Combating Cancer With a Dance Gala, June 6

10 Jun

San Francisco Ballet soloists Garen Scribner and James Sofranko bonded not only with a shared dressing room, but over their concerns regarding cancer.  Scribner was in touch with the Fremont-based research firm, Cancer Prevention Institute of California; the two dancers formed a plan to present a dance gala benefitting the organization June 6 at San Francisco’s Herbst Theater in the Civic Center’s Veterans’ Building.  Two other San Francisco Ballet dancers, Sarah Van Patten and Luke Willis, co-chaired a silent auction.

Scribner-Sofranko enjoyed managerial coaching from SFB’s dance enthusiasts the Pascarellis, plus corporate and individual sponsors to cover production costs, netting $100,000 for the Institute.  Alphabetically, the companies cooperating in the event were: AXIS Dance Company, Ballet San Jose, Amy Siewart’s Im-aj-re, Alonzo King Lines Ballet, Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, ODC/Dance,  Robert Moses’ Kin,  San Francisco Ballet, Smuin Ballet, tinypistol, Zhukov Dance Theater.

The producers arranged a judicious balance of dance genres performed by members of the  eleven Bay Area ensembles. The Gala also served a second important function; the selections  exposed audience members to styles and companies previously seen primarily by die-hard dance lovers  attending everything.  Herbst’s stage is box-like – not exactly the best for dance, though many of local  dance history’s memorable performances occurred in the space.

Yuan Yuan Tan, solicitously partnered by Pierre-Francois Vilanoba, launched the program with the adagio to J.S. Bach’s Concerto No. 5. in Helgi Tomasson’s 2004 ballet 7 for 8.  The lighting did little for either dancer, but Tan’s lingering developpes and arabesques were all there.

Robert Moses’ 1998 solo Descongio found Katherine Wells in little girl white bloomers and tunic dancing to Chopin’s Sonata for cello and piano.  Willowy Wells rendered every shoulder roll or hand gesture assigned with her usual lyricism, though one wonders why each note required a gesture or a quirk.

Alex Ketley’s To Color Me Different, created for Sonsheree Giles and Rodney Bell of AXIS Dance company in 2008, registered the first strong departure in Gala formulas with  Bell’s masterful manipulation of his wheelchair. Giles, with constant flying leaps, seeming to assault Bell, was intense, both demonstrating why the pair earned an Izzie Ensemble Award in 2008.

Junna Ige and Maykel Solas from Ballet San Jose switched emphasis to George Balanchine as Broadway-style  choreographer in his take on “Embraceable You” from the Gershwin-inspired  1970 skillful froth Who Cares.

Maurya Kerr, one-time Alonzo King dancer, combines some of King’s torso inflections, but  manages to make a statement in her ensemble tinypistol.  Here it was Babatunji Johnson in the 2012 Freak Show; she gives her interpreters a total workout.

Sarah Van Pattern evoked the peculiarly haunting Andrew Sisters’ song “I Can Dream Can’t I?”, from Paul Taylor’s 1991 Company B,  backed by Matthew and Benjamin Stewart.

The first half of the Gala ended with Meredith Webster and Zack Tang dancing a pas de deux from Alonzo King’s 2006 ballet The Hierarchical Migration of Birds and Mammals.

K.T. Nelson required Anne Zivolich, dressed in a chic black floor-length gown, to fly all over the stage as well as dust it in the 2005 Shenanigans; Dennis  Adams appeared strategically, moving minimally, all in best fluttering hen to nonchalant  cock tradition.  They got it together,  Zivolich ending up in an odd-angled catch.

Frances Chung and Matthew Stewart continued the duet pattern in a lyrical setting to Robert Schumann music created in 2011 by James Sofranko.

Also created in 2011 was Amy Seiwart’s Divergence interpreted by Roberto Cisneros, now with Sacramento Ballet after wunderkund appearances with Smuin Ballet.

Yuri Zhukov gave the Gala a world premiere, Ember, using Martyn Garside and David Lagerqvist and a spotlight.  First one dancer tracked the other with a rolling spotlight, then spotter and spotted roles reversed, all accented by the swerving light and occasional abrupt blackout.  The men, nude to the waist and in white trousers, eventually confronted each other before a quick blackout.

The Smuin Tango Palace, 2003 brought Jane Rehm and Shannon Hurlburt as the first couple, toying with Hurburt’s fedora, on, off, on to Rehm’s head, off and tossed by Hurlburt, she in an elaborate short, provocative garment, he dressed  George Raft style.  Luscious Robin Cornwell followed with Jonathan Dummer, minus antagonism. Seeing the number on the program, I  hoped the selection would include Smuin’s sizzling male duet; no luck – just two separate couples and the wonderful tango recording.

Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada appeared in Christopher Wheeldon’s 2008 pas de deux Within the Golden Hour, dressed in seafoam blue-green, quite the most costumed dancers in the program with Kochetkova’s head adorned like a ‘Twenties socialite.  Their melting pas de deux to Vivaldi earned a prolonged applause, along with the whistles, shouts and clapping  sprinkled through the program.

An excerpt from the 2011 Light Moves with the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company closed the  Gala with its distinct change of pace and energy and Jenkins’ somewhat typical penchant for tussle as a choreographed form of  engagement.

As the dancers all emerged on stage, some already changed for the reception, the audience rendered the best possible recognition, a standing, shouting ovation.  It had been a definite dance high, and it just might become an annual affair.  I can think of other ensembles to be considered.

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