Ballet

Watching, But not Writing

 

I must confess. I’ve seen some dance and performance that I haven’t written about. Some of it was just too dull. Some of it just didn’t inspire. And others I couldn’t find the time to write the fullness they demanded. So here is a list:

May 7th Rioult Dance NY, “Bach Dances”

May 6th ODC School, “Uncertain Weather”File_000 (28)

April 28th Risa Jaroslow & Dancers, “Touch Bass”

April 21st San Francisco Playhouse, “Noises Off”

April 6th Wooster Group, “The Town Hall Affair”

February 21st, San Francisco Ballet, “Frankenstein”

February 18th Mike Daisey, “The End of Journalism”

I’m looking forward to Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion, “Dearest Home” (May 18 –  20) and Hope Mohr 10th Anniversary Season, “Precarious” (June 1 – 3). And I’m looking forward to writing.

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May 6th, “Program 8: Onegin”

San Francisco Ballet, choreography by John Cranko

Last One

This was my fourth trip to see the San Francisco Ballet this season and my only full-length ballet.  I could feel the storytelling of the Pushkin narrative poem and found myself connecting with the drama as it unfolded out of the choreography.  I think the last lines of the program notes best capture my experience: “it is a joy to watch.”  Even so, this dance doesn’t inspire me to write.  I could write about the quality of dancing, sets, or costumes.  I could write about the choreography or music.  There just isn’t much say.  But I do think there is something to say about San Francisco Ballet now that the season is over.  That, however, will wait until later.   

 

 

 

April 14th, “Program 6″

San Francisco Ballet, choreography by Helgi Tomasson, Alexi Ratmansky, and Christopher Wheeldon

Again

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This is the most I’ve seen of a San Francisco Ballet season since moving here in 2007 – 4 so far and 1 left to go.  Again, a mixed repertory program, and again odd programming.  These three pieces (Prisim, Seven Sonatas, and Rush) were very similar, almost too similar.  The program notes highlighted their differences in choreographic approaches, musical choices, and moods, but these differences didn’t provide enough differentiation between the three dances (for me).  Yes, I had a favorite, but it doesn’t really matter as I am not inspired to write about either of these dances.  Yes, there was good dancing, but there usually is good dancing with the San Francisco Ballet. I don’t mind spending time in the beauty of a dance.  I do mind, however, when that is all there is again, and again.  What is there to write or think about?

After I saw Program 2 in February, (Rubies (Balanchine), Drink to me with Thine Eyes (Morris), and Fearless Creatures (Scarlett), I wrote it was a pleasant surprise, but that I wanted more fearless.  

I am still waiting.

 

April 7th, “Program 7”

San Francisco Ballet, choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, Justin Peck, and George Balanchine

Watching Dance with Dad

Some of my earliest memories of watching dance are with my Dad.  The most vivid was seeing Pilobolus Dance Theater when I was about 13 or 14.  At the time, it was the “newest” kind of dance I had ever experienced.  The dancers slid across a wet stage for their curtain call; they were mostly naked.  It was odd, and I loved it.  As a ballet dancer in training, I didn’t know dance could be so big and different.

So when my Dad came to visit in April and mentioned that he really wanted to see the ballet, we ended up at the San Francisco Opera House for Program 7.  My Dad is an artist – although he might not call himself that – so he sees movement differently and notices relationships between moods, colors, and music that I might tend to ignore while watching dance.  It was fun to notice how my perspectives on the 3 dances moved the more my Dad and I talked about the pieces we saw.

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My Dad really liked Christopher Wheeldon’s Continuum – there was something there to relate to.  Maybe it was the clean stage and lighting or the way the choreography embodied the music.  There was an ease to the dancing that made its abstractness relatable, the “art” in the dance.  In the program notes, Wheeldon states that “audience’s shouldn’t just be entertained.  They should be challenged.”  While I can’t say for sure whether or not I was challenged by Continuum.  I did enjoy watching it with my Dad; he didn’t shy away from bursts of happy.

People are talking about Justin Peck’s, In the Countenance of Kings.  Even Vanity Fair has something to say or rather ask: “Is Justin Peck Making Ballet Cool Again?”  I’m not sure how I would answer this question, but it seems to imply that there is something “uncool” about ballet or maybe that ballet is, as Jennifer Homans claimed in her 2010 book Apollo’s Angels, dying.  Does Peck’s  growing popularity serve as a refutation this claim?   

Underneath the question posed by Vanity Fair is a fear – or the perception of a fear – that ballet is becoming irrelevant or less relatable to our present moment, which begs the question: Is In the Countenance of Kings relevant?  How does it matter?

In the program notes Peck states, “it’s not a narrative, but it’s like a semi-story.”  There is a protagonist, foil, and hero.  The corps de ballet is “the school of thought” and there are three others, Quantus, Electress, Botanica.  I’m not sure the names of the “semi-story” matter, but should they?  In the Countenance of Kings is a “semi-story” of a present moment that is “cinematic” with “freeze-frame kodak moments.”  There is a relatable surface here, but it is just that, a surface that is just skimming the possible and ways of perceiving the possible.  I want Peck to be more than “be cool,” and I want this dance to matter more because I truly like how Peck cuts the stage with his choreography.  For the record, my Dad only liked the second ½ of this dance.

Last on the program was Balanchine’s Theme and Variations.  My Dad really liked this piece – the tutus, the symmetry, the classical lines – I wasn’t surprised.  The woman sitting next me asked her partner if they could leave: “Oh god, not Theme and Variations.”  This begs the question: is Theme and Variations relevant? How does it matter?  For me, it was enough that my Dad enjoyed the dance – it mattered enough at the moment.   

Thanks Dad.

March 17th, “Program 5”

San Francisco Ballet, choreography by Jerome Robbins and Yuri Possokhov

Sitting in Row E.

 

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In big theaters, I don’t choose to sit this close – Row E – but for this performance I did.  Sitting here, I could watch the detailed movements of the feet and even the sweat on faces and backs.  It was a perfect location to take in all the delicate surprises of Dances at a Gathering.  The subtle gestures and weight shifting were delightful, and I reveled in live accompaniment – Chopin.  I could have watched that piece again and again.  It was one of those dances that I could see myself dancing.  I felt close to this piece; I wanted to touch it.

Row E was not the perfect location, however, to watch Swimmer; I am not sure there was a perfect location.  Confession: I did not read the program notes.  Hindsight: I should of read the program notes.  A week later, I am still trying to figure out why people like this piece. I just couldn’t connect with it.  Yes, there was some good dancing, but I couldn’t figure out what the dance was saying or asking. What was I being asked to consider or think about? I don’t mind when a dance makes me work, but I do mind when a dance only seems to be speaking for itself.   

It took me a while to figure this out.  When asked how I felt about this piece my gut responses were, “waste of resources” and “too much going on.”  Yet, as I sat lingered with the dance (including the program notes) for a bit, I realized my discontent was rooted elsewhere.  The program notes suggest that the thinking behind the piece works from “deeply personal experiences,” which are left for the viewer to make any interpretation.  Yet, I didn’t get the sense that I was invited into to these experiences, into Possokhov’s concepts, point-of-views, etc.   Instead, I was just watching from a distance.  

Often, there is already enough distance between the dancing and audience when sitting in the theater.  The differences in watching (and writing about) these two pieces reminded me that the presence and action of distance can matter in dance, which can be deeply personal, highly contextual, and even physical.  

February 4th, “Program 2”

San Francisco Ballet, choreography by George Balanchine, Mark Morris, Liam Scarlett

Back to the SF Opera House.

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I saw two San Francisco Ballet programs last season – both full length pieces (Giselle and Schokovitch Trilogy).  I didn’t write much about the dancing in either ballet.   This year started I with a mixed repertory program: Rubies (Balanchine), Drink to me with Thine Eyes (Morris), and Fearless Creatures (Scarlett).   I rather enjoyed “the whole” of the evening; it was nicely curated.  The pieces were abstractly similar even if they come out of different times and represent different aesthetics.  I got a little nostalgic with Rubies (1967) – some Balanchine choreography can do that to me.  Learning and performing Concerto Barocoo back in 1987/1988 was an incredible experience, and sometimes when I watch Balanchine’s choreography I enjoy (and appreciate) the work happening on stage.   I got a little dreamy watching Drink to me with Thine Eyes (1987).  There was buzz about Fearless Creatures (2015); I heard a rumor about standing ovations.  I watched a lot of creature in this piece but wanted more fearless.  A quick read through the program notes confirmed this observation: “anti-venom to the fairies;” “synergy within them (the dancers) as a pack;” “something prowling.”  I think our world needs more fearless right now, but I also understand and appreciate time spent in the beauty and wonder of a dance.  “Program 2” was a pleasant surprise, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that the next SF Ballet program will be just as tight and maybe a little more fearless.

April 25th, University of San Francisco Dance Ensemble Spring 2015 Concert

Choreographed by University of San Francisco Faculty (with Guest Artists Lauren Simpson and Jenny Stulberg)

I got to see Still Life for Two No. 2 again – such fun, repeat

Student shows back-to-back.  It was great to see these two shows so close together (I am a geek and dance nerd for sure).  I have learned to appreciate the spring dance concert at USF, and it’s gotten better over the years.  It is usually a short program with a wide variety of dance (ballet, hip hop, contemporary, African), and the dancers dance their hearts out it.  This year, Naby Bangoura, D Montalvo, Eli Nelson, and Jennifer Polyocan presented dances.  The dancers may not have same level of technical skill as the Berkeley students and it may show, but their commitment to the performance, to the stage is just as strong. For example, Kusan-Hsuan Lee danced the solo variation from Esmeralda with such delight that I couldn’t help but giggle.  She didn’t have the best technique (and her costume was terrible), but she took command of the stage and didn’t let go.  It was a joy to watch, truly.  

April 9th,”Schokovitch Trilogy”

Choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky and danced by San Francisco Ballet

No one fell asleep this time!  I spent some time with the program and got a little caught in them, or rather the lack of them.  The best reflections on the piece came from the Musical director and Principal conductor, Martin West. To some extent, this makes sense given that the ballet is about the Russian composer Schokovitch.  I have no idea who wrote the notes about the dance but they end with this: “The color red is prominent; backdrops offer hints of Stalin-era Russia. Yet all three ballets are markedly different”.  This seems like an obvious point.  Why bother?  When I closed the program, I wondered why should I invest or care about this ballet?

In contrast, the SF Symphony program notes from 4/18 were stellar (yes, I am a little behind with my writing).  They were quite informative and even included suggested readings.  In the past, these suggestions have prompted me to read more about Charlie Chaplin, Chopin, and others. I felt not only welcomed, but respected as an audience member.  

I don’t really care if the MacArthur Foundation thinks Ratmansky (choreographer) is a “genius” or if the repetiteur is more forthcoming about the intent and emotion of the piece than Ratmansky.  Give me notes that offer more than just the obvious, give me something that matters to how might “see” the dance better.