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


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)