Archive | March, 2012

San Francisco Ballet Has Extensive Touring Schedule, Summer, Fall, 2012

22 Mar

San Francisco Ballet usually tours once or twice a year and usually in the fall.  It has made tours to England, France, Italy and Spain in the late summer, and, much earlier, ventured over the Pacific to Japan, and, as I recall, to Singapore.

This summer of 2012, it will appear in Hamburg, Germany, June 26-27;  Moscow at the Bolshoi Theatre, June 29-30;  come September to London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre.  In November, the company will appear at Kennedy Center in the Tomasson version of Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet and one mixed repertory program.

The company will also venture to Sun Valley, Idaho for a one-night stand July 8, obviously after the dancers have regained their equilibrium following their return from Moscow.

The mixed repertory selections have yet to be announced, particularly for Moscow and  Washington, D.C.

In Hamburg, however, the program will include 7 for Eight by Helgi Tomasson; RAkU by Yuri Possokhov, A pas de deux from Continuum and Within the Golden Hour, both by Christopher Wheeldon. Yuan Yuan Tan, Tiit Helimets, Davit Karapetyan and Sarah Van Patten are scheduled to appear June 22 in John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid with the Hamburg Ballet cast.  July 1 several dancers will appear in the Nijinsky Gala XXXVIII.

The London tour is scheduled September 14-23, nine performances with three mixed repertory programs.  Works by George Balanchine, Mark Morris, Christopher Wheeldon, Yuri Possokhov and Helgi Tomasson will comprise the selections.

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Documentary: Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance

19 Mar

Seeing this documentary March 18, the closing night of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, in the intimate setting the San Francisco Film Festival Theater on Post Street resurrected the intensity and immediacy seeing the Joffrey always evoked in me.  It’s a fine documentary, even when showing early ballets as later ones for thematic argument.

I saw the Joffrey when it first appeared in San Francisco at the old Veterans’ Auditorium and at the Commerce High School Auditorium, through their Stanford and U.C., Berkeley residencies and during its affiliation with the San Francisco Symphony.  Sitting next to Joanna Harris exchanging identities as the individuals appeared on the screen was like a special reunion.

Director Bob Hercules included  interviews of the original dancers in the station wagon for six touring the United States in a series of one-night stands: Francoise Martinet; Brunhilde Ruiz, then others who came shortly after: Paul Sutherland; Diane Consoer plus those from the in-between years and the brief affiliation with Rebekah Harness, principally Helgi Tomasson.  Two of the crop arriving during the rejuvenation of the company, Trinette Singleton and Charthel Arthur, speak with candor as do Christian Holder, Gary Cryst and Dermot Burke, all augmented by Sacha Anawalt whose history of the company is unsurpassed. The dancers especially are wonderfully animated.

Among the close associates speaking are Alex Ewing, an early executive director and son of American Ballet Theatre legend Lucia Chase, and Herbert Migdoll, for years the company’s official photographer. Now American Ballet Theatre artistic director Kevin McKenzie, a four-year company member, also provided salient observations.

Hercules has included not only early Joffrey pictures and an image of Mary Ann Wells, but photos of Jerry Arpino, and footage parallel to American history influencing choices of ballet subject matter, plus Joffrey’s famous revivals of Kurt Jooss’s  Green Table and Leonide Massine’s Parade.  These sections include footage of the choreographers themselves, and, with Leonide Massine, a glimpse of his directorial style.  Jerry Arpino provided wonderful commentary, his style peppering the memories of many interviewed.  A good perspective is provided by Anna Kisselgoff, former chief critic for the New York Times and Heidi Weiss, critic from Chicago.

There is an inaccuracy which I picked up on, an entirely understandable one.  I wish I  remembered the source, but it eludes me.  However,it comes from the late Jeannot Cerrone, who toured the Joffrey for Rebekah Harkness, then managed the Harkness Ballet for two years and ended his life managing Harid Conserevatory in Boca Raton, Florida.  He was credited as saying the following: the Internal Revenue Service was responsible for telling Mrs. Harkness that to continue to use ballet as a tax deduction she had to have a company bearing her name, instead of one with the Joffrey title.  Whether this statement is accurate can only be determined via written records, if such still exist.  It’s unlikely any dance historian wants to spend time on such minutiae.

The hour and twenty-seven minutes sped by, followed by a question and answer period featuring Helgi Tomasson, artistic director, San Francisco Ballet; Ashley Wheater, artistic director, The Joffrey Ballet; Tina le Blanc, former principal, San Francisco Ballet, now a member of the San Francisco Ballet School faculty; and Henry Berg, not only teaching but also working with San Francisco Ballet’s dancers getting back into shape after injury.

There is a DVD available for sale,  Buy it – it’s a history to cherish.

Pascal Molat Cooks!

18 Mar

Those following this rheumy, woolly western eye commentary will remember I recorded  Joanne Weir’s session over KQED’s Life Channel with Joan Boada. I ended my observations with the exhortation “more dancers, please.”

I’d love to credit my stated desire for a recent session on the same program with Pascal Molat, another principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet.  But I suspect the arrangements were made, and the session taped, a long time prior to my blogging. But I have to I commend someone, anyone, on their taste in selecting one of my favorite dancers in said company.

Joanne Weir and Pascal did something with salad as I recall, and I believe also with chicken.  The ultimate charm of the session occurred near the end when Molat grabbed Weir with the comment, “Shall we dance,” whirled her around a bit and then concluded, “Let’s go eat chicken.”

It stands to reason that dancers and food are great friends.  Thanks to Joanne Weir, we’re getting good reinforcement to that truism.  En Avant, mes amis!

San Francisco Ballet’s Program III, February 16, 26

18 Mar

For San Francisco Ballet’s Program III, Yuri Possokhov’s reading of Francesca da Rimini, Peter Tchaikovsky’s tone poem, was premiered between Helgi Tomasson’s Trio, also to Tchaikovsky music plus the revival of Alexei Ratmansky’s Les Carnival des Animaux, created for the company in 2003.  Making a balanced program is a challenge; happily, Tomasson’s commissions and staging of ballets premiered elsewhere has built up a healthy repertoire.

Trio provides some Russian accents and a Death  pas de trois conjuring Balanchine’s La Valse, made so memorable by its original trio of Tanaquil LeClerq, Nicholas Magallanes and Francisco Moncion. Here Sarah Van Patten, Tiit Helimets and Vito Mazzeo handled the pull and retreat of the fated female in more prolonged and in direct fashion.  Van Patten, of course, sharpened her role considerably.  Helimets and Mazzeo seemed muted.

The most frequently mentioned production of Francesca da Rimini prior to Possokhov’s interpretation was David Lichine’s for De Basil’s Ballets Russes; his first ballet, featuring Lubov Tchernicheva, Paul Petroff with Marc Platoff as Maletesta, here called Giovanni. There may be snippets available in the bootleg movies recorded by Ann Barzel in Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre;  otherwise, nothing remains beyond  a few telling  photographs by Maurice Seymour.

Possokhov eschews heavy makeup for the vengeful husband , and enjoys inspired costuming by Sandra Woodall with a spare, massive set design by Alexander Nichols. He modeled three Inferno guardians after Rodin’s sculptures of The Gate of Hell, with five shades in filmy scarlet with a touch of the medieval in stiff circles, higher than the most daring tutu, over which diaphanous fabric falls.  Francesca is given a faint grey gown accented by gold banding at the breast, looking as if it’s about ready to fall, though firmly attached to a nude chemise.  Paolo is given a red cap and an equally diaphanous  romantic blouse while Giovanni’s garment includes a short cape swirling effectively over substantial tunic  during the final confrontation.

Joan Boada and Maria Kochetkova danced the fated lovers at the premiere with Taras Domitro as Giovanni; starting stage right on stark stone steps Paolo/ Boada stood above the couple in the shadows, emerging to place the fated book in Francesca/Kochetkova’s hands.  Possokhov visualized the Tchaikovsky score as giving turbulence and a bitter sweet tenderness, using Francesca’s hands over Paolo’s shoulders, both moving their heads along the arms of each other, This  device I first saw used sparingly in Lew Christensen’s Norwegian Moods.  With the Possokhov use, it became a mournful repetition.

In his employment of scarlet shades, the figures from Hell, and the agony of the extended  pas de deux it was not hard to see Possoskhov’s own visceral images translated to the dancer, true to his comment about the choreographer feeling a ballet first on himself before objectifying it with his chosen dancers. Giovanni’s stabbing first of Francesca and then of Paolo as he lifts his beloved was stark, then being lassoed into the mists of the Inferno by the guardians,  the intensity of his vision matching the Tchaikovsky score.

Frances Chung and Carlos Quinidet were oddly juxtaposed, he an awkward post-adolescent wearing a scarlet cap, reminiscent of a Renaissance masterpiece.  Chung had just danced the third movement with Gennadi Nedvigin in Tomasson’s Trio; the exhaustion gave a quiet making her Francesca all too aware of her helpless situation. Between infatuated youth and fated woman scarcely her senior, the prolonged pas de deux seemed totally impelling.  Daniel Deivison-Olivera’s predatory Giovanni helped dance the narrative its intense way to Tchaikovsky’s score’s soaring conclusion.

Les Carnival des Animaux, the Alexei Ratmansky revival from 2003, allowed the audience to wind down to a whimsical program ending.  To the Saint-Saens suite, the animals clustered anxiously around the Lion, Pierre-Francois Vilanoba  February 14, only to see him  pecked comically into submission by the Hens.  Vilanoba conveyed a wry comic confusion ; ditto Sofiane Sylve’s Dying Swan, carted off in a collective disposal effort.  The brief pas de deux between Clara Blanco and Isaac Hernandez as Hen and Rooster in the second cast was marked  by alluring invitation.

The Ailey Company at Zellerbach, Program B, March 14

18 Mar

The audience Wednesday was ready and primed for the Paul Taylor and Robert Battle pieces of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Program B.  How could you help it when it was predominantly a display of the Ailey male dancers, plus the three women in Arden Court?  This 1981 piece to William Boyce music, the 18th century English composer, reflects Taylor’s fondness for the baroque, plus his ability to capture the quality of its  fulsome linear certitude.

The men come bounding out of up stage right jumping with a pointing thrust leg , the supporting leg quickly drawn up in half passe; step, repeating the maneuver until the stage diagonal has been crossed, arms spread and slightly lifted.  Difficult, you  betcha!  Magnificent to watch, bien sur! With those washboard torsos, sculpted arms and legs and proud heads, oh, come on!

Then there is a typical Taylor movement – a half run, half-stride , the arms up in broad V shape, torso slightly inflected with the impulse.  With native African-American instinct, it  became a theatrical declaration of exactly how gorgeous,  how right it is to see a Taylor work on the Ailey Company.  I would have been happy if it had to be repeated.

After intermission, we got the Bay Area  premiere of Robert Battle’s 1999 solo, Takademe, recited by Sheila Chandra, the Indo-English pop singer.  Chandra’s recitation of the bols, or memetic sounds exchanged between drummers, between drummers and dancers, is one bang up tour de force, going beyond the usual limits of Kathak dancers with their musicians.

The dancer attempting the marathon was Kirven James Boyd, utilizing arms, elbows, knees, hips and head, as well as his athletic body keeping apace with the punishing rapidity of sound.  Audience as well as dancer gasped at the conclusion.

Following a brief pause six men swaggering in black garments lined with scarlet, nude to the waist, brought their rhythmic and tribal ancestry to the drumming of Les Tambours du Bronx in The Hunt. The Tambours, a 17-musician French ensemble, utilize 225 litre monostress drums, noted for resonance and flexibility; the drummers started in the railroad town of Varennes-Vauzelles in1987; their title Bronx is  taken from the town’s square street patterns lined with dark houses.

Except for a certain metallic quality, the unrelenting rhythms inspired the feeling of hunter/warriors reveling in their prowess, energy, celebrating the zenith of their powers,. captivating the audience.

Following the second intermission came the company’s signature Revelations, if anything topping Tuesday’s rendition, the men at a particular high. Black Pride isn’t just a label, it is demonstrably a fact with Revelations.

The Ailey Company at U.C., Berkeley’s Zellerbach, March 13-14

17 Mar

When Artistic Director Richard Battle emerged from through vibrant blue curtained center  before the March 13 opening of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, he  knew he was over half way to an enthusiastic reception. Slender and smiling, with succinct references to the current Bay Area’s rainy weather, he reminded the audience that this 54 year old ensemble had been coming to Berkeley since 1968.  Just eight years before, in 1960, Ailey had premiered the company’s iconic signature work, Revelations. The 2011-2012 season marks Battle’s first as artistic director, succeeding Judith Jamison.

In a way, the rest of program  A and B were pieces of cake, including two works by Battle and the company’s first season dancing Paul Taylor’s Arden Court and Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16 and Rennie Harris’ 2011 piece Home with its HIV inspiration.

Starting with Home, the audience saw a seeming random stage use by fourteen dancers, dressed in contemporary grunge trousers and colored tee-shirts, moving in suspiciously aimless fashion across and around the stage, until it was apparent women predominated and the work ended, like its beginning, formless.

During the intermission, as the audience streamed out, the woman behind me exclaimed, “Look at the man on stage, it’s part of the work.  I saw it in New York.”  Sure enough, Samuel Lee Roberts, was moving on an unadorned stage. If  the view of him was sometimes blocked by standees or aisle saunterers,  he still executed a myriad of  muscle isolations,  moving all his body parts, either exposed  skin or inside his black suit.

This was the introduction to Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16, a collage of works amalgamated in 1999; it  included a touching pas de deux originally created by Mari Kajiwara, Naharin’s late wife, with its pattern of reaching and repelling at waist level, set to Vivaldi’s Sabat Mater.

The twenty member company, hatted, garbed in black, started to boogie, but came together in smart, orderly fashion.  They marched off the stage, into the audience to select individuals who followed them on to the stage where jazz and Latin music set everyone to the infectious rhythms, hips undulating, torsos swaying, legs and arms giving over to the music. The audience roared its approval.

One medium-sized dancer selected a red-sweatered  motherly figure, I venture in her seventies.  She kept up with every move, accepted every movement overture and embrace, continuing as the stage emptied.  The audience howled its approval.  Her partner collapsed on the floor.  She looked at the audience, paused, acknowledged the moment and bowed.

The performance closed with Revelations.  From its opening ensemble with its bird-like arm formation, to the jetes for Sinner Man, the dancers moved as if each word of the hymns was freshly stitched in their muscles.  There are fewer more delicious moments in dance history than the women with their stools and fans greeting one another and settling down for Sunday service.  Add  the men moving forward, flexing  shoulders like handsome roosters, swiveling from one side to another arm to finger pointed on an upward diagonal, and it’s  a clear image of men pleased with themselves.

Standing en masse with their approval, the audience knows it will enjoy an encore  of  Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham; the Ailey dancers cheerfully oblige.

Program B to come.

Three Romeos, Three Juliets, March 6, March 9, March 11, 2012

17 Mar

Seeing Helgi Tomasson’s fated lovers to Sergei Prokofiev’s score March 6, was followed with seeing two more performances; March 9 with March 11 from San Francisco’s Opera House’s Grand Tier.

Interpretation varied because of personality, height and bone structure.  Joan Boada and Maria Kochetkova  managed swiftness and a comparative fragility impossible for Pierre-Francois Vilanoba and Sarah Van Patten, or Vitor Matteo and Yuan Yuan Tan.  Still, vulnerability, passion and fragility of love against the fortress of Renaissance social structure remained alive in the other casts.  The audience’s warm enthusiasm to William Shakespeare’s tale was undeterred at Sunday matinee’s standing ovation.

I quibble a tad historically.  County Paris implies a man of ample means and possessions, not likely young. Italian Renaissance history records  youthful maidens marrying older, frequently battle-scarred men, leaving young women early widows.  Lovers/partners of even age was social revolution stuff, and explored at the critical conference held during the 1994 premiere of the Tomasson  production.  Missing was the fact  Paris and Mercutio are kinsman to the Prince of Verona, explaining why Mercutio takes such liberties,  enjoying princely protection.  Did the Prince register his kinsman Mercutio lying dead?

Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun was present as a silken, socially assured Rosaline for the three casts seen, also Val Caniparoli as Lord Capulet, Jim Sohm as Lord Montague twice,  Martino Pistone’s sturdy square build lent rough authority as the Prince of Verona as did Anita Paciotti’s peasant Nurse.  Jorge Esquivel replaced Ricardo Bustamonte as Friar Lawrence March 11.

Cast changes played as a unit with the three Juliets and Romeo: the evenly matched Benvolio and Mercutio, Jaime Castilla Garcia and Gennadi Nedvigin for Boada, Daniel Deivison a ferocious Tybalt, Pauli Magierek a histronic Lady Capulet .

Pairing Boada and Maria Kochetkova, matched for size and  bravura,  subjected the audience to dangerous  breath suspension.  Kochetkova’s acrobatic training permitted an abandoned plunging into lifts, quick reverses of direction; Boada’s balcony scene was ardor and aerial wed.

Nedvigin’s Mercutio evoked the Russian character dancer, ready to strike boots and extend arms in deep plie.  He used the same solar plexus base struggling to maintain Mercutio’s  nonchalance, mortally wounded, staggering towards the church, collapsing on the stairs.

Elana Altman danced Lady Capulet March 9 and Sofiane Sylve March 11.   Sylve seemed to personify nobility, hinting at her attachment to Damian Smith’s brooding Tybalt in the ballroom. Altman’s explosion over Tybalt’s body would be great as the Queen in Jerome Robbins’ The Cage. Her Tybalt was Antony Spaulding, elegant, silkily sinister.

The Van Patten-Vilanoba partnership possesses a humanism, a warmth when   physically relating to the other characters.  When Pascal Molat as Mercutio staggers towards the church, dying on the steps, he dies in Romeo’s arms, emphasizing the subsequent fight with Tybalt. Romeo is gentle, even being mesmerized at the Capulet’s ball. Van Patten’s demureness is  poised, puzzled, questioning.  She staggers against the balcony steps railing when Romeo  kisses her.

Yuan Yuan Tan’s line sang lyrically, thanks to Vitor Matteo’s height, possessing perhaps ballet’s longest legs. As Romeo Matteo is on native Italian earth.  Her smile evoked Ching Dynasty feminine portraits and she avoided  rendering Juliet as another victim.

Hansuke Yamamoto as Benvolio, Taras Domitro as Mercutio matched each other for height and swiftness, excellent contrast to Smith’s Tybalt in the ballroom scene.

One could write a chapter on each casts, from the principals to the acrobats, the touches Tomasson has gradually assembled to coalesce this exciting production, to be performed this fall in Washington, D.C.