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Hang on


REVIEW Sometimes dance is so dense, so fast-paced, or so convoluted you can’t grasp what the heck the choreographer had in mind. So you throw in the towel and go along for the ride. Such was the case with the Sept. 18 performance by Robert Moses’ Kin at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

The clearest of the three pieces on view, Approaching Thought, showcased most cogently why Moses’ reputation has been growing by leaps and bounds: he creates intriguing ensemble opportunities for individually strong performers. If steroid-pumped dancing shaped into formal cohesion is your cup of chai, Moses is your man. In Thought, Moses first introduced three couples individually, then let them loose into a hurricane of flips, kicks, hops, and rebounding meltdowns. They watched each other or provided backup as if in a ballet — or a rock concert. Newcomers Caitlin Kolb impressed with her integration of gymnastics into dance; Brendan Barthel, with his attack and the softest of feline jumps.

The world premiere, Toward September, could be considered the son of Thought. With nine dancers, volatile connections became more fleeting, but the web they spun was also messier. Circle, line, and star patterns periodically linked the dancers. In the second half, something like lyricism lit up a duet between Kolb and Barthel. But at a half-hour, September couldn’t sustain itself, not even with this talented group. Jokes Like That Can Get You Killed was too subtle for its own good. Dealing with the slippery topic of appropriate and inappropriate language — it’s a Stanford commission — the work was overloaded with visual, aural, and movement information. But Austin Forbord’s visuals — consisting of bobbing heads of every persuasion — were fun.

Moses collaged the program’s music primarily from online sources — which must have felt like browsing a candy shop. But the choreographer grabbed too much and made it into far too little.

StringWreck Hits the Streets


PREVIEW Have you ever seen a string quartet perform in the air — specifically, a violinist play while hoisted on the shoulders of some dancers? Or have you witnessed a violist getting his hair done while concentrating on an intricate melody? If you missed the delicious collaboration between Janice Garrett and Dancers and the Del Sol String Quartet last April, here’s your chance. StringWreck is perhaps the most original and unlikely piece of collaboration between music and dance to hit the Bay Area. And it’s all homegrown. But more than that, the work is as serious as it is irreverent; it’s imaginatively conceived and realized without an ounce of self-conscious bravado or pretense. These musicians and dancers are excellent at what they do independently, but together they likely have stretched in ways as unexpected to us as to themselves. Garrett and her artistic and life partner Charles Moulton — a man of uncommon wit — handled the choreography. Del Sol String Quartet chose music from 20th-century icons such as Gyorgyi Ligeti, George Antheil, Murray Schaefer, Astor Piazzola, and the old 18th-century man himself, J.S. Bach — no sugary pap here. In April the piece lasted about an hour. These performances, courtesy of Jewels on the Square, are a little shorter than most, but you get the added value of chalk artist Tracy Lee Stum, who will draw the set — and it’s all free.

STRINGWRECK HITS THE STREETS Thurs/25, 12:30, 1:30, and 2:30 p.m., free. Union Square, Geary and Powell, SF. (415) 377-2610, www.unionsquarepark.us

A Bay pas de deux


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REVIEW Coming right off the top of the new season, two local choreographers, Liss Fain and Erika Chong Shuch, have thrown a spotlight on the marvelous richness of Bay Area dance. These women couldn’t be more different from each other. One creates cool, intricately flowing balletic dances; the other, spunky and quixotic dance theater.

Fain is something of an outsider if for no other reason than that she choreographs to a different tune. No easy beats or slapped-together sound collages for her. Her most recent Liss Fain Dance performance included Bach, Reich, Messiaen, and Bartók. Fain’s is a refined though restricted sensibility, which manifests itself in carefully structured work that floats through time and stage space without establishing linear trajectories. Often the music gives the pieces something akin to a backbone. Her longtime collaborator, Matthew Antaky, envelopes her filigreed choreography with masterful light and scenic designs. Rarely has Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Novellum stage looked as good.

A world and a local premiere shared the evening with reprises of the courtly couple-dancing Crossing (2004) and the haunting The Line Between Night and Day (2005). Ejmaj Design’s punk leather and lace costumes for the new At the Time suggested theatrically pungent subject matter. But Fain’s slow romp of entangled limbs for Dexandro Montalvo and Bethany Mitchell remained pretty tame.

For the US debut of 2007’s elegant Looking, Looking, inspired by trips to Eastern Europe and Cambodia, Fain responded to Bartók’s folkloric echoes with couple dances and a sense of searching — in the air and on the ground. Full of lively arm gestures, some possibly inspired from Asian mudras, Looking‘s high point came with Montalvo’s partnering two of Fain’s most expressive dancers, fiery Kai Davis and lyrical Daphne Zneimer. Line, performed to parts of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, is a more angular work that, thankfully, avoided literal references to the music’s place of origin: a concentration camp. Somehow it managed to be both elegiac and hopeful.

Also at YBCA, in its Forum space, Erika Shuch Performance Project’s existential musing, After All, Part I, engaged with its excellent performers. The stage oozed with talent and energy, thanks to the eminent, wistful dancer Joe Goode, singer-composer Dwayne Calizo, charming teenage vocalist Gracie Solis, percussionist-actor Matthias Bossi, and actor Beth Wilmurt, not to mention a quartet of dancers and a motley movement chorus of 23.

Drawing from a number of writers, Chong Shuch fashioned dances, monologues, and songs into a circular structure about, well, the meaning of life — as seen mainly from the perspective of a goldfish. Shuch has gathered — and created — marvelous material but it needs to be more organically shaped.

Individual segments work well. Wilmurt inhabited Michelle Carter’s sparkling text as naturally as her pisca-sartorial accoutrements of sunglasses and form-hugging sequins. Though plagued with what appeared to be vocal difficulties, Calizo’s character of a hobo Santa Claus who carries everything with him was a fanciful creation. Bossi roared through Octavio Solis’ "Last Psalm" (an inversion of "The Lord Is My Shepherd") with a mixture of bravado and cynicism. Given the current political climate, he was as hilarious as he was chilling.

Still, what After needs is somebody — just as in the initial fable — to hold it up. As it was, it didn’t leave enough footprints in the sand.

Collaboration! Dance & Music 2008


PREVIEW Hope you’re hungry to see a big show, because for this concert you need an appetite for the unruly, the new, and the short. Collaboration! Dance & Music started 10 years ago in Marin County as the brainchild of Dance Outré’s Lorien Fenton, who wanted to showcase new work primarily by Marin artists. But the event took off and several years ago it traveled from the tiny Marin Center Showcase Theater across the Golden Gate Bridge to the 437-seat Cowell Theater in Fort Mason. In the past the pieces have come in all shades and colors, from jazz to Kathak to modern to Butoh. Part of the fun is seeing which choreographers hitch up with which composers. In dance, collaborating with musicians has long been a storied tradition, even back when Tchaikovsky’s colleagues thought that working with such intellectually inferior arts as Marius Petipa’s ballets was below the composer’s dignity. Yet Stravinsky’s most-frequently played scores are the ones he wrote for Balanchine. And it was through Martha Graham that Aaron Copeland’s most popular piece got its name, "Appalachian Spring." It’s unlikely a masterpiece will emerge from the 10-minute collaborations by this year’s 10 choreographer/composer couples. Still, the principle stands: two artists from different disciplines putting their heart and soul into a work can come up with some amazing stuff.

COLLABORATION! DANCE & MUSIC 2008 Fri/12–Sat/13, 8 p.m.; Sun/14, 2 p.m. Cowell Theater, Marina and Buchanan, SF. $17–$20. (415) 345-7575.

Diverse moments


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The sheer quantity of advance notices piling up over the summer could overwhelm even a committed dance observer. But then come the aha! moments where you grab your pencil to fill in one more slot on the calendar. The Bay Area is still an exceptional place to watch dance, whether you do it at the prestigious Zellerbach Hall or the Mission District’s humbler CounterPULSE. By including four local choreographers who have risen to the forefront in recent years, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’s Bay Area Now 5 (BAN5) series just may be the most noteworthy shows of the fall season. The works of the Erika Shuch Performance Project (After All, Part 1, Sept. 12–14), Robert Moses’ Kin (Toward September, Sept. 18–20), Dohee Lee (Flux, Oct. 16–18), and Keith Hennessy (Delinquent, Nov. 13–15) couldn’t be more different from one another. So these world premieres, supported and — at least partially — commissioned by the YBCA, are a vote of confidence in the health of local dance (check www.ybca.org for performance details). Read on for more notable dance dates.

Courage Group When longtime dancer and arts activist Todd Courage started his own company some six years ago, his work immediately stood for the breadth of its references and its theatrical savvy. Pinpoint, an evening of three world premieres, is his most ambitious endeavor yet.

Sept. 11–13, Project Artaud Theater, 450 Florida, SF. (415) 863-9834, www.odctheater.org

Shawl-Anderson 50th Anniversary Gala With dancers flying in from across the nation, this event is a huge celebration of the lives and works of Frank Shawl and Victor Anderson, who have run Shawl-Anderson Modern Dance Center — the Bay Area’s oldest dance studio — for the past five decades. The gala is preceded by two performance salons Sept. 19.

Sept. 20, St. John’s Presbyterian Church, 2727 College, Berk.; www.shawl-anderson.org

Keyhole Dances Erin Mei-Stuart is a smart, witty, idiosyncratic choreographer. For this series of matinee performances, she takes her EmSpace ensemble to the third floor of a Victorian flat in the Fillmore neighborhood. Buy a ticket and find out location details.

Sept. 20–28. private home, SF. www.emspacedance.org/keyhole

Mark Morris Dance Group Romeo and Juliet without a balcony scene, but with a happy ending? If anyone can bring this off, MM can. His Romeo and Juliet, On Motifs of Shakespeare, is based on the old standby’s recently discovered original libretto and score, and is said to reflect Prokofiev’s initial vision for the piece.

Sept. 25–28. Zellerbach Hall, Bancroft at Telegraph, UC Berkeley, Berk. (510) 642-9988, www.calperformances.org

Chitresh Das Chitresh Das has managed to popularize Kathak, one of India’s most rhythmic dance forms. For these performances, Das and his musicians will challenge each other to ever-greater heights. It’s dance in which improvisation and structure go hand in hand.

Sept. 27–28. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF. (415) 978-2787, www.kathak.org

Nâ Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu Patrick Makuakane is master showman but also a deeply serious practitioner and student of hula. He has gorgeous dancers, and the "Hula Show 2008" promises to be spectacular, witty, and fun. Includes a family show on Sunday.

Oct. 11–19. Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon, SF. www.cityboxoffice.com

Kirov Ballet A superb company (and orchestra) — but why such a conservative repertory for an ensemble that these days performs George Balanchine and William Forsythe in addition to the story ballets?

Oct. 14–19. Zellerbach Hall, Bancroft at Telegraph, UC Berkeley, Berk. (510) 642-9988, www.calperformances.org

Merce Cunningham Dance Company This four-program series is superb overview of half a century of dancemaking by a giant of an artist. The Nov. 7 performance includes colloquia and a conversation with Cunningham.

Nov. 7–15. Zellerbach Hall, Bancroft at Telegraph, UC Berkeley, Berk. (510) 642-9988, www.calperformances.org

Axis Dance Company Over the years Axis has redefined long-cherished ideas about who can and who cannot dance. They are true revolutionaries. This 20th anniversary concert includes works by Sonya Delwaide, Joe Goode, Alex Ketley, and Kate Weare.

Nov. 14–16. Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, 1428 Alice, Oakl. www.axisdance.org

Diablo Ballet With "An Evening on Broadway," featuring the work of George Balanchine, Lynn Taylor Corbett, and Christopher Stowell, Diablo takes a very welcome step away from in-house choreography.

Nov. 21–22. Dean Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic, Walnut Creek. www.diabloballet.org



PREVIEW For one reason or another, you still need to have a pipeline into the "ethnic" dance community to find Latino choreographers, and so far few contemporary choreographers have emerged from their midst. That said, the first San Francisco performance by Los Angeles–based CONTRA-TIEMPO, at the very least, promises a glance at how young Latinos see themselves in a contemporary urban context. Like her older counterpart Merian Soto on the East Coast, Ana Maria Alvarez is fascinated with salsa as an expression of Latino identity. A 2005 performance of the company’s signature piece Against the Times/CONTRA-TIEMPO, inspired by salsa’s inherent rhythmic contradictions, presented an ensemble in which the women were as likely to lead as the men. This signature piece is both an edgy examination of what Alvarez has called a look at "the complexity of resistance and struggle for Latinos in the United States" and a joyous celebration of community. Included in the sound score are voice-over quotes by the likes of César Chávez, Che Guevara, José Martí, Pablo Neruda, and Gabriela Mistral. The show opens with CONTRA-TIEMPO’s newest company work, I Dream America (2007), a 40-minute "movement opera" inspired by Langston Hughes. The piece looks at tensions between African Americans and Latinos. Also included is a pure salsa piece, Alba Ache (2007), for two couples: one on screen, one on stage.

CONTRA-TIEMPO Fri/29–Sat/30, 8 p.m., $25. CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission, SF. (415) 626-2060, www.counterpulse.org

Rabbit Research Collective


PREVIEW The cultural map has changed, and Paris is no longer its center. Still, how does a small, unknown company from Chambery — a city best known as a jumping off place for some of the most spectacular boating and skiing in France — all of a sudden pop up in San Francisco? As with a lot of gigs, networking helps. In July ODC/Dance performed in Chambery, and voilà, here comes Rabbit Research Collective, a three-year-old multimedia art group that, rather unusually, includes a semiologist. Company founder, ballet-trained Emilie Camacho and American-born Corine Englander first participate in ODC Theater’s House Special, the culmination of a two-week collaboration with other selected dancers and choreographers. Joining local artists Monique Jenkinson and the trio of Charya Burt, Vishnu Tattva, and Melody Tanaka, they’ll present a workshop performance of a new piece created during their ODC residency. Then the duo moves over to the Alliance Française, where they’ll showcase Vertige (Vertigo), choreographed in 2006 around the concept of falling. The evening includes rehearsal footage and a discussion about the work’s generation. A glimpse at the video suggests that these women perform with souls, bodies — and brains.

HOUSE SPECIAL Wed/20, 8 p.m. Project Artaud Theater, 450 Florida, SF. $15. (415) 863-9834, www.odctheater.org

VERTIGE (VERTIGO) Sat/23 and Tues/26, 8 p.m. Alliance Française de San Francisco, 1345 Bush, SF. $15. www.afsf.com, www.brownpapertickets.com

Local Heroes/ Big Picture Week 2


PREVIEW In the second of ODC Theater’s Local Heroes summer series, Yannis Adoniou, Manuelito Biag, and Alex Ketley are taking over Theater Artaud. Over the past decade or so, each has developed a profile of making dances that leave impressive individual footprints. Choreographically speaking, Biag is the youngest. His work is emotionally and physically boiling with the dark, complex currents that swirl inside relationships, yet he manages to create an odd beauty out of these struggles. Ballast, created for SHIFT Physical Theater, is his newest excursion into that thorny territory called home. A former ballet dancer and a cofounder of the Foundry (with Christian Burns), Ketley often works with a small number of dancers. But for the 2006 WestWave Dance Festival, he set Careless on 10 advanced ballet students from the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance. With the premiere of Monument, performed by 14 dancers, he continues his interest in larger-scale ensemble choreography. He also demonstrates his penchant for juxtaposing live and virtual dance. This memorial for a friend incorporates video, movement, and music. In the 2005 Less-Sylphides, Adoniou (a former ballet dancer as well) pays tribute to Michel Fokine’s 1909 pointe-shoes-and-white-tulle Les Sylphides, which is considered the first abstract ballet. It’s a highly creative take and radical in both senses of the term — deeply rooted while still a complete departure from the original.

LOCAL HEROES/BIG PICTURE WEEK 2 Thurs/17–Sat/19, 8 p.m. Theater Artaud, 450 Florida, SF. $18–$25. (415) 863-9834, www.odctheater.org

Scott Wells and Dancers


PREVIEW Watching dancers launch themselves into space is every bit as exciting as the sparks and explosions that fill traditional July 4 celebrations. Take, for example, the frequently airborne Scott Wells and Dancers. The company’s Last Call show will be every bit as full of surprises as a fireworks display, only more environmentally friendly and weather independent. If you’re not familiar with this masterful artist, Wells is a super free spirit who has been setting up frameworks for contact improvisation pieces for the past 16 years. Many choreographers create works that use contact improvisation as a starting point for generating ideas that then get formalized. But Wells offers the real thing: the experience that there is only one moment, and it’s now. He also chooses music wisely and uses it beautifully. Two things strike you when you watch these dancers/athletes tumble, fly, and roll: the trust is absolute, and so is the fun. For Last Call, the company is bringing back — for the last time, Wells says — Home Again, the riotous 1991 encounter of man-meets-furniture. I am no great sports fan, but when Wells mounts Gym Mystics, his 2007 take on gymnastics, I’ll join the club. Also on the schedule is the world premiere of West Side Story, staged for 11 performers to Leonard Bernstein’s legendary score. Independence Day festivities include a 5 p.m. party prior to the performance with food, drinks, movies, and a guest artist.

SCOTT WELLS AND DANCERS Fri/4, 7 p.m. (party, 5 p.m.); Sat/ 5 and July 10–12, 8 p.m. Project Artaud Theater, 450 Florida, SF. $18–$22. (415) 863-9834, www.artaud.org

Marc Bamuthi Joseph


PREVIEW Marc Bamuthi Joseph is an artist who makes you want to bow down in admiration or curse the gods for bestowing him with so many talents. He’s a poet. He’s a singer. A dancer. An actor. An activist. And good-looking, to boot. It doesn’t seem fair that one human being should possess so many gifts, even when he uses them for the benefit of others by revealing truths about environmental destruction, human devastation, and the experience of fatherhood. Joseph draws connections between the global and the personal to express the idea that all politics is local. Although his reputation primarily is based on his solo choreo-poems — most prominently Word Becomes Flesh (2003) — with his 2005 hip-hop Scourge, he stepped outside his comfort zone into the arena of ensemble work. For that collage-meditation on being an American of Haitian descent, he brought in a combination of actors and dancers. Now with the break/s: a mixtape for stage, he returns to the solo form. Taking Jeff Chang’s tome Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-hop Generation (Macmillan, 2005) as a starting point, Joseph puts his own perspective on the phenomenon. He has called the work "a travel diary recorded as dream. It’s Lewis and Clark at hip-hop’s Mason-Dixon line. It’s one last look at Africa."

MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH Thurs/19–Sat/21, 8 p.m. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, San Francisco. $23–$30. (415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org

Greater Goode


Actors are advised to avoid sharing the stage with kids and dogs because they steal the show. Maybe puppets should be included. Joe Goode’s hero in Wonderboy is a not-quite-three-foot concoction of wood, plaster, and cloth. He is adorable and you can’t take your eyes off him. Master puppeteer Basil Twist gave him his body; Goode and his dancers gave him a soul.

With this world premiere Goode has created one of his most poetic works in years. It is not to be missed. He has done so with five new dancers who seem to have inspired choreography as richly physical as any he has done. The piece’s floating lifts, wrestling holds, and tumbling rolls looked spontaneous but were finely shaped. A male-female duet spoke of tortuous relationships with fury and compassion; a quartet for four bare-chested males came across as erotic and tender.

Melecio Estrella, Mark Stuver, and Jessica Swanson gave the puppet its brittle and slightly raspy voice for a narrative by Goode and what he called "some of the wonderboy artists and thinkers" he has known. He explored a question that has preoccupied him for his entire career: how does an outsider find a place for himself in life? Bringing his customary tenderness, wit, and melancholy to the inquiry, he rarely hit a wrong note. Wonderboy‘s outsider character begins life as a sensitive little boy who watches the world from the safety of his home (designed by Dan Sweeney). Gradually he steps out and encounters rejection, rage, and love — especially with dancer Andrew Ward — before finally finding a community of his own. Twist coached Goode’s six dancers in the nuances of puppetry to exquisitely animate the nuances of the boy’s trajectory.

The program opens with excerpts from the 1996 installation piece, Maverick Strain. The Western barroom scene includes two hard-drinking hookers (Patricia West plays the confused one, Swanson the tough one). As a lounge singer (music by the brilliant Beth Custer), Goode is never less than a star — as is Alexander Zendzian as a transvestite rape victim, in a performance that chills the soul.


Fri/13–Sat/14, 8 p.m.; Sun/15, 7 p.m.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater

700 Howard, SF

(415) 978-ARTS, www.ybca.org

San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival


PREVIEW World premieres are not what you expect in traditional, culturally specific dance. But the myth of the unyielding art form passed from generation to generation dies hard, perhaps because there is comfort in believing that "some things don’t change." Sorry, but the village square has gone the way of stoop sitting. So-called ethnic dance started to change the minute it moved from the grange to the stage. What’s great about the enduring appeal of World Art West’s San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival — celebrating 30 years this year — is that its producers encourage rethinking traditional forms so that they honor the past while embracing the future. It’s the only way an art can survive. To put more than moral support toward that effort, SF EDF gave out four 30th-anniversary commissions this year. Ensambles Ballet Folklorico de San Francisco presents its commission, Las Cortes Mayas, a celebration of Mexico’s regal past, this weekend. Another highlight is the first appearance of one of India’s classical dance genres, Kuchipudi, which is related to but faster-paced and more feathery than Bharatanatyam. Sindhu Ravuri’s solo is inspired by Indian temple sculptures. Hailing from Oakland is hip-hop/modern dance troupe Imani’s Dream in a premiere that reflects the youth group’s everyday reality. What else can you expect on this second of four weekends of cultural dance offerings? Afro-Peruvian footwork, Middle Eastern belly, Korean memorializing, Chinese court, Caribbean-flavored flamenco, and Scottish ritual dance. You’ll also hear a lot of live music: these days, EDF is almost as much a world music as a dance festival. And if that’s not enough to lure you in, throughout the month of June, World Arts West is offering a series of low-cost participatory workshops that welcomes all comers.

SAN FRANCISCO ETHNIC DANCE FESTIVAL June 1–29. This week: Sat/14–Sun/15, 2 p.m. (also Sat, 8 p.m.). $22–$44. Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon, SF. (415) 392-4400, www.worldartswest.org

Stephen Pelton Dance Theater


PREVIEW Stephen Pelton’s full-bodied and thoughtfully structured choreography fits his dancers like second skins. It’s one of the most appealing aspects of the work from this longtime San Francisco artist who now spends half of his time in London. Another of his gifts is choosing music — whether it’s Radiohead, Schubert, or Edith Piaf — that supports his purposes ever so smoothly. Often drawing inspiration from literary sources, Pelton is a storyteller in the manner of poets who suggest, evoke, and analogize — but don’t spell out. The results are dances that resonate like a Zen bell. He may be best remembered for The Hurdy-Gurdy Man (1998), that strangely haunting solo drawn from documentation of Hitler’s body language. He also has created such epics as The American Song Book (1997), which uses popular American music to evoke three different periods in US history. But Pelton’s choreography is most at home in intimacy, full of contradictory impulses in which violence looks lyrical and tenderness totters at the edge of the abyss. A note of melancholy and resignation permeates much of it; perhaps this is not unexpected from an artist who came of age during the worst days of the AIDS crisis. Pelton describes and a white light in the back of my mind to guide me, this season’s premiere, as a meditation on aging. Performed solo and as an ensemble, the piece grew out of a World War II poem by Anglo-Irish poet Louis MacNeice. The work’s accompanying music is from the English composer Gavin Bryars. This program includes a preview of next year’s Citizen Hill, last season’s Tuesday, Not Here (created for the remarkable Nol Simonse in 2003), and Christy Funsch in her reworked 2007 Solo for Somebody.

STEPHEN PELTON DANCE THEATER Thurs/5–Sat/7, 8 p.m., Sun/8, 7 p.m. Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St., SF. $20–$25. (415) 273-4633, (415) 826-4441, www.dancemission.com

Dionysian Festival


PREVIEW Mary Sano may have a small performance space, but she sure packs them in. The Tokyo-born Sano is a disciple — so to speak— of Isadora Duncan, one of the most influential yet most underperformed women dance pioneers from the dawn of modern dance. Sano regularly puts on mixed programs in which she and her dancers bring to life Duncan’s repertoire. The 11th Dionysian Festival presents Sano and her five dancers — one flying in from Tokyo — in selections from Duncan’s Brahms Waltzes, Op.39 (1905). Sano also premieres Spring, a tribute to her teacher Mignon, a protégé of Anna and Irma Duncan, who were themselves protégés of the free-spirited choreographer. (Duncan dancers trace their lineage like British aristocracy). Mignon, born a century ago, originally began — but did not complete — this piece set to Franz Schubert’s charming Rosamunde incidental music. Sano finished it in what she hopes would be her mentor’s spirit. An unnamed dance drama in collaboration with koto player Shoko Hikage highlights Sano in her experimental mode. Also performing are G. Hoffman Soto’s improvisational dance group, SotoMotion; two Bharata Natyam dancers, Priya Ravindhran and Rebecca Whittington; and on Saturday only, avant-garde Peruvian violinist Pauchi Sasaki with bamboo flutist Hideo Sekino.

11TH DIONYSIAN FESTIVAL Sat/24, 8 p.m. Sun/25, 5 p.m. Mary Sano Studio of Duncan Dancing, 245 Fifth St., SF. $15–$17. (415) 357-1817

Body eclectic


When Miguel Gutierrez left the Joe Goode Company in 1996, he was a hot dancer. He returned to the Bay Area a mature artist. In Retrospective Exhibitionist and Difficult Bodies, part of ODC Theater’s recent "For the Record: Dancers Debate the Body Politic" at Project Artaud Theater, Gutierrez worked at breaking down the invisible divide between performer and audience. Granted, this idea has been tried before — but few have taken it as far, or developed it as consistently, as Gutierrez has done. The result was an evening of dance theater that at times pushed beyond what I can stomach but nevertheless left me full of admiration for the skill with which he works the material and the audience.

Gutierrez’s focus of attention was the body, his and ours, individually and collectively. He raised questions about performers as narcissists and exhibitionists, and about the audience as voyeurs. He subverted expectations on timing, eliminated divisions of physical space (with brilliant lighting design by Lenore Doxsee), and embraced the authentic with the sentimental. It was manipulation of the first order, and totally autocratic.

In the opening segment when he futzed around, naked between his ankles and neck, assembling props, we learned only that he is well-built and has added a few pounds since his San Francisco days. When he then invited (actually, commanded) the audience to repeat after him, "I am Miguel Gutierrez," my reaction was, "The hell I am." The tone of confrontation wove through the evening like a cry, perhaps indicative of a love-hate relationship with performance.

Retrospective was a rich tapestry of episodes that raised questions about perception. What is more real, an ad lib monologue on video, or its imitation read live from a script? Where does the screaming singer stop and become the man spilling his guts? Do we direct our eyes to Gutierrez as a teen heartthrob in an archival clip downstage, or to the live dancer way off in a corner? Have the women disappeared in the glittering sequins of their gowns in Difficult Bodies?

When a burning candle was moved ever closer to Guiterrez’s naked butt, the performance became voyeurism at its worst. My instinct was to get up and grab the candle, saying "I am Miguel Guiterrez." Unfortunately, I didn’t have the guts.

Focus on the future


PREVIEW San Francisco Ballet just finished its 75th season with a buzz-creating festival of world premieres. But SFB hasn’t gone dormant. This week the focus shifts to the next generation of dancers: San Francisco Ballet School students who hope to take on the daunting task of defying gravity and having their bodies express the contents of their souls.

At the SFB School’s Student Showcase at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the audience can experience the stages of a dancer’s progress. From the smallest kids doing their precisely placed tendus and still-stiff port de bras to the graduates, seven years later, who are ready to compete with professionals, you can see dancers blossom and begin to be themselves. You’ll also notice that boys tend to develop later and that girls still dominate the field. The program features the American premiere of John Neumeier’s 1986 Yondering, danced to Stephen C. Foster songs. The advanced students perform Helgi Tomasson’s 1996 Simple Symphony, which he specifically choreographed for the SFB School.

But SFB isn’t the only school holding its end-of-the-year recital. The School of the Arts, a magnet school of the San Francisco Unified School District, presents its budding young dancers in Unfolding Light, which introduces dances by student and professional choreographers, including Brittany Brown Ceres, Juan Pazmino, Gregory Dawson, and Enrico Labayen. A few of these teenage artists wowed the audience when they performed during the Izzies dance awards at the end of April.

SAN FRANCISCO BALLET SCHOOL STUDENT SHOWCASE Wed/14, 8 p.m.; Thurs/15–Fri/16, 7:30 p.m. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, SF. $32. (415) 865-2000, www.ybca.org

SCHOOL OF THE ARTS’ UNFOLDING LIGHT Fri/16–Sat/17, 8 p.m.; Sun/18, 2 p.m. Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center, Marina and Buchanan, SF. $18–$20. (415) 345-7575

Dandelion Dancetheater


PREVIEW The San Francisco Ballet closes its season this week, but Bay Area dance keeps pulsing. Across town in the Mission’s modest CELLspace, Dandelion Dancetheater is starting its own rather remarkable program of new dance. The two-week run — which heads to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for the third week — features the company’s own performers plus guest artists from Montreal and Madrid. Collectively these performers and choreographers call what they are doing "physically integrated dance," the moniker folks who have long been expanding the concept of who is a dancer seem finally to have settled on. It’s a movement pioneered by Oakland’s AXIS Dance Company, so it should be no surprise that these programs draw heavily on former AXIS dancers Jacques Poulin-Denis, who has returned to Canada, and Nadia Adame, who has gone back to Spain. Eric Kupers, Dandelion’s codirector and a former AXIS collaborator, initially became interested in working with nontraditional dancing bodies for the challenges it poses to his own creativity. Kupers has investigated ideas of identity, body image, beauty, intimacy, loneliness, ability, and disability. In The Undressed Project series (2002 to present), he asked his very diverse group of dancers to perform in the nude, challenging their vulnerability and our willingness to look. In his Physically Integrated Dance Program at California State University-East Bay, he works with performers with emotional and physical challenges. They will perform in one program with his newest company dancer, a young man with a learning disability. Kupers’ work-in-progress, oust, and Adame’s 9 días y 20 horas a la deriva look at issues of displacement, particularly surrounding immigration. Poulin-Denis, with Mayday Dance, will bring Les Angles Morts (2007), while his DORS investigates sleeplessness.

Dandelion Dancetheater Fri/9-S0un/18, 7 (Program A) and 8:30 p.m. (Program B), CELLspace, 2050 Bryant, SF. $10–$20. (510) 885-3154, www.brownpapertickets.com

Classical, remixed


Ten world premieres in three days is a huge deal, even for a troupe as accomplished as the San Francisco Ballet. Even so, it was disappointing that the choreographic choices for the New Works Festivalthe culmination of a season-long celebration of SFB’s 75th anniversary — were, for the most part, so extraordinarily conservative. Artistic director Helgi Tomasson has been far more adventurous in the past in challenging audiences and dancers alike. Despite these limitations, the performances were a festive end to an important company milestone. That four of the 10 anointed choreographers were homegrown added a special luster. Generally, ballet companies are not known for fostering in-house talent; this one does. Val Caniparoli, Julia Adam, and Yuri Possokhov, who all have international careers now, started choreographing while still dancing with the company. Margaret Jenkins, who taught modern dance at SFB for years, could not be farther removed from being a ballet choreographer. Hers was Tomasson’s single most daring commission.

Even within the conventions of the ballet medium, the four pieces were worlds apart. Ballet, after all, is a language that can be modulated and used for poetic, dramatic, humorous, and narrative purposes, just like English or French. Though not totally successful — due to issues of timing and some musical disconnects — the originality of the concept and of its realization made Adam’s A rose by any other name the festival’s winner for me. A sly yet ever-so-elegant take on the apogee of 19th-century classicism, The Sleeping Beauty, A rose tweaked conventions thoughtfully and charmingly.

Jenkins’ Thread translated her free-flowing approach to movement onto a ballet company. She explored the myth of Ariadne, who spun a thread to keep her lover Theseus safe from the Minotaur and was later betrayed by him. Though Jenkins kept the story on the metaphoric level, using language both balletic and individualized, it was as clear a narrative as she has worked with in a long time. Caniparoli’s enthusiastically acclaimed portrait of repressed womanhood in Ibsen’s House appealed because of his proven ability to create easily flowing phrases, but his character delineations needed to be much sharper. SFB resident choreographer Possokhov’s fine Fusion put the spotlight on styles of male dancing and included three sparkling pas de deux. There would be many more of them to come in the following week.


Through May 6

See Web site for schedule, $20–$265

War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness, SF

(415) 553-4655, www.sfballet.org

Sara Shelton Mann


PREVIEW Only a few seasons into a more extensive performance schedule, ODC Theater began an extensive remodeling of its well-appointed building on 17th Street at Shotwell — and found itself without a space to showcase its work. What to do? Artistic director Rob Bailis seized the opportunity to move a few blocks up the street to the much beloved but lately much neglected Theater Artaud. For the rest of the year, ODC Theater plans to take advantage of the cavernous space, decent technical equipment, and stadium seating with a series of mini-festivals. "For the Record," the first in the series, examines the relationship between the body dancing and the body politic with three separate programs.

Few in the Bay Area dance world have examined this nexus more extensively than Sara Shelton Mann, whose works make up the second week of the festival. Founder of the highly praised Contraband, she revolutionized multi-disciplined dance theater, launching the careers of original thinkers and artists as Kim Epifano, Jess Curtis, and Keith Hennessy. Shelton Mann is working with fewer dancers these days but is no less committed to digging into the flesh. For proof, watch her dance/video trilogy Inspirare, three years in the making. In Telios/Telios, two couples — Kathleen Hermesdorf and Yannis Adoniou, and Hana Erdman and Alex Zendzian — reprise their passionate give-and-take roles of 2006. In Inspirare, Hermesdorf and Maria Francesca Scaroni expand notions of the body’s physicality. The triptych opens with its newest section, the ensemble piece RedGoldSky, which Shelton Mann describes as a "stream of consciousness ramble that touches on the absurd."

SARA SHELTON MANN Thurs/1-Sat/3, 8 p.m., Theater Artaud, 450 Florida, SF. $20–$25. (415) 626-4370, www.odctheater.org

Bay Area National Dance Week


PREVIEW Can dance save the world? Those of us who are hooked on it like to think so. At the very least, it makes you feel more alive as a human being. But in the cultural pecking order, dance often gets the short stick: you can’t buy or own it, hang it on a wall, or sell thousands of DVDs of it. You pretty much have to depend on bootlegs or YouTube to get your fix. Maybe that’s why such fervor surrounds Bay Area National Dance Week and its 10 days of dance madness. This year, BANDW celebrates its 10th year with a throw-open-the-doors event designed to give all comers a chance to see or try all manner of free moves: hula hooping, belly dancing, salsa, body orchestration, Scottish country dance, Sufi dancing, Greek dancing, swing, fire twirling, and more. Some 300 participants are on board, the majority from dance companies and studios. For us working stiffs, weekday classes take place mostly in the evening, but ODC Dance Commons will offer Dance Week–related classes throughout the day. For those who prefer watching, there will be many free performances as well, ranging from San Jose’s sjDANCEco, to Mill Valley’s RoCo Dance with Oakland’s Axis Dance Company, to San Francisco’s Mark Foehringer Dance Project. Get the details of what the good people at BANDW have in store for us from their 24-page brochure, available at select cafés, libraries, and most dance studios. The kickoff conga line event starts Friday at 11:30 a.m. in Union Square.

BAY AREA NATIONAL DANCE WEEK April 25–May 4, free. www.bacndw.org

CubaCaribe Festival


PREVIEW The CubaCaribe Festival, now in its fourth incarnation, is a three-week celebration of the African diaspora, as manifested in this country, Brazil, Cuba, and Haiti. (Conceivably, as we continue to learn how widespread and diverse African influences are, the festival might well grow to include dance and music from Peru.) Like many other culturally based dance forms, these diverse African influences of the diaspora grow from pockets that develop around specific newcomers to the fertile Bay Area, who bring the seeds of knowledge with them. Observe this year’s festival performers: Tânia Santiago was born in the Bahia region of Brazil; two members of Nsamina Kongo come from the Republic of Congo; and Luis Napoles, Ramón Ramos Alayo, and Danis "La Mora" Pérez Prades hail from Cuba. Others, such as Portsha Jefferson and Michelle Martin, are American, but their affinities have led them to the sources of their art; Jefferson has lived and worked in Haiti, and Martin in Nigeria, Cuba, and Haiti. Of particular interest is guest artist Pérez Prades’s New York–based Oyu Oro ensemble and CubaCaribe founder Ramos and his Alayo Dance Company. An excellent dancer with Robert Moses’s Kin, among others, Ramos brings a personal, decidedly contemporary perspective to his choreography. Last year’s Three Threes was a thoughtfully built homage to Cuba’s modern dance pioneer Narciso Medina and a smart, excellently danced roundup of Cuban social dance.

CUBACARIBE FESTIVAL Fri/18–Sat/19, April 24–26, and May 1–3, 8 p.m.; April 20 and May 4, 2, and 7 p.m. Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St., SF. $18–$22. (415) 273-4633, www.cubacaribe.org, www.brownpapertickets.com

Company C


PREVIEW Good things are happening in the East Bay. One is the Walnut Creek-based Company C, Charles Anderson’s 14-member chamber ballet company. In the six short years of its existence, these dancers have created a respectable following. Anderson is a former New York City Ballet dancer whose family runs the well-established Contra Costa Ballet Centre. No doubt this helped the company initially, but today Company C draws good crowds — and not just of the family and friends variety. They take their programs all over the Bay Area and as far north as Santa Rosa and Mendocino. This weekend they take over Yerba Buena Center for the Arts with an ambitious quintet of works, including the world premiere of Twyla Tharp’s duet Armenia, set to 10 folksongs from that region. Michael Smuin’s 1997 darkly lush Starshadows, created for three couples and set to music by Maurice Ravel, pays tribute to the late choreographer. Former Paul Taylor dancer and now-choreographer David Grenke went to Tom Waits for inspiration for his duet, Vespers (1997). Artistic director Anderson’s two works from 2007, Bolero and Echoes of Innocence, close the show.

COMPANY C Sat/12, 8 p.m. and Sun/13, 2 p.m. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF. $20–$35. (415)978-2787, www.ybca.org

Complexions Contemporary Ballet


PREVIEW It’s about time. This Saturday, Complexions Contemporary Ballet is finally making its Bay Area debut. The company is 14 and travels all over the globe, from Israel to New Zealand. Founded by former members of Albert Ailey American Dance Theater Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, the company started out small, primarily with duets Rhoden created for himself and Richardson. In the Bay Area, Rhoden’s work has been seen most often during the Ailey company’s yearly gigs. In 2002, the Oakland Ballet (then under the leadership of Karen Brown) debuted his Glory Fugue to much acclaim. Meanwhile, Richardson, a principal guest artist of American Ballet Theater, is mesmerizing in whatever capacity he chooses to perform. In the Bay Area he is best known for the title role in San Francisco Ballet’s filming of Othello. Today, Rhoden is a hot item in musical theater, film, video, and jazz, as well as ballet and modern dance. Complexions’s 20-odd dancers continue to focus most of their endeavors on the prolific Rhoden’s choreography, which favors speed, angularity, and the kind of power attacks even a William Forsythe could admire. As performed by Complexions, the pieces showcase forceful dancers who draw their perspectives from a wide variety of backgrounds — both artistic and cultural. The program for this one-night stand includes a solo by Ailey dancer Abdur-Rahim Jackson; the rest of the program is entirely by Rhoden and features the recent Dear Frederic (2007), an homage to Chopin, and honors Marvin Gaye with the closer Chapters Suite (2007), which Rhoden peopled with a fabulously eclectic mix of street characters.

COMPLEXIONS CONTEMPORARY BALLET Sat/5, 8 p.m., $25–$40. Marin Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium, 10 Avenue of the Flags, San Rafael. (415) 499-6800, www.marincenter.org

On the rise


Aura Fischbeck is one of those dancer-choreographers who blows into town and starts performing with more established colleagues while they create their own choreographies. At first they appear in group shows until they accumulate enough material for their own programs. Fischbeck isn’t quite there yet. Her most recent appearance at the Garage — about as underground a venue as you can have in the city — included the work of another excellent dancer, Travis Rowland, who is just expanding his career into choreography.

The three pieces Fischbeck presented confirmed an earlier impression of her as a choreographer willing to restrict her movement ideas to shape them better. It’s a process that works. Relay, performed by Fischbeck, Sarah Pfeifle, and Leigh Riley, grouped three very different performers in a kind of game in which unisons periodically acted as page-turners to reveal new permutations on given material. This rigorous, formal process enhanced the individuality of the dancers.

Compass, which took the dance into nature via a video by Chris Wise, was a fierce, space-eating solo in which Fischbeck’s arms rotated as if trying to unscrew from their sockets — when they weren’t shooting out like laser beams, that is. The dancer put herself through a whole kaleidoscope of states of being, from desiring domination to willing acquiescence.

The new Go West — a meditation on the country’s expansion toward the Pacific — is Fischbeck’s most ambitious work yet. Created for seven women, it was too big for the Garage. It’s a sprawling work, full of funny and provocative imagery (both human and animal) with a tongue-in-cheek collage score of western music. It needs work, but the bones are there.

Rowland’s duet with Michaela Shoberg, But Only If You Like Me First, was awkward, like the puppy love whose trajectory it portrayed. But let’s see what he does next.