Tag Archives: Anthony Spaulding

2014 Nutcracker Season, San Francisco Ballet

15 Dec

December 12 was San Francisco Ballet’s night to start its season of the Nuts, multiple castings, opportunities for corps members. With Martin West conducting the company’s orchestra, the audience enjoyed a remarkably buoyant performance, which can be partially attributed to its enormous success in Europe this summer. Mary Beth Smith, heading the company’s marketing and communications, remarked in the Opera House press room that after the company’s closing night performance at Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, where Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes made its 1909 debut, “The applause went on for twenty minutes. It was spectacular, and you know Parisians know their ballet.” Following this performance, the company goes into a twice daily mode, two and seven p.m., a total of thirty performances, including two on Christmas Eve.

Friday night’s inauguration featured Ricardo Bustamonte with extra flourishes and complete gallantry, while Ruben Martin-Cintas and Katita Waldo made the Stahlbaums elegant, assured, hospitable. Jim Sohm outdid himself as Grandpapa; Kristi DeCaminada as Grandmere. Both parents and small fry were less numerous, but the numbers cohered in the overall scenic impression, avoiding the cast of thousands mould.

Clara Blanco danced her iconic doll, Esteban Hernandez made an impression as the Nutcracker out of the Box and Max Cauthorn in yellow Milliskin was willowy, off balance and technically excellent.

The transformation scene – from 1915 Panama-Pacific era privileged San Francisco to dream exaggeration of furniture, presents, tree, mice and gas fireplace – continues to be impressive; mice scamper, toy soldiers execute the directions of the Nutcracker with his sabre, while Clara watches avidly. Sean Orza’s Mouse King exhibited brawn, and elegaic agony after his leg was caught in the mouse trap, his dying crawl into the prompter’s pit, “Tis A Far Better Thing I Do’ from Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities.

Luke Ingham as Nutcracker Prince cuts a refreshing athletic image once out of Mask and Nut trappings. He’s gallant, but no nonsense, like a good Aussie invariably seems to be; his battement a la seconde is eagle sharp. Not a bad mixture. Audrey Armacost as Clara responded well to his partnering.

The carriage arrival brings its own magic, its white and silver sleigh, pawing, prancing ponies, masks crowned with nodding plumes. I’m not sure the ancien regime could have improved on these equines.

The snow monarch roles were handsomely filled by Vanessa Zahorian and Taras Domitro. who followed after the snowflakes appeared under drifts of artificial flakes continuing to fall, audibly, during the entire number until the final grouping around the principals was almost obscured by moving white density. Early on Domitro stumbled a bit; I suspect this artificial blizzard may have contributed. However, his grand jetes and entrechats were his standard brilliant, Zahorian sailing through her virtuosity with usual aplomb, her earlier injury definitely behind her.

After the intermission the curtain rose on the evocation of the Conservatory, with butterflies, lady bugs, and moths, marking time with port de bras and pique arabesques before the arrival of The Sugar Plum Fairy (SPF) in the person of Mathilde Froustey. Froustey possesses the current ideal for the feminine ballerina; beautiful proportions, long neck, face of piquant charm, port de bras devoid of angled elbow, good jump, supple expressive upper back, an intuitive emphasis in phrasing or response. A cogent example was her emphasis asking the Nut Prince “Why are you here?” Not a doubt about the query.

Luke Ingham’s mime was salutary, particularly good with whiskers. The SPF had decreed the entire dream troupe witness the recitation, a nice move. While the Spanish pas de cinq was good, the Arabian trio was especially well-balanced with Dana Genshaft, and Daniel Devison-Oliveira and Anthony Spaulding, intense, finished. Francisco Mungamba’s Chinese shone with knife-like jetes. The French trio danced my-not-so favorite variation spritely, Wan Ting Zhao’s phrasing eye-catching. The Russian Faberge trio burst out into Anatole Vilzak’s classic variation led by Hansuke Yamamoto with Esteban Hernandez and Wei Wang.

Benjamin Stewart garnered a warm response as Smoky Bear with Louis Schilling and the bevy of San Francisco Ballet School students, precursor to the Waltzing Flowers, framing the SPF in this version of the Tchaikovsky classic. Bland, symmetrical and nicely executed, the ensemble is supposed to set off the central rose; Froustey could be better served. However, the ensemble requires its musical share and the notes received visualization with skill.

In this version the prelude to the Grand Pas de Deux refers to the Chinoiserie tower bibelot, Clara’s gift in the first act. The SPF retrieves a tiara from a cushion brought her by a uniformed attendant which she places on Clara’s head before leading her to the mirror inside the open box. Froustey’s brief escorting, was affectionate, a reinforcement shared with Sofiane Sylve who conveys similar feminine warmth.

The double doors close, the tower turned, the doors reopen and outsteps the adult Clara in hues of gold and celadon, Yuan Yuan Tan, ready to wow us, dispatches the gestures of awe and transforming admiration to the barest stroke, a principal flaw in an otherwise brilliant performance. Tan is becoming accustomed to Luke Ingham as a partner; she should feel utterly secure. Ingham promises Tan as good or better she enjoyed with Damian Smith; the partnering, particularly Tan’s height in the running catch as the Tchaikovsky score soars were. flawless. Tan’s face, with its feline qualities, registered satisfaction along with her usual aplomb.

The variation reprises then follow, to warm applause, and the aggregate ensemble coalesces to allow Drosselmeyer, couch and Clara to enter and for him to reassemble the Stahlaum mansion,for Clara to awaken, clutch her toy and run towards Mother Stahlbaum’s arms as the curtains descend.

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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.

San Francisco Ballet’s Program VII, April 12

14 Apr

The San Francisco Opera House wasn’t quite  full for the opening of San Francisco Ballet’s all-Balanchine program, next to last for the spring 2012 season. Part can be attributed to several days of rain and the reported 750 flashes of lightning hitting the San Francisco Bay Area.  It also might also be attributed to the choice of Mr. B.’s invention, “Divertimento #15,” “Scotch Symphony,” and “Four Temperaments,” none new to the company’s repertoire.

Divertimento No. 15 was last seen at Stern Grove where casting included Lorena Feijoo, Nicolas Blanc and Tina Le Blanc, pleasant and civilized in that sylvan setting.  Despite W.A. Mozart’s music, it seemed to drag.  Part of the problem was the “after Karinska” costumes.  Trying to evoke that era’s elaborate panniers in women’s costumes, tiny blue bows appeared twice on the chest,  the tutu  itself approximating elaborate lace and embellishments.  The women’s heads sported an off center  circles of brilliants equally at home with Chanel or Vionnet.

To that very intricate, delicate music, Balanchine managed to keep the eye engaged with visual shifts in small ensembles. The five women shared the three men, Taras Domitro and Hansuke Yamamoto, in sequence or in combination, along with  Gennadi Nedvigin, the latter briefly a center piece of a trio with two women. In one duet Vanessa Zahorian gestured, then moved quickly aside so Nedvigin’s sautes could be seen; the two had shared  prizes in the 1999 Erik Bruhn competition.

Frances Chung and Sasha De Sola also danced with distinction.

Like Divertimento and Four Temperaments, Felix Mendelsohn’s Scotch Symphony is no stranger to SFB’s repertoire;  I disremember who danced it.  But I saw it danced at New York City’s Civic Center when the three principal roles were created by Maria Tallchief, Andre Eglevsky with Patricia Wilde as the stand alone third.  Not a stellar creation, Balanchine  created it to compliment the Scots when the company appeared at the Edinburgh Festival.

Tallchief’s interpretation was marked by a certain astringency; both physical heft and weight were featured in the Eglevsky and Wilde assignments.  Equally swift, Yuan Yuan Tan danced with nuance; her softness more than compensated for Tallchief’s qualities. It is an excellent role for her and Tan made the most of it, thanks to her astonishing line and lightness.

Karapetyan did well by the slight drama of the Sylph’s  barred  by the kilted men and in partnering, but he did not seem comfortable; his costume lacked the dash the kilted corps men enjoyed. Courtney Elizabeth’s rendering was crisp and engaging, if Wilde’s amplitude was absent.  It reminded me, however, just how innovative Balanchine was in his use of solo female bravura.

Hindemith’s The Four Temperaments has seen some worthy interpreters amongst San Francisco Ballet dancers. In  the Theme section with three couples, Nutnaree Piput-Suksun and Anthony Spaulding added to the memory bank, their gravity, and phrasing soothing and full.  Taras Domitro, debuting in Melancholic, seemed too slight for the downward pull of that mood.  When Sarah Van Patten and Tiit Helimets danced the Sanguinic variation, one felt his physical size would have lent itself to Domitro’s assignment.

Vito Mazzeo, new to the Phlegmatic, was another improbable piece of casting.  Technically correct, his slender height seemed an impossible vehicle for such retarded  behavior.

Sofiane Sylve, spot on,  energized the stage in Choleric, leading the ensemble into those final thrusts of the arms, forward movements with the thrusting hips. The ballet has long since been denuded of the Seligmann costumes in favor of practice clothes, helping to energize the program’s finale.

Three Romeos, Three Juliets, March 6, March 9, March 11, 2012

17 Mar

Seeing Helgi Tomasson’s fated lovers to Sergei Prokofiev’s score March 6, was followed with seeing two more performances; March 9 with March 11 from San Francisco’s Opera House’s Grand Tier.

Interpretation varied because of personality, height and bone structure.  Joan Boada and Maria Kochetkova  managed swiftness and a comparative fragility impossible for Pierre-Francois Vilanoba and Sarah Van Patten, or Vitor Matteo and Yuan Yuan Tan.  Still, vulnerability, passion and fragility of love against the fortress of Renaissance social structure remained alive in the other casts.  The audience’s warm enthusiasm to William Shakespeare’s tale was undeterred at Sunday matinee’s standing ovation.

I quibble a tad historically.  County Paris implies a man of ample means and possessions, not likely young. Italian Renaissance history records  youthful maidens marrying older, frequently battle-scarred men, leaving young women early widows.  Lovers/partners of even age was social revolution stuff, and explored at the critical conference held during the 1994 premiere of the Tomasson  production.  Missing was the fact  Paris and Mercutio are kinsman to the Prince of Verona, explaining why Mercutio takes such liberties,  enjoying princely protection.  Did the Prince register his kinsman Mercutio lying dead?

Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun was present as a silken, socially assured Rosaline for the three casts seen, also Val Caniparoli as Lord Capulet, Jim Sohm as Lord Montague twice,  Martino Pistone’s sturdy square build lent rough authority as the Prince of Verona as did Anita Paciotti’s peasant Nurse.  Jorge Esquivel replaced Ricardo Bustamonte as Friar Lawrence March 11.

Cast changes played as a unit with the three Juliets and Romeo: the evenly matched Benvolio and Mercutio, Jaime Castilla Garcia and Gennadi Nedvigin for Boada, Daniel Deivison a ferocious Tybalt, Pauli Magierek a histronic Lady Capulet .

Pairing Boada and Maria Kochetkova, matched for size and  bravura,  subjected the audience to dangerous  breath suspension.  Kochetkova’s acrobatic training permitted an abandoned plunging into lifts, quick reverses of direction; Boada’s balcony scene was ardor and aerial wed.

Nedvigin’s Mercutio evoked the Russian character dancer, ready to strike boots and extend arms in deep plie.  He used the same solar plexus base struggling to maintain Mercutio’s  nonchalance, mortally wounded, staggering towards the church, collapsing on the stairs.

Elana Altman danced Lady Capulet March 9 and Sofiane Sylve March 11.   Sylve seemed to personify nobility, hinting at her attachment to Damian Smith’s brooding Tybalt in the ballroom. Altman’s explosion over Tybalt’s body would be great as the Queen in Jerome Robbins’ The Cage. Her Tybalt was Antony Spaulding, elegant, silkily sinister.

The Van Patten-Vilanoba partnership possesses a humanism, a warmth when   physically relating to the other characters.  When Pascal Molat as Mercutio staggers towards the church, dying on the steps, he dies in Romeo’s arms, emphasizing the subsequent fight with Tybalt. Romeo is gentle, even being mesmerized at the Capulet’s ball. Van Patten’s demureness is  poised, puzzled, questioning.  She staggers against the balcony steps railing when Romeo  kisses her.

Yuan Yuan Tan’s line sang lyrically, thanks to Vitor Matteo’s height, possessing perhaps ballet’s longest legs. As Romeo Matteo is on native Italian earth.  Her smile evoked Ching Dynasty feminine portraits and she avoided  rendering Juliet as another victim.

Hansuke Yamamoto as Benvolio, Taras Domitro as Mercutio matched each other for height and swiftness, excellent contrast to Smith’s Tybalt in the ballroom scene.

One could write a chapter on each casts, from the principals to the acrobats, the touches Tomasson has gradually assembled to coalesce this exciting production, to be performed this fall in Washington, D.C.

San Francisco Ballet’s Program II, February 14 and 19

26 Feb

Moving to two programs of three one-acts from full-length as opener,  San Francisco Ballet’s  programming is gauging story ballets’  value to pull audiences in to the variety programs.  Judging by the two  Program II performances, it seems to be working.

With Wayne MacGregor’s Chroma, the premiere of Mark Morris’ Beaux and Christopher Wheeldon’s Nine in Program II, the company displayed three contemporary choreographers whose patterns and  diagrams provide distinct, differing moods.

On first glance last season and again this season, MacGregor’s Chroma displays parallels with  San Francisco choreographer Alonzo King but with two salient exceptions: MacGregor’s casts look each other in the eye, making connection, and the akimbo body movements are direct, more  forward moving than King’s, where  vibrato leads up to a posture, a lift or a plunging, supported arabesque possesses a distinctly jazz-like riff on a main theme. Also, MacGregor’s women dance in soft slippers, instead of pointe shoes. Moritz Junge’s flesh-like toned costumes were modest, if short, sleeveless slouchy tee-shirts over trunks.

The dancers appear before a neutral lit backdrop, framed, stepping over to dance before stalking off mostly to stage left or going to mid center on the same side or appearing again in the frame. Duos and trios start out singly, later dancing simultaneously when all ten dancers become frantically engaged at the finale.

In the first cast Pascal Molat and Frances Chung led off with the initial athletic pas de deux, but a model of tempered sensuality. Anthony Spaulding’s leading leg thrust up in jetes, a signature touch, while Maria Kochetkova affirmed her acrobatic training. Taras Domitro, Jaime Garcia Castilla and Isaac Hernandez adapted to the off balance style and  Garen Scribner made his movement seem geometric.

In the second cast Vito Masseo and Sofiane Sylve continued their  remarkable partnership; Daniel Deivision  his kinesthetic delivery; Sarah Van Patten her consistently strong attack. Koto Ishihara and Tiit Helimets lent strong visual contrast, Vanessa Zahorian’s musicality subdued by the choreographic demands.

Mark Morris’ Beaux chose nine male dancers to dance to Martinu’s Harpsichord Concerto. Exaggerated color spots by Isaac Mizrahi on both backdrop and the sleeveless unitard shorts for the dancers, showed off the finely-tuned male musculature handsomely, though the colored daubs did distract  This ballet possesses a similar timbre as Morris’ “A Garden,” something pleasant, seemingly off-hand, but actually sly, complex.

Morris used twos, threes, and quartets in phrases one normally associates with women, particularly women in a Balanchine ballet. Eschewing virtuoso turns, jumps, pirouettes, he relied on an
occasional gesture suggesting comraderie, mixing principal dancer and corps member  equally. The ensemble paused like men at a fancy ball, minus formal attire, though slight, enormously subtle.

Vito Mazzeo stood out like a signal tower,  Molat for his double duty for two consecutive ballets along with Castilla, and Joan Boada for his willingness to merge as part of the ensemble.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Number Nine launched with the sense of British martial music. With the startling ending where the women lept into the men’s arms, four sets of principals and eight pairs of corps members, Michael Torke’s score reeks of spit, polish, formations and parade grounds .  The dancers wore a yellow worthy of Van Gogh’s Provencal canvases, Holly Hynes echoing the ambiance by covering, rather than exposing the women’s bodies. Full strength was the order of the ballet with Dores Andres, Sofiane Sylve, SarahVan Patten, and Vanessa Zahorian joining Daniel Deivison, Vito Mazzeo, Ruben Martin Cintas and Garden Scribner rising to the occasion as if Admiral Nelson had sent an off stage signal, “England Expects Every Man To Do His Duty.”

This front and center delivery was repeated February 19 with Elana Altman, Frances Chung, Maria Kochetkova and Yuan Yuan Tan, partnered by Pascal Molat, Gennadi Nedvigin, Carlos Quenedit and Anthony Spaulding. In a first glimpse of  Quenedit, he presented himself as calm, cheerful with effortlessly good partnering skills.

It will be fascinating to see what Quenedit does with his assignment in Yuri Possokhov’s Francesca da Rimini.