Tag Archives: Alicia Alonso

The 2016 San Francisco Ballet Gala

24 Jan


January 21 provided the usual well-dressed mayhem in the Opera House Lobby for San Francisco Ballet’s Gala opening.  After the national anthem and Chairman John S. Osterweis delivered verbal thanks to the occasion’s organizers and sponsors,a lengthy roster; he also thanked the Ballet’s Board for its support of a dance institution which has survived its various manifestations and flourished to see its 84 years of performing with its national and international roster of remarkable dancers.  It also goes without saying that Helgi Tomasson is a master in staging a gala, not only for its variety but for using dancers to keep interest high, quite a feat in the stylish, quite self-involved patrons..

The audience enjoyed the choreographic gifts of three Russians: Marius Petipa (2); George Balanchine (4); Yuri Possokov, celebrating a decade as choreographer in residence (1).  The remaining five included Christopher Wheeldon, Hans Von Manen, William Forsythe, Helgi Tomasson and Jiri Bubenchcek.

In collaboration with Pacific Northwest Ballet, San Francisco Ballet will be presenting Coppelia in program four, staged by Alexandra Danilova nad George Balanchine after the original Paris Opera production of 1870 to that delicious music by Leo Delibes.  In pastel pink and following a time-honored practice of providing performance opportunities to students [in Paris it would have been les petite rats], a bevy of San Francisco Ballet students danced the Waltz of the Hours with Jennifer Stahl as the focal point with her high and handsome extensions.  Let it be said that the formations Balanchine devised, staged by Judith Fugate, were as impressive as the students’ execution and doubtless equally stimulating to the performers.

Maya Plisetskaya’s husband Rodin Shchedrin created several musical settings for his late wife, One, based on the story of Carmen, Yuri Possokhov used for his sultry pas de deux for Lorena Feijoo and Victor Luiz, a couple who told the tale of initial attraction between the gypsy and Don Jose with appropriate passion, strains of Bizet reminding the viewer of the seche fleur Jose had possessed in jail.  Possokhov’s understanding of a pas de deux can be picture perfect, and in this instant he was true to his reputation.

From the sultry to the complex music of Bela Bartok’s Divertimento, Helgi Tomasson entrusted his dancing quartet to three members of the corps de ballet, Max Cauthorn,Esteban Hernandez,  and and Wei Wang plus an advanced student of the school, Natasha Sheehan, skillfully staged by Tina Le Blanc.

Number four on the program was clearly a high point, Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, premiered in 1960 at New York’s City Center with Violette Verdy and one time San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Conrad Ludlow.  Here danced by Frances Chung and Gennadi Nedvigin, it was a delight from start to finish, Chung crisp and Nedvigin crystallizing his ascent in jumps
with a moment of distinct clarity.  Her turns were bursts of joy and Nedvigin gave us a mellow classicism that made one wanting to melt.

Christopher Wheeldon’s take on the romance in Carousel was given a dramatic sharpness by Doris Andre and steady persuasion by Joan Boarda.

The final pas de deux before intermission featured the Marius Petipa 1869 war horse Don Quixote Pas de Deux, with Vanessa Zahorian and Taras Domitro dancing to the Ludwig Mnkus music as set by Helgi Tomasson and Yuri Possokhov, virtually unmodified.  The balances required of Zahorian were noticeable, her fouettes in the coda frequently double.  Taras Domitro gave us some alarmingly good grand jetes, eliciting gasps from the audience.  Both were smooth and elegant.  After all,  having outwitted Kitri’s father, the couple are dancing at their wedding, and the ought to be celebrating.

Following intermission, there was a local premiere of Gentle Memories choreographed by the Czech born dancer-choreographer Jiri Bubenicek, created for the Youth America Grand Prix in 2012 and staged that September at the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. With Ming Luke at the piano, the music by Karen LeFrak was filled with musical phrases clearly linked to Scottish folk songs, appropriately enough for Yuan Yuan Tan with four swains, Tiit Helimets, Victor Luiz and Carlos Quenedit.

The temperature raised quite a bit for the next two numbers with Balanchine’s Rubies danced by Maria Kochetkova and Pascal Molat.  It was interesting to remember who else danced the number for Kotchetkova and Molat gave it a polished air beyond the sheer energy it has been danced by American born dancers.

Hans Van Manen created Solo to Johann Sebastian Bach’s violin solo which grows with increasing intensity.  It has been a frequent ballet on the company’s roster, here danced by Joseph Walsh, Gennadi Nedvigin and Hansuke Yamamoto with customary skill and relish.

Mathilde Froustey and Davit Karapetyan matched skill in the Act III pas de deux of Swan Lake, where Petipa created 32 fouettes en tournant for Pierina Legnani in the role of Odile.  It looked like this was Froustey’s maiden attempt in the role/ A charming dancer with beautiful proportions and exceptional port de bras, she did not complete the requisite fouettes or sur la place.  Karapetyan partnered attentively and conveyed his progressive attraction with conviction.

Sofiane Sylve and Carlos Di Lanno provided four minutes from the William Forsythe Pas/Porte to be featured fully in Program I, an angular choreography costumed by Stephen Galloway in practice costumes rendered with large pathches of color – I remember a lime green in particular. The dancers, of course, were spot on.


Sofiane Sylve and Carlo Di Lanno in Forsythe’s Pas/Parts. (© Erik Tomasson)

The finale saw Luke Ingham in the role Igor Youskevitch created in Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, while Vanessa Zahorian danced Alicia Alonso’s part, created for Ballet Theatre in 1947.  To Tchaikovsky’s radiant music, corps de ballet and demi-soloists  rush on and off in waves, create diagonals, cross lines with jete arabesques, and turn energetically.  Easily, it was a triumphant finale for a grand exhibit of San Francisco Ballet’s continuing strength and excitement.

Sad to say, it also marks the beginning of Joan Boada and Pascal Molat’s final season with the company.


Silicon Valley Ballet’s Production of Giselle

19 Oct

It was a case of something old and something new for this 1841 Romantic Era tale of love, class, love betrayed and love transcendent October 16-18. And, yes, it was the U.S. first, Alicia Alonso’s take of the classic Giselle thanks to Jose Manuel Carreno’s dream to bring it to the United States It was however, something, if not old, borrowed, since the sets and costumes utilized were first seen when this San Jose-based ensemble was directed by Dennis Nahat, a fact overlooked in the pre-performance promotion. Scenic credits go to Gianni Queranata for the excessive floral scenery scenery, perhaps late summer abundance; Act I costumes to Paul Plesh and Act II costumes to David Guthrie with David K. H. Elliott as the lighting designer. Who knows the credit for the recorded music.

While the company possesses three ballerinas undertaking the coveted role of the delicate peasant girl, it has also acquired a principal male dancer in Brett Bauer, one-time member of San Francisco Ballet, principal with the Oregon Ballet Theatre under Christopher Stowell. My main objection to his performance was his hair was too crew cut for Albrecht and his costume in Act II hit at an ungainly length on his hips. I attribute such concerns to the late Russell Hartley; his eye for costume and decor was such that he said, “I get so disturbed by some costumes, I can’t see the ballet.”

Saturday night Ommi Pipit-Suksun made her debut as Giselle, as Junna Ige did in the afternoon. Pipit-Suksun’s face and body lines make for an ideal Giselle; she added inherent diffident movements I consider Asian, endearing, moving through her postures naturally. Her eyes possessed the unblinking attention of a bird, fluttering; ultimately when she realized the betrayal, caged, deprived of the incandescent joy experienced dancing with Loys, Albrecht in disguise. It was wistful, tender, sanity bending inexorably against the facts of fate and class.

Instead of game, Hilarion, hesitancy sensitively portrayed by Akira Takahashi, wanted to give Giselle a white floral bouquet; there were the villagers arriving as he is about to place the blossoms in a receptacle. His approach to Giselle was more physical before the sparring between Hilarion and Loys [Albrecht], upstage until aware of Hilarion’s physical importuning. The tangle of wills provoked Giselle’s anxiety and her sinking to the bench, an Alonso motive seen in Alonso’s Giselle segments on Channel 32.5, a singular contribution Alonso included in her production.

Later, when there was the second attack, her friends rush to provide a chair, and Loys’ concern is more than passing. One could see Pipit-Suksun upstage, gathering her strength as she joined the circling villagers. Avoiding some of the technical challenges, [the toe hopping on the diagonal and dancing before the Courland party because of hyper-extended muscles], Pipit-Suksunl, along with her exquisite presence, conveyed a technically strong portrait of the fated adolescent.

Berthe was ably portrayed by Karen Gabay; not so many years ago, she was a memorable Giselle. The mime scene was expanded, with a Wili appearing in the background. Berthe, corralled a villager physically to demonstrate the ugly fate of woman unfulfilled and male caught at midnight in the forest. Here Alonso has been not only specific, but the background  Wili  is visible only to the audience. I wonder at the connection between Cuban folk rites and interpretation of the ballet’s libretto.

Act II enjoyed spreading rays of light from center stage, moon hovering slightly orange in the background, stage necessities triumphing over scenery. As Myrthe, Jing Zhang’s port de bras, with the other Wilis, demonstrated they were not quite alive, along with steady arabesques moving horizontally across the stage. Skillfully dancing as Moyna and Zelma Amy Marie Briones and Cindy Huang emphasized this semi-worldliness. The clear box sounds of the toe shoes in Zhang’s rendition showed little sign of special Marley flooring, or a sprung floor underneath, the San Jose Performing Arts Center might consider as a good investment.

Pipit-Suksun was elegant, a fluid sprite, tenderly supported by Bauer. One particular touch I enjoyed was the use of simple blossoms in the initial encounter which Albrecht picked from Giselle’s raised arms. No great tossings, it reminded me of Igor Youskevitch’s feats when dancing with Alonso several decades ago, and seemed a fitting tribute.

As Aimee T’sao noted in her San Jose Mercury review, the pity is the production is unlikely to be reproduced soon, giving the dancers the opportunity to grow in their roles, as well as the possibility of hearing an orchestra in the pit once more.

Given only six of the corps de ballet were hired by Dennis Nahat, with thirteen corps dancers arriving during the interregnum and under the direction of Jose Manuel Carreno, it’s difficult to assert how changed the former Ballet San Jose has become. The uncertainty prior to Carreno’s arrival was palpable, along with the deficit non-existent under the Nahat aegis. Given all the adjustments, the new SVB has made a major stride in this production of Giselle. But there still is must yet to be done fiscally and artistically. This production speaks to future possibilities.

Act I Giselle Excerpt

31 Aug

The local TV broadcast station, 32.5, continues to supply the viewer with some intriguing short ballets, many of which are not performed and therefore quite unknown here in the U.S. Over the weekend I saw a dancer by the name of Kiyoko Kimura in a pas de deux by Uwe Scholz to Mozart music. Didn’t really register the name of her partner because the work was a remarkable study of a woman’s reaction to being bereft of the man she loves. While not totally clear her solitude was the result of a breakup, the responses, timed exquisitely to the music, were so on target; Kimura’s interpretation was exceptional.

Jiri Kylian’s Petit Mort has been seen several times, and more recently, his pas de quatre for two couples to Le Cathedral Engloutie, the women in long dresses fashioned like the robes made notable by Martha Graham.

But back to the subject of this posting, Giselle. The station has been showing an excerpt from the first act of Giselle, as danced by Alicia Alonso with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of her debut in the role. If my calculations are correct, that would make Alonso 57. The men were Antonio Gades as Albrecht and Jorge Esquivel as Hilarion.

It is this version which Jose Manuel Carreno is bringing to Ballet San Jose in October, and it will be fascinating to see whether the production retains the mime detail as well as how at home the dancer in the title role will be.  Oops, it’s now Ballet Silicon Valley!

At 57, Alonso possessed a matronly body and displayed port de bras correct but minus the nuance of young muscles. Her jetes were still high but with an older body, one saw, visibly, the effort.

It was the mime, however, that captivated; Hilarion kissing her hands in the initial confrontation, and Giselle pulling them away from his grasp. Earlier Albrecht had picked a second daisy which he calculated as coming out a resounding “yes.” But the clincher in the detail was to find Giselle on the bench at the conclusion of the Hilarion-Albrecht confrontation, leaning to one side, right hand on her heart, clearly upset over the situation, underscoring the fragility of her heart, providing the viewer with the essence of the role.

Ballet San Jose’s 2015-2016 Season

21 Jun

Ballet San Jose’s 2015-2016 season will open with Alicia Alonso’s production of Giselle, October 16-18,  Karen Gabay’s version of The Nutcracker. follows December 12-27.

Sometime during this fall Ballet San Jose’s name will become Silicon Valley Ballet , replacing San Jose’s name as the principal identification for the company Dennis Nahat secured for the Santa Clara Valley back in 2000. It potentially is a mistake. No municipality currently bears the name. Certainly the 21st century phenomenon for the original prune and apricot acerage lacks the history associated with the Spanish and Mexican beginnings on that once agriculture-rich soil.

With a 3.5 million payment due this fall, a double challenge is posed: will tech companies and their employees rise to cover the payment and to support the ensemble further. And how do San Jose supporters feel at the loss of the city’s name on the company?

The situation is also complicated by the sudden resignation of Alan Hineline, Ballet San Jose’s executive director/CEO, “for personal reasons.” It would be an intrepid individual to assume the daunting fiscal challenge on such short notice.

Three scheduled 2016 performance series start February 19-21 with Balanchine’s Who Cares; Minus 16 by Ohat Naharin and Annabella Lobez Ochoa’s Prism. March 25-27 will see a second viewing of Amy Seiwart’s This Might Be True and two additional premieres as yet unspecified. Septime Weber’s Alice in Wonderland will complete the 2016 spring season April 29-May 1. I believe it will be a first for the company and the area to witness one of Weber’s works.

Stay tuned.

Ballet San Jose’s Master Pieces, February 20

28 Feb

Using recorded music of Petyr Illich Tchaikovsky, Leonard Bernstein and Philip Glass, Ballet San Jose presented the 1947 Balanchine work Theme and Variations; Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free, premiered in 1944, and Twyla Tharp’s In The Upper Room, choreographed in 1986.

Theme and Variations featured Junna Ige and Maykel Solas in the roles Balanchine created for Alicia Alonso and Igor Youskevitch then dancing with Ballet Theatre before that company acquired the additional label American. The two dimunitive dancers danced with great accuracy, Ige a bit subdued, but sweet, and Solas meeting the demands of those killer turns with equanimity. With the mental images of the creators in my mind, the gentleness was that much more striking, and I dare say the lack of an orchestra created a certain abruptness in the corps de ballet. One also needs to remember that Ballet Theatre at the time wasn’t all that swift classically; the roles given to the supporting males demonstrate that state of ballet’s development in the U.S.

The local production was rendered tidily, everyone dutifully in the right place at the right time. The fire implied by the surges in the music never seemed to translate the dancers’ bodies; I attribute that to the lack of a live orchestra. I saw Alonso and Youskevitch in the roles at the Los Angeles Biltmore Theatre, and watched Yoko Ichino flirt with her partner, along with several other exponents, the daisy chain movements and the male double rond de jambes as well as the sur la place double tours were familiar. Ige and Solas were on time and in command of the required technique, but I think they too would have been more fired up with musicians in the pit.

Then there was Fancy Free with its wonderful World War II subject matter, the music, costumes. For my money Ommi Pipit-Suksun, with her wonderfully articulate body, liquid movement and sensual qualities well dusted with delicacy, displayed the ambiance Janet Reed brought to
the role. Seconded by Grace-Anne Powers, the dame with the red handbag and the jaunty yellow skirt trimmed in black, was saucy without Muriel Bentley’s bite. Emma Francis appeared in a yellow wig as the girl at the curtain who sends the fellows scooting off stage, heftier than Shirley Eckl.

Rudy Candia, Joshua Seibel and Walter Garcia were the three sailors and James Kobecky the bar tender. Candia, in Jerome Robbins’ original role, was far milder in his innuendo than the creator, but truer to the overall spirit. Joshua Seibel came close to the sweet testosterone of John Kriza who danced the role throughout his career with Ballet Theatre. Walter Garcia assumed Harold Lang’s original brash sailor, also made memorable by Michael Smuin. Brooke Byrne
remarked that Dennis Nahat would have been able to heighten their impact, for all the fact that Jose Manuel Carreno danced one of those three on twenty-four hours’ leave.

Twyla Tharp chose Philip Glass’ music of the same title for her 1986 commission for American Ballet Theatre, In the Upper Room, creating a smoke-like atmosphere and demanding an unremitting attack from the dancers; they rose to the challenge with gusto, garnering an enthusiastic, standing response of the evening from the audience for the vigor and zest they brought to their assignment. The costumes looked as if they had been designed for minimal detention quarters with most of the dancers in sport shoes with a couple of women in red pointe shoes.

I do not exactly agree with CEO Alan Hineline’s statement that the company dances world-class, especially minus an orchestra. It does provide a roster of interesting works. Les not forget the repertoire under Dennis Nahat was equally varied, including works both modern and classical.

Pas de Quatre in December

15 Jan

Anton Dolin reconstructed the Jules Perrot creation to Cesar Pugni’s music featuring four Romantic era prima ballerinas dancing together in London in 1845 before Queen Victoria. No record I know of records how Dolin accomplished this feat. It was a gentle tour de force in 1845 creation; today Dolin’s contribution remains a remarkable feast of period style.

On the occasion of Alicia Alonso’s 91st birthday the classical TV channel, 32.5 in San Francisco showed a 1960 performance featuring Alonso as Marie Taglioni, Nora Kaye as Lucille Grahn, Melissa Hayden as Carlotta Grisi and Mia Slavenska as Fenny Cerrito. Scheduled on Saturday evening December 20 and shown again Sunday, December 21. The footage credit was given to Alonso.

In checking with Wikipedia to make certain I had dancers and roles rightly identified, I found YouTube had a Ballet Nacional de Cuba version, so I watched it. So correct! So loaded with ballon and grand jetes! So lacking in the gentle satire present in the 1960 version where personalities were clear, touches of simpering and come-hither were generously dispensed and the technique, quite classical, didn’t push the envelope at the expense of the ballerina aura, the point of the entire piece.

A colleague informed me earlier this year in response to one of my gushing enthusiasms that I could see x,y and z on You Tube and keep current on various interpretations. I found it informative, but not nearly so much fun as sitting with knitting in my lap in front of a larger, but still modest sized TV screen.

At one point in time, Alonso, Kaye and Hayden were all in Ballet Theatre. Slavenska was the only one with her own production unit.Having seen all four dancers in the 1960 version in some production or another, it was a reminder what interpretation can bring to a performance in lieu of gravity-defying grands jetes and a la secondes at six o’clock.

USA IBC, June 15, 2014 – Round I, Sessions I and II

6 Jul

Notes abbreviated, rather than full sentences; transcribed from scribbles.

Round I, Session I

1) Julliane Franzoi, Jr., Brasil – Bluebird – Princess Florine – correct, but does not know she is learning to fly from a prince enchanted as a Bluebird –

2) Rieko Hatato, Jr., Japan – with 89, Ilya Artamonov, Sr., Russia – Flames of Paris; she perky, correct, he possessed nice turning jumps

3) Fuki Takahashi, Jr., Japan – Flames of Paris – gentle and precise

4) Katherine Berkman, Jr., U.S.A., Coppelia, music excessively slow; managed to be correct, steady.

5) Janis Liu, Jr., PRC, Flames of Paris, blue skirt, some red, cut length of body line, accenting less than perfect proportion, but rendition sprightly.

51) Manu Navarro, Sr., Panama, Gian Carlo Perez Alvarez, 74, Sr., Cuba – pas de deux, Esmeralda.
Dark green tutu, coronet of brilliants. Perez white romantic shirt, dark tights. Fine partner, arms slightly curved; overall impression straight as arrow; clear, free jumps,he flubbed slightly at end of first variation, appreciably at coda. Navarro did not touch working leg opening – only in variation.

52) Hitomi Nakamura, Sr., Japan, variation from Esmeralda, nailed it correctly, extended a la seconde to the side, also developpe en avant; needs more torso fluidity.

56) Jenny Winton, Sr, USA, Giselle’s variation in Act I – strange shoulders, effective use of eyes; did not seem to dance for Albrecht as much as village.


Up the stairs to the lobby to stand behind the Video Masters table, watching competitors, students cluster around two small DVD players or watch light imprint on the wall of one entry complete with music. By evening, space will reflected one of the Round One, Session One Presentations.

Returning, four juniors, 1,3,4,5 with least two, possibly three variations from Paquita, ranging from lyric, swaying to the harp, to one requiring paragon of balance, sweeping fouettes with the working leg a la seconde. Notes state Janis Liu’s selection particularly spirited.

Hitomi Nakamura, #52, Sr., Japan, provided one of best renditions thus far of Giselle’s Act I variation; correct, played to the invisible Albrecht, one believed she overflowed with emotion, so lost in love awakening was fatal.

Ariana Martin, #54, Sr., Cuba, and Nayon Rangel Iovino, #70, Sr., Brazil, supplied extended pas de deux, Act II, Giselle. Musical version very labored; wonder if anyone dancing in danger of transforming into pillar of salt. Clearly Martin strongly influenced by Alicia Alonso, an Alonso some years post-American Ballet Theatre.

Gantsooj Otgonbyama, #55, Sr., Mongolia, essayed the Don Quixote Grand pas de deux with non-competing partner, Ganchimeg Choijil Suren. Otgonbyamba clearly a courtier, a princely partner in demeanor. Post performance I learned he danced with an upper thigh muscle problem undoubtedly contributed to impression of lacking fluid transitions. Technical demands more than adequate but where music merges with performance skills transitions were flat.

Jenny Winton’s variation from the multi-worked over choreography for Esmeralda; more convincing than Giselle. Still troubled by shoulder use.

Session II

Paula Alves, #5, Jr., Brazil, selected Coppelia’s wedding pas de deux; non-competing partner Fellipe Camarotto. Most sur la place pas de deuxselection in competition and classical repertoire. Rendition sparked audience response.

Kennedy Brown, #7, Jr., U.S.A., danced Paquita variation; supplied accurate reading of lilting, bending style.

Matthew Griffin,#8, Jr.,U.S.A., elected male variation of Flames of Paris, with much energy. Announcer mistitled as Paquita.

Blake Kessler, #9, Jr., U.S.A.,supplied Paquita male variation with energy, nascent style, stage presence.

Taiyu He, #10, Jr. China, astonished; six pirouettes, a crisp competence in the Flames of Paris male variation.

Anisa Sinteral-Scott, #57, Sr., U.S.A. Act I Giselle for first classical variation. Unusually tall, danced small, perhaps compensating for height; seemed more concerned about size than possible nuance.

Yui Sugawara, #58, Sr., Japan, reverted to war horse pleaser, Esmeralda, hitting working leg vigorously en avant with tambourine, also knee and elbow. En arriere attitude also hit, all glitter, blue sequins.

Andile Ndlova, #60, Sr.,South Africa, next happy surprise; male variation from Coppelia pas de deux, Act III; wonderful ballon, clean, simple, spot on of man happy to get married.

Steven Loch, #61, Sr., U.S.A., chose same variation, also with wonderful ballon, dances in looser style.


Kennedy Brown, #7, Jr., Coppelia for second variation. Arms lack fluidity, phrasing overall legato. Torso, port de bras need work.

Matthew Griffin, #8, Jr., Paquita’s male variation. Confident, rushed the beat.

Blake Kessler, #9, Jr. good jumps for Coppelia, pointe shoes too hard for best effect.

Continuing preference for Coppelia , Taiyu He, #10, Jr. sported yellow knickers, happy demeanor; polished male variation, a six pirouette man.

Anisa Sinteral-Scott, #57, Sr., went for Esmeralda, chose gypsy attire, tambourine in frequent use.

Yui Sugiwara, #58, Sr., in red and black, female Don Quixote variation; appropriate flash with fan. Lorena Feijoo still sets the standard.

Emily Speed, #59, Sr., Esmeralda full out with non-competing partner Kevin Wilson.

Two senior males, Andile Ndlovu, #60, and Steven Loch #61, closed Session II; Loch, male solo from Giselle, Act II, Ndlovu, stylish Don Quixote variation, well phrased.

Unlike Don Quixote, Giselle male solo truncated without Giselle; Loch conveyed Albrecht’s increasing exhaustion; selection markedly different joy of Coppelia, good choice to show range of characterization, attack.

As a whole, found rubato missing; it occurs when the dancer can phrase en retard, a hallmark of control and interpretive capacities.