Chloe Arnold owes a lot to Beyoncé. More than ten years ago, the tap dancer from Takoma joined forces with her sister, Maud, and launched the Syncopated Ladies--an all-woman tap dancing group. Their big break came a few years later in 2007, when Chloe worked as a director's assistant in Beyoncé's music video for "Upgrade U." The sisters followed by recording a sort of tap dancing tribute to the R&B star, and Beyoncé hit them back by sharing the troop's video with her 65 million Facebook fans. The video went on to get more than half-million views. That's when the Syncopated Ladies really took off. They went on to appear in the HBO show "Boardwalk Empire" and on FOX's "So You Think You Can Dance." Their newfound success, however, made them realize they wanted to be more than dancers; they wanted to give back to the community. "I want to rock out in tap shoes and get women in tap elevated to another lever of respect, skill level, and appreciation," Chloe says. This weekend, the sisters will be doing some of that. For the seventh time this year, they are hosting the DC Tap Fest, an event that puts local kids in lockstep with internationally renowned tap dancers for a week of lessons, competitions, and performances. The sisters know they owe their success to the mentors they met while growing up in the area--and they hope to do the same for others. Chloe began tap dancing when she was six, but it was at the age of nine that she was officially initiated with Chris Belliou's DC Rhythm Ensemble. From there, she joined Savion Glover's DC residency, a summer program organized by the Washington Performing Arts Society, and even scored a performance at the Kennedy Center. "That really inspired me to want to tap dance," she says. After watching her sister's rehearsals, Maud landed a small appearance in one of Glover's shows. Her role? It involved walking across the stage in tap shoes holding a sign. Year after year, as the sisters continued their journey in tap, they encountered people who were willing to lend a helping hand. At one dance school, the office manager let their tuition slide because she saw their potential--and because she knew the girls' mother couldn't afford to pay for lessons. "We were always on scholarship growing up. Or we cleaned the studios, we always did something," Maud says. Both sisters went on to earn film studies degrees from Columbia University and land roles in acclaimed DC choreographer Debbie Allen's dance musical, "Brothers of the Knight." But it was when Chloe came back to DC for a performance at the Kennedy Center that she realized it was time to do more. "[I got] this full circle feeling," she says. "We need to recreate that for the next set of kids." In 2009, the sisters launched the DC Tap Fest. Every year since, they have brought in celebrity tap dancers to teach Washington kids--of all backgrounds and levels--how to dance. Since its debut, the charity has granted more than 275 scholarships. This year's festival culminates tonight at the University of the District of Columbia Theatre with a performance of 25 students, who have all completed a four-day intensive class. As for the soundtrack, it wouldn't surprise anyone if a Beyoncé song just happens to make an appearance. DC Tap Fest March 23 to March 30 The all-star concert will take place tonight at 8 PM at the University of the District of Columbia. Tickets are sold-out, but email firstname.lastname@example.org to be put on the waiting list.
The resemblance is incredible. Edward Gero, the award-winning actor who has spent more than 30 years with the Shakespeare Theatre Company, plays US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in the play "The Originalist" at Arena Stage. To get into character, the actor studied Scalia very carefully. Gero met with Scalia twice for lunch and watched him twice more on the bench. He saw him speak at the National War College and Lisner Auditorium. He gradually took on the Justice's mannerisms--the way he walks, talks, and boldly gestures with his right hand.
To complete the transformation, Gero mirrors the Justice's look down to the tiniest detail. He darkens his eyebrows with makeup, applies a few hair pieces, and wears the same exact frames as Scalia. Here's a behind-the-scenes peek into how this remarkable transformation takes place.
Gero, fresh out of the shower, sits in his dressing room, surrounded by photographs of Scalia. The 61-year-old actor uses these images as inspiration as he prepares to act as the 79-year-old justice.
The veteran actor usually applies his own makeup for the stage. While he gets ready, he listens to classical music--Chopin nocturnes and Mozart serenades. Sometimes he shakes things up with tunes by Italian artist Franco Battiato or jazz duets by Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen.
Gero applies two hairpieces for the role of Scalia. He also puts on eyeliner and thickens his eyebrows.
He keeps fan mail in his dressing room as a source of inspiration. "My husband, Bob, and I were here for the Sunday matinee performance and want to tell you that we thought you were 'masterful,'" a fan gushes in a hand-written note.
Throughout the course of the play, Gero changes costumes five times: four suit changes and one casual outfit. Here, he's pictured in the suit he wears below the traditional black robe.
Gero wears the exact same frames Scalia wears. These Jaguar-brand glasses retail for about $200.
A colleague helps Gero slip into his robe.
Before going on stage, Gero does "centering breathing" exercises. He takes deep breaths and slowly exhales while saying the word "relax."
Runs through May 3
Susan Orlean's innate curiosity has made her a writer's writer, the kind who inspires a sort of wild fanaticism typically reserved for kittens and pop stars. She got her start at a tiny, now-defunct monthly in Portland and in 1992 landed her current gig as a staff writer at the New Yorker, where she's earned a reputation for her oddball sense of humor and remarkable knack for finding stories in the most unlikeliest of places.
It's this same curiosity that has taken her beyond the written page. Orlean, who will appear tonight at a belated National Puppy Day celebration at Sixth & I, has become a proponent for digital media. The acclaimed magazine writer has a podcast about crying, an online video class about creative nonfiction, and nearly 300,000 Twitter followers who legitimately love seeing pictures of her cat. "I've always been really curious about different ways of telling stories," Orlean says. "I'm somebody who's really comfortable in the digital world."
Her podcast, Crybabies, is just one example of that. Hosted by Orlean and actress Sarah Thyre, the podcast is all about what makes people cry. The premise is simple: Talking about crying encourages guests, which in the past have included comedian Jenny Slate and parodist "Weird Al" Yankovic, to open up about their lives. Much like Orlean's book, Saturday Night, which focuses on how Americans spend that one night off each week, Crybabies serves as a portal to tell a greater tale.
"It's an entirely unexplored idea," Orlean says. "I've always liked taking a single notion and applying it to a real variety of settings or individuals to see the similarities and differences in them."
Podcasting's cool factor has grown exponentially, with promising upstarts like Invisibilia hoping to piggyback off the success of Serial. To Orlean, this rapid rise resembles what happened to blogging, a once-personal format that, like podcasting, can have lax editorial oversight and unlimited space constraints.
It helps that podcasting is convenient for a writer with a busy travel schedule. The same can be said about Orlean's venture with Skillshare, an online video school. For $10 a month, Skillshare students get access to more than 1,000 classes, including Orlean's. Her class--a video lecture series with nearly two hours of instruction time--has already been viewed by more than 2,000 pupils. Budding journalists get easy access to a famous writer, and instructors get a convenient way to teach without sacrificing too much time.
Though the online course doesn't encourage student-instructor interaction, she's comfortable communicating with them--and the rest of her fans--through Twitter. The way Orlean, a Twitter user since 2007, talks about the platform makes her sound just like a social media editor, except she uses words like "storytelling" and "craft" instead of "engagement" and "strategy." She says she uses the platform to "think out loud" and connect with readers. For her, it's just another way to practice her craft; much like she would for a magazine story, she considers things like persona, voice, and narrative. "I tell stories. I write them. I see them printed on the page. But there's another side of me that enjoys learning about what this other stuff is," she says.
That means tweeting out advice to young writers and sharing quirky tidbits about her personal life. Orlean spoke to Washingtonian during her trip to the airport, and within two minutes of hanging up, a fresh tweet had materialized on her account.
On my way to DC. Time to play What Did I Forget To Pack This Time! Bonus round!!— Susan Orlean (@susanorlean) March 25, 2015
Check out Susan Orlean's event at Sixth & I alongside author Alexandra Horowitz, as they share stories about their canine companions. Bonus: The Washington Humane Society is bringing dogs. 7 PM, $15.
Lots of sold-out shows are on deck this weekend, including Father John Misty, Broods, and Kacey Musgraves. Plus, on Thursday, there's a book talk with Susan Orlean and Alexandra Horowitz at Sixth & I and the opening of "Monster Fish" at National Geographic.
THURSDAY, MARCH 26
COMEDY: You may already know comedian Pablo Francisco from his Comedy Central specials—or that viral video of him doing a fantastic impression of "The Movie Trailer Guy." Want to find out more? He'll be cracking jokes all weekend long at the DC Improv. 8 PM, $30.
ART: Music and art collide at this event at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The evening begins with an art talk about Korean-American artist Nam June Paik and ends with a concert by Baby Bry Bry and the Apologists. The event is free, and there will be a cash bar peddling snacks and drinks. 5:30 to 7 PM.
FRIDAY, MARCH 27
PARTY: Get your party on at Smithsonian at 8, a fete at La Maison Francaise. The party includes food and drink from more than 30 embassies, including Cameroon, Switzerland, and Laos. Music will be provided by Haitian songwriter Emeline Michel, followed by DJ Princess Slaya. 7 to 11 PM, $40. Cash bar starts at 9 PM.
THEATER: A puppet show! But not just any puppet show. The Pigeoning, a dialogue-free, comedic show at the Dome Theatre, was hailed as an "exquisitely rendered, very funny bunraku puppet play" by the New York Times. 8 PM, $20.
SATURDAY, MARCH 28
ROLLER DERBY: Guys, this is a big weekend. Not only will Washington host a puppet show, but there will also be a roller derby, where the Scare Force One's will be pitted against the Cherry Blossom Bombshells, and the Majority Whips will battle it out with the DC DemonCats. May the best skater win. 4 PM, $15.
DANCE: New York-based company Jessica Lang Dance will perform its first evening-length performance in DC this season. Scheduled to take place at the GW Lisner Auditorium, the performance will likely feature the combination of ballet and contemporary dance that the company is known for. 8 PM, $25 to $38.
SUNDAY, MARCH 29
MUSIC: San Francisco-native Hanni El Khatib will perform songs from his latest album, Moonlight, at the Rock & Roll Hotel. 7 PM, $15.
MUSIC: Feeling nostalgic? Check out this Motown Tribute at the Howard Theatre, featuring the music of Diana Ross and the Supremes, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, and Aretha Franklin, performed by Brencore Allstars, a local 12-piece band. 7:30 PM, $29.50 to $60.
Know anything cool happening around town? Send information to email@example.com.
Seven years into her run as a soloist with the American Ballet Theatre, Misty Copeland has already transcended the bounds of the profession. With a viral Under Armour commercial and a starring role in a Prince music video under her belt, Copeland is now the kind of celebrity who gets recognized on the streets on New York--not exactly a typical experience for a professional ballerina. What makes Copeland’s catapult to fame even more remarkable is that she is one of the few black dancers occupying a high-ranking role in a major company.
Next week at the Kennedy Center, Copeland will break down another wall when she stars with Brooklyn Mack--one of the few black male leads in the industry--in a Washington Ballet production of Swan Lake. It’s a pairing that will make history, with two black dancers in the lead roles of the classic, beloved ballet for what's considered the very first time. If Copeland’s dominance in roles such as the Firebird are any proof, she’s sure to put in a groundbreaking performance.
Even then, ballet will still have a long way to go before it achieves anything resembling true diversity. Michaela DePrince, the star of the ballet documentary, "First Position," left the country to dance with the Dutch National Ballet, saying in an interview with the Guardian: “I struggled with the fact that I was black and there weren’t a lot of black dancers at the studio with me.” One American black ballerina in Russia, Precious Adams, was even asked to bleach her skin and "try and rub the black off" and subsequently left the Bolshoi Academy for the English National Ballet.
But complex situations are nothing new for Copeland, who was one of six children and spent a portion of her childhood living in motels. She only began dancing at the age of thirteen--in an industry where most pros were dancing in kindergarten--when a local teacher took notice of her grace, power, and innate ability to mimic the movements of others. Her proportions, however, aren’t necessarly considered ideal for ballet. With an athletic build and five-foot-two frame, Copeland doesn't match the standard of the long, lean, and willowy ballerina.
Even after all her recent success, she hasn't been considered the paradigm of a classical ballerina. Her breakout roles were primarily in modern works, especially those by choreographer Twyla Tharp. “I have to remind them that I was trained classically and this is what I want to do—the classical roles,” she told DANCE magazine. “So that has been one of the biggest struggles for me here [at ABT].”
Mack too has often been typecast as a “powerful” dancer; the Washington Post described him as "the go-to guy when artistic director Septime Webre wants to wow the crowd.” He told the paper, “I like to jump, and I love the bravura roles, but I like everything else just as much. It’s another side of me, and that side of me has to be fed.” As Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake, he’ll have the chance to show off his power and his grace.
If their performance is as riveting as many expect, it may lead to yet another professional coup for Copeland. “My goal is to become the first African-American principal dancer with ABT,” she told Rivka Galchen at the New Yorker. And at the end of this spring season, she may very well get her chance. Three principal ballerinas will retire from ABT--Julie Kent, Paloma Herrera, and Xiomara Reyes. Perhaps that will open the door for Copeland to assume their mantles and make new, historic strides for American ballet.
The Kennedy Center
April 8 to April 12
$45 to $145
Tickets for Copeland’s performances are unfortunately sold out on the Kennedy Center’s website, but at publication time there are plenty of available seats on StubHub.
You’ve been there, sitting around the campfire when someone decides to tell a story about a terrifying fish the size of a car with razor-sharp teeth. You probably rolled your eyes and reacted much like the boy in the intro video to the National Geographic Museum’s new exhibit, Monster Fish: In Search of the Last River Giants. “Sounds made up to me,” he sighs. What if I told you there are monster fish roaming the world’s rivers, and lucky for you, many of them aren’t going to eat you like in the campfire stories?
Dr. Zeb Hogan, an aquatic ecologist and National Geographic fellow, received a grant from the institution back in 2002 to do just that. He spent a decade searching for the world’s largest freshwater fish and many of his adventures were caught on tape for National Geographic’s television show, Monster Fish. But, the show was only one part of Hogan’s work and the new exhibit provides a space to showcase new things. “This is a way to provide different kinds of information to a different audience,” says Hogan. “It’s something that people can come to and learn about the fish. How long do they live? Where do they live? What are their threats? Why are they important? A lot of times we can’t cover all of that information in a TV program.”
The exhibit, divided into four geographical regions, provides all sorts of family fun. Interactive games and videos are scattered throughout, with life-size fish sculptures there to greet you at every turn. One particular entertaining element is the exhibit’s giant scale. Families can stand on it together and see which fish their collective weight equates to.
Additionally, visitors will learn about the research process. One station shows how explorers determine a fish’s age by looking at its bones, some of which can live over 100 years. Another station allows participants to virtually tag a fish and learn about its movement. “It’s fairly detailed and gives you a sense of what we do out in the field,” says Hogan.
For the young fisherman walking through, a fishing game will surely catch their eye. After learning about fishing regulations, players can catch different types of fish and determine whether to keep it, take it home to eat, or put it back in the river.
If the videos, games, and sculptures weren’t enough, you can’t help but crack a smile when looking at the “mini monsters” toward the end of the exhibit. Tanks designated by region house their native fish to give you an idea of what it looks like under the water there.
Monster Fish: In Search of the Last River Giants opens Thursday, March 26, at the National Geographic Museum. Hogan will also share behind-the-scenes stories at National Geographic LIVE Thursday at 7:30. Tickets are available here.
HBO, April 12
Veep’s fourth season opens on a peculiar note: The HBO comedy closed out last season by giving Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) an unexpected promotion to President even as she campaigned for the job. But will Armando Iannucci’s comedy of unforced errors be able to stay true to its jet-black outlook on the White House when its star is sitting in the Oval Office, juggling the nuclear codes and a campaign schedule? “The country’s in a lot of trouble,” says Tony Hale, who plays Meyer’s emotionally crippled footstool, Gary. “The stakes are just entirely too high for these people.”
If Meyer—a role for which Louis-Dreyfus has won three Emmys—is as rotten a chief executive as she was a second banana, this could be the most hilarious fictional US presidency in recent memory. But after a generation of idealists like The West Wing’s Jed Bartlet, adulterers like Scandal’s Fitzgerald Grant, and murderers like Frank Underwood of House of Cards, a dunce who achieves nothing will be a welcome, and somewhat realistic, relief. Expect the Meyer presidency to receive additional self-administered kicks in the groin with the return of her inner circle of self-centered staffers, from the constantly apoplectic chiefs of staff (Anna Chlumsky and Kevin Dunn) to the bumbling press secretary (Matt Walsh) to the backstabbing lackeys (Timothy Simons and Gary Cole). Even if Iannucci has bigger failures plotted for his characters, you can never count out Veep’s real-world political skill: The series, which shoots around Baltimore, gets 37 percent of Maryland’s entire budget for film and TV production incentives. — Benjamin Freed
2. Neil Diamond
Verizon Center, April 4
Diamond’s new album, Melody Road, is pretty good. But let’s face it: You’re not here for the new stuff. You’re here to feel his voice shake your bones like a dirty old subway train on “I Am . . . I Said.” You’re here to take part in a “Sweet Caroline” sing-along louder than Fenway Park during the World Series. You’re here because Neil Diamond has always been here for you, his heartlight blinking. $65 to $175; ticketmaster.com.
3. New York City Ballet
Kennedy Center, April 7-12
George Balanchine’s company performs two programs that encompass past—three Balanchine works set to Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, and Bizet—and present: pieces by Peter Martins, Christopher Wheeldon, Alexei Ratmansky, and Justin Peck. “Everywhere We Go,” choreographed by Peck, features a score by indie-rock star Sufjan Stevens. $25 to $98; kennedy-center.org
4. "Watch This!: Revelations in Media Art"
Smithsonian American Art Museum, April 24- September 7
A lot of technology had to be created before our culture could develop Instagram and Vine celebrities. This exhibit surveys that journey via 44 multimedia works incorporating film, video games, and other genres to explore how technology and artistic expression have shaped each other over the decades. americanart.si.edu.
5 & 6. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Arena Stage, April 3- May 3
Uncle Vanya; Round House Theatre, April 8- May 3
Two riffs on Anton Chekhov’s works: At Arena Stage, Aaron Posner directs Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a goofy satire about three middle-aged siblings reunited at their family home, where they confront personal demons along with one another. Round House Theatre offers a new version of Uncle Vanya by Annie Baker, who reinvents Chekhov’s lines to resonate for American audiences the way the original did for Russians. $45 to $90, arenastage.org; $35 to $50, roundhousetheatre.org.
U Street Music Hall, April 2
This Athens, Georgia, band’s live show packs in as much rowdy fun as could be expected from a group named for a rampaging dinosaur in a TV show about precocious cartoon babies—that is to say, a lot. Hear songs from Reptar’s second album, Lurid Glow, out March 31, and wear comfortable shoes: The relentlessly upbeat tunes demand an energetic crowd. $18; ustreetmusichall.com.
8. The Blood Quilt
Arena Stage, April 30- June 7
Arena resident playwright Katori Hall penned this funny, poignant tale of four sisters with very separate lives who reunite to make a quilt for their late mother and end up reading her will. Hall won Britain’s Olivier Award in 2010 for The Mountaintop, about Martin Luther King. Witnessing her distinctive vision applied to strong female characters is well worth the price of a ticket. $45 to $110; arenastage.org.
9. Spirited Republic
National Archives, through January 10
With their bottomless brunches, daily happy hours, and other alcohol-soaked events, it might seem Washington’s millennials drink a lot. But they’re lightweights compared with their 1830s counterparts. Back then, Americans consumed more than three times the alcohol per capita than they do today. In this exhibit, the National Archives looks at those hedonistic days of imbibing as well as other phases in the US’s complicated relationship with the hard stuff. “In many people’s minds, it’s simply a part of everyday life—but you have another strain of thought that says alcohol is intrinsically bad,” says Bruce Bustard, the show’s curator.
“Spirited Republic” gives the latter point of view its due by examining not just the now-unthinkable period of Prohibition—which Bustard calls the “800-pound gorilla” in the room—but also artifacts that speak to modern times, such as a 1939 first edition of the book Alcoholics Anonymous and a 1930s prototype of what eventually became the Breathalyzer, called the Drunkometer.
Bustard’s favorite is a set of glasses and a shaker owned by Franklin D. Roosevelt while New York governor and President, which featured in the daily cocktail hour he had with staffers that became known as “children’s hour.” The set symbolizes FDR’s way of relaxing and enjoying himself unaffected by his disability—though his wife, Eleanor, was the daughter of an alcoholic father and was a rare imbiber.
Bustard’s aim is to remind visitors of both sides of the issue: “There are some lighthearted moments, some things that will make people smile, but this is a serious look at alcohol and drink in American history.”
10. “The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists”
National Museum of African Art, April 8- August 2
Dante’s The Divine Comedy is a sort of Rorschach test in this exhibit, which examines how contemporary artists interpret the epic poem’s themes. africa.si.edu.
11. Judah Friedlander
DC Improv, April 16- 19
You may know this Gaithersburg native as trucker-hat-wearing slob Frank Rossitano on 30 Rock, but he has performed standup nearly nightly since 1989. His shows involve a hefty dose of improv based on audience suggestions, so you’ll have to go to Hulu if you want to see him do the same jokes twice. $17 to $20; dcimprov.com.
12. Special Installation of 19 American Masterworks
Smithsonian American Art Museum, April 17- August 16
Thanks to Chevy Chase collectors Thelma and Melvin Lenkin, for a few months the museum beefs up its permanent displays with 19 works by Gilded Age, Impressionist, and Ashcan School artists including Bellows, Sargent, and (above) Cassatt. The loaners are arranged chronologically within the existing collection, meaning you’ll not only get to see rarely shown paintings, but also take in a visual summary of the larger context in which they were created. americanart.si.edu.
13. Diarrhea Planet
Black Cat, April 8
With four shredding guitars, the Nashville pop-punk group has been playing packed, frenetic DC shows since it started touring. And while the Planet still makes new listeners wince before it squeezes out a single guitar lick, its music is actually starting to sound a bit more serious. The new EP, Aliens in the Outfield, features lyrics like “It’s all about the drugs, money, power, and getting off,” as Jordan Smith shouts on the three-minute blast “Spooners.” The only things fans will wipe away are sweat and spilled beer from the loud, raucous, fist-pumping garage anthems. $15; blackcatdc.com.
14. Blitzen Trapper
Black Cat, April 18
In October, the Portland rockers performed Neil Young’s classic Harvest in its entirety during a concert. This year, they hit the road with songs from the resulting album, Harvest Live, sprinkled in among their own hits for those too young to remember Young. $20; blackcatdc.com.
FilmFest DC, April 16- 26
Bethesda Literary Festival, April 17- 19
Arlington Festival of the Arts, April 18- 19
Smithsonian Craft Show, April 23-26
Georgetown French Market, April 24-25
20. Lights Rise on Grace
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, April 3- 26
Chad Beckim’s drama has just three characters—shy Grace, the daughter of Chinese immigrants; Large, the African-American man she falls in love with; and Riece, the white man Large becomes involved with during six years in prison. But those three become conduits for exploring a host of issues: familial pressures, racial tension, sexual orientation, how incarceration can change a life irrevocably. The nonlinear timeline demands close attention, and—even when grappling with questions of race—Beckim never allows the issues to be simply black and white. $45 and up; woollymammoth.net.
21. Bowen McCauley Dance: Victory Road
Kennedy Center, April 10- 11
The Arlington company shows its commitment to unconventional storytelling with the world premiere of Victory Road. Part dance performance, part concert (the dancers share the stage with roots-rock heavyweights Jason and the Scorchers), the piece tells the story of a young boy who leaves home in the ’80s to pursue dreams of rock stardom. $40 to $45; kennedy-center.org.
22. Julie Andrews
Strathmore, April 25
Andrews won’t sing at this show—a botched throat surgery in 1997 permanently marred her range. Instead, the star of The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins will show clips from her films and discuss them with Washington Post theater critic Peter Marks. If her reaction to Lady Gaga’s glorious Oscars tribute to her was any indication, expect Andrews to exhibit superhuman grace as she revisits the heights of her career. $65 to $175; strathmore.org.
23. “The Artistic Journey of Yasuo Kuniyoshi”
Smithsonian American Art Museum, April 3-August 30
Kuniyoshi is now mentioned in the same breath as Mark Rothko and Edward Hopper, but the Japanese-born artist was prohibited from becoming a citizen and classified as an “enemy alien” after Pearl Harbor. His brightly colored, often quirky paintings and drawings capture tensions between his native and adopted countries. americanart.si.edu.
24. They Might Be Giants
9:30 Club, April 24
They Might Be Giants has a side career making kids’ music, but this concert is aimed at its original demographic. Indeed, the show features no opening act so the group can “play a little longer and you get home a little earlier.” The band has also revived its Dial-a-Song project, uploading new tunes to multiple platforms each Tuesday: on a website, via YouTube, to a radio network, and, yes, to an old-fashioned phone number. $30; 930.com.
25. Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: Pictures at an Exhibition
Strathmore, April 18
The BSO takes on Mussorgsky’s dramatic, colorful work, sharing the bill with Haydn’s Symphony No. 96 and Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Oboe Concerto. Bonus: Those looking for more background on the pieces should arrive early for a free discussion led by Levine school of music’s Melinda Baird and Joel Friedman. $40 to $100; bsomusic.org.
26. Simply Sondheim
Signature Theatre, April 2-19
Signature has presented many revivals of Sondheim’s works in its 25 years, most recently Sunday in the Park With George, which garnered six Helen Hayes Award nominations. To celebrate that partnership, artistic director Eric Schaeffer and collaborator David Loud cooked up a new revue with songs from Into the Woods, Follies, A Little Night Music, and others. Fans would do well to snap up tickets posthaste. $90; signature-theatre.org.
27. Citizen Cope
Lincoln Theatre, April 9
Citizen Cope—a.k.a. Clarence Greenwood—could pass for a member of Kings of Leon’s Followill family, but the Washington-raised singer’s sound is far more roots-inflected R&B than arena pop-rock. This show is solo and acoustic, so expect an intimate vibe and a staging that keeps the focus on his melodic drawl. $46; thelincolndc.com.
28. Gallim Dance
Lansburgh Theatre, April 16- 17
Gallim’s Blush takes place within a boxing ring, where the music of Arvo Pärt and Wolf Parade serves as soundtrack to a series of takes on blood rushing to the skin. Andrea Miller’s company uses exaggerated movements and humor between the turnbuckles—sometimes the dancers even look like goths at a high-school disco. CityDance Conservatory students open the show with a performance of Gallim’s 2010 piece “Wonderland,” a meditation on group psychology. $30; washingtonperformingarts.org.
29. Delta Rae
9:30 Club, April 10
The North Carolina six-piece manages to make hand claps and foot stomps feel primal rather than precious when it plays live. The band has made only two albums, including the new After It All, but its ferocious stage presence has drawn comparisons to Fleetwood Mac, a major influence. $25; 930.com.
Much about Ibeyi is haunting. The French-Cuban duo--comprised of twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz--combines English lyrics with evocative, religious chants in Yoruba, the language and faith imported to Cuba by West African slaves. In their single, "River," they invoke Oshún, the Yoruba goddess of the river, and plead to cleanse their souls in her waters. "Oshún protects the river," Lisa says. "You go to Oshún to wash your soul." The result is a hypnotic, soulful song with electronic, hip-hop, and Afro-Cuban influences.
What at first seems like an unusual mixture of sounds actually makes for a harmonious expression of their identity. And that's exactly what makes Ibeyi, the headliners behind a sold-out show tonight at the U Street Music Hall, so unique.
Born in Paris, the sisters spent their childhood bouncing between Cuba and France. Their father was Miguel "Anga" Diaz, a member of the Buena Vista Social Club who was hailed as a master of Afro-Cuban percussion. After his death at age 45 in 2006, the twins began considering a life in music. Naomi picked up the cajón, a percussive instrument, and Lisa started toying with lyrics. It was an unconscious decision to follow their father's path. "He never told us how to play music," Lisa says. "His legacy is that he wanted to do music that defined him. We did the same thing." Soon enough, Ibeyi, which means "twins" in Yoruba, was born.
Through their music, the 20-year-old sisters express their history and origins. They speak French, Spanish, and English. They don't speak Yoruba; rather, they sing it. The Yoruba faith has always formed a large part of who they are. "We were initiated in our mother's womb," Lisa says. "It's our belief." With their self-titled album, which was released earlier this year, they sought to unite two different worlds: their European and Cuban roots.
In the album, which Lisa began composing at age 14, the twins tell a deeply personal tale, divulging intimate details about family and themselves. "The man is gone / And Mama says there is no life without him," they croon in the wistful song, "Mama Says," about the death of their father.
These powerful emotions come alive in the jarring music video for "River." In the four-minute video, two men submerge the women underwater. They only come up for air to sing. Shot in one continuous take, it took about ten tries before they nailed the timing. "It was really hard to do, but we knew it would be great," Naomi says.
The twins are already hatching plans for a second album. It will be a slight departure from the first, but they promise it will be reminiscent of what they consider their "Ibeyi" sound. "We are composing every week," Lisa says. "We want to go further and further and discover more about ourselves and our music."
Follow Emily on Twitter at @emilycodik.
Norman Scribner would not give up on music. Even at age 79, the famed composer and conductor continued to visit the Choral Arts Society of Washington office in Northwest. He was active, robust, and nearly halfway through composing a new piece based on the parable of the Prodigal Son. But in his version, there was a twist: Scribner created a fresh character--a wife.
"That's the most telling thing about Norman. He so honored the idea of a woman that he took something of great magnitude and decided to give it a little more depth and texture as to his own beliefs," says Debra Kraft, executive director of the Choral Arts Society.
Scribner, who died Sunday at 79, founded the Choral Arts Society of Washington in 1965 and soon earned a reputation for his lively spirit and fervent devotion to music. Along with his wife, Shirley, he transformed the society from a homespun family business into an internationally recognized music source. "He was so clear that his family came first, absolutely came first," Kraft says. "But he was also very clear that music was his mistress."
In 2012, when he retired from his long-held post and was succeeded by artistic director Scott Tucker, Scribner continued to demonstrate great energy and dedication to his life-long passion. Brahms' Requiem was the final piece he conducted, and according to Kraft, the last line was a fitting farewell for the man considered one of the most respected musical figures in Washington: "Saith the spirit, that they rest from their labors, and that their works follow after them."
"Norman felt that music was bigger than he," she says.
Here's hoping you already scored tickets to some of this week's awesome, sold-out shows. Tobias Jesso Jr. will be at Sixth & I; Shakey Graves will be at 9:30 Club; and Ibeyi, the twin sisters mashing English and Yoruban influences, will rock out at the U Street Music Hall.
MONDAY, MARCH 23
BOOKS: Stop by Busboys and Poets in Takoma and meet the author behind a novel/thriller so great that it "makes Gone Girl seem gimmicky," according to NPR's Alan Cheuse. That's quite the endorsement for Tim Johnston and his bestseller, Descent--and a great excuse to find out exactly what all the fuss is about. 6:30 PM.
FILM: Kick the week off with a screening of American Masters: American Ballet Theatre, a feature-length documentary about the history of the ABT, shown at the Kennedy Center. Also important: It's free. 5:30 PM.
TUESDAY, MARCH 24
BOOKS: Want to get drunk off of President John Tyler's favorite drink? Order a mint julep and listen to this book talk at Busboys and Poets in Brookland, where Brian Abrams and John Mathias, the brains behind the book, "Party like a President: True Tales of Inebriation, Lechery, and Mischief from the Oval Office," will chat with Washington Post columnist Alexandra Petri. 6:30 PM.
MUSIC: Northern Virginia native Alex Anders has already been called a rising country star, so consider this concert at Tree House Lounge a way to support a local kid who's trying to make it big. 8 PM, $10.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 25
MUSIC: Title Fight's latest album, Hyperview, has surprising range. Some tracks boast a '90s grunge sound, while others have a more melancholy, chill feel. Check out both at their performance at the Howard Theatre alongside La Dispute. 8 PM, $20.
DRINK: There will be free whiskey, but not any ordinary, free whiskey. Complimentary, cask-strength Willett bourbon will be served at Jack Rose Dining Saloon, where the distiller himself, Drew Kulsveen, will help celebrate an impressive achievement: This Adams Morgan restaurant/bar now offers 2,015 bottles of whiskey. The party includes a free whiskey tasting plus whiskey and cocktail specials all night. 6 PM to 9 PM.