Ramon & Jessica: Roses are Blue

Anything that comes out of the mouths of Ramon and Jessica results in a feel good high that lasts until morning. Tonight, Ramon (aka Dina Maccabee), Jessica (aka Jesse Olsen Bay) and their all-star a cappella ensemble performed Roses are Blue, threading their complex music with Gertrude Steins children’s tale,”The World is Round. You can’t go wrong with a capella and Stein – they are made for each other.

It wasn’t as easy as saying , “a rose is a rose is a rose” – their first explosive performance in 2016, with loose ends sticking out, generated so much enthusiasm that an Indiegogo fund raiser was launched – and those funds birthed this performance. The polish shows, costumes are a rummage sale mix of reds and oranges, which brings out the characters of these eclectic performers – and that is important because they not only sing but act and mime the story lines. Screen projections were used also – but did not do much to embellish the captivating voices.The sets are an assortment of chairs in an almost electric blue that standout on the dark stage. The interlocutor – Harold Pierce has been added and is a great addition in helping the story line, which can be necessary with Stein’s free floating language. He also took on the role of Roses’ loyal dog with a stunning human to animal transition. This is a coming of age story of Rose who questions her identity – if she were not named Rose would she still be Rose and Willy – who is always. “I Willy”.

The a capella performers – and I list them all here because, though all strikingly different, together they made a wonderful evening musical storytelling. Of course there is Ramon and Jessica, the creators and also performers, others were Caitlin, Tabancay Austin, Lorin Benedict, Tony Domenick, Ron Shalom; they are all skilled musicians in their own right. Molly Aaronson-Gelb is the webullient director

Performed at the ACT casual performance space – The Costume Shop Theater, 1117 Market St, San Francisco (right at the Civic Center BART station exit). Tickets $25. Playing Friday, Saturday, Sunday 5/19- 21 (2017), 8:pm


Interview with a choreographing ballerina – Eve Mutso


Thoughts on her work for SFIAF 2017, “Unknown

The morning after Eve Mutso appeared as “Blanche” in the Scottish Ballet’s Zellerbach performance of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” we met to discuss her work “Unknown” which will be premiered at the San Francisco International Arts Festival on May 27 at Fort Mason’s Cowell Theater. Eve was pleased to talk about this piece and her work.


JGH: How did the SFIAF performance of “Unknown” come about?

EM: I was one of four women who were commissioned by a group called “Tramway” to perform works at the Edinburgh Festival in 2016. Andrew Wood, director of SFIAF, saw it there and invited me to join the Festival this year. It’s worked out well since the Scottish Ballet toured here and in LA and I can stay in San Francisco for the event.

JGH: Tell us some more about your work?

EM: I danced first with the Estonian Ballet. I was born in Tallin and moved to the Scottish Ballet since my husband was studying and then working in UK. For many years I’ve been dancing other choreographers work. I felt that it is time to do my own work.

I realized that at this point in my dance career, I wanted to do something different, to explore my skills and ideas. The work is, in a way, unknown, as the title suggests, since I’m discovering just what those skills and ideas are. The solo is 15 minutes. The first three minutes build the frustration that is expressed later.

JGH: Are you dancing to music? with a particular set?

EM: My musician is Merlin Bonning. He is a freelance Scottish composer. He composes using electronic methods and field recording. He has recorded by heartbeat and my feet in the rosin box. I wanted to hear the cracking of the spine, my heartbeat, and the inside of my body!

I have a very talented set and lighting designer, Matt Strachan, who has built an equilateral triangle, as a set piece that moves during the performances. I dance in bare feet and wear a long dark skirt and hardly use my legs. I want my heart and soul to move in my piece. The energy pours out of my back. These restrictions build the expressive aspects of this work.

JGH: What is the motivation of your dance?

EM: I will always be grateful to the Scottish Ballet. The company and corps have always been dedicated and responsive to me. But now I have new directions. I am a free lancer, so I want to find my voice, apply for residences and support so I can get funding for my new projects in Scotland. I live in Glasgow and my family and I are very happy there. But it is important to go further, to spend time with other artists who help you learn and grow.

JGH: Who are the choreographers who inspired you?

EM: I’ve worked with San Francisco’s Val Caniparoli. He, Forsythe and Balanchine gave me the ‘core’ of my work. I call them the ‘ghosts’ of my work. All these come out of my body as a medley, so I can address these feelings in my new work. I want to touch the audience and give them something to relate to… what I’m trying to say. I am so interested in the human condition.

JGH: Tell me more about your set designer?

EM: Matthew Stachan does a lot of freelance stuff. I was thinking about a ‘frame of mind.’ We built these two equilateral triangles, which lift, above my head. He’s incredible: he thinks like me. He is very present, having seen me dance for fourteen years, so he joins me in collaboration.

JGH: I look forward to seeing you in SFIAF on May 27 and 28. There will be a panel discussion at 6:30 PM before the May 27 performance. Eve Mutso shares the performance evening with Levy Dance (Garance Maneur, choreographer) and Alyce Finwell.

Joanna G Harris, PhD
2714 woolsey st berkeley, ca 94705
510. 205-6065
www. BeyondIsadora. com

The Scottish Ballet – “A Streetcar Named Desire”


May 10-12, 2017 Cal Performances UC Berkeley

Through the body/mind of The Moth

In the play, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” the author, Tennessee Williams, early on, described the leading character, Blanche, as a “moth,” attracted to light but very easily destroyed. The Scottish Ballet’s production uses that image throughout the performance, beginning and ending with Blanche reaching for the light. Choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa had added the ‘backstory’ to the ballet:  “Blanche’s early years at home in Belle Reve and the circumstances and death of her young husband. These events haunt her life continually, even after she enters her sister’s house.” The play usually begins there: in this ballet they form the early scene of Act I. Then, faced with her sister’s house and husband, the circumstance of her despondency and alcohol dependence, and the rape she suffers, takes Blanche to the madness that follows. All these are dramatically danced.

Eve Mutso, the leading ballerina for the company, is a dramatic virtuoso.

Except for the early scene (the young Blanche is danced by Aisling Brangan) Mutso is able to accomplish the descent into madness retaining the fragility of ‘the moth.’ She is given five or six scenes, each demanding both strong ballet technique and the dramatic ability to project this complex character.

Joining her as her sister Stella is Sophie Laplane, Christopher Harrison as Stella’s husband Stanley and the fine corps of dancers who are the community. An early duet between Victor Zarello (Blanche’s husband) and Constant Vigler (his lover) is very powerful. The returning dance quotes from their scene and the husband’s death are recalled and repeated throughout the ballet. They form a strong part of Blanche’s painful memories.

Peter Salem, composer, has written a score that gives each scene a unique character, but does not necessarily become a cohesive whole. As each scene brings varying events in New Orleans, a bowling alley, a poker game, the revelation of Blanche’s past, her courtship with a gentleman, etc., the music emphasized the dramatic situation. This and the many roles created for the corps, crossing and re-crossing the stage, moving boxes, echoing the action, sometimes makes for lack of cohesion for the ballet as a whole. As a work, the whole might be tightened and become more pointed for the central drama.

The stage direction is by Nancy Meckle, set and costume design by Niki Turner, lighting by Time Mitchell. It is a complex yet fascinating work.


The Scottish Ballet: corps in “ A Streetcar Named Desire”

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Joanna G Harris, PhD
2714 woolsey st berkeley, ca 94705
510. 205-6065
www. BeyondIsadora. com

Pascal Rioult Dance Company NY: Bach Dances


April 6,7, 2017 Cal Performances UC Berkeley

Dancers: 10, Projections 8, Choreography ?

Pascal Rioult claims his dance heritage from Martha Graham. That is visible in the flexed feet, the contracted falls to the floor, the use of shoulders and hips and the many leg extensions … as well as the bare chests displayed on the men dancers. All were Graham characteristics.

What Rioult has lost of Graham’s work is the drama and the dynamic.

All four of the works on “Bach Dances” program are very similar in staging. The dancers face downstage, move slowly and almost always ‘on the beat’ of the music. There is endless use of isolation activity of shoulders, hips, feet and legs. The dancers can execute all these with great skill, but it is endlessly boring to watch them, since they don’t “add up.” Dance is essentially about dance-movement, but in Rioult’s work, the projections and videos on the back screen tell more than the dances themselves.

One piece, “City” for four dancers appeared to reflect city dynamics. There outfits were appropriate to city life; they danced before endless moving projections of New York City buildings. In one duet, a couple accomplished (with many convoluted twists and holds) the endless task of rising from the floor. As in the other works, the spotlight moved from dancer to dancer, from duet to duet, reflecting city tensions. The four company members are: Cathrine Cooch, Corinna Lee Nicholson, Michael Spencer Phillips and Sabatino A. Verlezza. “City” was danced to Bach’s “Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 6 in G Major,” recorded as was all the music works.

ieSometimes the music is interspersed with nature sounds, as in “Views of the Fleeting World” where we hear summer insects, rushing wind and a gurgling stream. Would Bach, the composer of the “Art of the Fugue” approve this intrusion? Another quarter. “Polymorphous” to “The Well Tempered Clavier,” danced by Brian Flynn, Charis Haines, Jere Hunt and Sara Elizabeth Seger, displayed the similar split stage arrangement, as in “City.” The couples echoed each other with similar lifts, falls and balances.

Celestral Tides” closed the program with the full company to “Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B flat Major”. The opening section, Allegro, found the dances shadowed by the figured projection. For the next movements they emerged in what appeared as bathing trunks and suits giving us a lively, but already viewed vocabulary of downstage activities. At the very last, they performed some welcome locomotion, leaps and runs to liven the action. The dancers earned great applause that they deserve.

Rioult might give them more varied activities and us more dynamics. He seems, in this program, to offer the same movements over and over (swishing hips, one arm lifting triumphantly over the head, overuse of cannons, movement constantly facing the audience), accompanied by the dizzying projections, left this reviewer less than enchanted, pleased with Bach, amazed at the dancers’ skills, irritated by the projections and disappointed with the choreography of Pascal Rioult.

Production credits: Harry Feiner, Scenic design; David Finley, Lighting design; Brian Clifford Beasley, Projection animation; Karen Young, costumes.

Rouilt Dance Company: ”View of the Fleeting World

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Joanna G Harris, PhD
2714 woolsey st berkeley, ca 94705
510. 205-6065
www. BeyondIsadora. com

“The Temple of Glory” New York Baroque Dance Company

Le Temple de la Gloire – (The Temple of Glory)

New York Baroque Ensemble – Photo by David Taylor

Opera in three acts with a prologue.

This reviewer, overwhelmed as we were by the enormous effort and artistry of this historic production, will concentrate on the New York Baroque Dance Company. Although the event was marked by gorgeous solo voices (some from France), a well-tuned orchestra familiar to Bay Area devotees of the Baroque, supported by the 25 member Philharmonia Chorale and set with amazing design and costumes, it was the baroque dancing, choreographed by Catherine Turocy, that left the greatest impression. Performances of baroque dance are rare indeed!

Baroque dance, a style practiced in the court ballrooms (particularly in France) was the forerunner of the classical ballet style we generally see in today’s ballet companies. It is gentler in its gestures, less overt in style and steps. Yet the graceful turn-out is there, the pointed toe, small jetés and multiple turns. There is also a reference to contra dance, as adapted from country-dances. Arm gestures are careful shaped and sculpted.

The eight Baroque Company dancers took many roles in the opera. Turocy has not only presented that style of dance for courtiers (those who dance before Apollo) but also for shepherds and shepherdesses, muses, bacchantes, and satyrs. In the finale, children, from the Berkeley Ballet School dance around a maypole! The eight dancers (often in masks) change costumes several times during this three-hour masterpiece of music, staging and dance.

Caroline Copeland performed as soloist as a shepherdess with the group. She also appears as a dance ‘muse’ with Carly Fox Horton, Alexis Silver and Maggi Sweeny Smith. Olsi Gjeci is a soloist ‘hero,’ accompanied by Brynt Beitman and Andrew Trego as other heroes. In the second act, the heroes reappear but the others are transformed as bacchantes, satyrs, a faun, a lumberjack and most astonishing, an ostrich! To add to the spectacular dance versatility, Andrew Trego dances as Mars, with full feathered head gear and Meggi Sweeney Smith dances Venus in a huge gown complete with panniers. Ting and Copeland continue their roles as shepherd and shepherdess and the others all are ‘court’ dancers. The finale thus is transformed in the characteristic French 18th century ballroom. It is all an amazing accomplishment, beautifully staged and performed.

Background and Notes on the Opera.

Nicholas McGegan, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale’s (PBO) Music Director, leads PBO’s first-ever fully staged opera in a world-premiere production of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s original 1745 version of “Le Temple de la Gloire” (The Temple of Glory), with a libretto by Voltaire, April 28, 2017 at Cal Performances in Zellerbach Hall on the UC Berkeley campus.

This modern-day premiere was created in partnership with Cal Performances and Le Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles. An international cast of soloists and the New York Baroque Dance Company joined PBO for this lavish period production

The Jean-Philippe Rameau’s “Le Temple de la Gloire” was an extraordinary original source manuscript score and libretto found in the collection of UC Berkeley’s Jean Gray Hargrove Music. This project has been a dream of Nicholas McGegan’s since he first learned of the existence of the original manuscript score and libretto. McGegan hoped to one day mount a major production of the entire opera. He is quoted as saying…

“Being able, finally, to be part of a fully staged production of “Le Temple de la Gloire” is the fulfillment of a dream for me. Nearly 25 years ago, Philharmonia recorded some of the dance music from this magnificent score and now, after many years and several attempts to see it staged. Rameau made it to please both the King, who was unhappy with the political undertones of the original 1745 version, and Parisian tastes at the time. The public wasn’t accustomed to experiencing an allegorical opera without a love story. Voltaire originally intended the work to be a philosophical reform of opera: an allegory centered on the idea of the Temple of Glory, and a grandiose spectacle with moral and political overtones.”

It is terrific that Philharmonia has collaborated with several other organizations to put on this production. Cal Performances is producing the whole event on campus; Le Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles and its dynamic leader Benoît Dratwicki have provided the French members of the cast; the New York Baroque Dance Company is performing the ballets. Julien Dubruque has prepared a fine edition of the score. Catherine Turocy is staging and choreographing the work and Scott Blake is the set designer. Additionally, lighting designer Pierre Dupouey from Parisl created Baroque-inspired lighting to bring the “Le Temple de la Gloire” to life while preeminent costume designer Marie Anne Chiment made elaborate costumes designed to replicate those worn during the French Baroque period. Audiences were amazed and delighted with to the full Baroque effect with all the drama and lavish ornamentation that one might expect from this sumptuous French Baroque opera score.


Nicholas McGegan, conductor; 
Gabrielle Philiponet, soprano; 
Chantal Santon-Jeffery, soprano; 
Camille Ortiz-Lafont, soprano
; Artavazd Sargsyan, haute-contre; 
Aaron Sheehan, haute-contre; 
Philippe-Nicolas Martin, baritone; 
Marc Labonnette, baritone; 
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale, New York Baroque Dance Company, 
Catherine Turocy, director; 
Philharmonia Chorale,
 Bruce Lamott, director; Catherine Turocy, stage director and choreographer;
 Scott Blake, set designer
; Marie Anne Chiment, costume designer;
 Pierre Dupouey, lighting designer.

2714 woolsey st berkeley, ca 94705
510. 205-6065
www. BeyondIsadora. com