Tag Archives: Christopher Wheeldon

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.

Words on Dance at the Vogue, March 6

7 Mar

Deborah Kaufman started Words on Dance some twenty-two years ago, and she started the 2016 San Francisco components of this interview series on a rainy Sunday evening March 6. The water didn’t deter balletomanes and fans who came to see a brief but beautiful tribute to Violette Verdy with her wonderfully danced inflections, plus an absorbing, articulate documentary about Merrill Ashley’s navigation post-performing leading dancer career. Deborah Kaufman has dedicated the 2016 Words on Dance series to the memory of Violette Verdy

The Ashley documentary covered the ups and downs of a post highly active leading dancer performing, in addition to the ability to dance over pain. Towards the end of the film she is shown dancing the roles of Carabosse and Madge the Witch. Clearly she is still dancing but exploring character roles in the same manner that Erik Bruhn inhabited the same roles with such lust and vigor.

An interview ensued with Merrill Ashley questioned by Sara Jennings.

Part of the documentary’s fascination was Ashley’s description of navigating injury, describing a permanent change in her style of walking, difficulty with ligaments, an ankle bone fracture, all of which are difficult enough. Ashley’s surgery for hip replacement with images of her hospitalized and beginning to work with the exercises for a return to normal navigation held particular interest to someone with an arthritic condition.

Two other components of the documentary were obvious. Clips of her dancing and being seen with George Balanchine whose faithful muse she has been. The second is how incredibly photogenic she is with her well-proportioned oblong face and clearly slender body, with its ideal elongations Balanchine increasingly gravitated towards.

The film was enhanced by the commentary not only of Jacques d’Amboise [how could any documentary remotely connected with New York City Ballet fail to include him] but John Meehan who partnered Ashley in non NYC pas de deux, and her husband Kibbe Fitzpatrick.

The evening included snippets of a documentary in process on the intriguing subject of partnering from the male’s viewpoint, and an informational on a spring series of three at the Baryshnikov Center in New York City: March 23 with Mark Moris and Surupa Sen of Nrityagam, noted for its Odissi style; May 24 with Wendy Whelan and Christopher Wheeldon; Doug Elkins and David Neuman, organized by Lisa Rinehart as artistic director with Words on Dance as the producer.

In the reception prior to the program, a number of long-time dancers and teachers were present: Carlos Carvajal; Richard Gibson, who was acknowledged in the opening remarks. With Kaufman, Gibson’s niece Carmen Zegarelli and Christine Elliott were present; all studied at Peninsula Ballet Theatre with Gibson when the San Francisco area dance world was beginning to thrust itself into greater prominence in the early and mid Sixties. Even with the rain, Vogue Theatre provided  quite a memory lane.

The 2016 San Francisco Ballet Gala

24 Jan

 

January 21 provided the usual well-dressed mayhem in the Opera House Lobby for San Francisco Ballet’s Gala opening.  After the national anthem and Chairman John S. Osterweis delivered verbal thanks to the occasion’s organizers and sponsors,a lengthy roster; he also thanked the Ballet’s Board for its support of a dance institution which has survived its various manifestations and flourished to see its 84 years of performing with its national and international roster of remarkable dancers.  It also goes without saying that Helgi Tomasson is a master in staging a gala, not only for its variety but for using dancers to keep interest high, quite a feat in the stylish, quite self-involved patrons..

The audience enjoyed the choreographic gifts of three Russians: Marius Petipa (2); George Balanchine (4); Yuri Possokov, celebrating a decade as choreographer in residence (1).  The remaining five included Christopher Wheeldon, Hans Von Manen, William Forsythe, Helgi Tomasson and Jiri Bubenchcek.

In collaboration with Pacific Northwest Ballet, San Francisco Ballet will be presenting Coppelia in program four, staged by Alexandra Danilova nad George Balanchine after the original Paris Opera production of 1870 to that delicious music by Leo Delibes.  In pastel pink and following a time-honored practice of providing performance opportunities to students [in Paris it would have been les petite rats], a bevy of San Francisco Ballet students danced the Waltz of the Hours with Jennifer Stahl as the focal point with her high and handsome extensions.  Let it be said that the formations Balanchine devised, staged by Judith Fugate, were as impressive as the students’ execution and doubtless equally stimulating to the performers.

Maya Plisetskaya’s husband Rodin Shchedrin created several musical settings for his late wife, One, based on the story of Carmen, Yuri Possokhov used for his sultry pas de deux for Lorena Feijoo and Victor Luiz, a couple who told the tale of initial attraction between the gypsy and Don Jose with appropriate passion, strains of Bizet reminding the viewer of the seche fleur Jose had possessed in jail.  Possokhov’s understanding of a pas de deux can be picture perfect, and in this instant he was true to his reputation.

From the sultry to the complex music of Bela Bartok’s Divertimento, Helgi Tomasson entrusted his dancing quartet to three members of the corps de ballet, Max Cauthorn,Esteban Hernandez,  and and Wei Wang plus an advanced student of the school, Natasha Sheehan, skillfully staged by Tina Le Blanc.

Number four on the program was clearly a high point, Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, premiered in 1960 at New York’s City Center with Violette Verdy and one time San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Conrad Ludlow.  Here danced by Frances Chung and Gennadi Nedvigin, it was a delight from start to finish, Chung crisp and Nedvigin crystallizing his ascent in jumps
with a moment of distinct clarity.  Her turns were bursts of joy and Nedvigin gave us a mellow classicism that made one wanting to melt.

Christopher Wheeldon’s take on the romance in Carousel was given a dramatic sharpness by Doris Andre and steady persuasion by Joan Boarda.

The final pas de deux before intermission featured the Marius Petipa 1869 war horse Don Quixote Pas de Deux, with Vanessa Zahorian and Taras Domitro dancing to the Ludwig Mnkus music as set by Helgi Tomasson and Yuri Possokhov, virtually unmodified.  The balances required of Zahorian were noticeable, her fouettes in the coda frequently double.  Taras Domitro gave us some alarmingly good grand jetes, eliciting gasps from the audience.  Both were smooth and elegant.  After all,  having outwitted Kitri’s father, the couple are dancing at their wedding, and the ought to be celebrating.

Following intermission, there was a local premiere of Gentle Memories choreographed by the Czech born dancer-choreographer Jiri Bubenicek, created for the Youth America Grand Prix in 2012 and staged that September at the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. With Ming Luke at the piano, the music by Karen LeFrak was filled with musical phrases clearly linked to Scottish folk songs, appropriately enough for Yuan Yuan Tan with four swains, Tiit Helimets, Victor Luiz and Carlos Quenedit.

The temperature raised quite a bit for the next two numbers with Balanchine’s Rubies danced by Maria Kochetkova and Pascal Molat.  It was interesting to remember who else danced the number for Kotchetkova and Molat gave it a polished air beyond the sheer energy it has been danced by American born dancers.

Hans Van Manen created Solo to Johann Sebastian Bach’s violin solo which grows with increasing intensity.  It has been a frequent ballet on the company’s roster, here danced by Joseph Walsh, Gennadi Nedvigin and Hansuke Yamamoto with customary skill and relish.

Mathilde Froustey and Davit Karapetyan matched skill in the Act III pas de deux of Swan Lake, where Petipa created 32 fouettes en tournant for Pierina Legnani in the role of Odile.  It looked like this was Froustey’s maiden attempt in the role/ A charming dancer with beautiful proportions and exceptional port de bras, she did not complete the requisite fouettes or sur la place.  Karapetyan partnered attentively and conveyed his progressive attraction with conviction.

Sofiane Sylve and Carlos Di Lanno provided four minutes from the William Forsythe Pas/Porte to be featured fully in Program I, an angular choreography costumed by Stephen Galloway in practice costumes rendered with large pathches of color – I remember a lime green in particular. The dancers, of course, were spot on.

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Sofiane Sylve and Carlo Di Lanno in Forsythe’s Pas/Parts. (© Erik Tomasson)

The finale saw Luke Ingham in the role Igor Youskevitch created in Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, while Vanessa Zahorian danced Alicia Alonso’s part, created for Ballet Theatre in 1947.  To Tchaikovsky’s radiant music, corps de ballet and demi-soloists  rush on and off in waves, create diagonals, cross lines with jete arabesques, and turn energetically.  Easily, it was a triumphant finale for a grand exhibit of San Francisco Ballet’s continuing strength and excitement.

Sad to say, it also marks the beginning of Joan Boada and Pascal Molat’s final season with the company.

The Joffrey Ballet Returns to Zellerbach

5 Apr

The Joffrey Ballet, now under the artistic direction of Ashley Wheater, a former Joffrey Ballet member and lengthy veteran of San Francisco Ballet’s artistic staff, came to Zellerbach March 14 and 15. I saw the matinee on March 15, and have to say I left my glasses at home. The dancers therefore were not very distinct even sitting in Row G, but the music was loud, clear and, mostly lengthy.

The moves clearly impressed themselves on an enthusiastic audience, probably one of the most responsive and willing any theatrical or musical performer has the good luck to enjoy.

There were three ballets and a pas de deux, all from contemporary choreographers; two have strong ties with San Francisco Ballet; Val Caniparoli and Yuri Possokhov. It was canny of Wheater to include them in the local Joffrey appearance. I think he was determined to assert the historic Joffrey profile as being au courant as much as the Joffrey also demonstrates a sense of history with works like Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table. The Chicago repertoire includes Don Quixote;soon Christopher Wheeldon’s interpretation of Swan Lake,. No one can accuse the company of losing sight of or involvement with the classics. Robert Joffrey’s Nutcracker pointed the way as did the very early Conservitoriat of Auguste Bournonville..

Caniparoli’s piece,Incantations, concerned itself with introspection to a very long, arduous score by Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky; there was virtually no way the piece could be cut and remain coherent; Caniparoli
adhered to every phrase, allowing toes to point, legs to lift into attitudes and arabesques, smoothly partnered, reflected the lengthy employment of chimes. I am afraid my attention span wants to edit length.

Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili danced Yuri Possokhov’s Bells, set to Rachmaninoff’s Piano Sonata #2. Murkily lit, beautifully danced, there is
something magnetic when Possokhov’s reliance on Russian composers features two dancers trained in the current Russian teaching tradition who also are husband and wife. San Francisco Ballet possesses at least two such couples, They make clear legal intimacy elsewhere helps to foster a special innerness when dancing in a contemporary work without narrative. Someone remarked “They don’t show relationship.” My take was relationship was so strong obvious manifestations wasn’t needed.

Alexandre Ekman’s Episode 31 possessed a certain zaniness about it which echoed faintly some of the Arpino cheekiness, while still being very different. His screen images at the back, the rushings around the stage made me wonder whether it was his reflection of observing workaday life in Chicago. The Joffrey Ballet is housed in the heart of downtown Chicago, so bustle and the El are routinely present. Chicago dwellers must have loved it, recognizing the stop and start, the energy the dancers poured into the work.

As to Stanton Welch’s ballet to the music of John Adams, I remember little except the pleasure of seeing Rory Hohenstein providing a skillful, substantial contribution.

In Dancetabs.com Aimee T’sao expressed the hope that Cal Performances finds a way to give the Joffrey a yearly slot as it allows for the Ailey and Mark Morris ensembles. While I think it unlikely on a yearly basis, I endorse seeing them every other year. Berkeley was an important place in the Joffrey some forty years ago, thanks to the touring program the Dance Program of the NEA fostered for all too brief a time.

Arpino’s Trinity was premiered at the Zellerbach before the Joffrey began to be sponsored by the San Francisco Symphony whose musicians provided the music the Joffrey danced to. It all vanished when the Symphony moved into Davies Symphony Hall and the Opera and Ballet claimed San Francisco’s Opera House all for themselves. No more American Ballet Theatre in February; no more Joffrey Ballet in June; no more theatre space of 2,000-2,500 seats to entice companies to negotiate dates to appear anywhere West or South of San Francisco’s Embarcadero. Apparently, Mayor Ed Lee and others governing San Francisco’s 49 square miles, have no plans for such a theatre, easily accessed, with sufficient parking space to draw a crowd which loves something in addition to rock, hockey, baseball and football.

Still, I want to see Arpino’s Kettentanz again.

That Time of Year: S.F. Ballet’s Gala Celebrating Thirty Years of Tomasson Guidance

26 Jan

The melange of celebration, virtuosity, fund-raising goals and lavish display of gowns and egos marked San Francisco Ballet’s Gala January 22 with the press placed where tickets had not been sold; i.e. two seats in and in the Grand Tier where I sat with Craig Ashton and Emma, writing for a local Russian weekly. We were treated with the Calla Lily Lady, wearing a dress of white jersey, the shoulders guarded by said floral shape, adorned with green images; it required her to book the couple’s seats on the aisle, final row in the middle of the Grand Tier; sight lines were preserved. Go to S.F. Gate’s website, to see good glimpses of a design fit for Swan Lake or Raymonda at the Bolshoi.

Seen were tops with bra-like backs and a legion of strapless gowns well-stiffened set off by pairs of arms lacking muscular definition. Dressing up is fun, but what of the body it inhabits?

In front of us a young couple exchanged kisses while the rest of us stood, hand over heart, singing The Star Spangled Banner;seats empty following intermission.

The Gala commenced with a local version of the Paris Opera’s defile where the school, the trainees and budding professionals come forward, men with black tights and romantic shirts, girls in white tunics, older ones in white tutus a few in black, and, naturally, tiaras. I couldn’t help thinking what a fiscal outlay the tutus represented, and the hours spent in creating them. The audience cheered.

Following the defile, John S. Osterweis was tasked with acknowledging the sponsors of everything from the cocktail hour to the post-Gala Party, the organizers, and announcing a major capital campaign for $65 millions, of which $43 millions have been raised. Fund campaigns are typically private until at least half the goal has been reached. Exceptional was the information that five endowments have been made for five principal dancers, presumably extending beyond the current occupants’ active dancing careers. Diane B. Wilsey was announced as the chair for the Capital Campaign. (She has just completed a similar task for the UCSF Hospital at Mission Bay.) That declared, the Infinite Romance Gala commenced.

Some five years ago Renato Zanella’s Alles Walzer was performed at a Gala. This time it featured Pascal Molat flexing his biceps, back to the audience, head in profile making certain the audience registered the contours. Besides multiple pirouettes and tours around the stage, Zanella managed to mesh goofy touches with appropriate phrases to Johann Strauss II. Molat gave way to Joan Boada, echoing the movements; the pair wound up dancing identical movements, Molat dancing the most comment, Boada leaning on the bravura.

Val Caniparoli’s pas de deux from A Cinderella Story featured Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz, Feijoo in a frothy white skirt with red accents. They swirled together, beautifully synchronized, to Ming Luke’s piano renditions of Richard Rodgers’ themes.

Helgi Tomasson’s take on the most rapturous variation of Rachmaninov’s Variations on A Theme of Paganini, saw Yuan Yuan Tan leaping and leaning on the arms of Tiit Helimets, with an ultimate lift into Helimets’ embrace.

Kurt Weill’s music was Christopher Wheeldon’s source for the pas de deux between Sofiane Sylve and Luke Ingham, titled There Where She Loved. Sylve danced a reluctant, passionate, partially convinced role while Ingham supported, pursued and persuaded. Finally, Sylve walked away; one could imagine hot and cold continuing.

In a unannounced switch, Francesco Geminiani’s adaptation of Corelli, Concerto Grosso, premiered at another Gala in 2003 featured three young men of the company’s corps de ballet: Esteban Hernandez, Diego Cruz, Max Cauthorn, Francesco Mungamba and Wei Wang. Dancing to two violins, a viola and cello, they commence with outward sweeping arm movements as they turn several times before forming a circle of grand jetes to the persistent, forward sound of the strings, ably played by Matthieu Arama, Marianne Wagner, Anna Kruger and Eric Sung. A series of solo variations follow with a pas de trois insert. Dressed in Milliskin unitards, Mungamba distinguished himself with the liquid quality of his line, Hernandez in red with bursts of virtuosity, Wei Wang for unaffected classic style. Cruz and Cauthorn, who danced the Harlequin in December’s Nutcracker, were hard to identify from the Grand Tier. The five danced as a unit. Tomasson is adept in fashioning classical male bravura.

Post intermission the offering sequence was changed, perhaps because Francisco Mungamba was scheduled for another series of killer variations. Instead Tchaikovsky’s tenuously melodic music sourced Alexei Ratmansky’s choreography, originally for the Het National under the title Souvenir D’un Lieu Cher, with Mathilde Froustey, Sarah Van Patten, Carlo di Lanno and Luke Ingham. Frankly it wasn’t clear whether the former dear was all that “former”, if the connection between the women made clear they were okay with the arrangement. Van Patten seemed to have the worst of it, with soloist Di Lanno, I think making his San Francisco Opera House debut, being very courteous about his position, while Ingham was stalwart about Van Patten’s uncertainty. I hope Ingham isn’t type-cast too much in having to be manly about feminine indecision. Froustey’s impulse contrasted muscularly with Van Patton’s hesitations, and in equal measure Ingham’s body movements with Di Lanno’s. I found the quartet compelling more about the body movements and attack than the content.

Sergei Rachmaninov’s music was Yuri Possokhov’s source for the pas de deux from Bells, apparently a longer work created for the Joffrey Ballet in 2011. Here Maria Kochetkova and David Karapetyan in flaming orange Milliskin, he stripped to the waist, she in bathing suit style by Sandra Woodall, maneuvered in contemporary style out of their mutual Russian training, their comparative height adding to the mix.

Finally, The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude returned the program sequence, choreographer William Forsythe’s familiar acid green pancake tutus inhabited by Dores Andre, Sasha de Sola and Jennifer Stahl, and Francisco Mungamba and Gennadi Nedvigin contrasting in attack and line, both wonderfully correct, and Andre particularly intense in her variation.

Frances Chung and Joseph Walsh premiered Christopher Wheeldon’s present for Helgi Tomasson’s 30th anniversary as artistic director with Borealis, music by Gavin Byrars. In silver tops and blue tights the imagery seemed designed to evoke lights glittering in northern winters.

Just before the finale pas de deux, the Tatiana-Onegin pas de deux was danced by Yuan Yuan Tan and Vitor Luiz. He danced masterfully, she emoted extravagently. Like Francisco Mungamba, Luiz as did Luke Ingham danced twice as did Tan – a double duty series which seemed unusual. That may be why the San Francisco Ballet Website lists an opening for a principal male dancer.

To complete the program Taras Domitro and Vanessa Zahorian winged their way through Le Corsaire pas de deux with clarity and great elan, Domitro’s exciting grand jetes and Zahorian finishing off her assignment with a series of single and double traveling fouettes.

After the curtain applause, the usual basket of flowers and individual nosegays for the cast of women dancing, several men in black emerged with trays of glasses, followed by John Osterweiss offering a toast honoring Helgi’s Thirtieth season. The gold curtain then descended.

Afterthought: the Gala listed three pianists in addition to Roy Bogas for the Paganini: Natal’ya Feygina, Mungunchimeg Buriad, and Ming Luke.

Three and Two for SFB

2 Mar

These San Francisco Ballet programs are listed in reverse because that’s the way I saw them.

The February 20 Program Three started with a Russian-born classic, ending with a Russian-themed myth choreographed by a Russian very much at home in San Francisco. The middle belonged to Christopher Wheeldon’s Ghosts.

I saw Nureyev’s version ofLa Bayadere’s Kingdom of the Shades for The Royal Ballet on the same stage, mounted early in his association with the British company. It informed me that this Indian-themed work preceded Swan Lake by nearly two decades. The more recent, storied visit of the Paris Opera to San Francisco and its full-length production, again a Nureyev production, provided another bench mark.

The Kingdom of the Shades from La Bayadere was first mounted for San Francisco Ballet by Natalia Makarova in 2000; this is second time she has staged it, here assisted by Susan Jones. The revival enjoyed three fine soloists: Mathilde Froustey; Frances Chung and Simone Messmer plus Davit Karapetyan as Solor. Karapetyan’s entrance jete, high, clean, energizing, the first of many to follow, his Russian training and deportment clear, was captivating. While Yuan Yuan Tan presented a willowy Nikiya, an elegant shade, her connection to Solor was limited to partnering, lacking hints to their former emotional connection. I did not expect her to be Giselle, but I did want some connection, particularly in the lengthy use of the filmy scarf, symbol of ghostly connection and purity.

Next to Karapetyan, the three soloists were gratifying with Froustey’s lightness, Chung’s careful correctness followed by her usual swift allegro, and Messmer’s soundless landings. Myy memory of Makarova’s first staging for San Francisco was crisp; this seemed closer to Giselle.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Ghosts, sandwiched between La Bayadere and em>Firebird, is distinguished by a hanging sculpture by Laura Jellenek which gradually lowers after each section of the work, music by K.C. Winger. Vitor Luiz, Maria Kochetkova, Sofiane Sylve, Tiit Helimets, Shane Wuerthner made it all seem conjured from the past as the Jellenek strips of grey in a formation like a tangled skein of wool, gradually fell lower and in sections.

Yuri Possokhov took the Firebird myth to the village, giving a proletarian view of a story involving a Prince, captive Princesses, a demon passage before a court finale. He turned to Yuri Zhukov for set design, a series of cut outs and a red-orange cage for the hero’s captivity by the evil Kostei, whose soul resides in a mammoth egg. With Pascal Molat as oily slime, a monster caressing his egg, elevated by his minions, the tale starts off impressively.

Tiit Helimets makes good as the hero, capturing the feel of a golden boy, country-style. His encounter with Sarah Van Patten’s Firebird featured her always eloquent eyes, but Sandra Woodall’s costume is long on a flash of red cloth designed primarily for its effect in grand jetes, awkward in the pas de deux. The encounter lacks gift of the feather, the necessary toekn our hero must produce to summon her return.

Sasha de Sola as the princess is well matched physically with Tiit Helimets. Her garment with its torso slash of red above white skirt is a surprising delineation along with her coronet; neither peasant nor princess,plus she’s a bit nasty to her handmaidens – a pastural imperialist.

Van Patten’s bird is a tad provocative with her circular hip movements; Tan made them neutral. Van Patten’s eyes rendered the bird vivid, eloquent,if the scarlet fabric tail could be effectively shorn.

The final folk groups projected robustness, a feeling Possokhov obviously wanted. The expansive diagonal stage crossings needed to be repeated too often to fill the music. You registered satisfaction early on. Though not following the traditional tale staged by Fokine and Stravinsky, Zhukov’s designs were a delight, and Possokhov’s desire to create a folk version was basically appealing.

Friday, February 21 I caught up with Program Two: Val Caniparoli’s Tears, to Steve Reich’s music and Sandra Woodall’s elegant costumes. Ratmansky’s From Foreign Lands received its second season showing with some debuts of corps dancers – a happy solution and opportunity with more traditional vocabulary than Wayne MacGregor’s Borderlands.

In Borderlands, Wayne MacGregor can be counted on to set his dances in a structure, with lights that bring dancers to our attention or fade them from sight, and props which can obscure or reveal them in dramatic ways. He also can be counted upon to challenge dancers’ flexibility, speed and endurance. You stare at their abilities, hoping they won’t harm their rotator cuffs, or dislocate a hip joint; for despite their training, MacGregor’s movements are demanding and quite outside much of the classical training canon. Oh, yes, you can see an arabesque and an attitude, some amazing lifts, but what is he saying with the talented bodies at his disposal? I would not be surprised if MacGregor cites William Forsythe as an influence. Forsythe, however, has his own visceral familiarity to the classical canon; while he can make dancers look absurd at moments, he does not contort them as if they were spastic or in a drug-induced spasm.

Clearly I did not like it, though the dancers were marvelous, every last one: Maria Kochetkova, Jaime Garcia Castilla; Sarah Van Patten; Pascal Molat; Frances Chung; James Sofranko ; Sofiane Sylve; Daniel Devision-Oliveira; Koto Ishihara; Henry Sidford; Elizabeth Powell ; Francisco Mungamba.

Having spit out my distaste, Val Caniparoli’s Tears featured the three couples in
roles they created on February 18: Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz; Sasha De Sola and Tiit Helimets; Ellen Rose Hummel and Daniel Deivison-Olivera. With the image of water in his mind, the women’s costumes displayed handsome pleats revealing a range of blues and greens; one thinks changing hues, still pools shrouded by hanging branches of venerable trees. The port de bras were liquid, partnering skillful, but the music too lengthy.

What delighted me about Ratmansky’s second season was the insertion of corps members guided by principals; the eagerness, two slight flubs in the beginning, the good-natured cooperation to bring off this important assignment in young dancers’ careers.Participating in this debut were principals Jaime Garcia Castille, Gennadi Nedvigin, Mathilde froustey, soloists Simone Messmer, Hansuke Yamamoto Shane Wuerthner and corps members Shannon Rugani and Luke Willis with the debutantes Isabella De Vivo, Julia Rowe, Elizabeth Powell, Steven Morse. This frothy rendition of European nationalities – Russia, Italian, German, Spanish, and Polish were subtly slight, visually reassuring with Borderlands to follow.

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.