Archive | November, 2014

Ballet Philippines Blue Moon Series

24 Nov

Arriving in the Philippines in late September, I was able to see the opening performance of Ballet Philippines’ Blue Moon Gala program on September 26 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The CCP as it is called locally is situated just off Roxas Boulevard, once named Dewey by the Manifest Destiny proponents when colonizing the Philippines after the Admiral decimated the Spanish Fleet in Manila Bay. The Boulevard runs not far from the edge of Manila Bay itself and must once upon a time been quite scenic; it still is pleasant, but traffic, trash and transients in various combinations have diminished its impressiveness. I can remember a Thursday afternoon in late April 1966 when a group of Filipinos gathered around a heaping spread of off white boulders, the women in their Butterfly-sleeved dresses and the men in gossamer barong tagalogs to witness the dedication of the future CCP, presided over by President Ferdinand Marcos and wife Imelda during their first term of office.

Nearly a half century later, CCP has some problems and some successes; the former concerns a theatre no longer usable, reputed to be sinking into Manila Bay, built at the expense of workmen’s lives at the insistence of Imelda Marcos; construction required completion to impress an imminent international conference. The success includes the residency of Ballet Philippines and the scarlet hued auditorium where BP was celebrating its 35th anniversary.

Had travel plans allowed seeing BP’s production of Giselle I would have a more coherent view of the company’s strengths – as it was, the diversity informed me the company dances contemporary styles extremely well, full out and with passion. I remembered in particular the pas de deux which Candice Adea and Jean Marc Codero danced at the 2010 USA IIBC in Jackson – Evacuation, created in Europe in 1995, still all too relevant in 2014, although one wonders how the Islamic dress code for would allow Adea the range of movement that late twentieth century work required. It is a notable work, but sadly, not performed in the United States, and thought by some San Francisco dance exponents to be a little “old hat.” So much for cross-cultural sensibilities!

Cesar and I arrived just as Je Tu Elle was starting. Danced to Vangelis music, Redha Bontelfour choreographed Je Tu Elle for a female cast of five dancers, strong technicians. With pirouettes and grand jetes and typical resting postures of dancers – hands with elbows out on the hips, either side or in the small of the back, leaning forward with one knee bent over a foot en pointe, a series of bravura variations were given to each dancer. They prowled around the space awaiting their tour, watchful, ready. In short black costumes, varied in torso treatment, the five could just have easily been dressed as Amazons practicing war maneuvers. Scarcely your typical toeshoe demeanor.

Je Tu Fille or I You [intimate] Girl, provided an instant read of the dancers’ energies, their strong attack, the curves of short dancers, thoroughly competent, a silhouette one doesn’t see in ballet troupes on the Pacific Ocean’seastern shores.

In an abupt thematic shift, Candace Adea, now a soloist with Hong Kong Ballet, made a brief appearance in Kitri’s variation from Don Quixote, blithe, sparkling but rushing a bit to recorded music. She experienced a fall, but made a quick rebound.

The Philippine Madrigal Singers lent presence and voices to Alice Reyes’ Bungkos Suite, four dances in the festive attire one expects to see on Filipinos celebrating, dancers moving gracefully and laterally, with slight individual swoops, circlings and ensemble skill, the image one expects to see when Bayanihan visits the United States.

Earl John Arisola danced Max Luna’s Cold Song, a tribute to the late Alvin Ailey to music by Klaus Nomi. Arisola was expected to convey involvement in three conflicting relationships. He danced well and passionately, but about the three relationships, the choreographer’s intent was a bit much for any solo assignment.

Prior to intermission George Birkadze’s Farandole was danced to the music of Georges Bizet. Six dancers were involved with Jean Marc Cordero and Jemima Reyes soloists in Spanish-flavored style.

Candace Adea made a second appearance with Shen Je, another Hong Kong Ballet soloist, dancing to Sylvain Chauveau’s music. Joseph Morrissey choreographed this pas de deux, titled Poised, to depict two individuals who meet, greet and entwine, returning to separate lives.

Technical, admirably interpreted, I kept wondering about the feeling of detachment until I caught up with program notes. Their
interpretation then made perfect sense.

Three numbers in the second half enjoyed musical support from nineteenth and twentieth century classical canon: Agnes Locsin’s Salome to Isaac Albeniz; Carlos Pacis’Nocturne to Felix Mendelssohn’s Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, and Gustav Mahler’s Songs of the Wayfarer for Norman Mailer’s closing work of the same name.

The theme of Salome is one of a sweetheart separated from her lover due to the Spanish revolutionary movement, interpreted by Kris-Belle Pacibar-Mamangun, an eight-year veteran with one of Cirque de Soleil’s productions. The origins of Locsin’s themes eludes me, only familiar with the Biblical femme fatale and the head of St. John the Baptist. I was puzzled, if dazzled by the strength and fire of the piece interpreted with admirable strength and focus by Pacibarf-Mamangun. Her floor work was particularly impressive; at one point from a prone position, legs and feet tucked under her torso, she rose to sitting position with abdominal muscles so amazing that the audience burst into applause.

Carlos Pacis’ Nocturne required Jean Marc Cordero and Katherine Trofeo to approach each other with measured, ceremonious walk in front of the orchestra pit, clad in pinkish flesh tights and pixie-like helmets with crown peaks. Floral-like appliques were applied on their respective torsos to simulate a modesty contradicting the revealing elastic underlay. Contrasted with the push-pull so remembered in Sir Frederick Ashton’s version, Pacis preferred to emphasize Mendelssohn’s melodic swell with lifts. Cordero and Trofeo were nicely matched in size, giving a sense of water sprites at play.

Songs of a Wayfarer is a revival, apparently of a 1973 work for BP by Norman Walker, of love lost, love searched for, and the heart reconciled, depicted via a circular-shaped column of lighted strands at center stage left into which the Wayfarer [Richardson Yadao] moves at the end to be reconciled with his love [Carissa Adea]. Earl John Arisola was the fortunate bridegroom, who made such an impression in his solo, Cold Song choreographed by Max Luna, music by Klaus Nomi.

As a stranger to Manila programming customs, I found it a bit disconcerting to see artistic personnel featured in the program prior to the program listing,usually the opposite in the U.S.

Also in the United States, shorter dancers have a tougher time of it with ensemble companies. If some brilliant exceptions are recorded as defying this norm, another norm expects women with minimal curves and overall, classic proportions. These proportions are standard, regardless of gender.The historic virtuosity of Italian male dancers, strongly muscled, torsos longer then legs, has somehow been forgotten. I wonder what Njinsky’s build would bring him in today’s auditions.

Solo Flamenco at Fort Mason

23 Nov

With the Fort Mason remodeling of the space housing the Cowell Theatre, one enters along a newly asphalted lane on the dock outside the structure housing pavilion as well as theatre. Sometimes the original door is open, but the weekend of November 15-16, the new entry was the way to see Theatre Flamenco’s Solo Flamenco performance, comprising four solo dancers, two singers and a guitarist.

The audience was ready to enjoy the evening, providing great enthusiasm and energy to the succession of solos, a duet and the finale ensemble. Artistic Carola Zertuche and Christina Hall were the two regulars, Alfonso Losa and Manuela Rios the guest dancers. Jose Luis Rodriguez provided solid support with his guitar. The provocative singers were Ismael Fernandez and Jose Mendez, the tall and slightly debonair Fernandez contrasted with the short and squarely built Mendez, who sang the major portion of the program with intensity, his delivery resembling a union organizer pressing his message. Miking the singers added to the overall sense of strident sound.

The physical builds of the dancers also was a study of contrasts, helping to explain the why and how of attack. With the exception of the women’s bota de colas, quite in evidence, the days of elegance, fluffy ruffles and large loopy earrings seemed vanished. And where were those skin-tight trousers and bolero jackets laden with jet on short sleek men or romantic sleeved blouses of a colorful color? Or the tall, graceful figures of Vargas and Ximenez or Jose Greco?

Zertuche’s solo commenced next to Rodriguez, seated, with his guitar. She moved away from him, hands circling, fingers weaving curlicues. She moved away, but, oh dear, her bota de cola was caught. So, she wound around in a circle closer to Rodriguez. This created a movement monologue of in and out, body turning, twisting, arms thrusting downward, tugs on the skirt;no soap, she is stuck. At the very end, she loosened herself, twisting away from the previous confines, danced briefly a free woman, taconeo so declaring, the frustration gradually giving way to a firm, purposeful exit.

Christina Hall followed, a slender-boned dancer one might characterize as exquisite. Hall, in this number, tried to compensate for this physical delicacy, with a consistent thrust of the arms almost akimbo. Having seen her previously in delicate, nuanced numbers, this sudden attempt at rawness was disconcerting, if invigorating to the audience. Taken with the overall program, however, her abrupt thrusts seemed to compliment artists Losa and Rios.

Alfonso Losa is a squarely-built, compact man, hair in a small ponytail, dressed in a greyish suit, grasping the hem of the jacket in traditional fashion. His taconeo possesses a compelling automatic machine gun, relentless quality, frequently followed by an abrupt turn leaving him nearly off balance, but from which he invariably recovered. I felt in the presence of a man who very easily could be the head of a cadre in a very bad mood.

Manuela Rosa is dark-haired, pretty of face, tall of stature; I suspect she has a gutsy sense of humor. She clearly knows the tradition, but somehow is off-handed about it; one cannot help but be aware that those spot-on turns with backbends are not her forte. In her Tarantos, among her noticeable talents was her pitos, delivered with long, slender fingers.

Hall and Rosa flipped bota de colas together before the finale where Rosa wore a smashing black and white gown, marred by a scarlet apron adorning her stomach slightly askew. Why the choice in a futile attempt to evoke folksiness is a mystery.

There was the usual ensemble finale with the four dancers executing variations, eliciting vociferous audience response and a brief encore. If audience opinion was the arbiter, the dancers could do no wrong. However, the finale clearly projected four dancers with little performance-sharing dancing together cheerfully, but lacking enough familiarity to make the evening’s end a genuine ensemble affair.

Still, Zertuche is to be congratulated for bringing these artists to local attention. The Spanish dance scene is a source of endless interest and for outsiders like myself an equal repository of mystery with my formative exposure long gone but happily remembered.

Only Small Squares

22 Nov

No, I’m not talking about midget humans.

Today, when the world swirls around us, seeming to go to hell in a hand basket,
I fervently look for and count collective blessings, positives in full public view and enjoyed by anyone walking or riding in a wheel chair.

Among the unusual are the snatches of poetry engraved in the stops for the F Street Car Line, one of them penned by choreographer Margaret Jenkins’ mother.

But the public gems I mainly refer to are the growing number of bright yellow nobbly squares at street corners, enabling individuals and their walkers, motorized wheel chairs and person-pushed wheel chairs negotiate between curb and street; actually not to have to negotiate but just move from sidewalk to street without hefting a load.

This holds true for grocery carts as well. There are couple of places which acquired these squares this year near the Kaiser Permanente facilities on Geary
Boulevard. I use them frequently after buying a load of groceries at Trader Joe’s on Masonic. And I say or think a small prayer almost every time.

There doubtless will be more to come, but in the meantime I do count those yellow squares as blessings. Thank you, San Francisco

Sasha Waltz at Cal Performances

19 Nov

Sasha Waltz and Guests appeared at U.C.’s Zellerbach October 24, 2014 with her 2004 work Impromptu, featuring seven dancers, a pianist and a singer. They appeared on a stage featuring two tilted dance spaces, the left one tilting down to the physical floor, the right tilted slightly upstage with a large backdrop hung at a slight angle; there dancers emerged and also where they periodically vanished. The pianist was seated downstage right, her back to the audience .The singer appeared mainly on the smaller, upward tilted space next to the piano, exiting behind the pianist. The dancers, incidentally, hailed from Canada, China (2), Israel (2), Madagascar, Spain. Everything, costumes included, were neutral or faintly hued.

Impromptu was created to five such titled pieces plus four songs by Franz Schubert. Unlike colleagues Rita Felciano and Allan Ulrich, this was my introduction to the German choreographer; Rita remarked it was unlike Waltz’ other works which were more “dramatic story telling.” So I had no basis for comparison, knowing her only by reputation. This appearance in itself had to be remarkable; the logistics of transporting the staging must have required a sizeable subsidy. I am inclined to think in terms of salaries and production costs as much as the message and visual impact. The technical cast numbered ten.

That said, the first dancer emerging from the back stage void seemed to be working with a loose interpretation of a renverse attitude turns, joined by the other dancers appearing and disappearing. I thought I was watching a woman copying these turns, following with semi-developpes with lifts looking like casual imitations of a la secondes. There was an aura of the deliberately amateurish, though a slow movement followed, epitomizing controlled balance, with an acrobatic section provoking scattered spontaneous audience applause not only in admiration but also relief that the lengthy exposition was completed.

No attempt was made to blend singer with dancers. When she appeared in a white floor-length column of a dress, she was a vertical, distinct, apart, though not antagonistic, still a pause, a space, almost an interruption as if Waltz’ choreography stopped telling its mysterious story. She first appeared from behind the large off center hanging oblong; later she emerged from stage right near the piano and exited there as well.

The dancers were wonderfully skilled, at times deliberately awkward in the William Steig vein of “My mother loved me but she died,” or “I mind my own business,” executed with devastating simplicity. A trio of women flitted around the stage construction near the piano which tilted upwards, two of them literally bathing in water concealed from one’s view in the orchestra. The two pulled the third backward into the water and calmly rose from their own occupancy, losing themselves in the shadows behind the hanging oblong. All this to the delicate nuances of Schubert skillfully rendered.

Menlowe Ballet’s Fall Season, November 7, 2014

12 Nov

Now in its fifth season, Menlowe Ballet mounted its fall program November 8-9 and 15 at the splendid Menlo Park High School Auditorium. Titled Legend, I saw the afternoon program with its three ballets, two by artistic director Michael Lowe and one by guest choreographer Dennis Nahat.

Lowe created Plague in 2006 with a mixed score first seen in Anandha Ray’s Moving Dance ensemble tours in eastern Europe; Dennis Nahat mounted his Gounod-Verdi music based In Concert, premiered in 1977 and Lowe’s new work, Legend of the Seven Seas, utilized music from the Silk Road Ensemble, Melody of China, Mongolian, Aitain Ensemble and Jack Thorne. Thorne I suspect was responsible for merging the divergent sounds of the source scores into coherent musical support.

Lowe’s Plague, with sixteen dancers and its simple grey-toned costumes designed by Allison Porter and Christina Weiland, was created as an expression of hope in the midst of uncertainty, pain and helplessness. With a mixture of John Cage, John Dowland, Guillaume de Machaut, Arvo Part, Harry Partch, Christopher Tye and Hildegard Von Bingen, Plague reflected a mute, subdued reflection which might have emerged from Europe after World War I; its anguish never assaulted the viewer, never burst into overt agony. Rather it reminded me a little of Kurt Jooss and Trudi Schoop’s imagery minus the narrative. The death figure, Anton Pankevich, was assigned a stillness, a dignity, almost reluctance in his task. A former member of Ballet San Jose, Pankevich partnered well, his deportment and correctness emphasizing an almost ecclesatical approach to mortality.

Terrin McGee Kelly danced opposite Pankevitch, small, blonde and dressed in black; the fabric moved well, the style bare-shouldered with a plunging neckline allowed for easy lifts, turns and phrases danced to and from the floor. In this final pas de deux , however, Kelly signaled all too often what her next movement was going to be, and that was a pity. Her death struggle impressed me more with its choreographic intricacy the unusual choreographic achievement it signaled for Michael Lowe. Association with Ray clearly stretched his vision along with life experience.

The ensemble, their backs to the couple, was given some striking arm movements, like a clock’s minute arm, but down and up on opposite sides. Three women may have been affected by the plague, but I was unconvinced of the urgency, the imminent finality of life, though this intent was clear throughout the work.

In Concert,
with its pas de cinq finale to Gounod and Verdi ballet music and one luscious aria was created by Dennis Nahat in 1977 for Cleveland Ballet and danced by Cynthia Gregory among others. The dancers here were Aidan DeYoung, Brian Gephart, Demetria Schioldager, Megan Terry and Emily Kerr, stepping in for Jenna McClintock and sporting fetching costume designs by Christina Weiland. Included were an Entree and Finale and Coda for all five dancers, a Waltz, Gallop and Allegretto with a lively duet for de Young and Gephart, plus an effective Prelude danced by Demetria Schioldager. The dancers were on the mark, if I noticed areas of tension which diluted some of the effectiveness of this canny classical divertissement. It definitely provided a programmatic highlight.

I wish I could be as positive regarding Legend of the Seven Suns, the Mongolian-themed premiere by Michael Lowe, a favorite local choreographer. In this five-part work, however, the story was given only the slightest of narratives, resembling more an updated format so successful in Lowe’s Izzie Award-Winning Bamboo where there was no attempt to tell a story.

The three daughters of Emilej, the God of Fire, decked out in harem trousers and bras, movied with approximations of belly dancing – in Mongolia? Then there were the hunter and huntress, Erkhii and Eiluj, whose costumes strongly resembling tunics a la Daphnis and Chloe; in that windswept terrain covered with snow much of the year?

Of course animals figured in this nomadic environment, dressed in unitards of various colors sporting clever headdresses, the most recognizable being those of the Elk and his herd. For the backdrop there were six ovals, five of which apparently had to be vanquished, originally created by the conflict between Emilej and his harem-trousered daughters.

Clearly, I was puzzled by the proceedings though I figured out the general drift before reading the program notes following the final curtain. My take on the work is that Lowe wanted to create a work involving students, devising variations for individual dancers, honoring a culture fascinating him and telling one of its folk tales. The costumes alas fell short of meaningful adaptation, while Lowe’s choreography veered more to divertissement than drama. Hopefully, choreographer and costumer will take another look at their chosen material.

Menlowe Ballet has achieved competence in its ensemble; it enjoys an excellent venue for its performances, enjoying an admirable level of technical expertise. Hopefully, the spring performances, March 27-29,2015 will reinforce the progress achieved in these past five years.

How I Wish

7 Nov

Hopefully, this will be a quickie and goodie, and it has little to do with dance except in terms of the dollars and dimes you may dole out in support of a company or an individual dancer.

It’s the unending stream of “Please Donate” letters coming my way. It’s almost as bad as catalogues which emanate from one central mailing firm. The solicitations cover everything from UNICEF, Medicins San Fontiers [so much more glamorous sounding than the English Doctors Without Borders], CARE, Vet organizations, children’s Funds of various types, local food organizations, as well as political shades and grades, elected officials plus educational institutions, including my alma mater.

I have written “no more” via e-mail; for some reason a year or two later back into the mail box their solicitations arrive. Sometimes I write Refused on the envelope or catalog, but mostly into the recycle bin the four color [!!!!] ask goes. And I used to wonder if I ever would have interesting mail in the box!

It’s not as though I haven’t decided my areas of non-profit donation and concern. The major ones enjoy a monthly donation from my elecxtronically-deposited pension check, while others get a seasonal donation when the bank balance can bear it.

I propose the unlikely, but at some NGO convention wouldn’t it be great for the honchos getting together by area of focus and deciding to whom they would solicit? It just might cut down on the mailing size, provide a steadier source of effective appealing and unburden octogenarians with a guilty conscience.

One of my favorite Steig cartoons shows one of his spooky characters looking out from a box with the query “Who Are All Those Others?” Enough already, please!