Tag Archives: S.F. Performances

Akram Khan’s Kaash at YBC November 20

13 Dec

S.F. Performance presented the revival of Akram Khan’s Kaash February 20-21 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; February 20 the lobby simmered with the liveliest anticipatory ambiance I’ve heard in a long time. It turns out Khan’s piece had been seen here before, in 2002. I must have missed it because my memory of him was first under the auspices of Andrew Woods’ San Francisco International Arts Festival and then under S.F. Performances when it brought a Khan work about individuals waiting in an airport lounge.

In the current fashion the work, fifty-five minutes long, was danced without intermission with five superb dancers, better I was told than the ones seen in 2002. However, this quintet rated only one line on the bottom of the left-hand page, no pictures, no bios, Nada. The two men, Sung Hoon Kim and Nicola Monaco, provided stark contrasts in height, muscle and movement qualities, if both were dressed in ankle length skirts which displayed their chests and after swirls to their lunges and turns. Twin sisters Kristine and Sade Alleyne, petite in size and Sarah Cerneaux were the women, their shorter skirts topped by shirts of the same color leaving their arms free.

The stage was open to the audience, dark; at the appointed hour a figure appeared, stationing himself up stage right, back to the audience. The audience became quiet, awaiting movement which did not arrive quickly. Instead it was asked to settle in, to attempt to be meditative before the action exploded with the marvelous,insistent rhythms of the tabla and the dancers began to exhibit the port de bras and body lunges or turns plus placement on the stage which made the work both fascinating and quite prolonged.

One of the arm positions reminded me of the gesture of a cobra, arm raised above the head, hand curved, the fingers gathered with a space between forefinger and thumb like an Egyptian hieroglifhic eye. Sometimes it was one dancer displaying it, other times the entire quintet

Khan provided a dazzling mid-section with a frenetic recitation of traditional Kathak bols, the mimetic sounds traded between tabla exponent and dancer with friendly antagonism in a traditional Kathak solo performance. The music in mid-passage became unnecessarily loud – perhaps conveying the destructive side of Shiva.

The stage patterns presented diagonal of the five from upstage right to down stage left, crossings singly, twos or threes, occasionally all five, the quintet lined up cross stage front, and pauses while one dancer carried the thrust of the movement.

At no time did the dancers touch another; yet the group’s coherence was a constant. There were some very exciting collective movements when the dancers seemed to be laboring, cross the body arm movements as if threshing, separating rice grains from stems. Paddy fields in Asia crossed my memory bank with an unbidden awe how deeply Khan was affected by travel to his ancestral country.

After a time the piece seemed repetitive. wondering how the final pattern would emerge; when it came, the figures swirled away, leaving Kim, back to the audience, almost where he began, the light lowering at a deliberate pace. Audience supplied an ecstatic ovation.

What I realized, listening later to comments about the piece’s longevity, was that Indian traditional performances quite often prolong a final piece, almost as if the artist is working himself into an ecstatic trance. It is not a Western habit, but under his amazing career in the UK, Akram Khan still works with his one-time East Bengali roots. Kaash is a wonderful reflection of these roots and his equally keen capacity to blend western styles into the lengthy, honorable sub-continent tradition.


Sankai Juku at Lam Reseatch Theatre, YBCA

14 Oct

October 9-11 Sankai Juku’s austere artistry captivated San Francisco audiences at YBCA’s La Research Theatre. Presented by San Francisco Performances, Saturday evening the audience stood, cheered, clapped vociferously at the 89 minute work titled Umusuna, performed to electronic music. A constant stream of sand dropped from the center flies, forming a mounting heap between two elevated squares as the eight artists appeared in mostly white costumes, bare to the waist, their bodies swabbed in white make up. As they performed, a pair of scale like hangings moved up and down as the action warranted, hung over the back of the two squares.

Like previous productions, Umusuma was conceived, and choreographed and directed by Ushio Amagatsu, founder of the group in 1975 with Semimaru remaining as one of the orignal artists. The other six artists were Sho Takeuchi (1987); Akihito Ichiharu (1997); Ichiro Hasegawa (2004); Dai Matsuoki (2005); Norihito Ishi (2010); Shunsuke Momoiki (2011). The ensemble has been centered in Paris since 1981 with Theatre de la Ville as one of its principal sponsors.

It’s been some time since I’ve seen the company; it seemed this seven-part production emphasized gesture more than many prior ones, gestures as well as stances linking the movement to Indian origins, filtered through centuries of Buddhist practices. For a few moments it seemed the artists, their mouths open in silent wails, reflected indescribable expressions found on the eighth century starving ascetic statues at the Horyuji Temple in Japan. The particularity was astounding, universal.

As with all butoh performances, the pace was deliberate, unlike scherzo tempos one currently sees in ballet and many modern pieces. The expressions also reminded me of Haniwa tomb figures, white make up accenting simple lines, marking the mouth, eyes, accenting expressions of tenderness and terror. Both Ascetic and Haniwa images shared the same century.

More immediately, I couldn’t help thinking of the time and energy expended in applying and removing body paint, such a different form of theatrical artifice to most western theatre. White also accents physical attributes – an elongated right shoulder compared to the left; short arms missing the graceful turn of arm muscles though steady in overall form; head carriage in relation to torso and overall body height, clear indications of ribs and collar bone. Such sensual, visual treats are not the prime message of Umasuma, only components, as the artists moved deliberately from the wings and at various moments rushed decisively across the space, circle, to find a designated location. It was an exceptional treat, a reminder that for the Japanese artist, time is measured only when completing form and concept completely.

Dance with S.F. Performances 2015-2016

14 May

S.F. Performances was started in 1979 by Ruth Felt who continues with what is arguably the only non-profit presenting performance arts organization in San Francisco. One can only applaud the seriousness with how major modern groups are presented, from the Israeli Batsheva to England’s Wayne McGregor. I don’t always agree with the choices, but applaud the patent calibre of selections.

Sankai Juku returns October 9-11 to the Lam Research Theatre at YBC. Then November 20-21 this collaboration will present Akram Khan Company, and January 14-16 the Company Wayne McGregor will complete the three 2015-2016 selections for its 36th season of sponsoring dance performances. All performances are jointly sponsored with the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Azure Means Blue, Here Blue Equals Water, February 7

10 Feb

S.F. Performances brought Canadian-born Azure Barton and her seven dancers to Yerba Buena’s Lam Research Theatre February 7 and 8. Her press information provided a barrage of impressive information read only after the performance concluded. Arriving at 7:30, just as the performance was starting, I didn’t have a clue what I was going to see. The announcer stated Awaa, was to be sixty-nine minutes long without intermission. Such shorter, non-intermission works seem to becoming the performance norm for many modern companies.
Projections were winding down just as I was seated; then a figure, gracefully stretched, silhouetted before a red circular disk, emerged. The young man, beautifully muscled and proportioned, hobbled half-way to his feet as he negotiated his way forward, gradually becoming upright, moving his arms with growing sureness and undulating his torso standing profile to the audience. As he emerged in full control, a stage front scrim rose into the fly space.

Suddenly the sound system provided us with water sounds, lots of it, no trickle down effects. It mingled with music and the stage suddenly was peopled with the seven dancers in pre-determined positions around the stage. The collective port de bras were wonderfully fluid, even semi-swimming, breast stroke and Australian crawl in formation. One dancer wore a pale blue tee-thirt and dark trousers; the other five men were mostly stripped to the waist and wearing white trousers.

Lara Barclay the lone girl, appeared in nondescript grey, near turtleneck and trousers. As already mentioned, I didn’t a clue about choreographer or dancers, but the unity and the manner in which they conveyed fluidity and the qualities of water I recognized reading the credits. The underwater nature of the piece became prominent in the final screen projections. For the final tableau, instead of the red circle, Barclay appeared in lengthy red; the original dancer folded himself into her arms.

It was eerie, beautiful and the dancers, Jonathan Emanuell Alsberry, Tobie Del Cuore, Lora Barclay, William Briscoe, Tobin Del Cuore, Thomas House, Nicholas Korkos, Danvon Rainey, were superb. Four of the dancers studied at Juilliard, Barclay at the National Ballet of Canada, Nicholar Korkas has local credits with Lines Ballet School, dancing in Maurya Kerr’s Tinypistol, Robert Moses’ Kin and Yuri Zhukov’s Dance Theatre. Other credits include international ballet companies and a stint with Barton’s residency in Mikhail Baryshnikov’s center in New York City. all definitely impressive.

I can’t resist mentioning an idiosyncratic observation: my friend Dan Henry, one-time professional ice skater with the Ice Capades, said he had never seen a group of men with the same pectoral formation.

The press information stated that Azure Barton’s genesis for Awaa, rose from a dream where she was in a rocking chair under water, and that Awaa was an effort explore the shifts between masculine and feminine. A name like Azure gives her a head start; it simply was a matter of time before her given name led to something special. I would enjoy seeing the work a second time;l the audience was equally enthusiastic.

Russell Maliphant Dance Company, The Lam Research Center Theater

18 Oct

Russell Maliphant  really brought a trio to the Lam Research Center  Theatre,  Buena Center for the Arts, October 13 and 14 under the auspices of S.F. Performances in one of those 60 minute performances without intermission, fast  becoming de rigeur mode for modern dance ensembles. The title was Afterlight.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the evening followed the performance, when  Maliphant’ commented about his association with Michael Hulls whose lighting creates an atmosphere enhancing, perhaps structuring the movement quality. Adding to the ambiance was the Gnossiennes1-4 of Erik Satie, placing the patterns executed by Thomasin Gulgec, Silvina Cortes and Gemma Nixon  clearly in the realm of personal rumination.

Maliphant also said the genesis of Afterlight stemmed from a Sadler’s Wells Commission for its 2009 Spirit of Diaghilev season. He went beyond his Royal Ballet training to study not only t’ai ch’i and ch’i gong, but the Rolfing Method of Structural Integration, contact improvisation, capoeira and yoga.  Hitching such diverse movement principles to a study of Vaslav Nijinsky’s drawings brought him to what was seen on stage.

At the opening,Gulgec was seen  in movements balletomanes could recognize as influenced not only by the circles, exaggerated eyes and heads in Nijinsky’s drawings but by the character of Petrouchka in that most perfect of dance theatre productions.  Thomasin seemed to embody the drawings as well as the character of that puppet.  Silvina Cortes and Gemma Nixon brought to the piece touches of Nijinsky’s third work, Jeux, all backed by the limpid Satie compositions.

Most difficult  was where it led.  After the  trio’s appearances and the exposition evoking the brief Nijinsky career, nothing seemed resolved.  The piece floated onward until the music’s end.  The dancing was elegant, skilled, the stage spare, the lighting and music intimate and  evocative; that was the entire sum.  No convention in modern dance these days seems to  require a conventional conclusion to an idea or an exposition. Russell Maliphant hued to this line of permission.

With all the resources, music, lighting and participating dancers, what a pity.

Armitage Gone! Dance, The Novellus Theatre, May 19

21 May

S.F. Performances promoted Armitage Gone! Dance, its final dance presentation of the 2012 season, widely.  May 18 and 19 had its share of competition, Asian Heritage Day in front of the Asian Art Museum took up two blocks of Larkin and two of McAllister, forcing bus rerouting; a free event, it may have siphoned off the audience by the sheer size and number of its individual activities. San Francisco International Arts Festival was in its third and final weekend.

Novellus Theatre was nicely, if not totally, filled to capacity to witness the 2012 65 minute work for ten dancers  called Three Theories.  Labels indicated there were actually four divergent compositions in sections called Bang, Relativity, Quantum and  String.  Rhys Chatham’s  was an excerpt from Two Gongs;  Raga Jog; Vilambit Ektaa! employing violin and tabla [Sangeeta Shankar and Ramkumar Misra] ; an original score by Chatham and John Luther Adams’ Dark Waves.

Karole Armitage has attracted marvelous dancers, five having danced for her four or more seasons, one of them six, another nine, four Asian, one African-American. For an ensemble probably not permitting full seasons of performance or pay, it speaks well of this Balanchine-Cunningham exposed former dancer turned choreographer. Part of the longevity must be due to Armitage’s clear connection with these two major figures in twentieth century choreography. Each dancer was impressive if not mentioned specifically.

Armitage made no attempt to deny her  influences nor the use of classically trained dancers. Any one of them could dance up a storm in a professional ballet ensemble. It was frankly refreshing to see Armitage embrace classical technique with a highly sensual, athletic use of her dancers’ capabilities.  Six o’clock a la seconde abounded, frequently supported by an arm around the neck; splits supported, up ended, or stretched across the floor saw usage.  Random entries and exits recalled Cunningham; vertical lines upstage to down evoked Balanchine’s vocabulary.

Initially Armitage clothed the ten in the briefest of tights and bikinis, revealing well muscled bodies; beautiful pectorals in the men and lean torsos and legs in the women this side of  rib and spine showing, usual with dancers in ballet companies.

The Novellus stage was bare with the wings exposed; a light row at the back was low to the floor, sometimes raised; blackouts employed intermittently.  The body stretches at the shoulders were full, complete, torsos capable of undulation and reaches in all directions.  This was particularly true in the second section where the complex patterns of violin, tabla in a  raga
structure invited continuous filigrees of gesture extending the side or forward reach of the torso. This conveyed intimacy, improvisation, joy in the sensual thrust and coil of body and contact, reinforced by stroking of back, arm, thigh by Bennyroyce  Royon partnering Megumi Eda.

In the third section Marlon Taylor-Wiles and Masayo Yamaguchi paired off, Mutt and Jeff style, their exchange augmented by Yamaguchi’s acquisition of pointe shoes, Taylor-Wiles’ tossing and catching Yamaguchi augmented occasionally with her  dainty, skittering bourrees,  an encounter one of athletic glee. The pointe shoe  convention was shared by the other women with  a gradual transition into short white body suits and trunks for the men.

Mercifully, Armitage knows when to stop full tilt, non-stop exposition. The audience responded warmly, a number standing to demonstrate their approval.  Having seen bare stages and choreography abstracting the sensual at Novellus and elsewhere, my vote for the most satisfying to date  is cast with Armitage Gone! Dance even though I’m not at all sure of what
that title means.