Sunday, May 22, 2016

Robert Moses' KIN

Robert Moses’ KIN
21 Fully Realized Incomplete Thoughts
Z Space, San Francisco
May 21st, 2016

The latest full-length contemporary dance from Robert Moses’ KIN has a memorable title, 21 Fully Realized Incomplete Thoughts. The number twenty-one, of course, is in honor of the company’s twenty-first season. Then, there are two contrary states placed in the same container – ‘fully realized’ and ‘incomplete’. Choreographed by Moses, the world premiere work lives into its title with a series of highly developed episodes, each one independent and in progress yet also part of a whole. Individual segments strung together like beads that in the end, created a unique work of art.

For 21 Fully Realized Incomplete Thoughts, Moses transformed Z Space. The usual bleacher seating was reduced, the stage floor expanded, and the audience was set up on both sides of a long performance corridor. This made for an interesting perspective when viewing the piece. Some events happened right in front of you, and others were at quite a distance. Harkening back to the delicious enigma and duality suggested by the title of the dance.

Pictured: Norma Fong
Photo: Victor Talledos
Six of the seven dancers began at the back of the space and with distinct movement characteristics, traveled the length of the ‘runway’, as one dancer sat watching them at the opposite end. While the score morphed into an 80s/90s style rock ballad, the cast continued their journey, exploring the path with trios, pas de deuxs and solos. Over the next sixty-five minutes, twenty-one varied ‘chapters’ unfolded. From Vincent Chavez and Hien Huynh’s brief but angry rant with rolls of bubble wrap to Norma Fong’s gorgeous solo, set to a layered mash-up of Ave Maria and Prelude No. 1 in C Major by J.S. Bach. From a collection of powerful arm gestures to the women’s Graham-influenced unison floor sequence near the end of the piece.

Where 21 Fully Realized Incomplete Thoughts struck most strongly was in its form and structure. Texturally, Moses included a trench of wood chips on one end of the stage, which scattered randomly as the piece progressed. And while I didn’t totally understand the relevance of the bubble wrap, it certainly contributed yet another unexpected quality and consistency to 21 Fully Realized Incomplete Thoughts.

Having each episode be its own and yet be related to a larger choreographic statement was a fascinating way to build a dance. And this was accomplished by keeping some elements consistent across the board. First was the mood. 21 Fully Realized Incomplete Thoughts was dark, heavy and serious, even angst-filled. This read very clearly throughout the entire piece with just a brief moment of lightness injected into Crystaldawn Bell’s final solo. Dynamics served as a second throughline with constant high levels of intensity and energy. And though each part had different choreography and physical vocabulary, isolations, contractions and reflexes were recurring themes.

21 Fully Realized Incomplete Thoughts is a mesmerizing composition of cutting-edge choreography danced by a talented and dedicated ensemble. It’s only challenge that it is far too long.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Smuin Ballet - Dance Series Two

Smuin Ballet
Dance Series Two
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
May 8th, 2016

Over the weekend, Smuin Ballet launched a six-week tour of “Dance Series Two”, starting at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. This final offering of the twenty-second season brings another of their diverse mixed repertory programs to stages around the greater Bay Area. And it was also the first that I have seen that didn’t include any choreography by Founder Michael Smuin. “Dance Series Two” paired two returning works - Val Caniparoli’s Tutto Eccetto Il Lavandino (2014) and Jiří Kylián’s Return To A Strange Land  (1975) – with the world premiere of Helen Pickett’s Oasis.

The title says it all with Caniparoli’s Tutto Eccetto Il Lavandino (everything but the kitchen sink), an eleven-part movement suite set to music by Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi. And I use the term ‘movement suite’ purposely, because Tutto Eccetto Il Lavandino is filled with every type of physicality you could imagine. The curtain rises to a striking initial image – the entire ensemble, at different facings, standing still in 5th position. Elegant phrases with unexpected infusions fill this introductory chapter: ballet, percussive footwork, sprinter-inspired poses. That mixology continued throughout, an array of ingredients in perfect ratios. Erica Felsch, Robert Kretz and Robert Moore’s cannoned rond versé, ending in a deep side lunge; Nicole Haskins’ quick grapevine on pointe; Weston Krukow’s swirling torso; the courtly entrance/exit of couples; the neo-classical partnering by Krukow and Erin Yarbrough-Powell; Haskins’ super-passé, neither a closed or open position, instead existing deliciously in between. Tutto Eccetto Il Lavandino is a great piece for this company, and shows once again Caniparoli’s skill as a choreographical mixologist. But it is desperately calling for live musical accompaniment.

In its four gorgeous sections, Kylián’s Return To A Strange Land  (1975) takes its audience on an emotional journey. There is no linear story, yet clear feelings, moods and narratives abound through the work. Part I’s pas de trois (Yarbrough-Powell, Kretz and Dustin James) is equal parts solemn and hopeful as the three bodies weave tenderly and introspectively. Erica Chipp and Ben Needham-Wood attended the second section with maturity, depth and a sense of knowing. But there was also a profound duality at play – one minute they were soaring and swimming through the air and the next they were pulled to the floor with knee turns and skimming spins. The third chapter begins with Yarbrough-Powell and Kretz looking into the wings; trying to glimpse someone or something. And the duet that unfolds is one of that outward impulse, one of looking, one of searching. Part IV’s pas de trois (Chipp, Needham-Wood and Rex Wheeler) starts as a circuit of balances and picturesque tableaux. Then, through a series of temps levées, crescendos into large jumps of abandon. And you cannot talk about Return To A Strange Land without mentioning the phenomenal (and daring) balances that Kylián created to close each portion of the ballet. 

Pictured: Robert Moore and Terez Dean in
Helen Pickett's Oasis
Photo: Keith Sutter
“Dance Series Two” concluded with the premiere of Pickett’s much-anticipated Oasis, original score by Jeff Beal. Oasis starts with a musical entr’acte of sorts; a whimsical melody that felt bright and free. As the lights came up, wave-like structures comprised of flexible strands (design by Emma Kingsbury) hung from the rafters and water bubbles were projected onto them. All these collaborative elements set an impeccable framework for the ballet that would develop in the next thirty minutes, a dance of true splendor. Everything about Pickett’s Oasis was full – full cast, full throttle performances, full conceptual exploration through mesmerizing choreography. Coming from upstage, the dancers broke through the ‘curtains’, arms billowing, feet striking the ground in piqué, like droplets in a pool; legs kicked into the space, imaginary water being flicked off their toes. The ensemble (which the program says was sixteen dancers but I only counted fourteen) rushed the stage in a mystical, intoxicating sequence, almost like they were casting a spell. Packed with long extensions, a sensual duet for Felsch and Krukow fed into a flirty ballroom waltz – couples cleverly darting in and out of the wings. Moore and Terez Dean offered another tactile duet of longing and impulse. Small movements would ripple through and affect the entire body, as with water. A tiny circle of the leg would evolve into a huge rond de jambe; pas de chevals grew into full extensions. And these were just a few of the standout moments from Oasis. I believe this the second full-length piece of Pickett’s that Smuin Ballet has added to their repertoire, Petal being the first. Both are phenomenal works that marry traditional and contemporary ballet with ingenuity and gumption.

Smuin Ballet’s “Dance Series Two” runs for another weekend in San Francisco before heading off to Walnut Creek, San Mateo and Carmel.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

"The Missing Generation"

Fresh Meat Productions presents
The Missing Generation
by Sean Dorsey Dance
Z Space, San Francisco
May 7th, 2016

Incredibly moving. If I was asked to describe Sean Dorsey Dance’s The Missing Generation, those are the words I would choose. And yet that phrase doesn’t even begin to do this amazing piece justice. Choreographed and written by Artistic Director Sean Dorsey, The Missing Generation is a contemporary dance work that examines the early years of the AIDS epidemic. It talks about those who were lost in the prime of their lives. It talks about those who lived through and survived the horrors of that time, those who witnessed the senseless decimation of their community. It talks about those living with these memories still today. At its heart, The Missing Generation is an artistic dissertation on remembering.

As a dance writer, I usually take a lot of notes during performances. But there are the few instances where I don’t do that, and it’s because I am completely engrossed in what is happening on the stage. Dorsey’s The Missing Generation was one of those rare experiences.

Performed by the spellbinding quartet of Dorsey, Brian Fisher, ArVejon Jones and Nol Simonse, the sixty-five minute piece was scored by a combination of music and stories – real-life stories that Dorsey had compiled from individuals who experienced the early days of HIV/AIDS. There were stories of sorrow, stories of loss, stories of trauma. Sharp isolations, spasms and contractions shook through the bodies on stage; spinning motifs spoke to uncertainty, desperation and frustration. There were stories of love, stories of togetherness. Hands held the other tenderly, bodies locked in embrace, breath was in tandem. Unison sequences required each of the four dancers to tune into the other’s intention and need; three dancers lifted the fourth high in the air (a recurring motif); arms opened wide in second position.

There were vulnerable personal stories, stories of both hiding and searching. During one of these particularly striking moments, Dorsey staged dance and choreography that went in and out of a single spotlight on the stage. Brilliant. And even in the midst of this sober subject matter, Dorsey managed to inject some lightness. Of note were the academic deconstruction of paradigms, stereotypes and terminology and the 1970s-style club duet (by Jones and Simonse).

Brian Fisher, ArVejon Jones, Sean Dorsey, Nol Simonse
Photo: Kegan Marling
But the most powerful stories were those of community. The final unison scene felt like a group meditative practice. Gorgeous partnering abounded with supported arabesques and cantilevered physical sculpture. This choreographic theme was peppered throughout The Missing Generation, and its importance to the work is crucial. In order to attain these positions in space, the four dancers had to be all in, counter-balancing each other, supporting one another. Each individual in a collective working together to accomplish something bigger.

Sean Dorsey Dance’s The Missing Generation is an iconic work of contemporary performance; one that I believe will be staged for years to come. It is that important. Not just as a noteworthy work of choreography (which it is) but because of its narrative message. When confronted with deep sorrow, it’s hard to know what to say and thus, we often choose not to say anything. Don’t. Ask, talk and learn.

Friday, May 06, 2016

"Tacit Consent"

Liss Fain Dance presents
Pictured: Katharine Hawthorne in
Tacit Consent
Photo: Benjamin Hersh
in association with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Tacit Consent
YBCA Forum, San Francisco
May 5th, 2016

I love the decision-making aspect of mobile dance performance. The notion of moving around a space. Deciding how long to sit with one idea or one scene. Happening upon a movement phrase in process.

Liss Fain Dance provides that opportunity with their newest world premiere, Tacit Consent, music by Dan Wool, design by Matthew Antaky, projection/sound installation by Frédéric Boulay. A mobile immersive performance in YBCA’s Forum, the sextet (for six women) unfolds simultaneously in multiple spaces over forty-five minutes. Antaky constructed these spaces as four attached squares with a central hub. Each quadrant had a designated middle performance area and semi-porous dividing walls, made of either envelopes or panels. The audience was invited and encouraged to traverse the space both prior to and during the entire performance.

Yet even with my affection for mobile performance, as an audience member, I’m not always sure how to approach it. So this time, I decided to set some specific parameters. I knew that Tacit Consent was approximately forty-five minutes and that there were four performance spaces. So I decided to stay in each one for around twelve minutes, no matter what may or may not have been happening in the work. Sometimes that meant I wasn’t seeing any dance; instead, having the opportunity to wait and take in the stimulating installation (which even included mannequins on the ceiling). Sometimes I was seeing partially obscured movement through the walls – a glimpse of an arm or swirling shadows. I definitely missed some phrases. I caught some at mid-point. And, others, I saw from start to finish.

Square #1 – The dancers entered the space and congregated in the center hub. Their hands began shaking and then they dispersed into various squares. In the first solos that I saw (by Shannon Kurashige and Cassie Martin), Fain combined stretchy elastic extensions with specific pedestrian tasks, all underscored with geometrical linearity. The meshing of this highly technical ballet/contemporary dance with careful pedestrianism was both surprising and entrancing.

Square #2 – This second section was a bit sparse in the time I spent there, most of the action being far away and visible through the walls. But not entirely. Near the end of my ‘twelve minutes’, the entire cast descended into the square and arms flailed wildly (a development and building on the initial shaking motif). This high-energy ensemble sequence dispersed with purpose, unearthing a beautiful (mostly unison) duet by Kurashige and Sarah Dionne Woods-LaDue.

Square #3 – On my way to the third quadrant, I was able to catch some stunning balances by Katharine Hawthorne and when I arrived, a duet was just ending. A magnificent trio (Woods-LaDue, Megan Kurashige and Sonja Dale) took over, sculptural shapes and physical pictures moving slowly along the perimeter. A second pas de trois emerged, this time with a more urgent and forward moving pulse. Then the lights changed drastically, fluorescent beams raged and each dancer cycled through the square, offering a brief solo phrase – this was an exciting display of constant motion, constant change in circumstance and constant shift of physical paradigm.

Square #4 – This quad was mostly empty at first, again affording the opportunity to witness dance happening elsewhere and from a distance. Eventually, Dale joined the space with a solo of long arabesques and attitudes. In a breathtaking choreographic display, these positions touched down on the floor, just for a moment, and then rebounded into the air. Definitely a noteworthy moment from Fain’s Tacit Consent.

So, was this the best way to view Tacit Consent? I don’t know, but it certainly was worth the experiment. Because it led to some interesting observations, particularly about viewership, and how perspective and attention shifts depending on whether you are close to the action, far away or in a partial sightline.

And though the setting, costumes and multi-media were different, the concept of Tacit Consent was very similar to last year’s A Space Divided. To the point that I wonder if the two works are intended to feel like related chapters from a larger series.

Monday, May 02, 2016


San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
April 30th, 2016

For the past five months, the War Memorial Opera House has been filled with a glorious collection of classic and contemporary ballet. A force and display of true artistry, the 2016 season at San Francisco Ballet saw returning favorites, new commissions and three full-length narratives. Saturday night, the curtain rose on the final program of the season, the last of those story ballets, John Cranko’s three-act Onegin.

Onegin is a visual stunner, from the choreography to the costumes to the design. But the story itself is not a light or happy one. Onegin is about regret and acceptance, choices and consequences, and while there are some snippets of joy and playfulness, the narrative is heavy, to say the least.

Act I introduces the main characters to the audience – sisters Tatiana (Maria Kochetkova) and Olga (Lauren Strongin); Olga’s fiancé Lensky (Gennadi Nedvigin) and Onegin (Vitor Luiz). Romance, or hope of romance, factors significantly with these four. Olga and Lensky are engaged, and enjoy a mutual love and affection, while Tatiana becomes infatuated with a callous and indifferent Onegin. Opening night’s cast was almost the exact same group that
Lauren Strongin and Gennadi Nedvigin in
Cranko's Onegin
Photo © Erik Tomasson
I saw four years back, with the exception of Strongin. And though they certainly had less stage time, Act I really belonged to Strongin and Nedvigin. He was a wonderful Lensky – charming and chivalrous - and she was exactly what you want Olga to be. Sweet, innocent and gentle, yet confident and with a sense of purpose - from the first solo’s balletés and ballonés to the encompassing fifth position port de bras. Interesting directional changes in the turns and daring, unexpected catches featured heavily in their ‘courting’ pas de deux. And they led the corps in one of the most dynamic sequences in the entire Act - a long diagonal series of supported jetés. The corps also had some lovely folk variations, though the choreography for the men was definitely more intriguing than that for the women.

Extreme circumstances befall the characters in Act II. The mood begins with celebratory elation – Tatiana’s birthday. The cast enters the stage with full partnering and sprightly footwork; flowing waltz steps and grand assemblé lifts. Mid-way through, things start to go awry. Onegin rejects Tatiana, begins flirting with Olga and in the end, is challenged to a duel by Lensky. Again, it was Nedvigin’s night. His solo was full of heartbreak, distress and sorrow – arms reaching out, chest lifted to the heavens, turns that coiled one way and then the other.

Act III is the place where memory and reality converge. Onegin returns after a significant passage of time and we see choreographic motifs from the first two Acts recur. But they are in fragmented pieces, as is he. Then he sees that Tatiana has married Prince Gremin (danced by Joan Boada). Kochetkova and Boada’s pas de deux was a highlight, not just because the dancing was phenomenal but also because of her character’s transformation. Time had gone by and so of course, Tatiana was older. But more than any other moment in the ballet, you could see that she was so different – measured, elegant and content. Onegin’s last scene brings a passionate and final duet for Onegin and Tatiana. With literal twists and turns, struggles and abandon, the dance shows their pull towards each other as well as their eventual acceptance of what is.