Archive | June, 2016

Intelligent, Colloquial and Smart: SF Dance Works Premiere

26 Jun

SF Dance Works, which gave its premiere performance June 23 at the ODC Performance Gallery,the co-presenter by the bye, elicited a wave of nostalgia for me, thanks to the audience and their enthusiastic support for the dancers and the material they spun before the eyes of these clearly vocal fans.

Well they might. James Sofranko, the founder and artistic director of SF Dance Works, is not only a soloist with San Francisco Ballet, and company member since 2000, he also has co-organized a yearly benefit for cancer research. Additionally, he has choreographed at least two works for San Francisco Ballet’s spring student showcases, reflecting the arrangement smarts he absorbed while at Juilliard Music Institute’s Dance Department. He also has incorporated former Julliard classmate Anne Zivolich-Adams in the inaugural cast, a dancer much missed in the ODC Dance Company.

What wafted over me during the program was the remembered feeling of San Francisco Ballet’s summer programs on 18th Avenue and the rooting nature of the audiences who peopled the risers in the upstairs converted studio those summer weekend programs. These dancers and choreography, to be sure, are infinitely more experienced and savvy, but the ambiance isn’t easily repeated or imitated. Thursday night’s performance, however, evoked those earnest and active days.

The five-part program with one intermission started and ended with the six-dancer ensemble which included former SF Ballet soloists Dana Genshaft and Garrett Anderson, the former now working in modern dance at the company’s school and Anderson, after a stint abroad, with Chicago’s Hubbard Street Dance Company. The additional dancers were Amber Neumann, a Joffrey Company dancer, Ben Needham Wood from the Smuin Company, Kendall Teague, originally hired by Dennis Nahat for Ballet San Jose, and Tobin del Cuore, another Juilliard Alum, with Hubbard credits as well as Lar Lubovitch and Azure Barton, Houston Grand Opera and Chicago’s Lyric Opera.

These seven dancers graced the inventions of Lar Lubovitch, Alejandro Cerrudo, Penny Saunders and the local talents of Dana Genshaft and James Sofranko. The works were enhanced by by Heather Basarab’s lighting, abetted by Rayan O’Gara as well as Jason Brown and a variety of music, the most notable being Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major, and a portion of Franz Liszt.

Penny Saunders’ Joe and Ida, a co-production with Cedar Rapids Ballet supplied a quirky boy meets girl, the sextet seeming a contemporary take on Robbins’ Fancy Free, however minus sailors, shoes and costumed minimally by Saunders and Melissa Leitch. Saunders, another Harid Conservatory graduate like Sofranko, has Hubbard Street and Cedar Lake credits and is now in a three-year residency with Grand Rapids Ballet where Patricia Barker is artistic director.

One can see that this boy-girl encounter can enliven a contemporary program. It’s brim full of body-parts exploration, from the tentative reach of a hand to rotator cuff manipulation, torso undulation and abrupt shifts in weight and position of the legs and feet. I was amazed to see just what Saunders could elicit from a skilled human body. With six composers in a sound mix, Joe and Ida invites comparison to the endless apps on a smart phone.

Dana Genshaft’s Portrait, inspired by the 19th century French novelist George Sand, was the most staged production in that the work possessed floor projections placing dancer Amber Neumann in context – a field of flowers, a scene of Paris in the mid-19th century and then a neutral where Neumann is divested of Karin Mossen’s black horsehair hoop, replaced by the trousers for which Sand was so noted. An intriguing subject, Neumann spent a fair amount of the Max Richter-Franz Liszt score reaching forward and swirling, suggesting protest and groping for an acceptable ambiance.

Bob Crosby’s music gave Sofranko the basis of displaying Anne Zivolich-Adams’ perky side, quick shifts of direction, abrupt elevation, and her dry “Okay, try me.” Next time I hope Sofranko explores her dramatic depth. But it simply was great to see her prodigious talent showcased.

The program’s first half finished with Lar Lubovich’s male pas de deux from Concerto Six Twenty Two to W.A.Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major, a work associated with the AIDS crisis. Danced by Garrett Anderson and Tobin Del Cuore, it is wonderful blend of so-called modern and classical ballet which was expressed without embellishments, but filled with a range of tenderness, sensitivity and respect that a deep bond between two men can possess.

 

SFDanceworks. Garrett Anderson, Tobin Del Cuore in Concerto Six Twenty-Two by Lar Lubovitch. Photo by Andrew Weeks

Following intermission the sextet completed the program with Alejandro Cerrudo’s Likety Split, premiered in 2006 by the Hubbard Street Dance Project. Another semi-comic encounter of the sexes with the inevitable hesitations and awkwardness, it seemed that Penny Saunders had absorbed the situation and provided a more lively comment.

For the rationale behind Sofranko’s choices, let me recommend Toba Singer’s interview for Culture Vulture. The aim has been well interpreted, the material reasonably varied; the second season will doubtless build on this auspicious, beautifully danced beginning.

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