Archive | February, 2019

SFB’s Program 3, Feburary 19,2019

22 Feb

Handsome muted grey costuming with solitary straps, accented by glittering bands, adorned Sandra Woodall’s costumes for Helgi Tomasson’s The Fifth Season with eight dancers supporting the five principals. They danced to Karl Jenkins score in front of oblong panels streaked like an authoritative black dash by some Asian calligraphic master, colors changing with the varied sections. The Fifth Season was premiered in 2006.

Wona Park and Angelo Greco led off the first “season” with supported lifts, ditto appropriate pirouettes, well matched and quite business like. Their remarkable skills made it all look like “excellence as usual.”“

Mathilde Froustey and Yuan Yuan Tan were gallantly squired by Daniel Deivson-Oliveirs and Tiit Helimets in the Waltz and followed by Park and Greco in Romance. The Tango found Froustey supported by the three principal men, the punctuation in the music sliding her not only on the floor but having it accented by the orchestral strings.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets danced the Largo with aplomb before the ensemble completed the ballet with Bits.

Cathy Marston’s Snowblind was part of the 2018 Unbound festival, rare not only because the ballet is the creation of a woman known for her preference for dramatic themes, but also her choice of an American theme in her debut work with an American company. Marston selected Edith Wharton’s tale of New England entanglement, here interpreted by a new cast with Luke Ingham as the ill-fated Ethan Frome, Madison Keesler as Zeena, his sickly wife, and Dores Andre Mattie Silver, who becomes fatally entangled with Frome. Seven women and five men in the corps were the interwoven neighbors, farmhands and drifts of snow.

Serving as music was a collage arranged by Phillip Feeney with Patrick Kinmonth responsible for the costume and minimal scenic design. He also worked on the adaptation with Marston.

Frome establishes his relationship with Zeena and her sickliness at the beginning with a mutual inertness, a portrait rather like the moving reflection of Grant Wood’s American Gothic – gaunt, solemn-faced, sonomulent-like in movement. There is a brief contrast of the young women and men playing with touches of young animal spirits in which Mattie, garbed in red, joins and fends off attempts to embrace her.

Ethan is drawn to her, and she to him – a tentative exchange. She is given an apron by Zeena, clearly suspicious, and Ethan carries Zeena upstairs, while Mattie frantically performs chores and provides Zeena with her chair.

The inevitable happens, Zeena dragging herself down to confront the reality, Mattie frantic at being “caught” and Ethan, exhausted, desperately trying to protect Mattie. The curtain falls on the trio in a contorted embrace.

There is the sense of watching the tragedy unfold as if viewing it through a stereoptacon, Andre’s Mattie is spirited, fragile and all too quickly distraught and trapped. Keesler’s Zeena is one of the more remote invalids I have seen on stage, while Ingham’s Ethan wanders towards a touch of life like the proverbial moth to a flame.

Harald Lander’s Etudes, created for the Royal Danish Ballet in 1948 made its San Francisco Ballet debut in 1998. Its local revival to the orchestration of the Carl Czerny piano exercises remains a challenge to soloist and ensemble alike. Here the principals were Sofiane Sylve, Ulrik Birkkjaer, Aaron Robison and Tiit Helimets,with an additional twelve men, a dozen women in white tutus, another dozen in black tutus and three women as sylphides.

The ballet progresses from half light, emphasizing beginning exercises at two barres placed at angles on the stage, the light beaming on the legs and feet as battements, rond de jambes, developpes in all directions are executed. Some of the exciting moments arise when the barres have been banished and the women execute grand jetes on the diagonal from up stage right and the men from up stage left, passing each other alternately.

The men have their moments in ranks from back to front crossing the stage horizontally, as the Czerny exercises gathered in complexity.

Sofiane Sylve was ably supported by the three principals, regally precise.
The male principals double toured themselves with enthusiasm, as the music built to a thundering climax proclaiming the glory of the classical vocabulary and San Francisco’s dancers demonstrated their skill presenting their chosen metier.

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Katie Faulkner’s Divining at ODC, February 16

18 Feb

Saturday, I joined Angela Amarillas and Rita Felciano at ODC to experience Divining with Katie Faulkner’s little seismic dance company. Experience is a salient verb because this is what transpires when you sit to witness one of Katie’s choreographies.

I can’t remember the name of the film she made with Brandon Freeman on the roofs around the ODC neighborhood in the Mission where they gazed through Victorian or Edwardian cloudy windows, stitched themselves together on roof tops, dressed in scruffy vintage clothing, and were quite the beguiling couple, serious, concentrated, but oh so memorable.

Divining is another one of those perspectives, hour-long, performed by four women: Alex Carrington; Tara MacArthur; Chinchin Hsu, Suzette Sagisi to a score by Ben Juodvalkis, lighting by Allen Willner, the dancers costumed by Ciriaco Sayoc in dun-to-khaki-colored shorts and truncated trousers, skin-toned shirts revealing the dancers’ nipples.

I am tempted to quote the choreographer’s three eloquent paragraphs regarding the work where she explores the meaning of the word, its relevance to human activity and belief systems and what it does to our bodies, reactions and emotions. It is a totally brilliant, concise exposition.

The four dancers present clear contrasts: two Caucasians, two Asians. For a minute I thought, “Colonialism,” but the activity soon belied that. Aided by Willner’s momentary light pools, the dancers gathered, grouped, groped. Then there was prolonged bodily shaking, not just hands, but torso, legs, in something verging on a group of women devotees, arms and hands suppliant. Next there was a pause and a rearrangement of the quartet into another onslaught of shakes intensified by ominous sounds. The facial expression of the four dancers signaled their devotion to something and their desire to have blessing, confirmation, reassurance.

There was no indication such relief was forth coming; until, at one point, something struck Suzette Sagisi as funny. Standing upright, while the other three were prone or semi-crouched on the floor , she threw her head upwards and began to laugh, hard enough that she had to hold her sides. The contrast was macabre. While totally ironic, that particular revelation did not last but continued into Sagisi’s own collapse, prompting not only attendance by the trio, but a wispy, wistful compassion as one dancer extended her arm and hand, holding it steady.

We were not to be allowed that satisfaction long. The dancers did relax, leaning back, semi-recumbent, but only briefly. As their heads turned from side to side, it was clear the ominous sounds above visited uncertainty on the quartet. It was a condition I, as an observer, couldn’t help but wonder whether bombardment was happening while these women had retreated to that problematic sheltering basement.

We aren’t normally exposed to the distillation of man’s capacity for destruction, let alone an exposition of belief systems fabricated to cope with such uncertainty. Katie Faulkner’s Divining gave us a cogent example.

Mark my words, Katie Faulkner could someday receive a MacArthur Foundation grant.

San Francisco Ballet’s 2019 Program Two

15 Feb

San Francisco Ballet has a habit of opening two programs a week when it is not presenting a full-length classic. So we have progressed from Don Quixote to Program Two February 12; Program Three will debut February 14, Valentine’s Day.

With Carlos Carvajal, I was lucky. The rain held off until the final curtain;
as I write, it has been descending in the proverbial buckets with inundations in various parts of the city. Our seats shared the same row as Max and Molly Shardt and architect Alexis Iriate and Amy Kircher, Alexis sharing a pen with me and speaking Spanish with Carlos.

Program Two commenced with George Balanchine’s Divertimento 15, progressed to Benjamin Millepied’s Appassionata, its North American premiere, and finished with Justin Peck’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, premiered in the company’s 2018 Unbound series.

Divertimento’s Karinska’s-inspired tutus had the look or spread of a nosegay, although off white, with the corps versions enhanced with spaced lines of what looked to be blue. Alas, the usual descending layers of ruffles were missing; when the women were lifted the audience got the crotch view.

This 1956 Balanchine creation possesses interesting shifts of the supporting soloists forward and back, turns en reverse at high speed in variations, toes pointing to accents in the music. An essay in skill, polish,epaulement, good training, reflecting Balanchine’s penchant for classic scores.

We were rewarded with Benjamin Freemantle and Lonnie Weeks dancing the Theme, both recently named soloists, classicists sans affectation. They were followed by Julia Rowe and Isabelle De Vivo in the First and Second Variations, Rowe almost porcelain and De Vivo arrow clear, neither having time for en retard in the port de bras. The Third and Fourth Variations were accomplished by Koto Ishihara and Mathilde Froustey before Angelo Greco and Sasha De Sola made their entrance for the Fifth and Sixth Variations, both confidently regal, secure dashed with sunniness. The Minuet was accomplished by the eight corps de ballet members ahead of the eight principals dancing the Andante before the Finale.

Mungunchirmeg Buriad was charged with the rendition of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata, the music for Benjamin Millepied’s North American Premiere of the work originally created for the Paris Opera Ballet, titled Le Nuit S’Acheve with its Palais Garnier Premiere, February 5, 2016.

What a challenge, not only for Buriad but also for the six dancers who danced to such familiar music that it challenged the listener familiar with the work. It dared technical and dramatic capacities; Sasha de Sola, Dores Andre, Elizabeth Powell, Benjamin Freemantle, Ulrick Birkkjaer and Jaime Garcia Castilla met it all handsomely.

The set comprised a wall with three tall entrances back lit through which the women entered, initially Dores Andre in a maroon street length dress up to the neck and sleeves to the wrists, only to reveal an open back above the fluid skirt, echoed in blue and black by de Sola and Powell. Andre, de Sola and Powell were partnered to the deliberate sonorities of the Sonata. It seemed like a natural choice for dancing until one moved past the chords and some of the spectacular runs. There Millepied created a scene of increasingly pitched passion between each pair; Andre vanished mid stage right; curtain down.

The second movement found Andre and Birkkjaer in white, short nightshirt and pajamas in a remarkably tender extended pas de deux, gestures to grace notes, hesitations, embraces and a focus of surpassing understanding. It has to be one of the most adult expressions of sexual fulfillment I have witnessed in memory, a choreographic “no regrets” par excellence, interpreted by two artists whose intensity brought to the pas de deux utter satisfaction. For this movement, Andre had abandoned toe shoes for soft ones.

The third movement was perhaps the most problematic choreographically, since the appearance of de Sola and Powell, also in soft toe, in black and grey nightshirts with Freemantle and Castilla in the same colors, mixed in shirts and trousers. Conveyed were rush, urgency, turbulence as Buriad worked her way through the Sonata’s final movement. The four expressed none of the satisfaction and completion expressed in the second movement. I felt Millepied constructed this movement to fill in all its pauses and fortes rather than express it.

Hurry Up. We’re Dreaming is the second of Justin Peck’s New York urban youth landscape to join the San Francisco Ballet repertoire. Like his prior ballet, lights low to the stage floor lights beamed out to the audience, many times providing the dancers with silhouette figures, recognizable only if you have a good memory for any one dancer’s physique. Like Peck’s prior work, the costuming is casual. In a few instances the men’s trousers were glinting metallic – either painted on or cut from previously treated fabric. It was particularly notable on Joseph Walsh who dances Peck like it was his native heath, lost in the movement and impulse.

It is obvious Peck’s New York City Ballet sojourn influences his choreographic vision; high on that influence list is Jerome Robbins. There is, however, a difference; Robbins is more clearly Manhattan. For Peck, the aura is more easily identified as borough NYC-Brooklyn or Queens perhaps. The ambiance is still urban, but with spaciousness, a certain freedom one can more easily associate with free standing domestic structures and a collective tendency notable in adolescent groups along with the inevitable couple pairing off. Peck’s ability to convey that age is remarkable, and the San Francisco dancers make the most of his challenges, if his music choices leave me cold.

An interesting note is that casting has assigned two ballets during an evening to some principals: de Sola, Freemantle in the first two works with Andre, Powell and Birkkjaer in the second and third; a work out, definitely well met.

The Fourteenth Flamenco Festival Opening in San Francisco

5 Feb

Flamenco is a great way to start February – with energy galore and by a mother and daughter. But there is more to the story – back story if you will – singer Barbara Dane had a daughter Nina Menendez; it was Nina who started the Flamenco Festival fourteen years ago after a doctorate from Stanford. It is Nina who grapples with visas and everything involved in transporting the seven guest artists from Spain for this annual affair of the Bay Area Flamenco Festival. Heading this organization earned Nina an Isadora Duncan Dance Award for what she has organized supremely well and with notable zest.

It’s no great revelation that a Flamenco audience diverges from a ballet audience visually, aurally, sartorially. The women tend towards gowns, many frequently black, interesting earrings, now, more prominently, tattoos. I noted one very pretty woman in front of me who had red streaks on various parts of her darker hair, as if she had taken a brush to create contrast. I didn’t see many Basque berets once present on men’s heads, but on this rainy night there were a number of overcoats.

I found myself seated next to Rubina Valenzuela, who said she knew me from somewhere. I suggested perhaps Rosa Montoya’s Bailes Flamenco ensemble since I had a ten-year stint as a board member. “I danced with Rosa,” Rubina replied, “and spent seven years in Seville.” She also knew Cruz Luna, the handsome dancer who operated a café on Columbus for nearly a decade. Her dancing went back to the Spaghetti Factory days where she met her husband. We exchanged names of earlier exponents, Ernesto and Isa Mur; the latter’s daughter, Yaelisa, was a prominent presence in the Green Room.

This Flamenco Festival, February 1, at the Herbst Theatre, my first visit since Herbst was refurbished. The artists’ dressing rooms are now on the first floor; a green room now exists near the back door adjacent to the memorial oval between the Veterans Building and the Opera House. Those given green paper bands for our wrists later enjoyed champagne, squares of cheese, crackers and salami in this welcome addition to the Veterans building.
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There I encountered Josie Saldana; her academic responsibilities at New York University are concentrated on a Monday, enabling her to fly West to attend the performance. It’s a tribute to Josie’s enthusiasm, to the artists and the caliber of Nina’s efforts bringing flamenco artists.

If anything encapsulates the quality of this flamenco exposition it is the word Intensity: intensity in voice, in sound, in energy, in attack. I expected such pulverizing momentum as a highlight, a culmination, not a beginning declaration, fading little, but continuing in bursts, with limited pauses in each dance. Juana Amaya and her daughter Nazeret Reyes were revelations in this nearly unremitting attack; I later was told Amaya has established the torrent as a new expression in flamenco.

It certainly would have helped had I more familiarity with the Spanish language.
The singing of “El Galli” and “El Pulga” would have clued me in, along with
the strong vocal exposition of Anabel Valencia. Valencia’s physical presence seemed to urge the dancers to let it all hang out; I hope to hear her live again soon. Her strength in song was contrast to the declarative utterances of the two men. Their charm lay in lengthy melismatic beginnings and barked utterances.

Juan Campallo played a wonderful guitar, his runs tender and melodic before he moved into a mode clearly influenced by contemporary music, his skillful variations moving beyond the jazz influenced Pepe El Romano.

Juana’s Martinete/Siguiriya commenced with torrential taconeo; while she paused, frowning, her skillful barrage never ceased, supported by El Pulga and El Galli.

Following Anabel Valencia’s Tangos, Nazaret Reyes presented her Alegrias wearing black trousers and white blouse, a costume belonging more to the gymnasium than traditional flamenco presentation. She is smaller than Juana, possessed of wavy light brown locks trailing unconfined to her hips; her approach to this wonderful piece, usually accented by swishes and circles with the bota de cola, was full force taconeo brilliance.

Before Juana’s Solea, Antonio Lizano, Diego Amador, Jr. ad Andres Vadin played flamenco rhythms interspersed with jazz influence and utilizing one half of a tabla and the cajon, a Peruvian invention which has been adopted by more than one flamenco ensemble.

For Juana Amaya’s second solo,Solea, she arrayed herself in a chic, slender off-white dress arrayed with three layers of fringe which skirt she lifted during spurts of fiery taconeo, disbursing countless envisioned demons, before the ensemble’s finale.

Diablo Ballet Does Apollo

3 Feb

Thanks to Elizabeth Green Sah, Asian Art Docent and volunteer organizer for East Bay Opera activities, I saw “Balanchine and Beyond,” Diablo Ballet’s February 2 performance at del Valle Auditorium in Walnut Creek. Del Valle is a former public school site with a broad, somewhat shallow stage, relatively comfortable seating. On a slender budget, artistic director Lauren Jonas enables Diablo Ballet to continue bringing Contra Costa County audiences and beyond to Del Valle’s doors.

Seated in front of two clearly dyed-in-the-wool ballet/theatre goers versed in political intrigues, I was supplied running comments on the dancing during intermission. I guessed they were witnesses to Bay Area dance for at least three decades.

Diablo Ballet has been considered production worthy by the Balanchine Trust since its inception and for its 25th season, Diablo Ballet opened with George Balanchine’s Apollo, last danced by Diablo in 1998 with Jeykins Pelaez. This time it was Raymond Tilton dancing the Greek god giving artistic roles to three muses, selecting Terpsichore as his favorite. The choreologist, Sandra Jennings, learned the Apollo role from Jacques d’Amboise’s own experience with Balanchine. Tilton’s muses were Jackie McConnell as Calliope, Rosselyn Ramirez as Polyhymnia and Amanda Farris as Terpsichore.

Given the relatively shallow stage, the quartet danced admirably in their simple white costumes; with the chair where Apollo watches the muses, the quartet understood the privilege to dance the ballet.

I’ve seen a number of dancers essay Apollo locally and in New York City. What struck me about Tilton’s dancing was how much he evoked George Platt Lynes’ images of Lew Christensen who debuted the role for American audiences in the short-lived American Ballet in the mid-‘Thirties. The clean-cut American youth shone clearly in every movement; one also saw the acceptance of godly duties following the muses’ variations. I would enjoy seeing Tilton dance the role again.

True to its aim, Diablo Ballet manages to have at least one work on its program performed with live music. Here it was From Another Time.

Tina Kay Bohnstedt was a Diablo Ballet dancer, 1999-2011, before moving to Houston. With her background as a principal with the Bavarian State Ballet,
she provided audiences with some marvelous memories, including her dancing Terpsichore. Turning to teaching and choreography, she has created works for some dozen companies and schools. In 2013, she created a five-dancer ballet From Another Time to Justin Levin’s music of the same name, played by the composer.

In this revival, Amanda Ferris and Jackie McConnell were the two women, Felipe Leon, Maxwell Simoes and Michael Wells the men. Felipe Leon was the outsider in an extended lyrical, quasi-melancholy study of two couples, one woman deviating to dance with Leon, but finishing cradling his head while seated on the bench backstage center with her initial partner and the other couple. Bohnstedt used gestures extensively,floor and contemporary body stretches to fill the musical phrases. The dancers moved easily in their assignments, but I need to see the work again.

Staged by Joanna Berman, Diablo closed with selections from Act III of Paquita, the Minkus-Petipa staple I first saw in Alexandra Danilova’s production for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Here Jillian Transon and Jacopo Jannelli danced the principal pas de deux of the work initially produced at the Paris Opera in 1841 before it reached Russia, employing the music and choreography we know today. Slender but wiry, Jannelli’s European background gives his stage manner a genuine presentation, “I’m here to dance for you, let us begin.” Clearly he enjoyed the assignment.

I cannot be equally complimentary to Jillian Transon. She knew the choreography, but didn’t seem to hear the music; despite her smile, her phrasing lacked ease. McConnell and Ramirez danced their variations nicely, and the entire Diablo ensemble finished the work.