Segerstrom Center Performing Arts Review – Part Four of Five: Philharmonia Chamber Players and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Artistic Director Robert Battle (seated) and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

(Costa Mesa, CA) March, 2014 –The 2014 Classical Music and Dance Season of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts takes a slightly different turn for this part of the review series. The last three segments dealt with traditional classical music and ballet (modern and classical). This pairing involves a sampling from the baroque period, which includes an appearance by soprano Sherezade Panthaki, and an exploration of interpretive modern dance by the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. How does this deviation affect this part of the overall season for classical music and dance? The Philharmonia Chamber Players and the American Dance Theater simply emphasize the high quality and especially the diversity the Segerstrom Center offers. 

Philharmonia Chamber Players

Six members of the Philharmonia Chamber Players made their appearance at the Samueli Theater on March 16 to perform a program that was titled “Baroque Treasures: Bach, Handel & Vivaldi,” with a piece by Georg Telemann and Benedetto Marcello for good measure. In the first act, the players rotated for various works. For Telemann’s Trio Sonata in E Minor from Tafelmusik II, William Skeen’s cello and Hanneke van Proosdij’s harpsichord provided the subtle background while Stephen Schultz’s flute and Marc Schachman’s oboe were the duet of the four-movement piece.  Both musicians, whose physicality was a total contrast—Schachman being stocky and bald, whereas Schultz’s tall and slender form with glasses and natty hair was very reminiscent of film director Joel Coen—complement each other in speed, tone and harmony. For Vivaldi’s Concerto for Flute “Il Gardellino” (The Goldfinch), Schachman left and the rest of the strings join the ensemble: Viola Anthony Martin and Violins Kati Kyme and Lisa Weiss. But for this lighthearted piece, Schultz took center stage and his solos elevated the spirit of both the performers and the audience to new heights, being very much the title of the work. Marcello’s Concerto for Oboe in D minor brought Schachman to center stage again and his oboe enhanced the overall pulse of the work.  Ending the first act was Handel’s Trio Sonata Op.5, No.4 in G major and this piece belonged to the four strings and the harpsichord. Both Kyne and Weiss balanced each other with their violins, neither one overshadowing the other.  Martin and Skeen served as the heartbeat with their viola and cello respectively and van Proosdij’s harmony and speed of the harpsichord was incredibly fluid and lyrical, as though the listeners were attending a classy gallery exhibition. 


Soprano Sherezade Panthaki

When the second act began, the true star of the concert made an appearance: Johann Sebastian Bach. First was the ever popular five minute Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major. Once again, the strings and harpsichord carried the work to new levels in style and thematic joy. For the finale, the Cantata “O! angenehme Melodei!,” the recitatives and arias were sung by well-renowned opera soprano Sherezade Panthaki. With all the strings and harpsichord in the background and Schachman and Schultz playing in the foreground, Panthaki took center stage as she musically described in the lyrics how the healing powers of music have come down from the heavens, chasing all woes away. Her composure was regal and elegant, but when the third recitative began—with Schultz playing a dominant solo— Panthaki playfully scolded the melodies of the flutes who bring foreboding depression; therefore, she scolded Schultz in character, who took it in stride. The cycle ended when Panthaki praised the patrons of the arts, to feel eternal joy that music can indeed enchant “even the singing of angels.” It’s a touching performance by Panthaki, and a perfect ending to an afternoon of diverse Baroque classical music. 


Dancing high

From 3/27-3/30, the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater returns to the Segerstrom Center, performing a number of new and traditional works, under the expert, passionate guidance of Artistic Director Robert Battle. For Program A (3/27-29), their program includes the avant garde, minimalist “Chroma” and “D-Man in the Waters (Part 1)” and Ailey’s signature piece “Revelations.” For “Chroma,” Set Designer John Pawson’s bare, white set with a full sized, walk-through wall in the background, as well as the ten dancers in plain, monochrome clothing, was very reminiscent of George Lucas’s film debut, the sterile, dystopian THX-1138. The entire music score for the piece—composed by Jack White and Joby Talbot—was very inconsistent at first, especially in the beginning during the first “scene” where the dancers seemed out of step with the notes. But as “Chroma” progresses, the stark white color of the set changes to softer shadows of black and blue, and the music’s harmony becomes much clearer. With this combination, the dancers’ movements—choreographed by Wayne McGregor—are more synchronized, fluid, and more personal with their interactions towards each other. This transformation illustrates the fact that the first scene was supposed to be erratic, to reflect how sterility equals coldness, whereas the richer colors in the latter scenes depict warmth and humanity, culminating with all ten players connecting spiritually and physically.


D-Man in the Waters (Part 1)” is quite an unusual piece because of the contrast between Janet Wong’s blue background and bare stage with Liz Prince’s battle fatigue costume designs. In the beginning of the work, the dancers move to the music of Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 20 as though they are a platoon of soldiers training in the water…and considering their extremely rigorous, yet graceful movements, it is as though they were training to be Navy SEALs. We see the artists perform a number of beautiful, and even humorous, dance sequences. But “Waters” lacks the narrative that “Chroma” has. Since it is Part 1, maybe Part 2 will provide the “story” that this work needs. But this lack of narrative doesn’t take away from the exquisite choreography by Bill T. Jones.


A Scene from "Revelations"

But the crowning touch was “Revelations,” choreographed by the late Alvin Ailey and costume designed by Barbara Forbes and Ves Harper. In this potent work, Ailey utilizes his experiences of attending services at the Mount Olive Baptist Church in Texas, especially using combinations of gospel and African music, in order to take the audience on a journey, showing how the African American culture survives cruelty and oppression through their music and through their faith in God and Jesus Christ. In the first part, “Pilgrim of Sorrow,” both the lighting and dancers are in earthen tones, showing the suffering they have gone through in their lives. The African texture of the music from “I Been ‘Buked” slowly segues to Baptist gospel in “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel” and especially “Fix Me, Jesus,” where it becomes a romantic duet between Alicia Graf Mack and Yannick Lebrun.


In the second segment, “Take Me to the Water,” the tones transform to cool shades of blues, soft whites and greens, symbolizing the cleansing waters of a baptism. The dancers, all adorned in white outfits and parasols, perform with joy to “Honor, Honor” and “Wade in the Water,” the latter showing a courtship between a man and woman, which progresses into a wedding. But it is the last piece of the segment, “I Wanna Be Ready,” which delivers the most powerful punch of the entire show. Lit with only a single spotlight, dancer Glenn Allen Sims portrays a spirit who dances with disciplined slowness to a gospel song about being delivered into the hands of God after he is cleansed in purgatory. It’s an emotionally heartbreaking sequence that received the strongest response from the audience.


The last piece of “Revelations”—“Move, Members, Move”—immediately jumps into the fire-red pits of hell with “Sinner Man,” with Marcus Jarrell Willis and Antonio and Kirven Douthit-Boyd as three sinners doomed to dance to 70s type music. But the flames of damnation changes to the hot sunny southern plains of “The Day is Past and Gone,” “You May Run On,” and the fabulous finale “Rocka My Soul in the Boson of Abraham.” Here, we have all the female dancers dressed in southern belle garb, sitting on stools and waving fans in sync with the gospel music. When their male suitors come to court them, the audience is witness to love and faith triumphing over all adversity, especially when the artists perform an encore of “Rocka” again, bringing a well-deserved five minute standing ovation for this talented company of artists.  


Peter A. Balaskas is a journalist, fiction writer, editor, and voice over artist.


Check out these performances occurring during the 2014 Season

Diana Krall: Segerstrom Hall ---4/5/2014

Cre8ion—Fluff: Samueli Theater---4/5-6/2014

Mamma Mia!: Segerstrom Hall ---4/8-13/2014

Jimmy Webb and Maureen McGovern: Samueli Theater---4/11-13/2014

RAIN: A Tribute to the Beatles: Segerstrom Hall ---4/25-26/2014

Snowflake: Samueli Theater---4/26-27/2014

Fred Hersch Trio: Samueli Theater---5/2-3/2014

The Book of Mormon: Segerstrom Hall ---5/13-25/2014

Lightwire Theater: The Ugly Duckling and the Tortoise and the Hare: Samueli Theater---5/17-18/2014

LA Opera in Concert: Thais: Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall---5/27/2014

Jersey Boys: Segerstrom Hall---6/24-7/13/2014

Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev: Segerstrom Hall---7/25-27/2014---reviewed by me

Ghost: The Musical: Segerstrom Hall---7/29-8/10/2014

ONCE: Segerstrom Hall---8/19-31/2014



Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts

600 Town Center Drive,

Costa Mesa, CA 92628-2197

Photos by Philharmonia Baroque Chamber Players (Paul Trapani) and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (Andrew Eccles)


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