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Laurie Niles

February 14, 2005 at 7:14 PM

The Suzuki kids all grew up and they learned how to dance!

This was my first thought while watching a performance of Barrage Saturday night at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium here in California. Though I've never seen “Stomp,” I believe this is on some level the violin version of that kind of show, put together by Music Director (and violinist and teacher) Dean Marshall and Choreographer Brian Hanson.

In a nutshell, seven cool-looking violinists in their 20s show off their considerable violin chops playing fiddle and pop tunes while prancing nimbly about the stage, doing all kinds of fun tricks with their fiddles without, miraculously enough, snapping a bow stick or smashing a fiddle to smithereens.

It looked so cool, so totally fun, it made me wish I could play the violin.

Wait a minute, here, I do play the violin!

To be honest, I do have that kind of fun playing the violin, though I look rather less active by comparison.

That happy little kokopelli I drew up there in the left-hand corner of dances somewhere on the inside of me every time I play, even something like a Mozart mass. It bounds happily when I play an up-bow that sweeps off the string, and it lands like a skier sliding down a slope when the bow comes down again. My little dancer jives to the percussive feel of a spiccato (off the string) passage, and it undulates to the groove of fiddle-like string crossings. It bobs its little head when I play some nice crazy syncopation or off-kilter rhythm. And it sways gently when a slow, rich note comes out of the fiddle, making my whole body vibrate.

Dean Marshall and Brian Hansen simply brought our secret joys about violin playing to the theater, in a show that makes this inner dancer manifest.

The setting, a “gypsy camp,” looks like something out of a Tim Burton movie, wiry and asymmetrical. The seven violinists, Seonaid Aitken, Carly Frey, Benjamin Gunnery, Mitchell Grobb, Jessica Hindin, Matthew Harney and Thomas Sidebottom, also play with percussionist Bob Fenske, bass guitarist Tim Harley, drummer Jonathan McCaslin and guitarist Jason Graham.

The story, “Vagabond Tales,” is a bit of a silly device. Robert and I giggled over the disembodied voice of the narrator because he sounded exactly like one of our yoga instructors: kind of vampire-like.

The spoken story didn't really seem to matter much because the action of the show carried enough drama to keep me fully entertained.

The violinists were dressed mostly in jeans and nice T-shirts, with the occasional scarf tied around the waist or leg for that “gypsy” look. Supposedly they were two “tribes,” fighting over, uh, making music? Okay, I totally did not follow it!

They played 21 numbers of greatly eclectic origin: fiddle standards like “Old Joe Clark,” the Beatle's tune “Eleanor Rigby,” jazz like “Sing Sing Sing” and one of my faves, the James Bond movie tune, “Live and Let Die.”

The Barrage bunch played with solid conservatory technique, flawless memory and excellent pitch. During “Front Porch Jam,” the musicians tried to out-do each other with their fancy licks, and the fiddle playing was downright virtuosic.

Marshall's charts look fun and do-able, I actually bought a book of them after the show. But aside from the clever arrangements, what really made the show come alive was the way choreographer Brian Hansen picked up on the fun of violin playing and brought it to the stage.

At one point during “Dark-Haired Boy,” the violinists were separated into two groups that traded off a string-crossing ditty, and during the rests they circled their bow arms dramatically, accenting the whole circular nature of bariolage.

During “Sally G,” they rolled huge exercise balls out, dribbling them in turns, sitting on them to play, bouncing on them while playing, even lying backwards to play.

“Chopstickin” was equally fun, beginning with the perscussionist going around and tapping a drumstick on the strings of everyone's fiddles, which they held way out in front of them or to the side. It made for both a nice col legno effect and a satisfying visual image. And how about this one: two guys on their knees, offering up their fiddles for a girl to strum, one with each hand. I had to blush!

During “Rasputin” they did what every little boy violin student dreams of doing: fencing. Violin bow as sword, isn't that what it's really for? Even better, during “La Salle de Classe,” they whip-sawed the bows, in timed succession, to create a series of swooshing sounds.

“Eleanor Rigby,” which has a string quartet in its original form, found them exchanging pizzicato riffs.

I enjoyed “Karen's Air,” a love song. I couldn't decide if it was a love song to “Karen” or to the violin! It helped heal my bad memories of that excruciatingly uncomfortable love scene in the Red Violin. Erase and replace: Imagine, the sad girl, kneeling alone, with no violin. Her love is playing his violin nearby, and he sees her. With the violin still on his shoulder, he comes and wraps his arm around her tenderly. She lays her head on his shoulder as he brings bow to string around her and begins to play sweetly. She just rests and listens. When he stops, they cradle the fiddle in their arms together. Perhaps only a violinist could understand this love song and all the nurture, love and devotion wrapped up in a violin.

After that came plenty of exuberance: jumping and dancing while playing, playing in a group that is posed together impossibly close (like even closer than I sat in the tiny pit for “Oklahoma”), picking each other up while playing, and other joyous ways to play around with a fiddle and a group of friends. What fun!

So here is the public announcement for those of you who want to sing, dance, play and travel: Dean Marshall has some job openings for students or recent graduates that may be interested in being a part of this production. They are casting an accomplished violinist and guitarist to fill A.F. of M. contracted positions in the cast or Barrage. It is a year term contract and it involves a lot of travel. They are looking for musicians (males in particular) between the ages of 18 - 30. Auditions are Feb. 18-20 in Long Beach, Calif. For more information, contact Dean Marshall at

From Scott 68
Posted on February 14, 2005 at 9:21 PM
I thought about auditioning (for guitar im not a good violinist yet), it would be so fun to tour but i live in slow-hio and I just signed a lease for next year and Im not sure I would have much fun playing music like that every night, probably wouldnt like it much

I know what you mean about that scene in the red violin, i think it totally ruined the movie

From Evelyn Ray
Posted on February 15, 2005 at 11:27 AM
When I watched the scene of the lovers in "The Red Violin" I was angry. It was totally unnecessary. I have a very young niece who is very interested in the violin and my first thoughts were for her to see all the wonderful movies that have inspired me. I had to pause the video at a good spot and send her to do something while I fast-forwarded through it. She's very young and didn't notice the disjointedness.

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