When I travel, I love riding on public transportation—buses, trains, trams and ferries— because in Europe, the UK and Scandinavia, these services are so efficient (as they are in Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, BC).

So I was delighted when the Expo Line came into town and I jumped at the chance to participate in the Big Blue Bus/Metro BOGO (buy one, get one) program, which put more than $100 of ride credit on my TAP card. (And, ahem, as a senior those rides are truly dirt cheap – my balance could last for years!)
Now that I’m home, I realized it was time to make use of this bounty. Last week was my big downtown LA test jaunt: I took Expo to both Grand Performances and The Ahmanson Theatre for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.”

This may sound silly (it is!) but worrying about my hair getting messed up and finding shoes that don’t hurt while walking uphill to these destinations were two key factors preventing me from utilizing our local public transportation system. Now that I’ve done it a few times, I realize these were just excuses.

Why EVER did I wait so long? Grand Performances is completely enchanting! These excellent free summer concerts, featuring music from around the globe, take place in the dazzling downtown setting of California Plaza (exit at Pershing Square on the Red or Purple lines after connecting from Expo through Metro Center at 7th and Figueroa), with its beautiful reflecting pool and two stages nestled between tall towers and a backdrop that features the turreted top of the Angel’s Flight funicular.

Grand Performances has been presenting music, dance theatre and more for 30 years. And it’s a great reflection of our multi-cultural community. What drew me to this concert was Cuban music, performed by two groups I knew nothing about, even though one was a Latin Grammy winner (2015), El Septeto Santiaguero.

I was one of approximately 3000 people in that sparkling space, swaying to the irresistible sounds and beats of this band, and the sweetness of the four-woman a cappella group, Vocal Vidas.

The septet from Santiago de Cuba (which actually turned into an octet with the addition of a featured trumpet player) specializes in a genre called “son” in the “trova” (troubadour) tradition. The music has a long history, originating in the highlands of eastern Cuba in the late 19th century. It incorporates elements of Spanish and African music (Afro-Cuban).

The joy of the music and the obvious adoration of the crowd were the perfect antidote to the news coming out of Charlottesville, Virginia last Friday.

Vocal Vidas, the all-woman a cappella group, were making their first U.S. visit with this performance. They, too, hail from Santiago de Cuba, where Afro-Cuban music was born. They launched their first album in April this year, and they’re the subject of an award-winning documentary short, “Soy Cubana.”

Dressed all in white, they were a lovely vision, with colorful lights reflecting in the pool in front of them. With my eyes closed, I imagined myself in a tropical rainforest hearing birdsong. I was even able to enchant some of my Facebook friends with “live” video of their looping vocals.

If you like Afro-Cuban music, Daymé Arocena brings her vocal talents to the Grand Performances water stage tomorrow, Friday, August 18; for the schedule of performances through the rest of the summer (and beyond) visit www.grandperformances.org.

 

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is on tour with an outstanding cast at the Ahmanson Theatre, one of the most satisfying theatre experiences I’ve had in the past year.

Through never divulged as such, Christopher (brilliantly performed on opening night by Adam Langdon) is a 15-year-old boy on the autism spectrum, likely Asperger’s syndrome. He is discovered in his neighbor’s yard, next to a dog that has been killed with a pitchfork. The immediate assumption by all is that he did it, but he spends the play trying, like his hero Sherlock Holmes, to unravel the mystery of who actually did.

The set is simple – black and white, with a grid pattern on the walls. But oh, the magic that is created in this space … with projections, chalk drawings on the floor that appear on the walls, explosions of light and sound representing the chaos inside Christopher’s mind. We see the world as if we were inside his head.

He’s a math savant, and loves astronomy. In the course of doing everything his “single” dad tells him not to, he gets into the heads of others and uncovers a very dark secret in his own family’s history.

Christopher has been told a half-truth – that his mother was no longer lived with them because of a “bad heart.” But he discovers that his father killed the dog in retaliation for the neighbor’s husband stealing his mother, and that she’s alive in London living with the man. The marriage teetered because the mother could not handle Christopher’s special needs, leaving him in dad’s care.

It’s a truly exceptional theatrical event, continuing its run through September 10. I hope you get a chance to hop aboard the Expo line (exit at Civic Center after connecting from Expo through Metro Center at 7th and Figueroa) to see it.

 

Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, now retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications. 

 

El Septeto Santiaguero performed at Grand Performances in downtown L.A.

 

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