Thursday, December 31, 2009

dance flash @ the appeal: KUNST-STOFF's new space and NYE bash

This week at the sf appeal, I've highlighted KUNST-STOFF's new arts space, which kicks off with a NYE open house.

The location may be "amazing," but this is one local who thinks that Adoniou has his work cut out for him. Located just east of the basement-located, florescent light-filled Marshall's, this mid-Market span has gotten loads of attention over a planned revitalization, but currently foot traffic tends to fall off once you hit 5th. Should the area flourish, Adoniou could have a major success on his hands.

For the full article, go here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

dance flash @ the appeal: Rhythm & Motion -- Legwarmers not required

This past week I took a class at Rhythm & Motion to get a feel for their unique "dance workout" class, in advance of their free day of dance classes next Wednesday.

Fusing dance styles and eclectic music? A dance workout? This is gibberish, sort of like if someone said that Mayor Newsom had turned in his hair gel for pomade. Make sense, dammit! Well, to find out, I did what any hardworking dance writer does. I went and took a class.

For the entire article at the SF Appeal, go here.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

dance flash @ the appeal: the christmas ballet

An excerpt from my preview of Smuin Ballet's "The Christmas Ballet" at the SF Appeal:

Don't get me wrong; I love a good "Nutcracker." But what does it really have to do with Christmas? Is the underlying theme, "X-mas is all just a dream!" Or, heavens no, that there really is a magical Sugar Plum Fairy who can whisk you away at a moment's notice to a land filled with high fructose corn syrup and red dye #40, and that Jesus nursed on candy and coffee during his first night in the manger?

Either way, I was skeptical about Smuin Ballet's "The Christmas Ballet." The name slightly scares me. It's not the holiday ballet; it's focused on Christmas. Yikes. But I checked out the first half Wednesday afternoon at the company's dress rehearsal and now feel semi-reassured.

For the entire article, go here.

Photo by Smuin Ballet

Also, last week was hectic, and I didn't get a chance to post a link to my interview with Catherine Galasso. Here's an excerpt and link.

"Lightning Never Strikes the Same Place Twice" was selected to be presented at the 2006 Skena UP International Theater and Film Festival in Pristina, Kosovo, where it received the New Spirit award for most original outreach in theater. I'm a dance geek, so I have to admit, I don't know what "original outreach in theater" means. Would you help me out, in layman's terms?

I think the "original outreach" part was just a poor translation. It means, "Most Original," I guess. There were awards for "Best Director" and "Best Theater Show." I don't think they had ever seen anything quite as cross disciplinary as our "Lightning" piece, but they really liked it so they gave it this special award. Brandt Adams, who plays the lead in "Lightning," was awarded "Best Actor" which is hilarious because he doesn't utter a single word during the entire show! Brandt is definitely a great actor and an exceptional mover.

You're remounting "Lightning," which is based on the real-life story of Roy Sullivan, a man who was struck by lightning seven times during his lifetime. What drew you to his story?

Originally I wanted to make a piece about a character that goes on a quest or journey. Roy Sullivan's story seemed to fit perfectly. There is not a ton of biographical information available about Sullivan, but based on what I've read, it seems like he had a really hard time being close with the people around him. We made up new characters that are to exist in Sullivan's psyche. We use video sequences to tell the story of the real Sullivan, and to describe some of the medical consequences of a lightning encounter. The live sequences are an interpretation of Sullivan's hallucinations, and his love for an imaginary woman made of electrical cords.

OK, gotta ask, have you ever been struck by lightning?


For more, go here.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

dance flash @ the appeal: 2009 holiday dance schtuff, part deux

here's an excerpt from this week's dance flash at the sf appeal:

...lastly, this is early, but hey, it's like a wasabi nut blend: a crazy idea that after a few bites, doesn't seem so odd after all. The Dance-Along Nutcracker is back for two days, letting everyone who's young at heart twirl and flutter about to Tchaikovsky's familiar score. This nut is presented by The San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band. Founded by Jon Sims in the late 70s, the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band is the first openly gay music organization ever. But if you haven't gotten the picture yet, let me spell it out for you. This is no sit-in-a-seat-and-watch-two-hours-of-dance event. You're encouraged to dress up (this year's theme is the wild west--yeehaw!), dance about, and above all, have fun! Now throw on some chaps (and at least a matching thong, please), suit up the horse and buggy (er, Muni), and dance along, partner.

for more, go here.

Photo Credit: Jane Philomen-Cleland

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

dance flash @ the appeal: 2009 holiday dance schtuff, take one

here's an excerpt from holiday dance schtuff, take one at the sf appeal.

"The day after Thanksgiving, you can stand in the 'I'm totally crazy, full, and sleepy' line at Best Buy at 4AM or hot-foot it to the 9AM cardio kickmyass class. Neither, though, may be as enjoyable as taking in ODC/Dance's 23rd season of 'The Velveteen Rabbit,' with its plush animal costumes and contemporary dance. If you're still feeling the after-effects of rum punch and soy nog, don't worry. 'The Velveteen Rabbit is narrated."

the full article is here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

dance flash @ the appeal: the sf hip hop dancefest

(this photo is not doctored! that's the south korean crew last for one posing with secretary of state hillary clinton.)

This week's Dance Flash: the San Francisco Hip Hop DanceFest.

An excerpt:

Does an audience need to know their popping from their locking? Definitely not. These shows are meant to expose people to lots of different types of hip hop dance in a friendly environment. About the audience, Rosales says these are "not your everyday dance hip hop watchers... I love doing the show for our company because it's our time to expose ourselves to a new audience and a new demographic, and I think it's great... because it's our chance to really hit the spotlight for a second, you know, and get recognized for something that we've been doing for so long."

And Micaya says, "[Hip hop] is definitely mainstream now. I had a lot of battles, so to speak, when I first started the festival just by using the word hip hop. When I first started, you can imagine, 11 years ago, the first thing that came to people's minds was, "Are there going to be guns?" and negativity, and I was just like, 'Oh my god! You've got to be kidding me! Just come once, and, for the rest of your life, your mind will be altered about what this image of, back in the day, that word used to put in people's minds,' because it's so far from the truth of what artists are doing in the genre."

For the entire preview, go here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

dance flash @ the appeal: an interview with dv8's lloyd newson

I interviewed Lloyd Newson, the artistic director of DV8 Physical Theatre, for the San Francisco Appeal. Here's an excerpt.

What does physical theater mean? Could you give me a little more information about how it's different from other forms?

We call it physical theater instead of dance theater because it's often driven by meaning as opposed to theater or dance. And because it's highly physical as much more than just talking heads, hence physical theater seemed appropriate.

[That was a short response. Maybe I won't push on that. I mean, we went round and round and round and finally the guy agreed to call me from England, the home of Posh Spice and Harrods. But is dance not driven by meaning?]

I was reading on your website that you're moving towards more text-based work as opposed to movement-based. Is there any specific reason for that?

Well, if you try just saying in dance, "This is my sister, " it's going to take you a long time.

Hmm...[Really. I said that aloud.]

For the complete interview, go here.

"To Be Straight With You": Image of Ankur Bahl. Photo by Matt Nettheim

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

dance flash @ the appeal: printz dance project

this week's dance flash (at the san francisco appeal) focuses on printz dance project.

"While creating new dances and guest teaching here and throughout the world (like Ireland, Russia, New York, and Kentucky), PDP has been Printz' local expressive outlet. Reflecting on the past decade, Printz says, 'While I think the company has evolved and changed, I also feel like our core values and desires have stayed the same. And, unfortunately some of the 'bootstrap' financial struggles that we had early on, we still face today! On the flip side, there is a calmer approach to producing the home seasons than there was in the beginning; early on there are so many new things to figure out. At this point we have a better sense of how to organize it and make it unfold. That said, I love that each season is full of surprises that offer just enough newness to keep us on our toes.'"

read the entire preview here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

dance flash @ the appeal: not-so-spooky dance

this week at the appeal, i focused on some smaller offerings.

"The word zambaleta means "a spontaneous chaotic street party'" and happens when everyone is actively participating, whether by playing music, singing, or dancing. San Francisco's new community world music and dance school embodies that spirit in both mission and name. Based at 19th Street and Florida in the Mission, Zambaleta, a non-profit, has just opened its doors. Offering a comprehensive program of world music and dance classes, Zambaleta aims to provide a new home for San Francisco's vibrant world music community.

To celebrate the launch of this new space, Zambaleta will be hosting some of the Bay Area's best world music acts, including the Brass Menazeri and the Japonize Elephants, this Saturday night with a giant Halloween Hullabaloo Benefit in Zambaleta's staggeringly massive dance hall. It'll be an exciting night complete with aerial dancers and clowns."

see the entire article here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

docfest @ the appeal: only when i dance

This past weekend, I covered two documentaries at the SF Independent Film Festival's DocFest for the Appeal. Here's a link to my review of "Only When I Dance."

"'Only When I Dance' is a documentary that focuses on two teenagers in Brazil. Living in the favelas of Rio de Janiero, advanced ballet students Irlan and Isabela both train on scholarships at Centro de Dance Rio, located in an affluent part of the city. 'Only When I Dance' follows these two young dancers as they vie for the "next step"--scholarships to world-renowned training grounds--through international competitions.

Irlan is the dancer with the most promise. Naturally gifted, Irlan shows immense dedication, committing to school and ballet classes with the goal of becoming a professional dancer. These days, more boys are enrolling in ballet than 20 years ago, but still, it's not everyday that you see one with bendy feet, long and lean legs, incredible flexibility, and talent with a capital T..."

The entire review can be found here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

dance flash @ the appeal: an interview with alonzo king

this week for the appeal, i interviewed alonzo king.

"I was wondering what kind of traits you look for when you hire dancers or look for dancers?

Well, I think that's really apt what you're saying because if you look at this physical universe, everything is based on the sphere, everything. Nucleus, radius, electrons, protons, the planets, the galaxies, they're all spherical, and so that same thing is inherent in the body, and you manipulate it by going from circle to straight line. And all those things you illustrated are part of developing movement structure.

In terms of looking for dancers, what I mentioned earlier is that the character is the bottom line because what you're looking at onstage is who people are. People dance their consciousness, and so who's brave, who's generous, who's loving, who's consciences, who's risk-taking. All the things we like in heroic people are the things I look for in a dancer because these are human beings, after all. So we're looking for the noblest kind of character.

You know it's inextricable that who people are is what you're watching move, and so if they're givers, if they're brilliant, it's going to be obvious. And the opposite as well. If they are selfish, if they're vain, if they're scared--all of that is apparent. I like people who are heroic, who have the ability to get lost in movement and not be self-conscious. Humility is a beautiful thing to see in dancing. Sincerity is something very rare to see, but beautiful when you see it in dancing. And we take it for granted that they've got a technique that is second nature. Yeah, so who people are."

you can find the entire interview here.

Photo by RJ Muna

Thursday, October 15, 2009

dance flash @ the appeal: trolley dances

this week's dance flash: trolley dances

"Picture this: you and your buds, post-40 minute wait at Tartine for the most delicious éclair ever, meet up at Dolores Park, check in with your "tour guide" at the statue of Miguel Hidalgo, and, along with the rest of your group, make your way, via foot and the J, through the Mission, Noe Valley, and Balboa Park, all while stopping along the way to see a wide variety of local dance companies and performers in site-specific works. The cost to you: $2 (your Muni fare)...

But what kind of dance will you see? SF-based Deborah Slater Dance Theater is a sure crowd pleaser, and you've got to feel giddy when watching the SF Merionettes Synchronized Swim Club whirl about in the pool. Former Urban Bush woman Amara Tabor-Smith's Deep Waters Dance Theater doesn't perform in water, but her movement and incorporated text tend to have a liquid feel to them. Knowing Kathleen Hermesdorf, a popular instructor, performer, and choreographer, expect the unexpected (and how can you not? In this video, she gives an interview sitting atop a stove). Also on the bill are Jorge Rodolfo De Hoyos, performance artist and dancer, and Rosamaria Garcia, and Trolley Dances' director Kim Epifano's Sonic Dance Theater.

read more at the appeal.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

dance flash @ the appeal: burning dance questions 101

this week's dance flash is up at the appeal, and it's the beginning of a bi-monthly Q&A.

"Q: What's a tutu? And I wear an XXL, so where can I buy a fourfour?

A: Female ballet dancers may wear a tutu, aka a poofy skirt, in ballet performances. There are many different styles and lengths of tutus, but the one that you're probably thinking of is the really, and almost indecently, short one that's designed to show off a female dancer's intricate foot and leg work. Professional tutus (of all sizes) are custom-made, but cheaper ones can be purchased at dancewear stores."

for more, go here.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

dance flash @ the appeal: smuin ballet's fall/winter season 2009

this week's dance flash: smuin ballet's fall/winter season, which kicks off this weekend at the palace of fine arts.

"...Smuin's 'Medea,' follows a storyline that trumps even the juiciest of the original 'Melrose Place': there's love, lust, adultery, jealousy, rage, and mass murder. On Sunday, Susan Roemer's drama-queen Medea conveyed strength and a bald-Britney-wielding-a-baseball-bat-like craziness. True, I was saddened when she killed the Princess just steps from my feet, but minutes later, I was secretly rooting for her as Aaron Thayer's Jason met his demise. That debbie downer didn't last long, though, as the dancers took a short break and soon had me tapping my toes as they tossed their hats, twirled and waltzed across the floor, and strutted along to some of Frank Sinatra's best in Smuin's 'Fly Me to the Moon...'"

For the complete preview, go here.

Photo: Scot Goodman

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

dance flash @ the appeal: margaret jenkins dance company and who is paco gomes?

this week's dance flash.

"This week, I'm slinging two vastly different events at ya. Why, you ask? Well, I have grand delusions that San Franciscans want to jam-pack their weekends with dance performances galore. Or I think you, Mr. Tall, Blonde, and Cute-in-that-Cuddly-Bear-Sort-of-Way, need a few extra opportunities to impress Ms. Right with your cultural know-how. Either way, let's add some spice to your social calendar..."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

dance flash @ the appeal: dandelion dancetheater's MUTT

this week's dance flash.

"Often times, I'm positive I've stunted my imagination. Cases in point:
The number of non-black work shoes that I own: Three
Did I rename my cat post-SPCA adoption? Nope
Years it took me to accept brown as a full-fledged color and not just what dirt looks like: 28

Thankfully, Eric Kupers and his local company Dandelion Dancetheater infuse out-of-the-blue originality where I would only contribute a dependable yet deplorable snoozefest. A while back, Kupers caused watercooler tittering with "The Undressed Project," a series of dances performed by Dandelion Dancetheater's wide ranging dancers of all shapes, sizes, and abilities. Oh, and the costuming included nada. That's right. Modern dance and dance theater in the buff. It proved to be quite the first-date night outing..."

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

dance flash @ the appeal: jesse hewit

this week's dance flash.

"San Francisco's arts scene is thriving in venues both large and small. Case in point: Mama Calizo's Voice Factory, a petite space located smack-dab between SOMA and the Mission, will present Jesse Hewit's "Total Facts Known" over the next two weekends. MCVF seeks to nurture the development of queer performers, educators, and activists by providing them with artist in-residence programs and arts programming.

Over the past few years, Hewit has presented work across the city including CounterPULSE, The Garage, and The LAB. Don't expect post-modern dance or perfectly pointed toes and big leaps; Hewit isn't here to make pretty pictures. Instead, he takes bold visuals, everyday gestures, and life-inspired theater, and molds them into a contemporary tale inspired by Anne Carson's "Autobiography in Red." Carson's story, described by "The New York Times" as a "hybrid work of poetry and prose," retells the Greek myth of Geryon, a winged red monster killed by Hercules. Hewit breathes flesh and blood into Carson's story while investigating the connections between knowledge and ability..."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

it's all very appealing

quick, stop the presses! wait, do actual presses even exist anymore? by the looks of things, not for dance writing...

in addition to reviews at, you can now find me at the san francisco appeal. weekly wednesday dance flashes start... now!


Thursday, June 04, 2009

Oregon Ballet Theatre Needs Your Help!


Oregon Ballet Theatre needs to raise $750,000 by June 30 or there's a real possibility that this nationally-acclaimed arts organization will have to shut its doors.

Whether you're a fan of ballet, a supporter of the arts, or a Portland resident, you know how important it is to keep the city's arts and culture alive and thriving. Portland can't afford to lose this institution. The loss would be devastating for the city, even for those who have no interest in ballet. Now is the time to help. There are so many things, both big and small, you can do.

DANCE UNITED Benefit Performance in Support of OBT

DANCE UNITED Benefit Performance in Support of OBT

1) If you can, write a check or use your credit card to make a contribution. Click here to donate.

2) Buy tickets to the season finale program: RUSH + ROBBINS, featuring Christopher Wheeldon's RUSH and three ballets by American dance icon Jerome Robbins. June 5 - 7 at Keller Auditorium. Call 503.2.BALLET or go online.

3) Buy tickets for DANCE UNITED: A Benefit Performance for Oregon Ballet Theatre, featuring performances by leading dancers from North America's most prestigious dance companies including New York City Ballet, Boston Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, The National Ballet of Canada and many more! One night only - June 12 at 7:30pm. Program details here.
Call 503.2.BALLET or buy online.

4) OBT is organizing an online auction to help raise money. Maybe you have something to donate, or maybe you're in the market to buy.

5) Share the message with your friends, family, or coworkers. Tweet for OBT, donate your Facebook Status, post a MySpace Bulletin or write about us on your Blog! Let everyone know OBT is important to you!

For more reading about the company and the dilemma it currently faces, please check out the links below:




Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tina LeBlanc's Farewell Performance, 5/9/2009

Tina LeBlanc's Farewell Performance
San Francisco Ballet
Saturday, May 9, 2009, 8PM

After 17 spectacular years with San Francisco Ballet, Tina LeBlanc marked her farewell with an emotional and technically stunning program last Saturday. LeBlanc has anchored this company with her effortless technique, and pure, truthful style, and the audience sent her off in regal fashion, tossing flourishing bouquets of lilacs and roses while rising to its feet in rousing applause. Ballet clips and reflective interviews with other dancers, colleagues, and LeBlanc herself were interspersed throughout the evening, and these added a warm, introspective look into LeBlanc’s long career. Maybe the ballet will put these special treats up on the website for all to see?

On a personal note, I met LeBlanc a little under eight years ago. Fresh out of college, I got my first real job and at San Francisco Ballet not less. The summer before I had interned with Boston Ballet’s press office, but then most of the dancers were on summer break. I rarely interacted with the dancers in Boston, but at SF Ballet, they were everywhere: approving photos, giving interviews, taking class, talking on their cell phones, doing their hair in the elevator, and trying on pointe shoes. Just 21, I was understandably nervous about interacting with the pros, but on one of my first days, LeBlanc came by my workspace, radiating a tender friendliness, and introduced herself. If I could have, I would have hugged her right then and there… The next two years at the ballet moved at high speed, but LeBlanc’s genuine smile and down to earthness continued to stick in my mind as one great constant, both on stage and in person.

Saturday’s performance was no different. She danced effortlessly in George Balanchine’s “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.” Partnered by Gonzalo Garcia, one of her many great, former partners (who is currently dancing with New York City Ballet), LeBlanc stunningly floated through quick hops into attitude and swift pirouettes, all while looking like she was skipping across a meadow instead of powering through extremely technical choreography.

As a contrast, her duet with Griff Braun (on loan from the Lar Lubovitch Company) in the “My Funny Valentine” excerpt from “…smile with my heart,” showed that even without pointe shoes, she’s still a force to be reckoned with. As she curled herself around Braun, she slowly drew a heart around his chest, but later brought out angst, passion, and admiration without being overdramatic or satirical as she and Braun delved through the poignant and musical choreography, accompanied by the stirring notes of David Kadarauch on the cello and Michael McGraw’s piano. The adagio from Helgi Tomasson’s “Sonata” proved women can wear white unitards at any age. Or at least if you’re Tina LeBlanc. Tomasson created “Sonata” after the death of a female friend, but as LeBlanc waved her arms towards a reaching Ruben Martin as she boureed off the stage, it felt more like transformation and evolution, not any defined-in-stone ending. Fittingly, the pas de deux and finale from Balanchine’s “Theme & Variations” provided a large corps de ballet processional and tribute to LeBlanc, which is the least that anyone could ask for. Partnered by Davit Karapetyan, LeBlanc danced through the final steps with tears in her eyes, officially saying goodbye to the stage and hello to the next chapter of her illustrious career.

The evening, though, wouldn’t be compete without numerous bows, a sincere smile, and an onstage tribute including former partners, more recent company members, colleagues, and family. While sad, the plentiful standing ovations proved that LeBlanc has touched many dancegoers, young and old. Here’s to her as she continues her journey both personally and professionally.

Tina LeBlanc and Gonzalo Garcia in Balanchine's Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.
Tina LeBlanc and Griff Braun in "My Funny Valentine" from Lubovitch's with my heart.
Tina LeBlanc taking her final bows.
All photos © Erik Tomasson

Monday, May 04, 2009

SFB, Program 8, 4/28/2009

San Francisco Ballet
Program 8
April 28, 2009, 8PM

I’m always a little sad at the end of the ballet season. As an audience member, seeing dancers attack new roles, revisit old ones, and expand their performance range feels fulfilling in some strange and usual way. And each season tends to be different, with various dancers rising to the occasion. These intricate developments can’t be predicted, but they’re sort of like the chili you make on a cold and rainy day: dependent on the ingredients you have at the time, heating time, and a little bit of luck. With this in mind, I watched San Francisco Ballet’s final program of the season (not including Tina LeBlanc’s farewell performance next Saturday evening) with a satisfying hunger in my belly.
Jorma Elo’s “Double Evil,” which premiered last season as part of the New Works Festival, shone brightly here as the evening’s closer. The work features odd quirks such at the women‘s derrieres pushed out behind their abnormally slanted tutus as they frequently stared ahead at the floor instead of up at their partners or the audience, but the slinky and peculiar movement using jagged arms, unexpected lifts, and what might be considered awkward yet incredibly inventive, almost nerdy choreography all came together in a whirlwind 27 minutes. The music flips back and forth between the quieter music of Phillip Glass and motivating percussion of Vladimir Martinov, and as it did, the eight dancers propelled themselves forward, using large bouts of momentum to continuously push ahead while still looking beautifully pretty. All of the dancers performed well, but especially Elana Altman and Pierre-François Vilanoba, who twinkled in the opening duet; in addition, she continues to amaze me with her various strengths and movement diversity. “Double Evil” may not have made a huge dent in the grand scheme of ballet, but Elo’s unique movement style and structure are both entertaining and imaginative nonetheless.
Alexei Ratmansky, heralded as the next big thing in choreography, delivered a confident yet not too original work entitled “Russian Seasons,” which debuted in 2006 via New York City Ballet’s Diamond Project. Meant to showcase the real goings-on amongst a group, Ratmansky produces an introspective dance that intends to bridge the delicate with the overly dramatic. With the 12 dancers adorned in peasant-like jewel tones, the six pairs moved gracefully through this lengthy endeavor. Lorena Feijoo displayed her soap opera alter-ego as she delved through the work, seemingly tormented, but Yuan Yuan Tan didn’t overdo it as the bride-to-be as she wrestled with her impending marriage and the loss of personal freedoms. It’s unusual to see a cast including nine principals in one place, but soloists Hansuke Yamamoto and Elizabeth Miner, and corps member Isaac Hernandez all held their own and then some, saying a lot about the company’s depth and capacity. The score, Leonid Desyatnikov’s “The Russian Seasons” provided a moody undercurrent, complete with live vocals from mezzo soprano Susana Poretsky. But none of this could save “Russian Seasons” from feeling unusually overdone.
Additionally on the bill was Yuri Possokhov’s “Fusion,” also reappearing after the New Works Festival. No doubt it’s a fun piece, with new age-crossed-with-jazz accompaniment by Graham Fitkin and Rahul Dev Burman, but Possokov tended on the literal side as he explored his transition from dancer to choreographer. With a corps of four men often dancing in synch or canon and dressed in hats, deep v-necks, and long skirt/pants ensembles (all white), their movement often became hokey and expected as they weaved through the rest of the dancers. The eight principals, though, flew through the air at sonic speeds, whipping their bodies around and about, and this peaked my interest. Garen Scribner, especially, had an instinctive way of connecting the steps, making it look not like twelve different positions, but one remarkable and ever-continuous journey from point A to B.

April is one of those months that is traditionally filled with dance. Many smaller companies tour, the bigger ones are wrapping up their home seasons, and the month’s end hosts National Dance Week in cities and towns all across the country. With the economy a looming question mark at everyone’s dinner table and donations to non-profits dropping, we can’t quite guess what next year’s arts season will bring. With the regular season wrapping up, San Francisco Ballet’s offerings this year have, overall, been strong and sure. The quality of the dancers has been dependable, even with multiple big names injured for most of the run, and many soloists and corps de ballet dancers have risen to the occasion, displaying bright and hidden talents. Here’s hoping that our arts organizations, both large and tiny, can recover (financially and, in SF Ballet’s case, health-wise) from what is assumed to be a difficult few years in the making.

Sarah Van Patten and Garen Scribner in Elo's Double Evil.
San Francisco Ballet in Ratmansky's
Russian Seasons.
Maria Kochetkova and Benjamin Stewart in Possokhov's Fusion.

© Erik Tomasson

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

SFB, "Jewels," 4/25/2009

San Francisco Ballet
April 25, 2009, 8PM

George Balanchine’s “Jewels” is well regarded for its homage to modern ballet’s roots. This plotless ballet, which debuted in 1967, is comprised of three abstract sections: “Emeralds,” “Rubies,” and “Diamonds” to represent France, the US, and Russia respectively. While the choreography may not be groundbreaking, dance aficionados still praise “Jewels” for its wide range of emotions and for being one of Balanchine’s timeless ballets. Often presented in parts, the ballet as a whole is rarely seen on stage outside of New York, but our fine city is sparkling this week with San Francisco Ballet’s superb take on “Jewels.”

Normally, I prefer the sultriness and pizazz of “Rubies,” but Sofiane Sylve’s take on the lead swan-like principal role in “Diamonds” has me thinking otherwise. Sylve danced the pas de deux with a pure, unaffected grace and fragility that left me gasping for breath by the end. Her partner, Pierre François Vilanoba, matched her as best he could, but in “Jewels,” as in most of Balanchine’s work, the majority of the focus is on the women. The demi soloists shone brightly, including Lily Rogers and Jennifer Stahl, and Quinn Wharton, a tall, sandy haired fellow, danced with a kingly presence. One of the things that differentiates “Diamonds” from the other two sections is the big wow moment when the corps enters, sweeping its feet across the stage with the stark brightness of the cream colored costumes radiating simplicity and elegance, and this time was no different. The only caveat I had was with Tony Walton’s white lite-brite/scatter plot effect across the back scrim (which continued in corresponding colors through the other two sections). Sorry, but I’m not a fan. Please bring back the Tiffany blue background and extravagant chandeliers, I beg of you.

Elana Altman devoured the stage as the tall girl in “Rubies.” Yes, Vanessa Zahorian proved she’s more than just everyone’s technically amazing whiz kid with her coy hip action and flirty romp with the compact yet powerful Pascal Molat, but Altman showed she’s got the chops to play with the big kids. At one point, she lunged into a deep grand plié in second (for all those non-technical peopleout there, a squat) with her arms held high above her head in a rising V, and all eyes were on her. This steely dancer has been refining this role for a few years, and her mettle showed.

“Emeralds,” as the opener, is velvety and supple, with wrists crossed at times like sylphs and a shy or demure quality lurking underneath. With a score by Gabriel Fauré, the dancers lightly skipped and waltzed. Early on, Lorena Feijoo, joined by guest artist Seth Orza (on loan from Pacific Northwest Ballet) made her slightly nontraditional mark on Violette Verdy’s role. Feijoo played the role as a young lover, displaying at times lust, sadness, grief, and contentment. It was an interesting interpretation, but I think I prefer the more aloof, non-narrative portrayals that I’ve seen in the past. Yuan Yuan Tan, however, looked spellbinding in Mimi Paul’s role, with her feet dripping under her as she quietly tip toed across the stage with her arms melting about in the air around her. Quiet and comforting, Tan seemed almost motherly, as if she were ready to wrap her arms around her partner, Damian Smith, and rock him ever so softly to sleep.

Elyse Bourne staged “Jewels,” and additional coaching was provided by several originators, including Mimi Paul, Violette Verdy, and Suzanne Farrell, and this high quality showed. However, Haydee Morales’ costumes (on loan from Miami City Ballet) were loud—the stone piece thumped and plunked as the dancers jumped and kicked--, and the added percussion was neither needed nor wanted. But I’ve got to wonder, if “Jewels” was choreographed now, would Balanchine have changed things? Perhaps the US would be sapphires to represent our blue collar history. Maybe he’d add a tribute to Japan or England or Spain. We’ll never know, but it’s fun to dream about, even for a minute or two.

The program continues with a wide range of casts, many of which should be impressive debuts for some of the company’s most promising young soloists and corp members. And if you happened to catch “Jewels,” you might just find a diamond (or a ruby or emerald) in the rough.

Sofiane Sylve and Pierre-François Vilanoba in Balanchine's "Diamonds."
Elana Altman in Balanchine's "Rubies."
Photos © Erik Tomasson

Thursday, March 26, 2009

SFB, Program 5, 3/18/2009

San Francisco Ballet
Program 5
Wednesday, March 18, 2009, 7:30PM

Hearing the name “Mark Morris” may give dancers reason to jump for joy or cringe and run. Taking a master class with him requires concentration and a sense of humor, while dancing any of his modern or ballet works calls for impeccable musicality and a deep knowledge of how to curve space and time around quick turns and angled high-flying legs. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that Morris and San Francisco Ballet have experienced a highly successful fifteen-year informal collaboration with Morris’ ballets often showcasing the company’s dancers at their best and brightest.

Program 5 of this year’s season brought of three very different works, all enjoyed within a two-hour span. “A Garden,” an intertwining kaleidoscope of patterns and groupings, blends spiral movements with neat arches of the back and arms. Motifs, like a hip roll, return throughout, but Morris’ positions never look dull or overworked. With the women in black boatneck leotards and skirts, and the men in rust-colored polo shirts and black pants, the focus becomes the pairings and unpredictable yet eye-catching movement. Martyn Garside lept through the air with clear, crisp limbs and plushy feet and towards the end, Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan shared a lovely duet in the Menuett section.

“Joyride” crams in large, expansive movement highlighted by Isaac Mirahi’s shiny, metallic unitards. Counting along with John Adams’ non-instinctual score drove my brain crazy, so who could only know what was whizzing through the eight dancers’ heads as they rapidly moved from one beat to the next. But they never paused for longer than a second, pacing themselves along Morris’ ode to possibly random yet utterly entrancing choreography. Garen Scribner powerfully slithered through long, wide demi plies and turns, and Sarah Van Patten and Matthew Stewart paired well in the final duet.

Adding a lighthearted edge to the evening was “Sandpaper Ballet,” which is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. While the costumes may be a little odd, when the 25 dancers arrange in their box formation, we see expansive green hills against a partly cloudy blue sky. Quite an effective little visual. But “Sandpaper,” with the sleighbells, typewriter ding, and occasionally lost dancer, wavers towards the hokey without crossing the line. Dana Genshaft and Pierre-François Villanoba, creep through the pas de deux with genuine feeling, and Maria Kochetkova proved with heart she can do more than just the classics.

Serveral of the dancers, especially the women, appeared in multiple performances this evening. The regal Elana Altman, in “A Garden” and “Sandpaper Ballet,” continues to dance from her soul, and Erin McNulty, a long-time corps de ballet member, stood out in the same ballets. McNulty has always been dependable, but this season she’s added a greater sensitivity and joy to her performances, and she’s a pleasure to watch. Elizabeth Miner, ever so musical, demanded attention in “A Garden” and “Joyride.” Morris’ “Sylvia” helped push her to the forefront, and she looks incredibly comfortable floating through his movement.

The SF Ballet Orchestra, conducted by David LaMarche (“A Garden” and “Sandpaper Ballet”) and Martin West (“Joyride”), sounded lovely during the three very different scores, and it’s impressive that they can change genres so quickly from more traditional to bang-blast-boom to ticky and tocking with the best of ‘em.

The evening showed that Mark Morris isn’t growing old or boring, and neither is San Francisco Ballet. If fact, they seem to bring out the best in each other.

San Francisco Ballet in Morris' Joyride.
San Francisco Ballet in Morris' Sandpaper Ballet.
© Erik Tomasson

Friday, March 13, 2009

SFB, Program 4, 3/12/2009

San Francisco Ballet
Program 4
Thursday, March 12, 2009, 8PM

With “Swan Lake” packed up, San Francisco Ballet is churning out several mixed bills, and last night’s opening of Program 4 presented timeless works and a more recent, yet questionable, addition.

Antony Tudor’s “Jardin Aux Lilas” melds intricate emotion and circular, unrestrained movement into a compact spin through love, lust, and gutrenchingly difficult life choices, all at a moonlit garden party. “Jardin” moves through streams of consciousness, throttling forward as Caroline, danced with raw emotion by Lorena Feijoo, wrestlesbetween her future and her heart. Sofiane Sylve played coy and jealous, showing added dimension as the strong yet possessive mistress of Caroline’s stoic husband-to-be, Pierre François-Villanoba. This marriage of convenience doesn’t seem convenient to anyone, really, but before Caroline and The Man She Must Marry walk down the aisle, she and her lover, Ruben Martin, share a passionate but unresolved goodbye. Tudor’s movement still rings fresh, some 70 years later, and violinist Roy Malan’s tearful and discontented final note rang true, reminding me that not all choices are for love and happiness, but sometimes for some other grand purpose.

Balancing “Jardin’s” sorrowful tone was Jerome Robbins’ “The Concert,” set to the music of Frederic Chopin, and staged by Jean-Pierre Frohlich. Sarah Van Patten’s hammy Ballerina immediately caused the audience to break out into boisterous, unapologetic snorts with her adoration and forceful slap-turned-bear-hug of Michael McGraw’s grand piano, and the good times just kept rolling with Erin McNulty’s prissy wife and Pascal Molat’s uncommitted but hysterical husband. The rest of the cast didn’t disappoint either, with the corps of women journeying through a side-splitting lesson on timing and a few very obvious and appreciative glances at ballet’s extremes. I’m curious to know what other casts might do with this special work, especially Vanessa Zahorian as the Ballerina. Comedic timing worthy of “Whose Line is it Anyway?” and first-rate ballet aren’t normally thought of in the same vein, but maybe choreographers should rethink things because “The Concert” was rip-roaring fun and, again, like “Jardin,” relevant and highly enjoyable years after its debut.

Seeing these two after Helgi Tomasson’s encore of “On a Theme of Paganini” made it even clearer that Tomasson, while a wonderful and well respected artistic director, isn’t meant to choreograph. Last night, I scratched my head, trying to figure out why “Paganini” returned, and my gut tells me that if it were any other choreographer, it would have been shelved or majorly retooled. In “Paganini,” Tomasson’s ballet vocabulary mixes traditional with those associated with George Balanchine: 180 degree kicks, open hips, and flexed hands. He also leans on awkward, jagged karate-like jumps and, while they’re certainly unique, they’re not eye pleasing or consistent, which, combined with the large sections of unison and lack of emotion or impetus, tended to make the dancers, from the principals to the corps, look messy and hesitant. The high point of “Paganini” came in the packages of the smaller, focused sections like the pas de deux featuring Maria Kochetkova and Davit Karapetyan in a tender moment of quiet retreat. Nice yes, but four minutes couldn't ease the pain.

“Jardin aux Lilas” and “The Concert” alone are worth the price of admission, and I hope both return next year. They’re oldies, but goodies.

San Francisco Ballet in Robbins' The Concert.
© Erik Tomasson

Monday, March 02, 2009

SFB, Swan Lake, 2/24/2009

San Francisco Ballet
“Swan Lake”
Tuesday, February 24, 8PM

San Francisco Ballet is known more for its ultra-cool contemporary works than the evening-length conventional story ballets, but Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson has invested a lot of time and money into a spectacular new full-length marvel that is sure to amaze everyone. And while “Swan Lake” has seen multiple incarnations-- including traditional white feathers, a corps de ballet full of beefy men, and techno swan lake on ice--, this most recent version tastefully merges the best of the old with the swankiest of the new.

One of the most streamlined additions is the Prologue, which Tomasson has added to give more depth behind why Von Rothbart, the evil sorcerer, kidnapped and transformed Odette into a swan by day and an abducted princess by night. While short, the prologue provides succinct backstory, necessary for those new to the story or ballet and appreciated by “Swan Lake” veterans.

On Tuesday, Tina LeBlanc, who retires this May, danced the dual role of Odette/Odile with such confidence and emotion. Each step, attitude, and pirouette were so achingly perfect, yet it was her expression that hit a nerve for me. LeBlanc’s focus is never to just dance the choreography; there’s always something more, something grander and intricately divine emoting from within on stage, and this swan princess couldn’t have been anything more beautiful than on Tuesday. Her Odette blended just the right amount of shyness and affection, while Odile tipped the scales, dancing sultry and bold. Especially as Odile, LeBlanc’s fighting personality showed through, checking off 30 lovely fouettes after tearing her ACL less than two years ago.

Joan Boada matched LeBlanc well as her Siegfried (but honestly, I always wondered if Siegfried needed glasses… even in Act III, Damian Smith’s evil Von Rothbart still looked like a greasy crow, even under that gunmetal grey Lagerfeld-inspired coat. Really, Siegfried! Get a clue!). Unfortunately, Tomasson’s choreography for him, especially in the first act, didn’t give me any good reason to root for him. Sure, he’s friends with townspeople of all socio-economic levels, so kudos to him, but his solo at the end of the act left me with a feeling of “so what?” He can whip out some nice jumps, but, really, why should I care about his happiness? But the remainder of the act featured festive dancing, especially in the pas de trois, which featured lovely hops and leaps from Frances Chung. Even the couple behind me were humming as the peasants linked hands and twirled.

Probably one of the most jaw dropping scenes in ballet is Act II of “Swan Lake,” where 30 swans enter, one by one, with their arms stretched, lightly hopping in arabesque. The row of swans continues to get longer, wider, they fan out, and the stage is all of a sudden filled with a sea of feathered friends. SF Ballet’s Act II doesn’t change much of that here, but adds a massive volcanic rock that measures 56 feet long and 14 feet high placed underneath an immense, golden full moon. Combined with wispy fog, cap-like swan headdresses, sparkling and chic tutus, and strong corps de ballet (including several handfuls of advanced-level students and trainees), it all made for an intensely stunning visual extravaganza. This production was Jonathan Fensom’s first foray into ballet, and the theater-based scenic and costume designer got just about everything right and then some. I especially enjoyed his amber stairway in Act III, which effortlessly descended from the heavens, and throughout the evening, the costumes didn’t look fussy or dowdy, something that many story ballets tend to rely on these days.

This “Swan Lake” has also been brought into the 21st century, technology-wise. Sven Ortel’s projection and video design let us move from daytime to fluffy rose-hued clouds to a cloudless night with ease. Not so technically sound, though, were the flying swans that froze for a second mid-wing flap against the back scrim. But that may have been the only noticeable technical glitch in an intricate evening full of delights.

Other standouts of the evening included the petite and fun-to-watch Clara Blanco as both a cygnet and Neapolitan princess, and Frances Chung, Dana Genshaft, Garen Scribner, and Hansuke Yamamoto as the Russian during the ballroom scene. Lily Rogers also had a bang-up evening as a swan maiden and the fiery lead in the Spanish variation. And I love any chance to see Damian Smith, especially in the character roles. His Von Rothbart evoked both slimy and depressing, and when he bent over and slowly flapped his arms, swan-style, I almost felt sorry for the crazy dude. In addition, the SF Ballet Orchestra, led by conductor Paul Hoskins, sounded strong and evocatively romantic, yet at times during Acts II and IV, intentionally slower than usual. Perhaps Tomasson has a reason for this, but I can’t understand why he’d want the large corps sections to drag on.

As a whole, though, SF Ballet‘s “Swan Lake” has got a bunch of new without throwing out too much of the old. It’s a story that’s stood the test of ballet time, and this infusion of technical magic and storytelling have added a well deserved breath of fresh air.

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson's Swan Lake.
© Erik Tomasson

Monday, February 23, 2009

Pappa Tarahumara @YBCA, 2/19/2009

Pappa Tarahumara
"Ship in a View"
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
February 19, 2009, 8PM

Japan’s Pappa Tarahumara, a dance-theater troupe, sailed about last Thursday in “Ship in a View,” creating bold images of remembrance while using intricate props to transform the stage at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts into an extraordinary, fantastical world.

Directed by founder Kiroshi Koike, “Ship in a View” pushes the abstract and imaginary, with the twelve dancers playing towards their strengths of operatic song, modern dance, gesture, and theater through sections that seemed like a series of fantastical clouds interweaving through dreams. The stage filled with blueish white fog, enveloping the centered wooden post and the audience in a 95-minute trance of swirling images and rocking emotions. And as a tiny ship embarked across the stage, we entered a world of water and motion. Various performers ran around the stage, wailed with heartbreak, and climbed the mast to look out towards the horizon, but “Ship” didn’t feel slapped together; on the contrary, the attention to detail astounded me. Koji Hamai and Ryoichi Isomoto’s simple yet elegant costumes fit well and looked to be made with extreme craft and care; all flattered and enhanced the presentation, especially those in light blue and citron at the conclusion, which, combined with Yukiko Sekine cool lighting design, created a wintery futuristic feel. “Ship” built slowly but surely, like the tortoise versus the hare, towards a grand, climatic finish, featuring twinkling lights hanging from overhead and a metal man with a flat screen face.

Koike’s vision along with the casts’ vast repertoire and choreographic intricacies seamlessly blended into a stunning and riveting event. The evening felt unexpected, but wildly refreshing, and Pappa Tarahumara provided a unique and enjoyable experience.

Photo by Sakae Oguma/Katsui Sato

Friday, February 13, 2009

six swans a'swimming

SF Ballet has posted tentative casting for "Swan Lake," and boy, are there a lot of Odettes! Get your tickets quickly because they're selling like hotcakes.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

SFB, Program 2, 2/3/2009

San Francisco Ballet
Program 2
Tuesday, February 3, 2009, 8PM

San Francisco Ballet’s initial program may show off its dancers’ liquid limbs, but Program 2 displays their steely attack and strength.

William Forsythe’s “in the middle, somewhat elevated” uses stark shadows and a cavernous stage to display wham-bam dance paired with Thom Willems’ synthesized romp full of wrps and zings. Dressed in teal with additional black hip-slung cropped tights for the women, the dancers, below a suspended duo of gold cherries (hence, the work’s title), whizzed about in contortions and jagged angles while enunciating the in-betweens. This rollercoaster of a ballet featured 10 incredibly strong dancers who complemented each other so well that they delivered one of the most high quality events I’ve ever seen on the Opera House Stage. Vanessa Zahorian, the ever-dependable technician, showed muscle and power as she plowed through some intense pirouettes and partnering, and Sofiane Sylve, with her tight ringlet curls, proved that she’s “on” even when hip-jutting off balance. The dark haired and He-Man-like Simon Ball, joining the cast as a guest artist (thank you, Houston Ballet!), matched up with Katita Waldo and later Sylve, in two dynamic duets based on trust, guts, and impeccable timing. The cast also included Elana Altman, Frances Chung, Lorena Feijoo, Pascal Molat, Joan Boada, and Ivan Popov. Without much grandeur, Forsythe has showcased raw, abstract ballet at its best. And to think “in the middle” premiered in 1987!

The evening also included encore performances of Stanton Welch’s “Naked” and Val Caniparoli’s literary “Ibsen’s House.” “Naked” is filled with fun yet irrelevant choreography. This isn’t a dance to save mankind, but it was a pleasant opener for the evening. While Rachel Viselli seemed a little hesitant throughout, Elizabeth Miner and Pascal Molat more than made up for it with their spunky toe tapping. Molat, in particular, moves through space in a rare-to-find organic way, connecting phrases together beautifully so as not to highlight sections of eight or four. Instead, even with somewhat mundane choreography, his pristine movements follow a continuous build-up of energy that puts the dancing at the forefront while the choreography becomes an afterthought. Also, Frances Chung has built upon her spectacular performance last year (this time with Quinn Wharton), infusing more richness and emotion into the adagio with effortless partnering. Again, I wonder why this pair isn't singled out on the casting sheet like the other featured couples…

With the orchestra playing Dvoràk’s haunting score, couples surged ahead in “Ibsen’s House.” Set against Sandra Woodall’s set design, which could either be a giant floor-to-ceiling window covered in flowing white and black drapes or the bottom edges of a woman’s dress and petticoat (take your pick; they both could work!), the five women play out their gender roles and attempt to break free or face their hardships. Lorena Feijoo passionately led the crew as Hedda Gabler, and Clara Blanco has grown even more in her dress smoothing, don’t-put-your-arms-around-me Nora Helmer. Perhaps the most touching moment came from Katita Waldo’s Mrs. Alving and Davit Karapetyan in his debut as her son Oswald. She protectively wrapped her arms around him as he thumped his chest, as if a reminder of his impending death.

Speaking of death (which isn’t a hot topic on any writer’s to-do list), the Opera House seemed better filled than early last week, but I still spied empty pockets of seats throughout the orchestra. In this economy, let’s not forget to support our local arts organizations, both big and small, as they also weather the storm.

Vanessa Zahorian and Joan Boada in Forsythe's
"in the middle, somewhat elevated."
Lorena Feijoo and Quinn Wharton in Caniparoli's
"Ibsen's House."
All photos © Erik Tomasson

Japan Dance Now, YBCA, 1/29/2009

Japan Dance Now
featuring Baby Q, Sennichimae Blue Sky Dance Club, and Nibroll
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Thursday, January 29, 2009, 8PM

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, over the past few years, has developed into an innovative arts presenting powerhouse. Not only is most of their season eclectic and forward-thinking, but also the visiting companies continue to challenge audiences’ minds and souls. Thursday night’s presentation of “Japan Dance Now” promised a window into Japan’s modern dance landscape, and it delivered, mixing the slick and the wow with the huh.

Baby Q, led by founder/dancer Yoko Higashino and live electronic musicians including Toshio Kajiwara, gave us an excerpt from the cerebral “E/G – Ego Geometria.” The overarching work looks at the physical and metaphysical aspects of the space-time continuum. In this solo excerpt, Higashino moved across the stage abruptly at first while dressed in clunky heels and draped skin-colored stretchy fabric from the top of her head to her thighs. Without being able to see her facial expressions, the images became shapes without emotion. Early on, Higashino walked decisively amongst different pools of light, yanking her arms and bending as if held about by strings, and partway through, she pulsed from her abdomen, almost as if a giant earthquake was coming while the music grew more insistent with each thumpety thump. Across the back wall, angular and formulaic images popped up, but the projection was best used when showing nightvision-like video images of Higashino, especially as she started to move more towards the metaphysical, shedding her cocoon for a ruby red dress sans face covering. Here, her movements became softer yet more powerful as she carved through space, with a yearning look piercing through her eyes as if to say, “All of this is me. Take what you will.”

Still dynamic yet utterly unassuming was Sennichimae Blue Sky Dance Club, an all-female Butoh-influenced troupe from Osaka who performed an excerpt from “The end of Water,” which is a series of interludes focusing on images and archetypes of femininity. With multiple costumes changes, the sections flowed slowly but well. The company opened with stark white water nymphs who slowly rolled on the ground and transitioned to a lone woman dressed in an obi, slowly walking underneath a low-flying plane. The women then downed brownish separates, crawling in a small circle but then standing up and turning slowly in a circle. I wanted to be mesmerized, but instead thought this is what it would like if the Borg went to prom. The last portion felt the most satisfying. With the five dancers donning traditional white blouses and knee-length skirts, they splayed themselves across wooden chairs and stared in delicate handheld mirrors. Gazing at their own reflections, the women gracefully gaped, frowned, gawked, cried, and smiled while tilting their heads and shoulders at slight yet different angles. The slow, controlled, yet various positions and mannerisms was beautiful to watch, but didn’t create that transcendental experience that I have come to anticipate with most Butoh performances. I’m sure that a devoted evening would provide a greater context, but the thirty-five minutes gave an ample taste of the soft-stepping group and their immense skill.

Nibrol, an artists’ collective that features dancers and multimedia, reflected on everyday movements and activities connected with aggressive behavior through the lens of drinking coffee. In the excerpt from “Coffee,” animation and live-action video played behind the five dancers as they danced, interacted, and argued with each other. With bright colors and fast-paced music, this should have been Japanese pop, but instead Mikuni Yanaihara’s choreographic pacing just felt long and tiring.

So what is dance in Japan like now? It’s diverse, powerful, soft, in your face, chaotic, focused, and/or multifaceted. Take your pick. Right now.
Photo: Sennichimae Blue Sky Dance Club

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

SFB, Program 1, 1/27/2009

San Francisco Ballet
Program 1: "Prism," "Diving into the Lilacs," "The Four Temperaments"
Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The city may be experiencing a slight chill, but last night, San Francisco Ballet opened Program 1 with s
izzling pizazz. There was nary a tutu in sight, but the dancers onstage displayed classic technique combined with a refreshing sincerity, providing the perfect warmth to melt any cold winter’s night.

Yuri Possokov’s “Diving into the Lilacs” provided the evening’s subtle dash of royalness. Set to Boris Tchaikovsky’s hauntingly beautiful “Sinfonietta for String Orchestra," Possokov played with dark, wintry moods and full shapes, reminiscent of his youth in Russia. He succeeded in highlighting the women in “Lilacs”; adorned in Sandra Woodall’s flowing chiffon dresses, they looked to be in full bloom, and the men complimented them as supportive stems. The dancers jogged, tiptoed, and skipped backwards, sweeping their bodies in arc-like ways, and partway through the third section, Anthony Spaulding leaped through the gaggle of women like a child running through a garden on a warm spring day. Maria Kochetkova, in a pale pink-purple, resembled a coy butterfly, fluttering effortlessly between the traditional ballet steps and contemporary movements with Pascal Molat. Yuan Yuan Tan, adorned in an almost-white purple, graced the stage with her lean, long limbs, a stunning contrast to Spaulding’s protective demeanor. And while Lorena Feijoo looked lovely in deep purple, she didn’t seem to be in sync with her partner, Joan Boada; but this was a minor glitch in what was otherwise a lovely build over 25 fast-paced minutes. Not to be outdone, former principal dancer Benjamin Pierce collaborated with lighting designer David Finn to create a kaleidoscope of copious blossoming lilacs against the backdrop that, depending on their lighting, simmered vividly in varying pastel hues. With numerous intricacies and tiny details, this is a special work that easily deserves multiple viewings. It’s just that good.

Helgi Tomasson’s “Prism” and George Balanchine’s “The Four Temperaments” bookended the evening. “Prism” uses neoclassical ballet to reflect on space and light, and the large corps de ballet acts as reflections or echoes of the principal dancers; this is unison used wisely. Kristin Long sprightly turned on a dime, and Sofiane Sylve looked positively regal as she weaved herself through the adagio with an underwhelming Ivan Popov. Clara Blanco and Isaac Hernandez stood out in the corps, their technique and presence easily surpassing their peers. But the “breakout star award” goes to Taras Domitro, a Cuban-born dancer. While his technique sometimes seemed iffy, this guy offered a wow factor, especially when he’d turn in the air and whip out a massive 210 degree straddle split. The orchestra played Beethoven’s “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1” admirably, and throughout the evening, pianist Roy Bogas has never sounded better.

“The Four Temperaments,” set to an evocative score by Paul Hindemith, showed a more steely side of the company. This is neoclassical ballet at its truest. Elana Altman, in the second theme with Brett Bauer, danced with amazingly strong assurance and commitment. Over the past few years, she’s slowly come out of her shell, and now performs with a wonderful newfound musicality and radiance. Davit Karapetyan, debuting in ‘Phlegmatic,’ danced with such unaffected lushness; he's proved that he’s the epitome of a dancer’s dancer, having impeccable technique while also moving with fresh honesty. There’s no pretentiousness here. Ruben Martin and Sarah Van Patten partnered together in ‘Sanguinic,’ but while Martin looked to be back to form, Van Patten moved with awkward, and unexpected, stiffness. Sofiane Sylve, followed in the final variation, ‘Choleric,’ and was a dream to watch.

The company is lucky to have Sylve return this year. She’s a dancer unlike anything else SF Ballet has to offer. She’s athletic yet supple, and every time she’s onstage, she’s focused on the performance. The way she uses the muscles of her back, her legs, her eyes, her entire body, shows a confidence that only comes with years of practice, dedication, and experience, and as a dancer is never done learning and improving, I bet she has a lot to offer the company.

Last year, San Francisco Ballet celebrated its 75th anniversary, and the elephant in the room over the summer may have been how do you top a season of new works, large-scale celebrations, and world-renowned visiting companies. The answer, at least for SF Ballet, is to keep plugging away. And they have.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Anthony Spaulding in Possokov's "Diving into the Lilacs."
Taras Domitro in Tomasson's "Prism."
San Francisco Ballet in Balanchine's "The Four Temperaments."

© Erik Tomasson

Thursday, January 22, 2009

forward thinking

up to now, this blog has served as a repository for my reviews. the pros: it's searchable via search engines, while the CD boards aren't. but the cons: dude, it gets boring. like super snore zone. zzzzz.

going forward, i'll try to be more proactive about dance events here in the city. i might falter and stumble or space out and take a long holiday, but anything's worth a try, right?