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San Francisco Ballet’s 2018 Nutcracker

16 Dec

There was some glorious dancing on stage, but the December 12 opening of San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker also featured the introduction of the area’s dance writers to You You Xia, San Francisco Ballet’s replacement for Kyra Jablonsky. Kyra opted this summer to return to school to study international relations. Her associate, Rena Nishijima, also elected to return to school, the University of Chicago, for a master’s degree in business.

I, for one, awaited the replacement with some curiosity. Xia is from Texas and the University at Austin, then an arts administration course at NYU and a stint at a New York Agency specializing in performing arts. Xia followed this experience by handling public relations and press first with the Seattle Symphony before coming to a similar position with the San Francisco Symphony. Now SFB has acquired You You Xia’s services and for me she’s a handsome addition.

Opening night was its usual degree of pandemonium; darting children, parents trying to negotiate their offspring through crowds indifferent to the bottleneck between the main foyer and side entrances, particularly young adults taking photos on their cell phones, further cramped by concession booths. There was a overall sense the opening night audience wasn’t so much ballet-minded as seasonal observers; across the aisle someone attempted to take a picture; I
hissed and the phone was dropped.

I can remember several seasons back a real beaut of a family whose restless darling continually spoiled the narrow window to watch the ballet unfold. The next season, I had an aisle seat and San Francisco Ballet also had instituted booster seats for the young. I understand the Opera House is scheduled to replace its seats in the next year or two and perhaps losing a hundred or so. Evolution is still with us.

Val Caniparoli provided us with a dashing Drosselmeyer; his way with a cape and his gestural flourishes were not only well timed, but what one expects in a mysterious Mr. Fixit. Jean-Paul Simoens gave us a tall, competent parent as did Elziabeth Mateer; Jim Sohm has honed and embellished his grandpere role.

When it came to the dancing dolls, I wish the toy Nutcracker and the Harlequin had been identified, but both Mingxuan Wang and Hansuke Yamamoto were effective; which ever one was the Harlequin proved remarkably fluid. Lauren Parrott danced a convincing doll, conveying the inanimate, akin to the skill of Clara Blanco’s rendition.

Kyla Lisette Paez Marcus’s Clara projected a nice balance of deference and eagerness plus a touch of the maternal when retrieving the Nutcracker from the tree. Like most Claras, the transition to sleep is just too abrupt; it needs to start some where on the search for her new toy.

Michael Yeargan’s design provides its excitement during the transformation scene, with the wiggly arrival of the mice, and the sudden solid presence of Aaron Robison as the adult Nutcracker. Sean Orza does his best as the Mouse King, but with the mousetrap maneuver and his ignominious drop into the orchestra he gets a little shortchanged.

Robison’s emergence from the Nutcracker mask infused the stage with a noticeable exhale, a largeness solidified by a menage of jetes before inviting Clara to jump into his arms and join him to circle space.

Transformed Nutcracker and Clara leave the stage with the wonderful prancing white steeds and cart to give way to the near blizzard Snow Scene presided over elegantly by Mathilde Froustey and Carlo Di Lanno with their sixteen silver white flakes. I continue to wonder why the two monarchs never rate a curtain call before intermission.

Act II replicates faintly the Conservatory of Flowers, with school students as ladybugs and butterflies, making way for the regal warmth of Sofiane Sylve as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Clearly a friend of Drosselmeyer, she inquires why Clara and the Nutcracker Prince made it to her realm and she invites her subjects to listen to the story. Robison’s mime was large and clearly gestured, his acknowledgment of Clara’s role clearly endorsing #Me Too. Sylve’s attention was riveting.

The variations follow – Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, French, Russian, Madame du Cirque and her Buffons before the Waltz of the flowers. WanTing Zhao was supple in the Arabian, cramped up in the genie pot at beginning and end, well supported by Daniel Deivison-Oliveira and Steven Morse; Lonnie Weeks’ Chinese displayed noticeable elevation; Esteban Hernandez with David Occhipinti and Myles Thatcher burst through their Faberge eggs into the Anatole Vilzak divertissement remaining in the holiday repertoire.

Sylve’s Waltz of the Flowers exuded brio, waist-high grand jetes, emerging as the new bud in the midst of the final floral pose.

Sasha de Sola, Clara adult-sized, emerged from her enlarged, faceted tower, to smooth her dress and greet her Prince. What followed was distinct chemistry; secure balances, noteworthy grand jetes and double tours,[slightly marred by hunching], secure leaps to the shoulders, multiple supported pirouettes signalling the delightful sense of “Am I really seeing this?” Sizable dancers providing equally large excitement.

With Ming Luke’s spirited conducting, it was a Nutcracker worth any imperfect foyer maneuvering.

I neglected to mention this opening night performance was dedicated to Joceyln Vollmar’s memory, who died July 13 at age 92; Vollmar danced William Christensen’s Snow Queen in 1944, the first U.S. production of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.


Nancy Johnson Poulos

9 Dec

The obituary section of the San Francisco Chronicle carried the news of
Nancy Johnson Poulos’ death November 4. As with the death of Jocelyn Vollmar in July, two of the stalwarts of Lew Christensen’s early artistic direction have slipped into history. Typically, Nancy requested no funeral or memorial. That seems pretty characteristic of Nancy; she had more than a slight streak of “been there, done that,” content simply to move on.

While I interviewed Nancy for The Montclarion of Hills Publications back in 1993 or thereabouts, the interview carried little of the sense of a woman remarkable not only in her clear accomplishments, but also her ability to be active in an artistic endeavor at a crucial juncture in its history. She seemed unusually able to move in and out of activities at a cross roads in the organization’s history devoid of fuss, without trumpeting her role, while making a contribution worthy of description.

I remember Nancy vividly in her dancing days with San Francisco Ballet, two especially remaining with me. When Lew Christensen premiered Con Amore in 1954 at what is now Herbst Theatre in the Veterans Building, Van Ness at McAllister, Nancy was cast as the errant wife, confined at home by her husband. But house arrest was no hindrance to the wife’s admirers; they knocked successively at her door, finding various hiding places as the next swain arrived, only to be accosted by her husband before the scene shifted abruptly with the Amazon soldiers started calling for Cupid; it was and remains a stylish, effervescent ballet. Though Tanaquil Le Clerq took over the role with New York City after Nancy and Sally Bailey, the Amazon Queen-Captain, danced their respective roles at New York City’s City Center Theater for New York City Ballet’s first performances of Lew’s ballet, Nancy’s sensual classicism was indelible.

The second memorable ballet was Lew’s Beauty and the Shepherd with Conrad Ludlow as Paris and Nancy as Helen. I would be hard put to remember the exact sequence in which Athena and Juno appeared and who even danced Venus; but I do remember Nancy’s appearance as Helen, head bent slightly, moving in classic correctness marked, I repeat, with one of the most sensual qualities I have witnessed in more than a half century watching classical ballet.

Nancy married Richard Carter who became San Francisco Ballet’s premier danseur and soon she left active dancing to teach through her first pregnancy. The Carters moved to San Diego as the artistic team with San Diego Ballet, and I remember Nancy’s invitation to the Pacific Regional Ballet Festival to dance in San Diego for its third festival. The 1968 Festival was indeed held in San Diego. There was some controversy stirring around them at the time, and it wasn’t long before the Carters returned to Marin County to be in charge of the Marin Center Box Office. Somewhere around this period the Carter marriage floundered, Nancy and Richard divorcing.

Nancy presided over a booking management during the short-lived touring program undertaken by the California Arts Council before moving into arts presentations until joining the San Francisco Symphony during construction of Davies Symphony Hall with her title of Operations Manager. I remember seeing Nancy in a white hard hat at some juncture, looking self-possessed, her invariable interest focused on what was happening. It was during this time that Nancy met Steven Poulos with whom she would spend the next thirty plus years as his wife, expanding her horizons to India.

In 1982, after Russell Hartley’s Archives for the Performing Arts was rescued from Mill Valley and revived with the aid of the late Richard Le Blond, then executive director of San Francisco Ballet, and Robert Commanday, music critic for The San Francisco Chronicle, needed an executive director for what now is called The Museum of Performance and Design. Nancy stepped in with the aid of Alan Becker and they managed to acquire a tiny south facing space in what once was the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Nancy’s final contribution to the San Francisco ballet world was a decade managing San Francisco Ballet’s school during the first years of Helgi Tomasson’s direction of the company. I was in her office when she saw Helgi crossing the War Memorial Court en route to the ballet building. She rose from her desk, and, standing by the window, waved to him; he smiled in return. Though it was nearly a decade later before I interviewed her for Hills Publications, that functional, friendly greeting still strikes me as Nancy’s ability to be warmly active in the moment

Post-script: I stand corrected for the date of Con Amore‘s premiere. According to Nancy Reynold’s Repertory in Review, relating to 40 years of New York City Ballet, both the San Francisco and New York City Ballet premieres of the work occurred in 1953. Reynolds credits the initial venue as the San Francisco Opera House, but it was what is now Herbst Theatre. I was there for the occasion and Leon Danielian was Sally Bailey’s Bandit.

Oakland Ballet’s Civic Triumph at the Paramount Theatre

1 Dec

2018 is the second year Oakland Ballet has collaborated with the Mexican dance groups in the Oakland area to present a two-day, three performance celebration of the Dias de los Muertos, the Mexican Celebration of November 1, All Soul’s Day. It was a civic triumph, reflected by community-related corporate support and the inclusion of two folkloric groups, NHUL Ehekati and Co. and Ballet Folklorico Mexico Danza. Artistic director Graham Lustig has provided a singular contribution for the current dance scene, continuing the special gifts to Oakland and the Bay Area Ronn Guidi bestowed with his Ballets Russes reconstructions from the Diahilev era..

I believe 2017 was the initial celebration, but this year marked a full-out fiesta ambiance with food in the Paramount Theatre Lobby and two de la Muertos altars, only one of which I was able to view. Let me tell you it was handsome with finely crafted clay figures, redolent of Mexican folk life.

I wish I had brought a camera, not alone for the altars, but also for the lively audience; I felt they owned the space that the collaborative performance brought to Oakland’s Paramount Theatre.

Nahul Ehekati and Co. represented pre-Hispanic Mexico, addressing the four directions in solemn ritual with fourteen dancers and two drummers. The dances were simple forward and back steps, simple turns and ritualized circles to sustained drumming.

The traditions of Nueva Leone received depiction by the 24-member Ballet Folklorico Mexico Danza. There the culture was shaped by large cattle raising properties held by European immigrants to Mexico resulting in the hybrid blending of native and Caucasian customs.

Completing the first half of the program the Oakland Ballet danced Luna Mexicana for the second year with Jazmine Quezada in the title role of the girl decorating the Dias de los Muertos altar, giving rise to Samantha Bell and Landes Dixon’s skeletal wedding duet, a Deer Solo with Franklin Lee Peterson III, a lively quintet and a hat dance popularly connected to the Mexican tradition [I felt deprived in grammar school because I wasn’t chosen to dance it at a school portrayal of a fiesta. My hair was brown and the teacher wanted two blondes for the two Chicano boys.]

Following intermission Ballet Folklorico and Oakland Ballet collaborated in Viva La Vida, celebrating the life, agonies and triumphs of Frida Khalo, depicted in eleven scenes with lighting design by Maxx Kurzunski, costumes credited to Christopher Dunn and Claudia Gonzales and the effective props by Stephanier Dittbern. These props included a bed with connected elevated posts through which Kahlo’s body/spirit was lifted or lowered most effectively at crucial moments. The sections themselves were titled Flor de Pina, The Final Exhibition: Mexico City, 1954, Back in Time – A Family Scene, Diabiltos, and Portrait of a Marriage. The choreographic responsibilities were shared, Graham Lustig responsible for six scenes, Martin Romero for five, mostly employing the music from the state of Oaxaca. Lustig relied on popular tunes like Besame Mucho, Mexican Waltz and a text from Walt Whitman. This first viewing impressed me as a remarkably felicitous and effective sharing in a effective tribute to the amazing life and career of this singular Mexican woman artist.

Nina Pearlman danced the title role, Frida as a young girl and the woman married to Diego Rivera while Jazmine Quezada depicted Frida as an adolescent and later connecting with the spirit animals. Roberto Angulano appeared as Rivera and Samantha Bell, Sharon Kuling and Constanza Murphy as Rivera’s amoratas.

The program itself included a biographical sketch of Frida Kahlo and a brief account of the Day of the Dead tradition in Mexico.

The Dystopian Dream at Stanford, October 5

23 Oct

Dystopian: as Adjective: Relating to or denoting an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.

Thanks to Rita Felciano and her reliable Prius, I was able to attend this remarkable theatrical comment at Stanford University’s Memorial Auditorium, after we wending our way through the early evening rural territory of Stanford, now dotted with frequent signage posts and stands with blue lights illuminating walk ways and road junctures. A cheery, can-do woman from New Jersey with a Montana license plate on her large pick-up like van, led us to a nearby parking lot with the aid of her GPS. We arrived in the nick of time, being given the press passes at a table situated at the base of the Auditorium steps and shooed in by the ticket taker at the door, just as the volunteers were closing the deep red auditorium doors to the orchestra seats.

Dystopian Dream came to Stanford Live as an aesthetic undertaking with four other venue sponsorships: Sadler’s Wells Productions; Les Theatres de la Ville de Luxembourg, Theatre de la Ville, Paris, Theatre de l’Archipel, Scene Nationale de Perpignan (I surmise the latter is in Montpelier, France). In reflection, this quintet also permitted collaborators from a wide range of cultural backgrounds.

Dystopian Dream
is a production sporting a trio of performers, the production itself determining what the trio accomplishes. Add to it, Honji Wang and Sebastian Ramirez are not only two thirds of the trio, but also as Wang Ramirez responsible for the movement, of, if you will, the choreography.

Eva Stone, a tall, striking blonde, provides the third performer and the song, such as it is, in the Dream. Nitin Sawhney is responsible for the verbal aspect of the dream, initially commenced with the impact of his father’s death which evolved into his composition of a 15-section track list. The supporting collaboraters include Faroog Chaudhury, Creative Consultant; Hussein Chalayan, Costume Designer; Natasha Chivers, Lighting Design, Nick Hillel, Video Designer; Jason Oerrle, Aerial Consultant; David McEwan, Sound Designer; Shizuka Hariu, Set Designer and the Rehearsal Assistant, Winston Pyke.

It’s not too often that program notes are needed for me to decipher a dance performance, but afterwards I really needed to skim their guidance and to learn more about the trio of performers inhabiting a genuinely elaborate, if sparse quality, stage setting. With perhaps the local example of Ink Boat and classic ballets, elaborate productions are not that common locally with perhaps the recent examples of Arthur Pita for San Francisco Ballet.

Visually this Dream enjoyed a spectacular set, a tall off-white background which curved upward, dominating the central stage with a two-stage set of stairs to stage left coming from back to front with a resting place atop the curving background. Downstage right was a table, and two chairs which later became three.

As the lights emerged, Stone, sitting in profile in a filmy Ophelia-like white gown was singing She also sat on the floor, wringing a rag from a utilitarian pail. Across the upper part of the curved background walked Ramirez, garbed in black wearing a hood evocative of Seville’s Holy Week processions. He also made his initial entrance with the aid of aerial pulleys.

The juxtaposition of the two immediately conveyed the sense of the stalker surveying its prey, calculating distance, time, approach. Not even surveying her surroundings, one felt Stone’s fragility, vulnerability, alerting one’s wariness as an onlooker. The black figure sauntered across the top edge of the background, a measured stop and go progress; if I remember correctly, chose to slide down the set rather than negotiate the steps, although he did that also at one point. Stone ascended the steps, more or less lying across the section where the top steps pause before the final set to stage level.

About this moment Honji Wang appeared, her small, tidy body moving both efficiently and with compelling grace, costumed in a skirt with flounced, she bore a small golden oblong which she tucked under the upper stair steps where Stone seemed to have collapsed in despondency.

Throughout the entire performance, the backdrop and the multiple-stepped stairs provided uneasy fascination and commentary; life encapsulated by surroundings, with domesiticity, small and immediate.

The middle of the work provided with the trio seated at the table, sparring, Wang interfering, seeming sometimes to protect and at others contending with Stone. Towards the end, Ramirez had lost his black jacket, dancing in white shirt and trousers, moving around and against Wang, who never made an uninteresting or ungraceful impulse, let alone movement.

Here the work seemed prolonged, but intensely human. Until, with some maneuvers Stone lay on something of a bier, Wang had retrieved that small gold box from its niche, and it was placed on Stone’s prone figure as it was lifted up into the flies out of sight as the curtain descended.

Lines at Thirty-Five, Yerba Buena Center, October 11

23 Oct

As I begin to comment, Marius Petipa’s longevity at the Maryinsky Theatre floated across my capacity registering comparison. Petipa was in charge thirty-three years, like Helgi Tomasson. Alonso King, however, on his own with like minded souls, is celebrating thirty-five. That’s quite an achievement.

Beyond choreography, King’s shining capacities lie with the training and execution of highly articulate dance artists and the assembling and retention of extraordinary support personnel. For the latter, witness Muriel Maffre who joined the Lines ensemble as executive director this past year. Gracing the stage, pre-performance, her accented detail of Lines’ accomplishments provided a gentle invitation to support its on-going schedule. She indicated Lines with the Kronos Quartet have both served as cultural ambassadors for San Francisco.

The performance excitement for me emerged with King’s use of Handel’s organ concertos, and Robert Rossenwasser’s free take on those elegant jackets men wore during the composer’s lifetime; over trunks, they made a statement of exuberant, if well-disciplined, masculinity. Shuaib Elhassan exemplified this with his spectacular phrasing where a pause provided nothing less than momentary majesty; it was a wonderful example of what King’s vision brings to dance and the music.

For the women, the suggestion of standard classical tutus was surprising. In the instance of Yun Jun Kim, partnered in slightly classical phrases by Michael Montgomery, the brief passage of conventional protocol for supported pirouettes made me wish to see Kim in one of Petipa’s noted pas de deux. She would be spectacular.

I felt the women more recently arrived smaller, fleet, delicate, almost bird-like. It will be fascinating to see what King creates with them; here they were part of the wonderful revival.

Arriving in 1010 and 1011, Kim and Montgomery are now Lines’ oldest dancers; six joined during 2013 and 2014; the remaining four arrived in the ranks in 2016 and this year. I have yet to decide if and how longevity makes its imprint on King’s creativity. But I do remember an administrator disclosing that over a dozen dancers in an ensemble escalates sustaining operating costs enormously.

I wish I had been enthralled with King’s collaboration with the Kronos Quartet’s four-part presentation, but the music, eerie and extra terrestial in impression, evolved along a continuum so dream-like and minimal, made my interest wane. It also was echoed by the setting and Rossenwasser’s white or off-white costuming. The audience clearly did not share my reaction; the capacity crowd made a nearly total standing ovation at the curtain. I suspect, had the Kronos-Lines collaboration come first, with the Handel revival after intermission, my response might have joined the audience in its enthusiasm.

Monday Night at the Marsh with Butler and a Diva, October 15

23 Oct

The Marsh is located at 1062 Valencia between 21st and 22nd Streets in San Francisco, an area possessing strong streaks of slightly shabby neighborliness. Carlos Carvajal and I passed women sitting on the steps in front of flats and what looked to be recent cafes or bistros, one of which offers Latin-American food quite unknown to me.

We were not the first in line; there were at least two before us at the sign announcing that doors opened at 7:10 and sliding scale entrance fees. The two women ahead of us had known Rita Agnese for easily a decade, one carrying a bouquet of flowers looking like they had been cut from a devoted gardener’s bounty. They soon were joined by several others, and it looked like Rita would have a bounty of flowers to put in water at evening’s end.

Tony Ness, a student of Merriem Lanova and one-time San Francisco Ballet dancer, arrived to support an alumna of a once-important ballet training center in San Francisco. Tony also wrote the definitive account of S.O.B., Save Our Ballet, the historic and amazing tale of how the dancers saved San Francisco Ballet from extinction in 1973.

The Marsh has been in existence on Valencia for some thirty-six years, and the web site states it was acquired in 1992, and is owned and operates its 103 seated theatre cum snack bar for all of that time. It also hosts classes in acting for adults and youth, clearly a kind of neighborhood arts clearance center. On Monday nights, it is open for acts and the four acts planned for October 15 turned out to be two, both intimate and extremely human.

Butler is the name of a dog living next door to a Cloverdale house purchased by a couple in a so-so location, but decent for running. Butler is a hound who loves to run but irritates the be-jesus out of David Kleinberg. Kleinberg conveyed to us the husband whose wife notices all the warning signs in a building requiring definite care; the neighbor whose dog Butler insists on cavorting circles around the weekend runner, the conversations between neighbor and runner. Finally, runner remembers the eyes of the hound his father returned to the shelter when he was a boy. All the episodes were conveyed vocally in the same way an Indian dancer might tell the tale with gesture, or abhinaya as it is known on the sub-continent. Kleinberg allowed his voice to carry the content; he did so skillfully and with a well-paced style, deciding not to play it with full face or body expression. He said to an admirer post performance he hoped to expand it further; at that time he might feel comfortable with greater physical involvement.

Physical involvement was no problem with the Dancing Diva that’s for sure. Rita Agnese’s garment was black net, tiers of it, strategically open to display elegant legs encased in black pumps. Her head covering, also black, shaped in a square, tilted provocatively toward her left ear, accented in the middle with a neat display of rhinestones leading an observer to register a cascade of equal glitter around Agnese’s neck above the V of her black jacket.

My personal memory of Rita was with San Francisco Ballet or some ancillary performance where she wore an ink blue tutu,a floppy head-dress, moving gracefully;I felt her quite distinctive.

Well, Rita came claiming Diva-hood and her recitation confirmed it. Agnese built her case with shoulder shrugs, a step forward or side ward, depending on the content of her commentary and gestures, lots of them.

That commentary was well structured, sprinkled with show-biz savvy references and a whirl-wind set of comments regarding the birth of the Ballets Russes traditions. Ed Sullivan murdered her Italian name as Agnes; she inhabited stages in Las Vegas for eight years with Francois Szony, experiencing dining table occupancy with the likes of Martin, Sinatra, etc. The Web credits her as a Broadway dancer in a 1965 Guys and Dolls revival at New York City’s Center Theatre on 55th Street and in the original Broadway dance ensemble for
On A Clear Day You can See Forever the following October. She must have been fresh out of Lowell and San Francisco Ballet’s corps de ballet, not yet 20.

The manner in which she built to the core of her number was extremely clever – the dance history – Diaghilev and his streak of silver hair, the painters Picasso, Matisse and Chagall, dancers Pavlova and Nijinsky, all helped to build the bone fides of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo whose ranks supplied her formative teacher, Merriem Lanova. Rita made a point of emphasizing the first syllable of her teacher’s name – LANova, as one should pronounce PAVlova, in best Russian style.

So La Agnese, with gestures and eloquent eyes, recounted her experience of accompanying Lanova to the San Francisco Opera House when the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo was there on tour. She gave us the whole bit – huge metal doors, stairway, dressing room door, women in various stages of dress and undress, makeup and preparation for some one or another role, their greeting of Merriem. Plus La Rita’s own reaction – HOOKED!

Well rendered, a tad too short with too few bits and pieces about experiences. But let us hope it is the first of periodic appearances on Monday nights at The Marsh. Brava, Rita.

And to the Marsh, thanks for being there, providing what you do to performers.

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!