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United Nationals and The Ethnic Dance Festival

18 Jul

It may or may not have been inevitable, but seventy-two years after the United Nations was formulated and signed at San Francisco’s Opera House and Veterans’s Auditorium, the Ethnic Dance Festival celebrated thirty-nine years of presenting the multi-national traditions of the San Francisco Bay Area. And, apparently with great success, because executive director Julie Mushet said the event has been a sell-out.

It was a casual ambiance climbing the Opera House steps and the attire matched it outside. Klezmer music greeted me after I got my ticket at one of the Festival tables for Week One‘s matinee. I would wager that fully seventy per cent of the audience had never been in the Opera House auditorium before; I am also willing to wage that the auditorium had never enjoyed such a relaxed and participatory audience either, except, of course, after an opera or ballet star’s exhilarating aria or solo.

Outside the Opera House itself several groups presented musical traditions from China, Mexico and Indonesia over the two weekends..

The handsome 53-page, four-color program laid out the program sequence for both weekends and the inside page rightly credited David Lei and Judy Wilbur as co-chairs, both stalwart supporters of the Asian Art Museum, Lei himself a former folk dancer in San Francisco.

Some twenty-eight active in the Bay Area and California ethnic scene were listed as members of the Honorary Committee, from presenters to photographers and artists. Then followed not only the groups scheduled but acknowledgment of Carlos Carvajal and C.K. Ladzebo, the artistic directors of the Festival and Naomi Diouf, this year’s recipient of the Malonga Casquelord Award for Life Time Achievement. My only quibble with the format is how difficult it was to read the text against the bright paper, hard on aging eyes.
Perhaps it was fortuitous that the Academy of Danse Libre, the opening ensemble, appeared in white gloves, hoop skirts of lively hues, floral hairpieces and for the men, black frock coats of a late nineteenth century vintage. The group, founded in 1996 by alumni of the Stanford Vintage Dance Ensemble, specializes in European dances of 1840-1860.

De Rompa y Raja followed, a distinctly sly commentary on European habits in the New World, specifically Peru, where sleeveless tunics and pantaloons on the males were accented by a clearly African rhythm, reflecting the Afro-Peruvian tradition, kept alive during the Spanish colonial period. The group was founded in 1995 by Gabriela Schiroma.

Na Lei Hulu Ika Wekiu, led by Patrick Mukuakane, started with its women, in beautiful patterned green floor length gowns swaying and gesturing to the Flower Song from the opera Lakme sung by Maya Kherani and countertenor Cortez Mitchell, both possessing staggering academic and musical accomplishments.

Feminine grace was followed by the male ensemble with Makukane and his gourd drum evoking the Hawaiian chant for statehood, the men in shortened trousers and loose shirts moving in solidarity for the right to participate in American politics. Minus the usual grass skirts, the knee flex conveyed the cohesion of the ensemble and the sentiment.

Just before intermission The Alayo Dance Company, organized in 2002, provided a colorful and flashy portrait of Cuban social dances, rhumba, salsa, comparsa and a touch of modern dance.

Zakir Hussein with sarangi exponent Zabir Khan and vocalist Pritam Bhattacharnayna led the excitement following intermission, Hussein’s tabla revving up the ante for the bol competition between his tabla and the bells and recitation by Kathak exponent Antonia Minnecola. Parts of the exchange seemed muted because of the lighting, but Minnecola demonstrated both skill and elegance.

New to my memories of the Ethnic Festival is San Francisco’s Awako Ken, founded in 2011 by Rimiko Berreman, and celebrating the folk tradition not only of Tokushima City but also the prefecture on Shikoku Island with emphasis on Awa Obon, a dance component of a 400 year old festival. In white tabi and tilting geta, the women, their circular straw hats folded into watermelon-like slices, the men in blue jackets and patterned headbands, the performers struck a singularly bright and cheerful note.

Closing the Weekend One program were Likhia, presenting traditions from Cotabatu on Mindinao, and Fogo Na Roupa Performing Company, celebrating the traditions of Afro-Brazilian both musically and sartorially, emphasized the ceremonial, the former solemn, almost snooty, and the latter alive with rhythm.

Ann Mary, Contraception and The Pope of Rome, a Novel of San Francisco

11 Jul

Murphy, Nancy Tefaro, Ann Mary, Contraception and the Pope of Rome: A Novel of San Francisco.
Green Isles Press, Pacific Grove CA, 2016, 191pp., pbk, $9.95
ISBN: 978-0-578-17273-6

Living in the Sunset during early post-war San Francisco, Ann Mary Mooney Kenny is the mother of two daughters, Virginia or Virgie and Teresa, and a 2-year old son, Freddy. She has had two miscarriages. As a dutiful Roman Catholic, Ann Mary is torn between her religious obligations and her all-too-human desire to prevent further births, though continuing to serve her conjugal duties to her husband, Henry, a Northern Irishman, one of five brothers but the only one immigrating to the United States.

We are introduced to the parish priest of St. Cyril’s, Father Capwell, a grower of potatoes, his housekeeper Mrs. Heafy, and a difficult parishioner’s visit by Ann Mary and Henry, the former seeking absolution from having to conceive, the husband truculent, crudely speaking of the Church’s doctrine. Before the audience, the reader becomes familiar with Father Capwell’s own youth, being one of eight children, his discomfort with slang terms for sexual organs, his rather hazy grasp of Church doctrine, his love of a potato patch in the sandy soil besides the rectory.

The reader meets Father Capwell’s checkers match with a bed-bound parishioner who invariably beats him, his on-going truce with his housekeeper over chipped bowls and a scarcely varying menu “Campbell soup (he sometimes got to pick one of two varieties), the meatloaf or roast tormented in her oven into grey slabs so hard on his gums, and Byrd’s Custard, sweet gruel. He could not force himself to be grateful.” He is, by the way, short and quite rotund.

Next comes a school morning scramble in the Kenny Household, mush, milk, hair brushing, father bellowing about the whereabouts of his slide rule…. “in any case, we began each day in an uproar.”

We next meet Teresa, the narrator, seated at her desk in the parochial school room of St. Cryil’s, which is adorned with various religious depictions of Saints. Teresa describes the two nuns who have the classroom power over her and her classmates and lists Mathematical Catholicism, an astonishing, comprehensive list of saints, practices and Roman Catholic beliefs.

As her mother also tries to master the calculations for the rhythm method, the reader is drawn into psyche of this beleaguered Irish-American woman desperately trying to survive Catholic doctrine regarding birth control, her desire to be a good Catholic and to avoid continual child bearing in the bleak Sunset rental home the five family member occupies. She crumples all too easily in the collective situation of the church parish social gatherings. There is a chapter devoted to the Mental Bulletin Board of Ann-Mary Moody Kenny, in reality her heart. Her author Murphy constructs with telling acuity the mixture of daily maternal admonitions, religious strictures, daily duties and minor pleasures and the accumulations of an individual life.

Nancy Tafaro Murphy possesses not only an intimate knowledge of Roman Catholic parochial training, the fallacies of limited parishioner exposure along with doctrinal demands, but an eye and an ear for familial dailiness, the uneven rhythms of affection, and the wear and tear of domestic existence in early post-war San Francisco. The portrait she conveys fascinates for its keenness and the acuity in language choices which propel the reader into Irish-American tempest in San Francisco’s Sunset.

In the interest of full disclosure, Nancy Tefaro Murphy shared parts of this novel with members of a writing group at The Mechanics Institute Library in San Francisco, portions firing my interest, impatient to read the completed novel.

Ann-Mary, Contraception and The Pope of Rome is not kind to the Roman Catholic hierarchy; I am willing to wager it would find in Francis I a compassionate reader. It is an extraordinarily rich portrait of the struggles of the fated faithful. I recommend it for its skillful language and penetrating insights in the dilemma faced between faith and human life.

In the vernacular, it’s a great read.

SFDance Works Season Two: June 22-24

28 Jun

ODC’s BWayTheatre on Seventeenth Street in San Francisco was the scene of SF Danceworks Season two June 22-24 with nine dancers, six dances, one superb violinist, and a number of happy volunteer staff. That virtually all of the participants had some local connection, past or present, was to be expected and said fact intensified the pleasurable buzz.

I’ll make with the details first, impressions later. And while I am at it, let me recommend Toba Singer’s review in Culture Vulture. Eloquent evaluation.

To the list of admirable, thoughtful reviews, add Rita Felciano’s for Danceviewtimes, seen by me the first time June 28.

James Sofranko, SFDance Works’ artistic director and founder, both last season and this, has been canny in his choices, drawing dancers from three local companies, as well as two local choreographers. San Francisco Ballet, where Sofranko is a soloist, was represented by one present principal dancer, Jaime Garcia Castilla, and three former artists, Garrett Anderson, Dana Genshaft and Pascal Molat. ODC provided Steffi Cheong, Lines Ballet Brett Conway, and one-time Ballet San Jose-Silicon Valley Ballet’s Kendall Teague joined dancers Danielle Rowe and Laura O’Malley, now resident in the Area.

Choreographically, the major works included in the program were Jose Limon’s Chaconne, mounted by Gary Masters, as well as Christopher Bruce, CBE, whose Shadows was staged by Dawn Scannell and Tracy Tinker.

From Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Alexandro Cerrudo’s Never Was opened the program with Danielle Rowe and Brett Conway, followed by James Graham’s Two Dimes and a Nickel in its premiere, danced by the trio Dana Genshaft, Garrett Anderson and Kendall Teague, probably representing the nickel and two dimes respectively.

Matt Miller’s lighting for Alejandro Cerrudo’s Never Was kept Danielle Rowe and Brett Conway in semi-darkness throughout the wonderful strains of Henry Purcell and George Handel. Branimir Ivanova’s mottled forest green costumes reinforced the now-you-see-it briefly quality of well-paired, elegant dancing.

From half-light to Jim French’s bright lighting for Two Dimes and a Nickel, dancers Dana Genshaft, Garrett Anderson and Kendall Teague moved to snippets of some eight pieces of music pieced together by James Graham, who apparently is a Gag exponent; my impression of the excellent dancing reinforced the name of the movement style.

Jose Limon’s Chaconne with Pascal Molat and violinist Rene Mandel preceded the first intermission with Danielle Rowe’s For Pixie with Brett Conway and Laura O’Malley immediately following the break. Christopher Bruce’s Shadows ended the second part of the program with dancers Steffi Cheong, Danielle Rowe, Garrett Anderson and Kendall Teague.

The program’s themes could be roughly divided into choreography inspired by music, choreography motivated by mood and/or situation and choreography which may have been mood and/or as a vehicle. What lingers is, of course, Limon’s Chaconne, with Molat’s quite different body size, providing in the quick steps and arm gestures the essence of what Limon brought to his solo. Once one registered the physical difference, one appreciated what Molat’s intelligence, generosity and pleasure gave to make his performance a triumph. And, of course, he enjoyed the superb violin support of Rene Mandel.

Christopher Bruce’s Shadows provided a portrait of frustration, attempts at escape, displays of restraint and ultimately the solidity of four individuals in departure. It is not the first time Bruce has dealt with the push, pull and hesitation that has seen danced in San Francisco. A Bruce work on the departure of Irish men was earlier danced by San Francisco Ballet with David Palmer as one of the departing. Here Bruce, using music by Arvo Part, presents with equal strength an urban view, featuring a table and four crude chairs, with Steffi Cheong and Kendall Teague as the young, most easily frustrated, with Garrett Anderson and Danielle Rowe as the experienced, pragmatic pair. In the end, all four lift suitcases and prepare for departure. Cheong and Teague reflected youthful frustration while Anderson and Rowe made me want to see them in a Tudor piece. The desperation seemed that Bruce was also familiar with Vincent Van Gogh’s portrait of The Potato Eaters.

After the second intermission, the final work was Penny Saunder’s Soir Bleu, using music of five composers, Paul Moore, Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Lera Auerbach amd Johann Paul Von Westroff. With Mario Alonso’s set design and Mark Zippone’s costumes, it brought Jaime Carcia Castilla into the roster of prior dancers, the work inspired by American painter Edward Hopper. There is a long explanation in the program notes that Hopper’s wife sacrificed her own talents to foster Hopper’s; this may have been registered by the frequency with which Steffi Cheong appeared in front of a paneless window structure down stage left. Interspersed were curving movements and lines of the male dancers in front of yet another structure, enhanced by the lighting, the semi-ghostly quality indeed reflective of the spareness of a Hopper evening. I remember Danielle Rowe sweeping past in a fitted garnet toned gown its wide skirt accented by her phrasing, along with the repeated look by Cheong, and Castilla following a curved line, his own body making a crescent as he moved.

Sofranko demonstrates taste and his discerning eye makes for a balanced program. Even when the final results raises some quibbles, it’s clear he knows how to assemble the provocative as well as the pleasurable in programming. That’s no mean feat; I, for one, want to see his decisions become a venerable part of San Francisco’s early summer dance calendar.

S.F. Ballet’s Student Showcase May 31, 2017

2 Jun

San Francisco Ballet’s Showcase began with Beethoven and ended with Tchaikovsky, and the choreographic prowess of Karen Gabay and George Balanchine. More specifically, this meant the first movement of Beethoven’s Seventh, the Pastoral, to showcase the entire student body of the school and for Balanchine, his opening work in the U.S., on students, the ballet Serenade. Both, in their own way, were savvy expositions of student capacities.

The Student showcase for years now has been held at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Theatre over three days, one of which includes a dinner for major supporters.

Casts varied so I can only comment on the opener which saw many of the area’s reviewers present. I was sitting on the right aisle in front of Erik Tomasson, whose limpid photographic clarity has been such a pleasure for easily a decade. The rapid sound of clicks assured that some of the salient moments of each of the six works seen will be duly preserved and a few publicly shared. Also in the audience was Victoria Morgan, Artistic Director of Cincinnati Ballet and one-time member of San Francisco Ballet.She remarked she was celebrating her second decade there as Cincinnati Ballet’s artistic director.

While I agree with Rita Felciano that we missed seeing the individual levels display their competency, combining Levels 2 through 8 to the emphatic musical declaration of one of Ludwig’s happier compositions was Karen Gabay’s savvy choice to provide emphasis and energy to the aspiring professionals. Former principal dancer of some three decades with Ballet San Jose, Gabay is a certified trouper; she knows how to present dancers so they look their best and clearly enjoy so doing.

The curtain opened on all six levels seated, then kneeling and rising in gradated rows. To the musical whirrs, drums, woodwinds and strings, the older students moved at the back in lifts, the younger ones rising, pointing their toes, and expanding their chests with port de bras right to the beat. I found it captivating in this showcase that the music genuinely carried the dancers, down the last singular emphasis of the drums.

Myles Thatcher’s Panorama, to the music of Douve Eisenga, followed with six dancers, costumes milliskin with abstract color patterns. Wonderful work for the men, both technically and visually, though the music seemed to outweigh the amount of Thatcher’ inventions, one of those unfortunate situations happening using finished musical scores. Thatcher’s use of entrances, pairings, the center and breakouts demonstrate his growing inventiveness.

Following the first intermission, I wish the three-fold casting sheet had identified by date of Meistens Mozart , Helgi Tomasson’s 1991 setting for seven recorded songs. I remember reading somewhere that Tomasson’s first choreographic essay was for a student showcase. Though not this work, it is deft and complimentary to the capacities of young talent, mostly level 7 students arrayed in white.

Like other companies, S.F. Ballet is encouraging choreographic efforts with its trainees and corps members, supplying trainee Blake Johnston with an opportunity to present Filaementous to the music of Bryce Dessner for six dancers, and assistant by former SFB principal Wendy Van Dyck. Like Meistens Mozart a number of the dancers were drawn from level 7 with two I assume to be in the trainee program.

Before the second intermission Wona Park and David Preciado danced the Pas de Deux from Don Quixote, that time-worn warhorse which can excite when the two dancers possess verve and technique to spare. The recorded music was so dreadfully fast that Preciado could not preen properly and Park’s fan was missing in her variation. Her steady balance was notable and she recovered nicely from a stumble at the beginning of her fouettes in the coda. Had the music been more correctly paced, the fact that the venerable pas de deux is a wedding celebration might have emerged.

Following the intermission some level 7s and mostly level 8 students, along with some unidentified dancers who may be trainees, danced Elyse Borne’s staging of Serenade , Balanchine’s first choreography created in the United States in 1934, premiered 83 years ago this coming June 10. With Wona Park dancing the fated one, along with Maya Wheeler and Leili Rackow, and with Joseph Warton and Ethan Chudnow as principal partners, the results were appreciably correct, precise and filled with rediscovery for the audience. Whatever happens to the nearly thirty dancers involved, they can retain the satisfaction of a ballet well danced, with wonderful coherence, and an audience quite aware of their considerable accomplishment, an appropriate ending for a genuine school graduation program.

Theatre Flamenco at ODC May 19

26 May

Theatre Flamenco at ODC May 19

Theatre Flamenco has given its arguably first performance series since moving to a South Van Ness Location at the Bway Theatre of ODC. After a Cowell Theatre performance perhaps two years ago, the Carola Zertuche studio on McAllister gave way to a basement location near the United Nations Plaza, and from what I’ve heard, a difficult time for all concerned. This spring Zertuche’s classes and Theatre Flamenco moved perhaps two blocks away from ODC on South Van Ness, hopefully marking a very productive era. If what was presented May 19, it’s a fortunate signal.

Carola Zertuche invited Adela Campallo as a second soloist, two singers – Jose Cortes and Miguel Soto “El Londro’ and two guitarists Angel Ruiz and David Vargas. Three dancers, Bianca Rodrigues, Cynthia Sanchez and Radha Svetnicka, provided the corps de ballet for three numbers.

ODC’s theatre was stripped to the brick walls, exposing the giant Xes installed for earthquake safety. Three chairs with backs provided the scenery, their moving positions determined by florescent paint identified half way through the program because virtually all of the entrances occurred in dusky silence. While I have never seen flamenco in its native Spanish setting, the starkness, the severity of this ambiance seemed just right,

Zertuche’s talent lies as much in her conceptions as in her dancing, Tarantos, which opened the program. Dancing in black trousers and lacy blouse with ruffled cuffs, she seemed solemn, almost forbidding; as she moved forward and back, pivoting left and right, heels emitting complex responses to the guitar, I missed the swosh and grace of skirted movement, though I found nothing but admiration for her emergence behind the singer and her slow, deliberate development in the dance.

Zertuche’s three dancers joined her in Martinete, similarly garbed. For me this dance is enshrined in a 50’s era movie on flamenco where Antonio danced it in a quarry-like setting to the solitary sound of a hammer, a soulful number which the quartet reflected.

Adela Campallo’s Seguiriya vied in lengthy intensity with her tawny good looks.
She might be one of those smiling senoritas in a Seville feria poster inviting you to that special spring holiday, but her use of space, from the confines of complex taconeo to the sweeping stride around the space to arm stretched outward or upward in movement exclamation, she commanded attention.

The feminine quartet returned with a Rondena before Zertuche danced a bulerias, the musicians performed alone, Campallo’s focus pulverized a Romance, and the quintet of dancers completed the program with Cantinas.

Of particular interest to me was Radha Svetnicka, a Calcutta native, with the lingering ease of the Bengali native about her dancing, however accurate and precise her execution. I hope to see her regularly in the Theatre Flamenco programs.

A worthy program with David Vargas and Angel Ruiz as guitarists, Jose Cortes and Miguel Soto ‘El Londro” as impressive singers, I found myself musing how deceptively like conventional males one might observe on the street these artists appeared, making their collaboration that much more memorable.

David Gordon at ODC’s BWay Theatre, April 21

17 May

It wasn’t until I opened the program for David Gordon’s Live Archiveography    that I was aware the production was enjoying its premiere here or that its origins lay with the New York Public Library, supported by  some of the best dance funders currently active and utilizing dancers long involved with his productions. Gordon is so clearly a New Yorker, belonging to a generation of dancer/artists enjoying the solidifying national interest in the performing arts. As a member of this group, he also springs from family ties clearly captured in family pictures of the women in youth and maturity from which Gordon doubtless drew considerable strength and encouragement.  Now 80, this Gordon production is permeated with that spirit, and, like family, it is both sequential and jumbled as memory can unavoidably be.

The production relies on one large screen and two small screens whose tensile strength relied on black cord, somehow managing to emphasize the evocation of a family photo album, although much of this included sequences from prior productions, duly identified by name and date. As the audience filed in, David Gordon was seated in front of the right tier of seats, reading aloud from a text displayed on one of the side screens. There a few minutes later Julie Potter, recently named director of the ODC Theater, made the usual announcements about production, safety exits and cessation of cell phones.

Nostalgia and reminiscence I get, the choreographic means only sporadically, but the salutation of a lifetime of activity, I applaud every inch of the way. With Valda Setterfield moving in the space as the audience filed in, and later disclosing she lost her red hair to Gordon’s belief white hair would be more electric, I confirmed my belief she was a major contributor to Gordon’s continued success and ability to improvise. She, Karen Graham and Scott Cunningham contributed immediate movement while videos behind on the two large screens recorded the earlier versions.

I never made it into the circle of admirers of the Judson School which sent “modern” dance off in a direction almost opposite to the trio of dancers, Graham, Humphrey and Wiedman,  who emerged from the Denishawn school. Setterfield danced for a decade under Merce Cunningham until an accident forced a change in her allegiance, and is a dancer I find compelling.

Godon’s ability to mixture, rework and comment is lively and unique.  His works have been numerous, vigorous and have enjoyed remarkable fiscal and institutional support.  This production is no exception and is a salute to grit and, clearly, a theatre mensch.

Alonzo King’s 2017 Spring Adventure

16 May

Alonzo King’s 2017 Spring Adventure

Ten dancers were responsible for realizing Alonzo King’s latest adventure, closing the ensemble’s spring season at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theatre in a 5 p.m. performance Sunday afternoon May 14.  King is noted for seeking new inspirations and collaborators throughout the life of his ensemble and this time his focus was the inspiration which words can provide.  The non-intermission piece was titled Figures of Speech.

And not just any words, but the lexicon of twelve languages either moribund or held by special groups such as the Basques and the Sephardic Jews who still use Ladino in their lives.  Six of them belong to the North American Indians; three from the mid-West plains, Cheyenne, Comanche and Kiowa, and Mountain Maidu, Nisenan and Ohlone from two areas of the California Sierras and the mid-California coast. Hawaii is represented, Hokkaido, the Northern Territory and Tierra del Fuego.  These brief utterances come from the resources of Bob Holman’s recording collection.

Also credited in the program are David Finn, lighting and video designer; David Murakami, video designer; Colleen Quen, listed for salwar design; Alexander MacSween, composer and Phillip Perkins both composer and audio design.

The 50 minutes presented were marked by twenty-nine separate passages, commenced by Yujin Kim in gauzy off-white with black tracery [presumably language] followed by the full company, the women in short costumes, mixed tones of brown, another with fringe-like yellow and green layers, yet another rust and brown. The men wore trousers, tights, one a skirt, all bare-chested. Behind them at various times were horizontal bands of lights which appeared to be replicas of the languages, or tv-like squares and various lighting effects from the flies, particularly noticeable in the two Theft of Fire passages.

My guess is that the passages represented, spoken, chanted or sung represented rituals important to the given language groups, and, clearly, the most likely to survive.  I felt that King’s choreography with its penchant for struggling, stretching by arms and legs and the sometimes tortured nature of a pas de deux emphasized, if not illuminated the languages. Indeed, the program indicated  one prayer song from the Kiowa, A Comanche Hymn, and Aia la ‘o Pele from the Hawaiian. A tad more explanation might have helped.

As usual, I was swept away by the quality and beauty of the dancers, and just how King has helped them to become his eloquent instruments. It’s not hard to see how their physical eloquence has forged such a following both here and in Europe. Rita Felciano’s review for Danceviewtimes, referring to Ingmar Bergman’s Dance of Death in The Seventh Seal, was an apt summation for the near unrelenting choreographic contest framing the winnowing of these tribal communications.

For all the starkness of theme, the warmth of the almost capacity audience was matched by Alonzo King when he presented retiring Ballet Master Arturo Fernandez with a bouquet and proceeded to scatter rose petals on him and the stalwart dancers.