Georgetown Teen’s Party Benefits Leukemia Research

November 3, 2011

If the adults can do it, why not the kids, too? To benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Wells Dwiggins Thomason invited schoolmates and celebrated his 13th birthday with a Halloween party and dance. Thanks to the generosity of John Dreyfuss, the Oct. 28 party was held at Halcyon House. The benefit was supported by Clyde’s Restaurant and Filomena Ristorante. Thomason has raised more than $3,000 this year and to date more than $10,000. He began his efforts on behalf of the Leukemia and Lymphoma society six years ago to honor and support his grandmother who continues to survive with leukemia. At age 6, Thomason began to sell fresh-squeezed lemonade from his front porch on Prospect Street. The youngster was very persuasive to passers-by, and donations poured in. He has been nicknamed by Georgetown students as the “lemonade kid.” [gallery ids="100368,110407" nav="thumbs"]

Komen for the Cure Gala Honors, Keeps the Promise


Susan G. Komen for the Cure paid tribute to global leaders in the fight against breast cancer, including the late Betty Ford, at the Kennedy Center for its second annual “Honoring the Promise” gala, Oct. 28. Breast cancer survivor Hoda Kotb, of NBC’s “Today,” program, emceed the evening’s program which featured performances by singer Natasha Bedingfield, violinist Miri Ben-Ari, opera singer Denyce Graves-Montgomery, aerial artist Amanda Topaz and Howard University’s vocal jazz ensemble Afro Blue. Hollywood stars Kerry Washington, Donald Faison, Jennifer Beals and breast cancer survivor Vanessa Bell Calloway joined with friends of Komen from inside the Beltway – MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, FedEx Corporation’s Gina Adams, Danaher Corporation’s William H. King and philanthropist Annie Totah – to present the evening’s awards. The event raised $2 million for breast cancer research and programs in the Washington, D.C., area. Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker founded Susan G. Komen for the Cure in 1982 in her sister’s memory. [gallery ids="100367,110397,110406,110392,110410,110387,110414,110382,110418,110377,110402" nav="thumbs"]

The Kings and I


The Shakespeare Theatre Company calls its productions of “Richard II” and “Henry V” now being performed at Sidney Harman Hall’s “The Leadership Repertory.”

I call it two of the most outstanding Shakespeare productions I’ve ever encountered, period.

David Muse directs “Henry V” with casts whose members appear in different parts in both plays. The strong reed that holds both together, in terms of acting, is Michael Hayden, who plays both Richard and Henry.

So what’s the final result?

If you should happen to see both plays — and you should, you should — you can see the issue of the humanity of leaders and kings in action. Kahn has the more difficult task at hand, in some ways: “Richard II” is earlier, nebulous Shakespeare, it’s the poet bard blossoming fully, the playwright not so skilled as to be able to flesh out an entire cast of characters.

Richard, by taking on and wronging the ambitious Henry Bolingbroke, a tough, pragmatic, steely man who has all the qualities of leadership except legitimacy, ends up sparking civil war and being deposed and in the end murdered. But the more he loses in power the more he gains in humanity, eliciting some of Shakespeare’s most famous and poetic speeches, of loss, mourning and final self-understanding. He cannot rule men’s hearts but he can break the heart of an audience.

Both plays have casts sturdied up and double-cast by STC veterans so that when you see in the opening scene Ted Van Griethuysen, Floyd King and Philip Goodwin as Richard’s uncles, you know you’re in good hands.

That confidences pushes over into “Henry V”, which is fully formed Shakespeare, at full throttle and voice. It’s a play overly familiar for its rousing call to battles, as Henry and his English horde invade France, but it’s also much richer than that in tone and character in a wholly imagined world.

And it’s done by the use of a three actors as an inviting chorus, by making the audience fellow travelers, co-conspirators, partners and witnesses. They prod us: “Imagine now, think ye that the stage is an ocean, a field, conjure up…” We become almost intimate presences ourselves, deep in the mud of Agincourt, silently standing by in the tavern where Falstaff lays dying, we are at the French court and the fields where weary, sick English soldiers get succor from a “little bit of Harry in the night.”

The glue in both productions is Hayden, who has an intensity, a humanity, and a gift for the language that makes him mesmerizing as he should be in both parts. Richard may be squander his power, but he is never anything less than a commanding presence. Henry, whether ferreting out traitors, bumbling with his bad French as he attempts to court the French princess, weeping over the body of an old companion he’s had to execute, or uniting his troops as “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers” at Agincourt is never anything less than a grand human being, a kingly king. In this, Hayden is the king of king players.

Both plays run some minutes over three hours. They seem in the mind, still not over. (Through April 10.)
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DC Goes Green


 

-As global warming has clearly been a hot topic (no pun intended) in recent news, this year D.C.’s own Environmental Film Festival will return for its 18th annual season. Boasting a queue of 155 films, the festival will have showings at over 50 venues around D.C., including museums, embassies, libraries, and local theaters. And, although this showcase has grown to be the best of its kind in the U.S., it doesn’t fall short on local flavor.

Speaking of which, make sure you show up with an appetite; food is a big part of the festival this year, with films that cover everything from organic produce to world hunger to sustainable farming practices.

To kick off the festival, make sure to attend the launch party, set to take place on March 10. The event will have music, film clips, raffle and a silent auction. If you’re feeling really lucky, you could win a trip to Ecuador or London! $10. Warner Building Atrium (1299 Pennsylvania Ave.), 6:30 p.m.

“The Green House: Design it, Build it, Live it.” If you’re looking for local inspiration to go green, look no further. In the world premiere of this film, you will see the design and building of a house in McLean, VA from groundbreaking to the finishing touches. The hook? It’s completely carbon neutral. March 17. $10. E Street Cinema (555 11th St.), 7 p.m.

The film “Colony” chronicles the mysterious disappearance of bees and beehives all across the country. Known as Colony Collapse Disorder, this startling trend is captured through the stories of veteran beekeepers and newbies alike, struggling to save the bees and their business. But it’s not just the beekeepers that are in trouble — bees are essential in sustaining our own food supply. March 18. $10. AFI Silver Theater (8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD), 7:15 p.m.

“Nora!” is the story of one of Washington’s own, chef and restaurateur Nora Pouillon. Nora was doing organic before it was on everyone’s plate; in 1999 her restaurant, Restaurant Nora, was certified not only organic but also biodynamic. Now, it is a popular spot for environmentalists and politicians alike. Since its inception, only 3 other restaurants have become qualified organic. Feast on that! March 23. Free. International Student House (1825 R St.), 7 p.m.

Classical music is endangered, but not due to apathetic listeners. “The Music Tree” is a captivating film that highlights the plight of the Brazilwood (pernambuco) tree, highly coveted for its red dye. The tree’s wood is also used to create violin bows and other instruments. Recently however, exploitation of this species has pushed it to the edge of extinction. The film features several prominent violinists and cellists who are dedicated to protecting the pernambuco, as it is essential to the sound and quality of their music. These musicians, among others, have established funds aimed to preserve the trees, and so far 500,000 been planted. But will these efforts be able to save both the trees and the music? March 26. Free. Carnegie Institution for Science (1530 P St.), 7 p.m.

For more information and complete film listings, visit www.dcenvironmentalfilmfest.org.

Tayo Adenaike at the Parish Gallery


Born in Southwestern Nigeria in 1954, Tayo Adenaike, whose show “Faces and Emotions” opens June 18th at the Parish Gallery, recalls the looks he would get from his mother: “Depending on the occasion, her look could mean “Don’t eat what you have been offered,” “Get up and let’s go,” “Say yes,” “Say no”, or “Keep quiet.” Every facial expression conveyed specific meaning and every visual admonition must be heeded. Failure on my part meant a long pull on my ear or strokes of the cane the minute we got back home.

“?jú róró ?a. I knew what it meant. These three simple Yoruba words translate as “Words come from the eyes,” “Words are embedded in the eyes,” “A face says it all,” or “A face never belies the truth.”…They all see some evocative strength in the expression. This interaction between my mother and me, made me realize how much more powerful facial expressions are, than loudly spoken words. Over time, I have also come to realize that facial expressions and unspoken words, can say a lot about the society we live in. Within these frames, I have tried to capture faces and the emotions – the unspoken words that they portray.”

In Adenaike’s work, the audience is privy to a surreal conversation unfolding on the canvas. The figures, vague, conjoined, defined simply by negative space, speak to each other in a language of reverberating expression.

A master watercolorist, Adenaike’s backgrounds are a hazy atmosphere of dissipated symbols, stars, and full constellations, speaking towards a rich cultural tradition, perhaps muddled by globalization and the loss of ancestral knowledge. The dynamic faces among the figures, varying in detail and abstraction, recall the detached, languid repose of de Chirico, while simultaneously drawing upon the geometric harmony of the faces on antiquated Nigerian stone carvings.

There is also a certain melancholy and sobriety to the work, and not without reason. The human condition, one could gather from these works, is one of reservation and reticence. Says Adenaike, “I am not unmindful of my environment and the faces I see around me, as my country is about to celebrate fifty years of independence. Perhaps I should have painted the hopeful faces of us, as flag-waving children of fifty years ago, and not the adult faces we have grown into, with guarded emotions and veiled expressions.”

It is a show with a strong voice. Adenaike is an artist with something to say, even if one can only hear him by using their eyes.

For more information contact the Parish Gallery, 1054 31st St., or visit www.parishgallery.com.

Spring 2010 Performance Preview


What does Washington’s performing arts scene have in store for the first spring of the decade? Our resident theater experts weigh in with their top picks.

Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Ladies,” Arena Stage at Lincoln Theatre
Maurice Hines, a legendary Broadway song and dance performer stars in and choreographs this production, which is a pure, atmospheric act of serendipity of the man (Duke Ellington), the place (The Lincoln Theatre, where Ellington first performed), and show (a stylish, spectacular showcase of the “beyond category” music of an American master and legend). (1215 U St., April 9 to May 30.)

“Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival,” Theater J
The third installment of the “Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival” is being staged by Theater J, this one focusing on “Voice of the Woman,” with six one-night events by female writers, including Hadar Galron’s “Mikveh.” For more information, go to www.theaterj.org. (1529 16th St., May 5 to June 7.)

“American Buffalo” and “Reasons To Be Pretty,” Studio Theatre
Two new productions of plays by two top American playwrights. “American Buffalo,” David Mamet’s classic, blunt, tough-talk tale of three Chicago grifters and thieves, will be directed by Joy Zinoman, the Studio’s founder and outgoing artistic director, but it also has the prime-time actor Ed Gero heading its cast. (May 5 to June 13). Neil Labute’s “Reasons to Be Pretty” is the third play in which the acerbic master observer of contemporary American life takes our fascination with how people look or don’t, the others being “The Shape of Things” and the hugely successful “Fat Pig,” all performed at Studio. (1501 14th St., March 24 to May 2.)

The Terrence McNally “Nights At The Opera” Festival, Kennedy Center
Three of McNally’s plays dealing with opera, including his latest, “Golden Age,” a bristling back-stage drama about the premiere of Bellini’s “I Puritani.” (Through April 4.) There’s also “The Lisbon Traviata,” about two men’s obsession with a Maria Callas recording of “La Traviata.” (Through April 11.) Finally, there’s a play about Callas herself in “Master Class,” starring Tyne Daly as Callas, no slouch in diva roles herself. (March 25 to April 8.) Visit www.kennedy-center.org for details on dates, times and theaters.

“Thurgood,” Kennedy Center
A new play about the pioneering civil rights giant and Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, starring Laurence Fishburne. The production was written by George Stevens, Jr., founder of the American Film Institute, film and television director, producer of the Kennedy Center honors, Georgetown resident, and author and son of Oscar-winning director George (“Shane”, “A Place in the Sun”) Stevens. (June 1 to 20.)

The Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival, Kennedy Center
It’s the 15th time around for this landmark festival, with three nights of jazz focusing on women artists and musicians May 20-22 on the occasion of Williams’ 100th anniversary year of her birth. (May 20 to 22.)

“Clybourne Park,” Woolly Mammoth Theatre
The original and caustically sharp voice of playwright Bruce Norris is heard again in “Clybourne Park”, where Norris’ work has been performed before. This time, Artistic Director Howie Shalwitz directs this off-Broadway hit, in which a Chicago neighborhood suffers demographic and ethnic explosions several times. (Through April 11.)

“Hamlet,” Washington National Opera at The Kennedy Center
That would be the opera version, composed by Ambroise Thomas. “Hamlet” will close out the 2009-2010 WNO season, which includes a famous Ophelia mad scene, as it should. A Kansas City Lyric Opera production in French. (641 D St., May 19 to June 4.)

“Fiddler on the Roof,” National Theatre
The Jerome Robbins-created musical about a shtetl milkman named Tevye who cares about tradition has by now become a tradition itself, and this time it’s headed up by playwright-actor Harvey Fierstein (“Torch Song Trilogy”), who carries on a play-long debate with Jehovah, mostly in song. On the other hand, it’s a show that still works, it still has something to say (and sing) to contemporary audiences and it will do so. (1321 Pennsylvania Ave., April 13 to May 9.)

“Anoushka Shankar,” Sixth and I Historic Synagogue
The Washington Performing Arts Society is known for the world-wide, top-drawer musical and dance talent and groups that it brings to places like the Kennedy Center and the Music Center at Strathmore, but its footprints can also be increasingly found in smaller venues. This time it’s the downtown Sixth and I Synagogue, where the accomplished and high-pedigree sitar player and composer Anoushka Shankar, daughter of the renowned Ravi Shankar, will perform “Sudakshini,” a musical journey from North and South India with richly varied musical influences and sounds. (600 Eye St., April 17.) – Gary Tischler

Laura Benanti, Kennedy Center
Let her entertain you. Benanti won a Tony for her role as Louise in the most recent Broadway revival of “Gypsy,” and she’s part of the excellent Barbara Cook’s “Spotlight” series at the Kennedy Center. (Terrace Theatre, April 30.)

“Sycamore Trees,” Signature Theatre
Ricky Ian Gordon is one of the most interesting and prolific contemporary composers (he’s worked in genres from opera to musicals to ballet), and he’s a recipient of Signature Theatre’s American Musical Voices Project Award. His new work for the company, “Sycamore Trees,” has highly personal and bittersweet roots, as it follows his family from the Bronx to the suburbs in a search of a better life. (4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, May 18 to June 20.)

“Genius3,” The Washington Ballet at Sidney Harman Hall
TWB’s “Genius3” program promises to live up to its name. Twyla Tharp’s giddy “Push Comes to Shove” and George Balanchine’s coolly modernist masterwork “The Four Temperaments” are about as far from each other in style as you can get, but each is a knockout in its own way. Add Mark Morris’s “Pacific” and Nacho Duato’s “Cor Perdut” and you’ve got the makings of a terrific evening of dance. (610 F St., May 19 to 23,)

“Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” Shakespeare Theatre Company at Sidney Harman Hall
Morality and money were two of George Bernard Shaw’s favorite triggers for drama, and the two clash in high style in “Mrs. Warren’s Profession.” The Shakespeare Theatre mounts the story of a young woman who discovers her education was paid for by her mother’s ill-gotten gains, and it’s a work that still has plenty to say about the choices we make — and their price. (610 F St., June 8 to July 11.)

“A Man of No Importance,” Keegan Theatre
You’ll enjoy this chamber-sized musical, based on the Albert Finney film, about a Dublin bus driver who yearns for beauty in both romance and the theatre. The show should be a good fit for the Irish-focused Keegan Theatre. (1742 Church St., June 10 to July 11.)

“Tempest,” Folger Consort
The stars have aligned for this production, a combination of Matthew Locke’s 17th-century music for the play with dramatic selections performed by actors, including Sir Derek Jacobi and Lynn Redgrave. Countertenor David Daniels is part of the ensemble. (Lutheran Church of the Reformation, 212 East Capitol St. N.E., June 10; Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, Bethesda, June 11.)

“Zaide” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” The Barns at Wolf Trap
The Wolf Trap Opera Company has a well-deserved reputation as the place to catch young American singers at the start of great careers, and the company’s choice of repertory always offers surprises. This year’s rarity is Mozart’s little-heard “Zaide” (with its shimmering aria, “Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben”), and it’s got a gimmick: audiences will choose an ending for this unfinished work. Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” received a beautiful and hypnotic staging a number of years ago, and we can look forward to the company’s new production this summer.
(1645 Trap Road, Vienna; “Zaide”: June 11, 13, 15, 19; “Dream”: August 13, 15, 17.)

“Babes in Arms,” American Century Theatre
“Hey, kids, let’s put on a show!” “Babes in Arms” has one of Rodgers and Hart’s best scores (“Where or When,” “My Funny Valentine,” and “Johnny One Note” are among its many gems), but this 1937 tale of youngsters with show-biz dreams is rarely staged. American Century Theatre offers a series of concert performances of the classic musical — and they’re free. (2700 South Lang St., Arlington, June 24 to 27.) – Robert Sacheli
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Secrets of the Double White


At the Phillips Collection, there is a double feature of (almost) white painting with Richard Pousette-Dart and Robert Ryman occupying different floors within the museum (1600 21st St., through Sept. 12.) It is the differences between the two artists that enhance the choice of having both exhibitions at once. In conjunction with the show, Yasmina Reza’s “Art,” a play focused on how a white painting puts friendship to the test, will perform at the Phillips on July 1 at 6:30 p.m.

White is not a color often featured in Western painting before the 20th century. It usually is found in paintings in clouds with tints, on the highlights in objects and sometimes in snow. Here it stands alone, or almost alone. Robert Ryman’s show is the best Ryman show I have ever seen. This is possibly because of the small scale of the work that allows you to pay more attention to how the paintings are painted. One can focus on the edge that is painted, the threads that stick up from the frayed canvas, and the actual strokes that tell far more.

Here Ryman astutely contemplates painterly means, and he is sometimes lyrical in a fumbling manner. His small works have the dramatic tension of a stage whisper. For me it is the all-black Jasper Johns and Robert Motherwell (of the “Iberia” series) that mentor Ryman, especially in his early works. Ryman is closer to Johns in being emotionally deadpan. Motherwell had more range than Johns or Ryman. And unlike Johns or Motherwell, Ryman does have one of the all-time worst signatures in art — very junior-high-school. Nevertheless, Ryman has had a huge influence on the look of abstract painting of the last 40 years; you see his pokerfaced progeny everywhere.

Visiting these shows for the third time, it is Pousette-Dart’s work that holds repeated viewing. With Pousette-Dart there is real experimentation with technique and an openness of the possibilities of painting. His extensive drawing with graphite into the final, rather than the preliminary, aspect of painting was innovative. His few sculptures are worthy of inclusion, not just sidepieces. They have a direct relation to the paintings, though they are lighter hearted.

In Pousette-Dart’s sculpture and the painting, there is overt and covert figuration. One work is divided with a male and female figure splitting the canvas, yet meshing in the web of space. There are biomorphic forms in most of the paintings. Visible is the common heritage of abstract-surrealism derived from Picasso and Miró. But it is Pollock and his allover drip paintings from the late forties that inform the structure of some of the greatest of Pousette-Dart’s almost-white paintings. Somehow he could easily integrate Pollock’s great reckless expanses into his much more intimate quest.

Pousette-Dart’s line is deft and unlyric but weighted and incisive. His use of space is always dynamic and active and his pictures activate the space around them. A painting should have secrets, and these wry and sometimes quietly joyful pictures do contain enough to warrant real looking. [gallery ids="99152,102834,102829,102824,102843,102847,102851,102819,102855,102839" nav="thumbs"]

The Two Sides of Rich Bloch


Rich Bloch is a 60-something labor arbitration attorney, serving most notably as a neutral arbitrator for the National Football League and other professional sports organizations.

Rich Bloch is also a professional magician and a performer.

Both things are true. Bloch likes to keep the two things separate. He does not do magic tricks for 300-pound linemen and their agents.

Nor does he bill himself as a lawyer-magician when he’s performing at the Woolly Mammoth with his show “Best Kept Secrets,” where story-telling, humor and performance blend with Bloch’s finely honed magical abilities and, for want of a better phrase, bag of tricks, which includes card tricks, the famous Harry Anderson’s Last Monte, the world’s fastest tricks, and the assistance of his wife Susan, who is actually a Georgetown University law professor.

“To me, they’re two different worlds, they really are,” Bloch says. He and his wife live on Cathedral Avenue. He has two grown children, both of them attorneys. Also present are a number of pets, cats, a sheepdog, and a giant macaw who reportedly does card tricks.

“Both of the things I love to do — being an attorney, practicing the kind of law I do and being a magician — have enormous rewards, but you can also get frustrated. When that happens, you just pass through a door and go into the other world.

“I simply tell people that 80 percent of my professional life is being an attorney, and 80 percent is being a magician.”

Now that’s magic.

Bloch has been a practicing — and it takes enormous amount of practice, too — magician for several decades, and done well at it. He’s highly respected in a boundless community where magic and all the stuff that goes with it — tricks, equipment, professional secrets, show business and uniforms — are an important part of life. He’s performed on cruise ships, in Las Vegas and regularly at Hollywood’s Magic Castle, where he’s been a five-time nominee as Stage Magician of the Year.

Bloch first got interested when he was seven, which was in New Jersey in a time when cities and towns had magic shops. “I was seven, my father had passed away, and my mother, a remarkable woman, was on the road a lot as a traveling saleslady,” he said. “There was this shop on the corner, and it was a fascinating place, run by this old man, and, because it seemed I had to, I said to him you’ve got to hire me as an assistant. He said, ‘what kind of experience do you have?’ And I said, experience, I’m seven. But then, I remembered I had heard about a magician named Ted Collins, so I said my dad was Ted Collins. He said, ‘that’s impressive,’ and he hired me. And I was walking out, so I asked him his name, and he said, ‘Ted Collins.’

Magic.

“It’s a very special world,” he said. “But it’s more than just tricks and mystery. That’s once reason I’ve been doing this hour and a half show, that’s what it is. And that’s a different world.”

The Woolly Mammoth Theater is known for its edgy new plays, and draws a very different sort of audience than might be found at magic shows. “It’s a challenge, but that’s what I wanted to do, to entertain, to perform, to involve people in the magic show,” he said. “I love the small space, the intimacy and how you can interact with the audience, make them part of the show. I don’t do huge illusions, you can’t, but I do a varied repertoire of magic. I have a lot of equipment, and I wear a white tuxedo suit, one with a lot more pockets than most suits.”

“It’s taking things to the next level for me, and I think the response has been really good,” he said. “Good for me. It’s not the same. It’s not just about tricks, but it is about magic and it is about magic and me.”

In conversation, Bloch is self-deprecating, funny, really smart about his two roles and about magic in culture. He’s given considerable thought and feeling to what he does, and what a magician does.

“There is a difference between tricking people, deceiving them, and in creating illusions, moments of make-believe that seems real because it is,” he said.

Bloch, one thinks, makes magic magical.

“Best Kept Secrets” will be performed at the Woolly Mammoth Laboratory Theater March 31, April 1-4 and June 9-13.

No Slowing Down for Denyce Graves


A week ago Tuesday, Denyce Graves was in a car, talking on the phone, heading toward Dulles International Airport to catch a plane that would take her to Turkey.

Graves, the mezzo-soprano superstar of the opera and recital world, had just left the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda, where she would be doing a recital on June 13, singing everything from Schumann to Handel to Gershwin.

Meantime, she would be jetting to Turkey to appear in the Mersin Music Festival where, accompanied by the Bikent Symphony Orchestra on May 28, she would sing arias from operas by Bizet and Handel.

The weekend before, she had just completed a grueling three-performances-in-a-row stint in Nashville with the Nashville Symphony’s production of Bartok’s one-act opera “Bluebeard’s Castle,” a production that included sets by glass sculptor Dale Chihuly.

“It’s something I don’t usually do,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s exhausting, it’s hard on the voice. I’m used to a busy schedule, but you have to be careful, you really do.”

Graves, in mid-career at full voice, busy with recitals and opera roles, is as close to an international performing icon as the world of opera and classical music has right now. It’s not just that — she all but owns the leading roles in “Carmen” and “Samson and Delilah,” and is the go-to voice and singer for historic and state occasions, such as the recent funeral for the renowned civil rights leader Dr. Dorothy Height at Washington National Cathedral. Her meteoric rise from what’s been described as an “under-privileged neighborhood” in Southwest Washington still resonates as a shining example of dreams-that-come-true success stories.

She’s a triple threat — local D.C. girl makes good, wows them in her debut as at the Metropolitan Opera, travels constantly all over the world to perform at renowned and classic opera houses and concert halls. She’s the proud mother of five-year-old Ella, and last year married (for the third time) Dr. Robert Montgomery, a renowned John Hopkins heart surgeon, in a spectacular five-day wedding, preceded by a traditional Masai blessing ceremony in Kenya.

She has grown into her fame and status, something that wasn’t always easy to handle. Being a role model is in the mix too: young African Americans look up to her as a measure of just how high you can reach. “That’s important, certainly,” she said. “I remember looking up to Leontyne Price in just the same way, or thinking of Marian Anderson, and everything she had to go through to persevere. And I love working with young people, and make sure they can come and see my performances.”

Probably the biggest role model for Graves remains her mother, now the doting grandmother, who you could hear her talking in the background.
“My mom raised us (there were three children) by herself, our father left us, she worked at UDC, she was the single mother, let me tell you,” she said. “There was no chance of us straying from the straight and narrow. I was a bit of a loner, kind of awkward, I wasn’t what you would call a cool kid.”

But getting into Duke Ellington School for the Arts changed all that. She blossomed there, discovering the wide world of opera and classical music.

“Duke Ellington and Judith Grove, one of my teachers there, was and is a huge part of my success. I discovered myself there, I am eternally grateful for that school,” she said.

Part of the last year’s wedding celebration, in fact, was a day-after picnic on the school grounds in Georgetown. She and her husband live in Bethesda.

She still seems to relish and enjoy compliments, or if someone has a memory of her performances, like seeing her at Mayor Anthony Williams inauguration, Dr. Height’s funeral or a production of “Carmen” at the Washington National Opera last year, where she was a vivid, fiery presence.

Other people’s memories are even better. Here’s a Washington Post response to Graves when she sang at the 70th anniversary celebration at Marian Andersen’s historic 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial “Many of the tourists seemed oblivious to the operatic royalty in the midst. But Graves’ voice was so powerful it drew gasps from the audience as she sang.” She sang at the National Cathedral in a stirring and powerful rendition of “America the Beautiful” at a memorial service honoring the 9/11 dead, only three days after the event.

“Mom spoils my daughter rotten,” she said over the phone. “Yes, mother, where’s that drill sergeant we all experienced?” she laughed. “She is a remarkable woman.”

Her summer schedule is hectic. Following the June 13 recital at Strathmore, there’s the Cincinnati Opera 90th Anniversary Gala Concert (June 19), a performance of “Carmen” in Warsaw, Poland, (June 26), and in July there’s the Hohentwiel Festival in Baden-Wurttemberg in Germany, followed by another “Carmen.”

If you start looking over her list of accomplishments, performances, honors and pit stops- — she lived in Paris for a time — you’d think she could even think about resting on her laurels a bit. “No, no,” she said, shaking off the suggestion strongly. “Let me tell you, I’ve got a very big wish list of things I haven’t done, things I want to do, performance-wise, and many other ways too, roles, music to explore, life experience.”

We wrap up the conversation quickly. “I have to go,” she said. “We’re at the airport.”

The Washington Performing Arts Society will present Denyce Graves at Bethesda’s Strathmore Center on June 13 at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased here.

Adam Lister Gallery


Think “alternative space” and your mind will conjure up concrete floors, unfinished walls, improvised lighting with wires dangling from the ceiling. Alternative spaces in the hip, art world sense are somewhat rare in D.C., but are even rarer outside D.C. itself, let alone outside the Beltway, as the Adam Lister Gallery (3995 Chain Bridge Road, Fairfax, VA) is. Adam Lister is a Fairfax native who recently returned from New York after studying at the School of Visual Arts. Like many artists in New York, he lived and worked in Brooklyn. While living there he was involved in organizing and participating in art exhibits within alternative spaces, as well as galleries in NYC and New Jersey. He’s even done a show in the back of a Ryder moving van!

Adam recalls, “We would drive all over the five boroughs of New York City, parking on streets and opening up our show in different neighborhoods. I also ran a studio space in the industrial section of East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The studio was in an old factory building, and we turned a raw 1000 square foot room into a six-studio ‘art lab’ for young emerging New York artists. I’m interested in the struggle and tension visible in young frustrated artists.”

The truth of alternative spaces is found in the rawness of its art. It is often more than a little unvarnished and with that famous edge, cutting or no. This is true of the Adam Lister Gallery, where many of the artists showing are still actually in graduate school. The work is inventive and searching. Its energy is undeniable. What it lacks in finesse is made up in earnestness, something often lacking in more “finished” work by artists further along. The urge to create here seems stronger, more palpable. There is more fumbling perhaps because more is being attempted.

One standout in the current show is Stephanie Rivers, the granddaughter of Larry Rivers, whose work fuses images from nature with graduated stripes. But the work in the show that is most magnetic, literally, is by Adam Lister, who uses magnets in surprising ways to create installation pieces as well as sculpture. His use of color is his own, and a pleasure for the eye. There are a number of pieces that incorporate mosaic, a technique Adam acquired while restoring New York subway stations.
With his gallery, Lister aims “to provide an environment and exhibition space for emerging artists at different levels in their careers. I currently have a rotating exhibition schedule and we’re in the process of setting up artist ‘labs’ for artists to have space to experiment, create, and have their work seen by the public. I would also like to create a space that offers rare and unique, quality artwork, in an area that craves a contemporary art space.” The gallery is currently doing an open call for a 2010 summer group exhibition. Submissions should be made online at www.adamlistergallery.com.
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