Tag Archives: Heather Cooper

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.

Diablo Ballet’s Three Premieres November 17

22 Nov

Artistic Director Lauren Jonas possesses a healthy amount of taste; it certainly was on display for Diablo Ballet’s fall performances at Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.  You can also include in that estimate a capacity for wide variety for the dances seen November 16-17 ranged from an extended erotic pas de deux to Jose Limon’s inconic The Moor’s Pavane, ending with Sean Kelly’s commissioned work, A Swingin’ Holiday for four couples and a sizeable swing orchestra.

David Fonnegra was responsible for mounting Vicente Nebrada’s three part Scriabin offering Lento a Tempo e Appassionata played by Roy Bogas with his usual reliable panache.  Fonnegra partnered Hiromi Yamazaki, one of the Bay Area natives who danced elsewhere before returning to the Bay Area.  In the first third, as well as the other two, the pair kept pivoting around each other, the spiral modulating into a supported plunging arabesque, some variation of fish dive, or a left to the shoulder or grand jete aloft which rapidly assumed a different posture, invariably with beautiful finishes in the port de bras.

The middle section saw Yamazaki and Fonnegra separate physically only to rush towards each other to accomplish a spectacular climax to the musical phrase.  When it came to Appassionnato, you got it, rushes together separately, turns and spins of great urgency, concluding on the stage floor intertwined. It was a  major partnering job for Fonnegra and plenty of spacial daring required of Yamazaki, both expertly realized their demands.

After a pause the curtains parted on a reprise of Jose Limon’s The Moor’s Pavane to the music of Henry Purcell, music more popularly recognized as used by Jerome Robbins.  Just four dancers, a swirling red robe for Derek Sakakura as The Moor,  striking sinister hues of mustard for His Friend, interpreted by Robert Dekkers.  Mounted by Gary Masters, the Moor’s Wife was
danced by Heather Cooper and His Friend’s Wife by Maria Basile, both guesting from SjDance Co, headed by Masters.  Mounting this iconic modern dance work is a major event anywhere.

In the Lucas Hoving role, Dekkers came close to the wily deadpan which creates such a sinister aura within the formal structure, where the four dance together, then the men, then the couples, the quartet and all too soon the Moor is tormented into his fatal action.  As noted elsewhere, the quartet dances towards one another,  rather than to the audience.

Sakakura, his chest too large for the costume, conveyed a cooler Moor than one might expect, although his anguish toward the end was plain, having danced it twice before and thus the  opportunity to grow in the portrayal.  Technically quite adequate, I felt I was seeing a Moor with samurai training.

Cooper and Basile both brought maturity to their roles, Basile’s use of her persimmon velvet skirts taunting, flirtatious, a smirk on her face more open to persuasion than the oblique smile of Pauline Koner, while Cooper’s Wife was even more neutral than remembered with Betty Jones.  If Moor’s Pavane goes to Diablo Ballet’s  San Jose and Hillbarn engagements in the spring, it will be interesting to see how the interpretations evolve in this engrossing, classic work.

Following intermission the program closed with Sean Kelly’s A Swingin’ Holiday, utilizing four couples, highly colored zoot suits for the men, ‘Thirties glamour for the women and a fifteen piece orchestra to blare the music hyped up swing era style. The dancers rose to the stylistic challenge ably; it was very nice to see Aaron Orza back on stage since departing San Francisco Ballet.

Kelly created dances appropriate to the music, but a unifying thread was missing, leaving the pas de huit with a series of dances, entrances, greetings and then minor vignettes leaving the impression that strangers had gathered in a night club or dive, but essentially were unconnected.

SJ Dance Co at San Jose’s California Theatre October 14-15,2011

29 Oct

San Jose State University (SJSU) enjoys an active dance department, headed by Fred Mathews, a member of Jose Limon’s Dance Company with its principal teacher, Gary Masters, another Limon alumni. What could be more logical for them not only to teach Limon’s technique, but to revive signature pieces created by Limon for his company?

SJ Dance Co., formed nine years ago, has danced at the restored California Theatre in downtown San Jose for the past three, a handsome edifice with thick carpets; it is also home to the San Jose Opera and Ballet San Jose’s annual school program headed by Lise La Cour.

This year Limon was represented with his 1958 masterpiece “Missa Brevis” choreographed to Zoltan Kodaly”s Missa Brevis in Temore Belli [A Short Mass in Time of War]; “Dance in the Sun” by Daniel Nagrin solo was included to showcase guest artists Raphael Boumaila, appearing in “Missa Brevis.”

Premieres by Gary Masters, Heather Cooper and Maria Basile formed the remainder of the program, “Velocities,” “Close” and “Ancestral Threads”; all enjoyed the benefit of the San Jose Chamber Orchestra. All three choreographers teach on the SJSU dance faculty.

Michael Touchi’s Tango Barroco gave the music for “Velocities”, a three-part work utilizing improvisation and involving the nine dancer company. Heather Cooper’s “Close” employed two dancers and Maria Basile’s “Ancestral Threads” utilized parts of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s second movement from his Seventh Symphony performed by five dancers. Cooper and Basile are accomplished dancers with substantial credits.

“Dance in the Sun,” a refreshingly brief solo, saw Boumaila arriving on stage
with jacket slung over one shoulder, striding with lungs expanding in sunlit open air. The piece is a brief, explicit solo of relish and jaunty celebration of out-of-doors, punctuated by low, distinct grand jetes, and torso movement as the body responds to the warm environment. At the end Boumaila picks up the jacket and strides off stage, a feel good piece for dancer and audience alike.

“Missa Brevis”, Jose Limon’s urgent interpretation of Zoltan Kodaly’s work of the same name, was choreographed the spring of 1958; Limon’s colleague Doris Humphrey died the following December. How much her approaching death influenced Limon is sheer speculation, but the circles, bow-and-arrow like leaping diagonals, the forward bends, the prevalence of urgently moving circles all speak of an inner majesty and acceptance of life’s great mysteries and rites of passage. This was particularly apparent when first one and then two other figures were hoisted upstage center, suggesting the Jesus’ crucifixion between two thieves. Limon’s affinity for Roman Catholic rites elevated them as much as they may have cleansed his spirit. The thrust of the arms and hands in those leaping diagonals, and forward bends as the women circled, moving all the while, emanated an extraordinary satisfaction in their utter simplicity; at moments the feet collectively fluttered in place.

“Missa Brevis” started and ended with Boumaila [Limon figure] standing alone downstage right, looking at the dancers in a circle, upstage left, the company’s nine dancers augmented by thirteen others. One cannot help but feel honored to
have been witness to the work as well as thanking SJ Dance Company for presenting it.

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