Friday, February 20, 2009

spring fever

Almonds and cherries, magnolias and hardenbergia, cyclamen, tulips, lilies and roses are in bloom again. The plant world is heating up and, with dance fairly dormant during the winter, so is the dance scene. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' Novellus Theater appears to be leading the profusion, hosting one-night-only appearances, new companies from far-flung continents and artists from another part of the state.

This weekend, for example, the YBCA curators continue their recent exploration of contemporary Japanese dance, training the spotlight on Hiroshi Koike's dance-theater company, Pappa Tarahumara, in "Ship in a View." The work, combining dance-theater spectacle with formalist abstraction, centers around a facsimile of a ship that traverses the stage during the evening, carrying dancers as it moves from a 1960s townscape to a mysterious, silvery future.
On March 3, French conceptualist Jerome Bel makes a single appearance on stage with Thai dancer Pichet Klunchun, together blurring the boundaries of formal presentation, casual inquiry and cross-cultural exploration as each attempts to understand how the other one dances.

Then, from March 5 to 7, David Rousseve, professor in UCLA's Department of World Arts and Cultures as well as artistic director of David Rousseve/Reality, presents "Saudade" (meaning "yearning" in Portuguese), described by one reviewer as a "sprawling, chaotic patchwork of cultures, stories and dance forms." Rousseve toys with time and place and character in an effort to capture our contemporary condition.

Details: 8 p.m. today and Saturday, March 3 and 5-7, Novellus Theater, 700 Howard St., at Third Street; $15-$30; 415-978-2787,

ODC's spring

When ODC launches its bountiful spring season at the Novellus Theater for two weeks, co-directors Brenda Way and KT Nelson will deliver up new works and a rash of poignant and sensual rep pieces. In Program 1, Nelson presents her latest, "Grassland," with live music to a commissioned score by Brazilian pianist Marcelo Sarvos. In Program 2, Way gives us "In the Memory of the Forest," a work about her fearless mother-in-law, Iza Erlich, who walked out of Warsaw in 1940, as the Nazis were walling up the ghetto, and went east in search of her husband. (The choreographer has enlisted David and Ha-Jin Hodge to create video, Jay Cloidt, who uses some of Erlich's narration, to create a sound score, and Elaine Buckholtz for lighting design.)
The company also reprises an array of its deeply humanist dances, including Way's 2008 "Unintended Consequences: A Meditation" and Nelson's sexy, energy-packed "They've Lost Their Footing."
Details: ODC Dancing Downtown, 7, 8, 8:30 and 2 p.m. March 12-29, Novellus Theater, 700 Howard St., at Third Street; $15-45: 415-978-2787,

SF Ballet's 'Swan'

Reimagining ballet classics for our time, San Francisco Ballet's Helgi Tomasson floats a new "Swan Lake," his second since he took the company's helm in 1985. "Ballet at its most beautiful," Tomasson has called this fairy-tale dance, and who could disagree? In "Swan Lake," story serves poetry; the steps themselves are what's truly sublime, telling a story through the body steeped in the heartaches of 19th-century Romanticism. While Tomasson says he has chopped some dances that might strike us as comparable to overstuffed furniture in a modernist palace, he promises to leave the iconic dances alone.
Details: San Francisco Ballet, Saturday through March 1; 8 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Feb. 27 and 28, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 2 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays, War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., at Grove Street; $20-$255; 415-865-2000,

More Hope

Bay Area native Hope Mohr, who has danced in New York with Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs and Douglas Dunn, among others, presents her fluid dances at Theatre Artaud next weekend in her company's second season in San Francisco. The Stanford grad and recent mother plumbs space, the environment, and the listening body.
Details: 8 p.m. Thursday through Feb. 28, Project Artaud Theater (formerly Theater Artaud), 450 Florida St., San Francisco; $18; 415-626-4370, 800-838-3006,

Alvin Ailey company at 50

Decades ago, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, with Judith Jamison, arrived at my suburban high school for a residency. It was at the point in my nascent dance life when the Ailey was the alpha and the omega. It was not just a dance institution but an embodiment of a different way of life — integrated, streetwise, devoted and beautiful. During their stay I prowled the edges of the company, chauffeuring around three dancers in my parents' old Impala. I drove in mute adoration as these divine beings chatted about nothing.

Then there was Jamison herself. The goddess, about 6 feet tall, had one of the most supple backs in the field, and she rolled her furious head as though it were a ball spinning freely on a flexible pole, blending Africa, the blues and youth culture in a glorious profusion of movement. It caused a hall of affluent Puritans to leap to their feet stomping and singing — the spirit seizing them as it, perhaps, had never seized them before. That night I experienced the transcendent power of art in a high school auditorium.

Jamison left the company in 1980 but reappeared as the artistic director in 1989 when Ailey died, as he had wanted her to. With the same kind of feline majesty and moral clarity she manifested on stage, she set about the task of reanimating Ailey's vision, turning a troupe that had lost itself in the wilderness for a while into a company that has been treating dance as a celebration of life for 20 years.

For its 50th anniversary, that devotion manifests in a number of ways. One is in its two West Coast premieres, a collaboration with the glorious vocal ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock on March 3-4 in dancer Hope Boykin's "Go in Grace." The other in Mauro Bigonzetti's "Festa Barocca," to music by Handel. It also comes through in Jamison's tribute to the past in Program B, with its range of Ailey work from "Blues Suite" and "Lark Ascending" to "Hidden Rites" and "For Bird—With Love." Jamison retires in two years. One wishes the best for AAADT after she's gone, but don't miss it now.

Details: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, 8 p.m. (with 2 and 3 p.m. matinees) March 3-8, Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley, Bancroft Way; $36-$62; 510-642-9988,

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