Archive | August, 2017

San Francisco Ballet’s 202 August 21

24 Aug

Since moving into the Chris Hellman Center for Dance on Franklin Street, San Francisco Ballet has devised various programs to entice and satisfy audience curiosity about the art form and SFB’s company activities. Auxiliaries helping to fund the company also supply volunteers for events like shepherding small children during Nutcracker season, form part of this in addition to curtain talks at 7 p.m with a dancer, a musician or even a crucial artistic staff member. Mary Ruud, a long-time researcher and presenter also has given talks held in the Green Room of Veterans Auditorium.

So it comes as no surprise that the audience gurus have devised a three-part series designed to deepen balletomania and the San Francisco flock of groupies. Getting an e-mail led me to ask to attend session 2 of Ballet 202 where Ricardo Bustamonte and Ulrik Birkkjaer were the featured guests.

For all the certain remoteness of the art form and the glassy facade of the Hellman ground floor, there is a relaxed atmosphere in the circular guest area where perhaps two dozen people sat, waiting to be invited into the William Dollar Room. The genders were roughly equal in number, the age range from young balletomanes, to a robust woman bent over a laptop, a white haired man with cane reading from a book, clearly a couple chatting with familiar individuals. The space is marked from the inner entrance doors to a small bronze of Pascal Molat in rehearsal clothes, the big toe on his supporting foot raised, doubtless pondering some aspect of his characterization.

When Cecilia Beam indicated the room was ready, we filed in to find two rows of seats behind tables, four seats to two tables, behind which the comfortable sea green upholstered chairs created some four rows and three seats in forward diagonals on either side of the room. Just beyond the entrance was a refreshment table: chicken on skewers with satay sauce, brie and small circles of bread, scattered pieces of fruit and glasses for the pitchers of cool water.

On the tables or the chairs were two pieces of paper. One contained a drawing with squares labeled on each side with a letter, and the second had English language verse from Bjork songs; these form the musical inspiration for Arthur Pita, creator of the 2017 premiere of Salome, one of the dozen choreographers invited to create works for the 2018 spring season.

Cecilia led the group in a series of questions regarding ballet preferences, stories vs. abstract, favorite ballet, reaction to Frankenstein, years watching the company, who had seen the Paris Opera Ballet, who saw Nureyev, who has studied ballet, who had attended SF Ballet School [adult or child] among other queries aimed to get an overall view of the audience. Among the audience were Cynthia Pepper, teaching in SFB’s School Outreach and Carrie Geyser Casey, who has taught dance history at the SFB School, the Dance Program at St. Mary’s in Moraga and who led the 8/14 session of Ballet 202.

After a glowing introduction, Ricardo Bustamonte outlined his role as ballet master to Arthur Pita, describing how Pita started working with the dancers, making them roll on the floor, flex their arms and legs in positions unusual for what Bustamonte described as very structured modes of movement. This they did about a week before Pita began setting movement based on the music of Bjork, the Icelandic-born pop singer, the imagery for two songs provided us. Bustamonte quipped, “It’s good Helgi is Islandic and could interpret for us.” He said that Pita would see a movement on a dancer and say, “I like that,” and incorporate it in the work. Sometimes he would remark to Bustamonte, “Do you remember that…” and Bustamonte would either refer to his notes, recall what was seen or ask the dancer what he had done. He remarked the company is more relaxed the second time around with Pita’s imaginative approach.

A paper diagram given us showed the body divided into four boxes with letters ranging up both sides and lines crossing within the individual boxes. Giving us the task of identifying the word ADAM from the diagram gave us immediate understanding of the mental and movement agility Pita requires and encourages.

Bustamonte showed a variation being danced by Maria Kochetkova who he said was thrilled not to be dancing in pointe shoes. She had watched rehearsals of Pita’s Salome and said she wanted to work with him. The segment shown displayed the expanded movement repertoire that Pita has devised and how graceful the angularity and off kilter choreography proved on Kochetkova’s body.

After thanking Bustamonte, a short break ensued before Ulrik Berkkjaer, the new principal dancer from Denmark, climbed on one of the seats to be questioned by Cecilia Beam. Sandy-haired, lean and close to being tall, Berkkjaer, sporting a substantial, neatly trimmed beard, which doubtless will vanish as the Nutcracker season is upon us, spoke fluent English in an engaging manner. Part of his ease in the language he attributed to his American-born mother, but also to the opportunities he has had to study at The Royal Ballet and School of American Ballet while being thoroughly trained from age six at the Royal Danish Ballet.

Cecilia asked Berkkjaer how he found similarities and differences between his experience with the Royal Danish Ballet and San Francisco Ballet. “In Denmark we could look down at the stage; here the building is separate and devoted entirely to dance. And we start early appearing on stage.”

Asked what drew him to come to San Francisco, Berkkjaer said, “I started at the Royal Danish at 6, and joined the company at 16. I am thirty-one, and a dancing career is a short one. I thought it was time that I tried something new, and when I learned there were openings with the company [San Francisco Ballet has 15 new members], I sent videos to Helgi. He called me and said there was an opening. So here I am.”

Those attending Ballet 202 were shown Youtube footage of Berkkjaer in La Sylphide’s Act I where the petite allegro and the thrilling jetes ending in attitude en arriere are such striking examples of the Bournonville style. Without question, Berkkjaer’s rendition of James, the fated hero, demonstrated what a prize we will be privileged to see, a clarity and classicism to place against David Hallberg; it is not surprising that Berkkjaer was the recipient of the Erik Bruhn prize in 2006.

Asked what kind of reception he has had and Berkkjaer’s face lit in a smile, “Sarah Van Patten, who is fantastic. She danced Juliet in Helgi’s Romeo and Juliet when she was sixteen. I was a page in Act I.”

Here in less than two months, Berkjjaer has been rehearsing with three choreographers, the third starting the Monday of this second session of Ballet 202. Admitting that it’s challenging, he said “I find it stimulating,” which clearly drew him to the company. As we clapped and began to leave, chatting with friends, I remember something Yvette Chauvire mentioned in a memorable New Year’s Eve interview in 1965, “The classics are so agreeable.” Said in French, the concept had a special lilt, an ambiance to it. Like several other European additions to our company, Berkjjaer brings that indefinable pleasure with him.