Archive | March, 2019

SFB’s Program Five, March 27

29 Mar

Not only did San Francisco Ballet provide two repeats of Unbound’s premieres, we also enjoyed Yuri Possokhov’s yearly contribution to the company’s repertoire in ‘….two united in a single soul..” with an adaption of George Frederick Handel’s music by Daria Nova, much of it sung by countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen.

". . . two united in a single soul . . ."

Joseph Walsh in Possokhov’s “. . . two united in a single soul . . .” (© Erik Tomasson)

My take on the program, received warmly by the audience, was that it was a company performance. This was not just contemporary choreography, but it presented the dancers as themselves; the classics essentially are productions into which talents are fitted,the roles placing status upon their personalities. In these three works, their characters came across the footlights; they danced as themselves, equals, even with clearly defined themes.

Those who attended the 33rd Isadora Duncan Dance Award Ceremony March 25 knew that Trey McIntyre’s “Your flesh Shall Be a Great Poem” had garnered one of two awards for choreography, with the principal role danced again by Benjamin Freemantle,

Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem

supported by the wonderful talents of Sasha de Sola, Jennifer Stahl, Lonnie Weeks, Jaime Garcia Castilla, Esteban Hernandez, Alexandre Cagnat with Isabella DeVivo and Steven Morse as the couple.

Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem

San Francisco Ballet in McIntyre’s Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem. (© Erik Tomasson)

Chris Garneau’s plaintive music, sung by an unidentified woman, highlighted the reflective qualities of the work, its shadowy lighting by James F. Ingalls starting with an eclipse, with the gentle suggestion as the dancer reflects on the life of his deceased grandfather.

Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem

Benjamin Freemantle in McIntyre’s Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem. (© Erik Tomasson)

McIntyre’s capacity to infiltrate contemporary gesture and inflection into the classical vocabulary is utterly remarkable, the phrasing speaking to the ensemble like their native heath.

I would love to see this work on the same program as Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering where a more strictly classical vein captures a like response.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Bound To with its vertical panels set at angles designed by Jean-Marc Puissant the costume created, jointly creating the projection design with Alexander V. Nichols, also deals with connection and communication but with a technical twist. That technicality is the omnipresence of the cell phone; I suggest it is the closest Wheeldon has come to date with social comment.

The casting for Bound To’s solo assignments remains roughly the same as its 2018 premiere. Checking back on my comments for Woollywesterneye’s coverage of the Unbound Series, I find little to change my impression, save that elusive quality when dancers are familiar with their material and have the patterns firmly registered. Initial tension replaced by familiarity provides a certain comfort zone if that can ever be applied to the sweat equity of the profession!

Bound To

Jennifer Stahl and Dores André in Wheeldon’s Bound To. (Bound To© by Christopher Wheeldon; Photo © Erik Tomasson)

Angelo Greco again earned a round of strong applause following Wavelength.
Dores Andre, Sasha De Sola, Isabella De Vivo and Jennifer Stahl moved like a quartet evoking young privileged English women. The male quartet of Benjamin Freemantle, Jaime Garcia Castilla, Angelo Greco and Lonnie Weeks drew similar appreciation and Yuan Yuan Tan and Carlo Di Lanno impressed, their line sustained on individual elegant limbs. Lonnie Weeks solidified last year’s impression in the frantic solo of lacking connection, succumbing to the social norms of cell phone disconnect.

Both Freemantle and Weeks received soloist status following their interpretations in the two ballets.

One never is certain what will grab Yuri Possokhov’s attention from season to season. From the burning of Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion, an early Soviet naval incident, a new interpretation of The Rite of Spring, or the fateful heroines Medea and Francesca di Rimini, one is certain there will be passion, comment and a production of interest.

This season “…two united in a single soul…” with Daria Novo’s adaptation of George Frederic Handel, Ben Pierce’s brooding design of voluminous egg adjacent to a series of broad steps lit by Jim French, we were introduced to the legend of Narcissus in the person of Joseph Walsh. In Christopher Read’s costumes of bathing suits and trunks adorned with spiky silver accents at the shoulders for the women and strips of silver around the hips of the men, there was an intriguing air of the ‘Thirties mingled with the startling presence of countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen fully clothed in near prison guard’s garments, hatted at the beginning.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Aaron Robison shared couple honors with Sofiane Sylve and Luke Ingham with four additional couples. There was a rousing passage where Walsh danced with the four men, Steven Morse, Henry Sidford, Diego Cruz and John-Paul Simoens, an inspiring display combining classical vocabulary with definite Russian folk tradition. It roused the blood, emphasizing just how strong the company’s men are.

Then there was Cohen’s haunting voice with Handel’s music as warp and woof to weave the fabric of Narcissus’ dilemma. ‘…two united in a single soul…’ is Possokhov’s best to date. How lucky we are Yuri came to San Francisco!

Credit pictures to Erik Tomasson

Diablo Ballet’s 25th Gala March 23

25 Mar

Diablo Ballet staged its 25th Gala at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek with a benefit March 22 and a single performance March 23 of Julia Adam’s Once Upon a Time.

It should be mentioned that a tribute video, created by Walter Yamazaki, preceded Adams’ commmission, recounting the creation of Diablo Ballet by Abdullah, Jonas and Lawrence Pech with tributes by Corrine Jonas, Tina Kay Bohnstedt, Hiromi Yamazaki, Edward Stegge, Erika Johnson, and Edward Stegge, among others. Many alumni continue their affiliation: Maya Sugano as ballet mistress, Stegge in Diablo’s school outreach program, plus childhood friends of Jonas like Executive Director Susan Boreliz and Regisseur Joanna Berman

At the Gala dinner, artistic director Lauren Jonas announced that the company will occupy its own space in a Pleasant Hill facility in August, enabling it to start a school. This admirable news was topped by co-founder Habib Abdullah’s gift to the company of $100,000 plus stipends to each of the dancers.

If that can be surpassed, Julia Adam’s choreographic gift of whimsy, Once Upon a Time, promises to be the ten-dancer ensemble’s go-to seasonal staple for the forseeable future. March 23rd’s performance enjoyed The Contra Costa Wind Symphony in the orchestra pit performing Adam’s adroit utilization of George Gershwin’s An American in Paris and Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra for her whacky meringue of fairy tales. The ten-dancer ensemble executed the froth with Mario Alonso’s costumes and Jack Carpenter’s lighting.

With the aid of table and chairs, a school room is replicated with an autocratic teacher bent on crushing adolescent hormones from exercising choices. Militarism is the cliche of the day, but the boy spots the girl and the mixture of imprisoned Princess, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Alice, Golden Goose ensues while the teacher with successive bits of costumes tells the audience he is the Wolf, Stepmother, Evil Queen, Giant, King and the boy assumes the role of at least two Princes, Jack, Suitor and Huntsman.

The School room antics were danced to Gershwin and a good portion of the fairy tale mixture to Britten’s Guide to the Orchestra. Adam’s choreographic acuity is embedded in the musical accents as movement cues and situational antics with the dancers in somber school attire with white aprons, boys in shorts and jackets. Over them went the visual clues of the relevant fairy tale, clever, lively and oh so enjoyable. It is one of the first ballets since JeromeRobbins’ The Concert dealing with the crossroads between fantasy and life situations.

While Michael Wells was featured as the Boy and Jackie McConnell as the girl with Raymond Tilton changing guise as the teacher, the other dancers, Rosselyn Ramirez, Amanda Farris, Maxwell Soes, Felipe Lion, Jillian Transon and Jacopo Jannelei, hopped, jumped, pirouetted and mugged with gusto.

Wholly evident is the continued community connection between Diablo’s ensemble and audience. The dancers, many still in costume, joined lingering audience members in the foyer post performance. Tilton excused himself after greeting me, saying he needed to get out of his costume. He mentioned in passing the swift costume changes were enabled by magnets instead of hooks, eyes or zippers, a device also employed in Hamilton.

For dance lovers wanting to witness warmth as well as professional sheen in dancing, I should mention that orchestra seats at Lesher were priced at $24.50.

Sean Dorsey Dance, Boys in Trouble

23 Mar

Z Space hosted Sean Dorsey Dance’s 15th Anniversary Home Season with Boys in Trouble March 14-16, 2019. I attended with Rita Felciano March 14.

I give Dorsey full marks for courage and canny funding skills. The list of his supporters is impressive; in addition, his ensemble enjoys a 20-city tour circuit developed over the decade and a half of his company’s existence. It’s no mean feat and I salute the accomplishment.

New this season is evidence some of the company, including Dorsey, show signs of middle weight gain, perhaps an inevitable result of aging [Since I am at the end of my eighth decade so it’s company]. New to the ensemble are two agile African-Americans, one tall and fairly lanky, the other short and compact, joining Dorsey, Brian Fisher and Nol Simonse. They bring genuine sass to the sauce.

Sean Dorsey’s narrative easily comprised a third of the program, together with “in” group comments, eliciting rounds of laughter and roars from the audience. I found them informative and, occasionally, a little off putting to my quite conventional taste. I have no doubt the audiences in his circuit will greet the comments and the movements created to support the comments refreshingly frank.

Given the U.S. cultural and political climate right now, Dorsey’s support and appeal is testimony some sanity and understanding remains. I fervently hope such reality continues to remain as open and supported as Dorsey’s current production.

The Unseen Oysters of the Estero

20 Mar

A wide scale effort was made in 2014-2015 to save the oyster farm on Drake’s Bay. Edme Renouf Seton, my sister, wrote the following account and sent it to Michelle Obama, among others. Letters went to various chefs and restauranteurs, including Alice Waters and Thomas Keller, hoping that individuals whose livelihood and passion bound up in food, could prevail against the proposed reversion of Drake’s Bay to its “natural state.” Keller responded to say he was stretched too far to assume another cause.

Efforts of course, were unsuccessful. After my sister’s death December 13, 2018, I came across this essay amongst papers sent me, and decided it needed to be added, for what it’s worth, to general knowledge.


On Friday, March 11, 2011, the Tohoku tsunami destroyed the oyster rafts anchored in Sendai Bay. Refinery oil coated everything left in the water. With the help of time and nature, oysters may once again thrive in those waters. But a Drake’s Estero, only a few months are left until ‘wilderness’ advocates will wipe out the oysters – forever. Now is the time to remember how they got there in the first place.

In 1884 San Franciscans were eating oysters from Washington Territory and the canned product from Chesapeake Bay. Two San Francisco businessmen asked a local scientist working in Washington, D.C., How could they import oysters from Japan? And were was the best place to plant them?

“In the Estero,” California scientist Robert Edwards Carter Stearns advised. Oysters were big bucks in 1884. For every dollar Americans paid for fish, they shelled out two for oysters.

He went on, “The oysters should be put in rather open crates and mixed in with rock or bladder weed, and frequently watered with sea water en route: kept shady and cool, jarred or shaken as little as possible, and planted where they will be covered by the tide to the extent that prevails in their native bed, and as I suggested I should think that near the head of Drake’s Bay, on the coast north of San Francisco Bay {which you will see by the map contains a ‘bight” as the sailors call it] with a rocky or shelly bottom, would or might be a good place.

“After planting you will have to look out and protect the bed from the star fishes, periwinkles and whelks which are as fond of oysters as the genus homo..”

[He should also have warned them against myliobatis californicus, the Californica sting ray, which weighs up to 150 pounds and lurks in shallow sandy areas along the coast from Oregon to the Gulf of California. In the heyday of San Francisco Bay, the Morgan Oyster Company drove sixteen-foot poles every ten inches along their beds to keep the sting rays away from the oysters they imported from the East Coast and Washington State.]

Two more 1884 events. On January 8, Lorenzo Sawyer, Judge of the Circuit Court in San Francisco, ruled that mine tailings could no longer be dumped into rivers, putting an end to hydraulic mining. And Shinso Miyagi was born on the island of Okinawa.

“Wilderness” zealots would have you believe the oysters in the Estero are as harmful to the environment as hydraulic mining. Such an opinion denies reality: oysters actually improve the quality of the water.

Shinsho Miyagi’s oyster career began in Olympia, Washington, where he worked with our west coast native, aka Olympias, while going to school to learn English. Later, along with other Japanese he was farming oysters in Northern Puget Sound and British Columbia until State and Provincial governments rules these tidelands off limits to the Japanese. He returned to Japan and began growing oysters on Commodore Perry’s old anchorage in Tokyo Bay – until September 1, 1923, when the great Kanto earthquake raised the shore three to four feet out of the water, destroying the oyster beds, Confronted with this new reality, he began experimenting – with the help of scientists at the Imperial Fisheries College – in Sendai as well as Tokyo Bay. Eight years later, the diagrams on his patent [July 21,1931] show floating rafts which hold the oysters near the surface of deep water. This keeps the oysters where they have the best food supply – and raises them above the sting rays.

But who is the Shinsho Miyagi who will save the oysters in the Estero? They are threatened neither by natural disasters nor by pollution. In fact, the U.S. government shellfish inspectors give the Estero the cleanest bill of health in the whole United States.

While the waters of the Estero are great for raising oysters, they are too cold for newly-spawned eggs to survive. That means no oyster in the Estero starts life outside a shellfish hatchery. Trout and salmon eggs had been successfully cultivated for more than thirty years when an American scientist declared, “Should we be able to artificially incubate the eggs of the oyster and keep them alive until the time when the embryos attach themselves to foreign objects, we will have attained such a success as will probably never be paralleled in fish culture.”

For almost a century that success was never achieved. By 1884, California’s first fish hatchery near Mt. Shasta had been operating for a decade, sending millions of salmon eggs all over the world. But no scientist was able to do the same for oysters. Why so difficult to hatch oysters when trout and salmon were so easy? The crucial difference: while salmon, trout and oysters all start as eggs, an oyster egg lacKs the yolk sac which nourishes young trout and salmon until they are able to feed themselves.

Finding the equivalent to the yolk sac was Victor Loosanoff’s life work. In 1919, a fugitive from Soviet Russia, he fought on foot and horseback east to Harbin where the white Russian colony paid his way to the United States. From then on, he was on his own – working in the mines, summers fishing in Alaska, learning English, enrolling at the University of Washington’s School of Fisheries, the first in the United States, patterned after the Imperial School of Fisheries in Tokyo.

In his first job he was charged with measuring the toxicity of paper mill chemical on fingerling salmon. He created a cause-ad-effect chart: one part of washed discharge to 376-1/2 parts of water killed the salmon fry in four and a half hours. At half that strength, it took longer – 55 hours. The lignin in the black liquor used up all the oxygen; the salmon asphyxiated. If the young fish were to be safeguarded, every gallon of the sulfite waste had to be diluted with fifteen thousand gallons of water, or up to thirty times more than the daily average for the pulp mill.

In a state where no politician could prevail against the paper mills, that proof cost him his job. In 1930 the State of Virginia hired Loosanoff to assess the condition of the once great oyster beds in the James River. His findings have yet to be implemented. One year later, he moved north, to establish the shell fish laboratory in Milford, Connecticut.

For the next 31 years Loosanoff worked to provide the equivalent of the yolk sac for oysters. He sent to Great Britain for samples of algae first collected by Dr. Mary Park at the Isle of Man marine laboratory in 1934 and 1935: Isochrysis galbana and Monochrysis lutheri became the most reliable source of nourishment for all young clams and oysters, American, European and Japanese.

The oysters in the Estero are ostrea gigas, the big oyster, descendants of natives of the Bay of Sendai. Of the entire oyster family, the gigas is considered the least difficult and most dependable. But all over the world in the estuaries they share with small boats, they cannot withstand TBT, Tributyl Tin, the killing ingredient in anti-foulant marine paint. Ths unexpected vulnerability helped the International Maritime Organization limit the use of TBT, citing the damage to the oysters and their larvae, describing the chemical as the most toxic ever introduced into the marine environment.

On Friday, March 11, 2011, the waters of the Tohoku tsunami flooded the ancestral home of the Estero oysters. In the weeks that followed, scientists declared there was “ absolutely nothing left of the famous aquaculture industry.” Time will help the oysters in Japan. In Marin County there are only a few months to go before the “wilderness” tsunami will wipe out the oysters of Drake’s Estero – forever.

This year [2015] the Park Service has the opportunity to honor the work of the oysterman from Okinawa and the findings of the Russian scientist simply by extending the oyster lease in the Estero, allowing the waters to continue nourishing their invisible crop, which makes a fine stew when mixed with the milk provided by the cows grazing at Point Reyes.

One afternoon, nearly a century after Stearns’ recommendation [there is no record that any oysters got planted in 1884], I went out in the boat with a four-man crew to the rafts anchored in the Estero. The motor was slow to start. Once it caught, we headed for a series of empty rafts, where the men hung new ‘strings,’ – ropes twisted around shells, each shell studded with tiny oysters, with a spacer between each shell to provide growing room on the rope. Then we headed for the next group of rafts, where the men upped up ropes heavy with oysters and seaweed, and loaded them on the scow.

At that time I did not know that it was Miyagi who first got the oysters up off the seabed, safe from “star fishes, periwinkles, whelks,” – and sting rays. I didn’t know the Togasaki family of San Francisco were the first to experiment with Miyagi’s oyster rafts in Elkhorn Slough, inland from Monterey Bay. In two years of operation, they produced forty tons of oyster meat, forty tons they could not sell because of anti-Japanese feeling.

Back on shore, I bought two jars of shucked oysters, and on the way home to Mill Valley, I dropped one off at the Loosanoff’s in Greenbrae. These hatchery-born oysters were the legacy of his investigations.

In 1884, Judge Lorenzo Sawyer ended nearly thirty years of dumping mine spoils into the Northern California rivers. Advocates of synthetic “wilderness” would put an equal sign between the small oyster rafts in the Estero and the placer boxes in he California foothills. The face remains that the oysters actual improve water quality.

In 1968, Judge Russell E. Train, President of the Conservation Foundation, told the National Shellfisheries Association, “There seems no question but that the estuary constitutes the single most important biological, ecological and economic element of the shoreline complex, and yet is, at the same time, the least understood and the most threatened. The estuaries of our nation face a difficult future.”

“Wilderness” has been the battle cry of the Sierra Club since 1892. That was essential in the beginning. But today environmentalists must be concerned with the survival of the entire planet. We must confront free cutting, strip mining, and farming methods [as taught in tax-supported schools and subsidized by federal, state and local governments] which degrade our soil and produce chemically-altered food for our families. This is also true of fish fattened on artificial rations. But in the Estero there are no chemicals, no supplements. Killing this oyster enterprise would impoverish the environment, eliminate a source of a healthy food, cost jobs, and remove money from the local economy.

Keeping the oysters in the Estero keeps Point Ryes natural – and healthy. Estuaries are the most productive component of our universe. Why allow the “extra virgin” wilderness mentality to render them sterile?

In saving the oysters, the National Seashore would help make the Estero an enduring monument to a great Marin conservationist – Peter Behr – Mill Valley City Mayor, Marin County Supervisor. In 1969 Behr asked for volunteers to help establish the National Seashore. Later, in Sacramento, he pushed through the California Senate the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. And he loved oysters.

In the summer of 1979, Behr proposed an environmental bill of rights for California. The following spring member of the Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club and many other California environmental groups began collecting signatures for the initiative, but they couldn’t get enough registered voters to put the measure on the November ballot. Altogether, they gathered fewer than 100,000 out of the 553,790 needed.

California’s state constitution proclaims that all people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness and privacy.

To these essentials Behr would have added conserving property, and a healthy and productive environment, clean air in urban centers, industrial and agricultural work places, adequate amounts of water, unpolluted by toxic wastes or excessive sediments in streams, rivers, lakes, underground basins and coastal areas; renewable, safe and non-wasteful energy systems; freedom from involuntary exposure to chemicals, minerals, radioactive substances and hazardous energy forms; livable urban and rural environments with productive employment, affordable housing, efficient transportation, and freedom from excessive noise; accessible parks, recreational areas, an open spaces; agricultural lands protected from urban or suburban sprawl, unique and scenic resources, including wilderness and coastal areas, free-flowing rivers, lakes, mountains, deserts, forest, historical structures and archaeological sites; fish and wildlife populations, rare and endangered flora and fauna and other native plant and animal life, protected and enhanced where possible, a population compatible with a good standard of living.

That is yet a dream.

At Point Reyes the upland farms have flourished for a long time. In 1871 The Marin Journal reported there were 16 milk dairies on the 85,000 acres of Shafter’s ranch. The Lunny family had such an upland farm. Their water farm an out-of-sight example of environmental stewardship, yearly produced more than 800,000 pounds of oysters and a million clams. I hope such numbers will be repeated this year, next year – long after I am dead, in fact.

Bogger’s note: As mentioned at the essay’s begining, the fight was lost; in 2015 the contract not renewed. What an avoidable waste.

Edme Renouf Seton, 1926-1992

20 Mar

Edme Renouf Seton died December 13, 20108 in Albuquerque, New Mexico of
cancer without mentioning her malady to her two children, Yoel and Laurie, or to me, her sister. Had she lived to January 2, 2019, Edme would have been 92.

A woman of enormous self-control and reticence, she said to me when I asked why she hadn’t written about the many places she had traveled with Eugene Garramon for almost forty years, “I never regarded myself as a heroine.”

However, during that period Edme assiduously researched oyster culture and amassed material which eventually will be published. She did share with me two documents. One was in response to the sad dissolution of commercial oyster culture in Drake’s Estero; the second regarded Shinso Miyagi whose method of oyster culture is now used throughout the world. Miyagi, while he patented the procedure, he never protected it from copying because he wanted oystermen, internationally, to utilize what he devised. This document also records the systematic American and Canadian efforts to prevent Japanese oyster culture on the Pacific Coast and in British Columbia while ultimately making use of Miyagi’s ingenious method of raising this edible sea morsel and helping to prevent its extinction.

My next posting, The Unseen Oysters of the Estero, was written by Edme in one of the many attempts to keep oyster production in Drake’s Bay, all of which failed to stop its dissolution.

ODC’s Dance Around Town, YBCA Theatre, March 7

19 Mar

ODC/SF’s World’s on Fire is the second of its 2019 Dance Around Town presentations. The first, Path of Miracles, occurred at Grace Cathedral February 28-March 2; I could kick myself for not having attended this work, inspired by K.T. Nelson’s experience of the Camino de Santiago, the medieval pilgrimage trail commencing in the French Pyrenees, ending in Compostela, Spain and enjoying a contemporary resurgence.

World’s on Fire, choreographed by Kate Weare, choreographer in residence, and co-directed with Brenda Way, reflects ODC’s capacity to reflect the opposite end of the human spectrum, a challenge to the audience and to the nine dancers who turned in an glorious interpretation of an amazing portrait of an essentially grim portrait; there are vast numbers of Americans devoid of hope, vision and direction, but brimming with energy, will and sexual appetite, with a contradictory overlay of fundamentalist Christianity.

This season apparently marks the final one for Brandon “Private” Freeman’s second association with ODC, and what a wonderful association it has been. His role in this work continued to be his superb partnering, his ability to blend with the group, yet remain distinctive, and the many moves in this work where he was the recipient of pushes, pulls, shoves and instances where he literally took it lying down.

An ensemble called The Crooked Jades, on stage, in the background or up on stage right, carried the theme of push-pull, tug, shove, with some utterly remarkable catch-hold pauses in the choreography. I would have to see the work again to evaluate it properly, and this delay in commentary clearly is my rather conventional reaction to the rawness so well depicted. ODC is fearless in exposing some of America’s ‘beneath the surface’ angst, and it awakens the parade of childhood dust-bowl refugees all too vividly.

Which, of course, just shows how keen the company’s perceptions are.

SFB’s 2019 #3 Sleeping Beauty March 9

14 Mar

My entry into Sleeping Beauty’s pageantry, mythology and display occurred in November, 1950 when Sadler’s Wells danced the Oliver Messel production on the basket ball court marks of Los Angeles’ Shrine Auditorium. I had the privilege of seeing Margot Fonteyn and her magic with Beryl Grey as the Lilac Fairy, Violetta Elvin as the Fairy of the Golden Vine and Margaret Dale in the finger-darting variation I think SFB calls the Fairy of Courage.

San Francisco’s Company dancing the Petipa-Tchaikovsky’s fairy tale has gained in polish with every subsequent revival since its 1990 debut, a century following the Russian premiere. The curtain with its depiction of luscious blue swirls and golden tassels remind us of Imperial Russia’s Maryinsky Theatre where Marius Petipa’s original 1890 production was staged. Perhaps this is why Jens-Jacob Worsae set Act I in Russia, pre-Peter the Great, with flowing scarlet robes, hats like miniature minarets, gowns and head dresses all laden with golden braid or filigree, the background accented with distinctly Russian onion-shaped roofs. Down the central staircase the nobles and the ladies came with the casual assurance of birth, breeding and position; the company did this beautifully. I found myself thinking ,”Oh, yes!.”

Perhaps the presence of Larisa Lezhnina as coach, but the Tsar and Tsarina entering in the Prologue with the nursemaid were far more a family, imperial scale, than simply imperial; the regal crib closer to their seats downstage left than I remember. Ricardo Bustamonte and Anita Paciotti seemed much more involved, and Val Caniparoli’s scanning of the guest list once, twice, thrice added to his dismay of oversight.

The five fairies, well matched in style, enjoyed competent cavaliers. Dores Andre, as usual, giving an unusual employment of the wrist in her gestural phrasing, called upon to embody serenity instead of something more marked.

Jennifer Stahl’s Lilac Fairy, well phrased, seemed slightly strained technically, though her mime was firm in front of her dark antagonist, smiling, gently knowing and reassuring when leading Prince Desire to his sleeping princess.

Wan Ting Zhao’s Fairy of Darkness, top drawer, Dragon Lady of ill intent, was brimming with hauteur and wounded pride. No crone like Frederick Ashton, not quite so full bodied as Anita Paciotti or Muriel Maffre, her eyes, gesture, timing and lunging suppleness lacked nothing in keenness, leaning into her plotting, smirking wickedly at her decision.

Last year it was Frances Chung whose Rose Adagio impressed; this season it is Sasha de Sola’s turn. She has danced from strength to strength when she earned the best junior couple with Mathias Dingman at the 2006 USA IBC and started her career in the corps de ballet of San Francisco Ballet. I would enjoy seeing her in Mark Morris’ Sylvia where her confident space-conquering qualities would shine.

I was somehow unprepared for de Sola’s radiance in virtuosity combined with those little touches of regal adolescence and flirtation in the Rose Adagio. Rachel Howard picked up astutely on them as did Brook Byrne of Geary Dance Center who shared the evening with me. Rachel condenses in one sentence what takes me in a full paragraph.

Aurora enjoyed some handsome suitors from Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Mongolia, Siberia, in the person of Henry Sidford, Daniel Deivson-Oliveira, Hansuke Yamamoto and Steven Morse, all adept at collective grand jetes as well as steady hands providing Aurora with her roses.

de Sola’s variation and her curiosity with the spindle were precisely what one would expect of a sheltered daughter happy at her feted birthday, a rare flash of independence, before bewilderment that the toy wasn’t fun and games. Her grogginess was believable.

In Act II, the countess was trying hard, but Prince Desire, while attentive and polite, wasn’t having any. Carlo Di Lanno, he of the lengthy limbs, knew precisely how just how much to acquiesce and when gently, firmly, to refuse, a regal personae embodied.As a stalwart young royal, both his reluctance to admit well-concealed despondency and impetuous desire to attain this vision of loveliness, Di Lanno checked all the necessary boxes in style, even to the moment when there is a question as to what will awaken Aurora.

For the wedding scene, mirrors reflected the courtiers’ movements, the women gowned a la Pompadour, white wigged like their partners. The four jewel variants, Dores Andre, Thamires Chuvas, Kamryn Baldwin, Ellem Rose Hummel, were admirably supported by Benjamin Freemantle and Esteban Hernandez, while Puss in Boots, Elizabeth Powell and Sean Orza, lirty and playful, warmed their viewers.

Lonnie Weeks as the Blue Bird partnered Koto Ishihara as the Enchanted Princess. In the fairy tale it is the other way around; the Blue Bird is a prince under a spell who comes nightly to his beloved’s tower. There’s no way to build a tower or to indicate the heroine is learning to fly except with the phrasing of the listening and then the fluttering gestures. But the direction might think about that.

For the grand pas de deux Di Lanno danced admirably what I consider less than the best choreography for a male principal, the honors going to De Sola as Aurora. One moment shines out for me, when Aurora, jack knifed on the floor rises on one toe into a triumphant arabesque, aided by Prince Desire. The moment encapsulates birth, trial and triumph, supported by love.

So Long, So Good to Know You: Jessica Lang Dance, Yerba Buena Theatre, 2/28

7 Mar

You’re lucky if you were able to catch Jessica Lang Dance at Yerba Buena’s Theatre February 28, presented locally by San Francisco Performances. Like Trey McIntyre, with a series of successful seasons as well as company commissions to her credit, Lang will disband the special ensemble she had led since 2011. The New York Times carried the information of disbanding last fall; it’s a pity for she has a nine person ensemble of expressive dancers and a commentary which struck me as not only satisfying, but also just plain nice. I hope I don’t damn the ensemble by saying it was wholesome.

Three works followed the two intermission formula which seems to have been abandoned by many modern ensembles and choreographers. The first, Lyrical Pieces, to the music of Edvard Grieg and originally created for the Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2012, was notable for its ingenious use of accordion swaths of black paper or cardboard, adding to a structure out of which dancers emerged, retreated or moved around. Those black strips varied from being caterpillars, almost personal accordions; there also were squares which the dancers also maneuvered or sat on.

The women dancers wore diaphanous bluish dresses moving fluidly, and the men complimentary tights. I got the strongest sense of the sensible, civilized dances of the ‘Fifties and ‘Sixties when people and society still could be “nice” in expressiveness; nothing stark, forbidding, presciently doomed. The music was played live by Sarah Cahill, the pianist affiliated with the San Francisco Conservatory. She also moderated post-performance comments.

After the first intermission was the brief solo called Splendid Isolation which had been seen earlier by the late Ballet San Jose. Ms. Kimura, gowned in a sleeveless white gown which poured out beyond her feet, moved essentially with her torso and her arms. It was the utmost in elegance, refinement and captivity. If I remember correctly, the conception came from the life of Gustav Mahler’s wife who surrendered her own considerable creativity to support her husband.

The Thousand Yard Stare enjoyed a quartet of musicians playing a movement from one of Ludwig von Beethoven’s late string quartets. Proving a decided contrast in mood, the dancers in near army-fatigue greens crossed the stage in almost goose-step height cadences. The entire dance emphasized geometric clusters, falls, exits and entrances, sobering and chilling.

Another intermission before “What Is this Thing Called Love,” recorded by Tony Bennett’s voice with additional commentary. The dancers wore white shirts, black trousers, and the medley of songs included “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” [Because of his signature rendition, Bennett now enjoys a larger than life statue outside the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill]

The audience’s response was warm, appreciative, and a healthy number remained for the commentary where Lang made the impression of a direct, unfussy artist able to credit others, including husband, for inspiration and assistance. In particular she related that The Thousand Yard Stare, was an idea initiated by the president of her board and the music choice by her husband.

Choreographer Carlos Carvajal commented “She really knows how to structure a work.” Carvajal, ran his own Dance Spectrum for a decade in San Francisco, and understood the dilemma of sustaining an ensemble with all the many demands of management and funding beyond choreographic challenge. It’s a sad commentary in our current affluence.

Akram Khan and Xenos, March 2, Cal Performances

3 Mar

I consider myself extremely privileged to have witnessed Xenos.

Even though I was riveted when reading about Akram Khan’s new production, Xenos, I had totally forgotten the theme when Rita Felciano and I arrived at rain-touched Zellerbach Hall March 2 to see the 65-minute solo marathon,Khan’s farewell to active performing.

The audience seemed casual as I searched for my seat and traversed upper orchestra seats to the right aisle and the second seat in row J, to be joined by Joanna Harris.

I was fascinated by the stage, open to view, as two Indian musicians, Aditya Prakash, vocal, and BC Manjunath, percussionist, exchanged incredibly energetic bols, the call and response integral to North Indian music. Only the sub-continent can provide a full concert with oral mellismas on such a sustained, compelling basis.

Behind these two, left stage foreground, a construction rose towards backstage draped with many lines of rope curling as they reached the stage surface. On stage right there were early 20th century style conventional chairs, an oval table; left, close to the foots, was a low oblong table we might label a coffee table. In retrospect it was well suited for humans seated, cross-legged, on the floor.

The auditorium lights lowered and went dark, and Khan emerged from stage left, head shaved, body slight but wiry, dressed in the kurta and trousers common to men’s daily garments throughout the sub-continent, dragging a large white rope, almost the entire stage width, struggling with it, only to have it pulled back. He stood gazing at it, before unleashing some dazzling kathak turns, arms waving, sinewy, yet lyrical, assertive, disciplined, an utter joy to observe. Then this dazzling display of virtuosity exploded into anger and he hit the low table crushing one end. Before the battery of turns, the stage had gone dark and one could hear Khan utter, as he lit a match, “It is the end of the world.”

The Indian musicians had departed and one suddenly watched as first the coils of rope receded upwards and out of sight, followed by the chairs, along with the round café and the damaged tables. Khan began to climb the construction to noises, some from musical instruments. There were batteries of sound, at near ear-splitting level.

Khan was virtually alone in the decor stripped bare save for the sloping construction, a hooded spotlight at upper stage left moving occasionally, slowly, in an arc. There also were dim voices and western instruments illuminated with fuzzy red lighting, spaced across the ridge of the construction.

Suddenly I was aware Khan had arranged the physical production according to Natya Sastra principles, the Sanskrit dramaturgy handbook written somewhere between 500 B.C.E. and 500 C.E.: foreground, middle ground and upper ground where the gods reside. Still unaware the middle ground symbolized World War I’s Western Front, I was mesmerized.

Khan, as sepoy, descended, and received a small, dirty white rope. Dragging it up the slope, he began to wind it around his face. Momentarily, I wondered if the process anticipated suicide. Face obscured by layers of rope, Khan’s body faced stage left, his body pausing as it had at various moments of transition, executing multiple turns in kathak style.

Khan descended, and in a brief frenzy divested himself of his kurta, before slowly commencing his ascent again, bare to the waist. Suddenly spurts and rivulets of dirt began to tumble down the slope as Khan sat at the rim. When the cascade ceased, Khan, seated, reached behind him, with a small lump of earth as the figures had sung, now blurry images in white. The curtain fell.

After the performance, I read in the program that Xenos is Greek for “stranger,” “alien” or “visitor,” and that its premiere took place in Athens just over a year ago. How fitting that this utterly remarkable artist, English-born, kathak-trained of Bangladeshi heritage, Muslim-raised, should choose to premiere his final and major statement where the Graeco imprint on Western civilization began.

I realized that Khan, based on those classic Hindu priniciples, wedding his Kathak tradition and modern production techniques, uniquely conveyed the bewildering experience of those long ago Indian sepoys in World War I. It was nothing less than a master stroke. As I write,shivers in my nervous system testify to a rare impression akin to seeing Balasaraswati for the first time.

We need more such statements by equally penetrating artists.

Second Take – SFB’s Program Three February 24

3 Mar

Hoping to see the first cast of San Francisco Ballet’s Program Three, I made the final matinee on February 4 but witnessed a number of cast changes; I also noted that certain dancers are getting quite a workout: Doris Andre, Daniel Devison-Oliviera in particular, with Mathilde Froustey dancing the leading role in Haarold Lander’s Etudes in place of Sasha de Sola.

In the Fifth Season, Vitor Luiz and Dores Andre were paired with felicity, Andre at moments especially tender. Well-matched, Wan Ting Zhao and Carlo di Lanno had competed together for the Erik Bruhn prize early on in di Lanno’s career with SFB, another example of easy togetherness in the demands of partnering.

It was exciting to have the chance seeing Andre opposite Ulrich Birkkjaer and Jennifer Stahl in Cathy Marston’s Snowblind. Birkkjaer’s Ethan Frome is a masterful portrait of an embattled farmer. During the Depression I was around farm hands who trekked to California from Oklahoma and Arkansas; Birkkjaer’s Frome summarized the hours, months, years of unremitting toil and vulnerability to nature’s seasonal challenges with surpassing accuracy. Stahl’s Zeena displayed that inner ramrod accompanying helplessness, despair and necessary determination. Andre’s portrait of Mattie progressed from the butterfly quality of youth to the helplessness of a moth entangled in a spider’s web. It seemed as though there were slight alterations in the final movements and positions; still the image of a trio, fatally entwined, was preserved.

Etudes as finale continues to be a deceptive work, starting as it does in half light, with barre exercises, dancers shown from the waist down, moving from one small ensemble, alternating from stage right to stage left, front to back, other before gradually combining them, the corps either in crisp white or black tutus, their construction quite an improvement over some seen recently.

Benjamin Freemantle distinguished himself partnering Matilde Froustey as the ballerina, his understated correctness an effective display for Froustey’s vivacious presentation. She invariably arouses my desire to encapsulate her quality. Well, let’s just say, with a clumsy sterotype, that she presents the image of the vivacious French woman par excellence.

Luke Ingham and Vitor Luiz danced the two male principal soloists. When their musical cues arrived, the sound had reached an emphasis quite overwhelming; with their height, the aural contrast diminished their obvious skill; their variations made one wonder, at both performances, whether Harald Lander envisioned tall puppets on strings deftly manipulated; an impression no dancer could match.