Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Canadian Opera Company Live Online Chat December 4

From a media release:

COC HOSTS online chat 
during CBC Radio 2 broadcast of Aida on December 4

Toronto, Ontario – The Canadian Opera Company’s 2010/2011 season opening production of Verdi’s Aida has its first public broadcast on Saturday, December 4, 2010 on CBC Radio 2’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera and through internet streaming on coc.ca.  The inaugural broadcast of the COC’s Aida will be supported by an online chat at coc.ca featuring special guests from the production’s cast and creative team.

From 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on December 4, listeners at coc.ca will have the extraordinary opportunity to interact directly with Aida’s conductor, and COC Music Director, Johannes Debus, and cast members Sondra Radvanovsky, (pictured in the role, left,) and Jill Grove, who performed the roles of Aida and Amneris, respectively. Debus, Radvanovsky and Grove will be joined by other members of Aida’s cast and creative team, providing unique insight into how this production was brought to the stage as they answer questions and share anecdotes.

Those new to opera, as well as seasoned opera lovers, can join the discussion at coc.ca and enhance their listening experience by connecting with fellow opera enthusiasts.  The online chat is an opportunity to share thoughts on the performance, ask questions, and spend some time talking about this new production of Verdi’s grandest opera.  While at coc.ca, visitors can also read the Aida synopsis and cast list, view production photographs and videos, discover what to listen for in the Aida broadcast and even send an Aida-themed eCard.

In conjunction with the COC’s Broadcast Partner, CBC Radio 2, each opera of the COC’s 2010/2011 season will air twice nationally on CBC Radio 2’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera and Radio-Canada’s Espace Musique.

The broadcasts will also be available for internet streaming on CBC Concerts on Demand, cbc.ca/radio2, as well as coc.ca for a period of 12 months after the initial streaming date.

Aida was generously underwritten in part by Tim and Frances Price.
Broadcast Partner: CBC Radio 2

PS - COC podcasts available at this link

Production details:
Performed on Stage Oct. 2 to Nov. 5, 2010
Performance time is approximately two hours, 55 minutes with one intermission.
Conductor: Johannes Debus / Derek Bate
Director: Tim Albery
Set Designer: Hildegard Bechtler
Aida: Sondra Radvanovsky / Michele Capalbo
Radames: Rosario La Spina
Amneris: Jill Grove
Amonasro: Scott Hendricks

Monday, November 29, 2010

Soulful Messiah Comes to Harbourfront (Toronto) Dec 3 to 5

Highly acclaimed in previous years - from a media release:

Ballet Creole presents
Soulful Messiah
December 3, 4,  2010 at 8 PM
December 5 at 3 PM
Fleck Dance Theatre - Harbourfront Centre

Soulful Messiah is a contemporary dance interpretation of a "soulful" rendition of Handel’s oratorio, The Messiah. This rendition, infused with R&B, joyously blends Handel’s Messiah and the voices of legendary black singers, inspiring a cornucopia of tap, popular and African-Caribbean dance movements; a tour de force with undeniable holiday appeal.

It brings a blend of contemporary and African-Caribbean dance that complements the unique musical score from the CD “Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration” to create an evening of pure delight. The music is produced by Grammy Award winner Quincy Jones and features the likes of Stevie Wonder, The Boys Choir of Harlem, Vanessa Bell Armstrong Patti Austin, and Al Jarreau to name a few.

This year the audience will be mesmerized by yet another section to this work in progress. The newest section is the most blues driven thus far in the company's holiday tour de force. With the distinctive harmony of saxophone and piano, the music explores passive jubilance in the renewal of life after death.

While Mr. Parson’s inspirations are many, he fervently explains that, “I always wanted to do something that runs parallel with The Nutcracker. Moreover, I wanted it to be something that all cultures can find aspirations of joy and hope. When I listened to the music, I realized it runs through the gamut of Black music – the Caribbean, the Highlife, the Jazz, the Soul – I became convinced, this is most fitting.”

Here's an interview with Patrick Parson, Artistic Director, speaking about Soulful Messiah along with a pictorial of past shows since 2002.

DJ Skate Nights Saturdays at Harbourfront, Toronto

Update for 2011/2012 can be found at this link!

From a media release - this is so Canadian:

Melt the ice with hot beats at Harbourfront Centre’s
DJ Skate Saturday Nights!

Toronto’s favorite ice skating party returns with local & international DJs! 

TORONTO, ON (Nov.22, 2010) – Cold winter nights just got a lot hotter with the return of the popular DJ Skate Saturday Nights at Harbourfront Centre’s Natrel® Rink. Every Saturday night from Dec. 4 to Feb. 19 (except Christmas and New Years Day) features a new set of mix-masters spinning the hottest tunes from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.

The first DJ Skate Saturday Nights event kicks off with a performance by CHERRY BOMB featuring Cozmic Cat and Denise Benson. This duo is sure to bring down the house (or should we say “rink”) with their electrifying beats. The fun continues well into the winter season with free performances by 1 LOVE T.O.nights with DJ Lux and Jedi, DJ P-Plus and DJ Romeo, DJ Medicineman, 44th and Filth, Estilo Bakanchido and Promise DJs!

February features two special DJ Skate Saturday Nights parties that coincide with Kuumba, Harbourfront Centre’s Black History Month celebration. The first event (Feb. 5), imports Detroit’s own DJ D Brown to a special Motown Mixer. The second event (Feb. 12), brings the Caribbean to Toronto when Dr. Jay de Soca Prince spins spicy Caribbean rhythms at Soca on Ice. On Feb.19, another season of skate party fun comes to a close with a South Asian skate party featuring the best beats from Bhangra to Bollywood during Masala! Mehndi! Masti! Winterfest!

If the chilly winter weather gets the best of you, warm up next to our outdoor fire pits or grab a quick bite at the Lakeside Eats restaurant overlooking The Natrel® Rink (you don’t even have to take off your skates)! Free hot chocolate will also be served at each DJ Skate Saturday Night event courtesy of Natrel®.

The Details:
• The Natrel® Rink is located at 235 Queens Quay West, Toronto.
• Hours of operation are Monday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. (weather permitting).
• Skate and helmet rentals, sharpening, change rooms and locker services are available.
• For information the public can call 416-973-4000 or visit www.harbourfrontcentre.com/skating.

DJ Skate Saturday Night listings:

CHERRY BOMB featuring Cozmic Cat and Denise Benson
Saturday, Dec. 4, 2010 at 8 p.m. on The Natrel® Rink
Back by popular demand, the dynamic duo that is CHERRY BOMB, creates mixes and mash-ups of house, techno, and electro that are sure to have you grooving on ice.

Skate Party with DJ P-Plus from Flow 93.5 FM and DJ Romeo
Saturday, Dec. 11, 2010 at 8 p.m. on The Natrel® Rink
DJs P-Plus and Romeo will bring the beats to make you glide in style with a mix of jazz, hip hop, reggae, rock and everything in between!

1 LOVE T.O.nights- Skating Holiday Party featuring DJ Lux and Jedi
Saturday, Dec. 18, 2010 at 8 p.m. on The Natrel® Rink
1 LOVE T.O. is a movement that bridges the gaps – between cultures, neighborhoods, interests and generations. This unifying voice of our city exposes art, culture, style and music on the Natrel® Rink.

World at Your Blades featuring DJ medicineman
Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011 at 8 p.m. on The Natrel® Rink
Canada's most highly respected global fusion DJ will spin you around the world (or rink) with a mix of global grooves, world beat and ethno-electro hits!

Promise featuring DJs Irving Shaw and David McLeod
Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011 at 8 p.m. on The Natrel® Rink
Promise is a Toronto-based underground music collective headed by David Macleod and Irving Shaw. Promise returns with a mix of hot sounds for a snowy winter night. Bundle up and join us for a skate, we promise you won’t regret it!

44th and Filth featuring DJs Andy Reid, Simon Jain and YUG
Saturday, Jan.22, 2011 at 8 p.m. on The Natrel® Rink
Join the Nocturnal DJs for an unforgettable night of house music on ice, co-presented by 44th and Filth.

Cumbia: Ice Cold featuring Estilo Bakanchido
Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011 at 8 p.m. on The Natrel® Rink
Estilo Bakanchido will heat up the ice with fresh Cumbia mixes destined to make you move, groove and skate.

Motown Mixer featuring DJ D. Brown
Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011 at 8 p.m. on The Natrel® Rink
In collaboration with the first weekend of Kuumba, we will host a Motown Mixer in honor of Motown’s rich history and strong contribution to the music industry. Join us for this very special DJ Skate Night with Detroit-based DJ D. Brown!

Soca on Ice featuring Dr. Jay de Soca Prince
Saturday, Feb. 12, 2010 at 8 p.m. on The Natrel® Rink
Come celebrate the ongoing Kuumba festival as DJ Skate Night explores hot Caribbean rhythms. Join us as Flow 93.5 FM DJ Dr. Jay de Soca Prince heat’s up the ice up soca and calypso tunes.

Masala! Mehndi! Masti! GhuMMMo Skate Party
Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011 at 8 p.m. on The Natrel® Rink
Help bring DJ Skate Saturday Nights to a close with this special South Asian skate party featuring the best beats from Bhangra to Bollywood!

Daniela Nardi - Jazz at The Old Mill, Toronto Dec 3 & 4

From a media release:

Daniela Nardi -- Espresso Manifesto Lab
with Ron Davis, Ross MacIntyre, Roger Travassos
The Old Mill, 21 Old Mill Rd., Toronto
Fri Dec 3 & Sat Dec 4, 7:30pm

[Toronto ON]  On Dec 3 & 4 at The Old Mill, internationally acclaimed songstress Daniela Nardi will offer up a spicy mélange of her classic world-jazz-pop sensibility alongside some "lab" renditions of her upcoming CD, Espresso Manifesto.

An award winning singer/ songwriter, multi-instrument- alist and producer, Daniela Nardi is a smoldering, passionate performer, with an enticing voice.  Her music is literate yet emotionally charged, sonically adventurous and in a category of its own, one that she calls EarthyModernJazzPopWorldCool.

Following the release of her critically acclaimed acoustic nu-jazz and electronica disc, The Rose Tattoo, Daniela's recent residency in the Big Apple took her on a new path back to her Italian heritage. “I went to New York for some creative time, to be inspired, take in new sounds. I didn’t think or expect I’d come back wanting to sing and write in my mother tongue - Italian.”

“But I wasn’t inspired to go back to the folk songs of my parents’ hometown in Calabria. I was more enchanted with the Italy of the 60’s– Fellini, Loren, Mastroianni – and the songwriters who found their voice during this rich creative time. I was also drawn to the Italy whose Jazz tradition was censored by Mussolini in WW2, yet survived clandestinely, only to explode in the 50’s and 60’s."

Thus was born her 3rd work (in progress), Espresso Manifesto- timeless Italian songs set in a cool jazz environment.  It's a collection of songs by Italy's Cantautori, hip singer-songwriters like Paolo Conte, Luigi Tenco, Gino Paoli– universally loved and admired. Espresso Manifesto also introduces some songs penned by Nardi herself.  All the tunes represent a new breed of Italian song - groovy, sophisticated, meaningful and emotional.  The arrangements are equally innovative, blending Nardi's signature nujazz-world-electro sound with Brazilian, Soul and Jazz.

Joining Nardi on stage to perform songs from both her earlier work and Espresso Manifesto are Ron Davis (piano), Ross MacIntyre (bass) and Roger Travassos (drums/percussion).

Not to be missed!

Daniela Nardi
Ron Davis (piano)
Ross MacIntyre (bass)
Roger Travassos (drums/percussion).
The Old Mill, 21 Old Mill Rd., Toronto
Fri Dec 3 & Sat Dec 4, 7:30pm
TIX:  $20, 416-236-2641 - www.oldmilltoronto.com

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dance at the Young Centre (Toronto) this December

From a media release:

Dance at the Young Centre:

World Premiere of Beside Each Other
Critically Acclaimed Full Bloom Returns
NEW: Collisions Dance Festival

Toronto, ON – November 2, 2010 Albert Schultz, General Director of the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, today announced the return of Dance at the Young this December featuring the world premiere of Young Centre Resident Artist Andrea Nann’s Beside Each Other, the Collisions Dance Festival and the critically acclaimed Full Bloom which played to sold-out houses this past January. Beside Each Other runs December 2 – 9, 2010, the Collisions Dance Festival runs December 10 – 12, 2010 and Full Bloom choreographed and performed by contemporary dance masters Robert Glumbek, Kevin O’Day and Luches Huddleston Jr., runs December 14 – 18, 2010.

Dancer and choreographer Andrea Nann presents the world premiere of Beside Each Other performed by Andrea Nann and Brendan Wyatt featuring the music and poetry of Gord Downie (The Tragically Hip) from his solo projects Coke Machine Glow and Battle of the Nudes. Comprised of a series of short duets, Beside Each Other explores the private landscape between a man and a woman as they tread through deep intimacy, heartache and separation to harmonious love.

The Collisions Dance Festival is a weekend of dance programming involving multidisciplinary performances, spontaneous creations, interviews, and social dances in a format that allows audience members to experience up to 5 shows of their choice.

The festival features 6 dance pieces:

Emoticonics, a love story told through dance, beatbox, and social media directed by Weyni Mengesha;
Barlight, an exploration of human nature and its depiction through dance choreographed by Susie Burpee;
Exploded Music/Expanded Dance, created by David Buchbinder, Roberto Campanella and Robert Glumbek, explores the continuum between sound and movement to bridge together the musician and the dancer;
Marble, a multidisciplinary showcase performance of works developed by the participants of the Young Centre’s Emerging Artists Program, directed by Weyni Mengesha;
Hot Seat, conceptualized by Andrea Nann involves 5 dancers, 2 musicians, 1 spoken word artist and 1 choreographer in the hot seat who must create a 20-minute piece on the spot;
Virtuosic Toronto, spearheaded by Young Centre Resident Artist Waleed Abdulhamid, involves music and choreography created to film footage of everyday Torontonians doing their jobs.

Also, Collisions Dance Festival will include Moving Conversations, featuring interviews with Evelyn Hart, Peggy Baker, Allen & Karen Kaeja, BaKari Lindsay and Charmaine Headley along with Social Dances where audiences and artists are led by an instructor from a particular dance genre.

Featured artists in Collisions include: Marc Cardarelli, David Cox, Troy Feldman, Kristy Kennedy, Ryan Lee, Claudia Moore, Kelly Shaw, aka SUBLIMINAL, Brendan Wyatt and many more.

After its world premiere at the Ballett Mannheim in Germany and sold-out run in January 2010, three of the world’s most dynamic and exciting male dancers return to the Young Centre in Full Bloom.  Robert Glumbek is a dancer and choreographer of international acclaim, formerly of The Great Theatre of Opera and Ballet in Warsaw. Kevin O’Day is Artistic Director of the Ballett Mannheim at the Nationaltheater Mannheim in Germany, Luches Huddleston Jr. is a renowned choreographer and former dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York. Full Bloom is the personal and intimate journey of three men through the joys of fatherhood, the demands of manhood, and the challenges imposed by physical age.

• photo by John Lauener - Brendan Wyatt & Andrea Nann
• Evelyn Hart by David Cooper
• Kevin O'Day, Luches Huddleston Jr., Robert Glumbek - photo by Christian Kleiner

Beside Each Other
• runs December 2 – 9, 2010, in the Michael Young Theatre at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.
• Tickets are $20-$29 (plus HST).

Collisions Dance Festival
• runs at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts December 10 – 12, 2010.
• Tickets are $15 (plus HST).

Full Bloom
• runs December 14 – 18, 2010 in in the Michael Young Theatre at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.
• Tickets are $20-$29 (plus HST)

The Young Centre for the Performing Arts is located at 55 Mill Street, Building 49, in the Distillery Historic District. Tickets are available by calling the Young Centre box office at 416.866.8666 or online at www.youngcentre.ca

DISH the Documentary Plays Toronto Dec 1, 2 & 5

From a media release:

Red Queen Productions presents 
DISH - Women, Waitressing & the Art of Service
A documentary feature film directed by Maya Gallus

Toronto Theatrical Engagement
Royal Cinema - 608 College St.
December 1, 2, & 5

(Toronto – November 22, 2010) She may be the first woman you see in the morning, or the last you see at night. She feeds us, wipes after us, bullies us. She is the eternal waitress, and she is the star of this documentary.  DISH - Women, Waitressing & the Art of Service has been a festival favourite since its debut at Toronto's Hot Docs, now the film by Maya Gallus returns home to Toronto's Royal Cinema: Dec. 1 – 7 pm, Dec. 2 -  9:30 pm, Dec. 5 – 9 pm.

The waitress is an enduring pop culture icon. But beyond the stereotypes, what does her role in our lives say about us and our view of women?  Director Gallus, a former waitress herself, introduces us to women on the job who dish about their experiences, revealing the fantasies and desires that customers project onto female servers – substitute wife…girlfriend…servant.

In North America, the service industry is female-dominated. But the majority of women are relegated to the lower end - truck stops, diners and bars. The more sophisticated the dining experience, the more respect and money the server commands - and the more likely the server is to be a man.

DISH takes us from the iconic ‘eggs-over-easy’ diner and truck stop waitresses in Toronto to the gritty and glamorous “sexy resto” serveuses in Montreal. DISH also takes the viewer to the elite world of haute cuisine in Paris (where female servers are simply unacceptable) and the bizarre maid cafes of Tokyo (where modern-day geisha tread a fine line between the art of service and servitude).

Enter their world. Experience life on the other side. You’ll never look at a waitress in the same way again.

Since Hot Docs, the film has screened as an official entry in some major festivals around the world: Rencontres Internationales du Documentaire de Montréal (RIDM), Montreal; DOK Leipzig, Germany; Bergen International Film Festival, Norway; Mujeres en Direccion, (part of Cuenca International Film Festival), Spain, and the St. John's International Women's Film Festival, Newfoundland.

• Le Boeuf Sur Le Toit, Paris - Sonia
• Housters, Montreal - Krystele
• Royal Milk, Tokyo - Natsumi

DISH is Directed by Maya Gallus, and Produced by Justine Pimlott. The Editor is David Kazala, Cinematographer is Harald Bachmann, Original Music by Keir Brownstone. Also featuring The Waitress by Jane Siberry

About Red Queen Productions:
Red Queen Productions Inc. is a multiple-awarding winning documentary production company based in Toronto and headed by partners Maya Gallus and Justine Pimlott. Red Queen produces provocative, cutting-edge documentaries about social issues, culture and the arts for broadcast, theatrical and educational exhibition.

Black Hands - Les Main Noires - NYC Premiere December 1

Sponsored by the Délégation générale du Québec à New York, the gala screening will include a live Q&A with filmmaker Tetchana Bellange and poet Sonia Sanchez.

as part of the African Diaspora Film Festival
Wednesday, December 1 @ 8PM – The Chapel (details at the bottom)

Les Mains Noires: Procès de l'Esclave Incendiare
Directed by Tetchana Bellange
Quebec/Canada, 2010, 52 min, documentary, French with English subtitles.

Black Hands tells a story that even in its vaguest outlines would surprise many Canadians who trusted their history textbooks' version of events - one of slavery in Canada's past. While it's true that Canada was also a haven to slaves via the Underground Railroad in the first half of the 19th century, it's a little known/discussed truth that slavery also existed here for about two centuries until it was officially abolished in 1837.

More specifically, the documentary tells the story of Marie-Joseph Angélique, a slave who was tried and convicted of setting the fire that burned down a large part of Montréal in 1734. In a particularly horrific twist to the true tale, she was convicted not only to hang, but was tortured, her legs crushed in an attempt to get her to name an accomplice.

It's a dramatic story that's all the more so for its virtual exclusion from the Canadian consciousness for centuries. It came to the attention of filmmaker Tetchana Bellange while watching TV. "I saw an interview on the French history channel with Marcel Trudel, talking about his book on slavery in New France. I was flabbergasted. I had no idea there was slavery in Canada."

It piqued an interest that led her to look further, reading up on the subject from the few books available. She also paid a visit to the Montréal archives where she found the only original material still in existence. "In the archives was the minutes of the trial," she explains. Tetchana became fascinated with the personality that emerged from the pages - "this fiery woman who refused to remain a slave" as she calls her. Angélique openly had a white man as a lover, (an indentured servant from France,) and wanted to live with him.

Tetchana took a diverse approach to bringing the story to film. "The film is a mix between theatre and documentary. We filmed the theatre, a bit like Dogville." The theatrical segments re-enact key parts of the story, and come from the play on the same subject that she brought to the stage previously. "I'm also an actress," she explains. "I worked for three years on a stage play - but then, after 3 weeks, it's over." She believed the story and its themes merited a wider audience.

So far Les Main Noires has screened in two festivals in Québec, including the World Film Festival in Montreal. The December 1 gala will be its US Premiere.

The project has had some unexpected results. Tetchana is the child of Haitian immigrés. "I didn't feel, before I knew this story, that I had roots here." That changed once she'd started her research. "There's a lineage of black history in Canada," she marvels.

It's led to inevitable comparisons with the lot of black women in today's world - one that is still far less than ideal. "As a black woman, I don't see myself enough in the media," Tetchan says. "They always say 'there aren't enough stories about black subjects...' - this was a good way of proving that wrong." She's currently working on another documentary about black women in the media, featuring black actresses and their experiences, among others.

"Just as Angélique always refused to submit to the archetypes they wanted to force on her - it's a natural extension of Angélique's story."

The various books and discussions on the topic have posited various theories about the outcome of the trial, including everything from suggesting Angélique set the fire to get back at an abusive owner/boss (she was about to be put for sale,) to it being the work of a white nobleman, with her as the easy scapegoat. Black Hands takes the latter tack. Wherever the truth lies in this particular story, however, it's clear that the notion of Canada as being blameless in the slave trade is entirely false.

Screening December 1, 8pm at:
THE CHAPEL - 125 Zankel
525 West 120th Street
(212) 864-1760

train 1 to 116th Street

Trailer & Advance Look at The Lincoln Lawyer, Starring Matthew McConaughey

From a media release & other material. The film is said to be currently in post production, scheduled for general release on March 18, 2011, but here's an advance look at The Lincoln Lawyer, based on the novel by Michael Connelly

eOne Films presents:

A Film By Brad Furman
Staring  Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Phillippe, Marisa Tomei, William H. Macy, John Leguizamo, Frances Fisher, Michael Peña

In theatres nationwide on March 18th, 2011

Mickey Haller is a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney who operates out of the back of his Lincoln sedan. Haller has spent most of his career defending garden-variety criminals, until he lands the case of his career: defending Louis Roulet, a Beverly Hills playboy accused of rape and attempted murder.

But the seemingly straightforward case suddenly develops into a deadly game of survival for Haller when his client turns out to be much more than the spoiled rich boy that he first appears.

The story was inspired by Michael Connelly's real life meeting with a back seat lawyer.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Review - Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Co in Espejo de Oro

presents the world premiere of Espejo de Oro / Mirror of Gold
featuring the company with special guest artists from Spain
continues to Sunday, November 28 at Fleck Dance Theatre, Toronto

The essence of Flamenco is passion restrained by elegance, the stylized movements adding grace to its expression just as the rhythm adds definition to the music. That's just what the Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company delivers in Espejo de Oro in a performance that goes well beyond the traditional and folkloric.

The solid basis for the show begins with live music. The piece itself begins with a trumpet player who walks on stage, soon joined by two guitarists and two singers, and then the dancers who enter and leave in their turn. The set is dramatic, splashed with blue and red lights and projections at the back that glowed like stained glass or spun like a kaleidoscope (among other effects). The piece uses elements like the titular mirror, large and paned like a French door, where dancer/choreographer Juan Ogalla poses, almost challenging his own reflection.

The choreographic vocabulary goes beyond its origins in Andalusian folklore towards interpretive and expressive contemporary dance, with the piece unfolding in a series of segments. The musicians play on stage, sometimes only voice (or two voices,) and sometimes the singers interact directly with the dancers. I don't speak Spanish (more's the pity) but it sounded like a riveting story.

Juan's performance is taut and powerful, and the several ladies were graceful, sexy and proud in solo, duo and ensemble pieces. The costumes were gorgeous - I want one! The dance passes by on the stage a swirl of colour and emotion that includes the musicians and singers - a show that's definitely worth braving a stiff wind off the lake to get to the theatre.

Photos by John Lauener
• L-R - Niño de Elche, Esmeralda Enrique, Manuel Soto; Guitarists in back ground. José Valle "Chuscales", Nicolás Hernández
• Esmeralda Enrique, Manuel Soto; Guitarists in back ground.  José Valle "Chuscales", Nicolás Hernández
• Juan Ogalla
•  L-R - Ilse Gudiño, Angela Del Sol, Juan Ogalla, Esmeralda Enrqieu, Noelia La Morocha

Toronto Artists:
Esmeralda Enrique: Artistic Director, Choreographer, Dancer
Dancers: Paloma Cortés, Ángela del Sol, Ilse Gudiño, Noelia La Morocha:
Nicolás Hernández: Musical Director, Composer, Arranger, Guitarist

International Guests from Spain:
Juan Ogalla from Cádiz: Choreographer, Dancer
José Valle "Chuscales" from Antequera: Composer, Arranger, Guitarist
Niño de Elche from Elche, Alicante and Manuel Soto from Jerez de la Frontera: Extraordinary singers who join the company for the first time.

Flamenco has shaped my life's history.  It is my great passion.  Through flamenco I find truth, beauty and goodness.
- Esmeralda Enrique

ESMERALDA ENRIQUE SPANISH DANCE COMPANY presents the world premiere of
Espejo de Oro / Mirror of Gold choreographed by Esmeralda Enrique and Juan Ogalla
part of Harbourfront Centre's NextSteps 2010-11
Thursday November 25 - Sunday, November 28, 2010
Saturday at 8 PM, Sunday at 3 PM
Harbourfront Centre's Fleck Dance Theatre, 207 Queen's Quay West, 3rd Floor
Tickets: $25-$41 (Discounts for students, seniors, CADA and NextSteps subscribers)
Box Office:  416-973-4000 or visit www.flamencos.net

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Calling Naughty Filmmakers to the 69 Hour Film Challenge (Toronto)

From a media release:

FILMMAKERS WANTED to participate in The 69 Hour Film Challenge

Film Challenge: December 2 - 5, 2010
Film Screening: December 9, 2010
The Comedy Bar - 945 Bloor St.W Toronto

The The 69 Hour Film Challenge is a competition where film makers have 69 hours to make a funny short film about sex or something naughty. The films must include items from a secret list revealed at the start of the challenge. The challenge has regularly been a part of The Hard Liquor and Porn Film Festival since 2006. This 2010 challenge is a special event all on its own.

The gala screening party will be 10pm, Thursday December 9 at The Comedy Bar in Toronto.  The program will include live music, surprise guests, awards, and will be broadcast live over the internet .

The challenge is open to adults 18 and over anywhere in the world. If you are interested in making a film for the challenge visit the website to learn more and sign up.

Good Luck. // DG

Royal Conservatory Concerts for December 2010

From a media release - alternatives to holiday commercialism at the RCM:


THE manhattan transfer and john mcdermott celebrate the holidays,
simone dinnerstein plays bach,
Leila josefowicz MAKES HER CONSERVATORY debut,  
Operatic voices SOAR, AND MUCH MORE
aspecTs of oscar SERIES continueS with mccoy tyner

The Royal Conservatory offers the perfect antidote to the busy holiday season in December, with a variety of concerts in its three beautiful venues: Koerner Hall, Mazzoleni Concert Hall in historic Ihnatowycz Hall, and Conservatory Theatre. International and Canadian artists, as well as the Conservatory’s very own students, take the edge off Christmas stress, and holiday shopping is made extra easy by purchasing The Royal Conservatory Gift Cards, available in any denomination.

The first of the Koerner Hall concerts, on December 10, features virtuoso Canadian violinist Leila Josefowicz. (pictured above) Known for being a strong advocate of new music, she plays Conversio, a minimalist piece by Erkki-Sven Tüür, one of the leading composers from the Baltic states, as well as better known works by Brahms (Scherzo in C Minor for Violin and Piano (Sonatensatz), WoO 2), Shostakovich (Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 13), Stravinsky (Duo concertant), and Schubert (Rondo for Violin and Piano in B Minor, D. 895, Op. 70 “Rondeau brilliant”). Prior to her concert in the evening, Ms. Josefowicz conducts a master class for The Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School students. The other virtuoso, who is returning to Koerner Hall on December 12 after making her debut with Absolute Ensemble during the 2009.10 inaugural season, is the American pianist Simone Dinnerstein. As part of the Invesco Trimark Piano Series, she demonstrates why her recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations made her a superstar. Ms. Dinnerstein will perform the Variations, a piece for which the Conservatory’s most famous graduate – Glenn Gould – was renowned, on Koerner Hall’s wonderful Hamburg Steinway.

Aspects of Oscar series continues with Oscar Solo on December 11 featuring two powerhouse pianists, McCoy Tyner and Alfredo Rodríguez, as they celebrate the legacy of the great Oscar Peterson. Mr. Tyner, who rose to fame as John Coltrane’s first chair pianist, is joined by the young rising Cuban star, Mr. Rodríguez, discovered and recorded by music producer Quincy Jones. Mr. Rodríguez has played to capacity crowds at major U.S. jazz festivals and, most recently, he and Mr. Jones co-wrote Better City, Better Life, which was chosen to be the official theme song of the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. (McCoy Tyner - photo by John Abbott)

Jazz vocalese group The Manhattan Transfer, on December 17, and Scottish-Canadian tenor John McDermott, on December 18, bring two very different holiday season concerts to Koerner Hall to further alleviate the Christmas rush. The Manhattan Transfer, who recently celebrated their 40th anniversary in the recording industry, also introduce their latest CD, The Chick Corea Songbook, alongside some festive season favourites. John McDermott, well-known for his Christmas performances, is joined by special guests Dan Hill (vocals and guitar), Lawrence Gowan (of 1980s Gowan fame – on piano and vocals), Guido Basso (flugelhorn), and Rosie MacKenzie (fiddle and vocals).

A number of student performances take place in Mazzoleni Concert Hall as part of the Discovery Series: The Glenn Gould School Opera division presents An Evening of Kurt Weill, comprised of cabaret favourites and Weill's Mahagonny Songspiel for two nights on December 3 and December 4; New Music Ensemble of The Glenn Gould School performs cutting-edge contemporary music on December 9; and senior string students from the Young Artists Performance Academy of The Royal Conservatory come together as members of the Academy Symphony Orchestra on December 12.

On December 4, the casual and comfortable Conservatory Theatre is once again livened up by Bluebird North, a musical showcase that brings together some of Canada's most inspiring songwriters to share their songs and stories round-robin style.

December events at The Royal Conservatory:

• The Glenn Gould School Opera: An Evening of Kurt Weill (Discovery): Friday, December 3, 2010 at 7:30pm (MH) & Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 7:30pm (MH); $10
• Bluebird North – Where Songwriters Sing and Tell (Pop): Saturday, December 4, 2010 at 8:00pm (CT); $20
• New Music Ensemble (Discovery): Thursday, December 9, 2010 at 7:30pm (MH); $10
• Leila Josefowicz (Strings): Friday, December 10, 2010 at 8:00pm (KH); $20-$55
• Aspects of Oscar: Oscar Solo (Jazz): Saturday, December 11, 2010 at 8:00pm (KH); $20-$65
• Simone Dinnerstein (Piano): Sunday, December 12, 2010 at 3:00pm (KH); $20-$55
• Academy Symphony Orchestra (Discovery): Sunday, December 12, 2010 at 5:30pm (MH) FREE
• The Manhattan Transfer (Pop): Friday, December 17, 2010 at 8:00pm (KH); $50-$75
• John McDermott (Pop): Saturday, December 18, 2010 at 8:00pm (KH); $30-$60

Tickets are available online at www.rcmusic.ca, by calling 416.408.0208,
or in person at the Weston Family Box Office

A limited number of $10 rush tickets are available 90 minutes before all performances presented by The Royal Conservatory.

The Royal Conservatory Gift Cards are a great gift idea.

PSA for Canadian Residents from South Sudan

It's not only about culture, it's the fate of a nation - a PSA for Canadian residents from Southern Sudan: 

Email: ssudanocrv.can@gmail.com
Website: www.southernsudanocv.org
Phone: +1-416-927-9555 (Toronto)
+1-403-235-2262 (Calgary)
Toll Free: 1-888-898-4048

Southern Sudan Referendum 2011-
Out of Country Registration and Voting (OCRV)
Canada Information Sheet
November 16, 2010

• The Southern Sudan Referendum will give the people of Southern Sudan the opportunity to vote for either the unity of Sudan or secession.
• The referendum is run by the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC), a body independent from the governments of Sudan and Southern Sudan. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is assisting the SSRC to implement out-of-country registration and voting in eight countries, including the US. The IOM’s operational role does not involve covering transportation and accommodation costs for voters.
• In Canada, registration will take place in Calgary, Alberta and Toronto, Ontario.
• In order to vote, you must be registered and carry your registration card to the polls in January 2011.
Registration will begin on November 15 and end on December 1, 2010.
Hours of Operation: 10:00 AM – 7:00 PM Monday through Saturday; 12:00 PM – 5:00 PM Sundays
• To register, you need to be 18 or over at the time of registering, and fulfil the eligibility criteria issued by the SSRC, (for more information please see
the website).
• The following documents are acceptable to prove eligibility - written certificate/document issued by a Sudanese authority (even if expired) or a document issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). If you do not have these documents there will be an Identifier (community leader) at the registration place that will orally confirm/deny your eligibility.
• You must register in person
•  It is recommended to register early as the registration centre may get busy towards the end of the registration period.
• You can ONLY vote where you have registered. Registration cards are given when you register. You will need these to vote.
• Voting will begin on January 9 and end on January 15, 2011.

You can register to VOTE at the following locations:

2103 Weston Road
Toronto, Ontario

3505 – 52nd Street SE
Calgary, Alberta

Registration Steps for Southern Sudan Referendum
When you get to the Referendum Centre, you will be guided to a registration station.
Once inside the registration station, these are the registration steps:

Step 1:
• Your hands will be checked for traces of ink, to ensure you have not already registered, (see procedure below).

Step 2:
• Your documents will then be examined to check your identity and eligibility.
• If you do not have documentation, an Identifier may be able to confirm your identity by oral testimony.
• If your eligibility and identity are affirmed, the station staff will then fill out the registration form with your name, age, gender and address.
• They will also place your right thumbprint on the form, as well as on your registration card.

Note: If your eligibility and identity cannot be affirmed then you will not be able to register.
Step 3
• Your registration card will be laminated.
• Your left index finger will be inked to show you have now registered.
• You will be given your laminated registration card, and reminded to keep it safe, as you will need to present it when you come back to vote.

Note: Your entry and card will be cancelled and a new entry made / card issued if:
• A mistake is made when filling out the entry or the card.
• The details on the card are found to be incorrect after lamination.
• The lamination of the registration card has not been performed correctly.

Remember:  Keep your card safe – you will need it to vote!

Registration is now complete and you can leave the Referendum Centre with your registration card.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Q&A with Dancer/Choreographer Jasmyn Fyffe

Jasmyn Fyffe - dancer & choreographer

I've seen Jasmyn Fyffe dance as part of Kashedance and in her own choreographic work as Artistic Director of Jasmyn Fyffe Dance. I caught up recently with this busy Toronto artist for a little Q&A:

Q: How did you start as a dancer?
A: I started dancing when I was 6 years old taking mainly ballet and African-Caribbean. When I was 13 I stopped training and was more into sports, however I always danced in talents shows and other recreational/social dance events. When I was 19 and in my first year of study in the York University Kinesiology program I auditioned for the York dance program. The following year I began my pre professional training there. While dancing at York and having the opportunity to study different styles of modern dance, I realized I loved this genre of dance both creating and performing.  In my final year I decided to pursue my career as a dancer and choreographer. Pivotal teachers that I had in my training, at York and summer dance programs were Helen Jones, Darryl Tracey, Pat Minor, Carol Anderson, Milton Myers and Peggy Baker.  

Q: What drives your work as a dancer and choreographer? What is it that inspires you?
A: My gut drives my work.....the feelings in my gut. If I do not feel an inspiration right inside my gut I cannot create because I really believe in creating and dancing from the inside out.
I am inspired by the world around me, its intricacies and complexities and all that is peculiar about the creatures that inhabit this globe. I am also inspired by social and global issues and how they pertain to me as an artist and as a person. As a Black female contemporary choreographer, my life experiences and cultural influences find a voice in my work.

I have recently become very interested in how I move and create as a dancer/choreographer and I am developing my movement style based on what natural comes out of my body and not necessarily what I was taught to come out of my body. My ultimate goal as a choreographer is to inspire and leave a lasting impact on my audience and collaborators.

Q: What projects are you working on now?
A: I am thankful to have quite a few upcoming projects. I recently received funding from the Toronto arts council to go towards the remount and new creation of an excerpt of “Warfare” my most recent full length 70 min piece. I will be presenting the excerpt at Dance Ontario Dance Weekend on Jan 22 at 1:35pm.

Also, I am going to be working on a collaborative project for Black History Month with Senior Artist Director and choreographer Vivine Scarlett. The project is funded and supported through TD Bank Financial Group and is scheduled to be presented from Feb 17-19 2011 at the Winchester Street Theater.

In addition to this, I currently dance for an Afro-Brazilian company called the Dance Migration and our show “Os Elementos” will be on Dec 17 and 18 at the Fleck Dance Theatre.

I will be creating the beginning of a new duet for the show "This is Dance" curated by The Creative Republic. The show is happening on Jan 21 and 22 at the Winchester Street Theatre.

I recently premiered two new works, a solo "identity” at Fresh Blood 2010 and "Portrait(s)....beautified She” at the Women in Dance Showcase. Both of these works will be in development to be presented in my spring 2012 concert.

Q: Who inspires you as an artist?
A: I get really inspired when I watch  and experience  the work of some of  choreo- graphers that I greatly admire. Some of these include: Bill T Jones, Abdel Salaam, Camille Brown, Kyle Abraham, Sidra Bell and Andrea Miller.

I have many mentors and feel it has been so helpful and productive to have them. They are: Vivine Scarlett, Lucy Rupert, Karen Kaeja, Kevin Ormsby, Abdel Salaam, Camille Brown, William Yong, Bakari Lindsay, Cheryl Cutlip, Alana Urda and Randall Flinn. They have been there for me at different stages of my career and have helped shape me into the artist I am today.

Lastly, I thank God for his wonderful blessings everyday, my husband Jamaal, son Manoah and my parents for always supporting everything that I do.

Review - London River, Screening at the African Diaspora Intnl Film Fest NYC

London River
Directed by Rachid Bouchareb
Written by Rachid Bouchareb, Zoé Galeron & Olivier Lorelle
Starring Brenda Blethyn & Sotigui Kouyaté
France/UK/Algeria, 2009 - New York Premiere

Screening  as part of the African Diaspora Film Festiva
New York

London River begins where it ends - with Brenda Blethyn's Elisabeth - mother of Janet - working the fertile fields of her Guernsey farm, and Sotigui Kouyaté as Ousmane, a woodsman - estranged father of Ali - rivaling the trees of the forest as he glides among them in France. In between, the two of them come from different worlds to realize that maybe they're not so different after all.

The story itself begins in July of 2005, with the suicide bombings that blasted the London subway and a bus in rush hour. Elisabeth calls her daughter but can't reach her, and in the ensuing days, a growing sense of urgency pushes her to leave the bucolic island and head to London to find her. She's startled to discover that her Jane is living in an apartment above a Halal grocer's in a gritty part of London - certainly not the worst, but has certainly seen better times. She finds a man's razor and a kora in her apartment.

Ousmane has been living in France, separated from his wife and son in Africa for six years when he gets the phone call from her, frantic that she hasn't been able to get hold of Ali. She dispatches him to London to find out what has happened. With Elisabeth going through the conventional channels and Ousmane reaching out through a local mosque, their paths gradually begin to cross. Elisabeth puts up posters with Janet's picture, and Ousmane recognizes her from a shot taken with his son - at an Arabic class. Jumping to the worst sort of conclusions when Ousmane approaches her, Elisabeth calls the police.

Elisabeth's hostility and suspicion are immediate, even to panic. "This place is crawling with Muslims!" she cries over the phone to her brother. Later, she demands of the Arabic class teacher incredulously, "I mean, who speaks Arabic?" What ensues is not the tautly crafted thriller or suspense story you might be expecting based on the description. Instead, it's a humane and thoughtful character study of two people in trying times.

The film combines a poetic vision with its mundane setting and realities. Cinematographer Jérôme Alméras has framed virtually every shot with an artistic eye even as the film examines the dismal grind of those looking for the wounded, and perhaps dead - the grim procession of morgues, of checking hospital lists, of watching newscasts with breathless attention. The acting is very naturalistic, taking the two from a prickly beginning to a friendship and understanding through the ordeal.

Physically, they make a striking couple - the tall and willowy Malian Sotigui (who won a Silver Bear at the Berlinale Filmfestival for this role - and sadly passed away this past spring,) and comfortably rounded and very British Brenda illustrating a dichotomy that, in the end, is much less than it seems.


Saturday, Nov. 27 @ 8:30pm – Anthology
Thursday, Dec. 2 @ 6:30pn - Anthology
32 Second Avenue @ 2nd Street
(212) 864-1760

Sunday, Dec.5 @ 5:30pm – Thalia
2537 Broadway @ 95th St.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Review - Bethune Imagined

Bethune Imagined
Factory Theatre, Toronto
Written & directed by Ken Gass
Starring Ron White, Fiona Byrne, Sascha Cole, & Irene Poole

continues to December 12

How do you take a personality and international legacy as outsized as that of Dr. Norman Bethune and put it into the confines of a stage? Playwright/ director Ken Gass, (also Artistic Director of Factory Theatre and a recent recipient of the 2010 Premier's Award for Excellence in the Arts,) has distilled it ingeniously into a six month period that takes place in Montréal in 1936, just before Bethune left for Spain to help in the fight against Franco and the Fascists. He was already something of a legend in Montréal, as much for his fights with hospital staff and the medical establishment over socializing medicine and treating the poor as for his multiple romantic partners. The play focuses on his relationships with three of women in his life - Marian Dale Scott, a married painter, Margaret Day, a university student and campus activist, and his twice ex wife Frances Penny.

Ron White does a credible job of "imagining" the iconic physician who's still revered in China for his work with the People's Liberation Army. (He died there in 1939 after contracting blood poisoning from performing battelfield surgery.) He's a restless spirit who's simply unable to toe the line and say black when he sees white, brilliant and driven and quite charismatic. He also drinks too much, and is the kind of bastard who will sleep with two women at the same time and expect them to be nice about it. "If I drink, it's to keep myself sane," he says.

Ron as Bethune embodies that mercurial spirit, the one who will rant and rave with genuine passion against injustices occurring halfway around the world; the kind of guy you'd believe would wake up in the middle of the night and decide to head for Spanish battlefields.

The script strikes a nice balance between talking politics (necessary in this case!) and telling a story that moves along, and framing it via his messy affairs of the heart brings a lot of depth to the portrait. The ladies come across as individuals in their own right, and bring his politics into the personal realm. You can see why they would bother with this impossible, admirable man. Bethune's passionate and poetic political writings also add to the persona - the eternal rebel, prickly and uncompromising, but possessed of a devastating charm.

I tend to judge dramatic works by whether or not they kept me wanting to see more, to see how the story ends, and here, even though I already knew the facts of his life, Bethune Imagined delivered an engrossing story.

All photos by Ed Gass-Donnelly:
• Sascha Cole, Irene Poole, Ron White and Fiona Byrne
• Sascha Cole as Margaret Day and Ron White
• Ron White and Irene Poole as Marian Dale Scott
• Fiona Byrne as Frances Penny and Ron White

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Lu Reid's Sunday Jam at The Shrine (NYC) - Redux

Lu Reid's Sunday Jam
(the Redux - with video)
The Shrine, Harlem NYC

Last time I had the words, this time I'll let the moving pictures tell the story.

Lu Reid's Sunday jam at the Shrine in Harlem, NYC. Taken November 14, 2010, with the All-Star band - Lucy Gallagher on keyboards, Al Hicks on drums, Chris Hall on bass - and guest soloists Howard Robinson aka Harris on sax, K-Z on guitar and Eric Thomas on the flute.

Also of note, one of the guest vocalists in another set was Vondie Curtis-Hall, an actor who you might have seen in films like Bad Lieutenant (2009 version), Diehard 2 and all over the small screen.

And I'll just warn you, you'll have this song playing in your head all day...

Review - Robert Lepage's Eonnagata at Toronto's Sony Centre

Robert Lepage, Sylvie Guillem, Russel Maliphant
With lighting designer Michael Hulls, costume designer Alexander McQueen and sound designer Jean-Sébastien Côté
Sony Centre, Toronto - November 19

Eonnagata is stunning production visually, from costumes by the late Alexander McQueen to dramatic lighting, staging and lighting effects that added whole dimensions to both the production and space on stage. As good theatre does, it offers an absorbing visual spectacle as it ponders questions of human existence.

The piece tells the story of one Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d'Éon de Beaumont (5 October 1728 – 21 May 1810), Chevalier d’Éon, born in France and died in England - "...buried in Middlesex between a missus and a bloke" as Sylvie Guillem's opening scene recitation tells us. Quite attractive no matter which way he was leaning, Charles claimed later in life that he was born as a girl, but raised as a boy for reasons of inheritance rights. At any rate, he began a military career as a man, although he was sidetracked into spying for the French kings against Russia and Great Britain - as a woman.

Eonnagata illustrates his story in poetically stylized fashion in the tradition of Japanese Onnagata, a Kabuki theatre technique, the segments more dance and movement than strictly theatre. Theatrical sleights of hand like sparks coming from a sword or performers vanishing into shadow only to reappear as someone else enhanced both the theme and the story itself. Clever staging adds striking elements like tables that double as mirrors. These are put to vivid use to illustrate gender ambiguity in dance, as in one segment that featured Robert and Sylvie, and offered the question - which is real, which reflection? Rather than take sides on the question, Eonnagata suggests de Beaumont was in fact both - a kind of meditation on gender and human identity itself.

In real life, even authorities from the British medics who pronounced him a woman after tending to him on the battlefield, (resulting in his losing his dragoonship,) to those who performed the autopsy and pronounced him anatomically male, wavered constantly, demanding that he appear and live as one or the other according to their own purposes.

Musical segments alternate with snippets of narration, including the opening poem, letters read aloud, a few from King Louis XV requesting the spying missions (dressed as a woman) to the Russian and British courts. We also hear Charles/Charlotte's indignant letters back to France after Louis XV died and hostile successor Louis XVI insisted he could return only if he lived as a woman. - this last was the most affecting, articulating the everyday indignities he faced.

Check some of it out here.

He did return to France as a woman, under protest, but was also prescient enough - or perhaps still well connected diplomatically - to escape France just before the Revolution left so many other heads separated from their noble born shoulders. He was used by Kings, the subject of relentless speculation and gossip - with the pundits left never quite sure, the riddle never entirely solved.

Charles sadly died in England, impoverished, denied his pensions and the income from his estate in Burgundy by the French Revolutionary government.

The crowd's appreciation was immediate and enthusiastic - on its collective feet after Friday's final performance of this fascinating piece in Toronto.

P.S. This was my first time in spiffed up Sony Centre - thumbs up to the comfier seating.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Ségal bring their Chamber Music to U.S.

I'll have more about globalFEST 2011 in the next little while, but for now here's a spotlight on one of the acts making a North American début:

New release from Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Ségal : Chamber Music 
(Six Degrees Records; January 11, 2011)

In this age of hi-energy, electric cross-cultural collaborations, Sissoko, a traditional kora player and Ségal, a French cellist, remind us that there's still room for refined world music.

Mention "chamber music" to someone and they'll probably, after yawning a bit, think of a salon in Paris or a music hall in Vienna.  That's Paris or Vienna a hundred years ago, mind you.  Now, finally, in an age when global pop is made in studios in Mumbai, Rio De Janeiro, and Dakar, two gifted musicians have found a way to make a global chamber music for the 21 st century audience.

Chamber Music (Six Degrees Records; January 11, 2011) is a collaboration between Ballaké Sissoko, who plays the traditional kora, a lute-harp from Mali, and Vincent Ségal, the French cellist who plays for the trip-hop band Bumcello.   It is also, quite simply, one of the most elegant and beautiful recordings of "world music" in recent years.  At a time when cross-cultural music has tended toward highly-caffeinated electric pop and dance music, Sissoko and Segal remind us that there is room - and maybe even a need - for a quieter, more refined world music.

In addition, the duo will be in the US for a couple of performances:
01/07/2011, Fri
Cambridge, MA
First Church Congregational, 11 Garden Street
Show: 8:00 pm
Ph: 617.547.2724

01/09/2011, Sun
New York, NY
globalFEST 2011 @ Webster Hall, 125 East 11th Street
Tix: $35/$40
Venue Ph: 212.614.0420
Tix Ph: 212.545.7536 

Both musicians have displayed an aptitude for defying expectations - the list of trip-hop cellists is pretty short, after all.  And Ballaké Sissoko has become a familiar name on the world music scene through his work with American blues legend Taj Mahal and Italian minimalist Ludovico Einaudi, among others.  But perhaps the combination of kora and cello works so well because there are no expectations for it.  The collaboration grew out of a personal friendship, and at no point was there an attempt to produce a record that would be slick and hip and commercial.  Yet it has become one of Europe's most buzzed-about world music recordings in the past year. 

Chamber Music is largely a duo project, with the occasional guest adding percussion, voice or other strings to vary the texture.  But even when it's just Sissoko and Segal, there's a surprising array of moods.  The title track actually sounds somewhat reminiscent of Western chamber music - there's a rhapsodic introduction on the kora, then a stately chord progression and a graceful melody shared by both instruments.  The cello, when played pizzicato, or plucked like a bass, proves to be a wonderful foil for the kora.

"Oscarine," on the other hand, is a rhythmic vamp that recalls the Afro-centric jazz of pianists like Randy Weston or Dollar Brand.  The pizzicato and slap effects on the cello create a familiar-sounding groove and the kora floats above with Sissoko providing some increasingly filigreed improvisations.  Then there's "Wo Ye N'gnougobine." Here the rhythms are distinctively West African, and the folk-like melody could be centuries old.  Even Ségal's cello fits right in: he lightly bows the strings to produce a sound that clearly recalls the traditional njarka fiddle.

Another traditional string instrument, the lute known as ngoni, appears on "Houdesti," a quartet for kora, cello, ngoni, and balafon , the West African wooden xylophone.  Vincent Ségal turns a neat musical trick here, plucking the cello so that it blends imperceptibly into the rhythm section of balafon and kora, and then gradually bringing the instrument to the foreground by bowing it.  It sounds like a bit of Western music growing out of a fertile African base - an appropriate sound for a song that features the ngoni, the African ancestor of the banjo.

Another striking sound from the West African tradition is the karignan, essentially a pair of metal castanets.  Its gentle jangling sound, paired with a loping rhythm on the kora, drives the catchy "Ma Ma FC," and adds punctuation to the restrained but emotional "Regret - a Kader Barry," a tribute to the late singer of that name.  Singer Awa Sangho adds the album's only vocals; if Chamber Music is indeed a modern, global form of chamber music, then "Regret" is the album's "art song."

Much of this Sissoko/Ségal collaboration inhabits a twilit world.  The bittersweet, elegiac melody of "Mako Mady" and the lamenting cello line in "Histoire de Molly" suggest the dusky poetry of English songwriter Nick Drake, without using a single word.  The latter song's kora-as-troubadour-harp patterns, and the gently rocking two chord sequence that underpins "Halinkata Djoube" both echo the spare, direct simplicity of Erik Satie, the French composer of the turn of the 20th century.  The result is music that operates at a different pace.

Chamber Music was recorded in the Moffou Studio, founded by the great Malian singer Salif Keita to provide a world-class environment for musicians wishing to record acoustic, perhaps even authentic, African music.  (Keita's own acoustic album, Moffou, was recorded there.)  The cello, of course, is not a traditional African instrument.  But Chamber Music , in its depth of feeling and variety of moods, is authentically African.  And the kora may not appear in the duos, trios, or quartets of Beethoven, Schumann, or Brahms; but the obvious musical and personal connection between Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Ségal also marks this as an authentic, if original, type of chamber music.