Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Things taking shape: Yeston, Sawyer, Whitener, Twain and Safdie

My first taste of Mark Twain was reading Tom Sawyer in its Classics Illustrated version when I was six or seven. Do you remember these comic-like books? The format made literature come alive, approachable for young readers. Later, in the fifth grade, Sister Asunta (an Irish immigrant with a musical brogue) had us read the book. But I remember her reading the book out loud to us, while she acted out the parts with funny voices, making it come alive and take shape.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a book about a boy. There’s tension from the first page when Aunt Polly shouts for Tom to come in the house. There’s tension when Tom fights the new rich boy. There’s tension in the shabby little town of St. Petersburg. There’s fun too; intrigue, love, friendship, murder, and fence that gets a whitewashing.

This and more swirled in my mind yesterday when choreographer William Whitener and composer Maury Yeston unveiled the banner for their new ballet “Tom Sawyer” to premier in October 2011 at the emerging Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. They announced this new work in the Webster House, built in 1885, once a school, a fitting setting for channelling Samuel Clemens’ cigar-smoking spirit and a few of his characters. Thoughts about students who may have read the book there while Tom Sawyer was still a boy in the young state of Missouri. Thoughts about the impact of the performance spaces taking shape as I heard the announcement, watching cranes move slowly from the north-facing windows upstairs at the Webster. Things taking shape in more than an architectural, engineering sense.

Maury played a bit of the score on the grand piano. Dancers in the audience, legs twitching to dance. Ballet benefactors, leaders, and fans daydreaming. Bill Whitener's humble restrained description of an exciting first season in the Kauffman, his collaborative creative brain spinning while he absorbed the moment and helped us peer into the future.

Ballet is an art form where many forms of creativity blend. Reflect upon this list of ingredients: a great story, an accomplished composer with a new score, a courageous choreographer crafting his first 3 act ballet, talented artful dancers, artists whose palette is light, fabric, paint, staff, a glorious orchestra, Tom Sawyer, Aunt Polly, Becky, and a brief appearance from Huck. Ballet is an art form that gives you space to dream and imagine; space to fill in the spaces with your personal space without words.

Yesterday, there were many “architects” in the room; people with the vision and the discipline to bring vision to reality. Moshe Safdie was not there but his shining reality on the hill shined in the sun. Twain wrote a book. Sawyer took us on a few adventures. Yeston’s shaping his score and shared a few bars. Whitener sees movement, crafting the poetry that only a choreographer can create without a single word. Things taking shape.

Have look at yesterdays event here…an artful slideshow created by Rachael Jane.

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