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Toronto band White Star Line brought its underground sound to Mohawk Place Friday night. On Saturday, pianist Stephen Manes presented an all-Brahms program in Slee Hall on the North Campus of the University at Buffalo. On Friday at the North Campus' Center for the Arts, dancer Margie Gillis presented an eclectic solo dance performance.

Mohawk Place:

White Star Line

On Friday night, Mohawk Place again proved its place as Buffalo's most cutting-edge venue by bringing the largely unheralded Toronto band White Star Line to town.

Finishing up an East Coast tour, band leader and bassist Stephen Dohnberg, guitarist and occasional vocalist Matthew David and drummer Luca Maoloni displayed the sort of tightness that only lonely hours on the Eisenhower Interstate System can instill in a band.

White Star Line's music is spacious and cinematic. Primarily an instrumental band, it is all about textures and discipline, crafting beautiful, trippy melodies. Some of its strongest compositions included "Original Perfect Fit" and "Pure Torpor." The cumulative effect of the slow, delicate presentation was hypnotic. Call it Velvet Underground lite.

There is something endearing about a band that tours simply because it must be heard, rather than because it's economically lucrative. As an underground band, White Star Line also knows the sting of indifferent clubs who failed to promote the group's appearances properly, leaving it dangling short on cash and long on beer. Luckily, that didn't happen here.

White Star Line definitely has the credentials to fascinate the artsy crowd. As the group continues to develop its sound, it may realize a need to get a full-time vocalist. The group is in search of a label, and here's hoping it finds one.

Local openers Palomar Sky Survey continued to build on its solid reputation as hometown alternative favorites, with Val Pimento drawing favorable comparisons to Hole's Courtney Love. Due to the late cancellation of Toronto band Hollowphonic, local group Emerson stepped in and cut loose with its Smashing Pumpkinesque delivery.

Located downtown but off the beaten track, the intimate Mohawk Place is like an old-fashioned carnival, full of grease and rickety cross-beams and guaranteed to provide unexpected thrills. Friday night's show was no exception.

-- Michael Quigley

UB's Center for the Arts:

Margie Gillis

It's a rare dancer who can perform to Bach's "Goldberg Variations," spoken excerpts from Joyce's "Ulysses" and a birdcall without being dismissed as eccentric.

Margie Gillis more than escapes that label. For two decades, she has kept audiences engaged with her intense conviction in the evocative force of movement. Her performance Friday at the University at Buffalo's Center for the Arts was no exception, with Gillis reiterating her dedication to dancing from the inside out.

The soloist's last local performance was five years ago at the Center's small black-box theater. This time she appeared before a sparse crowd at UB's mainstage.

Though she left no doubt that she can hold her own in that setting, her choreography's intimate nuances sometimes lost their way in the spacious venue. The most pronounced victim in that respect was the opening number, "Variations." Gillis approaches her art with the scrutiny of a scientist and the passion of a soul searcher.

Those two impulses join forces in the deeply satisfying "The Little Animal," a three-minute piece that Gillis spent 10 years refining, aided by her research in neuromuscular physiology. With a hunched body and a pigeon-toed gait, Gillis trudged diagonally across the floor, looking like a newborn creature awkwardly negotiating life. When she writhed on her back and dug her heels into the floor, she seemed to be emerging from the womb. Her slow-motion upper body gave the impression of a fetus floating in a fluid environment.

In "Bloom," Gillis treated the audience to more than the novelty of a dancer matching steps with the spoken word. Whether she was pretending to exact revenge on a cheating lover or burying her nose in an imaginary bouquet, she manifested the stream-of-conscience yearnings expressed by James Joyce's women. Though it could be said that Gillis let her hair down with every dance, she literally unleashed her hip-length locks for her signature work, "Slipstream."

As her trademark tresses swirled around her body, you could tell that she had choreographed their flow as carefully as she had chosen the positioning of her arms and legs.

"Loon," set to a soundscape of the diving bird's lonely cries, was the highlight of the night. Bathed in a grid of light, Gillis kept her face concealed from the audience as she re-created the loon's angular wingspan and staccato preening. To watch Gillis in "Loon" is to appreciate her remarkable dexterity. After all, who else could dance in a way that would appeal to both Isadora Duncan and Roger Tory Peterson?

-- Nicole Peradotto

Slee Hall:

Stephen Manes

In pianist Stephen Manes' Saturday evening all-Brahms program in Slee Hall, part of the UB Faculty Recital Series, it was an unusual pleasure to hear all eight capriccios and intermezzos which make up Opus 76.

While written the same year (1878) as his Violin Concerto by a fully mature Brahms, there are only a few of these works heard with any frequency.

In Manes' hands we heard the stylistic consistency and integrity of workmanship Brahms lavished on Op. 76. In No. 1, Manes brought out its inwardly questing, restless nature and its effective waxing and waning of strength. The most popular, No. 2, came vividly alive as the fine prominence given to the inner voices, combined with Manes' clean staccato and wonderful sense of give-and-take, produced the joyous, jocular spirit Brahms intended.

And even in the relatively obscure No. 6, the recitalist's introspection and palpable affection for the music brought its contemplative, wandering character effectively alive.

But heard end-to-end, the eight pieces did not leave a particularly distinctive or memorable profile in the mind, which might explain why the capriccios and intermezzos of Opus 116 through 119 are so much more often heard on recitals.

In contrast, the Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24 is a masterpiece of logical construction and form, and Manes' wonderfully clean voicing throughout drew vivid mental pictures as the variations progressed.

In the complex evolution of the individual variations, it is not long before any semblance to the Handel theme is lost, but Manes' command of the work's longer lines and his approach somewhere between assurance and bravado projected the logic of the changes even at the most remote part of the music's orbit. This made the clear reference to the theme in a late variation both disarming and reassuring.

In the concluding fugue, Manes' sense of purpose kept the music's direction clear, even in the thorniest thickets of Brahms' dense textures, and the pealing, rich ending had the true ring of nobility.

The most compelling performance was of the Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5, written when Brahms was just 19. There is some youthful excess here, to be sure, but the alternating dramatic clangor and introspective tenderness which dominate this sonata were superbly controlled and measured out by Manes.

After the stunning opening exclamation, subsequent ideas were introduced with a winning conversational quality.

The slow movement was played with a melting tenderness that justified Brahms' notation on the score about ". . . two lovers who mingle their sighs."

There was lots of spring and energy in the Scherzo, and the brief Intermezzo was treated as a ruminative bridge into the Finale, initially played with a tentative aggressiveness and qualified exuberance but turned loose in the exultant final pages.

-- Herman Trotter

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