Archive | February, 2020

Reversing Chronology for Two Paul Taylor Company Performances

23 Feb

Under the direction of Paul Taylor’s personally picked successor, Michael Novak, the Paul Taylor company danced at Yerba Buena’s Theatre two programs reversing their creation chronology. February 19 started with Taylor’s last opus, Concertina (2018), embraced Company B (1991), ending with the 1975 Esplanade. February 20 the program opened with Cloven Kingdom (1976), progressed to Polaris (also 1976), completing with Piazzolla Caldera, (1997). Except for Concertina, lighting credits listed Jennifer Tipton. Each night enjoyed a Q&A with Michael Novak questioned by Brenda Way, ODC’s Artistic Director.

In typical subliminal fashion, I had to adjust to the presence and shape of bodies new to the company and repertoire, five dancers, 2005-2013; eleven, 2017-2019 (three during 2017, three during 2018, five over the course of 2019). What it allowed me to accomplish was observing Taylor dance devices, not just those hop-skips to the side, or the victory arms with the raised leg jumping forward, but the use of a line of perhaps five dancers moving laterally on the stage as a background accent. These two programs permitted seeing how such familiar patterns are employed differentially, and how gratifying their familiarity, the Taylor equivalent of transition steps in classical ballet.

In Concertina, Taylor’s 2018 choreographic swan song, William Ivey Long dressed the dancers in unitards dyed in shades of green with small touches of various tones of yellow, emphasizing how many of the male dancers were tall and slender and the women, save one or two, small and rounded. The music, by Eric Ewazen, Juilliard faculty member, permitted the eleven dancers to perform in  classical Taylor abstract style. I  need to see it again to register something beyond the cursory impression of its being well rehearsed and the over-riding knowledge of Taylor’s final creation.

When it came to Company B, happily included in San Francisco Ballet’s repertoire, the dancers’ newness  seemed more apparent, including the missing line of soldiers in silhouette; John Harnage gave Company Bugle Boy energy and touch of sass. Helen McGinley was featured in “There Will Never Be Another You,” striking in her height; I think it was Eran Bugge who swayed through “Rum and Coca Cola,” the lyrics for which might now arouse advocates of the Me Too movement. Some of the raucus sounds of the Andrew Sisters made me believe some of today’s rap and rhapsody have definite predecessors.

The 1975 J S Bach inspiration for Esplanade brought the liveliest evidence of the company’s strength in its jumps, hops side to side, runs and the complex way Taylor could illuminate Bach’s use of scales, chords and arpeggios.

Taylor employed the music of three composers, Corelli, Cowell and Miller for his 1976 sly commentary on social mores, Cloven Kingdom, the women’s full length gowns by Scott Barrie, the varied headpieces for the women by John Rawlings, with men dressed in the standard formal attire of black with white shirt. The women commenced the piece, gathering in small groups, posturing like an evocation of ‘Thirties country club socialites, the self awareness reminding me of Jean Harlow images. Of course, the entire piece was executed with de rigeur aplomb, whether the men were gathering in old boy circles, wrists bent with back of hands forward, inviting analogies to classical statues of testosterone-laden goats.

Polaris, also created in 1976, was a two part essay in “an opportunity of offered to observe the multiple effects that music, lighting and individual interpretation by the performers have on a single dance.” To Donald York music, costumes by Alex Katz, the set an open square of gilded metal, five dancers in Part I and five dancers in Part II wore bras, half white and half black, trunks for both sexes, color equally divided. Some maneuvers required the men and the women to assume the center position with the other four in the corners in or out of the structure. Each cast featured a solo for a woman, the full cast, a pas de deux, another woman’s solo and again the full cast. The first cast danced in warm light, the second in shadow, with the finale in full lighting.

The 1997 Piazzolla Caldera, its Santo Loquasto costumes and set of tiny dangling lights shaded by small red metal squares employed a dozen dancers to four tangos by Astor Piazzolla and Jerzy Peterburshky, was as rousing a finale in its own way as Bach was with Esplanade.

The lighting evoked a Buenos Aires  dive, the women just as heated as the men  predatory, the latter initially arrayed in a clump down stage left, the women diagonally upstage right, center stage yawning, awaiting  encounter.  The men wore vests, the women with fluttery dresses subtly dyed in reds to blacks,  legs encased in stockings with distinct black elastic tops, stimulated  keen mental salivating to witness the action.

Alex Clayton again distinguished himself; Eran Bugge conveyed the sting of rejection while wanting to being wanted. The company conveyed a definite groove of comfort with their assignments.

Both evenings following the performances, Brenda Way questioned Michael Novak about his accession to the directorship of the Taylor. A Taylor company member, 2010-2019, Novak Thursday night revealed his chops when mentioning his study of Francois Delsarte at Columbia University and quest to find balance between the popular dance of his adolescence and modern idioms, plus balancing familiarity with a spread sheet. The program notes state that in dancing 57 roles in the company’s repertoire, 13 were created on him. Taylor designated Novak as his successor in March 2018.

Two or three comments linger a bit like a protective blanket. One was Taylor’s saying to Novak “I trust you,” when designating him as his successor, also that Taylor congratulated him  just twice in his nine years dancing with the Taylor company. The second was an initial method when auditioning dancers for a space in the company; the  totally exposing task of walking across the rehearsal room. Novak retains it. He said auditions can bring 150-300 dancers to fill one vacancy. The third is the fact that in addition to directing the company, overseeing the Taylor School and the Taylor 2 Dance Company, Novak is planning three years out with touring, audience building with initiatives like Taylor NEXT which he organized.

Despite the empty seats in parts of the orchestra, the audience reception was warm, and, in my estimate the company is in excellent hands. Admittedly there were many faces missed from the years I have seen the company at Stanford and here in San Francisco for the past 16 years sponsored SF Performances. This “first” SF exposure of the current Taylor Company should send out the waves for fuller houses in its next local season, which Ms Way stated was the Taylor company’s second home.

San Francisco Ballet’s Three-Way Surpise, February 13,15

21 Feb

There was only one premiere, one from the Unbound series, and a Danish treat created in 1948; still the San Francisco Ballet’s dancing was a happy, sometimes elegant and a provocative surprise.

Edward Liang’s The Infinite Ocean and Trey McIntyre’s The Big Hunger share in common the theme of life’s meaning and its finite nature; but whoa, how different while both are exceedingly acrobatic. I don’t know whether the choice to present them back to back with an intermission in between was conscious or not, but the use of the classical grounding could not have been more obvious. The Infinite Ocean concluded a program in 2018 and should be placed there when scheduled.

Liang chose the music of Oliver Davis, scenic design by Alexander V. Nichols, Mark Zappone for the filigree-adorned costumes and James F. Ingalls’ lighting for his comment on awareness of immortality, collective and individual, using two couples and eight solo and corps dancers in collective rushes and gatherings before the final push over the back stage barrier stationed below a large circle, its hue suggesting the sun with movements in front quite literally “man’s day in the sun.”

To exemplify the complicated and the lyrical possibilities of our mortal sojourn, Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets conveyed the former and Yuan Yuan Tan and Carlo Di Lanno the latter.  Although Tan’s elegant length was certainly challenged, it was Sylve’s assignment to twist, lunge, snake and sweep with extraordinary control around the adept strength of partnering Helimets brings to every thing he undertakes. Tan and Di Lanno executed their own demands, but the length of their limbs brought a feeling of the arc of movement to their pas de deux.

The ballet both commenced and finished with a central gathering of the group, the lighting giving the threads on the unitard-like costuming magic-like significance, enhanced by what Carlos Carvajal ecstatically informed me was the use of canon in movement. From what I remember from Liang’s two previous works, he is a consistent lyricist, at least in his choices for SFB; he also reminds me of the grace, power and complexity, the depth inherent in Asian calligraphy.

Trey McIntyre’s The Big Hunger also is concerned with large human concerns, set to the torrentialy complexity of Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto, rendered so skillfully by Yekwon Sunwoo, winner of the Claiborne Competition, and conducted by Martin West.

Thomas Mika, responsible for costuming and sets, chose not only the work Exit, first small, then large mid passage, with a running figure at the end, but wigged the heads of the dancers, first in rusty red, bangs with short bob, and then grey to black bobbed bangs for the final movement.

Doris Andre and Benjamin Freemantle created the roles Thursday which Sasha de Sola and Max Cauthorn undertook Saturday evening. Second couples were Jennifer Stahl and Luke Ingham, followed Saturday by Sasha Muhamedov and Steven Morse; the two men were Esteban Hernandez and Wei Wang February 13 and Cavan Conley and Lonnie Weeks February 15. A corps of eight males with red butch wigs, white shirts and shorts marched in both evenings one-third along and again at the finale when their wigs had mercifully darkened.

The Prokofiev score is devilishly hard as a musical foundation, and I need to see the work a third or fourth time to begin to fathom structure and message, despite reading at least two published interviews with McIntyre. He clearly is focused on life’s larger meaning, if choosing the evanescence of ballet and dance to express his understanding. His style, quirky as well as provocative, is something that takes me a while to discern, even though its strength tells me there is something going on.

Well, what this LoL in sneakers saw was first a pas de deux filled with complexity and tension, interrupted by a line of red-wigged men in white shirts and shorts emerging from a back stage opening, filling down stage right before moving off. A construction dividing the couple and the men suddenly disappeared and eventually the couple moved up off stage at the exit sign.

The small Exit sign in green suddenly became huge and white, filling the back wall before which the second couple exercised with as much abandon, lifting and tossing as the first couple seemed tense and constrained in their lifts and turns. The fellows returned and two men flung themselves around the stage with intensity, Ernesto Hernandez and Wei Wang making you feel their conflict and desperation. Cavan Conley and Lonnie Weeks took on the assignment February 15, their emphasis more one of line and fleetness contrasting to the muscular punch dynamics of Hernandez and Wang; both pairs, of course, were technically sparkling.

When the finale, so brilliantly performed by pianist Yekwon Sunwon reached its finale movement the background suddenly displayed a chalk like figure, modeled after international sign styles, in running mode to some exit stage right, Mukhamedov and Morse well integrated into the eight male figures. McIntyre has given me, at least, a challenge requiring at least two more viewings to reach any understanding, though giving San Francisco Ballet’s dancers with a definite challenge.

On to Harald Lander’s Etudes, created in 1948 in Denmark which joined the San Francisco repertoire first in 1998, and providing a superb academic exposition and challenge to the dancer’s classical command. February 13 saw Sasha de Sola as the ballerina, handsomely partnered by Carlo Di Lanno, February 15 Misa Kuranaga with Cavan Conley. The other technical challenges February 13 were met by Angelo Greco and Joseph Walsh and February 15 by Max Cauthorn and Esteban Hernandez.

This progressive tour de force, the orchestration by Knudage Riisager of the Carl Czerny piano exercises anyone who has sat at the piano bench remembers, moves from the rudimentary to a thunderous orchestra and from portable ballet barres to full stage in an equal progression of lighting. It is gratifying, reaffirming to watch;  personally I would switch its place on the program to opening, placing Infinite Ocean as the closer.

De Sola was grand, the technical demands easily met, and displayed a surprising gentleness in the Sylphide section. Kuranaga, small and tidy, equally assured technically, was warm and consistently acknowledged her partners. The men presented the deportment expected in their assignments, their dancing and attack each consistent with their individual physiques, one of the wonders of this 20th century ecole classique. Both performances rated standing ovations from nearly three-fourths of the orchestra.

SF Ballet’s 2020 Program Three, Revisited February 16

18 Feb


The Sunday matinee with Program Three provided different casting for Bespoke, Christopher Wheeldon’s nearly iconic After the Rain and two ballets not seen in the February 11 ballets: David Dawson’s singular take on the Swan Lake pas de deux and Concerto Grosso, the winning quintet for men Tomasson created in 2003 which introduced Pascal Molat to his San Francisco devotees. These two works replaced Caniparoli’s Foreshadow and Tomasson’s Soirees Musicales seen February 11.

Let me say the Scarlett ballet controversy did SFB a service: it allowed us to see Gala program replacements a second time and to appreciate the dancers filling the roles with such brio and artistic savvy.

February 16 Sasha de Sola, Wan Ting Zhao, Caven Conley, Angelo Greco and Steven Morse replaced Frances Chung, Jennifer Stahl, Carlo di Lanno, Ernesto Hernandez and Wei Wang.  Wan Ting Zhao and Steven Morse danced the delicate mid-passage pas de deux while Sasha De Sola occupied the dominant pas de deux with Cavan Conley. Both partnering were effective, de Sola’s style more declarative, Zhao’s evocative. I think it was Alexander Cagnat who engaged us with the opening movements with  sweeping ronds de jambs sur terre,  ecarte, efface, croise positions, jumps and tours, all very gratifying, eliciting an unspoken “oh, yes” while watching.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Luke Ingham repeated the Wheeldon After the Rain with their usual skill eliciting the audience’s great appreciation.

David Dawson’s unusual interpretation of the Swan Lake pas de deux saw a repetition of Sofiane Sylve and Carlo Di Lanno’s rendering at the January 16 Gala. Dawson’s take on that so-familiar music is a little unsettling; but it supplies the two artists with greater interaction, mirror sweepings of the arms and torso, direct contact eye-to-eye, soaring lifts for Sylve. For Di Lanno it not only engaged the use of his elegant line but the sense the Lakeside encounter was as much part of Siegfried’s psyche as it was outwardly physical. While certainly Dawson’s choreography will never replace Ivanov’s, it still is a fascinating contribution to any repertoire and I hope the company retains it for periodic performances.

Just before the second intermission five men enjoyed the stimulus of Tomasson’s mounting Concerto Grosso, the Francesco Gemininiani interpretation of Corelli wearing Sandra Woodall’s colored unitards, the dominant red worn by Lucas Erni, joined by Max Cauthorn, Benjamin Freemantle, Minxuan Wang and Lonnie Weeks. The two  Violinists were Cordula Marks and Ani Jukujian, with Yi Zhou, Viola and Eric Sung,  Cello.

Taking the role so memorable with Pascal Molat, Erni acquitted himself extremely well. Smaller, stockier built, Erni’s ability to jump and pirouette is quite dazzling;  his presence should rate soloist status comparatively soon. He was joined by four company statuesque males applying themselves to the challenges with right good will. To the sounds of the string quartet, they provided a visual treat.

After the second intermission, Mark Morris’ Sandpaper Ballet saw both the impudent scramble for coherence in his choreography to Leroy Anderson’s sly and tuneful musical take on a variety of functional and recreational instruments and habits: Sleighride, Typewriter, Tango, Clocks. Sandpaper. After the performance en route to the bus I overheard a woman say, “It’s so cutsey, it never should be done by a ballet company, but they certainly were having a good time.”

I googled Wikipedia to learn that Anderson, of Swedish descent, attended Harvard, graduated Magna Cum Laude, studied with Walter Piston and Georges Enescu, received both his B.A. and M.A. from Harvard, led the Harvard Marching Band, and started to compose while in college. Anderson pursued a Ph.D. in German literature and managed to become fluent, not only in the Scandinavian languages but also German, French, Italian, Portuguese. He was encouraged by Arthur Fiedler to compose, periodically, was invited to lead the Boston Pops Orchestra in his Typewriter composition for which he mimed operating an ancient machine, shirt sleeves rolled up and green shade over his eyes.

How much of this Mark Morris knew when he created Sandpaper Ballet is open to question, but I’m inclined to suspect he admired the man as well as seeing the opportunity to create a cheeky work out of such celebrated hits as Blue Tango, Sleighride, Typewriter, even though Anderson’s music for Goldilocks never brought that musical hit status.

The scramble, flipping wrists, bobbing heads, swinging arms in Mizrahi’s lime green were a marvel of execution of Morris’ complexity. I was sitting too far away to discern many individual dancers, even with opera glasses, but noticed Vladislav Koslov cavorting with the best of them for the second time this season.

San Francisco Ballet, 2020#3, February 11

13 Feb

With the first of two repertory programs, what SFB presented February 11 was largely a happy one. It commenced with Stanton Welch’s Bespoke, created for the company’s 2018 Unbound series of a dozen premieres, Esteban Hernandez executing developpes in ecarte and efface positions in silence, as well as double tours, dressed in white with orange accents by Holly Hynes. The minimal use of color was echoed on the other dancers with blues and rose for Mathilde Froustey’s trunks. She was partnered by Carlo di Lanno, whose classic face and long lines were shown to advantage in one of the solos performed to Bach’s concertos for the violin. Wei Wang was also one of the dancing whizes, and Benjamin Freemantle looked distinctive. Frances Chung has lost nothing of her understated brilliance with motherhood. It needs also noting that Jennifier Stahl  acquitted  herself with her usual clarity in three of the evening’s four works.

All this danced with sparkling clarity and obvious pleasure by six couples to the singing clarity of Johann Sebastian Bach, interpreted by Cordula Marks, it was the only  danse ecole in that 2018 marathon.

The one exception to the evening’s sunniness was Val Caniparoli’s Foreshadow which had premiered at the Gala. Again danced with arching torsos and undulating port de bras,  the entwined trio of Tiit Helimets, Jennifer Stahl and Elizabeth Powell demonstrated their fluidity. In notes which allude to Tolstoy’s fated heroine, Stahl and Helimets dressed with minimal style in grey by Kate Share, Powell in total black. They swirled elegantly to the theme of a triangle; for all the usual Caniparoli invention, for the life of me I could not believe it an exposition of nineteenth century aristocratic Russia.

New to his assignment, Luke Ingham has taken over from Damian Smith partnering Yuan Yuan Tan in the signature Christopher Wheeldon/Arvo Part After the Rain, accomplishing the task with care and attentiveness. The partnering, following the swirling pas de trois storm, conveys unbelievable calm as well as extraordinary demands on both dancers, amply achieved. Marks again was the violinist.

Just before Intermission, Misa Kuranaga and Angelo Greco displayed their rock solid techniques and warm presentation of Soirees Musicales, a confection 1996 pas de deux created by Helgi Tomasson to Benjamin Britten’s music; Tomasson is particularly adept in creating such winning displays. I hope we get Tomasson’s Two Bits again soon.

After Intermission Mark Morris’ 1990 playful use of Leroy Anderson’s Muszak music, titled Sandpaper Ballet saw the company once again in the white and lime green Mizrahi costumes cum gloves. Esteban Hernandez, Misa Kuranaga, Luke Ingham and Wei Wang were also asked to maneuver the tricky formations along with Doris Andre and Sarah Van Patten. It was not exactly Ballet Russe troupe style, but it says a lot for the versatility of the company’s principal artists. The company has been genuinely enhanced in its use of Morris’ musical keenness. Would that it would schedule Sylvia once more.

Theatre Flamenco at 53, February 1, 2020 – II

7 Feb

Into the second half of the intermission less program the small, black clad figure of Amparo Heredia sang Malaguenas/Abandolao, with the full force of her voice enveloping her body.  If I interpret the title correctly the theme was being abandoned with all the anger, helplessness and resulting fear expressed in the rough edges of her  vocal exposition. Heredia was the vocal sister to Goya’s drawings.

Carola Zertuche is both statuesque in being and remarkably even in presentation, yet this reserve does not hinder her exploration of dance in flamenco form. In contrast to Cristina Hall, she chose to sport a heavily embroidered vest and a less somber theme in Cana. Her thoroughness is a treasure to watch.

Guitarist Juani de la Isla played Bulerias for the audience, with bewitching chords and the resonance of the guitar in its singularity creating excitement and gratification. One of the continuing mysteries and pleasures in flamenco is simply listening to a master guitarist weaving his aural magic with this instrument.

Mention also needs to be made of the percussionist, Diego Alvarez, who supplied cajon rhythms to traditional drumming. Cajon has become an increasingly used instrument for flamenco as well as Latin fork forms. Originating in Peru, it is a welcome sound, and supplies the percussionist with a convenient seat.

Guest bailerin Eduardo Guerrero both wowed and exhausted us with his rendering of Alegrias, rendering the piece in three parts with torrents of taconeo. 

He paused triumphantly for the audience to explode with shouts and applause, maneuvering his jacket off one shoulder, sometimes tugging at its lower edge, crossing stage front at staggering speed and sound. He clearly was absorbed with his task and quite delighted at the audience’s nearly delirous response. I just hope this is the first of several visits.

The Glide Ensemble and the three dancers joined in the finale – Le Leyenda del Tiempo. Everyone received warm applause, collectively, individually. The evening clearly was a special winner, the only down side being near total ignorance of the Spanish language.

Theatre Flamenco at 53, February 1, 2020 – I

4 Feb

As noted in the recap of its history, Theatre Flamenco’s 53rd anniversary marks it second only to San Francisco Ballet in dance company longevity in the San Francisco Bay Area. It also quotes my appraisal in as moving towards a professional rather than community emphasis with the coming of Carola Zertuche as artistic director. Sitting next to emeritus artistic director Miguel Santos last night at Herbst Theater with Rita Felciano to my left, that comment was reinforced, but with a addition: The Glide Ensemble, a chorus from San Francisco’s inter-racial, social justice church at the edge of the city’s Tenderloin District, inclusive and active since 1966. Almost identical in age as Theatre Flamenco, the collaboration was canny and embracing as three musical choices and members of the healthy-sized audience.

Opening the nine number celebration with the Glide Ensemble, Encourage My Soul, Zertuche, regular guest Christina Hall and newly seen Eduardo Guerrero, moved in the beginning minimally left and right while their arms made square semiphore-like positions, only gradually stepping, still in almost architectural fashion. Allen Willner kept the lighting minimal, largely soft and unobtrusively pinkish, displaying the Ensemble, dancers and flamenco musicians  advantagely.

Probably irrelevant, but unlike ensembles from the ‘Sixties, costuming remained minimal, included black and one toreado-like bolero. Zertuche and Hall wore multi-pleated skirts in the beginning, Guerrero black through out, albeit glistening and with the most form-fitting trousers and torso coverings on record. Guest singer Amparo Heredia, small, compact, emitted sustained and utter power in her singing, dressed in black, inverted U in shape.

Cristina Hall chose Seguiriyas for her solo, using two staves of wood, sanded smooth, approximately three feet in length, replacing the normal use of castanets. Slowly striking one and then the other, black-clad Hall established the somber mood of this flamenco form, and, bending low, lay them aside. What followed was a formidable exposition of taconeo, both in place and skittering percussively across the width of the stage steadily, rapidly. While seeming an extended exposition, its spareness, intensity of concentration kept one’s own muscles engaged, down to the point where Hall grasped the two poles once more lying prone. The audience responded with warm appreciation.

Hold On Just a Little While Longer brought the Glide Ensemble back with Eduardo Guerrero, Hall and Zertuche. A hymn I don’t remember hearing, it was illustrated by Guerrero’s figure, shoulder-length hair and beard, as the Christ figure, his elegant body and line evoking the road to Calvary and two small boards as the cross, Zertuche and Hall as the mourning witnesses, the cajon’s sound intensifying the image. It was a piece I want to see repeated.