Archive | August, 2012

Yuan Yuan Tan in Mufti

31 Aug

Coming out of the Asian Art Museum this afternoon following a docent briefing on the forthcoming calligraphy exhibit, I walked over to the shelter at the corner of Larkin and McAllister to wait for the northbound #19 Polk.  There in the shelter was a full-length image of Yuan Yuan Tan dressed in white shirt, narrow blue trousers and pale blue toe shoes, her right leg nearly at the six o’clock position encircled by her  right arm,  smiling nonchalantly in garments manufactured by THE GAP.  Being so close to the San Francisco Ballet headquarters, the ad made sense, doubly so with the cheek by jowl location to the Asian Art Museum, and an intriguing reinforcement to the forthcoming exhibit.  [More about that later.]

Looking at THE GAP Website, Tan appears at the bottom of  its main page,  recumbent this time if  repeating  her sense of ease.

It leads one to wonder whether THE GAP plans to utilize other San Francisco Ballet dancers.  It could do far worse.

Ballet San Jose’s Promotions and New Company Members

31 Aug

Lee Kopp, the Public Relations and Marketing Manager for Ballet San Jose, has announced promotions and new company members.  It seemed apparent from the spring casting that several corps members were ready for soloist status and the announcement confirmed those educated guesses.

The new soloists are Amy Marie Briones, Junna Ige, Akira Takahashi and Jing Zhang.  Advancing to principal status is Jeremy Kovitch.

New to the company as members of the corps de ballet are Cindy Huang, Lucius Kirst, Alex Kramer, Annali Rose, Kendall Teague and Mallory Welsh.  Kirst and Kramer are coming to Ballet San Jose from American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company as mentioned during the spring season, but not identified.  Welsh recently danced with Smuin Ballet. Joshua Seibel, apprenticing during the 2011-2012 season, has  been promoted to corps status.

The  happy surprise in the release concerned Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun, who is joining the company as a soloist after some five years with San Francisco Ballet.  For Bay Area balletomanes who reveled in her unique fluidity, it is excellent news.

Dance Lovers Remember Remy Charlip, 1929-2012

24 Aug

This got started the day following Remy Charlip’s funeral and celebration; I was sure it would meander, as the mind and emotion lets go at such times to encompass loss and experience and memory of the individual newly absent to life and the circle of his friends and activity.  Necessarily it will be churned out in stages, interrupted by necessary daily chores.

I can’t say I knew Remy Charlip, but I did meet him and talk with him and saw him around  at and in performances, struck by the genial nature of his presence.  He was gracious, giving and referred me to an editor who didn’t like my submission at all, no fault of Charlip’s.  The fact of his offering impressed me with a certain security of soul, innate when generosity is so manifest.

We both as disparate times served on the Isadora Duncan Dance Awards Committee. Jenefer Johnson, one of the current members, wrote Charlip wanted to give Izzies – the certificate and the “dustable” to everyone – and wanted to create a scarf for the occasion. [Maybe the Committee might consider a collective one, to drape over a recipient like the Olympics as Darrell Fisher records the moment; there would need to be a blanket when production collaborators collectively warrant the accolade.]

Rita Felciano and I attended Remy’s hillside burial at the Fernwood Cemetery in Mill Valley; her Prius took us through heavy northward traffic across the Golden Gate Bride into sunshine and the Stinson Beach turnoff, coastal trees, then increasingly up into the sun-dried hillside overlooking tree-shaded buildings in Tennessee Valley.  Fernwood Cemetery, as its website explains, is an ecologically sound resting place of individuals wanting their bodies to disintegrate into the soil minus cosmetic procedures or excessive barriers to the earth.

Cars lined the edge of the ascending road as Rita parked.  Stephen Goldstine and Emily Keeler came with Corinne Nagata, soon June Watanabe and Deborah Slater. Other individuals arrived, looking familiar, if not known by name. Joanna Haigood was there with her husband and handsome young son. More mourners arrived after us. Embraces were exchanged, the ambiance  one of  gravity and acknowledgment; if there were tears, they were muted.

A group arrived with two or three baskets and a box containing an ivory envelope and card bearing Remy’s name, dates of life and a small shot of rainbow-hued grosgrain ribbon for those present. Keith Hennessey stood beside a tall, slender giant and a dark-haired man with bronze skin.  Deborah Slater remarked, “That’s Jules Beckman.”  Before their arrival, the Rabbi Singer explained some Jewish rituals  about forming lines and requesting no photographs.  A modest-sized man of compact build, he held a black binder, wore a black hat, sported a nicely trimmed beard and a gold  circles on each ear.

The hearse door was opened. The Park Service green clad cemetery personnel carried the willow basket,  its crafted  pattern adorned by a scroll of white roses, along a mulched pathway and up to the grave’s edge.   Erica, in charge of the arrangements, later  said she had chosen the spot after vetoing the Jewish section of the cemetery as the graves  there were too close together.  She wanted space for Remy. What a space she chose!  A hillside,  a semi-circle of eucalyptus behind the grave dug by Latino personnel, down the requisite depth revealing the terra-cotta hue of the soil. It was the first time Rita and I had seen a wicker coffin;  I suspect  a first for others.

We gathered, some fifty plus, as the Rabbi’s wife sang in Hebrew in her clear, small voice, accompanied gently by the Rabbi on a large tambourine.  The Rabbi explained the ritual of helping to bury the dead as one felt able.  Behind us below the path a relatively new grave bore large headstone of granite carved with the name of the deceased and seashells.  When the wind subsided, the heat of mid-afternoon August embraced us.

Erica stood at the head of the basket speaking briefly, followed by Beckman stating qualities of character he felt Remy personified, then kissed the basket.  The cemetery personnel lowered the basket into the terracotta oblong, removing the straps.  The rabbi spoke, while three women distributed  rose petals and rose-tipped white rosebuds, devoid of scent, amongst us. We began to cast the roses onto the basket now resting deep down.  The rabbi’s wife continued to sing; we negotiated the slope to toss the flowers.

Rabbi Singer intoned the Hebrew burial phrases, repeated by one or two women near me, the words, their cadence rising and falling ,the occasional gutteral confluence, most of us unable to continue beyond the Rabbi’s instruction with the burial exclamation.

Erica picked up one of three green handled shovels and cast a few terra cotta clods into the grave, followed by Jules Beckman and Keith Hennessey.  Hennessey stood with the shovel near the mound helping women who needed it when they came forward to participate.  One  young woman, bare shouldered in an ankle-length black and white striped dress, stepped forward, grasped the shovel  resolutely casting two shovels full.  She energized my lurking impulse and I stepped forward.  While Keith held my forearm I grasped three or four clods, tossing them towards the head and at the foot of the basket, a moment and sensation not soon forgotten, and found my hands pressed together, Hindu namaste style.  June Watanabe followed.  As we backed towards the path, the group moved forward to participate.  Stephen Goldstine walked slowly down the incline to cast his share while at the head of the basket the tall, slender giant dug into the dry, uneven mound several times, intently casting the contents at the grave’s head.

In the midday warmth returning along the path and reaching the paved road, there were many embraces and low conversation. Rita drove the circle above the incoming road, past and around the historic cemetery with its ornate nineteenth century markers; the car descended to the entrance, back to the junction of the Stinson Beach Road where a roadside stand was selling peaches; on to the highway towards the Golden Gate Bridge, the Marina cutoff and the new tunnel approach replacing the hazardous, creaky Doyle Drive.

Rita left me off at ODC’s Theatre on 17th Street as Margaret Jenkins and her daughter crossed 17th at Shotwell and strolled towards the entrance.  I followed their example, met by a pretty dark-haired young functionary who advised me where I could stow my inevitable portmonteau with little danger of loss.  Down the slight ramp there were four tables, two on each side, devoted to substantial finger food – slivers of pastrami and beef, hum mus, olives, sweet pepper slices, cauliflower and pea pods, french, rye bread, pita – two and three platters of each with generous spoons to assist in noshing.  Near the corner windows  bottles of water, white and red wine rested on a formica surface; against the wall, orange and kiwi slices, strawberries, large soft molasses and raisin oatmeal cookies, layered in circular pattern.

Helen Dannenberg stood by a door with her customary majesty; I noticed Joe Goode. Theresa Dickinson came up to talk to Carlos Carvajal who sat beside me.  The tall stranger sat down on the other side, introducing himself.  Patrick Scully,  one of the scores of individuals whom Remy encouraged and embraced in his whole hearted, but penetrating way, came from Minneapolis where he started a performing space called Patrick’s Cabaret  flourishes. It sports a website where Scully speaks eloquently about that active, non-profit enterprise.

When the gathering moved in to the theatre, Jules Beckman sang “Everything Must Change,” which Remy had taught him.  Joanna Haigood, in a warmly colored knit jump suit danced her half of the duet she had danced with Remy, “When the Lilacs Bloom” full of felicity and warmth.  Then I left for an appointment.

Unlike this ramble, Rita Felciano’s account in The Bay Guardian is brief, superb, and interspersed with You Tube footage, well worth watching.  Paul Parish’s celebration in The Bay Area Reporter places Remy in history, lists his accomplishments, mentions his honors, Remy’s ability to make art while celebrating various niches in life and endeavors.

Allan Ulrich in the San Francisco  Chronicle and The New York Times paid tribute to Remy Charlip, noting his 38 children’s books and his Air Mail dances, his years with the Merce Cunningham Company, his founding of the Paperbag Children’s Theatre.

Missing  in the accounts was what for me was one of  Charlip’s major collaborations, “Growing Up in Public,” and tribute to and a vehicle for the late Lucas Hoving.  Like Charlip, Hoving chose to live out his final years in San Francisco, a  much loved, teaching figure, tenderly cared for at the end.  Unlike Charlip, however, Hoving was not widely celebrated, perhaps because of generational and national differences, along with the relative immaturity of the dance community at that time. Following Hoving, Charlip embraced the community and it in turn encircled him in this most fitting tribute to his gentle, whimsical, faun-like life with its unique brand of  patriarchy.

ODC’s Summer Sampler, August 11

16 Aug

ODC’s Summer Sampler, this single day, two performance event at ODC’s Theater on 17th Street in San Francisco also marked the farewell performances of Daniel Santos, the Philippine-born artist who is leaving the company after a decade of performance.  In the scale of the company’s performers Santos  has been a bona fide successor to the likes of  Kevin Ware, Robert Moses, Brian Fisher, Brandon “Private” Freeman.  To the eternal credit of Brenda Way and K. T. Nelson, they have  reveled in diversity of sizes, shapes and ethnicity that their work has attracted, along with the company practice of year-round salaries and health insurance.  And at the 4 p.m. performance, Santos danced evidence of the male lineage and contribution to this remarkable ensemble.

Premiered this spring K. T. Nelson’s Cut Out Guy with costumes from ODC’s wardrobe, lighting by Dave Robertson, and almost unendurable sound by Ben Frost, the five company men gave us a portrait of men tussling, sometimes friendly, sometimes menacing, all exploring limits, hoisting, hurtling against each other either frontally or from the back, raised on collective or a set of single shoulders.  The explosion, the projection of bodies was simultaneously exciting and alarming, yet the momentary resolution of Olympic like leaps was extraordinarily beautiful. Particularly riveting was the pas de deux between Daniel Santos and Jeremy Smith.  The other remarkable dances were Dennis Adams, Justin Andrews and Corey Brady.

After a brief pause, Brenda Way’s 2008 Unintended Consequences, lighted by Alexander V. Nichols, used music by Laurie Anderson and costumes designed by the choreographer.  The music  bothered  me and following the impact of the first work, I found myself dosing, so I can’t comment on its content.

Another pause before Parts I and II of Way’s 2006 Part Of A Longer Story with the men in white shirts and trousers and the women in Way’s varied costumes of black dancing to Mozart’s Clarinet in A Major, K. 622. This is one of Way’s most balletically inflected pieces, the men and women entering and exiting as a group singly and together, not tied to classical movements, but definitely reflecting the influence and structure.

It was Part II, the duet between Vaness Theissen and Daniel Santos, that capped the program with Brenda Way’s distinct  graciousness and style in honoring a colleague .  The next to the last performance of Santos with the company, it was ever so much more.  Rarely, rarely, rarely, have I seen relationship between a man and a woman so marvelously captured within a classically-based structure.  None of your multiple pirouettes or sustained promenades, if you please.  A few positions  might be considered first cousin to a fish dive in the way Theissen was caught in front, rather than Santos’ side or the gestures and the slow process to connection one sees in a balletic encounter.   Way’s style of joining them and the physical conversation between was a masterful connection of gesture and musical phrase; her contrast, asymmetrical to Mozart’s aural structure, conveyed so much of Santos’ full-hearted desire against Theissen’s appraising restraint.  Duet and dancers quite honestly moved me to tears.

Any two dancers wanting pas de deux with a challenge and a blessing to present for special occasions, get in touch with Brenda Way for permission to perform Part II of Part of a Longer Story.  They won’t ever regret it.

Suhalia Solo, August 5, Lesher Center for the Arts

11 Aug

A member of the Isadora Duncan Dance Awards Committee is expected to cover the many genres of dance in the nine San Francisco Bay Area counties, seeing at least twenty during the period September 1- August 31.  This includes the obvious: ballet, modern, tap  and “ethnic” dance, particularly Indian forms and flamenco. It  has expanded to include hip-hop, praise and ballroom dancing, plus unusual video recordings of street dancing.  Practitioners of these forms have  earned an Izzie  dustable and  accompanying certificate.

With Abby Stein and Paul Parish, two Izzie stalwarts, I made it to an early Sunday evening performance August 6 to see Suhalia Salimpour at the small theatre of  Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts.  It had been a sellout for quite some weeks.

Many years ago I took classes from Jamila, Suhalia’s mother, when UCSF’s Millberry Union programs had included a brief introduction to danse du ventre, belly dancing or whatever one calls this intensely feminine dance form.  Jamila, a handsome raven-haired woman, had delved deeply into the background of the form, reputed to have developed as a ritual helping women prepare for the delivery of their babies.  With the Chicago  Exposition of 1893 designed to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the New World, the ritual  had become an entertainment form for the tired businessman of the Middle East.  In 1980 Jamila compiled the evidence in a monograph she titled “Middle Eastern Entertainment at the Chicago World’s Fair, 1893” with three strong-faced women adorning the cover.

Once I had seen Suhalia as a young girl dancing with Jamila, perhaps in the Bal Anat troupe which Jamila had organized.  Since then, a variety of ensemble and individual dancers perform the style.  There scarcely is an Ethnic Dance Festival where the alluring form fails to be present, some with swords balanced on the head while the torso is lowered ceremoniously to the floor with accompanying music.

Now Suhalia has her own daughter, Isabella, who came forward to introduce her mother and the seven musicians comprising The Salimpour Band.  The seven led off the evening, clothed in blue-black shirts and trousers, some with shaven heads,  looking quite formidable.
The music from their instruments invited you, compelled you to want to step past a shaggy curtain into an incense-redolent interior to watch a sloe-eyed woman clinking finger cymbals while circling a small space provocatively.

Out came a cheery, smiling, chestnut-haired woman with minimal red chiffon cascading from below her naval to her bared-feet  and a similar hued bra and scarf.  Immediately, the cogniscenti in the audience emitted the characteristic vibrating, trilling  as it howls.  You can’t miss the special sound, the Furies turned Eumenides  about to  appear.  Wikipedia calls it Ululation, is practiced at all joyous occasions and is called zaghareet.

The expanse of Suhalia’s flesh was at variance with my memory of Jamila who frequently espoused a black  coverup, creating mystery with the suggestive allure of danse du ventre.  Different generation, different attitude; Suhalia exhorts her viewers where Jamila seemed  removed, her allure mysterious in my memory. The technique, however, remains the same, the dazzle created by vibration beyond the hip flips and the pelvic undulation.  To see progressive quivers on the sides of the body while the navel signals its own exercise is a staggering phenomenon, no matter the covering around it. I think the technical term is considered isolations.  Suhalia accented such dual tremors as she raised her arms to rumple her hair, like a woman in climax, or possible labor.

The zaghareets were unending from the predominantly feminine audience, many of whom study with Suhalia.

After Suhalia’s inaugural number, the ensemble played and several musicians performed brief solos.  The Salimpour Band included  Ziad Islambouli, percussion; Fadi Islambouli-guitar [electric]; Robert Roberts, doff; Ibrahim Masri, oud; Morris Musharbash, mazhar; Ahmad Berjami, keyboard.  These names were given me, but what I recognized were a tambourine,  two or three forms of doumbeks. Manjeras or cymbals were not used, the keyboard a contemporary substitute for the santour or hammered dulcimer.  The technicalities didn’t really matter when caught up in the insinuating minor key of the melody and the insistent sound of the doumbek.

In her second appearance Suhalia emerged in flesh colored drapery, shimmering with brilliants, handless gloves covering her arms.  She engaged in a captivating exchange with the principal drummer, up close and cuddling;  on cue, off came the drummer’s tie. Many zaghareets.
Jamila, Suhalia and Isabella espouse a supremely feminine dance form;   may their special dynasty flourish.

The S.O.B. Tale

10 Aug

Ness, Anton, S.O. B. Save Our Ballet: A Story of Hope During a Recession
Charleston, S.C., 2012 104 pp., illustrated.    Pbk, $21.95, e-book: $14.99
ISBN: 9781-478-156-118

This slender paperback tells the background  and the dancers’ fight to rescue San Francisco Ballet from bankruptcy and almost certain dissolution in 1974.  Anton Ness, its author, was a member of the company at the time after studying in San Francisco and attending the North Carolina School of the Arts.

Writing of the company’s early history, Ness recounts the company’s start under Adolph Bolm, Sergei Diaghilev’s great character dancer, when he accepted the post of ballet master of the San Francisco Opera in 1932.  As an historic side note  it remains remarkable that this provincial city, fostered by its strategic position during the brief gold and silver strikes in the Sierra Nevada, should have financed and opened an opera house in the midst of  The Great Depression.

The Christensen era is reviewed and includes Lew Christensen’s background with George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein, complete with a George Platt Lyne’s image of Lew as Apollo in the iconic Balanchine ballet.  Ness recounts briefly the American Ballet Caravan Company as the ensemble was called when touring South America in 1941, but does not touch on Dance Players, the short-lived ensemble   Lew organized while waiting to be drafted and  his choreographing the haunting circus ballet Jinx. Lew’s service in the U.S. Army effectively finished his dancing career. Ness does explain the rationale leading Lew to decide to move to San Francisco, joining Willam and Harold with their San Francisco Ballet enterprise.

Ness leaves further detail to authors Sally Bailey, Debra Sowell  and Cobbett Steinberg for aspects of San Francisco Ballet’s history, concerning himself with his immediate experience and the summer months of the S.O.B. campaign.  Arthur Blum’s brief career as manager is illuminating, along with the singular contribution of the “angels” who sparked the S.O.B. campaign: Maureen Broderick, Nancy Dickson and additionally Damara Bennett,  Roberta Pfeil and Elizabeth Tienken.

I was then San Francisco correspondent for Dance News. Though not intimately involved, I remember the period well.  The can-do spirit of the dancers was simply incomparable, the confidence  spilling over in subsequent years. In a Dance Magazine article, Michael Smuin, then co-directing the company with Lew Christensen, stated he could  not take credit for the results, that it was wholly a dancer-driven campaign to which he gave further support and organization.

A number of the dancers were still dancing in the company in 1985 when Helgi Tomasson was invited to become San Francisco Ballet’s artistic director.  Two dancers, Betsy Erickson and Anita Paciotti,, currently serve the company ably as ballet mistresses.

Ness’ first-hand knowledge and obvious affection for the company makes the account enjoyable and touching.  What adds to the flavor from a long-time viewer’s perspective is the inclusion of several figures whose contributions to the company’s development  do not currently receive much recognition.  Ness is to be thanked for helping to rectify this error.

S.O.B. Save Our Ballet is available through Amazon.Com, Barnes and Noble and independent book stores.

Carlos Carvajal to Stage Work in St. Louis

5 Aug

Native San Franciscan Carlos Carvajal, whose initial dance experience was with Chang’s International Dancers before studying and performing with San Francisco Ballet and spending a decade in Europe, has been invited to stage a work in St. Louis. In September he will mount a work for the  Kuchipudi Art Academy of Dance of St. Louis which will be performed October 29.

The Art Academy was founded in 1980 by Sujata Vinjamuni, a student of Padmavibushan Vempati Chinna Satyam, the ne plus ultra of Kuchipudi dancing.  Also schooled in Bharata Natyam, Vinjamuni was honored this spring from the Government of Andra Pradesh for her devotion to Kuchipudi.  The Academy’s website mentions its practice of giving the program proceeds to worthy causes in the St. Louis area.

Carvajal mentioned that the commission found him remembering Golden Rain, created for his company, Dance Spectrum.  “It has an interesting movement base, but only a springboard; of course the music will be different.”

After returning to San Francisco, Carvajal danced once more with San Francisco Ballet, was its ballet master, choreographing Totentanz and Genesis before leaving to start his own ensemble.  While in Europe, Carvajal danced first with the Grand Ballet de Marquis de Cuevas, The Bremen Opera and the Opera in Bordeaux.  He was a soloist with the Grand Ballet when Rudolf Nureyev made his European debut in Bronislava Nijinska’s production of Sleeping Beauty.  Currently, Carvajal is co-artistic director of World Arts West’s Ethnic Dance Festival