Cal Performances’ 2020-2021 Varied,Rich Dance Schedule

12 Jul

Cal Performances announced its 2020-2021 season in May, filled with its usual adroit array of musical, theatrical and dance attractions for one of the best audiences a performing artist could hope to entertain. Frequently it has commenced events in late August; on the 20th in the Greek Theatre Yo Yo Ma and collaborators continue that tradition, Covid restrictions permitting.

Miami City Ballet comes to Zellerbach October 2-4 for the second time, now under the artistic direction of Lourdes Lopez. Its first visit, under the helm of Edward Villella, was, if I remember correctl , also a fall visit and included Balanchine’s Emeralds in which Villella said one of the ballerinas was dreaming. [I forget which one,]

This October appearance will feature three choreographers with strong New York City Ballet connections. First, is George Balanchine’s Four Temperaments, choreographed to a Hindemith score he commissioned a decade or two previously. Premiered at the High School for the Needle Trades, it was produced by Lincoln Kirstein’s Ballet Society, the forerunner of NYCB. One of the frequently mentioned incidents was Balanchine’s stripping Mary Ellen Moylan’s costume so she could be seen. It was a forerunner of the black leotards and white tights costuming for the fledgling company – a distinct economic solution.

Justin Peck is represented by Heatscape, continuing exploration of current vernacular movement. Alexei Ratmansky has set the third and final work to Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances.

The November 21-22 appearance of Ballet Hispanico with works by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Michelle Manzanales and Andrea Miller will be its debut appearance at Zellerbach and probably the Bay Area, though the New York-based company has a five decade history behind it. The brochure touches on the multi-aspects of Hispanic culture – from Sephardic history to the stereotypes of West Side Story.

November 13 Zellerbach Hall will host The Dhamaal Dancers and Musicians of India from Jaipur. Outside of early Kathak and Kuchipudi artists from India and, more recently Odissi dancers, this seems to be the first in the “folk” tradition, and from Rajasthan. The Asian Art Museum hosted a Rajasthani story teller easily a decade ago, a man and his wife who were chronicled in The New Yorker, but is the first “folk” troupe to my knowledge. Ranga Sri, a collective folk-oriented group active in the ‘Fifties and ‘Sixties, drew on tribal traditions, but the dancers performed choreographed pieces and a few of them at one time had enjoyed connection with Uday Shankar Led by Rahia Bharti, a lineal descendant of court musicians, it will be fascinating to see how the Rajasthani tradition is presented.

The Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan December 5-6 will present two works, one each by the retiring and incoming artistic directors. This must be at least the company’s fourth appearance at Zellerbach, using music from Shostokovich as well as that of composer Lin Giongi.

Mid-month December, 12-13 will celebrate the tap dancing of Caleb Teicher and Company with Conrad Tao at the piano. Teicher is a former member of the Dorrance company and the work, More Forever, will be performed in a 24 foot square sand fox to Tao’s electroacoustic score. Sounds like quite a Twelfth Night gift.

Not technically dance, Kodo returns February 6-7, its strength, grace and virtuosity a continuing source of pleasure and admiration.

English Hip-Hop comes to Zellerbach March 5-6-7 in the form of Boy Blue, Blak-Whyte Gray: A Hip-Hop Triple Dance Bill. While it is clear Cal Performances is intent on broadening its audience base, the phenomenon of Hip-Hop performance has enjoyed lengthy exposure at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts under the discerning eye of Micaya. If Covid permits November 20-21 will celebrate its 22nd year of the International Hip Hop Festival. I can’t help wondering whether Boy Blue enjoyed part of its genesis through Micaya’s devoted producing.

Hors de categorie, but allied to Kathak dance throughout his celebrated career, Zakir Hussain brings Masters of Percussion to Zellerbach March 20.

April 6-22, The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre settles in for its annual appearance at Zellerbach, with a roster of choreographers: artistic director Robert Battle; Rennie Harris; Ronald K Brown, Judith Jamison; Donald Byrd and the rising talent Jamar Roberts. Ailey’s classic, Revelations, will be included.

May 7-9 the Mark Morris Dance Group will appear with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in the Jean-Philippe Rameau opera Platee. The production premiered originally in 1998 and was widely enjoyed. Twenty-two years later we have the chance to relish once more.

The Eifman Ballet take on Hamlet closes the dance offerings June 4-6, and if you like strong histrionics mingled with superb ballet technique, this is the event for you.

God and Covid-19 willing, it’s quite a season to anticipate.

Reflection and Anticipation: San Francisco Ballet

7 Jul

It’s been almost six months since I saw in San Francisco’s Opera House with Margaret Swarthout, artistic director of Marin Dance Theatre, to enjoy San Francisco’s brilliant dancers in its 2020 Gala. If I remember correctly, I also saw its program one, but by the time program three arrived, I was slated to attend with Rita Felciano, Mid-Summer’s Night Dream, George Balanchine’s style, Saturday, March 7 with the Joffrey at U.C.’s Zellerbach for the Sunday, March 8 matinee. Rita and I made neither one. Whish went the spring dancing season for us and the rest of the San Francisco Bay Area’s dance lovers, unless one started watching the company Web-sites for tantalizing and entreprenurial dance snippets along with spoken suggestions we continue to support dance with our dollars.

Alongside those unfortunate enough to have lost relatives and friends to Covid-19, the performing arts have experienced incredible inroads for their practitioners. In an odd way, I liken it to what the British experienced during World War II; then airborne destruction was a daily occurrence for four and a half years, including those buzz bombs a former roommate told me about. It just makes for sterner stuff in the human being.

Most San Francisco Ballet followers know what is planned for 2021, God willing and Covid-19 under control. As usual Programs One and Two run concurrently from January 19 and 20 through January 30 and 31. Program One will feature premieres by the company’s home-grown choreographer Myles Thatcher and for the first time, Australian-born Danielle Rowe who collaborated in the creation of S.F. Dance Works with James Sofranko. The program will be completed by Yuri Possakhov’s Swimmer.

Program Two will start with Helgi Tomasson’s Seven for Eight, proceed to a Mark Morris premiere and conclude with David Dawson’s Anima-Animus, minus its creators Sofiane Sylve and Maria Kochetkova. Sylve has elected to join the Dresden Opera Ballet, and I, for one, will miss her.

Program Three will pick up on the cancelled 2020 Third with the two Balanchine works, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Jewels, March 5-14.

Program Four, Swan Lake, will run May 25-June 5 with Program Five, Romeo and Juliet planned for June 18-27, the latter alas minus Carlo Di Lanno, who has returned to Europe and the Dresden Opera Ballet.

These dates are the latest company calendar scheduling in my memory.

The apparent replacements for Sylve and Di Lanno are Nikisha Fogo and Julian McKay, both arriving as principal dancers, Fogo from the Vienna Opera Ballet where she was a protégé of Manuel Legris where he cast her in his production of Sylvia. She is native to Sweden, mother Swedish, Father, English-born of Jamaican parents; both are hip hop dancers and teach in their academy. It would be intriguing to see her cast in Elite Syncopations.

McKay, originally from Montana, seems to live up to the “Big Sky” nickname of his native state. Besides early credits from the Prix de Lausanne and Youth America Grand Prix and graduation from the Bolshoi Ballet School, McKay arrives from the Mikhailovsky Company with other credits including the Royal Ballet. Perhaps most intriguing is his diploma from the Russian Choreographic Institute known as Gitis along with his fluency in Russian.

One can only hope that Covid-19 will be on the wane. In the meantime, the artistry they provide will flavor the company and add to our balletic perspective.

Haphazard Haiku

6 Jul

Resentment is a
Crocodile lurking in the
Wings of daily work.

That surge of spirit
Felt each morning is now
Sadly diminished.

Lawrence R. Kegan, 1914-2002

5 Jul

Lawrence R. Kegan was my boss at Crown Zellerbach from approximately the spring of 1963 to the fall of 1964 when he and his family returned to the East Coast, his career as an economist taking him to Washington, D.C.

I found myself thinking about him recently and what an intense influence he was on me and my dance writing in the brief time I worked for him in a northwest corner of Zellerbach’s glass building in that lot where Market, Sutter, Bush, and Battery allowed for its construction. The forerunner of other high-rise buildings in San Francisco’s financial district, Zellerbach Paper Company was, at the time, quite an influential paper industry with several marked innovations to its credit: the paper egg carton, the business envelope with glassine windows

What was equally unusual and lucky for me is that the Company had retained an economist, hiring Lawrence R. Kegan to fill the role, bringing him, his wife the historian Adrienne Koch and their fraternal twins to Berkeley where Koch was a history professor at the University.

I had just been released from a hypertension project at Kaiser Hospital, the offices on the second floor of a semi-converted duplex on Lombard Street. The project was winding down, and Dr. Alan Gowman, the blind sociologist who was my principal supervisor, had been hired by Stanford Research Institute. My performance had become less than stellar, thanks to the emotional adjustment involved in getting divorced and I found myself once again on the job market.

Back to the employment agency went I, run by a handsome woman whose first name was Sally. She said, “I know just the spot. He likes brains,” sending me to interview Lawrence Kegan in what, for me, seemed a most unlikely spot of massive glass and protective curtains.

Lawrence Kegan was perhaps five feet six inches, compact and wiry in build, square faced with a shock of white hair, using glasses when necessary, intense, and, like me, left handed. His writing was almost like printing, his hand curved over the paper in the manner of so many of us southpaws. It looked as terse as his voice answering the telephone, “Kegan.”

His office was situated at the northwest corner of maybe the sixth floor with my desk outside with an open aisle behind and to my left. I could look out to half the floor, my vision to the east end of the building obscured by the elevators, perhaps store rooms and toilets for both sexes. The other secretarial jobs I had held had found me in smaller spaces, and this made me feel very exposed.

I brought with me as ballast to my recent divorce the role of San Francisco correspondent for Dance News. Whether that was included in my resume, I don’t remember, but in comparatively short order “Larry” Kegan learned about my enthusiasm; he informed me that living in New York he decided “to find out what this modern dance was about,” and started to study with Charles Weidman, one of the three alumnae of the Dennis-Shawn Company. One afternoon, he invited me into his office and, with the door closed, proceeded to demonstrate one or two of the exercises he had learned in the classes. What I remember most was the impish delight in doing them, I am sure enhanced by the unlikely location.

I couldn’t believe my luck, and it certainly paved my way to the five-days-a-week commute from the flat on Lombard Street where I had taken on a roommate to help cover the rent.

Adrienne Koch was a very lucky woman. Larry Kegan supervised virtually everything in the household and advised her on steps in her career. He also adored his children. At one point Adrienne Koch participated in a UCSF [University of California, San Francisco] relating to women’s view of men or women and careers, I honestly forget which. Held on a Saturday, the entire Kegan family attended, and the following Monday Kegan commented on the proceedings, grinning, eyes gleaming.

I have forgotten the sequence in which Larry Kegan divulged the salient parts of his personal history, early career and courtship of Adrienne Koch, whom he termed was the member of a very intellectual Jewish family. I don’t remember his telling me where he attended college, but he portrayed himself as a scruffy New York street kid, and he did, indeed, display the kind of on-the-ready energy which one time seemed to typify Manhattan cab drivers.

What I do remember was Kegan’s informing me that he was the chief procurement officer for the Manhattan Project, though he never said he made the trip to Los Alamos. What he did imply was that he had saved quite a bit of his salary which he spent wining, dining and courting Adrienne Koch.

As testimony to his support and guidance of the Adrienne Koch publishing career. He asked me to type a healthy portion of her American Enlightenment, published George Braziller in 1965-6. She graciously acknowledged me for my enthusiasm as the typist, “making it a lark.”

Somewhere along the line, he disclosed that he and Adrienne were friends with W. McNeil Lowry, the Ford Foundation’s vice president for the arts and humanities and responsible for the quantum leap for the arts, and particularly dance. I had applied to the Foundation for its first program for editors, writers and critics in the visual and performing arts, but had not been accepted. When the second and final year the Foundation offered the fellowships, I asked Larry Kegan if I could use his name as a reference. By this time I was writing a once-a-month feature on an East Bay dance personality for The Oakland Tribune, the first dance specialist writing for a then major Bay Area newspaper. I remember his stance and the intensity of his consideration as he decided “yes.”

Whether it was at the same time or soon after, former U.S. Ambassador to Italy Stephen Zellerbach died, and Larry Kegan went into alternate panic and mobilized mode. He either believed or actually knew he was at Crown Zellerbach with the Ambassador’s support; without it his position as economist was shaky. He decided to look for a position in Washington, very aware his absence on the West Coast also was not to his benefit.

About the same time, Adrienne Koch was discussing with Alfred A. Knopf the prospect of collaborating with her sister on a biography of the Grimke sisters, the two Southern women who became strident abolitionists before the Civil War. Larry Kegan was saying, “The Grimke sisters by the Koch sisters.” I think a contract may have been signed, but Adrienne’s sister became ill and the move to Washington was a major distraction. While Adrienne enjoyed a year’s sabbatical, leaving a full professorship and the admiration of her students was a major adjustment of which Kegan was fully aware. Though she subsequently became a full professor of history at the University Maryland, it must have been unmooring on a major scale.

Larry Kegan’s departure from Crown Zellerbach was also major for me, though I was transferred into another department where I shared duties with two young women easily a decade my junior and far sharper when it came to figures than me.

I was lucky, however, because I received a telephone call from The Ford Foundation. It was interested in supporting my fellowship, and, further, supporting air transportation to enable me to enjoy a ten-week internal travel grant from the Indian Council on Foreign Relations exposing myself to the vastness of the sub-continent and a bird’s eye view of its equally vast culture.

When I visited Washington, D.C. en route to New York, Boston and then six weeks in Europe before arriving in New Delhi just before Shastri’s funeral cortege, my first concern was to visit with Larry Kegan to thank him for his support. He told me Lowry had interviewed him at length about me, that Lincoln Kirstein had supported me, but it was Lowry made the ultimate decision. I believe my brief association with The Oakland Tribune was crucial in providing me with what became a ten-month round-the-world exposure to dance and other world cultures.

I never saw Larry Kegan again, out living by three decades Adrienne Koch who died in 1971. I believe the Kegan son became a dentist in the Washington area,and the daughter as the subject of an interview regarding her work as an archivist for the U.S. Government.

As this reminiscence testifies, one’s life trajectory is often influenced and aided by some few or one single individual. Lawrence Kegan stands tall on my personal list.

A Postscript to Meylac

3 Jul

My computer doesn’t always oblige me with providing the full draft and the Meylac review is missing comments about Anatol Joukowsky and Tatiana Stepanova. I include them here, even though there is some repetition about Joukowsky. I might intrude a personal opinion here that he deserves any and all that he could get. His and Miss Yania’s were major spirits, if understandably ballet history has not celebrated them in the measure their San Francisco State students felt they deserved.

We were enthralled by Joukowsky’s powers of observation. He would mimic behavior at social gatherings, the skittering, blushing behavior of adolescent girls, and the bluff admiration of the fellows demonstrating their dancing prowess. He showed up with his head tied in a bandana, usually red, one end trailing slightly, short-sleeved sport shorts, dark wide legged trousers and there would be a rush of energy outward to the assembled students as he would exhort us, “Let’s we not have arms like spaghetti.”

The second evocative Meylac interview was with Tatiana Stepanova, who won the first ever international ballet competition grand prix – The Queen Elizabeth Prize in Brussels, Belgium, May, 1939. Stepanova lent her pink tutu to the Ballets Russes Celebration exhibit in June, 2000 in New Orleans, which I curated. With it the exhibit was graced with an enlarged photo of her in front of Diaghilev-era costume trunks, a favorite image of her husband, George Peabody Gardner.

After enabling her to acquire several copies of the Dance International report on the Celebration, she sent me a thank you and invitation to lunch should I visit Boston. The opportunity materialized when I visited the Harvard University’s Houghton Library in search of images relevant to the “Dancing Through History” 2003 symposium in New Orleans, sponsored by the New Orleans International Ballet Conference.

At that lunch Tatiana Stepanova Gardner invited me to write her memoir. Accepting the task, her amazing history occupied me until her death in 2009. In 2006, an editor was engaged to complete the draft I had submitted. Since her death, the two Gardner daughters have thus far not authorized completion of their mother’s memoir, originally designed for private publication and placement in libraries with special interest in dance.

In Meylac’s account, page 152, Tatiana states having met George Gardner in Buenos Aires. It actually was Mexico City. George Gardner had been stationed in the northern Pacific Theatre; he never mentioned to me having fought in the Philippines. Tatiana also mentions having married Gardner in Mexico City. The wedding took place June, 1947 at the Gardner farm in Brookline, Massachusetts; it was her father-in-law who was concerned about her dancing in Europe. Isabella Stewart Gardner was George Peabody Gardner’s grand aunt. Gardner’s father was the favorite nephew.

Behind the Scenes at the Ballets Russes is not a cheap book. However it is a wonderful investment in nostalgia and the history of some very courageous and gifted individuals who have given us great moments in ballet, whether in person or solely on these wonderful pages.

Meylac, Michael, Back Stage At The Ballets Russes: Stories from a Silver Age

29 Jun

Meylac, Michael, Back Stage at the Ballets Russes; Stories from a Silver Age. translated by Rosanna Kelly, Foreword by Ismene Brown.
2018 B.L. Tauris, London, 336 Pgs, Ill.
ISBN 978-1-78076-859-5

Meylac is one of those intrepid Russian intellectuals who championed new and divergent writers and was incarcerated in the Gulag for his written perceptions.

As a child, he was exposed to the Maryinsky Ballet tradition under its Soviet name, Kirov, where his first impressions of this supremely Russian art form were formed by Natalia Dudinskaya and Galina Ulanova before Ulanova decamped to Moscow. I am sure you will agree this all is a pretty damned formidable introduction to this strenuous, physical expression of being human.

Meylac was released from the Gulag when the Soviet system was collapsing and it was deemed prudent to release intellectuals. He made his way to France, became a professor of Russian literature at the University of Strasbourg, and, about 1989, began to spend his academic holidays meeting and conversing with the remnants of the de Basil Ballets Russes, Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo and the Grand Ballet of the Marquis de Cuevas. While the Russian version of this inquiry included the full battery of the necessary theatrical components plus motion pictures, the English version is limited to dancers, plus the manager of the de Cuevas group. The number totals thirty two; the men appear to have lengthier observations.

I wrote a brief review of this absorbing collection of memories for Dance International. Because of space restraints two dancers familiar to me necessarily either were not included or simply named. Now I would like to expand on my impressions. Before acquiring these lively pages, Olga Guardia de Smoak mentioned she  received a copy from Margaret Willis, the articulate English veteran of Russian ballet enthusiasts. Olga.  a passionate and effective adherent to the virtues of Russian ballet and its dancers, past and present,  provided me entree to George Zoritch whose English language memoir, Ballet Mystique, I edited plus participation in the Ballets Russes Celebration out of which I was to enjoy friendship with Tatiana Stepanova Gardner, drafting her unpublished memoir which her daughters have yet to arrange for completion.

Meylac’s efforts are graced by Ismene Brown’s Foreword following his graceful Acknowledgments.. Meylac’s preface to the English Edition explains his early exposure and says that memory renders a performance with others into a mosaic, deeming that particular quality of mind a sorceress.

Meylac’s ballet inaugurationt, previously mentioned, also includes writings following his 1987 release from the Gulag which lists the BBC, Radio Liberty, Munich and La Pensee Russe. Despite his Gulag experience, Meylac describes the curtain between the West and Russia as a permeable membrane, continually leaking.

Starting in 1989 Meylac has followed Russian artists from an earlier generation and, where possible, taping their comments wherever encountered; he comments believing this book wrote itself, considering himself simply a scribe, one encounter and recording leading to another. Limiting this volume to dancers, he also has included dancers strongly influenced by Russian teachers, concluding with a lineage of the Ballet Russes Companies. He is generous, acknowledging as its source Garcia Marques, Colonel de Basil’s Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, 1932-1952, published by Alfred A. Knopf.

Meylac’s nine-page introduction is followed by Rachel Cameron’s 2005 memory of Tamara Karsavina and her study with Karsavina, unfortunately brief and largely q and a in nature. This was followed by an equally brief conservation with Tamara Geva, Balanchine’s first wife, in the q and a format pervading the dancers’ comments. Each interview is preceded by a comment made during the conversation, some delicious. Cameron’s regarding Karsavina was “Her whole being shone with a marvelous inner beauty.”

In 1992, Meylac had the opportunity to talk to Alexandra Danilova and it forms almost the template for the interviews following. One can relish the Choura spirit when she recounted to Meylac, “I told Diaghilev, ‘If I’m good enough for the Maryinsky Theatre, I should be good enough for you.’ Meylac also prefaces a little of the dancer’s background before asking adroit questions; the Danilova exchange rates fifteen pages.

Then came the Baby Ballerinas trio, starting with Baronova with two interviews, 1991 in London and then Sydney in 2005. Not surprisingly, hers was the longest of the three, some 14 pages to Toumanova’s 9 and Riabouchinska’ 3, and perhaps characteristic of their personalities. Toumonova, that Black Pearl was encapsulated by the comment “Anna Pavlova said to me ‘Oh, you are a darling, clever girl!’ while Riabouchinska observed, “We rehearsed on the steamship,” and Baronova acknowledged ‘that nickname stuck to us fast!”

Marika Besobrasova recounted, “We left Yalta on the last English steamer” came to the West;  like many of the transitional generation of Russian dancers and students, she could claim prosperous or aristocratic lineage, and suffering both privation and severe loss of family members because of the accident of privileged birth. Her comments surround over a dozen pages of photos, which were supplied by the dancers.

The next encounters entered were with Tatiana Leskova and George Zoritch, the former first in San Francisco in 1992 when the Joffrey Ballet was mounting Massine’s Les Presages, then Rio in 2005. I remember her being with the Joffrey for Canadian-born June Hunt Haet, dancing with a different name in the de Basil company, then joining Ballet Theatre, told me she corrected a particular entrance that Leskova staged. Zoritch was interviewed in Moscow in 2005; both veterans filled six and seven pages respectively.

Zoritch was particularly interesting to me; thanks to Olga Smoak, he asked me to edit his memoir, Ballet Mystique, which was rushed to completion for the 2000 Ballets Russes Celebration in New Orleans. The Russian response was enthusiastic enough to provide an expanded version, in both text and pictures, in Russian.

Meylac’s coverage extended beyond that initial group of imigres to those they trained, like Jean Babilee and Ethery Pagava, and those who peopled the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, like Nini Theilade, Frederick Franklin, Miguel Terekhov and Nina Novak.

Of special interest to me was the space given to Anatol Joukowsky and Tatiana Stepanova, the former because of his teaching folkloric dance in San Francisco State University during the two years I studied there, years where ballet classes by his wife Yania Wassilieva,  followed by his colorful exposition of Baltic dance and folk traditions enjoyed avid fans, enduring and cherished memories. One of his comments “Lets we not have arms like spaghetti,” is in the forefront of the memory bank.

A Kathak Exchange with Sunil Kothari

14 Jun

After posting the interview with Jai Kishan, I e-mailed Sunil Kothari about one of the terms in Kathak with which I was unfamiliar, paramelu. I was aware that dance terms between Bharata Natyam and Kathak were not always the same.

I had met Sunil in Bombay [now Mumbai] in 1966 when I was traveling once over lightly in a ten-week exposure to the vastness of Indian artistic tradition on an internal travel grant awarded me by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. At the time Sunil was juggling an accounting career with his growing passion for dance.

This was the beginning of Sunil’s remarkable career as dance critic and historian, which included years as a professor at the Ravindra Bharti University in Calcutta, writing for The Times of India and authoring books produced by Marg on Bharata Natyam, Kathak and who knows what else. A 2018 interview with Sharon Lowen featured a photograph of Joseph Campbell at a conference in Hawaii with Sunil on one side of Campbell and a dazzling picture of Kapila Vatsyayan on the other.

This is what Sunil wrote: ” The term paramelu is a technical term for pure dance, like tore and tukre. Tukre is a small nritta pure dance piece.

“Lay is rhythm and can be performed in various speeds, single, double, and triple.”

My principal knowledge of Kathak, outside of its mime capacities, was that the dancer recited bols, mnemonic syllables challenging the tabla artist to reproduce the sounds as the dancer performed what had been recited. Usually executed before the story telling, this section of a traditional kathak recital can be quite exhilarating. Kothari expands the instruments used to include the nagara, pakhavaj, cymbals and another variety, jhanga.

Like Bharata Natyam, Kathakali, Odissi and Manipuri, knowledge of Kathak provides the dance lover with an endless ocean of enjoyment, learning and discernment.

I should finish these comments by mentioning that Kathak is the north Indian classical dance form, combining both Hindu and Muslim traditions and patronized by the Mughals and the Rajahs in North India prior to Indian Independence.  A wonderful exposition of the art form is reflected in Satyajit Ray’s black and white film Jalsagar, The Music Room.

 

Kathak Dance Interviews – I – Jai Kishan

8 Jun

A series of interviews with Kathak artists was unearthed in my mounds of paper, minus ascription of interviewer, year but in one or two dated in an early February.  How I acquired these questions and answers I am not certain.  My one clue is that when Ben Sommers’ last project, International Dance Alliance, Ltd., still was registered in the State of California, it negotiated some funds for Robert Gottlieb’s documentary, Circles, Cycles, Kathak Dance.  Antonia Minnecola, wife of Zakir Hussain, has called it the best introduction to Kathak dance she knows of.  Many of the artists appearing in the film are represented in the interviews which surfaced.

I have not looked at the documentary recently, so I am unsure what portion of these interviews are included.  I present them here with the thought dance and other readers of my comments and records will find the opinions valuable.

Note:  As I typed the interview, there is a reference of filming, so the contents probably do derive from the shooting of hte Gottlieb Film.

Jai Kishan will be listed as JK, Interviewer as I.

I: This is Friday, February 121th, and I have Jai Kishan here, and I am going to ask him a few questions about his performance and the filming the other day and some of his experiences concerning Kathak Dance.

I: Good morning, Jai.

JK: Good morning.

I: Tell me how do you feel about your role in Kathak dance? Do you have any particular aspirations concerning this?

JK:  First of all, I want to tell you about myself.  I want to introduce myself. I am a son of Birju Maharaj, as you know.  He is oe of the great masters of Kathak dance.  And, this is from our family only — and this dance came from our family — and I am from eighth generation from our family, so naturally I am taking this dance as my career, as my profession.

And, about the dance, I want to tell you, that day I did some small portions of the Kathak dance.  Like,  footwork, some  leri, one tukra and one abhinaya — “mime” portion — which was taken from Mahabharata.  That is:  Draupadi chiheran when Pandav came to play, gambling with the Kaurav and he lost all the things like his — even his wife was also in that.  That was from that portion of Mahabharata.

I: I would like you to explain in what ways the circle has its use in Kathak dance, particularly in this Mahabharata episode you used.

JK:  You want to know about Kathak, full Kathak, or only Mahabharata...?

I: In general for Kathak, the use of the circle in Kathak, and then, specifically, relating to the Mahabharata.

 

JK: Actually, we start — about dance:  First, we prey to the god, like we say the vandana or aradhana or kirtan — first we start with that.  Then slowly, vilambit lay, very low lay — we start some footwork, we call that upai , which we do on the stage only and finish on the stage only.  It’s not fixed.  And after that, we do that, amad, paran-emad and some footwork.  Slowly, we come to the little more lay; it’s madhya lay. And, in that we do some  tihai’s.  Tihai’s means some footwork portions — and some tukras.  Then, there is gat nikasgat bhave — it’s not actually a song-piece; it’s only by expression and the movements.  So after that we used to do that parhan, then we come to the fastest part of the Kathak.  And, we do parhan and fast footwork and we finish by that. It’s actually, what you say, a [link] in Kathak — how we do that.

I: I would like you to say specifically how in relationship to this gat bhav you did the turns and paltas — how they have meaning.  The paltas — your turning around, making circles– how this relates to the changes of characters.

JK: Actually, now these days we have the stage — actually, before that, we used to do this type of bhav in a temple or in that… So there the audience is sitting very near to the artist.  So now, only one man can show the different characters.  Like I am doing a gat bhav: in that I am showing the Draupadi also, and Krishna also, and Kaurav, also, Pandav also.  So by only one man we just turn and change the character.  Like that, we did that gat bhav.

I: Could you comment a little more on your particular family ? How the variouys members of the family specialized in different areas of Kathak?  Like: AAchan, Lacchu, Shambhu Maharaj, Birju, Bindadin — your ideas on that?

JK: They are very great masters of dance — my family — and Lacchu Maharaj, Shambhu Maharaj and Acchan Maharaj — Acchan Maharaj is the father of my father, Birju Maharaj.  And, they are really are great mater(s).  And, naturally, then my father and then myself.  Personally, actually, I want to know — what type of question you want to ask? How could I?

I: Well, let’s say, like Shambhu Maharaj was a master of abhinaya: he excelled in that.  What made him a master in that?  What did he do in abhinaya?  Acchan was more rhythm.

JK:  All Right

They have their own qualities.  But this is not [the] only one that Acchan Maharaj do only in lay portion; he was a great master in abhinaya also, in everywhere.  What they always said that if you want to see the abhinaya or bhav you would have to go to my elder brother, Shambhu Maharaj or Lacchu Maharaj — like that.  He is very particular about that. Like Acchan Maharaj is very much in lay in rhythmic portion.  Shambhu Maharaj is also in lay, but in bhav also he is very particular.   And Lacchu Maharaj also in very softness of the Kathak  – and he is also master in lay, gat nikas.  He’s very — does very nice gat nikas, everything.   And my father is now the mixture of all these three so he is doing everything.

I: Maybe you can say a few things about your father — what does he hope for the future of Kathak?  He’ s very innovative.  I see him do a lot of choreography things — what does he, in your opinion, what does he feel should be done with Kathak?

JK: Maharji is taking the Kathak in a new direction — in a new way.  He is changing the movements in abhinaya to teach easily to the students.  Before, the movements was very clumsy and like that.  So, now he is taking in a new way to the Kathak.

What else?

I:  That says it — very good – So he is very interested in choreography?

JK: Yes, very much.  He is doing quite a new experimental thing also; he did one choreographic item.  I will explain about one or two things.  He did one —rasa rangit is the name of the item — which he is showing the navarasa – navarasa the nine different roles — sringara, karuna.  The different moods of the rasa and expression.  So he showed by that three artists, the painters, is going in the jungle and there he would see the different animals — like peacock, lions and everyone — so by that he is showing the different moods of that rasa.  Then, he did, during the Asiad here, during when the games were organized here, so he did one on the games — like tug-of-war, or some chess-playing — like this — he did in the Kathak.  The basics were there only — the rhythm and everything, and movement — but, he did experiment on that and he was very successful on that.

I: I’m trying to think — the paramelu:

JK: Paramelu means the sound of different bols and different like animals.  The paramelu means, that means it’s come near the parhan — means the bols of pakhawaj [Example] like this, but paramelu you can hear the sound: koo koo, naga, naga, harri — harri came from the sound of the frog.  And koo koo is a bird, koo koo.  And like this the paramelu. So there is different name of this — Tukra is another thing — Tukra is some bols composition in one that?

I: Do you remember specifically which elements you recited in the paramelu?  Which ones you performed in the paramelu the other day?

JK: You want to hear that voice? Okay.  I will speak that tukra again.  It was like that [Example of tukra-paramelu bols recited]

I: So what arae you gesturing with your hands when you have these particular expressions?

JK: No, bu the hand we don’t use the animal or anything else.  But hand movement is just like a dance movement but the bol is what which I speak.

I: I see.

JK: I did first the footwork.   And, the most important thing in the footwork is the sound of the feet should be very clear.  Means it is not like [Example].  It should not like this.  But, it is very softness and everything should be very clear.  Like — I will explain by my parhan how it should be done by feet. I did: [Example].  So the sound of the gungru should be like this, low sound: [Example] So where I am giving the force, so the sound of the gungru should come like that. Not like: [Example]. Not like that and ont in one tone.  So it is very important in the footwork.  Actually, everybody is not thinking very deeply of that, but it is very important that you have to control your footwork volume — you can say, the volume — like the tape recorder — if you want to adjust the volume you have to do less or more, less or more.  So you have to control, yourself the footwork. [Example].  Then, you will also enjoy — the audience can enjoy — that footwork; otherwise it’s very jumbled simple and not looking nice.

I: That was excellent, that’s just what I need.

JK: In Kathak, actually, the expression is very important.  How the fac expression means — I’m a man and I have to show the woman.  So how my expression for the woman will come there is very important.  It is coming by the mastering only and if you learn nicely and if you give yourself, involve yourself in that character — you have to research of that.  Like, if you are showing Draupadi– so how the body will come — like in a small way — like inside that.  Like , if I am showing man — so I have to do:  I have to take out my chest and have a big — like this; if I am showing woman — I have to come inside and slowly the eyes, and everything is very … like this.  So it is very important to change a character like that.

I:  What else besides the paltas and the arm motions and the eyes in particular, the use of the feet perhaps also play an important — use of the feet in changing styles of walking.

JK: No, during the changing of the feet, the feet is not very important actually.  When we are doing the expression bhav and abhinaya.  But there is one point — you are right somewhere — if I am showing the KauravaKaurava means the men, that type of man: so the face should be very strong and movements will be very strong,but if I am showin the Draupadi there, so that sound of the feet will be very low and the action will be very — like that.  So everything will be changed there, if I am showing the man or the woman.  So the expression or othe mood will be changed there and the footwork also.

I: That’s good.  In what ways is the training of a Kathak dancer commenced?  How did your training begin?  Did you start learning yourself just watching your father?  Or does he start from an early age?

JK:  No actually.  I get this training, as you said, the training.  I got very little from my father.  Now these days I am very much learning from my father.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Imperial Gift – The Legat Legacy

28 May

Aloff, Mindy, editor, The Legat Legacy
Gainesville Fl, University Press of Florida, 2020; 200 pages, illus., pbk $29.95
ISBN: 978-0-8130-6812-1

For those reaching adulthood prior to the National Endowment for the Arts providing its great arts impetus in the United States, this slim, beautifully illustrated volume on the life, memory and influence of Nicolas Legat provides a nosegay of cherished connections. A total charmer, it’s a must for anyone wanting connections to the stream of ballet history.

Here is a record of community, nostalgia and in some instances evidence of the power of influence, occasional defiance and occasional tricks. A world sequestered within a world moribund is vividly captured, its dying hothouse cultivation clearly reflected.

The Legat Legacy is the resurrection of a 1939 London publication of Nicolas Legat’s memoirs, reproductions of Legat’s witty caricature portraits of dancers,  dance masters, stage managers and Diaghilev.  Originals prints can be found in the Library of Congress, a partial set in the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and in Moscow’s Bakrushin Museum. The book’s resurrection was sparked by Tasha Bertram, Legat devotee, dancer and examiner, and Andrew F. Foster, author of a biography of Tamara Karsavina.

It begins with a comment by Tasha Bertram, Editor Mindy Aloff’s articulate preface and Robert Greskovic’s introduction to Nikolai Gustavovich Legat before some 73 pages of text and illustration under the heading Ballet Russe: Memoirs of Nicolas Legat. Heritage of a Ballet Master: Nicolas Legat follows, sub divided into three parts: Part I: Nicolas Legat: 1869-1937; Part II: Seven Classes by Nicolas Legat, finishing with Part III: Appendixes includes some eleven pages of class music. The classes include four which Legat wrote out for Eglevsky’s use on tour along with photographs of Legat’s beautiful sloping penmanship. Augmented are classes remembered by Alan Carter, Barbara Gregory and Cleo Nordi, three dancers active in the formative decades of English ballet and Russian  ballet influence in Europe.

Included are memories and records of Andre Eglevsky, John Gregory and tributes to his teaching and influence by Alexandra Danilova, Anton Dolin, Dame Alicia Markova, Sir Frederick Ashton, Leonide Massine, Michael Somes, Wendy Toye, Alan Carter, Barbara Gregory. No matter where one starts, nuggets of information inform the reader, sometimes repeating history known to a balletomane prone to reading, bitsof information providing context to the incredible program and administration of the Russian Imperial ballet from the mid to late nineteenth century and for the first fifteen years of the twentieth. To these facts are added personal histories, anecdotes and information supplied by those fortunate enough to have studied with Legat post Russian Revolution, Russian as well as English.

Sprinkled throughout the pages are caricatures of Enrico Cecchetti, Marius Petipa, Agrippina Vaganova, Tamara Karsavina, Anna Pavlova, Anton Dolin, Serge Diaghileff, Matilde Kschesinskaya, Vera Trefilova, as well as a generous sprinkling of photographs. The subjects are recognizable, depicted in a characteristic position or expression, always atop a spindly physique,  a stance with characteristic balletic turnout and/or movement, Legat’s wit totally rampant.

If I may, I close these comments with personal connections, if perhaps hors de categorie to a book review.  In college I had occasion to talk to a dancer who had been a student of Bekefy in Southern California and in the San Francisco Bay Area the visits of Theodore Kosloff were given pride of place. Reading these names in Legat’s memoirs solidifies one’s tenuous connections with that special history.

Kulichevskaya is mentioned on page 68. Elsewhere I read she was the first ballet mistress to utilize Vaslav Nijinsky while he still was a student. Come the 1917 Russian Revolution, Kulichevskaya refuged to Vladisvastok where she
acquired a student named  Tatiana Svetlanova. Svetlanova and her teacher made their way to Shanghai where Svetlanova danced in the nightclubs of Shanghai.  She taught June Brae and she also knew Peggy Hookham.

Following World War II, Svetlanova made her way to Seattle and subsequently to
San Francisco where she transformed a Clement Street storefront into her ballet studio, domicile in the rear. Prominent over the mirrors of the rectangular space was her graduation certificate signed by Kulichevskaya on a large paper square ornamented with the double eagle. “So everyone will know I am not a
communist,” Svetlanova declared.

Svetlanova’s star student was Sally Streets; Sally’s daughter is Kyra Nichols.

Covid Haiku – III

26 May

 

Author never read
Now subject of my reading
Still laborious.

Resentment fills me
Wanting to make a lot of noise
Attracting notice.

Frustration is a
Condition where you can not
Make anything work.

Aches and ills arrive
When old and energy is
Not easily found.

Fatigue steals over you
When exertion is too much
For your muscle mass.

Four men help me when
Errands must be done keeping
My food supplied