You could probably say Tulsa--when it comes to the arts--is a do-it-yourself sort of town. As explained in last week's installment of "Curtains Up!," there are nearly 25 community theatre companies in town simply because people, not able to find exactly what they were looking for in local theatre, would start their own groups and produce their own plays.
Similarly, Ken Tracy, former owner of Yorktown Alley Bookstore, last seen at 31st and Harvard and which closed in 1993, has started his own production company, called Choregus Productions, to bring to Tulsa nationally and internationally touring music, dance and theatre ensembles he believes we wouldn't normally have the opportunity to see.
"I'm an avid reader of The New York Times and The New Yorker, and I would read about groups not playing in Tulsa," said Tracy. "I think there are a lot of things out there that Tulsans need to see, and somebody should be bringing them here. So why not me?"
The first show Choregus produced was "Sweet Honey in the Rock," an acapella singing group comprised of African American women, last October. Later, in March of this year, Tracy brought "Les Folies Russe," a sort of Russian version of the Rockettes, ballet style.
Based on his recent success, this will be Choregus Productions' first full season, with eight events planned from now until May. There will be five musical, two dance and one theatre productions.
The season opens with the Kronos Quartet, an eclectic, innovative four-part string ensemble, combining traditional chamber music with contemporary sounds, including those of Tom Waits. Each night, September 17 and 18 at 8pm in the Williams Theater of the Tulsa PAC, Kronos will play a different set.
The following week, on September 24 and 25, the Koresh Dance Company will perform a contemporary mix of ballet, modern dance and jazz. The company was founded by choreographer and artistic director Ronen Koresh, and half of each of its performances will be different each night.
A month later, on Wed., Oct. 17, "Yamato," a Japanese Taiko drum ensemble, will perform what is described on the Choregus Website (choragus.org) as "not dance exactly, not music precisely, not spectacle solely." The group uses several dozen small and large drums, beating them ferociously to a rhythm that resembles a heartbeat. This event will be in the Chapman Music Hall of the Tulsa PAC.
"Red Priest," (a nickname attributed to the Venetian cleric/composer Vivaldi), is a contemporary ensemble set to perform in the Williams Theater, PAC, who has reinvented traditional baroque music, using costumes, props and dramatic lighting as well as new compositions.
The four-piece group plays most of the music from memory so it is free to move around the stage and into the audience, creating an atmosphere similar to that of a rock concert. Red Priest will perform October 29 and 30.
The Pascal Rioult Dance Theatre, performing February 26 and 27, 2008, is a small company of 10 dancers that seems to blend old world ballet with cutting edge modern dance. Tracy said he thinks Tulsa audiences will be especially receptive to this performance because of their appreciation for Tulsa Ballet.
An appearance by the Rastrelli Cello Quartet, March 4 and 5, will include a wide range of classical, pop and jazz music. Since forming in Stuttgart, Germany, in 2002, the group has gone out of its way not to perform any piece of music written for the cello, instead performing compositions written by the likes of George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein and Leroy Anderson.
The only theatrical production this season is 1984, performed by The Actor's Gang, a Los Angeles-based company co-founded by actor and director Tim Robbins, dedicated to performing original, provocative theatre.
On April 8, 9 and 10, The Actor's Gang will perform an adaptation of George Orwell's famous, foreboding novel, written by Michael Gene Sullivan and directed by Robbins.
The final performance of the season will be another string ensemble called Time for Three, May 6 and 7. The trio performs a medley of bluegrass, jazz, gypsy, country western, classical and improvisatory music as well as its own original repertoire.
Tracy said he first became interested in modern dance, music and theatre while managing a bookshop in New York and attending performances there. Since he's moved back, he continues to travel, and he also reads a lot and watches videos online. That's how he heard of most of these companies.
Besides being fun and entertaining, the shows Tracy chose also reflect a progressive social and political commentary and content.
"Hopefully, people will see these things and start to talk about these issues," he said. "I think it's important for people to realize the arts are ways of communicating and influencing things. I guess what I'm doing is bringing an awareness of how arts can be used in communication. It's important in today's world that people become involved in the arts and in society.
In ancient Greece, the choregus was the person who arranged the chorus in Greek plays. That person was responsible for putting dramatic compositions together, Tracy explained, and in classical Greece, the dramatic plays were very serious about commenting on social issues. So, he said, he thought it appropriate that his production company, which is dedicated to addressing modern social dilemmas, be called Choregus.
The biggest problems he's had thus far in his endeavor are being able to secure open dates at the PAC and being a one-man gig. But, he said, the PAC has been very supportive and helpful in arranging the programming. He doesn't expect to make a profit, he said, and doesn't really care if he does. He just wants to break even and be able to continue the company next year, when he hopes to bring more dance and theatre companies.
His main goal, and the one he really hopes to accomplish, is to draw audiences to these performances and show them something they've never seen before. To learn more about the season and to buy either individual or season tickets, visit the aforementioned Website or www.tulsapac.com.
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