Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Liberal Arts has Moved

Hello, fellow arts lovers,

This is a quick note to inform you that Liberal Arts has a new home. 

on the new Madison Magazine website. 

Please visit this new site for artist interviews, performance previews and reviews, details on events and more.


Katie Vaughn
Associate Editor
Madison Magazine

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Review: "Church Basement Ladies" Serves Up Laughs

One of my favorite things about Midwesterners is our ability to poke fun at ourselves, to examine our quirks, habits and ways of living and not take it all too seriously.

If you also appreciate a healthy helping of good-natured, self-deprecating ribbing, I’d recommend checking out Church Basement Ladies, a lighthearted musical running at Overture Center through Sunday.

The show follows the four women who run the basement kitchen of a small-town Minnesota Lutheran church in the 1960s. Four scenes see the ladies through preparations for a lefse and lutefisk supper, a friend’s funeral, Easter morning and a wedding.

All the action takes place in the kitchen, which looks exactly like most church kitchens I’ve seen, from the mint-green walls to the accordion screen that can close the room off from the rest of the church.

The characters resonate, too, particularly Mrs. Snustad, the matriarch who ensures everything in her kitchen is just so. And Pastor Gunderson, played by William Christopher from M*A*S*H, is technically in charge but knows the kitchen is not his domain.

It’s these sorts of cultural accuracies that make Church Basement Ladies funny. And the songs follow in that vein. Early on, the women sing “The Pale Food Polka” and celebrate the Bible of their kitchen, “The Joy of Butter” cookbook. Later, they explain the differences between Lutherans and Catholics and grill the youngest of the group about the rules of church cooking—namely that lasagna is never served at funerals and casseroles only answer to the name “hotdish.”

But the musical isn’t all pokes at small-town life and the Midwestern dialect. There are a few poignant moments, such as when the pastor struggles to write a eulogy for his friend and when Mrs. Snustad reveals why she’s so resistant to change.

That said, audiences come to this play to laugh and they probably don’t leave disappointed. At last night’s show, the crowd absolutely howled anytime quirky Mavis dealt with hot flashes or other symptoms of menopause. In fact, how strongly the audience—most of whom probably experienced a church basement meal or two in the 1960s—connected to the play was a highlight of the evening.

The musical was such a hit last summer that Overture decided to bring it back for a limited run. Should this second helping prove popular? Oh, you betcha.

Church Basement Ladies runs through August 23 at Overture Center. Performances are Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $18–$35. For tickets or more information, call 258.4141 or visit

Photos courtesy of Overture Center.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Shared Vision

Working together on a project can be difficult. Each person brings his or her own skills, inspirations, goals and working styles, and sometimes combining them as a group can be a challenge.

Fortunately, that’s not what happened when Amy Newell, Rachel Davis and Lauren Garber Lake joined forces. Instead, the three printmakers combined their individual talents and styles to create a beautiful and poetic series of prints and collages.

The three were graduate school classmates in UW–Madison’s art department. Newell, an associate curator at Tandem Press, had collaborated with Garber Lake and Davis before, but the trio had never worked together on a project. They decided to pursue a group project and thought an arts residency at Edenfred would be the ideal place to do it.

“After hearing about Edenfred a few years ago, we had the idea to try and recreate our grad school experience,” Newell says. “There was a group of about ten of us who worked together in the studio, had classes together and held critique groups together. Everyone from this group had moved away from Madison but were always pining to come back. So we decided to apply to Edenfred as a group.”

The goal was for the group to create both independent and collaborative projects, but things didn’t work out exactly as planned.

“By the time we got our acceptance letter from Edenfred, two people were pregnant, one was getting married and a few others had backed out for a variety of reasons,” Newell says. “It was down to just me, Lauren and Rachel.”

The three spent two weeks last August and September at Edenfred. But before arriving, Davis, a Chicago artist, sent her partners the poem Giant Snail by Elizabeth Bishop, which would prove to be the project’s main inspiration.

“She thought it was so visually rich that it might make a good springboard for our collaborative work,” Newell says. “After reading the poem Lauren and I both agreed.”


Here is the poem:

Giant Snail
By Elizabeth Bishop

The rain has stopped. The waterfall will roar like that all
night. I have come out to take a walk and feed. My body—foot,
that is—is wet and cold and covered with sharp gravel. It is
white, the size of a dinner plate. I have set myself a goal, a
certain rock, but it may well be dawn before I get there.
Although I move ghostlike and my floating edges barely graze
the ground, I am heavy, heavy, heavy. My white muscles are
already tired. I give the impression of mysterious ease, but it is
only with the greatest effort of my will that I can rise above the
smallest stones and sticks. And I must not let myself be dis-
tracted by those rough spears of grass. Don’t touch them. Draw
back. Withdrawal is always best.
The rain has stopped. The waterfall makes such a noise! (And
what if I fall over it?) The mountains of black rock give off such
clouds of steam! Shiny streamers are hanging down their sides.
When this occurs, we have a saying that the Snail Gods have
come down in haste. I could never descend such steep escarp-
ments, much less dream of climbing them.
That toad was too big, too, like me. His eyes beseeched my
love. Our proportions horrify our neighbors.
Rest a minute; relax. Flattened to the ground, my body is like
a pallid, decomposing leaf. What’s that tapping on my shell?
Nothing. Let’s go on.
My sides move in rhythmic waves, just off the ground, from
front to back, the wake of a ship, wax-white water, or a slowly
melting floe. I am cold, cold, cold as ice. My blind, white bull’s
head was a Cretan scare-head; degenerate, my four horns that
can't attack. The sides of my mouth are now my hands. They
press the earth and suck it hard. Ah, but I know my shell is
beautiful, and high, and glazed, and shining. I know it well,
although I have not seen it. Its curled white lip is of the finest
enamel. Inside, it is as smooth as silk, and I, I fill it to perfection.
My wide wake shines, now it is growing dark. I leave a lovely
opalescent ribbon: I know this.
But O! I am too big. I feel it. Pity me.
If and when I reach the rock, I shall go into a certain crack
there for the night. The waterfall below will vibrate through
my shell and body all night long. In that steady pulsing I can
rest. All night I shall be like a sleeping ear.


Since Newell, Davis and Garber Lake, a professor at the University of Florida, are all printmakers, they had common ground in working together. Yet each was able to incorporate her own aesthetic and technique into the project.

“We each have our own visual language and brought that, along with all of our tools and bags of tricks, to the studio,” Newell says. “We have looked at each others’ work for years and have a deep appreciation for each others imagery. I think if you are familiar with our individual work you can break down some of the collaborative images into ‘Lauren’s mark,’ ‘Amy’s mark,’ ‘Rachel’s mark,’ but I think their success is in the melding of our individual styles.”

The group’s collaborative prints and collages, as well as wood reliefs by Tandem Press printmaker Andy Rubin, are showcased through August 31 at Sundance Cinemas Madison. A special artists reception with poetry and music takes place tonight at 5:30 p.m.

Images courtesy of Amy Newell.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Keeping it Hot

If you’re bemoaning the fact that it’s August and summer is winding down, I don’t want to hear it! August in Madison is fantastic and absolutely summery thanks in part to two events held annually this month—and only this month.

Both Jazz at Five and Dane Dances are free weekly events open to the public. And both kick off this week, Jazz at Five today and Dane Dances on Friday.

Now in its sixteenth season, Jazz at Five is held, as you might expect, at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays on the 100 block of State Street, right where it meets the Capitol Square. The event offers two sets of live jazz music ranging in style and featuring local, regional and national performers.

Some listeners set up picnics at reserved tables, some bring or rent chairs and others simply stand and take in the music. Jazz at Five sets up a beer tent and other food and beverage vendors are on hand, too.

In case of rain, the concert takes place in Overture lobby, which is quite a nice setting as well. Decisions are made by 2 p.m.—call 310.4462 or tune in to WORT if the weather is questionable.

This season brings about:

The Francesca Johnson Quartet
This young Wisconsin jazz singer, who returned to Madison last year, has a voice that evokes the jazz tradition of the 1950s.
August 5, 5 p.m.

Mike Frost Project
Says Frost of his Chicago-based group, “We play straight-ahead jazz … Essentially we perform a modern-day version of an earlier style but in our own way.”
August 5, 6:30 p.m.

Tim Whalen Nonet
Innovative and unique, Whalen’s hard-swinging group plays with the intricacy of a big band but maintains the freedom of one much smaller.
August 12, 5 p.m.

Leo Sidran, Ben Sidran, Richard Davis, Joy Dragland and Louka Patenaude
This concert marks the first time these five Madison jazz legends, treasures and protégés perform together.
August 12, 6:30 p.m.

Seven Steps to Havana
This septet of international talent with musicians from Cuba, Mexico, Brazil, Ethiopia and America offers music combining salsa and jazz.
August 19, 5 p.m.

Jan Wheaton Quintet
Madison’s beloved jazz vocalist Wheaton credits Nancy Wilson, Billie Holiday and Roberta Flack among her influences.
August 26, 5 p.m.

Richie Cole
A master of the sax, Cole also has more than three thousand compositions and arrangements to his credit today.
August 26, 6:30 p.m.

For more information, call 310.4462 or visit

Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, Dane Dances is held Fridays at 5:30 p.m. on the rooftop of Monona Terrace. Here, all members of the community are invited to get together and boogie down to sounds spun by DJ Laurie Mlatawou and well-known bands.

Ethnic food vendors offer snacks and cocktails and the Lake Vista Café has a special menu for the event each week.

In the case of inclement weather, call 261.4000 after 2 p.m. for an alternative location (either inside Monona Terrace or the Alliant Energy Center).

Here’s what to expect this season:

Christopher’s Project
This rhythm and blues and contemporary jazz group has opened for such legendary acts as The Temptations and The Supremes.
August 7, 6 p.m.

Grupo Candela
This twelve-member band offers up dance-worthy music styles ranging from salsa to merengue to bachata.
August 7, 8 p.m.

Altered Five
Made up of five southern Wisconsin music veterans, this group performs an exciting brand of “rockin’ rhythm ‘n’ blues.”
August 14, 6 p.m.

In Black ‘N White
This popular group has gotten crowds up and dancing throughout the Midwest, including at Milwaukee’s Summerfest.
August 14, 6 p.m.

Primitive Culture
This local band offers a unique blend of funk, blues and tropical rhythms.
August 21, 6 p.m.

A versatile group from Illinois, BBI plays everything from Motown to R&B to classic rock and dance hits.
August 21, 8 p.m.

Que Flavor
Traditional Afro-Cuban dance grooves and other Latin music styles categorize this Madison favorite.
August 28, 6 p.m.

Eddie Butts
This longtime Milwaukee-based band mixes jazz, pop and R&B.
August 28, 8 p.m.

For more information, call 358.5894 or visit

Photos courtesy of Mark Barrett of the Steinway Piano Gallery and Dane Dances.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Worlds Combine

Infinite, sublime, transcendent, enduring, timeless. These are a few of the words often used to describe landscapes.

Mai Wyn Schantz rejects such nostalgic approaches to this type of artwork. Instead, the Wisconsin native-turned Colorado resident injects her paintings with a sense of time, immediacy and contemporariness.

About ten years ago, around the time she graduated from the Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design in Denver, Schantz began painting on aluminum. The material provided a frame for her scenes of nature, but it also did more. It placed those scenes in the context of the present-day world.

The juxtaposition isn’t meant to be jarring. Says Schantz in her artist statement, “Despite our fast-paced, industrialized world, we are still innately tied to the land and continually seek to reconnect.”

Her work is about finding a balance between the seemingly opposite forces of the natural and manmade worlds. “It’s the idea that the two can be integrated and the two can be beautiful together or on their own,” she says.

As Schantz has developed her art, she’s made some changes. More aluminum shows through her paintings, say in the space between the trunks of trees. And she’s been focusing on closer-up views of nature than in the past. Instead of vaster and grander imagery, she’s finding—and showing—beauty in water streaming over rocks and lily pads floating on ponds.

“It’s just about stopping and looking at something a little closer,” she says.

Schantz has also been working with a new modern medium: stainless steel. It’s heavier and more durable than aluminum, she says, and it’s more reflective, allowing light to play a stronger role in her works.

A series of Schantz’s recent paintings will be showcased in August at Grace Chosy Gallery. She hopes viewers understand her contemporary approach to the landscape tradition as well as to nature.

“When I did sunsets, people used to say it made them look at skies differently,” she says. “I hope they look at trees a little closer and appreciate the simple beauty.”

Schantz’s work will be showcased at Grace Chosy Gallery, 1825 Monroe St., August 7–29. Gallery hours are Tuesday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. For more information, call 255-1211 or visit

Images courtesy of Mai Wyn Schantz.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Square Dance

Once again, Art Fair on the Square proved its place as a quintessential summer event in Madison.

From paintings to photography, metal sculpture to glass art, textiles to jewelry, the annual arts extravaganza was a visual feast.

Here are just a few of the artists whose work jumped out at me as I wound my way around the Capitol Square.

Barns, houses and other rural imagery take on an exquisite, quiet beauty when they’re rendered in pastel landscapes by Chicago artist (and UW–Madison grad) Clare Malloy.

One of Colorado photographer Alan Klug’s specialties is beautiful brown-toned photography of scenes in the United States as well as abroad.

Who knew the humble cow could be such a great muse? Illinois painter Sue Skowronski did, and it’s a pleasure to see the animal from her point of view.

From the vibrant colors to the large scale, David Oleski’s paintings of apples, flowers, a cup of coffee and much more are intriguing, playful and impossible to ignore. I’d love to see more from this Pennsylvania artist in years to come.

It’s hard to know what to expect when you look at a work by Justin D. Miller. And that’s part of what makes exploring the whimsical, fantastical paintings by this Chicago artist so enjoyable.

Eric Lee back-paints sheets of glass, creating bold, colorful and expressionistic glass wall hangings and furniture.

Painting and textile traditions meet in the art of Georgia artist Kathrine Allen-Coleman, who creates mixed-media work that often includes actual dresses.

Urban architecture and natural landscapes alike provide inspiration for Ohio photographer Chris Coffey.

Photos courtesy of the artists’ websites:,,,,,, and

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Art for Thought

What is art? For one, it’s probably a question that’s existed as long as people have been making art. Some argue that they know art when they see it. But what about when you don’t think something is art, but you’re told that it is? What if the works of art on display are things you see—and use—in your daily life?

These are just a few of the questions raised and explored in Return to Function, an exhibition at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art that opened in May and runs through August 23.

The show features contemporary artists, many from outside the United States, who create functional objects based on theoretical principles ranging from economics to the environment. Their artwork questions preconceptions about and everyday objects as well as sculpture.

MMoCA’s curator of exhibitions Jane Simon acknowledges the exhibition is among the most challenging the museum has presented. The exhibition catalogue provides an insightful introduction to the concepts presented, drawing interesting comparisons to Marcel Duchamp (who famously exhibited a urinal titled Fountain) and his peers of the early twentieth century.

“This show is a dialogue about art,” Simon says.

The work that greets visitors is Jules de Balincourt’s Personal Survival Doom Buggy, a real doonbuggy stocked with supplies essential to survival in “a post-September-eleventh world,” Simon says.

Also taking on the topic of survival, in very different ways, are François Curlet’s North Park #3, an orange Hermès box and bag with compass embedded in it and a comment on navigating the urban jungle of commercialism, and Ralph Borland’s Suited for Subversion. Borland sought to create a way to protest without getting hurt, with the idea that if a person could safely protest he could ensure his voice would be heard. The heart-shaped padded red suit covers a person’s head and torso. An added detail is a heartbeat that emits from it; the idea behind it was that if police heard a human heart they would recognize that the protester is human.

Several works explore the notion of shelter. Michael Rakowitz’s P(lot) is a temporary shelter that can be set up in a parking space and draw heating and cooling from nearby buildings. Huong Ngo’s Pop-Up Studio, a huge and portable square bubble powered by a simple fan, creates a livable and workable space within its soft walls. And Lucy Orta’s Refuge Wear Habitent is a silver poncho that can be worn, folded up and carried or used as a tent. Some models have a whistle or compass and some can be warmed with body heat.

A few objects are quite small in scale but not in impact. Antal Lakner’s Iners is a series of objects aimed to make people more active, such as an extremely heavy cell phone on display. And then there’s Claire Fontaine’s In God They Trust, a quarter which she has fashioned into a box cutter.

Among the most startling works is DIY (Coffin) by Joe Scanlan, an actual homemade coffin made from three Ikea bookcases. Coffins are typically expensive, Simon points out, so a do-it-yourselfer is quite a democratic gesture. Also poignant is Ricardo Miranda Zúñiga’s Vigamundo: A Migrant’s Tale. The main character of this video game is a migrant laborer; in between levels, statistics about migrant workers flash on the screen.

Visitors have responded well to the exhibition since it opened in May, Simon says, adding that a high school tour especially liked it. She hopes people find the show challenging and eye-opening.

“I hope they understand art can be engaged with issues of the day, even the mundane issues of the everyday,” she says. “It’s not just paint on a canvas.”

For more information on Return to Function, visit

Photos of Orta, Borland and Fontaine’s work courtesy of MMoCA.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Special—And Artistic!—Events

Last week was a busy one for local arts supporters, with fundraising events for two venerable Madison groups taking place on opposite ends of the city.

Monday brought the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s fifteenth annual Concert on the Green. Hosted by the Madison Symphony Orchestra League, the event raises money for the MSO’s in-school music programs, youth concerts, concerto competitions and outreach programs in the community.

And it’s a beautiful event! Concert on the Green begins with a cocktail party on the lawn in front of Bishops Bay Country Club clubhouse in Middleton. After about an hour of mingling, guests move toward the lake and into an enormous white tent with gold chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.

Inside the tent, we ate dinner and took in a concert featuring works by Rossini, Tchaikovsky, Neilsen and Strauss performed by members of the MSO and conducted by James Smith, director of orchestras at the UW School of Music. Throughout the program, Smith stressed how fortunate the city of Madison is to have such a talented symphony orchestra.

A highlight of the concert was a guest performance by Benjamin Seeger, a Madison Memorial senior who was one of the winners of the 2009 Bolz Young Artist Competition. It was a pleasure to watch this young musician and wonder where his talent and passion might lead him.

Later in the week, Thursday marked Tandem Press’ sixteenth annual Wine Auction & Dinner, an event that funds graduate student fellowships at Tandem.

Director Paula Panczenko says the event has been held at various locations throughout Madison over the years, but decided to make a repeat visit to the Promega campus in Fitchburg.

The event had a decidedly fun, creative feel—which started from the moment guests stepped onto the campus and were greeted by brightly costumed, stilt-wearing members of Cycropia, the local aerial dance troupe.

Inside, auction-goers perused wine and items up for bid, checked out recent artwork made at Tandem, and enjoyed a gourmet buffet from Lombardino’s and excellent wine, particularly a Ramey chardonnay.

Then the auction action started. It was entertaining to watch auctioneer Daniel Donahoe of Teira Wines in California lead the crowd through items ranging from magnums of wine to concert tickets to a trip to California’s wine country. And it was exciting when someone near my table participated in a bidding war.

I would happily attend Tandem’s Wine Auction and the MSO’s Concert on the Green next year. And you should consider doing the same next June! For more information on these events, visit the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Tandem Press.

Photos of Concert on the Green are by Amy Lynn Schereck and photos of the Wine Auction & Dinner are by Anette Hansen.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

July Artist: Art of Surprise

If you associate batik with wild-printed scarves and skirts sold at street markets, you have been missing out on the wonderful applications this art form offers.

My recommendation is to immediately check out Mary Fiore’s colorful, diverse and beautiful batik paintings.

Fiore has been working in batik for over twenty years, and a collection of her work is on display during the month of July at Absolutely Art. She recently took some time out from the intense process of batik-making to talk about how she got into the medium, her process, her inspirations and more.

How did you become a batik artist? What is it about batik that interests you?

Becoming a batik artist wasn’t planned. It had its beginnings in the chaos of taking twenty credits while trying to finish an art degree at Tulsa University before a planned move back to Arizona when I was a young mother. “Crafts” was on the list of requirements, and having never done a batik before, I chose that as one of my crafts requirements. I immediately fell in love with the process, which can be controlled but which has an element of the unexpected and requires flexibility. Once the hot wax is painted onto the fabric, it’s a done deal. There is no going back, no correcting—there is only the opportunity to take that accidental drip and incorporate it into the finished product, a kind of “I meant to do that.” Mostly, I love it because of the end result—when the entire piece is nearly covered with wax, removing it in the final step is an “unveiling” of sorts, and can result in a great sense of satisfaction (or sometimes in a great disappointment), but it’s always a learning process and a little bit of a surprise. I like that.

Tell me about your process for creating a work.

Batik is a resist form that is created on fabric with hot wax and dyes. The initial step is the subject matter, the thought of a beautiful scene, a place, a face. I use photos I have taken, usually with the batik in mind. From that photo, I sketch the drawing onto a piece of paper, heavily outlining it with a marking pen, then lay the cotton fabric over it and trace the lines of the design.

The fabric is then stretched taut onto a working wood frame (my first ones were stretched over the top of a cardboard box), and hot wax (a mixture of paraffin and beeswax) is painted directly onto the fabric, beginning with the lightest color and working to the darkest. All areas to remain white are waxed first. The fabric is then removed from the frame and dipped into the first dyebath (the lightest color) with additives that allow the dyes to adhere to and permanently bond with the fabric. The piece is then allowed to dry, and the entire process is repeated (stretching it over the frame and painting hot wax over the areas to remain the color that was just dyed). The process requires planning and a knowledge of color, for the dyes are overdyed with one another (yellow overdyed with red produces orange, then overdyed with blue produces brown). This process is continued until the dipping of the final and darkest color.

The major characteristic of a batik is the “crackle,” the dark spider web lines that appear throughout the design. That is obtained by bending or “scrunching” the fabric right before the final dyebath and creates cracks in the wax, which allow the dye to penetrate. This can be controlled, depending on the amount of scrunching as well as the kind of wax (paraffin is more brittle and results in more crackle, while a higher level of the more pliable beeswax results in less crackle).

After the final dyebath, the piece is nearly covered in dried wax and difficult to see. The wax is then removed. I iron it between lots and lots of newsprint, which soaks up most of the wax, and then have the piece dry cleaned, which removes all traces of the wax and additives. The piece is then stretched onto a backing, matted and framed.

What (or who) are your artistic inspirations?

I enjoy art of all kinds, but have always loved the work of Andrew Wyeth, both in his incredible talent and in his subject matter. I identify with his observations of life as it is—the beauty of ordinary days, of the places and people that inhabit our world. I especially enjoy doing scenes of life around me—of the people and places I have visited as well as of those that are in my immediate world. Most recently I have done pieces that relate to the Dane County Farmers’ Market or nearby community gardens, as they encompass much of the beauty I see right here—the man selling apples at the market in the fall, the couple choosing flowers for a bouquet, brilliant sunflowers.

What do you want people to get from seeing your work?

I’d like them to come away with a deeper sensitivity to the beauty that surrounds them—the beauty of old faces, of colors and smells, of the comforts of “home.” We tend to think that the interesting things in life are far away, in other cultures and places, when in fact we are surrounded with it right here. I have done commissioned work in the past but mostly enjoy doing a piece and having someone love it enough to choose to have it grace their own home. I have enjoyed other types of art—pen and ink and watercolor—but find myself always returning to batik and the joys it gives me.

Mary Fiore’s artwork is on display July 1–31 at Absolutely Art, 2322 Atwood Ave. For more information, call 249.9100 or visit

Photos are courtesy of Absolutely Art.

IN THE MAGAZINE: The July issue of Madison Magazine comes out tomorrow. Here’s some of the arts content you’ll find within the pages:
• How Madisonians will be brining in old artwork and objects for appraisal on “Antiques Roadshow” this month.
• A look at a new movement arming artists with business skills.
• Meet a printmaker who counts nature as his primary inspiration.
• The poem “My Walking Inspiration” by Jolieth McIntosh.
• Our monthly Overtones section with picks on the can’t-miss performances, concerts and exhibits taking place in July.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Let the Games Begin

If you’ve ever feared that attending a chamber music concert would be dull, you obviously have never taken in a Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society performance!

Indeed, for eighteen years, the group has offered “chamber music with a bang” in its three-week summer festivals that prove year after year that chamber music can be fun and playful, in addition to beautiful and interesting.

Says Jeffrey Sykes, co-artistic director with Stephanie Jutt, “As audience members, we often have a ‘museum mentality’ about classical music. Like many museums, concert programs are often filled with a line-up of masterpieces, and the audience is expected to approach these masterworks with awestruck silence. The museum mentality is a perfect formula for self-seriousness.”

That seriousness must accompany top-notch performances is an idea the BDDS has successfully turned on its head. So it’s fitting that this year’s festival is titled Haydn Seek in honor of the two-hundredth anniversary of the passing of Franz Joseph Haydn, “the greatest musical jokester of all time,” according to the BDDS.

All six programs in the festival—which runs June 12–28—feature a work by Haydn. And to further celebrate his sense of play, the BDDS has named each program after a popular game. Here’s a look at what’s in store:

Week 1, June 12–14, brings about the programs Leapfrog and The Dating Game, and features Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio on violin, Parry Karp on cello, Jutt on flute, Sykes on piano, and Timothy Jones and baritone and narrator.

Leapfrog showcases works by French composers of different generations—thereby “leaping” from one to another—including Haydn, François Couperin, Henri Dutilleux and Maurice Ravel. (June 12 at 7:30 p.m. at the Stoughton Opera House in Stoughton and June 14 at 2:30 p.m. at the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green.)

The Dating Game offers music exploring the games people play in relationships. It opens with a Haydn trio based on the song “Trust not too much,” and continues with variations on Franz Schubert’s song cycle “Die Schöne Müllerin.” This performance also will showcase photographs by Madison photographer Katrin Talbot. (June 13 at 7:30 p.m. at Overture Center and June 14 at 7:30 p.m. at the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green.)

Week 2, June 19–21, features Catch Me if You Can and Three Card Monte with Carmit Zori on violin and Randall Hodgkinson on piano, plus Karp, Jutt and Sykes.

Catch Me if You Can highlights works with high-speed musical chases, such as Haydn’s “Gypsy Rondo” piano trio and the “Dumky” trio by Antonín Dvořák. (June 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the River Arts Center in Prairie du Sac and June 21 at 2:30 p.m. at the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green.)

Three Card Monte is named after the card game played by con artists and showcases works for three instruments that are full of tricks and turns of phrase. They include a Haydn trio for flue, cello and piano, Bohuslav Martinu’s jazzy trio for flute, violin and piano, and Felix Mendelssohn’s piano trio in D minor. (June 20 at 7:30 p.m. at Overture Center and June 21 at 7:30 p.m. at the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green.)

Week 3, June 26–28, highlights London Bridge and Pin the Tail on the Donkey, programs featuring Ellen dePasquale and Suzanne Beia on violin, Ara Gregorian on viola, Anthony Ross on cello, and Jutt and Sykes.

London Bridge focuses on works written in Britain, including Haydn’s “London” Symphony, Rebecca Clarke’s sonata for viola and piano, and Edward Elgar’s piano quintet. (June 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the Stoughton Opera House in Stoughton and June 28 at 2:30 p.m. at the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green.)

Pin the Tail on the Donkey features works with notable codas—as “coda” is the Italian word for “tail.” It includes “Fountains of Fin,” written this year by Iranian composer Behzad Ranjbaran, as well as Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony and Johannes Brahms’ popular piano quartet in G minor with a finale that has “the most exciting coda in all of chamber music,” according to the BDDS. (June 27 at 7:30 p.m. at Overture Center and June 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green.)

Executive director Samantha Crownover says audiences should expect “a thrilling evening experiencing the music in a very intimate way” in any of the six programs.

“We hope to give them an emotional journey filled with ups and downs but at the end of it all, leaving a different person than the way they came in,” she says. “Our audience gains a fuller understanding of the composer who wrote the music, the musicians and possibly even themselves. I know, a tall order, but it happens!”

Concerts are held at the Playhouse at Overture Center, the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green, the Stoughton Opera House in Stoughton and the River Arts Center in Prairie du Sac. Tickets are $32, $10 students, $84 for three concerts, $108 for four concerts, $130 for five concerts, $150 for six concerts. 258-4141. For more information, visit

Photos courtesy of the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Play Time

The weather might not be showing it just yet but proof that the summer season is upon us is here: American Players Theatre kicks off its season this weekend!

Opening APT’s thirtieth-anniversary season is William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, opening June 6. Then come George Bernard Shaw’s The Philanderer on June 12 and Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale on June 20.

The rest of the season’s plays are James DeVita’s In Acting Shakespeare (opening July 10), Harold Pinter’s Old Times (July 11), Noël Coward’s Hay Fever (August 8), Shakespeare’s King Henry V (August 15) and Eugene O’Neill’s A Long Day’s Journey (August 27).

Sara Young, APT’s director of communications, was nice enough to take some time out this week to answer questions about this special season and its featured plays.

How did you approach APT’s thirtieth season?

In many ways, we approached it the same way we approach every season. Certainly there are considerations of what plays “fit” together—balance of comedies and dramas, etc. There are also practical considerations such as whether or not they are shows that the audience wants to see (will they sell?). But for APT the most important factor is putting together a team of artists that are passionate about the show they are going to work on. This usually starts with the directors. Brenda DeVita, our associate artistic director, is constantly talking to directors about what shows they were interested in directing—those conversations form the foundation of APT’s season planning.

This season, we’re opening our new two-hundred-seat indoor theater, the Touchstone Theatre. So our season is going from five shows to eight shows. This was a big consideration, of course, in season planning, casting, everything.

How are you planning to mark this milestone?

The grand opening of the Touchstone Theatre and our thirtieth anniversary celebration will be combined into a big event the weekend of July 10–12. The first two Touchstone shows, In Acting Shakespeare and Old Times, will have their press openings on July 10 and 11. On July 12, we’re having a fun event—called “30 Years of Summer”—where we’ll have, food, silent and live auctions, and the Touchstone building dedication. We’re doing an APT version of the old TV show Hollywood Squares where the APT core acting company members will be in the squares and contestants from the audience play. Another highlight of the day will be a music stage featuring APT company members who are also singers. They’ll be accompanied by the General Store Jam Band, a collection of really great musicians from the Spring Green area. The event is from 1–4 p.m. on July 12. Admission is $10 and all proceeds will benefit APT. There are still a few tickets left.

Also on that day, we’re releasing our first-ever APT CD (called Play On) featuring several APT company members and the General Store Band. It will have both music and spoken word tracks on it. Production costs have been underwritten and all of the artists donated their services, so one-hundred percent of proceeds will benefit APT. We’ll be selling it for $20.

What’s new or different this season?

Certainly the opening of the Touchstone Theatre, which I already discussed, is the biggest thing. But we don’t want anyone to forget the amazing experience of our outdoor theater—that really is the centerpiece of the APT experience.

A couple notes, then, about the shows on the Hill: We’re doing Hay Fever, which marks our first production of a Noël Coward play, and our production of Henry V is a continuation of last year’s Henry IV: The Making of a King (which combined Henry IV, parts I and II). It will have the same director (James Bohnen), the same actor playing Henry (Matt Schwader) and much of the same scenic design.

What is it about each play that made you choose it?

On the Hill:

The Comedy of Errors: Certainly, there’s always going to be a “big” Shakespeare comedy like this one on APT’s schedule each year. But we’re especially excited about Comedy because William Brown, our director, is passionate about this play and has wanted to direct it for a long time. And in addition to being very, very funny, in the end it’s a sweet story of families being reunited.

The Philanderer: APT has had a lot of success with plays by George Bernard Shaw—our audience loves them. This is a Shaw play that’s been in the mix for a while, and we’re really excited to have Ken Albers (who directed Shaw’s Widowers’ Houses last year) to helm this one. Also, Jim DeVita plays the lead. He took last season off and his other two shows this season are in the Touchstone Theatre, so this is the only chance for audiences to see him on the Hill this year.

The Winter’s Tale: This is a beautiful, hopeful play. One of Shakespeare’s later plays (as opposed to Comedy, which was one of his first). This year, it seemed to fit so well into the mix. And again, I hate to sound like a broken record, but David Frank is directing and this is one he’s wanted to direct for many years.

Hay Fever: I talked a little about this above. Like I said, our first Noël Coward and I think our audience is going to love it and I think our company is very well suited to it.

King Henry V: I think I covered this one above as well.

In the Touchstone:

In Acting Shakespeare: This is a one-person play written and performed by Jim DeVita. It’s really his journey of how he went from a kid on Long Island who worked on fishing boats and could barely talk to someone who loves Shakespeare. One of our objectives with the new theater is to give our audience and our company the chance to see something a little unexpected. This is not something that we’d be able to do Up the Hill, so the Touchstone is a great opportunity.

Old Times: This is going to be a completely new experience for APT audiences, but we really believe this show addresses our mission, but in a way we don’t usually have an opportunity to. In fact, it just occurred to me that [associate artistic director] Brenda DeVita wrote something recently about the Touchstone shows that answers this really well—I think I’ll just turn it over to her, so to speak.

From Brenda DeVita:

If indeed, we attend theatre or create theatre in order to express, to explore or try to explain the human condition then we at American Players have the great privilege of doing so through the greatest plays ever written.

Our particular brand of these classics is the very fight itself—of making accessible and expressible what is clearly inexpressible—the fight with bringing to life the metaphor itself. The very best work we do is when we are engaged in that fight—the immense tension that comes from trying to make accessible and poignant incredibly dense and intricate poetry.

A nod to that very purposeful quest is
In Acting Shakespeare.

It is debatable, certainly, but possible that
Long Day’s Journey Into Night is the greatest American play ever written. Its beautiful cruelty—its dense poetry is a perfect extension of what we believe to be classic APT material …

Pinter is the introduction to what more contemporary poets offer us on our quest to uncover certain truths. He uses language to describe the very failure of language to express ourselves. Pinter believed we live between the words we speak … That the meaning is beneath the words … That words are inadequate.

Now that’s exciting to us.

What are your goals for the thirtieth season?

Certainly to introduce our audience to the Touchstone Theatre. On a more practical note, we certainly have a goal to end our thirtieth season in the black (as we have for the past seventeen seasons). We’re very proud of our record of financial health, and it’s going to be a challenge to keep that going in this very rough economic climate. So we hope people come out to enjoy a show or two—or more—this summer.

For more information on American Players Theatre and its thirtieth season, visit

Photo is by Carissa Dixon and courtesy of American Players Theatre.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Moving Experience

Madison’s the type of place where events of international significance can happen without the local public even knowing about them. Don’t let that be the case with the 2009 World Dance Alliance–Americas General Assembly.

From May 28–31, the UW–Madison Dance Program hosts this special conference, themed “What Moves Us,” which brings together dancers, educators and students from around the world to discuss and experiment with diverse approaches to viewing and performing dance.

But the assembly isn’t just for dance professionals. A wide array of classes and concerts are offered during the conference. All are open to the public and most are free.

Ereck Jarvis, a project assistant at the UW Dance Program and coordinator of the assembly, recently answered some questions, specifically about the assembly and more generally about the state of dance today.

How did Madison become the host of the 2009 World Dance Alliance–Americas General Assembly?

The 2009 WDAA General Assembly builds on the success of the UW Dance Program’s 2007 and 2008 Intercontinental Summer Dance Festivals. In 2007, the program’s initial Intercontinental Summer Dance Festival involved roughly eighty-five dance artists, practitioners and students, including dancers and specialists from Germany, Liberia, Taiwan and Canada. Through a series of twelve daily classes and four concerts, festival participants developed knowledge and experience in a broad variety of dance styles—from contemporary, modern and ballet technique to Chinese opera dance, Appalachian flat-footing, African dance and Central Asian dance.

The 2008 festival, which brought together over 150 participants from Taiwan, Mexico and numerous locations within the U.S., presented five free public concerts of participants’ choreography to full-capacity crowds. In its second year, the festival expanded the diversity of its offerings, increasing participants’ opportunities to develop knowledge and experience in a broad variety of dance styles, traditions, techniques and pedagogies. New topics included “Violence Prevention through Movement and Creativity,” Egyptian and Middle Eastern performance, Bharata Natyam, Israeli folk dance and “Non-Traditional Ballet Curriculum in Taiwan.”

Both the 2007 and 2008 festivals received sponsorship from World Dance Alliance–Americas, a member-driven organization whose mission is to discuss and debate aspects of common interest in order to help all the dance professionals of the Western hemisphere. Its aim is to support and preserve dance by promoting movement-based art and practice, encouraging collaboration and facilitating international exchange and study of common problems. WDAA is itself a regional component of the global World Dance Alliance, which serves as a primary voice for dance and dancers throughout the world and encourages the exchange of ideas and the awareness of dance in all its many forms …

Jin-Wen Yu, the chair of the UW Dance Program and coordinator of both its 2007 and 2008 summer festivals, is actively involved in WDAA, serving as a board member and head of its Creation and Presentation Network. Yu was eager to share the intercultural educational opportunities and diverse aesthetic dialogues offered by UW–Madison’s summer festivals with the members of WDAA. Similarly, WDAA found the international scope and thoughtful approach of the UW–Madison’s 2007 and 2008 summer events to be in line with the alliance’s mission.

What are the current trends in dance and how will the conference address them?

The assembly embraces one recent trend in the discipline of dance: a shift away from exclusive focus on high art and toward the inclusion of more broadly defined movement-based practices and the cultivation of global accessibility. By movement-based practices, I mean such things as martial arts, Tai Chi, yoga, popular dance, folk dance. These forms have really begun to influence contemporary choreographic art. We generated the assembly’s theme, “What Moves Us,” from an interest in investigating what this sort of openness to influence and involvement means for contemporary dance. The theme emphasizes the simplest, most vital and critical component of dance—movement. To be alive is to move—blood must circulate, air must pass in and out of the lungs. So dance may be something we all can and do participate in. We include the word “us” in the theme because we want to question who is the “us” of dance; what do we look like. We’re particularly interested in how different forms of movement—art dance, folk dance, ethnic dance, popular and street dance—help create and define communities. Within the theme of What Moves Us, our primary focuses are issues of community dance, international exchange and disability in movement arts.

What will the conference and festival entail? What will the focus be this year?

The assembly received over 170 proposals for contributions to its program, including submissions from individuals or groups based in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, England, France, Germany, Hungary, Kenya, Latvia, Taiwan, Thailand, Trinidad and Venezuela. We’re currently working with potential contributors to set the program of events. The current draft of our master class schedule features over eight different techniques of modern dance, classes on blending martial arts and creative dance, and cultural dance classes such as Afro-Cuban, Israeli Folk, Manupuri (a form of Indian classical dance), Flamenco and Moroccan. 

Presentation topics include methods of using movement analysis to assist blind audiences in appreciating dance, a workshop in body-mind centering, discussions of work by celebrated community dance innovators such Liz Lerman and David Dorfman, and the use of dance practice in refugee resettlement and general community building. Several artists will conduct choreographic projects during the assembly: either they will set already choreographed pieces on assembly participants or they will collaborate with assembly dancers to create a new work. The results will be presented in our final concert. Other concert programs will present choreography and performance by locally, nationally and internationally renowned dance artists, including groups of disabled or integrated (mixing both disabled and non-disabled) artists.

With community dance and building community through dance as two of its primary concerns, the assembly is eager to include the local general public (non-dance-professionals, movers who do not identify themselves predominantly with dance art, or individuals without extensive training in dance art and technique) in its events. Daily concerts will be open to the public, and some of the pieces performed in the concerts will feature non-traditional performers. For instance, Jin-Wen Yu will present a work he created in collaboration with local tai chi teacher Blair Mathews. The piece features four trained ballet dancers and eight local tai chi practitioners. The assembly will include some performances out in public areas. Philadelphia-based artist Merián Soto is designing a performance of her “Branch” project to take place in the UW Arboretum.

But we’re also interested in getting the public to dance as well as to watch dance. In the current draft of the schedule, we will invite the local public to participate in two free daily classes/workshops. These classes should include introductions to and instruction in African dance, integration of disabled and non-disabled movers in creative dance choreography, Israeli folk dance, movement improvisation, Native American dance and Tai Chi.

What is the significance of this event coming to Madison?

It’s so incredibly unusual for an event of such international magnitude to take place outside one of the U.S.’s major metropolitan areas. The Madison community will have a truly unique opportunity to access performances from individuals and group from around the world. And, we’re excited to present local artist’s work alongside those by artists from elsewhere. We’re working very hard to make these performances as accessible and well attended as possible.

What is the future of dance?

Terry Teachout (drama critic of The Wall Street Journal, the chief culture critic of Commentary, and the author of “Sightings,” a column about the arts in America that appears biweekly in the Saturday Wall Street Journal)—who, mind you, is a huge fan of and advocate for ballet and dance art in general—has lamented that dance will be the first of the fine arts to die. Based on the exciting, innovative work that the assembly will include, I’m a little more optimistic. So many of the artists and experts contributing to the assembly demonstrate that the art is very vital and transforming in very constructive ways. I certainly hope Teachout is wrong: As the importance of virtual or computer-based worlds continue to grow in our society, I firmly believe that we will have more and more to learn from dance, which, for me, is the art that helps us understand what it means to have a body, to negotiate the world through our bodies which constantly radiate multiple levels of communication and meaning.

Photos are courtesy of the UW Dance Program.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

June Artists: Beyond the Strip

Whether the word “comics” brings to mind newspaper cartoons, collectible books or contemporary graphic novels, you’re likely to learn a lot at Underground Classics: The Transformation of Comics into Comix 1963–1990, a new exhibition at the Chazen Museum of Art.

Showcasing original art, printed pages, comic book covers and other work by fifty-seven artists, the exhibition explores the underground comix movement that began in the 1960s in which cartoonists rebelled against mainstream society and mainstream publishing to create a new, uncensored era of comic art.

Recently, James Danky, a co-curator of Underground Classics with Denis Kitchen, answered a few questions about the intriguing exhibition.

How did this exhibition come about?

In the fall of 1977 I organized a conference on the UW campus on book publishing in Wisconsin and Denis Kitchen of Kitchen Sink Press attended it. We introduced ourselves and I have the distinct memory of casually saying how great it would be to see his and the other comix artists’ work in a museum. As we have remarked to each other since, you need to be careful with those casual statements given that was thirty-three years ago!

How did you personally become interested in comics and comix?

I have always read comics. I am sure I began with the funnies in the newspaper back when the offerings were more numerous, though I quickly added reading comic books as well. I would sit on the floor of the supermarket while my mother shopped (this was the 1950s, after all) and would read several comics and then select one to buy for twelve cents. If the title was other than Disney I would hide the book inside Life or Look but markets tended to offer a pretty mild selection of books. In 1967 I discovered comix when a friend lent me his copy of Zap, which blew my mind as the saying goes. From then on my reading was almost exclusively comix, as the titles published by the major firms had lost my interest. Today I read comix and their successors, namely titles published by younger artists including Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, Jason Lutes and Linda Barry. The creativity of their art and the stories they choose to tell make for compelling reading.

What is the difference between comics and comix?

Comics have been an integral part of art since people drew on caves in Europe, if not before. In the twentieth century comics have come to have a more limited definition that frequently depended upon their location within the media. Newspaper strips, whether dramatic or humorous, were aimed at a general, family audience. Likewise, many comic books from producers like Disney or Dell provided content that involved funny animals and the like and could safely, after the mid-1950s, be shared with even younger children. There were many important comics that were none of these things, comics that contained graphic views of war or horror, but the Comics Code movement during the McCarthy era drove them out of business. This left a landscape where comics artists and readers were constrained in their choices and this frustration led to comix. The “x” is there to distinguish the two approaches. Comix offered artists the freedom to use unfettered language, depict graphic sex or recreational drug use, and make use of extreme violence when the story called for it. This entirely new approach to the medium produced works that were completely different than any that had come before and that also reflected the tremendous social changes associated with the 1960s.

Has this topic been studied much in the past? Why is it gaining attention now?

There were perceptive critics and even a historian or two who appreciated the work done by comix artists right away. However, their efforts were fragmented and often little read. Over the last few years there have been some important books, including Pat Rosenkranz’s Rebel Visions, which have put comix into a broader context. Denis and I believe our book, Underground Classics: The Transformation of Comics into Comix, represents the first serious examination of comix as art, but our work relies on the contribution of many others.

Comix have gained a new acceptance over the last few decades and here I could point to a number of indicators but perhaps it is useful to think of Art Spiegelman’s joining the New Yorker in 1992 and later when his wife, Francoise Mouly, became the magazine’s art director. As the premier venue for cartoonists, the changes at the New Yorker have opened its pages to cartoonists whose work would have never appeared before. It is a factor of age, as in those of us who grew up on comix are now of an age to want to see such images, read such stories that publications include them.

How well does the general public understand and appreciate comics and comix? Have there been misconceptions over the years?

Despite the changes noted above, comics and comix remain a demonized form of media. The historical demonization sent forth by Dr. Wertham in Seduction of the Innocent, which produced the Comics Code of the 1950s, established a frame in which stories told using drawings were deemed juvenile and of little value. How many parents declared that reading comics was a waste of time? The result has been to limit the audience of comics in ways that other literary forms are not. Comics and comix can both be extraordinary forms for authors and artists to employ in telling stories. Comix offer the added benefit of being able to tell a story without the usual constraints or responsibilities. When Will Eisner’s A Contract with God appeared in 1978 (published by Denis Kitchen), the world had its first graphic novel. It is hard to underestimate the effects of Eisner’s work and I would note the strong presence of graphic novels and graphic nonfiction in many school reading programs as well as college courses.

What did you learn or what surprised you in working on this show?

I am tempted to say that Denis and I learned how little we knew about how museums worked, but mostly we came to understand how best to tell the story of the fifty-seven artists in the exhibit so that it would make sense to the art museum-attending community. With the help of Russell Panczenko and his staff at the Chazen, I think we have succeeded.

What do you hope people get from seeing this exhibition?

I hope those of a certain age, one closer to my own, enjoy reliving a part of their past, a part that they may not have considered recently or shared with those who came later. For students today, I think the opportunity to see the work done by a generation of artists and to consider how these lines on paper changed everything. The legacy of the sixties is more than rock n’ roll, important as that was.

Underground Classics: The Transformation of Comics into Comix, 1963–1990 runs through July 12 at the Chazen Museum of Art, 800 University Ave. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call 263.2068 or visit

Additionally, check out Underground Classics, a book written by Danky and Kitchen to accompany the exhibition, as well as a blog dedicated to the show.

Photos are courtesy of the Chazen Museum of Art.

IN THE MAGAZINE: The June issue of Madison Magazine comes out tomorrow. Here’s some of the arts content you’ll find within the pages:
• Local booksellers’ picks for the hottest summer reads.
• Tips on scoring great tickets inexpensively in our special Luxe for Less issue.
• Also in our Luxe for Less cover story is my experience visiting twelve galleries and art museums in a single day.
• A look into what it’s like for two Mercury Players producers to put on the annual Blitz.
• The poem Beauty by Mick Joyce.
• Our monthly Overtones section with picks on the can’t-miss performances, concerts and exhibits taking place in May.