Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Nutcracker, SF Ballet

Ninety mi-nut-es of holiday magic
San Francisco Ballet at the War Memorial Opera House
Dec. 18, 2007, 7PM

Sparkly fuschia-colored life-sized dolls, dancing snow, and squeals of tiny children’s joy stir up memories of early dawn on Christmas morning, which is just what Helgi Tomasson’s maturing “Nutcracker” aims to do at each and every performance. Tuesday night was no different, with tots dressed up in their best frocks and suits, sitting at the edge of their seats, and gaping at every turn and leap. “Mom! She just got so tiny!” exclaimed one little child behind me as the tree rose high above the stage. “Ooh! Snow fairies! Hee!” piped another as Snowflakes danced out of the wings. And if I had thought about it less, I probably would have giggled with glee right along with them!

Act I plopped us in the middle of 1915 San Francisco, and the character dancers, supers, and company dancers looked right at home. The party at the Stahlbaums’ passed with ease--a group dance here, children running there, and a graceful Jessica Cohen as Clara--, and it all flowed quite well into the dancing dolls. Rory Hohenstein played the flexible and somewhat dopey harlequin, and Clara Blanco, who’s returned to SF Ballet after a one-year hiatus in England, shined as the spinning, flexedfoot dancing doll. Katita Waldo heralded the stage as the Snow Queen, and as her King, Hansuke Yamamoto displayed impressiveness in both his sissones and partnering. Lily Rogers stood out as a light-footed and stretchy snowflake, and Ashley Muangmaithong’s smile carried all the way to the back of the Opera House. In Act II, encircled by a buzz of butterflies and ladybugs early on and Waltzing Flowers toward the end, Elana Altman commanded as the Lilac Fairy, but she dazzled in the allegro, leaping high above the ground yet always with an air of calm around her. Adeline Kaiser slithered as the lead in Arabian, artfully partnered by David Arce and Aaron Orza, and James Sofranko along with Benjamin Stewart and Matthew Stewart kicked and spun with attack from the first moment they leapt out of the Faberge eggs. The best, though, was saved for last, when Frances Chung and Jaime Garcia Castilla (his debut in the role) performed the Grand Pas de Deux with electricity and finesse. Chung’s piqués were soft yet forceful, and she spun effortlessly through her fouetté turns. Castilla’s chaîné-grand jetés reached forward past his finely pointed feet and stretched arms, covering every inch of the stage, and his artistry proved his “princiness.”

Martin West conducted the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, and its spirit proved merry, adding to a well rounded "Nutcracker" overall. But while I enjoyed this evening’s onstage performance immensely, it was my neighboring children’s intrigue and genuine appreciation for a classic story intertwined with all of the tricks, secrets, and magic that the theater holds so dear (and SF Ballet does so well) that reinforced that the holidays are a time of happiness, joy, and warmth.

Photo © Erik Tomasson

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Margaret Jenkins Dance Company @ Project Artaud Theater

The proof is in its brightness
“Other Suns”
Margaret Jenkins Dance Company
Project Artaud Theater
December 8, 2007

Inspired by her time in spent in Asia, Margaret Jenkins premiered the first part of “Other Suns,” which is set to be a trilogy examining symmetry and asymmetry. Prior to the event, my mind flashed back to my days of geometry and proofs. Would there be iscosoles triangles? Perhaps an investigation of parallel vs. perpendicular lines? No. Of course not. But there was proof that Jenkins’ work is well grounded, and that there’s still quite more to come.

The 40-minute long evening, set in Project Artaud’s spacious theater, began with warm bulb lights shining brightly behind the seven strong dancers: Joseph Copley, Kelly Del Rosario, Melanie Elms, Steffany Ferroni, Matthew Holland, Deborah Miller, and Ryan Smith. With great care and subtle strength, Elms initially drew us in with her deliberate movements and graceful presence. Circling around with a controlled breath, pausing ever so slightly to where I was sitting precariously at the edge of my set waiting for what comes next, she flowed through space with increasing awareness. Hip bumping the dancers as if she was the end piece of a Newton’s cradle, she gently swayed them into motion. As the work progressed, they moved similarly, at times in synch and others not, but the continuum traveled ahead, pulling dancers forward and back, up high into the hung lights and rolling down upon the earth. There was always, though, a return back to the center, whether it was a dancer’s own personal center or that of the space. Similar to a planet or group of planets circling around a sun and the sun’s gravity in holding the planets’ in their orbits, the dancers’ focus remained in the present, even when it seemed like their bodies were forever jutting quickly in infinite directions through space. The dancers ended with a sense of relief, contentment, and solitude, complemented by the final drips of water off of a platform (designed by the always inspirational Alexander V. Nichols) raised high above the dancers. The music, recordings of Paul Dresher’s "Channels Passing" and Bun-Ching Lam’s "Like Water" provided moments of lift and contemplation, easily complementing Jenkins’ choreography without being overpowering or distracting.

I’m curious to see what follows, which will be a collaboration with Guangdong Modern Dance Company of China and scheduled for debut in 2009. Will Jenkins’ subsequent sections build upon the first or incorporate parallels in other movement and dance universes? Or maybe not every sun has such a sunny side as this one.