Poetry in Motion: Missouri Contemporary Ballet to ‘Surge’ with fall performance

The Missouri Contemporary Ballet is ready to mix things up with a show that is varied and very unlike anything you’ve seen before. Its fall performance, entitled “Surge,” is scheduled for Nov. 4 – 5 at Missouri Theatre.

Karen Mareck Grundy, artistic and executive director at MCB, said the production will revisit a number of favorites from the dance company’s repertoire and introduce two world premieres.

One, “Just Tell Me” from visiting choreographer Kristopher Estes-Brown, incorporates mambo music and a “portal” — a moving door frame with which the dancers interact — into the storytelling.

“It’s very different for our repertoire,” Grundy said. “I think it’s important to bring in choreographers who are different.”

The other, “Vex’d” from resident choreographer Fernando Rodriguez, is a critique and commentary on beauty ideals.

This is Rodriguez’ first original piece for MCB since he returned from Chicago, where he performed with the jazz companies Giordano Dance Chicago and River North Dance Chicago for a few years.

“Having Fernando back in the company has brought a lot of unity,” Grundy said.

It might seem like a departure for Rodriguez to have left ballet for jazz, but Grundy said interdisciplinary exploration is a hallmark of contemporary ballet.

“I take the classical ballet and add a twist,” Grundy said. “Many, many twists — the new with the old.”

And it’s not just the dancers mixing things up. Grundy said bringing in choreographers with backgrounds in other genres to create new ballet stories can provide a refreshing energy.

“Many choreographers aren’t used to ballet dancers. They bring a different feeling. It’s edgier, but also more accessible,” Grundy said.

And because each piece presented in “Surge” was created by a different choreographer — each exploring different feelings and themes — the show promises to be versatile and varied.

“This show will really be a rollercoaster ride,” Grundy said.

Staging the performance at the Missouri Theatre also has brought some new possibilities. For example, “We are Sacred Vessels” premiered at the Blue Note, whose stage size dictated that only nine dancers could perform in that piece. Because the Missouri Theatre boasts a larger stage, all of the company’s 11 dancers can perform in the piece.

And the dancers are ready to go, rehearsing for hours daily in preparation.

“I think my dancers are in top-notch form right now,” Grundy said.

Missouri Contemporary Ballet: “Surge”

7 p.m. Nov. 4 – 5

Missouri Theatre

It’s all fun and games for Price is Right LIVE! host Mark Walberg

"I love it when they win big," said The Price is Right LIVE! host Mark Walberg.

“I love it when they win big,” said The Price is Right LIVE! host Mark Walberg.

 

You’ve probably seen Mark Walberg somewhere.

No, not posing in Calvin Klein underwear ads, rapping with the Funky Bunch or acting in films such as “The Italian Job” and “The Departed.” That’s Mark Wahlberg.

But Walberg has many TV hosting gigs under his belt, including “The Moment of Truth,” “Temptation Island,” “Antiques Roadshow,” and “Russian Roulette” — to name just a very few.

And on Friday, this familiar face will appear in Jesse Auditorium, where he will host “The Price is Right LIVE!”

Walberg has been involved with “The Price is Right Live!” the stage show was first introduced 14 years ago. Walberg said the show seeks to recreate the energy of the TV classic, which rose to prominence in the 1970s with host Bob Barker.

“It’s a stage show that is a tribute to something that has been part of everybody’s life. ‘The Price is Right’ is like comfort food. My role is to give everyone that experience, and it’s a blast,” Walberg said.

Of course, there’s a big difference between switching on the television and seeing the show live — namely the opportunity to “come on down” to play such beloved games as Plinko, Cliffhangers and The Big Wheel.

Would-be contestants 18 and older must pre-register to be on the show. Registration opens at 4 p.m. and runs until show time. The drawing takes place backstage, and all eligible contestants must be present when their names are called.

Walberg said all contestants are randomly selected.

“There’s no screening. It doesn’t matter if you’re peppy or not. Anybody is going to get called up. My job is to take whoever gets called up and make them feel comfortable. You improvise because you never know what’s going to happen,” Walberg said.

As on the show, prizes have included home appliances, new cars, vacation packages and cash prizes. Although he wasn’t able to say what prizes will be given away Friday night, Walberg did say the prize giveaway is one of the best things about his job.

“I love it when they win big,” Walberg said.

The Price is Right LIVE!

7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4

Jesse Auditorium

Contestant registration starts at 4 p.m.

Concertseries.org

573-882-3781

With Jesse Auditorium available once again, University Concert Series plans for bigger shows

With Jesse Auditorium back online, University Concert Series is able to present larger productions such as the Broadway mega-hit "Once."

With Jesse Auditorium back online, University Concert Series is able to present larger productions such as the Broadway mega-hit “Once.”

It’s an adage often repeated in show business: The show must go on. And for the University Concert Series, the shows are finally going on at Jesse Auditorium.

For the past two years, Jesse Auditorium was unavailable to UCS because construction equipment used for a project at nearby Swallow Hall obstructed Jesse Auditorium’s loading zone, meaning touring acts couldn’t load and unload their sets. The Swallow Hall project wrapped up last spring, and Jesse Auditorium is back online.

UCS has two main venues: Jesse Auditorium and Missouri Theatre, which also serves as the UCS box office. Jesse Auditorium boasts a larger seating capacity than Missouri Theatre — a big plus when booking popular acts such as John Mellencamp — but UCS Director John Murray said it’s really the stage size that makes a difference in a venue’s ability to accommodate certain shows.

The stage in Jesse Auditorium is 52 feet and 10 inches wide and has a height of 20 feet. The stage in Missouri Theatre, by comparison, is 35 feet and 8 inches with a height of 23 feet and 1 inch. Missouri Theatre’s comparatively small size meant full-scale Broadway productions weren’t going to work, so UCS focused on booking smaller, more intimate shows during that period of time.

In some instances, a production with full orchestra or large cast simply won’t fit on a smaller stage. But many times, it’s the set itself that proves problematic. Many touring shows use super structures comprising not only the sets but also pre-configured lighting and amplification. These structures save the crew a considerable amount of time on set-up and tear-down, but they demand ample space.

“Something like ‘Once’ is pretty much self-contained. We fully strip the stage and they come in as if the building had nothing,” Murray explained.

“Once” will be the first Broadway musical staged in Jesse Auditorium since it became available to UCS. Other upcoming shows that will make use of Jesse Auditorium’s larger stage include The Price is Right LIVE!, Mannheim Steamroller and St. Louis Symphony.

Murray points out that Jesse Auditorium still is small compared with some other venues. Some acts are able to alter their sets and the number of performers involved to make it work. For example, the Blue Man Group was able to scale back during its 2013 stop in Columbia, which was part of an arena tour. Murray said this isn’t uncommon and adds that if you were to see a show in Jesse Auditorium and then follow it to Kansas City’s Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, it’s possible you’d see a very different show.

As for the shows you’ll see in Columbia, Murray said the variety afforded by having two venues is a boon to the community.

“It plays such a vital role in the quality of life for people in Columbia,” Murray said.

 

“Once”

7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6

Jesse Auditorium

concertseries.org

573-882-3781

 

Story by Caroline Dohack

 

‘Harriet’s Return’ playwright Karen Jones Meadows to visit divisive Sedalia landmark

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The Rose M. Nolen Black History Library in Sedalia wasn’t getting many visitors. In an effort to draw more patrons, Marge Harlan, a retired psychologist and school teacher who now serves as the library’s director, built a replica of a slave cabin behind the library to show what living conditions had been like for slaves.

For a rustic aesthetic, Harlan had the cabin constructed from old barn board sourced in nearby Bunceton and stones found in the hills surrounding the area. She also planted a heritage garden, which includes period crops such as cotton, rice, tobacco, sugar cane, peanuts and sweet potatoes. A sign posted at the front of the cabin asks that “all who enter make peace with your past and move on.”

But instead of drawing crowds, the cabin drew criticism — and that criticism made national headlines earlier this summer. Some saw the cabin as a reminder of a painful past, and others felt it was inappropriate for Harlan, who is white, to build such a structure.

However, playwright Karen Jones Meadows, whose “Karen Jones Meadows’ Harriet’s Return: Based Upon the Legendary Life of Harriet Tubman” is included in the University Concert Series, said the cabin — and Harlan’s efforts — are worthy of discussion. She plans to visit Harlan and tour the cabin with a group of MU students in the days leading up to her performance.

She writes:

I was very moved that someone 85 years old with enough money to do anything she wanted chose this in an effort to help harmonize a centuries-long divide of pervasive racial issues. Our natural state is harmony. If disharmony were natural, we’d be at peace with it. We’ve learned to settle and adapt, which isn’t the same as experiencing peace, well-being and freedom from caring. Race is an overshadowing illness in our society.

I think a slave cabin is not a reminder of abuse, but of resilience and creativity of generations of African-descended people who weren’t broken and should be recognized for power and contributions, most of which are purposely suppressed and unknown. I’ve been studying our history for decades, and every day I learn something new.

I never say “slave,” always “enslaved people.” Having the generic title “slave” takes our common humanity away. “Slave” automatically marginalizes. There is no country, no origin called “slave.” Then and now, we come from people, a continent, with myriad cultures and traditions, and share the same commonalities of all people.

This interests me because I facilitate Culture in the Quarter experiential adventure workshops, where we explore the history of our ancestors, which translates into great-great-great-great- and beyond uncles, aunts, grandparents and cousins, and their ingenuity, arts, rebellion, relationships and cuisine despite circumstances. I also know that people of many races here and abroad were instrumental in the ending of U.S. slavery, for reasons more than race. If we — I mean all of us — know our/the real history, we can move on. If we get stuck in unnecessary illusions, denials, cover-ups and blockages for a sense of protection or superiority, we lose our personal and collective progress.

I see it as a place to gather and go to the core of issues. The Charles Wright Museum in Detroit has an amazing replica of a middle passage ship. When you’re on it, you feel it. You connect with uncles, aunts, grandparents, sisters, husbands, et cetera. You feel the lineage in your cells. You know the agony and become emotional yet strengthened because for a moment you have an inkling of what our ancestors went through and that they had the substance of spirit to transcend conditions — and if they did it, we certainly can. I have been in the cemetery of enslaved people, and it’s actively empowering and enlightening. I’ve also been at Harriet Tubman’s gravesite, and regardless of background, you know you are in the presence of enduring wholeness.

Shame has no place in the context of the African American life experience during enslavement or any other time.

Karen Jones Meadows’ Harriet’s Return: Based Upon the Legendary Life of Harriet Tubman

7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27

Missouri Theatre

$30 – $35

concertseries.org

573-882-3781

 

Karen Jones Meadows will meet with Marge Harlan at 1 p.m. Sept. 24 at the Rose M. Nolen Black History Library, 109 Lima Alley, Sedalia.

A school show will be staged 11 a.m. Monday, Sept. 26 at Missouri Theatre. Admission to school shows is free for students and two chaperones per group of 30. Additional chaperone or adult tickets can be purchased for $5.

Jones Meadows also will lead two free workshops for members of the community. Culture in the Quarter, to be held Wednesday, 3 – 5 p.m. Sept. 28 at Missouri Theatre, explores African American resilience and creativity through arts, relationships, ingenuity, cuisine and rebellion. Towers of Power, to be held 1 – 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29 in Room CLC 103 at the Missouri United Methodist Church, 204 S. 9th Street.

 

Story by Caroline Dohack

 

Remembering Miriam Makeba: ‘Mama Africa’ explores life and times of musical icon, anti-apartheid activist

Mama Africa copy

In 1986, the issue of apartheid in South Africa rocked the campus.

Students built and occupied a shantytown on Francis Quadrangle to symbolize the living conditions of blacks living in South Africa. They were protesting university investments in 54 companies with dealings in South Africa. At first, UM officials said they couldn’t divest holdings because, as a public institution, the university system had no place interfering with the operations of U.S. corporations. After the protests continued, the university divested part of its holdings. It would divest the remainder the following year.

Building Bridges

In addition to reassessing UM’s relationship with certain businesses, the Board of Curators of the University of Missouri in 1986 created a formal partnership with South Africa’s University of the Western Cape, at that time a designated “colored” university. This was the first time an American university system partnered with a non-white university.

Since its inception, this partnership has seen more than 600 UM professors from fields as varied as nursing, physics, law and chemistry travel to UWC for academic collaborations, said Rodney Uphoff, Elwood L. Thomas Missouri Endowed Professor Emeritus of Law and Director of the University of Missouri South Africa Educational Program.

“This has been a wonderful partnership, and it actually has been recognized by a number of outside groups as a model partnership between an American university and a foreign university. We’re very proud of it,” Uphoff said.

One product of this academic exchange is the play “Mama Africa,” written and directed by Niyi Coker, E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor of African and African-American Studies with the University of Missouri St. Louis’ Department of Theatre and Cinema Studies.

With an all-South African cast of 40 amateur and semi-professional actors, dancers and musicians performing 30 of South African singer and anti-apartheid activist Miriam Makeba’s most beloved songs, “Mama Africa” is a feast for the eyes and ears. A production will be staged Sept. 28 at Jesse Auditorium as a celebration of the partnership between UM and UWC, which marks its 30th anniversary on Sept. 30.

The seed for “Mama Africa” was planted about three years ago, when Coker, who runs the Africa World Documentary Film Festival in St. Louis, saw a film about African musicians.

“My interest in Makeba was piqued. I thought, ‘Why don’t you do a musical on her life?’” Coker remembers.

With funding from the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program, Coker traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, where he was granted access to Makeba’s entire library, archival material, offices, personal papers and discography through the ZM Makeba Trust. With this information, Coker wrote a compelling drama that incorporates Makeba’s music in a telling of her life story.

The Life of Miriam Makeba

Born in Johannesburg in 1932, Makeba came of age as South Africa’s National Party began to enforce apartheid legislation. Apartheid is an Afrikaans word that translates literally into “aparthood,” and these policies formalized racial classification and designated racially segregated areas for people to live. Other restrictive laws prohibited marriage between people of different races and barred blacks from operating businesses in white areas. Beaches, buses, hospitals, schools, universities and even park benches were segregated.

In 1959, Makeba, who had gained some renown in South Africa as a jazz singer, made a brief appearance in an anti-apartheid documentary called “Come Back, Africa.” Her cameo caught the attention of Harry Belafonte, the Caribbean-American pop star known for such hits as “Day O” and “Jump in the Line (Shake, Senora).” Belafonte helped her settle in the United States, where she signed to RCA Victor and released her first studio album in 1960.

And so began a storied musical career that would see Makeba and Belafonte performing at President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 birthday celebration in Madison Square Garden and winning a 1965 Grammy Award for best folk recording for their album “An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba.” Today, Makeba, who had garnered the nickname Mama Africa, is credited with introducing Western audiences to Xhosa, Zulu and Swahil music and as an early influence on the world music genre.

As Makeba rose to fame, she remained outspoken against apartheid in South Africa. Her views didn’t sit well with some, and when she tried to return for her mother’s funeral in 1960, she discovered that South African authorities had canceled her passport and would not allow her back into the country. Makeba had been exiled.

Still, Makeba continued to protest apartheid, testifying against it before the United Nations in 1963.

In 1968, Makeba married Stokely Carmichael, a Civil Rights activist whose activity with the Black Panther Party drew additional scrutiny to Makeba.

“When Miriam Makeba married him, people stopped booking her for concerts, record labels dropped her, the IRS went after her accounts, she was tracked by surveillance. Basically she was forced to flee the United States,” Coker said.

So the couple moved to Guinea, where Makeba remained for 15 years. During her time there, she was appointed the country’s official delegate to the United Nations and was awarded the Dag Hammerskjöld Peace Prize in 1986 for her work in this capacity.

Following the death of her daughter, Bongi, in 1985, Makeba moved to Brussels, Belgium. She continued to tour and perform, though not in South Africa or the United States.

Upon his release from prison in 1990, Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid activist who would later become the first black president of South Africa, persuaded Makeba to return to South Africa.

This is the point where Coker’s play starts.

Merging Past and Present

It’s hard to fathom what Makeba would have felt in that moment.

“You’re going back home. How would you sleep that night?” Coker said. “She begins to go through how her life … what led her into exile, how she lived in exile, what her struggles were in exile. So this is the unraveling, and it unravels with her songs.”

It’s an extraordinary story to be sure.

But although decades have passed since these events transpired, Coker said it’s very much a contemporary play with an important message.

“I think we’ve almost come around full circle in the struggle to recognize black humanity. You have a whole generation born to civil rights, who have grown up with the notion that they are 100 percent human beings and citizens. Now there is a lot of shock. I look at the faces of my students — what is happening with the police and black community relations when young black men and women are harassed by the police or shot?” Coker said. “But there was a place in history when this occurred. Their grandparents would be able to tell them this story. There’s something fascinating about seeing history from an artistic perspective.”

 

Mama Africa

7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28

Jesse Auditorium

$25 general public; $15 MU students, faculty and staff

concertseries.org

573-882-3781

 

Story by Caroline Dohack