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.

Made for SFB – Program Seven

13 Apr

April 5 was the opener for these three ballets, sandwiched between Swan Lake and Cinderella.  It was a  nicely balanced program starting with Helgi Tomasson’s Trio with three principal couples backed by a handsome glistening screen hinting at Venetian or Byzantine wall murals.

Sasha de Sola opened the ballet with Vitor Luiz, her line expanding confidently, maturing with every finish in her port de bras, Luiz providing support with his particularly understated competence.  The actual trio followed, with Sarah Van Patten and Tiit Helimets as tender lovers, being trailed by Aaron Robison as the Death figure with a deliberately understated focus, not forcing the inevitable, but knowing it.  Maria Kochetkova and Angelo Greco danced the third assignment; both nicely matched in size, but Kochetkova’s earlier allure seemed diminished despite Greco’s gallant partnering.  I suspect her dual allegiance with American Ballet Theatre makes for a degree of dislocation.

The Ghost in the Machine to music by Michael Nyman and conducted by Ming Luke is Myles Thatcher’s second ballet for San Francisco Ballet.  Costumed by Susan Roemer in shades of grey, a V shape in the back of the men’s torsos and little peplums on the women’s tunics, both lighter than the rest of the costumes, the decor by Alexander V. Nichols provided stark lines of black variously illumined during the ballet, forming an expansive V shape. It was a visually handsome production.

Five couples carried the work which is derived from the phrase first coined by Gilbert Ryle and the title of a book by Arthur Koestler, concerned with the separation of mind and body – a rather interesting formulation with the paired skilled dancers: Vanessa Zahorian/Joseph Walsh; Sasha de Sola/Steven Morse; Dores Andre/Carlo Di Lanno; Isabelle de Vivo/Estaban Hernandez [both promoted to soloist status 7/1/2017] Emma Rubinowitz/Max Cauthorn.  De Sola had several moments where she was exposed, stage center, where her height and expression proved quite appealing.  Andre and Di Lanno provided a definite rapport, and understanding chemistry. De Vivo and Hernandez, both scheduled for solo status 7/1/17, were partnered again effectively.

Thatcher has a feeling for space, for entrances and exits and for moving groups. His themes tend to make him choose too lengthy music, but his choreographic talent is apparent and growing.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour was first commissioned and danced by San Francisco Ballet in 2008 using music by Erik Bosso and Antonio Vivaldi.  Martin Pakledinaz was responsible for scenery and costumes, James F. Ingalls for the lighting.  It was interesting to see it back because of Vanessa Zahorian’s cheerful and joyous partnership with Joseph Walsh, an example of definite enjoyment.  And also a variation between Francisco Mungamba and Lonnie Weeks, both excellent technicians with Mungamba’s emphatic accents to his port de bras providing sparks of excitement.  He’s another of the newly elevated soloists, 7/1/2017. Sarah Van Patten and Luke Ingham seem happily fated to be excellent partners, while I wonder again at Kochetkova’s dismissiveness towards her excellent partners, here Vitor Luiz. The work proved a happy, almost exclamatory ending to the evening.

A hors de catagorie comment about the company whose young dancers seem to be taking hold with confidence and admirable energy.  It is my understanding that the company will not only lose Vanessa Zahorian, Davit Karapetyan and Lorena Feijoo,  but there will be additional departures by Carlos Quenedit, Taras Domitro and Aaron Robison, all in the principal dancer category. With last season’s departure of Joan Boada, Pascal Molat and Gennadi Nedvigin [all three celebrated with Sustained Achievement Awards by the Isadora Duncan Dance Awards late in March], the company has experienced a sea change of some magnitude.  Given next year’s schedule starts with Sleeping Beauty, one wonders about new hires as well as the obvious challenges.

2016 at Stern Grove: San Francisco Ballet

3 Aug

When you park off Wawona for a Sunday Stern Grove matinee, the path to the
meadow-auditorium as remodeled by the late Lawrence Halprin does three or four turns on its sloping route to the wonderful meadow given to San Francisco by Mrs. Sigmund Stern honoring her husband. You come out near the clubhouse which some decades earlier was a roadhouse and now houses a series of both gender toilets adjoining the original building. A few feet downward and there are a slew of short-order vendors and the Stern Grove Association booths for information and assistance.

As VIP’s [read press affiliates] it was still necessary to trek across the meadow, brimming with multi-cultural humanity, to the VIP tent to get badges and green wrist bands enabling our party of five to imbibe beer and wine as well as claim our share of Table 35, next to the bona fide press table. This year the press has been moved to the lower of three tiers of tables, if off side, so that our view of San Francisco Ballet was decidedly at an angle. It also enabled us to observe Frances Chung stretch her legs and bend her back prior to entering as Odette in Swan Lake, her debut in the role. She doubtless will appear in the ballet during the 2017 spring season at the Opera House.

In addition to Tiit Helimets as Siegfried and Alexander Renoff-Olson as Von Rothpart, the program included Helgi Tomasson’s Fifth Season, music by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins and two pieces appearing semi-regularly on SFB’s programs: Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain pas de deux to Estonian composer Arvo Part, finishing with George Balanchine’s Rubies with Vanessa Zahorian, Joseph Walsh and Jennifer Stahl.

Before further comment, our party of five included Carlos and Carolyn Carvajal, who have graced performances and mounted works locally both in the earlier San Francisco Ballet days, with Carlos’ Dance Spectrum and Carolyn’s witty performances with Dance Through Time and in the ballet parts of San Francisco Opera seasons. Carlos’ tenure with San Francisco Ballet goes back to Willam Christensen’s years, and two subsequent stints under Lew Christensen with Le Grand Ballet de Marquis de Cuevas, Breman and Bordeaux Opera Ballets in between.

Dennis Nahat and John Gebertz made numbers three and four, both having assignments with Akyumen Technologies since Nahat’s abrupt termination at Ballet San Jose, bringing two Chinese productions to De Anza Auditorium in Cupertino and Southern California, and participating in the affairs of Donald McKayle at U.C. Irvine. Dennis regaled us with stories of ABT’s Swan Lake in the rain at New York’s Delacorte Theater and the ingenuity of Lucia Chase.

Swan Lake
brought swoons of admiration from Carolyn Carvajal for the dancing of the corps de ballet, remarking on the correctness of the staging as she remembered it with Merriem Lanova’s Ballet Celeste. Dennis observed how crisp the angles in the line of foot and leg in Odette’s solo because of short tutus, unlike the knee-length costumes so remarked upon in Ratmansky’s production of Sleeping Beauty. We had to assume Tiit’s interpretation because his back was to us ninety per cent of the time, but Chung’s expression provided the clue of Odette’s concern and wavering. For the first time I could feel a thought process from the progression of Odette’s choreography, as well as the touching moment when she ventures under Siegfried’s arm in the pas de deux, a creature moment for certain.

Wan Ting Zhao and Jennifer Stahl provided the leaping choreography and Isabella DeVivo, Jahna Frantziskonis, Noriko Matsuyama and Emma Rubinowitz, precise, multi-cultural little cygnets, hopping in sync for all their worth.

Tomasson’s Fifth Season was garbed in Sandra Woodall’s sleek tight and top fashion de rigeur with choreographic abstraction, divided into sections titled Waltz, Romance, Tango, Largo and Bits, eight corps in the ensemble with principals Mathilde Froustey, Yuan Yuan Tan, Doris Andre , the men Carlos Quenedit, Tiit Helimets, Aaron Robison in his local San Francisco Ballet debut.

Yuan Yuan Tan seemed to have cornered the feminine role in After The Rain
pas de deux, her sinuous,willowy length adapting to Luke Ingham, a second
Australian to partner her in Christopher Wheeldon’s protracted study of langeur
and emotional connection, minimally costumed in flesh tones by Holly Hynes. Ingham made an effective foil to Tan, clearly an excellent partner.

Rubies is, to me, a very urban ballet, brash, out there with a neat dash of Broadway. Jennifer Stahl danced the figure manipulated by the four corps men Max Cauthorn , Blake Kessler, Francisco Mungamba and John-Paul Simoens. From a distance it seemed effective, given location reservations and the vivid memory of Muriel Maffre in that role. Vanessa Zahorian and Joseph Walsh danced the leads with aplomb and good humor.

San Francisco Ballet annually draws some of Stern Grove Festival’s biggest audiences. Halprin’s design gives the public an amazing series of alcoves where they can stash their bodies and their lunches. Halprin’s vision reinforced that fact Stern Grove Festival, at the threshold of celebrating its 80th annual summer, continues to be one of the crown jewels of San Francisco’s cultural and recreation diversions.

ODC’s Succulent Summer Sampler

23 Jul

Succulent usually refers to a plant which is hardy and can last through dry spells without withering all that much. Not a glamorous attribute, but why knock the sturdy? Especially when the contours and edges frequently display unusual shades and shapes. The 2016 Summer Sampler at ODC’s B Way Theatre provided this quality to the July 22 audiences for three short numbers, two of which were reprises, one a work in progress.

The partially formed work was attributed to K. T. Nelson, not yet titled, to a mix of music by Julia Wolk, Ben Frost, Frideric Handel, Hauschka probably collated by Natasha Adorelee Johnson, who doubled as dancer and sound engineer, the results performed by the entire company.

Nelson’s conceptual map knows little boundaries though the development can seem, at times, perfunctory in its visual support. She is not normally one to explore a theme that’s small scaled; the impact is one mesmerizing by the dancers’ skill, musculature and the rush of the theme thundering on the heels of the dancers’ considerable technique. Nelson is concerned here about the human place in our universe of technology and what does it do to our cultural inheritance.

Jeremy Smith started the adventure, shaved head, and minimal garments, making almost Egyptian profile movements and flexing his arms and hands. He is interrupted by Brandon “Private” Freeman and the two exchange body grasps, lifts and shuffles. Gradually the women make their appearance, also minimally clothed in short trunks or skirts. But they come sporting props which they place briefly on Smith – a white wig, a neck ruff, a lace gilet – a Soldier’s cap – before removing them. Tegan Schwab arrived with a fan which she gives to Smith, there is a white plume on another woman’s head – the ‘Twenties, perhaps or possibly le regime ancien.
This succession gives the audience a quick historical references as the other company members appear with similar reference points. The movements, some breath-taking lifts and tumbles, call prior formalities into question.

Following a pause, Brandon “Private” Freeman reprised Going Solo (2016), seen to such advantage at ODC’s Dancing Down Town season. Freeman’s mid-sized, muscular body now sports a couple of tattoos on one of his upper arms; thankfully it only slightly distracts from the sculptural acuity of his spatial movements, as Freeman moves his hand, then arms into space, bending, stretching, and finally, with the aid of water from his plastic thermos, sliding, surfing forward and backward on the floor, standing, and on his back. It is a tour de force reaching the audience with a visual solemnity akin to standing in a cathedral.

After Intermission Brenda Way revived Waving Not Drowning (A Guide to Elegance) (2010) possessing a joint French-English narrative regarding deportment de rigeur for French females. With Way’s capacity to nudge and mock both gently and visually, the company provided madcap movements and adornments, the women papering the men dressed a la mode.

The company now comprises, in addition to Smith, Freeman, Johnson and Schwab, Dennis Adams, Josie G. Sadan, Steffi Cheong, Jeremy Bannon Neches, Alec Guthrie, Allie Papazian.

In her introduction to the evening, Brenda Way said that they were looking forward to the company’s 50th season. In course of their planning, they wanted the audience to provide the names of works they particularly remember, a place for which was provided on one side of the program insert. For those of you who remember the early days of the company, do e-mail the titles of works which particularly stick in your mind. They will be welcome.

Finally, Carlos Carvajal spoke to Kimi Okada his pleasure and gratitude to ODC’s leadership for the remodeling of the theatre. “They could have left the theatre as it was, but instead, they had a vision of what it could be. They have my wholehearted admiration.”

Mine, too.

Five, Nineteen Equals Twenty-Three According to Joe Landini

19 Jul

Joe Landini, that force in San Francisco who has masterminded SAFE – Save the Arts From Extinction – has undisguised flair and presence which he demonstrated in introducing the two programs Rita Felciano and I saw Sunday, July 10 in different parts of ODC’s Theatre. This was Landini’s SAFEhouse Arts’ 6th Annual Summer Performance Festival.

Before discussing the two events seen, Landini’s assumption of One Grove Street’s space is numbered from the general conversation I was witness to. Burger King apparently owned the ground floor and has sold it, meaning that One Grove Street has perhaps a year remaining as a performance venue. Not much isk known about the new owners – I heard that doctors will be the new occupants – a clinic? A state of the Art something or other? If medical, are the practitioners aware that art belongs to the healing equation in they took the oath of Hippocrates.

The site of Ephesus possessed not only a hospital, but sports facilities and one of the great Greek classical theatres remaining. Would that medicine heed the confluence of forces, mind; body;expression.

Editorializing aside, three events were witnessed. The first, at 6p.m. in ODC’s upstairs studio on Shotwell and 17th was soloist Lucia August/Everybody Can Dance, “standing OUTstanding.”

August, a large, heavy set woman, handsome head with cropped grey hair, flashing greyish eyes and straight nose, and wonderfully capable hands with a sweeping arm capacity, started her largely autobiographical hour with Parallel Lives, describing how life went along on one track and her love of dancing intertwined until they joined forces at age 50.

The second piece, Consistent Paradox, told the tale of a man who “Had it all,” paid his minions well, who kept his secret that he was, in reality, a woman. This involved gestures showing him boxing himself in tighter and tighter, working himself into a frenzy, clearly fooling noone but himself.

They Never Really Leave, which completed the program told the tale of a lover from U.C. Santa Barbara days, who disappeared in 1983, but whose presence returns vividly every so often. Lucia August’s seniority has given her a forthright presence, an honesty about sexual preferences and definite performing skills.

Using the small elevator to get downstairs and around the corner [if not under the tree or hearing the Sergeant Major], it was to witness two much younger groups and an intriguing soloist who knows how to use lighting to enhance his movement

Peter and Co., formed in 2104, featured a solo, Interstice, and a trio titled Transverse Course. If not mistaken, Chen draws some of his inspiration from the circular, sinewy qualities of Asian marital arts. The credits indicate that solo works were the beginning, and the two pieces clearly reflect that particular emphasis.

Interstice as Websters New World Dictionary describes it is a small or narrow space between things or space, a cranny, crook, and, with the aid of side lighting, Chen’s solo conveyed that narrowness, the inability of the body to face fully forward, side ward or back. Yet, with the lighting and a remarkably eloquent torso and arm movement his body wended an eerie way with considerable cogency.

Transverse Course presented a trio, Kalani Hicks, Sophia Larriva, Alyssa Mirchel, in patterns which echoed faintly the circular and oval movements of Peter Chen but minus the shifts in height or eerie lighting. The piece demonstrated devoted dancers, but Chen still working towards movement with dancers as effective as his own personal style.

Tanya Charese’s Masses utilized a dozen dancers in an ambitious, semi-martial series of maneuvers, sometimes vertical, sometimes dropping or hunching on the floor, to emphasize not only routine, habitual daily movement, but also the loneliness of contemporary life. She assembled the ensemble and deployed them like a general, managing to convey an army-like movement on the march. Whether that was her intention I am unsure, but it was impressive.

The dozen performances were: Hayley Bowman, Kelsey Gerber, Mallory Markham, Maddie Matuska, Amy McMurcha, Rebecca Morris, Lind Phung, Jessica Rols, Emma Salmon, Vera Schwegher, Brittany Tran, Oona Wong-Danders.

Seeing these young dancers plus noting Joe Landini’s prodigous generosity in providing a showcase for their development provides hope for strong future dance statements.

Ballet Excerpts

14 Jul

Since signing up for Facebook, “Friends” manage to keep me informed on ballets and dancers I otherwise might never have been.
One of the gems that Dennis Mullen provided was a brief 1909 movie of Tamara Karsavina in a Torch Dance. I think the choreographer was Michel Fokine and it was one of oriental-flair pieces that were so de rigeur at the time. Even with the static choreography, one could see the precision of the Maryinsky training and what a surpassingly lovely woman and good dancer she was.

I’ve also had glimpses of Sarafanov, whom the late George Zoritch saw in Perm at an Arabesque Competition, and mentioned to me; more recently a young Johann Kobborg in Bournonville variations with Rose Gad dancing the feminine role. Those wonderful little running steps in the variation as the dancer turns his back briefly to the audience in preparation for what is one of those light, impressive attitude jetes . Toba Singer was responsible for this banquet.

Daniel Simmons posted the final section of the Rose Adagio with Tamra Rojo as Aurora. She was a wonder; the camera was close enough so one could see her adjusting her weight as she held her pose and offered her hand to one of the suitors. What was remarkable was that she set her arms en haut each time – not just a movement from hand to paw, but a fully formed port de bras phrasing with the suitor gallantly waiting to approach the prize.

Which brings me to TV station 32.5 here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Its home is in Burbank with the offerings sustained by a  legacy. Sad to say I don’t remember the name of the man who left the funding allowing this station to broadcast 24/7 movies, music, dance and commentary, from silent films to Misha’s first days with American Ballet Theatre, partnering Dierdre Carberry in Twyla Tharp’s The Little Ballet.

The last couple of nights I have heard the strains of The Rose  Adagio, and since I saw Maya Plisetskaya in the role, thanks to the station,  I wasn’t very interested. But then I took a look and was astonished.
In flesh colored tights a battery of men, augmented by chrome ballet bars, were dancing, jumping and falling in utter precision to the various orchestral instruments before the ensemble parted to reveal Aurora, also in flesh colored tights.

She was led over and under the bars, she was covered by the male bodies to be revealed prone and spread eagled. One man picked up her arm and swung around on her back on the floor to one of the sequences usually displaying Aurora’s balance.

At that point it began to hit me – all the men around the prize – like dogs around a bitch in heat. Instead of stringing  out the analogy, Aurora was placed on one of the bars and led towards the selected Prince Charming who had thumped his chest. They converged on the bar and kissed. Ritual completed. Blackout.

The piece manages to be well danced, theatrically exciting and more than a little silently satirical in the crisp way European artists manage so well, a tone parallel in quality to Hans Von Manen.

It’s a fascinating piece of choreography; if my eyes are correct, the company is stationed in Biarritz, and bears the name of Malandatin, with Thierry Malandatin the choreographer and artistic director.  The Web carries quite a bit of information on the director, the dancers and the repertoire.

It would be fascinating to see what he might mount on San Francisco Ballet dancers.