Bobby McFerrin and Friends with and presented by Moving People Dance Santa Fe, Lensic Performing Arts Center March 14, 2009

by Janet Eigner

It was All-Bobby-Bopping-and-Scatting-All-the-Time with young Santa Fe artists. McFerrin did the major lifting for two joy-filled concerts, March 14 and 15. Elaine Hausman, past Executive Director of Moving People Dance Santa Fe (MPD), now Finance director, spearheaded inviting McFerrin back for a second dynamic fund raiser. The first, in 2003, set the model for the present concert, involving his rehearsing and performing with local, vocal and orchestral students, as well as the MPD students and staff.

This whimsical fund raiser for music and dance education lifted spirits in the Lensic audience, since the singer-conductor involved the sold-out audience as well as the young jazz and classical musicians, choirs, dancers and professional dancers. MPD Board of Directors member, Larry Goldstone, gave a heartfelt justification for supporting music and dance, and mentioned that MPD would soon be moving to a new and larger dance studio to continue the school’s growth.

The coordination required a well-organized program, to keep track of the disparate groups– the concert was more a ride on an unpaved road than a silky smooth interstate, but McFerrin interacted as the charismatic and whimsical umbrella that sheltered and electrified three groups: musicians, chorale and dancers, the Moving People professional dancers, and with Moving People Too!, MPDSF’s youth company.

McFerrin scatted and bopped from his quiet, resonant baritone to his gentle falsetto, to his his one-man, syncopated “Voicestra” that leaps from low to high and back like a solo ping pong game. Then, there were the chest beating echoes and the South African clicks that accompanied his vocables, the calls and responses, and the occasionally discernable word songs made popular by him.

He brought interactive smiles to the faces of the Santa Fe Youth Symphony Association’s excellent Miles Davis Jazz Ensemble conducted by David Parlato, then with the Santa Fe Youth Choir, who sang what stood out as the mantra of this entire concert, “How Can I Keep from Singing.” Cora Harms Choir Director with Santa Fe Public Schools, conducted.

McFerrin performed solo three times through the concert. His most dancerly and wildly creative work divided and taught the audience its vocal parts. Then he used his own body, taking small jumps on stage, right, left and center, to signal which vocal segment needed to chime in. It worked as well as the earlier concert segments where he’d gestured with one finger.

McFerrin added dimension to the two Moving People dance segments, the professional company, with choreography by Curtis Uhlemann, and the youth company, all four levels of it, choreographed by Echo Gustafson.

For the company dancers, (Kate Eberle, Erica Gionfriddo, Echo Gustafson, Ariel Johnson, Genoveva Sistos, and Curtis Uhlemann), McFerrin sat in a formal chair, center stage, as each small group or individual performed a movement: stepping, running, joining hands. Eberle and Gustafson’s lovely syncopated movements together stood out; as well as Gustafson and Uhlemann’s nymph-like whirling, while McFerrin continued his delicate and rhythmic Voicestra.

For Moving People Too!, McFerrin scatted in the background as one boy and many girls simultaneously rolled, executed splits, cartwheels, ran and kicked. He varied the kind of music he generated, from jazz to blues to classical, as he hummed Bach. He played statue with the younger children, as they moved in jazzy positions, froze, then moved again. He got them to loosen their limbs and do undulations before they ran offstage.

The older girls used more diagonals, arms swaying, arabesques. One girl whipped her arm, then sank like a melting ice flow. Twelve young women on stage began a meditative conclusion, as McFerrin added a riff of quiet, percolating sounds, the dancers ending with a simultaneous and lovely grapevine that sank slowly as light dimmed.

Interacting again with McFerrin was the Santa Fe Youth Symphony Association’s Con Vivo!, conducted by Benjamin Klemme, performing a Scandinavian light classical work, then a folk tune and a fiddle dance.

Commissioned for this concert’s finale, a poignant and delicate work, “Variations on a Northern New Mexico Dance Tune (Tecolote)”, was introduced by conductor James Hausman, a friend of McFerrin and son of Elaine Hausman, and sung by the Youth Choir. (Only Ellie, Elaine’s daughter and former dancer with MPD, now away studying dance at the University of Arizona, was missing from that family’s participation in the concert.) The dancers returned to circle the singers and musicians as “Tecolote” concluded.

McFerrin is an especially good match for the newly-constituted MPDSF. Without the explosive and charismatic energy of Ronn Stewart, on sabbatical for the year until May 2009, though back to help the company rehearse, the company and its students needed to see a model of a more quietly charismatic performer, though McFerrin is of course not a dancer and not consistently involved with the company.

Maybe it was without Stewart’s polish and organization that the children’s dance performances lacked a certain confidence, skill and coherence, or maybe with the reorganization and immanent move, time wasn’t available for enough rehearsal, or maybe sharing the evening with so many groups, there wasn’t enough time to rehearse with McFerrin, but the concert’s Main Man, McFerrin, who carried the evening and satisfied the audience, provided a hypnotic and expansive energy that could instruct and suit MPD just fine as they grow into the future.

The translation, transcribed from Cleofes Ortiz recordings, included in the program from New Mexican Spanish for the dance song, “Tecolote” could inspire MPD as it moves into its new phase: every company needs all the extra magic and imagination it can generate as it moves into its second decade:

The owl (el tecolote) can’t dance because he has no shoes (zapatos), pants (calzones), or hat (sombrero.) So in the morning he will make these items from cats, mice, calves.

The song rhymes in Espanol:

Ya el tecolote no baille (2x)

Porque no tienes zapatos (2x)

Por la manana le haremos (2x)

Del cuerito de los gatos (2x)

Ya el tecolote no baille (2x)

Porque no tienes calzones (2x)

Por la manana le haremos (2x)

Del cuerito de los ratones (2x)

Ya el tecolote no baille (2x)

Porque no tienes sombrero (2x)

Por la manana le haremos (2x)

Del cuerito de los becerros (2x)

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