2019 Drive East Program Two, August 16, Z Below, San Francisco

19 Aug

After the surpassing experience of Satpathy and Khan on Thursday evening,  what Drive East’s 2019 second program in San Francisco would provide? The two offerings did not pretend to classical format, if schooled in solid classical foundations.

Of the two Unfiltered with the Bharata Natyam-trained trio Rasika Kumar, Suhasra Sambarmoorthi and Nadhi Thekkek was the more intriguing to me; young professional women in differing settings, dealing with the overactive hormones and advances of men.

The trio are depicted rising in the morning, accomplishing their ablutions and then headed to their differing activities. For Rasika Kumar, she was seated behind a desk using a computer, the strike of her heel emphasizing the technical activity. Two or three times, she rises to greet visitors and direct them upstairs or into a special office. She also was called into the special office, apparently complimented, to which she smiles delightedly until the interaction becomes close by and intrusive.

Here the Bharata Natyam tradition of abhinaya and the expressive possibilities inherent in the padam format provided Kumar with all she needed to express the range of pleasure to surprise, disappointment, alarm, departure from the scene of the scene of advances, and the shaking realization of superior-inferior working consequences.

Suhasra Sambarmoorthi’s character appeared domestic, purchasing food and kitchen supplies for the home. One observed her returning and storing items from her grocery bags before preparing something for someone, whether an employer or a relative or husband unclear. Something missing from the offering;  Sambarmoorthi’s face as she flinched from a tirade made one realize just how arbitrary this unseen creature was. So extreme, it found her locked out, turning the house key futilely, knocking on the door for entry, her foot and bells marking the desperate effort.

Nadhi Thekkek came across as the most flirtatious of the three; it was not clear whether she had been invited by some long-time friend or relative to choose a dress to attend a special event. Nadhi sorted through several gowns on a rack, choosing one which pleased her enormously, although it was uncertain his reaction. She also tried on what seemed to be a pair of extreme shoes, clearly feeling she was smart as paint. Nadhi seemed predestined for trouble.

A party ensued, whether an event or a bar was uncertain. But she accepted one drink and became quite merry. After some equivocation, a second drink was offered, and it became clear it was a mickey. Nadhi awoke to find herself on the floor opposite where she had imbibed her mistake; she was misery personified. It did not seem she had been abducted, but she had been violated. I don’t know whether it is the medium or the skill of the exponent, but abhinaya and the Indian dance tradition can together magnify and convey misery like few styles of dance, abetted, of course, by the quality of the dancer.  One or two of the gestures might have been explained to us Western dullards to help heighten our appreciation of the dramatic events.

At one point, their backs to the audience, the trio looked at each other and touched gently. It was a brief, archetypal gesture of support, to me more touching than the assertions which followed.

The successive declarations, “I don’t deserve this; It’s not my fault,” each coming forward, and then inter-weaving, gave the trio space to move in Bharata Natyam style with punch and energy.

Rasika Kumar has been responsible for a number of choreographic innovations within the Bharata Natyam idiom. I reviewed earlier a solo performance  on Courage, exploring traditional Hindu myths and epics on the women in such tales and their responses; later on Gandhi, most recently on Martin Luther King.

Here, however, the three exponents schooled by three differing teachers, collaborated on the all too prevalent theme of women exploited in current society.

Their music was supplied them by Roopa Mahadevan who became the lead performer in the evening’s second half, appearing with the percussion whiz
Rohan Krishnamurthy plus two talented local artists, pianist and flutist Erica  Oda and violinist Anjana Swaminathan.

Mahadevan is a woman ample in spirit and body, dressed cross-culturally in a long diaphanous golden covering street-length black, generous drop earrings and a mass of curly hair which showed signs of being hennaed. After the traditional Indian tuning vocal sounds, which find a parallel in flamenco, her initial songs displayed strong Western influence though later she recited Indian solflege and syllables in the Carnatic tradition, displaying the basic understanding with which she had created the score for the previous work, Unfiltered.

She gave space for Krishnamurthy’s percussion solo, a blend of usual Western
jazz symbols, the mrdangam, the Peruvian Cajon, which was mesmerizing.
She acknowledged the contributions made by Erica Oda on keyboard and with the flute, and violinist Anjana Swaminathan, for their support on two days’ notice.

Oda’s brief contribution with the flute was connected, of course, with Krishna,
eliciting Indian language lyrics from Mahadevan. I would love to have heard more from Swaminathan’s whose piquant, heart-shaped face was enlivened throughout with inquiring eyes as she bowed her violin in its traditional South Indian position.

It is clear that Mahadevan’s ensemble is aptly named, Roopa in Flux, for the contrast between the South Indian Carnatic idiom and Western pop and jazz is something in which she specializes. It is not an easy course to chart, but it is clear that Roopa Mahadevan is steering ahead full sail.

I left the performance with distinct appreciation for the skill with which these
artists, all trained in some one classical idiom within the United States and with periodic exposure to masters in India, are retaining tradition but utilizing it in service to contemporary tastes and needs without apology and with discernment.

This country is damned lucky to have their presence, and there are times when
I wish our conventional European-bred expressions would utilize their richness.

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Satpathy at Drive East’s 2019 San Francisco’s Opening

18 Aug

Drive East is the mid-late summer festival of Indian music and dance produced by Navatman, a New York based cultural institution, for the  past four or five years. From August 5-11 Drive East presented its array of artists in New York and August 15-18 in San Francisco. Headlining are Indian-based artists of considerable luster., In both instances many performing are resident in the respective areas; it is clear Navatman wants engagement and recognition for these exponents, many of whom are U.S. born. In San Francisco the festival has been co-presented as Drive East: Locally Sourced by Nava Dance Theatre, directed by Nadhi Thekkek, at Z Below, the small theatre space originally created for the Traveling Jewish Theatre.

And luster in probably the only word I can give to Bijayini Satpathy, whom Marina Harss interviewed for the New York Times August 2 and reviewed for Dance Tabs August 8, utterly felicitous, worthy accounts for this remarkable artist. Satpathy’s program was short, 75 minutes, followed by Hidayat Khan and Enayet Hossain, sitar and tabla who performed an hour’s exposition of one raga.

Bijayani Satpathy is a small, beautifully proportioned, exquisite-faced woman with eyes proclaiming woman’s mysteries at their most beguiling, and the allure arising from shifting moods and transient emotions. Her hands are supple, her fingers eloquent accents and her arms  constant reminders as facilitators to feeling. I cannot fathom any man in his right mind being able to resist her. Her portrayals, with all the transient expressions rising in her eyes, underlined by a facial muscle or two,  her mouth completing the emotion, were utterly free of guile, thanks to her subject matter, save, of course for an impressive portrayal of Ravana, the demon who abducted Sita to Sri Lanka.

Satpathy’s dance style is Odissi, the classical form from Orissa, where the medieval Hindu temples are copiously adorned with dancers in the tribhanga, or three angled-position, constituting Odissi’s basic classical stance just as Bharata Natyam is noted for the triangle, Kathakali the square and Kathak the vertical, a penetrating analysis made by Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan.

A former member and teacher at Nrityagram, the recorded music is credited as its source. Her four number program had  for choreographers Surupa Sen for Srimati and Sakhi He and the late, great Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra for the opening Mangalcharan and the final, masterful Sita Haran.

Let me refer to Marina Harss’ review for details of Satpathy’s dramatic gifts. For me her dramatic range solidified itself between Sakthi He and Sita Haran with the contrasts between the bewitched, compliant feminine and the slimy, savage, rapacious Ravana wild-eyed, unhinged, demonic.

When Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan lectured at U.C., Santa Cruz she emphasized that the popularity of the Gita Govinda was based on Krishna’s human incarnation, providing the devotee with a deity to whom Hindus could relate and converse, giving rise to the Hindu bhakti or devotional movement, of which the Gita Govinda is the supreme example.

Sakthi He embraces the convention of the nayika or heroine, confiding in her sakhi of her experience with Lord Krishna and their mutual passion, asking the sakhi to bring them together once again. Satpathy’s portrait exposes the most intimate expressions, my reaction one of feeling I was spying on two passionate individuals.

From such a sense of exclusive exposure, Kelucharan’s Sita Haran steps into narrative of good, evil. the cause and effect of naive and innocent desire, setting in motion the enormous struggle involving Rama and Ravana, no less interesting but clearly more objective in subject matter and treatment.

Sita Haran explores the Golden Deer episode of the Ramayana, the object desired of Sita, her plea to Rama and his soldiering his bow, the false cry to Lakshman, Lakshman’s initial refusal to respond and the utter misery when Sita breaches the magic lines drawn by Lakshman, plus the magnificent bird’s death throes after his attempt to rescue Sita.

As Johanna Friedmann and I waited between Satpathy and Hidayat Khan, Paul
Parrish remarked with distinct awe on the measured beats of Sita’s despair when she realized she had been deceived. I added how taken I had been with the convulsive death gasps of that fated bird.

I wish I was more cognizant of the Hindustani musical tradition beyond its format and the practical conventions of the tuning of both instruments, sitar and the two drums constituting the tabla. I am generally familiar with the Hindustani musical history. assisted by Wikipedia, but I don’t pretend to musical expertise in its practice or theory.

India-based Hidayat Khan, the 7th generation sitar exponent, is a singularly handsome-faced man with chiseled features, whom I passed smoking en route to Z Below; Enayet Hossain appears to have settled in Maryland, working on Hindustani musical texts as well as collaborating cross-culturally musically. It might be noted that Maryland was Chitresh Das’ introduction to the United States.

The tuning of the instruments took several minutes, Hidayat applying a wooden tool to adjust the pegs;  Hossain required more vigorous adjustments to his tabla than I have been accustomed to.

The selection, announced by Khan, and starting with the letter J, was one he attributed to his father, Ustad Alludin Khan, and Hidayat provided a number of references which were difficult to catch. But as partial testimony to his father’s compositional skills, Alludin Khan was responsible for the music of Satyajit Ray’s Jalsagar.

The raga itself lasted an hour and was warmly received.

One negative note regarding the program itself, printed on slick black paper, with the daily performance printed on a white insert. While it provides basic information on the artists appearing, both East and West Coast based, in addition to Satpathy and Khan, the color does not lend itself to easy reference, and it led me to speculate whether its use was due to a special discount on disused stock. I hope the 2020 festival corrects the color; it was hard deciphering on senior citizen-aged eyes.

About Ruby Asquith, 1914-1998

15 Aug

At least twice, possibly three times many years ago, I enrolled in San Francisco Ballet’s adult classes. The first was on Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street, upstairs from a luncheon-bar establishment operated by what I was given to understand was operated by Penelope Lagos Johnson’s father. The second time was on Clay Street, when the company and school occupied the former Theatre Arts Colony rustic establishment between Polk and Van Ness.

Each time the beginner’s classes were taught by a dimunitive, dark-haired woman by the name of Ruby Asquith, the wife of Harold Christensen, middle brother of the notable Utah-born trio whose careers have been inseparable with the rise of American ballet and, most specifically, the San Francisco Ballet.

Yet my first encounter with Ruby was seated in a high school auditorium for a Sunday matinee when San Francisco Ballet danced in Visalia, California the spring of 1940. The ballet was Romeo and Juliet to the Tchaikovsky tone poem and Ruby Asquith was, indeed, Juliet opposite Willam Christensen’s Romeo. It was my first exposure to ballet and a ballet company. The second time around, it was 1946 when San Francisco Ballet danced its trail-blazing Nutcracker production in the auditorium of Porterville Union High School with Gisella Caccialanza as the Sugar Plum Fairy. I think Willam was still the cavalier. If my memory is accurate, Ruby was not present, possibly a new mother.

Flipping forward to those beginning classes, I remember a young, coltish-like teen-ager at the barre in front of me by the name of Pat. She later married Derk Te Roller, and the couple’s lives were deeply intertwined with San Francisco Ballet. For a time Pat served as the company’s press representative and Derk was company manager when SFB was situated in a remodeled garage on 18th Avenue between Geary Boulevard and Clement. Pat appeared as the mother in a number of the annual Nutcracker performances, became further  involved with the company’s administration, leaving a fiscal legacy to the company on her death. Derk had died perhaps two decades earlier.

Our teacher was Ruby and what heart she brought to her teaching! She indeed made you feel you could do it. Just as we reached a certain stage, Ruby relinquished her role to Harold and spirit was lost to correctness, West Point style, where Harold had been briefly enrolled. Summer limitations interfered with further pursuit the first time and financial limits the second. The kernel of Ruby’s warmth, however, remained.

A couple of times I encountered Ruby either at performances or in some generalized social gatherng when the company’s fortunes had begun to rise, and Ford Foundation has supplied scholarship funds for supporting promising talent. Ruby remarked with a measure of nostalgia and a hinting trace of bitterness that San Francisco previously has sat on its hands, quite unsupportive.

I also attended the memorial service San Francisco Ballet held in one of its major studios following Ruby’s death June 7, 1998, ironically followed by the death of her sister-in-law, Gisella Caccialanza in July. Both mainstays of formative American ballet had bowed out almost two months to the day.

Within a year, or close to it, Dance Magazine carried a small ad about a documentary titled Encore for Ruby. It ran for several months and then disappeared, its details remaining a mystery until this spring when footage from appeared in Joanna Harris’ o Beyond Isadora video, summarizing San Francisco Bay Area life from the Panama Pacific Exposition to 1965 when the enabling legislation for the National Endowments of the Arts and Humanities was passed. Joanna had included snippets frrom the original production of Lew Christensen’s Filling Station and a still of early San Francisco Ballet dancers arrayed on the Opera house steps.

Joanna informed me she had been able “with some difficulty” to acquire the footage from a San Jose television station. The intervening steps between that information and locating the West Coast Arts Foundation on the Web skips recent memory, but, hooray, the Web Site carried the information that Encore for Ruby was available for $24.00, shipping at $3.99. Off immediately went my check, to be followed by a melodic-voiced telephone message thanking me for the order, the speaker identifying herself as Margot Jones.

It is difficult to assign adjectives to this mixture of history, anecdote and personality, but it definitely is a charmer and the footage provides a remarkably vivid portrait of Ruby Asquith Christensen.

The opening credits the San Jose television station, individual donors and the E.L. Weigand Foundation for supporting Jones’ tribute to her teacher. A head shot of Cynthia Gregory follows; she describes her exposure to Ruby and San Francisco Ballet training as the result of her Ford Foundation fellowship. Gregory swiftly became a major talent in the company before she elected to move to New York City where she joined American Ballet Theatre, essentially the remainder of her career.

Ruby is shown coaching a young student in the role of Persephone, Ruby’s first major role as she studied dance in Portland, Oregon. The images of the city in the 20’s evoke the rawness and energy associated with the era. Then Jones cuts in with the Christensen brothers, their Utah background, their touring of the vaudeville circuit, and Willam’s assuming the school of his uncle Moises in Portland. Harold and Lew arrive in Portland to audition replacements for their partners; Ruby and Josephine were selected. Ruby recounts her fascination with the acts they shared billing with in vaudeville, specifically Guy Lombardo.

The quartet leave vaudeville to dance in The Great Waltz and they encounter Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine. The ensemble these two visionaries assemble became the American Ballet and is hired by the Metropolitan Opera for which dancers were one step higher than janitors. Ruby recounts a lively incident in the opera Aida. Most of these sequences were in black and white.

Throughout the footage diminutive Ruby is seen teaching in a soft scarlet jump suit, more coaching of Persephone and footage of older professional dancers either taking class or listening to Ruby.

Ballet Caravan gets excellent attention, including ballets which are only names in ballet history, but also Lew in the title role in Filling Station, footage which Joanna Harris utilized. Touring style in the ‘30’s is included and images of Kirstein very involved in the production. Asquith said she understood Kirstein spent three inheritances in his quest to create an American ballet company.

Ruby discussed her role with San Francisco Ballet, her frequent appearances in Coppelia, demonstrating her spunk as Swanhilda, but declaring she finally said “no more.”

The final footage displays the students, a social gathering, and the dress rehearsal of Persephone. Ruby mentioned she and Harold had been married 49 years, and her choice of Harold over auditioning for the nascent Ballet Theatre because Anthony Tudor was captured by her dramatic ability. What was never mentioned was an episode Russell Hartley overheard when the Markova-Dolin shared performances with San Francisco Ballet in the mid ’40’s. Ruby apparently has been approached by Dolin to join the ensemble and Hartley overheard Ruby pleading with Harold to allow her to go, memories of the lost Ballet Theatre possibility probably factoring into Ruby’s desire to test herself elsewhere. Harold refused and Ruby remained to encourage Margot Jones and her other students to persevere and surround Ruby Asquith Christensen with loyalty and affection.

It is indeed a specialized tale, encompassing over six decades recording a private life joined to the history of American ballet’s formative years. It is a definite tribute to Margot Jones and her assiduous search and utilization of historical stills and problematic movie footage giving a vivid picture of shoestring touring during the ‘30’s. Anyone who has read about this early history can fill in some of the figures, facts and productions left unclarified.

Encore for Ruby is available through the West Coast Arts Foundation, 145 Town Center, #602, Corte Madera Ca 94925, with shipping $27.99.

Garrett-Moulton Equals Joyous Vibes

10 Aug

August 9 Garrett-Moulton presented four and premiered two works at YBCA’s Blue Shield Theatre. Parenthetically, the theatre has enjoyed several different titles, which I assume all represent a healthy donation to the institution.

There is a refreshing sense of the casual in the G-M productions, for all the fact they are superbly conceived, mounting and danced, and this ambiance was reflected in the couple’s appearance both before and after the performance. Two Garrett choreographies were premieres, one a US premiere, the third a 2017 repeat; Ball Passing Plus was a Moulton reworking of his iconic exercise in group coordination. All four works were magically lit by Allan Willner with Julienne Weston responsible for the costume design supported by Lisa Claybaugh in wardrobe and the works stage managed by Bri Owens. Jonathan Russell led the nine-person orchestra, composer of three of the works, as well as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

With the 2017 work, The Mozart, played formidably by Allegra Chapman, six dancers, with guest Jeremy Smith, stood in a circle, their ink blue-black costumes alive with stripes of glitter, before separating with flowing port de bras to echo the rippling tones of Mozart. Each dancer appeared solo, their bodies bending, reaching, turning in harmonious echo to the music. Then couples began to appear, two men confronting each other, grappling, supporting, with examples following which were male-female, female-female, continuing the initial  port de bras and port de corps, lines singing all the way, before coalescing as the lights were cut. I just hope the work has been taped.

I have long been an admirer of Carolina Czechowska and this admiration has only increased. What an Odette/Odile she could make. Also I am impressed with Haiou Wang’s precision in gesture and phrasing, clearly enforced by experience dancing Korean traditional dance forms.

Janice Garrett came on stage to announce a change in program order: Ball Passing Plus next, Hunting Gathering after the intermission with Gojubi the finale.

The Ball Passing Team this time around was community based; varied community dance lovers committing 30 hours to learning the fascinating, complex moves which the Joffrey Ballet premiered, but seen here by local dancers. This time around it revealed a varied array not only of body types, but also age range.

In the front was a distinctly senior woman, white-haired, generously proportioned, holding her own and then some next to someone who might be voting for the first time in 2020; up on the top row, between two men was an Asian who was someone’s mother, one of the males beside her exhibiting his zest at the dinner table. There was a captain in the upper left tier, happily counting in what appeared to be sequences of eight. The ball passing would veer from the exchange among three to unison forward thrusts or cross body swings, exchanges upwards and downwards, all seeming unending variations.

At the finale however, the “Plus” appeared in the form of the dancers, dressed in tights and body suits of bright colors, differing from tights to body, leaping and tossing more multi-colored balls, leaving their colorful profusion on the stage at curtain fall.

Garrett’s somber Hunting Gathering reflected her interest and commitment to working in Africa. In shadowy lighting the six dancers reached, groped, clung and collected against an unspecified but clearly experienced primitive environment. Here and there one grasped the presence of fruiting plants and trees, of water found, the collective task of searching for sustenance. Music and lighting reinforced the embraces, the reaches, the meagerness of survival.

The U.S. premiere of Gojubi completed the evening with non-stop exposition of joy, energy, movement. Originally mounted for the Place in London, in the Q&A afterwards. Nol Simonse said the dancers never could have made it without the orchestra behind them. Garrett mentioned she had mounted it on 18-year olds overflowing with energy, and clearly it belonged at a program’s end , if the dancers were up to it.

I asked what language Gojubi belonged to, expecting Garrett would respond with some African dialect she had picked up in her sojourns. She replied that it was short for “Go Be Jubilant,” having wanted to create something when she first heard Russell’s composition. She has mixed sequence of phrases from GoBeJu to Gojubi, perhaps a sly challenge to the original English audience.

The audience responded with warmth and enthusiasm, not only during Ball Passing Plus, but many rising to their feet at the final curtain. I had the feeling of participating, if briefly, in a genuinely human community event.

In addition to the previous bits of information that were supplied in the Q &A,
Moulton paid tribute to the lighting skills of Alan Willner and Garrett mentioned she had seen the original Ball Passing performance on eight people. Moulton remarked he had staged it in Toronto on community members, commenting on the challenge of timing, concentration and coordination it requires. Moulton had been asked to try it on various handicapped populations, children and adults;  he said the responses were remarkable. UCS Benioff Children’s Hospital is conferring with him regarding its therapeutic usage.

How fortunate  that Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton have chosen to make their artistic base in San Francisco.

An August Birthday Gathering

8 Aug

With the influx of techies and the companies who employ them, the liveliness of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, particularly in the dance world, can assume the trappings of a distant dream, except for those present who participated with their skillful muscles. It was a time when I still was writing ten columns a year, 1000 words at $15 a column for Dance News, while occupying a low level administrative post at U.C.S.F.

One of the serene, technically secure dancers of that decade was Carolyn Houser Carvajal, who came to San Francisco on a Ford Foundation scholarship, joined San Francisco Ballet briefly,.  Defecting, along with Christine Bennett and Katy Warner,  the trio joined Dance Spectrum, the ensemble Carlos Carvajal created down near the Embarcardero in a cavernous warehouse, long since demolished and replaced with a high rise. Native-born Carvajal, his highly varied dance experience starting with Chang’s International Dancers in the mid-‘40’s, had returned to San Francisco after a decade in Europe, dancing with le Grand Ballet de Marquis de Cuevas, the Bremen and Bordeaux Opera Ballets. He immediately  was re-engaged by Lew Christensen to serve as ballet master and occasional choreography.

Carlos as responsible for creating  Tottentanz for San Francisco Ballet, a work later  performed at Grace Cathedral under the aegis of Dance Spectrum. Another work he created for SFB was called Voyage Interdit which Leon Kalimos booked into the former auditorium of Presentation High School, Masonic at Turk, where the stage could incorporate the girls’ gymnasium. Betsy Erickson and Zola Dishong had major roles in the work, not long before they opted for several seasons with American Ballet Theatre.

Carlos also created a work titled Genesis  which may have been the opus to which the San Francisco Ballet Board at the time objected so strenuously because pf the psychedelic practitioners filling the Opera House. In retrospect, those who attended Carvajal’s creations seemed quite tame to  the audience members enthralled with Pita’s Bjork Ballet. Carvajal’s interest in Bali and other parts of Asia now seem to verge on the academic.

Fast forward a year or two; Carlos and Carolyn married at Grace Cathedral. Carlos produced Wintermas at Nourse Auditorium, a work composer Richard Felciano considers a masterwork of skillful incorporation of disparate cultural practices. It also has a Rutha Asawa tumbleweed type sculpture in its environment.

Dance Spectrum, with headquarters at 22nd and Mission, lasted a decade. The dancers moved into other gigs. Christine Bennett died early. Katy Warner was one of Alonso King’s early stalwarts, and Carolyn found niches in the San Francisco Opera corps de ballet and Dance Through Time.

In the latter Carolyn changed three centuries worth of costumes, from the minuet where her flirtation evoked Danilova’s perennial charm, to the tie-dye amorphous robes of the flower children of the Haight. She taught adults, helped direct the Do-it-Yourself Nutcracker at YBCA, gradually choosing to concentrate on self-generated and focused activities.

Two grandchildren have helped promote the gradual change, their New York location allowing her to join forces with photographer Marty Sohl [a Dance Spectrum alumna] to attend American Ballet Theatre seasons at the Met.

August 3 Dance Spectrum alumnae gathered at Villa Satori to observe Carolyn’s
70th birthday, each contributing one of their standard gourmet specialties. Predictably, the conversation mixed the recent satisfactions and historical nostalgia.  Carlos showed a video of Dance Spectrum’s 1979`s appearance at Stern Grove: Shapes of Evening; Commedia; The Secret Silence, and Hafner Symphony.  Comments punctuated the visual memory of Stern Grove, which had acquired a marley floor but still was dominated by greenery. One or two shouts of bravo emerged from the tape. I asked Sulpicio Wagner, fleet throughout, when he has started studying ballet, “Seventeen,” was the reply from the dancer who also clocked several years credit with Dance Theatre of Harlem in addition to Dance Spectrum. “Eighteen,” Carlos added of his own beginnings.

Then there was Carolyn in the Hafner Symphony, serene, adept technically, slight accents in the arms and epaulement; you felt an unspoken security and ease. It is little wonder that Heuwell Tircuit wrote of her, “An underrated ballerina.”

Bon Anniversaire, Carolyn.

 

 

ODC’s 2019 Summer Sampler Two

4 Aug

ODC’s 2019 Summer Sampler Two August 2 at its B Way Theater was a Brenda Way trio, ensemble, pas de deux, ensemble, all adventurous, two revivals, one new this year, with the third  one a 2010 revival requiring ten dancers instead of ODC’s usual eight.
As usual, ODC’s dancers were given a work out, demonstrating just how well they acquit themselves and just how formidable a technique each possesses. The collective muscular and emotional intelligence displayed in all three were spectacular.

Seen August 2 the two revivals were Unintended Consequences [2008], Waving Not Drowning [A Guide to Elegance] [2010], the new Passacaglia, 2019, a pas de deux interpreted by Allie Papazian and James Gilmer, with the rare combination of tenderness, feminine initiative and lots of sheer physical skill.   Unintended Consequences  like Waving Not Drowning featured lighting design by Alexander V. Nichols with lighting director David Robertson; Thomas Bowersox did the honors for Passagalia as well as serving throughout as Assistant Production Manager. Saskia Lee stage managed all three works with Kyo Yohena sharing production duties as wardrobe supervisor.

For the ensemble guest artists Donghoon Lee and Dalmacio Payomo joined the company dancers for Unintended Consequences. In the finale ensemble ODC Dance Jam Teen Dancer Jasmine Rivers appeared along with Jaime Garcia Castilla, a recent ODC member after his nearly two decades with San Francisco Ballet.

What lodges in my memory from Unintended Consequences were locations of action, which shifted emphasis and personnel and Way’s uncanny capacity for quirks, quick changes in direction or emphasis in pauses, as if saying, “Oh, yes, I forgot to do…”

As for the capacity to spoof “the latest,” Way can be funny and acid, demonstrated full force in Waving Not Drowning, Pamela Z speaking Vogue/Harper’s/Elle style commentary on dress, directing the augmented ensemble of women in their black practice garb in postures one might observe on the slick pages advertising or editorializing le dernier cri.

I was beginning to think “and so,” when each woman acquired sheets of white paper. They proceeded to make manikins of the assembled males, Castilla, whose face is adorned by an elegant moustache and cropped beard, getting rows of white flowers on his chemise and Donghoon Lee something closely resembling a broken down Odette. Gilmer was treated to an asymmetrical design, and the audience to the backs of young women earnestly transforming their models for the runway. The audience enjoyed the novelty of reverse dressing, and Donghoon Lee summarized it by sinking to the floor in best Odette fashion in response to the warm collective applause.

SF BAllet at Stern Grove July 28

30 Jul

The weather was kind to humanity attending San Francisco Ballet’s appearance at Stern Grove July 28. Fog did come in more or less mid-way, but spared the temperature drop which union rules dictate the dancers must not appear. This year individual seats at the picnic tables replaced the splintery green benches serving audiences for many decades. The press table, 57, was way to stage left; Brooke Byrne and I trekked with pillows and lunch down a path from the Wawona Parking Lot, then down the central road from the corner of 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard. Bags were checked, lists were consulted, badges and wrist bands were supplied, the latter two indicating we were entitled to the VIP table treatment.
Toba Singer came with her son, James Gotesky, Houston Ballet and School; Paul Parrish came soon after. Missing was Rita Felciano, getting ready for a European trip; with the absence of an ailing Teri McCollum and the recently late Allan Ulrich, it seemed something of  lonely survival with our number. You You Xia, head honcho for the Ballet’s communications,  came by to greet us. Clad in grey, it was her first Stern Grove event.

 

I sometimes wonder the rationale behind the Ballet’s Stern Grove programming – we have witnessed some wonderful moments; – with the Bizet Symphony in C  Sofiane Sylve earned an Isadora Duncan Dance Award for example, and I remember Muriel Maffre and Pierre-Francois Villanoba dancing a memorable pas de deux from In the Middle Somewhat Elevated.

What was programmed was Balanchine’s Scotch Symphony [Mendelsohn]; Rubies pas de deux [Stravinisky]; Sleeping Beauty’s wedding pas de deux [Tchaikovsky]; Diving into the Lilacs, Yuri Possokohov’s tribute to his schooling at the Bolshoi, and Hurry Up We’re Dreaming [various contemporary tunes]by Justin Peck. The dancers were admirable but I wasn’t carried away and I do relish waxing rhapsodic.

Matilde Froustey and Joseph Walsh were the Sylphide and James in Balanchine’s nod to Bournonville. From a distance, they were comely and competently paired. The originals were Maria Tallchief and Andre Eglevsky with Patricia Wilde as the Highland Fling exponent, here danced by Dores Andre. Seen at a distance Andre was fleet and insouciant. In an interesting comparison Sunday’s couple looked the part; I would have preferred to see Andre executing beats and heel and toe movements from the rich Iberian traditions As a reader can obviously gather, Scotch Symphony is not one of my Balanchine favorites.

Rubies was up next with Misa Kuranaga and Esteban Hernandez in this middle of Balanchine’s Jewels, music by Igor Stravinsky; they were wonderfully adept. However, and without doubt unfairly, I think Edward Villella should have been invited to provide a master class in this all-important reference to the raffish side of being  from New York.

The Sleeping Beauty pas de deux featured Sasha de Sola and Benjamin Freemantle. De Sola had danced this in the spring repertory and continued to provide an authoritative rendition technically. It may well have been Freemantle’s debut as Prince Desire. There was a lovely spring and almost pause in his jetes, but he otherwise seemed diffident and tentative though clearly deferential. This may by necessarily royal,  protocol upheld;  But this was, after all,  a wedding pas de deux; I wanted radiance and joy in those enchainements.

An excerpt from Yuri Possokhov’s Diving into the Lilacs featured Yuan Yuan Tan and Carlo di Lanno which displayed their long elegant line Little of the original production were evoked for the curtains in the original set were missing through which the principals and the supporting dancers moved.

Following the second intermission Justin Peck’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming closed the performance, with continued brilliance by Dores Andre and Joseph Walsh and an evocative pas de deux by Luke Ingham and Elizabeth Powell.  Peck’s opening gambit made me feel he had learned a lot from Jerome Robbin and Glass Pieces plus the sense of youthful, street smart New Yorkers.

During this final ballet, the young woman assigned to our area began to collect the badges at the tables below us, carry the empty wine bottles to a disposal bin. Earlier she had periodically dislodged, gently and with decided politeness, a gamut of multi-ethnic attendees who wanted to perch on the stone work supporting the terrace where our table was located,

Brooke, Paul and I retraced our steps, finding the rain trench a welcome guide  till we reached the Grove entrance where the shuttle was getting ready for another trip. I had lurched up the hill and found the asphalt to the Wawona parking lot a welcome relief to the appreciable climb from the meadow floor. We stood by Brooke’s cars for a few minutes, Paul and Brooke making fine-tuned technical observations. Then it was time for departure and the end of a very pleasant afternoon.