Tuesday, March 31, 2009

ArtsBuzz: Palm Beach, Delray film fests smaller this year

Charlie Cox and Kate Mara in Stone of Destiny.

By Hap Erstein

“Downsizing” is the operative word for this year’s local film festivals, both the Palm Beach International and the Delray Beach Fest.

The countywide Palm Beach International Film Festival, now in its 14th year and in search of a new chairman to steer it, will run a mere five days -- down from its usual eight -- and screen about 110 films, a cutback from last year’s 140.

The festival will open April 23, kicking off with the comedy-adventure Stone of Destiny, with Robert Carlyle (The Full Monty), Kate Mara (Brokeback Mountain) and Charlie Cox (Stardust), in a fact-based tale of four Glaswegian students who outwitted the British government, in a plot to liberate the Coronation Stone from Westminster Abbey and take it back to Scotland, its country of origin. Writer-director Charles Martin Smith (American Graffiti) will attend the festival and introduce the film to the opening night audience.

The festival wraps Monday, April 27, with 500 Days of Summer, which stars Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, a romantic comedy about a love affair of a year-and-a-half’s duration.

Also announced was the first wave of award recipients. At Friday, April 24’s gala at the Boca Raton Resort & Club, Oscar-nominated actor James Cromwell (Babe, The Queen, W.) will be given the Career Achievement Award and director Joel Zwick (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a PBIFF featured film before it became the highest-grossing rom-com of all time) will receive the Visionary Award.

The festival may have tightened its belt, but it will be spread out at more venues around the county. The primary screening site will be the Sunrise Cinemas in Boca Raton’s Mizner Park, but other “special presentations” will be at the Movies of Delray, Lake Worth Playhouse, Florida Atlantic University, Cobb Theaters Jupiter and Downtown at the Gardens.

* * *

Lauren Graham and Jeff Daniels in The Answer Man.

Now in its fourth year, the Delray Beach Film Festival, created and run by former veterinarian Michael Posner, has moved to late May, 19-25, concluding on Memorial Day, to avoid conflicts with the Palm Beach event.

It too expects to have some 110 independent and below-the-radar films, plus the much-touted, direct-from-Sundance The Answer Man, about a reclusive author who becomes a pop-culture guru (Jeff Daniels) and the single mom (Lauren Graham, The Gilmore Girls) whose life collides with his.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Dance review: Klein company boldly counts the ways we love

The Demetrius Klein Dance Company's Accepting Perfect
explores the frustrations and fulfillments of love.

By Sharon McDaniel

LAKE WORTH – The Klein Dance Studio is a sure-fire source of the thoughtful, the uplifting and the new in modern dance.

But it took a visit to Lake Worth last month by the likes of international choreographer Bill T. Jones and company to jog the memory of just how cutting-edge Lake Worth’s own Demetrius Klein and company are.

Sunday night’s performance marked a milestone, the end of Klein Dance Company’s 20th season. Held at the Lake Avenue studio, the program comprised the Florida premiere of Klein’s dance-theater work Accepting Perfect. The full-length ballet traces the journey we go through looking for that one perfect someone.

Klein, in his notes on the ballet, asks: “Ever made a list of qualifications for your perfect partner? What if you met someone who was perfect for you, but who did not meet any of the qualifications on your list?” The aim is to question and find personal answers for the customary thoughts and images about love and perfection that society throws at us.

The 60-minute work alternated scenes of the dancers speaking -- one-liners and quips to Scripture verses – and performing Klein’s bold brand of modern dance. Providing the narrative for the ballet were eight contemporary Christian and rock songs. In Act I, song texts spelled out a familiar blueprint: loneliness to newfound love to love lost. Appreciative applause followed most scenes. Act II was love found, treasured, prayed-for and praised.

The dramatic action began with an effective optical illusion. Faces of the five Klein Dance Company members were dimly lit, giving off a pale, almost ghostly glow. Then in the full stage lighting, three women and two men stood dressed in street clothes, even to footwear of spike heels to boots.

Each person was an island, face buried in a personal cellphone screen. They were slowly drawn out of their isolation as, one at a time, they defined love, speaking the verses of I Corinthians 13, from “Love is patient” to “Love never fails.”

Klein got them moving slowly with hints of popular social dances – remember the ‘60s fad, the Watusi? But the action picked up and the dancers stripped down, revved by Jet’s Are You Gonna Be My Girl. At first, they moved in unison, each on that singular path of finding The One. Indeed, by Marcy Playground’s Sex and Candy, two couples had hooked up.

But they took separate routes – one to bonding, one to break-up -- through Klein’s athletic, expressive vocabulary. Leaps were flights of freedom. Falls to the floor and hand slaps on the mat rang loudly through the studio. Rough-and-tumble partnering could take on the look of strong-arming or bear hugs. Even basic ballet-barre exercises turned into signs of personality and attitude.

Stephanie McCluney, Justin Walker and Andrea Ollarvide in Accepting Perfect.
(Photo by Steve Smith)

The troupe ate up every inch of floor space in fast moves and gymnastics. Yet small gestures – finger painting, angular torso contractions, softly arched backs – also spoke persuasively of compelling emotional states.

Dancer Andrea Ollarvide soloed to Ben Folds' Brick. Her lovely long-held balances and stretches created statue-like stillness, greatly intensifying lyrics such as “now that I’ve found someone I’m feeling more alone.”

Another tremendous solo starred Kori Epps in Aaron Neville’s Tell It Like It Is. Her dejection after a harsh snub by partner Christopher Plunkett gave this torch song a poignant face and all-too-clear body language.

But recovery was just around the corner. The bounce-back looked like an all-out forget-your-troubles beach party. The company let it all out to a particularly upbeat (I Never Promised You) A Rose Garden.

Dancers Stephanie McCluney and Justin Walker were the tag-team couple in Shirley Ellis’ The Nitty Gritty. Theirs was not so much a relationship as a competition. Later, tightly wrapped around each other, they danced an especially tender pas de deux of joy and caring to the Dave Matthews Band’s Crash Into Me.

Act II consisted of three vocal versions of the Leonard Cohen tune Hallelujah. The first featured a dance trio in gestures and movements so small that the three barely moved from center stage. Their introverted motions of personal expression looked even more vulnerable when done in unison.

A quartet followed in a repeated sequence of steps that traveled through sorrow to comfort and reassurance. It was set to the most dramatic version of Hallelujah, sung by Allison Crowe.

The full quintet came together for the finale that combined not only small mime and sign language from sacred dance, but also the biggest, most athletic action of the three variations. The five molded into one in a closed circle, where calm replaced striving and the spiritual overshadowed the physical.

Dance review: Miami City Ballet program slow to catch fire

A scene from Miami City Ballet's Symphony in C.

By Sharon McDaniel

Few stories on the arts can begin without a disclaimer about today’s economy. That goes for Miami City Ballet, and South Florida dance as a whole.

Friday night’s season finale at the Kravis Center went forward without live orchestra accompaniment. Miami originally scheduled live music for the entire season, including the finale’s two Balanchine works: Symphony in C (music of Georges Bizet) and Concerto Barocco (J.S. Bach). Yet only the company premiere, Jerome Robbins’ In the Night (1970), featured a solo pianist as required.

The 23-year-old company is facing declining ticket sales and contributions, plus a shortfall that dictated not only returning to taped music, but also cutting back the 2009-10 season, which meant not renewing the contracts of eight dancers.

Yet Miami City Ballet at least performed its 2008-09 finale. Both Ballet Florida and Miami’s Ballet Gamonet canceled two upcoming programs, unable to complete their seasons due to finances.

Uncertainties and the tensions they cause cannot help but make their way onto stage. At least that is one possible reason for the Miamians oddly bland and untidy opener, Concerto Barocco (1941). Even the first movement of Symphony in C (1947), for all its opulent classical spectacle, suffered a similarly cool, expressionless fate.

The one unequivocally fine performance was sandwiched in the middle: Robbins’ In the Night, staged by Maria Calegari. The engaging work, premiered also by Ballet Florida in 2003, explores different stages of love as seen through three couples. Each pair dances a scene alone, then all gather in the end before drifting away separately into the night. All is romance: the twinkling starry night sky; the music of Chopin; the women's elegant, flowing gowns.

As the first couple, Tricia Albertson and Didier Bramaz represented youthful, innocent, idealistic love. Albertson, while lightly graceful, could be overly formal or move as if either in a dream or afraid of breaking a fragile role. Regardless, the end result was an empathetic performance.

The second couple, in a mature and growing relationship, was Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra. These free spirits enjoy a true partnership, trust and passionate chemistry. The two principal dancers projected winning personalities with a touch of humor, despite Robbins’ difficult partnering. Their style was fluid elegance and a regal assurance.

Jeanette Delgado and Renato Penteado were embattled couple number three, the tempestuous relationship. They fight and reconcile, leave in a huff and run madly back -- only to repeat the cycle. That is, until Delgado bent low in one of the evening’s most passionate gestures. In the partially raised pit, Miami City Ballet’s pianist Francisco Renno performed four Chopin Nocturnes with uncommon sensitivity and strength.

Robbins took the cake, but there was still a fair bit of icing to close the evening. Sadly, not even sparklers Mary Carmen Catoya and Renato Penteado could fire up the Symphony in C first movement. It circled stiffly and roughly around them. But Miami’s notable symmetry and ensemble rebounded in the remaining three movements for a joyous finale.

Each movement features a different leading couple with its own corps de ballet. Everyone returns in the fourth movement, for a total of 48 dancers onstage to end the 32-minute Symphony.

The work turned the corner midway through the slow second movement, starring an especially poised Kronenberg with Guerra and a corps that relaxed into the steps, hitting rhythmic marks with grace and energy. Kronenberg managed the tough 6 o’clock extension, raising one leg nearly to the 12 o’clock position.

From there on, a gentle breeziness replaced the earlier rough start and the Balanchine -- even more importantly, the company -- caught fire.

Miami City Ballet will present Program IV again from April 3-5 at the Ziff Ballet Opera House, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Miami. For tickets, call (305) 929-7010 or (877) 929-7010 or e-mail boxoffice@miamicityballet.org.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Music review: Sierra shows star quality with Lynn Philharmonia

Soprano Nadine Sierra.

By Greg Stepanich

BOCA RATON -- One way to measure the still-developing art of the young soprano Nadine Sierra is this:

After her climactic high B-flats at the end of Un bel di, Sierra waited out Puccini's brief postlude not as a singer waiting for the orchestra to finish or as a happy musician smiling at the audience. Instead, she was staring straight ahead, still Cio-Cio San standing above Nagasaki harbor, waiting for the cannon fire and the sight of Pinkerton's ship on the horizon.

Sierra, just 20 and one of only four winners of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions last month, has been in the public eye since she was 15, when the Fort Lauderdale native appeared on From the Top, the national radio program for young classical artists. Since then, the Dreyfoos School for the Arts graduate has moved on to New York, where she's a third-year voice student at the Mannes College of Music.

Saturday night, she appeared with the Lynn Philharmonia, the student orchestra of the Lynn University Conservatory of Music, as part of the group's final regular concert of its current season (it will appear in a pops concert April 18 with the Empire Brass Quintet at Mizner Park). Sierra, who was filling in for the ailing Marvis Martin, showed in the course of four well-sung arias precisely why great things are expected of her.

Sierra has a large voice, more lyric than dramatic (at least to my ears), and she sounded most naturally suited for the French music on her program, the high-floating Je veux vivre, from Act I of Charles Gounod's Romeo et Juliette. She sang this bubbly piece with verve and a barely contained in-character excitement as a young girl who's been the belle of the ball and only wants to stay young. The higher reaches of her voice have a fast vibrato that helps the performance sound effortless; still, she was dutiful about sounding each of the grace notes in the main section of the aria, and her diction was admirable throughout, as was her interpolated high C at the very end.

Sierra also demonstrated an attractive character persona in Ruhe, sanft, the beautiful aria of Zaide, from Mozart's unfinished 1779 Singspiel of the same name (K. 344). She was touching as she sang, with excellent German diction and charming hand gestures, of her hopes that the sleeping young man with whom she'd been smitten would see her portrait when he awoke and fall in love with her. She sang with a long, lovely, fluid line that got better as the aria progressed; the noticeable register shifts in the octave leaps of the early bars of the song were gone by the recapitulation, replaced by a wonderful smoothness.

In addition to Un bel di, Sierra sang another Puccini popular favorite, Lauretta's aria -- O mio babbino caro -- from the composer's comic one-acter, Gianni Schicchi. This has become something of a staple for her in local performances, and she sang it very well Saturday night, with first-rate intonation and a warm, powerful sound. It also was slightly on the slow side, which made it over-sentimental and less believable as a passionate plea from a young lovesick woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

In both Puccini selections, Sierra showed that she has plenty of colors in her vocal crayon box, adding a richness for these late Romantic arias that wasn't needed for the Mozart and Gounod. These were compelling readings that connected with the audience, which sighed with pleasure as it heard both famous melodies unfold themselves, and sniffled audibly as Sierra unleashed the full strength of these nakedly emotional songs.

It was an impressive performance, ably accompanied by the Philharmonia and conductor Jon Robertson, the conservatory's dean. Nadine Sierra has abundant gifts, and has clearly worked very hard at making the most of them. It's not difficult to predict a sizable career for her in the world's opera houses if she continues the progress she's made since a national radio audience first learned her name.

The first half of the Lynn program was devoted to operatic music, including two orchestral selections along with the Sierra arias. The evening opened with the Die Meistersinger Prelude of Wagner, for which Roberston set a good, confident tempo. This was a big night for the brass section, which was quite a bit better overall than it has been in previous concerts this season, and they added the requisite amount of metallic glory to this thrilling piece, which received a decent performance overall.

But there were details here that revealed some of the ensemble's weak spots, such as the secondary motifs in the winds that appear right after the theme that opens the prelude. The transition to that much quieter music was inexact, so much so that the winds even sounded flat amid the metric shakiness going on around them, and it took a few moments for the orchestra to find its footing.

The other operatic selection was the well-known Meditation from Jules Massenet's Thais. Violinist Gareth Johnson was the fine soloist, playing this often-treacly music with real feeling but also enough restraint so that it didn't cloy, which is no mean feat.

The second half of the concert was devoted to the Fifth Symphony ( in E minor, Op. 64) of Tchaikovsky. Robertson obviously loves this work, conducting from memory and with an expansive podium manner. The symphony gave the Philharmonia a chance to demonstrate one of its more notable strengths: Excellent string section ensemble, from violins to basses.

This Fifth got off to a too-poky start, but the majority of the first movement after that was appropriately dramatic and engaging, especially in the yearning second theme, for which attention to dynamics paid off well. In the second movement, principal hornist Audrey Destito nailed the difficult and exposed solo that introduces one of Tchaikovsky's best-known melodies, and received well-deserved applause at the end of the concert.

The third-movement waltz had a nice Viennese heavy-offbeat flavor in the initial going, and its faster midsection highlighted the depth of the string ensemble. For the finale, it was brass time again as it had been in the Wagner, with the section playing with full but not strident sound, and the orchestra playing the last triumphant pages with great effectiveness.

The Lynn Philharmonia is an ensemble for orchestral players in training, with the positives (signs of future stars, interesting programming) and negatives (varying quality from year to year, hit-and-miss details) that entails. But as this weekend's concerts indicate, this orchestra deserves to hold a higher profile in the minds of local concertgoers, who might be surprised at what they're missing.

The Lynn Philharmonia repeats this program at 4 p.m. today (a 3 p.m. lecture by Lynn musicology chief Barbara Barry precedes it). Tickets are $30, and can be had at the door or by calling 237-9000.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

ArtsBuzz: Sunset Cove hopes for big crowds with June rocker fest

The Sunset Cove Amphitheater west of Boca Raton.
(Photo by Thom Smith)

By Thom Smith

It’s one of the best-kept secrets in South Florida, but that will all change this summer as Ann Butler and Randy Carrillo crank up the volume at Palm Beach County’s newest performing arts center, Sunset Cove, an amphitheater on the edge of the Everglades in South County Regional Park.

Sunset Cove opened a year ago and has been the site of fireworks shows, a battle of the bands, movies on the lawn, high school orchestra concerts and a recent Rolling Stones tribute show that attracted nearly 900 fans.

But on June 16, Butler and Carrillo envision a crowd of 5,000 for classic rock ’n’ roll as Styx, REO Speedwagon and .38 Special bring their Can’t Stop Rockin’ benefit tour to South Florida. Tickets go on sale April 4 through Ticketmaster. The concert will benefit Home Aid Concerts and REO’s Can’t Stop Rockin’.

“We have over 300,000 people within 10 miles and they can appreciate that they don’t have to go all the way up to Cruzan Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach or to Mizner Park in Boca,” said Butler, the amphitheater manager.

An 1,200-square-foot stage, four dressing rooms, up-to-date lighting and sound equipment await the performers and crews. Depending on the size of the crowd, the lawn can be configured for reserved seating or for lawn chairs and blankets. Other amenities include concessions, a boundless playground and ample parking. Park entrances are about two miles west of State Road 7 off Glades and Yamato roads in suburban Boca Raton.

Carrillo’s Morgan Renee Entertainment is promoting the June 16 show and is lending his expertise to make the amphitheater a successful regional venue. Before forming Morgan Renee, Carrillo managed the since-closed West Palm Beach Auditorium.

Promoter Randy Carrillo and
amphitheater manager Ann Butler.
(Photo by Thom Smith)

“I’ve worn both hats, promoter and facility manager, so I know what’s needed and what’s expected,” Carrillo said of setting up a new facility, “so we can help Ann and it’s gonna give us a shot in the arm, too. It’s a beautiful place and perfect for the county.”

Home Aid Concerts’ goal is to provide financial assistance to homeowners facing foreclosure. Can’t Stop Rockin’ focuses on childhood hunger and partners with Blessings in a Backpack, a program that provides weekend meals to children when they aren’t in school.

Other promoters also have expressed interest bringing shows to Sunset Cove, including AEG Live’s new Florida operation, which is headed by former Fantasma Productions executive John Valentino.

Sunset Cove isn’t the only amphitheater run by Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department. The new Seabreeze Amphitheater at Carlin Park in Jupiter will open April 18, and another amphitheater at Canyon Town Center west of Boynton Beach will open in May.

Thom Smith is a freelance writer based in South Florida.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Art review: Four Arts show a brilliant look at Impressionism, American-style

Washington Arch, Spring by Childe Hassam.

By Jenifer A. Vogt

PALM BEACH – A current exhibit of American paintings at the Society of the Four Arts gives pictorial evidence of the nation’s shift from the rigidity of the Gilded Age toward the transformative upheaval of the Progressive Era, and does so brilliantly.

American Impressionism: Paintings From the Phillips Collection, contains more than 65 works that span the years 1884 to 1931. Curated by Susan Behrends Franks, this excellent show at the Society’s O’Keefe Gallery highlights this period’s tidal shift in American painting. Franks masterfully places the paintings to create a visual guidebook. We see the landscapes shift from rural to urban, watch geometrical shapes gradually become more important, and feel the heightened emotions of expressionistic styles.

Duncan Phillips, whose collection is housed in Washington, D.C., was a critic and collector with a keen eye for talent. Though he acquired works by European masters, he refused to view American painters as inferior. Phillips knew these artists personally and his patronage led many of them to reach their creative pinnacles.

Among those artists were some who ultimately stood at the forefront of homegrown Impressionism: William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam, Theodore Robinson, J. Alden Weir, and John H. Twachtman. Like the Hudson River School painters, the American Impressionists were interested in light and landscape. Yet unlike their counterparts in France, they were unwilling to sacrifice structure and solid form to the fragmenting effects of broken color.

The High Pasture, by J. Alden Weir.

In a painting such as Weir’s The High Pasture (1899-1902), there is no central, luminous light source — a feature that had defined the Hudson River School. Instead, the entire scene is lit from above and Weir has moved into the landscape, from under the trees, making shadow as integral as sunlight. This shift is seen again in Weir’s Woodland Rocks (1910-19).

The new perspective symbolizes a simultaneous shift in American culture. Strict societal boundaries loosened as a booming industrialized economy created new wealth. Fueled by industry, population growth and immigration, a middle class emerged, and with it, a new urban landscape.

Childe Hassam’s Washington Arch, Spring (ca. 1893) beautifully illustrates the change. A street cleaner is portrayed alongside a fashionably dressed lady. Each is given the same significance. Again, as with Weir, the artist paints from inside the scene. The undersides of the trees show. But Hassam focuses on the Arch – a symbolic shift from the bucolic to the urbane.

The emergence, as key subject matter, of cityscapes, buildings, and bridges is shown throughout the show in works by Augustus Vincent Tack, Robert Spencer, and Ernest Lawson. The country is changing, and the ideology driving artistic expression is changing with it.

Nothing symbolizes the change more than the emergence of a bold, expressionistic, painting style. An intriguing example is Twachtman’s Summer (late 1890s), at the show’s entrance, viewed in contrast to his My Summer Studio (ca. 1900), shown diagonally towards the left.

My Summer Studio, by John W. Twachtman.

In Summer the brushwork is supple. The colors are diffused, the light is silvery, all of it consistent with French Impressionism. My Summer Studio, though, is a radical departure. Brushstrokes are pronounced and dominant. Colors are bolder, darker. Twachtman is fully in the woods, and the extreme closeup makes the work as much about his emotionally charged brushwork as it is about the overall scene.

This shift in painterly style peaks in works by Maurice Prendergast — hailed by Phillips as “modern in mind.” In Landscape Near Nahant (ca. 1908-1912), the elemental changes seen in previous works merge into a new style that bears slight resemblance to Impressionism — a possible first cousin, hardly a sibling.

Landscape Near Nahant, by Maurice Prendergast.

Prendergast adopts the foreground perspective and focus on geometric shapes – stones, a fence, buildings and the sails of the boats floating in the background. But the people become a study of movement. The strong, circular brushwork is reminiscent of Van Gogh, and the fluidity and color of the whole composition subtly foreshadows the radical experimentation of Abstract Expressionism.

The Four Arts exhibit is enriched by Franks' excellence as a literal and visual storyteller. She thoughtfully intersperses photographs of the artists next to their work, and uses personal stories and images on the paintings’ labels – making each come to life. This is exemplified in Chase’s Florence (1907), and the charming story that accompanies it.

Duncan Phillips’ commitment to his countrymen’s art helped pave the way for the dominance of American painting that marked the mid-20th century. The French painters may have introduced Impressionism, but the Americans made it uniquely their own.

Jenifer A. Vogt is a public relations professional and resident of Boca Raton. She’s been enamored with American painting for the past 20 years.

American Impressionism: Paintings From the Phillips Collection runs through April 15 at the Society of the Four Arts. Tickets: $5, free for children 14 and under. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Call 655-7226 or visit www.fourarts.org.

Florence, by William Merritt Chase.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Weekend arts picks: March 27-29

Reflection: West Palm Beach, by Elle Schorr.

Art: Five local artists are offering interpretations of their environment in a show wrapping up this week at the Pine Jog Environmental Education Center, which is at 6301 Summit Blvd. in West Palm Beach.

The show, called Native Offerings II, is curated by Talya Lerman and features photography by Jacek Gancarz, Elle Schorr and Lyn Silberman, videos by Sue Stevens, and paintings by Ryan Toth. Ranging from humorous to beautiful scenic images, these interesting works are also for sale with prices starting around $250. The closing runs from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday. There also will be a musical performance by Mitchell Myers. -- K. Deits

Soprano Nadine Sierra.

Music: Soprano Nadine Sierra, a native of Fort Lauderdale, won the Metropolitan Opera's National Council Auditions last month, but she's well-known hereabouts as a Palm Beach Opera Resident Artist (starting at age 14) and her appearance on National Public Radio's From the Top a few years back. Now 20, the Dreyfoos graduate is singing with the Lynn Philharmonia this weekend, and this might be one of the last chances you'll have to hear here before she gets too busy.

On her program with the student conservatory orchestra, led by Jon Robertson, Sierra will sing Ruhe sanft, from Mozart's nearly finished singspiel Zaide; Ah, je veux vivre! from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette; and two arias by Puccini: Un bel di, from Madama Butterfly, and O mio babbino caro, from Gianni Schicchi. The orchestra also will play opera-themed music: the Prelude to Die Meistersinger, by Wagner, and the Meditation from Massenet's Thais, played by Wellington violinist Gareth Johnson. The Fifth Symphony of Tchaikovsky (in E minor, Op. 64) rounds things off. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday in the Roberts Theater on the campus of St. Andrew's School in Boca Raton. Tickets are $30. Call 237-9000 or visit www.lynn.edu/tickets.

The Guarneri String Quartet.

Speaking of last chances, this weekend might mark the last time you can see the Guarneri Quartet, which is retiring this year after 45 years of great music-making, almost all of them with the founding members. The quartet will be at Kravis Center at 8 p.m. Sunday with a program of Dvorak (the American Quartet, No. 12 in F), the String Quartet No. 1 in D minor, K. 421, of Mozart and the Third String Quartet of Bela Bartok. Tickets: $25-$85. Call 832-7469 or visit www.kravis.org.

Another quartet in town Sunday is the Ysaye, a veteran French group that plans a program of Webern (the Langsamer Satz), Beethoven's late A minor quartet (Op. 132) and the sole, beautiful quartet in F major of Maurice Ravel. 3 p.m. at the Society of the Four Arts on Palm Beach. Tickets: $10. Call 655-7226 or visit www.fourarts.org.

The score of God Is Our Refuge, K. 20, by Mozart.

And speaking of starting young, the Delray Beach Chorale wraps its season Sunday with an all-Mozart program featuring an anthem in English called God Is Our Refuge (K. 20), written when the composer was touring England at age 9 in 1765.

In addition, the chorus will sing the Coronation Mass (in C, K. 317) and two smaller works, the antiphon Regina coeli (in C, K. 276) and the much-beloved Ave, verum corpus (in D, K. 618), written in June 1791, six months before Mozart died at age 35. Chorale director Eric Keiper leads the Delray Festival Orchestra and soloists Marie Ashley, Jorge Toro, Greg Dyer, and William Stafford. 4 p.m. Sunday at the First Presbyterian Church of Delray Beach. Tickets: $20, $5 for children and adults. Call 800-984-7282 or visit www.delraybeachchorale.org. -- G. Stepanich

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Music review: Goode's Bach, Chopin recital deep, beautiful

Pianist Richard Goode. (Photo by Michael Wilson)

By Greg Stepanich

WEST PALM BEACH -- Frederic Chopin, we are told, revered the work of J.S. Bach, and the Polish pianist's attention to the multiplicity of colors available through counterpoint gives his and his great predecessor's work the same power of enduring harmonic freshness.

The work of these two composers was the sole occupation Tuesday night of the sterling American pianist Richard Goode, who played fugues, mazurkas, waltzes and even a bourree as part of his recital at the Kravis Center. As always with this singular musician, the playing was remarkable for its smoothness, its suppleness of rhythm and variety of shading, and its overall taste and elegance.

Many a pianist who finds a showman's approach like that of Lang Lang uncongenial defaults to a position of sobriety and seriousness, perhaps in the hope of being seen as a valiant on the field of Big Ideas. But although Goode is a serious musician, he is many cuts above such pianists in that he can really play, and he marries his impressive technique to a spirit of playfulness that is entirely welcome because the listener gets the sense that Goode has lived, and is living, in the music, and offering it appropriately enough as his own gift.

Four of the works on Tuesday's program were preludes and fugue sets from the second book of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. He opened the evening with the G minor pair (BWV 885), giving the French-overture prelude a quiet melancholy, and then opening up for rushes of beautiful, rolling sound in the vigorous three-beats-to-a-bar fugue (which he began by conducting with his right hand as his left sounded the subject).

He saved the other three sets for the second half of the recital, starting with the prelude and fugue in C major (BWV 870), in which an attractive plushness prevailed in the prelude followed by a sharply etched fugue with good headlong energy and minimal ornamentation. The gorgeous E major set (BWV 878) was exquisite; both pieces were played relatively slowly, with the emphasis on serenity in the prelude and muted triumph in the fugue.

The A minor set (BWV 889) also opened another drawer in Goode's technical toolbox, that of rhythmic precision. The fugue in particular is notorious for its trickiness, as the player has to keep the pulse steady amid repeated waves of florid 32nd-notes; Goode did this expertly, communicating the curious charm of the fugue and making it sound perfectly controlled and logical at the same time.

Goode also played Bach's Fifth French Suite (in G, BWV 816), choosing rather rapid tempos for the speedy dances, especially the initial Allemande, often played in a more contemplative fashion. While there were gratifying details such as the echoing in the different voices of a little four-note motif in the Courante, this was not Bach playing of the Glenn Gould variety, in which the astounding technical dexterity adds interest that might be lost because of the general austerity of the conception.

Instead, this was Bach on a piano, taking advantage of the resources of a modern piano, such as its gigantic sonic range, an attribute that helped make Goode's pianissimo reading of the second half of this suite's Sarabande so poignant and lovely. While the distinct identity of each note in the many hustle-bustle figurations throughout the suite was apparent, Goode was more interested in the larger effect of all those notes, resulting in a Bach that was modern and relevant, but not emoted out of recognition as music of the mid-18th century.

The Chopin selections that occupied the rest of the recital included short mazurkas and substantial larger works, such as the Third Scherzo (in C-sharp minor, Op. 39), the Barcarolle (in F-sharp major, Op. 60), and the Polonaise-Fantaisie (in A-flat major, Op. 61). In two of these larger pieces, Goode's playing was not entirely satisfying, as things started to get messy in the climactic pages of the Scherzo and the Polonaise-Fantaisie. And both works also sounded rushed and in too big of a hurry at these points as well, just when things need to be at their most emphatic.

Still, there were many things to love: The opening bars of the Scherzo, played like the grumble of a suddenly disturbed sleeping animal, or the wonderful new coloring Goode brought to the second iteration of the contrasting chords-and-raindrops theme that makes this piece so celebrated. In the Polonaise-Fantaisie, the haunting sadness of the minor-key transformation of the polonaise theme, or the sheer dexterity with which Goode traversed this masterwork's dizzying multiplicity of moods.

One only wished in the Polonaise-Fantaisie for a bit more drama, a slower, more emphatic apotheosis at the return to the home key at the end, longer pauses in the first section and its reappearance, with it somber chords followed by climbing arpeggios. Yet both performances of these large works were suitably epic, as was the Barcarolle, a less interesting piece but played brilliantly by Goode -- the big, awkward left hand patterns blended in without a hitch, and the huge final pages were massive and ecstatic, but not bangy.

It might be that the very finest playing of a whole night of wonderful pianism came in the shorter Chopin pieces. The F major Waltz (Op. 34, No. 3) had me wondering why in the world this witty, sparkling piece isn't played routinely on Chopin programs, and in the C minor Mazurka (Op. 56, No. 3), the poetry of the whole was underlined by the different hues Goode gave to each of its key changes.

Familiar nocturnes (in D-flat, Op. 27, No. 2) and waltzes (the evergreen Op. 64, No. 2, in C-sharp minor) received the same loving treatment as their less well-known kin, a testament to Goode's integrity. And perhaps best of all was the little Mazurka in A minor, Op. 7, No. 2, which Goode decorated with a few utterly characteristic Chopin-style ornaments, adding an extra layer of loveliness to his hushed, brooding interpretation.

The house at the Kravis Center was not terribly full, and there were early exits as well as no-shows for the second half. What they missed, in addition to a Chopin encore (the Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 55, No. 2), was high-minded yet entertaining music-making by one of our country's most respected pianists.

You would have to go a long way to find another player who advocates for this music as devotedly and stylishly as Richard Goode, and those of us who heard the whole concert can count ourselves fortunate.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Theater review: Nostalgia isn't what it used to be, Feinstein evening shows

Michael Feinstein.

By Hap Erstein

Bowing to the economic realities, the Kravis Center had to scrub its planned, low-cost family film series earlier this season. But if you still had a craving for movies with a cultural spin, you could have attended Monday evening’s stroll down memory lane, a.k.a. Michael Feinstein’s Salute to the Stars of MGM and Hollywood.

It featured a trio of stellar names from the past -- Jane Powell, Jane Russell and Arlene Dahl -- in one of the more curious and disjointed shows ever presented on the Dreyfoos Hall stage. Each of the three women made a solo appearance, sang a few songs with varying ability and answered a few softball questions from Feinstein or TCM cable film historian Robert Osborne, few of which elicited any insight into bygone Hollywood or much evidence that these three gals were ever there.

That was provided by the projected film clips, almost entirely from the MGM library, which had a way of skewing the careers of the assembled stars. Much of the show was excerpted from Feinstein’s concert act, with an emphasis on such film-themed ditties as Hooray for Hollywood and That’s Entertainment!

Feinstein is a walking encyclopedia of musical information and his song introductions feel crammed with footnotes. Aided by an overzealous sound system, he tended to over-sing most of his selections, making a more mellow rendering of Begin the Beguine stand out for its relative subtlety.

Although Feinstein seemed to have the impression that the audience came to hear him, the women were surely the draw. And for those who were there to be able to say that they saw Powell, Russell and Dahl live and in person, that certainly was accomplished. As to the main question that was surely on most of the audience’s minds, the answers are 79, 87 and 80 respectively, at least according to the Internet Movie Datebase.

That said, you have to admire the three of them for putting themselves on display and subjecting themselves to scrutiny under the unforgiving spotlight. Powell did look the best of the trio in a fetching one-shoulder yellow gown and her soprano voice on Love Is Where You Find It still has plenty of power and pitch.

Dahl was never really known for her singing, though the clips show that she sang plenty on-screen. She wore a black figure-concealing balloon dress, clowned a bit with a pink feather fan from the 1950 movie Three Little Words, and gave a game rendition of I Love You So Much.

Russell seemed the most unsteady, both physically and vocally, but she looked the part of a star in her blue sequined jacket, even if the years did not melt away with her delivery of Bye Bye, Baby, from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

At a running time of slightly more than two hours including an intermission, the show felt stretched out. Nevertheless, the film clips did look good.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Dance review: Trey McIntyre Group outstanding at Duncan

By Sharon McDaniel

LAKE WORTH -- Trey McIntyre “gets” it. Not all choreographers do.

But for McIntyre, the music isn’t simply a convenient coat rack, inert and ever-available to hold whatever he drapes on it. He knows and respects the music to a startling degree, whether it’s a children’s song or classical trio, a folksy tune with guitar or elaborately orchestrated rock song.

His contemporary ballets, in effect, are exceptionally musical. They grow out of the music and never seem to depart from it. This quality of McIntyre’s work is so astonishing because it is so rare. Or perhaps it’s more pronounced when illuminated by eight members of the Trey McIntyre Project, a troupe of remarkably beautiful dancers, all classically trained.

The TMP, as it’s called, performed Saturday night to end another year of stand-out modern dance at the Duncan Theatre in Lake Worth. But for this bunch from Boise, Idaho, it’s just the beginning, literally. This is TMP’s debut season as a full-time company. Founded in 2004 as a summer-only touring group, TMP appears more than ready for an inaugural season, complete with the current 30-city U.S. tour, even a short hop to Hungary.

And an auspicious debut it was at the Duncan, but not just for the dancing. Among the three ballets was (serious), given its world premiere less than a month ago. The commission is a major departure a new wave among the choreographer’s more than 70 works.

McIntyre is considered familiar territory around here. Ballet Florida (Second Before the Ground (1996) and Pluck) and Miami City Ballet (The Reassuring Effects of Form and Poetry) perform his works. Even the other ballets on TMP’s Duncan program – Leatherwing Bat (2008) and A Day in the Life (2006) – are grounded in McIntyre’s Midwestern ethic: feel-good, warm and character-friendly. Although contemporary, his ballets are accessible, set to familiar or highly engaging music. In Bat and A Day, the songs frame a story.

(serious) crosses into a new, more abstract zone. A trio of dancers moves together but does not connect emotionally. Instead, they remain anonymous – to the audience and each other. For 14 minutes, they attract and repel more like magnets than characters.

Two men and a woman wear an identical unisex uniform of gray slacks and white long-sleeve shirt (costumes by Sandra Woodall). The corporate image, with its dulling grayness, is the only identity that projects. It seems to restrict the characters’ interactions, dictating a minimum of communication. At the third section of (serious), dancer Brett Perry struggles as if confined to a box, so reduced is the area for his solo.

Yet their humanity is not completely destroyed. Jason Hartley begins with a demeanor and movements suggesting grief and frustration. Yet as a dancer, his inner grounded-ness makes the off-balance poses seem effortless. His unisons with Chanel DaSilva and Brett Perry are so accurate, the three seem to be mentally bonded. Despite difficult, even aggressive partnering, the three are ever a model of physical quietness yet rhythmic precision.

Set to music for violin, cello and piano by Henry Cowell (Trio: Four Combinations for Three Instruments and Trio in Nine Short Movements), the ballet is a marvel of music-to-dance partnering. What you hear in the music is what you see on the stage to an uncanny degree.

Not all is grim and humorless in (serious). Sections could end with surprising, even playful moves, half-exclamation point, half-question mark. In the final section, the three dancers cling together almost compulsively. At the end, they merge tightly together as one, a single statue caught in the freeze-frame lighting.

Leatherwing Bat is much folksier, set to songs by Peter, Paul and Mary. Childhood themes gradually move toward more grown-up concepts, yet there is still a bit of longing for the younger, innocent days in Bat’s 18-minute story line. McIntyre’s often angular, athletic movements can pit the lower half of the body against the upper half; the two can seem pulled in opposite directions. Yet soloist John Michael Schert, also TMP’s executive director, is endearingly lyrical and musical in I Have a Song to Sing, O!

A Day in the Life, set to 11 Beatles songs, is a nostalgic romp, especially in the full-company number Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. The evening’s longest work at 33 minutes, A Day was also the most popular and sealed the deal with the Duncan audience.

Among the best work, credit goes again to Jason Hartley and Brett Perry for the Blackbird duet, and Lia Cirio in Julia. But for the final third of the ballet, it was Hartley who truly left restraint in the wings.

Here is an excerpt from the TMP Website of the Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da section of A Day in the Life:

Music review: Artymiw, Shostakovich shine at Boca Symphonia

Pianist Lydia Artymiw.

By Greg Stepanich

BOCA RATON --- Area concertgoers haven't had enough opportunities in the past 10 years or so to hear live performances hereabouts of the symphonies of Dmitri Shostakovich, an important group of works whose best examples are likely to swell in stature as the years go by.

Now they can add another one to that small list, as Alexander Platt and the Boca Raton Symphonia gave a vivid, vigorous reading Sunday afternoon of the Russian composer's Ninth Symphony (in E-flat, Op. 70), a short, chamber-style work exactly suited to the size and heft of the Symphonia. It could be argued that Platt's programming of the piece, and his group's fine execution of it, made a good case for smaller orchestras everywhere to add it to their usual stock of Mendelssohns, early Beethovens and Borodins.

Though the Ninth, written in 1945, doesn't compare in size and force to works such as the Fifth or even the Tenth (which got a credible performance a couple years back from the Lynn University Philharmonia), the Ninth is still quite difficult, with virtuoso-style chops needed for the violins and woodwinds in particular. That they were up to the challenge was apparent from the beginning, with the flutes throwing out all the sparkle and wit of this side of Shostakovich (above at right), and with a remarkably good high-stepping moment from a solo horn.

Platt's tempo was swift and strong in the first movement, and nicely paced in the slower second movement, which despite an unfortunate cracked high clarinet note in the first pages had the right kind of moodiness and tension that this music demands, with the strings especially poignant as they took up the melodic burden. The woodwinds and trumpeter Jeffrey Kaye stood out in the impish third movement, as did the rest of the brass in the short fanfares of the fourth.

Some fine solo bassoon work led evocatively into the fifth-movement finale, which Platt began at quite a slow tempo, giving him and the orchestra plenty of room to wind up to the dash and exhilaration of the symphony's closing pages. This was a sharp, smart, muscular interpretation of this terrific piece, and putting it on the program as the closing work made an even better argument for it.

The first half of the concert, held at the Roberts Theater on the campus of St. Andrew's School, featured the American pianist Lydia Artymiw in the Piano Concerto No. 21 (in C, K. 467) of Mozart. Nearly five minutes were spent on stage in seriocomic fashion before the work began as Kaye, a technician and finally Artymiw herself labored to fix a recalcitrant music stand on the piano. Fortunately, this glitch didn't spoil the listening mood for the audience, which is good because a subtle, elegant performance of the concerto soon unfolded.

Artymiw has a large, pretty sound and the technique to go with it, and she also showed she has good taste. One of the special beauties of the opening movement is its frequent mixing of major and minor keys, and in the first such such solo example, Artymiw made the most of it, lingering just enough on it to give it a good measure of Mozartean poetry. That provided excellent contrast with the even strings of sixteenth notes had to spin out for the rest of the movement, and it also hinted where the famous Andante would go.

That movement was notable for the deeply sensitive accompaniment of the orchestra; on the second go-round of the main theme, the pulsing strings were almost inaudible, which made for a lovely effect and also allowed Artymiw full rein to stress the embellishments. In the finale, Artymiw played with a gentle sparkle, and the Symphonia was appropriately restrained until the final measures. It was an admirable partnership of a fine soloist and a sensitive orchestra, and both served Mozart well.

The program opened with another work in C major, the First Symphony of Beethoven (Op. 21). Despite the last-minute loss of one of the first violins, the string sound here was full and confident, and the Symphonia gave the Beethoven a rendition that was sinewy in the first and third movements and sweetly charming in the second, without being too precious.

The finale was businesslike and less pointedly jokey than some performances I've heard, and it worked successfully. This reading was a perfect example of how exactly suited orchestras of the Symphonia's size are for Beethoven's first symphonic essays, and what it cannot match in a full-size group in sheer power it redeems in the inner strength and clarity with which it presents the music.

The most important aspect of this group's work is its fresh programming, and the fifth-season brochure that was available Sunday promised more of the same next season, including a performance of the Capricorn Concerto of Samuel Barber and the Violin Concerto of Ned Rorem. Concertgoers by now should confidently expect that these works will be presented with respect and thorough preparation, and a larger eye toward expanding the repertory in general.

The Boca Raton Symphonia's final concert of the 2008-09 season is set for 2:30 p.m. April 19, and will feature violinist Charles Wetherbee in the Violin Concerto of the young American composer Jonathan Leshnoff. Also on the program are the Three Botticelli Pictures of Ottorino Resphighi and Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (in C minor, Op. 67). Guest conductor for the concert at the Roberts Theater will be Laura Jackson. Tickets: $42-$53. Call 376-3848, 888-426-5577, or visit www.bocasymphonia.org.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Theater review: ‘Evita’-- The same old Argentine song-and-dance

Jodie Langel is compelling as the title character
in Evita, though the Maltz production never gets
inside her head.

By Hap Erstein

British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber has gotten increasingly involved in the production of his musicals, which unfortunately means emphasizing the spectacle — the crashing chandeliers, the hydraulic ornate staircases, the roller skating train races.

But 30 years ago, he opened on Broadway what is arguably his best show yet, Evita, a human-scale, albeit pageant-like, saga of the rise and early death of Argentina’s controversial political icon, Eva Peron. Recorded long before it hit the stage, the task fell to director Harold Prince to devise theatrical illustrations to match the songs, an assignment he handled so well that most subsequent productions have readily adopted his solutions.

Still, from the first glimpse of Robert Kovach’s scenic design — a post-modern abstract landscape of twisted latticework, kind of a cross between the Beijing bird’s-nest stadium and I.M. Pei’s Louvre pyramids — on the Maltz Jupiter Theatre stage, it seemed to promise a new take on the show, not unlike the company’s recent directorial preconceiving of Barnum.

Instead, guest director Marc Robin is content to settle for a traditional staging, with no discernible new ideas of his own. That said, Evita is a complex show that is hard to pull off well, and the Maltz production is very proficient, in no small part because of the performance of Jodie Langel as that tramp of the Pampas, Eva. The evening, however, is undoubtedly more interesting for a first-time viewer of the show than for someone who has experienced it before.

Eva Peron is an object of adoration and scorn in her country to this day, seen as either a saint who inspired and aided her fellow countrymen or a crook who bankrupted the nation under the guise of philanthropy. Even a cursory listen to Tim Rice’s cunning lyrics reveals that the show is decidedly in the latter camp, but devoting a musical to Eva was originally a source of controversy, second only to the title character in Lloyd Webber’s earlier Jesus Christ Superstar.

Although Eva’s overarching ambition and eventual corruption work against her, Langel still manages to muster some sympathy for the character, despite her icy demeanor. She sings the demanding score with laser-lunged power and admirable diction, displaying what a lyric calls “a little bit of star quality.”

Rice and Webber’s most intriguing creation is undoubtedly a cynical character called Che — possibly, but not necessarily, Guevara — who narrates the action and pricks pinholes in Evita’s image. Rudy Martinez is physically stiff in the role, but he handles his musical numbers with plenty of volume and attitude.

Curiously, the role of Juan Peron, the military colonel who gets pushed into the presidency by his wife, is very sketchy. Aided by his natural resemblance to the man, David Studwell still manages to make a strong impression. The rest of the show is in the hands of the high-energy ensemble, which becomes everything from society swells to well-starched soldiers to Evita’s adoring, though impoverished peasant crowds.

The show’s drawback is that it never sufficiently gets inside Eva’s head to understand her motives. Nor do we fully understand the blind appeal she had to the Argentinians. But that does not stop Evita from being a thought-provoking musical, full of driving Latin tempos and tunes, and true dramatic drive.

At the Maltz, it is entertaining enough, but it would have been more interesting if it broke more with the familiar approach to its presentation.

EVITA, Maltz Jupiter Theatre, 1001 E. Indiantown Road, Jupiter. Continuing through April 5. Tickets: $30-$49. Call: (561) 575-2223.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Theater reviews: 'Defiance' and 'Dead Man's Cell Phone'

Paul Tei, left, and Reiss Gaspard in Defiance.

By Hap Erstein

Doubt: It is both the title of John Patrick Shanley’s 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama and the theatrical element that he has been exploring of late.

Its shadow can be seen hovering over Defiance, his follow-up play and second part of a projected trilogy, currently on at GableStage.

While it is not up to its predecessor in quality and ambiguity, Defiance again puts ethics and personal quandaries center stage, offering actors a number of juicy roles which the GableStage cast devours.

The play draws on Shanley’s military background, set on the Marine base at Camp Lejeune, N.C., during the height of the Vietnam War. Like Doubt, it pits old against young, two characters of conflicting ideologies, but unlike the earlier work’s territory of church morality, Defiance delves into the even more arcane territory of military protocol.

Matters revolve around ranking Lt. Col. Morgan Littlefield (Bill Schwartz), an aging career officer trying to make his way to retirement without incident. With rising racial tensions in town and on the base, he promotes a young black Capt. Lee King (Reiss Gaspard) as a buffer against the unrest, much to the staunchly non-confrontational King’s displeasure. Heating up their inevitable clash is a wily Navy chaplain (Paul Tei) with his own agenda of provocation.

Director Joseph Adler gets a nicely nuanced performance from Gaspard as a man who would prefer invisibility to prominence. And Tei is cast against type, as far removed from his usual hip, edgy roles, which makes the chaplain all the more compelling.

Patti Gardner lends capable support as Littlefield’s dutiful, but questioning military wife and newcomer Ezra Jesse Bookman makes the most of a brief appearance as a soldier whose sudden desire to see action in Vietnam proves pivotal.

Defiance is more understated than most of GableStage’s fare. But that is just the spit-polished surface, with plenty of turmoil churning beneath the surface.

DEFIANCE, GableStage at The Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables. Through Sunday. Call (305) 445-1119.

Jim Ballard and Polly Noonan in Dead Man's Cell Phone.

In Mosaic Theatre’s production of Dead Man’s Cell Phone, much-touted playwright Sarah Ruhl is also in a similar mood to the one she struck in The Clean House, the quirky comedy with intimations of mortality that she made her area debut with at the Caldwell Theatre two years ago.

But unfortunately, both works have intriguing premises that draw an audience in before losing their way and failing to make much of a point.

Still, who has not been annoyed by an incessantly ringing cell phone in close quarters? In Jean’s case, she is spending time in a peaceful café, when she is disrupted from the book she is reading by the phone of a guy at a nearby table. When he does not answer it and she makes the crucial decision to get involved, she realizes he has just expired.

The leap of faith Ruhl asks us to take with Jean is believing that she then feels compelled to become the unknown corpse’s personal answering service, pocketing the phone and taking his subsequent calls. His name is Gordon, as it turns out, and Jean becomes a sympathetic ear to his family, acquaintances and lover, eventually meeting them and getting enmeshed in their lives as well.

Jean’s submersion into this man’s former life has been likened to Lewis Carroll’s Alice free-falling down the rabbit hole. And if that analogy absolves Ruhl from any further explanations of behavior, it is probably apt.

Over the course of the play, she meets Gordon’s pushy, imperious mother (an obtusely comic Barbara Bradshaw), his socially inept brother Dwight (Antonio Amadeo), his deadpan, increasingly inebriated widow (Deborah L. Sherman) and his sleek mistress (Erin Joy Schmidt). Jean finds herself telling them each what they want to hear about Gordon’s last moments alive or otherwise meeting their needs, as when she forges a romantic bond with Dwight.

Offbeat would be an understatement for Jean, but somehow Polly Noonan, who originated the role in Washington in 2007, makes her nervous insecurities endearing. Also a standout is Jim Ballard as Gordon, who gets the opportunity to have his say in the second act, even though he is deceased.

If Ruhl were only out for laughs, she certainly knows how to get them. But she keeps creeping into darker territory, suggesting she has something more to say. Such faux-profundity can be entertaining, even if it ultimately brings to mind the fabled emperor and his new clothes.

DEAD MAN’S CELL PHONE, Mosaic Theatre, 12200 W. Broward Blvd., Plantation. Through Sunday. Call: (954) 577-8243.

ArtsBuzz: Fine Craft Show a lure for collectors

Artist Nancy Kubale. (Photo by Katie Deits)

By Katie Deits

WEST PALM BEACH -- Contemporary art has been the best investment of any category since the end of World War II, local artist Bruce Helander told an audience Friday at the Palm Beach Fine Craft Show.

Helander, a maker of collages who sported his trademark orange bowler Friday, was a last-minute replacement for a speaker who canceled just before the juried show at the Palm Beach Convention Center. His talk was full of reminiscences about famous artist friends such as Andy Warhol and Dale Chihuly, passionate collectors as well as creators.

“If you can afford it, support these fine craft artists, even if you can only purchase something small,” Helander said, and urged his listeners to trust their instincts for quality when looking at the artwork.

If an artist is good, it should be readily apparent. “They have a sense of purpose, confidence. They’re fresh, honest and full of the love of creation of their craft," he said. "You can sense their pride and energy.”

More than 100 craft artists are displaying their work at the Fine Craft Show, which continues today and Sunday. Artists in this show must live and work in the United States, and many of them already are highly sought by collectors and have placed pieces in museums.

Here are some of the artists whose work caught my eye Friday:

* Buyers were lined up at Nancy Kubale's booth to purchase her fanciful ceramic and mixed media figures (seen at top of this post). Karen Flanders drove from Fort Myers to buy Kubale's figures, which she has been collecting for the past six years. Robin and Sharon Bauer of Singer Island also bought several of Kubale's small characters.

“They made me smile," Sharon Bauer said. "We plan to put them in an area where we will see them every day.”

Woodworker Brad Smith. (Photo by Katie Deits)

* Pennsylvania woodworker Brad Smith had one of the most innovative booths. His tent-like roof created a stage for his off-the-wall furniture, such as a cabinet with uneven sides, a stool made from a tractor seat, and a chest in which yardsticks were used for the wood.
Michael Schunke with some of his glass creations.
(Photo by Katie Deits)

* Michael Schunke, owner of Nine Iron Studios in West Grove, Pa., studied glass blowing at prestigious institutes such as the Rhode Island School of Design. His booth features handblown glass vessels, sculpture and lamps.

Ceramic artist Debra Fritts. (Photo by Katie Deits)

*Another ceramic artist and the “Best of Show” winner from last year is Georgia artist Debra Fritts If you attended the palmbeach3 contemporary art fair, you may have noticed Fritt’s work in the Ferrin Gallery booth.

Her highly collectible and emotional work spans from sculpture to smaller pieces and small vessels. She often combines found objects with the terracotta clay and adopts a painterly approach to the surface treatment.

Weaver Patricia Burling. (Photo by Katie Deits)

* Connecticut weaver Patricia Burling brought a selection of her detailed rugs, along with a myriad of colorful handwoven shawls and throws fashioned from mohair, wool, silk and rayon. Burling also specializes in creating custom rugs and throws for individual specifications.

Today at 11:30 a.m., artist Chris Roberts-Aniteau will speak about decorative fiber, and at 1 p.m. jewelry designer Marianne Hunter will give a talk about giving "new life" to estate jewelry.

At 1 p.m. Sunday, interior designer Joseph Pubillones will give a talk called Incorporating Art Objects Into Your Living Space.

The Palm Beach Fine Craft Show runs through 6 p.m. today and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, children under 12, free. For more information, visit the Website.

Friday, March 20, 2009

ArtsBuzz: Ballet Florida cancels rest of season

A scene from the Ballet Florida staging of The Nutcracker.

WEST PALM BEACH -- Citing the failure of a proposed partnership with the city of West Palm Beach and "unforeseen financial challenges," Ballet Florida this afternoon canceled the remainder of its 2008-09 season.

The troupe had been scheduled to present performances at the Broward Center on April 4-5, the Duncan Theater at Palm Beach Community College in Lake Worth on April 24-25, and PBCC's Eissey Campus Theater on May 1-3.

“We wish to thank the city of West Palm Beach, Mayor (Lois) Frankel, the city commissioners, and the CRA for their efforts towards a partnership with Ballet Florida and are disappointed that they were not able to go forward at this time,” Juan J. Escalante, the company's president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

Escalante could not be reached Friday evening for further comment.

The company plans to resume performances for its 24th season on Dec. 23-28, when it will present its annual Christmastime production of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker at the Kravis Center. The 2009-10 season is also scheduled to include world premieres by leading choreographers Jerry Opdenaker, Ben Stevenson, Ron de Jesus and Ma Cong, the company said today.

Ballet Florida's financial hardships "would have damaged the artistic integrity of Ballet Florida should the company have continued with its performances this season," the West Palm Beach-based troupe said in a statement, adding that the board of directors is committed to a financial restructuring.

Subscriptions or single-ticket sales already bought for the upcoming performances will be credited towards any of the performances in 2009-10, Ballet Florida said. In addition, the activities of the Academy of Ballet Florida will continue uninterrupted, and auditions for next season scheduled for Sunday will take place as planned. -- G. Stepanich

Pianist Jose Feghali.

Watts cancels Monday recital, Feghali will substitute

WEST PALM BEACH -- Pianist Andre Watts has pulled out of his Monday afternoon recital at the Kravis Center due to illness, officials at the performing arts organization said today.

Brazilian pianist Jose Feghali, the gold medalist at the Van Cliburn Competition in 1985, will appear in his place. On Feghali's program will be the Mozart Sonata in B-flat, K. 333, the F minor Fantasy (Op. 49) of Chopin, and Schumann's Fantaisestucke, Op. 12.

Feghali, who teaches at Texas Christian University, also has programmed three works by Brazilian composers: Impressoes Seresteiras, by Heitor Villa-Lobos, three pieces by the pianist and tango composer Ernesto Nazareth (Odeon, Escorregando and Apanhei-te, Covaquinho!), and the most famous work of Zequinha de Abreu, Tico-Tico no Fuba.

Watts had been scheduled to play works by Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven, as well as Bach in two transcriptions by Watts himself. Tickets for his concert will be honored at the Feghali recital, Kravis Center officials said.

A return appearance for Watts has not yet been scheduled. For more information, call the box office at 832-7469. - G. Stepanich

The Delray String Quartet, from left: Mei-Mei Luo,
Richard Fleischman, Susan Moyer Bergeron,
and Laszlo Pap.

Delray Quartet to play Lauderdale series

DELRAY BEACH -- The Delray Beach String Quartet will be performing a concert series outside of Palm Beach County for the first time next season, officials said this week.

The group, which ends its fifth season Sunday, April 5, will perform a series of Saturday night concerts at All Saints Episcopal Church, just off Las Olas Boulevard in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

There are two other concert series also in the works for the quartet, plus additional area concerts, said Richard Fleischman, the quartet's violist.

The All Saints concerts will take place at 7:30 p.m. on the Saturdays before the same program is given at 4 p.m. Sunday in Delray Beach's Colony Hotel. Programs include:

Saturday, Dec. 5-Sunday, Dec. 6: Quartet No. 4 (in C minor, Op. 18, No. 4) by Beethoven and the Piano Quintet in F minor of Cesar Franck, with pianist Tao Lin.

Saturday, Jan. 2,-Sunday, Jan. 3, 2010: The lone String Quartet (in F) of Maurice Ravel, the Overture in C minor (D. 8a) by a teenage Franz Schubert, and the one-movement String Quartet (Op. 23) of the 20th-century American composer Howard Hanson.

Saturday, Feb. 6-Sunday, Feb. 7: String Quartet No. 5 (in D minor, Op. 70) of the Russian composer Alexander Glazunov, the String Quartet No. 64 (in D, Op. 76. No. 5) of Haydn, and the Lullaby of George Gershwin, which he wrote in 1919.

Saturday, March 6-Sunday, March 7: String Quartet in D minor, K. 421, of Mozart, the First String Quartet of Argentinian master Alberto Ginastera, and Crisantemi, a rare instrumental miniature by operatic titan Giacomo Puccini.

Saturday, April 10-Sunday, April 11: String Quartet No. 2 (in A) by the short-lived Basque composer Juan Arriaga, and the popular String Quartet No. 1 (in D, Op. 11) by Tchaikovsky.

This season, the Delray released its first recording, an all-Dvorak disc featuring the American String Quartet (No. 12 in F, Op. 96) and the Piano Quintet in A major, Op. 81, with Lin doing the keyboard honors. The group also gave the world premiere of the String Quartet No. 3 of the University of Miami teacher and composer Thomas Sleeper. -- G. Stepanich