REVIEW: Featuring virtual world premiere in studio, Boston Ballet presents luminous and vibrant ‘Celebrating Jorma Elo’

Since last August’s inventive Carmen, Boston Ballet has not brought new work to BB@Your Home until now.

Celebrating Jorma Elo not only introduces highly-anticipated new dance back in studio including a Jorma Elo World premiere, but launches a luminous montage of Elo’s innovative and exciting work over a fifteen-year history as Boston Ballet’s Resident Choreographer.  Introduced by Artistic Director Mikko Nissenen and Jorma Elo, Boston Ballet took to the studio to record Jorma Elo’s Plan to B, excerpts from Bach Cello Suites, and the world premiere of Story of Memory before presenting a vibrant montage of Jorma Elo’s brilliant past work. 

The Boston Ballet’s BB@Your Home’s Celebrating Jorma Elo continues streaming through Sunday, March 7.  Click here for more information.

Resident Boston Ballet Chorographer Jorma Elo on right with Boston Ballet dancers Photo courtesy of Brooke Trisolini/Boston Ballet

In masks and filmed under one studio light designed by Jon Gonda, Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s fiddle-laden score lays the groundwork for this joyful and intense dance in Elo’s Plan to B filmed in February 2021.  Concise, surefooted, and sharp moves dominate this urgent and sweeping performance that feature Lia Cirio, Ji Young Chae, John Lam, Patric Palkens, Tyson Clark and an impressive solo by Tigran Mkrtchyan.

It is an upbeat, contemporary performance with pulsing movement as dancers slice the air and form seemingly impossible forms and shapes.  In purple coordinated leotard, Cirio and Palkens perform a duet with building intensity as Palkens carries and spins Cirio romantically before she hastens forward.

Lia Cirio and Patric Palkens Photo courtesy of Patric Palkens

A more intimate performance blooms with excerpts from Bach Cello Suites also taking place in studio February 2021 featuring music from Johann Sebastian Bach performed by cellist Ron Lowry.  Lia Cirio and Paolo Arrais dance romantically in shadow as an opaque backdrop softly burgeons into light.  This beautiful dance is further enhanced by the nature in which the two perform.  Arrais spins and handles her delicately in each movement before they embrace. 

Dialogue is rarely introduced into dance and it was fascinating to witness the world premiere of Elo’s Story of Memory and the sheer beauty of this piece’s compelling cinematography filmed in February 2021.  Dressed in alternately black and white, Viktorina Kapitanova and Tigran Mkrtchyan depict two people who struggle to understand one another.  It has moments of discovery, passion, fury, and mystery wrapped in Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Nancy Euverink’s captivating scores.  Kapitanova and Mkrtchayan depict two struggling, determined people in an increasingly intense dance longing for understanding before coming to a stunning realization.

Tigran Mkrtchyan in ‘Story of Memory’ Photo courtesy of Brooke Trisolini

Surely it was quite a challenge to choose the highlights of Jorma Elo’s 15-year tenure of rich and revolutionary dance into one luminous montage.  It was about as monumental as it was writing about it having experienced only excerpts of some pieces in its one and a half hour timeframe.

A photo montage prefaces these particular highlights from Sacre du Printemps featuring James Whiteside and Kathleen Breen Combes to the most recent production of Carmen with Lia Cirio and Victorina Kapitanova taken by renowned photographers Rosalie O’Connor, Gene Schiavone,  and Liza Voll.

Too many standout moments to count in this wide spectrum of work including various approaches to the same work at different times in the ballet’s history.  Each impressive interpretation brings a new dynamic to the performance.

An excerpt of Elo’s 2004 Plan to B kicks off this collection of works at the Wang Theatre featuring Sarah Lamb, Larissa Ponomarenko, Joel Pronty, Jared Redick, Raul Salamanca, and Sabi Varga drawing comparisons from its most recent interpretation.  Though both are impressive, but the newest version seems a bit more intense with sharper, more concise choreography.

Whitney Jensen, Bo Busby, and Jeffrey Cirio in Jorma Elo’s Plan to B, photo by Gene Schaivone; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Featuring solo pianist Bruce Livingston, excerpts from Jorma Elo’s C to C (Close to Chuck) Reborn filmed in February 2014 takes the audience into a dark, mysterious, and transcendent world.  C to C showcases the dancers’ athleticism and the human form as they move about in shadow to pulsing rhythms featuring Kathleen Breen Combes, Lia Cirio, Jeffery Cirio, Whitney Jenson, John Lam and Sabi Varga. 

Many of Jorma Elo’s chorography and works have a unique spirit, liveliness, and a seemingly freestyle nature.  In this Avant Garde piece, Kathleen Breen Combes, Lia Cirio, and Whitney Jenson’s swing like pendulums.  Certain moves seem to play with time as the dancers move swiftly in fast forward, rewind, repetition, slow motion, and then wild intonations to the music’s runaway urgency.  Similar unconventional moves are performed in Elo Experience.

Lia Cirio and Paulo Arrais in Jorma Elo’s ‘Bach Cello Suites’, photo by Rosalie O’Connor; courtesy of Boston Ballet

Elo Experience filmed in March 2011 opens with an audible laugh and dialogue.  It also has elements of avant garde work as a large group of dancers gather all in black.  Elo’s innovative choreography showcases freestyle, unconventional moves in an upbeat, lively setting featuring a compelling solo by Jeffrey Cirio.

Excerpts from Elo’s Brake the Eye from March 2012 is part of Elo Experience.  It is a playful and vibrant piece as dancers swing in angular movements while others remain still.  Dressed in purple and crème and performing to the divine works of Mozart, it is a bustling and upbeat performance featuring Larissa Ponomarenko, Jeffrey Cirio, Robert Krenz, John Lam, Sabi Varga, James Whiteside, Lia Cirio, Kathleen Breen Combes, Whitney Jensen, and Dalay Parrondo.

Humming is integrated into excerpts of Elo’s Sharp(er) Side of Dark filmed in February 2012, showcasing different dancers performing in what seems like heaven.  Accompanied by a string trio composed of violinist Michael Rosenbloom, Jean Haig on viola, and cellist Ronald Lowry, Lia Cirio and Sabi Varga, lights hover above them as they playfully glide and frolic in bodysuits to lively, urgent, and joyful music by Bach before seeing excerpts of the same dance performed by duos Kathleen Breen Combes and James Whiteside, Corina Gill and Paulo Arrai, and Whitney Jenson and Jeffrey Cirio. 

Lia Cirio and Paul Craig in Jorma Elo’s Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius, photo by Rosalie O’Connor; courtesy of Boston Ballet

The Boston Ballet revisits excerpts of a past performance of Bach Cello Suites from March 2018 featuring cellist Sergey Antonov and dancers Maria Baranova, Junxiong Zhao, Lia Cirio, Paolo Arrais, Kathleen Breen Combes, Derek Dunn, Misa Kuranga, John Lam, Addie Tapp, and Lasha Khaozashvili.  Dressed in black leotard, this lively performance shows a wide range of moods including pain, love, and passion.  A particular highlight showed the dancers briefly interacting with the onstage cellist, leaning in as the cellist plays.

Boston Ballet in Jorma Elo’s Creatures of Egmont, photo by Liza Voll; courtesy of Boston Ballet

The final two performances are on a larger scale exploring the sheer dynamic nature of Elo’s work from the traditional to the contemporary culminating into a jubilant finale.  The sheer athleticism in excerpts of Elo’s Creatures of Egmont as dancers form angular, symmetrical shapes under a twilight sky and then Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius filmed in November 2017 a joyous and uplifting grand scale finale that reflects Jorma Elo’s continuing luminous, inventive, and astonishing work with the Boston Ballet.

BB@Your Home continues with The Art of the Classical Ballet from March 25 through April 4 which includes excerpts from Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty.  Click here for more information and a look at Boston Ballet’s full season.

REVIEW: Celebrity Series of Boston at Home’s free concert, ‘Quartet Kalos: The Songs We Make’ makes meaningful debut

This virtual concert ended with a laugh.  On Thursday, February 25, Celebrity Series of Boston at home’s free weekly Neighborhood Arts concert series featured the soothing and unique rhythms of Quartet Kalos: The Songs We Make livestreamed on Celebrity Series of Boston’s website, Facebook Live and YouTube at 7:30 p.m.  The concert was filmed at Futura Productions in Roslindale, MA and included a Q & A with the group. Click here to see the full concert on demand.

Introduced by Celebrity Series of Boston’s Associate Director of Community Engagement Robin Baker, this livestreamed concert was particularly meaningful for this skilled quartet.  Not only did they make their Celebrity Series of Boston debut as a group though they have all performed for Celebrity Series individually since 2017, it was the first time performing live together onstage since the pandemic and they couldn’t have been more delighted.

Composed of Maria Finkelmeier on marimba, Angela Shankar on clarinet, Francesca McNeeley on cello and soprano Mary Mackenzie all in masks, Quartet Kalos provided a blend of eclectic, original, enigmatic, playful, and intriguing rhythms that provide a soulful respite from the pressures of the world today.

A portion of Quartet Kalos’s music is Swedish-inspired due to members of the group having lived there and these particular concert selections took some time to deliver their take on classical music and hymns. 

Their lively and inquisitive opening number, Solstice, is an instrumental piece blending soprano Mary Mackenzie’s silvery and versatile vocals.  Mackenzie’s operatic range has a brilliant and natural shine, even when delivering the spoken word.

Dreamlike and experimental, Beau Kenyon’s I Will is melodic and smooth in its building intensity.  Aaron Copeland’s timeless Appalachian Spring is easily recognizable within Quartet Kalos’s upbeat arrangement to Shaker tune Simple Gifts.  Quartet Kalos also provides a unique and memorable blend on the Swedish tune, Uti Var Hage with timeless hymn, I’ll Fly Away (arr. Angela Shankar) in a sea of galloping rhythms with a special dedication.

Maria Finkelmeier’s original and spirited composition, Clone has an urgency and mischievousness filled with rhythmic stops, starts, and lively moments.

However, the real standout was Swedish tune, I denna ljuva sommartid (arr. Sanna Andersson), a glorious, uplifting song about summer’s great beauty which is particularly missed in the depths of winter.  This lively number is further enhanced by its stirring acapella harmony.

Quartet Kalos:  The Songs We Make is still available for viewing here.  Celebrity Series of Boston’s free virtual Neighborhood concert series will next present Hub New Music on Thursday, March 11 at 7:30.  Click here for more information and for all that Celebrity Series has to offer this season.

REVIEW: Normalcy takes an eerie detour in Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s ‘Solitaire Suite’

One thing rings true:  No good can come from a dying phone.

A dark highway and a last minute errand kick off the world premiere of Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s family-friendly supernatural thriller Solitaire Suite, a rich, engaging play by Trent England that explores a family’s strange occurrence over one evening.  With a dreamlike and tense score that underlies its various twist and turns, Solitaire Suite’s relatable cast are just part of what makes this as alluring a zoom production as it would be a stirring podcast.

Directed by Daniel Bourque, Solitaire Suite is nestled between two Shakespearean productions in Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s current season. While Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing thrilled audiences last year and next is Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost in the spring, Hub Theatre Company of Boston took a break from soliloquies and bravado for this psychological thriller continuing on Hub Theatre’s YouTube page on live stream and on Hub Theatre’s Facebook page through Saturday, February 27. Tickets are on a pay-what-you-can basis.  Click here for more information.

Solitaire Suite Screen Shot courtesy of Hub Theatre Company of Boston

Having seen a few of Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s productions, it is refreshing to see them present such a vast array of work over the years from period pieces to dark fantasy to southern rom-coms and  now what is deemed twilight zone meets zoom. 

Marty Mason bears most of the weight of this production as Celeste, a former city-lover turned suburban mother whose mysterious son keeps her guessing.  She delivers a natural and nuanced performance, sharing the evocative, lively, and multi-layered account of her family’s evening.  Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia is charismatic as Celeste’s quick-witted and laidback husband Pete and Michael Lin portrays their introverted and mysterious son, Tiger.

Solitaire Suite veers off into different directions and each detail is a window into each character’s psyche.  The dramatic and haunting cinematography, with sound design and digital design by Kyle Lampe and Justin Lahue respectively, contributes to the production’s ominous and suspenseful tone that takes on not only some supernatural aspects, but the tension brimming just beneath the surface within this seemingly close family.

Solitaire Suite unpacks a lot within its under an hour runtime and though all your questions might not be answered, the production is thought-provoking well beyond the production’s close.

Solitaire Suite continues through Saturday, February 27 and is also available on Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s Facebook page. Click here for more information and their current production. Hub Theatre’s next production is Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost this spring.

REVIEW: Liars and Believers’ inventive ‘Beyond a Winter’s Day’ aims to chase away pandemic blues

It has been said, ‘Happiness is good food and good company.’

For those who miss hugs and some good company, Liars and Believers (LAB) in Cambridge, MA may have a cure for that with their interactive, virtual, and family-friendly production of Beyond a Winter’s Day continuing through Saturday, March 27.  This production is offered on a pay-what-you-can basis.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  These are live streaming zoom performances that are scheduled at specific times.

Jason Garlick as Stanislav and Glen Moore as Fergus Photo credit to Liars and Believers

Directed shrewdly by Jason Slavick with video editing by Sam Powell, Beyond a Winter’s Day is more an experience than simply a theatrical production.  What makes this experience rather unique is how cleverly it is put together.  Not only does Beyond a Winter’s Day deliver a selection of insightful, creatively dynamic stories including an open-ended tale that ticket holders are encouraged to finish, but takes it one step further. 

Before watching, ticket holders are offered three recipes that could be considered hearty comfort food for a winter’s day to be prepared prior to the production.  The food is cleverly woven into the storyline and cast members enjoy the food with the audience during key points in the production, creating a multi-sensory experience. 

Rachel Weise as Isabel Photo credit to Liars and Believers

Though a portion of the production is set in space, Beyond a Winter’s Day attempts to evoke the comfort you might feel sitting in front of a campfire while eating, conversing, and sharing stories.  The colorful cast, portrayed by Rachel Wiese as Isabel, Rebecca Lehrhoff as Mishka, Glen Moore as Fergus, and Jesse Garlick as Stanislav, address the audience on occasion and the audience can respond via messaging.  A marginally self-aware piece, each nuanced character that introduces the tales all react differently to being separated from their other cast mates and gradually learn how best to capture that light and feeling of togetherness once again. 

Each tale is produced with varying creative styles and conveys a strong message about the underdog, judging a book by its cover, a campfire fable with unexpected attendees, and an open-ended story for you to finish. 

Vasalise the Blessed Photo credit to Liars and Believers

Each tale possesses its own strengths, but Vasalise the Blessed, an original work written by Rachel Wiese, was a particular highlight.  Its rich shadow puppetry boasts a passing resemblance to The Tale of Three Brothers in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I film.  The haunting, detailed quality of this work is evident right down to the lattice pattern in Vasalise’s dress and the poignant story seems to come out of a set of dark fairy tales.

Jesse Garlick’s Malka and the Bahema is a fascinating Yiddish morality tale that involves a variety of puppetry including hand and finger puppets as Malka embarks on a harrowing journey to prove an entire town wrong and Kendra Bell’s mischievous and expressive costumes for a bedtime fable look like they walked right out of storybook.

Beyond a Winter’s Day also features its own version of musical storytelling in the live, upbeat, and relaxing acoustic rhythms from singer-songwriters Carlos Odria and singer Mali

Liars and Believers present innovative Beyond a Winter’s Day through Saturday, March 27.  This show is on a pay-as-you-like basis and streams live at scheduled times.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: Boston Children’s Chorus’ free MLK tribute concert ‘Born on the Water’ a stirring and hopeful virtual journey

Although the Boston Children’s Chorus (BCC) could not physically be together this year for their annual concert, they certainly spiritually united in harmony through innovative zoom technology that helped make this remarkable concert a visual spectacle.  Featuring renowned special guests in music and in the arts, The Boston Children’s Chorus composed a stirring, gripping, and hopeful collection of works including music and poetry honoring Martin Luther King’s historic day.

The 18th Annual Boston Children’s Chorus concert tribute to Martin Luther’s King, Born on the Water was livestreamed on their website and Facebook on Sunday, January 17 at 4 p.m. The virtual concert is still available on their Facebook page and YouTube channel.  Click here for more information on how to support the Boston Children’s Chorus, their upcoming events, programs, digital offerings, and how to join.

Boston Children’s Chorus’s 17th annual MLK Tribute concert Photo Credit to A Priori Photography/Boston Children’s Chorus

In under an hour, the free virtual tribute concert offered a selection of hymns, protest songs, and hopeful melodies.  Broadway actor-vocalist Roman Banks delivered an incredible opening number with the Boston Children’s Chorus in a gripping rendition of the African American folk song, Been in the Storm as Banks exclaimed, ‘Give me Time to Pray.’

Broadway vocalist Roman Banks performed with the Boston Children’s Chorus for this year’s virtual concert, ‘Born on the Water’ Photo courtesy of Boston Children’s Chorus

African American Folksong Joy in my Heart, arranged and introduced by Dr. Rollo Dilworth of Temple University, was a beautiful and hopeful song made more enchanting by the visually-engaging technology and the heart shaped graphics that framed the adorable and angelic-sounding Children’s Chorus.

Boston Children’s Museum’s President Carole Charnow introduced the moving classic African American Spiritual Let Me Fly with Edith Mae’s poem written during for the Civil Rights Movement, Fight on Little Children in memory of Emmett Til.

BCC’s 16th Annual Martin Luther King’s Tribute concert, ‘She Persisted’ Photo credit to A Priori Photography/Boston Children’s Chorus

Other highlights included Nina Simone’s protest song, Mississippi Goddam introduced by KingBoston’s Executive Director Paris Jeffries.  It was a fast paced, quick witted, impactful song mastered by the Boston Children’s Chorus and enhanced by clever, visually-engaging technology.

Boston Children’s Chorus dedicated Alicia Keys’s catchy, meaningful song Underdog to Frontline Workers and everyone who is risking their lives during the pandemic.  The BCC delivered seamless harmonies accentuated by a beautiful montage of Boston.

Actress and vocalist E. Faye Butler performed with the Boston Children’s Chorus for this year’s MLK virtual tribute concert, ‘Born on the Water’ Photo credit to Boston Children’s Chorus

Adorned in an elegant dress, actress and soloist E. Faye Butler joined the Boston Children’s Chorus in a performance of Stevie Wonder’s poignant, yet uplifting rendition of Love’s in Need of Love Today.  It was easy to hear the enthusiasm in Butler’s warm and soaring vocals as she sang, ‘Don’t delay/Send yours right away’ as the group offered a sorely needed message with such relevance today and so in tune with MLK’s continuing mission.

BCC’s Born on the Water is still available to stream on their Facebook page and YouTube channel. Click here to learn more about the Boston Children’s Chorus, their upcoming events, digital offerings, how to join, and how to support their mission.

REVIEW: ‘Love, Repeat’ gets love right

Viewing Warwick Film’s unconventional and heartwarming romantic comedy Love, Repeat makes this city lover long to return to New York City.  Steeped in New York City’s pinnacle, snow-covered beauty and featuring some of the city’s most iconic landmarks in muted enchantment brings on a wistful feeling.  New York City not only provides this film’s idyllic ambiance, but is portrayed as its own active character in James, an auspicious person who feels like he lucked out in love to his wife Barbara until they suddenly divorce.  James feels much like Manhattan, a lonely island.

Bill Connington as James in idyllic New York City in ‘Love, Repeat’ Photo courtesy of DARR Publicity/Love, Repeat

Whether you are still feeling the holiday spirit as any Hallmark movie fan would be or looking for a lighthearted tale of love and loss, Love, Repeat delivers.  January is also nestled between the close of the holiday season and the anticipation of Valentine’s Day.  Warwick Film’s Love, Repeat is available to stream and on DVD.  Click here for more information on the film and how to watch Love, Repeat.

MaxwellPurushothaman as Chris and Bill Connington as James in ‘Love, Repeat’ Photo courtesy of DARR Publicity/Love, Repeat

Written, executive produced, and starring Bill Connington as James, Love, Repeat largely portrays the difficult part of love.  It explores the kind of love that is tested after things go right, but done in a way that is optimistic, humorous, and never bereft of hope.

Marcus Ho as Chad, Maxwell Purushothaman as Chris, Stu Richel as Philip, and Bill Connington as James Photo courtesy of DARR Publicity/Love, Repeat

The setting may be idyllic, but this is not a tale of beautiful people with beautiful problems that are easily solved.  Love, Repeat boasts a dynamic, strong, and quirky cast helmed by Bill Connington as earnest, stoic and quietly romantic James Anderson.  Connington endearingly depicts James’s tension and hesitation as he wades into this unexpected period in his life while his artistic ex-wife Barbara, amiably portrayed by Leenya Rideout, seems ready to move on.  The pair possess a sweet and familiar chemistry.  There is nothing quite like getting romantic advice from your son and Maxwell Purushothanan as their bright, albeit blunt son Chris receives the lion’s share of the laughs.  Stu Richel as Phillip, James’s football-loving father resembles that “shoot-from-the-hip” charisma portrayed in Martin Crane from the hit TV show Frasier

Marcus Ho as Chad and Nandita Shenoy as Lavanya Photo courtesy of DARR Publicity/Love, Repeat

Marcus Ho as Chad and Nandita Shenoy as Lavanya are James’s chic and wildly dramatic friends as they amusingly swing from passionate to cynical at times in the very same scene.  The film also has its share of good naturedly silly moments including a spontaneous dance sequence and Vivia Font who deems a noteworthy portrayal as increasingly obsessive and comically driven Camilla.

The story is a bit rushed at times and it would have been nice to get more insight into Barbara’s character, but the characters are relatable enough to stay invested while delivering an authentic message about love, risk, acceptance, and relationships while taking in those marvelous city views.

Bill Connington as James at the MET Photo courtesy of DARR Publicity/Love, Repeat

Warwick Film’s Love, Repeat is available to stream and on DVD.  Click here for more information on the film and how to watch Love, Repeat.

Amid peerless Castle Hill and candlelight, Boston Lyric Opera delivers exquisite ‘Winter’s Evening’ on Operabox

One this is for sure, Boston Lyric Opera can achieve elegance anywhere.

Boston Lyric Opera (BLO) had two remarkable debuts for their virtual concert, A Winter’s Evening.  Directed sublimely by Nathan Troop, Boston Lyric Opera’s ‘A Winter’s Evening’ not only made its virtual debut on Operabox, but soprano Gabriella Reyes also made her effervescent debut with the Boston Lyric Opera, an event which she calls “a dream come true.”

BLO’s ‘A Winter’s Evening’ continues streaming through Sunday, January 10.  Click here for more information.  Boston Lyric Health Task Force helped coordinate the virtual performance to meet safety standards.

Surrounded by the gorgeous grounds at Castle Hill at the Crane Estate in Ipswich, Massachusetts, Miss Massachusetts 2020 Sabrina Victor, adorned in black fur over a glittering white gown, hosted this lovely evening with warmth and poise.

Boston Lyric Opera’s ‘A Winter’s Evening’ continues streaming on Operabox through Sunday, January 10. Photo credit to Boston Lyric Opera

Boston Lyric Opera also weaved in elements of hearth and home blending classic opera and festive classic songs as Gabriella Reyes and Sabrina Victor shared personal remembrances of holidays past.  The show is the height of elegance, not only in the couture, but inside the Crane Estate’s majestic ballroom embellished with candlelight and Christmas trees. 

Impressively accompanied by pianist Brett Hodgdon, Reyes, adorned in a black gown, showcased her broad range with a dynamic selection of songs that included a serene, bi-lingual version of Silent Night/Nochede Paz, passionate Quando M’en Vo from Puccini’s La Boheme, stirring Nana by Manuel De Falla, a dreamy and heartfelt When You Wish Upon a Star with lyrics by Ned Washington and music by Leigh Harline, and the inspirational classic Harold Arlen song, Over the Rainbow featuring its rarely sung introduction.  Reyes masters the operatic selections, her light and powerful vocals make it all look easy.

Guitarist Zaira Meneses accompanied Reyes for a portion of the evening with a selection of songs that are meaningful to both of them including Grever’s Alma Mia and Sandoval’s Gracias a la Vita.  Meneses’s vibrancy and flair, putting her entire body into her music with Reyes’s eloquence made for a stirring pair.

BLO’s ‘A Winter’s Evening’ continues on Operabox through Sunday, January 10.  Click here for more information and how to subscribe to Boston Lyric Opera’s current season.

REVIEW: Christmas Revels 50th virtual anniversary delivers mirth, merriment, and reflection

For what marks its 50th year, Christmas Revels has been entertaining audiences by delving into vast cultures and recreating historical moments and holiday traditions with drama, dance, humor, and song.  Christmas Revels made its debut in 1971 and though it is limited to the screen this year, this engaging production brought a mix of new material while glimpsing some of their best performances in their long history. 

Father Christmas makes an appearance in The Christmas Revels annual “Mummers Play” Photo courtesy of Revels

Having never seen Christmas Revels before, it was a lot to take in and quite a feat to encapsulate the best moments in such a broad time frame.  Catching glimpses of some of their special guests, returning favorites, and new faces was an innovative way to recap a half century of productions, but it also had me longing to see more, especially as I glimpsed some of their best, most enduring performances.

Christmas Revels is still available to stream on-demand through Thursday, December 31.  Click here for more information and how to support future Revels productions.  The 50th Anniversary of Christmas Revels is also available as a 2-CD set.  Click here for more information.

Statues: Paula Plum as James Otis and Richard Snee as Josiah Quincy Photo courtesy of Revels

Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre is as majestic and welcoming as ever even as it fills for a virtual audience.  The dark, wooden stage is softly-lit with two stately, marble Greek statues sitting on each end as a grand, dimly-lit bronze chandelier floats overhead.  Hosted by acting dynamos Paula Plum and Richard Snee as James Otis and Josiah Quincy who were immortalized as those legendary statues on the Harvard University stage and the only souls who have seen every Revels performance and then some, Christmas Revels blends humor, stirring moments, and a wistful trip down memory lane to witness some of Revels’ earliest performances as it gradually became what it is today.  

From humorous moments to joyful carols such as 1984’s Yorkshire Here We Come A Wassailing, Go Tell it On the Mountain with Janice Allen and Joy to the World featuring choruses from Christmas past and virtual Christmas present, and a serene Dona Nobis Pacem featuring renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Christmas Revels does not predictably explore its past in sequence, but in clever moments such as merging a past and more recent performance of a song  by various performers, setting a different tone to its enduring meaning.

Yo-Yo Ma with Audience: Cellist Yo-Yo Ma performs the peace round “Dona Nobis Pacem” with members of the Revels Virtual Audience Photo courtesy of Revels

One of the best and most exciting examples of this was in 1997’s and 2015’s Lord of the Dance featuring David Coffin, Neena Gulati, and Patrick Swanson as they explored eastern and western Hindu traditions.  Audience members were on their feet as enthusiastic performers led audience members to spill out into the Sanders Theatre’s lobby singing along.  1993’s Kukko dance featuring the Karelian Folk Ensemble stood out as one of the more exotic cultures while 1997’s Niska Banja featuring the Revels Women, New England Romanian Ensemble, and Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble revealed beautiful and distinctive garb.  2007’s Shopsko, choreographed by Petre Petrov with Mladost Folk Ensemble, The Village Band, and Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble offered memorable upbeat and bustling Bulgarian dance. 

Johnny Nichols, Jr. and Carolyn Saxon perform the spiritual “Hold On” in a segment linked to Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise”, exploring the ongoing journey towards justice and equality Photo courtesy of Revels

 Janice Allen and the Silver Leaf Gospel Singers took the stage in 2000 for a stunning, acapella version of Amazing Grace while 1986’s impressive Appalachian Clogging with Ira Bernstein and the Big Gap String Band and Jean Ritchie delivered a captivating Kentucky folk carol, Christ Was Born in Bethlehem.  Another indelible moment rested in a powerful medley of 2000’s Underground Railroad featuring Sheila Kay Adams and Janice Allen, Jordan Ashwood, and Cyrus Brooks, Silver Leaf Gospel Singers, Roaring Gap Chorus, Rocky River Children, Carolyn Saxon, and Johnny Nichols, Jr.

Christmas Revels’ ever changing repertoire is too numerous to mention every highlight, but there are plenty of surprises.

The detailed, rustic sets and the meaningful, meticulous costumes ranged from festive to humorous to haunting.  It was marvelous to witness the virtual technology that was such a big part of this production.  The virtual choir delivered moving, crisp carols and seeing the creators including founder John Langstaff and Revels Directors Patrick Swanson and George Emlen united in present time without actually being onstage provided some comfort that technology can still make some things possible. 

Christmas Revels is still available to stream on-demand through Thursday, December 31.  Click here for more information and how to support future Revels productions.  Click here for more information on The 50th Anniversary of Christmas Revels available as a 2-CD set. 

REVIEW: GBH’s inviting virtual ‘A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’ maintains warmth and tradition in 2020

2020 has been many things, but traditional is not one of them.  However, this year’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn brought back holiday traditions, beautiful performances, reflections, stirring carols, and dare I say a bit of normalcy to 2020.

With a selection of live performances and an option to watch on-demand, GBH’s A Christmas Celtic Sojourn was brought into your home in a warm, inviting, and spirited atmosphere.  From a majestic, candlelit cathedral in Ireland to a festive outdoor step dance in Ottawa, Canada, it unconventionally included all the elements of what is beloved about this annual New England show and somehow broadened its possibilities worldwide. 

Host Brian O’Donovan and fiddle player Jenna Moynihan at Rockport Music Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

Brilliantly directed by Jenna Worden, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn offered seven live streaming opportunities to watch virtually from your home Tuesday, December 15 at THE VETS in Providence, RI, Wednesday, December 15 at Hanover Theatre in Worcester, MA, Thursday, December 17 at The Zeiterion Performing Arts Center in New Bedford, MA, Friday, December 18 at Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, MA, Saturday, December 19 at The Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston, MA, and Sunday, December 20 in GBH Studios in Boston, MA  These locations are usually where A Christmas Celtic Sojourn tours annually.  A bonus encore presentation also occurred on Christmas Eve. 

GBH’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is still available.  Click here for more information and to enjoy the show on-demand through January 2, 2021.  A Christmas Celtic Sojourn would also like to hear what you thought of the program by visiting their Facebook page.

Celtic harpist, pianist, and Assistant Music Director Maeve Gilchrist Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

Though a portion of the performers were at home, audiences were treated to harmonies created from multiple locations nationally and internationally while enjoying festive, international scenery.  For a person who has lacked the chance to travel the world this year, it was a more than welcome opportunity to take a glimpse and to share in some international traditions. 

From the stirring, candlelit opening of beloved carol, O Come Emmanuel sung in Latin by Cathy Jordan from gorgeous Sligo Cathedral in Ireland, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn transported audiences to Ireland and to other places around the world as they were unable to bring Ireland to the stage.  The show also boasted dueling harmonies simultaneously sung from Vermont, Scotland, and various parts of Massachusetts. 

Host Brian O’Donovan brought a mix of humor, melancholy, and wistful reflections toward this difficult year, engaging storytelling, and fond tidings.  Though this year has presented its challenges, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn still managed to keep the rituals and long-awaited music right at your fingertips delivering jubilant, soulful moments while still embracing winter’s dark and sacred stillness.

Music Director and multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan with fiddlers Jenna Moynihan and Maura Shawn Scanlin Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

Thanks to Rockport Music, multi-instrumentalist and Music Director Seamus Egan, Assistant Music Director, Celtic harpist, and pianist Maeve Gilchrist, Bouzouki and Harmonium player Owen Marshall, guitarist Conor Hearn, and fiddle players Jenna Moynihan and Maura Shawn Scanlin returned to perform cheerful medleys and energetic jam sessions filmed in Rockport Music at Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts.  Seamus Egan’s brilliance shone through as he reached for multiple instruments for separate songs and at one point reaching for a banjo for a joyful freestyle. 

Fiddle players Jenna Moynihan and Maura Shawn Scanlin with Bouzouki and Harmonium musician Owen Marshall Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

A traditional wassail in Edinburgh, Scotland, rollicking sing-along carols and dance from A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’s past, a peerless lullaby carol involving a newborn, original song and stirring new renditions of classic carols, a lighthearted percussive dance from Michigan by Nic Gareiss, and returning step dancer and choreographer Cara Butler reveling in her backyard to a jubilant tune in Ottawa, Canada are just some of the highlights of this carefully-executed, moving production.  There were plenty of welcome surprises not to be revealed here.

Spending an awful lot of time at home and not in the car, music is less of a tradition in my house.  GBH’s  A Christmas Celtic Sojourn created a haven of holiday comfort in song that though we are far apart, some rituals and traditions can still stay the same.

GBH’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is still available.  Click here for more information and to enjoy the show on-demand through January 2, 2021

REVIEW: Michael John Ciszewski’s ‘The Sun is Sleeping’ dwells in dreamlike introspection in 2020

To some, the sun is an adversary.  To fast-living insomniac Simon, portrayed by Michael John Ciszewski, the sun is sleeping just when he is waking up.  Michael John Ciszewski’s second solo project, The Sun is Sleeping, is a personal, contemplative piece though Simon wants to be anything but contemplative.  He’d rather escape than be alone in his thoughts and his isolation, always looking for a quick fix as he dreams, loves, and parties big.

Having seen Ciszewski in other projects such as Lyric Stage Company of Boston’s The Little Foxes and his latest Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s virtual Much Ado about Nothing, Ciszewski has a strength for portraying intense, multi-faceted characters and Simon is no exception.  Steeped in city views, sunsets, and the crack of dawn, The Sun is Sleeping is a beautifully shot, relatable journey during these difficult times. 

Michael John Ciszewski in ‘The Sun is Sleeping’ Photo credit to Michael John Ciszewski

Click here for more information and how to watch The Sun is Sleeping, a one hour avant-garde film.

The Sun is Sleeping is part confessional, part introspection, and part escape, featuring a myriad of mixed emotions as Simon and other characters face a pandemic.  As Simon fantasies about an eternally happy existence and doubt seeps in, the audience is privy to each character’s meandering perspectives in their sheer yearning to bond with other people in any way they can.

For the actors themselves facing an arts ‘intermission’ of this magnitude, it’s the thrill of the audience, lack of that type of expression, and entire way of life turned upside down that contributes to their unsettling uncertainty.  Pier Lamia Porter as Sam and Rachel Belleman as Caroline unite in a wistful zoom call that could speak to anyone right now.  It’s the longing and joy of being together.  Some of the show has a sense of humor, but much more of it is reflection showing we all have too much time on our hands and yet the sun still shines.