Dance Review

The Joffrey Ballet's Anna Karenina at Cal Performances

3cal-performances-the-joffrey-ballet-cheryl-mann* Notes *
The Joffrey Ballet's Anna Karenina was presented by Cal Performances last night at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley for the first of three performances. The 2019 ballet with music by Ilya Demutsky was played live by Berkeley Symphony and conducted by Scott Speck.

The music is eerie and busy, there is a lot going on with a full orchestra, piano, and vocalist Lindsay Metzger.

Choreographed by Yuri Possokhov, the story is condensed into two acts and runs just shy of two hours. Possokhov uses the floor quiet a bit, but judiciously, the movements are beautifully fluid. The racehorse scene (Act I, Scene 4) was particularly impressive as far as utilizing the many dancers all together, as was Act II, Scene 5, in Betsy Tverskaya's salon (pictured, photograph by Cheryl Mann). I was very much amused by the use of different colored tutus in this latter scene. There was also a lot of using furniture in the dancing, there's a couch that is featured in the love scene between Anna and Vronsky, a bed in Act II's prologue when Anna has a fever and the subsequent scene, and lots of chairs for the Parliament scene.

The production made good use of lighting, projections, and props, it moved through the many scenes effectively without falling flat or feeling too overdone with meticulous details.

The dancers were strong. From the very beginning, Hyuma Kiyosawa is an exuberant Levin, and Yumi Kanazawa is a sweet Kitty. Dylan Gutierrez is a lanky, almost gangly Karenin, but didn't have any trouble doing lifts with both Anna Karenina and their son Seryozha (played by Jimmy Gershenson). Alberto Velazquez is convincing as Vronsky, his duets were particularly good. Best of all was Victoria Jaiani as Anna Karenina. Her extension is incredible, and her utter brokenness at Obiralovka Train Station was haunting. The staging of her death, with the railroad tracks and light of the train, was artful.

* Tattling *
The audience was quiet, there was no talking or whispering, only a few rustles of programs or lozenge wrappers disturbed the music.

Pina Bausch's Rite of Spring

Cal-performances-the-rite-of-spring-by-maarteen-vanden-abeele* Notes *
The Bay Area premiere of Pina Bausch's The Rite of Spring was presented by Cal Performances last weekend at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. It was performed with common ground[s], a duet between Germaine Acogny and Malou Airaudo.

The duet, choreographed and performed by Acogny and Airaudo, was performed first. Both are septuagenarians. Acogny is the co-founder of École des Sables, a center for traditional and contemporary African dance in Toubab Dialao, Senegal and Airaudo was in Tanztheater Wuppertal from its founding in 1973. The piece is slow and sculptural, and has a meditative quality.

It was a contrast to The Rite of Spring, which featured 38 dancers (pictured, Maarten Vanden Abeele) chosen from across the African continent and has a relentlessness and intensity that is much more frenetic. The piece is done atop a pile of dirt, and the female dancers were white shift dresses that get stained over the course of the performance.

The dancers were clearly fully committed to the work, and the visceral, unprettiness of Stravinsky's music was manifested. It was startling to see all the dancers come together in a circle and throw themselves on the ground perfectly in unison, the sound of the bodies against the dirt was especially evocative. The soloists, Profit Lucky and Gloria Ugwarelojo Biachi both gave strong performances.

* Tattling *
The audience was mostly focused, many stayed in the hall as the stage was set. After the performance, someone came out with a hose to clean up afterward.

The recording used for Stravinsky's La Sacre Du Printemps was Pierre Boulez conducting the Cleveland Orchestra.

Alonzo King's Art Songs

MayaYujinMichael* Notes *
Alonzo King Lines Ballet opened a new season at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts last night. Though I enjoy contemporary dance and have walked past the Lines Ballet space countless times on 7th Street, I had not seen this company until now. It took an opera singer, of course, to get me to this performance. Despite the "ballet" in the name, there was not a tutu in sight, and the dancing eschewed mere prettiness, and it was well worth the effort to experience.

The opening piece, Art Songs, is a world premiere and features live music sung by mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani (pictured left with Yujin Kim and Michael Montgomery, photograph by Quinn B. Wharton) with accompaniment from pianist Efrat Levy and violinist Lisa Lee. The songs include three Baroque pieces -- a Bach cantata and arias by Handel and Purcell -- plus Schumann's "Stille Tränen." It isn't rep I associate with Lahyani, who was an Adler at San Francisco Opera in 2010 and 2011 and is a regular at the Met these days. But she sounded fine, especially in the Dido's Lament that ends the piece. There were a few tiny froggy moments in a low note or two, but Lahyani was ill, and did remarkably well considering.

The choreography has a raw, exposed quality to it that works really nicely with the singer on stage. I loved that there were no supertitles and there was no escaping the music or the dancing. The dancers are alive in the movement, even if they are only standing or walking. The piece was even disturbing, particularly the fourth part with soloists Yujin Kim and Michael Montgomery, there was much falling, and the pair looked more like an awkwardly beautiful many-limbed creature than ballet dancers engaged in a duet.

The second piece was Meyer, with recorded music from bassist/composer Edgar Meyer, and again the dancing had a wonderful brutality at odds with classical ballet. The female dancers wore pointe shoes, yet there were many times when they were not en pointe, or flexed their feet when their legs were aloft. The piece features an elaborate water machine with streaming jets in the background which was used to great effect. It was hard to look away from this one, even when images turned dark, as with the fifth part "Cards," in which a rather frantic dancer piles and moves pieces of paper, at times licking one or two.

* Tattling *
The audience was quiet. Some of my opera fanatic friends left at intermission after hearing Maya, as they were much more interesting in the music rather than the dancing.

Pina Bausch's "...como el musguito..."

Como-el-musguito* Notes * 
Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal returned to Brooklyn Academy of Music to present Bausch's last work "...como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si..." in a run of eight performances. I caught the last one on Saturday night. The piece is based on the company's experiences in Santiago, Chile and involves Bausch's characteristic delightful, yet disturbing style of juxtaposing images, movement, and text. The stage was rather sparse, with a shape made in black tape across the floor. Occasionally a chair was brought in, or ropes, or branches. There was much about love and time. The sixteen dancers (pictured above) were in evening dress, including many bright gowns and dark suits.

Women did backbends and dropped stones. Potatoes were thrown, as were corks. Water was poured, people were slapped, Clémentine Deluy carried a tree in a backpack. Fernando Suels Mendoza got a lot of laughs as he greeted each of the female dancers as they walked diagonally across the stage. Tsai-Chin Yu fearlessly struggled to break free of a rope tied around her waist. Ditta Miranda Jasjfi was spun in a most impressive manner. In short, the two hours and forty minutes was packed with beautiful, elusive, and often staggering imagery.

* Tattling *
There was some whispering and talking from the audience. At two moments someone's iPhone had Siri activated, and she responded once with "I did not catch that" to the sounds of the performers.

The Eifman Ballet's Don Quixote

Eifman_don_quixote_hula-hoop * Notes *
The Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg is touring a production of Don Quixote, or Fantasies of the Madman. The main conceit of Boris Eifman's busy production is that the protagonist is not Don Quixote himself, but a madman imagining himself to be the knight errant. While an attempt to make to Don Quixote more accessible to a contemporary audience is commendable, unfortunately last night's performance in San Francisco never caught fire, and fell apart in the second act.

The choreography had a good deal of physical humor, but the audience did not seem to understand what was going on at all. They clapped politely when the music stopped, but there was hardly any laughter at key moments. The dancing was lovely, the Eifman Corps de Ballet were almost perfectly synchronized, whether as throng of madman or a crowd of imagined Spaniards. Sergey Volobuev was convincing as the "patient imagined himself being Don Quixote," as he was expressive from head to toe. Both with him and Yulia Manzheles ("Doctor in a madhouse") hardly had to move to convey the story, they had such presence. Their scene early in Act I with the metal circle (a hula hoop) was particularly fine.

Act II was less compelling to me, I was disappointed in tavern scene, not so much for the dancing, but for how flat the tavern girl/Dulcinea was as a character. There was also a regrettable lift in Act II, our Basil, Oleg Gabyshev had a shaky moment holding up Kitri (Nina Zmievets). There was a pause in the recorded music for the audience to clap and this was rather awkward.

* Tattling * 
The audience was disengaged, people looked at their cellular phones and spoke throughout. There were many latecomers, even after Act II started. During the intermission I heard a child on his phone declare that the 45 minutes of Act I were the most torturous of his life. It was somewhat dismaying to see that his parents had him watch Act II as well.

Alvin Ailey at Cal Performances

Hope-boykin * Notes *
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater gave a series of performances in Berkeley last week. Program A included the West Coast premiere of Hope Boykin's Go in Grace, which features live music from Sweet Honey in the Rock. In principal, live music and live dance together seems like it would be great. In practice, having the singers on stage was distracting, at times they obstructed the audience's view of the dancers. Go in Grace is a distinctly narrative work, and one felt all the words were getting in the way of the dancing. George Faison's more light-hearted Suite Otis was stronger, the segments that went with "I Can't Turn You Loose" and "Satisfaction" were particularly vital.

Program C was overwhelmingly Baroque. Mauro Bigonzetti's Festa Barocca was amusing, though I admit I was disoriented as they danced to a recording of Andreas Scholl singing "Va tacito" and "Dove sei." Hope Bodkin was particularly good, her hand and arm movements were gorgeous. She was also hilarious, as her role called for. Hans van Manen's Solo featured music from Bach. The three dancers were absolutely wonderful.

All the programs ended with Ailey's breathtaking signature work, Revelations.

* Tattling * 
The audience talked a bit, and there were many flashlights and mobile phone screens on during the dancing. The 50th anniversary film about the company that was played was a bit too much like an infomercial. The person in BB 2 kicked my arm with her bare foot during the Saturday evening performance.

An International Salute to SF Ballet

Adelicatebattle* Notes *
The National Ballet of Canada, the New York City Ballet, and Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo are performing in a program at the San Francisco Ballet this week. The opening was last night, the National Ballet of Canada took the stage first in a piece titled A Delicate Battle. The dancing was good, though some of the angles of arms and hands were slightly off from person to person. The dance uses J.S. Bach and Gavin Bryars, and the juxtaposition was not jarring, as was intended, but simply arbitrary, any Baroque piece paired with any contemporary one would have done as well. Matjash Mrozewski's choreography was very pretty and the ending was particularly lovely.

New York City Ballet presented Duo Concertant, choreographed by Balanchine, of course. The violinist and pianist played Stravinsky beautifully. The dancers were clearly accomplished, but the piece lacked drama. The highlight of the evening was certainly Altro Canto, performed by Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo. Jean-Christophe Maillot successfully pairs contemporary movement and Monteverdi. The staging involves candles suspended from the ceiling, and this could have very easily been ridiculous, but somehow it was not. The dancing was impressive, especially the liquidness of the movement and the synchronized headstands.

* Tattling *
The audience was fairly well-behaved, though the people in front of me insisted on perching with their seats flipped up, and a couple of them could not stop whispering during the third dance.

Former Secretary of State George P. Schultz was spotted at the ballet, as was Ambassador of Monaco to the United States Gilles Noghès.

Pina Bausch at Cal Performances

Tenchi_2* Notes * 
Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal returned to Cal Performances for the first time in 8 years, with a three day run of the piece Ten Chi. The work has quite a lot more dancing in it than Nelken, the only other work of Bausch's I know. It was a couple of strange Japanese/German dream-like hours. The set was like a dark sea, with a few whale parts peeking through the surface. Toward the end of the first part petals or snow start falling, and it continued for the entire show. The seventeen performers on stage included many fine dancers, and some rather funny as actors as well. The assisted gliding and swimming was particularly beautiful. In evening dress the performers dressed and undressed each other, took photographs, bowed, counted audience members' fingers, threatened to drop ice, walked on glass, and encouraged snoring. Aida Vainieri got one of the longest ovations for her hilarious sound effects as she attacked a pillow and this was amplified by the microphone held in her cleavage. Mechthild Großmann was slightly terrifying when she made her many declarations, though the most alarming part was when she started listing off Japanese words like geisha, bonzai, Mt. Fuji, and sushi. She would draw out the words and play with the sounds, and for some reason it was disturbing.

* Tattling *
The audience was quiet except for a bit of whispering. They submitted to snoring and finger-counting when asked. They seemed to like the performance a great deal, and it occurred to me what the difference between Pina Bausch's work and that of those responsible for Regieoper. With Bausch, one knows what one is getting, avant garde contemporary dance. It is not as if she has taken The Nutcracker and put whales and swimming into it. Then again, she has done
Iphigenie auf Tauris as a dance opera, I can only imagine how absurd it might be.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Revelations_2* Notes *
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater comes to Berkeley nearly every year, with several performances and more than one program. This year the New York based company was here from February 28 until March 4, and I attended the first performance.

They opened with Twyla Tharp's The Golden Section from 1983, with music by David Byrne. The piece was very pleasing to me, lots of motion and energy. Karole Armitage's 2006 Gamelan Gardens was less so, the music by Lou Harrison grated on me. The movements had a strong clarity and elegance. They ended with Alvin Ailey's Revelations, still so beautiful 47 years after its first performance. The dancing was strong throughout, the timing good and the dancers had a strong sense of intention.

* Tattling *
People did not chatter too much during the dancing. A cellular phone went off during Revelations.

Trisha Brown Dance Company

Trishabrowndance* Notes *
Trisha Brown Dance Company was in Berkeley for two performances last weekend. In general, I found her style to be rather slow and sculptural. It was intellectually interesting but not engaging on a visceral level. The dancers were good, but there were times when they were not consistent with each other. For instance if one person might have a stronger point of the foot, or another a higher arabesque.

The first work performed was how long does the subject linger on the edge of volume... (2005), which was supposed to be multimedia coming together to make a whole. Instead, the animated visual elements projected on the scrim competed with the movement of the dancers.

Salvatore Sciarrino's music of the second work, Geometry of Quiet (2002) was disturbing, there were parts that sounded like stylized coughing. This work was particularly slow and involved cloth banners.

The evening ended with I love my robots. (2007), which was humorous and involved 2 poles on platforms that moved on their own. It also had a speaking part.

* Tattling *
Since the music was so minimal, most of the audience was very quiet for most of the performance. A notable exception was the woman next to us in R 112. She absolutely hated the performance, so I'm not sure why she stayed the entire time. After the second piece, she made light of the choreography by imitating the movements in her chair. Before the last piece ended, she muttered about how it was "stupid." She tried to climb over us during the applause, to no avail.

For folded flocks, and fruitful plains

Maypole* Notes *
Henry Purcell's King Arthur or The British Worthy is not an opera in the usual sense, as the main characters do not sing. The Mark Morris Dance Group production had its American premiere in Berkeley last Saturday, and all of Dryden's spoken dialogue is cut, meaning King Arthur himself never appears as such and basically there is no plot. The production also features the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra under the direction of Jane Glover, the UC Chamber Chorus, and seven English National Opera singers as principals.

At times Morris' choreography is pat, simply miming the text, and worse yet was the absurd simulated sex at the end of Act II between shepherds and shepherdesses. There were many delightful moments also, especially the maypole dance in Act V. The dancers were all competent and utterly nonplussed by going through doors that lead nowhere dressed as giraffes or ducks or Bavarians as the case might be.

The singing was fairly consistent as well. Iestyn Davies shows much promise as a countertenor, his voice has good volume and is quite clear. Soprano Mhairi Lawson was perhaps least impressive, she wasn't bad by any means, but her voice is not especially pretty.

* Tattling *
The people in Row Q all shifted over from the side to the center, and subsequently, the man directly in front of me fell asleep for most of the first two acts. He woke up when the audience was laughing at the depraved bits of choreography. At least he and his companion had the good sense to leave the theatre at the intermission.