Theater

BY HARRY WEBER

NATURE MOVESAtrek Contemporary Dance and the Missouri Botanical Garden Last summer, Atrek and friends performed at the Missouri Botanical Garden at 2 p.m., with the temperature around 95 degrees. This year, 6 p.m. was the time, Midsummer's Eve was the date, and the 80-degree evening was genuinely balmy. Shaw's Garden was in full midsummer's glory. Real musicians and poets took part, and it was all about as pleasant as could be.

Angela Culbertson, Atrek artistic director, always keeps things moving, including, at these Garden performances, the audience. We walked from dance station (usually a statue and/or fountain) to dance station and from one variety of dance form and degree of difficulty to another. At Paul Granlund's bronze "Zero Gee," Atrek company members Tiffany Cunningham and James Samson "flew" young Sean Bailey and one another in a tribute to a family at play. On our way to Marcel Rau's "Mother and Child," where Culbertson and young Caitlyn Rippeto performed last year, young dancers from McKinley Classical Junior Academy made a vigorous, quick-moving living chain. At the long pool/fountain in the Rose Garden, four pairs of dancers, including Antonio Douthit and Cunningham, sported about in the waters, using their gongs as paddles, pans and ladles, looking as if they were having a hell of a lot of fun. And so on and so on.

The evening ended at Frank Stella's electrifying sculpture "Stubb's Summer," where the gang from McKinley Classical mimed a goofy but charming whale hunt.

Though the 1999 Atrek performance at the Garden (which will be presented again at 6 p.m. Sunday, June 27) was a bit less substantive than most Culbertson events, the beauty of the Garden and of the young dancers was irresistible. I hope Theseus, Hippolyta, Oberon, Titania and all the kids from the Athenian woods were as pleased with this midsummer night's fantasy as I was.CHRISTINE BREWER IN CONCERTOpera Theatre of St. Louis

Sunday afternoon at the Loretto-Hilton Center, Christine Brewer, Opera Theatre of St. Louis' most distinguished alumna, began a benefit recital for the Richard Gaddes Fund for Young Singers with the single most beautiful and demanding song ever composed in the British Isles, Henry Purcell's "Music for a While." The afternoon closed with a ravishing "Danny Boy," with David Halen, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra's concertmaster, providing a lush, moving obbligato. In between were 21 other songs from the British isles, plus two other encores in addition to "Danny Boy." Most of the songs were short; most were little-known. All were performed with the feeling and musicianship commanded by, as Charles MacKay, general manager of OTSL, called Brewer when he introduced her, "a star of the highest magnitude."

After the Purcell, Brewer and Halen gave us Ralph Vaughan Williams' cycle Along the Field, wherein are set eight A.E. Housman poems. The cycle is generally as dark as most Housman poems, and those who thought Vaughan Williams is only a sweet, neo-romantic composer had their ears opened by these severe, dissonant songs.

Next came the four "Cabaret Songs," with music by Benjamin Britten to words by W.H. Auden. Brewer, of however high magnitude a star, is not above a little clowning, and "Tell Me the Truth About Love" gave her a great opportunity to do so.

After the intermission, Brewer sang two John Ireland art songs, then performed six British Isles folk songs arranged by the likes of Britten, Roger Quilter and Herbert Hughes. The crowd-pleaser was her chaste "Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes," but the stunner was the sweetness and light of the Quilter arrangement of the Robert Burns song "Ye Banks and Braes."

Brewer was accompanied by Kirt Pavitt, whose sympathy for the singer and whose pianistic virtuosity grow wittier, stronger and more elegant year by year.

 
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