By Susan Kepecs
Don’t tell me the recession’s over! In the good old days, before the economy crashed, the performing arts plates at the city’s big theaters were piled high – almost every week I found more than one sumptuous morsel on my menu. Despite the brand-new report from the National Bureau of Economic Research claiming the downturn ended in June, 2009, this fall at the theater follows last year’s pattern. Overture, flailing in its financial fix, sticks close to the mainstream, and while the Union Theater offers tasty treats, its 2010-2011 season’s small.
Here’s what’s going to lure me out as the days turn colder. I’m starting the season with the best bargain in town – the Wisconsin Union Theater’s always exuberant Madison World Music Festival (Thurs., Sept. 23 – Sat. Sept. 25). This year’s fest features a full-fledged feast of African, Afro-Latin and Afro-Caribbean genres ranging from rootsy to global-poppy, plus a few treats from Europe and the U.S., and it’s free! Check the schedule on the mother ship, the WUT website: http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season10_11/musicfestival.html -- and I’ll post my picks in a day or two, after I finish digesting the banquet of sample CDs that’s piled on my desk.
Next up on my agenda is Ballet Hispanico (WUT, Oct. 2). The venerable New York troupe looked tired last time it was in town, in 2003. But its new artistic director, Eduardo Vilaro, who formerly headed Chicago’s Luna Negra Dance Theater, is just what the doctor ordered. I haven’t yet seen the company under his leadership, but Vilaro’s a standout dancemaker. I’m disappointed that none of his works are on the bill, but even so, my expectations are high.
On Oct. 8, legendary folk singer and progressive political champion Joan Baez plays the Union Theater. Baez, who first performed at WUT in 1962, is approaching her 70th birthday. Sure, her voice has aged, but she still packs the sterling authenticity she started out with when old boomers like me were young and innocent. We’re still waiting for the day when the state of the world reflects the lyrics to “We Shall Overcome,” but the faithful will surely gather at this event to pay homage to the message.
And oh, my stars, master composer / pianist Eddie Palmieri, the Sun of Latin Music, brings his mambo-ized, post-bop edged, smokin’ Latin jazz back to the Wisconsin Union Theater (Nov. 5), following a five year absence. The lineup (sax player TBA) includes the talented young bassman Luques Curtis, Milwaukee-born Bryan Lynch on trumpet, plus Nuyorican rhythm kings José Claussell on timbales, Little Johnny Rivero on congas and bongocero Orlando Vega.
Over at Overture, spring looks better than fall for dance, and I’ll report on that later. But River North Dance Company (Capitol Theater, Nov. 20), a Chicago contemporary dance staple, finally replaces the endless string of annual performances by the Windy City’s other big-name company, Hubbard Street. It’s not a huge change – River North’s choreography sometimes borders on cliché – but it’s a great opportunity to see what else is going on south of the state border, and the company’s dancers are stunningly trained in the modern-cum-jazz idiom.
Real mariachis are always on my wish list, but for the last couple of years Overture’s served up mariachi lite instead. So I’m delighted that Los Angeles-based Mariachi Los Camperos – the group’s spirited holiday show at Overture Hall in December, 2006, brought the house down – returns this year on Nov. 11 (in the Capitol Theater). La comunidad gets another opportunity to belt out the chorus on great mariachi standards like “Cielito Lindo,” “El Rey,” and “Volver.” ¡Ay ay ay!
Local troupes are toughing out the times, and in fact 2009-2010 was one of the best seasons ever for Mad City’s own performing arts scene. I expect 2010-2011 to continue that trend. There’ll be some surprises on the Latin music front this fall. Look for my report on a brand-new band – Brazilian, with a twist – in the next few weeks.
In dance, I’m curious to see what Kate Corby & Dancers – once a Chicago based interdisciplinary dance theater that’s been tied to Madison since Corby took a faculty position in the UW Dance Program two years ago – cook up in H’Doubler Performance Space on campus (Oct. 7-9).
Li Chiao-Ping works magic with parodies of classical ballets. Gó, a sort of Swan Lake in combat boots from years back, is one of her all-time top works. So I’m intrigued by the announcement of her new full-length work, “Knotcracker,” coming up for the holiday season (Dec. 3-5, Overture’s Promenade Hall).
And even though The Nutcracker is a sappy old ballet, and I think I've reviewed it at least a thousand times over the course of my arts writing career, Madison Ballet’s Christmastime production (Dec. 18-26, Overture Hall) is on my list – our city’s first bona fide professional ballet company, entering its fourth year, is very much on the rise, and that’s thrilling to see.
That’s my two cents worth. But remember, there’s a comments box, below. What are you looking forward to this fall?