Tag Archives: Agrippina Vaganova

Silicon Valley Ballet Dances Modern

1 Mar

Silicon Valley Ballet gave its subscribers and audience three modern works, two of which I have seen and, one, a local premiere under the overall title Director’s Choice, February 19-21.

It started off however, with a classical pas de deux apparently different at every performance. For the matinee it was the Diana and Acteon pas de deux from Esmeralda, the original pas de deux by Marius Petipta adapted by Jose Manuel Carreno with no credit given for the in between Agrippina Vaganova version seen in many gala performances and international competitions.

Carreno cast two corps members, Chloe Sherman and Yuto Ideno in this pas de deux with workmanlike results. Both were correct, but had not danced it enough to feel comfortable or to give it the bravura touch. Sherman’s performance was the more reticent, hueing to correctness rather than the dash of the mythic huntswoman. Ideno danced with more freedom and spirit.

Next on the program was Jorma Elo’s Glow-Stop with its snippets of Mozart and Philip Glass, a work which has gone around the block since it was premiered by Boston Ballet where Elo is the resident choreographer. The dancers are assigned to act or perform like animated puppets, port de bras thrust into angles when finishing pirouettes, sudden bends of the torso, disparate and multiple maneuvers happening all over the stage, sudden arrivals and departures; in essence, it is the classical vocabulary employed to be contradicted. The dancers danced it energetically.

Prisom
, the work by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, left me minus lingering thoughts other than flashes of color and a sudden, brief interlude of tights and a white spaghetti stringed bodice with curlicues of black worn by Ommi Pipit-Suksun and her partner.

Ohad Naharin’s Minus Sixteen with a diverse score completed the program. It far and away captured my attention. Outside of the structure, it is Naharin’s satire of orthodox Israeli society and conflicting poles – orthodoxy against near desert climate, youth against tradition before the anomaly of come on, come all, all accented by Klesmer song, repeated multi times. Apart from the lively performance with the visual interest of a line of sixteen-chaired dancers suddenly flopping on the floor, discarding hats, then jackets and shirts, with one stubborn hold out downstage left, who simply collapses while others divest themselves of their clothing, its structure holds even after seeing it three or four times. Undoubtedly a vintage piece, it does remain a distinct statement evoking the social disparities in Israel today. And, of course, when the dancers go out into the audience and acquire temporary partners, the audience enjoyed not only the spectacle of the amateur recruits but are left with amusement and the good sensation it elicits.

The program notes did acknowledge Dennis Nahat as the founding artistic director of Ballet San Jose, but no mention was made of Karen Gabay as Artistic Associate.

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Book Review: Vaganova Today

6 Feb

Book Review

Pawlick, Catherine E., Vaganova Today: The Preservation of Pedagogical Tradition
Gainesville Fl, University Press of Florida, 2011,  201 pp, $29.95
ISBN: 978-0-8130-3697-7

The name Vaganova usually fills the ballet lover with suitable respect.  The noted pedagogue’s name recurs regularly during a ballet competition when the Diane and Acteon pas de deux is performed, whether as one of the two variations or by an ambitious couple.

Any mention of schooling in a dancer’s biography leads to the fundamental expectation of purity and possibly virtuosity.  I remember Julia Vershbinsky telling me that her daughter Asya was one of six girls selected for study at that St. Petersburg institution out of several thousand – I venture six – but my memory is not that accurate.  But it gives one some notion just how lucky a child is when selected.

So it’s hardly surprising that Catherine Pawlick would be drawn to explore the school, its teachers and system as it existed when she started an interesting career in translation in that most elegant of Russian cities, the northern capital hewn from marshes by Peter the Great.

As Pawlick explains in the Preface, her initial exposure to the Vaganova syllabus was as an exchange student.  Duly impressed with the purity of the system under the Soviet regime, she returned to Russia in 2003 she made the decision to return to St. Petersburg to live in 2004, spending six years immersing herself in its ballet world, writing and interviewing members of the Institute; absorbing the structure and subtle ambiance inevitable with such a legacy of rigorous training and extraordinary artistic accomplishment.

Following the Preface with an impressive list of individuals in Acknowledgments she provides the reader with a Chronology of the Vaganova Institute, beginning in 1737 with Jean Lande,  the first French ballet master in St. Petersburg, requesting permission to open a ballet academy, and May 4, 1738 when Anna Ivanova signed a decree opening the “Dancing School of Her Highness.” This beginning was reorganized in 1779 forming the Imperial Theatre School, mandated to prepare dancers, musicians and actors.  [Compare the date: the British North American colonies were immersed in the American Revolution.]

Pawlick follows with a chronology of Agrippina Vaganova’s life, with its surprising credits for having served as artistic director of the Kirov, 1932-1937 when The Flames of Paris, and The Fountains of Bakshchsirai entered the repertoire.  Restagings included Swan Lake and Esmeralda, the latter providing the Diane and Aceton pas de deux has become such a staple.

Also during this time, her Basic Principles of Classic Ballet was published, which was published in English in New York by Kamin’s Book Store and translated by Anatole Chujoy with a red paperback cover and spiral binding if memory serves. Truly, Vaganova was a formidable contributor to the classic tradition which many of us today revere and extoll.

To return to the book’s format, following the Chronologies and Preface, it constitutes three sections: Vaganova, the Dancer [pages 5-28]; Vaganova, the Teacher [pages 29-74]; and Vaganova Today: Her Students pages 75-178] before Pawlick’s Conclusion.

A well-documented history of Vaganova includes comments about Olga Preobrajenska and her teaching methods, not only by Vaganova but visitors to Paris from Russia and by George Zoritch, a Preobrajenska student devoted to her memory.  As a strict classicist, Vaganova was ill suited to Fokine’s romantic approach; this prevented her from joining the dancers of the Diaghilev company either at its inception or with the four dancers, including Balanchine and Danilova, who left to tour Germany the summer of 1924 and never returned.  A further restriction on her career, Vaganova believed, was the lack of influential patronage.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Vaganova’s position after the Russian Revolution was not an easy transition, again mostly because of the hierarchy briefly remaining in St. Petersburg where Vera Trifilova was preeminent. In the text Konstastin  Sergeyev also explains the pros and cons which raged in the ‘Twenties artistically and classical ballet was not immune to controversy. It seems clear that the fact Vaganova never enjoyed the status her talent deserved . Lacking aristocratic or royal patronage provided her with opportunity under the Communist regime. Making do in the interval with other schools her diary records as awful, following Trifilova’s departure, Vaganova was invited to teach children’s classes because of her love of the school and “her irreproachable professionalism.”

Part of Vaganova’s success can be attributed to her ability to analyse her own physical difficulties with the classical syllabus. this enabled her to spot problems in students and to provide corrections and approaches to overcome the challenge of this most rigorous training.  The pictures opposite pages 25 and 33 give the reader some idea of Vaganova’s strength and commanding presence. A contemporary equivalent, though quite different, might  be Martine Van Hamel whose road to principal with American Ballet Theatre was singularly rigorous.

At the same time, Vaganova emulated Olga Preobrajenska’s approach to the students assigned her with equally reverential results.  Students were treated with respect and corrections were gentle though firm.  “Preo’s” student believed in training the entire body; I think this to mean she wanted a dancer to move as herself with the classical technique developed upon the intrinsic body style; this is something one can see clearly in a dancer, whether moving a trained body or the
technique pasted on.

The praise showered upon Vaganova’s pedagogical efforts are uniformly high with lavish, though discerning comments from Pyotor Gusev, Konstatin Sergeyev, and Fyodor Lubukhov as well as Ludmilla Blok and Nikolai Ivanovsky.
Opinions about her tenure as artistic director of the Kirov Ballet do differ, particularly when Vaganova opted for more naturalistic and expressive gestures
rather than traditional mime.  Lubukhov chides her for reorganizing the Diana
and Acteon pas de deux in Esmeralda, citing the role of a satyr danced by Georgy Kyasht with a conflict including a young Vaslav Nijinsky, a section Vaganova excised from the ballet; it had included Anna Pavlova in the Petipa production.

Reaching Vaganova Today: Her students, it is further divided.  First is
the Role of Pedagogue.  This describes a former dancer who received the full nine years of training in the academy, received a diploma, danced in a professonal Russian theatre and completed the Vaganova’s Academy graduate program for pedagogues, roughly a four year process.  Completing this course enables the dancer to coach other dancersin the theatre or to teach in the Academy.  This rigorous process still allows for performance.  Until recently, no individual trained in another academy or school was permitted, although individuals setting ballets for the repertoire are permitted in to stage the given work.

Pawlick then provides lengthy quotes from dancers turned pedagogues
either who remember Vaganova or who have come through the system and exemplify the tradition.  It is amazing and singular just how many of the individual teachers speak almost identical phrases.  This repetition, Pawlick commented to me, was nothing of her doing.  She interviewed the individuals separately and on a one-to-one basis.  Such is the veneration which existed at the time of Pawlick’s research and at a time when Altenai Assylmuratova was directing the Academy.

2014 USAIBC Round III Session III, June 26, 2014

15 Aug

This final session opened with Aaron Bell who had been featured prominently in the ballet documentary “First Position.” He chose two divergent classical variations, the flashy one last,the men’s variation from Sleeping </em>Beauty as a beginning and the Slave’s variation from Le Corsaire as his second. At present, his attack is more suited to the Prince Desire role, clean, correct, somewhat self-effacing. A thoughtful, intelligent dancer, his excellence also conveyed a neutral quality. This also was conveyed in Vista, Steve Rooks’ setting to Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians.” A long time observer remarked she thought Bell needed to attend classes with other students. I have no way of knowing if that situation pertained, but the observer was thoughtful and caring.

He was followed by Jinsol Eum dancing the same variation, slender, equally correct with touches of distinct elegance, an impression cemented with Solor’s variation from La Bayadere’s Kingdom of the Shades.

Partnered by Michal Slawomir Wosniak, Gisele Bethea essayed Sleeping Beauty’s Act III pas de deux with amazing felicity. I had no trouble believing she was a princess on the occasion of something momentous. Her port de bras and gestures over her low petite battements looked like the results of a coaching session with Margot Fonteyn, their progressive rise winning me over.

Romina Contreras with Sebastian Vinet selected Victor Gsovsky’s Grand Pas de Deux,,looking authoritative in the opening. Unfortunately, Contreras lost balance visibly initially in her variation, though she finished with aplomb. Her general demeanor led one veteran competition observer to comment, “Not this time, but in five years she’ll be a ballerina.” Vinet, a former member of San Francisco Ballet, cuts a handsome figure, but something happens in his torso distorting line and phrasing, though partnering Contreras with skill and empathy.

Seniors Jeong Hansol and Kota Fujishima danced as if they had telegraphed across the Straits of Korea; both danced the male variation from the Nutcracker’s grand pas de deux and Acteon’s variation from Esmeralda’s Diana and Acteon pas de deux by Agrippina Vaganova.

Three senior pas de deux followed with one non-competing partner. Byul Yun with non-competing partner Heewon Cho elected the Diana and Acteon pas de deux as did as did Tamako Miyszaki with non-competing partner Ariel Breitman. In between Melissa Gelfin elected Le Corsaire with non-competing partner Telmo Moreira. Clearly, fireworks were preferred for the senior pas de deux.

The contemporary third of Session III possessed a share of surprises. Jinsol Eum danced Juhyun Jo’s take on Pink Martini’s “But Now I’m Back”; black shirt, trousers and jacket topped by a black Fedora adjusted from time to time for emphasis, while Eum’s lean, flexible body angled, lunged and jumped with considerable panache.

Gisele Bethea’s selection, Imagine, left me with a vague impression of excellent execution, but exactly what was being evoked?

Two unusual choices of classical music for a competition were reflected by Romina Contreras and Sebastian Vinet who danced to Jaime Pinto’s essay to a Claude Debussy Sonate 1. The second was non-competing partner Telmo Moreira’s use of Frederick Chopin’s Lady of the Camellias Black pas de deux for finalist Melissa Gelfin, the former was as quiet and lyrical as Moreira’s setting was turbulent.

In between Jeong Hansol’s interpretation of Jong Ni Lee’s Napoli March of Thomas Beckman was titled Forgot Something. Terribly obvious, what was missing were Hansol’s trousers with the music providing the background for maneuvering and exposing the social and visual embarrassment for the spectacled forgetful male, accented by bright red shorts. The audience responded with chuckles, laughter, guffaws and much applause.

Ending the competition, Tamako Miyazaki with Ariel Breitman performed Tamas Krizsa’s Last Days to Max Richter’s music of the same name, an apocalyptic interpretation to music sounding much the same, enhanced by the lighting plot. One could only surmise that such feelings might be felt momentarily at the press conference the following morning.

San Francisco Ballet’s 81st Gala, January 22

26 Jan

Early dinner at Indigo with John Gebertz, Dennis Nahat and Nahat’s cousin Rose preceded a most memorable San Francisco Ballet Gala. It seemed less hyped, more down to the business of dancing. Still,John Osterweis, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, covered the usual list of sponsors and underwriters plus how many years there were repeats of support for the annual Gala. From four to thirteen years of repeat sponsorsship, it was impressive,plus the announcement the event had garnered SFB 2.4 million dollars.

After the dress parade and the seat scramble as the orchestra tuned up for the Star Spangled Banner, the curtain opened to the pas de cinq from Giselle’s Act I, choreographed by Helgi Tomasson. Lauren Parrott substituted for Clara Blanco; Sasha de Sola and Julia Rowe shared the partnering with Daniel Deivison-Oliviera and Hansuke Yamamoto. De Sola’s opening pirouette a la seconde was expansive, held in arabesque just long enough to gladden the eye. I was struck how evenly paired Parrott and Rowe appeared,how distinctive Deivison and Yamamoto were; the former’s muscular punch incisive emphasis, Yamamoto’s presence conveying flowing evenness. It was a sunny commencement, whetting the appetite.

Alberto Iglesias’ music provided Yuri Possokhov with a wonderful vehicle for Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz under the title of Talk to Her, hable con elle. From the costume looks, Luiz in open black shirt and Lorena’s cascading hair and filmy garment implying either boudoir or bed, the couple conversed with intricate lifts, an occasional drop to the floor, each accenting their movement with a heel click or foot stamp at least once, the intricacy mounting as a voice (singer’s name forgotten) erupted into a short series of melismatic sounds preceding flamenco song. There was a lifted embrace and finis. The audience responded enthusiastically; the evening’s ambiance began to build.

Frances Chung made her debut in the role made memorable by Evelyn Cisneros in Val Caniparoli’s Lambarena. As petite and tidy as Cisneros was sturdy and sensual, it was a definite challenge. Chung responded with small, cheeky and delicious, torso undulation and hip wiggle to size, not giggly but clearly enjoyable, a gently infectious joy of music and movement.

The second pas de deux, from Balanchine’s Who Cares featured Simone Messmer and Ruben Martin Cintas. The “Some Day He’ll Come Along” melody floated in front of a New York City backdrop; the rendition was competent, but emotionally neutral. I wonder if Mr. B had choreographed it with like feeling, a filler nod to popularity, even though he had spent nearly a decade stageing dances for Broadway musicals.

Hans Van Manen’s Variations for Two Couples&lt excerpt used four composers, principals Sofiane Sylve and Sarah Van Patten, partnered by Luke Ingham and Anthony Spaulding, a work premiered not quite two years ago in Amsterdam, intensified the evening’s substance.

I want to see it again; stylishly gratifying is my overall take. Two couples together, then each couple with a passage, some in and outs,the quartet together for the finale, fronting a deep blue scrim, a low-drawn concave line of white near the stage floor. The pace shifted from legato to quirky, evidenced by shaking heads. Intriguing was Anthony Spaulding’s response to the music, an easy-moving neck and responsive torso muscles. Then Sofiane Sylve’s majestic port de bras carried through to her sternum – or should it be the other way around? Sarah Van Patten was correct, classic in line, a pool of concentration. My first real exposure to Mark Ingham showed a compactly built dancer capable of energic bursts, a supportive partner, shy of legato line.

Diana and Acteon, the Agrippina Vaganova pas de deux, sandwiched into a full -length ballet, enlivening the Cesare Pugni score I’ve see at competitions enough to know how difficult it is, and how admirably Vanessa Zahorian carried on after slipping in the entry. She carried on apparently unruffled, only to learn her injury necessitates several weeks of rest. Otherwise hops into arabesques, pirouettes and tours were lyric, musically phrased, a typical Zahorian rendition.

Taras Domitro was paired as Acteon, in a phony leopard skin with an initial saute nothing short of phenomenal. One of the Domitro signatures are strong high thrusts finishing in a slightly curved hand that’s a hand, not five fingers. His menages were swift, complicated, clear. Chabukiani would have applauded just as hard as the audience, a rousing finish to the Gala’s first half.

After intermission, guest artist Johan Kobborg lent San Francisco his dramatic chops, partnering Maria Kochetkova in the Manon’s Act I Bedroom Scene, one of the most lyric choreographies Sir Kenneth MacMillan ever devised. A bed upstage right, a desk and chair downstage left, yin and yang positions to meet stage center with low supported turns, the occasional soaring lift and the final ecstatic floor embrace, a simply exquisite portrait of flowering passion.

From high emotions to equally high jinks, Les Lutins or The Imps, Kobborg’s 2009 trio created for the Royal Ballet was reprised by Gennadi Nedvigin, Esteban Hernandez and Dores Andre as Roy Bogas at the piano and violinist Kurt Nikkaren played, Nikkaren announcing the numbers. Beginning with Nedvigin, It was an “I dare you” allegro exposition with Nedvigin giving sporadic gestures to Nikkaren. Hernandez entered, the maneuvers veered dancer to dancer, with the occasional nod to the violinist, until Dores Andre appeared, black tights, suspenders over white shirt. You guessed it, the expected rivalry is danced out. more allegro, more body language. Enlivening the usual cliche, Kobborg created 95 per cent delight.

Numbers nine, ten,eleven displayed pas de deux, classic glacial, classic bravura, classic elegiac: Sarah Van Patten with Tiit Helimets, Mathilde Froustey and Davit Karapetyan; Yuan Yuan Tan partnered by Damian Smith for number eleven

Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s choreography to Dmitri Shostakovich’s music, provided another glimpse of Van Patten’s cool absorption, displayed by Tiit Helimets; the image of traditional classical dancers. Six corps members accented the movement; Isabella DeVivo, Koto Ishihara, Elizabeth Power with Diego Cruz, Francisco Mungamba and Myles Thatcher. Perhaps seeing the entire work would satisfy me; this glimpse was vaguely dissatisfying.

Grand Pas Classique, music by Francois Auber, staged by Patrick Armand, is a 20th century bravura pas de deux staple at international ballet competitions. Mathilde Froustey and Davit Karapetyan, made it easy to see why. Incredible strength and balance from the woman, flash from the man, Froustey was required to balance several times at the beginning, sustained releves with developpes an avant. Karapetyan’s partnering was the usual exemplary; his variation seemed hampered by excessive costume details. Victor Gsovsky created a fascinating challenge.

Edward Liang’s pas de deux “Finding Light” to Antonio Vivaldi’s Andante from his Violin Concerto in B flat was a peculiar title for Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith’s admirable dancing, unless one believes one comes to recognition with another in twilight. There were the usual lovely lines, considerate partnering, Tan’s long line in developpes, arabesques, and the almost geometric qualities when lifted in some variation of an attitude. Most touching was Tan’s spontaneous embrace of Smith during the bow his kissing of her hand, a signal of Smith’s impending retirement later this spring.

From this exquisite emotion, the finale was the second Balanchine of the evening, the 4th movement from Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet, featuring Sofiane Sylve and Luke Ingham again, with members of the company decked in white with gold and red accents, an effect fluffy, decorative, regrettable. Ingham wasn’t comfortable in his assignment; Sylve managed to make a balloon-like skirt an accessory to her spirited attack. If the work is mounted again for the full company, I hope it rates different costuming. It’s my least favorite work created by this son of the Georgian Caucasus, a work dished up for the 1966 season, forty-eight years ago.

The audience provided the dancers with enormous, deserved applause, shouts and a standing ovation at the end, topping costume parade, decibel levels before the Gala and at Intermission, making one feel there’s nothing better than participating in a finely-conceived Gala. I don’t remember seeing a Tomasson-selected Gala failing to enchant; this year’s seemed the best yet.