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Sounds of Siberia

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photo: Rubin Museum
On January tenth The Rubin Museum of Art (which presents art of the Himalayan regions), New York, presented an extraordinary concert called Sounds of Siberia. Two performers, Yuliyana Krivoshapkina and Nachyn Choreve, demonstrated the throat singing of the Tuva, a republic within The Russian Federation bordering on Mongolia. They accompanied themselves on two instruments: Ms. Krivoshapkina played the khomus (a type of jaw harp) and both she and Mr. Choreve played a string instrument which I believe was a balalaika, with three strings.
Ms.Krivoshapkina sang the opening song in vocalese - that is, without words, with only a vowel sound. She accompanied herself with elegant arm gestures suggesting flying. It was a marvelous choice to open the concert.
This was followed by a song in which Ms.Krivoshapkina sang words, presumably Tuvan. Mr. Choreve introduced his first balalaika, which had a boat-shaped body. He would later switch to one with a rectangular body. Sometimes h…

Winter Songs on Mars

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Photo by Waldemart Klyuzko
Koliada is a solstice ritual from Eastern Europe that predates Christianity in some aprts. Koliadnyky is a Ukrainian vocal group that sings Koliada songs. The group has teamed up with The Yara Arts Group to present for one performance the show Winter Songs on Mars at La MaMa.
The text is adapted from a 1780 puppet show, a nativity play called Vertep, and it’s fused with traditional Koliada songs. It’s all put into a clever context of Martians discovering their ancestors were Ukrainian - it’s silly but it gives the play a nice frame.
Of course, those ancestors show up - with drums, vibes, piano, a bass, a cello, more drums, and specially tuned fiddles. The traditional instruments are a trambita (a “mountain horn”), the duda (bagpipes made from a goat), drymby (jaw harps) and a tylynka (an “overtone flute”). And there’s a large hammer dulcimer - at one point the musician turns it over and raps on the wooden back.
The grand, full-bodied singing is largely from men …

Paul Winter’s 40th Annual Winter Solstice Celebration

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Paul Winter’s 40th Annual Winter Solstice Celebration opened with Paul Winter’s soprano saxophone heard in darkness. Then he was spotlit in his white jacket. It was the start of a marvelous one-night-only three-hour concert at St. John the Divine’s Cathedral, the largest cathedral in the world. The venue is monumental and the jazz concert matched its grandness.
From where I sat, I could see the seven sanctuary lamps in the apse burning behind the players. Audience on the other side of the players saw the entrance to the cathedral dimly lit. There was an organ by the raised playing area, and on scaffolding on the area’s sides were the other musicians, The Paul Winter Consort. There was a bass, a euphonium, an alto sax, a cello, keys, drums and more drums. And gongs - three on each side.
The tone of the pieces ranged from fragile to ecstatic, some of the best moments coming from Mr. Winter’s sax solos and a lovely cello solo by Eugene Friesen. Friesen not only bows - he strums and plucks …

World Music Institute: Discover the Pipa

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photo: WMI
The pipa (pee-pah) is an ancient Chinese instrument similar to a lute, with four strings, played almost vertically. Pear-shaped, it has four tuning pegs and about 30 frets, and modern ones have a small sound hole under the bridge. Its sound is haunting, like the sound of nature.
Its origins are debated, but it evolved as a combination of many instruments, the earliest a hand mallet drum to which animal gut strings were added. We first hear of it in documents of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 to 220 AD). Its master, Ruan Xian, lived in the fifth century. It was most important in the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907) and repopularized in the Middle Ages, during the Ming Dynasty. 
And it’s still played today - most notably in the hands of Zhou Yi, who’s been winning awards since childhood for her virtuosity. On November 20 she gave a marvelous concert at The China Institute in New York, Discover the Pipa, produced by The World Music Institute.
Her first piece was similar to a round - the las…

Druid Shakespeare: Richard III

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photo by Richard Termine
Richard III has never been my favorite Shakespeare, but the current production in Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, produced by Druid, a theater from Ireland, has shown me how great this unwieldy play can be. Druid Shakespeare: Richard III is brilliant, bordering on expressionism, directed meticulously by Druid’s Artistic Director, Garry Hynes. 
Queen Margaret skulks across stage before Richard enters, looking like a ghost in diaphanous gauze, in the play’s most surreal moment. Only then Richard enters from the floor with the famous soliloquy. This isn’t the text-based delivery of the 19th-century nor the rushed gone-before-you-know-it delivery that’s currently the rage in some circles. It’s metered, controlled verse supported by character and emotion. This Richard is bragging, not threatening, daring or confiding, and we become complicit in his crimes.
And that complicity remains throughout the play. Richard is a wise guy, his lines, with some exceptions, m…

The Catastrophe Club

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photo by Jeremy Varne
The future of the theater lies largely in immersive theater. Sea Dog Theater (along with Janelle Garcia Domig and Christopher Domig) has just produced a very interesting immersive production called The Catastrophe Club. It’s written by David Burnam and directed by Shaun Fauntleroy - in both cases quite well - and produced at a location undisclosed until the day before the individual audience member sees it. You get an email telling you where to report. Very intriguing…
The small audience nearly surrounds the small main playing area. The lighting is suitably harsh. The time is 2520. We’re welcomed by our hostess, Ruth: “Hello, criminal,” she says. Peaceful assembly, it seems, is outlawed in 2520: “The last time there was an infraction for public congregation was 25 years ago. It was a wedding.”
That’s the outer frame of the play: we’ve assembled here to watch in the inner frame: four simulated people from the year 2019. Simulated, but based on “real” people - climate…

A Performance for One

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photo: Untitled Theater Company #61
A Performance for One is a ten-minute performance - a sort of performance - from Untitled Theater Company #61, conceived by Edward Einhorn and Yvonne Roen, and written and directed by Mr. Einhorn. It’s an intriguing example of New York's creative avant-garde sensibility. It’s designed for an audience of, well, one. He sits in a small space with the performer - in my case Ms. Roen - who speaks to him for nearly ten minutes about her memory of her father’s hands. It’s not actually her memory, she points out, but the memory of the writer, Edward Einhorn. But “The writer,” she tells her audience, “has abandoned us.”

There’s a lovely passage about this memory becoming our memory. Some of the monologue is a discussion of the role of the audience, the audience as performer, experiencing the actress’ experience of the performance, as she experiences his.
The audience member, who is sitting nearly knee-to-knee across from the actress, is invited to look at …

Theater in the Dark: Carpe Diem

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Theater in the Dark: Carpe Diem is one of those creative, cutting edge theater productions that New York is so good at nurturing. It’s conceived and directed by Erin B. Mee and produced by her company This is not a Theatre Company at the TheaterLab space, off-off-Broadway.
For this show, audience members are blindfolded and then led into the theater, which, we learn later, is a large room with tables and chairs by them, as if for dinner. As we sit, we’re led through experience a series of olfactory, gustatory, aural and sometimes tactile experiences, in ten “scenes”. In each scene, something to eat or drink is placed in our hands.
Here’s the outline:
Scene Name: Drink Smell: Jasmine  Taste: Green Tea
Scene  Name: Gather Ye Rosebuds Smell: Rose Petals  Taste: Turkish Delight
Scene Name: Dance of Chocolate Smell: Vanilla  Taste: Chocolate
Scene Name: Bottle-Vase Smell: Lavender  Taste: Wine
Scene Name: Do I Dare? Smell: Perfume  Taste: Prosecco and Pear Juice
Scene Name: Tree  Smell: Dirt  Taste: Sage
Scene…

Sugimoto Nunraku Sonezaki Shinju - The Love Suicides at Sonezaki

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photo: Michelle Tabnick
Bunraku puppetry, a traditional Japanese form, established itself in the 17th  century. Its three elements are the familiar large puppets, narrators (or chanters), and shamisen musicians (the shamisen is a three-stringed instrument resembling a guitar). The proper name for the form is ningyō jōruri (bunraku is a 19th-century name). Jōruri refers to the narrative chanting in the play and ningyō means puppet.
The master playwright of the bunraku was Chikamatsu Monzaemon. In the early 18th century he introduced believable characters to Japanese puppetry who dealt with the real-world situations that his audience faced: the conflict between feudal tradition and human nature.
Chikamatsu (as he is known) produced TheLove Suicides at Sonezaki in 1703. The play recounts the story of 25-year-old Tokubei and his 19-year-old lady friend Ohatsu (who happens to be a courtesan). Like Romeo and Juliet, they can’t be together, so they kill themselves at Sonezaki.
New York’s Lincoln…