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

Sean Dorsey Dance “Boys in Trouble”

“Boys in Trouble”
Sean Dorsey Dance
April 19-23, 2018
Z Space, SF

Talk about Us: Then Dance

Sean Dorsey has a lot to say. As a trans-gender, queer choreographer he has created wonderful events for himself and his dancers (Brian Fisher, Arvéjon Jones, Nol Simonse, Will Willard), which he will now take on a 2 year, 20 city tour, including a stop at the Joyce Theater (NYC). Dorsey is the founder and artistic director of Fresh Meat Productions.

When he and the company are not telling their stories, illustrating personal incidents and lecturing on beliefs, they dance marvelously. But dance becomes talk and talk dissolves into dance episodes. The Izzy awarded duet with Arvéjon Jones and Will Willard grabs attention and admiration since they just dance. The dance speaks of their affection and skill. Also, Nol Simonse’s foray into toe shoes, wearing a purple dress in “The Story of My Body” also says it beautifully. The issues masculinity, femininity, whiteness, blackness, and personal pride are all explored: the dances illustrate and express the complexity of the issues.

Dorsey is able to go from talk to dance. When the dance sections are achieved, the lighting (often a long upstage-downstage diagonal) the strength, lyrical skill, body shapes and stage spaces illustrate the group’s wonderful ability. Music by Dr. Alex Kelly, Jesse Olsen Bay, Ben Kessler, Grey Reverend and Anomie Belle underscore and support all the performances.There is humor, satire, sadness and messages delivered, but best of all, Sean Dorsey and the “Boys in Trouble” deliver beautiful dance.

Joanna G. Harris

Sean Dorsey “Boys in Trouble”


Mark Foehringer’s ‘Alice’

Mark Foehringer’s Alice in Wonderland, inspired by Lewis Carroll’s timeless story, Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland.
The new production premiered at the Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center, April 7, 2018.

The production featured collaborations with puppeteer Simon Trumble (The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Bay Area Children’s Theatre, Berkeley), musical director Michael Morgan (Oakland Symphony), costume designer Stephanie Verriere (Verrieres & Sako), scenic designer Peter Crompton (award recipient of Bay Area Critic’s Choice, Shellies and many Goodman Choice awards), Projection Designer Frederic O. Boulay, and lighting designer Matthew Antaky (Opera Parallele, Cabrillo Music Festival).

To follow the events on stage it helped to be well acquainted with Alice and her adventures. The opening tea party was not that in Wonderland, but apparently on the lawn in Oxford, England where Lewis Carroll taught and met the real Alice. One had to look carefully for the Mad Hatter in the Wonderland tea party to know that was there. Events move very quickly. All could be clearer had we met the characters one at a time in an opening parade.

Rafael Boumaila portrayed the White Rabbit, a kind of ‘master of ceremonies’ who keeps Alice moving. Moses Kaplan was the Mad Hatter (and the Mushroom) and was delightful in that most artful of characters. Jetta Martens (Queen of Hearts) and Carlos Ventura (King of Hearts) kept the mischief of ‘stealing tarts’ cleverly feverish so the rescue operation succeeded. Other characters included LizAnne Roman Roberts (Cheshire Cat) and Emily Hansel (March Hare). Coral Martin and Jessica Egbert served as Puppeteers. Sonja Dale as Alice mimed, acted and danced her way with and beyond all the characters. She was always the center of attraction.

Foehringer was able to give this 50 minute production as whirlwind glimpse of the story. As an adult, I felt very advantaged; I knew the intricacies of each event from many years of reading. A child might feel more comfortable with fewer events, fewer characters and one simply through-line.

The design, especially Boulay’s projections and Antaky’s lighting deserves special awards. The live music, the musicians added unique delight to this production.

Joanna G. Harris

doc icon alice.docx

Dimensions Dance Theater

Dimensions Dance Theater
April 13,14, 2018
Malonga Casquelourd Center, Oakland

45 Years of Excellence!

Latanya d. Tigner and her group, Dimensions Dance Theater, presented a moving program of works on Friday, April 13. The evening was a celebration of the 45 years of “producing, creating, performing and teaching dance that reflects the historical experiences, struggles and contemporary lives of African-Americans.” Alongside of Ms. Tigner, Deborah Vaughan, co-founder, provides continued artistic leadership.

Three works on the program offered a range of treatments of current social concerns. The first, “You Never Know,” choreographed by Ms. Tigner, was a series of episodes concerning homelessness. Apparently the dancers contributed to the stories, which were poignantly illustrated in movement and mime by dancers Macaiah Bell, Denice Simpson Braga, Laura Elaine Ellis, Marianna Hester, Bridgette Lott, Dorcas Mba and Valerie Sanders. This work and the one that followed, “Ain’t No Turning Back, “ a tribute to Harriet Tubman, 19th century abolitionist, are truly dance-dramas. Both works were beautifully and expressively produced.

A short film, produced by Oakland Cultural Arts, was shown before the finale. It was a splendid example of dance around various Oakland neighborhood sites.

The finale, “Dundundba” was joyous jazz/hip-hop event choreographed by Alseny Soumah. Live music accompanied the lively activity as flags waved and feet flew.

The audience stood and cheered. It was a terrific ending to an evening of celebration.

Joanna G. Harris