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.

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