Tag Archives: Yerba Buena Center

San Francisco Ballet School’s 2015 Student Showcase

27 Jun

The May 28 program for the annual San Francisco Ballet School recital at the Yerba Buena Center’s Lam Research Theater listed sixteen faculty members and eight pianists. Four of the faculty were guests, current or former principals with the company. The wonderful Brian Fisher was listed for Contemporary Dance, with Leonid Shagalov for Character Dance.

The parents and assorted relatives attached to the dancers behaved like parents in any audience where offspring are involved and contact with other parents is fairly frequent. It’s one of the closest things to neighborhood that San Francisco can muster, perhaps outside of The Ethnic Dance Festival or other studio recitals. All anything extra is needed are trestle tables and pot luck contributions and country America would be shining clear.

Using a medley of Alexander Glasunov’s melodies, Parrish Maynard devised a handsome display of the students from level 2 to level 8. Not quite a defile or a full one-act ballet, it none the less felt and looked like something grand, while at the same time remaining the very personal pull of seeing earnest young faces, mostly smiling, presenting the tradition moulding their bodies and minds into exponents of Louis XIV’s ecole de danse. It was the best such presentation of the school’s students in my memory.

Capping this display before intermission was James Sofranko’s sprightly, musically adept interpretation of a Mozart Symphony. Sofranko, a SFB soloist and a graduate of the Julliard School of Music, provided unerring touches of colloquial movement to augment a thorough exposition of classical technique with formations and movement patterns underlying the benefits of his Julliard schooling. I could watch back to back a dozen times and still find delight.

Senior student Benjamin Freemantle’s work Bare to music by Laure Romano Bare followed Intermission, danced by two couples and six corps. The women wore long flowing garments with generous swaps of color, evoking attempts at tie dye. Handsome dancers, swirling skirts and frequent entrances and exits, but mood or emotion failed to visit this early choreographic effort.

Patrick Armand staged Vasily Vainonen’s Flames of Paris pas de deux, danced to Boris Asafyev’s music. The dancing pair were Chisako Oga and Haruo Niyama, both small, energetic, engaging and technically highly proficient. It’s my understanding the Niyama is yet to see sweet sixteen, but brimming over with the chops to deliver this Soviet era evocation of the French Revolution.

Having seen photos of Vakhtang Chabukiani in the role as well as seeing its comparatively recent popularity at the Jackson Competitions following Joseph Phillip’s successful rendition, It’s hard to discern a knowledge of the work’s back story and unlikely the dance world will make Simon Schama’s book on the Revolution required reading. This is not to denigrate May 20’s highly competent rendition, but to mention a need for the dance world to investigate any historical roots of what is portrayed, particularly in this country with its short history.

Tina Le Blanc staged Helgi Tomasson’s Bartok Divertimento for Natasha Sheehan with Francisco Sebastao, Blake Kessler and Daniel Domenach.

Kenneth MacMillan’s Soiree Musicale to Benjamin Britten’s music, created to honor Dame Ninette de Valois’ 90th birthday, received its American premiere with S.F. Ballet School’s students. With two principals, a male pas de quatre, two sets of six couples and a dozen corps members, it was a major undertaking on a relatively small stage. It would be good to see it staged at the Opera House or even Stern Grove where sight lines are less overwhelmed and the dancers enjoy a modicum of space; the stage at Lam Research Theater is too small.

As in all other numbers Soiree Musicale was a noble effort, competently performed and emblematic of the strides shown by the current crop of teachers and students at the school. The confidence and nascent wisps of elegance one hopes to see deepen each following spring, with the fervent desire that there will be enough ensembles to absorb the evident talent.

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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.

Smuin Ballet’s XXSeason Finale. Mountain View, May 25

29 May

Because of a quick trip to Manila, I missed Smuin’s spring season at Yerba Buena Center. Too jet lagged to make it to Walnut Creek, if not wheedling an early June ride to the Monterey Peninsula, it had to be a matinee via Caltrain. Either side of Castro Street’s four blocks in Mountain View between the Caltrain Station and Mountain View’s Center for the Performing Arts is lined with restaurants, bistros and snack establishments. It was a formidable phenomenon to regard, even registering Sillicon Valley proximity, making my way to the box office to buy a ticket for the Smuin Ballet’s final spring season performance, XXCentric. Some eateries had sidewalk tables, all full.

Just before boarding the Bullet train in San Francisco, the queue waited while Giant fans streamed through the gates; cane-assisted seniors, white haired actives in shorts and backpacks, overweight young women in spaghetti -strap tees looking for a sunburn along with baseball, and middle aged women with shoulder-length black hair, white tee shirt covering small boobs a Giant logo in between, all punching Clipper cards at a machine before heading to AT&T Park.

Because I wanted to see Smuin from a buyer’s perspective, I paid a $60 plus price, to see was worth it? Years ago, a fellow reviewer accused critical practitioners as being parasites. There might be some justification when 300 words is all allowed the writer and told reviews are not a specialty coverage. Having written for dance-focused outlets, and some newspapers for most of a half century, I occasionally teeter on agreement. But I also know a bevy of excellent prose practitioners with definite ethics disputing that broad brush allegation. They work damned hard.

The choreographers’ represented were Val Caniparoli, Amy Siewart, Michael Smuin; Tutto Eccetto il Lavondino; But now I must rest; Dancin’ with Gershwin respectively, the music Antonio Vivaldi, Cesaria Evora, George and Ira Gershwin, and an additional lyric by Bud de Sylva.

Caniparoli came up with a delicious twist with two Antonio Vivaldi violin concerti, bowing accents forming unexpected head, shoulder, torso inflections, along with wonderful port de bras looking as though illustrations from a Carlo de Blasis dance manual. This alone is enough to provide delight. Juxtaposed against multiple pirouettes or attitude turns the eye kept busy and the mind agog. I don’t know if it really was necessary to slide a mint-colored kitchen sink on to stage center to reinforce the translation, “Everything but the kitchen sink.” The ballet itself continued some of Caniparoli’s special choreographic essays, Lambarena being the most widely mounted. Tutto Eccetto il Lavondino deserves to be another.

Amy Siewart’s But now I must rest is gentle, evocative, lyrical with formality while it also is earthy and sensual. There were forward and backward dips of the torso as the leg is thrust forward in Sandra Woodall’s costumes, two splits at the outer hip of the ankle length skirts for men and women. There were arm placements over the chest and upper hips which hinted at some form of religious ritual. The fluidity and feeling shared similarities with the movement skills of the Philippines, hardly surprising since both sets of islands share roughly the same latitude below the Tropic of Cancer.

Dancin’ With Gershwin premiered in May 2001, but this was my first viewing of Smuin’s tribute to George and Ira Gershwin. It is a charmer, commencing with a slide show of musical poster and sheet music covers of Gershwin’s music, enhanced by Willa Kim’s costuming, decor by Rick Goodwin and Lighting by Sara Linnie Slocum. A white-gowned Erin Yarbrough danced with Weston Krukow in dark suit to “They Can’t Take that Away From Me.” Following “S’Wonderful,” Marilyn Monroe’s rendition of “Do It Again” saw Erica Felsch in slinky scarlet surrounded by white ostrich plumes wafted by the company men; plumes and Felsch’s positions and postures echoed the breathily-delivered lyrics. Roland Petit created something similar for his wife Zizi Jeanmaire, but where motion matches emotion, it’s always appropriately piquant.

Then Shannon Hulburt emerged from darkness to tap under variously placed spots in otherwise murky space, executing his magical phrasing of The Canadian Brass. Listed as guest artist, Hulburt has been a company mainstay. I hope he stays around, is invited often.

Susan Roemer and Erica Felsch were paired in “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” turning Roemer into a male figure, and even involving some quick lifting – clearly a Smuin reference to the rising importance of the LBGT population. It was followed by Jane Rehm in billowing tiers of white ruffles for “Summertime.”

Two more numbers and then the finale “Shall We Dance” with the company in frequent couples formations, adding Hulburt’s partnering skills to the ensemble’s full-bodied ending. The dancers relished every minute of the Smuin creation. It also led me to an interesting evaluation.

Was I satisfied? Yes. Was I entertained? Yes. Was I enthralled or inspired? No. Currently, for all the competence, rigor and sustained skill, the Smuin Ballet focus is to entertain and satisfy. The possibility of a Jiri Kylian work included in a season’s repertoire now and again testifies to the difference in overall vision.

I do not intend to denigrate Smin Ballet’s clear accomplishments, not the least of which provides sixteen dancers and a guest artist with Social Security payments, with a livelihood for a six person production crew, ten persons for artistic and administrative guidance, apart from invited choreographers, designers, photographers and publicists. That achievement is no mean feat in today’s economy. That I can also celebrate and believe I got my money’s worth.

Robert Moses at the Lam Research Center Theater

8 Feb

Robert Moses is one of the most idiosyncratic choreographers currently working in the San Francisco Bay Area.  His moving voice, spatial and verbal, is very much concerned with social justice as well as the African American existence, historical and contemporary.  Unlike Joanna Haigood, he doesn’t rely on site-specific inspiration, even though he can deal with historical events.  But his work usually is seen within the confines of a proscenium arch.  If I were try to align him with the spectrum of African American choreographers I’ve seen in the past fifty plus years, I would say he is closest in spirit to the late Ed Mock.  Both men were singular   dancers who later taught and choreographed, although Mock relied on his unique vocal sounds, as special as Bobbie McFerrin.  Moses’ hand and arm vocabulary are his special movement signature.  And Moses has come to rely on speech, usually declamatory.

Moses is a spinner of tales, but I remember a pas de deux he created and performed I believe to Brahms.  I wish I could locate the program when he danced in an Isadora Duncan Dance Awards Program at Krissy Keefer’s Brady Street.  Dressed in simple white, Moses and his partner danced around the periphery of that wonderful space and down the middle.  In retrospect it was almost a ritual baptism, an immersion in its formality.  To the best of my knowledge Moses has never repeated that choreographic quality again.

As he gathered his group, Moses danced at the Cowell Theatre, University of San Francisco’s Gershwin’s Theater where San Francisco Ballet once performed, the Kanbar Theatre at San Francisco’s Jewish Community Center and recent seasons at Yerba Buena Center’s Theatre, now called The Lam Research Center.  Here, Nevabawarldapece, Moses’ latest choreography was premiered January 25-27 with a wonderful set of musicians: Laure Love, Corey Harris, Chris “Peanut” Whitley, Gordon “Saxman” Jones, Kenneth “Trini Joe,” Joseph, Jayson “Brother” Morgan, Woody Simmons. The writer Carl Hancock Rux was stationed with the musicians at upper stage left.

The Robert Moses’ Kin company numbered ten dancers: Brendan Barthel, Crystaldawn Bell, Vincent Chavez, Norma Fong, Carly Johnson, Dexandro “D” Montalvo, Jeremy Bennon-Neches, Josie Garthwaite Sadan, Victor Talledos, Katherine Wells.

The declamatory qualities of Carlo Hancock Rux imposed themselves over the loosely structured movement of the ten dancers, intrusive with his rational vocabulary, now so standard in analyzing contemporary urban society and current affairs.  Those wonderful dancers, particularly Crystaldawn Bell and Katherine Wells, were moving with their unique styles with this arrogant voice and words intoning around and above them.  The dancers moved within Moses’ design, sometimes in clumps, sometimes in lines, frequently in individual variations to the sounds of the musicians.  Rux later toned down his rhetoric if reciting words, names and ideas of virtually every problem plaguing the U.S. culture for the last twenty or thirty years.  If there was anything to understand from the divergence of dancers and declamation, it was the sometimes aimless,occasional purposeful nature of the human being against the word blanket obscuring us from the joys of dailiness or the cohesion required in complex problem solutions.

I’m sure the supporting musicians and the inclusion of Rux played a part in the impressive list of sponsors for  Nevabawarldapece.  Moses deserves the support.  But I do keep remembering his Gershwin, Kanbar and Brady Street moments and hope to see some of that early magic reframed with the current dancers.