Tuesday, March 24, 2015


ODC/Dance presents
ODC/Dance Downtown
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, San Francisco
March 22nd, 2015

ODC/Dance marked its 44th home season with the annual yearly program at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, ODC/Dance Downtown. Weekend one welcomed the return of last year’s boulders and bones, choreography by Brenda Way and KT Nelson, while the second weekend brought a set of world premieres – Nelson’s Dead Reckoning and another Way/Nelson collaborative project, The Invention of Wings.

The curtain rose on Dead Reckoning to immediately erupting action, like the start of a race. Dancers turned, jumped and dived around the stage in a swirl of movement, resembling fireworks. Legs kicked outward and arms pushed through space; Nelson’s choreographic vocabulary an unexpected combination of punchy and sculptural. Dead Reckoning reads as an A-B-A structure, with a fast, slow, fast section breakdown. Throughout each of these chapters, the motion was continuous; every instant feeding seamlessly into the next. By avoiding stops and starts, Nelson connected the dance’s sub-sections and kept the forward motion going. While that connectedness and continuity was a great achievement in Dead Reckoning, the middle section (the slow one) had its challenges. The movement intention definitely carried through and it had some beautiful solos (particularly by Jeremy Smith, Josie G. Sadan and Katherine Wells) but the functionality and purpose of this lengthy meditation was unclear. In the last movement of Dead Reckoning, we were treated to a pas de deux, danced by Natasha Adorlee Johnson and Joseph Hernandez, one of ODC’s most exciting pairings. Their pas de deux was brief, but these two dancers are simply electric when they are on stage together. Design-wise, lime green ‘snow’ (concept by ODC company dancer Yayoi Kambara) was utilized during the whole dance – falling from the rafters and from the hands of the dancers. By the end of Dead Reckoning, the stage was bathed in this snow, reminiscent of Pina Bausch’s Carnations.

Way and Nelson’s The Invention of Wings starts with a prelude of sorts. With the house lights still up and the audience filing in from intermission, a long ream of white paper is rolled out on the stage from upstage to downstage. On one end, dancers were writing on the paper and at the other end, dancers were ripping off pieces, crumpling them into balls and placing them into a wire birdcage. Right from the start, there was a feeling of impermanence; something being created and them immediately being erased. The Invention of Wings is strong, rich and diverse from a design perspective. With light/scenic design by Matthew Antaky and visuals by Ian Winters and RJ Muna, something new and
Pictured: Corey Brady and Natasha Adorlee Johnson
Photo: RJ Muna
theatrical was constantly arising. Blood red fabric panels, men in black skirts being wheeled around the stage, numbers being painted on backs, a torn and fragmenting video screen, giant falling ribbons, figures clad in large white paper, a dancer rising out of the pit with a giant, flowing skirt. Even a leaf blower made an appearance. Events and scenes were constantly shifting and evolving, which again spoke of the initially established impermanence as well as the notion of the unexpected. Sometimes The Invention of Wings felt like a religious ritual; sometimes, a boy-band performance. Sometimes there was amplified vocalization and counting; sometimes a comment on corporeal presence. Putting all these ideas into the same piece can totally work; collage and layering can be very powerful in performance. But at the same time, with an abundance of different elements, it can be difficult for a dance to find its true identity. This core essence did prove elusive for The Invention of Wings.     

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Joffrey Ballet

Cal Performances presents
Joffrey Ballet
Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley
March 15th, 2015
by Heather Desaulniers

The Joffrey Ballet has a signature look, or maybe it’s more accurate to say a signature style. Fusion ballet. Fused genres sometimes get a bad rap because the term implies that two styles are simply being meshed together. But ever since Twyla Tharp’s Deuce Coupe in 1973, The Joffrey Ballet has proven time and again that fusion ballet works. It is a distinct mix of traditional, classical elegance and edgy, contemporary surprise. And The Joffrey Ballet’s recent engagement at Cal Performances confirmed that they do fusion ballet better than anyone.

Val Caniparoli’s Incantations was full of geometric curves – from the costumes and spiral hanging lights (both designed by Sandra Woodall) to the abundance of upper body curves in the choreography. When Aaron Smyth was on stage, it was impossible to take your eyes off him, especially in the middle section of the ballet. His jump sequence had height, ballon and technical accuracy, but the landings! Not only did his heels fully meet the ground after every jump, the landings were silent. No sound whatsoever. Caniparoli’s choreography was spot on throughout Incantations, including a lovely pas de trois three quarters of the way through. There was just one puzzling moment. Toward the end of the piece, an African dance motif popped up in one of the men’s solos. The movement itself wasn’t puzzling, but the fact that it was only used twice and introduced so late in the game made it seem out of place.

Up next was Stanton Welch’s Son of Chamber Symphony, a three-part work that the Joffrey originally premiered back in 2012. The first movement was by far the best of the bunch - the music, lighting design and choreography conjuring a life-size chess game. The queen was present in this chapter along with five pawns. Each dancer got a chance to solo, showing what they could do as individuals, and through duets and group sequences, what they could accomplish as a collective. Unfortunately, the second and third movements lost this whimsy, and the forward momentum of the work stalled. Jeraldine Mendoza and Miguel Angel Blanco danced the second movement’s lengthy duet. Mendoza and Blanco both have significant technical and artistic acumen, but visually, they made a rather curious pair. And though Travis Halsey’s costume design showed some out-of-the-box thinking, the armpit cutouts on the men’s wardrobe were an odd choice and not very flattering. After a brief pause, Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili took the stage in the stunning pas de deux from Yuri Possokhov’s Bells – a meditation of dynamic highs and lows, choreographic simplicity and complexity, sweet moments alongside dramatic interactions.

The Joffrey Ballet’s Cal Performances program closed with creative gusto as the company took the stage in Alexander Ekman’s Episode 31. A solo dancer (dapperly attired in a suit) turns on a lamp downstage left, and begins to walk in slow motion across the front of the stage. The curtain periodically rises and falls revealing the rest of the cast looking part punk youth culture part futuristic restaurant staff (Luke Simcock’s costumes being a wild combination of black and white). Ekman’s choreography was equally diverse with ballet, tap, modern and calisthenics. And so was the mood and energy – a meditative section would morph into pandemonium; hysteria would halt to become stillness. As the first dancer continued his slow motion route around the edge of the stage, the curtain remained open revealing the fullness of the party scene. A community of folks working together, enjoying each other and celebrating life. As the suit finishes walking the perimeter, he turns off the lamp and Episode 31 is over. Why was he there? What was his function? Was he just an observer? Did he want to be part of the action? Was he trying to box in those who are unconventional? None of these questions were answered, and that is why Episode 31 is truly a great dance.

Pictured: Derrick Agnoletti and Aaron Rogers in Ekman's Episode 31
Photo: Cheryl Mann

Monday, March 16, 2015


Passion, Intrigue, Drama
ODC Theater, San Francisco
March 13th, 2015

This past weekend, sjDANCEco traveled north for its first ever San Francisco season. And the takeaway from their Passion, Intrigue, Drama program at ODC Theater is that dance theater is itself a diverse genre. There is multi-media/new media dance theater; collaborative interdisciplinary dance theater; absurdly obscure dance theater; and there is dance theater where the movement tells an accessible story of humanity and human interaction. Passion, Intrigue, Drama was a lovely reminder of this last style.  

A dive bar from decades past; drinking glasses strewn about; patrons in various stages of dishevelment; tables and chairs in disarray. This is the scene as Maria Basile’s Tango Fatal (2013) begins (scenario by Lorenz Russo). The bartender (played by Daniel Helfgot) immediately comes forward and begins introducing the cast of characters that frequent this particular establishment. Starting the work with this context was not only very entertaining, but also incredibly helpful – we knew who the characters were, a bit of their history and how they were related to each other. Program notes and gestural mime are just not quite the same. By no means were we given a complete biography, but it was a starting point, a place from which the dance could develop. It was a genius move, especially because the torrid, charged character connections are the heart and crux of this piece. Even though Tango Fatal is a fairly new work, it has a bit of a ‘throw-back’ feel to it, like it had been plucked out of an old Hollywood movie musical. Basile opted to primarily stick with contemporary movement phrases and variations with just a splash of tango and ballroom. The eight-member cast gave their all and, with the exception of a few awkward lift sequences, it was a great start to the night.   

Inspired by Shakespeare’s Othello, José Limón’s 1949 masterwork, The Moor’s Pavane tells a story of desire, deception and despair. Four characters - the Moor, his wife, his friend and his friend’s wife – cycle through a set of elegant court dances, while a devastating narrative simultaneously unfolds. And that juxtaposition of regal appearance and evil reality informs the entire ballet. Many dance companies have The Moor’s Pavane in their repertory and much has been written about the piece since its premiere more than sixty years ago. So what sets one rendition apart from the others? The most successful iterations pay equal attention to each of the four characters. As the piece opens, the first image is of all four standing connected in a small circle center stage. It is clear from the start that their journey is intertwined and interrelated, with each having an equal role to play as it unfolds. sjDANCEco’s award-winning reconstruction (by Gary Masters and Raphaël Boumaïla, who also danced the Moor) is all about exploring these characters individually and as a collective group. This version is the real deal. The entire cast should be credited for communicating the storyline with their committed movement and extensive dramatic range, though a few of the big extensions did prove challenging balance-wise.