Tag Archives: K.T.Nelson

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This succession gives the audience a quick historical references as the other company members appear with similar reference points.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.

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.

Combating Cancer With a Dance Gala, June 6

10 Jun

San Francisco Ballet soloists Garen Scribner and James Sofranko bonded not only with a shared dressing room, but over their concerns regarding cancer.  Scribner was in touch with the Fremont-based research firm, Cancer Prevention Institute of California; the two dancers formed a plan to present a dance gala benefitting the organization June 6 at San Francisco’s Herbst Theater in the Civic Center’s Veterans’ Building.  Two other San Francisco Ballet dancers, Sarah Van Patten and Luke Willis, co-chaired a silent auction.

Scribner-Sofranko enjoyed managerial coaching from SFB’s dance enthusiasts the Pascarellis, plus corporate and individual sponsors to cover production costs, netting $100,000 for the Institute.  Alphabetically, the companies cooperating in the event were: AXIS Dance Company, Ballet San Jose, Amy Siewart’s Im-aj-re, Alonzo King Lines Ballet, Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, ODC/Dance,  Robert Moses’ Kin,  San Francisco Ballet, Smuin Ballet, tinypistol, Zhukov Dance Theater.

The producers arranged a judicious balance of dance genres performed by members of the  eleven Bay Area ensembles. The Gala also served a second important function; the selections  exposed audience members to styles and companies previously seen primarily by die-hard dance lovers  attending everything.  Herbst’s stage is box-like – not exactly the best for dance, though many of local  dance history’s memorable performances occurred in the space.

Yuan Yuan Tan, solicitously partnered by Pierre-Francois Vilanoba, launched the program with the adagio to J.S. Bach’s Concerto No. 5. in Helgi Tomasson’s 2004 ballet 7 for 8.  The lighting did little for either dancer, but Tan’s lingering developpes and arabesques were all there.

Robert Moses’ 1998 solo Descongio found Katherine Wells in little girl white bloomers and tunic dancing to Chopin’s Sonata for cello and piano.  Willowy Wells rendered every shoulder roll or hand gesture assigned with her usual lyricism, though one wonders why each note required a gesture or a quirk.

Alex Ketley’s To Color Me Different, created for Sonsheree Giles and Rodney Bell of AXIS Dance company in 2008, registered the first strong departure in Gala formulas with  Bell’s masterful manipulation of his wheelchair. Giles, with constant flying leaps, seeming to assault Bell, was intense, both demonstrating why the pair earned an Izzie Ensemble Award in 2008.

Junna Ige and Maykel Solas from Ballet San Jose switched emphasis to George Balanchine as Broadway-style  choreographer in his take on “Embraceable You” from the Gershwin-inspired  1970 skillful froth Who Cares.

Maurya Kerr, one-time Alonzo King dancer, combines some of King’s torso inflections, but  manages to make a statement in her ensemble tinypistol.  Here it was Babatunji Johnson in the 2012 Freak Show; she gives her interpreters a total workout.

Sarah Van Pattern evoked the peculiarly haunting Andrew Sisters’ song “I Can Dream Can’t I?”, from Paul Taylor’s 1991 Company B,  backed by Matthew and Benjamin Stewart.

The first half of the Gala ended with Meredith Webster and Zack Tang dancing a pas de deux from Alonzo King’s 2006 ballet The Hierarchical Migration of Birds and Mammals.

K.T. Nelson required Anne Zivolich, dressed in a chic black floor-length gown, to fly all over the stage as well as dust it in the 2005 Shenanigans; Dennis  Adams appeared strategically, moving minimally, all in best fluttering hen to nonchalant  cock tradition.  They got it together,  Zivolich ending up in an odd-angled catch.

Frances Chung and Matthew Stewart continued the duet pattern in a lyrical setting to Robert Schumann music created in 2011 by James Sofranko.

Also created in 2011 was Amy Seiwart’s Divergence interpreted by Roberto Cisneros, now with Sacramento Ballet after wunderkund appearances with Smuin Ballet.

Yuri Zhukov gave the Gala a world premiere, Ember, using Martyn Garside and David Lagerqvist and a spotlight.  First one dancer tracked the other with a rolling spotlight, then spotter and spotted roles reversed, all accented by the swerving light and occasional abrupt blackout.  The men, nude to the waist and in white trousers, eventually confronted each other before a quick blackout.

The Smuin Tango Palace, 2003 brought Jane Rehm and Shannon Hurlburt as the first couple, toying with Hurburt’s fedora, on, off, on to Rehm’s head, off and tossed by Hurlburt, she in an elaborate short, provocative garment, he dressed  George Raft style.  Luscious Robin Cornwell followed with Jonathan Dummer, minus antagonism. Seeing the number on the program, I  hoped the selection would include Smuin’s sizzling male duet; no luck – just two separate couples and the wonderful tango recording.

Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada appeared in Christopher Wheeldon’s 2008 pas de deux Within the Golden Hour, dressed in seafoam blue-green, quite the most costumed dancers in the program with Kochetkova’s head adorned like a ‘Twenties socialite.  Their melting pas de deux to Vivaldi earned a prolonged applause, along with the whistles, shouts and clapping  sprinkled through the program.

An excerpt from the 2011 Light Moves with the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company closed the  Gala with its distinct change of pace and energy and Jenkins’ somewhat typical penchant for tussle as a choreographed form of  engagement.

As the dancers all emerged on stage, some already changed for the reception, the audience rendered the best possible recognition, a standing, shouting ovation.  It had been a definite dance high, and it just might become an annual affair.  I can think of other ensembles to be considered.

Diablo Ballet’s March 2 Program, Shadelands, Walnut Creek

9 Mar

Shadelands in Walnut Creek is a community facility with a makeshift stage where Diablo Ballet performs twice a year.  The company’s dancers have taught there and provide the city with outreach programs. There just may be a fiscal advantage over full season at the Dean Lesher Center downtown.

Neither venue is ideal for dance. Dean Lesher needs more front lighting.  Shadelands gives lousy sight lines for an audience member seated  behind someone  moving their head for their own viewing convenience.  The Diablo dancers rise above the limitations ,and in assignments in listed ballets project the skill and refinement defining the small ensemble since its inception eighteen years ago.  The level surpasses several larger professional ensembles, including  the beautiful lighting of Jack Carpenter.

This March  program displayed three women and four men in four works proceeding without pause, two initially mounted on Diablo Ballet, one a totally new work and Christopher Wheeldon’s pas de deux a West Coast premiere of the 2000 work Mercurial Maneuvers for New York City Ballet. Former S.F. Ballet principal Joanna Berman mounted Wheeldon’s work, occasioning two interviews.

Tina Kay Bohnstedt, now ballet mistress with Houston Ballet, created “First Movement from A Path of Delight or…” to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major in 2009, inspiring a pas de quatre danced at various stage locations. Characterized by Bohnstedt’s particular penchant, an upper torso roll to the trills and arpeggios frequently appears with a forward thrust of one foot, shoulders back.  Bohnstedt also uses the device in lifts, contrasting to picky little bourrees with the dancers’ head concentrated on the floor in tricky passages.  Visually the patterns are quite different from the quiet clarity of the piano, but they also cohere to the music and were nicely performed.

David Fonnegra’s Back in The Day uses pop tunes for a pas de trois with Edward Stegge and Fonnegra lightly vying for Rosselyn  Ramirez’ favors. A completely predictable piece, with populist overtones, it was neatly danced with Ramirez gently personifying the why of the competition.

Hiromi Yamazaki and Derek Sakakura were neatly matched in the Wheeldon piece, a lovely essay in turning dancers’ back to the audience, lifts that displayed Yamazaki like a banner in the wind, and the choreographer’s amazing capacity to visualize the music, here Dmitri Shostakovitch’s Piano Concerto No. 1

K.T. Nelson’s 1997 work for the company, The Escaping Game, closed the program.  Utilizing the music of Zap Mama, I remember the work as using more dancers than the five featured. Nelson creates a cheeky form of bravura, part classic, part modern with a lively spread of corn pone.  Her imagination is in a class by itself.

Following the brief program a question and answer period followed.  Diablo Ballet will dance at the end of March at Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City, at San Jose State University and at Napa’s Opera House, giving the program and dancers a seven performance run. If  such runs become a company habit. it would be a welcome and deserved development.

Diablo Ballet’s 2011-2012 Season

2 Aug

Val Caniparoli is providing Diablo Ballet with a world premiere titled A Phoenix Story for its opening 2011-2012 season at Dean Lesher Center for the Arts, November 18-19. Set to a two-cello composition by  Elena Kats- Chernin, originally from Uzbekistan and now living in Australia, the theme revolves around the Chinese theme of Yin and Yang, balance and imbalance.  Robert De La Rose will costume.

The program will also include a contemporary interpretation of Michel Fokine’s Le Spectre de la Rose, Dominic Walsh choreographing, who also designed the set and costumes. Washington Ballet’s Septime Weber’s Fluctuating Hemlines will complete the program.

Diablo Ballet will return to Shadowlands for its second and third programs.
March 2 and 3 will see the Bay Area premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s duet from Mercurial Manoeuvers and a new work from K. T. Nelson of ODC.
Former San Francisco ballet principal Joanna Berman will stage the Wheeldon
work.

May 4-5 Diablo will stage a new work by David Fonnegra and K. T. Nelson’s Escaping Game.

Alas, Diablo Ballet is losing one of its shining contributors: Tina Kay Bohnstedt, who has been inspiring its seasons since 1998.  She assumes the position of ballet mistress at Houston Ballet September 13.  Her artistry will be sorely missed, not just with Diablo, but amongst the balletomanes who have traveled to Walnut Creek to see her dance so memorably and a Terpsichore in Balanchine’s Apollo long to remember.