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.

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