Monday, February 22, 2021

Diablo Ballet - "Balanchine & Beyond"

Amanda Farris and Raymond Tilton in
Who Cares?
Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust 
Photo Aris Bernales
Diablo Ballet
Balanchine & Beyond
Streamed online Feb 19th-21st, 26th-28th

This past weekend, Diablo Ballet presented a new program as part of their twenty-seventh season, a lovely quadruple mixed bill of contemporary and classical dance. The four works of Balanchine & Beyond really spoke to the power of variety: portions from George Balanchine’s neo-classical Who Cares?; Penny Saunders’ contemporary duet Berceuse; a dramatic world premiere by company artist Michael Wells and Derion Loman; and excerpts from a historic ballet icon, The Sleeping Beauty. It was a charming program that only had one minor hiccup for me.

Created by Balanchine in 1970, Who Cares? is a delightful revue-style ballet, each short chapter set to a different George Gershwin musical selection. Staged for Diablo Ballet by Sandra Jennings, the work pairs sweeping romance with fun flirtation all while highlighting the tenets and characteristics of neo-classical movement. Unexpected step progressions; an innovative take on ballet vocabulary; and most of all, choreographic musicality. Amanda Farris’ jazz slide, pas de chat, entrechat quatre sequence in Stairway to Paradise married perfectly with the music, as did Olivia Powell’s relevé series and shoulder shimmies in Fascinating Rhythm. Farris, Theresa Knudson and Powell’s timing, which subtly toggled between unison and canon, and spacing in a small black box theater, impressed in I’ve Got Rhythm, which eventually grew to a quartet when the trio were joined by Donghoon Lee. The internal bows between each song were the only tricky spot, as they gave way to a bit of a stop-start feel. At the same time, each dance was scored by a different piece, so there had to be some degree of pause. Maybe it just could have been shorter.

Next up was Saunders’ Berceuse, a 2011 pas de deux that I first saw six years back on the DanceFAR benefit program. Danced at this performance by Jackie McConnell and Michael Wells, the contemporary duet is all about breath, suspension and directional intent. And definitely egalitarianism. McConnell begins with a solo phrase, which leads into partnering and unison (again, impressive synchronization) with Wells. Then, midway through the work, Wells takes his turn embodying that same phrase. Berceuse doesn’t feel particularly story-based or like it was relaying any linear narrative, but it does have an emotional charge. There’s an unmistakable tenderness between the couple and yet their hands seem to be continually reaching out for something else.

Then came the hiccup – the premiere of Wells and Loman’s Two One Self. I can’t stress strongly enough that the issue was not the choreography nor the dancing. My complication was that I wasn’t able to watch the piece because it was filmed with a shaky camera effect. Not all the time, but enough that it activated my motion sickness. And of course, that’s just my own personal thing; I’m sure most viewers had no problems whatsoever. 

Excerpts from Marius Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty (1890) closed the Balanchine & Beyond program, staged for Diablo by Joanna Berman. Farris and Lee took on the principal roles of this Act III wedding with elegance and grace, joined by the rest of the company in the coda section. The entire scene was as grandly classical as could be. Pillowy port de bras, subtle epaulement and textbook positions of the body – arabesque, attitude and passé. And Roberto Vega-Ortiz’s fouetté combination was sheer majesty. 

Balanchine & Beyond continues next weekend!   

San Francisco Ballet - Program 2

Program 2 of San Francisco Ballet's 2021 digital season - up on DanceTabs: 

Monday, February 01, 2021

"The Healer"

RAWdance in The Healer
Photo Del Medoff

The Healer
January 30th, 2021

Over the past eleven months, the idea of starting a meditation practice has come up on several occasions. To navigate the craziness of this time. To calm the body, mind and nervous system. I’m on board – I think it’s a great idea. Though I have found it a challenge to forge this new pathway. Breaking patterns seems to be an easier road for me than creating new habits. 

But then I realized that a meditation practice is very personal, and so it likely doesn’t look the same for every individual. For some, it might work well to have a certain time set aside where the practice unfolds in the same manner each session. Whereas for others, a meditative practice might include a number of different elements – yoga, guided meditation or immersive art experiences. This past weekend, RAWdance offered audiences the chance to try the latter. To dive into dance as meditation with the premiere of The Healer, streamed virtually, and co-presented by RAWdance and ODC Theater.

Choreographed by RAWdance co-artistic director Katerina Wong and inspired by the life and work of Wong’s aunt Szuson Wong, the thirty-minute quartet mines the process of healing through the lens of ritual, ancient practices and Chinese Medicine traditions. Overlying much of Daniel Berkman’s evocative score is the voice of Wong’s aunt, leading us through The Healer’s journey. A journey performed with such care and awareness by Michaela Cruze, Juliann Witt, Wong and Stacey Yuen. 

The Healer unfolds in a through-composed fashion; the choreography linked and connected from beginning to end without internal stops or starts. And this meditative marriage of somatics and mindfulness included a wide range of choreographic language. Attentive, in the moment tasks graced the work’s first minutes – removing footwear, washing hands, writing remembrances – which segued into a variety of Tai Chi modeled postures and progressions. Body percussion simultaneously released and harnessed energy. Tempo varied. Phrases and motions repeated and accumulated potency. And Wong thoughtfully injected moments of stillness and quiet throughout the material.

While internal, individual reflection was indeed present, the notion of the collective was so strong and palpable. The quartet would cluster together in a huddle or a lift, almost like an atom. These beautiful shapes would be followed by an outward eruption into the space; particles bursting everywhere. Several instances of shared vocalization peppered the work, as did powerful unison sequences that blended small reflexive shoulder contractions with large lateral Horton side tilts.