San Francisco International Arts Festival

Written by:
John Sullivan
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Multiple Dance Dimensions

San Francisco International Arts Festival
Marines Memorial Theatre, San Francisco
Raices Profundas, May 2-5, 2012
Mansaku-no Kai: Kyogen May 11, 2012
Axis Dance Company and Marc Brew Company 12, 2012
The Crazy Cloud Collection: inkBoat and Ko Murobushi May 12, 2012

The San Francisco International Arts Festival, directed by Andrew Wood and running May 2-20, has achieved miracles in programming. We, the appreciative audience try to keep up with all the special events offered. One amazing company, Raices Profundas, opened the dance offerings the first weekend. Then, three inspired shows were available on the weekend of May 11-12: All demand special attention.

With no pretension to be the definitive source of all Cuban dance, Raices Profundas nevertheless gave us its African sources, its dramatic play (confrontation, comedy, seduction), and above all, demonstrations of its varied multiple rhythms and complex step patterns. Lead vocalist Juana Yayma Pimentel Machado and musicians Manley Lopez Herrara and Francisco Javier Baro Almiral accompanied the 12 dancers. All are accomplished artists.

In Act One, the company presented various dances (“Ciclo Yoruba: Elegu,” “Yemay,” “Chang,” “Osh’n, Og’n”), during which six women swooped and circled wearing flounced skirts and wrapped headdresses. The men were first costumed in similar “colonial” outfits and carried small hatchets, but later donned long reed skirts, performing aggressive and acrobatic dances associated with various African styles. A “trickster” dressed in a funny hat and mismatched garments introduced the first events and greeted the audience. All this served to demonstrated this group’s ensemble skills and give reverberations of the ancestors.

Act Two demonstrated the delightful dances usually associated with Cuba: Rumba, Cha Cha Cha, Danzon, Mambo #5, Guarapachangueo, Salsa and Congas de Comparsas. These lively numbers were danced separately and together by the men and women; each displayed a different costume (what quick change artists!); all were marvelous.

For those of us who danced through the 1950s, it was hysterical to see the satin costumes and tuxedos worn for Mambo #5, a number that dominated the Palladium in NYC. It was a moment of satire and comment, noting that we in the U.S. have much to learn about the steps, rhythms, partnering and skill so well shown here by Raices Profundas. The dancers are: Onally de la Caridad Rojas Sauchay, Ivonne Herrera Manresa, Yamilka Gonzalez Gomez, Daimi Hernandez Cabrara, Leydiana Lisbett Valdes Lopez, Gilset Mora Amador, Murray Mendendez, Reynaldo Jesus Baro Ruiz, David Casimira Marrero Hernandez, Jorge Amado Perez Machedo, Jose LuisGuzman Agiuilera, and Robert Michael Dias Terry. Bravo all!

A special note of praise is due to Artistic Director Juan De Dios Ramos Morejon, who founded the company and is its teacher and choreographer. He also danced for a few minutes, demonstrating his skill as a leader in partner dancing. Juan is highly revered as a educator and is a major influence is conserving and maintaining Cuban cultural traditions. We here in San Francisco are grateful to have seen this company.
Go to San Francisco International Arts Festival site and watch the YouTube presentation of Raices Profundas. Then stand up and practice those steps for your next ballroom excursion.

Mansaku Nomura is a living national treasure of Japan and has performed the art of Kyogen, a form of traditional Japanese comic theater for over 70 years. It has been likened to the Italian commedia dell’arte, i.e. short plays using stock characters. For this special event, Nomura chose three: “Black Crocodile Tears,” “The Moon-Viewing Blindman” and “Neck Pulling.” All were fascinating, but since Nomura himself appeared in “The Moon-Viewing Blindman,” it deserves special attention.

Accompanied by the unique Japanese vocalizations, costuming and special gesture of Kyogen, Nomura comes onstage using the white cane of the blind. He tells that on full-moon nights, although he cannot see the moon, he can hear the birds. An “Upper Kyoto Man,” a city dweller, joins the Blindman and together they drink and discuss the joys of the evening. Eventually, they quarrel and fight; the Blindman, although knocked down, exits unhurt, having enjoyed his evening. Through the use of the special sound, marvelous gesture and stylized drunken dance, the humor and delight in this play is enacted. It is clear what special skills Kyogen demands and what these artists have achieved. Other players were: Kazunoiri Takano, Yukio Ishida, Haruo Tsukizaki, Hiroharu Fukata, Shulchi Nakamura, Satoshi Oka and Yukio Ishida. A unique event!

The Crazy Cloud Collection also echoes aspects of Japanese theater, this time by the style of Butoh. Murobushi was deeply influenced by the life and poetry of a 15th century Zen monk, Ikkyu Sojun. Shinchi lova-Koga, a San Francisco artist, joins Murobushi presenting inkBoat, whose work has been familiar to Bay Area dance audiences since 1998.

There were several “movement” events in inkBoat’s performance, entitled “Skeletons,” all of them demonstrating intense minimalism. Each section focused on small, slow movement that might change dramatically to falls, squats and rolls. Every event creates a powerful image, although the viewer must work to reach into the images to appreciate them. Although they were all intriguing, the duet with the dancers carrying skulls, turning slowly to form new shapes, made a great impact. Murobushi’s solo in white was totally commanding. The dynamic of these works necessitates a certain kind of deep concentration. It looses impact as the evening wears on, and one’s appreciation wears down.

A very different dynamic was used for the work of Marc Brew. Like our own Bay Area Axis Company, Brew, who hails from the U.K., is part of a “physically integrated” dance group— that is, both abled and disabled dancers work together. Brew himself, both in “Nocturne (Duet Excerpt)” (2009) and “Remember When” (2008), is a remarkably expressive dancer, using a wide variety of arm, head and chest gestures to project his feelings. In “Nocturne,” he was joined by Daniela B. Larson in a teasing, love-making duet complete with complex rolls on the bed that defy description. Brew’s range of movement and his choreography brought a new dimension to the idea that physical limitation hampers creativity and expression.

An Axis Company work, “Full of Words” (2011), also choreographed by Brew for the local company, consists of three separate segments, all on stage simultaneously, yet each in with its own preoccupations. What integrates may be the “dreamer” (Rodney Bell), whose vision the dance might be. There are exciting duets for Sonshere Giles, Julian Monin, Sebastian Grubb and Alice Sheppard. A table allows extended stunts and tumbling for one couple and the use bathtub makes for various balances and sensational events. Brew’s notes tell us, ” ‘Full of Words’ has been created as a series of physical conversations, encounters and interventions that reflect what it is to be human.” All the dancers accomplish that; in fact they are superhuman!

Joanna G Harris

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