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 Dvor├ák’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