Archive | July, 2017

Amy Seiwart’s Imagery at Fort Mason’s Cowell Theater

31 Jul

July 21-22 Amy Seiwart mounted the 7th Sketch season for her ensemble Imagery with a new departure: a full-length work and to the music of Franz Schubert, 1827 The Wanderer song cycle set to the poetry of Welhelm Muller. Utilizing eight dancers from local and distant companies, Seiwart selected a recording of the music by the expressive voice of Dietrich Fisher Dieskau with pianist Gerald Moore. The recording, placed on a stand downstage right, was lifted and set down on the turn table by two dancers placing the necessary needle at the beginning of the two acts in the seventy minute performance. Seiwart’s troupe was scheduled to appear with The Wanderer at New York City’s Joyce Theater the end of July.

A departure balletically and notable in the cast were the three bearded men, giving the work a gravitas not always present in works with clean-shaven males. Another physical impression was, with one exception, the relative uniformity of the dancer’s build and size,.

With her S-Curve label, costume designer Susan Roemer clothed the ballet. She usually builds her costumes around leotards, adding touches which reflect an element in the given work. Here it was strips of black around the waists and also varying strips from the waist to the breast area for the dancers. Also there was a deep plum-dusty red coat, a multi-buttoned Romantic era garment, providing a comment in each song segment, passing from dancer to dancer, not without protest in some instances.

With classicism and sudden approaches to supporting a body or registering some anxiety, Seiwart managed to convey the uncertainty expressed musically as the early 19th century’s material progress conveyed its dawning emotional and intellectual complexity.

Amy Seiwart has been named the next artistic director of Sacramento Ballet, a post she will assume in the 2018-2019 season. Returning to the company which lured her West, one wonders whether Imagery’s Sketch season will survive to its 9th season, and, of course, will she continue to contribute to Smuin Ballet.

A post-script is in order regarding The Cowell Theater. For the better part of a year Cowell’s audience has had to brave the sea breezes/blasts along the west side of the pier where the Cowell was erected. This misfortune was occasioned by the remodeling of Pier Two to accommodate the graduate program of the San Francisco Art Institute; it frankly was a distinct hazard to the body temperature.

The Fort Mason management has now provided an entry on the east side of the pier. Shortly after the close of the San Francisco International Arts Festival, the new entry began receiving audiences in a spacious entry opening to the theater right near the lavatories. In the Foyer large sepia photographs of prior pier experiences are on display -a nice touch and reminder of days of yore. If the Fort Mason management will remember to hang the multi-disciplinary framed flyers we used to walk past, the cavernous new opening will be complete.

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ODC’s 2017 Summer Sampler

31 Jul

There are few San Francisco Bay Area dance enthusiasts and observers who don’t privately or publicly stand with respect and varying degrees of awe at the achievement of O.C./SF’s three Graces: Brenda Way, K.T. Nelson and Kimi Okada. With a series of five-year plans, they bought a building on `17th Street off South Van Ness, while teaching and running a company whose dancers I have been told are on year-long salaries and are allowed to dance elsewhere when O.C. rehearsals, performances and seasons are not required. Then came the O.C. Commons, a facility housing the administrative offices, some half dozen studios, a Pilates clinic and the capacity to host studio performances. Under Brenda Way’s guidance and with the aid of Lori Laqua, O.C.’s first building was rehabbed with its ceiling lifted, a studio, a green room added and a café very much in action when the July 27th evening started this year’s Summer Sampler in the B. Way Theater.

We were introduced to a collaboration between K.T. Nelson and Park Na Hoon [Korean style name placement] Of Seoul, Korea involving three dancers: Jeremy Smith, Rachel Furst and Mia J. Chong, the latter an impressive apprentice with the company. The title was written in Hang-gul, the Korean method devised early in the Choson Dynasty, just before or at the same time Christopher Columbus ventured forth. The longest piece in the four-part program, the trio was standing together as the audience filed in to take their seats. The piece, to music by Joon Yang Yong [again Korean style] and Johann Paul Van Westhoff, concerned the human dilemma of closeness, almost to the point of claustrophobia, to divergence to the point of chaos.

Chong I found impressive for her ability to convey almost the opposite of the Asian feminine stereotype, besides being a very good dancer. Jeremy Smith and Rachel Furst somehow conveyed a more conventional cohesion and rebellion.

This collaboration was followed by a 1974 visual plot by Brenda Way, titled Format II with notes and explanations printed in the program. Private Freeman and Daniel Santos undertook the challenge of performing with Tegan Schwab and Lani Yamanaka as time keepers. Translated, that means complicated with minute signals being conveyed to either dancer by their designated time keeper. Freeman and Santos were garbed in white shirts, black ties, twill trousers and sneakers, and, incidentally, were scheduled on Saturday to reverse the roles with their respective timekeepers. There were A, B and C sections with the time keepers dominating the sequence and the 12 minute material. For virtuosity, Format II qualified in spades.

Kimi Okada’s work, Head in the Sand, followed intermission, featuring Natasha Adorlee Johnson, Alex Guthrie, Jeremy Bannon-Neches and Keon Saghari. A premiere, Okada used So Percussion/Matmos, Uakti, Brian Eno to explore the phenomenon of loss. What do we do ?

Okada explored highly individualized responses, frenetic and manic before the quartet began to acknowledge loss for other human beings and to attempt, with visibly touching movement and rapport, the attempt to bridge the self concern and supply comfort to others.

From 1995, Excerpt: Part of a Longer Story, Brenda Way chose Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto for a gorgeous pas de deux for Private Freeman and Tegan Schwab. The eleven-minute push-pull, connection-retreat, passionate embrace-frightened withdrawal was breath-taking enough to linger in my mind for most of the following day.

The O.C. trio has begun to work towards a cohesive program celebrating fifty years in San Francisco. Now, I think at year 46, these three Fates have the situation well in hand, And lucky enough to have superb dancers for their subjects.

2017 and SFB at Stern Grove July 30

31 Jul

The next step San Francisco Recreation and Parks needs to accomplish are new
benches and tables at Stern Grove. The quantity of same has been reduced to make way for more non-paying pinickers, but none the less Leonard Halprin’s design, full or devoid of bodies, is wonderfully impressive; the overcast was not so chill as to prevent San Francisco Ballet dancing the same program it performed July 21 for the Napa Valley Festival. The roster included Tomasson’s Haffner Symphony, the Balanchine-Stravinsky Agon pas de deux, Tomasson’s Concerto Grosso, Paul Taylor’s Company B’s Boogie-Woogie Boy, Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour.

Casting proved to repeat earlier assignments, particularly with the Haffner and the Wheeldon works. The former included Sasha de Solo and Angelo Greco in the principal roles; while both are musical, the former is given to a legato contrasted to the dynamic attention Greco pays to partnering and to the pirouettes and double tours he accomplishes so nimbly. When I first saw him dance the role I wrote that Greco loves dancing, a truism repeated under the eucalyptus.

Intermission was followed by Sofiane Sylve and Carlo de Lanno in the pas de deux made famous by Diana Adams and Arthur Mitchell. Both skilled collaborators, de Lanno’s lengthy limbs contrasted with Sylve’s more compact physique; they carried the piece with admirable focus.

Tomasson’s Concerto Grosso, the all-male quintet, has been memorable to me for introducing a red-clad Pascal Molat to San Francisco’s audience. Here that assignment was given to Esteban Hernandez, whose jumps and pleasure were
evident. As a skilled soloist himself, Tomasson has an innate sensibility when it comes to male variations, and Concerto Grosso displayed his felicity for the remaining four soloists: Max Cauthorn, Jaime Garcia Castilla , Wei Wang, Lonnie Weeks. It’s good to have that memory periodically.

Joseph Walsh possesses just about the right amount of sass for Paul Taylor’s incredibly energetic solo from Company B: Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. It’s non stop, one of Taylor’s amazing creations; Walsh conveyed all its elements.

Following the second intermission, the program closed with Christopher Wheeldon’s Within The Golden Hour where Martin Packledinaz garbed the women in muted chiffon skirts over tights with headbands, the men in harmonious colors, dancing to the combined score of Edo Bosso and Antonio Vivaldi. The principals, Mathilde Froustey and Myles Thatcher, Sarah Van Patten and Luke Ingham, Maria Kotchetkova and Victor Luiz, all well-matched and harmonious in this lyric, twilight infused work, carrying a very pleasant afternoon to a close. It made the preparation, the logistics and ultimate packing for the on-lookers well worth the trek out Sloat Boulevard and Nineteenth Avenue.

2017 Week Two of EDF’s Thirty-Ninth Festival

23 Jul

Readers probably know by now that EDF stands for Ethnic Dance Festival, and week two, July 15-16, commenced with Ballet Afsaneh. It ia an intriguing ensemble dedicated to the dance traditions of the Middle East, an area little represented for its movement forms, if associated with the 1001 Nights, sloe-eyed beauties with enticing glances behind gauzy veils,sequestered from the average male.

Organized by Sharlyn Sawyer in 1986, the ensemble’s dances have melded traditions and fairy tales with modern dance and theater. This year’s performance was no exception with the all female performers appearing in one-shoulder asymmetrical or shoestring straps of iridescent silver-black; below the ankle skirts tights covered the entire leg in an appearance crediting its inspiration with Persia, titled the Persepolis Project. Commencing with a soloist and gradually adding three or four dancers and then the full ensemble appearing in circular and interweaving patterns with particularly fluid arm movements, all in half light to heighten the movement qualities.

From this gentle evocation, the Yao Yong Dance from San Jose, bright bluish-turquoise skirts manipulated freely over scarlet boots, swept on to the stage with full stage illumination, moving to the tricky accents of Chinese melodies, rendered in symphonic sound. This orchestration is a particular by product of Chinese dependence upon Soviet examples during the early portion of the People’s Republic of China.

While I doubt whether Song of the Nomads ever witnessed such diaphanous costumes, the head-dresses and buoyant quality of the movement evoked a people used to the horse and a certain exuberant enjoyment of space. The dozen dancers made it seem a large contingent had dropped by to entertain us.

Hayward is the home of Ballet Folklorico Compana Mexico Danza. It startled us with rifle-bearing women in somber striped costumes, paying tribute to the women’s role in the Revolution, celebrating Pancho Villa and Juana Galio. The dances themselves, the waltz and the zapateado,were adapted from Amalia Hernandez’ original choreography by Martin Romero. The company was formed in 1991 by Rene Gonzalez as an after-school activity to keep children safe from gang activities.

Aditya Patel founded Gurus of Dance as a vehicle of Bollywood dance for student participation and production. This number just before intermission was centered around The Lord Ganesha, the elephant=headed god and cause for an annual celebration in Maharashtra State where Mumbai and the Bollywood industry are situated. The spectacle was large, noisy, cheerful, and carried a healthy share of symbolism, a bit overwhelming but all clearly enjoyed by the student dancers.

After intermission came my principal reason for attending the matinee: the farewell performance of La Tania, appearing a white bota de cola. She held the ruffled train at moments like a beloved child or an unexpected bouquet; at others she stretched or reached with her eloquent port de bras in the joyous tempo of the alegrias. Tall for a flamenco exponent, originally from France but raised in Andalusia, Tania couldn’t make a false move if she tried, turning on the usual flamenco dime, the bota de cola swirling around her, the taconeo erupting at moments, clear, staccato, all delivered to the audience with warmth, knowledge, a farewell for the history books. I felt a tear roll down my right cheek, and I just let it drop.

In a memorable, inventive transition, one of the dancers from Theatre Flamenco of San Francisco moved on stage with two fans, one white one which given to La Tania. The two exchanged a few moments of taconeo while gradually La Tania with her white fan moved deliberately off stage left, at which point I heard myself sigh.

Four exponents, dressed in striped skirts and somber by comparison, danced in flamenco style in a Carola Zertuche composition for Rondanas Compas. Zertuche is the current artistic director of Theatre Flamenco, started in San Francisco in 1966 by Adela Clara and for many years under the direction of Miguel Santos.

Bharata Natyam was historically a solo performance performed in front of the deity in a South Indian temple, or before one of the monarchs of the court of Tanjore; then the British proclaimed the practitioners of the dance form prostitutes, devastating a lengthy tradition of matrilineal families. When it began to be revived in the late ‘20’s and 30’s, the possibilities of earning a livelihood dancing Bharata Natyam were vastly proscribed because the patronage system had been devastated. From the teachers came a procession of younger dancers who, married and immigrating to the United States, started teaching but, instead of solo performances, they formed ensembles.

Natya in Berkeley is one such group; the number of dancers in white silk, bordered in gold and scarlet, laden with the traditional cosmetics and headdresses, was quite staggering. My dim eyes counted at least two dozen energetic exponents, maneuvering like a field division, recounting the descent of the River Goddess Ganga to earth via the tangled locks and supreme strength of The Lord Shiva.

Bitezo Bia Kongo brought three tall, well muscled drummers on stage with riotous rhythms, clearly enjoying themselves. The dancers, carrying brooms, were engaged in highly individualized prayer.

A quiet interlude followed with Mahealani Uchiyama and Zena Carlota, moving quietly across the stage, Carlota playing a 21 stringed instrument and Uchiyama a karimba, improvising. I very much wish that they had been placed before or after La Tania, because the quality of their presentation would have harmonized with La Tania’s elegiac presentation for all the form’s declarative emphasis.

Te Mana O Te Ra, with yellow tiers of nylon undulating madly with its tidy young figures demonstrating their skill and expressing the frustrations of our contemporary society. Formed in 1997, the ensemble usually completes a program as it did on the second EDF weekend with an enthusiastic audience response.

As on all EDF programs, starting with the last presentation, each group is acknowledged, dancing a tad, following by the earlier number. When La Tania came on stage, she was presented with a bouquet in recognition for three decades of dance in the Bay Area. She visibly teared as she asked that the bouquet be taken off stage. And, like all EDF programs, the dancers exited off stage, main and side aisles, to end the 39th season.

World Arts West is to be congratulated for its evident success. It is also evident that some of the warmth and intimacy possible in the Palace of Fine Arts was lost in the Opera House. I would hope that The Palace could continue as a venue, with the Opera House utilized for major anniversaries, although number 40 happens in 2018. Maybe 45 in 2022?

United Nationals and The Ethnic Dance Festival

18 Jul

It may or may not have been inevitable, but seventy-two years after the United Nations was formulated and signed at San Francisco’s Opera House and Veterans’s Auditorium, the Ethnic Dance Festival celebrated thirty-nine years of presenting the multi-national traditions of the San Francisco Bay Area. And, apparently with great success, because executive director Julie Mushet said the event has been a sell-out.

It was a casual ambiance climbing the Opera House steps and the attire matched it outside. Klezmer music greeted me after I got my ticket at one of the Festival tables for Week One‘s matinee. I would wager that fully seventy per cent of the audience had never been in the Opera House auditorium before; I am also willing to wage that the auditorium had never enjoyed such a relaxed and participatory audience either, except, of course, after an opera or ballet star’s exhilarating aria or solo.

Outside the Opera House itself several groups presented musical traditions from China, Mexico and Indonesia over the two weekends..

The handsome 53-page, four-color program laid out the program sequence for both weekends and the inside page rightly credited David Lei and Judy Wilbur as co-chairs, both stalwart supporters of the Asian Art Museum, Lei himself a former folk dancer in San Francisco.

Some twenty-eight active in the Bay Area and California ethnic scene were listed as members of the Honorary Committee, from presenters to photographers and artists. Then followed not only the groups scheduled but acknowledgment of Carlos Carvajal and C.K. Ladzebo, the artistic directors of the Festival and Naomi Diouf, this year’s recipient of the Malonga Casquelord Award for Life Time Achievement. My only quibble with the format is how difficult it was to read the text against the bright paper, hard on aging eyes.
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Perhaps it was fortuitous that the Academy of Danse Libre, the opening ensemble, appeared in white gloves, hoop skirts of lively hues, floral hairpieces and for the men, black frock coats of a late nineteenth century vintage. The group, founded in 1996 by alumni of the Stanford Vintage Dance Ensemble, specializes in European dances of 1840-1860.

De Rompa y Raja followed, a distinctly sly commentary on European habits in the New World, specifically Peru, where sleeveless tunics and pantaloons on the males were accented by a clearly African rhythm, reflecting the Afro-Peruvian tradition, kept alive during the Spanish colonial period. The group was founded in 1995 by Gabriela Schiroma.

Na Lei Hulu Ika Wekiu, led by Patrick Mukuakane, started with its women, in beautiful patterned green floor length gowns swaying and gesturing to the Flower Song from the opera Lakme sung by Maya Kherani and countertenor Cortez Mitchell, both possessing staggering academic and musical accomplishments.

Feminine grace was followed by the male ensemble with Makukane and his gourd drum evoking the Hawaiian chant for statehood, the men in shortened trousers and loose shirts moving in solidarity for the right to participate in American politics. Minus the usual grass skirts, the knee flex conveyed the cohesion of the ensemble and the sentiment.

Just before intermission The Alayo Dance Company, organized in 2002, provided a colorful and flashy portrait of Cuban social dances, rhumba, salsa, comparsa and a touch of modern dance.

Zakir Hussein with sarangi exponent Zabir Khan and vocalist Pritam Bhattacharnayna led the excitement following intermission, Hussein’s tabla revving up the ante for the bol competition between his tabla and the bells and recitation by Kathak exponent Antonia Minnecola. Parts of the exchange seemed muted because of the lighting, but Minnecola demonstrated both skill and elegance.

New to my memories of the Ethnic Festival is San Francisco’s Awako Ken, founded in 2011 by Rimiko Berreman, and celebrating the folk tradition not only of Tokushima City but also the prefecture on Shikoku Island with emphasis on Awa Obon, a dance component of a 400 year old festival. In white tabi and tilting geta, the women, their circular straw hats folded into watermelon-like slices, the men in blue jackets and patterned headbands, the performers struck a singularly bright and cheerful note.

Closing the Weekend One program were Likhia, presenting traditions from Cotabatu on Mindinao, and Fogo Na Roupa Performing Company, celebrating the traditions of Afro-Brazilian both musically and sartorially, emphasized the ceremonial, the former solemn, almost snooty, and the latter alive with rhythm.

Ann Mary, Contraception and The Pope of Rome, a Novel of San Francisco

11 Jul

Murphy, Nancy Tefaro, Ann Mary, Contraception and the Pope of Rome: A Novel of San Francisco.
Green Isles Press, Pacific Grove CA, 2016, 191pp., pbk, $9.95
ISBN: 978-0-578-17273-6

Living in the Sunset during early post-war San Francisco, Ann Mary Mooney Kenny is the mother of two daughters, Virginia or Virgie and Teresa, and a 2-year old son, Freddy. She has had two miscarriages. As a dutiful Roman Catholic, Ann Mary is torn between her religious obligations and her all-too-human desire to prevent further births, though continuing to serve her conjugal duties to her husband, Henry, a Northern Irishman, one of five brothers but the only one immigrating to the United States.

We are introduced to the parish priest of St. Cyril’s, Father Capwell, a grower of potatoes, his housekeeper Mrs. Heafy, and a difficult parishioner’s visit by Ann Mary and Henry, the former seeking absolution from having to conceive, the husband truculent, crudely speaking of the Church’s doctrine. Before the audience, the reader becomes familiar with Father Capwell’s own youth, being one of eight children, his discomfort with slang terms for sexual organs, his rather hazy grasp of Church doctrine, his love of a potato patch in the sandy soil besides the rectory.

The reader meets Father Capwell’s checkers match with a bed-bound parishioner who invariably beats him, his on-going truce with his housekeeper over chipped bowls and a scarcely varying menu “Campbell soup (he sometimes got to pick one of two varieties), the meatloaf or roast tormented in her oven into grey slabs so hard on his gums, and Byrd’s Custard, sweet gruel. He could not force himself to be grateful.” He is, by the way, short and quite rotund.

Next comes a school morning scramble in the Kenny Household, mush, milk, hair brushing, father bellowing about the whereabouts of his slide rule…. “in any case, we began each day in an uproar.”

We next meet Teresa, the narrator, seated at her desk in the parochial school room of St. Cryil’s, which is adorned with various religious depictions of Saints. Teresa describes the two nuns who have the classroom power over her and her classmates and lists Mathematical Catholicism, an astonishing, comprehensive list of saints, practices and Roman Catholic beliefs.

As her mother also tries to master the calculations for the rhythm method, the reader is drawn into psyche of this beleaguered Irish-American woman desperately trying to survive Catholic doctrine regarding birth control, her desire to be a good Catholic and to avoid continual child bearing in the bleak Sunset rental home the five family member occupies. She crumples all too easily in the collective situation of the church parish social gatherings. There is a chapter devoted to the Mental Bulletin Board of Ann-Mary Moody Kenny, in reality her heart. Her author Murphy constructs with telling acuity the mixture of daily maternal admonitions, religious strictures, daily duties and minor pleasures and the accumulations of an individual life.

Nancy Tafaro Murphy possesses not only an intimate knowledge of Roman Catholic parochial training, the fallacies of limited parishioner exposure along with doctrinal demands, but an eye and an ear for familial dailiness, the uneven rhythms of affection, and the wear and tear of domestic existence in early post-war San Francisco. The portrait she conveys fascinates for its keenness and the acuity in language choices which propel the reader into Irish-American tempest in San Francisco’s Sunset.

In the interest of full disclosure, Nancy Tefaro Murphy shared parts of this novel with members of a writing group at The Mechanics Institute Library in San Francisco, portions firing my interest, impatient to read the completed novel.

Ann-Mary, Contraception and The Pope of Rome is not kind to the Roman Catholic hierarchy; I am willing to wager it would find in Francis I a compassionate reader. It is an extraordinarily rich portrait of the struggles of the fated faithful. I recommend it for its skillful language and penetrating insights in the dilemma faced between faith and human life.

In the vernacular, it’s a great read.