Archive | February, 2014

Words on Dance Celebrates Twenty Years With Tanny

26 Feb

For ballet lovers with a grasp of history, the name Tanny conjures up one of the most elegant dancers ever to have graced American ballet floors.

Tanny, of course, refers to Tanaquil le Clerq, the willowy dancer who so enlivened my eyes in New York City in 1951-52 when I saw her in George Balanchine’s La Valse and in Sir Frederick Ashton’s Illuminations. I must have seen her in other works, but these linger. When New York City Ballet came to San Francisco in the ‘Fifties, I think I also saw her, totally dashing in the final movement of Western Symphony, that spoof that Balanchine did so well on hokey Westernisms.

Deborah Kaufman, who is the chief cook and bottle washer of Words on Dance, is bringing a tribute, a reflection and a memory of Le Clerq to the Opera Cinema, Friday, March 31, 2014 with “Afternoon of a Faun, Tanaquil Le Clerq,” a film by Nancy Buirski. Buirski will make an appearance and converse with Anita Paciotti, one of San Francisco Ballet’s Ballet Mistress.

Entrance to this showing, $45, will include an after-showing event in a nearby restaurant.

In my more breathless fan days I wrote Le Clerq a fan letter. She responded with a image in her role as Sacred Love in Les Illuminations and graced it with the comment, “With thanks for the wonderful letter.” A friend remarked, “She’s also grammatical.”

S.F. Ballet’s Guests from Hamburg, February 13

20 Feb

For the second time, San Francisco Ballet has facilitated large-scale collaboration with John Neumeier’s Hamburg Ballet. This time, rather than a ballet mounted on San Francisco Ballet, it was the entire Hamburg Ballet with Neumeier’s 1977 version of Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. I saw the second of two performances with guest artist Alina Cojocaru as Tatiana/Hippolyta and Alexandre Riabokov as Oberon/Theseus. Jurgen Rose was responsible for costume and stage designs, and Michael Schmidtsdorff conducted San Francisco Ballet’s orchestra in Felix Mendelsohn and Gyorgy Ligeti music.

The staging was both grand and minimal, the opening consisting largely of an Empire chaise lounge mid-stage right, wonderful draperies with a slightly off-center entrance in back; Carlos Carvajal pointed out to me gives a greater depth and play for the choreographer’s invention.

Hippolyta observes as Helena and Hermia have dealings with Demetrius and Lysander; all manner of fussing is made over the length and design of the wedding train nearly the length of San Francisco’s Opera’s stage. Theseus makes his entrance, flirting a little with the court minions before gifting Hippoltya with a rose. The craftsmen, better known in Shakespeare as The Rustics, ask permission to perform at the wedding, which Hippolyta grants.

Neumeier’s Act II goes almost extra-terrestrial; the dancers, in silvered unitards, are head-ensnared capped – who the subordinate fairies were I do not hazard a guess. I was intrigued with the movable tree thickets, silvered and squiggly behind which characters could emerge or use as shelter. Tatiana and Oberon were given glimmering gold outfits to distinguish them, and the rustics happily remained their disheveled selves. As Tatiana awakes to be enchanted with Bottom, Neumeier gave her distinctly lusty movements. Arthur Mitchell spoiled me when it comes to Puck – the Hamburg role was trippingly on the tongue, effete.

Act III was appropriately grand. I’m sure the Hapsburgs or the ghosts of Imperial Russia would have agreed with the serried ranks of embellished tunics and delicate dancers en pointe. Cojocaru and Riabokov were both passionate in the beginning, regal in their entrance and elegant in the grand pas de deux, departing in grand style.

The rustics, in slightly changed costumes, did a suitably raucous, over-wrought tale of Pyramus and Thisbe, adding deliberately inept pointe work to the mix accompanied by organ grinder music with a phrase or two of Italian opera to the mix,eliciting lots of laughter.

Puck/Major domo did a more impressive job here, down to the final curtain, only to be upstaged by the return of Tatiana and Oberon in what must have required at least two costumers each to make the transition. Registering that feat almost simultaneously with the appearance indicates admiration for production skills but implies scarce enchantment with the proceedings.

You know, theater is contrived and technology makes for all sorts of effects. But does it warm or awe the heart? I want to be captured emotionally, but remained behind an invisible screen. Perhaps that works in Hamburg; despite the rapturous applause the San Francisco audience provided, I found myself with the usual workaday responses, recalling, along with Carlos Carvajal, cherished memories of Sir Frederick Ashton’s rendering of the same Shakespearean tale.

Company C’s Winter Program, Yerba Buena Center, February 14

20 Feb

Charles Anderson strode across the Lam Theatre Stage to welcome the audience and to inform it he is switching the 12-year dance organization format to special projects. This means furloughing dancers, most of whom have danced with the company at most 2 seasons; only one joined in 2009. The dancers as a whole seem more uniform in overall body builds as well as better dancers, making layoffs more daunting.

Anderson has a plan to mount a Hallowe’en production which he’d like to see become an annual event. If the premiere is this fall, then the spring layoff won’t be too drastic if the dancers are able to stick around. The second plan is to stage an international dance festival. The way Anderson speaks of it sounds like a different version of Micaya’s amazing Hip-Hop Festival. As such, such a vision sounds very much in need of some assistance from practiced visa facilitators like the San Francisco International Arts Festival. Visa clearance is a daunting process, particularly since 9/11.

The winter repertoire comprised five short ballets, three premieres, Yuri Zhukov, Anderson, Susan Jaffe; two revivals, one by Anderson, the other by Charles Moulton, his noted Nine Person Precision Ball Passing.

Yuri Zhukov’s Railroad Joint opened the program to Scott Morgan’s Lake Orchard. Seven dancers started lined up like waiting passengers down stage right. Blasting sounds of a locomotive, and the repetitive turn of metal wheels on metal rails dominated. The dancers seemed to be waiting for a train or subway, but there was little sense any gave of boarding the train except they lurched individually. There seemed attempts to dash from one platform or one train schedule or not. Rather than clear patterns of leaving, crossing and boarding another train, the action was careful plotted, individualized passing making more sense to me with a Grand Central montage behind it. For the finale, Yuri brought the seven back to their original position.

Anderson’s premiere, Between the Machine, featured Sarah Nyfield and guest Aaron Orza in Laura Hazlett’s glittering gold, semi-mechanized togs. Competently danced, it was nice to see Orza’s strength as a partner still being utilized.

Nine Person Precision Ballet Passing with its three tiers of three dancers, again in simple Laura Hazlett designs is both devastatingly simple and totally complicated; a ball for each dancer, exchanging first between the other two on the same platform, top tier and bottom tier mirroring each other, over under, everything short of down and under. Then the exchange between middle and upper, upper and lower begins; arms wave like so many flags, interweave between the three levels to the simple bouncy music of A. Leroy. The audience relished it; so did I.

After the intermission Anderson’s A Night in Tunisia, premiered in 2002, provided us with music by David Balakrishnan and David Anger, performed by the Turtle Island String Quartet. Clearly Balakrishnan gave the Quartet selections influenced by the North Indian musical tradition. Eight dancers, including guest Barry Kerollis, danced a work demonstrating nothing near its title. With its beguiling music, it was so vertical, a sexual, and lacking even in ye olde cliches that reconciling title and visual reality was quite a stretch.

Another intermission ensued before Susan Jaffe’s choreography,Weather One to the first movement of Michael Gordon’s Weather, half lighting by Patrick Toebe, danced in Laura Hazlett’s almost unitards of greys and blacks. The scurrying and effects of weather were conveyed within the ballet conventions of solo, pas de deux, pas de trois, pad de quatre and ensemble finale. I somehow expected a thread of plot and more shivers than ponte shoes and classical vocabulary conveyed. I would need to see the work a second time to see if first impressions were solid ones.

Azure Means Blue, Here Blue Equals Water, February 7

10 Feb

S.F. Performances brought Canadian-born Azure Barton and her seven dancers to Yerba Buena’s Lam Research Theatre February 7 and 8. Her press information provided a barrage of impressive information read only after the performance concluded. Arriving at 7:30, just as the performance was starting, I didn’t have a clue what I was going to see. The announcer stated Awaa, was to be sixty-nine minutes long without intermission. Such shorter, non-intermission works seem to becoming the performance norm for many modern companies.
Projections were winding down just as I was seated; then a figure, gracefully stretched, silhouetted before a red circular disk, emerged. The young man, beautifully muscled and proportioned, hobbled half-way to his feet as he negotiated his way forward, gradually becoming upright, moving his arms with growing sureness and undulating his torso standing profile to the audience. As he emerged in full control, a stage front scrim rose into the fly space.

Suddenly the sound system provided us with water sounds, lots of it, no trickle down effects. It mingled with music and the stage suddenly was peopled with the seven dancers in pre-determined positions around the stage. The collective port de bras were wonderfully fluid, even semi-swimming, breast stroke and Australian crawl in formation. One dancer wore a pale blue tee-thirt and dark trousers; the other five men were mostly stripped to the waist and wearing white trousers.

Lara Barclay the lone girl, appeared in nondescript grey, near turtleneck and trousers. As already mentioned, I didn’t a clue about choreographer or dancers, but the unity and the manner in which they conveyed fluidity and the qualities of water I recognized reading the credits. The underwater nature of the piece became prominent in the final screen projections. For the final tableau, instead of the red circle, Barclay appeared in lengthy red; the original dancer folded himself into her arms.

It was eerie, beautiful and the dancers, Jonathan Emanuell Alsberry, Tobie Del Cuore, Lora Barclay, William Briscoe, Tobin Del Cuore, Thomas House, Nicholas Korkos, Danvon Rainey, were superb. Four of the dancers studied at Juilliard, Barclay at the National Ballet of Canada, Nicholar Korkas has local credits with Lines Ballet School, dancing in Maurya Kerr’s Tinypistol, Robert Moses’ Kin and Yuri Zhukov’s Dance Theatre. Other credits include international ballet companies and a stint with Barton’s residency in Mikhail Baryshnikov’s center in New York City. all definitely impressive.

I can’t resist mentioning an idiosyncratic observation: my friend Dan Henry, one-time professional ice skater with the Ice Capades, said he had never seen a group of men with the same pectoral formation.

The press information stated that Azure Barton’s genesis for Awaa, rose from a dream where she was in a rocking chair under water, and that Awaa was an effort explore the shifts between masculine and feminine. A name like Azure gives her a head start; it simply was a matter of time before her given name led to something special. I would enjoy seeing the work a second time;l the audience was equally enthusiastic.

The Wig

9 Feb

The Wig

Glassgold, Irene M., The Wig $ Other Stories
San Bernardino CA, 2013, 79 pp., pbk
ISBN: 9781482311754

The doughty Mechanics Institute Library in San Francisco offers writers evenings together reading and evaluating their work; novels, poetry, short stories, biography, memoir. The circles have grown from “a long” and “a short(and miscellaneous)” pair of groups meeting on alternate Monday nights, to comprise about five groups, one devoted to poetry and one meeting in the afternoon.

Early in one of the Monday night groups, Irene Glassgold presented short stories about a rabbi who was something of a detective, capped only by his wife equally immersed in uncovering nefarious plots. The location was Baltimore, Maryland with the rabbi and wife being Orthodox Jews. I don’t remember whether they were immigrants or first-generation Americans, but the piety and rituals were redolent of time-honored practice.

Family illness required Glassgold to step out of the group. Later she joined an afternoon group. her Her production continued for The Wig & Other Stories was published last fall. Those intriguing detective plots were missing, but Glassgold’s prose still presents a vivid portrait of Jewish family life in a Baltimore enclave.

If you wanted an intense, closely knit circle of family and friends, Glassgold presents it, Jewish style, all its detail, foibles, mild dietary indulgences ritualistically enjoyed. Think Fiddler on The Roof immigrated who have partially adjusted.

The Wig tells you about the wife who manages to substitute a scarf for the married women’s wig. Amulets are discussed, the subtle ambiance evoked when friends or relatives came to Baltimore from New York or a character takes the train to purchase something major in New York. Several young Jewish girls are “adopted” from Europe, the matter of family earrings, and a taffeta dress bought the day Franklin Roosevelt died.

The Wig
mints the ordinary simply, richly shaded, redolent of irony, fascinating in its reflection of Jewish life moving from orthodoxy into mainstream American life.

I just wish Irene Glassgold will get back to the detective tales p.d.q.

Two Styles for Giselle, January 29, February 1

9 Feb

Balletomanes must have heard about brother-sister Borzoi incident January 28 when the periodic breeding urge interrupted the hunting scene in Act I of San Francisco Ballet’s production of Giselle. It’s certainly gone the rounds of Facebook,Twitter with numerous reactions.

Wednesday night Matilde Froustey and Tiit Helimets repeated an initial Sunday matinee impression with Simone Messmer as Myrthe, Pascal Molat in the role of Hilarion. At the February 2 matinee Frances Chung danced Myrthe, Molat again Hilarion, with Sarah Van Patten and Luke Ingham as Giselle and Albrecht. Anita Paciotti was Berthe for both Giselles, her mime clear, her portrayal always apt.

The formations in both performances seemed exceptional. I noticed the use of opposition in the corps’ pas de basques as principals Froustey and Helimets danced Act I. Tomasson has provided vigorous lifting for the men with emphatic boot slapping, lending more emphasis on village activity than simply background for Giselle and her romantic betrayal. What’s difficult to believe, however, are hardy peasants when the corps clearly is young, slender and in tip-top condition, though a smattering of supernumeraries soften that distinction and two children scamper in the opening.

The Froustey-Helimets-Messmer casting evoked nineteenth century Romantic era, the ballerina’s fragility, the nobility, little disguised, of Albrecht. The argument of Hilarion in pressing his case, an absolutely minted portrait by Molat, is very French, quite possibly the most peasant of all and thoroughly satisfying. Froustey’s Giselle is fragility personified, a piece of Limoges or Haviland porcelain, finely formed, delicately decorative. She simply has no defense. Her Act II Giselle was exceptionally light, stylistically pure, those Romantic prints come to life, clearly stating its Parisian origins. Messmer’s Myrthe was also a clearly etched, classically-correct performance.

With Sarah Van Patten, Mark Ingham and Frances Chung as the principals on February 2, it was a trans-Atlantic shift, dramatic,valid, the physical proportions from two different continents, North America and Australia, more earthenware, perhaps the finest Deruta. It was easy to imagine Ingham in tennis togs with scarf in a convertible, but here a vigorous count, a drop-out from courtly protocol. Van Patten may well have been a young typhoid survivor, shorn early of her father; her survival makes Berthe doubly protective; her imagination stirred by the young stranger renting the hut across the village square, his coming and going a source of curiosity.

San Francisco Ballet sponsored a series of Giselle-related discussions. Though not attending these sessions, I remarked to my January 31 neighbors Messrs. Nees and Dodson that with first love shattered in a sheltered existence, the humiliation sustained in a closely knit community with the prospect of living around such witnesses, her heart’s dreams destroyed and perhaps ultimately marrying Hilarion, could well be overwhelming.

Van Patten’s mad scene was exceptional, her blue eyes staring vacantly, as if nothing had happened, but oh, yes it had, trying to piece the scenario together, jumbled up, in disorder. Ingham’s Albrecht was fully devastated by the discovery of his duplicity.

Mikael Melbye’s setting for Act II is impressive, its opening scrim of tree trunks with tangled, pointed branches with simulated ground fog behind and a flitting aerial wili setting the tone for Albrecht’s struggle with the Myrthe and her minions. First the scrim recedes, then gradually the tree-shaped flies recede to reveal Giselle’s grave site. It conveys a deepening not only of the stage but also the depth of the forest, along with the upper left entry point for Albrecht and the upper right watery destination for Hilarion.

Chung dances an apt Myrthe, and is particularly vigorous when dispatching the wands when summoning the wilis, whose precision was admirable. I hope, however, Tomasson gives her roles melding her ballon to her effervescence.

From earlier Giselle productions, I realized Hilarion’s downfall is less because of jealousy or exposing Albrecht’s disguise than the more profound malady of lacking love. It isn’t given to Hilarion to grow beyond his grief; it is possible for Albrecht. The tale conveys not only love transcending class barriers but also the soul’s strength to reconcile love’s transcendence in the experience of loss.

Two additional thoughts rise. One, Mark Ingham’s Albrecht in Act II came closest to the interpretations I saw of Rudolf Nureyev with Margot Fonteyn in San Francisco and Mikhail Lavrovsky with Evelyn Hart in Phoenix. Such an interpretation clearly establishes that Giselle is a projection of his mind and the wilis the destructive force of guilt and recrimination.

Finally, when Matilde Froustey received her bouquets, a rose was given not only to Albrecht [Tiit Helimets] but also to Hilarion [Pascal Molat], a testimony perhaps to a fellow graduate of the Paris Opera Ballet School. Van Patten’s rose was limited to Albrecht.

Both performances generated deserved, spontaneous, warm standing ovations.

Martha Brings Marni Wood Back

7 Feb

As a footnote but also evidence of the Graham historic influence, the Martha Graham Company provided the opportunity to bring Marni Wood back to the Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies Program at U.C. Berkeley where she and her husband, David Wood, had started the dance program in 1968. The week prior to the January 30-31 performances an invitation from the U.C. Berkeley’s Department sent an e-mail invitation for a pre-theatre dinner with Marni Wood before the January 31 program.

For those unfamiliar with dance history at U.C., Berkeley a two-line letter in 1968 from Travis Bogard invited David and Marni Wood to come west and start a dance department. “It was right timing,” Marni commented before dinner, “We had three children and it was difficult in New York. Here was space, free schools. There was no question. When we arrived, the floor of the chapel [an old Unitarian Church at the edge of campus along Bancroft Way near Bowditch] was a mess. It had been used for the theater production set construction. We were delighted. We were starting from scratch to build something.”

The warmth and exchanges included the U.C. architect who had worked on the Zellerbach Complex, one of the Wood daughters, Marni’s sister, and June Watanabe, recollections of the E.O. 9066 Japanese-American relocation , performances, family updates in the foyer of Zellerbach Playhouse. The
actual performance seemed a bit anti-climax.

The Graham program was three fold, representing three eras according to artistic Director Janet Elber, former Graham dancer and the company’s artistic director: Appalachian Spring , 1944; Cave of the Heart relating to Medea 1846; and Maple Leaf Rag, a 1990 production to the Scott Joplin music.

Appalachian Spring, with its beautiful set by Isamu Noguchi, spare poles outlining the house, a bench, a chair on a porch, the suggestion of a fence, with the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra Aaron Copland’s and Samuel Barber’s music [Cave of the Heart] sounded fine. Marni Thomas had remarked that both chair and bench had been so designed that the dancers perched, the construction not permitting lazy muscles.

Dennis Nahat brought Yuriko to Ballet San Jose to mount Appalachian Spring,; my memory was that the ballet company made it livelier, warmer. This performance was accurate, meticulous but didn’t seem to penetrate the surface. There’s not much around these days as a frame of reference for urban-trained dancers with cell phones, alas.

This was my first viewing of Cave of the Heart,; once again, Noguchi’s sculpture, its mobile metal tentacles provided a marvelous symbol of Medea’s mental process as she contemplated the loss of Jason to the white clad blonde princess. For a man thoroughly full of himself, Graham as costumer chose a red cod piece to announce Jason’s self-absorption. It was easy to picture Graham in the role skittering along the stage, shoulders hunched over her solar plexus, eyes rolling and body writing as she plotted her revenge. Michael Smuin’s use of the same score and the same theme includes the sons’ murder; Graham only suggested it in Medea’s torturous solo before she provides the princess with the fatal crown.

Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag, Marc Shapiro on stage at the grand piano, with the portable ballet barre provided Graham’s 1990 parody of her lengthy choreographic career. Snippets of works wafted on and off stage; sometimes the dancers surged on like an army, arms and legs angled, bodies in three-quarter torso position; other times one or another skittered. For those familiar with the repertoire it was fun identifying the source; the only one I clearly identified was David Wood’s stage walk from right to left as the Death figure in Clytemnestra.

At the intermission Janet Elber mentioned, when asked, that the Graham costumes and sets were victims of Hurricane Katrina’s lower Manhattan flooding. Difficulties in removing the water left everything water logged for two weeks. The sets have been restored; much of the wardrobe required replacing.

I wonder about the dancers’ ability to develop their own understanding of Graham’s works, something necessary to keep the repertoire more than an archive. Could there be revivals of works by some of her dancers who had separate careers? An archive of the work Graham inspired in members of her company over her fifty year career would be a little like Lee Theodore’s American Dance Machine.

Knowing many Graham dancers who went on to choreograph and create their own companies, licensing work for other companies, my speculation is extravagant, an unwieldy fantasy, if understandable. The Graham lineage encompasses so much of twenthith century modern dance and there was this double pleasure of the January 31 evening.