Tuesday, July 27, 2010

SF International Arts Festival

In Step: Two huge festivals bring innovative dance to San Francisco
By Ann Murphy
Contra Costa Times Correspondent
Posted: 05/24/2010 05:00:43 PM PDT
Updated: 05/26/2010 10:43:13 AM PDT

When the dance community first heard that arts curator Andrew Wood was laying big plans for a summer arts festival in San Francisco eight years ago, there was an audible sigh of relief. Someone finally had read the collective mind: if every provincial European town, from the exquisite Rovereto in Northern Italy to the stark white palaces of Avignon in the south of France, could mount important summer festivals, why couldn't San Francisco?
But mounting an arts festival is a massive undertaking, even in prosperous times. When the economy tanks, it seems either fatally naive or wonderfully visionary.

Now entering his seventh festival year, Wood is closer to the upbeat visionary, although his hyperactive, lanky frame and mile-a-minute patter exemplify a man hard at work to keep the dream alive. Wood believes if he juxtaposes local and nonlocal American artists with groups from outside the United States, we might see our own artists in fresh ways while being exposed to new material. And being placed in context with work from other countries gives local performers a chance to expand their own sense of the possible.

"Most of our audiences are artists who have told us that they don't need to see the Merce Cunningham Company for the 30th time," Wood said by phone. "They need to see something new, to see companies that perhaps haven't figured out the answers but are asking the same questions."

To that end, the San Francisco International Arts Festival plucks work from what Wood describes as "a whole world" of performance around the globe. It showcases some of it alone or puts it in collaboration with experienced local or U.S. artists to create new, provocative fusions. And each year the festival is able to build off the experiments of the year before, with the result that it celebrates Northern California's regional cultural diversity and nurtures cross-cultural and cross-genre experimentation that prods performance out of customary forms. This kind of daring isn't always successful, but no one can say it isn't exciting.

One of the more intriguing offerings this year is the genre-bending France-based company run by Vietnamese-French circus performer Xavier Kim. He brings his A.K.Y.S. (Always Keep Your Smile) troupe to Fort Mason this weekend to acrobatically tell the story of independent contractors roped to the high-tech industry.

Butoh with poetry
Another is a complex collaboration Thursday through Sunday between butoh dance master Ko Murobushi and local hybrid poet-performer Shinichi Iova-Koga, which aims to reach into our dream states.
Their premiere, "The Crazy Cloud Collection," combines Dada-like play and the curious paradoxes of butoh in an investigation of what they describe as the collision of a 15th-century monk's encounter with modernity.
DETAILS: May 28-29, 8 p.m., May 30, 5 p.m., $20 (advance), $25. Z Space at Theater Artaud, 450 Florida St., S.F.

On Saturday and Sunday, the SFIAF presents local ballet talent Amy Seiwert and Frederick Weiss of Nuremburg, Germany, whose video motion-sensing technology, im'ij're (imagery), enables Seiwert and her company to explore what it means to cancel differences in a new work titled "White Noise."
DETAILS: May 29, 9 p.m., May 30, 7 p.m., $25 (reserved), $20 in advance. Herbst Pavilion, Fort Mason Center S.F.

A birth dance
Company Prototype Status takes technology somewhere very different in "Marvin (biomechanical birth of an android)." Choreographed by Jasmine Morand and performed by David N. Russo, "Marvin" is a 35-minute birth dance of an artificially intelligent android with a name that means "friend of the sea."

DETAILS: May 28, 9 p.m., May 29, 7 p.m., May 30, 4 p.m. $20 (advance), $25 general. Z Space at Theater Artaud, 450 Florida St., S.F.

A dozen other events run concurrently this weekend, from a performed improvisation by maverick Keith Hennessey to a performance of ancient and contemporary Chinese music by renowned guqin (a 7-stringed zither) player Wang Fei. For tickets to all the above events and complete festival details, call 800-838-3006 or visit www.sfiaf.org.
Cultures on display

As soon as the SFIAF packs its bags, the granddaddy of local dance festivals, the Ethnic Dance Festival, swings into action. Where the artists of the SFIAF draw inspiration from varied cultures and blend them in novel ways, the Ethnic Dance Festival showcases the dances of the cultures themselves, whether in their evolving, immigrant form or as indigenous art brought by newcomers to the United States.
Beginning June 5 and running each weekend throughout the month, the festival showcases Korean, Hawaiian, Indian, African, Uzbeki, Mexican, Chinese, Cambodian, Bolivian, Puerto Rican and Transylvanian dances, among many other dance forms, in what has become a world-renowned display of both the enduring nature of dance culture and its shapeshifting character over time.

Each show presents a succession of relatively short works, arranged in serious, variety-show fashion, not only keeping audiences engaged, but allowing us to see the common links between radically different ways of moving.

DETAILS: June 5-6, 12-13, 19-20, 26-27, Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m., Sun at 2 p.m., $22-$44, Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, 3301 Lyons St., S.F. 415-567-6642, www.worldartswest.org.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

an old review that's still news

The lives they lived: new biographies of Halprin, Farber, and Kirstein

Anna Halprin: Experience as Dance
By Janice Ross. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. 2007. 462 pp., illustrated. $34.95.
Dance Magazine, Oct, 2007

In 1959 when Hawaii and Alaska finally became states, the center of the United States shifted 464 miles toward the Pacific. With the arrival of Janice Ross' beautifully researched biography, Anna Halprin: Experience as Dance, it's time for modern dance to do the same: give the midpoint of the avant-garde dance continent a big shove westward.

With a tone of persuasive poise, Ross builds a strong case for Anna Halprin as one of the most potent if underrecognized catalysts in dance since the '50s. It's an influence that is more often felt than noted. In part that's because Halprin has done most of her work north of San Francisco in outdoor spaces, like her famous "dance deck" at her home on Mt. Tamalpais. But it's also the result of the fact that Halprin is an artist of context and process, not product.

Three forces helped to shape the young dancer. First came educator Margaret H'Doubler who, at the University of Wisconsin where Halprin studied, established kinesiology as the foundation for discovering and developing movement. Next were the artists of the Bauhaus in exile at Harvard University's School of Design. They infused Halprin and her husband, Lawrence, the renowned landscape architect, with a love of modernism's functional promise and a hunger for new egalitarian paradigms for life and art. Finally, there's Larry Halprin himself, who participated with his wife in forging an existence in which art and family intertwined.

While Halprin has only a few works in her oeuvre that are regarded as masterworks (Parades and Changes, most notably, is one), her genius, Ross suggests, lies in her ability to absorb social and intellectual experimentation and transform them into dance ideas. In the '60s she took her works to the East Coast and shook up tradition with nudity and Gestalt process. In the '70s she began to explore ritual. In the '80s and '90s, she pioneered movement for healing, dances for the earth, and dances for dying.

For decades, Halprin has sown seeds of change and enlarged the boundaries of dance. In the early 1960s, she introduced some of the soon-to-be Judson Dance Theater innovators (Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown, Simone Forti) to improvisation, task movement, environmental dance, and freewheeling organic exploration of body states. And thanks to her defiance of the status quo, dance today includes movement previously not considered dance and people previously not considered dancers.--Ann Murphy

Maqoma's Magic

Dancer Gregory Maqoma, one of South Africa's leading choreographers, was cloaked in darkness in the soaring Forum Space at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Thursday evening when he took his place upstage at the opening of "Beautiful Me," a virtuosic solo performance about the search for identity that continues at 8 tonight. Four fine percussion and string musicians collaborating with the Johannesburg-based performer sat bathed in warm light upstage.

Slowly, Maqoma appeared in a narrow spotlight and began to talk as he moved toward the audience, flicking his fingers, flexing his hands and unleashing an array of Ping-Pong ball sounds from one of the click languages of South Africa. None of the words or clacks was comprehensible; not even his vocal tones let us in on what he was saying.

And in a sense, that became the central point and the true power of this compact evening of mesmerizing dancing. During most of the 55 minutes, Maqoma's ironic spoken words, even in English, were trumped by his sweet physical embodiment of movement traditions and fusions. While he enumerated a growing list of corrupt government officials and apartheid rulers who have riddled the continent with horror and violence, the names quickly drifted off like flotsam on a river of history. When he called on the ancestors, they, by contrast, seemed to channel centuries of African culture through him in timeless and beautiful body wisdom.

And what a clear channel he was, too. Maqoma's body spoke in a rich play of movement derived, in part, from the input of three distinct and highly accomplished fellow artists: contemporary Indian Kathak choreographer Akram Khan, political dance/theater creator Faustin Linyekula and Afro-fusion choreographer Vincent Mantsoe. But it was Maqoma's unifying spirit that brought coherence to what in other hands might have been a disparate mash-up of ideas.

When it came to African steps, Maqoma performed almost with an air of ritual, as though he were enacting what had been bequeathed to him rather than what best reflected his identity. His horizontally propelled steps conjured ancient ritual dance, while the isolations of the pelvis or the Africanized electric slide communicated pure late-20th-century reinvented dance steps.

Where Maqoma seemed most at home was in his lush Kathak stomping, to which he returned again and again. It had all the percussive clarity one would expect from a fine Indian master, as well as something more—earthy strength unafraid of softness and wit. What wasn't clear was whether this represented Africa's influence on Indian tradition or just the gentleness of Maqoma shining through.

Maqoma initially promised exotic stories — "I am an African dancer. I tell exotic stories to survive." The suggestion in such powerful rhetoric was that his very presence at YBCA was a form of African minstrelsy, but Maqoma couldn't make the idea stick, even briefly. "Beautiful Me" was the dance of a man who clearly knows who he is and wants to share it, exotic stories not included.

reprinted by permission
originally published in the
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 11/06/2009 09:27:06 AM PST