Tag Archives: Brenda Way

ODC’s Succulent Summer Sampler

23 Jul

Succulent usually refers to a plant which is hardy and can last through dry spells without withering all that much. Not a glamorous attribute, but why knock the sturdy? Especially when the contours and edges frequently display unusual shades and shapes. The 2016 Summer Sampler at ODC’s B Way Theatre provided this quality to the July 22 audiences for three short numbers, two of which were reprises, one a work in progress.

The partially formed work was attributed to K. T. Nelson, not yet titled, to a mix of music by Julia Wolk, Ben Frost, Frideric Handel, Hauschka probably collated by Natasha Adorelee Johnson, who doubled as dancer and sound engineer, the results performed by the entire company.

Nelson’s conceptual map knows little boundaries though the development can seem, at times, perfunctory in its visual support. She is not normally one to explore a theme that’s small scaled; the impact is one mesmerizing by the dancers’ skill, musculature and the rush of the theme thundering on the heels of the dancers’ considerable technique. Nelson is concerned here about the human place in our universe of technology and what does it do to our cultural inheritance.

Jeremy Smith started the adventure, shaved head, and minimal garments, making almost Egyptian profile movements and flexing his arms and hands. He is interrupted by Brandon “Private” Freeman and the two exchange body grasps, lifts and shuffles. Gradually the women make their appearance, also minimally clothed in short trunks or skirts. But they come sporting props which they place briefly on Smith – a white wig, a neck ruff, a lace gilet – a Soldier’s cap – before removing them. Tegan Schwab arrived with a fan which she gives to Smith, there is a white plume on another woman’s head – the ‘Twenties, perhaps or possibly le regime ancien.
This succession gives the audience a quick historical references as the other company members appear with similar reference points. The movements, some breath-taking lifts and tumbles, call prior formalities into question.

Following a pause, Brandon “Private” Freeman reprised Going Solo (2016), seen to such advantage at ODC’s Dancing Down Town season. Freeman’s mid-sized, muscular body now sports a couple of tattoos on one of his upper arms; thankfully it only slightly distracts from the sculptural acuity of his spatial movements, as Freeman moves his hand, then arms into space, bending, stretching, and finally, with the aid of water from his plastic thermos, sliding, surfing forward and backward on the floor, standing, and on his back. It is a tour de force reaching the audience with a visual solemnity akin to standing in a cathedral.

After Intermission Brenda Way revived Waving Not Drowning (A Guide to Elegance) (2010) possessing a joint French-English narrative regarding deportment de rigeur for French females. With Way’s capacity to nudge and mock both gently and visually, the company provided madcap movements and adornments, the women papering the men dressed a la mode.

The company now comprises, in addition to Smith, Freeman, Johnson and Schwab, Dennis Adams, Josie G. Sadan, Steffi Cheong, Jeremy Bannon Neches, Alec Guthrie, Allie Papazian.

In her introduction to the evening, Brenda Way said that they were looking forward to the company’s 50th season. In course of their planning, they wanted the audience to provide the names of works they particularly remember, a place for which was provided on one side of the program insert. For those of you who remember the early days of the company, do e-mail the titles of works which particularly stick in your mind. They will be welcome.

Finally, Carlos Carvajal spoke to Kimi Okada his pleasure and gratitude to ODC’s leadership for the remodeling of the theatre. “They could have left the theatre as it was, but instead, they had a vision of what it could be. They have my wholehearted admiration.”

Mine, too.

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ODC Dances Downtown With Two Premieres

3 Apr

Friday March 20, the second of ODC’s annual spring Dances Downtown, K.T. Nelson choreographed one and collaborated with Brenda Way on the second.

In the personnel department I learned from publicist Mona Baroudi that Anne Zivolich had left the company to work for Apple. What a bite that takes in the company’s talent! However, ODC has gained Katherine Wells, and what treat it is
to see her dancing with an ensemble known to be generous and caring of its members.

K.T.’s Nelson’s work, Dead Reckoning, if you read the program notes, was about Nature and its vastness, starting with the ensemble being frenetic as only K.T. can assemble such chaotic activity, skillfully abetted by a commissioned score by Joan Jeanrenaud with percussion by PC Munoz. I am watching, scribbling in the dark, and it soon quieted down to seemingly unrelated single passages, then a pair, then a trio which often has not so much a triangular relationship, but an encounter, like the finale where a couple literally moves over the prone figure of one individual. Fight for survival, unawareness, the succession of life? It’s hard to tell as white petals, presumably snow, is dropped from a set of steps by a single figure and then a pair of figures, and finally a cascade from the flys.

Overall, as you probably have noticed, I paid a great deal of attention to the props and the setting. While dancing extremely well, it seemed that the dancers’ emotions got lost in the structure around them, Given the emotional
background was Nature, however, perhaps that’s a just assessment.

K.T.Nelson and Brenda Way collaborated on The Invention of Wings; it was supported by Matthew Antaky’s light and scenic design. There was a sound score by Olafur Arnalds, Ben Frost and Ben Juodvalkis. Apparently comissioned for Ai Weiwei’s Alcatraz Exhibit, the theme dealt with suppression, starting with the Yayoi Kambara’s disrobing, then wrapping herself and rolling in a strip of cloth after two writers filled a lengthy strip of paper from backstage to front with scribbles. It was torn up by two men, apparently censors. What followed was apparently a study in repression; but for all the devices and movements, I failed to register to my fairly common mind signs of mind and body control.

The ten dancers in the company were terrific, dancing full out, if I did miss some recognizable emotions. I also commend the tribute to Yayoi Kambara who leaves ODC this year to explore her own choreographic potential. While I may not comprehend choreographic manifestations, I applaud the class act ODC maintains when it comes to recognizing dancers and collaborators. Maybe some day the light will dawn for me under my private bodhi tree.

ODC’s Dancing Downtown, 2013

17 Apr

How much of a miracle, modern day or historical, is comprised of small acts strung together over time and with diligent devotion.  And can devotion be considered such without diligence or can diligence be exercised without devotion?  The two D’s are like the snakes intertwined on the physician’s symbol, and I have long believed that healing is part of art’s task in life, with the practitioners the vessel through which healing and celebration occurs.  The Greeks understood this when they placed their amphitheaters in locations where healing centers were also situated, a fact thrilling the spirit walking in such a setting.

I think about such notions when I regard ODC and its three Graces/Fates who steered the Mission-based enterprise first into its own building, then built a multi – disciplinary dance center called The Dance Commons before launching into a major overhaul of the original building now into its third (?) season of presenting  divergent, interesting works, dance and otherwise.

Brenda Way, K.T. Nelson and Kimi Okada are the women behind this practical, impossibly wonderful reality, I believe unique in this country’s performing arts history.  Lilian Baylis and Ninette de Valois were responsible for a similar collaboration in an historic setting in London, and Marie Rambert pioneered in a separate location, but really, that’s stretching it some.  Beyond this, San Francisco’s trio has reflected and utilized our mores over the past three or four decades in ways amazing to this viewer whose mentality still trudges along dusty country roads.

ODC’s mid-March opening at Yerba Buena’s Lam Research Theater included a repeat of K.T. Nelson’s Transit: Next Stop with Max Chen’s clever bicycle bench, a moving panorama conveying urban life in its many manifestations with new costumes by Banana Republic.  I saw this Nelson work twice, although I wished my schedule permitted me to see another performance of Cut-Out Guy, the marvelous work earning Nelson, deservedly, one of two awards given by the Isadora Duncan Dance Award Committee for choreography during the 2011-2012 performing season.  For the opening this shared the bill with Brenda Way’s Lifesaving Maneuvers.  Forgive me if it takes at least two viewings in many instances  “to get” a work and so abstain from much comment.

This time, Banana Republic’s costumes exuded a current urban casual air where the incredible Anne  Zivolich danced an entry of indeterminate naivety and feisty independence.  In the background Corey Brady supped morning coffee and exchanged the morning newspaper with Natasha Adorlee Johnson.  Outside this cubicle Yayoi Kambara was locked in an embrace with either Jeremy Smith or Justin Andrews. Justin Liu and perhaps Dennis Adams were fated to meet and work out a mutual destiny of tenderness and conflict, not unlike the other characters sketched in the piece.  There needed to be another man because Vanessa Thiessen maneuvered over that movable cycle bench towards a man, the methodology, impulses and retreats a wonder to behold. The season before she and Daniel Santos were paired in this memorable sequence.

Triangulating Euclid was the result of a trilogy of collaborators: K. T. Nelson, Brenda Way and Kate Weare.  The work was dedicated to Karen Zukor who restored an early version of this book, the history of which was recited at the beginning of the piece. Zukor is a paper conservator working in the East Bay whom I once consulted and we talked about the stores the Zukors once operated in Central Valley towns in the mid-‘Thirties, notably for me in Fresno.  Zukor’s studio house an Art Deco remnant from that building which featured primarily clothing for Depression-era working women folk.

Matt Antaky built and lighted a spare, spacious set emphasizing white against which Way and Lisa Claybaugh’s costumes of black and white moved in harmony,their simple geometric designs housing dancers first moving singly before gradually becoming clusters, circles and diagonals.  I need to see the work again, but my memory says it is the least idiosyncratic choreography yet from these choreographers.  The divergence, perhaps, is due less to their fertile vocabularies  than to the subject matter celebrated. In Euclid there seems little space allowed for personal quirks and the movement spoke to that truth.

Words on Dance with Joanna Berman October 22

24 Oct

Deborah DuBowy has taped interviews with dancers mostly by dancers for nineteen years in San Francisco, usually including stills and sometimes taped footage of the dancer’s signature roles.  This year’s Isadora Duncan Dance Award Ceremony recognized this  record with its modest certificate and “dustable.”  Her presenter was Edward Villella who will be the subject of the next interview, scheduled for the Paley Center for Media, New York City, March 11, 2013.  September 15, 2013, capping the second decade of endeavor will see Maria Kochetkova interviewing Carla Fracci, the memorable Italian ballerina.

October 22 DuBowy arranged for another memorable interview, which probably won’t ever be seen visually because the Vogue Theatre on Sacramento Street simply did not possess stage lights.  Nonetheless the audience not glued to the third presidential debate  got to hear Joanna Berman answer the adroit questions posed by James Sofranko and see snippets of Berman in Rodeo, Swan Lake, Company B, Damned and Dance House.

The comparatively brief interview was preceded by nine films of varying length, some of them gem like.  It commenced with Natalia Makarova dancing with Mikhail Baryshnikov to a Chopin Mazurka, part of a lengthier exposition created by Jerome Robbins for the January 17, 1972 Gala to raise money to keep the New York Public Library Dance Collection open.  Both dancers were at the peak of their careers, their elevations impressive, their elan unmistakably Russian.

A considerably edited interview with Yvonne Mounsey this past June was next, conducted by Emily Hite, capturing in speech Mounsey’s performance qualities.  It was wonderful to see Mounsey wrap hercomments around her favorite role, the Siren in the Balanchine ballet Prodigal Son. I saw her dance when Jerome Robbins was the Prodigal; her understanding of the predatory female remains undimmed.

A brief film by Quinn Wharton followed. Mechanism, had a text relating to machines  and featured two Hubbard Street Dance Company members, Johnny McMillan and Kellie Eppenheimer. Her balance, barefoot on demi-pointe, was cool, controlled, mind-boggling.

This was followed by Miguel Calayan’s short, Prima,  featuring Shannon Roberts (she has a new name Rugani) with  modest tiara, romantic length tutu topped by a royal blue tunic. Dancing  around a spacious vintage ballroom whose location I’d love to know, the footage captured her feet in releve, her body in grand jete and turning attitude, at the barre, covering space, ending in a wheel chair with a doll-sized proscenium stage and puppet dance figure.

Carolyn Goto, former principal dancer with Oakland Ballet, created a DVD of Ronn Guidi in connection with the Legacy Project, affiliated with the Museum of Performance and Design.  Careful editing allowed the audience to see segments of three important Oakland Ballet restagings: Michel Fokine’s” Scheherazade,” Eugene Loring’s “Billy the Kid” and Bronislava Nijinska’s “Les Noces.” In addition Guidi  was seen evaluating Sergei Diaghilev’s benchmark influence on the arts.

Following intermission, San Francisco Ballet member Luke Willis introduced “Freefall,”a partially completed film created with his brother. It featured a charming child, Pauli Magierek playing her mother, and two dancers in space, Sean Bennett for certain and perhaps Kristine Lind; it seemed to explore a child’s fascination with potential future romance.

The choreographic  process between Jorma Elo and Maria Kochetkova in the creation of a solo for her  in the 2012 Reflections tour came next, an interesting exploration of the  making and interpreting of a choreographic vision.

Judy Flannery, the Managing Director of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, brought trailers from this year’s Festival and the news that September 12-15, 2013 will feature the Festival’s collaboration with an international dance component, information which has yet to make it to the Festival’s website.  She also introduced Kate Duhamel’s “Aloft,” with Yuri Zhukov’s choreography for six dancers,  photographed on the northern edge of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Credited as being inspired by the America’s Cup sailboat races and the qualities of the swift vessels, the dancers moved against whipping wind, gravelly ground with the City in the distance as backdrop.

A final break ensued before Joanna Berman and James Sofranko followed the brief glimpse of Joanna in “Rodeo,” and her entrance as Odette in “Swan Lake,” with Cyril Pierre as Siegfried. Berman remarked that Christine Sarry warned her against emoting at the Cowgirl and in “Swan Lake,” she felt exposed and uncomfortable, enjoying Odile more because she, essentially, didn’t
have to be “pure.”  Berman liked story ballets because sa narrative provides meaning to the work,the why the preference for  “Serenade” and “Dances at a Gathering” to the more abstract repertoire  created for New York City Ballet.

Berman had studied at Marin Ballet with Margaret Swarthout before a year at San Francisco Ballet led to a six month apprenticeship before joining the corps de ballet.  What wasn’t mentioned was Berman’s attending the International Ballet Competition in Moscow, the youngest entrant to date, being eliminated in the second round because of a stumble.  Returning with her coach, Maria Vegh, there was a solo performance in celebration at the Marin Civic Center before Berman moved over to San Francisco Ballet School.

Joanna Berman’s dramatic gifts shone in “Company B”, “Damned” and “Dance House.”  I did not see her in the Possokhov reading of the Medea tragedy, associating it with Muriel Maffre and Lorena Feijoo.  Berman’s warmth, a quality Paul Parish calls “creamy,” at odds with Medea’s decision, made the brief footage that much stronger.

Berman now periodically sets “A Garden” for Mark Morris and works by Christopher Wheeldon. She spoke concisely about the responsibility of realizing the choreographer’s intent, a focus she followed when she danced.

James Sofranko also asked her about her post S.F. Ballet guest appearance with ODC, dancing with Private Freeman to choreography by Brenda Way.  When he asked Berman about the arc of her career, she replied she had no desire to go elsewhere because of the calibre of the company and the presence of her family.

The evening reminded one of the elusive quality of comfortable familiarity that seems to have seeped out of many dance occasions with the generational shift. It was good to enjoy the sensation once more.

ODC’s Summer Sampler, August 11

16 Aug

ODC’s Summer Sampler, this single day, two performance event at ODC’s Theater on 17th Street in San Francisco also marked the farewell performances of Daniel Santos, the Philippine-born artist who is leaving the company after a decade of performance.  In the scale of the company’s performers Santos  has been a bona fide successor to the likes of  Kevin Ware, Robert Moses, Brian Fisher, Brandon “Private” Freeman.  To the eternal credit of Brenda Way and K. T. Nelson, they have  reveled in diversity of sizes, shapes and ethnicity that their work has attracted, along with the company practice of year-round salaries and health insurance.  And at the 4 p.m. performance, Santos danced evidence of the male lineage and contribution to this remarkable ensemble.

Premiered this spring K. T. Nelson’s Cut Out Guy with costumes from ODC’s wardrobe, lighting by Dave Robertson, and almost unendurable sound by Ben Frost, the five company men gave us a portrait of men tussling, sometimes friendly, sometimes menacing, all exploring limits, hoisting, hurtling against each other either frontally or from the back, raised on collective or a set of single shoulders.  The explosion, the projection of bodies was simultaneously exciting and alarming, yet the momentary resolution of Olympic like leaps was extraordinarily beautiful. Particularly riveting was the pas de deux between Daniel Santos and Jeremy Smith.  The other remarkable dances were Dennis Adams, Justin Andrews and Corey Brady.

After a brief pause, Brenda Way’s 2008 Unintended Consequences, lighted by Alexander V. Nichols, used music by Laurie Anderson and costumes designed by the choreographer.  The music  bothered  me and following the impact of the first work, I found myself dosing, so I can’t comment on its content.

Another pause before Parts I and II of Way’s 2006 Part Of A Longer Story with the men in white shirts and trousers and the women in Way’s varied costumes of black dancing to Mozart’s Clarinet in A Major, K. 622. This is one of Way’s most balletically inflected pieces, the men and women entering and exiting as a group singly and together, not tied to classical movements, but definitely reflecting the influence and structure.

It was Part II, the duet between Vaness Theissen and Daniel Santos, that capped the program with Brenda Way’s distinct  graciousness and style in honoring a colleague .  The next to the last performance of Santos with the company, it was ever so much more.  Rarely, rarely, rarely, have I seen relationship between a man and a woman so marvelously captured within a classically-based structure.  None of your multiple pirouettes or sustained promenades, if you please.  A few positions  might be considered first cousin to a fish dive in the way Theissen was caught in front, rather than Santos’ side or the gestures and the slow process to connection one sees in a balletic encounter.   Way’s style of joining them and the physical conversation between was a masterful connection of gesture and musical phrase; her contrast, asymmetrical to Mozart’s aural structure, conveyed so much of Santos’ full-hearted desire against Theissen’s appraising restraint.  Duet and dancers quite honestly moved me to tears.

Any two dancers wanting pas de deux with a challenge and a blessing to present for special occasions, get in touch with Brenda Way for permission to perform Part II of Part of a Longer Story.  They won’t ever regret it.