Brittney Chantele Brings A Fire On Venus To A Larger Stage
The New Hazlett CSA series kicks off Season 7
Recital continues our partnership with the New Hazlett Theater by publishing a preview and an editorially-independent review for the five performances in the 2019–20 CSA Performance Series season.
Throughout the season, Recital is meeting with each of the artists to bring you a brief profile of them and their work in the days before their opening performance. We will publish a considered review or a post-show discussion with the artists for each performance, developed from post-show discussions with a consistent panel of local experts in related disciplines.
It’s that time of year when the skies begin to darken and the weather hits peak pleasantness — lows 70s with gently rolling clouds. Lazy summer days are over and the few remaining cookouts may now be accompanied by sweaters and hoodies.
I’m at Mr. Small’s Theater in Millvale to see interdisciplinary artist Brittney Chantele kick off WPTS’s Back to School 2019 concert. As the audience starts to pack in, Chantele’s band enters the stage. And it is quite a band — keys, guitar, bass, drums, trumpet, Chantele on the mic, another vocalist, and an ASL (American Sign Language) interpreter. Their opening song is tight, working out some three over two rhythms with a laid back groove. Chantele has a casual flow to her delivery, questioning “look at my flaws, my imperfections, if I fixed them would you reject them, would you love me, call me heaven?” in a song about the pressures of appearance and perceived imperfections.
The band is playing songs from Chantele’s recent album A Fire On Venus, self-released this past April.
“This is an album about queer love and everything that comes with it — sadness, passion, anger, excitement,” says Chantele. “It was really difficult talking about past relationships, especially relationships that I have gotten over. Those songs don’t hold the same heavy weight that they did when I first started writing the song. But I thought it was important to revisit those songs — to dig back into those emotions — to show how much I’ve grown within relationships, within love, and within loving myself.”
With production by Remy Vega and Treble NLS, who also co-wrote nine songs with Chantele, the album’s 17 songs are concise and vocal-forward, recalling the jazz-based neo-soul vibes floating around during the Y2K scare — Jill Scott, Maxwell, and The Soulquarians. Live, the quantized beats take flight with bassist Daniel Rouse and drummer Jonathan Lightfoot effortlessly grooving in the pocket and the whole band upping the possibilities for dynamic shifts. It’s a good show.
September is also the time for theaters to kick off their ambitious Fall seasons, and Chantele will open the New Hazlett Theater’s seventh CSA performance series with two performances of A Fire On Venus on October 17 and 18.
The New Hazlett CSA program is an incubator for emerging Western Pennsylvanian artists, providing infrastructure and services that are often out of an artist’s reach. Applicants who make it through the competitive selection process are given a stipend, funds to be used for technical assistance from a pre-selected pool of stage designers and craftspeople, and access to the theater staff’s expertise in marketing and production support. Throughout the previous six seasons, the CSA program has proven to be a place where artists can experiment, attempt ambitious work-in-progress performances, or try their hand at incorporating a new medium.
“The [CSA series] has allowed me to explore the possibility of crafting this very refined tour performance to carry to other cities,” says Chantele. “It’s one of the things that I want to do in my career. It’s the next step.”
Known mostly for playing clubs, art galleries, and festivals, Chantele is expanding her already large band to include five to ten dancers under the guidance of choreographer Kaylin Horgan. Horgan has danced, locally, with Pearlann Porter’s The Pillow Project and the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble, dancing works by MacArthur “Genius Grant” Recipient Kyle Abraham, Sidra Bell, and Camille A. Brown. Horgan’s own choreography swings from ecstatic and physical group workouts to quiet, contemplative solo and duo pieces, always maintaining an engaging emotive character. She was also the 2015 Emerging Choreographer of Chicago’s Deeply Rooted Dance Theater.
Back at Mr. Small’s Theater, with the band loose and grooving, it is interesting to think about how many of these songs started as sketches sung into a portable recorder. “There are a lot of songs that I come up with while driving or walking through nature,” says Chantele. “It’s usually little snippets that eventually make up a whole piece.” And it will be equally interesting to see how the recorded songs form the basis for an evening-length, multidisciplinary performance as part of the CSA program.
A Fire On Venus premieres on Thursday, October 17 with a second performance on Friday, October 18 8PM at the New Hazlett Theater. Buy tickets here or at the door. 6 Allegheny Square E, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.