Thursday, September 28, 2006

Size Matters

Ormao Dance Company is moving from its downtown studio to Counterpoint School on Royer Street. The old rehearsal space was 35 by 35 feet; this one is 40 by 40 - which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s 375 more square feet, or about 30 percent.

The move is important for two reasons. First, once the building renovation is complete, Ormao will be able to perform in this space. (This was possible but impractical downtown, with reasons ranging from space to seating to parking.) Director Janet Johnson says there will be room for an audience of at least 50 and maybe as many as 70, with tiered seating. There’s a light booth. In a town that’s starved for good performing arts spaces, every black box is cause for celebration.

Second, working space is nearly as important as performance space. Think how much more vital and energetic the visual arts community became when Cottonwood Art Academy moved to the old utilities administration building and opened up over 30 studio spaces. It’s even more important for performing arts organizations. It’s difficult to choreograph in a small space when the piece is going to be performed in a larger one; preparing for a concert is harder when your rehearsal space has crummy acoustics.

Ormao moves in October. We’ll see how the troupe is doing at its upcoming concert, Oct. 14 and 15 at the Louisa Center.

CS Philharmonic Reviews - Online Only

Beginning this weekend, my reviews of the Colorado Springs Philharmonic will be posted online only. They will no longer be included in the print edition.

In one obvious respect, this is bad: People will not see a review as they thumb through their newspaper, though there will be a tease to the review on the TV page. And since the philharmonic audience tends to be older, and older people are less likely to have Internet access, it means some people who wanted to read the review won’t be able to.

But in a couple of less obvious respects, it’s good. Since the philharmonic was founded three seasons ago, I’ve basically been reviewing dress rehearsals. This is because the Saturday night deadline is even earlier than the Friday night deadline that caused me and the night desk so much grief in the days of the Colorado Springs Symphony Orchestra. The workaround was to write the review from the dress rehearsal and then, if necessary, tweak it after the concert. With more time to write — the new deadline will be around midnight, compared with the previous 10:30 — I will be able to review the actual concerts. This will be much more meaningful for readers.

I’ll also no longer be limited to whatever space was available in the Sunday Metro section, so there will be a chance to go into more depth than was previously possible. (Not much more, unfortunately, because midnight is still midnight.)

I wasn’t part of the process that led to this decision. The reasons I was given are that people who read reviews are looking for them, so they’ll be able to find them online, and that more people will see the tease on the TV page than saw the reviews in the Metro section anyway.

If you hate the new policy, complain to the Gazette. (Of course, if you hate the new policy, you won’t be reading this blog.) I’m happy to give it a try.

The first of the new-format reviews will be Saturday’s performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, in which the philharmonic will be joined by the Colorado Springs Chorale and four vocal soloists. If ever a piece deserved more space for a review, this is it.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Welcome Bon Vivant

Bon Vivant, a new monthly arts magazine, made its debut in August. The first two issues nicely balance content and advertising; the look is slick, and the small format tucks easily into a coat pocket. It’s the creation of Noel Black and Aaron Retka, but both the look and the tone are strikingly different from Black’s defunct alternative arts paper, the Toilet Paper.

In the first two issues, available free at various area businesses: Well-illustrated interviews with sculptor Sean O’Meallie and woodcut printer Jean Gumpper, a capsule art history of the region, a story on Colorado College’s Cornerstone Arts Center, and excerpts from Archie Musik’s hard-to-put-down memoirs. There’s also a calendar and a bunch of glossy advertisements.

A thriving arts community requires lots of ingredients. One is media attention, and the more, the better. Another is intelligent, passionate arts advocates such as Black.

You can contact Bon Vivant at csbonvivant (at) gmail (dot) com.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Perfectionist: Herb Beattie at First Christian Church

One moment at Herb Beattie’s Sunday afternoon performance perfectly illustrated why the former New York City Opera bass is one of the region’s vocal and artistic role-models.

Beattie had told me earlier that his greatest worry about the program was the sheer stamina it required. But when he felt he didn’t do justice to the opening piece — Henry Purcell’s “Arise, ye subterranean winds” — how did he respond?

He repeated it. And while the first performance had you thinking, “that’s awfully good for an 80-year-old,” the second, slightly faster performance had you thinking merely, “that’s awfully good.”

As much as his incredible voice, it’s this unwavering ambition in the service of quality that makes Beattie such a special performer.

And the voice remains incredible. The low register isn’t as authoritative as it once was, but for every mediocre note there were 10 great notes. The tone still floats and the richness is still there. And Beattie’s theatrical sense could carry a lot of material without any voice at all.

The remainder of the program showed off more facets of Beattie’s talent than any single operatic role ever could — from world-class Gilbert and Sullivan to not-quite-idiomatic-but-very-enjoyable Jerome Kern. A set of four Schubert songs — in which accompanist Carol Wilson played especially beautifully — was deeply moving.

The crowd was, by recital standards, huge — filling the main floor and spilling over into the balcony. “I see a lot of bridge players here,” said a man in front of me, so part of this was probably due to the organizational skills of Beattie’s bridge-playing wife, Laurie.

But I also saw a lot of musicians, especially singers. They know what Beattie can do.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Bray Out, Osburn In (for now) at FAC

Sandra Womochil Bray is no longer director of performing arts at the Fine Arts Center, and for now nobody is saying why.

Whether that's good news or bad news all depends what happens next. The quality of the FAC's productions was way up in Bray's four seasons. It was also her decision to move the center from its traditional position as both a producing house and a presenting house - a space that anyone could rent for a performance or production - into exclusively a producing house. That threw some performing arts organizations into a tizzy, because Colorado Springs isn't exactly busting out with decent performing arts venues, but from the center's standpoint it was a good move: It enabled them to keep tighter control of quality. (If someone sees a cheesy show in your space, even if you didn't produce it, it's bound to affect the response to the shows you do produce.)

On the other hand, the quality of the programming hasn't kept pace with the quality of the productions, and Bray must have had some say in the upcoming relatively dismal-sounding season.

Interim director Alan Osburn has all the experience and ability you could hope for. He's an experienced actor (among other credits, he's a former swing man on the Broadway production of "Les Miserables") and has run Theatre Aspen. Locally, he's directed the Fine Arts Center's 2005 production of "Anything Goes" and appeared as Georg, the male lead in the center's 2005 production of "She Loves Me."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Welcome to Colorado Springs Artsblog ...

... a discussion forum for anything related to the visual or performing arts in Colorado Springs. Some posts will amplify my stories for the Colorado Springs Gazette, adding detail or delving into areas too arcane for a daily newspaper. Others will treat matters of importance to the arts community but not newsworthy enough to rate a story in Go!, the Gazette's weekly Arts and Entertainment section - such as the Pikes Peak Center's new Steinway.

And now and then I'll preview something that's truly newsworthy, but about which there's not yet enough real information for the story it deserves - such as Sandra Womochil Bray's departure from her post as the Fine Arts Center's director of performing arts. It's true, and I've heard several rumors as to why - two of which are opposites of each other - but so far nobody will talk about it, at least to me.