Choreographer’s Showcase

By Scott MacClelland

SPECTORDANCE hosted another ambitious Choreographer’s Showcase on the weekend at their studios in Marina. Eleven choreographers from all over California and one from Berlin presented their work. Several also danced in them.

In traditional fashion, and now in its 20th season, Fran Spector asked the choreographers to introduce themselves before the show began. In the same costume for her solo, Butterfly, Elisabeth Kindler-Abali, from Berlin but now living in Berkeley, made a vivid impression of a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, with a simultaneous combination of elementz of omnislow, sinuous motion of her body and sharp jerks in her limbs and joints. Most of her piece was done in slow motion, but midway it became quite animated for a brief moment.

Her performance, lasting about seven minutes, came right after the longest piece of the program, The Beginning, by Elementz of Omni (pictured), two talented young CSU Monterey Bay hip-hop dancers who appeared in last summer’s Choreographer’s Showcase. Elton Domingue and Anthony “AJ” Ellis, who formed their duo only last year, brought their audience to laughter during both of their Spector appearances. These guys are dance sponges whose witty style is comprised of moves from just about every other contemporary dance movement you can think of, with roots in Michael Jackson. To dazzling effect, they play off each other, with black and white costume contrasts that are reflected in their dancing, and mime, and comedy. That includes a bunch of mirroring of gestures and bits in slow-mo. But to my eye, their style is also unique, in total good fun and continually creative within the complex music score they assembled. (Their reputation around the state is growing. You can see their work on YouTube.)

What followed Kindler-Abali’s performance was another highlight of the program, Mariah Steele’s Fledglings, a solo danced masterfully by Kristen Bell. Both designer and dancer displayed an extraordinarily high level of sophistication and professional technique. The piece perfectly fits with two movements from Edvard Grieg’s Holberg Suite, the joyful Prelude and the circumspect Air. Bell burst from the wings in exuberant spirits for the first part, smiling broadly and grandstanding unashamedly. She totally owned the piece, as she would do in Air, a mostly minor-key, inward-turning episode, to which she gave a wide range of expressivity.

Just ahead of Elementz of Omni’s The Beginning, Emily Kerr danced the comedic Dorset Garden by Milissa Payne Bradley, beginning with a large glass of water—deposited into the hand of an audience member, a commedia dell’arte costume strangely juxtaposed to a gloomy vocal chaconne by Henry Purcell, composed in England while the residents of Salem were hanging witches.

The program opened with About: FACE designed by Jeannine Charles and created here by seven female dancers, to an arrangement for three string instruments of the famous violin chaconne by JS Bach. The piece opened with two pairs of dancers opposite a solo. There were plenty of synchronized patterns, including triangles, and some startling effects, notably one dancer standing on the shoulders of another.

Charles’ A-Tension, in the second half of the program, was about conflict, with pushing, pulling and some faux kicking between the two men and two women dancers. The obviously pregnant Stephanie Harvey’s Transit(ional) Perspective explored the range of her emotions as she anticipates the big day. It was danced by five women, Angela Dice Nguyen as soloist opposite the ensemble.

Julie Mulvihill’s Grandma’s Attic was created by Brenda Solis and Rigoberto Torres, each alternately lifting one another. (They are about the same size and weight.) Synchronized patterns and calisthenics, rigorous almost to the point of tortuous, dealt with nostalgic memories of past relationships.

Mary Carbonara danced her own circumspect soon and briefly around and inside a ring of curtains laid on the floor, to Patti Griffins song Be Careful. Lissa Resnick’s Temptation, danced to Indian classical music, opened with a highly agitated solo by Nathan Ortiz that was only tamed with the voluptuously costumed appearance of Ellen Bigelow. Their ensuing duo carried the piece with sensual allure until, at last Ortiz withdrew to pray at a candle on a small table.

Tracy Kofford’s Intersecting Fugue ended the concert with a company of nine dancers wearing identical shifts, deployed alternately in full ensemble with largely synchronized patterns, and more personal breakout groupings.

A Smuin Ballet Christmas

smuin-christmas-ballet-2016-11-we-three-kings_keith-sutter

By Scott MacClelland

SMUIN BALLET FANS don’t usually expect premieres in its annual Christmas Ballet at Sunset Center in Carmel. Those are usually reserved for Smuin’s other two annual appearances here, in March and June. Nevertheless, they got four of them, one in the first act “Classical Christmas” and three in the second “Cool Christmas.” This production packed 15 numbers into Act I and 13 in Act II, a dizzyingly-paced parade of riotous ensembles, solos, duos and full 16-member company spectacles. At that rate, costume and scene changes were barely possible. The Act I set consisted of tall hanging curtains, cinched at the waste, with variations only done with lighting. Like them, costumes were all in shades of white. In Act II, vivid reds with touches of black took over, as did the set, plus some mostly amusing props.

The Classical Christmas used a variety of familiar Christmas music, some JS Bach, “For unto us a child is born” from Handel’s Messiah, old and traditional seasonal songs from Europe, a bit from Mozart’s Mass in C Minor, Nana Mouskouri singing Schubert’s Ave Maria and Placido Domingo in La Virgen Lava Pañales. Erin Yarbrough-Powell and her husband Jonathan duoed to choreographer Amy Seiwert’s Noel nouvelet, an old French Christmas song sung unaccompanied. Especially delicate were the women of the company in Veni, veni Emanuel. Dancer/choreographer Rex Wheeler’s We Three Kings, a world premiere, was danced by three couples. (See photo above.) The company used Irish stepdance, all action from the waist down, for the Gloucestershire Wassail. Nicole Haskins soloed in the Hanukkah ‘Candle Blessing’ then was joined by the men of the company in ‘Sleep Well,’ a witty flirtation that provoked giggles in the audience. The entire company ended the set with Haskins’ own design for Joy to the World.

Cool Christmas began with the voice of The Jackson 5—with a boy soprano named Michael—in Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Following immediately, the voice of Louis Armstrong singing Christmas in New Orleans, the company now costumed, hatted and strutting in style. Then came the predictably popular and funny Santa Baby, to the unique voice of Eartha Kitt, with glittery red Erica Felsch dragging her 30-foot feather boa across the stage, and being rolled, crowd surfing-style, atop the men of the company, all in black overcoats and hats. (This seems to be the one number that reappears every year, and amen to that!) Leon Redbone’s Christmas Island got lots of laughs when Erica Felsch, Lauren Pschirrer, Nicole Haskins and Terez Dean, danced the hula and Rex Wheeler struggled to stay atop a surfboard, while ocean waves swelled and a shark fin scared one of the women into Wheeler’s arms. Back to Ireland for Michael Wells delivering a big tap solo to Bells of Dublin, only to be joined by five of his colleagues, also in tap, for Belles of Blackville Reel.

Terez Dean and Ben Needham-Wood danced the world premiere of Amy Seiwert’s River, smuin-christmas-ballet-2016-6-j-i-n-g-l-e-bells_keith-sutterdesigned to go with Joni Mitchell’s haunting, lonely Christmas ballad. Nicole Haskins’ J-i-n-g-l-e Bells (see photo, right) was another world premiere, as was the the final number, to The Drifters’ White Christmas, Ben Needham-Wood’s update of Michael Smuin’s original, with snow floating down on the stage and the audience, up through row M.

As usual, Sunset Center was sold out for the Smuin holiday favorite, which was only enhanced by the inclusion of new choreography by Seiwert and members of the company. I’m still picking bits of snow off my sweater.

Photos by Keith Sutter