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Multiple Dance Dimensions: The San Francisco International Arts Festival

by Joanna G. Harris
May 11, 2012
Marines Memorial Theatre
609 Sutter Street

San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 771-6900
Joanna G. Harris
Author, Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, 1916-1965. Regent Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009. Contributor to reviews on culturevulture.net
The San Francisco International Dance Festival, directed by Andrew Wood, has achieved many miracles in programming. We, the appreciative audience try to keep up with all the special events offered. Three inspired shows were available on the weekend of May 11, 2012: all demanded special attention.

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 gestures of Kyogen, Nomura came on stage using the white cane of a blind man. 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 blind man and together they drink and discuss the joys of the evening. Eventually, they quarrel and fight; the blind man, although knocked down exits unhurt having enjoyed his evening. Through the use of special sounds, marvelous gesture and stylized drunken dance, the humor and delight in this play is enacted. It was 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 echoed aspects of Japanese Theater, this time in the style of Butoch. Guest performer Ko 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 changed dramatically to falls, squats and rolls. Every event created 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 greatest impact. Murobushi's solo in white was totally commanding. The dynamic of these works necessitated a certain kind of deep concentration. It lost impact as the evening wore on and one's appreciation of it followed.

A very different dynamic was used for the work of Marc Brew. Like our own Bay Area Axis Dance Company, Brew, who hails from the UK, is part of a "physically-integrated" dance group that features both abled and disabled dancers working together. Brew himself, both in an excerpt from his "Nocturne" (2009) and "Remember When" (2008) was a remarkably expressive dancer using a wide variety of arm, head and chest movements to project his feelings. In "Nocturne" he was joined by Daniela B. Larson in a teasing, love-making duet complete with complex rolls on a bed that defied description. Brew's range of movement and his choreography brought a new dimension to the idea that physical limitations can hamper creativity and expression.

An Axis Dance Company work, "Full of Words" (2011), also choreographed by Brew consisted of three separate segments, all on stage simultaneously, yet each in with its own preoccupations. What integrated them may have been the visions of a 'dreamer', danced by Rodney Bell. There were exciting duets for Sonsherée Giles, Julian Monin, Sebastian Grubb and Alice Sheppard. A table allowed extended stunts and tumbling for one couple and the use of a bathtub made 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 accomplished that; in fact they were superhuman!

The SFIAF has accomplished many major miracles this year with its range of programs. We look forward to a sensational finale next weekend. May 18,19 and 20.
Marc Brew Company dancers Marc Brew and Daniella B. Larsen in 'Nocturne'

Marc Brew Company dancers Marc Brew and Daniella B. Larsen in "Nocturne"

Photo © & courtesy of Roswitha Chesher

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