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Chicago Tribune | Article & Video
A song from "Camelot"

By JOHNNY OLEKSINSKI - Original Article
December 1, 2014

In the buoyant Arthurian Legend musical, now in a heavily revised production at Drury Lane, Taylor plays Lancelot du Lac, an energetic Frenchman — "c'est moi!" — who joins King Arthur on the Round Table. Chivalry, nobility and all that aside, Lancelot also has an affair with Arthur's wife Guenevere, which escalates as the seasons pass. In the beginning of the second act, Lancelot sings this love ballad, "If Ever I Would Leave You," to her. Listening to Lance's song, how could she resist?

"Camelot" plays Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace, though Jan. 4.

We filmed this video in our studio in Tribune Tower. Taylor is joined by Tahirah Wittington playing cello.

DSCH Journal - Issue No. 39 | Featured Article
DSCH Interview - Tahirah Whittington

By LYNN BEATON - Original Review
July 2013

Photo Credit: Robin Holland

'It's so funny because the emotion that you have to embody in this concerto is a bit of fear, but you have to be fearless in playing it.'

'He has tapped into that raw emotion like it's just sitting on his sleeve and I think people really grasp it immediately.'

'He's very distinctive in his voice. You know it's Shostakovich when you hear it.'

When you listen to the YouTube clip of Tahirah Whittington playing the piano reduction version of the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 2, you know you are listening to a performer who embraces passion and integrity.

Lynn Beaton, for the DSCH Journal, interviewed Whittington to find out what a young African American cellist, who plays in four cutting edge ensembles, found inviting about the too-rarely played Shostakovich opus 126. As it turns out, this had never been a question for Whittington, she told us that as a sixteen-year-old the piece jumped out at her and she knew instantly:

'This is my piece!'

Whittington, who is originally from Texas, has performed in many countries as a soloist and in ensembles. The highlights of her solo engagements include featured soloist at New York's Carnegie Hall in the 2007 Sphinx Gala. Over the last few years, however, she sees herself principally as a chamber musician and currently plays with four ensembles: The Ritz Chamber Players are a group of African-American classical musicians including strings, winds, voice, piano and harp who rotate according to the chosen repertoire; The Core Ensemble is a trio of piano, percussion and cello that creates chamber music theatre productions, collaborating with actors, writers, artists, and composers; The Young Eight is a string octet consisting of a culturally diverse group of string players from all over the US who came together to offer concerts and residency programmes to communities who may not be inclined to attend a traditional Classical concert; and Pastiche 5 is an all-female instrumental ensemble which celebrates the different ethnic, musical, geographical and experiential background of its members. Almost immediately after first hearing the Shostakovich opus 126, Whittington began to learn the first movement, which she performed with a piano accompaniment a couple of years later when only 18. Her next experience with the concerto was playing the orchestral part in the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra.

'That just built up my love for the piece again. I was ready to be in the cello section and play the piece and have someone else play the solo part because I can experience it more symphonically being in the orchestra.'

When studying her doctoral degree, Whittington was asked to prepare the piece again for her second year recital, and soon after she recorded the concerto with piano accompaniment and posted it on YouTube. In the doctoral performance Whittington insisted that the piano be joined by two horn players, a percussionist and a conductor.

'I wanted more than just the piano arrangement — so we played a chamber music version of it and that was quite satisfying for me.'

Including the extra instruments was important for Whittington. When she listens to the full concerto, she finds some of the orchestral passages the most engaging of the piece. She says some of the highlights of the piece for her are when the cello is not even playing.

'I love hearing the horn solos at the beginning and near the end of the third movement and the exchanges of the percussion with the horns. The highlights for me are when the cello gets to rest and I can actually experience all of this build up at the beginning of the third movement before the cadenza, where I'm just getting ready and getting pumped up by these amazing horns and percussion.

The orchestral parts are so powerful for Whittington, that even when she is playing only with a piano accompaniment, she hears the orchestral parts in her head as they weave in and out of the cello part.

I asked if there were any other difficulties playing with only a piano accompaniment.

'I think the piano arrangement becomes lack-lustre at the very end of the third movement because it's trying to replicate the percussion part and it just can't. For me that's when the piano arrangement just doesn't do the piece justice, and it's a shame because it's the very end of the piece. The statement between the wood block and the snare that goes on with the xylophone is just incredible with the cello voice being framed like that. It's just so difficult to do with the piano part. The piano part just cannot hold a candle to the orchestral brilliance of the piece.'

I said that I'd found the cello voice so compelling with only a piano accompaniment that it had given me, as a listener, a new appreciation of the work.

'I totally accept that as well, but I also feel that for Shostakovich's music there's always an inner struggle, and you feel like the cello has to struggle with the orchestra - you need that. When you talk about the emotional depth — that's what really makes it for me: finding that depth, that gravitas in the piece as far as the cello voice is concerned.'

For Whittington, the orchestral part forces the cello to do battle with it, while, at the same time giving it support. She said that while she's playing with the piano she can hear the orchestral part in her head.

Whittington sees herself primarily as a chamber musician which is interesting for someone who has such an attachment to this concerto:

'I don't consider myself a concerto player; I consider myself a chamber musician. And the way that I considered the Shostakovich second concerto is as a chamber music piece! It feels more of a chamber music piece to me, which is why I don't need to have the feeling of the cello needing to be the hero. I just feel like a part of Shostakovich's sound world.'

The performance that was posted on YouTube was made at the Meadowmount music school that holds seven-week intensives for string players and focuses on private study and chamber tuition. Whittington has attended Meadowmount as both a student and a tutor.

Since the Cello Concerto No. 1 in E flat major is one of the most popular pieces performed in concert halls around the world, while the second in G major is almost never played, it seemed obvious to ask Whittington what she saw as the primary differences between the two works.

'In the first Concerto there are a lot of technical acrobatics to be done as far as the cello proving itself and even proving that this concerto works. In the second concerto I consider the difficulty is even greater, but it's more subtle. In hearing the piece you may not understand how difficult it is, especially as it's not very showy music — especially in the first movement. But that first movement is the hardest thing I've had to play apart from the Kod´ly sonata. It's so difficult because of its tempo, because it's slow and you have to be patient with it, and you have to be patient with just hearing those intervals and training your fingers to go right to those double stops without any fear. It's so funny because the emotion that you have to embody in that concerto is a bit of fear, but you have to be fearless in playing it.'

We talked about the relative popularity of the two concertos, and I asked if she knew why the one was such a concert programme star and the other so rarely performed.

'I don't really know. The first is a crowd pleaser. But I do know that after that Meadowmount performance I was surprised to be bombarded by people who hadn't heard the piece before: they were really elated to hear this work and to hear how deep it is and at the same time how whimsical the work is — especially in that second movement! There's so much humour in it as well. I mean he has the xylophone in there!'

I wanted to know what Whittington thought attracted young people to the works of Shostakovich today.

'I think what pulls people to his music are those moments where there is a depth and maturity but also fear and anxiety. Those are kinds of emotions that are true in a lot of people's everyday lives, and listeners can definitely sympathise and empathise with them. I think it really comes through in his music: he has tapped into that raw emotion like it's just sitting on his sleeve, and I think people really grasp it immediately.

'It's very raw. I feel like I respect him more for showing his insecurities and showing his vulnerabilities. Many artists don't do that: they try to hide these feelings, and I think he's brave in that.'

I asked if Whittington saw connections between the groups she plays with and the music of Shostakovich.

'I think he has a quality that everybody identifies with. That's why he's one of the people that we study in school and one of the people that we continue to programme in our concerts because of the bravery he had. I mean, not everybody was a fan of his music, but he was brave enough to write it. To include so much sarcasm and criticism in his music and to put his name in his music just to say "this is mine", "this is who I am". Even though when he was writing it he was afraid. But he was brave enough to do it. Not everyone is brave enough to do this — to say "this is who I am" and "I'm not going to back down from this."'

Whittington comes from a musical family. Her mother was a classically trained pianist and saxophonist who played in churches. Her father was a saxophonist who played for Duke Ellington. She was given her first cello at the age of four when her mother had noticed her plucking the strings of her older brother's cello.

'Ever since then it's been like a fifth limb.'

The ensembles that Whittington plays with are all involved in developing new music and music forms and styles. The Ritz Chamber Players have a new composer-in-residence each year; the Core Ensemble commissions new music for each chamber music theatre piece it builds from scratch; and Pastiche 5 holds classical music as the basis for its melting pot of creativity, bringing together a range of musical genres and worldly inspiration.

'I enjoy new compositions, especially if the composers are living and I have the opportunity to create something with that composer. I'm sure Shostakovich felt that way with Rostropovich. It's pleasurable for me when I'm learning a new piece — especially if you can discuss it with the composer. Sometimes you go back and forth with them, and I love that very much. Even if I'm playing something that has already been played, I like to have my own stamp on it. It's fulfilling for me ... I think it depends on the piece; it depends also on how the piece "speaks to me" personally. I think the pieces that I've played where the composer is alive allowed me to have a better understanding of what the intentions were.'

Another feature of the ensembles that Whittington plays with is a leaning towards crossing over genres, so I asked her for her thoughts on this.

'For us to grow as musicians, I think it's necessary to cross genres. Unfortunately for me it only happened after I was out of school; I think it needs to happen while you're in school and in that environment, but I'm glad to have had the experiences and the opportunities I've had. One great opportunity was to play in a reggae orchestra with Beres Hammond, who's a very big Jamaican reggae artist — like the Jamaican Marvin Gaye. He's amazing and it was great playing with him as a part of his orchestra. He wanted a string orchestra for a couple of engagements.

'I don't think of myself as a jazz musician because I don't improvise, but I do get an opportunity to play in the jazz style and play jazz genre music in my group the Core Ensemble — we have chamber music theatre pieces that delve into the African American experience. We have one show based on male figures of the Harlem renaissance, and in that show we're playing music by Duke Ellington, Thelonius Monk and Charles Mingus and also early jazz performers like Jell Roll Morton.'

Core Ensemble has a show that celebrates four African American women called Ain't I a Woman. The lives of abolitionist Sojourner Truth, novelist Zora Neale Hurston, folk artist Clementine Hunter and civil rights activist Fanny Lou Hamer are featured.

'To accompany these women, we have pieces that are more like the BBop era as far as jazz is concerned, and so I get to perform those people's arrangement of the pieces.'

So with all of this contemporary music and development in her life, I asked how she thought Shostakovich's music measured up.

'He's very distinctive in his voice. You know it's Shostakovich when you hear the music. His voice is so spectacular in all of his music that I don't tend to compare it to other music. His music is class.'

I asked Whittington if she had plans for a recording of the second concerto.

'Oh I would love to. If I had plans to do any concerto it would be that one.'

ClevelandClassical.com | Review
Cellist Tahirah Whittington at Lorain County Community College (December 11)

By MIKE TELIN - Original Review
December 14, 2010

In a recent interview with this publication, cellist Tahirah Whittington told us: "When someone comes to one of my concerts, I want them to know that I have a sincere passion for the music that I play." On Saturday, December 11th as part of Lorain County Community College's Studio Theatre Signature Series, Whittington made good on that statement, and delivered passionate performances of six works for solo cello that encompassed a variety of musical styles.

The performance was designated the "Sphinx Laureate Concert". Founded in 1996 by Aaron Dworkin, the Sphinx Organization works to promote diversity in classical music, and holds an annual competition for African-American and Latino musicians of which Whittington was the 1999 first prize winner. Prior to the performance, Signature Series host Jeffrey Mumford welcomed Mr. Dworkin and Afa Sadykhly, the Sphinx Organization's artistic director, who gave a short presentation about their mission and programs.

Whittington, an astute programmer as well as a great musical communicator, began with Carlo Alfredo Piatti's Caprice, Op. 25 No. 2; Andante religioso. Playing with a full, rich tone and spot-on intonation, she addressed the piece's technical challenges with ease, and shaped the phrases in a manner that allowed its hymn-like quality to prevail.

The remainder of the first half of the program was dedicated to Britten's Suite No. 1, Op. 72. Written for Mstislav Rostropovich, this work requires the performer to tackle a variety of musical moods, ranging from very dark to light hearted. While lesser performers might have been prone to a loss of concentration, Whittington stayed focused from beginning to end, bringing a bouquet of tonal colors to the piece's nine movements. The intimacy of the Studio Theatre made it fun to watch her negotiate the work's technically quirky moments, especially the left-handed pizzicatos.

Three short pieces began the second half. Jeffrey Mumford's revisiting variazioni elegiaci...once more was full of emotional changes. Beginning with a bang and immediately followed by long sustained notes, the piece gradually moves into the lyrical.

Crémant (sparkling wine) by Dolores White is described by the composer as a "character piece". It draws on the musical flavors of Latino and Eastern cultures, and like a fine wine, these flavors blended beautifully.

Originally written for violin, Diane Monore's Heartbeat Blues is full of syncopation that represents an irregular heartbeat. In spite of the imagery, the piece is truly delightful. Whittington's decision to program the three works as a set allowed the individuality of each composer to come through, while the combination made for a delightful musical meal.

The final work of the evening, Osvaldo Golijov's Omaramor, requires the player to tune the lowest string on the cello down a half step, causing Whittington to momentarily leave the stage. She took advantage of the break by playing a recording of Carlos Gardel's hit "My Beloved Buenos Aires", which is referenced in the Golijov. Whittington gave a superb performance of this sometimes sad, sometimes wild piece. A wonderful conclusion to a splendid evening.

Cleveland.com | Music & Dance | Art
Cellist Tahirah Whittington journeys boldly in solo recital

By DAVID ROSENBERG - Original Review
December 12, 2010

Photo Credit: Donn Thompson

Cellist Tahirah Whittington gave a solo recital
Saturday in the Signature Series
at Lorain County Community College.

The Sphinx Organization has been promoting diversity in classical music since Aaron Dworkin founded it in Detroit in 1996. Annual competitions for African-American and Latino musicians have led to careers as soloists, teachers and ensemble players.

The first-place winner of the 1999 competition was cellist Tahirah Whittington, who's since been busy on many continents in a variety of musical endeavors. She made a stop Saturday at Lorain County Community College's Stocker Center Studio Theatre to give a solo recital on the Signature Series, hosted by composer Jeffrey Mumford.

Whittington is a smart programmer and poised, eloquent artist. The works she played Saturday tested her command of the cello even as they ventured far and wide in expressive contour.

Several aspects of Whittington's playing are immediately striking. Her sound is focused and warm, and she hones in on the center of pitches in every register.

But beyond these attributes, Whittington knows how to project the essence of the music with direct and sensitive assurance. Although an entire evening of solo pieces might seem limited in color and style, Whittington chose such disparate music that each score came across with a distinctive profile.

She opened with a piece by cellist-composer Carlo Alfredo Piatti, who wrote a set of caprices that explore the instrument's possibilities. Whittington made a trenchant thing of the Caprice, Op. 25, No. 2 (Andante religioso), shaping the ardent phrases and technical challenges in boldly delineated lines.

The program's most expansive score, Britten's Suite No. 1, Op. 72, comprises nine movements written for the composer's favorite cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich. The music ranges from brooding oration to dance-like gestures (left-hand pizzicatos, like a guitar) and filigreed material above drones.

Whittington maintained intensity throughout the collection, lightening or darkening her sound and making discreet use of vibrato to highlight nuances. It's an absorbing work that the cellist gave noble treatment.

The shorter pieces on the second half took Whittington to all sorts of musical destinations. In his "revisiting variazioni elegiaci…once more," Mumford sets the cello on a mercurial journey full of furious and ethereal inventiveness.

Dolores White's "Cremant (Sparkling Wine)," part of a three-movement suite, leans more toward the temperamental than the effervescent, its passionate phrases hinting of Latino sources. Syncopated figures are the motivating factor in Diane Monroe's arresting "Heartbeat Blues," originally for violin.

Whittington took a break while the audience listened to a recording of tango singer Carlos Gardel performing his greatest hit, "My Beloved Buenos Aires." After tuning her lowest string down a half-step, the cellist followed with a charismatic account of Osvaldo Golijov's "Omaramor," which makes subtle references to the song in gestures at once mournful and wild.

The New York Times | Dance Review | Dankmeyer Dance Company
In a Graham Mode, to Spiky Modern Music

By ROSLYN SULCAS - Original Review
October 2, 2007

At the end of the Dankmeyer Dance Company's "Sidelong," at the Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church on Friday night, an audience member turned to her neighbor. "I always feel like I don't understand enough about dance when I watch it," she said.

Not understanding anything about painting techniques or music theory rarely stops people from appreciating Van Gogh or Bach, or even Takashi Murakami or Luciano Berio. But when an art form seems to contain an insiders-only meaning, it can feel inscrutable. And in the case of a program like "Sidelong," it's easy to see how audiences could feel inadequate - or, perhaps more truthfully, bored.

The program was full of virtues. All three works were performed to live music, two to ambitious contemporary scores: Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson's "Lamentations" for solo cello, beautifully played by Tahirah Whittington, and a selection of Gyorgi Ligeti's études for piano, performed with great panache by Melody Fader.

This alone is a rare pleasure, and one to prize particularly at a modest downtown concert. And the seven dancers, including Erica Dankmeyer, who heads the company, are mostly alumni of the Martha Graham Dance Company. All are wonderful performers with distinct, mature presences.

But Ms. Dankmeyer's choreography - a serviceable blend of ballet-influenced modern dance - offered a fussy complexity that projected an atmosphere of deep meaning but ultimately felt amorphous. Ms. Dankmeyer's 10 years with the Graham troupe were particularly evident in the partnering she devised, with much female coiling around hunky male torsos.

For the rest, in both "Four-Ground," to the Perkinson score, and "The Thought Behind/Still the Line," to Ligeti, there was an endless flow of steps, without the distinctive movement ideas that might arrest the eye and offer a sense of structure.

As for the perplexing solo "Keep Off the Grass: Sigmund Freud meets action movie," choreographed by Andrea Haenggi for Ms. Dankmeyer and set to strident guitar music composed and performed by Chris Woltmann, let's just say that the ghastly costume was not the worst thing about it.

Small enterprises like Dankmeyer Dance Company are to be applauded for bringing ambitious ideas to fruition on very little money and through the dedication of all concerned. There is enough craft here to offer the lure of art. But when work is not compelling enough to draw us in, it can simply push us away.

The New York Times | Music Review | Sphinx Organization
Young, Black and Latino in a Concert for Diversity

By VIVIEN SCHWEITZER - Original Review
September 27, 2007

Photo Credit: NAN MELVILLE/The New York Times

Orchestras, which are often criticized for not offering more diverse programming, are less frequently called on to account for the lack of diversity within their ranks. But blacks and Latinos combined make up only about 4 percent of the musicians in American professional orchestras, according to the Sphinx Organization, a national nonprofit that works to increase minority participation in classical music.

Judging by the excellent performances of the young black and Latino musicians in the Sphinx Laureates concert on Tuesday at Carnegie Hall, presented by the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, the organization has every prospect of achieving its goal.

The audience showed its appreciation with thunderous applause before, after and sometimes during each work. The program began with a lively, polished presentation of the opening allegro from Bach's Concerto for Three Violins in D (BWV 1064), with fine performances by a trio of teenagers: Clayton Penrose-Whitmore, Maia Cabeza and Robert Switala. Chelsea Tipton II led the Sphinx Chamber Orchestra, comprising alumni of the Sphinx Competition for young black and Latino string players, in a performance notable for its lilting pulse and dynamic contrast.

"I didn't know a cello could do that," exclaimed a woman in the audience after Tahirah Whittington's virtuosic, soulful rendition of "Perpetual Motion" from Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson's "Lamentations," a suite for solo cello. Elena Urioste gave a richly toned, passionate account of the solo violin part in Leonid Desyatnikov's orchestral arrangement of the sultry "Invierno Porteño" from Piazzolla's "Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas."

The Harlem Quartet, all first-place laureates of the Sphinx Competition, gave a spirited rendition of a Paul Chihara arrangement called "Ellington Fantasy: Take the A Train." The work, based on the music by Billy Strayhorn, had fine contributions from Ilmar Gavilan, the first violinist.

Following remarks by Aaron P. Dworkin, Sphinx's founder and president, and an introductory video, the program concluded with Michael Abels's energetic arrangement for string quartet and string orchestra of his "Delights and Dances," which incorporates jazz, blues, bluegrass and Latin dance elements. The Harlem Quartet played with panache.

Based on the rapt attention and enthusiastic response of many of the children in Tuesday's audience, the Sphinx Organization may achieve another of its goals: increasing the number of blacks and Latinos in classical music audiences.

The Florida Times-Union | Special to the Times-Union
She's a Classic

By LILLA ROSS - Original Article
February 28, 2007

Photo Credit: EMILY BARNES/The Times-Union

The spine is straight, the feet are splayed, a cello is clutched between the knees. The bow is drawn across the strings with a skill developed over a quarter of a century.

At 30, Tahirah Whittington of Jacksonville is reaping the fruits of hours of practice and years of study at some of the nation's most prestigious music academies.

Her cello has taken her to Chile, France, Italy, Spain, Canada, Bermuda and Japan, as well as at the famed Carnegie Hall. She's part of four ensembles - two in Florida, one in New York and one in Seattle - that spread classical music and mix it with other art forms.

Not bad for a girl who was raised by saxophonists. Her mother taught at the School of the Arts in Houston and her father played with Duke Ellington. An older brother studied the cello, and Whittington fulfilled her role as mischievous little sister by plucking the strings, tracing the curves of the shiny wood and sticking inquisitive fingers into the sound holes.

She began studying cello at age 5.

"I don't remember choosing it. It was always there," she said. "I can't remember a time when I wasn't playing a cello."

As a high school freshman she caught the attention of Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, who encouraged her family to send her to the Walnut Hill School, a prestigious school of the arts near Boston.

One opportunity Whittington said she has never forgotten was a weeklong chamber music workshop with the late violinist Isaac Stern. It culminated with a performance by her quartet on the main stage at Carnegie Hall. Even though it was an afternoon concert, the hall was filled.

"Mr. Stern took a moment with me backstage, giving me last-minute tips about the opening of the Beethoven quartet we were playing," she said.

These days, she splits time between tours with two ensembles, the Young Eight and Core Ensemble, and performing with the Chamber Music Society of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Jacksonville.

Whittington said she especially enjoys playing in ensembles, because of the synergy in every performance.

"People always comment on the energy and vibrancy of the Young Eight," she said. "We're very serious, but we have fun. We teach each other. We're more familial. We're all about the same age. We're very open with each other, even blunt. You've got seven people listening to you. If it doesn't work, we change it."

Quinton Morris, a violinist who performs with Whittington in the Young Eight, calls her one of the best cellists in the country. "We're talking about someone whose name was on the preliminary ballot for the Grammy Awards, someone who's played Carnegie Hall and tours around the world. She brings her professional expertise and her valuable artistic style to the Young Eight.

"When I think of Tahirah, I think of peace and serenity. She's a rock. She keeps everyone together," Morris said. "She eats and breathes the music. As a violinist, that is someone I want to play with."

During her down time, Whittington rarely listens to classical music, preferring R&B, world music and jazz. She loves to read and wants to learn Japanese.

She also is a raw foodist, which means she eats only raw fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. On the road, Whittington indulges in visits to raw restaurants where chefs whip up all kinds of temptations such as pizza and desserts made entirely of raw ingredients.

The discipline of her diet shows in her lithe figure and the energy required to travel nonstop. She says her vision has improved so that she no longer wears glasses.

"When I first started eating raw, I felt the change on stage immediately," she said. "I was more grounded while on stage. I felt more focused, and I felt my nerves wouldn't get the best of me. Clearing my palate and my body of certain things helps me channel the music a lot better."

Whittington plays in four ensembles: Core Ensemble, a chamber music theater group based in Lake Worth features Whittington on cello, Hugh Hinton on piano, Michael Parola on percussion and an actor. The original performances dramatize historic characters. Ain't I a Woman, for instance, features monologues by four African-American women: abolitionist Sojourner Truth, novelist Zora Neale Hurston, folk artist Clementine Hunter and civil rights activist Fanny Lou Hamer. "Our shows get emotional. That's calculated. It's what differentiates us from what else is out there," she said. "People want to talk to Zora." To learn more about Core Ensemble, go to www.coreensemble.com.

The Young Eight, an ensemble of eight African-American string musicians, aims to expose young people to classical music, so its main concert venues are at schools and colleges. Whittington is a founder and artistic director of the Seattle-based group. To hear the Young Eight, go to www.theyoungeight.com/hear.php.

Ritz Chamber Players, based in Jacksonville, is an African-American chamber group that focuses on music by African-American composers. It performs a subscription series at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts. To learn more about the Ritz Chamber Players, go to www.ritzchamberplayers.org.

The Pastiche 5, a newly organized New York-based quintet of female musicians who mix other genres with classical music. "Tchaikovsky's Arabian Dance becomes something else with African drums," she said.

The New York Times | Dance Review
Who Needs Training? Nondancers Make a Case

By JENNIFER DUNNING - Original Review
May 15, 2001

The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company has not formally performed in New York City since 1996. But Mr. Jones and his company have been working here for the past four years in a residency at Davis Hall that drew in Harlem residents for a variety of dance programs. Out of that came Mr. Jones's new piece, "The Table Project," which was performed on Saturday night at Davis. It is a winner.

Mr. Jones has often worked with nondancers, sometimes on monumental projects like his full-evening "Still Here" that built on situations facing those recruited performers. "The Table Project" is compellingly simple. A blocky orange-painted sculpture by Bjorn Amelan stretches across the stage, serving as a table and a series of pedestals to be climbed over and performed on, like Moses' mountain. Behind it, a three-person musical ensemble (Daniel Roumain, Tahirah Whittington and Ho-Jeong Jeong) performs a Schubert trio in a discreet corner.

"The Table Project" will doubtless travel a great deal, since any group of nondancers can be formed anywhere to perform it and in the process learn about how theater is made. The performers on Saturday night were a group of middle-aged and elderly men followed by a group of little girls, all from the neighborhood. The choreography is basically the same for both groups, and the differences in the performing are fascinating.

The children (Sonja Chung, Shedia Christopher, Camille Diaz, Meleeka Harris, Quiana Haynes and Kristina Sanchez) take great care to do everything right but are at the same time charmingly "on." Several emerge and fade as leaders, in one case with the hilarious undertones of a bossy scold.

The men (Eric Anderson, Max Bertrand, Howard Dodson, Mr. Jones, Terry Lane and Jack Taylor) approached the choreography as everyday movement. The result was a strangely poignant dance, with one man taking charge in a very Moses-like way. Suddenly the piece became an allegory that suggested the travails of daily life and the healing potency of visions. It called to mind black American folk art of the mid-20th century, most of all Sister Gertrude Morgan's plain exaltations of everyday life in inscribed watercolor and pen drawings.

Mr. Jones has a gift for creating dance that resonates with unsentimental male bonding. The easy physical attachment and inventive partnering of several male duets were a highlight of his "Some Songs," a 1997 New York premiere set to the songs of Jacques Brel. Mr. Jones also captured the mood of each song without referring overtly to the lyrics.

The suite of dances could have used some editing. But the great pleasure of the choreographer's quiet and humane theatricality, his intriguing use of bodies as icons in motion and his imaginative appropriation of the full stage space were all to be found in "Some Songs."

The charismatic dancers were Germaul Yusef Barnes, Stefanie Blatten Bland, Eric Bradley, Ayo Janeen Jackson, Daniel Russell Kubert, Malcolm Low and Toshiko Oiwa.
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