Archive | April, 2018

SFB’s Program C, April 24, 2018

29 Apr

Program C possesed two ballets I want to see again and one disappointment, particularly based on its title. Guernica was preceded by a classical work, Bespoke, by Stanton Welch, the artistic director of Houston Ballet and by Trey McIntyre, one-time affiliate with Houston and former artistic director of his own ensemble, using Idaho for its home base for several years.

With the musical choice of Johann Sebastian Bach, one knew from the get-go that Welch would emphasize the classical idiom, as indeed he did Bespoke allowed us to relax in the comforting familiar with some perfectly splendid dancers. Holly Hynes costumed them primarily in white with orange or green borders to trunks of fitted chemises.

It isn’t as if Bach’s violin concertos had been absent from the balletic stage. But Welch managed to utilize it with considerable charm. Commencing with Angelo Greco, alone on stage in a pool of light presenting the very classical ecole, it was as if he had stepped from the manual by Carlo Blasis. Throughout the ballet, the reaches of the stage were shrouded, so that the solos, the pas de deux, the ensembles all seemed executed as if the space to display classicism had become narrowed, investing the gestures and modest inventions with a certain nostalgia and sweetness. Even the ending phrases seemed to confirm this impression when the dancers, Frances Chung, Sasha de Sola, Isabella De Vivo, Mathilde Froustey, Ellen Rose Hummel and Jennifer Stahl, paired with Alexandre Cagnat, Jaime Garcia Castillo, Carlo Di Lanno, Angelo Graco, Esteban Hernandez and Lonnie Weeks successively sought the floor as if dying with the final phrases of Cordula Merks’ violin.

Trey McIntyre is an idiosyncratic choreographer whose patterns bear an almost indescribable capacity to seem slightly absurd, definitely off beat but ultimately personal. He can convey tenderness and vulnerability with lifts, and hesitation as one dancer hefts another,the legs and feet splayed awkwardly. For his music he relied on Chris Garneau’s album, the lyrics somestimes echoing the emotion, sometimes leading it. The overall effect of Your Flesh Shall be A Great Poem with Benjamin Freemantle in a handsomely executed opening solo, was one of gentle wonder, such that Allan Ulrich said to me in passing, “I wish it had gone on longer.”

Guernica by its very name presents both historical and artistic challenges: Picasso’s painting was created in reaction to the Luftwaffe’s 1937 devastation of the Basque village at the request of Franco. I confess I expected something of Picasso, but also a nod to Basque men and women.

Choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa decided otherwise, with her music a collage of composers Joe Andrews, Michel Banabila, Tom Halstead and Charles Valentin-Alkan.

The only visible reference to Picasso were the horns. The arms, elbows thrust backward at the waist, one foot often thrust forward on pointe provided no hint of that crime against humanity, though one could recognize the stylistic source as flamenco. Mark Zappone’s costumes were minimal, heavy on the black, visible horns on the heads of dancers Dores Andre, Vitor Luiz, Julia Rowe and Myles Thatcher. I guess the glinting vertical pipes hanging down stage center devised by Alexander V. Nichols made reference to the Luftwaffe.

There was a turbulent middle section, mandatory to the name, but I am afraid that this manifestation of Guernica left me unmoved. The most positive aspect of the piece was the warmth with which Dores Andre greeted Ochoa when she emerged to acknowledge the audience applause.

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San Francisco’s Program A, April 20, 2018

24 Apr

It was a warm, friendly Friday, April 20 night audience for the first of the four Unbound programs San Francisco Ballet had commissioned from twelve choreographers, and it started with a choreographer celebrating 35 years of his own company, Alonso King.

King’s contribution,The Collective Agreement, was awaited by many of us curious to see how his attenuated use of classical ballet would translate to the San Francisco dancers. I venture well, though modified. The arm swings, and the hip thrusts were still there and Robert Rosenwasser’s costumes still exhibited their understated minimalist qualities, music by Jason Moran, and image technology by Jim Campbell. James F. Ingals was responsible for the lighting design for Unbound’s entire offering.

The stage was punctuated with three squared sets of lights hanging ominously at the beginning, raised for the better part of the dancing and lowered at the finale. The music by Jason Moran matched the sense of exploration and impersonal coalesence, themes in one form or another King has explored on his own dancers, certainly not musical phrases one would leave the theatre humming. But there were distinct differences the San Francisco Ballet dancers wrought in King’s collaboration with them.

The San Francisco Opera House stage size creams the momentary hesitations and muscular dialogue prominent at Yerba Buena’s theatre. What one saw were those swings and thrusts, and considerable aerial work, plus a space-covering Royal Ballet trained Benjamin Golding. But first, the stage decor featured a hanging with three light squares under which Tiit Helimets emerged down stage left garbed in white trousers and beige tee. He was followed by Sofiane Sylve emerging from the same direction, walking up behind him, initiating physical contact, prompting an intricate pas de deux with King’s penchant for the hip thrusts and arm swings. Sylve both wanted and protested the connection with Helimets who displayed his characteristic stalwart capacities.

In addition to the secondary couple, Jahna Frantziskonis and Joseph Warton, and brief variatons by Lauren Strongin and Koto Ishihara, seven dancers shared movements, two principals, two soloists and three corps members, an interesting take on how King deploys sections of music and degrees of display in addition to eight corps members.

King conceded more ensemble movement to the company than he normally does for his own dancers, less hesitation in the women’s patterns, and a striking example being the use of men; the company also enabled him to incorporate ballet’s vertical vocabulary, a salient comment on collective capacities SFB can easily summon.

Christopher Wheeldon has a lovely trait – the capacity for whimsy. I wouldn’t say it’s exclusive with the English, but they have produced some memorable examples, from mannered dramas to children’s books, some of them illustrated. And what distinguishes them is the capacity to take something culturally ubiquitous and make it a focus.

In Bound To, Wheeldon has honed in on the cell phone with the assistance of composer Keaton Henson, assisted by Jean-Marc Puissant’s structure where projections accent the chapters Wheeldon makes of cellphone usage. After the glittering green and silver dotted screen rose, we witnessed the company moving from downstage left in semi-darkness, engrossed in illuminated cellphones, raising and lowering them in evocative patterns. An obvious prop, it engaged the audience’s attention immediately before Doris Andre and Benjamin Freemantle struggled over his oblivious pre-occupation versus the human engagement; Andre ultimately prevailed, but it was a clever struggle.

Angelo Greco, dancing to Wavelength, had no such distraction, but multiple choreographic challenges earning him a totally justified audience cheer at the end of his solo.

Doris Andre returned again opposite Sasha de Sola with Jennifer Stahl and Isabella DeVivo in longish, diaphonous garments to the strains of Remember When We Used To Talk. Without cell phones, the piece possessed an elegaic quality. One movement mimicked the entrance of the Shades in La Bayadere, though layered in opposite directions. Whether imitated or not, its presence and brevity were memorable.

Four men then danced their comment with Remember When We Used to Play.
Greco and Freemantle were joined by Jaime Garcia Castilla and Lonnie Weeks, a quartet I look forward to seeing in 2019.

The full company executed Speeding Past in the style Jerome Robbins made memorable in Glass Pieces to the music of Philip Glass, before Yuan Yuan Tan was partnered by Carlo Di Lanno in Take A Deep Breath. Expertly executed, of course, there was little evidence that the Breath led to anything. It preceded Lonnie Weeks’ spectacular solo Trying to Breathe, again commenting on the difficulty of communicating in this global cell phone phenomenon. Weeks’ ballon and swift directions boggled the vision, before he is surrounded and succumbs as the curtain falls.

For Justin Beck’s third contribution to San Francisco Ballet’s repertoire the title “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” enlisted four composers and two costume designers, Anthony Gonzales, Yann Gonzales, Bradley Laner and Justin Medal-Johnson, the costume designers being Reid Barteleime and Harriet Jung with Felipe Diaz as the ballet master.

Three pas de deux were executed by principal dancers Dores Andre and Wei Wang [the first Asian male to be named principal, effective July 1]; Sarah Van Patten and Luke Ingham; Ulrik Berkkjaer and corps member Gabriela Gonzales. The first pair provided feats of lifts; the second a certain yearning and wistfulness and the third what I recall as full-speed romp, based on Gonzales’ ever smiling face.

Peck started the group off in seeming aimless, but high energy roaming in street casual clothing before he created ensembles and passages attesting to his adroit capacity not only to move groups, but to fashion entries and exits with equal ease. While I enjoyed the principals engaged, I wanted to see what Peck could do with a theme beyond urban youth on a tear. If I see it in 2019 I just might marvel again on his amazing talent for handling and inspiring his dancers.

While admiring Unbound A I finished the above comments after completing my comments on Unbound B because B touched on relationships and engaged my feelings. I am reminded of an intermission encounter with an 85-year old Argentinian pediatrician who spent his career caring for children in San Francisco’s Mission. While we chatted near one of the orchestra entrances, he said he liked seeing the four women in Wheeldon’s ballet, “Remember When We Used to Talk.” Smiling, he confessed his preference, but made no apologies for his choices, inferring that it reminded him of what he remembered as being human. Though quite stimulated intellectually by Program A, I shared the fellow octogenarian’s emotion-based responses.

SFB’s Program B, April 21, 2018

23 Apr

After the curtain came down on Program B of San Francisco Ballet’s Unbound series, I said to Brooke Byrne, “It must have been something for Helgi Tomasson to watch the twelve ballets and decide which one fit into which program.” I was prompted to make the remark because Program B seemed to emphasize relationships, ranging from Myles Thatcher’s Otherness, onward to the clearly dramatic of Cathy Marston’s adaptation of Ethan Frome, with Snowblind, and finishing with the very Jungian title Anima-Animus of David Dawson.

Thatcher certainly had great collaborators, the composer John Adams and the scenic designer Alexander V. Nicholas, who provided a central structure of metal with two sides for dancers to enter and exit. Sylvia Rood fashioned interesting space-age costumes, cleverly layered for the evolution of Otherness’ message, accented by hoods and round black glasses.

The principals in Otherness, Max Cauthorn in Blue and Sean Orza in Pink, confronted each other warily, jockeying back and forth until Cauthorn removes glasses and hood, inviting the same from Orza, who, cautiously,responds. They also get to the point of unzipping their jackets, revealing white covered chests, I suspect symbolizing the purity of friendship.

Then follows the collective scuffle, Orza attacked by his own tribe and Cauthorn conflicted as well as initially prevented from helping. At last, Cauthorn manages to break through and Orza, in front of his tribe, stock still, watches as Cauthorn climatically, strips down to yellow, obviously here the color of enlightenment. Orza follows, followed by his tribe at the denouement.

I found Cauthorn’s slender stature with Orza’s more beefy build gave interesting premise for Thatcher’s exploration of difference. I felt involved in the struggle with Cauthorn’s initial surprise and hesitation before attempting and able to rescue Orza. In the sci-fi nature of set and costumes, the David-Jonathan bonding seemed novel. Bound by the score, the struggle was too long, making the resolution a tad obvious. For what seems Thatcher’s first venture into social comment, his talent still lies in formations with technical surprises.

There was no such human hesitation in Cathy Marston’s Snowblind, her take on Edith Wharton’s 1911 American novel Ethan Frome, however. Practiced in adapting literature to dance, Marston enjoyed the talents of Ulrich Birkkjaer, Sarah Van Patten and Matilde Froustey as the ill-fated trio. Birkkjaer made Frome the awkward, despairing marginal New England farmer described by Wharton, real, desperate even in his loving of Mattie, the cousin of his ailing wife Zeena, whom Van Patten conveyed with concentrated stillness. Slender Froustey’s dark-haired prettiness provided apt contrast in her willowy vulnerability, her hesitations as keen signals of her torment as the starts and pauses Marston choreographed by Birkkjaer.

The music, a pastiche of Amy Beach, Philippe Feeney, Arthur Foote and Arvo Part, arranged by Phillip Feeney, provided not only the impetus for drama and romance, but the corps used both as the New England community and the snow drifts, heightening the fateful triangle. Patrick Kinmonth’s costumes underscored the ambiance with the sparseness of the setting, a raised platform with bed and chair, at one point an additional seat downstage left.

Marston with her three wonderful principals made me need to read the novel.

David Dawson’s Anima-Animus gave the series not only a sharp classic sensibility with his credits of amazing awards [Prix de Benois among them] but the music of Ezio Bosso and the talents of former dancer, now designer Yumiko Takeshima; she envisioned the Jungian title as black and white, Yin and Yang. With its crisp formations, Dawson’s work seemed fresh from European rehearsal halls. The result was a full-bore, high-energy etched display of classical technique involving principals Maria Kochetkova and Sofiane Sylve, sometimes on stage together, and born aloft, sometimes separately. They were partnered by Carlo Di Lanno, Luke Ingham, Henry Sidford and Wei Wang, with a corps of four women: Kamry Baldwin, Elizabeth Mateer, Elizabeth Powell and Skyal Schreter.
I am anxious to see Anima-Animus again.

Another Hussein Collaboration With Lines Ballet

19 Apr

Perhaps due to Lines Ballet celebrating its thirty-fifth anniversary, Zakir Hussein was invited to provide the music for its spring production at Yerba Buena Theatre April 8-15. Contributing to Sutra, along with fellow Indian musician Sabir Khan, Hussein provided a haunting, ten-part score for background to the movement of Lines’ dozen dancers. Seated upstage right behind a construction resembling a craggy hilltop, the drumming, the haunting sarangi sounds and the human voice spun a memorable eighty minutes for choreography displayed by jaw-dropping dancers’ technique entirely performed on soft ballet slippers.

Preceding the performance, Executive Director Muriel Maffre, tall and elegant in black, thanked the sponsors, donors and the audience for their support. She also reviewed the accomplishments of the Center, its many classes, open and presumably at Dominican University, [21 accompanists for [gasp] 75 teachers listed in the program.] In her beautifully accented English, Maffre also invited donations.

The entire performance seemed danced behind a scrim before a stage structure and lit in twilight gentleness by Scott Bolman and David Finn. The dancers were minimally costumed by Robert Rosenwasser in beige or rusty hues, evocations of dusty stretches of Indian earth. A further support was provided by a program excerpt from Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, where Yogananda explains Indian musical connections with colors, birds and animals, the special realms of day or season to the six basic ragas, and the improvisation possible within the structure of the raga and its fixed musical scale. King clearly was eager to meet the challenge; his collaboration with Hussein has resulted in one of his most memorable works, Who Dressed You As A Stranger. The premise of North Indian music is very enticing.

Unison or group movements have never been King’s strong suit, but Sutra possessed two or three passages where the dozen dancers formed circles. Whether King’s perception or the demands of the Indian theme is unclear, but those circles proved a welcome addition to the highly individualistic choreographic movement King has elevated and comprises a large part of his choreographic signature. The circles, of course, evoked Indian village gatherings; while brief, they gave the traditional members of the audience satisfaction and hopes King will utilize such formations in future works.

Because of this unison pattern, the angularity in the King choreographic vocabulary was strongly high lighted, conveying individual unease in a collective situation. It’s an arresting sensation to see extraordinary control in extensions, or the firm thrust of a grand jete, both in height and speed as exemplified by Babatunji. To see genuine classical form in a dancer like Yujin Kim from the torso downward contrasted with protesting, angular port de bras makes one feel that however unusual the movement demands, core balletic classicism remains.

I very much wish the program had provided a translation of the phrases sung by Hussein and Khan. I realize part of their vocals belonged to the tuning phrases in north Indian raga tradition, but there were recognizable words either from Sanskrit or in Hindi.

Altogether Sutra was a fascinating attempt to meld Indian conceptual tradition with King’s particular style of classical Western ballet, another form of an ethnic heritage not yet five hundred years old.

Robert Moses Draft, Dance Mission, April 15

18 Apr

It was a gently raining afternoon for the 5 p.m., hour long Robert Moses’ Draft at Dance Mission at 24th and Mission; it’s the first I’ve seen of Moses’ skill in some time. Usually, the big season happens at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. This production was marked by experiment, thus lending itsself to the homey qualities of Krissy Kieffer’s establishment.

The ambiance at Dance Mission is familiar , well laced with regulars, giving a cosy feeling which clearly is appreciated by the steadfast of producers of smaller scale dance performances. It certainly was ideal for this final performance of what apparently is relatively new, but nonetheless a standard in the Moses production schedule, for it embraces not only company members but students, six plus nine.

The fifteen participants, dressed casually in tee-shirts, tank tops, and all in trousers or black tights, formed a semi-circle as Moses, head adorned in a backward applied baseball cap, his powerful torso covered in a grey sweatshirt, explained the weekend sessions had addressed various social and political issues over the seasons when it has been produced. He said each night varied and this season elements of the first night would be incorporated in this final session.

To the sound of heavy, constantly repetitive percussion, Moses indicated who would improvise, at what length, followed sometimes by a single dancer, sometimes a pair or whether a third might enter. He might quietly indicate that the dancer should minimize a movement or cover space. Midway through the hour , Moses himself joined the movers, moving easily and with authority, clearly enjoying himself. Two or three sequences included a couple, sometimes confrontational, one in which the woman almost attacked an unresponsive man.

Throughout the hip use was a dominant movement, the legs moving forward and back to sustain the swivel while the arms were engaged overhead in front or in contact with another dancer.

Moses had also referred to the value of these improvisations as information for future work. It will be interesting to check the Moses Kin 2019 season performance  to determine what ideas, contacts and swivels get incorporated.

World Arts West’s Fortieth Ethnic Dance Festival

8 Apr

Scheduled for the weekends July 14-15 and July 21-22, the Fortieth Ethnic Dance Festival is now under new artistic leadership as C.K. Ladzekpo and Carlos Carvajal become Emeritus Artistic Directors after 12 years of distinguished service to the myriad ethnic traditions in the Bay Area.

It is my understanding the trio of artistic directors will serve on a rotating basis; one for one year, to be replaced and then presumably the second after two years, the third after three years and then the cycle hopefully will provide three-year assignments for each director selected.

The current designees are Patrick Makuakane, Artistic Director of Na Lei Hula I K Wekku, Latanya Tigner of Dimensions Dance Theatre and Mahalani Uchiyama, Director-Foundation of Center for International Dance, Berkeley.

Immediately one notices not only a generational change, but the measure of involvement. Ladzekpo and Carvajal were not directly involved in dance production where the three designees have active careers and ensemble affiliation.

Additionally, Carvajal, a native San Franciscan, had a career spanning Chang’s International Dancers. Chang’s was active in the San Francisco dance scene in early post World War II, a time when folk tradition was largely focused on European ethnography. Carvajal’s subsequent career in ballet nad choreography
provided a remarkably broad perspective, matched by Ladzekpo’s equal depth in the African traditions.

From the time the Ethnic Dance Festival was conceived in the office of the City
Administrator 40 years ago, the expansion and interest in dance traditions began to include African, African-American, and Latin-African traditions. Flamenco artists were early participants as were Mexican folkloric groups. Polynesian dance styles were not far behind along with Filipino groups and the Chinese. The early Indian representations were primarily Bharata Natyam and Kathak; only recently did Bollywood, Bhangra, and Kuchipudi figure in groups auditioning for one of the 40 spots once possible over three weekends at the Palace of Fine Arts.

This year’s programming indicates that Western Europe is no longer represented, although the July 6 City Hall Rotunda performance will feature Appalachian style clogging. The July 21-22 performances will be graced by Charya Burt’s Cambodian
dances and two Indian dance styles, Kathak and Kuchipudi back to back.

The auditions for 2019 will help to determine whether future festivals will enjoy representatives of European folklore alongside the vibrant representation of cultures south of the U.S. border, the Pacific and parts of Asia.

2018 USA IBC Competitors

8 Apr

This afternoon I printed out the 119 2018 USA IBC invited competitors. They were among over 300 submissions screened and selected.

It is a formidable job; the two or three screeners sit for hours watching video tapes attesting to the worthiness of the applicant taking that first step on the stage of Thalia Mara Hall in Jackson, Mississippi. And that first step is taken in a familiar classical variation or pas de deux. Those selecting the latter get it over and done with. The former choice requires two such variations.

That’s the first challenge. There is the matter of Round I sessions, eight of them, two daily for four days. Not knowing who is coming with a competing or non-competing partner, that means some fourteen plus in each session. Competing couples, of course, shorten the challenge for the programmers.

When Round I results are posted, there will be a dark day. Round II focuses on contemporary choreography, attesting to the candidate’s expressive and versatile skills. The website lists just two days before the finalists are selected and Round III commences three days of combined classical and contemporary performances.

Edward Villella had attended previous competitions where at least two of which featured questionable pieces, many set to contemporary pop music. So in 2014, as Jury Chair, Edward Villella requested the organizers engage two contemporary choreographers to create works that both juniors and seniors dance in addition to choreography for couples. Admittedly a tad monotonous, it was a world away improvement over the prior kitsch.

This year, however, choreographic choices are again open, the caveat being
their creation had to be no earlier than 2014.

Once Round III commences, the participants will enjoy not only recognition at the Gala, but a stipend from USA IBC set up nearly a decade ago by the family of a Jackson balletomane. Given the costs of travel, costumes, coaching and choreography, the stipend will definitely be welcome.

I need also comment that the Jackson Competition happens in quite a warm climate; rarely, if ever, does it also miss a thunderous cloudburst, with the quality of water almost like plunging into the old swimming hole.

For the Gala, not only will the medalists appear, but Round I eminated competitors usually participate in a piece created for the Gala’s opening, working with a teacher/choreographer who gathers them together to convey a fanfare opening. Like the medalists, these dancers appear at the Encore the following evening, performing for the audience who didn’t obtain Gala tickets. This performance omits the award bestowal and flame lowering ceremony.

For those of us who have attended these dance marathons every four years, we participate in a special cocoon of dance focus, which I am sure is replicated in the other competitions sanctioned by UNESCO’s ITI and CID. For me there also has been the intriguing record of seeing competitors show up in the roster of San Francisco Ballet’s dancers, not always right away, but sometimes in a year or two, surprisingly, in soloist or principal dancer status. This, however, is the subject for a different blog