Tag Archives: June Watanabe

Dohee Lee’s Mago, Yerba Buena Forum, November 14

15 Dec

This is not the first time Dohee Lee has presented a fascinating work at Yerba Buena Center’s Forum. It also is not the first time she has included drumming or footage relating to the Korean War. Like June Watanabe whose work was dominated by her various visions and interpretations of the E.O. 9066 experience, Lee’s narrative skills are deeply imbedded in the traumatic experience cleaving the Korean Peninsula into two separate territories and governing methods during the mid-twentieth century.

Having visited Seoul still bearing visible scars of the Korean conflict, where older kisaeng and mudong circles struggled to adapt to the nascent industrial Korea characterizing most of South Korea’s present life, Lee speaks to me intensely. Deeply rooted in the traditions of her native Cheju Island and Korean folk performance traditions, Lee’s particularity enables her to speak deeply to the universal human.

The audience assembled outside the Yerba Buena Lobby prior to the performance where white-garbed assistants, men and women of varying ages, carried small white receptacles emitting faint sounds when held close to the ear. After these sound hors d’eouvres were heard for fifteen minutes, we entered YBC’s Lobby centrally divided by a white paper strip, structures at both ends. The one closest to the Forum backed by a hanging, again in white, emphasized Korean folk tradition, symbolizing the path to heaven , traversed by the mudong guiding the spirit of the deceased beyond its earthly sojourn.

The audience stood, seated themselves mostly on the floor and occupied the stairs to the second floor. Videographers and photographers wove themselves around the spectators. Suddenly, a small, mask-wearing figure in white emerged on the path, the mask caramel-skin tone, cheek-to-jaw length exaggerated; torso wrapped in an apparent form of cellophane for the chokkori, the skirt a glistening white synthetic, all traditional Korean style. Lee, half crouching, wove her way down the path, arms twisting, weaving in sure, steady sinuous power, palms and fingers strong and eloquent. Reaching the small platform, she wrested the long crocheted trailing behind her, ultimately discarding the mask. Swaying as she descended from the platform, Lee started to tremble, her body and arms vibrating, intensifying, transformed into a mudong realm.

Lee, returning along the paper path discarded the mudong costume, becoming a vibrant, provocative dancer, continuing down the path in full black and scarlet dress, lifting a layer to display another underskirt covered with tiny images of stuffed babies, and inviting us to move along with her to the Forum.

Entering in random fashion, we received programs with an heavy 8.5x 11 inch paper folded in half, cut into at various points; opened out it provided space for the eyes, the nose and the mouth. It also bore the words, “Wear it,” “What did you see?” and on the other side, “What did you hear?” The audience seated themselves on arena style tiers.

Lee emerged in the center of the construction in the back of the arena, a bird woman with multiple strips of paper hanging from her waist, enormous black wings at her back, the crows of her experience on Halia Mountain recorded in the program. While images of the Korean conflict passed behind her, children with faces furrowed with questions, older women by their sides wearing traditional Korean dress, Lee read from the paper streamers, printed with Korean script, discarding the streamers one by one after Lee, murmuring low, seemed to have mentioned each entry.It was sustained, elemental, eerie. This portion of the ninety minute performance piece was supported by two sets of musicians: Suki O’ Kane, Jason Ditzian, Greg Stevens, Tiffany Bayley working on Western instruments, evoking as closely as possible sounds of Korean court and shaman music.

Lee retreated through the construction to emerge again after three women had placed four drums in the center of the arena, mid-sized and similar to taiko, but still Korean. Elisa Gahng, Codie Otte, Yeri Shon, all gifted percussionists, joined by Lee in prolonged, mesmerizing drumming; fierce, joyous, exorcizing.

The Ara Musicians turned out to be the same individuals circulating in the crowd prior to our entry to the YBC Lobby: Joanne Tillemans, Lindsay Reich, Danishta Riverso, Megan Meyer, Sherri Mills, Dan Gottwald, Heather Normandale, Bob Marsh, Vana Hansen, David Samas and Edward Schocker.

When the audience was asked to return to the Lobby, Colin Ernst was preparing the glasses holding water, various sizes and various amounts; rubbing the rims creating a high, light eerie sound to complement Lee’s final appearance in black, adorned with glitter.

At the end of this sequence, Lee’s charismatic focus vanished as she thanked the audience for coming, acknowledged her collaborators and the ovation afforded her.

Mago is the end result of a two-year residency at YBC with her skilled collaborators: Jai Arun Ravine, writer; Frank Lee, set design and construction; Alenka Loesch, costume designer; Steven Sanchez, animator; Jose Maria Francos, production designer; David Szlasa, video design, Donald Swearingen, sound design/programming; Adria Otte, co-music director/sound design/crow warrior; Edward Schocker, Ara musician; Colin Ernst, water harp builder

Program notes state Mago will continue with a touring version of the performance in 2015. That will be challenging, but a singular privilege for anyone attending Mago in future performance venues. I imagine venues will be select and limited, for Dohee Lee is almost the entire package, the force and depth of her performance clearly proscribing how frequently she can sustain the intensity of her remarkable vision.

Martha Brings Marni Wood Back

7 Feb

As a footnote but also evidence of the Graham historic influence, the Martha Graham Company provided the opportunity to bring Marni Wood back to the Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies Program at U.C. Berkeley where she and her husband, David Wood, had started the dance program in 1968. The week prior to the January 30-31 performances an invitation from the U.C. Berkeley’s Department sent an e-mail invitation for a pre-theatre dinner with Marni Wood before the January 31 program.

For those unfamiliar with dance history at U.C., Berkeley a two-line letter in 1968 from Travis Bogard invited David and Marni Wood to come west and start a dance department. “It was right timing,” Marni commented before dinner, “We had three children and it was difficult in New York. Here was space, free schools. There was no question. When we arrived, the floor of the chapel [an old Unitarian Church at the edge of campus along Bancroft Way near Bowditch] was a mess. It had been used for the theater production set construction. We were delighted. We were starting from scratch to build something.”

The warmth and exchanges included the U.C. architect who had worked on the Zellerbach Complex, one of the Wood daughters, Marni’s sister, and June Watanabe, recollections of the E.O. 9066 Japanese-American relocation , performances, family updates in the foyer of Zellerbach Playhouse. The
actual performance seemed a bit anti-climax.

The Graham program was three fold, representing three eras according to artistic Director Janet Elber, former Graham dancer and the company’s artistic director: Appalachian Spring , 1944; Cave of the Heart relating to Medea 1846; and Maple Leaf Rag, a 1990 production to the Scott Joplin music.

Appalachian Spring, with its beautiful set by Isamu Noguchi, spare poles outlining the house, a bench, a chair on a porch, the suggestion of a fence, with the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra Aaron Copland’s and Samuel Barber’s music [Cave of the Heart] sounded fine. Marni Thomas had remarked that both chair and bench had been so designed that the dancers perched, the construction not permitting lazy muscles.

Dennis Nahat brought Yuriko to Ballet San Jose to mount Appalachian Spring,; my memory was that the ballet company made it livelier, warmer. This performance was accurate, meticulous but didn’t seem to penetrate the surface. There’s not much around these days as a frame of reference for urban-trained dancers with cell phones, alas.

This was my first viewing of Cave of the Heart,; once again, Noguchi’s sculpture, its mobile metal tentacles provided a marvelous symbol of Medea’s mental process as she contemplated the loss of Jason to the white clad blonde princess. For a man thoroughly full of himself, Graham as costumer chose a red cod piece to announce Jason’s self-absorption. It was easy to picture Graham in the role skittering along the stage, shoulders hunched over her solar plexus, eyes rolling and body writing as she plotted her revenge. Michael Smuin’s use of the same score and the same theme includes the sons’ murder; Graham only suggested it in Medea’s torturous solo before she provides the princess with the fatal crown.

Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag, Marc Shapiro on stage at the grand piano, with the portable ballet barre provided Graham’s 1990 parody of her lengthy choreographic career. Snippets of works wafted on and off stage; sometimes the dancers surged on like an army, arms and legs angled, bodies in three-quarter torso position; other times one or another skittered. For those familiar with the repertoire it was fun identifying the source; the only one I clearly identified was David Wood’s stage walk from right to left as the Death figure in Clytemnestra.

At the intermission Janet Elber mentioned, when asked, that the Graham costumes and sets were victims of Hurricane Katrina’s lower Manhattan flooding. Difficulties in removing the water left everything water logged for two weeks. The sets have been restored; much of the wardrobe required replacing.

I wonder about the dancers’ ability to develop their own understanding of Graham’s works, something necessary to keep the repertoire more than an archive. Could there be revivals of works by some of her dancers who had separate careers? An archive of the work Graham inspired in members of her company over her fifty year career would be a little like Lee Theodore’s American Dance Machine.

Knowing many Graham dancers who went on to choreograph and create their own companies, licensing work for other companies, my speculation is extravagant, an unwieldy fantasy, if understandable. The Graham lineage encompasses so much of twenthith century modern dance and there was this double pleasure of the January 31 evening.

Zhukov Dance Theatre, S.F. Jazz Center, October 29

8 Nov

Yuri Zhukov’s Dance Theatre comes around just once a year, in late summer or early fall. This year’s two performances are the latest into the fall yet. S.F. Jazz Center, as venue, provided Zhukov’s five dancers with a thrust stage environment, the audience on three sides, much like an outdoor amphitheatre. For the kind of message Zhukov provides an audience, it’s an excellent choice; the dancers are totally exposed and the lighting provides them with the chance
to fade into the background, but not leave the stage. It was S.F. Jazz Center’s first dance event.

This year Zhukov shared choreographic honors with Idan Sharabi, an Israeli whose professional performing credits include Nederlans Dans Theatre and Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company, and choreographic accomplishments for Ballet Junior de Geneve and the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, a full evening for The Belgrade Dance Festival, and teaching at the University of California, Irvine.

Both choreographers come from specific traditions, Zhukov’s more ancient than Sharabi’s, which is nonetheless strong and committed. They possess a strong grasp of technique and craft mingled with highly individual approaches to themes.

I have watched Zhukov since he arrived in San Francisco, dancing opposite Muriel Maffre in Swan Lake, their acknowledging bows embodiments of their two traditions. Certainly after the Birmingham Royal Ballet and teaching for the Royal Swedish Ballet, Zhukov’s return to San Francisco signaled a commitment to personal vision, which include intriguing visual as well as choreographic skill.

The annual two evening performances have been labeled “product,” of which this is the sixth. Zhukov’s work titled Enlight employed squares of light merging gradually into full stage lighting before returning to the squares under which five dancers danced to music played by Jordi Savall, on the viol de gamba, some of it Johann Sebastian Bach, by also Icelandic composer Johann Johannson for contemporary dissonance and angst.

Sharabi”s piece Spider on a Mirror was based and expanded on gestures observed on San Francisco’s streets before spinning into incredibly athletic displays where dancers would emerge from the sidelines or next to each other, and then retreat. In the beginning, the glances, the turns of heads and shoulders created an almost lacy spatial effect before the dancers became almost violently active, their plasticity stretched as far as their highly trained physiques allowed. Spider on a Mirror concludes with the repetition of a young man’s quandry, the other dancers regarding him sympathetically, ultimately moving away, reminding us we are ultimately alone.

The dancers were Rachel Fallon, Doug Baum, Christopher Bordenave, Nick Korbos, Aszure Barton and Jeremy Neches. Fallon was new to the Zhukov ensembles, the others having appeared in Zhukov’s Product Five and earlier, Bordenave one of the oldest. Both choreographers made enormous demands on the dancers who gave themselves to the two works with skill, energy and amazing virtuosity.

Yuri Zhukov’s annual two evening seasons, with his visual art available for purchase, make a statement about him as a special artist and, also, about San Francisco. Some artists prefer a milieu where it is possible to explore multiple avenues and to develop their vision at a pace where their sensibilities are challenged primarily by their own vision. San Francisco seems to be
such a place, and it has harbored some remarkably unique dance artists in this regard. I think of the late Ed Mock, June Watanabe and Brenda Wong Aoki as such special talents; Yuri Zukhov clearly is among that number San Francisco is fortunate to possess. Undergirding Zhukov’s multiple talents is his Russian heritage; in his explorations he combines the extremes of sensibility and an acuity of vision reminiscent of Dostoevsky.

Dance Lovers Remember Remy Charlip, 1929-2012

24 Aug

This got started the day following Remy Charlip’s funeral and celebration; I was sure it would meander, as the mind and emotion lets go at such times to encompass loss and experience and memory of the individual newly absent to life and the circle of his friends and activity.  Necessarily it will be churned out in stages, interrupted by necessary daily chores.

I can’t say I knew Remy Charlip, but I did meet him and talk with him and saw him around  at and in performances, struck by the genial nature of his presence.  He was gracious, giving and referred me to an editor who didn’t like my submission at all, no fault of Charlip’s.  The fact of his offering impressed me with a certain security of soul, innate when generosity is so manifest.

We both as disparate times served on the Isadora Duncan Dance Awards Committee. Jenefer Johnson, one of the current members, wrote Charlip wanted to give Izzies – the certificate and the “dustable” to everyone – and wanted to create a scarf for the occasion. [Maybe the Committee might consider a collective one, to drape over a recipient like the Olympics as Darrell Fisher records the moment; there would need to be a blanket when production collaborators collectively warrant the accolade.]

Rita Felciano and I attended Remy’s hillside burial at the Fernwood Cemetery in Mill Valley; her Prius took us through heavy northward traffic across the Golden Gate Bride into sunshine and the Stinson Beach turnoff, coastal trees, then increasingly up into the sun-dried hillside overlooking tree-shaded buildings in Tennessee Valley.  Fernwood Cemetery, as its website explains, is an ecologically sound resting place of individuals wanting their bodies to disintegrate into the soil minus cosmetic procedures or excessive barriers to the earth.

Cars lined the edge of the ascending road as Rita parked.  Stephen Goldstine and Emily Keeler came with Corinne Nagata, soon June Watanabe and Deborah Slater. Other individuals arrived, looking familiar, if not known by name. Joanna Haigood was there with her husband and handsome young son. More mourners arrived after us. Embraces were exchanged, the ambiance  one of  gravity and acknowledgment; if there were tears, they were muted.

A group arrived with two or three baskets and a box containing an ivory envelope and card bearing Remy’s name, dates of life and a small shot of rainbow-hued grosgrain ribbon for those present. Keith Hennessey stood beside a tall, slender giant and a dark-haired man with bronze skin.  Deborah Slater remarked, “That’s Jules Beckman.”  Before their arrival, the Rabbi Singer explained some Jewish rituals  about forming lines and requesting no photographs.  A modest-sized man of compact build, he held a black binder, wore a black hat, sported a nicely trimmed beard and a gold  circles on each ear.

The hearse door was opened. The Park Service green clad cemetery personnel carried the willow basket,  its crafted  pattern adorned by a scroll of white roses, along a mulched pathway and up to the grave’s edge.   Erica, in charge of the arrangements, later  said she had chosen the spot after vetoing the Jewish section of the cemetery as the graves  there were too close together.  She wanted space for Remy. What a space she chose!  A hillside,  a semi-circle of eucalyptus behind the grave dug by Latino personnel, down the requisite depth revealing the terra-cotta hue of the soil. It was the first time Rita and I had seen a wicker coffin;  I suspect  a first for others.

We gathered, some fifty plus, as the Rabbi’s wife sang in Hebrew in her clear, small voice, accompanied gently by the Rabbi on a large tambourine.  The Rabbi explained the ritual of helping to bury the dead as one felt able.  Behind us below the path a relatively new grave bore large headstone of granite carved with the name of the deceased and seashells.  When the wind subsided, the heat of mid-afternoon August embraced us.

Erica stood at the head of the basket speaking briefly, followed by Beckman stating qualities of character he felt Remy personified, then kissed the basket.  The cemetery personnel lowered the basket into the terracotta oblong, removing the straps.  The rabbi spoke, while three women distributed  rose petals and rose-tipped white rosebuds, devoid of scent, amongst us. We began to cast the roses onto the basket now resting deep down.  The rabbi’s wife continued to sing; we negotiated the slope to toss the flowers.

Rabbi Singer intoned the Hebrew burial phrases, repeated by one or two women near me, the words, their cadence rising and falling ,the occasional gutteral confluence, most of us unable to continue beyond the Rabbi’s instruction with the burial exclamation.

Erica picked up one of three green handled shovels and cast a few terra cotta clods into the grave, followed by Jules Beckman and Keith Hennessey.  Hennessey stood with the shovel near the mound helping women who needed it when they came forward to participate.  One  young woman, bare shouldered in an ankle-length black and white striped dress, stepped forward, grasped the shovel  resolutely casting two shovels full.  She energized my lurking impulse and I stepped forward.  While Keith held my forearm I grasped three or four clods, tossing them towards the head and at the foot of the basket, a moment and sensation not soon forgotten, and found my hands pressed together, Hindu namaste style.  June Watanabe followed.  As we backed towards the path, the group moved forward to participate.  Stephen Goldstine walked slowly down the incline to cast his share while at the head of the basket the tall, slender giant dug into the dry, uneven mound several times, intently casting the contents at the grave’s head.

In the midday warmth returning along the path and reaching the paved road, there were many embraces and low conversation. Rita drove the circle above the incoming road, past and around the historic cemetery with its ornate nineteenth century markers; the car descended to the entrance, back to the junction of the Stinson Beach Road where a roadside stand was selling peaches; on to the highway towards the Golden Gate Bridge, the Marina cutoff and the new tunnel approach replacing the hazardous, creaky Doyle Drive.

Rita left me off at ODC’s Theatre on 17th Street as Margaret Jenkins and her daughter crossed 17th at Shotwell and strolled towards the entrance.  I followed their example, met by a pretty dark-haired young functionary who advised me where I could stow my inevitable portmonteau with little danger of loss.  Down the slight ramp there were four tables, two on each side, devoted to substantial finger food – slivers of pastrami and beef, hum mus, olives, sweet pepper slices, cauliflower and pea pods, french, rye bread, pita – two and three platters of each with generous spoons to assist in noshing.  Near the corner windows  bottles of water, white and red wine rested on a formica surface; against the wall, orange and kiwi slices, strawberries, large soft molasses and raisin oatmeal cookies, layered in circular pattern.

Helen Dannenberg stood by a door with her customary majesty; I noticed Joe Goode. Theresa Dickinson came up to talk to Carlos Carvajal who sat beside me.  The tall stranger sat down on the other side, introducing himself.  Patrick Scully,  one of the scores of individuals whom Remy encouraged and embraced in his whole hearted, but penetrating way, came from Minneapolis where he started a performing space called Patrick’s Cabaret  flourishes. It sports a website where Scully speaks eloquently about that active, non-profit enterprise.

When the gathering moved in to the theatre, Jules Beckman sang “Everything Must Change,” which Remy had taught him.  Joanna Haigood, in a warmly colored knit jump suit danced her half of the duet she had danced with Remy, “When the Lilacs Bloom” full of felicity and warmth.  Then I left for an appointment.

Unlike this ramble, Rita Felciano’s account in The Bay Guardian is brief, superb, and interspersed with You Tube footage, well worth watching.  Paul Parish’s celebration in The Bay Area Reporter places Remy in history, lists his accomplishments, mentions his honors, Remy’s ability to make art while celebrating various niches in life and endeavors.

Allan Ulrich in the San Francisco  Chronicle and The New York Times paid tribute to Remy Charlip, noting his 38 children’s books and his Air Mail dances, his years with the Merce Cunningham Company, his founding of the Paperbag Children’s Theatre.

Missing  in the accounts was what for me was one of  Charlip’s major collaborations, “Growing Up in Public,” and tribute to and a vehicle for the late Lucas Hoving.  Like Charlip, Hoving chose to live out his final years in San Francisco, a  much loved, teaching figure, tenderly cared for at the end.  Unlike Charlip, however, Hoving was not widely celebrated, perhaps because of generational and national differences, along with the relative immaturity of the dance community at that time. Following Hoving, Charlip embraced the community and it in turn encircled him in this most fitting tribute to his gentle, whimsical, faun-like life with its unique brand of  patriarchy.