Archive | February, 2015

NDT 2,San Francisco, Monday February 16

28 Feb

Talk about Under the Radar!

Rita Felciano gave me her spare seat to the sold-out, single performance of NDT II Monday, February 16, sandwiched between two engagements South and north of San Francisco. Margaret Karl, 11 years a San Francisco dancer, was responsible for public relations, abetted by Facebook, accounting for a third of ticket sales to see this eighteen dancer ensemble. At the door of the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre [celebrating its centennial February 20] were individuals murmuring “Ticket for sale?”

For a few, certainly for me, one draw was Benjamin Berends, Santa Rosa native, who studied with Tamara Stakoun and Gina Ness at Santa Rosa Dance Theatre, Richard Gibson and Zory Karah at Academy of Ballet, San Francisco,with Boston Ballet Trainee Program and Andre Reyes, before joining Smuin Ballet briefly, then dancing with the Trey McIntyre Project before it dissolved. With Marc Platt I had seen him as the prince in the Nutcracker one December, witnessing Marc’s approval and injunction to study hard, a treat not often witnessed of a one-time notable exhorting a future notable.

As a trivia collector, I noted that seven hailed from North America – two from Canada; eight from The Netherlands and nearby Belgium and Denmark; two from Japan; one from England, along with the fact that NDT’s artistic directors hail from England and Spain with one of its originals, Jiri Kylian from Czechoslovakia. Similarly, two works came from the artistic directors, one from Israel, one from Sweden. The dancers themselves have equal physical diversity, in excellent condition of course; one or two the women one would expect in the United States to elect dancing in modern dance companies. Hail NDT!

The group, dancing with wonderful ensemble sense,still have arrived fairly recently to their positions, five dancers joining in 2012, four in 2013, eight in 2014 and one just this January.

Johan Singer’s New Then, 2012, introduced half the company to five of Van Morrison’s songs with the expected results of vigorous if unexpected movements – bends, crouches, swivels in the hips, directional explorations in the arms and partnering. Boy-girl relationships scarcely enjoyed length or happy conclusion, though everything was this side of sinister.

Imre van Optsal and Spencer Dickhaus were paired in Shutters Shut, the 4 minute work by Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot, 2003, set to a Gertrude Stein poem “If I told him: A completed portrait of Picasso.” I found it textually annoying, if the dancers were themselves contrasted in more ways than one. Van Opsal, a robust figured woman, contrasted with Dickhaus, slender to the point of being wispy; they were dressed in black and white swimsuit like leotards with the black on one body in the position of where it appeared on the other, quite appropriate for Stein’s repetitions, declaimed in her own voice.

Sara, created in 2013 by Sharon Eyad and Gail Behar, used seven dancers to Ori Lichtik’s music, and was dressed in skinlike unitards. It was not a work to linger in memory like the final number following intermission.

Leon and Lightfoot also created in 2003 a work to the second movementt of Franz Schubert’s Death and the Maiden String Quartet #14, titled Subject to Change. With four dancers in black suits, Gregory Lau, Benjamin Behrends, Richel Wieles amd Spencer Dichaus, the principals were Katharine van de Wouwer and Alexander Anderson, plus a square of red carpet, which the quarter unrolled before de Wouwer appeared and later manipulated counterclockwise at an appropriate moment, traditionally a symbol of death.

Alexander Anderson, a Juilliard graduate, Princess Grace recipient among other awards, was the death figure, stripped to the waist and graced with a most articulate, well-defined set of muscles, partnered de Wouwer dressed in a short filmy costume, hers a sweet-eyed, warm countenance, compliant in the embrace of the inevitable, if not wholly cognizant of the import. I found myself remembering George Balanchine’s La Valse and an Agnes de Mille work for the Joffrey, A Bridgroom Called Death, also to Schubert’s music. In both these earlier works the same fascination/ambivalence appeared. Anderson disappears; at the end de Wouwer stands alone, stage center on the red carpet, her attitude of wonder, ageless, supplicant and accepting.

Of the five works danced this memorable Monday evening Subject to Change has lingered longest in the memory. And the company? come again soon, please!

Ballet San Jose’s Master Pieces, February 20

28 Feb

Using recorded music of Petyr Illich Tchaikovsky, Leonard Bernstein and Philip Glass, Ballet San Jose presented the 1947 Balanchine work Theme and Variations; Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free, premiered in 1944, and Twyla Tharp’s In The Upper Room, choreographed in 1986.

Theme and Variations featured Junna Ige and Maykel Solas in the roles Balanchine created for Alicia Alonso and Igor Youskevitch then dancing with Ballet Theatre before that company acquired the additional label American. The two dimunitive dancers danced with great accuracy, Ige a bit subdued, but sweet, and Solas meeting the demands of those killer turns with equanimity. With the mental images of the creators in my mind, the gentleness was that much more striking, and I dare say the lack of an orchestra created a certain abruptness in the corps de ballet. One also needs to remember that Ballet Theatre at the time wasn’t all that swift classically; the roles given to the supporting males demonstrate that state of ballet’s development in the U.S.

The local production was rendered tidily, everyone dutifully in the right place at the right time. The fire implied by the surges in the music never seemed to translate the dancers’ bodies; I attribute that to the lack of a live orchestra. I saw Alonso and Youskevitch in the roles at the Los Angeles Biltmore Theatre, and watched Yoko Ichino flirt with her partner, along with several other exponents, the daisy chain movements and the male double rond de jambes as well as the sur la place double tours were familiar. Ige and Solas were on time and in command of the required technique, but I think they too would have been more fired up with musicians in the pit.

Then there was Fancy Free with its wonderful World War II subject matter, the music, costumes. For my money Ommi Pipit-Suksun, with her wonderfully articulate body, liquid movement and sensual qualities well dusted with delicacy, displayed the ambiance Janet Reed brought to
the role. Seconded by Grace-Anne Powers, the dame with the red handbag and the jaunty yellow skirt trimmed in black, was saucy without Muriel Bentley’s bite. Emma Francis appeared in a yellow wig as the girl at the curtain who sends the fellows scooting off stage, heftier than Shirley Eckl.

Rudy Candia, Joshua Seibel and Walter Garcia were the three sailors and James Kobecky the bar tender. Candia, in Jerome Robbins’ original role, was far milder in his innuendo than the creator, but truer to the overall spirit. Joshua Seibel came close to the sweet testosterone of John Kriza who danced the role throughout his career with Ballet Theatre. Walter Garcia assumed Harold Lang’s original brash sailor, also made memorable by Michael Smuin. Brooke Byrne
remarked that Dennis Nahat would have been able to heighten their impact, for all the fact that Jose Manuel Carreno danced one of those three on twenty-four hours’ leave.

Twyla Tharp chose Philip Glass’ music of the same title for her 1986 commission for American Ballet Theatre, In the Upper Room, creating a smoke-like atmosphere and demanding an unremitting attack from the dancers; they rose to the challenge with gusto, garnering an enthusiastic, standing response of the evening from the audience for the vigor and zest they brought to their assignment. The costumes looked as if they had been designed for minimal detention quarters with most of the dancers in sport shoes with a couple of women in red pointe shoes.

I do not exactly agree with CEO Alan Hineline’s statement that the company dances world-class, especially minus an orchestra. It does provide a roster of interesting works. Les not forget the repertoire under Dennis Nahat was equally varied, including works both modern and classical.

Donald McKayle’s Premiere at UC Irvine, CA.

22 Feb

When Dennis Nahat attended Juilliard School of Music prior to  joining The Joffrey Ballet as it was being reformed the fall of 1965, he had Donald McKayle as one of his teachers. A bond was formed which has lasted these many years. Recently Nahat helped McKayle with administrative papers relating to the McKayle works, some of which were staged at Ballet San Jose when Nahat was the company’s artistic director.

This fall McKayle, at the age of 84 and following a severe illness, choreographed a new work for the dancers at U.C., Irvine where he has been teaching. PERO REPLANTADO (Uprooted) was premiered in mid-February2015. Nahat wrote the following comments about the work.

“From the moment the curtain is lifted onto an empty stage, the dancers enter in such an arresting manner that one dare not breathe until the final moment when the dancers freeze at the foot lights, almost in our lap. The work is an affirmation of humanity in America and is the breath of life in Americans. The finale is especially startling; in a medley written by Woody Guthrie, Pastures of Plenty / This Land is Your Land, which is not the original but a newly composed version that is wonderful, and Land, with lyrics by Lila Downs. The last tableau with the full ensemble running forward, looking directly at the audience, jumping into secondé position ecarté in a deep plié with their arms lifted above their heads in unison, on the last note and word of the song “We will work to keep it (America) FREE”, is a dare to anyone who would try to take that freedom away. Make no mistake here, McKayle tells us in direct, clear and asserted choreography that Americans have worked hard for freedom.

“The entire large ensemble of 18 dancers is terrific, especially well-danced is the solo girl with two casts called La Niña, the girl, danced on Wednesday by Emma Walsh and Thursday’s official opening night by Caitlin Hicks. An arresting solo and a difficult one, you will not see danced this way by many. Both dancers give different interpretations, a McKayle treat; artists can fly in many directions in his works. But it was Ms. Hicks who simply took the show by storm with her intensely beautiful dark features and her ability to isolate movement and direct the viewer to her intended purpose. So well constructed is this solo that by the time both interpreters ran off the stage with hands on their backs in a slight back bend, the audience almost ran off with them, bursting into spontaneous applause.

“The 5-part ballet has a large ensemble. Costumes by Kathryn Wilson were simple, colorful and American/Mexican in flavor, all dancers in different costumes,still remarkably similar. The lighting by Brady Jan King had moments but needed a little more to emphasize the atmosphere and occasional pathos. It is a deeper work than surface light. A little more time and work and possibly more contemporary lighting instruments to sharpen focus might be helpful. Still, we could see what we came to see, the work. For that we are thankful. If the ballet weren’t so strong McKayle would have needed help… There was no help needed, just seeing the dance was a marvel… Another lighting designer could supply a dimension of magic to the international heights this masterpiece is.

“The music sung on records by Lila Downs, excerpts from her album “Border”. A beautifully sung array of songs that are rarely heard and sung in a Spanish dialect. Many of her songs are sung in indigenous languages such as Mixtec, Zapotec, Mayan, Nahuatl and P’urhepecha (Tarascan). In Mr. McKayle’s UPROOTED, Ms. Downs sings in Spanish and English. The second movement for a trio of men, El Feo, the ugly one, the song is sung in Mayan, Spanish and English. They even sound Portuguese at times. Here Ms. Downs is simply sensational and as a singer/songwriter no matter what anyone says… she can only be referred to as extraordinary.

“Donald McKayle hits home and to the heart of the matter, a grand master of innovation. In each work he has created, he is honest in content and the structure is always pure. A lesson for all choreographers…content, structure, original, musical and finally choreography… His voice in movement is again unique in this piece. Its humanity is unmistakable, remarkable. No other choreographer I have seen has created so vast a body of works, each an individual work unto its own. McKayle is a National Treasure and is recognized as such,”originality” his middle name. The more you see the work, the more you want to see it again and again. Like all great artists, McKayle is always surprising, deeply rooted truth, and forever memorable.”

Toba Singer’s Biography on Fernando Alonso

22 Feb

At Ballet San Jose’s February 20 performance, Toba Singer mentioned she will be speaking on Fernando Alonso with Jose Manuel Carreno, current artistic director of Ballet San Jose, on April 28 at the San Francisco Public Library’s Main Building, Larkin at Grove. Toba said Carreno plans to bring some of the Ballet San Jose dancers.

Unfortunately, if my memory is accurate, Library policy does not permit the selling of books, so the presentation will be strictly Carreno’s memories of Alonso and Singer’s observations. I rather think that’s quite good enough!

Terry de Mari, 1928-2015

15 Feb

One-time member of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo,long-time dancer in noted American musicals, Terry de Mari died February 10 in his native Omaha, Nebraska from cancer. He had just celebrated his 87th birthday.

Born to Sicilian parents, de Mari was a high school athlete when encouraged to study dance. After local studies, he moved to New York City where he studied with Martha Graham and at the School of American Ballet. Dancing under his mother’s maiden name, de Mari worked first in muscials before auditoning and joining the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1954; he was promptly cast in a major character role by Leonide Massine when Massine created a ballet to the music of Harold in Italy.

In 1957 de Mari joined the touring company of My Fair Lady, remaining with it through 1960 when the troupe appeared in Russia, dancing in Moscow, and Kiev. While in Moscow, Francis Gary Powers was shot down in his U2 while flying over Russia. and captured by Soviet forces.

With tensions at a height, the planned appearance in Odessa was cancelled, but the company did dance in Leningrad where they watched a Bolshoi Ballet performance of Don Quixote. The following day,Rudolph Nureyev apparently invited the dancers to lunch where he quizzed them regarding the United States. A year later Nureyev defected at Orly Airport.

De Mari’s credits in musical theatre included productions of Brigadoon, Oklahoma, Kiss Me Kate,Paint Your Wagon,Call Me Madam, Wonderful Town, Peter Pan, Damned Yankees, Camelot. He served as dance director for three productions of Hello Dolly when the featured performers were Carol Channing, Eve Arden, Ginger Rogers and Dorothy Lamour. De Mari was particularly responsible for coaching Lamour in Las Vegas when she alternated performances with Ginger Rogers. When Lamour was ready to tour with the production, de Mari was responsible for auditioning and hiring the singers and dancers for
Lamour’s production and also lead to a long friendship.

During his career de Mari worked with Gower Champion, Jack Cole, Hanya Holm, Gemze de Lappe, and his associates included Brian Ahern, Jane Powell, Alice Faye, Phil Silvers, Howard Keel.

My first and only direct contact with de Mari was during the initial inspection of facilities in preparation for the 2000 Ballets Russes Celebration, which formed the cornerstone for the Geller-Goldfine documentary Ballets Russes; The production debuted at Sundance Film Festival and wasnominated for an award. The New York Times considered it one of the best documentaries that year.

Terry provided the information clearing center for the Ballets Russes alumni; the site preparation and arrangements were in the hands of Olga Guardia de Smoak, president of the New Orleans International Ballet Conference. The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities partially subsidized the conference.

Terry de Mari was perhaps five feet six inches, physically fit as one would expect, and completely present during the preparations and the celebration itself. He and his colleagues produced two monographs of dancers’ memories, Reminiscences I and II, for Ballet Russes dancers and lovers.

Terry continued to provide me with information, particularly the winnowing of Ballet Russes dancers, names which joined the In Memoriam list at the annual Isadora Duncan Dance Award Ceremony in San Francisco.

Thinking of Terry, I realize his level-headed approach was singulaar. Capable of great emotion and excitement, Terry also conveyed his personal understanding and importance as a link, the information locus to whom everyone turned, a role he never shirked and admirably filled. Not only will I miss his unflagging source of news, but very much the knowledge of his awareness of that important task, keeping people in touch.

Blessings on your soul, Terry. I shall miss our contacts, but value the style with which you served dance with such competence.

Ballet Talk on the #24 Divisadero

9 Feb

Friday, while waiting at California at Divisadero for the #24
Southbound, I noticed a tall, well-built man pointing a foot,
and then slightly moving one leg in front and behind a standing one, covering a small space and gazing as if trying to remember a series of movements.

Deciding to break the distance, I asked, “Are you remembering
steps from a ballet class?” He smiled, a tad ruefully, and said, “Yes I take ballet.” “Where?” asked I. “Lines,” he replied as we got on the bus, seating ourselves on opposite sides of the bus. “Who’s your teacher? ” I continued.

Sensing my interest was more than casual, he moved over to
sit beside me, and named two of the instructors there. Then
he said, “I also took from Yahuda Maor.” I responded, “Oh, really. Kristine Elliott taught there after she left American Ballet Theatre, and then Krissy Keifer had the space for a while.”

I guess he considered me knowledgeable enough to mention
“I just took a class from Yahuda. He’s in town visiting.
He now has a huge studio in Mumbai. That guy, he’s 72, a
monster. He was criticizing a dancer’s penche arabesque, and said ‘Don’t put your head down, it makes you look like a cow in a meadow in Switzerland.'”

I told him I was a writer, and gave him the name of this
blog which he jotted down on his I Phone. I hope he forgives
using Yahuda’s comment, but it’s too good to let drop.

San Francisco Ballet Program I

9 Feb

Program I started with a near sublime performance of George Balanchine’s Serenade, a world away from the image of him working with scattered dancers on an open air stage in Connecticut with Ruthanna Boris scratching her head while contemplating her share of the dancing. From 1934 to 2015 – 81 years, and I venture in another 80 it will rank up there with Petipa if it hasn’t already in the minds of discerning balletomanes.

Second was Yuri Possokhov’s Raku for which Yuan Yuan Tan earned a London Critic’s Award when she danced the role at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in 2013. It’s clear choreographer Yuri Possokhov was principally concerned in creating a star vehicle for Yuan Yuan Tan; I understand she guards the role zealously. Carlos Quenedit took over Damian Smith’s portrayal as samurai while Pascal Molat continued his memorably slimy interpretation of the monk who rapes Tan and sets the temple on fire. Tan was responsible for producing the librettist of the piece, with the result not unlike Balanchine’s take on Bugaku, a Russianized view of some Japanese cultural practices. The four retainers are costumed more like Roman soldiers, comporting their movements in a similar vein. Shinji Eshima’s score suggests the menace skillfully; perhaps he understands better than many of us something told me by a Chinese journalist about the nature of many Asian dramatic entertainments. “One tragedy isn’t enough; it has to be piled on.”

Val Caniparoli’s Lambarena completed Program I with Lorena Feijoo dancing the role created by Evelyn Cisneros. Feijoo’s torso and hips deliver a more nuanced version than Cisneros’ square somewhat stiff upper back, though the weight in the arms, while present, lacked the earthly sense Evelyn brought to the role. No matter how you cut it, undulating on pointe is a definite feat.

I found myself remembering some of the men in the roles;-Pierre Francois Villanoba bringing a clarity to the pieta passage less clear in this revival. Daniel Devison-Oliviera brought that amazing upper torso nuance movement which is one of African dances’ continuing excitements in the role created by David Justin whose own flexibility was equally remarkable. Another dancer whose freedom of attack was totally right for the piece was Isabella De Vivo.

The wonder of Lamberena’s popularity around the globe is its joyousness, affirmation, its immediacy. Interweaving traditions of Gambon and Johann Sebastian Bach, twenty years later, Lambarena continues to gladden the heart.

A Program Change for The Joffrey Ballet

7 Feb

When Cal Performances issued its program brochure for the 2014-2016 season, the Joffrey Ballet’s March appearance at Zellerbach listed Gerald Arpino’s Round of Angels in its roster of ballets. The folder for Programs I and II of San Francisco Ballet has Round of Angels replaced by Val Caniparoli’s Incantations, I believe created on and for the Joffrey Ballet, commissioned by artistic director Ashley Wheater.

I can’t say I am sorry; I know a little about the back story of the Arpino work which I mention now. Though I don’t believe it explicitly stated, Arpino’s use of the Gustav Mahler’s music was a tribute to James Howell, his musical collaborator, who died of AIDS before Arpino started to set the work. Arpino came to San Francisco where Howell had settled, and stayed through Howell’s final days. Following his departure from the Joffrey staff, Howell studied physical therapy and eventually worked as a practitioner of Alexander technique, though he still advised Arpino musically, and may well have chosen the music Arpino used for his silver-Milliskin clad men and the single woman who is manipulated in swooping, bird-like patterns to Mahler’s elegaic themes.

In two events related to the Joffrey Ballet’s local seasons
under San Francisco Symphony auspices, Howell remarked he chose music for Arpino by stacking records to listen to while he was vacuuming. If anything stood out while thus occupied, Howell made a note of it, joining his suggestions to Arpino.

Together Howell and Arpino renovated a building on Sanchez; the basement provided space for a handsome studio and the upstairs housed Howell’s Joffrey materials. Arpino retained the building following Howell’s death, visiting periodically.

I was informed that the building has vast problems with termites; the guardians of the Howell legacy were forced
to move the material elsewhere. It is not the first time that rare artistic material languishes, despite the efforts of the guardians to place material safely in a public institution.

So perhaps it’s just as well Round of Angelsawaits a different tour to be seen again. Lets hope Howell’s collection eventually finds an appreciative, public home where the dance world can enjoy Howell’s remarkable eye.

Wendy Whelan and Four Choreographers

2 Feb

S.F. Performances presented Wendy Whelan for her first performance in San Francisco in her post-New York City Ballet production and it was a full house. After the brief, no intermission performance of four pieces, the artists lined up, hosted by Christopher Stowell, who shared classes at the School of American Ballet with Whelan, for a Q and A. The two San Francisco performances constituted the first of what was to be an 11-site tour, weaving across the country in the grand old Columbia Concert series road tours. The original production of Restless Creature debuted at Jacob’s Pillow in 2013.

For Restless Creature, Whalen asked four young choreographers to create pas de deux in which they each would dance with her. Spanish-born Alejandro Carrudo, associated with Chicago’s Hubbard Street Dance since 2005, utilized the four composers Max Richter, Philip Glass, Olafur Arnalds and Gavin Bryars for Ego et Tu.. Joshua Beamish, relied on Johann Sebastian Bach as played by Glenn Gould for Conditional Sentences, created this year, apparently just before the tour commenced. Kyle Abraham’s The Serpent and The Smoke, created in 2013, used two works by Haouschka and Hildur Guonadottir. With Brian Brooks 2012 pas de deux First Fall to five pieces by Philip Glass, the program sans intermission was completed.

Apart from admiring the Whelan movement qualities, the looseness of the choreography was my dominant impression with snatches of overall attack; Carrudo’s faintly sinuous flavor; the insistent beat for Beamish’s composition; wonderful, low stretches and weaving patterns with Abrahim’s and the persistent falls Brian Brooks gave Whelan. She clearly gave her all to each movement form, enjoying the variety and honoring her partners, an egoless demonstration if ever I saw one, totally devoted to the work.

Whelan’s body is spare, as one might expect from a ballet dancer, but it also is remarkably square to oblong in its impression, with those amazingly free arms and legs which the choreography used to great advantage. The Whelan profile is handsome; a nose belonging to a family with some obvious ancestry, and a jaw giving evidence of durability. It’s a pity Balanchine never had the chance to work with her.

Rita Felciano remarked, “I’ve never seen so many people stay for post-performance comments.”

David Michalek, Whalen’s husband, served as creative director, the lighting credits belonged to Joe Levosseur and the modest costumes to Karen Young. The two performances, starting at 7:30 p.m., also constituted Whalen’s first visit to San Francisco. Hopefully it will not be her last.