Domra King 

Russian master tickles strings

THU 2/10

It sounds a bit corny at first, especially given the venue. A classically attired Russian duo, headlined by the "Russian Paganini," aka "Distinguished Artist of Russia" Alexander Tsygankov, holding forth this Thursday night at La Peña, the Berkeley cultural center otherwise known for its radical politics and cutting-edge presentations? But once you hear them play, even on one of their three CDs or their demo DVD, you are likely to join their legions of instant converts. Tsygankov plays the domra, an ancient Russian instrument strummed somewhat like the mandolin, which produces a delicately pinpointed, irresistibly sweet sound far more refined than the banjo's. It's a diminutive instrument, and he is its undisputed champion. He astounds with his virtuosity. Accompanied by his Ukrainian-born pianist wife Inna Shevchenko, who in 1968 was named best accompanist at the Russian National Competition in Tula, Tsygankov has perfected a presentation certain to charm and delight. Some of the duo's repertoire may hark back to an earlier era when czars and warlords ruled over merchants and peasants, but the two's musicianship and ability to delight are truly timeless.

Tsygankov is credited with not only rescuing the domra from obscurity, but also with developing a virtuoso technique and range of nuance that elevate the instrument to a new level of expressive possibility. His rapid strumming is like water, the notes sparkling as though they were new-hatched fish swimming rapidly in the clearest mountain stream. Above, around, and through that strumming comes the ability to pick notes like the best of them, and to vary strumming styles with a sense of discrimination that is the sign of a born musician.

Active in the Balalaika and Domra Associations of America, Tsygankov frequently teaches master classes and shares his knowledge with colleagues in America. In addition to touring the United States on numerous occasions, he has played concerts in Sweden, Germany, Holland, France, Japan, Finland, and a host of other countries. In the published words of the German magazine Remscheider Stadtpost, "Alexander Tsygankov is the master of all domra masters."

Tickets for the 8 p.m. concert ($15/$20 door)from La Peña at 510-849-2560 or -- Jason Victor Serinus


Script Flip

Moor controversy

In Shakespeare's Othello, Iago's first shot at taking down the eponymous Moor who has passed him over for promotion is to tell Desdemona's father, a conservative senator, of Othello's clandestine marriage to her; the ploy fails when the senator realizes that Desdemona truly loves her husband. Will the outcome be the same in Impact Theatre's new production, wherein Skyler Cooper plays Othello as an African-American lesbian in the US military? Well, it's Dick Cheney's world, for sure, but Impact is never afraid to question it. Othello opens Friday at LaVal's Subterranean Theatre (1834 Euclid Ave., Berkeley) and plays through March 19. Tickets: $15 general, $10 students, seniors, and Thursdays pay-what-you-can., 510-464-4468. -- Stefanie Kalem


Ella Te Dará Detalle

So, how did Sara Baras become the most famous flamenco dancer and choreographer in contemporary Spain? Could it be that her training began in her mother's dance studio at age eight, or the television contest she won at eighteen? Could it be the two Premio Nacional de Danza awards she has won? Or is it something simpler, something more insidious -- like the fact that her name is a palindrome? You be the judge when Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras channels the duende with live music and dance at Zellerbach Hall, Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. Tickets: $28-$56,, 510-642-9988. -- Stefanie Kalem

MON 2/14

St. Snarkentine

Got a snarky cinephile for a sweetheart? Then the Smith Center at Ohlone College in Fremont has the perfect Valentine's Day show for you. Two decades ago, writer Gerald Alessandrini gave the world the satiric cabaret show Forbidden Broadway; now he returns with Forbidden Hollywood, comprising forty rapid-fire cracks at everything from Titanic to Forrest Gump. You can see it at 7:30 p.m. Monday, with an optional preshow dinner catered by Pearl's Cafe, available at 6:30. Tickets: $25 adults; $15 seniors, staff, and students; $10 children, and $100 per couple for dinner and show package., 510-659-6031. -- Stefanie Kalem


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