San Francisco International Arts Festival
Marines Memorial Theatre
San Francisco, CA
May 2-20, 2012
by Rita Felciano
Copyright © Rita Felciano
On a still modest budget of around $200,000 for a three-week event, the San Francisco International Arts Festival has managed to jam our May calendars with dance, music and theater since 2003. For a variety of reasons, this year I had to miss two of the major dance events. "Raices Profundas" was an apparently rocking celebration of the history of dance and music in Cuba; Yaelisa and Caminos Flamencos' "Homenaje a los Flamencos de la Bodega", a memory-filled evening of the time when the now legendary Olde Spaghetti Factory in the City's North Beach was Flamenco heaven. Still, even the more modest productions, often seen as shared evenings, offered refreshing perspectives on new choreography.
Brew performed with his own company in a duet with Daniela S. Larsen and a solo for himself. Both pieces showed an exceptionally sophisticated choreographer. The excerpts from the duo "Nocturne" explored a loving though not completely satisfying relationship, imaginative in the way it paired two different dancers longing for each other. Their eroticism in bed was both touching and so very refreshing. The dream-like "Remember When" had Brew sitting very still in his wheelchair next to a film of an escalator ascending from the underground. Gradually, as the light came up, his upper body and his exquisite arms became the tendrils reaching towards something ephemeral but very real.
At half an hour, the improvisation between master guitarist Sir Richard Bishop and Nicolas Cantillon, one half of the Swiss Companie 7273, felt a little long. In this mesmerizing meditation the dance at times veered away on its own trajectory only to find itself again being pushed and pulled by the music. The clarity of Bishop's strumming and plucking his instrument against the shimmering drone of an Indian style harmonium created a world of its own. Cantillon, over six feet and dressed in black, with a mop of unruly hair and long exquisite limbs, shaped and reshaped his body in ever fresh combinations. With thrusting hips, folding knees and a snaking torso, much of the dance was performed in a tiny spot. He could also look like a mime with specific images -- a karate practitioner, for instance -- emerging into momentary relief, only to evaporate again. Particularly pleasurable was Cantillon's eloquent use of wrists and hands which recalled Asian dance styles.
The US premiere of "Chinese Objects" by the Finnish Susanna Leinonen Company left an ambiguous impression. Slithering between jerky isolations and long fluid lines, the two dancers (the excellent Elina Hayrynen and Natasha Lommi) seemed encased within a carapace of restrictions. More than anything they looked robotic, perhaps trying to slip out of their constraints. Though well performed with fine space and lighting design which fore-and backgrounded the two women, "Chinese" still felt too much like an elaborate theatrical exercise.
In its return to the Festival, the 2010 "Crazy Cloud Collection," Butoh artist Ko Murobushi and inkBoat Shinichi Iova-Koga's collaboration, inspired by Buddhist monk/poet Ikkyu Sojun, lost its crowd of silent observers but also became less of coherent piece of dance theater. The smaller, more intimate Marines Memorial allowed the eye to focus more intensely on the individuality of "Crazy's" episodes. I would have liked, however, to walk away from this theatrical tour de force with more of a sense of what precisely in Sojun inspired the two choreographers.
As a performance, "Crazy" cannot be faulted. It was first rate. From the moment Muroboshi and Iova-Koga confronted us like two steles -- one old and gnarled, the other sinewy and lanky -- you recognized them as two parts of something. The simplicity and rigor of the tiny gestures appeared to come from somewhere outside time. The force with which they repeatedly fell or threw themselves to the floor looked propelled by more than earthly gravity. So when mountains of sand knocked the dancers to the ground, you were not surprised. In a floor-crawling duet Iova-Koga and Peiling Kao fiercely dug into their bodies, either trying to procreate or devour each other. But, perhaps, most disturbing was Sherwood Chen and Iova-Koga lying on their side, their bodies in spastic trembling that went on for what felt like an eternity. Murobushi, inexplicably, disappeared for a large part, to return later with a solo that, probably, was designed to stand alone. The use of skulls, however, looked somewhat recherché, like "Hamlet" manqué.
Dance Elixir's "Thieves" showed two shadowy dancers (Jeremiah Crank and choreographer Leyya Mona Tawil) propelled and repulsed by Dutch percussionist Lars J. Brouwer's attention-grabbing score. The simplicity of the horizontal trajectory and the contrast between Crank's dynamism and Tawil's turgidness proposed an ominous force at work, but this world premiere looked sketchy. Robert Dekker's Post:Ballet company is only three years old. The freshness, humor and sense timing in his new "Mine is Yours" suggests a future for this newcomer to the Bay Area's growing number of small ballet companies. Using a slinky, slow motion vocabulary full off deep slides, a Rodinesque Domenico Luciano, in a floor-length skirt, partnered Ashley Flaner, Raychel Diane Weiner and Hiromi Yamazki. Sometimes the impetus came from Luciano, sometimes the women descended on him like pesky flies. The US Premiere of Cid Pearlman's fluidly attractive "What We Do in Winter," is based on her work in Estonia and was performed with primarily dancers from Tallin. With the support of a witty score by Jonathan Segel, she explored folkloric circle and line motives in a decidedly contemporary fashion so that recurring encounters felt like a never ending spiral that could have gone on expanding for ever.