NDT 2,San Francisco, Monday February 16

28 Feb

Talk about Under the Radar!

Rita Felciano gave me her spare seat to the sold-out, single performance of NDT II Monday, February 16, sandwiched between two engagements South and north of San Francisco. Margaret Karl, 11 years a San Francisco dancer, was responsible for public relations, abetted by Facebook, accounting for a third of ticket sales to see this eighteen dancer ensemble. At the door of the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre [celebrating its centennial February 20] were individuals murmuring “Ticket for sale?”

For a few, certainly for me, one draw was Benjamin Berends, Santa Rosa native, who studied with Tamara Stakoun and Gina Ness at Santa Rosa Dance Theatre, Richard Gibson and Zory Karah at Academy of Ballet, San Francisco,with Boston Ballet Trainee Program and Andre Reyes, before joining Smuin Ballet briefly, then dancing with the Trey McIntyre Project before it dissolved. With Marc Platt I had seen him as the prince in the Nutcracker one December, witnessing Marc’s approval and injunction to study hard, a treat not often witnessed of a one-time notable exhorting a future notable.

As a trivia collector, I noted that seven hailed from North America – two from Canada; eight from The Netherlands and nearby Belgium and Denmark; two from Japan; one from England, along with the fact that NDT’s artistic directors hail from England and Spain with one of its originals, Jiri Kylian from Czechoslovakia. Similarly, two works came from the artistic directors, one from Israel, one from Sweden. The dancers themselves have equal physical diversity, in excellent condition of course; one or two the women one would expect in the United States to elect dancing in modern dance companies. Hail NDT!

The group, dancing with wonderful ensemble sense,still have arrived fairly recently to their positions, five dancers joining in 2012, four in 2013, eight in 2014 and one just this January.

Johan Singer’s New Then, 2012, introduced half the company to five of Van Morrison’s songs with the expected results of vigorous if unexpected movements – bends, crouches, swivels in the hips, directional explorations in the arms and partnering. Boy-girl relationships scarcely enjoyed length or happy conclusion, though everything was this side of sinister.

Imre van Optsal and Spencer Dickhaus were paired in Shutters Shut, the 4 minute work by Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot, 2003, set to a Gertrude Stein poem “If I told him: A completed portrait of Picasso.” I found it textually annoying, if the dancers were themselves contrasted in more ways than one. Van Opsal, a robust figured woman, contrasted with Dickhaus, slender to the point of being wispy; they were dressed in black and white swimsuit like leotards with the black on one body in the position of where it appeared on the other, quite appropriate for Stein’s repetitions, declaimed in her own voice.

Sara, created in 2013 by Sharon Eyad and Gail Behar, used seven dancers to Ori Lichtik’s music, and was dressed in skinlike unitards. It was not a work to linger in memory like the final number following intermission.

Leon and Lightfoot also created in 2003 a work to the second movementt of Franz Schubert’s Death and the Maiden String Quartet #14, titled Subject to Change. With four dancers in black suits, Gregory Lau, Benjamin Behrends, Richel Wieles amd Spencer Dichaus, the principals were Katharine van de Wouwer and Alexander Anderson, plus a square of red carpet, which the quarter unrolled before de Wouwer appeared and later manipulated counterclockwise at an appropriate moment, traditionally a symbol of death.

Alexander Anderson, a Juilliard graduate, Princess Grace recipient among other awards, was the death figure, stripped to the waist and graced with a most articulate, well-defined set of muscles, partnered de Wouwer dressed in a short filmy costume, hers a sweet-eyed, warm countenance, compliant in the embrace of the inevitable, if not wholly cognizant of the import. I found myself remembering George Balanchine’s La Valse and an Agnes de Mille work for the Joffrey, A Bridgroom Called Death, also to Schubert’s music. In both these earlier works the same fascination/ambivalence appeared. Anderson disappears; at the end de Wouwer stands alone, stage center on the red carpet, her attitude of wonder, ageless, supplicant and accepting.

Of the five works danced this memorable Monday evening Subject to Change has lingered longest in the memory. And the company? come again soon, please!

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