Tag Archives: Brian Fisher

San Francisco Ballet School’s 2015 Student Showcase

27 Jun

The May 28 program for the annual San Francisco Ballet School recital at the Yerba Buena Center’s Lam Research Theater listed sixteen faculty members and eight pianists. Four of the faculty were guests, current or former principals with the company. The wonderful Brian Fisher was listed for Contemporary Dance, with Leonid Shagalov for Character Dance.

The parents and assorted relatives attached to the dancers behaved like parents in any audience where offspring are involved and contact with other parents is fairly frequent. It’s one of the closest things to neighborhood that San Francisco can muster, perhaps outside of The Ethnic Dance Festival or other studio recitals. All anything extra is needed are trestle tables and pot luck contributions and country America would be shining clear.

Using a medley of Alexander Glasunov’s melodies, Parrish Maynard devised a handsome display of the students from level 2 to level 8. Not quite a defile or a full one-act ballet, it none the less felt and looked like something grand, while at the same time remaining the very personal pull of seeing earnest young faces, mostly smiling, presenting the tradition moulding their bodies and minds into exponents of Louis XIV’s ecole de danse. It was the best such presentation of the school’s students in my memory.

Capping this display before intermission was James Sofranko’s sprightly, musically adept interpretation of a Mozart Symphony. Sofranko, a SFB soloist and a graduate of the Julliard School of Music, provided unerring touches of colloquial movement to augment a thorough exposition of classical technique with formations and movement patterns underlying the benefits of his Julliard schooling. I could watch back to back a dozen times and still find delight.

Senior student Benjamin Freemantle’s work Bare to music by Laure Romano Bare followed Intermission, danced by two couples and six corps. The women wore long flowing garments with generous swaps of color, evoking attempts at tie dye. Handsome dancers, swirling skirts and frequent entrances and exits, but mood or emotion failed to visit this early choreographic effort.

Patrick Armand staged Vasily Vainonen’s Flames of Paris pas de deux, danced to Boris Asafyev’s music. The dancing pair were Chisako Oga and Haruo Niyama, both small, energetic, engaging and technically highly proficient. It’s my understanding the Niyama is yet to see sweet sixteen, but brimming over with the chops to deliver this Soviet era evocation of the French Revolution.

Having seen photos of Vakhtang Chabukiani in the role as well as seeing its comparatively recent popularity at the Jackson Competitions following Joseph Phillip’s successful rendition, It’s hard to discern a knowledge of the work’s back story and unlikely the dance world will make Simon Schama’s book on the Revolution required reading. This is not to denigrate May 20’s highly competent rendition, but to mention a need for the dance world to investigate any historical roots of what is portrayed, particularly in this country with its short history.

Tina Le Blanc staged Helgi Tomasson’s Bartok Divertimento for Natasha Sheehan with Francisco Sebastao, Blake Kessler and Daniel Domenach.

Kenneth MacMillan’s Soiree Musicale to Benjamin Britten’s music, created to honor Dame Ninette de Valois’ 90th birthday, received its American premiere with S.F. Ballet School’s students. With two principals, a male pas de quatre, two sets of six couples and a dozen corps members, it was a major undertaking on a relatively small stage. It would be good to see it staged at the Opera House or even Stern Grove where sight lines are less overwhelmed and the dancers enjoy a modicum of space; the stage at Lam Research Theater is too small.

As in all other numbers Soiree Musicale was a noble effort, competently performed and emblematic of the strides shown by the current crop of teachers and students at the school. The confidence and nascent wisps of elegance one hopes to see deepen each following spring, with the fervent desire that there will be enough ensembles to absorb the evident talent.

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Cowell Theatre Reopens with Mark Foehringer Dance Project

17 Sep

September 13 Cowell Theatre reopened after a face lift for Fort Mason’s Herbst
Pavillion. Walking in the usual door to Cowell, unalloyed space opens up before the eyes and a new smooth grey surface greets the visitor between that entry and a white wall which protrudes out into the Pavillion. It looks as though temporary barriers will be erected for events, but on September 13 there was nobody else but us dance devotees. Absent were the wonderful posters of past Cowell events which adorned the now demolished wall between the Pavillion floor and the Cowell entrance. Nothing has changed that long walk to the Theatre’s entrance.

Dances Sacred and Profane spells Debussy, that most evanescent of composers and Foehringer decided to collaborate with visual artists Camille Utterback and Phill Tew to create a work for five dancers, three men and two women. Debussy was augmented one piece each by Gabriel Faure and Maurice Ravel. It was a brave try, provocative at moments, visually arresting in graphics of dots, bursts of green sticks and vague, dissolving human figures, but alas, not engaging the attention all the time. Brett Bowman and Dana Hemenway contributed videographics; there was questionable sound augmentation by Dr. Michael St. Clair. Additional credits in the program listed Frederic G. Boulay for production design and direction, costume design by Connie Strayer and Jamielyn Duggan and dance room Spectroscopy by Dr. David Glowacki. All seemed to line up on stage at the end, and I am certain there was exhilaration felt by every last one.

The women were dressed in flowing nude-hued draperies, ditto the color of the men’s tights and at one point in similarly colored loose trousers. At no time was Michael Oesch’s lighting full force, remaining shadowy throughout, partly to display the visual designs on the three screens behind the dancers, partly enforcing not only the dreamy nature of Debussy’s compositions but supplying a tenderness to the two striking male pas de deux as well as almost the genderless ensembles.

A number of years ago when Dance Spectrum was one of San Francisco’s alternate ballet ensembles, Carlos Carvajal choreographed Shapes of Evening to the same music, using the circle, and flowering-like imagery to create a balletic interpretation, moving around, from and returning to a circle of four or five couples. Lighting then also was subdued, though slightly golden, the dancers being clearly recognizable. I found myself contrasting that balletic distinctness of movement to the less fullness of gesture, the continual dissolving of an ensemble or pas de deux on Cowell’s stage.

Earlier Foehringer had choreographed a Debussy-based pas de deux for Heather Cooper and Brian Fisher danced at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music which I found most effective in an exposed environment, perhaps the genesis of this recent work.

The dancers were Raphael Boumaila, Sonja Dale, Jamielyn Duggan, Brian Fisher, Cooper Neely.

The Secret History of Love, Dance Mission, March 30, 2013

7 Apr

Shawn Dorsey’s Raw Meat company currently comprises him, three other dancers, and, for this production, a singer, Shawna Virago.  The Secret History of Love was performed over the Easter weekend  to a capacity audience at Dance Mission, San Francisco, mid-way in the national city tour of the production Dorsey has researched, written, produced and choreographed.  It also is San Francisco’s second viewing of the production premiering her two years ago.

Using the excellent talents of Brian Fisher, Nol Simonse and Juan de la Rosa, The Secret History is an absorbing view of the subterranean work homosexuals, male and female, have endured within the main stream of U.S. history, political and social, until the gay movement became well organized and open to the public mid-20th century.

Dorsey is the principal speaker, the seeker for love, described in ecstatic and euphoric terms and in phrases familiar to most interior dialogues of individual longing.  While there are interactions breaking up this semi-monologue, Dorsey includes statistics and historical comments regarding the legal penalties visited upon deviants of the “one man and one woman” notion of “acceptable” sexual activity or lifelong commitment.  What Dorsey transmits is pretty sobering and includes an incredibly crude condemnation by one Thomas Jefferson, third president of these United States.

The movement passages are well integrated with the text, many moments where the four men lift each other in stylized versions of the classical ballet attitude; the pace is slow enough so that one can admire both form and the dancers’ skills.  Many times the four men start or come together as a quartet; in the lifts toes are pointed and frequently clear balletic port de bras focuses an encounter, the look of recognition, the start of an embrace.  Feminized struts are exhibited, and flirtatious looks get their due; Brian Fisher’s renditions are exaggerated to the point of being certified gems.  In a shiny, red-sequined sheath Shawna Virago sings with great elan.

A few of these moments are displayed on Shawn Dorsey’s Web-site along with the dates the company will appear in U.S. cities through mid-2014.  The date spread testifies to the dancers’ other commitments, as well as to local schedules.

I do recommend seeing the work, not only for its provocative content, but for its nifty dancers.  Let me inform you however, that if you’re surfing the web, stick to the name Shawn Dorsey.  I roved with the labels Fresh Mean and Raw Meat and got referred to cat meat and beef companies based in the state of Florida.

Celebrants: Mark Foehringer’s Nutcracker December 16 matinee

28 Dec

Seeing Mark Foehringer’s 50-minute Nutcracker in its new setting, Fort Mason’s Southside Theater, is a reminder of many things besides  the holiday season with its usual Nutcrackers. Prime item in this checklist is “how the performing arts meet fiscal realities.”

Ever since Mark Foehringer settled in San Francisco, his own sensibility, his own voice, has been loud and clear, whatever its financial backing, whether in Mountain View, at what now is Lam Research Theater at Yerba Buena, The Zeum Theater or the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s International Piano Festival. With a creator’s own voice, the varying degree of what is authentically human and possibly aesthetic is open for assessment.  For aesthetic read what is considered art and beauty.

On Fort Mason’s Webside, Southside is listed as having 180 seats, situated in Building C’s Third Floor.  Placing tall scenery in the stage space with nearly a dozen musicians tucked in off stage is one major accomplishment.  When Drosselmeyer ships the first offending mouse off to Siberia in the human-sized wooden crate, the shoving must occur in three feet where, at the Zeum, there was perhaps five or six feet.  When the tree starts its ascent, it can rise at Southside perhaps half the height managed at Zeum.

What does happen is that Drosselmeyer can swish his cape with compensatory zeal.  I tell you true no one makes up for the spatial  lack better and with more relish than Brian Fisher.  The triple casting of the remaining characters is judicious, the necessary rapidity required testifies to Foehringer’s ingenuity, using the aisles and the space between audience and apron.

The musicians need to be saluted and Michael Morgan’s skill in editing Tchaikovsky’s wonderful score.  With the added bonus of the Sunday Fort Mason Farmer’s Market before the matinee, few days could be more pleasantly spent.

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.

Mark Foehringer’s Nutcracker at Zeum Theater, San Francisco, December 21

23 Dec

Condensing the Nutcracker story to 45-50 minutes is quite a feat, but Mark Foehringer had assistance from Michael Morgan who heads the East Bay Symphony Orchestra, skillful costume designs by Richard Battle, adding swirls of yellow to the same color leotard to create the Spanish costume, matching the flouncy skirt of the same material. Peter Crompton’s stage design has a series of frankly fake props and banners  moving around at appropriate moments. To see the banners rise on four corners to delineate the stage was just as exciting as the growth of the tree.

Foehringer still manages to make the most of the shallow stage.  The steep angle of the seating allows the audience to see everything clearly; the cast of characters must engage their audience with little of the usual proscenium’s aesthetic distance.

This year Foehringer also enjoyed a stronger cast; as a result he started to tweak the stage business and characters with excellent effect.  Brian Fisher continues as Drosselmeyer, but the magical toy maker has several strong confrontations with his nephew, Chad Dawson, and a substantial share of tussles; the mice hoisting Clara, Norma Fong,  might be accused of sexual harassment. But everything trips along so fast there is no opportunity to file a report, particularly when Juan de la Rosa jumps from the mask of the Mice King to Father Tanenbaum and then into trepak garb.

Four little tots play soldiers with metallic helmets and Candyland goodies with
swirly cream topping cup cakes on their heads.  Adding to the double duty
roster was Lizanne Roman as Mme Tanenbaum and Mother Ginger, Thomas Woodman as the postman pushing the mouse package out the door.  The alternating notices are slightly confusing, but Fisher wound up faking Spanish style with either Melanie Hawkes or Deanna Woodman.

Norma Fong made a fetching Clara, her correct port de bra reaching down her nicely formed arms to her finger tips, slightly petulant, but equally willing to be
lead.  Chad Dawson provided mischief and an ardent support at appropriate moments.

But Fisher as Drosselmeyer provided the production’s ultimate dash with his
elan, his willingness to buffeted by the mice, his eloquent politesse of gesture,
energetic rendition of pirouettes and jetes and his reaction in each twist of
the tale.

It all makes for a mid-town Nut hard to crack, plus the lively little orchestral
ensemble, and Morgan’s adroit condensation of the Tchaikovsky score. Now if Drosselmeyer could lend his expertise by increasing the stage depth by, say, ten feet, WOW.