Archive | January, 2012

Ong Dance Company in Dance Mission’s Down and Dirty Series, January 21, 2012

27 Jan

It was an anomaly if ever there was one to see these highly trained classical Korean dancers appear in a series titled Down and Dirty.  Translated it meant “unsubsidized,” self presented and shared with another company, Jessilito Bie’s Steamroller Dance Company whose work was as thrown together as Ong Kyoungil’s was finished and rehearsed.

Ong’s company enjoyed a congratulatory statement by Kee Jeong Gwan, Consul General for South Korea in San Francisco. Unsurprising,  the audience, easily one half Korean, departed during intermission.

Readers might  note I tend to follow the Asian habit of family name first, birth name second when writing about artists from East Asia.  It just feels right to me to follow their habit, rather than the Western one, one of those “woolly western eye” habits.

Ong presented a two-part premiere performance on the same theme – the mythic origins of Korea, first with the highly traditional court dance  Cheoyongmu, and then with an interpretation titled Shadow of Cheoyong, allowing a fuller range of movement, percussion and expression from the two male dancers, Choi Soo Jin and Kee Hae Jun, and four women, Oh Soomi,Lee Mihyun, Min Yusun and Kang Ryun Kyeong.

The court dance Cheoyoungmu, danced with lengthy earth-toned masks, exaggerated in width, daunting in impression, uses five dancers, one for each cardinal direction with a fifth for the center and dates from the Silla Dynasty (57 BCE-935CE).  Cheoyong , son of the Yongwang, the dragon king, takes human form to save his human wife from the smallpox spirit by singing and dancing.  Used traditionally to dispel evil spirits and bring tranquility to royal banquets, the dancers wore cardinal colors – white, blue, black, red and yellow – and took measured steps, lifting each leg bent at the knee as they move, hands obscured with white coverings extending from the brilliant brocaded sleeves.  The movement was accompanied by the shrill tones of Korean wind instruments in minor key and the frequent punctuation of large brass cymbals.  Visually impressive and clearly danced with understanding, it also was rendered in a tempo we impatient Westerners consider dirge-like.

The pace quickened in the second half. with a half dozen hip-high drums on which the dancers beat fervently and expertly after swooping like swallows around them, tossing  extended white butterfly sleeves like rapidly written calligraphy, forward and up, to the side, sometimes twining around their bodies, occasionally at one another  as if in a carefully coded form of conversing.  Ultimately, the dancers took their places at the  drums, armed with sticks, and went for it, moving from drum to drum, playing the drum next to them; Lee Jae Jun as the central figure played two at once.  The ensemble managed to create quite a sound, the energy of attack cousin to jazz musicians’ frenzy.  Nearly possessed, at one point Lee jumped on top of two drums.

Steamroller’s premiere, The World Has Shifted, followed intermission; there scarcely could have  been a wider comparison.  Jessilito Bie delivered a long monologue about his former husband, his bout with addiction, his serious illness.  Accompanied by Kyle Griffiths and Andy Williams, the trio did not look fully prepared  physically to dance, so the presentation seemed like three friends horsing around on an afternoon.  Mark Morris has been known to state, “Just because you have something to say doesn’t mean the audience wants to hear it.”  Fairly brief, The World Has Shifted felt like the planet had  tumbled.

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San Francisco Ballet’s Gala, January 19, 2012

21 Jan

Helgi Tomasson  knows how to assemble a Gala, mixing charm, bravura, substance, sweetness and, where necessary, pathos and high jinks.

Despite the rain after two months of mild sunlit days, the atmosphere in San Francisco’s Opera House was warm .  Chair of the Board of Trustees , John  Osterweis made the usual  opening remarks, mentioning  the Gala was dedicated to F. Warren Hellman’s memory.  He “went off script” to say  Chris and Warren Hellman had recruited him to the Board  twenty-five years ago and that San Francisco Ballet would not be the company today without  Hellman’s involvement.

The ten item program included six pas de deux, two male numbers, one solo, and the finale ensemble. To commence both halves of the program, Tomasson  featured the company’s strong contingent of men,  opening with Yuri Possokhov’s ensemble from Sergei Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony with Jaime Garcia Castilla, Diego Cruz, Isaac Hernandez, Steven Morse, Benjamin and Matthew Stewart. Separated from the women, the glimpse showed several striking devices;  initially silhouetted, the men  bounded across the stage like young stags, singly, successively and simultaneously and pirouettes executed with arms en haut.

The second half opened with Hans Van Manen’s Solo, a trio of male dancers last seen  when  Peter Brandenhoff, Stephen Legate and  Yuri Possokhov shared their farewell to SFB.  This trio included  Gennadi Nedvigin, Garen Scribner and Hansuke Yamamoto, in reverse order. Van Manen makes the three  prance, jump, wiggle and gesture with increasing complexity to J.S. Bach’s Violin Suite No. 1 in D Minor. Yamamoto was fleet, a bit laconic, Scribner contained , and Nedvigin covered territory like a comic in a Moiseyev  suite.

With Sarah Van Patten, Tiit Helimets, Pascal Molat danced in the scruffy red and blue death figure costume from David Bintley’s The Dance House. Van Patten and Helimets sculpted their roles to the Shostakovich music.

Damian Smith in red tights and white mask danced Val Caniparoli’s Aria, music by Handel.  Smith,  gesturing masterfully in commedia del arte tradition.

Three pas de deux followed ;  Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan with Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky’s pas de deux; Sofiane Sylve and Vito Mazzeo in Christopher Wheeldon’s Continuum, topped off by the Flames of Paris pas de deux with Frances Chung and Taras Domitro.

The Zahorian-Karapetyan rendition of roles created by Violette Verdy and Conrad Ludlow in 1960 differed by size and cultural nuance.  Zahorian’s longer limbs stretched the phrasing from Verdy’s accents, but the choreography was served admirably and Karapetyan partnered his new wife solicitously.  Sylve moved around Mazzeo like a vine expanding tendrils, beginning and finishing with each meeting the other with touching  palms, executed with spare deliberation.  It fell to Domitro  to dance the role created by Chabukiani in Flames of Paris; Domitro added his insouciant habit of pointed foot rising in his grand jetes.  Frances Chung polished her soubrette assignment with crisp pirouettes and traveling  multiple fouettes.

The evening’s greatest charm arrived with Sir Frederick Ashton’s Voices of Spring, Maria Kochetkova spewing rose petals, held aloft by Joan Boada, an ineffable nosegay to  Johann Strauss II’s  melody.  Ashton was a remarkable poet in his ability to depict the essence of a culture, a theme or music.

Yuan Yuan Tan was partnered by Hamburg Ballet’s Alexander Riabko in Lady of the Camellias, John Neumeier’s overwrought rendition to Chopin’s Ballade. The choice of music was overly long and required excessive repetition, calling attention to the repetition and not to the love story. Close to home, Val Caniparoli has created a similar pas de deux seen with Diablo Ballet, much  tighter and closer to the story.

The Gala finished with an excerpt from Christopher Wheeldon’s Number Nine, created for the company in 2011, a work  British spit and polish in its wing-like formations. Four pairs of soloists and eight pairs of supporting corps de ballet exhibited  women with bent knee and arabesque held aloft. In executing similar striking formations, the stage was a bit too busy for all out admiration.

Involving nearly half the company for the finale is a typical Helgi Tomasson  completion for  this consistently interesting Gala..

Joan Boada, Principal Dancer, San Francisco Ballet

16 Jan

As an armchair cook, I find great enjoyment in watching a series of weekday afternoon cooking shows on KQED Life.  I think it’s 54.2.  It runs Lydia Bastianich, Julia Childs , Jacques Pepin, Joanne Weir and Cooks Illustrated. I take away one or two tips daily useful for my culinary routine.

I think it was Friday that Joanne  was cooking a lamb stew, Spanish style,  the cuisine of the Iberian peninsula being her recent love. She had for her one-on-one student someone who looked decidedly familiar and I said to myself, “That’s got to be Joan Boada of SF Ballet!”

Sure enough, Joanne said, “Today we have a very special guest, Joan Boada, principal dancer of San Francisco Ballet.”  Boada turned out to be a quick learner because as he said, “We have to  observe…”

Boada’s presence on the program was an interesting subliminal advertisement for the coming season, starting with “Onegin” January 26;  the Gala formally opens the season on January 19.

Thank you Joanne.  More dancers, please.

Lise La Cour, Director, Ballet San Jose School

1 Jan

For balletomanes who have been following the Ballet San Jose situation and the planned introduction of American Ballet Theatre’s training syllabus at the Ballet San Jose School, one is told nothing of the future of Lise La Cour, current director of the school.

La Cour is scarcely a lightweight amongst ballet teachers or ignorant of ballet technique and training.  Danish born, and Royal Danish Ballet trained, she clearly knows her Bournonville technique.  After dancing with the Royal Danish Ballet she service as the Artistic Director’s assistant for almost forty years, according to Dennis Nahat, and also ran the school producing students and school programs.

Like Nahat with the company, La Cour has been the soul of the school since her arrival in 2002.  Nahat cannot praise her enough for the devotion she brings to her directorship, embracing household duties, student support, hospitality as well as producing remarkable story ballets each spring at San Jose’s California Theatre. Having seen at least two of the productions, what her training has fostered in the students is remarkable; a gentle, lively approach, classical but free of  a hard edge.  Her offerings are something to look forward to.

From her former marriage to Peter Martins, Lise La Cour has a son, Nilas, and from her life as La Cour, Ask; both men are prominent in the ranks of New York City Ballet dancers.

Clearly, Lise La Cour has demonstrated she knows how something works and proceeds to produce it. Ballet San Jose has been extremely fortunate to have enjoyed this remarkable individual raising future dancers since 2002. When something works, why try to change it?

Lew Christensen’s Legacy

1 Jan

With Virginia “Ginny” Johnson’s death September 21, 2011, Lew Christensen’s
balletic legacy faces an uncertain future.  Ginny was responsible for mounting
his ballets on companies desiring a Christensen work in its repertoire. Christensen’s widow, Gisella Caccialanza, gave San Francisco Ballet permission to accomplish its own revivals so long as there was someone in its ranks who worked with Lew and danced in the ballet.  The last works the company has revived were “Con Amore” and “Filling Station;” outside of “Jinx”, they perhaps are the best known.

Given the Christensen brothers’ background in vaudeville, many of Lew’s works are not only story-based, but filled with business, the business of situational movement. This vaudeville background was first demonstrated in Lew’s 1938 Ballet Caravan choreographic debut, “Filling Station.” Those who have seen it know the horseplay by the truck drivers, the eerie chase with flash lights after the lights have been switched off.  How much of this was the Lincoln Kirstein libretto might be questioned, but Lew knew what caught an audience’s attention.  The same can be said of “Jinx,” created in 1942 while Lew was waiting to be called into the Army.

Vaudeville  manifested itself in “Con Amore,” not only in the plot, but in the fake trees used by the Amazons, their pursuit of the pirate, foot flirtations by the errant wife,  the presence of Cupid and the final aiming of Cupid’s arrow on the student. In Lew’s “Don Juan,” 1975, few who saw it will forget the chase in the nunnery. In “Scarlatti,” Harlequin’s hoop dance earned a bronze medal for choreography at the inaugural international competition in Jackson, Mississippi and helped David MacNaughton to walk away with a senior men’s silver medal.

Given the company’s practice, there may well be archival video footage of other works which could provide guidance in reviving some of the works.  There are additional memorable works, like “Shadows” and “Divertissement d’Auber,” in which every young male dance in the company in the ‘60’s possessed of a  decent jump was cast: Roderick Drew, Michael Smuin, Terry Orr, David Coll all come to mind.  There may have been others created during the summer sessions in the upstairs convertible studio on 18th Avenue.  I believe 18th avenue was the site of the first performances of “Il Distratto,” rendered memorable because it provided disembodied legs as part of its source for chuckles. Ballet San Jose mounted it during this century’s first decade.

“Original Sin” was created during one of the brief spring seasons the company occupied the former Alcazar Theater. I seem to remember two rather witty works for the same venue, one of them “Stravinsky’s Danses Concertantes” and another “Pied Piper,” or some such name with lots of green in the costumes and a version of medieval ramparts as part of the scenery.  A more romantic work was “The Lady of Shallott,” an exclusive vehicle for Jocelyn Vollmar with Kent Stowell, retired co-artistic director of  Pacific Northwest Ballet, featured as one of the knights passing through the Lady’s vision. “Norwegian Moods” has to wait about a decade and it formed a pas de deux danced by Susan Magno and Keith Martin, former Joffrey and Royal Ballet soloists,a work both tender and lively.

Lew’s choreography suffered because of the technical level of dancers passing through the school.  The female students seemed a little strident during thebetter part of the ’60’s as Lew strived to stand his company technically that  of New York City Ballet.  While the level of dancing rose markedly when Michael Smuin brought several dancers west with him to share co-artistic direction, Lew’s snow scene in his Nutcracker Act I early distinguished itself for the swirling movement of the dancers, catching the feeling of wind pushing the snowflakes into drifts.

One hopes that a company suddenly will remember several of these ‘oldies
and goodies’ so they won’t get entirely consigned to the written word or
the limited life span of videotape or DVDs.