Archive | May, 2013

Smuin Ballet’s Spring Bouquet May 17

30 May

It took a while to register why Helen Pickett’s Petal took so long to be introduced to Bay Area audiences by Smuin Ballet.  As the seventeen person ensemble closed its season at Yerba Buena’s Lam Research Theatre I remembered a comment about Yuri Possokhov’s Cinderella to the effect that the Bolshoi had exclusive rights to the production for five years.  I suspect the same reasoning may have applied to Petal, premiered by the Aspen Ballet in 2007.

It was worth the wait, an eight-person sleek sunny-toned work between Smuin’s Chanson’s d’Auvergne and Jazzin’ by Darrell Grand Moultrie, with handsome lemon-lime tights for the women with the men bare-chested dancing within lemon yellow to orange orange walls, athletic when on pointe or in grand jetes. Set to the deliberate repetitiveness of Philip Glass with additions by Thomas Montgomery Newman, it reminds one again how balletic abstraction and Glass work well together, clean sculptural work en pointe as evidence.

Rounding out the program with yet another texture was Moultrie’s Jazzin’ with its wonderful collection of jazz songs, creating an ambiance of textures – from gentle, slightly romantic French folk song tradition, to contemporary music and finishing with the immediacy of jazz singing: excellent programming.

There were one or two gutsy sets of lyrics for which Moultrie created amusing skits, allowing for chuckles, that comparative rarity with serious dance ensembles. “Spring in My Step” featured blonde Erica Felsch whose bottoms up postures in black were a little disconcerting but delivered with a nonchalance saving the dance from vulgarity. Jane Rehm danced “Takin’ No Mess” dealing with furniture in a second hand store replete with double entendre again freed froom burlesque, but such fun.  Joshua Reynolds’ “So Low” testified to the benefit Smuin Ballet has derived from his addition to the dancers’ list.

If this program is indicative Smuin Ballet is well on its way to new and rewarding adventures.

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Ballet San Jose’s Spring Revolutionary Program

30 May

For the 2013 Season finale, April 19-21,  Ballet San Jose featured contemporary choreography, including a pas de deux choreographed by Karen Gabay as part of her final appearances with the company she has served for three decades.  Part of the draw was Merce Cunningham and a premiere by Jessica Lang, plus Jorma Elo.

I have written about Gabay’s Amour Gitan in her Gala finale; by what must have been her fourth performance April 21, she had hit her stride.  Coming after Merce Cunningham’s Duets to John Cage’s esoteric sounds it was quite a jump.

Duets comprised a dozen dancers or six pairs. One pair danced and another arrived towards the end, then there were two pairs, three and briefly the entire dozen dancers, arriving and departing unexpectedly.  The original choreography must have required the dancers to move barefooted; here they moved in soft shoes which displayed the upward thrust of ballet technique.  Merce
Cunningham’s dancers not only emphasized the level nature of their bodies, but also the weight and texture derived from the contact with the floor.

It’s hard for classically-trained dancers in a ballet company to alter their stage presentation.  They smile;  and except for dramatic situations, are required to exude good cheer, health and all’s right with the world.  Cunningham asks nothing of that; he wants neutrality,certainly not the front and center most classical abstractions somehow built in to the phrasing.  One could quickly see why this work would be attractive to a ballet company wanting to stretch dancers and repertoire.  What was needed is a massive re-education of performing premise, doubtless something the artistic direction of Ballet San Jose did not have time or resources to supply this season.

Jorma Elo’s Glow Stop was another the works from American Ballet Theatre brought in to fit the overall program title, aided by  juxtaposing Mozart’s Symphony 28 in C major and Philip Glass’ 2nd movement from the Tirol Concerto for Piano and Music.  While stager Christophe Dozzi commented on Elo’s desire for speed and the need for precision in the intricate motions, only classically trained dancers are capable of hitting the arabesque on pointe and then wiggling the line trying to  resemble a pretzel;  undertake an turn of the torso bent at the waist under an outstretched arm,grasping the turner’s arms while on pointe, then coming out to stretch the torso elegantly before buckling it from an  efface.  My degree of interest, having seen two or three other Elo works, and with Boston Ballet where he is its resident choreographer, was what kinds of distortion Elo utilized to what kind of phrases.

Jessica Lang’s premiere of Eighty-one, with its lighting and raised level where composer Jakub Clupinski directed the music, couldn’t have been further in theme than her extended pas de deux Splendid Isolation III danced in 2012 to Gustav Mahler’s extended adagietto, where the woman was swathed in white and the man had to reach over the expanse of train to reach her.
Where that was ghostly  lit,  Eighty-one was sci fi, with music to match, the composer changing the action with gesture and the start and stop of movement, classical in quality.

The dancers were required to move in geometric patterns with frequent lighting adjustments; at several points in the procedure, I half expected to see the hull of a space ship move behind the composer.  Whether Eighty-one will invite the enthusiasm given it at this premiere performance in a second season only repetition will tell.

Company C Contemporary Ballet at Z Space, May 4, 2013

28 May

Z Space has a healthy history of dance presentation under its former name of Theatre Artaud, and the house manager smilingly asserts it is the oldest operating artistic cooperative in the United States; it still reveals its former industrial origins. Z Space continues to present dance companies but ballet companies do have problems with entrances and exits.  If a dancer is supposed to bound on stage in a grand jete or a winged arabesque a la the iconic Italian-sculpted statue of  Mercury, problems can arise. Modern dance companies tend to create  works  with such challenges in mind; not so ensembles utilizing pointe shoes.

With a company like Charles Anderson’s Company C Contemporary Ballet which performs in varied venues, such adaptation is not always possible.  Company C, with its roster of fifteen dancers, also has the daunting factor of turnover: one dancer remains from the 2007 season, one from 2009.  Four members joined in 2010, three in 2011 and three, all men, joined this year, making continuity and cohesion the more challenging, particularly concerning collective company memory. The dancers compensate by their earnestness and are doubtless aided by Charles Anderson’s seemingly unflappable qualities.  Longer seasons, of course, would compensate for the turnover.

Each season Anderson tries to include works of a guest choreographer of note, ranging from Anthony Tudor to Twyla Tharp, and, once I believe, Paul Taylor’s Three Epitaphs.  This year Anderson reached into his advisory board and asked Dennis Nahat to mount Ontogeny, his 1970 work for The Royal Swedish Ballet which also was included in American Ballet Theatre’s repertoire at one point.  The revival was partially notable for the role given to Tian Tan and his execution, the floor postures at the opening evoking the starkness and geometric qualities of Mary Wigman and Doris Humphrey’s Life of a Bee.

Prior to the first intermission, Carl Flink’s A Modest Proposal and company member David Van Ligon’s Natoma were danced, and following the second intermission the company performed two Anderson works, For Your Eyes Only and Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, both premiered in 2007.  The first, danced in silence by Chantelle Pianetta, a small, rounded blonde and Bobby Briscoe, tall with sculpted muscles, required a pacing before rigorous lifts, each regarding the other.  I later learned For Your Eyes Only was created for a deaf audience to provide a sense of coordination between two dancers.  Pianetta and Briscoe reflected that requirement.

The entire ensemble pitched to dance the monotonous phrasing of Bolero, dressed in khaki green, with the girls’ costumes sporting bands of glitter and bare midriffs.  They clearly seemed to enjoy themselves, bringing the program to an energetic conclusion.

Paul Taylor Company’s Alternate San Francisco Season, May 1-5, 2013

25 May

San Francisco Performances has a loyal history of presenting Paul Taylor at Yerba Buena’s Theater throughout that theater’s various name changes.  Paraphrasing the alternate year arrangement, at the closing performance executive director John Tomlinson said is due to just one thing: audience size.  “You bring the audience, we’ll be here every year,” asserting that San Francisco is the company’s favorite city to visit.

In a way I can see why the alternate year became an adroit necessity for San Francisco Performances.  Audiences crave diversity, and there is something so comfortable, so reassuring about Paul Taylor’s choreographic output, even in its darker side.  It has become “good old modern.”  The lines are straight, formations are crafted; the bodies may be required to bend and squirm, stretch or curl, but they don’t break into small jerks, rolls. The dancers don’t break line unless there is some characterological reason requiring it.  Instead, you see the broad V of the arms and a stride where the torso might twist as the body is propelled forward, but the body as a unit isn’t compromised.  Outside of the perpetual arabesques or attitudes in classical ballet, I feel it as comfortable as the round table in the midst of an old-fashioned kitchen with some marvelous odors emanating from the stove.

The three programs included San Francisco and West Coast Premieres – Kith and Kin, The Uncommitted in the former category and To Make Crops Grow and Gossamer Gallants in the latter, with the three memorable works Le Sacre du Printemps, 3 Epitaphs and Company B, dances dating from 1956 through 1991.

To Make Crops Grow relied on Ferde Grafe’s, Grand Canyon Suite, movements 1,2 and 5,minus the clip-clop movement so indelibly associated with the Standard Oil Company’s educational program for California children of the ‘Thirties. Santo Loquasto designed costumes quite in keeping with the stark economy of the Depression, colorless drapery for the Needy Couple and Their Children; white suit with paunch and watch chain for the Elderly Husband. Flashy black and red for the Young Wife, danced by Parisa Khabdeh. is all  sultry boredom and flirty defiance  before becoming defiant and desperate,  chosen to insure fertility in this bleak southwestern landscape.

It astonished me to see figures so like childhood characters seen on the street or at the schoolyard transformed into ritual killers, KKKs in sandy soil, minus masks or racial intent.  This simply made it the more terrible, precisely Taylor’s intention; such connections may have eluded Manhattan dwellers.

Gossamer Gallants flitted across Bedrich Semtana’s vibrant dances from The Bartered Bride with Santo Loquasto’s inspired brown-black male leotards with colored dashes, lime green ones for the women dusted with glittering red up near the boobs.  Both sported matching caps with little antennae and wings. Twitches and itches were endemic for the men as they contemplated a lone female insect flitting across the stage, flicking her legs behind her provocatively.  Whether singly or in formation, the agitation belonged to the best of vaudeville.  Until, that is, the winged ladies arrived in force to perform their role in creation’s orders.

Female feistiness proved fatal, hip swivels or cocked pelvis provoking panic in the winged hunks.  One  colleague disparaged the portrait saying that Taylor needed to learn something about women’s behavior.  I thought not. Taylor displayed his situational spoof and what if’s regarding the sexes.  Some women can do that – here it was a collective band of amazonic insect moms,  ahypothetical situation to be enjoyed thoroughly.

From insects to another form of tribal life, three decades earlier, Taylor’s employedf a two-piano rendition of Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps using a rehearsal, rigidity,  and uni-dimensional movement style, to weave an improbable series of events where nearly everyone gets murdered and the Rehearsal Mistress assumes a titanic scale beginning and ending the piece.
Practically everything seedy or fatally innocent is included; a crook, his mistress, henchmen, a private eye, a girl with a swaddled baby;  an improbable jailing, a breakout, Nijinsky faun-like stage progressions, a baby kidnapping and later its freak death.  Taylor’s style uses a cartoon-like series of sections within the larger musical structure; thirty years out, it remains absorbing.

3 Epitaphs’dancers were clothed in black tights, gloves and head coverings, designed by Robert Rauschenberg, with a few large sequins on the heads and bodies at random locations.  The music is a grainy recording of early New Orleans Jazz;  the dancers move like black rag dolls with a floppy capacity to jump, stand limply or move their hands.  Quite brief, this fifty-plus year old dance  never fails to elicit deservedly strong applause.

An historical note: San Francisco’s Danny Grossman was one of the original five when he danced in Paul Taylor’s company as Danny Williams. Grossman left the company after some eight years before moving to Canada where he started his own company.

Sandwiched between Epitaphs and Company B, The Uncommitted, created in 2011 to several of Arvo Part’s compositions, is an  unsettling portrait of human beings literally uncommitted evoked with unsettling clarity; shifting allegiances, half  hearted connections, uncertain meetings flowed in and off stage to the deliberate, measured sounds of the composer.  Taylor’s style does not change  that much, but how  he utilizes it and shapes a theme, particularly when dealing with human perplexity, reaches inside personal armor to register its message clearly.

Company B,with the Andrews Sisters’ cheerful renditions, a little  loud, confident, extraverted, is a time warp, and Santo Loquasto clearly reflects World War II’s  youthful energies and sartorial tastes.  After seeing it on San Francisco Ballet’s dancers on the War Memorial Opera House stage, the Taylor Company’s rendering is more personal and certainly more rooted in its delivery, the opening and closing polka like a Saturday night high school dance to 78 rpms. Behind it, the threading profile of soldiers moving from stage right to left, some falling, evoked memories of the discrepancy between adolescent distractions and war news over the family radio.
Amy Young’s rendition of There Will Never Be Another You was poignant, knowing she is retiring from the company.  Even more, her pause before rejoining the final ensemble seemed  particularly stark, an inevitability beyond the boisterous sounds of Bei Mir Bist du Schon.

Little question that a Paul Taylor Company visit is to be anticipated, a periodic, brief but definite source of nourishment.

San Francisco Loses an Artist

22 May

By May 31 the master calligrapher Claude Dieterich A. will have flown from San Francisco to Lima, Peru where he lived prior to arriving in San Francisco in 1992.  A native of France who spent his early years in Avignon, Claude studied art at the University of Grenoble before spending some years practicing this aspect of visual art in Paris.

He taught most of his San Francisco years at what is now the University of Art Academy and was an active member of The Friends of Calligraphy; he exhibited in their displays in the San Francisco Public Library’s Main Branch before and after it changed buildings.  Several times his work provided the seasonal greetings for Friends of the Library, and examples of his skill belong to the  Library’s Main Branch on Grove near Market Street.

Those who have known him during his twenty years here have enjoyed his thoughtful company, his trenchant comments, his curiosity, enthusiasms and the delights of his cooking.  I don’t know how his students regarded him, but if they had any capacity to appreciate the genuine qualities of being, they would have learned a great deal.  Those who haven’t known him can appreciate his art on his website.  I do recommend it.

Sayonara, Claude.  Au revoir.

Eifman’s Perspective on Rodin at Zellerbach Hall, May 12

22 May

Without question, Boris Eifman’s company elicits great praise for its dancing and similar controversy about its choreography.  Nothing, however, keeps the transplanted Russian speaking public from attending his ballets in droves; they were out in force for the May 12 matinee when I went to see Eifman’s interpretation of Auguste Rodin’s tumultuous love affair with Camille Claudel.

What one can expect from an Eifman ballet are slender dancers with jaw-dropping flexibility, striking sets, many with metal structures which get incorporated into the action because the dancers climb, crawl or drape themselves along one of another of the bars while the taped music blares one of several climatic moments.

For the matinee the cast included Oleg Gabyshev as Rodin,  Lyubov Andreyeva as Camille and Nina Zmievets as Rose Beuret, Rodin’s long-suffering companion, and mother of his son, whom Rodin married at the end of his life.  Not only are the soloists less than mid-thirties in age, but the matinee’s three principals were trained outside the main stream of Russian classical academies.  Gabyshev hails from Novosibirsk, Andreyeva from Minsk, Belarus and Zmievets from Kiev, Ukraine.  Two others featured on Saturday graduated from the Vaganova Academy, two hailed from Perm.

Eifman very cleverly utilized a series of French composers for his dramatic exposition, most  pieces with which American audiences likely were familiar: Maurice Ravel; Camille Saint-Saens; Jules Massenet; Claude Debussy; Erik Satie, cutting and pasting where score and dramatic action seemed to jibe.

Eifman seems to be at his best at moments crystalizing action, the last visual image before a blackout. Also effective with repetitive movements, he shows Rose’s providing Rodin with his food – the economic serving gesture, the slump of Rodin, his quick dispensing of the meal, mind distracted.  Zmievets’ use of her torso snaking forward, profile to the audience, her sharp nose, dark hair and supple reach of her body from neck through to her hips was a sculpture in itself.

Several instances occur when the metal structures frame images indelibly associated with Rodin, most notably when the corps members assume the famous, if never realized Gates of  Hell. (The crowning three figures of which were inspiration for Yuri Possokhov’s Francesca da Rimini.)Also, the movement of bodies which assumed the positions of The Burghers of Calais, a copy known to many visitors to San Francisco’s Palace of the Legion of Honor.  Yet another device was Rodin moving dancers’ limbs before throwing a canvas over the figures displaying yet another famous statue such as The Lovers.

One expects Eifman to depict the triangle in extreme fashion and he doesn’t disappoint.  I found my stomach churning even when observing and feeling skeptical about the feverish extremes of Claudel.  In that category I would place Eifman’s assignments for the inmates of the mental institution.  Granted time and culture divergence, having worked in an inpatient psychiatric setting, the costuming and circle arrangement for the women inmates rang false, if perhaps quite necessary for Eifman’s concept of the tangled love and sculptural collaboration. He depicts only Camille’s destruction of her work, nothing of what remained, and, of  course, her subordination to Rodin’s endeavors.  Eifman may have felt it would soften the stark contrasts which are such a hall mark of his choreography.  In his choices, Eifman eliminated Rodin’s contacts with the dancing greats of the day: Isadora Duncan; Anna Pavlova; Vaslav Nijinsky.

Obviously, I have not reprised the story line, but for those interested Wikipedia provides outlines of both artists.  It also might be noted that little, if anything, was made of Camille’s brother, Paul, the French diplomat and poet, who was responsible for placing his sister into an asylum, or of the asylum staff who made repeated efforts to see her released, actions unsupported by her family. That is the final part of the horror story.

Tadich’s Grill, San Francisco

20 May

Last week The San Francisco Chronicle posted a notice that Tadich’s Grill, the third oldest in the U.S., was about to make anannouncement; the person posting invited comments and also posted the odds on the betting.

Well, today the announcement is out that Tadich’s will open in D.C. in 2014. All I can say is that if they can clone one tenth of this San Francisco grill in the nation’s capital, Washingtonians should be extremely grateful.  I hope President Barack or Michelle Obama will consent to cut the ribbon.

Tadich’s is a no nonsense grill, specializing in seafood, where my grand uncle used to go for lunch every working day he had an office in the  William Dollar Building on California Street.  That’s fifty years, my friend.

The location was on Clay Street, before the Embarcadero Center shooed the establishment over to California below Sansome Street, where they had to get rid of the sawdust.  I’d swear I went there at least once and scuffed up the yellow stuff with my shoes. I have no idea whether my memory is accurate but I recall tongue and groove for the walls, but the current location sports dark stained wood and the occasional stained glass.  It could well be I’ve confused the construction with the now shuttered Jack’s on Sacramento.

Given so many San Francisco landmarks, particularly the merchandising ones, have been subsumed by retail conglomerates with origins in New York City, I’m thrilled something of this city is going east.  It won’t combat the high rises and the rental hikes, but it will serve as a symbol of that world my  grand uncle inhabited with such verve.

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