Monday, September 21, 2009

in a blue tango with jules feiffer

viva la revolution

(I've left in a few phrases the editors removed--the ones that plant Morris in dance history but mean little to non-dance folks. quel dommage!)

Choreographer Mark Morris has never worn his politics on his sleeve. He hasn’t had to. Decades ago he established himself as a late baby-boomer choreographer who loves music to distraction and built not merely a dance company but a village whose residents stay with him for years and years. His life itself was political.

Now, in a program Thursday night at Cal Performance’s Zellerbach Hall, (continuing through the weekend), politics comes into sharp if quiet focus, signaling that Morris has evolved into a mature, often disquieted artist who sees the inextricable link between tragedy, pleasure, chaos, beauty and the political state.

While Morris has always cared about society, and has a deeply humanist point of view, it is only in the last half dozen years that he has become increasingly eloquent about the enduring values of a Republic. In this current program he meets us with both images of sweet, balanced society and of stirring visions of unhappiness, war and death. Iraq is never far from consciousness, nor are all the follies of the war makers and their war machines, not to mention internal extremists and the rabble.

In the night’s most stirring piece, “Empire Gardens,” with deliciously bright parade costumes by Elizabeth Kurtzman, Morris does what he does best—draws from early modern dance to interpret contemporary conditions, the way a modern musician might take a phrase of an old master and reconfigure it.

Set to the dissonant, multi-layered Trio for piano, violin and cello by Charles Ives, played brilliantly in the pit by Michi Wiancko, Wolfram Koessel and Colin Fowler, Morris dresses the corps in whimsical military stripes, moves them in angular semaphoric patterns, and evokes early German modern dance, military bandstands and commedia dell’arte all at the same time.

Like Ives who layers melodies and dissonant tonalities, including snippets of “Rock of Ages,” Morris is fearless in knitting together disparate elements—an Edvard Much scream and a Martha Graham frontier tableau; marching action and the mechanical style of Oskar Schlemmer. In the sheer jumble of conflicting impulses both aurally and visually, he presents a portrait of a childish, silly, but destructive brood unable to see their own folly.

“V,” choreographed to Schumann’s Quintet in E Flat Major for piano and string, which closed the evening, has some similarly arresting visuals, especially when the dancers scrabble along the ground like athletes/beasts/soldiers trying to escape the battlefield while elegantly attired in deep blue shorts and sexy hopi coats

Avian formations abound, and flocking V patterns appear and reappear, as do beautiful couplings between the dancers dressed in white pants and tops and those clad in blue. As Schumann veers from the elegiac to the funereal and back, Morris follows; late into the piece, Morris seems to run on automatic, his ideas thinning before Schumann’s music runs out.

“Visitation” set to Beethoven’s soul-searching Cello Sonata No. 4 in C Major began the evening. Here Morris offers up another, quieter dance of loss and attachment populated by ghosts and memories in which partners are sucked away from one another as by a soft gravitational pull. From loss and dream of loss, the figures repeatedly assert a heroic response, one leg angled over the other, hands together on a hip as Beethoven lets the French song of revolution, the "Marseillaise," leak into the flow.

The company danced like a democratic tribe, moving with unaffected athleticism and joy, embodying through their attack, their commitment and their joy the humanism Morris so deeply prizes.

morning becomes eclectic

May/June preview

Eclectic best describes the dance that will be hitting the theaters in the upcoming month. The other word that comes to mind is profusion—so much is going on in between now and the end of June and so much of it is intriguing that it’s easy to see how a dance lover might yearn to double (or even triple-book) a Friday or Saturday evening. Fortunately or unfortunately, the limitations of the space/time continuum--not to mention city traffic and grumpy ushers--mean that most of us are subject to the one-night-one-dance limit. There is, however, no reason not to pack in several dance concerts a week.

For those of you who love your dance big, cheeky, humane and, ultimately, married to the music, you won’t want to miss the tribute to outgoing Director of Cal Performances Robert Cole, when Cal Performances winds down its 09 season with a bang--Mark Morris’ choreographic Big Bang, to be precise—L’Allegro, il Penseroso, ed il Moderato (The Cheerful, the Pensive and the Moderate).

This is a dance of ardent invention and charm set to, even, some would say, illustrating George Frederick Handel’s oratorio L’Allegro and created at the Theatre Royal de la Monnaie in Belgium where the Mark Morris Dance Group was in residence from 1988 to 1991. As an elegant, indefatigable, and often bawdy music-driven pageant on states of being, it includes 24 dancers, singers from the UC Berkley Chamber Chorus and the glorious Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra.

L’Allegro is not only a capo lavoro for the dance maker but is also a winning tribute to Cole, who recognized Morris’ talent in the late 1980s and worked diligently over the ensuing years to bring the choreographer to the East Bay again and again. The partnership has paid off for Cal Performances, and also for Morris, who has found a welcome home in the East and West Bay and a world of top-flight musical talent here, from the late Lou Harrison to John Adams and the musicians of the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra.
DETAILS: 8 p.m. May 29-30, 3 p.m. May 31, Zellerbach Hall, Bancroft Way, Berkeley. $36-82. 510-642-9988.

Big goes not only for MMDG but for the Bolshoi, who appear the following weekend at Zellerbach Hall. The ballet company’s name means “big” or “grand” and the Bolshoi the first weekend in June is doing the big, little-seen La Bayadere by Marius Petipa, an exquisite ballet of classicism and exotica with some of the most spellbinding ensemble work in the dance canon. And music being Cole’s first love, the Berkeley Symphony will be in the pit playing the score by Ludwig Minkus.

DETAILS: 8 p.m. June 4-6, 2 p.m. June 6-7, Zellerbach Hall, Bancroft Way, Berkeley. $50-125. 510-642-9988.

There is a tiny space on Howard Street in San Francisco that is one of the latest fringe dance spaces to emerge. It calls itself The Garage, and on May 17th it presents one night of sublime conceptual art improvisation in a program called “The Absence of Sequential Thought” by Non Fiction, so named because everything they do they do from life in the moment on stage. The group includes former Trisha Brown dancer Shelley Senter, who moves like water, conceptual artist and dancer Andrew Waas, and dancers Kelly Dalrymple-Waas, Adam Venker and Rosemary Hannon, with sound and video by Jerry Smith.

DETAILS: 8 p.m. May 17, The Garage, 875 Howard St. at 6th St. $10. 415-885-4006

After decades, you can still hear patrons of San Francisco Ballet grumble that the Smuin days were ever so much better than the SFB fare of today. I wonder if they know that Smuin Ballet lives on? If they’re serious and want to stop grousing, they should get themselves over to Walnut Creek or San Francisco to see what Cecile Fushille, Director, and Amy Siewert, Choreographer-in-Residence, are building for the company in Michael Smuin’s honor, and how they are keeping the showman’s flame burning. This season, the company premieres a work by Smuin and another by ballet maker Trey McIntyre.

DETAILS: 8 p.m. May 15-16, 2 p.m. May 16-17, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 3rd and Howard, SF. $18-55. 415.978.ARTS (2787)

8 p.m. May 22-23, 2 p.m. May 23-24. Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek, $40-55. 925.943.SHOW (7469)

We see far too little of Brooklyn-based Ronald K. Brown in the Bay Area, a choreographer who has pushed the dance vocabulary of the African diaspora to a new level of meaning and purpose on stage. This month he moves into performance art as he collaborates with nothing less than Nick Cave’s sound suit installation at the Yerba Buena Cener for the Arts galleries. Sound, costume and movement become one in this exciting experiment.

DETAILS: 7 p.m. May 28; 3 p.m. May 30-31, YBCA Galleries, 3rd and Mission, SF. FREE with Gallery admission.

The San Francisco International Arts Festival this year hosts German dance theater maker Sasha Waltz, who employs the flat visual style of television, the theatrics of stage, and the physicality of late 20th century dance to create often disturbing dancescapes. Sasha Waltz and Friends restage her “Travelogue I—Twenty to eight” about five combative roommates, a quintet you hope never to have to live among.

DETAILS: 8 p.m. May 27, 6 p.m. May 28, Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center, SF. $20. 415-399-9554.

Contra Costa Ballet, scaling nothing back no matter what the national trends or economic indicators are, is mounting Swan Lake, a new, two-hour production under the direction of school founders and renowned dancers Richard Cammack and Zola Dishong. What better way to give a youth company a demanding forum to test and hone their skills and a platform to mix with seasoned professionals? Wall Street could learn something from such humility and daring.

DETAILS: 8 p.m. May 29 and 2 p.m. May 30, Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. $30-20. 925-943-SHOW.

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 ,

Sunday, September 20, 2009

marvelling at andrew

To His Coy Mistress

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love's day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time's wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.