SF Dance Works 2018

SF Dance Works 2018
Cowell Theater, Fort Mason SF
June 10, 2018

Range of Motion

Except for the process of getting there on a fine Sunday afternoon, when the Food Fair is on, Fort Mason is lively with many other events, Cowell Theater presents a challenged, windy walk, and there is no unpaid parking, it is always a pleasure to see dance events at the theater. Perhaps some good planners with rethink the use of Fort Mason so that theater can prevail.

SF Dance Works is a fine rewarding event, worth getting there. For Season 3, four works were presented, each by a different choreographer. Nacho Duato is the senior choreographer. His work, “Jardi Tancat,” created for the Nederlands Dans Theater in 1983, is sourced from Catalonia folk tales, expressing the hardships of poor Catalonian farmers. The six dancers, in ensemble and duets, execute the seamless lyricism of the music, composed and sung by Maria del Mar Bonet. “Jardi Tancat” is marvelously performed. Newly appointed associate director, Danielle Rowe was outstanding as a senior dancer.

Rowe also choreographed the World Premiere work on the program “The Old Child.” In a series of vignettes, the dancers appear, dancing duets, which apparently portray remembrances of life’s stages. A constant figure ( Rowe herself?), placed downstage right, rises at each episode, almost as if calling the next event. In order of appearance the dancers are Britt Juleen, Anne Zivolich-Adams and Garett Anderson, Dana Genshaft and Katerina Eng, Nicholas Korkos, and Laura O’alley and Brett Conway. It is a charming work, but for this reviewer, it needs more clarification and sometimes amplification. The score is by Alton San Giovanni, performed by instrumentalist David Knight.

I found “Homing,” a world premiere by artistic director James Sofranko, to be delightful.

Set to Schubert”s Impromptus (played live by Ronny Michael Greenberg), the dance builds a group for the six dancers and from time to time sends them away. Garrett Anderson, appears to leave from time to time. He and Nicholas Korkos, share the honor of being the strong men in the group. But the women are lovely, (most listed above), moving with easy lyric lines in an out of interesting patterns, formed by arms, legs and folded torsos.

The duet. “Snap” by Penny Saunders, a duet for Danielle Saunders and Mario Alonzo. Is a charming incident developed from the ‘patt-a-cake’ children’s game. It is a playful, flirtatious opener for the program, but it doesn’t go very far.

The dancers have come from many national and international companies. Their skill is to be applauded, their ensemble excellent. Let’s hope they will have more challenging choreography to develop their abilities in the future.

Joanna G. Harris

Photo: Full ensemble in “Jardi Tancat.”
Photo by Alexander Renef-Olson.


The Oakland Public Library has a Tool library in the Temescal Branch. Instead of buying a sledge
hammer, using it one time and letting it decompose in your garage, you can rent the tool, just as you would a book – with an Oakland library card. Those tool aficionados want to bring tool-appreciation to the masses and so they have cleverly devised a Tool Petting Zoo. They bring an interesting cross section of tools to various destinations and encourage kids from four to teens to to see what they can to with them. At a recent demonstration at the Eastmont Library I noticed that hammers and pounding in nails was the first choice – then came taking out the nails. Some kids went on to using power tools to drill holes and put in screws. A lot to accomplish in an hour and a half. There were feasts for the grownups – old tools, new tools – a wonderful moment of sharing of how man works with his hands and continually grows his ability as a maker.

Photos by Gen Katz

Oakland’s Youth Poet Laureate

Oakland School for the Arts’ Leila Mottley was named the City of Oakland’s 2018
Youth Poet Laureate on Friday, June 1, 2018 at the Oakland Museum of California













Mottley, 16, is a 2018 Youth Speaks Teen Poetry Slam Winner, founder and
president of her school’s Women of Color Club, and founder of a youth-led
program called Lift Every Voice which brings together youth from different
backgrounds in art advocacy workshops around youth incarceration. Ms. Mottley
received a $5,000 scholarship provided by the Friends of the Oakland Public
Library and the opportunity to officially represent the Oakland community
through poetry, media and public appearances. Samuel Getachew, 15, was named the
Vice Youth poet Laureate.

To see Leila perform one of her poems, click here.

Photo by Salena Davant

Oakland Ballet: Spring 2018 Season

“Scene and Heard”
Laney College, Oakland
May 31-June 2, 2018

Moving Right Along: Story Time

It is a pleasure to experience the innovative programming created by Graham Lustig, Artistic Director of the Oakland Ballet. In each of the recent seasons he has produced works that are innovative and inventive, reaching the community with new artists and meaningful works.

For this spring concert, he has introduced new choreographers, many of them local, as well as works by members of the dancing company, Ramona Kelley and Vincent Chavez. Newly commissioned works are by Bat Abbit, Antoine Hunter, Michael Lowe (former member of Oakland Ballet), and Danielle Rowe.This perspective on new work brings freshness and delight to audiences and challenges to the company.

The program began with a ‘family’ drama, “Itchy Bot Bot” choreographed by Danielle Rowe. A family of four is introduced at the moment of their son’s graduation. A daughter is barely recognized in the proceedings. Through the course of the ballet, she steals the show. The dancing here, and in all the works is skilled, well projected and delightful.

Kimono Wednesdays” by Michael Lowe (now director of the Menlowe Ballet) is charming, but a bit confusing. The idea for the work is based on a painting by Claude Monet of his wife, Camille Monet in a Japanese costume. The exhibit of the work caused commotion: is this the proper way to demonstrate “Orientalism”? Lowe casts the dancers as various aspects of the painting: agitators, the curator and various spirits. The work needs a bit more binding together to become clear.

Antoine Hunter is deaf. He has produced the Bay Area International Deaf Dance Festival since 2013. His work for this program, “Giggling Flame and Roaring Waves,” aims to ‘connect others’ through the gesture and dance. Coral Martin gave us the opening score of gestures. The company did the rest with great energy and delight.

Marriage and its mishaps makes for great narrative. Vincent Chavez and Ramona Kelley take on “La Llorona” a sad tale of a deserted wife whose grief lead to the death of her daughters. “The Sound of Snow” recounts the story from Edith Wharton’s novel, “Ethan Fromm,” (another version seen recently in SF Ballet’s “Unbound.”) Bat Abbit’s version is clear and simple and well projected. Christopher Dunn deserves special note for his nuanced portrayal as Fromm: Samantha Bell as the wife and Ramona Kelley as his ‘cousin’ were effectively danced.

A new ‘pop’ work by Lustig was the finale. To musical selections most of us can remember (e.g. “All Shook Up”), the entire cast joined in a series of flirtations called “Heartbreak House.” The company, a group of well trained ballet dancers, nevertheless entertained us with this jively, jazzy work. Congratulations to them all, choreographers, dances, designers for bringing to Oakland its own very talented artists.

Sharon Kung and company
Members in Antoine Hunter’s”
“Giggling Flame and Roaring Waves”

Joanna G. Harris

Ambiguous Dance

Ambiguous Dance
SF International Arts Festival 2018
Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center
May 31, 2018. 8 PM

“Rhythm of Motion

Ambiguous Dance from South Korea introduces itself with the following blurb: “Rhythm of Motion expresses the modern Korean man who represents the individual that seeks his own rhythm within society. Dance transforms simple movements into expressions of life’s rhythm. Dancing is not only for dancers; we all live as though dancing.”

Theirs is, however, a very special style of dance, somehow employing the actions of highly stylized gymnastics, exaggerated mime, mugging, crotch holding and mock fighting … all in unexpected sequences. As we progress through the several sections of their performance, the group members go from wearing colorful, though short, tight trunks to full dress suits. In the early sections, done in silence, each has his own movement vocabulary. In the later sections, (to unnamed classical music [Beethoven?] the movement is always on the beat, the attack staccato, the lines as right angles. In the course of the performances, has each lost his individual dance?

This reviewer much preferred the opening four (or five?) sections during which the movement material was repeated with dissimilar tempi and variation in groupings. The first dancer tumbles in and lands with his fingers pointed to stage left in the stereotypic shooting gun position. Another dancer enters downstage right, stands on his hands, then sits on his haunches and holds his hands in front of his face as if weeping. Eventually five ‘dancers’ occupy the stage. They interact with various ‘male’ pugilistic gestures (some more aggressive than others) and retreat.

It all begins again, same structure, faster, more variation in attacks, finally some variation in choreography. All members of their group are remarkably skilled and effective in their roles. Crotch holding as a group motif continues until all are in business suits.

Then the lead dancer starts the process all over again as a finale. All in all, their work is unusual, attention getting and effective, even charming. The musical selection at the end is the 1928 Cole Porter song, “Birds do it, etc. Let’s fall in love.” It is again a curious but defining finale to this production of Korean male dance.

The choreography is by Boram Kim. The cast consists of Boram Kim, Kungmin Jang, Sung Tae Jung; KyoungHoon Choi, and BongSu Kim. Thanks to Andrew Wood, Director of the SF International Arts Festival for this special event.

An Improvisation: Belinda McGuire

Walking Distance Dance Festival
May 19, 2018 ODC Theater SF
An Improvisation” Rashaun Mitchell, Silas Riener
Belinda McGuire: Solo Works

ODC is always ‘on the edge’ as a producer of new and unusual works. For the Walking Distance Dance Festival, the theater has brought events, workshops, a Dance Party and a selection of dramatic artists. This was evident in the May 19 evening featuring “An Improvisation” and Solo Works by Belinda McGuire.

Mitchell and Riener are well known to local and national audiences as former members of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. With them on the koto was Shoko Hikage, on the saxophone Philip Greenlief and reading her text, the author Claudia La Rocco. These disparate elements demand different levels of attention, of sight and sound, of interpretation and translation. Mitchell and Riener, two brilliant dance movers, are capable of taking one’s full attention, since their skills, subtle and extended, were the strongest elements of “An Improvisation.” They both move through the space, in place, sometimes disappear and reappear creating surprise. This reviewer wished for more duet interaction.

Hikage’s koto playing was most consistent. She produced beautiful, subtle sound that provided an underlying gentle energy. Greenlief’s participation was more occasional. His was a charming, but incidental contribution. For this reviewer, the spoken words by La Rocco were more disturbing than accompanying. Her tone was uniform throughout, her language repetitive, her images uninteresting. When she did interact with the dancers, there were moments of humor. Sometimes too many scores are one too many.

Belinda McGuire is a powerful dancer whose energy bursts across the stage space and hits the audience with her explosive gestures and phrases. She is technically at top form and is fascinating to watch. What she is doing with her solo choreographic works, however is not clear. First of all, there is too much. The works go on and on, and one is drowned in her vocabulary. It therefore becomes difficult for the viewer to collect and bring it to focus. She credits two others, Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten for choreography in “The Eight Propositions,” (what were they?) and Sharon B Moore for the choreography for “Anthem for the Living.” This latter work, involving the use of ropes (and suggested suicide), is a dramatic study. Ms McGuire’s costumes, made of ‘see-through’ material does help to demand the audiences’ attention to her every move. Katherine Mallinson is credited with costume design.

Joanna G. Harris