Archive | March, 2014

Yuriko Doi and The Theatre of Yugen

31 Mar

Over thirty five years ago, Yuriko Doi started The Theatre of Yugen. March 17 Yuriko returned in a poignant comedy rare in the Kyogen dramatic repertoire.

For those unfamiliar with Japanese drama, kyogen is the comic relief to Noh, dating from the Ashikagi shogun period of Japan, also known as the Muromachi, 1336-1573. It gave way briefly to the Momoyama before the Tokugawa shogunate closed Japan to the outside world and solidified many of the practices we so romanticize about Japanese culture. Kyogen shared the same stage as Noh, employs masks, but concentrates on the merriment or mishaps of the common people, quite broad and gutsy, if highly stylized and equally rigorous in its training and execution. The cast usually numbers three individuals and the episode is usually quite small.

Don Kenny, the American exponent of kyogen, translator of the repertoire, and a fellow student with Yuriko Doi under Mansaku Nomura, has described kyogen training as proceeding more or less all at once, speaking, singing and acting rather than breaking down the components. This training proceeds with learning the particular walk used in kyogen which is slightly different than in classical noh, but achieved only with endless practice.

Out of a series of four, March 17 saw two divergent offerings, The Persimmon Mt. Priest, Kaki Yamabushi, and The Headwaters, Kawakami, with Yuriko Doi. The selections mirrored the raucous and the delicacy possible within kyogen style

One can’t exactly blame a thirsty monk for substituting a kaki for water. It’s just that he goes a little overboard, as who wouldn’t with delicious kaki, its shape memorialized in a famous Zen painting – no gooey hachiyas here. The farmer finds him and no amount of accrued power assists the priest.

Kawakami is as elegaic as Kaki Yamabushi is robust. A signal lesson in the price one pays for getting what one wants, a blind man travels to a shrine of Jizo to try to gain his sight. In a dream he is told he will have his desire if he divorces his wife. Returning home, he experiences his sight, but his wife in unwilling to grant him the condition made in his dream, telling him the gods would not be so unkind as to deprive him of the miracle. Convinced and following her, the brief excursion into sight is taken from him, placing him once again in the care of his wife.

Yuriko Doi’s portrait seemed one with Tokugawa era folk life depictions, her face delicately mirroring the emotions of the blind, a recipient of a miracle, the yielding to the deep relationship between husband and wife.

Other program participants were: Sheila Berotti; Sheila Devitt; Alexander Lydon; Karen Merek; Jubilith Moore.

Chiroi Miyagawa’s The Lingering Life is scheduled June 5-14 at Z Space, “a distinctly contemporary Western pay with the intensity of nine classical Japanese Noh dramas at its root.”

Given the careful training and nurturing by Theatre of Yugen, of the Japanese classical tradition, June should be anticipated with excitement.

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Cinderella: Her Second Season with SFB, March 13

17 Mar

For foodies who also like ballet, the buffet in San Francisco’s Opera House is recommended once you pick up your tickets if not mailed to you. The hot dishes can be impressive, if simple, the roast beef succulent. It is the array of salads and vegetables where the buffet seems to excel; celery root julienned; farro with raisins and carrots; asparagus spears, spinach with citrus fruit. The prospect of second helpings and a complimentary glass of champagne is further inducement.

This year I elected the Thursday night program partly because Norman Hersch could only go that night and I wanted to see Frances Chung switch roles from an ugly sibling to the chosen one, Cinderella herself. She is such an admirable dancer; correct, musical, willing, and also reticent though gracious, altogether a formidable combination. Truly a company dancer, her attitude reminds me a bit of Margot Fonteyn, minus any brouhaha. What’s not to admire?

Davit Karapetyan was Chung’s Prince Charming with Diego Cruz making his debut as Benjamin, the Prince’s friend. Shannon Rugani rendered a powerful portrait of Stepmother Hortensia, understated but definite. Elizabeth Powell and Ellen Rose Hummel horsed it up as the two step sisters, Hummel’s Clementine winning Cruz’ Benjamin. Reuben Martin Cintas created a believable father, bereft, then remarried, pecked and coat holder, but ultimately defender of his blood child. In the royal household, Ricardo Bustamonte and Anita Paciotti were suitably anxious about princely behavior and marital choices, while Val Caniparoli’s Alfred worried a tad about Benjamin’s mischief and as Madame Mansard, Katita Waldo was completely flumoxed by her two young charges. Interesting note: Pascale Le Roy created the Mansard role last May, shortly before she was dismissed from San Francisco Ballet School’s staff, a post filled easily a decade or more.

Missing is the fairy god-mother. At the fireplace she is replaced by the Prince in disguise who is given food by Cinderella, a neat insert for cause and effect. Quickly the four Fates- Gaetano Amico, Daniel Deivison-Oliveira, Luke Willis and Shane Wuerthner intervene; providing wheels for Cinderella’s carriage to the ball, following the seasons’ coaching session in personal qualities. The seasons and their entourages didn’t seem to convey qualities to me, though the dancing was excellent. Jaime Garcia Castilla’s fluid a la seconde developpes were breathtaking as Summer while the Autumnal carrot wig [Halloween?]on Hansuke Yamamoto’s warred visually with his usual allegro fleetness.

One can scarcely fault Julian Crouch’s scenery and costumes except for the questionable taste in costuming the princesses from Spain, Russia and Bali; Goya doublet and hose, Orthodox robes and heavily veiled saris make me cringe over the mental processes which decided the selection and its visualization. His visual reference to the tree emerging from the mother’s tombstone with its weighted reference to the earth and regeneration is apt and touching, regardless of the more traditional story. As a beginning and finale it serves its purpose tidily.

Without doubt it’s a stunning production, from the tree emerging from the mother’s tomb, to the suggestion of regal status by the use of rust-hued pillars and a fussy sofa. Cinderella’s ballgown shimmers with its vertical wheat-like strands matches the billowing scarf-like train as she rides on the wheels of her gallant fates.

I enjoy stage business when it provokes a smile and is appropriate to the action. The global trek changed: three princesses come to conquer in a broadened riff of Swan Lake. Mother Hortensia’s inebriation rated a chuckle or two, and the nastier of the two sisters made appeared in a garmentless hoop with an overnight suitor quickly departing with drooping suspenders. (How could he have reached her?) The candidates to fit the slipper paraded and departed on a row of chairs, any remaining hastened by a functionary in glinting medieval armor; the chairs gradually lurched their way upwards before the final shoe fitting.

Clearly those excellent dancing Fates were employed to emphasize the magical crucial moments; however, the story’s message is strong enough to dispense with their services. When Cinderella retrieves her slipper from the sequestered fireplace niche, she is lifted. Granted, the lodging was high enough to require some assistance; but did it need to be that high in the first place? The interplay between Chung and Karapetyan was sufficiently strong to convey special recognition, a felicity that grew between them throughout the performance.

Would I want to see it again? Sure. I would hope for an unexpected encounter with Elaine Connell, former Asian Art Museum Commissioner and one time seventh grade school teacher in San Francisco who said her class nick-named her Blanca Brujo. Her friend Nancy Zacker regaled us with references to her relatives living in pre Gold Rush Sutter’s Fort. At intermission I was introduced to Don Blateman and his wife Emerald. Blateman was responsible for the inspiring documentary on the three Berkeley housewives/mothers who pioneered saving San Francisco Bay. It was a few hours of evenly balanced fantasy, memoir and social vision.

Ballet San Jose’s Neoclassical to Now: February 15.

15 Mar

If Jose Manuel Carreno wanted to demonstrate that Ballet San Jose’s dancers enjoyed the capacity to dance diverse styles, he could scarcely have chosen three more diverse choreographers than George Balanchine, Jorma Elo and David Naharin; the iconic Serenade, Elo’s Glow-Stop and Naharin’s Minus 16 fulfilled Carreno’s aim and then some. Ballet San Jose’s dancers rose with pride and vigor to their assignments rendered, unfortunately, to recorded music.

Opening with George Balanchine’s Serenade, Ballet San Jose staked their ground as an ensemble fulfilling the potential Balanchine portrayed in this first ballet created in the United States after his arrival from Europe, using Petyr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. With seventeen dancers and five principals, the company reflected the earnest dedicatory qualities which must have infused the original dancers, intense, focused, exalted in this formative undertaking. Thank heaven the San Jose dancers convey a touch of earthliness through all their technical assignments.

In Ommi Pipit-Suksun and Any Marie Briones, Serenade enjoyed striking interpreters and equally brilliant interpretations; they danced one with the music, true to the impulse. Alexsandra Meijer gave one of the sunniest performances she has danced, clearly enjoying her role, even down to losing the man to the unseen fateful figure of Pipit-Suksun. In Nathan Chaney, a new principal, the company enjoys a male dancer with amplitude of bearing and technique.

Glow-Stop
, which Jorma Elo set to Mozart and Philip Glass, is neither my favorite choreographer nor the work the best he can offer. I sometimes wonder why he doesn’t provide strings from the flies attached to the dancers’ arms and legs, connecting the stop and start, jerky pauses or finishes to various passages. Admittedly it’s fascinating to hear Mozart’s light, bright crystalline music and its construction deconstructed visually; your mind constantly flashes “oops, that’s not going very far.” The dancers, bless their hearts, did well by Elmo, I’m sure challenged and responsive. Choreographers, of course, are highly individualistic human beings, but deconstruction of line places Elo and MacGregor in dead heat, Elo on the puppet end, MacGregor on the contortionist side.

Minus 16
by David Naharin is set to Hebrew songs and a bit of Over The Rainbow. Seventeen dancers sat on chairs in a semi-circle, black coated, black trousered, black hatted – the image of Orthodox Hebrews, minus curls.They gradually progressed on and off the chairs to the swinging Hebraic melodies before gradually beginning to doff clothing, tossing them defiantly into the middle of the stage. It was mesmerizing and fun. In skin colored tights and leotards, they cavorted; blackout. The light rose; the dancers, dressed, sauntered off stage, inserting themselves into the rows to choose an unsuspecting member of the audience. Taking them onto the stage, they danced with them to Latin music; some of the unexpected performers respond with alacrity. A slight woman, blonde and in blue two seats away from me, really dug it. The audience adored it; what a wonderful end to the evening.

Three and Two for SFB

2 Mar

These San Francisco Ballet programs are listed in reverse because that’s the way I saw them.

The February 20 Program Three started with a Russian-born classic, ending with a Russian-themed myth choreographed by a Russian very much at home in San Francisco. The middle belonged to Christopher Wheeldon’s Ghosts.

I saw Nureyev’s version ofLa Bayadere’s Kingdom of the Shades for The Royal Ballet on the same stage, mounted early in his association with the British company. It informed me that this Indian-themed work preceded Swan Lake by nearly two decades. The more recent, storied visit of the Paris Opera to San Francisco and its full-length production, again a Nureyev production, provided another bench mark.

The Kingdom of the Shades from La Bayadere was first mounted for San Francisco Ballet by Natalia Makarova in 2000; this is second time she has staged it, here assisted by Susan Jones. The revival enjoyed three fine soloists: Mathilde Froustey; Frances Chung and Simone Messmer plus Davit Karapetyan as Solor. Karapetyan’s entrance jete, high, clean, energizing, the first of many to follow, his Russian training and deportment clear, was captivating. While Yuan Yuan Tan presented a willowy Nikiya, an elegant shade, her connection to Solor was limited to partnering, lacking hints to their former emotional connection. I did not expect her to be Giselle, but I did want some connection, particularly in the lengthy use of the filmy scarf, symbol of ghostly connection and purity.

Next to Karapetyan, the three soloists were gratifying with Froustey’s lightness, Chung’s careful correctness followed by her usual swift allegro, and Messmer’s soundless landings. Myy memory of Makarova’s first staging for San Francisco was crisp; this seemed closer to Giselle.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Ghosts, sandwiched between La Bayadere and em>Firebird, is distinguished by a hanging sculpture by Laura Jellenek which gradually lowers after each section of the work, music by K.C. Winger. Vitor Luiz, Maria Kochetkova, Sofiane Sylve, Tiit Helimets, Shane Wuerthner made it all seem conjured from the past as the Jellenek strips of grey in a formation like a tangled skein of wool, gradually fell lower and in sections.

Yuri Possokhov took the Firebird myth to the village, giving a proletarian view of a story involving a Prince, captive Princesses, a demon passage before a court finale. He turned to Yuri Zhukov for set design, a series of cut outs and a red-orange cage for the hero’s captivity by the evil Kostei, whose soul resides in a mammoth egg. With Pascal Molat as oily slime, a monster caressing his egg, elevated by his minions, the tale starts off impressively.

Tiit Helimets makes good as the hero, capturing the feel of a golden boy, country-style. His encounter with Sarah Van Patten’s Firebird featured her always eloquent eyes, but Sandra Woodall’s costume is long on a flash of red cloth designed primarily for its effect in grand jetes, awkward in the pas de deux. The encounter lacks gift of the feather, the necessary toekn our hero must produce to summon her return.

Sasha de Sola as the princess is well matched physically with Tiit Helimets. Her garment with its torso slash of red above white skirt is a surprising delineation along with her coronet; neither peasant nor princess,plus she’s a bit nasty to her handmaidens – a pastural imperialist.

Van Patten’s bird is a tad provocative with her circular hip movements; Tan made them neutral. Van Patten’s eyes rendered the bird vivid, eloquent,if the scarlet fabric tail could be effectively shorn.

The final folk groups projected robustness, a feeling Possokhov obviously wanted. The expansive diagonal stage crossings needed to be repeated too often to fill the music. You registered satisfaction early on. Though not following the traditional tale staged by Fokine and Stravinsky, Zhukov’s designs were a delight, and Possokhov’s desire to create a folk version was basically appealing.

Friday, February 21 I caught up with Program Two: Val Caniparoli’s Tears, to Steve Reich’s music and Sandra Woodall’s elegant costumes. Ratmansky’s From Foreign Lands received its second season showing with some debuts of corps dancers – a happy solution and opportunity with more traditional vocabulary than Wayne MacGregor’s Borderlands.

In Borderlands, Wayne MacGregor can be counted on to set his dances in a structure, with lights that bring dancers to our attention or fade them from sight, and props which can obscure or reveal them in dramatic ways. He also can be counted upon to challenge dancers’ flexibility, speed and endurance. You stare at their abilities, hoping they won’t harm their rotator cuffs, or dislocate a hip joint; for despite their training, MacGregor’s movements are demanding and quite outside much of the classical training canon. Oh, yes, you can see an arabesque and an attitude, some amazing lifts, but what is he saying with the talented bodies at his disposal? I would not be surprised if MacGregor cites William Forsythe as an influence. Forsythe, however, has his own visceral familiarity to the classical canon; while he can make dancers look absurd at moments, he does not contort them as if they were spastic or in a drug-induced spasm.

Clearly I did not like it, though the dancers were marvelous, every last one: Maria Kochetkova, Jaime Garcia Castilla; Sarah Van Patten; Pascal Molat; Frances Chung; James Sofranko ; Sofiane Sylve; Daniel Devision-Oliveira; Koto Ishihara; Henry Sidford; Elizabeth Powell ; Francisco Mungamba.

Having spit out my distaste, Val Caniparoli’s Tears featured the three couples in
roles they created on February 18: Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz; Sasha De Sola and Tiit Helimets; Ellen Rose Hummel and Daniel Deivison-Olivera. With the image of water in his mind, the women’s costumes displayed handsome pleats revealing a range of blues and greens; one thinks changing hues, still pools shrouded by hanging branches of venerable trees. The port de bras were liquid, partnering skillful, but the music too lengthy.

What delighted me about Ratmansky’s second season was the insertion of corps members guided by principals; the eagerness, two slight flubs in the beginning, the good-natured cooperation to bring off this important assignment in young dancers’ careers.Participating in this debut were principals Jaime Garcia Castille, Gennadi Nedvigin, Mathilde froustey, soloists Simone Messmer, Hansuke Yamamoto Shane Wuerthner and corps members Shannon Rugani and Luke Willis with the debutantes Isabella De Vivo, Julia Rowe, Elizabeth Powell, Steven Morse. This frothy rendition of European nationalities – Russia, Italian, German, Spanish, and Polish were subtly slight, visually reassuring with Borderlands to follow.