Posts Tagged ‘outdoor’

Photo: Toronto Star.
The San Diego Symphony’s waterfront venue, the Rady Shell.

The pandemic made us take a close look at the possibilities of moving the performing arts outdoors. Maybe outdoor performance is a good idea even without a pandemic.

William Littler writes at the Toronto Star, “Yes, San Diego is an outdoors city, blessed with an enviable oceanside location and a climate worthy of a snowbird’s dreams. No wonder the local symphony orchestra wants to come out and play.

“It has an even better reason now, thanks to last month’s opening of Rady Shell in Jacobs Park, a downtown al fresco setting for up to 10,000 people, picturesquely surrounded on three sides by water.

“The setting is nature’s gift, slightly reminiscent of the days when the Toronto Symphony Orchestra had a popular series at Ontario Place. And I say slightly because Ontario Place offered the orchestra a shared residence in a multi-purpose facility, whereas Rady Shell was developed specifically as a home for the San Diego Symphony.

“Described as the only permanent waterfront performance space on the West Coast, the handsome shell stretches forward as if to embrace the audience, with a series of speakers lined up on each side of the upward sweeping, (imitation) grass-covered audience area.

“At an afternoon rehearsal I took the opportunity to walk around and sample the sound from different standpoints and was not surprised to find the best sound — which was surprisingly good — closer to the front, where most of it came directly from the stage. …

“The arrival of COVID-19 has led orchestras to seek ways to enhance their outdoor profiles.

“The Montreal Symphony Orchestra has taken to its city’s parks. The Boston Symphony Orchestra heads for Western Massachusetts and Tanglewood. The Los Angeles Philharmonic has Hollywood Bowl.

“Though never an ideal solution, Ontario Place gave the Toronto Symphony an opportunity to broaden its audience and lengthen its season.

“Rady Shell demonstrates what more can be achieved through years of careful planning. A community effort, because it is part of a park, 85 per cent open to the public, people have routine access to the site.

“According to CEO Martha Gilmer, the orchestra plans to present about 110 events there per year, including the first part of its fall season, thanks to San Diego’s friendly climate. …

“The Southwest is clearly America’s fastest growth area; witness the fact that Phoenix, Arizona, recently passed Philadelphia to become the country’s fifth largest city. A can-do attitude helps explain how the new facility was built almost entirely without government support.

“The architects clearly wanted to design a people place, even providing a 12-foot-wide walkaround with benches just outside the porous perimeter fence for those who would like to hear, if not actually see the concert, without buying tickets. During the opening concert I even saw passing sailboats pause to share the experience.

“Of course I am describing a special place, not the kind of home most orchestras could hope to build in their neighbourhood. But the need is the same, to reach out to more people in a friendly environment.

“The San Diego Symphony has obviously understood this: the opening event at Rady Shell was a full-scale symphony concert, conducted by its popular music director, Rafael Payare, who will add the Montreal Symphony Orchestra to his schedule in 2022, but the second event was a Broadway program presided over by a different maestro, and the third was a concert by Gladys Knight.

“Three substantially different audiences attended these concerts, testimony to the orchestra’s wish to open its doors wide. It is a strategy for survival for symphony orchestras in Canada as well as the United States.

“In the program handed out for the opening concerts, Payare declared unequivocally: ‘From the moment I first stood on the stage of what would become Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, I knew that it was going to be an incredibly powerful acoustic for the orchestra.’ ” More at the Toronto Star, here.

In related news, there’s an interesting New York Times article about an outdoor theater space that was launched by black-listed artists in the McCarthy era and got a new lease on life during the pandemic.

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Photo: John Campbell via CSM.
“This spring,” says the
Christian Science Monitor, “two groups of Sterling College students spent time at instructor John Campbell’s shop, Alpine Luddites, learning how to design backpacks and operate industrial-grade sewing machines.”

I never cease to be amazed by the great variety of careers out there, some of which are careers that individuals create for themselves. Consider mountain climber John Campbell, who has learned survival skills outdoors the hard way and now shares them with others, often indoors.

Gareth Henderson reported for the Christian Science Monitor on his work.

“After scaling the heights of the Andes, Alps, and northern Rockies, John Campbell understands the importance of proper outdoor gear – and he’s eager to share that knowledge.

“This spring, he taught college students in Vermont the finer points of backpack fixing – and even how to make their own product from scratch. That’s a big advantage for those pursuing outdoor careers, because it’s rarer than one might think, Mr. Campbell says.

“As recently as the 1990s, many outdoor brands in the United States sewed their products locally. But Mr. Campbell, who runs his own gear business, says that’s not the case anymore, and he wants to pass along how it’s done. 

‘These are just good skills to have,’ he says.

“Mr. Campbell is one of three instructors for the first gear design and repair course at Sterling College, in Craftsbury Common, Vermont. The scenic college, about 40 minutes from the Canadian border, has long focused on the environment and sustainability. The new design class has the potential, say the instructors and those in the industry, to not only help students be better prepared for surviving in the wild, but also expand both local gear manufacturing and an understanding of the design process overall.

“ ‘Everything – and I do mean everything – is designed and developed the same way: through a series of steps that visualize, confirm, and then create,’ says Kurt Gray, who runs the design and product operation at Jagged Edge Mountain Gear in Telluride, Colorado. ‘The major benefit to the community,’ he adds, ‘is teaching young people how to realize their dreams through the rigors of meticulous planning and application of skill.’ …

“Mr. Campbell started by introducing students to his business, Alpine Luddites, in Westmore, Vermont. Students – in two groups of five due to pandemic protocols – trained on three large, industrial-grade sewing machines. Each group created its own backpack design, and from there individuals made their own packs, which they personalized with smaller parts, like daisy chains (the bumpy strips on the sides of packs), pockets, clips, and straps. …

“When the students weren’t at Mr. Campbell’s shop, they were honing their new skills on the nearby 130-acre Sterling campus in Craftsbury Common, a village in the town of Craftsbury, where experiential outdoor learning has been in place for five decades.

“Josh Bossin, one of the outdoor education faculty, organized the course and taught the ins and outs of repair and gear history. At his request, the college community dropped off all kinds of outdoor gear for the students to fix.

” ‘This allows us to support our community [with] keeping things out of the landfill, and at the same time, gives my students a chance to do real-life repairs and feel the impact it has with a real “customer,” ‘ says Mr. Bossin. …

“Having more students learn the skills the class is offering, Mr. Campbell says, could help bring back some manufacturing jobs that were lost years ago. … 

“Prin Van Gulden focused on participants mastering fundamentals like sewing in her part of the course, including a range of techniques for making repairs by hand. ‘My goal is for students to gain confidence and competence with the basics,’ says Ms. Van Gulden, an adjunct faculty member in the area of environmental humanities. ‘I want them to feel undaunted, to feel empowered to deal with problems as they come up.’ …

“Tyler Kheang, a student from Philadelphia, would like to use what he’s learned to get others interested in the outdoors. ‘For me personally, I want to get more minorities into the outdoor setting,’ he says.

“These skills save money, he says, as you can repair old gear rather than buying new. And anyone can learn it, he adds. ‘It takes away that financial factor and makes an opportunity for everyone to be equal,’ he says. ‘A lot of people back where I’m from don’t have a lot of money to buy expensive things.’ “

More at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: Alexander Izilieav /Miami New Times
Miami City Ballet is one of the few national ballet companies this year putting on a production of The Nutcracker.

Holidays go on, one way or another. On Friday, our church had an online carol sing (secret of success: only one person unmuted at a time), and I was able to see my grandchildren in two different states mouthing the words and dancing. Someone else I know watched her friend’s son perform (virtually) as the Prince in a local Nutcracker. In Miami, another Nutcracker is taking place outdoors.

Gia Kourlas reports at the New York Times, “Lourdes Lopez, the artistic director of Miami City Ballet, is facing a new unknown. It’s a fear she’s never had. And it stresses her out.

“ ‘I just hope that at the last minute that they don’t close us down,’ she said. …

“Against the odds during a pandemic, the company will present its reimagined production of ‘George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker’ this month. Normally, Ms. Lopez said, her worries would fall more along the lines of, are the costumes going to be ready? …

“Now she is thinking about the backstage choreography of the crew and the dancers, since masks will not be worn during performances. ‘We have to make sure that when you’re exiting, no one is in that wing,’ she said. …

“ ‘The Nutcracker’ ” is more than a beloved holiday staple. For ballet companies across the country it’s a financial lifeline that supports the repertory for the rest of the year. This year, most productions have been relegated to virtual offerings, but Miami has something that some other cities, like New York, don’t: warm weather at holiday time.

“The company’s production of Balanchine’s 1954 classic already pops with an abundance of color and heat. In 2017, it was given a vibrant Miami makeover, with designs and costumes by Isabel and Ruben Toledo and projections by Wendall K. Harrington. …

“Miami City Ballet’s production is, Ms. Lopez noted, a true community effort. ‘Think of a hospital, a government agency, a real estate investment firm and a ballet company somehow coming to the table,’ she said. ‘Never in my wildest dreams would I ever, ever have thought of that.’

“She hadn’t planned for this to happen.

‘This is not because I’m a visionary,’ Ms. Lopez said. ‘It was just opportunities that arose and it came, honestly, from a “What can we do?” ‘ …

“It was Ms. Harrington who, over the summer, suggested to Ms. Lopez that the company should present a ‘Nutcracker.’ … ‘I’m not like the hugest fan of “The Nutcracker” in all the world, but I do know of its healing effects,’ she said. ‘And right now we need a little Christmas, as the song goes.’ …

“The company has teamed up with a health care partner, Baptist Health South Florida, and abides by a stringent testing and safety protocol. Masked audience members will be seated in socially distanced pods that accommodate up to four people each. The intermission has been cut to five minutes — more of a pause — and the idea is to get people in and out efficiently.

“Ms. Lopez credited early actions that the Miami City Ballet organization took when the coronavirus forced a shutdown in March. It quickly formed a Covid task force, which led to engaging an industrial hygienist who examined the studios for safety. …

“Ms. Lopez was able to hold the school’s summer course — an indoor, in-person program for 100 students — for five weeks in July. ‘We were biting our nails because Florida in July was a red-hot state,’ she said. ‘And we didn’t have one single case in those five weeks. We sent the staff home. You couldn’t come into the building if you weren’t part of the school or faculty.

“ ‘And so there was a real sense that we could do this, that we knew how to do it safely in the building. That’s really how it started.”

“When Downtown Doral Park became available, Ms. Harrington refocused her thinking. … ‘I had to look through the ballet and figure out how the storytelling can continue without the numbers of people that you would want in the party scene and the battle scene. … One big change is an Act 2 overture in place of the young children who usually play Angels. For it, she created a journey from the snow scene that ends Act 1 to the beach, ‘because it’s Miami,’ Ms. Harrington said. …

[Ms. Harrington] was always baffled by the abrupt change in setting, from the Act 1 snow scene to Act 2’s tropical Land of the Sweets. ‘It was snowy and now there’s a pineapple onstage,’ she said. … ‘It was within my grasp to fill in the gaps. …

“ ‘I felt like this could be a thrill. I hope I’m right. I believe in theater and art. … I just needed it to happen.”

More here.

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Photo: Simon Simard for the New York Times
Outdoor choir practice. “The choir at the First Parish Church of Stow and Acton,” wrote the New York Times last week, “was able to meet for the first time since the pandemic began.”

Although coronavirus on surfaces still seems to be an issue (read about a lab study in Australia that says it can cling to phones and banknotes for 28 days), my current focus is on droplets suspended in the air. More ventilation, fewer ventilators!

So I’ve been following stories about people who have found ways to do things outside that would be too dangerous inside right now.

Bob Morris writes at the New York Times about singers feeling more like they are part of a real choir when they rehearse from their cars. (More or less how I hope to be with friends in winter.)

“I love singing four-part harmony,” Morris says. “It isn’t just about the precision, the ringing sound when voices blend together. It’s also about community, listening to one another and breathing together, creating a mood-lifter and balm in a fraught world.

“But like theater and hand shaking, choral singing has been canceled for now — and for good reason. Singing is the AK-47 of expression in the coronavirus era, shooting out so many aerosols that a church choir in Washington made the news in March when almost everyone present contracted the virus after a rehearsal; 53 singers became ill, and two died.

“When my men’s a cappella chorus on Long Island turned to Zoom rehearsals in the spring, I didn’t last long. The lag time over Zoom didn’t allow for live harmonizing or even the simplest singing in unison. ‘Performing’ meant recording ourselves alone at home so our conductor could edit us together.

“It felt like homework for hobbyists, without the emotional payoff. So when I first heard about choirs singing live in cars, it struck, well, a chord.

“It started with David Newman, a baritone on the voice faculty of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. In May, after a widely discussed web conference on the dangers of singing, Mr. Newman set up a sound system with four wireless microphones, an old-school analog mixer and an amplifier. Several singers gathered in their cars on his street, and he conducted them from his driveway.

“It worked. Out of respect for the neighbors, Mr. Newman started using an FM transmitter, so the blended sound came through over car radios — as it does for drive-in movies — not over a loudspeaker. He found barely any audio delay. ‘The latency was near zero, which was really exciting,” he told the Chorus Connection. ...

“Word of Mr. Newman’s drive-in chorus gradually spread as he posted instructions to help other groups. Bryce and Kathryn Denney, in Marlborough, Mass., were inspired … and were soon showing up with a car full of equipment for dispirited local choirs to facilitate live singing for up to 30 participants.

“On a recent Sunday, I was one of them. … The steeple of the First Parish Church of Stow and Acton, towered over the verdant town of Stow, Mass., west of Boston. …

“ ‘This is one concert that can’t be canceled,’ Bryce. …

“Kathryn, who directs musical theater productions, added, ‘We figured out how to bring people together to sing without making them sick,’ as she checked a spreadsheet of arriving participants and, wearing black latex gloves, [then gave participants] color-coded … sanitized microphones. …

“[The choir’s boyish conductor, Mike Pfitzer] had us sing scales and arpeggios. Hearing others not just over my radio but also outside made my voice shaky with emotion, especially when we sang the chords I’d been missing for so long: sunny major ones, darker minor ones and a trickier major seventh, as well. …

“I struggled with ‘Bonse Aba,’ the cheerful Zambian call and response song. … A rough translation of the song — a hymn — suggests it means that all children who want to sing should be able to sing. And so I did in close, bright harmony; we all did, with bells from the steeple ringing 5 o’clock just as we were finishing with another hymn, ‘May I Be Still.’ …

“ ‘It wasn’t just wonderful,’ said Ruth Lull, a soprano. ‘It was like coming home.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Library of Congress
In the early 1900s, people knew ventilation was essential to stop the spread of tuberculosis. Above, an open-air classroom in Chicago.

Now is the time we start to learn which of the many approaches to conducting school during a respiratory pandemic works best — and where. An outdoor version of school might work better in the South than the North.

Or maybe not. New England once held school outdoors, right through the winter. People in those days knew that ventilation was essential to slowing the spread of tuberculosis. The attitude to science was different then.

Dustin Waters writes at the Washington Post, “Nine schoolchildren sat at their desks wrapped in chunky layers of flannel, their feet resting on heated soapstones as the frigid New England air stung their faces. In January 1908, amid a tuberculosis epidemic, these Rhode Island students were part of a unique experiment to combat the infectious disease: America’s first open-air school. …

“In the early 1900s, it was estimated that as many as 30 percent of school-age children in Providence carried tuberculosis, a bacterial infection that often attacked the lungs. Although many of the infected children showed no outward symptoms, the infection could lie dormant for years and ultimately contribute to death in adulthood. To combat this, medical experts urged the importance of plenty of sunshine and fresh air.

“Tuberculosis specialist Mary Packard — one of the first women to graduate from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine — wrote to the Rhode Island state medical examiner in August of 1907 to propose a plan. Along with fellow Hopkins-educated physician Ellen Stone, Packard had overseen an open-air summer camp for tubercular children. The students who attended the camp were set to return to their cramped classrooms in the city at the start of the school year. The doctors feared that any progress that had been made over the summer would be lost. They suggested the creation of a new type of classroom.

“Work soon began on an unused schoolhouse on Providence’s East Side. The large, open classroom on the second floor was painted a soft shade of green, save for the wall facing south. This was demolished and replaced with a row of large windows operated by pulleys. Despite the harsh winter temperatures, these windows remained open during class — filling the room with fresh air and sunlight. …

“The school’s pupils varied in age and grade level, but they did share a similar set of characteristics: They were all underweight, anemic and weak. For some in attendance, it was their first opportunity to participate in an actual classroom due to a lifetime of poor health. Some had recently lost parents to tuberculosis. Each child was weighed and examined by a physician after arriving to class.

Then the children would be wrapped in large flannel sacks lined with paper and cotton, many of which were donated by a local church’s sewing circle.

“Each student’s desk sat atop a movable platform that allowed for the pupils to be easily shuffled around during the day to chase the rays of direct sunlight. Students were led in breathing exercises and singing practice to strengthen their lungs. Owing to its former use as a cooking school, the classroom was outfitted with a cavernous oven that served as a source of warmth.

“News of the school quickly spread, with newspapers across the country running an identical report shortly after the school opened: ‘Little faces that were sallow and pinched a few weeks ago have a healthy flush, and children who were too tired to play are beginning to show some interest in life. All of this … is what the fresh-air school has accomplished.’ …

“Wrote historian Richard Meckel in a 1995 article in Rhode Island History. ‘Virtually all the children attending the school had gained weight and improved in general health, and even a few had been able to return to normal classrooms.’ …

“[In today’s pandemic,] members of the Providence Teachers Union are worried that some classrooms are not safe. One of the concerns, according to the Providence Journal, is ventilation and classroom windows that are unable to open.”

More at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: Library of Congress.
A New York City school around the time of the flu pandemic. History shows it’s possible to hold classes outdoors when the safety of breathing indoors is uncertain.

Photos taken in the 1918 flu pandemic show some schools holding classes with all the windows open or even outdoors. Could we do that today? Reporter Nate Berg at Fast Company looked into the question.

“Sharon Danks has been working for more than 20 years to get schoolkids outdoors,” he writes. “As a trained landscape architect and urban planner, she says too many schools across the country ignore the educational and health benefits offered by the outdoor spaces of their campuses. This is something she’s been trying to change through her nonprofit Green Schoolyards America, based in Berkeley, California. …

“In April, Danks began having conversations about reopening local schools with three other organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area. … In early June, the organizations cohosted a webinar on responding to COVID-19 by using outdoor spaces for education. More than 1,000 people from 40 states and eight countries registered.

“[The organizations then] created the National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative, an effort to create guidelines schools can follow to use their outdoor spaces more effectively in order to bring back face-to-face learning. Volunteers from across the country are now participating in 10 working groups focused on different aspects of moving classes outdoors, from funding to safety to the physical infrastructure needed to seat and teach students outside.

‘The central problem that we were looking at is that none of our schools were built to be able to accommodate kids 6 feet apart inside the building,’ Danks says.

“But what most schools are equipped with is outdoor space and playgrounds — spaces that can be adapted for outdoor learning. Through the use of physical objects such as shade structures and weatherproof seating and adjusted lesson plans that reduce teachers’ reliance on computer screens and overhead projectors, outdoor classrooms can allow classes to continue with the space and fresh air that epidemiologists believe prevents transmission of the virus.

“Outdoor learning can move all students outdoors, or at least shift enough of the student population outside to make indoor classrooms safe with smaller class sizes. Distance learning, with its inherent difficulties, inequities, and access challenges, may become just a rainy day backup plan. …

“In 2017, the San Mateo County Office of Education started an Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Initiative that focuses on increasing knowledge about environmental issues. It does so partly by integrating natural and outdoor spaces into school curricula. Andra Yeghoian, the initiative’s coordinator, says the program has been working to ensure that students at every grade level in its roughly 270 schools have daily access to outdoor learning and play spaces. … ‘Now COVID-19 has really flipped that to be that every kid at every grade level in every subject area can do the majority of their learning outside.’ …

“Danks estimates that only about 15% to 20% of schools in the U.S. have these kinds of facilities. ‘The other 80%, 85% of schools have probably never taken a class outside to do hands-on learning on their own site,’ she says.

“This is where the initiative’s working groups come in. Each is developing a set of two-page recommendations that will provide simple instructions for dealing with common outdoor complications like cold and hot weather, spatially distanced seating arrangements, dust, and insects. Eventually, the recommendations will be published as a free online guidebook. …

“Claire Latané is an assistant professor in Cal Poly Pomona’s landscape architecture department and is leading a group of volunteer landscape architects who are working directly with school officials to identify optimal spaces and sizes of outdoor classrooms. She says about 100 designers have signed up to help, and the first teams are using aerial imagery of campuses to find places with adequate shade, either under trees or carports, and ensuring any changes to school grounds comply with local fire and accessibility codes. They’re also advising on how the locations of outdoor classrooms can address weather concerns. …

“Three case studies have been published on Green Schoolyards America’s website, and offer suggestions for schools in different climates. … At a low cost of just a few thousand dollars, schools use only their existing outdoor shade and tree-covered areas, augmented with affordable seating such as hay bales and additional clothing for unexpected cold or wet weather. …

“The whole process of transitioning to outdoor education doesn’t have to be tortuous, Danks says.

‘In the last pandemic in 1918 to 1920, with tuberculosis and the Spanish flu, schools around the world went outside … even just moved their desks right outside their buildings,’ Danks says. ‘They didn’t overthink it, they just moved their space to where the air was fresher.’ ”

More at Fast Company, here.  Hat tip: ArtsJournal.

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Vermont’s Farm Ballet


Photo: Jonas Powell
The Farm Ballet performing at Philo Ridge Farm in Charlotte, Vermont. The atmosphere is casual and allows small children to have fun, too.

Around the country, arts organizations are continually thinking up new ways to expand their audiences whether it’s New York City’s public schools adding Broadway shows to the curriculum with $10 tickets (here) or free admission for teens to the Art Institute of Chicago (here).

In today’s post, a ballet company makes professional dance performances available to people who prefer to be outdoors and dress casually.

Elizabeth M. Seyler writes at Seven Days, “Going to the ballet often conjures images of elegant theaters, dapperly dressed adults and thin young people dancing across a pristine stage. But what if ballet were more than that? What if parents in jeans and sandals brought their rambunctious children to a farm picnic to watch ballet lovers of all ages dance across a verdant, or muddy, field? Would it still be ballet?

“In Vermont, it sure would. Since 2015, the Farm to Ballet Project, founded and directed by Vermont-raised ballet professional Chatch Pregger, has given 24 full-length classical ballet performances for adults and children at 17 Vermont farms.

“Featuring six string musicians and 25 adult dancers, each performance conveys the work and life of a female farmer during the growing season and the natural forces she encounters. …

” ‘At our performances, I see all the adults with their picnic blankets and their dinners — eating, drinking, enjoying themselves,’ says company soloist Maria Mercieca. ‘And I see all the kids dancing along, running around. They’re watching, they’re enjoying it, they’re taking it in, but they’re not being made to be still. I love that about it. It’s a family- and kid-friendly event, and I mean little, little kids.’

” ‘It’s really a great event for our members and our community,’ says Tre McCarney, director of community programs at Shelburne Farms. She’s coordinated four Farm to Ballet events there, and each has drawn more than 600 spectators. …

“From two performances this year, McCarney expects to receive approximately $8,000 to support Vermont Food Education Every Day, a partnership of Shelburne Farms and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. More specifically, funds help sustain Jr Iron Chef VT, a statewide culinary competition for teams of middle and high school students charged with creating healthy, locally sourced dishes to improve school meals. …

” ‘The company is very tight; we’re very close,’ says Mercieca, 41, a member of Farm to Ballet since 2016. “‘It’s not competitive; it’s really supportive and a good place to be. …

” ‘We aren’t 40-pound creatures who can wrap their legs around their heads,’ adds company soloist Avi Waring. “We’re human beings,.’ …

“For most of Farm to Ballet’s choreography, Pregger reinterpreted ballet classics such as ‘Swan Lake’ and ‘Giselle’ to allow dancers to perform on grass without turns or pointe shoes. But each year he also created original choreography for one of the concerti in Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. ‘Bees & Friends’ combines those original works into a 45-minute performance set to the Vivaldi piece.” More here and here.

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The Royal Frog Ballet recently staged an outdoor event to welcome fall, but according to the lead players, it wasn’t so much a performance for strangers as a gift to new friends. The effect was surreal and entertaining.

Amelia Mason reports at WBUR, “A masked woman in an apron and kerchief jumps up on a picnic table and addresses a crowd.

“ ‘I’m your grandmother, and I’m here to help you throughout this show …  The first thing to know is that when I ring this bell it means we’re all going to move to the next thing and you’re going to have to follow my directions, OK?’

“It is the opening night of the Royal Frog Ballet’s ninth-annual ‘Surrealist Cabaret.’ Our guide — Shea Witzo, in the role of the Granny — gives us some more instructions: Watch out for holes. Stick close together. But first — wait. We pause for a moment, unsure of where to look.

“Then, 6-year-old Aiden Bairstow catches sight of something.

“ ‘Oh, I know what’s happening,’ he says. ‘I see it right behind you.’ We turn to see a band — fiddle, accordion and drums — approaching from across the field.

“The farm, it turns out, has many secrets in store. No matter where we look, something strange and surprising is bound to appear: a tall, swaying monster on stilts, for instance, or the pair of scientists who inform us that we are part of their experiment. At one point, our guide delights us with a salty parody of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark.’ The pieces are linked loosely around a theme. …

“ ‘A lot of us are trying to make work that is like a gift, rather than a performance for [the audience],’ says Sophie Wood, one of the founders of the ‘Surrealist Cabaret.’ The project started in 2007, when Wood and a group of artist friends decided to perform some of their works-in-progress at a farm in Amherst. They mounted the production in a big barn and served the audience dinner. …

“The collective goes by the name the Royal Frog Ballet, and it has mounted weird and whimsical performances every year since its founding. … This fall, the theme is ‘hope and joy.’ …

“ ‘It feels like an old tradition,’ says Leah Sakala. … ‘It feels like we’re partaking in something, the kind of art that’s been made for a very long time, but at the same time it manages to be very relevant.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Sarah Ledbetter for WBUR
A performance of the “Surrealist Cabaret” in Essex, Mass., in October.

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