Archive | October, 2017

Stanford Live presents Akram Khan

30 Oct

Akram Khan was the feature of an opening meeting at Stanford University Monday October 16, but the audience had to wait until October 27 to witness his 60 minute program at Stanford Memorial Auditorium. Well worth the wait, though the ink of the program notes was so faint that even under glaring light and enhanced lenses, one labored to read the information. For visitors unfamiliar with the Stanford campus, signage and lighting weren’t helpful either. The Farm, as it has been frequently labeled, can be blase to strangers.

Those negatives stated, Until The Lions is a work of enormous power rendered by a gathering of splendid artists, practically all frequently European based, Asian by birth, training and practice. I simply cannot envision a production of such simplicity, mystery and intensity coming out of the North American continent. Added to the artistic core, the supporting and presenting list are both heavy-duty, virtually world-wide and clearly worth every form of the coin expended on the production.

The Stanford campus also lends itself to such an event with the presence of trees, bushes, patios and space, to say nothing of the presence of a number of students and personnel from South and Southeast Asia. The semi-vaulted architecture of the Memorial Auditorium, with its Mughal-like emphasis of height, possesses chiseled lists of Stanford students dying in World War II and the Korean Conflict. Their names are prominent near the ground floor entrance to the auditorium, reminding one of the anomaly of history lurking around potential performance pleasure. And the women ushers, many who could be mothers, neighbors and colleagues, gave you programs, guiding you to the correct door with matter-of-fact courtesy.

The audience, seated in twilight intensity, also could observe the stage, with out curtains, its halo of spot lighting descending over a circle-like space seen the nearly level auditorium location, chosen to illustrate this ancient epic of what goes around, comes around.

Three artists of enormous emotional and technical range, Rianto from Indonesia, Ching-Ying Chien of Taiwan and Joy Alpuerto Ritter, an American trained at the Palucca Schule in Dresden, honed in on the complicated story of Amba, one of a trio of princesses, her pride, rejection by her choice of husband and rejection by the man who had humiliated him. [I had to refer to a synopsis of the plot to understand the attenuated nature of Amba’s revenge, which, in turn determined the intense quality of the work.]

The physical ability of the artists was unadulterated, awesome; bends, sustained leg lifts sometimes combined with a forward or backward reach of the torso, ceasing just this side of contortion. With drumming near constant and eerie technical sounds which I neither identified as to type nor classified as music, the spotlights bore down in various configurations appropriate to the intensity of situation conveyed by the artists. The artists swoshed into violent movement or paused, drawing on the breath, sustaining a position to the dismay of another character, principally Rianto as Bhimsa and Ching-Ying Chien as Amba. Ritter brings on a mud-hued oval and sticks it upon a stake at the outer edge of down stage right, a focus of attraction and retreat until the end when it is borne to the upper circle and,turned towards the audience, revealed to be a skull. Ritter was the seeress, the medium, still, contained, the shadow present, unknown harbinger of the future.

Chien moved through various emotional stages – pride, rejection as she lay on the floor legs spread to receive the warmth and essence of a man but robbed of fulfillment, the experience – then on to the rage accompanying rejection and determining vengeance, slowly, deliberately brought Bhimsa (Rianto) to his fate. All this was achieved with elongated patterns of sound, movement of hands and torso towards an end clearly obvious, but conveyed with attenuated cacophonous tension unbearably strong, an inner, cyclic justice beyond words. As members of the musical ensemble came forth with slender poles, one’s emotions supplied the necessary flames for the funeral pyre.

Until the Lions,, Khan’s sixty minute condensation of feminine vengeance, is a theatrical master work.


Larry Burgoon, 1938-2017

23 Oct

Larry Burgoon, though born in Oklahoma, spent some of his formative as well as last years in Texas. After being valedictorian for his high school in 1956, Larry majored in Fine Arts at the University of Texas, graduating in 1960 with high honors from that discipline, and, apparently, the only one to do so.

While the obituary notices said little about his early training or when he arrived in California and only that he has a life-long passion for dance, he considered Jean Marinocco and Michael Brigante two strong influences. No dates were given regarding his arrival in San Francisco, but I have a strong memory of him teaching at San Francisco Dance Theatre, when the studio occupied the floor above an annex of the Postal Office on Van Ness under the auspices of Penelope Laigos and Kelly Johnson. He choreographed for their company and danced for
them and a variety of Bay Area ensembles, a practice common then as well as today. Larry belongs solidly among the contributors to the burgeoning dance world in the Bay Area during the ’60’s and ’70’s, a yeasty, if somewhat little recorded and regarded period in Bay Area dance history.

A physically small dancer, he probably would have been pigeon-holed as demicharactere in traditional ballet hierarchy, but there was nothing “demi” about his training or his deportment. Larry taught widely, both for summer intensives as well as for academic organizations probably during his SFDT sojourn as well as following. There was not much follow up after that organization ceased, and it was a surprise to learn that he had returned to Texas where he died September 20, 2017, just days following his 79th birthday.

Margie’s Forty-Third at The Atrium

21 Oct

The Atrium at San Francisco’s Veterans Building was encircled for many years by the paintings, sculptures and drawings of the San Francisco Museum of Modern
Art (SFMOMA), with its fortunes presided over by its initial director, Grace McCann Morley.

When SFMOMA moved to its modern housing on Third Street, the space quickly became the residence of the San Francisco Law Library, coinciding with the renovation of San Francisco’s City Hall. At its fringes was the San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum (SFPALM) until the title was changed to the Museum of Performance and Design (MPD). These name changes were swiftly followed by the long-scheduled retrofitting of the Veterans Building which brought some welcome changes for artists appearing at the Herbst Auditorium. But it also brought a major overhaul to the fourth floor and the Atrium itself, which acquired the name of Diane B. Wilsey Center.

Modern dance lovers were accorded was possibly their first major view of the
fourth floor and its reconfiguration through Margaret Jenkins Dance Company’s
43rd season October 11-14, the audience itself on October 13 quite a statement on the current and aging hip dance audience. In the Education Studio, reigning over the proceedings was, of course, Margaret Jenkins, honey-colored hair half way down her ramrod straight back, sculptured silver necklace resting on her chest. After mentioning that it was difficult to speak to everyone in the round, she met the challenge with thoughtfully paced statements about the decision to create a work which could be viewed in a living room, performed anywhere and came out of a series of discussions of her and the dancers’ formative family experiences. The result was some thirty-six performances as I remember including six in Sweden, where Margie had taught fresh from training with Merce Cunningham. Reading about various Bay Area venues in preceding months,it was an ingenious way to keep the ensemble together and working.

It was this work consuming the first thirty minutes of the evening, followed by a wine offering of some fifteen and then a forty-five minute stint in the new
auditorium, Unlike the photographic images, and obscured by the audience members in front of me, were plastic objects in red, a chair, a table, a standing lamp and I think some round balls. One of the dancers at the diagonally opposite corner remained immobile for some time; in profile she struck me that her facial features could have placed her in a floral hat, dipped to one side, back bone straight, sitting in a de rigeur ‘Thirties afternoon women’s social gathering. The small, slender and exquisite Chinchin Hsu seemed to spend most of her time rearranging the red set objects, sometimes deliberately, sometimes in a rush. Brendan Barthel, Corey Brady, one time ODC member, and Kelly Del Rosario alternately regarded space, found themselves in physical contact, wrestling. If this piece from “Site Series, Inside, Outside” evolved from personal remembrances, domestic tensions and joint compulsions were clear.

After the voluble break, the audience flowed into the entrance to the Taube Atrium Theatre to enjoy wine, apparently courtesy of Trader Joe’s on Hyde and California, before moving into the part of the old atrium which has been partitioned off for performance. I believe that the Jenkins company is the first dance ensemble to employ its use for the premiere of “Skies Calling, Skies Falling.”

The theater looks as if it has collapsible risers; the seats are spanking new, off white in design, square like with decided arm rests. The configuration allows for a central aisle. Carlos Carvajal and I sat at stage level in seats reserved for the handicapped; I think our perspective suffered as a result.

“Skies Calling/Skies Falling” again relied on a text by Michael Palmer who referenced Crow and Shadow Crow, in a manner evoking American Indian tradition. It was abetted by drone photography which commenced the dance, displaying white-costumed dancers in formation against a barren,desolate landscape, and, when displayed as if at eye level, looked like some impenetrable set of hills and canyons. Later I was told the setting was San Francisco’s Dogpatch, along Illinois!

Against this the seven dancers appeared in white, skirts swirled, reluctantly showing red underneath as did high necks with open upper backs and zippers, creating stark, yet oddly prim statements. Chinchin Hsu provided a fascinating solo; the three men moved singly, together and in trio form with a fair amount of grappling with Kristin Bell and Margaret Cromwell making striking horizontal movements across the stage space. The men also had their solitary moments, but like most Jenkins works a passage of tussle and physical closeness.The sense of coping in a harsh environment, singly, together, as an ensemble provided the principal impression against Michael Palmer’s text about Crow regarding Shadow Crow and knowing he too would become Shadow Crow. Solitude and ensemble absorption which the audience was allowed to view dominated, conceding little to emotions, but much to observance. It was what it was, and, admittedly, delivered with power and grace. One easily sees why Jenkins is so vocal in her praise of her “collaborators.”

Costumes and visual designs for both productions were designed by Mary Domenico; music by Thomas Carnacki ; lighting by David Robertson and the visuals for “Skies Calling, Skies Falling” were David and Hi-Jin Hodge.

Sally’s Three Base Hit

9 Oct

Jasperson, Sally Bailey, After The Applause Stops
X-Libris, 2017, 43 pp. Pbk, $19.95, Kindle $3.99
ISBN 978-1-5434-4774-3;
ISBN E-Book 978-1-5434-4773-6

This is Sally Bailey Jasperson’s third publication on dance. The first came out under the imprimatur of Selma Jeanne Cohen’s Dance Perspectives quarterly and comprised Sally’s editing of Letters from the Maestro: Enrico Cecchetti to Gisella Caccialanza. Caccialanza was an early member of the George Balanchine-Lincoln Kirstein organizations, American Ballet and Dance Caravan. Those original letters now reside in the Jerome Robbins Division of the New York Public Library.

The second was Sally’s memoir of her two decades with San Francisco Ballet, most as a principal dancer, and under the title Striving for Beauty, self-published through Xlibris, as is this third, After the Applause Stops: Who are You When You No Longer Do What You’ve Been Doing for Years? In my opinion, it’s a three-base hit, though photos are absent.

Following her departure from the company, Sally also wrote an article for one of the early manifestations of San Francisco magazine concerning the economics of San Francisco Ballet.

To accomplish this 43-page essay on post performing, Sally posed nine questions first to herself and then to dancers who had been principals with San Francisco Ballet: four women, two men replied to her queries. They were, alphabetically,
though not in the same sequence in the book: Tina Le Blanc; Anton Ness; Gina Ness; Anita Paciotti; Pierre-Francois Vilanoba; Katita Waldo.

Three of the dancers continue to be affiliated with San Francisco Ballet, two as ballet mistresses, Anita Paciotti and Katita Waldo, one as a teacher, Tina Le Blanc. Two, Gina Ness and Pierre-Francois Vilanoba,have taught outside of the company, and one, Anton Ness, operates a business unaffiliated with ballet. All six experienced some level of training outside San Francisco Ballet as well as performing elsewhere, three in local ensembles before going through the school. Le Blanc came from a soloist position with the Joffrey Ballet and Vilanoba was dancing soloist roles with the Paris Opera before he took the plunge to immigrate to San Francisco and its ballet company. Anita Paciotti is the only dancer, active in the company when Helgi Tomasson took over the helm as artistic director, Anton having left in 1980 and Gina in 1985, while Katita entered the company in 1988. Paciotti and Waldo, now ballet mistresses, danced with the company 18 and 22 years respectively.

As a dance writer, all six are familiar to me as performers, particularly those dancing while I was San Francisco correspondent for Dance News, 1962-1983. then for Hokubei Mainichi and Asian Week, before my 11-year stint with While the relationship has become more attenuated, two or three subsequent to their retirement have shared substantive conversations with me. Their intelligence, humanity and capacity for realistic appraisal shine through their reflections. Sally Bailey set out to explore whether dancers become people after performing and all six come through

I wish more people were familiar with Sally’s memoir, Striving for Beauty. Like an exhibit of the Museum of Performance and Design when it was still situated on the upper floor of the Veterans’ Building in Civic Center, the period when Sally was dancing was not well reflected. She relates with zest the growth of the company and its increased number of performances. I’m afraid the result of the company’s slow emergence as a major national and international dance company is to blame for its not being so well known in contrast to memoirs written by New York-affiliated dancers.

Sally’s tenure was a yeasty, if frugal, time both in and out of San Francisco Ballet, a period when a dance lover writing 1000 words a month, ten times a year for $10 a column for Dance News could cover it all, at least to the end of the 60’s. The great divide was not only the Ford Foundation grants for scholarships to four schools enabling training to dancers who might otherwise never have enjoyed a professional career. It was also the enabling act for the National Endowments of the Arts and Humanities of 1965, which provided residencies for teachers and ensembles under its initial executive director, Roger Stevens.

World Ballet Day is a quantum leap in generating interest in ballet. Perhaps in the years to come additional historical figures will be reflected in the segments, and reinforce Sally’s quest in After the Applause Stops.

The 2017 Fall Smuin Matinee at the Palace of Fine Arts

4 Oct

Smuin’s Fall San Francisco season invariably happens at The Palace of Fine Arts and on October 1 attracted seniors and families in almost equal measure to see a program of three works, two by guest choreographers and a 2004 piece by Smuin to the music of Frank Sinatra. The execution level was high if choreographically one of the selections was questionable. Everything was performed to tape.

As I watched the dancing progress one couldn’t help but glimpse the thought process behind the choreography, classically based, and what it reflects of the maker’s exposure, taste and take on contemporary life. This seems particularly true of Garrett Ammon, choreographer/artistic director of Wonderbound, whose Serenade utilized the Pyotr Ilycih Tchaikovsky music George Balanchine chose for his first choreography in the United States, Serenade.

For one thing Ammon used the sequence as created by Tchaikovsky, while Mr. B. inserted the finale mid-way through his setting for the students of the School of American Ballet. Mr. B emphasized the women, where Ammon made his essay very heterosexual. It should be noted that male dancers in 1934 were in short supply and technically not very strong, beyond Mr. B’s fondness for creating for women.

For a second, the women had extremely bouffant skirts where Mr. B had filmy, floating blue over leotards and tights. The contrast between flirty and nearly total feminine rites and hesitations was hugely emphatic. Ammon’s take, while executed with skill, placed hesitation and gentleness somewhere back stage.

Choreographically, one’s eye waited to see what Ammon would do with all those pregnant signals of pause, tension, mood and evocation. Ammon delivered but with swiftness of gesture, and where Mr. B bobbed forward and backward, Ammon employed hops, face forward, torsos leaning towards the audience. And, of course, male and female were hopping side by side – almost “Let’s Go To The Hop.” And so it went, and particularly in the sequence where Balanchine created the famous trio, the movement grated, not only with the memory, but with the music itself – sustained grand jetes at an ankle showing the woman’s crotch made me squirm and wonder why I should be subjected to weekend sexual high jinks lacking in intimacy. Having grown up in a rural setting with its share of cow country mores, I remember a certain awkwardness and restraint, but none here, thank you.

Ammon’s background indicates exposure to new strands of choreography, including Trey McIntyre’s exhaustive knowledge of life’s frequent awkwardness. McIntyre’s treatment possesses a spareness in gesture, movement and intent. Ammon’s viewpoint seems more of the shotgun variety.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Requiem for a Rose leaned on Franz Schubert, with costumes, primarily voluminous scarlet skirts, loaned by Pennsylvania Ballet where it was premiered in 2009. Almer Kok provided the initial and closing sounds which revealed Erica Felsch in skin-toned leotard, rose in her teeth, moving arts, bending torso with abundant blonde hair tossed as exclamation point to the gestures and shift in the body. Apart from her initial presence, midway through and almost at the end, the tone was classical, augmented by the weighted swirl of the scarlet skirts on both men and women. Ochoa incorporates the contemporary and the classical, and while Erica Felsch was limited to elegant walking, beginning, middle and end, with use of port de bras and extensions, the ensemble swirled around her, their scarlet skirts like the petals they symbolized. I’d like to see it again.

Smuin’s 2004 Fly Me to the Moon seemed to have lost a couple of its nine numbers set to songs rendered by Frank Sinatra with timing and phrases bringing out the Smuin skill in matching song with gesture. Without a doubt Michael deserved the Cobbett Steinberg evaluation “he is popular taste,” and clearly not only skilled at it, but beloved because of it.

William McDermott, 1916-2017

3 Oct

In sorting papers, culling the many unnecessary souvenirs, I have been recording those special to my involvement in the various manifestations of The Ballets Russes and the individuals making its entire history so memorable and exciting. One of the special items is the unpublished memoir of William McDermott, who served as conductor for Colonel de Basil during The Original Ballets Russes treks through Latin America. McDermott graciously allowed me to use parts of it in the draft of Tatiana Stepanova’s memoir, also still unpublished.

Knowing he was in his senior years, I thought to look for an obituary. After two or three attempts via Wikipedia, I found his obituary in a notice from Naples, Florida where he resided in retirement. He died June 26, 2017. With a birthdate of August 20, 1916, that meant he lived to be a centenarian.

Unfortunately, there was nothing more to mark a remarkable career which included the conducting of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Tokyo and arrangements of classical ballet music, particularly the pas de deux from the major 19th century ballets. His arrangement of third act pas de deux from Don Quixote, played by the Cincinnati Symphony was recently heard over a New York City radio station.

It’s a real pity there is such little information about a man “who saw it all.”