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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 Tsao
Copyright 2002 Aimee Tsao
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
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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