I?m back?or trying to be. I spent the last week in Santa Barbara with my mother and my brother Emmet, who?s on leave from Iraq, trying to absorb the stories of how he?s lived there, trying to simultaneously remember and forget the fact that he must return for eight more months. We walked along the ocean-side bluffs and shopped and bickered like the best of families. It was bucolic and banal and surreal and discomfiting, and I can?t write about it yet (except in my journals), because it?s not over: Emmet?s off to Tahoe for a few days, and then I?ll see him again before he flies back to Mosul.

In the meantime I?m attempting to get back to work. The first-pass proofs for my memoir just arrived; I?m required to inspect them by Thursday. I reviewed two shows this weekend, and I?ve got several articles due by mid-week. And of course the novel cries out for me at least to make some glacial progress.

No surprise then that the vivid impressions left by last week?s dance-going have somewhat faded. A pleasant serenity lingers from Stanton Welch?s premiere ?Falling? for San Francisco Ballet. Michael Wade Simpson reviewed for the Chronicle, and Allan Ulrich covered it for Voice of Dance, recording a far more vivid description than I could possibly muster at this point:

?Welsh?s fourth commission for the company attempts the least of the bunch and accomplishes the most through its directness and charm. A larky abstraction for five couples set to two Mozart, all-string Divertimenti, K. 136 and K. 138 (the so-called “Salzburg Symphonies”) and clothed in Holly Hines? folksy, pastel-tinted costumes, Falling (in which virtually nobody falls) mingles the classical vocabulary with idiomatic touches in its string of duets (with the odd trio and ensemble gambit for punctuation) and it passes so quickly you barely have the time to think.

Welch, the precocious Australian dancer-choreographer who has risen to artistic director of the Houston Ballet and studied at the S.F. Ballet School back in the late 1980s, seems to have soaked up a wealth of influences. The specter of Jerome Robbins hovers benignly over Falling; so does Helgi Tomasson?s 1991 Meistens Mozart (which will be revived later this season). But Welch is very much his own choreographer here. The couples emerge from an inner black curtain, do their thing and melt back into the darkness. This presentational aspect lends Falling much of its individual allure.?

Stronger in mind is Rennie Harris?s ?Facing Mekka,? which finally made it to San Francisco last week (all due credit to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, which presented). A fellow dance writer asked me ?Did you go yet? It?s fascinating?and it?s not hip-hop.? I can only think it?s not what she imagined hip-hop could be?not commercial but meditative, not competitive but communal. My husband Bill and I stayed for the post-performance discussion (Harris held forth for a generous 40 minutes), and I asked Harris about the connection in the choreography between hip-hop and traditional forms of African dance. He obliged with a demonstration of how he had stripped down the hip-hop vocabulary to its most elemental, which looked not at all dissimilar to the North African dancing I?d seen Oakland-based Fua Dia Congo bust out a few days earlier. It was fascinating, and listening to Harris wax philosophical on hip-hop culture, I couldn?t wait to see what he?ll do next.

Allan Ulrich reviewed briefly for Voice of Dance, and Mary Ellen Hunt covered it for the Contra Costa Times.

Alas, I never made it back to the opera house for a second glance at Welch?s ?Falling,? or to see Vanessa Zahorian take on ?Theme and Variations.? Sometimes real life takes priority over ballet-going, though I?ll be jumping back into theaters this week.

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