Archive | October, 2012

Menlowe Ballet’s First Season Finale

29 Oct

Menlowe Ballet completed its first season October 5-7 at  San Mateo’s Bayside  Center for the Performing Arts. East of Highway 101,  it takes a knowledgeable driver to know where to turn off.  Carlos Carvajal is one such driver; we made the October 7 matinee,  featuring Betsy Erickson as guest choreographer, two works by artistic director Michael Lowe.  The company comprises seventeen members; Executive Director Lisa Shively and  Michael Lowe have been careful to arrange a program allowing sufficient time for the dancers also to appear in Oakland Ballet’s Nutcracker.

Michael Lowe’s Serei was first on the program.  Set to John Williams’ music, the ballet was preceded by a brief Koto performance by Mariko Ishikawa, setting the tone for Mariko Takahashi’s aerial work on a scarlet scarf hanging vertically on center stage.  Movements wound both upward and down before classical vocabulary appeared, but Takahashi made space within the music for effective pauses.

She was joined by four other dancers; in the third section dancing with Maxim Lin-Yee, a tall, impressive  newcomer, his presence a bit like  Lee CunXin.

The ballet was supposed to deal with Takashashi’s reflections and the degree of fulfillment she experienced in each.  I didn’t feel this  was fully realized choreographically, though the dancing was excellent, the atmosphere absorbing.  Ayako Takahashi was credited with costuming, Ron Ho with the lighting design.

Betsy Erickson’s Songs to Richard Strauss was premiered in Oakland in 1990, five couples, six selections.  Mario Alonzo designed the costumes, differing hues for each couple: cream, grey, purple, red, lavender or light blue.  Patty Ann Farrell was the lighting designer.

Erickson is attracted to flowing movement; during her dancing career, she was distinctive in adagio. I remember in particular her dancing the adagio in Symphony in C.  She remarked  she is influenced by water and wave patterns,  evident in sweep of the port de bras, particularly when the women on pointe were supported  by their partners; at times the entire ensemble’s arms circled like a variation in T’ai Ch’i.

Menlowe Ballet’s finale was a local production of Surfside, originally created for Richmond Ballet, Virginia, 2002. Not quite an update on Todd Bolender’s Souvenirs or Bronislava Nijinska’s Le Train Bleu, it shared the insouciant qualities of the young, their energies on the make, set to the music of Sandy Nelson and The Ventures.  Paul Stinson and John Baker furnished a jazzy pre and postlude.

Utilizing Menlo Park Academy of Dance students, bright, eager, it left the audience convinced it wanted more.

Menlowe Ballet’s spring performances will be April 20-21, 2013 at the 492 seat Menlo -Atherton Performing Arts Center, ideal for the company’s current size.  Nicolai Kobanaiev is guest choreographer.

The 16th San Francisco International Hip Hop Festival, November 16-18, 2012

25 Oct

Brechin Flouroy issued the first major announcement about Micaya’s annual S.F. International Hip Hop Festival about ten days ago.  Last year Micaya rated one of the S.F. Guardian’s Goldies and earlier received a 2006 Isadora Duncan Dance Award for her steadfast support of  this street culture-born dance form.

The venue remains the same, the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, but the November dates have been moved up to November 16-18, in the usual two program format. Program A starts off at 8 p.m. on Friday November 18, repeating on the Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. Program B is unveiled at 8 p.m. Saturday November 17, and follows Program A on Sunday, November 18 at 7 p.m. before Micaya  goes on stage with one of her pairs of incredible high heeled shoes, displaying her remarkable legs topped with a short skirt and urging the audience to show the performers “a lot of love.” This will be Micaya’s  14th such exhortation to the fans and admirers of her devotion and the participants’ skill.

The international companies this year will represent the U.K., Norway and one company that  credits Montreal, Chile, Holland, L.A. and Tokyo if you can figure that one out.  Nationally Philadelphia and New York are represented,
with three companies from Los Angeles, one from Sacramento, and one from San Jose.  Closer in will be San Mateo, Vacaville, Oakland, Santa Rosa. Suisin City.  I have every reason to believe that visas and finances may have limited international entries.  While I remember it, the release listed participating foundation support, and I am happy to declare that virtually everyone of these non-profit institutions  and civic bodies supporting dance works in the San Francisco area are credited with support.  Bravi!

Program A:

Boy Blue, London, U.K, “Blu-Nighted Kingdom

ILL-Style and Peach Production, Phiadelphia

Mix’d Ingredients, Oakland

Goodfellas, Sacramento

Physical Poets, Los Angeles

MVP, San Jose

Lux Aeterna, Los Angeles

Chapkis Dance, Suisin City

Program B:

Blue Boy, London, U.K., “Emancipation of Expressionism, U.S. Premiere

Ill-Abilities, Montreal, Chile, Holland, L.A., Tokyo

The U.N.I.T., Santa Rosa

SoulForce Dance Company, San Francisco

Bliss Dance Company, Vacaville

Academy of Villains, San Mateo

Decadance, New York

Versastyle, Los Angeles

dEEo diWN dopEISM, Norway.

Master classes with members of the companies from London and Philadelphia are planned November 17 at the Metronome Ballroom, 1830 17th Street, San Francisco, cash only, $38 for two, $20 for one.

If you want to see what teen-agers in dance who don’t fall into the formal dance sphere are doing, this is the time and place to see town and urban youth display body, mind and muscle to music that invades our daily lives.  What they do with those percussive sounds, those rapid fire words which frequently are raunchy enough to make the conventional souls winch, with equal frequency is amazing, admirable and sometimes awe inspiring.  Their dancing often is just SO ALIVE..

Words on Dance with Joanna Berman October 22

24 Oct

Deborah DuBowy has taped interviews with dancers mostly by dancers for nineteen years in San Francisco, usually including stills and sometimes taped footage of the dancer’s signature roles.  This year’s Isadora Duncan Dance Award Ceremony recognized this  record with its modest certificate and “dustable.”  Her presenter was Edward Villella who will be the subject of the next interview, scheduled for the Paley Center for Media, New York City, March 11, 2013.  September 15, 2013, capping the second decade of endeavor will see Maria Kochetkova interviewing Carla Fracci, the memorable Italian ballerina.

October 22 DuBowy arranged for another memorable interview, which probably won’t ever be seen visually because the Vogue Theatre on Sacramento Street simply did not possess stage lights.  Nonetheless the audience not glued to the third presidential debate  got to hear Joanna Berman answer the adroit questions posed by James Sofranko and see snippets of Berman in Rodeo, Swan Lake, Company B, Damned and Dance House.

The comparatively brief interview was preceded by nine films of varying length, some of them gem like.  It commenced with Natalia Makarova dancing with Mikhail Baryshnikov to a Chopin Mazurka, part of a lengthier exposition created by Jerome Robbins for the January 17, 1972 Gala to raise money to keep the New York Public Library Dance Collection open.  Both dancers were at the peak of their careers, their elevations impressive, their elan unmistakably Russian.

A considerably edited interview with Yvonne Mounsey this past June was next, conducted by Emily Hite, capturing in speech Mounsey’s performance qualities.  It was wonderful to see Mounsey wrap hercomments around her favorite role, the Siren in the Balanchine ballet Prodigal Son. I saw her dance when Jerome Robbins was the Prodigal; her understanding of the predatory female remains undimmed.

A brief film by Quinn Wharton followed. Mechanism, had a text relating to machines  and featured two Hubbard Street Dance Company members, Johnny McMillan and Kellie Eppenheimer. Her balance, barefoot on demi-pointe, was cool, controlled, mind-boggling.

This was followed by Miguel Calayan’s short, Prima,  featuring Shannon Roberts (she has a new name Rugani) with  modest tiara, romantic length tutu topped by a royal blue tunic. Dancing  around a spacious vintage ballroom whose location I’d love to know, the footage captured her feet in releve, her body in grand jete and turning attitude, at the barre, covering space, ending in a wheel chair with a doll-sized proscenium stage and puppet dance figure.

Carolyn Goto, former principal dancer with Oakland Ballet, created a DVD of Ronn Guidi in connection with the Legacy Project, affiliated with the Museum of Performance and Design.  Careful editing allowed the audience to see segments of three important Oakland Ballet restagings: Michel Fokine’s” Scheherazade,” Eugene Loring’s “Billy the Kid” and Bronislava Nijinska’s “Les Noces.” In addition Guidi  was seen evaluating Sergei Diaghilev’s benchmark influence on the arts.

Following intermission, San Francisco Ballet member Luke Willis introduced “Freefall,”a partially completed film created with his brother. It featured a charming child, Pauli Magierek playing her mother, and two dancers in space, Sean Bennett for certain and perhaps Kristine Lind; it seemed to explore a child’s fascination with potential future romance.

The choreographic  process between Jorma Elo and Maria Kochetkova in the creation of a solo for her  in the 2012 Reflections tour came next, an interesting exploration of the  making and interpreting of a choreographic vision.

Judy Flannery, the Managing Director of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, brought trailers from this year’s Festival and the news that September 12-15, 2013 will feature the Festival’s collaboration with an international dance component, information which has yet to make it to the Festival’s website.  She also introduced Kate Duhamel’s “Aloft,” with Yuri Zhukov’s choreography for six dancers,  photographed on the northern edge of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Credited as being inspired by the America’s Cup sailboat races and the qualities of the swift vessels, the dancers moved against whipping wind, gravelly ground with the City in the distance as backdrop.

A final break ensued before Joanna Berman and James Sofranko followed the brief glimpse of Joanna in “Rodeo,” and her entrance as Odette in “Swan Lake,” with Cyril Pierre as Siegfried. Berman remarked that Christine Sarry warned her against emoting at the Cowgirl and in “Swan Lake,” she felt exposed and uncomfortable, enjoying Odile more because she, essentially, didn’t
have to be “pure.”  Berman liked story ballets because sa narrative provides meaning to the work,the why the preference for  “Serenade” and “Dances at a Gathering” to the more abstract repertoire  created for New York City Ballet.

Berman had studied at Marin Ballet with Margaret Swarthout before a year at San Francisco Ballet led to a six month apprenticeship before joining the corps de ballet.  What wasn’t mentioned was Berman’s attending the International Ballet Competition in Moscow, the youngest entrant to date, being eliminated in the second round because of a stumble.  Returning with her coach, Maria Vegh, there was a solo performance in celebration at the Marin Civic Center before Berman moved over to San Francisco Ballet School.

Joanna Berman’s dramatic gifts shone in “Company B”, “Damned” and “Dance House.”  I did not see her in the Possokhov reading of the Medea tragedy, associating it with Muriel Maffre and Lorena Feijoo.  Berman’s warmth, a quality Paul Parish calls “creamy,” at odds with Medea’s decision, made the brief footage that much stronger.

Berman now periodically sets “A Garden” for Mark Morris and works by Christopher Wheeldon. She spoke concisely about the responsibility of realizing the choreographer’s intent, a focus she followed when she danced.

James Sofranko also asked her about her post S.F. Ballet guest appearance with ODC, dancing with Private Freeman to choreography by Brenda Way.  When he asked Berman about the arc of her career, she replied she had no desire to go elsewhere because of the calibre of the company and the presence of her family.

The evening reminded one of the elusive quality of comfortable familiarity that seems to have seeped out of many dance occasions with the generational shift. It was good to enjoy the sensation once more.

The Maryinsky at Zellerbach, October 11, 14

22 Oct

While extremely fortunate to witness two performances of The Maryinsky Ballet’s Swan Lake at U.C.’s Zellerbach Hall October 11 and 14, I was underwhelmed save for the caliber of the orchestra. Led by Mikhail Agrest , who lived in the United States during his formative years  and has traveled back to Russia and elsewhere for further study and performance, the musicians gave the Tchaikovsky score full flavor and depth.  There were  particularly affecting solos by harpist Bezhena Chornak, Lyudmila Chaikovskaya on violin and Alexander Ponomarev with his cello.  All three soloists realized fully  the tender, plaintive qualities of the Tchaikovsky score that supports the dancers.

The St. Petersburg-based company provided the audience with Konstantin Sergeyev’s revisions to the original choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov.  Translated, that meant some effective tableaux, one particularly striking when the curtain rose on Act IV  where  the swans were gathered by the lake, the setting now illumined by dawn as it was dimmed by late night in Act II.  The crisp white tutus, the carefully recumbent swans and their placement were picture perfect in this act Sergeyev revised to convey a happy ending.

Tall men, costumed in brown and white, negotiated the Zellerbach stage with grace in Act I, considering the constraints of space.  There was the usual drinking, and the women were in off pink, wearing square head dresses.  A jester was omnipresent, displaying  endless  pirouettes, saut de chats and circling tours.  Danced by Ilya Petrov October 11, compact, dynamic, he seemed entirely independent.  Dancing in the October 14 matinee Alexander Romanchikov was tall, elegant, quite the flirt. Both were costumed with white tights, a jester’s cap of black with gold touches. a tunic of black with strips of cloth hanging from the waist ornamented with gold braid.  There was no program identification for the pas de trois.

Soslan Kulaev was the tutor for both performances, tall, black clad, a well positioned other worldly nerd.  Elena Bazhenova provided us with the Princess Regent, an interesting variation on the name of Siegfried’s mother.  Comporting herself with dignity, she also displayed a touch of a knowledgeable model displaying rare fur belts.

October 11 Vladimir Schklyarov danced Siegfried, mid-height, composed if slightly tense, but capable of several soaring jetes.  As with quite a few of the Russians there was a tendency to hit an arabesque hard, a little overstretched and to reach for height in a jete, rather than to aim for a smooth arc.  The problem may have lain in adapting to stage size. For the October 14 matinee Maxim Zyushin was cast as Siegfried, dancing very correctly, but never achieving any chemistry with Anastasia Kolegova, his Odette/Odile.  Schklyarov’s Odette/Odile was Oksana Skoryk, whose wily Odile struck fire.

When it came to Act II, the lighting was excessively dark.  Andrey Solovyov and Alexander Romanchikov were enveloped in murk as much as they were menacing October 11 and 14 respectively.  Romanchikov was the taller of the two, both  handsome and elegant. As with the men, the solo swans seemed to reach too hard in jetes or achieving arabesques.

The noted pas de deux and Odette’s solo variation were robbed of the mime to explain Odette’s situation. While the pas de deux remained familiar, some  detail in the variation like the passes into arabesques were almost totally missing.  The movement of the corps also amazed me;  the gestures had become more ecole port de bras than suggesting preening. Odette’s working foot never came near passe opening into attitude in her variation. The result ,  sculpturally handsome,  did not win over my penchant for old school detail.

Drama finally got its due in Act III where the ruling seats were placed upstage center, flanked by a backdrop of  dusky brown, tapestry-like courtiers moving out in either direction.  It also affected the  formality; just one ensemble bowed to the throne occupants in both performances. There were overhanging boxes stage left and right housing part of the royal retinue flourishing trumpets at appropriate musical phrases, making Von  Rothbart and Odile’s entrance  visibly even more exciting.

Drama first arrived when six young women came tripping in, wearing identical vapid pastels, from upper stage left, forming a diagonal line, stopping with left toe pointed and hands daintily crossed. (Given the extreme climate, pinks and light blues must bear trembling  spring significance  for Russians.) Whereupon the Princess Regent arose, moving down stage left, pausing to flip her right hand to indicate the young ones before pointing to the wedding ring finger and gesturing to Siegfried to take his pick.  While familiar with dynastic necessity, you couldn’t blame the young man for jerking noticeably at the sudden command. Schklyarov October 11 was nearly knocked off base; Zyushin at the October 14 matinee seemed merely to ponder the problem.

When the malevolent duo made their appearance, Skoryk’s Odile held  my attention; the ensuing pas de deux was exciting.  Schklyarov overshot himself a little in his variation, but the two built the necessary excitement.  Zyushin and Kolegova never managed chemistry together or in their variations, although the audience went wild at the 28 fouettesr by both women.

The happiest costumes in the production were those of the Spanish quartet, white merging into brown, brown merging into white for the women, mostly brown for one man, mostly white for another.  The skirts moved with style and one could admire both design and construction.  The variation itself featured many backbends by Anastasia Petrushkova and Yulia Stepanova, and
floor bound  petit allegro for Kamil Yangurasov and Karen Ionessian.

Act IV  I saw only at the matinee; October 11 the F bus schedule necessitated leaving at the end of Act III. The opening tableau and corps assignment was entirely winning; I felt I was finally registering the vaunted Maryinsky reputation, which impressed me in 2008.  While still not reconciled to the happy ending, the struggle was suitably theatrical as Von Rothbart lost one wing, though Zyushin seemed to follow stage patterns instead as Siegfried struggling for his beloved.

Both audiences was enthusiastic.   I cannot be accused of being blase,  but I did have expectations of the Maryinsky Ballet; aside from that glorious orchestra, these were not fulfilled.  Believe me, I ardently wanted to float out to AC Transit’s F bus for San Francisco.

Birju Maharaj presented by the Tarangini School September 29

22 Oct

For the second time in San Francisco, Birju Maharaj, Padmavibushan-awarded master of Kathak dance, was presented at the Palace of Fine Arts September 29 by The Tarangini School of Kathak Dance .  Three years ago, Anuradha Nag, Tarangini’s artistic director, undertook the monumental task of bringing Birju to San Francisco for the first time.  This year, partly to celebrate Tarangini’s twentieth anniversary as well as honoring Birju’s seventy-fifth birthday, Anuradha brought Birju back for our intense enjoyment.

Sadly, no Bay Area newspaper now reviews single night performances of visiting artists unless  belonging to a concert series.  This wasn’t always true, but, given the condensation characterizing the printed media, it figures. Rita Felciano, however,  was present; considering Felciano’s inclusive regard of dance, that was sufficient.

Young students greeted ticket holders walking past the entrance with a slight spray of rose water, a wrist dab of perfume and a miniature candy, signaling  the auspicious nature of the event.  The occasion was inaugurated  by the opening moments on stage as a chair was placed stage center for Birju emerged from mid-stage left to  receive flowers with the traditional honorific circle of flowers lowered  over his head to his shoulders while his hands were clasped in namaste. The performing  participants touched his feet in reverence,  an act  of devotional gravity devoid of the ponderous.

Indian concerts like this are long on artist credits, almost devoid of program notes.  Frankly, why should they explain something to their audience, most of whom have some acquaintance with the medium, the tradition, the story telling subject matter?  The  concession was the explanation regarding the participation of fourteen Tarangini students dancing in classical Kathak style to Bollywood music from “Bhool Bhulalya” as a display of Kathak’s rhythmic demands. The second presentation explored the nayika or heroine’s moods while waiting for the hero or nayak. After his arrival, the dancers displayed amply the emotions of a woman besotted with love and unwilling to see her lover leave.  The students were joined in the second number by Anuradha Nag’s prior to her own impressive abhinaya with its purity of expression, and delicate precision in abhinaya.

In addition Anuradha Nag devoted four pages in the program to her experience with Birju Maharaj, reinforcing what was witnessed in the pranam  observed at the beginning of the program.

The evening’s  supporting musicians included Chandrachur Bhattacharjee, sitar; Utpa Ghoshal, tabla; Manoj Tamhankar, harmonium.  Rashmi Rustagi announced the program. Crowning Birju’s appearance was Zakir Hussein on tabla; he learned how to accompany Kathak dance when sent by the late Alla Rakha, his father, to New Delhi to work with Birju Maharaj.

Before Maharaj appeared, his son Deepak Maharaj and Luna Poddar appeared together. Deepak separately executed a series of complex rhythms and turns.  Deepak is tallish, slightly heavy set and one sees little physical resemblance to Birju, if much in his style of  dance delivery.

Birju appeared in white with silk cummerbund of orange with touches of green, a small man, white haired with fathomless dark eyes, and an easy rapport with Hussein, flipping forward and back between Hindi and English.  This first half was largely given over to rhythmic displays, Birju clearly relating it to virtually everything he observes; leaves falling , a skate boarder, the famous train sequence from station arrival, cross country speed to journey’s ending.  Birju’s immersion in rhythm is phenomenal to behold – like a shawl, sometimes a pool for bathing.  Within this time and culture a perspective, a permission given rarely in which he dwells, but rich as Birju  manifested the vision it provides.  With Zakir Hussein a collaboration beyond competition was shared and the audience was supplied a vista special between the two practitioners.

Following the intermission Saswati Sen brought her magic to us, still swift and articulate; if her silhouette is now more matronly it has not dimmed skill or complexity. Later, following another variation by Deepak Maharaj with abhinaya, Saswati Sen joined Luna Poddar and Deepak in a brief trio.

When Birju returned he had changed to a lime-hued silk kurta and gave us one of his special portraits of Krishna.  His Yashoda was the essence of the energetic village matron, preparing butter, tidying the house and setting forth on morning errands.  Birju’s Krishna was extremely cautious, checking the door, looking out the window before gauging how to access the pot
slung from the rafter.  This time he did not climb to get the butter, but tried to maneuver the pot by yanking, only to succeed in spilling its contents on the floor.  What to do, but to scoop with his hands and slather the contents over  chin, cheeks and into the mouth.  This was an astonished Yashoda, and a very sober Krishna, fully contrite, pulling on Yashoda’s sari for forgiveness,  until, of course, reconciliation was achieved.

Following the final ensemble and the audience cheers, bouquets were distributed to dancers and musicians.

We had arrived for a 6:30 curtain, and started for our cars after nine.  If we had our choice and Birju and Zakir the energy, I think many of us would have stayed on into the night.  As it was, the evening was a  music room, a Jalsagar long to be remembered, a banquet whose flavors lingered like perfume.

Larry Reed’s Shadow Light Productions at St. Cyprian’s October 20

21 Oct

Change in my neighborhood frequently penetrates my focus several months to a year after it  has happened.  In this instance, three established organizations came together over an condensation of a culture far West across the Pacific. SF Live Arts and St. Cyprian’s Church presented Shadow Light Productions with Larry Reed, shadow puppet master, and I Made Subandi, artist in residence at Gamelan Sekar Jaya with a small number of instrumentalists, October 20.

The sponsorship of St. Cyprian’s brought me inside a church I passed countless times during my working career, but knew virtually nothing about.

The venue, St. Cyprian’s Church, Turk and Lyon Streets, is home to African-Americans espousing the Episcopal faith and more recently Koreans.  The website’s history connects its beginning with West Indians moving to San Francisco following the completion of the Panama Canal;  an official parish formed  in 1922, receiving the name St. Cyprian’s in 1923.  After a lengthy “apprenticeship”, it became a stand alone organization in 1934, In 1935, its first edifice opened its doors at Scott and Lyon. Receiving parish status in 1953, St. Cyprian’s built the current sanctuary at Turk and Lyon in 1960.

St. Cyprian was a North African aristocrat who converted to Christianity, known for his moderation and generosity, became Bishop of Carthage, wrote still extant  opinions in Latin,  and was beheaded in the third century  C.E. on order of Emperor Valerian.

Like many Episcopal actions, St. Cyprian’s is no slouch in social action, evidenced by instituting needle exchange in 1990.  Currently it has partnered with the University of San Francisco in a weekly community garden, a community kitchen, and displays visual art outside its 250 seat auditorium. Arriving at its door, the aura of comfort and solidity wafted over me.

The same can be said to SF Live Arts which left its original home at Noe Ministry when that institution started remodeling, relocating its vigorous program at St. Cyprian’s.  The artistic organization’s history is impressive, hosting the first ever Bobby McFerrin concerts.  I remember in particular a Katherine Hagedorn lecture/concert on drumming from the African diaspora, not a musical experience easily available around 2001.  SF Live Arts has repeatedly presented Gamelan Sekar Jaya.

Then there is Larry Reed and Shadow Light Productions with its spectacular production credits for cross-cultural productions like In Xanadu and Good for Nothing Lover, exploring historical and literary Chinese themes.  In the late ‘Nineties Reed told me that virtually half the non-Western focused artists practicing in the Bay Area owed their initial exposure to the American
Society for Eastern Arts, founded by the late Samuel H. and Luise E. Scripps.

Sitting in a church pew with Carolyn Carvajal, who has sat through shadow puppet performances during her several visits to Bali, we were treated to a condensed parade of traditional Balinese puppet characters and ritual beginning of a puppet play.  The leather-made images were retrieved from their storage box, ritually blessed and displayed on the screen before the narrative begins. accompanied by lots of percussion. The screen is lit by a solitary
light bulb, once upon a time obviously an oil lamp .  The heroic characters were brought in from the audience left, the villains from the right, quite opposite to the puppet master, sitting yoga fashion behind, an assistant handing him the pole-attached images to his right hand. On either side of the screen rising from its own platform on the church altar were cypress-shaped leather images with elaborate frond like patterns, eclipsed only by a similar, more airily-carved instrument announcing changes in scene, characters, situations.

Heroic characters like Arjuna are slender, their headdresses elaborate, their noses aquiline and snooty.  The comic figures which provide the explanation are squat, their profiles a variation on W.C. Fields’ profile.  The malevolent ones usually a quite large and fashioned, barnacle-like, with detail.

With the audience perhaps a quarter of which were children, Reed interspersed the high-pitched, slightly nasal Balinese passages with English explanations, so that the audience understanding kept pace with the action.  He inserted comments like “trickle down riches” and “the one percent” where appropriate, giving the audience opportunity to chuckle at the apt analogy in the action. At the beginning, he invited the audience to move behind the screen and observe the progress of the play from behind.  Carolyn said this was typical in Bali, with the audience eating and chatting.  Exposed to Kabuki and Cantonese Opera, such casual regard apparently is typical Asian theater behavior.

Of course Arjuna withstood the temptation of the angels, fought Indra in disguise and dispatched the villain, name never clear to me, in the area where vulnerable, thanks to the wiles of  Chitragadaa, attached to Arjuna to help  eliminate the villain.

The thread Reed presented may differ from the traditional Hindu, but the Mahabharata, adapted to Indo-Malay taste after its introduction by Hindu traders, and the comic characters like Arjuna’s followers are part of the morphing into Indonesian conventions.

Following the hour-long program, Carolyn turned to me, and said, “This is the funniest Balinese puppet  theater I’ve ever sat through,” a rave clearly the result of Larry Reed’s theatrical acumen.

It’s obvious that SF Live Arts and St. Cyprian’s have a good thing going.

Russell Maliphant Dance Company, The Lam Research Center Theater

18 Oct

Russell Maliphant  really brought a trio to the Lam Research Center  Theatre,  Buena Center for the Arts, October 13 and 14 under the auspices of S.F. Performances in one of those 60 minute performances without intermission, fast  becoming de rigeur mode for modern dance ensembles. The title was Afterlight.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the evening followed the performance, when  Maliphant’ commented about his association with Michael Hulls whose lighting creates an atmosphere enhancing, perhaps structuring the movement quality. Adding to the ambiance was the Gnossiennes1-4 of Erik Satie, placing the patterns executed by Thomasin Gulgec, Silvina Cortes and Gemma Nixon  clearly in the realm of personal rumination.

Maliphant also said the genesis of Afterlight stemmed from a Sadler’s Wells Commission for its 2009 Spirit of Diaghilev season. He went beyond his Royal Ballet training to study not only t’ai ch’i and ch’i gong, but the Rolfing Method of Structural Integration, contact improvisation, capoeira and yoga.  Hitching such diverse movement principles to a study of Vaslav Nijinsky’s drawings brought him to what was seen on stage.

At the opening,Gulgec was seen  in movements balletomanes could recognize as influenced not only by the circles, exaggerated eyes and heads in Nijinsky’s drawings but by the character of Petrouchka in that most perfect of dance theatre productions.  Thomasin seemed to embody the drawings as well as the character of that puppet.  Silvina Cortes and Gemma Nixon brought to the piece touches of Nijinsky’s third work, Jeux, all backed by the limpid Satie compositions.

Most difficult  was where it led.  After the  trio’s appearances and the exposition evoking the brief Nijinsky career, nothing seemed resolved.  The piece floated onward until the music’s end.  The dancing was elegant, skilled, the stage spare, the lighting and music intimate and  evocative; that was the entire sum.  No convention in modern dance these days seems to  require a conventional conclusion to an idea or an exposition. Russell Maliphant hued to this line of permission.

With all the resources, music, lighting and participating dancers, what a pity.

Mystical Abyss, ODC Theater, September 27

9 Oct

The creation myths of the Iroquois Indians and ancient Japan provided the meat of Mystical Abyss, the theater dance premiered September 27 at  ODC Theatre, San Francisco, Yuriko Doi directing the play written by John O’Keefe.  Theatre of Yugen, Yuriko Doi’s theatrical offspring, was the sponsor, with assistance from the U.S./Japan Cultural Trade Network (CTN) and the San Francisco International Arts Festival [SFIAF].

Despite many magical qualities, I found myself wishing the production could be transformed into space like Lawrence Olivier in the movie version of Shakespeare’s  Henry V.  Certainly the animation by Taketo Kobayashi and Koya Takahashi  provoked this desire to see space float,  us viewers staring up trying to identify the transcendent figures. The music by Narumi Takazawa and Kenny Perkins, directed by the former, enhanced the feeling with choreography provided by Noh master Shiro Nomura and Jesus Jacob  Cortes; Cortes also figured as  three principal male characters, Izanagi, Sky Woman’s Husband and Susanno.  Shiro Nomura also provided the impressive Utai.

The set, Renta Kouchi designer, was sparse white cloth stretched vertically with entrances and exits facilitated by raising or lowering white cloth in Noh/Kyogen and Kabuki curtain style.  To see the Noh-like figure or the more naturalistic movers emerge from under the abrupt ride of the curtain intensified the pauses or situations.  the Lighting design by Stephen Siegel  was realized by Frederic Boulay; the stage manager was Meghann Dubie.

In both myths there is a couple with imminent or actual childbirth before the woman is separated from her spouse.

Down ODC’s middle aisle Lluis Valls crawled on all fours, required by his turtle back.  In any language, this sea-earth creature speaks to almost any creation myth, Indian, Japanese, Hebrew, Hindu.  In Iroquois tradition, the heavens contained a tree, birds flew below the clouds and there was a domain containing Sky Woman, Janelle Ayon.  Sky Woman becomes pregnant, and her husband, a powerful chief, dreams of an abyss in the sky country, into which he thrusts his wife.

Fire Dragon gives Sky Woman seeds, leads her to the spirit world of Yominokuni while telling her about Izanami, a goddess who also is pregnant, danced by Masashi Nomura.  Here Ayon’s naturalistic,  folkloric movement  directly contrasted the formality of Nomura’s Noh movement patterns.

Fire Dragon explains that Izanami and Izanagi, her husband, had created a myriad of gods before the birth of the fire god, whose arrival disfigured Izanami, causing her withdrawal into the dark spirit world.  In Izanagi’s journey to reclaim Izanami where she hides with her disfigurement, the myths of Orpheus and Persephone, the wanting to see, the partaking of nourishment are strong parallels.

Sky Woman sees Izanagi as beautiful regardless of disfigurement and her threats against humanity, paving the way to the creation of Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess and Tsukuyomi, the Moon Goddess plus Susanno, the Storm God.

Sky Woman leaves the Japanese underworld to continue her fall, with brief support from the birds and water animals and Fish Hawk;  through the mud provided by the Otter spread on the back of Turtle, land finally emerges and Sky Woman has found a home . There she bears a daughter and is visited by Amaterasu.  Storm God Susanno appears, wrecking havoc, killing  Sky Woman, though her daughter survives.  His willfulness drives Amaterasu into a cave.

Without sunlight, the world is depressed. It takes the daughter of a medicine man, Ayon,  to propose a slightly risque, ecstatic dance to lure Amaterasu from her cave out of curiosity, and light returns.  She moves towards the mount where Sky Woman is buried with seeds scattered. There a small tree is found, a white pine, the Tree of Peace.  The Turtle returns to circle the stage;  the sacred cycle of light and darkness continues.

Risa Lenore Latimore Dye created evocative costumes for the symbolic creatures – Turtle, Sky Hawk/Fire Dragon, Otter Woman augmented by masks created by Hideta Kitazawa, following the grand tradition of Noh. Yoshio Ueno provided the Noh percussion.

In multiple roles Cuauhtemoc Peranda appeared as Fire Dragon and Fish Hawk and Jesus Jacob Cortes as Izanagi, Susanno, Sky Woman’s Husband and Man, Jubilith Moore as Otter Woman, Val  Fuatino Alefosio doubling as Fish Hawk and musician.

While the Iroquois myth was new to me, the Izanagi, Izanami, Amaterasu, Susanno stories have long fascinated me; edited out of an Asian oriented essay written long ago for Impulse Magazine. Doi’s use vindicated the collective relevance glimpsed long ago, though Doi’s use of Susanno differs from the original myth.

I would like to have seen the third performance when the players would have reached their stride. On opening night there was a tad nervousness, but the understanding and grandeur was clear. Lluis Valls and Masashi Nomura were particularly commanding in their roles. There is a possibility repetition may be sponsored at a later date.

For those of us remaining for the reception following the opening, we witnessed several special moments.  Jubilith Moore,  now artistic director of Theatre of Yugen, spoke to Yuriko Doi’s direction, expressing the hope  this was not Doi’s last undertaking with Yugen. Following Yuriko’s comments, Jubilith announced the wish to memorialize Doi’s creation of the organization’ Yuriko’s contribution to cross-cultural understanding is to be a traditional fan commissioned by an artist based in Hawaii.

It is hard to convey the quality of reception but the ambiance made me feel we had the gods and the myths in ODC’s foyer and their blessing.