Upcoming dance events,
from free to expensive
by Paul Parish
San Francisco's big-time dance season does not begin in the Fall, since our flagship company, the San Francisco Ballet , is out of the Opera House until Christmas. Indeed, even as the SF Symphony and the SF Opera are kicking off their seasons, SF Ballet is ending a brilliant run in London, where they've sold out the Sadlers Wells Theater night after night, and performed new works to adoring audiences. "Every one of them has a face," exclaimed Luke Jennings in London's Guardian.
That does not mean this is a dry season here. Au contraire, there's an explosion of things worth seeing coming up, starting now, a huge variety of it. First of all, this very weekend, Cal Performances hosts a free-to-the-public, all-day Sunday festival of music/theater/dance spread all over the Berkeley campus (Zellerbach, Hertz, Wheeler and other halls, and outdoors). They're showing three excellent Bay Area dance companies: that of Chitresh Das (classic Kathak, the court dance of northern India), Lili Cai (refined Chinese contemporary dance rooted in the court traditions), and Balinese puppet theater dance with Gamelan Sekar Jaya , which is perhaps the finest gamelan outside Bali.
And then Cal Performances also hosts the very biggest big-time, big-deal, most expensive, and controversial show, the Mariinsky Ballet of St. Petersburg, Russia (formerly the Kirov), who will dance in Zellerbach Hall, Oct. 10-14, in Swan Lake, the great, melancholy, century-old tragedy set to Tschaikovsky's noble score. This music is so powerful and so overwhelming that the ballet can survive drastic restagings as absurd as any Wagner opera has had to endure, and still make its effect. The most radical version, with all-male swans, is one of the very best ever.
The Kirov owns Swan Lake; they're mesmerizing in it. What's controversial about this one is the ballerina Oksana Skorik (don't ask how she rose to the top), whose many mishaps and collapses onstage have been documented again and again on YouTube. She's widely reviled on ballet websites – though she might have a good night, and if you saw it, you could dine out on the story in some circles for the rest of your life. Do see Kondaurova (opening night, Saturday matinee). Check at calperfs.berkeley.edu/ for tickets and casting updates.
Similarly great popular fare, though much less stilted, should be the two-weekend run of the Hula Show staged by Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu in SF at the Palace of Fine Arts, Oct. 20-28. This brilliant group has perhaps the finest-tuned group-dancing to be seen anywhere – they move together like waves of the sea, when that kind of poetry is called for, and in much more vigorous and aggressive ways when that's required. The dance of Hawaii has many forms – court dances, country dances, war-dances, all of which their brilliant director Patrick Makuakane cultivates – but most remarkable, he's developed here a new form, "hula mua," adapted to the way we live in the Bay Area. He has adapted the tradition to modern life, keeping the core values and incorporating new attitudes, postures, gestures. Some of it's cute (the company members who are also members of the SF Fire Dept. dance in uniform to "I Left My Heart in San Francisco"), some is abstract, but it's always powerfully moving.
Also mesmerizing should be two upcoming shows at the Theater at Yerba Buena Gardens, which has recently been renamed after yet another corporation. We will begin using the new name after it has stayed on the building for a year. This excellent theater has wonderful sight-lines, with a stage that cradles the performance and gives it to you like emeralds falling into your hands. Alonzo King's Lines Contemporary Ballet will dance their 30th anniversary season there amidst a fantastic field of light created by James Cunningham, who is (I quote the press release) "known for incorporating electronic memory, prerecorded images and live images into his art, which uses 1,000 LED spheres programmed in synchronized interplay with the dancers to produce a visionary evening of light and dance." Lines runs two weeks, Oct. 19-28.
Perhaps equally haunting may be the Bay Area debut of AfterLight at the same theater, YBCA, Oct. 13-14. The DV8 alumnus Russell Maliphant has set this gorgeous, looping, hypnotic dance to mind-bending music by Erik Satie, the Gnossiennes I-IV (for piano).
Rivetting flamenco rhythms are promised with the debut of child prodigy el Carpeta, the 12-year-old scion of the gypsy Farrruco family, who are headlining the 7th Annual Bay Area Flamenco Festival , Sept. 30 at the Palace of Fine Arts, SF.
Dance that you have to think about comes in many shapes, too. First, the freebie: Niagara Falling, which will be performed this weekend outdoors on the upper walls of the Renoir Hotel in San Francisco (through Sept. 29). Indeed, the aerial dancers began hanging on the west wall last night, amid projected images of Niagara and of "what is thriving and what is collapsing in the urban landscape," to quote the press release from Flyaway Productions. Among previous similar creations by choreographer Jo Kreiter was a thrilling mobile dance with large girders swinging in tribute to Rosie the Riveter and the power of working women, which won big audiences and many awards a few years ago. Bundle up; you'll be standing at 7th and Market Streets on a sidewalk, looking up. There could be fog.
Finally, there's the brilliant, very heady staging of the late great gay choreographer Merce Cunningham's Canfield event, Oct. 5 & 6 at Mills College, Oakland. Mills ranks very high (with Bennington and Sarah Lawrence Colleges) in the development of Modernism in both music and dance, and both nights of the Canfield event will be staged by former Cunningham dancer Holley Farmer and accompanied by music of Pauline Oliveros, in honor of her 80th birthday. There'll also be music by John Cage, Cunningham's professional and life partner, in honor of Cage's 100th birthday. It will be on the Mills campus, in Haas Pavilion and the Littlefield Concert Hall.