Axis Dance Company “Onward & Upward”

October 28, 2017
Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, Oakland
New Director: New Directions

Mark Brew is the new Artistic Director and Choreographer for the Axis Dance Company. Judith Smith, Founder and Director has retired (though she’s still dancing) after 30 years.

The current company of six dancers presented choreography for “Onward & Upward” with works by Stephen Petronio, Amy Seiwert and the new director, Mark Brew.

Smith was one of Petronio’s dancers in a 2001 excerpt from “Secret Ponies,” soundscore by David Linton (interpolating Janis Joplin and the Gilberto family). The text of the soundscore tells of many wishes for the five ladies, I.e., “a color TV,” “ a Mercedes-Benz.” The dance proceeds with longing gestures into the spaces as well as between and among the women. It’s a charming piece.

Seiwert’s “The Reflective Surface” (2013) is to an original score by Darren Johnston. It, like Brew’s work that followed, uses the current vocabulary of contemporary dance: tight groupings, many lifts and falls, much body contact … and for this company, extraordinary use of the dancers in wheelchairs. Outstanding (to some extent all the dancers are) is Lani Dickinson whose small compact body receives and responds to be lifted and carried with much grace.

The other women dancers are Carina Ho, Yuko Monden: the men: James Bowen, Scotty Hardwig, and Dwayne Scheuneman. Whether they are physically disabled, in wheelchairs or not, these dancers accomplish marvelous movement.

In Marc Brew’s 2017 “Radical Impact,” the dancers continued their presentation and exploration of the many ways bodies interact. Most notable for this reviewer was the men’s duet between Bowen and Hardwig. Unlike other more push/pull, act/react duets, theirs had a lyric quality to movement and interaction. More of this would make the dancing more dancerly and less acrobatic, less motivated by contact improvisation and more by other dance qualities.

The score by JooWan Kim was played live (and amplified) by a string quartet: Clare Armstrong (violin), Mia Nordi-Huffman (violin), Justine Prestion (viola), Evan Kahn (cello).

Congratulations to Axis Dance Company and best wishes for success.

Joanna G. Harris

Dorrance Dance

Friday, October 27, 2017
Cal Performances, UC Berkeley


Michelle Dorrance brought her company to the Bay Area last year. The group performed at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, but Dorrance herself did not perform. This year at Zellerbach Hall, the full company, including Dorrance tapped their way into the eyes, hearts and exuberant delight of an enthusiastic audience.

The program consisted of three events, two from former years, concluding with a 2017 co-commissioned by Cal Performances of “Myelination.” This last work with music by Prawn til Dante (and others) played by Donovan Dorrance, Aaron Marcellus, Gregory Richardson and Nicholas Van Young with Warren Craft, was a true ‘jazz’ and ‘jump” fest including improvisations by the dancers and ‘riffs’ in both the music and dance.

All the dancers are amazingly skilled. The four women and six men work solos and duets which are often competitive, sometimes supportive and now and then ‘dancing the blues’. The company members are tall and short, black and white and in-between. But they all sure can dance.

As the press release says, “this is not your father’s tap dance.” Dorrance has moved the vocabulary so that there is evidence of hip-hop, break dance, acrobatics and ballroom figures, stunts, tumbling and even military marches. The 2012 number, “Jungle Blues” keeps the line going as individuals break out for their turn. There is a super solo for dancer Christopher Broughton. The piece is set to the Branford Marsalis Quartet.

Dorrance gives herself her solo in “Three for One,” music by Aphex Twin and Thom Yorke. She starts with dancers Byron Tittle and Matthew “Megawatt” West by her sides. Only legs are visible. The two men jig and jog around her and then leave as Dorrance stays center slowing moving upstage, her feet and legs executing marvelous rhythms.

She gives her other women colleagues bigger parts in “Myelination,” so that the woman, Claudia Rahardjanoto, Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie and Elizabeth Burke have unique solos, some duets special roles. Each of these women are delightfully different: small, tall, exuberant, cool. The men too are very varied in size and skill. It’s a pleasure to see such variety on stage.

The dancers not mentioned are Christopher Broughton, Warren Craft, Gregory Richardson, Nicholas Van Young and Gabriel Winns Ortiz.

Cheers, applause and bravo to them all and especially Michelle Dorrance for an exciting, innovative evening of dance.

Joanna G. Harris

From Shadows: choreography by Marika Brussel

From Shadows” A Ballet about Homelessness

Marika Brussel and Company
ODC, SF October 12/13, 2017

Ballet Narrative

Classical ballet choreographers usually devote their efforts to fantasy or fiction having a romantic or romanticized through line. Here, Brussel has taken on a story about homelessness, a very current and prevalent topic.

It works when the dance gestures move away from the classic vocabulary, i.e., arabesques, developées, pas de bourée and accompanying arm movements. But dancers in toe shoes with that vocabulary resound from other times and intrude on this contemporary story.

The work starts with a family story. “From Shadows,” the father figure becomes subject to Addiction, portrayed very convincingly by Sharon Kung. Unlike the mother figure, Alexandra FitzGibbon, she wears no toe shoes, or at most does not use them as expressive gesture. The young child is danced by Ruby Rosenquist; the father by Calvin Thomas. King and Thomas continue as characters in the homeless campsite that follow in the second act.

Nina Pearlman, also in toe shoes, portrays the child as adult, searching for her father, who is ultimately found and saved. In the course of this adventure we meet the homeless: Emily Kerr, Theresa Knudson, Jackie McConnell, Nick Wagner, Allie Papazian and Emily Hansel. Some of these are encumbered by the shoes; others dance with more realistic outfits.

Wagner pushes a grocery cart filled with junk; he is able to fold a fellow dancer into it! That action and other simply pas de deux become convincing. King and Thomas continue to be the most dramatic, interesting couple as they crawl through the homeless scene.

Brussel has shown real concern here. Her program, published as the sheet “Street” is very clever as is the information on Homelessness in San Francisco in that paper. But until the movement vocabulary fits the time, place and situation of the story, “Shadows” does not really work as a contemporary narrative.

Joanna G. Harris

From Shadows” choreography by Marika Brussel
From left: Nina Pearlman, (on floor) Sharon Kung, Calvin Thomas
Photo credit: Lynne Fried

ODC “Boulders and Bones” Oct 11. 2017

ODC at Cal Performances
“boulders and bones

October 11, 2017 Zellerbach Auditorium

Rob Ballis, Associate Director, Cal Performances, Brenda Way and KT Nelson, choreographers, introduced “boulders and bones” with a pre-curtain talk, describing ‘the shifting light, changing landscape, and the raw natural materials of an Andy Goldsworthy installation.” With rustling audiences and rasping mikes, the conversation did not become clear until we saw the film clips of Goldsworthy rocky cairn in Northern California as part of the performance. Since the images go by quickly, we would have enjoyed a clear picture of the sculptures cairn during the discussion.

Way and Nelson, in program notes, say “the impermanence of dance itself makes a fitting metaphor for the temporal changes and evolving dynamic extremes of Northern California.” The dance proceeds with many entrances and exits by the eleven member ODC company, although they rarely appear on stage altogether. The dance phrases consist of running assaults during which one or another or several dances are lifted, swung, helped, carried, dropped and rolled. There is much floor activity.

During these various confrontational activities we are able to see first, the Galsworthy team construction the rock formation cairn, then still projections of the completed work, then the cellist/composer Zoe Keating framed within the projections as she plays and the dance proceeds. There is a remarkable solo for Josie G. Sadan whose skill dominates the other dancers in detail and focus. Dressed in red (and sometimes just red underclothes) she appears to be the focus of both duet and group attention.

All her movement is technically brilliant; somehow it does not make a great dramatic impact.

Today’s modern dance (and even ballet’s) vocabulary seems to consist of sweeping locomotor activities (running, falling, leaping) in mass groups, punctuated by stupendous lifts in which the lifted person is carried and passed on to another lifter. It is very exciting activity but endless repetitions fail to ‘add’ up to meaningful expression. For this reviewer, a dance event, however staged, must give the audience some clear spatial focus so that dance images and events can become clear.

”boulders and bones” is a thoughtful collaboration but it does not make a strong impact as a ‘total work.’ Rhythm, space, groupings and soloists could come into stronger focus and more unified ensemble to make this dance more meaningful.

Besides Sadan, the dancers are: Jeremy Smith, Natasha Adorelee Johnson, Brandon Freeman, Jeremy Bannon-Neches, Tegan Schwab, Daniel Santos, Rachel First, Lani Yamanaka, James Gilmore and Mia J. Chong (apprentice). Alexander Nichols did the lighting. ODC will bring the production to BAM in the near future.

Joanna G. Harris

ODC /Dance in “bounders and bones” (Josie G. Sadan) solo figure


American Women Playwrights: Salon Study Oct 16-Nov 20

Salon Study: October 16, 23, 30 November 6, 13 , 20 Six Mondays, 7-9 pm
2714 Woolsey Berkeley (near College Ave) 510 205-6065
Contributions welcome


A reading script (usually one act) will be distributed at each session.

  1.  Oct. 16. Lillian Hellman: “The Little Foxes” (1939); “Watch on the Rhine” (1941) Video; “The Little Foxes” (Plan visit to Berkeley Rep production of “Rhine” 11/17-12/31)
  2. Oct. 23. Ntozake Change: “For Colored Girls who have considered suicide/When the Rain is Enuf” (1976) Read play (called “choreopoem”) Read play: watch video: discuss
  3. Oct. 30. Lynn Nottage: “Sweat” (Pulitzer Prize 2015) and/or “Ruined” (2008) Read: Discuss Video if available.
  4. Nov. 6. Wendy Wasserstein “The Heidi Chronicles” (1989}: “The Sisters Rosensweig” (1993) Read: Discuss: Many videos and interviews with Wasserstein. Contrast with those above
  5.  Nov. 13. Paula Vogel: “How I Learned to Drive” (1997) In production Custom Made Theater, SF 9/7 to 10/14 (extended) . Read: Review: discuss. Also: Mineola Twins (Vogel) at Cutting Ball Theater, SF through Oct 29. and Sarah Ruhl: “Eurydice”(2008) or (another choice of her recent plays)
  6. Nov. 20 Your suggestions please. Let’s decide on these before Nov 20. There are many other women playwrights whose work is current. (e.g.”Blasted”: “The Unveiling” et al/ Please search local productions, make a selection and bring to salon. Check Shotgun Theater, Aurora Theater, ACT and any other. Check Goldstar for cheap tickets and listings.

Hope to see some (all) of you Oct/Nov. 2017.

Joanna Harris

  • Notes on play reading:
  • What is the ‘through line’? What is the play about? Not the narrative, but the major subject?
  • Who/what do the characters represent? Do you like/dislike them? Why? What do they represent? Do you identify with any of them? Why?
  • How is the play presented? Can you imagine its set, costumes, diction, sound, movement?
  • Where /when is the play set (eg. 1900/American South) how does that shape the play?
  • General reactions?

Kate Weare and Company “Marksman”

Kate Weare Company ODC, SF

Oct 5-7, 2017

Hitting the “Mark(s)”

Kate Weare is a local Oakland/Berkeley woman whose work has been seen here in SF since her company’s founding in 2005. She is an award winning, now a “New York”choreographer, whose work has been well noted and praised for “intimate encounters, forceful, unabashedly sensual negotiations that can resemble wrestling matches or martial-arts battles.” (The New Yorker).  Despite the continual push-pull encounters between and three men and three women of the company, the overall impression is that of searching, seeking and ultimately finding satisfying resolutions.

Weare, in an ‘after-performance’ discussion spoke of ‘action-reaction,’ finding and letting go of control, and about form and space and time. In what seems to be at least fifteen sections, “Marksman” embodies encounters between men/women duets, men/men duets, trios of all combinations, the full group of six and occasionally brilliant solos. Arching the upper body backwards seems to be a movement theme: the dancer is thus vulnerable to a sharp attack which might happen with a finger, a hand, a knee or the whole body. Any attack leads too counter-attack, yet these, those aggressive, find continuing responsive movements that are both supportive and pleasing.

There is a continual focus on detailed movement phrases that then dissolve into group locomotion. Space patterns can cover the whole stage and then on one downstage circle or center stage duet. The dancers move through the space as if to clear it for the next encounter. Each dancer has a solo, though some of these last only moments. Outstanding solos were performed by Douglas Gillespie and Kayla Farrish, though all the dancers, Julian De Leon, Nicole Diaz, Thryn Saxon and Ryan Rouland Smith, had outstanding virtuoso interludes.

The original music and sound for a variety of instruments was constructed in collaboration with We are by saxophonist Curtis Robert Macdonald. The score both amplified the dancers’ activities and intensified episodes. Special congratulations are to be given to the lighting design by Mike Faba. With so many intriguing episodes to see, his lighting focused and supported the many special, spacial shapes and brought clarity to design. The costumes were grey pants and shirts for the men but the women wore intriguing tops which reveal their bare backs, spine, scapulas, necks and shoulders. For this reviewer it is a great treat to watch the anatomy of dancers at work.

Weare will return to ODC in 2018. Her company brings a very sophisticated and expanded sense of dance skills and deeply explored and researched choreography performed by gorgeously skilled performers. Watch for them with anticipation of where they can go from here!

Joanna G. Harris

From left: Nicole Diaz, Kayla Farrish, Ryan Rouland Smith and Thryn Saxon in Kate Weare’s Marksman.
Photo by Keira Heu-Jwyn Chang