CAEG’s ‘Princess Zhaojun’s’ Yang Donglin envisions how one woman united a nation

Continuing with the theme of International Women’s Day is a show about real life heroine.  During the Han Dynasty, an amazing, intelligent woman considered one of the four beauties of Ancient China left the world she knew to marry Huhanye in order to achieve peace on the Northern Border of China.

Princess Zhaojun, presented by China Arts and Entertainment Group (CAEG), is a compelling dance drama and features detailed, beautiful sets and costumes.  The Sleepless Critic interviewed accomplished costume designer Yang Donglin about his work and what is was like to visually bring the Han Dynasty and this story to life.

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China National Opera and Dance Drama Theatre present Princess Zhaojun for one weekend only at the Boch Shubert Theatre in Boston, MA March 16-17.  Its mission is to share traditional and contemporary Chinese performing arts around the world.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Yang Donglin

Accomplished costume designer Yang Donglin Photo courtesy of China Performing Arts Agency

Sleepless Critic:  Is this your first time working with the China Performing Arts Agency and what other shows have you worked on?

Yang Donglin:  For China Performing Arts Agency I was costume designer for the dance drama Confucius when it toured the US in 2017 and Dragon Boat Racing in 2016 and 2018.  I have also worked in dance drama for Du Fu, Chinese Orphan, Lotus and Li Bai and Opera for Jianzhen Crosses the Ocean to Japan, Turandot, The White-Haired Girl and Peasant Takes a Wife.

Princess Zhaojun. China National Opera & Dance Drama Theater. (20)

Princess Zhaojun. Photo courtesy of China National Opera & Dance Drama Theater

SC:  The China Performing Arts Agency has a reputation for featuring the most beautiful costumes and scenery I have ever seen and Princess Zhaojun is no different.  I saw the Soaring Wings production last January and it was stunning.  This show serves as a piece of Chinese history and Princess Zhaojun is a real person who lived during the Han Dynasty.  Please tell me about how you selected and put together the costumes for this show.

YD:  I added proper contemporary interpretation of the piece instead of simply copying and restoring what it looked like in history.  We need to constantly deny ourselves and make textured clothing that can keep abreast of the body language expression of our actors. Taking Zhaojun for example, we have tried to change at least 5-6 kinds of fabrics to make a sample, and the director has even personally tried it on for rehearsal action until the most satisfactory texture and effect comes out.

Artistic creation is neither restoring history nor making things up. We have incorporated more dramatic elements into the traditional Han dynasty clothing, and many of the costumes are inspired by the wooden terracotta figures, Han portrait stones, and bricks portraits in the ancient Han dynasty tombs. At the same time, costumes are endowed with different souls according to the personalities and fates of the characters. For example, the overall cool color of the Han dynasty palace and the warm orange color on the grassland have all indicated the change in the character of the protagonist.

Princess Zhaojun. China National Opera & Dance Drama Theater. (12)

Princess Zhaojun. Photo courtesy of China National Opera & Dance Drama Theater

SC:  What has been the most difficult part of putting this show together and what has been the best part?

The most difficult part is finding the balance between the communication of the main actors’ images and the restriction of their dance movements in single, double, or triple dance.  The most satisfying is the characteristics of each costume are exactly the same as the director’s ideas such as the leashed called dance, free Zigui dance, and bold pouring wax dance full of exotic flavors. Each has its own traits, but together they have a unified style to construct distinctive aesthetic style on the stage.

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SC:  What do you like best about being a costume designer?

YD:  I like the creativity.  I like the feeling of swimming freely in the ocean of creation.

Witness Yang Donglin’s exceptional costume design and experience China National Opera and Dance Drama Theatre’s Princess Zhaojun for one weekend only at the Boch Shubert Theatre at 265 Tremont Street in Boston, MA March 16-17.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for more about China Arts and Entertainment Group and their future productions.

 

Mark Morris Dance Group’s costume designer Elizabeth Kurtzman talks vibrant inspiration behind Beatles show, ‘Pepperland’

According to Rolling Stone, The Beatles hit album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band ranked #1 of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003.  Not only is this groundbreaking album visually compelling, but songs on the album such as Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, With a Little Help from My Friends, Penny Lane, When I’m Sixty-Four, and the album’s popular title track are considered rock and roll classics.

What is it like to bring that album to life in vibrant color in its 50th anniversary year?  New York costume designer Elizabeth Kurtzman talks about what it was like to bring Mark Morris Group, Pepperland to the stage.  Celebrity Series of Boston presents Mark Morris Dance Group’s Pepperland, a tribute to Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, to the Boch Center Shubert Theatre in Boston February 8-10.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

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‘Pepperland’ performance in Seattle. Images by Mat Hayward/Celebrity Series of Boston

Sleepless Critic:  It must be exciting to portray the essence of this classic Beatles album, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in its 50th anniversary year.  Please tell me what your initial thoughts were in taking on this project.

Elizabeth Kurtzman:  I read the email inviting me to work on a project that involved music by the Beatles. I thought I was dreaming and was really intrigued.  Mark Morris and the Beatles are two of my favorite things.  I could not imagine how it would all look and sound. I knew it would not be by-the-book –Beatles and it had to be turned around pretty quickly.

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‘Pepperland’ performance in Seattle. Images by Mat Hayward/Celebrity Series of Boston

The 60s brought rapidly changing style. There is a lot of information in the years the Beatles made all that music, so there were a lot of possibilities.

SC:  You have worked with the Mark Morris Dance Group numerous times.  How was this project a unique experience for you and what do you like most about working with them? I know it might have been a challenge to tie in a contemporary feel to such an iconic time period.

EK:  They look great in these clothes/costumes and wish the guys wore these suits all the time.  They are a dream and it isn’t easy to dance in layers made out of corduroy.

Some of Mark’s pieces require more research than others. I spent hours looking up fashion and color from 1960-69. Mark was not interested in dressing the dancers in satin and feathers a la the album cover. It was more about trying to send the message of the early sixties. Simple shapes, but those shapes looked new, fresh, and young. Colored tights were so futuristic and men’s suits got smaller and cuter. I was a kid mid-sixties, but was completely mesmerized by those clothes.

Color was just as important as shape. Colors were new, synthetic fabrics made bolder, brighter fabrics available. The color palette was loosely based on a photo of a mural painted on a corner on Carnaby Street in London.

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‘Pepperland’ performance in Seattle Images by Mat Hayward/Celebrity Series of Boston

SC:  Songs like With A Little Help From My Friends, When I’m Sixty-Four, and the title track are just a few of the songs portrayed visually onstage.  What was that process like and can you offer a hint of the vibe audiences can expect when they see the show?

EK:  I think the show is about the energy of the time which offers a lot of happiness with a little melancholy thrown in.

SC:  From what I have seen of your work, you seem to add a vibrant personality to the performers that take the stage.  The colors and designs really pop.

The dancers are so game and energetic, the color and design only enhance their skill.  I love working with fabric and color and am fortunate to be able to attend rehearsals, which is where I get to see the personality of the dance and how the dancers move.

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‘Pepperland’ performance in Seattle. Images by Mat Hayward/Celebrity Series of Boston

 SC:  What has been the most challenging work you have done in New York or otherwise?

EK:  I can’t say there is one thing I’ve worked on that stands out as most challenging. There are always a few little challenges, but always a way to overcome them. It is more challenging working with small theatre companies that have tiny budgets and lots of costume changes or working with opera singers who hate the way they look in any and everything.  The biggest challenge is sewing it myself.

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‘Pepperland’ performance in Liverpool Images by Robbie Jack/Celebrity Series of Boston

SC:  You also provide art and music for programs for children in New York City.  Please tell me more about that and how you got involved.

Several years ago, I was involved with the Children’s Museum of the Arts downtown. I was determined to get kids to design and repurpose their clothes. Most of the adults I know do not know how to sew on a button.

I helped put together a program for children on the autism spectrum and their families that provided a place for making great art and music.  I also spent many hours designing and making costumes for the theatre department at my daughter’s high school who graduated in 2017.

Celebrity Series of Boston presents Mark Morris Group, Pepperland, at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre in Boston from February 8-10.  Click here for more information and for tickets. Tickets can also be obtained at the Celebrity Series of Boston’s box office.  Follow Celebrity Series of Boston on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

REVIEW: Hingham Civic Music Theatre’s compelling musical, ‘Oklahoma’ a stompin’ good time

From the first few angelic notes from one of Oklahoma’s most popular songs, Oh What a Beautiful Morning sung a capella by Jack Cappadona as charismatic Curly, it is easy to see that Hingham Civic Music Theatre’s (HCMT) spring musical is something special.  Celebrating its 75th anniversary, Hingham Civic Music Theatre’s Oklahoma! combines elegant costuming, an impressive, distinctive cast, and an interactive set that makes the audience settle into its own home on the range.  With its wealth of historical references weaved into Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic soundtrack capturing the spirit of the time, it is no wonder that Oklahoma! won the Pulitzer Prize for musical composition in 1944 and remains relevant today.  Hingham Civic Music Theatre delivers the show’s joyous zest for life, comedy, and, make no mistake, dark moments with zing and suspense.

HCMT Oklahoma Peddler and the Territory Boys

Michael Andre as Ali Hakim and the cast of ‘Oklahoma’ Photo courtesy of Eileen McIntyre/HCMT

Directed by Nathan Fogg and musically directed by Sandee Brayton with choreography by Tara Morrison, Hingham Civic Music Theatre offers two remaining performances of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, Oklahoma! on Saturday, April 29 and a Sunday matinee on April 30 at the Sanborn Auditorium in Hingham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Tickets are also available at the door.

Based on Lynn Riggs’ play, Green Grow the Lilacs, an interactive, colorful, and rustic set rewinds the clock to the Oklahoma Indian Territory at the turn of the century, equipped with softly flickering lanterns, vintage photos, bales of hay, colorful blossoms, lush greenery, and interactive props hanging on the walls.  In this particular production, the lighting is its own character, effectively setting the mood from a soft, rising sun to a nightmarish hue.

The splendid costumes, by Kathryn Ridder, are meticulously-detailed from gold embroidered shirts, brightly-colored satin costumes to delicate, richly-designed dresses with thick bows and petticoats.  Whether it is a cow scarf adorning an outfit or a carefully matched wicker hat, those details wonderfully capture the authenticity of the time.

Ruggedly dressed in suede chaps over khaki pants with a button down shirt and cowboy boots, Jack Cappadona portrays Curly McLain with an imaginative streak and a confident and at times, a mischievous smile.  Whether engaging C.J. Hawes as Laurey in a whimsical carriage ride during the playful song, The Surrey with the Fringe on the Top or musing about life in Oh What a Beautiful Morning, with silvery vocals, Jack slides right into the role as Curly with a natural charm.  With curly red hair and green striped overalls, C.J. Hawes portrays sassy, levelheaded Laurey with great comedic timing and sardonic wit.  Jack as Curly and C.J. as Laurey are enchanting together and their soaring vocals make beautiful harmony.

HCMT Oklahoma Laurey and Curly

Jack Cappadona as Curly and C.J. Hawes as Laurey Photo courtesy of Eileen McIntyre/HCMT

With thick curly hair, bright eyes, and a deep drawl, Rylan Vachon portrays Will as fun loving, somewhat hotheaded, and spontaneous.  Will’s rendition of the song, Kansas City, has never been more fun with lively vocals and slick choreography as The Territory Boys stomp, slide, and perform various stunts.  The entire cast captures the distinct spirit of Oklahoma! in all its stomping, sweeping joy.

HCMT Oklahoma Ado Annie and Will

Rylan Vachon as Will Parker and Jess Phaneuf as Ado Annie Photo courtesy of HCMT

Jess Phaneuf as Ado Annie brings a wild-eyed vivaciousness to the role.  She seems to know how to take command of any room she is in one way or another with a wink and a grin.  Her interaction with any cast member is fascinating and her comic timing is infallible.  Her chemistry with both Will and Michael Andre as bewildered peddler Ali Hakim, have their own distinct charm.  Michael Andre as Ali Hakim does a great job of balancing a dynamic character with comedy and cleverness.

HCMT Oklahoma Ado and Peddler

Jess Phaneuf as Ado Annie and Michael Andree as Ali Hakim Photo courtesy of Eileen McIntyre/HCMT

Athan Mantalos portrays disheveled, hired hand Jud with a slow burn and deep, compelling, operatic- sounding baritone.  Athan masters this role in the quiet moments, adding tension and making his character that much more mysterious.  His scenes with Curly are especially powerful and their vocals have seamless harmony.

HCMT Oklahoma Jud and Curly

Athan Matalos as Jud Fry and Jack Cappadona as Curly Photo Courtesy of Eileen McIntyre/HCMT

With spectacles and a high collared dress, Kate Fitzpatrick brings sensibility and a bit of sarcasm to the role of Aunt Eller, who is much wiser than she lets on.  Emily Gouillart as Gertie Cummings is a great deal of awkward fun with an unmistakable laugh.

Hingham Civic Music Theatre’s Oklahoma!  offers its share of romance, comedy, and plenty of uproarious moments, but dark moments as well.  Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote their second musical, Carousel, shortly after Oklahoma’s success and both shows share some of the same themes.  Hingham Civic Music Theatre delicately weaves in the themes of loneliness, temptation, and violence effectively, balancing this timeless tale.

Hingham Civic Music Theatre offers two remaining performances of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, Oklahoma! on Saturday, April 29 and a Sunday matinee on April 30 at the Sanborn Auditorium in Hingham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Tickets are also available at the door.  Be sure to follow Hingham Civic Music Theatre on Facebook and click here to learn how to support HCMT’s upcoming productions.