A Dance Cornucopia – Stages Overflow with Tasty Offerings

We associate the woven cornucopia basket with Thanksgiving, and that symbol of abundance and nourishment certainly applies to San Diego dance this month. Exciting dance began with Giselle and Shadows, and stages overflow this weekend with a rare and not-to-be-missed triple bill downtown, a national troupe in Escondido, and alumni at San Diego State. Scroll down for two reviews and this weekend’s concert information.

The rich November sampling began with California Ballet’s staging of the ghostly ballet Giselle Nov. 1st and 2nd. The company has performed the work since the 1970’s but this was the first time at the Civic and it was packed on opening night.

Feathery light Ana da Costa was most pleasing as the ordinary peasant girl Giselle who dies of a broken heart when she discovers that her lover, Albrecht, is engaged to another woman. She danced with amazingly silent feet to reveal several characters in one. The thrill was to watch her movement transformation from love-struck fluttering to shocking madness and jerky death, and romantic ghost who loves her man from the grave. The Wilis, angry spirits of scorned brides, dance men to death and summon Giselle from her grave. They target her lover for death, but she rescues him.

courtesy of California Ballet.

Image courtesy of California Ballet.

Tall and gallant, Trystan Merrick gave Ms. da Costa superb support as Albrecht, and he inserted theatrical details to expand his character from a two-timing cad to a remorseful young man consumed with guilt. He has danced for San Diego Ballet, Malashock, San Diego Dance Theater, City Ballet of San Diego, and Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. He toured internationally to 16 countries with “The Trocks,”where he had to lift muscled men en travesti. His tiny partner Giselle seemed to levitate in lifts overhead, and his speed and execution were exceptional.

Credit must go to Denise Dabrowski, company Regisseur, for the striking balance between pretty and spooky, and some of the best technique to come from this company in many years. The ghostly second act was especially strong, with Brik Middlekauff as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, who played with mortals like toys, and the veiled corps of dancers in the famous climax –leaning forward with heads down, they chugged on flat feet in frightening and beautiful formation.

If only the music had been live. The sound in the Civic Theatre echoed, and that’s not how it would have sounded when Adolphe Adams wrote the score back in 1841. Costumes by Robert Eaton were appropriately Rhineland peasant and noble, except for one intensely pea green skirt. Supernatural Wilis ruled the second act. Act I didn’t have the same magic and suffered from an obvious lack of peasant men. Couldn’t they round up some acrobatic hip-hop men from the San Diego dance village?


Also riding the heels of Halloween this month was Shadows, presented by dance makers Blythe Barton, Zaquia Mahler Salinas, and Khamla Somphanh. The White Box performance space was cloaked in dark drapes and a dark tone permeated several of the six dances

Women with blackened eyes moved zombie-like in “Conocimiento” by Salinas, a title that translates to knowledge or familiarity, and it seemed familiar. My notes read déjà vu. A work in progress, the women convulsed and slowed as if they were dying or already dead. After seeing the Wilis in action the night before and hearing music by Chevala Vargas, I couldn’t help but view them as scorned dead maidens from centuries ago who returned to a Mexican ranchero. Psychopomp, also by Salinas had more ghostly faces and shadows on curtains, collapsing bodies, splayed fingers and very slow unison. The trio of dancers opened their mouths in a silent scream. It was if they were begging for a change in tempo that never came.

Somphanh offered two compelling works with her juicy vocabulary, such as spins that sink into the balls of the feet. In “Spatial Void” dancers Stephanie Harvey, Erica Ruse, and Shannon Snyder, created a narrative about a family, daughters and a father perhaps, and then their roles shifted. Music by Alafur Arnalds added more tension to this potent dramatic piece. The duet “Path of Least Resistance” with Ms. Harvey and favorite partner Justin Viernes was filled with acrobatic rebounds and over the back lifts that require stamina and absolute trust. “Path” was clearly a highlight of the program with its physicality set to a percussive score.

Barton also presented two dances, both expansive group pieces and beautifully danced. “Cellar Door” dressed dancers (Cecily Holcombe, Bradley R. Lundberg, Cara Steen Nicholas Strasburg, and Brittany Taylor) in spidery mesh. They were giant arachnids, crawling toward the light, skittering into the shadows, and stretching with long limbs through peep holes to hide.

Closing the Shadows program was Barton’s “From Across the Room I Felt Your Quake,” and dancers Stephanie Harvey and Anne Gehman joined the ensemble to make seven. I’ve said many times that nobody does crazy dance theater like Anne Gehman, but she was surprisingly sane and tame in this work. Who were these women in black bras and maroon skirts and what did they want? They teased the men but moved on quickly, only to return from the side on half toe like ladies of the night. Ah ha! The Cinderellas were worried about the time. The whole group rotated on one hand like giant spiraling clock hands and sprung off the floor from a knee, a very slick maneuver that sent them into grid walking. In the end they slammed alone onto the floor, and we felt that quake.

The November dance buffet isn’t over yet. Many of the dancers and dance makers mentioned in reviews here are performing this weekend.

Ballet and Beyond at the Spreckels Theatre. City Ballet of San Diego, Malashock Dance, and Jean Isaacs’ San Diego Dance Theater share the bill. City Ballet presents four works with three premieres. Malashock Dance and San Diego Dance Theater each present two works. Nov. 13 through 16. Program A Thursday and Saturday nights. Program B runs Friday night and matinee Nov. 16.

"C-Squared." City Ballet of San Diego. Courtesy image.

“C-Squared.” City Ballet of San Diego. Courtesy image.

Program A: “C-Squared,” by City Ballet’s Elizabeth Wistrich; “Great Day” by John Malashock, “O Magnum Mysterium,” by Jean Isaacs; and “Speakeasy,” by Geoff Gonzalez of City Ballet. Thurs. Sat. Nov. 13 and 15 at 7:30 pm.

Program B: Isaacs’ “When We Meet” and Malashock’s “Silver and Gold.” Gonzalez premieres “Classified,” and Wistrich premieres “A Life According to Me.” “A Life” is based on the story of City Ballet music director John Nettles and features a chorus and the City Ballet Orchestra. Nettles performs as vocal soloist.  Fri. Nov. 13 at 8 pm. Sun. Nov. 16 at 2 pm. www.cityballet.org

The Make-it Concert at San Diego State Univ. Dance faculty invited several alumni to return to their alma mater and share an evening of works with the community. Works by Angleica Bell, Jamie Nixon, Lara Segura (Friday); Erica Buechner performs her solo Between my fist and my Pollyanna ; Dina Apple, Brianna Lopez (Saturday).Nov. 14 & 15, 7:30 p.m. www.musicdance.sdsu.edu

Pilobolus at California Center for the Arts, Escondido. The troupe known for athleticism and human sculpture performs Saturday , Nov. 15 at 7:30 pm. www.artcenter.org

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  1. Anne on November 15, 2014 at 11:13 am

    Ha ha! Great write-up Kris. Thanks for the shout out too. You’ll keep pushin’. Don’t you worry, I’ve got some crazy comin’ 2015.

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