Archive | May, 2018

SFB’s Student Showcase, May 24, 2018

25 May

Yerba Buena’s Theatre was again the venue for San Francisco Ballet School’s Student Showcase May 23-25, with a shortened program May 23 to permit a patron’s dinner. On May 24 the program expanded to permit James Sofranko’s Rendezvous, Helgi Tomasson’s Blue Rose and student Blake Johnson’s Effervescence to be included along with the Balanchine’s umpah tribute to American cheer, Stars and Stripes.

But for me, the winner of the evening was Karen Gabay’s use of Charles Gounod’s ballet music for the School Demonstration. We have Patrick Armand, heading the school faculty, to thank for Gabay’s follow up to last year’s use of Beethoven as the display music involving everyone from toddlers to teenagers. Gabay remarked during intermission that she starts in January to mount the work, class by class, putting it all together in three mass rehearsals before the performance. Doughty lady.

What the audience saw was an intermingling of ages at the end, preceded by a winning mix of port de bras, use of the classical eight positions of the stage and the classical vocabulary of steps from tendus, pas de bourees on into attitudes, arabesques and then various sautes and jetes with the young faces and bodies responding to Gournod’s melodies as if it was the most natural task in the world. Happily, I can record the students also reflect the area’s diverse population.

As the students’ heights began to rise, so did their elevation and capacity for pirouettes and tours en l’air. Their earnestness was infectious.

Before the first intermission, James Sofranko’s Rendezvous was premiered to the music of Ezio Basso, a quartet of dancers appearing to the on-stage rendition of Daniel Sullivan at the piano and Ari Bukujian, violin in Lea Vivante’s designs. Emerson Dayton and Leili Rackow, dancing with Tommasso Beneventi and Esteban Cuadrado depicted two couples with conflicted emotions, something of a paired down Tudor Jardin Aux Lilas, broader arabesques and sustained promenades without mutating social niceties, but still fraught emotions nicely conveyed.

Following the first intermission, Helgi Tomasson’s Blue Rose , a sextette premiered in 2006 was revived, another ballet with Sullivan and Bukujian again playing on stage, this time to Elena Katz- Cherin’s music, possessing clear references to Rag and Tango tempi and styles.

Rackow and Cuadrado again appeared with Jasmine Jimison, Maya Wheeler, Joshua Jack Price and Jacob Saltzer. What I took away from it was young Price’s musical response and the Latin flair he brought to his variation. Judanna Lynn designed the costumes.

As part of the School’s encouragement Blake Johnston set Effervescence on a dozen students clad in minted bright pastel tights, pinks, greens, yellows, some bordered, some not, designed by Holly Hynes With her selection of an Oliver Davis recording, they were a sprightly group in Johnston’s choreographic debut.

The program finished with Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes following the second intermission, garbed in Karinska’s martial designs for this employment of John Philip Sousa’s six rousing marches, identified as Campaigns One through Four. The last time this work was used in SFB’s student performance, Shimon Ito danced the solo in Thunder and Gladiator that was premiered by Robert Barnett, here danced with elegant diffidence by Lleyton Ho.

Emerson Dayton did the honors in the baton solo and Jennifer Watembach with the horn in Corcoran Cadets and Rifle Regiments respectively. I had a quick vision of seeing Anita Paciotti leading one of those two feminine solos, immaculate in white gloves.

The Fourth Campaign to the Liberty Bell and El Capitan music saw Jasmine Jimison and Joshua Jack Price return from their Blue Rose assignment. In her skimpy yellow tutu Jimison made a winsome impression. Price danced his assignment with considerable elan, his turns assured as earlier, his traveling jetes swift and energetic, his grin coming close to evoking an early Jacques d’Amboise.

Minus the stars and stripes, the four regiments brought the evening to lively conclusion.


21 May

I got myself an iPad for the express purpose of being able to send tidbits from Jackson’s XI international competition, and I am here to tell you I feel like the grammar school kid in my red brick school house about a quarter mile down the road from the family orange grove.

Hopefully you will still read me when I get back on the laptop. But in the meantime, I feel like I am on a wild ride.

Marin Dance Theatre’s Spring Fest, May 12

18 May

Celebrating 21 years as a non-profit organization devoted to serious training in ballet, modern and musical theatre, Marin Dance Theatre staged two performances May 12 Spring Fest, its third year at the Cowell Theatre in Fort Mason. I had seen a summer performance or two at the Jewish Community Center in San Rafael, but there’s been at least a decade hiatus in my seeing MDT’s talent on stage.

What I witnessed at the 1 p.m. performance was rock-solid cooperation and coordination by the students’ mothers, relaxed but focused, bustling but generous-spirited. This graciousness included Robin who greeted me at the ticket desk and saw to it that I got a Luxor Cab following the performance. Becoming used to the YBCA Theatre or the Opera House, the many necessities for a smoothly run event tends to fade from awareness, or the comraderie fueling the show.

First, Cowell is small enough for dancers to connect with the audience, and demanding enough so that flubs or deviations can be quickly noted. The neatness of lines, entrances and exits were salutary in their correctness, and unison abilities comme il faut. I know that’s de minimus, but achieving that de minimus with the stair step of years and abilities is not to be scoffed at.

Second, while the program emphasized the classical repertoire, “modern dance” and musical theater were interspersed before and following intermission. Included was a tribute to Vicki-Marie Bessing who was responsible for expanding the school’s curriculum to include modern dance and musical theatre exposure. Later, awards were made to two students and to the five graduating students all headed to further academic study or ballet apprenticeships, each supplied with floral bouquets: Hattie Bleeker; Molly Gibbons; Polina Myers; Natalie Palmgren; Malina Wahl.

Costume acknowledgments were given: Isabela Perry, Denise Wahl, and Daryl Henzl. Credit, fully deserved, included black tutus adorned at the shoulders and upper back in wide bands of black lace for Velvet Over Steel, limpid, filmy lavender for Circles of Lavender, plus tee-shirts and tights in forthright scarlet and black for the modern numbers, plus scrub women’s drab for Hard Knock Life. The excerpt and variations from La Bayadere were modest cholis and separate tutus in embroidered yellow. For the two musical final pieces; Damn Yankees’ Shoeless Joe, there was baseball gear and earnest energy and for A Chorus Line’s One, black trunks and sleek stockings, all marked with energetic, accurate, well-timed kicks and other maneuvers.

Pierre-Francois Vilanoba used Sergei Prokofiev music for RMJ, a title taken from the first names of the three participants: Rayan Driol, Martin Siegel and Jordan Mann. A mixture of boyish cutting up, athletic attempts and dance, Vilanoba fashioned a piece to high light MDT’s male students. Driol later shared honors with his sister Hannah in the Neapolitan variation from Swan Lake’s Act Three.

Malina Wahl’s Paquita variation was rendered in a stiff tutu overskirt, missing supporting underlayers; said observation goes on record to mention how costume supports or distracts from competent renditions.

The ensemble for the Act I La Bayadere excerpt was a real winner – whether together or brief solo phrases, the quintet danced full out,happily. In a different setting, the performance could be considered professional. It and the bulk of the dances certainly met that all-important criteria.

Marin Dance Theatre’s graduates testify to the caliber of its teaching and its serious purpose. But Dance Fest also gives evidence of the warmth and caring which goes along hand and hand with purposeful training, making for a enjoyable afternoon performance.

Menlowe Ballet’s Illume, May 11-13, 2018

17 May

Menlowe Ballet always presents a tidy quartet of performances three times a year, Fall, the Nutcracker season and a spring weekend. They utilize the students of the Menlo Park Academy of Associate Artist Director Sarah-Jane Measor to provide corps assignments and a backdrop for the adult artists who currently are listed as 15. Menlowe Ballet is most efficiently supported by Co-Founder and Executive Director-Board Secretary Lisa Shively.

Michael Lowe is Artistic Director,a former mainstay dancer with Oakland Ballet, as well as one of two interim Artistic Directors following the resignation of founder Ronn Guidi. He has explored his Chinese-Korean roots;his Double Happiness for Oakland earned him an Izzie for choreography. He also is noted for inviting former colleagues to mount works for one of the two seasons of varied ballets and he brought on board as second Associate Artistic Director, Oakland Ballet alumna Julie Lowe.

The results are very solid, well-rehearsed, possessing the refreshing quality of dancers who are not only competent but students on the threshold of professional careers, drawing an audience of parents, friends, well-wishers and balletomanes wanting variety in their pointe addiction. The sense of enclave is strong along with warmth and a cheery seriousness.

This all was quite evident at the Sunday matinee at the Menlo Park-Atherton High School Center for the Performing Arts, attracting former Oakland Ballet dancer Joy Gim and artistic director Ronn Guidi. Dennis Nahat, on the eve of moving out of the area, heightened the ambiance.

On the program were Lowe-Measor’s collaboration, Lady with the Lamp; Nahat’s Swan Lake pas de cinq, and Donald McKayle’s Crossing the Rubicon, Passing the Point of No Return, its first performance outside the premiere performances at the University of California, Irvine.

Lady with the Lamp was announced by Shively as Menlowe Ballet’s interest in honoring women making major contributions to the world. Set to music by Samuel Barber, Sir Edward Elgar and the fateful chords of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, The five-section work also drew on the sentiments of Buffie Sainte-Marie and Pete Seeger, their effective words as background for the six combative soldiers in Universal Soldier. It was followed by Incarnation where a young girl, Leighton Shively, imagines herself in the prior century, dancing with a soldier, Alex Guthrie. With something reflecting on a vanity and chair and clad in gently psychodelic colors, Shively’s animation and extension were noteworthy.

Modernity was followed by Florence, an evocation of the young adult Florence,
Chantelle Pianetta, her sister, a vision of the young Florence and her suitor, abetted by two chairs. Save for Pianetta’s variation, this third of the five seemed the least convincing. Pianetta, her technique steady, reminds one that earlier dancers were like nosegays, petite and well contained.

In Crimea, some ten Czarist soldiers were Menlo Ballet Academy’s students, tidy in olive khaki costumes by Jean Raymond, executing maneuvers and sorties smartly. Next to me, Carlos Carvajal made approving murmurs.

The Nurses of Scutari emerged from behind concrete-like squares and oblongs, seven of them in lavendar-hued dresses with what looked more like housemaid aprons than regulation nursing garb. [I have no knowledge of the standard uniform of the period but acknowledgment is made to the Florence Nightingale Museum in London. History records 337 women from England joined Nightingale in Scutari.]

Dennis Nahat’s Swan Lake Pas de Cinq is a thematic departure from the traditional Act I pas de trois of the Petipa-Tchaikovsky classic; in my opinion, it is a valid and logical alternative to the traditional dance of three. As Nahat explained, the Queen Mother has invited the four princesses, Italian, Spanish, Hungarian and Russian, to Siegfried’s 21st birthday and wants him to be exposed and acquainted so that from the four he can make his choice confidently. With Akira Takahashi as Siegfried, Sasha Lazarus, Leighton Shively, Patience Gordon and Chantelle Pianetta took their turns in an effective display of come-hither. Takahashi dutifully displayed princely politeness. Save for the headdresses Christian Weiland’s costumes of golden-touched filmy knee-length tutus conveyed no cultural variation among the four candidates. Takahashi’s height in jetes, and competence in double tours demonstrated continued growth since Nahat hired him in 2005 for Ballet San Jose.

After the Intermission Crossing the Rubicon, Passing the Point of No Return had its first performance outside of U.C., Irvine where Donald McKayle taught for some three decades. Danced to Anoushka Shankar’s penetrating, evocative score, costume designers Connie Strayer and Kathryn Wilson chose to clothe the dancers in kurtas and paijamas of dark browns, greens and blues; the choices underscored the music as well as mass migration through out central and south Asia.

McKayle galvinized the audience with the diagonal entrance of the entire group, upstage right to downstage left before moving them to circle, with the principal couple, Aiden de Young and Ali McKeon, in the center. The circle moved clockwise, frequently with bent bodies, conveying escaping and hunted qualities. Against the high-pitched, reedy, almost crying qualities of the Indian instrumentation, misery unrelenting.

Many in the audience stood in homage at performance’s end, and McKayle’s image, projected on stage back, added warmth as well as poignancy to the moment. I just hope Crossing The Rubicon is added soon to a major company’s work with as much felicity and appreciation as it was mounted by Menlowe Ballet.

SFB’s Program D, April 26, 2018

2 May

The fourth program of San Francisco Ballet’s of invited choreographers is now history, featuring Edwaard Liang, Dwight Rhoden and Arthur Pita under the titles The Universal Ocean, Let’s Begin At the End and Bjork Ballet. Again, it was a trio of works starting with the visibly classical, a dramatic situational essay and full blown theatrical fantasy.

Edwaard Liang started out in the San Francisco area, training at Marin Ballet before moving to School of American Ballet for further training; he enjoyed a career as a soloist both for New York City Ballet and Nederlans Dance Theater
where he began to choreograph. Besides choreographing widely, Liang became artistic director for Dayton’s Ballet Met in 2014. The Universal Ocean is his second work for San Francisco Ballet.

Oliver Davis’ music provided repetitive phrases for this visually handsome work,
thanks to Alexander V.Nichols for scenery and Mark Zappone for costuming. Katita Waldo served as ballet mistress. The title itself The Universal Ocean suggests a distinct Asian philosophical viewpoint,and was influenced by the death of his father and a friend whose comment inspired the title.

Towards the end, even if the Davis’ phrases built note by note, I not only knew it was going to end but I wanted him to get on with it. In another time, Liang could easily have been a scholar adept not only in calligraphy, prone to landscapes with craggy mountains with the small sojourner at the bottom of the trail, trudging along with a staff. This feeling rose from the sun-like circle dominating the backstage wall, raked platform rising in back, used effectively for the finale.

The color scheme was roseate, much use made of port de bras, particularly en haut, and the handsome use of Sofiane Sylve, Tiit Helimets, Yuan Yuan Tan and Vitor Luiz. [as Tan’s partner Luiz is a tad too short].

The four principals were augmented with four couples; the ending, as they rushed towards the incline and dropped behind, everyone seemed willing to disappear. Yuan Yuan Tan dropped spectacularly at the ending note and the fall of the curtain.

Based on what I read on Ballet Met’s Website, I suspect Liang may do well with
plots. It would be nice to compare this possibility with a second viewing of The Infinite Ocean.

Dwight Rhoden’s musical choices provided a provocative edge to Let’s Begin At The End -Johann Sebastian Bach, Philip Glass and Michael Nyman, his first work for San Francisco Ballet. Earlier, he had choreographed for Oakland Ballet when it was under Karen Brown’s direction. Rhoden’s ballet master was Richard Bustamonte.

Alexander V. Nichols provided a sectional, granite-toned wall providing entrances, exits and faintly ominous presence of the fifteen dancers costumed by Christine Darch. Esteban Hernandez opened with virtuosity, retreating as the major couple, Frances Chung and Angelo Greco appeared. He appeared latter with the supporting corps of eight dancers, who traded places or appeared simultaneously with Sasha de Sola and Benjamin Freemantle or Jennifer Stahl and Ulrik Birkkjaer.

Chung and Greco provided a provocative ending pas de deux; leaving Greco, Chung clearly annoyed, walking off stage left and a swift curtain. Rhoden is adept dramatically, but his obvious choreograqphic skill lacked resolution,

Arthur Pita’s Bjork Ballet drew its inspiration from the Icelandic singer as well as Alejandro Ghersi and Sjon, all musical contributors far from my ken. Last year’s contribution of Salome primed me for the unusual but when the curtain rose and some forty glittering constructions, short branches on slender stems hung in front of us, I thought Cirque de Soleil, saying to myself, “oh, no!”.

It isn’t as if Pita lacked good principals: Doris Andre and Sarah Van Patten, Ulrik Birkkjae and Luke Ingham were there to partner. Wei Wang turned out to be the waif-like fishing boy, sporting a fishing pole, sad mask in front which he switched with a happy mask attached in back. Most of all, Maria Kochetkova, appearing in one of her final roles with the company,was veiled in pink, painted and sporting elaborate pink fringe, undulating from head to toe while being borne by the sixteen supporting dancers.

Those forty silvered weeds dropped from the flies early and also found their way towards stage left soon after, making way for the corps and the principals. You have to admire Victor Pita’s capacity to design decor, and Marco Morante for creating MGM-style extravangaza clothing. I hope San Francisco Ballet can rent, lease or sell the production to Vegas.