Archive | July, 2011

Talking to Frankie

22 Jul

F. Sionil Jose is the prolific, Ilocano-born English writer of the Philippines, whose love of country is tempered by an undeviating gaze at its flaws and short-comings, faithfully recorded in the five novels comprising The Rosales Saga, some eight additional novels plus seven collections of short stories with translations in nearly thirty languages. With his wife, Teresita, or Tessie, they represent the best of this Asian country. The Philippines, incidentally, frequently is said to have “spent three hundred years in the convent and fifty years in Hollywood.” The quip, of course, reflects the Spanish colonial domination, 1565-1899, and the American colonial period, 1900-1946. The implications of this quip is all grist for the Jose novels, which emerge almost without pause from the pages in his typewriter.

En route from the Jose Quezon City home to La Solidaridad Book Store in Manila’s Ermita district in July, Frankie steered the conversation to his abundant memories of dance wherever he had witnessed it both in the Philippines and abroad. “I saw Margot Fonteyn dance in London and Rudolf Nureyev in New York,” he declared.

The majority of his comments, however, centered around his observations in Asia and the Philippines.

For the Filipinescas production of their Igorot Suite, performed by the ‘other’ Filipino ethnic dance company until the death of its artistic director, Frankie expressed high praise. “It was so beautiful,” he declared his voice rising with enthusiasm. [An example can be seen on YouTube, with the choreographer’s name, Leonora Orosa Conquinco, with the title Maysa, and remarkable in its use of crossing diagonals.] “In the ‘Fifties I traveled all through the Philippines and saw native dances done by natives, not learned by trained dancers,” the last phrase delivered with a faint but distinct note of dismissal.

“When we were in Ceylon two years, I insisted that my daughters Gigi and Jette study bharata natyam and Tonet study tabla. I even tried the table myself but lasted only two weeks,” he chuckled, before commenting on the habit some Asian intellectuals occasionally make in disparaging native dance forms. “ One Indonesian wanted to ‘modernize’ The Balinese Legong!” he related in incredulous tones, “when actually modern dance should learn from Legong. Have you ever seen it? It’s classic, and you shouldn’t tamper with the classics!”

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The Royal Danes’ La Sylphide at Zellerbach

16 Jul

The Royal Danish opening  with two performances of La Sylphide, the 1836 version by August Bournonville with a beguiling multi-generational company of seventy dancers, required a forty-five minute intermission following Flemming Flindt’s The Lesson.  An additional thirty minute intermission between Acts I and II was needed, but the audience didn’t seem to mind if one could judge by the response at the curtain.

The entirely different casts, provided their own excellences,; the second danced with more ease since scenery shifts devoured all the desired stage rehearsal time of the dancers for the opening.
During the second night’s first intermission former S.F. Ballet soloist, Danish- born Peter Brandenhoff, introduced American-born soloist Gregory Dean who gave the audience appropriate information to fill the lengthy pause.

La Sylphide recounts the story of a young sylph, enamoured of James, a betrothed Scotsman, who lures him away from Effy, his fiancé moments before his wedding, after he has tussled with a rival, Gurn, and antagonized Madge, a crone seeking warmth at the family  fireside. Obviously  Madge takes dire umbrage over James’ treatment.  This act allows the Danish children to participate in the collective dances, the audience to relish pipers and brilliant stylized Scottish variations by James, Effy and Gurn following the fey flirtatious dancing of the Sylph.

In Act II, The Sylph introduces James to her woodland bower, offering him natural tokens from the glade;  he tries to possess her.  Just before this bucolic scene, Madge is seen stirring a diaphanous scarf in a cauldron, to which her unsightly and bent cronies bring odious additions,  ominous prelude to the following bucolic landscape.

At the woodland glade, James is further frustrated by the other sylphs who screen his vision from his grasp.  The lines they form and the patterns woven give an inkling of some of Petipa’s source material for Bayadere and Swan Lake.  La Sylphide, however, is largely sunny, if the unearthly heroine is doomed and her lover soon to follow.  Just before Madge gives the scarf to James, she engineers Gurn’s proposal to Effie.  Madge offers the scarf to James who entices the sylph with it, wraps it around her with fatal results; she dies and is airborne off to sylph heaven leaving James to face Madge’s wrath and vengeance.

Guesting Caroline Cavallo and Gudren Bojesen shared the Sylph’s role, with the American born Cavallo delivering a more stylized version and Bojesen Nordic and exquisitely flighty.
Their James were Mads Blangstrup and Ulrik Brikkjaer, the former with a long classical line; the famed Bournonville aerial dynamics both shared equally. Of the  Gurns, Nicolai Hansen and Alexander Staeger, the latter provided more dimension. Camille Ruelykke Holst’s Effy was less willing at the marital switch, Louise Ostergaard more safely compliant. Former Sylph Lis Jeppersen and Sorella Englund as Madge contrasted expansive versus incisive gestures and movement, the latter’s containment signaling more familiarity with the role.

Whatever the difficulties, the Danish style and form sparkled clearly, underplayed but carefully displayed like a housewife’s domestic polish for silver and glassware. We get enough fireworks; quiet sheen is refreshing.

Let’s hope Cal Performances brings them back at an early opportunity.

The Royal Danes’ Program II June 4 2011

16 Jul

Artistic Director Nikolaj Hubbe brought a contemporary program for the Royal Danish Ballet repertoire and displayed it June 3 and 4 at Zellerbach Auditorium  under the titled Nordic Choreographers.  Finnish choreographers Jorma Elo and Jorma Uotinen were represented with Lost on Slow and Earth. The first work of Johan Kobborg, the noted Danish principal with England’s Royal Ballet, titled Alumnus, had the subtitles Les Lutins and Salute.

The first work, however, the arrangement by Thomas Lund and Nikolaj Hubbe of Hans Beck’s daily class compilation of August Bournonville’s exercises for the male dancer, was titled Bournonville Variations.  A dozen men arrived in raincoats, shed them and went to work to a mixture of exercises from the six-day regimen, starting and ending with Pas de la Vestale, progressing to petit allegro, to grand allegro, adding jumping ronds de jambes en l’air, a mazurka, brises, batterie and enchainement, all interspersed with male solos. Easy to watch and replete with insouciance possible only with familiarity, it’s something one should watch frequently to appreciate just how well it displays the Danish male dancer.

Jorma Elo’s Lost on Slow utilized Antonio Vivaldi’s sprightly compositions for three couples, agreeable, and far more winning than his other distortions and eccentric takes on classical vocabulary.

Kobborg’s choreographic essay relied on the age-old relationships between young men and women, followed by a major domo putting both genders through disciplined paces. Fifteen dancers were involved in a trio, a pas de six and pas de sept.  The flirtations and display allowed the display of  gentleness and grace of the Bournonville technique for women as well as the strut-your-stuff elan for the men, all evoking some of the light-hearted charm of the Ballets Russes in its heyday.  It would be so nice to have another  demi- charactere master emerge in our midst, a ballet genre bereft after Leonid Massine dominated as its exponent.

Uotenen’s Earth was inspired by the red clay of Australia and perhaps also  male aboriginal gatherings.  A dozen men in kilt-like garments danced to a cello version of Metallica’s music.  Expectedly powerful, if verging on the monotonous thanks to the music, the Danes danced the piece, created in 2005, with their standard strength and verve.

While it is clear Hubbe wants the Royal Danes’ repertoire to be relevant to the 21st century, it scarcely is surprising that the most absorbing works in this program were firmly routed in the Bournonville and demi-charactere traditions.  Along with Flindt’s contribution in Program I, the Danes will always be welcome dancing what they know best, and, or course, dance superbly..

16 Jul

The Danes at Zellerbach May 31-June 1, 2011

The Royal Danish Ballet, now headed by Nicolaj Hubbe, came to Zellerbach May 31 with two performances of the 1836 version by August Bournonville of La Sylphide and a multi-generational company of seventy dancers, followed by another two performances of contemporary ballets. Preceding the two-act Romantic era ballet was The Lesson,  Flemming Flindt’s take on Georges Ionesco’s play of the same name about a older teacher who ultimately
murders a student originally ushered in by a housekeeper.

In Flindt’s adaptation, May 31 Thomas Lund danced the ballet master with 17th year old apprentice Ida Praetorius as the student.  Maria Bernholdt was the pianist for both performances; slender and fine-boned, her stalking placement of chairs as the ballet opened evoked rigidity with every lengthy stride and brief back step across the space of the basement studio.  The incessant bell ringing was accented by frisky legs of the student seen waiting to enter. Marking
her debut in the role Praetorius’ entrance provided the personification of an excited young dancer.

The student is reprimanded by the pianist, requiring her to assume a demeure position beside her as the ballet master appears.  Lund, dancing the role for the first time in five years, entered from upstage right, one hand curved almost crippled against his chest, so shy and introverted one wondered how he could possibly communicate. Making his requests to the student he scarcely seemed able to flick his fingers, in marked contrast to the agility of his student. Seemingly satisfied, the ballet master goes to the piano to retrieve the toe shoes, fighting with the pianist who had banished a previous pair.  He closes the curtains as the student dons the shimmering pink slippers.

Ballet master and student start quietly enough, but he ignores her fatigue and demands her to continue.  Executing jetes with increasing agitation, he partners the student until she collapses against the barre where she meets her death by strangulation.  The ballet master collapses; the pianist comes to his rescue.  They remove the limp body; once again the bell sounds and another
student awaits as the pianist straightens the room and draws the curtain.

June 1 Mads Blangstrup and Alexandra Lo Sardo made their debut in the two roles, Blangstrup markedly sinister or deranged where Lund seemed pathetic. One could see him years down the line as Madge the Witch.  Lo Sardo was sensually demeure, and gradually reduced to a floppy doll.

Lund’s portrayal made the ballet master moving from pathetic to deranged; Blangstrup’s interpretation dangerous from the beginning.  Both danced superbly, Lund the smaller, built like a nineteenth century textbook drawing, Blangstrup like Erik Bruhn’s nephew.

The La Sylphide review will be treated separately.

Oakland Ballet’s Spring Season at Laney College

16 Jul

Graham Lustig, Artistic Director of Oakland Ballet, opened May 20’s spring performance, “Forwards!”, acknowledging the presence of founding director Ronn Guidi and eleven former dancers with the 40 year old East Bay company with former ballet master Howard Sayette in from Colorado.

The spring season, four performances at Laney College’s charming theater, featured two Lustig ballets, one a premiere and one work each for choreographers Amy Siewart and Mills College dance chair Sonya del Waide. “…”  Lustig’s contributions included a premiere “Words Within Words,” to Philip Glass’  Etudes No.5 and Escape plus spoken words from poet Robert
Duncan danced by Brandon Freeman and Sharon Wehner of Colorado Ballet, plus Vista as a finale. David Elliott provided the lighting design, Jamielyn Duggan, Soncheree Giles and Graham Lustig minimal costume ideas.

Seiwart’s Response to Change to Madison Bate’s The Life of Bees, opened the program, eight dancers dressed in trunks and tunics of grey accented by bronze, accenting the paleness of bare skin. The classicism including two centers of choreography, fairly intricate partnering, some fine grand jetes by Ikolo Griffin and  need for more rehearsal.

Lustig’s premiere of words within words followed, sensitively performed by Freeman and Wehner, the spoken text frequently swallowed by the space.  Overall, Lustig spaced  declamation  to the dancers’ lung capacity. The two met their challenges, from the legato to the semi-acrobatic with shuddery passages where both dancers were attuned to each other’s vulnerabilities.

Sonya Del Waide’s “…” concerned six inebriated dancers, the elegant chandelier originally constructed for Carvajal’s Crystal Slipper and Mozart played with a glass harmonica. Del Waide’s witty invention seemed inexhaustible, from one-pointe shoed dancers to intricate pile up male antics. Perhaps due to musical length, the cleverness was overlong.

For the finale, Lustig’s Vista had its Oakland premiere. With eleven dancers in beach-like garb and danced to popular music performed by The Lounge Lizards, it seemed quite frenetic, strenuous and unfortunately repetitive in spots.  Men lacking torso muscle definition should not be nude to the waist, extra peculiar for dancers who purportedly are amongst the fittest in strenuous activity.

If Lustig aimed to demonstrate Oakland dancers are technically strong and raring to go plus willing to undertake new challenges, he made his point admirably.  How much Oakland dance  lovers will respond to more choreography as demonstrated remains to be seen.  With the Ballets
Russes productions partially destroyed through careless warehousing, invention is necessary. But something between the Forward Program and Nutcracker would be welcome to see.

Smuin Ballet’s Spring Season, Bayside Performing Arts Center, May 28

16 Jul

San Francisco’s dance history in the second half of the twentieth century is marked by the presence, achievements and career of Michael Smuin.  The native Montanan danced for San Francisco Ballet before moving on to night club routines with his former wife Paula Tracy, then to American Ballet Theatre where he was principal dancer until rejoining San Francisco Ballet as co-artistic director.  A dozen years later, Smuin’s contract with the company was not renewed. After a successful interim with Broadway musicals, in 1994 Smuin started his own company. Following Smuin’s sudden death in 2007, artistic direction was assumed by Cecilia Fusile with former Smuin dancer Amy Seiwart as choreographer in residence.

Choo San Goh’s Momentum, created for the Joffrey II Company in 1979, opened the program. The ensemble, white unitards slashed with black, dancing to Prokofiev, initially formed a close circle. In their presentation,the Smuin dancers consistently hit the beat together, dancing as a unit, energy and pleasure reaching across the footlights. The men are consistently strong, the women substantial and feminine though one would be hard pressed to  believe the latter as Sylph, although some may once have been cast as a Wili.  With the exception of Erin Yarborough-Stewart, the women’s shoulders and necks tend to stiffness, lacking  articulation; several tend to force movement, blurring finish.

Amy Seiwart’s choreography to Mozart’s Requiem is her best to date.  The dancers are seen crouching in two diagonal lines at the beginning; when Yarborough-Stewart bourrees towards them, they rise. Performing before a central veil used as retreat and emergence, the partnering at times sees the women raised in jack-knife position.  Floor work is combined with classical
vocabulary sometimes surprising, sometimes harmonious.  Two couples differently echo the wonder of Balanchine’s Apollo quartet formations.  It is a work to be seen again.

The program finished with Smuin’s work “To The Beatles,” first created for San Francisco Ballet shortly before Smuin’s contractual difficulties.  I never saw it but it is clear now how it must have nettled many company contributors. Smuin’s sass and theatrical savvy was out in full display, abetted by Sandra Woodall’s costuming, quite in keeping with mid’80’s pop taste, swivel hips, short skirts, choli tops with bell bottom trousers, tie-dye hues.  Heaps of
technical bravura was present, the most subtle being Shannon Hulbert’s tap improvisation to J.S. Bach. While nuance or depth was lacking, the audience loved it. Clearly, its periodic revival will continue to elicit affectionate response.

A personal delight was seeing the return to the Bay Area from Hong Kong of Jonathan Mangosing. Starting his career with San Francisco Ballet, impressively substituting in Helgi Tomasson’s Concerto Grosso, Mangosing has retained his floating jumps; like all dancers truly at home in their bodies, he possesses the sense of line in space which makes for distinction.

Caminos Flamencos at Yoshi’s May 25

16 Jul

Yoshi’s is a jazz center, first in Oakland near Jack London Square; about two years ago  it expanded to San Francisco’s Fillmore District when the area began to revitalize its history as one of the vibrant U.S.  jazz centers.  The San Francisco spot has opened its doors to classical music, and May 25 expanded its reach by inviting Yaelisa to bring Caminos Flamencos to its tiny stage.

Yaelisa appeared with Fanny Ara and Melissa Cruz, both regulars with Caminos Flamencos and with guest artists Manuel de la Cruz, seen last November with Theatre Flamenco where he danced sensationally on top of the cajon as Manuel Guitierrez.  More remarkably, he could easily pass for a coming yuppie banker.  Besides Jesus Montoya, Kina Mendez joined his impassioned singing, and Jason McGuire, “El Rubio” provided his usual fine guitar foundation.

In the program, the women changed dresses three times, and danced successive solos in addition to the collective palmas and ending collective. Melissa Cruz in white trousers and jacket, was rhythmically dynamic if shy of coordinating with torso and arms; this grace was left to Fanny Ara’s mesmerizing farrucca.  Yaelisa finished the solo sequence with her innate physical quality which manages to converse privately and the audience simultaneously.

The ensemble enjoyed an audience of regulars, cheering them on, and there is promise of  regular appearances once the technical challenge of the floor has been addressed.