Category Archives: Reviews

Pina, the movie

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Admittedly this post will likely end up being filed under Reviews since I need to file it somewhere, but I should state that I don’t feel as though I can really give it a formal educated review for two reasons: 1. I had very little exposure to Pina Bausch prior to seeing this movie and 2. I read a bunch of reviews after seeing it so I don’t feel like I can be impartial.

Anyone who hasn’t gone to see this movie while it is in theatres is missing out. I loved this movie so much I’ve been to see it twice and could probably be convinced to see it again.  I think it is worth mentioning that the first time I went with my nine year old son who sat through the entire 1hr and 45min without complaining or falling asleep.  (I used to call Aleister my little “sucko-meter” because I’d take him to performances and if he didn’t like it or got bored then it definitely sucked, but if he was riveted to watch then it was good – kids are honest. They don’t intellectualize why they should like something.)  So tested by the best and already winning awards from others, it goes without saying that Pina is a great movie.

For those of you not in the know, Pina is a feature-length dance film in 3D with the ensemble of the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, featuring the unique and inspiring art of the great German choreographer who died in 2009.  Pina Bausch was a very influential modern dance choreographer and created very emotionally dramatic works that can be fall easily in the realm of dance theatre.  Let me just say that 3D movies often make me motion-sick so my first thought while putting on the glasses was a snobbish one “Why do they assume that in order for dance to be amazing on film we need to see it in 3D? Dance can stand on its own, damnit! Besides, 3D is so gauche,” but oh how I was wrong.  The effect was anything but tacky and I found out later that the maker of the film, Wim Winders, chose 3D specifically to highlight Pina’s works as Winders felt there was no other medium in which you could get a sense of the real performance.  I have to agree.  The film weaves the audience through some of Pina Bausch’s major works, with interviews, solos, and duets, from the dancers sprinkled throughout.  The vignette device makes the film very accessible although I would have liked to see Café Müller without interuption – the effect from the sustained drama of the piece is lost I think.  What makes this film especially gorgeous is the dances are filmed in many different locations throughout Wuppertal, from industrial buildings to cliff sides. One solo is set next to an indoor pool where it appears swim practice is going on as usual (Hey, they always say “don’t run” near the pool, but I’ve never heard, “don’t dance,” heh.)  The effect of the various locations is stunning and inspiring.  You can imagine, being someone who loves to dance, well, everywhere possible, that I was just beside myself with pleasure. 

The last great thing I want to mention about this movie is that the cast of dancers, which are Pina Bausch’s own ensemble, vary in age from approximately twenty to sixty.  It was so strikingly refreshing to see older dancers that it made me want to go live in Europe where you see more of this kind of thing. And I’m not praising them here because I’m trying to advocate against agism.  Nothing so heroically political as that.  I liked it simply because the older weathered dancers were so delicious to watch.  Their movements are distilled – their emotions so palapable, their stories deep. I love seeing older dancers, not only because I’m headed there (aren’t we all?), but because every year, they really do just get better.

A Review: LEVYdance’s Home Season Performance of ROMP

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“You will be moving during the performance. We encourage you to make use of the free coat and bag check,” we were told upon entering the lobby for LEVYdance’s performance of ROMP. And so the warmly welcoming ushers began to mentally prepare the audience for what was to come.  There was an anticipatory charge going through the crowd – a sort of gleeful feeling as we realized we would all be a part of something different.

As we entered the actual performance space at Z Space to take our seats, we could see there was no discernible division between the performance area and the audience chairs.  Nervous but excited conversations arose as we chose our seats from the many scattered around at different angles. Couples ended up back to back, friends were separated or had to twist around in their chairs to continue their conversations.  The walls of pretense came down even further as the dancers, unannounced by lighting or music, casually filtered in and took their places among us.

The audience got to experience dance from three different perspectives throughout the show: very up close and personal with the dancers moving between the chairs in a raucous and energetic romp executed practically in our laps, then witnessing from a sort of theatre in the round (or square as it were) for an intimate and profoundly astute trio between principal dancers, Ben Levy, Scott Marlowe, and Mélodie Casta, and finally, at banquet tables for a steamy number that felt like a surreally accelerated nightclub experience.  The dancers were the main dish, but not crassly so. They held the gazes of audience members seated across from them, engaged in mating rituals, and skipped, slid, and twirled across the tops of the tables. All these wheels spun in well-crafted mayhem until they slowly rotated to a focused soliloquy of four dancers, each alone on their own table.   The immersive affect on the audience was such that by the end, when Scott Marlowe laid down on the table just inches from me, I felt the urge to reach out and wiggle his toe.  I refrained of course, but wouldn’t have been surprised if he had reacted nonchalantly to it.

Part of what made the dancers feel so available was the use of lighting by the designer, Jack Beuttler, especially for the finale; the audience was actually inside the sphere of lighting which created the feeling of inclusiveness. Also, Artistic Director, Ben Levy chose fantastically evocative music – moving from the lively tunes of Brass Menazeri to more raw compositions of Ben Frost and Daniel Bjarnason, and including the fresh variety of other artists: the Platters, Matmos, A Silver Mt. Zion, and Balkan Beat Box. The ensemble dancers, cast from the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, looked well prepared and seemed to be having fun with the material.  The exchange between the principal dancers seemed like a relationship well-marinated.  The exemplary executions of Ben Levy and Scott Marlowe were nothing short of what you would expect of dancers who have worked together for six years, and Mélodie Casta, with her expressive face and oozing sensuality, was a seamless addition to the team. The athletic trio were so aware and in tune with each other that it was like watching something simply live, as opposed to perform. I realize with pleasure that this something I’ve come to expect from LEVYdance.

The only criticism I would have of ROMP is that it was too short.  Once the dancers made the banquet tables their stage we wanted to be there at their party forever. My Mom always says you shouldn’t leave a dinner guest feeling hungry, but LEVYdance definitely left the audience hungry for more.  Perhaps that was the intention.

LEVYdance’s performance of ROMP continues through this weekend, November 17-20, 2011 at Z Space @ Theatre Artaud in San Francisco. There may be limited tickets available at the door or through Gilt City online: www.giltcity.com/san-francisco/levydance.  For more information about LEVYdance, please visit their website: http://www.levydance.org

An Insider’s Perspective: San Francisco Trolley Dances

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Today I was a tour guide for  San Francisco Trolley Dances presented by Kim Epifano’s Epiphany Productions.  I was an audience member two years ago and so when the call went out for volunteers to help with this year I decided to sign up for two reasons: I’m really interested in site-specific dance and I’d love to produce something similar to this event. A tour of sorts, but in the woods.

This is the 8th year that Kim Epifano and Epiphany Productions has been producing the Trolley Dances. At the training session for volunteers, Kim Epifano gave a brief speech about what makes her passionate about the Trolley Dances project.  She spoke about how it exposes new audience members to dance and how it invites dance lovers to fall in love with their city again.  How it brings inbound people outbound and outbound people inbound. I was really touched by her enthusiasm and committment to this project, because Trolley Dances is a no-joke production.  Can you imagine anything more difficult to produce than a travelling show? That uses public transit?* 

As a volunteer tour guide, I was given a bright green Tshirt to wear and was in charge of many tasks.  I had to call ahead to each site to let them know when we would be arriving for their performance, I had a hand counter to click for number of audience memebers, small cards to record not only the size of the audience at each site but also the racial statistics as well, and a “Trolley Dances” sign on a stick to hold up. Luckily I was teamed with Mora a more experienced guide who served as the head guide and did most of the talking to audience members.

I would have liked to give a more nuanced review of the show, but I was more or less too overwhelmed with all that I had to keep track of to be able to fully commit my attention to the actual performances.  I will say that all the acts involved were solid.  And also that my favorite moment was during ODC’s piece when a random Chinese lady crossed the “stage” being used and called out to her husband, “Frank! Frank!” to exit the performance area.  The line between audience and performer was blurred superbly in this moment and it was one of those random “happy accidents” that can happen during site-specific work.

The beauty in site-specific work is that the architecture of the city serves as the backdrop, the sounds of passing traffic and random people create an additional layer of music – the weather, the people, the pigeons, it all becomes part of the work.  Site-specific work utilizes the spontaneous, which is decidely more interesting than a dancer who is executing a movement by rote. Not only are the spontaneous events an interesting layer, but it causes the performers to become spontaneous as well because they are in the middle of the environment and must react, or simply be, in it at the same time.

The San Francisco Trolley Dances is a fantastic event that everyone should go and see. This year’s tour includes artists: ODC Dance, Capacitor, Sweet Can Circus, Tat Wong Kung Fu Lion Dancers, Kim Epiphano’s Epiphany Productions with SF State University, Antoine Hunter & Christine Bonansea, and Salsamania.  SF Trolley Dances is happening this Saturday and Sunday, October 15 & 16th, 2011. 11am-2:45pm. Tours leave every 45 minutes from the SF Main Library at 100 Larkin Street, Fulton St. Entrance, and end in West Portal.  The tours are free with regular muni fare on a first come first serve basis.

*Side note: (Apparently, MUNI has been very helpful and “on board” – pardon the pun – with Trolley Dances and we volunteers were told to speak highly of them because they’ve been so cooperative. Yay SF Muni!)

Billy Elliot

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Billy ElliotAleister and I went to see Billy Elliot at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco yesterday. If you’ve ever seen a Saturday matinee at the Orpheum you’ll know that the crowd is comprised of mostly the very old and the very young.  Although this can make for a frustratingly slow moving crowd, it also makes for a very appreciative and fun audience.

I had never seen a show at the Orpheum until Billy Elliotso I was pleased to find that my expectations of a high caliber show were aptly satisfied.  The production of the show was stunning, with excellent use of moving sets, lighting, and sound.  I didn’t think the duet between Billy and his friend Michael, “Expressing Yourself” could possibly get much better until a cast of oversized dresses on hangers came trooping onto the stage and carnival lighting burst to life surrounding it all in a glowing frame.  The choreography (by Kurt Froman and Mary Giattino) was interesting and served the storyline exceptionally well.  Ethan Fuller as Billy Elliot was an incredibly energetic and clean dancer, but I have to admit my favorites were the “Ballet Girls,” the cast of oddball dancers who played Billy Elliot’s classmates in his hometown ballet school. Bursting with energy and humor I was impressed with the uniqueness of each girls’ character and also how it all managed to come together in a well executed whole.

If you’ve ever seen Billy Elliot you’ll probably point out the curtain call.  Dance through your bows? What a concept?! Rescuing the audience from the usual palm-reddening mandatory clapping session of most curtain calls, the cast of Billy Elliot gave us a musical number with short bits for each cast member within it.  The audience, on their feet (or poised upright in their walkers) at this point, were clapping along with energy and the feeling of the bow was more like a communal dance-along.  Fantastic way to end a show which I plan on using at some point in the future;)

As the tickets cost me about what I budget for groceries every month, I can’t say I’ll be returning to the Orpheum anytime soon, but it was well worth it as a special event. Aleister was certainly excited.  About fifteen minutes in, he turns to me from the edge of his seat and says in stage whisper, “I should be in this! How much does it cost?” Oh son, if only it were that simple.

To see pictures of us at the show with very gracious cast members, follow this link below:

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150296503658330.360856.648273329&l=4de850f233&type=1