Tag Archives: La Tania

San Francisco’s Ethnic Dance Auditions

29 Jan

Mid January is the time World Arts West schedules its hundred plus slots for groups wanting to audition to one one of the 40 selected for the June Ethnic Dance Festival.  This year’s January 16-17 auditions were held for the second time at Zellerbach Hall, the University of California, Berkeley.  The second week, January 19-20 occurred at the Lam Research Theater, better known as the theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

As I remember the regulations from the two times serving on the jury panel, soloists are given five minutes and ensembles perhaps ten.  They should appear in some part of the costuming and with props audiences will see in June.  There is a panel of specialists in most of the diverse ethnic dance forms practiced.  They  vote and their choices are given to C.K. Ladzekpo and Carlos Carvajal, the artistic directors, who then take the choices as guidelines for assembling  the four June weekends of performances.

Saturday January 19, I managed to see seventeen out of the twenty-five afternoon/evening auditions.  Claude Dieterich A, teaching calligraphy and graphic design at the Academy of Art University, San Francisco, and Hanna Lu, a computer whiz handling computer tasks at the University of San Francisco Law School, provided stimulating non-specialist perspectives.  Dieterich has studied Cuban dances and is familiar with Peruvian dance traditions.

Much of the time you’re uncertain of what you’ll see.  Some names and ensembles return yearly, performing elsewhere, so seep gradually into the memory bank as noteworthy. A percentage of the entertainment is derived from the clutches surrounding any one presenting group.  Back in the days when auditions were held at the McKenna Auditorium of San Francisco State University these small enclaves seemed more apparent, and also, until two years ago, at the Palace of Fine Arts.  Around the stage door they still can be found, if somewhat constrained by downtown San Francisco.

The Festival draws a number of volunteers, many seasonal repeats. Assiduous in their tasks, when one arrives late, entrance is barred until a given audition is completed and the stage is being set for the next ensemble.  It also gives the judges time to make notes.  The pauses lend a relaxed ambiance for audience and performers, and as the evening continues, the auditorium is  gradually emptied of rooting groups, only diehard dance enthusiasts remaining  as the groups finish their assigned spot on the roster.

Directed upstairs and opting to sit on the side rather than on the steep central seats, the view enabled an eighty per cent stage vista.

With the exception of the Bollywood finale, the Indian groups were disappointing.  One ensemble attempted a contrast between Kathak and Bharata Natyam; the technical grasp seemed rudimentary.  Also an exposition of Odissi in non-traditional format didn’t do the style a favor.  Without saying, the costuming was lustrous.

Senegal was represented by Cheikh Taou Mbaye and Sing Sing Rhythms; their drumming was compelling.  World Arts West Executive Director Julie Mushet interviewed the leader during one of the short breaks. Later she brought the leader of El Wah Movement Dance Theatre forward to speak about Haitian traditions.

Early in the afternoon ARAX Dance, two women, executed symmetrical patterns in long tunics with full sleeves and flowing skirts.  With heads adorned with caps, they were a visual cousin to Afsaneh which specializing in Central Asian traditions.  While listed as Armenian contemporary folkloric, they might well have stepped out of a Persian miniature painting.

Ballet Folkloric Alta California danced a pageant common to Zacatecas, presenting harvest produce to a shrine.  A devil figure cavorted, being dodged and outmaneuvered, a pleasant variation to many Mexican ensemble presentations.

La Tania’s Bailes Flamencos produced three dancers in black blouses and trousers, dancing in the unforced feminine quality characteristic of her movement, but with unusual spatial patterns.  La Tania is not one for explosive torrents of emotion, but expert in a yearning, a conjuring of desired passion which is quite beguiling.

I don’t envy the panelists and artistic directors their task of selection.


Yaelisa’s Chrismas Offering, ODC, December 12-16

28 Dec

With “10 por Arriba” Yaelisa returned to ODC Theater where she and her ensemble had presented monthly tablaos prior to its remodeling. now with her core performers and one guest artist.  Like Carola Zertuche of Theatre Flamenco the male baelerin needs to be a guest. In this instance it was Manuel Gutierrez with the percussionist/drummer Joey Heredia adding to the panache as well as  the accomplished flamenco singer Jose Cortes.  Cellist Dan Reiter, Pianist Vicki Trimbach and tenor Ray Chavez contributed  to the evening’s magic.

The San Francisco area is blessed to have  such periodic productions, as well as the La Tania, Fanny Ara and Clara Rodriguez  occasional presentations or guest appearances.  One former Spanish dancer told me the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most active flamenco centers in the United States.

Yaelisa set the stage as if for rehearsal with the dancers entering casually, deliberately, still lost in transition from the street and personal consideration.  First, Yaelisa, ready to commence practice, heard the  Brandenberg Concerto No 3 in G, instead of flamenco guitar or a Spanish piano piece; her reaction, being “oh, no, not that!” but the music continued and her stamp of protest became one of acquiescence, rising to the baroque cadences, adapting taconeo and port de bras to the music’s fulsome formality.  During the course of the concerto Melissa Cruz, Fanny Ara and Manuel Gutierrez joined her, all finishing with a flourish.

Continuing the Western classical tradition, Fanny Ara played Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, before the company danced Canestera and Joey Heredia  demonstrated how his percussion — drumming and cajon — can be spell binding. Jason McGuire and Yaelisa collaborated on J.S. Bach’s  Fugue in A. Minor, a reminder of the classical  qualities of the guitar and McGuire’s own versatility.

Vicki Trimbach and Dan Reiter performed “Piece en form de Habenera” before Melissa Cruz sang Lost Cause with a quiet,  little girl quality, accompanying herself on the guitar.

The company danced Tangos before the intermission.

Vicki Trimbach showed her stripes with the composition Non Mi riguardi, sung by Ray Chavez, accompanied by Trimbach on the piano, Dan Reiter at the cello with Yaelisa assuming the role of the Gypsy in the vignette set in 2012 Italy. The plot possessed all the impossibilities of La Strada or the worst U.S. Recession scenario, allowing  Yaelisa to handle her mantilla with accustomed skill and Chavez to sing of his abysmal situation with fervor.  Trimbach’s  creation deepened the meaning of arriba,  a word which can mean anything from onward to free or gratis.

Manuel Gutierrrez’ turn at center stage found him at his usual bursts of  taconeo, pauses and pacing.  This time he kept his jacket on until his impassioned exit; the interval remained exciting, not only for the aforementioned qualities but wondering when the jacket would be shed.

The ensemble joined for the finale before Jose Cortes sang the Rumba Gitana with his usual force and varying melismas. A program to savor, anticipating another spate of innovations,  If this be deviation from the norm, l  can only say, Brava, Yaelisa.

Somos Tierra: A Flamenco Landscape November 24

6 Dec


From the lovely California  coastal city of Santa Barbara two contemporary flamenco exponents have emerged within the last decade: Clara Rodriguez and Timo Nunez.  If the dancers are using their family names, they represent  Americans pursuing a Spanish heritage, whether direct or filtered through Latin America or Mexico.  Their pursuit has been clearly vigorous and intense
as evidenced in Somos Tierra, November 25 at Fort Mason’s Cowell Theater.  Rodriguez  produced the evening; Nunez was guesting from Los Angeles and La Tania crossed the Bay to contribute two dances.

The single evening of flamenco brought out not only a raft of local afficionados but the excellent musicians who appear with Theatre Flamenco: Sudhi Rajagopal, Kina Mendez and Jose Cortes. Added were guitarist  Gabriel Lautaro Osuna, hailing from Los Angeles, and David McLean, who composed the majority of the music as well as playing guitar.
Kina Mendez started the program with Nana a la Luna- Lullaby to the Moon.  She seemed in her element, strong with edgy qualities half way between declamation and song, reinforced by empathic ole murmurs from the audience.

Suena el Alba – Sounds of Dawn followed with Clara Rodriguez, a slight and swift woman with medium-brown hair, a nearly oval face and a swift attack to the sounds of David McLean’s guitar.  She seemed tense if accurate, clearly with the rhythm, the beat; tension is, normal when one is in charge of a program.

Luz or Light followed with the three dancers together.. and the first glimpse of Timo Nunez as well as La Tania.  Nunez is tall, slender legged, his head a handsome oblong, wearing white shoes, their  metallic decorations calling attention to the feet, and a metallic hued vest over a brown shirt, interfering with the visual impact of the torso.  La Tania was dressed in a filmy black dress fluttering around her ankles.

How to describe my visual response to the trio in their unison rendition?  La Tania possesses  liquidity, sensual, oddly relaxed  considering the forcefulness  of heel work.  She seems to ease into her timing, where Rodriguez and Nunez hit the rhythm smack on the beat. I found myself thinking  “That’s because Rodriguez and Nunez are American born.”  I could visualize the two Santa Barbara born dancers fitting easily into an American modern dance or ballet company, regardless of their clearly excellent flamenco accomplishments.

Camino del Agua – Path of Water, to a McLean composition increased this impression of Rodriguez.

Her solo was followed by Raices – Roots, providing solos for Jose Cortes and Kina Mendez, deep seated and a fully flowering , slightly raw sounding vocal expositions. Cortes’s hands struggled to pull the melismas from his solar plexis.

For me the evening’s most affecting dance brought Clara Rodriguez to the piano with Isaac Albeniz “El Albancin”  to accompany La Tania in Hojas de mi Infancia – Leaves of my Childhood.  In her fluid black dress La Tania conveyed memories, longing, tender, ably supported by Rodriguez. La Tania’s liquid movement manages to convey the weighted, the  passionate without vulgarity, considered; yet, for all its predetermined pattern, what she dances melds both practice and the momentary emotion making each step seem inevitable.

El Color de Los Sombras – The Color of Shadows, a Seguiriyas, brought Timo Nunez  enthusiastic audience response. His taconeo and audience contact was first rate, but I found myself alienated by the incongruous choice of zabatos and vest.  I  clearly held a minority view.

Following intermission Rodriguez and Nunez collaborated in an AlegriasHuellas en la Arena – Footprints in the Sand. Nunez and Rodriguez chose wearing brilliant green, Nunez changing his vest for a darker hue against a short sleeved green shirt and those white shoes; Rodriguez selected a one shoulder green tunic over a full patterned skirt.  I could not quite determine whether they were antagonists or partners; the interplay between them was minimal until near the end, with little of the flirtatious or the circling ardor one expects in a flamenco pas de deux.  It could well be my memory had solidified over past performances.

La Tania’s second dance was Despertar – Awaken, a Solea, danced with David McLean at the  guitar.  She coaxed, entreated and beckoned while maneuvering a persimmon-hued bota de cola  broken at the waist with a wide black band. She essayed differing methods of rousing the subject of her focus.  It was difficult to see how anyone might want to slumber as she swirled, held her flounces during taconeo or when her arms described the rewards of rising to her entreaties.

David McLean and Gabriel Osuna collaborated on a Bulerias under the title Viento de la Serrania – Wind from the Mountains.

Clara Rodriguez closed the program with a Tarantos, La Tierra AdentroThe Land Within. Her  rusty orange tunic was marked by open sleeves tied at intervals and a contrasting full bluish skirt.  While her competence was unquestioned, I found Rodriguez’ choice of ending the program with a solo, rather than an ensemble,  puzzling.  But it was, after all, her show.

Another Yuriko Doi Fusion: Mystical Abyss

5 Aug

Theatre of Yugen in collaboration with the U.S./Japan Cultural Trade Network and the San Francisco International Arts Festival will present five performances of Mystical Abyss at ODC Theatre in San Francisco September 17-30 with tickets ranging in price, depending on date, from $17 to $45.  The event will help to celebrate SFIAF’s Tenth Anniversary.

Director Yuriko Doi has collaborated with playwright John O’Keefe ,  choreographers Shiro Nomura from Japan and Jesus Jacob Cortes from Mexico. Renta Kouichi is responsible for the set design, Risa Lenore Latimore Dye,  costume design,  Stephen Siegel, lighting design, Frederick Boulay technical direction and production manager.  Hideta Kitazawa serves as the mask designer and carver while Taketo Kobayashi and  Koya Takahashi are responsible for animation.

Several performers are also responsible for music: Kenny Perkins, Yoshio Ueno and Narumi Takiz, the latter two representing traditional Noh music.  Ueno has been designated as an Intangible Cultural Asset.

Cortes from Mexico also will perform along with Masashi Nomura, Janelle Ayon, Cuauhtemoc Peranda, Lluis Valls, Roger Perkins, and Jubilith Moore,  assistant director for Yuriko Doi and artistic director of Theatre of Yugen.

Personally, I find this information staggering, but  not surprising, having seen how Yuriko Doi reached out to produce Blood Wedding, using La Tania in a male role with a Kabuki style female artist placing the conflict in a Spanish land grant estate of early California.; Doi later staged Crazy Horse in San Francisco’s Japanese Peace Plaza.

Doi goes for the connective tissue between cultures, despite apparent surface differences.  Mystical Abyss is no exception.  The work explores the creation myths of Japan and Iroquois Indians.  In  Japan myth, Izanami dies in childbirth after creating the Japanese islands and the Japanese deities with spouse Izanagi. The Iroquois believed Sky Woman was hurled into an abyss by her husband; chaos and commotion for both traditions. Amaterasu had to be lured out of her retreat through art.  Sky Woman’s fall was curbed by animals and came to rest on a turtle creating the North American Continent.

The press release quoted Yuriko Doi: “I have spent my life building bridges across false divides; and, as a mother who hoped for a better world for her children, I see Mystical Abyss as a metaphor for our need to be reborn, to go back to the beginning and move forward on a path of peace and respect for our world and each other.”

The press release continues her comments which I am certain will be included in the program. I want to urge lovers of great theatrical art to know about this formidable event.  Also performing one night, September 29, concurrently,  will be Pandit Birju Maharaj at the Palace of Fine Arts, brought again by his disciple  Anuradha Nag who directs the Tarangini School of Kathak.  Zakir Hussein will support Maharaj on tabla.  Such a confluence of  cultures in the area – Japan, Native America, Mexico, North India – promises an extraordinary privilege in theatre for San Francisco.

Juncal Street, La Pena Cultural Center, June 26

20 Jul

My exposure to flamenco in San Francisco came when there was a Cansino instructing in a Geary Street studio not far from what is now American Conservatory Theater.  It also was a time when Vadja del Oro was continuing to dance after she and Guillermo del Oro parted marital ways.  While there was doubtless other Spanish exponents, del Oro had the distinction of having studied with Otero in addition to Enrico Cechetti, and knowing all the coplas of the traditional Sevillanas.  From various sources I heard there was someone by the name of Jose Ramon, but I am personally ignorant regarding this exponent.

The Geary Street theatres saw performances by Carmen Amaya, Teresa and Luisillo, Jose Greco, Pilar Lopez, Jimenez and Vargas.  Argentinita, and, at one point, an aging Escudero and his partner appeared on the S.F. Opera stage.  That may well have been the occasion when Roberto Iglesias and his company appeared at the Van Ness location; Iglesias proudly acknowledged having danced with San Francisco Ballet. In the early ‘Sixties the Old Spaghetti Factory flamenco sessions were in session. Spanish dancing could be seen at the outskirts of Chinatown at the Sinaloa, a Mexican-flavored nightclub operated by Luz Garcia, her life history unfortunately remains shadowy.   Maclovia, who had danced under Adolph Bolm in early San Francisco Ballet days, appeared there and later with Antonio, touring with a different troupe from his days as one half of the Rosario and Antonio billing.

While she resided in San Francisco, Rosa Montoya reigned supreme in San Francisco’s flamenco world, starting first with Ciro in a nightclub on Broadway.  She performed and taught a number of exponents active today, with perhaps the most noted being Melissa Cruz.  Unlike Theatre Flamenco’s continued ensemble existence, when Rosa retired to Spain following the loss of her husband and only son, gypsy-originated flamenco and larger-than-ensemble artists vanished.  Concurrently with Rosa, Cruz Luna had also danced along that strip once called the Barbary Coast, a tall, elegant individual.

I’m hazy on the sequence, but soon Yaelisa, her  mother  an Old Spaghetti Factory stalwart of flamenco  ensemble performances, emerged with her ensemble, and several promising dancers began to appear in her ensemble, and she appeared monthly at ODC’s Theatre before it was remodeled.

Into her group came Fanny Ara;  with the presence of La Tania, and later Carola Zertuche, the level of flamenco artistry has risen appreciably.  I have been told  the San Francisco area is one of genuine homes away from homes for flamenco. With this roster of artists and their ability to acquire guesting dancers and musicians, San Francisco enjoys not only frequent performances, but real confidence in the caliber of what we are invited to watch.

I missed Fanny Ara’s early spring concert, but seeing what she arranged June 26 at La Pena Cultural Center more than made up for that absence. She assembled three musicians in addition to Manuel Gutierrez, the dancer seen locally under several auspices.  Jason McGuire, “El  Rubio”, was responsible for the principal guitar, backed by Tommy Dades, who plays an electrified guitar.  Instead of the increasing use of the cajon, Joey Heredia brought his percussion skills while Jose Cortes provided the singing.

La Pena is a stark setting for any performance, an elevated platform at the end of a room of seats without rake or curtain.  When artists can carry an audience’s intensive response as these six were able in this setting, it’s really something.  No wonder that Juncal is roughly translated as “insider.”

As  Ara and Gutierrez started out with Tangos, Heredia emerged from the right stage exit, walked in front of the stage where he struck  his sticks on the edge of the platform close to the dancers’ feet.  This  set a tone, Gutierrez and Ara dancing side by side, Ara in black, Gutierrez, suited, like a slightly fatigued paper pusher in San Francisco’s financial district. Throughout the program, little of the traditional costumes were even hinted at – the heavily braided jacket and tight trousers of the male, combs, spit curls and artificial flowers for the woman’s hair,  a myriad of ruffles on the sleeves and neckline or the swirling yardage in the skirt.

Jose Cortes, a tall, handsome man, rendered a Fandango with extraordinary fervor, the melismatic preliminary as prolonged and varied as one hears from a traditional Indian singer .  Cortes’ undulations, produced with the aid of one hand weaving the rise and fall of sound, pulled the extended  phrase from deep in his solar plexus, his  intensity verging on a blood vessel rupture.

When Gutierrez returned for the Zapateado, head covered by a school boy cap, knee-length socks and short trousers with school boy jacket and tie, he looked like a school boy – a nod to his French birth. His expression, totally deadpan, drilled itself into the audience, as his feet wove the traditional sequences.  My friend remarked, “He possesses an ego the size of Berkeley.”

Ara’s costumes included diaphanous black over minimal bra with a straight street skirt, later a black  over blouse with rose-applique above a floor length skirt of minimalist ruffles.  She is adept in cork- curled turns, both back and forward;  she continues to reach sideways with a strong thrust of the arm, softened by manipulation of palms and fingers, which accompany equal  side stretches of the torso and the legs. The latter almost verges on the grotesque but is redeemed by the arms, body twist and her remarkable musical phrasing.  These juxtapositions seemed to work best in the solo Romance, but  I hope it doesn’t become a movement cliche.   Ara’s handsome features appeared more chiseled,  perhaps heightened with the presence of Guiterrez; certainly her body responded in a telling response to Heredia’s percussive instruments.

Gutierrez danced in the mussy business suit style with the usual forward intent gaze and deliberation; in due course off  came the jacket flung at a strategic juncture.  There’s no denying
his skill or focus.

Two thoughts linger as I write this.  Spanish dance no longer is totally defined by its costume, particularly with the men.  Ara, Gutierrez and Cortes all born in France; the latter two claim gypsy heritage.  Was the culture beyond the immediate family and gypsy circle an influence?  The incisiveness somehow makes me wonder.  Like ballet’s roots, Spanish dance and flamenco is
obviously an international language.

The Khmer Arts Ensemble at Zellerbach

31 Oct

The Khmer Arts Ensemble appeared at Zellerbach at a Sunday matinee early in October dancing “The Lives of Giants”, choreographed by Sophiline Cheam Shapiro; she also was responsible for the lyrics and musical arrangements.

The entirely female ensemble, was accompanied by four traditional musicians plus a singer, handsomely costumed by Merrily Murray-Walsh. “The Lives of Giants”, traditionally danced by women, is a Cambodian extract from the Hindu epic The Ramayana, regarding a Giant who is given a boon but turns into a menace, soothed only by Uma. Uma’s desire to ameliorate the tense situation the Giant’s arrogance has fostered is ignored by Visnu; he dispatches the Giant, foretelling further violence rather than compassion.

Many years ago when Prince Norodom Sihanouk was prime minister of Cambodia, he brought his daughter Bupa Devi, as I recall her name, with him on a visit to San Francisco. The Asia Foundation helped to arrange a comparatively brief performance at what is now Herbst Theatre, giving San Francisco its first glimpse of a regal professional from the land of Angkor Wat, and the extraordinary stylization of hand and foot gestures with their Indian classical antecedents outlined in the Natya Sastra.

Fast forward to the early twenty-first century; the Bay Area dance community received in its midst Charya Burt, trained in Cambodia in its classical tradition. Burt has appeared several times at the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival and earned an Izzie, [Isadora Duncan Dance Award] for Individual Performance in 2002, sharing honors with Joanna Berman and La Tania. What Charya provides San Francisco audiences are brief excursions into the sedate and elaborate technique of Cambodian classical dance tradition; palms vertical to the wrist with fingers arched backwards, forming leisurely mudras while the arms execute Arabic like linear arabesques, the feet cocked, bent knees, and swift little pattering steps.

Charya Burt also has undertaken adaptations, from a Cambodian snippet based on Tennessee Williams’ “Glass Menagerie” to musings on being an immigrant. At least one experiment was commissioned by World Arts West’s Ethnic Dance Festival where performance slots are limited to twenty minutes.

Sophiline Cheam Shapiro and Charya Burt are sisters and have appeared together in the Bay Area. It is my understanding Cheam Shapiro has returned to live in Cambodia, and though experimenting, she chose this traditional tale to tour the United States under some heavy supporting organizations focused on Asia.

“The Lives of Giants” was a ninety minute drama performed without intermission. For all the expertise and skill demonstrated, this American is not sufficiently attuned to this sub-equatorial dance form to appreciate or be riveted by the experience. It is my loss, undoubtedly, but, having been beguiled by Charya Burt’s presentations, there is something to be said for programmatic adjustments in lengths and intervals.