Monday, September 21, 2009

When Julia Adam was a principal ballerina with San Francisco Ballet, audiences awaited her every new role with almost breathless anticipation. They asked: what will Julia be dancing? What will she open and how will she adapt the role?

Whimsical, lyrical, dramatic and witty, Adam was a musical dancer who was never content to just dance to the beats but instead filled out her assignments, whether the Ice Queen Myrtha in Giselle to Hans Van Manen’s drunken partygoer in “Black Cake,” with her large and generous personality. The Canadian-born ballet-and-modern-dance-trained ballerina is part a long but ignored tradition of brainy classical dancers capable of expounding on topics far outside of pliés, developées and pirouettes. She took on Marshall McCluhan’s communication theory when she choreographed “The Medium is the Message” in 1993 for the San Francisco Ballet’s Choreographic Workshop, where she was the only woman to join the roster of dancers to make their own work during a layoff when the ballet didn’t tour. She later gamely toyed with Newtonian physics when she choreographed “Newton: Three Laws of Motion” for the Lawrence Pech Dance Company in 1998.

High-octane, incisively crafted play is the simplest way of describing Adam’s style. She takes an idea like the three laws of motion and out of it makes a dance that is awash in an insouciant descent of apples and bodies, moving and at rest. Her beautifully shaped but misunderstood contribution to the New Works Festival, “a rose by any other name” brought an offbeat, modern humanism to the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale in which symbols and bravura deconstructions of ballet effortlessly unspooled to give the work enduring power. Next month Diablo Ballet premieres her latest venture in story dance with “The Little Prince,” the tale by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, with a cast of 30 dancers. The exquisite story is about a little prince whose home is an asteroid, B612, a distant place with three volcanoes and a rose. (Adam seems to like numbers, and clearly has a thing for roses.) And while it is inspired by a story whose first audience may be children, Adam once again constructs her tales the way all the best tales are built—for all ages, but with special poignancy for those of us old enough to understand subtexts and innuendo.

DETAILS: May 8-9, 7:30, and 2 p.m. children’s show Saturday. $18-48 (2 for 1 at 2 p.m. Saturday), Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. 925-943-SHOW or

In its continuing nod to dance classics of the 20th century, Company C Contemporary Ballet rolls out Twyla Tharps’s dreamy “Little Ballet.” This dance was made in 1983 for then director of American Ballet Theater, Mikhail Baryshnikov, whose technical prowess enabled Tharp to play luxuriously with the forms, traditions and conceits of ballet. Here, most notably, it’s the conceit of an older male choreographer finding his muse in a young ballerina. Not seen in the area for 25 years, “Little Ballet” is another in Company C’s admirable stagings, offering audiences exposure to long-shelved work and affording talented Bay Area Kevin Delaney a chance to test himself against Tharp’s diabolical combination of rigor and ease. Also on Company C’s upcoming bill are Nikolai Kabaniaev’s premiere, “Dioscures,” the witty “boink!” by San Francisco Ballet’s Val Caniparoli, and Charles Anderson’s “Akimbo.”

April 18, 2:30 and 8 p.m, $21-24, Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. 707.588.3400; May 2, 8 p.m. May 3, 2 p.m. $20-30, Cowell Theater, SF. 415.345.7575; May 15-16, 8 p.m.. $25-40, Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. 925.943.SHOW

Cal Performances gives us a dizzying array of dance as its season winds down, starting with the soap opera sudsyness of Russia’s Eifman Ballet in a modern take on “Eugene Onegin,” followed by Mark Morris Dance Company’s “L’Allegro, il Pensiroso ed il Moderato” (the joyful, the pensive and the moderate man) to Handel’s pastoral ode to poetry by John Donne, and concluding with the Bolshoi Ballet in the hauntingly beautiful 19th century “La Bayadere” (The Temple Dancer).

DETAILS: Eifman Ballet, May 1-3, 8 p.m. and 3 p.m., $36-62; Mark Morris Dance Company, May 29-31, 8p.m. and 3 p.m., $36-82; Bolshoi Ballet, June 4-7, 8 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. $50-125. Zellerbach Hall, Bancroft Way. 510-642-9988.

And finally, if you care about dance originals and have yet to feast your eyes on one, Anna Halprin, now 89 and as vivacious as a fiery 50-year-old, is staging her latest creation, “Spirit of Place” at the beloved Stern Grove Concert Meadow, designed by Halprin’s renowned landscape architect husband, Lawrence Halprin. Few living couples have changed their respective fields as much as these two have. Anna Halprin digested the lessons of the Bauhaus and brought deep experimentation and play to dance, becoming the inspiration behind postmodern dance, while Larry Halprin took the Bauhaus ideas of democracy and simplicity and invested them in the contour of the landscape, where nature and civilization engage in a lusty and complex dialogue. In two performances on one day, Halprin and her cast of over 50 movers will embody ideas about the human form in conversation with nature and place. Or, as Larry Halprin put it, they will attempt to “create a mystical place where one would be inspired to reach into oneself."

May 3, 11:30 pm and 2 p.m., FREE, Sigmund Stern Grove, 19th Ave. and Sloat Blvd., San Francisco. 415.252.6252 ,


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