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Center Stage: Community Concerts: two for one

March 15, 2017
By Marsha Wagner , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

In the past weeks, Community Concerts has presented a myriad of wonderful offerings one of which was a totally mesmerizing full-length version of "Swan Lake," a ballet performed by the Moscow Festival Ballet. This company of 50 dancers is under the artistic direction of Sergei Radchenko. What a fine ballet company this is, well trained in the exquisite style of classical Russian ballet technique; the most challengingly difficult of all ballet techniques, with its high leaps, fast footwork, lyrical arms and upper body carriage and multiple turn combinations. This amazing company carried it all off with such ease and grace that it made the extremely difficult seem effortless. Take it from one who studied at the School of American Ballet under the demanding eye of master choreographer Georges Balanchine, Moscow Festival Ballet would have even pleased "Mr. B."

My former company, New York City Ballet did also perform "Swan Lake," but only just the famous Act 2 part of the ballet where the Swans and the Swan Queen make their entrance. It is this act that is most often performed and has the most lyrical and best known part of Tchaikovsky's ballet score. I can honestly say that no matter how many times I performed this ballet it was and will remain my favorite ballet to dance all due to the choreography by Balanchine (according to the original Marius Petipa) and the beautiful music. Not only me but the entire Community Concerts audience rose to its feet for a well-deserved standing ovation at the end of Act 2 which brought us to Intermission.

Act 1,3 and 4 all take place in the palace of Prince Siegfried and serves as a device to introduce many soloists, duos and trios dancing fabulous divertissements showing the bravura strength of the company; which in this instance it certainly did. There were many moments where the dancers "stopped the show." The best of these was a young man performing astonishing leaps, turns, acrobatics playing the Jester in Siegfried's court.

Unfortunately, I cannot praise any dancer by name because they were misprinted in the program. I did find out one name at the end of the evening when a few of the dancers from the ballet (that spoke English) sold programs and souvenirs. My favorite the "Jester" was Nelson Pena. Bravo Nelson!

Chalk up another first-rate Community Concert with a world class ballet company the Moscow Festival Ballet, hope to see this company again and again.

This past week brought another offering to Community Concerts; an all men's vocal ensemble, Cantus performing in "Chamber" singing style, an evening's song cycle honoring the men and women who have answered the call to arms during a tribute, titled "No Greater Love Than This."

This is not the first "chamber" singing group Community Concerts has offered. The first chamber group was Chanticleer a now world renowned singing group of 12. Let me explain "chamber" singing style, it's a group that performs as chamber musicians, each contributing to the entirety of the artistic process. They work without a conductor, this is a collaborative working style where each singer is part of the whole, which wouldn't be possible without the artistic involvement of the entire eight-person ensemble.

"No Greater Love Than This," has already toured 30 cities nationwide. This program addresses "the camaraderie, bravery, honor, elation, loss and longing common to all soldiers in times of both peace and war; and emotions shared between loved-ones at home and across entire nations." Cantus has commissioned these new works by writers/ composers: Lee Hoiby, Bob Chilcott, William Billings, to mention but a few along with familiar material by Irving Berlin, George M. Cohan, John Lennon plus some rarely performed songs for men's voices only like Dvorak's "Goin' Home."

After opening with "In Flanders Fields" by Charles Donkin, there followed "We're In the Army Now" and another well know tune "Over There," which were all recognizable and a perfect opening for this evening. After which we delved into the special material that was newly created and chosen for "No Greater Love Than This."

The first unfamiliar song "Goodbye-ee" by R.P. Weston and Bert Lee touched me in a very personal and quiet way of reflection. Too bad that the material that followed were all new, and unfamiliar to most of the audience. I can only speak for myself but these unfamiliar lyrics which were heart rending at best; I simply could not understand or follow. So, their impact was missing; and sensing the restlessness of the audience l felt they too, were straining to comprehend as much as I was.

Maybe, putting the unfamiliar song's words in the program notes would resolve this problem?

The singing by Cantus was outstanding, clear rich voices spilling notes that bespoke emotional content as well as heroism. But these sad heart wrenching lyrics were lost to most of us as we struggled to be involved. I am sure that there may have been some in the audience that resonated to what I couldn't grasp. The first half ended in an absolutely heart wrenching rendition of Dvorak's "Goin' Home" and brought down the house with thunderous applause.

Part 2 opened with a rousing medley of familiar Army tunes we've all heard at some time titled "Army Life." I thought at last we will recognize those songs we all know and react to, but no. Don't get me wrong this is good material beautiful, meaningful lyrics, full of emotional subtext, but if one is straining to understand these lyrics then the brain takes over and the heart remains mute. When John Lennon's meaningful song "Imagine" rang out we all imagined the hush of peace and love. That was a wonderful emotional release.

In my estimation, Cantus would have been wise to end there instead of following with another piece of special material by Ron Jeffers titled "What do you think I fought for at Omaha Beach?" and a heart- breaking letter by an American prisoner of war in a Viet Nam Prison camp titled "Beneath Thin Blanket."

I can't say that Cantus isn't an excellent singing all male chorus, that just isn't so, they are spot on vocally, with wonderful stage presences, delightful and individual personalities. Their impact would have been far better served had the material been more familiar. It is very difficult to respond at a gut level when the words are difficult to comprehend. Personally, I would love to hear Cantus perform again their music from their repertoire which ranges from the Renaissance to the 21st Century.

Meanwhile onward and upward Community Concerts next performance on Monday March 20 sounds like a winner; when the Royal Scottish National Orchestra struts their stuff.



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