In this week's Worth A Look, the Fred Astaire Festival celebrates the silver screen icon, a group of former Ragazzi Boys have grown up and continue to sing, local indie band The Corner Laughers rock out for reading, and Danse Libre imagines an epic battle with zombie Nazis.
Music: Ragazzi redux
Jansen Verplank built his life around singing. He began his vocal training around the age of 8 in 1991 with the Ragazzi Boys Chorus, the Redwood City-based organization, which teaches boys aged 7 to 18 to sing in a wide range of styles, including traditional, operatic and contemporary. During his tenure at Oberlin College, Verplank was part of a large choir that performed with the Oberlin Orchestra. And then, upon graduating, Verplank suddenly found himself without a musical home.
Though he explored joining other men's vocal groups after college, he ultimately gave up on the idea, because he never felt the kind of connection he had enjoyed singing in Ragazzi as a boy or in his college choir as an undergraduate. From 2005 to 2012, he kept his sing to himself. But then, one day in 2012, some of his friends from Ragazzi asked him to join their new group, Ragazzi Continuo -- an a cappella men's choir comprising Ragazzi Boys Chorus alumni.
The group of 12 singers now performs about six shows each year -- a string of three during the spring and another three in the winter. The second performance of their spring season comes on Saturday in Palo Alto.
"It's been really fun for me to reconnect with these guys," Verplank says of singing with the group, many of whom he knew back when he was a boy.
Verplank says Ragazzi Continuo has a "unique sound," which meshes techniques more frequently used by boys choirs with the deeper voices of the men singers, who range in age from their early 20s into their 30s. "We use less vibrato than a lot of adult choirs," he explains.
The group will perform its latest production, "Ex Corde: The Rhythm of the Land," which features a mix of traditional and folk music from around the world, "ranging from the raw hymns of Appalachia to powerful and vibrant South African freedom songs," on May 31, at 7:30 p.m., at the All Saints Episcopal Church, located at 555 Waverley St., Palo Alto. Tickets range from $15 to $20. For more information go to ragazzicontinuo.org or call 650-342-8785.
Music & Books: Reading rocks
In a lot of ways it makes sense that The Corner Laughers would be playing the Palo Alto Library's Family Summer Reading Kick-Off "Pawty." The band is firmly rooted on the Peninsula -- the majority of its members live in Redwood City, many have worked or work in Palo Alto, and they have a song, which encourages listeners to "follow the bells of El Camino."
However, in the eight years the group has been writing and recording music they've never once played here. At least that's how multi-instrumentalist and singer Karla Kane remembers it. Kane (full disclosure: she's a former Weekly staff member) says her band often plays in San Francisco and the East Bay, but as far as she can recall, never Palo Alto.
That's OK by her, though. The band is just happy to be playing close to home and supporting a good cause, she says. The library's summer reading program encourages youngsters to put their noses into books, by offering prizes for reading a certain number of books between the beginning of June and the end of August. The free event, which begins at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, is being held in an effort to sweeten the deal -- literally. Those who sign up will get a free scoop of Rick's Ice Cream. The event has been dubbed a "Kickoff Pawty" because this year's theme is animals.
Kane says she and her band mates are "really big library supporters."
"We've actually played in a lot of libraries all over, and actually use the library a lot ourselves," she says. "We are pretty bookish, so it fits well." Plus she says, everyone in her band is a parent, and, as such, appreciates the public library as a resource for the whole family.
According to the singer, The Corner Laughers will be playing some new tunes at the show. For those who don't know much about the band, they play an airy, melodic and jangly brand of indie-chamber-pop -- employing traditional rock instrumentation, along with ukulele and bells. Kane's voice is light, but sturdy, which complements the group's often dreamy, yet intellectual, lyrical content. "We try to make our songs intelligent, with literate lyrics, but really catchy and fun," Kane says.
As a mother and Peninsula resident Kane says there is another reason she is looking forward to the upcoming show. It will give the group's South Bay and Peninsula fans, who have trouble making it out to the group's shows in Berkeley and The City, due to distance and family duties, an opportunity to catch some of newest Corner Laughers songs live.
The Family Summer Reading Kick-Off "Pawty" runs from 2:30 to 4 p.m., Sunday, May 31, at the Cubberley Community Center Amphitheater, located at 4000 Middlefield Road in Palo Alto. Admission is free. For information go to The Corner Laughers' website, cityofpaloalto.org or call 650-329-2436.
Dance: Dancing through the past
What do you get when you take a handful of Stanford graduates, passionate vintage dancers and business professionals? The Academy of Danse Libre, that's what.
Danse Libre, a vintage dance performance group based in Mountain View, is currently preparing for its upcoming theatrical dance show, "The Dancing Dead: Zombies! Vegetarians! Vintage Dance!"
The performance is set in a fictional 1941, where Adolf Hitler finds a way to turn harmless vegetarian zombies into his own ruthless, brain-eating army, and scientists must travel back in time to stop him. The show, written by Olivia Shen Green and directed by Mark Kennig, takes viewers through 100 years of social dances, such as the waltz, the cakewalk and swing. Dance companies Swing Cats Rhythm Revue and Knotts Dance Company will also be featured at the show.
Every two years, Danse Libre puts on a performance that showcases dance styles throughout a century. They prepare for each show at least one year in advance, and rehearse three to six hours several times per week.
Most of the dancers in the company have alter egos -- more commonly known as day jobs. Dancer Valerie Baadh is a javelin thrower, movement coach and teacher trainer for Waldorf schools. Other dancers in the troupe spend their days working as lawyers and doctors, while others have jobs in the dance industry. Publicity director Jeff Kellem gives dance workshops around the world, and says that historical dancers abroad have heard of Danse Libre.
"We tend to be one of the more well-known vintage dance groups," he said. "I went to Paris and I saw a dance colleague of mine looking at a video. I said, 'Oh, what are you watching? Oh, that's us,'" Kellem said.
"The Dancing Dead" will be performed at the Cubberley Theatre in Palo Alto at 7:30 p.m. on June 6 and 7. Tickets can be purchased online at danselibre.org. Tickets are $20 for adults and $17 for students and seniors.
Movies: Fred Astaire Festival
The Stanford Theatre, that local bastion for classic stars of the silver screen might have never been if it weren't for Fred Astaire.
According to officials, the classic-film temple on University Avenue got its start shortly after Astaire's death in 1987.
In the wake of the beloved actor, dancer and singer's passing, the Packard Foundation rented the Stanford Theatre for a two-week tribute to Astaire's legacy, and the public response was "extraordinary."
The theater averaged nearly 1,000 people a day for two weeks straight and convinced officials with the Packard Foundation to buy the theater and convert it into the Mecca for celluloid classics it is today. At the time, critics of the plan panned the idea, saying that no one would pay to watch old movies in an old theater -- especially considering that people could watch their favorite films on VHS.
But the theater survived the VCR revolution -- as well as the laser disc, DVD, Blu-ray and Netflix revolutions that followed. It seems that there really is no place to view movies produced during the "Golden Age" of cinema than, well, in a cinema.
The festival runs through June 22, with a pair of movies playing Wednesday-Friday, and another pair playing Saturday and Sunday. Shows start after 5:30 p.m. on weekdays and around 3:30 on weekends. Tickets range from $5 to $7. For more information call 650-324-3700 or visit stanfordtheatre.org.