Archive | October, 2011

The Khmer Arts Ensemble at Zellerbach

31 Oct

The Khmer Arts Ensemble appeared at Zellerbach at a Sunday matinee early in October dancing “The Lives of Giants”, choreographed by Sophiline Cheam Shapiro; she also was responsible for the lyrics and musical arrangements.

The entirely female ensemble, was accompanied by four traditional musicians plus a singer, handsomely costumed by Merrily Murray-Walsh. “The Lives of Giants”, traditionally danced by women, is a Cambodian extract from the Hindu epic The Ramayana, regarding a Giant who is given a boon but turns into a menace, soothed only by Uma. Uma’s desire to ameliorate the tense situation the Giant’s arrogance has fostered is ignored by Visnu; he dispatches the Giant, foretelling further violence rather than compassion.

Many years ago when Prince Norodom Sihanouk was prime minister of Cambodia, he brought his daughter Bupa Devi, as I recall her name, with him on a visit to San Francisco. The Asia Foundation helped to arrange a comparatively brief performance at what is now Herbst Theatre, giving San Francisco its first glimpse of a regal professional from the land of Angkor Wat, and the extraordinary stylization of hand and foot gestures with their Indian classical antecedents outlined in the Natya Sastra.

Fast forward to the early twenty-first century; the Bay Area dance community received in its midst Charya Burt, trained in Cambodia in its classical tradition. Burt has appeared several times at the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival and earned an Izzie, [Isadora Duncan Dance Award] for Individual Performance in 2002, sharing honors with Joanna Berman and La Tania. What Charya provides San Francisco audiences are brief excursions into the sedate and elaborate technique of Cambodian classical dance tradition; palms vertical to the wrist with fingers arched backwards, forming leisurely mudras while the arms execute Arabic like linear arabesques, the feet cocked, bent knees, and swift little pattering steps.

Charya Burt also has undertaken adaptations, from a Cambodian snippet based on Tennessee Williams’ “Glass Menagerie” to musings on being an immigrant. At least one experiment was commissioned by World Arts West’s Ethnic Dance Festival where performance slots are limited to twenty minutes.

Sophiline Cheam Shapiro and Charya Burt are sisters and have appeared together in the Bay Area. It is my understanding Cheam Shapiro has returned to live in Cambodia, and though experimenting, she chose this traditional tale to tour the United States under some heavy supporting organizations focused on Asia.

“The Lives of Giants” was a ninety minute drama performed without intermission. For all the expertise and skill demonstrated, this American is not sufficiently attuned to this sub-equatorial dance form to appreciate or be riveted by the experience. It is my loss, undoubtedly, but, having been beguiled by Charya Burt’s presentations, there is something to be said for programmatic adjustments in lengths and intervals.

SJ Dance Co at San Jose’s California Theatre October 14-15,2011

29 Oct

San Jose State University (SJSU) enjoys an active dance department, headed by Fred Mathews, a member of Jose Limon’s Dance Company with its principal teacher, Gary Masters, another Limon alumni. What could be more logical for them not only to teach Limon’s technique, but to revive signature pieces created by Limon for his company?

SJ Dance Co., formed nine years ago, has danced at the restored California Theatre in downtown San Jose for the past three, a handsome edifice with thick carpets; it is also home to the San Jose Opera and Ballet San Jose’s annual school program headed by Lise La Cour.

This year Limon was represented with his 1958 masterpiece “Missa Brevis” choreographed to Zoltan Kodaly”s Missa Brevis in Temore Belli [A Short Mass in Time of War]; “Dance in the Sun” by Daniel Nagrin solo was included to showcase guest artists Raphael Boumaila, appearing in “Missa Brevis.”

Premieres by Gary Masters, Heather Cooper and Maria Basile formed the remainder of the program, “Velocities,” “Close” and “Ancestral Threads”; all enjoyed the benefit of the San Jose Chamber Orchestra. All three choreographers teach on the SJSU dance faculty.

Michael Touchi’s Tango Barroco gave the music for “Velocities”, a three-part work utilizing improvisation and involving the nine dancer company. Heather Cooper’s “Close” employed two dancers and Maria Basile’s “Ancestral Threads” utilized parts of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s second movement from his Seventh Symphony performed by five dancers. Cooper and Basile are accomplished dancers with substantial credits.

“Dance in the Sun,” a refreshingly brief solo, saw Boumaila arriving on stage
with jacket slung over one shoulder, striding with lungs expanding in sunlit open air. The piece is a brief, explicit solo of relish and jaunty celebration of out-of-doors, punctuated by low, distinct grand jetes, and torso movement as the body responds to the warm environment. At the end Boumaila picks up the jacket and strides off stage, a feel good piece for dancer and audience alike.

“Missa Brevis”, Jose Limon’s urgent interpretation of Zoltan Kodaly’s work of the same name, was choreographed the spring of 1958; Limon’s colleague Doris Humphrey died the following December. How much her approaching death influenced Limon is sheer speculation, but the circles, bow-and-arrow like leaping diagonals, the forward bends, the prevalence of urgently moving circles all speak of an inner majesty and acceptance of life’s great mysteries and rites of passage. This was particularly apparent when first one and then two other figures were hoisted upstage center, suggesting the Jesus’ crucifixion between two thieves. Limon’s affinity for Roman Catholic rites elevated them as much as they may have cleansed his spirit. The thrust of the arms and hands in those leaping diagonals, and forward bends as the women circled, moving all the while, emanated an extraordinary satisfaction in their utter simplicity; at moments the feet collectively fluttered in place.

“Missa Brevis” started and ended with Boumaila [Limon figure] standing alone downstage right, looking at the dancers in a circle, upstage left, the company’s nine dancers augmented by thirteen others. One cannot help but feel honored to
have been witness to the work as well as thanking SJ Dance Company for presenting it.


Lines Ballet Fall Season, Novellus Theater, October 14, 2011

22 Oct

Lines Ballet’s Fall season offering was an adroit pairing of the usual Alonzo King premiere, “Resin,” with a revival of his 1998 evocative collaboration with Zakir Hussain, Who Dressed You Like a Stranger.  It provided an introduction for four newcomers bringing the company to an even dozen.

One of Alonzo King’s abiding strengths is a passion for exploring via  gifted collaborations or an unusual theme. He seems to stretch himself as much as he asks the same of his dancers, and he does not appear to lack individuals  to collaborate on one of his two annual premieres.

“Resin”, receiving its premiere October 14, draws its music from various sources of Sephardic musical tradition.  King uses the title with its liquid properties oozing through a tree’s bark as a wound, inflicted by humans, to gather myrrh. [ I have seen resin in Sierra Nevada pines oozing without human interference.] Noted is resin’s use for stringed instruments, the Western violin, the Indian sarangi, for dancers’ shoes giving traction on wooden floors.

With Sephardic music, the implication of the societal wound is strong; cast out from Spain, a cumulative lament for the life lost under Moorish hegemony on the Iberian peninsula. The varied sources, always evocative, include Jordi Savili and archival music from Israel’s National Library.

The cultural ache embedded in improvisational  melismas is underscored by Axel Morgenthaler’s lighting design; Robert Rosenwasser’s trunks could suggest male servitude and nothing particular for the women’s tunics,  a possibility lost.

Newcomer Victor Mateos Arellano danced a compelling introduction, a dancer
whose musculature and body size was bared and stretched to maximum effect.  Yujin Kim, another newcomer, a KNUA trained-Prix de Lausanne recipient, proved an alluring technician with dazzling pirouettes en attitude. Zachary  Tang promises to be a steady foil for any of King’s intricate pas de deux.

Ashley Jackson continued her unaffected classicism; for all King’s intricate demands she is in the tradition of  Russian-trained ballerinas, unforced, accurate, musical.  While Courtney Henry’s grand jetes are a sentence all their own, Caroline Rocher’s presence in a pas de quatre with three men provides a je ne sais quoi to any technical requirements.

King’s choreography in its usual combination of heightened rhythmic dexterity and pace, has minimal ensembles, impressive when they briefly occur.  The women in King’s ensembles execute almost anything he asks of them, but there is an almost total absence of petit allegro, usually  defining qualities of a feminine dancer.

“Who Dressed You Like a Stranger” was premiered in 1998;  with Zakir Hussein as his musical collaborator, King hit a visual and aesthetic high that lingers. If seen then, who can forget Xavier Ferla spinning forward to the tabla’s insistent rhythm nor Marina Hotchkiss’ strong but fond manipulation of a very limp Yannis Adoniou in the soft singing of MA.  Meredith Webster and David Harvey have sketched it.

Two moments surprise – men and women on stage left and right move in formation towards the center, there to dance briefly, an individualistic ensemble, with Keelan Whitmore immersed in the group and resonance of Hussein’s musicianship.

Flamenco International, Mission Cultural Center, September 30

10 Oct

Only an E-mail provided the information for this intimate exposition of Flamenco with two superb singers, Jose Cortes and Afonso Mogaluro,                two dancers, Antonio Arrebola and Carola Zertuche, a player of the cajon, John Martin, and the guitarist Ricardo Diaz, who also was the organizer. But the event, independent of its venue, drew a crowd of clearly flamenco afficiandos.

The Mission Cultural Center was started in 1977 by student activists at San Francisco State University who petitioned the San Francisco City and County Government for space where the community and arts of Latino background could gather for events and classes.  The Center became particularly noted for Mission Grafica;  its activity in poster art gained recognition and prizes in biennial International competitions in Germany and Cuba.  The Center offers a variety of classes, from printmaking for children to salsa and belly-dancing for adults.

Diaz can be forgiven for being a better guitarist than an organizer;  the performers filed out on stage some twenty minutes following an announced eight p.m. curtain.  While the audience waited, sounds of taconeo could be heard back stage; everyone seemed good-natured about the delay.

After the guitar opening, Jose Cortes began to sing, or rather went into extended melismas over a word or phrase.  A tallish, square-faced  man with abundant silver hair, the energy given to this individualistic expression was abundant, his hands pushing against the air, extending the range of a note. Alfonso Mogaburo followed, looking like a young Marc Platoff, vocal tones lighter presence more diffident but equally capable of extended melismas.

Arrebola followed with a Martinete, a dance frequently accented by the sound
of an anvil, evoking its origins in the forge.  Carola Zertuche’s number just
before intermission was a Tientos, galvinizing the audience with her almost
sombre delivery, though a smile flickered across her mouth at unexpected
moments.  Her turns are precise, her focus unrelenting, her accents sometimes
unexpected, her pitos clear.

After intermission Ricardo Diaz played his solo; the two singers provided a lead in for Zertuche’s Tarante going into a Tango. Her dancing covered the stage,
her palmas judiciously spaced, the torso bending, whipping, arms extending,
raised or coiling, an onward pace never faltering. At times her body moved
through bawdy positions;  nothing in her mood extended any potential vulgarity. She wove a narrative of emotion and movement to an abrupt finale, and the audience rose quickly for a deserved ovation.

The concluding dance was Arrebola’s Alegrias, the light-hearted dance
from his native Malaga.  The man has a formidable technique, but an inclination
to mug for effect, diminishing an otherwise brilliant exposition.  The audience,
however, didn’t seem to mind the clowning, if the ovation wasn’t quite so
immediate as the one given Zertuche.

The morning after, the images of the singers and Zertuche continued to linger.

Counterpulse Schedules Diversity September 9-11

10 Oct

Counterpulse with its modest quarters near the corner of Ninth on Mission
is an outgrowth of a free-wheeling improvisational location on Divisadero Street
which outgrew it second story location and its limited range of performance offerings.  On Mission Street it has fostered diversity with a fierce capital D,
multi-ethnic, multi-gender, multi-dance form.While the personalities responsible for 848 Divisadero still perform in the converted storefront theatre,  Jessica Robinson Love can be credited with much of the current range in the programming.  She has been the artistic director of Counterpulse since 2006.


So it’s scarcely surprising that it should offer a shared program featuring Charles Slender’s Pretonically Oriented V.3 and Lenora Lee’s Reflections.  Both groups have enjoyed a residency period at Counterpulse, enabling them to produce the pieces seen  September 9-11.

Pretonically Oriented V.3 and Reflections, translated, means cerebral exposition on Caucasian bodies and Chinese martial arts blended with modern dance aided by traditional Chinese lion masks.

I had to query Rita Felciano for a definition of “pretonically” since  my routine
dictionaries gave me no clue. Her response was that it refers to that part of a word just before the emphasized syllable.  Now, that’s truly cerebral.  For me  that was the problem.  I watched, I admired the three principal performers and observed their intricate movement and body patterns.  But felt nothing, NADA.

doubtless I am  antedelluvian, but that is what theater and art is about – to evoke, and, perhaps, in the process make one a better human being.

Erin Kraemer and Catherine Newman are well-trained, nicely-moving modern
dancers called upon to contort their faces and their bodies both in solo and partnering sequences.  It must be an interesting contrast to working with the San Francisco Opera, listed in both dancers’ credits.

James Graham is a beautifully muscled, nicely proportioned man with substantial academic and performing credits.  This month he departs for Israel to be come a certified Gaga instructor.  I hope he gets  to dance there.

Among credits listed for choreographer Charles Slender is a two-year stint in Yekaterinburg, Russia.  Isn’t this location the site of the Romanov family murders? I wonder what and if the location influenced Slender’s subject matter.

Following intermission Lenora Lee Dance’s Reflections commenced with
the prominent placement of Chinese Lion masks, and a video of a Chinese
reflecting on his background and familial influences.  Lee was aided in her
exploration by the Kei Lun Martial Arts, and Enshin Karate from the South
San Francisco Dojo as she explored traditional North Asian themes in
the context of Western society.  The latter came into play only as the Asian
individual found himself in a struggle between traditional and individual

Lenora Lee and Dr. Raymond Fong engaged in a moving duet, characterized by destructive impulse and the staying, comforting, reassuring restraints of the feminine.  There also were episodes of high level testosterone conflict, swiftly and expertly depicted by the members of the two martial arts group.  The masks came into play at various times, including some skeletal forms which someday may see full trappings.

I responded to Reflections, not just because it was visually engaging and
familiar, but because it dealt with emotion in some form.  A Volte Face from its predecessor on the program, both choreographers  need to work on transitions in their pieces. Dance happens there as much as in actual movement.