Archive | July, 2013

Amy Seiwert’s Imagery Summer Series at ODC Performance Gallery

30 Jul

Last year it was three women choreographers; this year, Sketch 3, Amy’s sub-title was Expectations, selecting Val Caniparoli and Max Brew for two of the three dances seen at ODC, July 25-28. The trio provided an exhilarating evening with eight splendid dancers who enjoyed generous emphasis from all three choreographers.  The audience, filled with long-time dance professionals, added to the excitement.

The respective titles were Brew’s Awkward Beauty, Canaparoli’s Triptych and Seiwet’s own The Devil Ties My Tongue with dancers Brandon Freeman, Rachel Furst, James Gilmer, Sarah Griffin, Weston Krukow, Annali Rose, Katherine Wells, and Ben Needham Wood.

I took away one or two images from each work crystallizing for me choreographic intent, lucid, minted.

Val Caniparoli’s Triptych was inspired by Lalage Snow’s images of British veteran soldiers of Afghanistan, “We Are The Not Dead” before, during and after with music by John Tavener and Alexander Balanescu.  Christine Darch clothed the eight dancers in khaki fatigues close enough to military field garb to reinforce the imagery.  Caniparoli approximated march formations as the recruits submitted to discipline and then very carefully depicted combat situations, ending in the ensemble moving forward, faces expressionless, to face the audience.

Classical ballet movements linked with the awkwardness of combat necessity worked powerfully on the imagination.  I remember James Gilmer’s reaching with a grand ronde de jamb with his arms outstretched as his working leg reached second, as if to say “Why?” and one moment where Brandon Freeman caught an anguished Katherine Wells as she lept forward; for a moment the two were  majestic, a momentary sculptural triumph.  Triptych is one of Canaparoli’s strongest works since his perennially popular Lambarena.

Max Brew’s Awkward Beauty, music by Dan Wool, was memorable for me because of its tenuousness; in particular there was a downstage right pas de deux between two men, the tentative connection and motions towards and away – “Do I really want to get involved with this guy?”, a clear statement regarding male friendship and/or sexual involvement.

Seiwert’s contribution, “The Devil Ties My Tongue” with Olafur Arnalds’s score, utilized the pas de deux in several places, the lifts exciting, circling around the supporting body, once or twice a woman.  I remember Sarah Griffin aloft at an angle, arms and legs like a strong calligraphic exclamation, Chinese calligraphic style.  At the end Brandon Freeman supported a wavering, quivering Katherine Wells struggling with some inner message, but unable to support its import standing.

The dancing was superb, the choreographing intriguing and hope abundant that 2014 will provide Sketch Four.

Atamira Dance Company Debut Performance in North America

30 Jul

Andrew Wood, executive director, San Francisco International Arts Festival, brought
New Zealand’s Atamira Dance Company to Joe Goode’s Annex  July 27 for its North American debut.  Kaha ran 75 minutes minus intermission, a rugged, athletic introduction to seven person ensemble plus the director Moss Patterson. The  dancers were:  Megan Adams, Mark Bonnington, Daniel Cooper, Jack Gray, Bianca Hyslop, Andrew Miller, Kelly Nash, Nancy Wijohn.

While only one of the dancers who really looked as if, in other times, his face would sport traditional Maori tattoos, I assumed from dark locks and curly hair on some, that most troupe members shared Maori family roots. The director added a New Zealand English accent  introducing the pieces.

I wonder just how often they perform and if their entire repertoire is as rigorous as the seven pieces performed in Joe Goode’s high-ceiling space,  anchoring one corner of Project Artaud, a former industrial building proclaiming itself the oldest artist cooperative in the United States. Their attack was unremitting, the energy remarkably unflagging, the ensemble spirit evident, discipline and training excellent.  The men, with one exception, tall with muscles lean and well defined, could just as easily walk off a rugby or soccer field. Two of the women, medium height, looked cheerful and managerial , the third slender but athletic.  Watching one of them in the sixth number roll on the floor, forward and back, left me breathless with amazement.

Patterson said Haka, was based on movements he learned from his grandmother.  The term haka means posture dance, started the program forcefully. Patterson commenced the dance in semi-darkness, his arms manipulating strips of metal attached to string, their spinning in the air in circles and figure eights making a faint, if distinct whirring sound.  Broad second leg positions, lateral unison movements, foot or heel pound, arms moving to the side, across the body, slapping, hitting the chest or arm, the voice speaking in the Maori tongue, the eyes focused and fierce.  Any one could easily arouse afficionado’s exclamations on a Kabuki hanamichi.

Ta Paki, was created by Patterson responding to ocean waves as a means to reach an internal rhythm.  Bianca Hyslop and Nancy Wijohn, with Andrew Miller, sketched an undulating, occasional physical lifting , to and fro imagery that, in its early phases, reminded me of Jose Limon.  The work, loops and swooping movements, the arms moving out and around the body bending forward and back, weaving around another body, sometimes a linear image of three, conveyed a sense of the sea, waves and tides.

Company members Kelly Nash and Nancy Wijohn contributed Indigenarchy and Paarua, studies in the effects of mass media by Nash and sporting tactics and attendant mental and physical preparation from Wijohn.  Two whistles were involved, one with the range of bluster, coyness and cheek, all based on competition, instinctive reaction, the emphasis on physical strength.

Two numbers, Pou Rakau and Moko, rose from Maori influences.  Gaby Thomas, a company member on leave, drew on the Maori stick tradition, employed singly or collectively, placing them, vertically, in front like ritual objects. It gave the sensation of domesticity, time of day, comforting repetitive acts.

Moko, on the other hand, used body tattoo, or ta moko, as its point of departure , the floor patterns and gestures evoking the designs and the act of tattooing itself, weaving bodies, lifts,  reflecting the intricacy of designs.  As expected, the emphasis on tribal custom and cohesion came across strongly.  An interesting side note was the lower thigh, knee and upper calf  tattooed cuff on one of the males dancers, the design intricate, placement unusual.  It was this dance where the dancers engaged in body rolls on the floor, forward and backward with great intensity and for what seemed a prolonged sequence.

The finale was Poi e Thriller, poi  referring to a light ball on a string, here white and swung freely in oval and criss cross patterns, the dancers dressed in a clever exposition of cheeky grunge, the girls in fluffy net skirts of various hues plus black, posturing, turning, changing places with equal sass. The ensemble’s mixing Maori tradition with modern comment is both fascinating and compelling.

The audience loved it. Andrew Wood invited the audience to talk to the dancers and to join them in a picnic on Treasure Island Sunday afternoon.

Vive La France

26 Jul

San Francisco Ballet’s 2013-2014 roster includes a new principal dancer of French background; Mathilde Froustey.  Reading her background, and the fact she earned a gold medal at the Varna International Ballet Competition in 2004 reminded me of Muriel Maffre, now executive director of The Museum of Performance and Design, who came with a similar medal from the first Paris International Ballet Competition directed by Cyril La Faure. Said competition lapsed when La Faure retired.

From 1985, when Helgi Tomasson assumed San Francisco Ballet’s artistic directorship, there has been a periodic welcome mat to feminine dancers, French trained.  Pascale Le Roy was the first; she segued briefly into Smuin Ballet as I remember, but has continued to make her mark as one of San Francisco Ballet School’s teachers, as Mrs. Stahlbaum in the annual Nutcracker production. More recently she created the role of the dance mistress, Mme Mansard, in “Cinderella,”  mansard being the name of a type of handsome building roof. Mansard’s character, seen briefly, never quite manages that, but Le Roy belongs to another location in a building, the bearing wall perhaps.  And I had better stop this train of irrelevant connections!

The next dancer was Karen Averty who danced perhaps two seasons before returning to Paris to complete her performing career.  She was one of the early Odette-Odiles in the Tomasson version of the Petipa-Ivanov-Tchaikovsky classic.

Then came La Maffre as a quite young principal.  I still remember her initial season when she danced “Swan Lake” with Yuri Zhukov, products/exponents of two great schools of classical ballet, Paris and now again St. Petersburg.  I not so much remember the dancing as the two of them taking their curtain calls to vociferous applause – their schooling, their bowing  response  to the audience and to each other I found intoxicating.  I remember Maffre in a number of other things, of course, but that was the forerunner of what we enjoyed of her dancing for nearly two decades.

We got Sofiane Sylve first as a guest principal and the following fall as a full-fledged member of the company.  She can be sweetly maternal as the Sugar Plum Fairy in”The Nutcracker”; steel “In The Middle Somewhat Elevated”; sublime in “Symphony in C’s” second movement in the bucolic distraction of Stern Grove, for which she received an Izzie for individual performance.

Froustey enjoys some formidable performing credits, but I just wanted to mention her countrywomen predecessors, such a  formidable roster.  We are richer for their distinction and I trust Froustey will simply add her only polish to that luster.

Dennis Nahat Moves Onward

24 Jul

Following the lamentable events with Ballet San Jose’s organization, Dennis Nahat has been quite engrossed with bringing two productions from the People’s Republic of China to the United States.  In between the many trips he has made over the past eighteen months to Dalian, Dennis has also served on the Isadora Duncan Dance Award Committee and restaged his ballet Ontogony for Company C Contemporary Ballet.  A tall order, but Nahat moves steadily ahead, apparently a juggernaut of calm.

July 22 at a spacious hacienda-like establishment in Saratoga, Nahat provided press and supporters with a glimpse of what will be seen in San Jose October 3-13 under the title of Yulan  with music composed by by Paul Chihara, whose first ballet music was for Michael Smuin’s Shinju.

Apparently Nahat has enjoyed the vaunted position of having a  potential cast of thousands at his disposal, for Yulan will be followed by the The Terracotta Prince, due to open in Pasadena and travel north to San Jose for its engagement December 18-29.  Both the Prince and Yulan are slated for San Jose’s California Theatre, 345 South First Street, San Jose CA 95113.

Before further comments the Box Office telephone is 408-792-4111.

The productions are appearing through Theatre Ventures International, Nahat’s 501 (c) 3, non-profit organization, and United Star Performing Arts Corporation.  There is an interesting tie with San Jose’s sister city relationship with Dublin for the productions aim to raise funds for scholarship exchanges with Ireland’s capital city.

The video teasers for both productions signal that Cirque de Soleil might want to take notes. Acrobats abound,  magicians make their appearance, particularly in the Terracotta Prince production, with feats of balance there for the asking.  The dancers are small, beautifully proportioned and appear to be fearless.

Where Yulan starts with the cosmic egg or equivalent and works its way through geologic and recorded history, The Terracotta Prince relies on the lilting score of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. Anyone familiar with that holiday perennial will enjoy the double treat of the music and seeing what acrobatic wonder from the noted Dalian Acrobatic Troupe fits into which variation  that Russian romantic composed.

Nahat, undeterred, has moved onward promising the Bay Area is going to enjoy some extraordinary razzle-dazzle. Lights, action and camera trot obediently behind one amazing theatrical conjurer in the person of Dennis Nahat.

Post Ballet’s Fourth Season, Lam Research Theater

24 Jul

Artistic Director Robbert Dekkers chose three prior works to precede his 2013 premiere “field the present shifts” [the title was printed in lower case] with music commissioned from Matthew Pierce, costumes by Christine Darsch, projections by  Robert Gilson and Catherine Caldwell, and lighting by David Robertson. Dekkers used seven dancers, four men and three women, largely as a group, movements in common, in four different styles of attack, culminating in a return to the original exposition.  The dancers were Aidan De Young, Ashley Flaner, Domenico Luciano, Jane Hope Rehm, Christian Squires, Raychel Weiner, Ricardo Zayas. The four violinists were Alan Lin, Debbie Spangler, Noah Strick, Ondine Young.

I saw this program Thursday, July 18, 2o13.

Christine Darsh’s costumes were dyed an interesting shade of orange fading into the original off-white color of the tights, the men stripped to the waist, the girls in unitard form embellished by the orange material waving slightly above the breasts, while the men’s tights flared at the waist line.

Suspended from the ceiling were six clumps of spaghetti-looking white strands, meeting and clasped at the top in  Japanese gift embellishment style.  Behind, the projections commenced with a starry night, gradually forming several vertical lines.  Into these lines lineal forms were introduced – stringy  at first, gradually forming more doodle-like arrangements, cross-hatching, reaching beyond a single column, assuming bigger and more complex if geometric shapes.  At mid point, the projection became a massive, angular shaped piece of closely intersecting lines, as if projecting the tangled lines of bureaucratic procedure and protocol with some poor human efforts in facing the complexity..

In the four sections, a woman moved outside the collection of dancers, followed by another, then another, the group then coalescing in a new location.  Luciano made a similar thrust, establishing himself as the ensemble’s leader, more or less, though one remembers it was a woman. the initial venturesome one.

The lineal forms, resembling decorations on a gift box wrapped Japanese style , slowly descended to brush the floor.  Just before the movement summary, Luciano briefly moved through it with an inquiring walk; in the background a woman did her own exploration of another clump of the voluptuous, if see through, white threads.  Gradually, however, the ensemble, though milling around separately, again began to coalesce while the the gift box strings slowly ascended.  The music repeated its original theme and the dancers, like the Sonata Allegro form, gathered together;  there was an abrupt blackout.

Many in the audience displayed an ecstatic reaction, rising to their feet.  I found the choreographic sections did not transition smoothly or with meaning, despite the effort to portray the beginning of collective action, supported by the evocative music, lighting and stage decor.

For the other three pieces, “Colouring,” “Sixes and Seven” and “When in Doubt” Jessica Collado in Dekkers’ solo “Sixes and Seven” to Philip Glass music, was quite affecting.  Often, she would turn her torso and arm to the side, perhaps turning it from the shoulder, bending it at the elbow, gazing down at the limb and her action in slight surprise.

“Colouring” [Dekkers chose the English-style spelling]  involved a stiff white, blank piece of material suspended behind Ashley Flaner and Domenico Luciano, standing opposite each other. They responded to the black squares, curved and geometrical lines Enrique Quintero drew on the sheet.  Downstage right, choreographer Dekkers stood, signalling to the dancers with his fingers what movement pattern should be executed after Quintero had completed his strokes on the board,which sometimes appearing black or in some form the Asian calligraphers call flying white.

The exercise revealed a slow motion grasp of partnering, some beautiful passing forms when Luciano lifted Flaner or they circled each other like expansive sumo  belts. It remained essentially an exercise, albeit interesting.

Mr. Dekkers clearly is extremely conscious of shapes and forms.  The cover of his program depicted Dekkers and another male locked in an embrace with a woman semi-profile arms extended behind them, all apparently nude except for the woman’s tattoo ;that was more clearly revealed on the back cover where on pointe she semi-crouched.  The individual dancers’ pictures, largely head shots, seemed to reinforce the skin display.

The program also contains Dekkers’ belief regarding what is conveyed in each of the four pieces his program called “Four Plays.”  Somehow, I prefer to reach my own conclusions regarding this well-conceived, carefully presented program.

Courage as Understood by Rasika Kumar

22 Jul

Despite its location and  tiered seat arrangement, Counterpulse is an ideal venue for artists who are interested in detail and whose art form flowers in close proximity to the audience. This is particularly true for soloists and especially for the conventional solo concert in Indian classical dance forms. So with Rasika Kumar’s striking theme of Courage, Counterpulse as a venue July 12-13 was ideal.  Perhaps the Indian members of the audience were aware of the premise of their viewing, but I doubt whether much of the audience was aware they were receiving an object lesson of being a sahrdaya.

Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan wrote many years ago about the sahrdaya, the informed member of the audience, and how such an attuned observer completes the circle or artistic expression rising from the perceptions of the performing artist.  Her essay appeared in Impulse magazine, the twenty-year annual production of the late Marian van Tuyl Campbell, assisted by Eleanor Lauer, Joanna Gewertz Harris, Crystal Mann [then Miller] and doubtless others.  I carried the essay to this formidable quartet, and felt utterly privileged by the trust.  In the process of reading the essay, I was introduced to a way of looking at dance which began to influence my perspective at any performance, to experience the premise within the year like a tsunami when Balasaraswati appeared in San Francisco for the first time.

Mythili Kumar supplied the narrative,  mentioning  all the musicians as well as Rasika were Indo-Americans, Indians born in the United States.  These included Malavika Kumar as nattuvangam; Sindhu Natarajan, vocalist; Ganesh Ramanarayanan, mridangam; Sruti Sarathy, violin and Prasant Radhakrishnan, saxophone.  The latter instrument, unusual for a Bharata Natyam concert was included because Rasika felt it crucial for “Rosa Parks – ‘Tired, tired of giving in.’”

Opening with a brief exposition titled “Awakening the Kundalini Shakti,” Rasika presented herself as an eloquent practitioner of abhinaya, the gesture language common to all classical Indian dance forms, but most highly developed in the South Indian forms of Bharata Natyam and Kathakali. Possessing long fingers to frame the gestures, there was never a trace of hesitation as she described with one or two salient gestures the energy in each of the shaktis.

This was followed by Mythili Kumar’s “Legend of Savitri” which Rasika had adapted, derived from a poem by Sri Aurobidino.  Savitri is considered the ideal Hindu wife; she marries her husband knowing that he is doomed to death a year following their nuptials. Rasika’s interpretation of a young woman totally absorbed by her passion for her spouse was tender and persuasive, utterly distraught as she confronts the ebbing of her beloved’s life.  In the Indian tradition, the abhinaya switches from Savitri to Yama, the Hindu deity of death whom Savitri follows ‘into the forest’ defying Yama’s possession of her husband’s spirit.

Savitri succeeds and at the conclusion of the sketch Rasika brings water in her cupped hands as her beloved stirs back amongst the living.  There was no question of her ability to depict a woman utterly engulfed by her wifely passionate devotion.

“Courage of the Devadasis” is Kumar’s take on the humiliating laws of 1947 which prohibited women of the devasdasi caste to practice their art and devotion in Hindu temples. The degradation of these traditional artists started long before 1947, thanks to the presence of British missionaries brought to the sub-continent by the East India Company and later by the Raj.  The situation was perhaps less dire in those states still ruled by Maharajas. Even in Tamil Nadu, however, where the Tanjore Court had been a noted source of patronage and from which four Pillai brothers began to formulate what is now known as Bharata Natyam, the proscription took its toll.  Douglas Knight’s biography of  Balasaraswati [Wesleyan University Press] chronicles the fight the devasdasis made to preserve their lifestyle.  Beyond prostitution, the salvation lay with instruction, teaching young women the eloquent art form.

Kumar’s portrayal of rejection, closed doors and other forms of prohibition conveys much of that historical dilemma.

“Rosa Parks – “Tired, tired of giving in” was for me the high point of Kumar;s concert.  With four white folding chairs and a sign printed in black letters on white cardboard, “Colored,” Kumar took us through the education of a young Rosa, her work as a secretary for the NAACP, listening to the horror stories of summary judgment against blacks accused of raping white women, of
lynching or killing, of boarding buses and moving to the back seats.  Kumar’s posture, the body language in movement was telling, down to the final moment when she shakes her head after being asked to move.

“In the Wake of a Tsunami” was Kumar’s tribute to the quiet order and heroism of the Japanese following the horrendous earthquake and tsunami in northeastern coastal Japan in the provinces of Sendai and Fukushima.  Her body and gestures assumed the quake and the devastating waves of the tsunami, conveying the overwhelming awe and force of this quake-induced flood of sea water. Within seconds Kumar became stricken humanity, rushing to escape the torrential sheets of water, grasping a nearby person – child, adult or elder.  She climaxed the portrait with a man, one of the fifty, volunteering to enter the Fukushima plant, bidding farewell to his child and wife, as he grasped his kit.  This had been created a year earlier as part of a benefit for the surviving tsunami victims.

Rasika’s finale was a tribute to Hanuman, the Monkey devoted to Lord Rama, depicting him as derring, can do, pert, smart, playful, ever ready to accomplish something for his lord.  Here, to locate a wound-healing plant on a distant mountain, he resorted to carrying the entire mountain to the wounded Lakshman, fighting off the minions of Ravanna along the way.

Indian classical dance provides great dramatic opportunities for its exponents, especially those with excellent training.  American-born exponents add a certain energy and drive to the depth of emotion one finds in those exponents born in India.  When a dancer here chooses to study further in Chennai as Rasika did, with Kalanidi Narayan, herself also schooled by Balasaraswati’s master, the results are striking, the portrayals convincing.  I found myself lost in the telling, absorbed and convinced by Rasika’s choices in movement patterns supporting her dramatic development with clean, articulate abhinaya.

Bharata Natyam, traditionally a solo form, has seen considerable development as an ensemble form in the San Francisco area by the Abhinaya Company directed by Mythili Kumar.  We westerners frequently forget what a challenge a traditional recital is for the artist, not the least being the difficulties of frequent performances.  Touring perhaps is the most extensive demand made on the artist; I imagine in India concert presenters must charge sufficient sums to compensate the dancer for the comparatively small number of annual performances.  Here  Rasika is doubly remarkable for her academic and professional training; her position co-existing with her admirable level artistically and choreographically.  Such dual engagements are not for anyone, but San Francisco area audiences are lucky to witness how well art and technological commitment can be so well combined in Rasika Kumar.  It also is courage of a special kind.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Extravagant Story Ballets

17 Jul

Early in May I saw two performances of the San Francisco. Ballet-Het National Ballet production of Cinderella; and on film his earlier creation for The Royal Ballet, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at a 10 a.m. Sunday showing at San Francisco’s Vogue Theater, Sacramento near Presidio.  The screening rated a brief appearance by Christopher Wheeldon, here for the U.S. premiere of Ms. Miserable transformed to Mme Majestic.

I don’t have the roster of production personnel and designers  for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,, but both say a great deal about Wheeldon’s thoroughness and collaboration.  Given the allotted fiscal resources, he scattered the commission funds adroitly and gave both companies and their audiences a ballet  for the memory books and box office receipts. Wheeldon’s employment of  technical advances for stage productions since 1929 when Serge Diaghilev died would have that impresario repeat  his famous edict “Etonne moi!”

I probably shouldn’t mix the two productions, but sentimental reasons are afloat, namely two different USA IBC competitions in Jackson, Mississippi when the Royal Ballet principals Sarah Lamb and Zenaida Yanowsky were handed senior silver and junior gold respectively, Lamb in 2002 and Yanowsky in 1994.  In the special ambiance characterizing Jackson’s ambiance, one acquires a special attachment with the young artists staying the course of climate, adjustments and pressure to emerge with their talents recognized and careers enhanced.

Okay, back to Cinderella.  Wheeldon invited Craig Lucas to fashion the story-line.  The old-fashioned word is librettist; I’ve also heard the word dramaturge.  Taking pieces from Perrault, the brothers Grimm; as Aimee T’sao mentioned in her dancetabs review, the opera  La Perichole, Lucas provides a snippet of Cinderella’s mother and father, the mother dying of consumption, a visit to the tombstone and the emergence of a tree from the gravestone.  Adroitly using children, the girl Cinderella is replaced by the young woman in a filmy dress of blue which needed sleeves present in other versions. At the tombstone/tree the father arrives with Stepmother Hortensia and stepsisters Edwina and Clementine; there Hortensia’s bouquet is offered, thrown to the ground, offered again and reluctantly accepted.

Cut to the Palace, represented by three handsome rust-colored pillars,  Prince Guillaume and friend Benjamin play with wooden swords and destabilize Madame Mansard the dancing mistress.  King Albert and Queen Charlotte as well as master valet Alfred try to control the two frolicking boys with comparatively little effect. No one really seems to mind.

Time passes and the King shows the Prince portraits of potential royal brides: reaction,  dislike.  Required to deliver invitations in person, the Prince and Benjamin swap garments so the royal has a chance to assess necessity and his choices.

Next, Cinderella is seen in her domestic setting, assisted by four masked men  serving as Fates.  The two sisters are sketched further, too little to establish Clementine’s kind impulses, plenty to establish Edwina’s narcissism, less her halitosis, Hortensia’s step-mother’s nastiness, the father’s interrupted attempts at tenderness.

Into this domestic dragnet, Cinderella, out of kindness, perhaps diversion which might net some responsiveness, brings the prince in disguise.  Mayhem, of course, is directed at the would-be derelict until Benjamin’s arrival with invitations; an acknowledgment to the fire huddling humanity, tempers Hortensia.  That humanity tries to console Cinderella, and she yields briefly, with a flare of pride, he is shooed out the door.

Excised are  the shuffling god-mother in disguise, the dance master, the wig makers and the dress-maker, replaced with the antics of the three women, Benjamin disguised as the prince, followed by the three preening, and Hortensia’s waving the fourth invitation before tossing it into the fire.  The disconsolate Cinderella is spared by the four fates lifting her, as the kitchen banishes, bearing her to her mother’s tree where the four seasons with double qualities dance for her; Spring/Lightness; Summer/Generosity; Autumn/Mystery; Winter/Fluidity [the latter is a mystery to me, unless it signifies rain instead of snow and ice]; she joins them in the finale.

The seasons then join, cluster and dance while Cinderella makes a costume change to a golden dress with wheat-like tendrils cascading from the bodice and a golden mask, behind her  a diaphanous golden cape.  The fates and four masked attendants lift her; horses heads appear, the Fates grasp four wheels, the spokes green branches and our heroine is raised, cape billowing,
evoking Audrey Hepburn declaring “Take my picture” near the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Curtain!

Act II brings us Princesses from Russia, Spain and Bali with an orthodox priest diplomat in red, a Velasquez courtier with exaggerated wig and Indian woman with head shawl and covering jacket, all quite amusing with the Balinese princess sporting malevolent talons and luxuriant pantaloons, the Russian princess with outsized headgear and the Spanish candidate more like a
refugee from Lilias Pasta’s tavern.  All very funny, if the parody in some instances is questionable. Colonialism or ethnocentricity will rear collective  heads. Prince Guillaume is understandably put off by all three, much to King Albert’s frustration.  I think Queen Charlotte is relieved.

The two step sisters make their unfortunate attempts, but Benjamin provides Clementine with an alternative while Hortensia proceeds to sloshdom with champagne.  Father has borne heaps of wraps and pursues Hortensia’s quest for yet another glass. The music shimmers, the crowd parts, Cinderella enters and Prince Guillaume is dazzled, the walls disappear along with the crowd and the starry night provides the background for the pas de deux.

The two casts,  opening and the following Tuesday, were:

Friday:                                                                  Tuesday:
Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada               Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan
Benjamin: Taras Domitro                                Benjamin: Hansuke Yamamoto
Cinderella’s Father: Damian Smith               Cinderella’s Father: Reuben Martin-Cintas
Cinderella’s Mother: Dana Genshaft             Cinderella’s Mother: Charlene Cohen
King Albert: Ricardo Bustamonte                  King Albert: Val Caniparoli
Queen Charlotte:Anita Paciotti                       Queen Charlotte: Anita Paciotti
Alfred, Benjamin’s Father: Val Caniparoli   Alfred, Benjamin’s Father Sebastian Vinet
Madame Mansard: Pascale Le Roy                Madame Mansard: Katita Waldo

Stepmother Hortensia: Kata Waldo              Stepmother Hortensia: Shannon Rugani
Stepsister Edwina: Sarah Van Patten           Stepsister Edwina: Dana Genshaft
Stepsister Clementine: Frances Chung        Stepsister: Clara Blanco

At the San Francisco premiere, I found most everything dazzling, but felt Boada somewhat doughy as the Prince.  Waldo etched a sharp Stepmother, Van Patten rather dotty as one stepsister – the halitosis wasn’t so noticeable as it was on Tuesday night, and Chung was a bit subdued as the sister who manages to captivate Benjamin, danced insouciantly by Taras Domitro.  Both Bustamonte and Caniparoli were suitably grandiose as well as genial as the King, and no one tops Anita Paciotti for regal charm as a Queen.

Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan provided an ideal pairing on the Tuesday evening I saw them, clearly filling the romantic element of their respective roles.  The Rugani/Genshaft and Blanco trio of step relatives in size and temperament seemed more cohesive while Yamamoto and Domitro vied for aerial brio.

I forgot to mention  the touching part when Cinderella arrives home, stashes the slipper in a niche in the chimney before the parade of chairs descends from the ceiling to provide the candidates with a place for attempting to fit the shoe size.  The potentials includes the fanciful creatures from Cinderella’s transformation scene.  When it is over, the chair are heisted into the flys with a wonderful uneven line.

I’ve seen Kudelka’s Cinderella, as well as the earlier Christensen-Smuin and Stevenson versions where the latter two use men as the stepsisters.  These productions tended to hew to the musical development more routinely.  There were times when I found myself wondering how that section of the music matched what I was seeing.  In the lengthy, triumphant pas de deux, the lifts were so frequent that their prevalence made for anti-climatic sensations, despite pristine partnering and the beautiful display of musical ballerinas.  Unlike less costumed ballets Wheeldon has created for San Francisco Ballet, these two views made me wonder if he himself had been dazzled by the sumptuous and splendor of the production designed and costumed by Julian Crouch, Natasha Katz’ lighting design and the magic Basil Twist conceived with the tree and the carriage.  Succumbing to the collaborative opulence would be entirely understandable.

A June Afternoon with Birju Maharaj

5 Jul

Anuradha Nag, disciple of Birju Maharaj and artistic director of Tarangini School of Kathak Dance, asked me to arrive at Lawrence train station after four because “Maharaji takes a nap.” He also was scheduled for an interview with Indian television, a station hooked up with Sony which she said reaches 150 countries.  Nag has been responsible for Birju’s appearances  in the San Francisco area 1995, 1997, 1999,  2001, 2005 plus three times in San Francisco, 2003, 2008 and 2012; this year she doubtless was instrumental in assisting World Arts West inviting him for the 35th season of the Ethnic Dance Festival.

Train travel down the San Francisco Peninsula hasn’t changed that much from the days when the seats were upholstered in fuzzy wool and the exterior of the railroad cars was painted a Marine corps color of khaki green.  The cars are silvered now and sport a second tier of seats to accommodate commuters. With the advent of Clipper Cards, pressing your card before and after you leave eliminated the need for ticket sellers so the windows at Fourth and Townsend are shuttered. Lacking a Clipper Card, there are machines and directions telling which zone costs what, accepting cash or credit cards.  The train deliberations remain; the rhythms of the start up, the brief speed spurts between stops before the gradual diminution of speed, a station is announced, the brakes’ wheezing as the train stops.  The steel doors roll back and soon the flutey female voice announces over the sound system “The doors are about to close.”

Lawrence as a station has changed markedly since I was a child and even since I was an adult making sporadic visits to relatives living in Los Gatos.  Thanks to Silicon Valley the stop is now paved, there are shelters and electronic signs announcing the arrival of  train number … and whether it’s on time or so many minutes late.  Most of all, there is an underpass, steps and a ramp for maximum safety.

Mahika, a recent U.C., Berkeley graduate majoring in Spanish literature, drove me with two other Tarangini students to Anuradha’s home, where Birju and Saswati Sen were staying; it was arrived at by way of two or three highways and an overpass.  Leaving shoes at the door step of the one-story house, I was led into the living room where American comfort and Indian style blended effortlessly, enhanced by handsome images of Anuradha in Kathak postures.

Saswati Sen, Birju’s senior-most disciple and clearly one he relies on for arrangements, emerged to greet me and to inquire about my interest in Indian dance.  I mentioned having visited the Kathak Kendra in New Delhi during my 1966 visit, under Indian Council for Cultural Relations’ auspices, and she said, “Oh, I was just starting then.”  The Kathak Kendra, a national institute under the supervision of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, subsequently moved from its small, cramped quarters where I first saw Birju, then in his twenties, into a building more befitting the principal school for this north Indian classical style.

Since Birju formally retired from Kathak Kendra, he has organized Kalashram where he is assisted by Saswati Sen.  From the looks of the video on the Web, he also enjoys some enthusiastic collaborators.

Saswati and Anuradha Nag both mentioned Birju’s desire not to repeat his statistics. Physically a small man, perhaps five feet four inches at most, eyes large, at 75, Birju’s oblong face is thoughtful, appraising. When he strolled into the living room and sat down, I asked him about his vision of seeing everything in terms of rhythm; this he had mentioned in his last concert at the Palace of Fine Arts.  Sitting on the sofa next to my chair,  Birju smiled in his enigmatic way and his hands immediately began to trace the flight of small, chirping birds.  Saswati Sen remarked that young students had complained about the difficulty of remembering bols, equivalent of counts, the cornerstone of Indian classical dancing.  She said they had suggested words to the students and what the word sounded when accomplished as a beat. This application of word/sound/beat struck a chord with students.  Birju and  Saswati expanded on it with the students “getting it.”  Birju then demonstrated how word/sound could be repeated. the sequence alternated to approximate the traditional bols. Just as in his stage presence, one does not really interview but rather enters into a state of being with Birju.  It’s likely others with big media connections are less enthralled.

Anuradha stepped in to say that the television crew had arrived and Birju excused himself to change his kurta. I remarked to Saswati this demonstrated development reflected the generational change in attitude and methods of learning; she nodded her head vigorously.  Such devices would have been unheard of just a decade or two earlier.  The fact that the device works and learning occurs is a blessing, though the information impressed me with the evolution of youthful assumptions.

Saswati excused herself briefly, returning with the biography she has written on Birju, published in New Delhi by Niyogi Publishing Company. “It has been delayed many years,” she said, “Until the publishers said ‘Now or never.’” I remarked  about the Hubert Stowitts painting of Birju’s father, Aachan, which had never quite made it to India, and she showed me a colored snapshot of Birju in the book, paying homage to the painted image resting against a chain fence in the sunlight.

Following the television interview, a workshop ensued in what originally was the garage.  The floor was overlaid with hardwood, pictures of performances, cushions a chair and a tabla on one side, the family washer and dryer on the other. When the workshop started, virtually all of Anuradha’s students were in attendance, filling the space, Indian style pajamas and a sash over kurtas and cameez..

Kathak as a vertical style that can be executed in little room so the dancers remained in place, though moving forward and back rather than side to side,  the arms executing circular and figure eight patterns, the bells sounding the speed and complexity of the rhythms.  Birju was seated center front playing the tablas, Saswati giving the exercise.  Every so often Birju would gesture the stylistic finesse for a finish, the students responding with alacrity. This was the third session during Birju’s visit; the rapport was palpable, the being with Birju, taking  time to dance properly; even though I glanced at the clock intermittently so that I could make the San Francisco bound train at Lawrence, the evening  passed with a pace uniquely its own, a slice of India I remembered from 1966, an experience redolent with special awareness.

When the workshop was finished, a chocolate sheet cake and ice cream were produced to honor Saswati Sen, who, delighted, exclaimed she was turning 60 in August.  No one could be more girlishly excited at the remembrance.

After retrieving my shoes once more, Mahika drove me to the train station, chatting about her Kathak studies which have stretched over a decade.  Recently graduated from U.C., Berkeley, she is looking forward to the summer before starting the inevitable job search.  The train arrived shortly thereafter, and I spent the hour plus knitting and remembering this special interlude; at Fourth and Townsend, I took taxi home.

A Gala, Estonian Style, June 28

4 Jul

One of the best things about the June 28 performance of the Estonian National Ballet at the Palace of Fine Arts with its accompanying musicians was the audience.  It made me feel comme il faut still existed and a corner of the theatre-going audience  alive and well with its share of handsome young men and comely young women, nicely dressed but not attempting to be fashion plates, or boasting ostentatious rocks. Of individuals observed, I saw one mid-aged couple dressed in Estonian costume, lively if understated members of  the crowd..

Unfortunately, I arrived just before eight to learn that the performance, while starting late, was scheduled for seven – and here I had written an advance piece about Tiit Helimets efforts to bring the company here -so the premiere of the Helimets’ ballet Time was missed.

At the mid-section of the Gala, Hando Nahkur played Schumann and accompanied Hanna-Lina Vosa, singing in both Estonian and English, before Alexsandra Meijer and Tiit Helimets danced the pas de deux from Act II, Swan Lake.  The pair were also featured on the cover of the play bill,  in white on the ticket stubs, but in the Black Swan pas de deux, despite the presence of Helimets, an incongruous image for the cover of an Estonian-themed Gala. The seat rake and the stage width made Meijer look less than long-limbed. It seemed her correct port de bras was placed rather emerging organically from the solar plexus, the positions well practiced but slacking emotional motivation.  But what can one expect from a deliberately programmed cultural pot pourri?

Teric McCollum  later reminded me that Titt Helimets used  a wine promotion to help raise funds for the Estonian Festival using the Black and White Swan motif for a red and a white wine.  The promotion was apparently successful, and Quinn Wharton’s Helimets-Meijer images in those iconic roles made tardy sense (and the legs looked longer!).

The Estonian wares on display for sale quite intriguing and handsome – sand dollars with beaded circles attached for earrings, leather employed for the same purpose, key chains, wallets, a drop dead elegant leather computer case, some dresses with peasant braid arranged in expected locations, CDs of Nahkur in concert.

The Gala closed with Marina Kesler’s Othello, danced to recordings of composer Arvo Part.  It was the first time I had ever heard cacophony and forte connected with the Estonian-born composer.  McCollum also mentioned that Estonians can use his compositions free of charge, which helped understand the choice behind this tumultuous Shakespearean tale.  Unlike Portia, also Venetian, Desdemona is loved by an admiral of Moorish descent whose Christianity  must have rested comparatively lightly upon him.  His lieutenant Iago manages with the aid of Blanka to create circumstantial evidence of his beloved’s infidelity.  Othello chokes her.

Kesler has altered the plot to make Blanka accept money from Iago to plant the scarf on Cassio, a lieutenant Othello loves and trusts with Desdemona, a source of Iago’s envy. Kesler also has Blanka plant the scarf after she seduces Cassio, a considerable departure from  the Shakespearean plot, plus the joint death of Othello following his killing of Desdemona. I suppose such tweakings are permitted, but why call the ballet Othello?

Another departure from the Venetian setting and period were the women’s costumes, short, peachy-pink satin skirts of three tiers of puffs, removed at one point  and worn again at the finale. The men’s costumes looked a bit like replicas of the school uniforms worn by boys in the Russian Imperial Ballet School, admittedly quite handsome though again not of the period.

The dancers themselves were marvelously flexible and technically secure in choreography requiring stretching, bending and a variety of distortions of classical vocabulary though executed en pointe, most of them small of stature.  Any choreographer would be excited to work with such dancers.  The dancing which ignited the ballet was Sergei Lipkin’s; he got the assignment for wiliness, maneuvering, plotting and nearly all the  choreographic solos.  Othello and Desdemona in the persons of Anatoli Arhangelski and Eve Andre looked Mutt and Jeff visually, he tall and the necessary choreographic adjustments, she fair, small, roundly shaped, strong athletic legs – perfect to throw into bends, stretches and lifts or to wrap around the waist.  As Cassio Jonathan Hanks was given something of a cipher role, but still  jaunty emerging from his encounter behind the red draperies and sexual shenanigans with Heidi Kopti’s Bianka, the fated red scarf, rather than white, draped around his neck.

I would love to see the company dance Tudor, Robbins or Balanchine, even to see what they might do with Agnes de Mille.