Yearly Archives: 2015

Diverting ‘Nutcracker’ at Spreckels

nutcracker-2-1414125Review of The Nutcracker
Santa Rosa Dance Theatre
with Santa Rosa Youth Ballet Company
Sonoma County Philharmonic
with Norman Gamboa
Directed and Choreographed by Tamara Statkoun

For tickets / schedule :
Spreckels Performing Arts Center

RUN: December 18-20, 2015
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(December 19, 2015)

This beloved holiday tradition was inspired by an E.T.A. Hoffmann story and has been performed since 1892, coming to the United States through San Francisco Ballet in 1944. Santa Rosa Dance Theater and the Sonoma County Philharmonic present this colorful production that is quite good for a small ballet company. The costuming is tasteful yet beautiful, accenting what most of the children in the audience came to see—ballerinas. For example, the Mouse Queen (Siena Warnert), rather than being a frightening figure, appears in a gray tutu with a variation reminiscent of Balanchine choreography, with rapid grands battements. There is a definite stylistic choice of a tutu that is a combination of a shortened romantic and drooping classical which ties the production together while delighting children in the audience.

The Party Scene of Act 1 is set in an idealized Regency era with luscious high-waisted velvet gowns and elegant sweeping choreography for the adults. While not the most innovative depiction, it hits all the right notes and is a flawless classic rendering of Act 1. There were a few costuming details that could have been tighter; one of the party guests had knotted her shoes, rather than sewing the elastics. That is fine for rehearsal, but a trifle sloppy for a performance. Clara (Ella Feleay) is a beautiful dancer, confident on pointe and cheerful toward the audience. Her acting is believable, and drew the story along with alactrity.

The Battle Scene transition is splendid; adding a feminine touch to the mice works well. The battle itself concentrates on the Mouse Queen and Nutcracker (Cameron Lasater) in a cleverly choreographed showdown that is one of the best I have seen in a Nutcracker production. The Snow Scene showcases Theo Bridant’s set designs to advantage. Trees are given in brushstroke patterns, mingling with Spreckels’ projection system without overusing the technology. The Snow Queen (Catherine Liang) has a strong stage presence, but needs to improve her extensions all the way through her feet. If she can nurture her technique to match the presence she has, Liang will be a force to be reckoned with.

Act 2 uses the traditional divertissements and opens with a shimmering golden angel dance that sets the tone. While the Spanish Cocoa needed more passion to it, the Arabian Delight made up for it with stunning choreography by Joshua Trader. The sinuous music is used to form shapes and gliding patterns with supple dancing from Catherine Liang and Charbel Rohayem. The Russian Tea Cakes was trying to emulate the danse des petits cygnes from Swan Lake, but the skill level of the dancers was not up to it. The costumes were adorable, and the dancers tried their best to add enthusiasm. The Waltz of the Flowers was lovely and relied on classic choreography that is safe and well loved by the audience, ending in an opening bloom. Princess Clara (Stephanie Burns) and the Nutcracker Price show excellent partnering skills. In the variations, Clara’s fouettees are accomplished, and the Prince shows admirable poise and ballon, although his pirouettes à la seconde could use improvement.

One of the treats of this production is that there is a live orchestra, which both augments and distracts from the dancing. When the musicians were at their best, such as during the Snow Scene, the collaboration was marvelous, but the Philharmonic was not consistent in quality, perhaps due to lack of rehearsal.

Overall this is a quality local production, with excellent plot foreshadowing and acting as well as elegant costuming and talented student dancers. I would recommend it for an entertaining evening to bring children to or enjoy the holiday tradition with friends.

Raven Players Lasso the Moon

Review of It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play
By Joe Landry
Directed by Sylvia Jones
For tickets / schedule :
Raven Theater, Windsor

RUN: December 4-20, 2015
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(December 11, 2015)

Life_castcolor 5in

Photo by Ray Mabry

Premiering in 1996 at Stamford Center for the Arts, the play is set in 1946 at a radio studio. What I found innovative was the lack of fourth wall in the production. The sound check was part of the play, and intermission saw the cast interacting as if on a break at the studio, pulling out 1940s magazines to peruse while they waited. For those of my generation, the world of radio drama moved to podcasting, and audio is mixed in post-production with effects added later, pulled from vast internet archives of sound. That was not the case with early radio drama, which relied on instant mixing, such as walking over corn flakes to simulate the sound of snow footsteps. Watching a meticulously attired young lady vigorously pumping a toilet plunger to sound like an icy river is an eye opener for those of us who grew up looking at tracks in Audacity when creating audio drama productions.

This play is riveting from the sheer amount of interaction between characters, since there are two plays happening simultaneously—It’s a Wonderful Life on one hand, and the radio studio on the other. The result is a light hearted version of the tale, with plenty of laughs, while preserving the passionate joy and sorrow of the original story.

Life_2color 5in

Photo by Ray Mabry

The core message of It’s a Wonderful Life is relevant today; each person has meaning, and without them a gaping hole is left in the world. In the San Francisco Bay area, where the average middle class household cannot afford to buy a house of any size, the Savings and Loan crisis is especially meaningful, and its survival bitter sweet. The play is not heavy-hearted, despite the subject matter. Those of us who listen to old radio plays on a regular basis will find the faux advertisements complete with ridiculous jingles quite hilarious in their delicious accuracy. If you have not had the pleasure of hearing any old fashioned radio drama, I recommend looking up Escape, Bold Venture and X Minus One to get started.

Life_Clarence 5in

Photo by Ray Mabry

The cast has quite the challenge, since they are actors portraying actors portraying a wide range of characters. Gregory Skopp as Freddie Filmore astounds with his lightning fast switches between voices and a radio show host whose pompous attitude defies measurement. Matt Farrell stumbles on stage as Harry Heywood, the rather inebriated actor attempting to portray Clarence. He passes out partway through, ignored by his fellow radio actors, who continue their knitting as if nothing had happened. Angela Squire as Lana Sherwood takes her golden age Hollywood starlet act quite seriously, slinking and posing her way through the story.

With this production there are two plays for the price of one, as it were. The radio studio aspect is a fantastic comedy, and their It’s a Wonderful Life is moving and heartfelt. When looking for the perfect holiday play this December, stop by the Raven Theater in Windsor. It’s a Wonderful Life: A Life Radio Play is captivating and fun, infused with genuine holiday spirit.

Haunting Evening of Dance at Sonoma State University

Review of Fall Dance Concert: Heart & Soul
Directed by Nichele Van Portfleet
Sonoma State University Department of Theatre Arts & Dance
Evert. B Person Theatre

RUN: December 3-6, 2015
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

December 4, 2015

This is a performance of mixed dance styles that are choreographed and performed by students of Sonoma State University, and is a delightful evening for dance enthusiasts.


Photo by David Papas

5 of 5 stars
Choreography by: Maddie Watson in collaboration with the dancers
Music: Son Lux, Zoe Keating

An atmospheric piece of deep longing undermined by fear, Lit exposes the entire stage, including the wings, lit by strung lights high out of reach, a glow that is near enough to see but not experience. There is an emphasis on the feet pointing and flexing, breaking the otherwise lyrical quality of the piece, layering on its message. The costuming is a stunning array of ink splashed flowing gowns.

The Art of Expression
3.5 of 5 stars
Choreography by Peter A in collaboration with the dancers
Music: The XX, Bironnex, 6ix Toys, Naruto OST

Merging Eastern and Western sensibilities in an angular array of geometric lighting design by Mark Wilson, the piece is primarily mimed. It feels experimental, using video clips of Bruce Lee book-ending the action, and moves suddenly between extreme emotions, well executed by the dancers.

Empty and Marvelous
3 of 5 stars
Choreography by James DeSoto
Music: Mark McKinney, James DeSoto, voice of Fina Wheeler

This modest piece is simple, accompanied by live drummers. The dancers use natural percussion to add detail to the soundscape, such as slapping feet on the floor. It evokes the Flower Child movement of the 1960s, with colored skirts and free-flowing hair, whirling in circles. The dance is interesting, but lacking a spark to it.

Hysteria: A Portrait of “Insanity”
3 of 5 stars
Choreography by Stephanie DeGroote
Music: Midnight Syndicate, Emilie Autumn

It is clear that research went into this piece. I have visited Victorian insane asylums that have been turned into museums, and what went on was rather disturbing, particularly since men could commit women simply because they wished to be rid of them. While I admire the sentiment, the dance is rather heavy handed with the subject matter. Costuming and makeup are excellent, and the use of stillness juxtaposed with terrified jerking movement quite ominous, but it does not have much emotional impact, because the choreography strays toward farce too easily. The choice of music is perfect for the extreme depiction of an asylum, featuring Emilie Autumn’s Take the Pill to great effect.


Photo by David Papas

4 of 5 stars
Choreography: Katy Lohse in collaboration with the dancers
Music: Safia

This is the most unique piece of the evening, using exaggerated shadows similar to Fred Astaire in Swing Time’s famous piece. The dancers are costumed identically in black page boy wigs, with expressionless doll-like movements that reminded me of Leeloo in The Fifth Element. The dancing is excellent, keeping to small staccato movements in a fascinating piece.

For Example
5 of 5 stars
Choreography: Hannah Ingwerson in collaboration with the dancers
Music: Ólafur Arnalds

Post-apocalyptic styling creates an earthy grounded scene, accompanied by lyrical piano that melts the heart. The dancers embody broken suffering survivors of trauma, quietly creating the message that Hysteria tried to convey. This piece is truly moving, almost bringing me to tears. It is worth attending the performance to see.

3 of 5 stars
Choreography: Jasen Valdez
Music: Johnny Stimson, Chance The Rapper, Lil B, Beyoncé, Omarion

This is a quilt of various music and dance styles, but its execution is a bit sloppy and does not have enough of a thread to keep it feeling like a completed piece. The iPhone projected throughout is certainly relevant to modern times, but I’m not sure what it did to accompany the dance, it felt like more of a distraction. There is a lot going on with this dance, and pieces of it were well done, but it does not feel fully realized as a unit.

3.5 of 5 stars
Choreography: Farrah McAdam in collaboration with the dancers
Music: Ólafur Arnalds

Layered on monotone music, this energetic dance features lovely extension lines, and must have been a challenge to the stamina of the performers. It keeps a level of high animation throughout, and is quite floor based, using levels to advantage. There is unfortunately little substance to the piece—it was pretty to watch, but the dancing is not of a high level of accomplishment, and the choreography somewhat repetitive without having a clear theme.

Hey Ladies
3 of 5 stars
Choreography: Brenda Lopez
Music: Alicia Keys, Missy Elliot, Eminem (DJ), Sia, Major Lazor, Rihanna

Grrl power explodes onstage in a splashy dance with bold lighting and showy choreography. While it radiates attitude, there isn’t enough powerful dancing backing it up, and the movement does not fully utilize the dynamic music.

The World Enders
4 of 5 stars
Choreography: Christina Kitchen
Music: Unknown

Femme fatales invade with deadly elegance in a strongly Noir piece. The opening is entirely in dramatic silhouettes—it is like watching the opening credits to a James Bond movie live on stage. If Audrey Hepburn turned bad girl in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, this would be the result.

Study Break
5 of 5 stars
Choreography: Take 5
Music: Lea Salonga, Corbin Bleu, Lucas Grabeel, Alan Menken, The Cheetah Girls

Using props can be difficult, but they are handled with alacrity in this fabulous comedic piece. It weaves between popular music, from umbrella toting Disney princesses, played to hilarious effect by male dancers, to I Don’t Dance while balancing on top of a couch wielding a baseball bat. It is extremely clever, even utilizing the stage manager in a cameo appearance, with fascinating and varied movement. This is parody dancing at its best.

The performance concludes with a lively coda, interweaving elements of choreography from the pieces of the evening in an entertaining manner. Sonoma State’s Fall Dance Concert is dynamic and diverse with strong performing skills among the dancers.

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