Archive | January, 2015

That Time of Year: S.F. Ballet’s Gala Celebrating Thirty Years of Tomasson Guidance

26 Jan

The melange of celebration, virtuosity, fund-raising goals and lavish display of gowns and egos marked San Francisco Ballet’s Gala January 22 with the press placed where tickets had not been sold; i.e. two seats in and in the Grand Tier where I sat with Craig Ashton and Emma, writing for a local Russian weekly. We were treated with the Calla Lily Lady, wearing a dress of white jersey, the shoulders guarded by said floral shape, adorned with green images; it required her to book the couple’s seats on the aisle, final row in the middle of the Grand Tier; sight lines were preserved. Go to S.F. Gate’s website, to see good glimpses of a design fit for Swan Lake or Raymonda at the Bolshoi.

Seen were tops with bra-like backs and a legion of strapless gowns well-stiffened set off by pairs of arms lacking muscular definition. Dressing up is fun, but what of the body it inhabits?

In front of us a young couple exchanged kisses while the rest of us stood, hand over heart, singing The Star Spangled Banner;seats empty following intermission.

The Gala commenced with a local version of the Paris Opera’s defile where the school, the trainees and budding professionals come forward, men with black tights and romantic shirts, girls in white tunics, older ones in white tutus a few in black, and, naturally, tiaras. I couldn’t help thinking what a fiscal outlay the tutus represented, and the hours spent in creating them. The audience cheered.

Following the defile, John S. Osterweis was tasked with acknowledging the sponsors of everything from the cocktail hour to the post-Gala Party, the organizers, and announcing a major capital campaign for $65 millions, of which $43 millions have been raised. Fund campaigns are typically private until at least half the goal has been reached. Exceptional was the information that five endowments have been made for five principal dancers, presumably extending beyond the current occupants’ active dancing careers. Diane B. Wilsey was announced as the chair for the Capital Campaign. (She has just completed a similar task for the UCSF Hospital at Mission Bay.) That declared, the Infinite Romance Gala commenced.

Some five years ago Renato Zanella’s Alles Walzer was performed at a Gala. This time it featured Pascal Molat flexing his biceps, back to the audience, head in profile making certain the audience registered the contours. Besides multiple pirouettes and tours around the stage, Zanella managed to mesh goofy touches with appropriate phrases to Johann Strauss II. Molat gave way to Joan Boada, echoing the movements; the pair wound up dancing identical movements, Molat dancing the most comment, Boada leaning on the bravura.

Val Caniparoli’s pas de deux from A Cinderella Story featured Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz, Feijoo in a frothy white skirt with red accents. They swirled together, beautifully synchronized, to Ming Luke’s piano renditions of Richard Rodgers’ themes.

Helgi Tomasson’s take on the most rapturous variation of Rachmaninov’s Variations on A Theme of Paganini, saw Yuan Yuan Tan leaping and leaning on the arms of Tiit Helimets, with an ultimate lift into Helimets’ embrace.

Kurt Weill’s music was Christopher Wheeldon’s source for the pas de deux between Sofiane Sylve and Luke Ingham, titled There Where She Loved. Sylve danced a reluctant, passionate, partially convinced role while Ingham supported, pursued and persuaded. Finally, Sylve walked away; one could imagine hot and cold continuing.

In a unannounced switch, Francesco Geminiani’s adaptation of Corelli, Concerto Grosso, premiered at another Gala in 2003 featured three young men of the company’s corps de ballet: Esteban Hernandez, Diego Cruz, Max Cauthorn, Francesco Mungamba and Wei Wang. Dancing to two violins, a viola and cello, they commence with outward sweeping arm movements as they turn several times before forming a circle of grand jetes to the persistent, forward sound of the strings, ably played by Matthieu Arama, Marianne Wagner, Anna Kruger and Eric Sung. A series of solo variations follow with a pas de trois insert. Dressed in Milliskin unitards, Mungamba distinguished himself with the liquid quality of his line, Hernandez in red with bursts of virtuosity, Wei Wang for unaffected classic style. Cruz and Cauthorn, who danced the Harlequin in December’s Nutcracker, were hard to identify from the Grand Tier. The five danced as a unit. Tomasson is adept in fashioning classical male bravura.

Post intermission the offering sequence was changed, perhaps because Francisco Mungamba was scheduled for another series of killer variations. Instead Tchaikovsky’s tenuously melodic music sourced Alexei Ratmansky’s choreography, originally for the Het National under the title Souvenir D’un Lieu Cher, with Mathilde Froustey, Sarah Van Patten, Carlo di Lanno and Luke Ingham. Frankly it wasn’t clear whether the former dear was all that “former”, if the connection between the women made clear they were okay with the arrangement. Van Patten seemed to have the worst of it, with soloist Di Lanno, I think making his San Francisco Opera House debut, being very courteous about his position, while Ingham was stalwart about Van Patten’s uncertainty. I hope Ingham isn’t type-cast too much in having to be manly about feminine indecision. Froustey’s impulse contrasted muscularly with Van Patton’s hesitations, and in equal measure Ingham’s body movements with Di Lanno’s. I found the quartet compelling more about the body movements and attack than the content.

Sergei Rachmaninov’s music was Yuri Possokhov’s source for the pas de deux from Bells, apparently a longer work created for the Joffrey Ballet in 2011. Here Maria Kochetkova and David Karapetyan in flaming orange Milliskin, he stripped to the waist, she in bathing suit style by Sandra Woodall, maneuvered in contemporary style out of their mutual Russian training, their comparative height adding to the mix.

Finally, The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude returned the program sequence, choreographer William Forsythe’s familiar acid green pancake tutus inhabited by Dores Andre, Sasha de Sola and Jennifer Stahl, and Francisco Mungamba and Gennadi Nedvigin contrasting in attack and line, both wonderfully correct, and Andre particularly intense in her variation.

Frances Chung and Joseph Walsh premiered Christopher Wheeldon’s present for Helgi Tomasson’s 30th anniversary as artistic director with Borealis, music by Gavin Byrars. In silver tops and blue tights the imagery seemed designed to evoke lights glittering in northern winters.

Just before the finale pas de deux, the Tatiana-Onegin pas de deux was danced by Yuan Yuan Tan and Vitor Luiz. He danced masterfully, she emoted extravagently. Like Francisco Mungamba, Luiz as did Luke Ingham danced twice as did Tan – a double duty series which seemed unusual. That may be why the San Francisco Ballet Website lists an opening for a principal male dancer.

To complete the program Taras Domitro and Vanessa Zahorian winged their way through Le Corsaire pas de deux with clarity and great elan, Domitro’s exciting grand jetes and Zahorian finishing off her assignment with a series of single and double traveling fouettes.

After the curtain applause, the usual basket of flowers and individual nosegays for the cast of women dancing, several men in black emerged with trays of glasses, followed by John Osterweiss offering a toast honoring Helgi’s Thirtieth season. The gold curtain then descended.

Afterthought: the Gala listed three pianists in addition to Roy Bogas for the Paganini: Natal’ya Feygina, Mungunchimeg Buriad, and Ming Luke.

The Twentieth Wife, Z Space, January 16

20 Jan

Farah Yasmeen Shaikh mounted this tale of Nur Jahan, the Jehangir’s Twentieth Wife, at Z Space for three sold-out performances January 16-18, supported by Indu Sundaresan, author of the book inspiring Shaikh to create the colorful dance drama. Shaikh’s interpretation was so vigorous on the opening night I wondered at her ability to maintain her energy for the subsequent two performances.

Indu Sundaresan was responsible for a clarifying narrative for the eighteen scenes, with music supplied by Salar Nader at the tabla, his composition carried out with the aid of Ben Kunin on sarod, Raginder Singh Momi on violin and Deepti Warrier for vocals.

Visually, the performance space was marked by a black-and-white visual pattern drawing its inspiration from Mughal Indian jalis, [screens] repeated in smaller fashion on a background scrim in softened shape, a reddish sandstone color characteristic of Agra earth. The musicians were seated on a slightly raised platform on stage right, vocalist and Sundaresan on a shorter back platform.

Supporting the artists was a gifted production team: Jim French and Andrew Kaufman, lighting and scenic design; Ian Winters, video and media design; Drew Yerys, Sound; Brook Duthie, consultant; Natasha Dutt, make-up; Aika Garg, costume. With the multiple changes and handsome changes Garg supplied for Shaikh, Garg accomplished and deepened the sense of Mughal splendor, a vital part in this dance drama.

Having read Sundaresan’s book, Shaikh’s narrative followed the story closely, from the moment Mehrunnisa’s father tries to abandon his daughter, born as the family migrated from Persia to India. Here Shaikh, dressed in an enveloping kurta and turban, demonstrated her understanding of kathak – story telling – in stylized gestures of sorrowful necessity, unfortunately marred by bright nail polish.

Throughout the narrative, Shaikh’s abhinaya,[gesture], drew its tandava [masculine] inspiration from her guru, the late Chitresh Das, [his image adorned the inside of the stylish program cover, printed on black stock], to whom she dedicated the production and for whom she served as a teacher for over a decade and a half. While filtered by Das’ training, her lasya[feminine] gestures were entirely her own.

Scenes depicted through the scrim, such as the birth of Mehrunnisa, gained by the silhouette. Das as source of her male characters was particularly apparent when Shaikh interpreted the character of Ali Quil, the Persian husband designated as Mehrunnisa’s first husband, especially when he is confronted with the men assigned to kill him; the turns, and gestures conveyed his frenzied self-defense admirably.

Sundaresan’s voice added much to the quality of the program, its Indian inflected English, cadence and emphasis sometimes echoing the capacity of Indian stringed instrumental sound to linger after being struck.

Finally, Z’s reception space turned into something of an Indian bazaar with colorful apparel available for purchase as well as Sundaresan’s three books on her Mughal subject, and a more recent one chronicling the route the Kohinoor diamond took from the Sikh kingdom of the Punjab to the court of Queen Victoria. Sundaresan was available to autograph her books.

With an audience filled with Indians, the women handsomely garbed in saris or salwar cameez , it reminded me how good it is to see a production well produced and a stylish audience enjoying the occasion. It almost was like being in New Delhi, Mumbai or Chennai.

Jess Curtis at Counterpulse on Mission December 13

15 Jan

If my memory is accurate Jess Curtis has been an intrinsic part of the formation of Counterpulse, the innovative space on Mission Street near Ninth, soon to be vacated in favor of 80 Turk Street, yet another gritty neighborhood. The Turk Street location, however, promises the permanency and the challenges of ownership.

My first experience of Jess Curtis was Ice/Car/Cage with Keith Hennessey in the parking lot near the one-time Brady Street space, which has housed Yahuda Maor’s activities in San Francisco, Christine Elliott teaching there, followed by Kristy Keiffer, until a battle ensued because she lacked a contract. The space was lost to dance, though Keiffer was able to commence her current sojourn at Dance Mission.

Curtis and Gravity, his production unit, used to have late winter/early spring seasons at Counterpulse, but now early winter seems to be a norm. Since he splits the year with Berlin, I suspect that winter in San Francisco is preferable temperature wise, and the local season seems to be more sparsely inhabited that springtime. At any rate this year’s offering, The Dance That Documents Itself, ran December 4-14, and I saw the evening performance December 13. Though a cold required my leaving during intermission, the prior proceedings were vintage Curtis.

While I wouldn’t put The Dance That Documents Itself in the same category as Under The Radar or Ice/Car/Cage, Curtis provided us with two remarkable young artists in the person of Swedish-born Dag Anderson and Abby Crain. Curtis himself, bare-footed, like his colleagues, started out in non-descript costuming, walking around the stage space and beginning to verbalize what his feet, legs, arms, and head were doing, i.e. “Now I stretch my arms in two directions, one front and one back as I walk sideways.” I don’t know if he actually said those words, but you get the gist. He does so elegantly, matter-of-factly, of those two descriptions can be characterized together effectively. The verbalization and movement phenomenon I had witnessed with Tandy Beal nearly two decades previously, but it was a new practice with Curtis.

He was joined by Abby Crain and Rachael Dichter, who, unfortunately, was given a role over-shadowed by Crain responding to Curtis’ directions. These directions included Crain and Anderson, who had been posturing like a youth of sub-normal intelligence. Curtis asked Crain to do something and, most of the time, she did so. Several times, however, she said “No.” In this process, Smart Phones were present, creating a small pool of solitude and inattention. Crain was asked to climb on Curtis’ shoulder [I hope I remember correctly], part of the quiet requests and compliances, but clearly spectacular. No running, jumping and a heist on the shoulder or in the air like the climax of a balletic pas de deux, but no less engrossing.As Crain reached the position in the small box-like stage space, the act of balance and slight shiver of the legs as the feet curved over the shoulder blades and her hips adjusted the torso to the safest possible stance, vulnerability became an object lesson. Clearly there had been previous rehearsal, but the feat was clearly testimony to the uniqueness of any given performance.

What followed was an encounter between Anderson and Crain, facing each other, moving but not touching, their bodies like two commas or cashews with locomotive skills. When
they touched, they proceeded to roll or toss themselves when standing close. It was an extraordinary passage if a trifle lengthy, stamina and skill rampant.

A video sequence followed with Jess Curtis on a bike, helmeted and coggled with a video camera peddling around the south of Market area once dotted with spaces devoted to experimental performance pieces, including the John Sims space on Mission near South Van Ness and Brady Street and the parking lot where Ice/Car/Cage made its indelible impression. An unusual memory lane segment, it also marked Counterpulse move to its Turk Street venue. Curtis employed the critical mass vehicle and up=to-the-minute technology to mark the dance documenting itself. Point registered.

Pas de Quatre in December

15 Jan

Anton Dolin reconstructed the Jules Perrot creation to Cesar Pugni’s music featuring four Romantic era prima ballerinas dancing together in London in 1845 before Queen Victoria. No record I know of records how Dolin accomplished this feat. It was a gentle tour de force in 1845 creation; today Dolin’s contribution remains a remarkable feast of period style.

On the occasion of Alicia Alonso’s 91st birthday the classical TV channel, 32.5 in San Francisco showed a 1960 performance featuring Alonso as Marie Taglioni, Nora Kaye as Lucille Grahn, Melissa Hayden as Carlotta Grisi and Mia Slavenska as Fenny Cerrito. Scheduled on Saturday evening December 20 and shown again Sunday, December 21. The footage credit was given to Alonso.

In checking with Wikipedia to make certain I had dancers and roles rightly identified, I found YouTube had a Ballet Nacional de Cuba version, so I watched it. So correct! So loaded with ballon and grand jetes! So lacking in the gentle satire present in the 1960 version where personalities were clear, touches of simpering and come-hither were generously dispensed and the technique, quite classical, didn’t push the envelope at the expense of the ballerina aura, the point of the entire piece.

A colleague informed me earlier this year in response to one of my gushing enthusiasms that I could see x,y and z on You Tube and keep current on various interpretations. I found it informative, but not nearly so much fun as sitting with knitting in my lap in front of a larger, but still modest sized TV screen.

At one point in time, Alonso, Kaye and Hayden were all in Ballet Theatre. Slavenska was the only one with her own production unit.Having seen all four dancers in the 1960 version in some production or another, it was a reminder what interpretation can bring to a performance in lieu of gravity-defying grands jetes and a la secondes at six o’clock.

A New Year’s Tidbit

15 Jan

Not long ago John King who writes on architecture for The San Francisco Chronicle wrote a feature on the manager of the retrofitting of San Francisco’s Veterans’ Building, sitting side by side with San Francisco’s Opera House, with San Francisco’s City Hall on the opposite side of Van Ness Avenue.

Between these two monuments, gloriously subscribed to commemorate the American veterans of World War I, is an oval stretch of green with English plane trees and brick walkways. On warm, sunny days while San Francisco Ballet is having its season, dancers lounge, eat, read and hang out on the ledges around the oval.

Brooke Byrne’s mother mentioned to me that a handful of earth from each European cemetery filled with World War I American soldiers’ remains are part of the soil sustaining the lawn.

I have several memories of dance performances at the Veterans/Herbst Theatre – not only the decade of San Francisco Bay Area Rhythm Exchange in late August, but ones earlier – The Jose Limon Company when it was presented in San Francisco by Spencer Barefoot.

The Joffrey Company appeared just before an alliance was reached with Rebekah Harkness. John Wilson and Brunhilde Ruiz were still in the company and John sang for some Western-type hoe-down finale.

I remember vividly when Lew Christensen’s Con Amore was premiered; Sally Bailey was Queen of the Amazons, Leon Danilian as guest artist the Thief, Nancy Johnson, the flirty wife, Leon Kalimos the husband, Carlos Carvajal, the sailor and I think young Roderick Drew the student with Virginia Johnson as Cupid. The antics in the Amazon camp were danced to the overture of Rossini’s Thieving Magpie.

Pacific Ballet under Allan Howard’s direction danced a number of its seasons there with a range of dancers, some already teaching, others later having substantial careers: Barbara Crockett, Sally Streets, Carolyn Goto, Grace Doty, Arleen Sugano, Kyra Nichols come to mind with Marc Wilde as one of the early choreographers.

The troupe of the Kerala Kalamandalum made its U.S. debut there under the auspices of the American Society for Eastern Arts.

Several sessions of Words on Dance were recorded there.

King’s feature prompted me to inquire what was going to happen to the artists dressing rooms in Herbst Hall. When the Herbst funds permitted a sprucing up of the auditorium, virtually nothing was done to the dressing rooms which were reached by a steep circular staircase, the rooms themselves small, the amenities scanty.

King recently responded to my query saying not only were the dressing rooms going to be remodeled, but they were going to be on the first floor!


A San Francisco Special

15 Jan

Checking the San Francisco Ballet website recently, I came across some information which made me smile. On the roster of teachers was the name of Polly Ribiera. Ribiera studied at Harid Conservatory when Tina Santos taught there. Those of us with some longevity in watching San Francisco Ballet can remember just how scintillating Tina was when dancing with the company.

Well, Ribiera also won the junior gold at Helsinki the year
that Yuan Yuan Tan won the junior silver. With Helgi
Tomasson present, apparently the confluence was inevitable.