Tag Archives: Cal Performances

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

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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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Ojai North! in Berkeley serves a cocktail of sounds, sights

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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 »

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Eifman Ballet tackles the turbulent life of Rodin

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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 »

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Feed your soul, feast your eyes: Alvin Ailey is in town

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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 »

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Vienna, Kronos, much more in Cal Performances season

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Cal Performances 2013-14 season features a return residency for the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the world premiere of Mark Morris’s Acis and Galatea (see video above), a celebration of Kronos Quartet’s 40 years, and an emphasis on Brahms, with performances by Yo Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax and Anne Sofie von Otter, as well as a host of dance, new music, theater, jazz and early music concerts.

“These are all my children,” said Director Matías Tarnopolsky, explaining why it was so difficult to choose which performances to highlight.  … Continue reading »

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