Archive | May, 2016

Yuri Possokhov shares Prix de Benois with Johan Inger

21 May

Through Olga Guardia de Smoak, I learned that Yuri Possokhov was awarded the Prix de Benois recently in Moscow, sharing the choreographic award with Johan
Inger of Nederlans Dans Teater. Possokhov, who is choreographer-n-residence at San Francisco Ballet and served as one of its principal male dancers prior to retirement from dancing, was cited for the Bolshoi Production of  A Hero in Our Time, recently premiered at the Bolshoi Ballet Inger received the award for his production of Carmen for Nederlans Dans Teater.

The full complement of winners is available on the Benois de la Danse website.

Japanese Artistry at the 2016 San Francisco International Arts Festival

21 May

Cowell Theater at Fort Mason provided the venue for the opening performance May 19 of the Hiroshi Koike Bridge Project at the 2016 San Francisco International Arts Festival. The famous chilly winds of San Francisco Bay also were out whipping up the waters and chilling the audience as it walked the length of the pier to Cowell Theater’s new entrance.

Titled The Restaurant of Many Orders and supported by the U.S./Japan Cultural Trade Network, the 7 p.m. was the first of two performances constituting the three-person ensemble’s U.S. premiere.  It possessed many features making Japanese theatre such a treat and absorbing experience, even when the supporting sound is recorded. Let me enumerate: Asikazu Nakamura, shakuhachi; Shitamachi Kyodai, percussion; Toshio Nakagawa, piano with masks by the Balinese artisans I Wayan Tanggu and I Made Sutarka. Makoto Matushima is credited with art and Seiichiro Mori with props and Lighting by Takayuki Tomiyama. Responsible choreography and direction was byHiroshi Koike.

Rita Felicano expanded on the story of hunters seeking game, encounter a storm, getting lost until discovering the restaurant Wildcat Inn. She said the original story made the hunters English. Following instructions. two of them enter, following instructions, only to find themselves possible objects for dinner. Apparently the story was acquired by the Japanese.  Three superlative animal masks transform the hunters into forest animals, the configurations very traditional Japanese in style.

The three performers are Tatsuro Koyano, Ayako Araki, and Akira Otsuka. What a trio they are. Two are tall, willowy and fairly young,  the third stocky, of medium height, clearly the senior of the three , who may have passed forty. For eloquence of body they are fantastic for the myriad of body gestures and expressive movements,  all mouth-gapingly terrific.

The opening smoke wafted ahead of the players’ entry, one shape looking like a creeping dragon, fitfully illumined. The sounds followed the story line faithfully.

Using a low semi-circle construction as their stage, two signboards and a portable structure to indicate a doorway, the trio present themselves in terribly correct gentlemen hunter garb, using long metallic poles to indicate weapons, sticking them in holes in the semi-circular structure from time to time;  expressions, postures and interplay would do credit to the Marx Brothers. There didn’t seem to be an eye-brow lift, shoulder shrug, weight shift or body lunge  left not utilized. Off center balances were remarkable with front and center to the audience seemed to complete a paragraph or episode in the story. The deftness used with the props was like watching a master calligrapher arranging ink, paper and brush. In the end, the shirts of the trios were drenched, the completeness of performance visibly illustrated.

Twenty-four hours later, my mind replays ambiance, gestures, filled with admiration and satisfaction over this gift from the Land of the Rising Sun.

2016 Smuin Spring Season

20 May

The May 6-15 Smuin Ballet Spring Season at Yerba Buena Center’s Lam Research Theater presented two revivals and one premiere, Val Caniparoli, Jiri Kylian and Helen Pickett the choreographers. Each work possessed charms, ingenuity or a high degree of emotional response, almost invariably the case when the program includes a gem like Return to a Strange Land, Kylian’s 1975 ballet for six dancers to the music of his fellow countryman Leos Janacek, a tribute to John Cranko’s sudden death.

Tutto Cetto Il Lavandino, Val Caniparoli’s commentary on sleek abstract works, danced to the wonderful sonata allegro form music of Antonio Vivaldi, provided elbows, body lunges, pirouettes, lifts and ensemble groupings in every possible form and stage location for fourteen dancers, with sleek black costumes by Sandra Woodall. The ensembles’ stage location with entry and exit combined with the erect or leaning bodies and gestures kept coming, coming, coming until they vanished as a green laundry sink was pushed sideways on stage at the curtain, as stated, “Everything But The Kitchen Sink.”

Kylian’s tribute employs four men and two women, danced in four parts to a piano rendition of Janecek’s music. Smuin Ballet previously mounted the work in 2013, utilizing the set and costume design by Jiri Kylian, with lighting redesigned by Kees Tjebbes. The quartet of pieces go: a trio of two men and a woman; two pas de deux and a final trio. Against a near monochrome drop suggesting a limitless and somber horizon, the woman seems frequently to be a bird, tossed or buffeted by wind. In each of the four deceptively simple parts, she somehow winds up on the shoulders or the back of one of the men, the dancers facing front, resulting in images elegiac and haunting .

Helen Picket’s Oasis, receiving its premiere during the Smuin Spring season, utilized the entire ensemble of sixteen dancers, with an original score by Jeff Beal, augmented by Emma Kingsbury’s video, also responsible for the costumes and the scenic design. The latter provided wave-like drops which looked white, almost transparent at the beginning and at the end resembled matchstick-like bamboo.

I really would need to see it again to form a definite opinion; Pickett’s capacity for groupings, entrances and exits indicate a keen eye for effective movement, no mean achievement when moving from a rehearsal room to the proscenium arch.

A Brilliant, Rapturous Debut and Finale with Onegin

10 May

Thursday Night, May 5, Matilde Froustey and Carlo di Lanno made debuts as Tatiana and Onegin in John Cranko’s Eugene Onegin, augmented ably by Reuben Martin-Cintas as Gremin, Doris Andre as Olga and Benajmin Freemantle making his own debut as Lensky. A near capacity audience greeted them with absorption and an orchestra standing ovation at the conclusion, Behind me were two young women, one recently moved from D.C. and another originally from Texas, the latter being familiar with Miami City and Washington Ballet companies.

It never fails to fascinate me how differing heights and musculature alters not only “the look” of a ballet; without saying, the attack in a role, to say nothing of the artist’s perception of the material. This difference was apparent Thursday evening. Where Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz are small and compact, Froustey, di Lanno and Martin-Cintas are tall, expanding phrases by sheer length, bringing the Russian verse novel into a western European orbit.

Froustey’s Tatiana commences with a pigtail down her back as she sits, stretches or reclines with her novel, appearing more studious than lost in a novel. In her initial encounter with Onegin, she is the polite French girl, propre rather than  curiosity for all the slender, willowy stretch of her body. She has an overwhelming gamine demeanor during the bedroom/mirror pas de deux ; as she writes of her passion, you can just see her at her classroom exercises. Her expression as the mirror dream evaporates is a wonderful, naive young vision of romantic expectation. Interesting was the reach of her lower torso in moments of chagrin or alarm during her name day debacle between Lensky and Onegin, and its effectiveness as she regards Onegin after his duel with Lensky where Froustey’s small round face evinces a stony gaze of defondu.

Ruben Martin-Cintas’ Gremin is more than a cipher. It’s one of the thankless roles in ballet, but he conveys the persona of maturity, a man of substance, secure in his position, and therefore able to appraise and evaluate situations and personalities. He brings this gently to Tatiana’s rescue in the name-day party, where she follows him automatically, while clearly distracted by Onegin’s coldness and the burgeoning confrontation between Lensky and Onegin.

Dores Andre’s Olga is a swift butterfly, skipping from moment to moment, happy at Lensky’s attention, drinking it in, if a bit reluctant to surrender, clearly evidenced by allowing Onegin to dance with her. His greater dance skill and way with women is quite flattering and she allows herself to be swept along with, not resisting until the damage has been done. Her willfulness is matched by the diffidence and decency displayed by Benjamin Freemantle. I wish I could have seen his second performance, which doubtless gained in strength from this initial interpretation. There was the making of a definite character there, but only beginning to be developed in this technically correct performance.

Then there was Carlo di Lanno as Onegin with his Roman coin profile, tall, correct, still; movements  betraying little emotion one way or another, except for a swift disdain for Tatiana’s material, and oh-so-correct-but-perfunctory partnering in the opening scene. In the bedroom mirror scene the emphasis is entirely on Tatiana’s ecstatic vision with beating arabesques, lifts and twists in Onegin’s arms. It is in the name-day scene, especially following the destruction of Tatiana’s letter, when Onegin sits down, having adjusted his cuff as a gesture of finish, to play solitaire, shuffling cards with revealing frequency that he betrays narcissistic  willfulness and the desire to intrude on the happy proceedings of Olga and Lensky. Onegin dances a bit too much with Olga; when she rejoins Lensky briefly, there passes over Onegin’s face an undeniable devilish impulse leading to Lensky’s gloves across his face before tossing them on the ground.

I also saw the season’s final matinee May 8, with Gennadi Nedvigin’s final performance with San Francisco Ballet. Di Lanno was appreciably more relaxed if still deliberate, masking emotion in the beginning; Froustey deepened her impression of the nearly sedate young gamine, kind to elders, who gathers strength in the duel scene; with Ruben Martin-Cintas they  both provide an image of a solid, happy marriage. The thankless role gets substance from Martin-Cintas’ size and demeanour, enhanced by the most over-decorated uniform seen on stage.

Gennadi Nedvigin’s final performance as Lensky seemed natural, unforced, his casual ease illustrating nearly three decades of training and performance.

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Gennadi Nedvigin in Cranko’s Onegin. (© Erik Tomasson)

The final, confrontation scene in Onegin gives both principals total permission to pull out their dramatic capacities; Di Lanno and Froustey rose cogently the two occasions. I saw them tear at their memories, the emotions they aroused against their present status. Their slender builds added to the etched quality of what must be marvelous Russian poetry, their line matching the musical turbulence of Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini’s aural passion. With kisses at the nape of her neck, the firm grip on the hand Onegin used to grasp her from eluding him, memory, reawakened passion and will power visibly struggled in Tatiana’s torso and slender legs. Finally, came the moment when his note was thrust in front of Onegin, ripped apart, “what goes around comes around” and Tatiana’s arm fiercely commands his departure before she struggles, half spent, bent before she faced the audience dead center, exhausted resolution written on her face and body.

Then came the curtain calls – the same order, Di Lanno kissing Froustey’s hands with appreciation. Froustey brought Martin West to stage center before West thrust Nedvigin forward for his final hail and farewell to San Francisco’s audience. Two figures entered from stage right with floral bouquets – Yuri Possokhov and Roman Rykine, who flew in from Winnipeg where he is ballet master for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Bear hugs ensued, clearly great emotions exchanged and lumps in the throat of balletomanes like myself.

Menlowe Ballet’s 2016 Spring Season

5 May

Coming thick and fast, late April-early May signal performance, performance, performance.

Lucky for Menlowe Ballet-it was able to engage four Silicon Valley Ballet soloists and principals for its spring season titled Collage. The company has a penchant for bold single title programs, though the performance does not always reinforce the declaration. This time, with its three numbers, the label was apt. It featured Michael Lowe’s Jin Ji [Collage[; Repeat after Me by Val Caniparoli to Johann Paul Von Westhoff’s Sonatas Pour Violin and Basse Continuo; and Gregory Dawson’s “and so I say to you,” to music by Dalmusio Payomo, Ron Kurti, Gregory Dawson. The Caniparoli and Dawson works were premieres, the Lowe work a mix of former parts from his Izzie-winning Bamboo and two additional numbers.

Lowe engaged Junna Ige and Maykel Solas, principal dancers, and soloists Amy Marie Briones and Akira Takahashi from the ill-fated Silicon Valley Ballet, all of whom had been initially hired by Dennis Nahat when the company was named Ballet San Jose. The fifth dancer, Anton Pankovitch also enjoyed the Nahat imprimatur, [ if you can apply that word to dancers] but had appeared with Menlowe Ballet in 2014; a quintet of excellent troupers..

The cheerful charm of Lowe’s choreography has been reinforced by the Menlo Park Academy of Dance students, seven of them in Chai DaiRibbons], included in Jin Ji. Well trained, mostly on the medium-sized, they danced with non-nonsense and confidence. What was most interesting in this pleasant Asian-accented work was Chu Yi [New Year’s Eve] featuring Akira Takahashi as a young man on a drunk with fantasies of three women [Christina Schitano, Amy Marie Briones and Chantelle Pianetta]. Moving between the table with bottle and tumbler and center stage Takahashi partnered the trio in succession as they emerged from a glittering, multi-hued shimmer of metallic ribbons. Consistently in character, Takahashi warmed to his role with an energy which he didn’t seem allowed to unharness in the years following Nahat’s departure from the ill-fated Ballet San Jose-Silicon Valley Ballet.

Val Caniparoli’s Repeat After Me hued to its formal structure, if the music itself had measures anything but classical. Angular gestures of arms, hands and head accents opened and closed the work. Susan Roemer’s costumes gave the women short grey blue skirts with a black line front and back. The colors were matched by the men, but might have been enhanced with a belt. Maykel Solas made his first appearance as did Anton Pankovich, both excellent partners.

“And so I say to you,” Gregory Dawson’s first work for Menlowe Ballet, gave clear evidence that he has moved on from the predominantly singular variations of his mentor and former director Alonso King. Using Pankovich to commence and complete the work, Dawson’s ensemble passages, particularly at lower stage left, worked well with the energetic score attacked at equal pitch by the ensemble.

Typical of my reactions to both new works, I need a second viewing to deliver an opinion verging below the initial visual and aural impact. What lingers from this performance was the cohesion of the new artists, the existing dancers and the students.It would be terrific if the new artists could remain with Menlowe Ballet, enriching the ballets and certainly drawing audience members from their former company. It also might inveigle more critics to watch Menlowe Ballet grow from strength to strength.

A final charm to the evening was to see Betsey Erickson in the audience and
elsewhere Christine Elliott, both with length histories in Bay Area dance and seasons with American Ballet Theatre and Rika Onizuka, a veteran both of Smuin Ballet and Lines Contemporary Ballet. Carlos Carvajal’s wheels wrapped it up as a singular evening’s treat.

A Splendid Last Hurrah: S.F. Ballet’s Eugene Onegin

2 May

Santo Loquasto’s atmospheric setting for the Pushkin-inspired ballet Eugene Onegin started its brief run April 30 at San Francisco’s Opera House where it will close San Francisco Ballet’s 2016 spring season May 8. What it also does is signal the final performances of Joan Boada as Prince Gremin and Gennadi Nedvigin as the ill-fated Lensky with the company where they have danced for nearly two decades.

The roles of Tatiana and Onegin were danced by Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz with Lauren Strongin making her local debut as Olga.

Choreographer John Cranko (1927-1973) is noted for his mounting of the Russian poetic novel, using a different gathering of melodies by Petyr Ilyich Tchaikovsky than his opera of the same name. Cranko’s Taming of The Shrew and Romeo and Juliet are other evidences of his magical ability to transform familiar stories or dramas into absorbing ballets. Cranko’s heritage has been diligently reconstructed by choreologist Jane Bourne, supported by Stuttgart Ballet’s artistic director Reid Anderson.

Loquasto’s set and costumes, borrowed from The National Ballet of Canada, place the story in early-mid-nineteenth century, at a Russian summer home where woman sew, including Olga [Lauren Strongin] for a party while Tatiana [Kochetkova] is absorbed in reading, probably a romantic novel. The results, ball gowns for the two young woman, get scant attention from the dreamy Tatiana, Kochetkova registering her character with a contemplative carriage of the head and shoulders, Strongin quickly prone to impulsive enthusiasm, each affectionate with the other. Loquasto created a pillared porch covering most of stage left, which is transformed as necessary throughout the two scene/three act performance. Olga’s dressmaking skills with the needle seemed excessively exaggerated.

At a downstage left table, a mirror is placed where the two girls look to find a suitor behind. Olga draws Lensky as interpreted by Gennadi Nedvigin. A role he danced in the 2013 season, his dancing and demeanor is to swoon over, his lines clearly muscled, sculptured, correct: heart-breaking visual poetry. His reading of Lensky is warm, open-hearted too sensitive for his own good; a young man filled to his hair follicles with love. Even familiar with the story and Nedvigin’s interpretation I found myself breathing “Oh, no, be careful.”

Nedvigin’s appearance is prelude to a solo passage and then an extended pas de deux  of young romance. Strongin responds as an Olga delighted with the attention, very secure and confident of her hold on Lensky. A little tall for Nedvigin, he adroitly shepherded her under a necessary supported pirouette or two.

When it comes Tatiana’s turn to sit down before the mirror, she is diffident. In the meantime Onegin [Vitor Luiz] has strolled in deliberately from upstage left, an almost pencil-rigid figure in black, to be greeted warmly by Lensky, making polite gestures to the women, clearly mentally checking off the rustic nature of the gathering. His fingers twiddle tellingly behind his back. When he Onegin appears behind Tatiana, his mirror image creates an overwhelming, fluttering response, while one senses it’s for him to pass the time of day..

They engage in quite formal conversation, Onegin inquiring about Tatiana’s reading material ; his veiled expression indicates his distaste, if returning it politely. They exit arm in arm, and the rustics arrive, not quite garrulous serfs [not liberated until 1861], but clearly not dacha occupants. With the girls in equally quasi-peasant dresses, two lengthy diagonals are executed with Olga and Lensky lead participants as the curtain falls.

Tatiana’s virginal bedroom scene follows, empire bed with drapery upstage right and mirror upstage center with modest desk and candle replacing the summer wicker table. Pale blue shawl wrapped around her shoulders, Tatiana tries to pen her emotions on paper, only to be prevented by her devoted nurse who leads her back to bed, taking the shawl. That doesn’t deter Tatiana, who returns to the desk, falls asleep and we are given the substance of her dream, led to the mirror through which Onegin appears and leads her in a rapturous pas de deux  before disappearing into the mirror. Kochetkova and Luiz capture Tatiana’s luscious dream with lifts, supported arabesques, beating with ecstatic satisfaction and pirouettes, reflecting Tatiana’s youthful passion kindled by Onegin’s appearance.

Act II opens with the country ball, where Tatiana appears in her white gown, Olga in pink with various members of the community gather wishing Tatiana well as Lensky and Olga are self-involved. Onegin arrives, with Tatiana aware he has received her letter. There is polite dancing, and Onegin waits until they are alone to withdraw Tatiana’s letter, tearing it up in front of her eyes. At this moment the older Prince Gremin arrives, is presented to Tatiana. He sympathetically engages her,dancing while Onegin plays solitaire on the down stage table.

With Onegin’s tension rising and to alleviate his annoyance, he grabs Olga from Lensky and makes her his partner, as the dancing fever mounts. Lensky tries to reclaim Olga, retrieves her for a moment only to have Onegin grasp her again. Olga is visibly excited at the push and pull, Tatiana distraught, though gently curbed by Prince Gremin. Lensky, beside himself, flings his white gloves on the floor in front of Onegin; he pauses, cooler, tries to dissuade Lensky who, in return, applies the gloves to Onegin’s face.

The second scene, notably spare has Onegin in front of the curtain with a sweeping black cloak, gun in hand, clearly troubled by the result of his impulses. The curtain rises on Lensky moving from upstage right to downstage left, against the a grey landscape marked by birch trees, shedding his equally impressive brown cloak. There follows an eloquently danced soliloquy, Lensky expressing yearning, regret and belief in his doom, before Olga and Tatiana rush from stage left, heads covered with kerchiefs, to attempt to dissuade Lensky. The push-pull of the trio is strong, poignant, futile. Onegin appears from stage right and also tries to dissuade Lensky only to have his face slapped – too much. As the two women crouch in the front of the stage, one hears a fatal shot, a fall. Onegin appears again from stage right, walking across the stage. Tatiana rouses herself, stands and stares at Onegin before leaving with Olga. Onegin suddenly bends, breaking into sobs.

Act III occurs in the St. Petersburg ballroom of Prince Gremin and Tatiana, three massive chandeliers hanging  from scarlet. Onegin is escorted by Prince Gremin, both now  touched  with grey at the temples. Gremin excuses himself; there is a lavish display of dancing and Onegin experiences episodes of encounters wafting in and out of his arms. Gremin appears again with Tatiana, now a composed, clearly sheltered matron; a pas de deux ensues, expressing marital bliss and comfort, particularly Gremin’s protection of Tatiana. Joan Boada, making his final appearances as Prince Gremin, created a solicitous older husband, touches hinting at the understanding present at the Act II country ball, fascinating how many of the same steps convey a special pitch enhanced by the music. After the domestic calm, Tatiana visibly cringes when she encounters Onegin, who has been mesmerized when  recognizing her, a black contrast against the brilliant hues of the dancers, frequently intruding on the dance space of Gremin and Tatiana.

As the scenery is changing Onegin stands before the curtain, immersed in fleeting moments of the brief days at the summer dacha. When the curtain rises, the writing desk is now downstage right, the angled pillars have been domesticated with a hobby horse visible, and the back stage indicates a grand foyer. In brown, Tatiana is visibly disturbed, as Gremin, in uniform overladen with cord and medals, is about to take off for the office. She clings, draws him back for reassurance. He comforts her and departs.

Tatiana sits at the desk, tense, apprehensive; one can see Onegin in the background, moving uncertainly before he bursts on the scene to the opening love sequence of Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini, a completely apt selection for Onegin’s push-pull, knee-crawling, skirt clinging confessional. Just when you think Onegin has made his last plea, something else happens until – Tatiana practically staggers to the desk, picks up Onegin’s letter, lets him look at it. shreds it before him, pointing to the exit to which he rushes. Staggering while trembling and spent, she faces the audience, exhausted but
vindicated at last.

Of course, there was a burst of applause when the curtain rose for the two principals, and it continued for the other three principals, then for the corps de ballet. . Unfortunately there were no individual curtain calls though Boada, Strongin and Nedvigin were warmly acknowledged. I have the feeling it will be several years before we enjoy Onegin again, thanks in part to the decimation of San Francisco Ballet’s three male principals. Nedvigin, Boada and Pascal Molat.