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At Right Place, Right Time – Chisako Oga

20 Jun

Having written for HOKUBEI MAINICHI in San Francisco’s Japantown for about a decade, the phenomenon of a distinctly Japanese name listed among the American competitors in the XI USA IBC here in Jackson whetted my curiosity. I knew the two would have accomplished due diligence in this labor-intensive field. When their names appeared on the list of thirty-two finalists, I put in a bid for interviews.

Misa Oga, Chisako’s older sister who has a school in Salt Lake City, is serving as coach, and I was able to watch the final part of Chisako’s rehearsal of one classical variation and her contemporary offering by Myles Thatcher, S. F.Ballet’s rising young choreographer.

Oga’s parents were in Dallas when she was born, the youngest of three daughters. The father was working with Canon, and the family returned to Japan when Chisako was three, remaining two years before living in Fremont where one sister trained as an ice skater with Kristi Yamaguchi’s coach. The family settled in Southern California where Chisako received most of her formative training,

She was fifteen when she went to the Prix de Lausanne, where she danced Swanhilda’s first act, as well as the set pieces of contemporary work. “They send you four or five options on video, some of it gender-specific material.”

Patrick Armand, there coaching the men, noticed her and gave her a full scholarship for San Francisco Ballet’s summer intensive, with the possibility of a full year’s tuition. “I studied at levels 7 and 8 before I entered the School’s trainee group, out of which Helgi took me as a trainee.”

Chisako had nothing but praise for Tina Le Blanc, SFB’s former principal, as well as for Sofiane Sylve, current principal dancer with the company and also principal guest teacher. She also worked with Parish Maynard during his last year at the school and with Jeff Lyons.

Of Tina, Chisako said, “She understood the problems of a small dancer. Her influence was enormous. San Francisco schooling exposed me to performing, building on my Russian training where so much emphasis was given to placement, the feet, the turnout, the details. ”

While serving her apprenticeship, Chisako danced in SFB’s full length ballets and rehearsed in


Fearful Symmetries and with William Forsythe during the 2014-2015 season.

Helgi Tomasson did not renew Cisako’s contract saying he had no place for a small dancer. Fortunately, Wendy Van Dyck, the former coordinates of the pre-professional dance ensemble, had been in touch with Victoria Morgan, artistic director of Cincinnati Ballet, and one-time dancer with SFB and dance director for the SF Opera. Victoria mentioned she was looking for a small female dancer. A video was supplied Morgan, and within two and a half weeks Chisako Oga joined the Cincinnati ensemble of 27 dancers with a 35 week contract.

What was even more startling was that Chisako replaced an ailing soloist 3 weeks after arriving and by the start of the company’s new season, she was named a Principal Dancer. “We have a six program season, the programs starting on Thursday with five or six performances per program. Our first program is all new works, two weeks, fourteen performances. I think we have a great balance in our programs, three contemporary, three classical. “. Now in her second season Oga has essayed Juliet in Morgan’s version of the Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet. “We’ve also danced Serenade, Rubies, Fancy Free.” Chisako mentioned programs employing such diverse music as Vivaldi and Philip Glass and choreographers Kate Wear and Justin Peck.

“i am very happy where I am,” Chisako concluded, and clearly a model example of being in the right place at the right time.

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Honoring Robert Joffrey

19 Jun

The June 18 Arts and Lectures presentation at the USA IBC Arts and Lecture Series featured comments by four veterans of the Joffrey Ballet, now resident in Chicago.

Introduced by Ashley Wheater, currently the Joffrey Artistic Director and USA IBC’s juror representing England, Trinette Singleton, Charthel Arthur Esther and Nicole Duffy Robertson expanded on the sub-title below Robert Joffrey’s screen portrait, American Dance Visionary, 1930-1988. 2018 represents the thirtieth anniversary of his death.

Joffrey was being recognized for his share in the creation of the USA IBC with Thalia Mara and serving as jury chair in the inaugural 1979 competition, and for the 1982 and 1986 competitions. Following his death, the 1990 competition had Bruce Marks as jury chair.

Duffy’s presentation served to remind the audience, sadly meager in size, that Joffrey was responsible for the crossover between classical ballet and modern dance in his commissioning of Alvin Ailey’s Feast of Ashes and Twyla Tharp’s Deuce Coupe. He subsequently brought Ruthanna Boris and Agnes de Mille in to revive Cakewalk and Rodeo, as well as commissioning Laura Dean and Margo Sappington.

Wonderful clips were included of Joffrey teaching at a regional ballet festival, directing his company and talking with Kurt Jooss in an early production of the PBS Dance in America series, The Green Table ,as well as mounting the revival of Leonide Massine’s 1917 production of Parade.

Trinette Singleton followed Duffy with her own memories of being cast in Astarte, Joffrey’s seminal rock ballet, and quoting Joffrey, “Classical ballet is the center, not the circumference of the movement.” Memories of the company’s seasons at Stanford, U.C., Berkeley and The San Francisco Opera House began to crowd my conscious memory, and by the time that splendid documentary “Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance” was screened in the afternoon, the floodgates of memory and emotion were in full swing.

It reminded me of just how yeasty that period was, expansive and yet controlled, open and yet evaluating, warm and yet reserved, all qualities one experienced in Robert Joffrey’s presence. We were very lucky dance acolytes.

USA IBC Round II Results

19 Jun

Thirty-two competitors are advancing to Round III starting Tuesday evening June 19 at Thalia Mara Hall for the XI USA IBC at Jackson, Mississippi.

That number also represents $48,000 that will be distributed to the finalists, $1,500 each to help defray the costs incurred in coming to the Magnolia state. They are being evaluated by the ten jurors representing an equal number of countries, even though many of them are resident within the continental United States.

Dancing will be nine senior men and eight senior women, five junior men and ten junior women, with the USA contributing two seniors each of the males and female genders, three junior men and six junior women. Korea is represented with three seniors, one of them a man, one junior woman.Japan has two representatives each in the senior division with one junior male.

Among the senior men are two Cubans, one from China, one from the United Kingdom. Canada and Brazil have two junior woman each, the Philippines one senior, one junior woman. Armenia’s junior male also made the cut as did China’s sole senior woman.

At this point, the existing scores for each contestant are thrown out, and the jurors commence with a fresh slate. Each contestant is required to present both classic and contemporary repertoire. Again the rules apply; one pas de deux or two solo variations from the classic selection and a four minute limit for the contemporary choice.

It promises to be most absorbing. I will try to recap Round II, Session I, but this iPad and I are still adjusting to our technical pas de deux, and my deciphering of notes scribbled in semi-darkness seem to have disappeared from the draft status, alas for my time, probably just ‘them’s the breaks,’ for you.

USA IBC -Round I, Session 8

18 Jun

Hard to believe this was just last Thursday, and we now have finished Round II with Round III to commence Tuesday.

Out of this Session, two Seniors advanced to Round II, and five Juniors, splitting a junior pair into one pass, one eliminated.

For the juniors, the couple from the Kirov School, Doyoon Kim, Korea, and Dulgunn Battsengel, Mongolia elected the Coppelia WeddingPas de deux, and also Cassidy Daves and Jorge Boza Caceres, USA and Cuba, junior and senior respectively. While Kim didn’t make the cut to Round II, my notes say very good, clean.

I note the same for two juniors in between, Rheya Shano and Joseph Markey, i.e.clean, both taking on the variations from Coppelia, with the added note that Markey is very tall. For Daves and Caceres, besides the description of clean went “jumping for joy,” clearly referring to Caceres.

For one senior who shall remain nameless, my notes say “funny shoulders but clean,”. Her rendition drew raucous comments from balletic cognoscenti, and it was peculiar to see Esmeralda with this forward jerk, a hard sell if there ever was one.

It proved quite a contrast to the perky, flirtatious Esmeralda rendition given by Veronica Atienza, a senior from the Philippines, who kept her rendition this side of solicitation.

Alexandra Manuel who essayed a Paquita variation in the first half of the program, followed her initial impression with Flames of Paris as did Joseph Markey, with Rheya Shano in between dancing a Paquita variation, apparently a freer of the two frequently chosen.

USA IBC Round I, Session 7

17 Jun

In this seventh Session, a junior couple from Colorado made the cut with a tender rendering of the Coppelia pas de deux, two USA senior women, and a Cuban male senior, plus the Chinese couple dancing a moving Giselle pas de deux, Act II.

Avery Underwood with Issac Mueller reflected radiance and gallantry in the opening of the pas de deux. Mueller’s variation was executed with clarity of line, proportion and free of exaggeration and tricks, while Underwood’s variation with its hops on pointe looked like child’s play.

Katherine Barkman, partnered by Joseph Phillips gave the matinee audience a fully rounded Don Quixote pas de deux, with a sustained balance during the opening, followed by Chisako Olga, a principal with Cincinnati Ballet, delivering the variation with energy, assurance and flourishes. Jorge Barani’s interpretation of the male variation took its cue from the bull ring and the matador.

The two contestants from China, Qui Yunting and Wu Sicong, brought the audience into the world of the Wilis in their rendition of the Giselle pas de deux from Act II.

USA IBC Round I, Session 6

17 Jun

The 6th Session yielded two juniors and three seniors for Round II, the latter including a couple. The two juniors were US contestants Harold Mendez and Julia Rust. Both elected variations from Paquita for their first presentation. For the second choice, Mendez chose Flames of Paris and Rust the wedding variation from Coppelia. My notes say that Mendez is small, exact, with the head and torso initiating the movement, and Rust was noted as quite pure.

Two Korean seniors, Seobin Lee and Sangmin Lee, students at the Korea National University of Arts, essayed Don Quixote pas de deux with bravura, extra turns, quite secure and excellent jetes.

The sole contestant from the United Kingdom, Albion Gjorflaku, chose his solos to display ballon, sense of direction and ability to move, first a solo from La Sylphide and for the second, the god Vayu variation from Talisman, his renditions making the cut.

17 Jun

ROUND I, Session 5

Opening this matinee performance was the junior competitor from Armenia, Raznik Marukyan, and his choice was the male variation of Flames of Paris to which he brought his height and passionate projection, despite some flubs. The quality of belief made you believe he was urging comrades “to the barricades.”

The junior from Brazil who made the cut was Carolyne Galvan, dancing the woman’s variation from Coppelia.

This was the session when Ariel Breitman danced a very correct Don Quixote pas de deux with non-competing dancer Gabriela Lukasik. Despite its correctness, the male aplomb was such that it prevented Breitman advancing to Round II.