Dance Mission Theater
San Francisco, CA
November 11–13, 2011
Performance reviewed: Nov. 12
The Bay Area is a hotbed for mixed media, dance theater, and politically engaged experiments. So choreographer Raissa Punkki’s formal restraint, subdued imagery, and focus on the dancing body feels almost like a new idea. “Pick Cells,” a compilation of five smallish pieces performed as one unit, was Punkki’s first full-evening presentation after moving to San Francisco from Finland in 2005.
Though the program’s sequential logic was not entirely convincing, the individual parts, with one exception, communicated their intent clearly and with considerable conviction. At this point, Punkki excels in finely chiseled miniatures that take an idea and explore its implications: She is particularly skillful at creating suspense through an elastic use of time.
In numbERs, danced by Punkki, the soloist appears buffeted to and fro as if in a wind tunnel. Giving into and fighting that force becomes a struggle on constantly shifting ground. Albert Mathias score of children'a voices, reciting and messing up number sequences, gave the piece its appropriate aural component. Reality is a slyly amusing trio for Jennifer Meek, Sarah Keeney, and the older and smaller Punkki. She insidiously worms her way into the barely existing space between the two women. They challenged the intruder with an ever-tightening circular run.
Pulling time like taffy was at the core of two works. Weightingroom, with a sound score made by the dancers’ rustling paper costumes (by Claire Pasquier), was inspired by a railroad station’s waiting area. Its passengers sit, glare, and fuss until a mini-drama of attraction and rejection explodes between Patric Cushman and Keeney. Waiting develops as a single image. An inchoate mass under a huge, pleated cloth rises and evolves into rocks and other natural forms to end in the image of a shrouded, weeping female. It was the simplest of ideas yet so beautifully measured out that the final moments took your breath away.
The one misstep in this attractive program occurred in the middle with in 3D. Pascquier had created scintillating costumes, including masks and headdresses, for nine dancers, with the tall Cushman being a kind of leader. The audience was asked to put on 3D glasses, which made no sense, since a live performance is already three-dimensional. Perhaps the performers, processing around the stage, were meant to suggest shamans. But the choreography was so inconsequential and non-descript that they looked more like a group of Halloween revelers who got lost on their way home.
Photos, top to bottom: Patric Cashman and Sarah Keeney; Raisa Punkki. By Rob Kunkle, courtesy Dance Mission Theater.
For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.
Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"
At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.
Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.