Tag Archives: Bay Area Rhythm Exchange

Speak at Z Space

24 Dec

Brooke Byrne and I saw the final of three performances of the cross-discipline, cross-cultural production of Speak December 19 at Z Space, featuring Michelle Dorrance and Dormesha Bumbrey-Edwards,tap masters, and the Kathak disciples of the late Chitresh Das, Rina Mehta and Rachna Nivas. The quartet was supported by Jazz musicians Allison Miller, drums; Todd Sikafoose, bass; Carmen Staaf, Piano; the Indian musicians were: Debashis Sarkar, Vocal; Jayana Banerjee, Sitar; Satyaprakash Mishra, Tabla. Seibi Lee, who narrated, was responsible for the Manjira. Miller and Banerjee were also credited as composers. Kara Mack was responsible for poetic deliveries at the beginning and near the conclusion.

The production,sponsored by the Chitresh Das organization, was also well funded by some prestigious local foundations. Its presenter may also have decided to eliminate the Dorrance, Bumbrey-Edwards and Mack biographies from the program, choosing instead to emphasize the three artistic directors of Chhandam, the Das-founded school of Kathak. To say the least, it was a clear omission.

Dorrance and Mehta commenced the program with a display of percussive sound; both they and the other performers were dressed in sand-color, Dorrance and Bumbrey-Edwards in tunics and trousers, Metha and Nivas in full skirts displaying their leggins, skirts whirling gracefully through their multiple turns.

Dorrance is lean, fairly tall; her lanky prowess is almost “aw shucks” in movement style, stretching her legs to second position plie and then bring them to a snappy close; your abdomen reacts automatically in empathy if lacking the skills of toes, heels and rapidity. I have rarely seen a dancer submitting herself to the awkward in the service of dance, still looking so good.

Mehta’s strength is her command of the bells on her feet in triple rhythm and ability to progress from single to triple speeds. When gesturing outwardly, her arms are graceful; when she goes into fast turns, the elbows drop like partially-wounded wings, a speed technique frequently seen in Das’ own rhythmic feats where speed obliterated the otherwise vertical image.

Rachna Nivas recounted the history of Rama, Sita and Laksman demonstrating the Indian dancer’s ability to depict masculine and feminine characters. Such requirement is a common denominator for Bharata Natyam as well as Kathak. . Rivas’ tandava, or masculine style, is well formed, if given to the boisterous side. Some story details I found unusual; Laksman as the boisterous brother, skeptical of the ruses of Ravana. In the Ramayana, Laksman’s demeanor is so circumspect that he doesn’t look at Sita beyond her ankles; none of such rectitude was suggested in the Nivas’ version going so far as accuse Laksman of wanting Rama’s kingdom. The ending, Sita strewing her jewels like pebbles for Hansel and Gretl, is another anomaly to my understanding of the story; in the forest, she retained such riches? Sita’s general behavior missed the gentle nuance I have noted frequently in Indian women and Indian-born Kathak exponents.

Dormisha Bumbrey-Edwards is a familiar artist to tap fans, having appeared in the former August-scheduled Bay Area Rhythm Exchanges. Loved by all the fans I know about, her cacophony of sound ebbs and flows like an allegro passage in a piano sonata, torso bent slightly forward, arms and elbows out, covering the stage space.nimbly, with a certain nonchalance that takes the breath away. One of her fans declared, “She’s the African-American Fred Astaire.”

I thought Dormisha might not have verbal sounds equivalent when she later joined Rina in an exchange of sound, Rina reciting bols, Dormisha rendering an amazing cascade of clearly jazz, hip-hop cluster of letters, a equal syllabic parade.

An exposition of each set of musicians came in the second half of the two hour program, which lacked a intermission. Even in Indian festival marathons there are breaks and the audience feels free to wander in and out.

The audience was enthusiastic providing an immediate standing ovation. Kara Gold I learned on the Web is primarily a dancer, but I suspect her dance style is
such it did not fit the Kathak-tap parameters. Her vocal delivery is very strong,
declarative, a few decibels too loud.

Prakash Janakiraman in his introduction declared that all four artists were masters of their form. I am afraid I limit my appraisal to Dorrance and Bumbrey-Edwards. Mehta and Nivas are genuinely gifted, but nuance, refinement and a certain discipline in triple rhythm still need developing. That said, the program was a remarkable salute to the collaboration started by Chitresh Das and Jason Samuels Smith. It’s a pity that the program short-changed the information relating to the
tap tradition.

Dormisha and Michelle shared a set before Rina and Rachna matched bells, bols
and turns, and as a finale all four shared the stage, with both sets of musicians
accompanying them.


A New Year’s Tidbit

15 Jan

Not long ago John King who writes on architecture for The San Francisco Chronicle wrote a feature on the manager of the retrofitting of San Francisco’s Veterans’ Building, sitting side by side with San Francisco’s Opera House, with San Francisco’s City Hall on the opposite side of Van Ness Avenue.

Between these two monuments, gloriously subscribed to commemorate the American veterans of World War I, is an oval stretch of green with English plane trees and brick walkways. On warm, sunny days while San Francisco Ballet is having its season, dancers lounge, eat, read and hang out on the ledges around the oval.

Brooke Byrne’s mother mentioned to me that a handful of earth from each European cemetery filled with World War I American soldiers’ remains are part of the soil sustaining the lawn.

I have several memories of dance performances at the Veterans/Herbst Theatre – not only the decade of San Francisco Bay Area Rhythm Exchange in late August, but ones earlier – The Jose Limon Company when it was presented in San Francisco by Spencer Barefoot.

The Joffrey Company appeared just before an alliance was reached with Rebekah Harkness. John Wilson and Brunhilde Ruiz were still in the company and John sang for some Western-type hoe-down finale.

I remember vividly when Lew Christensen’s Con Amore was premiered; Sally Bailey was Queen of the Amazons, Leon Danilian as guest artist the Thief, Nancy Johnson, the flirty wife, Leon Kalimos the husband, Carlos Carvajal, the sailor and I think young Roderick Drew the student with Virginia Johnson as Cupid. The antics in the Amazon camp were danced to the overture of Rossini’s Thieving Magpie.

Pacific Ballet under Allan Howard’s direction danced a number of its seasons there with a range of dancers, some already teaching, others later having substantial careers: Barbara Crockett, Sally Streets, Carolyn Goto, Grace Doty, Arleen Sugano, Kyra Nichols come to mind with Marc Wilde as one of the early choreographers.

The troupe of the Kerala Kalamandalum made its U.S. debut there under the auspices of the American Society for Eastern Arts.

Several sessions of Words on Dance were recorded there.

King’s feature prompted me to inquire what was going to happen to the artists dressing rooms in Herbst Hall. When the Herbst funds permitted a sprucing up of the auditorium, virtually nothing was done to the dressing rooms which were reached by a steep circular staircase, the rooms themselves small, the amenities scanty.

King recently responded to my query saying not only were the dressing rooms going to be remodeled, but they were going to be on the first floor!


Black Choreographers Festival: Here and Now, February 19

26 Feb

One is hard  put to laud this Festival, now in its eighth year, without mentioning its organizers in the same breath: Laura Elaine Ellis and Kendra  Kimborough  Barnes  of K Star Productions. Those two dynamos have guided this annual event from strength to strength.

My colleagues raved about the first weekend at Oakland’s Laney College; I managed a Sunday evening at San Francisco’s Dance Mission. The dances were different, but the energy and belief was out there shining.  Three numbers stood out as examples of the expressive range African-American dancers utilize outside of classical ballet. The range is both handsome and impressive.

For starters there was Dormisha Bumbry-Edwards flashing her taps on a narrow strip of platform installed for her magician’s mastery of the  form.  I’ve seen her three times before, once in the feisty  Chitresh Das-Jason Samuels Smith collaboration, twice in the annual August Bay Area Rhythm Exchange, sponsored by Stepology, and now in this year’s festival where the spectators were practically on top of her.

Dormisha made excellent use of the closeness, requiring the audience to stamp some of her less complicated rhythms after her. The response was eager and whole-hearted, a great way to commence an evening. She galvanizes my attention every time.

In “Evolution of a Secured Feminine” Camille A. Brown relied on the voices and lyrics sung by Ella Fitzgerald, Betty Carter and Nancy Wilson, a solo which enjoyed a company premiere at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, December 2010.  Apart from the program notes describing Brown’s very energetic dancing, the final contribution to beautifully enunciated song gave the portrait of a woman confronted with a husband in love with another woman a very wry, sophisticated ambiance.

Naomi Diouf completed the evening with Mah Way, an excerpt from a larger work, displaying hints of the multi-cultural influences active in West Africa. Danced to the overwhelming drumming of Dr. Kakarya Diouf, Madiou Diouf, Mohammad Kouyate, Nimely Napia, Mory Fofana and George Ayikpa, the dancers’ rhythmic support was thrilling as it gets.  The eleven dancers’ initial appearance showed them with veils, reflecting the Muslim influence in Africa.
Soon discarded, covered heads remained with short, colorful skirts allowing the women a full range of movement for jumps and turns in the unrelenting pace.

Again, without the steady support and organization skills of Laura Elaine Ellis and Kendra Kimborough Barnes, we would not have a venue to see the evolution of African-American choreography in such concentrated fashion.  Good show, the two of you!