If summer connotes vibrancy, then the 101st Army Dixieland jazz band is bursting with it. The band plays a concert at the Wright Opera House next Wednesday night. Though based at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, the Army National Guard band makes a swing through the Western Slope every couple of years. They also make it out of state fairly regularly: for the past 13 years, they’ve played the Sacramento Jazz Festival, from which they recently returned. The sextet is led by Sergeant Lance Christensen, who plays trumpet and does a mean imitation of Louis Armstrong’s lead vocal in “Hello, Dolly.” Playing in an Army band, “you pretty much play whatever they put in front of you,” and over the years, Christensen has served in several other iterations of the 101st Army Band, including its Jazz Band and Concert Band. Christensen’s first love, though, is America’s “original entertainment form,” Dixieland. “I got interested as a teen listening to my Grandmother’s 78s,” he says. “It’s become something of a passion.” The 101st plays “The Tiger Rag,” “Seduced,” and “Dog Faced Soldier,” written by a pair of Army infantrymen and immensely popular song in World War II, on which Christensen sings lead. Sample lyric:
I wouldn’t give a bean to be a fancy-pants Marine; I’d rather be a dogface soldier like I am.
I wouldn’t trade my old ODs for all the Navy’s dungarees,
For I’m the walking pride of Uncle Sam.
The song is still a crowd-pleaser. You’ll likely hear it next Wednesday, and you will certainly hear “When the Saints Come Marching In. “It’s the classic Anthem of Dixieland,” Christensen says. “You can’t not play it. Everyone expects it.” Accordingly, the band will end their set with it. The concert is free, and begins at 7 p.m.
Farther north, the summer celebration continues, with a pair of plays in repertory through this weekend at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction. College summer theatre was a proud tradition of nearly 30 years in Grand Junction until 1999, when it died due to lack of interest. Now the university’s theatre department is reviving it. This go-round, theatre department head Tim Pinnow and Jeremy Franklin, the program’s artistic director, have kept the set-up modest. They chose a comedy and a musical, The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) and The Fantasticks, respectively, with small casts of just three and eight characters, and set them in Mesa’s intimate “Experimental Theatre,” which seats 130. They use a modular set. “It takes two people twelve minutes to entirely reconfigure the stage for the next play,” Franklin says. Though the venue is small, Franklin’s ambition for the program is not – and neither is the amount of experience onstage. Franklin calls these “craft-driven performances,” with a mix of current students, graduate students and not-so-recent grads. The directors mixed-and-matched to take advantage of actors’ abilities. Complete Works, for instance, is usually cast with three men; Pinnow cast it with women. “This may be light, fun, summer fare, but it also calls for people who can do good Shakespeare, who are quick-witted and fast thinkers,” he said – and three women fit the bill. Some theatergoers see the plays together, both in the same day, which, the directors say, is one way they were meant to be seen. “I can’t emphasize enough the dichotomy between these two pieces,” Franklin says. “Fantasticks is a sweeping musical, full of romance and magic. Shakespeare honors theater but is riotous, with lots of audience participation.” He calls the synergy between these two works “a delight.” For showtimes, and to reserve tickets, visit http://www.coloradomesa.edu/moss/theatretickets.html.
Finally, a reminder: this Saturday in Montrose at 6:30 p.m., the noted Chicago choreographer Winifred Haun and several members of her dance troupe will be appearing at the Pavilion with dancers from Black Canyon Cultural Arts. The synergy between the two dance troupes comes from Black Canyon’s director Tess Ludian, an Alvin Ailey alum who toured Europe with her friend Haun years ago, and invited her to visit this summer. Haun, a winner of the prestigious Ruth Page award for dance achievement in Chicago, will choreograph a work featuring dancers from both troupes, as well as dances from “Bento,” her most recent group work, and “Promise,” which was selected “Critic’s Choice” by the Chicago Reader. The Chicago Sun-Times has called Haun’s work “visceral, jarring and bristling with feeling.” It’s rare that a professional dance company visits Montrose, and Ludian has gone to great lengths to bring Haun here: she has flown the troupe out from Chicago, and is putting them all up at her house. Her own kids will stay with friends. “My girls are giving up their rooms for the dance company,” she says. “We’re all incredibly excited.” Tickets are $20 (children and seniors, $12) and available at Flower Motors, Tiffany Etc., Dahlia Floral Design, and at the Pavilion door.