Archive | January, 2016

The 2016 San Francisco Ballet Gala

24 Jan


January 21 provided the usual well-dressed mayhem in the Opera House Lobby for San Francisco Ballet’s Gala opening.  After the national anthem and Chairman John S. Osterweis delivered verbal thanks to the occasion’s organizers and sponsors,a lengthy roster; he also thanked the Ballet’s Board for its support of a dance institution which has survived its various manifestations and flourished to see its 84 years of performing with its national and international roster of remarkable dancers.  It also goes without saying that Helgi Tomasson is a master in staging a gala, not only for its variety but for using dancers to keep interest high, quite a feat in the stylish, quite self-involved patrons..

The audience enjoyed the choreographic gifts of three Russians: Marius Petipa (2); George Balanchine (4); Yuri Possokov, celebrating a decade as choreographer in residence (1).  The remaining five included Christopher Wheeldon, Hans Von Manen, William Forsythe, Helgi Tomasson and Jiri Bubenchcek.

In collaboration with Pacific Northwest Ballet, San Francisco Ballet will be presenting Coppelia in program four, staged by Alexandra Danilova nad George Balanchine after the original Paris Opera production of 1870 to that delicious music by Leo Delibes.  In pastel pink and following a time-honored practice of providing performance opportunities to students [in Paris it would have been les petite rats], a bevy of San Francisco Ballet students danced the Waltz of the Hours with Jennifer Stahl as the focal point with her high and handsome extensions.  Let it be said that the formations Balanchine devised, staged by Judith Fugate, were as impressive as the students’ execution and doubtless equally stimulating to the performers.

Maya Plisetskaya’s husband Rodin Shchedrin created several musical settings for his late wife, One, based on the story of Carmen, Yuri Possokhov used for his sultry pas de deux for Lorena Feijoo and Victor Luiz, a couple who told the tale of initial attraction between the gypsy and Don Jose with appropriate passion, strains of Bizet reminding the viewer of the seche fleur Jose had possessed in jail.  Possokhov’s understanding of a pas de deux can be picture perfect, and in this instant he was true to his reputation.

From the sultry to the complex music of Bela Bartok’s Divertimento, Helgi Tomasson entrusted his dancing quartet to three members of the corps de ballet, Max Cauthorn,Esteban Hernandez,  and and Wei Wang plus an advanced student of the school, Natasha Sheehan, skillfully staged by Tina Le Blanc.

Number four on the program was clearly a high point, Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, premiered in 1960 at New York’s City Center with Violette Verdy and one time San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Conrad Ludlow.  Here danced by Frances Chung and Gennadi Nedvigin, it was a delight from start to finish, Chung crisp and Nedvigin crystallizing his ascent in jumps
with a moment of distinct clarity.  Her turns were bursts of joy and Nedvigin gave us a mellow classicism that made one wanting to melt.

Christopher Wheeldon’s take on the romance in Carousel was given a dramatic sharpness by Doris Andre and steady persuasion by Joan Boarda.

The final pas de deux before intermission featured the Marius Petipa 1869 war horse Don Quixote Pas de Deux, with Vanessa Zahorian and Taras Domitro dancing to the Ludwig Mnkus music as set by Helgi Tomasson and Yuri Possokhov, virtually unmodified.  The balances required of Zahorian were noticeable, her fouettes in the coda frequently double.  Taras Domitro gave us some alarmingly good grand jetes, eliciting gasps from the audience.  Both were smooth and elegant.  After all,  having outwitted Kitri’s father, the couple are dancing at their wedding, and the ought to be celebrating.

Following intermission, there was a local premiere of Gentle Memories choreographed by the Czech born dancer-choreographer Jiri Bubenicek, created for the Youth America Grand Prix in 2012 and staged that September at the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. With Ming Luke at the piano, the music by Karen LeFrak was filled with musical phrases clearly linked to Scottish folk songs, appropriately enough for Yuan Yuan Tan with four swains, Tiit Helimets, Victor Luiz and Carlos Quenedit.

The temperature raised quite a bit for the next two numbers with Balanchine’s Rubies danced by Maria Kochetkova and Pascal Molat.  It was interesting to remember who else danced the number for Kotchetkova and Molat gave it a polished air beyond the sheer energy it has been danced by American born dancers.

Hans Van Manen created Solo to Johann Sebastian Bach’s violin solo which grows with increasing intensity.  It has been a frequent ballet on the company’s roster, here danced by Joseph Walsh, Gennadi Nedvigin and Hansuke Yamamoto with customary skill and relish.

Mathilde Froustey and Davit Karapetyan matched skill in the Act III pas de deux of Swan Lake, where Petipa created 32 fouettes en tournant for Pierina Legnani in the role of Odile.  It looked like this was Froustey’s maiden attempt in the role/ A charming dancer with beautiful proportions and exceptional port de bras, she did not complete the requisite fouettes or sur la place.  Karapetyan partnered attentively and conveyed his progressive attraction with conviction.

Sofiane Sylve and Carlos Di Lanno provided four minutes from the William Forsythe Pas/Porte to be featured fully in Program I, an angular choreography costumed by Stephen Galloway in practice costumes rendered with large pathches of color – I remember a lime green in particular. The dancers, of course, were spot on.


Sofiane Sylve and Carlo Di Lanno in Forsythe’s Pas/Parts. (© Erik Tomasson)

The finale saw Luke Ingham in the role Igor Youskevitch created in Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, while Vanessa Zahorian danced Alicia Alonso’s part, created for Ballet Theatre in 1947.  To Tchaikovsky’s radiant music, corps de ballet and demi-soloists  rush on and off in waves, create diagonals, cross lines with jete arabesques, and turn energetically.  Easily, it was a triumphant finale for a grand exhibit of San Francisco Ballet’s continuing strength and excitement.

Sad to say, it also marks the beginning of Joan Boada and Pascal Molat’s final season with the company.

Jess Curtis Celebrates Gravity’s 15th Birthday

24 Jan

Counterpulse and Jess Curtis are joined at the hip, but the new location is not yet ready to celebrate this association, so Rita Felciano and I watched Curtis and four associates Friday evening December 11 at The Grand Theater on Mission.  The ground has been denuded of its seats;, it possesses a good bar at the lobby’s right lobby with adequate toilet facilities up some steep stairs. The flat space behind a voluminous curtain had seats in a circle,  along the sides, and the performance was marked by a photographer constantly loping in and out of the action, with screens both on the upper left wall as well in the expected place, smack in front of us.

Curtis performed with his frequent colleagues, Claire Cunningham from Scotland and Jorg Muller from Germany.  As always they did themselves proud, Cunningham in a dialogue with Curtis in the opener, then Curtis and Muller in their white-coated, pseudo-scientific experiments with tennis balls, a section where both men progressively shed their clothing with Curtis winding up nude in a  dialogue with a fully-clothed young woman.

Curtis finished the program with a mesmerizing display of varying aluminum pipes being swung into orbit by Jorg Muller, the light glinting on them, inviting the sensation of swinging with one or another of the safely-secured hanging metalics . [One could imagine how deadly one might be if the securing line broke!].  About mid-way in the slowing swings, Cunningham’s voice raised majestically,with the pipes still gleaming in diminishing circles, the atmosphere suddenly seemed transcendent. It was another one of Curtis’ magical capacities.

Wayne MacGregor’s Ensemble at YBC January 14

19 Jan

Some audience members in the orchestra gave Company Wayne MacGregor a standing ovation, but not all. The fifty-nine minute non-stop work titled Atmos displayed wonderful dancers with prodigious abilities and flexibility, a scrim with subtly appealing shades of grey through gentle purples and geometric shapes, some side lighting on stage right at the beginning which grabbed my attention.

MacGregor’s visual eye on production aspects is distinctly acute. But when it comes to choreography I am afraid I belong to some of the nay sayers, even though I have come to like Chroma, danced locally by San Francisco Ballet.

The dancers’ facility must mesmerize MacGregor to ask them to accomplish all sorts of leaps, partnered or solo, and to create crouching duos. An amoebic beginning reminded me of containers of composting worms one purchases at hardware or garden shops, and some of the partnering impressed me with variations of that same writhing. The initial movements I found intriguing, but after the third repetition I wanted something more.

Given his bio statement I am fully aware Mr. MacGregor is one of England’s head honchos of Albion’s modern dance. The credits and awards are singularly impressive. I guess I am simply out of step, but I do admire his abilities for production and selection of dancers clearly attracted to working with him.

Scott Wells & Dancers: A Collaboration, Studio B, ODC

19 Jan

Counterpulse has collaborated with ODC to present some of its fall program at ODC. the January 14-16 program Take This Dance and Shove.  It is certainly one of the accommodations afforded Counterpulse while its new theatre at 80 Turk Street is being completed.  ODC, it should be mentioned, is one of the front and center responders to the San Francisco dance community needs.

Three distinctive Bay Area choreographers, Scott Wells, Amy Seiwart and Sinichi Koga were involved;  with them a host of dancers from their three distinctive disciplines; contact improve, ballet and butoh.  While not totally successful, it was absorbing, entertaining with a near constant ripple of laughter or occasional guffaw following this unusual trio of movement styles.

For openers, Amy Seiwart was coaching the partnering of Sarah Griffin and Scott Marlowe in classical ballet with a contemporary twist. It was almost the last coherent phrases of movement, as the other six dancers and collaborators came out to tasks and directions ranging from the forceful to the sustained and minimal.  Scott Wells asked the dancers at one point to walk blindly from one wall to another; most marched confidently until they calculated they were near the opposite wall – hands went up, pace slackened, becoming tentative until the barre and the wall were touched; a visual sigh and  body relief were obvious.

Amy Seiwart mimed the gist of the Swan Lake dilemma, which came up later when Scott Marlowe started to undertake the same tale, only to have Miriam Wolodarski launch herself forcibly at him, requiring him to clutch and toss her off several times.  Quite a scene, he ended up miming she was an evil queen.  Woloedarski also had her moment requiring the group to imitate her
while she was explaining the necessary movements and balance in Swedish.

Shinichi Iova- Koga, wearing traditional Japanese trousers, ballooning on the sides and drawn together at the ankles, was called upon to move in and around a yellow box.  However impossible, he was elegant and eloquent, particularly in the final section with Dana Iova-Koga, returned  from early motherhood days; her slow movement  is still utterly mesmerizing.

Sarah Griffin demonstrated a portion of the Act III Don Quixote Pas de Deux with elan and style.  Her training may have limited some of the quirkier requests, but she was game and adaptable at all times.  Little wonder that Seiwart likes to work with her.

This set of recollections in snatches is pretty much like the work itself.  Take This Dance and Shove It seemed like colleagues just horsing around with deceptive randomness.  Judging on the laughter, more  of such skillful improvisation would be quite welcome locally, and, even beyond  San Francisco Bay Area confines.

Lena Hall’s Take on Villa Satori

18 Jan

Lena Hall returned to Feinstein’s at San Francisco’s  Nikko Hotel January 15 with her latest opus, Villa Satori, the name honoring the Carvajal home where she grew up. I sat with the proud parents, Carlos and Carolyn, watching their daughter in a black body suit ringed with sequins at the hems of the short pants, around the neck with an ingenious combination of support and bare skin at the back.  She was supported by two guitar players, a pianist and a drummer and played an electronic guitar herself towards the end.

Hall recounted an amazing collage of stories and sang songs with a description of the Carvajal household and their welcoming attitude. Hall’s specific memories of growing up in San Francisco as the daughter of two dance professionals with Calliope (Calli) sister five years her senior (for a time an utterly remarkable belly dancer, now mother of a beguiling daughter just over a year old) struck a chord for this second daughter with a sibling nearly four years older.

Except for a vastly different social landscape, the number two child of the same gender encompasses initial closeness until adolescence makes for marked differences.  In between numbers Hall’s recounting her desire to be like the rockers Calli was thick with, “smelly bad because they didn’t want water on their Tommy hawk hair styles.  I wanted to be smelly too.”

These confessions  were interspersed with songs, rendered with considerable range and strength, from soft, nurturing croons to a forceful blast at the right places.  Several times she started her experiences prefaced by “apologies,” or “sorry, Mom,” disclosures from her diary; her refuge in practicing the piano; a planned virginity loss that didn’t happen; cutting school one day that morphed into an encounter with a shotgun toting man. Hall exhibited shades of amusement, amazement, chagrin, and dead level frankness with skill.

One of the amazing comments Lena Hall made was recounting Carolyn Carvajal’s dream of swimming with a surrounding group of cats.  “Two months later, I joined the cast of Cats.”

Sitting in front of Carolyn were two men who obviously knew every tune and all the lyrics Lena was providing.  One bobbed his head enthusiastically.
As the rest of the audience applauded, I venture at least two dozen friends of the Carvajal family, Lena’s tribute to Villa Satori provided all manner of chords.  Father Carlos was clearly over the moon with pride.  As he once
remarked to me, “From Manila zarazuela to Broadway in four generations.”

Lena Hall Returns to San Francisco with Villa Satori

8 Jan

Ahead of Lena Hall’s appearance at Feinstein’s in the Nikko Hotel January15 and 16, I spoke by telephone with her about her earlier years of training and professional experience.

Lena Hall is special to those of us ‘who knew her when’ she was the lively, curious second daughter of Carlos and Carolyn Carvajal, the artistic director of Dance Spectrum and one of the principal dancers. Both had met at San Francisco Ballet where Carlos was ballet master for Lew Christensen and resident choreographer, having returned to his native city after a decade in Europe. There he had danced with the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas, Bremen Opera Ballet and the Bordeaux Opera, principal dancer in the last two organizations, soloist with the Marquis, having worked his way up from the corps de ballet. Carolyn was a Ford Foundation Scholarship holder with some credits before and after with Merriem Lanova’s company. Carolyn later was one of the stalwarts with Dance through Time and the dance component of the San Francisco Opera. It is scarcely surprising that Lena, in her childhood years as Celina, was early exposed to the discipline and delights of theater.

it was through those early years that I watched Celina navigate childhood, adolescence, albeit at something of a distance. What I remember most about her was her presence with Carlos in 1990 when he served as Spanish and German translator at the U.S.A.International Ballet Competition. This was the year that Jose Manuel Carreno was bestowed the second ever Prix de Jackson, that first having been awarded to Nina Ananiashvili and Andris Liepa, young Bolshoi Ballet principals. Carlos had brought her along and she took classes and sat with Carlos during the Competition session, fresh-faced, alert and quite observant. At the time I thought she was assessing the work involved in entering the competition. As history has demonstrated I was quite wrong.

From her middle school years, Lena had been singing in choirs and under the direction of Diane Price was a member of Young People’s Teen Musical Theatre Company. She also had been studying voice, jointly with her sister Calliope, or Calli, nearly five years her senior. Entering high school she auditioned for SOTA, School of The Arts, now named to honor the late artist and education activist Ruth Asawa. Lena’s audition concentrated on voice and theatre.

Before entering Equity theatre, what did Lena do?

“I graduated from SOTA or high school at 17, and worked a little on Haight Street in a kids’ store, studied dance with my Dad who was then artistic director of Peninsula Ballet Theatre and I served as his rehearsal assistant.”

So how did Lena arrive in the Cats cast?

“I got a phone call from my friend Noah Haydon who had answered an audition call for non Equity males. It was being held at Lines Ballet, and he told me to get myself down because they would be auditioning for women in about an hour.

“My mother dropped me off and my sister was with me. Lines Ballet was then situated on Oak Street near Van Ness and Market, a building now occupied by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

“There must have been about 150 girls auditioning. We were separated into two or three groups. They asked us to do several series of combinations before there were cuts. Then there were more cut and finally there were about ten of us left. Then they asked us to sing. I sang “Dance Ten, looks Three” from the musical Chorus Line. Then they asked me to sing again, so I did “Losing My mind,” from the musical Follies, and finally “A Singing Bee” by Harold Arlen.

“They thanked me and said they would be in touch. That was in October 1997 and I didn’t hear from them until February, 1998 when I was invited to join Cats in St. Louis.’ Lena appeared with tour when it played at the San Jose Performing Arts Center in August, and in a year was playing Demeter in the Broadway Cats cast. After a couple of years with Cats, Lena elected to join the Annie Get Your Gun touring company in 2001. As a footnote, Carolyn
said to me that when she and Celina had seen Cats together, Celina had said she would like to be in that musical.

Did Lena study voice once she got to Broadway?

“I worked with Neal Semer when I was in Tarzan in 2006.I had been having problems with my tonsils, had them removed and worked with him for a few months. Mostly, though, I have taught myself.”

I asked her about her music with her rock band where she really belts it out and to be able to sustain it. “You have to be strong to be heard above the band.” The group, The Defening, and Lena produced an album of original music in 2013,

From Tarzan, where she understudied Jane, as she had in the lead for Annie Get Your Gun, the next big leap was Kinky Boots. “It was my first principal role.” From there it was on to Hedwig and the Angry Inch. “I saw the 1999 production and loved it. When I learned that it was being revived with Neil Patrick Harris jn the lead, I made sure I auditioned.” The result, of course, was Lena’s 2014 Tony as the Beat Featured Actress in a Musical.

With ICM as her agent after two earlier affiliations, Lena and her association with Josh Grobn occurred in a round about way. “Josh saw me in Hedwick at one of our first performances. He then started following me on Twitter so I followed back, and we started talking.We became fast friends. When he told me he had been mentioning me as someone he wanted to sing with in interviews, I jokingly answered, “Oh, then when are you gonna ask me to sing with you>”

Groban invited her to sing a duet at the Time-Warner Center which led to performing together at the Opening Ceremonies at the U.S. Open August 2015. Soon after, Groban asked Lena to join him in a national tour, one stop of which included a sold out Masonic Auditorium, San Francisco November, 2015.

After the San Francisco stint in January what? “I have several things brewing, and I am initiating others. I enjoy playing catalyst, it’s quite stimulating.

On a final note, I asked Lena how she keeps in shape with her packed schedule. “I work with a personal training three times a week. I found that when I take a ballet class, dancing is much easier because I am stronger. I have been a practicing plant-based vegan for the past year. It’s done wonders for my skin, energy, frame of mind and body. I stay away from processed foods and sugar.”

International Hip-Hop Festival, #17

3 Jan

An early 2016 recap for the November 22, 2015 performance

Micaya is a certified wonder, producing the International Hip Hop Festival this close to two decades at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts. She does it with relatively little subsidy, outside of the regulars, foundations and individuals, who donate to dance events. But she possesses a near battalion of volunteers. I give her full marks in addition to admiring her stage presence asking the audience to give those various groups “some love” at the end of the four performances.

Also bless Micaya, not only for her enterprise, but mentioning that The Palace of Fine Arts, where she produces the annual Festival, might come under the aegis of a commercial hotel. The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Commission continues to assert the various commercial uses the Palace served before the cavernous space jointly housed the Theatre and The Exploratorium. To undermine the tranquility of the location is gross to say the least.

That aside, The Festival this year had just two international guest acts, a duo from Japan and a soloist from England. This year I managed only Program B with Brooke Byrne, who saw A as well, filling me in on some of the qualities of the international visitors, Hilty and Bosch from Osaka, Japan and Cindy Claes from London. As Brooke pointed out, “When you consider these guests pay their own way, they have to be at a level of prominence and accomplishment to make the journey worthwhile.” And they were.

Hilty and Bosch displayed a dizzying array of projections behind them, all linear patterns, and, as I remember, mostly in red. Both artists were compactly built and provided the audience with a fair amount of gymnastics.

Brooke told me Cindy Claes’ Program A featured U.S. civil rights -Sandra Bland, the woman arrested in Texas for failing to signal a left turn, dying in her jail cell. In Program B “She Speaks” Claes employed the conflict between the cell phone’s purported easy communication and a goal, symbolized by a trophy on a stand and a chair from which she started and retreated. Inspired by a social activist and blogger Sandra Bland, who died in custody, Claes see-sawed between the trophy and the interruptions created by the cell phone. A sandy-haired young woman, whose body I can best describe as doughy, possessed a keen balance between drama and movement, between expression and timing. At the last minute, yes, she reached the trophy; quick blackout.