Nutcracker

Nutcracker
San Francisco Ballet
December 11, 2019

Opera House, SF

75th Anniversary!

To celebrate this special event in the history of SF Ballet, the company has gone all out to expand the production in decor, casting and pleasing events for the audience. Not only was there a special reception for former “Claras” (women who have danced the leading chlld’s role over the years), but the finale of the evening included red and white balloons floating down over the house! All of this made for a great sense of celebration.

There are many special roles in “Nutcracker” since it is essential a story ballet. Foremost and most spectacularly performed is Uncle Drosselmeyer, seemingly a magician who can bring puppets to life. Tiit Helmets was brilliant in this opening night production. Not only was his mime clear and exact, but also his interaction with the children, with Clara, with the magic of the sets and his projection to the audience…all were brilliant. Through his magic he presents the ‘dancing dolls’; a Harlequen clown, a dancing doll and a soldier. These three, Max Cauthorn, Lauren Parrott and Hansuke Yamamoto executed some of the best dance-mime of the evening. (The three recall the characters in “Patroushka” a 1911 ballet by Fokine and Stravinsky). Ultimately, Drosselmeyer presents Clara with the “Nutcracker” doll. In her dream (and on stage) the Nutcracker doll will be transformed into the Nutcracker Prince.

After the strange but thrilling battle of the mice vs. soldiers, wherein Clara becomes a heroine by defeating the Mouse King, the puppet-soldier comes to life, transformed into a live dancer and a Prince. Luke Ingham performed the role with much charm. I missed some subtleties in his mime presentation of the battle. Also, it was the first time a mouse trap was dragged on stage. Usually, Clara defeats the Mouse King by throwing something at him. All of this dissolves into the Land of Snow. We are presented with a pas-de-deux by Yuan Yuan Tan and Carlo Di Lanno as King and Queen of the Snow, accompanied by a large corps of Snowflakes. All very nicely performed as snowflakes fell on the stage to end Act I. No one slipped on the stage snow.

Act II is a series of divertissements evoked by the Sugar Plum Fairy to entertain Clara and the Prince in their dream kingdom. Sasha De Sola as the Fairy brought forth the following entertainments: Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, French, Russian dance sequences, and final “Madame Du Cirque” and her Buffoons. Other productions in other years and places have called the lady with the enormous skirt “Mother Goose” and other characters. The special event is that children of the Ballet School dance with and for her and then vanish under her skirt. For parents, it is the ‘hit’ event of the evening.

As the evening drew to a close, sixteen ballerinas danced the “Waltz of the Flowers”.  Alas it was not exciting or lively as a finale event to this otherwise fine performance. The waltz seems to go on and on with little variation in choreographic design. As my guest remarked, “There’s just too much arm waving”. However, the Grand Pas de Duex” by Mathilde Froustey and Luke Ingham ended “Nutcracker” beautifully.

The special printed program details the story with amazing photographic detail and description. Martin West and the SF Ballet Orchestra, as always, are to be congratulated for the excellent accompaniment. Also kudos are deserved to Michael Yeargan, Scenic Design, Martin Pakledinaz, Costume Design, James F. Ingalls, Lighting Design and Wendall K. Harrington, Projection Design.

The production staff and all SF Ballet help are to be applauded for their work. Even as the audience left the Opera House, each was presented with Nutcracker wrapping paper to celebrate the Holidays. Bravo to all!

Joanna G. Harris

Hansuke Yamamoto in Tomasson’s Nutcracker
Photo by Erik Thomasson

scott wells & dancers

Scott Wells & Dancers
Muscle Memory”
Megan Lowe Dances
Finger Trap
December 8, 2019
Dance Mission Theater, SF

Double Bill

Scott Wells and his ‘all-girl’ band of improvisors brought delightful activity to Dance Mission this past weekend. With the lead of Mira Barakat and Shira Yaziv, tango dancers, Wells choreographed “a dozen improv scores: Peripheral 1 and 2, push crowd, flying score, stop/start, generator, trio/duo/solo, push/roll/ground/, unusual resting positions, remembering, chorus and distance.” The tango duet started and closed the event; the scores involved all ten dancers.

Contact improvisation has been around for some forty or fifty years now. I remember when I first saw Steve Paxton (of the early Merce Cunningham company) and his group. I asked why he “invented” contact. He said, “I was tired of being lonely on stage.” Whether that is true or not, “Muscle Memory” and almost all ‘contact’ performances involve balancing, lifting, throwing, rolling and resting (among other moves) with one or more participants. Wells’ group does it well. The moves appear to be effortless and (horray) full of fun! Individuals and groups form and reform, accomplishing their skills seemingly easily. My problem with all this is that ‘contact’ necessitating as it does, the forces of gravity, constantly reverberates with that dynamic. Most ‘modern’ or ballet dance resists gravity, pulling up and away. I guess you can’t have it both ways and ‘contact’ has become a strong contestant in the dance world.

Mega Lowe’s “Finger Trap” demonstrates very skilled duets with Brenton Cheng. Her piece “Remembering Things” quoted a nostalgic memory of her grandmother as did Cheng’s work “Liebestraum mit Zuge”. It is good to note those memories and dedications, but, to this reviewer, they did not influence the work or use them as references. Lowe and Cheng are very focussed and dedicated performers. Whether using poles, ropes or ‘finger-holds’ (two people share a narrow finger cylinder), they support each other beautifully. Special lighting for this section was by Harry Rubeck. Again, although the feats and focus are skilled and create a sense of physical wonder in accomplishment, the dynamic throughout is dominating by the lift and fall of gravity forces. One must accept this as a unique form of ‘dance’.

Wells dancers are (besides those cited) Sabrina Danielle Baranda, Liz Duran Boubion, Megan Lowe, Mel Mark, Kristen Rulifson, Carmen Serber, Rosa Ver, and Mindy Zarem.

Joanna G. Harris

Long Run

Long Run
Choreography and Music by Tere O’Connor
November 14 -16 8 PM
ODC Theater SF

Multiplicity in Movement

Tere O’Connor is a celebrated dance choreographer whose work has rarely been seen in the Bay Area although it has been applauded both nationally and internationally. In addition to his many choreographic credits, he is a professor of Dance at the Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Long Run,” the event at ODC Theater goes on, uninterrupted for 70 minutes. The dancers take various breaks, sometimes leaving the stage, more often lying on the floor or just sitting in the ‘wings’ and watching who’s dancing. There are eight dancers, four women and four men. Each is an accomplished artist; all have amazing skills.They are: Simon Courchel, Eleanor Hullihan, Emma Judkins, Heather Olson, Silas Riener, Matthew Rogers, Lee Serle and Jin Ju Song-Begin. Silas Riener, a former member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, was working at ODC’S “Signals from the West” project at ODC in August of this year.

O’Connor’s Long Run (2017) is a major work which, said the choreographer, “pushes the emotional content of my movement to new physical extremes, allowing time-based elements like polyrhythms, velocity and duration to become critical forces, overtaking their bodies into a state of calm.”

O’Connor says the original score, composed entirely by and according to his custom, was begun and finalized only after the dance was complete. “The music is almost like an audience member commenting on the work. It can have a harmonious or discontinuous relationship to the dance.”

The work demands viewing skill from the audience as well as the stated challenges to the dancers. There are episodes of full group activity, trios, quartets and interludes of solo appearances. Most notable of these were performances by Silas Riemer, Lee Serle and Eleanor Hullihan and Jin Jun Song-Begin, although all the dancers emerge as accomplished soloists as well as brilliantly integrated members of the group.

Many movement sequences, groupings, interactions, lifts, holds and patterns of locomotion occur simultaneously. It is more than contrapuntal, since there are multiple ‘points’. “Long Run” is a study in continual collages. O’Connor is quoted as saying,  “The images are like an ocean of potential, so things appear and then they are erased.” This work adds to the accomplishments of current and evolving dance performance.

 

Eleanor Hullihan, Silas Riener in “Long Run

Review UC Davis

Cunningham Centennial
CNDC’Angers/Robert Swinston
Saturday, November 16, 2019
UC Davis Jackson Hall

I traveled 150 miles (round trip) to UC Davis’ Mondavi Center on Saturday, November 16, 2019 to see Robert Swinston’s company CNDCd’Angers do “Beach Birds” and “Biped”. It was an amazing and exhilarating experience.

Beach Birds” first premiered on June 20,1991 in Zurich, Switzerland, In Davis it was danced by eleven dancers who Swinston has gathered to form CNDC’Angers. He has brought similar groups to the US, most recently in April, 2019 at the Joyce Theater in New York City

Cunningham is quoted in the program citing his interest in birds, animals and “humans on the beach, looking at a rock and you go round it and it looks different each time, as if it were alive, too.” That is what is so fascinating about this dance “Beach Birds”. Although the dance movement is what we recognize as made of Cunningham technique and choreographic methods, the performance seems to change minute by minute inviting close observation and continuing delight. The dancers group and regroup invoking stillness and then sudden swift activity. A duet for two women toward the close of the work was particularly mesmerizing.

The dancers were: Marion Baudinaud, Antonin Chediny, Mathieu Chayrigues, Ann Chinescu, Pierre Guillbault, Gianni Joseph, Haruka Miyamoto, Catarina. Pernao, Flora Rogeboz, Carlo Schiavo, Claire Seigle-Goujon. The John Cage score, “Four (3)” was played live by Gavin Bryars, Morgan Goff, Audrey Riley and James Woodrow. Costumes and lighting were by Marsha Skinner.

I was fortunate to see “Biped” on April 23,1999 at Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley. Earlier Merce had shown me (and others) “motion capture,” the animation technology created by digital artists Paul Kaiser and Shelley Eshkar. Cunningham and the artists “working with two dancers, choreographed 70 phases that were transposed into digital images.” These images are projected in the space above and through the dancers. As a constant dance viewer, I have often lamented the huge space above the human dancer. Artists provide lighting and backdrops to fill that space, but here, now in “Biped” we see projections of movement as well as abstract patterns that accompany the dancers as sound does. It is a fulfilling experience.

The company performed the solos, duets, trios and ensemble sections with elegant skill. The music, composed by Bryars, is partly recorded and partly played on acoustic instruments.

The dancers appear and disappear through curtained booths at the back of the stage. Toward the end Suzanne Gallo’s costumes (that use metallic fabric to reflect the light), the women are clothed in a transparent fabric that also reflects the light. Lighting credit goes to Aaron Copp.

Biped” brought special magic to this event, one of several special events we have been privileged to see in the Bay Area. Many kudos to Robert Swinston and CNDC d’Angers for their skill and stamina to bring it to us. The audience, many of whom had not seen works by Cunningham, were able to celebrate the Centennial in this special, unique UC Davis event.

Joanna G. Harris

Bridge Project

Hope Mohr Bridge Project
Signals from the West
Saturday, November 9, 2019
ODC Theater, SF

Collaboration/Invention/Reconstruction

In August, 2019, two former members of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Silas Riener and Rashaun Mitchell taught a group of artists the technique, choreographic methodology and points of view that characterized Merce’s work.

Now, three months later, the ten artists chosen to complete the project, have presented their work. The aim of the project, as quoted in the program was…
“…to create a space for contemporary cultural exchange between individuals with fantastically different bodies of knowledge; to make room for debate and communication across disciplines, generations and geographies.”

For the most part, the program succeeded. After a respectful prayer to the Ohlone People, the performing events included sound, movement, many video projections and excerpts from the Cunningham Repertory as staged by Riener and Mitchell. As an old Cunningham student, teacher and long time observer of his works, I appreciated the pure dance excerpts most. Merce introduced ‘mixed-media’ late in his career. Today’s artists seem devoted to that discipline.

Underwater Moonlight’ (days of blood & milk) by Sofia Cordova, written, performed and recorded in collaboration with Matt Gonzalez Kirkland, was a “restricted by the limitations of postpartum life.” Four dancers were recorded, moving slowly, amid a variety of available sounds of mundane objects. Cordova notes she sees this work as “a disjointed conversation with Richard Moore and Merce Cunningham’s 1968 film Assemblage.” It takes some concentration to attend to all these elements in the work.

Other works on the program required similar attention and appreciation of ‘mixed-media’ material. “Work in Place” by Sophia Wang is choreographed and danced by her and Brontez Purnell. Her note says, “so we tested routes for both capture and escape.”

The repetition of their entrances and exits made for attentiveness and clarity and some humor! The score and titles were provided by Kim West.

Other events included “Stop Play: Quincunx” by writer/director Maxe Crandall, performed by Karla Quintero, Danny Thanh Nguyen, Julie Moon and Maxe Crandall. The event was described as ‘soap opera.” Julie Moon added “Quincunx”, noting “I shed the story, the ego sheds me,” and adding an image the programs for scanning.

Christy Funsch appeared on the TV screen reciting the name of 100 people from her career while dancer Nol Simonse moves “shards of material from his 19 years of collaborative partnership with Funsch”. Nol is a superb dancer, clear and skilled in his execution of material, whether it be full-out dance moves or dramatic incidents.

Additional events were “Tejidos/Weavings”, a “structured improvisation for ensemble” and. “Paris” a well executed solo by Alex Escalente. The program was completed both at the end and before intermission by excerpts from Cunningham works, danced by Sarah Cecilia Bukowski, Traci Finch, Emily Hansel and Stacy Yuen as staged by Mitchell and Riener. No matter what experimentation, innovation and collaboration was attempted and realized, for this reviewer, watching Cunningham’s work was the reward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sarah Cecilia Bukowski, Traci Finch, Emily Hansel and Stacy Yuen
Excerpts from Cunningham repertory, staged by Silas Riener and Rashaun Mitchell.

La Bayadere

The Mariinsky Ballet: “La Bayadere”
Cal Performances Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019
Zellerbach Hall UC Berkeley

Amazing!

Imagine returning 142 years into the past, to Imperial Russia, to the time of great elaborate productions of romantic yet classic ballet. The Mariinsky Ballet production of “La Bayadere” made it possible. The event was amazing, historical, very grandiose, very Russian. We are grateful to witness this event and appreciate the complexity of bringing the number of dancers, musicians, staff, sets and costumes to Cal Performances.

The choreography is by the great Marius Petipa who gave us “The Sleeping Beauty”, “Swan Lake” and “Raymoda.” These are set to the music of Tschaikovsky and Glazunov and remain in most audiences minds as the essence of ballet. 20th century dance has changed that image.

The grandiose aspects of “La Bayadere” are overwhelming, Each act demands a new set, a wide range of costumes, props and “extras.” The plot echoes the romantic operas of the 19th century, unrequited love, vengeance, exotic atmosphere and finally, fulfillment in the afterlife. The first two acts are set in a ‘make-believe’ India, compete with warriors, a Rajah, a High Brahman in love with a slave girl (La Bayadere), a heroic Warrior, temple dancers of all sorts and even, a walk on elephant! The third act enlists a snake charmer!

Act II is set as an elaborate wedding celebration, featuring numbers of dance episodes by small groups of ballerinas and several solos for men, among them an Indian dance, a drum dance and warrior dances. If we had Petipa’s early notes, we might learn the exotic and folk sources of these pieces. Ludwig Minkus’ score resounds with folk element and good traditional waltzes and mazurkas.

For the opening event, Ekaterina Kandaurova danced La Bayadere. She is small and slight, yet is able to project an infinite range of nuanced movement in all the dimensions demanded or her; the opening ‘slave’ dance, the seemingly rejected lover, the soloist in the Kingdom of Shades. The ballet lasts three hours and this soloist must emerge in the third act as a complete different character in command of the thirty-two “shades”! Andrei Yermakov danced the warrior/lover Solar, who betrays, then ultimately claims La Bayadere. He was an heroic actor/dancers displaying all the technical abilities demanded. Yakaterina Chebykina portrayed the Rajah’s daughter who attempts to steal Solar. Although she is technically brilliant, I found her performance wooden and undramatic in comparison to that of Kandaurova.

The opening episode of Act III, in the Kingdom of Shades, is the ultimate ballet episode. Thirty-two ballerinas enter, one by one, repeating a phrase that is difficult, beautiful and is repeated through many musical measures. For this reviewer, that part of “La Bayadere” is the ultimate in ballet performance. It was remarkable well done, opening the closing act of this historical evening. Bravo ! to all and to the Mariinsky Ballet for their stamina and superb performance.

Joanna G. Harris