Thursday, March 29, 2012


San Francisco Ballet Orchestra
Conducted by Martin West
Reference Recordings release
Available March 13, 2012

San Francisco Ballet is known for its stunning dancers, outstanding choreographers and top-notch artistic staff.  But there is another crucial element that shapes every San Francisco Ballet experience: the talented, phenomenal musicians of the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, led by conductor Martin West.  This Spring, Reference Recordings provides an opportunity to celebrate this group of brilliant artists with the release of a new CD - their musical interpretation of Léo Delibes' "Sylvia" and "Coppélia".  Let these transcendent scores guide your journey through two glorious narrative ballets.

Martin West, Musical Director and Principal Conductor at San Francisco Ballet since 2005, has an exceptional intuition for the marrying of music and ballet.  Accompaniment is not enough - West understands that every score must dance on its own.  This is the only way to ensure that the movement and choreography from the pit creates a perfect harmony with that which appears onstage. 

The first half of Reference Recording's Delibes collection features music from "Sylvia".  Track four, Valse Lente, is a perfect testament to the broad range within the score.  Dynamically, this four minute variation runs the entire spectrum, from the quietest of pianissimos to the most forceful of sforzandos.  The articulation and intonation also personify a magnificent breadth with delicate, floaty staccatos juxtaposed against the silken luxury of the legato phrases.  "Coppélia" occupies the second half of the disc, again indicating San Francisco Ballet Orchestra's command of every genre - the Mazurka's (track sixteen) striking layered grandeur alongside the soft haunting melody of track twenty-three's La Prière.  San Francisco Ballet's reputation as a world-class company exists because they can do everything and do it at a transcendent level of excellence.  The Delibes recording verifies that this is true of the entire San Francisco Ballet family - the dance branch and the music branch. 

Seeing the SF Ballet accompanied by the SF Ballet Orchestra live and in person is a must.  But in between those trips to the majestic War Memorial Opera House, this new CD release gives you access to a sensational orchestra any time you wish.  Enjoy and revisit the wonder of Léo Delibes' "Sylvia" and "Coppélia"!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Hope Mohr Dance

Photo: Margo Moritz
Hope Mohr Dance
with guest Dušan Týnek Dance Theatre
Z Space, San Francisco
March 24, 2012

This past weekend, Z Space welcomed Hope Mohr Dance for its fifth anniversary season.  And over the coming week, the company will embark on its first tour ever, traveling up to the Pacific Northwest (March 29th & 30th in Seattle; April 1st in Portland).  In anticipation of and in preparation for this monumental event, the spring program included the premiere of "Reluctant Light" and 2011's "Plainsong". 

Dualism is an imperative concept in today's contemporary choreography and both "Reluctant Light" and "Plainsong" revealed a study of opposing forces.  "Reluctant Light" is a highly textured work, a layering of ideas; in both its narrative content and its structural form.  The opening scene found a group of different sized box-like structures strewn across the performance space.  These skeletal shapes had no sides or tops, just the external 'bones', affording them both boundaried and boundary-less characteristics at the same time.  On one hand, the dancers walked through, rolled through and stood inside of these set pieces, challenging their assumed barriers.  While at other moments, they respected the imaginary surfaces - rond de jambing legs over the top of a box, drawing arms around the nonexistent sides.  With "Reluctant Light", Mohr has succeeded in blurring the lines between perception (encasement) and reality (freedom).  Mohr's choreographic style also speaks to unexpected combinations; she employs contact improvisation supports, suspension and release and I even saw some turned out pirouettes and a playful pas de chat. 

The company's second dance, 2011's "Plainsong", was a rare and wonderful opportunity to see Mohr herself in a solo performance.  This piece also had a visually captivating set: a volleyball net-like structure created by red wool, all at different points of existence - some frayed single strands, some woven into patterns, some partially completed knitting.  Two steel poles completed the set and the same red wool was attached to them during the work, creating a square-like capsule.  Again, the modern duality was present in "Plainsong" with a sense of deliberate purpose juxtaposed against a frustration in task.  The movement style was equally compelling.  It had a strength of attack and a delightful edge, almost as if Mohr had perched the choreography precariously on a fence.  The audience remained in a constant state of the unknown - will the dance spiral into a frenetic craze or will it resolve into an observed calm?

As part of Mohr's Bridge Project, the company has also shared their San Francisco spring performances with a featured guest choreographer/guest dance company over the past few years.  This unique program holds a two-part vision - first, a deep commitment to the support of emerging dancemakers and second, the introduction of their work to Bay Area audiences.  This year gave us New York's Dušan Týnek Dance Theatre. 

Dušan Týnek Dance Theatre's "Base Pairs" and "Transparent Walls", both from 2010, rounded out the evening as the guest company offerings.  Týnek's extensive Cunningham training definitely informs and inspires his choreography, yet he has also developed a very independent and individual method of movement.  His is a very technical and accessible type of modern dance with long limbs, lines and extensions.  "Base Pairs" was scored to recorded text and a live ticking metronome; a theme of rhythmical accuracy.  Though there was a strong focus on creating shapes in space, it was by no means stop-and-go movement - it was clearly not about static positions.  In fact, what I saw was a constant rebounding of physicality from place to place - beautiful constant motion.  "Transparent Walls" had Týnek's signature esthetic (love the saggital tilts) though this work also incorporated more dynamic range; shifting from stillness to slow adagio sequences all the way to brisk, feisty allegros.   Roderick Murray's lighting design was incredibly cool.  By hanging an old-fashioned 'footlight' strip high upstage, the back wall was completely erased.  The dancers emerged from the darkness, moving forward, already in the midst of their choreography.  "Transparent Walls" had absolutely no borders and no containment. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Photo: Margo Moritz
Chhandam Chitresh Das Dance Company presents
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco
March 16, 2012

Having seen a fair amount of kathak dance over the past few years, I have come to understand some of its choreographic and performative qualities: fast pirouettes, facial gestures, eye expression and of course, the percussive foot patterns.  But "Darbar" was my first foray into the genre of Indian Dance Drama, where the technical aspects of kathak are combined with a full-length narrative story. 

"Darbar" takes its audience to the North Indian royal courts, at a time just prior to British rule.  Here we encounter a civilization both steeped in indulgence and distracted by opulence; the King, played by Charlotte Moraga, is so engrossed in luxury that he is unaware of the plot to overthrow him (which is realized in the final scene).

Choreographed by Pandit Chitresh Das, narrated by Antara Bhardwaj, and performed by a talented company and community of dancers, "Darbar" was a delightful journey to an era of long ago.  The style of storytelling in Indian Dance Drama is unique; the gestures purposely melodramatic and the narration's words pantomimed on stage.  This allows for a clarity of message and speaks to the strong linkage between the narrative content and the structural choreography.  The relationship between the dancers and the musicians (all of whom were onstage for the entire piece) was also very interesting.  The group of musicians were very engaged and reactive to what was happening in the performance - they were an integrated part of the action.  Strangely, the dancers didn't reciprocate, never referring to or acknowledging that the musicians were there at all.  Perhaps this relationship is a common convention in this type of dance theater.

"Darbar's" musicians were virtuosic; utterly astounding.  However, the sound balance between the dancers and the music was not great.  The music, though completely fantastic, was far too loud, so much so that the sounds of the dancer's footbells got lost.  The venue may have also contributed to this audio unevenness.  Though the visual splendor of the Asian Art Museum's ballroom was perfect for the work, I wonder if the foot percussion was dissipating in the echo-y hall. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

San Francisco Dance Film Festival 2012

Opening Night - Thursday, March 15th
Delancey Screening Room

"Personal Space" - Netherlands, 2010
Director: Altin Kaftira
Choreographer: Peter Leung

This year's San Francisco Dance Film Festival opened with "Personal Space"- a short piece, seven minutes in length, from The Netherlands.  In the first scene, we join an older couple sitting together, the woman pouring and stirring tea; the man reading the newspaper and smoking a pipe.  Quickly, the woman drifts away to a world of make believe - she imagines and sees in her mind's eye, a young woman dancing and moving within a constrained box.  The older woman sporadically injects herself into this mental picture, joining her younger counterpart in that encasement.  As the film ends, we return to the first scene (with the same everyday tasks as before) except now the young woman is the one pouring tea and sitting with the older man.

Through the imagined scenario, we come to understand and note "Personal Space's" primary theme: a trapped sense of self.  The effect was both visually interesting and choreographically challenging.  However, my fascination was more with the pedestrian movements that occurred at the opening and closing of the short film.  As the shot focused in on these daily activities, they took on a very dance-like quality.  The slow circular stirring of the woman's tea transformed into much more than a habitual action; it became a mesmerizing piece of dance.

"Viool in de Nacht" - Netherlands, 2010
Director: Altin Kaftira
Choreographer: Toer Van Schayk

Though both 'shorts' on opening night were by the same director, they each featured a different choreographer, which provided two delightfully disparate results.  "Viool in de Nacht" follows one man who appears to be heading home at the end of his day when he encounters a street violinist.  The music transforms this dancer and his physical being as he works through a multi-faceted reaction to the melodic phrases: torment, influence and inspiration. 

One of the primary tenets of neoclassical choreography is how movement and music are related to each other or in other words, how the choreography interprets the musical score.  "Viool in de Nacht" definitely flirted with this neoclassical relationship between movement and music, but the director and choreographer took it a step further.  In this case, the dancer was not interpreting the music, instead, he became the instrument that brought the music to fruition.  His stunning solo was from the perspective of the violin itself.  One particular standout moment in the six minute piece was when a series of haunting chords are played, each without any resolution.  During these chords, the dancer ran from point to point in the space looking for the right direction, the direction of escape, the direction that would bring him back to peace.  And as he walked away dejected from each place, he truly was the diminuendo and the rallantando in the violin's score.  

"Never Stand Still" - USA, 2011
"Never Stand Still" Photo: Christopher Duggan
Director: Ron Honsa
Producer: Nan Penman

A great documentary has a fascinating topic, picturesque visuals and captivating information.  "Never Stand Still" brings all of these together to celebrate the legacy of Jacob's Pillow.  Narrated by Bill T. Jones, the film pairs historic photos and footage with shots of 'The Pillow' as it is today.  This eighty-minute chronology is a must-see documentary for all dancers - every genre; every level; everyone should see this artistic review.

"Never Stand Still" allows the viewer to experience Jacob's Pillow as a four-part living entity.  First, it was and is a developer - of talent, of technique, of new artistic collaborations and endeavors.  Rasta Thomas is interviewed extensively in the film, primarily about the launching of his new company, "Bad Boys of Dance".  He made the brilliant choice to do so at Jacob's Pillow, hearkening back to one of Ted Shawn's initial hopes for this unique space: a desire to showcase, preserve and celebrate male dancing.  Second, we come to understand 'The Pillow" as a teacher of professionalism.  The student programs allow the participants to really experience and understand company life.  We watched a group of young dancers in the midst of a new piece of choreography, learning the steps and staging in a matter of four days.  This immersion gives them a glimpse into what will be expected of them during their professional careers - lessons that are integral to their overall arts education.  Next comes the archive and lineage that is Jacob's Pillow.  A deep and lengthy history resides in this place: the great choreographers who taught there, the amazing dancers who studied there and the world renowned companies who performed there.  "Never Stand Still's" interviews (including Mark Morris, Judith Jamison, Paul Taylor, Merce Cunningham and Suzanne Farrell) spoke of its historic legacy and how past and present  artistic contributions work together to create its deep and lasting story.  Finally, "Never Stand Still" notes that Jacob's Pillow was and still is a creative laboratory for movement and choreography.  This Massachusetts' farm is the place to create new work, experiment with new style and venture outside of your comfort zone.

Saturday, March 17th
Screendance Shorts Program 2
Ninth Street Independent Film Center, San Francisco

"New London Calling" - UK, 2010
Director: Alla Kovgan

"New London Calling" examines egalitarianism in movement by looking at a fascinating example - children's games.  The ten-minute film shows a group of school children engaged in all different types of 'school yard activities' - monkey bars, kite flying, jumping rope, dodgeball, telephone, skateboarding - and reveals the hidden choreography in playtime.  Director Alla Kovgan demonstrates how dance is present in unexpected places and that it is accessible to and participated in by all, no matter size, shape or ability.  As these kids were delighting in the physicality of the games, there was also a hint of sadness.  As adults, have we lost that child-like wonder?  How can we maintain and celebrate the pure joy of egalitarian movement?

"Origami" - USA, 2011
Director: RJ Muna

RJ Muna's "Origami" is a visual thesis; a study of how the body creates shape in space.  A plus-sign of light filters above and among two dancers, as they perform varied floorwork sequences.  Muna's folding together of the light and the body felt like watching the internal microscopic level of a snowflake.  As the bodies and light came together and ventured away from each other, the three minutes of film was showing the change in a snowflake as it falls from the sky to the earth.  "Origami" is dance as structure; dance as form and dance as architecture.

"Love Song" - Israel, 2011
Directors: Simon Birman & Harel Kay

"Love Song" faded in to find a soloist in the desert sand with a dark red rose.  As the dance began, the rose became his pas de deux partner, the entity that he was touching - in his teeth, behind his knee, in his hands and in his toes.  This rose represented something or someone that he loved with his entire soul and every single inch of his being.  And as the film ended, a woman walked behind the dancer in the sand and then disappeared.  The rose was her - he was dancing a duet with this woman even though she wasn't really there.       

New Dancewear Line at Macy's

Macy's has just launched Ideology - a new dancewear, active wear, yoga line.  I recently tried out the "Ideology Bootcut Leg Active Pants" - 

They are made of super soft material and have great stretch to them without losing their original shape.  Also, they feature a super convenient hidden pocket in the waistband.  One note - the legs are really long (inseam of 32 inches), which may not be ideal for everyone; definitely double-check the size details prior to purchase.  

Check out the full line of tops, pants, shirts, etc at  Prices range from $7.98-$58.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

"Wish You Were Here...Dances for loved ones near and far and people past, present and future"

Photo: C. Wise
RAW (resident artist workshop)
The Garage, San Francisco, CA
March 9, 2012

The Garage's most recent installment of the resident artist workshop (RAW) showcases new choreography by three talented San Francisco/Bay Area choreographers: Gretchen Garnett, Aura Fischbeck and Leigh Riley.  Bringing their work together in a single evening, "Wish You Were Here...Dances for loved ones near and far and people past, present and future", the four compositions on the bill speak to the important artistic work being created in this dynamic space.

Gretchen Garnett & Dancers' "Activities for Tight Spaces" was definitely the standout piece of the evening.  Choreographed by Garnett and danced by Leah Curran, Jackie Goneconti and LizAnne Roman, the work explores boundaries, comfort, safety and freedom.  The audience was seated in a square around the perimeter of the stage, which both brought us in as part of the performance and deliberately limited the available area for movement.  Choreography happened right up against the viewer and was not reduced or curtailed due to the lack of space; every step being performed full out with complete intention, extension and abandon.  Struggle was a purposeful part of the narrative, apparent as the dancers squirmed within their tube-top style tunics.  They pulled at the material, trying to escape its constriction and encasement, but to no end.  In their movement and their costuming, they were looking for a way out and a method to expand their reality.  Most notably, this was demonstrated by a recurring motif - the turning of a doorknob. 

"Corpo-Reality", created and performed by Aura Fischbeck, examined the meeting between paradigm and the individual.  Broken into three parts, the opening sequence dealt with the paradigm of corporeality.  For this first study, Fischbeck created a sound score in which she defined corporeality and its associations.  I absolutely loved this.  'Corporeality' has become the buzz word of the moment in modern dance (especially in academic circles), so it was fantastic to finally see someone taking the time to unpack it, deconstruct it and break it down.  The choreography that accompanied the text happened in a constant stream of motion, almost an unbiased review of her body's history and story.  Here was a chronology - one physicality's experience.  Next came a cultural paradigm statement.  While a very well-known film was projected on the back scrim, Fischbeck inserted herself into its paradigm.  As the movie actors participated in what looked like a traditional German folkdance, she too performed the same movements (she had previously noted that she is of German descent).  Her shadow became part of the film's landscape, providing a very cool effect.  "Corpo-Reality's" final scene was the only part that seemed out of place.  Gone was her strong comment on paradigm and physicality and instead, there was a string of unrelated material.  These last moments were such a surprise because the rest of the work was so cohesive.      

Leigh Riley's "Solo:Alone" opened the evening's second half with an inventive dance film - I only wish that I could have watched more than an eighth of it.  The trend of 'camera shakiness' is hot right now and definitely makes a strong artistic comment.  And, Riley chose to employ that style of videography for the majority of the piece.  Unfortunately, anyone who suffers from motion sickness (like I do) cannot watch that 'filmed shakiness', and so, I missed almost the whole thing.  The one exception, and really the only part of "Solo:Alone" that I saw, was the motion capture section of the film.  Here, Riley pieced together individual shots of her moving within a home space.  It was a really stunning -  giving the impression that she was floating both on the set and on the screen.  Towards the end of "Solo:Alone" Riley began dancing onstage in front of her film, superimposing her present self into her filmed self.  Again, I wanted to see the choreography, but the video was still shaking so I missed it.

The delightfully funny "Same Difference", direction and concept by Aura Fischbeck, was a cross between a game show and a pageant.  "Same Difference" began with the dancers putting on various costumes and then sitting on floor, talking and engaging in pedestrian tasks.  Next, the four performers (Gretchen Garnett, Annie Kahane, Julie Potter and Andi Shirazi) took turns introducing each other to the audience - sharing where they were from, their favorite dance styles, various personality traits and their likes/dislikes.  During and after this 'introduction', each dancer performed her own variation that spoke to her personal being (sometimes involving the rest of the cast and sometimes not).  The costuming and introductions had a strong bond, both helping to create a visual representation of each dancer.  However, the in between sequence (where they sat on the floor casually talking and performing various unrelated tasks) didn't really make sense with the rest of the piece.  "Same Difference" has great theatrical ideas, but that middle section and its connection to the rest of the work needs a bit more development.


Thursday, March 08, 2012

"Romeo & Juliet"

San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
March 6th, 2012

"Romeo & Juliet" is familiar.  Whether we know it from the text itself, from the Shakespearean stage, from a movie or television screen, from Broadway or from the ballet, we know its tragic story.  Sometimes familiarity is good, yet at the same time, it can also lead to stagnation.  A solid "Romeo & Juliet" is one that is fresh, challenging and exciting.  For me, I can tell such a production when I am on the edge of my seat in the audience, hoping that this time, things work out for the two young lovers even though I know it won't.  Helgi Tomasson's "Romeo & Juliet" for San Francisco Ballet is one of the greats.  Neoclassical choreography combined with a passionate story is Tomasson's area of expertise. 

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson's "Romeo & Juliet"
Photo: Erik Tomasson
Opening night's cast was remarkable: Pauli Magierek as Lady Capulet, Anita Paciotti as the Nurse, Daniel Deivison as Tybalt, Jaime Garcia Castilla as Benvolio, Gennadi Nedgivin as Mercutio, Garen Scribner as Paris, all led of course by Maria Kochetkova's Juliet and Joan Boada's Romeo.  Kochetkova is never less than perfection; she transforms as easily into a teenage girl as she does into a regal queen.  Deivison's Tybalt was such a powerful presence.  Often Tybalt is played very egotistically, but here, Deivison created a Tybalt whose protective nature was palpable.  Even his walk forward during the ballroom scene was overwhelming in its command.  Another highlight was Magierek's Lady Capulet; capturing all the dynamic levels of this mysterious woman.  In Magierek's stunning portrayal, we were able to witness Lady Capulet's duality: her complete desperate unraveling when amongst death coupled with her total lack of compassion for those who are living.

Neoclassical movement brought an already alive score to a new plane of existence.  As Romeo, Benvolio and Mercutio wander outside The House of Capulet before the ball, they dance a charming pas de trois.  Toward its end, each of them in turn executes a textbook developpé écarté, which corresponded perfectly to three accented chords from the pit.  Act I, Scene VI's Balcony pas de deux was a joyful, youthful celebration of love - almost a bit giddy.  Tomasson crafted and Kochetkova delivered a breathtaking ronde versé during a huge crescendo in Prokofiev's music.  And, the lift where Juliet is suspended on Romeo's back floated and flew on top of an equally buoyant musical phrase.  

Tomasson's genius for storytelling lies in his ability to communicate the primary narrative themes in addition to uncovering some deeper and perhaps, more nuanced secondary themes, all through choreography and movement.  In the case of "Romeo & Juliet", the dominant messages (love, death, tragedy, misfortune) were all abundantly clear.  But as I left the theater, I found myself thinking about the forgiveness side to the story.  As Juliet comes to grips with the horror of Tybalt's death (her true love who is now her husband, having killed one of her family members), forgiveness had to be part of her journey.  And, I also wonder what happens to the characters after the curtain falls.  When the Montagues and the Capulets discover their children dead, there will be despair and anger, but in the wake of this horrible tragedy, will they finally begin to forgive each other?

Friday, March 02, 2012


Photo: Paul B Goode
Cal Performances presents
Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company
Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, CA
February 24, 2012

A favorite at Cal Performances, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company returned for one weekend to bring their new work "Story/Time" to West Coast Audiences.  A departure from the typical (if there is such a thing) evening-length composition, "Story/Time" is comprised of seventy 1-minute remembrances, spoken center stage by Jones, while the company's dancers fill the surrounding space with movement and scenework.  While both the narration and choreography were enthralling, "Story/Time" really seeks to examine the co-existence of form and content in modern dance.  Jones has spent a lengthy and successful career examining the juxtaposition of these two entities and this new work is his dissertation on their present state in his consciousness.

Before the piece began, Jones came out and gave the audience an assignment: to judge how long a minute really is.  At a given mark, the stage manager began a stop watch and the crowd was asked to raise their hand when they felt sixty seconds had passed - depending on your perspective and judgment, that time was either super short or very long.  With that context established, Jones walked to his desk and began speaking.  His seventy short memoirs occurred in random order and ran the gamut of funny, sentimental, whimsical, and sad - a stream of memories.  Similarly, the choreography was a stream of physicality, a string of steps and sequences, not at all trying to representation or 'act out' the words that Jones was speaking.   Jones is such a commanding presence that I found it hard to look anywhere but directly at him, even as the dancers began moving around, amidst and in front of him.  For the first third of the dance, I really had to force myself to look at them.  That feeling did lessen and as "Story/Time" came to a close, I realized that I was actively engaged with both the movement and the narrative.

The choreography (the abstract form) and the script (the informational content) shared three things in common.  First, they contained a phrasal quality: each had highs and lows, climaxes and valleys as the respective material unfolded.  Second, both the structure and the narrative related to the notion of observation: Jones' words were audible recollections of real-life events and his choreography, a visual picture for the audience to take in.  Third, both the dance and the language came from a place of intimacy and vulnerability; both shared intensely personal experiences with us.  But for the most part, the movement and the message were unrelated.  They were certainly living in the same space, though despite this adjacent placement (and two scenes towards the end where the dance did actually mime Jones' words), the two were unattached.

Was this independence good or bad, or simply how things were?  That answer is for every individual to decide.  For me, it was a wonderful expression of the unanswerable: in this case, how form and content are connected in modern dance.  "Story/Time" puts the two together onstage yet for the most part, doesn't attempt to combine them or explain how they relate to each other.