Archive | December, 2015

Speak at Z Space

24 Dec

Brooke Byrne and I saw the final of three performances of the cross-discipline, cross-cultural production of Speak December 19 at Z Space, featuring Michelle Dorrance and Dormesha Bumbrey-Edwards,tap masters, and the Kathak disciples of the late Chitresh Das, Rina Mehta and Rachna Nivas. The quartet was supported by Jazz musicians Allison Miller, drums; Todd Sikafoose, bass; Carmen Staaf, Piano; the Indian musicians were: Debashis Sarkar, Vocal; Jayana Banerjee, Sitar; Satyaprakash Mishra, Tabla. Seibi Lee, who narrated, was responsible for the Manjira. Miller and Banerjee were also credited as composers. Kara Mack was responsible for poetic deliveries at the beginning and near the conclusion.

The production,sponsored by the Chitresh Das organization, was also well funded by some prestigious local foundations. Its presenter may also have decided to eliminate the Dorrance, Bumbrey-Edwards and Mack biographies from the program, choosing instead to emphasize the three artistic directors of Chhandam, the Das-founded school of Kathak. To say the least, it was a clear omission.

Dorrance and Mehta commenced the program with a display of percussive sound; both they and the other performers were dressed in sand-color, Dorrance and Bumbrey-Edwards in tunics and trousers, Metha and Nivas in full skirts displaying their leggins, skirts whirling gracefully through their multiple turns.

Dorrance is lean, fairly tall; her lanky prowess is almost “aw shucks” in movement style, stretching her legs to second position plie and then bring them to a snappy close; your abdomen reacts automatically in empathy if lacking the skills of toes, heels and rapidity. I have rarely seen a dancer submitting herself to the awkward in the service of dance, still looking so good.

Mehta’s strength is her command of the bells on her feet in triple rhythm and ability to progress from single to triple speeds. When gesturing outwardly, her arms are graceful; when she goes into fast turns, the elbows drop like partially-wounded wings, a speed technique frequently seen in Das’ own rhythmic feats where speed obliterated the otherwise vertical image.

Rachna Nivas recounted the history of Rama, Sita and Laksman demonstrating the Indian dancer’s ability to depict masculine and feminine characters. Such requirement is a common denominator for Bharata Natyam as well as Kathak. . Rivas’ tandava, or masculine style, is well formed, if given to the boisterous side. Some story details I found unusual; Laksman as the boisterous brother, skeptical of the ruses of Ravana. In the Ramayana, Laksman’s demeanor is so circumspect that he doesn’t look at Sita beyond her ankles; none of such rectitude was suggested in the Nivas’ version going so far as accuse Laksman of wanting Rama’s kingdom. The ending, Sita strewing her jewels like pebbles for Hansel and Gretl, is another anomaly to my understanding of the story; in the forest, she retained such riches? Sita’s general behavior missed the gentle nuance I have noted frequently in Indian women and Indian-born Kathak exponents.

Dormisha Bumbrey-Edwards is a familiar artist to tap fans, having appeared in the former August-scheduled Bay Area Rhythm Exchanges. Loved by all the fans I know about, her cacophony of sound ebbs and flows like an allegro passage in a piano sonata, torso bent slightly forward, arms and elbows out, covering the stage space.nimbly, with a certain nonchalance that takes the breath away. One of her fans declared, “She’s the African-American Fred Astaire.”

I thought Dormisha might not have verbal sounds equivalent when she later joined Rina in an exchange of sound, Rina reciting bols, Dormisha rendering an amazing cascade of clearly jazz, hip-hop cluster of letters, a equal syllabic parade.

An exposition of each set of musicians came in the second half of the two hour program, which lacked a intermission. Even in Indian festival marathons there are breaks and the audience feels free to wander in and out.

The audience was enthusiastic providing an immediate standing ovation. Kara Gold I learned on the Web is primarily a dancer, but I suspect her dance style is
such it did not fit the Kathak-tap parameters. Her vocal delivery is very strong,
declarative, a few decibels too loud.

Prakash Janakiraman in his introduction declared that all four artists were masters of their form. I am afraid I limit my appraisal to Dorrance and Bumbrey-Edwards. Mehta and Nivas are genuinely gifted, but nuance, refinement and a certain discipline in triple rhythm still need developing. That said, the program was a remarkable salute to the collaboration started by Chitresh Das and Jason Samuels Smith. It’s a pity that the program short-changed the information relating to the
tap tradition.

Dormisha and Michelle shared a set before Rina and Rachna matched bells, bols
and turns, and as a finale all four shared the stage, with both sets of musicians
accompanying them.

Akram Khan’s Kaash at YBC November 20

13 Dec

S.F. Performance presented the revival of Akram Khan’s Kaash February 20-21 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; February 20 the lobby simmered with the liveliest anticipatory ambiance I’ve heard in a long time. It turns out Khan’s piece had been seen here before, in 2002. I must have missed it because my memory of him was first under the auspices of Andrew Woods’ San Francisco International Arts Festival and then under S.F. Performances when it brought a Khan work about individuals waiting in an airport lounge.

In the current fashion the work, fifty-five minutes long, was danced without intermission with five superb dancers, better I was told than the ones seen in 2002. However, this quintet rated only one line on the bottom of the left-hand page, no pictures, no bios, Nada. The two men, Sung Hoon Kim and Nicola Monaco, provided stark contrasts in height, muscle and movement qualities, if both were dressed in ankle length skirts which displayed their chests and after swirls to their lunges and turns. Twin sisters Kristine and Sade Alleyne, petite in size and Sarah Cerneaux were the women, their shorter skirts topped by shirts of the same color leaving their arms free.

The stage was open to the audience, dark; at the appointed hour a figure appeared, stationing himself up stage right, back to the audience. The audience became quiet, awaiting movement which did not arrive quickly. Instead it was asked to settle in, to attempt to be meditative before the action exploded with the marvelous,insistent rhythms of the tabla and the dancers began to exhibit the port de bras and body lunges or turns plus placement on the stage which made the work both fascinating and quite prolonged.

One of the arm positions reminded me of the gesture of a cobra, arm raised above the head, hand curved, the fingers gathered with a space between forefinger and thumb like an Egyptian hieroglifhic eye. Sometimes it was one dancer displaying it, other times the entire quintet

Khan provided a dazzling mid-section with a frenetic recitation of traditional Kathak bols, the mimetic sounds traded between tabla exponent and dancer with friendly antagonism in a traditional Kathak solo performance. The music in mid-passage became unnecessarily loud – perhaps conveying the destructive side of Shiva.

The stage patterns presented diagonal of the five from upstage right to down stage left, crossings singly, twos or threes, occasionally all five, the quintet lined up cross stage front, and pauses while one dancer carried the thrust of the movement.

At no time did the dancers touch another; yet the group’s coherence was a constant. There were some very exciting collective movements when the dancers seemed to be laboring, cross the body arm movements as if threshing, separating rice grains from stems. Paddy fields in Asia crossed my memory bank with an unbidden awe how deeply Khan was affected by travel to his ancestral country.

After a time the piece seemed repetitive. wondering how the final pattern would emerge; when it came, the figures swirled away, leaving Kim, back to the audience, almost where he began, the light lowering at a deliberate pace. Audience supplied an ecstatic ovation.

What I realized, listening later to comments about the piece’s longevity, was that Indian traditional performances quite often prolong a final piece, almost as if the artist is working himself into an ecstatic trance. It is not a Western habit, but under his amazing career in the UK, Akram Khan still works with his one-time East Bengali roots. Kaash is a wonderful reflection of these roots and his equally keen capacity to blend western styles into the lengthy, honorable sub-continent tradition.

Alonso King’s Fall Season with Lisa Fischer

4 Dec

Alonso King’s fall program premiered November 5 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Lams Research Theater. I went on Friday, the thirteenth, just after the horrific news regarding the Parisian attacks by Islamic terrorists. The audience was warm, near capacity, exuding iys diversity with a definite comfort level which occasionally pervades YBC’s venue. The woman in front of me removed her shoes on arriving in her seat, standing in the aisle with toe painted scarlet.

The music for King’s The Propelled Heart was supplied by Lisa Fischer, a singer who backed The Rolling Stones for many years, been the subject of the 2013 documentary “Twenty Feet From Stardom.” The additional musician was J. C. Maillard. Long time collaborators by Robert Rosenwasser and Axel Morgenthaler conceived. costumes and lighting,

King seems to be content with a dozen dances in his company, though he undoubtedly works with many more dancers at different levels in the organization now including a dance major at Dominican University in San Rafael in addition to the multiple classes and outreach programs occurring at Lines Dance Center on Seventh Street just off Market Street in San Francisco.

The current company lists 3 dancers joining in 2011, 4 in 2013 and 2014; Brett Conway has returned after some four years with Nederlans Dance Theater. Yujin Kim has returned from being out a season with an injury. There is height among three women as well as mid-size and a tigerish virility among the men; King fully exploits that quality. Most have come with experience; King has refined and extended technique and attack in his particularly total style. It was fully on view in “The Propelled Heart.”

Lisa Fischer herself I would guess is under five feet five, with a build solidly maternal, hair closely cropped, vocal tones and range amazing, from strong declarative sound to the high pitched tonal wail. It is a native province of African Americans and of the Indian sub-continent; both share the haunting habit of the melisma, the embroidery around one note or one sound pitch. Dressed in a dusty maroon toned stole with what I understand were ostrich feathers [animal rights?],a two-tiered over blouse over slacks, she wandered around, behind, through and in the center of the troupe, according to the song and the sounds of J. C. Mailliard’s music,

Somewhere I picked up that Maillard’s music has not only been influenced by African rhythms, but that he resides at least part of his time in the Caribbean. His responses were well aligned to Fischer and to King’s capacity to emphasize or isolate parts of the human torso within the technical of the highly western classical ballet vocabulary. In listening to Maillard’s background contribution, I would swear I heard something of the Korean vertical flute, the taegum. I would hope so. As with most of the Korean musical threads, the plaintive, evocative qualities echo into what otherwise would be a percussive, declarative statement, balletic or otherwise. The Koreans, mind you, take backseats to no one in their talent for drumming.

What did I see, and what was most memorable? Clearly, King’s capacity to enhance, enlarge and expand a dancer’s ability to articulate movement. It’s never just releve, passe, or releve attitude or arabesque. Something happens along the way, or at the beginning or conclusion – a special display of ankle or foot, a nuanced ripple down the torso, a bending from shoulders to hips and then a leisurely unwinding from this position into the traditional vertical posture. There was one ensemble moment towards the end of the work where the dancers formed almost a circle on stage; even though the back portion of the circle seemed out of vision, the forward portion evoked the amazing circular movement of bodies in Matisse’s “The Dance,” residing in The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, a compositional draft belonging to MOMA in New York City

Anonymous, But Distinctive

4 Dec

The December 7 issue of The New Yorker arrived recently. Aside from the significance of the date for anyone born in the late Twenties or Early Thirties, Rolex carried an ad which made me look twice at the two men pictured discussing something physical and quite visual. Demonstrating, the older man’s uses his hand with fingers spread, but no identification is supplied. Dance lovers can identify Alexei Ratmansky, choreographer in residence for American Ballet Theatre. and Myles Thatcher, budding choreographer and a San Francisco Ballet corps de ballet member, listening attentively. Framed in an elegant series of arches, it is a handsome image.