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.


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