Cinderella Closes San Francisco Ballet’s 2017 Spring Season

14 May

First, let me confess that Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella for the Maryinsky Ballet captured my fancy when I saw it at Zellerbach Auditorium; I already seen the Wheeldon take on the fairy/morality tale in this dual company production.  There are samenesses in the Wheeldon version, but with all the prodigious production effects, one can easily get lost in the “how” of the production rather than the “why.”

In the Prelude Cinderella, her father and mother are together, until a coughing fit and a red-stained handkerchief tell the audience the mother is not long for this world.  The Fate figures appear and carry her aloft and into the mists of several screens. Father and daughter embrace in grief.  Then a tree begins to emerge from the tombstone and suddenly Cinderella, danced by Doris Andre, is seen at the grave side.  While she is there, the two step-sisters, Jahna Frantzkonis and Julia Rowe, appear; there is an initial greeting before the Stepmother, danced by Lauren Strongin, appears on the arm of the father. Ruben Martin-Cintas.  In the stillness of her appraisal, Andre conveys the rapid thought process of the new reality, but when Step-mother in a proprietary air, offers a bouquet, Cinderella grasps it briefly before allowing it to fall to the floor.  “Uh o,” one thinks, and one step daughter picks it up, thrusts it into the heroine’s hands before dashing it to the floor, the relationship defined.

Meanwhile, back at the Palace as the Queen leads her newly adult son, Guillaume [Carlo Di Lanno], along the wall identifying the generations of royal females, one knows what’s on the regal minds.  The Prince is scarcely enthusiastic and turns to his friend Benjamin, [Angelo Greco], for support.  Both are Italian, Italian trained and exhibit clear rapport, Greco being the ebullient replacement for Pascal Molat, possibly Basilio, Mercutio, and, one hopes, Colas.

The King, Ricardo Bustamonte, presents Guillaume with a pile of invitations for the ball.  Guillaume turns to Benjamin who suggests they trade places so that the Prince can appraise the distribution incognito.  All of which leads to the dysfunctional household where Cinderella is scullery maid.  She, of course, treats Guillaume, looking as if in training to portrait Jean-Louis Barrault as mime, with food and civility;  Hortense [Lauren Strongin] makes it her business to evict him, her attention getting distracted by Benjamin, scarlet coated, and the pile of invitations gets diminished by four.  Guillaume teaches Cinderella the basics of dancing; there is clear chemistry, but she rebuffs his approach and sends him on his way.
There is the usual ballroom preparatory fuss, accented by Hortense tearing up Cinderella’s invitation and tossing it into the fire.  Next come the golden masked Fate figures. The scenery disappears to reveal the tree grown from the mother’s grave before which the four seasons and their retinue perform and Cinderella emerges garbed in golden tutu and mask before the Four Fates appear , sporting wheels, making up the carriage over which Cinderella’s cape billows as the curtain comes down.

Act II is the ball with the regal Albert and Charlotte entering upstage center with the guests  attired in magenta, blue and teal. I found their assignments, understandably filler material, rather pedestrian.  I suppose some minor flirtations would have been distracting.  Guillaume appears in a romantic sleeves white shirt to Queen Charlotte’s dismay, and, clearly the disinterest of Hortense, Edwina and Clementine, until he disappears to return with his regal jacket.  Benjamin begins to have romantic feelings towards bespectacled Clementine.

Wheeldon I believe has taken the liberty of placing some of world-wide hunt for the mysterious princess into the ballroom scene, so that Isabella De Vivo and Jennifer Stahl double their assignments, first as Spring and Winter and then as Spanish and Russian respectively, joined by Amy Yuri as the Balinese princess. These latter variations are deliberately hokey, and almost irrelevant to the chemistry, lifts, swirls, entrances and exits between Guillaume and Cinderella.

At any rate, Guillaume is entranced, the monarchs are happy and everything looks hunky dory until the clock begins to chime midnight when confusion very cleverly reigns, Hortense lifts Cinderella’s mask and Guillaume is left with a golden-hued toe shoe as the curtain falls.

Act IV opens with a string of gilded French style chairs lowered from the flies, to be filled  by  a varied cast, from two huge ugly paper-mache characters, Mme Mansard, to the foreign princesses and others, trying to fit into the golden toe shoe as Benjamin attempts to serve as fitter. Failure and the line of empty chairs are hoisted towards the ceiling, forming an arch over the fateful kitchen in which Cinderella reflects on her brief joy and sequesters her shoe on top of the fireplace.  Almost immediately Edwina appears with the skeleton hoop skirt dismissing a night time companion and imperiously orders Cinderella to maintain silence.

When Benjamin and Guillaume arrive, Mother Hortense makes a great show of trying to hammer the solitary toe shoe onto Edwina’s foot.  Then the Four Fates lift Cinderella so she retrieves her shoe and is carried to a chair where she slips into the missing footgear, and is rewarded by a radiant Guillaume.  Hortense is utterly abject, but Cinderella approaches her and kisses her before the scene changes to the wedding ceremony under the magic tree.

I had no trouble believing Di Lanno’s prince nor Andre’s Cinderella – adults concerned about human happiness, belief in dreams being fulfilled – admirably portrayed and technically up to the challenges of the roles.  I just wish there had been more about them and less about the production, although I admit it was both fun and masterfully realized.

The 2017 Bi-Annual Taylor Visit

5 May

You could almost make a ditty about that heading. Something about Paul Taylor’s choreography and his marvelous dancers remind me of a world which shaped me, and I expect helped to mold Taylor’s view of the world.  It was the ‘Thirties and The Depression which was the subject of his plaintive, evocative closer of Program B, April 27 and April 28. Unlike many modern choreographers, Taylor possesses many of the spare qualities forming the American mind-set in the early-Thirties, as well as an almost ineffable sense of whimsy, a droll regard for cliches which he manages to present slightly askew. Somehow, he manages to make me, at least, feel right at home,in the right place, and breathing contentedly, making of a swallow a wisp of satisfaction.

There were the usual three programs, with Programs B and C being repeated; Program A had the only local premiere, The Open Door, as well as an early classics, Airs, to George Frederick Handel’s music.

Program B opened with Book of Beasts, a 1971 work set to E. Power Biggs using a pedal harpsichord, the familiar tunes rendered with a somewhat remote sound with tinny accents. The costumes by John Rawlings echoed Taylor’s whimsy, calculated down to the last streamer. Both costumes and music provided a perfect foil to the dancers, women and men, black garbed up to their tilted berets, marching on stage with pointed arrow-ends to white staves.  They marched, moved in formations, inter-twined, moved through their lines, thrust their staves to the ready when a white ghost with flame steamers flitted on stage; abandoned the stage when Michael Trusnovec danced Phoenix to the strains of Mahler, glittering in gold-sequined body suit, head band, red streamers as hand accent; staves utilized as game holders to Saint-Saens Swan; staves creating a halo behind Michael Novak’s Deity to Beethoven as he bent, bowed and twisted with glacial Le Roi Soleil demeanor. The staves provided weapon support for the de Falla Devil danced by Robert Kleinendorst, pointing dark blue cellophane straw claws at his victims, swiveling his hips, encased in a blue/black unitard of glistening sequins, all knowing gleeful naughtiness. For the finale, what but Tchaikovsky’s notes for the Russian divertissement in the Nutcracker’s Act II.  Such a send up!

The 2007 Lines of Loss left me more or less neutral, occasionally nodding, though the dancers, in spare off-white Santo Loquasto costumes, were their usual excellent selves.  My principal reaction was admiration for Taylor’s adroit patterns and groupings.

Black Tuesday is now sweet sixteen, created in 2001 to songs of The Great Depression, the set and motley costumes of mix and match by Santo Loquasto apt echoes of survival under the Third Avenue El, still in place during my brief Manhattan sojourn in 1952. The tinny quality of the musical renditions provides the exact ambiance of momentary cheer and inevitable despair. There is a knowingness about the women’s dresses, accented by black mesh stockings whose black banded tops could be seen all too often, heightening the anbiance of “So what’s it to you?” Parisa Khobdeh’s about-to-deliver baby bump awakened empathy as she hopped, twirls and jumped around the self-absorbed figures in her space.  Michelle Fleet and James Samson gave no-cost cheer in”Slummin’ on Park Avenue,” while Heather McGinley left no doubt about her seedy means of survival, stretching her lengthy limbs or being carried and tossed by fellow survivors iin “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”

While each of the eight songs conveyed its own message of the era, Michael Trusnovec’s “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” formed the finale, phrases like “Once I built a Railroad….”with added references to early skyscraper construction, being a World War I doughboy, and “…Al, I’m Your pal.” The phrase “Brother Can You Spare a Dime,” finished each sequence as Trusnovec, in khaki, spun, gestured or jumped.  The bitter sweet, tender exposition of those years of Taylor’s childhood, [I too remember them], closed with the company’s hands illuminated with the words “Can you Spare a Dime?”

Farewell to Three Principals

25 Apr

Within five days, San Francisco Ballet bade farewell to three noted principal dancers; alphabetically, Lorena Feijoo, Davit Karapetyan and Vanessa Zahorian, though in reverse order of dates.

Claudia Baer’s review in the San Francisco Chronicle for April 15’s performance is recommended,  Swan Lake for Karapetyan and Zahorian.

Vanessa Zahorian came to San Francisco Ballet in 1996, joining the corps de ballet, following a citation at the Arabesque Competition in Perm and a brief sojourn with the Kirov Ballet, following her training at the Kirov Conservatory in Washington, D.C. and the Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. (Zahorian is one of several such PYB alumnas, including Tina and Sherri Le Blanc, Kirstin Long.)  Early on, with Gennadi Nedvigin, Vanessa was awarded an Erik Bruhn prize in Toronto as contributing most to the future of classical ballet.  Her rise through the ranks was steady and consistent, the same qualities which have permeated her twenty-year sojourn with the company.  While I might have quibbled with an interpretation, Vanessa never wavered in her delivery, even when she broke a toe during a Gala two or three years ago.

Vanessa’s Odette possessed beautiful port de bras, slender, almost ethereal. Her technique in the famous variation was brilliant, although she forwent the passe position following her bird-like attitudes en arriere, and the final battery was exciting. Her 32 fouettes possessed a fair sprinkling of doubles; though traveling, Vanessa ended strongly, an Odile excited by the challenge, abetted by her Von Rothbart father, Sean Orza, and ready to take on the next victim.  Without Daddy, I wonder at Odile’s future – interesting notion.

Davit Karapetyan brought impressive training from his native Armenia, then seasons with the Zurich Ballet with him to San Francisco, a beautiful physique, vibrant black hair and a soulful demeanor to all his roles.  At the Jackson Competition where he and Vanessa earned Best Partner citation, one of the discerning teachers at the International School remarked, “I cannot take my eyes off him in class.”

Karapetyan lost an entire season to injury about two years ago and this past season the enemy of dancers managed to sideline him again. You would never know it with the height of his grand jetes and attitude turns, nor the completeness which he displayed as Siegfried. Admittedly, dancing opposite Vanessa, his wife, helped.

Overall, they supplied a rousing performance, provoking an equal audience response as their figures appeared behind the boulder which hides San Francisco Ballet’s Swan Lake.  There followed the bouquet given by Helgi , a bottle for Davit and then the parade of dancers with single red roses as well as the flowers tossed over the orchestra pit.  Warm, affectionate, the company salutes its departing principals in excellent style.

For Lorena Feijoo, there were none of her memorable roles snippets her admirers remember, nor a piece d’occasion to salute her departure. Following the end of Program 7’s performance April 18, down came the white screen in front of the gold curtains and the audience was treated to video honorifics by Helgi Tomasson,  extolling statements by Yuri Possokhov and Val Caniparoli whom Feijoo credits with giving her opportunities to create roles.  Skyla Schreter and Jayna Frantzikonis also contributed tributes to her example in the company.

Lorena then appeared alone on the stage in a mauve-pinky gown with some sort of drapery, smiling, poised.  If she had chosen a hat she would have been a ringer for one of those fin-de-siecle Parisiennes who managed such a swath theatrically and personally or Mrs. Patrick Campbell across the English Channel.

The extolling over, the bouquets began led by Helgi, then followed by choreographers, dancers and two bouquets by Lorena’s daughter and a friend. Lorena delivered a Lambarena movement when Val Caniparoli approached her.  Most of the principal women dancers curtsied as they presented the single red rose.  Much, if not most, of the ritual was captured by Teri McCollum, showing up on Facebook shortly thereafter.  One shot. not seen by the audience, was Lorena lying supinely on the shoulders of some half dozen of the company ‘s male dancers, a great, playful salute to this wonder woman  dance artist.

What a trio – to all three, God Speed.

About Lewis and Clark And Their Trek

21 Apr

Munger, Susan H. And Thomas, Charlotte Staub, Common to This Country;
Botanical Discoveries of Lewis & Clark.
New York, Artisan/Workman Publishing, Inc., 2003, 128 pp., illus. , $22.

Some years ago I bought this book on Lewis and Clark on remainder.  This past week I picked it up, thinking I should read it before sending along to my sister.

I knew generally about the expedition, the fact that Sacagawea, an Shoshone Indian woman was the guiding angel in the expedition, but didn’t know she was married to Touissant Charbonneau, a French trapper who also went along with the expedition and that she had a five-month old son at the commencement of her involvement, or that the engagement occurred in South Dakota. Also I had no idea that a number of the expedition were French watermen or egage, hired to help on the first stretch upriver. I also was ignorant about York, a Negro valet to William Clark, who went along, thereby becoming the first African-American to see the Pacific Ocean from the Oregon Coast. a fascinating fact  about slaves. Along with comments about the physical travails of the trip, some of the worst occurring once the expedition reached the Pacific Ocean, it was as virgin reading for me as the trek was for the fifty-five men who ventured forth, fifty-four returning , only thirty-three of whom made it to the Pacific Ocean.  The others turned back the spring of 1805.

This book, however, focuses on eighteen species of plants identified by Lewis,
who had trained as a botanist, out of native curiosity and at the behest of our third President. In this slim volume, the specimens are meticulously drawn, described and recorded on a map where they were found and collected.  If you are thrilled at smallnesses, as I am, these 128 pages  proved one of those casually-acquired treasures.

For those interested, the specimens found along the Missouri River included the Osage Orange, being cultivated by Pierre Chouteau, the direct ancestor of Yvonne Chouteau, ballerina with the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo [Have to get dance in there, somewhere!]. Along the Missouri,, but in South Dakota were the Bur Oak and the Prickly Pear and further, in North Dakota the Bearberry and the Narrow Leaf Cornflower.   The Gumbo Evening Primrose was identified on the outward journey through Montana and the Missouri River’s Great Falls. then the Silky Lupine, the Wood Lily and Lewis’ Prairie Flax were identified at Missouri’s Great Falls, the latter three on Lewis’ briefly separated return trek in what became Montana.

As the travelers moved south towards the Idaho border, their finds were Angelica and the Snowberry; moving northward Bitterroot, Bear Grass and the Shrubby Penstemon.  Apparently back in Southwest Montana, they found Camas and Old Man’s Whiskers, followed by the Ponderosa Pine, Lewis’ Syringa , Ragged Robin and the Glacier Lily.  What followed was the long journey along the Columbia River to the Pacific Coast. In mid Oregon, the Oregon Grape Holly and the Western Service Berry were identified. The final identification apparently took place near the end of the lengthy expedition at the border of Nebraska and Kansas on the Missouri River, Calliopsis, today’s garden stalwart.

Altogether 228 specimens  are housed in the Lewis and Clark Herbarium in the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, 178 of which were new to Western Science.

There is another reason why the book appealed to me; I received my secretarial training from Elizabeth Lewis Warren Ledford. On her mother’s side, she was descended or in the immediate lineal family of that historic Lewis.  For all her capacity for living in the moment, “Betty” carried that lineage in her comportment; she was  a singular mentor in my early adulthood.

I can’t help wondering about possible descendants of Sacagawea and Touissant as well as York and the various members of the two parts of the expedition.  What a lineage they possess, and do any of the descendants know about it.

For all of the complicated connotations of Thomas Jefferson’s private and political life, his curiosity about the natural world, his directives and enabling of this exploration belongs to one of the shining episodes in American history. How I wish we could have similar ones in these early years of the twenty-first century.

Flip Flopping

17 Apr

I remember the final editorial that the late Marian Van Tuyl wrote for the dance annual Impulse for which I was privileged to produce two separate articles for two separate editions, “We do everything badly.”

Well, I have joined the Club with its numerous members.  Which is to say that my last two or three postings have wound up on the former site Woollywesterneye when intended for Mywestern eye.  Fortunately, trusty Olaf Ruehl is showing up on the horizon later this week and my age-dusted comments just may find their proper niche.



SFBallet’s Dozen for 2018

16 Apr

I looked over the roster of choreographers for San Francisco Ballet’s 2018 season finale and noted that Alonzo King is the only local choreographer selected for the dozen choreographers to mount new works on the SFB dancers if one doesn’t include Myles Thatcher, the company member.

Refreshing news is that Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Cathy Marston are included.  There have been, to my memory, only four other female choreographers included over various seasons, and, at different times, including Brenda Way and Margaret Jenkins.  Amy Seiwart is not yet anointed.

Reinvited choreographers are Justin Peck, Christopher Wheeldon, Edward Liaing, Arthur Pita, Stanton Welch, Trey Mcintrye, with David Dawson and Dwight Rhoden as the new invitees.

Clearly it’s going to be a busy summer for the dancers learning new works and acclimatizing to different choreographic styles.  But with the crop of newly elevated soloists, the company is ready for it.  If I may say so, it’s a canny way of handling the departure of so many older principals – new works for newer dancers.  For the most part, Helgi Tomasson has never been lacking that capacity.


It’s Spring, It was The Ailey, at UCB, March 15

16 Apr

Rita Felciano and I made the second performance of Alvin Ailey’s American Dance Company at U.C., Zellerbach Hall March 15 and had the good fortune of sitting next to Joanna Berman and her husband Andrew Mandel as well as a very demonstrative audience,  frequently standing after each of the four numbers in Program 2.

What invariably came across in each number, even with the solo Cry danced with eloquence by Jacqueline Green, is that the Ailey works and dances hard as well as eloquently.  Another impression is how much Ailey relied on the reaches of the arms, whether stretched laterally, vertically, at an angle or with deliberately bent wrists.  In his 1974 Duke Ellington piece, Night Creature, Ailey demonstrates that he knew the urban African-American terrain as much as the rural one so celebrated in Revelations. He also established not only the company’s communal quality, but that  the African-American community exudes it from the pores of each individual.

Untitled America, Kyle Abraham (2016), and Exodus, Rennie Harris (2015), demonstrated clearly, wonderfully just how many  tall, stalwart and impressive male dancers the Ailey company enjoys, and just how well they move and look on stage.  Both works emphasize the amazing communal sense of the company, a reflection of the spirit running constantly through the larger community.

While sitting next to us,  Joanna Berman  informed us with great pleasure that she had been giving the Ailey company their daily ballet class for the last five seasons.  In her clear enthusiasm she declared it one of her privileges,  “They are so earnest, so respectful and work so hard.”

I would say definitively a great bond has been forged.  May it long continue.