Tag Archives: Ballet San Jose

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.

Intelligent, Colloquial and Smart: SF Dance Works Premiere

26 Jun

SF Dance Works, which gave its premiere performance June 23 at the ODC Performance Gallery,the co-presenter by the bye, elicited a wave of nostalgia for me, thanks to the audience and their enthusiastic support for the dancers and the material they spun before the eyes of these clearly vocal fans.

Well they might. James Sofranko, the founder and artistic director of SF Dance Works, is not only a soloist with San Francisco Ballet, and company member since 2000, he also has co-organized a yearly benefit for cancer research. Additionally, he has choreographed at least two works for San Francisco Ballet’s spring student showcases, reflecting the arrangement smarts he absorbed while at Juilliard Music Institute’s Dance Department. He also has incorporated former Julliard classmate Anne Zivolich-Adams in the inaugural cast, a dancer much missed in the ODC Dance Company.

What wafted over me during the program was the remembered feeling of San Francisco Ballet’s summer programs on 18th Avenue and the rooting nature of the audiences who peopled the risers in the upstairs converted studio those summer weekend programs. These dancers and choreography, to be sure, are infinitely more experienced and savvy, but the ambiance isn’t easily repeated or imitated. Thursday night’s performance, however, evoked those earnest and active days.

The five-part program with one intermission started and ended with the six-dancer ensemble which included former SF Ballet soloists Dana Genshaft and Garrett Anderson, the former now working in modern dance at the company’s school and Anderson, after a stint abroad, with Chicago’s Hubbard Street Dance Company. The additional dancers were Amber Neumann, a Joffrey Company dancer, Ben Needham Wood from the Smuin Company, Kendall Teague, originally hired by Dennis Nahat for Ballet San Jose, and Tobin del Cuore, another Juilliard Alum, with Hubbard credits as well as Lar Lubovitch and Azure Barton, Houston Grand Opera and Chicago’s Lyric Opera.

These seven dancers graced the inventions of Lar Lubovitch, Alejandro Cerrudo, Penny Saunders and the local talents of Dana Genshaft and James Sofranko. The works were enhanced by by Heather Basarab’s lighting, abetted by Rayan O’Gara as well as Jason Brown and a variety of music, the most notable being Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major, and a portion of Franz Liszt.

Penny Saunders’ Joe and Ida, a co-production with Cedar Rapids Ballet supplied a quirky boy meets girl, the sextet seeming a contemporary take on Robbins’ Fancy Free, however minus sailors, shoes and costumed minimally by Saunders and Melissa Leitch. Saunders, another Harid Conservatory graduate like Sofranko, has Hubbard Street and Cedar Lake credits and is now in a three-year residency with Grand Rapids Ballet where Patricia Barker is artistic director.

One can see that this boy-girl encounter can enliven a contemporary program. It’s brim full of body-parts exploration, from the tentative reach of a hand to rotator cuff manipulation, torso undulation and abrupt shifts in weight and position of the legs and feet. I was amazed to see just what Saunders could elicit from a skilled human body. With six composers in a sound mix, Joe and Ida invites comparison to the endless apps on a smart phone.

Dana Genshaft’s Portrait, inspired by the 19th century French novelist George Sand, was the most staged production in that the work possessed floor projections placing dancer Amber Neumann in context – a field of flowers, a scene of Paris in the mid-19th century and then a neutral where Neumann is divested of Karin Mossen’s black horsehair hoop, replaced by the trousers for which Sand was so noted. An intriguing subject, Neumann spent a fair amount of the Max Richter-Franz Liszt score reaching forward and swirling, suggesting protest and groping for an acceptable ambiance.

Bob Crosby’s music gave Sofranko the basis of displaying Anne Zivolich-Adams’ perky side, quick shifts of direction, abrupt elevation, and her dry “Okay, try me.” Next time I hope Sofranko explores her dramatic depth. But it simply was great to see her prodigious talent showcased.

The program’s first half finished with Lar Lubovich’s male pas de deux from Concerto Six Twenty Two to W.A.Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major, a work associated with the AIDS crisis. Danced by Garrett Anderson and Tobin Del Cuore, it is wonderful blend of so-called modern and classical ballet which was expressed without embellishments, but filled with a range of tenderness, sensitivity and respect that a deep bond between two men can possess.


SFDanceworks. Garrett Anderson, Tobin Del Cuore in Concerto Six Twenty-Two by Lar Lubovitch. Photo by Andrew Weeks

Following intermission the sextet completed the program with Alejandro Cerrudo’s Likety Split, premiered in 2006 by the Hubbard Street Dance Project. Another semi-comic encounter of the sexes with the inevitable hesitations and awkwardness, it seemed that Penny Saunders had absorbed the situation and provided a more lively comment.

For the rationale behind Sofranko’s choices, let me recommend Toba Singer’s interview for Culture Vulture. The aim has been well interpreted, the material reasonably varied; the second season will doubtless build on this auspicious, beautifully danced beginning.

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’s Production of Giselle

19 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Sayonara to the S.F. Bay Guardian

15 Oct

It was something of a shock this morning [October 14, 2014] to read on S.F.Gate‘s website that The S.F. Bay Guardian, the politically progressive, feisty weekly, distributed free of charge, would publish its last edition October 15.

What is even more astonishing is that by choice, Rita Felciano, The Guardian’s dance critic for just about 25 years, said she was writing her final review for its pages with her appraisal of Garrett-Moulton’s September 19-21 production of “Luminous Edge” at Yerba Buena Center’s Lam Theatre.  Nothing in her comments indicated she knew her critical position was about to be abolished.

Rita served as editor for the Dance Citics Association Newsletter, and co-organized a symposium on Serge Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, when Helgi Tomasson first premiered his own reading of that swirling score for San Francisco Ballet.

Rita was also assiduous in attending performances by small groups and fledgling choreographers, her comments animated, judicious and invariably intelligent.

Rita’s record of reviews and articles has been admirable;  fortunately, not confined to The Guardian. Her articles have appeared in Dance Magazine and Dance Studio Life, and she has written specialized entries for compendiums on modern dance. She also served as a consultant for the Pew Trust in Philadelphia, appraising the dance organizations in the City of Brotherly Love. At some point, her skills in the German language took her to Leipzig where she observed the Grand Opera Ballet of Leipzig.  Additionally, The San Jose Mercury used her talents to cover South Bay dance events, primarily the performances of Ballet San Jose.

I believe it was the 1997-1998 season cycle of the Isadora Duncan Dance Awards which bestowed on Rita a Sustained Achievement Award, introduced by Ann Murphy at Ann’s request. Murphy started her comments by mentioning that Rita was writing in English as her fourth language. A native of Switzerland, Rita grew up fluent in German, French and Italian, learning English perhaps after meeting her husband and “love of my life” Richard Felciano. Accepting the award at the Ceremony held in ODC’s pre-remodeled Performance Gallery, Rita quipped, “It’s a bit like being the flavor of the month.”

Rita will continue to write for Danceviewtimes on the Web, and I know that the magazines which have contained her by-line are ready, eager, to have her contribute.

The regrets expressed at her resignation were frequent, and I wondered who might be so intrepid to attempt to follow her;. In an odd sense of justice, there will be no replacement.. Sayonara.

2014 USA IBC Round II Results, June 23

14 Jul

The contestants were winnowed to thirty-one from fifty-four, Asia did very well, Latin American representation appreciable also. Statistically, the Republic of Korea garnered six for the finalists out of the original nine. The People’s Republic of China’s dancers numbered four, a total of ten Asian finalists; Japan added four, with a roster of fourteen Asians out of the thirty-one competitors advancing. In my opinion, that says a great deal about the seriousness with which Asians approach ballet

Further it is interesting that three of the Japanese contestants have affiliation with British or U.S. companies, giving them a critical edge in the contemporary ballet choreography assigned for Round II. Korea National University of the Arts [KNUA] train in modern dance as well as classical ballet. The lone finalist from down under, Australia, Aaron Smyth, is a member of the Joffrey Ballet. South Africa’s finalist, Andile Ndlovu, dances with Washington Ballet.

Brazil’s contestants number two juniors and one senior; Cuba has both genders in the senior division, Chile, one, and Mexico, two, are both represented in the junior division; nice going.

These statistics are all probably boring to readers, but in this tenth competition in Jackson, it reflects the growth of training and performance in Latin America along with the importance of the Jackson-based competition to Latin dancers to be seen and possibly to win scholarships or contracts. At Prix de Lausanne some of the sponsors give scholarships with recipients choosing what schools they want to attend. Here at Jackson, the choices are specific to school or company. In the past, happily, company directors have made selections from dancers seeded early; one of the more notable examples was Amy Marie Briones from the San Francisco Bay Area. Dennis Nahat selected her for an apprenticeship out of the Gala Introduction, the last he choreographed for Jackson. Briones, a strong, brilliant technician still in her early twenties, has worked herself up to soloist status with Ballet San Jose, now dancing under the direction of Jose Manuel Carreno. Nahat told me about others he had chosen, including the recently-retired Ramon Moreno, a bronze medalist from Cuba, “I take dancers who like to and are willing to work.” Moreno, a wonderful character dancer as well as admirable technician, also received an Isadora Duncan Dance Award for his performances for the 2009-2010 season.

If I had my way, I would have included a fourth Brazilian senior, Mozart Matsuyama, one of the two most striking males in this competition, the other being Rodrigo Almarales of Cuba. Either one simply has to appear on stage, pause, allowing the audience to see them, before launching into the necessary steps to the chosen music. I probably have mentioned this before, but the real dancer, for me, is one so at home in their bodies that the classical training is a garment refining the natural impulse to move, there to refine the talent, not to restrict the mover to a rigid bearing nor confined like a Victorian girdle.

Martha Brings Marni Wood Back

7 Feb

As a footnote but also evidence of the Graham historic influence, the Martha Graham Company provided the opportunity to bring Marni Wood back to the Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies Program at U.C. Berkeley where she and her husband, David Wood, had started the dance program in 1968. The week prior to the January 30-31 performances an invitation from the U.C. Berkeley’s Department sent an e-mail invitation for a pre-theatre dinner with Marni Wood before the January 31 program.

For those unfamiliar with dance history at U.C., Berkeley a two-line letter in 1968 from Travis Bogard invited David and Marni Wood to come west and start a dance department. “It was right timing,” Marni commented before dinner, “We had three children and it was difficult in New York. Here was space, free schools. There was no question. When we arrived, the floor of the chapel [an old Unitarian Church at the edge of campus along Bancroft Way near Bowditch] was a mess. It had been used for the theater production set construction. We were delighted. We were starting from scratch to build something.”

The warmth and exchanges included the U.C. architect who had worked on the Zellerbach Complex, one of the Wood daughters, Marni’s sister, and June Watanabe, recollections of the E.O. 9066 Japanese-American relocation , performances, family updates in the foyer of Zellerbach Playhouse. The
actual performance seemed a bit anti-climax.

The Graham program was three fold, representing three eras according to artistic Director Janet Elber, former Graham dancer and the company’s artistic director: Appalachian Spring , 1944; Cave of the Heart relating to Medea 1846; and Maple Leaf Rag, a 1990 production to the Scott Joplin music.

Appalachian Spring, with its beautiful set by Isamu Noguchi, spare poles outlining the house, a bench, a chair on a porch, the suggestion of a fence, with the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra Aaron Copland’s and Samuel Barber’s music [Cave of the Heart] sounded fine. Marni Thomas had remarked that both chair and bench had been so designed that the dancers perched, the construction not permitting lazy muscles.

Dennis Nahat brought Yuriko to Ballet San Jose to mount Appalachian Spring,; my memory was that the ballet company made it livelier, warmer. This performance was accurate, meticulous but didn’t seem to penetrate the surface. There’s not much around these days as a frame of reference for urban-trained dancers with cell phones, alas.

This was my first viewing of Cave of the Heart,; once again, Noguchi’s sculpture, its mobile metal tentacles provided a marvelous symbol of Medea’s mental process as she contemplated the loss of Jason to the white clad blonde princess. For a man thoroughly full of himself, Graham as costumer chose a red cod piece to announce Jason’s self-absorption. It was easy to picture Graham in the role skittering along the stage, shoulders hunched over her solar plexus, eyes rolling and body writing as she plotted her revenge. Michael Smuin’s use of the same score and the same theme includes the sons’ murder; Graham only suggested it in Medea’s torturous solo before she provides the princess with the fatal crown.

Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag, Marc Shapiro on stage at the grand piano, with the portable ballet barre provided Graham’s 1990 parody of her lengthy choreographic career. Snippets of works wafted on and off stage; sometimes the dancers surged on like an army, arms and legs angled, bodies in three-quarter torso position; other times one or another skittered. For those familiar with the repertoire it was fun identifying the source; the only one I clearly identified was David Wood’s stage walk from right to left as the Death figure in Clytemnestra.

At the intermission Janet Elber mentioned, when asked, that the Graham costumes and sets were victims of Hurricane Katrina’s lower Manhattan flooding. Difficulties in removing the water left everything water logged for two weeks. The sets have been restored; much of the wardrobe required replacing.

I wonder about the dancers’ ability to develop their own understanding of Graham’s works, something necessary to keep the repertoire more than an archive. Could there be revivals of works by some of her dancers who had separate careers? An archive of the work Graham inspired in members of her company over her fifty year career would be a little like Lee Theodore’s American Dance Machine.

Knowing many Graham dancers who went on to choreograph and create their own companies, licensing work for other companies, my speculation is extravagant, an unwieldy fantasy, if understandable. The Graham lineage encompasses so much of twenthith century modern dance and there was this double pleasure of the January 31 evening.

Dannis Nahat’s Yulan Brings Dalian Acrobats to West Coast

18 Oct

Following Dennis Nahat’s departure from Ballet San Jose, he organized Theatre Ventures International, as a 501 © 3, non-profit organization. During the 2008 summer successful eight Chinese city tour, Ballet San Jose had included Shenyang, the capital of Leoaning, the province which once was Manchuria where Dalian is also located. Dalian is noted for its acrobats. Dennis had a ballet being mounted in Dalian and was approached by the artistic administration and asked to create a work for Dalian’s dancers and acrobats. The Dalian-Nahat collaboration was already active when Nahat was abruptly dismissed from the company whose roots dated to the Nahat-Hovarth collaboration in Cleveland in 1972 and Cleveland Ballet’s first performances in 1976. Nahat spent some eighteen months shuttling between San Jose and Dalian creating Yulan.

enjoyed its North American premiere October 13 at San Jose’s California Theatre with a troupe of skilled, energetic, eager performers in a twelve-part pageant which caused Stephen Goldstine to exclaim “makes Cirque du Soleil look like middle school.” The production was scheduled to give four performances in Pasadena, one in East Los Angeles and another in Monterey Park before returning to Dalian.

Though missing the initial scene, Filaments of Galaxies Before Time, the visual magic of Jin Xin, Zhao Yu and Lou Yonfu for Winds of Fire wafted at the back of the stage with circling rings of divergent flame hues with Paul Chihara’s score reinforcing the spreading, fragmenting imagery. Twenty-two small, lithe acrobats were clothed in flame and brown, parts of their costumes pointed to reinforce the fire theme. Entrances on the run, double flips forward, trampolines and sinuous movements abounded. The costumes for this and subsequent episodes were designed by Xu Zeng.

Scenes 3 and 4 were devoted to Flood and Freeze, the projections and use of billowing lengths of white with the projections were among the most imaginative and aesthetic. Theatric manipulation of yardage is pretty standard for water, but the creatures, cavorting over, under and around the billows in unitards displaying slender physiques, were fetching and provided the scene with a playfulness provoking periodic spurts of applause. Of all the scenes, The Freeze that followed, where the same yardage formed glaciers and ice bergs and changing shape, was one of the most magical. Here the participating acrobats sallied forth from behind the shifting shaped ice bergs for a pas de deux [Li Huitong, Zhang Lei], a solo [Li Siyu]some acrobatics and a spectacular aerial feat [Guo Huixan]closing the scene.

What I particularly liked was seeing the cobwebbed projections first used in The Flood continue through four scenes, with the lengthy undulating yards of cloth balancing overt changes in other aspects of the background. Acrobatic feats were so numerous, daring, sometimes comical that the panorama swam in one’s eyes as one highly skilled, gigantic display. It was clear that the performers had spent a healthy number of hours at a ballet barre, but more in the fearless pursuit of specialties like Guo Huixian and He Wen, a couple operating on aerial silks.

Guo Huixan and He Wen were featured once more in Scene Six, Mating; they exchanged who held whom, inter-twining deftly. One or the other was supported by feet in cocked position, with what must be twenty-one bones of iron and muscles of steel, hours of practice and spirits of complete trust.

Also with six scenes, Act II continued the galactic themes: Metamorphosis, Wild Destruction, New Green, Natural Springs, Flowering and Yulan as the finale. The progression included jugglers; a man manipulating a ball with the aid of a net stretched between two long poles; the aforementioned Li Siyi, with Sun Lili and later Zhou Tanting. Li Siyi stretched her slender body in positions portending problems with such utter flexibility, though dazzling in youthful accomplishment.

Li Siyi later appeared as New Green, then within the Big Bobble in Natural Springs, her enclosure manipulated by Wang Chengyu and Zhou Yan Ting. An Apache pas de deux by Sun Lili and Zhang Chao and six other bobbles made refreshing visual gurgles.

Scenes five, Flowering, and six, Yulan possessed most of ballet’s typical accouterments, tutus and toe shoes, to be followed with delicate projections of a growing blossom, ultimately flowering flowers into Yulan, a Magnolia you’ve never see the likes of in the Southern United States. Lu Mingyue, back resting on a platform, manipulated roseate hued umbrellas, starting with one, adding a second on which a third was balanced, then a fourth, onward, upward until she reached seven. Quite mind boggling. Wang Chengyu and Zhou Yanting danced a pas de deux before the final ensemble created multiple tendrils with their arms and legs in front of the scarlet-hued projection of Yulan.

Dennis Nahat was the overall director and responsible for the concept; the choreography was shared with Song Xiaoxue and Zhang Hongfei. Paul Chihara’s music, recorded by the International Philharmonic Orchestra of Beijing, filled the interludes, ably supporting the scenes, with phrases familiar to his work with Michael Smuin’s Tempest and some lyricism that sounded like first cousin to some of Sergei Prokofiev’s Cinderella. The list is simply too full to list everyone.

Much of Yulan’s charm rested with Nahat’s ability to incorporate the skills of the Dalian Acrobatic Troupe in a production apparently a smash in Dalian and elsewhere in the PRC. His willingness to undertake such a production incorporating an excited group of young performers who must enjoy artistic privileges which many American artists could envy, is stellar. It’s an amazing cross-cultural collaboration.

The Terra Cotta Prince is scheduled for the California Theatre December 19-29 when members of the troupe will dazzle us again with a winsome skill that billows over the footlights.