Urban Bush Women

Urban Bush Women
Cal Performances
Dec. 1, 2023 8 pm
Zellerbach Playhouse

Hair & Other Stories

Performance as Protest/Participation

The Urban Bush Women are an outstanding group who can lecture, sing, act and dance. They are collaborators, with Mame Diaarra Speis and Chanon Judson (choreographers) in a series of staged events that bring us details of the life and emotions of the group.The event is elegantly performed: each section is narrated, sung and danced in a unique style that tells the audience of these women’s experiences. It is an unusual and amazing performance.

The event also challenges the audience to accept the narrative, examine its feelings and also! to practice breathing and some exercise in place. For this reviewer, who greatly admires skill of many sorts, the wide variety of experiences in one event was too much. The audience however seemed to ‘get into the act’ with enthusiasm.

The “Hair” episodes detailed the women’s confrontation with the nature of “black” hair and how several of them dealt with it; cutting, un’frizzing’, accepting, straightening, etc. These events were the background for the general presentation of black women’s experiences, how to describe them, how to talk about them, and how they are accepted. All narratives combined talk, song and dance. All beautifully performed.

This narratives and other statements are important, critical and contemporary…and ..but a bit too much even for a very receptive and supportive audience. Audiences receive performances and it has its right to respond with its own feelings and sensibilities.

Performers were: Courtney Jj. Cook, Ross Daniel, Kentoria Earle, Roobi Gasking, Grace Galu Kalamdbay, Mame Diarra Speis, and Mikaida Ware. Two children were with the group.

NYC Ballet – Balanchine – Oct 12,13, 2023

New York City Ballet
Lincoln Center, Koch Auditorium
October 12, 13, 2023 7:30 PM

Celebration! History, Nostalgia, Performance Memories

The three works on this Thursday program date from early times in the development of the NYC Ballet. For the 75th Anniversary Season, the company has restaged the works of George Balanchine, director, choreographer and inspiration for what is now, ballet in America.

Balanchine’s history is best told, most recently, in Janet Holman’s “Mr. B” (George Balanchine’s 20th century) New York: Random House, 2022. In it, Holman traces Balanchine’s journey from Russia, through Germany, France and then, to wherever he could choreograph and stage ballet…to NYC where, with the help of Lincoln Kirstein the NYC Ballet was finally established.

For this reviewer. the company and Balanchine’s work is primary to my understanding of theater dance. As early as 1948, shortly after the NYCB was based at the NY City Center, I was there…along with dozens of other dance students. We begged for free and/or low price seats. With kind ushers and understanding patrons we were admitted to the performance for $2.40!

The Thursday evening event at Lincoln Center began with “Serenade”, a work Balanchine started in 1934 and has been in the repertoire ever since. It starts almost as a class in ‘porte de bras”, the carriage of the arms. One gesture is historical. Hitler’s ‘heil’ gesture (so terrible to see in those times) is turned out as if the dancers are guarded against it.The dancers, first the corps and then soloist proceed to offer a classic Balanchine American ballet, athletic, lively and complex to Tschaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings

Although the dance proceeds for several movements as lively lyrical activity, ultimately a scenario begins. A womaSymphony in Cn falls; a man revives her with the help of a “dark angel”. She, Psyche or perhaps another mythical creature, is ultimately carried fully erect on her feet upstage and out. “Serenade” is a ballet, class, a study in classical reference and a lyrical wonder. It is certainly Balanchine’s tribute to the ballerina. He adored his ballerinas (and married four!).

I saw ”Serenade” in 1948 and remember every gesture, posture and event. For this performance the leading dancers were: Erica Perieira, Unity Phelan, Emilie Gerrity, Adrian Danching-Waring and Christoper Grant. Yes, only one man then! At finale a group of men carry the ballerina standing, fully erect to the upstage right exit. What a tribute!

Balanchine is not usual noted as a ‘dramatic’ choreographer, but on these two programs (Oct, 12 ad 13, 2023) I found the ‘story’ ballets the most compelling.”Orpheus” was also premiered in 1948 at the NY City Center. To a Stravinsky score and with sets by Isamu Noguchi, we are led into the ‘underworld” as Orpheus searches for his lost love, Eurydice. Most audiences know the story from the Gluck opera and the myth. I see it also as the artists descent into his/her personal underworld where, ultimately artistic insight is revealed. Orpheus finds his music!

For the Oct.12 performance Adrian Danchig-Waring was Orpheus, Davide Riccardo, the Dark Angel and Brittany Pollack, Eurydice. All were accompanied by Furies, Lost Souls and Bacchantes. “Orpheus” is truly a Balanchine tribute to ballet and the ballerina!

Friday, October 13 was a Gala event. No press passes ( I paid $100. for a third ring seat.)

The dramatic work on the program was “Prodigal Son” premiered in 1929 for the Ballet Russes; then 1950 at the City Center, NYC. I must admit remembering an event when Misha Baryshnikov danced the wild young man and Balanchine himself the father!

The prodigal leaves home and falls into wild adventures particularly with The Siren. Seduced, humiliated, ego crushed and physically destroyed he crawls home, climbing into his father’s arms. Anthony Huxley danced the Prodigal; Sara Mearns the Siren and Preston Chamblee the Father in this production. The decor is by Georges Rouault; music by Sergei Prokofiev.

Another masterpiece!

Friday’s event opened with Bach’s Violin Concerto in d minor, “Concerto Barocco” beautifully played by two violinists, Kurt Nikkanen and Arturo Delmoni. The leading dancers were Isabella laFreniere, Mira Nadon and Gilbert Bolden III. The ballet was premiered in NYC in 1948. Again this work demonstrating Balanchine’s superb musical understanding, is a masterpiece.

The evening closed to unending applause for “Symphony in C” to music by George Bizet. It is in four movements, each more exciting than the one before. We were treated to the dancing of ballerina Tiler Peck, partnered by Chun Wai Chan for the first movement. Other stars were: Unity Phelan, Alec Knight, Baily Jones, Sebastian Villarini-Valez, Emilie Gerrity and Peter Walker. The Gala audience cheered, stamped and generally applauded this 75th celebration.

The resident conductor of the superb orchestra is listed as Clotilde Otranto.

Wolf Play

Wolf Play
Shotgun Theater
Berkeley, CA

Opening Night September 9, 2023

In a theater seminar at UC Berkeley a professor asked, after the class had read a play, “What is the play about?” Students began to cite the plot. “No!” The professor said again, “What is the play about?” He was trying to point out the “through line”, the thematic idea that hold the play together around which all the incidents, the plot, the lines and the characters are connected.

The “through” line of “Wolf Play” is adoption, adaptation, relationships and imagination. That may be too many ideas for any play but they’re all there. Although several of the actors give exciting and original performances, the event itself becomes too long (almost two hours without intermission)… and too busy.

Playwright Hansol Jung asks, “What ultimately makes a family?” Her play attempts the answer through multiple complications legal and emotional. The boy, Jeenu, is presented as a puppet, brilliantly maneuvered by Mikee Loria as Wolf. Gabby Momah (Ash) also gives a fine performance as the boxer. Laura Domingo, Caleb Cabrera and Sam Bertken complete the cast. Elizabeth Carter directed.

The central performance by Loria is his ability to bring the puppet alive in many different circumstances and accomplish the sense of his growth, character and intelligence. This is contrasted with Momah’s portrayal as a reluctant boxer who finally accepts the ‘wolf’ child…who does not join others easily, seeking his own world.

There are other challenges: a former parent wants the child returned; family members resent the ‘new’ child; the adoption has legal challenges. All this makes for exiting drama staged with much ‘business’ including breakfast scenes, boxing exhibitions, legal arguments and emotional crises.

Wolf Play” is a good two hours of challenging drama. It would be more effective shorter, clearer and with unnecessary ‘stage’ business.

Go see it! …and reflect on the social questions raised. Most of all, enjoy the performances.