Monthly Archives: March 2017

Impactful Journey in ‘Program 5: Contemporary Voices’

Program 5: Contemporary Voices
Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson
For tickets & schedule:

San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA

RUN: March 9-19, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

March 19, 2017

In these three curated pieces, San Francisco Ballet explores a powerful coming of age story in Salome, the intensely sensual Fearful Symmetries, and a hopeful future in the compelling Fusion from Yuri Possokhov. This is a dynamic program, filled with expressive dancing and poignant choreography.

Fusion - San Francisco Ballet

Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith in Yuri Possokhov’s “Fusion” at San Francisco Ballet. (© Erik Tomasson)

Choreographer: Yuri Possokhov
Composers: Graham Fitkin & Rahul Dev Burman

Delicate musicality infuses this melding of traditional and progressive movement. Enhanced with flowing costumes by Sandra Woodall, white robed men turn in casual fluidity, weaving with serene music and simple undulating torsos. The partnering in Fusion is unusual and creative, utilizing angled port de bras and subtle connections—a comforting hand or light twist of the shoulder. In a dramatic pas de deux, the ballerina darts through a wall of corps de ballet to her waiting partner shrouded in darkness, only to find herself alone, cast back into the light.

The steps have a gentle detail to them, rather like ornate filigree. James F. Ingalls’ lighting design brings the piece from soft twilight through the day, sliding gradually into shadow, with a precision that is reflected throughout. It is a restful piece that is elegant and quietly hopeful.

Salome - San Francisco Ballet

Dores André, right, and Aaron Robison in the world premiere of Arthur
Pita’s “Salome” at San Francisco Ballet. (© Erik Tomasson)

Choreographer: Arthur Pita
Composer: Frank Moon

Loosely based on the Biblical tale of King Herod and Herodias, it wavers on the border between theater and dance; as Ballet Master Katita Waldo pointed out in a pre-performance talk, rather than being driven entirely by the movement, Salome depends on sets, lighting, and costumes—they are not just a frame, but integral to the production, leading to the term “dance theater” to describe this type of structure.

An ominous, cinematic score washes across the stage, lifting billowing fog as a black limousine slides into view. Flanked by bodyguards, “the family” emerges, stalking downstage with eerie confidence. While the visuals in this ballet are stunning, at its core is the journey that Salome is forced to endure. She is unsure at first, clutching her gown, eyes darting in exploration and uncertainty. When the hostages appear, she draws on inner strength, her posture straightening, her reactions gathering an elevated domination as she tests her newfound power. When Salome embraces the physicality of her environment, explosions of petals shoot across the stage with deepening red hues, littering the stage in ever fluctuating rivers of blood hued ground, bringing to mind the “red” scenes in Hero, a Chinese film that used a similar cinematic technique. Salome revels in her position, until its inevitable conclusion drives her to question what she has become, leading to a chilling denouement that leaves the audience shivering as the fog returns, covering the glowing limousine as the curtain falls.

Dores André gives riveting performance as Salome, turning her from an innocent child-like girl through a horrific coming of age, revulsion, and ultimate maturing, using body language of how she walks and reacts to others. Aaron Robison’s John maintains a dignity tempered with outbursts of fiery rebellion against his captors, taking to the strongly grounded and primitive choreography with ease. Val Caniparoli’s Herod and Anita Paciotti’s Herodias have no dancing, using their presence and experience to guide them; the stillness adding to their cruelty.

Fearful Symmetries - San Francisco Ballet

Lorena Feijoo, right, and Luke Ingham in Liam Scarlett’s “Fearful
Symmetries” at San Francisco Ballet. (© Erik Tomasson)

Fearful Symmetries
Choreographer: Liam Scarlett
Composer: John Adams

Taken from William Blake’s poem The Tyger, this ballet is starkly contemporary, set on a black stage with geometric bars of white light that shift in patterns. Dancers trace the floor with pulsing energy, isolating joints and limbs for oscillating rhythm interspersed with snapping ferocious speed.

John Morrell’s post-apocalyptic charcoal gray costumes lend a futuristic, ragged feel as multi layered as the music. Despite the frantic pace, there is a sense of community between the dancers onstage, building suspense into a series of intimately sensual encounters under a rich soundscape. The interplay of the corps de ballet keeps the dancers in constant flux, each with a specific role to play, like looking through a powerful microscope. There is a give and take of control throughout the piece, which pairs well with Salome, although it is a darker expression of subjugation.

Boisterous Fun in ‘Emma! A Pop Musical’

Review of Emma! A Pop Musical
Written by Eric Price
Music by various artists
Directed by Libby Oberlin
Vocal Direction by Sherrill Peterson
Choreography by LC Arisman
Sonoma Arts Live
For tickets / schedule :
Sonoma Community Center, Sonoma

RUN: March 9-19, 2017
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(March 18, 2017)

Emma! A Pop Musical Sonoma Arts Live teens

Photo from Sonoma Arts Live

Shakespeare plays are regularly staged in contemporary settings, and it was a matter of time before classics such as Jane Austen’s Emma received similar treatment, inspired by the success of Clueless in re-imagining her world for a modern audience. Gathered from students of Sonoma Arts Live’s education director, Libby Oberlin, these teens in training have become Highbury Prep—an elite boarding school housing the timeless characters from Jane Austen’s novel.

Emma! is not so much a musical as a chain of songs chosen to illustrate themes and emotions surfacing in the story, given voice through popular music. They are used to comedic effect, such as a rendition of “Be My Baby” that cooes across the stage whenever Harriet finds a new crush, leading to hysterical laughter when it wafts toward yet another potential beau. The result is infectious frivolity that parallels the plot’s zany matchmaking humor, with additional impact infused by the unpolished but talented young cast.

Emma’s naïveté and enthusiasm are the perfect fit for a high school student; Veronica Love captures her genuine excitement to find Harriet a boyfriend, with wide-eyed enthusiasm and an authoritative voice that speaks to leadership qualities that attract men like Elton and Knightley. Kamryn Conway as Harriet Smith is a strong singer, dominating the stage with “How Will I Know?”. The two women form a compelling duo that brings out their friendship in a way most adaptations avoid in favor of placing Harriet in a simpering, subservient role.

Alex Garber’s Miss Bates is a delightfully awkward old maid stumbling through the school balancing a martini glass and dropping one liners with precise comedic timing. A fellow scene stealer is Cooper Bingham as Jason, the ever present minion of Philip Elton, who’s reactions to the unfolding drama are perennially amusing. Preening himself for a future political career, Philip Elton (Graham Durfee) oils his way through the school with despicable ease; Durfee gives the character realistic adolescent cruelty in his dismissal of Harriet. Jeff Knightley is a difficult role to take on; Knightley balances closely guarded affection for Emma with outward criticism and an innate maturity that sets him apart from her. Max Szanyi maintains a gentleness in his lectures, reaching for her and pulling away, casting glances across the room, and avoids the trap of what Mrs. Elton would call “puppy” responses to his harbored crush.

While the dialog leaves something to be desired, Emma! A Pop Musical is creative fun that will keep your toes tapping with a cast of young actors honing their craft and enjoying the moment as students of Highbury Prep.

‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ in Sebastopol

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Main Stage West

Photo from Main Stage West

Review of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
By Edward Albee
Directed by David Lear
For tickets / schedule :
Main Stage West, Sebastopol

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

(March 17, 2017)

Exquisitely crafted language is filled with painful candor in this quintessential American play. It can be a vicious picture of a middle aged couple whose relationship has been sucked dry of any respect, reduced to lashing out at each other and competing in a series of “games” that celebrate their rancor. Director David Lear has taken a different approach to this classic play that is a refreshing vision; George and Martha give the impression that underneath the arguing they are still deeply in love, on the verge of giving up, but pushing for a better life together. There are glimmers of light peeling back the layers of routine and frustration that culminate in a touching conclusion as they clutch for each other, torn up from the fight and ready to find peace.

Peter Downey’s George brings a steady flow through movement and an easy going attitude that speaks of intellectual boredom exercising itself by wrecking havoc on less finely tuned minds. Martha (Sandra Ish) is perfectly capable of tossing his dark repartee back at him in manner that disturbs their guests and occasionally the audience in a manner that the couple, in contrast, seem quite comfortable with.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Main Stage West

Photo from Main Stage West

Rose Roberts as the younger Honey has few lines, and does not need them to make an impression. She is fully present and hilarious as an extremely tipsy guest ready with well timed reactionary expressions and a sudden breakout of interpretive dance that is brilliantly executed. John Browning’s Nick keeps a stiffness that oozes disgust at having to put up with the shenanigans, until alcohol takes hold and rips away his inhibitions, leading to a loosely passionate moment reveling in exhausted inebriation. This is an all-around strong cast that holds their own, each bringing unique energy to the stage.

The prevailing feel of Lear’s set design is emptiness, reflecting the state of George and Martha’s lives, leaving the bar to take center stage, as it does in the story. One of the few distractions in this staging was the lack of ice tongs—it may seem minor, but the amount of times that George reaches in to pick ice up with his bare hands to toss them in glasses took me into a train of thought wondering how anyone who drinks as much as they do could have a household without simple bar tools; it seemed out of character, especially in that time period.

Main Stage West has embraced the lighter side of Edward Albee’s play—replacing bitter venom with a realistic couple struggling to regain control over their dreams. Lear’s intimate portrait reveals how easy it is to give up, and the importance of pressing forward through the pain to reclaim an honest and loving relationship.

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