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GOLDIES 2012 LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT: Frank Shawl and Victor Anderson, Shawl-Anderson Dance Center


GOLDIES John Cage and Merce Cunningham, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, and Fayard and Harold Nicholas are among the dance world’s most famous couples. In the Bay Area, nobody comes close to the relationship between Frank Shawl and Victor Anderson, of Berkeley’s Shawl-Anderson Dance Center.

Over the years the two men have a created a heaven for dance unlike anything that exists here, and probably could not be replicated anywhere else. Shawl and Anderson are the local dance community’s patriarchs.

They started modestly in 1958, above a liquor store on the corner of Alcatraz and College. After dance careers that spanned both coasts, they moved West from New York because they wanted to teach. Anderson had family roots in Berkeley, and the duo figured they might have a better chance at making a living in the Bay Area than in NYC’s competitive jungle.

Having performed and studied with May O’Donnell, a Martha Graham Dance Company member, they wanted to teach modern dance — at the time, a discipline that was not easily available to local dancers. They called their studio “Shawl-Anderson Modern Dance Center,” still its official name. In the beginning, Shawl remembers, “We did not even make enough money to pay its one-hundred dollar rent.”

From those early beginnings has grown the Bay Area’s oldest and — if you listen to dancers — most-beloved teaching institution, with over 100 classes per week. In addition to a full pre-professional curriculum for children, they teach modern dance; that style’s focus on individuality and personal expression has created an atmosphere that also welcomes ballet, hip-hop, jazz, and Horton, plus physical practices like Feldenkrais, pilates, and yoga.

Most remarkable is the breadth and longevity of its teaching staff, all of whom are on salary. Marina Eglevsky, whose artistic roots go back to the legendary André Eglevsky, considered the greatest ballet dancer of his generation, still teaches ballet twice a week. “Her classes are packed — people come from all over,” Shawl says. Wendy Diamond has taught modern since 1988; Joanna Harris’ decade-long Sunday morning class, “Lifelong Movement,” addresses the needs of older adults.

Younger teachers who are still actively choreographing — like Randee Paufve, Nina Haft, Antoine Hunter, and Nol Simonse — bring their own creative perspectives to the classes. The combination of life-long experiences and fresh approaches is invaluable to student dancers.

To get teachers — some start as substitutes — Shawl relies on his instincts and his experience. “I talk with them, and I can usually tell whether they would be a good fit,” he explains. “Very rarely have we had to let somebody go.”

He remembers Reginald Ray-Savage just walking in a few years ago. “I listened to what he had to say, and I just could tell that he was the real thing.” Today, Shawl-Anderson has the Savage Jazz Dance Company in residence.

But back to the earlier days: when the center was facing eviction from the liquor store (apparently, all that dancing made too much noise), student Sylvia McGraw suggested the two men look at a building across the street. “It was a home,” Shawl remembers. “I walked in and all I saw was a bunch of tiny little rooms.” McGraw pointed out that the house was zoned residential-commercial and, furthermore, that her husband was an architect.

With the budget spent on the essentials, in 1968 the school moved into the reconfigured space, with two small studios on the entry level and two huge ones — beautiful dance floors, lots of light, and high ceilings — one floor up. Shawl’s office is still the size of a closet, and the women’s dressing room still looks like it might originally have been a kitchen.

Most remarkably, the building still feels like a home. Walking up the small pathway from the street and the few steps that invite stoop-sitting, it uncannily feels like the rest of the Arts and Crafts residences that stretch toward the Berkeley hills. The wooden floors in the entry are well-worn, and the bench on the side looks like it has been there forever.

No doubt its funky charm and good usable studios have helped make what Shawl-Anderson has become. But it’s these two remarkable men who have given the place its soul. The minute you walk in, you pick up its sense of generosity of spirit, a commitment to craft and creativity, and a welcoming embrace of diversity in all its manifestations.

It’s what Paufve, whose company now is in residence, experienced when she first stepped through the door in 1986. “I don’t remember not ever having felt at home here,” she says. After moving from New York, she heard about the place the first week she was here. She also found teachers with whom she wanted to work. Over the years, she says, “People here have been incredibly generous. I honestly don’t know if I would still have Paufve Dance if it was not for Shawl-Anderson.”

Fog Beast, one of San Francisco’s newest dance companies (formed by Joe Goode dancers Melecio Estrella and Andrew Ward), recently paid tribute to “the decades of dance art cultivation at Shawl-Anderson.” Move Here, created when the duo was in residence, was a site-specific work using the building’s architectural space. It allowed the choreographers “to step into the role of host, exploring the aesthetics of hospitality, the art of friendliness and warmth.” Shawl enjoyed the performance. “They had pictures of the two of us on the walls — it was so nice,” he smiles.

Both men are now in their 80s. Anderson is semi-retired, but Shawl still takes class every day and substitute teaches when needed. Looking back over more than 50 years, is there something that they would have changed? “It is the way it was [meant] to be,” Shawl says. “I believe in the right path. We didn’t do it for the ego, we did it for love.”

GOLDIES 2012: Joe Landini and the Garage


GOLDIES Choreographer, impresario, and arts advocate Joe Landini likes to say yes. “It’s my philosophy to start that way,” the founder and artistic director of the Garage — San Francisco’s most hoppin’ performance venue — explains. “If you say no to something, the conversation is closed. There is nowhere to go.”

Landini is a curious mixture between visionary idealist and pragmatist who has a solid grasp of what it takes to get a job done. As a young jazz dancer, he was told to take ballet to improve his alignment. So he did, until his knees gave out and he switched to modern dance at UC Irvine, where he majored in choreography.

While Landini was in college, master choreographer Donald McKayle suggested that he had talents as an administrator. Landini accepted the observation though he saw himself primarily as a choreographer. He moved back to San Francisco — he grew up in Concord — and waited tables while interning for Mary Alice Fry’s Footloose Dance Company and Shotwell Studios. “I learned to write grants,” he remembers over coffee, near the Garage’s digs at 715 Bryant. “And I got free rehearsal space for my own choreography.” He also learned that per capita, San Francisco funds its dancers reasonably well. “In New York, you might have 200 applicants for one grant. Here, there may be 50 to 60.”

Opening the Garage in 2007 (its original location was on Howard Street) allowed him to offer what he thought artists, particularly young ones, need: an environment where experimentation, learning, and risk-taking are welcome. Artistic failure doesn’t bother Landini; it’s part of the learning process, he says. During the first five years, he estimated that annually around 10,000 people walked through that iconic red door on Howard.

Landini’s major initiative, RAW (Resident Artists’ Workshop), is modeled after AIRspace (AIR standing for “artists in residence”) — which had been set up for queer performers at the Jon Sims Center for the Arts. Landini ran it for a year. When the Sims Center closed, he bought the seats and tech equipment, putting them in storage until needed.

The Garage is run like a time-share in which 30 groups evenly divide up the time slots. While primarily a haven for dancers, theater folks and performance artists are equally welcome. Anybody can apply. True to form, Landini doesn’t tell them no, though “they just may have to wait until a space opens up.”

Wayne Hazzard, executive director of Dancers’ Group, the Bay Area’s dance service organization, considers the Garage a “powerful space where community-building can start. Joe, with his practically 24-hour open-door policy and constant presence, is almost like a neighborhood mom-and-pop store. For first-time young artists, this is particularly valuable.”

All Garage artists get three months of four-hours-a-week rehearsal time that ends with a public performance. Artists can come back — and many do. As for his own choreography, Landini is just getting back into it. During a two-year stint in London for an MA in choreography from the Laban Centre, he immersed himself in the European dance theater tradition. “I learned so much, and I have never been able to use it,” he says — until now: on November 27, he will present his new physical theater piece, Bitter Queen.

As if running the Garage seven days a week was not enough, Landini also started a Summer Performance Festival this year, curated in conjunction with ODC Theater. Again, he couldn’t say no — this time to offering a select group of Garage choreographers a venue more professional than his own modest theater can provide. The event will return in August 2013.

And, of course, Landini couldn’t say no when he heard that the city was interested in keeping another summer event, the 22-year-old West Wave Dance Festival, alive. “Every city needs a yearly independent dance festival, right?” he asks. One guess who will be running it in 2013.

Rare talent



DANCE Wendy Rein and Ryan T. Smith may be best known for their hit biannual show, the CONCEPT series — where you munch free popcorn while watching informal presentations of local choreography. Their own company, RAWdance, performs only occasionally. So to see them in a full-evening program, "re: framed" (Nov. 2-4 at ODC Theater), was to realize just how special their work is. Raw it ain’t, conceptual it is.

Of the four pieces, only one of them, Burn In, Part I, consisted of what this duo does best, choreographing on their own sinewy and fiercely interacting bodies. Described in the program as the beginning of a larger piece to be shown next year, Burn seemed to emanate from an intense searching for connection between two people. An underlying tension colored every move, as they invaded each other’s spaces and Rein, incubus-like, hung on Smith’s back and plopped on his lap. Despite the intensity of these dramatic and detailed encounters, emotions were held in check by the analytical processes that seemed to have generated the movements.

Breton Tyner-Bryan, first seen through some slats of light, intruded into the relationship. Her presence became a perhaps corrosive element that heated up an already fiery intensity. It was as if some kind of apocalyptic terror was descending on these slithering and shivering creatures. In the last image Smith was hanging onto Rein’s legs as a beam of red light contracted onto her back, a mountain of quivering muscles. It looked like a piece of raw meat.

For Double Exposure, the two dancers asked for original two-minute duets from good and stylistically different choreographers. They got a pleasant divertissement. Ann Carlson gave them an amusing Beauty and Beast encounter based on rhythmic panting. Joe Goode, punning on the company name, created a sly roll in the hay, followed by a verbal ping-pong match. KT Nelson’s frolicking duet was short, musical, and witty. The most intriguing contribution came from Shinichi and Dana Iova-Koga. In skull-hugging caps and long, simple gowns, the couple’s slow progression and reversal of direction looked like Edward Gorey might have been designed it.

The current version of The Beauty Project is the result of rethinking for the stage of a 2009 work originally performed in an empty store at the Westfield San Francisco Centre. I wish I had seen it there, in the context of all those shop windows with their empty-faced mannequins.

The thematic material of the doll that comes alive, of course, is a trope already used by 19th century ballet choreographers — but Ryan and Smith’s take, for five women in tiny dresses and black bob wigs, was fully contemporary. Four silver-painted chairs become tools to architecturally redesign the stage. Designed on an invisible grid, the dancing followed clear patterns of oppositions, canons, and unisons that break up and reconfigure themselves. Though highly formal — that’s the essence of who these choreographers are — the work’s fast-paced rhythms constantly shifted moods as the dancers vacillated between vacuous stares and come-hither sexual invitations. They collaborated and competed, borrowing the assertive strides, half-turns, and hip thrusts from the runway. Every once in awhile, the "models" stepped out of their roles, showing glimpses of the anxiety, aggression, and boredom that makes them human. One of the dancers stared into the audience from downstage left, a look of forlornness about her. However, wrapping her up in cellophane and carrying her off looked too easy, as if the choreographers couldn’t figure out how to end this slight but well-crafted work.

The evening’s closer, 66 Measures, was a throwaway study of fairly standard patternings for a sextet of dancers, each inside a circle of light. They were dressed in a variety of black and white stripes that looked good. But clothes, of course, don’t make the emperor.

Birds of pray



DANCE In the continental United States, the Filipino population is mostly concentrated in California, and it’s a good bet that most are settled in the Bay Area. Still, their voices are not as present in dance — outside the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival — as they should be.

Perhaps that’s why Alleluia Panis, executive director of Kularts, a presenter of Filipino art and culture, and Jay Loyola, artistic director of the American Center of Philippine Arts, decided to collaborate two years ago. The new work would not include the ever-popular tinikling, the country’s national dance in which performers nimbly try to avoid clashing bamboo poles that threaten to chop off their feet.

Palau’an Bird Call – Huni Ng Tandikan does, however, include bamboo poles, fashioned into the type of blowguns that so terrified invaders of Palawan, a long, skinny island in the Western Philippines that is settled by the country’s most ancient inhabitants.

As a former member of Bayanihan National Folk Dance Company of the Philippines and creator of over 40 folkloric style choreographies, Loyola got involved in studying the Palawan through some of his students.

“The people are not a very colorful tribe, and they are not very well known, but they have a spirituality that really drew my attention. They don’t even have an exact translation for war,” he explained. Though profoundly Islamic, the Palawan also connect with Buddhism, using in their ceremonies, for instance, the sacred chakras which are supposed to open the body to positive energies.

Because of his commitment to the Palawan culture Loyola was eventually adopted into the Tagbanua tribe, whose members live on the island’s northern section. Their leader told him, “Nobody has ever been interested in us the way you have. You are like a son to me.”

So on a Monday night, when the rest of the US was glued to the tube watching the battle between two men who claimed to be able to restore the country back to health, 16 Filipino dancers, chosen by audition, were rehearsing an ancient ritual about healing the ill head of their tribe.

They were evoking a story based on Francisco Baltazar’s Ibong Adarna, a Philippine epic about the mythic adarna bird — the only creature in the universe that could return both health and peace of mind to a leader. Loyola freely adapted this tale to the Palawan, replacing, for instance, the adarna with the tandikan, a secretive and rarely seen peacock that resides in the forests. He also explored Palawan spirituality that even today is deeply grounded in nature myths. It’s the tandikan’s movements and its song that call the deities into action.

Watching these dancers embody the spirits of water, fire, wind, and the earth, it was striking to note the elegance and power that both men and women poured into their leaps, twirls, and strides. When they descended, they planted their feet as if the ground had reached up to grab them. The steps may be based on traditional patterns — especially a vertical skipping phrase for some of the village women — but these were contemporary artists with strong physical training. If some of the choreography looked influenced by martial arts, it was no accident.

“Because of an ancient land-bridge to Borneo, Palawan culture includes elements of martial arts practices as prevalent on the Indonesian archipelago,” explains Loyola. Perhaps the fiercest dancing — she ended by standing on her head — belonged to Metem Sumpa, danced by Alexandria Diaz de Fato. As a Spirit of Darkness, she almost succeeded in disrupting the healing process.

In contrast to the strong gender differentiation still prevalent in many Western practices, Palawan spirit dancers have to be gender neutral, otherwise the deities will not manifest themselves. So, Loyola says, female performers may be dressed as men.

Another notable element of Loyola’s choreography is that the blowgun, when used on the chakras, is transformed into a tool of healing. So perhaps it was not surprising to find that, after watching this work in progress, a huge storm had washed away the city’s soot — leaving Market Street’s formerly grimy sidewalks positively glistening. *


Fri/2-Sat/3, 8pm (also Sat/3, 2pm), $21-26

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF



Twin stars



DANCE It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it makes you wish that it could go on forever. Such was the case of a heartbreaking pas de deux toward the end of Alonzo King’s newest work, Constellation. Created by and for LINES Ballet’s senior ballerina Meredith Webster and Ricardo Zayas, and set to Handel’s plangent “Verdi prati,” the two dancers encircled each other, locked limbs, and pulled apart only to be drawn into each others’ spheres again. They struggled with each other and within themselves only to separate in the end. I kept thinking of Aristophanes’ definition of love as the attempt by the two halves of the original human, after having been split apart by a jealous God, to become one again.

Though this extraordinary duet was the high point of the evening-length work celebrating the company’s 30th anniversary, Constellation is a major achievement of King’s distinguished career of imaginative, thoughtful, and skilled dance making. The work abounds with mesmerizing small ensembles and rich imagery though the unisons for everyone are still problematic.

As is his want, King drew out of his dancers small-scale but resonating encounters that don’t necessarily add up — except in the way that a collector’s decisions impose coherence on treasures, whether they be Monets, pebbles, or martini shakers. Constellation, however, has more of a through line than I remember seeing in other King choreographies. Weaving through the piece was the figure of Webster, apparently on a search. She first appeared out of the dark, stepping through Jim Campbell’s curtain of light bulbs. Sitting on Ricardo Zayas’ foot, she valiantly tried to pull herself up on his leg; then, she broke up a duet between David Harvey and Michael Montgomery. In between she was carried and variously supported. Yet at the end, she was spent one, left on the floor. If Webster had a counterpart, it would be in the underused Keelan Whitmore, who often appeared an outside observer.

King plugged deeply into the individuality of these so different dancers who yet looked as if poured from one mold. The trio of Montgomery (who seems to have something of a comedian inside him), Zachary Tang, and Whitmore attacked a storm of staccato phrases as if they had hot coals under their feet. Though propelled by an impetus that seemed to suck Courtney Henry, Ashley Jackson, Yujin Kim, and Caroline Rocher upstage, their responses to the thrust could not have been more different.

In a hugely effective solo, Henry, dressed in a simple black leotard, stepped out of billowing fog (courtesy of lighting design Axel Morgenthaler), folding and stretching her limbs to the ends of the universe, until she gradually pulled the other dancers from the wings. In the many duets, the dancers seemed to morph into creatures sometimes outside themselves. At one point, I was pretty sure I had seen a multi-limbed something out of Hieronymus Bosch.

The first act ended with another stunner, a duet for LINES’ newest dancers, Kim and Tang. The exquisite Kim, long-limbed yet with a voracious appetite for space, slithered around Tang — muscular, yet highly expressive — and into his arms in what looked like a lover’s spat, perhaps inspired by Vivaldi’s “Sposa son disprezzata.”

Constellation is one of King’s most musically astute works. The collage of Baroque arias, Eastern chants, and original compositions worked exceptionally well. However, how Arvo Pärt’s over-exposed Für Alina made it into this distinguished selection remains something a puzzlement.

To have mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani — in one of Colleen Quen’s theatrical concoctions and accompanied by her sensitive pianist Hadley McCarroll — perform was a special gift not just for the audience but also for the dancers, who responded with such hunger to the live music.

Constellation was inspired by Jim Campbell’s light sculpture Exploded Views, in which hundreds of flickering LED lights create a sense of stasis as well as life. Fascinating, it looked like television snow being animated by moving silhouettes. Unfortunately, Campbell’s translation of the concept to the stage didn’t quite work: black shapes, perhaps fluttering birds, behind the light curtain; rolling lit balls; light boards; and Wheelan wrapped in Joseph’s dreamcoat (of light bulbs). *


Wed/24-Thu/25, 7:30pm; Fri/26-Sat/27, 8pm; Sun/28, 5pm, $30-65

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater

700 Howard, SF



Close encounters



DANCE The six dancers of Kunst-Stoff’s the moment you stood still…#7 moNOs (Oct. 13-14 at the Old Mint Museum) managed to do something that had previously seemed impossible: they created a playground out of the building’s crumbling courtyard, surely the city’s most oppressive, garrison-like structure. At 50 minutes this romp of stealing, sharing, and varying movement phrases ranged from athletic to balletic, virtuosic to pedestrian. It would have worn out its ability to snare you into its universe, had it not ended with artistic director Yannis Adoniou’s free-spirited and loose-limbed solo, sweetly underscored by Bruno Augusto on keyboard. It’s easy to forget that this entrepreneurial artist is also a fine dancer.

Kunst-Stoff is not so much a company as a place where artists come together to explore affinities and differences. moment, one of a series of such encounters, is the result of this sextet having bounced back and forth ideas of the most disparate nature. Together they came up with scenes which varied between silly and somber, camp and charming. There was as much room for a passing-a-ball game — including, of course, the ubiquitous audience volunteers — as crawls and rolls on the floor and leaps across space. Letting down your hair, as Katie Gaydos did in her initial diagonal, seemed to be the order of the afternoon.

Initially unrelated ideas began to coalesce into something like a patchwork of movement, with rather surprising resilience. A dancer morphed from lying down with beating legs into somersaults and yoga poses. Later, frisky pile-ups did not really look so harmless.

For all the frantic activity in which dancers did not only pick up and vary phrases from each other, but also exchanged clothes, moment did not lack the stillness alluded to by its title. Lindsey Renee Derry, who can scream with the best of them, stood in a relevé in which her toes surely were glued to the floor. Gaydos looked abandoned on top of a “monument” while Calvin Hilpert, holding a weight aloft as if it was about to drop on his head, was hilarious with a screechy Frank Sinatra imitation. moment‘s recurring refrain had the dancers sitting on a bench. We looked at them; sometimes they looked back at us.

Elsewhere on stage this past weekend: British choreographer Russell Maliphant introduced himself at Cal Performances with the theatrically spectacular Eonnagata in 2010. Now, courtesy of San Francisco Performances, he returned with AfterLight (Oct. 13-14, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts), inspired by Russian dancer and Ballets Russes choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky. A great dancer and even greater choreographer, Nijinsky was also schizophrenic and spent the second half of his life in mental institutions. His best-known surviving work Afternoon of a Faun thoroughly shocked audiences at its premiere in 1912.

On the basis of his concept Maliphant intermittently draws you into a murky atmosphere of, perhaps, madness. But as a dance you only want to watch AfterLight once; further exposure is unlikely to reveal hidden treasures.

In Michael Hull’s lighting design, AfterLight is literally dark; at times you can hardly make out the dancers in a couple of shifting spotlights or through a thick carpet of inchoate shapes. As a single-minded expression of a restless mind this worked; in terms of a time-based art, it lacked sustaining power.

AfterLight opened with a solo for Thomasin Gülgeç, spinning as if on a turntable while his arms reached into the darkness around him. At the end we returned to that solitary figure that, instead of opening his body to an enlarging consciousness, shuts down into solitary whirls. In part two, the white-clad Silvina Cortés and Gemma Nixon’s gentle liquidity could have come from Isadora Duncan dancers.

Maliphant’s choreography has no hard edges; its performers spiraled, curled, and spun from one evanescent moment to the next. Sometimes this felt like watching smoke, except that these dancers were anchored in a deep-grounded muscularity that allowed them to connect into an endless stream of rounded shapes. In the first pas de deux, Gülgeç and Nixon’s weighty folding over each other wonderfully recalled Leon Bakst’s illustrations of Scheherazade. Though conceptually intriguing, AfterLight turned out to be a one-shot deal; whether there is more meat to this choreographer remains to be seen.

Keep digging



DANCE Once you have learned to ride a bike or tie your shoes, your body will recall the movements and their sequential logic for the rest of your life. It’s called muscle memory and dancers are fantastic at it.

Before videotape and dance notation, it was not uncommon to ask, say, former Martha Graham dancers about an old piece — only to hear them respond that they couldn’t recall it. But if you put them into a studio together, one of them would demonstrate a half-remembered gesture, another would place or correct it, and a third would bring up a sequence or antecedent. Four hours later, these women would have drawn out of their bodies a pretty good approximation of what had been thought to be a forgotten piece of choreography.

Morgan Thorson’s oddly titled and deeply flawed Spaceholder Festival (Oct. 5-7, ODC Theater) took a stab at examining the residue that life imprints on our bodies. Comparing the process of uncovering what is hidden to archeologists’ trying to make sense of what they unearth, Thorson partook in an actual dig and used that experience in her choreography. When it came to evaluating the results, she apparently felt that assigning artifacts to the highest bidder was an accurate reflection of reality. So the work’s middle section also included two dancers as auctioneers.

Spaceholder opened on a quasi-abstract note, evolved into a messy theatricality only to circle back on itself. Screeching machine sounds accompanied uniform dancers being spit out onto the stage as if by an assembly line. They dutifully followed each other, stepping into two against three or horizontal movement patterns. Strangest were their blank faces. They looked as if they were being pulled by something, perhaps an urge to catch what was just out of their reach.

Spreading across the stage, they moved in and out of sync with each other. Many small phrases — a scratch on a leg, a knee opening and closing, a skipping step — held promises that never were fulfilled. Some were clearly dance-derived; a fourth position and jetés, hip rolls, and toe walks were recognizable. But what to make of a wafting hand that approached like a butterfly trying to land? A woman resting on the floor on her side looked like an Odalisque, her smile an invitation to the rest of the group to join her. A finger pointing section, the result of a counting maneuver, evolved into a wheel with the arms being the spokes. Gestures might connect to each other with no apparent logic. With its neutral tone and the dance’s accompanying sense of accumulation for its own sake, it became about as involving as watching falling snow after a while. Yet simultaneously fascinating and frustrating was the clarity that these dancers brought to their tasks.

At one point, the dancers coalesced into a tight group with arms stretched up as they reached for each other’s fingers. That section later returned, except with the dancers passing pieces of foam around. One of them tried to press them into a single shape. The idea of retroactively deciphering meaning may avoid an obvious linear development, but it makes entering a piece very difficult — perhaps impossible, unless seeing it several times.

Part two opened with a promising twist. A dancer was ceremoniously carried in on a blanket and started to throw rubbish — old shoes, cans, rags, paper — around the stage as if the items were a goddess’ precious gifts. The stuff got kicked around, swept away, and finally ended up on a table, being sorted into what probably was meant to suggest legible patterns. The gathering and examination of this detritus and using some of it as props may have had its comic elements, but if so most of the humor escaped me. The remembered physicality of the table’s effect on the dancers, however, was a lovely touch.

Perhaps the evening’s most intriguing element came with Max Wirsing, the company’s lone male dancer, who donned silver sandals and paraded around while covered by a tablecloth. Later he repeated the gesture of closing the clasp around his ankle. It was clearly a movement that had entered his body. As for me, I was grateful when the last of this unearthed material — a single dancer — was blanketed by the dark falling onto the stage.

Fly, on the wall



DANCE Suspended by a single rope, Jennifer Chien’s bare feet gently push against the white wall of Zaccho Dance Theatre’s studio. The move propels her into space; perhaps she is swimming, perhaps flying, or just floating on Carla Kihlstedt and Matthias Bossi’s finely detailed score.

Chien is rehearsing the finale for Niagara Falling, Flyaway Productions artistic director Jo Kreiter’s latest site-specific outdoor work. It will be performed against the west wall of the Renoir Hotel on Market Street. The dance in the air feels quiet and ever so poetic, particularly for a work that originated in Kreiter’s sense of having been “stung and caught by that whole American economics story.”

Niagara is another of Kreiter’s socially conscious choreographies, in which she examines vital issues through art making. She has called herself a “citizen artist,” a person she describes as someone whose work is “essentially concerned about how we live in the world.” (Poet Adrienne Rich and musician-activist Pete Seeger have been guiding lights.)

“Actually,” Kreiter adds, “any artist does that — except that some of us are more able or willing to talk about the issues.” She has called Niagara Falling “an artistic response to the economic degradation of our current recession.”

As a citizen artist, Kreiter’s choreographies are most frequently performed in public places, free of charge. They are accessible to casual passersby, neighborhood folks, and dancegoers. This is art at the heart of the democratic ideal.

Her works also subtly alter the urban landscape and the way we perceive it. After Singing Praises: Centennial Dances for the Women’s Building, the owners of the Women’s Building confessed that before the piece, they had not even known their Mission District neighbors. Mission Wall Dances honored the old Garland Hotel, an SRO that housed disadvantaged people until it burned and was rebuilt as lodging for tourists. (Painter Josef Norris was inspired to add some of Kreiter’s dancers to the building’s existing mural.) With one of her earliest works, Sparrow’s End, Kreiter created an “urban fantasy” for one of the most drug-infested alleys in the Mission. I still remember its beauty and also the odor that pervaded that sad location.

Niagara happened because Kreiter had admired David and Hi-Jin Hodge’s video setting for Brenda Way’s 2009 In the Memory of the Forest. Talking with the artists, Kreiter realized that the three of them had much in common — particularly when she learned that the Hodges had documented the poverty and decay of David’s hometown, Niagara Falls, NY, by talking with its citizens. Some of what he said sounded all too familiar with what is happening to many people in San Francisco.

Both cities are also surrounded by beautiful but sometimes terrifying bodies of water. The imagery is as ancient as Noah’s bobbing ark and as recent as the videos of Japan’s 2011 tsunami. So it seems appropriate that the first two pieces of equipment Kreiter ordered were a lifeboat and life jackets. The boat is a commissioned steel structure; the vests came off the rack.

Hanging from the wall at the Zaccho studio for the last rehearsal there — the equipment would be moved downtown later that day — three dancers are buffeted by the video’s raging waters and a howling storm on the soundtrack. The women look ever so vulnerable as they try to catch and don the slippery life jackets. Yet gradually in all that chaos they find a common rhythm and can link arms in relative safety.

While Niagara is a piece that gives voice to the reality of the urban poor, it’s also a beacon of hope. The work happened because, Kreiter acknowledges, people — like the Renoir Hotel’s owners and Urban Solutions, the SOMA-based economic development nonprofit — have been supportive of the project. Pointing out that she started working on the piece before the advent of Occupy Wall Street, she observes that “everything is collapsing, and yet in some places there are people who try to pull things forward.” *


Wed/26-Sat/29, 8:30 and 9:30pm, free

West wall of the Renoir Hotel

Seventh St at Market, SF


Beyond the curtain



DANCE/VISUAL ART Nineteenth century story ballets raise a lot of questions: how come Prince Siegfried can’t tell the difference between the Black and the White Swans? What’s the matter with La Sylphide‘s James that he runs after the Sylph and foregoes his lovely human bride? In her first West Coast solo exhibit, Philadelphia-based visual artist Karen Kilimnik addresses these issues and more. The works in “Dance Rehearsal: Karen Kilimnik’s World of Ballet and Theatre,” at Mills College Art Museum through December 9, use clever reframing to suggest why these apparently outmoded stories remain popular classics.

Kilimnik works in a variety of mediums — video, live performance, and installation included. In this show, comprised of works from 1988 to the present, she investigates ballet as a 19th century artifact, studying it with her own wary, 21st century eyes. She gives us a complex perspective on an art that aims to transcend human limitations, both physical and intellectual. The result is a kind of double vision in which she simultaneously evokes the objects within their own exquisite context even as she superimposes borders or lenses on them. “Dance Rehearsal,” guest curated by Melissa E. Feldman, is a passionate tribute to this most artificial of genres looked at from a distance.

I am not sure to what extent “Dance Rehearsal” will communicate to a viewer who doesn’t have at least some basic knowledge of and sympathy for ballet. Longing, the otherworldly, sylphs, swans, magicians, and fairy princesses are not everybody’s cup of tea. But if you can play along with Kilimnik’s conceits, the show offers intriguing insights and re-interpretations of still-popular ballets, none of which I found in the least bit questionable. Some were more serious than others, but none of these “re-viewings” were facile.

It helps, for instance, to know that Gelsey Stuck on the Matterhorn, which resembles calendar art, refers to dancer Gelsey Kirkland, here shown as Giselle, a role she frequently played. Kilimnik suggests consanguinity between two dancers — one real, one imagined — who suffered similar fates. The elaborately titled Prince Siegfried Arriving Home in Vienna 1800’s, from Versailles, 1500’s — painted in what looks like roughed-up 18th century French style — shows a young man bowing courteously in a plumed hat and over-the-knee boots, certainly not what Swan Lake‘s Siegfried would ever have worn. Kilimnik is likely commenting on the fact that this most romantic of princes was a descendant of French court ballet at its most artificial.

However, I don’t think I would have understood (though I liked its warm colors) a C-print of two shadowy peasant girls from Giselle without Kilimnik’s title: 2 Peasant Girls, Silesia-future wilis. I had never considered that the cheerful village girls seen in Giselle’s first act might have ended up as haunted, ghostly women.

Some other works have an unexpected poignancy to them. The installation Paris Opera Rats shows three worn ballet slippers, grey tulle seemingly from a dirty tutu, and some plastic mice, all bunched up around a foam curbstone. Paris Opera Ballet’s young dancers are still (affectionately) called rats, and this piece speaks eloquently about who 19th century ballerinas were — poor, working-class women, one step above living in the gutter. The longer you study Kilimnik’s crayon-on-paper Seating Chart of the Paris Opera House, the more you see in the rigidity of its grid patterns, its ranked subdivisions, and careful color allocations a reflection of an implacable hierarchy, not just of ballet patrons, but a critique of a social system.

Perhaps “Dance Rehearsal”‘s most spectacular work, choreographed by Kilimnik, is the video installation Sleeping Beauty and friends. It’s a love letter to ballet as something that aims for an ideal that, inevitably, is held in check by what we are. The video of the stage performance was intentionally wobbly, so was the dancing. Using variations from specific ballets and jumbling them up, Kilimnik tries to help Siegfried distinguish between the Black and White Swans. Here two women dance neck-to-neck, and he still doesn’t get it. What about James in La Sylphide? Truthfully, he and the sylph, who wears tons of Swarovski crystals, are made for each other — each is more self-involved and narcissistic than the other, not far from the truth. Sleeping, which also included perspectives on Don Quixote and Diana and Actaeon, was nothing less than brilliant. A number of lectures and a ballet film series are scheduled concurrently with this exhibit.


Through Dec. 9

Tue.-Sat., 11am-4pm; Wed, 11am-7:30pm, free

Mills College Art Museum

5000 Macarthur Blvd., Oakl.



Eclectic electric



DANCE The newest entry into the arena of collective self-producing is Colin Epstein’s “Constants & Variables” at Dance Mission Theater. None of the six choreographers he presented at its debut (Sept. 7-9) are new, though some of them were, previously, just barely on my radar screen. Epstein has a good eye; he put together a well-balanced program in which the pieces complemented each other in size, genres, and thematic material. They made for an evening of sometimes challenging, sometimes hilarious, never less than competent dance. If Epstein wants an additional career, he just might have one percolating in the back of his head.

As a choreographer-performer Epstein has one foot in the circus world. In A Musement he deftly used a small chair as a prop that acquires its own life to become a contentious partner. The joke is old among clowns, as is the inclusion of a willing audience member. For this to work the timing has to be immaculate. Epstein’s was good but the overall arc could have been tighter.

However, there was nothing wrong in They were already here‘s timing, a splendidly funny courting duet on trapeze for Epstein and the lovely Cat Bodnar (as an ingénue who gets involved with a bumbling suitor). The intricate giving and taking of weight excellently expressed the ebb and flow of their charming relationship.

Venture Dance Project’s smartly designed Wholeding used Laurie Anderson’s whispered “From the Air” as a sonic carpet on top of which the five dancers —all of similar sizes and looks — coalesced into and escaped out of focus. At one moment you saw them as one person and then, in something approximating split screen technique, they divided into different segments. A wafting head, a side bend, or a rocking knee would initiate a scattering and recombination into smaller units without ever disturbing a thrust towards oneness. The evenness of the tone, the excellent use of space, and the small variations within strict parameters made this a pattern dance that breathed with life.

Wasteland: Journey to a New Home paired Derek Harris and the easy-on-her-feet Meegan Hertensteiner in a work that that did exactly what its title suggested. Drawing for some of its funnier imagery on jungle adventure movies, Wasteland‘s morphing identities also suggested a darker underbelly. Though clever and smoothly performed, some of its meandering trajectory could profit from clarification.

Hilary Palanza’s fine duet little heart, out of reach, most recently seen at RAWdance’s CONCEPT series, stood up well in Dance Mission’s larger venue. Here the work developed an elastic sense of breath that expanded its dream-like scale. The contentiousness, the ruptures, and the give and take of aggression popped up like bubbles from a still pond. The dancers slipped out of each other’s embraces and into confrontations, but it was the sensuous physicality of bodily contact that resonated most strongly. What remained was the tactile memory of skin on skin, whether lushly cherished, barely perceived, or roughly rejected.

Jochelle Elise Pereña and Ashley Trottier’s Coat Check started out on a note of high comedy with Trottier dragging what looked like Winnie the Pooh‘s Heffalumps out of a pile of clothes. Then the dancer (who has some of the best-looking gams around) engaged in a hilarious seduction of a spread-out coat, ending in a copulation which fused her with the object of her lust. Unfortunately, the rest of the work didn’t hold nearly as well. My suspicion is that the punch line would have worked better if the “Heffalumps”‘ genders had not been so clearly identifiable from the beginning.

Kelly Kemp’s fascinating excerpt from her new Confessions of a White Girl offered a glimpse of what is to come. Six women in various shades and shapes of white quietly stood one behind one another. Heather Arnett finally stepped out in front. The others followed, each addressing us with mouthed words and tiny gestures. Was this a prisoner line-up, or did we watch the peeling away of layers of Arnett’s identity? Fanning out across the space in overlapping sections, they finally combined into a group shouting answers to an unasked question. The complete Confessions will be seen at the Garage October 5-13.

Styles for miles



FALL ARTS Most folks going to dance performances have a sense of how they want to spend their time and dollars. For some, a show must be conceptually edgy. For others, it’s got to be ballet. Still others want choreography that resonates with socio-political implications — or they only want to see choreography grounded in indigenous traditions. I’m more of an omnivore: show me a piece, no matter its style, in which the forces at work arise from some internal necessity and play off each other convincingly, and I’m in.

The next three months are bursting with dance offerings. In downtown San Francisco, many are free. Zaccho Dance Theatre reprises its hauntingly poetic Sailing Away (Sept. 13-16, Powell and Market, SF; www.zaccho.org); it pays tribute to the exodus of a remarkable group of African Americans. In only three years, the Central Market Arts Festival (Sept. 28-Oct. 21, various locations, SF; www.centralmarketarts.org) has exploded into a major event with dozens of performances that have probably contributed just as much to the area’s revitalization as those high-rent dot coms. Not to be missed is the world premiere of Jo Kreiter and Flyaway Productions’ Niagara Falling (Sept. 26-29, Seventh St. and Market, SF; www.flyawayproductions.com), projected and danced on an exterior wall of the Renoir Hotel. And how about the easy-riding Trolley Dances (Oct. 20-21, various locations, SF; www.epiphanydance.org) that offer unexpected site-specific encounters?

If you are willing to take another look at what may be already familiar, and your budget allows it, the Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra (Oct. 10-14, Zellerbach Hall, Berk; www.calperformances.org) brings Swan Lake to Berkeley. It may be the most popular ballet in the world, and it is also one of the greats. Another old-timer, the 40-year-old Mummenschanz (Nov. 23-23, Zellerbach Hall, Berk; www.calperformances.org), can’t be beat for its skill, magic, and gentle humor. Take a kid. If your taste oscillates between new and old, check out Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu (Oct. 20-28, Palace of Fine Arts, SF; www.naleihulu.org); its mix of traditional and new-style hula — which this year includes hip-hop — will be time and money well spent.

Keith Hennessy, probably the Bay Area’s most radical theatrical thinker, moves his pulverizing Turbulence (a dance about the economy) from COUNTERPulse to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (Sept. 27-29, YBCA Forum, SF; www.ybca.org). There you will be invited to participate in the concept’s actualization.

Ticket-buying decision time kicks into high gear in October, with the season’s most intense concentration of big-time artists both local and visiting. Making its Bay Area premiere with the full-evening After Light (Oct. 13-14, YBCA, SF; www.performances.org) will be another of San Francisco Performances’ finds, Britain’s Russell Maliphant Company. The work, set on three performers to Erik Satie’s Gnossiennes, is inspired by dance genius Vaslav Nijinsky’s photographs, choreography, and drawings. Margaret Jenkins Dance Company (Oct. 18-21, Kanbar Hall, Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, SF; www.mjdc.org) presents a first look at Times Bones, for which the choreographer excavated ideas in her rep to re-examine for new content.

Alonzo King LINES Ballet‘s collaboration with musicians and lighting designer Axel Morgenthaler are well known. Increasingly, King seems to be searching also for innovative scenic collaborators to contextualize his mythic choreography. A preview last spring of the as yet un-named premiere (Oct. 19-28, YBCA, SF; www.linesballet.org), at the very least, promised that Jim Campbell’s set of hundreds of LED globes will create its own rhythmic motion.

African and African American voices will be heard at YBCA as part of its commitment to showcasing contemporary dance from that continent. Voices of Strength (Oct. 19-20, YBCA, SF; www.ybca.org) is a quartet of four African women — among them Mozambique’s well-known Maria Helena Pinto — who will show one work each. New YBCA Program Director Marc Bamuthi Joseph concocted “Clas/sick Hip Hop” (Nov.30-Dec.1, YBCA, SF; www.ybca.org) for which he matches a violinist with five radically different hip-hop artists, including the legendary Rennie Harris, who 20 years ago pioneered the art’s theatrical potential.

Others I will try not to miss: smart dance with RAWDance‘s Burn In/Fall Out, (Nov. 2-4, ODC Theater, SF; www.rawdance.org); Deborah Slater’s in progress collaboration with dancer-vet Private Freeman, Private Live (Nov. 2-3, CounterPULSE, SF; www.deborahslater.org); and Sebastian Grubb‘s Workout (Dec. 14-15, CounterPULSE, SF; www.counterpulse.org). At the Garage (Garage, SF; www.715bryant.org), it will be Human Creature Dance Theatre for Halloween (Oct. 31), neo-Finnish punkkiCo (Nov. 16-17), and contemporary Congolese, now SF-based dancer Byb Chanel-Bibene (Dec. 5-6). Perhaps I’ll also return to the Garage for Burlesque Basquiat, Dorian Faust‘s birthday tribute to the late painter (Dec. 21-22).

Back to the land



DANCE What a stellar idea to premiere a work called No Hero the weekend after Independence Day. There are no brass bands, flag waving-exercises, or fireworks in Foundry artistic director-choreographer Alex Ketley’s delightful and at times funny stage and video creation, which returns to Z Space August 1. Yet Hero is piece of pure Americana, a tender and amusing tribute to ordinary people and the role that dance may or may not play in their lives.

Tired of thinking of dance as something larger than life, Ketley set out on a month-long trek, camera in hand and lovely dancer Aline Wachsmuth in tow. They traipsed through dusty Western towns and hamlets from Death Valley to Oregon, talking with folks in RV parks and community halls, inside their homes, and outside some shacks. They met Shirley, who remembered the social dances of her youth; motorcyclist Ava and his dog Spirit, who are on the road trying to forget the death of Ava’s son; Dwight and Dale, who chuckled over the names of the dances they used to know; and widows who get together every afternoon to teach each other steps they learn from YouTube. Ketley and Wachsmuth also encountered the legendary Marta Beckett, who just recently stopped performing six days a week — at the age of 88 — in an old opera house whether anybody was there to watch or not.

And for all of them Wachsmuth danced. Often she looked shadowy on the video but always organic, stretching her limbs like tendrils, scooping space, and opening herself to forces surging from within. It was fascinating to see the reactions (or rather, lack thereof) of each audience: you couldn’t tell whether they were flabbergasted, indifferent, or bemused by this willowy creature in front of them. Ketley kept us guessing.

Back in the decidedly non-rural Bay Area, the two artists took the material and expanded on it for the stage, where Wachsmuth was joined by Sarah Dione Woods. What had been spatially tight but also intimate became expansive and multi-dimensional without losing its rich impulse-driven energy. The choreography often looked as if it had grown out of the screen. A demure waltz exploded into somersaults and exuberant leaps. Mirroring each other, the two women spread out but also intertwined as if trying to morph together. With her back to us, dancing alongside a sunset, Wachsmuth repeated the choreography facing us. But when onscreen a fierce storm kept her off balance, the stage couldn’t compete with that drama.

The video images (post-production by Austin Forbord) had been edited to create both a contextualization for the stage action but also developed an independent rhythm. Ballad and pop singers — ranging from Ben Howard to Patti Page — added their own voices to this poetic evocation of dance as part of the everyday.


August 1, 8pm, $15

Z Space

450 Florida, SF



Walk this way



DANCE If you’ve ever had to create a multi-course meal from random fridge contents, or pulled together a smashing outfit moments before a big party, you are well familiar with the fine art of making do.

ODC Theater Director Christy Bolingbroke might have been thinking along these lines as she put together the Walking Distance Dance Festival — SF, a three-day marathon of 12 companies both local and national, with one from Singapore thrown in for good measure. These are the ingredients that she had to work with; the occasion is that Dance/USA, the national service organization for dance, is in town. That’s a big opportunity to show the rest of the country who we are and what we do.

The ten-year-old but little-known Scuba, a multi-city initiative between San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia, offers touring opportunities to mid-career artists to and from participating cities. ODC has a long tradition of offering developmental residencies to local choreographers. And last, but not least, ODC has an elegant multi-venue “campus,” as they call it, suitable for simultaneously showcasing performances both intimate and large. For Walking Distance, Bolingbroke curated a mix of Scuba and former ODC resident artists performing in three ODC venues.

But she also had something else in mind. Walking Distance presents most works in shared line-ups. “We know that audiences follow individual artists,” she explains. “We wanted to create opportunities for them to see different artists in one sitting to get a taste of a variety of choreographies.”

It’s a model that has been the norm in other performing arts, such as symphony orchestras. Dance companies, however, have for the most part stuck to one-artist programs, though Robert Moses’ Kin Dance Company’s recent “The BY Series” and Amy Seiwert and Imagery’s upcoming “Sketch 2” may be indications of change to come.

One of Walking Distance’s most intriguing pairings just might be ODC Dance with Maya Dance. Maya is a five-year-old contemporary ensemble from Singapore that bases its work on Asian esthetics and traditional dance forms. In May, ODC and Maya performed in a shared program in Singapore. Both groups performed Brenda Way’s 2008 Unintended Consequences: A Meditation; KT Nelson set a work on Maya, and Kavitha Krishnan set one on ODC. The repeat will be Maya’s first US appearance.

Making their first appearance in San Francisco are three Scuba artists; it’s impossible not to be impressed with the sheer variety of dance being created outside the Eastern corridor. A colleague from Seattle described Alice Gosti’s Spaghetti Co — Are you Still Hungry? as “basically a food fight with kinetically interesting things happening.” For her Halo, Gabrielle Revlock is bringing one prop — a hoop — from Philly. And then there is the German-born Minneapolis choreographer Angharad Davies, who in Security examines the effect of tedious shift work on relationships.

Of the work by former ODC Theater residents, only the excerpt of Catherine Galasso’s Fall of the Rebel Angels is new. Perhaps that’s not what festivals traditionally do, but for Bolingbroke this one is an opportunity to gather works that have proven themselves.

Walking Distance also reflects the theatrical strengths among former ODC resident artists. There is no pure dance, and no ballet unless you count the revival of Kunst-Stoff’s deliciously deconstructed Less Sylphide. The festival’s choreographers — Ben Levy, Monique Jenkinson, Ryan Smith and Wendy Rein, and Shinichi Iova Koga — have extraordinarily broad perspectives on how dance communicates.

“It’s a taster, a sampler of many different things,” Bolingbroke says of Walking Distance, which was inspired by a 2011 version held in the Mendocino County town of Willits. At that festival, several theaters in close proximity to each other collaborated to present BARE Dance (from Los Angeles), AXIS Dance Company, and Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu; it focused local attention on California dance in an informal, easily accessible manner. This approach just might work in San Francisco as well — now and at future incarnations of the fest.


Fri/29-Sat/30, 6:30pm; Sun/1, 2pm, $20-$75

ODC Theater

3153 17th St., SF





DANCE Anyone who watches dance — and perhaps any of the other arts — over a period of time will experience the excitement of discovery for one of two primary reasons. Proven choreographers may come up with fresh perspectives on who they are and what drives them. The voice may be familiar, but the intonation is new. Or you can have a first encounter with an artist who pushes you right to the edge of your seat — the work’s ingredients are good, but it’s the way they interlock or bounce off each other that makes you look forward to what else this person will come up with in the future.

Such was the case with Nicole Klaymoon, who founded her Embodiment Project company in 2009. For her latest project, House of Matter (performed at Dance Mission Theater June 8-10), she collaborated with jazz singer Valerie Troutt and her vocal ensemble, also founded in 2009. The result was one of the most rocking, joyous dance theater pieces that have hit the town in a long time.

Jamie Tracey’s multi-level panels, perhaps inspired by calligraphy, however, were not up to par; the set design was a weak link. Klaymoon is a writer, social activist, poet, performer, and dancer who grounds her choreography in modern and “urban” (read: hip-hop) styles. Troutt, who created House‘s musical universe, calls what she does house music, though to my ears it sounded more jazz and soul-influenced. Dance-y, however, it is.

“The body as our home” is one of those post-structuralist tropes that academia has bequeathed on us. In her opening spoken and danced monologue about “wanting to let you in” but not daring to do so, Klaymoon didn’t push it. The image of the house did set the tone — not for a series of narratives, but stories nonetheless. Jennifer “JenAy” Anolin and Rama Mahesh Hall longingly yanked and confronted each and yet separated. Ndubuisi Madu, rooted in place, popped so violently it seemed his limbs might fall off. When during Solas B. Lalgee’s ecstatic vocal solo he embraced Assad Conley, the moment was both grand and intimate. I can’t pretend to have followed the details of Troutt’s song cycle, which started with “Make Me Ovah” and ended with “Peace Lives Here,” but House‘s trajectory from tension to reconciliation flowed seamlessly.

The finale looked a bit too protracted and flirted with sentimentality. But there was something so grand and operatic about this house that became a home that I couldn’t help but feeling pulled in.



Joe Goode has used the image of the body as a home — the only one we have — in many of his dances. In his latest, the house literally collapses on top of him. It’s a rickety, unstable lattice structure that is the visual focal point of the hour-long When We Fall Apart. Putting a libretto together from inquiries among acquaintances, Goode paints a multi-hued portrait of the dashed hopes and failed expectations that come with living. Looking around the audience, with just about every seat having a nametag on it, I couldn’t help but think but how many patrons could identify with those voices.

Goode’s ability to shed skins with but a few props kept me gasping and laughing at the same time. His splendily versatile dancers, with choreography in which they reached and stretched towards each other and some invisible goals on the ground and above, amplified the sense of life as inherently unstable. At one point they surrounded Goode as characters from his dreams. The scene looked like a merry-go-round. These days, performers Melecio Estrella and Damara Vita Ganley also shine vocally.

Still, with all its charm, wit and theatrical skill, Fall struck me as ultimately facile; its plaintive tune didn’t ring as true as others I have heard from Goode. *


Through June 30

Wed.-Sat., 7pm (also Fri.-Sat., 9pm), $25-$35

Z Space

450 Florida, SF



A different world



DANCE Moving, especially when it’s not by choice, is never fun. Losing your home after some 30 years of relative comfort and security is really the pits. That’s how I felt when I heard that the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival — my first encounter with the Bay Area’s voluptuous dance culture — would not be able to continue performing at the Palace of Fine Arts because of the Doyle Drive reconstruction.

Yet EDF has survived; the new, smaller, more varied venues have encouraged the re-thinking of what had become a comfortable format. One more time EDF is taking its shows on the road — to Fort Mason Center’s Cowell Theater and Firehouse, and to the de Young Museum, the Asian Art Museum, and the Novellus Theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Presentations range from intimate lecture formats to full-throttle multi-company performances.

Unlike previous years, however, the popular January auditions (where you could get your fill, or a least a taste of what world dance is all about, for a $10 day pass) had to be cancelled for financial reasons. Like other arts organizations, EDF is struggling, though the 34-year-old fest has been hit particularly hard. “We were forced into an expansion of projects at a time when the economy was contracting,” says Carlos Carvajal, EDF’s co-artistic director along with CK Ladzepko. The Novellus Theater also seats 200 fewer people than the Palace, a significant loss of earned income.

The Ghana-born Ladzekpo founded his African Music and Dance Festival in 1973 and has introduced generations of artists into the intricacies of African rhythms and traditions. Carvajal started folk dancing when he was in high school in San Francisco and has performed with SF Ballet and European and South American companies. Both men have been closely involved with the Festival for years — as adjudicators and observers and now as artistic directors.

The absence of auditions allowed the two curators to go for the best and the brightest for this year’s 30 slots. They were particularly looking for innovation because, as Carvajal quotes Ladzekpo, “We can’t hide behind tradition.” Master artists whose primary concern was the preservation and dissemination of specific traditions started many of these ensembles. But more and more, this generation of ethnic dancers feels free to reinterpret and experiment what used to be considered inviolate practices.

Today’s artistic directors very likely have not only encountered other global dance forms but probably have studied modern dance, choreography, and even ballet. Many of them are as willing to test the boundaries of their fields as their colleagues in other art forms. This year’s line-up, while still offering plenty of what we all have come to love — Chinese Dragon dance, Native American hoop dance, rites of passages rituals from Liberia, temple ceremonies from Bali — offers plenty of contemporary choreography grounded in specific cultural traditions. It’s global dance in all its complexity.

Two different gamelans working together — as the Balinese Gamelan Sekar Jaya and the Sundanese Pusaka Sunda are for the new Bayangan Jiwa — would have been unheard of two decades ago (not to speak of them using very cutting-edge shadow-light technology). Neither would you have had an Uzbek percussionist (Abbos Kosimov) pair up with a Tajikistani dancer (Mariam Gaibova). And, “We specifically asked Abhinaya Dance Company to return with San Jose Taiko,” Carvajal says. It took guts and imagination to bring (successfully) together Japanese Taiko and Indian Bharata Natyam.

Carvajal is also delighted by how Carola Zertuche has revitalized Theatre Flamenco of San Francisco. For EDF, the Company will perform flamenco barefoot, milonga style, reconnecting the dance with its Moorish and Gypsy roots and also reminding us that flamenco’s percussive qualities originated in a musician’s use of a cane and not the dancer’s heels.

Maybe OngDance Company personifies EDF at its most sophisticated. At Dance Mission Theater in January they showed themselves profoundly steeped in Korean tradition, absolutely contemporary in their perspective and brilliant in the art of stagecraft. They’ll present Shadow of Cheoyong during the festival’s third weekend of performances. *


June 2-July 1, $12-$20

Various venues, SF



Head of the (dance) class


DANCE Complaining about the quality of public schools is about as ubiquitous as whining about MUNI. Admittedly, the quality of the former has a bigger impact on our future than having to wait for the N another 10 minutes. The good news is that the San Francisco Unified School District is not nearly as bad as its reputation; talk to some parents who have kids in it. While its art components are woefully underfunded, at least they exist. The yearly “Young at Art” exhibit at the de Young Museum (through Sun/20) has a selection from this year’s crop.

Dance programs, however, would probably not exist without outside funding. Zaccho Dance Theatre, for instance, has had but the minutest support from SFUSD for a program it has run for elementary school children in the Bayview neighborhood since 1990. On May 9, 125 kids packed Z Space with a rockingly exuberant and intelligent program in front of cheering, shouting, and stomping parents and friends. It was quite a show.

However, San Francisco does have one first-rate arts education program that is the envy of school districts with much better reputations: the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary. Its dance department is so good that students from around the Bay Area request inter-city transfers to attend. “I have one student who comes all the way from Vacaville,” says its director, Elvia Marta.

These dancers — 40 of them — will show their moxie this week at the Palace of Fine Arts with a concert of student and faculty choreography. Also included is a piece from alumnus Zack Benitez, who worked in Hollywood with Paula Abdul and is now coaching a musical, Adam and Eve, in Paris. (In French, of course.) At a rehearsal at ODC Commons, the students looked young, raw, and fierce. You could see these were dancers on their way, knowing where they want to be in a few years and having an inkling of how to get there. They were disciplined, focused, and attentive to the suggestions that Marta and Brittany Ceres Brown, who teaches choreography, gave them. In that way they are already professionals.

Getting into this public-school dance program is not easy. The application process is rigorous — questionnaires, grades, recommendations, essays, statements of commitment, auditions with small pieces of solo choreography — and sounds suspiciously like a rehearsal for college. Plus, according to the department’s website, students need “a basic ballet foundation.”

“Ballet focuses on alignment,” Marta explains. “It gives you an understanding of how the body and its skeletal and anatomical systems function.” But she also says that over the years she has had “kids who come from modern dance with a really good understanding of the body.” One way or another, this is not a program for beginners.

It also means that in all probability, the students come from families who have been willing and able to pay for ballet lessons in private studios or ballet-company schools. Criticism about “elitism” has wafted around RASOTA almost since the beginning. Marta is not deterred: “I let people talk. I don’t think it’s elitist. I think kids need something to be passionate about. It keeps them focused and on the straight and narrow. These [students] work very hard, taking academics in the morning and dance in the afternoon.”

Marta, born in Panama, grew up doing salsa. “Everybody knew how to do it. We didn’t have any training,” she says. At Balboa High School, dance teacher Yvonne McClung, who later became the first head of the RASOTA’s Dance Department, suggested Marta and her twin sister should take dance classes. At first, she didn’t know what a dance class was. She has since learned.

This year, all ten graduating dancers are off to colleges — many of which have distinguished dance departments. One of them, Marta says, was accepted at Juilliard. “It’s the second year,” she says with almost motherly pride. Juilliard is the country’s toughest dance program to get into. 


Fri/18-Sat/19, 8pm, $18-$28

Palace of Fine Arts

3301 Lyon, SF


International movement



DANCE How do you keep a performance festival alive in a city known for its fractured arts community? A place where officialdom is not exactly ready to jump on the bandwagon, especially when belt-tightening by cutting the arts has become a national sport? Simple. You enlist the people who have always been the arts’ biggest supporters — the artists themselves. They know how to work with limited resources; they are risk-takers and have accepted that what they love to do will never make them rich.

The approach seems to work. “This year, we have had the biggest advance ticket sales ever,” says Andrew Wood, executive director of the San Francisco International Arts Festival. What Wood has done since 2003 is develop his own version of “think globally, act locally.”

The British-born impresario has programmed discoveries from around the world that often erase traditional boundaries between theater and dance. They bring a whiff of global artistic trade winds and broaden our sometimes narrow perspectives. In 2009 it was South Korea’s stunning Cho-In Theatre, which performed The Angel and the Woodcutter without speaking a single word. Last year, Polish import Teatr Zar’s multi-venue performance of The Gospels of Childhood Triptych seared itself into memory. Sometimes, glimpses into non-American cultural productions can look eerily prescient, as with 2006’s The Solitary — an exchange between a prisoner and his jailer — by Syria’s Al-Khareef Theatre Troupe.

Engagements by international companies are only possible because they bring a lot of their own funding, either from their own governments or cultural organizations in this country. Sasha Waltz and Guests’ 2009 Travelogue I, for instance, would not have been possible without the Goethe-Institut’s support.

“Most people [abroad] don’t realize how under-resourced we are in this country,” Wood explains. In terms of performance fees he tells the artists that “this is what I can offer if we get the money, otherwise I’ll pay you what I can.”

One of Wood’s biggest challenges, besides patching together the money for the companies he wants to present, is getting them here at all. The State Department has its own ideas of who should be seen by Bay Area audiences. Last year an Iraqi group’s engagement fell short when only two of its company members received visas. This year the “permission slips” for Cuba’s Raices Profundas, SFIAF’s opening act, came through at the last minute.

Raices’ mixed program will offer a perspective on Afro-Cuban dance grounded in both its ritualistic and popular social dance traditions. While he greatly admires the breath and depth of their artistry, bringing this company to the fest “is as much a political act as any thing else,” Wood says. “We have to maintain the human connection [with these artists]. They are in such difficult positions, and they work so hard living in a kind of netherworld where rules don’t work.”

One of the festival’s hallmarks has become the shared programs between local and guest dancers. One can only image the backstage cross-cultural fertilizations that must take place between artists that previously may have known very little of each other.

This year the Swiss company Cie 7273’s Listen and Watch is sharing an evening with Thieves by Oakland’s Dance Elixir. Both works are based on the intimate relationships with music performed live on stage. Two first US showings and a world premiere (created in Tallinn, Estonia; San Francisco; and Helsinki) are on a triple bill with Cid Pearlman Performance Project, Post: Ballet’s Robert Dekkers, and Susanna Leinonen Company.

A welcome opportunity to see two previously shown pieces will come from AXIS Dance Company’s astounding 2011 collaboration with Marc Brew Company, Full of Words. Brew will also dance the American premiere of his solo Remember When. In 2010, inkBoat’s The Crazy Cloud Collection, named after a 15th century Zen monk — the purported subject of this astounding collaboration with Butoh artist Ko Murobushi — looked anarchic, maddeningly obscure, and totally mesmerizing. I’ll attend this encore performance for sure. *


May 2-20, free-$70

Various venues, SF



Soul to solo


DANCE David Zambrano: never heard of him? That just means you’re not a member of the international dance community, where he is a superstar. Accolades, particularly about his teaching, flood the internet; phrases like “genius,” “not to be missed,” and “has changed my life” abound. The only complaint I could find was from a disgruntled student who said “the class was so full that I could barely see the teacher.”

So who is this Venezuelan-born, Amsterdam-based, globe-trotting dancer-choreographer-teacher who engenders such enthusiasm and yet is so little-known in this country? Starting this weekend, Zambrano (re)introduces himself with the West Coast premiere of Soul Project, a series of solos, each one based on an American blues song. They will be performed — in a sequence to be determined just before each show — to an audience seeking out the dancers.

Zambrano is best known for re-thinking improvisation as a tool to freshly connect dancers to the physics of their bodies — and its relationship to the environment. In the process, he developed a technique he calls “flying low,” which examines dance’s unavoidable partner, the floor, in order to find efficient ways for giving into and rebounding from the ground. Fundamental questions Zambrano asks revolve around essential concepts: how do two dancing bodies change the space on a stage? What is the relationship between intimacy and community? How can movement be best used as a means of transmitting information?

If these topics sound esoteric and theoretical to most of us, to dancers they embody the core of what they do. One admirer is San Francisco dancer-choreographer Keith Hennessy, himself no slouch in the thinking-about-the-fundamentals-of-performance department. He first took a workshop with Zambrano at Dancers’ Group in the mid-1990s and has watched his work ever since.

“I’m a huge fan of his teaching,” says Hennessy. “His classes are a kind of inspirational ritual. He teaches dancers to circulate energy with the earth and the other dancers, through their own bodies and then through space.”

He appreciates Zambrano as a performer “who loves dancing, moving, flying. He travels through space quickly, with the fastest of small precise steps — running and running, before diving or sliding into rolling on the floor, and always spiraling up and down and around.”

Hennessey, who has seen a fair amount of Zambrano’s work, including four improvised duets in 2010 which he describes as “truly joyful,” is looking forward to the upcoming performances because “I haven’t seen him do anything like this before.”

One who has already seen Soul Project is choreographer Ralph Lemon, who remembers Zambrano as a major force in New York’s Downtown improvisation scene until his move to Amsterdam in 2000.

“I hadn’t seen his work for years,” Lemon explains. “I saw Soul Project in 2008 at a summer dance festival outside Paris. I saw a lot of work at the time, yet this is the one that made me want to dance. I was so moved by the project because this is music I grew up with.”

He adds, “For me as a black American this was curious, particularly since there were no black Americans in the cast. There was only one American — and she was a white woman who had moved to Brussels.”

So when, in 2010, New York’s Dancespace asked Lemon to organize their first dance platform (i.e., artist-curated program), he immediately thought of Soul Project.

“It is such an American work,” he says, “and I knew that in terms of its cultural implications it was important that it come to the states. Audiences here will see it so differently from those in other places.”

So how was it? “It was fantastic, but also frustrating, because you want to dance. But David makes it clear that he knows that we want to dance, but we can’t because ‘the dancing is for us.’ It creates a very nice tension: you feel the dance internally but the dancing is happening with his performers.”


Fri/27-Sat/28, 8pm, $20

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-2787



May 3, noon, 6pm, 9pm (Stanford students only), free (advance reservations required)

Cantor Arts Center

328 Lomita, Stanford

(650) 725-2787


Dancing in the deep


DANCE Jodi Lomask has always been comfortable with both science and art. Perhaps that’s not surprising for someone who grew up with a physicist father and a visual artist mother — hanging around with his friends who would came to visit in Connecticut, and going with her to galleries and openings. Still, it’s not every child who, when trying to make sense of the world, was also “making dances” in her mind.

For the last 15 years, Lomask and her Capacitor collaborators (whose new work Okeanoswill be performed this weekend) have translated the dances in her head onto the stage. It’s a rather unusual way to establish an intimate human connection with the big world out there. Within Outer Spaces looked at our planet in context of the other heavenly bodies; Digging in the Dark examined Earth’s layers down to the molten core; futurespecies investigated reproduction in the past and the future.

For biome Lomask and her collaborators went to Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest to study symbiotic relationships. For the upcoming premiere Okeanos, Lomask had herself certified as a diver and went to Bali to study marine protectorates and coral restoration projects.

Debunking the clichés of free-and-wild artists and right-brain-only scientists, she calls on the latter as essential collaborators and advisors.

“My personal theory is that art and science are at the bottom of a circle. As [their practitioners] get better, they separate for a while, but when they are very good they meet again,” she says. “The most successful scientists I know are also the most creative people I know. The most successful artists I know are the people who are very precise and rigorous in their craft; they have a lot of factual information that goes into their work.” It’s this kind of thinking that has made Lomask and Capacitor a regular participant at TED conferences.

In order to ground each work in “fact rather than fantasy,” in 2000 Lomask started a formal process consisting of six months of meetings between scientists and her creative team.

“A scientist makes a 20 minute presentation, then someone from our team — a designer, a musician — does the same,” she explains. “Then we have a show-and-tell about the specifics about what we are working on.” This way of working guides but also liberates the art-making because “we then can take off from factual information.”

At a late-stage rehearsal at Zaccho Dance Theatre’s whitewashed, concrete-walled studio, Okeanos‘ art and science elements were very much in evidence. Against the starkness of that environment, periodically punctuated by the rattling of a passing CalTrain, the stunning underwater videos by Australian cinematographer David Hannan suggested an unearthly yet innate beauty. Seahorses gave birth, an octopus explored its environment, schools of tiny fishes surrounded floating whales, and sharks shot by like torpedoes. Throughout, you got the sense that these creatures communicate with each other.

In addition to choreographing the movement vocabulary for the four dancers and five circus artists, Lomask also designed interactive physical structures that echo the natural world. One set calls up vortexes; another is an earth-like globe with many points of entry; yet another suggests a curtain of kelp. Lead science advisors Sylvia Earle and Tierney Thys provided taped narration. While helpful for its information, it’s most moving for the awe and love that is apparent in their voices.

As mentioned above, like many of Lomask’s works, Okeanos commingles circus artists and dancers. “It doesn’t make any difference to me whether a body is a trained dancer’s or a contortionist’s,” she says. “I am really interested in how the human body acts with the [sculptural] forms I have created. A contortionist can interact in a way a dancer cannot, but a dancer can embody an emotion or a concept that circus artists don’t have the training to do.”

Each Okeanos performance will be preceded by a different set of (separately ticketed) panel discussions surrounding issues of human interaction with the deep. The post-performance “Ocean Solutions Cafés” offer opportunities for continuing the conversation.



Pre-show talks, 6:30pm, $20 (with show ticket); performances, 8pm, $25-$35

Herbst Pavilion

Fort Mason Center

Marina at Laguna, SF



Past, present, future



DANCE This weekend choreographers Robert Moses and Sean Dorsey present new dances. Moses’ Helen, inspired by the myth of the beautiful Greek whose face launched a thousand ships, is at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; Dorsey’s The Secret History of Love, based on how LGBT people used to meet, plays Dance Mission Theater. Both choreographers started dancing in their hometowns — Philadelphia for Moses, Vancouver for Dorsey — and began choreographing professionally in San Francisco. They recently talked to the Guardian about how they came to be where they are now.

SFBG Do you remember how dance entered your life?

Robert Moses We danced the way kids do. My sister and family members all danced. As teenagers we would get together in clubs where you showed your steps, and you had a contest. You couldn’t just jump around a little bit. You had to be the very best dancer that you could be.

Sean Dorsey My first memory is spinning round the living room in a leotard to “Free to Be … You and Me.” There was a lot of music in my house, lots of artists in my family, and there was a lot of space and encouragement for that kind of activity.

SFBG How did your formal training in dance start?

RM In my last semester in high school, I ended up in a dance class when another class was cancelled. At university, I started training in West African, Haitian, ballet, contemporary, tap, and musical theater. I did all of it because I knew that’s what I wanted to do.

SD My big childhood hero was Carol Burnett; my dream was to go into comedy. I was in graduate school in Community Development when I was invited to audition for the dance department. So I started to study dance at 25. It was going to be recreational, but I found that it was my deepest love.

SFBG We all bring our cultural background and life experiences to our work. If and in what way does that influence what you do?

RM Of course, it influences what you do; there is no way that it couldn’t. You are a member of group but you are also an individual who is changing and maturing. Sure, I have put perspectives on American, African American, and displacement issues. The thing to remember is what you do is not who you are.

SD As a transgendered person, a queer person, and an immigrant person, an outsider’s consciousness charges my art-making, and I hope that brings a heightened awareness and sensitivity to the kind of themes that I explore in my work such as family, love, or searching for a place in the world.

SFBG How does the process of making a new piece start?

RM It’s different each time. Sometimes it starts with a topic; sometimes with just a movement. A work might also tell me to lean more on the music or talk more about a subject. I also consider how a piece will be presented within a particular frame. The movement itself is created in the studio by the dancers and myself.

SD My process feels ridiculously long. All my pieces are accompanied by a sound score of narration and music. It takes four to six hours in the studio to make one minute. It’s always music, music, music and words, words, words. Once that is finished, I take the draft to the dancers and we make the movement together.

SFBG What would you like us to know about the upcoming premieres?

RM We are talking about the Greek Helen and the notion of an idealized woman, but also about the way people are the playthings of the gods. I am a fan of Carl Hancock Rux’s spoken word and music; he alludes to the Iliad but I am really interested in how women react to the situations they are in.

SD The show is based on archival research and features the real-life stories and voices of eight LGBT elders, from 1920s speakeasies to wartime love affairs, and the really repressive 1950s.


Fri/30-Sun/1, 8 p.m., $25-$45

Novellus Theater

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

700 Howard, SF



Thurs/28-Sun/1, 8 p.m. (also Sat/31-Sun/1, 4 p.m.), $10-$25

Dance Mission Theater

3316 24th St., SF






DANCE Strange how being “of a certain age” can bring so much uncertainty along with it. In the installment of Berlin-based choreographer Silke Z.’s “Just Between Us — The Generation Project” making its US premiere at CounterPULSE this weekend, two guys, at least, will move boldly forward into the middle ages.

A coproduction of Silke Z./resistdance and Jess Curtis/Gravity, Jess Meets Angus is a duet between San Francisco’s Jess Curtis and renowned Scottish choreographer Angus Balbernie, both accomplished artists now in their 50s (Curtis just barely), meeting on stage over the subject of being men and dancers in maturing bodies.

“We’re the 50-year-old guys in this larger concept that now has six generations of duets,” explains Curtis via Skype from UC Davis, where he is completing a doctorate in performance studies. (Following the CounterPULSE shows, Jess Meets Angus will have performances in Davis as well.) Silke Z. had begun the project with an encounter between two 30-somethings named Felix, hence titled Felix Meets Felix, which Curtis saw in Berlin (where he’s divided his time for over a decade now).

In asking Curtis and Balbernie — the latter her own teacher at Dartington College of Arts; he was also the bridgehead for Steve Paxton and the spread of contact improvisation in Europe in the 1970s–80s — Silke Z. is also bringing together two related but distinct traditions of postmodern dance. But the piece, which has already premiered in Germany and Lithuania with more stops ahead in Montreal and Poland, is designed to speak readily to a general audience, through text and movement, about a universal theme.

That said, traveling with the show has brought to light a sense of the social, cultural, and environmental specificity in concepts and experiences of aging. Curtis says the piece surprised, not to say freaked out people in Lithuania, for instance. One audience member explained to him that there, where the health of the male population as a whole is poorer, men in their 50s are generally “about to die,” not merely midway through life. The forthcoming dialogue from the stage was also a shock.

“The fact that we said anything about our personal lives — they didn’t even know what to do with that. I felt that people were really excited about [the work], but it is such a different vision of maleness, it’s a little confusing and challenging.”

Even Curtis admits putting himself onstage to discuss aging wasn’t entirely easy. “I had some little bits of resistance,” he says. “When I began working on the piece I was still 49, and Silke kept calling it ‘the 50-year-old guys,’ and I was like, ‘Look, I’m not 50 yet. We can call it guys around 50, or something.’ I don’t want to be rushed into that. But otherwise it made sense to me. It’s some of the first performing that I’ve done in a while. That was kind of relaxing.”

He adds, “In terms of the material, it felt quite interesting to engage with. I was simultaneously working on Dances for Non/Fictional Bodies [which premiered locally at YBCA in February 2011], so there was [connection with] those issues: yeah, this is the body I have. What are the stories in it? My father was also ill, and I was watching him age and watching things getting [physically] more difficult for him. Some of that poignancy was there too, as I was asking, ‘OK, what is the dance to make right now?'”

The honesty in the process does not necessarily imply literal truth in the text, cautions Curtis. “Yes, there’s a big autobiographical dimension, but not everything is true. We’re Jess and Angus and we mine a lot of our histories. But there were things that came up as we were improvising and trading back and forth that kind of stretched; that worked theatrically and are a deeper truth, but are not necessarily facts about our lives.”

As for how much he and Balbernie discovered they had in common when it came to the theme, Curtis is intriguingly vague: “Enough similarity and enough difference to be interesting.”


Thurs/29-Sun/1, 8 p.m., $15-$20


1310 Mission, SF



Revealing the future


DANCE A stiff breeze is blowing through the venerable Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, though not enough to ruffle feathers among Ailey aficionados (of which there are millions). The troupe is not dancing better, just differently. For that, they and the audiences have to thank new artistic director Robert Battle, who has been watching and choreographing for Ailey for years, though he was never a company member. Coming to the job as both an insider and an outsider, he knew exactly what to do.

Ailey has two major assets: one of the great pieces of 20th century dance, Revelations, and an ensemble that invests whatever you give them with extraordinary skill, fervent commitment, and a deep sense of humanity. What they lacked, for the most part, was a repertoire that honored those gifts.

So Battle switched gears. He opened the door to choreography unlike what we are used to seeing from Ailey. Yet did it gently. None of the works, whose local company premieres were offered during performances at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall March 13-18, are intellectually complex. Battle kept the entertainment values strong; nothing wrong with that.

The commission to Rennie Harris, the hip-hop artist who opened doors of his own by bringing street and club dancing inside the theater, resulted in the affective Home, a tribute to Ailey, who died of AIDS in 1989. Here Matthew Rushing left a tightly bunched-up group of dancers — somewhat similar to the opening of Revelations — and found an abode in a place where “the DJ turns down the light.”

Conceptually and structurally (and particularly in its circularity), it was a very simple tribute to the outsider who has to find a place for himself. Perhaps it was also the choreographer commenting on the Ailey company.

Harris created a dense, appealing fabric from duets and trios of club and hip-hop moves that vibrated with scintillating energy. The pleasure came from watching these dancers dive into material that encouraged so much individualized interpretation.

Choreographer Ohad Naharin called his line-up of excerpts from works created between 1992 and 2005 Minus 16. The Ailey dancers performed it superbly. The first section had the ensemble, clad in Hasidic outfits, sitting in a half -circle and engaging in a series of “waves” which made the last man fall off his chair. Gradually the performers threw their clothes into the center. Whether this signified a comment on Israeli values or, as some have suggested, a tribute to the Holocaust, I have no idea.

After a diorama-like passing of “souls” and a stunning duet in which dancers Ghrai DeVore and Kirven James Boyd seemed about to devour each other, Naharin pulled a masterstroke. He sent his black-suited dancers scouting for “victims” in the audience to join them on stage. It’s a cheap trick I know, and I have great difficulties with Naharin’s oppressive unisons, but I laughed to the point of tears. Bravo for Berkeley audiences.

The second program offered Battle’s previously-seen, all-male Hunt; it subtly explored pain, mourning, and vulnerability hidden by super-macho manhood. Paul Taylor’s Arden Court, one of the choreographer’s perennial audience favorites, received an honorable performance. The Ailey dancers have yet to absorb Taylor’s joyful ease and weighty elegance into their own bodies. Of the three couples, Alicia Graf Mack and Antonio Douthit came the closest.

Gratefully, this is a differently-dancing Ailey company; one of the changes also being brought about by nine new dancers who altered the company’s look in terms of physical size and skin color. No doubt the changes will continue, all the while preserving the best of Ailey’s own heritage.

What has not changed is Revelations. The mastery and presence that these dancers bring to a work that they perform year after year remains a wonder. Rushing in “I Wanna Be Ready” and Linda Celeste Sims and Glenn Allen Sims in “Fix me, Jesus” — the work’s most movingly intimate choreography — were stunning to behold. The audience started clapping at the sound of the first note and wouldn’t stop until they got their encore of “Rocka My Soul.” That was Ailey, as ever, at Zellerbach.

The great unknown



DANCE The United States Bicentennial, 1976, was also the middle of what some have called the Golden Age of American dance. Balanchine premiered Union Jack; Twyla Tharp turned ballet inside out with Baryshnikov in Push Comes to Shove; the Philip Glass-Robert Wilson-Lucinda Childs team had a monster hit with Einstein at the Beach (side note: Berkeley’s Cal Performances presents it in October); and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company was invited to the prestigious Avignon Festival for the first time.

At the Performing Garage, Manhattan’s dumpiest theater in not-yet-chic SoHo, two small, skinny, New York-based Japanese dancers — just back from Europe where they had soaked up what had remained of German Expressionism — premiered White Dance. They were Eiko and Koma. An excerpt from that early work will close their two-week residency at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Eiko and Koma have changed dance the way few others have. They have redefined theatrical time and space, the body as an instrument, and concepts surrounding expressivity. With but a few exceptions, they have always created on themselves. One man, one woman — and the universe. Most remarkably, to this day they have no imitators. They are truly unique.

While they sometimes paint their bodies white and have learned from Butoh’s glacial sense of time — they were early, though for a short time only, students of Butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata — their works have none of that art’s existential emptiness; neither its twist of anarchy and despair, nor its dark sense of humor. Eiko and Koma see themselves connected to something larger than ourselves. They call their pieces Tree, Breath, River, Echo, Land, Wind. Their latest work is Naked.

David Harrington, founder and first violinist of the Kronos Quartet, has known the duo for close to 20 years. Speaking from Toronto, where the musicians are on tour, he describes what these dancers do as “traveling through time, memory, and experience to find something that, perhaps, we didn’t know existed.”

Watching Naked, he says, “I totally understood nakedness and the reason for it. There was something so honest and revealing and personal, and it was dangerous as well. They are about my age, and there they were offering themselves to the universe in such an incredible way. My feeling at the moment was that all of us, no matter how old we get, were very, very young. The flesh takes on different forms of age, but still we almost become like babies. Age no long had any meaning because I thought they were communicating with the universe in this incredible way.”

Drawing on this experience encouraged Harrington to commit to the four-hour Fragile, a collaborative installation between Kronos and Eiko and Koma this coming weekend. Harrington remembers that the duo had told him of three events that had formed their creativity and outlook: the dropping of the atomic bomb that happened before their birth; the 1967-68 student riots in Tokyo in which they participated, and the recent tsunami. So he composed Fragile‘s score from documentary material and music from Kronos’ repertoire plus — a first for Kronos — by Richard Wagner.

The following weekend’s Regeneration will offer Raven, Night Tide, and an excerpt from White Dance. At pre-performance event March 24, kindred spirit Shinichi Iova-Koga of inkBoat will interview the two artists about their working method and other topics.

“What I remember about their work is the images,” Iova-Koga explains. (He has seen their three local performances.) “Besides any particular beauty, these images were long enough to burn themselves into my memory. Years and years later I can still recall them. Part of Eiko and Koma’s power comes from all of this time of making pieces on a one-on-one relationship: two bodies relating to each other.” *


Fragile with Kronos Quartet

Thurs/15-Fri/16, 5-9 p.m.; Sat/17, 3-7 p.m., $10

Regeneration: Raven (2010), Night Tide (1984), and White Dance (1976)

March 22-24, 8 p.m., $25

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF