Saturday, November 23, 2013


presented by LEVYdance and Fort Mason Center
Photo:RAPT Productions/Kitfox Valentin
The General’s Residence, Fort Mason, San Francisco
November 22nd, 2013

Have you ever been to a dinner party and speculated as to what was really going through the minds of your fellow guests? Or have you ever wondered if something unexpected might happen in the course of the evening? If so, LEVYdance’s “Romp” is for you. A site-specific contemporary dance event, the 2013 iteration (held at the General’s Residence in Fort Mason) combines mobile performance, mingling and a meal into three glorious hours. With choreography by Benjamin Levy and direction by Scott Marlowe, “Romp” takes you behind the façade, revealing the real and the authentic. And along the way, there are some delicious surprises, quite literally and figuratively. “Romp” is exquisite postmodern dance with a hearty helping of style and panache.

Guests were encouraged to arrive early so that they could enjoy drinks and hors d’oeuvres in the main foyer of the residence prior to the performance. From the beginning, a chill, casual yet intimate environment was established where friends met up, patrons chatted with the cast and the audience admired the building’s architectural details. Once eight o’clock hit, everyone was ushered into the first of four performance spaces that would be utilized throughout the piece. Chairs in the large ballroom were scattered about, facing all different directions. And once the audience was seated, the cast broke into full-out movement – a celebratory party flash mob of sorts. Twelve dancers moved with equal parts ease and abandon, dancing amidst and in between all the chairs. No fourth wall or proscenium arch was welcome at this party, where the line between viewer and performer became wonderfully porous and fuzzy. Members of the audience were invited to dance with them, which allowed for a simultaneous re-arranging and re-organizing of the seating into a large square perimeter. Then, the main trio took the space, and the narrative shifted. During this long segment (performed by LEVYdance company members Scott Marlowe, Yu Kondo Reigen and Sarah Dionne Woods), the intensity was palpable; the dancers internally tortured. Demons were exorcised through ample introverted and small reflexive movements; therapy happening in real time, through physical expression. The choreography was haunting yet beautiful; the performances, personal yet open.

Next we were led downstairs to a barroom for a much shorter second vignette. Here, Marlowe, Reigen and Woods dug even further into Levy’s complex narrative marrying a sense of hesitancy, trepidation and uncertainty alongside propriety and balance. The low ceiling in this space imposed some very real physical limits that were both well-integrated in the choreography and well-handled by the dancers. Ushered back upstairs into a small room right off of the main dining area, the audience witnessed “Romp’s” third chapter. Three different dancers (who had also appeared at the beginning of the first scene) stood on steel rolling tables, while smoke billowed from the floor. They moved in unison with a very purposeful and exact clarity, while an undercurrent of sanitization pulsed beneath.

The banquet hall served as “Romp’s” fourth and final performance space. While the audience was seated at long banquet tables, the entire cast returned and movement, gesture and choreography happened on the table surfaces, around the chairs and in the middle of the room. Again, thoughts took on a physical form, coming to life in a truly honest fashion. And, Marlowe, Reigen and Woods’ final pas de trois centered around food, drink, community and adventure. An apropos conclusion seeing as how all those present were about to share a meal together.  

Good dinner parties are the result of impeccable planning. But an evening goes from good to great when ‘the real’ and ‘the authentic’ are welcomed and honored guests. Those are the events that folks talk about years later; the ones that are etched in memory; that which becomes fodder for amazing stories. LEVYdance’s “Romp” is one of the greats.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Diablo Ballet

Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek
November 15th, 2013

Diablo Ballet’s 20th Anniversary is in full gear! After opening this momentous season last weekend at Ohlone College’s Smith Center in Fremont, the company took the stage for three performances at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts. A mixed repertory evening, this first program featured three works; none were world premieres, but all were fairly new to the Diablo Ballet repertoire. This triple-bill serves as confirmation as to why this company continues to thrive in an uncertain artistic landscape – talented and dedicated technicians coupled with an artistic team that is committed to a diverse canon of work.

Up first was Mário Radačovský’s “Compulsive”, a short solo piece danced Friday evening by Derek Sakakura. Though brief in duration, “Compulsive” has a rich narrative. Control is the centerpiece – fighting for control, pretending to be in control, dealing with not being in control. Radačovský’s movement vocabulary aptly reflected the underlying message, with a clever combination of technique and humor. A recurring pas de basque sequence clearly spoke to the façade of control that we so often seek to convey. A terrific turner, Sakakura could not have been a better casting choice for this ballet. He is a perfect match for Radačovský’s choreography, which is full of dynamic and sometimes unusual turning combinations: pirouettes with one leg extended to the front at ninety degrees, double piqués ending in full arabesque.

Vicente Nebrada’s “Our Waltzes Trilogy” was next – a work for three couples that was accompanied live, and on stage, by pianist Roy Bogas. Waltzes are based in a three/four time signature, with the first beat of each bar serving as the dominant strong beat, and the two and three being weak beats. Because of this compositional structure, sometimes when choreography is set to a waltz, the two and the three get ‘thrown away’ and discarded. The triumph of Nebrada’s “Our Waltzes Trilogy” is that every beat of each measure was given equal attention and equal importance. And, the artists of the Diablo Ballet did a magnificent job translating that musical/choreographic connection onstage. Having said that, “Our Waltzes Trilogy” was perhaps one of the most difficult partnering pieces that I’ve seen in a long time. On a positive note, the duets were full of unexpected abandon and creativity. Though from time to time, the complexity of these variations did lead to some cumbersome moments. But these few instances did not take away from the work as a whole - Mayo Sugano sparkled with every piqué balance and the final unison sequence was danced brilliantly by the entire cast.
Photo: Aris Bernales
A witty and fun way to close a beautiful evening of dance, the 2013 edition of Sean Kelly’s “A Swingin’ Holiday” was the final work. With historic costumes, big band music (again, live accompaniment by Greg Sudmeier and the Diablo Ballet Swing Orchestra), and sexy, inventive movement, “A Swingin’ Holiday” looked like a scene from old Hollywood. The score was filled with different arrangements of holiday favorites, and the choreography, a wonderful fusion of styles (ballet, jive, social dance, jazz). Diablo Ballet is having a celebratory year and “A Swingin’ Holiday’s” festivity and merriment was right on point.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

WERK! Performance Festival 2013

presented by The WERK Collective 
Dance Mission Theater, San Francisco
November 10th, 2013

This past weekend, Dance Mission Theater was home to the WERK Collective’s WERK! Performance Festival. A group of emerging San Francisco/Bay Area dance artists, the 2013 edition brought three days of cutting-edge modern dance by four different choreographers (Tim Rubel, Samantha Giron, Ashley Trottier and Alyce Finwall) to San Francisco’s Mission District. The final program on Sunday evening paired two exciting one-act contemporary works: Samantha Giron Dance Project in “The Dirt on Dorian Gray” and Alyce Finwall Dance Theater’s “Shapeless Crown”. Though diverse in many ways, both offerings had an underlying commonality: a conceptual, deconstructed narrative.

Samantha Giron’s unique blend of contemporary and street movement filled every moment of “The Dirt on Dorian Gray”. What began as a haunting and hypnotic solo grew over the dance’s thirty-five minutes into a deeply nuanced interplay of duos and trios. And whether one, two or all three of the dancers (Clare Schweitzer, Kristin Damrow or Esther Bramlett) was being featured, a single concept or image was clearly woven throughout the work: palpable anticipation. Peppered amongst Giron’s pulsating full body physicality were

Pictured: Clare Schweitzer in "The Dirt on Dorian Gray"
Photo: Adrian Mendoza
numerous instances of sustained and suspended positions. Sometimes it was two arms reaching out in the space; sometimes it was a tendu on the floor with the other leg was in plié. These were not moments of stillness, posing or waiting, but active expressions of anticipatory kinetic energy. Giron has created a delicious tension between the slow, pulled motions and the faster accented sequences. Neither was meant to be ‘the better’ or ‘the optimal’, instead the juxtaposition simply exposing the presence of both in the human form. In addition, “The Dirt on Dorian Gray” reflected a structural cohesiveness with some well-placed choreographic tools – repetition and accumulation were married with a hearty dose of accelerando and rallantando.  

Alyce Finwall’s “Shapeless Crown” explored the personal and professional existence of ‘the dancer’ – the expected and unexpected; the conventional and out of bounds; the real and the illusion. Her company of four (Julia Hollas, Vivian Aragon, Jackie Goneconti and Troy Macklin) completed a choreographic marathon of genre, style, humor and intensity. From a farcical bowing scene to supported classical pirouettes to contact improvisation pas de deuxs to showgirl kick-lines to musical theater jazz to dance theater absurdity, they covered a plethora of ground in one single work. A gorgeous contemporary sequence acted as a ritornello between many of the different variations, bringing the cast back together as a whole entity and back to the foundation of modern technique. And a delightful surprise came at the end of “Shapeless Crown” as this repeated interlude phrase was danced in reverse.

Both “The Dirt on Dorian Gray” and “Shapeless Crown” had inventive choreography, beautiful dancing and a solid conceptual basis. But each piece did seem a little long and perhaps in need of a tiny bit of editing. The ideas and images were very clear, and still would have been clear even with less material.