Monday, January 26, 2015

A spiritual conquest, a musical milestone: Indy Jazz Fest celebrates 50th anniversary of 'A Love Supreme'

"He that hath ears to hear, let him ear."
 -- Jesus

This is the first blog post I've ever opened with an epigraph from the Bible, but it seems fitting when addressing "A Love Supreme," the John Coltrane masterpiece that enabled him to set a seal upon his spiritual journey away from addiction and his musical journey away from standard musical forms.

Rob Dixon plays "A Love Supreme" (photo by Mark Sheldon)
And the quote also applies to the importance of the tenor saxophonist's outreach to listeners. He was not the only musician in the post-bop era to see the need to reverse the narrowing of the jazz fan base. But he was the most suited to the task — at least in this ambitious sense: "When you begin to see the possibilities of music, you desire to do something really good for people, to help humanity free itself from its hangups."

Evidence is that the 1965 recording indeed reached well beyond the typical jazz audience, and in fact inspired the establishment of a church in Coltrane's name in San Francisco. However you process its spiritual message, "A Love Supreme" is a successful long-form composition as well as a capacious vehicle for personal improvisation.

Rob Dixon and his colleagues revealed both sides Sunday night at the Jazz Kitchen in an Indy Jazz Fest production. The tenor saxophonist led a band including players worthy of paying this golden-anniversary tribute to Coltrane's recording: pianist Steve Allee, bassist Jim Anderson, drummer Steve Houghton — and, expanding the original concept in a manner Coltrane himself toyed with, adding a fifth player, in this case trombonist Wayne Wallace.

The focus was naturally on Dixon as the leader and latter-day representative of the sainted Coltrane. It will be no surprise to report that he did a creditable job of both re-creation and fresh exploration. After his opening rubato cadenza, the band launched into the theme of the first part, "Acknowledgement," wisely foregoing the vocal repetition of the title's gently rocking four-note pattern.

By the time of the prayerful fourth section, "Psalm," it was evident in every phrase that Dixon was a steady pilot whose destination was assured, no detour ahead. He had charged in with gusto after Houghton's splendid solo introduction to "Pursuance," just as focused as he  had been in navigating peaks and valleys earlier, then soaring above the plains below. The combination of freedom and security sometimes took the breath away, as if you were watching one of those IMAX films that put you in the cockpit, zipping around rock formations and skimming the treetops.

Familiar as I am with both the Dixon and Allee styles, it was a treat to hear their well-established personal language tweaked slightly to evoke the styles of both Coltrane and his pianist, McCoy Tyner.
The first reminder from the keyboard was the placement of tremolos behind Wallace's agile solo in "Acknowledgement." In "Pursuance" the pianist got closest to the real McCoy, thickening the texture while keeping a few basic rhythms hard-hitting and full of momentum.

Anderson sometimes had the crowd spellbound with his sensitively wrought, sometimes witty bass solos. Wallace sported a free-floating style, pungent but never overbearing, that made an effective contrast with the forcefulness of Dixon's style.

The evening went beyond "A Love Supreme," whose effective conclusion interpolated the hymnlike "Alabama"  (a good fit with "Psalm").  Two of the extras made a nice pair, and for me the evening could well have ended there: the gentle respite of "Central Park West" (dedicated to the memory of Cynthia Layne) followed by the burning "Impressions." The encore, "Tenor Madness," was a bit of a letdown; but then, encores often are, seeming to cling to the main event for dear life.

"Impressions" featured a smooth but jumping Wallace solo; subtle three-way interaction in the rhythm section, and a well-designed and -executed episode of "trading 8s" with the drummer.

Now about that epigraph. I'll leave to the preachers any conclusive expounding on its meaning. I believe Jesus' direction cuts two ways as far as significant music is concerned. One way is the way of invitation: what is offered to be heard can be heard and understood by everybody.

The other way is more difficult, as so many of Jesus' sayings are: You have no excuse not to get the message in some fashion that suits who you are. Responsibility is involved. You can hear it? Then you can "get it." Barriers down. Go there.

Thus, the open invitation to take in this music also sets up a challenge to hear what it is all about, what it may mean beyond the bounds of entertainment. I think Coltrane is saying that you are free to adopt his spiritual pathway or not; it's made explicit in the poem he wrote for "A Love Supreme." But in some fashion you are charged with absorbing this music into your deepest self. Otherwise, you are not really hearing it. Dixon and his confreres were true to such a mission Sunday night.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Returning to his "second home," Zach Lapidus plays an enchanting Premiere Series concert for the American Pianists Association

For about six years, Zach Lapidus brought his own Portlandia vibe, transmuted and refined by an Indiana University jazz education, to the Indianapolis music scene — with wonderful results. I think I first heard him with Frank Glover outdoors on an electric piano at Eagle Creek Park.  The pleasant setting was far from ideal for appreciating a new player, but Lapidus struck me as someone special.

From promise to mastery: Zach Lapidus conveys certainty and adventure.
Twice during his time here (2008-2014), he was chosen to be a finalist for the Jazz Fellowship Awards, competing for the title of Cole Porter Fellow of the American Pianists Association. The second time was for the current competition, at which I was one of the preliminary judges.

Saturday night was my first chance to hear any of the finalists in the Premiere Series of trio performances at the Jazz Kitchen. One more series concert in the same club setting remains — Kris Bowers' on Feb. 28.

The whole series benefits from the services of two outstanding colleagues for the pianists — bassist Nick Tucker and drummer Kenny Phelps.

It's hard to know how to sum up the excellence of this particular trio. Lapidus leads the way with an approach that's clearly the product of a thorough grounding in jazz piano, yet adroitly swerves away from sounding overstudied, so that being in the moment can thrive. Thus, he may have surprised himself in "Yesterdays," the Jerome Kern standard that opened the trio's 90-minute set Saturday.

He said to the audience afterward that he had intended a more restrained interpretation of the song, but let loose because being back in Indianapolis let him "feel like I got out of prison" — a typically challenging New York apartment-dwelling milieu that he's trying to escape in search of more agreeable digs.

It's likely that Lapidus often changes his mind or surprises himself with the direction a particular performance goes. When the New Yorker critic Whitney Balliett indelibly called jazz "the sound of surprise," he didn't mean only for the listener. "Yesterdays" moved from amiable pep to a heavy four-four groove, an organic but startling transformation.  That feeling was well established by the time Phelps confirmed it with a sudden precisely timed outburst to mark the end of Tucker's straightforward solo.

Long admired for his astuteness with harmonies that both startle and confirm, Lapidus knows how to caress a melody as well. The second tune, "Nobody Else But Me," brought that gift to the fore. Jobim's "The Waters of March,"  with its more fragile melodic atmosphere, also allowed the pianist to draw deeply on this gift.

But there was no more magical display of it than in the set's encore, "I'll Never Stop Loving You."
Introduced as a tribute to the much-loved local singer Cynthia Layne, who died last week, this interpretation properly adhered to the enchanting tune, draping its phrases carefully over the harmony, almost as if Lapidus were also projecting Sammy Cahn's lyrics: "The night doesn't question the stars that appear in the skies / So why should I question the stars that appear in my eyes?"

Layne had that kind of effect on people, and it's fair to say the trio's performance secured a place among the best of the many posthumous musical honors she will continue to receive. Many people will never stop loving her.

The set earlier moved fruitfully among several Lapidus originals.  There was "Stray," a whimsical sort of march that flirted with disorder. There was an ingenious mash-up, as he fused Wayne Shorter's "Vonetta" with an almost Whitmanesque evocation of the night, titled "While Brooklyn Sleeps,"  that eventually, high in the treble, conjured up birds out of Messiaen.

The trio kept the intensity high while having fun with an Ornette Coleman-inspired blues,  "This Is Their Music."  Some avant-garde takes on the blues seem to want to escape from the essential blues feeling, but this one never abandoned the form's expressive roots.

Another inspiration derived from the eccentric Japanese author Yukio Mishima, for whom Lapidus came up with a mosaic of frenetic rhythmic patterns linked to Phelps' protean percussion skills. Recurring aggressive episodes evoked the doomed author's nostalgia for samurai culture. This is music that forces recognition of jazz's ever-widening horizons.

And that raises a point that the APA Jazz Fellowship Awards continually makes unavoidable. Jazz contests, as they become ever more firmly established, threaten to engender their own "competition style" — just as classical contests may have done. In jazz, that takes the form of showcasing a pianist's encyclopedic knowledge of more than a century of jazz piano, extending back to ragtime.

Stanley Crouch, a shrewd listener though an unkempt writer about the music, praised this approach in the epilogue to his 2006 book "Considering Genius" in assessing Bill Charlap: "He, like a number of the younger players who have come forward over the last fifteen years or so, calls upon all of the styles of jazz at will, which gives a greater breadth of rhythm to their phrasing and a much more varied harmonic base to their work."

Charlap is one of three judges of this year's final round March 28. There's a history to uphold here, I suppose. But I like the fact that Lapidus breaks the mold of learned (two syllables, please) pianists. His knowledge of the tradition may be as deep as anyone's, but I don't hear in his performances a constant tinkering with it — clever historical parody.  Breadth of rhythm to his phrasing? Check. Varied harmonic base? Check. It's all there in Lapidus, without his having to "call upon all the styles of jazz." Nuts to that! This shouldn't be Jazz Appreciation 101.

What the music needs is not an endless supply of knowledgeable practitioners, but people whose knowledge is so deeply ingrained with what they have to say for themselves that the listener always receives something that advances the music. Of course, such gifts are rare and not always easy to recognize. And I don't mean to disparage mastery of the Charlap kind.

But the Lapidus kind is closer to what we mean when we correctly apply the oft-abused word "genius."

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra gallops off with a troika of Russian programs, Krzysztof Urbanski at the reins

The late Ernie Banks was famous not only for his prowess on the baseball diamond, but also for his enthusiasm for the game, expressed by his signature phrase, "Let's play two!"

The ISO answers Ernie Banks: "Let's play three!"
On the day the great Chicago Cub died, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra launched "a midwinter Russian music festival" with a program so ballyhooed you could almost hear the ISO community shouting "Let's play three!"

And so they will, following Friday night's program debut with another Hilbert Circle Theatre concert tonight before taking the show on the road for its "317 Series" in a final performance Sunday afternoon at Avon High School in Hendricks County.

Banks' connection with high art is not known to me, except for the suggestion after the Picasso sculpture for Chicago's Daley Plaza was first announced that a realistic statue of Mr. Cub would be more appropriate. By all reports, Chicago has grown to love its enigmatic, untitled Picasso almost as much as it does No. 14, who now belongs to the ages.

In any case, Russian concert music has the kind of pizazz and catchy tunefulness that make much of it very nearly popular art. It's no accident that the three composers represented on this weekend's concerts each wrote one of the best-known short orchestral works ever: Sergei Prokofiev — March from "The Love for Three Oranges"; Aram Khachaturian — "Sabre Dance"; Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov — "The Flight of the Bumblebee."

Music director Krzysztof Urbanski was on the podium in front of a huge ensemble to open Friday's concert with Prokofiev's "Russian Overture," op. 72.  It's a crazily episodic, rarely performed piece— a description that is sufficient explanation for Urbanski's uncustomary use of the score, though he appeared to have it virtually memorized.

The 1936 work has aspects of the near-contemporaneous music for "Romeo and Juliet," whose suites  from the ballet are justifiably in the standard repertoire. And it looks forward to the wartime masterpiece, Symphony No. 5 in B-flat, particularly in the way dissonant slashes cut across repetitive melodic patterns. "Russian Overture" has a diminutive artistic stature in comparison, but its bumptious high spirits and sometimes plaintive folk-music inspiration — did the Aaron Copland of "Rodeo" and "The Tender Land" listen to it? — support the listener's interest. "What next?" you wonder.

Guest principal trumpet Chad Winkler was put to the test and came through brilliantly. The whole orchestra had to be on its mettle, and some of the piece's awkward joins were not quite smooth. Though I wouldn't want to encounter "Russian Overture" often, its splashy verve had the right festival spirit to inaugurate the next three weeks of ISO concerts.

Urbanski was in his element, sans score and stand, for Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade," the expansive, picturesque tone poem inspired by "The Arabian Nights."  Its "community of themes and motifs," in the composer's phrase, makes it easy to follow. Its variety of texture and timbre helps the 40-odd-minute length seem reasonable.

Philippe Quint's playing reflected this kind of joy.
To suggest some of the patience through which the restless Sultan was held spellbound by Scherherazade's life-extending story-telling, any musical representation naturally requires a certain girth.

Rimsky-Korsakov's music always sounds to me like the product of the son of privilege he was. Well-placed in the Russian society of his day, the composer skillfully turned out pieces somewhat sparing of "heart," with emotion handled in a top-down fashion. "Scheherazade" is an exotic excursion with a masterly Grand Tour air to it; the tribulations of its characters are incidental.

The score is notable for a plethora of first-chair solos, most conspicuously for the concertmaster as the voice of the Sultana herself — seductive and enthralling out of a keen sense of self-preservation. Her predecessor brides had not been able to escape execution, and "The Arabian Nights" tales are purportedly the record of how she avoided their fate. Zachary De Pue gave an assured, self-possessed account of Scheherazade's narrative links.

The orchestra was at its best as "The Young Prince and the Young Princess" tale reached its hushed conclusion. It caught the rolling waves of "The Sea and Sinbad's Ship" in seaworthy fashion, and visited "The Festival at Baghdad" with well-managed outbursts of revelry, keyed to the hard-working percussion section. The shipwreck and its aftermath, subsiding to the Sultana's final musings, were exquisite.

Conservative modernism was the language Soviet composers had to speak, and no one was better at it than Khachaturian. His violin concerto draws on the convulsive energy Russian artists were allowed to express if it could be interpreted as exalting the people rather than following "formalistic" procedures linked to the bourgeois West. The Armenian composer knew his job and did it well.

Guest soloist Philippe Quint played the concerto with almost nonchalant aplomb and evident joy in his work. This is not to say his approach was ever superficial; he dug deep, and everywhere he delved, he brought up something valuable. He drew a rich tone from his instrument, the 1708 "Ruby" Stradivarius, throughout the violin's range.

The long-breathed, melancholy theme of the second movement was well-supported and elegantly decorated.  He met the bravura demands of the finale handsomely,  and its low-lying contrasting tune was gorgeously rendered.

Slightly blurry coordination with the orchestra during fast passages in the first and third movements should come into focus by Sunday afternoon. The accompaniment exemplifies the Russian musical equivalent of what Carl Sandburg once called poetry: " a synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits." On Friday, the ISO brought those seemingly incompatible elements together in a meeting of minds with the adept soloist.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Standard Operetta Procedure? Air on the Snide of Caution? (Time to Punt: A Football Fantasy)

Following the Super Bowl, New England Paidtotryit Coach Bill Hellichecked is slated to take on a new role — in a production of GoOnDoused's delightful operetta "Deflater Mouse."
Coach points the way toward an operatic turn.

It will be the controversial coach's debut on the opera stage,  the Pretentious Roman Numeral Opera Company producer-director announced at a news conference yesterday.

"Are you sure you've found the rat singer for the role?" a famed sports columnist asked incredulously.

"I'm sure I can count on you to puntificate about this, Mr. Doyel a la Carte," said the impresario, emphasizing the prefix. "You'll do it with your usual savoy-fair, of course.  You've had us at fourth down so many times, but we're not as detached from reality as you might think: We've got good field position; we're first-and-tenuto."

"But can Helichecked even sing?" another reporter asked the grim ex-repetiteur, Surly Rude Offbingo.

"We thought of him at first in a major role, like Prince Alloffkey," Offbingo intoned. "But  singing a mezzo part is not his forte, I'll admit. So we're casting him as Fraudsch, the jailer. That puts him close to where he should be, and it's a speaking role."

"But, judging from the way he talks to the press, Helichecked can't even speak very well," Doyel a la Carte pointed out. "It seems, Surly Rude, like you're taking your opera company from bel canto to Bill-can't-do."

"Look, it's 'Deflater Mouse,' it's funny business all the way through," Offbingo rejoined. "Who knows funny business better than Bill?  He'll squeak by."

Another scribe spoke up: "He can't sing at all, and he doesn't speak too well, yet you're taking a chance with him in your penalty-might production of the current season. Seems like a GoOnDoused grave turnover situation to me. Why?"

"It's a big game-ball, no doubt," Offbingo conceded, "but risk is meat and drink to an opera man. I know you media don't care a beanie about opera, and you won't cut Bill any slack for going beyond normal.

"But that's what the Pretentious Roman Numeral Opera Company is going with. Every Paidtotryit fan will be thrilled. If we get great box office with this, we'll bring him back next season in 'A Mashed Ball.' That's why we're hitting the bottom line with Hellichecked."

Surly Rude Offbingo paused, looked around the room superciliously, then said with a smile:  "So, OK, I get it: He can't sing at all, and he fumbles when he speaks."

Another pause. "You can call it the less air of two evils. See you at 'Deflater Mouse.'"

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Icarus Ensemble flies high at the Jazz Kitchen, offering samples of its forthcoming CD

You can depend upon a jazz group like Icarus Ensemble  to grow artistically as a matter of course: Its members have such a wide range of musical influences and active involvement with the classical tradition that the quintet's continuing creativity is assured.
Mark Ortwein (from left), Peter Hansen, Deane Franke, Gary Walters, Jon Crabiel

The band's internal rapport naturally grows with experience together, even though they are pulled in many other directions as teachers and performers (three of them as members of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra). In a generous first set Monday night at the Jazz Kitchen, Icarus sounded better than ever.

The five musicians are trained in preparing concerts conscientiously. But what's more important to convey a genuine jazz feeling is an informality and spontaneity that can advance the collegial conversation.

After the group's pianist, Gary Walters, opened with a solo tribute to the late Cynthia Layne ("Sophisticated Lady"), that ensemble meld of precision and looseness was immediately apparent in a relaxed Walters original, "Oopsy Daisy."

The group's compositional profile — the Theme from "Black Orpheus" was the set's only non-original —is conspicuously three-dimensional. The witty asperity of "Schizoid" emphasized qualities in the solo playing of its composer, Mark Ortwein, who brought both electric bassoon and soprano sax into intense play during the set.

"Widow's Walk," the penultimate piece, opened with an intriguing violin cadenza by Dean Franke that quoted (according to my son, William) Heinrich Biber's path-breaking passacaglia, then moved to a delightful climax as Ortwein suggested rock-guitar shredding on his plugged-in bassoon. "Widow's Walk" also included Jon Crabiel's well-constructed percussion solo, which was notable for its incorporation of smooth pianissimo rolls.

The set finale put on display the amiable muse of Peter Hansen, the group's bassist, who opened his "Groovin' 2.0" with a long solo, assembled from short bits by the miracle of electronics.  That piece, as well as his "Merry-Go-Round"  and the set-closing "Circle Dance," showed his compositional chops to be in order and cunningly conceived for Icarus' strengths (even though the latter began life as a work for the Ronen Ensemble).

The richness, variety, unfussy structure, and sense of fun communicated by this band raises high hopes for the long-anticipated recording it will release officially in its March 8 return to the Jazz Kitchen.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Psalm-thing else: Butler jazz professor heads a quartet of local stars in an album of originals

It's rare for musical compositions based on the biblical Book of Psalms to be free of verbal references. But Matt Pivec, Butler University's director of jazz studies, links his purely instrumental music on "Psalm Songs" to his fondness for that book — so extravagant in its intimate communication with God, so dependent on turning devotion into enduring words of praise and complaint. Not necessarily, Pivec seems to be saying with his saxophones and all-star rhythm section,

His brief booklet note with this 2013 recording links his inspiration to the Psalms' references to the natural world "in all its dimensions — power, beauty, destruction, creation, strength and fragility." Quite a burden for a jazz record to bear without sounding strained and pretentious! But the saxophonist and his colleagues on this project are straightforward, focused, imaginative, and nimble  throughout the seven tunes.

From the outset, in "As Far As the East," it's easy to find the quartet's music-making infectiously swinging.  Putting his sticks aside and focusing on tambourine, Kenny Phelps lays down a winning groove. The catchy theme, allowing modal exploration, receives a delightful exposition from Pivec and the rest of the band: Steve Allee, piano, and Frank Smith, bass.
Matt Pivec directs jazz studies at Butler.

Pivec's tone on tenor is robust but never overbearing. He has a singer's knack for melody that he sustains throughout his soloing. Without interruption, the second track — "One End of the Sky" — opens up with an indistinct pulse that becomes four-to-the-bar swing. All four players seem to have a fine sense of proportion and put genuine cogency behind their solos.

Phelps' percussion choices are often inspired — soft-headed sticks, then likely a bell tree, on "Whiter Than Snow," for instance. He has a great solo near the end against piano chords. Allee's earlier solo shows the same feeling for melody the leader displays. The tune's intensity never goes out of bounds; a gentle mood obtains throughout. "Can't Take It With," with a recurring phrase that fits the title, sports a catchy pulse with Phelps' typical sensitivity to tone (here, the interplay of rim and small-cymbal patterns).

"Like the Cedars" takes a bebop approach, but in a relaxed vein, its unison tenor-piano line unfolding easily. Pivec plays the way he writes, his solos evincing a fine breadth, rangy without showing off. Of his compositions, I found only "Days Gone By," despite the surface allure of Pivec's floating soprano, somewhat directionless — until a pointed Allee solo pulls it into shape.

The disc's finale, "Head and Beard," has a theme characterized by separated two-chord phrases. This allows lots of space between the tune's main elements, showcasing a dappled ensemble sound in which Smith's bass takes on welcome prominence. The title puns upon Eric Dolphy's eccentrically striding Monk tribute, "Hat and Beard," though Pivec doesn't parody that tune. He's got something else in mind, quite possibly a tribute to the generative Psalmist himself.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Diavolo shares some of its danced wonders of space and structure at the Tarkington

We spend our lives in and around enclosed, manmade structures without thinking very much about how buildings mold and direct our physical selves.

Diavolo, the dance company from Los Angeles whose tour stopped at the Tarkington this weekend, makes art out of that relationship. The program subtitle attached to the troupe’s name — “Architecture in Motion” — opens up the possibilities.  Buildings rock, it turns out — and not just in earthquakes, but in our internalized experience of them.

The final moments of Diavolo's "Fluid Infinities"
Human techniques of both movement and structure blend toward artistic harmony in Diavolo’s work. Large set pieces, as virtuosic and unconventional as the performers’ interaction with them, are an integral element of the choreography. As one of the dancers said in a Q&A session after Friday’s performance, “the set is our 11th dancer.”

Each work is developed from the concept of Jacques Heim, Diavolo’s founder-director, through dancers’ interaction with the set. “Go see what you can do with this,” is how the dancer summarized the charge to Diavolo at a work’s outset.

Friday evening’s audience saw two of the results: “Fluid Infinities” and “Trajectoire.”  The latter piece made for an extended, breathtaking display of Diavolo’s strenuous art. A large, rolling structure — a sturdy “ship” in cross-section with a smoothly curved keel and a flat deck having removable fences at each end — is the platform for a dizzying exhibition of control, balance, and trust.

Mastering the tilt: Diavolo dancers in "Trajectoire"
The ten dancers, in kaleidoscopic combinations at speeds keyed to the “Twentieth First Century Galleon” and their coordinated direction of its rocking motion, slid on and off the deck and shifted their weight in movements that combined sheer physics with graceful flair.

When the galleon was moved 90 degrees so that its side-to-side motion became back-and-forth, further expressive tension was introduced as dancers appeared and disappeared according to the vigor of the galleon’s tilt.  The work ended with a woman’s solo on the uptilted deck, indicating in its lyricism after so much expenditure of energy what the program note called “the transcendence of the human soul against all odds.”

The opening work, set to Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 3, also ends with a female solo. “Fluid Infinities” pits the troupe — arriving as if after a space voyage in a transparent cylinder — against a half-sphere, or dome, whose surface is dotted with holes of different sizes. There’s more emphasis on individual confrontation with this set than in “Trajectoire.”

Collective interaction seems to be won with difficulty, after the piece becomes familiar to each struggling dancer in turn. They seem swallowed up into the holes, they pop out of them, they clutch at the surface and grasp for secure handholds. Occasionally, the dome seems to grab them. Over time, the half-sphere shifts and becomes more hospitable to the human intruders. The set undergoes beautiful shifts of illumination and orientation toward the movement.

The vocabulary, like a multi-lingual text, grows more expansive and nuanced, as if representing an increase in understanding. Knowledge of the world through physical interaction becomes the triumphant message of the last scene, as the cylinder vehicle is hoisted through one of the holes and the female soloist inside looks curiously around.

The audience gets the sense that it has witnessed more than an ingenious use of customized architecture. Having involved dancers’ interplay with shadows and the dome floor’s mirrorlike surface, something greater about self-knowledge has been communicated. It’s the soul’s reward for mastering a challenging experience in a strange environment.

That’s the basis of all learning, or it should be. What a joy it is to have such a lesson imparted wordlessly through Diavolo’s imaginative combination of architectural device and strong, precise movement.