Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Arkansas Gives today from 8am to 8pm

If you are like me, you’ve been receiving notifications about Arkansas Gives Day for months.  Well, today is the day!  From 8am until 8pm, you can help grow the love for Arkansas’s nonprofit organizations by making a donation to the charity of your choice.  The event is sponsored by the Arkansas Community Foundation.

As a special incentive to give, each gift made through ArkansasGives on April 6, 2017, will be matched with additional bonus dollars; the more you give, the more bonus dollars your favorite charity will receive.

Nonprofit organizations and other tax-exempt charitable organizations may participate if they:

  • Are headquartered in Arkansas or have a base of operations in Arkansas.
  • Have 501(c)(3) tax exempt status under IRS code AND are qualified as a 509(a)(1), (a)(2) or (a)(3) organization or as a private operating foundation.

The minimum amount is $25; there is no maximum amount you may give. You may designate up to 10 charities per transaction.

Accepted Forms of Payment: Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express credit cards online.
You will receive an email receipt of your gift; please retain it for tax purposes. Unless you choose to remain anonymous, your donor information will be sent to the nonprofits to which you give.

Here is a list of cultural organizations which offer services within the boundaries of the City of Little Rock.

 

There are MANY MANY MANY other worthy nonprofits which are participating. But since this is a culture blog, only the cultural institutions are listed.  But please consider visiting the website and perusing the entire list.

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The Nutcracker returns to Robinson Center this weekend with Ballet Arkansas and ASO musicians

2016-nutcrackerCelebrate the season with your professional ballet company as Ballet Arkansas continues a favorite Christmas tradition performing The Nutcracker accompanied by the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Geoffrey Robson.  After two years in Maumelle, The Nutcracker returns to the gloriously reimaginined Robinson Center Performance Hall!

Under the direction of Artistic Director Michael Bearden, Ballet Arkansas’ Nutcracker will be the highlight of the holiday season.  Join Clara at her family’s home as guests arrive for a festive Christmas Eve celebration where her godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, gives her a very special present, a Nutcracker doll. As the hour becomes late, the magic in the air begins to grow, along with Clara’s house and everything in it. Suddenly, there is a battle between an army of giant mice and life-sized toy soldiers. When the leaders of the mice have Clara cornered, The Nutcracker appears and with Clara’s help, they defeat the army of mice and escape to the Land of Snow, where the Snow Queen and King are presented to Clara and The Nutcracker amongst the flurries of beautiful dancing snowflakes.

The magic continues as Clara and The Nutcracker take an enchanted sleigh ride to the Land of Sweets where the Sugar Plum Fairy presents Clara with delightful acts by a host of characters such as Spanish Chocolate, Arabian Coffee, and the Dew Drop Fairy in the Waltz of the Flowers. After a spectacular show of grace and athleticism, performed just for Clara, the characters and magical lands begin to fade and like waking from a dream, Clara is returned to her home, under her family’s Christmas tree, in the arms of Herr Drosselmeyer, with the magical story of The Nutcracker forever in her heart

The Nutcracker is the perfect yuletide gift, the ideal means of introducing children to the power and beauty of classical dance, and a delightful way for the entire family to ring in the holiday season. Make Ballet Arkansas’ Nutcracker part of your holiday celebration this December! To purchase tickets for the December 9th, 10th or 11th public shows to The Nutcracker, visit balletarkansas.org or call 501-666-1761. Tickets range from $25-$70.

 


RobinsoNovember: Dr. William Grant Still

bhm StillLast night, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s Opus Ball was the first public event in the William Grant Still Ballroom of Robinson Center.  This afternoon at 3pm, the Arkansas Symphony Youth Orchestra is playing a Still composition in a performance with Ballet Arkansas at the Albert Pike Memorial Temple on Scott Street.

Dr. William Grant Still was a legend in his own lifetime.  Dr. Still, who wrote more than 150 compositions ranging from operas to arrangements of folk themes, is best known as a pioneer. He was the first African-American in the United States to have a symphonic composition performed by a major orchestra. He was the first to conduct a major symphony orchestra in the US; the first to conduct a major symphony in the south; first to conduct a white radio orchestra in New York City; first to have an opera produced by a major company. Dr. Still was also the first African-American to have an opera televised over a national network

Dr. Still was born May 11, 1895 in Woodville, Mississippi to parents who were teachers and musicians. When Dr. Still was only a few months old, his father died and his mother took him to Little Rock. Inspired by RCA Red Seal operatic recordings, his musical education began with violin lessons.

After his studies at Wilberforce University and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, he played in orchestras and orchestrated for various employers including the great W. C. Handy. For several years he arranged and conducted the “Deep River Hour” over CBS and WOR.

In the 1920’s, Still made his first appearances as a serious composer in New York. Several fellowships and commissions followed. In 1994, his “Festive Overture” captured the Jubilee prize of the Cincinnati Symphony orchestra. In 1953, he won a Freedoms Foundation Award for “To You, America!” which honored West Point’s Sesquicentennial Celebration. In 1961, he received honors for this orchestral work, “The Peaceful Land”. Dr. Still also received numerous honorary degrees from various colleges and universities, as well as various awards and a citation from Arkansas Governor Dale Bumpers in 1972.

In 1939, Dr. Still married journalist and concert pianist Verna Avery, who became his principal collaborator. They remained together until Dr. Still’s death in 1978.  In a proclamation marking the centennial of Dr. Still’s birth, President Bill Clinton praised the composer for creating “works of such beauty and passion that they pierced the artificial barriers of race, nationality and time.”

In 1995, Dr. Still was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.


Creative Class 2016: Jason Wiest

cc16-wiestAfter a career in journalism and public relations, Jason Wiest is now focusing more on the entertainment side of Little Rock.  As the owner of Club Sway, he programs a variety of music and theatrical events.

While Club Sway operates as a bar, most nights there are special performances.  Jason provides SWAY as a staging area for locally produced parties created by GlitterRock as well as featuring nationally known entertainers.

For the second year in a row, Club Sway is producing The Rocky Horror Show during Halloween.  The final two performances are tonight and tomorrow at 8:30pm.

Jason has also been an active board member with Ballet Arkansas, giving special assistance as they planned their move downtown. He has also been a supporter of film festivals in downtown Little Rock.


Creative Class 2016: Gretchen Hall

cc16-hallA hardhat and reflective vest have been part of Gretchen Hall‘s work wardrobe almost every day for the past 30 months.  As the President and CEO of the Little Rock Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, she has been actively overseeing the deconstruction and reconstruction of Robinson Center Music Hall. Taking a New Deal era assembly hall and making it into a state-of-the-art performance facility is not an easy task. Gretchen and her team have worked with the architects, engineers, designers and consultants to make it happen.

Gretchen joined LRCVB in 2001 and has worked her way up through the organization.  In May 2011, she was named to her current position.  Since that time, the LRCVB has undertaken numerous efforts to enhance Little Rock’s cultural life including a new amphitheatre in Riverfront Park, enhanced programming at the River Market, and increased financial support of cultural organizations.  In addition, she helped lead the effort to see the additional penny of the hotel tax be dedicated to support the Arkansas Arts Center and MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History. That tax was approved by voters earlier in 2016.

The new Robinson Center will feature seats that are closer to the stage and acoustics that can be adjusted to maximize the different needs of a symphony performance and a Broadway musical.  The changes in the facility have already attracted bookings by the national tours of The Phantom of the Opera (in 2017) and The Lion King (in 2018).  In addition, there will be new special event space including a ballroom and meeting rooms.  The historic lobby at the top of the iconic front steps is being restored to its original appearance — much of which was stripped away or covered up in the early 1970s.

After the November 10 ribbon cutting, Robinson Center will be re-opened.  As Hall points out, almost all residents of Central Arkansas have a connection to Robinson Center. She notes in her family alone, her mother played basketball there, her own high school graduation was there, and her niece has appeared in Ballet Arkansas’ The Nutcracker there.


Creative Class 2016: Erin Anson-Ellis

cc16-anson-ellisToday’s member of the Creative Class is Erin Anson-Ellis, General Manager of Ballet Arkansas.  A native of Little Rock, she earned her B.A. in Theatre Arts from UALR and graduated with honors in May of 2012. In the fall of 2012, she stage managed the educational tour of Lily and the Appleseed which was presented by Wildwood Park for the Arts; and in December of 2012, she served as the production stage manager for Ballet Arkansas’ production of The Nutcracker.

Erin became Ballet Arkansas’ production, company, and stage manager in the spring of 2013, and has managed all of Ballet Arkansas’ productions since that time. In addition to her work at Ballet Arkansas, Erin’s credits include stage managing the the 2015 “Back to School” and 2016 “Happy Feet” Shuffles and Ballet II Dance Recitals, 2015 ACANSA performances by PUSH Physical Theatre and Urban Bush Woman, and the Bill Bowers’ 2014 ACANSA performances of “It Goes Without Saying.”

While at UALR, Erin directed the 2012 UALR production of Criminal Hearts, several student fringe productions between 2008 and 2013, and served as the lighting designer for the Artists in Resonance summer dance concert for three years. Her acting credits include the roles of Viola in Twelfth Night, The Jester in Once Upon a Mattress, Yvonne in The Ladies Man, Kate in Kate Crackernuts, Roberta in Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, and in 2008 she traveled to Canterbury, England to perform various roles from the works of Christopher Marlowe for the International Marlowe Conference at the University of Kent.


Under the Lights raises the barre for Ballet Arkansas

UndertheLights_ProgramCover_27july2015a-183x300Ballet Arkansas’ 2015-16 season concludes with the concert Under the Lights, currently on stage at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre through Sunday, May 22. In what has become a hallmark of Artistic Director Michael Bearden’s leadership, it offers an eclectic mix of styles of dance and music which not only highlight the strengths of the dancers, but also allow the dancers to push themselves in new directions.

The concert takes its name from Chris Stuart’s Under the Lights, which is set to the music of Johnny Cash. Created for Nashville Ballet, this piece receives its Arkansas premiere just one hour north of Cash’s birthplace in Kingsland. Being the scion of a longtime Cleveland County family, I grew up listening to Cash’s music. I approached this piece with a great deal of excitement, but also wondering exactly how ballet would meld with Cash. The answer is, they fuse very well.

Ballet is, at its heart, about expression. So are Cash’s songs. At Ballet Arkansas’ performances, the songs are performed live by Sugar + the Hi-Lows, which played them in the premiere. The central dancer, in black of course, is Toby Lewellen. He does not try to mimic Cash in any way, but instead combines lyricism and athleticism as he leads the company in “Walk the Line.” He and Amanda Sewell partner nicely on the piece’s penultimate song, “I’ve Got You Covered.

Deanna Karlheim and Paul Tillman perform a pas de deux to “Ring of Fire” which captures the raw longing of that song. Megan Hustel leads the company in a poignant “Hurt.”

After all the emotions of the piece, it ends in the joyous “Jackson” which allows each of the dancers a moment to showcase their talents. This is no balletic hoedown with forced folksiness; it is a true “let down your hair” moment of release for the dancers at the end of the piece and of the concert.

The concert starts with George Balanchine’s Glinka Pas de Trois which featured Justin Rustle, Megan Hustel and Lauren Bodenheimer at Friday evening’s performance. This 1955 piece requires the dancers to show not only classical ballet training, but also speed and subtle movements which are more inspired by modern dance. The three dancers perform alone and in various combinations. Intricate and challenging, the three dancers were up to the task.

Harrison McEldowney’s Group Therapy was an audience favorite. The four couples portrayed different sets of phobias, neuroses, or other problems. Set to pop standards of the 1930s and 1940s, each couple got a chance to display not only dancing prowess, but also a flair for comedy. In “Treat Me Rough” thankfully Toby Lewellen and Lynsie Ogden were not called upon to actually abuse each other that in this enlightened day would not be funny. But they aptly captured the on-again, off-again status of some couples with a comic edge. Justin Rustle’s uptight “Mr. Clean” was paired with Meredith Loy in a pas de deux set to Gershwin’s “Embraceable You” which was both witty but also filled with longing as Loy tried to break through Rustle’s veneer. His expert lift work was on display throughout the piece.

Megan Hustel dances not only with Tony Sewer but also with a peripatetic cigarette.   She constantly hides it from Sewer in a movement that never stops throughout the number. Sewer gets his chance to shine in a response to her, which is infused with equal parts jazz and ballet. Narcolepsy has never been so funny as when danced by Paul Tillman and Amanda Sewell in “Narcoleptic.”   Sewell goes limp in a variety of poses while Tillman tries to keep her up. This creates opportunities to show the gracefulness and strength of both dancers as Sewell sweeps and Tillman juggles her throughout the number.

The evening also contained two world premieres. The first, (e)motions by Ilya Kozadayev, was the winner of the 2015 Visions choreography contest. Featuring three couples, it was abstract and athletic. Yet each couple created a connection as they partnered. Deanna Karlheim and Paul Tillman, Meredith Loy and Toby Lewellen, and Lynsie Ogden and Tony Sewer, were definitely put through the paces on this piece.

Kiyon Gaines’ Memoryhaus was at its best when it created stark pictures whether it was Amanda Sewell alone in a spotlight, Paul Tillman approaching Deanna Karlheim, or the entire company dancing in unison. Its style is a blend of classical and modern, which is matched by the music of Max Richter.

Ballet Arkansas continues to be a company on the move. Less than a decade ago, the company was on life support existing to produce The Nutcracker in December. Now it is firmly establishing itself as an innovative member of Arkansas’ arts scene with a resident company which tours throughout the state. Not content to be a mediocre provincial dance troupe, Artistic Director Michael Bearden has programmed work that explores the depth and breadth of the ballet world and brings it to Arkansas.

The fact that the company has been granted permission to perform Balanchine selections two years in a row is no accident. It is a testament to the vision and hard work of Bearden and the dancers. Ballet Mistress Laura Hood Babcock and Production & Company Manager Erin Anson-Ellis aid Bearden in this effort. It is exciting to have seen dancers return over several seasons and have the opportunity to dance a variety of styles. Under the Lights is the culmination of a great deal of hard work, not only for the rehearsal process this season, but also for the company over several years.