Heather Desaulniers

  • Robert Moses’ Kin – DRAFT/BY Series
    ODC Theater, San Francisco

  • San Francisco Ballet – “Cinderella”
    War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

  • Trey McIntyre Project, presented by Cal Performances
    Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley

Victor Talledos and Jackie Goneconti  Photo © Alan Kimara Dixon

Victor Talledos and Jackie Goneconti
Photo © Alan Kimara Dixon

March 7th – Here & Now 2014, the month-long Black Choreographers Festival, closed in the first weekend of March. And for the final set of performances, Robert Moses’ Kin (in association with the Black Choreographers Festival and ODC Theater) brought ‘DRAFT/BY Series’ to San Francisco’s Mission District for three performances. This varied two-act program combined and highlighted two of Robert Moses’ Kin’s ongoing choreographic endeavors.

‘The By Series’ invites different choreographers to stage new work on Robert Moses’ Kin’s company dancers and this particular collection of world premieres featured Moses’ “Ark”, Bliss Kohlmyer’s “Snapshots of Longing”, Dexandro “D” Montalvo’s “Impulse” and Gregory P. Dawson’s “808 KICK revised”. “Ark” is all about structure and form. Abstract and postmodern, dancers sequenced through Moses’ choreography on the perimeter of the floor as well as in the center. Questions arose. How does movement look in different configurations? How can the angle and facing change physicality? How is the impact of movement altered by different points of staging? Next up was Kohlmyer’s narratively powerful “Snapshots of Longing”. A duet for Jackie Goneconti and Victor Talledos, “Snapshots of Longing” documented a passionate, desperate and at times, volatile relationship. Short scenes were separated by blackouts, though the emotion and charged nature of the piece held true throughout. While the final vignette calmed and slowed slightly, the drama from the rest of the dance hovered. This last portion was incredibly sad. Kohlmyer did not sum up the pair’s existence with a neat and tidy bow. Instead they experienced an acknowledgement and an acceptance of their flawed reality. Sitting in a place of precariousness is hard and Kohlmyer bravely left this story unresolved.

Montalvo’s “Impulse” followed – a quartet for four women to a pulsating techno score. While unison dancing typically calls for exactness and precision, here, the differences between the dancers were celebrated. “Impulse” was an individual practice; each dancer authentically reacting to and cycling through movement. With “Impulse”, Montalvo has created a study of inherent personal dynamics. ‘The By Series’ portion of the evening concluded with Dawson’s “808 KICK revised”, an enthralling and somewhat ominous ensemble composition. Community and society were primary themes, and along those lines, some very slight influences of social dance (ballroom and line dancing) were present in the choreography. While on the whole, the piece was very contemporary, these characteristics crept in from time to time, and fit very well with Dawson’s choreographic vocabulary. Near the end, “808 KICK revised” had a dynamic crescendo and energetic ramp up in movement. Most of the dancers handled this well. However, a few cast members lost a sense of direction in their arms and shoulders, which took away from the powerful choreography.

‘DRAFT’ is the result of a very specific process – short choreographic variations created in a limited time period by a number of different performance artists. Then, these individual artistic experiments are stitched together into a large single work right prior to performance. This iteration of ‘DRAFT’ was fantastic; the ODC Theater stage was alive with a layered mosaic of choreographic ideas. A physical quilt of genre, style, intention and product led to a dynamic, varied and fun contemporary dance experience. Only one moment seemed out of place. Right in the middle, there was a type of ‘dance-off’ segment where two or more performers with different choreography met center stage, faced each other and danced. It just didn’t fit. An odd and unnecessary sense of competition was suddenly present in a work that up to that point had been a true celebration of community.


San Francisco Ballet's Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada in  "Cinderella" Photo © Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet’s Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada in “Cinderella”
Photo © Erik Tomasson

March 11th – Last year, audiences flocked to the War Memorial Opera House for Christopher Wheeldon’s brand new, re-imagined version of the narrative classic “Cinderella”. San Francisco Ballet’s final program of 2013 played to sold-out houses; what a way to close a season. After such an ebullient (and well-deserved) reception, it makes sense that this full-length story ballet has re-appeared in the repertory line-up for 2014.

Dance critics see repeat performances all the time; reviewing the same ballet goes with the territory. Part of live dance’s beauty is its impermanent, fleeting nature – as such, no two performances (even of the same ballet) are ever identical. And especially when a ballet’s casting is entirely different than a previous viewing, there is plenty to say. With the exception of Shannon Rugani’s unforgettable Hortensia (which was a joy to see again), the dancers in all of “Cinderella’s” main roles were new this time around (to me).

Wheeldon’s “Cinderella” certainly calls for technical excellence but even more so, it demands and requires a deep artistic sensibility. To successfully pull off each role, every cast member must be both a brilliant dancer and an equally convincing actor. San Francisco Ballet delivered like never before. Maria Kochetkova was a consummate Cinderella, dancing all three acts with an authentic youthfulness. While keeping that innocence consistent, she injected each variation with a different flavor – her first, a sense of sorrow and loneliness; the initial duet with a disguised Prince Guillaume (Joan Boada), careful and humorous; the ballroom scene, light and free. In this last example, Kochetkova floated through space, free of all burdens, especially in her circular turning sequence. In Act III, as Cinderella remembered the ball, choreographic snippets and motifs recurred. She was not reliving those moments in sadness or despair, rather in hope and joy of inclusion. Wheeldon’s choreography for Cinderella and the Prince’s final pas de deux also carried a hopeful nature, but it had much more of a forward feel. Effortless lifts and circular spins pointed the young couple toward their future.

Prince Guillaume could not have been cast better; Boada was perfection. He soared through every jump; his jetés en tournant, particularly regal. But one of the highlights of the whole production was the camaraderie between Boada and Taras Domitro (as his confidant Benjamin). In every interaction, their friendship was palpable and honest; a true lifetime connection. Though maybe not the point of the ballet as a whole, it was just really beautiful. Both stepsisters (Sasha De Sola as Edwina and Frances Chung as Clementine) were appropriately petty, silly and artificial. And though Act II slows a little too much in the middle, De Sola’s featured dance in that section also contained some of her best acting ever.

The most visually stunning scene in Wheeldon’s “Cinderella” is the seasons, or spirits, as he calls them. Mystical and otherworldly, each of these four sequences highlights Wheeldon’s unique choreographic talent – blending classical technique with unexpected contemporary twists. ‘Spring’ celebrated footwork with light staccato fare. Summer brought maturity with long lines, sweeping legs and Jaime Garcia Castilla’s slow, controlled pirouettes. Led by Hansuke Yamamoto, Autumn spoke of drama and dynamism with large jumps and directional shifts. Finally, winter injected a sense of constant motion.


Trey McIntyre Project in "Mercury Half-Life" Photo © Trey McIntyre

Trey McIntyre Project in “Mercury Half-Life”
Photo © Trey McIntyre

March 21st – Spring is all about change, growth and rebirth. This was particularly apparent as Cal Performances presented Trey McIntyre Project for a two night engagement. Much was new – the program featured the world premiere of “The Vinegar Works: Four Dances of Moral Instruction” (a Cal Performances co-commission) and the West Coast premiere of 2013’s “Mercury Half-Life”. But amongst these firsts was also a strong sense of finality – this Cal Performances’ appearance was one of the West Coast stops on the company’s farewell tour.

It came as no surprise that McIntyre’s new piece, “The Vinegar Works: Four Dances of Moral Instruction”, was inspired by the illustrations of Edward Gorey. Between the make-up, costumes (by Bruce Bui), puppets and props (by Dan Luce and Michael Curry), “The Vinegar Works” looked like a dark fairy tale that had sprung to life. A four-part theatrical spectacle, the vaudevillian, spooky, and sometimes comical fantasy land was inhabited by an outrageous cast of characters. Leading the audience through the piece were two recurring figures – an orchestrating grim reaper and a boyish emcee. The music was a perfect dramatic match; the puppets, completely astonishing and totally imaginative. And, the entire company took on the personas of their gothic creatures to great technical, artistic and narrative success. “The Vinegar Works” was full of McIntyre’s dynamic, athletic movement, though something was missing. With the exception of the three cloaked men in the final segment, the choreography needed more eccentricity and outrageousness to match everything else onstage. Overall the piece was a rousing success, but the movement really was overpowered by the other theatrical elements.

Lots of dance companies have a piece in their repertory that features one artist’s or one band’s music. But in that group of danceworks, some compositions soar above the others, gaining legendary status: Twyla Tharp’s “Deuce Coupe” (to the hits of the Beach Boys), the Joffrey Ballet’s “Billboards” (a tribute to Prince), and now, Trey McIntyre’s “Mercury Half-Life”. A revue-style work set to songs performed by Queen, “Mercury Half-Life” mixes dance and music with a contemporary flair. Not fusion, not neo-classicism, this fifty-minute tour de force exemplifies McIntyre’s visionary genius – his ability to marry music and movement with guts and brilliance. A myriad of dance genres were present including tap, ballet, modern, jazz, contact improvisation, acrobatics, lyrical and social dance. Brett Perry set the bar extremely high with his opening tap solo (to “Bring Back That Leroy Brown”). With a combination of rhythm phrases and old-school performance tap, Perry brought percussive dance and precision showmanship to new heights. All the vignettes were phenomenally choreographed and expertly danced, though Ryan Redmond’s solo in “Another One Bites the Dust” was another standout moment.