Archive | January, 2013

Post Epiphany – The Hip Hop Festival and Smuin Ballet

30 Jan

First it was January 7, but now January 29. I regard with chagrin the program pile, minus assembled comments.  The enterprises will survive without my prose.  But will I – after all reviewing in not supposed to be a charity process!  So with an obsequious obeisance, I set forth snippets of impressions.

The Hip Hop Festival came and went the weekend of November 16-18 at the Palace of Fine Arts, the marathon of Programs A & B November 18 with only two or three ensembles bridging both programs.  I had noted the spread of groups earlier,but only two or three linger in my mind.  Lux Aeterna from Los Angeles employed Arvo Part as its musical basis, permitting the six person ensemble to display sustained movements possible in hip hop mixed with acrobatic elements.  Like the later use of classical music it demonstrated the degree of cultural sophistication which has filtered through this original street genre.

III Style & Peace Productions from Philadelphia included young men working in Washington.  Their strong number “KINGZ” demonstrated laudable commitment and the skillful kaleidoscopic images fashioned by Brandon “Peace”Albright, fusing African, Caribbean, Southern and contemporary styles quite adroitly.

Featured in both programs were the Ill-Abilities, a quintet of dancer/ choreographers with major handicaps, converging from Canad Chile, France, the Netherlands and apparently San Francisco.  One was near midget size with a powerful chest; one claimed “lazy legs” due to a spinal problem; another had lost a leg to cancer.  All of them, however, were ajzzed and inspired by hip-hop and gave the audience amazing rhythmic renditions to the music of their choice, the aural support to feats associated with able-bodied exponents.  At each program Sunday’s audiences were mesmerized.

Following each performance, Micaya exhorted us to give the individual groups, all on stage, ‘losts of love.’  She herself is her own comely performance, jeans for the matinee, short black following the evening performance, continuing to woe us with her elegant legs and monumentally tall shoes.

Smuin Ballet’s The Christmas Ballet was seen at December 22’s matinee.  The ensemble possesses talented dancers performing with energy and conviction executing a format which bridged contemporary culture and the formidable training and tradition of classical ballet.  The ensemble continues to salute its founder-choreographer whose record spanned virtually all the fields where professional dancers can exercise their skills.

The pre-act curtain visuals remain the same, if Act I’s traditional images seemed shorter.  I give Act I’s decor full marks.  There’s much that can be evoked with white drapery strategically changed throughout the numbers.  The problem with Act I’s solemnity is endemic to the repetition over the course of the season.  When heard less, one can experience a genuine frisson of the spirit; heard too frequently, the ears tune out.  The stately, serious nature of this half, therefore, experiences the same problem.  While one admires and responds to the steady standards of the dancers, the overall impression has  become rather bland.  I’m sure this is a minor opinion.

The children’s art for Act II was reinforced by the Jackson 5 warbling Santa Claus is Coming to Town.  Satchmo’s voice makes its mark each season.  Following by Christmas in New Orleans, the two belong together,perennial favorites.  Santa Baby, danced by Robin Semmelhack [formerly Caldwell] is consistently good for a smile, reinforced by the seductive cooing tones of Eartha Kitt.

I missed seeing Shannon Hulbert’s masterly solo to The Bells of Dublin, a high point in the trek to Yerba Buena Center for me.  Replaced by Shannon Hulbert’s tapping invention to Rudolph The Red Nosed Raindeer, Erica Chipp and Janica  Smith tapped pertly, popping red noses to their own at the finale.  The Christmas plaintive discard was also missing.  Val Caniparoli’s Jingle Bells Mambo provided some wit and off-center bravura display.  Linda Ronstadt’s rendering of La Calandria featured Semmelback again with a swooping red ebozo.  Baby It’s Cold Outside is not specifically Christmas in theme, but it’s wintry, and has been danced by most of the ensemble at one time or another, for this matinee by Susan Roemer and Joshus Reynolds.  Bing Crosby’s rendering of White Christmas provided the cue for the phony snowflakes cascading on the orchestra center audience.

The Christmas Ballet enjoys a good formula.  I haven’t a clue how it could be enhanced.

San Francisco’s Ethnic Dance Auditions

29 Jan

Mid January is the time World Arts West schedules its hundred plus slots for groups wanting to audition to one one of the 40 selected for the June Ethnic Dance Festival.  This year’s January 16-17 auditions were held for the second time at Zellerbach Hall, the University of California, Berkeley.  The second week, January 19-20 occurred at the Lam Research Theater, better known as the theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

As I remember the regulations from the two times serving on the jury panel, soloists are given five minutes and ensembles perhaps ten.  They should appear in some part of the costuming and with props audiences will see in June.  There is a panel of specialists in most of the diverse ethnic dance forms practiced.  They  vote and their choices are given to C.K. Ladzekpo and Carlos Carvajal, the artistic directors, who then take the choices as guidelines for assembling  the four June weekends of performances.

Saturday January 19, I managed to see seventeen out of the twenty-five afternoon/evening auditions.  Claude Dieterich A, teaching calligraphy and graphic design at the Academy of Art University, San Francisco, and Hanna Lu, a computer whiz handling computer tasks at the University of San Francisco Law School, provided stimulating non-specialist perspectives.  Dieterich has studied Cuban dances and is familiar with Peruvian dance traditions.

Much of the time you’re uncertain of what you’ll see.  Some names and ensembles return yearly, performing elsewhere, so seep gradually into the memory bank as noteworthy. A percentage of the entertainment is derived from the clutches surrounding any one presenting group.  Back in the days when auditions were held at the McKenna Auditorium of San Francisco State University these small enclaves seemed more apparent, and also, until two years ago, at the Palace of Fine Arts.  Around the stage door they still can be found, if somewhat constrained by downtown San Francisco.

The Festival draws a number of volunteers, many seasonal repeats. Assiduous in their tasks, when one arrives late, entrance is barred until a given audition is completed and the stage is being set for the next ensemble.  It also gives the judges time to make notes.  The pauses lend a relaxed ambiance for audience and performers, and as the evening continues, the auditorium is  gradually emptied of rooting groups, only diehard dance enthusiasts remaining  as the groups finish their assigned spot on the roster.

Directed upstairs and opting to sit on the side rather than on the steep central seats, the view enabled an eighty per cent stage vista.

With the exception of the Bollywood finale, the Indian groups were disappointing.  One ensemble attempted a contrast between Kathak and Bharata Natyam; the technical grasp seemed rudimentary.  Also an exposition of Odissi in non-traditional format didn’t do the style a favor.  Without saying, the costuming was lustrous.

Senegal was represented by Cheikh Taou Mbaye and Sing Sing Rhythms; their drumming was compelling.  World Arts West Executive Director Julie Mushet interviewed the leader during one of the short breaks. Later she brought the leader of El Wah Movement Dance Theatre forward to speak about Haitian traditions.

Early in the afternoon ARAX Dance, two women, executed symmetrical patterns in long tunics with full sleeves and flowing skirts.  With heads adorned with caps, they were a visual cousin to Afsaneh which specializing in Central Asian traditions.  While listed as Armenian contemporary folkloric, they might well have stepped out of a Persian miniature painting.

Ballet Folkloric Alta California danced a pageant common to Zacatecas, presenting harvest produce to a shrine.  A devil figure cavorted, being dodged and outmaneuvered, a pleasant variation to many Mexican ensemble presentations.

La Tania’s Bailes Flamencos produced three dancers in black blouses and trousers, dancing in the unforced feminine quality characteristic of her movement, but with unusual spatial patterns.  La Tania is not one for explosive torrents of emotion, but expert in a yearning, a conjuring of desired passion which is quite beguiling.

I don’t envy the panelists and artistic directors their task of selection.

Casting for San Francisco Ballet’s January 24 Gala

23 Jan

While there are the usual admonishments regarding program and casting changes, San Francisco Ballet posted the current Gala casting on its website, and it is interesting in new pairings, some new works and a repetition or two from recent elegant memories.

Sasha de Sola and Pascal Molat lead off the evening with Balanchine’s version of  Louis Gottschalk’s  Tarantella, followed by the final solo from Roland Petit’s L’Arlesienne with Pierre-Francois Villanoba, the music by Bizet.

Vilanoba danced it early in his sojourn here, excelling as usual with its dramatic challenge. With either his rumored or stated retirement at the end of this season, the choice is spot on.

From drama to the gentle August  Bournonville flirtation and romance, Clara Blanco will debut in the Flower Festival at Genzano with Gennadi Nedvigin.

Myles Thatcher, still a member of the corps de ballet, has created a pas de quatre for Dores Andre, Dana Genshaft, Joan Boada and Jaime Castilla titled In the Passerine’s Clutch, the score being that by Wojceich Kilar’s  Like me, in case you didn’t know, passerine refers to perching birds, ranging from larks to finches, crows and swallows.  Thatcher has created the costumes with Susan Roemer, the Smuin Ballet dancer.

Lorena Feijoo, dancing for the first time since the birth of Luciana. will probably wow us in Raymonda’s solo from Act III of the same-named ballet set to music by Alexander Glasunov.  Welcome back, Lorena.

I suspect an Intermission will follow after Raymonda or the following pas de trois with Sarah Van Patten, Tiit Helimets and Vitor Mazzeo in Helgi Tomasson’s Trio set to a Tchakivsky score.  It should because a brilliant post intermission launch could be the grand pas de deux from Don Quixote, a debut for Frances Chung with Taris Domitro.  To the warhorse tunes of Ludwig  Minkus and Ricardo Drigo, it’s the version jointly mounted by Tomasson with Yuri Possokhov, with this bravura piece little changed from its original choreography.

John Cranko’s Act I pas de deux from Eugene Onegin will be reprised by Maris Kochetkova and Victor Luiz, who danced it at the company’s local premiere last year.

From bravura to drama to sauce, the program lists next the cheeky  Balanchine salute to John Philip Souza’s The Stars and Stripes, arranged by Hershey Kay, with Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan.

Christopher Wheeldon’s evocative pas de deux to Arvo Part from After The Rain will be danced by Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith.  Smith is another principal dancer who seems to be slated for retirement at the end of the San Francisco Opera House season.

With this quartet of  stylistic difference, the Gala audience will get a bit of 20th century ballet history with a pas de deux from Serge Lifar’s Suite en Blanc, set to music by Eduoard Lalo..  Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets will do the honors of a work Carlos Carvajal, who danced it during his days with the Grand Ballet de Marquis de Cuevas,  says is meant simply to display the company.  The full version is slated for Program I on January 29.

There doubtless will be a final company ensemble, but it was not listed this morning.