Archive | February, 2012

San Francisco Ballet’s Program II, February 14 and 19

26 Feb

Moving to two programs of three one-acts from full-length as opener,  San Francisco Ballet’s  programming is gauging story ballets’  value to pull audiences in to the variety programs.  Judging by the two  Program II performances, it seems to be working.

With Wayne MacGregor’s Chroma, the premiere of Mark Morris’ Beaux and Christopher Wheeldon’s Nine in Program II, the company displayed three contemporary choreographers whose patterns and  diagrams provide distinct, differing moods.

On first glance last season and again this season, MacGregor’s Chroma displays parallels with  San Francisco choreographer Alonzo King but with two salient exceptions: MacGregor’s casts look each other in the eye, making connection, and the akimbo body movements are direct, more  forward moving than King’s, where  vibrato leads up to a posture, a lift or a plunging, supported arabesque possesses a distinctly jazz-like riff on a main theme. Also, MacGregor’s women dance in soft slippers, instead of pointe shoes. Moritz Junge’s flesh-like toned costumes were modest, if short, sleeveless slouchy tee-shirts over trunks.

The dancers appear before a neutral lit backdrop, framed, stepping over to dance before stalking off mostly to stage left or going to mid center on the same side or appearing again in the frame. Duos and trios start out singly, later dancing simultaneously when all ten dancers become frantically engaged at the finale.

In the first cast Pascal Molat and Frances Chung led off with the initial athletic pas de deux, but a model of tempered sensuality. Anthony Spaulding’s leading leg thrust up in jetes, a signature touch, while Maria Kochetkova affirmed her acrobatic training. Taras Domitro, Jaime Garcia Castilla and Isaac Hernandez adapted to the off balance style and  Garen Scribner made his movement seem geometric.

In the second cast Vito Masseo and Sofiane Sylve continued their  remarkable partnership; Daniel Deivision  his kinesthetic delivery; Sarah Van Patten her consistently strong attack. Koto Ishihara and Tiit Helimets lent strong visual contrast, Vanessa Zahorian’s musicality subdued by the choreographic demands.

Mark Morris’ Beaux chose nine male dancers to dance to Martinu’s Harpsichord Concerto. Exaggerated color spots by Isaac Mizrahi on both backdrop and the sleeveless unitard shorts for the dancers, showed off the finely-tuned male musculature handsomely, though the colored daubs did distract  This ballet possesses a similar timbre as Morris’ “A Garden,” something pleasant, seemingly off-hand, but actually sly, complex.

Morris used twos, threes, and quartets in phrases one normally associates with women, particularly women in a Balanchine ballet. Eschewing virtuoso turns, jumps, pirouettes, he relied on an
occasional gesture suggesting comraderie, mixing principal dancer and corps member  equally. The ensemble paused like men at a fancy ball, minus formal attire, though slight, enormously subtle.

Vito Mazzeo stood out like a signal tower,  Molat for his double duty for two consecutive ballets along with Castilla, and Joan Boada for his willingness to merge as part of the ensemble.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Number Nine launched with the sense of British martial music. With the startling ending where the women lept into the men’s arms, four sets of principals and eight pairs of corps members, Michael Torke’s score reeks of spit, polish, formations and parade grounds .  The dancers wore a yellow worthy of Van Gogh’s Provencal canvases, Holly Hynes echoing the ambiance by covering, rather than exposing the women’s bodies. Full strength was the order of the ballet with Dores Andres, Sofiane Sylve, SarahVan Patten, and Vanessa Zahorian joining Daniel Deivison, Vito Mazzeo, Ruben Martin Cintas and Garden Scribner rising to the occasion as if Admiral Nelson had sent an off stage signal, “England Expects Every Man To Do His Duty.”

This front and center delivery was repeated February 19 with Elana Altman, Frances Chung, Maria Kochetkova and Yuan Yuan Tan, partnered by Pascal Molat, Gennadi Nedvigin, Carlos Quenedit and Anthony Spaulding. In a first glimpse of  Quenedit, he presented himself as calm, cheerful with effortlessly good partnering skills.

It will be fascinating to see what Quenedit does with his assignment in Yuri Possokhov’s Francesca da Rimini.

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Black Choreographers Festival: Here and Now, February 19

26 Feb

One is hard  put to laud this Festival, now in its eighth year, without mentioning its organizers in the same breath: Laura Elaine Ellis and Kendra  Kimborough  Barnes  of K Star Productions. Those two dynamos have guided this annual event from strength to strength.

My colleagues raved about the first weekend at Oakland’s Laney College; I managed a Sunday evening at San Francisco’s Dance Mission. The dances were different, but the energy and belief was out there shining.  Three numbers stood out as examples of the expressive range African-American dancers utilize outside of classical ballet. The range is both handsome and impressive.

For starters there was Dormisha Bumbry-Edwards flashing her taps on a narrow strip of platform installed for her magician’s mastery of the  form.  I’ve seen her three times before, once in the feisty  Chitresh Das-Jason Samuels Smith collaboration, twice in the annual August Bay Area Rhythm Exchange, sponsored by Stepology, and now in this year’s festival where the spectators were practically on top of her.

Dormisha made excellent use of the closeness, requiring the audience to stamp some of her less complicated rhythms after her. The response was eager and whole-hearted, a great way to commence an evening. She galvanizes my attention every time.

In “Evolution of a Secured Feminine” Camille A. Brown relied on the voices and lyrics sung by Ella Fitzgerald, Betty Carter and Nancy Wilson, a solo which enjoyed a company premiere at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, December 2010.  Apart from the program notes describing Brown’s very energetic dancing, the final contribution to beautifully enunciated song gave the portrait of a woman confronted with a husband in love with another woman a very wry, sophisticated ambiance.

Naomi Diouf completed the evening with Mah Way, an excerpt from a larger work, displaying hints of the multi-cultural influences active in West Africa. Danced to the overwhelming drumming of Dr. Kakarya Diouf, Madiou Diouf, Mohammad Kouyate, Nimely Napia, Mory Fofana and George Ayikpa, the dancers’ rhythmic support was thrilling as it gets.  The eleven dancers’ initial appearance showed them with veils, reflecting the Muslim influence in Africa.
Soon discarded, covered heads remained with short, colorful skirts allowing the women a full range of movement for jumps and turns in the unrelenting pace.

Again, without the steady support and organization skills of Laura Elaine Ellis and Kendra Kimborough Barnes, we would not have a venue to see the evolution of African-American choreography in such concentrated fashion.  Good show, the two of you!

Academy of Chinese Performing Arts, February 18, De Anza College, Cupertino

22 Feb

Under the title of Firecrackers VIII, this organization, directed by David Z. Chen, with schools in Fremont and Cupertino, presented a three-hour program of Chinese dance and some ballet excerpts performed by 66 winsome young Chinese-Americans. Each number was introduced by a pair of four eloquent young students speaking Mandarin, using appropriate gestures and delivering their assignment with staggering aplomb. In a word, the sum was phenomenal, if not exactly to my habituated Western taste.

The program comprised sixteen numbers, each thoroughly costumed to make one marvel at the diligence of the moms behind the students, 800 of them, who mostly attend class once a week.  Where many U.S. school recitals would challenge modesty, here there was a bare midriff and a few hip wiggles, but vulgarity was out the stage door and in the trash can.  One could quibble
with the sequins, gold ribbon or gleaming satin cloth on designs clearly echoing the dress of one of China’s minorities, but the ethnic origins was clear, even in the music, rendered symphonic from its wispy, evocative original melody.  Full use was made of lighting and dry ice.

The second half of the program included two separate expositions of classical ballet. One  was danced in soft shoes, rather than the pointe shoes normally seen in this fragment of the first movement of a very noted ballet, for which permission to perform clearly was not obtained  prior to performance. Coaches routinely are sent to mount the full length work and the Academy would be well advised to ask before staging this or any other similar work. Special coaching in epaulement and fluidity in port de bras also would be advisable.  But give the ensemble full marks for memory; every step and formation were absolutely correct.

Four Ballet Variations followed three numbers later; Swanhilda’s opening in Coppelia; a variation from Raymonda; the Black Swan variation, no less, Paquita,  and an interpolation from additional music  from Act III of Swan Lake.  Again, accuracy carried the day with highest marks for the young Black Swan who lacked only coaching for more fluidity to a basically confident, on-the-mark delivery.

Perhaps the most thrilling number came next to the finale, the extended pas de deux Dang Ma from the Kunqu theatre, where man and young woman faced off in an extended acrobatic fight until they realized they were both on the same side.  The long feathers in the female headdress, the elevated shoes, sword and banner were deployed with singular skill by Didi Yang, and met by the adept tumbling of Yunchao Yang, an Academy instructor with credits in the Beijing Kunqu Theatre. Their performance provided the most thrilling event of the evening.

The program itself lacked nothing for color or bi-lingual explanation, but one would have to follow the student performances for several years to match names to faces.  I wish that the The Academy of Chinese Performing Arts ability to  elicit a devotion and instill discipline could somehow penetrate society at large through some miraculous osmosis.  Hard to emulate, definitely, but one can dream, can’t one?

Book Review: A Princess Remembers

16 Feb

Devi, Gayatri with Santha Rama Rau, A Princess Remembers: The
Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur.
London, Weldenfeld and Nicolson/Philadelphia, J.P. Lippincott, 1976
New Delhi, Tarang Paperbacks, 1990, 335 pp., illus., pbk.

With the Victoria and Albert Museum-organized exhibition Maharaja doing brisk business at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum until April 10 and with the prospect of an equally enthusiastic audience when it reaches Richmond’s Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in June, 2012, this memoir holds particular relevance. I forget where I acquired this disintegrating Indian-published paperback, but it’s a wonderful amplification of the 200 objects and videotapes temporarily housed at the Asian Art Museum, the one-time San Francisco public library adapted for displaying Avery Brundage’s gift to San Francisco.

While the Maharani dedicated her pages to the people of Cooch Bahar and Japiur, there is a special connection to parts of the traveling exhibit.  The Maharani was the daughter of Indira Gaekwar Devi, the only daughter of the Gaekwar of Baroda.  The Gaekwar, village-raised until he was twelve, was chosen by the Dowager Maharani to be the next ruler of Baroda.  Devi describes vividly the  force-fed education of her grandfather upon accession as Gaekwar;  he studied and mastered the Marathi, Gujerati, Urdu and English languages, English and Indian history, arithmetic, geography, chemistry, political economy, philosophy and Sanskrit. The Gaekwar, his wife and Indira Devi’s photographs are included in the exhibit.
The Dowager Maharani’s canny choice provided real gains for the citizens of the territory; roads, schools, colleges, libraries, a museum, education for women and continuing concern for improvements, a just administration, even introducing the concept of divorce. The Gaekwar even educated a Harijan, Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar.

Devi describes her grandmother’s durbar; sitting on the tradtional gaddi,  dressed in a traditional Maharati sari, laden with jewels and diamond anklets,  she received  Baroda’s noble women while the Gaekwar’s subsidized troupe performed bharata natyam at the end of the hall.

Indira, the Gaekwar’s only  daughter, was one of the first Indian princesses to graduate from college.  With her four brothers, they were presented to Queen Victoria.  In 1910 her parents informed her they had arranged a marriage with the Maharaja Scindia of Gwalior, another  major member of the historic Maharathi federation, but twenty years Indira’s senior. If consummated, Indira faced purdah and life in the zenana or women’s quarters, with just  rare occasions to enjoy access to her own brothers.

Enter the 1911 Delhi Durbar where George V and Queen Mary, the first British monarchs to travel to India, receiving homage from the Indian princes , and marking the  capital’s transfer from Calcutta to New Delhi, its buildings  on land  donated by a Maharaja of Jaipur.  At this historic event Indira met  the second prince of Cooch Bahar, a small principality on the border of Nepal, Bhutan and Bengal, noted for its tiger shoots and its rulers for close association with English society.

The pair fell in love; Indira wrote a polite refusal to the Maharaja of Gwalior,  enduring two years of separation and secret letters before the couple gained consent to marry, outside India.  Soon after, the Maharaja of Cooch Bahar, unable to marry an English woman of his choice, and an actress(!) drank himself to death with champagne.  Indira’s husband became the Maharaja. In their brief  nine years  together, Indira bore two sons and three daughters. Gayatri,  known as Ayesha, child number four, was born in England.

With Indira as regent for her seven-year old son, Bhaiya as Maharaja, the ‘Twenties and ‘Thirties for the family were years of study and enjoyment of a comparatively casual existence in Cooch Behar.  Gayatri describes a life alternately of simplicity and vast protocol and complexity: three cooks – English, Bengali and Maharati; separate kitchens, assistants and those procuring and preparing the food for cooking.  The grounds required twenty gardners; twenty stablemen; twelve for the garages and almost a hundred for the elephants; sweepers; a professional tennis coach, his assistant, ten ball boys and the guards.  She estimated the staff at four or five hundred.  She and her sisters each had a maid in addition to a governess, while the young Maharaja had four servants and Indira added a secretary.  Seeing miniatures of Indian princes with enormous entourages, this recitation clarifies the why’s and wherefores of such crowded paintings.

The habits of affluent and  extended Indian families are vividly described, along with childhood pleasures in this small principality; riding, tennis, tiger hunts; traveling to visit Baroda relatives; summers in Darjeeling, her mother’s fastidious habits and famed capacity as hostess. Gayatri also discusses her fascination and connection to the mahouts, the men who trained, rode and handled the elephants, shooting a tiger when she was twelve.

Gayatri was very small when she first met Jai Singh, the Maharaja of Jaipur.  The family traveled to Ootacamund, where the Baroda relatives had a house.  A visit there spanned a thousand miles, required a week’s travel by train and an entourage of a hundred, thirty horses, several trucks of luggage.  The trip included narrow and standard gauge rail travel, overnight stays in Calcutta and Madras and finally automobile to 7000 feet to “Ooty,” a replica of  Victorian style England.

Gayatri was five when she met Jai Singh, Maharaja of Jaipur at Ooty; then thirteen he was primarily interested in getting Indian food.  Jai Singh, adopted by his father’s cousin the Mahajara,  had acceded to the title when he was eleven.  His first marriage to a Jodhpur princess occurred when he was twelve. A daughter was born in 1929, his first son in 1931.  His second wife, another Jodphur princess, occurred in 1932; both lived their lives in purdah, confined by custom to the zanana.  Gayatri  became his third wife in 1940, destined to help liberate Jaipur’s women.

It is an extraordinary tale, filled with the notables of history, from The Prince of Wales, Lord and Lady Mountbatten, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip to Mohatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, Gayatri’s creation of a girl’s school, her election to Parliament, Jai Singh’s transforming Rambagh Palace to a hotel,  the inexorable march of Indian history and family tragedies.  It  is evocative and beautifully written by Santha Rama Rao, herself a magnetic figure and one of the early Indian women to graduate from a American  college.  If you can manage to acquire a copy, you’ll be greatly rewarded.

A Co-Produced Wheeldon Work for San Francisco Ballet’s 2013 Season

16 Feb

Het National Ballet of the Netherlands and San Francisco Ballet have co-commissioned Christopher Wheeldon to create a reinterpretation of Serge Prtokoviev’s Cinderella with sets and costumes by the Britist designer  Julian Crouch.  San Francisco Ballet’s announcement was dated February 15, 2012.

The work will premiere with Het National Ballet at The Amsterdam Music Theatre December 13, 2012;  the U.S. premiere is scheduled for some time in San Francisco Ballet’s 2013 repertory season.

The press release indicates that Cinderella in this version is more than a victim; she plants a hazel branch on her mother’s grave which grows into a magic tree, collaborating with four spirits to grant Cinderella’s wishes.  The prince is planned to play a larger role.

The press release also mentions use of cinematographic approach.

For those S.F. Ballet admirers of Yuri Possokhov, it places his version of Prokoviev’s Cinderella for the Bolshoi Ballet way far back on the burner, along with the creation of  Alexei Ratmansky.

John Cranko’s Onegin Mounted for San Francisco Ballet January 27

9 Feb

Malfunctioning U-Verse connections to my computer delayed posting these comments.

With  Santo Loquasto set and costumes borrowed from The National Ballet of Canada, San Francisco Ballet staged their elegant reading of John Cranko’s Onegin January 27 in a cast giving remarkable readings for the first of their  two scheduled  performances.  Vitor Luiz, cast as Onegin and Gennadi Nedvigin, Lensky, paired with Maria Kochekova as Tatiana and Clara Blanco as Olga.  Pascal Molat filled the blander role of Gremin with his usual warmth.

Other scheduled casts were: Davit Karapetyan and Vanessa Zahorian as Onegin and Tatiana with Taras Domitro and Dana Genshaft  Lensky and Olga, Quinn Wharton as Gremin. Sarah Van Patten and Pierre-Francois Vilanoba as  principals are flanked by Isaac Hernandez and Courtney Elizabeth as Lensky and Olga, Tiit Helimets as Gremin.  Yuan Yuan Tan as Tatiana was partnered by Ruben Martin Cintas as Onegin, Jaime Garcia Castilla as Lensky, Dores Andre, Olga, with Damian Smith as Gremin.

Casting gave major roles to Clara Blanco and Dores Andre as well as for Courtney Elizabeth, Dana Genshaft and Quinn Wharton. Blanco and Andre were promoted to soloist status following their debuts as Olga.

The production displayed a beautiful, classic columned  porch on the diagonal from upstage right, hinting at a comfortably grand country home; later it was Tatiana’s bedroom with an anteroom, then  an elegant palace in Act III’s  ballroom and the private room of  Tatiana, with the telling touch of a hobby horse downstage right, symbol of  her domestic existence. In Act II, the girls wore gauzy grey fluffy dresses contrasting to the townspeople wearing modified versions of  Regency dress with  bonnets;  Act III displays filmy  pastel elegance de rigeur for St. Petersburg. My one hesitation in believability was in the birches, Act II is Lensky’s and Onegin’s duel, despite pleadings by Tatiana and Olga.  A whiff of snowflakes falls where Tatiana’s birthday party was outdoors.

The five principals were matched in size, the timbre of their performances well- pitched from Kochetkova’s awkwardly romantic Tatiana to Luiz’  tensile precision, while Nedvigin as Lensky with Blanco as Olga displayed the image of warmth and assured young love with their remarkably correct, fluid style, breathtaking to watch. Molat as Gremin presented an assured, diplomatic, an ultimately family man.

Cranko’s assignments of  pas de deux fascinated – Act I, Scene I belonging to Lensky and Olga, Scene II with Tatiana’s letter  visualized through Onegin’s miror emergence.  Act II given to conflict; after the distasteful rejection of Tatiana’s letter,  Onegin’s provocation of Lensky ups the tension;  Scene II , filled with Lensky’s soliloquy, before the pas de trois with Olga and Tatiana prior to the senseless duel.

Luiz gave Onegin’s Act III demeanor bravado consistent with the character’s restlessness; his response seeing Tatiana was in the best coup de foudre style, clear contrast to the domestic  pas de deux between Tatiana and Gremin. Kochetkova made the Onegin  struggle  genuine by  drawing Gremin back from departing, seeking strength for her encounter,  passionate,  but never warm.

I saw the second performance of Van Patten-Vilanoba with Hernandez and Elizabeth and Helimets as Gremin. Van Patten and Vilanoba have partnered elsewhere; both share a believable stillness. Van Patten is naturally engaged whether in reading or in tending older folk at the party, hesitant but not awkward.  Her affection with Helimets as Gremin was warm, comfortable, making the struggle with Onegin monumental.

Vilanoba’s smiles and disdain  were  quiet, calm, thorough,  icy in impact where Vitor’s Onegin  smoldered intensity. Hernandez’ Lensky was the warm young romantic, broken in pieces. Elizabeth’s Olga’s was brittle and shallow.

San Francisco Ballet usually gives a new work two seasons; this holding true, the audience can enjoy the reprise of John Cranko’s dramatic, elegantly potent ballet in 2013.