Thursday, October 29, 2015

47. UW World Series: Sankai Juku presents Umusuna

Forty seven down. Eight to go.

For the start of its 34th season the UW World Series presented Umusuna, a new work by Sankai Juku, a contemporary butoh dance company from Japan.

Umusuna was a visually stunning performance, beautifully lit and accompanied by haunting music. A thin stream of sand fell at a single point on the stage for the entire ninety minutes, a beautiful and striking metaphor for the work's theme, described in the program as Memories Before History. The program explains that the Japanese word umusuna is rooted in concepts of birth, existence and nothingness, the ground and soil, and one's native place. The dancers' movements were contained and precise, and the ensemble flowed seamlessly between various combinations and the full company of eight dancers.

This was my first experience of butoh, described in the program as the only genuinely Japanese form of modern dance as well as a leading world trend. Alice Kadershan did a wonderful preview of the show in the Seattle Times that describes butoh's origins.

The UW World Series at Meany Hall presents a wealth of live music, dance and theater performances. There are currently some 25 shows listed on their website in four distinct performing arts series: World Dance, World Music & Theater, President's Piano, and International Chamber Music. There is also an education program called Community Connections which includes a K-12 component involving the Seattle Public Schools.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

46. The Vera Project: Risk!

Forty six down. Nine to go.

RISK! is a live show and popular podcast "where people tell true stories they never thought they'd dare to share in public." RISK! has monthly shows in New York, Los Angeles and on occasion, other venues around the country. On a weeknight in September The Vera Project was one of those venues.

The Vera Project seeks to fuel "personal and community transformation through collaborative, youth-driven engagement in music and art." Vera's programs focus on young people ages 14 to 24 and include training in skills such as audio engineering and silkscreen printing. In its Seattle Center home Vera has an art gallery and a performance space featuring weekly concerts designed to promote artistic experimentation. Volunteers are an important part Vera's operation, with  a committee for each programming area and a wide range of volunteer opportunities.

The Vera project
 encourages free expression,
as shown by this wall inside
the venue.
Vera says that its programs are always "all ages." I helped establish the truth of that statement at this event, being easily the oldest person in the audience. The performance was hosted by a comic from the Risk! organization and featured three personal vignettes by talented locals with a gift for storytelling. The show lived up to its reputation as funny, touching and no-holes-barred truth. A fellow ArtsFund board member asked if I had trouble staying awake given the 10 P.M. start time. I assured him there was no sleeping given the interesting content. Intrigued? Listen to an episode on their website.

Most Vera programs are in our venue at the Seattle Center, including the following:
These activities are initiated and driven collaboratively by Vera’s volunteers, staff, Board of Directors and youth-led Membership.
Weekly concerts promote artistic experimentation and excellence in a professional setting, leveraging industry-standard technology to showcase music and arts. Classes fuse with experiential learning opportunities and a volunteer-driven structure that engages young people in the arts, fosters inter-generational communication and gives constituents the skills necessary to pursue their creative and professional passions. The skills participants gain at Vera activate future creativity, careers and leadership within Vera and in the greater creative community. Vera engages thousands in the arts, develops the future of the music industry and supports a vibrant Seattle culture.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

45. Artist Trust: Anna Skibska Studio - Summer's End Soiree

Forty five down. Ten to go.

Open to anyone willing to make a small donation,
the Summer's End Soiree was a fun party inside
Anna Skibska's Fremont Studio.
Artist Anna Skibska received a Fellowship from Artist Trust in 2001 and wanted to give something back: she wanted to help this organization continue its important work of supporting artists in Washington State. So, she hosted a benefit reception in her Fremont studio where she sold some of her beautiful jewelry, and shared the proceeds with Artist Trust.

I was a beneficiary of this event as well, in the form of a very fun outing and the chance to buy a birthday present for our eldest daughter. The artist herself confirmed my selection as "perfect", based on a photo of said daughter. At the event Ms. Skibska gave a wonderful demonstration of her signature and well-recognized glass technique.

Artist Trust offers some very important and tangible support for individual artists of all disciplines in Washington State, providing financial help, career training, and professional resources. Their grant-making is based on artistic merit, with awards (which range from project grants to major merit awards and residencies across the country) selected by peer panels of artists and arts professionals. The organization's Creative Career Center holds workshops and classes around the state where artists learn best business practices and entrepreneurialism. It is easy and inexpensive to become an Artist Trust member, which provides for discounts at arts-related businesses and Artist Trust programs, among other benefits.

Ann Skibska received her diploma from the Academy of Art in Wroclaw, Poland and has taught creative glass in Japan, at the Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle, and at the Pilchuck Glass School. She has lived and worked in Seattle since the late 90's and her work has been exhibited in Europe and across the U.S.  Opportunities to meet the artist and see her work can be found on her Facebook page.

Our daughter loved the necklace and
earrings handmade by the artist.

44. Tacoma Symphony Orchestra

Forty four down. Eleven to go.

Tacoma is excited about its new orchestra conductor, Sarah Ioannides, and with good reason. They’re calling it the "era of Sarah."

The recent opening of the Tacoma Symphony Orchestra's 2015-16 season showcased her in a winning combination with high-voltage pianist Andreas Boyde and an orchestra obviously energized by her leadership. In her second season as music director, Ms. Ioannides has impressive credentials. Trained at Oxford and Julliard, she has conducted throughout the United States and around the world. The New York Times described her as "magic" and said she conducts with "unquestionable strength and authority".

The concert began with a robust singing of our National Anthem accompanied by the Orchestra. And I do mean singing. This audience loves music and they don't just stand there while someone else sings the Star Spangled Banner. Styled the "Russian Season Opening", the evening featured works by Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky. The large and enthusiastic audience was particularly thrilled by pianist Boyde's performance in Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 2.

Tacoma Symphony Orchestra, which began in 1946 as an amateur orchestra, has been a professional symphony for 20 years. With 80 contracted musicians and an affiliated community chorus, the Orchestra performs annually to an audience of over 15,000. It has strong community support from patrons and many donors in addition to ArtsFund. Education is central to its mission; the symphony's flagship education program Simply Symphonic focuses on 5th grade students with classroom programs and the opportunity to attend a specially-created concert at Tacoma's Pantages Theater.

Ms. Ionnades follows the very successful 20-year tenure of Harvey Felder, who took the organization from a community orchestra to a professional symphony. Together with a fine company of dedicated musicians, Sarah Ioannides and the Tacoma Symphony Orchestra have a bright future indeed.

Under the direction of Sarah Ioannides,
Tacoma SymphonyOrchestra and pianist Andreas Boyde
were a winning combination.

43. Whim W'Him: Choreographic Shindig

Forty three down. Twelve to go.

Whim W'Him is an ensemble of seven dancers – four men and three women – founded in 2009 by former PNB principal dancer Oliver Wevers. Choreographic Shindig was built on the work of three choreographers selected by the Whim W'Him dancers from over ninety proposals submitted by choreographers from around the world. That is correct: over ninety choreographers wanted to stage a work for this company!

The Pacific Northwest has a rich history of fostering dancers and choreographers of enormous international influence: Merce Cunningham, Robert Joffrey and Mark Morris, to name a few. Mr. Wevers is a potential candidate for that list. Unlike some of his predecessors with strong local ties, however, Wevers has stayed right here to establish a company. Why? It is because our region has outstanding professional dancers nurtured by local companies, the artistic and technical skills required to support world-class live performance, and the desire (one might say clamoring) of international dance artists to participate in our local dance scene. Of course, we shouldn't forget growing patron and donor support for dance, in which ArtsFund plays an important role.

To learn more about Choreographic Shindig, read one of the outstanding reviews. That is another strength of our local dance scene: dance-literate critics.

It is exciting to look forward to what this company will do in the years ahead. Whim W'Him has already selected the choreographers for next year's Shindig.  I can't wait.

Whim W'Him is a wonderful ensemble
of seven dancers.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

42. Seattle Chamber Music Society: Summer Festival

Forty two down. Thirteen to go.

The Seattle Chamber Music Festival presents an incredible opportunity for all of us – the chance to hear chamber music at its finest, performed by extraordinary musicians from around the world, right here in our own back yard: Benaroya Hall.

We saw the thirteenth and final night of the Summer Festival. It featured nine musicians with international reputations in an evening of Brahms, Borodin and Rachmaninov. The performers ranged from the concertmasters of both the National Symphony and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra to a Korean-born pianist, a Taiwanese-American violist, and leading artists from the Cleveland and SanFrancisco Orchestras, among others. These outstanding musicians were just a few of the over 45 artists who appeared over the thirteen nights of the festival.

Founded in 1982, the Seattle Chamber Music Society presents a January winter festival and a summer festival in late July. In addition to these high quality performances, the Society offers programs for adults and youngsters to build audience appreciation and understanding of chamber music, including summer concerts in Seattle parks and an annual Young Artists Awards Competition in partnership with Classical King FM 98.1.

41. Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas: Resilience at the Crossroads of Race & Climate Justice

Forty one down. Fourteen to go.

Resilience. This program was a powerful mix of art, stories, food and music designed to show that resilience is the "hidden strength people of color take for granted, after centuries of unhealed oppression." In particular, on the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, it sought to explore why the best climate solutions must address racism, and vice-versa.

Co-organized by the Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas, the program was held on a gorgeous Sunday at the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center in Seattle's Discovery Park.

The afternoon began with great food and the chance to interact with presenters at tables hosted by government organizations and environmental groups. There was a lot of lively and animated conversation around those tables at this very well-attended event. A number of visual artists exhibited work related to the race and climate justice theme and there was a performance by the Metis fiddlers group Montana Shorty.  The event featured several presentations, including a keynote by Jacqueline Patterson, Director of the NAACP Environmental & Climate Justice Program, a choral performance, and discussions with the audience.

The Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas seeks to inspire new thoughts and challenge assumptions about Black culture through the performing arts. It presents events featuring dance, music, theater and the literary arts, with performances by both national and local artists. Examples include programs that have explored the international impact of Black artists with Seattle roots (think Quincy Jones, Octavia Butler and August Wilson), and the "Kitchen Sessions" featuring powerful poetry and storytelling by young Black women artists.

The program opened with a story that
included some audience participation.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

40. The Esoterics: Audacior

Forty down. Fifteen to go.

We weren't sure what to expect when we set off to a choral concert at St. Stephens Episcopal Church in Seattle recently. After all, the group was called “The Esoterics” — where did that name come from, we wondered? 

It happened like this: In early 1992, conductor and ethnomusicologist Eric Banks brought together a group of singing friends to perform his Master’s and Doctoral recitals in Choral Studies at the University of Washington. After Banks’ recitals were completed the group wanted to keep singing together, so Banks chose a name for his ensemble based on the Greek adjective εσοτερικος, which describes a close-knit community and the secret knowledge that its members share.

Now in its twenty-second season, The Esoterics is a well respected Seattle based vocal ensemble dedicated to performing rarely-heard contemporary a cappella choral works from around the world. Since 1993 the group has performed over 300 concerts throughout the Pacific Northwest and has commissioned and premiered more than 100 new works for a cappella voices in dozens of languages.

The program we saw, Audacior, was a collection of modern choral music "celebrating brazenness, bravery, and bravado." The chorus performed six works inspired by "revolutionaries, journalists, professors, nonconformists, and those unafraid of speaking truth to those in power."

It turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable evening!