Archive | October, 2019

Fall Trio at Z Space for Axis

29 Oct

The second of three performances of Axis Dance Company’s fall season at Z space in San Francisco October 26, the program started a little late because of late ticket demand. Not a bad thing for an interesting evening, followed by a Q&A adroitly handled by Rita Felciano.

For those unfamiliar with Axis, it is a, if not The dance company to pioneer where dancers with disabilities appear with fully active dancers in works created for the ensemble. Marc Brew joined Axis as Artistic Director in 2017 with the retirement of Judith Smith, the founding director. Former Axis dancer Sonsherée Giles has recently returned to the company as Rehearsal Director and Artistic Advisor.

First up was Flutter, a revised Robert Dekker trio, with marvelous, thoroughly fringed cream-toned unitards, danced by Bradford Chin, Yuko Monden-Juma and Del Marco Sleeper. The work, originally created in 2009 for three women, has also been performed by three men. All versions were set to Steve Reich’s “Clapping Music” and the “D Minor Partita for Solo Violin” by our friend J.S. Bach.

Special to the swooping arms and supple torsos were the additional swift turns and tilts to Del Marco Sleeper’s wheel chair, his ability to stop abruptly and to lift Monden-Juma when required. His presence amplified the qualities and gravitas of Bach.

Jennifer Archibald’s Petrichor-the smell of earth after rain was the first of two world premieres, set to music by Byron Metcalf and Steve Roach and Fennesz’ In My Room, costumes by Julie Bell. Utilizing all six company members with portions utilizing the considerable circus techniques of A. J. Guevara, there was a progression from the ensemble starting recumbent and curled. Some sections I felt were less about the smell of earth than winds scattering dampened leaves, the music reaching too many peaks as emphasis before the final grouping,  but served to display the skills of all six dancers.

For these two works Production Manager Walter Holden served as lighting designer.

Without question, the evening’s biggest draw was Arthur Pita’s latest choreographic scenic work, Alice in Californiland, designed by Yann Seabra, lit by Allen Willner to Maurice Ravel’s  “La Valse” and “California Dreaming” by Jose Feliciano.  Pita’s works last seen were with San Francisco Ballet, Salome and  Bjork Ballet for the 2018 Unbound Series..

The production was a stand out, opening with a canvas cloth stretched on the floor depicting San Francisco’s bridges in black and some orange. At stage back was a scruffy banner which rose at strategic points with a message, sounds of traffic emanating from some overpass, and odd shaped signs dotting both sides of the stage with messages, ranging from “Help Me!” to “Too ugly to prostitute, too stupid to steal.” The signs were whisked away for what we witnessed as Ravel’s score progressed from low rumbles to frenzied finish.

Commencing the work, every one is seen inert, sonomulent, Lani Dickinson and Yuko Monden-Juma in the center, curled against each other. The scene evolved with Dickinson in a short full skirt and bodice of blue, A J. Guevera in a pail green sack moving caterpillar like, Yuko Monden-Juma in a fluffy-textured pink tunic picking her way on her elegant legs, head encased in a beaked bird mask I attributed to Telegraph Hill parrots, but was meant to be a flamingo, Bradford Chin sporting a gilded cardboard crown, all whirling around to Ravel’s “La Valse.” Dickinson was tossed around, Monden Juma shed the tunic, her leotard body sporting a carryall with the word Hamilton on it, wandering or curling up disconsolately when not being buffeted by the male characters. In that fetal position she reached into her kit and withdrew, you guessed it, a length of small rubber hose, shooting up before wandering in a drugged daze. The frenzied sound of Ravel accompanied Dickinson’s loss of her blue gown, the work ending as the two young women curled, clinging to each other to the sounds of “California Dreaming”.

During the action, the once white canvas stage back was raised progressively, each line matching the action. At the finale, the entire message raised the question, Have You Ever Felt Invisible? In the program a small square of paper offered audience members a guide suggesting behavior when encountering the homeless.

No question an , in your face work on the situation besides the Golden Gate and
elsewhere in sunny California, blessed with remarkable visual reinforcement and six committed artists, who plunged, turned, left, covering space wholeheartedly and effectively.

What missed the mark was character development, more than shivers by Monden-Juma, the astonishment of Dickinson. We simply did not become acquainted with a street sleeper, only postures, habits, situations. Given the choice of Ravel, I also wonder whether that would have been possible. Still, the production and subject matter had a distinct effect on the  warmly receptive audience.

After a brief statement by the Axis president, Abbie Dutterer , a Q and A followed led by Rita Felciano. She initially thanked Arthur Pita for making a work about S.F.’s lesser occupants and asked him how he had come to select the subject. Pita recounted having seen a recumbent homeless woman en route to his dinner when he was mounting a work for San Francisco Ballet. He said she was inert, and also observed how she was ignored by other pedestrians. When he finished his dinner she was gone.

Artistic Director Mark Brew commented the work had been two years gestating,  Axis collaborating with Hospitality House and other organizations involved with the homeless to be certain the production rang true.  Mary Rogus, acknowledged in the program notes, thanked Axis for being so attentive to this marginal population.

One woman in the audience with experience with the homeless spoke eloquently of the need to acknowledge their existence, enforcing the emotion of that grungy canvas.

Flamenco, Jerez Style

29 Oct


Jerez de la Frontera to me has been associated with sherry and probably in connotations of many others. Clearly a part of Andalusia, Nina Menendez, artistic director of Bay Area Flamenco Society in the San Francisco Bay Area has seen to it Jerez displayed an additional gem amongst the Flamenco enclaves of that area so entwined with Moorish and Sephardic influence.

The evidence came to San Francisco’s Brava Theatre October 25 in the person of Maria del Mar Moreno and four other artists in their tidy, warm quintet featuring Maria, the singer Agujetas and guitarist Pepe del Morao. The audience adored the opportunity, standing after the singing as well as at the finale. The program, listed as Fall for Flamenco 2019, was titled Cante Gitano Andaluz, in the program featuring Agujetas and Morao. The quintet appeared close knit, familial, deeply attuned to each other.

Unusual to me was the presence of two younger women, singers of great energy from one, sustained passion from both in their remarkable rapport with Maria, Zaira de la Malena and the younger Tomasa Pena Santiago. For additional spice Luis de la Tota, tall and spare, possessed of an abundant head of shoulder length white hair, contributed steady palmas and at least two infecting bursts of taconeo.

The guitarist, Morao, small and tidy of frame with wavy hair, was mesmerizing, his opening chords remarkably resonant. Carlos Carvajal mentioned the guitar was larger than usual and flamenco strings are entirely gut, adding to the power in its sound. I have no idea what the names are for the techniques of guitar playing, but from delicacy, evoking twilight of a warm day to swift, violent, repeated strokes, accented by brief strokes on the guitar wood, Morao wove an environment where nothing mattered but the music he was producing.

Then there was Maria del Mar Moreno. She is soul sister to the late Bharata Natyam exponent Balasaraswati in spirit and in demeanor, tall, on the matronly side, matter of fact in entrance, clearly in charge of her small enclave, minus fussy about said fact, comfortable in her limits, a definite, generous spirit. When she began to move, there was none of the swish usual with the bata de cola. Front, center and a barrage of taconeo, thank you very much, face slightly frowning in her declaration. One or two bursts, and she left the stage to de la Tota and Pena Santiago, the former who cavorted a bit, grasped the ends of his shirt elegantly as he turned.

Tomasa Pena Santiago favors a sartorial style proclaiming glamor with a slit to the knee and a plunging neckline at the breast with strands of hair falling at the sides of her temples. Seated, she sang with a mike, accompanied by del Morao’s guitar.

Next, Moreno returned from stage right, her body clothed in red, a pretty costume, spectacular only because the chiffon-like full skirt was accented by a plethora of ruffles. To the voice of Zaira de la Molina, statuesque in black standing profile mid-stage left close to Morao’s guitar, Maria de la Mar Moreno alternately stood or paraded in a self-chosen small circle thundering away with taconeo, occasionally lifting those cherry hued skirts displaying slender legs and shoes with well-shod insteps. She looked at the audience, paid attention to Zaira as if voice and taconeo were in familiar conversation, q and a, and just once or twice smiled at the audience, or shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “So there!” Once or twice she awarded the audience with a smile the essence of friendliness. We were all captivated.

After Maria acknowledged fan-laden applause, it was intermission before Pepe del Morao demonstrated his sensitive command of guitar and the flamenco idiom following our break for conviviality. The range from aching delicacy to thundering, repeated emphasis was reassuring that the tradition was in appropriate hands, and was doubly emphasized when he accompanied Diego Agujetas arrived to sing.

Confessed ignoramus as I am, I don’t remember ever hearing the tonal range of a singer that Agujetas poured forth. What ever words he uttered seemed to be surrounded by a shifting amplifier, the sound slightly nasal but vibrant in delivery, gently tuning or pushed urgently, impatiently as if the meaning of the words simply were inadequate to the emotion. The closest analogy was the manipulation of an pipe organ,  coming from a single human voice Agujetas’ accomplishment was like hearing the organ’s stops manipulated from softest pianissimo to full throttle; the effect profound, never mind the words.

It also was obvious the two men shared more than music.

Maria’s second appearance was in black, accenting the somber passionate lament and anger in her taconeo, the use of her arms, her expression as she exchanged regards with Zaira de la Malena was an exchange deeply intimate. The passion of her taconeo along with the inward swoop of her arms emphasized the gravity, frustration and sorrow she had assembled with her posture and the concentration on her face. The exchange was clearly beyond the usual cantina explosion, something profound if fleeting.

And that was it, save for a standing ovation, a brief bulerias for the ensemble to acknowledge our enthusiasm. Leaving the Brava feeling I felt a witness to intimate flamenco.

Thank you Nina Menendez.

Alicia Alonso: A Formative Memory

19 Oct

There are those of us balletomanes who remember Alicia Alonso’s active career in Ballet Theatre and Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. But we are getting fewer, and for history, memory and nostalgia’s sake, it’s appropriate to share those snippets in dance history as tribute to the awareness and standards Alonso’s dancing provided.

Mine are quite few, but for me indelible. The first was non-dancing when I was a freshman at Pomona College. Ballet Theatre as it was then known came to Ontario in a one-night stand and a couple of us managed to get wheels and go off campus to see the company. If my memory is accurate, the company danced a truncated version of Sleeping Beauty, Act Three. I definitely remember wigs, tutus and glitter back stage.

I had raided practically every camellia bush I dared before arriving at the backstage and was met by the ballet mistress. I felt like an unformed bulk facing her small, tidy frame, grey hair pulled back severely, small dangling earrings,  with a pale set of eyes appraising you without apology. I managed to explain that the flowers were for the dancers before leaving to find my seat.

But while I was trying to explain, a dancer walked past, black hair streaming down to her shoulders, slender legs encased in slippers with ribbons trailing behind, partially dressed for her role in the evening’s roster. I later realized it was Alicia Alonso.

But the real memory of her dancing happened at the Biltmore Theatre in Los Angeles on a Saturday matinee, either in my junior or senior year in college when Ballet Theatre came to Los Angeles. I can’t remember whether it was before or after the company’s necessary fiscal hiatus. On the bill was Theme and Variations and, of course, Alicia Alonso and Igor Youskevitch, costumed by Eugene Berman in midnight blue and black with Youskevitch sporting a beret with a blue plume. His variation left us gasping as that variation still does when danced by any practitioner.

Then came Alicia with that tutu with its marked hoop-like silhouette, glitter at the bodice and the hem, flanked by the soloists as they wove in and out of her extended arms. Unless I am mistaken it was one of the first, if not the first of Balanchine’s ballets to employ the daisy chain device and it was a charmer, Alicia inclining her head first right and then left as the dancers executed their bourrees in and out from their flanking position.

Then it was Alicia’s turn, and I can almost hear the musical line as her pointes stabbed the floor  passe en avant and  passe en derriere [which came first I don’t recall] and at one point her arms expanded in a circular motion.

To be honest, I can’t remember the couple’s pas de deux and have just a vague memory of the finale with the supporting cast moving on the diagonal, men from upper stage left to down stage right where the women were waiting. Subsequent costuming has not improved or bettered that impression.

But in the early ‘50’s it was definitely exciting, and, to my eyes, quite stylish with the Alonso-Youskevitch partnership the ne plus ultra. As Agnes de Mille remarked to me regarding Alonso’s tribute to Youskevitch upon his retirement from the University of Texas at Austin when she sank to his feet to honor him, “It was a moment.”

Merci beaucoup une mille fois, Alicia.

San Francisco Ballet’s Insights Two, September 29, 2019

14 Oct

Jennifer Scholick  opened this second session of Insights discussing  San Francisco Ballet’s involvement with the Dance in America series, how Michael Smuin procured  Merrill Brockway’s interest in the company, and the productions produced in their association

Scholick brought the audience up to date on the emergence of state and national funding for the arts and humanities, saying the New York State Arts Council was incorporated in 1960;  by 1965 all states possessed some form of funding agency for artistic endeavors. If I am correct,  mention made somewhere Utah established some form of arts support back in the 1880’s. Not included in Scholik’s comments this Utah data needs to be confirmed. Perhaps and characteristic is: guess where were the Christensen brothers born and spent their formative years?

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Endowments legislation into law in 1965.  Governmental support was tied to existing private funding or foundations.
Corporations began to take advantage of a law enacted in the mid-late ‘30s;  said  law permitted corporations to spend up to 5% of corporate profits before dividends on non-profit endeavors. The Capezio Foundation took advantage of the law, incorporating nineteen years before the Congressional enabling legislation.

Parenthetically, I was in Washington when President Johnson signed the bill into law. He also had undergone surgery and handed out scalpels as souvenirs at the same time.
Somewhere in the Congressional chambers I listened to Roger L. Stevens divest his commercial interests, seated behind a worn blue curtain in a capsule sized broadcasting booth: an awesome historical moment for this country cousin.

Dance in America started its series in 1975-76 with a planned production of 4 televised programs a year. The Joffrey Ballet was the inaugural company featured, performing the Massine-Picasso 1917 Parade, The Green Table and Gerald Arpino’s Trinity, if my memory is accurate. If I am correct, there were images of Joffrey listening to Kurt Jooss or Leonide Massine, with Gary Chryst dancing Massine’s Conjurer role in Parade.

Merrill Brockway, who was responsible for the series had also produced an earlier Martha Graham documentary. He was interested in the possibilities of dancers on camera and insistent on the quality of dancing and where danced.

Brockway also got the choreographers to adapt their work to the screen and the limits placed by the use of three cameras. He utilized tape recording to preserve the integrity of the work, and shot the dances in five minute sections,

Scholick related Michael Smuin’s maneuver to interest Brockway in San Francisco Ballet. The first televised companies was focused on East Coast-based companies. Both men served on the Dance Panel of the NEA simultaneously.  At perhaps the first panel meeting, Michael arrived early enough to change the name cards so he and Brockway sat side by side. The maneuver resulted in a cordial relationship and the scheduling of Michael Smuin’s Romeo and Juliet’s taping being taped over four days in Nashville’s Grand Old Opry new facility early in 1978.

My notes read that Smuin’s The Tempest was filmed in 1981 at the San Francisco
Opera House on a mid-afternoon, followed in 1982 by Gladstein’s choreography to Stravinsky, in 1983 by Song for Dead Warriors, 1984 by Jinx and Songs of Mahler, and in 1985 by the Christensen-Smuin version of Cinderella.

Janet Flannery, current executive director of the San Francisco International Dance Film Festival, lengthy collaborator with KQED’s cultural programming and the television series Dance in America concluded first half of the program.

Flannery recounted  she switched her major and goal of being an English teacher at S.F. state to broadcasting and started volunteering at KQED. She studied ballet with Tricia Kaye, and, after becoming a staff member at the station was asked to become KQED’s first cultural officer, producing such programs for eight years.

In her producer hat role, Flannery was responsible for raising the funds for these productions, contracting virtually all the personnel, and cleaning up. She mentioned that the filming of The Tempest as a live telecast in San Francisco’s Opera House coincided with the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan’s life. In addition to the nerves related to that national event, Flannery also acquired a portable satellite deposited on the loading dock.

Flannery was also enlisted for the television recording of three works under Helgi Tomasson’s watch: Othello, The Nutcracker and The Little Mermaid. Othello was a co-production with American Ballet Theatre featuring Desmond Richardson in the title role and Yuan Yuan Tan as Desdemona. Flannery mentioned it took her a year to raise the financing for The Little Mermaid and was aided by European television contacts.
Unmentioned was that a U.S. production required an American company for the production of a work by a European-based choreographer, even though John Neumeir is a native-born American.

Following the break, Anita Paciotti and Jim Sohm reflected on their experiences with their roles in the Romeo and Juliet production after being questioned by Scholick how their interest in ballet started.

Anita said she badgered her mother to buy her a leotard. Jim said he was drawn by watching Astaire and Rogers on Channel 2 films. Both acknowledged that The Red Shoes movie made its impact on their enthusiasm for ballet. Both artists enjoyed their first professional affiliation with Ronn Guidi’s Oakland Ballet. I can testify to seeing Anita dancing at 14 in Angene Feves’ ballet The Proposal of Pantalone. Feves, a specialist in Elizabethan and Baroque dancing, not only choreographed the ballet and danced in it with Guidi, but was responsible for the exquisite costumes worn by the entire cast.

Romeo and Juliet was quite a challenge in the 18th Avenue remodeled garage which then housed San Francisco Ballet. The filming team from New York descended on San Francisco, but actual filming occurred at the Grand Old Opry’s new auditorium in Nashville. For the production Anita was dancing Lady Capulet and Jim was Romeo. Anita remembered Leon Kalimos admonishing her , “No eyebrows, Anita.”

Jim and Anita said that the company was scheduled to perform in Hawaii so the crowd scenes were filmed first. “The funeral cortege, the street and ballroom scenes; as soon as these were completed, the dancers were flown out to Hawaii. ”

In the four days the company was there, the Balcony, Tomb and Bedroom were filmed last. Jim said, “There is a TV stage behind the main stage, good for smaller scenes.” Dancing with Diana Weber as Juliet, Jim recounted, “We decided that we would dance through the scene without stopping so that there was coherence.” Carlos Carvajal announced from a nearby table, “Jim was a natural. He was young, innocent and handsome.” The audience chuckled.

When it came to The Tempest, however, Jim became Bacchus. “It was heavy disco,” and he quoted someone who said, “Honey, we all need footlights.” Asked what his role was in Song for Dead Warriors, with an utterly straight face, Jim said, ‘Buffalo.”

Both Anita and Jim concluded their observations saying that the television exposure played a definite part in expanding not only the San Francisco audience and the company’s prominence, but the general awareness of ballet as an art form worth seeing.

SFB Insights, October 6; Two Dancers Discuss Film-making

9 Oct

Benjamin Freemantle’s initial exposure to ballet was live and Madison Keesler’s was Baryshnikov on television. Ballet British Columbia danced a version of Rodeo when Canadian-born Benjamin Freemantle was ten; Madison Keesler’s initial experience was through her mother who danced and on the Tube seeing Baryshnikov.

It should be said Freemantle’s share of the interview was a delivery off-handed, fluid,  with a slightly quirky touch of humor. These qualities were in excellent view with the Trey McIntyre choreography and the challenge of being the Sea Witch in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid.

Keesler’s was definite, as precise as her self-correcting or qualifying, slightly self-deprecating comments would permit. She spent at least a season with the Birmingham Royal Ballet before returning to San Francisco, and, while there, began to work with film.

Both young artists unconsciously conveyed an individual appeal, making it obvious why they have arrived in their present status, their ambiance infectious.

Freemantle seemed overflowing with ideas, opinions, with Keesler as the technical half of the pair who had been collaborating about eighteen months to two years. Madison Keesler said for their first project Benjamin showed up with carefully prepared story boards, a work involving Jennifer Stahl, just two minutes. Their second joint project was a collaboration with Jaime Garcia Castilla, former AFB principal, now with the modern company ODC, titled “Coming Home.”

Both these works are scheduled to be shown at the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, the collaboration with Castilla on the Festival’s closing night.

Insights Three, San Francisco Ballet, October 6

8 Oct

This third and final 2019 San Francisco Ballet Insights covered film and television developments following Helgi Tomasson’s assumption of artistic direction in 1985.
It included four major television productions with the company, the development of camcorders, iPhones, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Cecilia Beam interviewed company manager Debra Bernard and Jennifer Scholnik questioned Benjamin Freemantle and Madison Keesler about their filming collaboration, two to be seen in the 2019 San Francisco Dance Film Festival.

Scholnik observed San Francisco Ballet’s involvement on television slowed in the ‘90’s, but that in 2002 the company partnered with American Ballet Theatre to televise Lar Lubovitch’s Othello, featuring Desmond Richardson and Yuan Yuan Tan in the title roles, with Matthew Diamond responsible for the production. Parish Maynard danced Iago, having premiered the role at ABT and with SFB in the local premiere. Scholnik remarked that SFB’s involvement in television seemed to be marked by roughly five year intervals.

The next production was in 2008, Tomasson’s take on The Nutcracker with the company’s new production using the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition as the locus for the sets and costumes. Co-sponsored by WNET and KQED it was filmed by eight cameras over three days.

The 2015 Romeo and Juliet production, the 1994 Tomasson interpretation of the Shakespearean tragedy, was the inaugural ballet for the Lincoln Center Goes to the Movies. As Scholnik observed, the works being televised were on a movie house scale, evening length and story ballets, important SFB repertoire pieces, and both highly produced and very expensive undertakings.

Scholnik then recounted SFB’s encounter and adoption of the technical innovations available, starting coverage on Facebook, 2005 and being on YouTube. Google coverage commenced in 2006.

Utilizing these venues, the company featured the making of new work and featuring members of the company in interviews. She also mentioned the controversy with Viacom over footage and the example of Anaheim Ballet in 2006 showing work designed specifically for viewing free of controversy.

Also mentioned were Center Stage in 2000 and So You Think You can Dance in 2005, snippets of which displayed clearly American girls being given comments of the most basic and demeaning comments about positions, weight, suitability, all clearly designed to knot the stomach of the viewer or the screen victim.

San Francisco Ballet began to retain a television specialist in 2010, following the example of Pacific Northwest Ballet  in 2009.

The practice of live streaming was discussed relating to World Ballet Day in 2014. Kevin O’Hare, artistic director of World Ballet, approached Helgi Tomasson with the idea who responded, “I’m in.” The 24 hour streaming involved the Australian Ballet, The Bolshoi and Royal Ballets, the National Ballet of Canada as well as San Francisco Ballet in that order. The practice has continued, although San Francisco Ballet’s schedule has prevented participation in 2018, again in 2019 with a projected return in 2020.

Scholnik touched on the iPhone and Instagram developments in 2010, that latter being used by SFB in 2011.  She also mentioned footage of Ochoa’s Guernica on TikTok, showing striking footage of Dores Andre and the horns featured in the work.

Cecilia Beam, Audience Engagement Coordinator also in charge of SFB’s Dance for Parkinson’s program, then assumed the chair to interview General Manager Debra Barnard. A Napa Valley native, she started a theatrical management career by answering a San Francisco Chronicle ad with the San Francisco Opera, learning the ropes of opera management; how sets and costumes were built, budgets created and met, the management of artists and the overall operatic budget. Barnard then spent eight years with the New York City Ballet before returning to San Francisco and assuming the role of general manager.

Barnard said she is responsible for the management of the Chris Hellman Center for Dance Building where the Insight sessions were being held in the William Dollar Room. She handles negotiations and contracts with 7 unions, for the dancers and production crews, as well as special events like World Ballet Day.

Barnard described enlisting Judith Flannery’s support in the realization of  World Ballet Day, mentioning the control booth was set up where pointe shoes were stored, laying cable for three cameras. Barnard was required to seek an advance waiver for the 4 hour undertaking and permitting the filming to be shown on YouTube for a subsequent 30 day period. She was required to work not only with the local unions, but the stage hands from the Royal Ballet, blending them with the local crew and the cameramen.

The company class, as in all the segments of World Ballet Day, was filmed start to finish, but rehearsals of forthcoming works were covered with pre-recorded material. Barnard credited Bravo, SFB’s volunteer committee, with providing the necessary catering.

Barnard described the necessity of getting waivers from AGMA, the artist’s union covering SFB dancers, a necessity for special occasions, particularly when the dancers were filmed in a former train station in Oakland with glimpses of Justin Peck’s Countenance of Kings ballet. The dancers were eager to film the segment and elected sneakers instead of ballet shoes because of the non-Marley floor; heaters were installed to bring the climate between 65 and 95 degrees, Peck obtained the music rights from the composer; an emergency waiver sent in Friday was approved on Saturday morning, with the stage crew, musicians and dancers being paid. Attendees had the privilege of seeing part of the handsome results.

My final entry of Insights Three will feature Benjamin Freemantle, principal dancer, and Madison Keesler, soloist, speaking about their initial exposures to ballet and their own ventures in film making.

The second Insight series will eventually  have a recap,  covering San Francisco Ballet’s participation in the Dance in America series and interviews with Anita Paciotti and Jim Sohm.

“Tattooed” A Three Flamenco Artist Triumph, Presidio Theatre, October 5

7 Oct

The audience on October 5 filled two thirds of the Presidio Theatre for one of the
most amazing, moving and effective flamenco productions I have ever seen.
Thanks to Dancers’ Group’s October In Dance, I was aware of the inaugural performance of Sintonia Dance’s Tattooed October 3-5 at the newly-renovated Theatre in the Presidio, featuring Fanny Ara, Marina Elana and guest artist Yaelisa. The inaugural performance of Sintonia Dance was such I could have seen all three evenings and lobbied for more.

Presidio Theatre is the former movie house for the one-time U.S. Army base, remodeled with a $30,000,000 gift by the Margaret Haas Fund. Vacant since 1995, the renovation of the 600-seat theater provides both a warm ambiance and clearly state-of-the art technical facilities. Tattooed was a worthy event in its inaugurating fall programs. Any regrets harbored are those of a frustrated, monolingual dance lover.

Facilitating this remarkable feat of theatre were stage director Jose Maldonado, and four musicians; Matias Lopez, “El Mati”, singer; David Chupete, percussion, Ernesto Briceno, Violin, and Gonzalo Grau, piano, keyboards and the quartet’s musical director.

With musicians masked behind a scrim, only illuminated at key moments, the three artists used the full front of the stage, an area backstage center and left to dance stories of desolation, angst and anger. The trio appeared together before commencing their solos;  Marina, small, fragile; Ara, slender, brooding; Yaelisa, statuesque, thoughtful.

Starting with Marina, she darted from stage right to left, frantically trying to escape, arms sometimes flaying, sometimes clutching her body in her moments standing stark still where her taconeo rang out abruptly, insistently, stopping as she faced the insult delivered on her body. She divested herself of her olive coat, and, continued her rage pugnaciously. Throughout, her headlong responses were passionate assertions of worthy  protest, just as her flamenco facility, arms and taconeo demonstrated prime examples of the best of the style.

Fanny Ara, in black tunic and trousers, dark hair slightly obscuring her face, was met downstage center by Matias Lopez, “El Mati,” who sang to her in phrases ending with his right heel striking the stage boards hard. It was here that my ignorance left me helpless, just as Ara cringed, lay prone on the stage, her body convulsed by El Mati’s singing voice and strident heel emphasis.

On to the stage come Marina and Yaelisa, Marina chattering like a bird, Yaelisa making consoling sounds. They help Ara on to her feet, propping her sagging posture, and Marina places a red flower in Ara’s hair, Yaelisa drapes a figured oblong cloth around her hips and then Marina places a fan in the right hand, unfurling it and raising Ara’s  right arm in a salutary position. Ara sways, and is steadied, encouraged. She breaks into a ghastly grin, takes a few conventional steps in this conventional posture before collapsing. Marina and Yaelisa gather Ara up from the floor and try to get her going again. Ara dances a little and then flings all the props away from her wildly, causing her confreres to retreat.

She sprawls on the floor, alone, and, slowly, gathers herself together, and stands up, proceeding to deliver a thundering cacophony of protest. Ara then slowly picks up the discarded props, cloth flung one direction, rose upstage, and finally the fan, moving towards stage right.

Yaelisa, in a floor length gown, mingled yellows and brown to create an earthy emphasis, cradles a near black fabric as if it was some beloved creature, a child, a pet, as her face responds to the movements of the unseen creature. She cradles it, brings it forward to her face, lies on the floor with it at her side, protectively. Then anxiety pervades Yaelisa’s face. She shakes the creature slightly, holds it carefully, warily watching it until she registers it is no more and, in a devastating gesture, shakes the cloth out to its basis oblong form. Her taconeo is minimal in comparison to Ara  and Marina, but still definite, conveying mourning in its sound.

Ara and Marina emerge from stage right to comfort Yaelisa. There is a brief, but profound acknowledgment of the three; they stand, facing the audience, as the lights slowly darken and obscure their trio, fateful presence.

To say the audience approved is absurd. The ovation was immediate, standing, vociferous, prolonged. The dancers brought on the musicians – more demonstration. I found Carlos Carvajal who had found a seat in the center orchestra in tears.

Jess Curtis at Counterpulse and (In)Visible, October 3

6 Oct

For those readers unfamiliar with Counterpulse,it is a remarkably successful counter-culture venue which moved from Mission near Ninth to 80 Turk Street some three years ago under a lease-to-buy arrangement with the Rainin Foundation, and is a source of unusual productions. Not all of them show evidence of the expected training for dancers performing for pay. It also provides a showcase for anyone wanting to know and see the various adornments alive and well in counter-culture and sartorial choices, along with a gamut of coiffures.

Jess Curtis, who spends half a year in Europe, I think in Berlin, has conceived and directed a production without his physical presence, but certainly with touches which I recognize as part of his aesthetic exploration. Specifically, this comment means that audience members are seated in chairs scattered around the floor, with some random, a cluster in a circle and the larger number against the wall, signifying those seatedat the wall didn’t wish to be directly involved in the 70 minute performance.

With the option of using an acousta-guide issued in the foyer, the audience was initially plunged into darkness, a condition dominating most of the movement with speech added. It commenced with the statement, “I’m here,” from the performers in various parts of the movement space which had been adorned with broad bands of silver, gold and varied color streamers suspended from the ceiling, looking about 1.5-2 inches wide, contributing to the whooshing sounds which punctuated the activity periodically. The “I’m here” seemed to move in location. The darkness faded just enough so one could see shapes moving and sweeping around the central focus, seated audience members, perhaps six, in a circle.

Then the performers began to speak in phrases and sentences, proclaiming their activities, “I am looking up,” “ I am moving the curtain,” [slight whoshing sound]
“I am standing up,” “I am taking off my shoes.” At this point, I remember having seen Tandy Beal in performance at the early ODC theater space, when she was active performing solo and in partnership, doing the self same thing, but with full stage lighting and remaining largely in one place.

The lighting dimmed and blacked out perhaps two times before the finale, which was marked by frenzied whooping, turning, galloping around the stage space. It was not before one performer had moved up to a solitary figure slightly forward from the wall, white haired, dressed in a handsome array of black and white scarf, tunic and skirt and sporting a cane, The performer fussed around her and left behind an array of colorful, satiny-looking pieces of cloth under her seat. Other performers left fabric props elsewhere.

The most startling example of performer-audience engagement happened to my right when a performer moved over, remarked on the woman’s shoes and said, “I am removing your shoe.” I glanced over in slight alarm, but the woman, wearing glasses, with short white hair and her own version of black mingled with white,  looked my way and didn’t turn an eye lash. The young man continued his exploration, “I am moving my hand up your trousers,” I am moving my hand on your hips,” and “I am going to sit in your lap,” which he proceeded to do, curling up like a giant lap dog. I was startled, thinking since we were lined up around the wall, we were safely off limits.

I don’t remember whether he announced his departure, but he left some of his fabric behind as well as the shoe he had removed. Shortly thereafter the house lights went up, the dancers gathered around various locations acknowledged the applause, and the performance was finished. Some one collected our audi-phones, another the yellow or pinkish tubes of liquid held by a narrow strand of red ribbon, and some of the audience gathered in the upstairs foyer to chat.

Reading the program, I began to make sense of what was seen; sighted individuals being exposed to blindness and the paramount importance of sound, touch and the human voice. Had I read the notes by Georgina Kleege before the performance, I might have been better clued in. At least two of the participants in the notes are identified as blind. One artist, based in Berlin, speaks of “their artistic practice” without clearly identifying the second of the two. Several of the notes indicated the performers are well educated, have enjoyed notable fellowships and prizes, with funding including both Berlin, California and San Francisco based sources; it speaks to mind sets one describes as enlightened.

In(Visible) was conceived and directed by Jess Curtis, but he was not at participant. That was very much a pity

Lines Fall Season, October 1, 2019

3 Oct

Lines commenced its brief fall season October 1, 2019 at Yerba Buena Center’s Oracle Theater. I got there via MUNI just in time for the curtain and scarcely had a chance to survey the program. Rachel Ash was making the usual curtain pitch usually reserved for the Executive Director. Muriel Maffre left that position in June.

The company danced two numbers. The first, The Personal Element with music composed and played by Jason Moran, Robert Rosenwasser performing his usual stint for costume design, was initially created for the Vail Dance Festival, commissioned by Damian Woetzel Vail’s Artistic Director [in 2017 he also was appointed President of the Julliard School].  The Personal Element utilized 4 dancers from Lines and 4 from the New York City Ballet. Along with a July 16 feature by Gia Kourlas in The New York Times, with a great head shot of Alonzo King, the work enjoyed a formidable provenance.

At the beginning all eight dancers were seen lined in a row across the back of the stage, arrayed in white, various styles for the women, bare chests and white tights for the men. Through out, the extreme articulation of ballet positions, precarious stretches and partnering enabling the woman to exercise staccato probings on point were familiar to Lines followers. Jason Moran’s music was remarkably smooth and lyric, eminently danceable, though a phrase started never seemed to rate further development or a coda. Yet Moran was skillfully lending to a display which undoubtedly stretched the NYCB dancers, but which is standard breakfast, lunch and dinner fare for Lines dancers.

What I found consistently interesting in the music and the dancing was how King treated melody and lyricism. Where the melody seemed as if a traditional choreographer would employ a pirouette, an extended arabesque or attitude, King deliberately accented a stretch, a staccato point stabbing solo or supported extension or torso twisting. If the piece earned a sub-title it could easily be “Broken Melody.”

Of course, it was superbly delivered by the eight dancers, though Babatunji and Yujin Kim were missing. Shuaib Elhassan was notable for the gentle focus he brought to his partnering in addition to his turns and jetes; he’s a wonderful company asset.

Azoth was the second, and longer piece, utilizing Moran again in collaboration with Charles Lloyd, saxophonist, with special lighting design by Jim French and Jim Campbell for imagery , along with sound design by Philip Perkins.   For the title Azoth I had to go to Wikipedia for a definition and this is what I read. “Azoth was believed to be the essential agent of transformation in alchemy. It is the name given by ancient alchemists to mercury, the animating spirit hidden in all matter that makes transmutation possible.” This is to say such a title is standard fare for Alonzo King, the spiritual searcher.

Some of the eeriness of the set was immediately apparent with the appearance of two dancers in recumbent postures, large squares of multi small bulbs hanging from the flies, and a line from up to down stage right just above the dancers as they rose to sitting position, one of them Ashley Mayeux, possessor of an extraordinarily facile extension and articulate torso.

Maxeux sat, hand holding a smaller set of lights before rising, her mood one of thoughtful inquiry, a mood which was reflected throughout the work, accented by the notes of the saxophone, whether mournful, melodic or drawn out as an extension of piano phrasing.

What was unusual about Azoth, in contrast to most of Lines’ work, were sections where the dancers formed ensemble patterns, as if appearing in a conventional ballet. Now that I know the meaning of Azoth I can understand why King elected to use such a standard formation; he had to. To fulfill the definition of the word, King needed to embrace the convention even as he dissolved it, some time before the dancers moved to the lengthy sound of the saxophone’s ending note.