Author Archives: Lou Fancher
Less than two weeks after Cal Performances brought the Nederland Dance Theatre’s exquisite dancers to Zellerbach Hall, Bay Area balletomanes reveled in the Shanghai Ballet’s 50-member, classically gifted company.
The Butterfly Lovers, a four act story ballet choreographed by Artistic Director Xin Lilli in 2001, showed-off the technical brilliance of the 34-year-old company and left no doubt that Chinese culture can be found in buoyant jetés and perfectly-matched arabesques.
The ballet’s synopsis dates to a fourth century Tang dynasty tale and suggests comparisons to Romeo and Juliet. Ill-fated lovers, secret identities, familial opposition, and more than one death provide obvious, but easy to comprehend concepts through movement and mime, drama. In this case, the final scene is not a funeral; it is resurrection, as the two lovers rise from the grave as shimmering butterflies. … Continue reading »
If it’s possible for a dance performance to cause tears of joy and dismay, shed simultaneously, then Nederlands Dans Theater’s Oct. 23 appearance at Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Hall did it.
Under the cyclonic force of former artistic director Jiri Kylian from 1975 to 1999, the Dutch company expanded to three entities (NDT I, II and III) and developed a breathtaking arsenal of more than 600 ballets choreographed by the likes of Hans Van Manen, Crystal Pite, Ohad Naharin, Mats Ek, William Forsythe and Kylian. Renowned for their exquisite, age- and curriculum-defying dancers (NDT II features young dancers; NDT III was a showcase for those over 40) the company swallowed classical ballet’s rigorous form and modern dance’s instinctive earthiness with equal command. The result — stunning performances that left audiences gulping and dance critics swooning — established an NDT performance as an opportunity to worship the infinite possibilities of the human form, bent into mesmerizing works by contemporary dance masters. … Continue reading »
Thank goodness for boring, sappy poetry. Without it, there might never be The Moth.
And thank goodness for the third annual Bay Area Science Festival, which brings marvelous scientific minds to the masses with ten days (Oct. 24-Nov. 2) of interactive events throughout the Bay Area.
Thirdly, you may thank your lucky stars (especially if you hold a ticket) for five storytellers and an underground gang of directors and hosts bringing epic insights to Berkeley with “The Moth: The Big Bang” at Zellerbach Hall as part of the science festival on Monday, Oct. 28.
The Moth is a 16-year-old storytelling phenomenon founded by poet and novelist George Dawes Green. Once tortured by listening to a poet whose “aesthetic screen” he believed was in serious need of lowering, Green’s urge to simply hear a story — a true, soul-shifting confession or a comic collision of self-awareness spoken aloud — became overwhelming.
“That was it — that was the germ,” he writes, in a forward to The Moth, a collection of 50 true stories selected from the live shows and recently released by Hyperion. … Continue reading »
Cal Performances’ fourth annual Fall Free-For-All is choreography on a massive scale. The all-day arts sampler spins into action on Sunday, September 29 with vivid expressions of creativity accompanied by everything from Body Music to 13th-century French pop tunes to a Duke Ellington tribute to Beethoven and more.
Adding to the dexterity, people attending this year’s event will navigate new routes due to construction near Zellerbach Hall. Spiraling from the Sproul Plaza hub, a perfectly timed, event-filled day of dance (and music, puppets, theater) will have the community flowing from the Cal Band’s Opening Fanfare to the final cascade of Theatre of Yugen’s stylized, Japanese comedy.
The dance within the metadance provides something-for-everyone counterpoints and a terrific opportunity to celebrate the universality of bodies in motion. There is no society or culture on earth that does not at some time, dance. Allowed the grand ballroom of an open field, the vast stage of an empty gymnasium — or even the narrow hallway between a living room sofa and Barcalounger — no child can resist a pirouette or a ferocious sprint climaxed by a final cartwheel or leap. As adults, we learn to tame our wild bodies and exuberant physical impulses for decorum’s sake. And yet, who among us will not smile at the sight of young souls whose inner ballet/jookin/modern dancers know no such boundaries? … Continue reading »
The Bay Area dance world presents an embarrassment of riches: from ballet to modern, embracing street, jazz, tap, flamenco, ethnic — and pretty much everything else — along the way. Tucked away amid this bounty is a quiet, but dogged gem: Berkeley resident Christian Burns.
Burns’ career has alternatively leapt and lingered according to his internal sundial. Periods of intense growth find their genesis in his formative years, spent training at The School of American Ballet in New York City.
From such well-laid grounding, Burns stretched ballet’s structured posture into novel forms as a member of Minnesota-based James Sewell Ballet, San Francisco’s Alonzo Kings LINES Ballet, and as a guest artist with The Forsythe Company in Dresden, Germany. Since 1998, when he moved to the Bay Area to co-create the dance duo company The Foundry with former San Francisco Ballet dancer Alex Ketley, Burns has delved most deeply into investigations commonly referred to as “dance improvisation” or “contact improvisation.” … Continue reading »
Like characters in an ancient Roman frieze, eight young boys assume motionless poses, then spring to pumping, rolling, spinning life in front of the Zellerbach Playhouse on the University of California, Berkeley, campus.
It’s a rehearsal, but in light of the fierce pride and near-divine determination in their expression — and exploding from their agile bodies — it impresses as so much more. They are AileyCamp dancers, they are men-to-be, they are special.
AileyCamp, organized in Berkeley by Cal Performances every year, is a national program based on the principles of Alvin Ailey, an African American son of a single parent who made his way to the pinnacle of the dance world as a performer, choreographer and founder of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Along the way, he developed an ambitious philosophy: circumstances do not define the human spirit, and children are often the best place to look in order to learn life lessons. Expanding on his ideas, and using the Horton technique — the modern dance methodology behind the fearless, muscular physicality of the Ailey style — he focused AileyCamp on communication.
A splendid exhibition of Bay Area figurative and abstract-expressionist artist Richard Diebenkorn’s paintings and drawings on display at San Francisco’s de Young Museum proves 13 is a most fortunate number.
From 1953 to 1966, a 13-year expanse, the pioneering artist forged a permanent, prominent position in art history from his Berkeley vantage point. He also defied pigeon-holing. Maneuvering dexterously, his mercurial expansion of traditional figurative, landscape and abstract styles both defined and shattered expectations.
Diebenkorn’s agility during his Berkeley years allowed him to escape the narrow circles of art historians and the 1950s New York art establishment. Adhering to no formal school of thought — other than that of the natural world — the works he created in the East Bay shifted from abstract to representational, then back to abstract. … Continue reading »
If you are ever stranded on that proverbial deserted island, you might hope to have author Khaled Hosseini as your companion. It’s hard to imagine a better buddy: one who could erase hours of boredom with storytelling, treat the inevitable scrapes and dehydration by drawing on his years as a practicing doctor, and stimulate the world — the millions of readers enamored by his New York Times bestselling The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and now, And the Mountains Echoed (Riverhead Books, May 2013) — to mount a massive manhunt.
Fortunately, Bay Area residents won’t have to fling themselves metaphorically into the ocean to enjoy the particular pleasure of a face-to-face with the Northern California novelist. On June 23, the author will be at a Berkeley Arts & Letters talk and book signing at First Congregational Church of Berkeley. Berkeleyside co-founder and editor Frances Dinkelspiel will host the Sunday afternoon discussion. … Continue reading »
What happens when you shake, stir and allow to mingle a music-savvy choreographer (Mark Morris), two earth-and-occasionally-ear-shattering composers (John Cowell, Igor Stravinsky), a marvelously matched foursome (American String Quartet) and a nimble jazz/pop/avant-garde trio (The Bad Plus)?
You get a mixed drink — and that’s exactly what Cal Performances’ Ojai North! 2013 festival served up on Wednesday night at Hertz Hall. Ojai North! continues through June 15.
The performance came amid a day saturated with sound and sights: a red fish blue fish concert in the campus’s faculty glade preceded; a screening of Salomé with live accompaniment followed. Poised on the first-day precipice of Northern California’s strong-arm extension of Southern California’s annual Ojai Valley music festival, much mention was made of Morris’s position as Music Director. The appointment pivots each year: Morris is the first choreographer to assume the role. … Continue reading »
Thirty-six years after Boris Eifman began honing his “dissident choreographer” chops as artistic director of Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg, a three-show Bay Area premiere of Rodin at CAL Performances revealed that nothing has changed.
And yet, everything is different.
Eifman is no longer shocking his homeland’s ballet traditionalists; his dancers are complex, first-rate artistic tools; there’s even a government-supported “Dance Palace,” slated for completion in 2016 and portending the company’s bold, permanent future.
“My method, my philosophy of theater — I don’t change,” he said, in an interview prior to Saturday’s May 11 performance.
But that doesn’t mean he’s not tinkering with the steps. … Continue reading »
The almighty power of contemporary dance is alive and kicking in Berkeley through April 28, after which the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will pack up their four, richly textured programs and hoof it to the next tour stop.
Until then, it’s “get thee to the church of alpha men and women” in Zellerbach Hall. Feed your soul, feast your eyes and raise your inner flag (no matter how tattered) of patriotism. Artistic Director Robert Battle’s company sprang to life on American soil in 1958 and 55 hinge-bending, lateral-leaning, gravity-defying years later, the jubilee shows no signs of abating. … Continue reading »
Can a single-artist dance company become an ever-evolving, interactive, mobile museum?
That is the question, and the premise, of the Trisha Brown Dance Company’s revolutionary plan as the iconic, 76-year-old dancemaker retires her choreographic cap and becomes the company’s Founding Artistic Director and Choreographer.
As of February 2011 and after a series of minor strokes, Brown concluded 50-plus-years as a master creator of elegant physical vocabulary unfurled in magnificent metaphors of time, tasks and space.
Naming Diane Madden and Carolyn Lucas (long-time TBDC members since joining as dancers in the 1980’s) as Associate Artistic Directors, the company embarked in January on a three-year international “Proscenium Works, 1979-2011” tour. … Continue reading »
Compelling dances result from simple, rare ingredients: fantastic dancers with bone-deep training baring their souls, and choreographers with dangerous love in every pattern, pairing, and pirouette. Add earthshakingly beautiful lighting, audacious or adorable sound scores, and costumes springing organically from the choreographer’s greatest aspirations — and, well, you might have a masterpiece.
Two of the works on HSDC’s docket rose close to attaining such majesty: Alejandro Cerrudo’s stunning Little Mortal Jump and King’s ambitious Azimuth. … Continue reading »