Briana Robinson and Kevin Shackelford didn't exactly know at first. As they loaded Shackelford's video equipment into a car they borrowed from one of Briana's friends, they didn't know that what they would film that bright summer day would turn out the way it did. The project they were about to film became a burst of bright discovery called Urban Pointe Shoes, but as they set out to shoot that day, they didn't yet realize that they were going to make a such a beautiful document of defiant hope.
They didn't really even know each other. Shackelford is an independent filmmaker who works with music and fashion artists. Robinson is a choreographer and dancer with Thodos Dance Chicago, the widely respected dance company she joined after completing her studies at Juilliard.
"I first heard about the project from a woman by the name of Eileen Mallory," Robinson recalls. "At the time, she was working at Ballet Chicago, where I trained when I first started dancing. My close friend Joshua Ishmon, who was also on staff at Ballet Chicago, heard about the project from Eileen and recommended me for the opportunity."
The project was a short film that Shackelford was making for his production company K-Shack Video. "Kevin was looking for an African American ballerina who was comfortable with improvisation, and not afraid to dance in unlikely environments."
"I'm really looking to cultivate choreographers who use rhythm and dynamics as their source material," Artistic Director Siegenfeld explains, "instead of shape and form." The result is a multicolored evening of insight into how artists can move and be moved. Here's our Photo Friday set of shots from the performance, and there's a lot more at johnnynevin.com.
When you can do something as well as Kaki King can play a guitar, it can take you almost anywhere. King has been playing guitar, and has been widely admired for the way she does, for quite a while, and since her first release in 2002, Everybody Loves You, she's never really stopped discovering new ways to discover the instrument she calls "a shapeshifter". With her latest album, The Neck is a Bridge to the Body, she's dreamed up a completely new set of ways to do what she always does, to find great music in a guitar and then play it like nobody else can.
For those who know Manuel Vignoulle's imagination, and how effortlessly he seems to express what he imagines in Dance, the chance to see one of his works performed by a Company like Ailey II is definitely news, the very good kind.
Breakthrough is a new work that Vignoulle created for Ailey II last summer, and they first performed it last October in Canada. Vignoulle has worked with a lot of great Dance companies; a graduate of the prestigious Conservatoire National Supérieur de Danse, he first danced with, and for the past several years has choreographed for, an impressive spectrum of great Companies. Not surprisingly, working with Ailey II has been an experience that he's appreciated quite a bit. "They're very athletic and strong," he says of the Company, "It was a pleasure working with them, I'm super grateful."
Breakthrough is characteristic of Vignoulle's carefully thoughtful approach to his art. Vignoulle describes it as a work whose story line is almost apocalyptic, but defiantly individualistic. "It's about individuals who live in a world where emotions and feelings are prohibited," he explains. "It's as if their bodies and minds have been numbed for decades, even for generations, and they have no idea what effect an emotion might have on them." The work tracks their struggle. "They want to feel something inside, to connect with an emotion, whatever the cost," Vignoulle continues. "The beauty is in these exhausted bodies fighting, and never giving up fighting, just for the freedom to feel what they feel."
If Ruthie Collins turned out to be one of your favorite artists, which is entirely possible, there are probably two different ways that it could end up happening. How likely is it? Well, that depends. If you already like musical artists who are brightly imaginative, truly gifted singers, Country Music, or maybe all of the above, it could definitely happen. In any case, it could happen a couple of different ways.
The first way, of course, would be if you just heard some of her music. Because it's the first single from her debut Ruthie Collins EP, and since it's already being played a lot of places, the first thing you might hear would most likely be "Ramblin' Man", her unusually creative rework of Hank Williams Sr.'s 1953 classic. If you did, it might not take long before you got the idea that you'd like to hear a lot more of Ruthie Collins, even if you didn't know the rather amazing back story about how they made that recording. That's the story about how a very traditionalist Country Artist (Ruthie) on a respected Country Label (Sidewalk / Curb) ended up making a rework of a decades-old classic by one of traditional Country's most revered legends (Hank Sr.) that blends very traditional instrumentation (practically bluegrass) with cutting edge, EDM inspired production techniques. What?
Mo Pitney knows a couple of really important things about being Country, real Country. For that matter, Mo Pitney knows a lot about a lot of things Country, not least of all about Country Music. It's not just that the songs he writes, and the effortlessly authentic way that he performs them, make such a landmark impression on so many of the people who hear them. Mo Pitney knows quite a bit about the people who've already made Country Music mean so much to so many people, because all of that means so much to him. Still, even though that's important, it's not exactly one of the two really important things that Mo Pitney knows about real Country.
When Mo Pitney took the stage at The Grand Ole Opry last June and performed two songs, "Clean Up On Aisle 5" and "Country", the packed audience gave him a standing ovation, something almost completely unheard of for a young artist performing there for the very first time. In the months since, performing at The Opry several more times to the same enthusiastic reception, and visiting radio stations across the country in preparation for the release of his highly anticipated debut album, a lot of people have had a lot of very good things to say about his music, his easy-going manner, and his future. More than a few people think that Mo Pitney may soon be one of the most important artists in Country Music.
Is that important? As it turns out, it may not be important at all; in any case, it's not very important to Mo Pitney. That's not to say that the music he writes and performs isn't important to him, or that the people he works with, or all the people who love Country Music like he does aren't important to him. A lot of things are very important to Mo Pitney, it's just that being important isn't one of them.
Mina Zikri is a lot like other artists, or at least he's a lot like other promising, new artists who you might not know about. When you see him perform, for example, not only is the intensity of his dedication is immediately clear, but as is often true with very creative performers, there's likely to be a sense of surprise in the blend of impressions that he brings to an audience. Mina Zikri is doing something else that promising new artists sometimes manage to do. He's quietly gathering around him a group of other artists, like-minded people inspired by what he imagines, and dedicated to making what he imagines real.
As far as being a lot like other artists, though, that's about it, because Mina Zikri is unique in so many ways. His approach to his art is unique, his background is unique, and his journey from the music schools of Cairo to the classical concert halls of Chicago and the world is, and continues to be, a uniquely promising adventure. Like many gifted artists, you get the impression that everything he does is part of a coherent, reaching vision, yet even in that there's something unusual. Zikri's vision actually has a name; it's called The Oistrakh Symphony of Chicago, a group of richly talented classical performers that Zikri describes as 'youthful' rather than 'young'.
Dylan Scott says he's fired up, but even if he didn't say so, that's the impression you would have gotten anyway. He's so enthusiastic about so many different things that you could get the exact same impression, whether he was talking about songwriting, touring, recording, or even just being back home in Louisiana.
In this case, he was talking about his new single "Lay It On Me", but it didn't have anything to do with the fact that it sold so well the very first day it was out, because that part hadn't even happened yet. What he was talking about was the song itself, writing it, recording it, working on it, the whole personal, musical, shared adventure. "I'm fired up," he says, "and what I like about it is, it's just making good music and having a good time. Not worrying about the money, just worrying about the fun we're going to have."
Even if you happen to talk to him on the day that his third single is being released by Sidewalk Records, the forward-leaning imprint of Nashville's legendary Curb labels, he's not likely to bring up anything about the business, about his success, or even about his very promising future. It probably doesn't matter though; even if none of that comes up, you're still going to get a good idea of why so many people are excited about his music. That's because in everything Dylan Scott talks about, you'll hear the same effortless good will, and the same absolutely irresistible enthusiasm, that always seems to come through in the music that he makes.