Thursday, November 29, 2018

War of the Wolf

War of the Wolf
Bernard Cornwell
Harper Collins Publishers
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0-06-256317-0
2018
$ 28.99
333 pages

How could anyone teach about life in the late 900s or early 1000 A.D.?    The time of Saxons, Mercians, Danes all battling over land that would become England.   Along side the land issue is the decision of religion.   Christianity is being followed by most of the inhabitants while the many of the Danes hold on to their beliefs and loyalties to the Norse Gods.   Naturally, among each side are inner battles of ambitious rulers fighting and acquiring loyalties for power and possessions.
War of the Wolf is the eleventh book in Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon series explaining how England became a single country.   All of these books feature Uhtred, who in my mind resembles one of the larger fighting men in Game of Thrones with numerous scars and battle wounds from constant altercations.
War of the Wolf is seen through the eyes of  Uhtred, now an older and wiser man.   In the first book, I viewed him with distaste as his taste of fighting seemed impulsive.   Throughout the series, Uhtred grows more interlining from his experiences and challenges so that now he thinks, plots, and attempts to outwit his enemy.   Now, it is easier to see Uhtred as wise and even caring and protective of his friends, allies, and family.
Uhtred now has reestablished his life in his northern family home of Bebbanburg which took many years.   He is comfortable in his northern home and would rather be home than fighting.   He realizes that even though home, peace is always temporary with the constant threat of the Viking invaders, the  wild fighting Scots from the northern lands and the battling for power from the Mercians, now in control of England.  
Uhtred is summoned to King Edward in Wessex to decide the next king whether through oldest illegitimate sons, legitimate heirs, or other lesser leaders.   Uhtred has no intention of going until he discovers the problems of his son-in-law.   The needs and vengeances of the family outweigh the dangers.
In War of the Wolf, Uhtred proves his leadership and acquired wisdom in this battle of kings as well as a new challenger proves a threat to him, his family, and his ancestral homeland.  His skills or lack of skills in this new world of diplomacy as well as his strategic fighting abilities demonstrates that peace is never permanent.  There is always a new, younger, stronger, and perhaps smarter challenger.
War of the Wolf is thoroughly enthralling as Uhtred enters of a world of constant change.
For a reader unfamiliar with this series, I would strongly recommend to read at least the first book or to watch the television series The Last Kingdom before this particular novel.  Being acquainted with the characters, especially the names is extremely helpful as well as understanding the people.  Personally, I enjoy how each person matures and their previous life choices affecting their life in this eleventh book.
How could anyone learn of life in the 900s and 1000 A.D. in England.  Read the Saxon series by Bernard Cornwell.
Bernard Cornwell is a master storyteller with this newest book in the Saxon series, War of the Wolf.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Nutcracker 2018

Mice, a Rat King, a heroine, a hero, a magician and all nature create the elegance of the American Midwest Ballet’s latest interpretation of The Nutcracker, as their story is expressed through Tchaikovsky’s music and creativity strictly through dance.
The story is a Christmas Eve dream.  The night begins at a Christmas party in the family’s lavish home.  Elegant dresses, beautiful women, everyone at their best except for Clara’s little brother, Fritz.   The highlight of the evening is the arrival of their uncle, a magician, Drosselmeyer who gives Fritz, a trumpet and Clara, a decoratively elaborate nutcracker who resembles a toy soldier.  Being a little brother, Fritz is not content with his gift and fights over the nutcracker with Clara.   Imagine her disappointment when it is broken.   Fortunately, Uncle Drosselmeyer is able to fix and return the nutcracker doll to Clara.
As the party closes, the children go to bed.   This begins the night of Clara’s enchanting dream.
The Nutcracker uses no spoken words, only movement through dance..   The story, wordless, is elaborate, colorful, engaging, and completely hypnotic as the dream unfolds.
American Midwest Ballet presented their version of The Nutcracker Sunday afternoon at Iowa Western Community College.    This magical afternoon achieved a dream.   Yes, this show is different and better than previous production, a task I thought of as impossible
Molly Kimmey is Clara this year.   She is enchanting as well as a superb dancer.  Also, Tchaikovsky, the dog from the Nebraska Humane Society displayed his acting debut with being curious, well-behaved and proving to be an excellent dog for any family wishing to adopt him.   I really could not identify the amateurs from the professionals.   Obviously the work with the extra dancers this year was outstanding.   Every step is perfection and artistic.
To create this enormous production, requires intense work of numerous talented individuals while integrating local talent along with the professional dancers.  The choreography by Erika Overturff and Matthew Lovegood is elegant while still creative.  With both children as well as professional dancers, this is the first time I have witnessed a perfect performance.   The show is absolutely enchanting.
Every aspect of this year’s The Nutcracker is perfection.   This year’s production is different than previous years being more elaborate as well as completely immersing the audience into a trance of beauty.
The sets were elaborate and detailed, moving smoothly and almost invisibly through their dances. American Midwest Ballet unquestionably always has the best costumes which are phenomenally elaborate and expressive of the individuals and the story.
How do you tell if a performance is outstanding? You just need to listen to the audience. When the audience is completely silent and not moving for an entire program, you know that the show is perfectly entertaining everyone.
The show lasts about ninety minutes along with a twenty minute intermission.   I recommend that the show is appropriate for mature, quiet toddlers and anyone and everyone older.
The Nutcracker is something that we see every year. Why? The Nutcracker is the perfect example of holiday magic in a beautiful story without the chaos and noise of the holidays. It's Christmas as it should be, even if it is in our dreams. With the American Midwest Ballet company, the story is better, bigger each year.   Yes, the dances are different this year.   I find it amazing that they are better than in previous years.
Additional performances will be December 8th and 9th at the Orpheum Theater in Omaha.  Ticket-prices range from $25 to $59 and can be purchased at the Orpheum or the Holland Center, or through ticketmaster.com or by calling (402) 345-0606.
For a memorable and enthralling experience, see American Midwest Ballet’s The Nutcracker.
Their shows have always excelled with intertwining tradition with creative artistry in telling this traditional Russian Christmas story.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Women

Life in 1936 oftentimes causes people to think of a country recuperating from the Great Depression.   For a select minority, life was luxurious and fairly easy.  These were the women of the ultra-rich in New York City.  Their lives revolved around their social status and gossip.
In “The Women”, Mary, who is portrayed by Kate Simmons discovers that her husband is having an affair with a sales clerk.   Naturally, the affair is noticed first by her social friends who then inform and advise Mary.   Are these social friends real friends or just gossips who enjoy dramas?
The play was originally written by Claire Booth Luce after overhearing conversations during a visit to a nightclub and was in the powder room.   Naturally, someone’s husband was having an affair. Luce wrote this play revealing each character who has real problems in life, despite their wealth.  Dealing with the timeless difficulties of everyday life, such as infidelity, friendship and gossip, impact everyone’s relationships at some time.  Intermixing humor with the tragedy of adultery is a tricky balancing trick.
In addition to Kate Simmons, others in this intimate social group are Robyn Helwig, Elizabeth Planck, Geana Krajicek, Alisha Delsignore, and Claire Mahoney.   Alternately, humorous and tragic, D. Laureen Pickle as Countess de Lage brought a little different temperament to the play.  As the daughter, Halle Dart, portrayed a confused girl who had to suffer and adjust to decisions made by her parents.   She showed that just because the choices were made, she did not have to completely agree with it.  As Mary’s mother, Denise Putman became a caring parent who also had input into the marriage.  Crystal, the other woman, was wonderfully portrayed by Mary Trecek.  Also, one of my favorites in the play was Stephanie Kidd as many humorous characters.
“The Women” is directed by Brenda Smrdel with Amanda Charles completing her job as stage manager.  Many others contributed both on stage and off to successfully create this unusual play of only women in “The Women.”
“The Women” continues through this weekend, November 16th-18th, at 7:30 on Friday and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.   Tickets cost $20 for adults, $16 for seniors over the age of sixty and $10 for students.   Tickets can be purchased by contacting the box office at 712-323-9955, e-mail the theater box office at chanticleertheater@gmail.com, or at the theater’s box office thirty minutes before the curtain opens.   The location of the theater is 830 Franklin Ave. in Council Bluffs.
The show is adult oriented and lasts about two and a half hours with a fifteen minute intermission.
This weekend would be the perfect time for this timeless story with a lesson about the effects of malicious gossip on every person, whether the speaker, listened, and even those who overhear those words.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Momentum with Rhapsody in Blue - American Midwest Ballet

When you think of ballet, you think of grace, elegance, authentic beauty in motion perfectly describes this area’s American Midwest Ballet Company.  Their final performance enraptured the audience this past Sunday at The Iowa Western’s Arts Center with a compilation of dances telling stories through movement.
Beginning each selection, a short video clip explained the choreographer’s motivation while also interacting with the featured performers in a rehearsal.
Connemara (Rock Pool) choreographed by Erika Overturff is inspired by a painting at Joslyn Art Museum by artist May Stevens.   The ballet featured dancers demonstrating the movements of flowing water in their costumes, movements, and scenery to create a gorgeous, relaxing feeling of flowing and constantly changing in unison and an ever  transitional sweeping of air barely touching the fluidity of the dancers.
French Songs, choreographed by Matthew Lovegood featuring the music from Joseph Canteloube’s selections of “Chants d’Auvergne” featured dancers Amaris Sharratt and Ryan Christopher guides the audience through this unique area demonstrating the uniqueness of the people through the countryside while a budding attraction between two individuals is beautifully exemplified.
“At Last’ with Etta James magnificent voice was choreographed by Frank Chavez featuring Katherine Eppink and Cameron Miller.  This selection was truly artistic in expressing the song and attracting another’s love.   One complaint about this selection was that it didn’t last longer.   This exemplify love, lust, creativity, artistry and the incompleteness of never having enough.
Death and the Maiden is Franz Schubert’s composition for string quartet with costumes from the Joffrey Ballet and guest choreographer Mariana Oliveira with featured dancers Alexandra Hoffman, Anders Southerland and Brian Bennett along with the company dancers.   Wow!   This selection was the epitome of darkness with veiled dancers and the encroachment of death.  The beauty and brutality truly made this selection an odd combination that was exquisitely meshed together.
Group Therapy created by Harrison McEldowney as the choreographer featured four troubled couples expressing their problems through the medium of dance.  From uncontrollable passion, to a smoking addiction, through being exhausted and yes, even being too clingy to wanting no affection.  How can these four overcome their problems?   Could a group therapy with no spoken words by the answer?
“Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin was beautifully choreographed by Erika Overturff expressed her vision of Gershwin’s hypnotic music.  With numerous combinations of blues the beauty and artistry of the company dancers perfectly exhibited the momentous creativity of the selection.
These are words from the American Midwest Ballet, “Our work is beyond words.  Our art form embodies the joy and struggle of the human experience.  Through dance, we make you think, we uplift you, and we inspire you!”
A great performance makes time stand still leaving an audience wanting more. These words perfectly exemplify these two glorious hours of music in dance.  You don’t want to ever miss any performance of American Midwest Ballet.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Bye Bye Birdie

It is 1958 in America.  Congress does not have enough volunteers to fight in the Korean War so they need to draft men to fight.   One of those chosen, was the legendary Elvis Presley.   Much to the dismay of numerous teenaged girls, the heartthrob became part of the U. S. Army.
A bright playwright thought this idea would could become a musical.  Hmmm.......
To protect copyright laws, Elvis became Conrad Birdie, fictional heartthrob to only this musical in the image of the cultural icon.
For preshow entertainment, you want to get your seats early due to special music provided by the Thomas Jefferson Vocal Music Department on opening night and the Omaha Jitterbugs for the dancing.    Personally, I would enjoy more of this entertainment from the local high schools.  Thank you, Travis Walker.
Leading the show of Bye Bye Birdie as Rosie is Julia Vanderpoole and in the role of Albert if Adam Fulbright.   Julia has a beautiful voice which improved throughout the show with her confidence.  Adam Fulbright is one teen who you want to now see and hear.   Wow!  This is one person who could become a professional actor/musician in the future.  He truly commanded the stage with his talents.
As Conrad, Erich Swartz was fun to watch imitating Elvis’ moves and the voice.  As the teenager Kim, Krysin. Holmes was delightful.
The show includes numerous familiar tunes, including “Put on a Happy Face.”  The costumes are great reflecting the 1950s along with the sets and props.    Denise Putman is the director while Jerry Gray is in charge of the music along with the choreography by Jason DeLong.
What impressed me the most were the wonderful blended harmonies in many of the songs.  The alto section was exceptionally good adding a true professional quality to the show.
For those visiting the theater who are not middle-aged or older, you need a little background about the draft process and icehouses.
Warning:   Many members of the ensemble are female and teenagers.   Remember how teens reacted to Elvis or the Beatles.  Yes, there will be the teenaged girl scream.
With this Young Performers’ Edition of Bye Bye Birdie, all the performers on stage are eighteen or younger.  Those older are the support crew for those on stage.  All are wonderful, both on stage and off, of Bye Bye Birdie.
This show is for all ages.   The show lasts about 75 minutes with no intermission.  These Young Performers Editions shorten the show without leaving out relevant events or songs.
Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on this Friday and Saturday, September 20th and 21st, as well as at 2 p.m. on Sunday, September 22nd.  (Shows the second week tend to be much better than the first since nerves are usually settled by the second week.).   Even if you saw the show last weekend, if it even more fun enjoying it again.
Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at 712-323-9955 or at www.chanticleertheater.com.   For adults, tickets are $20, for seniors sixty and over, $16; and $10 for students.
The Chanticleer Theater is located 830 Franklin Ave. in Council Bluffs.
What a great way to celebrate September with Conrad going off to the Army and you are attending the Chanticleer Theater.