CubaCaribe Festival of Dance and Music

CubaCaribe Festival of Dance and Music
Brava Theater, San Francisco
Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Movements of Migration

I was sorry to miss the events of Week One of the Festival featuring the Alayo Dance Company and their presentation of “Calle” and “Manos y Vida Cotidiana de Una Mujer Cubana.” The word was the Alayo and his dancers were a major achievement.

The second week brought a varied group of choreographers, dancers and ethnic dimensions to the Brava Stage. These included beliefs and practices from Brazil, Cuba, Ghana, Nicaragua, and multiple aspects of black migration in the US. It is a humbling and enlightening dimension of ethnic awareness to experience these dances.

There were seven unique events on the program for Weekend Two. “Supplication” danced by the Alafia Dance Ensemble illustrated the “request for help from Deities, especially Dambalah Wedo, Protective Creator, Source of life and Wisdom.” The ten dancers, in brilliant colorful costumes, using marvelous arm gestures and postures were effective and moving. Next was “Nicaragua Multiétnica: Cultura Garifunas,”with choreography and costumes by Cleopatra Morales Monteil. One of the two aspects of the performance represents the forced labor of the black in American lands; the other “Chumba” performed by Garifuna women (when their men are absent from home) express household work and sexual energy. The “espeques,” long sticks that are work tools, amplify the movement of hips, thorax, arms and head. The women danced alone and then were joined by men, amplifying the energy and the gestures. “Multiétnica” and “Chumba” provided an exciting and powerful look into this very special culture from the South Atlantic region of Nicaragua. A popular dance “Punta” concluded this section.

Maafa” by the El Wah Movement Dance Theatre under the direction of Colette Eloi, consisted of an excerpt from the National Theater of Ghana’s, “Revealing the Story.” It tells the story of ethnic cleansing and forced migration of people from Africa.

Beautifully performed by eleven dancers, it reinforced the belief that the people would persevere and thrive. After all this and  before intermission, “Fiesta Cubana” provided the “hit” event of the evening. Featuring Yisman Ramos Tellez, (choreographer and soloist) the lively event dancing illustrating Clave Cuban (the foundations of salsa) through Reggaeton to present Cuba’s newest music genre, Cubaton. A young dancer challenges Tellez with a variation of ‘hip-hop.’ The audience quickly chooses the Cuban style and all join in with the varied rhythms that is the sensational Cuban dance.

The program continued with “Our Roots, “ a song-story-dance from Candomblé, which is “an African-American religion tradition” practiced mostly in Brazil and in other South American countries. The work involved a family song; both children and adults joined in the memories. Next, Dimension Dance Theater from Oakland offered a modern dance event with African roots in, “Ain’t No Turning Back,” choreography by Andrea Vonny Lee. The voices and words of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas supported this proclamation of freedom. Benjamin Ofori played traditional Ghanaian percussion to accompany the nine accomplished dancers. Then ‘Yansa” introduced the belief and illustration of “orishas,” (a word from the Yoruba language), gods who work together to help everyone. The women appear in long red skirts in acts of devotion; then the men don the skirts and there is a wild fusion of energy as famine and masculine energy unite. It was a very moving and exciting finale to a brilliant evening of dance.

For this reviewer, the special quality was the authenticity of each group’s work and the commitment evidenced by musicians, singers, choreographers, director and of course, the dancers. It was an evocation of what such festivals might be; close to the roots, carefully researched, authentic and performed by those who know and love the dance.

Joanna G. Harris

SF Dance Works 2018

SF Dance Works 2018
Cowell Theater, Fort Mason SF
June 10, 2018

Range of Motion

Except for the process of getting there on a fine Sunday afternoon, when the Food Fair is on, Fort Mason is lively with many other events, Cowell Theater presents a challenged, windy walk, and there is no unpaid parking, it is always a pleasure to see dance events at the theater. Perhaps some good planners with rethink the use of Fort Mason so that theater can prevail.

SF Dance Works is a fine rewarding event, worth getting there. For Season 3, four works were presented, each by a different choreographer. Nacho Duato is the senior choreographer. His work, “Jardi Tancat,” created for the Nederlands Dans Theater in 1983, is sourced from Catalonia folk tales, expressing the hardships of poor Catalonian farmers. The six dancers, in ensemble and duets, execute the seamless lyricism of the music, composed and sung by Maria del Mar Bonet. “Jardi Tancat” is marvelously performed. Newly appointed associate director, Danielle Rowe was outstanding as a senior dancer.

Rowe also choreographed the World Premiere work on the program “The Old Child.” In a series of vignettes, the dancers appear, dancing duets, which apparently portray remembrances of life’s stages. A constant figure ( Rowe herself?), placed downstage right, rises at each episode, almost as if calling the next event. In order of appearance the dancers are Britt Juleen, Anne Zivolich-Adams and Garett Anderson, Dana Genshaft and Katerina Eng, Nicholas Korkos, and Laura O’alley and Brett Conway. It is a charming work, but for this reviewer, it needs more clarification and sometimes amplification. The score is by Alton San Giovanni, performed by instrumentalist David Knight.

I found “Homing,” a world premiere by artistic director James Sofranko, to be delightful.

Set to Schubert”s Impromptus (played live by Ronny Michael Greenberg), the dance builds a group for the six dancers and from time to time sends them away. Garrett Anderson, appears to leave from time to time. He and Nicholas Korkos, share the honor of being the strong men in the group. But the women are lovely, (most listed above), moving with easy lyric lines in an out of interesting patterns, formed by arms, legs and folded torsos.

The duet. “Snap” by Penny Saunders, a duet for Danielle Saunders and Mario Alonzo. Is a charming incident developed from the ‘patt-a-cake’ children’s game. It is a playful, flirtatious opener for the program, but it doesn’t go very far.

The dancers have come from many national and international companies. Their skill is to be applauded, their ensemble excellent. Let’s hope they will have more challenging choreography to develop their abilities in the future.

Joanna G. Harris

Photo: Full ensemble in “Jardi Tancat.”
Photo by Alexander Renef-Olson.


The Oakland Public Library has a Tool library in the Temescal Branch. Instead of buying a sledge
hammer, using it one time and letting it decompose in your garage, you can rent the tool, just as you would a book – with an Oakland library card. Those tool aficionados want to bring tool-appreciation to the masses and so they have cleverly devised a Tool Petting Zoo. They bring an interesting cross section of tools to various destinations and encourage kids from four to teens to to see what they can to with them. At a recent demonstration at the Eastmont Library I noticed that hammers and pounding in nails was the first choice – then came taking out the nails. Some kids went on to using power tools to drill holes and put in screws. A lot to accomplish in an hour and a half. There were feasts for the grownups – old tools, new tools – a wonderful moment of sharing of how man works with his hands and continually grows his ability as a maker.

Photos by Gen Katz

Oakland’s Youth Poet Laureate

Oakland School for the Arts’ Leila Mottley was named the City of Oakland’s 2018
Youth Poet Laureate on Friday, June 1, 2018 at the Oakland Museum of California













Mottley, 16, is a 2018 Youth Speaks Teen Poetry Slam Winner, founder and
president of her school’s Women of Color Club, and founder of a youth-led
program called Lift Every Voice which brings together youth from different
backgrounds in art advocacy workshops around youth incarceration. Ms. Mottley
received a $5,000 scholarship provided by the Friends of the Oakland Public
Library and the opportunity to officially represent the Oakland community
through poetry, media and public appearances. Samuel Getachew, 15, was named the
Vice Youth poet Laureate.

To see Leila perform one of her poems, click here.

Photo by Salena Davant

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.