Aside

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.

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