Tag Archives: contemporary

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


Review Roundup

It’s a thrill to be writing reviews for Critical Dance and DanceTabs. Here’s for starters:

*DanceTabs review of Wendy Whelan’s Restless Creature, San Francisco, January 15, 2015

*Critical Dance review of Oakland Ballet’s Nutcracker, December 20, 2014

*Critical Dance review of Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet in Shostakovich and Rasa, November 20, 2014

*Critical Dance review of Batsheva Dance Company’s Sadeh21, San Francisco, November 6, 2014

*Critical Dance review of the Australian Ballet’s Swan Lake, Berkeley, October 16, 2014

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


Tonight’s the Night: Post:Ballet’s “Seconds”

Robert Dekkers’s Post:Ballet launches its second home season with shows tonight and tomorrow night at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco. Should be an adventurous and beautifully danced performance. Sincere thanks to the SF Arts Monthly for publishing my feature story about it:

“If André Malraux was correct, and ‘an artist discovers his genius the day he dares not to please,’ then San Francisco choreographer Robert Dekkers has clearly found his. Supremely talented and trained, he could easily have built a career on conventional movement set to conventional music. Instead, Dekkers followed his quirky muse away from the establishment and toward dance that is meticulously crafted, finely structured, decidedly daring and always beautifully performed by his two-year-old company, Post:Ballet.

Photography by Natalia Perez, Post:Ballet dance artists.

“To be sure, Post:Ballet is pleasing; the widely hailed troupe was named San Francisco’s ‘Best New Dance’ of 2010 by 7×7 Magazine, and Dekkers made Dance Magazine‘s coveted ’25 to Watch’ list this year, a nod to his distinctive mix of impeccable technique and boundless imagination. His unique signature stamps all four pieces that Post:Ballet will perform during its sophomore home season, Seconds, in July.”

Check out the complete article at SFArts.org. Best wishes to Robert and Post:Ballet for continued success!