Rita Felciano

Yaelisa and Caminos Flamencos


PREVIEW How many outside the flamenco family — a sizable one in the Bay Area — realize just how special an artist Yaelisa is? In a less ghettoized genre, this Emmy-winning and always expanding and deepening performer and choreographer would be considered a superstar. Yaelisa foregoes some of the showbiz antics of her colleagues for performances that are no less captivating and, frequently, more intelligently planned and presented. Her monthly Café Flamenco sessions — every third Sunday of the month and currently at Theater Artaud — have become a Bay Area staple.

The Yaelisa and Caminos Flamenco ensemble includes Melissa Cruz, Christina Hall, Mariana Elana, and Fanny Ara. Each of these women is a soloist in her own right. For the company’s new program, Canciones, Yaelisa and her dancers are stepping beyond their comfort level into non-flamenco music — not exactly a new idea, but one that apparently Yaelisa has wanted to explore for a long time. The impetus came from a 2006 collaboration with tap virtuoso Savion Glover that involved Brazilian funk, Miles Davis, and Dave Brubeck. Canciones — with guest dancer Timo Nuñez — includes music by Iron and Wine and the Spanish pop group Ketama and live sounds by Sonikéte, as well as more traditional compositions by Isaac Albéniz. Latin percussionist Michael Spiro and vocalists Felix de Lola and Miguel Rosendo join music director and master flamenco artist Jason McGuire.

YAELISA AND CAMINOS FLAMENCOS Sat/1, 8 p.m., and Sun/2, 7 p.m., $15–$60. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF. (415) 978-ARTS, www.ybca.org>.

Ritual de lo non-habitual


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

REVIEW Since rituals necessitate a community of believers, presenting one for an audience in a theater runs the risk of becoming a mere item of cultural consumption. Yet, on Oct. 16, master drummer-vocalist-dancer Dohee Lee went beyond expectations. Her oddly named Flux succeeded best in its most ritualistic elements — the moments when it called up soul-wrenching memory, pain, and reconciliation.

The title refers to the ever-changing aspects of all creation. That’s a cliché and doesn’t tell us much about the nature of this, at times, powerful work of dance theater created by the Korean-born Lee and a slew of excellent collaborators. Foremost among them are the musicians of Asian Improv Arts: Francis Wong; Tatsu Aoki, who also created one of Flux‘s films; Jason Lewis; and Jonathan Chen. They are master performers. And as a result of their efforts — along with Lee’s — Flux‘s seamless unity of dance and music made for an exceedingly rare experience. The only other dancer besides Lee was the very capable Sherwood Chen. Relegated for the most part to subsidiary roles, he was, however, underused.

Using the I-Ching as a shaping device and philosophical tool, Lee divided the evocative Flux into nine sections, helpfully explained in the program insert. The work started on a dreamy note and moved through historical sequences to the climactic dramatization focusing on the memory of Lee’s grandmother. The piece wound down to a peaceful, even joyously embracing close with the traditional passing of the Banyayoungsun, the ship that connects the living with ancestors.

Deann Borshay Liem’s excellent appropriations of historic Korean films included sepia-colored portraits of ordinary men and women in addition to haunting sequences of refugees, corpses, and iconic symbols. Combined with Aoki’s more abstract images — water, fire, wind, a ravine — which set the context for the individual sections, Flux captured the experiences of a specific people while placing them in a universal context of human experience. Less effectively, the program notes to the "Fire=Trade" sequence seemed a little naïve in the way it commemorated only the unequal trade treaties "between the US and Korea from 1850 to the present." It’s not as if Asian nations and European powers were entirely innocent when it came to Korea’s woes.

As a performer, Lee is a wonder of versatility and strength. In "Water," she commenced the refugee’s journey by stepping gingerly into the sea, her feet floating and blindly attempting to find firmer ground — her only guide a fan-shaped wooden rattle. In "Thunder," she played a battery of Korean drums with an increasingly furious intensity as we stared at those all-too-familiar images of terrorized faces and rows of bodies, victims of war. In the somewhat prolonged finale, a bouncy, almost jazz-like freedom propelled Lee into a rollicking celebration of hope.

Lee’s duets and the choreography for Chen, in contrast, looked uncertain. They spoke of what may be inexperience choreographing for other dancers. Yet as a soloist, Lee is outstanding. The "Mountain" section was an astounding tour de force that started on a rather low-key interchange between a child and her grandmother, then swelled into something approaching the demonic. The program notes explained that the old woman was recalling her experience during the Korean War, and that the style evokes Korean opera.

The moment was as dramatically powerful as anything in Puccini — and those vocalists don’t dance. Though performed in Korean and therefore verbally unintelligible to many in the audience, the trajectory of this tale of pain and fury was crystal clear. Bent over and dragging a drum behind her, Lee gradually straightened and then whipped herself into shamanistic ecstasy. In the end, standing on her drum, she returned to her guise as a fragile human being. It was the closest thing to a ritual that you are likely to see onstage. *

San Francisco Trolley Dances


PREVIEW How many more 38s do I have to look at when I really need the 5? And how come the 35 is always empty, while you can’t find a spot to put your feet, not to mention a seat, on the 22? Muni manages to infuriate just about everybody — from the latte-clutching N-Judah riders to the grocery bag-shlepping "Chinatown Express" shoppers.

Still, I’ve never lived in a city where people did not vociferously complain about their public transportation system. That’s why San Francisco Trolley Dances is such a neat idea. No, they are not another Muni pacification plan, but the brainchild of local choreographer Kim Epifano. If you are a stickler for accuracy, the idea came from Jean Isaacs Dance Theater in San Diego where they do have trolleys. For this year’s San Francisco Trolley Dances you board the new T-Third Street line anywhere between Mission Bay and Bayview-Hunters Point. Besides taking you through vastly varied cityscapes, you can watch performances on the street as you ride by or get off at designated spots. Scott Wells and his high-flying acrobat/dancers will send you off at Fourth and Berry streets, and Joanna Haigood’s community dancers will welcome you in front of the Bayview Opera House. All that for $1.50.

SAN FRANCISCO TROLLEY DANCES Sat/18-Sun/19, 11 a.m.–2:45 p.m. (rides start every 45 minutes from Fourth and Berry streets), $1.50 or Fast Pass. (415) 226-1139, www.epiphanydance.org

Hawaii calls


PREVIEW Patrick Makuakane is big. But the tall, muscular choreographer’s physical size is nothing compared to the largeness of his laughter, personality, and, above all, his love for and knowledge of hula. In addition to a very large school, Makuakane runs the Bay Area’s most successful Hawaiian company, Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu. He has coached, choreographed, directed, and MC’d the halau’s productions since 1985, and while about half of the dancers are Hawaiian, the rest are there for the love of the art. None are paid, but, Makuakane says, "We take good care of them." Learning about Hawaii, its history, and its arts and crafts — in addition to being fed well — is just one of the benefits.

Onstage Makuakane’s gifts as a showman at times overshadow his remarkable ability as a vocalist and a percussionist. Watch him hunched over a drum and giving life to lyrics few of us understand, and you get a glimpse of an immensely serious artist at work. In India he would be called a guru; in Africa, a griot. Makuakane’s greatest gift is in embracing a generous perspective on hula: he calls it "Hula Mula" — respecting the old, putting it into contemporary expression. That’s why he can create a hula to "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" — far removed from the ancient chants and drums — and it explains the origins of one early piece unearthed for this year’s extravaganza, Krishna Hula. He remembers its genesis in Golden Gate Park. "We were doing our own thing and this band of chanting Hare Krishnas showed up," he recalls. "It was wild."

THE HULA SHOW 2008 Thurs/11, Oct. 17 and 18, 8 p.m.; Fri/12, 4 p.m.; Oct. 19, noon and 3 p.m.; $10–$40. Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon, SF. 1-800-407-1400, www.cityboxoffice.com

Inbal Pinto Dance Company


PREVIEW Two years ago the Inbal Pinto Dance Company made its San Francisco debut with Oyster. On first glance it looked like a freak show, one of those traveling circuses that paraded so-called human deformities to titillate audiences. I mean, what are you going to do with a two-headed, four-armed MC and a crone who controls live puppets? The entire piece looked like a mix of Fellini, without his loving acceptance, and early Günther Grass, without his sardonic humor — plus a solid dose of that French invention, "new circus." Watching the performers move and dance in that no man’s land between fantasy and reality, you couldn’t quite let yourself relax to enjoy Oyster‘s sheer theatrical punch, because underneath all the merriment hid a ghost in the basement.

For their return visit, this Israeli group, appropriately co-managed by a choreographer and a theater director, is presenting its latest work, Shakers, which has nothing to do with condiments or 19th-century New England religion. Its inspiration comes via one of the most common kitsch objects you can buy in tourist locations ranging from Oslo and Moscow — where they make sense — to Cairo and Bombay — where they don’t. Remember snowglobes, those little glass-domed, hermetically-sealed trinkets you shake and snow keeps falling, falling, falling? Shakers.

INBAL PINTO DANCE COMPANY Sat/11, 8 p.m., and Sun/12, 2 p.m., $39–$27; family matinee, Sat/11, 2 p.m., $12–$25. Novellus Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF. (415) 392-2545, www.performances.org

Raging hormones


REVIEW Romeo and Juliet — the ballet, not the play — is not exactly known for its wit. Prokofiev’s heavy-handed use of thematic material at times makes Wagner sound frivolous. But leave it to Mark Morris to turn ballet’s most beloved 20th-century tragedy into a fairy tale whose comedic overtones are difficult to miss. Does the piece — which was given its West Coast premiere by Cal Performances at Zellerbach Hall Sept. 25 — work? Up to a point it does, because Morris set clearly defined parameters and shaped his take accordingly. At the end, however, the choreographer falls flat on his face.

Morris’ Romeo and Juliet, on Motifs of Shakespeare is the result of musicologist Simon Morrison’s discovery of the composer’s original manuscript in Russia. It doesn’t include a balcony scene, nor do the lovers die. The most welcome revelation is that the music was not designed to hit you over the head. The orchestration is thinner, shading its colors instead of splashing them on.

When tackling the largely unchanged libretto, Morris decided to keep the story at arm’s length. His characters are not quite flesh-and-blood people. The dancers inhabit their roles against the backdrop of a story we already know well. And they do it superbly. In many ways, Morris is playing a game with us. It’s witty, fun, and distanced.

The minute the work opens and we see the good citizens with their wooden swords, you know that this is make-believe. There is no conflict between these families: everybody, including the parents, is immature. Hormones rage. Stuff happens. The whole society is kept together by Escalus (a fabulously effective Joe Bowie) who prowls the town like a playground supervisor.

Morris’ handling of the crowd scenes works. He treats them like accidental encounters, akin to neighborhood gossip that swells then recedes. It’s one way of dealing with Prokofiev’s propensity for repetition. The ballroom scene’s formality resembles early Martha Graham with Romeo posturing like a pouting teenager. In a nod to the famous pillow dance, Morris includes a parlor game involving a cushion.

He explores a similar thematic development in the market scenes. A hop and turn motive spools the citizens on stage as if they were coming off a conveyor belt. As for the love story, Morris makes it into a puppy love that unexpectedly grows into something the kids can no longer handle. Noah Vinson’s Romeo is splendid, tender and ready to jump out of his skin from sheer happiness. Maile Okamura’s Juliet evolves nicely into take-charge maturity.

In the end, Morris’ Romeo falls apart. The divertissements in the bedroom look like caricatures, as do Romeo’s and the Friar’s ex machina appearances. Morris’ imagination fails him badly as he transports the lovers into a literally star-crossed universe. The choreographer prides himself on using every note of a composer’s music, but perhaps that’s not always such a hot idea.

Hang on


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

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

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

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

StringWreck Hits the Streets


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

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

A Bay pas de deux


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collaboration! Dance & Music 2008


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

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

“Peering Through the Portal”


PREVIEW This weekend CounterPULSE features two groups that thrive on collaboration. They have in common an Asian American background that informs but doesn’t determine the work they do. Melody Takata is a San Francisco artist with a broad perspective and 20 years of experience. Trained in taiko (she is the founder of GenTaiko), the three-stringed shamisen, and Japanese classical and folk dance, she grounds her pieces in the past but creates a contemporary language for them. In 2007’s Quest (with saxophonist Francis Wong and poet Genny Lim), Takata uses taiko drumming and both styles of Japanese dance to demystify some of the exoticism that surrounds Japanese American culture. This year’s Shimenawa (Rope) grew out of a concern that plans for the extensive remodeling of Japantown will cut one of the ties that bind the Japanese American community. Los Angeles–based Elaine Wang and San Francisco resident Lenora Lee, who began their modern dance partnership in the early 1990s, recently revived Lee & Wang Dance. Their 2007 Gale Winds and Turya explores conflicting internal voices and the role of dreamscapes and memory in the search for identity. Wang’s new duet, Swoon, pairs her with flautist/dancer Kaoru Watanabe in an exploration of connection, separation, and the quiet space between the two. Mina Nishimura and musicians Tatsu Aoki and Hideko Nakajima also perform in this interdisciplinary program.

PEERING THROUGH THE PORTAL Sat/6, 8 p.m.; Sun/7, 1 p.m. CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission, San Francisco. $10–$15. 1-800-838-3006, www.counterpulse.org, www.brownpapertickets.com

Diverse moments


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Rabbit Research Collective


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

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

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

Local Heroes/ Big Picture Week 2


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

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

“Top of the Structure Is Not Empty”


PREVIEW The Garage is the kind of tiny, funky, out-of-the-way theater we all thought wouldn’t be able to survive the dealings of cutthroat real estate moguls. Fortunately choreographer and arts entrepreneur Joe Landini failed to buy into the pessimism. In 2003 he founded SAFEhouse (Save Art From Extinction) and last year moved his operations into a former garage at 975 Howard Street, a block still industrial enough to have available parking at night. Drawing on his programming experience with the now-defunct Jon Sims Center for the Arts and Shotwell Studios, he has filled the space with events (dance, multimedia, theater, and performance art), workshops, and residencies — including one specifically for the LGBT community. For the first time, the multidisciplinary space hosts SAFEhouse’s third Summer Performance Fest. Through August 28, Landini presents more than two dozen choreographers in shared evenings of edgy new works that should satisfy any aficionado wanting to take the pulse of the city. Top of the Structure Is Not Empty, with choreography by Rebecca Bryant, Cathie Caraker, Kelly Dalrymple, Sonshereé Giles, Hope Mohr, Don Nichols, Jerry Smith, and Andrew Wass opens the series. What do these ever-so-different-from-each-other artists have in common? They all investigate ideas on plagiarism and authorship in their work. Expect to see references to Trisha Brown, Miguel Gutierrez, Mark Morris, Nijinsky, Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer, Max Roach, and Meg Stuart.

TOP OF THE STRUCTURE IS NOT EMPTY Fri/11–Sat/12, 8 p.m. The Garage, 975 Howard, SF. $10–$20. (415) 885-4006, www.975howard.com, brownpapertickets.com

Domestic unrest


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Survival often depends on one’s ability to scurry around. Dancers and smaller-scale presenters must use their wits if they want to show their audiences more than homegrown fare. For the most part, the process at SCUBA — a presenters’ network that shares companies out of Seattle, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and San Francisco — works. Sometimes, however, there is a glitch. Such was the case June 26–28 with one of the two dance installations presented as part of "ODC Theater Festival 2: Local Heroes/Big Picture," Kate Watson-Wallace’s House and Karen Sherman’s Tiny Town.

Watson-Wallace has made something of a reputation for herself in her home city of Philadelphia, where she takes over physical locations and transforms them through performance. Since these are acutely site-specific works, traveling with them is difficult. At Theater Artaud, she was confronted with a huge space that has a strong personality of its own. It proved particularly problematic during the first of two performances on opening night when the soft light of dusk streamed through the huge, history-crusted windows of Artaud’s loading dock. She also had to deal with memories (at least this audience member’s) of Lizz Roman, Joanna Haigood, and other artists who have presented their own — and stronger — interpretations of Artaud. Watson-Wallace works best with intimacy, and her production simply needed more confinement than the space or the budget allowed.

House consisted of what probably were three excerpts from the original piece, performed in the theater’s loading dock and lobby. To create the dining room, she placed a long table and six chairs in a corner, which afforded some sense of enclosure. This first part was choreographically the richest, and well performed by Watson-Wallace, Megan Mazarick, and John Luna with local dancers Sebastian Grubb, Jocelyn Lee, and Marisa Mariscotti. Shifting relationships — on, over, and under the table, as well as up the wall — flowed with the inevitability of clock time, yet they were filled with nuanced little fits and starts. An emotional climate redolent with suggestions of love, rebellion, and fatigue recalled tense moments around anyone’s family dinner table. People came and went, hands tentatively touched, looks were exchanged, support was given and withdrawn.

In the living room — suggested by a sofa, rug, and coffee table nailed halfway up a wall — Mazarick’s slow-paced solo had to deal with gravity as she slithered, climbed, and hung over the furniture. This was bland. Two pillows attached to Artaud’s lobby served as Watson-Wallace and Luna’s bedroom. A live video projected their movement onto a lumpy mattress. The duo’s well-danced intimacy — tender, playful, troubled — suggested two people used to each other in bed and out. I kept wondering whether an element of voyeurism was supposed to be at play between the real and the virtual performance. If there was, I didn’t see it.

Sherman resides in Minneapolis but was born in St. Louis. The person sitting next to me at the show was familiar with the choreographer’s birthplace and caught local references that escaped me. Tiny Town was a sardonic but curiously affectionate portrait that peeled away the layers of what the program described as a "Midwestern landscape," yet this could be any small town. It’s a place where everyone minds everyone else’s business, where residents frantically try to keep up and fit in — and woe to those who can’t.

Tiny was meticulously crafted with rich production values. It ran a little flat toward the end, but showcased fine performances from dancers Sherman, Joanna Furnans, Megan Mayer, Morgan Thorson, and Kristin Van Loon. You knew that not everything was right behind the set’s picket fences when a rising cloud revealed two atomic reactors and a woman with her legs tied literally turned herself upside down to "walk." She ended headfirst in a stack of pancakes, and that was just for starters. In this world of superficial prettiness — flowers stuffed in mailboxes, glittery party dresses — tomboys get beaten up and toothy housewives are indeed desperate.

The dancing was appropriately stiff-legged and fractured, full of moments infused with a dogged persistence. It spoke volumes about discomfort within one’s skin, if not outright self-hatred. And all of it was presented with pasted-on smiles.

Scott Wells and Dancers


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

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

Rare, medium, and well-done


When Sean Dorsey started the Fresh Meat Festival in 2001, transgendered artists were sequestered inside the alternative club scene. With this new event, Dorsey threw the doors wide open. While transgender and queer performances still have a special attraction for their constituencies, the festival’s need to move to Theater Artaud, its largest venue yet, proves its broader appeal.

This year’s presentations ranged far and wide, and so did the quality. That’s one of the perils of this type of focused programming: the desire to be supportive and inclusive can mean presenting artists who may not be experienced or even talented enough. The San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival went through similar growing pains. But Fresh Meat — which is fun, balanced, and thoughtful — is on the right track.

Five groups received commissions. The Barbary Coast Cloggers and Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu presented excellent premieres; the first joyously clickety-clacking, the other lyrically flowing through new interpretations of passed-down dancing. In trying to show the breadth of its repertoire, however, Colombian Soul attempted too much. The troupe presented undeveloped, under-rehearsed fragments, including a religious procession and a same-sex partnered "maypole" dance. Musicians Nejla Baguio and Prado Gomez’s artistic partnership looked young. The tentative Who’s Your Daddy?, musings on being a parent, had a few sparks but ultimately fizzled. Also respectfully but unenthusiastically received was the transgendered Transcendence Gospel Choir and its invitation for a community sing-along.

Two artists I would like to see more of were the outstanding countertenor Jose Luis Muñoz, who sang a powerful aria from Juana (an opera-in-progress by Carla Lucero), and Scott Turner Schofield, a FTM word artist. In an excerpt from Becoming a Man in 127 EASY Steps, he performed a smart, witty audition for Hamlet. It was also a pleasure to see the nonchalant Shawna Virago, who performed two supersmart, edgy new songs.

Still, the evening belonged to Dorsey, and not just because he founded the festival. Lost/Found, a duet he performed with Brian Fisher, showed again how nuanced a thinker, writer, dancer, and choreographer he is. I can’t think of anybody, no matter their identity, who creates works about growing up as theatrically cogent and as tremulously alive.

“The Monkey and the Devil”


PREVIEW Sometimes history has a peculiar way of bringing us full circle. Charles Trapolin’s family owned slaves on their plantation in South Carolina. Joanna Haigood’s family were slaves in the vicinity. The commonality and difference between those two families led to The Monkey and the Devil, a collaboration between Trapolin, the former ODC dancer turned visual artist, and dancer/choreographer Haigood. Taking its title from racial slurs, the world premiere examines a festering wound in the social fabric that has not healed nearly as well as many of us would like to pretend. Haigood started the piece long before Barack Obama’s candidacy but, she points out, it certainly has acquired an unexpected urgency. "Racism," she says, "hurts everybody. It’s a social ill that we need to address and realize that it is connected to economy and class." Formally, the piece is an installation, continuing Haigood’s long-time interest in working with picture frames. It’s a visual motif that works well with Trapolin’s idea to create a house split in two. On the set, two couples — one white, one black — take turns assuming roles. Audiences are invited to stay as long as they like during this four-hour performance. Though she’ll have a collection box, the show is free because Haigood really wants all of us to come see it.

THE MONKEY AND THE DEVIL Fri/28 and Sat/29, 1–5 p.m. Free. Zaccho Dance Studio, 777 Yosemite, studio 330, SF. (415) 822-7644, www.zaccho.org

Marc Bamuthi Joseph


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

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

Greater Goode


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

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

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

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


Fri/13–Sat/14, 8 p.m.; Sun/15, 7 p.m.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater

700 Howard, SF

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

San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival


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

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

Stephen Pelton Dance Theater


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

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