Ballet San Jose and Technology

1 Apr

Ballet San Jose presented Bodies of Technology March 27-29 at San Jose’s California Theatre, an 1100 seat theater which looked almost full at the Sunday matinee. It made me wonder whether the company might seriously consider changing its venue. The sound and look of a full house is better than a half-filled larger location.

Bodies of Technology also served to make an additional contribution to the reputations of Bay Area choreographer Amy Seiwert, This Might Be True, and former San Francisco Ballet principal and City Ballet teacher, Yuri Zhukov, User’s Manual. The third choreographer, Jessica Lang, Eighty One, has had at least one other work presented by Ballet San Jose, originally produced by American Ballet Theatre.

Before the curtain rose on Seiwart’s work with its beautiful, mostly blue, visual design by Freder Weiss, Artistic Director Jose Manuel Carreno, Board Chairman
Millicent Powers and Chief Executive Officer Alain Hineline came out to thank the audience for the support given to raise over $550,000 by March 15 as part of the company’s stabilization efforts.

While the immediate following statements are hors de categorie of performance, the website Charity Navigator gave the company a rating of 68% for the year ending June 2012, lacking availability of information on loans and Form 990, as well as posting a fiscal deficit of $1,130,870 within a year following the forced departure of artistic director Dennis Nahat. Nahat stated the company was in the black when he departed. Available on the Web, such information leads one to wonder why the deadline and why the funding was needed.

Additionally, Hineline announced the projected company’s name change to Silicon Valley Ballet, with the logo displayed on the curtain; small copies were handed out to audience members when they departed the theater.

Throughout the program with its heavy emphasis on ensemble, music was of the minimal variety; melody is out, folks. Seiwart’s musical choices by Nits Frahm and Anne Muller provided ten silver unitard-dressed dancers and the choreographer with a background for geometric patterns of entry, exits and formations on stage, enhanced by Freder Weiss’s visual echoes of the dancers movements. One of the most lovely was like folded ribbon cascading as dancers lifted their partners on entering, the lifting with the supported partner’s leg in a la seconde into arabesque. At the end, however, the visual patterns departed from movement echoes, becoming snowflakes, perhaps spring blossoms. This Might Be True is well worth seeing a second time.

Jessica Lang’s Eighty One, premiered by the company in an earlier season, again had the composer Jakub Ciupinski performing his commissioned score on an elevated platform upstage left, stage light emphasizing his presence like an
all-seeing shaman, the other lighting slanting diagonally as if from dusty skylights from which pointed shoes or an arm were revealed at the beginning.

In the murky light, dancers pirouetted, partnered, lent their backs to the floor if I remember correctly, and in their grey to black toned costumes cohered admirably to semi-robotic commands, light replacing the smoke of the Tharp work seen in the previous trio of ballets.

Yuri Zhukov is the most esoteric and traditional of the three choreographers. When he was producing Zhukov Dance Theatre in San Francisco [with support from Millicent Powers and Cindy Adams], his work was imaginative and spare, focused on contemporary life from an unusual angle. User’s Manual continues in that vein, but with marked differences for the dancers: their faces were whitened and all sported red wigs, the women’s possessing bangs. Usually employed for translations or plot summaries, an overhead prompter first displayed multiple images of stones wrapped with strands of perhaps rope, then later multiple images of a carrot-haired young woman grimacing, several non-human images with vocal English sounds and a few phrases of Japanese.

The commissioned score was performed by The Living Earth Show, electric guitarist Travis Andrews and percussionist Andy Meyerson, a duo with a xylophone producing two notes through most of the ballet, the guitarist whose contribution sounded repetitive. The printed credits stated that the collaboration “thrives on pushing the boundaries of technical and artistic possibility in its presentation of commissioned electro-acoustic chamber music.” From what I heard, I did not hear what could be called acoustic.

User’s Manuel provided the audience with a pas de deux featuring Kendall Teague and Ommi Pipit-Suksun, an intricate passage displaying Pipit-Suksun’s finesse and finished line to advantage and affirming Teague’s capacities as a partner.

The company coheres wonderfully as an ensemble, each dancer attacking the individual assignment vigorously, dancing at full tilt.

I guess I display my age when I am not particularly moved by one note electronic music with hints of outer space. One hopes a) that the company’s performance zeal is rewarded with continued opportunities and b) there will be more melody, not just by Prokofiev May 8-10, but with a live orchestra.

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