Tag Archives: Lam Research Theater

2016 Smuin Spring Season

20 May

The May 6-15 Smuin Ballet Spring Season at Yerba Buena Center’s Lam Research Theater presented two revivals and one premiere, Val Caniparoli, Jiri Kylian and Helen Pickett the choreographers. Each work possessed charms, ingenuity or a high degree of emotional response, almost invariably the case when the program includes a gem like Return to a Strange Land, Kylian’s 1975 ballet for six dancers to the music of his fellow countryman Leos Janacek, a tribute to John Cranko’s sudden death.

Tutto Cetto Il Lavandino, Val Caniparoli’s commentary on sleek abstract works, danced to the wonderful sonata allegro form music of Antonio Vivaldi, provided elbows, body lunges, pirouettes, lifts and ensemble groupings in every possible form and stage location for fourteen dancers, with sleek black costumes by Sandra Woodall. The ensembles’ stage location with entry and exit combined with the erect or leaning bodies and gestures kept coming, coming, coming until they vanished as a green laundry sink was pushed sideways on stage at the curtain, as stated, “Everything But The Kitchen Sink.”

Kylian’s tribute employs four men and two women, danced in four parts to a piano rendition of Janecek’s music. Smuin Ballet previously mounted the work in 2013, utilizing the set and costume design by Jiri Kylian, with lighting redesigned by Kees Tjebbes. The quartet of pieces go: a trio of two men and a woman; two pas de deux and a final trio. Against a near monochrome drop suggesting a limitless and somber horizon, the woman seems frequently to be a bird, tossed or buffeted by wind. In each of the four deceptively simple parts, she somehow winds up on the shoulders or the back of one of the men, the dancers facing front, resulting in images elegiac and haunting .

Helen Picket’s Oasis, receiving its premiere during the Smuin Spring season, utilized the entire ensemble of sixteen dancers, with an original score by Jeff Beal, augmented by Emma Kingsbury’s video, also responsible for the costumes and the scenic design. The latter provided wave-like drops which looked white, almost transparent at the beginning and at the end resembled matchstick-like bamboo.

I really would need to see it again to form a definite opinion; Pickett’s capacity for groupings, entrances and exits indicate a keen eye for effective movement, no mean achievement when moving from a rehearsal room to the proscenium arch.


Alonso King’s Fall Season with Lisa Fischer

4 Dec

Alonso King’s fall program premiered November 5 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Lams Research Theater. I went on Friday, the thirteenth, just after the horrific news regarding the Parisian attacks by Islamic terrorists. The audience was warm, near capacity, exuding iys diversity with a definite comfort level which occasionally pervades YBC’s venue. The woman in front of me removed her shoes on arriving in her seat, standing in the aisle with toe painted scarlet.

The music for King’s The Propelled Heart was supplied by Lisa Fischer, a singer who backed The Rolling Stones for many years, been the subject of the 2013 documentary “Twenty Feet From Stardom.” The additional musician was J. C. Maillard. Long time collaborators by Robert Rosenwasser and Axel Morgenthaler conceived. costumes and lighting,

King seems to be content with a dozen dances in his company, though he undoubtedly works with many more dancers at different levels in the organization now including a dance major at Dominican University in San Rafael in addition to the multiple classes and outreach programs occurring at Lines Dance Center on Seventh Street just off Market Street in San Francisco.

The current company lists 3 dancers joining in 2011, 4 in 2013 and 2014; Brett Conway has returned after some four years with Nederlans Dance Theater. Yujin Kim has returned from being out a season with an injury. There is height among three women as well as mid-size and a tigerish virility among the men; King fully exploits that quality. Most have come with experience; King has refined and extended technique and attack in his particularly total style. It was fully on view in “The Propelled Heart.”

Lisa Fischer herself I would guess is under five feet five, with a build solidly maternal, hair closely cropped, vocal tones and range amazing, from strong declarative sound to the high pitched tonal wail. It is a native province of African Americans and of the Indian sub-continent; both share the haunting habit of the melisma, the embroidery around one note or one sound pitch. Dressed in a dusty maroon toned stole with what I understand were ostrich feathers [animal rights?],a two-tiered over blouse over slacks, she wandered around, behind, through and in the center of the troupe, according to the song and the sounds of J. C. Mailliard’s music,

Somewhere I picked up that Maillard’s music has not only been influenced by African rhythms, but that he resides at least part of his time in the Caribbean. His responses were well aligned to Fischer and to King’s capacity to emphasize or isolate parts of the human torso within the technical of the highly western classical ballet vocabulary. In listening to Maillard’s background contribution, I would swear I heard something of the Korean vertical flute, the taegum. I would hope so. As with most of the Korean musical threads, the plaintive, evocative qualities echo into what otherwise would be a percussive, declarative statement, balletic or otherwise. The Koreans, mind you, take backseats to no one in their talent for drumming.

What did I see, and what was most memorable? Clearly, King’s capacity to enhance, enlarge and expand a dancer’s ability to articulate movement. It’s never just releve, passe, or releve attitude or arabesque. Something happens along the way, or at the beginning or conclusion – a special display of ankle or foot, a nuanced ripple down the torso, a bending from shoulders to hips and then a leisurely unwinding from this position into the traditional vertical posture. There was one ensemble moment towards the end of the work where the dancers formed almost a circle on stage; even though the back portion of the circle seemed out of vision, the forward portion evoked the amazing circular movement of bodies in Matisse’s “The Dance,” residing in The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, a compositional draft belonging to MOMA in New York City

The Four Programs of Paul Taylor’s Company

21 Apr

San Francisco Performances brought the Paul Taylor Company to the Lam Research Theatre at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts April 15-19 with four programs, ten dances, some of his oldies and goodies, including Fibers ,1961, Aureole. 1962, and a West Coast premiere, Death and the Damsel.

Taylor’s appearances every other year possess so many treats it’s hard to know where to begin. The audience reflects a wide range of tastes and inclinations,united in their appreciation of good dancing, good theatre and a modern dance company, managing to survive and flourish over a half century.

Then there are the sixteen dancers with their obvious quantity of highly active grey matter. Fourteen dancers holder BFA degrees; there’s a joint major in music and business administration. In the roster two bear sheepskins with magna cum laude written on them and three with summa cum laude imprinted; one magna also was elected Phi Beta Kappa,; Yale and Columbia universities are represented; there are two possessors of master’s degrees. Verily Taylor works with brains and bodies.

The bodies themselves are interesting; women are rounded, boobs as well as butts; several men look qualified for the heftier of Olympic field sports or tensile strength required on the tennis court. Seeing them execute the winged V’s Taylor requires in many stage crossings or watching them, one knee bent, torso tilted, head raised, or the modified cross body front or back attitude as the recorded music soars gives empathetic muscles a thorough engagement in relaxing “ah” sensation; reveling in the delicious little side hops which are almost minuscule or expand into space-covering reaches.. Riches, riches, riches.

These movements are managed in ways that spare them from being cliched, in the same style good ballet choreographers can make an arabesque into a question mark or an attitude an embrace. Certainly we see it most clearly when Taylor decides his theme needs to be aligned with a great composer like Georg Frederick Handel, for Aureole, his frequent use of Johann Sebastian Bach, Brandenburg Concertoes,Promethean Fire>, Esplanade. It is evident also when the composer is Arnold Schoenberg, the musical source of the 1961 Fibers, with an evocative tree with its filigree branches a delicate contrast to the
the rigid,layered strips of cloth on the men, the white sheen of the women’s bathing suit-like costumes further emphasized with lines of black, skillful dissonance and conformity.

Then there was Ralph Vaughn Williams’ musical setting for Eventide gracing Program Three, providing the very polite, conventional but heart-touching formalities of ten dancers headed by Parisa Khabdeh and Michael Trusnovec.

Their two duets early and penultimate in the piece were marvelous reflections of the doubts men and women feel as they begin to commit themselves to long-term partnership, first the woman, then the man; the breakaways, hesitations, pauses, with understanding reinforcements etched in posture, gesture, line.

I wonder if I am accurate in assuming that Taylor turns to commissioned music when he has his story doesn’t fit the existing musical archive. If so, his choices are reflected in the music of Davis Israel for The Word, 1998, and Death and the Damsel receiving its West Coast Premiere in Program II. Aided in both works by design Santo Loquasto and light designer Jennifer Tipton, Taylor’s view of society’s underside is clearly crafted. The Word featured twelve bodies encased in would-be leaderhausen/ schoolboy knee-highs, string ties and white shirts responding to and regimented by a doctrine delivered in demogogic style; Heavy lurches and lunges, collective jumping, all of it weighted, awkward and joyless; fascism or hyper-evangelistic religion, take your pick. You can imagine the release felt with Taylor’s Brandenburgs.

Death and the Damsel’s
set evoked Paris garrets before the inevitable dives. Jamie Roe Walker, with a substantial ballet history, was the delicate young blonde rising out of her bed, stage center, lively, chipper, ready to conquer the world. At the edges figures like ravens, hints of the deep green-black plumage, lurked. She repeated her cavorting, slightly subdued; a third time more subdued as the creatures crept closer. She dived into the bed, pulling the pillow over her head. Jerked from hiding, thrust into a dive, she was pulled, hoisted and ritualistically raped, her legs a constant V-shape to the audience as the ominous-winged males approached her. She staggered to her feet to fight her captors, flinging them one way and another with increasing confidence, fearless. She stood with them, lying around her feet, dazzling, triumphant; inevitably, the death figures rose. surrounding her clumped on the floor; quick curtain.

Again, it took Bach to bring the audience to resolution With Taylor’s 2002 creation of Promethean Fire, Led by Trusnovec and Khabdeh in magnificent black unitards with circular lines of velvet, equally black, moving inexorably to the peals of Bach’s organ music, Toccata and Fuque in D-minor, Prelude in E-Flat minor and Chorale Prelude BWV680, circling, falling into a body heap where Khabdeh is pulled by Trusnovec. In the lines the weight of shoulders and backs were accented by the costumes, the shoulders held naturalistically, ballet technique moulds differently. The Taylor steps, drops, hops and run, fortified by the huge aural organ sounds, assume an inevitability, compelling many in the audience to rise and cheer at the end of the evening.

Finally, Taylor never leaves his audience without some relieving humor. Aureole supplied it in Program I. In Program II it’s Diggity, 1978, a piece with various dog profiles scattered over the stage, eight dancers hopping around and in between the profiles, one of two mutts highlighted at various moments.

It was Program III which gave us Amilicare Ponchielle’s Dance of the Hours disguised as Troilus and Cressida (Reduced), With Parisa Khabdeh as Cressida, Troilus in Robert Kleiendorst, forever hoisting his royal blue sweats in front of Loquasto’s well-imagined pieces of rococo swirls at the borders of a backdrop with blatant bright hues.

Three Cupids flip their hands and wings coaching a waiting Khabdeh who awkwardly imitates necessary come-hither gestures before the Cupids rouse the born-yesterday figure of Troilus. The mating attempts were deliberately broad, comical against the bubbly, twinkling Ponchielle tune. Add to it three Roman soldiers in scarlet, with voluminous cloaks who want to abduct Cressida, but decide the cupids are better prey. Everyone completes the ditty with can-can kicks; the audience loved it.

The season finished with Esplanade, 1975, a pell-mell exposition to the score George Balanchine employed for Concerto Barocco, somersaults, Michelle Fleet hopping merrilly over her colleagues’ hunched figures; nine figures streaked in diagonals until they disbursed and Fleet, stage center raised her arms graciously to mark the finale.

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.