BalletX’s fall series debuted last night at the Wilma Theatre with three world premieres from three distinct voices in the choreographic world: Adam Barruch’s “If The Heart Runs,” Gabrielle Lamb’s “Heedful Needful,” and Matthew Neenan’s “There I Was.” Neenan’s the co-founder and Co-Artistic Director of BalletX, now in its seventh season, but Barruch and Lamb could be considered guest choreographers for this season and their work was especially brilliant last night.
Broken up into a two-piece pre-intermission first act, Barruch’s “If The Heart Runs” and Lamb’s “Heedful Needful” were stunningly visual, emotionally heavy but not ostentatiously dramatic, and executed flawlessly, both by the dancers and from a production standpoint. There wasn’t a ton of continuity throughout the night – there was not a significant thematic or aesthetic overarching narrative from curtain to curtain. But the first act gave the audience the strongest and clearest sense of what the choreographers were attempting to communicate.
In “If The Heart Runs,” the full company was employed, and the lighting by Drew Billiau and costuming by Reid Bartelme perfectly complemented the company’s ten stellar performers. Barruch’s statement of intent is simple, to the point, and an effective tool for an audience to pull out of the performance all that it can:
“”If the heart run” explores the interior landscapes of interpersonal relationship and the dichotomous natures of humanity: from the primal sensuality of our origins, to the profusion of thought which disconnects us from the source.”
The entirety of that quote may get a little esoteric, but what’s not is the palpable dynamic between dancers in this introduction to the fall season. The dancers interact with great sensual intrigue; pulling, touching, holding and handling each other with extraordinary attention paid to a relationship’s elements of emotion, power, conflict and comfort. Some lifts and spins feel as if they’d fit right into an honest-to-goodness domestic dispute – we wouldn’t go so far as to say the piece addresses legitimate violence, but there is often, in relationships and in life, those times when emotional energy elevates to a point where the execution of restraint and control are paramount. The act’s excellent costuming put the dancers in garments that reflect minimalism and function. They looked like a combination of scrubs, karate uniforms, active wear and formal suiting. Their colors, ranging from greys and blacks to purples and burgundies, drew an appropriate allusion to bruising, battered skin, bones and blood. Formulating an actualized narrative or story from the dancing doesn’t feel necessary, but the outstanding execution drew attention to the dramatized notions of love and lust within interpersonal dynamics. Extra attention is paid to the struggle to maintain an identity in a couple, especially when notions of desire, dependence, resentment and jealousy come into play.
Lamb’s use of Phillip Glass was excellent. Using “Etude #6” and “Orphee’s Return” by the iconic ambient and minimalist electronic noise artist, and Colleen’s “In the Train with No Light,” “Your Heart is So Loud,” “Happiness Nuggets,” and “Carry Cot,” the glitchy, eerie soundtrack was perfect bedding for Lamb’s exploration of connect and disconnect within families. Bartelme’s costuming didn’t feel as inspired as it did in “If The Heart Runs,” but Billiau’s lighting continued to awe. The sets for the first act were minimal to zero, all we focus on is the dancer’s movements, their expression, and their appearance. And when the stage’s matte grey floors were bathed in lights, often in beautiful sepias and families of red with the assistance of just the right amount of fog, a stark and stunning visual was created that allows the eyes to settle nicely on the performances. Only six dancers were used in this piece, which worked, because the tongue-in-cheek notion of a family portrait was toyed with a handful of times in the piece. Lamb, in written form, addresses a newfound interest in genealogy and seeking power in the future grounded by knowledge of the past. As Lamb wrote:
“I began to imagine that I contained all these hundreds of people inside myself (as, in a sense, I do). If each of us embodies the forgotten multitudes whose combined DNA we carry, then a simple conversation between two people becomes a complex congregation of millions. No wonder it is difficult to make oneself understood.”
Or, to take that a little further, it’s no wonder it’s so hard to make a connection with our family, or even our lovers and friends. The sense of isolation and confusion, both when a part of and outside of a family, was expertly expressed in Lamb’s choreography through one primarily lost and confused dancer and a five-piece family that sought to include and exclude her throughout the act.
Unfortunately, the gripping power of the first two acts was a little lost after the intermission. One of the company’s dancers also performed with a guitar in this, the final act of the night. The costumes were the dancers’ own (street clothes), and every company member was present while Colby Damon’s original acoustic compositions floated and directed the dancers’ seemingly improvised choreography. The proof of the piece’s slight disconnect between controlled movement and music-propelled improvisation lies within the choreographer’s own words:
“I began choreographing with no initial concept, basing the progression of the piece mostly on the dancer’s chemistry and testing out a fairly divers and random set of music choices.”
The final act did eventually use two established recordings: Devendra Banhart’s “Dogs They Make up The Dark” and Tom Waits’ “Road to Peace.” Unfortunately for me, while some audience members applauded at the first few grumbly, mumbly utterances by Waits, I feared things would take a dark and sudden downward dive. And they did. “Road to Peace” is extremely political, citing Israel, Palestine, war, Jesus and the rejection thereof, and it didn’t seem like the piece knew how to handle all these heavy topics through dance. There was one particularly striking moment from Richard Villaverde in this act, though, a beautiful duet with flavors of flamenco and the display of his outstanding flexibility and strength.
Overall, though, the night was a beautiful night of modernized and contemporary ballet. Something as simple as tweaked lighting, understated costume design, minimal staging, and casually-choreographed but technically brilliant dance is a sight that every fan of the arts should see. Ballet is alive and well in Philadelphia and BalletX serves up their own stylized version of the timeless but often dismissed-as-stuffy art form. The first time I took in BalletX, with “Beautiful Decay,” I wasn’t as impressed. But the work of Barruch and Lamb has me committed as a longtime devotee of BalletX’s mission and product.
Alyssa Edwards is one of the best things of all time about RuPaul’s Drag Race. She ducked out and left six other queens to fight, tooth and nail, for the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar (Jinkx Monsoon beat out Alaska Thunderfuck and Roxxxy Andrews) on April 1, 2013. She lip-synched the HELL out of “Cold Hearted,” the Paula Abdul gem from the summer of ‘89, but Coco Montrese went buck and did that thing where she pointed to her lips during the near-rapping fast part, and everyone died. Many grieved at the loss of Ms. Edwards, the deep red rose of Mesquite, Texas. Pretty much everyone knew that an injustice had been done and that Alyssa would go down in the RuPaul herstory books as one of the fiercest queens in five seasons of Drag Race. Well, tomorrow night she touches down in Philadelphia, and something tells me not enough people know how amazing it would be to gaze into that woman’s perfectly-painted canvas of a face.
To be standing in front of and talking to the winner of Best Pageant Queen honors, chosen by fans and ru-vealed during the airing of ‘The Lost Season” (it’s just Season One), would probably be pretty mesmerizing. The self-proclaimed Vanessa Williams of drag serves you so much face and so much eye. In fact, her mouth, eyes and general facial control is what makes her the charming queen we so adore. She’s expressive, and she makes you laugh with over-the-top gestures of “Can you believe how beautiful I am?” and “Clock this look I am giving to you.” See, drag can be so serious. What it really comes down to is does it make you smile and stretch your creative imagination? Alyssa doesn’t even really do too many impersonations; she’s not that kind of girl. She could no doubt turn out some Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn or Demi Moore, but definitely some Scarlett O’Hara heat.
Williams won as the first African American Miss America on September 17, 1983. But it got all tainted when some asshole brought forth some nude photos Williams had posed for when she was working at Tom Chiapel’s photography studio, and her boss was just, ya know, in a tight spot and working on some angles and shadows. Oh, and here’s this other naked girl. They ended up in Hugh Hefner’s hands, and do you know what happened? He passed on them. Know who didn’t? Bob Guccione and Penthouse. They ran her on the cover of their September ‘84 15th Anniversary Issue, and it was HUGE. That dirty magazine issue sold like gangbusters and all without Williams’ consent – Guccione just paid Chiapel for them. She resigned from her reign as Miss America before the thing went to press in July of that summer.
Edwards was named Miss Gay America in 2010 and was stripped of her crown and status due to controversies over appearances, agreements and whatever. Coco Montrese was, in fact, the pageant’s runner up and slipped her pretty mug underneath that tiara with grace. Coco and Alyssa have been longtime rivals and friends, officially and unofficially; it’s no secret there’s been blood both bad and good. But they’re family. And it looks like they’ve emerged girls out of it all. In doing a little research for a conceived of but not executed (couldn’t get her when I tried) phoner interview, I Googled ‘Why did Alyssa Edwards get dethroned?’ I also shot out a tweet, and Coco responded with a reply (and a photo!) after 30 minutes: “yall need to let that go, we did long time ago. Were in vegas shopping together .”
We still don’t really know the nitty gritty, but hey, we don’t need to. Alyssa’s the people’s pageant queen and she brings the camp, glamour, grace and showmanship I so love in a drag queen. Somehow, the magic of “Drop Dead Gorgeous (B. Ames Mix)” appeared on April 20 of this year, and it has since accumulated nearly a quarter million views. It is three minutes and 15 seconds of Alyssa ecstasy, perfectly packaged into a bite-sized little bitch sandwich. It’s full of Alyssa-isms, something the children have now fully integrated into their vocabulary: “Girl, look how orange you look, girl!,” “Girl, I am gag-ging,” “Get a grip, get a life, and get over it,” “Backrolls?,” and, of course, my personal and all-time favorite, “Bitch, sit your ass down and shut the hell up, bitch!” Hello—the bitch sandwich was born.
Alyssa is everything—and she’s doing Josh Schonewolf a favor and showing up to make everyone gag at his Ratchet party this Wednesday at Tabu. $25 tickets are still available, and that gets you intimate mug time with Ms. Edwards and photo opportunities. Otherwise, tickets are $15 at the door. Doors open at 9pm, and the show starts at 11pm, and he got Aeryanah Van Moi, Zsa Zsa St James, Satine Harlow, BEV and The Lady Poison to come out and open the show up for the queen of the night.
It’s hard to believe, but it was only one year ago that Philadelphians braced themselves for the unknown, when thousands would descend upon our city to see what Jay Z had brewed up with Budweiser. That successful two-day effort, Made In America, seemed to be a pretty time-hooked moment: Jay and Kanye West were creative partners at the time, still relishing in the critical success of Watch The Throne. And while Yeezy’s G.O.O.D. Music crew stormed the Rocky Stage for the last half-hour of Saturday night to blast through megahits (at the time) like “Clique,” “New God Flow” and “Mercy,” it seemed like no one could touch these hip-hop royals—like they were at the top of their game, and no one else was on their level. The royalty in reference, other than Messrs. Carter and West, would be the performers from last year’s MIA who graced the main stage: Rick Ross, Drake and the boys who jumped on stage with West, like 2 Chainz, Pusha T, Common and Big Sean. Odd Future graced the secondary Liberty Stage, but those OFWGKTW boys are a little more nihilistic and subversive than what I’m getting at.
But that was 2012. At 2013’s MIA, it’s really only about one emcee: Kendrick Lamar.
Indeed, Lamar blew up big over the last year, and mere weeks ago, he stepped onto a Big Sean track called “Control” that shook the hip-hop community up like it hasn’t been in a while. On it, Lamar spits: “I got love for you all but I’m tryna murder you n——s/Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you n——s/They don’t want to hear not one more noun or verb from you n——s.” This after shouting out a roll call of his contemporaries, in order: J. Cole, Big K.R.I.T., Wale, Pusha T, Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky, Drake, Big Sean, Jay Electronica, Tyler (the Creator) and Mac Miller. Lamar also posits himself alongside Nas, Jay, Eminem and Andre 3000—as in they’re old, he’s new. It’s all anyone can talk about, Tweet and Facebook about. Well, before Miley.
This year’s lineup for MIA is decidedly hip-hop and young. With Beyonce headlining Day One and Nine Inch Nails headlining Day Two, you might believe that the festival was proportionately mixed in genre. Not really. Phoenix, Queens of the Stone Age, Imagine Dragons and the Gaslight Anthem are doing the heavy rock and pop rock lifting, with Emeli Sande, Miguel, Solange, Fitz & the Tantrums, HAIM and AlunaGeorge bolstering both days with modern R&B and soul. And yet, with one verse, all anyone cares about this weekend is catching Lamar’s Sunday set.
To our knowledge, none of the artists he noted by name are expected to be present, minus A$AP Rocky, who we’ll be sure to catch just to see if he addresses the call-out directly, hopefully in a hot verse of his own. Honestly, it’s just hip-hop—and admit it or not, hip-hop’s been pretty boring for a while. Diss tracks and petty beefs come with the territory and have since it began. Just ask Chuck D and Public Enemy, who’ll be performing on Saturday. Competition in hip-hop is as present as cheap gold, and Lamar will be strangely in his element all weekend, with all of his Black Hippie homeboys present and performing: Jay Rock, Ab-Soul and ScHoolBoy Q each go on earlier in the day on Sunday.
Otherwise, things appear to be pretty much exactly as they were in 2012. A map shows all the stages to be in the same places, with the exception of the Freedom Tent being turned into a Freedom Stage to showcase electronic dance music. EDM’s a strong component to the MIA lineup, for whatever reason, and, like the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Dan DeLuca told Daniel Rubin in a radio chat on The Talk: “If all EDM sounds like a car alarm going off to you, I would say you should bring earplugs and walk several blocks away in search of a fish taco during Deadmau5 or Wolfgang Gartner or Nero.” There’s also a brand new skate park smack dab in the middle of the fest’s campus, so there will now be a Skate Park Stage, with programming on it both days that’s in addition to the 30-plus acts slated for the main stages.
MIA has also ramped up its capacities by a not-insignificant number: 60,000 tickets can and will be sold for both days, as opposed to capacities capped at 50,000 in 2012. Warnings have been issued about what you can (one sealed water bottle) and cannot bring (everything) into the gates, and patdowns will be more substantial this year. The fuss that neighbors made leading up to last summer’s debut was significantly less this time around. There are always drunks and garbage on the streets, and businesses now know what to expect at midnight so have staffed and expanded their hours accordingly.
Speaking of hours, the music starts at 2 p.m., with gates opening at noon, and stops at 11:59 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday nights. There’ll be innumerable ways for you to spend money and get money to spend, and, hopefully, the two biggest kinks in terms of pure conveniences will have gotten ironed out: The beer will be cold, and your phone will work. Last year, on Saturday, nothing worked electronically: no cell phone service or WiFi all day, so no calling, texting, Tweeting, Instagramming and no journalists blogging—which may sound funny a year later, but sure as hell won’t be if there’s a repeat. Still, at the same time journalists like me are excited to blog and live-Tweet our wry observations and Instagram the shit out of the crowd antics and performances at Made in America, we’re also excited about the deliciously dank lineup of talent Jay’s put together. Oh, yeah: Beyonce included.
Sat., Aug. 31-Sun., Sept. 1. 2pm. $89.50-$499.50. Benjamin Franklin Parkway. madeinamericafest.com
Back in February, over 950 local theater artists, educators, donors, arts administrators and audience members weighed in via survey whether The Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre, the annual award ceremony recognizing the achievements of the most deserving theater companies, actors, artists and productions in the region, should be revived.
For those who don’t know, the ceremony was canceled after 18 years when the presenting organization, the Theater Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, went under in 2012. Hardly shocking, nearly 90 percent of the survey respondents agreed that the show must go on. The more shocking piece of news is that their wish has been officially granted.
During a town hall meeting at the Walnut Street Theatre late yesterday afternoon, Theatre Philadelphia, the coalition formed after the Theatre Alliance’s demise, announced that not only will the Barrymores be returning for the 2013-2014 season, but they’ll be accompanied by a new, more manageable voting system.
“The Board of Theatre Philadelphia wholeheartedly agreed with the results of the community survey and is eager to bring back an event that celebrates the excellence of the work created here,” said Theatre Philadelphia Board President Kevin Glaccum in a statement.
Per the revised voting system, judges will now only be required to see 50-60 productions each season, as opposed to the previous 90-100 shows, thus allowing more theater professionals to serve. In addition, creating more of a consensus vote rather than a cut and dry “most points wins” approach, judges will now meet quarterly to discuss the shows they’ve seen and what they did or didn’t like.
Makes sense to me. You wouldn’t want the members of a jury to deliberate the facts of a trial alone, would ya? These are some pretty prestigious awards at stake. Plus, this announcement isn’t just good news for a few lone shining stars. The Barrymores are a celebration of Philadelphia’s top-notch and ever-growing theater community as a whole. And we’ve got some really amazing talent here.
Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail
It’s 2013. And in 2013, artists are trying their hardest to come up with new and innovative ways to release records. Kind of like a few years back, when Radiohead tried releasing their record on their own with a pay-what-you-will model, now pop musicians are trying all kinds of kooky app-related and smartphone-based marketing ploys. Try to hate the game if you want, but it’s probably going to be an uphill battle, and, really, can you hate the player? During Game 5 of the NBA Finals, Mr. Carter unleashed a whopper of a commercial (it’s practically a mini-documentary at three minutes in length) for his next banger, which’ll be available on June 24 to Samsung Galaxy phones via an app obtainable through Google Play, with a proper street date of July 4.
Aside from all of that capitalistic commercial business, the music sounds pretty hype. And no wonder: He recruited some of the biggest producers and some of his best friends, it seems, to get in on it. Rick Rubin’s here; so’s Timbaland, Pharrell, obviously—and Swizz Beatz. “Pretty much the album is about this duality of how do you navigate your way through this whole thing? Through success and failures and all this and remain yourself?” Jay asks. “We don’t have any rules. The internet’s like the Wild West, and we need to write the new rules.” Some of these beats and vibes sound super-fresh, and it’s actually pretty sweet watching Jay dialogue with the producers, tweaking and playing with sounds.
Drizzy’s Touring with Miguel and Future
In anticipation of his forthcoming Nothing Was the Same, Drake has announced a 41-stop national tour to support the new LP, and he’s dragging Miguel and Future along with him the whole way. BONUS! At this point, Miguel might be the more compelling performer on the tour, at least from our perspective. From commercial radio’s viewpoint? This is a big get. Drake’s never gonna shake my image of him in a wheelchair on Degrassi, while Miguel’s soulfulness knows no bounds. They’ll touch down at Wells Fargo on Saturday, Oct. 19, but tickets go on sale this Saturday, June 22, at 10am.
He’s shared the singles “Started From The Bottom” (62.5 million views in five months), and there’s a low-key, low-budget video for “5AM in Toronto,” but other than that, there aren’t a ton of details about the mysteriously-to-be-released new LP. It’ll certainly be out before the tour. See, we’re not so sure Drake’s got what it takes to last nearly as long as Jay has, but as confirmed by Drizzy’s appearance at Made in America last summer, it is confirmed that Philadelphia goes bizzonkers for the 26-year-old Canuck. So tickets’ll no doubt move quickly, and it might actually behoove you to snatch some up this weekend.
This is a helpful little breakdown so you can plan your day of hydration and skin protection. Oh, and here’s our little reimagined Roots Picnic that found its way into the paper this week (and online). And big ups to Adam Mazur for the charming illustration he provided. Here’s how my mind works:
With everyone kickin’ back this past weekend, celebrating Memorial Day the best way we know how—by grillin’ and drinkin’ on porches and in Fairmount Park—we couldn’t help wondering what the scene would be like if a few of the slew pegged to turn in sets at the Roots Picnic this weekend were actually the Roots’ guests at a picnic at the Plat. What kind of party would that be? Would it involve cheesesteaks? Answer: Fun, and hopefully not.
- Grimes would bring the metal armor and neon pink hair extensions she used in the outstanding 10 million-viewed video for “Genesis” for shits and giggles. As a Canuck, she’d be a well-behaved guest who was sure to clean up after herself and bring a side dish in some Tupperware. Cole slaw, maybe?
- How To Dress Well’s a toughie, being that Tom Krell’s a pretty low-key and quiet personality. He might bring a small keyboard for R&B jamming’s sake and would obviously be dressed well, perhaps in a modern summer-weight suit.
- Gary Clark Jr. is a Texan, and Texans know how to barbecue. So we’re thinking he’d bring ribs, rub, some sauce and some blues to man the grill. No question he’d bring a guitar to the table to quietly wail out some American sadness.
- Solange would be the belle of the ball, in all likelihood, the tall drink of water a vision before the Schuylkill in a sensible but stylish vintage dress, bearing small bottles of bubbly with straws and a handful of pansies.
- Macklemore and Ryan Lewis would undoubtedly be in thrift store duds, and maybe Mack’d don a spring fur, but one thing’s for sure: His hair game would be tight, fully styled with product and perhaps packing backup in case it got windy.
- Finally, the real party boy would be Trinidad James. He’d bring the kush, we’re pretty sure, or a bong or a blunt or papers or spliff. He’d hopefully sport plenty of gold to shine in the summer sun—ideally, in the form of gold-studded slippers as part of a tricked-out goody bag. And he’d win “Most Likely to Bring Purple Drink.” Hands down.
Sat, June 1. Noon. Sold out. Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing, Columbus Blvd. and Spring Garden St. ticketmaster.com
Can the looker from London take down the Child of Destiny?
In Vol. Three of one of our favorite imaginary activities of all time, we’re caging up Kelly Rowland and Charli XCX to see who emerges as the last female standing in heels. Kelendria’s a fitting pick, too, seeing her tag team partner, Beyonce, has emerged victorious over Jill Scott and Rihanna in Volumes One and Two. The chips are pretty stacked against the rookie Charli XCX, but her debut record’s pretty on-trend. At first thought, it seemed like it might be a good idea to mix up the categories, to make it a more interesting match. But upon reflection, these point-bearing categories should determine a fair and deserving victor. The two have back-to-back Philadelphia tour stops (Kelz is at the TLA, and Charli’s at Union Transfer), and word on the street is that they’re planning to squash some beef with a knockdown drag out brawl around midnight right after Charli’s set. Let’s preview who’ll prevail.
There’s pretty much no question about this. Hoodness used here is meant to capture how nasty a diva will get. Sass is paramount in the grading of a pop singer’s divadom. Will she read you? Will she shame with a mere look when you disappoint her? Kelly’s got this one. She’s Atlanta-born, Houston-bred and has been known to associate with some hood-ass dudes: Wiz Khalifa and Pusha T are on her June-expected Talk a Good Game; Lil Wayne and Big Sean are on 2011’s excellent Here I Am. Charli’s essentially just a quirky and fun-loving party girl with an edgy attitude. Doesn’t get you far on this one, little minx.
Kelly: 4 points, Charli: 0 points
Well, Charli’s vocal on the Icona Pop single “I Love It” certainly skyrocketed the hit into the stratosphere. And while True Romance has its moments of beautiful vocal barrages, it’s the production and the vibe that really pulls it into a strong cohesive statement. It’s fun, and fun tracks often don’t require range runs and throat acrobatics. Kelly’s proven herself to be a talented singer in her own way. Each of the Destiny’s Child girls have their own unique talent, but Kelly’s got a nice diversity to her pipes; she can do slow and sultry, confessional (she annihilates it on her brand new “Dirty Laundry”), dance-floor banger or bouncy pop hit. Without much else to go on, looks like Kelz is gonna grab this one, too.
Kelly: 3 points, Charli: 2 points
SALES & SINGLES
Not sure Charli’s got that much steam at this point. She went down hard in Round One but put up a fight in the last. She’s young! She’s inexperienced! She didn’t see this beating coming. Charli’s only 20, but her penned shared “I Love It” is 4x platinum in Australia and just regular ole’ platinum in the USA. Not sure Kelly can say that about any one single, other than a Destiny’s Child number, that’s performed so well. But with four LPs and a hugely successful run with D-Child, Rowland’s beating the London Kitten to a pulp.
Kelly: 4 points, Charli: 1 point
Kelly’s always kind of been in the shadow of Beyonce, which must hurt. Her solo albums have never done the kind of numbers that would establish her as an international star, but fans who know what’s what and are down with her honest R&B soul know the truth: Kelly is fierce. “Commander?” That shit is club gold. But if Charli has anything going for her, it’s youth. Her solo album’s only just begun the journey she’s embarking on, and frankly, she’s got some of that M.I.A. culture-blending savvy that’s gonna take her far. But age has turned out to be Kelly’s strongest weapon. She’s stopped slamming Charli’s head against the mat as she straddles her shoulders, and the ref’s coming over to lift up Ms. Kelendria Rowland’s chiseled arm to end this one before it gets too ugly.
Kelly: 3 points, Charli: 4 points
GRAND TOTAL: Kelly Rowland wins with 14 points; Charli XCX loses with 7 points.