Archive | December, 2014

2014 Nutcracker Season, San Francisco Ballet

15 Dec

December 12 was San Francisco Ballet’s night to start its season of the Nuts, multiple castings, opportunities for corps members. With Martin West conducting the company’s orchestra, the audience enjoyed a remarkably buoyant performance, which can be partially attributed to its enormous success in Europe this summer. Mary Beth Smith, heading the company’s marketing and communications, remarked in the Opera House press room that after the company’s closing night performance at Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, where Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes made its 1909 debut, “The applause went on for twenty minutes. It was spectacular, and you know Parisians know their ballet.” Following this performance, the company goes into a twice daily mode, two and seven p.m., a total of thirty performances, including two on Christmas Eve.

Friday night’s inauguration featured Ricardo Bustamonte with extra flourishes and complete gallantry, while Ruben Martin-Cintas and Katita Waldo made the Stahlbaums elegant, assured, hospitable. Jim Sohm outdid himself as Grandpapa; Kristi DeCaminada as Grandmere. Both parents and small fry were less numerous, but the numbers cohered in the overall scenic impression, avoiding the cast of thousands mould.

Clara Blanco danced her iconic doll, Esteban Hernandez made an impression as the Nutcracker out of the Box and Max Cauthorn in yellow Milliskin was willowy, off balance and technically excellent.

The transformation scene – from 1915 Panama-Pacific era privileged San Francisco to dream exaggeration of furniture, presents, tree, mice and gas fireplace – continues to be impressive; mice scamper, toy soldiers execute the directions of the Nutcracker with his sabre, while Clara watches avidly. Sean Orza’s Mouse King exhibited brawn, and elegaic agony after his leg was caught in the mouse trap, his dying crawl into the prompter’s pit, “Tis A Far Better Thing I Do’ from Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities.

Luke Ingham as Nutcracker Prince cuts a refreshing athletic image once out of Mask and Nut trappings. He’s gallant, but no nonsense, like a good Aussie invariably seems to be; his battement a la seconde is eagle sharp. Not a bad mixture. Audrey Armacost as Clara responded well to his partnering.

The carriage arrival brings its own magic, its white and silver sleigh, pawing, prancing ponies, masks crowned with nodding plumes. I’m not sure the ancien regime could have improved on these equines.

The snow monarch roles were handsomely filled by Vanessa Zahorian and Taras Domitro. who followed after the snowflakes appeared under drifts of artificial flakes continuing to fall, audibly, during the entire number until the final grouping around the principals was almost obscured by moving white density. Early on Domitro stumbled a bit; I suspect this artificial blizzard may have contributed. However, his grand jetes and entrechats were his standard brilliant, Zahorian sailing through her virtuosity with usual aplomb, her earlier injury definitely behind her.

After the intermission the curtain rose on the evocation of the Conservatory, with butterflies, lady bugs, and moths, marking time with port de bras and pique arabesques before the arrival of The Sugar Plum Fairy (SPF) in the person of Mathilde Froustey. Froustey possesses the current ideal for the feminine ballerina; beautiful proportions, long neck, face of piquant charm, port de bras devoid of angled elbow, good jump, supple expressive upper back, an intuitive emphasis in phrasing or response. A cogent example was her emphasis asking the Nut Prince “Why are you here?” Not a doubt about the query.

Luke Ingham’s mime was salutary, particularly good with whiskers. The SPF had decreed the entire dream troupe witness the recitation, a nice move. While the Spanish pas de cinq was good, the Arabian trio was especially well-balanced with Dana Genshaft, and Daniel Devison-Oliveira and Anthony Spaulding, intense, finished. Francisco Mungamba’s Chinese shone with knife-like jetes. The French trio danced my-not-so favorite variation spritely, Wan Ting Zhao’s phrasing eye-catching. The Russian Faberge trio burst out into Anatole Vilzak’s classic variation led by Hansuke Yamamoto with Esteban Hernandez and Wei Wang.

Benjamin Stewart garnered a warm response as Smoky Bear with Louis Schilling and the bevy of San Francisco Ballet School students, precursor to the Waltzing Flowers, framing the SPF in this version of the Tchaikovsky classic. Bland, symmetrical and nicely executed, the ensemble is supposed to set off the central rose; Froustey could be better served. However, the ensemble requires its musical share and the notes received visualization with skill.

In this version the prelude to the Grand Pas de Deux refers to the Chinoiserie tower bibelot, Clara’s gift in the first act. The SPF retrieves a tiara from a cushion brought her by a uniformed attendant which she places on Clara’s head before leading her to the mirror inside the open box. Froustey’s brief escorting, was affectionate, a reinforcement shared with Sofiane Sylve who conveys similar feminine warmth.

The double doors close, the tower turned, the doors reopen and outsteps the adult Clara in hues of gold and celadon, Yuan Yuan Tan, ready to wow us, dispatches the gestures of awe and transforming admiration to the barest stroke, a principal flaw in an otherwise brilliant performance. Tan is becoming accustomed to Luke Ingham as a partner; she should feel utterly secure. Ingham promises Tan as good or better she enjoyed with Damian Smith; the partnering, particularly Tan’s height in the running catch as the Tchaikovsky score soars were. flawless. Tan’s face, with its feline qualities, registered satisfaction along with her usual aplomb.

The variation reprises then follow, to warm applause, and the aggregate ensemble coalesces to allow Drosselmeyer, couch and Clara to enter and for him to reassemble the Stahlaum mansion,for Clara to awaken, clutch her toy and run towards Mother Stahlbaum’s arms as the curtains descend.

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Dohee Lee’s Mago, Yerba Buena Forum, November 14

15 Dec

This is not the first time Dohee Lee has presented a fascinating work at Yerba Buena Center’s Forum. It also is not the first time she has included drumming or footage relating to the Korean War. Like June Watanabe whose work was dominated by her various visions and interpretations of the E.O. 9066 experience, Lee’s narrative skills are deeply imbedded in the traumatic experience cleaving the Korean Peninsula into two separate territories and governing methods during the mid-twentieth century.

Having visited Seoul still bearing visible scars of the Korean conflict, where older kisaeng and mudong circles struggled to adapt to the nascent industrial Korea characterizing most of South Korea’s present life, Lee speaks to me intensely. Deeply rooted in the traditions of her native Cheju Island and Korean folk performance traditions, Lee’s particularity enables her to speak deeply to the universal human.

The audience assembled outside the Yerba Buena Lobby prior to the performance where white-garbed assistants, men and women of varying ages, carried small white receptacles emitting faint sounds when held close to the ear. After these sound hors d’eouvres were heard for fifteen minutes, we entered YBC’s Lobby centrally divided by a white paper strip, structures at both ends. The one closest to the Forum backed by a hanging, again in white, emphasized Korean folk tradition, symbolizing the path to heaven , traversed by the mudong guiding the spirit of the deceased beyond its earthly sojourn.

The audience stood, seated themselves mostly on the floor and occupied the stairs to the second floor. Videographers and photographers wove themselves around the spectators. Suddenly, a small, mask-wearing figure in white emerged on the path, the mask caramel-skin tone, cheek-to-jaw length exaggerated; torso wrapped in an apparent form of cellophane for the chokkori, the skirt a glistening white synthetic, all traditional Korean style. Lee, half crouching, wove her way down the path, arms twisting, weaving in sure, steady sinuous power, palms and fingers strong and eloquent. Reaching the small platform, she wrested the long crocheted trailing behind her, ultimately discarding the mask. Swaying as she descended from the platform, Lee started to tremble, her body and arms vibrating, intensifying, transformed into a mudong realm.

Lee, returning along the paper path discarded the mudong costume, becoming a vibrant, provocative dancer, continuing down the path in full black and scarlet dress, lifting a layer to display another underskirt covered with tiny images of stuffed babies, and inviting us to move along with her to the Forum.

Entering in random fashion, we received programs with an heavy 8.5x 11 inch paper folded in half, cut into at various points; opened out it provided space for the eyes, the nose and the mouth. It also bore the words, “Wear it,” “What did you see?” and on the other side, “What did you hear?” The audience seated themselves on arena style tiers.

Lee emerged in the center of the construction in the back of the arena, a bird woman with multiple strips of paper hanging from her waist, enormous black wings at her back, the crows of her experience on Halia Mountain recorded in the program. While images of the Korean conflict passed behind her, children with faces furrowed with questions, older women by their sides wearing traditional Korean dress, Lee read from the paper streamers, printed with Korean script, discarding the streamers one by one after Lee, murmuring low, seemed to have mentioned each entry.It was sustained, elemental, eerie. This portion of the ninety minute performance piece was supported by two sets of musicians: Suki O’ Kane, Jason Ditzian, Greg Stevens, Tiffany Bayley working on Western instruments, evoking as closely as possible sounds of Korean court and shaman music.

Lee retreated through the construction to emerge again after three women had placed four drums in the center of the arena, mid-sized and similar to taiko, but still Korean. Elisa Gahng, Codie Otte, Yeri Shon, all gifted percussionists, joined by Lee in prolonged, mesmerizing drumming; fierce, joyous, exorcizing.

The Ara Musicians turned out to be the same individuals circulating in the crowd prior to our entry to the YBC Lobby: Joanne Tillemans, Lindsay Reich, Danishta Riverso, Megan Meyer, Sherri Mills, Dan Gottwald, Heather Normandale, Bob Marsh, Vana Hansen, David Samas and Edward Schocker.

When the audience was asked to return to the Lobby, Colin Ernst was preparing the glasses holding water, various sizes and various amounts; rubbing the rims creating a high, light eerie sound to complement Lee’s final appearance in black, adorned with glitter.

At the end of this sequence, Lee’s charismatic focus vanished as she thanked the audience for coming, acknowledged her collaborators and the ovation afforded her.

Mago is the end result of a two-year residency at YBC with her skilled collaborators: Jai Arun Ravine, writer; Frank Lee, set design and construction; Alenka Loesch, costume designer; Steven Sanchez, animator; Jose Maria Francos, production designer; David Szlasa, video design, Donald Swearingen, sound design/programming; Adria Otte, co-music director/sound design/crow warrior; Edward Schocker, Ara musician; Colin Ernst, water harp builder

Program notes state Mago will continue with a touring version of the performance in 2015. That will be challenging, but a singular privilege for anyone attending Mago in future performance venues. I imagine venues will be select and limited, for Dohee Lee is almost the entire package, the force and depth of her performance clearly proscribing how frequently she can sustain the intensity of her remarkable vision.

Caminos Flamencos’ Canciones November 30

4 Dec

A drizzly Sunday matinee took Brooke Byrne and me to the Cowell Theatre at Fort Mason to see the matinee of two performances of Caminos Flamencos’ Canciones with Yaelisa’s seven stalwarts, Manuel Guiterrez, Marina Elena, Fanny Ara, Melissa Cruz, Devon Le Russa, Molly Rogers and Christina Zanfagna. The singers included Jesus Montoya and Jose Cortes with musicians Jason McGuire “El Rubio’, drummer/cajon player Marion Aldana and Paul Martin Sounder on the upright bass.

Canciones implies lyrics of which there were aplenty. Alas, those in Spanish were not clarified with an English translation so that words like “Luna,” and “Corazon,” proved the principal Spanish words most in the audience understood. Doubtlesst  many Spanish-speaking flamenco aficionados were in the audience; for us ignoramouses a tadt of translating would go a long way to intensify the experience of Yaelisa’s continued invention.

Out of the fifteen separate numbers in the program, eight were created and danced to popular lyrics, featuring individual dancers in their own choreography, performed following a Verdiales by the company and a rousing Zapateado rendered by the musicians.

Yaelisa led off with L. Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ before the company danced to the Beatles ‘Because’. The songs chosen lent themselves to turns and taconeo as well as flamenco port de bras, adapting to the lyrics. This was particularly true for Fanny Ara’s interpretation of Arcade Fire’s “My Body Is A Cage,” where her arms lunged outward, as if her body was pressed against jailhouse bars.

Manuel Gutierrez ‘s performance to Leon Russell’s “A Song For You,” sung by Ray Charles, was enhanced by three pools of light and three successive encounters with women who simply moved on. Gutierrez uses his feet in a most elegant manner and positions hat and jacket to theatrical effect.

Just before intermission the company gathered for “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,” sung by The Police. Following intermission, the company danced to a Stevie Wonder rendition of “Pastime Paradise,.” a multi-hued umbrella adding cheek and spice.

The last two interpretations of pop songs were danced by Devon La Russa, “Wake” to Linkin Park, La Russa in Black and dancing with strong modern dance overtones; Melissa Cruz selected “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” sung by Aretha Franklin, Cruz attired like a ragamuffin; mismatched clothing, a substantial blue scarf.

The three musicians then changed the ambiance with Contratempo A La Luz de La Luna, and the orthodox flamenco section began with Fanny Ara. Ara’s Tangos de Malaga was enhanced by a cream-colored sheath,  small ruffles at hem, neckline and sleeves of ombre rusts and brown were a knockout, emphasizing the luxurious swivel of her hips and the insistence of her taconeo. Brooke Byrne remarked, “For my money, Fanny Ara and Melissa Cruz can do no wrong.”

Alegrias was interpreted by Marina Elana, small, tawny of hair, dressed in white with a tasseled white scarf which she manipulated as the dance required her body to turn left and right as her feet emphasized a pattern with heel and metatarsals, all with the air , “Oh, you think so – well, I’ll show you.” This combative quality ending with a flourish after she had divested herself of her scarf, and, at the last minute, thrust it around her shoulders, “So there!”.

Manuel Gutierrez interpreted a Fandangos, frequently considered a couples dance and with castanets. Minus castanets, Gutierrez made his interpeetation memorable.

Yaelisa likes closing programs with Siguiriyas. It suits her, the eloquence of her arms and hands. In addition to this distinction, her interest in stretching the flamenco medium into something typically contemporary in American pop music is to be applauded, even though for me, the tradition remains the most exciting part of her faithful ensemble.

The audience clearly loved the program, and when Gutierrez’ little son came tripping across the stage and was persuaded to exercise his small feet in a barrage of taconeo. The image of the ensemble warmly encouraging this representative of the next generation was quite endearing.

David Szasla is to be congratulated on the spare ambiance of his lighting design.