Steps for a new season

  • by Paul Parish
  • Tuesday September 6, 2011
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With San Francisco Ballet out of the Opera House till Christmas, the big-time dance available will be from international touring companies coming in to Berkeley, Stanford, and the Novellus Theater at Yerba Buena Gardens.

Foremost among them should be the Merce Cunningham Dance Company's final appearances in the Bay Area. Now that the great gay choreographer has died, the company is going out of existence with a bang at New Year's (in New York City, of course). Their last show on the West Coast will be at Stanford's Memorial Auditorium on Nov. 1. Get tickets now – people will come from all over the West. It's your last chance to see the work done by the people whom he trained, and who know how. They'll dance Nearly 90, his last work.

Next biggest thing, IMHO, is Mark Morris ' great Dido and Aeneas, Sept, 16-18 in Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall. Dido when it was new in 1989 was radically queer – Morris himself danced Queen Dido, wearing a black dress and gold press-on nails – but it has turned out to be a classic. The work repays all the attention you can give it. It can break your heart. Morris set the tragic opera by Henry Purcell, the greatest opera ever written in English, placing the singers in the pit, and having his dancers act out and dance the story (which comes from Virgil's Aeneid ) onstage. The androgynous Amber Darrow, who has something of the young Morris' charisma, will dance the queen this time, Craig Biesecker the hero who abandons his lover in order to fulfill his duty and found the city of Rome.

The musical forces in Berkeley will be among the finest in the world: Morris himself will conduct the renowned Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale, while his remarkable company dances the timeless story. Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, "the true successor to Marilyn Horne in the Baroque and bel canto repertory" (New York Times ), leads the assembled vocal artists of chorus and soloists.

Many who saw Wayne McGregor's new ballet Chroma, which was presented by San Francisco Ballet last year and caused a sensation, will be eager to see his own Random Dance Company Fri.-Sat., Nov. 11 & 12, 8 p.m., at the Novellus Theater at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. These are McGregor's own dancers, they are most attuned to his quirks, the mysterious inward contortions and hyperextensions and altered energy states he wants from them. McGregor's work has entered the repertories of the Paris Opera Ballet, London's Royal Ballet, and now the Bolshoi. We all want to see what he does with his own team.

Meantime, our own great hyperballet company, Lines Contemporary Ballet, will have danced their fall season at YBCA, Oct. 14-23. Alonzo King, who's been developing his own fusion style of ballet here since the 1970s, is now internationally famous for his incorporations of the dance traditions of the region extending from India to Africa. He has been working with Zakir Hussain, with Indian and Moroccan musicians, with jazz master Pharaoh Saunders; this fall's premiere investigates the music of the Sephardim. The Lines website describes the "vivid and tangled intercultural history that spans continents, centuries, languages, and faith." This should be magnificent material for King, who is himself the product of rich intercultural conflict, coming as he does from African-American aristocracy in Georgia. His education is deep, his sensibility unique and rich, and his ballets can be generous and profound.

Predicting what the independent dancer/choreographers of San Francisco will do is very difficult, but you should know about them, since they constitute the yeastiest dance culture in the whole country outside New York (and are arguably more interesting than New Yorkers). They're imaginative, smart, serious, and into depicting the way we live now. Be on the lookout for a showing of Detention Duets, by the multiple-award-winning star of The Tosca Project, Nol Simonse; it is  not scheduled for performance at this point, but may turn up at Counterpulse or Dance Mission towards the end of the year. It is a series of brilliant Dadaist duets for Simonse and Christy Funsch, a genius of a performer who has a gift for intimacy that puts me in mind of Jean Arthur.

I wouldn't miss Katie Faulkner's free outdoor piece We don't belong here. It sounds like it's going to be a flash-mob thing coalescing at sites along SF's Market St. corridor, with a "These are the good old days" feel to it, but since it's still evolving, who knows? Fact is, Faulkner's track record is superb, her stuff is always interesting, and she even wins huge cash prizes. Look for the events to happen Sept. 29, 30, and into October; more info will be available at

Another big freebie will be Cal Performances' Fall Free for All on Sun., Sept. 25, a full day of free performances at venues all over the UC Berkeley campus. Thousands came last year. This year features the pioneering AXIS dis/Abled Dance Company, Los Cenzontles Mexican Dance and Music, the distinguished ethnomusicologist CK Ladzekpo African Music and Dance Ensemble, UC Berkeley Depts. of Music, Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies, as well as SF Opera Adler Fellows, not to mention musicians of all sorts. Info at