Tag Archives: Ben Needham Wood

Intelligent, Colloquial and Smart: SF Dance Works Premiere

26 Jun

SF Dance Works, which gave its premiere performance June 23 at the ODC Performance Gallery,the co-presenter by the bye, elicited a wave of nostalgia for me, thanks to the audience and their enthusiastic support for the dancers and the material they spun before the eyes of these clearly vocal fans.

Well they might. James Sofranko, the founder and artistic director of SF Dance Works, is not only a soloist with San Francisco Ballet, and company member since 2000, he also has co-organized a yearly benefit for cancer research. Additionally, he has choreographed at least two works for San Francisco Ballet’s spring student showcases, reflecting the arrangement smarts he absorbed while at Juilliard Music Institute’s Dance Department. He also has incorporated former Julliard classmate Anne Zivolich-Adams in the inaugural cast, a dancer much missed in the ODC Dance Company.

What wafted over me during the program was the remembered feeling of San Francisco Ballet’s summer programs on 18th Avenue and the rooting nature of the audiences who peopled the risers in the upstairs converted studio those summer weekend programs. These dancers and choreography, to be sure, are infinitely more experienced and savvy, but the ambiance isn’t easily repeated or imitated. Thursday night’s performance, however, evoked those earnest and active days.

The five-part program with one intermission started and ended with the six-dancer ensemble which included former SF Ballet soloists Dana Genshaft and Garrett Anderson, the former now working in modern dance at the company’s school and Anderson, after a stint abroad, with Chicago’s Hubbard Street Dance Company. The additional dancers were Amber Neumann, a Joffrey Company dancer, Ben Needham Wood from the Smuin Company, Kendall Teague, originally hired by Dennis Nahat for Ballet San Jose, and Tobin del Cuore, another Juilliard Alum, with Hubbard credits as well as Lar Lubovitch and Azure Barton, Houston Grand Opera and Chicago’s Lyric Opera.

These seven dancers graced the inventions of Lar Lubovitch, Alejandro Cerrudo, Penny Saunders and the local talents of Dana Genshaft and James Sofranko. The works were enhanced by by Heather Basarab’s lighting, abetted by Rayan O’Gara as well as Jason Brown and a variety of music, the most notable being Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major, and a portion of Franz Liszt.

Penny Saunders’ Joe and Ida, a co-production with Cedar Rapids Ballet supplied a quirky boy meets girl, the sextet seeming a contemporary take on Robbins’ Fancy Free, however minus sailors, shoes and costumed minimally by Saunders and Melissa Leitch. Saunders, another Harid Conservatory graduate like Sofranko, has Hubbard Street and Cedar Lake credits and is now in a three-year residency with Grand Rapids Ballet where Patricia Barker is artistic director.

One can see that this boy-girl encounter can enliven a contemporary program. It’s brim full of body-parts exploration, from the tentative reach of a hand to rotator cuff manipulation, torso undulation and abrupt shifts in weight and position of the legs and feet. I was amazed to see just what Saunders could elicit from a skilled human body. With six composers in a sound mix, Joe and Ida invites comparison to the endless apps on a smart phone.

Dana Genshaft’s Portrait, inspired by the 19th century French novelist George Sand, was the most staged production in that the work possessed floor projections placing dancer Amber Neumann in context – a field of flowers, a scene of Paris in the mid-19th century and then a neutral where Neumann is divested of Karin Mossen’s black horsehair hoop, replaced by the trousers for which Sand was so noted. An intriguing subject, Neumann spent a fair amount of the Max Richter-Franz Liszt score reaching forward and swirling, suggesting protest and groping for an acceptable ambiance.

Bob Crosby’s music gave Sofranko the basis of displaying Anne Zivolich-Adams’ perky side, quick shifts of direction, abrupt elevation, and her dry “Okay, try me.” Next time I hope Sofranko explores her dramatic depth. But it simply was great to see her prodigious talent showcased.

The program’s first half finished with Lar Lubovich’s male pas de deux from Concerto Six Twenty Two to W.A.Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major, a work associated with the AIDS crisis. Danced by Garrett Anderson and Tobin Del Cuore, it is wonderful blend of so-called modern and classical ballet which was expressed without embellishments, but filled with a range of tenderness, sensitivity and respect that a deep bond between two men can possess.


SFDanceworks. Garrett Anderson, Tobin Del Cuore in Concerto Six Twenty-Two by Lar Lubovitch. Photo by Andrew Weeks

Following intermission the sextet completed the program with Alejandro Cerrudo’s Likety Split, premiered in 2006 by the Hubbard Street Dance Project. Another semi-comic encounter of the sexes with the inevitable hesitations and awkwardness, it seemed that Penny Saunders had absorbed the situation and provided a more lively comment.

For the rationale behind Sofranko’s choices, let me recommend Toba Singer’s interview for Culture Vulture. The aim has been well interpreted, the material reasonably varied; the second season will doubtless build on this auspicious, beautifully danced beginning.

Smuin Ballet, Palace of Fine Arts, Celebrating Twenty Years

20 Oct

Choreographers Amy Seiwart, Jiri Kylian and Michael Smuin provided three works for this twentieth year inaugural program of Smuin Ballet. Translated emotionally it was adroit folksy, spare elegy and adroit sensuality.

But first, it was evident that Robin Cornwell had left the troupe as well as Jonathan Magonsing, both intrinsic movers, at home in their bodies, the classical technique having honed a natural pleasing sensuality. I remember Lew Christensen once remarking “ Michel Fokine taught me that it is the transitions that make the dancing,” and both dancers were gifted with that quality. Fortunately, two experienced newcomers, Pauli Magierek and Eduardo Permuy, have joined the ranks of Smuin Ballet’s eighteen dancers.

Amy Seiwert’s Dear Miss Cline traces the mood and words of nine songs sung by Patsy Cline,a work premiered on a spring program at Yerba Buena Center’s Theater. Seiwert and Jo Ellen Arntz collaborated on the costumes, set off before a visual and lighting design by Brian Jones, outlines of doors and windows against a butterscotch pudding-hued scrim. Erin Yarborough was featured prominently in “Tra le la le la Triangle” with Weston Krukow and Christian Squires and again with Krukow in “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down.” Nicole Haskins made a nice impression in “She’s Got You,” originally danced by Susan Roemer, losing Joshua Reynolds, Jonathan Dummar and Aidan de Young. As with these numbers the overall tone was light, perky, occasionally a tad ironic, well handled by the dancers.

Jiri Kylian’s Return to a Strange Land was premiered by Stuttgart Ballet May 17, 1975 in tribute to John Cranko, Stuttgart’s artistic director who died en route from New York to Germany. Kylian was responsible for the lighting concept, costumes, the set in addition to the choreography for just six dancers, appearing as trio, pas de deux, pas de deux and trio format to Leon Janacek’s Sonata October 1, 1905.

Kylian’s patterns move smoothly, seemingly seamless, ending almost abruptly, a conversation swifly terminated, important content conveyed succinctly, adornment absent. Eduardo Permuy, Ben Needham-Wood and Joshua Reynolds, stripped to the waist, wearing lightly dyed leotards, conveyed this in understated though clearly classical ballet vocabulary. Jane Rehm and Terez Dean danced with sincerity but seemed shy of a necessary edge or pause to the finish of their arabesques. Somehow I expected more subject crystal, melancholy tones in execution. Conveyed seamlessly and fast, so rapidly I wanted to call out, “Please do it again so that I can check what I saw.”

Carmina Burana
has invited several choreographic versions; some I have seen, others I have only heard about; Michael Smuin’s boasts a spectacular commencement and a repeat finale finale. I had the good fortune to see Pauli Magierek in the central female role, joining the company after attaining soloist status with San Francisco Ballet. Magierek’s maturity, dramatic qualities and ability to sustain motion and sculpt a movement reminded me how interesting she is to watch. She would be spectacular in Smuin’s Medea.

Smuin’s Burana opener and closer has the woman, here Magierek, supported by the feet of the men, raising and lowering her to the explosive chorus and the beat of the music, the women circling the men, making one wonder whether the elevated figure is worshiped or being prepared for sacrifice. This central role provided two solos and a pas de deux with Eduardo Permuy, who proved to be an effective partner, both complementing each other.

Smuin Ballet programs a decent balance, which keeps the entertainment aspect of some dance lovers happy and coaxing the serious with at least one absorbing offer in their mixed bills. The adrooitness keeps audiences coming.

Amy Seiwert’s Imagery Summer Series at ODC Performance Gallery

30 Jul

Last year it was three women choreographers; this year, Sketch 3, Amy’s sub-title was Expectations, selecting Val Caniparoli and Max Brew for two of the three dances seen at ODC, July 25-28. The trio provided an exhilarating evening with eight splendid dancers who enjoyed generous emphasis from all three choreographers.  The audience, filled with long-time dance professionals, added to the excitement.

The respective titles were Brew’s Awkward Beauty, Canaparoli’s Triptych and Seiwet’s own The Devil Ties My Tongue with dancers Brandon Freeman, Rachel Furst, James Gilmer, Sarah Griffin, Weston Krukow, Annali Rose, Katherine Wells, and Ben Needham Wood.

I took away one or two images from each work crystallizing for me choreographic intent, lucid, minted.

Val Caniparoli’s Triptych was inspired by Lalage Snow’s images of British veteran soldiers of Afghanistan, “We Are The Not Dead” before, during and after with music by John Tavener and Alexander Balanescu.  Christine Darch clothed the eight dancers in khaki fatigues close enough to military field garb to reinforce the imagery.  Caniparoli approximated march formations as the recruits submitted to discipline and then very carefully depicted combat situations, ending in the ensemble moving forward, faces expressionless, to face the audience.

Classical ballet movements linked with the awkwardness of combat necessity worked powerfully on the imagination.  I remember James Gilmer’s reaching with a grand ronde de jamb with his arms outstretched as his working leg reached second, as if to say “Why?” and one moment where Brandon Freeman caught an anguished Katherine Wells as she lept forward; for a moment the two were  majestic, a momentary sculptural triumph.  Triptych is one of Canaparoli’s strongest works since his perennially popular Lambarena.

Max Brew’s Awkward Beauty, music by Dan Wool, was memorable for me because of its tenuousness; in particular there was a downstage right pas de deux between two men, the tentative connection and motions towards and away – “Do I really want to get involved with this guy?”, a clear statement regarding male friendship and/or sexual involvement.

Seiwert’s contribution, “The Devil Ties My Tongue” with Olafur Arnalds’s score, utilized the pas de deux in several places, the lifts exciting, circling around the supporting body, once or twice a woman.  I remember Sarah Griffin aloft at an angle, arms and legs like a strong calligraphic exclamation, Chinese calligraphic style.  At the end Brandon Freeman supported a wavering, quivering Katherine Wells struggling with some inner message, but unable to support its import standing.

The dancing was superb, the choreographing intriguing and hope abundant that 2014 will provide Sketch Four.