August 28, 2007

A & E Spotlights (part 3): Dinicola, Walker, ATL

Spotlight On:DIANA DINICOLAFlamenco sends feet, hearts and spirits flyingDiana Dinicola: PHOTO COURTESY OF DIANA DINICOLA Originally a ballet dancer, Diana Dinicola found her passion for flamenco.When Diana Dinicola talks about flamenco, she does it with intense passion. Clearly this art form is no mere trend for her.“It’s my own spiritual path in a lot of ways,” Dinicola says. “It’s not ‘Here’s how you do some steps.’ It’s really a journey.”Flamenco — a centuries-old Spanish combination of music, singing and dancing — has become Dinicola’s life. After spending her youth studying ballet, she changed gears and became a company member with the now-defunct Ballet Español, which started in Louisville in 1987.Dinicola, now 39, wasn’t about to let Spanish dance disappear from the area, so three years ago she helped start Flamenco Louisville. Today the group, which has its studio at 1710 Frankfort Ave., sits in the center of the city’s flamenco scene and much of the region’s. The nearest communities with significant numbers of people practicing the flamenco arts are Lexington, Chicago and St. Louis. To Dinicola, however, flamenco dancing’s importance isn’t measured by popularity as much as meaning. She considers it an important form of communication — without words. Unlike ballet and other classical dance that increase in difficulty with age, she notes, dancers become better at flamenco as they grow older, because they have more to express.She also notes many income-level professionals attend her classes and see flamenco as a viable creative outlet.“What happens, I think, is that Diana Dinicola: PHOTO COURTESY OF DIANA DINICOLA Originally a ballet dancer, Diana Dinicola found her passion for flamenco. have to be so focused and analytical, so Diana Dinicola: PHOTO COURTESY OF DIANA DINICOLA Originally a ballet dancer, Diana Dinicola found her passion for flamenco. come to class and let all the emotional stuff go,” she says.Flamenco is also steeped in folklore. For instance, there is the duende, or “earth spirit” that dancers and musicians report feeling when they’ve lost control and something unseen guides their movements. Dinicola says she’s felt the duende three times.“It’s a high,” she says. “It’s elemental. It rises up and takes possession. It’s neither good nor bad; it’s just part of chaos — a mischievous spirit.”The emotional expression of flamenco helped Dinicola after the death of her father. She says her dancing style actually changed to reflect her grief, and she cites flamenco’s ability to turn potentially destructive tendencies into positive ones.Flamenco’s reputation has exploded around the world, she notes, though its growth in the United States is more measured. She and Flamenco Louisville have been working on that, though, holding public juergas (parties) and dancing professionally in a troupe called Flamencorro.To continue her flamenco education, she travels to Spain and New York to study with master instructors.Her passion has lured her husband, Paul Carney, into the mix. He accompanies the dancing on percussion, which means he gets to spend more time with his wife. Although, she says, there’s no getting him from behind the drums, he occasionally accompanies her to New York and Spain.Dinicola would like to spend more time in Spain; she is learning to sing in Spanish. And she envisions a lifetime of dancing flamenco.“Absolutely,” she says. “I’m going to dance until I drop over.”BY RYAN REALleo@leoweeky.comSpotlight On:BRIAN WALKERThere’s no place like home for this provocative playwrightBrian Walker: PHOTO BY BRIAN WALKER Brian Walker is the playwright who recently brought Louisville his work “My Daddy’s Name is Big Oil.” The cast was behind him all the way.Brian Walker, 29, founder of Finnigan Productions, aims to shock Louisville theater audiences out of complacency and constantly bring them something new. As Walker says, “If someone has already done it, I’m not interested.”In his “Great American Sex Play,” staged last year, and “My Daddy’s Name is Big Oil,” which ran last month, playwright Walker brought simulated oral and genital intercourse to Actors Theatre’s Victor Jory stage, with a hefty dash of strong language. Still, the brash nature of his work isn’t gratuitous because it provides shrewd commentary on the contemporary life.“People are afraid to take risks,” Walker said as we discussed why seemingly few provocative plays are produced here. “You have to be willing to not be liked.”His new play, “Shot Me Down,” premieres Aug. 31 and opens Finnigan Productions’ first full season. This work is a departure for Walker; it contains more irony and less shock and sexuality. The plot pivots on a future ruled by the gun. Charlton Heston is cured of Alzheimer’s, and a terrorist attack hits the suburbs thanks to a wave of passivity that left people unprepared and unarmed.Walker was bitten by the theater bug at the tender age of 8. He knew he wanted to be an actor after seeing “A Christmas Carol.” As a senior at the Youth Performing Arts School, he studied playwriting, then took classes at Murray State and Hunter College in Brooklyn.He heard the siren call of Hollywood at 21. He eventually landed a part in Ronnie Larsen’s acclaimed play “Making Porn,” an expose about the gay porn industry in the same vein as the film “Boogie Nights.” He toured with the show for two years, first as an actor and then as a director. In the latter role he found time to pursue playwriting and wrote “The Time I Was Kidnapped by the Church.”Walker eventually realized he was unhappy in Los Angeles, and on a 2004 visit to Louisville, he was blown away by the growth in the visual arts and music scenes.“I felt this was where I was supposed to be,” he says, “and that I was meant to play a part in making Louisville theater vibrant.”He met director Gil Reyes, who had just finished an internship at Actors Theatre. With Reyes’ help, Finnigan Productions staged “Kidnapped” in the Victor Jory Theatre.Walker, who works full time as a manager at Half-Price Books, has big plans for Finnigan Productions. He’s tackling the paperwork to turn Finnigan into a 501(c)3 corporation and has a six-member board of directors. He also wants to showcase other playwrights.Walker counts sci-fi as a big influence. He says it’s fun to wonder what could happen in 20 years, and likes to explore many different outcomes. We should root for a future where he’s still challenging Louisville audiences in 2027.BY SHERRY DEATRICKsdeatrick@gmail.comSpotlight On:ACTORS THEATRE OF LOUISVILLETransforming business at ATLWanda Snyder, the executive secretary who works in the upstairs foyer in Actors Theatre of Louisville’s administrative office building, has seen many faces over her 19 years there. Most likely, she has greeted all of them with her characteristic warm smile. On any given day, you can see her do the same for staff who have remained as steadfast as the hallway’s now threadbare carpeting, which dates to at least the early 1980s.ATL staff: PHOTO COURTESY OF ACTORS THEATRE OF LOUISVILLE ATL staff is a mix of new and old, including properties master Mark Walston (14 years), general manager Jeff Rodgers (23 years) and associate artistic director Sean Daniels (newcomer).With the recent comings and goings at Actors, Snyder is seeing a new mix of faces this season. That includes Sean Daniels, the new associate artistic director (whom ATL hired in May after he worked at the California Shakespeare Theatre), and others who have moved up within the organization over the years. One of the latter is 23-year veteran Jeff Rodgers, who recently replaced James Roemer as general manager. He, in turn, has reorganized the administrative staff, creating new positions, such as human resources coordinator.Production manager Frazier Marsh (34 years at ATL) can’t say enough about the camaraderie among the theater brethren here, which never falters, even when new faces replace the old.“It’s all about collaboration,” he says. “Being here so long, you have a very subjective sort of viewpoint, and having someone new come in from the outside — they have an objectivity. They can see things that perhaps we just don’t see anymore, or at least they can ask the questions.”Jennifer Bielstein, who succeeded Alexander Speer as managing director last year, is one of those working to change the way the theater does business. She says she notices that more people have difficulty committing to becoming subscribers and seeing seven to 13 shows a season. So she is seeking a new strategy for subscriptions overall. But no one at ATL is talking specifics at this point.“It’s about looking at how as an organization we run Actors Theatre, who it is that we serve in terms of audiences and artists, and strategically to become a more nimble and inclusive organization that can respond to the wants and desires of the community,” she says.Starting this season, the staff also plans to target a larger demographic of people who seek out theater as entertainment, especially the under-30 crowd. Daniels, 31, says reaching this goal isn’t as difficult as one might think. He finds that young people appreciate the likes of Shakespeare and theater in general; they want their minds, not just their eyes, to be stimulated as much as anyone else.“There aren’t ‘young people’ shows and ‘old people’ shows; there are just shows that people find immediately relevant to themselves and their community,” he says.Marc Masterson, who took the reigns of artistic director from Jon Jory in 2001, agrees. He says there is nothing as organic as being surrounded by an audience that is sharing the same live experience.“There’s an interchange that is present in a live theatrical performance that you can’t get anywhere else,” he says. “I think of it as like having a conversation with thousands of people.”BY MARY Q. BURTONleo@leoweekly.com