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Watching French-Accented Ballet

14 Aug

Above the generous Chinese market at Fifth and Clement, the entrance to Pascale Le Roy’s second floor studio at 404 Clement is up broad, black-painted stairs, flanked by brass railings; they are steep, post 1906 Earthquake style.

I climbed said stairs to watch an afternoon with Pascale and Pierre-Francois Vilanoba in their two week intensive ballet sessions deliberately scheduled outside the large scale summer intensive sessions. “We don’t consider ourselves competitive and don’t want to be” remarked Pierre Francois. This two-week session is their fourth such offering in French-influenced ballet technique.

Regina Bustillos, former administrator for Helgi Tomasson and Pierre-Francois’ wife, mentioned the class would be small, “intermediate, with only two boys this year,” plus six girls of varying ages, one a Kansas City, Missouri visitor. That said, I walked into the south-facing studio with barres on two sides, mirror at the east end, and sat down at the corner near the small studio office.

Since retiring from a fifteen-year career San Francisco Ballet in 2013, Pierre Francois has been burning up the rubber; he has combined teaching, studying and completing the 3K requirement to sit for the Social Work license exam in the state of California. This includes teaching at Marin Dance Theatre and the New School in San Jose in addition to three days a week at a mental facility in the East Bay and two days in a more individualized setting also in the East Bay. All this follows a Summa Cum Laude graduation from St. Mary’s College and completion of a Master’s degree at The Wright Institute, all in English. French is Pierre-Francois’ native language, though his parentage is Catalan Spanish on his father’s side, Belgian on his mother’s. With fluency in Spanish as well, the linguistic skills presage well-appreciated professional skills.

Pascale Le Roy, her involvement Friday afternoon limited to pointe drills, worked on a Sleeping Beauty variation and partnering with Pierre Francois. She opened her studio after leaving San Francisco Ballet School where she taught for two decades, playing first act Nutcracker roles and Madame Mansard in Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella premiere. Pascale came initially to San Francisco from the Ballet de Marseilles, dancing several seasons with San Francisco Ballet before retiring from active dancing.

Watching these two professionals attend the students’ work with such care, attention and even affection, was gratifying. With dancers ranged along two portable barres, Pierre-Francois walked around the barre touching an arm, adjusting a leg in attitude, correcting a tendency to hunch by a mild touch on the sides of the torso, at the solar plexis, or the small of the back. In the center the concern was not the number of turns, but the correctness of placement, where shoulders should be, using the word “presentation,” frequently. In the center, it was how much the head might turn towards the direction of the movement. Clearly, his eye found subtle differences requiring attention that seemed perfectly fine from my perspective.

Mid-way through the barre, Pierre executed an exaggeration, demonstrating a comic flair. This talent surfaced during his San Francisco dancing career only through the eye of Mark Morris in Sylvia and a more recent all-made ballet imitating female roles. I suddenly saw French music hall humor and realized his comic capacity was not exploited by our local company, particularly in the mounting of Jerome Robbins works. The glimpse surfaced while Pierre moved around, his tee-shirt gradually drenched with sweat, ties in his trousers flapping alongside his soft shoes.

When the class enjoyed an intermission, allowing the girls to change into pointe shoes, drinking water and devouring health snack bars, and for Pierre to change tee-shirts, virtually the entire class focus disappeared into smart phones. The girls applied tape, fluffed up lamb’s wool and wound ribbons around their ankles while the boys, Edwin, a young adult and Sam, verging on adolescence, practiced turns, or drank from their water bottles.

For the final part of the afternoon, Pierre-Francois coached the two boys in one of the second act variations in Bournonville’s La Sylphide. Pascale took the girls through the paces of the Lilac Fairy in the Sleeping Beauty Prologue. The two teachers took four girls and the two boys through the opening promenade of Sleeping Beauty’s Wedding Pas de Deux. Pierre required the boys to stand back far enough so the girls needed to step up to grasp the hand to commence the supported promenade, and he demonstrated where their hands had to be placed when the girl leans back toward the audience, moving side to side. “There’s always an adjustment, and it is never perfect,” he commented.

Two of the girls, the Kansas City visitor, and a pre-teen named Emma, managed the opening phrases. Even though Emma was not a regular pupil, it was clear that she had incorporated Pascale’s port de bras in her burgeoning knowledge. At one point as they were watching Edwin execute his role as cavalier, Pierre Francois stood behind Sam, his hands gently resting on Sam’s shoulders, an acceptance which must have thrilled the young dancer who enters San Francisco Ballet School in September.

After the students left I asked Pascale, “Didn’t you dance the Lilac Fairy in San Francisco Ballet’s first production of Sleeping Beauty?” “Yes,” she responded crisply, “I still have the poster.”

I asked how Pierre-Francois the French intensive had come about. “I had a few private students and we always looked for free studio space on Sundays. I knew Pascale, and in the course of using this studio, we thought it might be fun to join forces and teach. Regina arranged everything.”

Asking Pierre-Francois what he considered was different about the French school, and he replied, “The emphasis is on precision, not so much on bravura; very straight legs and presentation, elegance.”

Pascale after teaching pointe exercises, worked on the Lilac Fairy variation with the girls, specifically on the sweep of the graceful fouette en attitude which supplies the variation with such charm.. There was no real watching the clock; from 1:30, the afternoon stretched towards 6:30 before the students left and she escorted me down those black steps, “Our sessions work because the serious students don’t like the lag time between regular and intensive sessions and it’s intimate,” which indeed it was. Further, the afternoon had possessed that indefinable sense of conveying knowledge, working and affection for one’s chosen profession which is encapsulated in the French word metier

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Jocelyn Vollmar, 1925-2018

6 Aug

San Francisco’s S.F. Gate. com published Jocelyn Vollmar’s obituary August 5, but her death date was July 13, at her home in San Francisco’s Richmond District. The account is filled with anecdotes unknown to me, but the outward facts of her life as a dancer were familiar.

It’s safe to say that Jocelyn Vollmar participated in the beginnings of some major balletic institutions in the United States, Australia and to one lavish last hooray in Europe, the Grand Ballet de Marquis de Cuevas. She was photographed being partnered by George Zoritch, an image which made it into his memoir Ballet Mystique and I think there is an image of her and the company dancing in an Italian film.

Jocelyn went from San Francisco Ballet to the fledgling New York City Ballet during its first season, then to Ballet Theatre before sailing to Europe and her association with the de Cuevas Company.

She went from de Cuevas to the Borovansky before returning and throwing her fate in with San Francisco Ballet under Lew Christensen’s direction. She, Sally Bailey and Nancy Johnson were the principal dancers in the three U.S. State Department-sponsored tours and in the company’s first spring seasons at the Alcazar.

I must have seen Jocelyn in the 1946 performance of San Francisco Ballet at the Porterville Union High School auditorium when Willam Christensen brought his ground-breaking Nutcracker to the California hinterland. This was the production which Russell Hartley costumed for $300,with the aid of Good Will, the Salvation Army and a group of dancers who helped him sew. I remember in particular that he costumed Celina Cummings in yellow. Gisella Caccialanza and Willam Christensen danced the grand pas de deux in Act II; Jocelyn must have been the Snow Queen. Just maybe I will find the program when my discarding quest will reach the basement.

My main memory of Jocelyn comes upon her return from Australia and her stint with the Borovanksy Ballet, the forerunner of today’s Australian Ballet. And, if I remember nothing else, there are three recollections of Jocelyn as a dancer lingering in my mind.

The first is her as the Sugar Plum Fairy, her body making the nuanced turns, ecarte, efface, so visible and with such precise timing, her port de bras utterly correct, ending in hands, the gestures becoming more pronounced.

The second and third remembrances were from Jocelyn’s own choreography which she said to me she didn’t remember. The first was danced in the make-shift second floor summer auditorium during the Ballet 60’s series. The series had been started by Michael Smuin in 1960 on the now-demolished Washington Street Playhouse between Polk and Van Ness, then operated by the San Frnacisco Contemporary Dancers, sometimes called the Contemptibles. San Francisco Ballet rapidly turned its second floor studios into a theater with movable risers and folding chairs.

Jocelyn created a ballet which she danced with Robert Gladstein I think called Sonatina to Rossini music, creating some lovely chain movements for the four or six supporting women dancers. She and Robert finished the ballet with leaps into the wings.

The second was a work premiered in Nourse Auditorium in an interesting season which occurred in the spring,year forgotten. The Ballet concerned a woman aging and being left out. While lightly sketched, several fellow balletomanes and I both thought Jocelyn was facing her own eventual departure from the company. It still strikes me as supremely realistic.

Whatever degree of friendship between Jocelyn and me must have resulted from my taping an oral history for the Australian Dance Archives under the direction of Michelle Potter. Jocelyn subsequently undertook a detailed oral history with Mary Ruud for the Museum of Performance and Design; the oral history for Australia occurred almost a decade earlier.

Jocelyn gifted me with five or her seven self-published books of poetry. Hers was invariably a positive spirit expressed in lines with exclamations and capitols emphasizing thoughts and emotions.

In person, Jocelyn was immaculately dressed, coiffed without error, a disciplined appearance with just a tasteful touch of the theatrical or dramatic. Even with a botched operation affecting her walk, I observed on day on Clement Street, Jocelyn was a very together person off stage as well as memorably on.

I will miss our occasional encounters and salute San Francisco Ballet for not only giving her its medal, but naming its Legacy funding to honor JOcelyn Vollmar.

Extra Blessings at Stern Grove and an SFB Stellar Surprise.

31 Jul

While I sometimes think I am observant, there were two additions in the meadow next to the Vale parking area at Stern Grove observed on July 29, one gustatory and the other you might call athletic. Then there was a third blessing, courtesy of San Francisco Ballet.

The gustatory phenomenon were three in number: food trucks. I imagine they will be permanent fixtures for Stern Grove summer performances, with permission fees healthy ones to Park and Recreation.

The athletic one was the spectacle of some four score adults in tights, jeans and jackets propped against yoga mats, blankets or large towels, stretching to the postures enunciated by a grey-haired, bearded man moving between the rows of the directed. My relatively quick glance and assessment led me to think most were in fairly good shape. I wondered whether this was a weekly session, like the T’ai Ch’i sessions I experienced near Fulton and 36th Avenue in the 90’s.

San Francisco Ballet’s blessing, however, awaited the second intermission when the back outdoor stage entrance pulled back and the union crew hauled perhaps a dozen black folding chairs out on mid-stage, followed by an equal number of individuals, garbed a variety of garments, reflecting a sprinkling of ages; each claimed a chair.

Cecilia Bream, who teaches adult ballet and whose official title is Audience Engagement Coordinator, announced San Francisco Ballet had cooperated with Kaiser Permanente Hospital in forming a Dance for Parkinson’s program; it is one of a burgeoning list of dance organizations practicing the program started by the Mark Morris company in Brooklyn. I participated in a demonstration at the 2014 X USA IBC Competition in Jackson, seen the touching documentary on PBS and watched the DVD’s.

Cecilia introduced Meaghan M. Lynch, M.D., the Kaiser Hospital physician who specializes in physical rehabilitation. Dr. Lynch briefly described how dance movements counteract and slow the debilitating effects of this neurologically-based malady. Cecilia stated San Francisco Ballet offered these sessions free of charge.

Cecilia then invited the Stern Grove audience to join the seated practitioners on the stage with a routine utterly simple, expansive in gesture and inviting in intent. The audience assembled immediately began a massive demonstration of “monkey see, monkey do” in the most delightful form of group behavior. The audience raised their arms, spread them, swooped them, gestured come, go, goodbye plus some near namaste-like hand gestures.

In conclusion Cecilia told the audience anyone known to have Parkinson’s was welcome to join the classes and please spread the word if attendees knew someone with the malady. Truly, San Francisco Ballet’s joint program with Kaiser is both stellar surprise and definite civic blessing.

SFB at Stern Grove’s 81st Season, July 29

30 Jul

There apparently was at least one person in the audience July 29 who had seen every San Francisco Ballet appearance at Stern Grove. I can’t qualify for that; but I do remember Mrs. Sigmund Stern in powder blue from hat to shoes being escorted at a performance. Like many another attendee, I’ve watched progressively better floors and entrance alcoves for the dancers from the splittery beginnings. After enjoying the wonderful redesign of the amphiteatre by the late Lawrence Halprin, this year a gradual replacement of the table seating was apparent in the individual black folding chairs at the press table. Bravo! I am sure there are more to complete this beginning.

The sky was grey, but the temperature remained above the minimum union regulations, allowing us to see San Francisco Ballet dance George Balanchine, Edward Liaang, Marius Petipa and Justin Peck choreography, or, two ensembles and three pas de deux; in succession; largely the women, the three pairs of two, and mostly the men.

Serenade received a tribute-like performance at Stern Grove, for it was first seen at Felix Warburg’s estate in White Plains, New York June 10, 1934, not at New York City’s Adelphi Theatre in 1935 as credited in the performance. And what a treat it was, seeing it in full daylight and assessing what it must have meant to those students. I remember seeing a photo of Balanchine at work, arranging a clump of dancers on the open stage with Ruthanna Boris off in one corner figuring out her assignment.

Frances Chung, Jennifer Stahl and Sarah Van Patten were the three women, Ulrik Birkkjaer and Sean Orza the male principals. All well suited to their roles. Chung’s lent fleetness and brio, Stahl her length and timing with Van Patten her dramatic focus for the woman bereft. Birkkjaer’s partnering and gentle reminders were just right and Orza lent a touch of gravitas to the man guided, partnering and parting.

From the evocative to the declarative in dance, the non-stop pace making it a particularly bravura showpiece, Tarantella is a prime example. The Balanchine pas de deux, fashioned upon the music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the American southerner, providing a touch of Italian merriment, was interpreted by Sasha de Sola and Esteban Hernandez.

Of note is that de Sola and Hernandez both competed at different USA IBC competitions where I first saw them both, assuming the roles YouTube displays with Patricia McBride and Edward Villella. In the afternoon rendering, Hernandez came off as more polished and elegant and de Sola as more lyrical, if possible, in their mutual dancing.

The Edward Liaang pas de deux from The Infinite Ocean provided a complete change of pace, interpreted by Yuan Yuan Tan and Vitor Luiz in diagonal silver stripes on bathing suit tunics, each bringing a distinct phrasing to a sustained farewell.

Finishing off the trio of pas de deux was the old reliable from Act III of Don Quixote, danced Ann Sophia Scheller and the Bolshoi-trained newcomer, Vladislav Kozlov, who proved to be an excellent partner and possessor of elegant legs. Scheller sparkled in the solo, but this war horse of innumerable competitions does better in a proscenium arch setting.

The Justin Peck interpretation of Aaron Copland’s Rodeo music, comprised of four episodes, closed the program and showed some vigorous male ensemble dancing with the principal trio Max Cauthorn, Wei Wang and Hansuke Yamamoto. The costume design featured essentially two varying shades of brown, a grey and a light blue for Ulrich Birkkjaer with bright blue and red assigned to Dores Andre.

Foregoing the hitching movements and shifting weights of cowhands, there were three ensembles lifting, jumping and traveling in classical jetes horizontally and diagonally across space, and, briefly, a quartet dangling their legs over the stage edge. Elegant, athletic and well schooled, the men devoured the space with elan, all fourteen of them. Andre wafted through early on, an anomaly and fairly ignored.

The third episode, between Dores Andre and Ulrich Birkkjaer, I found a little disturbing, though beautifully danced by both. While the original plot was alluded to in Andre’s initial appearance, the success of her quest – a partner – struck an off note by the readiness of her hands to be grasped by Birkkjaer. The quality conveyed was all so pre-ordained, doubtless the way it was created.

That said, the overall arc of the program was splendid and the dancers clearly exemplified that adjective.

ODC’s Second Summer Sampler 2108

30 Jul

July 28 I witnessed the ‘with it’ audience ODC manages to entice with its programs, diverse, lively, providing a sense of optimism. We came to see K.T. Nelson’s 2015 creation Dead Reckoning, fragments exposed frequently over KQED, and Brenda Way’s Triangulating Euclid, created in 2013.

Perhaps one of the reasons these two works were chosen was because they strongly involved Jeremy Smith, who was leaving the ensemble after eleven years. But also the works included the strong presence of Daniel Santos and Brandon Freeman, both returning after a hiatus and pursuit of other interests. Their combined presence speaks not only to ODC’s willingness to welcome the return of strong dancers, but the absolute need of the technical strength such artists bring to the “workout” requirements of the choreography.

The men are not alone in virtuosic requirements. The women of this ten-person ensemble are asked to hold or carry briefly their athletic confreres, attesting to the equity balance ODC advocates and exemplifies. Supported by Matthew Antaky’s evocative lighting and choice of music and costumers, ODC exudes both an adventurous outlook, interesting productions and gifted dancing.

Looking at both pieces on Saturday night, and seeing Santos both hurtling himself in space and serving as a coach-like figure turning the faces of his fellow dancers, was testimony to the physical and interpretive demands on an ODC dancer. To see Jeremy Smith, downstage front, use his hands to finish a movement requiring physical force followed by floor work, solidified the strength and commitment to choreographic design.

I do not exclude the women in this recitation. Natasha Adorlee Johnson’s expiration in Dead Reckoning’s finale in the close setting of ODC’s Theatre, the vibrato in hand and the slow body collapse, was particularly impressive. Rachel Furst brought balletic fluidity to the simplest of stretches and to the sustained application of chalk to the floor in Triangulating Euclid. I don’t know whether it was Lani Yamanaka or Mai J. Chong shedding the first cascades of snow in Dead Reckoning but their solemnity of feature and bamboo-like resilience was the source of visual pleasure. Kendall Teague’s body shudders spoke to singular capacities of concentration.

Jeremy Bannon Neches and James Gilmer evidenced balletic deportment but also the ability of good dancers’ ability to dance anything required.

Altogether, these ten humans are something else to watch, executing Nelson’s vision of devastating climate change and Way’s innate penchant for instilling structure

Volunteers and the Visual Crew at USA IBC XI

21 Jul

While I am sure readers and participants have moved on since the intense and interesting days of the XI USA IBC Competition in Jackson, several things and individuals linger in my mind I want to mention, salute and thank. So indulge me.

Brenda Trigg, the even-tempered public relations and marketing manager for USA IBC, reassured me that the practice of host families continued for competitors as well as for the jurors, teachers and other VIPs to the competition. They had seemed much more present at earlier competitions so it was reassuring to know the practice, initially unique to Jackson’s competitions, has continued. Host families undertake to run errands for their charges, sometimes serving as unofficial chauffeurs and source of treats not available in the buffet lines at Millsaps Cafeterua where the competitors were housed.

High on this list of attentiveness is the physical comfort Olga Smoak and I enjoyed at a bed and breakfast cottage in the Bellhaven section of Jackson, perhaps the most completely appointed a visitor could enjoy; cook and historical books, both U.S. and Mississippi,were in ample supply with a small image of St. Francis over the kitchen sink, plus an ample kitchen stove, washer/dryer and the full battery of pots, pans and equipment for a life well beyond a mere two weeks. Mona Nicholas, USA IBC’s executive director, responded to my enthused exclamations, smiling. “He’s a friend of mine.”

The host, Hilary Zimmerman, a retired financier, saw to it I understood how the Wi-Fi worked, the hazards of the backdoor, and supplied the living room, dining room and even the kitchen counter with fresh flowers both weeks, as well as seeing that the weekly garbage sack was disposed of, clearly is a man for all seasons, a contemporary version of the Southern gentleman.

My high twin bed sported a drawer at its foot, and beyond the curtains was a screened porch; alas, it remained unused because of the strenuous schedule of observing competitors’ classes, attending their sessions and the lectures offered by USA IBC. Before the end of the competition a step stool was added to aid climbing into bed.

Our transportation could not have been better. Olga Smoak arranged to have
Arkady Orohovsky, director of the South Mississippi Ballet Theatre, and one of the two evaluators for the Competition, to pick us up in the morning in time to observe competitors’ classes, and several evenings drove us back to the cottage. When he was unavailable with evaluating appointments with eliminated contestants, Jennifer Wilkinson, in charge of USA IBC’s transportation volunteers, left her post in the Mississippi Arts building, to drive us to the Convention Center where the competitors’ classes and rehearsals were scheduled. More than one evening following the Round II and III sessions, she arranged to have me driven home by Terry Johnson, a musician who plays the organ, and is aretired high school teacher,living in a nearby town. Other nights, she pulled up at the sidewalk outside Thalia Mara Auditorium while students were being whisked back to Bellhaven University by one of the chartered yellow school buses.

Jennifer teaches art in a nearby high school; her manner reflected some of the serenity that such a visual occupation can supply. She’s the kind of person willing to listen to small verbal bursts about discoveries of Mississippi’s natural existence.

One early afternoon I came in before a ride back to the Laurel Street cottage, full of news that I had heard my first mocking bird caroling away in the space between the Arts Building and the Mississippi Arts Museum. She smiled and said, “There is one in the same spot every time I walk my dog.” Before I left Jackson I swear I heard the same bird do its vocal equivalent of “pretty.”

Mentioning that the wonderful living arrangements lacked immediate access to breakfast grits at a hotel or dormitory buffet, on his last trip to pick me up following the Gala, Terry Johnson brought a box of instant grits and also took me to an all night café where I enjoyed a serving of the ubiquitous Southern starch, great with butter, salt and something additional.

This recitation would be incomplete if I failed to mention the photographers who have returned each competition since the mid ‘80’s, leaving their professional connections at universities, medical centers and businesses from locations as diverse as Virginia, California and Colorado, to record the scene and the dancing for USA IBC. Richard Finkelstein, Todd Lechtick and David Andrews looked busy 24/7. Like Claudia Shaw of Video Masters and her gifted assistant, Quintin Lowe and Claudia’s cousin Connie, we gathered for an initial seafood feast at The Mayflower on West Capitol where some of us gorged on soft-shell crabs. On the Competition’s one dark night we also gathered at The Manship for a group dinner. The group doesn’t keep in regular touch except for these intense two weeks every four years, but it feels like just yesterday when we do. There is some particular elixir in the dance world that conspires to accomplish this ease, this connection, an appealing quality of USA IBC.

Ryo Munakata, American-born USA IBC Finalist

19 Jul

Deciding to participate in a ballet competition, whatever its magnitude or reputation, is no mean feat. It encompasses not only the hours devoted to refining classical variations, but the procurement of scores of CDs of the particular classical music. Where contemporary work is included, the cost of enlisting a choreographer in creating a work where the competitor’s skills are shown to advantage with music to support that aim adds to the outlay. Costume choices are also required to enhance the presentation.

In competing solo at the USA IBC in Jackson, Mississippi, two classical solos are necessary in the opening round and a contemporary piece in the second round. When reaching the finals, two more classical solos and yet another contemporary work are mandatory, making a total of four classical solos and two contemporary pieces to perfect. It is an Olympian decision and execution, regardless of outcome.

In the rarified world of classical ballet, it’s therefore difficult for dancers not directly affiliated with a school attached to a company to make their way successfully. Exposure at competitions is a way to make up for this difficulty. The reputation of the school/teacher/coach also plays its part, supporting observation of competitors’ daily class and performance. Invariably, it is the delicate balance between the talent and physique of a prospective company member with the current needs of the ensemble determining selection and a contract.

My initial desire to interview Ryo Munakata stemmed from the fact he and Chisako Oga were listed as USA competitors at the recently completed USA IBC Competition [6/10-23/18]. The name Munakata also relates to Shiko Munakata, the woodblock print artist who was given the Order of Culture in 1970, Japan’s highest award to artists. The two men I learned, are not at all related. I also confess to a particular interest in dancers of Asian heritage.

Munakata’s interview was essentially too late for me to draft and post it from Jackson and during a brief visit to Washington, D.C. July has enabled me to pick up the thread by e-mail and contact Ryo once more.

Like Chisako, Ryo was born in the United States while his father, a doctor, was studying at Harvard University, automatically bestowing on the young man dual citizenship and providing an ease in entry to the United States for study. Unlike Oga’s family, however, the Munakas returned to Japan permanently, the family settling in northern Japan, in Sendai. There Ryo started ballet training and began entering competitions when he was ten. He also commenced modern dance study; in the list of competitions he supplied, Munakata consistently achieved higher marks in the contemporary category.

This picture began to change when Ryo started to work in Tokyo with Sergei
Saveschenko. How did he manage? “I took the bullet train from Sendai to Tokyo,” was his answer. Knowing students were driven from San Jose to San Francisco to attend classes, I asked how long the commute was. “Two hours each way.” This fact quietly floored me, both for time expended and for the focus and dedication towards Ryo’s desire to become a finished classical dancer.

In 2010, Ryo began to spend summers in the United States, clearly enabled by his Boston birthplace. “I took summer intensive courses at ABT for four years.” In 2014 to 2016, Ryo studied at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, the affiliate school of American Ballet Theatre. At level 7 in the school, he also appeared in the Manhattan Youth Ballet.

Ryo Munakata was hired by Minnesota Ballet Company’s artistic director Robert Gardner at 19, spending winters in Duluth, Minnesota plus guesting in such roles as the Prince in Nutcracker and Swan Lake. Augmenting company performances, Ryo also danced as a guest artist in such ballets as Raymonda, Giselle and La Sylphide, roles where his demeanor was an advantage.

In Round I, Munakata elected the Act III Don Quixote variation, and then the male variation from The Talisman. In my memory, he was the only contestant to elect this variation; it commences on a diagonal from upper stage right to down stage left in a traveling tour with one leg in an open passe position, a burst of bravura typical of good male variations. The choreography continues with a menage up and around to the mid stage reinforcing the impression of buoyancy, a selection of distinction. My scribbled notes says “v.v. good,” and proved a canny, memorable choice.

In Round II, Alchemist, Munakata’s contemporary solo to Yann Tiersen’s Le Jour d’avant, was co-created with Yuko Takahashi, his contemporary teacher. Aside from the obligatory displays of virtuosity, there was a thoughtfulness behind his delivery, advancing him to Round III.

In Round III, dancing one of two obligatory solos, Olga Smoak remarked on Ryo’s rendition of Siegfried’s variation in Swan Lake’s ballroom scene, “very clean, accurate, no additions. He was very pure.” The second classical variation was from Le Corsaire, the chest-baring part of the pas de deux Rudolf Nureyev introduced to Western balletomanes. Quite competent, but not spectacular, it did not particularly display Munakata’s classical qualities, which while correct, are under-stated, suggesting an ideal partner in a pas de deux.

Meredith Monk’s Dawn provided the music for the collaborative solo created by Munakata with his teacher Yuko Takahashi, titled Sacred Ice Wall. The solo included floor work and stretches, jumps and turns with atmospheric lighting ranging from grey to black with a pool of light beginning and at the end. Munakata’s skill and intelligence in adapting classicism to contemporary expression was clearly evident.

While enjoying the $1,500 stipend given to all USA IBC finalists, Munakata did not garner any special citation or a prize. However, his quality attracted the attention of Adam Sklute, artistic director of Ballet West. When I e-mailed Ryo asking for his resume, he replied, saying he had signed a contract with Ballet West. Minus photograph, his name already appears on the company’s Website.

Fortunate Ballet West.