Archive | November, 2019

The Passing of Two San Francisco Bay Area Pioneers – I

27 Nov

Frank Shawl and Nontsizi Cayou both died this past October, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, within 24 hours of each other, Nontsizi on October 3, 82, and Frank on October 4, 87, equally beloved in their respective communities.

While I cannot be considered close to either of them, writing about dance provided access to them.  I actually knew Nontsizi when she was an undergraduate at San Francisco State University [SFSU], studying under the keen eye of Bernice Peterson. We shared a class in choreography with several others; I remember being one among four whose choreography I recall or performed in. She was then Delores Kirton, one of the smallest women I had ever met, about the size of my grandmother who perhaps topped five feet. Her energy was obvious, as also her focus which I remember as both pleasant and determined.

My project I remember mainly because of the post-student performance in the Little Theatre in the SFSU arts building housing McKenna Auditorium. Bernice Peterson observed “Renee, I think you could have explored more new movement.” It had been to some classical music I was particularly fond of, and we all wore dark leotards and tights beyond which it was a total blank. But I remember thinking, “But Bernice, it was new movement to me!”

Delores Kirton’s essay had some heavy string or light rope involved, requiring shifting and balances, and Bernice Peterson was quite taken with it, citing how Delores manipulated the rope and played with tension and relaxation. One had to agree with her, and Bernice Peterson said, “Delores’ work was something of a ringer, because I gave her the idea and asked her to see what she would do with it.”

Bernice Peterson’s comment made me realize that she had a particular interest in fostering Delores, and as her obituary stated, it wasn’t very long before Delores/Nontsizi had started teaching at SFSU.

During my membership on Rosa Montoya’s Bailes Flamencos, Rosa started teaching flamenco at SFSU. in 1985. It was my first awareness that Delores had become full time faculty and that there had been a name change; she was now Nontsizi Cayou; it was her efforts which brought Rosa to the campus on Holloway in San Francisco. Chitresh Das’ tenure followed in 1988, out of which Charlotte Moraga and Celine Stein were to become influential in the Das enterprise. I was unable to find the date for Malonga Casquelord’s making the specialized dance instructors a trio, but there they were, clearly the result of Nontsizi’s vision of what dance exposure should be on campus.

In 1992 Nontsizi contacted me regarding her plan to hold a World Dance Congress in San Francisco with performances coincident with the opening of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theatre, and enlisted my help. I was fascinated to reconnect with her and to see her as head of the dance life at SFSU some three decades after our first acquaintance and to see how she had forged ahead with such conviction. The Congress was being jointly sponsored with an organization in Bonn, Germany with whom Nontsizi was familiar. I would have to unearth documents to remember the name of the man from Bonn.

Somewhere in my mound of papers I am sure I have documents relating to our endeavors. What I do remember is she tasked me with contacting dancers and teachers in the San Francisco Bay Area who had carried the torch for dance before she and I were active exponents of Terpsichore. To recite their names would embrace not only modern advocates but flamenco dancers and ballet teachers conducting classes when opportunities were few and far between. If I ever unearth the lists, it will be a long-forgotten, but still remembered, experience.

Because of Nontsizi’s receptivity, I was able to propose that Gregor Seyffert be flown to San Francisco to appear in Clowns Gottes, the choreographic collaboration with Dietmar Seyffert, his father, concerning Nijinsky’s madness, danced to the full score of Igor Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps. I had been present at the solo’s world premiere and I remembered almost as vividly the expression on Nontsizi’s face when she considered the possibility, saying aloud with some savor, “the North American premiere.” The Goethe Institut in San Francisco paid for the airfare and I took care of the hotel bill. Gregor flew in and out in perhaps thirty-six hours. Dietmar was one of the delegates to the conference along with Dai Ai Lian, who started the Central Ballet of China at the behest of Zhao enli.  Dai, a member of the Conseil International de Danse (CID), a division of UNESCO, recruited Dietmar to CID.

Throughout our collective labors, I remember Nontsizi’s expressive eyes as she contemplated a problem, a solution, a win, along with her combination chortle and giggle. While infectious, the image of her in action also was an absorbing one.

One of the other projects on Nontsizi’s mind was to create a multi-discipline, or multi-ethnic institute at the Presidio, so that the Congress would be the launching of a United Nations-type dance institute, honoring the city where the United Nations charter was created and signed and to recognize further San Francisco’s diverse population, with San Francisco State University as the sponsoring umbrella. After the Congress, in one of our wrap-up meetings. Nontsizi informed me that the plan would not materialize. “The administration is afraid of the expense,” she informed me evenly. It was clear to us both that our further collaboration would be minimal at best.

In 2001 The Isadora Duncan Dance Awards Committee held its annual award ceremony in the Green Room of the Veterans Building on Van Ness Avenue, the building where the United Nations Charter was formally signed in the spring of 1945. The performing year covered 1999-2000. In the Sustained Achievement category, the Committee cited three women who had devoted their lives to performing and teaching dance. They were Jocelyn Vollmar, Judy Job and Nontsizi Cayou. At the time I was serving on the Committee, popularly known as the Izzies, voting for the recognition of the three women. That happy, deserved event of recognition was the last time.

Nontsizi and I saw each other. Soon after she must have left San Francisco for Oakland, and it was only in early November that I learned Nontsizi had transitioned to the special space where special dance individuals become collective ancestors.

Changing Format: Dance International

23 Nov

Prior to November 19, Kaija Pepper, the editor of the Canadian Quarterly, Dance International, e-mailed the information that the Vancouver Ballet Society, the magazine’s sponsor, would cease publication in hardcopy form.  She cited publishing costs as the reason future editions will appear on the website http://www.danceinternational.org on a monthly basis.

Maureen Allen, President of the Vancouver Society, reviewed the periodical’s history on the final page of the Winter 2019 issue, its final hard copy form.  It consistently has been a handsome set of pages, and I feel privileged to have been published in its pages over some two decades, along with Carol Escoda, Toba Singer and the late Allan Ulrich.  My contributions focused on special events, the last on Michael Meylac’s published interviews with members of the various manifestations of the Ballets Russes.

I was particularly interested to read that the late Leland Windreich, who left Berkeley, California for Vancouver, had been active with the periodical so early and had also served briefly as editor prior to Kaija Pepper’s predecessor Maureen Riches.  It makes me understand his proprietary interest in its content.

Ballet Review is also closing its operations with its fall issue, impoverishing the hard copy record on dance that much more.  It’s a sad commentary on the economics of art observation in the early 21st century.  But that the support of the Vancouver Ballet Society will enable survival of Dance International on the web testifies to an organization one can salute its values as rightly aligned.  So, for all the loss of physical pages, a bravo is well deserved.

 

 

 

Kirov History – II

20 Nov

 

Continuing the 1986 U.S. Leningrad Consulate Appraisal of the Kirov Ballet

7. When the Soviet capital was moved to Moscow, the center of the Soviet
dance world slowly but surely changed. Some of the most talented people from the Kirov were moved to the Bolshoi – the great ballerina Galina Ulanova in 1944, and in 1964 Ballet Master Yuriy [mscript spelling] Grigorovitch, who choreographed some of the best Soviet ballets while still at the Kirov. Grigorovich truly revived the Bolshoi and staged excellent productions of Spartacus and Nutcracker, although of his subsequent ballets have been less successful. His 1982 work, Golden Age, however, is brilliant. Under his skilled guidance the Bolshoi has shed at least some of its former athletic muscularity for a trimmer, more elegant look. Both Rostislav Zakarhov (Ballet Master at the Bolshoi, 1936-56) and Leonid Lavrovskiy (The Bolshoi’s Artistic Director, 1944-64) also started their careers at the Kirov. Before they moved to the Bolshoi, these choreographers created their finest ballets at the Kirov: Zakharov’s The Fountain of Bakhchisarai (1934) and Lavrovskiy’s Romeo and Juliet (1940).

8. As the birthplace of classical ballet and protection of its highest standards, the Kirov was still considered the final arbiter of taste. But Moscow had the Ministries, the Foreign delegations, and the need for display for both. The Kirov, whatever its excellence, could no longer compete in prestige. When the Bolshoi began to travel abroad in the Khrushchev era, the company accommodated itself slightly to the tastes of the international dance market, leaving the Kirov to uphold its strict classical standards.

Defections and Departures: Torment of the Gloomy 1950’s and early 1970’s

“When nothing new is permitted, a dancer can only
repeat himself, which is a form of cannibalism”
Ex-Kirov soloist Valeriy Panov

8. Then, starting in the early 1960’s, the best Kirov dancers began to depart:

Rudolf Nureyev, defecting in Paris on June 17, 1961:

Nikita Dolgushin voluntarily left the Kirov for Novosibirsk in 1961,
later joining Leningrad’s Maliy Theater:

Natalia Makarova defected in London in 1970:

Alla Osipenko voluntarily left the Kirov in 1971,
later working with Jakobson’s Choreographic
Miniatures Ensemble and Boris Eifman’s Troupe in
Leningrad:

Valery Panov and his wife, soloist Galina Ragozina,
emigrated to Israel in June 1974, after a widely
publicized two-year struggle with the Soviet Authorities:

Mikhail Baryshnikov defected in Toronto on June 29, 1974:

Yuriy Solov’Yev shot himself on Janaruy 15, 1977: His
remains a mystery, but most believe it grew out of Kirov
disappointments.

10. Why have so many leading Kirov dancers defected? Most say that they left for artistic reasons. They felt that they had reached a dead end artistically at the theater – few performances, in a large company with many, many soloists, and nothing new permitted. Baryshnikov, with perhaps the greatest natural talent of them all, complained of the lack of any truly creative work at the Kirov; in 1974, when he left, he was dancing regularly on ly three roles – Basil in Don Quixote, Adam in The Creation fo the World, and Albrecht in Giselle. In contrast, a solo dancer in the West might learn several new and quite different roles in a single season.

11. And why so few defections from the Bolshoi? Alexander Godunov, who defected in 1979 in New York, remains the sole big name. With more foreign travel and less rigidity than the Kirov, less strait-jacketing of stage personalities, life at the Bolshoi was perhaps more interesting for many. Opening up to foreign tastes brought greater incentives to develop individual styles and personalities. Departments from traditional models were more likely to be tolerated when they made strong, favorable impressions on foreign audiences. And this spirit was also in keeping with the heritage of Moscow, whose public wanted colorful pageantry.

The Theater

12. The Kirov remains a sort of cathedral among theaters. It retains a near holy
faithfulness to the Imperial Era, when it was the center of world ballet. Minor alterations were made during the 1969-70 restorations, but the building still looks remarkably as it did a century earlier. It conveys a sense of royal grandeur and space despite its medium-sized seating capacity of 1,625. The color scheme has remained the same noble azure and gold. Chaliapin said he never a more beautiful theater in all his world travels. CG, [ consul-general] who may not have seen as many as Chaliapin but has checked out quite a few, agrees.

The Company

13. In the best imperial days the company consisted of 200 dancers. Apart from the 30 or so extras and the 50 Institute pupils who can be supplied when necessary, the present complement is only slightly smaller: about 183-190 dancers, with no more than 60 engaged in any single ballet. The 19th century tsars treated their beloved Mariinskiy Theatre as an adjunct of their court, lavishing on it a million gold rubles from their private purses. Today’s local party leaders lovingly preserve this arch symbol of class privilege, at times largely for themselves. The theatre takes in annually 1,200,000 rubles from ticket sales, and the state provides an annual subsidy of 2,600,000 rubles. Of the `625 seats, no more than 300-400 actually go on public sale for any performance, and often the number is much smaller. Every serious balletomane in Leningrad has his special “Kirov Connection” to be assured of a ticket to important performances.

14. While the size of the company has remained nearly constant, the supporting and administrative staff have multiplied into a huge enterprise of 1500 people, only slightly smaller than the Bolshoi. Metal fabrication, carpentry, and elaborate special effects are designed and produced in superbly equipped workshops. A large staff located outside the theatre painstakingly creates the costumes. Fifteen men work in the props department alone, and more put together the sets. A small army of assistant directors works in the wings of each performance. Soloists are pampered as if they were the elite’s special pets, just as dancers in tsarist days had been. Each soloist has a private dressing room, complete with shared makeup assistant, costumes, and wardrobe mistress. Physiotherapists look after the dancers, and a detachment of gynecologists attend to the ballerinas as if each monthly period (for which each gets three days off with pay) were an affair of state.

Note: the Russian spelling of names is retained.

An Historic Exchange About the Kirov – I

14 Nov

 

My friend Dan Henry, a former couples partner with the Ice Capades and Pilates Instructor at the Buchanan Street YMCA, shared a 1986 document with me which he received as the executor of a friend’s estate. It was written about the Kirov as it planned a 1986 tour of the U.S.

I thought readers might enjoy the 1986 perspective of what once again is the Maryinsky Ballet, particularly in light of its recent U.S. appearances with the 1877 Petipa La Bayadere. The full document, written by the then cultural attache in the U.S. Leningrad consulate, I probably will print in stages. The comments were printed in all capitals and represent a telegram to the U.S. State Department in Washington with a copy to the Embassy in Moscow. The format and clearances some thirty-three years ago is on telegraph paper with punched holes on either side and accompanied by a couple of cover letters interesting in themselves. I have italicized titles where I consider it appropriate.

Subject: The Kirov Ballet – Torment and Courage: Mirror of a Great City’s Soul.

1. Summary: It is especially fitting that the Kirov Ballet – which has not visited the U.S. since 1964 – will be the first major Soviet Dance Troupe coming to the States under new U.S.-Soviet Cultural Exchanges Agreement. From mid-May to early June the company will perform in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Washington (Washington dates are expected to be June 1-5 at Wolf Trap). American audiences will see an ultra refined Swan Lake – possibly the best around.  They will also see Artristic Director Vingradov’s exciting new ballet, Knight in a Tiger Skin, which represents a departure in Kirov choreographic style and a genuine search for new artistic expression by the company best known for presenting the great 19th century classics.

2. If the Kirov currently has no male dancers who can match Nureyev, Soloviev, or Baryshnikov in their prime, they have several dazzlers among the female soloists – Asylmuratova, Chenchikov, Terekhova – who could quite confidently take the measure of a young Makarova. And the most polished female corps de ballet in the world will perform some of the pinnacles of classical dance, such as the “white act” in Swan Lake. Part old-fashioned and part new breed, they are Petipa’s diamonds set in Vaganova’s gold.

3. The Kirov in 1986 is a company in transition. Vinogradov is cautiously experimenting and seeking new artistic directions, after nearly two decades of demoralilzation in a company wracked by the defection, emigration, and suicide of some of tis best dancers. We see some encouraging signs of change – toward acceptance of a slightly broader, “Neo-classical” Balanchinian style of dance, and toward the development of some more contemporary choreography.  Creatively the Kirov is slowly beginning to open a window to the West.
End Summary

4. It has been 22 years since the Kirov Ballet last performed in the United states. With the Company’s American tour now set from mid-=May to early June in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington (The Washington dates are expected to be June 1-5, at Wolf Trap), this may be an appropriate time for an in-depth look at the present state of the legendary organization that is often referred to as the cradle of classical ballet. Consul General Magee has been following the Kirov closely for over two years and has seen some 75 performances of the 25 ballets in the current repertoire. These are his first hand observations.

Background: Fountainhead of the Classical Style

“The Kirov corps does not explain, but does land you squarely
in front of the ultimate mystery of the academic ballet: now
an essentially abstract code, a system of movements only
glancingly related to ordinary human action, can send a message
to the heart.”  Dance Critic Joan Ross Acocella

5. The Kirov Ballet- bright spring of classicism, and the source of much that is sturdiest and most beautiful in Western Ballet– is in its 283rd season [note: that makes it, in 2019, 316 years of operation] It is the second oldest dance company in the world, after the Paris Opera. Until at least the 1960’s the Kirov was generally regarded as the finest ballet company in the Soviet Union. For many decades the company’s style of dancing was found nowhere else. Just as art reflects environment, so does the Kirov reflect Leningrad’s severe, classical architecture. The dancing is severe and refined. The style of performing is similarly restrained, compared to the relative flamboyance of Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet, where things tend to be done with of a flourish. The precise style of the Maryinsky – as the theatre was long known and as many older Leningraders still refer to it today – mirrored the tastes of the St. Petersburg Court and the aristocracy whom it was intended to entertain. Down in the sprawling city of Moscow the Bolshoi used to cater to expansive merchants who liked gypsy girls in their taverns and emotional excitement and grand spectacle in the theater.

6. In the early 19th century, The Russians gleaned the best brought in by the great foreign ballet masters and improved on it. By the late 19th century a body of work had been created that was destined to become world famous. Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Raymonda, La Bayadere, Nutcracker – all these were created for the Imperial Ballet, as the Kirov was then called. (It received its present name in 1935, a year after the assassination of the Leningrad Communist Party head.) It had a historic reputation with figures like Petipa, Fokine, Pavlova, Nizhinskiy [document spelling]. And the best ballet school in Russia was the Institute in St. Petersburg.

“Some of the best people go from the Kirov to the Bolshoi. But
it’s a one-way street.” Kirov Soloist Alla Sizova

The English National Ballet’s New Giselle

12 Nov

Except for a probable funding caveat requiring James Streeter to dance as Albrecht in the filming of Akram Khan’s Giselle for English National Ballet, under Tamara Rojo’s direction, that company dances up a true international storm, including her presence as principal dancer and artistic director with her commissioning this stunning reinterpretation of the 1841 Romantic classic.

Thanks to Judy Flannery, the San Francisco International Dance Film Festival screened Khan’s Giselle November 3 at the Delancey Street Screening Room. She stated we were seeing it ahead of general release. I felt like giving her a grand curtsy for making such stellar connections.

Dance Tabs has reviewed this production so I was aware Khan placed it in a Bangladesh clothing factory with the men and women workers, in semi-dark to just above gloaming, first-class, unrewarding atmosphere. Albrecht here is slumming and Hilarion is some sort of low rung supervisor, with his eye, of course, on Giselle. Hilarion’s distinguishing mark is a bowler hat which, at one point, he places on Albrecht’s head to distinguish him from the workers.

American-born and trained, Jeffrey Cirio dances Hilarion. Cirio’s Hilarion smacked of the street-wise operator, clearly in love with Giselle, deeply competitive with Albrecht, raising the grim hand-marked wall, allowing the aristocrats to emerge. I saw Cirio earn the junior bronze at the USA IBC in Jackson’s VIII’s Competition where Isaac Hernandez earned the junior gold. [Hernandez created the role of Albrecht in Khan’s production.] I remember particularly Cirio shook the hand of each juror after learning of his award.

Rojo, like the other women, is dressed in romantic length tutus which appeared ready for the discard bin – uneven hems, mottled light blues or blush tones as I remember, dirt-poor creatures who have found once diaphanous frocks. The men wear faded shirts, sleeves rolled up, if my impression is correct, well-worn nondescript trousers. The costumers must have had grim pleasure weathering the apparel.

Rojo’s hair was partially drawn back in either a braid or coil from the temples. As she danced opposite Albrecht she frequently placed a hand on her abdomen, signaling they were actual lovers, his dancing confirming it. The camera frequently moved in as Rojo/Giselle danced, her glance steady on Albrecht, lips moving slightly in anticipation of contact, additional passion.

Musically, the score only faintly, sporadically referred to Adolph Adam’s lyricism, More frequently, there was dissonance and a lengthy sequence where the entire ensemble moved left and right beating, a repetitive rhythm with their feet. With the sense of filtered light in a grimy place, the effect riveted one’s reaction, wondering just how the betrayal can occur. Among the other actions, the ensemble, Giselle and Albrecht placed their hands on the wall’s hand prints covering the entire back wall at human height.

Effective theater, the gesture carries Indian historical precedence. When Rajput warriors were defeated or killed in battle, rather than submitting to rape or alien zenana life, their Rajput women chose to die by fire. Before flinging themselves into the fire, their pressed hand print against one of the citadel walls was their life testimony. I understand some prints are still visible.

If I were in the theater, I would know how Hilarion managed to lift the wall so that the Duke and Bathilde come forward. Haughtiness is an understatement for the pair. Both wear black, the Duke braid embellished with silver accents, a constant profile gaze and a near unmoving gesture of disdain. Bathilde, an oval-faced blonde, wears a gown whose stiffness resembles Elizabethan style, its pink-toned bodice revealing her upper torso to below the breasts, crusted with twinkling accents. And of course there are gloves. The contrast with the workers could not be more stark.

Still more interesting is the behavior of Albrecht and Bathilde. Still an utter facial mask, she almost cuddles him like a poor baby gone astray. Giselle’s inspection of Bathilde’s gown is  made, if diffidently, straight forward, touching the embroidery, almost as if she were saying, “I worked on this pattern.” The mad scene happens is rougher than the traditional;  Giselle rushes around after clutching her stomach and knocks against her fellow workers, physically pushing them, making me wonder if her madness might be connected with a miscarriage. This all occurs as the Duke and Bathilde have retreated in their icy dignity to the wall which closes behind them. When Giselle dies, the sordid setting of mill workers could not have been more effective, a telling subtext on English history with cotton mills and industrialization.

Apparently the film was being made in a theater for the camera recorded some members of the orchestra, the scarlet decor of the auditorium and the boxes.

Act II follows essentially the 1841 story line, but with little physical setting change. Myrthe is a tall, blonde whose hair is accented by the lighting. Her costume and that of the Wilis haven’t changed all that much except that they look cleaner. Instead of wings, these creatures carry long slender sticks, the type one uses in cabinet work. When they are pounded, the sound is insistent.
The sticks get used with great effect against Hilarion who tries to duck or elude them, but they slowly entrap him, his body captured against an imprisoning pattern, another of Khan’s arresting stage devices.

Myrthe bids Giselle to employ her stick after there has been the most tender of contacts with Albrecht. Instead, devoid of the dawning sun, Giselle takes the stick against her diaphragm, maneuvering it on Myrthe’s chest, and, steadily, the two move backward on the stage until the wall of hand prints swallows the two wraiths, leaving Albrecht frantically feeling the hand prints on that miserable factory wall.

It was to make one feel wiped clean.

Kim Kimun, Solor, in the Maryinsky’sLa Bayadere

8 Nov

As I start these comments on Sunday afternoon, Kim Kimun [Korean style placement] is doubtless taking class, gearing up for his role as Solor, the Indian nobleman, in the final performance of the Maryinsky Ballet’s La Bayadere. It also features the lovely first soloist Olesya Novakova as the fated bayadere, a dancer dedicated to the temple. Together, they make the crazy plot believable.

Perhaps the Wednesday October 30 performance was ice-cutting for the company with the Berkeley audience. The major artists from the Maryinsky’s last appearance in Berkeley were not listed. When I saw the November 1 performance, the company was energized beyond belief; and I believe the Berkeley response was partially responsible. I also believe the dramatic commitment and energy of the two principals, Novakova and Kim played their part in the dynamics. As Dora Stratou said of Cyril Atanasoff, “He believes -Il croire.” For nineteenth century fantasy that’s going and then some.

Novakova and Kim off stage must be small; on stage the pair is just right, height bringing a freedom to attack, hurl or fling themselves, most correctly of course, into their variations. When necessary, they are deliciously delicate in gesture, the refinement enough to blow one away.

When Kim enters, his eyes alert, gestures naturally commanding, one swallows appreciatively.  For all the regal manner he conveys eagerness to see Nikiya; with the skill of the slave [Konstantin Zverev] their flavor of conspiracy is strong. He mimes authoritatively, although the quality in his hands reminds me of Asian calligraphers and their connecton with the brush.

When it comes to elevation, Kim’s is high, clean, true to the impulse being expressed choreographically. Watching him concentrate when supporting Novakova in turns, there is a no nonsense dispatch. Seeing the two of them together with their excellent chemistry, I wondered what they would do in a ballet like Manon or even in that protracted farewell, Lilac Garden.

Soslan Kulaev as the High Brahman seemed more believable in his mime and reactions and Andrei Yakovlev more lofty in his designs. Nadezhda Batoeva made Gamzatti calculating and nuanced in her confrontation with Nikiya and Nikiya’s reactions in Scene 2 setting the stage for Act II, where the Rajah had shifted the ceremony [minus the catastrophic Act IV] to the Palace gardens.

I did not note the entrees in Act II previously, but the Rajah arrived in a palanquin, followed by a smaller one, with a topping of white feathers, for Gamzatti. The Golden Idol was borne a tapestry wound around two poles, exiting right; a howdah on a wheel-drawn elephant conveyed Solar from right to left, the three principal males emerging from the right seems comme il faut.

If Petipa desired to dazzle  the Imperial Romanovs with numbers he succeeded in Act II. There are six dances listed, including the supporting couples for the Gamzatti-Solor pas de deux, the would-be Indian dance backed by several men, and a bevy of young women bearing parrots as well. Having witnessed several public events in India, it’s entirely appropriate, but one wants to get on with the central pas de deux, where Kim covered the stage and the air with authority, Batoeva dispatched the necessary fouettes nearly sur la place, before Nikiya’s mournful solo, watching Solor fidget, wishing he was anywhere but in this current dilemma, Rajah Dugmanta supporting Gamzatti after her attempts to calm Solor receiving zero response. Kim conveys surprise and distress with his gestures, his body as well as his eyes. Novakova, in her plum-hued choli and pajamas, seemed to convey her desperation in her naked torso fully as much as her required, mostly bourreed solo, her eyes looking beseeching to Solor, who manages to acknowledge her, seeming to prompt the vigorous passes preceding the fatal gift of flowers. Concurrently the Rajah directs the attendant to procure the fatal flower basket; the all-knowing slave picks up on the impending disaster, tugging at the hem of the High Brahmin, who is ready with the poison antidote; Nikiya refuses and dies.

Following the 20 minute intermission, The brief Scene I of Act III leads us into Solor’s cavernous inner chambers where he rushes in, garbed in blue, having worn white in Act II; the ever present slave is adjusting his water pipe, so it is clear when Solor uses it, a dream state on his down stage left divan is not far away, assisted by a cross-legged flute player just right of center stage.

With the beginning strains of the haunting melody, Scene two  unfolded its glories. Even with the stage limitations, the emergence of the 32 shades progressed as it usually does down a ramp, one shade executing her arabesque to the audience, the next away from us, the lines weaving first left and then right until all thirty-two are assembled. Despite the lack of the ramp, this entree is a ravishing sight, clearly a definitive mark of Petipa’s knowledge of stagecraft and use of dancers. When they are all through with their orderly movement, an adjustment ripples and in depths of four with nine across, the sur la place bourrees begin as well as the bends and stretches. The purity of technique and oneness of impression is magical. When the ensemble moves into lines stage left and right, permitting Solor to come rushing from upper stage right, four dancers vanish due to Zellerbach’s stage limits.

Solor enters from upstage right, swiftly reaching downstage left with grand jete’s “Where is she?”; there she is upstage right, eyes down cast, shimmering as she bourrees sur la place. Solor makes a bow, contrite, and they move off stage to make room for the three shades ensemble and variations.

The remainder of Act III, Scene 2 proceeded as planned, danced like a remembered dream, which it is for Solor; I sat, like the others, reveling in the clarity, the fleeting purity mirrored in the danced conception of doomed class disparity. Perhaps only Sleeping Beauty realizes tribulation morphing into love and union, where no class divisions sully the emotions, only the wrath of Carabosse.

At the end Novakova and Kim shared the bravos with Gamzatti, the Rajah and the High Brahmin, coming out of the blue curtain to acknowledge the ovation, the shouts and applause.

Finishing this, I watched Kim’s dancing on You Tube, not remembering him so much from the 2010 USAIBC singly, but the fact that he and Chae Ji Young, now a principal with Boston Ballet, won best junior couple in addition to her junior gold, KIm won junior silver, the junior gold going to Marcellino Sambé of Portugal, now with England’s Royal Ballet. There was something endearing in the Korean demeanor, a mixture of confidence and diffidence placing the outpouring in perspective. It’s gratifying to reconnect with the promise seen nearly a decade ago and witness its exhilarating fulfillment.

The Kirov’s La Bayadere at Zellerbach

1 Nov

Despite smoke and fires north of San Francisco Bay and off-and-on-again power problems , Cal Performances presented the first of six performances of the famed Maryinsky Ballet in the Marius Petipa ballet La Bayadere October 30. It was a feat of accommodation for the St. Petersburg company; its physical set and the company’s roster of dancers were presented with operating problems absent in that venerable theater in northern Russia. Met them they did for an audience ready to roar, holler bravo and provide a standing ovation at the final curtain, making up in appreciation for the empty seats in the back of the orchestra.

There were three casts for the principals, each dancing two performances, the Kondaurova-Yermokov 10/30 and 11/2 matinee; Khoreva-Shklyarov 10/31, 11/2 evening; and Novikova-Kim, 11/1 and 11/3 matinee.

While I data recite, let me state this traveling ensemble lists four principals, six first soloists, eight second soloists, two character artists, five coryphees, 30 women and 34 male corps de ballet, total: 109 dancing artists. Add 64 for the orchestra, thirteen administration staff [ including the conductor ]with 22 technical personnel the traveling roster numbers 227. While the Maryinsky resident roster is probably double, that’s still a formidable lot of luggage and humans to shift from location to location.

This 1877 tale parallels Giselle’s fate in would be Hindustani costume, with a kinder post-mortem fate. My introduction came in 1995 with the Korean National Ballet, the production set by retired Bolshoi ballerina Marina Kondratieva. The Royal Ballet presented the Kingdom of the Shades when they danced at San Francisco’s Opera House. The second was Natalia Makarova’s production for American Ballet Theatre with Bissell, von Hamel [Gamzatti] and, I think, Gelsey Kirkland as Nikiya. San Francisco Ballet also mounted Act III at least twice under Makarova’s direction, once with Muriel Maffre and Pierre-Francois Villanoba in the Nikiya-Solor roles.

With this familiar plot line, Zellerbach was hosting the company most associated with this tale of woe and transcendence in far-off regal Injah. Those familiar with the chronology can recognize Petipa’s capacity to interject, in much laundered fashion, one of the big European power struggles of the nineteenth century, sometimes sub-titled The Big Game. England and Russia vied for dominance and influence in central Asia; from this period comes the Khyber Rifles, a history of the disastrous results of attempted English incursions in Afghanistan. Russia got its chance under the Soviet Union, but it too foundered in that mountainous country; one knows all too well what’s been happening with the U.S. presence there.

That said, we are ushered into a lush tropical temple compound where an evening ritual is to commence at a central fire in front of a Buddha statue [!], the entrance to the sanctum upstage left, with a imposing carved door, and introduced to a slave [Konstantin Zverev] dashing in from stage right, half bent over, arms outstretched. Soon, Solor  [Andrei Yermakov] enters with a retinue of hunters bearing the carcass of the hunt. The retinue of hunters are dismissed with carcass, and Solor mimes he wants to see the water pot bearing maiden; the slave indicates she will come for the evening ritual. I’m certain Petipa implied slave was another word for the untouchable caste.

Out come a cadre of priests and bayaderes from the temple; from the back stage bushes a tidy little group of slaves who follow the correct classical paces of the bayaderes, whirling energetically around the sacred flame after The High Brahmin (Soslan Kulaev) has raised his arms in ritual drama. Nikiya emerges alone, as principal bayadere, bearing a water pot like the others supplying drink to the slaves.

Ekaterina Kondaurova as Nikiya appears tall, slender, brunette, is deliciously classical in a costume baring her torso from diaphragm to mid-hip. Extensions, attitudes and arabesques are high; she leans forward a bit excessively, but there is simply no question about her suppleness. When she is dancing you can sit back letting the visual pleasure pour over you, nary but one slight wobble in the Shades.

After her initial dance High Brahmin confesses his love; she rejects him; not once but twice when he importunes her. A tall man, golden headdress and scarlet robe, he takes it hard. [To my knowledge Brahmin/Hindu priests as well as historical Buddhist priests are bare-headed. Change occurred when Buddhism moved north along the Silk Route.]

Once the entourage has marched back into the temple, the slave manages to signal Solor; he and Nikiya meet, greet, and Nikiya gets Solor to pledge his love. The program notes indicate Solor wants Nikiya to run away with him; that didn’t seem clear .

Act One’s Scene two is largely mime, advancing the nasty plot at Rajah Dugmanta’s palace; daughter Gamzatti is informed she will meet and marry the man to whom she was betrothed in childhood; apparently portrayed on the left of this cavernous domicile; initial moments happen around chairs and a table downstage right. Gamzatti and Solor meet; he likes what he sees, but remembers Nikiya.

Dugmanta (Andre Yakovlev) requests the High Brahmin to officiate and have Nikiya dance; the Brahmin objects, spilling Solor-Nikiya’s relationship. Dugmanta declares Nikiya will die, and the Brahmin warns the danger in killing a servant in the temple.

Eavesdropping Gamzatti gets Nikiya brought to her, tempts her with a bracelet, displays Solor’s portrait, announce the impending marriage. Gamzatti tries to get Nikiya to relinquish the pledge, Nikiya refuses, grabs a nearby knife; bloodshed is prevented by Gamzatti’s attendant.

Act II provides the full-fledged razzmatazz, ensemble variations galore capped by a pas de deux for Gamzatti and Solor, finished off by Nikiya’s forlorn solo, the fatal snake bite, the Brahmin’s attempt to save her and Nikiya’s death. The Golden Idol variation was danced by slender David Zaleyev, his elevation from standing position impressive, his space covering equally notable. His appearance was almost in and out, none of the eclat given the two other productions I’ve seen. Four bayaderes preceded him; their’s were the costumes with draped white panel speaking to sari drapery.

Included were a drum player [Oleg Demchenko], a bevy of dancers bearing parrots on one hand, a would-be Indian dance, unrecognizably North American or sub-continent, and a pas de six, four women, two men preceding the pas de deux for the betrothed. Here Yermakov made up for his required formalism in his brief variation, covering the stage with long, swift strides, a glow and smile on his face. As Gamzatti Yekaterina Chebykina, a shapely blonde, provided fouettes almost sur la place, finishing with a tad of the show man.

Nikiya’s mournful dance was lush, the orchestra’s plaintive notes echoed in bourrees, port de bras, Nikiya’s bent head, drooping shoulder lines, broken by a frenzied series of stabbing passes. Being humiliated having to dance before her lover and his intended bride, it remains an affecting solo. With Nikiya’s death by an asp, we are prepared for Act III, the Kingdom of the Shades. But first, there was a curtain and Chebykina  was given a floppy bouquet.

The Kingdom of the Shade demonstrated how cramped Zellerbach is for large productions; no ramp, and when the 32 shades finally line up four deep nine across, its dazzling white got cut to 24 when the ensemble lines up down stage right and left, the other twelve assembling where space does not compromise sequence. With out question this is the Maryinsky’s native heath, and Ekaterina Kondaurova was what one wanted in a classical ballerina, amply supported by Yermakov. The three shades, physically smaller, made their impression as well, the third variation by May Nagahisa particularly appealing.

Throughout the audience responded to technical brilliance and at the end, as Kondaurova received her bouquet, she responded with a lovely smile. For all the
history of U.C.’s agitations, this audience really liked this vestige of imperial Russia which has been nurtured and performed into the 21st century.