A First at Stern Grove, San Francisco

3 Aug

San Francisco Ballet danced at Stern Grove July 31, and the weather, though grey and overcast,  didn’t pull its usual pakiput off and on. New corps members, apprentices and San Francisco Ballet School trainees  led off the program with two ballets, Andante Sostemuto, choreographed by J. Francisco Martinez and Timepiece by Myles Thatcher, a member of San Francisco Ballet’s corps de ballet.

Andante Sostenuto, set to Franz Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 21, displayed
Elizabeth Powell, Lacey Escobar and Shion Yuasa’s capacity for length of leg and sustained developpes and arabesques.  Supported by Francisco Mungamba, Trygve Campston and Henry Sidford, the choreographer went overboard in his zeal to display the women supported with their crotches displayed front and center,  buns being carried in fetal positions or jack-knifed postures held aloft. Andante and legato tempi can be better used.

A wholly different mood greeted the audience with Myles Thatcher’s  Timepiece. Switching from full skirts to revealing tunics and tights with syncopated rhythms and jazzy accents, nine dancers strutted, preened, darting and breaking momentum to Thatcher’s exploration of what spending time can mean. An effective variation was assigned to Francisco Mungamba, a slender, recent corps de ballet member moving with liquid assurance, halting with equal ease.

Following the Intermission Helgi Tomasson’s 7 for Eight to the strain of Johan Sebastian Bach featured William McGraw at the piano and harpsichord. Maria Kotchetkova, and Ruben Martin Cintas filled the first movement;  her elegant attack  seemed to ask, ‘Do you love me?”  Vanessa Zahorian and Gennadi Nedvigin sparked the 2nd movement, two classicists who each enjoyed one of the early Erik Bruhn citations in Canada. Dores Andre, Elizabeth Miner, Joan Boada wove the third movement followed by a brilliant pairing of Jaime Garcia Castilla and Gennadi Nedvigin.  Joan Boada postured through the fifth movement with the harpsichord encouraging Boada’s accents. Kochetkova and Martin Cintas returned for the sixth movement, affirming their initial appearance, before all eight dancers polished off the seventh momvement.

The program concluded with one of George Balanchine’s eternal sparklers, Georges Bizet’s Symphony in C., Lorena Feijoo with Victor Luiz in the first movement, port de bras en haut, the numerous low jetes together, composed, sensuality lurking around their abundant correctness. Sofiane Sylve with Vito Mazzeo encompassed the second movement.  Sylve could be seen at intermission marking her movements, bundled against the chill, tiara in place; like the other company members swathed in leggings and sweat shirt.  Sylve rarely overstates or prolongs a movement, so that the beauty of her dancing is that elusive element, “Did I really see that?”  And you know you did.  She was partnered by Vito Mazzeo, recently elevated to principal status.

Frances Chung with Isaac Hernandez romped through the third movement, a long-remembered experience when San Francisco Ballet first performed it at the Alcazar Theatre March 12, 1961 with Fiona Fuerstner and Michael Smuin, bursting with energy.  Chung and Hernandez are more polished, but just as ebullient. The finale featured corps de ballet members Nicole Chiapponi with Lonnie Weeks before everyone flooded the stage for the finale.    Martin West, principal conductor, kept the energy and timing consistent.

Tomasson’s programming enjoys high percentages in adroitness and ability to read an audience. To this he has added this special segment of the coming tier of dancers, and what mutual thrill it is likely to be- that is, if the weather in not pakiput as they say in the Philippines.

Should this seem unusually sketchy, I was not perched at the press table, but amidst baseball hats,a ski cap to which a shawl was added in the midst of a series of dazzling pirouettes and the nearly constant movement along a central pathway.  That’s a public performance for you.



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