Archive | May, 2014

Muni Minutiae

29 May

One recent afternoon I rode one of San Francisco’s Metro Muni motor buses with a two-seat arrangement between the back exit, seats that can be raised for the use of a passenger in a wheel chair. Most of the time when I am pushing a portable wheelchair, it’s on an electric bus, but the apparatus which hooks the chair for stability is essentially the same. What struck me this particular time was the young man in the wheel chair. He was giving directions, location and time frame to the person at the opposite end of his cell phone; briefly he discussed logistics and meeting point, none of the usual lengthy personal disclosure chit-chat heard so frequently while riding.

His arm muscles were in excellent shape judging from the skill with which he maneuvered the chair down the aisle to the chair lift in front. What stood out was his action as he moved out of the handicap safety spot. He leaned slightly to his right and with his left hand released the catch on the movable seat, so that additional seating was immediately available to other passengers as he wheeled himself to the chair lift. The maneuver was rapid, certain and clearly practiced. I ask you, how many wheel chair occupants think to do that, let alone are physically capable of accomplishing such accommodation for other passengers? Even though MUNI is beginning to prohibit the use of those seats to the physically mobile, it was satisfying to witness.

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Smuin Ballet’s XXSeason Finale. Mountain View, May 25

29 May

Because of a quick trip to Manila, I missed Smuin’s spring season at Yerba Buena Center. Too jet lagged to make it to Walnut Creek, if not wheedling an early June ride to the Monterey Peninsula, it had to be a matinee via Caltrain. Either side of Castro Street’s four blocks in Mountain View between the Caltrain Station and Mountain View’s Center for the Performing Arts is lined with restaurants, bistros and snack establishments. It was a formidable phenomenon to regard, even registering Sillicon Valley proximity, making my way to the box office to buy a ticket for the Smuin Ballet’s final spring season performance, XXCentric. Some eateries had sidewalk tables, all full.

Just before boarding the Bullet train in San Francisco, the queue waited while Giant fans streamed through the gates; cane-assisted seniors, white haired actives in shorts and backpacks, overweight young women in spaghetti -strap tees looking for a sunburn along with baseball, and middle aged women with shoulder-length black hair, white tee shirt covering small boobs a Giant logo in between, all punching Clipper cards at a machine before heading to AT&T Park.

Because I wanted to see Smuin from a buyer’s perspective, I paid a $60 plus price, to see was worth it? Years ago, a fellow reviewer accused critical practitioners as being parasites. There might be some justification when 300 words is all allowed the writer and told reviews are not a specialty coverage. Having written for dance-focused outlets, and some newspapers for most of a half century, I occasionally teeter on agreement. But I also know a bevy of excellent prose practitioners with definite ethics disputing that broad brush allegation. They work damned hard.

The choreographers’ represented were Val Caniparoli, Amy Siewart, Michael Smuin; Tutto Eccetto il Lavondino; But now I must rest; Dancin’ with Gershwin respectively, the music Antonio Vivaldi, Cesaria Evora, George and Ira Gershwin, and an additional lyric by Bud de Sylva.

Caniparoli came up with a delicious twist with two Antonio Vivaldi violin concerti, bowing accents forming unexpected head, shoulder, torso inflections, along with wonderful port de bras looking as though illustrations from a Carlo de Blasis dance manual. This alone is enough to provide delight. Juxtaposed against multiple pirouettes or attitude turns the eye kept busy and the mind agog. I don’t know if it really was necessary to slide a mint-colored kitchen sink on to stage center to reinforce the translation, “Everything but the kitchen sink.” The ballet itself continued some of Caniparoli’s special choreographic essays, Lambarena being the most widely mounted. Tutto Eccetto il Lavondino deserves to be another.

Amy Siewart’s But now I must rest is gentle, evocative, lyrical with formality while it also is earthy and sensual. There were forward and backward dips of the torso as the leg is thrust forward in Sandra Woodall’s costumes, two splits at the outer hip of the ankle length skirts for men and women. There were arm placements over the chest and upper hips which hinted at some form of religious ritual. The fluidity and feeling shared similarities with the movement skills of the Philippines, hardly surprising since both sets of islands share roughly the same latitude below the Tropic of Cancer.

Dancin’ With Gershwin premiered in May 2001, but this was my first viewing of Smuin’s tribute to George and Ira Gershwin. It is a charmer, commencing with a slide show of musical poster and sheet music covers of Gershwin’s music, enhanced by Willa Kim’s costuming, decor by Rick Goodwin and Lighting by Sara Linnie Slocum. A white-gowned Erin Yarbrough danced with Weston Krukow in dark suit to “They Can’t Take that Away From Me.” Following “S’Wonderful,” Marilyn Monroe’s rendition of “Do It Again” saw Erica Felsch in slinky scarlet surrounded by white ostrich plumes wafted by the company men; plumes and Felsch’s positions and postures echoed the breathily-delivered lyrics. Roland Petit created something similar for his wife Zizi Jeanmaire, but where motion matches emotion, it’s always appropriately piquant.

Then Shannon Hulburt emerged from darkness to tap under variously placed spots in otherwise murky space, executing his magical phrasing of The Canadian Brass. Listed as guest artist, Hulburt has been a company mainstay. I hope he stays around, is invited often.

Susan Roemer and Erica Felsch were paired in “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” turning Roemer into a male figure, and even involving some quick lifting – clearly a Smuin reference to the rising importance of the LBGT population. It was followed by Jane Rehm in billowing tiers of white ruffles for “Summertime.”

Two more numbers and then the finale “Shall We Dance” with the company in frequent couples formations, adding Hulburt’s partnering skills to the ensemble’s full-bodied ending. The dancers relished every minute of the Smuin creation. It also led me to an interesting evaluation.

Was I satisfied? Yes. Was I entertained? Yes. Was I enthralled or inspired? No. Currently, for all the competence, rigor and sustained skill, the Smuin Ballet focus is to entertain and satisfy. The possibility of a Jiri Kylian work included in a season’s repertoire now and again testifies to the difference in overall vision.

I do not intend to denigrate Smin Ballet’s clear accomplishments, not the least of which provides sixteen dancers and a guest artist with Social Security payments, with a livelihood for a six person production crew, ten persons for artistic and administrative guidance, apart from invited choreographers, designers, photographers and publicists. That achievement is no mean feat in today’s economy. That I can also celebrate and believe I got my money’s worth.

The Margaret Jenkins Company at 40, Yerba Buena Center, April 3

26 May

The 30th Anniversary of Margaret Jenkins’ Company filled one of the Piers at Fort Mason; it was resplendent not only with dancing, a tier of benches, but pictures and posters in an ‘environment”. It was the Jenkins’ aesthetic at its best and most comprehensive; I didn’t see how it could be bested. Having seen the Jenkins’ 40th celebration at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts both in the Forum and the Lam Research Theater, only one portion, the introduction, came anywhere near the honed aesthetic so pervasive in the 30th Celebration.

As you might expect, former Jenkins dancers like Virginia Matthews were part of the cluster of Jenkins’ fans outside the Forum’s doors, or waiting in line at the Box Office to collect or buy their tickets. As with any ensemble with a devoted following, there was that club-like quality, who’s in, who’s out.

There in the Forum, in an enclosure with perhaps a three-inch wooden outline, clad in a beige hemp like salwar kameez with billowing trousers, her curly hair flowing nearly to her waist, Jenkins strode out to the end of the enclosure, sat and began to read the names of her dancers, her productions, and those now dead minus any particular lineal progression. As she did so, her own company moved evocatively in the space. Jenkins gave full measure and honor to those dancers preceding the current collaborators, conveying a near ritual quality. It was impressive.

I wish I could be as complimentary when we all moved in to Lam Research Theatre to see Times Bones. With the press seats allotted to supporters Rita Felciano and I found our seats several rows up in the mezzanine. Initially, I thought, “Goody, there will be amazing patterns!” No such luck – scuffles, groupings, and with The Kolben Dance Company of Jerusalem in The Gate of Winds, mostly opposite lines before circles and pairings. I looked for certain references to Jenkins’ 1993 The Gates, the 1998 Fault, or the 2006 A Slipping Glimpse, three works I greatly admired: the fragments and my memories did not coalesce. There seemed no way to assess the merits of the visiting dancing company on its own.

Jenkins enjoyed several of her usual collaborators: Alexander V. Nichols for his remarkable sets and lighting; Paul Dresher and his ensemble for music, the poet Michael Palmer, designer Mary Domenico.

Mark Morris Interprets Handel, Zellerbach Hall, April 25

26 May

Mark Morris likes Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall; he likes the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and he not only likes Baroque music, he excels in staging it, musically and choreographically. This happy combination came together April 25 for the world premiere of the Morris take on George Frederick Handel’s Acis and Galatea; it brought Alastair MacAulay out from Manhattan and enjoyed a capacity audience of music lovers who didn’t bestow a nearly unanimous ovation until the conductor arrived to take a bow. Stingy after the glorious dancing, but understandable, since the orchestra section seemed three-quarters full of grey headed individuals, including this die-hard dance devotee. There is that look to primarily music lovers.

Such a glorious occasion. As the lights were slightly dimmed during the overture, I could spot heads bobbing happily to the music just like mine; all’s right with the world, briefly.

As the curtain rose, Adrianne Lobel’s canvas seemed to suggest Leon Bakst’s 1912 backdrop for Vaslav Nijinsky’s ‘L’Apres Midi D’un Faune”, rendered rugged, jagged, redolent of earthy reds some greens and yellows with browns. Against this Isaac Miszrahi provided the four major singers and dancers with tie dye wafts of yellows to mint green over white for the singers and diaphonous draperies for the dancers, bare to the waist for the men, cap sleeved for the women, floor length all.

On to this stage strode barefooted Galatea in tie dye fashioned with a full skirt and boat neck, framing dimunitive, full-bodied, dark headed Sherezade Panthaki; as Galatea, she was integrated into the dancers’movements as were the three male singers. As she sang the contemplative lines regarding nature in the spring, frequently in triplicate, the Morris dancers moved in trios, curving lines, parallel, crossing , forming circles, arms rising as if to signal “behold!”, or stretched forwards as if to follow with an arabesque which happened. At appropriate places there were skipping phrases, the front leg extended in softened attitude en avant. Of course throughout, Morris inserted silly gestures, echoing the music, hands pushing during multiple orchestra string repetitions, wrists flicked as a tone did a melisma of appreciable length. Where the music warranted, the Morris dancers created circles, moving with step, then pause; at other moments the opening step/kick polonaise blended to the music. Clearly Morris, attuned to the Handel Opera, arranged by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, brought every movement and gesture in his abundant vocabulary into play, laced with his whimsy, wit, at times sly commentary.

Hard to say whether Morris wanted to make a Mutt-Jeff pun in selecting tenors Thomas Cooley and Zack Finkelstein as Acis and Damon when they physically encounter Galatea, but there it was, Cooley sandy-haired, Finkelstein black-haired, underscoring their roles.

Act I requiree Galatea to yearn for love, Acis ditto and bass-baritone Douglas Williams as Polyphemus, vocalizing at length before the two lovers came face to face. A stage drop with two strategic openings, images one could imagine as the head and tail of a whale, abetted the entrances and exits a visual parallel as Galatea was led on and off stage by the dancers, Acis standing alone, but augmented by the Morris men, with partnering as the couple came together in musical ecstasy.

In Act II, Damon, an entirely peevish suitor for Galatea, a dandy quite narcissistic, Galatea fended him off with the aid of the dancers, pushing him in the chest, protecting Acis until the moment when he was felled by a stone, personified by a dancer launched from the dancers over Acis’ shoulders, a marvelous stage resolution.

Again, there were entrances and exits; one telling little group down stage right, required the dimunutive Lauren Grant, collect one leg of three or four dancers across her own outstretched,eliciting laughter from the audience.

Michael Chybowski’s lighting echoed the death of Acis, blocking Lobel’s stage designs, creating a murky grey atmosphere, followed by a dull red; in the apotheosis with Acis as a new god upstage center, gold leaf coronet and diaphonous white shawl draped Indian style across his torso, the happy greens conjuring a blissful pastoral landscape returned before the curtain descended. For me, the summary could be wrapped with one word, “sublime.”

A Fitting Honor For Frankie

23 May

On my recent visit to Manila, the Jose family were extra busy. Paper with large clasps were piled on the third floor round table where writers gather then end of each month. Tessie was checking the assembled stacks.

“La Salle University has a new library. On the fourteenth floor a room will house the F. Sionil Jose Archive. Frankie will formally donate his papers July 11. I have until May 25th to check manuscripts and papers before handing them over. The Library needs time to catalog before the dedication.” Frankie’s novels have been known to sustain at least five revisions.

Near the table, in a corner on a pedastel, Frankie’s bust in his ubiquitous beret, rests. Executed in 2011, the likeness is clear, the expression bland. For the archive, a new bust is scheduled to be executed. I hope the new likenesse catches Frankie’s somber, keen expression, a look sharing kinship with Winston Churchill, a tribute to Frankie’s self-appointed role as cultural conscience and watchdog of the Philippines.

An Inspiring Example

23 May

Just back from escorting a friend to an extended vacation in the Philippines, I heard of a deed being accomplished by a group of surfers well worth mentioning. My information on current events in this 7,000 island archipelago comes in snatches, via television and newspaper coverage; scarcely authoritative or supported by barrages of facts.

Antonio Jose, usually called Tonet and a dual citizen, is retired from Kodak and a frequent surfer. On my 2010 visit to Manila, he mentioned that he drives to San Juan, north of the provincial capital of La Union, where the ocean surf is considered some of the world’s best. I know zilch about surfing technicalities, except that when the moon is nearly full is when the tides are highest, and that’s when Tonet drives the six-hour drive north from Manila spending six hours a day plying his passion. Seeing him early this May, his tan and fitness testified to the physical well being it promotes.

Always busy, this time Tonet seemed unusually occupied; I heard snatches about shipments and deadlines; one day when his schedule precluded my catching a ride into Manila from Quezon City. Over the dinner table, Teresita, his mother, enlightened me in her matter-of-fact way.

A surfing association exists in the Philippines and Tonet is a member. Samar was the first island to be hit by Typhoon Yolanda. The surfing association gathered funds following Yolanda, hired an architect to design a shelter against future typhoons. “Made of concrete, it contains a kitchen, full bathroom and sleeping facilities for fifty families. It has its own generator and solar panels on the roof. Tonet is making arrangements for the solar panels to be shipped to Samar. Samar is also noted for its excellent surfing conditions.”

Who would have guessed that men, often dismissed as “beach boys”, would rise to such a practical, effective response to that devastating crisis. That I was impressed is demonstrated by this note.

ODC’s Program B, YBC, March 23, with a Conversation

15 May

Three works, Two If by Sea; Unintended Consequences: A Meditation; Triangulating Euclid

ODC’s three amazing Fates/Graces – call them what you will – have intriguing visions of the world around us, in addition to admirable practices and accomplishments. This trilogy manifests part of the evidence; the post-performance conversation allowed me to congratulate myself that I discerned at least 50% of their choreographic intentions. I am certain readers can appreciate that fleeting sense of satisfaction – “I got it!” What lingers six weeks later, induced by domestic necessities, let me say that I write with what I remember, and the fact I do remember says something about what impressed me.

Last summer Kimi Okada presented the evolving Two If by Sea to honor Vanessa Thiessen’s retirement from ODC’s ensemble, in a single night performance at the ODC Gallery. Natasha Adorlee Johnson assumed Thiessen’s role with Jeremy Smith in this tap-dance informed, Morse Code introduction of heterosexual intimacy and its dealings with the wider world. What a treat, a work which could and should be a perennial in ODC’s performing repertoire.

The couple starts in chairs on opposite sides of the stage, down front for the female, upstage left for the male. They tap out rhythmic questions in Morse Code, the girl responding more quickly, ready to move her chair, but the guy also moves forward in response. They continue, standing, the woman’s body more eloquently bent. Then the chairs are moved upstage right and entwining legs and proprietary arm movements ensue. When they rise the movements expand, some lateral grand jetes startle with sideways thrust from little apparent preparation. The state of coupledom was established as the movement shifts from establishing connection to fending off unknown intrusions, bringing the piece to its finish, the twosome surviving.

Seeing A Meditation:Triangulating Euclid for the third time, I think I begin to get it The company dances in black, the women in tights and a torso tunic of minimal proportions, each slightly different. The first section is clearly individual, geometric; then it moves into formulae meeting, not always serenely- actually with a fair amount of tussle; then the resolution slowly dissipates the figures. It’s a handsome work, one to gain something from at each viewing. I hope it is periodically revived.

Finishing these comments as tardily as I have, I regret to say Unintended Consequences does not linger in my mind in a manner like the other two on the program.