On July 10, for the second time, Vogue Theatre, a movie house near Presidio on Sacramento, became a venue for a dance documentary centering on one of San Francisco Ballet’s principal dancers. This time it was Bolshoi Academy-trained Maria Kochetkova.
This time, Deborah Du Buowy, head of Words on Dance, was more directly involved in the production. A facilitator for the Tiit Helimets footage by Quinn Wharton, “Masha” seemed to be benefiting from Du Buowy in its editing process. Du Bouwy also was able to provide a teaser for a work created by Luke Willis with music by Shannon Roberts, both S.F. Ballet dancers, to be seen in Octber.
Du Buowy preceded “Masha” with glimpses of the dancers she had recorded in her nearly twenty years of making Words on Dance. It was interesting to hear the audience response as dancers were shown in snippets; loudly applauded were Joanna Berman in a section of Dance House; Evelyn Cisneros in Lambarena; Muriel Maffre; Yuri Possokhov in Othello; glimpses of VioletteVerdy; Edward Villella; Michael Smuin dancing in Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free; Cynthia Gregory; Martine Van Hamel; Helgi Tomasson, and a number more testified to the years Du Bouwy has devoted to recording dancers’ careers.
Masha is a Russian nick-name for Maria. Because there was no program and credits were so swiftly shown, film-making details flashed by, leaving one nearly in the dark, except for Kochetkova’s comments in the Q and A following the close of the documentary. In particular, the details of the setting were omitted, although one ultimately could guess that her appearance was part of a quintet of Bolshoi-trained dancers appearing in an attempt to be the equivalent of the Kings of Dance; both production were organized by the Ardani Managemen,tspecializing in presenting Russian companies and artists.
Visually it was quite a treat, though the venue remained unnamed and the choreographer uncredited, except perhaps at the end in the rapid run through of credits in rather blurry type face.
Still, the camera provided us with some wonderful moments where Masha prepared her toe shoes in the idiosyncratic method utilized by individual dancers. Masha used special pliers to extract part of the shank; she stepped on them and pounded them on the arm of a chair; when finally seen, there were five slippers, one apparently intended for use in supported toe work. The construction of and fitting for costumes was included, including Masha’s being sewn into one between stage appearances. A line up of two pairs of false eyelashes added to the atmosphere. There clearly was self-absorption; nothing seemed staged for the camera. Kochetkova later remarked she never felt the presence of the camera or the photographer intruding in her performance preparation.
Working with a choreographer and rehearsing certain parts of a solo gave the observer a clear portrait how much repetition, correction and adjustment are involved in the creation of a solo, long or short. In Masha’s instance, a goodly amount of daring was also involved, heightened when she was required to pitch herself off stage to be caught by a waiting pair of arms.
Since the film was a preview and the viewing intended to fuel further editing of 50 hours of footage, it would be helpful to know, by voice over or via caption, the venue where Kochetkova was recorded, as well as the title of the work(s) rehearsed , choreographic as well as personnel credits. Kochetkova herself during the Q and A following the preview mentioned she would like to see more of a plot.
With a viewing scheduled for October, perhaps these missing components will be on view. But even in this unfinished condition, “Masha” provides an excellent glimpse into the labor intensive preparation for those brief moments when a gifted artist transports her audience.