Archive | September, 2019

2019 Smuin Fall Season Opening at the Cowell Theatre, Fort Mason

29 Sep

Friday nights at Fort Mason currently sports Off The Grid. Translated, that means the central parking lot is transformed by an impromptu music stage, a central location to eat with the circle rimmed by trucks with inventive2 names producing a multi-cultural array  of foods. About seven p.m. in chilly September 27 weather, Rita Felciano and I managed to find the customer opening and walked around to survey the names and offerings of the food entrepreneurs, their conveyances painted with lively images and colors. If we weren’t headed towards Cowell Theater for the opening of Smuin Contemporary Ballet’s 2019 fall season I would have been sorely tempted to indulge and tempt stomach cramps by over sampling.

Carla Befera was on hand to distribute our press passes and tickets; the usual ticket office was closed, the will call and sales operation rested on a table just inside the theater entrance, mercifully now located on the east side of Fort Mason’s Pier 2 – no more gale winds challenging us to brave performances.

Cowell’s foyer and seating demonstrated the popularity of this 18-dancer ensemble now starting its 26th season in the San Francisco Bay Area; it’s a tribute to ballet lovers who enjoy the juncture between the classical idiom and a variety of pop and serious one-act ballets by choreographers besides its founder, the late Michael Smuin. This year former company member Rex Wheeler created a work to Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, James Kudelka’s The Man in Black  to songs sung by Johnny Cash providing the middle work and the evening conclusion with Smuin’s 1997 setting of Carmina Burana.
Michael Oesch was lighting designer for all three works, the music was recorded.
Kaori Higashiyama provided costuming for Take Five, uncredited Jim Searle of Hoax Couture for The Man in Black and Sandra Woodall redesigned maroon costumes with bands of glitter for Carmina Burana.

I am prejudiced when it comes to Take Five music, thanks to the late Ron Poindexter and the summer ballet series in San Francisco Ballet’s 18th Avenue makeshift auditorium. He created a nonchalant work, costumed casually for tastes of the time, finishing the work with an imaginary pulling of a hanging light chain. The energy and lack of pretense endeared itself to me, even though I can remember only a few expressions and body postures, but presaging what I saw Friday night.

Higashiyama, who dances with the Capital Dance Project and Sacramento Ballet,
chose to costume the male dancers in one-piece tunic/tights which accented their genitals, and the woman in short flared skirts, the bodice hooked to the shoulders with near-skin tone netting. For me, both style and  pomegranate hue interfered with the moving message, the line of the bodies, though the dancers moved through their paces full throttle.

Each of the pieces enjoyed a gestural emphasis, sometimes a snap of the fingers. There was at least one of the eight numbers where the dancers’ fingers imitated piano playing or instrument strumming. I submit I understood the gesture, but found the movements generalized, unfamiliar with the actual musical instrument. Fie!

Clearly, I found the number cutsey, but for me unconvincing, if enterprising, also noting Peter Kurta’s a la seconde extension. Wheeler, a former Smuin dancer, took his bow with a glinting red bow tie. He just needs a good second pair of eyes.

James Kudleka, former artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada, was quite deliberate in his Johnny Cash selections for The Man in Black, cannily selecting some of his final renditions for the quartet of three men and one woman dancing in somber black and boots to the reflective lyrics and Cash’s rough delivery.  Kudelka, who grew up on a dairy farm, first set the quartet on Ballet Met in 2012, then on Cincinnati and Atlanta Ballets and National Ballet of Canada. Befera’s Steph Keay supplied two of three wonderful articles for press purposes.

Ian Buchanan, Peter Kurta, Ben Needham-Wood [in his final season] and Terez Dean Orr executed superbly their task of reflecting the themes of the six numbers. Kudelka had the quartet stomp around the stage, struggle, rage and pull at each other, execute one of them in songs like, “If You Could Read My Mind,” “In My Life,” “Hurt.” and then, slowly, depart the stage to the lyrics “moving further on” until Terez Dean Orr is left alone in deepening gloom as the curtains closed. Like the periodic presentation of Jiri Kylian’s ballets,  such guest choreographers bring genuine program highlights.

Smuin Ballet has not produced Carmina Burana since Pauli Magerick danced the central role after leaving San Francisco Ballet. Friday night the central couple were Tessa Barbour and Max van der Sterre with Mengjun Chen sparkling in “Tanz”. We were introduced to the talents of Jao Sampaio in “Olim Focus Colueram” and Ricardo Dyer with Peter Kurta and Brennan Wall of “Chume, chum geselle min” in Woodall’s costumes, maroon bordered with narrow glinting bands, the men in long tights and bare to the waist. The company danced well, cohesively, from its intricate beginning, where Tessa Barbour, supported by Max Van Der Sterre, is lifted up and down as if a roasted swan on some late medieval banquet table, ending again in jacknife-like position.

Smuin’s choreography is skillful, and, again, theatrical. Like the mounting of  Songs  of Mahler while co-artistic director of San Francisco Ballet, Michael never bothered to have the lyrics translated, responding primarily to the music and its structure. Hence he made some errors in the meaning of the words translated into music. Aimee T’sao who has written advance articles for The San Jose Mercury remarked after the program that she danced in a version choreographed by Carlos Carvajal who, aware of the sacred and profane content of the songs, incorporated that knowledge in the production.

The audience, like Smuin, was undeterred and a good half of the audience stood
at the conclusion of this well-danced opening of the company’s 26th season.

Dance Writing Colleagues

27 Sep

While I am certain dance lovers are fully aware of the colleagues I am about to mention, I do want to state where these writers appear and to urge reading them, particularly after all of us have seen Mark Morris’ recently performed Mozart Dances at U.C., Berkeley’s Zellerbach Auditorium.

Rita Felciano writes for Dance View Times.  She resigned from the S.F. Bay Guardian after twenty five years of service in August, 2014.  In September the Guardian closed shop. Rita served on the board of the Dance Critics Association, and edited its newsletter, as well as writing for Dance Magazine, reviewing books for Dance Chronicle and casting an informed eye on dance in Philadelphia.

Paul Parish writes for the Bay Area Reporter, better known as B.A.R.  For years he was our Bay Area’s go-to-commentator for Ballet Review,  He and I shared duties on the Isadora Duncan Dance Award Committee for two different spates of service, and he was joy to listen to when he nominated a performance or an artist for the roster of nominees.  He could always be counted upon for the Award Ceremony script and lending a hand behind the stand with drinks.  I am sure Paul wrote elsewhere, perhaps The Daily Californian, along with continuing to study and teach ballet and supply massages to a select clientele.

Rachel Howard came to San Francisco after graduating from U.C., Santa Barbara and began to write for, I believe, the S.F. Weekly. She graduated to interviews and reviews with the S.F. Chronicle while completing her memoir.  I think her by-line also appeared in the New York Times. Rachel decided to acquire a masters which cut into the frequency of her seeing and writing about dance, and if my memory is correct, taught an extension writing class for Stanford University.

With her husband, Rachel elected to move to Nevada City, adopt a child, write a second book, her first novel, edit manuscripts and continue seeing dance in the Bay Area, covering it for The Fjord Review.

Toba Singer’s bon mots and striking perspective appears in the dance section of CultureVulture, but only for ballet.  Retired from the San Francisco Public Library system, Toba’s background is varied, well informed and includes dancing around the cafeteria of New York City’s Performing Arts High School with Gary Chryst, that amazing dramatic dancer of Joffrey Ballet, Twyla Tharp and Nederlans Danz Teater III notariety.

In addition to the previously mentioned website, Toba has written special features for Dance International, published in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and authored two books, the second the biography of Fernando Alonso, responsible for the syllabus and training of the Cuban dancer who have graced so many of our ballet going evenings.

I have omitted several dancers, but need to include Janice Berman and Ann Murphy, the latter writing for S.F. Classical Voice and Ann occasionally  for East Bay outlets.  Berman came to the Bay Area as the editor of Dance Magazine during its brief residence in the East Bay after years in newspaper work.  Murphy helped establish Dance Bay Area, and publish the first issues of In Dance before acquiring her Master’s at Mills College and joining its faculty.  Her credits include perceptive reviews for the San Jose Mercury.

Also noted should be Mary Ellen Hunt whose warm features were read in the San Francisco Chronicle.  Hunt studied ballet under Janet Sassoon at the Academy of Ballet, an institution which Sassoon’s father brought into being with Guillermo del Oro as its first director. Hunt was responsible for covering the centennial birthday celebration of Marc Platt, describing him as “the biggest flirt in the room.”

Claudia Baer and Heather Descaulniers both cover the Bay Area for DanceTabs, the successor to, Baer  has provided reviews and notes for the Chronicle, mostly concentrating on ballet and contributing frequently to Pointe Magazine. Descaulniers does contribute  ballet comments for the website in addition to her involvement with S.F. Arts Monthly.  The Dance TAbs website also credit her with reviewing for BalletAlert.

Maritza Gueler started Danza Hoy in San Francisco, but took it with her to Washington, D.C. where she worked for the Spanish language arm of the Post before starting her present position as assistant in the cultural arm of the Embassy of Argentina.  For quite some years it was the only Spanish language website devoted to dance, multi-dance form in its perspective and able to draw attention on salient dance events in all the Spanish-speaking dance countries.  Maritza generously arranged to have my prose translated by a venerable dance writer in New York City, until an injury prevented any further translation.  But  Maritza’s efforts persist and anyone conversant in written Spanish, walk rapidly to the website.

I probably have omitted something or someone, but I have never believed, much as I might want to, in having a Sherwin Williams approach to dance in this San Francisco area. when I started out in September 1962, the late Russell Hartley for Dance Magazine and I for Dance News, it was possible to be everywhere for anything.  After 1965, with the enabling legislation for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, it was a rapid goodbye to that majestic fantasy.  And so it is today.



















Part Two, San Francisco Ballet Insights, September 22

26 Sep


After a brief intermission September 22, the three San Francisco Ballet alumni took their places in front of the tables in the William Dollar Room and Jennie Scholick posed her first question about dancing for the screen to Sally Bailey Jasperson.

Sally’s response was simple; she didn’t like it. There was too much waiting around and everything felt restricted in order to be within range of the camera. She acknowledged the  Standard Hour contract enabled Lew Christensen to keep the dancers and to begin to form a company.

When a portion of the televised Nutcracker was shown, Carlos had exclaimed, “Oh, that was me!” when the sequence played involved a sequence with vertical steps, their placement with visible gaps. Carlos mentioned that when Beauty and the Beast had been televised, Lew Christensen was ill and it fell to Carlos, as ballet master, to stage the work.

Carlos mentioned that he had spent six months in Caracas dancing and choreographing for   which required creating and staging five minute dances weekly. He said he learned through this exposure how to place dances and dancers for the camera, and did so for Beauty and the Beast, the results the audience had observed with the footage showing Sally Bailey dancing with Clinton Rothwell in the flower sequence.

Henry Berg, said he had found dancing in movies distasteful, particularly with early hours, elaborate makeup and long stretches of waiting. Growing up in Southern California, he mentioned memorization was one of his means of coping with dyslexia. Leaving the movies, he came to San Francisco at the time the company was making large strides toward a sustained schedule of performances with three U.S. State Department tours behind them. After a half decade with San Francisco, he joined the Joffrey company and also reconnected with Twyla Tharp.

Henry and Sue Loyd returned to San Francisco to be affiliated with Pacific Ballet, a short lived experience. They continued to teach, Henry in the San Francisco Ballet School where he met Irina Jacobson, the widow of the noted choreographer of Miniatures Ballet and the subject of an extensive biography by Janet Ross [Yale University Press]. Berg credits Jacobson with his knowledge of the Vaganova system. He currently works with SFB in rehabilitating dancers who have sustained injuries.

When asked about the State Department tours, Sally said she participated in all three and mentioned their duration was usually three months. The first was the Far East, the second South America and the third North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean where she said there were anti-Christian riots in Beirut.

She also expanded on the fall tours of the 60’s Ballets which San Francisco Ballet dancers experienced in the tradition of one-night stands. “We would arrive about 4 p.m., have a meal, class, rehearsal and then the performance, getting to bed about 1 a.m. I usually ate at noo.I believe for the final tour of the ensemble, Sally was in charge, the experience warmly recorded in her self-published memoir, “Striving for Beauty.”

When it came to post-performing, Sally said, “I just quit. I was thirty-five and an aunt had cautioned me to leave at the top.” She worked for the San Francisco Ballet Guild, then in the financial district, married her husband, Robert Jasperson, an environmental attorney, moved to Walnut Creek where she taught ballet and worked as an accountant, bore a son and when her husband died, she moved to Nevada to be near her son, his wife and their two children.

Sally waxed quite enthusiastic about her husband’s involvement with environmental issues, particularly in the aborted effort to build a resort in Mineral King. “Bob researched it and  found the law that said no freeway can be built in a national forest, and, despite the wrangling, nothing got built.”

When it came to Carvajal’s turn, much of what he said has been covered in the earlier Carlos at 88 entry, save for his comments about performing with Madelyn Greene, and dancing at Stern Grove to the music of the San Francisco Youth Orchestra, learning flamenco, and his comments about the difference with which ballet dancers and opera ensembles were regarded in Europe and the United States when he returned in 1965. He talked about his ballet Totentanz, its premiere with San Francisco Ballet and the problems his ballet Genesis created with the San Francisco Ballet Guild, a work using  technical lighting and stage devices being employed in popular entertainment at the time, its attraction to the hippie crowd – all problems leading to his resignation and the formation of Dance Spectrum.

After Dance Spectrum’s demise, what Carlos did not mention were the works created or mounted for Dance Theatre of Harlem, Oakland Ballet and the Dallas Ballet under the direction of George Skibine. This period preceded his sojourn as artistic director of Peninsula Ballet Theatre, and the special production of Nutcracker prior to his dozen years as co-artistic director of the Ethnic Dance Festival. Carvajal continues to teach ballet in San Leandro.

The session came to a close, and the three dancers posed for cell phone pictures, the warmth of their former association leaving their audience with a sense of satisfaction.

San Francisco Ballet Insights, September 22, 2019

23 Sep

San Francisco Ballet’s audience personnel have been offering programs in late
summer geared to inform balletomanes about its history and personnel. This year’s series of three, scheduled for September 22, 29 and October 6 is exploring the relationship between film and television with focus, naturally, on how it has affected both the company and its outreach.

With Jennie Scholick as the hostess, three company alumni were featured following an interesting exposition by Ms. Scholick; her academic background includes Princeton University and UCLA. The trio of  the company’s dance veterans were Sally Bailey Jasperson, Carlos Carvajal and Henry Berg.

Scholick commenced the afternoon with 1899 footage titled Serpentine Dance, produced by the Lumiere brothers, the pioneers in motion pictures. A woman swirled lengthy draperies constantly, moving forward, back, pointing a foot and turning, recorded straight on, giving the viewer  the impression of huge floral [fabric]  petals in constant movement. The original was hand colored.

While dance would be an obvious match, silent movies did not take all that advantage of this, particularly because it is two dimensional in nature and presents a problem in depth, distance and size, the dancer being smaller upstage. Scholick described it  by saying the camera creates a triangular frame and imposes it on a quadrangle location. For recent audiences, the challenge is the size of the screen – from twelve inches to larger and the computer for YouTube.

1930-1950 was characterized as the Golden Age of cinema musicals with footage shown from Busby Berkeley’s 42nd Street and Fred Astaire who insisted on a set camera to allow for the display of moving bodies. Examples were shown of each.

Included in this period was Balanchine’s sojourn in Hollywood, with his choreography for the Goldwyn Follies and a Swan Lake episode in 1939 in “I was an Adventuress,” where Vera Zorina is dressed in a black tutu with Lew Christensen as her prince, almost thoroughly masked in a helmet, at the end of the sequence plowing through a pond to find the forbidding castle disappear.

Scholick then comments about the stage and film craft blending in The Red Shoes and its enormous popularity, mentioning Moira Shearer and Robert Helpmann, but omitting Leonide Massine, probably because he did not appear in the sequences shown.

The next visual treat was uncredited footage from San Francisco Ballet’s 1948 production of Coppelia in Stern Grove, featuring Ruby Asquith as Swanhilda, Peter Nelson as Franz and Willam Christensen as Dr. Coppelius. The footage has been digitalized and available on the website of the Museum of Performance and Design.

Scholick completed her comments on the motion picture section with Gene Kelly’s 1951 American in Paris with Leslie Caron, requiring six months in rehearsal, one month to film at a cost of $500,000.

Scholick referred to the studio  anti-trust breakup the  dance film cessation. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Singing in the Rain were not included in Scholick’s comments.

With the rise of television Scholick said full companies like New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre could be seen, not only in New York but on local affiliates of NBC and CBS, starting in 1941. She cited A special Balanchine production of Cinderella which he made exclusively for television in 1949. American Ballet Theatre was televised with Les Sylphides. In 1952 NBC televised Balanchine’s La Valse.

Scholick emphasized that the money factor dominated network management with sponsors sought, audience numbers and production costs all determining choices. A 1954 production of Lew Christensen’s Filling Station, with Jacques d’Amboise in the title role on NBC was not popular – “no tutus.”

Scholick quoted Balanchine and his distaste for TV, where he mentions that the ballerina’s nose was distorted, her beautiful long legs distorted, and the costumes not properly displayed. In reality, of course, he was aware that TV appearances helped to build audiences.

In 1952 the Omnibus Series was launched, supported nine years by the Ford Foundation, focused on educating an audience. The Bell Telephone hour started in 1950 began to feature ballet in 1960 and in 1962 Lupe Serrano appeared in the pas de deux of Le Corsaire, partnered by the newly defected Rudolf Nureyev, substituting for Erik Bruhn.

Locally, in 1953 The Standard Hour engaged San Francisco Ballet for 12 episodes, filmed in the Richmond Auditorium, and featuring imaginative camera work. Scholick quoted the San Francisco Chronicle as praising the series moving ballet away from “minks and mothballs.” The contract enabled Lew Christensen to keep the dancers employed and to form the nucleus of a company.

Onward to NBC’s telecast of Sleeping Beauty seen by 30 million, clearly revising the network’s evaluation of ballet’s popularity. Scholick showed footage of Gene Lockhart narrating The Nutcracker in 1958 for NBC, reflecting the use of noted theatre and movie people to boost viewing.

When San Francisco toured Southeast Asia in 1957, inaugurating the State Department’s use of dance companies for US public relations, Leo Diner accompanied San Francisco Ballet, commissioned by the San Francisco Ballet Guild to photograph the record.

In 1964 San Francisco Ballet recorded Lew Christensen’s version of The Nutcracker with Cynthia Gregory, David Anderson and Virginia Johnson. The version has been seen in Singapore, Thailand, Portugal and Spain.

In 1967-1968 Lew Christensen’s Beauty and the Beast was filmed by ABC with
Lynda Meyer and Robert Gladstein in the title roles. The program was introduced and commented on by Hayley Mills.

The post break comments will be covered in a separate entry.

Mark Morris Opens Cal Performances’ Season September 20

22 Sep

Friday night was unusually pleasant crossing the Bay with Rita Felciano wending her way to a parking lot on the Berkeley campus. Cal Performances had arranged a reception for press and appropriate dance-related persons before the Mark Morris Company opened the season with the 2006 choreography, Mozart Dances, performed to three piano Mozart compositions.  Just before curtain time Jeremy Geffen, the new executive and artistic director introduced himself, made a few comments and introduced Mark Morris.

Morris wanted to salute Allan Ulrich, music-dance critic, who died in July at age 78. Morris characterized him as “outrageous, argumentative, passionate, opinionated and devoted to the arts,” a characterization which many of us had encountered at various junctures. But we knew Allan cared and Morris knew and felt his presence and position should be acknowledged. Cal Performances also acknowledged Allan’s passing at the back of the single sheet program revision.

When Morris brings his company here, he gets full music support for his 21 member company from the Berkeley Symphony with Colin Fowler as conductor. With this program, Fowler also did double duty as pianist with Inon Barnaton who played for all three ballets, these components carrying dancers and audience along splendidly to the transparent sparkling music of Wolfgang Amadeus. Clarity and calm, even in the furious phrases of the violins, evoked an evanescent belief in western harmony and its rational capacity.

The scenic designs of the late Sir Howard Hodgkin backed all three ballets with three outsized brush strokes against a white background, not quite three commas, verging on a parenthesis, The first was grey to near black, the third various pinks to rose; for the life of me, the second was obscured in my mangled notes. For costuming, Morris relied on the late Martin Pakledinaz to create minimal, flowing costumes for the women and references to the Baroque for the men, revealing  strong feet and elongated muscles as well as allowing arms and hands to move freely. The results of these with James F. Ingalls’ lighting designs displayed the company with distinctness and warmth. The title of each work drew from the number of the Mozart compositions.

In Eleven, to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 11 in F Major, K-413, where the company appeared in black, diaphonous skirts and lingerie-type bodices for the women, Morris veteran dancer Lauren Grant, followed the full company and a brief opening statement by the men, with a sustained solo where arms, gestures and pauses were as important as her jetes, pirouettes and piques. She is at once no nonsense, utterly appealing and on target musically, backed by the woman as chorus and comment.

Double followed intermission, Mozart’s Sonata in D. Major for Two Pianos, K-448,  included references to baroque male vocabulary, danced by Aaron Loux, whose jacket reached to the knees and open at the back of the sleeves. He seemed to have the most hand gestures of all three dances, beautifully accented when executed in efface or ecarte. There were lateral entries of one man, followed by a second, with the first one vanishing, usually executed in mid stage right. Domingo Estrada appeared in a junior version of this, emerging from upstage left. The men who supported him wore open shirts, some draped in white, as if they all were in some grand rehearsal, while dancing with incredible polish.

Following intermission Twenty-Seven referred to the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat major, K-595, and incorporated male-female pairings, partings and joinings in front of Sir Howard’s roseate brush strokes. I noticed a Morris penchant for having little connections or confrontations of lower stage right, though Twenty-Seven started with Mica Berras having a similar encounter at lower stage left. Brandon Randolph, in beige shorts and a pocketed tunic, was called upon to jack-knife his handsome height mid-way through the movement, and when the violins began their furious activity it looked like the entire ensemble was darting in inter-woven patterns. I confess I was about to register “enough already” when the dancers reached a triumphant finale. I felt I really need to see the entire program twice more.

Warm applause, Morris emerged from stage left, saluted his dancers before turning to the audience with his namaste, followed by Bartanan and Fowler and most of the orchestra audience rose to their feet.

Carlos at 88 – Part II

16 Sep

Visiting Carlos at Villa Satori I inspected the two scrapbooks with their records of his European decade. You would need to know the relative exchange rate between the French franc and the U.S. dollar at the time. The 4/28/56 contract signed by George de Cuevas and Carlos Carvajal marking him a permanent member of the company allowed him 3 days a year for sick leave. It provided columns for rehearsal pay and  a second listing for performance, 12 and 14 francs respectively. Travel outside of France adjusted the pay columns to 31.50 and 63 francs.

If that sounds too ridiculous for words, may I state paying rent in 1955 of $35/month for a one bedroom apartment with roof access in an alley south of Market; $235 in 1960 for a North Beach Lombard Street third floor flat of five rooms and in 1966 a California Street a two-bedroom apartment in the avenues at $85 monthly.

One’s imagination could almost swoon over the de Cuevas company’s activities and personnel. There were the dancers noted for that era, the locations where they appeared, the style of their lives, and the general ethos of the ‘Fifties. In Paris the theates were the Alhambra, Champs Elysees, and the fashionable French resorts of Deauville, Aix les Bains, Biarritz. In Italy there were Nervi and Trieste and forays to North Africa. January always found the company at Cannes.

Carlos mentioned the first trip to South America was by plane, the second by a Dutch vessel. The second trip included Lima, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. In addition to his comment about the cost of beef, he remarked, “You have to realize that Argentina was still under the ambiance of the Perons. Since I am fluent in Spanish, a taxi cab driver informed me that his car had been given him by Evita.”


The de Cuevas company seemed to be a clearing house for remarkable number of the dance world’s leaders . Carlos danced with a young Marcia Haydee, was pictured with a rising choreographer named John Cranko in Cat’s Cradle. Massine came because of Gaite Parisienne, Nijinska to stage Sleeping Beauty, only to leave because of costume problems, the production to be completed by Robert Helpmann. George Skibine was not only a principal dancer but he also choreographed. “Everything was arranged for us, so we enjoyed ease of movement, but we worked very hard.”

I wrote remembering Carlos dancing in Jeannde Herst’s Highway 101. He had returned to San Francisco in 1965 and Nutcracker programs list him as ballet master, with a range of dancers and partnerships supplying nostalgia like Henry Kersh as Drosselmeyer with Anton Ness as his nephew, Harold Christensen in the Stahlbaum living room, Jocelyn Vollmar and Sally Bailey sharing Robert Gladstein as their cavalier, Lynda Meyer; Sue Loyd and Henry Berg prominent before departing for the Joffrey company, along with Ingrid Fraley and Nancy Robinson There are the names of Betsy Erickson, David Coll, Zola Dishong and Sara Maule who peopled American Ballet Theatre programs with Cynthia Gregory, Paula Tracy, Michael Smuin and Terence Orr. It clearly was a time, just before the Ford Foundation grants, when dancers wanting to dance frequently along with a pay check moved east where the major ballet dance employers of the time were American Ballet Theatre, The Joffrey Ballet and New York City Ballet.

Along with these reminders of ballet growth by the Bay were programs from the 1950 appearance of Sadler’s Wells Ballet in its first transcontinental tour. I saw the company in Los Angeles at the Shrine Auditorium; in San Francisco’s Opera House Ninette de Valois’ enterprise danced seventeen performances, October 30-November 12 with Margot Fonteyn and Michael Somes in Swan Lake. Moira Shearer’s autographed Red Shoes were available according to an an advertisement, along with announcements by City of Paris for records of relevant ballet music produced by Columbia Records. Merriem Lanova’s  S.F. Conservatory of Ballet and Theatre Arts, Sergei Temoff’s school on Sacramento Street also advertised with the San Francisco Opera Association’s announcement of late November performances by the One and Only Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, with guest artist Yvette Chauvire. There was a pink insert reminder that Pierre Monteux was conductor and musical director of the San Francesco Symphony Orchestra in its 39th season which would feature Heifetz, Menuhin, Casadesus, Rubinstein, Serkin and guest conductors Bruno Walter, Igor Stravinsky and Guido Cantelli.

Such a recitation clearly reflects my acute nostalgia, an ambiance replaced by tastes and spaces swallowing up the pace of the mid-century effort and entertainment. But it also mirrors amazing individual and collective histories forged in the midst of the vast political, social and economic record of mid 19th century history. I feel very lucky to have been a tangential witness.  It is  part of why I celebrate friendship with Carlos Carvajal.

The Double Eight for Carlos Carvajal

15 Sep

Reaching Double Eight is a milestone even in today’s lengthening records of longevity. June Four it was Carlos Carvajal’s turn. In addition to the venerable date, San Francisco-born, Carlos is someone who has seen the changes occur in San Francisco. His career growing up parallels the development of culture in this city scrunched up on the Peninsula on the south side of The Golden Gate  to San Francisco Bay. To a marked degree, he emulates with ease the phrase, “San Francisco, Open Your Golden Gate, You Let No Stranger Wait Outside Your Door.”

How they managed it with a misgenationist law in the California State Statute books until the early 1950’s is remarkable, but Carlos’ Filipino father and Swedish mother got married.  The union foundered and Carlos spent time with a foster family, until his father managed to rescue him from said establishment. With his childhood in the Western Addition, Carlos has pointed out schools attended, streets he careened down, the Catholic Church he attended on Eddy Street, now occupied by a Buddhist sect.

The Recreation Department at the time provided music classes and Carlos’ chosen instrument was the cello which he played in a youth symphony. High School was Washington and an extra curricular activity was Chang’s International Folk Dance Group, a collective endeavor originally meeting near Washington Square. Becoming part of the Group’s Exhibition Ensemble, Carlos also took on its leadership.

While attending City College, someone suggested Carlos try San Francisco Ballet School, which shared quarters with the company above a bar at the southeast corner of Van Ness and Grove. It was fate. By the winter he not only was in the company, but participating in the San Francisco Opera’s fall season with its visits to Los Angeles. This connection enabled membership in the Musicians’ Union, at the time the prime entry for dancers seeking employment at union wages.

Carlos’ father, an easel artist,  a craftsman and a magician on the side, wanted a medical career for his son, despite his own history as the son of theatre folk in the Philippines with a specialty in zarzuelas or Spanish operettas. Carlos, who had moved to San Francisco State College after finishing the two years at City College, complied until classical ballet worked its magic. Long before I became acquainted with Carlos, I have a vivid memory of his dancing the Spanish variation in Willam Christensen’s Nutcracker with Roberta Meyer. Her chocolate-hued tutu’s zipper faulted; with his hand Carlos moved his hat with its edge of multi-colored balls to the middle of her back in a gallant effort to preserve Meyer’s modesty. I was quite impressed.

When I moved to the Bay Area in 1953 and to San Francisco in 1955, Carlos had ventured first to England and then to France where he joined the corps de ballet of the Grand Ballet de Marquis de Cuevas, a theatrical venture which engaged a remarkable range of emigre Russians, one-time corps members of the de Basil companies, and aspiring young dancers from various countries, including our man from the Golden Gate.  Nearly a decade long European sojourn, this phase  ended with the de Cuevas production of Sleeping Beauty where Rudolph Nureyev was seen in the first of his Western company engagements. Now a soloist, Carlos danced in this historic balletic event as the African Prince in the Rose Adagio..

A brief season with the Bremen Opera followed and two seasons with the Opera
at Bordeaux where Carlos was both premier danseur and choreographer. Then it was both home to San Francisco and stints with  Irma Contreras at the Ballet du Novo Mundo in Caracas. Funds from this engagement financed the purchase of the Carvajal home on Masonic, identified as Villa Satori.

Carlos’ return to San Francisco coincided with the summer ‘60 series commenced by Michael Smuin, but the two choreographers passed like ships in the night. He was there dancing, however, with Jocelyn Vollmar and Sally Bailey.  There were choreographic essays by Robert Gladstein, Ron Poindexter and Jeannde Hearst.  Hearst was an innovator, creating a work called Highway 101 where Carlos danced the role of a road fiend, his eyes fiendishly alight as he gained on another dancer. There also was a memorable Cocktail Party, along with a Rossini Sonatina by Jocelyn Vollmar, lost to history before ballets were taped or notated.

Lew engaged Carlos as ballet master and choreographer in residence on his return. During this period Carlos managed to acquire a master’s degree at San Francisco State University, his thesis’, Tottentanz, which was premiered during San Francisco Ballet’s spring season at the Opera House with Robert Gladstein as the death figure. Another vastly entertaining work was Voyage Enterdit, performed at the old Mercy High School Auditorium which Leon Kalimos had managed to lease; the stage could be expanded by the gymnasium behind; it enabled Betsy Erickson to dance as the Inspiratrice and Zola Dishong as a Dragon Lady type.

This was a very heady time in the arts everywhere. In San Francisco the Neighborhood Arts Program was being formed with personnel being funded through a special Labor Department apprentice program paying minimal salaries to pursue their training. The Ford Foundation was supplying fellowships to ballet organizations, and San Francisco Ballet came second in line following Balanchine’s New York City Ballet School.

I recently spent an evening with Carlos looking at old programs and his scrapbooks with its carefully folded programs, news articles, and contracts from his decade in Europe dancing with the de Cuevas company, 1956-61, the Bremen and Bordeaux Operas. Carlos’ time with de Cuevas followed that of Janet Sassoon and Jocelyn Vollmar, but in a number of programs the name of Marlene Rizzo was evident in ballets like Swan Lake, Sebastian, Gaite Parisienne with Massine, at 60, as guest artist in his signature role as the Peruvian.

One story, with photographic evidence, Carlos recounted was his immediate use by ballet master John Taras to be the sole male dancer in Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco. Carlos learned it from Lew Christensen while with San Francisco Ballet; George Zoritch, newly engaged as a principal, did not. Into the breach went neophyte Carvajal less than a month with the company. Because of his reliability, Taras later cast him in a prime role Design for Strings in 1957.

The year 1956 saw the de Cuevas company fly to South America where Carlos remembered enjoying a steak dinner for $.75.

To be continued

Dance FAR September 7, 2019 – Part II

9 Sep

Just before CANCreative’s pas de deux, Rooted, Kristine Elliott emerged from the wings to explain the purpose and achievements of Gugulethou Ballet Project which she has shepherded since its formation and which is one two beneficiaries of DanceFAR’s program. Native to the San Francisco Peninsula, Kristine Elliott was one of Richard Gibson’s shining protegees, wowing the Regional Ballet Festival Association when its annual gathering occurred in San Jose. Kristine went on to dance with Stuttgart Ballet,  then American Ballet Theatre before leaving for a felicitous marriage, bearing twin sons, and teaching ballet at Stanford University where her interest in South Africa’s promising dancers began to occupy her interest.

With the aid of video footage Gugulethou’s purpose was vividly displayed. Kristine emphasized that the dancers brought their own cultural instincts to the classical form and that this enhances the tradition. In the footage, beneficiaries of the program spoke of the dance studio as a haven from the grimness and gang culture in their environment. Kristine spoke of her dozen years visiting South Africa, Garen Scribner’s assessment of Bartman’s potential and bringing young dancers to the Bay Area for further training. She also mentioned the two artists had garnered choreographic honors at a recent Martha Graham event for choreography.

CANCollective’s Clara Baldwin and Nathan Bartman clearly reflected Elliott’s premise of cultural-inflected classical ballet. Baldwin was seen in a spot with surrounding shadow, arms and torso actively pulsing above swaying hips on flexed knees. In stage right background Nathan Boatman emerged in similar style and fashion, slightly to one side of Baldwin. The aim of Rooted, the work’s title, was to connect the two dancers and the audience see them embrace to the vibrant music.

Into Each Other, a premiere sponsored by Amy Seiwart’s Imagery with choreography by Ben Needham Wood, was an extended solo by Jenna Marie.  she is an agile dancer who might be considered cousin to Simone Biles in her movement range, focus and dignity.

Karen Ferguson, Executive Director for the Northern California branch of the International Rescue Committee, DanceFAR’s second beneficiary, described what the IRC does to assist refugees settle into life, primarily in the Bay Area; everything from greeting, arranging housing, food, clothing and English languages to assistance with finding jobs. Ferguson stated that 80% of refugees to the area have found gainful employment in an array of entry level jobs in needed human and domestic services. Supported by video images, her comments drew decidedly appreciative applause.

Post Ballet dancers Cora Cliburn and Landes Dixon danced Vanessa Thiessen’s Lyra created with the dancers collaboration, to Samuel Adams’ music.

ODC’s contribution was the duet from Up for Air, choreographed by Brenda Way and Kate Weare, featuring Tegan Schwab and Jeremy Bannon-Neches with Nils Frohm music. The work seen earlier this summer was notable for the grace of a very pregnant Schwab and the skill and tenderness of Bannon-Neches partnering, a gentleness well reflected in the audience response.

An equal gentleness in partnering was demonstrated by Shuaib Elhasson with Adji Cissoko dancing to Alex Morgenthaler’s music for Migration, a recent work by Alonso King’s Lines Ballet. Cissoko’s contribution with her spectacularly  long arabesques and   arching developpes, however, was one of tension to anguish, marked contrast to Elhasson’s attentive guidance. At the conclusion of the pas de deux, the two faced one another, a direct observation of the other a clear departure in King’s usual choreographic style.

Smuin Ballet provided the finale to Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, choreography by Rex Wheeler. Ten dancers wore Kaori Higashiyama’s brightly pink hues truncating their lines. The mood was cheeky, come hither, go away I am not interested. I confess I was put off as well, even though the overall tone made for a pleasant ending to a rewarding effort for two worthy endeavors.

Special praise should go to Steven Morse who arranged the program’s progression, set the lengths, negotiated heaven knows how many details including my press courtesy pass, and, most of all, for selecting the recipients of the ticket sales. I hope they are return selections for the 2020 event’s box office returns.

Dance FAR 2019, Herbst Theatre, September 7

8 Sep

These comments will be posted in two parts.

It was probably a three-year hiatus until Dance FAR – Dance For a Reason, was resuscitated through the efforts of San Francisco Ballet soloist Steven Morse, utilizing eleven dance organizations and their dancers volunteering their time
to benefit two organizations. The two beneficiaries were The International Rescue Committee and Gugulethu Ballet Project. The results were consistently interesting, some of the choreography arresting and, overall, spectacularly good dancing, not just evidence of virtuosity but sensitive interpretive smarts. Eight of the eleven dances seen were pas de deux, perhaps to be expected in a benefit gala.

Both as prelude and mid-way exposition, video footage gave the audience comments by Garen Scribner and James Sofranko, the initial organizers of this annual benefit concert plus a dizzying series of clips from some of the dances seen in past seasons. Steven Morse provided verbal credits to sponsors and assistants for the evening, comments clearly drafted on his cell phone.

The near-capacity audience was peppered with individuals eager to greet friends and colleagues; for me it was dancers long enjoyed turned directors whose companies were included in the program, starting with Lauren Jonas and Diablo Ballet whose Amanda Farris and Michael Wells danced an excerpt from Julia Adams Vibrate.

This pas de deux was rendered intriguing by means of a hoop; the dancers danced in it together, one in, one out, held it at arms length, placed one another inside it at various points, dancing to gentle music by Rufus Wainwright. Farris, dressed in blue striped tunic and shorts, seemed very confident, while Wells, much more stoic, rendered uncertainty at various points and was left holding the hoop at the end. It was an excellent work to commence the program.

From the mild to the intense Axis Dance Company was represented by Lani Dickinson and Janpistar in choreography credited to Maurya Kerr, Alex Ketley and Bobbi Jane Smith, an excerpt from In Defense of Regret to rumbling music by Emily Adams and Matan Daskat. Janpistar commenced the passage upstage left in his wheelchair, wheeling adroitly, stoicly, keeping his maneuvers more or less in that general area. Lani Dickinson suddenly appeared downstage right in a short blue tunic, clearly distraught, her slender legs shooting skyward in some of the most beautiful arabesques of memory, her slender, elegant torso twitching and twisting to accommodate her chaotic emotions.

Naturally, you know the two were going to meet and in doing so give the audience some spectacular evidence of adroit wheelchair maneuvers, supported movement and vivid encounter. That such could be done inventively, smoothly and with such conviction is testimony to the performing artists, the choreography and the imaginative concept of the company itself.

An excerpt from Upstream, a trio from Michael Lowe’s choreography for Menlowe Ballet featured Akira Takahashi in unusually gymnastic statements along with Patience Gordon and Fabiana Santiago. Danced to music by Wang Dong the trio sported bright orange-red, skin-hugging costumes by Yong Sun; the women each had a single sleeve of black running from just below the shoulder to the wrist, for all the world looking like special tatoos. Takahashi’s opening was marked by surprising aerobic lifts, moving from upstage to down stage center, while the women seemed to circulate horizontally, primarily in mid range.

SF Danceworks provided a menacing and murky pas de deux, an excerpt from Laura O’Malley’s Room for Error. She also costumed the two men, Nick Koros and Andrew Brader in muted, off shades of green and blue, trousers and long-sleeves tee shirts,. Having them dance to J.S. Bach, Dustin O’Halloran, Ludwig von Beethoven and Hildur Guanadottir, was a mix so skillful I was unaware of what began or segued into what. The skillful lighting by Harry Rubeck masked, then slowly revealed a table, chair with barricade behind, with one lurking behind the clearly distraught other in front. There followed head turning, resistance, increasing physical encroachment and engagement to ultimate death throes.

From the grim to the lyrical Prokofiev encounter of Cinderella and her prince with San Francisco Ballet’s Dores Andre and Carlo di Lanno, we were treated to Christopher Wheeldon’s take of the fairy tale and Julian Crouch’s gossamer golden costume worn by Andre contrasted to diLanno’s scarlet tunic banded in gold. What fascinated me was the subtle growth in the encounter and the pace established by the two artists as they built the story of the fairy tale romance, a skill to be admired in both, the ultimate emphasis on choreographic technical demands.

To Honor Brunie, 1936-2019

5 Sep

Anna Kisselgoff’s graceful obituary for Brunhilde Ruiz in The New York Times August 30 threw me into a fit of nostalgia for the late ‘50’s and early ‘60’s when she was married to John Wilson, a Pomona College classmate, and they traveled with Gerald Arpino and three others in a station wagon. By the time the fledgling Joffrey Ballet reached California, dancing in Nourse Auditorium and what is now Herbst Theatre, they had a small daughter.

I remember John sang for an Americana-themed ballet at the Veterans’ Building auditorium where delegates from the free nations signed the United Nations
Treaty in 1945, said fact proudly proclaimed on the walls of the building’s remodeled foyer, just as you walk over the names of the signatory nations in the United Nations Plaza on the Wednesday and Sunday market days and other days as well.

What fascinated me about Brunie was her calm plus the fact that, outside of Mattlyn Gavers, she was the first ballet dancer of Hispanic heritage I had watched, even though there had been some flamenco troupes coming in to the theaters on Geary about the same time the Joffrey was beginning to flourish. Her physical presence, the slightly olive skin, a strong, but not unpleasing jaw, those dark eyes. I didn’t wonder that classmate John had fallen for her.

What I didn’t know until John’s sister, Diane, mentioned it to me was that during the first Joffrey barnstorming concert tour, Brunie had danced far into her pregnancy, and fallen from a stage, but that daughter Mari emerged unscathed. It reminded me that Kapila Vatsyayan, Padma Vi Bushan, had said her mother had ridden horseback when she was six months pregnant with Kapila, had fallen, and nothing happened except for duly giving birth to the exceptional woman her daughter Kapila became.

Diane Wilson, married, raising two children and living in San Anselmo, kept me in touch with what was going on with the Joffrey. Her comments mainly centered around the administrative leap the company had enjoyed with the interest of Rebekah Harkness and the summer spent at Watch Hill where at least three new choreographies were mounted on the young dancers.

One ballet was Alvin Ailey’s Feast of Ashes, his take on The House of Bernarda Alba, by the ill-fated Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. The role of Adela, the youngest daughter whose never seen lover in the play was Pepe el Romano, slated for the older spinster-like sister Angustia, was assigned to Brunie. I remember the intensity of the work, the high-back red chairs with their rush seats lined up in a row at one point, with Brunie way at stage right, shoulders protecting her waist and abdomen, hunched over. I can’t remember whether it was at the Opera House or one of Geary Street’s theaters, but I am fairly certain it still was under the Joffrey aegis.

Bernarda Alba had a particular interest for me; it had been a summer production at Mills College in 1947, its last bona fide summer session, where I was a post-high school student and enrolled in the drama department.

When the Joffrey company appeared on Geary Street close to the fiscal and administrative split with Harkness, it was dancing Balanchine’s Pas de Dix with music by Glasunov. I have a vision of the ten dancers, five couples, lined up polish and alertness personified; I would swear Brunie was in black and on stage left. (It’s genuinely peculiar the image of what remains to evoke one’s emotion. For me, a running commentary of remembered  steps isn’t in my remembrance vocabulary – it’s an image, evoking a quality, an ambiance, probably hair-tearing to those capable of recalling steps, particularly those who didn’t perform them!  I can also remember snatches of stage decor, lighting, and sometimes a distinctive passage.)

John and Brunie elected to stay with the Harkness administration. Harkness held the dancers’ contracts, after all; as John remarked to me several years, post-marriage later, “We had a child to raise.” The child, on one of her rare visits to her aunt, Diane, in San Anselmo, remembered baby-sitting for Helgi and Marlene Tomasson’s offspring in Paris.

What lingers in my mind, obviously, were Brunie and John’s career, as well as those in the Joffrey ensemble, paralleling my own relatively early adulthood and the rise of interest in classical dance in the United States, side by side with the vibrant talents of those dancing for Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, Martha Graham, Jose Limon. Coming to dance in late adolescence, far braver than I with my semi-rural childhood, they validated my fascination and love of ballet.

Brunie for me was both dancer and full-blown aristocrat. Godspeed her spirit.