Well, I managed to hold the YES Academy together as acting director with chicken wire, twine and duct tape. In between managing the academy, I was shuttling journalists around from al Arabiya and al Hurra. The rambling wreck held together long enough to get us to the big show and the return of Great Leader.
We had originally planned to hold both concerts in the University of Duhok convention center, but things had conspired otherwise. We were then going to hold both concerts at the Faculty of Humanities hall, a small hall where we had been having classes. In the end, we managed to split the events and hold one at the Humanities hall, and the second at the new convention center.
The first night at the humanities hall was for the Children and Adult Theater programs, and the Hip Hop program. It was a bit of a debacle. The room had a few free standing airconditioners, but not nearly enough to keep the crush of bodies cool. It was a hot and sweaty affair. The show had been set up with the choreography in mind, but that meant there wasn’t nearly enough chairs. So we had to add space at the risk of choreography. It started late and was hot and sweaty, and people were fanning furiously to try to stay cool.
The children’s theater was cute, offering up American and Kurdish folk stories in adorable costumes. We ran into a big problem for a portion when the children’s theater was supposed to be dancing with the breakdance program. The show had been choreographed and the kids had worked with the dancers, mostly the ones from Baghdad. Yet when the section was supposed to go on, the breakdancers from Erbil stole their parts. They literally disregarded the designed show and took the kids out completely out of turn. It wasn’t like they simply forgot, it had been worked on for two weeks. The Baghdad crew was furious, rightfully so.
The adult theater went on, and was quite good. A great scene from Hamlet was performed, with various actors coming out to declare “To be or not to be” in Kurdish (Badini and Sorani), Arabic and English. Then in a second scene, a Kurdish Hamlet named Dilman gave a baritone monologue Min ham ya nim, the full Hamlet scene. There were a few other fun scenes from various plays and monologues. As always, the audience responded best to the slapstick humor. ‘Tis why I have long been advocating showing old reruns of the “Three Stooges” would be ratings gold around the world.
The show continued with the breakdance portion returned and the Baghdad crew getting to do their rightful scene. They did a wonderfully choreographed program called “Sail,” which featured hip hop and breakdance to a nontraditional breakdance song. The song was hauntingly melodious, and the crew performed masterfully while doing some beautiful and artistic dance and breakdance moves.
In short, the show was fine. It was just the location and the heat that didn’t work well. I was interviewed on Duhok TV about the performing arts academy and our time in the city.
The following day, we booted the Erbil hip hop kids from the program. Even though it was the last day, their stealing the show (literally) from the Baghdad dancers was inexcusable.
The final day of the program came, and we worked on getting the last gala ready. John started getting unnerved in the morning that the crews promised to get the chairs, instruments and pianos over to the convention center some 10 minutes away on the campus were late. He made the decision to switch locations to the same faculty hall, and I found him and the students moving a piano up two flights to the humanities hall. I tried to intervene to get him to change his mind. I quickly called Ari the project manager, and we worked on getting him to think about all that his decision to switch the program entailed. We also spoke to the convention center, and they assured us that everything was ready. Ari and I managed to get him to rescind his decision and keep the convention center as the location; he washed his hands and said it was now the “Paul and Ari Show” and we had to get it right.
I drove over with the volunteers to the convention center, and promptly freaked out when I saw the hall they had planned for us. Rather than the great hall we were promised, it was a small hall with a little stage that wouldn’t remotely fit an orchestra, and with a giant pit below that would have swallowed up dancers. We began immediately working to get the Faculty of Humanities to correct the situation and give us the big hall as expected. I was pacing in the hall, thumbing my worry beads wondering if I had just caused a bigger debacle. Time was starting to run out for getting the instruments over to the hall for rehearsals and we were facing a make-or-break moment of whether to stay the course and try to secure the big hall or move it over to the humanities hall. At the eleventh hour, we secured permission and assistance from the convention center and went into action shuttling chairs, instruments and a piano. We got everything over in time, and the rehearsals began almost as scheduled.
I ran around dealing with last details, as we worked on sound and lights for the show. We got the orchestra done with rehearsals and sent them off to lunch. In the midst of this, I found out that we had problems with the Erbil hip hop kids that we booted. I had to frantically explain to the convention hall manager not to let anyone in the building and to lock the doors, unless they cleared entry with us because we were worried that the Erbil hip hop kids would cause trouble. They were not going quietly or nicely, and ultimately we had to call the police to escort them off the campus. Problem solved.
We went rumbling, bumbling, stumbling into the endzone and kicked off the final gala. I sat exhausted in my chair as I watched the fruits of the hard work of the YES Academy.
Dr. Gene Aitken and Mariano Abello led off with the jazz program. The students played a wonderful latin jazz song by Tito Fuentes. This was followed by a jazz/rock song which included an amazing transformation of a guitar into essentially a dulcimer. I had never seen or heard anything like it, it was impressive. The jazz program concluded with a fun jazz tune called “No clams but oysters” and had the crowd excited.
Next we had the piano program perform. Led by Dr. Bradley Bolen of Baylor University, the piano students performed marvelously. A young rolypolu virtuoso in a tux named Muhammed performed Chopin’s waltz, while Herish our American Voices Scholarship student played a challenging piece by Rachmaninoff. The piano show was quite impressive.
Next, we had a return of the theater program for an abridged version of the previous night’s show. This was followed by the Baghdad breakdance crew coming out for a tremendous performance that brought down the house. They flipped and rocked, and bounced their way on and off the stage, and were utterly incredible in their athletic feats.
After a brief intermission, we had the orchestra portion. There were two YES Academy orchestras, the chamber and the advanced. The chamber orchestra performed well, playing some recognizable favorites
The evening ended with the advanced orchestra playing a few of the composition class’ best piece with flair and pluck. The continued with Vivaldi’s Concerto Gross, and ended the long evening with a beautiful rendition of “Clocks” by Coldplay, which had been featured on NPR. As Bruce was conducting the song, he looked at me and mouthed “this is for you.” I was immensely touched.
The evening ended as did the academy. There were hugs and cries among the students, and a barrage of photos taken.