Dia de los Muertos – Oakland Ballet

Oakland Ballet “Dia de los Muertos”
Paramount Theater, Oakland
Nov. 2, 3 2018
oaklandballet.org Community Celebration

The Oakland Ballet, under the leadership of Graham Lustig, really knows how to celebrate with its community. This year, the “Dia de los Muertos” program brought several groups to add to the festivities. First: the “Blessing Ceremony” danced by Nahul Ehekati and Co. brought scenic and costume wonder to the stage as the group of feathered dancers and drummers asked “Permission to Dance” from the ancestors. Then, the “Ballet Folklorica Mexico Danza”, citing Chichimeca Mexican territory as their homeland, performed some polkas and schottisches that were brought there by European immigrants.

Lustig’s “Luna Mexicana,” last year’s production, established the ceremony of “the day of the dead.” With Jasmine Quezada in the leading role as the mourner, the stage filled with skeletons and ancestors, images that delighted the audience with amazing costumes and movement. Particularly applauded was the “bride and groom duet” done by Samantha Bell and Landes Dixon. Of course, the “hat dance” was the favorite. The house hooted, clapped and was thoroughly involved with the memorable event which marks the Halloween holiday.

The life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo has inspired Oakland Ballet, in collaboration with Ballet Folklorico’s Martin Romero, to produce a new ballet “Viva la Vida!” The work unfolds in several episodes, some depict her paintings of beloved animals, some, her life with Diego Rivera, and her commitment to left wing revolutionary politics. The Rivera incident involves a series of duets, one with Frida (Nina Pearlman) and others with the several women who were his lovers. Alberto Angulano danced Rivera. A tango, choreographed by Romero held unusual charm. It appeared to be danced by two men, but that, of course, was not clear. The full company joined the “Uprising” event: Walt Whitman was quoted; the Mexican flag flew…and the International was sung. What a finale for these political times. “Viva la Vida!” Is an outstanding celebration! Bravo!

Emily Kerr as the Bride and Richard Link as the Groom in Oakland Ballet’s Day of the Dead celebration, “Luna Mexicana.”
Photo: Steven Texeira

Joanna G. Harris


Wakefield” – A new play by Brian Thorstenson
Choreography/Direction: Erin Mei-Ling Stuart
October 5-14, 2018
3435 Caesar Chavez, SF no. 210

Cinematic, Surreal Reality

Thorstenson and Stuart have produce a one-of-a-kind dramatic event which captures the imagination through a series of short episodes that always makes sense and thought, though throughout which there is no logical sequence.

Inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story of the same name, Wakefield starts at the moment Hawthorne’s story ends, when the husband Henry Wakefield returns home after 20 years. What follows is a series of episodes, questioning, remembering, reacting, accepting, rejecting, celebrating…and generally exploring the whole range of both conscious and unconscious associations.

Thorstenson as Henry and Anne Darragh as Sophia, Henry’s wife give superb performances, carrying each episodes with convincing narrative, action, reaction and wonder. The choreographed episodes by Stuart add to the surrealistic dimension of the play. It is a perfect vehicle for cinema. This reviewer suggested it be the next production.

Wakefield” is part of the series “6NewPlays”.

Wakefield features a commissioned score for solo clarinet by Tina Traboulsi, a former student of Thorstenson’s, with Bruce Belton performing live at each show. Additional collaborators include acting coach Tracy Ward and lighting designer Richard Board.

All the participants have great skill and commitment to this project, which is part of 6plays.

Wakefield” is part of the series “6NewPlays”. “6NewPlays” is a collective of six Bay Area playwrights. Over the last three years, the group has produced one play by each playwright: Christopher Chen (Home Invasion, 2016) Andrea Hart (dark is a different beast, 2016), Erin Bregman (That It All Makes Perfect, 2017), Eugenie Chan (Madame Ho, 2017), Barry Eitel (Champagne, 2018) and Brian Thorstenson (Wakefield, 2018). Based on the model of 13P in New York, 6NewPlays put the production process in the hands of each playwright, who served as artistic director for their own production. 6NewPlays is a member of Intersection for the Arts.

Photos by Kegan Marling: Thorstenson and Darragh in “Wakefield

Joanna G. Harris


JODOKU SUSHI – Rockridge

Jodoku Sushi
5295 College Ave, Oakland CA 94618

Our favorite Japanese restaurant, Kamakura in Alemeda, was shuttered over a year ago due to a fire and has not reopened. We finally gave in to a longing for Japanese cuisine nearby and have started a search-and-consume program to replace Kamakura. Our first try in the Rockridge neighborhood, Jodoku Sushi at the southern end of College Avenue was a welcome start. In a pleasant atmosphere with jazz softly playing we ordered too much, but were not disappointed.

Neither of us are fond of the rice-on-the-outside-9-zillion-things-on-the-inside rolls – we stuck to a simple kappa maki (cucumber in rice wrapped with seaweed) and a tuna sashimi appetizer. The maki was firm and the rice properly tasty, the sashimi was fresh and delicious. We did not know what to expect with ‘Tempura Shrimp Pops’ – they turned out to be 4 shrimp, rolled flat at the ends of sticks, with an appropriate sauce drizzled over them. Not your mother-in-law’s tempura, but fun.






For a main course I chose tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) which was tender and tasty (I have had tonkatsu which made cardboard seem soft, but not here), though the miso soup that came with it was bland. A side dish of Agedashi Tofu (battered tofu with sauce) as an experiment was fine for me, though Genevieve found it too squishy for her taste.






Service was friendly though a bit harried. Prices are moderate. Parking in that area can be difficult. We shall return.


Mark Morris Dance Group
Zellerbach Auditorium, UC Berkeley
September 28-30, 2018

Music like we ain’t never heard! Dance, OK!

Ethan Iverson, the musical director for the Mark Morris Dance Group has done an ingenious job of translating, transforming and re-presenting “Sgt.Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” His notes on the ‘take’ of the older music is given a written exposition in the Cal Performance program. Among the other details, he has taken the regular rhythms of “When I’m Sixty Four,” putting a ‘5’ rhythm between the 6 and the 4.The dancers use all the counts, so the piece becomes chorus line mayhem. Delightful!

Iverson’s music group consists of outstanding instrumentalists and singers. They are Clinton Curtis, vocals; Sam Newsome, soprano saxophone; Jacob Garchik, trombone; Rob Schwimmer, theremin; Iverson, piano; Colin Fowler, harpsichord/organ; Vincent Sperrazza, percussion. This ain’t the lonely hearts band expected; this is great music!

Morris is a master choreographer of steps, phrases and jokes. With the twelve musical numbers he chose, he has given the masterful, technically skilled, charming group a variety of musical hall dance, nightclub dance, bits of ballet and modern dance and a general ‘good show’ event. Men dance together, as do women. There are lifts and flops, costume changes, character impersonations and spectacular solos (particularly some by Lesley Garrison). Each and every member of the 15 dancers have the opportunity to ‘pull down the house’… and they each do.

The chorus line number, “When I’m Sixty Four” seemed to appeal to the audience most. Probably many of them are that age…and older. The mixed rhythms executed so deftly as the company performed the “Rockettes-like” number, brought laughter of recognition of both the melody and the movement reference. All of the twelve selections were lively and danced with the skill so well known to this company.

Mica Bernas, Sam Back, Durellr. Comedy, Brandon Corny, Domingo Estrada, Jr., Lesley Grarrsin, Bauren Grant, Sarah Haarmann, Laurel Lynch, Dallas McMjjuray, Brandon Randolph, Nicole Sabella, Christina Sahaida, Billy Smith, Noah Vinson. BRAVO ALL!

Special mention goes to Elizabeth Kurtzman, whose costume designs in brilliant costumes recalling the styles of fifty years ago, bring delight and charm to the dances.

Joanna G. Harris

Charles Slender-White “Death”

CounterPulse, San Francisco
September 27-October 13, 2018 8 PM

“From extremely delicate to the wildly unhinged’

…is how artistic director/choreographer Charles Slender-White describes his production of “Death.” Using a long series of carefully choreographed phrases, he and his company perform those phrases over and over, as soloists and as groups, repeating the lunges, twists, falls, fascinating technical steps and stillness.

Slender-White starts the evening collecting small lights that the audiences has previously received. He charges these and puts them in a large jar filled with water. As he does this, he recounts the death of his mother, which, one assumes, motivates this work. He cites that he regards the work as “collective mourning for performers and audience alike.” He carries off a large plastic, headless reconstruction of the human body.

Like the messenger in the Greek myth, Charon, an usher appeared in the upper area of the theater where the audience viewed the solo performances of the each company member. The usher, using her flashlight, guided the individual from the theater to a showplace studio below where the event continued. The usher made the journey 40 times. Her slow, careful pace and detailed organization was fascinating choreography.

The basic phrases, now repeated by the group, grew in dynamics, range and force. There were episodes where the dancers sat in chairs, then fell forcibly to the ground. At one point, Slender-White let out a deep throated scream. Finally, each company member carried in a plastic body form (as seen earlier), put a light inside it and placed in it a pile. After their exit, a curtain fell.

All of the company is to be congratulated on their skill, their concentration, their devotion to the detailed execution of each dance phrase and its timing. The music accompaniment (Radiohes, W.A. Mozart, Ida Corr, Ryoji Ikenda, Max Richter) seem not to be a factor in their timing: they moved in unison with a great intuitive group sense . The event seemed long. It was long, almost one and three quarter hours. But then, death, we can presume, is long.

The dancers are: Keanu Brady, Michaela Burns, Kegan Marling, Morganne Mazeika, Catherine Newman, LizAnne Roman Roberts, Isabel Rosenstock, Charles Slender-White and Amanda Whitehead.Lighting Design: Dari Andrew Packard & Del Medoff: Dramaturge: Seth Eisen: Set Design Catherine Newman and Charles Slender-White.

Death” is an adventure well worth the evening’s experience. It provokes contemplation and admiration. Bravo!


Joanna G. Harris

Smuin Ballet

 Smuin Contemporary Ballet
Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek
September 22, 2018 2pm

Retrospective and Recent

The Smuin Contemporary Ballet Company, under the leadership of Celia Fuschile, artistic director, has launched its 2018-2019 season with ballets old and new. Smuin’s works are represented with “Schubert Scherzo” (2007) and “The Eternal Idol” (1969), a tribute to the sculptor Rodin. The newest event for the company is “Blue Until June” (2000), choreography by Trey McIntyre to the music of Etta James. Other choreographers include Rex Wheeler, Ben Needham-Wood and Nicole Haskins.

Smuin’s “Schubert Scherzo” opened the afternoon with lively extended locomotor patterns celebrating the company’s dynamic skills. The five men and women (listed below) danced throughout the performance with exuberance and technical bravura.

The Eternal Idol” to Chopin is a romantic duet for Erica Flesh and Peter Kurtz. With Rodin’s “Kiss” as the featured image, the work continues through a series of slow embraces and intimate lifts. It is sensually pleasing but for this reviewer, a little dull.

Sinfonitetta” to Tschaikovsky’s music revisited pleasant ballet locomotion and vocabulary, dynamic and sometimes repetitious. Alysia Chang and Mengjun Chen were the outstanding duet as were Tess Lane and Matiia Pallozzi. “Echo,” inspired by the myth of Echo and Narcissus was dramatic and sometimes confusing as to the focus of roles. Valerie Harmon took the lead as Echo: Peter Kurta was the subjugated Narcissus.

The Smuin Company succeeds in bringing pop music to ballet. In “Merely Players” Nicole Haskings uses music by Vampire Weekend, Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver to develop a series of romps between and among the company. Again, Chang and Chen as well as Dean and Kretz were outstanding.

The big new work, “Blue Until June” by Trey McIntyre (whose recent work was seen last spring at the SF Ballet), is set to songs by Etta James. The nine songs all give the company the opportunity to dramatize their roles as friends and lovers with a lively sense of humor in each event. The audience was delighted with such familiar numbers as “If I Can’t Have You,” “One for My Baby,” and “At Last.” It is a pleasure to see ballet dancers move to more relaxed contemporary movement and project such fun.

Congratulations to Ian Buchanan, Maggie Carey, Alysia Chang, Mengjun Chen, Nicole Haskins, Robert Kretz, Tess Lane, Ben-Needham-Wood, Mattia Pallozzi and Lauren Pschirrer, dancers and director Celia Fuschile. Smuin was well honored.

Smuin Ballet plans a Xmas Ballet in November and a Dance Series 02 in May.

Joanna G. Harris

Photo follows