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Intercontinental Collaborations 3 — The Symmetry Project


PREVIEW Have you ever heard of an "inter-corporeal kaleidoscope of flesh?" Neither have I. This intriguing mouthful is one of the labels Jess Curtis has affixed to his latest performance experiments in physicality. Yet for all his theoretical underpinnings, Curtis is a man of the theater. These days the choreographer, who started with Contraband 20 years ago and now lives and works part-time in Berlin, questions the act of performance — what it means to him, and what it means to us. Fallen (2002) and, particularly last year’s Under the Radar, offered highly imaginative and exquisitely structured possible answers to big questions on that subject. Curtis’s latest endeavor, Symmetry Study #7, premiered in Berlin last September. In it, he partners with Maria Francesca Scaroni in a series of improvisational encounters performed in the nude. The idea behind these couplings is to examine connection and separation on the most fundamental level and what they do to our perception of self. It sounds a bit like the Greek concept of the original human who was cut in two and forever tries to reunite with the other half. In contrast to the American premiere of Symmetry is the Jess Curtis/Gravity companion piece and a world premiere, Asymmetrical Tendencies, performed by Croi Glan Dance, a company of performers of different physical capabilities. Two very different Irish dancers, former Bay Area resident Tara Brandel and Rhona Coughlan of Croi Glan, also perform.

INTERCONTINENTAL COLLABORATIONS 3 — THE SYMMETRY PROJECT Thurs/27–Sat/30 and April 3–6, 8 p.m. CounterPulse, 1310 Mission, SF. $18–$20. (415) 626-2060, www.counterpulse.org, www.brownpapertickets.com

Hot fusion


If you’ve done any traveling at all, you know about Peruvian dance and music. You will have seen the small groups of black-caped musicians (occasionally accompanied by dancers) playing pan pipes anywhere from Tokyo to New York City, Copenhagen to Atlanta. But there is another aspect of this country’s culture, one that originated halfway around the world. Early in their sixteenth century conquests, Peru’s Spanish colonial powers imported slaves from Africa to work the silver mines. But with the abolition of slavery in 1854, the thriving Afro-Peruvian culture gradually started melting away. By the mid-twentieth century it was composed of fading memories, dances half-remembered, and musical instruments in disrepair. One was the cajon, today known from flamenco dancing; a wooden box Afro-Peruvians used for percussion instead of the forbidden drum. One man, Ronaldo Campos, realized what a tragedy the loss of these cultural traditions would be. In 1969 he founded Perú Negro (now run by his son), and with the help of ethnologists they began to save and revitalize Peru’s African heritage. If you have seen the Bay Area’s El Tunante perform Peru’s national dance, the zamacueca (now often called the marinera), at the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, you’ll have had a taste of how European, Indian, and African cultures have mixed in Peru. Perú Negro’s one-night-only concert presents a collection of dances, including the percussive zapateos; the popular zamacueca, which is danced with handkerchiefs; the landó, originally from Angola but entering Peru by way of Brazil; and the toro mato, which mocks the stiff-boned formality of the European minuet. Thematically, the dances both lament and celebrate the slaves’ daily working and living conditions. In addition to the guitar, you may also hear quijadas, or jaw bones, and cajitas, small box drums worn around the neck. (Rita Felciano)


Thurs/20, 8 p.m., $22–$42

Zellerbach Hall

UC Berkeley, Lower Sproul Plaza (near Bancroft at Telegraph), Berk.

(510) 642-9988


Hope Mohr Dance


PREVIEW After training in ballet, San Francisco native Hope Mohr moved to New York City, where she danced with Lucinda Childs and Douglas Dunn before spending four seasons with the Trisha Brown Dance Company. After eight years, she decided that she could continue her career back in her hometown. Significantly, upon returning in 2005, she joined the company of Margaret Jenkins, who had also left the Big Apple to resettle in her Bay Area stomping grounds more than 30 years ago. Even then, however, Mohr knew that she would eventually want her own group. This upcoming concert is the debut of her newly formed Hope Mohr Dance troupe, in which she’ll present four pieces with 13 dancers. Of key interest is her 2007 collaboration with video artist Douglas Rosenberg, Under the Skin, a commissioned work from Stanford University that grew out of a series of workshops Mohr conducted with breast cancer survivors. Five trained dancers and three survivors perform together in the piece. When Bill T. Jones created his 1994 Still Here, conceived on a similar premise, it raised a firestorm of criticism about so-called "victim art." Mohr is confident that the fertile tension between the subject matter and the dance’s formal demands has allowed her to create a work that stands on its artistic merits. The other three pieces, Moments of Being (a premiere), Elision, and more awake than dreaming, are non-narrative investigations of what gave Mohr’s debut program its title, "Let the Body Speak."

HOPE MOHR DANCE Fri/14-Sun/16, 8 p.m. Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St, SF. $18. (415) 273-4633

Shen Wei Dance Art


PREVIEW It might be just as well that Chinese choreographer Shen Wei didn’t start dancing until quite late — at the ripe old age of 20. But what he may have missed in early dance training, he more than made up for in other artistic endeavors. The son of Chinese opera performers in Hunan, at age 9, Wei followed the parental path and began studying opera, and by 16 he was performing with the Hunan State Opera. He also studied, and became recognized in, the demanding art of Chinese watercolor. So when Wei became a founding member of Guangdong Modern Dance Company, China’s first contemporary dance group, he brought an exceptionally well-honed visual sensibility to dance. To this day, his choreography shows a rare ability to unite the visual and the kinetic, not to mention the East and the West. He eventually moved to New York and created Shen Wei Dance Art company in 2003. Last year he won a MacArthur Fellowship, and this summer his company will perform at the opening of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. He’s having that kind of explosive career. But then why wouldn’t mysteriously staged, musically intriguing, visually stunning dance theater lure in audiences? For its Yerba Buena appearance, the company performs Map (2005) to Steve Reich’s 1985 sprawling orchestral suite The Desert Music, and on a more intimate scale, Re-(Part 1) (2006) to Tibetan chant. (Rita Felciano)

SHEN WEI DANCE ART Thurs/6–Sat/8, 8 p.m, $26–$45. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 700 Howard, SF. (415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org

Bellydance Superstars


PREVIEW The Bellydance Superstars are back. The troupe came to prominence during the 2003 Lollapalooza tour and are an intriguing mix of Hollywood glitz and highly accomplished dancing — patrons of the DNA Lounge and Herbst Theatre may remember the ensemble’s shows in 2004 and 2005. While you may not see much of the covered-up tribal dancing that lies at the core of so much traditional belly dancing, these women are fabulous exponents of an art that embraces female sensuality perhaps like no other dance form. The new show — with a fresh crop of dancers, including "Colleen" from Marin — is called Babelesque because each of the 12 members of the multinational ensemble brings something of her own perspective on the ancient form. Expect elements of hip-hop, Latin, and jazz dance to slink their way into individual performances along with the traditional sword and peacock dances. The joyous abandon that these women bring to their art is infectious, reminiscent of the time when belly dancing was performed by women and for women. Producer Miles Copeland, who formerly ran I.R.S. Records and managed Sting for many years, comes with a show business background, so be prepared for an entertaining and gorgeously costumed evening of dance that has nothing to do with the hoochie koochie.

Bellydance Superstars Sat/1, 8 p.m. $20–$45. Marin Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium, 10 Avenue of the Flags, San Rafael. (415) 499-6800, www.marincenter.org

Compañía Nacional de Danza


PREVIEW When Nacho Duato, crowned with laurels from his years in England and Holland, returned to his native Spain in the 1980s, the country’s national ballet company offered him its directorship. He took one look at the ensemble’s anemic repertoire and decided he could breathe some life into it. Consequently, today Compañía Nacional de Danza is a repository of Duato’s choreography. Spain could have done worse: Duato has put contemporary Spanish ballet on the world map like no one else. Don’t expect even a shadow of bolero or flamenco in the two different programs that constitute his company’s San Francisco debut. You will get the fruits of an exceptionally broad musical imagination and dancing that is full-bodied and energized — still ballet based but moving into a lush contemporary sensibility. One of this tour’s pieces, Castrati (2002), also performed at the University of California at Davis a few years back, recalls the brutal ceremony that insured boy sopranos retained their voices beyond puberty. To the sounds of the most glorious Vivaldi, cassocks fly about the stage in a none-too-gentle representation of those initiation rituals. An older work, 1996’s Por Vos Muero, splendidly evokes the role of dance as a social occasion and is performed to 15th- and 16th-century Spanish music. The newest work, Gnawa (2007), named after Moroccan descendents of slaves, explores connections within Spanish and North African cultures. Also on the program are Gilded Goldbergs (2006), White Darkness (2001), and Rassemblement (1990).

COMPAÑÍA NACIONAL DE DANZA Program A, Wed/20–Thurs/21, 8 p.m.; Program B, Sat/23, 8 p.m., and Sun/24, 2 p.m.; $35–$55. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard, SF. (415) 392-2545, www.performances.org, www.ybca.org

Robert Moses Kin’ and Black Choreographers Festival


PREVIEW In February, as the days start getting longer again, two things come to mind: Black History Month summons deep reflections, and all of that extra light brings the advent of fresh views. In the Bay Area no better example of clear-sighted perspectives can be found than in the work of the Robert Moses’ Kin company and from the codirectors of the fourth Black Choreographers Festival: Here and Now, Kendra Kimbrough Barnes and Laura Elaine Ellis. Moses starts his two-week season at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco on Feb. 14, while the Barnes-Ellis team is entering its festival’s second half at Project Artaud Theater in San Francisco.

From Moses, be prepared for a smaller company of six dancers performing in a brand-new program that includes three world premieres and a revival of 2007’s Rose (set to Beethoven), which is new to San Francisco. In addition to choreographing, the prodigious Moses also created the score for one of the evening’s pieces, Reflections on an Approaching Thought. In step with the company’s tradition of addressing social issues, the program’s Consent delves into the ethics of medical experimentation on poor people.

The Black Choreographers Festival has scheduled three lineups spanning work representative of the African diaspora — jazz, African, Afro-Brazilian — as well as modern and dance theater. If you have never seen site-specific choreographer Joanna Haigood and her Zaccho Youth Group, from the Bayview neighborhood, don’t miss them on the afternoon of Feb. 17. They are exceptional young artists.

ROBERT MOSES’ KIN Thurs/14–Sat/16 and Feb. 20–23, 8 p.m.; Sun/17 and Feb. 24, 2 p.m.; $23–$26. Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California, SF. (415) 292-1233, www.jccsf.org

BLACK CHOREOGRAPHERS FESTIVAL Fri/15–Sat/16, 8 p.m.; Sun/17, 3 and 7 p.m.; $10–$20. Project Artaud Theater, 450 Florida, SF. (415) 863-9834, (510) 801-4523, www.bcfhereandnow.com

Twelve for the road


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The past year’s many exhilarations are here condensed into a month-by-month format. Let a veil of silence fall over the frustrations, and remember the yin and yang in everything, dance included.

January: Hungarian State Folk Ensemble, Marin Civic Center Auditorium, San Rafael. "Hungarian Concerto: Hommage à Béla Bartók," a brilliant presentation of traditional folk material, was choreographed within a sophisticated, contemporary setting that highlighted how the future and the past can coexist perfectly with each other.

February: Forsythe Company, Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley. Making a stunning debut with Three Atmospheric Studies, a piece that is as politically astute as it is formally challenging, William Forsythe’s new independent company confirmed his status as one of the most original contemporary thinkers about the role of dance in society.

March: Jess Curtis/Gravity, CounterPULSE, San Francisco. Under the Radar, Jess Curtis’s life-affirming cabaret, was probably the year’s single most inspired show, as poetic as it was inventive. The performers were as diverse as they come, and every one was top-notch. Radar did what good art always does: change our perceptions about who we are.

April: San Francisco Ballet, War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco. A rich month from the SFB, with the now-departed Gonzalo Garcia glorious in a slight work, Elemental Brubeck, and two of my SFB favorites, Kristin Long and Gennadi Nedvigin, in a problematic piece, Concordia. Julia Adam’s Night also returned. Adam’s choreographic voice is idiosyncratic and spunkily irreverent. Watch for her take on Sleeping Beauty this April.

May: Pick Up Performance Company, ODC Theater, San Francisco. David Gordon, who has been creating art for more than 30 years, is a master craftsman who works brilliantly with language and movement. In Dancing Henry Five he interwove formalized and pedestrian dance with Shakespeare’s language to stunning effect.

June: Joe Goode Performance Group, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco. We may know what Goode thinks of the frailties of the human heart, but we continue to watch because he keeps exploring ways to express his loves and concerns. Humansville was a fine example of dance as installation.

July: West Wave Dance Festival, Project Artaud Theater, San Francisco. The best West Wave in years — focused and straightforward — was also the last under Joan Lazarus’s stewardship. Let’s hope that showcasing quality artists (think Amy Seiwert and Kate Weare) will be utmost in the minds of future organizers.

August: Zaccho Dance Theatre, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Beckett, Mass. Watching Joanna Haigood’s haunting Invisible Wings performed in a place that served as an Underground Railroad station was both chilling and inspiring.

September: Nora Chipaumire, ODC Theater, San Francisco. Always a stunning dancer, the regal Chipaumire returned to the Bay Area with equally impressive choreography, including Chimurenga, inspired by her life in Zimbabwe.

October: Oakland Ballet Company, Paramount Theatre, Oakland. Whether this company’s tale will become a rags-to-riches story remains to be seen, but watching the hundreds in the audience give the fledgling new troupe their rousing support was not be missed.

November: San Francisco Hip Hop DanceFest, Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco. Treading a fine line between the community groups that form her primary base and the main-stage artists that are pushing the genre ahead, producer Micaya again put on a smart, well-paced, and highly enjoyable weekend of hip-hop dance.

December: Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, Project Artaud Theatre, San Francisco. Other Suns is the first piece in a trilogy that Jenkins is crafting with China’s Guangdong Modern Dance Company. If the remaining parts push as fiercely at the edges of the physically possible, they will be something to look forward to in 2009.



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Ask a dancer under 30 in Europe about Pina Bausch, and most likely you’ll get a blank stare or a shrug. You might as well mention Isadora Duncan or Martha Graham. Important, yes; relevant, no. For them, Bausch, the most radical innovator of European dance in the past three decades, is passé. But stateside that’s not the case, judging by the many dancers who mingled with the older crowd during Cal Performances’ recent Bausch engagement, her first since a 1997 appearance showcasing the California-inspired Nur Du (Only You).

Part of the reserved reception Bausch receives overseas may be due to prophet-in-her-own-land syndrome. And another part may relate to the revolutionary aspect of her work; once a revolution is institutionalized, it loses its punch. And some of it may simply be a function of aging. Not all artists produce major works in their seventh decade. Bausch is 67.

Although people have complained for years that "there is no dancing" in Bausch’s productions, there was plenty in her 2004 Ten Chi, and it was heroic. These dancers had the physical and emotional training to be ferocious and lyrical, plangent and athletic, sometimes all within the same couple of phrases. They lived off momentum, introspection, and one another. And every one of them was an individual, though they all had that Bauschian stare.

Even longtime company members Helena Pikon, Julie Shanahan, and
Julie Anne Stanzak danced better than ever. As for Dominique Mercy, who has been with Bausch since 1973, his sad-sack clown is getting more ethereal every year, yet he’ll whip himself around the stage with the best of them. He has also given the company something else: his daughter, Thusnelda Mercy, who — along with the rest of the women — dances on heels that are a lot higher than Ginger Rogers’s. High heels are Bausch’s pointe shoes, icons of femininity that radically shift the body’s center of gravity.

Ten Chi is one of Bausch’s better travel pieces, for which she visits a country or a city to gather information, which she and her dancers then incorporate into one of her meandering colossal collages, integrating culture-specific material into a much larger whole. In the impressive Ten Chi, Azusa Seyama, who is Japanese, gave head-bobbing lessons in proper behavior to Ditta Miranda. She also turned herself into a grinning paparazza, snapping pictures of a nonplussed Pascal Merighi. These scenes started out as high comedy, but Bausch pushed them to the point where they turned into something much darker.

It was this underbelly that redeemed much of Ten Chi‘s surface frivolity. Beneath the distinct and sometimes very funny episodes, Bausch and her exceptional set designer Peter Pabst infused a slowly growing sense of dread. Initially, the innocuously falling "cherry blossoms" looked pretty, but as they accumulated, the scene transformed into something akin to an eternal winter. Concurrently, in a brilliant stroke of optical illusion, the tail of a huge whale suggested that an animal was about to rise from the deep. Think Moby-Dick, think wars, think the unconscious. In the prolonged finale the dancers returned individually. They threw themselves into hair-raising contortions, whipping turns, and slithery slides. And they did it again and again and again, until I wanted to scream, "Stop it! Enough!" — which is exactly what Bausch intended. *

Goldie winner — Dance: Shinichi Iova-Koga


Shinichi Iova-Koga’s work is grotesque, beautiful, and funny. As a dancer he is never less than mesmerizing — ephemeral like smoke, limpid like a vernal pool. And yet he is an accidental dancer. The son of two painters, he was initially drawn to photography; at age 12 his bathroom doubled as a darkroom. Then, at San Francisco State University, he became a film major. "All the while," he says, "I was involved in theater, but I thought my main line was behind the camera."

The Oakland-born Iova-Koga also trained in Tadashi Suzuki’s method for actors, through which he was introduced to Butoh. Another influence was the investigative method of Ruth Zaporah’s Action Theater. His most formative teacher, however, was Butoh dancer Hiroko Tamano: "While we were making rice balls one day, [Tamano] asked me if I wanted to join Harupin-Ha [Butoh Dance Theater]." After a while, like many of Tamano’s pupils, Iova-Koga needed to strike out on his own. He traveled to Japan and Germany to study and work with other Butoh masters and, not incidentally, learn to adapt the genre to his expressive needs.

Thanks to these shifts in focus, he has developed a personal form of mixed-media dance theater that integrates contradictory impulses — the ancient and the technological, the chaotic and the formal, nature and nurture. He might be called a dancer at the edge. To Iova-Koga, this may well be a compliment; he has said that "only a dance at the edge reveals the honest life." His process blurs the distinctions between categories of thinking, being, disciplines, and performing. He likes to dig into both humorous and horrible subjects. The resulting works have taken him around the world.

One of his early works, 1996’s Desert Body, showed dramatic flair but not much personal voice. Ironically, he says, "I first started with Butoh so that I could be a better director. Now by chance I am a dancer." He is very precise about what this means to him. Dancing, he has said, means "focusing on the body being danced. To mentally construct a choreography that ignores this is to create a false dance."

Iova-Koga is an avid solo performer as well as a collaborator; he is often inspired by the people around him. His harrowing Tasting an Ocean — influenced by his father’s having lived through the atomic bombing of Nagasaki at the age of five — kept a 2003 audience at the tiny Noh Space on the edge of their seats. His most recent, highly acclaimed solo, Milk Traces, which he has performed in Europe and Japan, was prompted by the birth of his daughter. He calls her his main teacher now: "I follow her without questions."

In ensemble pieces such as Heaven’s Radio, an adaptation of a Samuel Beckett radio drama, and this summer’s Our Breath Is as Thin as a Hummingbird’s Spine (cocreated with Nanos Operetta), Iova-Koga has worked with other Bay Area theater artists (Nils Frykdahl, Ken Rudstrom, and Allen Willner) and Butoh dancers Tanya Calamoneri and Leigh Evans. The duet Ame to Ame, featuring Yuko Kaseki, another Germany-based frequent collaborator, finds the two playing out a riotous male-female relationship in terms of both meanings of the word ame, Japanese for "candy" and "rain." The absurdist Cockroach casts Kaseki as the ghostly wife to Iova-Koga’s husband; she dances through his tea-slurping last moments. His newest enterprise is C(h)ord, which he’s collaborating on with Seattle’s Degenerate Ensemble. It premieres at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on April 24, 2008.


Goldie winner — Dance/Performance: Keith Hennessy


"Citizens. Wake Up. A new day is dawning in San Francisco and all over the world."

Keith Hennessy, "A Speech to the Poor Artists," San Francisco City Hall, Oct. 4, 2000

Keith Hennessy has made work in the Bay Area for more than 20 years, yet he has stayed at the margins all this time. Yes, his audiences are good, and they show up time after time to watch his latest work, but he hasn’t gotten the grants that would allow him to do big tours or reach a more mainstream audience. Maybe he prefers it that way. Maybe big audiences wouldn’t be comfortable with hearing what he has to say. But Hennessy is that rare artist who succeeds in transutf8g fierce social concerns into artistically satisfying creations that enlighten and entertain.

"Why are you wasting your time researching the grace, beauty, and strength of the human body in motion?"

Hennessy started out as a competitive social dancer in his native Canada and worked his way to San Francisco by clowning, juggling, and doing political street theater. In the Bay Area he studied with Lucas Hoving; in 1985 he became a founding member of Contraband, the most radical dance-theater group of the period. He has had a roller coaster existence ever since, pushing himself to develop new theatrical expressions that allow him to explode the conventions of form in order to speak to and about the marginalized: the poor, the victims, the ostracized, and the homeless. Against all odds he believes in art’s power to reassume its ritualistic and healing function.

"Stop trying to hack your way alone through hostile jungles in the dead of night. Take the FreeWay. It’s paved and easy, and a 24-hour SafeWay is always available."

One of Hennessy’s most daring and controversial pieces was his 1989 solo Saliva, for which he collected spit from willing audience members, mixed it with pigment, and painted his naked body with it. It was an extraordinary act of defiance, courage, and solidarity — as well as spectacular theater.

Spectacle, Hennessy has discovered, is a way to draw in audiences, not to expose them to mindless entertainment but to amuse and challenge them. This can be an intoxicating mix. During his four years with the French circus Cahin-Caha, he became an experienced aerialist and refined his skill of using circus, cabaret, and other popular art forms to create works that foster a sense of community and a set of shared values that are difficult to resist. Hennessy believes in the power of the imagination and in art as a spiritual practice. He also allows his collaborators the full range of their own imaginations.

Last year’s double bill "How to Die" was raw, violent, and difficult to watch. Both pieces examined the erotics of death. SDF USA (Sans domicile fixe, i.e., homeless) paid tribute to the many homeless people, primarily male, who kill themselves every year. American Tweaker honored disco diva Sylvester and an era of unprecedented sexual abandon and sense of liberation within the gay community.

This year’s Sol Niger is probably Hennessy’s best work yet. Looking at the devastation humankind has brought on itself — up to the present day — through a series of tightly structured vignettes, the work celebrates and laments the glory and the frailty of being alive. This is activist art that works — as art and as a call to action. Sol Niger returns to Project Artaud Theater from January 16 to 26, 2008.

"Citizens of San Francisco. Citizens of the second millennium. Wake up. The global city is yours. Blessed be."


King of the dance


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Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet celebrates its 25th anniversary this weekend, but King’s influence on Bay Area dance goes back further than that. Veteran dancers remember his ballet classes for the musical combinations that he gave his students in the ’70s. One of them was Joanna Haigood, artistic director of Zaccho Dance Theatre, who said, "Alonzo was a spirit master who happened to be a dancer." While she loved the challenge of the technique, she was really in his class because "he taught us to live the dance."

Not only local performers knew about King’s poetic approach to ballet. Big stars like Fernando Bujones and Natalia Makarova never missed an opportunity to work with him when they were in town. But eventually, King needed to have his own company. These days, in addition to periodic guest artist Muriel Maffre, Lines Ballet performs with nine dancers. This year it toured from France to Poland, from Austria to Greece, in addition to performing in stateside engagements and two home seasons.

King also founded the SF Dance Center, initially to support his company financially; the now-independent center offers classes for adults in a variety of styles. He then created Lines Ballet School, which teaches according to his principles. Last year, in conjunction with Dominican University, King established a BA program that allows dancers to simultaneously pursue professional and academic studies. In other words, in addition to choreographing 74 works, King has created an institution. "I know now that we have grown so much it will be more difficult to balance humanity and creativity with effective business practices," he said in a recent phone interview. "But if I have my choice, I will go with the humanity."

Aside from his choreography, King’s greatest contribution might turn out to be his challenging of preconceptions about dance, specifically ballet. To question the status quo is perhaps the birthright of this son and grandson of prominent civil rights leaders in Albany, Ga. King grew up participating in civil rights marches. His mother introduced him to dance, while his father, a follower of 19th-century sage Ramakrishna, taught him about meditation.

For King, dance is the appropriate medium for exploring a universe that he perceives to be in flux, where opposites don’t stand against but hold one another in balance. Ballet for him is not a style but a language — one that, he says, would have to be invented if it didn’t exist already. Ballet is abstraction; ballet is science; ballet is geometry. After all, a pirouette is a perfect circle, a tendu (stretched foot) a line that reaches into infinity. To King, ballet is a tool to investigate creativity, which, he insists, is everyone’s birthright. Does he think everyone can become an artist?

"No, that’s not what I mean," he explained. "But just like we all have a brain, we all have creativity. We either tap into it or we don’t. For most people, when they are educated as children it is stripped away from them because they are trained to give the answer which the teacher wants, when there are multifarious choices that could be selected. The government doesn’t really encourage it, because if you give people the ability to ascertain thought, to really deconstruct ideas, that’s dangerous because no longer can they be sheep, but at that point they are discerning lions. And when you have 300 million discerning lions, [you’ve] got a problem."

King’s ballets are nonhierarchical — no predetermined gender roles, no fixed vocabulary — and what looks like balletic distortion is simply an emphasis on a constantly shifting center of gravity instead of a stable focus on the body’s vertical axis. Women can be strong, men tender. Early in his career he paired a tall woman with a much shorter man. It looked odd. Why, King asked, do we always see male-female duets in terms of gender relationships? Couldn’t a dance be about a mother and a child or a sky and a landscape?

He does follow one convention — putting women on pointe — though he noted that this doesn’t have to be a female prerogative. "If you look at most cultures, you see an appreciation of the idea of being elevated, of being above the earth. In Africa dancers use stilts. In Balkan countries men do dance on their toes." He often took barre on pointe, and during his training at Harkness House men took pointe class once a week. If enough training becomes available, one of these days King just might put men into pointe shoes.

For his anniversary premieres, King has choreographed two works, one to a new score by tabla master Zakir Hussein, the other to selections from baroque composers. The connection? Both types of music, to be performed live, allow for improvisation. According to the enthusiastic King, "That’s when the artists can go deep inside themselves and become fully who they are." *


Fri/2, 9 p.m.; Sat/3 and Nov. 7–10, 8 p.m.; Sun/4, 7 p.m.; Nov. 11, 3 p.m.; $25–$65

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts theater

700 Howard, SF

(415) 978-2787


Bigger is (mostly) better


REVIEW Moving from the small ODC Theater to the much larger Kanbar Hall of the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco seems to have been a good idea for Benjamin Levy’s LEVYdance. At the opening of its home season Oct. 12, a large crowd seemed curious to see what else the young choreographer has in his palette. The good news is that Levy has no intention of repeating himself. The two world premieres, Nu Nu and Bone Lines, showed him stepping outside his previously hyperkinetic fierceness and embracing a more imagistic approach to dance making. Nu Nu is a candy-colored romp for four dancers set to music by rapper Fabolous, jazz singer Peggy Lee, and British songstress Anita Harris. The more ambitious Bone Lines, however, looked curiously unfocused; it didn’t sustain itself, Colleen Quan’s transparent and fragmented costumes notwithstanding.

Nu Nu‘s fast-paced mix of clowning, glamour-puss posing, and blossoming and breaking relationships was clever, smartly paced, and unpretentious.

Oral imagery permeated Bone Lines, which suggests a physical though inchoate passing of knowledge from one body to another. The piece examines Levy’s relationship with his immigrant parents; he seems much more interested in the process of his absorbing that knowledge — fragmentarily, unconsciously — than in any specific facts. The music and sets were strong, and so were recurring motifs of connectedness, but structurally, Bone Lines felt shadowy.

Oh, Donna


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You don’t necessarily expect a choreographer to be interested in playing with conceits. After all, dancers work in an art form that is primarily nonverbal and movement driven. Yet Donna Uchizono’s imagination embraces ideas in conjunction with physicality. "All of my work is concept based," she explained over the phone from her home in New York. "The idea always comes first, and then I develop a movement vocabulary to support the concept. So the pieces are very different from each other."

Sometimes she takes off from a single word. When I asked her about an early work, Fault (1990) — which had struck me as a puzzling combination of brain and brawn — she chuckled. "The piece was terrible," she remembered. "But then [later that year] I made San Andreas out of it, which was very beautiful." It turns out that she had been inspired by the idea of "fault," as both a geological concept and the attributing and accepting of blame, as in "It’s my (or your) fault."

More recently, for last year’s Leap to Tall for Mikhail Baryshnikov, she thought about how his life has been full of huge leaps — to the top of the ballet world, from the Soviet Union to the West, from ballet to modern dance, and from dancer to the founder of the Baryshnikov Arts Center. She also noticed that for many women Baryshnikov is still a matinee idol and that at his arts center he is surrounded by "strong, capable women." Leap turned into a trio for Baryshnikov, Hristoula Harakas, and Jodi Melnick, the last two of whom support him in his leaps, both literally and metaphorically.

Uchizono has been choreographing for close to 20 years, and her work has garnered just about every major dance award, from a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1998 and a Bessie Award in 2002 to three Rockefeller Foundation Multi-Arts Production Fund grants (to work in Argentina with indigenous musicians) and most recently an Alpert Award in 2005.

Uchizono is known for lush movement and intricate partnering that "takes months and months to learn." For Thin Air, with which her namesake company makes its Bay Area debut Oct. 18, she chose a different approach. "It’s very minimal, very transparent, and it takes a long time for something to develop," she said. "I am working with a very long time frame." She described the piece as having been influenced by quantum physics and the Buddhist concept of emptiness.

Cocommissioned by ODC Theater, Thin Air premiered Oct. 9 in New York City. Locally, it’s part of ODC’s expanded presentation series, which will continue to showcase local companies and also include national and international artists, similar to the way ODC operated in the 1980s.

Thin Air includes a score by Fred Firth and a video component, agreed to somewhat reluctantly by the choreographer. In principle, Uchizono doesn’t like video with dance. "I am so tired of how these large projections dwarf dancers, but since I am working with the idea that the observer is actually projecting reality into emptiness, video seemed appropriate. Video clearly is projected reality." Uchizono, who is not dancing in the work, relied heavily on her dancers’ input, particularly that of longtime troupe member Harakas, whom Uchizono described as being "her inside eye" and "like a great actor who gets involved in the part and [has] discussions with the lighting designer and the director."

As for the future of her project-based company, Uchizono is both a conceptualizer and a realist. She dreams of an installation project, but then she pulls back, noting that what she’d really like to do is provide her dancers with health insurance. Ideas may turn her on, but Uchizono’s feet remain firmly planted on the ground. *


Thurs/18–Sat/20, 8 p.m., $18–$25

ODC Theater

3153 17th St., SF

(415) 863-9834


Let there be bright


Sol Niger ("Black sun" in Latin) sounds like a contradiction. Not that choreographer–theater maven Keith Hennessy is uncomfortable with oppositional thinking. But if you’ve ever experienced the gray-on-gray blanket that a solar eclipse throws over the world, you’ll understand the appropriateness of the title of Hennessy’s most recent work.

With a Bay Area premiere run kicking off Sept. 20, Sol Niger — Hennessy’s MA project at UC Davis — was partially developed in France, where it was described as his "search for an American identity." Here it is presented as addressing "shifting definitions of war, torture, terror and justice." Hennessy shrugs off the difference in perspectives. French cultural institutions have sponsored several of his works, and he is used to the public there seeing him primarily in terms of national identity. In fact, the distinctions between the stateside and French observations just prove that the nature of the light shining on a object determines our perception of it, which is exactly one of Hennessy’s points.

Hennessy believes that the events since Sept. 11, 2001, define his generation much the way AIDS or World War II did earlier ones. In Sol Niger he examines the shadowy nature of our awareness of what’s going on. A key figure, borrowed from Japanese theater, is a kurogo (black-clad man), who manipulates the lights from the stage, invisible yet all-powerful in determining what we see. "I wanted to look less [at] what we do know about Iraq than what we half-know about, let’s say, Abu Ghraib, about our foreign policy," he says. "Is it really about oil and the oligarchies? These are the issues I want to bring to light."

One reason Hennessy chose to perform at Project Artaud Theater is because of the venue’s high ceilings, necessary for the aerial work that he continues to explore. He was first drawn to trapeze work because of a fascination with risk and danger and the ideas it provokes on dealing with fear. Still, Sol Niger is a departure for him. "There is a lot more choreographed dancing here than I have had in a long time. Some of it is quite beautiful," he says. "Also, I am taking a much less head-on approach." Like an alchemist, he works with symbols, metaphors, and abstractions — away from the glare of certainty but determined to shed light on what the shadows reveal.


Thurs/20–Sun/23 and Sept. 26–29, 8 p.m., $25

Project Artaud Theater

540 Florida, SF

(415) 255-2500


Only human


Great art has a moral force that ennobles anyone it touches. Not that Joe Goode’s new Humansville, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, is that great. But the work nudges at so many raw spots in a lovingly healing way that you end up believing there may yet be hope for human nature, at least until you leave the theater. Still, Goode’s latest essay on acceptance and the embracing of frailty left me with conflicting emotions.

To longtime Goode watchers — and the night I attended, the YBCA’s Forum seemed packed with them — Humansville‘s inhabitants may have looked vaguely familiar: the wistful, lonely guy (Melecio Estrella) stretched out poolside; the poodle-skirted, Doris Day–ish country inhabitant (Jessica Swanson); the preternaturally mismatched couple (Marit Brook-Kothlow and Felipe Barrueto-Cabello); and the two tough-luck buddies (Estrella and Alexander Zendzian). We know them; we have met them before. But Goode never seems to tire of making us look at them again. Yet because he does it with such clear-sighted wit and compassion, we will probably continue to cherish them and recognize ourselves in these hapless strugglers for sanity.

Humansville is divided into two parts. At first the audience walks around dioramas devised by designer Erik Flatmo and video artist Austin Forbord. One rains words, another is all furry softness, a third is composed of chintz and flowers. In each, dancers present episodes of disconnectedness. As you return to them, the sections begin to blend. You shudder as you hear Patricia West bitching about a missed dinner reservation while Zendzian and Estrella crash their bodies against their cell walls. Swanson’s relationship hysterics bleed into Brook-Kothlow’s and Barrueto-Cabello’s stony silences. This roundabout of foolishness, pain, and absurdity works well despite being a vaguely voyeuristic experience. Swanson’s TV news–inspired echo of a mourning mother on the video screen below her is particularly chilling.

The more conventionally choreographed second half elaborates on what went before. Estrella laments the death of his fellow prisoner; Brook-Kothlow endlessly nuzzles up to a tormented Barrueto-Cabello; Swanson wails about a nest being a launching pad. But the choreography falls short — it is bland and stiff. The lifts, reaches, and stretches of shifting connections look too unmotivated to suggest the fragile community proposed by Brook-Kothlow’s hymn about an empathy that enables you to step out of yourself. Not even Joan Jeanrenaud’s delicate cello, weaving in and out of the hour-long show, made me buy it.


Thurs/7–Sat/9, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m., $19–$25

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2787


All that she wants


DANCE Deborah Slater’s new The Desire Line is as quietly atmospheric as it is rambunctiously explosive. It is also a lot of fun as you catch glimpses — a hand holding a foot, a striped tie, a letter, teacups — of Alan Felton’s figurative paintings, reproduced in the Dance Mission Theater lobby, that inspired this fine hour-long piece. But Slater isn’t interested in imitating the portraits of these self-absorbed narcissists. She wants to dig below the canvas. This is her second go at Felton, whose silent figures look like they’d be full of stories if one just knew how to access them. Slater’s 2004 Trio (in the space between) was a trial run for the more ambitious and more thoroughly developed Desire.

The idea is as simple as it is ingenuous: break open shells of self-absorption, and watch as sparks fly as people start to rub against one another. In Desire privacy and isolation are held in balance with volcanic explosions of fury, jealousy, attraction, confusion, fear, you name it — the whole gamut of human emotions. For a while it looked like the piece turned around Kerry Mehling’s never-explained outbursts of hysteria, but then she became another member of a group, which bumped into each other and found brief connections before spinning away. The other performers, all strong, were Shannon Preto, Elizebeth Randall, Travis Rowland, Kenneth Scott, Breton Tyner-Bryan, and Shaunna Vella.

Slater forwent elaborate sets and empowered her septet of dancers to carry the piece with choreography that was as full-bodied and visceral as any of hers that I have seen. (Rita Felciano)


Thurs/10–Sat/12, 8 p.m.; Sun/13, 7 p.m.; $18

Dance Mission Theater

1310 Mission, SF

(415) 273-4633


Home court advantage


A dance community is only as healthy as its humblest members, much the way a ballet company can never attain greatness without a fabulous corps. The team that runs Yerba Buena Center for the Arts knows this. According to associate performing arts curator Angela Mattox, "We want to nurture and support local artists and offer them an opportunity to perform at Yerba Buena." But when Ken Foster, the YBCA’s executive director, presented his first season in 2004, shock waves resulted. There was a new curatorial emphasis on bringing major performers to the Bay Area, and a legitimate fear arose among local dancers, particularly younger ones, that they were going to be shut out for good. (Larger local companies rent the theater; a few — including Joe Goode this year — have performed commissioned works.)

With last year’s "Under the Radar" program, the YBCA calmed the waters by presenting younger artists and their category-defying work. This year the shared performance event "Worlds Apart: Local Response" draws together work that aligns with the YBCA’s three-pronged seasonal theme: "deeply personal, worlds apart, and medium as message."

The participating artists are not beginners, but for both financial and artistic reasons they would not be able to present their own full-evening programs at the YBCA. So for them, a shot at performing in the YBCA’s Forum means a professional venue, exposure to a larger audience, and a paycheck. For the YBCA it’s a community-building, relatively low-risk gesture; also, highlighting up-and-coming local artists now may offer the venue an opportunity to say "we told you so" a few years down the line.

Performers at "Worlds Apart: Local Response" include Edmund Welles: The Bass Clarinet Quartet, surely one of the most unusual chamber music groups. It premieres 2012: A Requiem for Baktun 12 [the 13th and Final Cycle], inspired by a Mayan prophecy about the end of an evolutionary cycle in the title year. Erica Shuch Performance Project has been working on 51802, a piece in which an imaginative thinker examines the effects of incarceration on those inside and outside prison. For Clothes x Sun, performance artist Isak Immanuel of the "Floor of Sky Projects" weaves a personal narrative into installation pieces inspired by their environments. Also on the bill are Hagen and Simone, the brash, smart-aleck, and theatrically inspired Kevin Clarke and Monique Jenkinson. Their new duet, The Excused, promises to tussle with icons of common expectations. Finally, the reprise of Remote by Kraft and Purver takes a humorous, ironic, and compassionate look at how technology affects the way we relate to one another. (Rita Felciano)


Thurs/29–Sat/31, 8 p.m., $15–$20

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-ARTS



Vettin’ the vets


Four world premieres during the two-week run of "ODC/Dance Downtown" prove there’s something to be said for long-term creative leadership. Both artistic director Brenda Way and co–artistic director KT Nelson have been with the company since before it relocated to San Francisco 31 years ago. And yet neither of them shows any sign of artistic burnout.

In Program One, Nelson’s free-spirited Scramble, set to Bach’s (overamplified) Cello Suite no. 6 in D Major, was an easy charmer for two couples in various combinations. Anne Zivolich and Daniel Santos — ODC’s most balletically elegant dancer — opened the piece on a note of airborne high; their antics were nicely balanced by the slow movements of Elizabeth Farotte and Justin Flores. With an evocative video by Hiraki Sawa and a serviceable score by David Lang, Way’s A Pleasant Looking Woman in Sensible Clothes contemplated the fear that has entered the daily lives of ordinary people. Sawa’s video of domesticity, which was invaded by a mounting number of toy airplanes, created a growing sense of terror and suffocation — one that the choreography only partially reflected.

The 1999 piece Investigating Grace concluded the evening on about as inspiring a note as one would wish. Surely, this extraordinarily beautiful and musically astute setting of Bach’s Goldberg Variations is one of Way’s enduring masterpieces. (Rita Felciano)


Through March 18, $10–$40

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater

701 Howard, SF

(415) 978-ARTS

www.ybca.org, www.odcdance.org


Attraction is hell


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

REVIEW Rarely does ODC Theater pack them in the way it did Feb. 2 for SHIFT Physical Theater’s first full-evening piece, The Shape of Poison. Manuelito Biag has been making work for close to 10 years, but the buzz has really picked up since 2003, when he presented the anguished Giving Strength to this Fragile Tongue. With Poison, developed as an artist-in-residence project at ODC, he has created a work about the inarticulate, often unacknowledged forces that shape our realities. Watching the dancers in pursuit of endless and often turned-in-on-themselves encounters felt like looking for a cause in all those ruffles, vortices, and surges that continually disturb the ocean’s surface. Poison moves leisurely but doesn’t meander; for all its churning, at its core the piece is quiet and wistful.

Philippines-born and California-raised, Biag has described Poison as influenced by the yogic kleshas — corruptions of the mind that prevent enlightenment. It’s not necessary to know that Poison‘s three sections, which can stand independent of each other, explore three kleshas: ignorance, passion, and anger. It’s quite enough to realize that for each part the choreographer developed a highly charged, intensely physical language that he shaped into fluid, at-times soaring movements, which drop hints of narrative like beads of color into a pool of oil. As he did with Tongue, he turned to Jess Rowland for an inspired score, here partially performed live on piano.

The opening trio (Amy Foley, Damara Ganley, and Tessa Nebrida) began posed like statues facing different directions, until Ganley’s tiny tremor sent out enough waves to animate Foley and Nebrida. Even though each of them developed something of a personality — Foley’s lyric groundedness was particularly lovely — more than anything the dancers created a sense of space through which they were reaching for each other, at times tentatively, at times assertively. One had the feeling they were trying to pierce clouds or curtains that hid something. But whenever a connection or moment of clarity was made, it either evaporated or was cut off randomly. There was blindness to the way their hands reached out; touches became almost accidental. In a kneeling position, two dancers held hands and then simply dropped them. A cupped open hand welcomed another, but no emotional current flowed. Almost animal-like, the dancers nosed up to each other, aware of one another’s presence but rarely reutf8g.

The central duet for Biag and the resplendently fierce Erin Mei-Ling Stuart worked with material already explored in Tongue: the unspeakable tension in a relationship in which two individuals feed off each other’s heat. Here the two people were very much equals. Each emotional punch was matched by one of similar force; the two of them were always at a standoff, trapped with no end in sight. The heartbeat in Rowland’s score at times sounded like water torture as the pair watched wearily, waiting for the next explosion to hit. Biag had a stooped way of yanking his legs up — as if dragging them out of a swamp — and then ever so gently moving them like a tiger on the prowl that was truly terrifying. Though he designed wave after wave of full-bodied confrontations, one of the most telling came through his use of arms, which present very narrow points of contact. When the dancers stood face-to-face, forcing their stretched arms against each other, you could see the hell of this mutual repulsion and attraction. This duet is Poison‘s strongest component.

At this point, Biag has not quite mastered choreographing for his multicast group. In Poison‘s third section he looked at chaos and instability from a communal perspective. While he was wonderfully adept at designing fluid and formally inventive movements, the circle and diagonal lineups that he set in opposition to individual expressions of anger — tiny Tanya Bello was particularly fierce — didn’t quite add up. However, an excellent duet for Ganley and Noel Plemmons that peeled away from the ensemble brought on a finale that teetered between hope and despair. In the context of Naomi Lazard’s existential pessimism in her poem "Ordinance on Arrival" (read on tape), about a bleak world from which "there is no vehicle out," hands repeatedly planting seeds suggest futility. Yet the stricken Plemmons, after being brutally repulsed by Ganley, reached out his hand to receive a drop of saliva from each of the other dancers. Thus nourished, he veered toward a strong Ashley Taylor, who throughout seemed to function as a calm within the storm. Was he able to push through suffering into the light? It would be nice to think so. *

Step lively


› a&eletters@sfbg.com
The year in dance began as a bummer, but it’s ending on a note of hope. In January, Oakland Ballet closed its doors. This week they’re back — sort of — with former artistic director Ronn Guidi’s Nutcracker. What happened? Guidi wouldn’t face reality, that’s what. He never has. He didn’t program George Balanchine when everyone else was jumping on that bandwagon. He commissioned female choreographers when few others would. Throughout his career he swam against the stream, pursuing what he loved most, in particular almost-forgotten ballets from the ’20s and ’30s. Guidi’s successor, Karen Brown, valiantly tried to take the company — already in deep disarray when she started her tenure — in a new direction. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. Now there is at least a glimmer of hope that Oakland Ballet will resurrect itself.
On a broader level, the year has been great for Asian dance — even if the label no longer fits (if it ever did). Remarkably diverse first-rate artists have emerged from that huge continent for some time, but this year has been a particularly rich one for them. The Nrityagram Dance Ensemble brought slightly updated, spectacularly expressive Odissi dance from eastern India. Japanese-born Eiko and Koma worked with exquisitely trained young artists from Cambodia. Sankai Juku may be based in Paris these days, but the company’s lush version of Butoh is both its own and distinctly Japanese. From Taiwan, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s physicalization of calligraphy was an extraordinary example of how dance can shape time and space. The Bayanihan Philippine National Dance Company’s lovely celebration of the richness of its country’s culture even acknowledged its colonizer, Spain. Locally, Gamelan Sekar Jaya continued its collaboration with Balinese artists in a simple new work dance intended as a response to the 2002 bombings of that island’s night clubs. If these artists have anything in common, it is that their work’s visual appeal sometimes supersedes choreographic values.
The following “12 of 2006” are not to be construed as the best but simply as events and artists for whose work I am particularly grateful. They are listed alphabetically.
1. At its local premiere, Paul Taylor’s antiwar Banquet of Vultures seemed over the top. I have since changed my mind. Taylor has made many dark pieces; I now think Banquet can stand with the best of them. The trajectory of this trip into hell, set to an unlikely Morton Feldman score, was masterfully realized. When Taylor is good, he still is tops.
2. Counter Phrases was a lush, breathtaking dance film from Belgium, presented as part of San Francisco Performances’ Dance/Screen series. Created by Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker and Thierry de Mey, it featured commissioned scores (created after the visuals) and used the medium with great skill and extraordinary imagination.
3. Doug Varone and Dancers made a rare appearance in the Bay Area, courtesy of San Francisco Performances. Varone shapes generous and humane impulses into highly athletic and musically astute choreography that brings out his dancers’ individuality. He is a much underrated artist.
4. Brazilian Paco Gomes, an experienced choreographer but a relative newcomer to the Bay Area, presented meticulously detailed, smartly timed minidramas that were fun to watch and told us something about ourselves. Gomes is also uncommonly skilled at integrating modern elements into an Afro-Brazilian dance vocabulary for evocations of Candomblé rituals. His dancers — eight women and one man — can do it all.
5. Liss Fain has been making unspectacular but carefully structured, ballet-inspired modern dance for many years. She chooses excellent but demanding music and works with good designers and fine dancers. This year she moved her season to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. That’s where she belongs.
6. Hell’s Kitchen Dance featured a group of talented, barely post-college-age dancers from New York who work out of Mikhail Baryshnikov’s Art Center. Traveling with the still great dancer, they presented works by Benjamin Millepied and the promising Canadian Azure Barton. Barton’s skippy goofiness, as cleanly realized as if it had been planned on graph paper, was a major discovery.
7. Margaret Jenkins has been thinking about and making dance for many years. For A Slipping Glimpse, she and her dancers traveled to India to work with the modern dance Tanusree Shankar Dance Company. The collaboration resulted in a beautifully planned, exquisitely realized meditation — one of Jenkins’s best.
8. If I had to choose my favorite event of 2006, it would have to be “Kathak at the Crossroads,” the conference Pandit Chitresh Das organized to consider Kathak’s future in light of its past. Each of the 21 solo dancers who performed during those three days put new twists on a noble art.
9. Lyon Opera Ballet’s triple bill at Cal Performances featured neither toe shoes nor tutus. Instead it brought an inspiring triple bill by musically literate, kinetically gifted female choreographers who could not be more different from each other: Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Sasha Waltz, and Maguy Marin.
10. San Francisco Ballet: what can I say? It’s a great company. Helgi Tomasson’s wide-ranging repertoire allows dancers from around the globe to be who they are and yet work with a common purpose. Of the two local premieres, William Forsythe’s Artifact Suite challenged the massive corps like nothing has before; Jerome Robbins’s Afternoon of a Faun showed what magic two self-absorbed dancers can create.
11. In an area that produces dance festivals quite regularly, the San Francisco Hip Hop DanceFest has a future. To be able to watch hip-hop artists — who hail from all over these days — take what used to be a street form and reshape it into increasingly sophisticated theatrical dance is just a delight.
12. At both the WestWave Dance Festival and in her own concert, Erin Mei-Ling Stuart proved how much she has grown as a choreographer. With imagination and a flair for humor, she takes a skeptical look at the world and turns her perceptions into deftly choreographed characters and narratives.<\!s>SFBG

Goldies Dance winner Funkanometry SF


Earlier this fall Funkanometry SF celebrated their fourth anniversary at the same place, 111 Minna Gallery, that is hosting this year’s Goldies ceremony and party. They packed the joint. Between then and now the company has been places. Six core members — including directors Emerson Aquino and Gina Rosales — answered an invitation to travel to Bogotá, Colombia. There, as part of the city’s Festival de Danza Urbana, they taught classes, were interviewed on the streets for radio and television, and gave performances.
Funkanometry SF is traveling these days — this month includes a trip to Chicago — but their heart remains in the Bay Area, where every Sunday night they take over the Westlake School for the Performing Arts in Daly City. In one large room company members and new students might run through eight counts while in another, smaller classroom veteran dancers hone an upcoming performance. Before, after, and in between the dancing, everyone hangs out in the courtyard, where kids and parents stop by to see what’s up.
“I really started choreographing when I was 14,” the soft-spoken Aquino explains one such Sunday, as he, Rosales, and cofounder Kyle Wai Lin good-naturedly attempt to break down the group’s history, kidding each other all the while. “To me, choreography is about making pictures. Once you realize the amount of people you have [to work with], you can maneuver them to make pictures.”
The pictures the group creates aren’t just captivating still images — they form waves of energy as friends in the audience shout encouragement to dancers on the floor. That type of flow is no small feat, considering Aquino and the 20-some-member group tap into many different genres of music. The ladies are as slyly, stylishly sexy-tough as Amerie and Aaliyah, and the gentlemen aren’t buried under baggy clothes — they’ve got debonair flair. In other words, Funkanometry SF aren’t solemn hip-hop snobs — they’re just as likely to draw from J-pop, house, or rock as they are Bay Area hyphy. “The art of choreography involves movement that is clear,” Aquino says while discussing the fact that Janet Jackson is a dancer’s pop singer if there ever was one (an axiom that extends to Timbaland as producer). “But a lot of people focus on movement at the expense of feeling. You can just move, but if you’re not feeling the music, you’re not dancing.”
Like Aquino, Funkanometry SF’s other codirectors started dancing in high school. Before joining Funkanometry SF the energetic Rosales captained a high school team and was part of another local crew, Xplicit. Lin and Aquino are friends dating back to childhood; these days Lin oversees the business and Web creative side of the group (www.funkanometrysf.com and www.funksters.org), letting Aquino guide the dancers. “Both of us wanted to create a foundation to serve the community, to challenge dancers, and create an outlet for youth,” Lin says. Judging from the huge response to the group’s Funksters youth program — overseen by Mary Jane Huang — they’re succeeding on all fronts.
Each fall the San Francisco Hip Hop Dance Fest rolls around, and along with another community-based local company — Oakland’s Izzy Award–winners New Style Motherlode — Funkanometry SF can be counted on to represent. This year Aquino and company are preparing a new show, Funk’s Boutique, for Micaya’s annual Palace of Fine Arts event. “It’s set in a trendy boutique, and it showcases the versatility and diversity of the company,” Aquino explains. Versatility and diversity — those are just two of the qualities that make Funkanometry SF unique. Each dancer brings another reason to check out their boutique. (Johnny Ray Huston)

Goldies Dance winners Benjamin Levy and LEVYdance


Benjamin Levy entered college as a future pediatrician. He left as a dancer — not exactly what his Jewish Iranian parents had in mind. “They were not pooh-poohing it,” Levy recently recalled. “They just had no frame of reference. It was not even in their lexicon.”
After graduating from UC Berkeley, Levy danced with the Joe Goode Performance Group for two seasons. “He was such a beautiful mover. He could do anything and was a good inventor and great collaborator,” Goode says. “But it was very clear that he needed to do his own thing.” So in 2003 the newly formed LEVYdance company made its first splash as part of the second House Special, ODC Theater’s two-week residency program. The following year the company made its East Coast debut, and the dancers have been back every year since. In 2005 they were chosen for the prestigious California Regional Touring Project. Last March they performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic as part of its “Minimalist Jukebox” festival. Last month they embarked on their first international tour — a two-week gig in Lithuania. The company has given workshops across the country and worked with college ensembles. Recently, it moved into its own large and handsome studio South of Market. And all of this with a repertory of barely a dozen pieces.
So what makes LEVYdance so hot? For one thing, the dances crawl under your skin. Levy’s pieces look a little bit like creepy film noir. Shadowy forces lurk inside the voluptuously strong dancers, but you can’t quite pin those forces down. And actually, you probably don’t really want to know why a hug turns into a chokehold or flailing limbs get so entangled that you wonder whether they’ll ever return to their owners. The intensity is fierce. The choreographer describes Violent Momentum, a 2005 commission from ODC and Meet the Composer, as “being with the rawest part of yourself. It may be an uncomfortable experience, it may be an embracing one, but ultimately, it’s an important, sobering journey.”
And yet Levy’s work is gorgeous to look at. He embeds finely detailed choreography into theatrical contexts with sophisticated lighting designs, stark but elegant costumes, and imaginative and oft-original scores. This is a man of the theater, maybe even an old-fashioned man of the theater.
Levy started to dance and choreograph in high school (“It fulfilled a PE requirement, and I didn’t want to run laps”), but his eyes were opened by his Martha Graham training. It’s as much Graham’s ethics as her movement that impressed him: “Life is too precious to mess around. If you can’t be here fully, don’t show up.” Used to seeing a lot of dance that he describes as “the ooey, gooey, never-ending releasy soup,” Levy appreciated that in Graham “a hard line could be a hard line, and it could stay there and be energized and buzz with life. That was so exciting.”
Up next is an untitled work to be premiered at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco in 2007. It will be the biggest piece Levy has done yet. “It’s about how identity is formed in first-generation Americans who are born of parents who fled oppressive governments,” he says. “The interesting thing is that it is a veiled past — a past that is vast and influential, yet your parents don’t speak about it very much.”
So are his parents reconciled to not having a pediatrician in the family? “My mom not too long ago said to me that doctors can heal bones, but artists can heal human souls,” Levy says with a smile. (Rita Felciano)

Goldies Dance winner Sean Dorsey


One look at Sean Dorsey — a debonair dancer with slightly mussed hair and innovative modern dance choreographer — and two words instantly come to mind: dip me!
But watching him dance, you see more of a rough-and-tumble Gene Kelly than a gliding Fred Astaire. Which isn’t to say he can’t throw down a steamy tango, as he does in Red Tie, Red Lipstick, a moving pas de deux about violence against a transgender couple. Dorsey featured the piece, with narration by trans poet Marcus Van, in his first full-length show, Outsider Chronicles, staged last year at ODC Theater and soon to be remounted Nov. 16 to 18 at the Dance Mission Theater.
Since moving to San Francisco in 2001 from Vancouver, Dorsey has blazed a fierce trail for transgender performers. He immediately became enamored with the city when he met site-specific choreographer Lizz Roman while visiting here with the Kokoro Dance company. “There was very little release technique or inversion work in Vancouver,” the native Canadian recalls. “I totally fell in love with her [Roman’s] movement and what she was doing.”
The feeling was mutual, and Roman gave the young dancer a spot in her company. Dance Brigade founder Krissy Keefer also went mad for Dorsey, granting him a solo slot in the now-defunct Lesbian and Gay Dance Festival. Even our pampered SF LGBT audience wasn’t used to seeing butch-looking dancers like Dorsey onstage, and its response was ecstatic.
By the spring of 2002 he was in ODC Theater’s Pilot Program, which nurtures emerging choreographers as they develop new work eventually showcased on the theater’s floor. Three months later he founded the groundbreaking Fresh Meat Productions, which brings trans and queer performers, filmmakers, musicians, and writers together annually to tell their stories through their chosen artistic discipline. Since the first two-day show at ODC Theater that summer, Fresh Meat has moved on to cosponsoring Tranny Fest, a festival of independent trans cinema now helmed by Dorsey’s partner, filmmaker Shawna Virago, and also helped to organize national tours of trans artists. Currently, Dorsey, the nonprofit’s artistic director, is organizing a show for a trans printmaker at the Femina Potens gallery and another solo show for a trans visual artist.
Amid all the organizing, marketing, and promoting, Dorsey brought his own point of view to queer performance with last year’s Outsider Chronicles, via an individual artist grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission. Written and choreographed by Dorsey, the program combines modern dance with music and narration in five stories that reflect the life of a transgender person — as well as any human being who has ever had a crush, a secret, or a high school guidance counselor with a textbook full of bad advice. Each vignette (most performed with dance partner Meir Culbreth) expresses a language of movement that is boldly real and acutely honest.
Through Fresh Meat and his own choreography, Dorsey has been able to combine art and activism in a way that creates alliances, fosters a community of like-minded artists, and changes our notion of what defines dance and, at its most basic level, our bodies. Next on the horizon, the onetime housing and poverty activist who realized his dance career almost accidentally while on a hiatus from grad school plans to use his Gerbode Emerging Choreographer Award to continue combining his two great passions. Tentatively titled Some Went Untold, the envisioned piece will be based on interviews Dorsey conducts with trans folk across the land.
“I’m still, like, ‘Hello, hello, hello, where are all the trans dancers?’” Dorsey says. “I’m hoping very soon that there will be more trans dancers to work with.” He also hopes to find the time to learn ballroom dance. Let the dipping begin! (Deborah Giattina)