Monday, May 16, 2011

"Body Evidence"

Opiyo Okach & Gaara Project in
"Body Evidence" (Work-in-Progress)
YBCA Forum, San Francisco, CA
May 20, 2011

Year after year, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts continually distinguishes itself as a leading arts organization.  Aside from the 'big' venue performances, they have countless additional projects (including the "Encounter: Engaging the Social Context" series) that encourage the intersection of emerging artists, their work and the arts community.  Last weekend, this program welcomed Kenyan choreographer Opiyo Okach and his current work-in-progress, "Body Evidence" to the YBCA Forum.  Though steeped in significant and important narrative meaning, the brilliant A-B-A structure of the work demanded primary focus.

"Body Evidence" was divided into three sections.  The first was dancing only; the second, dance and the addition of two props (a mask and a flag); and the third, dance alongside multi-media.  This crescendo of theatrical tools worked extremely well.  By limiting the first segment to choreography, Okach established the importance of the movement.  Then, in each subsequent section, he added something to the dance, not replacing it, but embellishing and expanding on the physicality.  These were carefully crafted and successful performative building blocks because they were explored through the strong foundation of dance.     

Dynamically, the three vignettes followed a very clear A-B-A format.  The beginning and ending employed smooth, legato, serpentine movements, sandwiched around a staccato, abrupt, urgent middle portion.  The choreographic syntax also followed this A-B-A pattern.  The movement ideas from the opening returned in the end, and the in between space was filled with contrasting units of action: galloping, skipping, trenching and grapevining through the performance space.

The rondo form was also very present and smartly embedded within section number one.  As Okach cycled through dance born from his center core (the limbs responded only because of the initiation in the spine and torso), there were several 'home' or 'returned to' poses: a squat, a version of the downward facing dog, and an arm raised limply in the air.  Here was a physical concerto; solos combined with ritornellos, providing an extra helping of structural cohesiveness.  Opiyo Okach is a choreographer to watch - he is able to produce deeply narrative modern dance, clearly communicated by his considerable structural acumen.        

Thursday, May 12, 2011

"Inside the Dancer's Studio" - Diablo Ballet

Mayo Sugano and Rory Hohenstein. Photo credit: Aris Bernales
Shadelands Arts Center, Walnut Creek, CA
May 7, 2011

It is fantastic to see ballet companies who are cultivating long-term relationships with their subscribers.  In addition to the expected big theater performances. many seasons now include Q&A sessions and shorter programs in smaller venues.  New York Theatre Ballet's "Dance on a Shoestring" is a wonderful example of this trend, showcasing its company repertoire in a studio theater with very affordable ticket prices.  Diablo Ballet must also be added to this list of arts innovators.  Their "Inside the Dancer's Studio" series allows increased access to quality ballet: incredible talent, varied repertory and high production value all in a close-knit, intimate setting.  This outside-the-box thinking is what builds lifelong support for the arts.

The six offerings on Diablo Ballet's spring program showcased the significant breadth of this company.  The lights went up on the first excerpt to reveal Mayo Sugano and Jekyns Pelaez in George Balanchine's "Apollo".  Their pas de deux was astonishing and Sugano's batterie truly gave Stravinsky's music new life.  The second piece, "Shadow" was choreographed by company member David Fonnegra and danced by the exquisite Tetyana Martyanova, reminiscent of a young Merrill Ashley.  Fonnegra's contemporary choreography was quite interesting, particularly his treatment of the arms.  The shoulders were a focus of his, as well as the scapula, where the arms initiate in the back.  This led to some unique arm positions, none of which could be considered typically ballet.  Fonnegra also experimented with levels, have Martyanova move very quickly from standing to rolling.  Occasionally these transitions were a little awkward and maybe a tad abrupt.

Sally Streets' "Encores" was my favorite piece of the afternoon.  In it, we were treated to amazing lifts in the first pas de deux and delightful flirtation in the second.  Edward Stegge's double pirouettes were absolute perfection and with the audience being so close, there is nowhere to hide.  I was also heartened by his emboite turns.  Even though this ballet step is a favorite of choreographers, it is not often performed very well.  With Stegge, I think I finally saw emboite the way it was meant to be danced.  "My Way", by Tina Kay Bohnstedt, was a choreographic celebration of groundedness.  With the exception of a couple of jumps, this piece, danced beautifully by David Fonnegra and Rory Hohenstein, was anchored to the floor.  Bohnstedt was able to illustrate that spectacle does not only exist in the air, it is also present in contact with the ground.    

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Company C Contemporary Ballet - Spring Program 2011

Kristin Lindsay and Robert Dekkers in Jodi Gates' "Slip-Ring". Photo credit: David deSilva
Palace of Fine Arts Theater, San Francisco, CA
April 30, 2011

Company C Contemporary Ballet's 2011 Spring Program was my second encounter with this dynamic group of artists.  With two world premieres (Charles Anderson's "Ballet Noir" & Jodie Gates' "Slip-Ring"), Patrick Corbin's "Psychedelic Six-Pack" and Twyla Tharp's "Surfer at the River Styx", Company C has proven yet again that they are a leading contributor to the genre of contemporary ballet.

"Ballet Noir" took us inside the subconscious of a genius.  As Robert Dekkers (who played the role of the choreographer) sat attached to a chair, his creation and imagination spun around him.  A bizarre, and somewhat unrelated cast of characters filled the stage including three muses - similar to Balanchine's "Apollo", though a much sexier interpretation.  "Ballet Noir's" scene was his [Dekkers', as the choreographer] vision, his orchestration, yet he was limited to watching it unfold.  His main participation occurred in the very last moment of the piece, when he stood up and was kissed on the cheek by one of the dancers.  It was almost a goodbye; as if his mobility caused the dream to disappear.  Charles Anderson's new work definitely drew the audience in, though the subtext would benefit from the dance being slightly longer.

Jodie Gates' "Slip-Ring" was a non-narrative juxtaposition of angular and circular sequences.  The piece was filled with straight, sharp, staccato choreography, but in order to fulfill those movements, the body had to travel on and in circular pathways.  Gates was very successful in illustrating that the pursuit of one course may require you to journey in the completely opposite direction.  

The excerpts from Patrick Corbin's "Psychedelic Six-Pack" brought together the tribal, social, spiritual and sacrificial aspects of society while exploring the combination of ballet and modern dance.  In the midst of much stage activity, some individual moments particularly stood out.  A recurring pose where the dancers stood in parallel fourth position as their palm reached up to the heavens provided simplicity, stillness, groundedness and hope.  And, Chantelle Pianetta's combination of jazz inspired lay-outs followed by crisp glissades in fifth position was a beautiful commentary - the traditional meeting the contemporary.

"Surfer at the River Styx" was not a typical Twyla Tharp composition - much darker and emotive than her earlier work, its choreography was clearly a departure.  "Surfer at the River Styx" wasn't my favorite (the dance is far too long), though I must admit that the content was much clearer than I have come to expect from her work.  For me, her dances feel frenetic, manic and sometimes hard to follow due to the dense physical material that she opts to include in one piece.  With so much going on at once, her choreographic brilliance gets lost in the commotion.  Here, the action was much more focused and her treatment of modern technique even seemed to have a little Cunningham flavor.