Reviews of shows from the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts and other local venues published by the Los Cerritos Community News. The writer and paper are in their twentieth year of covering these events.

My Photo
Location: Fear City, Ca., United States

"My name is Addison DeWitt. My native habitat is the theater. In it I toil not, neither do I spin. I am a critic and commentator. I am essential to the theatre - as ants to a picnic, as the boll weevil to a cotton field." George Sanders in "All About Eve"

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sarah Chang and Andrew Von Oeyen February 28, 2010

A Perfect Pairing: Sarah Chang and Andrew Von Oeyen at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

You had to anticipate something special on Sunday at the Performing Arts Center, seeing the placed packed to the rafters a full twenty minutes before curtain, producing a buzz normally associated with pop music. This anxiously awaited concert by violinist Sarah Chang and pianist Andrew Von Oeyen had a lot going for it including the extremely talented duo, the enticing program filled with intriguing compositions from Johannes Brahms and the underrated Cesar Frank with a dash of the contemporary in a work by a promising young composer named Christopher Theofanidis. Without a lot of fanfare the two artists strode confidently to the stage and began a marvelous afternoon of music. Sarah Chang is beautiful and her playing is intense and animated but you could close your eyes and still be carried away by this dynamic violinist. It was also impossible to overlook the masterful playing of Andrew Von Oeyen who literally caused swoons from the audience in some of the romantic passages. Both of these artists began learning their instruments at the age of five years and even if they have not broken into their thirties they are veterans of music.
The curtain-raising “Scherzo” by Brahms was short and very sweet with the vigorous give and take between the two young artists creating color in the piece. Throughout the performance Chang exuded passion, dropping her arms and holding the violin in place with her neck and chin then taking a bold paraph with the bow to emphasize certain moments in the pieces. Occasionally her feet seemed to be off the floor all at once but more often it was something to close to a dance amidst the notes that flew from her Guarnari violin. The second Brahms composition “Sonata No. 3 in d minor, Opus 108 came in four distinctly different movements that ranged from the synchronicity of the pair in the opening “Allegro” to the heart-tugging “ Adagio,” to the fiery exchanges in the “Presto agitato.” The enthusiastic crowd applauded between movements but it seemed somehow perfectly fine since the broadly smiling artists seemed to be enjoying every note.
The second half was equally amazing with the fresh and wonderfully engaging contemporary piece “Fantasy” written by Christopher Theofanidis, inspired by his infant daughter but it was much more than a lullaby. This fantasy brought forth piano notes cascading across the hall, juxtaposed against the flowing violin line which met at a most delicate and satisfying finish. The music was just way too interesting to cause any drowsiness. The lynchpin portion of the concert; Cesar Frank’s “Sonata for Violin and Piano” was in turns contemplative, then boldly dramatic with fevered interplay between the violin and piano and at last beautifully filled with yearning that was made palpable in the talented hands of Chang and Von Oeyen. Without even a hint at becoming cloying Chang’s playing just took your breath away at times. After a rousing standing ovation the pair came forth for an encore of Edward Elgar’s “Salut d’amour” that seemed perfect to finish off a wonderful afternoon of music.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Chieftains February 21, 2010

The Chieftains with Ry Cooder:

Undiluted Joy at the Cerritos Center
By Glen Creason

I have gone past double figures in hearing the great Chieftains play at the Performing Arts Center, a lucky thirteen to be exact and have never seen a similar show twice. I have to believe it is the ultimate test of musical artists to continue to excel and entertain even when crowds know you like family. The genius of this evergreen band is that they never sit still and are always looking forward, never staying put where they might form a rut. Instead, each visit brings clean new sounds, great artists that they introduce or established greats who might join in the loosely arranged musical merriment. Still, the Sunday afternoon show they offered this visit was just something extra special, something so warm and wonderful and full of surprises that it reached heights not achievable for most groups. With great success that has continued unabated for almost fifty years the group can afford to work with the very best and thanks to the guidance of the legendary Paddy Maloney they make each show beyond memorable. You would not expect an Irish band lead by a man from Dublin to perform Mexican music but this show blended the traditions perfectly, juxtaposing the sounds in a way that elevated each song.
The proceedings before a packed house began, appropriately with the sweet sound of Maestro Maloney’s uilleann pipes that lulls then joins with fiddle, drum, harp, and guitar to create that Chieftains magic. The first half of the show had so much to see and hear it truly defies description but then again this isn’t You Tube. The music ranged from the Irish of “the Foggy Dew,” and “... Gallant Brave” sung by Scot soprano Alyth McCormack and voice of the Chieftains Kevin Connell to “Orange Blossom Special” and “Cotton Eyed Joe” assisted and sung perfectly by Jeff White along with fiddler Deanie Richardson. Midway the gents brought out a very special guest in Ry Cooder, the legendary musicologist, guitarist and storyteller who brought with him the dazzling music and dance ensemble “Los Cenzontles” who could have easily put on a fine concert alone. Much of the music was from the superb recent Chieftains work done with Cooder’s help called “San Patricio.” The memorable “Sands of Mexico” told the story of the St. Patrick’s Brigade of Irish volunteers who came to Mexico to fight, only to be betrayed and eventually executed for their efforts on behalf of Mexican independence. There was also electrifying dancing from the sensational Pilatske brothers and step dancing queen Cara Butler along with the Cenzontles that just released endorphins across the giddy hall every time they put toe to stage. The second half was just more amazement filled with Irish and Mexican sounds along with dancing by the Pilatske’s, Cara Butler, the beautiful ladies of “Los Cenzontles,” and the enchanting young Irish dancers of McCarten’s school. Could there possibly be more than all that? How about a full-sized pipe band in full regalia playing the rousing “March to Battle,” the Cenzontles dancing and playing “La Iguana” in the Jarocho style of Vera Cruz and plenty of Irish reels and assorted solos by harpist Trina Marshall, flutist Matt Molloy, Alyth McCormack, Deanie Richardson, Jeff White, sones from members of the Cenzontles and more hoofing by the Pilatzkes and lovely Cara Butler. Yet the highlight of the show may have been the heartbreakingly beautiful “Cancion Mixteca” that was introduced by an exquisite guitar lead by Ry Cooder and then sung by “Los Cenzontles” with such emotion it caused genuine goose bumps. Somehow, this show bejeweled with greats songs and dance performed wonderfully by a star-studded cast transcended the concert form and changed the afternoon into a celebration of the human spirit and left the audience glowing with joy. Whatever Paddy Maloney is doing to bring these shows off I hope he continues for a good long time.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Teatro Lirico D'Europa's "La Traviata" February 13, 2010

La Traviata Translates: Tragic Love at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

It might be appropriate that Teatro Lirico D’Europa staged the great Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata” on lover’s weekend at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. Like many well aimed cupid’s darts and valentine sentiments La Traviata starts with grand hope but ends in a heap of regrets and sorrow. While love may be divine and the bond between Violetta and Alfredo seems eternal, the soap opera-esque intrigues that keep them apart in this life end up making a grand statement of fidelity but then again somebody is dead at the final curtain. Based on the Alexandre Dumas novel and first performed in 1853 “La Traviata” or “the Fallen Woman” has been causing fans to dab at their eyes with hankies since California was four years old. Originally this opera was scandalous because it portrayed a courtesan in a sympathetic light but even in 2010 the story manages to place audiences firmly in Violetta’s corner after her misuse by men. Despite the agonizing d’amor the music and singing along with dazzling costumes make for a rewarding day at the old operatic heartbreak hotel.
This company has visited Cerritos several times before and the principals are all top drawer to match the memorable arias contained in this most popular work. On this night those singers who spend an inordinate amount of time performing were soprano Snejana Dramcheva as the tragic Violetta and tenor Igor Borko as the sadly misled Alfredo. Ms. Dramcheva was especially impressive in this monumentally demanding role that sees her singing throughout the two and a half hours of the unraveling of her undoing. Set in Paris and Provence but taking place in ballrooms and bedrooms La Traviata starts with the hopeful admonition “yes, life is made for pleasure!” As a matter of fact the first aria sung in Act 1 is a drinking song “Brindisi: Libiamo” followed by Alfredo’s song of adoration “Un di Felice” followed by Violetta’s hopeful “Ah fors’e lui” that wonders if he could be the man of her dreams.
In Act II the happy couple is cohabitating blissfully but in opera bliss is often obliterated, as is this state by the father of Alfredo who fears the breakup of his family because of this tryst. Baritone Peter Danailov was excellent in the thankless role of the father and indeed his “Dite alla giovine” is the persuader that moves Violetta to make the ultimate sacrifice for her love. While she pretends to leave him for her former lover she suffers terribly as heard in “Amami Alfredo” that demonstrated some of the soprano’s finest singing. Of course, there is a confrontation at a ball, recriminations, the ache of lost love, warnings of revenge and opera is opera. In the final scene the anguish of this parting has taken the consumptive Violetta to death’s door and even after Alfredo’s father has told his son the truth of Violetta’s parting with him they cannot save her at the sad end. Yet when the scales are made to fall from Alfredo’s eyes and he is finally reunited with his beloved Violetta and they sing “Parigi, o cara” there has not been a dry eye in the house for the last one hundred and fifty plus years.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Lula Washington Dance Theater February 6, 2010

Lula Washington Dance Theater at Cerritos
By Glen Creason

The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts seems to have become the place for excellence in modern dance as of late. Over the past season we have seen at least three of the finest companies practicing the art and on Saturday night hungry local dance-o-philes got another feast of the form from the Lula Washington Dance Theater. This troupe may mean just a little extra for local fans since Ms. Washington is a home grown artist, rising up out of the Nickerson Gardens projects of South Central Los Angeles and creating one of the most imaginative and vibrant concert experiences in modern dance. Certainly Lula Washington, a graduate of UCLA has done more than anyone in recent years around Southern California to bring the art of dance into the black community of Los Angeles. Of further interest is the active participation of associate director Tamica Washington-Miller who performed magnificently throughout the night and as a mature woman showed the mostly young group how the true art of dance comes from the heart and mind as much as it does from the body in motion.
This is an ensemble that pushes to the limits of the form and incorporates much of the rapidly changing digital age into the choreography. Case in point the first piece WWW.CONNECTIONS.2010 that juxtaposed the use of technology in connecting flesh and blood humanity. While couples connected with smart phones and text messages they also moved beautifully together with a harmony that only can be reached within a romantic heartbeat. During this segment there were themes that came unexpectedly to the surface now and then including the equality of women and the importance of electronic connectivity in communication. Part of the Lula Washington Dance experience is the lighting and on this night the bright colors and stark contrasts worked beautifully with the dance schemes especially in “Love Is” and the lengthy opening number that blended the music of Pachelbel, Michael Jackson and the Rolling Stones into one strangely cohesive statement. “We Wore the Mask” was marvelous with the passionate dancing of Tamica Washington-Miller and the unbelievably inventive drumming of master Marcus Miller. It’s not often you get a standing ovation at the intermission but this piece left the packed house on its feet.
The second half began with a salute to the great tennis playing Williams sisters, Venus and Serena with the power, grace and even grunts of the great athletes expressed in a compact sequence of dance give and take. The remainder of the program was an absolutely dazzling set of pieces called “Ode to the Sixties” that was accompanied by pop music by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Beatles, Bob Dylan and a perfect finishing kick from James Brown’s “Super Bad.” The choreography demonstrated an amazing variety of styles and moods drawn from the period and ranged from whimsical to political to just plain funky. Again, Tamika Washington-Miller lead the way on “Blowin’ in the Wind” that managed to draw goose-bumps without saying a word outside of the atmosphere created with the movement of bodies. Lula Washington’s choreography is multi-textured and filled with small nuances that may reach you after the performance as you ponder the marvels of the art of dance.