Archive | January, 2020

Wheeldon’s Cinderella, January 22, 2020

26 Jan

It was a Wednesday to be remembered, rendezvous with Carolyn Carvajal, the Exhibition on Tibetan Buddhism at The Asian Art Museum before supper at Ananda Fuara.

We arrived at the tag end of a curtain talk at the Opera House to watch Dores Andre as Cinderella Carlo di Lanno as Prince Guillaume in Christopher Wheeldon’s contemporary version of the fairy tale, co-created in 2012 for Het National Ballet in Amsterdam and San Francisco Ballet in 2013. SFB also performed this work in 2017, when these principals also danced these roles

While there are the usual characters of the Stepmother and the two sisters, Jennifer Stahl;, Jahna Franziskosis and Julia Rowe, with Tiit Helimets building on his chops mimetically speaking, there was Madison Keesler’s brief passage as Cinderella’s mother, and Benjamin as the Prince’s childhood friend, Hansuke Yamamoto, shining in a light character role, displaying his clear and unaffected technique. Four gilded masked men, titled Fates, Sean Bennett, Vladislav Kozlov, Myles Thatcher and Mingxuan Wang, providing lifts and transitions for our little scullery maid. I was thrilled to see Koslov in the Fate quartet solidly involved early in the season.

Wheeldon chose to have a scene with Cinderella’s parents, Mother coughing blood and carried away by the Fates with the emergence of a tree from her grave. In a clever stage maneuver, Andre grasps a bouquet for the grave from her juvenile counterpart, preparatory to the arrival of top-hatted Father Helimets with Stepmother  Jennifer Stahl and Stepsisters Edwina and Clementine.

There is the intermediate scene where the young prince and his chum Benjamin break a vase, tease Mme Mansard, [Katita Waldo] upset Benjamin’s father [Val Caniparoli] while King Albert and Queen Charlotte [Richard Bustamonte and Anita Paciotti] mainly look on rather indulgently. Waldo, variously cast in prior productions as Stepmother Hortensia, is wonderfully fluttery and Caniparoli is slightly dotty.

We have a scene where Andre is now scullery maid extraordinaire, father Helimets somewhat henpecked and sisters Edwina and Clementine flounce in grand style.

Fast forward to young adulthood. King Albert [Bustamonte] wants scion {de Lanno] to choose a wife, displaying family portraiture as argument, providing a stack of invitations to the all important ball and Benjamin [Yamamoto] proposing they switch roles for all the obvious reasons; this is demonstrated when they reach the domicile where Cinderella has been confined to the hearth. It is accented by Prince Guillaume seeking food and shelter and Cinderella providing comfort and friendship, clearly no fairy godmother in disguise.

In borrowed splendor, Benjamin endures the brunt of attention, with lackeys providing four invitations. After his and Guillaume’s departure, ball gown arrangements involves the usual fuss. Father arrives with cloaks and Stepmother tosses the fourth invitation into the fire before departing. No worry, the lighting fades, the Fates lift the reality curtain. The Four Seasons, wigged, dance their magic with four supporting dancers in front of the tree springing from the mother’s grave; Spring/Lightness Isabella Di Vivo; Summer/Generosity/Benjamin Freemantle; Autumn/Mystery/Wei Wang; Winter Fluidity/Ami Yuki, all wigged. These variations appear and finish fast, Freemantle and Wang’s providing the panache, De Vivo and Yuki prettiness instead of distinction.

Cinderella/Andre in the meantime has disappeared into her mother’s tree to emerge with sparkling golden mask, with equally golden flecked gown to enjoy the Fates’ providing wheels and other components of a carriage; mounted, with the aid of floating yardage, Cinderella moves towards us and off to the ball as the curtain falls to end Act I. It remains the ballet’s visual highlight.

Act II gives us the ball, courtiers in garments of blues, mauves and pinks, a central door through which Stepmother and Stepsisters emerge, both awe-struck and pushy, Father confined to hefting cloaks. Royalty makes its entrance and three Princesses, Russian, Spanish and Balinese, display their exaggerated styles, off putting to anyone even slightly familiar with the three rich traditions.

The arrival of Cinderella is signaled by shimmering music and her encounter with Guillaume, as well as the subsequent divergence and convergence well conveyed by Andre and di Lanno.  Wheeldon has added Benjamin’s attraction to bespectacled Stepsister Clementine, a humanizing touch. But the scene goes on and on while one waits for the midnight tick-tock and intermission.

Act III provides visual humor with a stage-wide series of chairs with candidates from the waltz and creatures from Act I’s transformation scene lined up to test toes against slipper, one of the more grotesque provoking a chuckle, and rapid disbursal of the remainders so that the chairs are hiked up towards the flies as Cinderella’s kitchen is revealed. She also has recapped her adventure and stowed away her slipper. Stepsister Edwina emerges in her naked hoop skirt and overnight companion, demanding silence about her bedroom escapade.

There follows the scene with the three steps, including the mother, trying to mold slipper to their ambitions, Father standing up to his second wife who throws the slipper evidence into the fire.  The Fates lift Cinderella to her slipper, it fits and upon recognition of having seen her twice in differing conditions Guillaume knows he has his choice. Cinderella kisses her disconsolate stepmother and the scene shifts to the mother tree. There everyone, including Benjamin and Clementine, witness the beginning of happily ever after.

For sure, it is a handsome production with some remarkable stage devices and effects; the company gives it a wonderful reading, the students are given some roles, and the Andre di Lanno partnership is as chemically right as I remember from 2017 [see review of same]. Helimets gives a terrific account of the Father; I wouldn’t be surprised to see him become a fourth in the Character Principal Artist roster in due course. I was thrilled to see Hansuke Yamamoto given a chance to display his dramatic skills as well as his lucid technique as Benjamin: high time.

In perhaps two or three more repetitions, this production of that sparkling Prokofiev score will rate a new production. Yuri Possokhov has done one for the Bolshoi; its was Alexei Ratmansky’s first major commission for the Maryinsky. It would be nice to see the full Russian take on this French fairy tale.

The SFB Gala, January 16, 2020

18 Jan

Twelve numbers, varied of course, starting and ending with the corps de ballet flanking soloists, marked the beginning of San Francisco Ballet’s eighty-second season, and Helgi Tomasson’s thirty-fifth year as artistic director. Under the heading Spellbound, it also provided a warm farewell to Vitor Luiz, starting a new career at the University of California, Irvine’s Fine Arts Division as assistant professor.

More unusual, Tomasson provided two world premieres and four local ones amidst a dazzling array of two oldies and goodies, with two examples of Balanchine’s ability to mass corps de ballet to great effect.

In the press room, You You Xia and Kate McKinney, both chic in black, had mined Bi-Rite catering services with excellent vegetarian canapes as well as the typical brie, sliced and rolled salami, a delectable bread and various cookies. Kathryn Roszak appeared in backless blue with Eric Wiegand, former SFB/ABT dancer, complete with British schoolboy cap.

The performance started ten minutes late with Gala patrons sauntering down the aisles chatting. One woman, a couple of rows in front of Toba Singer and her son
James Gotesky, allowed her frilly white gown with its multiple rows of rouching
fashioned flowers to billow out into the aisle.

Following the Star Spangled Banner, Trustee Chairs Sunnie Evers and Robert G. Shaw acknowledged Presenting and Dinner Sponsors. Present and past Trustees number some 56 with 9 officers, a dozen doing double duty with San Francisco Ballet’s endowment. Helgi Tomasson and  Executive Director Kelly Tweeddale also spoke. The program, imitating a profusion of pressed leaves, white against green, featured a pas de deux on the cover, the woman’s right hand completing a flower.

On to the dancing, starting with Balanchine’s sly utilization of Hershy Kay’s arrangement of John Philip Sousa’s marches, Stars and Stripes, the Men’s Regiment with Lucas Erni dancing the role created by Robert Barnett in the 1958 premiere at New York City’s Center Theater. A dozen male corps de ballet danced crisply, mirroring Balanchine’s acute understanding not only of marches and formations, but when the music enabled circles, salutes and forward/backward maneuvers. Along with Western Symphony, Stars and Stripes reflects a sunny side of the maestro.

Since I read Foreshadow, Val Caniparoli’s premiere after seeing the fraught trio, I did not  guess its connection with Anna Karenina, Tolstoy’s ill-fated heroine. Without the identity, Jennifer Stahl appeared in a grey, wrist-length sleeved dress with fluid skirt, stood backstage center, before moving with the fluid port de bras and reaching torso style dominating the pas de trois, Tiit Helimets filled the role of Count Vronsky and Eizabeth Powell as Kitty filled a black clad skin close costume. It was turbulent to be sure with the three entwined as Powell emerged from the back. I’d like to see it again, and wonder whether Caniparoli intends to expands it. Helimets works well with turgid themes.

In 2016 David Dawson created his own take on the classic Act II pas de deux from Swan Lake;  Sofiane Sylve and Carlo Di Lanno interpreted this  radically different approach to the liquid Tchaikovsky music.  Sylve/Odette was stripped of feathers and tutu in Yumiko Takeshima’s costume, not exactly deplumed but down to ivory tunic with a black circle at the clavicle and on Di Lanno/Siegfried greyish fluid tunic and trousers. What ensued was a marvel of elegant partnering and dancing with Sylve’s strong line exploited fully while Di Lanno not only partnered superbly, as usual, but conveyed clearly that Siegfried’s imagination was contributing heavily to the encounter.  The choreographic ebb and flow conveyed this connection, with Odette scarcely the limpid creature Petipa/Ivanov conceived.  The performance didn’t square with the music, but it nonetheless was the artistic highlight of the evening.

Max Cauthorn and Esteban Hernandez brought an insouciant contrast in August Bournonville’s Jockey Dance, staged by Ulrik Birkkjaer, bouncy and competitive.

Danielle Rowe entered the list of feminine choreographers in the company’s repertoire with the 2017 pas de deux created for SF Dance Works, For Pixie, costumed by Lauren Strongin and danced by Dores Andre and Joseph Walsh to Nina Simone. Andre and Walsh are frequently cast to partner in Justin Beck’s contributions to SFB’s repertoire.  This familiarity showed; Andre’s capacity for timing, angularity and thrusting herself into nearly bizarre moving positions was well utilized against Walsh’s friendly sureness and strength. They make contemporary choreography riveting to witness.

Completing the first half of the Gala was the adaptation of Petipa’s Le Corsaire pas de deux, c. 1899; I understand it was doctored by Chabukiani when he danced with the Kirov. Here interpreted by Misa Kuranaga and Angelo Greco, this technical tour de force I first saw with Alla Sizova and Yuri Soloviev at the doomed Fox Theater in San Francisco. That foot note aside, Greco’s easy virtuosity and Kuranaga’s minted correctness were familiar sign posts in the celebratory razz-me-tazz. Kuranaga could start her fouettes at 45 degrees to avoid traveling [Olga Preobrajanska’s teaching to Tatiana Stepanova], but her doubles more than compensated.

After the intermission Joseph Walsh ably substituted for Carlo Di Lanno’s Romeo in the R&J balcony pas de deux opposite Mathilde Froustey’s girlish Juliet. Walsh elected ease of impulse, phrasing and pauses making him a definitive American Romeo. Froustey’s line, elegant as usual, was fused with distinct adolescent enthusiasm, shyness minimal.

Myles Thatcher choreographed with the aid of a running stop watch 05:49. Using music by Ivan Pavlov and Annie Bandez, costume design by Kate Share.  Jim French’s light with the dwindling time dominating the back screen, Sasha de Sola and Benjamin Freemantle covered the stage all too aware of their time limits. Quite fitting in an age of cell phone time, snips and pieces of partnering were interspersed with the awareness of time running out as de Sola and Freemantle merged or separated. Not quite apocalyptic, de Sola dashed towards the foots after Freemantle disappeared. It would be good to evaluate it once more.

Where did SFB get the costumes for Victor Gsovsky’s Grand Pas Classique danced by Wona Park and Wei Wang ?  Park’s showy silver shade was much embellished and Wang’s black and white vertically striped tunic made zilch of his line and nearly masked his technical chops. I remember seeing Lucia La Carra in Park’s role; though the lines are quite different, La Carra was sartorially displayed to advantage; Park’s tutu was just plain fussy.

However, Park triumphed in her progressive battements en avant with incredible aplomb, as she did when she shed Wang’s support in the opening pirouettes – it was an adagio where Victor Gsovsky’s scrupulously avoided anything smacking andante quality in its 1949 creation for Yvette Chauvire and Vladimir Skouratoff with the Ballets des Champs Elysees. Wang, whose Seawitch in The Little Mermaid was so notable, seemed a tad pushed in his variation, a situation which more assignments like this would doubtless remedy.

Two more pas de deux remained before the finale from Balanchine’s Diamonds. They were Sarah Van Patten and Henry Sidford reprising one of Justin Peck’s pas de deux from Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. Created to music by Anthony Gonzalez, Yann Gonzales and Justin Meidal-Johnson, it was danced in murky lighting by James F. Ingalls with Van Patten and Sidford wearing costumes by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung which didn’t seem to bear resemblance from the original premiere. Van Patten and Sidford moved around at what seemed above speed limits, scarcely establishing any semblance of what a pas de deux traditionally comprises. It’s not their fault that it looked like hide and seek, rather than encounter and exploration.

Yuri Possokhov’s pas de deux from Bells to Rachmaninoff’s elaborate piano composition was created for the Joffrey Ballet in 2011,  danced here by Yuan Yuan Tan and Vitor Luiz in his last SFB assignment before assuming  his assistant professorship at the University of California, Irvine. It had been first performed in San Francisco in 2015 at SFB’s 82nd Anniversary Gala. I confess I do not remember the intricate partnering nor display of the ballerina, but it was something else.

What came across was the prodigious use of lifts and turns required of Tan and the firm concentration of Luiz to see such executed with maximum ease. That the finale signaled surrender to passion by the partners is scarcely surprising, but an enormous expenditure was required by both of their technical chops.

The Finale from Diamonds, Balanchine’s creation for Suzanne Farrell, saw four couples and two dozen corps partners supporting Sasha de Sola, substituting for Sasha Mukhamadov whose name appeared in the program, and Tiit Helimets. De Sola’s technical expertise has long been evident,;  her sunniness is not quite what I expect for this third of three works devoted to precious stones. Diamonds principally glitter.

I might add both she and Helimets, as well as Joseph Walsh danced twice in the Gala, speaking a lot for their durability.

As the Gala participants acknowledged the audience applause, special attention was given to Luiz, who embraced both the company and the audience in his final moments on the San Francisco Opera House stage.

A Letter to the First Lady

13 Jan

San Francisco CA 94115,  January 9,  2020


Mme Melania Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, S.E.
Washington, D.C., 20003

Dear Mrs. Trump:

As an American living on a retirement pension, but, nonetheless, admiring though seldom using, imported wines and other European skilled crafts, I view with dismay the prospect of the looming 100% import tax on such goods for two reasons.

The prime reason is what it portends to small businesses and entrepreneurs whose livelihoods will be negatively impacted by the necessity either of drastic mark ups or simply business closures, per Eric Asimov’s  New York Times article January 7. 2020.

The ancillary reason is the negative message these taxes convey abroad, evoking the America-First of 1940 which turned a blind eye to the horror of the Nazi rise to power. It certainly will not foster friendly feelings amongst the nations whose skill has produced those goods. It also will likely turn the flow of these products eastward.

Finally, it will deprive Americans, who might otherwise occasionally afford it, of the pleasure and conviviality superb skills and craftsmanship affords them in moments of celebration and friendly gatherings.

In these times of global challenges, whether political, climatic or social, such restrictions contribute little to the national spirit, and doubtless will see a doubtful increase in import revenue.

Sincerely yours,
Renee Renouf Hall

Enclosure: Eric Asimov, article New York Times

San Francisco Ballet’s Next to last 2019 Nutcracker

5 Jan

It’s not difficult to admit a mania for watching a company’s different casts; it’s particularly true when the holiday Nutcracker permits a wonderful variety of “try-outs” for different dancers, many of them in the corps. While the story line is all familiar, the dancing and interpretations are stimulating within the requirements of the role or the variation. If I had pots of cash, I’d see every cast with its variations at least once. This season I’ve been lucky to see three; it’s been a treat each time. This entry is the third, SFB’s next to the last Nutcracker of the 2011 decade.

There were several changes, not all of which were transmitted accurately to the Press Department. Jahna Ffrantziskonis took over as the Sugar Plum Fairy; I had hoped to see Wona Park; with Matoi Kawamoto and Misa Kuranaga it would have been an East Asian trio; but still we had a sparkling duo.

Tiit Helimets added some broader flourishes to Drosselmeyer, clearly a role he will embelish with time. Nathaniel Remez added to his character chops as Dr. Stahlbaum, delivering believability to Ami Yuki’s Madam, fluttery, warm, a logical parent for Clara – what a sensation they would have made in that era of defondu to mixed marriages. [For specifics of that score, refer to Brenda Wong Aoki’s dramatization of her Uncle Gonjuro.]

Kristi DeCaminata reprised the grandmother opposite  Grandfather Val Caniparoli, lacing his movements with flourish and a toss of the head. Max Cauthorn, Jahana Frantziskonis and Jacob Seltzer were listed as the trio of dancing toys [I didn’t hear the name of the substitute for the China Doll]. Cauthorn was strongly athletic rather than willowy, Frantziskonis impressive in her battements en avant, and Seltzer quite crisp and energetic as the life-sized Nutcracker.

Helimets’ transforming routine impressed even more, clearly because of the repetition of his assignment.  Alexandre Cagnat delivered a throat slitting gesture as the Monarch of the Mice, while Angelo Greco’s Nutcracker Prince was crisp, almost breezy in his approach to battle. You could almost hear him entertain friends about the encounter over an aperitif.

Yet, released from his enormous masque and the stiff tunic, Greco was relaxed, welcoming and thankful towards Clara, his circular jetes high, arching, sure.

In the blizzard, Madison Keesler and Benjamin Freemantle made a smiling impression as the monarchs of the snow, smiling, seeming unfased by technical or production-induced difficulties. It’s good such collaboration extends beyond their cameras.

After intermission Frantziskonis, replacing Wona Park, was quite the regal Sugar Plum Fairy, her arabesques elegant and a la secondes impressive.

There was the expected dash of the Spanish, with Alexandre Cagnat, Max Cauthorn and Mingxuan Wang, and careful portering skills by Seven Morse and Joseph Warton for the Arabian. Lonnie Weeks rendered his usual aerial skills in the Chinese. Hansuke Yamamoto was a fleet, etched leader of the Russian trio with Lucas Erni and Alexander Reneff-Olson. I would like to have seen Yamamoto’s partnering in other performances.

When it came to the Grand Pas de Deux, Misa Kuranaga and Angelo Greco were breathlessly well-matched as one might have suspected after seeing them demolish Soiree Musicale’s technical demands at the 2019 Gala. Kuranaga, warm, gracious, and technical steel, matched Greco’s uncanny aerial aplomb and easy pirouettes with a connection to make one sigh with satisfaction. Here’s anticipating further casting excitement from them.

Leading into the final reprise, the dancers and the season seemed quite coherent, despite my informant mentioning some of Pytor Illych’s music had been cut. Young Matoi’s embrace of her doll made for special warmth at the completion of the decade.