Choreographer’s Showcase

By Scott MacClelland

Eleven California choreographers, professional and student dancers strutted their classy, expressive and sensual moves Sunday afternoon at SpectorDance in Marina, the town’s premiere performing arts venue.

The company’s student corps opened the matinee with Flocking, choreographed by Marika Brussel and inspired by birds flocking over Monterey Bay. The seven young ladies, grouped mostly in twos and threes, ‘flapped’ their wings up and down most gracefully. That short piece was followed by another, Erica Klein’s own Oh Darling, a solo of exceptional athleticism and physical expression. Klein is an ambitious high school senior who divides her time between Monterey and Los Angeles.

Lasting three timJenn_Oct13es as long, Coupling: Cycles 1-3, choreographed in 2013 by Jenn Logan (pictured), featured Katrina Amerine and Scot Tupper in a complicated love sequence, warmly together, in conflict, then reconciled again. (All three are members of the Nancy Evans Dance Theatre in Pasadena.)

Some of the students then joined the pros for Dawn, designed by Brussel to the music of Requiem by Lenny Tristano as played by the Ethel String Quartet. (The middle part of the music turned quite jazzy.) The company opened the ballet, which then gave rise to a substantial solo and finally a return of the group which put on a vivid show of hand gestures.

A startling highlight of the program was Matthew Nelson’s Stories of Guerilla Superheroes when, after a few minutes improvising, he began a narration that carried through the rest of the 12-minute piece. Remaining in constant restless motion he explained that he had exchanged his boyhood running with grownup dancing, which, like the running, he now did outdoors and in public. Obviously, he’s gotten very good at this. He calls it “guerilla dance practice” and tells his story in ecological terms. He called on the audience to doff shoes and join him, and 11 men, women, girls and boys did, some of the former well up in years, others of the latter budding dancers. (I believe he was also joined by his wife and little son.) As the floor filled up he invited the audience to be aware of the space, the size of it, the feel of it and, “if you get close to me, the smell of it.” He also admitted that he might be “trying too hard to be cool.” A fair amount of laughter also filled the space. And, in his narrative, he insisted that everyone read his daily blog out of Santa Barbara at

To the music of Bach’s Sheep May Safely Graze, Jacqueline Cousineau danced her own The Meandering Meaning of Words, a dissonant start-stop, callisthenic conflict with the soothing music. The Salinas native now lives in France. Jahnna Biddle’s How Will I Know? used props (umbrella and two chairs) as she was joined by Alyssa Renard and Harley Thompson in ensembles and solos with lots of hand and arm gestures and a distinctive African-American style.

The second half opened with nine of the student dancers in Mads Ericksen’s largely rank and file Walk, Sleep, to chamber music by Antonín Dvořák. Ericksen comes from Ballet San Jose.

Mark Foehringer and Brian Fisher, of San Francisco’s Mark Foehringer Dance Project, were here for Foehringer’s Brevis in Longo, danced by Fisher and Marina Fukushima to Chassidic music for cello and piano by Ernest Bloch. Foehringer’s work is predictably graceful, fluid and sensual. Fisher made his lifts and carries look effortless.

Nancy Evans’ own Casualties—Duet Between The Wife & The Husband/Ghost, danced by Jenn Logan and Scot Tupper, was very moving. It’s the same idea explored in the Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore movie Ghost, but here was inspired by Evans’ grandmother’s drawing in 1917 as she waited for her husband to return from the Great War of a century ago. In the piece, the couple dance in loving contact. When the ghost returns to the grieving widow, he circles her with love but she cannot see him and he cannotAmerine Beast touch her.

Katrina Amerine (right) was the predatory Beast of her own design, a hybrid cat/serpent of amazing flexibility, stalking prey but ever-mindful that it might itself be stalked. She was deliciously scary.

Jenn Logan then danced her own 8-minute Alter Ego with Jen Hunter, at first in strict imitation, then with physical conflict, a regular Doppelgänger encounter.

Brian Fisher’s Reflect/Refract, which ended the program, returned the Foehringer compliment in an even-more gorgeous duet, with Melissa Gomez and Thomas Woodman dancing to the slow-pulsed meditative music of Arvo Pärt.

Fran Spector, who avers that dance is about real life, is currently working on a large project with residents of Rancho Cielo called East-West which will premiere in October. I can’t wait.

Smuin Ballet’s XXCentric

By Scott MacClelland

To the delight of dance lovers at Carmel’s Sunset Center Saturday afternoon, Smuin Ballet celebrated their 20th season with two world premieres. The first was Tutto Eccetto il Lavandino (“everything but the kitchen sink”) by San Francisco Ballet veteran Val Caniparoli. It used a miscellany of Vivaldi concerto movements and modulations for thirty minutes of every bit of ballet vocabulary seen in the last 50 years, honoring more dance masters than I could name but certainly including Balanchine, Tharp and Smuin himself. Predictably, the full ensemble (of 12) opened and (of 15) closed the program, sandwiching duos, trios and ensembles with solos.

Costumes in muted shades of green kept the focus on choreography and allowed the expressive rhetoric and whimsy to shine through undistracted by flashy colors and excessive lighting. (The choice of unfamiliar Vivaldi pieces reinforced that call.) Caniparoli also used that timeless classical trick of recycling paSmuin Kitchen Sinkrticular gestures and poses, imparting an organic sense of continuity that glued his plan together. In its discipline, wit and romance, “everything” contributed to the whole. Some smartass technical bits provoked the occasional giggle, and a regular guffaw as, just before the curtain closed after the last bows were taken, a baby blue kitchen sink rolled out to the center of the stage. This was dance about dance and a pleasure to witness and engage, though, from some comments overheard at the interval, not to everyone’s taste.

Dance lovers and supporters Fred Terman and Nan Borreson of Carmel provided the lead sponsorship of Amy Seiwert’s But now I must rest. The 22-minute piece–the second premiere–paid homage to Cesária Évora, the beloved Barefoot Diva of Cape Verde, that archipelago off the coasts of Mauritania and Senegal that was colonized by Portugal in the 15th Century. The work’s title is from comments Évora made to Le Monde after suffering strokes and a heart attack shortly before her death in 2011; its score is made up of songs that propelled her to worldwide fame, most importantly São Tomé na Equador, which begs St. Thomas’ help to ameliorate the “equator of pain” suffered by the people, especially women, of Cape Verde and other Portuguese-speaking Atlantic islands. Évora’s voice haunts this music with its African and Latin-American flavors. Costumes and lighting added exotic spices while Seiwert’s designs turned up the sensual heat with slowly undulating duos and trios seen against fast-moving ephemera across the stage by other members of the company. The men repeatedly lifting their partners got a real physical workout. But Smuin dancers somehow always make it look easy.

Lastly, a revival of Michael Smuin’s irresistable Dancin’ with Gershwin. Created in 2001, it demonstrates that the late founder of this always-welcome company was as much showman as choreographer (which did not please all Bay Area dance critics.) Choosing which Gershwin, and performed by whom, was Smuin’s first challenge. Michael Feinstein’s They Can’t Take that Away from Me was followed by Prudence Johnson’s www.pinterest.comS’Wonderful. Tracks by the Canadian Brass, Peter Gabriel, Sting and Carmen McRae became terpsichorean magic, some of it laugh-out-loud sexy, like Erica Felsch and the men of the company with their trembling feather fans to Marilyn Monroe’s Do It Again. (Good as it is, Keith Sutter’s photo doesn’t really capture Smuin’s outrageous cheek.) And of course, this was where all the colors came out, costumes and lighting, pizzazz and attitude. Do I need to mention the bellowed cheers and standing ovation?

Smuin’s 2014-15 “unbelievable” season will bring three programs to Sunset Center. “Untamed” in late march, “Uncorked” in early December, and “Unlaced” in early June. Smuin’s work will appear in all three, and a world premiere by Adam Hougland will punctuate the June performances.