News and Features

Wednesday Morning Roundup

WAILING AT WATERTOWER: When the title of the show is Black Pearl Sings!, and Liz Mikel is playing Pearl, you know at least part of the show will be very right, right? WaterTower Theatre’s show casts Mikel as a Depression-era Texas prisoner who comes in contact with a musicologist (Diana Sheehan) wanting to record her songs. “Mikel exudes tragic grandeur,” Lawson Taitte writes in his review. “Her voice, which can soar or rasp or dive deep and dirty, is finally what Black Pearl Sings! is all about.” But this is a two-woman show, and David Novinski says Sheehan holds up her end of the bargain. “She adds color and feeling to her rendition of an Irish lament and suddenly an audience who may have come for Black Pearl are enjoying an unexpected bonus,” he writes in his Front Row review. Meanwhile, Alexandra Bonifield calls the Frank Higgins’ play, “an illuminating tapestry of song, sorrow and strife.”

MUSIC BITS: If LeBron James is deciding on where to play next year based on who woos him with the best song, Dallas has got to be in way better shape than Cleveland. … KXT 91.7 has posted new in-studio videos of Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King and Mason Jennings.

BOOK BITS: Larry McMurtry has jumped on the E-book bandwagon, making the improbable jump from typewriter straight to Kindle. ( … North Texas author Danny Tobey puts his Ivy League experience to good use in his debut novel, The Faculty Club. (

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Frisco Takes No Action on Arts Center Bonds Petition

The Frisco City Council on Tuesday night decided to take no action concerning a petition signed by more than 1,300 residents. The petition requested that residents be allowed to vote again on a $16.4 million bond package approved in 2002 that would fund the city’s commitment to the Arts of Collin County arts center.

Frisco city attorney Richard Abernathy told the council that the petition did not meet the requirements of the city charter, the city’s communications director, Dana Baird, said in a telephone message Tuesday night. As we reported earlier Tuesday, the petition was organized by the Frisco Tea Party, who had concerns over the city’s responsibility for the ongoing operating costs of the facility. According to, Abernathy said that for the petition to have met the city charter’s requirements, it would have had to refer to a resolution passed within the past 30 days. The council has not addressed this issue in that time frame.

There is, however, still a chance that voters could see the bond package back on the ballot in November. But the city council is not allowed to consider such a measure until a vote is 90 days away, which won’t be until early August.

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Frisco City Council to Review Arts of Collin County Bonds

The Frisco City Council will consider tonight whether to send a $16.4 million bond package back to voters. The bonds, which were approved in 2002, would help pay for the city’s portion of a performing arts center in Collin County. KERA’s Stephen Becker reports on why the package is being reconsidered:

The Arts of Collin County was originally going to be paid for by private donations and contributions from the cities of Frisco, Plano, Allen and McKinney.  Frisco voters agreed to their bond issue in 2002.  In 2003, the Frisco City Council voted to continue the city’s commitment, even though McKinney residents voted not to participate.

But now, more than 1300 Frisco residents have signed a petition asking the Frisco City Council to send the matter back to voters again.

The petitioners are concerned about ongoing operating costs of the project, if it’s built.  Without McKinney involved, each of the remaining three cities will have to pay more to run the facility.

Lorie Medina is a co-leader of the Frisco Tea Party, which spearheaded the petition.

MEDINA: “The issue is the project has changed. And so we feel like the voters, the citizens, they should have the right to make a decision on whether or not this is a package or program that we want to continue. I think we’re just concerned about the economic future of our city and we don’t want to be caught in a bad spot.”

Mike Simpson is the Executive Director of Arts of Collin County. He also used to be the mayor of Frisco. He says that Frisco’s portion of the operating cost of the facility is projected to be about $370,000 if the center opens as planned in 2013. He says that’s about $80,000 more than if McKinney were also contributing.

SIMPSON: “It’s not a large amount of money when you’re looking at the cost of operation on other services that the city provides and other venues that the city has. I believe that they are making a large amount of noise over a relatively small amount of dollars.”

Citizen input at tonight’s council meeting begins at 7:30.

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BLANK at Dallas Hub Theater

Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is a dance lecturer at the University of Texas Arlington. She also serves as assistant director of  UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble.

“Who the hell is Blank?”

That is the question that playwright and actor Brian Stanton attempts to answer in BLANK. This one-man show at Dallas Hub Theater  grants a voyeuristic view into Stanton’s mission to discover his true identity.

BlankFrom a young age, Stanton always knew that he was adopted, but never felt out of place until his adoptive mother showed him his birth certificate, complete with his birth mother’s name and a blank space where his name should be. Troubled by this fact, he is thrown into an identity crisis as he tries to reconcile his past with his present and future.

Although material of this sort can border on the melodramatic and become “bland and boring,” as the playwright initially states, BLANK is nothing of the sort. It is a passionate portrayal of one man’s quest to redefine himself. Is he “part victim” or “part monster?” Or is he the boy-next-door whose dashing good looks will get him far in life? The rhetorical quality of the dialogue pulls the audience into Stanton’s existentialist journey and leave them wondering is he Oedipus or Buddha?

Playing more than 10 different characters and asking questions only to get more questions, Stanton learns that as the facts of his birth are revealed, the less he knows about himself. But with the help of Oedipus Rex, a pushy theatre teacher, and his own soothsayer, Stanton realizes that the answers to his identity are only a doorbell away.

Among the many characters that he immaculately portrays, Father Stark, a priest at school who unknowingly sets Stanton on a religious and spiritual journey, Big Grandma, whose one line, “remember your soul,” neatly sums up the moral of the play, and the other “Brian,” Stanton’s consciousness that manifest into the Buddha version of himself, standout.

BLANK is well performed, well written, and neatly structured. He seamlessly transitions between characters, time, and location with the help of simple lighting choices, musical and dance interludes, and recording voice-overs.  Stanton’s clever use of language and nod to classical Greek and Eastern theater was unexpected and refreshing. He has a firm grasp on writing comedy and knows how to appropriately use it to make us laugh and cry. He welcomes us on his emotional rollercoaster and we are more than happy to ride it with him till the end.

BLANK returns June 25 and June 26 to the Dallas Hub Theater. Tickets range from $15.00 to $25.00.

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Denton choreographer José Zamora at the National College Dance Festival

dancer Kasi Kirkpatrick

dancer Kasi Kirkpatrick

If the college dance world was as mainstream as the college basketball world, we would all be going through March Madness again as the best dance works from across the country are being performed this weekend at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. This year 29 selections from 10 regional competitions were chosen for the national showcase and excitement on the opening night of the festival was high. Since the audience was made up exclusively of college dancers, faculty members, or dance professionals, the crowd was loud and supportive, collectively giving a sudden intake of breath and cheering for their favorites. College dancers dressed to impress each other and instead of resting after performing, those on stage would slip into the audience as soon as they were done in order to check out the other schools’ offerings.

Texas was well represented at the festival this year, with Texas Woman’s University, Texas Christian University, and Sam Houston State University all advancing to the national level. A good part of the fun is seeing the staggering amount of variety presented. Institutions ranging from tiny to huge, well-known to more obscure, and with varying degrees of emphasis on dance are all eligible and compete on the same playing field. Likewise, and even more interesting as an audience member, is that guest artists, faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduate students all have entries in the competition and the adjudicators are supposedly unaware of the status of the choreographer of any given work.

The result is a glorious grab-bag. I was only able to attend the opening night of the festival, (TWU performed Thursday night and TCU on Friday) but the first night featured everything from two undergraduates from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor performing an unusual composition of their own creation discussing a self-hating duck, among other lines of inquiry, and a stunner from LINES/Dominican University done by a faculty member and set on students who looked as if they had been dancing as pros for years, as you would expect from a conservatory attached to a world-class professional company.

dancer and choreographer José Zamora

dancer and choreographer José Zamora

José Zamora, a freshly-minted MFA graduate from TWU, was chosen to close the opening night with his work Curios y Serpentinas. The dance featured several hallmarks of Zamora’s style: brightly colored costumes with wild accessories, whistles and calls from the cast in both English and Spanish, and highly energetic movement, weaving in elements of drill teams, hip hop, modern dance, and jazz. The 14 dancers involved, including Zamora, delivered a committed performance, with their energy so high you could almost see tiny sparks coming off of them, with their faces in heavy clown make-up and hair teased out big and bright. The performers squared off in a dance-off between two teams, each one upping the attitude and bringing it. The atmosphere felt like a contemporary dance rodeo, the air filled with the norteño electronica music of the Nortec Collective.

Zamora has been developing his choreography by creating a world called Cholorock and Curios y Serpentinas stood alone in this context but is part of the larger work of Cholorock. To see more of Cholorock, check out this segment:
Cholorock on YouTube

Guest blogger Ellen Chenoweth is an arts writer and administrator based in Washington, DC. She maintains a blog at Widening the I and received her M.A. in Dance from Texas Woman’s University in 2009.

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Sculptor Louise Bourgeois, 98, Dies — Jeremy Strick Talks to NPR

Louise Bourgeois, one of the great 20th century sculptors, was known for her works’ sexuality, aggression, sense of confinement and grotesque imagery. But the diminutive, French-born American wasn’t really widely known until a 1982 retrospective. Jeremy Strick, director of the Nasher Sculpture Center, spoke to NPR’s Neda Ulaby. He called her an artist’s artist — well-respected but obscure.

After that retrospective, Strick says, it was “recognized that here was this absolutely major artist whose work had anticipated many of the movements that had followed her.”

Louise Bourgeois, Cell (You Better Grow Up), 1993, part of the Cindy and Howard Rachofsky Collection, donated to the Dallas Museum of Art

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Tuesday Morning Roundup

FOR THE LOVE OF THE LIBRARY: It’s that time of year again – budget cutting time for the City of Dallas. Assuming that the city does not raise property taxes – which many council members and Mayor Tom Leppert say they do not want to do – cuts to city programs are likely. Among the proposals is a shortening the number of hours that the Central Library is open from 44 to 24. Hours at neighborhood libraries would also be slashed. And that has some Dallas residents hot under the collar.

THEATER BITS: Irving’s Broken Gears Project Theatre succeeds in inviting outsiders to join its casts. ( … Zayd Dohrn talks about his play Long Way Go Down, which headlines Kitchen Dog Theater’s New Works Festival. ( … Speaking of Kitchen Dog, the theater has announced its 2010-11 season. Harold Pinter’s Betrayal bats lead-off. (

PHOTOGRAPHIC PROOF: Not planning on traveling this summer? Visiting the Amon Carter may provide at least a little escape. The museum is hosting “Ansel Adams: Eloquent Light,” an exhibition of 40 of the photographer’s pictures. Gaile Robinson reviews the show and tells the story of how amateur photographers try to copy the master whenever they visit the locations Adams made iconic.

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Review: Fort Worth 'Don Giovanni' Survives an Unusual Chop

Despite a few flaws, the Fort Worth Opera’s performance of Don Giovanni on Sunday afternoon provided its fair share of musical and dramatic thrills. The singing ranged from adequate to excellent, the acting beat par, and sets and costumes established a suitable atmosphere.

One element may disturb those familiar with Mozart’s masterpiece: Fort Worth chops off the epilogue, instead ending the opera at the point where the Commendatore drags Don Giovanni off to Hell. The precedents for the cut go back a long way, and conductor Joe Illick makes a reasonable case for it here. But still, ending the opera on a downer is at odds with the ironic, almost smirky tone of much of the work. I like the cheerful “What the hell; let’s get on with life” tone of the epilogue.

With his commanding air and insouciance, Michael Todd Simpson makes a physically and vocally convincing Don, though on Sunday afternoon he had some pitch problems in his second-act serenade to Donna Elvira’s maid. A more general flaw was some ensemble disagreement between the onstage musicians and those in the pit.

Still, nothing fatal, and you have to give Fort Worth credit for two such superb artists as Holli Harrison (Donna Elvira) and Susanna Phillips (as Donna Anna, above, with Michael Todd Simpson as the Don). And they get solid backing from a cast including Tom Corbeil (Leporello), David Portillo (Don Ottavio), Matthew Treviño (the Commendatore), Matthew Young (Masetto) and Ashley Kerr (Zerlina).

The Fort Worth Symphony under Illick’s baton played reasonably, though perhaps a little more rehearsal time would have been a plus.

The stage direction by Richard Kagey was effective even considering the Case of the Missing Epilogue (the Don’s descent into Hell works unusually well), and the sets by R. Keith Brumley and costumes by Howard Tsvi Kaplan seem solid and appropriate.

Don Giovanni, along with The Elixir of Love and Before Night Falls, will wind up the Fort Worth Opera’s 2010 festival next weekend.

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The Paul Slavens Show: Live Blog for May 30 2010

Categorized Under: KXT, Music, Paul Slavens

Goodest of evenings to you all.
Hope your holiday is going swimmingly.  Glad to have you along for some cool music on a warm evening.
By the way, I just realized that July 4th is on a Sunday this year. I would love to be the party music for your Independence evening. Got any ideas for groovy party music for the 4th ?  I’m thinking grooves and celebrations.
Let me know, we have a month on this one.

Ibrahim Ferrer, “Marieta” Ibrahim Ferrer

Air, “Cherry Blossom Girl” Talkie Walkie

Loretta Lynn, “High On A Mountain Top” Van Lear Rose

Secret Chiefs 3, “Assassin’s Blade” First Grand Constitution and Bylaws

Gene Pitney, “Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa” Gene Pitney

Magnetic Fields, “It’s a Crime” 69 Love Songs

Hooverphonic, “Vinegar & Salt” Sit Down And Listen

Cal Tjader & Eddie Palmieri, “Guajira En Azul” El Sonido Nuevo

Handsome Family, “So Much Wine” In The Air

Syzygys, “Fauna Grotesque” Complete Studio Recordings

Elvis Costello, “Baby Plays Around” Spike

Windy and Carl, “The Sun” Conciousness

Pizzicato Five, “La Depression” Playboy, Playgirl

George Jones, “She Thinks I Still Care” Tender Years

Stravinsky “Tango Music” Works for Piano

Kaada, “All Wrong” Thank You For Giving Me Your Valuable Time

Spike Jones, “Cocktails For Two” The Wacky World Of Spike Jones

The Velvet Underground, “Here She Comes Now” White Light/White Heat

Mahalia Jackson, “I’m Going To Live The Life I Sing About In My Song” The World’s Greatest Gospel Singer

Daniel Johnston, “Life in Vain” Fun

Satie, “Gymnopidea No. 3 Debussey” Satie Orchestral Works

Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians “One Long Pair Of Eyes” Queen Elvis

Bob Wills “Stay all night” For the Last Time

Peter Gabriel, “Games Without Frontiers” Peter Gabriel

Idjah hadidjah, “Tongeret” Tongerret

Lightnin’ Hopkins, “Bald Headed Woman” Sittin’ in With

Yann Tiersen-Shannon Wright, “Dragon Fly” Yann Tiersen-Shannon


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Review: Fort Worth Opera Takes a Leap Away From Tradition

The Fort Worth Opera took a daring departure from tradition with the world premiere of Before Night Falls on Saturday night in Bass Performance Hall. The new opera takes a two-pronged look at injustice: The protagonist suffers not only because he’s a political dissident in Castro’s Cuba, but because he’s gay.

It’s that last point that may shock Butterfly-lovers, although in 2010 it carries less punch than it might have in earlier eras. The production by no means soft-pedals the sexual-orientation angle, but it doesn’t unduly exploit it, either. True, there are a couple of gay ‘orgies’ in the first act, but the effect is softened by depicting them as stylized dances. The rest of the opera is less challenging.

The political-dissidence angle should offend no one. The opera has a sharply anti-Castro tone; the exiles in Miami should be happy with it.

Before Night Falls, whose music is by Cuban-born composer Jorge Martín, is based on the memoir of Cuban exile writer Reinaldo Arenas, who escaped the Communists only to die of AIDS in New York. Arenas is the principal character in the opera (which was planned before the movie of the same name).

Any hope that Fort Worth’s new opera would rival the success of Dallas’ recent Moby-Dick was dashed before the lengthy first act was finished. Martín is a skilled composer who manages to integrate a variety of styles in his orchestral writing (including catchy Latin sounds in the Cuban episodes), but — like so many contemporary composers — he seems unable to write effective, memorable vocal lines.

The cast was uneven. Wes Mason as Arenas  — who was rarely not onstage for two-and-half-hours — and Seth Mease Carico as a Fidel Castro type scored points, especially dramatically [Carico interrogates Mason, above]. But Jonathan Blalock as Arenas’ faithful companion and Jesus Garcia as the protagonist’s mentor produced tiring sounds (part of the problem may have been the musical lines they had to contend with).

At least just about everyone, including the chorus, displayed decent theatrical instincts in bringing director David Gately’s bold conception to life.

Conductor Joe Illick got strong and atmospheric sounds out of the Fort Worth Symphony.

Before Night Falls, like Moby-Dick, makes heavy use of projections, though they understandably fall short of the expensive wizardry created in Dallas. Photographs of what I take to be Havana and New York as well as beach and ocean scenes project onto a curved backstop and panels that slide in vertically and horizontally. Prop elements are moved on and offstage by costumed people as the performance continues. It’s all pretty effective — though the final scene, with blue skies and puffy clouds suggesting a celestial destination as poor Arenas lies dead on his bed, seemed a little hokey to me.

The production team includes set design by Riccardo Hernandez, costume designs by Claudia Stephens, lighting by Harry Frehner and projection designs by Peter Nigrini.

Incidentally, the text is projected both in English and Spanish (the singing is in English). Diction tends to be quite clear.

The festival continues Before Night Falls with The Elixir of Love and Don Giovanni through next weekend.

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