Rita Felciano

Dancers without borders


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

What do you need to create a first-rate hot product that is of value to others besides yourself? A great idea, a support structure, and money are good places to start. But what if you had no support structure and no money? If you believe in your idea, you’d plow ahead anyway — just like Andrew Wood, executive director of the San Francisco International Arts Festival.

In 2002, Wood began to think about something he felt this city full of artists and tourists needed: an arts festival that would bring the two together. The event would also focus local attention on a large, vibrant arts community that thrives in the shadow of the three big ones — the San Francisco Ballet, the San Francisco Symphony, and the San Francisco Opera.

"Lots of artists here are bursting with ideas," Wood explained during a recent interview. "We need an entity that supports them because they need more opportunities to show their work."

That a similarly ambitious undertaking called Festival 2000 went belly-up in 1990 didn’t deter the string bean–thin Brit, who talks faster than a cattle auctioneer. But Wood wasn’t about to let the fate of another festival stop him. Soon he was everywhere, talking to anyone who was willing to listen — and even to some who weren’t.

Mostly he encountered closed doors. The city had no extra cash. Foundations were already overcommitted. Wood — onetime director of ODC Theater — had no track record when it came to producing a such a large-scale event. Artists were suspicious that already-scarce funds would be siphoned off for a project that might have no room for their work. And another thing: did Wood know how to balance a budget?

He remained undeterred, largely because he had seen something happening in the Bay Area that others had noted as well, even if they hadn’t yet connected the dots. The community was supportive of young artists who were willing to put up with just about anything to get their work out — but once they got to the level where they needed decent rehearsal spaces, performers they could pay, and offices beyond their bedroom floors, the going got tough. Traditionally, local artists at this stage either called it quits or moved away. No longer.


In scouring the local arts scene, Wood noticed what he calls the advent of "journeymen" artists. He named them after the century-old tradition of skilled professionals who traveled long distances and practiced their craft wherever they were hired. Propelled by a desire for adventure and professional improvement, they also managed to support themselves, often handsomely, whether they were roofers, storytellers, or healers.

"Dancers like Janice Garrett, Kim Epifano, Scott Wells, Jess Curtis, Shinichi Iova-Koga, and Stephen Pelton work part-time in Berlin, or London, or Tokyo, or Mexico City. They create work where they are supported and bring it back," Wood explained. In addition, these artists return home with news from abroad about who is doing what, and where.

Despite his admiration for the vitality of the Bay Area arts scene, Wood recognized that "not a lot of artists come through here [on their own]. This place is insular in many ways." As one working artist told him, "You don’t need to see Merce Cunningham for the umpteenth time. You want to see something that resonates within you."

There is a huge pool of artists all over the world whose work has simply not yet hit the radar screens of local presenters. When the San Francisco International Arts Festival launched in September 2003, Wood presented the astounding Quasar Dance Company from Brazil; Indian British dancer Akram Khan (now a megastar); and Compagnie Salia nï Seydou, the first in a succession of contemporary African dance companies that have been seen here since. In 2005 (there was no 2004 festival), the festival showcased extraordinary performances from the AKHE Group (Russia); Fabrik Companie (Germany); Manasku no Kai (Japan); and — one of the wildest of them all — the Moe!kestra, from Manteca.

A focus of SFIAF has become fostering international collaborations that make local artists into journeymen citizens of the world. "We need to support artists here but they also need to realize that there are opportunities somewhere else," Wood said.

This process of cross-fertilization started in 2006 and continued in 2007, when the festival highlighted art from Latin America and the African diaspora. Since the city has yet to commit to any direct funding — Wood called local arts leadership "miserable and petty" — he has become a wizard at patching his budget together, creating cosponsorships, acting as an umbrella organization, and linking artists with individual funding sources. He also has become adept at handling the Department of Homeland Security’s onerous (and expensive) visa process for performers. "They all have visas!" he exclaimed.

A monthlong visual arts exhibit loaned SFIAF 2008 its name: "What Goes Around … The Truth in Knowing/Now." This year’s fest kicks off Wednesday, May 21, and runs until June 8, when it will be capped with a free Yerba Buena Gardens concert by the Omar Sosa Afreecanos Quartet, with local Latin percussionist John Santos.


The festival also includes operatic and theater pieces, as well as choreographers whose work might not be seen locally if not for SFIAF. For example, SFIAF enabled Idris Ackamoor, co-artistic director of Cultural Odyssey, to bring Brazilian dancer-choreographer Cristina Moura to San Francisco. "I was struck by her innovative movements," said Ackamoor, who encountered Moura while scouting for the National Performance Network’s Performing Americas Project, which he co-curated. "She moves like no one else, with a pedestrian and a highly physical vocabulary. She also has a unique way about storytelling." Moura’s solo like an idiot (2007) also resonated with him, as did the title. "Isn’t that the way we all sometimes feel?" he said, speaking of the work, which holds its California premiere at SFIAF.

Wood caught Shlomit Fundaminsky’s emblematic SkidMarks at the 2006 Dublin Fringe Festival and this year SFIAF is copresenting it with SF’s Israel Center. Speaking from Tel Aviv, Fundaminsky describes the work, a duet for herself and Gyula Csakvari, as inspired by "the home life of a man and a woman who live so close to each other — really as one person — that they lost their ability to communicate. They are creating this box for themselves and are unable to break out of it."

The Kate Foley Dance Ensemble may be familiar to Bay Area audiences because of Foley’s 10-year local performance history. In 1998 she moved to Croatia, where she is in residence at a newly constructed arts center. When Wood sent out a call for SFIAF participant proposals, John Daly of the Croatian American Cultural Center suggested her. Yet the Oakland-born Foley’s homecoming has not been without pain. "I have been so ashamed of what I have had to put my dancers through for the visa process," she said on the phone from Rijeka, Croatia. Her US premiere, Angels of Suderac, is a dance theater work using modern dance and what she calls "reconceived" folkloric material. The piece is based on her research into shamanistic practices that connect fairies and herbal medicine women.

By contrast, new to the Bay Area is the young AscenDance Project, which formed in 2006. German-born director Isabel von Rittberg joined Dancers’ Group when she moved to San Francisco, where she heard about SFIAF. The world premiere of Levitate, which combines rock climbing with dance, will be shown as part of "Jewels in the Square," a festival-spanning series of free performances in Union Square. *


May 21–June 8, various venues, most shows $20

For complete schedule, visit www.sfaif.org

Dionysian Festival


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

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

Body eclectic


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

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

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

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

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

Focus on the future


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

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

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

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

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

Dandelion Dancetheater


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

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

Classical, remixed


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

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

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


Through May 6

See Web site for schedule, $20–$265

War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness, SF

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

Sara Shelton Mann


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

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

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

Bay Area National Dance Week


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

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

CubaCaribe Festival


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

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

Super “Scales”


> a&eletters@sfbg.com

The words were sometimes garbled, but the body’s language was not. Les Écailles de la Mémoire (The Scales of Memory), a fiery collaboration between Senegal’s all-male Jant-Bi and Brooklyn’s Urban Bush Women, shouted, chanted, and danced about anger, pain, and love, always with an Africa-grounded sensibility.

It’s more than slightly ironic that the men of Jant-Bi are more familiar to Bay Area audiences than the all-female Urban Bush Women, who have uncovered African American cultural traditions for more than 20 years. Jant-Bi last appeared in San Francisco in 2005 with Fagalaa, a response to genocide. The Bush Women have not been seen here since 1990, when their Praise House illuminated a failed festival event.

The English title of Jant-Bi’s and Urban Bush Women’s gorgeously complex investigation of what people carry in their DNA is apt. Scales of Memory strips away the layers of hardness that have grown around racial pain. But it also measures, evaluates, and ultimately honors that reality. "I accept," the piece’s 14 dancers announce at the end.

The colonizing of Africa and the history of Africans in this country provide the base for Scales of Memory‘s complex exploration of subjugation and survival. The piece is brilliantly supported by Fabrice Bouillon-Laforet’s mixed score, which draws upon urban, natural, and musical compositions from various sources. The sounds enhanced Germaine Acogny and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s choreography, which is rooted in specifics but open to the world.

Scales of Memory began with the ensemble divided into small groups, each staring silently at the audience. One by one, the dancers stepped forward to shout out generations of ancestry. Though there was no overt textual narrative, the images evoked stories of communities destroyed and resurrected. The solos and ensemble dances hammered their way into our consciousness; they also drew us in with the strength — and humor — of their realization.

Both groups feature extraordinary performers who speak with an African-based dance language but use it in contemporary, individualistic ways. When the men strolled across the stage in unison, they could have stepped out of a Gene Kelly movie. But when they threw themselves into knees-to-the-sky leaps, it became clear that the ancestral ground beneath their feet was composed of clay, not concrete. The women’s big-hipped acknowledgment that they’ve got back — a Bush Women trademark — had a jazzy urban sass to it. Throughout, the dancers exuded power and self-confidence.

Nora Chipaumire, now Urban’s primary dancer, served as a bridge-building priestess figure. When she stepped forth, at first in a white ceremonial gown, she seemed to contain the levels of history and experience within Scales. But all the dancers embodied the pain of enslavement in a way that made it raw, visceral, and present. They put it on stage without any comment.

The men’s red T-shirts became gags and face-covering hoods. Seemingly exuberant male dancers became unbearable to watch once it became clear that their hands were tied behind their backs and an invisible force was beating them into dancing. The performers spread individual expressions of rage and anguish across the stage. They called up the suffering of Africa’s diaspora, then dragged themselves back into a life-giving, body-to-body circle dance similar to the one at Scales‘ beginning.

A mourner’s bench in a slave-auction scene— a seat reserved for sinners in African American church tradition — became an auction block and stirred up old shame. Chipaumire and her male partner sat on the bench and stroked their own heads. They called up body memories of the degrading examinations of physical fitness that determined a slave’s price. But the prop then transformed into one element of a gathering place. Men and women on facing benches jabbered at each other in a scene of pure comedy, one that recalls the memorable finale of Alvin Ailey’s Revelations (1960).

Strong solos balanced group sequences. Catherine Dénécy’s "I Am Who I Am" was simultaneously an attack and a celebration. The modern "Dance Hall" segment offered another form of communal celebration: women preened to comments by an off-stage male voice during its delightful opening moments. Later, a voice-over presentation of a Rumi poem was too sappy. But the ensuing dances between couples were alternately hot and heavy or tender and shy, with a feisty Chipaumire letting her partner know exactly how far he was allowed to go. Restrained or not, Scales of Memory‘s visceral heat just about melted the roof off the theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Company C


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

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

Complexions Contemporary Ballet


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

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

On the rise


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

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

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

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

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

Intercontinental Collaborations 3 — The Symmetry Project


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

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

“Cariño: Economy of the Heart”


PREVIEW There is something to be said for staying put. For one thing, you become part of a community. Anne Bluethenthal may have grown up in Greensboro, N.C. — not the easiest place when she was a kid if you were shy and Jewish — but she has been living and working in the Mission for more than 20 years. In one of her earliest pieces in San Francisco, Fish Can Sing, she paid tribute to Milly, the girl who walked away when the other kids threw stones at her. When Bluethenthal posits that the personal is political, she knows whereof she speaks. All the work she creates with Anne Bluethenthal & Dancers comes out of a deep womanly awareness of what it means to be a partner, a mother, a daughter, a friend, a female. Her collaborators, her dancers, the people who inspire her are (mostly) women — some gay, some not. Increasingly she has embraced and been embraced by women artists from non-Western cultures. Who has not embraced her are the foundations. She doesn’t fit their criteria. She is not edgy; she is not avant-garde; she is not political (in the most commonly understood way). She is outside the latest trend. Her voice is soft; her voice is quiet. But she won’t go away despite the reality that putting together shows is a constant uphill struggle. She manages because enough people believe in her work; people like Laura Elaine Ellis and Frances Sedayo, who have danced with her for years. Is Bluethenthal a "bleeding heart liberal"? You bet she is, and in Cariño: Economy of the Heart, you can count on an outpouring. "Cariño" is a term of endearment used between friends, family, and lovers. It fits.
Anne Bluethenthal & Dancers March 21-23 and March 27–29, 8 p.m. March 23, 6 p.m. Project Artaud Theatre, 450 Florida, SF. $25 (March 27, pay what you can). 1-800-838-3006, 706-9535, www.abdproductions.org, www.brownpapertickets.com.

Hot fusion


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


Thurs/20, 8 p.m., $22–$42

Zellerbach Hall

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

(510) 642-9988


Taking flight


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Even for a company as committed to keeping on the move as ODC/Dance, debuting five world premieres in two programs is pushing the envelope of what is creatively possible — not only for in-house choreographers Brenda Way and KT Nelson, but also for the performers who have to learn the stuff.

ODC’s dancers are up to the challenge. They are fast; they are athletic; and they luxuriate in their own physicality. They are gorgeous as individuals and as an ensemble. Daniel Santos speeds up a turn as if he’s being unspooled. In one second, Anne Zivolich curls up on the floor, seemingly to take a nap; in the next, she pounces into a partner’s arms. Private Freeman’s barrel turn impresses, but he’s riveting even doing something as simple as leading a snaking line of walkers. ODC’s resident poet, however, is Andrea Flores, who has a lush physicality and impeccable lines. There’s a hidden reserve about her that keeps you wondering whether she knows something you don’t.

The March 13 gala opening of "ODC/Dance Downtown" presented two of Way’s three premieres: Origins of Flight and Unintended Consequences: A Meditation, as well as Nelson’s 1998 Walk before Talk. Since Nelson has become a major company voice, it would have been good to have one of her premieres included on opening night. "Downtown"’s other premieres include Nelson’s A Walk in the Woods and Hunting and Gathering, and Way’s Life Is a House.

Set to an oddly collaged selection of music by baroque composers Arcangelo Corelli, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, and Schmelzer’s student Heinrich Biber, the high-energy Flight was an expansive, fairly inviting exploration of one of dance’s fundamental units, the duet. It reveled in the richness of the body’s expressive capability and, by implication, in the myriad ways we relate to each other. But Flight could have used some restraint. Some of the gestural decorations looked overdone, like too much lace on a frock coat.

Way started out with a basic man-woman duo (Flores and Santos) in side-by-side, front-facing unisons, adding decorative flourishes of pointing fingers and shaking shoulders. The dancing was often front-oriented with one couple downstage and three other pairs in the background. Despite Flight‘s cheerleader-ish optimism, the piece’s quiet moments were its most telling. Dancers leaned against each other back-to-back, undertook odd little walks to a plucked-string sound, and best of all, a hand caressed a calf just because it was there.

Unintended Consequences: A Meditation was dedicated to Laurie Anderson and co-commissioned by the Equal Justice Society. Of the work, Way has said, "it shines a critical light on the current state of political affairs and our inadvertent complicity in them." But she is not given to rants. Her political message, if there is one, insinuated itself into our awareness the way Zivolich, with her spiky little skirt (designed by Way), disrupted order by seduction. Anderson’s best-known piece, United States (1981), is tough competition for Way’s intermittently captivating choreography. Consequences‘ most interesting part was the nonchalance with which dancers switched from the dancerly to the pedestrian. Men engaged a partner intimately and then just dropped them without missing a beat. Once the "O Superman" section started, the dance became ever more dreamlike. People froze, their eyes covered; they danced with phantom partners. No wonder you choked for a moment when Corey Brady, who initially had silently emerged from between two futuristic pillars of light (design by Alexander V. Nichols), in the end simply dropped.

Walk before Talk is one of Nelson’s Diablo Ballet commissions. Now 10 years old, the work’s fleet-footed pairing and embrace of a skippy spaciousness, as well as the center section’s more languid lingering, have stood up well. ODC’s dancers did it proud. Yayoi Kambara, ODC’s newest "mom," flew through its musical strains with the exhilaration of a spirit ready to shoot into fresh territory.


Through March 30, check Web site for schedule


Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater

700 Howard, SF

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

Hope Mohr Dance


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

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

Shen Wei Dance Art


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

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

Bellydance Superstars


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

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

Perpetual edge


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Over Feb. 14 to 16, Yannis Adoniou and Tomi Paasonen’s oddly named offspring, Kunst-Stoff, celebrated its 10th anniversary. The company had its first performance during the dot-com bubble at what was then San Francisco’s most in venue, Brady Street Theater — where you couldn’t find a parking place but did get some of the edgiest performances in town. You wouldn’t dare miss Kunst-Stoff’s total concept theater, in which multimedia reigned to suggest high-tech, futuristic fantasies. Performers donned bubble wrap or stuffed body stockings with shape-altering balloons. Theirs was a place where design ruled and rules existed to be broken.

But then the bubble burst. That initial infusion of venture capital — which had also financed art exhibits, DJ parties, and high-powered advertising — evaporated. Brady Street was sold. Paasonen lost his visa and returned to Europe. He would contribute a work periodically, but Adoniou was pretty much left by himself to redirect the company. Actually, he wasn’t quite left alone. He still had a group of highly committed dancers who allowed him to continue looking at the intersection of design and movement.

At a dress rehearsal prior to the anniversary program — which contained three world premieres — three dancers who’ve been with the company since the beginning looked better than ever. Nicole Bonadonna, Kara Davis, and Leslie Schickel were gloriously fearless, embracing physical and emotional risks they might have been more hesitant to do a decade ago.

Even without an audience, the company (which also includes Justin Kennedy, Marina Fukushima, John Merke, Erin Kraemer, and Dwayne Worthington) was fierce. It made you realize that while dancers talk a lot about the feedback they get from spectators, they ultimately dance for themselves and one another.

Watching the dancers rehearse phrases on a naked stage in punk street clothes and Haight Street throwaways, it took me a while to realize they were wearing Jeremy Chase Sanders’s costumes for Paasonen’s Out of Hand. When they started the piece the music seemed ridiculously loud, though much of the sound would be swallowed up when the seats were full of bodies at the performance.

Paasonen has said the dark Out of Hand contrasts the debris of American foreign policy, as demonstrated on a mountain-of-rubble Berlin, with choreography based on the movement language of people around Seventh Street and Market in San Francisco. It is a grim piece about negotiating danger and keeping yourself steady. Adoniou’s imaginative solo for himself was created "in dialogue with Alonzo King" and asked some King-type questions about the meaning of the universe and one’s place in it. The choreographer took the phrase "having the rug pulled out from under you" and translated it into a meditation on balance, seeking, and letting go. Finally, the extraordinary Korean musician and performer Dohee Lee (with musician Jethro DeHart) set the ecstatic tone for Adoniou’s Un State, a paean at once to the individuality of Kunst-Stoff’s dancers and to the expressive power of the human body. It seemed an appropriate finale for a 10th-anniversary concert.

As the dancers headed for snacks and dressing rooms and Adoniou finessed a duet onstage, Paasonen, back for these shows only, talked about making dances here and in Berlin. "Berlin is very demanding, very competitive, [and] people are very territorial," he said. "This is a community."

Compañía Nacional de Danza


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

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

Robert Moses Kin’ and Black Choreographers Festival


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

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

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

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

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

75 alive


With its 75th season, which starts Jan. 29, the San Francisco Ballet — the oldest ballet company in the country — intends to show that the dance form is a thoroughly contemporary, international art.

With the exception of the lovely Giselle (created by Adolphe Adam in 1841), the entire season has been choreographed within the company’s lifetime. When it was created in 1938, Lew Christensen’s Filling Station was considered the first American ballet. Other season highlights will no doubt include the New Works Festival (April 22–May 6), with premieres by 10 choreographers in three different programs. On this anniversary, it’s worth recalling that there may be a historic reason why San Francisco ballet audiences have often embraced the new.

Carlos Carvajal, now co–artistic director of the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, danced with the SFB from 1950 to ’55 and, after a stint in Europe, worked from 1964 to ’70 as its ballet master and associate choreographer. He remembers the period as one of crowded quarters on 18th Avenue in the Richmond District — there was a hunt for theaters in which to perform because the Opera House shared space with the San Francisco Symphony at the time, and the SFB often lost out. But it was also a period of dazzling vitality.

"It was a crazy, wonderful time, with such creative energy. Not just for the dancers, but musicians and designers as well," Carvajal recently recalled. Dancers regularly choreographed for the main season. His Totentanz, for instance, premiered at the SFB in 1967 and stayed in the rep until 1972. When Carvajal left the SFB, he brought the piece to his San Francisco Dance Spectrum, where it proved to be one of the company’s most popular works. The SFB functioned almost like a modern dance company whose members were simply expected to take up choreography sooner or later.

While the company was unemployed after its annual spring season, its summer workshops, called the "Ballet ’60s" series, offered creative outlets and some touring opportunities. "We used to take the wall down between two studios and converted one of them into a place for the audience. The other was the theater," Carvajal remembered. "Somebody suggested choreographing the Kama Sutra, so I took a look and figured I could do [it]." The same year, he choreographed Voyage Interdit: A Noh Play, for which he created a tape collage. The work’s second incarnation had a live rock band and a light show. "Remember," he said, chuckling, "those were the crazy ’60s, when anything went. We didn’t care about money; we only cared about dancing." And audiences, particularly younger ones, both in towns and on the road, flocked to see what was new — and what was this thing called ballet.