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Oakland Ballet's A Cappella – Our Bodies Sing a Dance and Song Celebration

by Joanna G. Harris
April 18, 2016
Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts
1428 Alice Street
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 238-7526
Joanna G. Harris Author, Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, 1916-1965. Regent Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009. Contributor to reviews on culturevulture.net
This seems to be a dance season of dedication to the spiritual dimension. Dance can be a manifestation of that devotion. For their ambitious spring program, A Cappella – Our Bodies Sing April 14-18 at the Malonga Art Center, Oakland Ballet artistic director Graham Lustig commissioned three choreographers to make works for the company using diverse a cappella music.

For the world premiere of choreographer Val Caniparoli's “Beautiful Dreamer,” Derek Tam led the Berkeley Community Chamber Singers in songs by Stephen Foster. Along with the title song, the piece included “Oh Susannah,” “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” and “Nellie Bly.” These minstrel tunes were beautifully sung and nicely danced. The Oakland Ballet dancers are an accomplished group. What choreographer Caniparoli did not provide for this reviewer was the drama and characterization inherent in each lyric. Instead, as in today’s "modern ballet," the work was replete with wonderful technical material, lifts, turns, falls and incidental duets. Dancers Coral Martin and Rudy Candia accomplished the “Beautiful Dreamer” duet with some rapture.

Next, Varja Voices, a women’s group directed by Karen R. Clark accompanied Janice Garrett & Charles Moulton's world-premiere ballet “Divining.” Varja Voices
sang five songs written by the 11th century Abbess, Hidegard von Bingen whose work has become championed by devotees of early music. Their voices were lovely and soared through the theater, sometimes upstaging the dancers for attention. Garrett and Moulton, who direct a San Francisco company, provided lovely patterns and extended dance gesture for the ballet. A solo by Alysia Chang and a duet by Emily Kerr and Vincent Chavez were the special features of this work. Again, the choreographic material demonstrated well-accomplished series of lifts, turns and jumps.

Rounding out the program, the West Coast premiere of Lustig's “Stone of Hope” had a different dimension. It was danced to traditional spirituals sung by the Inspirational Music Collective, directed by Nona Brown. The chorus joined the dancers on stage and their interaction and the dance-gesture that amplified the choreography made this a joyous presentation. Special praise to Megan Terry, Vincent Chaves, Christian Laverde Konig, Gregory De Santis, Coral Martin and Rudy Candia for their outstanding performances. The company and the singers brought lively joy to this program.

The program will be repeated on April 21 at the Brava Theatre, San Francisco and April 23 at Chabot College, Hayward.
Oakland Ballet's Brent Whitney, Evelyn Turner and Vincent Chavez in Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton's “Divining.”

Oakland Ballet's Brent Whitney, Evelyn Turner and Vincent Chavez in Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton's “Divining.”

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