Alvin Ailey Dance Theater Program C

Alvin Ailey Dance Theater
Program C Friday April 13, 2018 8 PM
UC Berkeley Zellerbach Hall

New Works on the Ailey Program

An unusual program of works, old and new, Ailey, Battle, Tharp and Sansano were danced on Friday April 13, along with the season’s favorite, “Revelations.” Program C ’s new work was “Victoria” (2017), the West Coast Premiere. Choreographer Gustavo Ramírez Sansano (San Fulgencio, Spain), is artistic director of Luna Negra Dance Theater from 2009–13. He currently works as a freelance choreographer and directs Titoyaya Dansa.

Sansano’s piece centers on work, as physical labor and as joyous encounters with reality. One dancer remarked that it is a ‘victory’ for the work process. This reviewer saw it, with its “Victoria” name, as the mechanization of human encounters. Danced by; Jacquelin Harris, Jamar Roberts, Belén Pereyra-Alem and others, in work clothes, it is a strong new opener for Ailey programs.

Twyla Tharp has been making dances for company’s other than her own for a decade or more. I first saw “The Golden Section” performed by her company when it was new, in 1983. Restaged for Ailey by former Tharp company member, Shelly Washington, it is a powerful series of busy locomotor activities. “The Golden Section” refers to a mathematical proportion which Tharp may (or may not) be using to construct this piece. The music is by David Byrne. It moves fast and furious. The Tharp company performed it as if they were aspects of the wind: the Ailey company, bigger and more powerful move as fast but make a stronger impact. The thirteen member cast really fill the stage.

Ella” to music sung by Ella Fitzgerald is an homage to the great lady. Artistic Director Robert Battle has created a duet for Renaldo Maurice and Michael Francis McBride and three others that captures the blues of Fitzgerald’s “Airmail Special.” The dance is a sweet interlude before the celebration of “Revelations.”

There is little more to be said about Ailey’s signature piece. After more that 15 or 20 times seeing the work, it remains, for this viewer, a extraordinary presentation of brilliant dancing, spiritual commitment, joyous excitement and great staging. Clifton Brown has the technical expertise necessary for “I wanna be ready,” but he does not deliver the emotional depth this piece once held by others. But altogether, “Revelations” is one of the great dance masterpieces of the 20th century. I look forward to seeing it through the 21st century and beyond.

Joanna G. Harris

Pepcom Digital Experience! West

Coming to San Francisco May 10th. We will be commenting on and reviewing the technology we see there.

Among the exhibitors will be

Cedar Electronics – dash cams
Kingston – entry-level consumer grade PCIe NVMe SSD utilizing 3D NAND along with its first 3D NAND-enabled SSD featuring full-disk encryption
Monoprice – Monolith Dynamic Headphones and Stitch Smart Home devices
Netgear – routers and Mesh WiFi Systems
Ooma will be showcasing the full range of Ooma Home security products
Signia will be showing the Pure? Charge&Go Nx lithium-ion rechargeable hearing aid,

SF Ballet Unbound: Program D

SF Ballet Unbound D
April 26, 2018
SF Opera House

Multiple Choices

SF Ballet has completed the “Unbound” series. Twelve “new” choreographers have presented their works. The series will officially end on May 5, so there is time to see some of these events in the week ahead. All in all there was spectacular dancing, some gorgeous sets and lighting, two or three choreographic achievements and a lot of acrobatic exhibition of the ‘inner thigh’ through multiple extraordinary lifts. Lamenting of days of yore in the ballet, a colleague remarked, “Where are those exquisite ‘pas de deux’ we used to see.

Unbound D brought three works, all dealing with human frailty in various terms. “The Infinite Ocean, “ a work by choreographer Edward Liang to music by Oliver Davis, seemed to be preoccupied by thoughts concerning life after death (at least his program note declared that was so). In the background was the projection of a huge sun (the same image was used for the eclipse in McIntyre’s “Your Flesh Shall be a Great Poem”).

The back of the stage was a ramp over which the dancers ran and disappeared. Various duets demonstrate attitudes described as “soulmates,” “choppy relationships,” even “pure essence.” Although Liang used wonderful arm and torso movements, each of these duets, to this reviewer, was not differentiated sufficiently to communicate the varied intentions and attitudes. There were distinguished duets for Sofiane Sylve with Tiit Helmets, and with Yuan Yuan Tan and Victor Luiz. Beautiful technique and yet, somehow, neither the music nor the choreography made Liang’s themes clear.

Let’s Begin at the End, “ a work by Dwight Rhoden to music by Bach, Glass and Nyman, suffered from similar problems. This time the background was a set of doors through which the dancers came and went. One dancer was usually left out. Rhoden tells us his intent was “love and connection, misconnection, discord and harmony.” Those are complex themes to illustrate especially when the vocabulary is not clearly differentiated in execution, in dynamics, in spacial organization and in rhythms. Frances Chung, Angelo Greco, Sasha De Sola, Benjamin Freemantle, Jennifer Stahl and Ulrick Birkkjaer were the duets against which Esteban Hernandez contrasted isolation. Although the changes of music were intended to make it clear, they did not. David Briskin conducted; Mariya Borozina was the violinist; Natal’ya Feyginea, the pianist.

Arthur Pita’s “Bjork Ballet” amused and delighted the enthusiastic Unbound audience. Set to songs by the Icelandic singer and composer, Pita built the work like a circus act. There is a fisherman with two masks; a pixie on a portable platform; a “rave” jumping sequence that echoes Bjork’s song. Pita’s note says, “its about love or joy, sex or death.” All the material is delightful, but there’s almost too much to capture. Dancers Dores André, Maria Kochetkova, (who will be missed) Sarah Van Patten, Ulrik Birkkjaer, Luke Ingham and Wei Wang do their best, as do all the corps members. But an audience can only absorb so much material especially, in this case, when the stage is often too dark to see all the innuendos in the choreography.

The Unbound series has been a great celebration of skills from all dimensions of the SF Ballet, the dancers, choreographers, musicians (who learned many new scores), the conductors, designers, publicists and sponsors, Congratulations are due to all for this accomplishment. Of all the works, however, this reviewer looks forward to seeing three in next year’s program: Cathy Marston’s “Snowblind” for drama; David Dawson’s “Anima Animus” for dynamic dancing and Christopher Wheeldon’s “Bound to” for humor. All the works deserve applause, but those three are most memorable.

Joanna G. Harris

Maria Kochetkova in Pita’s Björk Ballet. (© Erik Tomasson)

SF Ballet Unbound: Program C

Unbound C
SF Ballet, Opera House
April 24, 2018

Three down: one to go!

Program C of the Unbound series offered some very pleasant forays into ballet’s technical demands, strange but incomplete story telling and a dance essay on Picasso’s painting,”Guernica.” The overall impression offered by the three choreographers, Stanton Welch, Trey McIntyre and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa is that today’s dance demands technical accomplishment and that drama and musicality, though attempted, is not the primary concern of these artists, or if they are, they are not accomplished.

Welsh’s “Bespoke” was pure skill displayed to Bach’s “Violin Concerto in A Minor” very familiar and a well played by violinist Cordula Merks. Alexandre Cagnat, Jaime Garcia Castila and Carlo Di Lanno provided the high energy jumps, leaps and partnering for Francis Chung, Sasha De Sola and Isabella DeVivo. They were joined by Angelo Greco Esteban Hernandez and Lonnie Weeks partnering Mathilde Froustey, Ellen Rose Hummel and Jennifer Stahl. They all danced brilliantly demonstrating ballet’s “now” vocabulary: multiple lifts with stretched legs, superb ‘ballon,’ and an infinite number of turns by both the men and women. As a colleague pointed out, it was just fine but there was no counterpoint! Rhythmic variety keeps a dance’s pulse exciting.

Your Flesh Shall be a Great Poem” concerned a family story choreographed by Trey McIntyre. Last year’s eclipse which coincided with the start of rehearsals, helped McIntyre recall his grandfather and “the contrast of dark and light” that shapes a life. The title is a quote from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” An outstanding duet between two men (Benjamin Freemantle and Steven Morse) becomes a poignant interaction as imagined and remembered. Freemantle ends as soloist with a step stool that becomes more than a prop: it is a fixture of memory. Many other incidents inform this piece, but they are not always clear as performed. Other cast members were Isabella DeVivo, Jaime Garcia Castilla, Jennifer Stahl, Sasha De Sola, Lonnie Weeks, Esteban Hernandez and Alexandre Cognat. Memory is a tricky business to bring to life on stage. Songs by Chris Garneau provided musical accompaniment.

Accompanied by a variety of musical selections, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa choreographed “Guernica” with reference to Picasso’s famous painting. To echo the bull’s image and recall bull fighting, a national sport of Picasso’s Spain, the dancers wear bull horns, symbolic of the “violence, power, aggression and victim” that is demonstrated in the painting. Many recall the terrible bomblng that destroyed the Guernica village. Influenced by these elements and some of the romance surrounding Picasso (Dora Maar and Marie-Theses Walter,) Ochoa centers her work on a long ‘pas-de-duex” that ultimately concludes the work. Through group poses and ‘tableaux’ she attempts to bring a cubistic shape to the work as well as through constantly rotating bodies in the space. It is not always successful but the flamenco elements in the arms help to ‘color’ this work. It is masterfully danced by Doris André, Vitor Luis, Julia Row and Myles Thatcher with other corps dancers. Ochoa is to be congratulated.

Alexander Nichols deserves praise for his scenic design; Mark Zappone for costumes. James Ingalis provides brilliant lighting for all the numbers on the program

Now on to Program D and the evaluations of Tomasson’s adventures of “Unbound.”

Joanna G. Harris

Dores André and Vitor Luiz in Lopez Ochoa’s Guernica. (© Erik Tomasson)
© Erik Tomasson


SF Ballet Unbound: Program B

SF Ballet
Unbound. Program B
Saturday, April 21, 2018
San Francisco Opera House

Winners and Losers

This far we have seen two of the four “Unbound” programs that SF Ballet is proudly presenting to introduce audiences to relatively new choreographers and their choreography. On each program, two of the works seem to achieve superb performances; one fails although the audience cheers wildly whatever they have seen.

The achievement of Program B was shared between the dramatic work, “Snowbound,” a dramatization of Edith Wharton’s “Ethan Frome,” choreographed by Cathy Marston. Both she and composer Philip Feeny are British; she has choreographed dramatic works for many companies in Europe. This is her first work for SF Ballet.

Beside the very effective dramatic portrayals by Sarah Van Patten, (the wife), Mattie Silver, (the home help) and Ulrich Birkkjaer, (the farmer, husband), the company is beautifully engaged as the Snow, Neighbors, and Farmhands. They drift in and out of the dramatic action providing lyric qualities as Snow, and intrusive yet concerned fold as Neighbors and Farmhands. But it is the intelligent use of dramatic action, especially for Sarah Van Patten that makes this drama poignant and believable. It is a great achievement for Patten and the cast. Van Patten’s role as the sickly wife goes from resignation to protest to support in an amazing series of dance phases. Birkkjaer and Silver, caught in their love affair, enact the power that challenges and undoes them. Bravo to all! It deserves further showings and inclusion in the SF Ballet’s future repertory

The finale work on this send of the Unbound events, was David Dawson’s “Anima Animus” to music by Ezio Boss. The leading dancers were Maria Kochetkova and Sofiane Sylve accompanied by Carlo De Lanno, Luke Ingham Henry Sidford and Wei Wang. The dancers swooped, ran, circled the stage and were caught in brilliant lifts, turns, spacial designs that amazed the eye and use energy and dance vocabulary that kept pouring forth. It was a dynamic display of the best ballet technique dynamically achieved. What a joy to see Kochetkova! Since she will be leaving the company after these performances, it was a gift to watch her in this role. Of curse Sylve (though inches taller that Kochetkova) accomplishes her amazing skills. The men assist throughout and deserves superman credit. Perhaps that’s why the work is entitled
Anima, Animus.” Both men and women here achieve dance greatness.

Alas, Myles Thatcher’s “Otherness” did not please. Thatcher spoke before the show of the need to display the dancers’ bodies in gay roles; i.e. that men and women are capable of equal skill in ballet technique as they are in all roles in today’s society. The SF Ballet audience would hardly dispute this. Thatcher’s work cultivated the obvious.

There was a group in pink, and a group in blue. As the two leading men, Max Cauthorn and Sean Orza confront one another, their costumes display parts of both. They are confronted with each group and receive humiliating blows, real fisticuffs. As a finale, all shed the pink/blue costumes and appear in yellow-green. It is, as may be said today, “in your face.” Jahna Frantziskonis (dancing marvelously in new roles) and James SoFrako also provide solo parts. Even John Adams “Absolute Jest” music cannot save this wok of social propaganda. I would suggest Thatcher see Sean Dorsey’s work “Boys in Trouble” to see how dance on gay themes can be performed.

James F. Ingalls provided the brilliant lighting design for all three works. Martin West and soloists from the SF Ballet Orchestra did distinguished work for all numbers.

Now on to next week and Unbound Program C!

Joanna G. Harris

SF Ballet Unbound: Program A

San Francisco Ballet Unbound: a festival of new works
Unbound A: Friday, April 20, 2018
War Memorial Opera House, SF

At last!

The Unbound Festival has arrived and with it a surfeit of high energy dance, a significant lack of point shoes, the introduction of lots of ‘new’ and popular music and the wonderful skill of the San Francisco Ballet Company’s dancers. There are three more “Unbound” events: Saturday, April 21, Tuesday April 24 and Thursday, April 26.

Also scheduled is a long weekend series of ballet symposiums April 27 and 28. Go!

Local choreographer Alonzo King’s work was first on the opening night program. Entitled “The Collective Agreement,” to original music by Jason Maran, the dance bore all of the King traits we have experienced in his many years of local work. First there was an excellent ‘pas de deux’ with Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helmets, all beautifully acrobatic, full of lifts and interactive play. Then another duet with Jahna Frantziskonis and Joseph Warton, this a bit less ambitious in technique but pleasing. What followed was King’s usual hodgepodge of entrances and exits, with some solos, large and small groups and many, many unclear dance phrases. A man appears wearing a skirt and twirls. Then he is gone and never reappears. This seemingly fragmented structure has been presented in King’s many Bay Area performances. The “Collective Agreement” in this Unbound presentation did not collect nor was it a very agreeable event.

By contrast “Bound To” by Christopher Wheeldon, was a smashing success! Keaton Henson’s music supports the liquid flow of the dance events and, particularly in the gorgeous duet for Yuan Yuan Tan and Carlo Di Lanno, “Take a Deep Breath,” the music underscores the fluidity of the movement. Wheeldon starts with a satiric take on IPhones (or IPads) with the dancers ‘reading’ their moves ‘on the screen.” “Open your Eyes, “ the next event, is a playful effort by Dores André to rid the iPad from Benjamin Freemantie. Next there’s a brilliant solo by Angelo Greco, entitled “Wavelength.” In all these episodes, Wheeldon is able to construct movement phrases that collect energy, show visible design patterns and bring focus to both the dancers, the lighting and the space. Brilliant set design and words on the back wall (scenic and costume design by Jean-Marc Puissant) help convey the underlying messages.

Wheeldon is to be complemented on bringing this delightful work to San Francisco. Although we have seen his works here on previous occasions, the “Bound to…” is a highlight in his choreographic repertory. At the very end, a solo by Lonnie Weeks, “Trying to Breathe” is finessed, when, at the last moment, his IPad is taken away.

Between the contemporary jokes and the lyric brilliance, Wheeldon has achieved a masterpiece. Conductor David Briskin and the SF Ballet Orchestra and soloists handled the score with great skill. The SF Ballet company was at its best.

I wish Justin Peck’s work, “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” was more fun. Set to a variety of popular songs (Anthony Gonzalez, Yann Gonzalez, Bradley Later, Justin Meldal-Johnson), the dancers, clad in sneakers, designer tights, T shirts and other ‘mod’ clothes could have a better time (and we could to) if the dancing was not so ‘balletic.”

This music needs to let bodies free to wiggle, wiggle and play with free rhythms. Instead Peck stays close to his ballet training and presents movement material too familiar to other ‘straight’ ballet works. As it used to be said, “It just didn’t jive.”

Of course the marvelous skills of Dores Andre´, Wei Wang, Sarah Van Patten, Luke Inghanm Gabriela Gonzalez and Ulrick Birkkjaer were visible throughout, but if this work was aimed at the ‘younger’ audience, it missed the ‘moves.’

The enthusiastic audience welcomed “Unbound A” with standing ovations. It was able to applaud each choreographer and their design team as they made appearances at the curtain calls. We look forward to more.

Joanna G. Harris

Angelo Greco, Benjamin Fremantle, Caro Di Lanno
Jaime Garcia Castilla, Lonnie Weeks, Yuan Yuan Tan
In Wheeldon’s “Bound To

Photo: Eric Tomasson