Tag Archives: American Ballet Theatre

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.


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.

Menlowe Ballet’s 2016 Spring Season

5 May

Coming thick and fast, late April-early May signal performance, performance, performance.

Lucky for Menlowe Ballet-it was able to engage four Silicon Valley Ballet soloists and principals for its spring season titled Collage. The company has a penchant for bold single title programs, though the performance does not always reinforce the declaration. This time, with its three numbers, the label was apt. It featured Michael Lowe’s Jin Ji [Collage[; Repeat after Me by Val Caniparoli to Johann Paul Von Westhoff’s Sonatas Pour Violin and Basse Continuo; and Gregory Dawson’s “and so I say to you,” to music by Dalmusio Payomo, Ron Kurti, Gregory Dawson. The Caniparoli and Dawson works were premieres, the Lowe work a mix of former parts from his Izzie-winning Bamboo and two additional numbers.

Lowe engaged Junna Ige and Maykel Solas, principal dancers, and soloists Amy Marie Briones and Akira Takahashi from the ill-fated Silicon Valley Ballet, all of whom had been initially hired by Dennis Nahat when the company was named Ballet San Jose. The fifth dancer, Anton Pankovitch also enjoyed the Nahat imprimatur, [ if you can apply that word to dancers] but had appeared with Menlowe Ballet in 2014; a quintet of excellent troupers..

The cheerful charm of Lowe’s choreography has been reinforced by the Menlo Park Academy of Dance students, seven of them in Chai DaiRibbons], included in Jin Ji. Well trained, mostly on the medium-sized, they danced with non-nonsense and confidence. What was most interesting in this pleasant Asian-accented work was Chu Yi [New Year’s Eve] featuring Akira Takahashi as a young man on a drunk with fantasies of three women [Christina Schitano, Amy Marie Briones and Chantelle Pianetta]. Moving between the table with bottle and tumbler and center stage Takahashi partnered the trio in succession as they emerged from a glittering, multi-hued shimmer of metallic ribbons. Consistently in character, Takahashi warmed to his role with an energy which he didn’t seem allowed to unharness in the years following Nahat’s departure from the ill-fated Ballet San Jose-Silicon Valley Ballet.

Val Caniparoli’s Repeat After Me hued to its formal structure, if the music itself had measures anything but classical. Angular gestures of arms, hands and head accents opened and closed the work. Susan Roemer’s costumes gave the women short grey blue skirts with a black line front and back. The colors were matched by the men, but might have been enhanced with a belt. Maykel Solas made his first appearance as did Anton Pankovich, both excellent partners.

“And so I say to you,” Gregory Dawson’s first work for Menlowe Ballet, gave clear evidence that he has moved on from the predominantly singular variations of his mentor and former director Alonso King. Using Pankovich to commence and complete the work, Dawson’s ensemble passages, particularly at lower stage left, worked well with the energetic score attacked at equal pitch by the ensemble.

Typical of my reactions to both new works, I need a second viewing to deliver an opinion verging below the initial visual and aural impact. What lingers from this performance was the cohesion of the new artists, the existing dancers and the students.It would be terrific if the new artists could remain with Menlowe Ballet, enriching the ballets and certainly drawing audience members from their former company. It also might inveigle more critics to watch Menlowe Ballet grow from strength to strength.

A final charm to the evening was to see Betsey Erickson in the audience and
elsewhere Christine Elliott, both with length histories in Bay Area dance and seasons with American Ballet Theatre and Rika Onizuka, a veteran both of Smuin Ballet and Lines Contemporary Ballet. Carlos Carvajal’s wheels wrapped it up as a singular evening’s treat.

Silicon Valley Ballet Has Problems

8 Mar

Teri McCollum, whose Odette’s Ordeal manages to “scoop” news in the best
Hedda Hopper fashion, has reported an indefinite layoff of dancers and administrative staff at Silicon Valley Ballet. Announcements in the San Jose Mercury or San Francisco Chronicle are yet to appear. Apparently the Silicon Valley Ballet School continues at the spacious studio on First Street in San Jose.

McCollum spoke with Millicent Powers who has headed both the Board of
Directors and assumed the executive directorship last year; she was informed that a search for funding to complete the 2016 season was not forthcoming from the Santa Clara Valley art patrons. Clearly, the renaming of the company is a model in wishful thinking.

The angst felt by the dancers started in 2012 when Dennis Nahat’s contract with the company was terminated following The Nutcracker season. Nahat,
who brought the nucleus of the company with him when the joint-city arrangement with Cleveland was terminated, stated the company’s coffers held a million dollars at the time of his departure. It also had a history of interesting productions ranging from Donald McKayle and Martha Graham revivals [Rainbow Round My Shoulder, Appalachian Spring] to David Lichine’s Graduation Ball, the Bouronville Toreador, along with Swan Lake, Giselle and his own production of The Nutcracker, Lew Christensen’s Il Distratto and Michael Smuin’s Tempest.

Wes Chapman was brought in as an interim artistic advisor, and the company
direction began to align itself with productions first seen with American Ballet Theatre. The school also became infused with the certificate program started by ABT. After two such seasons, it was announced that Jose Manuel Carreno was contracted for three years as artistic director.  Carreno was able to call upon his ABT colleagues for an interesting Gala in 2014, but funding remained slim and, after a tardy salary settlement for both orchestra and conductor, performances were danced to recorded music.

In 2015, there was a flurry of fund-raising towards the retirement of a 3.5 million dollar debt; enough funds were raised to complete the season. Following the Nutcracker season, sixteen dancers toured Spain under the auspices of a Spanish impresario, according to Teri McCollum, the same program presented to San Jose audiences in February.

While company was in Spain, Karen Gabay, Artistic Associate and 36-year veteran and sometime principal dancer with the company, was abruptly terminated, with the statement Gabay had resigned. Following the February performances, the administrative staff was also abruptly laid off;  the management was dickering with the union to permit a three week lay-off for the dancers while fund raising was being pursued.

Based on McCollum’s report, the fund raising was not successful; dancers and administrative staff now are confronted with seeking employment elsewhere. Those of us who have enjoyed the company’s performances; in particular, some of the dancers, pray for ready alternate options for each and every one dancers, administrators and artistic directors.

Interesting and ironic is that both Nahat and Carreno were members of American Ballet Theatre, over two decades apart. Nahat was also active with the USA IBC in Jackson, Mississippi in 1990 when Carreno won the Prix de Jackson medal.

Violette Verdy. 1933-2016

11 Feb

For some odd reason comments about Violette Verdy written yesterday, along with some comments about Misty Copeland’s coverage on KQED’s Independent
Lens, didn’t make this blog’s printed record. So I will try to rectify.

Facebook messages have been warm, loving, nostalgic and Carol Egan managed
to post a coaching session of Verdy against the background of the Opera in
Paris that is captivating, judicious and clearly supportive.

I remember her coming to San Francisco as a guest artist on two occasions
when I was still a correspondent for Dance News. The first was
when Kimiko Sugano supported her appearance with Edward Villella for a
Pacific Ballet season when Alan Howard was artistic director. I was invited to a pre-performance gathering and was introduced to Verdy who appeared to have read my 1000 word columns in that departed dance journal. I have forgotten how the conversation progressed but I remember expressing my irritation over Maurice Bejart’s use of the opening sequence in a Bharata Natyam concert for an elaborate, sexy exposition which showcased Suzanne Farrell. Verdy smiled with understanding and said, “Ah yes, Maurice is clever but he ia a plagerist.” I could have hugged her, for her appraisal was spot on and, of course, she agreed with me. Violette Verdy!

The next time she appeared was when San Francisco Ballet had a season at
the Palace of Fine Arts, just before Michael Smuin came back from American
Ballet Theatre. At the opening , Verdy danced The Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux,; I can remember where I was sitting for her final movements came downstage on the diagonal. There was the crispness within the lyricism, the Gallic inflection punctuating the music and the correctness of the canon.

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.

Misty’s Promotion

4 Jul

July 1 the PBS Newshour carried the news of Misty Copeland’s promotion to principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre. I read with some emotion of Lauren Anderson and Raven Wilkinson’s bearing flowers following Copeland’s first Swan Lake with American Ballet Theatre, well documented by Alastair MacAulay in the NY Times and Marina Harss on DanceTabs.com.

It’s a well-earned bravo on all accounts. Copeland had appeared at Ballet San Jose’s Gala the first season Jose Manuel Carreno commenced his directorship, dancing  so effectively and with such panache in a dance from Twyla Tharp’s Sinatra Suite. She had the IT factor for me.

At perhaps the third USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Lauren Anderson came as one of the contestants, a protege of Ben Stevenson who really knows a thing or two about dancers. Unaccountably, she was limited after Round One, though, as I remember, she wound up with as encouragement award.

In 2000 Raven Wilkinson came as a participant in the Ballets Russes Celebration, organized in New Orleans by the the New Orleans International Ballet Conference, where her history with the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo was duly recorded by Geller/Goldfine Productions for their remarkable documentary “Ballets Russes”.

Missing amongst the roster of flower-bearing ballerinas, however, was Virginia Johnson, a founding member of Dance Theatre of Harlem, who I remember as unforgettable in DTH”s production of their Creole Giselle. I guess the difference is the fact that Johnson, though sans question a principal, she was a principal with an African-American company, and the aim in the recitation was an African American “making it” in a “white” company. Such a pity.