The performance of The Live Art: Tree of Life at the Landmark Theater on December 22 had a few problems. Among other issues, a smoke machine set of a fire alarm, more than a few dancers missed their marks, and a pianist was slightly off tempo. Yet the show left me completely spellbound from beginning to end! The problems, with the possible exception of the fire alarm, only enhanced the charm of a truly magical evening that celebrated all forms of the arts, and the joy of participation in them, regardless of skill level or ability.
Created by Erin Thomas-Foley, Live Art is an educational program for students with and without disabilities that allows these students to perform live with professional artists. At the risk of sounding callous, let me say what many of you are probably thinking: That sounds like a great cause, and I’d be happy to make a modest donation, but please don’t make me site through that show! I’ll admit I had the same thoughts. Don’t give in. You’ll miss a great event.
Indeed, all levels of ability were represented in the show, from the students with disabilities struggling to hit their cues but clearly having a great time, to the well-known, astonishingly talented, professional performers. It is a testament to everyone involved that it came together in a way that worked so well as a whole.
Admittedly, I decided to go because of the big names. Jason Mraz and k.d. lang are longtime favorites. Rene Marie is a recent discovery, but her album of Eartha Kitt tunes is superb! I’d seen Christina Perri open for Jason in Manchester, MA and really enjoyed it. I was a fan of Steve Bassett and Robbin Thompson when in College, but lost track when I left Richmond. (I still think Richmond would do well to replace its tired old state song with “Sweet Virginia Breeze.”)… All those people and more in one show? I had to see it!
All the professional artist involved in the show, whether national celebrities or local artists, demonstrated why they are professional by turning is stellar performances. One of the high points was definitely k.d. lang’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” a performance that exemplified the word sublime. I point it out because I know the song and several versions of it rather well, including two of hers. I have also seen her perform it live on television during the ceremonies for the Olympics in Calgary. It’s never choked me up like it did last night, a fact that I think attests both to the power of actually being at a live performance, as well as to the utterly captivating nature of the performance turned in by the young dancer accompanying her.
All the musical performances were accompanied by student performances of some sort. They played instruments, sang, danced, recited narrative, operated puppets, and more. Everyone seemed to have checked their ego at the door. The night was a celebration not only of art and live performance, but of community, collaboration, inclusiveness, and what can be accomplished if we work together. Though it doesn’t have a Holiday theme, it’s so full of love and warmth it’s the perfect holiday show, especially if you long for those aspects of the season, but like me, find your hackles are raised by formulaic sentimentality cliche. You’ll find none of that, here.
The day before the show I’d been sitting in a Cafe on Cary Street trying to get some work done, but was finding it hard because an old blowhard was ranting at an inappropriate volume about all that is wrong in Richmond. He gave the impression the city was going to hell in a hand-basket, and i found myself wondering how much of what he said was true. I now wonder if he was at Live Art: Tree of Life. If he was, surely he realizes things are not that bad! The performances by the Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra and Samson Trinh and the Upper East Side Big Band are evidence enough of that. Very seldom have I been more proud of my hometown!
I am only disappointed that this show happens one night only, and that I didn’t take my nephew’s and nieces to see it. Congratulations to everyone involved, it was amazing and inspiring! Were you at or involved in the show? I’d be delighted to hear about your experiences.