Friday, February 22, 2008

Compañía Nacional de Danza @YBCA

Compañía Nacional de Danza
Presented by San Francisco Performances
Performed at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Program A
Wednesday, February 20, 2008, 8PM

San Francisco houses numerous dance companies, but we don’t have anything quite like Compañía Nacional de Danza. Led by artistic director and choreographer Nacho Duato, the company’s amazingly talented dancers hail from all over the world and what they brought to the Yerba Buena stage last night was something I’ve never experienced. The company, over two hours, explored current and historical issues through powerful contemporary dance and received a well-deserved standing ovation from a full house.

Duato has a style all of his own, stressing the strong use of canon, repetition, rhythm, and justifiable unison. His movement leans towards curves and sweeping limbs with well-placed hops, and themes range from literal to more abstract. Here on the local stage, we were treated to three of his more focused issues: castration, slavery, and drugs, all in some way or another delving into who we are as individuals and in short, how we define ourselves and identify with those around us.

“White Darkness,” Duato’s introspective look at drug use and abuse, brought the crowd to its feet. With sand dropping from above and brushing to and fro, Ana María López, Amaury Lebrun, Soojee Watman, Francisco Lorenzo, África Guzmán, Randy Castillo, Inês Pereira, and Fabrice Edelmann, dressed in reddish black, danced in pairs. They resembled the body and how it responds to drugs: quick and flighty at the onset and lethargic at the end. As the lead couple, Yolanda Martín and Dimo Kirilov swept from one end of the stage, leaping and embracing until she makes a potentially deadly decision. All the while Jaffar Chalabi’s honeycomb-like structure grew and stretched upwards in the background, and the dancers, set, and falling dust continued to morph like a quick-spinning kaleidoscope against Karl Jenkins’ “Adeimus Variations” and “String Quartet No. 2”). Joop Caboort’s lighting design came to fruition at the finale, leaving many to gasp as the beauty of sand, body, and shadow.

“Castrati” opened with eight male dancers (including Dimi Kirilov, Isaac Montllor, Clyde Archer, Joel Toledo, Fabrice Edelmann, Francisco Lorenzo, Amaury Lebrun, and Héctor Torres) dressed in long sleeveless black capes and nude cropped pants moving through Karl Jenkins’ “Palladio.” Mental images of De Beers commercials quickly flashed in my mind, but retreated. These men were as durable as diamonds, but they caressed the stage with liquid strength and agility, lifting each other in arabesque-like positions and pushing their hands up and out as if they were offering themselves to the audience and something higher. Stein Flujt, as the latest to lose his manliness, showed compassion and thoughtfulness; he moved softly yet with a deep determination. Duato’s choreography showed these men as that: men. Even when castrated, they had their brawn, and they were a force to be reckoned with.

With sweeping backdrops by Walter Nobbe, Duato’s softer, more introspective “Rassemblement” explores slavery and resistance through Toto Bissainthe’s Haitian music and song, but it didn’t have the same force that the other two did. Slavery is a touchy subject, and to have mainly white people dancing about it is, well, ironic and hard to swallow. And yet to watch these dancers portray slaves, their feelings of resistance, their attempts to reject the ways of their captors and spin what is given to them into something of their very own: that held its own unique power unto itself. The final product, performed by Ana María López, Kayoko Everhart, Yolanda Martín, África Guzmán, Francisco Lorenzo, Mathieu Rouvière, Joel Toledo, and Isaac Montllor (with cameos by Gentian Doda and Fabrice Edelmann), weaved together a dramatic display of heart and fortitude.

Nacho Duato choreographs in big, bold gestures and it’s not something that can be ignored. His fervent success has been heard around the globe, and I hope it echoes here for many years to come.

Photo courtesy of Compañía Nacional de Danza

Monday, February 11, 2008

Company Ea Sola @ YBCA

Company Ea Sola, "Drought and Rain, Vol. 2"
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
February 6, 2008

Generally, the thought of Vietnam might bring to mind hot, flavorful pho; communism; and Lyndon Johnson, but modern dance and performance art probably don’t surface. Company Ea Sola’s “Drought and Rain, Vol.2” may change your mind.

Sola left home country at the end of the Vietnam War and lived in Paris for about a decade, where she explored movement in both formal and informal settings. Focusing on war and the responsibility and effects it has on individuals and a people as a whole, Sola incorporates dance, live music and vocals, projected images and text, and props, creating a multi-dimensional and potent 45 minutes of theater. Her dancers come from the Vietnam Opera Ballet of Hanoi, and while not having strong technique in traditional ballet and modern dance, they moved effectively enough, tiptoeing like a knock-kneed little child early on and, by the end, fully engrossing their entire bodies in Sola’s ideas and concept.

One of the most powerful images came when the dancers presented portraits of those touched by war. A scorching red glow fired down from above, and 16 hands, palms side up, reached out. There’s blood painted on these hands, even if they didn’t cause, participate in, or support war itself; everyone is connected to war. And this is what Sola’s work is ultimately getting at. How do we treat war? How much responsibility do we have for our community’s previous, past, and future actions? And how do we emotionally process this into our own consciousness? Sola says that her choreographic approach is “like an animal. I don’t have a lot thinking, but a lot of feeling.” The eight dancers gesture, shake, pause, and walk. The women’s hair flies naturally as they slide and lunge, looking uniform in their black tops and pants as the men jump about in colorful pants, shirts, and shorts. There’s rarely interaction between their bodies, adding a feeling of solitude, and there’s a definite end game in sight. The laid-back structure may seem muddled in certain moments, but what Sola lacks in choreographic structure and traditional dancemaking, she and her dancers make up for in heart and effort.

Photo © Company Ea Sola

Saturday, February 02, 2008

SF Ballet, Program 2

How Sweet It Is
San Francisco Ballet, Program 2
January 31, 2008

Thursday a few colleagues and I went to celebrate the last day of “Dine About Town” with a prix fixe lunch at Fringale, a lovely little French restaurant just a few blocks from work. Our appetizers and entrees hit the spot (I savored the couscous with mushroom and chestnut ragout and white truffle oil- how divine!), but by the time we were faced with dessert, we stood perplexed. Should we each order what our hearts desired, or do we agree to order one of each of the three choices and share amongst each other? We went with the latter, and boy, were we happy. Our mixed bill of a warm chocolate gourmand, hazelnut and roasted almond mousse cake, and apple tart tatin pleased all of the senses, and we came away with an appreciation for how each dessert complemented the other. The same could be said for Program 2 of San Francisco Ballet’s current season. Featuring works by Balanchine, Morris, and Possokhov, there was something for everyone, and while each work could hold their own on the expansive Opera House stage, the evening closed with a sense of well-deserved completeness.

The evening opened with George Balanchine’s “Divertimento No. 15,” set to music by Mozart. Balanchine has become synonymous with American ballet, so perhaps this was the program’s equivalent to my lunch’s apple tart. Showcasing musicality and pure, codified ballet, the work followed a theme of crisp 5th positions, deep pliés, pure balanced attitudes, and long, sweeping penchés. Kristin Long energized the stage with her feet of fury, and Gennadi Nedvigin is a man who knows how to maximize his plié, showing off luscious jumps, beats, and pirouettes that all seemed to melt and then spring upward from his ankles to the rafters. The principal cast also included Frances Chung, Rachel Viselli, Katita Waldo, Vanessa Zahorian, Nicolas Blanc, and Hansuke Yamamoto. All looked well-rehearsed, except for Yamamoto, who was a late addition, and this may just not be his forte.

Mark Morris’ “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes” brought Virgil Thomson’s score to life as a visual cornucopia of notes, beats, pauses, and rhythms. A highlight of the evening, the cast, dressed in conservative yet flowy white attire, looked comfortable yet fresh in the stripped down, unaffected movement. Anthony Spaulding invited us to share the moment as he gracefully balancéd (think waltzing) side to side, and Maria Kochetkova delighted, bounding with zest in her jetes. Courtney Elizabeth shone throughout, her smile reaching past the last rows of seats and out onto Van Ness and elegance radiating through her limbs and out the top of her bun. Rory Hohenstein looked at home in the relaxed movement and overall style; he truly is a chameleon of the trade. Morris knows how to create a work of art, and here, he's spun ballet on it's side, infusing it with a warm summer's day and a cool winter's night to create an effortless array of well-developed and joyous-to-watch movement. “Drink to Me,” though, was a true ensemble piece, and it wouldn’t have been as effective without the entire cast, which also included Elana Altman, Dores Andre, Ruben Martin, Elizabeth Miner, Pascal Molat, Garen Scribner, James Sofranko, and Sarah Van Patten. Nataly’a Feygina played the piano upstage center with ferocious abandon.

Yuri Possokov’s theatrical “Firebird” made an encore appearance. A brief 35 minutes, this is a short story for the kid in you. There’s love, intrigue, giggles, a chase scene, eunuchs cavorting about, and a glittering, orange, leggy bird with a wig. The contemporary set design by Yuri Zukov includes anime-like trees, a spare red “town”, and at one key moment, sweeping grayish fabric for a quick scene change. But even though Pascal Molat’s sinister Karchei had captured the princess (an endearing Rachel Viselli) and her fellow friends, and entrapped our prince-of-the-day (Damian Smith) in a Red Vine-like curly enclosure, in this universe, Yuan Yuan Tan, as the Firebird, ruled. With each spin or lift in Smith’s arms and leap towards Molat, the audience grew quieter and quieter, seeming to bow to her spellbinding ability to twist, turn, and sparkle at every moment. Martin West conducted the thumping San Francisco Ballet Orchestra. “Firebird” may not be the best ballet has to offer, but it sure did end the night with a loud round of applause and a smile on many faces.

You’re probably wondering which one I liked the most. Well, I’ll be honest: it was the chocolate gourmand. Pure, self-indulging, and rich down to the last bite. Just how I like ‘em.

Vanessa Zahorian and Kristin Long in Balanchine's "Divertimento No.15."
San Francisco Ballet in Morris' "Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes."
Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith in Possokhov's "Firebird."
All photos © Erik Tomasson.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Compañía Nacional de Danza

¡Bailamos! Nacho Duato’s Compañía Nacional de Danza to debut in San Francisco at the end of the month

Nacho Duato’s Compañía Nacional de Danza will soar in and make its San Francisco debut at the end of February. Duato studied at the Rambert School in London, Maurice Bejart’s Mudra School in Brussels, and The Alvin Ailey American Dance Center in New York before pursuing a professional career, dancing with the Cullberg Ballet and Nederlands Dans Theater before trying
his hand at choreography in 1983. Since then, he’s created renowned works for companies all across the globe, and his company, based in Madrid, Spain, is known for its strong dancers and unpretentious style, boasting 27 dancers and a well-regarded second company.

Kayoko Everhart, a dancer with the main company, trained for several years here in San Francisco and graciously agreed to answer a few questions about her formal dance training, performing career, and current experiences with CND in advance of the company's West Coast visit.

How did you get started in dance? What is your background and training?

The women in my family were very much involved with dance. My mother danced in a well-known theater/dance group in Tokyo, my aunt and cousin were competitive ballroom dancers, and my grandmother did traditional Japanese dance. Her last show was at the age of 92... I think she's about 96 now. I trained [for] nearly 10 years under Kay Englert at Washington Contemporary Ballet in Tacoma, WA. Then, in 2000 San Francisco Ballet School offered me a tuition scholarship to join the school. I had attended 2 summer programs with SF Ballet School before attending the [residency] program.

You studied at the Washington Contemporary Ballet and San Francisco Ballet, working with
well-known dancers and artistic directors. How did your training prepare you for a professional career in dance?

My training at WA Contemporary Ballet gave me a strong base in classical ballet as well as in contemporary movement. Without it I wouldn't have gotten into SF Ballet School. I was given many opportunities to perform with the company while I was in San Francisco, and that definitely help to build an awareness of how everything functions in a professional company. The most valuable training I received was the time spent on stage and of course the time spent preparing for the performances.

Prior to Compañía Nacional de Danza, you danced with Tulsa Ballet and CNDII [the “second”
company of CND]. What were these experiences like, and how do they differ from CND?

Tulsa Ballet is a mixed rep company, meaning they do a wide range of pieces from classical to modern. It's very interesting to have to constantly change styles. Being in CND2 was a great experience. It's a group of 14 dancers all between the ages of 17-24 from many different countries so we all had a lot of fun touring together. CND2 performs most of Nacho's older pieces, as well as choreographies by CND1 dancers, other up-and-coming choreographers, as well as pieces by the Co Artistic Director of CND2 Tony Fabre. The atmosphere in the 1st company is very different from the 2nd. The dancers are older and more experienced so there's a lot I can learn just by watching and being around them. Because there are twice as many people in the 1st company the group is not as closely knit. It did take some adjusting in the beginning.

What spurred your move to Spain and your inclination to join CNDII and, ultimately, CND?

I was given my first opportunity to dance a Nacho Duato piece (“Arenal”) while I was at Tulsa Ballet, and I quickly fell in love with the style. It's organic, and I felt very comfortable doing his movement. After some urging from a close friend, I decided to fly to Madrid for the audition. I didn't know much about the company at the time, and had never been to Spain, let alone Europe, but I knew I would be happy dancing his ballets. After being in CND2 there was no question about wanting to be in CND1.

Here in the US, companies often hire international dancers. How has your transition from American to European life progressed? And what differences or similarities have you experienced? How's your Spanish?

Naturally, I was ecstatic about joining CND2 and moving to Spain, but at the same time it was very unnerving to be in a country where I had no friends or family, and where I didn't speak the language. I started studying Spanish right away, but it took about a year to feel comfortable using the Spanish that I had learned. These days I can understand nearly everything and speak well enough to express myself. The lifestyle in Spain is comfortable and laid-back, but there are many smaller comforts that I miss about the US like all the 24hr stores and the huge number of choices at the supermarket.

What are some of your favorite works to perform? And will you be dancing any of them on tour?

While I was dancing with CND2 my favorites to perform were “Arenal,” “Na Floresta,” and “Rassemblement” (which I'll be performing on Feb 21). My current favorites with CND1 are “Herrumbre,” “White Darkness” (Feb 21), and “Por Vos Muero” (Feb 24).

Describe one of your favorite moments with CND and/or CNDII.

I was lucky enough to join CND1 in the middle of last season (Jan 2007), and my second tour with the company was to Yokohama, Japan. It's where my sister and nephew live, and it's just next to Tokyo where I was born and where my mother's family lives. My parents flew out from Tacoma, WA to see the show. I was completely nervous because it was my premiere with the 1st company, and it was the first time for all of my friends and family in Japan to see me dance, but in the end it was a great and memorable experience! I'm really thrilled that my 96-year-old grandmother got to see me perform.

With your, albeit brief, return to San Francisco, are there any places you hope to visit? Or favorite restaurants or places in the city you aim to revisit?

Most important on my agenda is to get in contact with old friends. It's been 6 years since my last visit to San Francisco, and that was only for a few days. If I have any time left after that I'll probably rediscover the city a bit.... walk around Fisherman's Wharf, Haight-Ashbury, Golden Gate Park, or Ocean Beach. Maybe I'll even ride a cable car, which I never did when I lived in San Francisco.

You can see Compañía Nacional de Danza February 20-24 (off-day on February 22), 2008 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Compañía Nacional de Danza is presented by San Francisco Performances.

Program A, February 20-21 includes:
    Rassemblement - (Music Toto Bissainthe from Haitian folk songs)
    Castrati - (Music Antonio Vivaldi [Nisi Dominus RV 608; Stabat Mater RV 621; Salve Regina RV 616; Concerto RV 439 “La notte”], Karl Jenkins [Palladio])
    White Darkness - (Music Karl Jenkins [Adiemus Variations, String Quartet No. 2])
Both performances are at 8PM.

Program B, February 23 (8PM) and 24 (2PM) includes:
    Gilded Goldbergs – US Premiere (Music: Robin Holloway)
    Gnawa (Music by Hassan Hakmoun/Adam Rudolph (Gift of the Gnawa, Ma’Bud Allah)
    Por Vos Muero (Music: Old Spanish music—fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (Cançons de la Catalunya millenària—
    El Mestre, popular music of Catalonia by La Capella Reial de Catalunya, directed by Jordi Savall; Canciones y Danzas de España; and España, Antología de la Música Española)
More information can be found at San Francisco Performances’ website,

Photos courtesy of Compañía Nacional de Danza.