Oakland Ballet’s Spring Season at Laney College

16 Jul

Graham Lustig, Artistic Director of Oakland Ballet, opened May 20’s spring performance, “Forwards!”, acknowledging the presence of founding director Ronn Guidi and eleven former dancers with the 40 year old East Bay company with former ballet master Howard Sayette in from Colorado.

The spring season, four performances at Laney College’s charming theater, featured two Lustig ballets, one a premiere and one work each for choreographers Amy Siewart and Mills College dance chair Sonya del Waide. “…”  Lustig’s contributions included a premiere “Words Within Words,” to Philip Glass’  Etudes No.5 and Escape plus spoken words from poet Robert
Duncan danced by Brandon Freeman and Sharon Wehner of Colorado Ballet, plus Vista as a finale. David Elliott provided the lighting design, Jamielyn Duggan, Soncheree Giles and Graham Lustig minimal costume ideas.

Seiwart’s Response to Change to Madison Bate’s The Life of Bees, opened the program, eight dancers dressed in trunks and tunics of grey accented by bronze, accenting the paleness of bare skin. The classicism including two centers of choreography, fairly intricate partnering, some fine grand jetes by Ikolo Griffin and  need for more rehearsal.

Lustig’s premiere of words within words followed, sensitively performed by Freeman and Wehner, the spoken text frequently swallowed by the space.  Overall, Lustig spaced  declamation  to the dancers’ lung capacity. The two met their challenges, from the legato to the semi-acrobatic with shuddery passages where both dancers were attuned to each other’s vulnerabilities.

Sonya Del Waide’s “…” concerned six inebriated dancers, the elegant chandelier originally constructed for Carvajal’s Crystal Slipper and Mozart played with a glass harmonica. Del Waide’s witty invention seemed inexhaustible, from one-pointe shoed dancers to intricate pile up male antics. Perhaps due to musical length, the cleverness was overlong.

For the finale, Lustig’s Vista had its Oakland premiere. With eleven dancers in beach-like garb and danced to popular music performed by The Lounge Lizards, it seemed quite frenetic, strenuous and unfortunately repetitive in spots.  Men lacking torso muscle definition should not be nude to the waist, extra peculiar for dancers who purportedly are amongst the fittest in strenuous activity.

If Lustig aimed to demonstrate Oakland dancers are technically strong and raring to go plus willing to undertake new challenges, he made his point admirably.  How much Oakland dance  lovers will respond to more choreography as demonstrated remains to be seen.  With the Ballets
Russes productions partially destroyed through careless warehousing, invention is necessary. But something between the Forward Program and Nutcracker would be welcome to see.

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8 Responses to “Oakland Ballet’s Spring Season at Laney College”

  1. anonymous bosch July 29, 2011 at 6:23 pm #

    Odd that woolly western eye can place a post anonymously, but one can’t respond without a name. Perhaps the writer is some blindly devoted fan of Ronn Guidi who feels the need to make unnecessarily snide comments about dancers’ torso muscles. (Maybe he/she doesn’t remember some of the over-the-hill dancers Guidi used long after they needed a skosh more room in their tights.) Perhaps he/she doesn’t know or simply ignores the fact that ballets russes productions were not lost due to careless warehousing — Guidi himself sabotaged the productions by giving away those sets and costumes to a friend in Reno. The Oakland Arts scene is experiencing an exciting rebirth, and Graham Lustig’s Oakland Ballet is a vital part of it. Go see it. you’ll be glad you did.

    • Jerri Kyl January 8, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

      The comment above was, perhaps, intended to be a witty and informed reply. Were that the intent, more wit and a touch more of informed content were found wanting. The Lustig and other bits were quite okay for a school review show. The referenced works shown during the Guidi period are remembered, accurately, as wonderful and enjoyable events. Ballet is a craft of reference, requiring the buy-in of the watcher to the referred art with a touch of perversity in regard the inspiration reflected. Drop the peevishness and enjoy what you choose to see. Wah-wah about things past is not necessary to support what one is left with.

      • woollywesterneye January 8, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

        I am surprised to receive two comments relating to performances some eight months old, but I am flattered that they elicit comment at all. To answer Melia Wambesti’s query about Ms. Brown, it is my understanding that she is teaching in the Philadelphia area and active in Dance USA. She is reportedly gathering a panel on “diversity” to be aired during the Dance USA conference to be held in San Francisco, I believe in June 2012.

        I would appreciate learning what you consider “diversity” – subject matter, personnel, support? There invariably is room for improvement. And what, specifically, do you mean by “in your land.”

        Regarding Mr. Kyl’s comment regarding “peevishness” I would appreciate your identifying exactly what you
        consider “peevishness” in my prose.

        Many thanks to both of you for responding.

  2. Mella Wambesti January 8, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

    Why all the peevisness? More better we would be to just enjoy what we choose to see. Yowzer. Where is Ms Brown? More diversity needed in Oakland and in your land

  3. Mirriam Kabilla January 9, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

    Hi,
    We got to have diversity on the stage and on the page. Pretending dense is not going to get this forgone. Too much do we admire people on stage for their distance from what we are. More large dancers, more dancers of colour, more actors who are not pretty and pink and who speak as no one else ever has. We need an everyman’s theatre where the truths and horrors of every day are revealed and challenged and vanquished. The inspiration ought be to make change, not solely to push pleased chatter.

    • woollywesterneye January 9, 2012 at 9:26 pm #

      Thanks for being interested. I gather you must be out of the San Francisco Bay Area and perhaps out of the U.S. If you are then you may not know about individuals I mention. By more large dancers, I am assuming you would like to see more Judith Jamisons and Corey Scott-Gilberts on programs, more Dance Theatre of Harlems, Lines
      Ballet and Robert Moses Kins or Urban Bush Women companies.

      I can’t speak for actors, but for dancers, I know that my body type went out when Degas stopped painting dancers at the Paris Opera.

      For the “truths and horrors of every day” I can cite Kenneth MacMillan’s “The Invitation” with Lynn Seymour and Christopher Gable. The setting was Edwardian, the dancers Caucasian, but the
      subject matter was rape and seduction. What was vanquished were the two young victims. Itwas produced by San Francisco Ballet with
      Lynn Seymour and Peter Brandenhoff in the title roles, and with
      Damian Smith and Rachel Rufer earned an Isadora Duncan Dance Award
      for ensemble dancing.

      Robert Moses as well as Donald McKayle have dealt with African-American oppression. “Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder” is a memorable McKayle work about chain gangs and their fantasy. The end was still oppression. Moses’ work began to change when he married, and his wife, also a dancer and choreographer, gave birth to two children. Now he does interesting takes on thestories, fairy or folk, which children encounter in Western culture.

      One of the most challenging works I ever saw was a male duet danced by Pilobolus which dealt, by virtue of the colonial whites and pith helmet, with a colonialist and a colonized. In this intense, intertwined work, the colonized ultimately dominated the colonist.

      Until governments – local, state, federal – support diversity and
      private funders, whether corporations or individuals, follow suit,
      diversity is a some time thing. I think the National Endowment for
      the Arts and certainly San Francisco’s arts funders are quite conscious of these needs. Whether the extent of funding is satisfactory is subject to debate. In San Francisco, in addition to
      African-Americans, we have the range of Asian populations in the
      city and the Latinos or Hispanics as well.

      I don’t know whether this response answers some of your concerns, but
      I hope it does indicate that there is some degree of awareness out
      there.

  4. Tony January 10, 2012 at 12:09 am #

    Fur Goshen. Who woulda thunk a net search for Oakland’s Ballet Scene et danse plastique would present such a treat as you each do. Keep on going on. You each enjoy a firming frame of reference and a clear need to defend well absent defensiveness. Hot damn. I’ll return and will advise others of the egg. Thanks.

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