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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.

Cinderella Closes San Francisco Ballet’s 2017 Spring Season

14 May

First, let me confess that Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella for the Maryinsky Ballet captured my fancy when I saw it at Zellerbach Auditorium; I already seen the Wheeldon take on the fairy/morality tale in this dual company production.  There are samenesses in the Wheeldon version, but with all the prodigious production effects, one can easily get lost in the “how” of the production rather than the “why.”

In the Prelude Cinderella, her father and mother are together, until a coughing fit and a red-stained handkerchief tell the audience the mother is not long for this world.  The Fate figures appear and carry her aloft and into the mists of several screens. Father and daughter embrace in grief.  Then a tree begins to emerge from the tombstone and suddenly Cinderella, danced by Doris Andre, is seen at the grave side.  While she is there, the two step-sisters, Jahna Frantzkonis and Julia Rowe, appear; there is an initial greeting before the Stepmother, danced by Lauren Strongin, appears on the arm of the father. Ruben Martin-Cintas.  In the stillness of her appraisal, Andre conveys the rapid thought process of the new reality, but when Step-mother in a proprietary air, offers a bouquet, Cinderella grasps it briefly before allowing it to fall to the floor.  “Uh o,” one thinks, and one step daughter picks it up, thrusts it into the heroine’s hands before dashing it to the floor, the relationship defined.

Meanwhile, back at the Palace as the Queen leads her newly adult son, Guillaume [Carlo Di Lanno], along the wall identifying the generations of royal females, one knows what’s on the regal minds.  The Prince is scarcely enthusiastic and turns to his friend Benjamin, [Angelo Greco], for support.  Both are Italian, Italian trained and exhibit clear rapport, Greco being the ebullient replacement for Pascal Molat, possibly Basilio, Mercutio, and, one hopes, Colas.

The King, Ricardo Bustamonte, presents Guillaume with a pile of invitations for the ball.  Guillaume turns to Benjamin who suggests they trade places so that the Prince can appraise the distribution incognito.  All of which leads to the dysfunctional household where Cinderella is scullery maid.  She, of course, treats Guillaume, looking as if in training to portrait Jean-Louis Barrault as mime, with food and civility;  Hortense [Lauren Strongin] makes it her business to evict him, her attention getting distracted by Benjamin, scarlet coated, and the pile of invitations gets diminished by four.  Guillaume teaches Cinderella the basics of dancing; there is clear chemistry, but she rebuffs his approach and sends him on his way.
There is the usual ballroom preparatory fuss, accented by Hortense tearing up Cinderella’s invitation and tossing it into the fire.  Next come the golden masked Fate figures. The scenery disappears to reveal the tree grown from the mother’s grave before which the four seasons and their retinue perform and Cinderella emerges garbed in golden tutu and mask before the Four Fates appear , sporting wheels, making up the carriage over which Cinderella’s cape billows as the curtain comes down.

Act II is the ball with the regal Albert and Charlotte entering upstage center with the guests  attired in magenta, blue and teal. I found their assignments, understandably filler material, rather pedestrian.  I suppose some minor flirtations would have been distracting.  Guillaume appears in a romantic sleeves white shirt to Queen Charlotte’s dismay, and, clearly the disinterest of Hortense, Edwina and Clementine, until he disappears to return with his regal jacket.  Benjamin begins to have romantic feelings towards bespectacled Clementine.

Wheeldon I believe has taken the liberty of placing some of world-wide hunt for the mysterious princess into the ballroom scene, so that Isabella De Vivo and Jennifer Stahl double their assignments, first as Spring and Winter and then as Spanish and Russian respectively, joined by Amy Yuri as the Balinese princess. These latter variations are deliberately hokey, and almost irrelevant to the chemistry, lifts, swirls, entrances and exits between Guillaume and Cinderella.

At any rate, Guillaume is entranced, the monarchs are happy and everything looks hunky dory until the clock begins to chime midnight when confusion very cleverly reigns, Hortense lifts Cinderella’s mask and Guillaume is left with a golden-hued toe shoe as the curtain falls.

Act IV opens with a string of gilded French style chairs lowered from the flies, to be filled  by  a varied cast, from two huge ugly paper-mache characters, Mme Mansard, to the foreign princesses and others, trying to fit into the golden toe shoe as Benjamin attempts to serve as fitter. Failure and the line of empty chairs are hoisted towards the ceiling, forming an arch over the fateful kitchen in which Cinderella reflects on her brief joy and sequesters her shoe on top of the fireplace.  Almost immediately Edwina appears with the skeleton hoop skirt dismissing a night time companion and imperiously orders Cinderella to maintain silence.

When Benjamin and Guillaume arrive, Mother Hortense makes a great show of trying to hammer the solitary toe shoe onto Edwina’s foot.  Then the Four Fates lift Cinderella so she retrieves her shoe and is carried to a chair where she slips into the missing footgear, and is rewarded by a radiant Guillaume.  Hortense is utterly abject, but Cinderella approaches her and kisses her before the scene changes to the wedding ceremony under the magic tree.

I had no trouble believing Di Lanno’s prince nor Andre’s Cinderella – adults concerned about human happiness, belief in dreams being fulfilled – admirably portrayed and technically up to the challenges of the roles.  I just wish there had been more about them and less about the production, although I admit it was both fun and masterfully realized.

The 2017 Bi-Annual Taylor Visit

5 May

You could almost make a ditty about that heading. Something about Paul Taylor’s choreography and his marvelous dancers remind me of a world which shaped me, and I expect helped to mold Taylor’s view of the world.  It was the ‘Thirties and The Depression which was the subject of his plaintive, evocative closer of Program B, April 27 and April 28. Unlike many modern choreographers, Taylor possesses many of the spare qualities forming the American mind-set in the early-Thirties, as well as an almost ineffable sense of whimsy, a droll regard for cliches which he manages to present slightly askew. Somehow, he manages to make me, at least, feel right at home,in the right place, and breathing contentedly, making of a swallow a wisp of satisfaction.

There were the usual three programs, with Programs B and C being repeated; Program A had the only local premiere, The Open Door, as well as an early classics, Airs, to George Frederick Handel’s music.

Program B opened with Book of Beasts, a 1971 work set to E. Power Biggs using a pedal harpsichord, the familiar tunes rendered with a somewhat remote sound with tinny accents. The costumes by John Rawlings echoed Taylor’s whimsy, calculated down to the last streamer. Both costumes and music provided a perfect foil to the dancers, women and men, black garbed up to their tilted berets, marching on stage with pointed arrow-ends to white staves.  They marched, moved in formations, inter-twined, moved through their lines, thrust their staves to the ready when a white ghost with flame steamers flitted on stage; abandoned the stage when Michael Trusnovec danced Phoenix to the strains of Mahler, glittering in gold-sequined body suit, head band, red streamers as hand accent; staves utilized as game holders to Saint-Saens Swan; staves creating a halo behind Michael Novak’s Deity to Beethoven as he bent, bowed and twisted with glacial Le Roi Soleil demeanor. The staves provided weapon support for the de Falla Devil danced by Robert Kleinendorst, pointing dark blue cellophane straw claws at his victims, swiveling his hips, encased in a blue/black unitard of glistening sequins, all knowing gleeful naughtiness. For the finale, what but Tchaikovsky’s notes for the Russian divertissement in the Nutcracker’s Act II.  Such a send up!

The 2007 Lines of Loss left me more or less neutral, occasionally nodding, though the dancers, in spare off-white Santo Loquasto costumes, were their usual excellent selves.  My principal reaction was admiration for Taylor’s adroit patterns and groupings.

Black Tuesday is now sweet sixteen, created in 2001 to songs of The Great Depression, the set and motley costumes of mix and match by Santo Loquasto apt echoes of survival under the Third Avenue El, still in place during my brief Manhattan sojourn in 1952. The tinny quality of the musical renditions provides the exact ambiance of momentary cheer and inevitable despair. There is a knowingness about the women’s dresses, accented by black mesh stockings whose black banded tops could be seen all too often, heightening the anbiance of “So what’s it to you?” Parisa Khobdeh’s about-to-deliver baby bump awakened empathy as she hopped, twirls and jumped around the self-absorbed figures in her space.  Michelle Fleet and James Samson gave no-cost cheer in”Slummin’ on Park Avenue,” while Heather McGinley left no doubt about her seedy means of survival, stretching her lengthy limbs or being carried and tossed by fellow survivors iin “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”

While each of the eight songs conveyed its own message of the era, Michael Trusnovec’s “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” formed the finale, phrases like “Once I built a Railroad….”with added references to early skyscraper construction, being a World War I doughboy, and “…Al, I’m Your pal.” The phrase “Brother Can You Spare a Dime,” finished each sequence as Trusnovec, in khaki, spun, gestured or jumped.  The bitter sweet, tender exposition of those years of Taylor’s childhood, [I too remember them], closed with the company’s hands illuminated with the words “Can you Spare a Dime?”

Farewell to Three Principals

25 Apr

Within five days, San Francisco Ballet bade farewell to three noted principal dancers; alphabetically, Lorena Feijoo, Davit Karapetyan and Vanessa Zahorian, though in reverse order of dates.

Claudia Baer’s review in the San Francisco Chronicle for April 15’s performance is recommended,  Swan Lake for Karapetyan and Zahorian.

Vanessa Zahorian came to San Francisco Ballet in 1996, joining the corps de ballet, following a citation at the Arabesque Competition in Perm and a brief sojourn with the Kirov Ballet, following her training at the Kirov Conservatory in Washington, D.C. and the Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. (Zahorian is one of several such PYB alumnas, including Tina and Sherri Le Blanc, Kirstin Long.)  Early on, with Gennadi Nedvigin, Vanessa was awarded an Erik Bruhn prize in Toronto as contributing most to the future of classical ballet.  Her rise through the ranks was steady and consistent, the same qualities which have permeated her twenty-year sojourn with the company.  While I might have quibbled with an interpretation, Vanessa never wavered in her delivery, even when she broke a toe during a Gala two or three years ago.

Vanessa’s Odette possessed beautiful port de bras, slender, almost ethereal. Her technique in the famous variation was brilliant, although she forwent the passe position following her bird-like attitudes en arriere, and the final battery was exciting. Her 32 fouettes possessed a fair sprinkling of doubles; though traveling, Vanessa ended strongly, an Odile excited by the challenge, abetted by her Von Rothbart father, Sean Orza, and ready to take on the next victim.  Without Daddy, I wonder at Odile’s future – interesting notion.

Davit Karapetyan brought impressive training from his native Armenia, then seasons with the Zurich Ballet with him to San Francisco, a beautiful physique, vibrant black hair and a soulful demeanor to all his roles.  At the Jackson Competition where he and Vanessa earned Best Partner citation, one of the discerning teachers at the International School remarked, “I cannot take my eyes off him in class.”

Karapetyan lost an entire season to injury about two years ago and this past season the enemy of dancers managed to sideline him again. You would never know it with the height of his grand jetes and attitude turns, nor the completeness which he displayed as Siegfried. Admittedly, dancing opposite Vanessa, his wife, helped.

Overall, they supplied a rousing performance, provoking an equal audience response as their figures appeared behind the boulder which hides San Francisco Ballet’s Swan Lake.  There followed the bouquet given by Helgi , a bottle for Davit and then the parade of dancers with single red roses as well as the flowers tossed over the orchestra pit.  Warm, affectionate, the company salutes its departing principals in excellent style.

For Lorena Feijoo, there were none of her memorable roles snippets her admirers remember, nor a piece d’occasion to salute her departure. Following the end of Program 7’s performance April 18, down came the white screen in front of the gold curtains and the audience was treated to video honorifics by Helgi Tomasson,  extolling statements by Yuri Possokhov and Val Caniparoli whom Feijoo credits with giving her opportunities to create roles.  Skyla Schreter and Jayna Frantzikonis also contributed tributes to her example in the company.

Lorena then appeared alone on the stage in a mauve-pinky gown with some sort of drapery, smiling, poised.  If she had chosen a hat she would have been a ringer for one of those fin-de-siecle Parisiennes who managed such a swath theatrically and personally or Mrs. Patrick Campbell across the English Channel.

The extolling over, the bouquets began led by Helgi, then followed by choreographers, dancers and two bouquets by Lorena’s daughter and a friend. Lorena delivered a Lambarena movement when Val Caniparoli approached her.  Most of the principal women dancers curtsied as they presented the single red rose.  Much, if not most, of the ritual was captured by Teri McCollum, showing up on Facebook shortly thereafter.  One shot. not seen by the audience, was Lorena lying supinely on the shoulders of some half dozen of the company ‘s male dancers, a great, playful salute to this wonder woman  dance artist.

What a trio – to all three, God Speed.

About Lewis and Clark And Their Trek

21 Apr

Munger, Susan H. And Thomas, Charlotte Staub, Common to This Country;
Botanical Discoveries of Lewis & Clark.
New York, Artisan/Workman Publishing, Inc., 2003, 128 pp., illus. , $22.

Some years ago I bought this book on Lewis and Clark on remainder.  This past week I picked it up, thinking I should read it before sending along to my sister.

I knew generally about the expedition, the fact that Sacagawea, an Shoshone Indian woman was the guiding angel in the expedition, but didn’t know she was married to Touissant Charbonneau, a French trapper who also went along with the expedition and that she had a five-month old son at the commencement of her involvement, or that the engagement occurred in South Dakota. Also I had no idea that a number of the expedition were French watermen or egage, hired to help on the first stretch upriver. I also was ignorant about York, a Negro valet to William Clark, who went along, thereby becoming the first African-American to see the Pacific Ocean from the Oregon Coast. a fascinating fact  about slaves. Along with comments about the physical travails of the trip, some of the worst occurring once the expedition reached the Pacific Ocean, it was as virgin reading for me as the trek was for the fifty-five men who ventured forth, fifty-four returning , only thirty-three of whom made it to the Pacific Ocean.  The others turned back the spring of 1805.

This book, however, focuses on eighteen species of plants identified by Lewis,
who had trained as a botanist, out of native curiosity and at the behest of our third President. In this slim volume, the specimens are meticulously drawn, described and recorded on a map where they were found and collected.  If you are thrilled at smallnesses, as I am, these 128 pages  proved one of those casually-acquired treasures.

For those interested, the specimens found along the Missouri River included the Osage Orange, being cultivated by Pierre Chouteau, the direct ancestor of Yvonne Chouteau, ballerina with the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo [Have to get dance in there, somewhere!]. Along the Missouri,, but in South Dakota were the Bur Oak and the Prickly Pear and further, in North Dakota the Bearberry and the Narrow Leaf Cornflower.   The Gumbo Evening Primrose was identified on the outward journey through Montana and the Missouri River’s Great Falls. then the Silky Lupine, the Wood Lily and Lewis’ Prairie Flax were identified at Missouri’s Great Falls, the latter three on Lewis’ briefly separated return trek in what became Montana.

As the travelers moved south towards the Idaho border, their finds were Angelica and the Snowberry; moving northward Bitterroot, Bear Grass and the Shrubby Penstemon.  Apparently back in Southwest Montana, they found Camas and Old Man’s Whiskers, followed by the Ponderosa Pine, Lewis’ Syringa , Ragged Robin and the Glacier Lily.  What followed was the long journey along the Columbia River to the Pacific Coast. In mid Oregon, the Oregon Grape Holly and the Western Service Berry were identified. The final identification apparently took place near the end of the lengthy expedition at the border of Nebraska and Kansas on the Missouri River, Calliopsis, today’s garden stalwart.

Altogether 228 specimens  are housed in the Lewis and Clark Herbarium in the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, 178 of which were new to Western Science.

There is another reason why the book appealed to me; I received my secretarial training from Elizabeth Lewis Warren Ledford. On her mother’s side, she was descended or in the immediate lineal family of that historic Lewis.  For all her capacity for living in the moment, “Betty” carried that lineage in her comportment; she was  a singular mentor in my early adulthood.

I can’t help wondering about possible descendants of Sacagawea and Touissant as well as York and the various members of the two parts of the expedition.  What a lineage they possess, and do any of the descendants know about it.

For all of the complicated connotations of Thomas Jefferson’s private and political life, his curiosity about the natural world, his directives and enabling of this exploration belongs to one of the shining episodes in American history. How I wish we could have similar ones in these early years of the twenty-first century.

Flip Flopping

17 Apr

I remember the final editorial that the late Marian Van Tuyl wrote for the dance annual Impulse for which I was privileged to produce two separate articles for two separate editions, “We do everything badly.”

Well, I have joined the Club with its numerous members.  Which is to say that my last two or three postings have wound up on the former site Woollywesterneye when intended for Mywestern eye.  Fortunately, trusty Olaf Ruehl is showing up on the horizon later this week and my age-dusted comments just may find their proper niche.