Tag Archives: Ben Stevenson

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.

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USA IBC’S #10 Coming Up

17 Apr

The USA International Ballet Competition Number 10 is scheduled for June 14-28. It will be a first for Edward Villella as the jury chair, the final competition for Executive Director Sue Lobrano who has guided the Jackson, Mississippi event since the fall of 1986 when Karlen Bain relinquished direction because her husband’s job took him out of state.

This year 109 candidates have been invited from 21 countries; 48 juniors, ages 5-18, 61 seniors, ages 19-26. Sixty-one dancers are from the United States, eighteen from Japan and fourteen from Brazil.

Latin American juniors will represent Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru; People’s Republic of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea are sending competitors, plus South Africa and Switzerland. Amongst the seniors additional dancers are listed coming from Cuba, Colombia and Panama. Seniors are arriving from Australia, France, Poland and Portugal. Asia will be further represented by Mongolia and the Philippines, and from the Russian Federation add to the countries listed as sending junior hopefuls.

Among the senior competitors will be Mario Vitale Labrador, originally from Alameda, California, one-time dancer with Oakland Ballet who attended the Bolshoi Ballet Academy and upon graduation was given a soloist contract with the Mikhailovsky Theater in St. Petersburg. Labrador was awarded the George Zoritch Prize at the April Arabesque Competition in Perm, Russia. San Francisco Ballet School will be represented by Daniel McCormick, level seven, as a junior entry.

Determining who would be invited were Adam Sklute, artistic director, Ballet West; Virginia Johnson, artistic director, Dance Theatre of Harlem; Megaly Suarez, former teacher at Cuba’s National Ballet School, now artistic director, Florida Classical Ballet. The trio reviewed all tapes submitted by entrants, selecting 109 candidates. It’s also possible there will be last minute drop outs.

The jurors represent Australia, Canada, China, Georgia, Germany, Japan, Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, United Kingdom, and Spain and United States, Chair Edward Villella.

John Meehan, Dance Chair, Vassar College, represents Australia following a career with American Ballet Theatre; Andre Lewis, artistic director, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Canada; Feng Ying, artistic director, National Ballet of China; Nina Ananiashvili, artistic director,State Ballet of Georgia; Gigi Hyatt, deputy director, Hamburg Ballet School, Germany; Hideo Fukagawa, former principal, Munich State Opera Ballet, choreographer, Japan; Hae Shik Kim, founding director, Dance Conservatory, Korean National University of Arts; Ashley Wheater, artistic director, Joffrey Ballet, United Kingdom; Alexei Fadeechev, artistic director, Stars of the Russian Ballet Festival, Russian Federation; Trinidad Vives, former co-director Houston Ballet, Artistic Associate, Boston Ballet, Spain. John Meehan, Hideo Fukugawa and Hae Shik Kim have served previously as Jackson jurors.

It also should be noted Gigi Hyatt was junior gold medalist at Jackson in 1982; Nina Ananiashvili shared the 1986 Competition’s highest award, Prix de Jackson, with Andrus Liepa.

For anyone following ballet from Competition to Competition, jury, hosts, teachers comprise a who’s who in the international dance world, an intense brew with the competition rigors;an incredible sachedule of rehearsal space, production rehearsals, the steady progression of sessions. Round I starts the Sunday morning following the opening entry of the competitors bearing the flags of their respective countries. Jurors, teachers, host and hostess are introduced, the flame is lit to burn in front of Thalia Mara Auditorium throughout the two-week marathon of dance. The opening ceremony is completed by an invited dance company; this year it’s Complexions.

The Competition has carefully calibrated how many competitors it can handle within the length of any given slot in a program, starting with the juniors and progressing to seniors. The competitors have drawn numbers for order of appearance; sometimes a couple will have widely divergent numbers.Round I requires either two variations or a pas de deux by a couple, whether junior or senior; in some instances the partner will be non-competing. After Round I’s winnowing, the eliminated have the choice to remain as the competition’s guests, taking classes, and participating in a large ensemble presentation created by a choreographer to open the Gala. This practice was inaugurated by Dennis Nahat, active at several competitions.

Another gracious gesture by the Competition organizers, now for third or fourth time, are two evaluators. These two individuals take the jurors’ scores and comments and if competitors eliminated want to know, the evaluators will discuss the jurors’ comments with the dancer. The two this year are Ravenna Tucker, former Adeline Genee, Prix de Lausanne winner and Royal Ballet principal, now Associate Professor of Dance, Bellhaven University; William Starrett, Joffrey Ballet dancer, Bronze Medalist, Jackson, 1979; Artistic Director, Columbia City Ballet.

Round II, devoted to contemporary work, makes choreographers eligible for a prize. Some remarkable choreography has been displayed. I fondly remember Lew Christensen’s solo of Harlequin received a bronze medal in 1979, danced by David MacNaughton, awarded the senior men’s silver medal, the gold given to the late Lubomir Kafka, Czechoslovakia.

Round III means back to the classics; if precedent follows, another contemporary piece.For a soloist, it means two classical variations again and another contemporary piece. At the last two competitions each finalist was given a cash award of $1,000 from a fund established for that purpose by a Jackson devotee of dance.

Guiding the sessions will be Wes Chapman and Susan Jaffe, former principals with American Ballet Theatre, serving as host and hostess.

Finally, the International Ballet School Faculty is comprised of several returning instructors, and former Jackson competitors. Tatiana Tchernova, affiliated with the National Ballet of Canada returns as well as Rhoda Jorgenson, one-time dancer with American Ballet Theatre and The Metropolitan Opera Ballet Company, now with Maryland Youth Ballet; veteran teacher at the USAIBC Marcus Alford, once affiliated with Gus Giordano, Atlanta’s jazz master; he will be joined by Meaghan McHale. Contemporary dance is represented by Rachel Leonard and Ashley Walton, university graduates moving from classical training into modern work. Aside from Tchernova, ballet instruction will be given by David Kearny, one-time New York City Ballet member,joining Natalia Makarova’s Makarova and Company.

The two ballet teachers will be joined former former USAIBC competitors Ana Lobe, dancing with Jose Manuel Carreno in 1990. After Ivan Nagy invited her to join the English National Ballet, she danced briefly with Ballet Mississippi before Dennis Nahat engaged her for the Cleveland-San JOse Ballet Company. The second, Laurie Anderson, was Houston Ballet’s first African-American principal dancer, nurtured by Ben Stevenson, partnered by Carlos Acosta. Following a twenty-four year dancing career Anderson is active in Houston Ballet’s education arm, teaching ballet and conducting master classes.

One-time Joffrey dancer Lisa Slagle will be complete the ballet instructor list along with Jerry Opdenaker, former member of Pennsylvania and Kansas City Ballets, now resident in West Palm Beach. Slagle danced with the Tulsa Ballet before starting her own school in the Dallas area.

Along with heat, occasional thunderstorms, and all the incredible logistics, the 10th USA IBC is an exciting dance event to anticipate.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Extravagant Story Ballets

17 Jul

Early in May I saw two performances of the San Francisco. Ballet-Het National Ballet production of Cinderella; and on film his earlier creation for The Royal Ballet, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at a 10 a.m. Sunday showing at San Francisco’s Vogue Theater, Sacramento near Presidio.  The screening rated a brief appearance by Christopher Wheeldon, here for the U.S. premiere of Ms. Miserable transformed to Mme Majestic.

I don’t have the roster of production personnel and designers  for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,, but both say a great deal about Wheeldon’s thoroughness and collaboration.  Given the allotted fiscal resources, he scattered the commission funds adroitly and gave both companies and their audiences a ballet  for the memory books and box office receipts. Wheeldon’s employment of  technical advances for stage productions since 1929 when Serge Diaghilev died would have that impresario repeat  his famous edict “Etonne moi!”

I probably shouldn’t mix the two productions, but sentimental reasons are afloat, namely two different USA IBC competitions in Jackson, Mississippi when the Royal Ballet principals Sarah Lamb and Zenaida Yanowsky were handed senior silver and junior gold respectively, Lamb in 2002 and Yanowsky in 1994.  In the special ambiance characterizing Jackson’s ambiance, one acquires a special attachment with the young artists staying the course of climate, adjustments and pressure to emerge with their talents recognized and careers enhanced.

Okay, back to Cinderella.  Wheeldon invited Craig Lucas to fashion the story-line.  The old-fashioned word is librettist; I’ve also heard the word dramaturge.  Taking pieces from Perrault, the brothers Grimm; as Aimee T’sao mentioned in her dancetabs review, the opera  La Perichole, Lucas provides a snippet of Cinderella’s mother and father, the mother dying of consumption, a visit to the tombstone and the emergence of a tree from the gravestone.  Adroitly using children, the girl Cinderella is replaced by the young woman in a filmy dress of blue which needed sleeves present in other versions. At the tombstone/tree the father arrives with Stepmother Hortensia and stepsisters Edwina and Clementine; there Hortensia’s bouquet is offered, thrown to the ground, offered again and reluctantly accepted.

Cut to the Palace, represented by three handsome rust-colored pillars,  Prince Guillaume and friend Benjamin play with wooden swords and destabilize Madame Mansard the dancing mistress.  King Albert and Queen Charlotte as well as master valet Alfred try to control the two frolicking boys with comparatively little effect. No one really seems to mind.

Time passes and the King shows the Prince portraits of potential royal brides: reaction,  dislike.  Required to deliver invitations in person, the Prince and Benjamin swap garments so the royal has a chance to assess necessity and his choices.

Next, Cinderella is seen in her domestic setting, assisted by four masked men  serving as Fates.  The two sisters are sketched further, too little to establish Clementine’s kind impulses, plenty to establish Edwina’s narcissism, less her halitosis, Hortensia’s step-mother’s nastiness, the father’s interrupted attempts at tenderness.

Into this domestic dragnet, Cinderella, out of kindness, perhaps diversion which might net some responsiveness, brings the prince in disguise.  Mayhem, of course, is directed at the would-be derelict until Benjamin’s arrival with invitations; an acknowledgment to the fire huddling humanity, tempers Hortensia.  That humanity tries to console Cinderella, and she yields briefly, with a flare of pride, he is shooed out the door.

Excised are  the shuffling god-mother in disguise, the dance master, the wig makers and the dress-maker, replaced with the antics of the three women, Benjamin disguised as the prince, followed by the three preening, and Hortensia’s waving the fourth invitation before tossing it into the fire.  The disconsolate Cinderella is spared by the four fates lifting her, as the kitchen banishes, bearing her to her mother’s tree where the four seasons with double qualities dance for her; Spring/Lightness; Summer/Generosity; Autumn/Mystery; Winter/Fluidity [the latter is a mystery to me, unless it signifies rain instead of snow and ice]; she joins them in the finale.

The seasons then join, cluster and dance while Cinderella makes a costume change to a golden dress with wheat-like tendrils cascading from the bodice and a golden mask, behind her  a diaphanous golden cape.  The fates and four masked attendants lift her; horses heads appear, the Fates grasp four wheels, the spokes green branches and our heroine is raised, cape billowing,
evoking Audrey Hepburn declaring “Take my picture” near the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Curtain!

Act II brings us Princesses from Russia, Spain and Bali with an orthodox priest diplomat in red, a Velasquez courtier with exaggerated wig and Indian woman with head shawl and covering jacket, all quite amusing with the Balinese princess sporting malevolent talons and luxuriant pantaloons, the Russian princess with outsized headgear and the Spanish candidate more like a
refugee from Lilias Pasta’s tavern.  All very funny, if the parody in some instances is questionable. Colonialism or ethnocentricity will rear collective  heads. Prince Guillaume is understandably put off by all three, much to King Albert’s frustration.  I think Queen Charlotte is relieved.

The two step sisters make their unfortunate attempts, but Benjamin provides Clementine with an alternative while Hortensia proceeds to sloshdom with champagne.  Father has borne heaps of wraps and pursues Hortensia’s quest for yet another glass. The music shimmers, the crowd parts, Cinderella enters and Prince Guillaume is dazzled, the walls disappear along with the crowd and the starry night provides the background for the pas de deux.

The two casts,  opening and the following Tuesday, were:

Friday:                                                                  Tuesday:
Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada               Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan
Benjamin: Taras Domitro                                Benjamin: Hansuke Yamamoto
Cinderella’s Father: Damian Smith               Cinderella’s Father: Reuben Martin-Cintas
Cinderella’s Mother: Dana Genshaft             Cinderella’s Mother: Charlene Cohen
King Albert: Ricardo Bustamonte                  King Albert: Val Caniparoli
Queen Charlotte:Anita Paciotti                       Queen Charlotte: Anita Paciotti
Alfred, Benjamin’s Father: Val Caniparoli   Alfred, Benjamin’s Father Sebastian Vinet
Madame Mansard: Pascale Le Roy                Madame Mansard: Katita Waldo

Stepmother Hortensia: Kata Waldo              Stepmother Hortensia: Shannon Rugani
Stepsister Edwina: Sarah Van Patten           Stepsister Edwina: Dana Genshaft
Stepsister Clementine: Frances Chung        Stepsister: Clara Blanco

At the San Francisco premiere, I found most everything dazzling, but felt Boada somewhat doughy as the Prince.  Waldo etched a sharp Stepmother, Van Patten rather dotty as one stepsister – the halitosis wasn’t so noticeable as it was on Tuesday night, and Chung was a bit subdued as the sister who manages to captivate Benjamin, danced insouciantly by Taras Domitro.  Both Bustamonte and Caniparoli were suitably grandiose as well as genial as the King, and no one tops Anita Paciotti for regal charm as a Queen.

Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan provided an ideal pairing on the Tuesday evening I saw them, clearly filling the romantic element of their respective roles.  The Rugani/Genshaft and Blanco trio of step relatives in size and temperament seemed more cohesive while Yamamoto and Domitro vied for aerial brio.

I forgot to mention  the touching part when Cinderella arrives home, stashes the slipper in a niche in the chimney before the parade of chairs descends from the ceiling to provide the candidates with a place for attempting to fit the shoe size.  The potentials includes the fanciful creatures from Cinderella’s transformation scene.  When it is over, the chair are heisted into the flys with a wonderful uneven line.

I’ve seen Kudelka’s Cinderella, as well as the earlier Christensen-Smuin and Stevenson versions where the latter two use men as the stepsisters.  These productions tended to hew to the musical development more routinely.  There were times when I found myself wondering how that section of the music matched what I was seeing.  In the lengthy, triumphant pas de deux, the lifts were so frequent that their prevalence made for anti-climatic sensations, despite pristine partnering and the beautiful display of musical ballerinas.  Unlike less costumed ballets Wheeldon has created for San Francisco Ballet, these two views made me wonder if he himself had been dazzled by the sumptuous and splendor of the production designed and costumed by Julian Crouch, Natasha Katz’ lighting design and the magic Basil Twist conceived with the tree and the carriage.  Succumbing to the collaborative opulence would be entirely understandable.

Ballet San Jose’s Don Quixote

26 Feb

Ballet San Jose seems to have acquired the habit of importing major male dancers for its full length productions, principally to partner Alexsandra Meijer as well as jack up the box office receipts.  It occurred when Tiit Helimets was given S.F. Ballet’s permission to dance Albrecht to Meijer’s Giselle and when Sasha Radetsky assumed the Ben Stevenson take on Cinderella’s Prince in San Jose’s production of Stevenson’s  interpretation of the Sergei Prokoviev score.

For Don Quixote, however, it was Jose Manuel Carreno’s turn, dancing Basilio in a Mikhail Baryshnikov reading of the Marius Petipa-Alexander Gorsky 1869 production of Don Quixote, here staged by Wes Chapman who had danced it during his years with American Ballet Theatre and mounted it twice for Alabama Ballet when he was that company’s artistic director.

On February 15, Junna Ige stepped in to dance Kitri on opening night.  For the Saturday matinee, Amy Marie Briones was assigned the Kitri plum opposite Jeremy Kovitch.  Saturday night was slated to be Ige’s second performance but with Maykel Solas with the Sunday matinee featuring Meijer with Carreno’s second appearance.  Apparently Meijer’s neck injury was comparatively minor.

The production struck me as a catch all with the physical set borrowed from Hans Christian Molbech’s set for Ballet San Jose’s earlier production of August Bournonville’s Toreador augmented in Act II’s Gypsy Camp and the Vision Scene by Santo Loquasto.  I wish Karen Gabay had been given something besides the brassy orange-red wig as bar maid in Act III, where her role took over some of Mercedes’ dancing seen in the San Francisco Ballet production.  Which production is more accurate is up for grabs, given the Bolshoi-influenced version with SFB via Yuri Possokhov and the Kirov/Maryinsky/ Baryshnikov flavor which probably found its way into the Ballet San Jose production.  The sources and their differences could be the source of animated discussions amongst balletomanes more avid than yours truly.

Other discrepancies included the absence of the Inn Keeper’s wife or an expanded role for Sancho Panza, which would have allowed Juan Moreno to exercise his marvelous comic skills which vie with Pasal Molat’s for acuity in the moment.  Costume wise, one might expect Inn Keeper Lorenzo as played by Anton Pankovitch to take off a towel-turned apron in honor of his daughter’s nuptials.

There’s not much new to say about the plot, derived from a small section of  the novel Don Quixote of Miguel de Cervantes.  The ballet reduced the Don to a facilitator of the romance between Kitri, an Innkeeper’s Daughter and Basilio, a young barber.  The Don is utilized to thwart the Innkeeper into blessing the union  even though Lorenzo has been trying to marry Kitri to Gamache, an aging fop with some aristocratic  pretenses and an evident money bag.  Their successful maneuver, brought about by Basilio’s faked attempt at suicide, creates the raison d’etre for the wedding scene and the war horse favorite pas de deux, a constant presence at many galas and international ballet competitions.  In the mix are some gypsies, a street dancer called Mercedes, a Toreador and his cloak-swishing companions plus a dream scene permitting Cupid and the Queen of the Dryads to flit en pointe with the corps de ballet in formation.

Maria Jacobs-Yu piqued effectively as Cupid in the two performances I saw and Jing Zhang and Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun traded roles as Queen of the Dryads and Mercedes.  In the mix were a Toreador and his cloak-swishing companions and a dream scene following the Don’s mishap with the windmill, permitting him a vision of Cupid and the Queen of the Dryads.  Pipit-Suksun’s sensual correctness made her Mercedes a full-fledged flamenco artist, not merely a street dancer, and her Dryad Queen a bit remote but very regal.  Her timing is musical, unforced, never hurried, her port de bras a consistent dream.  Jing Zhang is openly dashing, an  extravert, inclined to sell the high points of her assignments.

Damir Emric and Maximo Califano traded roles as Don Quixote, but Emric took on the role of Espada, the Toreador to Califano’s Don when Wes Chapman gave us a Gamache edged with sarcasm and Califano’s was given to the grandiose gesture. Rudy Candia danced Espada opening night.  When it came to the Gypsy interlude, Beth Ann Namey was the opening woman and Shannon Bynum for Saturday’s matinee.

I saw Jose Manuel Carreno win the Jackson Grand Prix in 1992; his prize money probably is still impounded in a Jackson bank because of his Cuban origins.  He was immediately snapped up for the English National Ballet then under Ivan  Nagy’s direction.  Nearly twenty years later, Junna Ige was a finalist at Jackson, partnered by Shimon Ito in the 2010 Jackson marathon.  It seemed fitting that an unanticipated accident brought the two together, seasoned by that competitive pressure nearly two decades apart.  Carreno’s genial classicism is as correct as ever, master of multiple pirouettes, his grand jetes low and space filling.  Practiced in the role, he enjoyed it.  Except for an off-balance flub in her final fouettes in the grand pas de deux, Ige was spot on, charming, her technique well proportioned and clear.  Her smiling oval face reminded me of Margot Fonteyn in her prime, lively, nothing forced, in the moment.

Saturday’s matinee possessed some ballet history for Bay Area devotees because of Amy Marie Briones’ debut as Kitri; she demonstrated principal role status in this 1869 Ludwig Minkus melodic favorite.  A bevy of students and fans plus Briones’ teacher Ayako Takahashi were witness to Briones’ command of the role, aided by Jeremy Kovitch.  Briones dances large scale, with spirit, her technique ample, final fouettes, if traveling, alternated between singles and doubles.  Briones’ outstanding gifts could incorporate more nuance in her port de corps and port de bras, but as a debut she was simply grand and refreshing.

Kovitch did all right by Basilio, but he could allow himself to assume a macho emphasis, lengthen his sideburns, even add dark rinse to his hair, augmenting his steady partnering and overall dependability.

I hope Don Quixote won’t be out of the repertoire too long.   George Daugherty conducted the orchestra with  much verve  and I’m sure inspired the relish with which the dancers delivered their assignments. The audience responded enthusiastically.