On Edge

Hubbard Street Dance’s gay leader Glenn Edgerton brings a dancer’s perspective to contemporary troupe

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer stevencraiglindsey@me.com

Chicago’s Hubbard Street Dance Company
MOTION, EMOTION | Chicago’s Hubbard Street Dance Company, led by Glenn Edgerton, continues to evolve after 33 years as a leading contemporary dance troupe.

HUBBARD STREET DANCE
Winspear Opera House,
2403 Flora St.
Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m. $25–$125.
ATTPAC.org

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Ask six people to describe contemporary dance and you’ll get six different responses. As an art form, it encompasses so many varied techniques, styles and points of view, categorizing it as one thing is a fool’s errant.

And that’s perfectly fine with Glenn Edgerton. “As long as they make you feel something and have an emotional impact,” he says, “we’ve done our job.”

For 33 years, Chicago’s Hubbard Street Dance Company has been one of the nation’s most celebrated troupes, and under Edgerton, a dancer for 11 years who has  served as artistic director since 2009, it has continued to innovate and excite. TITAS presents the company at the Winspear Opera House Friday.

Edgerton’s background as a dancer, with both Nederlands Dans Theater and the Joffrey Ballet, shaped his ethic and his creative vision.
“I’m always fashioning my decisions, trying to put myself in the dancer’s position. How would it have felt? How would it have been for me if certain things are going in one direction?” Edgerton says. “I try to work so that my dancers will be challenged and inspired. I’m thinking in a dancer’s perspective. I was born a dancer and will die a dancer.”

HSDC’s current roster includes 16 dancers, and Edgerton hopes to add a 17th next year. They’re smaller than some classical dance companies, though they have a great track record for retaining artists and exploring new territory with them as they explore new techniques.

“You have a relationship with them in terms of their artistic output. We have dancers in the company who have been here 10, 11 years and then some that have just joined. I adore each and every one of them,” he says.

Becoming a part of the elite team doesn’t necessarily fit any specific molds, but Edgerton can almost immediately sense in an audition when a dancer might be a good fit.

“You know when you see it and you know when you work with them. It’s one thing to see a dancer in a ballet class who has a wonderful technique, but in a contemporary company you have to be ready to move in a much more extreme way than classical ballet. You have to have an inherent ability to try many different types of dance and just have that overall feel that you’re a dancer and not stuck to one technique or another.”

Diversity of style is a hallmark of HSDC, perhaps most perfectly evidenced in one of the numbers being performed Friday night: “With Physikal Linguistiks, you have Victor [Quijada], who came from Los Angeles where he was a hip-hop dancer. He has a real ballet background also, but when he’s choreographing he’s using all of those kinds of techniques and dance moves into his work. It’s also interesting because he’s taking the dancers out in the audience.”

Edgerton is reluctant to admit that shows like So You Think You Can Dance have a positive impact on exposing new people to dance, but he says they do have their place.

“There’s an accessibility with those programs, but it could be confused when [viewers] come to the theater and see concert dance,” he says. “It’s cool and hip and fun on TV, but in the theater it’s more artful. There’s more thought-provoking imagery built into these pieces. All those TV programs are much more commercially minded and geared to more fantastic technique and movements that are more thrilling. Ours are thrilling, too, but the approach is a little different. People need that awareness going in.”

If that means no celebrity judges screaming like morons for camera time, then that’s an entirely good thing. But HSDC has been judged on its merits by the dance world for more than three decades, and clearly it’s a winning combination of art, choreography and technique that keep it relevant and evocative of the universe around it.

“I’m not boasting, I’m just stating that we’re one of the important, international contemporary dance companies in the world,” Edgerton says. “And I’m excited to bring it to Dallas and this spectacular new performing arts center.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 19, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Preservation road

Acclaimed gay musician Michael Feinstein isn’t interested in simply playing the Great American Songbook — he’s also trying to save it

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer  lopez@dallasvoice.com

Michael Feinstein
‘TO THE MOON,’ ALICE | Michael Feinstein performs songs from his new CD at the Winspear Wednesday, but his passion is saving America’s musical heritage for future generations. (Photo courtesy Randee St. Nicholas)

AMERICAN SONGBOOK
Winspear Opera House,
2403 Flora St. Nov. 12 at 7:30 p.m. $25–$125.
ATTPAC.org

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Michael Feinstein is on the road again, touring for his new album Fly Me to the Moon — a reference to a Sinatra song lyric, in keeping with his love of American standards. On this new collection, Feinstein tackles newfound arrangements of classic songs.

But today, Feinstein isn’t being talkative about his latest CD and his tour, which comes to the Winspear on Wednesday. He’d rather talk history — or better yet, rescue it.

The musician began the Feinstein Foundation with the mission of educating and preserving the music from the early half of the 20th century, which included the likes of the Gershwins, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter.

“Many of these composers had no success during their own lives but there are still many samples of their songs out there in movies or commercials,” he says. “They get rediscovered by a new generation. That what happens with Gershwin all the time. As long as it’s out there, it will continue.”

PBS stepped in last month to help. Feinstein partnered with the Public Broadcasting to produce Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook, a three-episode series documenting his work on saving our musical heritage. In it, he documents recording sessions, live performances and gives histories on artists. But the best part is when it turns into the musical version of The History Channel’s American Pickers. He’s not reselling old heirlooms but rather unearthing sheet music, old recordings and memorabilia in attics and dusty storage areas.

“I was approached by [producer] Amber Edwards who wanted to create a show,” he says. “I trusted her with the material so I have nothing to do with that. She followed me around for quite some time and honestly, I didn’t like that in that sense to know someone’s watching you or filming you all the time. But ultimately I accepted it for the purpose of the result.”

With the TV show and his tours and CDs, what Feinstein worries about is getting through to the younger generation. Now in his 50s, Feinstein has been a musical historian, archivist and musician for a quarter century, and throughout that time he was entranced by the classic American songs. He worries, though, that enthusiasm for what came before is waning. He’s not a fan of MTV and even declares that it (along with movies and TV in general) has shattered what focus young people might have with fast editing and lack of details. The Internet hasn’t helped, with the onslaught of social networking and its nurturing of fast-paced information. To him, it has become a “subversive means of destroying attention spans.”

Irony may be his biggest ally. Musical trends now lean toward an appreciation of vintage country music and old-school soul. Feinstein thinks that’s a start and that there are people in Generations Y and Z exploring the American standards.

“People can’t sit still anymore, and it’s an awful thing that’s happened,” he says. “But I do think people are exploring it. It may not be in the Top 40 ever again, but you can find anything on Buddy Clark or Ethel Waters on the Internet. There is more access than ever, so yes, it will survive and take on a life of its own. One never knows what happens with music.”

While those trends toward vintage sounds are on the rebound, Feinstein is not so thrilled with the idea of modern bands taking up the fad of releasing an album on vinyl. In fact, it kinda pisses him off. He grunts with disapproval.

“No, I wouldn’t do a vinyl recording — that’s a stunt,” he says. “It doesn’t make any sense, unless it’s recorded in analog, but otherwise, it’s the same. The time for vinyl has passed for new music. I loved my Sinatra project when we recorded with one channel like they did it the ‘50s, but we didn’t put it on vinyl. The people who do it now, it’s bogus.”

With his focus on the foundation’s work, Feinstein doesn’t forget he has an album to promote. For Moon, he collaborated with guitarist Joe Negri. He’s a fan of the collaborations — both professional and personal (he and his longtime partner were married in 2008 by TV judge Judy Sheindlin.) Feinstein did it last year with fellow gay artist Cheyenne Jackson in The Power of Two. That album and the live performances at Carnegie Hall were huge successes for them both.

His approach to Moon plays it a bit more subdued, thanks to Negri’s delicate strumming.

“He was one of the greatest guitarists and very facile,” he says. “Any song I could name, he could immediately play beautifully. This definitely was a meeting of musical minds. He’s magical.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 12, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

‘Trinity River Plays’ tonight at the Wyly

Dallas is the backdrop for actress-playwright Regina Taylor’s new trilogy

For Dallas native Regina Taylor, it was important to set The Trinity River Plays in her hometown. It’s something she intimately knows, which allows her characters to be grounded in a reality that’s close to home physically and spiritually.

“It’s not autobiographical, but it is set at home,” she says. “And that is as palpable as the womb in terms of identity.”

Dramatic storytelling is nothing new for Taylor, whose previous work as a playwright include Crowns and Drowning Crow. She’s also an accomplished actress with an amazing résumé spanning theater, television and feature films. She was the first black woman to play Juliet in Broadway’s Romeo and Juliet, but is probably best known for her role as Lilly Harper in the television series I’ll Fly Away, for which she won a Golden Globe and two Emmy nominations. More recently, she starred in CBS’ The Unit alongside Dennis Haysbert.

Yet even with her acting success, writing has always been one of Taylor’s truest loves.

“I started as a writer from as far back as I can remember,” she recalls. “I was writing my own children’s stories when I was little and it was with the encouragement of my mother who wanted me to live a creative life and empower me with the possibilities in terms of creating my own worlds. That changes your perspective on how you face the world and move through the world. It’s something I truly cherish.”

DEETS: The Trinity River Plays, Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St. Nov. 5–Dec. 5 (in previews through Nov. 11). $15–$85. DallasTheaterCenter.org.

—  Rich Lopez

A ‘River’ runs through it

Dallas is the backdrop for actress-playwright Regina Taylor’s new trilogy

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer stevencraiglindsey@me.com

Actress and Dallas native Regina Taylo
HOME AGAIN | Actress and Dallas native Regina Taylor comes home for inspiration for her new plays.

THE TRINITY RIVER PLAYS
Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St.
Nov. 5–Dec. 5 (in previews through Nov. 11). $15–$85.
DallasTheaterCenter.org.

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For Dallas native Regina Taylor, it was important to set The Trinity River Plays in her hometown. It’s something she intimately knows, which allows her characters to be grounded in a reality that’s close to home physically and spiritually.

“It’s not autobiographical, but it is set at home,” she says. “And that is as palpable as the womb in terms of identity.”

Dramatic storytelling is nothing new for Taylor, whose previous work as a playwright include Crowns and Drowning Crow. She’s also an accomplished actress with an amazing résumé spanning theater, television and feature films. She was the first black woman to play Juliet in Broadway’s Romeo and Juliet, but is probably best known for her role as Lilly Harper in the television series I’ll Fly Away, for which she won a Golden Globe and two Emmy nominations. More recently, she starred in CBS’ The Unit alongside Dennis Haysbert.

Yet even with her acting success, writing has always been one of Taylor’s truest loves.

“I started as a writer from as far back as I can remember,” she recalls. “I was writing my own children’s stories when I was little and it was with the encouragement of my mother who wanted me to live a creative life and empower me with the possibilities in terms of creating my own worlds. That changes your perspective on how you face the world and move through the world. It’s something I truly cherish.”

The trilogy consists of three plays, Jar Fly, Rain and Ghost(story), which unfold sequentially at each performance in the Dallas Theater Center production, co-produced with Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.

They follow the life of Iris Sparks, who is a writer, as she moves through these defining transforming moments in her life.

In Jar Fly, we see her when she turns 17 — the same age when jar flies (cicadas) go from little grubby worms living underground to insects climbing up a tree in the dark until the light of day hits it and it can shed its skin and spread its wings.

“It has this incredible voice that’s jarring,” Taylor says, “so you have this young woman trying to find her voice as a writer and a human being. It is the occurrences of this day that take her on this journey that will absolutely transform her life. And it’s what we do with these obstacles, this hard rain that inevitably comes in every life, many times and many seasons, and how we move through that.”

The second play, set 17 years later, focuses on that same hard rain.

“Iris is ready to face another storm as she’s 34 years old. It’s after the disintegration of her marriage and the diagnosis of her mother with cancer. You see this mother and daughter taking this journey together. And with that, there’s a transformation. Do we run away from the hard rain, try to outrun it, or do we stand our ground and take the nourishment from it to grow? We’re tested by life. How we meet those tests on a daily basis defines who we are. It’s an exploration of the human spirit and the tenacity of the human spirit.”

The trilogy closes with Ghost(story), which takes place the day before Iris’ mother’s funeral, then offers a glimpse at what her life is like — again, 17 years later.

“She’s trying to figure out where she’s going to go to move forward. And in that she wrestles with and embraces her ghosts. And that’s what we do. Our past is our shadows. Moving forward, we’re always circling back to deal with and wrestle with our ghosts,” explains Taylor.

Taylor wants audiences to embrace the humor and warmth of her Trinity River Plays, but most importantly, she wants to transport them to another place — even if the stories are set just a few miles from the Wyly.

“You have this arc, this journey, this development of the human spirit,” she says. “I think there’s poetry to the pieces.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Resounding success

For the third year, Tim Seelig’s choral group sings to feed a real need

Resounding Harmony
SUPPER CLUB | Tim Seelig, center, with members of Resounding Harmony, wants his concert to feed North Texans.

RESOUNDING HARMONY
Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St.
Nov. 10. 8 p.m. $30–$50.
ResoundingHarmony.org.

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Timothy Seelig gets angry when he considers that during the season of Thanksgiving, there are still thousands of North Texans who go hungry. Which is why, for the third year in a row, the new season of his Resounding Harmony choral group begins with a fundraiser for the North Texas Food Bank.

“Resounding Harmony is an amazing blend of men [and] women, ages 13 to 77, from absolutely every walk of life, brought together by the music and the larger mission of making a difference in our community,” explains Seelig, the founding artistic director for the chorus.

Now more than 200 voices strong, Resounding Harmony had its genesis in a smaller mixed choral group Seelig helped put together for the March 2008 Voices of Peace celebration to honor Maya Angelou. That group caught the eye of Gregg Smith, a pastor at the Oak Lawn United Methodist Church, who approached Seelig and Hope for Peace & Justice about creating another chorus to help raise money and collect food for the needy. Not long afterwards, Resounding Harmony and its “musical philanthropic mission” were born.

“The North Texas Food Bank shared with us that they had just launched a three-year initiative and we immediately signed on to partner with them,” Seelig says.

The first year, Resounding Harmony raised enough to provide the NTFB with the means to offer 65,000 meals to North Texans unable to feed themselves. Last year, the chorus took an even more ambitious aim: to help provide 100,000 meals — a goal it surpassed by 10,000 meals. This year, Seelig once again wants to exceed the 100,000 mark. The concert takes place Nov. 10 at the Meyerson Symphony Center

“We are working very hard to add to the concert proceeds, income from the virtual food drive, actual food drives, Dinner in Destin Raffle, the Recyclable Grocery Bags and the Fabulous Table Auction,” Seelig says.

While the concert is intended to call attention to the reality of hunger in North Texas, Seelig promises that the show itself will be “[a] perfect balance of humor and seriousness.”

Some songs on the program, like “Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise” and “Jalapeno Chorus”(a distinctly Southwestern play on Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”) are laugh-out-loud funny. Others, like the poignant “Famine Song” and the rousing “Love Can Build a Bridge,” are intended to stir emotions.

Additional concert highlights include Russ Rieger playing the Lay Family Concert Organ and pianist Antoine Spencer performing a medley of Leonard Bernstein pieces.

“Every person attending will enter these holidays with beautiful music in their ears and in their hearts,” Seelig says.

In the three years of its existence, Resounding Harmony has also sung on behalf of other organizations, such as the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing Arts, Lowe Elementary and The Samaritan Inn. With its June 2010 Carnegie Hall “Sing for Cure” performance for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, it has also quickly established itself as a distinguished member of the Dallas arts community

“The philosophy is to use our music as a philanthropic vehicle to raise money and awareness,” explains Seelig. “It is truly an effort to use music as a means to a greater end, rather than an end in and of itself.”

— M.M. Adjarian

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens