writers on dancing


In brief

Hansuke Yamamoto, San Francisco Ballet. War Memorial Opera House, Tuesday, April 12, 2005

THe most exciting thing I've seen at San Francisco Ballet lately was an explosively stellar performance by the corps-de-ballet dancer Hansuke Yamamoto as the soloist in the finale of Helgi Tomasson's "Prism." Tomasson set the ballet to Beethoven's first piano concerto in the year 2000, for the New York City Ballet's Diamond Project, when it was a hit with audience and critics. He'd been, of course, a star dancer with NYCB before coming to direct San Francisco Ballet, so we expected to see it here on the home company before too long. The ballet was staged for SFB in 2001 by Christine Redpath and revived this year.

The men of San Francisco Ballet are extraordinarily strong and elegant—and indeed, Hansuke Yamamoto is only one of the corps boys who dance like principals. He joined the company in 2001, having come from Japan via the National ballet of Canada, and was first seen dancing at star level as the Phoenix in Tomasson's "Chi Lin." He has often been featured, but not this big. This year he's been dancing impeccably, and was particularly fine in Tomasson's Bournonville-esque pas de cinq in the first act of "Giselle." But in "Prism" the part is very exposed, and Yamamoto measured up to its presentational demands so far that he could even pull off pirouettes that lost their axis, the phrasing of the performance was so powerfully sweeping. There was no flaw in his jumps.

He is a beautifully proportioned young man with extremely good feet, but his physique is not precious in any way. He's dark haired, with wide-spaced eyes and a forehead that smiles. We saw fantastic elancé work—darting, sharp, clean batterie, danced on a grand scale at the pace of petite allegro, with great exactness of execution, a mysterious softness that tempered the brilliance and made it even more beautiful, and most of all, spot-on musicality. He looked like the music. This needs mentioning since "Prism" is made so it fits the music closely enough to hide the fact that it's mainly a display of classical technique; it's got no more depth really than "Grand Pas Classique," though it demonstrates a different kind of technique, the American fast-footed, "dancey" kind.

"Prism" works out a number of movement problems in a way that shows what dancers can do. It's got a 3-2-1 structure. The first movement investigates threesomes—a principal trio, ballerina and two partners (who help her a little more than she needs), and a subsidiary trio of three men, plus corps.The andante deploys a pas de deux plus corps. The finale unleashes a male soloist plus everybody else. There were spontaneous outbursts of applause in the midst of Yamamoto's dancing, and though I don't usually approve of such, I was just as beside myself as anybody else. It was the sort of performance that can make you forget you're feeling sick, which I sort of was that evening, and even actually help you get over it.—Paul Parish

Nora Dinzelbacher. ODC/Theater, San Francisco, April 10, 2005

The Bay Area is full of tango aficionados. So it should come as no surprise that the force behind all of this enthusiasm, tango dancer and teacher, Nora Dinzelbacher, has put together a company. Made up of adult students from her classes, they provided a pleasant enough foray into a mostly choreographed number for the first half of a program entitled Tangamente. Much more interesting was Tangamente's post-intermission section for which the dance/theater ensemble Navarrete x Kajiyama mined the theatrical potential of what is essentially a social dance. Jose Navarrete and Debby Kanjiyama make work based on his Latin American and her Japanese American heritage. The two petit dancers have also become formidable tangueros. For Tangamente they presented six pieces—three of them world premieres—all of them using Astor Piazzola scores. Each of the dances seemed to illuminate one of tango's many faces.

The solo "Adioses" examined political repression through tango's dark underbelly. "Primavera" was fast, full of leg work and splendid lifts. Its mood was light while "Escualo" rode an undercurrent secrecy. The female duet "Milonga del Angel," recalled the tale of the Annunciaton and explored sensuality as a way to overcome loneliness. "Alone Some and Twosome" took one of Remy Charlip's airmail dances in which togetherness and separation held each other up. "Celos" exploded the duet format by having Navarrete partner three women. Though short, these miniatures were pungent, taut and excellently danced; they made you want to see more.—Rita Felciano

Bharata Natyam. Dakshina / Daniel Phoenix Singh & Company. Helen Hayes Gallery, The National Theater, Washington, DC, USA. Monday, April 11, 2005.

Daniel Phoenix Singh is all over the stylistic map this theater season, from India's classic dance forms through Bollywood to Western avant garde and disco. Blessed with a keen eye, Singh is making the Washington area's dance life richer. This week he concluded one set of the National Theater's free Monday evening performances by showing three examples of the Bharata Natyam tradition, a school developed long ago in the temples and royal courts of southern India. Bharata Natyam is distinguished by patter footwork, sharp gestures and vivid mime often done at lightining speed. Spoken syllables, a sort of rap, can enhance the rhythmic drumming of the dancers' feet and the pulsing strokes of their ankle bells. The first two dances, "Nandi Chol" and "Nee Urraipai" told epic stories. The final "Padam" was a motion poem of emotions. There were three performers, Singh and two women, Sindhu Raghavendra and Vrindarani Buchwald, and they almost overcrowded the tiny gallery stage. The women were short, fullbodied, yet compact. They looked alert, precise and eloquently stretched in action, but cushioned, very pliant in reaction. Singh's own performance wasn't of the same caliber. He did all the steps but not as clearly, and his body didn't breathe the alternation of action and recovery. I saw the evening's second performance and perhaps he was tired, but also his taller, more streamlined frame seemed alien to the style. Or, it may be that he's spread himself too thin to fully master the technique. Singh's heart, though, is in the right place.—George Jackson

Alma Esperanza Cunningham Movement. Jon Sims Center for the Performing Arts. April 15, 2005

A crowded schedule only permitted taking in a run through of Alma Esperanza Cunningham’s new “shesheshe.” The 45 minute work, performed without a score, confirmed that Cunningham’s is a voice you want to listen to. Extraordinarily rigorous, you sense that the choreographer works out the ballet-inspired piece like a puzzle in which certain set pieces,--a circle run, a super slow walk, hand rubbing gestures--anchor fleeting images in place. A rigid torso that bends at the hips like a snapping lid, a high center of gravity and super high extension may give the dancers a somewhat impersonal look. Yet quirky easily readable details—cupping ears, fingers that walk, scooting on the floor—pop up to humanize these crane-like creatures. Performed by two couples—Ryan T.Smith/Kate Filbert and Wendy Rein/Rosemary Hannon—who at first take turns on stage and finally are brought together—why is not quite clear—“shesheshe” doesn’t have much of a trajectory. It feels more like an architectural design whose various sections could be laid on top of each other.

Some of its choreography also appears to have come from an earlier piece, “PILEdriver”. Not having any music—apparently Cunningham couldn’t find a fitting score—probably impedes on the work’s audience friendliness—particularly in a time when multi-media reigns—but as a piece of choreography in which the formal and the casual hold each other in balance, “shesheshe” more than stands on its own. —Rita Felciano

Melting the Edges. Edgeworks Dance Theater. American Dance Institute, Rockville, Maryland, USA. Friday, April 15, 2005.

The mission statement of Edgeworks, Helanius J. Wilkins's dance company, includes featuring American men of predominantly African descent and breaking down stereotypes by using a spectrum of styles. The group, in existence for a few seasons in the Washington, DC area, has also appeared elsewhere in the USA and plans to perform in Lithuania this coming July. This "Melting the Edges " program was a benefit to help subsidize the overseas trip. It featured three Wilkins solos, a trio by him and two group pieces, one Wilkins's and the other James Frazier's. The Wilkins solos were soulful, and more inventive for the torso and arms than for the legs. The first one, "Fearless", is actually a sort of duo in which poet John Murillo shadows the dancer, Wilkins, and speaks a text based on the psalm about coming through the valley of the shadow of death. In the second and very brief solo, "Snow", Wilkins gestured and alternated stretching and cupping his body. The third solo, "thoughts unraveling", was the most explorative in space but went on and on. Related to the solos was the male trio, "Melting the Edges" which began as three solos, with the men side by side, but then linked them into a forceful masculine version of the three graces configuration. It ended on an improvisatory note, with the trio - Glen Meynardie, Michael Tindal and Wilkins - cutting loose and discoing. Both group works were utilitarian, school recital stuff, with Frazier's "Suspect Seven" for that many young men and Wilkins's "On the Go" for 10 girls of the Youth Ensemble of Michael Bjerkness's American Dance Institute. Just a hint of the mission statement was conveyed by the solos and the trio.—George Jackson

Photo: San Francisco Ballet's Hansuke Yamamoto, not in "Prism," but in "Giselle."

Volume 3, No. 14
April 18, 2005


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last updated on April 18, 2005