Archive | April, 2014

USA IBC’S #10 Coming Up

17 Apr

The USA International Ballet Competition Number 10 is scheduled for June 14-28. It will be a first for Edward Villella as the jury chair, the final competition for Executive Director Sue Lobrano who has guided the Jackson, Mississippi event since the fall of 1986 when Karlen Bain relinquished direction because her husband’s job took him out of state.

This year 109 candidates have been invited from 21 countries; 48 juniors, ages 5-18, 61 seniors, ages 19-26. Sixty-one dancers are from the United States, eighteen from Japan and fourteen from Brazil.

Latin American juniors will represent Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru; People’s Republic of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea are sending competitors, plus South Africa and Switzerland. Amongst the seniors additional dancers are listed coming from Cuba, Colombia and Panama. Seniors are arriving from Australia, France, Poland and Portugal. Asia will be further represented by Mongolia and the Philippines, and from the Russian Federation add to the countries listed as sending junior hopefuls.

Among the senior competitors will be Mario Vitale Labrador, originally from Alameda, California, one-time dancer with Oakland Ballet who attended the Bolshoi Ballet Academy and upon graduation was given a soloist contract with the Mikhailovsky Theater in St. Petersburg. Labrador was awarded the George Zoritch Prize at the April Arabesque Competition in Perm, Russia. San Francisco Ballet School will be represented by Daniel McCormick, level seven, as a junior entry.

Determining who would be invited were Adam Sklute, artistic director, Ballet West; Virginia Johnson, artistic director, Dance Theatre of Harlem; Megaly Suarez, former teacher at Cuba’s National Ballet School, now artistic director, Florida Classical Ballet. The trio reviewed all tapes submitted by entrants, selecting 109 candidates. It’s also possible there will be last minute drop outs.

The jurors represent Australia, Canada, China, Georgia, Germany, Japan, Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, United Kingdom, and Spain and United States, Chair Edward Villella.

John Meehan, Dance Chair, Vassar College, represents Australia following a career with American Ballet Theatre; Andre Lewis, artistic director, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Canada; Feng Ying, artistic director, National Ballet of China; Nina Ananiashvili, artistic director,State Ballet of Georgia; Gigi Hyatt, deputy director, Hamburg Ballet School, Germany; Hideo Fukagawa, former principal, Munich State Opera Ballet, choreographer, Japan; Hae Shik Kim, founding director, Dance Conservatory, Korean National University of Arts; Ashley Wheater, artistic director, Joffrey Ballet, United Kingdom; Alexei Fadeechev, artistic director, Stars of the Russian Ballet Festival, Russian Federation; Trinidad Vives, former co-director Houston Ballet, Artistic Associate, Boston Ballet, Spain. John Meehan, Hideo Fukugawa and Hae Shik Kim have served previously as Jackson jurors.

It also should be noted Gigi Hyatt was junior gold medalist at Jackson in 1982; Nina Ananiashvili shared the 1986 Competition’s highest award, Prix de Jackson, with Andrus Liepa.

For anyone following ballet from Competition to Competition, jury, hosts, teachers comprise a who’s who in the international dance world, an intense brew with the competition rigors;an incredible sachedule of rehearsal space, production rehearsals, the steady progression of sessions. Round I starts the Sunday morning following the opening entry of the competitors bearing the flags of their respective countries. Jurors, teachers, host and hostess are introduced, the flame is lit to burn in front of Thalia Mara Auditorium throughout the two-week marathon of dance. The opening ceremony is completed by an invited dance company; this year it’s Complexions.

The Competition has carefully calibrated how many competitors it can handle within the length of any given slot in a program, starting with the juniors and progressing to seniors. The competitors have drawn numbers for order of appearance; sometimes a couple will have widely divergent numbers.Round I requires either two variations or a pas de deux by a couple, whether junior or senior; in some instances the partner will be non-competing. After Round I’s winnowing, the eliminated have the choice to remain as the competition’s guests, taking classes, and participating in a large ensemble presentation created by a choreographer to open the Gala. This practice was inaugurated by Dennis Nahat, active at several competitions.

Another gracious gesture by the Competition organizers, now for third or fourth time, are two evaluators. These two individuals take the jurors’ scores and comments and if competitors eliminated want to know, the evaluators will discuss the jurors’ comments with the dancer. The two this year are Ravenna Tucker, former Adeline Genee, Prix de Lausanne winner and Royal Ballet principal, now Associate Professor of Dance, Bellhaven University; William Starrett, Joffrey Ballet dancer, Bronze Medalist, Jackson, 1979; Artistic Director, Columbia City Ballet.

Round II, devoted to contemporary work, makes choreographers eligible for a prize. Some remarkable choreography has been displayed. I fondly remember Lew Christensen’s solo of Harlequin received a bronze medal in 1979, danced by David MacNaughton, awarded the senior men’s silver medal, the gold given to the late Lubomir Kafka, Czechoslovakia.

Round III means back to the classics; if precedent follows, another contemporary piece.For a soloist, it means two classical variations again and another contemporary piece. At the last two competitions each finalist was given a cash award of $1,000 from a fund established for that purpose by a Jackson devotee of dance.

Guiding the sessions will be Wes Chapman and Susan Jaffe, former principals with American Ballet Theatre, serving as host and hostess.

Finally, the International Ballet School Faculty is comprised of several returning instructors, and former Jackson competitors. Tatiana Tchernova, affiliated with the National Ballet of Canada returns as well as Rhoda Jorgenson, one-time dancer with American Ballet Theatre and The Metropolitan Opera Ballet Company, now with Maryland Youth Ballet; veteran teacher at the USAIBC Marcus Alford, once affiliated with Gus Giordano, Atlanta’s jazz master; he will be joined by Meaghan McHale. Contemporary dance is represented by Rachel Leonard and Ashley Walton, university graduates moving from classical training into modern work. Aside from Tchernova, ballet instruction will be given by David Kearny, one-time New York City Ballet member,joining Natalia Makarova’s Makarova and Company.

The two ballet teachers will be joined former former USAIBC competitors Ana Lobe, dancing with Jose Manuel Carreno in 1990. After Ivan Nagy invited her to join the English National Ballet, she danced briefly with Ballet Mississippi before Dennis Nahat engaged her for the Cleveland-San JOse Ballet Company. The second, Laurie Anderson, was Houston Ballet’s first African-American principal dancer, nurtured by Ben Stevenson, partnered by Carlos Acosta. Following a twenty-four year dancing career Anderson is active in Houston Ballet’s education arm, teaching ballet and conducting master classes.

One-time Joffrey dancer Lisa Slagle will be complete the ballet instructor list along with Jerry Opdenaker, former member of Pennsylvania and Kansas City Ballets, now resident in West Palm Beach. Slagle danced with the Tulsa Ballet before starting her own school in the Dallas area.

Along with heat, occasional thunderstorms, and all the incredible logistics, the 10th USA IBC is an exciting dance event to anticipate.

Alexei Ratmansky’s Shostakovitch Trilogy, April 2,11

16 Apr

Some ballets impact me strongly; when they do, it’s necessary to see the work at least a second time to make sure what I saw was what I felt, and why. I’ve not heard much Shostakovitch; one of his was a college favorite, arrogant finale et al. It wasn’t included in Ratmansky’s choices: Symphony #9, Chamber Symphony, Piano Concerto # 1. The San Francisco Ballet premiere of the trilogy follows the two-part premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s essays by American Ballet Theatre.

My initial impression was movement and music were absolutely one and how could this be? Visually, the dancers rose, turned, jumped, pirouetted, were held or fell to the floor just like the notes I was hearing. Opening night audience thought so too – a standing ovation plus enthusiastic written and verbal excitement expressed by critics. What love and admiration can accomplish in the mind and vision of a gifted artist ! There is no questioning Ratmansky’s work qualifies; The MacArthur Foundation also agreed this past September.

Part I, Symphony #9, featured Sarah Van Patten, Carlos Quenedit, Simone Messmer, James Sofranko and Taras Domitro April 2; the April 11 casting; Simone Messmer, Mathilde Froustey, Pascal Molat, Luke Ingham and Hansuke Yamamoto.

Part II, The Chamber Symphony provided Davit Karapetyan with Sasha de Sola, Lorena Feijoo, Mathilde Froustey April 2, Jaime Garcia Castilla, Dores Andre, Simone Messmer and Sarah Van Patten April 11.

Part III, Piano Concerto #1, featured Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith, Maria Kochetkova, Vitor Luiz, on April 2; April 11 Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets, Doris Chung,Joan Boada.

Between the premiere and the dancing of a second cast, seen a week following the premiere, rawness has dissipated, the phrases, the steps, the interplay of bodies, lines all have begun to organize themselves in the dancers’ muscle memory, the hesitations and maneuverings of rehearsal behind. Still, I felt the second cast had meshed uniquely; how likely is it they will get reviewed, particularly a week later.

At the premiere Symphony 9 reflected the musical structure: Domitro jumping, spinning; Messmer and Sofranko flirtatious, Van Patten and Quenedit reflecting the highs and lows in the musical line. April 11, Froustey and Ingham gave me a sense of fear, illusory moments of tenderness, a pervading quality of hopelessness. Messmer with Molat, she replacing the scheduled Lorena Feijoo, provided immediacy, “get it, enjoy it while you can.” Hansuke Yamamoto, whatever he felt, was dancing full out, one of the best I remember, driving forward, upward; what else could one do?

The Chamber Symphony was graced with David Karapetyan, his sculpted body, a controlled stoic aura, even as he reached out for the feminine, Sasha de Sola, the flirt; Mathilde Fourstey the fated one, Lorena Feijoo, required to comfort the forlorn. I read somewhere the quartet of dancers reflected a failed Apollo with unreliable Muses. The quartet sequences seemed particularly reflective of the music. April 11 emotion rippled through Jaime Garcia Castilla, aided by his exceptionally supple physique. Dores Andre invited, then flitted away. Castilla and Simone Messmer seemed keenly aware of their frailty; especially when she is first hidden, held aloft by the group of men before her final disappearance, leaving a wise attending woman, Sarah Van Patten, to touch him compassionately.

For the Piano Concerto, the usual close partnering between Tan and Smith was a given; he slightly somber, solicitous, Tan clearly articulate but remote. Kochetkova and Luiz were livelier, to be expected, both expressive individually. Did I subjectively feel that Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets as Europeans understood the irony better? Perhaps. Frances Chung and Joan Boada melded skillfully, blending in an immediacy underplaying the flash.

Regardless, I only wish the trilogy was to be part of San Francisco Ballet’s 2015 Spring season instead of the Piano Concerto alone. I still have lots to absorb.

Menlowe Ballet’s Spring Program, April 5

14 Apr

The Menlo Park-Atherton Center for the Performing Arts is a multi-windowed structure with audience seating a little over 500. Situated on Middlefield Road, it is an ideal venue for a small company with good sight lines, the elevated seats close enough so one doesn’t feel consigned to the Gods.

For Menlowe Ballet’s spring offerings, two were by Michael Lowe, artistic director, the middle ballet Guest Dennis Nahat’s pas de cinq from his 1985 production of Swan Lake. Lowe’s spring premiere Transcendance commenced the program, his tribute version of Ravel’s Bolero closed it.

His Chinese-Korean heritage has provided Lowe with considerable inspiration. I saw his Emperor and The Nightingale, a piece where a boy who witnesses a murder; Bamboo ;
Transcendance. Lowe here moved from charming, Asian-flavored sketches to very short red cheongsams on several women bar inhabitants, vying for the attention of three men. One woman, enraged over a man’s change of partners, knifes her rival who clutches her side, slowly expiring. There is a blackout before the stage is graced by women in white and the victim is suddenly also in white, Chinese traditional color of death. The lover appears; groupings indicate the Great Beyond possesses a suitable aura of bliss.

A Lowe choreographic characteristics is a light touch, deftly administered. Here, however, the situation seemed stock, the development of conflict overly simple. Cheongsams in red, the color for brides and happiness in Chinese lore, provided the principal clue to the location; most of the women possessed light hair and, of course, Western facial contours. Lowe essentially is too decent a person to choreograph low life and result again seems to skim the surface, va stock plot.

As one of Oakland Ballet’s principal dancers, Michael Lowe danced in Marc Wilde’s interpretation of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero and the staging of Bronislava Nijinska’s take on the score. LOwe’s Tribute to brought both works together with a large cast. Happily it included Jenna McClintock, one of Oakland Ballet’s last principals in its earlier form. Her assignment was slow reaching its center-stage movements center stage, but I found myself looking using her as my focus, not heeding manifestations of the two vastly different interpretations. With contrasting interpretations vying with each other simultaneously, I chose to concentrate on a reliable focus. Even when one group was primarily active, attention could not bridge the contrast effectively. I wanted to see one interpretation at a given time, the two coming together only at the end.

The principal charm was Dennis Nahat’s pas de cinq from his 1985 production of Swan Lake, Act I. Ever logical he viewed the princesses as part of a lengthy visit, not just the Act III waltz. This Nahat version has the princesses present in Act I, dancing with him for the first time with the prince paying due attention to them, not yet distracted by Odette. This interpretation worked very well, the dancers charming, the prince was Maykel Solas, guesting from Ballet San Jose, behaving like a prince, pirouettes, jetes et al. Hopefully, more of such gems will appear on future programs.

The company is beginning to cohere nicely, student use handled as a deft soupcon to the major dancers. If the latter can round out assignments enough to remain in the Area, a problem, in today’s climate Menlowe Ballet’s future looks bright.

San Francisco Ballet Curtain Talk, April 11

14 Apr

San Francisco Ballet goes to considerable effort to inform its audience. Outreach is part of today’s tool for non-profit organizations to whet an appetite for its offerings, theatrical, symphonic, operatic, etc. San Francisco Ballet is following the precedent of dance in the schools it started back when Richard E. Le Blond, Jr. became the company’s President and CEO; he was charged in acquiring property for the company at the eastern edge of San Francisco Redevelopment Agency’s A-2 borders and across from the San Francisco Opera House.

Le Blond used Dance in the Schools as the vehicle, sending Ruthie Bossieux and later Crystal Mann out into the public schools of the A-2 area to expose the largely African-American school children to the refined delights of classical ballet and the challenge of moving to music, drumming and some form of organized pattern. Needless to report, it worked, handsomely, and the program became a permanent part of the company’s overall education agenda. Two of its earliest students, Ikolo Griffin and Chidosie Nyzerem trained at San Francisco Ballet School and entered the company as members of the corps de ballet. For whatever reason, neither was promoted to soloist status and both left for more fertile ground. Griffin became a principal with Dance Theatre of Harlem and then joined Joffrey Ballet when DTH folded. Returning to San Francisco, Griffin danced with Smuin Ballet, leaving the ensemble following Smuin’s death, San Francisco Opera, Oakland Ballet, Menlowe Ballet and has staged Nutcracker for regional companies. Chidosie looked abroad, returned to San Francisco, eventually dancing with Ballet auf Rhein in Dusseldorf, Germany.

The Dance in the Schools program became a permanent part of San Francisco Ballet when it hired Charles Chip McNeal in 1980. In addition to the various hosts for the 7 p.m. slot on various performance evenings featuring dancers, choreographers and technical personnel and visiting professionals, the program has a staff of three, utilizing four musicians and and three dancers. It’s an impressive outreach program to educate the public about dance and music’s role in dance.

April 11, Mary Ruud hosted a conversation with Concertmaster Roy Malan, a forty year veteran of a forty year old ballet orchestra. He is retiring at the end of the 2014 season. “I wanted to make it a round number,” he remarked in response to Mary’s comment of the curtain talk being “bittersweet,” before her queries and audience questions provided perspective on the delicate and extensive job comprising the post of a concertmaster. The conversation will be available on San Francisco Ballet’s pod cast.

“The company’s orchestra dates from Michael Smuin’s return to San Francisco from American Ballet Theatre. The orchestra was then a pick up company. Michael’s friend Alex Horvath told him he needed a permanent orchestra.” The orchestra was formed with Malan as the concertmaster and principal violinist.

Ruud asked Malan to describe the differences between playing in a symphony orchestra and a ballet orchestra. “The range of music played is more extensive than a regular orchestra. In symphony orchestras one usually plays once and goes home. A ballet orchestra will frequently play twice a day, and the variety within one program can be startling. I can remember playing three concerti in one program, Bruch, Glass and an Australian composer.” A further difference is aim: a ballet orchestra’s job is “to make the dancers look good.” In a symphony orchestra, “it is the music.”

As concertmaster, it is Malan’s responsibility to mark the strings according to the conductor’s desire, to confer with the conductor “how he wants the strings bowed” and to see they are bowed accordingly. “It’s not something you learn in conservatory, it’s a sixth sense you develop with the conductor. It’s what someone in the Boston Symphony Orchestra said, ‘You have to play what you hear from behind while leading,’ because the violinist in the back is not so close to the conductor and may not pick up quickly.”

Malan also mentioned that timing at the beginning of a performance is something else. “You don’t want the orchestra to stand up too early and obscure the conductor or too late so the audience doesn’t know to applaud.”

In response to Ruud’s question about the relationship of choreographer to music, Malan responded, “Lew Christensen never got in the way of music. He used to stop the dancers and make them listen, making them hear what he heard in the music.” He spoke of two other choreographers as having respect for the music: Mark Morris and John Neumeier.

When Ruud queried Malan regarding his personal background, he replied that he was born in South Africa; 15 he received a scholarship which took him to London. One of his first teachers was Yehuda Menuhin who suggested that he apply to Juilliard. He smiled slightly saying that he was in Ivan Galanian’s classes with Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zuckerman. He later studied at the Curtis Institute with Efram Zimbalist, and said that Zimbalist was the type of teacher he benefited from because of his prior training with Menuhin and Galanian.

Malan also mentioned it was the practice for new orchestra leaders to bring their own concert masters with them. When Denis de Couteau retired, the orchestra went to the musician’s union and had the stipulation written into contracts that the concertmaster remained the same and was not replaced by when there was a change in conductors, quite a compliment to Malan.

At one time the orchestra traveled with San Francisco Ballet; increasingly union regulations have contracts with other houses requiring the use of in house musicians, including soloists.

Malan was asked about his instrument. He left Curtis he used scholarship funds to purchase a French violin. He didn’t like it, selling it. He heard a violin he liked and learned it was made by a man named Arthur Smith in Australia. He spent some time in Sydney advertising and interviewing violinists who possessed a Smith. He eventually met one of Smith’s sons and met the violin maker about to retire. He took pity on Malan, sold him a violin which he has played ever since.

Asked retirement plans, Malan said, “Music for its own sake. I practice two hours a day. I also do yoga ninety minutes in the morning, so I have to get up at 4 a.m. to practice before coming to a ten o’clock rehearsal. I live in Santa Cruz; lately, I’ve been feeling the commute and there are always those times when I’m concerned whether I will make it.” Malan’s teaching at U.C. Santa Cruz has been limited to Mondays, his off day, and he looks towards stretching instruction out over the week. “I’ve been playing with a string quartet, participating in contemporary music concerts and leading a small orchestra at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Robin Sutherland and I have participated in the Telluride Festival for four decades.”

It won’t be long before Roy Malan will be so occupied with his active retirement he will wonder how he ever made it to work.

Ballet San Jose’s Second 2014 Program, March15

7 Apr

From the neo-classical to Astor Piazolla as viewed by Paul Taylor, the Ballet San Jose dancers were thrust into a wide range of styles with the company’s second season series. And they did well by it, believe me. In between there was Nat King Cole interpreted by Dwight Rhoden and Vicente Nebrada’s 1976 perspective on romance.

Igal Perry set his bar high with using Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Adagio from the Hammerklavier Sonata for four couples, providing variations for each couple and ensemble work. Named em>Infinity, one signature motif, if you want to call it that, was the having the women supported in an expansive frontal a la seconde, not a jete, but held while they flexed their feet. With the sustained, somewhat prolonged finale to the Adagio, the necessity of repetitive movements was not only required, but was too predictable. Perry respected his music if the figures he devised for the dancers, once initially stated, needed slight variations to retain interest.

Dwight Rhoden’s 2013 Evermore for five couples added torso inflections, unexpected leg thrusts or inflections to fill the liquid, phrases of Cole’s lush renditions. Cole surrendered to the songs and emotions as much as he interpreted them; for me this full-bodied quality was diminished by the busy body motions. Think Twyla Tharp-Frank Sinatra, as possessing an edgier timbre. It seemed Rhoden was shy in echoing Cole’s grand simplicity.

With Nuestros Valses >to the music of Ramon Delgado Palacias and Terese Carreno, Vicente Nebrada provided his couples both variations and ensembles, flirtatious swoons and swooping waltz movements, evoking romance but giving the audience a feel for the Latin view of civilized romance.

Paul Taylor’s Piazolla Caldera found the dancers enjoying themselves, rising to the implicit torrid quality of tango at its sexiest and most suggestive, and leaving the audience exhilarated and enthusiastic.