Alonzo King Lines Ballet & Peter Sellars

Alonzo King Lines Ballet & Peter SellarsTHE CONCERT
June 7, 2024 7;30 PM
San Francisco Symphony Hall

Yes…but: Staging and Music Lack Correspondence

The directors listed above, King and Sellars are both noted for their talents and many productions, King in the dance world and Sellars as a dramatic director. To this production conducted by the notable musician, Esa-Pekka Salonen, these notables brought their staging and dramatic interpretation.

The opening night’s event began with Ravel’s Ma Mére l’Oye. (Mother Goose, 1911). The work consists of seven sections, all clearly listed on the program. Eleven dancers (and one soloist) danced in brightly colored (primarily yellow) dresses and pants, some with transparent tops over the upper body. Although the program lists titles for all sections, (e.g. Pavane, Tom Thumb, etc) all the choreography seemed similar, i.e. large fluid upper body gestures, endless turns, extended leg extensions and continual falls and acrobatic activities on the ground. There were a number of beautifully done duets and solos, but the dynamics of the dance remained similar throughout the piece.

Neither the soloists nor unique dancers in the duets had program listing. When musicians have a special solo they are always noted.

In my choreographic training, we learned that there should be variations in style, gesture and certainly dynamic correspondence to the chosen music. Choreographer Alonzo King, though well reputed in the San Francisco dance community, did not seem to find those values in Ma Mére. The audiences was pleased with the dancers energy and skill and gave the dance and music tremendous, well deserved applause.

The notes to composer Arnold Schoenberg piece “Erwartung (Expectation), Opus 17 (1909), tells us that “the Unnamed Woman and the “expectancy” that pervades the work is the intense dread that The Women feels in the face of something that is never quite spelled out.” (Program notes by Jenny Judge.) Yet, in Sellars staging for the brilliant soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams, a stage ‘corpse’ is with her. Willams provides many gestures of love, dismissal, longing and relief. It is Sellars who has made these decisions for the singer, who is an excellent artist in voice and acting. This reviewer would have preferred to hear the singer without the dramatic activity. Brilliant as a vocalist, she did not always accomplish the stage action with ease or dramatic clarity.

It was drama enough to pay close attention to Salon’s superb conducting of the score. This production of “Erwartung” was a first San Francisco Symphony performance. The orchestra is very large and varied in the demands of its sections. It was dramatic to watch each section fulfill its part in this amazing, complex score. Bravo to all!

Conductor Salonen and the Symphony producers are to be highly complimented for the challenge of bringing dance and drama to the stage. Although artists of all dimensions have the right to produce events as created in their imaginations, it is important (to this reviewer) that coordination in style and intention be respected.

Smuin Contemporary Ballet

Smuin Contemporary Ballet
Dance Series 2
Friday, May 10, 2024
Yerba Buena Center, San Francisco

Amy Seiwert has now become the Artistic Director of the Smuin Ballet, succeeding Cecelia Fushille. Both welcomed the audience to the 24/25 season of the company, a season that will continue this spring, 2024, in Walnut Creek, Mountain View and Carmel. The dancers in the company are very strong, skilled and exuberant performers.

Seiwert’s work “Broken Open” had its world premiere on September 18, 2015 (so the program notes). She brings attention to several dancers who have helped bring the work to its current realization, which is lively, complex and brilliantly danced. To music by Julia Kent, colorfully costumed by Sandra Woodall, “Broken Open” is a complex series of events, group work, solos, duets and a men’s trio, all performed at a lively pace and with superb skill. It may even be too much for the general audience.

Tupeolo Turnado” (World Premiere, May 3, 2024) is a lively, “over the top” tribute to the ‘king of rock and roll” Elvis Presley. The choreographer, Annabelle Lopez Orchoa notes that Presley “succumbs to the weight of fame.” The event is a first-class audience pleaser with costumes boy Susan Roemer and amazing scenic design and lighting by Alexander V. Nichols. But it is the portrayal of Presley that dominates the event, although there are brilliant performances by several company soloists (alas their names are not noted in the program)! Wearing a ‘mock’ TV screen over his eyes, the leading soloist (Presley) delivers dance to accompany the songs, funny, satirical and always moving. One soloist’s performance is almost entirely on the floor and is very touching and emotionally moving. The audience (who may or may not remember Presley’s genius) wants to break out singing. (I did on the way home).

Smuin’s “StarShadows” which opened the evening was a nostalgic memory of Smuin’s ‘cool’ dance work. Alas, in contrast to contemporary ballet, it remains a ‘night-club’ work. “Untwine” by Brennan Wall, which followed to selections from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” had some wonderful solo and duet interludes (for three couples), but again was not innovative in its choreographic invention.

The taped music throughout the evening, alas, did not justice to the scores.

Congratulations to the Smuin Ballet for its innovative programming, choreography and most of all brilliant dancing throughout. It should bring delight in all future events.


Mark Morris – Via Dolorosa, Socrates

Mark Morris Dance Group
Cal Performances Zellerbach Hall
April 19, 2024

Via Dolorosa”(2024 World Premiere)

Mark Morris has, for many years now, brought his dance company to Cal Performances every year. Audiences have delighted in the complexity of the technical ability displayed by the company’s dancers, the music choices and usually, the inventive choreography. This ‘premiere’ and the other work on the program “Socrates” were disappointing in several ways…although the dancers themselves were marvelous.

Via Dolorosa” attempts to present the last days of Christ (based on texts by Alice Goodman), with music by Nico Muhly (The Street:14 Meditations on the Stations of the Cross). It is an enormous dramatic challenge…(especially three days before the celebration of the Passover 5784). For many in the audience it is an unknown drama in the detail that Morris and Goodman have chosen to portray.

Costumed in rather shapeless tunics, the nine dancers present the various episodes leading to Christ’s death. (Alas, there is no Resurrection). The movement vocabulary looks simple in its technical challenge… yet the continual rearrangement of groupings and the choice of ‘outstanding’ figures and their representation are continually changing. The dancers adapt to all this beautifully. The harp music by Nico Muhly is played by Parker Ramsey.

A sacred environment is produced by the choreographic episodes staged before a colorful back scenic design by Howard Hodgkin. All this is excellent in concept and choreographic execution, and/but the scenes, the music and the dance events move slowly. We, the audience has just experienced “Socrate” the 2010 Morris work on the program. As much as we admire the libretto, the choreographic events and the skill of the dancers, “Via Dolorosa,” with its awe and religious references, becomes a challenging event for the audience.

Socrate” (2010) which opened the evening’s program to music by Satie, was danced by fifteen members of the Dance Group. It was dramatically effective though also slow. Played on the piano by Colin Fowles and sung by Brian Giebler, tenor, before a set, part white, part black, not always visually pleasing.

Congratulations to the wonderful dancers. Their ensemble ability is fabulous as is the technical ability of all. Not a sound is heard when they leap and jump; their exits and entrances (which are continuous throughout both pieces) are flawless. Hopefully, this company will return as in the past with m lively and joyful choreography.