As a tool of expression, the quill is obsolete, replaced by a series of technological advances that have led to today’s electronic devices which very nearly transcribe ideas directly from the brain to any sharable medium.
But in Michael Lang’s amazing new dance theater production for the Toledo Ballet, From Heart to Quill, which opened Friday night at the Valentine Theatre, the old-fashioned feather quill is a lot more appealing and enduring than the latest Silicon Valley marvel.
Quills became metaphors for what follows “aha” moments shared by a succession of creative geniuses — from Bach and Vivaldi to Leonard Bernstein, John Cage, and Jennifer Higdon — who have wrestled their creative daemons to the mat and claimed trophies of original and enduring music.
In a sense Lang, the venerable TBA’s creative wizard, followed a similar process. Through dance he illustrated and expanded on the quest for originality and personal expression that drives the artistic process, no matter what the medium.
Working with a dance company largely teenage and a bit older — with a few talented youngsters in the mix — he forged a unified, totally varied, surprising, and yet very accessible portrait of the creative process in many of its forms over the last five centuries.
Of his three productions for TBA over the last four years, Heart to Quill ranks as most coherent, thoughtful, and well-developed.
The many segments flowed seamlessly, one to the other, bringing together the wealth of classical music Americans love to take for granted, enlivening familiar works with new physical energy, and playing on the many composer characters.
Mozart (portrayed by Lang) conducted his own orchestra, then talks scat to his close friends.
Cage (Michael Warrick) expounded in typical obtuse manner to college students. Erik Satie (McKenzie Beaverson) confounded music critics and fans with his peculiar compositions.
The music flowed gracefully from one period to another, further emphasizing the sense of a unity of creative spirit and enterprise, no matter how styles and tastes change. Dancing by corps and soloists were uniformly excellent.
The Toledo Symphony String Quartet performed several pieces live in the pit, adding a new power of presence to the onstage action. And Cleveland Institute of Music student violinist Thomas Stuart gave a mature and focused reading of a Bach Partita, the accompaniment for a striking pas de deux by Domonique Glover and Madeline Rick.
Standouts among the dancers were Semira Warrick with Glover, Cairo Gere, Charles Miller, and Tyler Piercefield in a stunning evocation of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring; tappers Jada Boles and Tessa Decker in the John Cage segment; the amazing Byron Barker throughout the show but especially as the Pentecostal Preacher during the Steve Reich section.
Also notable were Sophia Brodin as Mozart’s music, Joseph Galati as Schubert, and Amanda DelVerne as the character Unobtainable Love.
Watching the performance unfold on the Valentine’s big stage, I had the thought that if local government leaders — the mayors, the councilmen, the commissioners — were to observe and attempt to employ some of the creativity Lang used to such powerful effect, why, this region might truly blossom.
The only negative about Friday night's show was the tiny audience. Today is the only chance to see this truly unique and memorable local performance.
Why not make the effort to come downtown and see it?
Heart to Quill will repeat at 7:30 p.m. today in the Valentine Theatre. Tickets are $17-37 at www.valentinetheatre.com or 419-242-2787.
Contact Sally Vallongo at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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