Fourth graders Emma Whitney (Southdale Elementary) and Elyse Salmon (Harman Elementary) at cast party with Tenor Scott Piper, who played Nemorino in the Dayton Opera production The Elixir of Love.
The Who’s Tommy told in both drama & dance
How many ways can we tell a story? The ancients began by telling their tales in words. The great bards such as Homer sang their timeless tales. A tale can be told in music without words and in movement such as dance.
What is the best way to tell a story? All of the above can be inspiring or can be incomplete and less satisfying. Opera certainly tells stories successfully, even though some of the plots of the great operas are trite and contrived. Ballet can tell a story fully staged or subtly with the emotion of beautiful dance figures conjuring up the image of a story.
Dayton Ballet has continued its initiative toward presenting full-length story ballets for several years. The results have been mixed with triumphs such as Septime Webre’s Romeo and Juliet and the present offering, The Who’s Tommy.
Executive Director of Dayton Ballet Dermot Burke felt that the iconic Rock work was suited to dance. He assembled the team of chorographer Christopher Fleming and set designer Daniel Gray to create the ballet and its setting. From Dayton Ballet’s talented staff, Lowell Mathwich and Daniel McLaughlin created the costumes and very dramatic lighting.
My readers know that I am not from the same planet as Rock and Roll. As a “classical nerd,” I barely speak the language of the many unrecognizable pop music genres. With the opportunity to experience “Tommy” twice and Smokey Joe’s Café at WSU interposed, I felt more at home with the music. At both productions, the lyrics were understandable and not a mixture of vocal noise competing with instrumental cacophony.
Tommy is the tale of a journey from degradation to enlightenment. It would be at home in the ancient literature. Tommy is a boy who is afflicted with hysterical blindness and deafness after seeing his father murder his mother’s lover. A victim of abuse from every side, Tommy is liberated from his hysteria by his mother’s persistence and the chances of destiny.
Turning this tale of personal horror into a ballet sparkling with the beauty of dance is no small feat. Dayton Ballet’s creation does it marvelously. I have said again and again that Dayton Ballet’s dancers are the most physically beautiful company I have ever known. They are well trained and talented. They can also act on stage while dancing.
The cast is led by Justin Koertgen as Tommy. I have praised Justin’s dancing, his handsome stage presence and his dramatic ability. As Tommy, he exceeds all expectations. While he is blind and deaf, his face and movements reflect this not as a caricature but as artistic realism. When freed from his infirmity, he becomes the new enlightened character fully realized.
As his mother, Kathie Keith’s breathtaking beauty shines in every scene. She dances with grace and beauty but projects her character with purpose and clarity.
The rest of the company danced the many roles and many scenes with the same artistry. I must highlight Richard Grund, Erika Cole, Jennifer Grund, Halliet Slack, Eduard Forehand, Ashley Sass and Oren Porterfield as focal points on stage.
Now, I must shift my own focus. As thrilling as Tommy is as a dance theater experience, it is still not true ballet. Dayton Ballet has limited the traditional repertory concerts to one per season. This is simply not enough. When these talented dancers are “cut loose” to dance the wide range of choreographic opportunities, the thrills cross the footlights and mesmerize the audience.
Many of the dance numbers in Tommy were wonderful but not long enough. The vitality of the opening dance was sapped by shifting scenes to the birth of Tommy, the killing of the lover and so on throughout the well-told story.
The story is the story, but dance is the essence of ballet. There are well-published financial problems in the ballet. Season subscriptions have plummeted nearly four-fold. The economy, a crushing problem, is partly to blame. This free-fall has been going on for some time and the signals are clear. The audiences are not coming to the ballet.
Perhaps it can be said in reverse, the ballet is not coming to the audience.
Thornton Wilder’s Our Town
Thornton Wilder’s Our Town could be called the epiphanal play of the past century. In the simplest of language on the simplest of stage settings, the entire secret of life and death is given to us. Our Town exploded into our literature in 1938. It removed so many theatrical conventions and added so many. It is a play in which there is no abstract language, in fact, there is no dramatic dialogue. The drama and the essential abstractionof life and death – of humanity – are contained in the routine of everyday life. All is portrayed in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire between 1901 and 1913.
Wright State Theatre recreated this work of great art. Their production opened last Thursday and, for those really experiencing it, life will never be the same again.
Brian McKnight, a product of WSU, was chosen as director. Brian is one of those touched by the essence of true theater. As an actor, he is superb; as a pedagogue at Sinclair, he is superb and as a director, superb is the only description possible. The play deals with the most ontological ideas, but lives in the most mundane environment. Instilling this concept onto the student actors is Brian’s triumph and genius. Through the magic of theater and the talents of the cast, all were able to see that life is not living but seeing, appreciating each and every moment.
The action focuses on the town but really on two actors. The Stage Manager is narrator and uses the gift of detachment to explain all to the audience. Emily loves Grover’s Corners, loves and marries next door neighbor George. She lives a brief life as child, wife and mother and then joins the innumerable caravan of the dead. Through these two and “their town” we also learn all.
When Molly Andrews-Hinders stepped on the bare stage alone, her confident smile was enough to capture the audience. She narrated past, present and future, introducing us to the townspeople and to each individual.
As Emily, Graci Carli took her child-like effervescence through her life and even to join her ancestors in the graveyard. Her regret was not her early death leaving husband, children, parents and her world of Grover’s Corners. Her remorse was her realization that no one ever really saw the magic of their lives as they lived it.
Such convincing concepts were portrayed to perfection by these convincing actors. Molly and Graci were aided by a marvelous cast. Every part, even those with barely a word, contributed to the magic. Outstanding were Lucian Smith, Matt Rush and Madeline Casto as George and his parents. JJ Tiemeyer, one of the most versatile and accomplished actors to emerge from the WSU program, was joined by Nevada Montgomery as Emily’s parents.
There were no small parts. Every member of the cast made “Our Town” become “My Town” to each person in the audience. Again, WSU theater adds to our lives.
It’s a new day at Culp’s Cafe. The day after Christmas, Jeff Blumer and his wife, Molly Deddens Blumer (daughter of Oakwood’s Judge Robert and wife Ruth Deddens) took over management and culinary administration of Culp’s Café, whose physical building is owned by the National Park Service. Jeff was willing to open the cafe on a year round basis and that suited the park service just fine. Now we can count on this retro-bucolic space to be open seven days a week from 11-3 P.M. on weekdays and 7-3 P.M. on weekends serving breakfast and luncheon.
Jeff is a visionary and has some plans in the works that will have you marking the days off your calendar until Spring. He will be opening al fresco dining on a patio for 30 people when Mother Nature cooperates. Where else in Dayton can we dine outside without gasping from car emissions? There will also be Mother’s Day and Father’s Day buffets which will include Lamb/Ham/Beef carving stations, breakfast items, pastries and an omelette station. There are plans to open one evening a month for dinner and the next special evening is St. Patrick’s Day. The menu boasts Corned Beef and Cabbage, Guinness Lamb Stew, Bailey’s Irish Cream Chicken, Baked Potato Soup, Irish Soda Bread and desserts all to be washed down with Irish green beer, Guinness and Killian’s beers. You’ll need the Luck O’ the Irish if you don’t make your reservation early.
Jeff and Molly bring to the high ceilings, pictures of the downtown Culp’s that some of us remember, and the charm of an old diner with expose prep area, a wealth of twenty years of culinary experience, after meeting the first day of class at the Cornell Hotel School. They have worked on cruise ships, in retirement communities, for Sysco Foods and resorts in California. And with their youth, energy, passion and talents, they also own Bellyfire Catering where no party is too big. On tap are parties for 1500 and 2000 people. Did I mention that they have three young children too?
So, andiamo, go have a bowl of their great potato soup or spicy but not hot chili, and let the kids indulge in a “Yankee Doodle” donut, enjoy a daily special, or just order your box lunches to be delivered. Enjoy food made with passion to satisfy the fire in your belly at Culp’s Cafe in Carillon Park and Bellyfire Catering. To contact them call 299-2277....
Gotta run. Soup’s on!
February 24, 2009
Volume 18, No. 8
What's Up gives you the head's up on interesting
The Oregon District
Top of the Market Exhibit Space
Salvador Dali - Justin King's LOVE conquers HATE Exhibit: A rare lithograph collection with more than 200 pieces by Salvador Dali and Max Ernst from the private collection of Dr. Heinz Ess.
Exhibit will be on display through March 31.
Proceeds from the exhibit will be donated to Justin King, suffering from Cystic Fibrosis in need of multiple organ transplants.