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Alverno Presents: Variety


Paul Steinhafel

The always-eclectic performing arts series, Alverno Presents, brought the Warsaw Village Band to the Pitman Theatre. As the name indicates, the Warsaw Village Band hails all the way from Warsaw, Poland. The band was formed by a group of friends during a time Poland was feeling the increasing pressures of globalization. The band’s sound reflects their desire to preserve Poland’s folk music traditions, but they also are not afraid to take chances by incorporating more contemporary non-polish influences such as soul, blues, and other world music from Asia to Africa.

Warsaw Village Band press photo. Courtesy of Alverno Presents.

On this particular evening the six-piece consisted of violins, cello, stand-up double bass, and an array of percussion. The haunting and hypnotic song entitled “Cranes” began their hour-plus set. If the music hadn’t instantly won over the near capacity crowd, Maceij Szajkowski, the band’s spokesman that night, was quick to mention his adoration for the “Milwaukee” Packers. He went on to dedicate their polka-inspired fourth song to the Packers, which elicited laughter throughout the theatre. The band fiercely powered through its set at an often- blistering pace, only to slow down once for a beautiful finger-plucked duet between cello and violin. Even with the set’s urgent pace, many of the songs did break into more free-form, but quickly regained course. Maja Kleszcz, lead vocalist and cellist, aptly sitting front and center, took command of the band with an almost intimidating stage presence. The driving, dual female vocals by Maja and Ewa Walecka were sung in Polish, leaving the songs meaning up to interpretation by the listener. For me, this appropriately added to the mystic atmosphere of the set. With no opening band, the evening felt a bit short and left me wanting more, but Warsaw Village made the absolute most with their tight performance.

As Alverno Presents 50th Anniversary season hits its midway mark, SNAP Milwaukee learns a bit more about the history of the series and the direction it’s going, as well as a preview of the second half of the 2009/20010 season. In an effort to gain a better understanding of Milwaukee’s longest-running performing arts series, SNAP Milwaukee had the pleasure of speaking with the program’s director, David Ravel.

SNAP: This year marks the 50th Anniversary of Alverno Presents. How has the series developed or changed over the years?  

Ravel: Sister Laura made sure that the heart of her teachings at Alverno College was something more than stuffing heads with facts. She knew that it is about our ability to analyze and imagine and that the arts, rather than being ancillary, are central to the mission of higher education. She adopted this same philosophy when she founded the series. In 1959-1960, Milwaukee’s cultural landscape was a very different place. Sr. Laura’s interests, tastes and curiosities were voracious. She could—and did—do whatever captured her imagination regardless of genre. Fifty years later, Milwaukee’s performing artists and performing arts organizations are far more plentiful and diverse. It now makes less sense for Alverno Presents to offer performances of genres that are otherwise plentiful in the community. So, unlike Sr. Laura, we are now not presenting theatre and classical music because those two forms are so well represented. In the past few years, we have focused on contemporary dance, jazz and world music as our primary offerings because, especially for touring artists, these forms are less available. We try to explore these genres in some depth. Recent developments include Global Union, our two-day outdoor, free world music festival that we’ve done in Humboldt Park for the past four years and the Alverno Summer Dance Residency, where we offer the Pitman stage to a mid-career choreographer for a two week period in order to create and develop new work. We are exploring a number of options as to how we can deepen our and the community’s engagement with jazz, along the lines of what we’ve been able to do with world music and dance.

SNAP: What do you look for when booking your performers?  

Ravel: For a performance to steal my breath.

SNAP: Is there a particular perfomance(s) in the second half of the season that you are especially excited for? 

Ravel: That’s like asking a parent to identify a favorite child. Luciana Souza/Romero Lumbabo/Cyro Baptista is a rare offering of three superstars in the field of Brazilian jazz.  Bill T. Jones’ Serenade/The Proposition is an opportunity to witness a master playing at the top of his game. Wayne McGregor/Random Dance is a major English choreographer and dance company celebrated across Europe, and this Milwaukee appearance is part of their very first U.S. Tour. And Zemog, El Gallo Bueno is the most brilliant and invigorating combination of salsa and free jazz – I have described what they do as “acid salsa,” and they haven’t disagreed.

Luciana Souza/Romero Lumbabo/Cyro Baptista press photo. Courtesy of Alverno Presents.

SNAP: You have Milwaukee's undivided attention right now. Why should they check out Alverno Presents? 

Ravel: Who doesn’t want their breath stolen? We promise to give it back after the show.

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