WBEZ | Harris Theatre http://www.wbez.org/tags/harris-theatre Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Queering Poe: Chicago Opera Theatre goes full-on gay in 'Usher' http://www.wbez.org/blogs/nico-lang/2013-02/queering-poe-chicago-opera-theatre-goes-full-gay-usher-105770 <p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/USHER.jpg" title="(Chicago Opera Theatre)" /></div><p>Same-sex makeout sessions. Punks with mohawks. Guitars. Nazi references. These are not phrases one generally associates with a night at the opera, but the Chicago Opera Theatre all but flew over the cuckoo&rsquo;s nest with their staging of Philip Glass&rsquo; <em>The Fall of the House of Usher</em>. With Edgar Allan Poe and Glass, one expects a prerequisite amount of strangeness, as Glass&rsquo; minimalist loopiness and Poe&rsquo;s wall-to-wall macabre stylings are brands in themselves. However, director Ken Cazan&#39;s production is effusively bonkers in the best possible way. General director Andreas Mitisek kicked off the evening with a fictitious letter directed from the deceased Poe to the audience. Sounding a bit like Christoph Waltz, the Austrian-born Mitisek told us of Poe&rsquo;s journeys in Hell, while also reminding the audience to donate. We were clearly in for a weird night.</p><p>As Chicago Opera Theatre&rsquo;s newest director, Mitisek has promised that, under his tenure, the company&rsquo;s vision will be bold and boundary-pushing. Although it&rsquo;s far from Glass&rsquo; finest work, <em>The Fall of the House of Usher</em> is a perfect thesis statement for Mitisek: a production that unleashes all the ghosts and the insinuations buried within Poe&rsquo;s texts and brings them to light. Like a heart beating in the floor boards, Poe deals with our hidden ghosts, the terrors we think we can keep to ourselves. And Alan Muraoaka&rsquo;s sets give them nowhere to hide. The sparse set design and ghoulish lighting accentuate the actors&rsquo; shadows, ones that consume the backdrop. Although Poe&rsquo;s story refuses Roderick or William&rsquo;s motivations clear, Cazan and Mitisek give their demons life.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/HarrisTheatre.jpg" style="float: right;" title="(HarrisTheatreChicago.org)" />A major hook of the production was the Chicago Opera Theatre&rsquo;s queering of Poe, as their interpretation literalizes the psychosexual subtext in the Usher melodramas. Whereas Poe hinted at themes of doomed, unspeakable love, the COT goes full-on gay&mdash;with the aforementioned soft-core scene, multiple massage interludes and an extended three-way incest fantasy straight out of David Lynch. If Mitisek wants to prove he&rsquo;s unafraid to take chances, this is the way to do it, as the predominantly heterosexual audience was squirmy throughout. I noticed a lot of coughing, throat clearing and butt shifting in the seats around me. Clearly they didn&rsquo;t get the memo. They came for <em>Einstein on the Beach </em>and Cazan gave them <em>Poeback Mountain</em>. The whole thing is impressively ballsy.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">As Poe&rsquo;s story ends in (19th century spoiler alert!) Roderick&rsquo;s eventual death, the gaying of the joint could have felt like a cheap way to capitalize themes of LGBT suicide. However, adding social relevance to the play brings an unexpected emotional center to Poe. We share William&rsquo;s sense of doom not just about the Usher house&rsquo;s legacy but the loss of his beloved, who descends into an increasingly over-the-top madness. Ryan MacPherson does an outstanding job of highlighting Roderick&rsquo;s gothic eccentricity without descending into too far into camp, and MacPherson makes for a fitting juxtaposition to Lee Gregory&rsquo;s baritone innocence. They transform Roderick and William into natural stage partners and make their tragedy touchingly human.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">However, the opera&rsquo;s camp element is left to Suzan Hanson as Madeleine, and Hanson nails it. Instead of a corpse hidden away, Glass and Cazan imagine Roderick&rsquo;s sister as an omnipresent apparition provoking the characters&rsquo; split psyches. Hanson&rsquo;s Madeleine is present for what <em>feels</em> like every second of the play, wailing the libretto and stealing the scene without disrupting it. In a memorable sequence, she crawls between Roderick and William as they attempt to eat dinner, writhing on the glass table and doing her best Helena Bonham Carter impression. After her death is revealed, they will then dine on her remains&mdash;in a sly nod to Alfred Hitchcock&rsquo;s <em>Rope</em>. For those who dismiss the opera as boring, <em>The Fall of the House of Usher </em>proves to be anything but. In its 80 minutes of unbroken descent into Hell, it&rsquo;s tense, gripping and more fun than a tragedy has any right to be.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/ChicagoOperaTheatre.jpg" style="width: 320px; height: 220px;" title="(ChicagoOperaTheatre.org) Harris, left, Macpherson, right" /></div><p>If the queer interpretation goes over like gangbusters, I was less a fan of the show&#39;s punk aesthetic, which felt too on the nose. Rather than reifying Poe&rsquo;s dragons, costume designer Jacqueline Saint Anne transforms the house&rsquo;s spirits into eight mohawked rebels, who are charged with moving around set pieces. Although making the spirits into physical bodies is a creative way of bringing the house to life, the goth costuming is irritatingly obvious. I don&rsquo;t want to have what Andrew Lloyd Webber is having. If Cazan wants to instill a sense of dread in his rock opera, the Riefenstahl-esque columns of the House of Usher achieve what his goths cannot. They draw us into the House, as its walls slowly imprison Roderick within it. With Glass&rsquo; chilling score behind it, we can&rsquo;t help but get pulled in with him.</p><p>Glass&rsquo; chamber opera will be playing through March 1 at the Harris Theatre on 205 E. Randolph Drive, and tickets range from $35 to $120. You can purchase tickets at chicagooperatheatre.org or by phone at 312-704-8414. Don&rsquo;t miss your chance to see Poe as you&rsquo;ve never seen him before&mdash;or are likely to ever again. If he is in Hell right now, he&rsquo;s likely burning with a smile.</p><p><em>Nico Lang writes about LGBTQ life in Chicago. Follow Nico on Twitter @<a href="http://www.twitter.com/nico_lang">Nico_Lang</a> or on <a href="http://www.facebook.com/nicorlang">Facebook</a></em></p></p> Wed, 27 Feb 2013 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/nico-lang/2013-02/queering-poe-chicago-opera-theatre-goes-full-gay-usher-105770 Love is in the air and so is dance http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-02-11/love-air-and-so-dance-82162 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/ballet dancer.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Valentine&rsquo;s Day is just around the corner.&nbsp;So is spring.&nbsp;That means LOVE is in the air! That&rsquo;s especially true for two local dance companies.<a target="_blank" href="http://www.rivernorthchicago.com/"> River North Dance Chicago</a> and <a target="_blank" href="http://www.joffrey.com/">The Joffrey Ballet</a> are celebrating the loving season with romantic moves &ndash; from the tango to the waltz. River North Dance Chicago performs &ldquo;Al Sur Del Sur&rdquo; today through Sunday at the <a target="_blank" href="http://www.harristheaterchicago.org/">Harris Theater in Chicago</a>.<br /><br />The Joffrey Ballet kicks off its week and a half run of &ldquo;The Merry Widow&rdquo; Wednesday at the <a target="_blank" href="http://auditoriumtheatre.org/wb/">Auditorium Theatre</a>. WBEZ dance critic Lucia Mauro got caught up in the sensual swirl:<br /><br /> It just doesn&rsquo;t get more seductive than the tango. This intricate partnering dance that originated in the barrios of Buenos Aires truly embodies a vertical expression of a horizontal desire. Yet various tango spectacles that breeze through town tend to favor flashy moves, macho posturing and a chronological timeline of the dance&rsquo;s history. Not so for River North Dance Chicago, a local troupe that masterfully combines ballet, jazz, contemporary and social dace.<br /><br /><span>For the company&rsquo;s annual Valentine&rsquo;s engagement at the Harris Theater, artistic director Frank Chaves commissioned a suite of tangos by Argentinean tango superstars Sabrina and Ruben Veliz. The six-part dance, titled Al Sur Del Sur, tells the story of five couples and their tender and tumultuous relationships. The choreographers use movement as a vehicle to express these conflicting emotions. So the piece, as a whole, has a more believable and authentic feel than mere displays of showy kicks and spins.<br /><br /></span><span>At its core, the tango is shaped like a spiral that requires partners to navigate the push and pull of attraction. In one part of Al Sur Del Sur, an unbridled romantic duet blends the dance&rsquo;s characteristic slicing and dicing of the legs with more open lifts. This section segues into a tempestuous quartet. It brilliantly reveals sexual tension, jealousy and flirtatiousness through a sharp turn of the head, eyes locking in a freeze-frame flash of lust, aggressive dips, and a firm grabbing of a stiletto heel. There&rsquo;s even a loving duet for two women, who dance barefoot, and seem to be consoling each other. The piece culminates in a seemingly improvised milonga, or tango club setting, where all these characters come to escape from their daily problems.</span><br /><br /><span>The Joffrey Ballet&rsquo;s staging of The Merry Widow takes the waltz as its movement motif. But it&rsquo;s no less steamy. This Chicago premiere is a full-length staging by British choreographer Ronald Hynd of the ballet version of Franz Lehar&rsquo;s classic operetta. Originally created in 1975 for the Australian Ballet, The Merry Widow uses a lush and uncluttered musical adaptation of the Lehar score by John Lanchbery and Alan Abbott. The music&rsquo;s melodic expressiveness and the dance&rsquo;s conversational elegance clearly tell this beloved story set in a fictitious French principality at the turn of the century. There&rsquo;s also a famous can-can dance sequence and lots of fancy hats, epaulets and tight waistcoats.</span> Hanna, a poor-girl-turned-wealthy-heiress is unexpectedly reunited with the man who once rejected her: Count Danilo, now trying to save his country from bankruptcy. <br /><br />Complications naturally ensue. In addition, a scandalous subplot involves a clerk named Camille who is having an affair with a feisty young woman, Valencienne, who is married to an old baron. In one of the ballet&rsquo;s lustier scenes, Valencienne enters the busy Camille&rsquo;s office and teases him by snatching away the various pieces of paper he&rsquo;s reading. Unable to concentrate, Camille sweeps up his lover and drags her across his desk. The duet that follows vacillates between the coy and the uncontained as the woman trots like a horse while Camille kisses her hand, or resists his advances. In the end, the pair falls into each other&rsquo;s arms with abandon&hellip;only to be observed by a hidden spy.<br /><br />Both River North Dance Chicago and the Joffrey Ballet stoke the flames of passion through timeless stories and provocative movement. A perfect way to celebrate Valentine&rsquo;s Day.</p><p><em>DJ M. Sylvia Music Button: Jesse Rose, &quot;You Know It&quot;, Welcome to the Future 2010 (ID&amp;T)</em></p></p> Fri, 11 Feb 2011 15:08:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-02-11/love-air-and-so-dance-82162