The late Alan M. Kriegsman once told dance critics at a conference that a “laundry list” of reviews should be avoided at all costs. With apologizes to Mike (who was a dear friend and colleague), here’s my Monday morning wrap-up of two special events that are after-the-fact, meaning that there’s no chance you can catch a performance that has passed.
It was a pre-Halloween treat to attend Howard Community College’s Arts Collective improve group in Hallow-Scream W.I.G. last Friday evening, directed by S. G. Kramer and Daniel Johnston. With tales of “beyond the grave,” nothing was off limits in this creepy, spooky ode to everyone’s favorite scary holiday. It was if “Day of the Dead” came alive when folks from the audience demanded it.
Kudos to Keith Becraft, Stacey Bonds, Daniel Johnston, Emma McDonnell, Shawn Naar, Anthony Scimonelli, and Danielle Sherry who didn’t miss a beat when asked to perform some unusual skits, most with a Halloween bent. The trick of a good improve group is to develop a character on the spot, then change it, all without a rehearsal. For example a scarf can become 10 different characters within minutes of its first appearance, in this case, a costume would do the same thing.
As one friend puts it, “Nothing is more entertaining than improv, especially when the actors are topnotch,” and, indeed, the half dozen performers were at the top of their game. Audience members who wore costumes were the first to be invited to participate in the give-and-take antics by the actors. And the fun began fast and furious.
Owen Brocklebank (11), a middle school student in Columbia, was one of those invited to throw out an idea. He was coached by as his grandmother, Phyllis Stanley, an actor, herself, and musician/teacher associated with the college. She, like her grandson, is a big fan of improv and encouraged him to participate, though he had his own ideas and spoke out clearly in the show.
“You have to be willing to accept whatever is offered,” Phyllis Stanley explained during the intermission. “There’s no script, and you go with it no matter what.”
Years ago I remember going to improvisational shows, then called Your Mama’s Cookin at the college, located in the coffee house, just below the HCC library. Noted actor, Bruce Nelson, taught some of those improv classes while he was both a professor at the college and a performer for the professional theater. That original group has expanded, and today, W.I.G. has become a signature in the theater department that reaches a broader audience.
While W.I.G. is not always the same group (and not just college students participate), the majority has been affiliated with the Arts Collective for the past two decades. Keith Becraft performs improv with other groups in the area, and Anthony Simenelli lends his talent to other theatrical productions at the college. He will co-direct It’s A Wonderful Life in the Smith Theatre Nov. 4-14. While some of the older guys played kids, younger performers, including Sue Kramer’s daughter, Emma McDonnell, jumped into freaky, spooky adult roles. And there was also that bit with a play-do character. Hmmm!
“Improv is very much alive – even thriving,” suggests Phyllis Stanley who refers to Robin Williams as “the master” of this art form. “It’s very therapeutic,” she continues, “and the audience seems to want to be part of the show.”
Let’s hope the group gets together in the spring for another round, perhaps with an Easter Bunny theme!
Meanwhile, check out the Arts Collective’s 20th season at Howard Community College, Little Patuxent Parkway, in Columbia, Maryland. Call (443) 518-1500, or visit their website.
HCC’s Arts Collective’s “What Improv Group?!?!” HALLOW-SCREAM show, Friday, October 24, 2014 by Susan G. Kramer.
DC Ballet shakes up expectations
Yes, even classical ballerinas let their hair down once in a while. They relish tossing off those stiff upper body movements and tapping their feet to a syncopated beat, especially a tango, rather than a ¾ waltz. Mainly, though, ballet dancers enjoy shaking up the expectations of serious balletomanes during this opening season when the audience awaits fresh faces and new ideas in dance choreography.
The Washington Ballet’s Artistic Director, Septime Webre, bounded onto the Sidney Harman Hall stage last Sunday evening to applaud two European choreographers and one Brit for the season opener Petite Mort, a program that must be repeated very soon. With works by Hans van Manen (5 Tangos), Christopher Wheeldon (Polyphonia), and Jiri Kylian (Petite Mort), this program met all expectations. And more.
Sona Kharatian of Yerevan, Armenia, is in her 16th season with The Washington Ballet. She stole the show (and our hearts) in the tango with Jonathan Jordan, no slouch as her partner and in his solo work. The sleek black dresses with a splash of red, were designed by Jean-Paul Vroom added to the sultry dancing. We need to see this piece again!
Tamako Miyazaki of Tokyo shines in the Balanchine-like piece by Wheeldon (who trained at the New York City Ballet). And the acrobatics by Tamas Krizsa of Hungary and his partner Aurora Dickie, well, amazing comes to mind. Still it was Maki Onuki who captured the audience with her stillness, perfect on point, and ready to soar at any moment.
The entire cast was superb in the closing piece with a special nod to Brooklyn Mack who always brings down the house.
Next up is The New Movement: Rising Stars of the Washington Ballet. The premiere of the organization’s Studio Company performances begin this Saturday, November 1, at 7 p.m. in the Washington Ballet’s England Studio – 3515 Wisconsin Avenue, NW,Luis R. Torres, Lucy Bowen McCauley, in Washington, DC. Look for works by Luis R. Torres, Lucy Bowen McCauley, and Tamas Krizsa. Tickets ($25) are on sale online.