Archive | September, 2015

Tamara Tabor-Smith at ODC September 24

29 Sep

A lucky break allowed me to see Amara Tabor-Smith at ODC September 24. I met her through Elizabeth Zimmer, who had been her instructor for Smith’s Master Program at Hollins College.and when Tabor-Smith said she had started out with Ed Mock that caught me, along with her vibrant personality.

EarthBodyHOME involved four performers,including Tabor-Smith and co-director Dohee Lee. That further marked the shamanistic qualities of this work based on the brief, turbulent life of Cuban-born artist Anna Mendieta. The power of this ritualistically-strengthened work was assisted by composer/musician Jackeline Rago, Dana Kawano’s costume and set design, the video skills of Eric Koziol and Jose Maria Francos’ lighting.

Entering ODC Theatre’s lobby close to the doors opening, drums were active and the crowd particularly scrunched up. Rita Felciano and I found ourselves behind a woman taking images on her cell phone which enabled us to see the action otherwise lost to view. Plastic bottles of honey were being passed with the admonishment of taking some as emblematic of life’s sweetness. While this was going on a slender woman with extraordinarily beautiful hands, a body of evident agility and muscular proportion, slithered through the crowd rubbing her hands and occasionally gesturing over the length of an onlooker in what seemed to be acknowledgment and a blessing.

Someone spoke as well in phrases intoning a departure from usual theatrical norms, exact wording flitting by me minus any attempting to scribble salient words to remember.

When the audience was admitted to the theater, the audience thinned sufficiently to reveal an oblong shape in the middle of the lobby, scattered over and around with red petals, the object itself a square with a mummy-like indentation lined with grass-like wisps of green. If not sensed before, I knew the 70 non-stop minutes were going to be unusual.

Inside the theater a video image of water completely filled the back of the stage with musicians downstage left; upstage from them a huge hanging, mobile-like construction of what seemed picture frames juxtaposed one against another, hanging almost to knee height. In front of this assembly a woman in white stood, motionless, arms crossed at the waist, her skirt a cascade of gathered ruffles, face obscured by black hair.

ODC’s stage space invites mystery with the audience able to look down on the procedure, and the space between the figure and the mobile-like construction and two figures downstage right, noted but not the focus, lent a pregnant air beginning the seventy-minute performance. An apt phrase for all of a sudden the ruffled creature began of writhe and in a few seconds out from underneath the ruffles and bent knees came a small woman with dark ponytail in lime green trunks rolling forward, confined by a length strip of red ribbon firmly wound around her groin and vagina.

The major action followed, the prolonged release of the ribbon, with the subsequent sense of upbringing and initiation into adulthood. The progress was symbolized from upstage left to down stage right, where the two figures crouched and issued initiatory sounds. Not least among this group was Dohee Lee, Tabor-Smith’s collaborator, clearly sharing affinity for the unseen world of divination.

The seventy-minute work finished with an impassioned chant and departure through a backstage right exit which the audience was invited to utilize, an exit framed completely with a honey brown tone bark and branches; clearly an intensive labor of construction, it seemed criminal the passage would exist for just three performances.

The Moon Eclipse

28 Sep

Since September 27 is notable for its full moon eclipse, it reminds me of a PBS Quest program I watched recently. It was about sending men to the moon, which is understandable, given the U.S. history of achieving that.

What is alarming is that private firms are on a quest to land robots on the moon for  investigation leading to mining on the moon. Yes, mining on the moon. International law prevents nations from claiming the moon as territory, but no law exists, with similar preventing some adventurous [read greedy] souls from extracting gold, silver, or whatever else the moon may possess below its surface, being lifted, by robots, brought to earth’s surface, to sell.

There ought to be a law. I can just imagine pockets in the surface showing up when the moon is full. Worse still, how would mining affect the ocean tides?

Here we are, many of us, attempting to protect the planet, but no one has considered the plight of our lady, the Moon.

To the barricades, anyone?

San Francisco Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet on Film

24 Sep

At a September 21 preview in San Francisco’s Century Theatre, housed in the old Emporium building, a selected audience saw San Francisco’s current Romeo and Juliet production which starts the Lincoln Center at the Movies series October 1. While it is not PBS’ Great Performances series in which Michael Smuin’s version opened the dance series to full-length ballets, the Helgi Tomasson version enjoyed a remarkable production thanks to Thomas Grimm, and the various fiscal sponsors acknowledged by Tomasson and on the screen.

What made a notable difference from the early PBS series, created by the memorable trio of Merrill Brockway, Jak Venza and Judy Kinberg, were the use of closeups and deliberate cutting of movement, filmed May 7 at San Francisco’s Opera House. Cuts to an individual face or chest shots infused more drama than long shots with feet and body moving to the Prokofiev score. In addition, shots of the towns people and the harlots during the action added to the overall ambiance, the sense of a small interactive community.

Maria Kochekova and Davit Karapetyan were the fated lovers, supported by Pascal Molat as Mercutio and Luke Ingham as Tybalt with Joseph Walsh as Benvolio. Anita Paciotti reprised her role as the Nurse; Jim Sohm stepped eloquently in as Friar Lawrence while Ricardo Bustamonte and Sophiane Sylve were the steely Capulets, Ruben Martin and Leslie Escobar the Montagues. Myles Thatcher, the choreographic wunderkind of the corps, was a blond Paris. [Readers of my earlier SFB R&J review know my feelings about a too-early age of County Paris.]

There were at least three interviews between the acts, which were identified on the upper left, along with quotations from Will’s play; Helgi Tomasson; Warren Pistone who doubles as sword master and the Prince of Verona; Anita Paciotti
who speaks of the use of children in the production. Additional comments included Davit Karapetyan, Maria Kochetkova and Pascal Molat regarding the roles and the challenges of the fight scenes. Kochetkova was quite coy.

The handsome production additionally featured Martin West commenting on the score, the costume and makeup departments received their share of footage along with a small group of children making their contribution. I would pay to see the movie again.

The following evening, at a gathering to celebrate the 41st wedding anniversary of Carlos and Carolyn Carvajal Tony Ness, former San Francisco Ballet dancer who belonged to the Smuin era of the PBS filming of Smuin’s reading of Shakespeare’s tragedy to Prokofiev’s music, was present. He refreshed my memories of the Smuin production, both for the premiere and the PBS production when Diana Weber and Jim Sohm were the ill-fated teens with Anita Paciotti as Lady Capulet, Attila Ficzere as Mercutio, Gary Wahl as Tybalt, and Tina Santos the nurse.

At Smuin’s premiere, Vane Vest and Lynda Meyer were Romeo and Juliet and Anita Paciotti was the nurse. The balcony was upstage right and the entire set designed so that it could travel, a fact heading the review for The Christian Science Monitor. Tony was the Duke of Verona, but the PBS version placed Vest in the role. Paula Tracy appeared as Lady Capulet with Keith Martin and Susan Magno as the street dancers in the original production. Magno later danced Juliet with Tom Ruud and Jim Sohm. There were a succession of dancers in the roles – David McNaughton with Linda Montaner and later Alexander Topciy with Evelyn Cisneros. I believe Smuin’s production was later mounted by Ballet West, a natural connection for Smuin’s dance career started under Willam Christensen.

Most touching, however, in the PBS version Lew Christensen was Friar Lawrence. I also couldn’t help thinking of the succession of roles Sohm has assumed with such finesse following his active dance career; Grandfather in Nutcracker; Don Quixote in that ballet and now Friar Lawrence.

Earlier Tomasson Romeos, Anthony Randazzo, Yuri Possokhov, Pierre Francois Villanoba, and Joanna Berman’s Juliet, also floated to the surface. Clearly, the Tomasson production, elegant as it is, beautifully realized by the dancers, prompted memory lane meanderings.


11 Sep

Several times recently I have gone on the Web and found myself looking at the personnel of three major U.S. ballet companies, American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet and San Francisco Ballet. I became curious about where the annual budget was allocated, beyond the dancers themselves.
And, provincial that I am my curiosity was whetted.

So I looked up the three companies and enumerated them by categories. There are differences such as the inclusion or separation of costume and wardrobe. New York City Ballet, for example, has a separate department, clearly constructing the productions in house. San Francisco Ballet includes Ticket Service and Facilities in its listing, bringing the personnel numbers above 100, where the New York City based companies are not required to include these tasks in their payrolls.

So below is what I culled.
Comparative Personnel Figures, U.S. Ballet Companies

Dancers: Principals
ABT: 17 NYC:24 SFB: 20
Dancers: Soloists
ABT: 26 NYC: 15 SFB: 10
Corps de Ballet:
ABT: 54 NYC: 46 SFB: 40
Apprentices: SFB: 4

Artistic Staff: (includes Artistic Director)
ABT: 11 NYC: 12 SFB: 10
Operations and Company Management:
ABT: 6 NYC: 3 SFB: 3
ABT: 9 NYC: 5 SFB: 6
ABT: 14 NYC: 21 SFB: 17
Special Projects)
ABT: 21 NYC: 10 SFB: 16
Costume and Wardrobe:
ABT: NYC: 10 (See Production)
Finance and Administration:
ABT: NYC: 17 SFB: 4+8
Health and Wellness:
ABT: 7 2 SFB:
Information Technology:
ABT: NYC: 5 SFB: 5
Marketing and Communications:
ABT: 10 NYC: SFB: 16
Professional Services:
Ticket Services:
SFB: 10
Facilities: SFB: 9

The rough supporting totals are: ABT: 91; NYC: 99 and SF, including Ticket services and Facilities 104, without these two categories 85. Place these figures against the dancers rosters, ABT 97; NYC 85; SFB 74, giving one a rough idea of where the annual funding is budgeted, ABT at 188; NYC at 184 and SFB totaling 178.

NB – The figures originally were in tidy columns, but the translation from the computer draft does not seem very cooperative.  My apologies.

I would be fascinated to compare such totals with The Bolshoi, the Maryinsky, The Paris Opera and The Royal Ballet.

Adios, Clara Blanco

4 Sep

San Francisco Ballet’s Monthly Newsletter included the information that soloist Clara Blanco will be leaving the company to join the Escluelo de Danza Maria de Avila, subsidized by the Spanish Government, as a ballet teacher and head of the classical dance department. The positions are for life.

Blanco joined San Francisco Ballet in 2001 and except for a year at the Birmingham Royal Ballet during the 2007 season, she has been one of the company’s interesting dancers to watch.  Particularly when assigned to a major pas de deux, her style gave one the sense of seeing the 19th century ballerina; a secure dancer with distinct charm.

What the audiences and company will miss is Blanco’s Doll in the first act of The Nutcracker. Something in her movements plus the coils of curls on her head have created an indelible impression, creating a standard by which other dancers are measured.

Another memorable role Blanco danced was Olga in Eugene Onegin. She also displayed her impeccably graceful port de bras to advantage in Tomasson’s pas de cinq in the first act of Giselle. I was told more than once Blanco was asked to demonstrate port de bras in class and rehearsals.

Adios, Clara

Amber Says

3 Sep

September 3 S.F. Gate has listed Starbuck’s progressive closures of the stand alone La Boulange bakery-eateries, so I am passing along a word-of-mouth statement.

Amber works cheerfully behind one of the cash registers at Cole Hardware. She also does something similar at La Boulange at the corner of Cole and Parnassus. The other day I asked Amber if there were any developments for saving La Boulange and the fate of the employees who have waited on me  a decade plus. To see them getting unemployment after years of polite and efficient service sour me on the name Starbucks. believe in profit, but Starbuck’s interest in the bottom line swore me off their brew.

Amber told me. “The former owner has taken over the lease on six of the stores. I don’t know the others  but Pine and Parnassus are two of them.”

The other nastier part of the impasse is that Starbucks bought La Boulange’s recipes, i.e. Starbuck’s bought “the intellectual property” of La Boulange. Starbuck’s
disposition of same is anyone’s guess, but it means La Boulange may require a new variation of their staples or a new line of bakery offerings.

Stay Tuned and Bon Appetit!