Archive | June, 2012

Tiffany Glenn, Soloist, Ballet San Jose, 1979-2012

23 Jun

Tiffany Glenn died Monday, June 18 in her native  Washington, D.C., age 33.  She had battled cancer since 2006 with what publicist Lee Kopp was remarkable honesty and courage.  With Ballet San Jose since 2001, the company announced Glenn’s retirement in one of its spring programs minus   specifics.

Glenn studied initially at the noted Jones-Hayward School of Ballet in Washington, D.C.; in her early teens she attended Rosella Hightower’s Centre de Danse in Cannes, France before studying at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center in New York City. She had danced with Dance Theatre of Harlem prior to joining Ballet San Jose, invited by its founding artistic director Dennis Nahat.

Kopp reported Glenn was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in 2006, undergoing mastectomy, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, before returning to the company for the spring season, 2007.  She then appeared in Dennis Nahat’s Blue Suede Shoes in a role with much slink and sass.  Early in her affiliation with the company, Glenn danced in Donald MacKayle’s revival of District Storyville, a particular pleasure, along with many  other ballets in the company’s repertoire. Glenn mounted her own choreography in a special program devoted to Ballet San Jose dancers works.  In the summers she choreographed for children at Usdan Center for the Creative Arts in New York.

Kopp described her as “a force of nature,” never hiding her own struggles with the invasive disease.  When the disease returned, she continued  to dance while undergoing chemotherapy.  Her final appearance with the company was in its revival of  David Lichine’s  Graduation Ball.

Tiffany Glenn was the type of dancer one remembers because of her qualities. Aside from her slender height and native elegance, I cannot say I remember her dancing so much as her presence on stage.  There was never a doubt that she knew what she was doing and precisely where she should be at any given phrase of the music.  I particularly remember Glenn’s eyes.  Now I know why.

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The Latest on Dennis Nahat

11 Jun

Before his controversial departure from Ballet San Jose, the company he brought to San Jose from Cleveland and then transferred totally to the South Bay, Dennis Nahat was extending his involvement in East Asia, specifically Japan and China. He has continued to do so with a production in China which is announced as coming to the United States.

Nahat will teach briefly at the studios established at the Chinese Performing Arts of America in San Jose before returning to China for more work on a production which he conceived and is directing.  Yulan: World of Peace, Harmony and Love is scheduled for a mid-September opening in China, choreographed by Jin Yunjiang, Yuan Donglie, Zhang Hongfei, Song Xiaoxne with music by Paul Chihara.

Michael Smuin choreography enthusiasts will remember  Chihara was Smuin’s composer of choice for Shinju and The Tempest.  Additional music will be supplied by Jeff Kryka.  Nahat remarked “He [Chihara] is wonderful to work with and we will have a fine new score of extraordinary music played by the National Symphony of Beijing along with special artists to play the Erhu and Qu Zheng stringed instruments and some percussion.”

Nahat, also involved with the Emerald Isle, mentioned “I will also travel to Dublin, Ireland to teach and continue a collaboration with the new ballet company and city of Dublin as Dublin is the sister city of San Jose.  I’ve been working on projects for sometime….I will continue to do the work I’ve started.”

Remembering Nahat’s Blue Suede Shoes and his collaboration for The Middle Kingdom, the proclamation “A New Multi-Cultural International Theatrical Extravaganza in the High Arts”  is probably right on target.

Combating Cancer With a Dance Gala, June 6

10 Jun

San Francisco Ballet soloists Garen Scribner and James Sofranko bonded not only with a shared dressing room, but over their concerns regarding cancer.  Scribner was in touch with the Fremont-based research firm, Cancer Prevention Institute of California; the two dancers formed a plan to present a dance gala benefitting the organization June 6 at San Francisco’s Herbst Theater in the Civic Center’s Veterans’ Building.  Two other San Francisco Ballet dancers, Sarah Van Patten and Luke Willis, co-chaired a silent auction.

Scribner-Sofranko enjoyed managerial coaching from SFB’s dance enthusiasts the Pascarellis, plus corporate and individual sponsors to cover production costs, netting $100,000 for the Institute.  Alphabetically, the companies cooperating in the event were: AXIS Dance Company, Ballet San Jose, Amy Siewart’s Im-aj-re, Alonzo King Lines Ballet, Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, ODC/Dance,  Robert Moses’ Kin,  San Francisco Ballet, Smuin Ballet, tinypistol, Zhukov Dance Theater.

The producers arranged a judicious balance of dance genres performed by members of the  eleven Bay Area ensembles. The Gala also served a second important function; the selections  exposed audience members to styles and companies previously seen primarily by die-hard dance lovers  attending everything.  Herbst’s stage is box-like – not exactly the best for dance, though many of local  dance history’s memorable performances occurred in the space.

Yuan Yuan Tan, solicitously partnered by Pierre-Francois Vilanoba, launched the program with the adagio to J.S. Bach’s Concerto No. 5. in Helgi Tomasson’s 2004 ballet 7 for 8.  The lighting did little for either dancer, but Tan’s lingering developpes and arabesques were all there.

Robert Moses’ 1998 solo Descongio found Katherine Wells in little girl white bloomers and tunic dancing to Chopin’s Sonata for cello and piano.  Willowy Wells rendered every shoulder roll or hand gesture assigned with her usual lyricism, though one wonders why each note required a gesture or a quirk.

Alex Ketley’s To Color Me Different, created for Sonsheree Giles and Rodney Bell of AXIS Dance company in 2008, registered the first strong departure in Gala formulas with  Bell’s masterful manipulation of his wheelchair. Giles, with constant flying leaps, seeming to assault Bell, was intense, both demonstrating why the pair earned an Izzie Ensemble Award in 2008.

Junna Ige and Maykel Solas from Ballet San Jose switched emphasis to George Balanchine as Broadway-style  choreographer in his take on “Embraceable You” from the Gershwin-inspired  1970 skillful froth Who Cares.

Maurya Kerr, one-time Alonzo King dancer, combines some of King’s torso inflections, but  manages to make a statement in her ensemble tinypistol.  Here it was Babatunji Johnson in the 2012 Freak Show; she gives her interpreters a total workout.

Sarah Van Pattern evoked the peculiarly haunting Andrew Sisters’ song “I Can Dream Can’t I?”, from Paul Taylor’s 1991 Company B,  backed by Matthew and Benjamin Stewart.

The first half of the Gala ended with Meredith Webster and Zack Tang dancing a pas de deux from Alonzo King’s 2006 ballet The Hierarchical Migration of Birds and Mammals.

K.T. Nelson required Anne Zivolich, dressed in a chic black floor-length gown, to fly all over the stage as well as dust it in the 2005 Shenanigans; Dennis  Adams appeared strategically, moving minimally, all in best fluttering hen to nonchalant  cock tradition.  They got it together,  Zivolich ending up in an odd-angled catch.

Frances Chung and Matthew Stewart continued the duet pattern in a lyrical setting to Robert Schumann music created in 2011 by James Sofranko.

Also created in 2011 was Amy Seiwart’s Divergence interpreted by Roberto Cisneros, now with Sacramento Ballet after wunderkund appearances with Smuin Ballet.

Yuri Zhukov gave the Gala a world premiere, Ember, using Martyn Garside and David Lagerqvist and a spotlight.  First one dancer tracked the other with a rolling spotlight, then spotter and spotted roles reversed, all accented by the swerving light and occasional abrupt blackout.  The men, nude to the waist and in white trousers, eventually confronted each other before a quick blackout.

The Smuin Tango Palace, 2003 brought Jane Rehm and Shannon Hurlburt as the first couple, toying with Hurburt’s fedora, on, off, on to Rehm’s head, off and tossed by Hurlburt, she in an elaborate short, provocative garment, he dressed  George Raft style.  Luscious Robin Cornwell followed with Jonathan Dummer, minus antagonism. Seeing the number on the program, I  hoped the selection would include Smuin’s sizzling male duet; no luck – just two separate couples and the wonderful tango recording.

Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada appeared in Christopher Wheeldon’s 2008 pas de deux Within the Golden Hour, dressed in seafoam blue-green, quite the most costumed dancers in the program with Kochetkova’s head adorned like a ‘Twenties socialite.  Their melting pas de deux to Vivaldi earned a prolonged applause, along with the whistles, shouts and clapping  sprinkled through the program.

An excerpt from the 2011 Light Moves with the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company closed the  Gala with its distinct change of pace and energy and Jenkins’ somewhat typical penchant for tussle as a choreographed form of  engagement.

As the dancers all emerged on stage, some already changed for the reception, the audience rendered the best possible recognition, a standing, shouting ovation.  It had been a definite dance high, and it just might become an annual affair.  I can think of other ensembles to be considered.

Scott Wells & Dancers at Counterpulse, June 3, 2012

9 Jun

Scott Wells and Dancers appeared at Counterpulse over two weekends, with the last performance on June 3.  Wells has been presenting seasons in San Francisco since 1992 using small settings where the extreme  physicality and athleticism of the ensemble impacts the viewer most strongly.  On a typical proscenium stage with a larger audience space, response would be diminished.

Two numbers were performed: At Ease and Parkour Deux, both listed as 2012 creations, six dancers in the first and nine in the second.  Both pieces were utterly reliant on trust amongst the performers, a clear understanding of individual impulse with accompanying  acute response and timing.  The women were frequently called upon to catch and balance each other and the men,
usually in transit over a shoulder, the arc of movement,  pause and balance before bounding  on ward a wonder to observe.

Parkour Deux exhibited elements of classical ballet broadened to guffaw status, the ballet barres consisting of various forms of acrobatic equipment.  This equipment was  later used as obstacles in somersaults, balancing points, and barricades against possible injury because the performers hurled themselves against the unadorned walls of Counterpulse’s compact little performance space.  Whether a solitary figure in motion, two in contact or multiple actions , the spectacle was mesmerizing watching participants whose physiques ranged from the willowy to the short and tightly knit.

Miriam Wolodarski’s command of  French, accent and cadence added to the sarcasm of Parkour Deux, particularly with her evident awareness of classical technique , a proficiency not shared by all the ensemble members.  Long time member Rajendra Serber lent a subtle insouciant timing to his assignment in both pieces.

As someone who loves classical ballet technique, I  have a hard time classifying contact improvisation as a dance genre.  With Parkour Deux and the timing of Scott Wells’ ensembles, such reservations usually vanish in the face of fascination and the ensemble’s timing.