Sunday, September 18, 2016

Shining Stars of Shoma

It's less than two weeks to Opening Night for Shoma, a Storytelling Dance Theater Journey to the Desert. Information and tickets here.

The dancers and actors are rehearsing in Jawaahir's studio. The musicians are working on their material. The seamstresses are sewing, the actors and dancers are pulling the details of their costumes together. Director Hilary Stellner Smith and Cassandra Shore are directing all the myriad facets of the production. Assistant Director and Stage Manager Shannon Russell is wearing many hats, as an understudy, reading the parts of others in absentia, generally working non-stop.

This production has so many stars and outstanding performers and contributors that it's impossible to give them adequate homage. Here is a run down of some of the extraordinary individuals who will be part of the show, both on and off the stage.

Dance: In addition to Cassandra Shore and her incredible company, Donald LaCourse, the Artistic Director of Minnesota's Ethnic Dance Theater, will be playing a featured theatrical and dance role. Read about Don here.

Musicians: The orchestra playing in Shoma is a veritable who's who of performers in the genre of Arabic music. They learn the show material by ear, the traditional way musicians in the Arab world learn music. Many of them are have national and international reputations. While they seem to be somewhat lean on websites, they are long on talent. The Jawaahir audiences are in for an extraordinary musical extravaganza.

Georges Lammam leads the ensemble. Based in California, Lammam is a beloved virtuoso violinist who brings passion to his playing. He is one of the reasons Jawaahir audiences are so loyal year after year. George's facebook page.

Naser Musa will be singing and playing oud. Naser is a specialist in the music of the Gulf and Saudi Arabia, and produced a CD of music from the region. He also composes and has worked in film as well. Naser's website.

Michael Ibrahim is the conductor of the National Arab Orchestra of Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is an extraordinary performer on Arabic wind instruments including nay (end-blown reed flute) and mizmar (the closest thing to an oboe in Arabic music), as well as oud. In Shoma he'll be playing nay....and here is video of him conducting and playing nay - a composition entitled Fatafit al-Sukkar.

Susu Pampanin:  A leading Arabic percussionist from California, Susu wows audiences around the country with her polished and powerful style. Here is a video of Susu and the Cairo Cats. (She's the lead percussionist).

Miles Jay: Miles plays double bass, composes, and makes instruments. He has been a key player in the Nile Project. It is hard to summarize all Miles' talents and the projects he is pursuing around the world. In addition to performing with global artists, he composes, arranges for film, and performs for film as well. Here is his website: Miles Jay website

Jim Grippo: Jim hails from California, where he has been playing Middle Eastern music on oud and qanun for twenty years. He will play qanun for Shoma. Jim is pursuing a PhD in ethnomusicology, and teaches at Ventura College. He performs regularly with the Middle East Ensemble at the University of California- Santa Barbara, and has performed with Georges & Elias Lammam, Souren Baronian, Rowan Storm, Afif Taian, and Naser Musa. Here he is on video: Jim Grippo on Qanun

Tim O'Keefe: A Minnesota-based multi-instrumental percussionist and oud player, Tim has been playing with Jawaahir for years, and is a mainstay of many productions. Tim performs with several Minnesota groups across music genres and teaches percussion.

Laura Harada: Ms. Harada plays violin in many genres and styles, from classical European to tango and beyond. She has been playing Arabic music since at least 1997, and is a regular in Jawaahir shows. She played violin in the first Shoma, back in 1998.

Yaron Klein: This is Yaron's first performance with Jawaahir. Born in Haifa, Yaron earned his PhD at Harvard in Arabic Language and Literature; his thesis topic bridged language and music. He plays both oud and violin, but in Shoma he will join the violin section. When he is not playing music, he is a professor of Arabic at Minnesota's Carleton College.

Set design: Saudi-American artist Hend Al-Mansour has created a unique tent divider for the scenes set in a desert encampment. Her website: Hend Al-Mansour

Lighting: Jeff Bartlett is legendary in Minnesota for his stage lighting. When Shoma was performed in 1998 at the Southern Theater, Bartlett's lighting added fantastic effects and gave the show its extraordinary feel. Once again, he'll be conjuring up his magic.

Sound Engineer:  Stephen Spaise has worked on several Jawaahir productions. He is also a percussionist and has been playing world music (especially Middle Eastern music) for 25 years. He performs with several ensembles in the Twin Cities.

Costumes: Eileen O'Shaughnessy has been contributing her costuming talents to many Jawaahir productions, and Shoma is no exception. Her work on the original Shoma will once more be in the spotlight. Shannon Russell and Lori Wilczek are also sewing up a storm for new costumes and new actors/dancers.

If you are within traveling distance to Minneapolis, try to make it to Shoma to see these fantastic stars shine.

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