a single season, because they have a tendency to return or stick around. The Rep’s entire top level of artistic staff (except, humorously, artistic director Mark Clements himself) are alumni of the intern program. Many of the city’s most beloved actors have come to Milwaukee for the Rep internship and wound up either making their careers here or opening theater companies of their own.

But on a broader scale, the Rep’s 50 years of interns have built a nationwide network of theater artists devoted to hard work in the pursuit of their craft, be that in regional theater or on Broadway, and the program’s reputation of continued success has allowed the Rep to cultivate successive generations of artists, according to Brent Hazelton, the Rep’s associate artistic director and a former intern company director.

“If we’re not — as a regional theater — working with training programs to advance the careers of emerging professional actors, then it’s just not going to happen,” he says.

A Day In The Life

The essence of a Rep internship has remained structurally the same for the past 50 years. According to current intern company director JC Clementz (a directing intern in the 2011–12 season), each of the 10 to 15 acting and directing interns hired each year are assigned to the season’s plays based on where they best can be used and learn from the Rep’s staff and guest artists as the season progresses.

“I like to equate it to a residency, where doctors in their final years (of training) spend anywhere from a year to five years studying with specialists,” Clementz says. “These emerging artists and directors come here and they get the chance to study and participate — become fellows — with the professional artists who are working here.”

Acting interns are expected to serve as understudies on at least one production at any given moment, and may fill ensemble parts and occasionally principal roles as well. Directors serve as assistant directors on those productions. And that’s it — a focus that Hazelton says distinguishes the Rep’s program from many others.

“They don’t sort screws, we’re not hanging lights, they don’t clean the bathrooms or work in the box office,” he says. “It allows us to get a really high caliber of artists in here.”

That doesn’t mean they don’t work hard. If anything, an intern’s day is longer than that of an average actor or director. Weekday rehearsals run six to eight hours, starting between 10 a.m. and noon and ending between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., and interns are expected to be present for much of that time, unless they aren’t on call for a scene. But they’re also required to attend three-hour understudy rehearsals before or after, and when acting interns are cast as ensemble members or principals, they may have to perform in a show after their regular rehearsal. To make things more complicated, interns may be rehearsing more than one show at a time, alternating between the two from day to day.

When not physically in the Rep’s complex, interns are provided with housing on the East Side by the company — a big step implemented in the ‘00s that has helped the company attract talented actors and directors who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford coming to town.

The modern definition of “intern” suggests the Rep’s interns are relative youngsters. But while some are fresh out of bachelor’s degree programs, Hazelton says the company pursues interns of all ages. It’s part of an overall commitment to searching for a diverse intern class.

“Our job is to serve what’s going on down there (on stage), and you can’t do that with a group of 22-year-old white kids. You need age diversity, you need racial diversity,” Hazelton explains.

The exact benefits of the program differ for actors and directors, but alumni of both disciplines say they’re grateful for the opportunity to work closely with professionals who understand their craft and are willing to share what they know.

“I think there are very few things more valuable than watching intimately and taking on the choices of top professional actors who have been working at their craft for years and years and years,” says Deborah Staples, a Rep intern in the 1990–91 season who later became a Rep resident company member and a staple of Wisconsin’s theater community.

“What separates one actor from another is the choices that they make,” she says. “A lot of young actors seem to not even know that there are choices to be made.”

For current intern Vallea Woodbury, who has several years’ experience under her belt already, it was feedback from other artists that benefited her the most. “Because of my position in the intern ensemble, I was able to walk up to someone and say, ‘Hey, am I doing what you need, and is there something you think I should be doing different?’”

The directing internship is no different, according to Leda Hoffmann, the Rep’s literary coordinator and a directing intern in the 2010–11 season. In that year, she got to work with four directors: Aaron Posner on”My Name is Asher Lev,” Joe Hanreddy on “A Christmas Carol,” J.R. Sullivan on “The 39 Steps” and artistic director Clements on “Death of a Salesman.” Now, every time she walks into a rehearsal room, she says, she has memories of how all four handled the same sort of situation, which she can adapt and steal to fit any given moment.

Fifty years of interns

While the fundamental function of the intern company has stayed constant over the past five decades, some of the details have changed as the company has evolved and improved. While Clementz says there’s scarce material in the Rep’s archives about the earliest days of the program, he and the artistic team do know it began at the behest of Mary John, the founding managing director of the company in 1954, when it was still known as the Fred Miller Theatre. When the company changed its name in 1964, the intern program developed as a training program designed for pre-professional, non-Equity actors who could support the resident company.

By all accounts, it stayed much the same for the next few decades, growing in reputation as the years passed. By the time Staples applied to be an intern in the 1990–91 season, she says the Rep’s program had become one of the best in the country and her top pick when she applied to programs.

As good as the Rep’s internship program was then, it was about to start on the path to a big upgrade. Artistic director John Dillon stepped down shortly after Staples’ time as an intern, and his replacement Joe Hanreddy decided in the mid-‘90s to commit to expanding the program. Hazelton says one of the chief architects of that expansion was Sandy Ernst, who served as the intern company director for several years before he took over the program in 2003. Ernst was one of the first people to take a direct leadership role over the interns, and she was tasked with actively recruiting new interns each year.

The program needed that sort of shakeup because Staples, a California transplant, was the exception, not the rule. The Rep’s interns were largely pulled from schools and communities in Wisconsin and the Midwest, with regional diversity usually coming from graduate students required to have internships. The result, Hazelton says, was the intern company tended to consist of white 20-somethings financially able to move to Milwaukee for an unpaid apprenticeship.

“It didn’t make for the greatest group,” he says. “Not only do you put a group of people the same age and the same experience in the room and they all kill each other … but it just didn’t serve the theater very well.”

Hazelton was in the last cohort to work pro bono, in the 1999–2000 season. The next year, the Rep began providing interns with both housing and a stipend, and Hazelton says the company immediately saw an uptick in older and out-of-state actors. When he took on Ernst’s role, Hazelton made her network even bigger, tripling the number of relationships with schools nationwide in an effort to expand the company’s racial and ethnic diversity.

He also expanded the number of professional opportunities for interns outside of the Rep. Interns now have a number of audition opportunities built into their year, including an annual Chicago showcase at the end of the year, that expose them to artists from other cities. “The goal is not for interns to leave here with a job,” Hazelton says. “The goal is for interns to leave with a really strong set of personal connections, so that in that first year when they’re out on their own … (they) actually have a group of artistic directors and producers that they can connect with.”

So far, it’s working. Since 2003, about 90 percent of the intern company’s alumni are still working in theater, a number Clementz says is almost unheard of. Just at the Rep, as many as 10 percent of the roles in an average season go to former interns. 

Clementz took over the program in 2013 and has continued to build on Hazelton’s success. He now travels to universities throughout the fall and winter, seeing nearly 400 in-person auditions by the end of February. Promising students get reminders to apply, joining the 250-odd applications that come in during the spring. By then, the Rep’s season is set, so he filters through those applications for actors and directors suited for the scheduled shows and makes offers to the best candidates.

There’s a big difference between the interns Clementz hires now and the ones Hazelton hired 10 years ago, though — and it all has to do with Mark Clements.

A program evolves

The big shift in quality for the intern company came around 2004. At that point, Hazelton says, Hanreddy was able to select shows for the season with the intern company in mind, knowing there would be an acceptable baseline of talent. “It stopped being about ‘making do with whatever I’m given’ and more about ‘I can do this play now because we’ll have interns who can handle the responsibilities,’” Hazelton says.

But Clements’ arrival in 2010 brought changes to the Rep, and the aftershocks would change the purpose and composition of the intern company too. Clements brought an increased focus on musical theater to the company, staging an annual musical in the Quadracci Powerhouse and emphasizing Stackner Cabaret shows that feature multi-talented actor/singer/instrumentalists. A few years later, in 2012, Clements dissolved the resident acting company, rolling its remaining members into a new team of associate artists that also includes directors, writers, musicians and designers.

The first change only altered the type of interns Hazelton, and later Clementz, would need to recruit. Under Hanreddy, the Rep had been a text-based program, where the goal was to find good actors who could speak well and deliver captivating performances. On top of that, interns must now have experience in singing, dancing or playing instruments, further narrowing the pool and raising the talent bar.

The second — eliminating the resident company — has forced a new evolutionary direction altogether. “In the early ‘00s,” Hazelton says, “that was going to be our way to diversify the resident acting company: to bring people in through the intern program, keep them around for a few years in an apprentice capacity, and move them into the company that way.”

Without that resident company, the emphasis is on diversity of education — learning from every artist, local and otherwise, who passes through the theater, at the expense of those deeper relationships former interns could build with residents.

“One of the values and advantages of the program has always been the ability to be mentored by professional artists. And that mentorship still exists, but it’s a different sort of mentorship,” Hazelton says.

Even five years after Clements’ arrival, there may still be changes on the horizon. For several years, the artistic team has been debating the pros and cons of transforming the internship into an accredited grad program. And while their program’s focused nature helps them beat out most of the competition, many less-targeted programs have begun offering incentives such as health insurance, which the Rep currently isn’t able to.

One thing won’t change: the company’s commitment to teach a good old-fashioned Midwestern work ethic. It’s the single attribute of the program every veteran points out, and the one the artistic team thinks might be the most important.

“If I had not worked my ass off as an intern,” Clementz says, “Brent would not have come to me and said, ‘Hey, we’re looking to hire someone in the literary office; are you interested?’ … You have to work hard enough and put yourself in a position where (people) will want to hire you for the work you do.”

It’s a lesson he learned from his teachers as a Rep intern. It’s one he teaches to his interns now that he’s running the program. And, if history is any indication, it’s one they’ll teach the next generation.