Words on Dance at the Vogue, March 6

7 Mar

Deborah Kaufman started Words on Dance some twenty-two years ago, and she started the 2016 San Francisco components of this interview series on a rainy Sunday evening March 6. The water didn’t deter balletomanes and fans who came to see a brief but beautiful tribute to Violette Verdy with her wonderfully danced inflections, plus an absorbing, articulate documentary about Merrill Ashley’s navigation post-performing leading dancer career. Deborah Kaufman has dedicated the 2016 Words on Dance series to the memory of Violette Verdy

The Ashley documentary covered the ups and downs of a post highly active leading dancer performing, in addition to the ability to dance over pain. Towards the end of the film she is shown dancing the roles of Carabosse and Madge the Witch. Clearly she is still dancing but exploring character roles in the same manner that Erik Bruhn inhabited the same roles with such lust and vigor.

An interview ensued with Merrill Ashley questioned by Sara Jennings.

Part of the documentary’s fascination was Ashley’s description of navigating injury, describing a permanent change in her style of walking, difficulty with ligaments, an ankle bone fracture, all of which are difficult enough. Ashley’s surgery for hip replacement with images of her hospitalized and beginning to work with the exercises for a return to normal navigation held particular interest to someone with an arthritic condition.

Two other components of the documentary were obvious. Clips of her dancing and being seen with George Balanchine whose faithful muse she has been. The second is how incredibly photogenic she is with her well-proportioned oblong face and clearly slender body, with its ideal elongations Balanchine increasingly gravitated towards.

The film was enhanced by the commentary not only of Jacques d’Amboise [how could any documentary remotely connected with New York City Ballet fail to include him] but John Meehan who partnered Ashley in non NYC pas de deux, and her husband Kibbe Fitzpatrick.

The evening included snippets of a documentary in process on the intriguing subject of partnering from the male’s viewpoint, and an informational on a spring series of three at the Baryshnikov Center in New York City: March 23 with Mark Moris and Surupa Sen of Nrityagam, noted for its Odissi style; May 24 with Wendy Whelan and Christopher Wheeldon; Doug Elkins and David Neuman, organized by Lisa Rinehart as artistic director with Words on Dance as the producer.

In the reception prior to the program, a number of long-time dancers and teachers were present: Carlos Carvajal; Richard Gibson, who was acknowledged in the opening remarks. With Kaufman, Gibson’s niece Carmen Zegarelli and Christine Elliott were present; all studied at Peninsula Ballet Theatre with Gibson when the San Francisco area dance world was beginning to thrust itself into greater prominence in the early and mid Sixties. Even with the rain, Vogue Theatre provided  quite a memory lane.

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