Memorable Moments – XI USA IBC

26 Jun

Here near Washington,D.C., on the Monday following The Gala and Encore presentations by the winners, I think my best shot is to mention, and perhaps describe, dances and competitors which linger in my mind. Then I can fill in later on as needed or as my impulse dictates.

Let me comment, however, that Thalia Mara Hall, filled to brimming and enthusiasm in past competitions, remained visibly empty, the why I can only surmise that the old regulars are no longer present and the young millennial have not yet caught the bug of ballet going. The IBC school students, however, made up for the emptiness in their enthusiasm

Olga Smoak, whose name will come up frequently in the various blogs, made the comment about contemporary choreography, “One year it was dancers in sweats; this year the dancers start with their backs to the audience and the boys dance bare chested.” Since she not only goes to international competitions like Moscow and Perm, and back when, to Paris, Olga also serves on the jury of the Koslova International Competition, and clearly in a position to know about the current choreographic vogues. All offerings, as previously mentioned, needed to be created after 2014, competition X.

Stephen Myers, dancing Icarus to Graeme Revell’s creation, Believe in Angels, choreographed by Maria Konrad, demonstrated a propensity for extensions, a la seconds. My notes say I counted at least seven.

Jolie Rose Lombardo, an Orlando Ballet trainee, performed Metamorphoses, created by Musashi Alvarez, to Drehz’ Suspicion. My notes mention torso movement with jetes, which seemed to be reflecting a larvae becoming a butterfly.

I have an entry for Vanessa Childress, whose picture does not appear in the souvenir program, dancing Asphalt Sparkle, dancing Robert Sher-Machherndl’s creation to Venetian Snares’\ by Ongyilkos Varsarmap. Apparently the choreographer was intrigued by the certain dark asphalt looking like winking blackness; he required Childress to dance almost entirely on pointe.

Tia Wenkman danced with a non-competing partner in Aegis to Elio Basso’s “Bitter and Sweet.” Choreographed by Krista king Doherty, it displayed Wenkman’s capacity to cover ground and showcased her flexibility.

One of three tall junior contestants, Diego Altamirano, performed a solo created by Victor Kabaneaev to Max Richter’s “When She Came Back,” changing the “she” to ‘it.” During the piece, Altamirano was required to execute a backward body roll, which, considering his height, was quite a feat.

Just before intermission Nicole Klaudine Barroso from the Philippines, appeared with her non-competing partner Joshua Rey Enciso, in Tom Torhan’s “Offensive Blitz,” created by Gerardo Francisco, Jr. It proved quite a contrast to the demure peasant pas de deux from Giselle. Barroso, in brown skirt and halter-like top, danced, was stretched and flung to strong rhythms, a demonstration of what can unlike the placid surface of polite Filipino social norms.

The seniors made their appearance following intermission, starting with Takahiro Hayashi from Japan, to Konstantinos Semenov’s use of. J.S.Bach, C. Minor Prelude, using the music’s title, Prelude. My notes mention, reaches, stretches and jetes.

Jungyoon Shin, from Korea, experienced the misfortune of technical difficulties, appearing twice from stage left in striking green pantaloons and a cream stretchy tunic. Seeker was the title Bora Kim chose of Jae Duk Kim to call On The Nature of Things. My notes mention periodic geometrical use of arms.

Ryo Munakata jointly choreographed his solos Alchemist with Yuko Takahashi using Yann Tiersen’s in Le Jour d’avant. The composition possessed strong use of Klesmer music, and Munakata, in white, both began and ended in a pool of light.

Unusual use of Chopin’s “Fantasie Impromptu” was Reiko Hatata’s own choroegraphy under the title The Last Best. She created a portrait of someone fussy, frantically busy, an intriguing contrast to the stormy runs of Chopin.

Sakarya Ishibashi’s pas de deux with non-competing partner Boris Ceballos was his choreography title Art-is’t to “3326” of Alafur Arnald. My notes reveal the word “rape” ans I do remember the strong lifts, swings and plunges involved.


Elizabeth – Transplanted Professional and Volunteer

22 Jun

About four or five USA IBC competitions ago, unexpectedly, I came across a face familiar from San Francisco and subsequently have seen her at every one of the two-week long, every four-year events occurring in Jackson, Mississippi.

I knew her as Elizabeth Tienken, soloist with San Francisco Ballet. Here, however, she is Elizabeth. Sullivan, mother of a son and two daughters, recently retired from the Jackson public school system where she taught in APAC, an arts school started through the efforts of Thalia Mara and Robert Joffrey. The formal title of the school is Academic and Performing Arts Complex.

She informed me that the school enrolls 600 students, many of whom are bussed in. “We take the middle school in the morning and the high school age the end of the day, Grades four and five are on campus all day long.

“It’s a free public school, the result of Thalia Mara and Robert Joffrey’s concern for gifted children getting exposure to the arts. Most now are what might be called inner city kids. We see to it that there is a balance of artistic and academic competence, working where academics are not so strong.”

Elizabeth moved to Jackson in 1990 with her second husband, a podiatrist whom she met when he was living upstairs from Damara Bennett with whom she was teaching at San Francisco’s City Ballet. “I started volunteering and when it became necessary, I had to take a Mississippi State exam to qualify continuing teaching since I had no academic degree. The qualifying exam was all day – eight to five – and in all subjects, including math. There were people there taking the exam for the third time. But I passed even the math!”

A San Francisco native, Elizabeth started her ballet studies with the Christensen brothers at age nine, attending classes in the converted garage on Eighteenth Avenue. Her career as a dancer with San Francisco Ballet was a decade long, 1972-1982, and she subsequently danced with Penelope Lagos and with Yahuda Major at Dancer’s Stage.

I remember her vividly in a ballet created by Michael Smuin titled Songs of Mahler where she had a solo where a certain part of it required her to turn in attitude avant, a phrase which was captured in a memorable photo, smiling, step correct, balance steady, aplomb evident.

But it was not the only ballet Elizabeth danced with the company when it was jointly directed by Lew Christensen and Michael Smuin. “We did Lew’s Divertissement d’Auber, David McNaughton, Diana Weber and I, and in Nutcracker, I started out as a toy soldier, eventually dancing the Doll in Act I. In Symphony in C, I danced the third movement, and in Michael’s Romeo and Juliet I danced a street dancer, a harlot and the nurse.”

Elizabeth became involved in Jackson’s IBC through Thalia Mara and long-time balletomane Lyle Cashion. “We met at a dinner party and hit if off. Thalia asked me to be involved in the audition levels for the IBC School, and I also was an evaluator for Round 1 in the very early competition days.”

This past competition, numero XI, Elizabeth sat by the door of the daily class for competitors, an opportunity for me to chat, catch up and learn more about the workings of this four-year cultural marathon for the Capitol city of Mississippi; Clearly I took the opportunity and relished it thoroughly.

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.

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 II Results

18 Jun

While I have comments about the participants in Round II, the results have not always coincided with my preferences, although some of the thirty-two finalists named are obvious, agreeing with my evaluation.

Nine senior men, eight senior women, five junior men, ten junior women are listed. In the senior division, the breakdown by country goes as follows: Japan, two men, two women; China, one of each gender; South Korea, one man, two women and one junior woman. Canada and Brazil have recorded one woman junior each; China’s couple also made the cut. Two senior men from Cuba will be part of the finals, while the Philippines will be represented by one senior and one junior woman, Armenia’s sole contestant, a junior male, and the United Kingdom’s single senior man are included in this final round.

The US participants include two senior men, two senior women, three junior men and six junior women in the final round.

Each of these dancing survivors will be awarded a stipend of $1,500, specified by the estate of Peggy Mike through the Community Foundation for Mississippi, a total of $48,000.

What happens now is that the cumulative scores of these thirty-two aspirants are thrown out, and the results of the scores of Round Three are used for the final reckoning. The thirty-two will now dance both classic and contemporary selections, different from their previous presentations.

My next entry will try to reprise the contemporary contributions, so that Round III reports will be reported in timely fashion.

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.