Tag Archives: Cal Performances

Ambitious Ojai North Music Festival returns to Berkeley

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Storm large and Storm Large: the words serve double duty at this week’s Cal Performances Ojai North Music Festival, running June 19-21 on the Berkeley campus.

“Storm large” could be considered emblematic of the fearlessly ambitious annual contemporary music festival that drew the storied tradition of experimentation begun in Southern California in 1947 to Berkeley in 2011.

This year’s festival is curated and directed by pianist, writer, and 2013 MacArthur Fellow, Jeremy Denk, who promises “screwing with the canon” and related barrier-crashing, ear-burning musical endeavors.

Notably, the mighty laboratory of modern-day composers and artists gets its most-local kick from the remarkable growl-to-purr, rage-to-ravishingly melodic vocalist, Storm Large. The Oregon-based actor/singer lived and performed in the Bay Area during the 1990s, before relocating to Portland. … Continue reading »

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Such Sweet Shelby: Playing Berkeley on Friday May 2

Pictured: In a special collaboration with California Shakespeare Theater, Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra celebrates the legacy of Duke Ellington on Friday May 2, 2014 at 8:00 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall. 

PHOTO: Peter Varshavsky
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Duke Ellington was riding high in 1957 when he released the album Such Sweet Thunder, a suite of tunes composed with Billy Strayhorn loosely inspired by the sonnets and plays of William Shakespeare. After a long stretch in the wilderness, when it seemed that Ellington’s mighty orchestra might go the way of all the other great swing era big bands, he roared back into the limelight with the triumphant 1956 performance at the Newport Jazz Festival. The concert rejuvenated Ellington, spawned a hit live album, and returned him to his singular status as America’s nonpareil composer and bandleader, prompting the maestro to proclaim frequently thereafter, “I was born at Newport.”

No one in the Bay Area has done more to promote and extend Ellington’s orchestral legacy than Sacramento-raised bassist/composer Marcus Shelby, who brings his talent-laden 16-piece ensemble to Cal Performances on Friday for “The Legacy of Duke Ellington: 50 Years of Swing!” a concert marking Ellington’s 115th birthday (April 29) and the upcoming 40th anniversary of his death (May 24). While the program features a wide array of Ellingtonia, it centers on Such Sweet Thunder, a suite that has long fascinated Shelby. … Continue reading »

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Cal Performances season offers ‘world-beating innovation’

Robert Wilson's production of The Old Woman, with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe. Photo: Courtesy of Cal Performances
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Cal Performances this week announced its 2014-15 season, which includes cellist Yo Yo Ma performing Bach solo cello suites, Robert Wilson’s production of Daniil Kharms’ The Old Woman, with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe, a residency with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, the Australian Ballet’s Swan Lake (which includes the love triangle of Prince Charles, Princess Diana and Camilla Parker-Bowles), and Project TenFourteen, where the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players perform ten world premiers.

“You have world-beating innovation here,” said Sir Nicholas Kenyon, managing director of London’s Barbican Centre, at the launch of the program. “Anywhere in the world would be envious of what you have in this season.”  … Continue reading »

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‘Acis and Galatea’ promises to be a grand, sensory delight

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Musical morsels become masterpieces in the hands of composers like George Frideric Handel and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Spring forward 200-plus-odd years and find dance and design have their modern day monument builders as well.

When choreographer Mark Morris and designers Isaac Mizrahi (costumes) Adrianne Lobel (sets) and Michael Chybowski (lighting) unleash their collective talents in a Cal Performances presentation and world premiere of Handel’s Acis and Galatea, arranged by Mozart, you might think there’s no cause for frosting on the proverbial cake.

But buttercream aside, there’s more: the Mark Morris Dance Group will be joined by the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale and guest soloists Sherezade Panthaki (soprano), Thomas Cooley (tenor), Zach Finkelstein (tenor), and Douglas Williams (bass-baritone). Conductor Nicholas McGegan will lead the musicians, rounding out the star-studded team. And that’s not even mentioning Morris’ uniquely and collectively talented dancers.

In sum, the originally tiny work, written in chamber form in 1718, is likely to be a grand, sensory explosion of sight, sound and movement, during three performances at Zellerbach Hall, April 25-27. … Continue reading »

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Alvin Ailey’s genre-stretching adventure back in Berkeley

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Is the juice worth the squeeze?

It’s the unexpected question Robert Battle, now in his third year as Artistic Director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, asks himself every day. The “squeeze” is the hard work of running a dance company and the dollars an audience spends to attend a performance. The “juice” is the legacy-upholding, future-building, legendary output of the company’s indelible dancers and choreographers.

Inheriting the heavy mantle of a dance company founded in 1958 by choreographer and activist Alvin Ailey, Battle succeeded former Ailey dancer Judith Jamison’s 1980 to 2011 term of leadership. As the troupe’s third artistic director, Battle says that during the first season, audiences showed up to see a spectacular season already fine-tuned by Jamison, a signature Ailey dancer. The second year, they were simply curious about the new leader’s imprint. In 2014, record numbers during the company’s New York City performances in December, have given him courage. … Continue reading »

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Magical, misfit marriage of Ira Glass and dance

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Dance is primarily show, don’t tell. Radio is tell, can’t show. Put them together, you get the magical, misfit marriage that is “Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host,” coming to Zellerbach Hall on Saturday, Mar. 29, presented by Cal Performances.

Mysteriously blending the talky talent of Ira Glass, host and creator of the public radio program This American Life, with the devastatingly beautiful, humanistic choreography of Monica Bill Barnes and her longtime collaborator, dancer Anna Bass, a miracle arises. Both genres get a leg-up: elevating the no-talk, all-talk mediums to something one might find in a dream. A sort of surreal landscape where anecdotes are inscribed with arabesques and the moral of each story is mired in marvelous muscularity. Imagine a dichotomous duet as sweet as the chocolate-peanut butter pairing of a Reese’s, but better for your health.  … Continue reading »

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Trey McIntyre Project: Farewell tour comes to Berkeley

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Sometimes, “goodbye” is also “hello.”

Billed by Cal Performances as “The Farewell Tour of the Trey McIntyre Project,” the contemporary dance company’s Berkeley performances on March 21-22 at Zellerbach Hall are as much about starting anew as they are about ending.

From the beginning of its now-ten-year history, founder and artistic director Trey McIntyre had every intention of not grasping perpetuity — an arts organization model he calls “false” and capable of “squashing” a company. Instead, TMP was designed very much like its creator: fluid, rebellious, ambitious enough to tower or topple, and simultaneously ephemeral and mercurial. n 2014, the company announced it would enter a new phase; largely dissolving the current structure and allowing McIntyre (and a small handful of his dancers) the freedom to pursue future passions. … Continue reading »

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Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet: Creating a fearless art

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Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, which has just marked its tenth anniversary, brings its fierce, unforgettable dancers and repertoire to Cal Performance’s Zellerbach Hall for performances on Feb 22-23.

Founded in 2003, the New York-based company was given early financial wings by the billionaire backing of Nancy Laurie, niece of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. The troupe’s fearless dancers were led, beginning in 2005, by the Parisian artistic director and former Alvin Ailey dancer, Benoit-Swan Pouffer. Modeled on European dance companies, the elite fleet enjoyed year-round salaries, health insurance, well-sprung rehearsal spaces and — oh double joy! — bold choreographers with time to explore. … Continue reading »

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Martha Graham Dance Co. serves up 3 classic feasts

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Janet Eilber, Artistic Director of Martha Graham Dance Company since 2005, knows what all chefs, farmers, architects, engineers, scientists, philosophers — really, what anyone knows. The key to a delicious, sturdy, profoundly pleasing creation is all in the ingredients. On Friday Jan. 31 and Saturday Feb. 1 at Zellerbach Hall, Cal Performances and the 77-year-old modern dance company will serve up three classic feasts, with live accompaniment provided by the Berkeley Symphony.

Like the way that jazz and blues defined American music, Martha Graham swept through the 20th century; absorbing, exuding and transforming the collective experience of American modern dance.

She wasn’t alone in her pioneering career that spanned nearly a century and resulted in 181 works. Others, like Lester Horton, Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, Alvin Ailey, Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, and Twyla Tharp (the latter three trained by Graham) also propelled the field in unique ways. But Graham’s themes and frequent collaborations with equally visionary composers, writers, filmmakers, and costume and set designers, matched the grand scale of America’s ever-evolving landscape from an agricultural to an industrial to a technology-driven society. As the country breathed, so did her dances. … Continue reading »

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Shanghai Ballet produces gorgeous classical dance

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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 »

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NDT: Supernova dance technique, dismaying choreography

The upstage box in Sehnsucht. Photo: Nederlands Dans Theater
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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 »

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Cal Fall Free for All: Choreography on a massive scale

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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 »

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Berkeley Alvin Ailey camp teaches more than dance

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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.

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