Archive | November, 2012

Theatre Flamenco’s Flamenco en Movimiento, November 11

30 Nov

A mild, windless November afternoon at Fort Mason’s Cowell Theater is as  balmy  as it is rare  with the San Francisco  Bay water slapping at the Fort Mason  piers, sailboats bobbing at anchor, sunlight  and some stray clouds dotting the bay view of the Marin shore  and the sand-colored walls of the former  Federal Alcrataz prison., now a popular tourist destination. It helped make Theatre Flamenco’s matinee that much more special.

Forty-six years of performing have seen Theatre Flamenco morph from a student/mentor ensemble to essentially a two-woman troupe, accompanied  by a faithful group of musicians to which guest artists are added  each season.  The guest artists, while partially determined by budget, also are selected to complement artistic director  Carola Zertuche’s season’s vision; results are never dull, frequently quite surprising.  This season the emphasis was Flamenco en Movimiento, demonstrating the dynamics, the variety possible in this consistently exciting form.

Zertuche’s wonderful musicians were Jose Valle “Chuscales”, guitar; Alex Conde, piano; Jose Cortes, singer; Kina Mendez, singer;  Sudhi Rajagopal, percussionist; Sascha Jacobsen, bassist.  Cortes sang the beginnings of most numbers, with Mendez  providing intense emotional mid-sections, yielding to Cortes for the finale, an arrangement,  heightening the trajectory of the dances.

The program cover displayed an image of the stereotypical slick-haired Spanish male, sleek, assured, his black costume ending in equally elegant multiple layers of ruffled skirt, rose clutched in the mouth, hands grasping castaneos.  To substantiate this provocative image, the program provided three guest artists, including  Nol Simonse,  one of the Bay Area’s most supple, gifted modern dancers .  I had seen him before in a taffeta ball gown as a member of Company Chaddick, so his assignment was not so surprising, though his employment was unusual.  He stamped, barefooted, in ensemble numbers with the best of those making audible taconeo, his arms harmonizing with flamenco port de bras if clearly inflected by  modern dance and ballet.

The eight numbers, four before and four following intermission, allowed the artists solos in addition to the ensembles beginning and closing the performance. The participating dancers in addition to Zertuche were Cristina Hall, Antonio Arrebola, Nino de los Reyes.

With Movimiento de la Farruca, Antonio Arrebola led off the solos. He is a tall, rangy-built man who looked like he could  be equally at home on a soccer field and like a distant cousin of the late Lew Christensen or a descendant of one of the wandering Visigoths. Arrebola’s arms spread at moments like a glider or a mammoth bird carried by the wind currents, turning tightly, his taconeo precise. While dressed like a citizen on a break from work, he presented with  a touch of nobility.

Cristina Hall, appearing regularly with Theatre Flamenco, is small, finely boned and blonde. Una Guajira en Moveimento displayed her with a fan with a fluid-lined, cream-colored dress with fluid lines, unexpectedly tie-dyed at the back,  an unexpected, fascinating  accent punctuated with her use of the fan, opening, closing, held against her cheek, tapped on the shoulder, resting closed or open on the hip, swung side to hip open or closed as she bent, twirled and executed taconeo.

Los Palos en Movimento with Nino de los Reyes followed, as explosive a technician ans Arrebola was introverted, as squarish in build as Arrebola was tall.

Following Intermission, Simonse was featured in La Libertad del Moviminento in skirted Spanish style, moving adroitly in keeping with the  guitar  later joined by Arrebola in similar garb in Un Movimiento para Dos. They provided a background for Carola Zertuche in El Movimiento de la Solea.  The use of fabric by the two men with her was singularly effective, arresting visually though it did seem more effect than emotionally compelling.  Still, one has to admire Zertuche for pushing the dance borders while remaining true to flamenco
rhythms and style.

The company finished with Flamenco en Movimiento.  While I can’t always agree with what she envisions, I look forward eagerly to  Carola Zertuche’s fertile vision of what the flamenco tradition can embrace.  Some day perhaps, we can also enjoy some clarification of all the exponents listed in artistic credits.  The influences and personalities shaping the artists would be more than just a tantalizing list of living mysteries.

Dennis Nahat in China

27 Nov

While Dennis Nahat is busy in northern China [Dalian] preparing for the premiere of his extravagant production November 27-30, Company C  Contemporary Ballet with its headquarters in Walnut Creek have announced that his  Ontogeny, originally created for The Royal Swedish Ballet and danced later by American Ballet Theatre, will be danced in the company’s spring season, San Francisco May 2-4  at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts,  and May 9-12 at the Dean Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.

Yulan is the title of the Nahat extravaganza;  from the photos of costumes, some rehearsal shots and conferences the production looks like full stop out!  If any one has seen the Nahat Blue Suede Shoes, Yulan apparently will enjoy even more theatrics.  Nahat writes ” We are in the last leg of rehearsal now..All is going well with the normal technical and staging problems that get solved each day …better and better each time.  The show looks wonderful and everyone who has been invited to see rehearsal is astounded at the versatility and beauty of the show.  I’m very proud of everyone.

“..Everyone is now very excited because they see what power they have in doing it right and that what I’ve asked for with each change and correction is meaningful…During the past three days it has been a revelation to all after I moved things around and corrected the entire stage set up and sound…. I said ‘The drawing is a drawing, not the stage.’  The show is terrific and is a knock out production. Everyone in the management of the Ministry of Culture from throughout the country is coming…shows are sold out. ”  Earlier Dennis had written ” Some guests are flying in from as far away as Chicago, Hong Kong and Japan, including some very prominent, high profile people from the Bay Area Asian Community.”

“Press conference went well– I was told it has been on the news all around China.. Beijing has reported hearing on radio stations as has Shanghai…What they are saying the news already is ‘We have never seen such a diverse production using so many of the talents of China and the US in one show.  It is stunning from beginning to end.

“…Program took me three weeks to compile – learning Chinese characters isn’t easy!  But I have great assistant…”

Earlier Dennis had written that Paul Chihara was having his welcome in the POC.  “Paul will be in Bejing for four days before coming here,  Since our recording he has become a big hit with the Beijing University Music Department and is setting up classes and collaborations now with the University in Los Angeles.  We sent him on a lecture on “Music Composition in Hollywood” — he was sensational.

Diablo Ballet’s Three Premieres November 17

22 Nov

Artistic Director Lauren Jonas possesses a healthy amount of taste; it certainly was on display for Diablo Ballet’s fall performances at Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.  You can also include in that estimate a capacity for wide variety for the dances seen November 16-17 ranged from an extended erotic pas de deux to Jose Limon’s inconic The Moor’s Pavane, ending with Sean Kelly’s commissioned work, A Swingin’ Holiday for four couples and a sizeable swing orchestra.

David Fonnegra was responsible for mounting Vicente Nebrada’s three part Scriabin offering Lento a Tempo e Appassionata played by Roy Bogas with his usual reliable panache.  Fonnegra partnered Hiromi Yamazaki, one of the Bay Area natives who danced elsewhere before returning to the Bay Area.  In the first third, as well as the other two, the pair kept pivoting around each other, the spiral modulating into a supported plunging arabesque, some variation of fish dive, or a left to the shoulder or grand jete aloft which rapidly assumed a different posture, invariably with beautiful finishes in the port de bras.

The middle section saw Yamazaki and Fonnegra separate physically only to rush towards each other to accomplish a spectacular climax to the musical phrase.  When it came to Appassionnato, you got it, rushes together separately, turns and spins of great urgency, concluding on the stage floor intertwined. It was a  major partnering job for Fonnegra and plenty of spacial daring required of Yamazaki, both expertly realized their demands.

After a pause the curtains parted on a reprise of Jose Limon’s The Moor’s Pavane to the music of Henry Purcell, music more popularly recognized as used by Jerome Robbins.  Just four dancers, a swirling red robe for Derek Sakakura as The Moor,  striking sinister hues of mustard for His Friend, interpreted by Robert Dekkers.  Mounted by Gary Masters, the Moor’s Wife was
danced by Heather Cooper and His Friend’s Wife by Maria Basile, both guesting from SjDance Co, headed by Masters.  Mounting this iconic modern dance work is a major event anywhere.

In the Lucas Hoving role, Dekkers came close to the wily deadpan which creates such a sinister aura within the formal structure, where the four dance together, then the men, then the couples, the quartet and all too soon the Moor is tormented into his fatal action.  As noted elsewhere, the quartet dances towards one another,  rather than to the audience.

Sakakura, his chest too large for the costume, conveyed a cooler Moor than one might expect, although his anguish toward the end was plain, having danced it twice before and thus the  opportunity to grow in the portrayal.  Technically quite adequate, I felt I was seeing a Moor with samurai training.

Cooper and Basile both brought maturity to their roles, Basile’s use of her persimmon velvet skirts taunting, flirtatious, a smirk on her face more open to persuasion than the oblique smile of Pauline Koner, while Cooper’s Wife was even more neutral than remembered with Betty Jones.  If Moor’s Pavane goes to Diablo Ballet’s  San Jose and Hillbarn engagements in the spring, it will be interesting to see how the interpretations evolve in this engrossing, classic work.

Following intermission the program closed with Sean Kelly’s A Swingin’ Holiday, utilizing four couples, highly colored zoot suits for the men, ‘Thirties glamour for the women and a fifteen piece orchestra to blare the music hyped up swing era style. The dancers rose to the stylistic challenge ably; it was very nice to see Aaron Orza back on stage since departing San Francisco Ballet.

Kelly created dances appropriate to the music, but a unifying thread was missing, leaving the pas de huit with a series of dances, entrances, greetings and then minor vignettes leaving the impression that strangers had gathered in a night club or dive, but essentially were unconnected.

Peninsula Ballet Theatre’s Dracula, October 26

14 Nov

The refurbished Fox Theater in Redwood City provides a lush movie heyday atmosphere, even though half the orchestra seats have been removed to provide a more multi-use venue. It  has the advantage of enough height so that it can fly scenery, making for real theater.

The Fox has become Peninsula Ballet Theatre (PBT)’s resident theater, organized originally  by modern dancer Richard Ford and ballet teacher Richard Gibson in 1967.  Gibson trained Kristine Elliott and Kenny Delmar among other serious dancers. Both Richards went on to other dance-related activities and both company and school was guided for some time by the late Ann Copozzi Bena and her daughter Rosine. The latter is now artistic director of the Sierra Nevada Ballet in Reno, and a certified teacher in the ABT curriculum.

A brief number of seasons ensued before Carlos Carvajal settled in for a nine-year run as artistic director utilizing competent dancers from a variety of schools for the annual ‘Nutcracker’ and a few programs of Carvajal ballets. Carvajal was responsible for engaging Chris Christensen as music conductor of “Nutcracker.” The production was distinctive because  local adult  individuals performed in the First Act, honing their roles through the years with remarkable skill. Carvajal added wonderful touches for the Act II variations. During the Carvajal tenure Claude Dietrich A. was commissioned by President Christine Leslie to design the company’s fluid logo.

Prior to Bruce Stieval’s arrival in 2009, the company was briefly directed by Michael Lowe and Mario Alonso,  dancers with Oakland Ballet when it was directed by Ronn Guidi.  Stieval, artistic director of Nevada Ballet Theatre following the retirement of founding artistic director Vassili Sulich, came to PBT with credits as chairman of the former Luxembourg International Ballet Competition, extensive directorial experience in Hong Kong, Korea and reputation as a master teacher internationally.  Christine Leslie, long-time PBT President, has become executive director of the organization and in charge of the re-activated school.

Stieval’s Dracula had the advantage of atmospheric music of the Polish composer Wojciech Kilar, awarded the 1992 ASCAP award for the musical he provided by Francis Ford Coppola’s film “Dracula.” The taped music, with the exception of the Johann Strauss II’s waltz in Act I, must have come from the movie’s score.

In his conception Stieval switched  artistic Christian  forms from  Orthodox to  Roman, evidenced in the chapel where the central figure is Christ crucified, feet crossed. As a suicide Dracula’s dead wife is denied Christian burial.  Dracula’s curse to God turns him into a vampire.  The scene, enhanced by eight nuns and a priest, introduced guest artist Milos Marijan. His Dracula is a handsome young man, long tapering legs, excellent pirouettes and jetes.  On the agenda, rapid transitions of location, and fateful bedtime activities.

A Victorian garden scene followed where the music supplied is a Johann Strauss II waltz, chosen because Stieval could not retrieve similar music from the Kilar composition roster. The garden  backdrop conveyed more sunlit Italian piazza than dappled English garden.  Lucy, about to meet her death at the hands of Milos Marijan’s  Dracula, was danced by Amanda McGovern, enjoying the attentions of suitors Aiden DeYoung, Michael Dunsmore and Jacob Kreamer. Mina, guest artist Bojana Zegarac, appears, affianced to Jonathan,  a bystander. During a later stroll, Lucy and Dracula meet and Dracula starts his destruction.  Mina, walking in the garden, is drawn to Dracula.

Jonathan in the meantime is in Count Dracula’s castle in Transylvania to handle  business affairs; at night in bed he finds he must fend off three malevolent female figures, greedy for gore,  making for many lifts and females running around the bed .

In London, Lucy is attended by Professor Helsing a vampire authority, advising garlic clusters, the cross and holy water as protection. Alone, Dracula manages to circumvent the protections and drains Lucy’s blood.

Helsing and Lucy’s suitors discuss Lucy’s death and the way to release her soul.  Jonathan arrives. At the crypt she is missing;  she is searching for a victim.  She tries to lure Jonathan.  When her body lies in the crypt one of the quartet drives a stake in her heart to release her spirit.

You guessed it, Mina and Dracula meet in Mina’s bedroom .  Love springs between them and Mina offers herself to Dracula, so dying at his hands, she too can become a vampire.  The suitors arrive to save her, but Mina follows Dracula.

The countryside, en route to Dracula’s castle, sees the ensemble’s orgy while protecting a casket from which Dracula later appears.  Mina disappears and the suitors cope with disbursing Dracula’s wives.  The casket is lain at the altar, Dracula emerges.  Mina appears, the suitors fight to save her, and manage to kill Dracula.  Mina has disappeared, but then she arrives  Dracula enfolds her in his arms placing them both in the casket and closes the lid.

Stievel created his group scenes with skill, whether ecclesiastical, social or wildly rustic.  Given the plot some  pas de deux were predictable while beautifully executed by the guest artists. .  Because of the plot, a seamless progression from scene to scene is impossible, but overall it was enjoyable and absorbing.  I must say I rarely have enjoyed a bow as much as Zegarac’s,  the picture of graceful acknowledgment  was rendered at an angle  making one realize Belgrade’s Opera House’s former  royal box  must be close to stage left.

Ballet San Jose’s Gala November 3

11 Nov

For the first time, Ballet San Jose opened its season with a Gala, featuring a company premiere, war horse pas de deux, some excerpts and a full short ballet culled from American Ballet Theatre’s repertoire.  It also resurrected the use of a full orchestra, led by George Daugherty,  missing in the spring season, its first without its founding artistic director Dennis Nahat.  The program was the joint selection of  Artistic Advisor Wes Chapman and Ballet Master Raymond Rodriguez.

A Gala is designed to whip up interest for the later season, displaying the company roster to  advantage after a fund-minded dinner and before a congratulatory post-performance event. Entering the Frank Lloyd Wright auditorium, characterized everywhere without a center aisle, the front orchestra rows, some eight or so, were vacant, clearly meant for the audience paying $1000 for the privilege, $800 of which was to support a Ballet San Jose community-related activity.

Seated center orchestra, mid-way up, I found myself behind a massive head of white hair; after switching for the final work, a tall head inclined to move to the music, hazards of the no aisle seating arrangement.  The program itself featured an obviously staged photo by Quinn Wharton, dominated by a brunette in a short strapless dress, one knee up on a black backed chair.Its purpose seemed to convey patroness in front of the dancers, two men and a dancer in tutu in broad fourth position, one man on the left stripped to the waist, apparently warming up using scenery for his  barre and the street clothed male to the right, leaping while holding on to a stick.

However, The Nutcracker’s Waltz of the Flowers opened the program featuring eight couples, the women’s knee-length costumes in shades of peach and with paniers, the men sporting green tights with grey vests, flowers and their stems.  This was the first view of Karen Gabay’s take on the holiday staple which will be premiered fully in December.  While the Waltz lacked the focus of a central couple, Gabay’s use of symmetry, varying groups of four to eight and several grand circles, both as couples and men versus women, proved easy on the eyes and agreeable to the mood.  Rita Felciano remarked, “After all, the waltz has always been a couple dance.”

Sir Frederick Ashton’s creation to Jules Massenet’s “Meditation from Thais,” followed with its quasi-oriental garment design by Sir Anthony Dowell,  original male partner to Dame Antoinette Sibley’s Thais.  Subsequent performers have had a hard time matching their supple classicism or conveying that the courtesan Thais is a projection of the Monk’s imagination.  It’s a hard business being very physical, a priest, in his imagination lusting for  the courtesan while pretending she should lead a celibate life in the desert.

This tricky pas de deux, staged by Bruce Sansom, former Royal Ballet principal, was interpreted by Rudy Candia and Alexsandra Meijer with Rachel Lee as violinist.  Meijer’s elegant legs,  displayed to advantage,  were given support by Candia, but ease was missing, Meijer  more austere than evanescent.

From late nineteenth century romanticism Edward Stierle’s athletic, heavily emotional solo from the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Requiem was an explosive contrast.  Created by Stierle as he was dying from AIDS, Lacrymosa challenged Joshua Seibel to start and end with shoulder stands, legs stretched towards the ceiling.  In between, turns, tumbles and other gymnastic skills were required.  I had seen Brooklyn Mack dance it to recorded music at the Jackson Competition in 2010 in tribute to Stierle, but here both sides of the stage apron were filled with The Golden Gate Boys Choir Master Singers dressed in white middies with red ties and skirts who supported soprano Kristin Clayton.  It’s great to employ the community but the contrast jarred.

To see Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun make her Ballet San Jose debut dancing to Bach in Stanton Welch’s ballet Clear was sheer pleasure. With  Jeremy Kovitch, the two echoed the adagio in this work highly influenced by 9/11.  Pipit-Suksun’s musical line, thorough has an unforced finish.  Her emotional presence within the strict demands of this Western classical form flows beyond its boundaries.  In this elegiac pas de deux Pipit-Suksun delivered quiet consolation; later she was pert ensemble  accent  in  Stars and Stripes.  I’m glad  she is still dancing  to Bay Area audiences.

Junna Ige and Maykel Solas danced in white for the Act III pas de deux from Don Quixote. Had they been backed by a set, the costumes would have been fine; as stand alone bravura it needs more flash in the attire.  They are a nicely matched, charming  pair.  In well-schooled Japanese style,  Ige eschews  accent to her finishes. Demure,  a little emphasis is in order, along with consistency in the working foot in fouettes; they tended to become flaccid after the initial thrust.  Solas was, as always, consistent.

Dalia Rawson arranged a complicated mixture of the Ballet San Jose students to Tchaikovsky’s polonaise finale,  a visual announcement of enrollment and instruction,  the new school direction and training based on the American Ballet Theatre curriculum. There was definitely a lot to be seen from tots to teenagers, beginners to apprentice-worthy adolescents.  She used lines, circles, entrances and exits to accomplish the presentation. The audience just loved it, cheering as it did through most of the evening.

Balanchine’s Fifth Campaign from Stars and Stripes brought the full company on stage, if giving Ramon Moreno, Maria Jacobs-Yu and Karen Gabay cameo appearances.  Usually an evening’s ending work, it still was infectious.

The late Clark Tippet’s Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 provided the evening’s finale, allowing four couples solo variations with eight couples as support  Tippet attempted to differentiate the various themes, a little puckish and flirtation by Mirai Noda and Ramon Moreno, sparkle by Junna Ige and Maykel Solas.  Strong assertion by Amy Marie Briones and Maximo Califano demonstrated that Briones’ attack and flair is definite stimulus to Califano.  Alexsandra Meijer and Jeremy Kovitch were paired for the adagio. Meijer’s admirable line got blocked somewhere in  shoulder and head, individual interpretation at  odds with Rachel Lee’s violin passage.

For a first Gala, Ballet San Jose displayed competence;  it remains committed to pleasing an audience.  One awaits Karen Gabay’s Nutcracker and  2013 to assess  its new trajectory.