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Katie McDermott

Choral Arts Astounds with Washington’s First Performance of the Berlioz Requiem in 15 Years

Choral Arts’ artistic director, Scott Tucker conducts the Berlioz Requiem.

Choral Arts’ artistic director, Scott Tucker conducts the Berlioz Requiem. Photo by Sharon Finney.


It was the first Washington, D.C. performance of the Berlioz Requiem in nearly 15 years and an expectant audience filled the Kennedy Center Concert Hall Sunday night to experience the Choral Arts Society’s version of Hector Berlioz’s gargantuan Op. 5, Grande Messe de Morts.

The Requiem is epic, 90 minutes long in 10 movements, featuring over 80 orchestra musicians and nearly 200 singers. Berlioz was commissioned to compose the work in honor of the 1830 French Revolution, and it was first performed at the memorial service for Charles Denys de Damremont and his fellow soldiers who died in the Battle of Constantine. Berlioz was influenced by the work of Beethoven and the Grande Messe de Morts is considered a prime example of musical Romanticism.

Berlioz’s Requiem was created for performance in spaces like large churches and cathedrals – which have a lot of echo and reverb. The Kennedy Center Concert Hall, like many modern performance spaces, is designed for optimum acoustic quality, and to contain reverb and echo. On Sunday evening the singers’ voices joined clearly, with nuances likely not apparent in 19th century performances.

The conductor, Choral Arts’ artistic director, Scott Tucker, is just the second director in the organization’s 51-year history, and his direction of the Berlioz was masterful. Concertmaster Nurit Bar-Josef and soloist tenor Dustin Lucas were equally impressive. Lucas’s sonorous tenor glowed, and the choice to stage him in the center upper balcony allowed his vibrato to ring out over the audience from behind, adding a special depth to the experience. The choice to split the brass section, with musicians on both the right and left upper balconies, also added a feeling of tremendous power, and a sense of being inside the belly of a musical beast.

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Dog and Pony DC Ask You to be a Citizen of Beertown

Natasha Gallop Acting in Beertown

I arrived at the Thurgood Marshall Center on a Wednesday evening, fighting a cold and feeling glum. That feeling would soon change. As soon as I entered the Center, a cheerful woman wearing a nametag greeted me. She turned out not only to be a ticket taker, but an actor as well.

“So glad you could make it for the quinquennial ceremony! We’ll be opening the meeting room shortly; you can fill out your nametag in the meantime. Would you like to nominate yourself for ombudsperson tonight?” I quickly discovered that Dog & Pony DC’s production of Beertown begins the minute you enter the building.

“No thank you,” I smiled as I filled out my nametag, nervous about the level of interaction this performance would require. I made my way to the room at the end of the hallway and entered into a quaint scene of Mid-Western civic assembly. Townspeople milled about the old gymnasium and poster boards displaying information about Beertown encircled the rows of folding chairs. A podium, whiteboard and an old piano sat at the front of the room. Instrumental music that wouldn’t sound out of place on an episode of “Prairie Home Companion” played quietly in the background, adding to the small-town ambiance.

A Beertonian immediately approached me and shook my hand. He introduced himself as Michael Soch, the Mayor of Beertown, “So good to see you! Glad you could make it to the quinquennial—how’s your family doing? You’re working at the Library now?” “Uh…yes. Yes I am!” I stammered, remembering that there is no saying “no” in improv.

All around me, Beertonians engaged in similarly upbeat conversations with other audience members. Some actors and audience members spoke to each other in American Sign Language. Interpreters also stood by to interpret between those signing and those speaking. A table of cookies – part of the advertised “dessert potluck” — sat on a table in front of the podium and a woman entreated everyone present to “please eat some cookies!” Near the refreshments sat a large metal beer barrel, the quinquennial time capsule. (Note: A quinquennial is an event that recurs every five years.)


Dog & Pony DC lead the audience in singing the Beertown anthem. (Photo by Ryan Maxwell).


As I settled into a folding chair, a man in a suit approached me and began talking about the benefits of purchasing Beertown real estate. “Are you new in town? I’m Joseph Rodgers Davenport, but everyone calls me Rodgers! Just give me a call if you’re ever in the market for a house here in Beertown!” He handed me a business card, one of many small touches that made the performance feel hilariously authentic. Rodgers is played by actor DeJeanette Horne.

After I sat down, I looked around the room. It was becoming difficult to tell some of the audience members and the actors apart. I leaned toward the gentleman beside me, “I don’t know if this is the right way to put it, but are you a participant or an audience member?” I asked. “That’s a good question,” he chuckled. He explained to me that he was very excited to be attending the performance that night because had seen Beertown during its original run in autumn 2011, and also during the 2012 Capital Fringe Festival. “No two performances of Beertown are ever the same,” he smiled.

The room became quiet as the Mayor (Joshua Drew) began his welcome speech. “I am so thankful that you elected to be here to participate in Beertown’s 21st Quinquennial Time Capsule Day Ceremony! This process allows us to reflect on who we are today, in light of who we were five, ten, 15 years ago, and so on.” He introduced several other Beertonians: archivist Joann Sugarman (Eileen Earnest), artist Patricia Brown (Natasha Gallop), Fire Marshal Liam Murphy (Jon Reynolds), Warden Franklin Li (Jacon Yeh) and several other colorful characters also said their hellos to the room.

After a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and an invocation by the Daughters of the Ninkasi, the residents of Beertown led the room in a series of uproariously funny civic activities. We were asked to recite the Beertown oath of civic responsibility, we elected a citizen ombudsperson, and the townspeople led the audience in a raucous rendition of “The Beertown Hymn”, purportedly written in 1899.

At the heart of Beertown’s plot is the need for the room to arrive at a
collective decision regarding the town’s time capsule. During each quinquennial ceremony, the audience is introduced to the contents of the capsule and asked to vote on which items to keep and which items to remove. Certain “eternal” items, artifacts representing the early history of the town, remain permanently interred in the capsule, while others are up for debate every five years. Only a certain number of items can fit inside the time capsule at any given time. Warden Li explained that everyone present should judge the artifacts on the basis of the acronym, H.E.A.T: Historic Value, Emotional Value, Artistic Value, and Too Important Not to be Included. If an object no longer seemed to have the same HEAT, it could be voted out and a modern artifact could take its place.

Beertown performance

Beertonians examine artifacts from the Beertown time capsule. (Photo by Ryan Maxwell.)


Within all of its silliness, Beertown digs into how our society elects our collective American history. “Do things become less accurate the more you remember it?” One of the actors asked during the ceremony. “Every time you remember something, you are recreating it,” stated another actor. Who’s history are we recreating? Who gets to decide what we preserve for public memory? During the voting and debating portions of Beertown, some audience members became very invested in the outcome of the vote. I was surprised in some of the votes I cast myself.

The deaf community plays an important role within the invented history of Beertown, and American Sign Language is critical to the show’s dialogue. Interpreters translated all spoken word for deaf audience members, and vice versa when deaf actors signed to the night’s predominantly hearing audience. Several skits incorporated projected captions and pantomime so that neither signing nor speaking was required.

A few days after the show I spoke with the theater company’s director, Rachel Grossman. She said that Dog & Pony DC has featured deaf actors and incorporated sign language in previous productions of other shows, but not to the same extent as Beertown. “There’s a large deaf population in DC and there’s a significant community of artists here that are underutilized and untapped. Once you make the decision to start changing your practices and becoming more accessible and inclusive, the doorways are open. It takes a lot but it can take very little to start making that change” in the theatre community.

Another way in which Dog & Pony makes Beertown and other productions more accessible is by offering pay-what-you-can showings. “It’s really about creating that environment in which accessibility and inclusion is of the highest priority,” Grossman said.

The world of Beertown is impressively detailed, down to the choice to stage it in the multipurpose room of the Thurgood Marshall Center, a space dedicated to providing educational programs that celebrate the richness of D.C.’s cultural history. Along with the live production, members of the company have created a website — — and the hastag #ITooAmBeertown was even included as a time capsule artifact in a recent performance of the show.

Beertown performance

Photo by Ryan Maxwell.


According to Grossman, a critical element of each performance is figuring out the character of each audience. “Some audiences are more invested in observing and watching… sometimes it just takes awhile, like pushing a ball up a hill, and you just don’t know how high the hill is because you’re behind the ball pushing it! Sometimes you don’t even touch the ball and the ball just falls off the hill and then you run after the ball,” she laughed.

As a company, Dog & Pony DC is invested in the impact of audience-integrated work, and spreading that type of theater throughout D.C. and beyond. Beertown was a collective effort, originally created by a group of 17 members. Some members of the original group are currently working with another theatre company in San Diego to develop a performance called “Beachtown” that explores the identities of beach communities in southern California.

Beertown is unexpectedly immersive while offering critical commentary on the importance of civic duty. The show gets at the zeitgeist of American community politics in a way that’s completely refreshing, and needed. It’s a show likely to cause audiences to question their own involvement in local elections, and wonder about their personal impact on the histories of their communities.

Beertown runs through November 7 at the Thurgood Marshall Center. For tickets and more information visit Dog and Pony’s website here.

This article was originally posted on Tagg Magazine.

Jerome Paige Wants DC’s Cultural Plan to Include You

It’s not uncommon to think of change in the city as bad.  One of D.C.’s leading planners, Jerome Paige, thinks otherwise.

“The premise now is that Chocolate City is disappearing, and that has to do with a sense of being left out, and pride in local identity. But the 1980’s were a period of black suburbanization for DC, just as the 60’s and 70’s were a period of white suburbanization,” Paige said. “That’s why people started calling Montgomery County, Maryland DC’s ‘Ward 9’. The way I think about it is we don’t need to try to be Chocolate City, but Cosmopolitan DC… Urban out-migration and In-migration hasn’t stopped. We need a language that helps get us to where we need to go – stabilized neighborhoods and help for people who want to stay, to stay,” whether it’s Shaw or Chevy Chase.

Jerome Paige

Paige is the consultant, hired by Humanities DC and the DC Office of Historic Preservation, working to develop the new DC Living Heritage Network (DCLHN.) The DCLHN is a coalition of organizations that work on heritage, culture, and local history and they include the Historical Society of Washington, DC, the DC Preservation League,ONE DC, Black Broadway on U, Howard University, and the Anacostia Community Museum, among many others.

The concept for the DCLHN was developed by Humanities DC in response to legislation by Councilmember David Grosso mandating development of a new cultural plan. The original legislation for the cultural plan called for an Arts plan, and the DCLHN was organized to ensure that the process include the Humanities. Humanities DC is a grant-making organization that supports Humanities and Heritage programming.

DC’s cultural planning process has just started, and the Office of Planning is launching a series of public forums to receive stakeholder input.

“If you’re really going to talk about culture you have to include humanities, heritage and preservation; you can’t just talk about arts… when we talk about culture, we tend to talk about it in terms of the arts. That has to stop. What the DC Living Heritage Network has been doing [is saying], ‘let’s begin to reframe our language’,” Paige said.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s Paige worked on the DC History and Public Policy Project, through which he performed research and analyzed the effects of neighborhood change and gentrification. The city was changing significantly even in the 1980s, Paige says, and in some ways the DC Living Heritage Network aims to address similar issues.

Paige’s enthusiasm for data and history is contagious and he speaks about economics and city planning with the gusto of a college professor — which he in fact is. Paige has been an instructor and administrator at the University of the District of Columbia, the University of Baltimore, and the National Defense University.

Paige grew up in a politically engaged family in Philadelphia, and while he says there was no one moment of civic activation Paige’s father ran a series of small businesses and he reported seeing first-hand the importance of engagement at the neighborhood level. Paige came to DC in 1965 as a freshman at Howard University and has been a resident since then. He and his wife raised a daughter in the city.

The DCLHN addresses a tendency to frame the Creative Economy around the arts, with an over-emphasis on supports for design, culinary, visual and performing arts at the expense of other facets of local culture.

“What’s getting left out is… the storytelling, the civic discussions, the neighborhood histories, the preservation of neighborhood stories, family histories, genealogies; the ways in which people are using conversation and culture at the local level to help people understand themselves, their families and what’s going on,” Paige said.

“The ways we produce, distribute and consume culture drives lots of the new economic activity in our cities and… the major benefit of the network is to collaborate and share resources.”


Jerome Paige and attendees at one of the DC Living Heritage Network’s monthly meetings.

The Network has already won its first battle: the RFP for the Cultural Plan noted that the plan is to include not only the Arts but also Humanities.

Paige encourages residents and organizations interested in seeing increased support for Humanities and Heritage projects through the Cultural Plan to participate in upcoming Living Heritage Network meetings, which occur monthly. To participate, Paige suggests emailing Louis Hicks, Grants and Special Projects Manager at Humanities DC, at LHicks <at>

“Culture is more than a series of institutions. And for us, we feel that for the cultural plan to be successful it needs to provide support for everyday aspects of life. We are promoting neighborhood-based humanities and heritage and preservation ‘by-and-for-locals’. We’re trying to stimulate conversation and make sense out of all the physical, social, economic, and demographic changes unfolding,” Paige said.

This article was originally posted on Urban Scrawl.

Dana Tai Soon Burgess Company Opens Dance Studio in Glen Echo Park

Past the pottery yurts, glass-blowing demonstrations, and children’s theatres, a troupe of dancers practiced enthusiastically in the Hall of Mirrors at the recent Glen Echo Park Open House. Jan Tievsky, manager of the new Dana Tai Soon Burgess studio at the Park, invited passersby to watch the company as they practiced for an upcoming performance at the National Portrait Gallery. The open rehearsal also served as a preview for potential dance students.

This fall at Glen Echo, the Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company (DTSBDC) will be offering classes in hip-hop, Bollywood dance, contemporary modern dance, improvisational movement and ballet. All of the classes will take place in the newly-renovated Hall of Mirrors dance studio, continuing a tradition first established by Tievsky in the late 1970’s.

Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance studio manager director Jan Tievsky

Jan Tievsky, DTSBDC studio manager.

The renovated studio space is clean and bright, with a fresh coat of light blue paint and two walls covered in floor-to-ceiling mirrors. A windowed observation area looks into the practice room along a hallway with new changing rooms and a bathroom.

“We’re trying to get people interested in modern dance again,” said Tievsky, also vice president of DTSBDC’s board of directors. “These classes are open to any adults or teens who want to experience the Burgess School.” She explained that Burgess’s style is notable because he draws inspiration from a wide variety of dance traditions, and incorporates little details, like subtle hand movements, into his choreography.

“There is a ballet basis in everything,” Tievsky said. “He is so precise, and he grapples with huge, important ideas. You can tell when dancers have been with him for a long time because of the way they move: cerebral, emotional—the entire body is expressive. ”

DTSBDC is now in its 24th season and company members will be leading the classes at Glen Echo Park under the guidance of Burgess. The company has toured to over 20 countries and performed in the

Choreographer Dana Tai Soon Burgess

Dana Tai Soon Burgess (Photo: Tom Wolff)

White House at the invitation of President and First Lady Obama. Burgess has received numerous honors and awards for his work as a teacher and choreographer, including two Senior Fulbright awards, a Washington D.C. Mayor’s Art Award, and the Pola Nirenska Award.

The Washington Post’s chief dance critic, Sarah Kaufman, has noted Burgess’s use of subtle movement to tell powerful stories. “The basis of Burgess’s choreography is sympathy with what we struggle not to show. He can portray, uncannily, the flickers and stabs of feeling that swarm through us as we try to stay calm under stress,” Kaufman wrote.

The new Glen Echo Studio isn’t the only exciting development for the company. Recently announced as the first choreographer-in-residence at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Burgess will create dance performances inspired by the museum’s exhibitions over the next three years.

As a part of the residency, the company will perform Burgess’s “Margin” in conjunction with the 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition this October.

The Outwin Exhibit, on display at the Museum through January 8, 2017, represents the best of current portraiture and examines issues of modern American identity.

Burgess has said that his unusual upbringing has been a major influence on his work. “Being half-Asian, growing up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, going to these bilingual schools, the concept of being ‘the other’ and looking for a sense of home, or looking for a sense of place was a continual challenge,” Burgess said.

Three dancer strike a pose

Kelly Southall, Christin Authur and Joan Ayap strike a pose from “Margin”. (Photo: DTSBDC)

The excerpts performed during the Glen Echo Park open rehearsal explored complicated questions about oppression and navigating life on the margins of society. In one scene, a solitary female dancer moves in tandem with a pair of male dancers. The woman and the pair mirror each other’s movements, except the woman is alone, holding hands with an imaginary partner while the men dance in one another’s arms.

The dancers’ movements fall in and out of sync with the bright, yet melancholy, melodies Burgess has selected. The soundtrack for “Margin” includes Concha Buika’s “Volver, Volver” and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Bibo No Aozora.”

The public is invited to attend open rehearsals at the National Portrait Gallery on October 1, 8, and 15, from 11:30 a.m to 2 p.m. each day, and on October 28 the world premiere of “Margin” will be held in the Kogod Courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery at 6:30pm.

Terra Firma Dance at Dance Place

terra firma performance photo yvonne allaway

Terra Firma Dance performance (Photo: Yvonne Allaway)


Even if you think of yourself as being more cultured than the average American, it can be hard to work up the courage to attend ballet performances. What if it’s too long? What if it’s boring?

Those fears can pushed aside this weekend at Dance Place when ballet choreographer Stuart Loungway’s Terra Firma Dance Theatre presents an evening length show in a presentation by local non-profit DanceMetroDC.  Loungway says that it’s his intent to create “dance for dance’s sake” and present something that audiences will finds utterly relatable and cathartic.

stuart loungway headshot - terra firma

Photo courtesy Stuart Loungway

“Dance is a tool for capturing the essence of what it means to be a human being. I think that’s what audiences look for. And you can speak to the ‘human condition’ without being pandering or sappy or maudlin,” he said.

Currently on the faculty of the The Washington Ballet, Loungway had a performing career as a member of The Houston, San Francisco, and Joffrey Ballet Companies. His dances and dance-making are informed by his years performing the works of Balanchine, Forsythe, Morris, Stevenson, and others.

“While the caliber of the dancers involved and the technique and training [is traditional], we want there to be a sense of inclusion and we want to serve the community at large,” Loungway said.

This weekend his company will perform “Mockingbird”, “Stagioni”, and “Chamber Duet”. “Mockingbird” explores themes of love, loss and redemption while “Stagioni” is a modern interpretation of Vivaldi’s famous “Four Seasons”.

The company is performing at Dance Place through Dance Metro DC’s 2016 Presentation Grant award. The mission of Dance Metro DC is to serve the whole spectrum of dance in DC, and to increase accessibility for local audiences of dance.

Dance Metro DC Executive Director Stephen Clapp said, “The dance community in DC is incredibly vibrant, incredibly diverse, and incredibly hardworking. The resources are also extremely limited, which is part of the reason Dance Metro DC exists… One of our initiatives is to look as how we are serving the entire spectrum of the dance community.”

Clapp said he is excited to introduce new audiences to dance with Terra Firma.

Terra Fima Dance Theatre will be at Dance Place Saturday, September 17 at 8pm and Sunday, September 18 at 7pm. Details and tickets.

This article was originally published on DC Theatre Scene.