Conversations in song and dance: Five unique acts to take center stage in Tupai

November 2013

Beginning Sunday, October 4, Tupai will host a five-week Fall performance series. From Peruvian folk-dance to speakeasy supper club jazz, each show in the series seeks to transport guests to a distinct era or cultural destination. Rather than providing background music — or, as The Stolen Sweets’ Jen Bernard calls it, “sonically beautiful wallpaper” — these shows will be center stage.

Avant Garde Improv
Luciana Proaño, a dancer trained in Peruvian folk, modern, ballet and gymnastics, uses her body as art in motion. “I enter the space with no expectations and I dance,” she says. Proaño makes all of her intricate, often flamboyant costumes by hand and they help to take both artist and audience to another time and place. “My responsibility and my pleasure is to create an experience of intimate subconscious dialogue in the here and now,” says Proaño. “Very much like my cultural ancestors did in Ancient Peru.” Proaño’s dance unfolds in dramatic conversation with the music of JB Butler. “My husband composes the music in a jazz format as a point of departure,” Proaño says. “The artistry and proficiency of the musicians and their improvisations inspire me and a dialogue is created.”

Speakeasy Glamour
The Stolen SweetsPete Krebs Trio use the music of 1930s-era pre-war Jazz greats the Boswell Sisters, who Sweets’ singer Jen Bernard describes as “musical feminists of their time,” as an inspirational jumping-off point. But they always leave plenty of room for improvisation. With three female vocalists and a male 3-piece gypsy-jazz influenced rhythm section, The Stolen Sweets’ sound is gritty, harmonious and hard swinging. Bernard calls them the “Fleetwood Mac of early jazz.” The Sweets take their audiences to a bygone era of supper club speakeasies by dressing in full period clothing – and they encourage their audiences to do the same. “It’s more fun if people get era-specific,” says Bernard.

Flamenco Fusion
“In flamenco dance, improvisation is very important,” saysLaura Onizuka, dancer and owner of Portland Flamenco Events. Laura and her husband, self-taught guitar virtuosoToshi Onizuka, perform together several times a year: she dances flamenco, he plays his own unique brand of flamenco guitar, a fusion that is all his own. “Toshi thrives on improv,” she says. “He tunes into public energy.” The duo is excited to perform something less traditional than usual in their Tupai show. “It’s almost like a conversation,” says Laura. Fusing traditional flamenco with turns of improvisation based on the energetic connection between audience, dancer, and musicians, the set will incorporate Palmas – songs of rhythmic hand clapping – and an interactive rumba number to finish things off is not out of the question. “It all depends on the crowd,” she says.

A Peruvian Classic
After picking up his first guitar at age ten, Alfredo Muro went on to study with Peru’s guitar impresarios where he gained not only a technical education but a deep understanding of Peruvian folklore. In 2005, he was selected to represent Peru in the 16th Annual International Guitar Festival in his hometown of Lima. About the upcoming Tupai performance, Muro reflects that “it is a very special vision for me. It will allow me to bring and share not only the Peruvian culture but also a great variety of different musical expressions from South America.” Though his repertoire ranges from Bach to the Beatles, it is his South American roots and noted mastery of styles such as choro, samba, and bossanova that truly distinguish Muro’s music. He has been featured at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and played a “special audience” at the Vatican for Pope John Paul the Second. Performing in Tupai will allow Muro to return his beginnings. “As a musician you want to share with them [the audience] something that is unique: your roots.”

The Triple Threat
Pepe Raphael is a dynamo, and quite appropriately matched with Luciana Proaño as the series’ bookend artists. His background includes dancing with the National Ballet of Spain, Ballet Hispanico in New York City and Oregon Ballet Theater, acting in several made-for-TV movies, doing stand-up at Harvey’s Comedy Club, and performing with Pink Martini at Cannes. Though known for his 1950s Copacabana nightclub-style shows, Raphael will be debuting a new sound in Tupai – the world premiere of his new group, Duende. In Latin American mythology, the duende is an otherworldly goblin. But in an artistic vein the term is often used to express an intense yet intangible quality of passion. The Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca said: “I have heard an old master guitarist say: ‘Duende is not in the throat; duende surges up from the soles of the feet.’” What can we expect from the first appearance of Duende at Tupai? “If I had a crystal ball, I’d tell you,” says Raphael. “Bring a sense of humor and a big heart.”

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