Archive | June, 2015

San Francisco Ballet School’s 2015 Student Showcase

27 Jun

The May 28 program for the annual San Francisco Ballet School recital at the Yerba Buena Center’s Lam Research Theater listed sixteen faculty members and eight pianists. Four of the faculty were guests, current or former principals with the company. The wonderful Brian Fisher was listed for Contemporary Dance, with Leonid Shagalov for Character Dance.

The parents and assorted relatives attached to the dancers behaved like parents in any audience where offspring are involved and contact with other parents is fairly frequent. It’s one of the closest things to neighborhood that San Francisco can muster, perhaps outside of The Ethnic Dance Festival or other studio recitals. All anything extra is needed are trestle tables and pot luck contributions and country America would be shining clear.

Using a medley of Alexander Glasunov’s melodies, Parrish Maynard devised a handsome display of the students from level 2 to level 8. Not quite a defile or a full one-act ballet, it none the less felt and looked like something grand, while at the same time remaining the very personal pull of seeing earnest young faces, mostly smiling, presenting the tradition moulding their bodies and minds into exponents of Louis XIV’s ecole de danse. It was the best such presentation of the school’s students in my memory.

Capping this display before intermission was James Sofranko’s sprightly, musically adept interpretation of a Mozart Symphony. Sofranko, a SFB soloist and a graduate of the Julliard School of Music, provided unerring touches of colloquial movement to augment a thorough exposition of classical technique with formations and movement patterns underlying the benefits of his Julliard schooling. I could watch back to back a dozen times and still find delight.

Senior student Benjamin Freemantle’s work Bare to music by Laure Romano Bare followed Intermission, danced by two couples and six corps. The women wore long flowing garments with generous swaps of color, evoking attempts at tie dye. Handsome dancers, swirling skirts and frequent entrances and exits, but mood or emotion failed to visit this early choreographic effort.

Patrick Armand staged Vasily Vainonen’s Flames of Paris pas de deux, danced to Boris Asafyev’s music. The dancing pair were Chisako Oga and Haruo Niyama, both small, energetic, engaging and technically highly proficient. It’s my understanding the Niyama is yet to see sweet sixteen, but brimming over with the chops to deliver this Soviet era evocation of the French Revolution.

Having seen photos of Vakhtang Chabukiani in the role as well as seeing its comparatively recent popularity at the Jackson Competitions following Joseph Phillip’s successful rendition, It’s hard to discern a knowledge of the work’s back story and unlikely the dance world will make Simon Schama’s book on the Revolution required reading. This is not to denigrate May 20’s highly competent rendition, but to mention a need for the dance world to investigate any historical roots of what is portrayed, particularly in this country with its short history.

Tina Le Blanc staged Helgi Tomasson’s Bartok Divertimento for Natasha Sheehan with Francisco Sebastao, Blake Kessler and Daniel Domenach.

Kenneth MacMillan’s Soiree Musicale to Benjamin Britten’s music, created to honor Dame Ninette de Valois’ 90th birthday, received its American premiere with S.F. Ballet School’s students. With two principals, a male pas de quatre, two sets of six couples and a dozen corps members, it was a major undertaking on a relatively small stage. It would be good to see it staged at the Opera House or even Stern Grove where sight lines are less overwhelmed and the dancers enjoy a modicum of space; the stage at Lam Research Theater is too small.

As in all other numbers Soiree Musicale was a noble effort, competently performed and emblematic of the strides shown by the current crop of teachers and students at the school. The confidence and nascent wisps of elegance one hopes to see deepen each following spring, with the fervent desire that there will be enough ensembles to absorb the evident talent.

Ballet San Jose’s 2015-2016 Season

21 Jun

Ballet San Jose’s 2015-2016 season will open with Alicia Alonso’s production of Giselle, October 16-18,  Karen Gabay’s version of The Nutcracker. follows December 12-27.

Sometime during this fall Ballet San Jose’s name will become Silicon Valley Ballet , replacing San Jose’s name as the principal identification for the company Dennis Nahat secured for the Santa Clara Valley back in 2000. It potentially is a mistake. No municipality currently bears the name. Certainly the 21st century phenomenon for the original prune and apricot acerage lacks the history associated with the Spanish and Mexican beginnings on that once agriculture-rich soil.

With a 3.5 million payment due this fall, a double challenge is posed: will tech companies and their employees rise to cover the payment and to support the ensemble further. And how do San Jose supporters feel at the loss of the city’s name on the company?

The situation is also complicated by the sudden resignation of Alan Hineline, Ballet San Jose’s executive director/CEO, “for personal reasons.” It would be an intrepid individual to assume the daunting fiscal challenge on such short notice.

Three scheduled 2016 performance series start February 19-21 with Balanchine’s Who Cares; Minus 16 by Ohat Naharin and Annabella Lobez Ochoa’s Prism. March 25-27 will see a second viewing of Amy Seiwart’s This Might Be True and two additional premieres as yet unspecified. Septime Weber’s Alice in Wonderland will complete the 2016 spring season April 29-May 1. I believe it will be a first for the company and the area to witness one of Weber’s works.

Stay tuned.

Jazz Session with San Francisco Ballet Students

18 Jun

Wendy Van Dyck, who coordinates San Francisco Ballet’s advanced students performing group, cast an inquiring eye at the arrival of the San Francisco Jazz Center edifice on Franklin and Fell Streets and her inquiry bore remarkable fruit. With the aid of the program director at the Center, Erin Putnam, eleven advanced San Francisco Ballet students collaborated with six 2014-2015 SF Jazz High School all-Stars Comb, S.F. Jazz Center’s students led by Dann Zinn, in a combined improvisation and structured event at the Jazz Center’s Theatre, coming together on April 21

The Center’s amphitheatre seating exposed the eleven dancers, five young women, six young men relentlessly but did not deter their improvisations. Restrictions were based on the space itself or the line of fellow dancers awaiting their turn.

Such a handsome, well honed set of bodies, joy to watch! The height and shape of both genders were models of what steady study, diet and discipline can provide the adolescent. One of my favorite parts of classicism in the human body, the arms, clearly reflected the definition of the upper arm without which strapless or sleeveless garments for women look frumpy,and and many possessors oblivious to the contours exposed in a full-length mirror.

As expected, there was much space devouring and aerial competence by the dancers; a few chose some floor work, but it was clear ballet discipline emphasizes reach, stretch and musical acuity. With Dana Genshaft as choreographer, it was apparent that the weightedness of modern dance has yet to balance ballet’s emphasis on lightness and position precision, for modern dance has a closer and visceral kinship with jazz.

I am in no position to evaluate the six musicians’ ability, but their support of the dancers was solid and included Paul Desmond’s Take Five and a number by Oscar Levant, Blame It on My Youth. It should be noted that the young musicians’ dedication included commuting from the mid-Peninsula outside of school hours.

The musicians listed were: Akili Bradley, trumpet; Matt Richards, alto; Eric Nakanishi, tenor; Matt Wong, piano; Kanoa Mendenhall, Bass; Benjamin Ring, drums.

I think either Patrick Armand, the Associate Director of the San Francisco Ballet School, or Wendy Van Dyck, mentioned that the students’ native countries numbered nine. They were: Hadriel Diniz; Daniel Domenech; Blake Kessler; Anastasia Kubanda; Shene Lazarus; Daniel McCormick; Haruo Niyama; Davide Occhipinti; Chisako Oga; Francisco Sebastiao; Natasha Sheehan.

A brief Q and A followed the hour-long program.

Abhinaya Hosts Two Bharata Natyam Gurus

8 Jun

Throughout the three decades of Abhinaya’s activity in San Francisco’s South Bay, Mythili Kumar has consistently provided her Bharata Natyam focus with varied collaborations in the dance community, besides training two daughters and many other Indian offspring in this South Indian classical medium.

In 1989, for example, she was responsible for fostering the visit of Kalanidhi Narayayan and her dancers for a series of performances. Narayayan had been a student of Kandappa, who had trained Balasaraswati. Kalanidhi’s presence in Madras/ Chennai helped continue the tradition of expressive abhinaya, the Indian dance gestural language, in those all-important Bharata Natyam circles, recognized by the Indian Government with the Padma Bushan award.

Kalanidhi and her dances appeared at U.C., Berkeley in its Dance Studio, once Berkeley’s Unitarian Church. She informed me she had changed the subject of the demonstration to God. When I told her the space had been a church, she exclaimed, large dark eyes flashing, “Oh, that’s why I changed the subject.”

It was, of course, an illuminating hour and a half. After its conclusion, I was standing on the porch with the late David Wood, then heading the Dance Department, when we experienced a strange wavering. I looked at David who said, “We’re having an earthquake.” To my left was the large redwood trunk holding up the roof of the studio entrance. It looked as if every line, vertical or horizontal, in the trunk was magnified. The dancers scurried out to the automobiles scheduled to take them back to their lodgings in San Jose, and so began my memory of the Loma Prieta Earthquake,including a Thai dinner next door to Chez Panisse while parts of San Francisco’s Marina collapsed with fires to be contained.

April 12 Mythili repeated her recognition of Balasaraswati’s influence on Bharata Natyam, inviting Nandini Ramani to San Jose. Nandini was Bala’s senior most disciple and daughter of Dr. V. Raghavan, the Sanskirt scholar who admired Bala and was influential in Bala’s acquiring a studio on the Music Academy grounds in Madras/Chennai. Nandini came with Indra Rajan, who had been one of Mythili’s principal teachers. The two, sharing program and teaching sessions, provided strong stylistic contrasts.

Nandini Ramani is small, elegant, somewhat matronly in her appearance. Her lecture and demonstration were comparatively brief, limited primarily to demonstrating Balasaraswati’s style of allaripu, the opening sequence in a traditional Bharata Natyam concert, designed to open and prepare the dancer for the rigors ahead. One of the crucial hallmarks of an adept interpreter is the ability to maintain the balletic-like demi-plie throughout the performance. Nandini’s rendition did not fail in that requirement, nor the flowing elegance of a dance style easily reduced to accentuate the architectural like angles of the body.

Mythili Kumar followed with a Varnam, the lengthy and crucial test of the dancer’s ability to execute sheer dance patterns, or nritta and gestural, interpretive ability or nritya. Fascinating here is the dancer’s ability to assume the role of the heroine, nayika, the sakhi or companion, the beloved, and the deity at various times. Equally mesmerizing is knowing how politely reared young women in late and post-colonial India were allowed to express such erotic yearnings, called sringara, the Sanskrit definition of the nava rasas or nine sentiments.

Indra Rajan’s contribution included an tillana, performed by two of Mythili’s students. It seemed to me truncated from the long, sweeping movements which make for such an expansive finale to a traditional Bharata Natyam concert.

Prior to the finale, Rajan’s own appearance included a padam concerning the new love of a woman’s spouse, if I remember the plot correctly. Rajan, a member of the devadasi caste, besides teaching, has spent part of her career as a nattuvangam for other dancers. Small, dynamic, her abhinaya and demeanor made one feel this was a no-nonsense, forthright woman less ashamed of her husband’s dalliance than the absurd behavior of his new attraction. If I were to be a late career love of someone I would not be very comfortable with such derision, especially in a traditional culture.

Oakland Celebrates A Half Century

2 Jun

A 4 p.m. curtain May 23 at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre was preceded by a series of still images from its memorable repertoire, few unfamiliar. Three were missing, belonging to its inaugural season reminding me of the courage and freshness of the company’s original vision Ronn Guidi hewed to during his tenure as artistic director. The audience included a near who’s who of dancers long associated with the mid to late twentieth century ballet world, their numbers almost bringing tears to my eyes. And as part of the opening, Graham Lustig both on video and in person did the company proud while Joanna Harris remarked that Ronn Guidi not only brought twentieth century ballet incons to the Paramount Theatre, he reintroduced narrative to audiences exposed to balletic abstraction. Further Lustig mounted not only ballet icons excerpts but in the second half gave the Bay Area choreographers who contributed to Oakland’s repertoire their due. The Diaghilev era snippets, familiar to long-time balletomanes, may have seemed strange to ballet-goers whose exposure dates from the first years of the twenty-first century. The dancers were young, eager, willing but as yet unfamiliar with the style and nuance needed to burnish  assignments; hopefully that will emerge if the works are remounted. The second half of the program saw them at their best. Lustig adroitly programed Ronn Guidi’s Secret Garden pas de deux for the ill-fated parents as the opening of the retrospective, danced by Sharon Wehner and Taurean Green, and followed by the frivolous pas de deux from the Bronislava Nijinska-Darius Milhaud-Chanel production of Le Train Bleu with Megan Terry and Sean Omandam cavorting in the Chanel-copies of Twenties beach wear. The Hostess solo in Les Biches was danced by Lydia McRae in that witty satire of Riviera louche behavior choreographed by Nijinska to the music of Francis Poulenc and was followed by the Can-Can from La Boutique Fantasque of Leonide Massine to Ottorino Respighi’s arrangement of Gioachhino Rossini music, with Daphne Lee and Tyler Rhoads essaying the roles created by Massine and Lydia Lopokhova. The elegaic solo from the Michel Fokine-Igor Stravinsky Petrouchka was interpreted by Evan Flood with a brief appearance by Patience Gordon as the Ballerina. It was followed by the one-time torrid pas de deux from Michel Fokine’s Scheherazade danced by Alysia Chang as Zobeide and Michael Crawford.as the Slave. The final two excerpts before intermission were Billy’s Solo from the Eugene Loring–Aaron Copland classic Billy the Kid, effectively interpreted by Gabriel Williams and Claude Debussy’s L’Apres Midi D’un Faune as reconstructed by Ann Hutchinson. Matthew Roberts was the Faun, Emily Kerr as the Chief Nymph. The program notes were quite detailed and included more nymphs than I remembered. The second half of the Oakland Ballet’s Gala comprised eight dances, six premieres. Amy Seiwart’s Before It Begins used Antonio Vivaldi’s Violin, Strings and Harpsichord for her quintet with Alysia chang, Daphne Lee, Lydia McRae, Taurean /Green and Sean Omandam. Seiwart’s overt classicism was followed by Michael Lowe’s trio featuring Megan Terry, Sharon Wehner and Evan Flood in a Mongolian-inspired theme by JigJiddorj. N with an instrument known in the West as Horse Head Fiddle. Flood was garbed in Asian-type garments, dancing frequent frontal grand jetes, softened by flowing sleeves and trousers. Betsy Erickson, who has served as ballet mistress for the Oakland Company for seven and a half years, chose Marjan Mozetch’s Postcards from the Sky music for A Moment- A Lifetime, interpreted by Emily Kerr and Taurean Green Erickson’s contribution was followed by the 1976 production of Carlos Carvajal’s mounting of Green to music of the same name by Toru Takamitsu originally choreographed in 1974 for his ensemble Dance Spectrum. Here danced by Patience Gordon, Lydia McRae and Michael Crawford, it demonstrated the Carvajal capacity for abstraction and use of unusual scores. Robert Moses’ Untitled revealed his ability to choreograph to classical music with Roy Bogas’ rendition of Erik Satie’s Gnossienne No.3, danced by Emily Kerr and Matthew Roberts, as sensitive and lyrical as one would wish. Nine dancers danced Graham Lustig’s contribution, Luminaire to the joint composition November by Max Richter and Alexander Balanescu. The dancers were Alysia Chang, Patience Gordon, Daphne Lee, Megan Terry, Sharon Wehner, Evan Flood, Taurean Green, Sean Omandam and Tyler Rhoads. The 1999 Alonzo King contribution to Oakland’s repertoire, Love Dogs, with music by Francis Poulenc, featured Lydia McRae and Michael Crawford, with King’s characteristic expanded nuances in partnering and individual torso accents. It was followed by Val Caniparoli’s Das Ballett. set to Leopold Mozart’s Toy Symphony, a lively sextette with Alysia Change, Daphne Lee, Sharon Wehner, Sean Omandam, Tyler Roads, and Matthew Roberts, an adroitly festive finale to this fiftieth Oakland Ballet celebration. Two thoughts struck me about this laudable undertaking. One is the fervent hope that the supporters of the occasion will continue contributing to the company’s funding, allowing Lustig additional time to refine the willing dancers who reflect excellent training, but need time and exposure to polish their craft. The second is Karen Brown’s statement in the gala program regarding company member composition. True, Oakland now possesses a 30 per cent complement of African Americans, but they are not and have never been the only minority whose careers Oakland fostered and supported. Asian-American dancers were developed in pre-Brown company years. Carolyn Goto, Joy Gim and Michael Lowe were just a few of those dancing under the Guidi aegis. Further, early on, Judy Titus left Oakland to join Dance Theatre of Harlem where she, like Brown, enjoyed principal status. Omar Shabazz also was a local dancer.Both dancers, I might add, were fostered by Ronn Guidi; Brown’s comments do not acknowledge the considerable change not only in opportunity but in social climate, when few African Americans ventured into the classical classroom.  Guidi fostered anyone truly  interested. Finally, I want to comment not only on the completeness and the generosity of spirit reflected in the program, but to identify two, possibly three, dances I remember well. One was The Proposal of Pantalone by Angene Feves, Associate Artistic Director of the company for the first year or two. Usingivaldi viol de gamba recordings, Feves’ graduating thesis From San Francisco State University involved commedia del arte characters and her extraordinary skills as a seamstress, providing a ballet of wit and panache unhappily lost to history. Angene and Ronn danced Brighella and Harlequin and a young fourteen-year old named Anita Paciotti made a ravishing young Italian whom Pantalone wanted to marry off for a healthy sum. There was a modern work by Nancy Feragallo, name forgotten, but her name was associated with the set designer for San Francisco’s Contemporary Dancers, led by Jay No Period Marks, and husband, Roger Feragallo. Somewhere a review with my byline lies in an issue of Thought magazine, published in New Delhi. There also was a work to Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain in which Debbie Hesse remembers dancing in opaque oblong ghostly garments, all sizes essaying jetes and cartwheels across the stage in orderly abandon. It is such a pity the three works faded in to obscurity save in the minds of those who danced and who saw and remembered.