Sketch 9

New Review

“Sketch 9: Perspective”
July 17-20, 2019
ODC Theater, SF

New Work by Amy Seiwert, Ben Needham-Wood and Stephanie Martinez

The Euphoria of Lifts

Amy Seiwert has bravely entered into her leadership in the “Sketch 9 Series” which “invites choreographers and dancers to question conventional parameters of ballet … participants discover new tools or truths about their work.” For this latest effort, Sketch presents her new work “Verses”, “Otra,Vez, Otra Vez, Otra Vez” by Stephanie Martinez, and “All I Ever Knew” by Ben Needham-Wood. The works are performed by the same ten brilliant dancers, a feat in itself. Each is intriguing in its own way. All are notable, for this viewer, by the number and variety of lifts, supports and uses of the floor, other dancers and some aspects of projections.

Seiwert’ piece was the most satisfying. With music from “The Chopin Project” by Olafur Arnolds and Alice Sara, the ten dancers in bright yellow costumes filled the ODC space with “modules” of movement. Although Seiwert’s notes suggest a narrative, I was pleased to respond to the modules as constructs with their own motifs, admiring each duet and how those fused into larger group patterns. Dancer Austin Meiteen and his partner Shania Rasmussen emerged as prominently skilled in dynamics and projection, although all the dancers are outstanding. Since the dance concentrates on partner lifts, these became the prominent choreographic vocabulary. These devices continued through the program.

Martinez’ work,”Otra,Vez, Otra Vez, Otra Vez”, was danced to a series of songs, presumedly love songs, and (as she suggests) loosely based on “The Old Guitarist” by Picasso. She refers in her notes to the idea of the ‘random passerby’. The dancers, in white, do exchange contact and partners and the lifts, this time more romanticized, continue to be the constant choreographic devise. Into this came a solo section for Austin Meiteen who’s work with a black hat, provides a comic and delightful interlude.

All I Ever Knew” the work of Needham-Wood offers a story-line. Isaac Bates-Vinueza and Shania Rasmussen appear as ‘younger’ dancers. They play with the white boxes that form an upstage set. As ‘older, other’ dancers enter, they destroy the boxes’ order and are generally disinterested in others. A projection of ‘eyes watching’ is seen above. Ultimately the young dancers are reconciled to the set, the others and themselves. Again there is excellent dancing, an exciting range of movement…and those lifts!

Video artists, Olivia Ting, Ben Estabrook and Chris Correa added some dimension to the performance with projections and video images. The ODC stage is wide and deep and sometimes the lighting and the space conspire to weaken the effectiveness of video projection. I found that to be true for this event. Video projection is effective when it accompanies the dance and the space and does not distract from it.

Joanna G. Harris



Amy Seiwerts Imagery
Artists Austin Meiteen and Constanza Murphy in
Otra vez, Otra vez, Otra vez by Stephanie Martinez
Photo by Chris Hardy

San Framcisco Ethnic Dance Festival – Week 2

San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival
July 13, 2019 Zellerbach Hall UC Berkeley

Ethnic Dance as “Show Biz

Hundreds of enthusiastic audience members applauded, cheered, whistled and shouted out to the performers of this year’s 30th Ethnic Dance Festival. The performances on stage are well deserved, but for this viewer, most lack what I long to see in ethnic dance, that is, “tradition.”

Almost all dance performances, it seems, have been been influenced by today’s TV shows. The movement has become standardized, the choreographic patterns set in geometric lines, the costumes bright and (alas) uniform, the dancers lively and often just semi-skilled. It is more difficult to judge this if the audience is uninformed about the sources of the dance and what might is (or might have been) the “traditional” sources. Almost all works were TV transformed.

The most charming event occurred between numbers. After the Indian dance (which included odissi, kahtak and bharatanatyam styles), the male dancer Akhil Joondeph met Pierr Padilla from the next event, Cunamacué. Akil danced his style in response to the Afro-Peruvian tap dance style executed by Padilla. It was a charming and informative dance conversation. (If the names are not correct, please note that the program distributed did not have dancers’ names.) But details are available on This site lists all works, notes and dancers.

Important to hear and understand were the dancers of Awn Ohun Omnira (Voices of Freedom). This African-American Group provided song-stories of the enslaved African people. We also saw Oakland’s premiere West African ensemble celebrate ethnic groups with dances from Niger, Mauritania and the Ivory Coast. Although the the Feng Ye Dance Studio brought dances from the Han Dynasty, China, the while clad dancers (inspired by terra cotta drawings), performance in long-white dresses, echoed the romantic ballet of 18th century Europe!

Outstanding and demanding through the show, before and after in the Zellerbach courtyard were thirty-four dancers and musicians performing Tahitian ote’a, an extremely lively and wiggly event with bright orange feather skirts celebrating “Vahine!-Woman”. Women certainly dominated this year’s event. It would be refreshing, as it was in Week 1 of the festival, to include some men’s dances, some dances of the Western world, and for the sake of the listening audience, less drumming and less amplification. Nevertheless, congratulations!

Joanna G. Harris

For photos, see:

Eifman Ballet

Eifman Ballet of Saint Petersburg
The Pygmalion Effect
Cal Performances
May 31, June 1 & 2, 2019
Zellerbach Hall UC Berkeley

Eifman’s Broadway Ballet

You don’t need to catch the latest musical on Broadway and you can cancel that trip to Las Vegas! The Eifeman Ballet, at Zellerbach Hall has it all. There is a slum crowd of ‘boys and girls’ worthy of “West Side Story”, ballroom dancing that beats “So you think you can dance”, any “Fred and Ginger” act and stunts and tumbling galore. This is Eifman’s treatment of the Pygmalion story beyond the myth and George Bernard Shaw.

There is even an ‘messenger from heaven” a “coach” to offer promise and consolation.

On the evening of the opening performance, May 31, Lyubov Andreyeva took the part of Gala, the Liza Doolitle of Shaw’s play. Instead of language learning, Gala is transformed into a ballroom dancer by Leon, a superstar of ballroom dancing. Andreyeva is superb in her ability to perform the dance-acrobatics Eiffman requires, but it is her ability to bring a range of character to that dancing that is remarkable. That is also so, to some extent, for Dmitry Fisher, who plays Gala’s father, Holmes, characterized as a drunkard and a favorite of the mob. The “messenger from heaven”, (that I believe is nowhere in the myth nor the play), encourages Holmes to reform.

Through a long series of group numbers displaying endless dance acrobatics, exaggerated leg extensions, countless lifts and falls, Gala is eventually transformed into a worthy dance partner for Leon, but not without the help of some ‘magic gadget”, headgear which makes Gala a mechanical dancing doll. The “coach” helps Gala to achieve recognition, but Leon (like Dr. Dolittle) cannot accept her. On a lonely bench to Piano Concerto No. 23 by Mozart, Gala is consoled by the message from heaven. All the rest of the (recorded) musical accompaniment has been by Strauss and son. The Mozart moment is the only lyrical interlude in the ballet.

There is also some extensive dance talent in the other principals, Oleg Gabyshev as Leon, Alina Petrovskaya as Tia (Leon’s dance partner) and the Coach, Igor Subbotin.

But unlike Andreyeva and Fisher their characters are monochromatic and flat. This work, as so many other of Eifman’s works, appeals to what is exaggerated and at he limits of show-biz exaggeration. As ballet dancers, the group are more acrobatic than expressive. The choreography is always “on the beat” and it is relentless.

There is a time and place for this kind of presentation since the audience whooped with delight.This reviewer would rather have that ticket to Broadway or honest Las Vegas.

Joanna G. Harris

Photo: Oleg Gabyshev and Lyubov Andreyeva
In “The Pygmalion Effect”
(photo curtesy of the Eifman Ballet)

Oakland Ballet: Jangala

JANGALA” Oakland Ballet Company
May 30-Jun 1, 2019
Odell Johnson Center, Laney College, Oakland

India Delights

Kipling’s famous story, “The Jungle Book” is depicted with delightful activities by dancing animals and intriguing humans in ballet director Graham Lustig’s “Jangala”. Nadhi Thekkek, Artistic Director of the Nava Dance Theatre, joined members of the Oakland Ballet as guest artist. She has helped the dancers of her own group and the ballet dancers to learn the gestures of the south Indian classical form, bharatnatyam.

Ranjavastra: The KIng’s Cloth” is Thekkek’s work, the opening number. It is a remake of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. The bharatnatyam vocabulary is fully used in this work. Danced by Nadhi Thekkek, Vertika Srivastiva, and Shelley Garg (as the King), the piece uses beautiful robes to dress and then strip the King of his vanity. The dance trio are brilliant in their rhythmic use of this classic Indian vocabulary. To fully develop the story, the choreography might go to more extremes, more fully dressing the King and then stripping him to basic to reveal his pretense. The musicians Shruti Abhishek, Nyantara Narasimhan and Manasa Suresh provided wonderful sound.

Hamsa” a dance work shared by Nava Dance Theatre and the Oakland Ballet Company was inspired by “The Swan” by Mary Oliver and excerpts from the Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore. Both Nadhi Thekkek and Lustig provided the choreography.

Hamsa” is a short lyric piece, all costumed in white, wherein the dancers move with long lines of flowing movement, through long spaces on the stage, creating a sense of flight and delight. The music was arranged and performed byananya Ashok with support from Shruti Abhiskek and Rohan Krishnamuthy.

Various Indian composers music is used for the title work of the program, “Jangala”.

Mowgli, a young boy, marvelously danced by Brandon Perez, encounters the creatures of the forests: wolves, their cubs, monkeys, bears, a panther, the monkey king and queen, buffalo and threatening to them all, the Sheer Kahn, the tiger. Samantha Bell, in toe shoes, takes the tiger’s role and is aggressive and dancingly powerful. Through a long series of dramatic and dynamic episodes, Mowgli emerges and a hero and friend to the animals. He ultimately meets the village women, Karina Elon and Ashley Thopiah who acquaint him with his true human self, able to herd the buffalo who defeat the tiger. Although Mowgli returns to the jungle and is mourned by the villages, he is now part of the jungle. In the ballet, the opening and closing of the work depicts all the creatures as city dwellers, who continually rush back and forth. Is the city a jungle?

Besides the excellent performances of Brandon Perez and Samantha Bell, Bangher, the Panther is danced by Landes Dixon, Baloo the Bear, by Lawrence Chen, Sharon King as Raksha and Christopher Dunn as Father Wolf. They are at once frightening and charming. If possible, I would advise re-reading “The Jungle Book” or at least the program scenario at intermission. Events follow fast and furiously; the dancing is lively, threatening and funny all at once and the story unfolds through many scenes.

Once again the Oakland Ballet, Graham Lustig, the Nava Dance Theater are to be congratulated in bringing aspects of the Bay Area community together. Lustig has done this with other groups in earlier programs, such as that of Luna Mexicana. We look forward to the future performances of the company, Nov. 1-2 at the Paramount Theatre, Oakland and of course “The Nutcracker” Dec 21-22, 2019.

Joanna G. Harris


SF Ballet “Shostakovich Trilogy”

San Francisco Ballet
Shostakovich Trilogy
Ballets by Alekei Ratmansky
May 7-12, 2019
San Francisco Opera House

Music, Movement and Politics

Ratmansky set the three pieces by Shostakovich for his company, American Ballet Theatre in 2013. SF Ballet staged them in 2014 and has brought the “Trilogy” back to close the 2019 season. Formerly the artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet before joining ABT, Ratmansky devotes these ballets to Shostakovich himself, the composer who lived and worked under the Stalinist regime. The music proves Shostakovich’s ability to break free from soviet realism. The choreographer has used those ideas, as well as the composer’s own story as the scenarios for these works. He was awarded the Prix Benoit de la Dance in 2014 in recognition of their worth.

Chamber Symphony is the most biographical of the three. In it, Ulrick Birkkjaer portrays the composer and his three ‘loves’, a young girl, his first, then his second wife. The women are beautifully danced by Sasha De Sola, Mathilde Froustey and Yuan Yuan Tan. A corps of women and a quartet of men provide dramatic energy. Birkkjaer displays adequate emotional gesture but it falls short of a depth of acting that should illustrate the three relationships. Technically, the movement is amplified with the many lifts that the choreographer is fond of. Although this is most ‘dramatic’ work on the program, it falls short of completing its promised story line. The backdrop of looming faces (are these images of the Soviet command?} are distracting at best.

In Keso Dekker’s sleek red and blue-get bodysuits, the company closed the program with Piano Concerto #1, played elegantly by Mungunchimeg Buriad on piano and Adam Luftman on trumpet. The soloists were Sofiane Sylve, Carlo De Lanno, Won Park and Angelo Greco. This “neo-classical” work is danced in front of a backdrop of red ‘working tools” and again evokes the Soviet work motif. The dancers apparently enjoyed this fast moving event with its many entrances and exits. Among the most notable was that of Mingxuan Wang.

The program opened with Symphony #9 for 21 dancers featuring Jennifer Stahl, Aaron Robison, Dores André, Joseph Walsh and Wei Wang. All are dancing beautifully. The backdrop by designer George Tsypin was grey with splashes of red, “recalling the works of Socialist Realism.” Although the Russian themes are prevalent in all these works, the excellent and elegant dancing by the company shines through and above any ‘thematic’ inferences. For this reviewer, Ratmansky’s otherwise fine, but busy choreography is permeated with too many endless and sometimes fearfully acrobatic lifts.

Martin West led the SF orchestra with great skill and excellent musicality. It is always a great pleasure to have him as conductor of the ballet’s fine musicians.

Joanna G. Harris

Photo:San Francisco Ballet in Ratmansky’s Piano Concerto #1. (© Erik Tomasson)

The Victorian Ladies Detective Collective

“The Victorian Ladies’ Detective Collective”
Written by Patricia Milton
Directed by Gary Graves
Central Works: Berkeley City Club
May 4 -June 2, 2109

Upstaging Sherlock

The Victorian Ladies’ Detective Collective”, a new play by Patricia Milton takes us back to the formidable days of “Jack the Ripper,” when a killer stalked London murdering young actresses.

Sisters Loveday and Valeria run the Hunter Lodging House for Single Ladies. When six of their householders are dead and there is no help from Scotland Yard (or any other male authority), the sisters and their new boarder, Katie, turn their skills to solving the case.

Alan Coyne, actor, provides the several male voices as a committee chair, a magistrate and even as a butcher. His lines offer only humiliation for the possibility that women might have the skills necessary for the solution. The sisters dispute the issue and with Chelsea Bearce (as Katie), they finally take on the case. There is much dispute between sister Loveday (Stacy Ross) and Valeria (Jan Zwaifler), but after Valeria’s story of her husband’s murder, the action moves on. Bearce’s skills in handling a fan as a weapon is convincing and delightful!

Although there is much delight and much humor in the confrontations between and among the ladies and the many-voiced gentleman, the dialogue, especially in the second act becomes repetitious and redundant. There are wonderful lines concerning both the weaknesses and strengths of the individuals, the taking of laudanum (a common female addiction) and the proper means of ‘hunting’ the killer, but the points are well made in several scenes.

The costumes by Tammy Berlin are admirable for their Victorian elegance; the ‘fan fight choreography’ by Marcella Rodgers is hilarious and effective. Gary Graves has again directed with panache. Now with some editing and some pacing, “The Victorian Ladies Detective Collective” should score as another Central Works hit!

Note: Though we the audience admired “Diana the Huntress” by Orazio Gentileschi hanging above the fireplace, we are concerned about how she can accomplish the pose!

Joanna G. Harris