Archive | November, 2013

Theatre Flamenco at Fort Mason’s Southside Theater, November 14

29 Nov

This ensemble is celebrating its 47th season with the aid of singer Jose Cortes, guitarist Jose Luis Rodriguez, bassist Sasha Jacobsen, the regulars Carola Zertuche, artistic director, Christina Hall with Morten Luevano as guest artists, appearing in Con Nombre y Apellido, asking the question “Why do I dance?”

Though I voice concerns regarding the staging, the dedication to Ernesto Hernandez, the late, memorable flamenco artist who died this past summer, was timely and touching. As I write, his image rises into mind’s eye with his clear pitos, a red polka dot shirt and black trousers, head slightly inclined, clicking his way through an intricate or fast paced taconeo. I was relieved when he chose flamenco over the San Francisco Contemporary Dancers; he and we were very much the richer for it.

With a platform largely bare; those in the middle seats saw the dressing room exit. Lighting, images and two scrims as flies at stage edge were necessary to compensate for the square footage constraints. I give Carola Zertuche full marks for the skill and ingenuity she employed as compensation though the results diminished the dancing impact. She abided by the decisions of Ricardo Rubio, her co-artistic director for scenic design and script, and Fermin Martinez who governed the sound and multi-media design.

I’m afraid the overall effect visually was too busy; lights in the dancers’ palms; two scrims on either side of the proscenium provided background for vintage photos of flamenco life or Spanish café gatherings. Flickering too fast, the images jammed each other on the scrims voiding appreciation. The lighting and sound intruded, rather than lending ambiance for the dance; that is, unless the object was to show flamenco, like other dance forms, has struggled against technical invasions in formerly personal, imaginative space. (I am extremely picky about what I allow into my fantasy life; and, by extension, into performances. Mine is not the gourmand visual or aural capacity.)

Jose Cortes and Jose Luis Rodriguez provided an anchor in all this shifting of lights, images and text, a beacon of tradition for the three women who exchanged minimal changes of costumes three times. As the newcomer, Morten Luevano is a woman strongly built, direct in appeal; absorbed in her execution, she engaged me with her sincerity. She has tension problems in her upper back, but promises future depths of expression. Zertuche danced her usual well-placed centrality in the program, generously providing space for Luievano and Christina Hall, whose blonde delicacy continues to interest the viewer with the seeming contradictory demands of flamenco expression.

Given this year’s location limits, I hope Theatre Flamenco’s next season will return to Cowell Theatre and a new theme in its venerable performance history.

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Cal Performances and The Tango Tradition

23 Nov

November 17 Cal Performances presented Union Tanguera, a French-based tango ensemble of seven dancers and five musicians in Nuit Blanche in a 7 p.m. performance at Zellerbach Hall.

This seventy-minute portrait of tango and the environment likely fostering tango’s sultry sensuality was simply staged. Using white and black scrims for exits and entries, glasses, a bottle or two to convey an atmospheric lubricant and flame-colored cushion-chairs hoisted on to a woman’s shoulder by a strap, the weary, predatory and seductive signals wove a sultry spell. That the ensemble is based in Lyon some how is no surprise; some of the most experimental French dance events have found a home and patronage in this gastronomically-famed French city near two noted wine-growing regions.

Nuit Blanche (2010) was not the spectacular display seen a decade or two ago when Tango Argentina or Forever Tango lingered in San Francisco. Then a large ensemble danced individual numbers; here, it was more an evening where men drifted in from work, women were waiting, all with the intent of diversion, dance leading to sex in a nearby room; maybe, later, the remainder of the evening or night as well. There was no hint of romantic love, but lust abundant and skilled maneuvers to satisfy both individuals, frequently ego dominant. Pairings, partings, the appraisals and final decisions were etched in their portrayals, bitter sweet in flavor. Sofia Di Nunzio dressed the women in costumes which flared or displayed a length of leg, pale pastels or flame in hue; the men wore ties, shaggy trousers, jackets or shirt sleeves; all reinforced the ambiance of a working class dive.

While some of the comings and goings seemed overly long with one or two quite contrived, both restraint and unrestrained coupling with splayed legs created a powerful, tawdry universe for the audience. When the final couple left, the odd man out arranged a row of glasses in front of him, the piano behind the white scrim, and prepared to bed down for the night with the promise of liquor-based oblivion.

Claudia Codega and Esteban Moreno, the artistic directors, both hail from Argentina, and come from divergent directions; classical ballet and electronic/graphic design technology. Their creations have been performed since 2005 and situated in Lyon since 2006, but have performed together since 1992.

Other ensemble members’ credits include their own choreographic chops with classical training or vast tango experience: Rolan Van Loor; Jorge Crudo; Lucila Cioni, Rodrigo “Joe” Cordoba; Claudia Jakobsen, with the musicians Pedro Onetto; Camilo Ferrero, the bandoneon; Marta Roca Alonso; Ignacio Varchansky, with the lighting design credited to Gonzalo Cordova. From the program notes, the ensemble gathers and disburses as tours are arranged.

The audience liked it. So did I, enough that I would like to see the group again.

Terra Cotta Prince’s New Dates and Venue: Flint Center, Cupertino, 12/12-22

22 Nov

Dennis Nahat, artistic director, Theatre Ventures International, just announced The Terra Cotta Prince, the Dalian Acrobats version of The Nutcracker, has switched venues to Cupertino’s Fl;int Center, December 12-22.

All evening performances commence at 7:30 p.m. excepting Sunday, December 22 at 6 p.m.
The special children matinees Saturday and Sunday December 21 and 22 are scheduled for 1:30.
Tickets are $45.00
Flint Center Box Office is Ticketmaster, 408-864-8816, with hours Tuesday to Friday 10 a.m.-4:p.m. Ticketmaster’s Phone Order Hotline is: 1-800-745-3000.
The website is: http://www.Ticketmaster.com.
Flint Center Box Office will provide priority seating for any of the eight scheduled performances to
California Theatre subscribers.

Anyone seeing Yulan knows how charming, and energetic the Dalian acrobats are. Anyone seeing Dennis Nahat’s Blue Suede Shoes knows just how inventive and unusual the Nahat vision is.

Apparently some local administrative hackles rose over prior mention of the word Nutcracker in The Terra Cotta Prince announcements.

The Flint Center enjoys easy access from Highways 85 and I-280, convenient to Silicon Valley communities and an array of multi-national restaurants. The parking structure is a two-minute walk from Flint Center itself, an enviable closeness if December gifts us with the much-needed rain.

Ballet San Jose’s Gala, November 16

20 Nov

Scott Horton, Ballet San Jose’s new press representative, arranged to have the entire area’s dance reviewing contingent in attendance at Ballet San Jose’s Gala, November 16 at San Jose’s Center for Performing Arts. Allan Ulrich was seconded by Rachel Howard and Mary Ellen Hunt. Coming with Rita Felciano, covering for the San Jose Mercury, I saw Claudia Baer, Toba Singer, Aimee T’sao plus Odette’s Ordeal Teri McCollum and Janice Berman of S.F. Classical Voice. A number of San Francisco Ballet dancers were present besides Helgi and Marlene Tomasson.

The lengthy program possessed several numbers danced not only by San Francisco Ballet interpreters, but I have been lucky enough to see the original interpreters in one pas de deux. Like it or not, there were measurable standards. I include program readability. Thankfully, the dancers’ names were printed in black; golden script against white made the booklet pages almost unreadable. Apparently an easy read for Ballet San Jose’s program designer wasn’t sexy enough. Whatever the reason, big events tend to seduce planners to emphasize glamor over clarity.

George Daugherty took the small orchestra through the lively paces of a Tchaikovsky Swan Lake entree to showcase the Ballet San Jose students, 100 strong, in a show-everyone arrangement by Delia Rawson. Notable were four young men and perhaps eight young young boys, black tights and white tee-shirts appearing with aplomb, along with tiny tots and adolescent girls pirouetting capably en pointe. The final grouping reminded me of the final movement in Balanchine’s Symphony in C where principals and corps invade the stage space.

From the up energy of the school ensemble, Christopher Wheeldon’s After The Rain pas de deux opened the program, with a distinct drop in energy. The deliberate Arvo Part music provided a glimpse of New York City Ballet dancers Ask La Cour [son of former Ballet San Jose’ School principal Lise La Cour] and Rebecca Krohn from New York City Ballet. The height contrast between La Cour and Krohn was visually awkward. Krohn’s style is soft, almost blurring the edges of Wheeldon’s quirky postures. A signature pas de deux for Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith, the New Yorkers suffered by comparison.

The pace quickened when Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky’s pas de deux featured Ana Sophia Scheller and Gonzalo Garcia, former San Francisco Ballet principal. I saw Violette Verdy and Jacques d’Amboise dance this as guests with for San Francisco Ballet at the Palace of Fine Arts. Verdy, the role’s creator, gave a slight emphasis when finishing s phrase. Scheller relied on the smooth sequences Balanchine created, slight piquancy was missing. Garcia started slowly, gaining in quality; heavier in the thighs than in San Francisco, he danced the ballet with Tina Le Blanc at her retirement; here he seemed sluggish.

A dozen Ballet San Jose dancers appeared in a section of Jorma Elo’s Glow Stop to the Philip Glass music, abounding in jerks and twitches interrupting classical line, phrasing and execution. The twelve made a cohesive ensemble; I wish for them better assignments. The dancers were: Amy Marie Briones, Cindy Husang, Alexsandra Meijer, Annali Rose, Ommi Pipit-Suksun, Jing Zhang, Damir Emric, James Kopecky, Jeremy Kovitch, Joshua Seibel, Maykel Solas, Kendall Teague. Ramon Moreno was absent as was Maria Jacobs-Yu; formally retired from the company, she expects her second offspring.

Gillian Murphy and Thomas Forster in the Black Swan pas de deux was notable; tall, slender Forster’s was a visibly smitten portrayal of Prince Siegfried. Murphy danced like a power house, brashly knowing, teasing, if traveling on the final fouettes. The pair sent the audience out energized for the intermission.

After the intermission Ballet San Jose Board Chair Millicent Powers proudly presented Jose Manuel Carreno to the audience as the company’s second artistic director. In his charming Cuban-Spanish accent Carreno acknowledged visiting artistic directors Kevin McKenzie and Helgi Tomasson plus his amazement as being on the other side of the performing curtain.

Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s balcony pas de deux from Romeo and Juliet provided a glimpse of Julie Kent and Marcelo Gomes. Framed by the set from Dennis Nahat’s production for the Prokofiev score, they left no doubt about the electricity of the two Renaissance Verona adolescents.

Shifting stylea to the Le Corsaire pas de deux Rudolf Nureyev brought westward, Cincinnati Ballet dancers Adiarys Almeida and Joseph Gatti; competitors at the 2006 USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Gatti earned a bronze medal. Small, dynamic, well placed, Gatti danced a very aggressive slave; Almedia was smiling, pert, almost totally en place with her fouettes.

New York City Ballet principal Joaquin de Luz danced David Fernandez’ solo to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Presto movement from the Violin Concerto in G. Minor. The challenge, interspersed with port de bras allowing the dancer to breathe, de Luz’ musicality, engaged the audience with his modest charm.

Another set of New York City principals appeared with George Balanchine’s Tarantella to Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s infectious 19th century interpretation of an Italian staple. Megan Fairchild and Daniel Ulbreicht were perky; Ulbreicht’s fun, teasing and elevation electrified the audience.

Boston Ballet principals Lorna Feijoo and Nelson Madrigal danced the second act pas de deux from Giselle in strong stage light, robbing the mystery, making their appearance abrupt. Stuck between two high energy pas de deux their artistry suffered.

Marcelo Gomes demonstrated his dramatic facility in the penultimate pas de deux,, the two dances Twyla Tharp set to Sinatra Songs. With a scintillating, responsive Misty Copeland, the audience reaction was predictably huge.

San Francisco’s Maria Kochetkova and Taras Domitro completed the gala with the war horse Grand pas de Deux from Marius Petipa’s Don Quixote. Postures, balances, pauses, carefully choreographed glances were etched, delivered with sang froid assurance designed to leave the audience gasping. Domitro, noted for his ballon, surpassed himself. Kochetkova matched previous double and triple fouette turns with carefully spotted ones to the four corners. It was a fitting finale to the evening.

Now comes not only Carreno’s challenge artistically, but Stephanie Ziesel’s responsibilities to provide for Ballet San Jose fiscally; there have been nasty rumors to the contrary.

Menlowe Ballet, November 15

17 Nov

Menlowe Ballet had what I counted as its fifth performance November 15 at the Menlo Park-Atherton High School Auditorium, a spacious stage, appreciably raked seats, with some futuristic qualities to its ceiling and lobby. Outside, a food truck allowed us to wolf several bites before the program began.

Artistic Director Michael Lowe once again invited an area choreographer to contribute to the program, titled Lineage. A wise move, it enabled dance lovers with memories to revisit choreography not current in any company’s repertoire. Last fall it was Betsy Erikson; the spring performance I did not see featured Viktor Kabanaiev; this fall season featured Ronn Guidi, Oakland Ballet’s founder with his Trois Gymnopedies to Erik Satie’s memorable, limpid composition, and the pas de deux in his reading of Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Lowe himself was featured in a reworked Serei and an extremely clever tribute to two versions of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, the Bronislava Nijinska and the Marc Wilde versions, mingled with his own inventive comments.

Before further comments, let me say the company has accomplished several strategic moves promising a healthy history: Lowe as choreographer, Sarah-Jane Measor as his associate with Julie Lowe as Ballet Mistress have formed a healthy trio and Lisa Shively as executive director. They have the Menlo Park facility as a home theatre; judging from last night’s attendance, a healthy and enthusiastic audience of dance lovers, parents and students. Measor’s direction of Menlo Park Academy of Dance assures a steady stream of students. Between her and Lowe’s invention their inclusion in choreographic offerings is not only stellar, but skillful.

Serei seemed to have been expanded since I first saw it in 2012. Again featuring a koto preface played by Mariko Ishikawa, it evokes the memory of an Asian woman reflecting on various aspects of past lives. I guess Mariko Takahashi’s skillful performance suspended on the silks was designed to convey an ability to see into her past lives, danced by Mariko Ishikawa, Lauren Mindel Julie Giordano, and later by Aurora Frey, Coreen Danaher, Emily Kerr and Megan Terry. Gregory de Santis proved to be an attentive partner, his samurai qualities gentler than the usual two-sword swashbuckling swagger. I was put off by the use of the shakuhachi to singularly strong, almost strident choreography. The shakuhachi was used for meditation and begging by Zen Buddhist monks, allowed for secular performance only with the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Aurora Frey and Damon Mahoney appeared in a glittery unitard appearance in the Kingdom of Koi; this seemed to my questionable memory to be an addition to the original choreography. But the use of the students and their formations spoke well of Measor’s abilities.

Trois Gymnopedies, staged by former Oakland Ballet principal Joy Gim, featured Coreen Danaher, Emily Kerr and Jacob Kreamer with the white unitard costumed by Mario Alonso. Ronn Guidi’s choreography spoke to the correctness of Enrico Cecchetti, particularly in the port de bras and phrasing. I would like to see all three dancer explore the flexibility of the torso, creating a fuller rubato between culminating postures to the musical phrase.

The balcony scene from Ronn Guidi’s Romeo and Juliet was staged by Abra Rudisell, herself a most memorable Juliet. Friday night’s Juliet, Terri McGee-Kelly was shy, introverted, minimally responsive to Gregory de Santis’ thoughtful, if adolescent ardent Romeo. McGee-Kelly’s shoulders and upper torso were simply mute to love’s surging emotion, though Guidi’s choreography depicted those incredibly precious movements with sensitivity and understanding.

Tribute, Michael Lowe’s incorporation to two interpretations of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, was an amazing “kitchen sink” inclusion of styles and habits managing to work to that relentless score, played by musicians Angelo Bundini, Philip Brezina, Allison Lovejoy, Tarik Ragib , Rob Reich, Paul Stinson and Carolyn Walter. Ronn Guidi later remarked that Lowe caught the essence of both Nijinska and Wilde in addition to Lowe’s own comments. These additions included sauntering, gymnastics [Lowe trained as one], floor stretches, groupings, pitos [finger snaps] swiveling hips, solo variations. Something happened concurrently all over the stage, bare except for the circular table [Nijinska] and barre [Wilde], bringing the evening a rousing finale.

Lines Fall Season at Yerba Buena’s Lam Theatre

11 Nov

Lines’ Ballet appeared at Yerba Buena Center’s Lam Research Theatre October 28-November 3. I saw their performance November 2 comprising two works, one a world premiere, the second a U.S. premiere.

Johann Sebastian Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D Minor formed the basis of George Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco, created for the American Ballet tour of South America in 1940, using two women for the violins, a single male to support the leading ballerina, and a small corps de ballet. It therefore took considerable courage to undertake one’s own vision of the work; this is what Alonzo King attempted, largely succeeding. Rita Felciano, one of the area’s most
sensitive dance writers musically, commented, “Alonzo heard Bach.”

Like Balanchine, King’s dancers wore spare black costumes; unlike Balanchine, he employed two men in the largo movement, not simply as porteurs for Meredith Webster and Kara Wilkes. David Harvey and Michael Montgomery had their moments of turns and lunges, and, from the program notes, it appears that some evenings the Vivace feature Webster and Wilkes and others Harvey and Montgomery.

Admittedly, my mind was more or less visually comparing Balanchine’s iconic classicism with King’s individualistic departures from ballet’s vocabulary, but such deviation was invariably cued to the sonorous qualities of the concerto; King supplied a roundness implicit in that aural richness. He made his frequent pumping quality of the port de bras part of that recognition, the buck and wing movement part of the musical line: no small feat. King, in the closest seen to date, incorporated structure into his choreography. In the Vivace, Ashley Jackson’s innate classical accuracy enjoyed its moments as did the vivacity of Caroline Rocher and the passionate stretch of Yujin Kim. Later, other long-time observers remarked to me, “It’s the best thing Alonzo has ever done.”

The second piece, Writing Ground, was commissioned by the Monaco Dance Forum and premiered in 2010 on the Terraces of the Monte Carlo Casino, in what must have been a spectacular out door event. Some of that largeness carries over into the proscenium arch venue carried over three years later. Commissioning contractual limits may be responsible for the three-year hiatus for performing in this country and elsewhere.

Colum McCann, the Irish born writer, is credited as collaborator. Given the title, source and performer of the 14 sections, I hazard it is the tone of the work which McCann supplied; interesting that he provides a devotional ambiance true to the larger Western tradition as in much the same quality Zakir Hussein gave to Who Dressed You As a Stranger?

Much of the music draws on sacred music recordings by Jordi Savall, but also selections from Jewish sacred tradition as well as one credited to the Koran, where Michael Montgomery conveyed some of the “high and lifted up” nature of the subject. Just prior to Montgomery’s solo, the men of the company had danced in Turning of the Soul, evoking the ecstatic qualities of Hassidic mysticism. Yujin Kim appeared twice in solos, her strength and phrasing rendering the musical phrasing monumental.

Other parts were intensely devotional, making me want to see the work a second time, and, if ever possible, with musicians in the pit. Writing Ground , apparently was a precurser or departure in King’s choreography, a preface to the structure more evident in the Double Violin Concerto. It is salutary. I would enjoy seeing the response of the Jerusalem audience to Writing Ground as the company departs for a month-long tour of Jerusalem and France.

Zhukov Dance Theatre, S.F. Jazz Center, October 29

8 Nov

Yuri Zhukov’s Dance Theatre comes around just once a year, in late summer or early fall. This year’s two performances are the latest into the fall yet. S.F. Jazz Center, as venue, provided Zhukov’s five dancers with a thrust stage environment, the audience on three sides, much like an outdoor amphitheatre. For the kind of message Zhukov provides an audience, it’s an excellent choice; the dancers are totally exposed and the lighting provides them with the chance
to fade into the background, but not leave the stage. It was S.F. Jazz Center’s first dance event.

This year Zhukov shared choreographic honors with Idan Sharabi, an Israeli whose professional performing credits include Nederlans Dans Theatre and Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company, and choreographic accomplishments for Ballet Junior de Geneve and the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, a full evening for The Belgrade Dance Festival, and teaching at the University of California, Irvine.

Both choreographers come from specific traditions, Zhukov’s more ancient than Sharabi’s, which is nonetheless strong and committed. They possess a strong grasp of technique and craft mingled with highly individual approaches to themes.

I have watched Zhukov since he arrived in San Francisco, dancing opposite Muriel Maffre in Swan Lake, their acknowledging bows embodiments of their two traditions. Certainly after the Birmingham Royal Ballet and teaching for the Royal Swedish Ballet, Zhukov’s return to San Francisco signaled a commitment to personal vision, which include intriguing visual as well as choreographic skill.

The annual two evening performances have been labeled “product,” of which this is the sixth. Zhukov’s work titled Enlight employed squares of light merging gradually into full stage lighting before returning to the squares under which five dancers danced to music played by Jordi Savall, on the viol de gamba, some of it Johann Sebastian Bach, by also Icelandic composer Johann Johannson for contemporary dissonance and angst.

Sharabi”s piece Spider on a Mirror was based and expanded on gestures observed on San Francisco’s streets before spinning into incredibly athletic displays where dancers would emerge from the sidelines or next to each other, and then retreat. In the beginning, the glances, the turns of heads and shoulders created an almost lacy spatial effect before the dancers became almost violently active, their plasticity stretched as far as their highly trained physiques allowed. Spider on a Mirror concludes with the repetition of a young man’s quandry, the other dancers regarding him sympathetically, ultimately moving away, reminding us we are ultimately alone.

The dancers were Rachel Fallon, Doug Baum, Christopher Bordenave, Nick Korbos, Aszure Barton and Jeremy Neches. Fallon was new to the Zhukov ensembles, the others having appeared in Zhukov’s Product Five and earlier, Bordenave one of the oldest. Both choreographers made enormous demands on the dancers who gave themselves to the two works with skill, energy and amazing virtuosity.

Yuri Zhukov’s annual two evening seasons, with his visual art available for purchase, make a statement about him as a special artist and, also, about San Francisco. Some artists prefer a milieu where it is possible to explore multiple avenues and to develop their vision at a pace where their sensibilities are challenged primarily by their own vision. San Francisco seems to be
such a place, and it has harbored some remarkably unique dance artists in this regard. I think of the late Ed Mock, June Watanabe and Brenda Wong Aoki as such special talents; Yuri Zukhov clearly is among that number San Francisco is fortunate to possess. Undergirding Zhukov’s multiple talents is his Russian heritage; in his explorations he combines the extremes of sensibility and an acuity of vision reminiscent of Dostoevsky.