Archive | March, 2016

San Francisco Ballet’s Program Five: Gathering and Swimming

29 Mar

March 16 San Francisco Ballet presented just two ballets with highly opposite treatments: Jerome Robbins’ 1969 Dances at a Gathering to Chopin’s music played by Roy Bogas and the 2015 Yuri Possokhov work called Swimmer with a composite score by Shinji Eshima, Kathleen Brannan, Gavin Bryars, and Tom Waits. Hard to conjure more divergent use of the classical canon. The divergence in taste was testified to by a distinct winnowing of the audience following Dances at a Gathering.

Dances at a Gathering was premiered at New York City Ballet 47 years ago. I dare say it is for the American ballet world what Les Sylphides was for Russian Ballet in the early 20th century. Staged again by Jean-Pierre Frohlich with Jenifer Ringer Fayette with Jennifer Tipton’s sensitive lighting, it demonstrates just how aware Robbins could be in his creative insights forty six years ago. The dancers waft on and off with remarkable naturalism, starting with Joseph Walsh touching the earth, the space where the emotions would follow, lightly but indelibly sketched. Lorena Feijoo was given the difficult task of a feminine initiator, rebuffed several times, but taking the rejections with hands moving from the wrist, “ Tout va change, tout va reste le meme chose.”

I was particularly caught by Carlo Di Lanno’s dancing. When he raises his arms en haut, he does it with a breath, the inhalation providing a distinct lightness to the movement. When the group of three man were dancing on a slight diagonal line opposite three women, his port de bras perfectly echoed the line of his extended right leg, a moving diagram in dance.

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Vanessa Zahorian and Carlo DiLanno in Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering. (© Erik Tomasson)

Supported by Ray Bogas at the piano, Dances at a Gathering spun its mid-summer late afternoon magic, leaving us intensely gratified and wanting to see it again soon.

Swimmer enjoys Alexander V. Nichol’s superb visuals with Taras Domitro waking, executing perfunctory exercises, of course exaggerated, showering with projections expanding the splashes – outlandish in our drought conscious society – before sitting down to breakfast with the papers –which were flashed large and varied as Domitro sits in front of cardboard wife and children before having another cardboard wife deliver him his jacket. Kate Duhamel’s video designs accent the vignettes throughout, water being one of the principal themes, from the shower to the ocean. I felt the water image in its various forms was somewhat overdone, a “get my point, see what I mean” emphasis. Domitro was marvelous throughout, lean, agile and airborne.

Next follows “the commute,” featuring fellow passengers, another visual bus, strap-hangers, bus chugging along, going up hills and a thoroughly exaggerated 190 degrees, a wonderful tunnel, before portraying “the office,” equally exaggerated. Projections of computers and reams of paper being spewed out flash across the screen, walked across for checking with a woman signing the stack furiously. No doubt about it, as a retired office worker myself, Possokhov has an unerring comic touch.

Up to that point Possokhov is dead on. Then he has his “hero” encounter mass media, Hollywood, Pool Party and a First Swim, followed by specific literary references; they unfold, conveying the essence of subject matter as seen from a foreign-born, foreign resident’s eye. Apart from content, and unlike prior Possokhov productions, the stage settings begin to blur choreographic patterns and dancers. If that was the intent it certainly succeeded, but it marred some glimpses of excellence, particularly of Gennadi Nedvigin and Pascal Molat whose company performing days dwindle down precipitously, an overly advanced September.

Tiit Helimets and Maria Kochetkova enacted Lolita with the seduction gradually changing from man to nymphet to nymphet to man, followed by Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz on stairs. Carolyn Carvajal observed that both pas de deux were danced to songs rendered with Tom Wait’s gravelly voice; a neat observation between voice and the physical encounter, regardless of motivation.

Swimmer
has an ability to convey a certain quality in contemporary American life, a shallowness all too prevalent, images piled one after another to make one cringe at its unerring display of distractions, of sensation minus feeling. The contrast with Robbins’ work was telling.

A Surprise At The Bonnard Exhibit

27 Mar

Thursday Dan Henry and I took Muni to San Francisco’s Legion of Honor to see the Bonnard Exhibit which opened in February and will remain on view through May 15. His was a name I vaguely remembered during college, since he died in 1947, but before this exhibit I never really connected with examples.

He possessed a beautiful capacity for color, most of it sunny, and his subject matter was fairly domestic, sensual and most of all quite intimate. But the canvases or whatever else he painted on never possessed the crisp edges on associates with painters, nor the dominance of themes so evident in the Impressionists.

I think I have a clue – his glasses. If my intuition is correct, he didn’t use his glasses when he painted and he may have been very short sighted. If so, his sense of line is just approximate and therefore lacking in the decisive edge.

This observation  is written by someone who is a borderline literate when it comes to painting, so you can toss the opinion into the mental trashcan and I won’t be offended.

However, there was one small work dated from 1896 or so in the second gallery which caught my fancy. Near the right hand wall and almost a perfect square is a study of dancers at the Paris Opera. Perhaps a nod to Degas influence, but the ensemble comprises multiple members with the front right group of dancers on their knees, another ensemble moving on a diagonal and yet another moving behind them, all in faint pink with dabs of colorful reddish sashes. Where Degas captured lighting and closeness to the wings, Bonnard’s images seem bathed in bright stage light, perhaps the ensemble in a finale. It’s charming and it also says a lot about theatrical dance patterns fin de siecle Paris Opera.

Menlowe Ballet with Four Silicon Valley Ballet Dancers

22 Mar

At the 30th Anniversary Isadora Duncan Dance Awards Ceremony March 21 at the Yerba Buena Center Forum Theatre, Artistic Director Michael Lowe said that not only will their April 29-May 1 program feature choreography by Val Caniparoli and Gregory Dawson, but four popular dancers from Silicon Valley Ballet will be dancing.

Junna Ige, Maykel Solas, Amy Marie Briones and Akira Takahashi will be Menlowe Ballet’s guest artists. Besides being excellent dancers making the best of a truly bum deal, the quartet represents the best in cultural diversity.

It should be an exiting spring series at Menlowe Ballet’s usual venue, Menlo Park High School Auditorium.

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Ghosts and Samurai as seen by Tajal Harrell

20 Mar

Cal Performances presented Tajal Harrell’s performance piece, The Ghost of Montpelier Meets the Samurai, at Zellerbach Playhouse March 18 to an audience of widely ranging ages; judging from post-performance comments, varied aesthetic persuasions. I went with Rita Felciano who filled me in on from ‘Eighties practices in New York City after the hour and forty minutes of non-stop watching an amazing parade of stylistic devices. Seven skillful dancers used their admirable physiques in the performing admonition “Etonne moi!” They succeeded in that regard without leaving me particularly gratified, but cognizant there’s a lot “out there” of which I have been blissfully and happily ignorant. A 2012 New Yorker review also helped bring me up to snuff regarding M. Harrell.

Clearly I mentally live in a cultural backwater when reading the program’s production support: Festival Montpellier Dance 2014; Festival d’Automme 2015, Centre Pompidou; Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis; Hau Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin and residency support also stemmed from Montpelier, Antwerp and Angers, The French US Exchange in Dance and Creative Capital, New England Foundation for the Arts/National Dance Project; Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts.

The Zellerbach Playhouse has a broad proscenium and presented several chairs near the stage lip, a low table which had steps leading up to it in the back and down the stage left corner. Behind it were about three oblong pads about two or three inches high and before the exit/ entrances on either side of the back stage; another table, lower than the front, with a variety of objects atop and cluttered around the long side faced the audience from upstage right.

Two of the seven performers with Harrell making a third were mentioned in the 2012 New Yorker review: Thibault Lac and Ondrej Vidial. The others were Perle Polombe, Steven Thompson, Christine Vassiliou, and Camille Durif Bonis.

Production credits were heavily weighted with Harrell’s name: soundtrack, set design with Erik Flatmo, costumes with the performers and, of course, choreography, such as it was. Stefane Parraud was credited with lighting design, dramaturgy with Gerard Mayen and Rob Fordeyn provided the voice over.
Harrell, swathed in red, started off the performance in the guise of Anna Wintour of Vogue exhorting the audience to support the arts in the face of continuing cuts. There was a raffle with first a man and then a woman making choices from the upstage props. One of the performers came out in sneakers and then a girl from stage left crossed the stage in grey sweat pants and very ordinary tee shirt in a loping walk referencing the cat walk of fashion shows. After perching on the table with a slim young woman who came out in high heels, and the two of them chatting via hand-held mikes, the cast began to emerge in costumes ranging from the minimal to the maximum covering. These latter garments were burka-like draperies of colorful prints, suggesting “the mysterious East” of late nineteenth century imagination. The accompanying music possessed a strong beat and minimal melody, the performers moving with a sway to the hips, a strut to the walk and on partial toe, barefoot, which in itself, was quite a feat.  This apparently is “vogueing.”

There was an early discussion about the connection between Dominique Bagouet and Tatsumi Hijikata, credited as the co-founder of butoh. [Kazuo Ohno is the other.] The performers who claimed it had started in Paris were corrected by Harrell, who said it happened in the East Village because Ellen Stewart, the founder of La Mama, brought them together.  White makeup was later applied by the performers to one another.

Harrell came on stage, first in black street wear, later in patterned brown draperies, echoing and leading the one-two-three hitching movement which varied from marching to swaying, pairing performers in a vastly modified echo of Greek dancing. Eventually, they all meandered their way to the backstage exits, after Harrell moved along the aisles in front of the seated audience exhorting the audience to join the rhythm.

During the performance there were three or four lighted objects circling on the backstage table among the objects originally available for the raffle. It was impossible to discern exactly their raison d’etre from my particular seat.

The ensemble enjoyed some loud cheers and clapping from the back. Next to me a senior couple left their seats sometime during the first twenty minutes. As Rita and I walked to her car, I heard members of the audience remark, “It’s a sort of alternate theatre, as if you had strayed up to the Castro,” and another phrase a minute or two later from someone else, “There were obviously layers of reference which were quite obscure.”

The burka-like costumes reminded me of gypsy costumes, my sister, first cousin and I wore one afternoon in my grandmother’s back yard.  I never ticked that off as art.

 

 

 

Dietmar Seyffert’s Dance Study in English

16 Mar

Back in 2012 Dietmar Seyffert sent me his treatise on Pedagogy and Psychology of Dance.

It was printed in Russian, and he was interested in seeing it translated into English.  I thrashed around to zero effect. The mail woman rang my doorbell this morning, asking me to sign registered mail.  It bore Dietmar’s individualistic signature and from the size I knew something exciting had occurred.

Yes, indeed, Dietmar has managed to get an English language translation of the 2012 original.  The publisher is Rediroma-Verlag in Germany with an ISBN 978-3-86870-935-3, and a listed price is 8.95 euros. The publishers web-site is: http://www.rediroma-verlag.de.  Vladimir Vasiliev wrote a preface in 2012.

I  need to read it of course, but I wanted to share this gratifying development with  whom ever reads my effusions, so they can enjoy Dietmar’s considerations and his intriguing line drawings.

 

 

San Francisco Ballet’s Swan Lake, February 19 and 23

12 Mar

Swan Lake’s opening lost to Jacques d’Amboise appearance at Nourse
Auditorium so I saw Davit Karapetyan and Maria Kochetkova in the principal roles February 20. On February 23 I paid for a ticket to see Carlo de Lanno and Sofiane Sylve in their second essay as Siegfried and Odette/Odile. I am here to tell you I was glad for each dollar spent on a credit card.

Rita Felciano has written a brilliant commentary for Danceviewtimes on the rationale of the Swan Lake setting, much of which is supported in the programnotes. The physical setting is handsome and, architecturally, more than a little overbearing, clearly the intention. Siegfried isn’t supposed to have many options, and in Act III, the staircase is overpowering and intrusive, diminishing the depth of dancing space.

Inspired by Rita’s observations I went back to Wikipedia’s time line for Russian history and, in particular, Nicholas II, Imperial Russia’s last czar. His marriage as well as the death of his father occurred in 1894. Swan Lake got its Petipa-Ivanov premiere in St. Petersburg in 1895, and the time lines suggest unrest, acknowledged or not in the program. Serfdom had been abolished by Nicholas II’s ancestor, Alexander I, in the 1860’s with not much thought to the ramifications.

In Mongolia or the northern reaches of Imperial Russia there was a tradition of imitating swans. At the 1979 International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Alexandra Danilova urged me to see the second performance of some Chinese guests where the man did a swan dance to boggle the mind at the similarity with Odette’s movements in Act II. Though there is no written verification of Siberian travels, Lev Ivanov may well have seen traveling performers in St Petersburg in this evocative solo and incorporated elements of it into Act II’s haunting Odette solo.

The story is much more medieval and Eastern European than the current production would have you believe visually. With the Queen Mother’s silvery white wig out of Gainsborough and the elegant tones of deep greens and rusty scarlets, as well as the graceful swirl of skirts below Empire bodices, it is definitely early 19th century, quite at cross purposes with the bow bestowed upon Siegfried by his mother. Anita Paciotti gave us an imperious, well-meaning mother, well-meaning in the sense that dynasty must go on.

Paired with Davit Karapetyan and Maria Kochetkova were Daniel Dievison-Oliviera with predartory glances and smouldering postures as Von Rothbart with Gennadi Nedvigin in the pas de trois with Koto Ishihara and Lauren Strongin. For Sylve and de Lanno, their Von Rothbart was an icy, remote Tiit Helimets. the Act I trio included Taras Domitro, Doris Andre and Sasha de Sola.

While dancers are all different, Karapetyan and Kochetkova share the Russian tradition in training, while the Sylve-de Lanno schooling seems more firmly based in Western European lineage with a certain understated directness that nonetheless manages nuance and musicality where the two K’s possess a grander attack. Karapetyan is more clearly the prince receiving homage, de Lanno deferential and vulnerable, both clearly alone facing the maternal demand. Kochetkova dances Odette as a young girl, her Odile a sly vamp, while Sylve’s Odette is youthful if mature, though still trapped, and her Odile focused and calculated.

While I was somewhat relieved not to see six identically dressed princesses dancing the same waltz at the same time, which would beleaguer any young man’s judgment, the choice of transforming four national dancers, with two Russians to make up the roster, struck me as odd. The setting and story implies purity of the prospective brides, but they are partnered and frequently hoisted by their countrymen, scarcely a virginal display in any one of the four styles.

The swan corps, the cygnets and the lead swans were all admirable as was the
level of the production. Swan Lake is clearly a classic; one likes to see what the principals will make of their assignments, but I now find other full length works more absorbing.

A March Bon-Bon: San Francisco Ballet Dances Coppelia

11 Mar

March 8 San Francisco reintroduced its Pacific Northwest Ballet co-production of Coppelia, the George Balanchine-Alexandra Danilova ballet premiered at New York City Ballet in 1974. Staged by Judith Fugate, Before going into detail about designer, the Leo Delibes’ music and etc., let me say that it was memory lane. That effervescent path has been trod by anyone remembering The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and Danilova in Swanhilda’s shoes and Frederick Franklin as the roving-eyed Franz Some San Franciscans will remember Ruby Asquith in the Willam Christensen production. In addition, a small cadre of dancers danced in the Ballet Celeste production mounted by Merriem Lanova who had danced in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo version and passed it along to her young charges, touring it through the United States and Hawaii. Carolyn Carvajal was one such veteran, remembering what remained and what was new, courtesy of Mr. B.

Roberta Guidi de Bagno has given the production pastel prettiness without being goopy or stretching costumes beyond a logical take on Galacia’s folk qualities without becoming too specific. No sequins, feathers and the like. Coppelius’ attic studio is cavernous, Randall G. Chiarelli giving it just the right slightly gloomy light, neither daylight or well illumined, just as Acts I and III are suitably sunny.

Cheryl  Osseola’s extensive program notes provided the audience with Coppelia’s background, E.T.A. Hoffman, the 1870 production created by Arthur Saint-Leon, Franz’ role en traverstie, ultimately Enrico Cecchetti’s revival with Franz becoming danced by a male. The lifts between Franz and Swanhilda are definitely twentieth century additions.

Carolyn remarked that the mime and plot remained untouched. The ensemble dances were different; I remember Robert Lindgren and Sonya Tyyven leading the czardas in the final act, the ensemble dances being broken up into the first and third acts and Yvonne Chouteau in Act III’s Prayer solo. Balanchine has combined them.

Tuesday saw Frances Chung as Swanhilda, Vitor Luiz as her Franz and the superb debut of Pascal Molat as Coppelius. If the program notes mention Chung’s strangeness with mime, she has moved far beyond it to a sparkling, clear ability to convey traditional query and delivery. She is one of the company’s sparkling allegro dancers; there was an almost Fonteyn-like propriety in her delivery, yet still very much Chung. Small wonder she holds an Izzie award for individual performance.

Luiz makes a believable Franz, unforced classicism, unmannered presentation and partnering impeccable. Molat’s elderly doll maker hobbles across the town square with acute accuracy of age and arthritis. His attic scene with Swanhilda’s impersonation of Coppelia was masterly; delusion and elderly excitement.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, it concerns Swanhilda, a spirited young village girl, and her boy friend Franz who also has his eye on Coppelia, a beautiful creature who is wheeled onto a balcony by her maker, Dr. Coppelius. This makes Swanhilda and Franz quarrel. In a twilight excursion, Coppelius is roughed up by Franz and friends, losing his key. Swanhilda and her friends find the key and venture into the Coppelius’ workshop at Act I’s curtain. In Act II, the girls discover the toys and the inanimate Coppelia. Coppelius returns, chasing the girls out; Swanhilda remains assuming Coppelia’s clothing. Franz, meanwhile, attempts to reach the doll via the aid of a ladder; intercepted by Coppelius, he is drugged by wine. Coppelius attempts to bring Coppelia to life using Franz’ life force, pouring over a huge book of spells. Swanhilda plays along with Coppelius, becoming more life like, only to destroy his fantasy and to flee with Franz.

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Frances Chung and Pascal Molat in Balanchine’s CoppÈlia. (© Erik Tomasson)

Act III sees the dedication of the bells, announced in French language banners in Act I. Many wedding couples. Coppelius is seen, heart-broken, with his doll in his arms; Swanhilda and Franz also get married, and several celebratory dances ensue. In this production, a bevy of young students perform a charming dance, impossible for the old touring production. The Ballet Russe production provided recompense to Coppelius; here he is pushed aside all too rapidly.

The Act III divertissements featured Sasha de Sola as Dawn in a costume with golden tracery; Sofiane Sylve’s Prayer was cloaked in blue chiffon with touches of grey; four Jesterettes and finally Discord and War led by Jennifer Stahl and Hansuke Yamamoto, laden with spears, Greek-style plumed helmets and garments of black and silver metallic touches, perpetually leaping with one leg raised to waist height, moving in circles and linear patterns. The dominant note in this finale was twenty-three students in pink tutus, led by Lauren Strongin, in the Waltz of the Golden Hours, the same number commencing the January 2016 Gala. To me it took away from the earlier variations danced by de Sola and Sylve, rendering them more divertissements than sweet, evocative variations.

The Waltz is an inducement to students, and, probably, parents. Balanchine and Danilova undoubtedly had memories of similar use of students in the Imperial Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg. Used to the pared-down version, I found the yards of pink tutu a bit distracting to this French-born bon-bon. Like La Fille Mal Gardee, created in 1789 in Bordeaux by Jean Dauberval and the 1837 premiere of Giselle of Jules Perrot and Juan Corelli, these three durable ballets share French ancestry, however much layers and modifications may have ensued. Vive La France!