Archive | January, 2018

San Francisco Ballet’s Margot Fonteyn: Frances Chung

27 Jan

Writing about San Francisco Ballet’s decade-long absence from Sleeping Beauty brought me down memory lane to the 190-1951 tour of Sadler’s Wells Ballet of the United States and Canada, enabling me to see Margot Fonteyn, Moira Shearer and Beryl Grey and the host of other memorable British dancers. I think their experience before and during World War II provided a special depth and understanding to their fantasy roles, and certainly a maturity to which current occupants of the roles could aspire. Dancers are serious in their technical application; it is life helping them to provide depth to their characterizations. Current stagings have to labor against such vivid memories I saw at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in November, 1950.

That preaching aside, it’s good to see the Jens-Jacob Worsaae production again, embellished by the Royal Danish Ballet commissioned Act III setting, emphasizing the movement from sumptuous Russian bearing to the influence of the French pastorale setting favored by the Louis monarchs XIII, XIX, XV and XVI. It’s my understanding that San Francisco Ballet purchased the Act III production outright. I hope the Tsar’s Act III top heavy paraphernalia is adapted, however gamely worn by Val Caniparoli.

The Act I and II settings with the multiple steps, the glimpses of the Onion-topped churches and the sweep of gold-encrusted garnet velvet gowns are breath-exciting visions, enhanced by the various Fairies. Orthodox Russian priests reinforced the sense of this deeply Russian occasion. The silver icicles dripping over the black sweeping fabric of Carabosse, Fairy of Darkness, the haughty, malignant, chilly Katita Waldo and her attendants added a roach-like invasion of the garnet and pastel setting. Enrico Cecchetti, creator of the role in 1890, would likely have approved.

With the various fairy variations renamed, it seemed to me the bestowal to Aurora of characteristics remained entirely the task of Carabosse. In particular, remembering Yuri Possokhov’s comments regarding promise with the arrival of lilacs, Jennifer Stahl’s harbinger of spring remained tight buds, instead of open flowering, possible with long-limbed interpreters.

Forward to Act II, with a competent rendition of the waltz by the San Francisco Ballet students, the arrival of Aurora with the quivering strings was fully recompensed by Chung’s slight inclination of curiosity mixed with the exuberance of knowing she had arrived at sweet sixteen. In the interplay with her parents, there was emotional connection mixed with the awareness of her status, and the exchange regarding marriage choice with the four attendant princes was not only “What’s this all about?” but also, “Okay, I get it,” in socially adept signals, making me doubly excited. Forward she stepped, calm, expectant and waiting. En pointe, the arm rose and dropped with a measured calm, allowing the audience to settle in with expectation. On Aurora progressed, focused, attentive, confident as the Princes from Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Mongolia and Siberia offered their hand and roses to the nubile royal. The suitors, Benjamin Fremantle, Mingxuan Wang, Solomon Golding and Sean Orza, were suitably impressed. Never for a moment was Aurora other than expected, socially, technically, but with slight gestural nuances accenting her classical proportion and delivery. Clarity, consistency and Chung’s cognisence of the role demonstrated the care with which the choreography was constructed, and Chung was a winner all the way.

Making his appearance in Act II, Vitor Luiz carried the proportion further, accented by white wig and tights, affable but with distance. Madison Keesler as the Countess tried her best, but it was no show from the beginning. Sean Orza appeared, this time as the Prince’s Attendant, and all the niceties of the court ladies and gentlemen dancing set the stage for the gentle melancholy Prince Desire would express, to be broken by the Lilac Fairy, leading into the vision scene. Here, the San Francisco, the green-clothed corps de ballet provided a skillful beckon and barrier between Aurora and Prince Desire.

The progression through a much more lacy vine barrier than I remember gave Waldo additional moments of malignancy before the Lilac Fairy and the Prince
confront sleeping Aurora in a most delightful possible chinoiserie gazebos.Then the brief coaching, the kiss, awakening and fated recognition plus pledge.

Worsaae’s design for Act III gave audience and dancers a sweeping landing and steps backstage center to emphasize the front-and-center event of marriage and the court. The courtiers, looking like models for Fragonard, Boucher or Poussin, provided dance and audience before just two of the several variations performed prior to Aurora and Desire’s pas de deux. Sean Orza, in his third assignment, was Puss in Boots to Wanting Zhao’s playful White Cat, more provocative and adept than some of her predecessors. Hansuke Yamamoto took the role created by Enrico Cecchetti in the Blue Bird pas de deux with his customary elegant diffidence; Julia Rowe, as the enchanted princess, supposedly learning to fly, her port de bras was more suited to current abstractions than Petipa’s classicism.

Chung and Luiz brought their understated correctness to the Grand Pas de Deux,; I couldn’t help but think that Royal Ballet and Canadian training may well have shaped their sense of comme il faut before cell phones blunted social proprieties. They brought the performance to a warm, almost rapturous ending with many in orchestra standing as Chung received pink roses, providing Luiz with one as thanks for such gallant support.


Number One of San Francisco Performances’ Pivot Series

26 Jan

San Francisco Performances has started a Pivot Series, running January 23 to 27 at American Conservatory Theatre’s Strand Theatre on Market Street. For number one, there was a sold-out audience for Benjamin Millepied’s L.A. Project.

For me the most exciting part was learning and seeing Francisco Mungamba,
who had reached soloist status before leaving San Francisco Ballet, was a part of the small ensemble formed by Millepied who seems determined to clothe his dancers in jeans, checked shirts, lengthy chemises, as two numbers seemed to evidence. The third, and middle number, a film titled Hearts and Arrows placed sneakers on eight dancers against the concrete expanses of the Los Angeles River culverts, graffiti against walls, lumbering and lengthy railroad engine with cars, under sun-drenched bleakness, like an introduction to some action movie. All speak to Millepied’s desire to bring classical dance into the 21st century; not a tutu or toe shoe appeared in any of the three numbers, and the third piece, a quartete, was entirely male.

Philip Glass’ lengthy, semi-monotone works provided the musical impetus for
Clearer, the initial pas de deux, and the aforementioned Hearts and Arrows,. Mad Rush for the first played with impressive skill by Timo Andres and featured Janie Taylor and Adrian Freeland, Jr., an extremely competent partner whose technical skill was only hinted at because of his attentive support of the slender, abundantly blonde-haired Taylor; her tresses seemed to provide the occasional grace note or tempest to the music. Their partnering was marked by frequent, clear eye contact, embraces from the floor and the occasional body wrapped around the partner. The subtext seemed to explore racial equity; if that was the intent the pas de deux was a raving success though the music seemed excessively long to make that admirable point.

The film Hearts and Arrows was supported by Van Cleef & Arpels, though there was virtually nothing of gems on display in the setting, save the dancers: Stephanie Amurao, Anthony Bryant, Aaron Carr, Randy Castillo, Julie Elchtan, Charlie Hodges, Morgan Lugo, Nathan Makolandra and Rachelle Rafailedes. They leaped, twirled, ran and coalesced to Philip Glass’ String Quartet No.3 “Mishima”, performed by the Kronos Quartet. Against the harsh sun of the Los Angeles area, the subtitle “Mishima” carried with it a fatal tone of struggle, fast-paced fleeing, coalescing and support.

For the third and final number Sarabande, Millepied selected Johann Sebastian Bach’s Partitas: Solo Flute in A Minor, and Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin with no instrumental credit given.

Two film dancers, Aaron Carr and Nathan Makolandra, appeared with Axel Ibot and Francisco Mungamba, now sporting a lustrous dark beard and moustache added to his remarkably polished classical technique.

The Millepied placed the four men within the classical repertoire with multiple
jetes, large and small, pirouettes, ensemble encounters and brief pas de deux, a wonderful display of technical mastery clothed in blue denim and checked shirts. It also displayed the range of physique which makes ballet going and casting one of the pleasures of balletomania.

A brief Q&A followed with Millepied in dungarees and a baseball cap before the audience was invited into the Strand Lobby for post-performance red wine.

Celestal Three Ways: San Francisco Ballet Gala 2018

21 Jan

There was the title for San Francisco Ballet’s 85th Gala – Celestial at San Francisco’s Opera House January 18, 2018. There also was the evening and its rain drops, as if to emphasize the glitter, glam and glitz of the crowd.

In the Press Room before curtain, there was a sense of welcome to see colleagues arriving for the evening, individuals rarely seen outside opening nights but still familiar, part of what makes theatre going and writing so pleasurable. Aimee Ts’ao who writes previews for the San Jose Mercury; Paul Parish writing for The Bay Area Reporter ; Toba Singer for Culture Vulture a post shared with Joanna Harris; Claudia Bauer for; Carol Escoda who can be found with KQED, Huffington Post and Dance Europe;Rita Felciano with Dance View Times: Allan Ulrich for The San Francisco Chronicle and SF Gate; flame-haired Teri McCollum with her Odette’s Ordeal Facebook page; Leslie Katz who resides over culture at the S.F. Examiner.

The seats assigned Margaret Swarthout and me were at the right aisle back, an excellent spot to appraise gowns, behavior and notables – Thuy Vu, elegant in rusty maroon red. In front of us, stringy straps over substantial shoulders and upper right marked by a tattoo, used opera glasses, little finger spread to the max; just to the left elaborate coiffure, strings of seed pearls atop pinky beige chiffon and cocktail glasses periodically in use during the performance, heads bending sporadically to obscure the view.

On the aisle guests accommodated two or three trains, one in off blue which bubbled like protective shipping material, another like spring flowers clustered pell mell behind a knee length skirt front. I spotted an appreciable hoop skirt and wondered, as I have yearly, what it must be like to maneuver structure and material into an opera house seat. I currently have to sling elbow crutches onto the floor space of the chairs in front of me.

The lights dimmed about ten minutes after the stated hour, newcomers were still arriving and crawling past us as the orchestra commenced the opening chord of The Star Spangled Banner, followed by Trustee Carl F. Pascarella’s acknowledgment of funders, sponsors and organizers of the Gala and seasonal proceedings. These facts were underscored by the brochure featuring several pictures of principal dancers by Erik Tomassen, backed by approximations of celestial lights.

Little Waltz to the light music of Eric Coates was perhaps Helgi Tomasson’s first choreographic essay, or at least quite an early one. An ensemble piece for students at the School of American Ballet in 1985, it also marked the year Tomasson became artistic director of San Francisco Ballet, its simplicity displaying the beginnings of Tomasson’s choreographic craft. Displaying students of San Francisco Ballet’s school, some half-dozen young men and two or three contingents of young women, some on point performed in a bland, if pleasing demonstration of what the school is producing. Hopefully passion will emerge.

One of Jerome Robbin’s Chopin essays, In The Night, a pas de six, separated by three, enjoyed Roy Bogas at the piano. Bogas has played for San Francisco Ballet since its 1958 tour of Latin America. For the Gala he supported Mathilde Froustey,Benjamin Freemantle, Jennifer Stahl and Tiit Helmets, Sarah Van Patten and Luke Ingham in Robbins’ depiction of three couples, the women is icy blue, rust and black. Having seen this wonderful ballet interpreted by Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun, Muriel Maffre, Lorena Feijoo with male principals like Pierre Francois Villanoba, Stephen Legate and Yuri Possokhov, the challenge was considerable. Froustey was strong, her moments of emphasis correct, Freemantle needing to be a tad more swept away. Tiit Helimets was picture perfect in the role, Stahl, still tentantive and involved in sheer execution. Van Patten and Ingham, not exceptionally stormy, still conveyed the third couple’s tempest.

The evenings first classical pas de deux was the Bluebird, lifted from the final act of Sleeping Beauty; it suffered from being out of scenery and context. My first exposure came with Sadler’s Wells and Brian Shaw’s fleet rendition, perhaps with Julia Farron as Princess Florene.. Wei Wang, though not terribly air bound, gave sharp emphasis to his sissonnes, while Doris Andre masked her remarkable acuity with an uncharacteristic calm where excitement could have been valid. Both dancers suffered from a flaccid tempo, hopefully corrected before Tuesday’s opening.

The young Canadian choreographer Robert Binet’s vision was seen here for the first time through the clarity of Frances Chung and Joseph Walsh with Natal’ya Feygina at the piano. Titled Children of Chaos, the work carried implications of disaster, suffering and loss, effectively conveyed by Chung and Walsh.

Le Corsaire was switched to the final number before intermission, danced by Sasha de Sola and Angelo Greco, she smooth, delicate, he vital, covering ground with precision, both exciting the crowd and leaving them in a gratifying high.

Letting Go opened the Gala’s second half with Yuan Yuan Tan in full length chiffon, partnered by Carlo di Lanno in Edward Liang’s pas de deux premiered in 2015 in Hong Kong. It is a piece full of languorous sayonara touches with Tan wonderfully accented by Di Lanno.

August Bournonville’s La Sylphide provided the evening’s nose gay, introducing Ulrich Birkkjaer as James to Maria Kochetkova’s Sylphide. And what a treat it was, Birkkjaer dancing something intrinsic to his career with the Royal Danish Ballet, his torso vibrating his desire to enfold the Sylph in his arms and Kochetkova’s portrait the image of fey feminine allure. The irony of the pas de deux is neither touches the other, the strength in jumps and turns conveying James’ impatient ardor.

The pas de deux from Stars and Stripes, switched to the second half of the program, is a work where a certain earthiness is not only allowed, but desired, In Balanchine’s tribute to hambone Americana.The “aw shucks” and “what’s it to you”, Jacques d’Amboise and Melissa Hayden set the flavor. In San Francisco Ballet’s first interpretation of Balanchine’s take on this rah-rah July Fourth Americana, David McNaughton and Evelyn Cisneros were memorable. Ana Sophia Scheller and Vitor Luiz, well matched in size and temperament, were technically easily up to speed, but lacked that particular spirit; theirs was a smoother Latin American polish; I just missed Norte Americano rawness.

Justin Peck’s Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes is his interpretation of Aaron Copland’s music for Agnes de Mille and required some adjusting for me, but I think De Mille would have commended this talented debut. Seen here after its premiere with New York City Ballet, it veers from cowpoke to leaping beige and light blue striped leotards traveling horizontally across space in ensembles of three, five and six and accented by Sofiane Sylve, mostly in black with red trunks. She punctuated the maleness, and Carlo Di Lanno in off-white chemise and fluid trousers, partnered her with dash.

In all, Peck provided San Francisco Ballet’s men with an absolutely rousing end to the Gala.