Arts on the Horizon: December

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By Rodger Skidmore

Shape-shifters of yesteryear

Opera takes many forms. Because the French like ballet, around 1645 many Italian operas that were produced in France included a mini-ballet — if you want an audience to buy tickets, give them what they want.

Soon, many operas featured a ballet between acts and the Paris Opera became famous for them. Thus, opera was transformed into a vehicle, not just for well-known singers, but for dancers as well. Operas were also known for a special plot device: one character pretending to be another. Perhaps a count, in the guise of a peasant, wooing a village girl.

With the incorporation of such a traditional operatic story line, one could expand the ballet and drop the opera altogether — thus Giselle, one of the Paris Opera’s most famous ballets, was brought to life in 1841.

While much of the story has remained the same, the sets and choreography originally created for Carlotta Grisi have been transformed by Petipa (for Anna Pavlova), Diaghilev (for Nijinsky), besides many, many others, and in 1965 by Sir Peter Wright.

Count Albrecht of Silesia, in his expensive peasant costume, takes advantage of an overweight (oops, sorry, this is ballet, not opera), but rather an overwrought village lass. Upon learning of this deception, she kills herself.

In the second act the spirit of Giselle is about to be transformed into a Wil-o’-the-Wisp — one of the Wilis — who lead men astray. In this case to cause them to dance themselves to death (it is a ballet after all).

When Myrtha, the lead Wili, is about to do the boogaloo with Albrecht, Giselle intervenes, forgives and saves him, and finds everlasting peace for herself.

One constant, amidst all these changes, is the music. Composed by Adolphe Adams, Giselle (one of his 14 ballets) is both delightful and dramatic. It is no wonder that so many talented artists have become involved in its various productions.

Music by Adams is not on the Sarasota Orchestra’s concert list this year, but you can hear members of that orchestra perform his music while watching Giselle at the Van Wezel. The Sarasota Ballet first performed this ballet in 2009, and again in 2019 with Ricardo Graziano as Count Albrecht.

Talking about six degrees of separation (we were?), Margaret Barbieri performed the role of Giselle for Sir Peter in 1968 while with the Royal Ballet. She subsequently did the staging for later productions (including the one you will be seeing on Dec. 17 or 18 here in Sarasota at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall) and then became the assistant director of the Sarasota Ballet in 2012. More info at sarasotaballet.org.

Time to get crazy

Flor de Toloache (or, here in Florida, the trumpet flower) can cause dizziness, heart palpitations, giddiness, hallucinations, or perhaps a prison sentence if you leave its juice in the refrigerator for a babysitter to give to your children after mistaking it for a colorful and nutritious drink.

It is also the name of a three-person (or more) female Latin Grammy-winning mariachi ensemble from Mexico that is based, of course, in New York.

They actually started as a trio under New York, singing in the New York subway in 2008. They’ve come a long way since playing both under Carnegie Hall and for its patrons.

Why call themselves Flor de Toloache? Because of the driving force enlaced within their style of playing. Why, it’s probably wild enough to make you want to dance yourself to death à la style de Myrtha et les Wilis on Dec. 10 at the Historic Asolo on the grounds of the Ringling Museum.

It is said Flor de Toloache appeals to those who like progressive and traditional mariachi music. Well, the Prints, Ceramics, and Glass from Japan exhibit at the Ringling Museum is billed as featuring modern and contemporary works. It is exciting when art forms are well represented by more than one style. It is not just that they create or play pieces from more than one time period, but importantly, that they integrate those styles so that we can see both transitional influences and great leaps.

Ceramics have been around for thousands of years. When one thinks of Japanese ceramics, images of fine bowls may come to mind, but for the last 70 years things have been changing. Japanese ceramicists have gone beyond their Chinese and Korean influences into startling new designs.

Glass is a younger art form in Japan and around the globe, but great changes in studio work have developed since the 1970s.

Print making has also undergone stylistic changes, from geometric abstraction to abstract expressionism, and perhaps on to abstract abstractionalism.

Many of the pieces in this exhibit have been loaned from private collections; a rare chance to see them (until mid-January).

When thinking of art pieces made with hard lacquer (not hard liquor), again, finely crafted bowls may come to mind. Certainly not lacquer and mother-of-pearl on an automobile hood. Again, an art form moving forward from its early beginnings to new techniques, facilitated by cross-integration of style, technology, and design.

 In this case, the exhibition Hard Bodies: Contemporary Japanese Lacquer Sculpture takes the traditional works — sap from the lacquer tree (the original gorilla glue?), coated onto bamboo, ceramics, and textiles, and inlaid with mother-or-pearl, gold, and silver into new large-scale sculptures. Also until mid-January. All info at Ringling.org.

Sit back and relax

 If you like to leave the dancing to others and watch them dance until they drop, December is the month for you as Sarasota Contemporary Dance has some special dance treats to offer.

Louis Armstrong wrote the words, and Duke Ellington the music, to “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing,” so on Dec. 2 to 5 the Sarasota Contemporary Dance artists are going to swing as they dance to the music of Duke Ellington at the Cook Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts.

The Shane Chalke B.E. Jazz group (B.E. equals Banner Elk, North Carolina) will be interpreting the Duke’s music and the SCD will be dancing to the choreography of Leymis Bolaños Wilmott. These smooth moves have been created specifically for this series.

Performances will be presented both live at the Cook Theatre and streamed virtually into your home.

Additionally, as part of SCD’s free In-Person Performance Series, there will be live and streaming performances by Stephanie Bastos on Dec. 10 and 11 at the SCD Dance Studio on Boulevard of the Arts.

This autobiographical dance presentation is powerful and illustrates the strength and resilience which can carry one forward after overwhelming adversity.

Info for all SCD performances at sarasotacontemporarydance.org

Rodger Skidmore
Author: Rodger Skidmore

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