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The 18th Annual Dionysian Festival: San Francisco

 above: Mary Sano (ctr) Koko de la Isla (r) and Ricardo Diaz – Flamenco Guitar (l) Photo by Natalia Vyalykhy

Celebrating the 138th Anniversary
of Isadora Duncan’s Birth

Mary Sano Duncan Dancers – Photo by Natalia Vyalykhy

Review by Jo Tomalin

Saturday, May 30 at 8:00 p.m. & Sunday, May 31 at 5:00 p.m at The Mary Sano Studio of Duncan Dancing, South of Market, San Francisco.

Mary Sano and her Duncan Dancers presented a feast of historic and fusion dances for the 18thAnnual Dionysian Festival to celebrate Isadora Duncan’s birthday. Duncan was born in San Francisco at the end of May – and a small SF street is now named after her – Isadora Duncan Lane – as a fond memory of her legacy as the creator of modern dance.

Over the years several of Duncan’s disciples recreated Duncan’s works which helped preserve Isadora’s free spirited dance form, inspired by Greek , folk dance, art and natural movement. Isadora’s dances are rarely performed these days, but San Francisco is lucky to have Mary Sano who trained with later generation Duncan dancers and is passionate about keeping this style alive and developing new works based on Duncan movement through her Studio.

The two hour program started with eleven very short dances of Traditional Duncan Choreography (circa 1900-1912).  Danced in small groups by seven Duncan Dancers (Monique Goldwater, Tomoko Ide, Yukiko Nakazato, Elaine Santos and Isabel Dow, Sophia Fuller, Kanchan Armstrong) with Mary Sano, the dances were so spring like and airy, beautifully accompanied on the piano by Benjamin Akeala Below playing Schubert, Chopin, Satie, Grieg, Brahms and Gluck. Barefoot, and wearing silk Isadora Duncan tunics in pastels of lime, pink, lavender, lemon and apricot, the flowing natural movement of the dancers was refreshing.

Two original modern Duncan-based style works accompanied by live piano followed.

Belew’s lively Neo Classical Piano suite comprised a small group of dancers dressed dramatically in black, red, blue and green tunics, some with masks – performing sculptural, lyrical, sensuous and dramatic movement, including Amour, an amazingly transporting solo dance. Fascinating and unpredictable, too. Belew’s last two piano solos aptly called Memories and Feelings from the Past were warm and induced reflection on one’s own memories.

Next, Pianist Tony Chapman played his Contemporary Piano piece in three sections. After a short strident and melodic piano solo, the next two sections were danced by seven Duncan Dancers, including Sano in pensive, languid dances with brief emotive solos, ending with dynamic sustained movement.

The second act completely changed gear. Classical Guitarist Adriana Ratsch-Rivera played Prelude by Villa-Lobos then Chôros No.1, also by Villa-Lobos and danced with precision and lyricism by the majestic Flamenco dancer Koko de la Isla in a long white layered flamenco dress.

Sano’s Collaboration Project, Aeon, dedicated to Isadora Duncan for her 138th birthday (a work in progress) completed the evening. Chants, bamboo flute, hollow earthy sounds, as Koko de la Isla appears in a beautiful long red Japanese inspired skirt and fragile white coat. The vocal chanting, Santour and Tombak (middle eastern instruments), and Flamenco Guitar sounds swell as Sano enters in a long lacy mossy green middle eastern dress with rhinestones and headdress. Both dancers move slowly, Sano with interesting eclectic movements of flamenco wrists turning and middle eastern movement motifs with the Duncan influence of freedom – then Sano merged with De la Isla’s flamenco which became an international fusion of genres. Mary Sano performed several dances in the program, she is truly an extraordinary dancer, statuesque, graceful, muscular, and emotive.

This was a fascinating opportunity to see Isadora Duncan Dances and new ways to approach Duncan movement with other genres. The more than sold out audience was enraptured at the dance and live music, later appreciating the wine – being set up onstage – as all participants joined in with a spontaneous Flamenco Jam. If you missed it, look out for the 19th Dionysian Festival next year!

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About the Author

Jo TomalinOriginally from England Jo Tomalin is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she is a reviewer for Dance & Theatre at www.ForAllEvents.com & www.FringeReview.com - she works in the performing arts as a freelance movement & voice specialist, director + actor. She is also a Professor in the School of Theatre & Dance at San Francisco State University, teaching Movement for actors, Voice, Storytelling, Business of Acting and Acting and directs. Jo Tomalin studied Classical Acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), London; and holds a teacher's diploma (ATCL) in Voice and Acting from Trinity College of Dramatic Art, London. She studied Classical Ballet for 12 years; Graduated from London University's Laban Centre Teaching Credential program in Modern Dance, Art of Movement & Choreography; Trained in Physical Theatre, Masks, Scenography and Devised theatre at the renowned professional acting school "Ecole Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq" Paris, France. Jo also holds a Master of Science degree in Educational Technology from Boise State University and a Ph.D. in Education with a specialization in Instructional Design for Online Learning from Capella University, MN.View all posts by Jo Tomalin →