Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sankai Juku, SFP/YBC, 11/14/2006

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, these are the fairest of them all.

Sankai Juku
Kagemi: Beyond the Metaphors of Mirrors
Presented by SF Performances & Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Performed at YBCA Forum
November 14, 2006

Butoh is more than dance; it incorporates theater and a feeling of meditation, which transforms one from being a passive audience member to a spiritually active one. Seeing Sankai Juku’s Kagemi: Beyond the Metaphors of Mirrors on Tuesday night, I truly felt transformed in both body and spirit. Entering Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Forum, my date and I were awestruck by the softly lit, life-size white lilies floating effortlessly onstage above a creamy white platform. In fact, I grew quite giddy trying to count them before the show, finally settling on a number roughly in the range of many several dozen or more-than-50-less-than-80. At the same time, faint music trickled in through the speakers and the glow from the flowers’ outlines created a calming pattern of dark circles on stage, transporting me to a cream-colored Japanese-influence version of Disney’s Fantasia. All this, and the official performance hadn’t even started yet.

Sankai Juku’s well-deserved return to the Bay Area (it’s been 5 years) was nothing short of magical. The seven clay-covered dancers included Ushio Amagatsu (the company’s founder and artistic director), Semimaru, Sho Takeuchi, Akihito Ichihara, Taiyo Tochiaki, Ichiro Hasegawa, and Dai Matsuoka. Beginning with a single dancer, the work ebbed and flowed like a school of fish on a journey, venturing toward a very self-satisfying yet personally enriching and transitional climax. What struck me most was the care and dedication each performer committed to and how they moved with the music and each other: lifting an arm, tilting their heads, finding a driving rhythm, walking purposefully backwards and forwards. The intricacies that we don’t normally see or pay attention to came alive in this performance, and were enhanced even more by the canopy of lilies (which were lifted high up yet not out of sigh early on in the performance), Satoru Suzuki’s warm golden lighting, Masayo Iizuka’s variations-of-white “costume realization,” and an original and varied score by Takashi Kako and Yoichiro Yoshikawa.

The company received a well-deserved standing ovation from the sold-out crowd, and San Francisco Performances and Yerba Buena should be commended for bringing such a high quality company back to San Francisco. Hopefully Sankai Juku can return for a longer run next time, proving more people the opportunity to share in their wonderfully rich and introspective style.

Photo by Sankai Juku

Monday, November 06, 2006

Lines Ballet, YBC, 11/4/2006

Lines Migrates Two Steps Forward, One Downward Facing Dog Back

Lines Ballet
November 4, 2006
Fall Home Season
Migrations and Sky Clad

I have a secret to admit, and it’s no small one. Sure, I don’t have a secret baby girl who I’ve shuttled off to Alaska to live in the wild raised by grizzly bears. And no, I do not have a secret shrine complete with disco ball devoted to the ever-changing dance styles of Madonna. But what’s true is that I’ve lived in San Francisco for over five years, and hadn’t seen Lines Ballet in performance until this past weekend. That’s right. Yours truly was an Alonzo King newbie. Thankfully, though, I wasn’t a dance newbie. Otherwise, I’d think the evening’s theme was boyshorts (seemingly the preferred costume choice for King’s men).

The program’s highlight proved to be King’s stateside premiere of Migration: The Hierarchical Migration of Birds and Mammals, set to music by Pharoah Sanders, Miguel Frasconi, and Leslie Stuck. The nine dancers began their migration by taking flight (or perhaps hatching out of their shells) on the floor, arching their backs and gracefully flailing their limbs. In fact, there was a lot of graceful flailing throughout, but coupled with sweeping lifts, circular hip swivels, and quick parallel passé sautés, it took on a more gratifying importance, one of upward movement, forward thinking, and ascension.

King’s duet for Meredith Webster and Brett Conway spanned more towards the “mammals” migration. With long extensions, intricate yet striking partnering, and a tenderness not seen in traditional ballet, Webster and Conway showcased a more animalistic edge, one that appeared more grounded and earthy instead of the airiness seen in the other bird-like section.

King’s San Francisco premiere of Sky Clad didn’t make a splash (perhaps like a sea lion or some other marine mammal) like Migration did. While the live music of Hindustani vocalist Rita Sahai with accompaniment by Rachel Unterseher (violin/viola) and Debopriyo Sarkar (tabla) sounded inspiring, the musicians were situated in the pit facing the dancers, and it was difficult to even see them. Had I not known they were there, I probably wouldn’t have even realized the music was live. Perhaps situating them at a better angle on the side of the pit could play up the live factor a tad bit.

The loss of “live music” effect wasn’t the only aspect that fell flat. King’s movement, compared to that of Migration, felt superficial, incorporating some of his choreographic trademarks such as flowing spins, jutting hips, and fully extended grand battements with a slew of yoga and traditional Indian poses. That’s right, downward facing dog and eagle pose combined with ballet and contemporary dance don’t quite mix. The dancers, though, saved Sky Clad from migrating too far down the food chain, and they committed to the movement with attack and grace.

Migration has potential, and I’m glad I’ve finally added Lines’ to my repertoire. Plus, King’s dancers impressed me with their technical feats (and feet) and artistic abilities, and I look forward to seeing the company migrate onward.

Photo by Thomas Ammerpohl