Archive | October, 2015

Twyla Tharp’s Fiftieth Anniversary Tour At UCB’s Zellerbach

22 Oct

A not-quite full house at UCB’s Zellerbach Auditorium October 16 greeted the superb twelve-dancer ensemble Twyla Tharp assembled for her Fiftieth celebration of making dances. That did not deter the vociferous response after the curtain of the final of three and a half pieces of the program; two and a half were all Tharp high energy, filling almost every note choreographically, utilizing casual and classical movements.

Of all the noted choreographers working today, bridging the millennium, Tharp’s background gives her the American chops of post-World War II; suburbia, with its mass market entertainment diversions. Read her biography growing up in the outer reaches of Los Angeles, working in her mother’s drive in movie theater, the grueling travel to dance classes, and there’s the making of her sensibilities, drive and the so-so of conveniences. She not only was formed outside the envelope she out does that amorphous territory.

The clear triumph of the evening was the finale for audience response. Titled Yowzie, set to rerecorded music by jazz greats like Jelly Roll Morton and Fats Waller, it centered roughly around Rai Okomoto and Daniel Baker as a stoned couple; Haight-Ashbury funk was writ large with a dash of New Orleans, reinforced by a bewildering array of patchwork tie-dye hues in Santo Loquasto’s costume designs. Rai Okomoto was simply extraordinary – not only in technique, formidable along with the other eleven dancers, but her postures, gestures and responses simply glued my attention. It also is a pity that Daniel Baker is not dancing with San Francisco Ballet.

Danced in front of a rust-hued steel girder image backdrop above black curtains for entrances and exits, Tharp’s vignettes were not only on target for accuracy in gesture and posture, a huge disaffected youthful population paraded its cheek, wit and energetic alienation before us. One of the richest veins started with two burly gays, queening movements eliciting laughter, appreciation, body alignment the epitome of male posture, with a dropped wrist gesture crying to be sculpted and enshrined at 17th and Castro.

A final comment is wondering aloud will San Francisco Ballet commission works by another woman choreographer. The last one I recall was from Lila York. I’m sure Tharp could come up with something intriguing.

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Silicon Valley Ballet’s Production of Giselle

19 Oct

It was a case of something old and something new for this 1841 Romantic Era tale of love, class, love betrayed and love transcendent October 16-18. And, yes, it was the U.S. first, Alicia Alonso’s take of the classic Giselle thanks to Jose Manuel Carreno’s dream to bring it to the United States It was however, something, if not old, borrowed, since the sets and costumes utilized were first seen when this San Jose-based ensemble was directed by Dennis Nahat, a fact overlooked in the pre-performance promotion. Scenic credits go to Gianni Queranata for the excessive floral scenery scenery, perhaps late summer abundance; Act I costumes to Paul Plesh and Act II costumes to David Guthrie with David K. H. Elliott as the lighting designer. Who knows the credit for the recorded music.

While the company possesses three ballerinas undertaking the coveted role of the delicate peasant girl, it has also acquired a principal male dancer in Brett Bauer, one-time member of San Francisco Ballet, principal with the Oregon Ballet Theatre under Christopher Stowell. My main objection to his performance was his hair was too crew cut for Albrecht and his costume in Act II hit at an ungainly length on his hips. I attribute such concerns to the late Russell Hartley; his eye for costume and decor was such that he said, “I get so disturbed by some costumes, I can’t see the ballet.”

Saturday night Ommi Pipit-Suksun made her debut as Giselle, as Junna Ige did in the afternoon. Pipit-Suksun’s face and body lines make for an ideal Giselle; she added inherent diffident movements I consider Asian, endearing, moving through her postures naturally. Her eyes possessed the unblinking attention of a bird, fluttering; ultimately when she realized the betrayal, caged, deprived of the incandescent joy experienced dancing with Loys, Albrecht in disguise. It was wistful, tender, sanity bending inexorably against the facts of fate and class.

Instead of game, Hilarion, hesitancy sensitively portrayed by Akira Takahashi, wanted to give Giselle a white floral bouquet; there were the villagers arriving as he is about to place the blossoms in a receptacle. His approach to Giselle was more physical before the sparring between Hilarion and Loys [Albrecht], upstage until aware of Hilarion’s physical importuning. The tangle of wills provoked Giselle’s anxiety and her sinking to the bench, an Alonso motive seen in Alonso’s Giselle segments on Channel 32.5, a singular contribution Alonso included in her production.

Later, when there was the second attack, her friends rush to provide a chair, and Loys’ concern is more than passing. One could see Pipit-Suksun upstage, gathering her strength as she joined the circling villagers. Avoiding some of the technical challenges, [the toe hopping on the diagonal and dancing before the Courland party because of hyper-extended muscles], Pipit-Suksunl, along with her exquisite presence, conveyed a technically strong portrait of the fated adolescent.

Berthe was ably portrayed by Karen Gabay; not so many years ago, she was a memorable Giselle. The mime scene was expanded, with a Wili appearing in the background. Berthe, corralled a villager physically to demonstrate the ugly fate of woman unfulfilled and male caught at midnight in the forest. Here Alonso has been not only specific, but the background  Wili  is visible only to the audience. I wonder at the connection between Cuban folk rites and interpretation of the ballet’s libretto.

Act II enjoyed spreading rays of light from center stage, moon hovering slightly orange in the background, stage necessities triumphing over scenery. As Myrthe, Jing Zhang’s port de bras, with the other Wilis, demonstrated they were not quite alive, along with steady arabesques moving horizontally across the stage. Skillfully dancing as Moyna and Zelma Amy Marie Briones and Cindy Huang emphasized this semi-worldliness. The clear box sounds of the toe shoes in Zhang’s rendition showed little sign of special Marley flooring, or a sprung floor underneath, the San Jose Performing Arts Center might consider as a good investment.

Pipit-Suksun was elegant, a fluid sprite, tenderly supported by Bauer. One particular touch I enjoyed was the use of simple blossoms in the initial encounter which Albrecht picked from Giselle’s raised arms. No great tossings, it reminded me of Igor Youskevitch’s feats when dancing with Alonso several decades ago, and seemed a fitting tribute.

As Aimee T’sao noted in her San Jose Mercury review, the pity is the production is unlikely to be reproduced soon, giving the dancers the opportunity to grow in their roles, as well as the possibility of hearing an orchestra in the pit once more.

Given only six of the corps de ballet were hired by Dennis Nahat, with thirteen corps dancers arriving during the interregnum and under the direction of Jose Manuel Carreno, it’s difficult to assert how changed the former Ballet San Jose has become. The uncertainty prior to Carreno’s arrival was palpable, along with the deficit non-existent under the Nahat aegis. Given all the adjustments, the new SVB has made a major stride in this production of Giselle. But there still is must yet to be done fiscally and artistically. This production speaks to future possibilities.

Sankai Juku at Lam Reseatch Theatre, YBCA

14 Oct

October 9-11 Sankai Juku’s austere artistry captivated San Francisco audiences at YBCA’s La Research Theatre. Presented by San Francisco Performances, Saturday evening the audience stood, cheered, clapped vociferously at the 89 minute work titled Umusuna, performed to electronic music. A constant stream of sand dropped from the center flies, forming a mounting heap between two elevated squares as the eight artists appeared in mostly white costumes, bare to the waist, their bodies swabbed in white make up. As they performed, a pair of scale like hangings moved up and down as the action warranted, hung over the back of the two squares.

Like previous productions, Umusuma was conceived, and choreographed and directed by Ushio Amagatsu, founder of the group in 1975 with Semimaru remaining as one of the orignal artists. The other six artists were Sho Takeuchi (1987); Akihito Ichiharu (1997); Ichiro Hasegawa (2004); Dai Matsuoki (2005); Norihito Ishi (2010); Shunsuke Momoiki (2011). The ensemble has been centered in Paris since 1981 with Theatre de la Ville as one of its principal sponsors.

It’s been some time since I’ve seen the company; it seemed this seven-part production emphasized gesture more than many prior ones, gestures as well as stances linking the movement to Indian origins, filtered through centuries of Buddhist practices. For a few moments it seemed the artists, their mouths open in silent wails, reflected indescribable expressions found on the eighth century starving ascetic statues at the Horyuji Temple in Japan. The particularity was astounding, universal.

As with all butoh performances, the pace was deliberate, unlike scherzo tempos one currently sees in ballet and many modern pieces. The expressions also reminded me of Haniwa tomb figures, white make up accenting simple lines, marking the mouth, eyes, accenting expressions of tenderness and terror. Both Ascetic and Haniwa images shared the same century.

More immediately, I couldn’t help thinking of the time and energy expended in applying and removing body paint, such a different form of theatrical artifice to most western theatre. White also accents physical attributes – an elongated right shoulder compared to the left; short arms missing the graceful turn of arm muscles though steady in overall form; head carriage in relation to torso and overall body height, clear indications of ribs and collar bone. Such sensual, visual treats are not the prime message of Umasuma, only components, as the artists moved deliberately from the wings and at various moments rushed decisively across the space, circle, to find a designated location. It was an exceptional treat, a reminder that for the Japanese artist, time is measured only when completing form and concept completely.

The Mia Documentary

9 Oct

San Francisco Dance Film Festival opened its 2015 series at the Jewish Community Center’s Kanbar Hall, Monday, October 5 with the documentary
“Mia,” the life and accomplishments of Mia Slavenska. Slavenska died in 2002, believing she had been forgotten though she was lionized at the Ballet Russe Celebration in New Orleans in 2000 and subsequently interviewed for the wonderful Geller/Goldfine production Ballets Russes. This documentary was created by Mia’s daughter Maria Ramos and film-maker Kate Johnson. Their choice of signage seems geared to a television screen and smaller viewing space than the Kanbar.

While the documentary has been aired earlier on television, the chance to see it again was memorable, not just because of her life, but with the inclusion of three dance critics active during the height of Slavenska’s appearances: Jack Anderson,  who for many years co-edited the Dance Chronicle quarterly. Anderson also was one of The New York Times dance critics for many years, a poet who also authored The One and Only Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.

George Dorris served on the editorial board of Oxford University Press’ six-volume The Dance Encyclopedia, and contributed to the English publication Dancing Times. George Jackson covered Washington, D.C. for Dance News for many years, as well as writing periodically for The Washington Post; he now writes for the website danceviewtimes.

Newspaper accounts from Mia’s early years were quite amazing. She clearly was sure-footed technically and her debut elicited adoration from the audience. As a young adult, she created quite a stir for her advocacy of expressionist dancers like Harold Kreutzberg and Mary Wigman, causing a non-renewal of her contract with the Zagreb Opera House.

Mia and her mother left Croatia, went to Vienna, managed to get Mia into the cultural branch of the 1936 Olympics, which she won. Moving to Paris, Mia found an impresario who changed her name from Corak to Slavenska and got her into the film Ballerina with Yvette Chauvire and Janine Charrat, who played the young girl crippling Slavenska. The French title was Le Mort de Cygne.

The unexpected death of her impresario triggered Mia’s signing with Leonid Massine and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo where she languished because of a large roster of ballerinas. Here the documentary fails to credit her leading role in Marc Platt’s choreographic debut, Ghost Town, worth at least a photograph.

Also missing was Mia’s decision to spend nearly two years with Vicenzo Celli, the major Cecchetti teacher of the time. and the three seasons she was artistic director of the Fort Worth Ballet. Nor did it touch on the relationship Mia and Rozelle Frey enjoyed, and Frey’s studio where Slavenska periodically taught.

A significant portion of the film concerns Slavenska’s own ensemble, which, for a time, was profitable. Expanding the number of the ensemble proved fatal, causing them to lose their home. A good part of this footage centered around Slavenska and Franklin’s portrayals in Valerie Bettis’ A Street Car Named Desire. Tennessee Williams told Slavenska she was his best Blanche de Bois. Slavenska earlier enjoyed considerable acclaim, dancing Anton Dolin’s Pas de Quatre with Alicia Markova, Natalie Krassovska, and Nora Kaye. An excellent passage of her dancing with Royes Fernandez does not credit him as her partner.

With the fiscal disaster of the Slavenska-Franklin Company, Mia turned to teaching although she spent two seasons as the ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera, concurrently. When she left New York City for Los Angeles, she taught privately and for some years both at UCLA and CAL Arts before her retirement. The retirement years were spent writing her memoir, a copy of which was deposited at the Jerome Robbins Division of the New York City Public Library.

Slavenska attended the Ballets Russes Celebration in New Orleans in 2000; there she was one of the big draws, and is a featured dancer in the Geller/Goldfine documentary Ballets Russes. Unfortunately, she died before the documentary was released.

The film finishes with the touching evidence of the estime with which she is regarded in Croatia. A plaque is embedded in the wall of the house where she was born, and her ashes were interred in a ceremony led by Dido Bogdanovich, the artistic director of the Opera Ballet in Zagreb.

There is only so much footage can cover in an hour’s length; Ramos and Johnson have forged an excellent narrative with just enough actual dancing to fill out what largely are pictures and copies of articles, With this length of time, it only states the environment fostering her, a mother from a prominent family which lost its status and fortune following World War I, a modest father who was a professional pharmacist. Still Brava, Brava, Brava.

The Maryinsky Cinderella at Zellerbach

7 Oct

Maryinsky Ballet’s final performance of Alexei Ratmansky/ Serge Prokofiev Cinderella 2002 production was the October 4 matinee, entailing BART-51B AC 41B Transit travel, watching UCB students flash their cards at the bus driver, her then peeping five or six at most stops along College Avenue; many were laden with Sunday groceries

The Telegraph and Bancroft stop is still north of the Telegraph intersection; who knows whether it will move west to its former location, still cordoned off by hurricane fences and scattered motorized equipment. But, blessings, now a cement incline connects to the plaza outside Zellerbach, past the store, outside Eshelman Hall, now with expansive glass facing the plaza. It’s ideal for students working out routines. Rows of bicycle stands were added plus both steps and incline not only from Telegraph, but also from Bancroft past The Bear’s Lair, now housed in the western part of Eshelman; yet another incline leads to the Zellerbach will call window.

The Ratmansky Cinderella was commissioned when the choreographer was 34. For this first major assignment, Ratmansky chose the Depression, Russian version, as time frame visually emphasizing the edgy smart of the period, the totally bourgeois surroundings of the our scullery heroine, danced by small willowy brunette Nadeshda Batoeva. The setting is emphasized by metal scaffolding stairs and landings mid stage, both sides The curtain, an intricate geometry of narrow black vertical domestic buildings with peaked roofs, evokes the Fokine Firebird finale curtain, minus color. It is reasonable to speculate Ratmansky’s stage structures provided Boris Eifman with ideas for Red Ballerina and Rodin.

The Matinee repeated a number of the opening night casting Stepmother and a daughter, Khudishka, Anastasia Petushkova and Maragarita Folova as well as the Fairy-Tramp, Elena Bazhenova, and Cinderella’s Mother and Father, Lubov Kozharshkaya and Andrey Yakovlev. Repeating the seasons, Spring – Vasily Tkachenso,; Summer,- Alexey Popov; Autumn – Kostantin Ivkin; Winter- Andrev Soloviev with his white wig. All four, uniformly slender, torsos a traditional sculptor’s dream, executed commanding jumps and pirouettes. The Fairy Tramp, a comic wonder, a overburdened rotund figure, was clearly a mensch.

Anastasia Petushkova as the stepmother was tall, brash, pushy and abusive,this side of evil.Possessed of an orange wig, floral housecoat, black skirt and subsequent black for the ballroom act, she plunged unthinking in her haste with Margarita Frolova as Khudishka and Sofia Skoblikova as Kubishka, equally needy. One was able to wheedle coyly, the other thrust herself bodily, the trio object lessons in social behavior we love to loathe. Only superior technique and the innate classical tradition avoided the blatantly vulgar.

Nadeshda Batoeva, twice Cinderella at the Zellerbach, possesses a physique to arouse empathy, scrubbing motions abounding. Appearing at the ballroom in modest white embellished with brilliants, a flowing Empire romantic length gown, hands over her face in disbelief, the pause by the ballroom attendants, then the Prince, was just what one believes a fairy tale can express. The subsequent exchange between her and the Prince included pauses, retreats, a tour around two well-placed columns, an understandable hesitation – “what am I getting in to” – as growing rapture began to manifest. One passe Batoeva executed, as partnered by Shklyarev, also twice dancing the Prince, captured the “I can’t really believe it’s happening,” before she is given the stage to dance first in the latest jazzy fashion, before in brilliantly shaded classic lyricism, a technique of melting emotion.

The Prince, Vladimir Shklyarev, blond, handsome, blessed with a lithe body and prodigious technique, enjoyed a role with growth from a “look at me attitude,” wonderfully underlined by brushing gestures on his left shoulder while regarding the audience head on, then intrigued, enraptured, then a discouraged seeker for his beloved, all handled with charm and conviction.

Fellow colleagues have commented on the flaws of the production while praising the calibre of the dancing. Zellerbach may be the end of the foreign presentations of Ratmansky’s conception; still, it is gloriously realized in the smartness of the corps’ ballroom gowns, solid colors ranging from marigold through russet reds and a maroon or two, the design with adroit slits on one side to near the hip, accenting urban mendacity. The colors also hint at the autumn of fair tales themselves.

Ratmansky provided cheeky comment with the ensemble of women and men he ventured into in his search with the slipper. Nothing but charm ensued when Cinderella dropped the other slipper from the stairs above the Prince, sitting disconsolately on the lower landing. His climbing and her retreating in the double staircase made for visual satisfaction, prelude to a soaring pas de deux. Colleagues aside, and agreeing with some slow spots, I would enjoy seeing Ratmansky’s early essay on this quite Russian Cinderella again, supported by the Maryinsky Ballet Orchestra conducted by Gavriel Heine.