Hypnotizing movement

  • by Paul Parish
  • Tuesday September 2, 2008
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The burning question for the fall dance season is two-fold: a) Do you know the way to the East Bay? And b) How bad is Mark Morris' Romeo and Juliet, really? Since San Francisco Ballet is out of the Opera House when the Opera is in, all of the big-time dance events will be at UC's Zellerbach Hall. There will be wonderful things done in SF by the very lively fringe of "indies," but for the really big shows, you should buy a $20 BART ticket, put on your Obama button, and get off at Berkeley.

Cal Performances booked Romeo and Juliet on Motifs of Shakespeare (Sept. 25-28) long before the ghastly reviews came out. Even the critics who always praise Morris found little good to say. Darling Alastair Macaulay was horribly disappointed, and said so at rebarbative length in the NY Times. Still, there's a chance that the problem was the conductor (Bard College President Leon Botstein, who commissioned the dance). Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, just last week excoriated Botstein's leaden Romeo and Juliet: "The dancers looked distinctly starved for the food of love [i.e., music]." So we'll all just have to go see if Stefan Asbury and the Berkeley Symphony can save the day and reveal this R&J to be a masterpiece.

Then Leningrad's Kirov Ballet brings two shows in October (14-19), their splashy Spanish-kitsch Don Quixote and a fabulous mixed bill that includes Petipa's 1877 Kingdom of the Shades, which made the New York minimalists shriek and fall out when they first saw it in the 1970s, since Petipa's 1877 ballet brings on a stunning iteration of dancers emerging one by one, filling the stage, absolutely identical. Hypnotizing. The Kirov is, of course, the direct descendant of the Tsar's own personal ballet company; it's the source of all the famous defectors, from Nijinsky and Pavlova to Balanchine, Nureyev, et al. Their men are weak at the moment, but the women are gorgeous beyond anything.

Most satisfying of the international big names should be the four retrospective shows (Nov. 7-8, 14-15, each one different) of Merce Cunningham's revolutionary collaborations with his life partner, the late composer John Cage. ("John cooks, and I do the dishes.") We can trace the development from the unearthly beauty of his 1953 Suite for Five through to the truly strange Biped (1999), in which giant ghostly projections drift across a scrim like gods invisible to the preoccupied tiny dancers onstage. There will be two new works created last year.  Most will be set to music by Cage.

Those are the out-of-towners. Our own dancers are not fame-seekers, but they are trying to work something out about how we live now. I admire them greatly. They are using the old forms rather than throwing them out, to make San Francisco dances that speak of our lives. Oakland Ballet is reviving Michael Lowe's marvelous Bamboo, a gorgeous marriage of ballet and Chinese dance, fused to folk music by Melody of China. (Oct. 25, Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway, Oakland. (510) 465-6400, www.oaklandballet.org)

Robert Moses, who as a star dancer moved like smoke, is now choreographing brilliantly in a fusion of African American and hip modern dance. He has inspired a company who have mastered his style and dance like virtuosi. They'll do Toward September Sept. 18-20. (Novellus Theater, YBCA, 700 Howard St., SF. (415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org)

Alonzo King (Lines Ballet) has had even greater success fusing African material with neo-classical ballet set to the rhythms of fusion music. He collaborates with Pharoah Saunders Oct. 17-26. (Novellus Theater, YBCA, 700 Howard St., SF. (415) 978-2787, www.linesballet.org)

The artists who intrigue me most happen to be gay -- maybe because their issues are mine, perhaps because the pressure to be honest makes them need to make sense of things. Joe Goode works boyish narcissism -- the desire to make that image in the mirror into a new heroic, idealized self -- and never more wonderfully than in a new work for the dis/abled Axis Dance Company; his hero is in a wheelchair, his muscularity and passion are poignant beyond anything that Goode achieved for his own company in this year's Wonderboy, which had a similar theme. (Nov. 14-16. Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, 1428 Alice St., Oakland. (925) 798-1300, www.axisdance.org)

The most intense, serious, and entertaining choreographer of all is Patrick Makuakane of Na lei hulu I ka Wekiu, who is making dances for the whole community, using the traditional resources of hula; some are small and delightful, like the hula version of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," danced in the uniforms of the SF Fire Dept. Some are overtly gay (he set one outrageous number in a gay disco), some are deeply traditional, but all of them have a full-bodied way of  reaching out to the audience that makes them universal. The Hula Show 2008 plays Oct. 11-19. (Palace of Fine Arts Theater, 3301 Lyon St., SF. (415) 392-4400, www.naleihulu. org)