On the horizon



Cambodian Stories

The work of the Japanese-born dance duo Eiko and Koma has been described as "enacting mysterious rituals, set in desolate dreamscapes."

The couple, who met while studying the ancient Japanese movement art called butoh, seem to create works about time, or silence, or nature, or the struggle to survive. Often their dances are so gradual that the performers seem to be not moving at all. Many works are performed in the nude.

While their work may not be to everyone's taste, it has been acclaimed by reviewers and audiences across the United States and Europe. Critics have praised the dances for their visual power and intellectual rigor.

A new work, Cambodian Stories, is touring the country this spring and stops off at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on the campus of the University of Maryland, College Park. The piece, performed in collaboration with young visual artists-turned dancers from Phnom Penh, is said to invoke the temples of the ancient, walled city of Angkor Thom and the voices that inhabit Cambodia past and present.

Show times are 8 p.m. Friday, March 30; Saturday, March 31 and Sunday, April 1. Tickets cost $30 for the general public and $7 for students. Call 301-405-2787 or visit claricesmithcenter.umd. edu.

Mary Carole McCauley


Black. White

In 1959, John Howard Griffin, a white journalist, used medication and a sun lamp to darken his skin to the point where he could pass for black in the Deep South. The chronicle of his six-week racial transformation, Black Like Me, became a landmark text on race in America.

Now comes cable channel FX, best known for such daring dramas as The Shield and Nip/Tuck, with Black. White. - a new twist on Griffin's social experiment. Produced by Emmy Award-winner R.J. Cutler (American High) and actor/writer Ice Cube (Barbershop), the six-part documentary, set to premiere in March, uses Hollywood makeup artist Keith VanderLaan to help two families - one white, one black - switch racial identities.

"It's quite an epic journey that these people go on," John Landgraf, president of FX, said in a telephone interview. "It's deeply emotional, complicated and challenging. It also raises the provocative question: Is race still an issue in America? And, if it is, how is it still an issue?"

Based on Part 1 (the only hour made available to critics), "epic" seems overstated. But Black. White. looks to be a series likely to stir debate.

David Zurawik


The Murder of Isaac

Israeli playwright Motti Lerner wrote The Murder of Isaac in Hebrew. But the play - about post-traumatic-stress syndrome patients who re-enact the 1995 murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as part of their therapy - has never been produced in his native language or in his native land. An English-language version will have its American premiere at Center Stage next month.

Artistic director Irene Lewis wanted to co-produce The Murder of Isaac with another theater, but couldn't find one willing to take a chance on this hot-button material. "I think the play stands out there as something very original right now," she says of the political drama, which should be a worthy successor to her harrowing 2001 production of The Investigation, Peter Weiss' account of the Auschwitz trials.

Lerner, who believes the play's themes have become more universal during his pre-production collaboration with Center Stage, hopes the play will encourage American audiences "to put pressure on their leaders [to realize] that war is only the last resort."

J. Wynn Rousuck


A Scanner Darkly

Our most accomplished cinematic bungee-jumper, Richard Linklater, takes one more leap into the void with A Scanner Darkly, due out the end of March.

In between his romantic masterpieces, Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2005), Linklater pioneered a computerized version of an old technique called "rotoscoping," which enabled animators to trace cartoon images from live-action footage. In Waking Life (2001), this "interpolated rotoscoping" allowed animators to exaggerate certain features of Linklater's characters (a bulbous forehead, widening eyes) and to doodle whimsical or pointed illustrations of the characters' thoughts and feelings on their faces and bodies. When a man said he'd prefer to be "a gear in a big deterministic machine rather than just some random swerving," he actually became a man with a gear for a head.

This technique should be just right for A Scanner Darkly, an adaptation of a 1977 Philip K. Dick novel about a pusher whose drug, "Substance D," splits personalities. The dealer, also a user, doesn't know that he's split his own personality and turned into the narc on his own tail.

The cast includes Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson and Winona Ryder. Keanu Reeves plays the dual hero - making this (we hope) a more suitable follow-up to The Matrix than the Matrix sequels.

Michael Sragow


Louise Bourgeois

A giant bronze spider that towers over viewers like a B-movie monster, dolls festooned with strange protuberances that resemble fingers, fruits, flowers and - oh, never mind - plus all manner of vaguely organic shapes of wood, rubber and other tactile materials.

Sculptor Louise Bourgeois earned a reputation as one of her generation's most important contemporary artists in the 1960s for her strikingly original works, many of which explored the artist's early childhood in France, her parents' emotional conflicts and her own sexual history with startling frankness.

Today, Bourgeois, 94, continues to produce works that challenge and provoke. In February, her art will be the subject of a unique collaboration between the Walters Art Museum and the Contemporary Museum that will present works from every stage of her career.

The Walters will pair 40 of Bourgeois' cutting-edge pieces with similarly themed works from its own collections, Feb. 11-May 21. Call 410-547-9000. The Contemporary will present a series of nine related copperplate etchings by Bourgeois and a film about the artist, Feb. 11-April 23. Call 410-783-5720.

Glenn McNatt


Jonathan Leshnoff

Leshnoff's music can be boldly dissonant or hauntingly lyrical, wildly animated or intriguingly contemplative. His new Violin Concerto is all of those things.

Premiered by the Columbus Symphony in Ohio in November and slated for its local premiere by the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra next month, the concerto was commissioned by a consortium of five orchestras, including one in Mexico, reflecting the composer's ever-increasing visibility.

Music by Leshnoff, a Peabody Conservatory alumnus on the faculty at Towson University, has been played by such diverse groups as the Smithsonian Institution's 20th Century Consort and the United States Marine Band. His first symphony, Forgotten Chants and Refrains, will be performed by the Kansas City Symphony in May.

The Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Markand Thakar, will perform Jonathan Leshnoff's Violin Concerto with Columbus Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Charles Wetherbee as soloist Feb. 8 at Goucher College in Towson. For more information, call 410-426-0157 or visit baltchamberorch.org

Tim Smith

Pop music

Erykah Badu

One of the brightest, most unique artists to emerge in pop within the last decade is a hazel-eyed Texas beauty named Erykah Badu. She's known as one of the main purveyors of "neo-soul," but her musical scope reaches well beyond that. While synthesizing style elements of Billie Holiday, Nina Simone and Chaka Khan, Badu, a four-time Grammy winner, has produced some of modern R&B;'s most progressive music.

This year, the artist is expected to release her long-awaited follow-up to the 2000 classic Mama's Gun. The wildly experimental Worldwide Underground, a 2003 release, wasn't an official follow-up. With Badu, there's no telling what you will get as she freely blends hip-hop, soul, funk and rock. But if her past four albums are any indication, whatever Badu delivers will be lyrically substantive, musically rich and altogether thrilling.

Rashod D. Ollison

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