(Costa Mesa, CA) December, 2013 – The Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts is more than just a place that produces top notch musicals and crowd-drawing concerts; it’s a cultural campus which invites all of Orange County to visit and expand their horizons when it comes to the arts. And it has perfect venues to satisfy all tastes: There is the 3,000-seat, opera-style Segerstrom Hall, the 2,000-seat Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, the 500-seat Samueli Theater, the 250-seat Founder’s Hall, and even the 46,000-square-foot outdoor plaza that is open to the public for free productions, including their summer “Movie Mondays.” There is also the center’s wonderfully diverse “Series” system that composes its season: International Dance, Broadway, Curtain Call, Special Bonus, Jazz, Cabaret, Chamber Music, Family, Opera, and Special Events. For the beginning of their 2013/2014 season, the Segerstrom Center’s jazz, dance, and chamber music productions prove to entice and amaze Orange County audiences.
I had the wonderful opportunity to see three shows that capture the true spirit of the center in terms of their superior quality and variety. The first was part of the center’s Jazz series: ACS: Geri Allen, Terri Lyne Carrington and Esperanza Spalding (10/25-26/2013). The layout of the Samueli Theater was in the style of a cabaret jazz club, including lounge tables, subdued lighting and colorful modern art designs projected on the back wall of the staging area. It perfectly set the mood for this talented trio as their musical selections were primarily from jazz legend Wayne Shorter—in honor of his celebrating his 80th birthday—as well as a number of their own selections and improvisations. The brilliant synchronicity of their collective performance was pure magic as each artist would set the foundation of each piece, and then the others follow suit in flawless tempo and harmony. Allen’s mastery of the piano is truly sublime, and Carrington’s dynamic timing of the drums became more alive with each passing minute as though it were a vibrant pulse. But Spalding’s talent with her bass—the way her fingers seemed to glide effortlessly on its body—showed remarkable skill and grace, as though she were a surgeon carefully treating one of her patients. And her vocals floated like an angel taking flight. The trio maintains the audience’s rapt attention, resulting in an encore, which strengthened their presence even more.
Beginning the International Dance series was prima ballerina Diana Vishneva’s world premiere of “On the Edge” (11/6,7, 9 & 10, 2013) at the Segerstrom Hall, an experimental work that is an amalgam of modern dance and contemporary ballet, a genre that she has successfully explored with her two previous works “Beauty in Motion” and “Dialogues.” The two act production—the first titled “Switch” and the second “Woman in a Room”—were choreographed by Carolyn Carlson (director of the Centre Choregraphique National in Roubaix, France) and Jean-Christophe Maillot (artistic director of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, whose company will perform “Swan Lake” at the Segerstrom later in 2014), respectively. The first piece deals with a diva ballerina’s (Vishneva) obsession with her art and her relationship with her muses and creative disciples (wonderfully played by Bernice Coppieters and Gaetin Morlotti). Performing to music written by film and television composer Danny Elfman, Vishneva delves into her character’s journey into artistic freedom and expression, oftentimes at the expense of her two companions, whose roles blur between muses, apprentices, and lovers. Her selfishness intensifies and rises until at the end when the diva relinquishes her obsession by hanging up her ballet shoes and blowing a soft, sensual kiss to the audience.
In “Woman in a Room,” Vishneva portrays a woman who is a metaphorical prisoner to her own emotional repression and insanity. Courtesy of the beautifully scenic photos and video designed by Maxime Ruiz, Vishneva at first seems to sink deeper into her despair with jerky movements as though she were part of jump-cut photography, with silent screams and pumping her legs while hanging on the butcher-block table on the stage as though she were a hamster trapped on a wheel. Music by Giovanni Sollima and Rene Aubry seem to carry Vishneva as she passionately dances and twists through the journey of her own mental trials, becoming more desperate until the rain in the projected photography is broken by rays of sunlight. Here, Vishneva magically transforms, and patiently—with a mischievous grin of relief—takes control of her emotional state, her movements showing increased grace and serenity, cumulating into playfulness when she cuts lemon wedges, savoring their nectar. She then produces dozens of more lemons, displays a welcoming, angel-like smile, and shares them with the audience. Both pieces have a cinematic flair, adding to the poignancy of the work. And by combining these two tales together, Vishneva once again illuminates her mercurial, ever-evolving talent, causing much anticipation for more experimental works in the future.
Completing the trilogy of performances was the Chamber Music series season opener: the Pacifica Quartet and pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin (11/12/13). With the Samueli Theatre changed into a normal, auditorium style, the quartet begins alone with Dmitri Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 7 in F-sharp minor, Op. 108. The piece itself combines a frenetic, almost frantic energy with tones of mischievousness. Hamelin then joins the quartet for Leo Ornstein’s Piano Quartet, which expertly mixes a lot of styles that include the nostalgic flair of Copeland with the passionate vigor of Rachmaninoff. After intermission, the quintet then performs the traditional landscape of Antonin Dvorak’s Piano Quintet in A major, Op. 81, whose fluidic harmonious mosaic is a perfect end to the evening.
What was dynamic was the leveled, passionate energy these artists utilized at their fingertips, with each player demonstrating a different expressive style in their playing and especially in their body language: Lead violin Simin Ganatra seems to attack each piece with pixie-like flair and playfulness; violinist Sibbi Bernhardsson’s intensity is intertwined with delicate precision; violist Masumi Per Rostad’s performance—especially during his solos—possesses an elegant air of grace; cellist Brandon Ramos is a powerhouse delivering climatic explosions half of the time, but also gently bringing sad elements of pathos—especially during the Ornstein sequence—during other moments in the evening. And then there was Hamelin, whose genius served as the foundation for the quartet, without it being submerged and forgotten. He is the captain to their ship, taking all four, as well as the audience, on a classical journey that will remain in the listener’s memories for many days to come, as well as signaling an unforgettable 2014 season.
Peter A. Balaskas is a journalist, fiction writer, editor, and voice over artist.
Performances occurring from 1/10 to 3/9/2014
Emerson String Quartet: Samueli Theater---1/10/2014---reviewed by me
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast: Segerstrom Hall---1/14-19/2014
CHICAGO: Segerstrom Hall---1/28-2/2/2014
The Hamburg Ballet: Liliom: Segerstrom Hall---2/7-8/2014---reviewed by me
Jump Leads—Still Awake Still!: Samueli Theater---2/8-9/2014
The Wizard of Oz: Segerstrom Hall---2/11-23/2014
Peter Gallagher: Samueli Theater---2/13-15/2014
St. Lawrence String Quartet: Samueli Theater---2/19/2014--- reviewed by me
Dr. Lonnie Smith: Samueli Theater---2/21-22/2014
Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo: Swan Lake: Samueli Theater---3/7-9/2014--- reviewed by me
600 Town Center Drive,
Costa Mesa, CA 92628-2197
Photos by Motema Music, Tracy Love and Sandrine Lee (ACS, respectively); Sasha Gulyaev (Diana Vishneva); Saverio Truglia (Pacifica Quartet) and Fran Kaufman (Marc-Andre Hamelin)