Prepare to be uplifted both spiritually and mentally at this weekend's encore performance of Mary Lou's Mass by Cleo Parker Robinson Dance. The historical piece is based on Music for Peace, which was composed by African-American jazz artist Mary Lou Williams for Pope Paul VII in 1969. The work was first choreographed by Alvin Ailey in 1972; Cleo Parker Robinson expanded upon Ailey's interpretation four years ago, adding several segments and live music.
"Alvin is my guru, so for me to even take this on was really scary, but also very exciting," recalls Robinson. "I created it in just three weeks. I think that we were being guided; I just went wherever the spirit took me."
She feels that now is the appropriate time to perform the fast-paced Mary Lou's Mass again.
"This originally came out of the Vietnam War; it's a statement about peace," Robinson explains. "Right now this country is really divided. It's a political year, and our men and women are at war. You can even see it in our own neighborhoods.
"When Mary Lou Williams talks about people in trouble, she's talking about Columbine, about our society as a whole," she continues. "How can we change things? By coming together."
Williams, who died in 1981, is being honored this month with concerts at New York City's Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
"I think that black women as a whole have not been given their proper place in our country when it comes to the contributions that they've made to the art world," says Robinson. "Mary Lou Williams was a pioneer; she was a visionary."
In addition to the Cleo Parker Robinson dancers, the local production of Mary Lou's Mass will feature jazz vocalist Carmen Lundy, accompanied by the Carmen Lundy Trio, the Canto Spiritus Chorus, the DSA Choir and the Lamont School of Music Women's Choir, conducted by Vicki Burrichter. Performances will take place tonight at 6:30 p.m., tomorrow and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the Buell Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets.
Out of the Box
BMOCA gives good Reasons
The show Ten Reasons Performance Art Should Be Banned is not really what its title suggests. But you knew that. "It's a bit of an ironic title that refers to performance art being anti-theater," explains Emilie Upczak of the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. "It's sort of an inside joke -- that is, to be a performance artist, you have to have preformed naked or with food."
Eight performance artists, including Upczak, will present the multimedia offering tonight at the BMOCA Black Box Performance Space. The "ten reasons" will be presented in short five- to eight-minute pieces that will include film, dialogue and a sound installation.
Joining Upczak on stage will be Ana Baer, Susanna Morrow, Tres Altman, Kristen Demaree, Jennie Pitts, Robynn Butler and Mary Bevington. The artists hope to shed light on the importance of their craft and bring in new viewers while allowing BMOCA to expose its cutting edge.
"We're putting ourselves out there for the younger demographic by providing a space for experimental and emerging art in the context of a professional environment," says Upczak. "We develop new works, then produce them and present them right here in the Black Box performance-art space."
Doors open at 7 p.m. at BMOCA, 1750 13th Street, Boulder; the show, which includes a cash bar and DJ, starts at 8. Admission is $10, free for museum members; for details, call 303-443-2122 or visit www.bmoca.org. -- Kity Ironton
The play Twelve Dreams depicts the life of a little girl named Emma who lives in New England with her psychiatrist father. Simple enough, but the show, now at Boulder's Dairy Center for the Arts, is far from ordinary. Inspired by a case history from Carl Jung, author James Lapine's stage production has the feel of epic theater. Meditating on themes of love, loss, life and faith, the narrative darts craftily between the reality of Emma's life and the spectacular world of her dreams. As viewers walk this fine line, they're exposed to twelve vignettes that draw not only the protagonist into focus, but also the troubled people surrounding her.
"It's the most fascinating show I've ever done," says producer Matt Swerdzewski. "I've seen it probably a hundred times, and I still can't help but shed a tear after a show." Swerdzewski likens Dreams to a diamond in the rough, because even though it was penned by a well-respected author and has been performed at the Lincoln Center, nobody's heard of it.
"It's our jewel," he says.
Theater-goers can catch this gem at a pay-what-you-can preview tonight at 7 p.m. at the Dairy Center, 2590 Walnut Street. Tickets for the play's regular run, through May 28, are $8 to $10. Call 303-215-3213 for information. -- Adam Cayton-Holland
Long Live the King
Nat King Cole heals one family's wounds
Growing up in L.A. in the 1980s, Gregory Porter adored his father, Nat King Cole. The only problem was, they weren't related. Because his real dad was not around, Porter longed for a male influence. He turned to his mother's record collection, where he discovered such Cole classics as "Unforgettable" and "When I Fall in Love." A passionate connection with the jazz icon -- one in which Gregory found a surrogate father and friend -- was born.
The tender cultivation of Porter's hero worship sets the scene for act one of Nat King Cole & Me: A Musical Healing, which opens for previews tonight at the Stage Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets.
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The second act plays as a dream in Las Vegas, where Porter, an original member of the Broadway cast of It Ain't Nothin' but the Blues, performs Cole songs, along with a few of his own compositions, for his reunited mother and father.
"The show not only honors a legend, but shows the special influence he had over one life," notes Denver Center spokesman Chris Wiger.
The regular run of Nat King Cole & Me begins Thursday, May 20, and continues through Saturday, June 5. Tickets range from $16 to $43, and can be purchased at 303-893-4100 or www.denvercenter.org. -- Adam Cayton-Holland