Archive | April, 2017

Farewell to Three Principals

25 Apr

Within five days, San Francisco Ballet bade farewell to three noted principal dancers; alphabetically, Lorena Feijoo, Davit Karapetyan and Vanessa Zahorian, though in reverse order of dates.

Claudia Baer’s review in the San Francisco Chronicle for April 15’s performance is recommended,  Swan Lake for Karapetyan and Zahorian.

Vanessa Zahorian came to San Francisco Ballet in 1996, joining the corps de ballet, following a citation at the Arabesque Competition in Perm and a brief sojourn with the Kirov Ballet, following her training at the Kirov Conservatory in Washington, D.C. and the Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. (Zahorian is one of several such PYB alumnas, including Tina and Sherri Le Blanc, Kirstin Long.)  Early on, with Gennadi Nedvigin, Vanessa was awarded an Erik Bruhn prize in Toronto as contributing most to the future of classical ballet.  Her rise through the ranks was steady and consistent, the same qualities which have permeated her twenty-year sojourn with the company.  While I might have quibbled with an interpretation, Vanessa never wavered in her delivery, even when she broke a toe during a Gala two or three years ago.

Vanessa’s Odette possessed beautiful port de bras, slender, almost ethereal. Her technique in the famous variation was brilliant, although she forwent the passe position following her bird-like attitudes en arriere, and the final battery was exciting. Her 32 fouettes possessed a fair sprinkling of doubles; though traveling, Vanessa ended strongly, an Odile excited by the challenge, abetted by her Von Rothbart father, Sean Orza, and ready to take on the next victim.  Without Daddy, I wonder at Odile’s future – interesting notion.

Davit Karapetyan brought impressive training from his native Armenia, then seasons with the Zurich Ballet with him to San Francisco, a beautiful physique, vibrant black hair and a soulful demeanor to all his roles.  At the Jackson Competition where he and Vanessa earned Best Partner citation, one of the discerning teachers at the International School remarked, “I cannot take my eyes off him in class.”

Karapetyan lost an entire season to injury about two years ago and this past season the enemy of dancers managed to sideline him again. You would never know it with the height of his grand jetes and attitude turns, nor the completeness which he displayed as Siegfried. Admittedly, dancing opposite Vanessa, his wife, helped.

Overall, they supplied a rousing performance, provoking an equal audience response as their figures appeared behind the boulder which hides San Francisco Ballet’s Swan Lake.  There followed the bouquet given by Helgi , a bottle for Davit and then the parade of dancers with single red roses as well as the flowers tossed over the orchestra pit.  Warm, affectionate, the company salutes its departing principals in excellent style.

For Lorena Feijoo, there were none of her memorable roles snippets her admirers remember, nor a piece d’occasion to salute her departure. Following the end of Program 7’s performance April 18, down came the white screen in front of the gold curtains and the audience was treated to video honorifics by Helgi Tomasson,  extolling statements by Yuri Possokhov and Val Caniparoli whom Feijoo credits with giving her opportunities to create roles.  Skyla Schreter and Jayna Frantzikonis also contributed tributes to her example in the company.

Lorena then appeared alone on the stage in a mauve-pinky gown with some sort of drapery, smiling, poised.  If she had chosen a hat she would have been a ringer for one of those fin-de-siecle Parisiennes who managed such a swath theatrically and personally or Mrs. Patrick Campbell across the English Channel.

The extolling over, the bouquets began led by Helgi, then followed by choreographers, dancers and two bouquets by Lorena’s daughter and a friend. Lorena delivered a Lambarena movement when Val Caniparoli approached her.  Most of the principal women dancers curtsied as they presented the single red rose.  Much, if not most, of the ritual was captured by Teri McCollum, showing up on Facebook shortly thereafter.  One shot. not seen by the audience, was Lorena lying supinely on the shoulders of some half dozen of the company ‘s male dancers, a great, playful salute to this wonder woman  dance artist.

What a trio – to all three, God Speed.

About Lewis and Clark And Their Trek

21 Apr

Munger, Susan H. And Thomas, Charlotte Staub, Common to This Country;
Botanical Discoveries of Lewis & Clark.
New York, Artisan/Workman Publishing, Inc., 2003, 128 pp., illus. , $22.

Some years ago I bought this book on Lewis and Clark on remainder.  This past week I picked it up, thinking I should read it before sending along to my sister.

I knew generally about the expedition, the fact that Sacagawea, an Shoshone Indian woman was the guiding angel in the expedition, but didn’t know she was married to Touissant Charbonneau, a French trapper who also went along with the expedition and that she had a five-month old son at the commencement of her involvement, or that the engagement occurred in South Dakota. Also I had no idea that a number of the expedition were French watermen or egage, hired to help on the first stretch upriver. I also was ignorant about York, a Negro valet to William Clark, who went along, thereby becoming the first African-American to see the Pacific Ocean from the Oregon Coast. a fascinating fact  about slaves. Along with comments about the physical travails of the trip, some of the worst occurring once the expedition reached the Pacific Ocean, it was as virgin reading for me as the trek was for the fifty-five men who ventured forth, fifty-four returning , only thirty-three of whom made it to the Pacific Ocean.  The others turned back the spring of 1805.

This book, however, focuses on eighteen species of plants identified by Lewis,
who had trained as a botanist, out of native curiosity and at the behest of our third President. In this slim volume, the specimens are meticulously drawn, described and recorded on a map where they were found and collected.  If you are thrilled at smallnesses, as I am, these 128 pages  proved one of those casually-acquired treasures.

For those interested, the specimens found along the Missouri River included the Osage Orange, being cultivated by Pierre Chouteau, the direct ancestor of Yvonne Chouteau, ballerina with the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo [Have to get dance in there, somewhere!]. Along the Missouri,, but in South Dakota were the Bur Oak and the Prickly Pear and further, in North Dakota the Bearberry and the Narrow Leaf Cornflower.   The Gumbo Evening Primrose was identified on the outward journey through Montana and the Missouri River’s Great Falls. then the Silky Lupine, the Wood Lily and Lewis’ Prairie Flax were identified at Missouri’s Great Falls, the latter three on Lewis’ briefly separated return trek in what became Montana.

As the travelers moved south towards the Idaho border, their finds were Angelica and the Snowberry; moving northward Bitterroot, Bear Grass and the Shrubby Penstemon.  Apparently back in Southwest Montana, they found Camas and Old Man’s Whiskers, followed by the Ponderosa Pine, Lewis’ Syringa , Ragged Robin and the Glacier Lily.  What followed was the long journey along the Columbia River to the Pacific Coast. In mid Oregon, the Oregon Grape Holly and the Western Service Berry were identified. The final identification apparently took place near the end of the lengthy expedition at the border of Nebraska and Kansas on the Missouri River, Calliopsis, today’s garden stalwart.

Altogether 228 specimens  are housed in the Lewis and Clark Herbarium in the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, 178 of which were new to Western Science.

There is another reason why the book appealed to me; I received my secretarial training from Elizabeth Lewis Warren Ledford. On her mother’s side, she was descended or in the immediate lineal family of that historic Lewis.  For all her capacity for living in the moment, “Betty” carried that lineage in her comportment; she was  a singular mentor in my early adulthood.

I can’t help wondering about possible descendants of Sacagawea and Touissant as well as York and the various members of the two parts of the expedition.  What a lineage they possess, and do any of the descendants know about it.

For all of the complicated connotations of Thomas Jefferson’s private and political life, his curiosity about the natural world, his directives and enabling of this exploration belongs to one of the shining episodes in American history. How I wish we could have similar ones in these early years of the twenty-first century.

Flip Flopping

17 Apr

I remember the final editorial that the late Marian Van Tuyl wrote for the dance annual Impulse for which I was privileged to produce two separate articles for two separate editions, “We do everything badly.”

Well, I have joined the Club with its numerous members.  Which is to say that my last two or three postings have wound up on the former site Woollywesterneye when intended for Mywestern eye.  Fortunately, trusty Olaf Ruehl is showing up on the horizon later this week and my age-dusted comments just may find their proper niche.



SFBallet’s Dozen for 2018

16 Apr

I looked over the roster of choreographers for San Francisco Ballet’s 2018 season finale and noted that Alonzo King is the only local choreographer selected for the dozen choreographers to mount new works on the SFB dancers if one doesn’t include Myles Thatcher, the company member.

Refreshing news is that Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Cathy Marston are included.  There have been, to my memory, only four other female choreographers included over various seasons, and, at different times, including Brenda Way and Margaret Jenkins.  Amy Seiwart is not yet anointed.

Reinvited choreographers are Justin Peck, Christopher Wheeldon, Edward Liaing, Arthur Pita, Stanton Welch, Trey Mcintrye, with David Dawson and Dwight Rhoden as the new invitees.

Clearly it’s going to be a busy summer for the dancers learning new works and acclimatizing to different choreographic styles.  But with the crop of newly elevated soloists, the company is ready for it.  If I may say so, it’s a canny way of handling the departure of so many older principals – new works for newer dancers.  For the most part, Helgi Tomasson has never been lacking that capacity.


It’s Spring, It was The Ailey, at UCB, March 15

16 Apr

Rita Felciano and I made the second performance of Alvin Ailey’s American Dance Company at U.C., Zellerbach Hall March 15 and had the good fortune of sitting next to Joanna Berman and her husband Andrew Mandel as well as a very demonstrative audience,  frequently standing after each of the four numbers in Program 2.

What invariably came across in each number, even with the solo Cry danced with eloquence by Jacqueline Green, is that the Ailey works and dances hard as well as eloquently.  Another impression is how much Ailey relied on the reaches of the arms, whether stretched laterally, vertically, at an angle or with deliberately bent wrists.  In his 1974 Duke Ellington piece, Night Creature, Ailey demonstrates that he knew the urban African-American terrain as much as the rural one so celebrated in Revelations. He also established not only the company’s communal quality, but that  the African-American community exudes it from the pores of each individual.

Untitled America, Kyle Abraham (2016), and Exodus, Rennie Harris (2015), demonstrated clearly, wonderfully just how many  tall, stalwart and impressive male dancers the Ailey company enjoys, and just how well they move and look on stage.  Both works emphasize the amazing communal sense of the company, a reflection of the spirit running constantly through the larger community.

While sitting next to us,  Joanna Berman  informed us with great pleasure that she had been giving the Ailey company their daily ballet class for the last five seasons.  In her clear enthusiasm she declared it one of her privileges,  “They are so earnest, so respectful and work so hard.”

I would say definitively a great bond has been forged.  May it long continue.

Made for SFB – Program Seven

13 Apr

April 5 was the opener for these three ballets, sandwiched between Swan Lake and Cinderella.  It was a  nicely balanced program starting with Helgi Tomasson’s Trio with three principal couples backed by a handsome glistening screen hinting at Venetian or Byzantine wall murals.

Sasha de Sola opened the ballet with Vitor Luiz, her line expanding confidently, maturing with every finish in her port de bras, Luiz providing support with his particularly understated competence.  The actual trio followed, with Sarah Van Patten and Tiit Helimets as tender lovers, being trailed by Aaron Robison as the Death figure with a deliberately understated focus, not forcing the inevitable, but knowing it.  Maria Kochetkova and Angelo Greco danced the third assignment; both nicely matched in size, but Kochetkova’s earlier allure seemed diminished despite Greco’s gallant partnering.  I suspect her dual allegiance with American Ballet Theatre makes for a degree of dislocation.

The Ghost in the Machine to music by Michael Nyman and conducted by Ming Luke is Myles Thatcher’s second ballet for San Francisco Ballet.  Costumed by Susan Roemer in shades of grey, a V shape in the back of the men’s torsos and little peplums on the women’s tunics, both lighter than the rest of the costumes, the decor by Alexander V. Nichols provided stark lines of black variously illumined during the ballet, forming an expansive V shape. It was a visually handsome production.

Five couples carried the work which is derived from the phrase first coined by Gilbert Ryle and the title of a book by Arthur Koestler, concerned with the separation of mind and body – a rather interesting formulation with the paired skilled dancers: Vanessa Zahorian/Joseph Walsh; Sasha de Sola/Steven Morse; Dores Andre/Carlo Di Lanno; Isabelle de Vivo/Estaban Hernandez [both promoted to soloist status 7/1/2017] Emma Rubinowitz/Max Cauthorn.  De Sola had several moments where she was exposed, stage center, where her height and expression proved quite appealing.  Andre and Di Lanno provided a definite rapport, and understanding chemistry. De Vivo and Hernandez, both scheduled for solo status 7/1/17, were partnered again effectively.

Thatcher has a feeling for space, for entrances and exits and for moving groups. His themes tend to make him choose too lengthy music, but his choreographic talent is apparent and growing.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour was first commissioned and danced by San Francisco Ballet in 2008 using music by Erik Bosso and Antonio Vivaldi.  Martin Pakledinaz was responsible for scenery and costumes, James F. Ingalls for the lighting.  It was interesting to see it back because of Vanessa Zahorian’s cheerful and joyous partnership with Joseph Walsh, an example of definite enjoyment.  And also a variation between Francisco Mungamba and Lonnie Weeks, both excellent technicians with Mungamba’s emphatic accents to his port de bras providing sparks of excitement.  He’s another of the newly elevated soloists, 7/1/2017. Sarah Van Patten and Luke Ingham seem happily fated to be excellent partners, while I wonder again at Kochetkova’s dismissiveness towards her excellent partners, here Vitor Luiz. The work proved a happy, almost exclamatory ending to the evening.

A hors de catagorie comment about the company whose young dancers seem to be taking hold with confidence and admirable energy.  It is my understanding that the company will not only lose Vanessa Zahorian, Davit Karapetyan and Lorena Feijoo,  but there will be additional departures by Carlos Quenedit, Taras Domitro and Aaron Robison, all in the principal dancer category. With last season’s departure of Joan Boada, Pascal Molat and Gennadi Nedvigin [all three celebrated with Sustained Achievement Awards by the Isadora Duncan Dance Awards late in March], the company has experienced a sea change of some magnitude.  Given next year’s schedule starts with Sleeping Beauty, one wonders about new hires as well as the obvious challenges.