Archive | October, 2018

The Dystopian Dream at Stanford, October 5

23 Oct

Dystopian: as Adjective: Relating to or denoting an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.

Thanks to Rita Felciano and her reliable Prius, I was able to attend this remarkable theatrical comment at Stanford University’s Memorial Auditorium, after we wending our way through the early evening rural territory of Stanford, now dotted with frequent signage posts and stands with blue lights illuminating walk ways and road junctures. A cheery, can-do woman from New Jersey with a Montana license plate on her large pick-up like van, led us to a nearby parking lot with the aid of her GPS. We arrived in the nick of time, being given the press passes at a table situated at the base of the Auditorium steps and shooed in by the ticket taker at the door, just as the volunteers were closing the deep red auditorium doors to the orchestra seats.

Dystopian Dream came to Stanford Live as an aesthetic undertaking with four other venue sponsorships: Sadler’s Wells Productions; Les Theatres de la Ville de Luxembourg, Theatre de la Ville, Paris, Theatre de l’Archipel, Scene Nationale de Perpignan (I surmise the latter is in Montpelier, France). In reflection, this quintet also permitted collaborators from a wide range of cultural backgrounds.

Dystopian Dream
is a production sporting a trio of performers, the production itself determining what the trio accomplishes. Add to it, Honji Wang and Sebastian Ramirez are not only two thirds of the trio, but also as Wang Ramirez responsible for the movement, of, if you will, the choreography.

Eva Stone, a tall, striking blonde, provides the third performer and the song, such as it is, in the Dream. Nitin Sawhney is responsible for the verbal aspect of the dream, initially commenced with the impact of his father’s death which evolved into his composition of a 15-section track list. The supporting collaboraters include Faroog Chaudhury, Creative Consultant; Hussein Chalayan, Costume Designer; Natasha Chivers, Lighting Design, Nick Hillel, Video Designer; Jason Oerrle, Aerial Consultant; David McEwan, Sound Designer; Shizuka Hariu, Set Designer and the Rehearsal Assistant, Winston Pyke.

It’s not too often that program notes are needed for me to decipher a dance performance, but afterwards I really needed to skim their guidance and to learn more about the trio of performers inhabiting a genuinely elaborate, if sparse quality, stage setting. With perhaps the local example of Ink Boat and classic ballets, elaborate productions are not that common locally with perhaps the recent examples of Arthur Pita for San Francisco Ballet.

Visually this Dream enjoyed a spectacular set, a tall off-white background which curved upward, dominating the central stage with a two-stage set of stairs to stage left coming from back to front with a resting place atop the curving background. Downstage right was a table, and two chairs which later became three.

As the lights emerged, Stone, sitting in profile in a filmy Ophelia-like white gown was singing She also sat on the floor, wringing a rag from a utilitarian pail. Across the upper part of the curved background walked Ramirez, garbed in black wearing a hood evocative of Seville’s Holy Week processions. He also made his initial entrance with the aid of aerial pulleys.

The juxtaposition of the two immediately conveyed the sense of the stalker surveying its prey, calculating distance, time, approach. Not even surveying her surroundings, one felt Stone’s fragility, vulnerability, alerting one’s wariness as an onlooker. The black figure sauntered across the top edge of the background, a measured stop and go progress; if I remember correctly, chose to slide down the set rather than negotiate the steps, although he did that also at one point. Stone ascended the steps, more or less lying across the section where the top steps pause before the final set to stage level.

About this moment Honji Wang appeared, her small, tidy body moving both efficiently and with compelling grace, costumed in a skirt with flounced, she bore a small golden oblong which she tucked under the upper stair steps where Stone seemed to have collapsed in despondency.

Throughout the entire performance, the backdrop and the multiple-stepped stairs provided uneasy fascination and commentary; life encapsulated by surroundings, with domesiticity, small and immediate.

The middle of the work provided with the trio seated at the table, sparring, Wang interfering, seeming sometimes to protect and at others contending with Stone. Towards the end, Ramirez had lost his black jacket, dancing in white shirt and trousers, moving around and against Wang, who never made an uninteresting or ungraceful impulse, let alone movement.

Here the work seemed prolonged, but intensely human. Until, with some maneuvers Stone lay on something of a bier, Wang had retrieved that small gold box from its niche, and it was placed on Stone’s prone figure as it was lifted up into the flies out of sight as the curtain descended.

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Lines at Thirty-Five, Yerba Buena Center, October 11

23 Oct

As I begin to comment, Marius Petipa’s longevity at the Maryinsky Theatre floated across my capacity registering comparison. Petipa was in charge thirty-three years, like Helgi Tomasson. Alonso King, however, on his own with like minded souls, is celebrating thirty-five. That’s quite an achievement.

Beyond choreography, King’s shining capacities lie with the training and execution of highly articulate dance artists and the assembling and retention of extraordinary support personnel. For the latter, witness Muriel Maffre who joined the Lines ensemble as executive director this past year. Gracing the stage, pre-performance, her accented detail of Lines’ accomplishments provided a gentle invitation to support its on-going schedule. She indicated Lines with the Kronos Quartet have both served as cultural ambassadors for San Francisco.

The performance excitement for me emerged with King’s use of Handel’s organ concertos, and Robert Rossenwasser’s free take on those elegant jackets men wore during the composer’s lifetime; over trunks, they made a statement of exuberant, if well-disciplined, masculinity. Shuaib Elhassan exemplified this with his spectacular phrasing where a pause provided nothing less than momentary majesty; it was a wonderful example of what King’s vision brings to dance and the music.

For the women, the suggestion of standard classical tutus was surprising. In the instance of Yun Jun Kim, partnered in slightly classical phrases by Michael Montgomery, the brief passage of conventional protocol for supported pirouettes made me wish to see Kim in one of Petipa’s noted pas de deux. She would be spectacular.

I felt the women more recently arrived smaller, fleet, delicate, almost bird-like. It will be fascinating to see what King creates with them; here they were part of the wonderful revival.

Arriving in 1010 and 1011, Kim and Montgomery are now Lines’ oldest dancers; six joined during 2013 and 2014; the remaining four arrived in the ranks in 2016 and this year. I have yet to decide if and how longevity makes its imprint on King’s creativity. But I do remember an administrator disclosing that over a dozen dancers in an ensemble escalates sustaining operating costs enormously.

I wish I had been enthralled with King’s collaboration with the Kronos Quartet’s four-part presentation, but the music, eerie and extra terrestial in impression, evolved along a continuum so dream-like and minimal, made my interest wane. It also was echoed by the setting and Rossenwasser’s white or off-white costuming. The audience clearly did not share my reaction; the capacity crowd made a nearly total standing ovation at the curtain. I suspect, had the Kronos-Lines collaboration come first, with the Handel revival after intermission, my response might have joined the audience in its enthusiasm.

Monday Night at the Marsh with Butler and a Diva, October 15

23 Oct

The Marsh is located at 1062 Valencia between 21st and 22nd Streets in San Francisco, an area possessing strong streaks of slightly shabby neighborliness. Carlos Carvajal and I passed women sitting on the steps in front of flats and what looked to be recent cafes or bistros, one of which offers Latin-American food quite unknown to me.

We were not the first in line; there were at least two before us at the sign announcing that doors opened at 7:10 and sliding scale entrance fees. The two women ahead of us had known Rita Agnese for easily a decade, one carrying a bouquet of flowers looking like they had been cut from a devoted gardener’s bounty. They soon were joined by several others, and it looked like Rita would have a bounty of flowers to put in water at evening’s end.

Tony Ness, a student of Merriem Lanova and one-time San Francisco Ballet dancer, arrived to support an alumna of a once-important ballet training center in San Francisco. Tony also wrote the definitive account of S.O.B., Save Our Ballet, the historic and amazing tale of how the dancers saved San Francisco Ballet from extinction in 1973.

The Marsh has been in existence on Valencia for some thirty-six years, and the web site states it was acquired in 1992, and is owned and operates its 103 seated theatre cum snack bar for all of that time. It also hosts classes in acting for adults and youth, clearly a kind of neighborhood arts clearance center. On Monday nights, it is open for acts and the four acts planned for October 15 turned out to be two, both intimate and extremely human.

Butler is the name of a dog living next door to a Cloverdale house purchased by a couple in a so-so location, but decent for running. Butler is a hound who loves to run but irritates the be-jesus out of David Kleinberg. Kleinberg conveyed to us the husband whose wife notices all the warning signs in a building requiring definite care; the neighbor whose dog Butler insists on cavorting circles around the weekend runner, the conversations between neighbor and runner. Finally, runner remembers the eyes of the hound his father returned to the shelter when he was a boy. All the episodes were conveyed vocally in the same way an Indian dancer might tell the tale with gesture, or abhinaya as it is known on the sub-continent. Kleinberg allowed his voice to carry the content; he did so skillfully and with a well-paced style, deciding not to play it with full face or body expression. He said to an admirer post performance he hoped to expand it further; at that time he might feel comfortable with greater physical involvement.

Physical involvement was no problem with the Dancing Diva that’s for sure. Rita Agnese’s garment was black net, tiers of it, strategically open to display elegant legs encased in black pumps. Her head covering, also black, shaped in a square, tilted provocatively toward her left ear, accented in the middle with a neat display of rhinestones leading an observer to register a cascade of equal glitter around Agnese’s neck above the V of her black jacket.

My personal memory of Rita was with San Francisco Ballet or some ancillary performance where she wore an ink blue tutu,a floppy head-dress, moving gracefully;I felt her quite distinctive.

Well, Rita came claiming Diva-hood and her recitation confirmed it. Agnese built her case with shoulder shrugs, a step forward or side ward, depending on the content of her commentary and gestures, lots of them.

That commentary was well structured, sprinkled with show-biz savvy references and a whirl-wind set of comments regarding the birth of the Ballets Russes traditions. Ed Sullivan murdered her Italian name as Agnes; she inhabited stages in Las Vegas for eight years with Francois Szony, experiencing dining table occupancy with the likes of Martin, Sinatra, etc. The Web credits her as a Broadway dancer in a 1965 Guys and Dolls revival at New York City’s Center Theatre on 55th Street and in the original Broadway dance ensemble for
On A Clear Day You can See Forever the following October. She must have been fresh out of Lowell and San Francisco Ballet’s corps de ballet, not yet 20.

The manner in which she built to the core of her number was extremely clever – the dance history – Diaghilev and his streak of silver hair, the painters Picasso, Matisse and Chagall, dancers Pavlova and Nijinsky, all helped to build the bone fides of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo whose ranks supplied her formative teacher, Merriem Lanova. Rita made a point of emphasizing the first syllable of her teacher’s name – LANova, as one should pronounce PAVlova, in best Russian style.

So La Agnese, with gestures and eloquent eyes, recounted her experience of accompanying Lanova to the San Francisco Opera House when the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo was there on tour. She gave us the whole bit – huge metal doors, stairway, dressing room door, women in various stages of dress and undress, makeup and preparation for some one or another role, their greeting of Merriem. Plus La Rita’s own reaction – HOOKED!

Well rendered, a tad too short with too few bits and pieces about experiences. But let us hope it is the first of periodic appearances on Monday nights at The Marsh. Brava, Rita.

And to the Marsh, thanks for being there, providing what you do to performers.

Sasha Waltz and Guests: Korper at Cal Performances, October 20

22 Oct

Zellerbach Hall is now fronted by strips of cement slightly uneven and others which glitter. Beats me why this was chosen, but the surface suggests safety when it rains. The Will Call line was lengthy and the Box Office was flanked by nearly a dozen theatrical seekers, so I knew Rita Felcianno would be able to make Sasha Waltz’ Korper curtain in enough time after the frustrations of negotiating the San Francisco traffic approaches to the Bay Bridge.

She made it before the lights went down on the near-capacity audience; she missed the preliminary action of two small, tidy, full-suited figures, male and female, negotiating the angled wall they inched along, trading places, only to be yanked away from the mysterious edge leading backward into shadows. They also rolled on the floor and once or twice flopped forward from the barricade; the woman at least tried to negotiate at what looked like a mail box slot, but permitted a bare, exceedingly Caucasian leg to wiggle out of its enclosure, waft around as if testing the air and then withdraw fairly rapidly. One almost would never know the physical experiment ever happened. They immediately created the ambiance of not venturing too far, occasionally disagreeing strenuously, but clearly bound together, not only holding hands, but also with mutual caution.

For nearly ninety non-stop minutes Waltz’s thirteen dancers performed an amazing range of images; contradictory, extremely tidy in execution, coherent within their own brief concept, and haunting in the overall implication – what has the human world come to? The pre-performance activity clearly set the commentary for what followed.

Besides the baker’s dozen dancers, Hans Peter Kuhn supplied the sporadic blobs of sound credited as music, emitted from various parts of Zellerbach Auditorium. The staging had been created by Thomas Schenk, Heike Schoppelius and Sasha Waltz with credits for the eerie lighting by Valentin Galli and Martin Hank. The huge vertical wall, placed on the diagonal – an arrangement employed in a different configuration on a previous Waltz production seen at Zellerbach – mid-way fell down.

Before it plopped however, the vertical wall revealed a huge rectangular scrim behind which a series of human bodies squirmed, inched, stretched and progressed in a worm like mass, nude except for trunks around the hips. If nothing else occurred in this subtle progression of human truth, that would have been enough. Breughel or Durer with clothing could not have been more telling. It was like Edward Munch’s Scream magnified, clothing removed. As if to amplify the impression, once the struggling bodies disappeared in the lower right hand corner [audience’s left], then crash went the construction, becoming a modestly angled construction highest, again on the audience’s left.

A man with metallic extensions to his arms emerged from stage right, and if my memory is accurate had a futuristic helmet extending to a point at the nose with metal strips from the back of the head moving to his nose; he could pass as the epitome of the Big Metallic Bird Menace, and he moved, more or less, across mid stage before departing.

Speech was included at two different intervals – both with savagely comic effect, motions and identification of body parts opposite to indicative gestures.

While the dancers executed a fair facsimile of milling around, confusion and most everyone for himself, there were distinct passages where, with equal aplomb, they piled up on one another; in one instance along the back edge of the platform in series of two and another, almost spread eagle higher and higher. The analogy to Shoah was undeniable.

I am certain my fellow writers saw and will comment on much more. The fact this production, created in 2000, was funded by a branch of the German Government as a participant in the Year of the German-American Friendship 2018-19 and supported by the German Federal Foreign Office, speaks volumes regarding specifically German awareness of historical culture and non-culture. The awareness is further underscored by the multi-national performers from Spain, Italy, Korea, Canada, France, Australia, Japan, Portugal. Even knowing the economics of sustaining and performing as dancers, what a tribute to human possibilities!

Smuin Contemporary Ballet’s Twenty-Five at the Palace

10 Oct

It’s not the New York mecca for vaudeville, but San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts that supplies Smuin Contemporary Ballet’s fall venue. And it’s quite family-friendly as testified October 6. Artistic Director Celia Fushille hailed the ensemble’s quarter-century milestone, calling attention to the group of former dancers seated half-way up on the left side. They responded with appropriate yells.

This first two ballets were Smuin’s; after intermission it was three by company members, two currently in the company, and the final third was Trey McIntyre’s setting dances sung by Etta James, titled Blue Until June. Everything was danced to recorded music, lighting design or adaptation crdited to Michael Oesch and costume designs credited to Marcos Paredes for Eternal Idol, Susan Roemer for Sinfonietta and Sandra Woodall for Blue Until June.

Smuin’s Schubert Scherzo, choreographed in 2007, the year of his death, features most of the company, the women in blue-tinged tulle, jumping, crossing the stage, the women supported in plunging arabesques and pirouettes, and the men executing ensemble allegro steps. The Smuin ensemble IS an ensemble – they dance together, they are tidy and they aim to please. This particular work is clearly classical in its accent; I felt it was as though Smuin, in a last hurrah, was saying, “But look, my background IS classical.”

To Chopin for ABT originally, Smuin created the The Eternal Idol
pas de deux as a tribute to Rodin, with original lighting design by Sara Linnie Slocum. Erica Felsch and Peter Kurta danced the two lovers who embraced at beginning and finale, and in between executed a languorous pas de deux with occasionally jetes, supported arabesques, attitudes and pirouettes. Included in San Francisco Ballet’s repertoire during Smuin’s co-directorship, in its early performances its sensuality was far more startling that it currently appears.

Of the three company-created works, Sinfonietta, Echo and Merely Players, Ben Needham-Wood’s Echo, danced by Valerie Harmon and Peter Kurta made a memorable impression, with its moving platform, six turning the small platform and flexible Valerie Harmon reaching out only to be deterred by Peter Kurta. I would enjoy seeing it again.

Trey McIntyre is one of the more idiosyncratic choreographers practicing today. Clearly, each choreographer is individual with his/her own impressions, but McIntyre has a particular edge, an insight into contemporary culture, not only by his choice of music, but by his vision of what might or does motivate the young adult in the U.S.of A. Part of his skill can be testified to by what he gave Ben Needham-Wood to dance in “One for my Baby,” which Tharp made so memorable for Mikhail Baryshinkov. A drunk is a drunk, but McIntyre’s portrait of inebriation gave Wood space and pattern all his own. Ending with “At Last,” with Blue Until June McIntyre has given the Smuin Ensemble a work worthy of revival.

It would be so nice to have Smuin employ live musicians occasionally

Marta Lucyshyn/Martha Lucey, R.I.P. 2018

4 Oct

Dennis Mullen, a business professor at City College of San Francisco [CCSF], I informed me of Marta Lucyshyn’s death in late August at Daly City’s Seton Medical Center. To my knowledge, no obituary has been issued and I do not know the cause. She leaves behind her husband George, an adult adopted daughter, Alexandra, and a grandchild, gender undisclosed. At CCSF, I think she was known as Martha Lucey.

Marta was perhaps five feet seven, full figured, blonde of hair and blue of eye, her face the waxing moon shape you might find in Middle Eastern women. She felt hers was a body requiring constant concern about weight;some of our exchanges embraced information about exercise machines, gym locations, dues and the results of periodic weight-watching. Such comments invariably were delivered with singular energy and a whiff of the sardonic.

I wish I knew more than I do about Marta. She was invariably up front about her life, her career, her family. I know she had one brother, older. In her frankness there was firmness and any even slight attempt to question would meet either silence or a repetition of Marta’s final statement.

My friendship with Marta was the result of the Dance Library of Israel [DLI]. Estelle Sommers, Chair of the US Chapter of the DLI, had asked her to get in touch with me to assist organizing a gathering in the area about the DLI. I was not present because of some commitment, but shared addresses with her and was rewarded with some pleasant pictures of Ben talking to Gloria Pass and Nina Lathrop and of Estelle making a presentation to the group meeting taking place somewhere around the Palo Alto area. Marta and I became dues paying members of the Dance Library of Israel’s New York chapter.

It was Marta’s suggestion that led to Ben Sommers of the Capezio organization entrusting me with the completion of his as yet unpublished biography.

At the time, Marta had told me about working as assistant to Genevieve Oswald, the founding curator of the Dance Division of the New York City Public Library, now known as the Jerome Robbins Division. Fairly early, I learned she was a native to Philadelphia, had studied and danced ballet, possessed a union card, but took a degree in Library Science because it was more likely to ensure the food supply and monthly rent. I believe her affiliation with the Dance Division was some eight to ten years; during that time, she met and married her husband George.

Marta was working in public relations for Evergreen Community College in San Jose when I met her. She had moved to San Jose when her husband George joined NASA at the Moffitt Air Field in Mountain View. Hired by Del Anderson, Evergreen’s Chancellor, Marta was known as Martha Lucy. She was involved to some degree with Los Lupenos de San Jose.

When Del Anderson became Chancellor at CCSF, Martha moved with her. She made arrangements for a four-day room rental near San Francisco State University with a friend of mine, spending the weekends in San Jose with her husband.

During Anderson’s Chancellor’s ship, Marta/Martha was named Dean of Marketing and Public Information. She occasionally would consult me about San Francisco history or something which her contacts might not supply. I remember in particular her interest in highlighting graduates of CCSF who achieved some distinction in their adult careers. She also developed contacts resulting in several trips to various parts of China.

Following her mother’s death, Marta bought a condo in a gated community within the Daly City limits. Just over a decade ago, George and Marta decided to adopt a teen-age sister and brother from the Ukraine. Marta made at least two trips to facilitate the arrangements, and I remember one Christmas sister Alexandra and brother Dimitri visited. Alexandra was able to come here on an international student visa; Dimitri’s interview with the U.S. Consulate did not result in a visa.

Marta and I saw each other at least once or twice a year, usually attending a ballet performance, dinner included. E-mails kept our ties alive, and we shared an occasional dinner at the Daly City condo, particularly Alexandra’s first Thanksgiving in the U.S.

Marta’s smile was ready, her laughter full and slightly high and edgy in pitch, and her commentary seemed to hone in on the obvious, the practical, what would work, what wouldn’t and why. Her comments carried authority, probably because she was spare in their utterance and usually terse in the delivery. She used to address me, “My dear sweet lady,” for what reason I haven’t a clue. It amused me and I attributed it to her public relations flair, having no idea how wide spread her use of the phrase.

Marta/Martha, I will miss you, whether sharing dance performances, hearing your assessments, or just seeing you.

A Plea Tossed to the Winds

1 Oct

I know this is far-fetched and unlikely, but as someone interested in lineage and who influenced who, it makes utter sense. You know it means something to see in the bios of any medium who studied with who, came from where, performed with which master, touring and performing in which major city on which continent.

When one reads about royalty, one usually sees charts of forebears, siblings, offspring, and sometimes morganatic connections. You certainly see it in the
18th and early 19th century records of French ballet and in mid to late nineteenth century Russian ballet as well.

But no one, to my knowledge has ever chartered the lineage of Spanish flamenco
artists. You hear about them, you know their importance and their influence.
But no one has ever bothered to chart them. Consequently, only the cogniscenti
or practictioners know the families. I knew about Rosa Montoya and her connections, thanks to serving on her board for a decade. But that’s about it.
Some of the great ladies, Argentina, La Argentinita, Pilar Lopez, Carmen Amaya-
they belong to families even though they did not themselves have children. So
where are their blood lines?

I could make the same observation regarding Indian classical dance forms. We poor white folk, we need educating!