Tag Archives: Meredith Webster

Lines Fall Season at Yerba Buena’s Lam Theatre

11 Nov

Lines’ Ballet appeared at Yerba Buena Center’s Lam Research Theatre October 28-November 3. I saw their performance November 2 comprising two works, one a world premiere, the second a U.S. premiere.

Johann Sebastian Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D Minor formed the basis of George Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco, created for the American Ballet tour of South America in 1940, using two women for the violins, a single male to support the leading ballerina, and a small corps de ballet. It therefore took considerable courage to undertake one’s own vision of the work; this is what Alonzo King attempted, largely succeeding. Rita Felciano, one of the area’s most
sensitive dance writers musically, commented, “Alonzo heard Bach.”

Like Balanchine, King’s dancers wore spare black costumes; unlike Balanchine, he employed two men in the largo movement, not simply as porteurs for Meredith Webster and Kara Wilkes. David Harvey and Michael Montgomery had their moments of turns and lunges, and, from the program notes, it appears that some evenings the Vivace feature Webster and Wilkes and others Harvey and Montgomery.

Admittedly, my mind was more or less visually comparing Balanchine’s iconic classicism with King’s individualistic departures from ballet’s vocabulary, but such deviation was invariably cued to the sonorous qualities of the concerto; King supplied a roundness implicit in that aural richness. He made his frequent pumping quality of the port de bras part of that recognition, the buck and wing movement part of the musical line: no small feat. King, in the closest seen to date, incorporated structure into his choreography. In the Vivace, Ashley Jackson’s innate classical accuracy enjoyed its moments as did the vivacity of Caroline Rocher and the passionate stretch of Yujin Kim. Later, other long-time observers remarked to me, “It’s the best thing Alonzo has ever done.”

The second piece, Writing Ground, was commissioned by the Monaco Dance Forum and premiered in 2010 on the Terraces of the Monte Carlo Casino, in what must have been a spectacular out door event. Some of that largeness carries over into the proscenium arch venue carried over three years later. Commissioning contractual limits may be responsible for the three-year hiatus for performing in this country and elsewhere.

Colum McCann, the Irish born writer, is credited as collaborator. Given the title, source and performer of the 14 sections, I hazard it is the tone of the work which McCann supplied; interesting that he provides a devotional ambiance true to the larger Western tradition as in much the same quality Zakir Hussein gave to Who Dressed You As a Stranger?

Much of the music draws on sacred music recordings by Jordi Savall, but also selections from Jewish sacred tradition as well as one credited to the Koran, where Michael Montgomery conveyed some of the “high and lifted up” nature of the subject. Just prior to Montgomery’s solo, the men of the company had danced in Turning of the Soul, evoking the ecstatic qualities of Hassidic mysticism. Yujin Kim appeared twice in solos, her strength and phrasing rendering the musical phrasing monumental.

Other parts were intensely devotional, making me want to see the work a second time, and, if ever possible, with musicians in the pit. Writing Ground , apparently was a precurser or departure in King’s choreography, a preface to the structure more evident in the Double Violin Concerto. It is salutary. I would enjoy seeing the response of the Jerusalem audience to Writing Ground as the company departs for a month-long tour of Jerusalem and France.


Thirty Years of Lines’ Contemporary Ballet

5 May

With an enthusiastic audience at the final Sunday matinee April 28 Lines’ Contemporary Ballet danced indications of subtle shifts in Alonzo King’s choreography, an impetus possibly due to the commission for the Hubbard Street Dance Theater which debuted the work at Zellerbach Hall in February.

Many things, however, remain constant in this dozen dancer ensemble, a steadfast trait being the dancers’ eloquence and what superb instruments King has shaped them for his choreographic vision.  Works dating from 1994, 2005, 2010 plus this season’s premiere, Collaborations with Edgar Meyer, demonstrates part of that evolution.

Before comments on the dances, let me say the program itself celebrated King’s longevity, not only with elegant advertising, which probably covered the cost of the letter-size doubled 50 pages of text plus advertising and R. J. Muna’s spectacular photography. Following the current program and roster of dancers photographed by Quinn Wharton, there was a list of ballets created from 1982, an enumeration of King awards, dancers and guest artists over thirty years, collaborators, comments by the dancers and Pam Hagen, the third member of the founding trio, the King Training programs, board members, staff and donors, of course. The design was credited to Nancy Bertossa who moved over last year from ODC to head the Lines’ Marketing Division.  It’s a handsome record.  If space had permitted, dates and specifics might have been added to the Isadora Duncan Dance Award citation.  It also would have been  nice to acknowledge Lines’  president, Dennis Mullen, who was on board with Pam Hagen when the initial fiscal budget moved from $500 to $1.2 million.  Mullen now chairs the Isadora Duncan Dance Award Committee.

To George Frederic Handel music, work unspecified, King utilized the extended phrases of organ music to move his dancers horizontally.  In other works diagonal or upstage entrances tend to introduce the dancers.  Here it seemed they skittered to a tone or pitch held by the organ.  The body rolls, pumping, circling or flaying arm use strangely complimented music large enough  in sound and scale to accommodate the highly individualistic emphasis based on classic ballet vocabulary.  I found myself intrigued and engaged.

I remember the stretch of Kara Wilkes, torso in profile, partnered by David Harvey, her line from ear through shoulders, hip and knee ending in point as she was absorbe in a rendering of the sonorous organ music sounds.  Earlier, Ashley Jackson introducing the piece, arms flexing, but also pausing in a motion driven arabesque, poised on her pointe in momentary infinity.  With such balance the Rose Adagio would be a breeze.

King has acquired a remarkably agile exponent in Ricardo Zayas, a movement style which is elemental, not simply well trained and flexible. Stripped to the waist, his muscles and bones at peak movement were mesmerizing to regard.  In a similar vein, Yujin Kim’s final variation demonstrated the slender Korean incorporates her culture’s rhythmic response, the slight flexing of her shoulders as she began to dance.

The excerpt from The Writing Ground, premiered by the Monte Carlo Ballet in 2010 for the Ballets Russes Centenary and commissioned by  artistic director Jean-Christophe Maillot,  gave Meredith Webster an extended solo with four men as support. Portraying a woman in extremis, the men attentive, supporting, waiting for her to move, Webster struggled handsomely, lurching, collapsing, staggering, paralyzed.  Sinister, it also displayed a mastery of controlled collapse, one of the more ultimate examples of what the King training can accomplish for a dancer.  Performed to The Tsok Offering by Jean-Phillipe Rykiel and Larna Gyurme, it was easy connecting the imagery to contemporary horrors.  Mid-way a friend remarked to me “epilepsy.”

This season’s collaboration with Edgar Meyer was titled just that.  The musician/composer was seconded by Gabriel Cabezas on cello and Robert Moose on the violin.  As background,  Jim Doyle created vertical streams of water, starting with slender double strands, gradually increasing to six or eight before sheets, sporadic and then steady, like daubs of glistening paint wielded by a master Asian calligrapher.

While some musical sections were plucked strings, others hinted at melody, particular in a pas de deux for Meredith Webster and David Harvey.  Titled 7 First Impressions, it seemed to try connecting with the sweet tunes of Stephen Foster.  In section 5, Cards, Kara Wilkes and David Harvey appeared guided by a hing of the sonata allegro form, one of Western symphonic music’s cornerstones. And in VI, Pas Solo, Men to Trio Movement 3, there actually were sections where three men executed the same movement in a line, and something similar occurred with four women.  For the Finale, Trio 88, Movement 4, the ensemble approximated a semblance of a conventional formation.

While highly individualistic movement was clearly present, the formations of company ensemble were clear, if absent the single line repetition like Balanchine’s opening in Symphony in Three Movements. It seems King’s three decades of accomplishments are allowing him to entertain such conventions without sacrificing his individualistic approach.  It’s a welcome development.


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.

Lines Ballet Fall Season, Novellus Theater, October 14, 2011

22 Oct

Lines Ballet’s Fall season offering was an adroit pairing of the usual Alonzo King premiere, “Resin,” with a revival of his 1998 evocative collaboration with Zakir Hussain, Who Dressed You Like a Stranger.  It provided an introduction for four newcomers bringing the company to an even dozen.

One of Alonzo King’s abiding strengths is a passion for exploring via  gifted collaborations or an unusual theme. He seems to stretch himself as much as he asks the same of his dancers, and he does not appear to lack individuals  to collaborate on one of his two annual premieres.

“Resin”, receiving its premiere October 14, draws its music from various sources of Sephardic musical tradition.  King uses the title with its liquid properties oozing through a tree’s bark as a wound, inflicted by humans, to gather myrrh. [ I have seen resin in Sierra Nevada pines oozing without human interference.] Noted is resin’s use for stringed instruments, the Western violin, the Indian sarangi, for dancers’ shoes giving traction on wooden floors.

With Sephardic music, the implication of the societal wound is strong; cast out from Spain, a cumulative lament for the life lost under Moorish hegemony on the Iberian peninsula. The varied sources, always evocative, include Jordi Savili and archival music from Israel’s National Library.

The cultural ache embedded in improvisational  melismas is underscored by Axel Morgenthaler’s lighting design; Robert Rosenwasser’s trunks could suggest male servitude and nothing particular for the women’s tunics,  a possibility lost.

Newcomer Victor Mateos Arellano danced a compelling introduction, a dancer
whose musculature and body size was bared and stretched to maximum effect.  Yujin Kim, another newcomer, a KNUA trained-Prix de Lausanne recipient, proved an alluring technician with dazzling pirouettes en attitude. Zachary  Tang promises to be a steady foil for any of King’s intricate pas de deux.

Ashley Jackson continued her unaffected classicism; for all King’s intricate demands she is in the tradition of  Russian-trained ballerinas, unforced, accurate, musical.  While Courtney Henry’s grand jetes are a sentence all their own, Caroline Rocher’s presence in a pas de quatre with three men provides a je ne sais quoi to any technical requirements.

King’s choreography in its usual combination of heightened rhythmic dexterity and pace, has minimal ensembles, impressive when they briefly occur.  The women in King’s ensembles execute almost anything he asks of them, but there is an almost total absence of petit allegro, usually  defining qualities of a feminine dancer.

“Who Dressed You Like a Stranger” was premiered in 1998;  with Zakir Hussein as his musical collaborator, King hit a visual and aesthetic high that lingers. If seen then, who can forget Xavier Ferla spinning forward to the tabla’s insistent rhythm nor Marina Hotchkiss’ strong but fond manipulation of a very limp Yannis Adoniou in the soft singing of MA.  Meredith Webster and David Harvey have sketched it.

Two moments surprise – men and women on stage left and right move in formation towards the center, there to dance briefly, an individualistic ensemble, with Keelan Whitmore immersed in the group and resonance of Hussein’s musicianship.