Monday, September 16, 2013

¡Golpe Tierra!

                                                                                      © SKepecs 2013
by Susan Kepecs
Cuban son y rumba’s my groove – soy salsera de corazón.  But right now Golpe Tierra, the Afro-Peruvian jazz outfit led by by Mad City bass boss Nick Moran and guitarist Richard Hildner Armacanqui, is the hottest band in town.  The Afro-Peruvian sound bears some resemblance to Cuban son y rumba, or for that matter Puerto Rican bomba y plena – but the rhythmic differences stand out.  Afro-Peruvian musica criolla evolved under an entirely different set of historical circumstances than Afro-Caribbean music, in part because the number of slaves imported to New World regions where indigenous population density was high – that would be Peru, and Mexico – was so low by comparison.  
Golpe Tierra’s Afro-Peruvian jazz bailable is a beacon of bright, fresh sound.  The band usually operates as a trio, all players at the top of their game – Moran on bass, Hildner on guitar and Juan Tomás “Juancho” Martínez Paris (formerly of Canteca de Macao, the Madrid-based altermodern worldbeat band that played the Madison World Music Festival and the Cardinal last fall) on cajón and lead vocals.  Moran and Hildner have Peruvian ritmos in their blood – “we were fans of the music since childhood,” Moran says.  But they didn’t dive into the complexities of the sound until they had the opportunity to back up cajón master Juan “Cotito” Medrano – renowned for his work with Latin Grammy-nominated Afro-Peruvian worldbeat band Novalima – when he came to town to play at the Marquette Waterfront Festival in 2009.  Cotito turned out to be one helluva guru, and a year later his two Madison disciples launched Golpe Tierra – somewhat incongruously, at a world music fest in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.  The band’s maintained a moderate Madison profile ever since, playing the Cardinal’s Friday Happy Hour more or less monthly and catching an occasional festival – but if it’s not on the verge of fame yet, it deserves to be.
                                                             © SKepecs 2013
Last Friday Golpe Tierra, with special guest of honor Cotito, played a pair of stratospheric sets at the Cardinal’s regular 5:30-7:30 PM Happy Hour.  Holy cow.  Cotito’s a force of nature, plying his powerful voice on Afro-Peruvian standards while creating mind-bogglingly complex rhythms with his hands on that resonant wooden box, the cajón. I haven’t figured out the dance steps to these beats yet, though I’ve been trying for a while – there’s a zapateo, common to Spanish-influenced Latin American folk dances everywhere, and an African move that’s close to a rumba, and more steps that fall in between – but Friday afternoon a small company of Afro-Peruvian dancers beautifully trained by Cotito’s niece, Guisella Medrano, who lives in Madison, served up new insights.  The Cardinal was packed, and by the end of the second set almost everybody was dancing. 
Golpe Tierra and Cotito wrapped up at the Cardinal just before 8 PM.  Like magic, they reappeared (with about half of the Cardinal crowd, unwilling to give them up, in tow) on the Memorial Union Terrace half an hour later for MEChA’s annual Reventonazo, where they blew the roof off the big stage on the lake.  
                                                                              © SKepecs 2013

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Gringa's Guide Update: Lineup Switcheroo

Diplomatic developments flew fast and furious after I posted my Gringa’s Guide last week.  We seem to have averted jumping headlong into Syria’s civil war, for the moment, though Obama’s made it clear he reserves the right to strike.  So keep dancing.  Here’s another West African beat beat for you.  Janka Nabay’s bubu music, originally from Sierra Leone, replaces the Nigerien band Tal National in the MWMF Saturday afternoon lineup (5:30 PM on the Willy St. stage) thanks to the inevitable visa issues from which no world music fest anywhere has ever escaped.  Nabay, singer and showman, is called the Bubu King, though his is a lonely royal court – no queens, princes or rising bubu bands on the horizon.  If you Google “bubu music” or even “traditional bubu music of Sierra Leone” you won’t get any hits that don’t link to Nabay, probably because nobody else has urbanized and popularized it.  There’s a lone tape recording of traditional bubu music made years back by a Peace Corps volunteer – you can check out a clip in this article: .  This basic bubu is Afro-Muslim drum and bamboo flute music.  But what Nabay plays today is a long way from home.  Sierra Leone, like its neighbor to the south, Liberia, was the scene of freed African slave resettlement from Europe and the New World in the nineteenth century – though the former, rich in diamonds, was a British colony until 1962, while the latter was a sort of quasi colony of the US, financed by affluent white abolitionists whose political influence lasted well into the twentieth century.  Sierra Leone’s diamonds, as you can easily guess, led to gross social inequality, smuggling, corruption, deep-seated political unrest – and a brutal civil war that spanned the 1990s.  Nabay, in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, was playing an urbanized, reggae-tinged version of bubu, which the anti-government rebels -- who committed infamously gruesome atrocities that far outstripped the crimes of war and corruption perpetrated by the postcolonial players in power -- appropriated as a symbol of their identity. Nabay ended up caught in the middle and eventually fled to the States.  These days Janka Nabay, who lives in Washington, DC, and his Brooklyn based and bred Bubu Gang play potent guitar-synth-and horns afropop based on the bubu beat.  It’s not something you’ve heard before, and it’s a first for the MWMF.         by SK

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Gringa's Guide to the Madison World Music Festival, Chapter 10!

Chitravina N. Ravikiran

by Susan Kepecs
The Madison World Music Festival celebrates its tenth anniversary, Sept. 19-21 on the Memorial Union Terrace and at the Willy Street Fair.  The new decade’s starting to look eerily like the last one.  The very first Fest came a year into the Iraq War, which Dick Cheney had promised would last only “weeks.”  As I go to post this year's Gringa's Guide another mad dog White House is spewing flimsy pretexts for a new shock and awe campaign, this time against Syria. Assad's as evil as any dictator or terrorist we've taken down lately, but do we really have to rule the world?  Are we about to drop bombs on yet another failed state, over the objections of “the American people” and a slew of prominent Congressional Republicans (say what??)  Will Assad retaliate?  Or will Putin's plan to put Assad's chemicals under international control kill the craziness before it hits the fan?  And are chemical weapons really the crux of this situation?  By the time you read this you may know the answers.  But while the drums of war beat belligerently in Washington, drums from sundry spots around the globe serve up dance beats for us.  At the Madison World Music Festival you can literally feel – with your body, with your feet – the rhythms of the long, shifting history of cultural and economic connections that circle the earth.  The moral of this story?  Make dance, not war. 
I really like this year’s lineup, and here’s why. World music is fusion by nature.  The term itself is a commercial umbrella for a species of alt-pop that fuses “ethnic” or “folk” sounds with modern production techniques.  Also, nations aren’t isolates; the “traditional” forms on which world music’s based are like sponges, absorbing new influences over centuries of political, economic and religious change.  A lot of world music springs from this historical logic, though the latest phenom is altermodern sounds.  Altermodernism's a hip new buzzword for the Millennial mashup of socioeconomic globalization and aesthetic universalism.  Some altermodern world music is sleek and sophisticated, though most of it's best described as spurious syntheses of roots-related sounds laid over rock or hip hop beats.  Last year's fest had a few too many Celtic-cumbia-reggaeton-flamenco-let’s-party-baby uber-fusions, which I'm happy to report are MIA on this year's bill.  Take a look.

 Thursday, Sept. 19, Memorial Union Terrace:

5 PM The Chitravina N. Ravikiran Quartet offers an opening meditation. Ravikiran – guru, teacher, composer, master musician – was born in Karnataka, southwest India, in 1967 – the same year the late Ravi Shankar was teaching Beatle George Harrison to play the sitar, which introduced the Hippie Generation to Indian music.  Shankar was a master of northern, Hindustani music, which, like its southern counterpart, Carnatic music, is a classical form that emerged from an ancient pan-Indian sound sometime in the Middle Ages.  The two sound similar to my untrained ear – I’m at a loss to describe the difference.  But Ravikiran’s instrument is the chitravina, which only loosely resembles the more guitarlike sitar.  A fretless, lute-like instrument with three layers of strings, for melody, resonance, and drone, the chitravina's played with a slide, like a Hawaiian steel guitar or a dobro.  Though Ravikiran plays a plugged-in version the sound is soft, and in Sanskrit, Carnatic means “soothing to the ears.”  It’s modal and droning, with emphasis on the subtle values between the notes of its many seven-note scales.  Big Apple-based alto sax player Rudresh Mahanthappa, whose family emigrated to the States from south India, experiments with Carnatic scales.  Mahanthappa’s music sounds a lot different than Ravikiran’s, but the latter’s approach is similarly experimental – he’s developed an East / West blend of Carnatic melody and European harmony he calls “Melharmony,” which opens up the concept of Carnatic collaborations with jazz, blues and western symphonic ensembles. 

7 PM From the land of saunas, Nokia phones, the all-cello heavy metal band Apocalyptica, and one of the best public education systems in the world – that would be Finland – comes Kardemimmit, a four-woman ensemble playing their own tunes, deeply deeply rooted in Finnish folk traditions.  Even the name of this band is folksy – an amalgam of kardemumma (cardemom, used in a recipe for atraditional Finnish bread) and mimmit, Finnish for “girls.”  They play zither-like, diatonic-tuned kanteles – modern versions of a folk instrument descended from an an ancient mythological harp made from the jawbone of a giant pike and hairs from the tail of a stallion owned by a pagan hero-chief.  Kardemimmit’s soft sound evokes snow and mist that seems worlds away from the ebullient Finnish / Norwegian “Nordgrass”  fiddle band Frigg, which played the MWMF in 2011.

 9 PM Christine Salem, from Réunion Island, tours her new release, Salem Tradition, on the Cobalt label.  What she sings is moloya – voice-and-percussion, spirit possession music, polyrhythmic and percussive.  Réunion, a French “overseas department” that sits some 586 miles off the east coast of Madagascar, was uninhabited before the French claimed it in the seventeenth century.  In the eighteenth century the colonial overlords brutally removed Africans from Mozambique and Madagascar to work cane and coffee plantations on Réunion, which makes moloya African diaspora music.  In the mid-twentieth century the Catholic Church banned moloya, calling it “devil’s music” – ostensibly for its heathen nature, but more concretely because it was being used as a symbol of cultural identity and a rallying cry for political autonomy by the Communist Party of Réunion Island.  Separatist fervor died down, and the ban was lifted, in the 1980s – but moloya’s still mostly a male domain.  Christine Salem’s an edgy, feminist rebel, belting modern moloya – her own compositions, with lyrics that lie outside the music’s main spiritual intent – in her bluesy, powerhouse, contralto voice. 

Friday, Sept. 20, Memorial Union Terrace:

5 PM  Baladino, a quintet of talented young musicians with ethnomusicologists’ ears, cooks up spunky, rhythmic Jewish music from the melting pot that is modern Israel.  Lead singer Yael Badash, whose star potential shines bright, sings in Ladino, the mother tongue of Sephardic Jews (Sefarad is the Hebrew name for Spain).  Like its Eastern European, Ashkenazi counterpart, Yiddish, Ladino's an endangered language thanks to the Holocaust and Israel’s emphasis on Hebrew.  By some accounts only 200,000 Jews worldwide, among them just 50,000 Israelis, still speak it.  Baladino’s part of a youth-driven roots movement to revive this potpourri of a language, rooted in Medieval Spanish and Hebrew but expanded when the Sephardim were expelled from their homeland in 1492, the year Spain was united under the Catholic monarchy.  During the diaspora Ladino acquired new linguistic twists in North Africa, southeast Europe and the Middle East.  All of these influences spice Baladino’s soup, and notes of Eastern European klezmer flavor (without the accordian) simmer subtly in the mix. 


7 PM  The Krar Collective – a music and dance outfit from Ethiopia via the UK, which gained fame when it played at the London Olympics – approaches the North Africa / Middle East overlap from an entirely different cultural perspective. Ethiopia's the cradle of Christian history in Africa; Orthodox Christianity became the official religion of the Ethiopian Kingdom of Aksum in the fourth century AD.  In the seventh century, Muslims fleeing persecution in the Middle East found refuge in Aksum, where they paid tribute to Ethiopian kings until the bloody Muslim / Christian wars of the sixteenth century nearly destroyed the region.  Today a half-Christian, half-Muslim, post-colonial, post-Marxist hotbed of human rights abuses, Ethiopia – a landlocked nation on the Horn of Africa – straddles the cultural line between the Middle East and Africa, and that’s exactly what the Krar Collective sounds like.  The band’s lead instrument is the krar harp, used since Medieval times by Azmari minstrels who entertained the Christian royal court and later the secular patrons of traditional Ethiopian drinking establishments.  The Krar Collective, which usually performs as a trio featuring the eponymous harp, double-headed kebero drums, and one powerful chanteuse, rocks a plugged-in version of traditional Azmari music. 

9 PM  Nomadic Massive – an eight-member, socially conscious, international hip-hop “superfam” from Montreal, ends the night.  The tunes that wind through Nomadic Massive’s hip-hop beats reflect the origins of the French, English, Arabic, Spanish, and Haitian Creole speakers who compose the collective.  This soulful, polyglot species of altermodern rap doesn’t have a lot of “let’s party baby” in its often pointedly political lyrics, and its post-earthquake youth development hip-hop workshops in Haiti, plus similar projects in Havana and Sao Paolo, put social action behind its words.  Being a Boomer I never expect to enjoy hip-hop, but Blitz the Ambassador, from Ghana and New York, blew me away at the 2011 MWMF with his mighty hip-hop soul music, imbued with sizzling activist messages and musical influences ranging from Coltrane to James Brown. From the few YouTube videos I watched I don't know if I'll fall for Nomadic Massive or not, but if you're younger than me you probably will.  

Saturday, Sept. 21, Willy Street Fair:

1:30 PM The Prusinowski Trio, usually composed of four or five players despite the name, opens, with a set of rousing Polish folk tunes – dance music rooted in Renaissance-era peasant festivities.  These tunes – which may or may not have retained relics of more ancient, Slavic sounds – were adopted in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by the royal court in Krakow, and stylized into classical mazurkas, polonaises, and waltzes by Frederick Chopin in the 1800s.  The members of the Prusinowski Trio – highly accomplished, urban players who learned the music of Poland’s central villages at the side of old-time masters – return these forms to their roots, but with a very contemporary, Euro-arts edge.  Of course, Poland's got one of Europe's fastest-growing economies -- even its pastoral countryside, where farmers till the soil and grandmas patiently stuff pierogi with potatoes, is getting fracked, and the kids live for hip-hop and Krakow's hot alt-rock scene.  The Prusinowski Trio’s not just a band -- it's a cutting-edge instrument of cultural survival, updating traditional music to save it from extinction. 

3:30 PM While the Prusionowski Trio plays deep roots world music, from Poland’s neighbor to the east – the Ukraine – comes a thoroughly altermodern outfit that happens to be one of the most interesting acts in this year’s lineup – DakhaBrakha, a one man, three woman quartet.  DakhaBrakha marries an avant-garde musical interpretation of the Ukraine’s pre-Soviet national heritage, which owes much to the Cossacks – the fierce horsemen of the Eurasian Steppe – with the whole wide world. Other Millennial Ukranian bands take a similar approach, though DakhaBrakha seems farther out than most.  Its members wear tall, deconstructed Cossack hats and ply a panoply of traditional and modern instruments, from zgaleyka (Ukranian bagpipes, I think – this one was hard to track down) and garmosha (Russian accordion) to didgeridoo, djembe, tabla, cello, piano, and trombone.  Their repertory includes a trancelike Euro-Motown sound, complete with falsetto lead singing (by the guy), and a female backup chorus, plus a kind of Afro-Cossack tribal chant, and songs with catchy accordion riffs and djembe drums done in straight-up call-and-response – the Ukraine meets Africa in the altermodern universe.  It’s the most unlikely blue-eyed quasi-soul music imaginable, but it’s surprisingly satisfying.  

5:30 PM  Tal National, a guitar-driven band (six musicians, one dancer) from Niger’s fast-growing capital city of Niamey, has some big hits in its homeland and is celebrating its debut international release (Kaani, just out on Fat Cat Records).  Niger’s borders are essentially those of the former French Colonie du Niger, carved from an inland chunk of West Africa where the southern edge of the Sahara meets the Sahel in first half of the twentieth century.  The French still support Nigerien politicians who protect its economic interests, and Niger’s most valuable world-market resource is, um, uranium, which the French exploit.  Niger subsumes swaths of Songhai, Fulani, Hausa and Tuareg tribal territories, and members of these groups bring their beats to Tal National.  But this is no rootsy, folksy sound. Niamey, the economic, political and cultural hub of modern Niger, is a mushrooming West African city, and and Tal National plays hard-driving, urban, pan-West African music; tribal rhythms sizzle in a high-energy matrix of Nigerian Afrobeat, Ghanain highlife and Senegalese mbalax, or melt into the plaintiveness of Mali’s Tuareg desert blues.

7:30 PM  The last act on the Willy St. stage is Cristina Pato and the Migrations Band.  Pato’s a virtuoso bagpiper, and wildly accomplished classical and world musician (she’s a member of YoYo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, and she’s collaborated with Arturo O’Farrill, Paquito D’Rivera and Chick Corea, among other luminaries).  Pato’s gallega – a native of Galicia, the partly autonomous Spanish province on the northwest corner of the Iberian peninsula that sits right above Portugal. Galicia shares an ancient Celtic heritage with other regions of northwest Europe, including, of course, Ireland – and in fact bagpipes may have originated in Galicia, where they’re called gaita; the earliest bagpipes known are depicted in a medieval Galician manuscrit, the Cantigas de Santa María.  Most Galician world music today sounds a lot like Gaelic Storm, cashing in on the Irish craze -- but what Pato plays with her Migrations band is wild, open-ended jazz fusion that's partly Celtic with a Spanish tinge.   

Saturday, Sept. 21, Memorial Union Terrace:

9:30 PM  Joan Soriano, El Duque de Bachata, who capped the MWMF in 2010, does so again this year. Bachata, hugely popular dance music in its native Dominican Republic and among Latin dance fantics everywhere, is sometimes called amargue – bitterness – because its lyrics tend toward love and loss.  But bachata emerged in the explosion of euphoria that accompanied the assassination of strongman Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the little country occupying the eastern end of Hispaniola from 1930 to 1961.  With Trujillo gone, boisterous backyard parties (“bachatas”) broke out all over the poor black rural communities of the Dominican Republic, with food, drink, and a few musicians – a guitarist, a bongocero, somebody on maracas – on hand.  From there, bachata, an Antillean fusion in 4/4 time that takes cues from older guitar-based, Afro-Spanish genres – Dominican merengue but also Cuban bolero and Cuban son, plus Puerto Rican plena – spread to the bars and whorehouses of Santo Domingo’s shantytowns.  When I started dancing Latin at Mad City’s own Cardinal Bar in the late 1970s bachata was music on the margins of Dominican society, with no commercial machinery – nobody here knew about it, though Dominican merengue was a big deal.  It took a white, tech and media-savvy, university-educated Dominican musician – Juan Luis Guerra – to connect bachata to the world, in 1990.  Today, Millennial bachateros play New Yorkified bachata de alto voltaje, hip-hop bachata, and of course bachatón.  That’s definitively not Joan Soriano. He’s the real deal.  He still lives in Santo Domingo. On his latest ( I think) release, La Familia Soriano (iASO Records, 2012), he’s accompanied by three of his siblings, though I don't know if they'll appear here.  He plays plugged in, and writes updated lyrics, sin machismo – but it’s pura bachata, humble, melodic, encantadora, and irresistably bailable.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What's on Tap: Madison Ballet's Splashy 2013-14 Season

                             Smith (right, in red shirt) rehearsing Dracula at the
                               Madison Ballet studio last spring.  © SKepecs 2013
by Susan Kepecs
In 2004, when Madison Ballet artistic director W. Earle Smith first told me he was planning to create a professional neoclassical dance company in Madison, I pretty much didn’t believe him.  This has always been a modern dance town, thanks to the fact that the UW-Madison Dance Department famously was the first academic home of the Terpsichorean arts in the United States.  Off-campus modern companies were having some success – Kanopy’s been around since the mid-70s, and Li Chiao-Ping was doing interesting work.  But there’d never been hordes of balletomanes here, demanding steady diets of classical dance. Besides that, since there’d never been work for professional classical dancers in Madison there just weren’t any; the few locally-trained kids with oodles of talent went on to train and dance in bigger cities.  And it’s hugely expensive to start a ballet company from scratch.  But against these long odds, Madison Ballet today is a dream come true. The company’s sparkle these last few seasons is proof-in-the-pudding (you can find my reviews elsewhere on this blog) – and 2013-14 looks better yet.
The company’s transformation from community youth outfit to new jewel in the city’s classical arts crown was long and difficult.  You may remember that the original Madison Ballet was dedicated to an annual Nutcracker, performed by students from around the county and spiffed up with the addition of one-night-stand guest principals.  Launching the School of Madison Ballet, in the fall of 2004, was the first step toward a more professional model.  Smith created a pre-professional studio company composed of advanced student dancers, but performances still bore small resemblance to bona fide ballet.  It takes practically forever to build a company from the ground up, and guest principals remained the key to putting on passable productions.  In 2007 Smith decided to hire young professionals, which opened up new choreographic vistas, but he could only afford to bring them in for a few weeks prior to each performance.  Madison Ballet got bogged down in this pattern when the Crash of ’08 took its toll, but finally, in 2011-12, with many short-stint dancers returning regularly, the company started to gel. 
And then, last season, with the advent of resident dancers on full season contract, the metamorphosis was complete.  A highly polished Nutcracker in December was followed by the world premiere of Smith’s steampunk Dracula ballet in March, and capped with an April repertory concert featuring the company’s premiere of a sparkling little gem of pure ballet, George Balanchine’s Valse Fantaisie.  The Balanchine Trust decides which companies can be licensed to perform the twentieth-century master’s works, based on the director’s credentials and the company’s capability – and Valse is the first Balanchine ballet Smith’s acquired, so its performance here marked a milestone for Madison Ballet.
This year the resident company, as well as the number of company apprentices, is expanding, and while Madison Ballet still doesn’t have a full complement of male dancers on season contract, the men who’ve been the company’s standout soloists and principals over the last few years will return for a month at a time on a per-performance basis. Moreover, this will be Madison Ballet’s most substantial season yet, with two full-length story ballets and not one but two repertory programs.
Just in time for Halloween, the season kicks off with the return of Smith’s Dracula, Oct. 23-26 at Overture’s Capitol Theater.  It’s a sizzler of a ballet – sexy and chic, with a spooky, industrial set by APT’s Jen Trieloff and a robust rock n’ roll score by MAMA-winning Mad City composer / keyboardist Michael Massey.
   “Dracula’s back by popular demand,” Smith says, “and staging it again this fall gives us the opportunity to tweak the parts of it that still need a little work.”  Next year – the 2014-15 season – Dracula goes on tour.  That’ll be another milestone for Smith’s burgeoning young company.
   Smith’s very traditional Nutcracker shows a startlingly different side of Madison Ballet.  The quintessential Christmastime production has been lovely lately.  It’s the same old corny nineteenth century story it’s always been, and like Nutcrackers everywhere it’s still an opportunity for ballet students to strut their stuff.  But fronted by the company’s talented full-time professionals, it’s shed its amateur skin. The Madison Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Maestro John Demain, makes Tchiakovsky’s stupendous score glisten like winter wonderlands.  The Nutcracker runs Dec. 14-24, in Overture Hall.
And don’t forget Nutty Nut.  Like many other companies around the country, Madison Ballet now turns one performance from its annual Nutcracker run into a community-linked, pop-cultural spoof.  Doing Nutty Nut breaks up the routine for the artistic director, the dancers, and the audience alike.  It gives everyone something new to chew on, while still being a holiday celebration.  It’s a reason to go twice – though you might want to leave the kiddies home on Nutty night.  Last year’s Nutty Nut – the company’s first – was largely an experiment, but some of it – OK, maybe even most of it – made me laugh so hard there were tears in my eyes.  Parts of last year’s production will remain, Smith says.  “But it’ll get updated with current events – it’ll be very topical.”
Last season, for the first time, Madison Ballet offered its repertory concert at the Bartell instead of at one of Overture's smaller venues.  The Bartell’s intimate, hip / urban ambience was perfect for this nicely meshed mix of classic Balanchine (Valse Fantasie) and experimental, contemporary balletic works by Smith and UW-Madison dance prof Marlene Skog. The audience, sitting close, got to see what ballet really looks like – ethereal movement, plus effort and sweat. 
Madison Ballet stages both of its repertory concerts at the Bartell this season.  The first of these runs Jan. 31 – Feb. 1 (three performances in two days).  Details are in the works, but it’s a showcase for a broad range of choreographers – some local, some from out of town, some emerging, some established, and all TBA – who'll set selected works on Madison Ballet’s dancers.  “Each piece has to be a good vehicle for my dancers; it has to stand alone and also fit within the context of the program,” Smith says.  “The dancers have to like what they’re dancing, but I also want them to be challenged by it.” 
A concert of this kind shakes things up, Smith adds.  “We always want to be defining ourselves – that keeps it interesting.  We always want to be growing, as artists and as an organization, artistically speaking.  Bringing in outside choreographers extends our reach in all those ways.”
The content of the second repertory concert, Mar. 21-22 (three shows), is also still in the works, but Smith plans to resurrect his airy little set of Balanchine-y dances to Bach’s French Suite #3, which premiered on Madison Ballet’s “Pure Ballet” repertory program in the spring of 2008.  He’ll also choreograph at least one brand-new work, probably something contemporary and upbeat, with which to close the show, and the season.  It’s a format he’s had terrific success with in the past; in “Street,” the finale for the 2013 repertory show, he mixed neoclassical ballet and hip-hop, creating a seamless and spunky new vocabulary that, in the end, was thoroughly balletic.  To cap the 2013-14 season Smith says he’s thinking about using a compilation of ‘60s tunes, which, to my Boomer brain, is the best dance music ever. 
The kicker for this concert, though, will be the addition of a second Balanchine work to Madison Ballet’s repertory – Who Cares?, an urban, Jazz Age, nightlife ballet that the Master choreographed to seventeen Gershwin songs in 1970.  What we’ll see is the shorter “concert version,” a set of seven dances that omits the ensemble pieces and includes only the principal variations and pas de deux. 
Doing Who Cares? is momentous for Smith, who danced in this ballet many times over the course of his stage career.  “It was one of the best times I ever had onstage, dancing to Gershwin,” he says. 
Having watched Smith work over the years, it’s obvious that dancing Who Cares? also is part of what formed him as a choreographer.  The sexy, nightlife language, cast in Balanchine’s neoclassical style, is an aesthetic Smith’s returned to over and over, in works like “Night Dances,” made for Overture’s 2004 gala opening, and “Expressions” – a suite set to tunes from Madison chanteuse Jan Wheaton’s eponymous 2005 album, which premiered in Madison Ballet’s 2011 "Evening of Romance" repertory concert at Overture’s Capitol Theater.  
“My company's going to love dancing this ballet,” Smith says of Who Cares?.  He’s going to love staging it, too, and you just can’t go wrong with all that l-o-v-e.  Madison Ballet’s second repertory concert next spring should be a fine finale to a highly rewarding season.