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Jo Tomalin

Jo Tomalin
Dance & Theatre

Avner the Eccentric: Physical Theatre

By Jo Tomalin
(Above) Avner the Eccentric

The AMAZING Avner the Eccentric…

Review by Jo Tomalin

Avner the Eccentric

Avner the Eccentric performed his one-man show Exceptions to Gravity on January 29, 2013 at the Bankhead Theatre, Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center. It was a wonderful opportunity to see this world-class international master of physical comedy in an all too rare San Francisco Bay Area appearance.


Avner arrives as a janitor character busy sweeping the stage – aware of the audience he sits down to watch a show, but he is, unwittingly, the show. After a few moments looking at the audience he decides to juggle items he finds onstage such as baseball bats and a peacock feather. Sometimes he loses his hat or gets caught up in his clothing but he finds charming and clever solutions to each challenge.

Avner the Eccentric
(Photo: Marie Clauzade)

Later, he picks up a tall stack of paper cups and they seem to have a mind of their own as they bend and go out of reach, then one of his arms appears longer than the other…but again he finds a unique and entertaining resolution. Avner juggles, drops, defies gravity and plays with many other objects (and a few people), while the audience is totally absorbed in his fun and innocent world, laughing, oohing and aahing at his antics.

Avner the Eccentric

Oh, there’s something else, Avner the Eccentric never speaks a word. This is a silent theatrical clown show and Avner uses his physicality, eyes, facial expressions and timing so skillfully that he transcends language and cultural barriers – everyone understands what’s happening, especially if it seems like an impending threat (to him). In fact, the audience of adults and children enjoy this complicity, when the performer – and they – discover the situations Avner gets himself into quite accidentally and appreciate his creative ways out.

Avner the Eccentric

Avner is not only an expert clown, highly skilled at non-verbal physical communication, but he is also a magician. After an hour or so, Avner performed his Pièce de résistance – a special treat for the audience- Avner’s magical meal that playfully transforms itself unpredictably – and it thrilled everyone! Avner is brilliant and this was a fabulous ending to his show.

Interacting with the audience is the key to theatrical clowning and there is none better than Avner. He performed his one-man show Avner the Eccentric for a season on Broadway and co-starred in Lincoln Center’s production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. In addition to acting in various other plays, TV appearances, film, and international tours, Avner directs and teaches workshops for aspiring and professional theatrical clowns. Check out his Schedule for where you can find him performing or teaching next – Avner the Eccentric‘s show is a must see for everyone!

For more information:
Avner the Eccentric:
Bankhead Theatre – LVPAC:

   Jo Tomalin Reviews Physical Theatre, Dance and Movement Performances

Jo Tomalin, Ph.D.
More Reviews by Jo Tomalin

Critics World

SF Ballet: World Premiere

By Jo Tomalin

Photo (above) Maria Kochetkova and Jaime Garcia Castilla in McGregor’s Borderlands.  © Erik Tomasson

Wayne McGregor’s New Work – Borderlands

Review by Jo Tomalin 

Sofiane Sylve and Vito Mazzeo in McGregor’s Borderlands.
© Erik Tomasson

The opening season of SF Ballet began with Program 1 January 29, to February 3, 2013 at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House offered three different ballets, all distinct in flavor.

The headliner is undoubtedly the World Premiere of Borderlands created for SF Ballet by multi-award-winning British choreographer and director Wayne McGregor. McGregor has also created new works for La Scala, Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, Nederlands Dans Theatre and New York Ballet.

San Francisco Ballet in McGregor’s Borderlands.
© Erik Tomasson

Borderlands is a vibrant ballet inspired by the abstract paintings of German-American artist Josef Albers. In fact, McGregor and his team spent time at the Josef Albers Foundation in Connecticut immersing themselves in the way Albers worked with colors as a means to deceive the eye, which McGregor used as a starting point for this ballet.

Twelve dancers vividly perform the many fibrous, pulsing, zippy, four-minute segment dances in duos, trios, and groups starting in the huge walled white box (Scenic Design by McGregor and Lucy Carter). Slowly the white box turns shades of gray to dark gray.

Maria Kochetkova and Lonnie Weeks in McGregor’s Borderlands.
© Erik Tomasson

The dynamic lighting design (Lighting Design by Lucy Carter) becomes its own element of this ballet as it ranges from gray to electric blue and neon orange; it complements and contrasts with the electronic sonic score music composed by Joel Cadbury and Paul Stoney. This is a visceral and relevant ensemble work with stunning solos and duos, unexpected shapes of athletic lifts, and dramatic visual and challenging choreographic movement.

Sarah Van Patten in Lifar’s Suite en Blanc.
© Erik Tomasson

Suite en Blanc choreographed by Serge Lifar, Staged by the accomplished Maina Geilgud with Édouado Lalo’s rapturous music, opened the program.  This is a neoclassical ballet with a breathtaking traditional look set against a black background. As the curtains opened there were formations of dancers on two levels in long white dresses or tutus, the men in gray tights and romantic ruched-sleeved shirts filled the stage.  The Corps of twenty dancers, trios and duos were exquisite and the four soloists on January 30 (Koto Ishihara, Vanessa Zahorian, Gennadi Nedvigin and Maria Kochetkova) were elegant, precise and projected well. A wonderful ensemble piece to start the season!

Vanessa Zahorian and Rubén Martín Cintas in Robbins’ In The Night.
© Erik Tomasson

In The Night choreographed by Jerome Robbins was a passionate and lyrical ballet Re-Created by Kevin Connaughton, set to music by Frédéric Chopin, featuring pianist Roy Bogas. Three couples in beautifully ornate and richly textured costumes, designed by Anthony Dowell partner and interact in combinations. Sasha DeSola and Steven Morse danced romantically, reaching out to each other then entwining arms, Morse lifts and whisks DeSola away – beautiful. Next, Jennifer Stahl and Tiit Helimets, a couple with a compelling and strong presence, danced with quick changes of pace, swaying lifts and quivering swoops. Finally, Sarah van Patten and Luke Ingham performed flawless lifts and gentle placement in their fascinating lyrical and hot – cold relationship, which also had a playful side. In The Night is a captivating piece exploring love, under the starlit sky of Jennifer Tipton’s Lighting Design.

SF Ballet’s next program: Program 3 features Possokhov’s The Rite of Spring  (February 26 – March 10).
Don’t miss it!

For more information:
SF Ballet:
Wayne McGregor:

   Jo Tomalin Reviews Dance, Physical Theatre, Theatre & Movement Performances

Jo Tomalin, Ph.D.
More Reviews by Jo Tomalin
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Clas/sick Hip Hop: YBCA San Francisco

By Jo Tomalin
(Above) Photo by Jo Tomalin

Clas/sick Hip Hop is HOT!

image of Classick Hip Hop Courtesy of Rennie Harris Puremovement

Clas/sick Hip Hop
Courtesy of Rennie Harris

CLAS/SICK HIP HOP featuring legendary hip hop pioneer Rennie Harris and accomplished musician and composer Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR) was an exciting hip hop mini-festival comprising six “post-hip hop” dancers. This new twist to hip hop was presented by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) in San Francisco, November 30, and December 1, 2012, curated by and with Concept Design by Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Director of YBCA Performing Arts.

Joining dancer, choreographer, artistic director, and professor of hip-hop Rennie Harris, were dancers Marquese “Nonstop” Scott and Arthur “Lil Crabe” Cadre of YouTube fame, trail-blazing b-girl Ana “Rokafella” Garcia, and California-based newcomers Ladia Yates and Levi Allen (AKA I Dummy).

The YBCA is a commendable presenter for this show because of their commitment to push boundaries by collaborating with and challenging such artists to take risks, performing within this institution. Without doubt, the versatility of the large open space of the Forum was an advantage – set up with an area of raised seating on each side of the room, and the dancers appeared from the audience or corners of the room into the huge dance space.

Clas/sick Hip Hop Photo by Jo Tomalin

Clas/sick Hip Hop
Photo by Jo Tomalin

However, as the audience entered we were told not to sit down – but to join in the first half of the evening by dancing. The YBCA Forum immediately became an animated dance party in a dark club, with fabulous light shows and projections on the walls and ceiling (Production Design by David Szlasa)  – as one by one, the hip hop dancers surprised the crowd and appeared in a spotlight doing an improvised solo and duos.

Photo by Jo Tomalin

Photo by Jo Tomalin Clas/sick Hip Hop  Photos by Jo Tomalin


The brilliant improvisations varied in style – from slow Butoh-like movement with silent screams, to stop start controlled robotic movement, perfectly coordinated moon walks, sensitive moments of lyrical dance, and lightning fast contortions and acrobatic moves.

What is different about the concept of this show is that the hip hop dancers are accompanied by virtuoso violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR) and his string ensemble including violinist Matthew Szemela. Classically trained, Roumain mashes his own cultural references with classical music, playing on a small stage while collaborating with DJ/Producer Elan Vytal, at the centre of the dance floor for his solo, or moving among the dancers.

Award-winning theater artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph, states in the program notes that the goal of the mini-festival, collaborating with Harris and Roumain, is to “”normalize” the movement vocabulary of 21st century social dance within the framework of a high end contemporary arts center, bridging classical and jazz music forms to the continuum of urban dance…Clas/sick Hip Hop engages this institution and some of the artists we love in an activist curatorial philosophy, and stakes a unique claim in performance that will only happen on our stages. We articulate a sense of added pedagogical agency to the notion of the “jazz intellect”, the under reported cerebral intonations of improvisation, particularly as manifested in African American culture.”

image of Classick Hip Hop Courtesy of Rennie Harris Puremovement

Rennie Harris
Courtesy of Rennie Harris

While hip hop and “post-hip hop” are their own genres of dance, they are esoteric and may not have been thought of as a mainstream dance form by all. However, Clas/Sick Hip Hop hopes to show that not only is this is its own dance genre but it is also a form of modern dance with rich multifaceted roots, especially when accompanied by Roumain’s poignant and expressive eclectic live violin performance.

In the second part of this show dancers performed in duos – with choreographed and improvised sequences that worked very well together and brought out each dancer’s personality and own dance style. What was remarkable and unexpected were the emotional arcs and personal storytelling that came through the movement in each pair.

In one piece, two guys look at each other, then circle around as if in a street, giving attitude…they try to outdo each other with their moves. One incorporates mime to sound effects very cleverly…in the end they both win – wonderful!

In another piece, two dressed as cowboys with checkered shirts and black hats have a dance conversation reacting and communicating through wonderfully contorted movements and exquisite footwork – light on their feet, slick and graceful.

A male dancer dressed in blue denim jacket, beige chinos and red sneakers, and a female dancer in tight black cat suit, red cap and red sneakers dance to soulful piano and violin music, relating to each other emotionally, yet the unorthodox is still present as he slowly walks on his tippy toes in sneakers, he’s bendy and contorts his limbs, then they move in a slow motion visceral pull towards each other.

Clas/sick Hip Hop Photo by Jo Tomalin

Clas/sick Hip Hop
Photo by Jo Tomalin

A dancer spins on her head, in a pool of light, accompanied by melodic violin music – and enthusiastic audience cheers – her partner contorts arms and legs impossibly and balances on one hand gymnastically. They slide and stretch across the floor together meeting upside down and contemplating each other, then bounce and spin in sync to the gentle music.

Clas/sick Hip Hop Photo by Jo Tomalin

Clas/sick Hip Hop
Photo by Jo Tomalin

The show culminated with an absorbing piece incorporating spoken word, with each of the six dancers taking the focus performing their own freestyle movement thoughtfully expressing the poetry and music.

A wonderful addition to this hip hop weekend were low cost dance classes all day on Saturday December 1, when students of any age could take mixed-level dance classes of five different genres including Afro-Peruvian to Congolese to Samba – for a day pass costing 50 cents!

Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s quest – and risk – paid off. He succeeded in producing a memorable mini-festival of hip hop dance and more, created by Harris, Roumain, Vytal, Szlasa, and the amazing dancers whose virtuosity and range of inspired choreography were ecstatically appreciated by the audience.

The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is to be much applauded for producing this mini-festival. Benefits of producing this in a main stream and respected cultural center are very meaningful and worthwhile because the audiences of this sold out weekend were diverse in every way and exposed to the art of the hip hop dance form and culture – many for the first time – and I bet they would go back for more, I would.

More information and tickets for the YBCA Art Gallery, Films and Performances:

Jo Tomalin
Critics World

Image of Company members of Mummenschanz at Cal Performances November 23-25, 2012. PHOTO: Gerry Born

Mummenschanz: Physical Theatre

By Jo Tomalin


Mummenschanz returns to Cal Performances November 23-25, 2012. (Above) Photo: Gerry Born

The Fantastical World of Mummenschanz

image of Mummenschanz Photo Credit: Gerry Born

Photo Credit: Gerry Born

The celebrated physical theatre company’s latest show “40 Years of Mummenschanz” performed on November 23 – 25, 2013 at Cal Performances, Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley. Mummenschanz is a world class company based in Switzerland, that tours internationally and last performed at Zellerbach in 2010.

This show is not to be missed! Why? Well Mummenschanz creates life out of anything inanimate – such as every day objects – using fabric, plastic, tubes, wires and boxes to create large shapes and forms that embody human characteristics and communicate non-verbally. This completely silent show comprises almost thirty different visual sketches and is not only clever when bringing the objects to life, but the creators, Floriano Frassetto, Bernie Schürch – the current Artistic Directors – and the late Andres Bossard experimented during the early 1970s with different objects to explore the full extent of the characters, their physicality, movement vocabulary and emotions. These qualities are appreciated by the audience because each sketch follows through a range of movement and precise manipulation, challenging the simplicity of the objects to reveal a depth of meaning through imaginative play that’s magical.

This year’s show “40 Years of Mummenschanz” is exactly that – a feast of sketches developed during the company’s lifetime, with old favorites and newer creations, wonderfully performed by the international cast of Floriana Frassetto, Philipp Egli, Raffaella Mattioli and Pietro Montandon. The stage is often dark with strategically placed dramatic lighting design by Jan Maria Lukas, which beautifully highlights the objects as they move and react. In fact, many people return to see a Mummenschanz show more than once, because their fantastical world is so unique and entertaining.

Where else can you see a surreal pair of giant hands open the curtains or walk off the stage to play with the audience? Or what about an orange fluffy ball that enlarges slowly, comes alive as if it has eyes, then rolls, tumbles and flops trying to mount a platform, while gaining the empathy of the audience? Imagine a taller than human size bendy tubular yellow slinky sliding around the stage throwing and catching a large red ball – then interacting with the audience…Mummenschanz creates the impossible!

Image of Mummenschanz Photo Credit: Pia Zanetti

Photo Credit: Pia Zanetti


In another brilliant sketch, rolls of blue toilet paper become features on a mask – that transition as the actor wearing all black tears off pieces to make a scarf. Then a pink toilet paper mask character comes in, they play and try to outdo each other – culminating in a sweet romantic moment as “blue” cries tears, by pulling off squares of paper from his toilet roll eyes, then deftly creates a bouquet by picking up all the paper on the floor for “pink”.


After the intermission, bubble plastic floats in green lighting to shapeshift to become fish and then fireflies; black light figures become Cocteau like silhouettes of sexy legs and profile faces, and a small crinkled shape grows into a huge boulder and rolls down towards the audience tantalizingly…and more.

Look out for Mummenschanz next time and expect the unexpected and a wonderful sensory experience for all the family to enjoy.

More information and tickets:

Jo Tomalin
Critic World

image of Keon Saghari, Yuko Hata, Regan Fairfield in Chysalis photo by Weidong Yang

Labayen Dance/SF: TAKE 5

By Jo Tomalin
image of Jaidah Terry + Yuko Hata in Love Songs Photo by Weidong Yang

Jaidah Terry + Yuko Hata in Songs of Love  Photo by Weidong Yang

image of Victpr Talledos + Leda Pennell in Love Songs Photo by Weidong Yang
Victor Talledos + Leda Pennell in Songs of Love,  Photo by Weidong Yang

(Above) Keon Saghari, Yuko Hata, Regan Fairfield in Chysalis (photo by Weidong Yang)

Wonderful Evening of New Dance Works in San Francisco

The Labayen Dance/SF company’s latest show TAKE 5 at The Garage in San Francisco November 1-3, showcased four prolific choreographers working with this company, and culminated with a compelling piece choreographed by award winning choreographer Enrico Labayen himself.

Labayen’s premiere of his memory dance Awit ng Pag-Ibig (translated from Tagalog:  Songs of Love) is based on his family life growing up in the Philippines, exploring themes of love, domestic violence and poverty, set to melodic Violin and Piano music by Gilopez Kabayao & Corazon Pineda. The four sections: silent witnesses, mother & daughter, children in fear, despair & abandonment, were danced sensitively in changing combinations by five excellent dancers: Leda Pennell, Regan Fairfield, Jaidah Terry, Yuko Hata and Victor Talledos. Pennell and Talledos were outstanding in the last duo, playing the parents expressing a range of emotions through intricate choreography, ending with Talledos alone in an innovative section intertwining on a bench, with a dramatic ending – very powerful and moving. Labayen’s dancers do not only dance with commitment but they also act the characters believably, which is impressive.

image of Anna Rehr in Such Great Heights Photo by Robert Baranyal

Anna Rehr in Such Great Heights
Photo by Robert Baranyal





Such Great Heights, a new work choreographed by Frederick Gaudette is set to dynamic dance music by The Temper Trap and The Postal Service. Three accomplished dancers (Anna Rehr, Lauren McCarthy & Regan Fairfield) danced athletically and joyfully in black shorts and tops in this fun piece. These very flexible dancers came and went doing short solos and duos with fluid movement, expressive arms, and perfect timing. They made it look so easy and almost made you want to get up and dance!

Another premiere, Call to Prayer choreographed by Laura Bernasconi is a fascinating piece based on “the realization that anatomical configuration is secondary to the love between two spirits of human beings.” This mise en scène was accompanied mainly by the continuous rhythmic sound of a Halo, a round resonant steel instrument played on stage by Gabriel Goldberg. Five dancers featured in this piece – Samantha Beach, Ana Robles, Katherine Disenhof, Victor Talledos & Kevin Hockenberry. In the first section the Asian influenced hands and arm movements were striking.  Beach, Robles and Disenhof next became a type of Chorus setting up the final male duo beautifully performed by Talledos and Hockenberry with sustained balances, precision, fluid movement and excellent phrasing.

Walls within Walls choreographed and performed by Frederick Gaudette to Samuel Barber’s wonderfully mournful music was an appropriately inward dance yet had leaps and tension as the dancer was searching for freedom from self-limitation. Dramatic lighting supported the mood very well.

image of Rachel Elliot in Chrysalis Photo by Weidong Yang

Rachael Elliot in Chrysalis Photo by Weidong Yang

Chrysalis, with concept and choreography by Daiane Lopes da Silva, investigates “the connection between the primitive state of mind and bodily sensations.” This is an innovative piece danced by Michelle Kinny, Rachael Elliot, Keon Saghari, Reagan Fairfield and Yuko Hata. All five dancers are wonderful and perform in duos and trios.  The highlight is an outstanding beguiling solo near the end, as the dancer, Rachael Elliot, in a white shirt is covered with the colorful abstract projections by Weidong Yang & Wolfram Arnold. While the projections were intriguing they were also a slight distraction at times, depending on the placement of the dancer. However, this is a very creative piece, which surprised us with its unpredictability, entertained us with moments like the toy dog, and moved us – therefore, it is well worth developing further.

Desde lo mas Profundo del Corazon al Limite de la Razon (from the depths of the heart to the limit of reason) choreographed by Victor Talledos, danced by Leda Pennell. On a diagonal in a narrow line of light, Pennell movingly danced this emotional piece, with dramatic movement as she stretched out towards the light.

image of Ana Robles and Ismael Acosta in Desolation Photo by Richard Baranyai

Ana Robles and Ismael Acosta in Desolation
Photo by Richard Baranyai


Desolation is a moving piece choreographed by Victor Talledos, which tells the story of two strangers who have both given up on life, set to music by Singur Ros. Ana Robles and Ismael Acosta make a tall, dramatic, sultry duo, very well matched in grace, precision and athleticism. Their adagio style lifts and swoons with superb lines are outstanding.  This choreography is complex and Robles and Acosta deliver – even when knotting themselves around each other flexibly one minute and seemingly defy gravity by flying the next.

Labayen Dance/SF is a small but mighty celebrated contemporary ballet company founded in 1994 which has toured nationally and internationally – and always offers thought provoking work. Check out this company’s upcoming shows.


For more information:

Labayen Dance/SF

Jo Tomalin
Critics World
San Francisco

Russell Maliphant Company: AfterLight

By Jo Tomalin
Image of Russell Maliphant Company

Russell Maliphant Company
Thomasin Gülgeç and Gemma Nixon in AfterLight
Photo: Dana Fouras


Dynamic New Dance Work from London

Opening Night of the London based Russell Maliphant Company’s new dance work titled AfterLight on October 13, 2012, presented by San Francisco Performances at the Lam Research Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, glowed very warmly.

AfterLight is co-produced by the Russell Maliphant Company and London’s prestigious dance venue Sadler’s Wells, where it had it’s world premiere on September 28, 2010. Maliphant directed and choreographed this work that comprises several parts set to Erik Satie’s beautiful Piano Music: Gnossiennes 1 – 4 and Original Music by Andy Cowton.

Originally trained in ballet Maliphant danced with the Sadler’s Wells Royal ballet for several years. He has since danced with DV8 Physical Theatre, Michael Clark & Company, then created his own company and set works on renowned artists and companies including Sylvie Guillem, Robert Lepage, Ballet Boyz and Lyon Opera Ballet.

AfterLight is not a story ballet. Malipant describes it as a Nijinsky inspired piece he developed while working closely with Lighting Designer Michael Hulls, that is more about “painting in space” with the dance flowing through space and light, expressing elements from photos of the legendary dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. Maliphant and Hull worked at first by improvising light and dark elements to produce a “shower of light” with projections and animations (by Jan Urbanowski & James Chorley) to explore the movement and light together, before refining the choreography for an audience.

As an interesting aside, not all of the music choices were made before the dances – some music was selected after the dance and light choreography, according to Maliphant. This is extraordinary, because the choreography as a whole seems to respond to the music – and the one complements the other incredibly well.

Malipant’s choreography melds traditional dance to his interests in physical movement and bio-mechanics. AfterLight, with Costume Design by Stevie Stewart, is an exquisite one hour performance of ephemeral, sculptural, meditative, muscular movement, which resonates from the three outstanding dancers, Silvina Cortés, Thomasin Gülgeç and Gemma Nixon to produce a dynamic and stirring audience experience.

The Russel Maliphant Company is currently touring internationally and will perform The Rodin Project in New York City December 3, 5-9, 2012.

San Francisco Performances upcoming November events include:

More Information & Tickets:

Russel Maliphant Company

San Francisco Performances

Jo Tomalin
Critics World

Ionesco’s Rhinocéros: Physical Theatre

By Jo Tomalin

Cast of Rhinocéros
(Photo Credit: Jean Louis Fernandez)

Opening night of Eugène Ionesco’s absurdist metaphoric play “Rhinocéros” on September 27th at Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall for Cal Performances was an intense evening of theatre, inventively directed by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota.

Demarcy-Mota brings this boldly staged production on its debut tour of three US cities – Los Angeles, Berkeley and Ann Arbor, which originated in Paris at the illustrious Théâtre de la Ville.

Ionesco’s play foreshadows fascism and conformity in Europe and this production is a vibrant physically acted philosophical debate of the consequences.

The play takes place in a small village in France on a Sunday morning when a villager turns into a rhinoceros without warning – followed by others. Whether one knows the background of the author’s intent or not when watching it, the audience experiences something very powerful by the end of this one hour forty five minute production, in French with English supertitles and no intermission.

Serge Maggiani plays Berenger, the everyman character of the story. He is inebriated for the first part of the play, hapless, workshy and seemingly unaffected by the effects of conforming to the crowd. As the play progresses, he shows his human emotions and is endearing as the audience empathizes with his situation. Maggiani’s Berenger gets under your skin slowly and brilliantly – his last speech at the end of the play is riveting.

Hugues Quester as Berenger’s friend, Jean is outstanding in his tour de force scene with Maggiani, which is one of the most poignant moments of the play. The cast of thirteen actors features Valérie Dashwood as Daisy, Philippe Demarle as Dudard, and Gérald Maillet as The Logician.

Cast of Rhinocéros (Photo Credit: Jean Louis Fernandez)

Cast of Rhinocéros (Photo Credit: Jean Louis Fernandez)


Cast of Rhinocéros (Photo Credit: Jean Louis Fernandez)

Cast of Rhinocéros (Photo Credit: Jean Louis Fernande



Demarcy-Mota directed his cast to develop and incorporate physical theatre choices such as the contrast between the physical fluidity of Berenger and the slow movement of background characters or sharper movement and gestures of some of the villagers as they fervently discuss logic…

…choreographed sways and twists of the ensemble across the stage…

…chairs held exaggeratedly high in the air to protect themselves; the unison outstretched physical reactions of the ensemble in the office (see top photo), and the wonderfully illogical yet metaphorically appropriate stylized movement in the scene when suspended office workers are cleverly entangled and connected to each other’s arms and legs to avoid falling – or worse.

Cast of Rhinocéros (Photo Credit: Jean Louis Fernandez)

Superb artistic design from the creative team supports the director’s fresh look vision resulting in a unified strength and completeness.

Set and Lighting Design by Yves Collet was dramatic, moody and kept surprising the audience when what seemed like a simple set of a bar suggested by twenty chairs and several background panels transformed to reveal a building of sterile flats which also became an office on the upper level. These slick visual changes provided points of rhythm change for the play as the story unfolded – and the stakes increased.

Music by Jefferson Lembeye ranged from wonderfully disturbing violin and cello sounds, ominous  pressure-like pulsations, sharp electric sounds – to the earth-shaking rumbling of a rhinoceros.

Corinne Baudelot’s costumes for the ensemble became more stylized as the physical theatre style developed in the office scenes, where everyone wore black suits, white shirts and red ties. Jean’s black leather coat for his transformation scene was an eerie and inspired choice.

This is a first class production and is well worth seeing.

Rhinocéros plays at Zellerbach Hall, Cal Performances – September 27th to 29th 2012.

For more information and tickets:
Cal Performances, Berkeley

Théâtre de la Ville, Paris

Jo Tomalin Ph.D.
Critics World

Baryshnikov: Theatre “In Paris”

By Jo Tomalin

Legendary performer Mikhail Baryshnikov comes to Berkeley Rep for a special presentation of In Paris.
Photographer: Maria Baranova

Mikhail Baryshnikov at Berkeley Rep Theatre – In Paris

“In Paris” is a performance piece incorporating movement, music, projections, video, text in Russian and French with English supertitles, adapted from a short story by Nobel Prize-winner Ivan Bunin, about a lonely Russian man who meets a lonely young Russian woman. Set in the city of light, Paris, in the 1930s this romantic tale is creatively brought to life by the cast of seven led by legendary dancer and award-winning performer Mikhail Baryshnivov, and director Dmitry Krymov, who also adapted the story. Mikhail Baryshnikov at Berkeley Rep for a special presentation of In Paris.
Photographer: Annie Leibovitz

Krymov is a painter, set designer and director who develops innovative pieces (that are often silent) in Moscow at the Dmitry Krymov Laboratory which play internationally.  For sure, Krymov’s Laboratory with young actors, his innovative approach to theatre making together with Baryshnikov’s legendary presence and instinctive acting and movement skills make an interesting collaborative group. The result is fascinating. It’s stripped down production style is a welcome challenge to the imagination and engenders complicity with the audience.

Mikhail Baryshnikov (right) and Anna Sinyakina at Berkeley Rep in presentation of In Paris.
Photographer: Maria Baranova

 The transformative set by Maria Tregubova is simple and effective comprising a turntable stage, rigging on view, large cut out images that transport us to Paris and an absurdist looking bar table and chair. The cast interact around and within the set pieces as the revolving scene becomes a Parisian bar, a taxi ride and a wonderful old cinema scene evoked by dim projections of Charlie Chaplin and cigarette smoke (Audio & Video Design by Tei Blow).

Mikhail Baryshnikov (right) and Anna Sinyakina at Berkeley Rep in presentation of In Paris.
Photographer: Maria Baranova

 Baryshnivov’s Russian man and the Russian woman played by Krymov Laboratory member and film actor Anna Sinyakina meet, converse and flirt – they express themselves at first in the bar with brief, abstract movements and attitudes tilting the bar table and chair beautifully (movement Coach Andrey Schukin and Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky). Krymov’s staging is brilliant given the spare text and dialogue – with surreal imagery such as a “Magritte look” when Baryshnikov stands in shadows with an umbrella.

The story and subtext of sentiment is often told through non-verbal moments such as when she changes clothes for the date and as he shaves himself and prepares.  A moment in the narrative that might have been interesting to bring to life was near the end of the date when they were deciding whether to go to his or her place, however, at this point the couple was in shadows and the supertitles covered the stage.

Visionary director Dmitry Krymov teams up with other
Russian artists like Mikhail Baryshnikov for Berkeley Rep’s
special presentation of In Paris.
Photo courtesy of Berkeley Repertory Theatre

All images © Berkeley Repertory Theatre. All rights reserved.

A supporting cast of five from Krymov’s Laboratory play background characters, quietly move set pieces to create the scenes, and help Baryshnikov change clothes onstage as in Japanese theatre. They also sing arias, motets and more to accompany the action and Tei Blow provides a variety of additional music and sound effects that add humor and pathos.

Krymov and his team have created clever effects which are part of the whole in this production, such as the woman’s beautiful  long gown transforming to a short dress (costumes by Tregubova), dramatic lighting by Damir Ismagilov – with humor when the spot light following Baryshnikov walking across the stage seems to develop a mind of its own.  A chase between Sinyakina and Baryshnikov becomes magical – and transforms as she turns upside down into a pietà-like statue. In response, Baryshnikov  transforms his coat into a cape and performs an intensely moving brief matador dance. A wonderful production that sells out fast – see it if you can!

More Information:

  • Baryshnikov Arts Center:

    Additional Tour Dates/Locations: Spoleto Festival, Italy, June 30-July 1, 2012; Lincoln Center Festival, New York City, August 1-August 5, 2012.

Jo Tomalin Ph.D.
Critics World

Jo Tomalin

Juliette Binoche: Miss Julie

By Jo Tomalin

 Photo: Juliette Binoche as Mademoiselle Julie © Christophe Raynaud De Lage


Dazzling Mademoiselle Julie

Imagine a wide white cube with floor to ceiling windows and several tall, lithe, barren tree trunks in the background. There you have the brightly lit stage (set and light Design by Laurent P. Berger) for this contemporized version of August Strindberg’s Mademoiselle Julie, now playing (in French, translation by Terje Sinding) at the world renowned Odéon Théâtre de l’Europe, Paris. While this stark vision may not evoke the traditional home of 1888 when Strindberg wrote “Miss Julie”, it is a perfect canvas for the volatile dance of death director Frédéric Fisbach has created.

Photo: Nicolas Bouchard and Juliette Binoche in Mademoiselle Julie © Christophe Raynaud De Lage

Strindberg wanted to write a tragedy about men and women and the story focuses on the angst and entanglements of male female relationships but with a twist – class issues of master and servant. In this case Miss Julie is the daughter of the owner of the house and Jean is the servant, engaged to Christine the cook. Although scandalous when first produced at end of 19th century Strindberg’s writing and the emotional possibilities of the characters in Miss Julie continue to inspire interpretations and productions worldwide

Fisbach interprets Miss Julie as an existential play that embodies love, desire, and explores naturalism and symbolism. He also sees this as a modern day relatable battle of brains, based on the intelligence + psychology of the two main characters, Mademoiselle Julie played by Juliette Binoche and Jean played by Nicolas Bouchaud.

Juliette Binoche creates an astoundingly believable character physically and emotionally embodying a vast arc and range of sincerity, exuberance, curiosity, naïveté, who is also domineering, passionate and needy. She is masterful at owning the dialogue, as a contemporary woman.

Nicolas Bouchaud as Jean is equally engaging and a good match for Binoche in his carefully drawn worldly servant who is usually in charge downstairs in the kitchen where most of the action takes place, but the unexpected intrusion of Miss Julie from the upstairs world as she returns from a party (continuing in view behind the cube among the trees) causes Jean’s relationship to her through the evening and early next morning,  to hover – at first courteous and sensible, later seduced then confused and ultimately quietly manipulative.

Photo: Nicolas Bouchard and Juliette Binoche in Mademoiselle Julie © Christophe Raynaud De Lage

The human interactions of Binoche wearing an elegant shimmering gold gown (costume design by Alber Elbaz for Lanvin) and Bouchard are true, wrestling with man and woman issues as if in real time, pushing and pulling with poetic, emotional and unexpected challenges leading to the dramatic last moments of the play. Bénédicte Cerutti is wonderful as Christine, coming and going as she finishes her work at night or starts again in the morning. Cerutti’s Christine is earthy, less complex than Jean and Julie and is often the voice of reason in this psychological thriller. A chorus of about thirteen actors dances at the party in the background to pop dance music which disperses as the evening progresses.

The contrasting characters of the three main actors are not only due to the text and the actors themselves, but also due to Fisbach’s direction and attention to detail. Fisbach has very successfully guided his actors to develop different movement qualities in their characters which show the hierarchy and suggest point of view. Binoche is often symmetric and confident standing her ground firmly, while Bourchard’s Jean is often less so with nuances in his asymmetric stance and gestures, however he moves and speaks with stealth which ranges from respectful to romantic and at times chilling.

The rhythm of the play is fluid and takes its time, punctuated by volatile moments, plus two or three short, mesmerizing visceral flashes between Jean and Julie, accompanied by pulsating sounds that make them even more breathtaking. One very moving moment of the play is when the balance of their relationship is fleetingly equal and they are just a man and woman sitting on a step outside chatting during a date – she is getting cold, so he gently puts his jacket on her shoulders while they sit on the edge of the set close to the audience. The magic of simplicity!

This evocative Julie is one to be seen. It premiered at the annual Summer Avignon Theatre Festival in 2011 and continues at the Odéon Théâtre in Paris until June 24, 2012. Then it moves to the Barbican in London from September 20 to 29, 2012.

For more information:
Odéon Théâtre Website
Jo Tomalin Ph.D.
Critics World