Category Archives: Reviews

Nico Muhly and Son Lux – 5/23/09

It’s not everyday that a patron has the pleasure of watching a music concert at Minneapolis’ Southern Theater. Occasionally a dance company will perform with live musicians but that experience is completely different. I’m talking about sitting down in seat H3, drink in hand (complementary drinks provided by Vita.mn) and being lulled to a tranquil environment created by sound.

The bill was split between Son Lux and Nico Muhly, both young talented musicians from New York. Last year, Muhly performed as part of the theater’s Wordless Music Series. This show marked Son Lux’s Southern debut.

Son Lux, composer/collaborator/remixer Ryan Lott, opened the concert. His set included a grand piano and a table. While the physical set was minimal, his “set” was not. Live, 3D, digital visuals created by Joshue Ott were projected on the theater’s back wall. A nicely edited dance film played during one of Lux’s songs. And four dancers performed alongside Lux during two songs.

As a dancer, I found myself paying attention to the dancers whenever they were onstage. While the technique of the dancers were top-notch, that’s really the only compliment I can give them. The choreography was uncreative and too literal which I strongly dislike when dances are paired with lyrics. The quality of touch between the dancers was phony; skin level at best. However, I must give props to dancer Brittany Fridenstine. When we looked out into the audience or looked at her partner, she actually saw something. I appreciate it when dancers connect to their surroundings.

As for Lux’s music, it was pretty good, not great, but good. The sounds he produced were simple but wonderfully tragic. It’s the kind of music you would listen to after a depressing day, although my reading may be colored by the songs’ lyrics. “What if he/she loved me?” and other such lines made me think, “What has happened in this young man’s life?” In my opinion, Lux should do-away with lyrics or find himself a lyricist.

Nico Muhly closed the show. Muhly performed at the theater once before as part of the Wordless Music Series but I was not able to catch his set. I was pleased when I learned he would be coming back for this show.

Like Lux, Muhly’s set was simple: grand piano, table for his laptop, a chair and music stand for violist Nadia Sirota. From the first note Muhly played I perked up in my seat and thought, “This is going to be great!”

The sounds he produced were truly a mix of classical music and indie pop rock. Several songs were written for friends, including fellow performer Sirota who by the way was a force in her own right. One song was even written for the film “The Reader.” This kid, being only in his late 20s, has talent coming out of his ears.

Muhly’s compositions not only showcased that he is a master songwriter, but they also showed his and Sirota’s talent as performers. Being a physical performer I am always amazed at the dances musicians create when they play stationary instruments. Muhly and Sirota played with their entire body, not just their fingers. For me, this proved their brilliance as performers.

“The hip concert of the season unites two young New Yorkers whose experimental blend of pop and classical music has the art world swooning,” wrote Minnesota Monthly. I admit that I swooned for Muhly and Sirota, however I did not for Lux.

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An “Awakening” of sorts – 4/25/09

Something magical is about it happen. I can tell as I take my seat. I’m practically sitting against the back wall but I am, never the less, on the main floor of the State Theater about to watch my first Broadway show in over a year.

Spring Awakening. The only thing I had heard about the show before walking through the theater doors was that it received a Tony for Best Musical and Best Choreographer in 2007. Oh, and that it was about budding sexuality. Other than that, I was a blank slate, walking in with no preconceived ideas or expectations aside to be entertained. What I didn’t expect was to have my idea of “this is how a musical looks, feels and sounds” to be turned upside down.

What struck me most was the show’s use of song. In my experience, musicals used songs as devices to further the plot. This, however, was not the case in Spring Awakening. According to the play’s lyricist Steven Sater, songs were meant to function as internal monologues. “We would go into this timeless place, into the hearts and minds of these young people,” he said. He continued to say that while he and composer Duncan Sheik wanted to keep the story in 19th century Germany, they both agreed that the characters should “step out into the present day” when they entered the “song world.”

What made the time warp shifts fascinating, and the reason why I thought they worked, was the seamless simplicity of their transitions. The singers would simply pull out a microphone (as if it were normal to have a microphone in a jacket pocket) as the lights faded to a bright red and yellow, as opposed to the dim blues that represented the 19th century storyline. Their singing in the “song world” also had a rock ’n’ roll. Once the song ended, the same seamless shift occurred and suddenly everyone was back in the 19th century.

I was also surprised at the simplicity of the choreography. Being a dancer I love going to shows with the idea of watching fabulous musical theater dancing. However, if I hadn’t been paying close attention, the choreography would have been lost. It was subtle, ordinary. Every raise of the microphone, every gesture of the arm, every walk looked natural. It did not look like “dance” rather it looked human and it fit the songs and the different moods perfectly. And that is the brilliance of choreographer Bill T. Jones.

However, because it wasn’t dance in the “traditional” sense (think high kicks, pirouettes and those oh so famous jazz squares) I’m not convinced that Spring Awakening should have received the Tony for Best Choreography in 2007. Don’t get me wrong; Jones is a genius, but when up against Mary Poppins (with numbers such as “Step in Time” with tap dancing chimney sweeps) and Legally Blonde (with their numerous riffs on hip-hop dancing and exercise videos) one can make the argument that Spring Awakening may not have been the most deserving musical in terms of choreography. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the nuances and motifs Jones created.

Overall it was a fabulously entertaining show. The songs were delightfully catchy; the dances were simple; and the characters were believably innocent.

**Note: I know this is late, but better late than never.

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