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San Francisco Ballet - 'Ballet Mori'

by Toba Singer

April 4, 2006 -- War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

“Brava! brava!” The audience was standing and making the most of the opportunity to voice their appreciation to Muriel Maffre in response to “Ballet Mori,” an inspired collaboration of artists with scientists that resulted in (dare I say it?) groundbreaking work, where the conductor was The Planet Earth.

The work, a one-time-only-performance, inserted between “Jewels” and “Artifact Suite” on Tuesday evening, April 4, brought together Ms. Maffre, Yuri Possokhov, former San Francisco Ballet dancer Benjamin Pierce, musicologist Randall Packer, and seismologist-composer, Ken Goldberg. Possokhov set the movement Ms. Maffre utilized to respond to seismic sound waves transmitted live via the Internet from the Hayward Fault. Pierce designed the costume and set.

It began with a voiceover announcing that the next thing the audience would hear was the sound of the Earth, a direct transmission for eight minutes, not recorded, but via the Internet. As the big whoosh began and every audience member became transfixed, Ms. Maffre’s image in silhouette appeared magnified on the backdrop’s screened yellow globe. The silhouette decreased in size until we were looking at a life-sized Maffre in a pose on the floor, not unlike her notable “Dying Swan.” She continued to move in response to the ever-changing Earth sounds, some more modulated than others, some sounding like water in motion, others like a giant vacuum, or a subway barreling into the station. Unless you have entered a coal mine shaft, you haven’t experienced such an intimate relationship with the Earth, our primal home and collective womb. Meeting the Earth on these terms has the ancillary effect of forging an instantaneous bond between members of the audience—you (plural) are here together, hearing very powerful, but natural sounds for the first time in your multi-generational lives, and watching the enchanting Maffre become profoundly involved in presenting us with her most intimate sense of the experience. Her deep involvement is informed by an aura of wonder - ours and hers - forming the integument of this shared phenomenon.

What a profound privilege to witness all this in eight minutes! How fortunate San Francisco Ballet is to have the talents of such visionary artists and scientists at its disposal, even for one night! The Earth is a (relatively) big venue, and there is no doubt that “Ballet Mori” should tour it as fully as possible for the sake and inspiration of its inhabitants. If it comes to your town, be sure to see it and “go deeper.”

Note: The San Francisco Public Library Art & Music Center and Business Science and Technology Center collaborated to mount an exhibition on the library’s fourth floor called, “Marking the 1906 Earthquake: San Francisco Off Balance—Ballet Mori and More,” which ran through April 27.

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