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

22 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Smuin Contemporary Ballet’s Twenty-Five at the Palace

10 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Plea Tossed to the Winds

1 Oct

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

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

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

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

Theatre Flamenco at the Brava, September 29

1 Oct

There is something so comfortable about 24th Street and the Brava Theatre in the Mission on a Saturday night and a mild evening, conveying the familiar, but also neighborhood urbanity. Brava accentuates the ambiance with its permission for liquids in the auditorium, and its steep descent to the semi-circular stage edge could suggest something of the bull ring, given the location, and an apt choice to mark Theatre Flamenco’s 52nd season. Let me report that the audience was varied, with a goodly share of the under forty.

Olaf Ruehl and I snuck in before the main door opened when the quartet of musicians were conferring with the sound technician and the two dancers, Carola Zertuche and Cristina, were settling themselves on the floor, face downward. They proved to be the only dancers in hour-long El Cruce de Lenguajes/the crossing of Languages, also including Jose Mendez as guest singer, David Paez as guitarist, Mario Delia the DJ Selector with Gary Johnson as Bass Player. Allen Willner was responsible for Lighting Design.

Except for the jackets at the finale and that wonderful swish, gestural accent of the bata de cola, both dancers elected modest clothing, Carola black with full length skirts, Christina a deep grey long-sleeved tee shirt and equally dark grey knee-length skirt. But what they did with these restrictions!

Both dancers lay prone on the stage platform at the opening, their hands signaling a chrysalis-like emergence, rising to the music, initially varied, strongly hinting of North African influence. Then an extended exposition with the arms ensued as the women moved minimally on bare feet. This passage served to establish their different movement styles: Carola, an exponent with a weighted sensuality focused on the music and an inner impulse or thought; Cristina could easily have been a ballet soloist who chucked it all to pursue flamenco rhythms. Blonde, slender and angular in much of her port de bras, she distinctly contrasted with Carola’s earthy presence. Both artists, however, shone with respect for the medium and the theme being developed: the many strands and cultures forming the current practice of flamenco. They also clearly shared respect and affection for each other.

The artists eventually put on shoes, Zertuche’s red, Christina’s brown and white, almost like ‘Twenties sartorial splendor, displaying dazzling taconeo for us as well as adeptness with castanets. While clearly no rehearsal as demonstrated by their concentration and infectious response to the musical thread, this was flamenco for its own sake, thank you very much.

Watching Zertuche with her bata de cola is like watching some movie footage of a silent brooding woman, mesmerizing. It also makes one realize the different direction she has brought Theatre Flamenco; who knows where and when she might resurrect the old formula of men in skin-tight trousers and heavily embroidered jackets, women with red roses and active fans. Right now it was the rich and eloquent voice of Jose Mendez whose solo brought fervent applause. It also was the castanets, the taconeo and even the large brass cymbals both women used as they conveyed the influences brought to flamenco. They did finish with embroidered jackets if less laden with embellishments.

I might add that Zertuche also is adroit in her choices. Local bailarins Miguel Santos and Nemesio Paredes now no longer are performing. I can remember the days in the first flush of flamenco performances at the Old Spaghetti Factory when Ernesto Hernandez enlivened the scene; there also was the elegant exponent on Broadway near Columbus, Cruz Luna, who operated Café Madrid, 1960-1974. The men dancing currently are simply visitors, it’s the women who now tend the Spanish fires in the San Francisco Bay Area. Zertuche does a very good job with her third of that continually fascinating hearth.

Garrett-Moulton’s YBCA Amazing Fall Premiere

10 Sep

Amazing is a totally inadequate adjective for the Thursday September 6 premiere of Garrett-Moulton’s two new works, virtually volte face to each other, endearing and transporting solemnity in their atmospheric juxtaposition. It is difficult to convey how completed the performance made me feel.

Understandably, the Sabat Mater of Pergolosi was first, perhaps Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s final work, for a soprano, alto, three violins, cello and organ. His was a short life, 1710-1736, perhaps accounting for the music’s transparent qualities. The spareness, the surges of sound, the rise and fall of the women’s voices gave Garrett a rich palette for the five soloists and opportunity for Moulton to expand the choir’s locations and stage movement, interspersing the fluidity for which Moulton is justly noted. Both works were wonderfully supported by the David Robertson’s lighting and Julienne Weston’s costuming. The latter also ran the production’s gamut, simple and severe black moving wonderfully with skirted men as well as the women. And for Mad Brass, punk was scarcely an adequate description for the dashes, dots, circles and swaths of color from the happiest of pastels to dashes of strong hedonistic hues.

Moulton’s Movement Choir comprised seventeen women and one man, with soloists Carolina Czethowska, Gretchen LaWall, Nol Simonse, Haiou Wang and Miche Wong. As the music ebbed, flowed and swelled, so the dancers moved with superb fluidity, yet marked stretching and arching – in the torso, the arms, the inclination of the head, the direction of the body in relation to other dancers, to the solidity of the movement choir as it moved boxes from center to sides. The quintet at moments were integrated with the choir, at times supported by them, and in variations of solos or in duets quite divorced with the choir totally absent. The presence of skirts on the men was a momentary surprise until remembering that priests preside at the altar in ankle length frocks, minus the sartorial fluidity designed by Weston. Simonse’s rooted presence and Wang’s precise elevation capacities punctuated the lyric elements of the three women, each distinctive,in a way revealing the special qualities of European, American and Asian femininity.

Is a reviewer supposed to have the kind of bodily reaction I felt? My breathing rose and fell to the music, the diaphragm expanding with visual and aural satisfaction; I found myself remembering the impact of Paul Taylor’s Promethean Fire when I first saw it on this same stage. Sabat Mater is its inspiring humanistic fellow work.

Following intermission, Mad Brass was exactly what Angela Amarillas said it should be, a total opposite to Sabat Mater. Enhanced by short red arrows, the soloists and the movement choir utilized the directional signals in umpteenth ways; at each other, commanding distance, taking September Morn positions, pointing collective direction and utilizing one or two as ornaments for the head to the music of Fanfare Ciocarlia. Commedia del Arte had nothing on the absurdity of garment, gesture, jack-knifed sautes, crunched torso with eleves exhibited, and the Movement Choir undertook its most active involvement in Garrett-Moulton productions to date.

Come again, please, and SOON!

Solos in Programs Three and Four, Drive East in San Francisco

31 Aug

Despite the absence of live musicians to accompany their brief programs, Bhavana Reddy and Prabat Gopal provided their audiences August 24 and 25 with remarkable characterizations in the Kuchipudi and Kathakali classical dance styles of South India. It is the more remarkable when one considers the training occurred in Northern India where urban life creates a strain on traditional arts, if potentially larger audiences. The upside of having to dance to recorded music allows artists to travel more easily within and outside India, minus the expense or responsibilities of musicians. Have tape; will travel. It’s a toss up; one hopes for a decent mixture of both forms of presentations.

In 2018 San Francisco tapes won out, although live musicianship occurred with groups situated within the continental U.S. August 24 Bhavana Reddy and Prabat Gopal August 25 were taped Indian exceptions, though the absence of live musicians did not diminish their evident artistry. And by artistry, I am dependent upon the classic Greek definition of the term referring to skill. Of that capacity both exponents displayed abundant resources.

Regarding Bhavana Reddy, she provided the audience with salient information regarding the evolution of Kuchipudi as a form, sending me to Wikipedia for additional information. Sharing roots with Bharata Natyam with its many padams sung in Telegu, Kuchipudi’s dramatic roots lie in Yakshagana, the theatre form associated with Karnataka. With a long history, similar in its struggles with the Mughals and the British missionary mentality, Kuchipudi managed to survive in the Andra Pradesh village giving the dance-drama form its name.

One of the chief exponents of Kuchipudi was Vempati Chinna Satya, 1918-2012. He had a troupe which came to the United States. I remember having first seen the results of his training during the 1973 intense holiday season in Madras with Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan. Vempati’s training met her stringent standards and insured support from appropriate channels in New Delhi. He was responsible for training of Shantala Shivalingappa, who, under San Francisco Performances, twice enchanted local audiences.

Reddy, in accordance with the dance form, covers space with Kuchipudi’s hallmarks of sureness and energy; one can easily picture young male exponents charging around the designated performance area in the village of Kuchipudi which provides the dance form its name. Until the twentieth century, it’s fairly safe to assume the dance practice was limited to men. As a matter of fact, two of its great exponents are Reddy’s father and mother, Raja and Radha, enticed to New Delhi by Indira Gandhi herself, and joined by Radha’s sister Kausalya.

In her tribute to Ganapathi, or Ganesha, Reddy provided expansive gestures for elephant ears. snout, and heaviness of gate. Typically, the elephant-headed god is evoked at the beginning of all classical dance performances.

Reddy departed from traditional performance format with a composition by Pandit Ravi Shankar and George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord. These two numbers preceded Reddy’s depiction of a maiden trying to entice the Lord Krishna, a subject omnipresent in a feminine exponent’s repertoire; Krishna allows full flowering of the sringara rasa, or the erotic sentiment. Here Bhavana Reddy was curvacious, vivacious and wonderfully flirty with large, expressive eyes,fully adept in her medium, from sandalwood paste and the making of pan to the creation of a flower garland, ultimately to complete surrender to one of Hinduism’s favorite deities.

Shavana’s finished her program with a Kuchipudi hallmark, mounting a round brass plate and moving it with skill and rhythm.

Saturday Prabat Gopal exposed the audience, and particularly to me, with a rare exposition of the feminine role in Kathakali. I had seen sequences before, but they were clearly subordinate figures. In the padam Narakasura Vadham, the role of Nakhratundi, servant to Narakasura, Gopal treated us to a full exposition of gesture language and female wiles in a dance technique built on the principle of squared movement.

Nakhratundi sees Jayanathan, Indra’s son, and is smitten. Apparently a grade A
hag, she transforms herself into a beautiful damsel, drinks in visually Jayanathan’s physique, and undertakes to satisfy her lust.

In the billowing white skirt, velveteen jacket surmounted with cascades of beads, a veil falling from the angled topknot of hair, Gopal employed abhinaya,glance, eloquent facial muscles and eye movements with fruitless results.

At one point, Nakhratundi renders the Kathakali gesture for marriage, a movement remembered from lessons with Shivaram, graduate of Kerala Kalamandalum’s first class, [and noted for the purity of his abhinaya]. The moment signalled the ill-fated attempts, preparing us to see Gopal drop one cascade of black corded hair and a shriek and then the second cascade, some stuffed in his mouth, as he uttered piercing shrieks, unable to capture his prey even with force.