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.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: