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Flash Review Journal, 10-10: All-Access in Baghdad (by the Bay)
Axis of Cirque-Danse; AXIS of Choreography; Axis of Morris-Ashton; Axis of Hula Hip-Hop; Accessing the Past

By Aimee Ts’ao
Copyright 2002 Aimee Ts’ao

SAN FRANCISCO -- I can't remember how many times as aspiring ballet dancers we were admonished by various teachers that dance was an art -- not merely a matter of performing tricks like in the circus, but embodying feeling and meaning. The cirque nouveau movement has changed that perception, starting, in North America, with Le Cirque du Soleil and then propagating a second generation of small circuses like Cirque Eloize, which appeared at Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall the weekend before last (September 25-29). I mention this as a prelude to the marathon of dance viewing I experienced the following weekend because it reinforced yet again that the lines between various dance forms are increasingly blurred, as well as the distinctions between performance genres. Circus is not traditional dance, but it does involve highly disciplined movement, and now joined with theatricality, narrative and individual interpretation it draws closer to what one thinks of as story ballet or modern dance drama. I often found myself feeling far more satisfied with this circus than some of the dance I have seen lately, despite the decades old warnings against mere tricks.

Unfortunately, the day after being exhilarated by Cirque Eloize, I came down with bronchitis and laryngitis just a few days before seeing four performances in as many days. Hopefully, this didn't affect my faculties too much. AXIS Dance Company, made up of dancers with and without disabilities, presented its home season at the Alice Arts Center Theater in Oakland with a program of both old and new works and with guest artists. Opening with Stephen Petronio's "Secret Ponies," the dancers show that despite the pedestrian choreography, they have really made the movement their own since last season's premiere.

Alonzo King's "Pas," for guest artists Homer Avila and Andrea Flores, is very impressive. (To read Julia Ward's DI review of the premiere, please click here). There are moments when I even forget that Avila only has one leg as I am so transported by his artistry.

"El ultimos adios," choreographed by AXIS dancer Nadia Adame has a lot going for it. Besides being playful, fun and very musical, Adame develops movement patterns in very interesting ways and explores other moods while using all the dimensions of the stage exceptionally well. She even knows when to stop, something I wish more choreographers would learn. (How many times do we sit through ten or twenty extra minutes which should have been edited out?)

The premiere of "Sans Instruments," a collaboration with the acclaimed vocal ensemble SoVoSo, is the highlight of the evening. Sonya Delwaide, who has choreographed frequently for AXIS in the past few years, reaches a new level in this piece. As the company has been challenged by working with established choreographers such as Bill T. Jones, Joe Goode, and Joanna Haigood in recent years, the performers' growth both technically and artistically now cannot help but inspire those who are working with them currently to continue to push them to greater heights and in the process evolve into better dance creators themselves. This delicious symbiosis yields some fabulously odd partnering, very intense interrelationships, a terrific trio of Adame, Alisa Rasera and Christine Chen, and a quirky dialogue between Bonnie Lewkowicz and Jacques Poulin-Denis in French and English, all costumed with his usual flare by Mario Alonzo. The most moving section is a pas de deux for Adame and Poulin-Denis. Seated on the floor, she lays down her cane and he removes his prosthesis. They dance together on the floor, a moment of love amidst the conflict in the world, tenderness and authenticity. SoVoSo's singing adds more dimensions as the singers feed off what the dancers are doing to the point that you can't tell who is leading whom. Alexander V. Nichols works his magic with his lighting designs for the entire evening, transforming an otherwise awkward stage into an exotic world.

The next night, Friday, I am in Berkeley for the Mark Morris Dance Group at Zellerbach Hall. And perhaps in anticipation of Saturday night's Ballets Preljocaj performance back in San Francisco, I am thinking about why choreographers choose to put forward their own versions of ballets previously choreographed by someone else. While Angelin Preljocaj has been slowly working on his "hommage aux Ballets Russes"" over the past ten years, including "Spectre de la Rose," "Les Noces," "Parade," and now his latest, "Le Sacre du Printemps," Morris appears to working on an unnamed project that consists of retakes of Frederick Ashton's work.

Several years ago Morris gave us "Four Saints in Three Acts" (music by Virgil Thompson with words by Gertrude Stein), which had been originally set by Ashton in 1934. I was not particularly impressed with Morris's take, but Ashton did receive rave reviews and judging from photos of the first production, it looks to have been quite a spectacle. Next year, for San Francisco Ballet, Morris is also slated to undertake the three act "Sylvia," which Ashton choreographed in 1952. Last weekend at Zellerbach, Morris gave the premiere of "Facade," a collaboration between William Walton's music and Edith Sitwell's poetry. Ashton's version of 1931 didn't include the words, as Sitwell wanted nothing to do with the project; Morris does include the words, but to dubious advantage as it is recited by four dancers, including Morris, who lack the precise enunciation necessary to be understood at such a rapid tempo -- a strange oversight for Morris, who always promises well-played live music. Comparison is inevitable, especially since I saw the Joffrey Ballet perform Ashton's version many times, but I am trying to take Morris's interpretation on its own terms. I find it too light and fluffy without the satiric edge that marks Ashton's; the dancers' stripped-down look of pants and a rainbow of colored tee-shirts printed with simple designs, combined with low-key choreography that often paints a literal picture of the words, does not move me deeply. Definitely fun and enjoyable, but I leave the table hungry for substantial food for thought. Perhaps this wouldn't bother me so much had some of the other pieces on the program carried more weight.

Ballet Preljocaj's program at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater in San Francisco, encompassing Angelin Preljocaj's "Le Sacre du Printemps" and "Helikoper," proved to be a hardier meal. (To read Paul Ben-Itzak's previous review of this program when it premiered in Paris, please click here). Having seen several versions of the former, including the reconstruction of Nijinsky's 1913 version, Maurice Bejart's from 1959 and John Neumeier's from 1974, my feeling is that though the themes are universal and timeless, choreographers are seeking a way to make the ideas relevant to the times they are working in, both socially and aesthetically. This program opens at the Brooklyn Academy of Music October 16.

Sunday afternoon, a tropical day in usually cool and foggy San Francisco, was perfect for seeing "The Hula Show -- 2002." Director, choreographer and designer Patrick Makuakane has been mounting an annual home season for a number of years now and is building such momentum, I'm not sure what to expect next. Just as I think he has reached his peak, Makuakane goes on to new heights. His company performs with such discipline (displaying straight lines and perfect synchronization that would be the envy of any classical ballet company) and utter joy (every face on stage transformed and communicating that feeling to the audience) that I sit and bask in what dance should always be, that total experience of the senses -- movement, music, decor, costumes and lighting converging in one place. Ranging from traditional hula to the latest metamorphosis in which hula meets hip-hop or the Hare Krishnas, this company is not to be missed. My appetite is satisfied and I am still savoring the exotic flavors that linger on my tongue.


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