“The Day”


The Day
SF Performances
Wendy Whelan and Maya Beiser.
Choreography: Lucinda Childs: Words and Music: David Lang
Friday, February 28, 2020

Alas, “The Day

When talented artists share a program there are risks and rewards. In “The Day”, former ballerina Wendy Whelan dominates the performances. She was a remarkable performer at the NYC Ballet for 30 years. She was recently appointed Associate Artistic Director of that Company. She is 52 years old.

As such, she is a ‘careful’ performer. Lucinda Childs, an excellent, innovative contemporary choreographer has chosen the movement vocabulary very carefully. With such precaution, Whelan moves smoothly, carefully but with a limited vocabulary and above all, limited dynamics. She has extraordinary feet, but little movement of the torso. She uses many props, costume accessories, ropes, cloth and other devises to extend the movement. For this reviewer, the movement was repetitious and dull.

Accompanying her on the cello and on sound track was the music of Maya Beiser. Ms. Beiser has many credits to her name but for this performance she played chords on the cello. The music sound score, by David Lang was recorded. Over this, through the first section of the evening, an unknown voice read the many lines of Lang’s “the day”. All lines start with ‘I” and proceed in alphabetical order through the last “I searched it.” Again, it may be this reviewer’s need for rhythmic variation, but I found the reading routine and deadening.

In the second half, “the world to come”, Whelan changed from a white costume to black tights and top. She and Beiser changed places on stage, Beiser on stage left, Whelan dominating the ramp on stage left. She took many trips up and down the ramp, finally rolling in white cloth to the bottom as other cloths dropped on the back drop. It was all very dramatic but not convincing.

These artists are acclaimed in the varying fields and their program credits are distinguished.Their work is highly esteemed in the contemporary performing art world. The audience was enthusiastic. I was not moved by sound, word nor movement.


Joanna G. Harris


Paul Taylor at YBCA

Paul Taylor Dance Company
SF Performances
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Wednesday February 19, 2020

Lively Memories

The Paul Taylor Dance Company returns to the California Theater at YBCA for for performances from February 19 to February 23, 2020. There is a new work, “Concertiana” choreographed by Taylor in 2018 sometime before his death that year.

The evening starts with a short film depicting Taylor and his dance history. It is an important contribution and information for those who have not been able to attend these concerts for the many years they have been offered by SF Performances.

The company is young and lively and the dance skills are very well executed. Throughout the evening I missed a certain ‘bravura” and dramatic projection that characterized former companies. But then, I’ve been watching this work since 1975!

Concertiana” to music by Eric Ewazen is performed by eleven dancers who cross the stage, upstage and down, mingling, intertwining, meeting, leaving one another. The piece is like a retrospective of many earlier Taylor works. There is a long solo for red-headed Heather McGinley whose charm and skill “steals the show”. There are also shorter solo moments for other company members. “Concertiana” sets the pace for the rest of the program’s vocabulary: locomotion, falls and floor rolls, swings and lifts. It is all amazing and delightful and (but) often grows dull since most activity is “on the beat.”

Company B” is favorite for those of us who can remember the Andrew Sisters and the songs of World War II. Although the beat is lively and jazziness delightful, the work is haunted by the men who march to war in the upstage shadows. This is most pointed in the number “There Will Never Be Another You, ” performed by Heather McKinley and Michael Apuzzo. My memory is that the work ended there; in this performance there was a repeat of the opening, “Bei Mir Best du Schon”. Again the full cast participated but there were special performances by Madelyn Ho, Lisa Borres and Jada Pearman.

Esplanade” to Bach’s Violin Concerto in E Major, is the company “hit”. I believe that is nothing else is remembered of Taylor’s work, “Esplanade” will go on and on. First performed in 1975, it has ‘wowed’ audiences with its fast pace, leaps, falls, rolls, runs and finally “catches”. Women run fast and are caught up in the mens’ arms, then swung to run and leap again. It is breathtaking!

Best wishes to Michael Novak who has succeeded Taylor as Artistic Director. He is a dancer, dance scholar and recipient of many dance awards. He has inherited a formidable task and a complex and often difficult repertory.

Joanna G. Harris



SF Ballet – Program 3

SF Ballet Program 3
February 15, 2020
War Memorial Opera House,SF

Talent…Terpsichore Trauma

The SF Ballet displays no end of technical ability. It is gratifying to see both young and ‘older’ dancers in such fine shape, amazing audiences night after night with their skills. The SF Ballet Orchestra, under conductor Martin West produces marvelous music.

Although Director Helga Thomasson, has, year after year, enlisted choreographers from around the world to refresh the company’s repertory, the choreographic offering are often limited. For Program 3 of the 2020 season, a new work, “The Big Hunger” by Trey McIntyre, left audiences in confusion, while “The Infinite Ocean” by choreographer Edwaard Liang (from the 2018 Unbound season) was inventive and pleasing.

The set of “The Big Hunger” is one then another “No Exit” sign. Before it, three couples dance ‘pas de duex’ each proclaiming more and more difficult organization. Sasha De Sola and Max Cauthron executed the first; Sasha Mukkhamedove and Steven Morse the second. The duets grow more and more brutal. McIntyre says (in program notes), “Eventually all those things just crumble into a pile.” Yet the dancers’ skill prevails.

Most disconcerting is the appearance of lines of ‘goon’ men with floppy wigs on their heads who enter and exit at intervals through the “Exit” openings. The wigs changed from red to black. There is another duet for Cavan Conley and Lonnie Weeks in long grey coats, an added sequence which does not clarify the scenario. This reviewer is used to theatrical complexity, but neither the sequences nor the plot elements satisfied. What saved the piece was the extraordinary performance of Prokoviev’s Piano ConcertoNo.2 in G Minor, Op. 16, Yekwon Sunwoo, pianist. McIntyre has perhaps attempted a scenario that he cannot realize despite the dancers’ skills.

The Infinite Ocean” was seen in the Unbound program of 2018. The dancers face a blazing orb (scenic design by Alexander V. Nichols, lighting by James F. Ingalls). On stage an uphill riser provides an ultimate exit. Intense duets executed by Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helmets, then Yuan Yuan Tan and Carlo Di Lanno. The work is informed by a message choreographer Edwaard Liang received some time before from a dying friend:  “I will see you on the other side of the infinite ocean.” The message is philosophically compelling, but Liang is able to realize the choreographic challenge.

Program 3 ended with “Etudes” a study in ballet technique. It is an old work first performed by the Royal Danish Ballet in 1948. It could most profitably offered as a “curtain raiser” in a short program. In “Etudes” we see the entire process of ballet training; the long sequences at the barre; romantic quotes from “Les Sylphdes”; and bravura skills from men jumping, women turning and the corps in perfect coordination.

Misa Kuranaga, Max Cauthorn, Esteban Hernandez and Cavan Conley as soloists kept the audience applauding after the execution of each powerful skill. Yet, since the evening demanded so much, it was more than enough.

The 2020 season will offer two familiar ballets, “Midsummer’s Night Dream” (Balanchine) and the brilliant “Jewels” (Balanchine). These are greatly anticipated as skillful choreographic works that provide great satisfaction with the ballet art form.

Joanna G. Harris

The Infinite Ocean” Ballet by Edwaard Liang