The fabulous high-kicking dancers of La Cage aux Folles (which translates as The Birdcage) hang up their feather boas after Sunday’s final evening performance on April 7 at Phoenix Theatre. Known as Les Cagelles, eight gender illusionists provide flirtatious, flouncing backup for their headliner, Zaza.
Rusty Ferracane plays the role of Georges, the owner of the musical’s eponymous St. Tropez nightclub and long-time partner to Albin, who performs as Zaza. “That’s usually my most challenging part in a musical — the dance,” Ferracane confides, shaking his head in appreciation of the inimitable Cagelles.
“I always say I’m not talented enough to be in the chorus, because they have to dance and sing and act, and…that’s too hard,” continues Ferracane, downplaying his stellar performances in shows like Man of La Mancha and I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. He laughs. “Poor guys! I’m really grateful I’m not doing that — I make a very unattractive woman.”
“The Cagelles are difficult to cast,” declares director Michael Barnard. “Some men’s faces just don’t translate to a female face…and yet they’re very talented. But the point is, you’re trying to create an illusion that this is actually a female.”
“The real La Cage aux Folles takes the business of being a female illusionist quite seriously,” Barnard continues, “so they’re professionals to the nth degree…part of that is to truly try to fool the audience. After a while you begin to wonder, ‘Am I really staring at a man?’”
The actors playing Les Cagelles arrive at least 90 minutes before curtain, tucking away extra bits using gaffs between their legs. They don several pairs of stockings, chest and hip padding, tape, and layers of make-up — “plus they’re dancing in high heels,” adds Barnard with a chuckle.
Ferracane believes the appeal of female illusionists lies in what he calls the ‘wow’ factor — “you know, the glamour of a drag queen,” he explains. “You don’t have that with a woman turned into a man, because there’s no glamour there, there’s no entertainment value to that. You need the glitz.”
Traditionally, men impersonating women have always had greater entertainment value onstage than women posing as men. “I just think it’s fighting the stigma,” suggests Robert Kolby Harper, who plays Albin/Zaza opposite Ferracane in a role requiring plenty of mascara and chutzpah. “Men dressing up as women…it’s a wider gap from the typical idea of what a man is.”
“Lots of men get in touch with their feminine side in different ways, but capturing the illusion of it — it’s an art form. But think about it,” Harper continues. “It’s really no fun being a man. I mean, how fabulous is that?” He shrugs. “Not very. There’s no mystique.”
Barnard suggests that the innate allure of men dressed as women stems from the appeal of the forbidden. “I think men have a stronger sense of fascination when it comes to fantasy…so I think there’s something strangely titillating and yet at the same time dangerous…mysterious and unique.” He adds, “Any time men dress up as a woman it’s always good for a laugh.”
The comfortable, loving partnership of Georges and Albin in La Cage shows signs of stress when their son Jean-Michel asks his parents to disguise their relationship in order to pass muster with his future in-laws. Ferracane and Harper use the foundation of their own long-time friendship and previous acting collaborations to establish a credible on-stage rapport.
Says Barnard, “They’re good friends in real life… I think they play off each other and…know each other’s sense of humor well.” Harper laughs. “Oh, yes — we’ve played lovers like four billion times.”
Their first show together was Hello, Dolly. “We played lovers then too,” jokes Harper, “…Cornelius and Barnaby. I mean, they’re not really lovers, but we always thought that it could have happened.” He chortles wickedly. “That was our first romance,” agrees Ferracane with a chuckle.
“I feel so comfortable with Rusty,” Harper continues. “I’ve known him about 21 or 22 years, and we’ve worked together many times…so that’s the awesome part — that kind of camaraderie.” He and Ferracane strive to give their characters believable depth.
“It’s the warmth in the relationship,” says Harper. “Ultimately you have to get two people who make the audience forget that it’s two men. I think…why this show’s done so well in the past, even back when it opened, was that…the relationship kind of sneaks up on you.”
“Because it’s fine to be gay if you’re funny and campy,” Harper adds ruefully, “but if you get real, some people can react negatively to that. If they’re real and loving and caring and honest, it’s sometimes hard for audiences.” He continues, “You sneak up on them. It’s much harder for somebody to reject someone they adore.”
“I enjoy showing family values in a different light,” says Ferracane. “It’s not…typical, but they’re definitely a strong, loving, committed family that’s supportive.” He thoroughly enjoys the show’s music, too. “Jerry Herman is so great with a lyric and…a melody, and he really tugs at your heart.”
Is the show still relevant, despite the progress of equality since the play’s birth in 1973 and the creation of the musical ten years later? Harper has no doubt. “I think it’s totally an issue — otherwise gays would be allowed to marry,” he declares.
“There are many unconventional families,” Harper continues. “If you’re an adoptive parent, and you’ve given everything to a child, you know what that’s like. If you’re a stepparent, you know what it’s like to be accepted or not in that child’s life. So I think it’s bigger than just the ‘gay thing.’”
He elaborates, “I don’t know of anybody who has a normal family. What is ‘normal’? A child can be ashamed of one or both parents no matter who the parents are. And what is it like for that child to make you or your partner feel like you don’t have a place?”
“This piece holds up very well,” agrees director Barnard. “There’s not a doubt in my mind that the prejudices of this lifestyle and this world still very much exist today.”
If you go:
La Cage aux Folles continues at Phoenix Theatre through Sunday, April 7.
Sample free classical music at the third annual Classical Revolution Phoestival, a casual, unique buffet of chamber, percussion, and choral performances held as part of Artlink’s First Friday on April 5. Shuttles stop conveniently at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, where ten ensembles play over the course of three hours. While all four stages are on the cathedral’s grounds at Roosevelt and 1st Avenue, they range from an upstairs auditorium to the outdoor Labyrinth.
Presented by Classical Revolution Phoenix (CRPHX), a grass-roots organization promoting free chamber music performances in unusual, non-traditional settings, the Phoestival offers a demonstration of the cathedral’s organ by Canon Musician Erik Goldstrom as well as an open rehearsal by the Grammy-winning Phoenix Chorale.
Other highlights feature opera scenes performed by Opera Revolution, flutist Jenna Daum with pianist Drew Quiring, a brass quintet, and a string quartet. The more unusual ensembles include the Arizona State University Pan Devils Steel Band, playing instruments painstakingly crafted from 55-gallon oil drums, and the Mana Saxophone Orchestra AZ, comprised of instruments from saxophone to bass.
The Classical Revolution movement began in 2006 in San Francisco and rapidly expanded to more than 30 chapters around the world, inspiring local musicians to create networks and spread their love of the art through high-quality, readily accessible performances. CRPHX co-founder, bassoonist, and recent ASU doctoral graduate Joseph Kluesener says, “Classical Revolution exposes new audiences to classical music styles and beyond…by breaking down…traditional expectation.”
As CRPHX’s main event designer and ensemble booker, Kluesener works closely with Phoenix Chorale Director of Marketing & Communications Jen Rogers, who says, “We call ourselves co-founders — kind of like charter members — but I think of us more as coordinators.”
Rogers continues, “The primary host and sponsor of the Phoestival is the Chorale, [which] provides the venue, design and printing of the flyer, piano tuning, other infrastructure…and helps secure partners.” CRPHX’s volunteer-driven cooperation continues to develop beyond the Phoestival to performances around the Valley, thanks to word of mouth and the wildfire effect of social media.
Among its occasional special events, CRPHX presents a regular monthly concert series at Trinity Cathedral each First Friday, and Second Friday jam sessions at Harley’s Italian Bistro. The Lost Leaf Bar and Gallery hosts 21-and-older shows on the third Wednesday of every month, and Bookman’s of Mesa offers Final Friday performances. CRPHX takes a break during the summers, since many of the movement’s volunteer musicians leave town for festivals and other opportunities.
“I’ve seen our impact slowly spread and grow among average community members and the finest classical musicians in the area. Anyone with interest in us…will find a willingness to produce projects and make an impact…in a very special, musical way,” says Kluesener.
Musician Katherine Palmer is relatively new to CRPHX; she began participating last August. “We’re lucky in the Valley,” Palmer says, “because there are a number of musicians with many different talents…finding performers has not been as challenging as one would think.”
Their mission continues to foster the Classical Revolution ideal, bringing the music of Haydn, Beethoven, and countless other composers old and new into bars, open spaces, public transportation, and any conceivable performance space, spreading the pleasures of classical music in unexpected ways.
If you go:
- Upcoming CRPHX events:
- April 12 — Harley’s Italian Bistro jam session (ages 21+)
- April 26 — guitarist Joseph Higginbotham at Bookman’s of Mesa
- May 3 — ASU Collaborative Piano Studio and Paradise Winds at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral for First Friday
- May 10 — Harley’s Italian Bistro jam session (ages 21+)
- May 31 — Phoenix Chamber Brass at Bookman’s of Mesa
Prepare to see more than a menagerie onstage when Ballet Arizona performs Director’s Choice at the Orpheum Theatre this weekend. “It’s a challenging, very diverse program,” says Ib Andersen, the troupe’s artistic director, who chose three disparate works to showcase his dancers.
Alexei Ratmansky’s ballet Le Carnival des Animaux (The Carnival of the Animals) is easily the most family-friendly element. It uses 14 segments of appealing music written by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, including familiar favorites like the gorgeous cello solo called “The Swan” and a charming xylophone-rich movement named “Fossils.”
“I liked his [Ratmansky's] version of it,” says Andersen. “It’s just a very funny piece, and…it shows his quirky (side). He’s really one of the best around, I would say.”
Formerly the artistic director of Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet, the Russian-born Ratmansky now serves as American Ballet Theatre’s artist-in-residence; at 44 he’s been called one of the two “most important choreographers under 70” by The New York Times (the other is Mark Morris). Ballet master Betsy Erickson assisted Ratmansky when he created Carnival for San Francisco Ballet in 2003, and she taught and rehearsed the work with Ballet Arizona’s dancers last October.
Despite a gap of five months and several intervening productions, “it’s pretty imprinted in their muscle memory,” she says. “You turn on the music and their muscles will just automatically remember the rhythms.” Erickson matched roles to individuals based on their personal characteristics. “It was clear that Shea [Johnson] and Nayon [Iovino] would be the lion, and…Paola [Hartley] — she’s a fabulous elephant.”
Ratmansky uses his distinctive style of movement to convey the attributes of each creature; hips roll and torsos twist in unusual directions. “He does a lot that uses the torso in a looser, more modern sense,” Erickson explains, “and something that’s really key with him: a lot of the musical accents are down rather than up.”
“So in other words,” she continues, “you’ll see a Balanchine ballet [that] might be very light — it’ll go ‘and up and up and up’…he’ll go ‘down and down and down.’ It’s just a different approach to musicality, to make the movement more grounded.”
These characteristics require the dancers to learn a different sort of physical language, says Erickson, and she stands to demonstrate.
“In classical ballet…let’s say this is the standard arm, and a passé is vertically from the floor and this leg is bent and this knee is turned out.” Erickson shifts, and the alignment of her body changes. “And I’ll do this, and there you have something that’s in The Carnival of the Animals, for the lion…the knee is rotated in, the hip is dropped back, the body is over…you have the same position in the arms except now the upper arm would be curved. So you see the difference? That’s just one example.”
Dancers “swimming” as fish must leap with flexed feet instead of pointed toes, joined in an aquarium by a drifting jellyfish in a huge tutu — “all of her movement is very jelly-like,” says Erickson.
Elsewhere, they peck and scuttle as chickens. “It’s very angular,” continues Erickson. “They also have their hips out, which you wouldn’t do in classical ballet; you’d have your hips under you. Their costume even reflects that…it’s very ingenious, actually — it’s like a bustle in the back, so it looks like tail feathers sticking up.” Other scenes include horses, kangaroos, turtles, and other creatures in a comical competition.
The lithe, fluid athleticism and elegantly modern costumes of Diversions turn Director’s Choice onto a different path, highlighting the dancers in classically based positions. Andersen created the work in 2010, bringing praise to Ballet Arizona for a Kennedy Center performance.
Diversions was named for its music, written in 13 movements by Benjamin Britten for a one-armed piano virtuoso. “It’s a little bit like a roller-coaster ride, you know…there’s ups and downs. It covers an enormous emotional surface,” says Andersen. “There’s a lot of irony in it, and a lot of…I mean, you name it.” He laughs. “But then I’m a big fan of Britten, period.”
Setting a ballet to such complex music is an intricate process, not easily described. “I work in the moment,” Andersen declares. “I don’t sit at home trying to figure out what they’re going to do. I listen to the music so I know it inside out, and I kind of have an idea about the flavor…but never the steps. That, I always do on the dancers right there. I think the best comes out that way.”
“I usually don’t choreograph more than 2½ hours a day,” he continues. “After that, my brain is mush.” Andersen pauses to consider. “It all depends, you know? Sometimes it’s very simple and you can do maybe a lot, and sometimes it’s something that requires just completely the right movement that you don’t have in your repertory and you have to sort of…create the right movement. And that sometimes can take a long time.”
For example, the finale of Diversions involves 20 dancers, “and they’re more or less onstage, all of them,” says Andersen, “and they’re doing different things at the same time. With that…I’ve done less than a minute [of choreography] in 2½ hours. But even so, I actually work quite fast.” He shrugs. “There’s no formula, you know? You just do one step at a time.”
The newest work on the Director’s Choice program was created within the past few weeks by 32-year-old Spanish-born choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo, a rising star in the world of dance especially since he joined Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in 2005. Ballet Arizona performed Cerrudo’s OffScreen in 2011, and commissioned this latest piece. “I think he’s very talented,” says Andersen. “Mostly I like his sense of humor…and his movement is very sensual, I think. And it’s important for the company to have things done on them — even just the process.”
Somewhat reluctantly, Cerrudo reveals his creation’s title: Second to Last. “I think it’s almost like putting a name to your son,” he says. “It can be for many reasons; it can remind you of someone, or you just like the sound…it’s subject to interpretation.”
“It’s a more serious work,” the choreographer continues slowly. “I’ll say it can be poignant…not sad, but I guess love is present. It wasn’t my intention to explore relationships, though.” He elaborates: “It’s about finding movement within two people — all the possibilities I could find…but movement research rather than trying to look for that specific feeling.”
Second to Last features scenic design by Wrara Plesoiu and lighting by Michael Korsch, as well as simple black trousers and dresses created by Leonor Texidor to complement the dancers, not distract.
“My intention [for the costumes] is that no one speaks about them after the piece,” says Cerrudo. “I don’t want people to say, ‘they were so beautiful,’ or ‘they were so ugly’ — they’re on a second plane from the choreography. We didn’t make the costumes to create a role.”
He spent a month exploring a vast palette of movement and music with the troupe, choosing six dancers and two pieces of music — Metamorphosis I by Philip Glass, and Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirrors in Mirrors) by Arvo Pärt. “The genre is ‘Cerrudo’ genre,” he replies when pressed. “I’ve choreographed to classical music and to Dean Martin — all kinds, so however it comes out will be my style.”
“It’s a very collaborative process,” Cerrudo says. “I like to work with what I have in front of my eyes, in front of my hands.” He laughs wryly and sighs. “That’s why it’s nerve-wracking…I can’t be so prepared because I don’t want to.”
“On a large scale, as a choreographer one of my goals is reinventing myself,” he continues. “I don’t want to have a signature. I want to surprise the audience…and every time they come to a Cerrudo work, they don’t know what they’re going to see and they’re just excited.”
If you go:
Ballet Arizona performs Director’s Choice
through March 31
Long-buried city founders lie buried in the heart of downtown Phoenix, and their history returns to life twice each year with character-driven cemetery walks. Thanks to the non-profit Pioneers’ Cemetery Association (PCA) and a handful of enthusiastic volunteers organized by author and Association board member Debe Branning, these events visit the denizens of the Pioneer and Military Memorial Park cemeteries near 14th Avenue and Jefferson Street.
Attendees of all ages meet historical figures depicted by actors in costume — on March 23, for instance, the theme was early Phoenix physicians, with actor Mark Broadley taking on the role of 19th-century state Surgeon General Dr. Scott Helm. “Debe knows the history of the cemetery backwards and forwards,” he says. “She’ll do the research on some of the most interesting people buried there…and then [Branning] writes a short monologue for usually eight people and recruits the re-enactors.”
Broadley, who’s been involved with the cemetery walks for six years, continues. “Once she sends us our biographies we’re basically turned loose to do our own research on the character, prowl around local thrift stores for costumes, and decide what props, if any, our character might have used.” He adds, “Most of my preparation involves studying the script so that I’m comfortable enough to give the speech a number of times for each tour group that comes through.”
To recreate those characters, Debe Branning says, “I read hundreds of obituaries and old newspapers, and actually dive into their ancestry a bit so that I can get a feel of what these pioneers were made of and what their family life was like.”
This year’s spring walk also called on a few of the physicians’ wives with their own unique accounts of early Phoenix life, and it was followed by an informal ice cream social. October’s walk coincides with an outdoor dinner party fundraiser at the Memorial Park called Dining Among the Dead, and all proceeds go toward tombstone restoration. Other opportunities to visit the Park occur every Thursday as well as the fourth Saturday of each month.
Branning strives to reconnect the community with the cemetery and remind Valley residents about the forgotten early Phoenix pioneers buried in the Park. “They come from many backgrounds and professions,” she says, “and some met strange untimely deaths.” With the help of a cadre of volunteers, Branning organizes outreach and paranormal research events in the hopes of reviving interest in Arizona’s burial sites and engaging newly-interested participants.
Around 2007, recalls Broadley, “Borders Bookstore hosted a group called MVD Ghostchasers (made up of past and present employees of Arizona’s Motor Vehicle Division) that lectured about their investigations of haunted places around Arizona.” He continues, “Having always been interested in ghost stories and things that go bump in the night, I went to the lecture and met the group’s founder (Branning) after the event.”
The practice of dowsing also plays an interesting role for many of the cemetery volunteers — it’s a method of divining answers and locating objects (including unmarked graves and water) using a hand-held wand or pendulum. “Dowsing of cemeteries has been used back east and in other countries for centuries,” says Branning, who was taught by a dowser from Missouri and teaches a class on the subject herself. “You can map out a cemetery, determine the rows, and have a rough idea of how many are buried at a site.”
The history of the Pioneers’ Cemetery Association itself began in 1938, when a group including Carl and Thomas Hayden and Barry Goldwater banded together to preserve the historic cemeteries near the State Capitol building. Used between 1884 and 1914, those seven small cemeteries on 11 acres include several established by Phoenix’s fraternal orders, including Ancient Order of United Workmen, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, and Masons.
It’s reported that Civil War veterans are buried in Porter cemetery, which abuts Rosedale (also called Loring or Walker Cemetery), while Loosley, the city cemetery, houses Jacob Waltz, the “Lost Dutchman” of gold-mining fame. More ancient secrets lie buried beneath those estimated 3700 pioneer graves in the remains of a Hohokam village known as La Villa.
Together with the historic 3000-square-foot Smurthwaite House, built in 1897 and serving as the PCA’s headquarters, the cemeteries were designated as the Pioneer and Military Memorial Park in 1988, and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, allowing Arizonans to not only remember the often unsung heroes who helped create Phoenix, but also care for their monuments and burial sites, preserving a bit of history.
If you go:
What: Visit the Pioneer & Military Memorial Park and Smurthwaite House any Thursday (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org first to get in touch with volunteers), or bring the family and stroll through time on the fourth Saturday of each month through May (Apr. 27, May 25)…and don’t forget to plan for the Dining Among the Dead fundraiser in October.
Where: 14th Ave. and Jefferson St., downtown Phoenix
Contact: 602-534-1262 www.azhistcemeteries.org
Additional Info: Another local organization, the Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project, was founded in 2004 and focuses on dowsing to locate graves as well as marking and protecting burial sites.
Unless otherwise noted, all photos courtesy Debe Branning.
DPJ’s Wire series delivers news and information straight from the source without translation.
What began as a simple house party along Roosevelt Row has grown into an annual fundraiser that brings over 200 people together to celebrate life in the Downtown Phoenix Arts District. This year, Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation will host its annual fundraiser at the start of spring – under the banner of the Equinox.
The funds raised through ticket sales and a raffle will help keep the Adaptive Re-use of Temporary Space (A.R.T.S.) Growhouse Community Garden active and vibrant. Growhouse grows fresh produce for the market and local restaurants, and works with students at Bioscience High School to create hands on learning experiences such as producing honey, growing food, and creating sunflower seed based bio fuel.
The event will be held at Cibo Urban Pizzeria, 603 North 5th Avenue on March 28, beginning at 5:30 pm.
General admission tickets are $35 and include two drinks and complimentary appetizers.
As a special addition to the event, a $100 VIP ticket will be offered. The $100 ticket includes entry to Equinox as well as VIP admission to the to the Feast on the Street event on April 13. VIP guests will have access to a lounge with food, drinks, comfortable facilities, and a balcony overlookign the event.
Tickets are available online at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/344451
Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation (CDC) is a 501(c)3 non-profit community development corporation established to further the unique cultural character and creative assets of the Roosevelt Row Arts District, to advocate for the continuing presence and role of the arts and small business in the revitalization of the district, and to foster a dense, diverse and walkable urban community.
Information about Feast on the Street can be found at http://www.feastonthestreet.org/
If You Go
What: Roosevelt Row Equinox Fundraiser
Where: Cibo, 603 N. 5th Ave. Phoenix, AZ 85003
When: Thursday, March 28, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $35 and include two drinks and complimentary appetizers.
100 ticket includes Equinox AND one VIP ticket to Feast on the Street on Saturday, April 13.