ALEXANDRA – Propeller Theatre, Sun Ra, Istanbul Baroque provide musical delights

Propeller Theatre, Sun Ra, Istanbul Baroque provide musical delightsSeveral contrasting performances in Istanbul this month in theater, jazz and baroque music gave audiences wonderful variety. And one had a special surprise from Mother Nature.

In the middle of Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Art’s (IKSV) 19th Istanbul Theater Festival, the Propeller Theatre from London, sponsored by the British Council, gave six performances (three each of William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”) and two free workshops from May 20-24 at the Muhsin ErtuIrul Theater in Harbiye. In addition to their brilliantly conceived theatrics — a mash-up bearing the earmarks of New York’s La Gran Scena Opera, the seriocomic abandon of actor Robin Williams, and the smirky satire of Britain’s Monty Python — the all-male cast of Propeller takes the Bard of Avon’s comedic works to the nth degree of hilarity.

Some of the actors play females, but without trying to fool us at all. In fact, it’s just the kind of thing audiences in previous centuries might have witnessed, including their bonus mariachi band preludes, footlight serenades and lobby concerts at intermission.

The musical element is one of the troupe’s essential tools: Throughout the performances the actors play instruments of all kinds, and their musical creations aren’t only songs, but ambient sounds that add unique a sonic dimension.Their “Midsummer’s” soundscape was a pixilated confection that used falsetto choirs, shimmering percussion sounds, and small harmonicas, all of which created an enchanted atmosphere.

Later, several actors entered with cello, clarinet, flute and guitar to accompany canticles written by fellow actor Dominic Gerrard. Gerrard described the company in my interview with him during their May 24 “Music on the Stage” workshop: “It’s a musical ensemble as much as a theater ensemble.

Making music is the best way to work together — to hear each other in a more profound way.”In the final act of “Comedy,” where the characters express their mounting frustration surrounding several mistaken identities, a sudden dramatic silence after a miraculously choreographed cyclone of screeching altercations was in itself a kind of symphonic fermata (a held moment of unspecified length) that had the audience doubled over in laughterThe aforementioned workshop was led by assistant director Ellen Havard, who took 17 local volunteers through several assignments using instruments and voices to characterize aspects of a play, and to accomplish it as a team During the last exercise, the light fixtures above the stage began rattling and the floor started rocking.

It was Mother Nature’s own theatrical contribution: a 64 earthquake.Shakespeare’s Elizabethan English is a tough order for any native English speaker to understand, and I imagine it’s totally inscrutable for non-native English speakers.

No worries with Edward Hall’s extraordinary direction, the actors’ deftly daffy characterizations and their inspired use of music, Propeller Theatre’s Shakespeare is pure magic for everyone.Babylon goes EgyptianThe band looked like fantasy pharaohs in their radiant kaftans and multicolored headdresses.

Egyptian costume is the theme of the Sun Ra Arkestra (a deliberate re-spelling of “orchestra”). May 22 was the 100th birthday of the founder of Sun Ra, American jazz musician Herman Blount, who had an obsession with Egyptian gods and space travel.

So Istanbul’s music club Babylon in BeyoIlu invited Sun Ra Arkestra for a double gig on May 21 and 22 to celebrate with their unorthodox brand of musical mayhemBlount formed this band in the 1950s and they performed his original music, which in its Beatnik zeitgeist often included dancing, poetry, animated chaos among the players, and included oddities (in the jazz world) like a solo French hornist. Fourteen members of the present-day Sun Ra performed (I heard them on May 22) in their signature style — a long riff continuum over a bass ostinato with a touch of irreverent theatrics.

Notable in the sax section was their longtime leader after Blount’s death in 1993, Marshall Allen, now 90 years old and still a frisky frontman.At the end, the band marched through the audience while playing, giving the crowd a raucous taste of New Orleans but compared to their performance at the Akbank Jazz Festival in 2010, it was considerably tame.

Maybe the age factor has slowed them down. I missed their hijinks, high kitsch, poetry and hard-stomping blues.

Anyway, Sun Ra was still remembered with some swingin’ respect.And more respect is due to Babylon and its company Pozitif Live: All ticket sales for their May and June concerts will go to the Community Volunteers Foundation’s (TOG) Soma fund, for educational scholarships for the children of families hurt by the May 13 mining tragedy.

Baroque on the BosporusThe KulturForum at the Austrian Consulate in Istanbul that overlooks the Bosporus in Yeniky, hosted the final event of the 20th International Istanbul Baroque Festival’s series of concerts and workshops from May 3 to 8 Members of the Austrian Baroque ensemble joined several local players and soprano Dilruba Bilgi and baritone Caner AkIn in a performance of Handel’s “Apollo and Daphne.”The charming secular cantata, a series of 18 Italian arias and recitatives, is based on the two mythological figures.

Daphne, trying desperately to rebuff the arrogant Apollo, turns herself into a laurel tree, whereupon he remorsefully pledges to water it forever with his tears. While the two singers ably projected the dramatic aspects of this work, written in 1710, the vocal aspects were closer to those of Verdi, who wrote 150 years later Less vocal weight and more attention to the words as the impetus for elegant expression would have been more stylistically appropriate.

Istanbul Baroque’s founder and harpsichordist Leyla PInar is to be commended for championing this particular era of music in a country that has had practically no scholarship in the field of early performance practice, which is substantially different than that of the 19th century. Instrumentalists are leading the way to authentic Baroque style here.

Now it’s time for singers in Turkey to learn it, too. (Photo: Ali Guler)The Sun Ra Arkestra plays a concert in Barcelona in a file photo dated Aug.

21, 2013. (Photo: Suso Navarrete.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman