Archive | December, 2012

Two S.F. Ballet Nuts, December 20, 24

31 Dec

Balletomanes and music lovers frequent share an obsession of comparing dancers in traditional roles. More or less I share this fairly narcissistic pastime, finding myself side-tracked on You Tube when referencing a particular dancer or ballet sequence. However, if we didn’t so indulge, we might disappoint the dancers who work hard, inviting us to cite precedents and rate successes.

Nutcracker certainly provides an opportunity for upcoming dancers to essay a variety of roles and for corps members to gain experience in complex partnering. Lacking other responsibilities, I’d gladly sit through three or four performances to see who’s coming along and how well they take center stage. As it was, I saw two, December 20 evening and December 24 matinee.

I found myself thinking this Christmas Eve seeing San Francisco Ballet in its 1915-themed production of this work. Willam Christensen premiered in 1944 with Russell Hartley designing the costumes with cast off curtains and other thrift store items in wartime San Francisco, Bolivian-born Antonio Sotomayor designing the decor.  I saw the original production  in 1946 or 1947 in my home town high school auditorium.

For 12/20 Yuri Possokhov was Drosselmeyer, Jennifer Stahl the Sugar Plum Fairy with Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets in the grand pas de deux; Yuan Yuan Tan and Vito Mazzeo battled the cascades of snow as the monarchs of winter and the Mouse King was an exuberant Sean Orza.

Myles Thatcher, Madison Keesler and Daniel Deivision were the dancing dolls on December 20. The challenge for the trio was being limber and liquid for the Arlequin, stiff joint articulation forthe feminine doll and jaunty briskness for the magical nutcracker, the trio entirely adequate to the task. Atticus Simmons was a nasty Fritz for both occasions, Juliet Doherty for Clara December 20. Louis Schilling was Madame de Cirque both performances; in Romeo and Juliet you could recognize Schilling as the Duke of Verona, in both roles quite hefty. Sylve and Helimets filled the term “grand pas de deux,” cool but expansive.

On Christmas Eve Sylve became the authoritative Sugar Plum Fairy, guiding Val Caniparoli’s Drosselmeyer and Clara through the ghostly evocation of the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers as Davit Karapetyan and Maria Kochetkova presented an impeccable grand pas de deux. For the King and Queen of the Snow, Tiit Helimets squired Wan Ting Zhao, while the fist shaking Mouse King was Sebastian Vinet. On the 24 the doll trio were Francisco Mungamba, Clara Blanco and James Sofranko. Mungamba’s phrasing was distinctive as well as supple while Blanco’s definitive blank-eyed doll  isalmost as an institution; Sofranko’s little nut bruiser was brisk as all get out.

Special mention needs to go to Charlotte Ogden-Moore; jer Clara seemed imbued with spontaneous reaction, in the moment, with a joy and instinctive phrasing reminding me of early Audrey Hepburn films.

I particularly wanted to see Zhao as the Queen of the Snow with her background at the National Academy in Beijing, representing some sixty years of training in the school founded by Dai Ai-Lian at the behest of Chao En-Lai. Beautifully proportioned, as one expects from state-run ballet academies, her attack is clear, confident and musical, and behind the blur of phony snow, a natural pleasure and warmth seemed to lurk. One looks forward to additional assignments.

Two Drosselmeyers could not be more divergent in approach: Possokhov the expansive pater familias for all his single appearance and Caniparoli geniality and the lurking grandiose gesture.

Celebrants: Mark Foehringer’s Nutcracker December 16 matinee

28 Dec

Seeing Mark Foehringer’s 50-minute Nutcracker in its new setting, Fort Mason’s Southside Theater, is a reminder of many things besides  the holiday season with its usual Nutcrackers. Prime item in this checklist is “how the performing arts meet fiscal realities.”

Ever since Mark Foehringer settled in San Francisco, his own sensibility, his own voice, has been loud and clear, whatever its financial backing, whether in Mountain View, at what now is Lam Research Theater at Yerba Buena, The Zeum Theater or the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s International Piano Festival. With a creator’s own voice, the varying degree of what is authentically human and possibly aesthetic is open for assessment.  For aesthetic read what is considered art and beauty.

On Fort Mason’s Webside, Southside is listed as having 180 seats, situated in Building C’s Third Floor.  Placing tall scenery in the stage space with nearly a dozen musicians tucked in off stage is one major accomplishment.  When Drosselmeyer ships the first offending mouse off to Siberia in the human-sized wooden crate, the shoving must occur in three feet where, at the Zeum, there was perhaps five or six feet.  When the tree starts its ascent, it can rise at Southside perhaps half the height managed at Zeum.

What does happen is that Drosselmeyer can swish his cape with compensatory zeal.  I tell you true no one makes up for the spatial  lack better and with more relish than Brian Fisher.  The triple casting of the remaining characters is judicious, the necessary rapidity required testifies to Foehringer’s ingenuity, using the aisles and the space between audience and apron.

The musicians need to be saluted and Michael Morgan’s skill in editing Tchaikovsky’s wonderful score.  With the added bonus of the Sunday Fort Mason Farmer’s Market before the matinee, few days could be more pleasantly spent.

Yaelisa’s Chrismas Offering, ODC, December 12-16

28 Dec

With “10 por Arriba” Yaelisa returned to ODC Theater where she and her ensemble had presented monthly tablaos prior to its remodeling. now with her core performers and one guest artist.  Like Carola Zertuche of Theatre Flamenco the male baelerin needs to be a guest. In this instance it was Manuel Gutierrez with the percussionist/drummer Joey Heredia adding to the panache as well as  the accomplished flamenco singer Jose Cortes.  Cellist Dan Reiter, Pianist Vicki Trimbach and tenor Ray Chavez contributed  to the evening’s magic.

The San Francisco area is blessed to have  such periodic productions, as well as the La Tania, Fanny Ara and Clara Rodriguez  occasional presentations or guest appearances.  One former Spanish dancer told me the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most active flamenco centers in the United States.

Yaelisa set the stage as if for rehearsal with the dancers entering casually, deliberately, still lost in transition from the street and personal consideration.  First, Yaelisa, ready to commence practice, heard the  Brandenberg Concerto No 3 in G, instead of flamenco guitar or a Spanish piano piece; her reaction, being “oh, no, not that!” but the music continued and her stamp of protest became one of acquiescence, rising to the baroque cadences, adapting taconeo and port de bras to the music’s fulsome formality.  During the course of the concerto Melissa Cruz, Fanny Ara and Manuel Gutierrez joined her, all finishing with a flourish.

Continuing the Western classical tradition, Fanny Ara played Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, before the company danced Canestera and Joey Heredia  demonstrated how his percussion — drumming and cajon — can be spell binding. Jason McGuire and Yaelisa collaborated on J.S. Bach’s  Fugue in A. Minor, a reminder of the classical  qualities of the guitar and McGuire’s own versatility.

Vicki Trimbach and Dan Reiter performed “Piece en form de Habenera” before Melissa Cruz sang Lost Cause with a quiet,  little girl quality, accompanying herself on the guitar.

The company danced Tangos before the intermission.

Vicki Trimbach showed her stripes with the composition Non Mi riguardi, sung by Ray Chavez, accompanied by Trimbach on the piano, Dan Reiter at the cello with Yaelisa assuming the role of the Gypsy in the vignette set in 2012 Italy. The plot possessed all the impossibilities of La Strada or the worst U.S. Recession scenario, allowing  Yaelisa to handle her mantilla with accustomed skill and Chavez to sing of his abysmal situation with fervor.  Trimbach’s  creation deepened the meaning of arriba,  a word which can mean anything from onward to free or gratis.

Manuel Gutierrrez’ turn at center stage found him at his usual bursts of  taconeo, pauses and pacing.  This time he kept his jacket on until his impassioned exit; the interval remained exciting, not only for the aforementioned qualities but wondering when the jacket would be shed.

The ensemble joined for the finale before Jose Cortes sang the Rumba Gitana with his usual force and varying melismas. A program to savor, anticipating another spate of innovations,  If this be deviation from the norm, l  can only say, Brava, Yaelisa.

Mummenschanz, November 25

20 Dec

Like Christmas, Thanksgiving gives presenters the opportunity to book a special genre of entertainment so theaters have something families can attend, relax and enjoy.

In my opinion, the prevalence of such theatrical diversions are in short supply.  The offering needs to be mild, funny, festooned with whimsy or acrobatics, neatly paced, and, if possible, engage the audience directly.  If the combination comes close, and manages to be civilized, oh so much the better.

Mummenschanz meets all of the above and more; extraordinary, it is one of the gems late twentieth, now twenty-first century theater experiences, celebrating 40 years of performance.  Cal Performance was astute in presenting the ensemble in Thanksgiving matinees November 23-24-25.  I attended the final matinee, only my second exposure to such magic, coming away more enthralled and satisfied that my first foray to its magical terrain.   All accomplished with four individuals, two men, two women, Floriana Frassetto remains the only one of the original quartet captivating Broadway audiences, 1977-1980.  Mummenschanz is today’s tribute to the commedia dell ‘arte tradition; hardly surprising, given the names of the artists.

I have asked myself, “What is it about Mummenschanz’ brief sketches which are so absorbing, compelling fascinating – really.the whole nine yards?”  Of course, the quartet reaches out to ensnare the child in each adult and the responses of anyone from two to twenty.

They accomplish this in several ways, which while sure fire, also demand first-rate timing plus a fine tuning of sensibilities. Mild danger is one of them such as the big orange-pink balloon careening out of center stage, rolling down to the apron to tilt precariously, galvanizing will audience hands to assist its balance before it returns to center stage and exits behind the curtains drawn to shorten the proscenium width.  A crinkled, yellow tube worms its way across the limited opening, turns to the audience, its tubular top a dark, blank circle.  Said tube shuffles or undulates its way around the space; a ball is tossed to it from behind the curtain.  It appears that the ball is sucked to the end of the tube; a play with it ensues.  Sometimes the balance is off center, and one wonders how ball and tube will remain together.

One brief sequence recalls Mummenschanz’ iconic image.  It is the insect, someone crossing the stage horizontally, feet in releve, hands completing the suggestion of one of those critters one swats on the ceiling or flicks off the leaf of a favorite plant.

Two narratives are beguiling and riveting.  A man emerges, then a woman; they encounter each other.  He begins to woo her with the aid of a toilet paper roll which he unrolls like a ream of poetry.  The viewers begin to chuckle.  Dressed in near union suite like tights, the encounter proceeds.  As the dialogue continues, another toilet paper roll, light powder blue, unrolls from the woman’s face.  She rejects him with a rolling explanation.  He responds, crying with another roll.  She thinks better of her comments with another cascade, and they waft off together trailing remaining rolls to the continued waves of audience laughter, wondering how large the supply of rolls is required for each tour.

The second sketch was with two men with the pretentious posture of aging men in an exclusive men’s club not known for its progressive membership.  In their conversation bluster and antagonism is evident and the measure of their duking it out comes with the aid of  dirty white play dough.  The mask of each male is manipulated  piece by piece as if delivering arguments in a debate with pauses for reaction and allowing the audience to see how the play dough is altered in each “delivery.”  The finale makes one of the two look like a mask inspired by the William Steig cartoon, “These ailments are purely psychic.”

Pietro Montandon, Raffaeli Mattioli and Philippe Egli complete the quartet.  Cal Performance should add Mummenschanz to its list of regular events: Mark Morris, Alvin Ailey Dance Company.  We should be so blessed!

Angles of Enchantment, ODC Theatre December 2

13 Dec

Janice  Garrett- Charles Moulton Productions gave Angles of Enchantment its last performance December 2 at 7:30 p.m. at ODC’’s Theatre; I am grateful I made it.  What they produce exhibits an airiness of vision, a certain indefinable approach exciting and soothing at the same time.  Leaving one grateful to have witnessed a performance is no mean achievement;  this pair accomplishes  it  for one’s digestion, if you allow the  mixed  metaphor.

Angles of Enchantment utilized four dancers possessing varied  heights and skeletal frames; tiny Tanya Bello, regal  Carolina Czechowska, lean Tegan Schwab and lyrical Nol Simonse; one musician/composer Peter Whitehead, Margaret Hatcher for costume design, aided by Julienne Weston with Audrey Wright’s lighting design.  Indicative of the esteem with which the couple is regarded, three foundations and two civic-based organizations helped contribute to  production costs for this departure to the choreographers’ usual roster of performers, easily quadruple the four seen in this work..

Whitehead both sang and rendered his composition with recording, also playing a variety of instruments; said objects were grabbed by a dancer at one point, creating a little whimsy plus minor battle;  dancer would grasp instrument and be relieved of same.  Each dancer appeared in solo format and then joined in a pas de trois, pas de deux or, finally, in pas de quatre .
Spotlights shone during solos, while the lines of the dancers created shifting shapes, sometimes fleeting, sometimes sculptural; in one instance reluctant cuddly bench partners toyed with should I-shouldn’t I advances and retreats, the forms of embraces unusual for conventional come ons.

The narration and connections are largely audience-supplied, particularly when the dancers donned white costumes with de Cuevas-like headdresses and the women tutus a Nutcracker Snow Queen could envy: feathery topped skirts, pouffy underpinning, adroit blinking lights.

Fully half my enjoyment came from the sizes and shapes of the dancers as they interacted.  Carolina Czechowska reminds me of  Martine Van Hamel’s presence, an impression fortified by the strongest pointe ever seen on a modern dancer; Tegan Schwab displays an athletic-faceted silhouette, echoing my impression of the late Lois Bewley, and Simonse, he’s in his own special niche while Tanya Bello makes me understandt the acclaim of certain late 19th century Russian ballerinas.  This, of course, had little to do with what was seen, but everything to do with a roving mind in the audience.  I appreciate the chance to have such triggers.  Art is supposed to stimulate and certainly Angles of Enchantment did just that.

Ballet San Jose’s New Nutcracker

12 Dec

Karen Gabay was commissioned to choreograph Ballet San Jose’s “Nutcracker,” following the unfortunate departure of Dennis Nahat, leaving his production of the holiday perennial in limbo. Ms. Gabay was affiliated with that production from its second season onward; thus,  her familiarity with the score, the plot and the choreography was quite logical.

Equally logical, I suppose, was the use of American Ballet Theatre’s production mounted by Mikhail Baryshnikov; it got a new audience and I am sure ABT got some sort of rental out of it. While there were some pleasing touches in Paul Kelly’s designs for the production, the drop curtain’s blue with its concave snow scene and nestled cabins was almost garish in its intensity; it was little relieved by the border with a nutcracker on one side, a pink-tutued dancer arms en couronne on the other side and toys scattered over and around the top. With a fin de siecle First Act set with deep brown walls, it was hard to fathom what had happened to the excitement and the warmth  associated with other versions.  I credit Theoni V. Aldredge,  the original designer, with the women’s gracefully flowing costumes.  George Daugherty kept the orchestra at a lively clip and David K. H. Elliott lit the story with his usual sensitivity.

Raymond Rodriguez, the company ballet master, became Drosselmeyer in  nearly stringed-puppet style, his dark hair topped by an obvious white wig and  demeanor which seemed to copy Charlie Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux, unlike his hilarious  gimpy general in Graduation Ball.  His Drosselmeyer  is a bit of a misogynist;  the family maid  had to heist his bulky box of tricks and gifts.

For opening night, Maria Jacobs-Yu and  Ramon Moreno were cast as Marie and her Prince. Other pairs include Karen Gabay and Maykel Solas and Alexsandra Meijer and Jeremy Kovitch.

The child Clara has been abandoned for an adult Marie dressed in demure calf-length white with touches of lace at the collar and wrists. Mirai Noda participated in a pantomime of ‘The Hard Nut’ where three males contend to crack the nut which will release a royal coma  from the touch of a slinking mouse;  the King and Queen go into paroxysms of grief anger and ineffective broom wielding.  The two unsuccessful suitors, Nimble and Nye, danced by Akira Takahashi and Peter Hershey, danced a pas de deux of a quality equal to their names, one of the best crafted in the ballet and, yes, nimbly executed.

Marie was  assigned the Sugar Plum Fairy music in Act I as a kind of reverie before the mice come round.  Marie was all over the ballet, except the Russian, Arabic and Chinese variations in Act II;   for all Jacobs-Yu’s skill and charm , this omnipresence diminished instead of cohering the story. Ramon Moreno, whose grand jetes, jazz style [en face instead of on a diagonal] were peppered around to a fault, danced with his usual panache; he was allowed to give the hand and cheek of Marie, a refreshing human touch.

Both the Snow Scene and the opening of Act II included students from the San Jose Ballet School, Snow en pointe and Act II opening in soft shoe; that like a year-end student recital. The Waltz of the Flowers, seen previously at the company Gala in November, repeated its geometrical paces with Jacobs-Yu and Moreno making a late appearance as the central couple.

The variations were danced with great energy, the Russian enhanced by Amy Marie Briones as the central figure, doffing her cap at the finale after having dazzled us with the forceful  turns and  strong jumps.  Three Japanese dubbed as Chinese for that variation – Akira Takahashi, Mirai Noda and Junna Ige maneuvering in “Oriental” pastiche typical of Russian ballet.  When it came to the Arabian, Maximo Califano was permitted polygamy with Ruth Ann Namey and Nutnaree Pipit-Suskun.  The latter’s gestures conveyed everything  expected in sensual allure;  hip swivels  delivered with understated humor.

Califano, it should be noted, did more than a lion’s share in the production, moving from the Rat King to the Arabian before shoving himself into Mere Maxine’s eighteenth century hoops which sheltering students dressed as an  international  covey of children.

I enjoy the artistry of Jacobs-Yu and Moreno; but  the choreography did not  create some possible spectacular phrasing in the grand pas de deux.  Emphasized were supported pirouettes, arabesques and attitudes, few, if any, lifts where the Tchaikovsky score swelled to suggest a physical echo.  Since Gabay is  dancing in the production,  Marie’s role may have been tailored to her own technical range.

My reservations did not seem shared with other audience members.  The woman in front of me rose spontaneously when the dancers bowed to the audience.

Somos Tierra: A Flamenco Landscape November 24

6 Dec


From the lovely California  coastal city of Santa Barbara two contemporary flamenco exponents have emerged within the last decade: Clara Rodriguez and Timo Nunez.  If the dancers are using their family names, they represent  Americans pursuing a Spanish heritage, whether direct or filtered through Latin America or Mexico.  Their pursuit has been clearly vigorous and intense
as evidenced in Somos Tierra, November 25 at Fort Mason’s Cowell Theater.  Rodriguez  produced the evening; Nunez was guesting from Los Angeles and La Tania crossed the Bay to contribute two dances.

The single evening of flamenco brought out not only a raft of local afficionados but the excellent musicians who appear with Theatre Flamenco: Sudhi Rajagopal, Kina Mendez and Jose Cortes. Added were guitarist  Gabriel Lautaro Osuna, hailing from Los Angeles, and David McLean, who composed the majority of the music as well as playing guitar.
Kina Mendez started the program with Nana a la Luna- Lullaby to the Moon.  She seemed in her element, strong with edgy qualities half way between declamation and song, reinforced by empathic ole murmurs from the audience.

Suena el Alba – Sounds of Dawn followed with Clara Rodriguez, a slight and swift woman with medium-brown hair, a nearly oval face and a swift attack to the sounds of David McLean’s guitar.  She seemed tense if accurate, clearly with the rhythm, the beat; tension is, normal when one is in charge of a program.

Luz or Light followed with the three dancers together.. and the first glimpse of Timo Nunez as well as La Tania.  Nunez is tall, slender legged, his head a handsome oblong, wearing white shoes, their  metallic decorations calling attention to the feet, and a metallic hued vest over a brown shirt, interfering with the visual impact of the torso.  La Tania was dressed in a filmy black dress fluttering around her ankles.

How to describe my visual response to the trio in their unison rendition?  La Tania possesses  liquidity, sensual, oddly relaxed  considering the forcefulness  of heel work.  She seems to ease into her timing, where Rodriguez and Nunez hit the rhythm smack on the beat. I found myself thinking  “That’s because Rodriguez and Nunez are American born.”  I could visualize the two Santa Barbara born dancers fitting easily into an American modern dance or ballet company, regardless of their clearly excellent flamenco accomplishments.

Camino del Agua – Path of Water, to a McLean composition increased this impression of Rodriguez.

Her solo was followed by Raices – Roots, providing solos for Jose Cortes and Kina Mendez, deep seated and a fully flowering , slightly raw sounding vocal expositions. Cortes’s hands struggled to pull the melismas from his solar plexis.

For me the evening’s most affecting dance brought Clara Rodriguez to the piano with Isaac Albeniz “El Albancin”  to accompany La Tania in Hojas de mi Infancia – Leaves of my Childhood.  In her fluid black dress La Tania conveyed memories, longing, tender, ably supported by Rodriguez. La Tania’s liquid movement manages to convey the weighted, the  passionate without vulgarity, considered; yet, for all its predetermined pattern, what she dances melds both practice and the momentary emotion making each step seem inevitable.

El Color de Los Sombras – The Color of Shadows, a Seguiriyas, brought Timo Nunez  enthusiastic audience response. His taconeo and audience contact was first rate, but I found myself alienated by the incongruous choice of zabatos and vest.  I  clearly held a minority view.

Following intermission Rodriguez and Nunez collaborated in an AlegriasHuellas en la Arena – Footprints in the Sand. Nunez and Rodriguez chose wearing brilliant green, Nunez changing his vest for a darker hue against a short sleeved green shirt and those white shoes; Rodriguez selected a one shoulder green tunic over a full patterned skirt.  I could not quite determine whether they were antagonists or partners; the interplay between them was minimal until near the end, with little of the flirtatious or the circling ardor one expects in a flamenco pas de deux.  It could well be my memory had solidified over past performances.

La Tania’s second dance was Despertar – Awaken, a Solea, danced with David McLean at the  guitar.  She coaxed, entreated and beckoned while maneuvering a persimmon-hued bota de cola  broken at the waist with a wide black band. She essayed differing methods of rousing the subject of her focus.  It was difficult to see how anyone might want to slumber as she swirled, held her flounces during taconeo or when her arms described the rewards of rising to her entreaties.

David McLean and Gabriel Osuna collaborated on a Bulerias under the title Viento de la Serrania – Wind from the Mountains.

Clara Rodriguez closed the program with a Tarantos, La Tierra AdentroThe Land Within. Her  rusty orange tunic was marked by open sleeves tied at intervals and a contrasting full bluish skirt.  While her competence was unquestioned, I found Rodriguez’ choice of ending the program with a solo, rather than an ensemble,  puzzling.  But it was, after all, her show.