Columbia arts festival: From familiar to cutting edge

June 18, 1993|By Mike Giuliano | Mike Giuliano,Contributing Writer

The fifth annual Columbia Festival of the Arts offers jazz great Max Roach drumming up a storm, country musician Mark O'Connor fiddling with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, members of the Momix dance troupe pretending they're Venus on the half-shell, a chorus of Columbia residents singing Scottish tunes in a VOICETheatre music-theater piece, quilt exhibits, a locally written play about John Wilkes Booth, a "Catfish Dreamin' " down by the Columbia Town Center Lakefront, and seemingly everything else except for a partridge in a pear tree.

,x Opening today and running through June 27 at more than 10 locations in Columbia, the festival aims for a mix of the familiar and the cutting edge, according to managing director Lynne Nemeth. Likewise, it tries to balance home-grown talent with nationally recognized names. And keeping it all on track are the 300 community volunteers for whom it's a chance to show off their Rouse-spawned city.

Certainly at the avant garde end of the performance spectrum is Momix, a Connecticut-based modern dance company named for milk supplement that director and choreographer Moses Pendleton once fed to veal calves on his farm. Momix performs June 25 at 8 p.m. and June 26 at 2 p.m. at Wilde Lake High School.

Relying on lighting, props and eclectic musical selections as much as on body movement, Mr. Pendleton says his four-member company of "dancer-illusionists want to offer illusions that are like dream states, but hopefully they won't cause nightmares for anybody. I'm interested in a visual theater that uses the body as the basis for pieces that [also] involve multimedia effects."

The way-out Momix sampler slated for Columbia includes "Medusa," which has a performer emulating an underwater creature with very stringy hair; "Brain Waving," in which a rope manipulated by off-stage performers lyrically snakes across the stage; "Venus Envy," with two figures evocative of Botticelli's painting about the birth of Venus fighting for space in an oversized clamshell; "Circle Walker," which involves a performer interacting with a large gyroscope-like sculpture; and "Skiva," a pas de deux for ski-shod dancers.

Mr. Pendleton, who co-founded the influential group Pilobolus in 1971 and his own company, Momix, in 1981, is an old hand at thinking up such innovative stuff.

"Part of my job is to spend a lot of time day-dreaming with my headphones on, and in that state I start to get ideas for movement and visual images," Mr. Pendleton says, adding that he also likes to take ice baths in the afternoon and then lie under a tree.

Noteworthy music

Just as Momix uses music by everybody from Henry Purcell to Madonna to aurally bathe its imagery, this year's Columbia Festival promises a wide range of music.

Easily among the musical highlights is the Max Roach Quartet, performing June 25 at 8 p.m. at Howard Community College's Smith Theater. This legendary be-bop drummer has never stopped his musical explorations and can always be counted on to sound fresh.

For an unusual pairing, how about country music fiddler Mark O'Connor with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra? Conducted by David Lockington, this BSO performance June 27 at 7:30 p.m. at Merriweather Post Pavilion features traditional fiddle numbers arranged for violin and orchestra. The all-America theme also includes Copland's "Rodeo."

The festival's quartet-in-residence, The Canadian-based Glenn Gould String Quartet, is a newly formed group named in honor of the late pianist. It will be joined by the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble for a program ranging from Beethoven to Cage tonight at 8 p.m. in Howard Community College's Smith Theater. Then the Glenn Gould String Quartet, joined by composer and electric guitarist Steven Mackey and pianist Alan Feinberg, performs works by Mackey, Brahms and Elliott Carter Wednesday at 8 p.m. in HCC's Smith Theater. And the fiddling Mr. O'Connor is among those joining the Gould String Quartet for a program of folk music-influenced classical pieces June 26 at 8 p.m. in HCC's Smith Theater.

Classical music on a more intimate scale will be provided when soprano Alina Kozinska, accompanied by pianist Adam Mahonske, appears in recital Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Oakland Manor.


A music-theater piece in which Scottish music tells much of the ** story is the New York-based VOICETheatre Company production Shauna Kanter's "The Homecoming Project" Thursday and next Friday at 8 p.m. and June 27 at 2 p.m. at Slayton House. A performance June 26 at 8 p.m. will be followed by a dance with music by the John F. Nicoll Pipe Band.

For the play, three Scottish and two American actors, three musicians, and an ensemble of 25 area residents will collectively relate the tale of a New Yorker of Scottish descent and her Scottish fiance planning to develop a housing estate in the Scottish highlands. This modern story is counterpointed by a 19th-century story line about the British forcing the eviction of many highlanders.

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