by carl wilson

Hymn to a Ballroom:
The Arkestra Meets Coleman Lemieux Dance

I hadn't realized what a posh event last night's launch of the X-Avant festival featuring the Sun Ra Arkestra and the Coleman Lemieux dance company was going to be. Among all the out-music heads I chatted with at the Palais Royale last night, it seemed like few had ever been there before; I hadn't been to the Twenties-and-Thirties-era dance palace since its renovations six years ago, when it was a drafty, peeling-plaster shed that looked a bit like a bandshell and a bit like an aircraft hanger that had been shelled. It had a Mrs. Haversham kind of glamour.

My initial response to seeing the new Palais was to regret its fancying-up, since it does look a bit like an Event Venue now, if you know what I mean. But it was impossible not to savour the incongruity of being at an avant-garde-music event where there are ushers dressed in suits and ties; where there are black-suited bartenders doing Tom-Cruise-in-Barfly-type flip tricks with bottles of coconut rum; where there's a roaring gas fire in a fireplace, and a table of expensive pastries for sale; where there are cocktail tables and sweeping multi-beam stage lights... It was a kind of social-science-fiction of its own, as if we were playing characters devised to set the greatest possible visual contrast to the Arkestra musicians in their shiny King-Tut-on-Saturn robes and the dancers in their headdresses, toga-dresses, modern-primative-dresses and undresses. It was especially effective at the end when dancers, band and audience were all together on the dance floor.

Musically, it was the best Arkestra concert of the three or four I've seen. In the past, I've found the group generally inconsistent, a bit of a museum piece that sometimes reaches the cosmic heights and sometimes seems a few thrusters short of liftoff; I'm not sure if there are some new members, or maybe a few of the veterans in wobbly health have retired, or maybe they were just inspired by the setting but they were super-tight and vigorous, whether they were playing Fletcher Henderson-style swing standards or swooshing and bleeping through the heliosphere. The dance component of the night was sensuous and playful, even if the choreography sometimes seemed a little loose, a bit hastily assembled - each segment had a strong central idea but not a lot of development - but never mind, as the general spirit seemed direct, simple and yet striking and faithful to the Arkestra's antic heart.

Congratulations to Jonny Dovercourt at the Music Gallery and collaborators on "a night to remember," as they say on the prom posters. (Hope they didn't lose a bundle doing it.) It's a very auspicious start to the X-Avant Festival, which continues tonight at the Drake with a tribute to Klaus Dinger, creator of the Krautrock motorik beat; tomorrow at the Gallery with a tripartite study in the art of digital dissolve, audio and visual, with Naw, Keith Fullerton Whitman and Klimek; on Friday with a show featuring a new, partially Sun Ra-inspired band from Jeremy Strachan of Feuermusik, as well as Italian bassist Stefano Scodanibbio and, in what I suspect will be an X-Avant highlight, Philadelphia's Sonic Liberation Front. (See David Dacks' Eye Weekly piece on the group from last week.)

There's more through the weekend - check the Music Gallery web page for deets.

General | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, October 22 at 2:35 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)

 

COMMENTS

Ha, thanks, MB. The mistake is funny enough that I think I'll leave it that way!

Posted by zoilus on October 23, 2008 10:12 PM

 

 

Thanks for this report on the "social science fiction" of the whole affair. Speaking of which, as amusing as it would be to think of Tom Cruise bottoming out in Barfly, I believe Cocktail was the movie where he was a smarmy bartender.

Posted by barclay on October 23, 2008 8:14 AM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson