Tag Archives: Benjamin Freemantle

A Brilliant, Rapturous Debut and Finale with Onegin

10 May

Thursday Night, May 5, Matilde Froustey and Carlo di Lanno made debuts as Tatiana and Onegin in John Cranko’s Eugene Onegin, augmented ably by Reuben Martin-Cintas as Gremin, Doris Andre as Olga and Benajmin Freemantle making his own debut as Lensky. A near capacity audience greeted them with absorption and an orchestra standing ovation at the conclusion, Behind me were two young women, one recently moved from D.C. and another originally from Texas, the latter being familiar with Miami City and Washington Ballet companies.

It never fails to fascinate me how differing heights and musculature alters not only “the look” of a ballet; without saying, the attack in a role, to say nothing of the artist’s perception of the material. This difference was apparent Thursday evening. Where Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz are small and compact, Froustey, di Lanno and Martin-Cintas are tall, expanding phrases by sheer length, bringing the Russian verse novel into a western European orbit.

Froustey’s Tatiana commences with a pigtail down her back as she sits, stretches or reclines with her novel, appearing more studious than lost in a novel. In her initial encounter with Onegin, she is the polite French girl, propre rather than  curiosity for all the slender, willowy stretch of her body. She has an overwhelming gamine demeanor during the bedroom/mirror pas de deux ; as she writes of her passion, you can just see her at her classroom exercises. Her expression as the mirror dream evaporates is a wonderful, naive young vision of romantic expectation. Interesting was the reach of her lower torso in moments of chagrin or alarm during her name day debacle between Lensky and Onegin, and its effectiveness as she regards Onegin after his duel with Lensky where Froustey’s small round face evinces a stony gaze of defondu.

Ruben Martin-Cintas’ Gremin is more than a cipher. It’s one of the thankless roles in ballet, but he conveys the persona of maturity, a man of substance, secure in his position, and therefore able to appraise and evaluate situations and personalities. He brings this gently to Tatiana’s rescue in the name-day party, where she follows him automatically, while clearly distracted by Onegin’s coldness and the burgeoning confrontation between Lensky and Onegin.

Dores Andre’s Olga is a swift butterfly, skipping from moment to moment, happy at Lensky’s attention, drinking it in, if a bit reluctant to surrender, clearly evidenced by allowing Onegin to dance with her. His greater dance skill and way with women is quite flattering and she allows herself to be swept along with, not resisting until the damage has been done. Her willfulness is matched by the diffidence and decency displayed by Benjamin Freemantle. I wish I could have seen his second performance, which doubtless gained in strength from this initial interpretation. There was the making of a definite character there, but only beginning to be developed in this technically correct performance.

Then there was Carlo di Lanno as Onegin with his Roman coin profile, tall, correct, still; movements  betraying little emotion one way or another, except for a swift disdain for Tatiana’s material, and oh-so-correct-but-perfunctory partnering in the opening scene. In the bedroom mirror scene the emphasis is entirely on Tatiana’s ecstatic vision with beating arabesques, lifts and twists in Onegin’s arms. It is in the name-day scene, especially following the destruction of Tatiana’s letter, when Onegin sits down, having adjusted his cuff as a gesture of finish, to play solitaire, shuffling cards with revealing frequency that he betrays narcissistic  willfulness and the desire to intrude on the happy proceedings of Olga and Lensky. Onegin dances a bit too much with Olga; when she rejoins Lensky briefly, there passes over Onegin’s face an undeniable devilish impulse leading to Lensky’s gloves across his face before tossing them on the ground.

I also saw the season’s final matinee May 8, with Gennadi Nedvigin’s final performance with San Francisco Ballet. Di Lanno was appreciably more relaxed if still deliberate, masking emotion in the beginning; Froustey deepened her impression of the nearly sedate young gamine, kind to elders, who gathers strength in the duel scene; with Ruben Martin-Cintas they  both provide an image of a solid, happy marriage. The thankless role gets substance from Martin-Cintas’ size and demeanour, enhanced by the most over-decorated uniform seen on stage.

Gennadi Nedvigin’s final performance as Lensky seemed natural, unforced, his casual ease illustrating nearly three decades of training and performance.

_ET30014

Gennadi Nedvigin in Cranko’s Onegin. (© Erik Tomasson)

The final, confrontation scene in Onegin gives both principals total permission to pull out their dramatic capacities; Di Lanno and Froustey rose cogently the two occasions. I saw them tear at their memories, the emotions they aroused against their present status. Their slender builds added to the etched quality of what must be marvelous Russian poetry, their line matching the musical turbulence of Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini’s aural passion. With kisses at the nape of her neck, the firm grip on the hand Onegin used to grasp her from eluding him, memory, reawakened passion and will power visibly struggled in Tatiana’s torso and slender legs. Finally, came the moment when his note was thrust in front of Onegin, ripped apart, “what goes around comes around” and Tatiana’s arm fiercely commands his departure before she struggles, half spent, bent before she faced the audience dead center, exhausted resolution written on her face and body.

Then came the curtain calls – the same order, Di Lanno kissing Froustey’s hands with appreciation. Froustey brought Martin West to stage center before West thrust Nedvigin forward for his final hail and farewell to San Francisco’s audience. Two figures entered from stage right with floral bouquets – Yuri Possokhov and Roman Rykine, who flew in from Winnipeg where he is ballet master for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Bear hugs ensued, clearly great emotions exchanged and lumps in the throat of balletomanes like myself.

Advertisements

San Francisco Ballet School’s 2015 Student Showcase

27 Jun

The May 28 program for the annual San Francisco Ballet School recital at the Yerba Buena Center’s Lam Research Theater listed sixteen faculty members and eight pianists. Four of the faculty were guests, current or former principals with the company. The wonderful Brian Fisher was listed for Contemporary Dance, with Leonid Shagalov for Character Dance.

The parents and assorted relatives attached to the dancers behaved like parents in any audience where offspring are involved and contact with other parents is fairly frequent. It’s one of the closest things to neighborhood that San Francisco can muster, perhaps outside of The Ethnic Dance Festival or other studio recitals. All anything extra is needed are trestle tables and pot luck contributions and country America would be shining clear.

Using a medley of Alexander Glasunov’s melodies, Parrish Maynard devised a handsome display of the students from level 2 to level 8. Not quite a defile or a full one-act ballet, it none the less felt and looked like something grand, while at the same time remaining the very personal pull of seeing earnest young faces, mostly smiling, presenting the tradition moulding their bodies and minds into exponents of Louis XIV’s ecole de danse. It was the best such presentation of the school’s students in my memory.

Capping this display before intermission was James Sofranko’s sprightly, musically adept interpretation of a Mozart Symphony. Sofranko, a SFB soloist and a graduate of the Julliard School of Music, provided unerring touches of colloquial movement to augment a thorough exposition of classical technique with formations and movement patterns underlying the benefits of his Julliard schooling. I could watch back to back a dozen times and still find delight.

Senior student Benjamin Freemantle’s work Bare to music by Laure Romano Bare followed Intermission, danced by two couples and six corps. The women wore long flowing garments with generous swaps of color, evoking attempts at tie dye. Handsome dancers, swirling skirts and frequent entrances and exits, but mood or emotion failed to visit this early choreographic effort.

Patrick Armand staged Vasily Vainonen’s Flames of Paris pas de deux, danced to Boris Asafyev’s music. The dancing pair were Chisako Oga and Haruo Niyama, both small, energetic, engaging and technically highly proficient. It’s my understanding the Niyama is yet to see sweet sixteen, but brimming over with the chops to deliver this Soviet era evocation of the French Revolution.

Having seen photos of Vakhtang Chabukiani in the role as well as seeing its comparatively recent popularity at the Jackson Competitions following Joseph Phillip’s successful rendition, It’s hard to discern a knowledge of the work’s back story and unlikely the dance world will make Simon Schama’s book on the Revolution required reading. This is not to denigrate May 20’s highly competent rendition, but to mention a need for the dance world to investigate any historical roots of what is portrayed, particularly in this country with its short history.

Tina Le Blanc staged Helgi Tomasson’s Bartok Divertimento for Natasha Sheehan with Francisco Sebastao, Blake Kessler and Daniel Domenach.

Kenneth MacMillan’s Soiree Musicale to Benjamin Britten’s music, created to honor Dame Ninette de Valois’ 90th birthday, received its American premiere with S.F. Ballet School’s students. With two principals, a male pas de quatre, two sets of six couples and a dozen corps members, it was a major undertaking on a relatively small stage. It would be good to see it staged at the Opera House or even Stern Grove where sight lines are less overwhelmed and the dancers enjoy a modicum of space; the stage at Lam Research Theater is too small.

As in all other numbers Soiree Musicale was a noble effort, competently performed and emblematic of the strides shown by the current crop of teachers and students at the school. The confidence and nascent wisps of elegance one hopes to see deepen each following spring, with the fervent desire that there will be enough ensembles to absorb the evident talent.