Tag Archives: choreographers

March Madness

March finished with a flurry of performances by three boldface names in Bay Area dance. Results were mixed, as results often are. For specifics, click below.

San Francisco Ballet’s Don Quixote, with Mathilde Froustey and Carlos Quenedit (DanceTabs)

Mathilde Froustey and Carlos Quenedit in Tomasson/Possokhov’s Don Quixote. © Erik Tomasson
Mathilde Froustey and Carlos Quenedit in Tomasson/Possokhov’s “Don Quixote.”
© Erik Tomasson

The world premieres of ODC’s Dead Reckoning and The Invention of Wings (DanceTabs)

Grace-Anne Powers and Joshua Seibel in Amy Seiwert's "This Must Be True. " Photo: Alejandro Gomez/Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley
Grace-Anne Powers and Joshua Seibel in Amy Seiwert’s “This Must Be True. ” Photo: Alejandro Gomez/Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley

Ballet San Jose’s Bodies of Technology program, with commissioned works by Jessica Lang, Amy Seiwert and Yuri Zhukov (San Jose Mercury News)

Rogelio Lopez’s “Empty Spaces”: Dance as an Art of Redemption

Berkeley’s Shawl-Anderson Dance Center has been incubating modern dancers and choreographers since 1958. Lately it’s been especially fertile ground, nurturing resident artists like Tanya Chianese and Stranger Lover Dreamer, whose recent performances garnered critical and audience raves. Dancers and dance makers thrive in SADC’s open-minded atmosphere, where intimate studios provide safe harbor for creativity, and performances often include familiar faces.

One of those is Rogelio Lopez, familiar from Berkeley to Los Angeles as a modern-dance teacher, performer and, now, as a choreographer. His new work, Empty Spaces, premieres at SADC March 27–29 through the studio’s Dance Up Close/East Bay series, and though the 38-year-old Lopez has a decade of choreography to his credit, Empty Spaces is his first evening-length piece.

Rogelio Lopez's "Empty Spaces."
Rogelio Lopez’s “Empty Spaces.”

Spare and abstract, Lopez’s choreography is also layered with feeling. Empty Spaces is especially rich in subtext drawn from Lopez’s difficult childhood in Mexico and Southern California, with themes of tenderness and grief, abuse and anodyne, fractured memories and the trade-off of forgetting the past—self-preservation exchanged for irretrievable loss.

One needn’t know Lopez’s history to fully experience Empty Spaces; the movement has its own identity, embodied by the gifted dancers Tanya Chianese, Ann DiFruscia, Sarah Genta, Leah Hendrix-Smith, Abigail Hosein, Rebecca Johnson, Erin Kohout, Katie Kruger, Jeni Leary, Laura Marlin, Andrew Merrell, Mo Miner, Chantal Sampogna and Shaunna Vella (familiar faces all). The show yields only fragmentary glimpses anyway—no one in the audience will see more than seven of the fifteen pieces it comprises.

Here, Lopez opens up about his origins and how they inform Empty Spaces, and about dance as an art of redemption. Please be aware that this interview contains sensitive and extremely personal subject matter.

—Claudia Bauer

{Empty Spaces runs Friday through Sunday, March 27–29. Fri. & Sat. at 8 p.m. & 9:30 p.m., Sunday at 8 p.m. only. At Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, 2704 Alcatraz Ave., Berkeley. Buy tickets here.}

Speaking of Dance: You describe Empty Spaces as an exploration of memories, and a way to bring them to light. Where do those memories come from?
Rogelio Lopez: It’s mostly different memories that I had in my childhood. I grew up on a ranch where the population was about two hundred, three hundred people. My dad owned the land and he had workers working for him. But he would be gone and then would come back. My mom would do everything that she could to make money. My dad would milk the cows, my mom would make the cheese. My dad will kill the animals, my mom would sell the meat. It was that type of a family business.

I was raped from age eight until I was ten at the ranch. Everybody knew everyone, but nobody knew what was going on. I thought that it was all my fault, because I grew up with Catholic beliefs. As I grew older, I suppressed all these memories. I really detached myself from that kid. So I am constantly using dance as therapy to find out if I can attach myself to my past. After I moved from the ranch we went into the city, which wasn’t a very happy thing. I kept getting raped until I was thirteen. So there are vivid memories that happened then, but also other memories that I don’t want to think past right now.

SoD: Is that why you structured the show so that the audience in each room sees only part of it, because it echoes that sense that you know that things happened but you don’t have access to memories of them?
RL: If the audience gets frustrated because they can’t see the full movement or they can’t see the full show, because it’s four different shows and they only get to see one, I want them to feel that urge that they want something but not the instant gratification of getting everything all at once. I want them to feel that emptiness that I feel sometimes when I think about this stuff.

Rogelio Lopez
Rogelio Lopez

SoD: How much of your history have you explained to the dancers?
RL: They know everything. Some of the pieces, they ask me what it is about, and I tell them. I also tell them not to try to replicate what I’m feeling, just to feel the movement and feel each other when they’re dancing. But not trying to re-create what happened to me, because I want it to be abstract enough for the audience to relate to.

SoD: Yes, your story is very specific, but the movement is abstract. You could come into this as an audience member and know nothing of the context, but still see it as a rich and complete piece of art. Is that something you strive for as a choreographer?
RL: Every piece that I have made has something to do with my life and my own experience, because I honestly feel like I can’t really say things in words. And when I say it in movement, even though people don’t know what I’m literally talking about, I feel like I actually said it out loud with my body. So I feel like I am a storyteller, but I also use movement as therapy. But I think it comes from within, versus trying to do the hops and kicks.

SoD: Why did you call the show Empty Spaces?
RL: I keep thinking of the space in my heart, that there are spaces for memory. I always feel like we have metal boxes that we put certain relationships that we had, and we go back and we look at them. Those memories are pretty much empty, and I want to fill them up with positive energy. I completely ignore them most of the time, because I refuse to see myself as a victim. But those memories are still there, and I think that those spaces are empty but they need to be filled out in order for my heart to be a bit lighter than what it is now.

SoD: Has the process of creating this show helped to fill those spaces?
RL: It has. Actually, I have never said these things out loud and to so many people, of what has happened to me. Usually it never comes out, and I was always nervous and scared to say anything to [the dancers] because I felt like they would see me as a broken person. But as I got to know them better, I felt like I could actually say it out loud without being judged. I’m feeling that people don’t see me as a broken person. And I’m starting to feel like I am not as broken as I thought I was.

SoD: You’ve made very personal music selections as well.
RL: “Daughter,” for me, is about a child not knowing where their mother was. “What Happened to the Rain” says that the rain falls all around, but then the grass and the boy are gone and the rain keeps falling like helpless tears. It’s honestly what I feel sometimes, that I was standing in that ranch but I wasn’t a boy anymore even though I was eight years old, but that eight-year-old boy was completely gone by the time he got to be nine. And that’s how I feel. I’m gone, and I want to find that out.

SoD: Everyone in the show is a part of the family at Shawl-Anderson. And the show is at SADC, the home of this family. What does that mean to you?
RL: When I was growing up I didn’t know the concept of people being kind. I didn’t know that people actually can help someone without asking anything in return. That’s what Shawl-Anderson has done for me. They’ve taken me into their family. And all of the dancers have absolutely just taken care of me and showed me what kind people really look like. I feel very, very blessed.

I really want to say that Shawl, Rebecca Johnson especially, has helped me so much with this process. I didn’t know if I ever wanted to do a company. I didn’t know if people would want to dance for me. She kept saying, “Oh yeah, there’s a lot of people who want to work with you.” My husband, Andrew Merrell, kept telling me, “Oh yeah, people will work with you,” and I never believed that. I never believed in myself. I feel very, very grateful and happy to have all of these people supporting me.

SoD: Empty Spaces is about many things, but it seems to me that one of them is the power of dance, and how dancers care for each other. I’m really touched by what you’ve told me, and by everybody coming together for you. It’s clear that they’re giving you their best.
RL: Yes, they are. It’s just unbelievable how giving everyone has been. This piece is also about the connections of love, not from just family, but from everyone. The love that they have given me and the love that I’m constantly looking for nowadays, when I didn’t know it existed. I thought it was everybody for their own, and it’s really not. You might think that as a professional dancer that everybody is out for their own, but in Shawl-Anderson it’s really not. Shawl-Anderson doesn’t have an ego. It’s not ego-driven, and it’s not a factory of dancers. It’s actually a family.

SoD: I think I’m going to need to bring tissues to the show. Thank you so much for sharing all of this with me.
RL: Thank you so much.

February Review Redux

February came in like a lamb and went out like a lion. For the curious, here are the end-of-month notices.

*Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion’s Pavement at YBCA in San Francisco, Feb. 19 (Critical Dance)

Kyle Abraham in Pavement. Photo: Steven Schreiber.
Kyle Abraham in Pavement. Photo: Steven Schreiber.

*Ballet San Jose’s MasterPieces, Feb. 22 (Critical Dance)

*San Francisco Ballet’s Program 3, Feb. 24, including the long-awaited world premiere of Myles Thatcher’s Manifesto (DanceTabs)

Coming up…the world premiere of American Ballet Theatre’s new production of The Sleeping Beauty, choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky, at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. So exciting!

San Francisco Ballet Programs 1 & 2

SF Ballet's Maria Kochetkova in Helgi Tomasson's Giselle. (c) Erik Tomasson.
SF Ballet’s Maria Kochetkova in Helgi Tomasson’s Giselle. (c) Erik Tomasson.

SF Ballet’s season began with two programs that ranged from Balanchine to the beyond. I shared my thoughts on DanceTabs:

Program 1: Balanchine’s Serenade, Yuri Possokhov’s RAkU, Val Caniparoli’s Lambarena

Program 2: Giselle

The big excitement is the upcoming world premiere, on February 24, of Myles Thatcher’s Manifesto, the first regular-season creation for the young SFB corps member and emerging choreographer. We had a nice chat about his Rolex Mentor and Protege Arts Initiative mentorship with Alexei Ratmansky, and you can read all about it in the February/March issue of Pointe Magazine.

Playing Catch-up

After an extended break from the blogosphere, Speaking of Dance is back up and on the go. Here are a few things that happened recently:

*Dance Magazine cover story on  San Francisco Ballet’s Maria Kochetkova

*Dance Magazine article on choreographer Gabrielle Lamb

*Pointe Magazine photo essay on Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev

*Pointe Magazine spotlight on Smuin Ballet’s Susan Roemer


FILM REVIEW: Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance

Midway through the new documentary Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance, American Ballet Theatre artistic director Kevin McKenzie, who danced with the Joffrey from 1974 to 1978, says with barely concealed pique that the Joffrey was always considered the “current events company.” Indeed, the history of the Joffrey Ballet Company reads as a history of midcentury America; along with fine dancing, it’s what makes the company unique and this documentary engaging.

Gerald Arpino and Robert Joffrey at the American Ballet Center in the 1960s. Photo: Herbert Migdoll.

McKenzie’s dismay is understandable. Wedged somewhere between Balanchine’s auteur-driven New York City Ballet and the traditional American Ballet Theatre, both geographically and in critics’ minds, the Joffrey was overshadowed by both. City Ballet and ABT hew to classicism (for all his innovations, Balanchine got no further from the academy than the prefix “neo”); their stock-in-trade is the aspiration to art rather than entertainment. Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino, who co-founded the Joffrey in New York City in 1956, paid little heed to that distinction: channeling the zeitgeist, they made and commissioned dances that interpreted the culture outside the studio doors and in the headlines, works that alternately challenged, pleased, shocked or simply delighted.

Radically groovy. Robert Joffrey’s “Astarte.” Photo: Herbert Migdoll.

Some Joffrey/Arpino works were as classically derived as any Ashton piece. Other, Broadway-lite, pieces received audience cheers and critical jeers before quickly disappearing from the repertory. But there were also groundbreaking performances, like that, in 1967, of Kurt Jooss’s 1946 antiwar protest piece The Green Table – Joffrey was the first company to perform it in the United States as well as one of the few major American dance companies (if not the only one) to oppose the Vietnam War from the stage. And then there was Robert Joffrey’s 1968 masterpiece Astarte, an orgiastic fertility-goddess-meets-mortal-man free-love pas des deux, complete with acid-trip film projections, Trinette Singleton in a psychedelic unitard and Max Zomosa stripped to a loincloth. So radically timely was Astarte that it landed Singleton on the cover of Time magazine.

Simply linkin one Joffrey high point to the next, without conveying the depth of feeling underlying each one, would be a monumental achievement in dot connection. But Joffrey is a compelling tale well told, blessed with emotionally generous characters and infused with joy, suspense, tragedy and redemption. This is largely thanks to the storytelling expertise of the production team, led by writer/director Bob Hercules, who also directed the Bill T. Jones documentary A Good Man, and co-producer Harold Ramis, whose own artistic and exceptionally entertaining career includes Animal House, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day.

Director Bob Hercules on the set of “Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance.” Photo: courtesy Media Process Group.

Along with McKenzie, dancers, critics and collaborators like Helgi Tomasson, Lar Lubovitch, Jooss, Twyla Tharp, Anna Kisselgoff and Ashley Wheater, who is now the company’s artistic director, figure in the story via interviews, archival footage and countless photographs. Melissa Sterne deserves kudos for skillfully editing these many elements into a dynamic, yet never manic, collage. Mandy Patinkin lends fine narration.

Dashed more than once on the rocks of poor leadership and worse finances, the Joffrey Ballet has righted itself time and again. The musician Prince once intervened with cash; a series of admittedly kitschy, crowd-pleasing shows rekindled audience interest in the 1980s; and a move to Chicago, in 1995, finally got the company out of the shadows and into its own limelight.

After a generation of relative stability, a labor dispute in 2011 led to a dancer lockout and partial cancellation of that year’s season. But today’s Joffrey also has the financial strength to open and maintain its own building and, under Wheater’s able leadership, it continues to ride the currents.

Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance screens at the San Francisco Dance Film Festival on Sunday, March 18, at 6 p.m., and at the Balboa Theatre on Monday, March 19, at 7 p.m. It is being released nationwide throughout spring 2012, and on DVD and on-demand in June. Visit joffreymovie.com for details.

Copyright (c) 2012 Claudia Bauer. All rights reserved.

Keep WestWave Afloat

Joan Lazarus is a hero in the Bay Area dance community, and it’s time for the Bay Area dance community to be a hero to Joan. Partly because she is a delightful person, but mostly because for twenty years (20!) she has provided a stage and a showcase for emerging choreographers and dancers via the annual WestWave Dance festival.

Because of the nasty funding cutbacks that have been going around, WestWave is having a hard time finding funding for the 2012 season. To date, the festival has found none. Zero. Zilch. Perhaps we can all pitch in a little something to show how much we appreciate WestWave – and Joan?

Click the link below to read Joan’s flyer and learn how to join the community of support for this amazing resource. Thanks!

save WWD.1


Surprise Attack: FACT/SF’s Home Season 3.0

Surprise Attack: FACT/SF’s Home Season 3.0
The Garage, San Francisco, April 8-10 & 13-15, 2011

Brave is the person who sits in the front row at a FACT/SF show. One has to be prepared for unsettling touched-by-a-stranger encounters, like when dancer Maggie Stack put her hand on my shoulder, then on my hand—and then on my note-taking pen!—during Entertaining Victoria, which had its world premiere during the company’s recent two-weekend run of Home Season 3.0, a retrospective on the company’s first three years, at The Garage in San Francisco.

That’s the thing about FACT/SF: they don’t let you relax in your seat watch the show; they draft you into it. The dancers might get on the floor and slither closer and closer to you, and just when you’re thinking that it’s time for them to stop or they will slide right under your seat, they indeed slide under your seat and out the other side. If you aren’t paying attention, well, who knows? No word on whether the company has a contingency plan in the event that someone doesn’t get their feet out of the way.

FACT/SF in "The Consumption Series." Photo: Tawnee Kendall

Artistic director Charles Slender had to get creative to adapt the in-your-face mood of the original Consumption Series, a site-specific work created for the intimate, decidedly non-proscenium (and, sadly, defunct) Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory, to the Garage’s boxy space and bleacher seating. The Frog Pocket/Arvo Pärt soundrack, aggressive movement and decadent post–Marie Antoinette corset-and-tube-socks costumes remain, but this time nobody danced with a bucket on their head; instead, they caravanned down the aisle and into the lobby, and danced there for a few minutes, mostly out of sight. Was anyone wondering if the piece was over? Will those of us who couldn’t see them never understand the work because we missed that part? A few front-row sitters got the extreme-close-up treatment from dancers Erin Kraemer and Catherine Newman; was it awkward or were they into it?

And that’s what makes FACT/SF so intriguing (beyond the high quality of the balletic contemporary dance—let’s not forget that, by all means): the answers don’t matter. Resolution is boring. Wondering if the dancers are ever going to come back and, if they make it back, whether they’ll do anything but wiggle their toes (the punch line of the ultraminimalist Pretonically Oriented v.1, a work in progress that premiered earlier this year through ODC’s Pilot Program), or if they will touch you—again—now that will put you on the edge of your seat, and make you giggle, and keep you guessing.

So when the lights dim for the next piece, you say to yourself, During this one, I will be ready. And then the mood turns. In an update to his 2007 solo …is all that an(n)a sees.09 & .10, Slender dances to one of Bach’s partitas for solo violin. Slender has an intellectual bent and a sardonic wit, so one naturally anticipates unalloyed assertiveness when he’s free to have his way with a captive audience. But in …is all, he taps a vein of vulnerability, revealing something raw and guileless, such that I wanted to look away but couldn’t. Slender, like all his dancers, moves fluidly, bending and extending, twisting and falling to the floor with precision and deliberateness…but that’s not the point, either. It is simply moving when an artist trusts his audience to watch him dance, lit by only a single uplight, no makeup and no façade, to music that touches him.

FACT/SF in buckets. Photo: Tawnee Kendall

The show closed with Entertaining Victoria, inspired by the waltzes of yore and set to Strauss’ Blue Danube, which Slender illustrates by interlacing all five dancers (Daniel Arizmendi and Jona Mercer, along with the three women) in arcs that trace the rise and fall of the music. Slender can’t resist inverting the contemporary vocabulary, so arms are thrown, dress hems are tugged, dancers hop hither and yon and whip out 180-degree penchées, and then crowd into each other blankly, like the band that goes up the alley at the end of Animal House. As Strauss’ iconic melody streams overhead, Mark Morris’s Waltz of the Flowers comes to mind, and at the same time one fears end is nigh. How they pull it off with straight faces, I’ll never know.

Home Season 3.0 also included the ironic Before this we weren’t here and Eine Kleine Kitschen, Nein? In the first, Slender and dancer/manager Jeanne Pfeffer slouch stock-still in chairs while Peggy Lee wonders “why don’t we just end it all?” in “Is That All There Is?” (Lee’s version was a Top 40 hit in 1969; evidently mainstream America was into existential inquiry back then.) Kitschen sends up modern-dance self-seriousness in choreography, spoken word and snotty attitude. These two pieces were amusing, but with FACT/SF’s potential for multilayered work, they could take a backseat to new challenges and new surprises.

©2011 Claudia Bauer. Reprints only with advance written permission.

Sailing Away: Joanna Haigood choreographs San Francisco history

In Dance, October 2010

Flooded with Gold Rush lucre and teeming with the adventurers who hunted for it, San Francisco in the 1850s was a rootin’-tootin’, quick-shootin’, prostitutin’ Wild West boomtown. Halloween in the Castro has nothing on the Barbary Coast.

As choreographer Joanna Haigood describes it, “The energy was very chaotic, wild, violent, excessive. The city was being burned down on a regular basis, people were shooting each other in the street, there was a tremendous amount of crime and mayhem. There was so much money, it was absurd; rents were comparable to today.” That kind of drama holds obvious appeal to an artist whose métier is performance, and it provides the inspiration for Haigood’s latest site-specific contemporary piece, Sailing Away, which her company, Zaccho Dance Theatre, will premiere October 7-10 on Market St.

Read the entire article here.