Encores and Curtain Calls

Isn’t it time you visited Redfern?

Keene State College’s arts center is both close & intriguing

All right, it’s time to grab those invitingly empty fall calendars and to start circling some of the most inviting offerings that will soon come cascading through the Pioneer Valley. This week, we’ll provide an overview of two powerful forthcoming presentations at the far-too-long marginalized Redfern Arts Center of Keene State College.

For those who have yet to risk a visit, the Redfern is at least as easy to reach as any Amherst venue, and a shorter jaunt even than the Northampton arts destinations.

Thursday, Sept. 12, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., the Redfern will host an open house to enable the public to experience and to sample some of the events and venues ahead, including live performances by the Sandglass Theater, KSC’s comedy troupe 3 Ways ’til Sunday and offerings by the Department of Theatre and Dance. RSVP to box office@keene.edu. One of the Refern’s admirable inspirations is the inclusion of companion programs that allow community members to participate with the performers or ensembles that are appearing, and to share insights and skills about their respective arts with the public.

Beyond the jazz box

First up is the Donal Fox Inventions Trio, Friday, Sept. 20, 7:30 p.m. You know someone has obtained a universal stature when he or she is consistently invited to perform at the Tanglewood summer music festival, which is exactly what Fox and Company will be doing on Aug. 31, in a joint appearance with charismatic vocalist Harry Connick, Jr.

A pianist, composer and improviser, Donal Fox comfortably straddles the two realms of jazz and classical music with a decided emphasis upon the rhythmic dynamics of Afro-Cuban jazz. A recent appearance at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival is viewable on YouTube: www.youtube.com, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydpFWMRRPiw, “Donal Fox Quartet with Maya Beiser, Tanglewood Jazz Festival.” It shows him carefully negotiating the demands of a keyboard arrangement of Bach’s immortal Air on a G String in conjunction with cellist Maya Beiser, with vibraphonist Warren Wolfe, double bassist John Lockwood and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington in tow.

The quartet has clearly been hand-selected by their fastidious and high-minded leader with an ear seeking for subtlety and understatement. Skilled practitioners all, they nevertheless betray the underlying aesthetic imposed upon them by Fox in their almost total lack of grandstanding, gratuitous showmanship or sound-mongering. They really do choose their sounds and their moments, and in so doing, very much make you want to listen to those choices.

And it is no different with Fox himself, who seems, in the act of playing, to be continually contemplating this or that possibility and new opportunity; this is definitely as far from rote — or “groove” — jazz as you can get, at least while still maintaining a sense of interest and progress.

Additionally and unusually, Fox often keeps abreast of his music through the use of scores mounted on his piano, which, when he employs them, claim a lion’s share of his attention — clearly suggesting that his music inhabits a level of complexity that makes committing them difficult to commit to memory. This is indeed a very classical approach to his art, suggesting he is not your routine jazz pianist, content to go with whatever flow may happen to offer itself up at the moment, but is instead a performer with definite and critical marks to hit in order to faithfully birth his musical offspring.

Fox may just as readily be seen honoring his classical heroes as he honors his jazz heroes, as exemplified by his Scarlatti Project or his “Homage to Eliot Carter and Arnold Schoenberg,” an admittedly strange pairing in one sense but a clear gesture to the inspiration these two ear-challenging 20th-century masters have provided in the performer’s journey. If one were hearing this angular, disjunct — some might even say chaotic sound palette for the first time — it could be argued they would not even be tempted to conjure the word “jazz” at all to accommodate the style of music at hand.

Fox generates the impression of a musician deeply at ease in what he does, not in the least concerned with glory or even approval. He seems a creator with a deep underlying pride in his prowess.

For practitioners and aficionados of extemporization, Fox will offer a free Community Program session: The Art of Improvisation Workshop, Sept. 20, 2 p.m.)

Performance tickets: $25 to $20, $5 for KSC students

The impossibly pliable parabolas
of Pilobolus Dance Theater

The always brilliant and endlessly baffling Pilobolus Dance Theater arrives on Tuesday, Oct. 15, at 7:30 p.m.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience, comparable perhaps, in its way, to Cirque de Soleil or Riverdance. The troupe specializes in creations and contortions of the human form that virtually defy description or imitation, and leave you transfixed and tongue-tied, At the conclusion of many of their performances, the entire audience is often found on its feet in profound, admiring applause.

The company was founded in 1971, is based in Washington Depot, Conn., and performs for stage, television and online audiences internationally. The company has appeared on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” “Sesame Street,” CBS’s “60 Minutes.” It has received the Berlin Critic’s Prize, the Scotsman Award, the Brandeis Award, a Primetime Emmy Award for outstanding achievement in cultural programming and the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award for lifetime achievement in choreography.

Pilobilus seems to endlessly redefine the configurations and combinational possibilities of what human bodies are capable of doing to and with each other; their ingenuities are so original that they not infrequently succeed in making us doubt what we are seeing, and then inspiring successively deeper and deeper looks at those assumptions.

Often working in a kind of sensual slow motion, with at times an almost digital artificiality of movement, Pilobilus’ creatures and creations seem to draw us into a dream-like dimension of yearning and alienation that defies rational analysis, but which retains an undeniably compelling and mythic power.

Of this I’m virtually certain: nowhere else in the realm of dance theater will you find the eye-openingly innovative movement and the mind-bendingly intriguing sensibilities as in a Pilobolus experience.

The Pilobilus’ free Community Program on Oct. 14 is titled, “Building the Body Alphabet.”

Performance tickets are $45 to $30, $5 for KSC students

For access to the Redfern’s complete performing arts calendar, see www.keene.edu/racbp/

The Redfern Arts Center Box Office is open Monday through Friday, noon to 5 p.m., and two hours before each performance. Summer hours, Aug. 5 to 23, are 2 to 5 p.m.

In addition to online ordering, you may also use Visa or Mastercard to purchase tickets by phone, 603-358-2168, or by fax, 603-358-2145. You can also order tickets through the mail with a check or credit card information: Redfern Arts Center at Keene State College, Keene, N.H. 03435-2401 (attn: Box Office).

An author and composer, columnist Joseph Marcello of Northfield focuses on music and theater. He can be reached at josephmarcello@verizon.net.

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