Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
The term ‘dance gala’ evokes specific images. Stylishly attired patrons; an all-star performance line-up; a penetrating air of celebration – all things you might expect at such an event. Last night’s DanceFAR (Dance for a Reason) was every bit the true gala; each of these elements present and accounted for. But if that’s all you saw, you kind of missed out. What really sets DanceFAR apart is its genuine spirit of giving back. From the opening remarks to the inspired performances, authenticity was woven into every moment of the evening, an evening that benefits CPIC, The Cancer Prevention Institute of California. Margaret Karl, Garen Scribner and James Sofranko have created something special, something different with DanceFAR. This stunning annual gala, which in four years has become a pillar of the San Francisco dance year, is the result of their resolute and committed vision.
2015’s edition brought together a host of regional dance artists, along with a few special guests, for this spectacular one-night performance. The well-crafted and well-curated program opened with Alonzo King LINES Ballet in the Men’s Quintet from 2008’s The Radius of Convergence. In this dance, two choreographic phenomena are at play - walking in patterns and technical solo sequences – and the five men fluctuate between these two states. Whirling turns of every kind permeated the solo work: pirouettes, attitude front and back. And every structural aspect, including the walking, was lush, elegant and luxurious. Dance writers often use the word ‘breathtaking’ to describe movement, but this was literally breathtaking. As the lights dimmed, you could hear the audience gasp. What an amazing start to the night!
The world premiere of an untitled duet, danced by Garen Scribner and Danielle Rowe, choreographed by Scribner, Rowe and Michelle Fletcher, followed. Two dancers were side by side in large circular pools of light, and began a movement phrase filled with isolations. The choreography was fantastic but it was their changing relationship that really drew me in. First, they seemed to not acknowledge each other, then it looked like they were passing the movement back and forth, and near the end, there was even a unison phrase.
Diablo Ballet took the stage in an excerpt from AnOther, choreographed by Robert Dekkers. The work began in a golden yellow light (design by Jack Carpenter), which slowly brightened to illuminate the seven-member ensemble. Christian Squires’ costume design joined buttoned shirts and suspenders for the men and a variety of springtime dresses for the women. Together these two visuals created a frontier-feel, a suggestion of another time, an earlier one. AnOther seemed narratively driven, though not necessarily following a specific storyline. The seven paired off throughout, but not always with the same partner, revealing a community of people rather than a collection of couples. And their gaze was focused outward, like they were looking for something or someone. In a beautiful moment of stillness, all seven came to the front of the stage and stared aspirationally into the darkness.
Silicon Valley Ballet’s Brett Bauer and Ommi Pipit-Suksun danced the classic pas de deux from Act II of Giselle, one of my personal favorites. While both Giselle and Albrecht are individually featured in Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot’s choreography, this is really Giselle’s variation and Pipit-Suksun delivered. She reached a beautiful end point with each developpé and posé, but the thrill was seeing her move through the transitional space; her journey to every destination.
The second world premiere of the evening was offered by SFDanceworks – Penny Saunders’ Coming To, performed by Garrett Anderson and Adrienne Lipson. This was an intricate duet where the dancers were constantly entwined, even when they weren’t actually touching. As Coming To continued, the movement and dynamics grew stronger and stronger, like they were being fed. And the long diagonal sequence towards the end of the piece was a perfect marriage of choreographic mastery and technical skill.
Closing the first act was San Francisco Ballet in the tango section from Helgi Tomasson’s The Fifth Season (2006). A powerhouse team of principal dancers performed this dramatic, contemporary quartet (Mathilde Froustey, Tiit Helimets, Vitor Luiz and Luke Ingham). The homage to Rubies at the beginning of the ballet is absolutely delightful and the choreography that follows is provocative and fun yet sophisticated and refined.
Act II’s set of four duets, bookended by two group works, continued the marvelous program. Kicking things off was an excerpt from Garrett + Moulton Productions’ The Luminous Edge, which just this summer enjoyed a return engagement after its premiere in the fall of 2014. The juxtaposition of the solo company dancers and the movement choir makes this work stand out, no question. So much happens onstage, but it never feels overwhelming – instead, the space percolates with life, movement and fervor.
Guest artists Stella Abrera and Marcelo Gomes (both principals with American Ballet Theatre) bestowed a sublime pas de deux from Swan Lake. There was so much to love in this duet – technical prowess, narrative complexity, and partnering at its best. Now if Swan Lake had a polar opposite, it was the next performance, a freestyle/hip hop/B-boying duet by Art of Teknique. Everyone was completely enthralled, fascinated and amazed by what these two young dancers could do, and by far, it garnered the strongest and most enthusiastic audience response of the evening.
LEVYdance’s Michaela Burns and Yu Kondo danced Benjamin Levy’s Comfort Zone, an emotionally charged duet that stretched from antagonistic to tender. A large spotlight glowed in the center of the stage; sometimes the dancers occupied that light and sometimes they danced on its periphery. The light certainly had significance, mysterious though it was. But whatever space the pair inhabited, creative choreography abounded.
Another special treat awaited with a pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s Broadway hit, An American in Paris. Scribner, a current cast member, was joined by San Francisco Ballet’s Dores André for this romantic, fairy tale pas de deux. Closing DanceFAR 2015 was part of Amy Seiwert’s recent premiere for Smuin Ballet, Broken Open – a thorough sojourn into ballet vocabulary, its structure, its possibilities, its present and its future.