Monthly Archives: October 2007

Ugly in Wicked

I can’t wait for this! Ugly Betty often films in front of a friend’s work in LA, and location would also explain why Eden Epinosa, who’s currently playing the lead in Wicked in LA, is in this episode. Eden Epinosa as Elphie, Megan Hilty as Glinda, airing this Thursday night.

The beginning of a love affair: Miami City Ballet

Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg and Carlos Miguel Guerra in Nine Sinatra Songs

I just got back from watching the Miami City Ballet perform at Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall, and it was such a high. They are an amazing company, with a great energy and an eye for detail. The show started out well with Tharp’s Nine Sinatra Songs. It definitely led to a different interpretation of having a different couple tackle each Sinatra song, which is different from the Sinatra Suite which features only one couple. It offers snapshots of different relationships, all featuring an Upper East side glamor girl with a partner in an Oscar de la Renta tux, beginning with the sweeping lovely “Softly as I Leave You” (with a gorgeous Haiyan Wu who had gorgeous lines), to the love-abusive “That’s Life”. Call me picky, but I wished they had featured the guy in “That’s Life” (danced by Renato Penteado) putting the gum in his mouth and chewing it. You could hardly see it unless you were looking for it, like I was. “One for My Baby” featured the leggy Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra – it wasn’t the sweeping lovely duet as “Softly as I Leave You”, with some awkward poses and parternering (inventive, nonetheless, and very interesting), but both worked together well to overcome the difficult poses with a smile. I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere about relationships. The men were very strong – not overwhelming and very comfortable in Tharp’s choreography; I was afraid it would look too “ballet” but it didn’t. Overall, a lovely seductive sweeping piece with a strong dose of bittersweet nostalgia.

Second piece was Balanchine’s Agon. It really was the concentrated distillation of ballet and modern art. The angular movements reflected Stravinsky’s music well, with a stark clarity reminiscent of a modern Martha Graham Greek tale. It’s not one of my favorite Balanchine pieces (most likely I didn’t understand it completely?), but the delivery was sharp, and you can sense the competitive nature of the “contest” that Balanchine was trying to portray, and the tension was apparent throughout the piece. Balanchine’s experimentation with pointe and partnering and ensemble work is always a joy to watch.

The show ended with a rousing rendition of Tharp’s “In the Upper Room”. I’d only seen pictures of people in loose striped scrubs with red pointe shoes that doesn’t represent the piece at all because those pictures didn’t look particularly appealing – this piece is all about the movement. Haunting music by Philip Glass is fundamental to this piece; Glass features music that has a lot of bubbling movement within arches of singing string melody, with an anticipatory beat and a few hemiolas thrown in for unexpected pleasure. The busy movement is mirrored in the craziness of the dancers’ movements. Perhaps Glass is the new contemporary baroque composer? His music, in my limited experience, is evocative and moving, and the terms “movie music” kept on coming to mind, but in a good way. His music is perfect for dance. There is so much to say about this piece, from the perpetual fog that made mysterious entrances from upstage really cool (sidenote: it must be horrible to dance and breathe in), to the most athletic piece of dance I’ve seen in a really long time, to the complexity and brilliance and the musicality of movement that included groups of dancers in tennis shoes and red pointe shoes. There was a sense of fun, rousing competitiveness, and feeding off of each other’s energy, that kept it really fun to watch. And the music presented a sense of urgent anticipation that kept everyone leaning forward until the very end.

The audience favorite were the three stomping guys, danced by Alex Wong, Jeremy Cox, and Daniel Baker. Alex Wong (one of the writers for The Winger) stood out to me, dancing with an all-encompassing passion during every onstage moment, with an intense gaze and a great modern sensibility that made it hard for you not to watch him. An intense gaze is so important, for an audience connection! Maybe it’s because the eyes are seldomly choreographed, and so if you see fire in a dancer’s eyes, you know it’s because the dancer’s full being is in the moment. It was a joy to watch him; he had great stage presence, and I’d love to see him dance bigger roles (Prodigal Son, maybe, depending on his acting ability? Spectre de la Rose? Bluebird is an obvious one). In the Upper Room was a definite crowd pleaser, but a good one. Good endings are also important, and this one was a great punchy one.

I’m highly disappointed that the SF Chronicle didn’t even have a review of MCB’s presence in Berkeley. In fact, I can’t find any local papers that covered it. Maybe one will be published tomorrow…?

I know Alastair Macaulay (dance critic of the NY Times) hinted that perhaps Miami City Ballet isn’t a “world class ballet company”, but in my mind, it truly is. Maybe there is a lack of glaring obvious individual superstars (although if they performed a flashy piece like Jewels, I’m sure I can pick out a few superstars from that). Ensemble work was seamlessly cohesive, matching their styles impeccably. I can’t imagine a better company performing the same works, in the sense that they did justice to the original choreographer in presenting pieces in the way that they were meant to be presented, with the right heart. Everything felt right. I came away from this performance, very satisfied and very happy.

Poetry in Motion

Carlos Guerra and Jennifer Kronenberg, principal dancers with Miami City Ballet, performing Balanchine’s “Stravinsky Violin Concerto.” From the NY Times

This picture is the reason that makes me want to see Miami City Ballet this weekend at Berkeley at Cal Performances. From the perfect line from the guy’s fingertips to the girl’s elbow, there is poetry in this picture, from the girl’s carefully placed fingers to her delicately offset feet. Absolutely gorgeous. Aside from all the raving about how good this ballet company is doing Balanchine (rightly attributed to a Balanchine dancer as its leader, Edward Villella who, did you know, used to be a champion boxer?), Jen got a personal recommendation from Mark Morris himself that Miami City Ballet does Balanchine well.

They are performing Tharp’s Nine Sinatra Songs (which, oddly enough, ABT will be bringing the shortened version, Sinatra Suite, to the same stage in a mere week), In the Upper Room, and Balanchine’s Agon.

There are still some tickets left. Click here for info.

Doubt: A Parable, South Coast Repertory, 9/23/07

or Should Another Actor’s performance change the outlook of the whole story?

I am very conflicted. This play really got under my skin when I first saw it on Broadway a few years ago, it was my very first straight play, and it totally blew me away. I was actually more impressed with Brian F. O’Byrne’s portrayal because it was so…convincing and balanced, I was really torn whether his character, a Catholic priest, really did molest a boy or not. It was so unclear and well played by O’Byrne. South Coast Repertory’s priest, James Joseph O’Neil, also did a balanced job of portraying a priest with questionable yet so innocent looking actions.

Now after seeing the South Coast Repertory’s production a few nights ago, I can see that instead of Brian F. O’Byrne’s portrayal and acting skills, it is actually the accusatory nun (brilliant Cherry Jones on Broadway) who convinced me so well that the priest was guilty of molestation. After watching the Broadway play, I was convinced (yet still had deep doubts) that the priest was guilty, guilty as charged! As Cherry Jones’ portrayal of the nun was so convinced. But then…after watching this play again two nights ago…I am confused once again. Linda Gehringer’s portrayal of the nun was a bit of a caricature; emphasizing the funny lines, so much so that even in serious conversations, the audience thought it was a joke (shocking, especially when she was speaking about child abuse to the mother of the suspected victim , and audience members are laughing). Gehringer’s portrayal of Sister Aloysius was more of a hell-bent nun who doggedly (without much reason or logic) was out to bring down the priest, no matter what. It was such an extreme portrayal; I thought it was a bit unfair to the character. And it made me realize that maybe this nun’s accusations were pretty ungrounded, and the priest may be innocent, after all. In comparison, Cherry Jones played the character with such humanity and integrity, she didn’t strike me as such a vengeful and hateful nun as Gehringer did. (To be very fair, I am not sure if anyone could even compare to Cherry Jones’ acting on stage; it is a difficult act to follow and Gehringer should get props for courageously attacking a difficult character). Hopefully once the play gets past previews, the acting will improve.

I watch many different casts of the same productions a lot of times; many different actors will emphasize different characterizations and bring a new perspective on a character. But no actor has ever made me change my mind about the ending of the play. (Priest = guilty, with Cherry jones as Sister Aloysius, Priest = innocent with Gehringer as Sister Aloysuis). Sorta shocking; which ending is the “true” ending? Should I just go with my first instinct (based on the Broadway cast) or is a community theater production just as valid? How does another actor’s portrayal show the intent of the character in a more extreme way, changing the outcome of my conclusion?

On a complete side note, the portrayal of Mrs. Muller by the brilliant Kimberly Scott completely broke my heart. A full out, emotional, quiet tornado of a performance…the desperation of a mother of a boy who might be abused, to quietly accept it at all costs, in order for her son to have a chance in life at a good education….was heart breaking. And can I say, this is the only production of Doubt where I’ve heard that the young Sister James’ character is “not annoying”. Well done by actress Rebecca Mozo.

The question remains though; is the priest guilty or not? I’m confused more than ever…

 

after the quake: Berkeley Repertory Theatre

And a behind-the-scenes look into Argonautika

The two storytellers on the left, watching the fantasy story of how two unlikely characters save Tokyo, a six foot SuperFrog and a homely businessman. Jennifer Shin, Hanson Tse, Keong Sim, and Paul Juhn

Last night, I finally got a chance to visit the Berkeley Repertory Theater for the first time. And what a treat to see a play that I had wanted to see! I saw Frank Galati’s after the quake, based on a book written by Haruki Murakami. It was one of those hypnotic worlds where dreams and fantasies collide and blur the line between reality.

A lot of the press has spoken about how this play is relevant in today’s post-9/11 society. This play centers around the lives of people who survived the tragedy of the Kobe earthquake in Japan. To me though, it had little to do with how people deal with life after tragedy per se, but more universally about how people deal with having dreams and the dangers of such dreams. The characters adopt the strategy of detachment in order to cope with unreached expectations and lost loves. This detachment is magnified by the characters referring to themselves in the third person, and multiple characters share the narration, as if to prevent personal investment in the story. This mood of loneliness and detachment resonated with me as an audience member – perhaps because the sentiment is so relateable and the feeling is so intimately personal, and stayed with me long after I left the theater. Despite mixed reviews, I was absolutely riveted throughout the 90 minute play, and was disappointed when the play ended.

Hanson Tse and Keong Sim were standouts of this play. Both actors have inhabited their roles since its inception, and it really shows how they fully embody their roles. Hanson Tse really is Junpei, the gentle hero coping with his lost love and restrained and crippled to do anything about it. He copes with his failed dreams by spinning fantastical stories that swirl around him and the people around him, buffering his thoughts away from himself. As the play progresses, we start to see the the bubbling of a volcano of emotions underneath his restrained surface, when he realizes he’s reached none of his dreams since college. Keong Sim played the Narrator/Frog – assured and confident, I was struck not only by his talent but also by how roles like his are so rare amongst Asian American actors. It was refreshing to see, and this play was really a step towards Asian American portrayals on stage.

Despite the compelling stories, the play is still very book-like. The writing includes bits such as, “And he says”, which breaks up the flow and reminds the audience that this is originally a written story. Perhaps intentional, but in this sense, I understand why some people felt like this play doesn’t completely translate on the stage, and might be a better read than viewing it on stage. The drama and the riveting effect still translates onstage – in all, it made me more curious about the book this play was based on.

I left this play with a feeling and a mood – an aching bittersweetness of a lost love, with images of a droll frog fighting earthquake worms, Tonkichi the bear who can’t speak, a terrified girl trapped in a box, and unknown heroes.

A few words about Berkeley Rep: I have a soft spot for small theaters, which promotes a sense of intimacy lost in bigger spaces, and I loved the theater we were in, the Thrust Theatre. A small group of us had been invited to tour the Roda Theater as well, which is a bigger theater but still maintains a sense of intimacy. They were setting up the next play of the season, Argonautika, which is a play that I’m really excited about, as I’ve blogged about before. The half-built set looks really cool and multidimensional, with wood paneling as if you are inside a boat, with an open back wall. Directed by the Tony award winning Mary Zimmerman, she weaves the tale of Jason and the Argonauts with even a modern anti-war themes thrown in for good measure. Rumor also is that they use puppets in the show (I’m thinking more Julie Taymor-style Lion King puppets, not the Avenue Q kind).

And in general, Berkeley Rep is picking good works that challenge the boundaries of theater and redefine it. This, to me, is what art is about. I also love the fact that they are striving to reach new audiences, in different ways from providing discounts to audiences under 30, holding “30 Below” parties for people of similar interests to mingle, book clubs of relevant books to shows they are showing, as well as a series of gourmet tastings of chocolate, champagne, and more, before the shows. Check out more of their special events, here.

For me, there really is nothing more fun than experiencing theater and getting to talk about it with like minded people. Many thanks to Terence, Sarah, and Marissa for a great night at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

after the quake is playing through November 25th. Argonautika opens on November 2. Click here for tickets.

Here are my recommendations for this season at the Berkeley Rep.

Jen’s review of after the quake, when it was playing in La Jolla.

Berkeley Repertory Theatre website

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The Color Purple Tour

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Before I saw this show on Broadway, it was hard for me to relate to the story of The Color Purple since I really had nothing in common with the main character – the main character grew up destitutely poor, was molested and abused – but I’m glad that my sister made me go see it. I saw it on Broadway the week after LaChanze won the Tony for Best Actress, and completely fell in love. I’m usually not emotional at shows, but

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for some reason, this show hits a harmonic on my heart and sets it off in a dangerous way. This show left me in embarrassing body-wracking sobs and moved me in ways that no other show had ever done before. It’s always made me wonder about its effect on me, and my scientist mind makes me think things like, ‘If I listen to the soundtrack, would that also make me cry? What about The Color Purple is sufficient to make me cry?’ And with this viewing, I think I found the answer – what makes me so emotional is that the orchestration and the music is so well written. When Celie has her baby and is singing her first and only song to her newborn baby, the song she sings actually embodies a mother’s cry. You can even see how Celie’s song is affecting her body, as if she is singing with her whole body, heart, and soul.

It also has some of the funniest moments ever staged, thanks to the unbelievable performance of Felicia Fields. From the first moment when she struts across the stage that makes me laugh, she solidified in my mind, that really great supporting actors are the actors that completely inhabit their roles, and are really hard to replace (other examples: Jack on Will and Grace, Jon Gallagher Jr. in Spring Awakening). I’m still upset that she didn’t win the Tony award that year. Her role as Sophia encompasses the funniest lines of the show, as well as the most rousing, as well as the most heartbreaking. It’s a huge journey her character takes at every performance.

And when I saw that Felicia Fields was on tour, I knew I would have to buy a ticket. And I did.

For me, the standouts of the show weren’t the stunt-casted LaToya London (from American Idol) or Michelle Williams (from Destiny’s Child), although both of them were very good. It was Felicia Fields, with her breadth of acting and who always brings down the house with “Hell No!, and Jeannette Bayardelle as Celie. Bayardelle was a bit of a surprise – granted, when I saw LaChanze, I wasn’t particularly moved by her performance (perhaps she was overshadowed by Fields in my mind?), but Bayardelle was really a force to be reckoned with. Her powerhouse voice brought down the house, from the moment she cried to her baby to the moment she stands up to her husband. (It seems a bit unfair to Michelle Williams, but Bayardelle’s voice completely overshadowed Williams’ singing voice during their duets).

Michelle Williams made for a very sexy Shug Avery, and she is an amazing performer; her rendition of “Push Da Button” brought down the house. What was lacking a little lacking was in her quieter singing moments, especially compared to Jeannette Bayardelle during their quieter duets. LaToya London made for a great Nettie, although her part was too small for her to truly shine.

Overall, what a great show. Go see it if, like me, you didn’t really want to see it. And let me know if it has such an emotional impact on you, maybe I’m just an anomaly.

Currently playing at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco. Check the website below for tickets and the rest of their tour.

The Color Purple Tour

More shows coming up this week: Berkeley Rep’s After the Quake, and either The Tosca Project (which I blogged about previously, a collaboration between ACT and SF Ballet), or the Miami City Ballet, a company that I’ve always wanted to see perform Balanchine. I really can’t decide between the two!

My Tribute to Project Bandaloop

I just got back from a trip to Lake Tahoe with my coworkers, and we had a really great time. Given that I go “camping” about once every 15 years (camping in my book is staying in a cabin with electricity and running water and DVDs and suffering from lack of internet and cable TV), it was a fun time. I mostly go for the food (toasted marshmallows, yum!) and an excuse to not be able to go into work on weekends. I’m mostly kidding – it was a lot of fun, spending time with people outside the lab. We went hiking the first day, and the setting reminded me a lot of Project Bandaloop (my review of them, here), and I got inspired to create dance during our hike. While most of my hard-core hiker lab mates were not amused and impatient to move on, I garnered a few of them to take photos.

I hope these pictures aren’t insulting to Project Bandaloop. :) As much as my pictures fall short of their beauty and grace, I am equally untrained to emulate their skills, so aim to emulate their example. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, no?

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During our hike, with Doreen either starting a jump or ending one (it was hard to get the timing right esp with impatient photographers!)

 

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In front of the cabin. An arabesque in nature.

 

 

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Interpretive dance?

Project Bandaloop: Redefining Dance

Fall For Dance, Orange County CA

Last week, I got an opportunity to fly down to southern California for my dad’s 58th birthday, and while I was there, I finally got to experience Fall For Dance, which took place in Orange County. After hearing about raves of how cool the New York Fall For Dance was, I had somewhat high expectations about the show I was going to see. Overall – it was a tad disappointing. Apparently, pointe shoes in ballet companies is so yesterday, while dancing in complete silence is (I think almost every contemporary piece started out with dancers starting in complete silence.) After a while, I actually wanted to see a sequined tutu. But in the midst of contemporary experimentation, there were some gems, and it really was a great way for audiences to see many dance companies in one sitting, like a dessert sampler at a restaurant. I got to see the Martha Graham Dance Company for the first time as well. A personal highlight was meeting Miki Orihara, who is a phenomenal dancer.

For this entry, I wanted to focus on Project Bandaloop, a dance troupe that ended the night at Fall for Dance.

I first heard about this dance company as an undergrad in college, when our dance history professor asked the question, “What makes dance, dance?” If you see a rockclimber rappeling down a mountain cliff, that is not dance. But if the rockclimber is rappeling down a mountain cliff incorporating choreographed swinging movements perfectly in tune with music, with a streamer trailing their every move… that is dance. What aspects of a dance, makes it a dance? What are the elements that make up dance? If you take out one element, when would a dance not become a dance? Our prof’s example of this was to show us some video footage of Project Bandaloop, the first time I heard about this troupe. They looked like rockclimbers climbing down the face of the El Capitan, except they were dancing.

There are so many breathtaking photos on their website, this is one of them. Elephant Rock, Yosemite

This groundbreaking troupe is really redefining dance, and makes me rethink what dance really is in such a creative way. They ended the show at Fall for Dance, with an announcement that encouraged the audience to walk outside for the final performance. As you can see from the video footage, their performance was absolutely mesmerizing. First of all, their choreography had evolved so much from the footage I saw of them on El Capitan (I’m sure on the El Capitan, their biggest priority was to get down safely, more importantly than pointing their toe). This troupe really uses its differing center of gravity to further its musicality in its dancing, in effortless lifts and movements in which time seems to slow down.

Love in a different dimension, and yet just as intense and moving

The music was perfect as well, with a primitive touch that made everything more elemental and open and austere, which complemented the floating choreography perfectly. It sounds stupid to say this, but I was delighted to be presented with a true dance performance that was creative and new.

Just because I can’t stop from watching these vids over and over again, here are some more I took. Enjoy, and be sure to check to see if Project Bandaloop is coming to your neighborhood. (They performed at the Exploratorium in San Francisco earlier this year, how cool is that??)

Project Bandaloop website

Fall for Dance, Program B

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Project Bandaloop, amazing piece…one of two good dance pieces performed last night. Rappelling down a wall as dance? Of course!

I headed out to Orange County’s Fall for Dance festival for their 2nd program last night…met up with fellow Wingers, Susan & Art…was a bit disappointed by the severe experimental pieces presented by most of the dance companies last night, is there a rule against pointe shoes?? Since when did ballet companies purely present modern pieces? No ballet company came wearing their pointe shoes. siiigh. And lastly, I don’t like it when companies perform excerpts of dance. Martha Graham, and Alonzo King’s Lines ballet performed excerpts; it’s difficult to get the context in which the piece is performed, making the performances seem a bit choppy with no emotional linear development, which I feel does not do justice to the piece or the choreographer.

The Dutch National Ballet showed an interesting pas de deux, Ochoa’s “Before After”, a very modern piece, with no ballet shoes in sight. This piece ended with both partners topless, unexpected…but I’m not sure if this was the right piece for this audience (many children in the audience, lots of giggling). Still, the movements were really beautiful and well danced. Alonzo King’s Lines ballet performed excerpts from “Rasa”, which is to be premiered next month in its entirety. The pas de deux in the middle of this piece was very very strange (definitely coulda done without it), and while the two dancers were very skilled, I thought the duet looked like “two horny refugees” that alternated from being exhausted/hungry and leaning on each other for support and rolling around on the ground. It wasn’t very attractive or interesting to watch. The other ensemble pieces were beautifully danced.

The other piece I really thought was great was Charles Moulton’s “The Ball Passing Project“; it was awesome in its musicality, simplicity and sheer humor and fun.

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We met up with some Martha Graham dancers outside while watching Project Bandaloop perform outside. It was really cool meeting Miki Orihara, from the Winger, and a few of her colleagues.