Archive | June, 2013

Jose Manuel Carreno will move to San Jose, California

20 Jun

The spring signs have been confirmed with Allan Ulrich’s post in the San Francisco Chronicle  that Jose Manuel Carreno will join Ballet San Jose September 3 as its new artistic director, his contract specifying an initial three years.  Carreno also stated that he would not be dancing but would concentrate his energies  on the company.

When I refer to the spring signs Carreno was at the San Jose Performing Arts Center for Ballet San Jose’s final set of performances and was sighted in the lobby with his usual smile.  Rita Felciano and I wondered at the time if this was a signal regarding a new artistic director.  Surprise, surpise.

Ulrich also mentioned that Raymond Rodriguez has been promoted to associate artistic director.  This may mean that Karen Gabay will be named ballet mistress.

I was lucky enough to have been at Jackson to cover the U.S.A. International Ballet Competition when Carreno won the Prix de Jackson, 1990 if my memory is correct.  German Juror Dietmar Seyffert remarked to me at the time “He has such an erotic body”; that sunny sensuality has pervaded his entire career.  He was immediately offered a contract with the English National Ballet which at that time was directed by former American Ballet Principal Ivan Nagy. It was the first time Cuban dancers appeared at the Competition with such distinction and their beautiful training would continue to impress subsequent competitions and jurors.  Carreno’s partner joined The Cleveland Ballet, invited by artistic director Dennis Nahat who was responsible for the Competition’s practice of wielding the seeded dancers into an ensemble which opened the Awards Gala in a  grand splash.

Unless Ballet San Jose’s practices change, and another Gala ensues in the fall,  the repertoire for the 2013-2014 season will be announced only when the company starts its ticketing for their annual Nutcracker.  A summer effort is being made to resurrect Michel Fokine’s Paganini, and this may figure in the spring season.   Paganini was a work  created for the de Basil Ballets Russes which featured Dmitri Rostov in the title role and Tatiana Riabouchinska as the Divine Spirit, and in its final U.S. tour Tatiana Stepanova.  For the Festival del Sole, Tiit Helimets is slated to take over the violinist’s portrait and Amy Marie Briones as the Divine Spirit.

What is remarkable in this announcement is the consistent referencing of American Ballet Theatre personnel for an institution which was created by an earlier American Ballet Theatre alumni, Dennis Nahat.  Clearly, the tradition of dance theatre was firmly established by Nahat,, and one  which Carreno will likely  carry on.

MPD’s Angel Wings in Motion

15 Jun

A recent  Face Book invitation came my way from Muriel Maffre, San Francisco Ballet’s retired principal dancer turned executive director of the Museum of Performance and Design, to accompany white wings glistening at their tips from MPD’s former location to its new one on Folsom, 893 to be exact.  The wings, an MPD acquisition from “Angels in America,” were being transported on Patricia Kelleher’s back; Kelleher is a San Francisco Ballet trainee who will join the National Ballet of Portugal in September.  How widespread the posting was, I don’t know but, as a Maffre invitation, I didn’t want to miss it.

The call was for noon on Thursday, June 13; thanks to a brief flub on the #5 Fulton, I arrived on the bus at Van Ness, just as Maffre; Kirsten Tanaka, Librarian/Archivist; Elyse Eng, MPD’s president, and Supriva Wroncieviez, San Francisco Ballet’  Archivist, were crossing the street in my direction accompanying the wing bearer, who was moving with an unconscious deliberation, evoking the Louvre’s Winged Victory at Samothrace.

Kelleher, in white with MPD’s new location emblazoned in gold on her tee-shirt, balanced the wings strapped to her back with two blue metallic pieces down her back, bracing both bulk, spread  and weight of the attachment.  Further down the sidewalk, Benjamin Pierce, in shorts and tee, was manipulating a small video camera, turning it on and off to husband the battery power.

“You’re all right with this?” Muriel inquired, “It’s 1.9 miles.”  “I’m here,” I replied, winding up walking up and back a full extra block.

Our path led us along the north side of City Hall, across to the central part of the City Square, where a newly wed couple asked to be photographed with the angel.  Then it was across to the north side of the Public Library’s Main Branch where men dosed in the noon-day sun or hunched on the grass.  The entourage crossed over to the United Nations Plaza where crafts are sold on Thursdays, eastward towards Market and Seventh Street.

It was fascinating to observe who questioned Patricia and who didn’t, ignoring the phenomenon of the obviously well- trained young dancer sporting wings sauntering on the mild, sunny San Francisco mid-day.  As we crossed the Plaza towards the end where the water spewing like momentary flights of fancy, it was the street people who asked, exclaiming, “An angel, just what I needed.”  “Can I hug you?”.  Every so often, the wings would be spread and Patricia would hold the bottoms while Benjamin recorded her against some background.

As we progressed, Muriel, Kirsten and Elyse occasionally used their cell phones to snap stills.  Walking along the north side of Market between Seventh and Sixth a grey haired, rotund woman passed us, eyes unswerving in front of her, pushing a red market basket.  The middle of its front bore the metallic plaque ‘angel,” but there was no chance to stop her march for a photo op.

Reaching Powell and Market, Benjamin had Patricia move across the turning of a cable car, and several pedestrians stopped her. The men playing chess on the public tables ignored her.  We crossed over to enter Bloomingdale’s, where two older men in business suits stopped to chat with Patricia. Muriel remarked she remembered the old Emporium was still open when she first arrived in San Francisco.

Inside Bloomingdale’s, Benjamin ran up the escalator before Patricia started her own ascent.  On the second level, several young adults asked to take pictures, at least one side by side. We all trekked up to the fourth floor, thinking the restaurants would be active.  Instead, we descended to the second floor and the entrance to Bloomingdale’s then down to the Mission Street exit headed for Yerba Buena Gardens, nicely dotted with reclining bodies, reading, eating, kibitzing in the sun.  Crews were trundling boxwood in green wood containers with other crew members consulting clipboards and still others unloading shrink wrapped
beer cans in preparation for a sizeable social gathering.

Our ensemble called a halt in front of The Samovar on the upper level of YBC where Muriel, still the quintessential slender dancer in her own whites, directed a rendezvous between angel Patricia and Jill, MPD’s receptionist, who, dressed in black, crossed YBC’s grass to invite the angel to walk with her to the Museum’s new location.

Back upstairs and across the walkway above Howard Street, past the Children’s Theater and down the Fourth Street stairs to Folsom, skirting workmen in orange and equipment extracting sidewalk.  Crossing to the south side of Folsom, Muriel suggested that I walk on ahead.  I walked an extra block, having transposed the numbers in my head.  Retracing my steps, the next door deli directed me to the grill behind which the riches of MPD were plainly crowded in piles of boxes, in a space smaller than its former fourth floor digs in the Veterans’ Building.  Patricia had already relinquished the wings to their  new home.

Our ensemble went next door for tea and a sandwich, chatting about local bargains and unexpected locations of luxe items for a few minutes before scattering.  Waiting briefly, Elyse Eng and I boarded the #12 Folsom, chatting until I got off  at Second and Market to catch the #5 Folsom.

MPD’s Website soon will update the Museum’s location and hours of operation.  The #45 Union Bus currently goes down Fifth Street to its 4th and Townsend terminal, and the #12 Folsom/ Pacific stops almost in front of the Museum’s door inbound, crossing Market at Second Street.  Outbound to 24th Street,  along Harrison until it reaches 11th and Folsom.  The Museum’s telephone number is:415-255-4800.

Her Voice Was Ever Soft

13 Jun

“Her voice was ever soft, gentle and low, an excellent thing in woman.”  William Shakespeare.

This quotation was gospel in my childhood and my maternal grandmother was an understated, living example of Will’s words.  I remember being told that she took elocution lessons so that she wouldn’t drop her “r’s”,  for she grew up in Reconstruction Virginia, having been born in 1863.  This precept was further enforced by the hours she spent reading aloud to her granddaughters who listened avidly, noting when she found something funny and her mouth would curve into a smile and her voice had difficulty in  repressing laughter.

I was reminded of this when I boarded a #3 Jackson bus recently and sat down on one of the parallel seats near the driver, next to a blond young woman on her cell phone, mouth open, forehead wrinkled, mouthing phrases in a flat tight tone with strong nasal overlays, as if the breath was not connecting with the diaphragm or the abdomen.  “It needs to be settled between Joe and I,” she mentioned, with her head forward and torso curved.  “I’m on the bus and I’ll call you back later.”  I’ve forgotten what the specifics were of her upscale clothing.  It reminded me of my gradual awareness of the changes, not only in grammar, but vocal delivery that I have noticed in women whose clothing bespeaks professional or affluent  economic status.

The nasal tones have become more frequent and the edge to the voice more pronounced.  Within minutes at the #1 California bus stop at  Sacramento and Fillmore, I heard a young woman responding to the information that a young man was returning to school.  Her pronunciation of that institution had nothing of the double “oo” sound but came out like “schaool,”  almost like a cat’s meow.  “Gonna”, of course, has replaced “going to.”

Admittedly, the emphasis on correct speech in my childhood might be considered excessive.  I can remember my grandmother remarking that my father left out “h’s” when he pronounced “wheat” as “weat.”  The family emphasis on appearance included the voice as well as clean blouses and polished shoes.  And enthusiasm didn’t need to sound like a shrike delivered like an imitation of a fire siren, either, that I have heard on some pledge episodes over KQED.

It’s all pretty amazing.  Views like mine clearly betray the generation gap.

Jess Curtis Latest at Counter Pulse, May 26, 2013

8 Jun

Jess Curtis and Counterpulse are joined at the hip and in history;  the performing venue on Mission near Ninth got its start with Curtis and found its current location when programming new work out spaced the upstairs location on Divisadero Street.  Somewhere along the line, Jess Curtis discovered support could be had in Berlin and now he divides most of his time between San Francisco and that location reached by direct flight over the pole.

He’s a really interesting figure, not just because he has a shock of totally white hair and a matter of fact persona which his ideas totally subvert. The Berlin connection has enabled him to undertake projects with equally singular European performers. While the resulting collaborations are mostly theater, dance does make itself known somewhere during the episodes. His 2007 production Under the Radar earned three Izzie citations from the San Francisco Bay Area Isadora Duncan Dance Award Committee.

What was seen this year, May 24-26 at Counterpulse was a two-man enterprise with Jorg Muller titled Research Experiment #2.  Curtis and Muller, a compact, medium-sized man with shaved head and eloquent hands, appeared in white lab coats, soliciting audience members to be part of the experiment-devices were applied to register pulse, breathing and emotional responses to
24 exercises which Curtis said were shuffled each performance to help maintain spontaneity.

Dennis Nahat, showman extraordinaire, offered himself as one of the individuals receiving mechanisms in the ear and taped to a hand. On the white walls of the space, six lines of pulse registered their reaction.

Two or three of the twenty-four lodged themselves in my mind.  One included running, but the second included the two men exchanging blows from the cat of nine tails, or multiple leather strips held together at the handle, designed to beat an individual and to wound the flesh.This instrument, perhaps popular amongst sado-masochistic circles, was rendered against first Curtis’ back and then Muller’s, something like twenty increasingly strong strokes requiring the deliverer to brace himself before swinging and striking the recipient’s back.  Curtis’ responses were remarkably stoical facially, and Moller’s visually responsive.  The pulses of the six vaulted proportionately.  For myself, I suddenly felt myself witness to victims and descendants of The Middle Passage from Africa, and to the horrors of concentration camps anywhere.  It was also clear why the performance was limited to one weekend.

Those of us in the front row were given slips of paper from which to choose.  My lot was “Stillness,” which Curtis and Moller then interpreted.  There were four others and in turn the men gave the quality their vision.  Here the two men displayed distinct characteristics.  For Curtis it was movement, generalized and space covering, as if he was the ideator  relying on others to assist in specifics.  With Moller, it was form, near precision, tidiness, together providing an interesting package of execution.

The final movement involved a roving light set on the floor at the back wall, against which both men moved, their pace and attack increasingly frantic while that damned light flashed intermittently across the floor.  In the first row I felt sporadically attacked by the light;  with Curtis and Moller increasing their activity, I found myself closing my eyes in an effort to spare myself the onslaught.  The audience one step above probably didn’t have that difficulty, but if cringing was the aim of that final exercise, give Curtis and Moller 4.5 on the SAT.

Tiit Helimets helps Estonia Stage June 28-30 San Francisco Festival

5 Jun

San Francisco Ballet dancers usually get a month’s vacation in June, although some times touring individually, collectively or guest performances can fill in the thirty days.  In 2010, Tiit Helimets took an ensemble of ten dancers to Taillin and Tartu, the two principal cities in Estonia. Helimets’ venture had commenced through contacts made during a guest appearance as Albrecht in Ballet San Jose’s 2010 production of Giselle.

The ensemble included Val Caniparoli whose ballet Ibsen’s House to Anton Dvorak music was included in the program; recording this Eastern Odyssey on video was Quinn Wharton, then an SFB corps member, now with Hubbard Street Dance Theater. The video funding was raised through an appeal on Kickstarter, proposal crafted by Terri McCollum, best known for Odette’s Ordeal; it was nicely over subscribed.  The trip included a manager, a massage therapist with Katita Waldo as ballet mistress.

Eastern Odyssey was initially premiered at the Vogue Theatre, San Francisco.  What has happened to it since I’m not sure. But the success of the venture launched Tiit Helimets’ desire and efforts to bring an Estonian ballet ensemble to San Francisco; the end of June will see that realization.

The Festival will be ticketed for all but the June 30 Yerba Buena Gardens Dance Festival.

For tickets, the link is:

Tickets will include entrance to a June 28 12-3 p.m. stage rehearsal at the Palace of Fine Arts with a Q&A by Tiit Helimets;  he is managing the event.

Friday. June 28.  An expo follows 5:00-7:00 p.m., a performance from 7:00-10:00 p.m. With the Estonian National Ballet and guests.

Saturday, June 29 will be marked by a Song Festival at Calvary Presbyterian Church, Fillmore and Jackson Streets, San Francisco, 2-5 p.m.

The final event at Yerba Buena Gardens 12:30-3 p.m. Sunday, June 30 should be open to the public.

Ticket costs and privileges are explained on the website.

For the Friday performance, Helimets has choreographed Time to music by Paula Matthusen, a music professor in electroacoustic and acoustic music at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Estonian ballet mistress Marina Kesler has created Othello to the music of Arvo Part.  In between the two works actress Hanna-Liina Vosa and pianist Andrus Nahkur, distinguished Estonian artists, will appear.  Forty young Estonians, 15-25, members of the Estonian Youth Wind Orchestra will open the program.

The Estonian dancers coming number eleven, five of them soloists, six corps de ballet members. One soloist hails from Russia;  Moldova,  Japan and England are represented in the corps.  The full company numbers 56 under the direction of Thomas Edur whose career with his wife, Agnes Oaks, was principally with the English National Ballet, 1990-2009.

Both Edur and Oaks competed in the USA IBC in Jackson in 1990, where they were cited as the best Senior couple. Edur was also awarded a bronze medal.  They were identified as best couple by the  London Critics Circle in 2002; in 2010 both Edur and Oaks were made Commanders of the British Empire [CBE] by Queen Elizabeth II. Edur was named as the best male dancer in  the 2004 Laurence Olivier citation.

I culled the following from the Web. The Estonian National Ballet began in 1914 when two Russians, Nina Smirnova and Robert Rood, appeared at the Estonian National Opera.  A salaried troupe was started in 1918 and gave independent performances 1919-1920. In 1922, Viktoria Kreger of the Moscow Great Theatre staged Coppelia dancing the role. Rahel Olbrei, one of the ensemble, assumed leadership of the ensemble in 1926,  expanding her ballet training with study under Mary Wigman and Rudolf Laban; left in 1944 due to World War II pressures.  Anna Ekstrom, leading the company from 1944-1951, established the Estonian National School in 1946, which teaches Vaganova technique.

Subsequently The Estonian company had three artistic directors prior to Edur. He assumed a  company where dancers sign contracts with the government and once hired, cannot be fired.  The contract is year round;  after twenty years, they are eligible for a pension.  Corps members are utilized in operas and musicals; soloists appear only in ballets and the artists enjoy roughly two months of vacation in the summer.