CONVERSATIONS with Ed Tracy

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DE USURIS - ASHLEY WHEATER, ED KROSS AND MORE ON ITUNES AND STITCHER

"MANDARIN: Powerfully emotional. An exhilarating, gripping experience.
JOY: Wait for the shoe to fall. MAMMATUS: Soars.
" - Ed Tracy

We spoke with Ashley Wheater, the Artistic Director of the Joffrey Ballet, prior to the superb opening of Global Visionaries at the Auditorium Theatre on April 26th. Wheater discussed the ever-evolving nature of ballet and the world-renowned choreographers assembled for the acclaimed pieces now in performance through May 7th. The Joffrey also announced their 2017-2018 season.

The CONVERSATIONS with Ed Tracy podcast series is now available to listeners all over the world through iTunes, Stitcher and Libsyn. Take our fascinating audio programs featuring theater and arts professionals, singers, musicians and leaders in media and business with you, wherever you go, by subscribing to CONVERSATIONS today.

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ASHLEY WHEATER: GLOBAL VISIONARIES AT JOFFREY BALLET

For a moment, Ashley Wheater pauses to reflect on the journey that he has been on with the Joffrey Ballet for nearly 10 years.

It’s a short rehearsal break on April 19th during a very busy week, and yet he is thoughtful, generous and speaks passionately on a wide range of topics during our conversation. He calls the excitement generated by the superb debut of Christopher Wheeldon's Nutcracker last fall “incredibly gratifying.” However, his pride shines vividly through in acknowledging that the Joffrey dancers have had so many amazingly creative experiences this season. Like every arts organization, the Joffrey keeps evolving. “Art," says Wheater, “never stands still, and we keep moving forward.”

Things have been moving forward rapidly for the Joffrey Ballet when you consider the new take on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet presented here last fall and in New York a few weeks ago, Wheeldon’s Nutcracker, the innovative Game Changers, and now, Global Visionaries, opening April 26th for a 10 performance run through May 7th at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University.

In our conversation, Wheater provides unique insight into the production development process, the world-renowned choreographers approach to the material and what’s ahead for the Chicago-based company that is raising the bar in the world of dance.

On the Miraculous Mandarin and choreographer Yuri Possokhov …
Béla Bartók’s score was specifically written for dance. It is quite a dangerously, dark tale ... Yuri has this deep, theatrical flare to his choreography. He grew up in the Bolshoi. He was a principal dancer there, a magnificent artist. He has shown us a very different way of using movement to tell narrative story. It is incredibly gripping.”

Unique staging …
“When we did the collaboration with Cleveland, we did it at Severence Hall … the orchestra and the company on stage together … the logistics of how much space we could find within the confines of an enormous orchestra. The impact was monumental. We have brought it to Chicago at the Auditorium Theatre … We have the fantastic Chicago Philharmonic conducted by Scott Speck … We have raised the pit and built the floor out into the auditorium … The audience will feel like they are really close, both to the music and the action of the dance.”

Developing Episode 47 and Alexander Ekman ...
“Alex wanted to come in and workshop with the company and see what would come out of that dialogue, between Alex and the company. And it really is the entire company. He has them doing a lot of improv … He asked the dancers what it is about their work, their career and what they do every day that brings them joy. And so they are all open to their own interpretation of what is joy in their work. … The one thing about Alex’s work is that he is deadly serious about how it is executed. … His timing is incredible.”

Mammatus and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa ...
“We presented Mammatus (“Formation of Clouds”) in 2015 and it was part of a non-subscription program, so we only had a handful of performances. Coming back to it, we’re able to dig deeper, the company understands it better. … Annabelle, like Alex and Yuri, is a fearless choreographer with very clear ideas. … She started working with the company, took this huge group of people, and made it really evolve and gave stunning parts to everyone in it. … You can look at it as this incredible flood of blackbirds. There is aggression to it, but there is also an incredible beauty to it … All of this amazing push, and then, at the end of the work, two people seem to float within the clouds.”

Understanding multiple layers…
“Our dancers want to understand the work at all the multiple layers. If we are going to do these works, we have to understand them … both in their choreographic language and also in their musical language. All too often we leave the musical phrasing out of things, which I do not agree with. … Whether it's this contemporary program we are doing ... whether it's opening our season next year with Giselle, one of the greatest romantic ballets of all time … whether it’s George Balenchine's Four Temprements, or Jerome Robbins|Philip Glass work Glass Pieces, there is so much in the repertory for the company. What I have found is that every single year they raise the bar because I raise the bar, and I think collectively, we really love the work we are doing here.” 

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GLOBAL VISIONARIES TICKETS

The Miraculous Mandarin (Chicago Premiere)
Choreographed by Yuri Possokhov
In collaboration with The Cleveland Orchestra, San Francisco Ballet Resident Choreographer Yuri Possokhov has created a new work specifically for The Joffrey Ballet: The Miraculous Mandarin, a magnificent tale of a girl forced to act as a decoy by thugs, luring a wealthy mandarin to his tragic fate. Set to Béla Bartók’s 1926 score, Possokhov reimagines this story ballet for seven dancers to explore the tragic, dark passions between men and women.

Episode 47 (World Premiere)
Choreographed by Alexander Ekman
Brimming with Alexander Ekman’s trademark originality and humor, Episode 47 explores the feeling of joy through dance to serve as a remedy to our uncertain times. Incorporating movements based on improvisation, Ekman sets this large ensemble work to a modern mix of music including the Grammy-nominated Brad Mehldau Trio’s bluesy Since I Fell for You; Django Django’s psychedelic dance hit, First Light, Tiga’s pop hit Shoes and Moby’s LA5.

Alexander Ekman once again brings his unique vision to the Joffrey with the world premiere of Episode 47, April 26 - May 7 at Auditorium Theatre. More Video | Big Foot Media.

Mammatus
Choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
This powerful, abstract piece features 20 dancers in a series of ensembles and duets set to contemporary composer Michael Gordon’s Weather One. A minimalist stage, equipped with tree branches lit with LED lights, sets the scene while dancers represent surreal insects and birds through organic movements to explore the nonlinear essence of nature and turbulent cloud formations.

Musical Director Scott Speck and Chicago Philharmonic
Images and profiles courtesy of Joffrey Ballet and The Silverman Group, Inc.


The Joffrey Ballet’s Global Visionaries opens Wednesday, April 26th for 10 performances through May 7th at the Auditorium Theater of Roosevelt University, 50 East Congress Parkway. For the full schedule or to order tickets, call 312.386.8905 or visit Joffrey.org.

ABOUT US: Our Conversations podcasts are available on iTunes, libsyn, and Stitcher
More at:  De Usuris Blog and on our Website.

ED KROSS - SHOOTING FROM THE HIP

You have seen Ed Kross. Everywhere. Dozens and dozens of times. Maybe on a cruise ship with Second City. Or during the three-year run of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change at Royal George, as the Tin Man in Wizard of Oz at Chicago Shakes, a tap-dancing monkey in Jungle Book at Goodman Theatre, or as the quirky studio host in I Love Lucy Live on Stage at the Broadway Playhouse.

There are two memorable roles as a bank manager on-camera opposite Tom Hanks, in Road to Perdition, and George Clooney in Oceans Twelve. Among his over 60 commercial appearances, Kross makes a copy machine selfie and shares a microphone with a dancing mini-wheat.

It is safe to say that Ed Kross is a natural born comic, actor, singer, and dancer. And while it was always part of the plan to pursue a theater and on-camera acting career, Kross says the key for him was to keep busy and apply some basic improv principles to his own life: be present, get out of your head, know the rules, learn skills, stay sharp and be sure to strive for balance in your life. 

These days, as we found out in our conversation on April 14th, the witty Kross delivers a more serious turn as a police officer struggling with PTSD in the new Amazon Prime web series Patriot, a role that is on the other end of the acting spectrum from his early days aboard the Norwegian Epic with Second City.

Take an improv class …
“Even if you are not going to be an improviser or if you do not think you are funny, it teaches you to be present in the moment and to get out of your head … I am a big fan too of not following a linear path as far as training. Even if you are not a dancer, take a dance class. Take something just to move and get your body going. Take an improv class even if you are a dramatic actor because it may open up some parts of you that you had no idea you had. Take a pottery class … For Pete’s sake, take a class!”

On Being a Triple Threat …
“Thank you, that is very nice of you to say. I think I am more of a jack of all trades, master of none, type of guy but if you want to say triple threat, my mother will be thrilled.”

On Getting Noticed …
“Looking back I realize how hard it is when you are starting … That is why I always say take a class, do a play, keep yourself fresh because you never know who will be in the audience that night. Do good work. I honestly believe cream rises to the top.”

Working with the Wiz in Jungle Book …
“I understudied André [De Shields] and went on three times for him … let me tell ya, when people are expecting the Wiz and they get this kid from Brookfield, Illinois … I am not saying it was bad but people are always disappointed when there is any understudy on.  I mean I was even disappointed when I was on …  André won a Jeff for Jungle Book. He was so ridiculously good … We did eight shows a week and he busted his butt. I never saw him give any less at the Wednesday matinee than he gave on Saturday night. That is old school pro. When I went on for him, he sent me flowers. This guy is the real deal.”

On Building your Skillset …
“Skills can be learned … ear prompter, teleprompter, tap dancing and juggling can be learned. Learn some skills and I think the more skills you have the more you can work.”

Knowing your Strengths …
“I certainly love doing drama as much as doing comedy but it is about knowing your strengths. I am not going to kid myself. I have been a goof since day one. It is fun to flex some other muscles but I know where my bread is buttered.”

DE USURIS - ED KROSS, SPAMILTON AND A LADY FAIR

ED KROSS is a very funny man and you have seen him popping up everywhere. Our CONVERSATION this week will give you the inside look on a career that has spanned improv on a cruise ship, theater all over Chicago, a couple of high-profile film turns with Tom Hanks and George Clooney and lots of commercial work for one of Chicago's most gifted comic talents. Spamilton continues to flourish at the Royal George and among the big spring offerings coming up this week there's Global Visionaries at Joffrey Ballet, Jesus Christ Superstar at Paramount Theater and My Fair Lady at the Lyric.

This week: You can still see the Mabel Mercer Foundation's 4th Annual Chicago Cabaret Convention at Park West, Porchlight's Marry Me a Little and concert performances by former Jersey Boy Michael Ingersoll and Elaine DameSteve Biossat and Speakeasy Swing return to the Drake Hotel and The Flat Cats are all in at the Old Town School of Folk Music.  

Our CONVERSATIONS podcasts are now available on iTunes and Stitcher. This week: Elaine Dame, Karl Hamilton, John Williams, Steve Biossat and Doreen Sayegh. CLICK HERE to subscribe today!  

Our CONVERSATIONS podcasts are now available on iTunes and Stitcher. This week: Elaine Dame, Karl Hamilton, John Williams, Steve Biossat and Doreen Sayegh. CLICK HERE to subscribe today!  

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CARL BECKER & SON - CRAFTING MUSIC

Becker violins and cellos -- and the family that makes them -- have a long and storied history. The craftsmanship involved in a "Becker" is an art form all to itself, developed and handcrafted with techniques passed down from generation to generation. Four generations, to be exact.  When you ask PAUL BECKER about the extraordinary value and longevity of these instruments, he says, in the proper hands, they only improve with age … and can be immortal.

A visit to the new West Hubbard Street location of the Becker shop in Chicago will give anyone a greater appreciation for the artistry involved in creating these fine instruments. Handcrafted to exacting measurements, each has its own tonal identity, sized to fit the artist and adjusted to their own particular requirements. It is hard to imagine the patience and precision necessary for this highly-detailed work that has kept Paul Becker busy since he got his first bench in the family shop at 13 years old.

What has happened in the decades since was the topic of our conversation when we took a tour of his shop. We brought a 100 year old violin -- a Tracy family heirloom -- for show and tell to see whether or not there may still be some music in it and we discovered more about the Becker family’s extraordinary contribution to creating and preserving their craft.

Why instruments are invaluable …
“Well it is art … Art has a beauty. It produces a human voice. It recreates not just a beauty to look at but a beauty to listen to.”

On the intricate detailing and craftsmanship …
“Everything on a violin is important … ten hundredths of an inch, not one hundredth of an inch ... The measurements are incredibly important. This is much finer than a human hair. You cannot see these moves, yet, you will know those moves … anyone will hear those moves … any musician will feel those moves.”

How to create that special sound …
“I am dealing with engineering, chemistry, psychology, hearing … I mean the hearing part is an amazing thing … being in touch with how what I hear makes me feel is what creates that special sound.”

The inspiration behind a musical masterpiece …
“What I am looking for is an instrument that inspires the musician so they want to practice and find that violin … another corner that is in it … a sound or feel they did not have prior. I am looking for that in my work and if I can inspire a musician, then I am more likely to get that masterpiece of a performance from them.”

 

Paul Becker of Carl Becker & Son talks about a 100 year old violin at his shop in Chicago. March 24, 2017

For Carl Becker & Son for more information 

DE USURIS - PETER, PAUL AND MARRY ... AH, MARY!

This week we feature a CONVERSATION with Paul Becker, the fourth generation in his family to make Becker violins and cellos. During the tour of his shop, we learned about the extraordinary precision required in making Becker instruments. Shattered Globe presents the Chicago premiere of Sarah Ruhl's For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday at Theatre Wit, while Porchlight Music Theatre's Marry Me a Little begins previews at Stage 773 and, Nicole Armold and Matt Crowle are stepping in time on Southport to Mary Poppins at the Mercury Theatre

Our From the Archives show this week is from the Steinway Piano Gallery in Hinsdale which features a conversation and performance by A Boy Named Max. Much more of note including Shakespeare in Love at Chicago Shakespeare, your last chance to see MAMMA MIA at the Marriott, and Dan Bruce Organ Trio featuring Rose Colella and more at Winter's Jazz Club. And, be sure to make your reservation for the 86th Annual Waa-Mu Show at Northwestern now. Spring is in the air!

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    ELAINE DAME - YOU'RE MY THRILL

    There is no one you could name who is anything like Elaine. Dame, that is.

    After years of playing concert and club dates all over town and in New York, Elaine Dame is recognized as one of Chicago's most gifted jazz singers and vocal coaches. And she gives back, as we found out in our lively conversation at Winter’s Jazz Club on March 31st, where she’s helping owner Scott Stegman expand programming for the hot new venue in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood.

    Raised in a family that appreciated music, art and culture, she recalls her parents urging her to sing and take piano lessons. Her grandmother, who passed away recently at 101 years young, was an extraordinary influence in her life, taking her to concerts, theatre and sharing a deep appreciation for art. There was also a long line of spiritual influence at play: her grandfather, a Protestant minister, followed several generations of ministers before him.

    The intermingling of music, art, faith and all the encouragement paid off. A flute became the instrument of choice, with choral singing and theatre close behind. Professional aspirations, spurred on by band and choir directors who still proudly come to see her perform, pulled her far away from the small town of Stevensville, Michigan where she spent most of her formative years – first to Pepperdine, then classes at UCLA and then to the Theater Repertory Program at California State Northridge.

    In the mid 90’s, after a four-year investment in Chicago’s busy theater scene, things seemed to be stalling a bit. That’s when she discovered Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, an insightful guide to understanding creative potential. The transformation that began all those years ago ultimately helped her to develop a much more centered life, and to recognize that jazz singing, and coaching vocal jazz technique, was her true calling.

    Her spiritual compass took a meditative turn as well. Elaine Dame is now a practicing Buddhist. There’s much more to hear in our captivating and enlightening program recorded at Winter’s where she is preparing for her April 25th show – Elaine Dame Sings Ella with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra All Star Quartet.

    The impact of The Artist’s Way …
    “It is an incredible book for anyone who wants to be more creative in their life … I always recommend it to my students … When I did this book not only was it an incredible experience creatively but spiritually it was intense. I had not before or since had that kind of spiritual experience. I felt like I was in this strange zone, in the flow … stuff just comes to you … serendipity … sounds so ‘woo woo’ and I am not a ‘woo woo’ kind of a person but it really did set me on this path. The book dispels the myths about what it means to be an artist … that artists are broke or crazy ... Most artists I know are very well-adjusted, lovely people with families and this is their job … We each have our own blocks … psychologically … when it comes to doing creative things and this book allows you to explore all the myths in your head.” 

    Music as therapy …
    “Thank God for music. It has always been a way for me to relax and meditate … for my brain to slow down and focus on one thing.” 

    Skat facts …
    “You have to study it. It is a language. It is an art form ... You cannot just pretend to be good at it … Initially you have to start just by experimenting … basically stream of consciousness kind of stuff … and imitation … When you first start you imitate the people you love … Once you get passed that and figure out if you have an ear for it … playing around can only get you so far so you have to start studying harmony. It is an ongoing, challenging thing … to break down the way the harmony is moving … what the scale means to that c7 chord and be able to sing that scale … and have a way to get to that next scale … teach them how to do that ... guide tones and all that … You have a map that you can use but you obviously have to be a great listener and move with what is happening. It is a beautiful thing when it works out.”

    On practicing Buddhism …
    “I chant every day and it helps me stay positive. It helps me have what the Buddhists call a high life condition which means one filled with passion, compassion, wisdom, joy and all that good stuff. We all have challenges and should look at them as opportunities … It helps a lot in the music business.”

    Coming up at Winter’s Jazz Club …
    “I am doing an Ella Fitzgerald tribute at Winter’s. It will be her 100th birthday on April 25th... She, more than any other artist, is someone I am obsessed with. It is going to be with Chicago Jazz Orchestra. It is an incredible group and we will have a lot of fun. Hopefully the audience will too.”

    Listen to selections of Elaine Dame's album You're My Thrill and a feature performance of our show's theme song.

    The Elaine Dame Quartet plays every first Thursday at Winter's Jazz Club where you can also hear Paul Marinaro, Typhanie Monique, Abigail Riccards and much more. Advance reservations suggested. SCHEDULE/TICKETS    INFO

    DE USURIS - ELAINE DAME, WINTER'S & ALL THAT JAZZ

    This week's CONVERSATION features ELAINE DAME, one of Chicago's most gifted jazz singers and vocal coaches. We talk about her personal journey as a musician and vocalist, the inside scoop on skat and details on the upcoming Ella Fitzgerald tribute concert and her regular first Thursday shows at Scott Stegman’s Winter’s Jazz Club, the hot new spot for jazz in Streeterville.  

    Hear our shows on iTunes & Stitcher - We recently celebrated our first-year anniversary and have now turned our focus to the national launch of the Conversations with Ed Tracy audio program. We have successfully recorded 28 podcast interviews with some of the finest artists in the theatre, music, the arts, media and business and 10 of our programs are now available on iTunes and Stitcher. We'll be posting our archived shows along with new conversations in the week's ahead.

    Simply copy and paste this RSS feed (http://conversationswithedtracy.libsyn.com/rss) into your favorite podcast player to begin downloading. Subscribe today and our episodes will be automatically downloaded to your computer, phone or tablet for easy listening anytime, anywhere. Share this link and help us get the word out. Thanks!

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    DE USURIS - ODYSSEO

    This week, we visited Cavalia Village which is rising up on Soldier Field’s South Lot preparing for the Midwest premiere of ODYSSEO, a high-energy, high-tech extravaganza billed as the largest touring production in the world. We talked to the artistic team and performers, and had a chance to meet the real stars of the show, 65 horses, who will run free on the massive stage. Odysseo by Cavalia opens April 1st.

    Mary Poppins floats into the Mercury Theater with previews this weekend. Mamma Mia runs through April 16th at the Marriott Lincolnshire. Looking ahead, Tarzan, Harvey and Shakespeare in Love are all in rehearsal. Exhibits of interest include a retrospective of MBC@35 at the Museum of Broadcast Communications and Henry Dager Source Materials on display at the Intuit Museum. Jurassic World is coming to the Field Museum, so if you are interested, reserve tickets now for the May opening.

    There is music all over tour with Beckie Menzie and Tom Michael every weekend in April at Davenport’s, Elaine Dame and Paul Marinaro at Winter’s Jazz Club, and you might still be able to get in to see the extraordinary Bernadette Peters at the Auditorium Theatre on Friday, March 31st.

    College hockey is still a favorite, especially when your hometown team from Northfield, Vermont wins the DIII NCAA Men's Hockey Championship for the 4th time! Congratulations, Norwich University! You can see the DI NCAA Championship next week right here in Chicago. There will be a special Monday Night Live at Petterino’s featuring Waa-Mu from Northwestern students. Always entertaining! 

    Oh, and baseball returns next week … but you already knew that!

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    CAVALIA ODYSSEO

    Making its 2017 Midwest debut on April 1st, ODYSSEO brings 65 majestic horses and a football field sized village to Chicago in what has been billed as the largest touring show on earth. As you enter the enormous production complex, you realize that at its heart, ODYSSEO is a unique experience between horse and handler and all of the mechanics that surround this production serve only to enhance the intimate relationship.

    On March 27th, we had the pleasure of visiting Cavalia village to speak with the production team, artists and trainers involved in mounting the 2017 version of the show founded in 2003 by Normand Latourelle. An earlier version played here in 2009, but it has grown many times in size, scope and complexity since then. 

    For starters, there are nine different breeds of horses from seven countries that perform in free riding displays throughout. The four-legged stars of ODYSSEO were flown in on a 747 and then spent a leisurely two-week break at a local farm in Bristol, Wisconsin to recharge and relax before the run with matinee and evening performances through April 23rd under the white big top. Back at Soldier Field, the crew has worked for 17 days to mount the dazzling series of tents and staging that is transported in 110 semi trucks.

    In this week's CONVERSATION, we spoke with Resident Artistic Director Darren Charles about the overall vision of ODYSSEO. It was a bit of a surprise to learn that Sam Alvarez, an electrical engineer, and Elise Verdoncq, an aspiring attorney, had both changed course in their careers and have been with the the show since its inception. Alvarez, an aerialist, performer and coach for the high-flying routines, took us through a few of the show's highlights. Verdoncq told us that after busy days in training, it all comes together for her as a featured performer in Liberty, a unique program element where horses respond only to her voice, body and hand movements.

    With over 150 crew members, 50 performing artists, riders, aerialists, acrobats, stilt walkers, dancers and musicians, an enormous hydraulic carousel, 10,000 tons of stone, earth and sand … and horses, everywhere, Cavalia Odysseo is sure to please and not to be missed.

    Rider Steven Paulson on the premise of the show … 

    “Liberty meaning freedom in French is the premise of our show … Horses at freedom … no bridle, no saddle … Following us based on cues of body language ... It is all about the bond between horse and rider.”

    Darren Charles, Resident Artistic Director and Choreographer, on the epic scale of this production …

    “We are back with the largest touring show in the world. We have 150 resident employees, 65 horses and 50 artists … aerialists, ground based acrobats, video, equestrians … amazing lighting … It is almost like you are watching a movie rather than watching a show … Something no one has ever seen before.”

    Sam Alvarez, Aerialist and Coach, on his change in careers …

    “I have been with the show since its beginning … I started as a gymnast, diver, dancer as a kid but I was not looking to be in any circus. I was studying to be a computer electrical engineer … and there was a chance occurrence … I happened to audition for circus … I decided my body is only going to be good at this for so long so why not. I have been in it for over 20 years now I would say.”

    Featured artist, rider and trainer Elise Verdoncq on her relationship with the horses …  

    “There are horses that will be more sensitive about the way I move and talk. I would say to have a horse completely ready [for the show ] would take a year. If you just train one horse it will take less time but in this number all the horses need to learn their place and that is the longest process … I really enjoy spending my day with my horses. You learn every day with them.”

    ODYSSEO by CAVALIA
    Soldier Field South Lot
    1410 Museum Campus Drive, Chicago
    (Entrance at parking gates on East 18th Drive)
    TICKETS|WEBSITE 
    CALL: 866.999.8111

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