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

Machine Facial Recognition – Oh, noes! You’ve got it backwards!!

There are lots of complaints and criticism about the current state of automatic facial recognition systems which tend to focus on and highlight their limitations and inaccuracies. But, turn this around.

What if Machine Facial Recognition were 100% accurate. Think for a moment what that would mean. Every bridge toll camera, every private and government operated ‘surveillance’ camera, every Facebook and Instagram posting could be scanned and every face perfectly identified! A complete record of when and where you had been, and with whom can now be created, analyzed and searched!!

And, when you stopped to look at that store display, did you know that the person behind you, accidentally positioned so that she appeared to be with you was a sex worker, or that guy behind you was a gang member that you could now be associated with? Or that you always went through the Bay Bridge toll gates on workdays between 9:17 and 9:23 AM? What parts of your ordinary comings and goings just are “none of your business“? As the technology improves, you will be identified along with time and place more frequently, more accurately and without your consent.

How often do you use the restroom? Why do you take a particular side street and not the freeway? How come you always get on the next-to-last BART car? For extra credit, read up on China’s use of facial recognition in Xinjiang province.


Christmas Stockings

When I was a kid, the story was, if you were bad you got coal in you Christmas stocking instead of the usual nuts, candies and tiny sock size presents. Trump deserves coal in his stocking. Coal kills when it is extracted, pollutes the air when it is used, the residual coal ash waste is toxic and has to contained in ponds because it poisons the environment and topping it off, it is an agent in the disastrous climate changes that are hurting people around the world. Maybe coal is too good for him.