Archive | June, 2019

SF Danceworks’ Season 4: Energy, Agility and Angst

23 Jun

For the fourth season, James Sofranko and Danielle Rowe chose Fort Mason’s Cowell Theater for its venue showing four works by choreographers relatively or totally new to San Francisco Bay Area dance lovers. Their ten highly individual dancers have some local connection according to the program bios, but what an amazing evening they provided for the five works with one intermission.

The costumers included Jamielyn Duggan, Branimira Ivanova and Mark Zappone with lighting credited to David Elliott and Michael Mazzola. The music credits started with J.S. Bach, included Jean Philippe Rameau in The Bedroom, Charles Chaplin and Album Leaf for Silent Scream in Oliver Wevers’ piece. the final number. In between there was a collection of current sounds unbeknownst to this current octogenarian. These included music by Dustin O’Halloran, Kirsten Gundermann, Hildur Gubnadour, Keynvor, Sufjan Stevens, Luke Howard, Sonorexia, Moondog and Nils Frahm, reflecting the highly diverse experience not only of the five choreographers, but the dancers’ exposure to European companies and choreographers. Without a doubt, this aggregate heightened the effort and impact of what was performed.

The program commenced with Laura O’Malley’s essay on inner demons, Room for Error, Nicholas Korkos and David Calhoun depicting the inner struggle which Katie Lake quite heroically tried to minimize. This fight involved a table and chair about mid-stage right, with a barricade behind which Calhoun lurked, emerged, retreated, to emerge again when Lake made her final departure. O’Malley’s notes credited Glenn Gould as inspiration with his bi-polar disorder, and the enactment of this struggle displayed the two male bodies alternately leaning or hurtling against each other in agony, an essay in levels, angles, curves and collapses, heightened by beautiful musculature and skill.

Brett Conway’s The Bedroom, while equally athletic, was far quieter in tone yet equally moving with Katerina Eng, Dennis Adams-Zivolich as the introductory  couple with Laura O’Malley and Babatunji Johnson as the ultimate conflicted pair. In the opening a chair, a blanket occupied the mid-stage right with a metal object stage center, bathed in half light, a body beneath it and Adams-Zivolich seated on the floor mid-stage left.

Early on Adams-Zivolich metamorphosed the metal structure into its intended form, a collapsible bed. I’ve forgotten whether it was he or Babatunji who took the blanket, actually a mattress, and slung it over the bed, conveying its intended purpose: physical love, relationship and conflict. The O’Malley-Babatunji extended dancing depicted the push-pull of a disintegrating relationship once filled with special moments and great tenderness. If conflict can be depicted without anger or accusation these two artists embodied Brett Conway’s vision. Like all the works The Bedroom was singularly muscular in execution; for Babatunji overflowing with the reality of a union ending, once extremely special. I would like to see this again and future works by Conway.

Following intermission Andrea Schermoly’s It’s Uncle danced  bi-polar effects on a family of four with a uncle, extremely long-legged and a torso to inspire a sculptor. Movements proceeded like paragraphs of encounters with each member of the family until there is defiance of polite family contention and uncle pulls a gun: blackout. The final section veers from the almost cartoon opening sections to the uncle’s stricken psyche and body being supported by the mother. Watching that amazing tall, masculine body wilt, dependent, requiring assistance, encouragement to navigate as well as stand, only to collapse was acutely pitiful. Reflecting, it might have helped to label the roles.

Cloudless is a tender pas de deux between two women, Ana Lopez who danced in the original Hubbard Street production and Laura O’Malley, a former Hubbard member. No  doubt about their love and the exploration it enables, the “Let me count the ways” of W. Shakespeare., both in blue chiffon, later exposing black leotards.

By the time Silent Scream of Olivier Wevers featured seven of the ten dancers I felt SFDanceWorks had provided us with a choreographic banquet of versatile younger choreographers. Then came Wevers’ use of Charlie Chaplin’s characters and his music from Gaslight. Illumined in shadows evoking the uneven lighting and film techniques of silent films, cameramen/lighting crew focused on posing film characters decked out in replicas of silent era costuming. These technicians scrambled downstage left and center for the perfect stills. It was fascinating.

The initial jerkiness and the impression of “Send them home with humor” was replaced by the recorded voice of Chaplin exhorting the movie-goer to acts of kindness and the world to greater humanity. As his voice soared and the dancers postured in various positions, I found myself wishing that Charlie, for all his humanistic pronouncements, could have been less verbose.

I missed SF Danceworks season three as I was headed for the USA IBC 2018
competition, so I’m ignorant of the thematic progression of these brief exposures to unusual choreographic choices. This, one, however, was one of the boldest produced and seen locally, elegantly and thoroughly danced. Sofranko and Rowe’s choices are much to be commended with SFDanceworks Season Five to be anticipated.

The Clay Theatre Hosts The Royal Ballet in Cinema

21 Jun

Fifty balletomanes paid $15 June 18 to see a triple bill of The Royal Ballet in Cinema at San Francisco’s Clay Theatre on Fillmore Street. This triple bill was well reviewed bu Jann Parry in Bruce Marriott’s Dance Tabs May 19, a program including San Francisco Ballet’s premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour; Sidi Cherkaoui’s Medusa and Crystal Pite’s Flight Patterns.

To my knowledge this is the first San Francisco movie house to show Royal Ballet cinematic offerings although the Elmwood in Berkeley has done so I think since the film versions of Royal productions have been distributed abroad. So you can appreciate the attention I paid to everyone passing me and seating themselves.  The Bolshoi in Cinema has been shown previously in the AMC Theatres, on Van Ness [now closed], and in the Westfield Center.  Viewers this size seems, unfortunately, standard, so, fingers crossed!

The Clay Theatre is operated by Landmark Theatres,  dating back to 1910.  A century later the landlord planned to close it;  preservationists managed to prevail, so this is the fledgling attempt to present the Royal. Parenthetically, the Clay also is the venue which, last spring,  screened the documentation of Kelly Johnson’s decision to utilize physician-supervision for his suicide.

Parry’s review mentioned the costuming, but it’s hard to ignore the impressive evocation of classical Greece in the columns for Medusa, nor the lighting both for it and Pite’s Flight Patterns. The latter received the Olivier Award for choreography and one can well see why.  Thirty-seven dancers depicted refugees in sweeping formations evocative of birds in flight – here, of course, it is helpless humans forced to fleeing for their lives. Particularly moving was the representation with coats of the loss of a child, the coats piling into the mother’s grief-stricken arms. With particularly sombre lighting there also was the affecting solo of manic-anger depicted, I think by Marcellino Sambe, before he moves down stage right to comfort the bereft mother at curtain fall. I found myself moved for hours.

The Medusa work was clearly designed as a vehicle for Natalia Osipova, and the choreographer gave her plenty of opportunity to display the flexibility of her arms and legs as well as her noted intensity. However, for all her skill and those of her cohorts, it took Flight Patterns to move me as I stated in the above paragraph.

Hosts for this Royal display were Darcy Bussell and Ore Odube. They spoke to Kevin O’Hare, the Royal’s current Artistic Director, Christopher Wheeldon, Sidi Cherkaoui who also artistic director of the Royal Ballet of Flanders, and Crystal Pite, whose credits include associate choreographer for Het National Ballet.

Production Credits for Fabric Animal

9 Jun

Thanks to some dicey wavy lengths, I was in such a rush to post my comments on Fabric Animal that I neglected to credit the artists’ support team for the creation of  its evocative environment.  So,. here goes in reverse order listed on the program with the principal artists’ names limited to their last:

Still Images: M. W. Guthrie, Trib La Prade

Lighting Design: Ashley Munday with Giles and Grubb

Film  Direction: John Carnahan with Grub

Videography, Video Projection: John Carnahan

Lyrics/Poetry: Grubb

Audio Mixer; Dan Wool

Co-composers/ Musicians: Wil Blades, Sam Gutterman, Jenn Harper, Terran Olson

Lead Composer/Music Director/Sound Designer: Caroline Penwarden

Set Design: Giles and M.W. Guthrie

Costumes: Giles

It was visually a memorable production.




Counterpulse Presents Sonsheree Giles and Sebastian Grubb in Fabric Animal

9 Jun

If nothing else, it’s obvious that Sonsheree Giles and Sebastian Grubb have worked together to the point where trust and coordination with one another is instinctive, and, I might add, quite distinctive as demonstrated at Counterpulse June 7 in their hour-long pas de deux.

Close to the Market/Turk #31 bus stop  is where Counterpulse moved three seasons ago from Mission Street, and its support for the unusual dance adventure continues unabated. In the process, Counterpulse is purchasing its building through the Community Arts Stabilization Trust [CAST] and the Rainin Foundation. In addition to its 25 year existence, starting at 848 Divisadero before moving to Mission Street near Ninth, Counterpulse has hosted the gamut of dance expressions, principally experimental, ethnic, improvisational. In the process, it has revealed just how much of experimentation frequently, if not predominantly, has a healthy measure of classical ballet training tucked into the exponents’ muscle memory.

Giles and Grubb solidify their chops in this work titled Fabric Animal, not only with Giles’ unusual combinations of ribbon, fabric, footwear and headgear, but in placing both artists against several videos of natural landscapes. The longest of these was filmed along a water inlet marked by once used massive rocks and wood, with an expanse of neutral-toned water, the color partially induced by an overcast sky; this occurred mid-way through the work.

The audience was treated to video footage of lengthy bulb green shoots framed on one side by a white curtain appliqued with flowers at the top of spindly stems, a homey accent near which Giles and Grub lay bare footed on the floor encased in army green jersey one piece garments with same-hued head coverings.  Their relative stillness with occasional, small adjustments was striking, and was followed by physical connections – touching, lifting, balancing. The control, the sustained tempo of the shifts and postures was riveting. One knew the pair would continue this exploration, but unsure which direction it might move, although it also was quite clear that Giles and Grubb shared infinite respect for one another.

Giles and Grub gradually moved from down stage right to center stage and in so doing shed the olive grunge for shades of white and the lightest pink, continuing
the balances, the sustained lifts, the slow winding around each other. They disappeared into a structure mid-stage left while the video footage carried on the balanced explorations in the water-dominated video. Here the work seemed to flag, becoming a private pleasure in a landscape unconducive to the space or prior movement. Clearly as thoughtful and contemplative as the prior movement, I attributed it as a necessary pause in Giles-Grubb’s monumental exercise in sustained, balanced movement.

Two additional segments remained in the performance. One featured the emergence of Giles in lime/mustard cropped unitard, being held aloft in extended stretches, not quite spread eagle fashion while clearly models of control and cooperation between the two artists. Finally finishing ribbons attached to a sweater gave visual underlining to a poetic phrase my mother enjoyed quoting, “Useless each without the other,”

While I am unsure I understand or agree with poetry on the program, I fully subscribe to the classical Greek definition of the artist as someone skilled in a given craft. Giles and Grubb demonstrated those qualifications in spades.

They also underscored generosity of spirit in dedicating the program to the “life, art and legacy of Lisa Bufano.” I seriously recommend anyone reading these comments refer to Wikipedia’s record of Bufano’s life and the printed recollections of Bufano’s brother.

Oakland Ballet’s Collaboration June 1 With Nava Dance Theatre

3 Jun


Just as Ronn Guidi carved out an enviable reputation with his love and staging of Diaghilev era ballets, Graham Lustig has expanded Oakland Ballet’s horizons with selected collaborations with communities within the territorial borders of this East Bay haven for San Francisco’s Earthquake refugees. It not is only a laudable move, it also is an effectively entertaining decision. Could one ask for anything more?

For this end of May series, Oakland Ballet teamed with Nava Dance Theatre at Laney College’s intimate theatre in a program of three works with the overall title of Jangala, the four-color program with the name in the intriguing Hindi script. Nava Dance Theatre, whose artistic director is Nadhi Thekkek, presented Rajavastra: The King’s Cloth, a brief exposition of Hans Christian Anderson’s “Emperor’s New Clothes”, before collaborating on the premiere of Hamsa, inspired by Mary Oliver’s Swan and the words of Rabindinrath Tagore. After intermission both ensembles joined in a revival of Graham Lustig’s 2013 work for Princeton Ballet, Jangala, the retelling of Mowgli, the beloved invention of Rudyard Kipling.

Before the performance both Lustig and Thekkek appeared on stage, providing the audience with shared, explanatory mime and comments about collaboration. In addition Lustig listed and thanked Oakland Ballet’s sponsors for providing the funds permitting the company to provide public school students dance exposure from Richmond to Livermore. Parenthetically, of course, such support enables an ensemble to survive and work from one brief performance season to the next.

Rajavastra:the King’s Cloth utilized five dancers with Shelly Garg as The King. All adept in Bharata Natyam technique, happily they were dressed in dark brown silk saris instead of the over-gilded, over-adorned costumes associated with the arenge trams expected of young dancers debuting their competence in the Tamil-Nadu founded technique. The costume choices accented the lateral impulse of movement, whether of the sweep of the arms or the thrust and stamping of the feet, embellished by the hand gestures or mudras telling the tale of the monarch’s greed
and appropriation of his subjects’ ornaments. The dark eyes, and eloquent expressions carried the story to its conclusion with the giggling villagers besting the vanity of the self-centered monarch. The tale was supported by musicians Divya Ramachandran and Manasa Suresh.

Nava Dance Theatre and Oakland Ballet joined for Hamsa, inspired by Mary Oliver’s Swan and excerpts from Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali, utilizing two ragas and a Bengali folk song with Tagore lyrics. Ten dancers participated, three from Nava Dance Theatre, seven from Oakland Ballet, all dressed in simple white kurtas and trousers. Groups of twos, threes and fives shifted, leaped and swirled, Ganesa Vasudeva and Christopher Dunn provided the major masculine impulse.
While the visual ebbs, flows and thrusts were effective, I felt the need of textual context, because unlike Hans Christian Anderson, I was unfamiliar with Oliver’s work..

Jangala had been premiered in 2013 when Lustig was artistic director of Princeton Ballet. Adapting it with Renuka Srinivasan’s Bharata Natyam familiarity, Lustig’s telling of Rudyard Kipling’s tale of Mowgli has brought it to Oakland with the aid of Nava Dance Theatre and its musicians.

While the dancers in the program listing seemed more numerous than dancers on stage, with the characters actually fewer than listed , the story unfolded in lively fashion with Brandon Perez as Mowgli, bonding with animals, watching the Father Wolf effectively battling with a Tiger. Stage props were used to good purpose, and the village women emotionally apt contrasts to the previous gymnastics. I would like a bit more clarity in the listing of the characters, but, overall,  it’s a lovely addition for children to enjoy and adults too.

While it may be sufficient to list the performance accomplishments of Nava Dance Theatre’s members, at some point, somewhere, it would be well to have some acknowledgment of the lineage of the dancers’ gurus. As someone familiar with
Pandanallur and Congeveram [sp.] schools of Bharata Natyam, training sources can as revelatory as classical ballet training. Such information provides guideposts regarding the strengths in the formation of a dancer and portends of artistry.

San Francisco Ballet School’s 2019 Demonstration

2 Jun

May 24 was the final of three performances for the San Francisco Ballet Students to strut their stuff and to demonstrate a year’s work. Much of it was impressive, technically, if choreographically there were a yawn or two, with music which didn’t exactly speak to the spirit. [Here you can read the rather staid tastes of the writer!] But you can’t fault the presence or inventiveness of Jiri Kylian.

First, however, let me salute the talents of Karen Gabay and her capacity to make the wholesale presence of the students lively, interesting and endearing. Last year it was parts of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. This year she selected Strauss melodies and her selection was quite a winner, starting with gestures sur la place on alternate sides of the stage, then the middle group of students a bit like a semi-colon to the previous passage, then building with entres, either semi-skipping or with low jetes – some sections on the diagonals, other from stage left to right. In due course, the girls sported pointe shoes and the men demonstrated their elevation and/or talent for turns. One such was so sudden and spectacular that Ikolo Griffin remarked,
“That’s innate – such capacity can’t be taught.”

Towards the end of this initial school display, the music patently referenced “Gaite Parisienne,” a production Gabay must know like the back of her hand.  Six levels, from Two through Eight participated, Level Seven earning the identification Women and Men. While the feminine gender naturally took honors for numbers, I was impressed at how the striving masculine members were representing Asian, Latino, African American and South Asian ethnicities.

Just before the first of two intermissions, Marc Brew’s quicksilver was show cased, h six dancers with Jim French’s murky lighting design and a contemporary score by Olafur Arnalds. Brew is the comparatively new artistic director for Axis Dance Company in Oakland; it commenced in 1987 and incorporates physically challenged dancers and the fully mobile.

Jiri Kylian’s Falling Angels, music by Steve Reich and Sarabande, music by J.S. Bach, the first for women, the second for men, were brief and terse, with the women executing lateral movements on stage repetitive in semi-crouching position, startling and strong. I would like to see Sarabande a second time before further comment.

Two additional works followed, Constant Search and Concerto Grosso. The former, by student M.L. Edwards to Max Richter, greeted the audience with a mass of shades of green in Jim French’s twilight lighting. The ten dancers moved with considerable emphasis on side-to-six torso flexibility, again with left to right stage progression, almost as if they were creek creatures weaving their way to spawn.

Concerto Grosso is Helgi Tomasson’s creation for five men to Geminiani’s adaptation of Coralli, well remembered by audience attendees seeing Pascal Molat make his SFB debut in the red Milliskin unitard role. Molat staged the work which provided this writer with a strong sigh of remembrance.

In this second intermission interval, Dana Genshaft brought three dancers on stage; M.J. Edwards, Pemberley Ann Olson and Maya Wheeler to discuss their forays into choreography, part of the program School Director Patrick Armand has started. M.L. Edwards, whose Constant Search was part of the program, goes to the Juilliard School of Music Dance Department in September.

Following the second intermission, Tomasson’s Ballet d’Isoline completed the display of student talent. The selection with its music by Andre Massager made sense; as in previous annual performances it is important that the students appear in a work to establish their bona fides [that phrase invariably tickles me] in a classically constructed work, i.e. presentation by the corps, interaction with a leading couple or couples, a pas de deux of some complexity, a solitary bravura variation, and a resolution or summation of corps with the couple.

This was one of Tomasson’s early works, 1983 to be exact, premiering in San Francisco five years later, in February 1988. And, as such, the work is rather subdued, entirely well-mannered, conventional. It wouldn’t surprise me if it had been a work for some of the younger New York City dancers.

The couple, Sunmin Lee, and Anicet Marandel-Broutin related to each other in a rather solemn fashion, but they related, eye to eye, Ms. Lee is a pretty, fairly tall dancer and Marandel-Broutin clearly courteous and attentive; he reminded me a bit of the late Robert Gladstein who also was tall, lean and in need to muscle building. Marandel-Broutin has all the makings of a good classical partner.