“I’m so proud and grateful to be a member of Artists Without Walls. Tuesday’s Showcase featured a video of a young spoken word poet from Nigeria collaborating with a talented pair of Irish musician brothers, a chanteuse-accordionist, a documentary filmmaker/writer reading her latest short story, a solo trombonist and Near Eastern dance. It’s the best New York has to offer — and nice people to boot!” Maria Deasy
I walked into The Cell Theatre an hour before the Artists Without Walls’ Showcase and I was presented with the perfect antidote to the cacophony that is a New York City rush hour, the sweeping sound of the opening movement of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. Violinist Navid Kandelousi, who later opened the Showcase tenderly weaving phrases of Bach, Beethoven and Mendelssohn, was strolling through the theatre, warming to the task. I knew the evening would be special.
Jenai Huff followed Navid with three songs from her upcoming EP, Grace and Elbow Grease. She opened with “Just Like Me,” followed with “Splintered Light” and finished with her brand new song and title track “Grace and Elbow Grease.” Her radiant smile, the pure timbre of her voice and soulful lyrics captivated and touched the hearts of the audience.
Stephanie Silber read from a haunting excerpt from her short story, The Lemon Tree, which is set during the height of the Vietnam War. A little girl and her grandmother are visiting the
latter’s stricken friend in a rehab hospital. The glamour and allure of Manhattan are seen vividly through the child’s eyes, juxtaposed against the stark realities of great physical trauma; the fragment hints of the redemptive power of human resilience. A powerful reading.
Samara, who is the choreographer and artistic director of dance for The Mosaic Dance and Theater Company, and two of Mosaic’s dancers, Su’ad and Naima, performed traditional Near Eastern Dance. Su’ad performed an Oriental Dance, which was choreographed by Samara
with music by Adam Basma. Naima performed another one of Samara’s magnificent choreographies, an Arabic/Spanish Fusion called Balia Maria with music written and performed by Alabina. Samara ended the presentation with an Oriental Dance piece called Princess of Cairo. The sensual performers, the pulsating music and shimmering costumes made the dances a joy to watch.
Composer and jazz trombonist Chris Stover played a brand new solo arrangement of Chico Buarque’s “Apesar de você, ” a work dedicated to his Brazilian friends who, as Chris said, “Are fighting the good fight and making things happen in Brazil – saravá, gente!” Chris spent many years as the go-to trombone player in the jazz and Afro-Cuban scenes in Seattle. It’s clear why, since his playing incorporates a shimmering veneer and a casual sway even as the music’s tempo picks up.
Accordionist and chanteuse Marni Rice evokes an interesting blend of New York and Paris. With heartfelt songs and accordion in hand we heard Piaf, although we didn’t hear a word of French. We heard the streets of Paris, but it’s a theater on 23rd street in NYC. Marni’s songs are songs of New York, and yet we are transported to another time and place. Three excellent works by an incredibly talented artist.
Mark Donnelly gave a marvelous performance of a monologue from his one-act play The Steamfitter’s Dream. Smith and Kraus originally published the monologue in the collection Best Men’s Monologues of 1998. Mark truly captured the soul of alcoholic construction worker Pete O’Rourke as he takes a hard look at his life. Mark based the character of Pete on one of his uncles. Though not in the trade himself, Mark revealed proudly after the performance that he comes from several generations of New York Local 638 of the Steamfitters union.
Charles R. Hale ended the evening with a film featuring spoken word poet Koro Koroye and singers Owen and Moley O Suilleabhain. Koro’s poems of identity and individual expression with the O Suilleabhain’s performing Latin Gregorian chant and sacred songs from ancient Ireland are seamlessly presented in a dynamic performance that honors tradition and rejoices in innovation. Three brilliant young performers on the rise.
It was another splendid evening. The next Showcase at The Cell will be on September 30, 7pm. For more information about Artists Without walls write to firstname.lastname@example.org
A special thank you to Cat Dwyer and Vera Hoar for the wonderful photos.