Archive | October, 2014

Words on Dance Celebrates Edward Villella

30 Oct

Deborah Kaufman, who started Words on Dance two decades ago, invited Sarah Kaufman, the Pulitzer Prize dance critic for The Washington Post [and its second dance critic award, following the late Alan Kriegsman] to interview Edward Villella for its Monday, October 27 event at ODC’s Theatre at 17th and Shotwell, San Francisco. Villella had taught class at City Ballet School the previous Saturday and there was a reception in his honor the same weekend. The three page notes for the occasion mentioned this was Villella’s fifth appearance for Words on Dance.

Words on Dance typically shows film snippets of the artist, interspersed with the interviewer querying the interviewee. Operation Villella was no exception, and it enjoyed the added section of his 1997 Award Footage at the Kennedy Center, plus three or four separate filmed comments by Jacques d’Amboise, Robert La Fosse and Jock Soto regarding various aspects of Villella’s impact on the U.S. male ballet dancer scene, his artistry and being a member of the same company.

Nine different screenings were preceded by appropriate queries and comments. In addition to the Kennedy Center screening, the Villella solos from Balanchine’s Apollo and Tchaikovsky pas de deux demonstrated his intense kinesthetic impact, and his presence as Oberon in Midsummer Night’s Dream. Villella recounted how the great teacher Stanley Williams provided him with the gesture from which he was able to convey the kingly quality of the elusive summer spirit.

Villella, whose degree in Marine Transportation must also have provided him with some training in analysis, repeated some of the wonderful comments he shared at a lunch at the Tenth USA IBC event in Jackson, Mississippi this past June where he appeared carefully while convalescing with pneumonia. Most of these included the image Balanchine provided to him of Byzantine icons for Prodigal Son and his own realization that the ballet’s style was heavily influenced by the Russian constructive art movement of the early twentieth century. The screening for this was provided by snippets from the 2014 Joffrey Ballet production for which he supplied crucial coaching. From the looks of it, the production was far more stream-lined physically than the images I remembered from the early NYC Ballet productions [I saw Jerome Robbins n the role] and even the seasons when it was included in San Francisco Ballet’s repertoire.

Kaufman asked him about ballerinas, and Villella confined himself to two comments. He extolled Patricia McBride with whom he was frequently featured and told the story of having one dancer counting out loud wrong timing in the finale of Agon.

Perhaps the comments I enjoyed most came from Villella’s observations about Rubies, the middle section of Balanchine’s three-part work, Jewels. He said he realized that it was all about race horses, with the woman as the filly and him as the jockey, reinforced by the four men and the tall woman the other part of Rubies.

The final ballet screening featured Miami City Ballet in Villella’s 2009 production of Symphony in Three Movements. Shot from a distance, the company he directed for twenty-five years looked precision-perfect. Villella was asked during the question and answer period about his experience with Miami City Ballet; he commented on the challenges of working with a small budget with ballet supporters less than familiar with the ballet world, but clearly anxious to display that special sheen in Miami.

He said, “I looked for talent because technique could be acquired.” Those of us attending previous Jackson Competitions knew Villella would appear during Round III. More than one dancer from that final cut found themselves dancing in Miami, including dimunitive Chinese ballerina, Wu Haiyan, gold medalist in 2002 now with her own school in Portland, Oregon and Katia Carranza, a bronze medalist now with Ballet de Monterrey, Mexico. They danced as Miami City Ballet principals.

Villella’s staging of Reveries for the Ice Theater New York and his scene with
Tony Randall and Jack Klugman in The Odd Couple completed the program.

Part of a responsive audience shy of the SRO category were Helgi and Marlene Tomasson, Dennis Nahat, John Gebertz and Kristine Elliott, plus San Francisco Ballet principals Matilde Froustey and Luke Ingham..

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Majesty as viewed by Garrett Moulton Productions

28 Oct

Luminous Edge is the latest collaboration of Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton; it was premiered September 18-21, 2014 at Lam Research Theater in the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Complex on Mission Street at Third Street, San Francisco. It should be repeated for serious souls everywhere.

It’s not very often I find myself thinking or uttering the word “Majestic,” but that was my take on the performance shared with Rita Felciano as we left the seventy some minute work. It included songs by Gustav Mahler sung in lushly loving tones by contralto Karen Clark standing upstage left beside seven other musicians.

Why majestic? That implies something special, transcendent. What was it about this clearly contemporary work penetrating that difficult hierarchy of values? Part of the impression rose from the formations – Two lines comprising twenty dancers faced each other from back to front stage center at the beginning; even from orchestra left, the formality registered, reinforced when the three principal couples moved from stage back forward and later danced together with collective movements interspersed.

Moulton, noted for his choir of dancers, stair-stepped, and manipulating objects in fascinating and progressively complicated patterns, here assigned more interaction with the principal dancers. The choir had their moments, then a black out, and a pas de deux, but there were places, as the work intensified, where the principals reached out to them, or a member of dancing choir stepped out of the formation and inter-acted. The feeling of the individual and the collective relating became strong, as well as tender and evocative. The interspered Mahler songs in the haunting tones of Karen Clark’s contralto, not always clear in the sound system, intensified the impression of witnessing something almost baroque in contemporary life.

My impression, a plain if awesome reaction, was like seeing the Golden Eye of God in the Protestant Church in East Berlin just before the 1990 German reunification. This symbol was carefully protected from the pulverizing Allied bombings during the final days of the European conflict in World War II, an emblem of faith, a surviving icon in the face of horrendous outer chastisement.

With the couples vanishing between the lines of the movement choir at the end, the work visually summarized the lines “The captains and the kings depart; still stands thy ancient sacrifice, a humble and a contrite heart.” You have to admit that’s strong stuff.

The principal dancers were Vivian Aragon, Carolina Czechowska, Dudley Flores, Michael Galloway, Tegan Schwabe, Nol Simonse.

A New Tughra Belongs to Al Jazeera

20 Oct

The word tughra is usually associated with the Ottoman Turks and refers to a monogram or signature rendered in Arabic calligraphy. In an Asian Art Docent study group I became familiar with the term and its connection with Sulieman the Magnificent. Wikipedia has a working drawing showing its parts. While imparting, information, a tughra is a wonderful swirl of Arabic script; it would be an individual impervious to visual form and line to fail to be impressed.

While in La Union, the southern most of three Ilocano provinces on the island of
Luzon in the Philippines early this October, I encountered a second example of a
tughra, this time belonging to the television net work and news channel operating out of Doha on the Persian Gulf, Al Jazeera. I was startled and thrilled a) to see it and b) to recognized the form, plus c) to observe how broadcast manipulation could form the tughra from various prospectives, the most impressive was solidifying water images before appearing in its final form in blue.

Secondarily, it was a valuable exposure and different perspective, after seeing CNN broadcasts from a hotel room in Manila. The broadcast equipment is shown on Al Jezeera, but minus the chunks of color and the flashes of TV. Al Jazeera, after all, is closely owned; while it does have some advertising, the images are evocative with some nature scenes.

The network is, from what I saw, essentially a news channel, and probably is available in the U.S. from subscribers to Al Gore’s former TV channel, and to
subscribers to a channel service; I am not.

The information changes little over a twelve to sixteen-hour span; for some that would be highly repetitive. But the coverage of the Kabane conflict and the Hong Kong strike was extensive and thoughtful. A Baghdad representative appeared frequently;the Dallas Hospital handling of the Ebola victim was given its share of the commentary.

Periodically Al Jazeera provided small documentaries. There was a two-part study on Manila slums and the prospect of the population removal from a flooded area, targeted for demolition. Another dealt with the abortion issue in Texas, including comments by the unctuous anti-abortion leader. Yet another discussed young boys lured into the Myanmar military, and yet another about the efforts of an eleven year old Chinese girl to be eligible for soccer training, a route out of poverty. The death of her grandfather has kept eligibility on hold. A final documentary concerned the trials of the deaf in Gaza, and a glimpse into their remarkably well organized network, managing in the face of the prolonged
Gaza-Israeli conflict.

One final comment on the calibre of Al Jazeera’s coverage. The women anchors,
drop dead gorgeous, make Al Jazeera equality emblematic and easy to watch.

Sayonara to the S.F. Bay Guardian

15 Oct

It was something of a shock this morning [October 14, 2014] to read on S.F.Gate‘s website that The S.F. Bay Guardian, the politically progressive, feisty weekly, distributed free of charge, would publish its last edition October 15.

What is even more astonishing is that by choice, Rita Felciano, The Guardian’s dance critic for just about 25 years, said she was writing her final review for its pages with her appraisal of Garrett-Moulton’s September 19-21 production of “Luminous Edge” at Yerba Buena Center’s Lam Theatre.  Nothing in her comments indicated she knew her critical position was about to be abolished.

Rita served as editor for the Dance Citics Association Newsletter, and co-organized a symposium on Serge Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, when Helgi Tomasson first premiered his own reading of that swirling score for San Francisco Ballet.

Rita was also assiduous in attending performances by small groups and fledgling choreographers, her comments animated, judicious and invariably intelligent.

Rita’s record of reviews and articles has been admirable;  fortunately, not confined to The Guardian. Her articles have appeared in Dance Magazine and Dance Studio Life, and she has written specialized entries for compendiums on modern dance. She also served as a consultant for the Pew Trust in Philadelphia, appraising the dance organizations in the City of Brotherly Love. At some point, her skills in the German language took her to Leipzig where she observed the Grand Opera Ballet of Leipzig.  Additionally, The San Jose Mercury used her talents to cover South Bay dance events, primarily the performances of Ballet San Jose.

I believe it was the 1997-1998 season cycle of the Isadora Duncan Dance Awards which bestowed on Rita a Sustained Achievement Award, introduced by Ann Murphy at Ann’s request. Murphy started her comments by mentioning that Rita was writing in English as her fourth language. A native of Switzerland, Rita grew up fluent in German, French and Italian, learning English perhaps after meeting her husband and “love of my life” Richard Felciano. Accepting the award at the Ceremony held in ODC’s pre-remodeled Performance Gallery, Rita quipped, “It’s a bit like being the flavor of the month.”

Rita will continue to write for Danceviewtimes on the Web, and I know that the magazines which have contained her by-line are ready, eager, to have her contribute.

The regrets expressed at her resignation were frequent, and I wondered who might be so intrepid to attempt to follow her;. In an odd sense of justice, there will be no replacement.. Sayonara.