Tag Archives: Arvo Part

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.

Advertisements

Menlowe Ballet’s Fall Season, November 7, 2014

12 Nov

Now in its fifth season, Menlowe Ballet mounted its fall program November 8-9 and 15 at the splendid Menlo Park High School Auditorium. Titled Legend, I saw the afternoon program with its three ballets, two by artistic director Michael Lowe and one by guest choreographer Dennis Nahat.

Lowe created Plague in 2006 with a mixed score first seen in Anandha Ray’s Moving Dance ensemble tours in eastern Europe; Dennis Nahat mounted his Gounod-Verdi music based In Concert, premiered in 1977 and Lowe’s new work, Legend of the Seven Seas, utilized music from the Silk Road Ensemble, Melody of China, Mongolian, Aitain Ensemble and Jack Thorne. Thorne I suspect was responsible for merging the divergent sounds of the source scores into coherent musical support.

Lowe’s Plague, with sixteen dancers and its simple grey-toned costumes designed by Allison Porter and Christina Weiland, was created as an expression of hope in the midst of uncertainty, pain and helplessness. With a mixture of John Cage, John Dowland, Guillaume de Machaut, Arvo Part, Harry Partch, Christopher Tye and Hildegard Von Bingen, Plague reflected a mute, subdued reflection which might have emerged from Europe after World War I; its anguish never assaulted the viewer, never burst into overt agony. Rather it reminded me a little of Kurt Jooss and Trudi Schoop’s imagery minus the narrative. The death figure, Anton Pankevich, was assigned a stillness, a dignity, almost reluctance in his task. A former member of Ballet San Jose, Pankevich partnered well, his deportment and correctness emphasizing an almost ecclesatical approach to mortality.

Terrin McGee Kelly danced opposite Pankevitch, small, blonde and dressed in black; the fabric moved well, the style bare-shouldered with a plunging neckline allowed for easy lifts, turns and phrases danced to and from the floor. In this final pas de deux , however, Kelly signaled all too often what her next movement was going to be, and that was a pity. Her death struggle impressed me more with its choreographic intricacy the unusual choreographic achievement it signaled for Michael Lowe. Association with Ray clearly stretched his vision along with life experience.

The ensemble, their backs to the couple, was given some striking arm movements, like a clock’s minute arm, but down and up on opposite sides. Three women may have been affected by the plague, but I was unconvinced of the urgency, the imminent finality of life, though this intent was clear throughout the work.

In Concert,
with its pas de cinq finale to Gounod and Verdi ballet music and one luscious aria was created by Dennis Nahat in 1977 for Cleveland Ballet and danced by Cynthia Gregory among others. The dancers here were Aidan DeYoung, Brian Gephart, Demetria Schioldager, Megan Terry and Emily Kerr, stepping in for Jenna McClintock and sporting fetching costume designs by Christina Weiland. Included were an Entree and Finale and Coda for all five dancers, a Waltz, Gallop and Allegretto with a lively duet for de Young and Gephart, plus an effective Prelude danced by Demetria Schioldager. The dancers were on the mark, if I noticed areas of tension which diluted some of the effectiveness of this canny classical divertissement. It definitely provided a programmatic highlight.

I wish I could be as positive regarding Legend of the Seven Suns, the Mongolian-themed premiere by Michael Lowe, a favorite local choreographer. In this five-part work, however, the story was given only the slightest of narratives, resembling more an updated format so successful in Lowe’s Izzie Award-Winning Bamboo where there was no attempt to tell a story.

The three daughters of Emilej, the God of Fire, decked out in harem trousers and bras, movied with approximations of belly dancing – in Mongolia? Then there were the hunter and huntress, Erkhii and Eiluj, whose costumes strongly resembling tunics a la Daphnis and Chloe; in that windswept terrain covered with snow much of the year?

Of course animals figured in this nomadic environment, dressed in unitards of various colors sporting clever headdresses, the most recognizable being those of the Elk and his herd. For the backdrop there were six ovals, five of which apparently had to be vanquished, originally created by the conflict between Emilej and his harem-trousered daughters.

Clearly, I was puzzled by the proceedings though I figured out the general drift before reading the program notes following the final curtain. My take on the work is that Lowe wanted to create a work involving students, devising variations for individual dancers, honoring a culture fascinating him and telling one of its folk tales. The costumes alas fell short of meaningful adaptation, while Lowe’s choreography veered more to divertissement than drama. Hopefully, choreographer and costumer will take another look at their chosen material.

Menlowe Ballet has achieved competence in its ensemble; it enjoys an excellent venue for its performances, enjoying an admirable level of technical expertise. Hopefully, the spring performances, March 27-29,2015 will reinforce the progress achieved in these past five years.

Ballet San Jose’s Gala, November 16

20 Nov

Scott Horton, Ballet San Jose’s new press representative, arranged to have the entire area’s dance reviewing contingent in attendance at Ballet San Jose’s Gala, November 16 at San Jose’s Center for Performing Arts. Allan Ulrich was seconded by Rachel Howard and Mary Ellen Hunt. Coming with Rita Felciano, covering for the San Jose Mercury, I saw Claudia Baer, Toba Singer, Aimee T’sao plus Odette’s Ordeal Teri McCollum and Janice Berman of S.F. Classical Voice. A number of San Francisco Ballet dancers were present besides Helgi and Marlene Tomasson.

The lengthy program possessed several numbers danced not only by San Francisco Ballet interpreters, but I have been lucky enough to see the original interpreters in one pas de deux. Like it or not, there were measurable standards. I include program readability. Thankfully, the dancers’ names were printed in black; golden script against white made the booklet pages almost unreadable. Apparently an easy read for Ballet San Jose’s program designer wasn’t sexy enough. Whatever the reason, big events tend to seduce planners to emphasize glamor over clarity.

George Daugherty took the small orchestra through the lively paces of a Tchaikovsky Swan Lake entree to showcase the Ballet San Jose students, 100 strong, in a show-everyone arrangement by Delia Rawson. Notable were four young men and perhaps eight young young boys, black tights and white tee-shirts appearing with aplomb, along with tiny tots and adolescent girls pirouetting capably en pointe. The final grouping reminded me of the final movement in Balanchine’s Symphony in C where principals and corps invade the stage space.

From the up energy of the school ensemble, Christopher Wheeldon’s After The Rain pas de deux opened the program, with a distinct drop in energy. The deliberate Arvo Part music provided a glimpse of New York City Ballet dancers Ask La Cour [son of former Ballet San Jose’ School principal Lise La Cour] and Rebecca Krohn from New York City Ballet. The height contrast between La Cour and Krohn was visually awkward. Krohn’s style is soft, almost blurring the edges of Wheeldon’s quirky postures. A signature pas de deux for Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith, the New Yorkers suffered by comparison.

The pace quickened when Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky’s pas de deux featured Ana Sophia Scheller and Gonzalo Garcia, former San Francisco Ballet principal. I saw Violette Verdy and Jacques d’Amboise dance this as guests with for San Francisco Ballet at the Palace of Fine Arts. Verdy, the role’s creator, gave a slight emphasis when finishing s phrase. Scheller relied on the smooth sequences Balanchine created, slight piquancy was missing. Garcia started slowly, gaining in quality; heavier in the thighs than in San Francisco, he danced the ballet with Tina Le Blanc at her retirement; here he seemed sluggish.

A dozen Ballet San Jose dancers appeared in a section of Jorma Elo’s Glow Stop to the Philip Glass music, abounding in jerks and twitches interrupting classical line, phrasing and execution. The twelve made a cohesive ensemble; I wish for them better assignments. The dancers were: Amy Marie Briones, Cindy Husang, Alexsandra Meijer, Annali Rose, Ommi Pipit-Suksun, Jing Zhang, Damir Emric, James Kopecky, Jeremy Kovitch, Joshua Seibel, Maykel Solas, Kendall Teague. Ramon Moreno was absent as was Maria Jacobs-Yu; formally retired from the company, she expects her second offspring.

Gillian Murphy and Thomas Forster in the Black Swan pas de deux was notable; tall, slender Forster’s was a visibly smitten portrayal of Prince Siegfried. Murphy danced like a power house, brashly knowing, teasing, if traveling on the final fouettes. The pair sent the audience out energized for the intermission.

After the intermission Ballet San Jose Board Chair Millicent Powers proudly presented Jose Manuel Carreno to the audience as the company’s second artistic director. In his charming Cuban-Spanish accent Carreno acknowledged visiting artistic directors Kevin McKenzie and Helgi Tomasson plus his amazement as being on the other side of the performing curtain.

Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s balcony pas de deux from Romeo and Juliet provided a glimpse of Julie Kent and Marcelo Gomes. Framed by the set from Dennis Nahat’s production for the Prokofiev score, they left no doubt about the electricity of the two Renaissance Verona adolescents.

Shifting stylea to the Le Corsaire pas de deux Rudolf Nureyev brought westward, Cincinnati Ballet dancers Adiarys Almeida and Joseph Gatti; competitors at the 2006 USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Gatti earned a bronze medal. Small, dynamic, well placed, Gatti danced a very aggressive slave; Almedia was smiling, pert, almost totally en place with her fouettes.

New York City Ballet principal Joaquin de Luz danced David Fernandez’ solo to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Presto movement from the Violin Concerto in G. Minor. The challenge, interspersed with port de bras allowing the dancer to breathe, de Luz’ musicality, engaged the audience with his modest charm.

Another set of New York City principals appeared with George Balanchine’s Tarantella to Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s infectious 19th century interpretation of an Italian staple. Megan Fairchild and Daniel Ulbreicht were perky; Ulbreicht’s fun, teasing and elevation electrified the audience.

Boston Ballet principals Lorna Feijoo and Nelson Madrigal danced the second act pas de deux from Giselle in strong stage light, robbing the mystery, making their appearance abrupt. Stuck between two high energy pas de deux their artistry suffered.

Marcelo Gomes demonstrated his dramatic facility in the penultimate pas de deux,, the two dances Twyla Tharp set to Sinatra Songs. With a scintillating, responsive Misty Copeland, the audience reaction was predictably huge.

San Francisco’s Maria Kochetkova and Taras Domitro completed the gala with the war horse Grand pas de Deux from Marius Petipa’s Don Quixote. Postures, balances, pauses, carefully choreographed glances were etched, delivered with sang froid assurance designed to leave the audience gasping. Domitro, noted for his ballon, surpassed himself. Kochetkova matched previous double and triple fouette turns with carefully spotted ones to the four corners. It was a fitting finale to the evening.

Now comes not only Carreno’s challenge artistically, but Stephanie Ziesel’s responsibilities to provide for Ballet San Jose fiscally; there have been nasty rumors to the contrary.

A Gala, Estonian Style, June 28

4 Jul

One of the best things about the June 28 performance of the Estonian National Ballet at the Palace of Fine Arts with its accompanying musicians was the audience.  It made me feel comme il faut still existed and a corner of the theatre-going audience  alive and well with its share of handsome young men and comely young women, nicely dressed but not attempting to be fashion plates, or boasting ostentatious rocks. Of individuals observed, I saw one mid-aged couple dressed in Estonian costume, lively if understated members of  the crowd..

Unfortunately, I arrived just before eight to learn that the performance, while starting late, was scheduled for seven – and here I had written an advance piece about Tiit Helimets efforts to bring the company here -so the premiere of the Helimets’ ballet Time was missed.

At the mid-section of the Gala, Hando Nahkur played Schumann and accompanied Hanna-Lina Vosa, singing in both Estonian and English, before Alexsandra Meijer and Tiit Helimets danced the pas de deux from Act II, Swan Lake.  The pair were also featured on the cover of the play bill,  in white on the ticket stubs, but in the Black Swan pas de deux, despite the presence of Helimets, an incongruous image for the cover of an Estonian-themed Gala. The seat rake and the stage width made Meijer look less than long-limbed. It seemed her correct port de bras was placed rather emerging organically from the solar plexus, the positions well practiced but slacking emotional motivation.  But what can one expect from a deliberately programmed cultural pot pourri?

Teric McCollum  later reminded me that Titt Helimets used  a wine promotion to help raise funds for the Estonian Festival using the Black and White Swan motif for a red and a white wine.  The promotion was apparently successful, and Quinn Wharton’s Helimets-Meijer images in those iconic roles made tardy sense (and the legs looked longer!).

The Estonian wares on display for sale quite intriguing and handsome – sand dollars with beaded circles attached for earrings, leather employed for the same purpose, key chains, wallets, a drop dead elegant leather computer case, some dresses with peasant braid arranged in expected locations, CDs of Nahkur in concert.

The Gala closed with Marina Kesler’s Othello, danced to recordings of composer Arvo Part.  It was the first time I had ever heard cacophony and forte connected with the Estonian-born composer.  McCollum also mentioned that Estonians can use his compositions free of charge, which helped understand the choice behind this tumultuous Shakespearean tale.  Unlike Portia, also Venetian, Desdemona is loved by an admiral of Moorish descent whose Christianity  must have rested comparatively lightly upon him.  His lieutenant Iago manages with the aid of Blanka to create circumstantial evidence of his beloved’s infidelity.  Othello chokes her.

Kesler has altered the plot to make Blanka accept money from Iago to plant the scarf on Cassio, a lieutenant Othello loves and trusts with Desdemona, a source of Iago’s envy. Kesler also has Blanka plant the scarf after she seduces Cassio, a considerable departure from  the Shakespearean plot, plus the joint death of Othello following his killing of Desdemona. I suppose such tweakings are permitted, but why call the ballet Othello?

Another departure from the Venetian setting and period were the women’s costumes, short, peachy-pink satin skirts of three tiers of puffs, removed at one point  and worn again at the finale. The men’s costumes looked a bit like replicas of the school uniforms worn by boys in the Russian Imperial Ballet School, admittedly quite handsome though again not of the period.

The dancers themselves were marvelously flexible and technically secure in choreography requiring stretching, bending and a variety of distortions of classical vocabulary though executed en pointe, most of them small of stature.  Any choreographer would be excited to work with such dancers.  The dancing which ignited the ballet was Sergei Lipkin’s; he got the assignment for wiliness, maneuvering, plotting and nearly all the  choreographic solos.  Othello and Desdemona in the persons of Anatoli Arhangelski and Eve Andre looked Mutt and Jeff visually, he tall and the necessary choreographic adjustments, she fair, small, roundly shaped, strong athletic legs – perfect to throw into bends, stretches and lifts or to wrap around the waist.  As Cassio Jonathan Hanks was given something of a cipher role, but still  jaunty emerging from his encounter behind the red draperies and sexual shenanigans with Heidi Kopti’s Bianka, the fated red scarf, rather than white, draped around his neck.

I would love to see the company dance Tudor, Robbins or Balanchine, even to see what they might do with Agnes de Mille.

Tiit Helimets helps Estonia Stage June 28-30 San Francisco Festival

5 Jun

San Francisco Ballet dancers usually get a month’s vacation in June, although some times touring individually, collectively or guest performances can fill in the thirty days.  In 2010, Tiit Helimets took an ensemble of ten dancers to Taillin and Tartu, the two principal cities in Estonia. Helimets’ venture had commenced through contacts made during a guest appearance as Albrecht in Ballet San Jose’s 2010 production of Giselle.

The ensemble included Val Caniparoli whose ballet Ibsen’s House to Anton Dvorak music was included in the program; recording this Eastern Odyssey on video was Quinn Wharton, then an SFB corps member, now with Hubbard Street Dance Theater. The video funding was raised through an appeal on Kickstarter, proposal crafted by Terri McCollum, best known for Odette’s Ordeal; it was nicely over subscribed.  The trip included a manager, a massage therapist with Katita Waldo as ballet mistress.

Eastern Odyssey was initially premiered at the Vogue Theatre, San Francisco.  What has happened to it since I’m not sure. But the success of the venture launched Tiit Helimets’ desire and efforts to bring an Estonian ballet ensemble to San Francisco; the end of June will see that realization.

The Festival will be ticketed for all but the June 30 Yerba Buena Gardens Dance Festival.

For tickets, the link is: http://estonianculturefestival.eventbrite.com/s.

Tickets will include entrance to a June 28 12-3 p.m. stage rehearsal at the Palace of Fine Arts with a Q&A by Tiit Helimets;  he is managing the event.

Friday. June 28.  An expo follows 5:00-7:00 p.m., a performance from 7:00-10:00 p.m. With the Estonian National Ballet and guests.

Saturday, June 29 will be marked by a Song Festival at Calvary Presbyterian Church, Fillmore and Jackson Streets, San Francisco, 2-5 p.m.

The final event at Yerba Buena Gardens 12:30-3 p.m. Sunday, June 30 should be open to the public.

Ticket costs and privileges are explained on the website.

For the Friday performance, Helimets has choreographed Time to music by Paula Matthusen, a music professor in electroacoustic and acoustic music at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Estonian ballet mistress Marina Kesler has created Othello to the music of Arvo Part.  In between the two works actress Hanna-Liina Vosa and pianist Andrus Nahkur, distinguished Estonian artists, will appear.  Forty young Estonians, 15-25, members of the Estonian Youth Wind Orchestra will open the program.

The Estonian dancers coming number eleven, five of them soloists, six corps de ballet members. One soloist hails from Russia;  Moldova,  Japan and England are represented in the corps.  The full company numbers 56 under the direction of Thomas Edur whose career with his wife, Agnes Oaks, was principally with the English National Ballet, 1990-2009.

Both Edur and Oaks competed in the USA IBC in Jackson in 1990, where they were cited as the best Senior couple. Edur was also awarded a bronze medal.  They were identified as best couple by the  London Critics Circle in 2002; in 2010 both Edur and Oaks were made Commanders of the British Empire [CBE] by Queen Elizabeth II. Edur was named as the best male dancer in  the 2004 Laurence Olivier citation.

I culled the following from the Web. The Estonian National Ballet began in 1914 when two Russians, Nina Smirnova and Robert Rood, appeared at the Estonian National Opera.  A salaried troupe was started in 1918 and gave independent performances 1919-1920. In 1922, Viktoria Kreger of the Moscow Great Theatre staged Coppelia dancing the role. Rahel Olbrei, one of the ensemble, assumed leadership of the ensemble in 1926,  expanding her ballet training with study under Mary Wigman and Rudolf Laban; left in 1944 due to World War II pressures.  Anna Ekstrom, leading the company from 1944-1951, established the Estonian National School in 1946, which teaches Vaganova technique.

Subsequently The Estonian company had three artistic directors prior to Edur. He assumed a  company where dancers sign contracts with the government and once hired, cannot be fired.  The contract is year round;  after twenty years, they are eligible for a pension.  Corps members are utilized in operas and musicals; soloists appear only in ballets and the artists enjoy roughly two months of vacation in the summer.

Paul Taylor Company’s Alternate San Francisco Season, May 1-5, 2013

25 May

San Francisco Performances has a loyal history of presenting Paul Taylor at Yerba Buena’s Theater throughout that theater’s various name changes.  Paraphrasing the alternate year arrangement, at the closing performance executive director John Tomlinson said is due to just one thing: audience size.  “You bring the audience, we’ll be here every year,” asserting that San Francisco is the company’s favorite city to visit.

In a way I can see why the alternate year became an adroit necessity for San Francisco Performances.  Audiences crave diversity, and there is something so comfortable, so reassuring about Paul Taylor’s choreographic output, even in its darker side.  It has become “good old modern.”  The lines are straight, formations are crafted; the bodies may be required to bend and squirm, stretch or curl, but they don’t break into small jerks, rolls. The dancers don’t break line unless there is some characterological reason requiring it.  Instead, you see the broad V of the arms and a stride where the torso might twist as the body is propelled forward, but the body as a unit isn’t compromised.  Outside of the perpetual arabesques or attitudes in classical ballet, I feel it as comfortable as the round table in the midst of an old-fashioned kitchen with some marvelous odors emanating from the stove.

The three programs included San Francisco and West Coast Premieres – Kith and Kin, The Uncommitted in the former category and To Make Crops Grow and Gossamer Gallants in the latter, with the three memorable works Le Sacre du Printemps, 3 Epitaphs and Company B, dances dating from 1956 through 1991.

To Make Crops Grow relied on Ferde Grafe’s, Grand Canyon Suite, movements 1,2 and 5,minus the clip-clop movement so indelibly associated with the Standard Oil Company’s educational program for California children of the ‘Thirties. Santo Loquasto designed costumes quite in keeping with the stark economy of the Depression, colorless drapery for the Needy Couple and Their Children; white suit with paunch and watch chain for the Elderly Husband. Flashy black and red for the Young Wife, danced by Parisa Khabdeh. is all  sultry boredom and flirty defiance  before becoming defiant and desperate,  chosen to insure fertility in this bleak southwestern landscape.

It astonished me to see figures so like childhood characters seen on the street or at the schoolyard transformed into ritual killers, KKKs in sandy soil, minus masks or racial intent.  This simply made it the more terrible, precisely Taylor’s intention; such connections may have eluded Manhattan dwellers.

Gossamer Gallants flitted across Bedrich Semtana’s vibrant dances from The Bartered Bride with Santo Loquasto’s inspired brown-black male leotards with colored dashes, lime green ones for the women dusted with glittering red up near the boobs.  Both sported matching caps with little antennae and wings. Twitches and itches were endemic for the men as they contemplated a lone female insect flitting across the stage, flicking her legs behind her provocatively.  Whether singly or in formation, the agitation belonged to the best of vaudeville.  Until, that is, the winged ladies arrived in force to perform their role in creation’s orders.

Female feistiness proved fatal, hip swivels or cocked pelvis provoking panic in the winged hunks.  One  colleague disparaged the portrait saying that Taylor needed to learn something about women’s behavior.  I thought not. Taylor displayed his situational spoof and what if’s regarding the sexes.  Some women can do that – here it was a collective band of amazonic insect moms,  ahypothetical situation to be enjoyed thoroughly.

From insects to another form of tribal life, three decades earlier, Taylor’s employedf a two-piano rendition of Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps using a rehearsal, rigidity,  and uni-dimensional movement style, to weave an improbable series of events where nearly everyone gets murdered and the Rehearsal Mistress assumes a titanic scale beginning and ending the piece.
Practically everything seedy or fatally innocent is included; a crook, his mistress, henchmen, a private eye, a girl with a swaddled baby;  an improbable jailing, a breakout, Nijinsky faun-like stage progressions, a baby kidnapping and later its freak death.  Taylor’s style uses a cartoon-like series of sections within the larger musical structure; thirty years out, it remains absorbing.

3 Epitaphs’dancers were clothed in black tights, gloves and head coverings, designed by Robert Rauschenberg, with a few large sequins on the heads and bodies at random locations.  The music is a grainy recording of early New Orleans Jazz;  the dancers move like black rag dolls with a floppy capacity to jump, stand limply or move their hands.  Quite brief, this fifty-plus year old dance  never fails to elicit deservedly strong applause.

An historical note: San Francisco’s Danny Grossman was one of the original five when he danced in Paul Taylor’s company as Danny Williams. Grossman left the company after some eight years before moving to Canada where he started his own company.

Sandwiched between Epitaphs and Company B, The Uncommitted, created in 2011 to several of Arvo Part’s compositions, is an  unsettling portrait of human beings literally uncommitted evoked with unsettling clarity; shifting allegiances, half  hearted connections, uncertain meetings flowed in and off stage to the deliberate, measured sounds of the composer.  Taylor’s style does not change  that much, but how  he utilizes it and shapes a theme, particularly when dealing with human perplexity, reaches inside personal armor to register its message clearly.

Company B,with the Andrews Sisters’ cheerful renditions, a little  loud, confident, extraverted, is a time warp, and Santo Loquasto clearly reflects World War II’s  youthful energies and sartorial tastes.  After seeing it on San Francisco Ballet’s dancers on the War Memorial Opera House stage, the Taylor Company’s rendering is more personal and certainly more rooted in its delivery, the opening and closing polka like a Saturday night high school dance to 78 rpms. Behind it, the threading profile of soldiers moving from stage right to left, some falling, evoked memories of the discrepancy between adolescent distractions and war news over the family radio.
Amy Young’s rendition of There Will Never Be Another You was poignant, knowing she is retiring from the company.  Even more, her pause before rejoining the final ensemble seemed  particularly stark, an inevitability beyond the boisterous sounds of Bei Mir Bist du Schon.

Little question that a Paul Taylor Company visit is to be anticipated, a periodic, brief but definite source of nourishment.

San Francisco Ballet’s 2013 Gala, January 24

11 Feb

Celebrating San Francisco Ballet’s 80th season, Helgi Tomasson gave his audience and supporters a sleek event of pas de deux, a pas de trois, one pas de quatre, a solo and a final ensemble excerpt which will begin Program I January 29.

I am fascinated by the choices Tomasson sometimes makes for partners, particularly for fluffy moments like George Balanchine’s Tarantella to the tinkly music of Louis Gottschalk, which sounds  like a precursor to early New Orleans jazz. So much so you can imagine it on an early Victor Red Seal record or envision it being played on an out-of-tune upright piano in some seedy New Orleans dive.  Pairing Sasha de Sola and Pascal Molat was novel, although de Sola conveys jauntiness along with her extraordinarily straight back.  Molat can dance the cheery street urchin in any guise thrown him,  his final measures soliciting every last centime.

Switching gears the suicidal solo from Roland Petit’s L’Arlesienne touched on daring the audience; it worked. Pierre Francois Vilanoba made one of his initial impressions in the company dancing this role and the title of Lar Lubovitch’s Othello.  A dozen years later, Vilanoba conveyed the mental dislocation with a honed ferocity, a  image of suicidal madness worth remembering, circular grand jetes, flailing arms, riveted gaze.  Petit doesn’t always get many marks for his choreography, but his theatricality is unmistakable.

Returning to the light touch, August Bournonville and his Flower Festival at Genzano with Clara Blanco and Gennadi Nedvigin was another surprise pairing, nicely matched in size and sweetness.  Blanco could have been better coached;  she was half way between her iconic Nutcracker Doll and the thoughtless Olga in Eugene Onegin.  Nedvigen’s finishes in tight fifths elicited enthusiastic applause.

Myles Thatcher’s In the Passerine’s Clutch was conceived as a pas de quatre for Dores Andre, Dana Genshaft, Joan Boada and Jaime Garcia Castilla and enjoyed a premiere at the Gala. Thatcher used music from the prolific compositions of contemporary Polish composer Wjceich Kilar and is his third choreographic essay for San Francisco Ballet affiliated dancers.  Passerines are called perchers and number the greatest proportion of birds in the avian kingdom, including swallow, ravens, thrushes, sparrows, warblers, even the Australian Lyrebird.  Thatcher’s attempt to capture the darting, clustering, clampering, quarreling and mating deserves a second viewing.

Lorena Feijoo made her first appearance since giving birth to Luciana in the Act III variation from Raymonda, hand slaps and all  to Alexander Glasunov’s insinuating music .  Feijoo’s delicate sensuality was touched with a distinctly regal quality.  Audience members clapped when she appeared on stage.  Shades of Alexandra Danilova.

Tomasson’s Trio featured Sarah Van Patten, Tiit Helimets and Vitor Mazzo, in the section of the work set to Tchaikovsky music.  They danced an eloquent, inevitable triangle with Mazzeo as the dark figure luring Van Patten from Helimets arms, Mazzeo bearing a limp Van Patten off stage right with Helimets alone and forlorn at the curtain.

The Wedding pas de deux from Act III of the Petipa-Gorsky Don Quixote  completed the Gala’s first half, danced by Frances Chung and Taras Domitro as Kitri and Basilio in the lustrous white costumes designed by the late Martin Pakledinaz.  Rendered with eloquent understatement, and measured formality, Paul Parish mentioned Felipe Diaz, one-time San Francisco Ballet soloist and currently a company ballet master, had rehearsed the two.  Paul observed, “You absolutely have to have someone tell you where your head needs to go, where your eyes should focus.  It’s something you cannot do alone, or just with your partner.”  Chung and Domitro emphasized polish more than bravura.  That seemed to disappoint a number of individuals, but it suited me just fine.

Three pas de deux and one ensemble piece were the  Gala’s second half content, a paean to the company’s repertoire range.  Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz reprised the first act dream scene between Onegin and Tatiana where John Cranko’s Tatiana sees Onegin emerge from her bedroom mirror in a dream.  Given the elaborate set, one understands why Tomasson chose this snippet to open the second  half; it’s a major production operation.

On to the strains of John Philip Sousa and Balanchine’s wonderful spoof of the Sousa  brass umpapa.  This 1958 romp for New York City Ballet was first danced by San Francisco Ballet in 1981; I can remember Madeline Bouchard, Anita Paciotti and David McNaughton scintillating in their assignments.  Here Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan took on the Stars and Stripes  pas de deux created by Melissa Hayden and Jacques D’Amboise.  Here danced for a sunny pertness rather than the broad good humor originally conveyed,   Zahorian and Karapetyan came across cheerfully.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith danced Christopher Wheeldon’s pas de deux from After The Rain, set to Arvo Part’s extended ethereal score which never seems to conclude. It was an etched, elegant performance, tender but seeming to proceed under glass.

Excerpts from Serge Lifar’s Suite en Blanc finished the Gala, an ensemble piece which has become de rigeur in a Tomasson-run Gala, serving to remind the audience that a company stands or falls on the calibre of its corps de ballet as much as the brilliance of its principal dancers.  Lifar, who was the last major male dancer to rise under Sergei  Diaghilev’s influence, was ballet master for the l”Opera de Paris ballet company from the mid-‘Thirties through World War II, including  those four long years of the Nazi Occupation of most of Northern and Central France.  This work was premiered some mother prior to D-Day and in Zurich, appearing to lack any reference to the privation the French dancers were experiencing.

While I intend to discuss the ballet further after seeing the entire work, it was marvelous to see Sofiane Sylve as one of the center dancers, conveying in her bones the style and presentation required for this very French ballet.