Danceworks cranks-up Vaudeville!

A stylized historical rendering spruced up with overlays of contemporary subject matter, Vaudeville! hearkens back to the Gilded Age, just as its title self-explains. Danceworks’ current production, Vaudeville!, opened Friday night with little buzz, nearly selling out its first three performances to the contrary. The production spotlights a series of choreographed vignettes driven by a mix of turn of the century show tunes, cast member voice-overs, and original music. Although mostly a period piece, Vaudeville!’s costume design travels through the first quarter of the 20th century, with performance content themes advancing to the current decade.

Vaudeville! leaves ample space for odes to the silent film era. Imaginary marionette strings jostle coordinated movements of limbs, mechanically pantomiming humorous antics behind lumbering 1910 World Fair carnival music. Human flesh morbidly transforms into disposable wooden hinged playthings spurred into action, by the character positioned as the conductor of the show. The games of diversion give way to dramas of perversity and grim resignation, which supply depth to contrast the overall levity of the show.

Absurdity and spectacle contribute key aspects to the vaudeville genre. Danceworks dabbles with these expected vaudeville qualities using dance, acrobatics, kinesthetic dialog and ‘bit’ comedy as vehicles to carry the audience’s attention from vignette to vignette. The Vaudeville! production has an intentional shape provided by the genre, giving the dancers multiple dimensions in which to exist, not limited to just that of dancer. With theatrics used as much as dance, Vaudeville! almost allows you to expect verbal dialog. Quite aptly however, Vaudeville! does not betray its silent era inspiration or talent of its performers.

The Danceworks space is intimate, making you an aristocrat being entertained for the evening when you are there. Vaudeville! runs from February 18 – 20 and 24 – 27, 2011.

Retrospective: Gallery Night, Winter 2011

Always enjoyable Gallery Night yielded a few notables during the winter 2011 edition.  Originally posted to the Sane Artworks Blog January 26, 2011.

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Gallery Night Milwaukee: Green Gallery, Patricia Terry, Berkeley and other splashes

The winter edition of Gallery Night in Milwaukee took place Friday and Saturday this past weekend. I took the A.V. Club’s lead on a couple of art exploits seen on Friday night, but ended up off the trod path and left one destination on my to do list.

The Green Gallery is somewhere I’ve wanted to check out for a while. I heard of this space a couple of years ago, recognizing the name of creative mind Michelle Grabner in a promotional piece for the Green Gallery’s second installation Silverpoint Drawings with Guest Mobile. Keeping with Milwaukee’s good fortune, several classes of privileged but angsty local teenagers  (myself included, more angsty than privileged), among others I’m sure, felt edified by her instruction and her work.

A Person of Color: a mostly orange exhibition is currently on display at the Green Gallery. It features a host of artists, mostly spry, hip, and trained with their works of mixed mediums staking out floor space and wall art hung low to make you exert some effort to take a gander. Aggressively, which I guess reflects the color swatches of orange employed here, several of the current pieces take deliberate stabs at your intelligence in overtly self-indulgent to fast approaching borderline cliché ways (making it quite possible that cliché is the new cool this spring).

At Cuvee Black Art made a seldom witnessed mainstream appearance in Milwaukee, expressed through several collages, paintings, and illustrations authored by Evelyn Patricia Terry, a founder of Milwaukee’s art presence. Best known for her paintings and printmaking, Terry’s Gallery Night work included a series of illustrations carrying wisdom laden captions. Words offered ranged from the philosophical “Opposites attract, but likes stay together” to the practical “I have much work to do”. The didactic intent of the Black Arts legacy resonated the gathering.

Art showed up in musical form at Bayview’s Sugar Maple, as the cooperative Milwaukee Area Composers and Artists (MAC&A) filled the sound stage with a couple Master’s thesis jazz compositions, featuring brass favorites tenor and baritone saxophone, trumpet, and lesser seen instrument the marimba. Instigated by local musician Steve Gallam, the set featured work by composition peers Blake Manning, and Mike Neumeyer. Ears out for these guys. Their scoring of original works with pen on parchment tinted paper and impromptu is well done; neither often shared with the public in an informal setting, both suitably hosted by Sugar Maple’s indy jazz inspired confines.

Speaking of jazz, a free benefit (donations accepted) for the legendary Berkeley Fudge will take place at 7:30p this Friday January 28, 2011, at The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. Berkeley recently suffered a health setback and the arts community is doing their part to recognize his contributions to the Milwaukee scene. Berkeley resident musician at the Jazz Estate, he was on the bill in the summer 2009 and I missed him unfortunately.

I missed out on Studio 420b exhibitions that featured artists Leslie Peckham, Lindsey Marx, Steven Ruiz, Fred Kames and several others. Judging from previous work, this camp of artist should also be added to your watch list.

Gallery Night in Milwaukee comes around again with spring this time, April 15 and 16th 2011.

Use out of the useless at MAM After Dark, feats by Chakaia Booker

February’s installment of MAM After Dark kept it fun and snooty, truly befitting of the Calatrava. Although the recently opened Frank Lloyd Wright exhibition fills the main gallery space, providing the draw of a registered trademarked name, New York artist Chakaia Booker concluded her MAM co-starring role. The MAM atmosphere, ambient with disc jockeyed music courtesy of Radio Milwaukee, supported the closing of On Site: Chakaia Booker in the Baumgartner Galleria (back hallway leading to the War Memorial).

Booker’s sculptures, forged of tightly wrapped, sharply cut automobile tires and industrial screws, and some other secret bonding agents no doubt, evoked curiosity and anxiety in Quadracci Pavillion patrons. Fourteen unsung weeks on display, the unsettling creations of On Site stood poised on the floor, and perched on the walls presumably ready to strike at any moment.

It was not really an option to stand with your arms folded, gawking. Option one: karate stance with hands prone in an action grip. Option two: impulsively grabbing at the twining appendages. Option two tested, and a nipping from a security guard occurred from 18 feet.

There is not much one can do with old tires. No, I recant. You can contort them beyond recognition, and actually make people want to look at them. Conservation art with found industrial objects is a fine tradition indeed. On Site closed February 13, 2011.

Retrospective: Sleeping in the Aviary

Local Trolley, Issue 5, Post 3

Borgs and Ugly Sweaters originally posted to the Sane Artworks Blog January 10, 2011.

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Borgs and Ugly Sweaters

“So there was this cool cat with an autotunes guitar who went to the bar to tune his guitar… the bar tender asks if he wants a tune-a-sandwich…” If you walked in at this moment of the performance, with a blindfold, you might have thought a stand-up comedian voiced a futile introduction to a terrible joke. If, hypothetically, you were thinking that, with a blind fold on, you would have been wrong.

I stay tuned to ‘MSE no matter the play format, and I keep hearing about this band Sleeping in the Aviary. A friend of mine during the same time period keeps hounding me about this show at the Borg Ward, for over a month she’s been raving. Well, yesterday I happened to be at this place and these cool cats are tuning their guitars, and you probably can’t guess who they are.

Drawing a crowd of anti-scenesters, bad sweater-wearers, beat up chucks, broken-in skull caps, some onlookers that could have been extras in Deliverance, and good old average southsiders of with their customary above average good sportsmanship, Sleeping in the Aviary mid-lined a small independent show of deadpan spaz rock brute force.

Tuning done a riff breaks out: a chorus of drum, guitar, bass, and accordion reminiscent of a 50’s sock hop ditty ode, but that damn accordion is making the music so randomly today that the toe tapping of the spectators soon turns knee bopping. Next song, a little less 50’s with a little more DIY alternative, and torsos start getting in the action. Before the set starts my girlfriend sees a friend of hers and his friend claims he has nothing bad to say about this band. A first time listener, I can’t say that I do either. Even luckier for me my first time is live.

Midway through the show the moppy haired band member stalls by picking up where he left off earlier, “So this guy at the bar, wanted to tune his autotune guitar, was going to get something from the guy at the bar, uh… what did he get?… [pause]… [pause]… he got nothing…[crowd laughter].” His punch-line delivery, an effort to disguise a bubble machine controversy from going public, didn’t keep the slow-train-wreck-like “story” of spending too much on the bubble machine that doesn’t work from happening anyway. Meanwhile, the accordion player managed a wardrobe change into a 1992 Shaq Diesel Orlando Magic jersey and suddenly brandishes a saw to be chorded with a cello bow.

Bubbles spraying lightly into the crowd initially provide ambiance for a crowd member who counts the band back in for the next song. Since lightly spraying bubbles at the wall is no fun, bubbles are cranked up and aimed into the center of the light mass of town folk. The majority of said bubbles are landing on a fairly large fellow you would not expect at show of this sort on a prime Magic: The Gathering card game night. Heads on loose necks are now joining the rest of their bodies, on most of the Borg clan. Even the those of southside-patented least affect are noticeably enjoying the show, although still lacking movement or affect.

Fun is contagious. This axiom proves true for Sleeping in the Aviary: a bright and motley clothed bunch who are barely mumbling one minute and screaming manically the next; a pretty sick musical ensemble (in the previous metaphorical way, which is far less sold out than in the old school snow boarder slang sense). You have to be entertaining if you get bored enough to think up a band name like Sleeping in the Aviary. I heard they might be playing in Mini-soda soon. Go see, they really don’t suck that bad.

Funk, e’Lectrick Warbabyz do it, to it

The dedicated month to recognize Black History brought forth a small gathering of culturally inclined and community oriented minds to enjoy one of the greatest musical genres invented in America, funk music. An underrated space in an underrated neighborhood, King Commons II in Harambee, played host to the e’Lectrick Warbabyz‘ Friday night performance. A squad of musicians stationed on bass, rhythm, guitar, drums, conga drums, and lead guitar lent support to a vocalist and vocal backup, who together tore a whole in the cheap musical fabric that dominates contemporary rhythm and blues.

photo by Angela Smith

Evoking the theatrics and character-making of the founding era of funk music, in full agbada, the lead vocal urged the crowd to “Do what you do” behind infectious guitar riffs and bass scales. Kick drums smashed sound waves “on-the-one” emphasizing the warning made in their chorus that the e’Lectrick Warbabyz will “Take you to the Darkside”. Customarily, the band members broke into solos, highlighted by a hundred hand slaps on a set of six congas and a searing guitar solo.

photo by Angela Smith

Adjacent to the better known Riverwest and Brewer’s Hill neighborhoods, the Harambee neighborhood has a long history as home base to Black arts and community building in Milwaukee. Known as Bronzeville in the 1950’s, 3rd street was a thoroughfare to thriving Black business. During the 1960’s Bronzeville lost viability from redlining, “block-busting” and the construction of I-43, culminating with crime and blight in the 1980’s and 90’s. In spite of the adversity, some of Milwaukee’s richest cultural outlets such as America’s Black Holocaust Museum and the Milwaukee Inner City Art Council remained as pillars of the neighborhood through the down period.

photo by Angela Smith

Harambee’s backbone today is still Martin Luther King Drive (3rd Street). Hard-knocks could not completely extinguish the embers of soul that warm the Black arts community here. A testament to those who refused to abandon MLK Drive north of North Avenue, the e’Lectrick Warbabyz performance commemorated the neighborhood’s legacy and gave a preview of what Harambee has to offer in the present day.

Although a throwback to a bygone era, funk represents the bridge from Motown to the South Bronx and therefore the genre will always have relevance to music. Worthy of bookings and boogie-ing crowds, the e’Lectrick Warbabyz incarnation of that “Fiii-ire” could fill a terrible void in the Milwaukee live music scene.