Monthly Archives: February 2017

Riveting Artistry in ‘Program 2: Modern Masters’

Program 2: Modern Masters
Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson
For tickets & schedule:

San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA

RUN: January 26 – February 5, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

February 5, 2017

Playful lyricism becomes stark staccato in this diverse program from San Francisco Ballet featuring a world premiere by Yuri Possokhov, “Optimistic Tragedy”. Presented in the opulent War Memorial Opera House by a world renowned company, it exemplifies the mingling of classical and contemporary through narrative and purely abstract movement. Have you wondered why there are three dances in a repertory program? San Francisco Ballet answered in their blog post The History of Triple Bills.

San Francisco Ballet Ratmansky's Seven Sonatas.

Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas. © Erik Tomasson

Seven Sonatas
Choreographer: Alexei Ratmansky
Composer: Domenico Scarlatti

Relationships blossom in this heartfelt examination of community. Couples come together with miniature stories and varied personalities, from coyly flirtatious to tender embraces of mutual affection, reminiscent of George Balanchine’s “Who Cares?” giving vignettes of hope and luminous comfort to each other. Mungunchimeg Buriad flows over the piano, blending perfectly with the dancers, and is on stage with them in a gesture of solidarity. This piece floats with subtle hints of folk dancing and elegant simplicity in Holly Hynes’ costume design of gold edged white gowns.

San Francisco Ballet - Possokhov's Optimistic Tragedy

Possokhov’s Optimistic Tragedy. © Erik Tomasson

Optimistic Tragedy (World Premiere)
Choreographer: Yuri Possokhov
Composer: Ilya Demutsky

In a single short piece, Possokhov elicits a level of emotional resonance that many full length ballets fail to achieve. It is deeply powerful and cinematic, unsurprising considering it was partially inspired by the 1925 film Battleship Potemkin, which I have had the privilege of seeing on a cinema screen with live orchestra accompaniment. The visuals are instantly recognizable, with bold masculine stances in the exclusively male corps de ballet, wild frenzy of battle, augmented by black and white projections, and piles of bodies left from the war that call to mind the bloodied train tracks in Gone With the Wind. It does not glorify conflict; this ballet depicts it in raw ugliness, and through that journey finds beauty.

Yuan Yuan Tan’s Commissary is forced to defend herself from attempted rape, and embodies the shame and shock in a tense pas de deux with the Captain (Aaron Robison) that layers complex feelings of desire, duty, self loathing, and honor with intricate partnering and musicality. Gloomy ocean waves wash across the backdrop, bringing the audience on board the ship, with strong lighting design from Christopher Dennis and mobile ship railings and decks designed by Alexander V. Nichols. Possokhov’s choreography and Tan’s performance are stunning in her character’s death, with seemingly dead weight lifts and manipulation of her limp corpse that require perfect cooperation with her partners. Optimistic Tragedy is a heightened form of dance, showcasing the abilities of the company in a dynamic tribute to those who perished in the Russian Revolution at its 100th anniversary.

San Francisco Ballet - Forsythe’s Pas/Parts 2016

Forsythe’s Pas/Parts 2016. © Erik Tomasson

Pas/Parts 2016
Choreographer: William Forsythe
Composer: Thom Willems

A vividly modern piece surrounded by bare gray walls and marley, an extensive cast takes to the stage with slanted, direct visuals and flawless technique. The dance is stripped down, emphasizing angles with a sculptural aesthetic to the duets. Intensely contemporary music is monotone and gritty, which becomes wearing given the length; the dancers took ownership of the electronic score, pausing, drawing out, or cutting off with sensitivity that maintains interest all the way through, despite a style of music that not all of us appreciate in the same way as traditional classical compositions.

Program 2: Modern Masters is a selection of challenging contemporary works that delight, horrify, and inspire with sublime artistry and movement.

‘Forever in a Second’ at Sonoma State University

Sonoma State University Forever in a Second

Photo by James Wirth

Review of Forever in a Second
Directed by Kristen Daley
Sonoma State University Department of Theatre Arts & Dance
Sonoma State University, Ives Hall 119
Rohnert Park, CA

RUN: February 10-12, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

February 10, 2017

Forever in a Second is a collection of contemporary dance primarily from choreographer and professor Kristen Daley, with a work by Mark Haim. Underlying the pieces is a sense of our humanity, reaching for what gives value and purpose to life. Local artists have come together for these performances, from dancers and vocalists to original music from Jesse Olsen Bay, who has created collages of sound ranging from serenely contemplative to the harsh cacophony of modern society interpreted through music.

In the Absence (2016)
5 of 5 Stars
Choreography: Kristen Daley in collaboration with the dancers
Music: Jesse Olsen Bay

Chilling loneliness opens this piece with a riveting solo, utilizing stillness and reaching round movement tracing across the floor. The dancers are garbed in ragged sand-colored tunics designed by Ashley Williams, bound together in an oppressive sense of fear, unified and beaten down by circumstances, yet always gazing up, hoping for release. The choreography is earthy and grounded, filled with group lifts and slow exploration, moving from the core with hints of Martha Graham. I have seen this piece before, and it always inspires a sense of beautiful longing.

Sonoma State University Forever in a Second

Photo by James Wirth

Donna Anna Study (2003)
4 of 5 Stars

Choreography: Mark Haim
Music: Recitativo accompagnato: “Don Ottavio son morta…!” and Aria: “Or sai chi l’onore” from W.A. Mozart’s Don Giovanni

An astonishing and clever dance, it uses the rhythm and feel of the opera translated into physicality. Kristen Daley’s strong technique reacts viscerally to the singing as counterpart to emotions being portrayed in the music with silent film style melodrama and comedy. Standing to the side in an ornate 18th century jacket, Jared Wiltse is the passive recipient of Daley’s passionate reprimands. Juxtaposing traditional with modern costuming felt distracting as an audience member, taking away from the dance, which was a joy to watch and unique idea to explore. Mark Wilson’s lighting design shifted seamlessly in parallel with the resonance and drama of the choreography.

I can see everything from here (2016)
4 of 5 Stars
Choreography: Kristen Daley in collaboration with the dancers
Music: “I can see everything from here” by Jesse Olsen Bay

Using the phrase that titles this piece as a motif, the dance ebbs and flows like an ocean with the gentle harmonious humming of three live singers who create a mantra atmosphere and sense of awe. Dancers journey through the stage, switching places, building tension that explodes into screaming agony and settles into leery steps of discomfort, whispering “I can see everything from here.” Uncertainty layers over an ensemble that attempts connection with each other, sliding in graceful passé leaps and constant shifting. Costumes of muted colors in navy blue, burgundy, and moss green emphasize the quiet desperation of this dance.

…the words we have forgotten (Premiere)
5 of 5 stars
Choreography: Kristen Daley in collaboration with the dancers
Music: Jesse Olsen Bay

Thunder rolls into darkness, triggering a brilliant collage of sound effects, from a telegraph to dripping water, traffic, and an echoing heartbeat. This concentrated powerhouse of a pas de deux is filled with nervous energy; it is reminiscent of PTSD victims facing their fear, shaking uncontrollably, yet persisting through support of each other. Aimée Otterson and Jared Wiltse fight to be together, often dancing apart, and rushing past in flashes of complexity. Long straight lines feature in this piece that speaks to anyone who has experienced a tragedy or terror and is struggling to have a relationship with others as a result.

Interface (2012)
3 of 5 stars
Choreography: Kristen Daley in collaboration with the dancers
Music: Jesse Olsen Bay
Text: Peter-Peringer Batten

In the 21st century, we have become a culture of physical disconnect—clinging to smart phones and tablets, spending more time on social media than actually meeting with friends, and rarely having the opportunity for the intimacy of a touch, embrace, or face to face conversation. Interface explores this phenomena, and while the concept is authentic, the dance feels artificial and too literal at times, particularly the concluding tableaux. The center of the piece has energy to it, with chaotic jetés and sprinting from one side of the stage to the other, breaking into small groups and returning to the synchronicity of a crowd with smooth, swinging movements. Dancers use their back to the audience, which is a subtle nod to the meaning of the piece, and even as the last dance on the program, the technical aspects were sharp; unless a jump was meant to slap into the ground as part of the percussion, landings were soft and silent. Geometric and angled, Interface is an intriguing piece and did open discussion about how as a society we need to find better ways to connect that do not involve technology in between.

Kristen Daley continues to impress with her emotionally driven choreography that does not shy away from commentary on current issues. She has gathered a talented group of students, alumni, and local performers; I look forward to what she will bring to the stage this year and beyond.

Imagination Soars in ‘Buyer & Cellar’

Buyer & Cellar 6th Street Playhouse

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Review of Buyer & Cellar
By Jonathan Tolins
Directed by Sarah Muirhead

For tickets & schedule:
6th Street Playhouse
Santa Rosa, CA

RUN: February 3-19, 2017
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(February 4, 2017)

Buyer & Cellar is a whimsical story sparked by the unique interior design of Barbra Streisand’s Malibu home where she chose to display her collections in a European style mall complete with Bee’s Doll Shop, antique shops, and a candy store with frozen yogurt. Playwright Jonathan Tolins was captivated by the attention to detail, and speculated on what it would be like to work in the faux stores, waiting for their one customer to arrive.

Enter struggling actor Alex More (Patrick Varner) who has been reduced to job hunting after being banished from the Magic Kingdom for an incident in Mickey’s Toontown. His dubious reaction to playing a part in the mall transforms into obsession with Streisand’s world; he throws himself into the role, creating elaborate backstories for the dolls, becoming consumed with his work. His relationship suffers for it, causing bittersweet exchanges with his boyfriend, both portrayed with unrelenting energy by Varner, who slips between characters with expressive physicality.

Buyer & Cellar 6th Street Playhouse

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Buyer & Cellar is pleasant throughout, with moments of intense contemplation, but it does not fully succeed as either a fluffy comedy or darker introspection of how important the impact of a distressing childhood can be. It flirts with both, and while the humor is amusing, the play is not a stand-out comedy. 6th Street’s production is strongest in the delightful performance of Varner, who is fascinating throughout the one act play, taking scenes that could have lagged in the hands of a less competent actor and focusing them into vivid pieces of imagination. Sam Tansleau’s elegantly simple set design becomes filled with glittering vintage gowns, picturesque barnyards, and a cramped Los Angeles apartment through the power of Varner’s storytelling and tight direction from Sarah Muirhead.

Buyer & Cellar is an escape into a universe of opulence and eccentricity, away from the demands of everyday work and disturbing news reports. Enjoy a frivolously diverting evening at the theater with a talented actor to forget your worries and spend time in Barbra Streisand’s extraordinary cellar.

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