Monday, November 25, 2013

The Nutcracker 2013

For most of us, 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.
Ballet Nebraska always excels with intertwining tradition with creative artistry in telling this traditional Russian Christmas story. This past weekend, Ballet Nebraska opened their Nutcracker performances at Iowa Western Community College. The program will continue at The Orpheum Theater in Omaha on December 7th at 2 and 7:30 p.m. as well as 2 p.m. on Sunday, December 8th. Incorporating local young dancers into this choreographed extravaganza has to be a monumental task considering that this year Ballet Nebraska has more than 120 students mingling among their 18 professional dancers with singers from Opera Omaha's Children's Chorus and a dog from Nebraska Humane Society for every performance.

As Clara, Kalin and Katie Rice, identical twins, excelled in this role expressing emotions beautifully through dance and movement. The choreography is always exceptional with Ballet Nebraska with multiple dances frequently on-stage at one time to create realism and engagement with the audience. Erika Overturff as Artistic Director along with Matthew Carter, Ballet Master excelled with their creative ideas this year. As usual, the sets, costumes, make-up, and hair were all outstanding. This is always one of Ballet Nebraska's strengths.

The professional dancers are always conscious of the children assisting the youngster's with their excited energy while staying within the storyline.  It seemed that in this particular performance, the male professional dancers seemed to leap higher than in previous years making their dances more exciting.
The performance including intermission lasted approximately two hours which is perfect for young children.
Most noticeable and exciting to me is the quietness of the performance. Yes, there is Tchaikovsky's delightfully picturesque music, but even when the dancers appear to be talking, there is no sound from them. With long leaps, jumps, movements, you never hear "prancing and pawing of each little hoof" as Santa's reindeer, you literally see movements but absolutely no sound is coming from the stage. No, their gracefulness creates silence in telling this story.
I was delighted this year to see The Nutcracker character actually on stage for most of the performance and interacting with the dancers. His presence is needed as he is important in the story line. This is an issue that seems to be missing from many performances of this ballet from numerous companies which is an integral part of the story.
Some of the traditional songs were shortened slightly that sometimes created an awkward cut-off to the end of the ethnic dances feeling a little awkward and ironic, considering the gracefulness of the performance.
To purchase tickets for this wonderful event on December 7th and 8th at The Orpheum contact, or call (402) 345-0606, or at The Omaha Performing Arts box office at the Holland Center, 12th and Douglas Street in Omaha with seat prices between $25 to $59.
This elegant gracefulness during the busy holiday season is invigorating to those of us who can only dream, like Clara, of the beauty, artistry. and the glorious quietness of the ballet.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

John Smith: Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars

John Smith: Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars
Roland Hughes
Logikal Solutions
ISBN: 978-1-939732-00-2
Trade Paperback
274 pages

Do you ever reflect about how your life could have been different if you had made different choices twenty, thirty, forty years ago? Imagine yourself sixty-eight years now in the future. What choices should you have made now on November 13, 2013? How could these affect your life and every living creature on the planet?
On November 13, 2013, the world ceased to exist as we know it. Now, sixty-eight years later, John Smith attempts to explain life before this time. He wonders if finally people are ready to understand the history that created the world of today.
Now, people live at a basic survival level without the use of our established means of transportation, communication, health care, and food service. How do you prevent the catastrophe of the past from ever happening again. In the hopes that this history will never occur again, John Smith has left his isolated world to communicate the mistakes of the past to a world that has no memory. He is the only known survivor from this event sixty-eight years ago.

John Smith was only eleven years old at this time making his age of seventy-nine the oldest known person alive today on the planet. On that fated day, John's family had built a bunker when the Microsoft Wars started where he was trapped for ten years.
Susan Krowley is a newspaper reporter for The Times which is published twice a month with the widest circulation of 5500. Reading newspapers is not a common activity and only for the few and the privileged. She is thrilled to be able to conduct this interview for her newspaper. This is her story of a lifetime interviewing John Smith who is the only known living person who actually experienced the Microsoft Wars.

The world is much different now. People travel on horseback. Schools of the past no longer exist, including colleges. Everyone learns from their home. Jobs that formerly required college degrees now are filled within families. Technology as we know it does not exist. Knowledge and books are limited. Life is at a simplistic level. Even access to books is extremely limited. Without the widespread usage of computers, telephones, and nuclear energy, life is very different.
The seven continents are now twelve. There is no way to travel or communicate from one continent to the next with an ocean covering much of the center of the United States. John was very fortunate that his bunker was in an area that had not been covered by an ocean.

"John Smith: Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars" is thought provoking. The author reviews much of our technological advances throughout the years, while also demonstrating the uneven advances and questionable uses and obvious abuses with the ethical practices. This book is a warning of what could happen if we continue without a complete understanding of our societal choices.
This entire book is written as an interview between John Smith and Susan Krowley, as a question and answer format. Within the responses are the elements of action usually in a novel. This is definitely a different perspective of a novel and the message within the story.

Who is the intended audience? Everyone who inhabits this planet. The relevance of this novel is a perfect example of cause and effect and even goes beyond that concept. This is required reading for everyone.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Noises Off

Anyone who has ever been in a theatrical production knows that the final rehearsal can be disastrous. To add to this tension, this particular show has had less than two weeks of rehearsal.
This is "Noises Off" which is about the theatrical production "Nothing On" which is this play that was expected to be ready to perform after only two weeks and the director is having difficulty with people forgetting props and stage directions both on stage and back stage. The audience gets the rare privilege of seeing the show from the directors perspective which is act one. Act Two is observing the play from backstage where you get to know the actors and actresses as real people with the problems and jealousies. Act Three is the show on the road.
The play within a play begins with D. Laureen Pickle playing Dotty Otley as Mrs. Clacket who is the housekeeper of the Brent's vacation home kept by a management firm. However, Dotty cannot remember whether she is to take or leave the plate of sardines as she leaves her scene and if she needs to leave or take the newspaper. For the director, Lloyd Dallas portrayed by Ron Hines, he is completely frustrated with Dotty and is looking forward to getting this play on the traveling circuit so that he can begin his next project, "Richard III". Looking forward to a long weekend with his special woman, Roger Tramplemain portrayed by Garry LeJeune who is really Chris Ebke enters the house with the lovely and ditzy Vicki played by Brooke Ashton portrayed by Jacqueline Kappes who manages to be enthralled by the many closed doors and discovering which one is the bedroom. Since Roger works with the management company, he knows that the home is frequently vacant and that the housekeeper is only there for a short while each day. What a great opportunity to get to know a pretty girl!
Hiding from the tax authorities, Philip Brent portrayed by Frederick Fellowes played by John Hatcher with his wife Flavia Brent, played by Belinda Blair, portrayed by Karrin Dignoti also plan to spend time at their house.   Philip is overwhelmed when he discovers the many notices from the income tax collectors.  These were not forwarded to his home.  Added to the confusion is a burglar portrayed by the legendary Selson Mowbray portrayed by Rodger Gerberding and both an assistant played by Sarah Query and a repairman portrayed by Jon Turnbeaugh.   Confused yet?

All the characters portraying other characters playing parts in a play where delightful.  The first act is a bit tiresome, but is the foundation for the next two acts.  The second and third acts are hilarious in this adult themed production.  Between who is behind each door, the personal relationships between the cast and crew, the sardines, the telephone, and the newspaper, not to mention the dress and contact lenses.  

"Noises Off" was superbly directed by Jonathan Wilhoft with perfect timing for the lights and sound, the sets and props were perfect for this performance in every aspect in this fast-paced slapstick comedy.             
"Noises Off" continues at the Chanticleer Theater at 830 Franklin Ave. in Council Bluffs through November 24th with the Friday and Saturday shows beginning at 7:30 p.m. and the Sunday show at 2 p.m.   The show has two intermissions and lasts almost three hours. For tickets, contact the theater at (712) 323-9955 or through email at Ticket costs are $ 20 for adults, $ 16 for seniors, and $ 12 for students.  

"Noises Off" is a fun, adult show with a delightfully energetic and fun cast..                

Night in Treme

Last Thursday at the Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha, was an unusual night musically with "A Night in Treme". Treme is a neighborhood in New Orleans where a particular style of African-American music originated and continues in a series on HBO.

Soul Rebels started off the evening. This eight-member ensemble comprises of two trumpets, one saxophone, two trombones, one tuba, and two percussion players. With songs like "504" and "Turn It Up", many of these songs were reminiscent of high school jazz bands with most of the group playing a repeated pattern known as vamping while a soloist is featured during an improvisation. Their music integrated a younger type of music utilizing rap and funk into their jazz/rock beats. Each instrumentalist also sang. With each performer adjusting their own amplifiers, sometimes the balance was off since they didn't utilize the acoustics and sound system of the Holland. They did attempt some dancing moves which actually resembled those from a marching band. This group kept encouraging the audience to stand-up to clap with them, however, very few actually were comfortable with this request.

The evening changed though when Donald Harrison and James Andrews appeared on the stage. These two are both understand about how to work with an audience and how to enjoy your performance and to project that to the audience. Even though the music from Soul Rebels was from New Orleans, people expect the old blues melodies of their legendary performers.

Donald Harrison spoke with the audience about his personal identity as a big chief. He explained that much of the music of this neighborhood is based on old African-American chants set to a set of three African drums. With just is drumming he sang demonstrating this for the audience while combining a music lesson into entertainment. As a change of pace and to demonstrate the wide range of his abilities, he completely engaged the audience with his version of "What a Wonderful World" played as a jazz selection with his saxophone with Soul Rebels providing the accompaniment creating a song that was enchanting.
James Andrews appeared in a suit with a bright red vest playing his trumpet in a similar style as Louis Armstrong, even inflating his cheeks as he plays. His engaging showman skills, thrilled the audience with his singing, whistling, and playing songs such as "Little Liza Jane" and to the delight of the audience, "When the Saints Go Marching In", New Orleans style even with parading down the aisle and dancing. Yes, there was an interesting traffic pattern in the aisle with the instrumentalists and the spontaneous dancers.

The audience had members of all ages, however, many older people left early.  I believe these people expected the music in the second half and did not enjoy the music in the beginning.  Considering how outstanding both Donald Harrison and James Andrews were as New Orleans' performers,  they missed some outstanding and completely engaging music.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Covenant with Hell

Covenant with Hell

A Medieval Mystery

Priscilla Royal

Poisoned Pen Press

Scottsdale, AZ

ISBN: 9781464201950

Trade Paperback

$ 14.95

December 2013

250 pages

Sometimes everyone just needs to get away. That is exactly what Prioress Eleanor and Brother Thomas from Tyndal were thinking when they decided to pursue a pilgrimage to a nearby priory to worship at their holy relics. Looking for peace and personal repentance the two were not planning on a death immediately after their arrival. Also, they discovered that they were not really welcomed here and this particular priory was not friendly or charitable.

A young nun died from her fall from a bell tower Was she pushed or did she jump? Rumors in the town are speaking about a possible affair, a lover who was meeting with her in the tower. Unfortunately, this particular priory tends to believe the worse with this dead nun. Prioress Eleanor and Brother Thomas do not accept this conclusion with no evidence and begin to question those closest to the priory. The poor are discarded and have few rights in this community and the two do whatever they can to help others.

Rumors of King Edward visiting this town while having troops invading nearby Wales are running through the town as well as rumors of him possibly being assassinated.  Since Prioress Eleanor's brother is a close friend of the king, she questions if she should remain in this town in case he would visit.
The township has many secrets they wish to keep hidden.  Are all these somehow related?
Covenant with Hell is a well-written and well-organized mystery.  The story is gripping as more than the actual mystery causes problems for the main characters making the story believable.   Even though this is part of a series, this book is not dependent on the readers having knowledge of the previous series.  This book does work as a stand alone novel. 
Priscilla Royal currently resides in California.  Even though she grew up in British Columbia, her home was in the state of Washington while she earned her Bachelor of Arts in World Literature from San Francisco State University.
Covenant of Hell is a wonderful novel intermixing a mystery into the time of Edward and Eleanor in England.

Awakening Colors

Awakening Colors
Ritu K. Gupta
Amazon Digital Services
Woodbridge, Ontario
$ 2.99 Kindle
All of us are born with special gifts and spend much of our lives discovering them. What if your gift is one of the unusual ones? One that people will have difficulty believing? How do you learn to use this gift while wanting to be certain that no one is hurt because of your gift? How does your family deal with this gift?
A car accident shatters Pari's life. Her father is with her in the car when someone talks to her about getting out of the vehicle. Her father doesn't want her to leave. She sees colors around her. Then all is dark.
Six months later, Pari finally awakens from a coma. Her father died in the accident. How do you pick up your life now?
However, things are different now. Pari can actually view people's auras - the colors constantly surrounding and changing with each person. She quickly learns how this allows her to sense their moods, intents, character, and their choices in their future. Who can you talk to about this?
One of her father's associates, Arche, attempts to assist her with her newly discovered gifts which he also possesses. He knows that he is also able to change others' destinies but doing so can change three worlds: the material, the illusionary, and the timeless. He quickly realizes that Pari's abilities far surpass his. He hopes to "guide" her with her new discoveries. However, Pari senses a darkness within him that frightens her. Pari must learn more from Chanakya, her spiritual guide, reflective of the goddess Devi..

"Awakening Colors" is a story of a young woman's discovering herself and how she chooses to become part of the adult world while possessing a gift.  The characters are believable with choices that are part of a normal everyday life even in dealing with aspects of the supernatural.
Dealing with an unusual ability that is not can easily by misused, was perfectly plotted.  While still maintaining a family relationship with her sister and her mother as their lives evolve is part of the strength of this novel.   Pari daily has to appear living a normal life even to her family.
Author Ritu K. Gupa is a native of India who has lived in Canada for the last twenty-five years.
The intended audience for "Awakening Colors" is women in their twenties and thirties and those who enjoy an unconventional tale about life choices.           

Cameron Carpenter

Cameron Carpenter dazzled the audience last Thursday night with his phenomenal artistry with playing the Historic Orpheum Theater Wurlitzer organ. His approach to playing demonstrated pedals which literally resembled a ballet and fingers the flowed from one keyboard to the next playing Chopin, Dupre, Bach, and yes, even Gershwin.

I was amazed with his pedaling. Wearing sparkling-heeled boots, his feet were in constant motion actually resembling a dance while constantly adjusting the volume with his right foot. Every line, had obvious crescendos and decrescendos without once touching the crescendo pedal. He constantly played on the choir and the swell keyboards with one hand, thumbing down to the lower keyboard and making it all seem so easy while continuing the consistency of each selection on the great keyboard.

As most experienced keyboard players know, you can never completely know the challenges of the instrument where you will be performing. Every piano and organ has their own idiosyncrasies which the performer must respond to quickly bringing out the best of the instrument as well as the performer. Cameron Carpenter discovered this quickly with the Historic Orpheum Theater Wurlitzer organ. In his frustration with the instrument, he spoke to the audience comparing the organ to a 1927 semi-truck on an icy road and having technicians fix both the pedal board and a pipe during the intermission. Being this is not an unusual problem, Carpenter is currently building his own portable organ for his future performances.

However, Cameron Carpenter did work miracles with this organ in utilizing almost all the stops creating a menagerie of voices. In the Gershwin medley, he literally would change a stop with each note to allow the audience to hear all the multitudes of voices in this legendary theater organ. Observing one of his Chopin selections, it was fascinating to see his fingers literally ascend up one keyboard to descend down the one above it. His choice of voicing for each of his selections gave a fresh perspective to the listening ear. The pedaling was extremely light, which amazed me, and poetic to watch. New to me, John Downland's "Now, Oh Now, I Needs Must Part" was hypnotically gorgeous.

The River City Theater Organ Society generously funded the repair of the organ and this performance. Cameron Carpenter is truly a genius in the performance of organ technique. He created organ voices that I was amazed could be produced on any organ, not to mention an organ that is not digital. He showed his talent as well as exhibiting the glorious sounds of this phenomenal instrument. It is evident why he was nominated for a Grammy Award.

If Cameron Carpenter comes to any place near you, see him. Whether you are an organist, musician, or some who just enjoys superb music, he unquestionably has a fresh perspective about organ music.

Matters of Doubt

Matters of Doubt
A Cal Clayton Oregon Mystery
Warren C. Easley
Poisoned Pen Press
Scottsdale, AZ
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0174-5
September 2013
Trade Paperback
$ 14.95
280 pages      
Does it make a difference if a lawyer knows whether or not his client is guilty? Their job is to defend the person to the best of their ability. Lawyers normally defend criminals who they know and believe are guilty? What if they truly believe the person is innocent even if circumstances make the defendant look guilty?
Cal Clayton has this problem. He has agreed to represent Danny Baxter, known to his friends as Picasso. Danny's mother disappeared eight years ago when he was just twelve. He would like Cal to investigate this cold case and he claims that he can even pay for the services.
Danny has dyed black spiky hair, a ring in his eyebrow and lip, a tattoo of a snake around his neck, tattoos on his arms and is homeless. How will he pay?
Finally her body is found. Danny firmly believes that it was her boyfriend, Mitchell Conyers who killed her. Cal asks if Danny has ever spoken to the police about his suspicions, but then he realizes that they would not believe him because of his youth and appearance.
Danny's aunt has kept his mother's records: her appointment book, computer files, address book, and newspaper clippings and has given these to him. Danny firmly believes that somewhere in these documents is the clue to what really happened to his mother.
His mother had been a newspaper reporter who at the time was investigating something big. Even though her editor knew that the story would be revealing, he had no idea what secret was about to be revealed.
Danny has plans to meet his mother's former boyfriend and when Cal discovers this, he immediately drives to Mitch Conyers' house only to find Danny already there, stating that Mitch is dead. Did Danny kill him or did he really just happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time? Danny had both motive and opportunity.  This definitely creates " Matters of Doubt."
"Matters of Doubt" is an excellent mystery where the reader is discovering the clues along with the protagonist, Cal Clayton, even making the mistakes and assumptions along with him.   The story is well-organized and written as an enthralling narrative with realistic characters.

The strength of this novel is unquestionably bringing to light the multiple social issues of society such as the homeless, free clinics, veterans, post traumatic stress disorder, and the social class system. These are woven throughout the mystery creating a deeper understanding of the problems and the realism of dealing with people, not just statistics.

Author Warren Easley has a background as a research scientist and an international business executive while now he writes and tutors individuals with earning their G.E.D.

Anyone who enjoys well-written, realistic mysteries, would thoroughly enjoy "Matters of Doubt."