The Parchman Hour
New Guthrie artistic director Joseph Haj deserved credit for reviving the fortunes of Chapel Hill’s PlayMakers Repertory Company during his tenure in that regional theater’s driver’s seat; it was there in 2011 that The Parchman Hour debuted to reports of a stirring, passionate performance. The show’s secondary title is Songs and Stories of the ’61 Freedom Riders, and it re-creates the nightly inmate variety show at the notorious Mississippi prison where activists of the nascent Civil Rights movement were sent by the forces of violence and segregation. It’s unfortunate that this is just the sort of history we need to be aware of right now, but there it is—a reminder of how the bended arc of history moves in the direction of righteousness when we stand together in the name of basic decency and recognition that we are one.
Lucas Cranach the Elder, Martin Luther, 1528
Photo copyright Luther Memorials Foundation of Saxony-Anhalt
“Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation”
It’s one of history’s ironies that today we think of Lutheranism as thoroughly middle of the road—after all, almost half a millennium ago Martin Luther’s “Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” shook a fist at the greatest forces of its day and ushered an intellectual and spiritual revolution that profoundly influences the world we live in today. This exhibition at Mia focuses on the man and what he wrought, telling the story through paintings, sculptures, textiles, and works on paper that depict the high-wire thinking and theology of a movement that literally altered heaven and earth for humanity. Some of these works have never left Germany before, and we’ll also get a look at some of Luther’s personal possessions and other items recently found from excavations of the places he lived. And get ready—the 500th anniversary of Luther’s rebellion is October 31, 2017. (As another radical said, fight the power.)
Vänskä Conducts Mahler’s Sixth
The story goes: Conductor and composer Gustav Mahler, after the tragic death of his young daughter Maria, casually offered his chest to the stethoscope of a doctor who had made a call to his house. What the doctor heard was not good—despite Mahler’s apparent good health, episodes of strep infection had contributed to the heart disease that would kill him at the age of 50. It was several years earlier that Mahler had composed his sixth symphony, nicknamed “Tragic” for its extremities of emotion and a mood in its closing passages that has been described as wrenching and nihilistic (despite the happiness in his own life at the time). The scope and power of the piece is nothing short of astonishing, and it’s performed less often than the two symphonies that preceded it, which makes for an opportunity to luxuriate in its relatively unfamiliar, jarringly beautiful splendor.
s t a r g a z e
Photo by Emanuel Florakis
Poliça and s t a r g a z e: Music for the Long Emergency
Amid a few revelatory performances at this previous summer’s Rock the Garden, Poliça etched an indelible memory: Playing into a blistering sun, with the band’s twin drum attack interweaving rhythm patterns somehow both clinical and hysterical, singer Channy Leaneagh threw herself into an otherworldly performance as though shouting to be heard over a gale-force wind. Poliça is simply one of the best bands in the world right now, and this performance at the Fitzgerald with quasi-classical Berlin combo s t a r g a z e (our proofreader just had a series of small strokes) is wildly intriguing, with the latter known for staking outlaw turf in the world of contemporary chamber music and thriving on collision and collaboration. Expect a hybrid between human and machine sounds that effectively blurs the line between both while charting a course between oceanic dissonance and beauty.
Performance is as ephemeral as a Buddhist colored-sand mandala, taking shape through painstaking care and metaphysical awareness, crystallizing into a point in time and space, then breaking down into its fundamental parts—never to be exactly the same again. The world premiere Soft Goods by Minneapolis-based choreographer Karen Sherman wades into this sense of labor, loss, and the fleeting nature of existence by depicting the behind-the-scenes creation of a dance performance, laying bare the elements of craft and inspiration with an ensemble of 10 dancers and theater technicians. If a theater is akin to a cathedral of the imagination, Soft Goods chases after the beating heart behind the sacramental service.
Walker Art Center
Digital extra: Watch the Walker’s season preview trailer here