Author Archives: Lou Fancher
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 »
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago stormed onto the stage of Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall on Friday night and thundered its way through two beefy works of consequence and a collaborative world premiere with Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet.
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 »
The return of the Joffrey Ballet to Berkeley was a joyful reunion as anticipation turned to renewed admiration for fans of the brilliant, 57-year-old, American dance company.
Until their January Cal Performances doubleheader at Zellerbach, Joffrey appearances on Bay Area stages had been far too rare; especially after the company’s 1995 move from New York City to Chicago and Artistic Director Ashley Wheater’s arrival in 2007.
Long a purveyor of supreme choreography and phenomenal dancers, vintage and avant-garde ballets have been — and, good news, still are — their mainstay. A change of leadership and hometown has left intact a dazzling 21st-century repertoire; immensely personal, singular dancers; and immaculately restaged classics. … Continue reading »
Exploding onto the main stage at Zellerbach Hall like the Fourth of July wrapped in black, white, red and green packaging, Mark Morris’s The Hard Nut made its triumphant return to Berkeley.
A three-year hiatus extended the production’s every-other-year tradition with Cal Performances. The last time Bay Area audiences boogied to Act I’s Gallop or swooned during the Nutcracker Ballet-inspired spoof-fest’s breathtaking duets and glorious ensemble machinations was 2009.
Although little has changed in the elaborate, 20-year old production created in 1991 during Morris’ stint in Brussels as Director of Dance at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, audiences have. Expectations increase, rather than fall, when the economy slumps and the advent — some say onslaught — of technology raises the bar every time a production is remounted. The show’s big numbers (48 crew members backstage, 32 dancers, 20 pounds of confetti used in the snow scene) prove only that Morris wasn’t kidding when he said the production was not created to tour or to make money for the company. … Continue reading »
One day after feasting, football and family time on Thanksgiving Day, Cal Performances presents Switzerland’s Mummenschanz, a most bendable contemporary physical theater company celebrating 40 years in operation with their first North American tour since 2010.
Hailed for their ability to fold, twist, arc and teeter the human body into amorphous, immensely adorable creatures, the performance promises to delight anyone over the age of six. Even the younger set, who pose the particular challenge of wowing kids accustomed to Hollywood animation and 3-D special effects, can be reminded of one, astounding truth: these are real people performing mysterious, physical miracles — there’s nothing virtual about them.
Making their debut in 1972, Mummenschanz’s three founders brought a honed, sculptural sensibility to non-verbal theater. Dressed mostly in black, barefooted and with no sets or elaborate backdrops, storytelling burst from their dancer-bodies and the clever use of masks and props. … Continue reading »
Like the birth of a child, Robert Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach: An Opera in Four Acts, co-written with Philip Glass, featuring choreography by Lucinda Childs and brought to Berkeley at October’s end by Cal Performances, presented a conundrum of experience.
The nearly five-hour opera can drive a person mad, or into ecstasy, or both. The only certainty is that after witnessing it, sight, sound, movement, and especially time, can never be the same.
The 1976 original, hailed by critics as revolutionary and largely credited with establishing Wilson, Glass and Childs as leaders in (respectively) contemporary theater, music and dance, today bears some resemblance to an old home movie made by an eccentric uncle. But, while madness in the hands of a family relative may result in silly entertainment, in the hands of three masters, it makes for brilliant, universe-shifting theater. … Continue reading »
It takes a certain kind of performance to cause a near sell-out audience at Cal Performances Zellerbach Hall to rise to a standing ovation and shout for multiple curtain calls. Wednesday night’s opening of the Mariinsky Ballet’s soulful, meticulously executed “Swan Lake” did just that.
The St. Petersburg ballet company could be considered the mother of classical dance, for having given birth to legendary dancers like Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, Natalia Makarova, Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Add to that impressive roster a technique (Vaganova) embracing Russian, Italian and French styles that remains a harbinger of exquisite articulation and lush, sensual port de bras (movement of the arms), tip the scales with its great ballet makers (Marius Petipa and George Balanchine, to name only two), and arrive at a delicious dish of dance.
Served to an eager crowd, the opening performance (the ballet runs through Sunday Oct. 14) offered not decadence, but depth, determination and, at moments, divine inspiration. … Continue reading »
The tragedy of a lonely man, confronted by his mortality and morality, has long been the stuff of playwrights, novelists, choreographers, composers and philosophers.
In a four-show Cal Performance appearance by the Théâtre de la Ville-Paris at Zellerbach Hall, Romanian-French playwright Eugéne Ionesco’s 1957 short story Rhinocéros explored solitary pathos in a metaphorical trampling of conformism in three acts.
The play, performed in French with English subtitles, follows the story of Bérenger, a disheveled white-collar grunt who’s prone to drink and to ogle Daisy, a coworker he adores. Falling instantly into arguments — with best friend Jean, with the competitor for Daisy’s affections, Dudard, and most often, with himself — Bérenger carves an anguished niche as rhinoceroses stampede into his village. Gradually, nearly everyone around him is swept up in desperate submission and they become the very beasts they initially fear. … Continue reading »
When Cal Performances presents musician-storyteller Laurie Anderson’s Dirtday!, the third part of a trilogy and co-commissioning project begun in 2002, one thing is certain: she won’t be “put in a bin”.
“I try not to label myself,” she says, while seeking words to define her genre in a phone interview several weeks before her Sept. 18 Berkeley appearance. “Music is freer now, there’s no necessity to categorize.” … Continue reading »
The savage, often red-hued work of San Francisco artist Barry McGee, presented in a mid-career survey exhibition by the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA), threatens to take over.
Not content with consuming four galleries of the museum’s parking structure-like interior space, the man known generically as a “graffiti artist”— and more intentionally recognized as a leader in urban-inspired art — is stopping passers-by with “SNITCH”, painted in 25-feet spray-can font on the museum’s Bancroft Street façade.
McGee, who bears the tag name “Twist”, developed his skills on the streets. Refining and expanding his visual command while training as a painter and printmaker at the San Francisco Art Institute, he has an elegant mind and the full potential of a master draughtsman.
His brain-boggling torrent of expression, seen in solo exhibits at places like Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center in 1998 and San Francisco’s Center for the Arts Yerba Buena Gardens in 1994, catapulted his trademark “come closer/stay away” message onto the national stage. … Continue reading »
Truffaldino Says No, presented by Shotgun Players in a joint production with PlayGround, a Berkeley Rep playwriting laboratory, barrels into the story of a young man’s expedition with terrific velocity and grand intentions. Combining aspects of Commedia dell’Arte and 1980’s sitcom sensibilities, the journey from Venice to Venice Beach is rife with clever humor and reaches for depth beyond the laughter.
Playwright Ken Slattery’s Truffaldino (William Thomas Hodgson) is a son, predestined to become a carbon copy of his father. Arlecchino, (Stephen Buescher), slaves in the Old World of servants under masters and expects his child will follow suit. Unfortunately, as a younger generation is want to do, Truffaldino has ideas of his own.
Hilariously and surreptitiously called all manner of variations on his name (Truffalpipi, Truffaldingdong, Truffal–whatever) by the woman he both serves and loves, a fluffy, vacuous Isabella (Ally Johnson), the young rebel participates in his doomed-to-follow fate until announcing, expectedly, “No!” … Continue reading »