Yaelisa: Flamenco in Alameda

I first saw Yaelisa at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts  in her full Flamenco regalia trailing a white dazzling train. That costume wouldn’t fit on the stage at Rhythmix, but that in no way impaired the stunning performance of Caminos Flamencos. Founded by Yaelisa, the performance on Friday night May 26th featured three dancers, a cantora and a guitarist, Jason Mguire “El Rubio”. He looks more like he should be playing for clog dancers, but has big creds with the Flamenco community.

Yaelisa has Flamenco in her bones, and when she stands, arms upraised, torso tense, the room is hushed with expectation – awaiting the explosion of the dance. She performed a number called soleares, one of the oldest styles in Flamenco, in the Cante Jondo category of song styles. The naked yearning voiced by the cantora and the interplay between dancer and accompanists ended with a standing ovation. Kina Mendez was in top form, her voice strong and piercing in ballads of what I can only imagine to be lost love and anguished yearning. Clara Rodrigues danced with youthful exuberance, her balletic training bursting out of the formal Flamenco style. Devon LaRussa charmed and seduced every male in the front row. Her footwork seemed to have a life of its own as her shoulders and torso wove sensuous magic

Yaelisa has a school – and at the end of the performance, she called upon some of her pupils to join her on stage. Six or seven came up and danced in jeans and sneakers. A charming 6 year old by the name of Sonia has already captured the finger motion and proud stance. The finale made it not just a performance but a community.

 What a treat to have this talent in our neighborhood and so good to sit in a intimate cafe-size space. The sound could have used less amplification for such a modest space. Rhythmix Cultural Works (http://www.rhythmix.org) is a very local performance venue just over the Fruitvale bridge at 2513 Blanding Avenue in Alameda . The next Caminos Flamencos performance is on June 30th . For information on performances or the school, contact (info@caminoflamencos.com).


Visualizing Oakland’s Budget

A Riddle

What is pink, blue, red, orange, yellow, magenta, indigo, aqua, puce and chartreuse; swoops and curves with the grace of a mare’s tale and is a compendium of information? You didn’t guess it. It is the OAKLAND 2013 – 15 BUDGET as visualized by the talented Code for America hackers who keep popping up and creating wondrousness things.

Don’t trust me. Go to http://openbudgetoakland.org. These guys have put the budget into a graphic of saturated colors that is nothing short of miraculous when it comes to understanding Oakland’s finances. Words are unnecessary – just look. Before me appears a huge magenta block called Non-Departmental and when I click on it, it opens up like a Pandora’s Box to big items like debt service, insurance premiums, Coliseum, Oakland convention center lease payments. Things I never thought about. Check out the Police – a big whopping 20.09% and then City Auditor – a tiny orange strip on the bottom 0.15 %. The 2012-13 Adopted Revenues & Spending graph shows at a glance revenue coming in and going out and what goes through the general fund and what is outside of it. Arguments stop and understanding takes it place. For those of us who would never crack the 300 page budget – this is the way to go. Kudos to the Code for America brigade, Adam Stiles, Shawn McDonald and the whole Open Oakland movement. I love these guys and gals!

Cinderella – SF Ballet

Trials and Transformation

The much-awaited full evening production of choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella arrived Friday evening May 5, 2013 and was pronounced a great success by an enthusiastic ‘first night’ audience. There were SFB celebrations for donors including before and after parties. With the cooperation of the Dutch National Ballet who share the credits, Wheeldon and SF Artistic Director Helgi Thomasson have enlisted a brilliant group of designers and associates to create a visually stunning production.

There are marvels to behold. The Prologue shows us the death of Cinderella’s mother and her subsequent transformation into a tree! The four fates, knows as the seasons as well as Lightness, Generosity, Mystery and Fluidity assist all transformations. Who needs a fairy godmother when there are a myriad of gnomes, puppeteers, servants and four wonderful gold masked dancers as the fates… to work wonders? Daniel Deivison, Garen Scribner, Anthony Spulding and Shane Wuerthner danced the principle fates. But the foremost wonder is the dancing of ballerina Maria Kochetkova. She is an actress, a skilled partner and a superb technician.

Although Wheeldon is not generous in the choreography she is given, Kochetkova is able to project the innocent, unjustly used girl, the grateful recipient of the gifts she received and then, of course, the romantic woman who appears at the ball. Her movement is delicate, her timing and response to others perfect and her demeanor divine.

Other distinguished roles are played by stepsisters Sara Van Patten and Frances Chung. They and Katitia Waldo as the stepmother are accomplished in bringing humor and charm to a production otherwise overwhelmed with devices. The best of these are the circle of chairs that float above Cinderella’s kitchen; the most complex is the ‘seasons’ scenes in which seemingly dozens of persons and objects appear and disappear in no particular order. Of course there are chandeliers, pillars and backdrops that move in and out constantly for the several scene changes. But where is the dancing?

Joan Boada makes a valiant effort as Prince Guillaume. He is best when playing with his friend Benjamin as portrayed by Taras Domitro. His gallantry and romantic skill as a partner to Kochetkova is not fulfilled, partly due to his stature and partly that their ‘pas de deux’ are uninteresting in shape, design and excitement. The ballroom scene and several others sections are dominated by the waltz music of Prokovkiev’s score. Although this is a favorite selection, the central interaction between the Prince (Boada) and Cinderella (Kochetkova) is constantly disrupted by the dominant large group in their purple and green costumes. This reviewer would rather watch the soloists.

 Nevertheless, SFB in partnership with the Dutch National Ballet closes its 2013 season with a triumph. It will, of course, be repeated in the 2014 season for all those who cannot get tickets to the production.

The design staff must be congratulated for its magical designs: Julian Crouch, Scenic and costumes: Natasha Katz, lighting; Basil Twist, Tree and carriage sequence; Daniel Brodie, Projection Design; Frank McCullagh, Scenic Associate. The orchestra was, as usual, conducted with great care by Martin West. We earnestly wish that Mr. Wheeldon would extend his choreographic talents to more inventive dance.

Oakland Ballet – For a good time

Oakland Ballet – Diaghilev Imagery


You know that feeling when you come out of a good performance – feet lighter, talk brighter. That was what I experienced coming out of the Oakland Ballet Company’s Diaghilev Imagery. Three works – three choreographers – Amy Seiwert, Robert Moses and Graham Lustig.


Amy Seiwert gave her dancers plenty to do with her fresh take on Les Biches – from Emily Kerr’s lighthearted dressing for her party, through the sophisticated posturing of her guests prancing, and a charming playful intrusion by Sharon Wehner as the “Girl Not in Blue”. The women in their floating, summery dresses  play out their competition, while the men clearly enjoy the slightly better odds afforded to them by “Girl Not in Blue”.  They were skilled in their paring,  fluid in their lifts and Amy let them use the whole stage. Everyone of them a joy to see – Bryan Ketron, Constant Murphy, Megan Terry, Gregory DeSantis, Christopher Moulton.


Bloom, choreographed by Robert Moses surprised me with it’s sense of a woman. It’s a take on Le Spectre de la Rose and it’s a relief not to have the male dancer bound in from the window.  Ramona, alone, seems to be sleeping and as she awakes – her sense of self slowly awakes. In a stunning piece of artistry, Vincent Chavez materializes behind her. The initiation is mostly on her part, he tenderly enfolds her – and in the end he fades into the shadow as she comes to rest on rose petals.


Pulcinella, is a commedia dell’arte romp that brings the evening to a close. Graham Lustig’s choice of music to accompany his choreography was perfect . The Pulcinella Suite  – unbelievably by Stravinsky – with short sung phrases added not only musicality but ambiance. The costumes and masks were based on the original designs of the era. The signs flashed above the stage giving titles to the action were a delightful addition. Pretty much the whole cast enters on stage with suitcases – a clever bit of staging  – Gregory Desantis as the original Pulcinella, Vincent Chavez and Bryan Ketron as the two impostors, Ana Robles, Sharon Whener, Ramona Kelly and Constanza Murphy are the lively girls, Emily Kerr and Christophor Moulton play the old  parental characters so well that I had to look closely to see their youth, and Cole Companion who rises to great heights and provides a satisfying finale.


The whole evening is so fresh and delightful that it took away the bad taste in my mouth left from Sunday’s Cinderella in San Francisco.


Oakland Ballet Company’s spring repertory production, Diaghilev Imagery is at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts (Alice Street, just off 14th Street) and will be playing this weekend – Saturday 5/11 at 2:00 and 8:00. Tickets are reasonable at $35 general, $30 seniors, and $20 students 17 and under or college students with ID.