Nijinsky was in the house during This Sweet Nothing’s performance of Was it a Dream I Loved at Oakland’s Fox Theater on February 12. Windsocks fluttered from arms where one would have expected hands, and a changing naturalist screened backdrop offered the verdant or watery glade scenes that recall the mad choreographer’s Afternoon of a Faun and its semi-inscrutable steaminess. Tonight’s choreographer, Sonsherée Giles, took the daring step of positioning her work on the back of Nijinsky’s famously controversial one. She has designed sequences tailored to the acuities of differently-abled dancers by incorporating wheelchairs or stylized stilts to serve as prosthetics, as well as props (in every sense of the word). Some on the stage have gained many years of experience as members of Axis, where Homer Avila, a small, but handsome and powerful dancer, deprived of one of his legs by cancer, executed the full range of ballet and modern dance steps with a thrum of feeling and polish, and sometimes without prosthetics, props or partners, until his death about a decade ago.
Sonsherée’s collaboration with the composer Caroline Penwarden makes the 50-minute piece twinkle with ambition, even if material production values run into limits imposed by insufficient funding. When the raven-haired, creamy-skinned Lisa Bufano, who has no lower legs, enters the stage by rolling onto it from the wings, we see the energy and look of a young, if more lush and supple Liza Minelli. Her duet with Giles, in which both dancers use stilts to place themselves on the same locus, invites us to meet a pair of post-Nijinsky characters, two women who move like languid praying mantises, fluid, deliberate, yet delicate, as they explore a sensuality between women, untested by the choreographers of Nijinsky’s time.
Toba Singer, author of “First Position: a Century of Ballet Artists” (Praeger 2007), was Senior Program Director of the Art and Music Center of the San Francisco Public Library and its dance selector until her retirement in 2010. Raised in The Bronx, she graduated from New York City’s School of Performing Arts with a major in Drama, the University of Massachusetts with a BA in History; and the University of Maryland with an MLS. Since high school, Singer has been actively engaged in a broad range of pro-labor, social, and political campaigns. She has lived, worked, organized and written in Baltimore, Boston, The Bronx, Cambridge, Charleston, West Virginia, Jersey City, Richmond, Virginia, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., working in steel mills, chemical refineries, garment shops and as an airlines worker; also editing, teaching and as an office worker. Singer has contributed articles to the “Charleston Gazette,” “San Francisco Chronicle,” “Dance Magazine,” “Dance Europe,” “City Paper,” “Provincetown Advocate,” “Voice of Dance,” CriticalDance.com, “InDance,” and “Dance Source Houston.”
Singer returned to the studio to study ballet after a 25-year absence, and in 2001, was invited to become a founding member of the board of Robert Moses’ KIN dance company. Singer studied ballet with Svetlana Afanasieva, Nina Anderson, Perry Brunson, Richard Gibson, Zory Karah, Celine Keller, Charles McGraw, Francoise Martinet, Augusta Moore, E. Virginia Williams, and Kahz Zmuda; and Modern Dance with Cora Cahan, Jane Dudley, Nancy Lang, Donald McKayle, Gertrude Shurr, and Zenaide Trigg. Her son James Gotesky dances with Houston Ballet. Singer lives in Oakland, California, with her husband Jim Gotesky.