Archive | December, 2019

A Christmas Eve Nutcracker

25 Dec

KateMcKinney graciously arranged for a Christmas Eve pass to the 4 p.m. Nutcracker, a first for me. It was interesting to witness the easy response to the dancing, the parade of children, adults with plastic containers of white or red wine fairly frequent as seats in the center orchestra were being negotiated.

The speaker urging caution regarding cell phones and tape recorders mentioned there would be special treat from Santa. Sure enough, he paraded down San Francisco Opera House’s middle aisle, arms outstretched and in frisky mode, climbed over the orchestra railing, proceeded to lead the orchestra in Petyr Ilyich’s introduction and in several moments not only waved his hands, but provided us with several pirouettes – I venture triple or quadruple. Santa then ceded the podium to Ming Luke for the balance of the performance, disappearing into the basement entrance to the orchestra pit. Years ago I remember another such appearance.  I suspect SFB’s veteran artistic director indulges in the holiday spirit when conditions, like the Eve, are available. With the holiday wrapping paper offered at the exit, it is one of those touches Tomasson arranges magesterially.

Ricardo Bustamonte was the holiday eve Drosselmeyer, thriving with a touch of Latin flair, extra touches in his shop, particular gallantry to the women at the Stahlbaum home where Madison Keesler and Steven Morse were particularly animated hostess and host with Jim Sohm and Kristi Di Camanata perennial sunny, slightly doddering grandparents. Oh, the days of extended families living under one roof.

Clearly, towards the end of a run, not only are there opportunities for corps members and apprentices to display their chops, but the entire company to essay their dramatic and dancing skills. Benjamin Freemantle seemed the exceptionally rubbery yellow Harlequin and Lauren Parrott’s China Doll variation has gained in quality while her technical gifts have been consistent. Hansuke Yamamoto was crisp and to the point as the Nutcracker loomed large from the box. [Apparently in my first review of the holiday production I mistakenly placed him at the Harlequin. I only wish I could see him partnering in one of the production’s major pas de deux.]

Mention should be made of Matoi Kawamoto’s Clara whose naturalness in the role provided touches of detail and responsivness I don’t remember seeing in others cast. And Sean Bennett as the Mouse King demonstrated a fierce foot-grinding demolition of the Nutcracker along with the understandable mean, moustache stroking bravado.

Joseph Walsh might be considered the Duke of Sussex of the pack; authoritative, courteous but friendly, technique minus strain, supportive, splendid in Act II.

Elizabeth Powell and Lonnie Weeks presided over the snow blitz, Powell even sending one set of fistfuls into the air. Well matched, smiling and entirely into the music. I wish the male monarch had more to do, and both be permitted to bow.

Misa Kuranaga presided over her creature kingdom at the Sugar Plum Fairy, minus a baton with the confection at the end. Small, but clearly grand, it was wonderful to see her on the Opera House stage as an SFB principal after her Boston sojourn. I saw her earn the Gold for senior women at Jackson. Her responses to the Nutcracker’s story and her warmth towards Clara were palpable.

The Spanish quintet was dispatched with energy and dash.

Ami Yuki was quite the houri in the Arabian supported by two somber attendants, Nathaniel Remez and Joseph Warton, who carefully kept her airborne until she decided it was time to return to incredible confinement.

Calvin Conley was muscular and energy with the trail of red little demons behind him, and Diego Cruz continued his bearish charm, limp kneed with Madame Du Cirque and the harlequin gowned buffoons.

Frances Chung joined Joseph Walsh as the transformed Clara in a crisp, rhythmic and pleasing grand pas de deux. Chung, returning from maternity leave, has lost nothing of her accuracy, warmth and directness, while Walsh reinforced his easy, seemingly relaxed bravura execution.

Throughout the audience response with quick, warm and full of Christmas Eve good cheer.  In the basement, if you wanted it, there was a genuine sleigh to provide a seasonal remembrance on a cell phone, along with holiday wrapping paper at the exit.

The Smuin Take on Christmas

23 Dec

Dan Henry and I attended the December 21st evening performance of Smuin Contemporary Ballet’s two-part Christmas Celebration; historical European folk and baroque and U.S.A.’s contemporary with touches of cultural diversity. Dan, a former couples partner in the Ice Capades and Pilates instructor at the Buchanan Street Y reflects why the annual production draws capacity crowds in its almost two week run at Yerba Buena’s Theater.

“It’s classically based, but doesn’t neglect today’s society and it avoids being crass. Yes, it’s popular, but how many choreographers can do popular well, make it interesting and entertaining at the same time? Not many, that’s for sure.” This, from an avid reader of many things serious or arcane, is distinct praise, leaving me up to pick or praise spots and solo performers and to add that Michael often ended with a deft accent.

Smuin’s canny qualities are evident in the scrims and slides before the dancing commences; the soaring, celebratory angels, horns and pipes selected from Renaissance and Baroque Paintings; before the second act, children’s drawings about the Christmas tales of Santa, the tree, the raindeer, augmented by the wonderful growly tones of Louis Armstrong. Both curtain risers set the mood, wooing the audience for what is to come.

After marking the casting I turned to the dancers’ bios. We missed Shannon Hulburt who comes in for cameo tap performances of The Bells of Dublin, here rendered competently by Tessa Barbour, remaining one of the highlights of post-intermission.

With 2003 veteran Erin Yarbrough-Powell out on maternity leave that makes Terez Dean Orr the company veteran since her arrival in 2008, followed by Ben Needham-Wood in 2013 and dancing his final season with the company. Mengjun Chen joined in 2015, leaving five dancers joining in 2018 with an additional five in 2019 out of the sixteen.  Kaila Feldpausch is guest artist, and a decent cultural mix is reflected with the men. The costumes were uniformly white, gauzy short skirts on the women with a tad of silver glitter. In the second, the hue mainly was Holiday Red.

Before the curtain rose, Celia Fushile proudly announced the company’s new home and in January some company dancers would be teaching beginning and intermediate classes. A new note was the sponsorship of various numbers in both acts by individuals. In Act I four of sixteen dances were created by women. In Act II five choreographers were represented in the fifteen dances; of that five, three were women.

The company’s opening burst, Magnificat, sees them back to the audience, the women with impossibly long capes, light bright hues; turning, they sweep around with same before doffing them; lots of jetes in tune to the declamatory tone of the music. Mengjun Chen was responsible for the most crisply delivered; the scheduled solo spots, assigned to others, left me wanting to see more.  I had seen him compete at the Jackson USA IBC; seeing such artists progress is a continuing interest.

At least two selections derive from Smuin’s SFBallet work to Mozart’s Mass in B Minor; Domine and Gratias, the latter danced with Terez Dean Orr, Ian Buchanan and Ben Needham-Wood. The trio understood the mood. Alas, as danced by Cassidy Isaacson and Maggie Carey, the somber tones of Domine were imperfectly reflected: one wore a fixed smile, worthy of a frothy tutu, while the second understood the music’s import.

The selections proceeded from classical base to pleasant, appropriate seasonal music, such as the La Virgen Lava Panales and the Gloucestershire Wassail, winding up with Klesmer tunes, flirtation and romance.

After Intermission and Satchmo’s growling rendition of The Night Before, Christmas in New Orleans and Santa Baby delivered their pleasant secularisms.
Ben Needham-Wood delivered an expert Drummer Boy after Max van der Sterre echoed the pelvic emphasis of Elvis to the delight of several blonde-wigged fans in Blue Christmas. With a swooping ruana and oversized hat, La Calandria was rendered with energy and elan by Lauren Pschirrer as she discarded hat, then ruana to display black body suit and excellent musical response.

Another longtime favorite, Droopy Little Christmas Tree preceded Val Caniparoli’s Jingle Bells Mambo danced by Ben Needham-Wood, Joao Sampaio and Max van der Sterre. Silver Bells, Christmas Tree Rock, Bells of Dublin, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year preceded White Christmas with the company strolling, dancing a little and then flinging stage snow as similar white drifted down on two center orchestra spots.

A pitch was made for donations, and the company tossed more snow as the curtain lowered.

The Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet New Nutcracker

19 Dec

December 17, KQED, San Francisco scheduled a late night showing of the creation of The Joffrey Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, music, of course, by Petyr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It was less the full production as danced than the history of its evolution, dotted with comments by artistic director Ashley Wheater and Wheeldon, the production chiefs, the dancers, cautionary comments and a final summation by Rahmn Emanuel, then Mayor of Chicago, himself a former ballet student.

I liked it for several reasons. One, it incorporated Chicago history and 1893 Columbian World Fair, celebrating Columbus’ 1492 discovery, just as San Francisco Ballet’s third production by Helgi Tomasson elected to emphasize San Francisco at the end of the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition celebrating completion of the Panama Canal. SFB’s production, now a decade old, was revealed two years after Wheater had assumed his role in Chicago. I would suspect the SF example may have figured into what Wheater said was a decade long discussion with Wheeldon regarding the new production.

Second was the decision to make it a working class holiday, centering around the Polish immigrants who must have worked on the construction of the White City as the Fair had been dubbed, complete with the modest, even drab surroundings of semi-derelict fences. The traditions of Polish families were noted, such as waiting for the evening star before commencing the festivities, real food brought by the community.  Clara’s parents were transformed into a single mother, the mice into puppets. Act II is cast as features from the fair with a sexy Arabian interlude and Buffalo Bill Cody taking over the exuberant jumps of the Russian variation. The Russian Tsarist ambiance seemed quite vanished.

The hour-long production includes discussion by the production heads, and how video provided the expanding Christmas tree. Dancers commented: Yoshiharu Arai, April Daly, Dylan Gutierrez and SF native Jeraldine Mendoza, dancing Clara and two critics weigh in as well.

Wheeldon made sure every salient emotion had its place. Declaring he always thought the grand pas de deux was about love, he made Drosselmeyer into an impresario who dances the grand pas de deux with Clara’s mother. Clara’s dream for her mother gets a final moment making one want to believe it just might continue.

In checking the date for this major achievement in which Frederick Law Ohlmstead had a role, there is a list of items entering American practice both mechanical and edible through this historic exposition. The Ferris wheel was introduced, along with Spray Paint and the Zipper. Two diversions, Cracker Jack and Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit, entered the American taste and for more substantial fare, Aunt Jemima’s Pancake Mix, undoubtedly sparking interest in ready cake mixes.

The above paragraph is totally ancillary to enjoyment of the TV documentary.
It just adds a dimension for what I hope will be seasonal television showings of a wonderfully special Chicago Joffrey Ballet take on The Nutcracker ballet.

Kirov History VII

16 Dec

43. Zhanna Ayupova
Only 19, She is being pushed hard and fast and groomed for stardom. Won Third Prize in the 1985 Moscow International Ballet Competition. Came to the Vaganova Institute age ten from Petrozavodsa, Karelia. She was taken into the Kirov directly as a solo dancer – an almost unheard of jump over the corps de ballet, where even the best normally spend a year or two. When barely 18, she danced the lead in Giselle – the youngest dancer ever to perform that role at the Kirov. This season she has expanded her repertoire to include Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, and has a lead role in Chopiniana, among others. An impeccable technique that shows all the careful finishing and polishing of the best of the Kirov teachers and coaches. Clearly, she will go far; it remains to be seen if she will make it to the top of the pyramid. One of our most knowledgeable Kirov contacts thinks not, but then she is herself an older rival, and does not exactly qualify as a dispassionate observer.

44. Sergei Berezhnoi
People’s Artist of the RSFSR
Mid-30’s and already a bit past his peak. Married to soloist Tatyana Terekhova and accompanies her to events at the CG’s residence. Graduated from the Vaganova Institute in 1970. ON stage he is a careful, caring partner with impeccable control. As a soloist, however, he has less than superlative ability. Lacking a “big” technique, he has become skillful in shaping and suggesting in half tones. Under plays his roles, and does not succumb to the annoying habits of self-display that plaque the style of some of the Kirov men: The “Liberace” smile, the playing to the audience, the sharp flick of the wrists as the arm, rising above the head, reaches its peak. Berezhnoi shows much less narcissism (if less technique) and nice manners ,although he sometimes appears bored. Hew might have been a bigger star in the old days hen the male dancer’s role was largely limited to supporting and partnering the female lead. In recent years he has been the preferred partner of Prima Ballerina Kolpakova.

45. Constantin Zaklinkskiy.
Honored Artist of the RSFSR.
Fast becoming the king of a not overly distinguished lot of Kirov males. Graduated from the Vaganova Institute in 1974. His tall build (six feet one) and unstrained carriage give him the looks and proportions of a budding danseur noble of the first order. Has fair, golden coloring and an unaffectedly pleasant disposition. Facially a cross between a young Nureyev and the Bolshoi’s Vasil’yev, to whom he is sometimes compared. A naturally huge jump and easy turns give him a relaxed, casually elegant style on stage. Sometimes he appears to be loafing; perhaps he feels that clear turnout and smartly pointed feet are affectations that go against his nature. Has been getting most of the juicy newer solo roles over the past two years, and seems well on his way toward a very impressive career. He and his wife Asylmuratova are sometimes presented as the Kirov answer to the famous Bolshoi couple, Vasil’yev and Maksimova.

46. Yevgeniy Neff,
Mid-20’s. Young, slender, unaffected performer. An elegant carriage and sufficient height
give him the makings of a danseur noble. Less naturally gifted than his rival Zaklinskiy and

somewhat less accomplished in general. But may be a harder worker, and is improving and maturing fact. One to watch.

47. Eldar Aliev.
Late 20’s. His large-frame build and long, sharp nose make him a natural demi-caractere dancer. The Kirov seems to realize where his special talents life. His current roles include a lead in Vinogradov’s new ballet, Knight in a Tiger Skin, with more contemporary choreography requiring wild steps with character dancing, and Rothbart in Swan Lake.

48. Sergei Vykarev.
Won second prize at the 1985 Moscow International Ballet Competition. At age 22,
probably the most promising male dancer among the “youngster” in the Kirov Company. Said to be the one who will solve the Kirov’s “male problem.” Has a light high jump, a soft landing, a stunningly beautiful line. And – rare among Kirov men – some fire inside. Gives a haunting, virtuoso performance as the Kadza Tsarevich in the new ballet Knight in a Tiger Skin: it’s a pity he gets killed off early, toward the end of the firs act.


“There’ll never be another Ulanova, and it’s a good thing, too.
She was it in her day, but there’s a new scene now.
Watch her perform in some of her old films, and look how stilted,
even funny, she looks. Today’s young dancers can do so much more”

Kirov Soloist Tat’yana Terekhova,
who does some jumps Ulanova
never dreamed of.

49. The Kirov Ballet Is a. company in transition. It has decided to join the rest of the world, after a history of not always splendid isolation. Its own style of dancing and its repertoire is slowly evolving – on its own terms, to be sure, but definitely in a more contemporary direction. Asylmuratova and Chenchikova best represent the Kirov’s new breed of female soloists and recall Balanchine soloist: no longer standard textbook dancers but rather neo-classical dances, expansive and bold in sweep, if not perfectly clean in technique, reaching beyond the academic norm. Neither of these two dazzlers have the purity of the earlier Kolpakova or the present Terekhova – who best carries on the Kirov’s older classical tradition. Instead they offer fresh, exciting talent and innate originality, which can be cramped by the severe restrictions of the standard classical roles. If Vinogradov can give them and other rising stars some first-rate modern choreography – and his Knight in a Tiger Skin is a large, very promising step in the right direction – the results could be breathtaking.

50. It is easy to criticize the Kirov Men and say they have gone downhill. Yet they have not fallen as far as some suppose. In this company deservedly noted for consistency, the men are somewhat inconsistent. Zaklinskiy, with a genuine talent, the projection of a powerful build, and broad appeal, is a potential theatre idol. Berezhnoi is a fine partner, an actor of conviction, and, one suspects, could dance to fuller capacity. Neff shows considerable promise. And Vykharev may have what it takes to become a superstar. No one, however, comes close to matching Nureyev, Solov’yev, or Baryshnikov in their prime.

52. Finally the future of the Kirov rests upon its corps de ballet – from which nearly all its soloists rise – and the artistic direction the company will take in the years ahead. The corps remains solid, on the female side probably the most polished in the world. Artistic and choreographic changes will be slow, and the company will remain devoted to the classical repertoire. The Kirov is still very conservative, and there are powerful forces within and around the theater (some centered in the City’s main administration for culture) which do not want it to be anything but a museum. Vinogradov and his dancers have their work cut out for them. But there are encouraging signs of change – toward a slightly broader, more modern, “neo-classical” style of dance, and toward a repertoire that includes some top-quality contemporary choreography. Creatively, like the founder of the beautiful city in which it exists, the Kirov Ballet is beginning to open a window to the West.

Kirov History – VI

16 Dec

Kirov History VI.

35. Gabriela Trofimova Komleva.
The third People’s Artist of the USSR.
Among the Kirov’s ballerinas, considerably past her prime at 47, she still commands an impressive technique and remains a polished, metriculous performer, with many devoted fans among the older Leningraders. Graduated from the Vaganova Institute in 1957, her best roles include Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, Raymonda, Nikiya in La Bayadere, and the Girl in Leningrad Symphony. Created the title role in Vinogradov’s Goryanka, with Panov in the male lead, in 1968.

36. Galina Sergeevna Mezentseva.
People’s Artist of the SSFSR.
In her prime at age 33. An unusual dancer of some rigidity. Graduated from the Vaganova Institute in 1971. Has an unexceptional physique, and can neither jump nor turn with accomplished ease. But she has long, very expressive arms, and she can beautifully extend the length, rake, and spread of a pose. Triumphed in the first several productions of Vingradov’s new ballet Knight in a Tiger Skin in the 1985 season, delightingin meeting the challenge of the more modern, difficult choreographic movements tthat tapped a new potential. In some of the classical roles, here unsteady turns and mundane jumps limit her appeal, and she can look occasionally like a caricature of an overwrought Bolshoi dancer. But in the more exotic, more contemporary roles here artistic maturity shines through. Tends to arouse strong pros and cons among her audience. Had a earlier problem with her left Achilles tendon and didn’t dance for a year: now seems in good shape.

37. Tat’yana Terekhova.
People’s Artist of the RSFSR
Probably the purest Kirov product among the younger established female soloists. In top form at 34. Comes to events in the CG’s residences with her husband, Sergei Berezhnoi. A lively, at times outspoken commentator on the Soviet ballet scene and on the dance world in general. Graduated from the Vaganova Institute in 1970; began dancing solo roles after one year in the corps. Has a marvelously polished technique, although she doesn’t project quite the way Asylmuratova and Chenchikova do. Sometimes criticized for a lack of expressiveness and for being ssomewhaat cold and mechanical, and her arms are less wing-like than some. But what a polished machine! In ballets such as Swan Lake and Don Quixote she will rip off 32 and sometimes 36 rapid fouettes (open turns on one leg), doing most of them in single,singel, double, exactly in time to the music, each turn exquisitely carved, perfectly in line, and stops on a dime.
Has a great range of jumps – tremendous grand jetes and thrilling tours jetes – and is the only ballerina CG has ever seen who can pull off a cleanly turned double assemble – a move normally done only by male dancers. Exciting both on stage and off.

38. Ol’ga Chenchikova.
People’s Artist of the RSFSR.
Age 29. Next to Asylmuratova, probably the most dazzling presence in the Kirov’s company. In adagio pose, in roles such as Odette in Swan Lake and Nikiya in La Bayadere, she is ravishing. She has beautiful legs, gently hyperextended, a towering carriage from her upper torso, and a fine imperial balance. She also has elegantly curved nostrils and slightly slanted eyes, both of which – the white glare of her eyes and the flare of her nostrils – she uses to intensify her posing. (She is stronger as Odette in the Swan Lake lakeside act; Terekhova on the other hand, is stronger as Odile in the Ballroom Act.) A former pupil of Lyudmile Sakharova at the Perm Ballet School, from which she graduated in 1974. Came to the Kirov in 1977. Sakharova’s pupils, including the Bolshoi’s Nadezdha Pavlova, send not to develop the Kirov classica purity, and Chenchikova – something of a wayward spirit – follows that pattern. Married to principal dancer M.F. Daukarov, she took a year off in 1984-85, had a child in the summer of 1985, and resumed dancing last fall, returning to the Kirov stage in November with a triumphant performances in one of her favorite roles – Nikiya in La Bayadere.

39. Lyubov Kunakova.
People’s Artist of the RSFSR.
In her prime at 34. Another product of the Perm Ballet School, she later became the Perm Company’s ballerina before moving to the Kirov. Has a big, healthy body and can turn forever. Has a somewhat bland, unexpressive face. Very well trained, though, and good in a variety of solo roles.

40. Yelena Viktorovna Yevteyeva.
Honored Artist of the RSFSR.
Somewhat past her peak at 39. Bears some resemblance tro the Bolshoi’s Bessmertnova – think, with enormous eyes and beautiful writes. A haunted, fragile look. Yet cool and controlled. A very solid performer, well work watching. Graduated from the Vaganova Institute in 1955.

41. Altunai Asylmuratova
Honored Artist of the RSFSR.
At 25, the Kirov’s brightest youngere star. A sensation of the company’s 1982 tour in Paris. Star of the 1983 film “Backstage at the Kirov,” directed by Derek Hart, which shows her preparing to dance Odette/Odile in Swan Lake for the first time. Over the past two years, she has become a favorite of artistic director Vingradov and has been given a half-dozen of the most challenging lead roles, ranging from purely classical to the most contemporary works done by the company. Since her international Fame began in Paris in 1982, she has quickly become one of the Kirov’s leading “Valutniye” (Hard Currency) dancers, with Western impresarios willing to pay the Soviet Government especially well for tours in which she is included.

42. A late bloomer, and a “difficult child” in the Kirov Ballet family. No great things were expected of her at the Vaganova Institute, and on her graduation in 1983, the prediction was that she could be good-to-excellent corps material, but she would probably not reach the solo rank. After only one year in the corps, however, she burst to stardom. Lacking a pure technique, Asylmuratova strives to put her own stamp on every role. She flashes through on a magiv carpet of extreme confidence and strength, kicking higher and turning faster, and using her exotic, exquisite head and neck to full advantage (Her father’s family origins are central Asian). The line is not always flawless, and a touch of strong headedness shows through on occasion. Sometimes she can be wrong for a role, but she is always a powerful presence on stage. One of her older rivals describes Asylmuratova a bit unkindly as a “typical” beautiful ballerina, meaning a person not best known for mental acuteness. We only know that she certainly can magnetize an audience. We can confidently predict that she will be a sensation on the Kirov’s U.S. tour.
Married to principal dancer Konstatin Zaklinsyiy. Her first name means “Golden Moon.”

Kirov History – V

16 Dec

The Classics: Still the Kirov’s Pride

“The technique is powerful, but unclear.”

Kirov soloist describing a Bolshoi soloist

29. We must keep in mind the treasure house of classics that remain the Kirov’s pride. The Kirov is justly famous for its 19th-century classics, not Vingradov’s cautious attempts to modern choreography. We would regard Swan Lake, Giselle and Sleeping Beauty as the big three. The Kirov has chosen, appropriately as its ultra refined Swan Lake to compliment Night in a Tiger Skin on its American tour. (Its third program for this tour will be an arrangement of three short one-act ballet or excerpts from longer works, selected from well-known ballets such as Chopiniana, Les Syphides, Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, la Bayadere, Leningrad Symphony, and Paquita.

30. It is easy to think of these classics as museum pieces. But these ballets are not the same as when they were first choreographed. Perhaps the Kirov’s main contribution has been its consistent development of these classics. The sets and costumes are different, and the style and quality of the dancing has greatly changed. In some cases the choreography is identical. However, each generation has added something. In ballet, as in track and field, each generation improves on the technique of the previous one. Legs are stretched higher, elevation and speed increase, and leaps are more amazing.

31. The Kirov’s interpretation of Swan Lake, long acknowledged as the best in the wold, differs substantially from American productions. It features a court jester, mine has been removed, and it has been given (unhappily in our view) the happy ending that has become standard in Soviet versions of this work since the 1960’s. Prince Siegfried tears a wing off the evil owl Rothbart, who struggles briefly and dies: Odette and Siegfried embrace as the curtain falls. The “white Act” of Swan Lake, arguably the pinnacle of classical dance – with its incomparable music and the unsurpassed choreography of Petipa’s assistant, Ivanov – is finally what the Kirov corps de ballet does best. Here the swans signal their paradoxical condition – on the one hand, feminine softness and beauty; on the other hand, their loss of the warmth associated with that softness. Their execution mirrors this divided nature, creates a marvelous atmosphere of classical purity,
and communicates a powerful drama to the audience.

The Soloists

32. Following are sketches of a number of the Kirov’s Principal dancers:

33. Irina Alexandrovna Kolpakova;
Prima Ballerina of the Kirov Theater
People’s Artist of the USSR since 1965 (Third and highest of the Titles – first is “Honored Artists of the RSFSR (Russian Republic); Second is “People’s Artist of the RSFSR”; Hero

Kirov History III

16 Dec

This is misplaced.  Hopefully, there is some way to place it in proper sequence.

15. Kirov dancers live comfortably and is relative peace. Although their salaries (300-600 rubles a month for most of the dancers; The artistic director might earn somewhat more) buy few luxuries unless hard currency is earned abroad, they have at least a degree of financial security together with ample time for relaxing pastimes. Many principal dancers live in fairly spacious apartments in older building within walking distance of the theatre. The males are normally exempt from military service, since the interruption in their dancing for two years or so would effectively end their careers. Most dancers won’;t work as hard r as long hours as their Western counterparts. Although they lose a lot in artistic freedom in being able to explore new ways of dancing, in some ways their lives are easier than dancers’ lives in the West. In addition to performing four or five times am on th on the average, working ten months of the year with a two-month paid vacation, principals are supposed to attend classes and rehearsals with some regularity. But with dancing well, they are largely allowed to set their own hours and pace, and enjoy princely working conditions. As soloists they are treated with great respected, allowed to fit rehearsal times to their moods and muscle condition, and can even get away with last-minute cancellation.

With a U.S. tour in the offing, it’s denunciation time

“Nothing, absolutely nothing, can equal these trips to the West.
And no one from a Western country can possibly understand what
they mean to us.” Kirov Soloist

“It was like being in prison.”

Kirov Soloist who fell temporarily
Out of favor after a steady diet of
foreign tours.

16. Before a foreign tour, any Soviet performing arts troupe becomes a pretty unhappy, morally corrupt group. This ugly, backstabbing atmosphere is probably magnified at the Kirov Ballet, given the company’s history of defections of its top stars. The company can turn into a nest of vipers. Poisonous cynicism can seep into the theater from under the administrative director’s door. Personal rivalries and plotting for advantage, which always loom large, suddenly take on gigantic proportions. There is constant whispering about how to catch the eye of those who could influence the selection for the first trip to the United States in 22 years. A number of dancers can be expected to denounce their colleagues– the stars in particular. They attempt to enhance their on “loyalty” by claiming that they know of another dancer’s desire to remain abroad. Cutthroat competition for places on a foreign trip (From the Kirov’s company of around 190 dancers, no more than half will be selected for the U.S. trip) is enough to cause this, and rewards fo+r informing bring even worse damage, sometimes even innately decent dancers succumb if they see no other way to get a seat on the plane.

17. Those chosen for the trip have the surest mark of approval and status, plus the exhilaration of tasting something forbidden to most others. Those not chosen consider themselves insulted, interpreting their exclusion as indicting second-class citizenship. The Kirov Theatre authorities understand the enticement of this particular U.S. tour perfectly well and no doubt will use it adeptly in the coming weeks.

Kirov’s Corps de Ballet: Still The Best

“Western ballet is weak. It is
characterized by lifeless forms
and empty modernistic productions.
Its movements are bearers of bourgeois
depravity and corruption.”

– Old Soviet Ballet School Curriculum

18. The Kirov Corps de Ballet is still widely regarded as the best in the world.
What makes it so is the training. The famous teacher Agrippina Vaganova (1921-51) at the Leningrad Institute that now bears her name, established the soviet system of ballet education. With the strength of the famous “Vaganova back.” her pupils are able to maneuver their bodies even at the top of a leap. Most of all she demanded harmony, coordination, and stability of the entire body, with at much emphasis on arms as on legs. The shaping, fitting, polishing, and use of body positions to etch clean, aristocratic lines and sharp perfection – all this goes to make up the essence of the Kirov art. Every bone and tendon is assigned the right duties, with exactitude and care. Perfect placement in every detail is the goal, with a tiny gesture of the wrist able to convey a large emotion. For young dancers, the Kirov has an iron rule: a role is to be learned, not developed. To improve it is to chisel chosen to the accepted pattern or model, not deeper toward a personal understanding. Most Kirov principals take this model copying for granted, but not all of the younger dancers fully accept it.

19. The Kirov has an abundance of truly excellent coaches, plus a kind of schooling that exists almost nowhere in the west – as tight and coherent a school, in both senses, as anyone could imagine. The schooling provides up to 15 years to learn the techniques, and large them the dancers do, many starting from the age of eight. In the snobbish conservatism that permeates the Vaganova Institute, smug with faith in their own superiority, the dancers are finished on a kind of assembly line, with many future Kirov soloists having been picked years in advance while Institute youngsters. Then the individual coaches take over, concentrating on helping the dancers best display their strongest features, coaching them to dance as artists. This crucial “inside” finishing skill of personal coaching by the great masters is a distinctive mark of Kirov training. The dancers the develop a uniformity not only in their dancing but also in the quality of the dancing. An incredible amount of care and attention is given to the rehearsal of the corps de ballet by the superb rehearsal directors, who teach subtly and with immense patience. Corps de ballet dancers who blossom too late sometimes have a very tough time becoming soloists, because they develop after all solo pieces are assigned. Failure to blossom on the system’s schedule can waste talent and suffocate hopes. Once the label “corps material” goes on a Kirov dancer, almost nothing can change it.

Kirov History – IV

16 Dec

This continues the 1986 report from the Curltural Office at the U.S. Consulate in Leningrad at that time.

20. For serious classical ensemble work, there is probably no great corps de ballet in the world than the Kirov’s females. They are part old-fashioned and part new breed: Petipa’s diamonds set in Vaganova’s gold. Watching them is to see a coiled spring of energy: a free, ample, yet perfectly disciplined flow from the small of the back through the limbs, neck, and head – a single impulse of passion and harmony. These are precision dancers: no straying arm, no leg lowered too late. At the same time, they dance with full, melting grace and with a broad understanding of drama, fusing discipline and emotion.

21. No other schooling clarifies and displays so exactly the eight academic positions of the body. To the Kirov these eight dimensions are the essence of dance. The female dancers show their legato fluency in brilliant footwork, with knife-edge sharpness. Their placement is flawlessly correct. Over and over again the leg shoots like an arrow to its mark. But the movement is never dry, never merely academic. To the contrary, these dancers can create a physical drama from a simply fondu – the velvety, powering fold of the knee, with the free arm, the turning head, even the glance of the eyes complementing the action. These are dancers who execute every phrase as if it meant something and they were perfectly confident of its meaning. Their exquisitely controlled bodies tell us that ballet is, above all, a system of scrupulously revised muscle movements which time and tradition have made inviolate.

Oleg Vinogradov and His Contribution: Cautiously Courageous

22. Since 1977 the Kirov’s artistic director and ballet master has been Oleg Mikhailovich Vinogradov. Now 48, Vinogradov was a contemporary and classmate of Rudolph Nureyev at the Vaganova Institute (class of 1958), and was assigned to the Novosibirsk Ballet rather than to the Kirov Company on graduation. That was considered the end of him until reports drifted back to Leningrad and Moscow that he was blossoming as a choreographer and was re-staging the classics with interesting touches. Eventually the Ministry of Culture arranged for him to return to Leningrad in 1967 as an assistant ballet master at the Kirov. He became chief choreographer of Leningrad Maliy Theatre in 1973 and spent four years there. He has begun to seek out new artistic directions at the Kirov – cautiously to be sure – after nearly two decades of demoralization in a company wracked by the defection, emigration, and suicide of some of its best dancers.


23. Vinogradov has done a lot with the Kirov during his nine-year tenure: some say he has done wonders. During his dancing career he had scant experience dancing leading roles. Perhaps because of this he comes across as relatively open to suggestions and improves many of his concepts by encouraging the dancers to shape them. A strict taskmaster in rehearsals (where we have seen him lose his temper a couple of times), he seems to inspire great loyalty, and the principal dancers seem to turn on everything they have for him.

24. It is widely recognized that the chief problem at the Kirov – a problem that pervades Soviet dance in general and not just the Kirov – has been the lack of first-rate modern choreography. Vinogradov is working to overcome this, while remaining cautious in his selection of subjects for new ballets. New Kirov works tend to be elaborate, full-length productions. Since they are expensive to mount, there is great pressure to stick to safe, conventional subject matter.

25. It would be a mistake to judge Vinogradov’s choreographic achievements by his 1980 work, The Inspector General. Based on Gogol’s satirical comedy, its overall view is deliberately grotesque, making some impression theatrically but restricted in expressive range. Vinogradov was sufficiently confident to take the ballet in 1982 to Paris where we understand it drew mixed reviews. The Inspector General comes across to us mainly as a caricatured mime work acted out to some cheap Prokofiev-like musical rumblings composed by Aleksandr Tchaikovsky (no relations, thank goodness, to Pyotr Il’Ich).

26. More interesting, and considerably more successful, has been Vinogradov’s 1984 ballet Asiyat, a remake of Vinogradov’s 1968 Goryanka or Mountain Girl. Asiyat was made to order for the Kirov’s brightest young star, Altenai Asylmuratova, and delighted the theater’s administrative director, Maksim Eduradovich Krastin. Here was an essentially socialist-realist work that might actually interest an audience!

The ballet’s underlying theme is the effect of the establishment of Soviet power in mountainous Moslem Dagastan, a remote part of the Caucasus, where men are proud and women are expected to serve them. A village beauty flouts the strict customs and rules by refusing to go through with an arranged marriage, and opts instead for education and professional independence at the big city through the Soviet system’s liberated way of life. Her suitor is the tribe’s strongest, bravest shepherd/warrior. He takes his duty as the repository of his people’s spirit so seriously that he is eventually driven to kill his beloved, despite his fierce love for her.

27. A considerably larger achievement – and probably Vinogradov’s best overall effort yet – is his 1985 ballet Knight in a Tiger Skin, which American audiences will see this spring. Based on an epic work by the Georgian poet Rustraveli, the ballet has rich parts, with big roles calling for bravura technique, some very imaginative choreography, sets, and costumes, and effective contemporary music by  Machavaniani.

28. The action takes place in the 12th century. Parts of both the male and females leads come close to character dancing, with wild leaps, savage steps, and some mildly erotic duets that would have been unthinkable at the Kirov less than a decade ago. The ballet contains some extremely difficult – and for the Kirov, quite modern – choreography, showing influences of Maurice Bejart, whom Vinogradov is known to admire, with its emphasis on the heroic and the dynamic in male dancing. However, this ballet could only have been composed in the Soviet Union. Although the cast that will perform Knight in a Tiger Skin is not known, the betting here is that it will feature Asylmuratova – one of Vinogradov’s favorites among the younger stars – with her husband, Konstantin Zaklinskiy, as the male lead. This ballet is a courageous effort by Vinogradov, and represents a genuine search for new artistic expression at the Kirov.

Holiday Thanks

14 Dec

While it is still ten days before Christmas Eve and seven prior to the winter solstice, I want to thank readers of Woollywesterneye for scrolling or hitting the bookmark button to read my thoughts, ruminations and evaluations on dance and a few other subjects in 2019 and, actually, since mid-summer 2011.

Hard to believe I have hit the Publish button over 8 years since and I parted ways, shortly before Bruce Marriott decided to bid that website farewell; he soon re-emerged as Dance Tabs with Carol Bauer and Heather Desaulniers to represent the nine San Francisco Bay Area counties, plus a few other special events on the West Coast.

There is a device on Word enabling the blogger to know the region represented by the reader. I am tickled and thrilled to have the occasional reader from Hong Kong CAR; Portugal; Germany; Spain; Italy; France; Poland; Finland; Russia; the UK,  Australia, New Zealand;  if I were to scroll down early postings, the Latin American countries of Argentina, Peru and Brasil and next-door neighbor Mexico. Though understandably infrequent, it is gratifying to know mild curiosity has scanned my comments.

For those who might be remotely curious, my first paid reviews came from The Dancing Times in 1960 when A. H. Franks commissioned my review of San Francisco Ballet’s first spring season at the Alcazar. I would have to check but I do remember that Jacques d’Amboise and Maria Tallchief graced one of the two seasons there with the Sylvia pas de deux, the dominant costume color  a vibrant blue; there also was a silly closer to the music of Von Suppe titled Caprice with a military admirer moving up the chain of costumed command. When Svetlana Beriosova made her debut in Ashton’s Ondine at the San Francisco Opera House, Franks published my observations.

The late Anatole Chujoy took a chance on me in 1962 to become the San Francisco correspondent for Dance News, persisting until March 1983 when Helen V. Atlas closed the publication. Then I relied on Hokubei Mainichi and Asian Week for published comment and observation from 1968 through the late ‘90’s when hove into view, though I enjoyed various reports in Dance International and features in Bay Area newspapers and magazines.

Hard to believe I’d persisted beyond the half-century mark. For me personally, that’s a wonder.

San Francisco Ballet s Warm 75th Nutcracker

13 Dec

The weather was rainy, but I made it to the Opera House without any sprinkles, met Carolyn Carvajal, said hello to Teri McCollum, thinner, dressed in black, happy to be back in one of her favorite haunts. You You Xia, in charge of the press, looked stunning in a short, draped scarlet chiffon gown designed by a friend and Kate McKinney sported a crisp white shirt and a fist full of press envelopes. Cookies, brie, small baguette slices, thinly sliced charcuterie, coffee and wine were ample.

Several full gowned young women sporting ribbons with the name Clara were to be seen in the press room, one in the middle of row N where Carolyn and I occupied the right aisle seats. This mystery was solved when Kelly Tweeddale, blonde haired and garbed in deep orange, emerged from the right side of the stage, asking that the former Claras in the audience rise to be acknowledged. Warm applause. Tweeddale, SFB’s executive director since September, also asked any former member of the company to rise. Further applause. Tweeddale reminded the audience that Willam Christensen was the precedent setter for the December American phenomenon of Nutcrackers, and most companies, professional, civic and studio, with income. There also was a line of special thanks to Arthur Ballet for dramaturgical consulting.

Michael Yeargan’s scenic designs included slides of San Francisco in 1915 and nostalgic reminders of the Panama-Pacific Exposition; the Drosselmeyer shop was zeroed in upon to find Tiit Helimets as that magician in what may have been his debut in the role, a creature of pleasure in his holiday creation, a shop-keeper given to flourish, a man with magic capacities. The introduction was auspicious, followed by the street scene with the holly seller, policeman, goose deliverer,  two boys with a as yet unadorned tree, nurse with the baby, two nuns, two women who had  purchased the clock, guests, one balancing an overload of packages, Drosselmeyer buying holly, giving it to the nurse before climbing the stairs to the Stahlbaum’s suitably Victorian residence.

Up goes the facade; the Stahlbaum residence is presided over by Ricardo Bustamonte and Madison Keesler with Jim Sohm and Kristi De Caminada as grandparents. There was the tree to be illuminated by the new electricity; near the entrance the Golden Horn of RCA seemed newly added. The results of dramaturgy were evident.

Grandfather Sohm was agog over the lights, visibly reacting to the borrowing of his cane,   gallant with Grandmother in the guest ensemble dancing. The costume designs of the late Martin Pakledinaz continue to be striking, although Carolyn Carvajal pointed out SFB’s costumes now seem to eschew sleeves on tutus.

When it came to the dancing dolls, Hansuke Yamamoto as the yellow-Milliskin clown was  limber and precise in his extensions and off balances, one of the very best seen in this production. Lauren Parrott as the pink ruffled doll with sparkled-laden hair, danced accurately, confidently, but Clara Blanco’s China Doll remoteness still lingers. Max Cauthorn as the Nutcracker dispatched his variation crisply, his size portending Luke Ingham.

When Clara fell asleep, Helimet’s Drosselmeyer expanded the room and raised the tree with flair and conviction. Ingham’s Nutcracker was brisk in his command of the toy army emerging from the breakfront, and those mice were almost as devilish as their monarch, Nathaniel Remez, King of the Mice. His arrogance, mustache twirling and gestures made major his fight with the Nutcracker, his dying crawl into the orchestra pit notably protesting.

Clara’s [Abby Cannon] concern over the recumbent Nutcracker was alleviated by
Drosselmeyer’s removal of the mask; Ingham’s eyes lit up, looking out, tearing open the confining jacket. His subsequent circular jetes emphasized that freedom.  Following lifts and runs, Drosselmeyer presented the pair with prancing horses and a ski carriage.

As the Monarchs of the Snow, Yuan Yuan Tan and Carlo Di Lanno were elegant, accurate, able to impress through the torrent of the snow, if almost obscured at the final pose. I  attribute Tomasson’s Icelandic heritage for the stage blizzard, but also wonder why these two dancers lack a curtain call or presence in the final applause.

For Act II, beneath the stylized replica of San Francisco’s horticultural gem, student butterflies, lady bugs and dragonflies, circle, flutter and scamper, awaiting the arrival of Sasha de Sola as the Sugar Plum Fairy, expansive in gesture. She is a gentle, definite presence as she queried the Nutcracker Prince;  Ingham provided a clear, detailed response winning Clara’s enrollment in the Fairy’s affections. Two attendants proceed to move Clara and Drosselmeyer on the ski carriage according to the six variations culminating in the Waltz of the Flowers.

The Fairy exits stage right along with the Prince as the variations commence; black fans from the flies for the Spanish quintet, three men, two women, being the first and one of the nicest touches. Jahna Frantrziskouris and Ellen Rose Hummel swished their ruffled skirts while Alexandre Cagnat, Max Cauthorn and Mingxuang Wang looked down their noses, cocked their heads and flourished their capes.

A non-enveloping oblong screen is dropped before two turbaned, bearded attendants arrive from stage left, carrying an Arabian Nights container on poles. After attentive rubbings on the stage front side, the lid is raised, revealing first a blue pleated lining and a houri with suitably transparent pantaloons cinched at the knees, wearing an elaborate bra and her own turban. The attendants supported Kimberly Marie Olivier’s turns, held her as she turned, lifted her aloft; escorting her back into the blue-lined pot, they lifted the poles supporting the closed pot and exited stage right.

From languor to sparking notes came Lonnie Weeks with his remarkable elevation and the small scarlet-clad horde of SFB’s school students chasing him in a circular pattern, eventually off stage right. Weeks returned briefly to acknowledge vigorous applause.

Next were the flute sounds for three dancers with ribbons attached to switches, helping to accent rond de jambes executed en pointe. One in particular on the right caught my eye, dancing with a winning aura of private pleasure. If her head of hair identified her accurately, it was Bianca Teixeira.

The three would-be Faberge eggs, rolled on, were decimated as Esteban Hernandez, Davide Occhipinti and Myles Thatcher burst forth to dance Anatole Vilzak’s Russian divertissement. Bravo to SFB for retaining Vilzak’s vigorous melange of Russian male folk steps; no one can question its authenticity.

Louis Schilling assumed Madame du Cirque’s tent-like costume, sidling in from upstage right following the bubbling group of juvenile harlequins. After due coaxing, the gingerbread bear emerged, essayed with slow motion bent knees and adroit emphasis by Diego Cruz.

The Waltz of the Flowers and the Sugar Plum Fairy’s variation followed, before attendants moved an adult-sized replica of Clara’s holiday gift on stage. The Sugar Plum Fairy lifted a small coronet from an attendant’s cushion, gently placing it on Clara’s head, the Nutcracker Prince observing along with Drosselmeyer. Clara moved into the six-sided construction to admire it, the doors closed, the construction was turned; when the door opened, out stepped Mathilde Froustey in glittery gold and mild green tutu to dance the grand pas de deux with Luke Ingham.

A tricky pas de deux with running leaps to the Prince’s shoulder from left and then right, one of Froustey’s steps crumpled down stage left before the successful leaps; towards the end another wobble preparatory to a supported pirouette along with traveling fouettes in the coda. Otherwise, Froustey looked the delicious French dancer she definitely is, while Ingham did well by the required choreography. The  audience applauded warmly.

The final sequence of variation snippets brought continued applause as Drosselmeyer sneaked in from upper stage left with Clara’s chaise lounge, the  dancers retreated, Drosselmeyer commanded the Stahlbaum living room assume its normal size. Clara woke up, clutched her doll fondly and ran towards the stairs to her mother as Christmas day dawned and the curtain fell.

Enthusiastic acknowledgment of the dancers, Helgi Tomasson came on stage following conductor Martin West.. All of a sudden, red and white balloons began to fall from the ceiling, hundred of them, on to the aisles, the seats, the audience and the popping commenced. Quite a start to celebrate the 75th season.

Tomasson is noted not only for his taste, but for surprises. We have been lucky to have his artistic direction for more then three decades, besting Marius Petipa’s 32-year record as ballet master and chief choreographer at the Maryinsky.