Archive | October, 2013

Visual Majesty: Nederlans Dans Theater, Zellerbach Hall, October 24

30 Oct

Getting to Berkeley from San Francisco for a Zellerbach performance is a mixed visual and automotive bag. There’s the afternoon commute getting to the Bridge approach from the slope of Russian Hill to encounter commute traffic, enjoying the low profile of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge, before navigating amongst commuters to gain the Ashby exit, then trying for the Zellerbach parking lot. Oops, closed for the renovations. It’s back to the Berkeley parking lot between Durant and Channing,b next, walking to Smart Alec’s on Telegraph and Durant for a trio of quick sandwiches and french fries and then walking the distance to the south side of the Berkeley campus at Telegraph and Bancroft Way.

There’s another surprise – blockage everywhere. No more narrow walkway to the Box Office. Wire barriers, steel poles everywhere, and a closed student union. In the distance is an oblong stretch of cement looking like a pool of steel-hued water in the gathering dusk. It’s a stroll across part of Sproul Plaza scrunching fall leaves to the steps leading down to Zellerbach; even here the space is cordoned off with a few large potted palms to mollify the barriers.

Christina Kellogg is presiding over both nights of Nederlans Dans Theater’s performances. She is joined by Rusty Barnes, new to the Cal Performances staff, after two years handling press and public relations in New Orleans. Mine is the aisle seat next to Toba Singer whose biography on Fernando Alonso is up for an award relating to Latin American history. She uses a small Mac with a covering to mask the sound of the keys and writes notes in the dark while watching a performance. (What an ad for the Apple boys!) The Nederlans company is about to dance two works by Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot, Schnsucht and Schmetterling.

On stage before the lights darken is an object downstage near right that looks like a Korean mask. The curtain opens and we see a square room possessing Parvanch Scharafali and Medhi Walerski, where table and chair are attached to the wall at an angle to the door and the window. The Korean mask unfolds and it is Silas Henriksen, bare to the waist like Walerski.

He reaches with his right arm and it looks ten feet long; when he reaches with his left arm, the stretches are balanced, but his arms remain as distinctive in his tall lean body with sandy, guy-next door face below the mop of wheat-hued hair. He moves in crystal clear ballet vocabulary – attitudes exemplary textbook illustrations. Gradually he moves over to the suspended box where Scharfali and Walerski convey they are a couple. There Henriksen pauses, like a poet conjuring the romance of two individuals.

Anything but harmony plays out in the box, which occasionally turns so that ceiling is floor and floor is ceiling or sides become the floor. The couple’s pas de deux conveys the unevenness of relationship. Walerski once walks out the door while Scharafali is rooted to the table and chair sideways on the wall. Walerski returns before leaving again; there are extended lifts conveying conflicted connections, yearning with some grand jetes, supported lifts along Walerski’s back. With Scharafali mute, Henriksen moves almost in front of the box, conveying, in classical form, anguished realization that romance does not necessarily continue in roseate style. Scharafali ultimately makes her way out of the cube via the window.

The couple dances, as does Henriksen, to the Largo of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C. minor. When the box disappears the full company comes forward to Beethoven’s Fifth in C Minor, Movements III and IV, Allegro and Allegro-Presto. A pretty darned startling choice, for its bombastic force, which I have always felt stirred by, necessitates depersonalization of the dancers in choreographers Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon’ view, exemplified by male and female dancers stripped to the waist, the women’s heads shrouded in black caps. These gorgeous, disciplined dancers engage in reaches, stretches, hip gyrations and torso jerks, notably by Anna Herrmann and Myrthe van Opstal in a pas de deux, and the amazing flexibility and focus of Menghan Lou.

Garen Scribner, Rupert Tookey and Roger Van de Poel, a trio of males, were given fierce grand jetes and tours. It was all very admirable, but listening to Beethoven’s finale accompanied by dance, there are so many semi-finales, stops and starts, glorious musically; choreographically, it either makes you hold your breath or wonder if you can sit still until the final chords get sounded.

During the twenty-minute intermission, the three principals for the second work, Schmetterling, which means butterfly, were seen in extended sequences. The two male roles were repeated by Henriksen and Walerski, but the woman was Ema Yuasa, one of those small, beguiling, utterly concentrated Japanese dancers whose face in repose conveys a thousand emotions rippling through her compact frame. During the intermission she was cloaked with a red garment, for Schmetterling she was white-faced with hair streaked grey.

Walerski appears in the background of a vista of black curtains, broad towards the audience, narrowing to the back. Yuasa skitters in, slightly bent, a woman well on her way to Nirvana. As black-garbed dancers skitter and scamper out and back through the curtains, Walerski lifts, turns and hoists Yuasa in various positions, most of them akimbo, awkward, a statement about situations many women experience in their lifetimes. This extended pas de deux with interludes is danced to songs by The Magnetic Fields from something titled 69/Love Songs, 1999, deliberate contrast to the stage movement, yet oddly complimentary, brimming with catchy lyrics. At the end the black curtains vanish and a panorama of bleak, magnificent hills appear before the sight is revealed to be photographed on curtains gradually closing to stage right.

The audience rose to its feet, whistling, shouting, clapping. Whatever misgivings one might hold choreographically were swept aside with this acknowledgment of a stirring theatrical experience. The manner in which the audience lingered in the lobby in animated discussion was further proof of the experienced stimulus.

Two final comments; Four of the Nederlans dancers have appeared in San Francisco companies; three in Lines – Brett Conway, Prince Credell, Drew Jacoby; the fourth, Garen Scribner is a recent transfer from San Francisco Ballet. Further, Conway, Credell and Scribner have all enjoyed recognition with Isadora Duncan Dance Awards, Credell for Individual Performance, Conway and Scribner for Ensemble and Company Performance. However, only Scribner was featured in the Zellerbach program.

In using the word “majesty,” the adjective is defined as grandeur, ownership; it was clear, to each participant, the dancers of Nederlans Dans Teater fill that description.

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Shanghai Ballet Presents T’ang Dynasty Theme November 1-2

22 Oct

Cal Performances is bringing the Shanghai Ballet to the Bay Area November 1-2 for their second visit. The first was at the Flint Center in Cupertino, June, 2007, enjoyed by predominantly Chinese audiences.

The ballet scheduled is the same one I saw those nearly six and a half years ago, Butterfly Lovers, a tale of lovers across social class and family restrictions. While I do not have the full libretto at hand, the hero was a scholar or tutor and the heroine was the sheltered daughter of a wealthy family. Family was not about to wait for scholar to pass the Imperial exams.

My memory was one of the exquisite employment of the pastel colors one also sees in pre-World War II enameled ceramics, bright, light and cheerful. The dancers, as one can easily guess, are carefully chosen and nurtured, their slender physiques, unusually flexible as well as classically schooled.

The Cal Performances press notice credits the ballet’s choreography to the
company’s artistic director Xin Lili, the music by Chinese composer Xu Jianqiang, blending Chinese instruments with a Western style orchestra.

Expanding on the brief visit, Cal Performances, The Center for Chinese Studies, East Asian Languages, and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive will hold a symposium November 1, 4-6 p.m. at the Berkeley Art Museum Theatre. The gathering will concern the joining of Chinese and Western
cultural elements in depicting Chinese fairy tales, the adaptation of Chinese folk melodies to Western symphonic music forms, and, of course, Western Classical Ballet as it meets Chinese movement style.

Brenda Wong Aoki and Mark Izu’s MU, JCCSF, September 27

21 Oct

Brenda Wong Aoki has been in my radar of favorites ever since she worked with Theatre of Yugen when Yuriko Doi was first establishing its reputation for excellent Asian theater.

Aoki veered from the classical Japanese theatrical canon into story telling with great success, spinning stories from Japanese myths and folklore, ably supported by Mark Izu whose own share of classical Japanese background lies in the rarified musical form of gagaku, the music of the Japanese Imperial Household, dating from T’ang Dynasty China, Tibet and Korea. Together, the productions they produce have been singular, captivating and, sans question, unique. I might add some of their productions involved the Aoki family history in early San Francisco, also compelling.

Premiering September 27 was MU, its five-year gestation taking the couple to Japan on a U.S.-Japan Creative Artist Fellowship in 2007, involving Kimi Okada as choreographer, with Izu leading the musical ensemble of drums, koto, percussion, saxophone, sho, taiko. Aoki wrote in the program notes MU was, more or less, the last hoorah for the three-way Aoki-Izu collaboration with their son, K.K., now a sophomore at Stanford University.

Visually, the costumes were spectacular – from street routine San Francisco to the elaborate persimmon-colored sea-horse, providing fantasy and the rippling water realm effect crucial to create the changes from earth to the undersea kingdom. Joan Raymond and Keely Weiman were credited as lead costume constructors, with eight other willing hands.

The program notes were prodigious; detailed, outlining archaeological, folkloric and fairy tale sources influencing Aoki’s tale; a contemporary youth plunged to the bottom of the sea because of a mermaid, encountering a king declaring the kingdom was in peril. The young man effectively battled the worms threatening the kingdom. That he was able to survive underwater was due to a magical necklace, an ornament he surrendered to save the life of the mermaid; she, reviving, returned it to the youth. He then had to return to earth. He washed up on the beach, reflecting on the journey at the final blackout.

The plot enabled Okada to provide a marvelous pastiche of contemporary youth with cell phones, skate boards and other distractions, joining sinewy and floating movements for the undersea creatures. Aoki swiveled from hatted commentator to commanding monarch, tossing her lengthy, abundant locks in true Kabuki lion fashion, clearly relishing it. As the the mermaid lies dying, the ebbing life force was demonstrated by the snapping of large black fans, placed on the mermaid’s body, progressing from the feet towards the head, prompting the youth’s surrender of his magical amulet when told this was the sole means of saving the mermaid’s life. The trio formed an extremely effective scene, taut as the rippling sound of the opening fans before their placement on the recumbent mermaid.

It’s a very different take than Hans Christian Anderson’s, to be sure; no tail shed, no rejection of the sea creature, just the heroic journey of a young man, ably conveyed by K.K. Izu.

There were parts in Aoki’s narrative which seemed extraneous, and parts of the music where the volume was quite uncomfortable, but visually MU was magical. When I find the program in the usual welter of papers I will pay due homage to the excellent dancers and supporting musicians.

Smuin Ballet, Palace of Fine Arts, Celebrating Twenty Years

20 Oct

Choreographers Amy Seiwart, Jiri Kylian and Michael Smuin provided three works for this twentieth year inaugural program of Smuin Ballet. Translated emotionally it was adroit folksy, spare elegy and adroit sensuality.

But first, it was evident that Robin Cornwell had left the troupe as well as Jonathan Magonsing, both intrinsic movers, at home in their bodies, the classical technique having honed a natural pleasing sensuality. I remember Lew Christensen once remarking “ Michel Fokine taught me that it is the transitions that make the dancing,” and both dancers were gifted with that quality. Fortunately, two experienced newcomers, Pauli Magierek and Eduardo Permuy, have joined the ranks of Smuin Ballet’s eighteen dancers.

Amy Seiwert’s Dear Miss Cline traces the mood and words of nine songs sung by Patsy Cline,a work premiered on a spring program at Yerba Buena Center’s Theater. Seiwert and Jo Ellen Arntz collaborated on the costumes, set off before a visual and lighting design by Brian Jones, outlines of doors and windows against a butterscotch pudding-hued scrim. Erin Yarborough was featured prominently in “Tra le la le la Triangle” with Weston Krukow and Christian Squires and again with Krukow in “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down.” Nicole Haskins made a nice impression in “She’s Got You,” originally danced by Susan Roemer, losing Joshua Reynolds, Jonathan Dummar and Aidan de Young. As with these numbers the overall tone was light, perky, occasionally a tad ironic, well handled by the dancers.

Jiri Kylian’s Return to a Strange Land was premiered by Stuttgart Ballet May 17, 1975 in tribute to John Cranko, Stuttgart’s artistic director who died en route from New York to Germany. Kylian was responsible for the lighting concept, costumes, the set in addition to the choreography for just six dancers, appearing as trio, pas de deux, pas de deux and trio format to Leon Janacek’s Sonata October 1, 1905.

Kylian’s patterns move smoothly, seemingly seamless, ending almost abruptly, a conversation swifly terminated, important content conveyed succinctly, adornment absent. Eduardo Permuy, Ben Needham-Wood and Joshua Reynolds, stripped to the waist, wearing lightly dyed leotards, conveyed this in understated though clearly classical ballet vocabulary. Jane Rehm and Terez Dean danced with sincerity but seemed shy of a necessary edge or pause to the finish of their arabesques. Somehow I expected more subject crystal, melancholy tones in execution. Conveyed seamlessly and fast, so rapidly I wanted to call out, “Please do it again so that I can check what I saw.”

Carmina Burana
has invited several choreographic versions; some I have seen, others I have only heard about; Michael Smuin’s boasts a spectacular commencement and a repeat finale finale. I had the good fortune to see Pauli Magierek in the central female role, joining the company after attaining soloist status with San Francisco Ballet. Magierek’s maturity, dramatic qualities and ability to sustain motion and sculpt a movement reminded me how interesting she is to watch. She would be spectacular in Smuin’s Medea.

Smuin’s Burana opener and closer has the woman, here Magierek, supported by the feet of the men, raising and lowering her to the explosive chorus and the beat of the music, the women circling the men, making one wonder whether the elevated figure is worshiped or being prepared for sacrifice. This central role provided two solos and a pas de deux with Eduardo Permuy, who proved to be an effective partner, both complementing each other.

Smuin Ballet programs a decent balance, which keeps the entertainment aspect of some dance lovers happy and coaxing the serious with at least one absorbing offer in their mixed bills. The adrooitness keeps audiences coming.

Dannis Nahat’s Yulan Brings Dalian Acrobats to West Coast

18 Oct

Following Dennis Nahat’s departure from Ballet San Jose, he organized Theatre Ventures International, as a 501 © 3, non-profit organization. During the 2008 summer successful eight Chinese city tour, Ballet San Jose had included Shenyang, the capital of Leoaning, the province which once was Manchuria where Dalian is also located. Dalian is noted for its acrobats. Dennis had a ballet being mounted in Dalian and was approached by the artistic administration and asked to create a work for Dalian’s dancers and acrobats. The Dalian-Nahat collaboration was already active when Nahat was abruptly dismissed from the company whose roots dated to the Nahat-Hovarth collaboration in Cleveland in 1972 and Cleveland Ballet’s first performances in 1976. Nahat spent some eighteen months shuttling between San Jose and Dalian creating Yulan.

Yulan
enjoyed its North American premiere October 13 at San Jose’s California Theatre with a troupe of skilled, energetic, eager performers in a twelve-part pageant which caused Stephen Goldstine to exclaim “makes Cirque du Soleil look like middle school.” The production was scheduled to give four performances in Pasadena, one in East Los Angeles and another in Monterey Park before returning to Dalian.

Though missing the initial scene, Filaments of Galaxies Before Time, the visual magic of Jin Xin, Zhao Yu and Lou Yonfu for Winds of Fire wafted at the back of the stage with circling rings of divergent flame hues with Paul Chihara’s score reinforcing the spreading, fragmenting imagery. Twenty-two small, lithe acrobats were clothed in flame and brown, parts of their costumes pointed to reinforce the fire theme. Entrances on the run, double flips forward, trampolines and sinuous movements abounded. The costumes for this and subsequent episodes were designed by Xu Zeng.

Scenes 3 and 4 were devoted to Flood and Freeze, the projections and use of billowing lengths of white with the projections were among the most imaginative and aesthetic. Theatric manipulation of yardage is pretty standard for water, but the creatures, cavorting over, under and around the billows in unitards displaying slender physiques, were fetching and provided the scene with a playfulness provoking periodic spurts of applause. Of all the scenes, The Freeze that followed, where the same yardage formed glaciers and ice bergs and changing shape, was one of the most magical. Here the participating acrobats sallied forth from behind the shifting shaped ice bergs for a pas de deux [Li Huitong, Zhang Lei], a solo [Li Siyu]some acrobatics and a spectacular aerial feat [Guo Huixan]closing the scene.

What I particularly liked was seeing the cobwebbed projections first used in The Flood continue through four scenes, with the lengthy undulating yards of cloth balancing overt changes in other aspects of the background. Acrobatic feats were so numerous, daring, sometimes comical that the panorama swam in one’s eyes as one highly skilled, gigantic display. It was clear that the performers had spent a healthy number of hours at a ballet barre, but more in the fearless pursuit of specialties like Guo Huixian and He Wen, a couple operating on aerial silks.

Guo Huixan and He Wen were featured once more in Scene Six, Mating; they exchanged who held whom, inter-twining deftly. One or the other was supported by feet in cocked position, with what must be twenty-one bones of iron and muscles of steel, hours of practice and spirits of complete trust.

Also with six scenes, Act II continued the galactic themes: Metamorphosis, Wild Destruction, New Green, Natural Springs, Flowering and Yulan as the finale. The progression included jugglers; a man manipulating a ball with the aid of a net stretched between two long poles; the aforementioned Li Siyi, with Sun Lili and later Zhou Tanting. Li Siyi stretched her slender body in positions portending problems with such utter flexibility, though dazzling in youthful accomplishment.

Li Siyi later appeared as New Green, then within the Big Bobble in Natural Springs, her enclosure manipulated by Wang Chengyu and Zhou Yan Ting. An Apache pas de deux by Sun Lili and Zhang Chao and six other bobbles made refreshing visual gurgles.

Scenes five, Flowering, and six, Yulan possessed most of ballet’s typical accouterments, tutus and toe shoes, to be followed with delicate projections of a growing blossom, ultimately flowering flowers into Yulan, a Magnolia you’ve never see the likes of in the Southern United States. Lu Mingyue, back resting on a platform, manipulated roseate hued umbrellas, starting with one, adding a second on which a third was balanced, then a fourth, onward, upward until she reached seven. Quite mind boggling. Wang Chengyu and Zhou Yanting danced a pas de deux before the final ensemble created multiple tendrils with their arms and legs in front of the scarlet-hued projection of Yulan.

Dennis Nahat was the overall director and responsible for the concept; the choreography was shared with Song Xiaoxue and Zhang Hongfei. Paul Chihara’s music, recorded by the International Philharmonic Orchestra of Beijing, filled the interludes, ably supporting the scenes, with phrases familiar to his work with Michael Smuin’s Tempest and some lyricism that sounded like first cousin to some of Sergei Prokofiev’s Cinderella. The list is simply too full to list everyone.

Much of Yulan’s charm rested with Nahat’s ability to incorporate the skills of the Dalian Acrobatic Troupe in a production apparently a smash in Dalian and elsewhere in the PRC. His willingness to undertake such a production incorporating an excited group of young performers who must enjoy artistic privileges which many American artists could envy, is stellar. It’s an amazing cross-cultural collaboration.

The Terra Cotta Prince is scheduled for the California Theatre December 19-29 when members of the troupe will dazzle us again with a winsome skill that billows over the footlights.

Dimensions Dance Theatre Celebrates Forty: The Joy Was Riotous

13 Oct

Arriving at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts October 5, the audience line was appreciable. After joining the end, I found myself near two women armed with painted gourds with handles. The night was one of San Francisco’s balmiest and the two women were on the ready.

We waited in line until the M.J. Brass Boppers, the seven-man New Orleans band of natives, emerged from the gallery area to escort us into the Forum whose movable risers were fashioned U-shape for the audience. Such a scurry for seats -energetic, happy pandemonium! It set the tone for the performance for the dozen dancers and Marvin K. White’s strong declarations at three junctures in the program. And the drums – what would an African-American dance program be without drums! The lead drummers were Herve Makaya, Teber Milandou, and Kiazi Malonga, but by no means all; add two strong singers Sulkary Valverde and Tossie Long.

An even ten dances constituted the opening half of the program featuring contributions by Deborah Vaughan, Dimensions founder and artistic director, four, from 1996, 2002, 2005, and 2011. Elendar Barnes’ My People, led off the program, a 1973 work reflecting the influence of modern dance on a new ensemble. Danced with felicity, it posessed none of the punch of the subsequent dances, but demonstrated that ability outweighed physical silhouette in Vaughan’s selection of interpreters. Numbers by Peniel Guerrier, four by Vaughan, Garth Fagan and Latanya d. Tigner plus Abdoulaye Sylia followed prior to the Pause. A 2011 contribution danced and spoken by Denice Simpson was included. Nicely delivered, the text’s vocabulary was too abstracted to be reflected in motion.

Most striking in this section was the dancer Erik Lee; his initial jump from crouched position and with raised knees was startling. Did I see correctly? Fortunately, Lee’s phenomenal elevation was demonstrated twice later, giving the audience his motivation added to his amazing technical prowess.

Before the pause, the final number was Isicathulo, “The Boot Dance” /Amatshe “The Can Dance” with choreography by Dingani Lelokoane. This dance, South African in origin, had the US debut I witnessed at the Atlanta Cultural Olympics in 1996. Originating amongst South African miners, the collective expression still is startling and strong.

Throughout this section musical interludes were provided by Mohamad Kouyate, Djema Dorsainvil and James Rudisill, included Kouyate with a Balafon solo.

With the pause, the rythmnic and cultural complexities of the African heritage, continental as well as the diaspora, registered how pervasive, penetrating as well as nuanced the heritage is. Vaughan’s intention was to have us become aware of it; her aim was unerringly accurate, particularly with the confidence, seemingly inexhaustible energy and spirit of the dancers.

Rhythm of Life/Down The Congo Line commenced with White’s eloquent summary of the multiple cultural strains which created the luxurious, earthy, sensual expression of the African heritage in the New World. Latanya d. Tigner created a signal work in The Last Dance where the New Orleans traditional funeral celebrates the deceased by dancing around and with the coffin, before the ritual visit to familiar places and the final march to the cemetery, accompanied by the M.J. Brass Boppers. Harold Wilson, the wielder of the bass drum, in silhouette at times evoked the image of a figure from Toulouse-Lautrec.

From New Orleans it was south across the Gulf of Mexico to Cuba where Jose “Cheo” Rojas’ choreography featured Justin Sharlman, a strong vocal by Sulkary Valverde and musicians Sandy Perez, Gustavo Ramos and Vladirmir Linares.

Traveling further south to Brazil Isaura Oliveira, with Danila Portugal, Wagner Profeta dos Santos, Julio Remelexo Barreto and Oliveira himself danced that adaptation of the Afro-Brazilian forms Quilombola, Roda de Caboclo and Maracatu.

With Marvin White, and singers Tossie Long and Sulkary Valvere, we moved back to Congo Square, where white New Orleans allowed Africans to congregate on the Sabbath and give voice to their traditions, perhaps one of the most singularly humane collective decision among slave owners in the South, first French, then Spanish and finally American.

Again Jose “Cheo” Rojas choreographed the Makuta and Carnivali Followed by Vaughan’s piece “In The Square” and another Oliveira piece “Maracutu” before Dimensions released us for an intermission.

Herve Makaya, a Congolese drummer, came here initially at the invitation of the San Francisco International Dance Festival, and decided to stay on in the vibrant, sympathetic circle of African drumming in the East Bay. Vukana led the post-Intermission with his drumming partners and four traditional dances: Kingoli, Ndanda, Mbende and Zebola. Each of the drummers displayed their amazing mastery of complex rhythms with some shenanigans thrown in. Makaya’s drumming, his impromptu dancing with, around and literally over it was dazzling.

The finale, St. Ann and N. Rampart Street, premiered at this year’s Ethnic Dance Festival, was repeated here in a format less constrained by a proscenium arch. The sound level was splitting to the ear drum but it didn’t deter audience members dancing exuberantly to the infectious renditions of New Orleans jazz. Despite Katrina’s devastation and subsequent problems, Dimensions Dance Theatre and MJ’s Brass Boppers vividly testified to the addage, New Orleans is a place traditionally “which care forgot.”

David Gerbi, Peripatetic Sephard, October 13, San Francisco’s Jewish Community Center

7 Oct

In its present manifestation, San Francisco’s Jewish Community Center, California at Presidio, has vastly expanded its performance capacities since Leslie Friedman danced her portrait of Johannes Kepler. The JCCSF is also the oldest such center on the West Coast of the United States, serving the Jewish community since 1877, 136 years to be exact. October 13 it will present Dr. David Gerbi in his performance From Fear to Faith in the 474 seat Kanbar Hall. The C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco will co-present. Following the performance a panel discussion will ensue. The afternoon promises to be one of the special events the JCC consistently provides the Bay Area community.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Sephardic tradition, the term embraces those who trace their Hebraic heritage not just from its noted sojourn in Andalusian Spain during the Arabic caliphate which came to a cruel and crashing end in 1492 when Ferdinand and Isabella finally drove the last Arabic dynasty from Spain. The term Sephard embraces the Jews who lived throughout the Middle East in the centuries following the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE and Hadrian’s expulsion of the Jews from Israel in CE 135. The Diaspora had commenced earlier, the date given as 597 BCE for the Babylonian Exile. When Cyrus enabled the return of the Jews in 538 BCE, undoubtedly some remained in Babylonia. Hadrian’s expulsion, however, forced dispersion throughout the Mediterranean. After the exile from Andalusia, David Gerbi’s ancestors settled in Libya.

Growing up in Libya, Gerbi, fourth of six children, experienced a pleasant post World War II atmosphere when King Idris was the titular head of a country formerly under Italian hegemony after the Ottoman Empire had ceded it in 1911. Gerbi’s native Tripoli had been under Italian control since 1914 and Gerbi’s father enjoyed a prosperous watch and jewelry business in one of the affluent areas of the city whose name figures in part of the U.S. Marines’ anthem .

The Gerbi family life and their Jewish circle were totally disrupted when Israel won the Six Days’ War against Egypt in 1967; Nasser pressed Jews resident in North Africa to leave. Pro Western King Idris appealed to the crowds, “Brother, Brother, go home. It will damage our reputation and he instituted a curfew.” There was carnage for forty days.

Qaddafi seized power in 1969, confiscating property, cancelling loans and forcing Idris out of the country. During this time, the family stayed at home; it was David that his mother sent to procure bread and milk. “I was small, dark enough to pass, and I could be invisible.” Fifty per cent of the remaining Jews went to Israel, but the Gerbi family opted to go to Rome, father, mother, a sister and brother. Young Gerbi made the fifth. Father Gerbi hoped and thought they would return.

Only twelve, in Rome David became a major source of the family income. “I started at below zero.” Early chores made him a good waiter “I took the job so I could get food for the family.” He graduated to being a short order cook briefly before he began selling postcards and slides to tourists. Shortly he moved into small souvenirs. This step took him to the sources of shells, stones and where a good, cheap supply could be found. This search brought him face to face with the fashioning and selling of the pill boxes which helped to feed his family. Early in this process, David prepared for his Bar Mitzvah, aged 13, a source of joy for his Roman Jewish mentor.

As he grew older, David involved himself in the Jewish Youth Movement, spending time on a Kibbutz . “I finished high school, but didn’t enter university; I was too impatient.” At the same time he was taking cameras to Israel, exchanging them for stamps, which he sold to collectors. He learned that Spain was the biggest market for philatelists. For the semi-precious stones for his boxes, he found the best source in Taiwan where he discovered video games, which he added to his merchandise.

While in Spain, he met a young American woman who asked him whether he was the person she was supposed to tutor in English. “I wasn’t, but I didn’t tell her that.” Love entered David’s landscape, though, was fraught with difficulty since she was Catholic.

While still in his early twenties, David and his family experienced six deaths within a six-month period. First it was his grandfather, then an uncle and his best friend before his father fell into a coma. Called back from Taiwan, David did not believe his presence registered with his parent until he recited the creed traditionally said at Yom Kippur and saw tears on his father’s cheek. “I learned the soul can really listen. I held his hand, watching as his breath became labored, then paused and ceased; I experienced for the first time the difference between life and death is only a breath.”

Then his brother-in-law’s father died; as a final blow, the six- month old baby of his sister suffocated with its saliva.

Finally, David broke up with his girl friend, partly out of guilt and his Orthodoxy. Depression ensued leading him into psychotherapy with a Jungian analyst. His therapy led him to decide to study psychology and to become a Jungian analyst. His family objected, citing his success as a business man. “I studied at night and worked during the day.” Enrolled at the University of Rome, he remarked “It was easy to get in, But there are certain heavy exams at the end of the second year which eliminate a lot of students.” It took David six years, until 1988, to acquire his Ph.D. in psychology. “I was 28 and then there was another 200-400 hours and four years before I qualified as a Jungian analyst at 33.”

As for the rest of us, 9/11 was a cataclysmic event for David Gerbi, and he vowed, “I may be a drop in the ocean, but I can no longer be invisible. I must speak up.” He began to write; a book was published in Italy; two articles have appeared in the Jungian journal Psyche, only the launching pad of what were a bizarre series of events.

In 2002 David Gerbi learned that a solitary Jew, an invalid woman, was living in a Qaddafi-supervised clinic. The woman was 80; she was his aunt. Already responsible for the welfare of the family’s widows, he decided to return to Libya and try to bring her to Italy.

“I found myself in the political sphere, “ he related, “which took me first to Elie Weizel, and, on his advice, to the U.S. Congress.” Qaddafi had said to David, “Get this regime recognized and you can have your aunt.” Over a three month period of visiting one Congressman after another, David Gerbi encountered Tom Lantos, the U.S. Representative from the San Francisco peninsula who also was the only Congressional member who survived the Holocaust.

The Lantos connection worked; in exchange for normalization with the Libyan regime in 2003, the United States received restitution of the Pan-American tragedy and the deaths of its 380 passengers. Out of it, David Gerbi got his aunt; in 2003 he flew her to Rome to reunite with the extended family after thirty-five years of isolation.

Invited back to Libya in 2007, as a gesture of gratitude, Gerbi decided to restore the Synagogue in Tripoli; for the beginning of this project he carried six mizzuzot and $10,000. He enjoyed a warm reception from people and was invited to participate in activities at the Bengazi Hospital, only to be summoned to leave Bengazi. Interrogated by Qaddafi’s secret police, Gerbi had his funds and the six mezzuzot confiscated. After twenty-two days of psychological torture, he was placed on a plane to Malta. accrued air miles enabled him to return to Rome.

Because of his treatment David Gerbi decided to go public about his experience and in March, 2008 his story was carried in The Jerusalem Post. The public revelation resulted in the return of his funds and luggage, but not the mezzuzot. In 2009 when Qaddafi visited Rome, David Gerbi met him, dressed in traditional Libyan clothing with the Star of David around his neck. “I shook hands with him and held his hand until I was ready to let go. I was his equal and saw him as a human being. I was no longer a hostage and I had my power back.”

With the uprising in 2011, David Gerbi left Rome for Egypt; by taxi from Alexandra he joined the revolutionary forces, working with the fighters with stress disorders. When Tripoli was freed, David Gerbi broke through the barricade surrounding the synagogue and gave thanks wearing the ritual accessories worn by orthodox Jews in prayer.

From those momentous days, David Gerbi has toured South Africa and Eastern U.S. universities with his story and now will present it to San Francisco. He also will relate his saga October 23 at the Sephardic Synagogue in Los Angeles.