Miles Davis Bio-"Choreopoem" Cool Like That, from BlackPoet Ventures at PHX:fringe
Billy Ramsey (foreground) and part of the Cool Like That ensemble
courtesy of PHX:fringe
BlackPoet Ventures is a Valley institution. They present fascinating, quality performance work that frequently mixes the disciplines of poetry, drama, dance, and music to impart a rounded image of African-American culture and its role models.
BPV's Cool Like That: A Tribute to Miles Davis is a painstakingly researched, lovingly presented show about the life and art of the famed jazz musician. It's not, in its incarnation at PHX:fringe, a choreopoem (which is how the performance is described in the festival schedule and program) as the term is generally understood, but that's only a problem if you already have a ticket, are jonesing for a choreopoem, and will accept nothing else.
During the show, actors deliver a few excellent poems inspired by Davis. An actress dances a little bit, two or three times -- social dancing, with the actor who plays Davis. He's the main focus of the show, reminiscing and philosophizing in monologue for over an hour and a half. Again, not a problem: He's very good. Warehouse 1005 is an archetypical Fringe venue. The space's "day job" is as studio and exhibition space for the advanced adult artists in the PSA Art Awakenings program, and as that, it's piqued my curiosity for a return visit. There's outstanding art all over the place.
However, the big, empty room is otherwise a really crappy performance space, at least currently. Sound disappears into its upper half, and the tech crew sits directly behind the back row of seats, which is distracting.
If you snuggle up into the front rows, though, and concentrate, you'll be able to hear and enjoy Cool Like That just fine. The show's star, Billy Ramsey, has affected an appropriately raspy voice to portray Davis, and he can't do it very loudly, but it's terrific to listen to. His anecdotes range from stories his ancestors passed down to his own childhood to the Paris tour that changed his art and life. Sometimes Davis goes on and on about music a bit more than a non-musician might find interesting, but it seems entirely in character.
The company spices up the narrative with a live bongo player, meticulously controlled stings of recorded music, a crisp and functional lighting design, and projections of historic photos. Kudos to Rod Ambrose, who adapted and directed the show, and to the artists of BPV, who'll tour Cool Like That to the inaugural St. Louis Fringe Festival in June.
Cool Like That continues through Saturday, March 10, at Warehouse 1005, 1005 North First Street. (Enter from the alley.) Admission is $20 at the door, or call 602-254-2151 or click here for tickets in advance. See the full PHX:fringe schedule here.
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