Reggie Wilson: Fist and Heel Performance

Saturday, September 23, 2017 Zellerbach Hall
Cal Performances


We heard the hymn ‘Go Down Moses.” We heard “Wade in the Water, “ the familiar theme song of the Alvin Ailey company. We saw a variety of brilliant dance moves choreographed by Wilson. All refer, in one way or another, to his research on Moses, the freedom leader.

Moses(es)” was inspired by Zora Neale Hurston’s “Moses, Man of the Mountain.” As such it entails various aspects of leadership, hopefully leading to freedom, in many places, in many times. Wilson directs the event, starting with an unspoken address to the audience after which he rolled up the set piece and stuffed it in a red suitcase. They are ready to go.

The company, five men and two women, are wonderful performers. The event proceeds without stop to music composed by Wilson and traditional music he has arranged. Wilson directs from the sidelines, sometimes playing percussion instruments. The dance phrases repeat endlessly but with a ‘post-modern’ invention that makes them continually interesting and arresting. There are sequences of floor work and interactive group ensemble.

The men jump with seemingly no preparation. The women are carried and lifted. The whole company speaks and chants at various intervals. The event is endlessly exciting.

Music is provided by a variety of sounds, from recording by Louis Armstrong, to the Klezmatics and the Blind Boys of Alabama. The dancers are Rhetta Aleong, Yeman Brown, Paul Hamilton, Lawrence A.W. Harding, Raja Feather Kelly, Clement Mensah and Annie Wang. The costumes are by Naoko Nagata. A post-performance discussion revealed the multiple places the dancers have come from. Of course, they all work in the Brooklyn based Wilson company home.

Berkely Radical, Cal Performances 2017/2018 schedule will include a series “Joining Generations.” These include future events: Camille A. Brown and Dancers (Dec. 8-10), Spectrum Dance Theater (Feb. 9-10) and culminating with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre (Apr. 10-15). These events will include workshops, discussions and events to highlight the social issues inherent in movement and gesture.

It will be an exciting season if “Fist and Heel” is any indication of the events to come.

Joanna G. Harris

Transform Fest Fall 2017

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, SF
September, 21, 2017 8 PM

Transform Fest’s Program C is a triple bill featuring Amy Seiwert’s Imagery; Larry Arrington/Sandra Lawson Ndu/Minoosh Zomorodinia; and Fogbeast

YBCA Curator invited seven choreographers to deal with the question “Why Citizenship.” He says (in program notes) “Transform is not a festival for passive observation. The curation of the festival is intended to reveal our artists as accountable agents in service of civic impact.”

Three choreographer and their companies appeared on Thursday evening, September 21. “Fog Beast” began the proceedings with Patricia West declaring that the event was “like a corporate meeting.” As such there was talk from Andrew Ward, co-artistic director of Fog Beast, followed by lively athletic dancing with Felecia Estrello, Ben Juddvalkis and West. Accompanying the groups with fascinating original music was Ben Juddvalkis, whose score and playing stole the show.

Larry Arrington/Sandra Lawson-Nou/Minoosh Zomorodina were co -creators of “Opia,” a “kaleidoscopic lens to challenge the myopic gaze that often holds the question in a grip.”  Minoosh, seemed to be the creator of mythic/magical events using many threads, designed to form ‘shapes” that form “our sweetest desires for belonging…” The dance works we’re accomplished by the three leads with Raul Torres and Sammy. Geneva

Harris, performer/musician created magic with her sound.

Amy Seiwert’s group “Imagery” was the major presentation of the evening.

In response to the question “Why Citizenship,” Seiwert chose to choreograph a series of protest songs, among which were “Pie in the Sky,” “Ain’t Gonna Study War No More,” and “ We Shall Not Be Moved.” Using dance/gesture/mime, the group performed these to the brilliant accompaniment of Darren Johnston, whose trumpet playing had accompanied the Women’s March. For this reviewer, Seiwert’s work was the most effective response to the “Why Citizenship” question. Imagery’s group includes Sarah Cecilia, Alysia Chang, Kelsey McFalls, James Gilmer, Scott Marlow, Laura O’Malley and Brett Conway.

Joanna G. Harris


SF Ballet at Stern Grove

Sunday, July 20, 2017 2 pm

It is always a pleasure to see the SF Ballet at Stern Grove.

Somehow, even though the park is full to capacity with people of all ages and sizes and the paths are difficulty to navigate, the event is joyous. On this particular Sunday, the weather was wonderful. Even the musicians found the temperature and the surroundings, as one said, “perfect.”

The dancing was very good too.

Five ballets were offered, each a slightly different style and musical offering. The program opened with Helgi Tomasson’s “Haffner Symphony” to Mozart music (Symphony # 35 in D major). This work has been a favorite in the repertory since 1991. It was delightfully danced by Sasha De Sola partnered by Angelo Greco and members of the corps de ballet.

The brilliant ‘Pas de deux” from Balanchine’s Agon followed. This 1975 was an innovative breakthrough in ballet vocabulary and partnering. No “classical” pattern here: the male dancer falls on the stage floor; the woman creates acrobatic stretches while still holding him. The Stravinsky music in this neoclassical piece demands invention. Sofiane Sylve and Carlo De Lanno executed this challenging work with acute skill.

Tomasson’s work appeared again as event three. This time, his “Concerto Grosso” to a work by Francesco Geminiani after Corelli played by a featured string quartet and danced by five men was an energetic delight. The gentlemen dancers were Max Cauthorn, Jaime Garcia Catilla, Eseban Hernandez, Wei Wang and Lonnie Weeks. Bravo to all. But the solo hit of the afternoon was “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (of Company B) from the dance of that name by modern dance choreography Paul Taylor. Sung by the Andrew Sisters, the work recalls the jazzy dances of World War II. The bugle boy entertains the troops; alas, at the end of his dance he is shot.

Company B, though lively and entertaining, but reminds us of the downside of war. Joseph Walsh, who has done admirable solos during this past 2017 season danced “Bugle Boy” with great animation.

The afternoon concluded with the complex and admirable “Within the Golden Hour,” choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, music by Vivaldi. Three duets, accompanied by the corps, made this a rousing success. The duets were danced by Mathilde Froustey with Myles Thatcher, Sara vanPatten with Luke Ingram, and Maria Kochetkova with Vitor Luis. Each duet had a varied sense of phrasing; each were exacting in execution.

The San Francisco Ballet Orchestra under the direction of Martin West played clearly. The sound filled the huge space that Stern Grove offers; hillsides to the top with devoted followers of the San Francisco Ballet.

Joanna G. Harris


Amy Seiwert’s IMAGRY

Amy Seiwert’s ‘Imagery

Sketch 7 “Wandering

July 21-23, 2017 Cowell Theater, SF

Winterreise” – Franz Schubert, music setting of 24 poems by Wilheim Muller

Amy Seiwert has set an enormous task for herself and her company in choosing the “Winterreise” music, sung by the eminent Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau with Gerald Moore, pianist. The literal translation is “Winter Journey.” The poems tell of lost love, lonely landscapes, loving memories and painful endings. For Seiwart, who has primarily worked with abstract ballet, this narrative dance provides a challenge.

Perhaps because I am familiar with the German choreographer Pina Bausch and the early work of modern dancer Mary Wigman, that I saw “Wandering” as having expressionistic dimensions. The slow walks, the long lines that lead to canonical movement, the various geometric shapes formed by the groups, standing, bending and grouped on the floor, to me, echo that style. Of course the German “weltschmerz” echoed in the songs make have evoke those images.

Another echo from Bausch’s work “Rite of Spring,” is the passing of a costume from one dancer to another, so that each one becomes both the protagonist and the victim. In “Wandering,” it is a red coat that is offered, sometimes refused, but is ultimately accepted by each dancer as he/she becomes the solo central figure of the section.

The vocabulary that Seiwert has developed pushes standard ballet technique to a more expressive mode. The four women wear toe shoes but do not execute the bourses or the posed arabesques of the classical vocabulary. The men do not perform multiple turns or jumps. Instead the ensemble uses rolled shoulders, titled torsos, lifts and contact that carry the poignant emotions of the story. Sometimes it all could be simpler and more varied.

Each dancer is the outstanding figure in the eight sections. James Gilmer, a tall imposing figure starts, followed by Shania Rosmussan, Alysia Chang, Gabriel Smith and Ben Needham-Wood. The second section (wherein the dancers change from white costumes to black) begins with Jackie Nash, followed by Anthony Connarella and finally, the end figure Tina La Forga Morse. Although these dominate the section, the others in the ensemble provide partnering, accompaniment and confrontation. “Wandering” is truly an ensemble work.

A charming note is when a dancer puts the needle on a phonograph record in the stage right wing, as if that is the sound we are about to hear. But technical support is provide by Brian Jones, lighting and scenic design, Susan Roemer, costumes, and Val Caniparoli, choreographic consultant.

The company will be celebrated in New York City at the Joyce Theater on July 27-29 and at Jacob’s Pillow in Massachusetts on August 2. Seiwart has been named the forthcoming director of the Sacramento Ballet. With such accomplishments behind them, San Francisco audiences will look forward to the multiple accomplishments of Amy Siewart’s IMAGRY.

Joanna G. Harris

Photo image from Seiwarts’ “Wandering

San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival

San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival

Week Two: July 15/16, 2017 San Francisco Opera House

Ethnic Dance in Production

If you want to experience ethnic dance in super production, accompanied by electronic sound, super lighting, gorgeous costumes and hoards of dancers, go to the current Ethnic Dance Festival (although the two weekends are over). There are some special highlights of course, where the dance, the dancer, the accompaniment and the sense of authenticity is fabulous. But, alas, for the most part Hollywood, Bollywood and a kind of Radio City Music Hall atmosphere prevails. The sound is over the top.

La Tania, the great Bay Area flamenco dancer made a farewell appearance to the music of one singer and two guitarists. Her grace, her skill, her mastery of the form is amazing. I saw her debut performance; now she says goodbye. It is that kind of experience one seeks. Also, joy to watch were the three dancers of Bitezo Bia Kongo group performing Ntela, (“Tell me”). They were lively and funny. With them were four amazing drummers who stole the show, on stage, and afterwards in the Opera House lobby.

A quiet interlude by Mahealani Uchiyama and Zena Carlotak, playing on instruments popular in Mozambique and Zimbabwe. It was a necessity before the appearance of a huge group of Tahitian dancers from French Polynesia. The drumming resumed; the dancers wiggled in that amazing way and the energy displayed brought hoops and calls from the house.

Of the numbers of the first half, I enjoyed the Ballet Folklorico Mexican Dance, whose dance, in part reflected the ‘revolution’. Women carrying rifles were proud leaders. Partner dancers also celebrated dressed in colorful costumes. Best of all a group of men dancers appeared with horse’s legs as part of their outfits. They made a joyous group to the songs and guitar music, so lively and appropriate.

Indian dance is very special. In these times, authentic and important Kathak and bharatanatyam forms have been taught and practiced.

But as produced by the Aditya Patel Company, Indian dance becomes a Bollywood number. The celebration, in honor of the Lord Ganesha, loses the lovely intricate quality of hands, eyes and gestures. I must assume this is what is currently practiced.The Natya group also delivered an exuberant performance demonstrating the strength of the Lord Shiva but to extremes. or this reviewer, the subtlety of gesture is lost in the mob scene.

Sunday traffic prevented me from seeing the opening numbers, Ballet Afsaneh and Yao Yung dance. I was told they were in ballet style.

Next year, the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival celebrates its 40th year. It has earned many kudos for bringing community groups to the stage to represent the amazing diversity of the Bay Area community. For this writer, more attention to the quality and nature of the intrinsic ethnicity and less to highlighted staging, would bring that diversity to the fore.

Joanna G. Harris

La Tania. Ballet Flamenco

Walking Distance Dance Festival


June 2-10, 2017 ODC Commons and Theater, San Francisco

Platform” Liane Burns and Charles Slender-White – “Deep South” Film, Alex Ketley

Deep South” from left: Aline Wachsmuth, Katie Faulkner and, downstage, Maurya Kerr Macintosh HD:Users:joanna:Desktop:From left, Aline Wachsmuth, Katie Faulkner and, downstage, Maurya Kerr in The Foundry's Deep South. Photo by Oxana Ermolova.jpg

ODC is sponsored the “Walking Distance Dance Festival” June 2-10 to “offer us the opportunity to experience the juxtaposition of different choreographic voices.” (Quote from program notes by Maire Tollon, ODC Writer-In-Residence.) The pieces are short (usually one hours works) that have been developed in the last two years and address contemporary issues.

Platform” a duet for Burns and Slender-White was made in response to the album of the same name by Holly Herndon.

The two perform within a square wall framed by white hangings on which video excerpts of the dancer’s phrases are projected simultaneously as they are done live. Both display intense concentration, discipline and skill with their movement choices, a limited vocabulary of swings, twists, falls, stretches, and walks.

They allow themselves a period of rest on the floor. Theirs is an exercise in precision and selected limited choice. The performance deserves close watching, but this reviewer asks, “Is this event for others to watch?” or for the dancers to accomplish?

Deep South” has a deep social message. Ketley, creator of The Foundry, has brought contemporary dance to rural communities that have little or no previous exposure. There are previous episodes as part of a work, “No Hero.” “Deep South” completes the work. The dance is accompanied by a filmic artifact of their traveling interlaced with live performance.

The stage space is divided into sections that correspond to the various episodes encountered. Some dancers narrated the pieces, which, alas, are sometimes too soft to be heard, or too confused to be understood. If dancers speak, they must train to do so. The film sections nicely portray the encounters. It is not clear how the dance episodes reflect back to those encounters. One section, danced by Katie Faulkner is beautifully performed. Again, this reviewer finds the movement expression very personal and not very communicative, although the subject matter is vital and well intentioned. The dance group consists of Aline Wachsmuth, Katie Faulkner, Maurya Kwee, Natalie Grant, Katie Meyers Robyn Gerbaz, Manuelito Biag and David Maurice. Those who did the research in the South were Alex Ketley, Miguel Gutierrez, Sarah Woods and Michelle Boule.

Question: Do rural communities need or find concert modern dance useful? And how? Or is this projection from the dancers?


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