Tag Archives: Clara Blanco

San Francisco Ballet’s 71st Nutcracker Season

3 Jan

In this third San Francisco production of Petyr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s commission for Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov (Willam Christensen’s ground–breaking undertaking and brother Lew’s the second with at least two different productions), Helgi Tomasson celebrated the city’s emergence from the 1906 earthquake and fire by aligning it to the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition; Michael Yeargen took his clue from images of the 100th year before in slides, Act I’s setting and hints of the Conservatory of Flowers, supported by James F. Ingalls’ lighting. Martin Pakledinaz designed the fetching gowns of the period as well as the traditional and pastiche costumes for Act II. The results congratulate San Franciscans. From the cheerful opening pandemonium sounds December 16 and the December 18 matinee, the seasonal tradition is a winner all the way. The sound pitch opening night was up there with the screams of a basketball game, while volunteers carefully herded toddlers and grammar school attendees for their pictures with a French soloist (the flute soloist for more traditional viewers) and the Mouse King, and off the other side of one of the crimson-carpeted entrances to orchestra seating. Most girls wore aspirational net tutus with frequent rhinestone tiaras. The mother of one girl near me said her chestnut-haired daughter was studying karate and acrobats.

Opening night Val Caniparoli was his genial self, if somewhat perfunctory. Katita Waldo gave us a welcoming Mme Stahlbaum while Ruben Martin Cintus exuded the pleasant organizing half.. Two youngsters, Alexander Renoff-Olson and Kristi DeCaminada made a convincing go as the grandparents. Francisco Mungamba’s displayed flexibility in yellow tights and bobbing trim; Lauren Parrott was mercifully brunette after the memorable tawny blonde of Clara Blanco; Wei Wang jumped energetically as the toy Nutcracker.

One of the production’s charms is the transformation scene, and although the sleepy gestures of Clara’s (Sienna Clark) seemed perfunctory if on time to the music, the enlarging furnishing along with the tree are just right as is the appearance of the Nutcracker Prince in the handsome personage of Davit Kerapetyan. Gaetano Amico was the nasty Mouse King, a role everyone loves to hate and the interpreter tries to make the most of in his brief allotted phrases.

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San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker. (© Erik Tomasson)

Vanessa Zahorian served as a gracious Sugar Plum Fairy with Frances Chung as the grownup Clara, following the Snow Scene with Jennifer Stahl and Luke Ingham as the reigning monarchs of a blizzard almost obscuring the figures midway and towards the end. Why they dancers have to navigate a storm is beyond me. Flurries should be sufficient.  The same threatened obliteration was accorded Koto Ishihara and Joseph Walsh December 18.

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Frances Chung and Davit Karapetyan in Tomasson’s Nutcracker. (© Erik Tomasson)

Distinguishing themselves in the Chinese and Russian were Lonnie Weeks and Esteban Hernandez. The trio bursting from the Faberge-inspired eggs is invariably a treat to be followed by Anatole Vilzak’s variation for the three dancers. It’s one of the supreme relics of the earlier production.

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Lonnie Weeks in Tomasson’s Nutcracker. (© Erik Tomasson)

I saw a second performance, the December 18 matinee to see what Pascal Molat did with Drosselmeyer. I didn’t expect Sancho Panza, of course, but he is just such a wizard with character parts. Of course he was wonderful. His hands were invariably seeking the edges and the corners of what he was assigned, finishing his work before donning his coat, the manner in which he tied the pouch for the clock, his gallantry with the flower seller on the street. His semi-crouching position when levitating the cane was like someone in a contest; I felt an unusual touch in his consoling Fritz at not getting the nutcracker, topped only by the bow with which he tied his handkerchief on the wounded wooden doll. Throughout the scene this Drosselmeyer was intimately attuned to youngsters, at one with them as well as a distinguished, eccentric clock maker. His wizardry with the transformation scene, reassurance to Clara and continued guidance through Act II was simply de rigeur. One can relax with an “ah” watching him, a total treat.

Jeffrey Lyons and Amy Yuki made a jovial and gracious set of Stahlbaums while Val Caniparoli joined Anita Paciotti in the grandparental roles.

Here Esteban Hernandez as the toy Nutcracker bounded electrically from the box. Blake Kessler was the yellow Harlequin and Jahna Frantziskonis, coming to the company from Pacific Northwest Ballet, was the porcelain pink doll.

I noticed in some principals’ tutus a broad, slightly floppy over skirt, like an expansive flower; instead of gradated layers of ruffles,the tutu cuts to the underpinning exposing upper tights and pants when lifted by a partner. What seemed to be a charming floral bouquet, suddenly your eyes were directed, minus smaller petals, to stamens and pistils.

Doris Andre served as The Sugar Plum Fairy regally. I did not notice it much before this season and it may reflect some tweaking, but the Sugar Plum Fairy summoned her waltzing flowers as well as the busy little lady bug, moths and butterflies to hear the tale of the Nutcracker Prince’s battle with the Mouse King. It brought a warmth to the undertaking, a winning witnessing to the otherwise austere evocation of the Conservatory of Flowers.

Normally the French variation, usually belonging to a trio of Dresden Shepherdess but here candy-caned striped can can dancers, appeals to me not at all. In the December 18 matinee, however, I noticed some nice phrasing with adroit finishing emphasis by Miranda Silveira.

Carlo di Lano made his debut in this production of the holiday staple with Matilde Froustey as his adult Clara. What a marvelous pair they were, both in looks and European ambiance. When the Nutcracker’s mask was lifted, di Lano’s breath animated his port de bras: liberation! This sensibility pervaded every motion, making the most logical, the most spectacular special.

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Adios, Clara Blanco

4 Sep

San Francisco Ballet’s Monthly Newsletter included the information that soloist Clara Blanco will be leaving the company to join the Escluelo de Danza Maria de Avila, subsidized by the Spanish Government, as a ballet teacher and head of the classical dance department. The positions are for life.

Blanco joined San Francisco Ballet in 2001 and except for a year at the Birmingham Royal Ballet during the 2007 season, she has been one of the company’s interesting dancers to watch.  Particularly when assigned to a major pas de deux, her style gave one the sense of seeing the 19th century ballerina; a secure dancer with distinct charm.

What the audiences and company will miss is Blanco’s Doll in the first act of The Nutcracker. Something in her movements plus the coils of curls on her head have created an indelible impression, creating a standard by which other dancers are measured.

Another memorable role Blanco danced was Olga in Eugene Onegin. She also displayed her impeccably graceful port de bras to advantage in Tomasson’s pas de cinq in the first act of Giselle. I was told more than once Blanco was asked to demonstrate port de bras in class and rehearsals.

Adios, Clara

2014 Nutcracker Season, San Francisco Ballet

15 Dec

December 12 was San Francisco Ballet’s night to start its season of the Nuts, multiple castings, opportunities for corps members. With Martin West conducting the company’s orchestra, the audience enjoyed a remarkably buoyant performance, which can be partially attributed to its enormous success in Europe this summer. Mary Beth Smith, heading the company’s marketing and communications, remarked in the Opera House press room that after the company’s closing night performance at Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, where Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes made its 1909 debut, “The applause went on for twenty minutes. It was spectacular, and you know Parisians know their ballet.” Following this performance, the company goes into a twice daily mode, two and seven p.m., a total of thirty performances, including two on Christmas Eve.

Friday night’s inauguration featured Ricardo Bustamonte with extra flourishes and complete gallantry, while Ruben Martin-Cintas and Katita Waldo made the Stahlbaums elegant, assured, hospitable. Jim Sohm outdid himself as Grandpapa; Kristi DeCaminada as Grandmere. Both parents and small fry were less numerous, but the numbers cohered in the overall scenic impression, avoiding the cast of thousands mould.

Clara Blanco danced her iconic doll, Esteban Hernandez made an impression as the Nutcracker out of the Box and Max Cauthorn in yellow Milliskin was willowy, off balance and technically excellent.

The transformation scene – from 1915 Panama-Pacific era privileged San Francisco to dream exaggeration of furniture, presents, tree, mice and gas fireplace – continues to be impressive; mice scamper, toy soldiers execute the directions of the Nutcracker with his sabre, while Clara watches avidly. Sean Orza’s Mouse King exhibited brawn, and elegaic agony after his leg was caught in the mouse trap, his dying crawl into the prompter’s pit, “Tis A Far Better Thing I Do’ from Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities.

Luke Ingham as Nutcracker Prince cuts a refreshing athletic image once out of Mask and Nut trappings. He’s gallant, but no nonsense, like a good Aussie invariably seems to be; his battement a la seconde is eagle sharp. Not a bad mixture. Audrey Armacost as Clara responded well to his partnering.

The carriage arrival brings its own magic, its white and silver sleigh, pawing, prancing ponies, masks crowned with nodding plumes. I’m not sure the ancien regime could have improved on these equines.

The snow monarch roles were handsomely filled by Vanessa Zahorian and Taras Domitro. who followed after the snowflakes appeared under drifts of artificial flakes continuing to fall, audibly, during the entire number until the final grouping around the principals was almost obscured by moving white density. Early on Domitro stumbled a bit; I suspect this artificial blizzard may have contributed. However, his grand jetes and entrechats were his standard brilliant, Zahorian sailing through her virtuosity with usual aplomb, her earlier injury definitely behind her.

After the intermission the curtain rose on the evocation of the Conservatory, with butterflies, lady bugs, and moths, marking time with port de bras and pique arabesques before the arrival of The Sugar Plum Fairy (SPF) in the person of Mathilde Froustey. Froustey possesses the current ideal for the feminine ballerina; beautiful proportions, long neck, face of piquant charm, port de bras devoid of angled elbow, good jump, supple expressive upper back, an intuitive emphasis in phrasing or response. A cogent example was her emphasis asking the Nut Prince “Why are you here?” Not a doubt about the query.

Luke Ingham’s mime was salutary, particularly good with whiskers. The SPF had decreed the entire dream troupe witness the recitation, a nice move. While the Spanish pas de cinq was good, the Arabian trio was especially well-balanced with Dana Genshaft, and Daniel Devison-Oliveira and Anthony Spaulding, intense, finished. Francisco Mungamba’s Chinese shone with knife-like jetes. The French trio danced my-not-so favorite variation spritely, Wan Ting Zhao’s phrasing eye-catching. The Russian Faberge trio burst out into Anatole Vilzak’s classic variation led by Hansuke Yamamoto with Esteban Hernandez and Wei Wang.

Benjamin Stewart garnered a warm response as Smoky Bear with Louis Schilling and the bevy of San Francisco Ballet School students, precursor to the Waltzing Flowers, framing the SPF in this version of the Tchaikovsky classic. Bland, symmetrical and nicely executed, the ensemble is supposed to set off the central rose; Froustey could be better served. However, the ensemble requires its musical share and the notes received visualization with skill.

In this version the prelude to the Grand Pas de Deux refers to the Chinoiserie tower bibelot, Clara’s gift in the first act. The SPF retrieves a tiara from a cushion brought her by a uniformed attendant which she places on Clara’s head before leading her to the mirror inside the open box. Froustey’s brief escorting, was affectionate, a reinforcement shared with Sofiane Sylve who conveys similar feminine warmth.

The double doors close, the tower turned, the doors reopen and outsteps the adult Clara in hues of gold and celadon, Yuan Yuan Tan, ready to wow us, dispatches the gestures of awe and transforming admiration to the barest stroke, a principal flaw in an otherwise brilliant performance. Tan is becoming accustomed to Luke Ingham as a partner; she should feel utterly secure. Ingham promises Tan as good or better she enjoyed with Damian Smith; the partnering, particularly Tan’s height in the running catch as the Tchaikovsky score soars were. flawless. Tan’s face, with its feline qualities, registered satisfaction along with her usual aplomb.

The variation reprises then follow, to warm applause, and the aggregate ensemble coalesces to allow Drosselmeyer, couch and Clara to enter and for him to reassemble the Stahlaum mansion,for Clara to awaken, clutch her toy and run towards Mother Stahlbaum’s arms as the curtains descend.

San Francisco Ballet’s 81st Gala, January 22

26 Jan

Early dinner at Indigo with John Gebertz, Dennis Nahat and Nahat’s cousin Rose preceded a most memorable San Francisco Ballet Gala. It seemed less hyped, more down to the business of dancing. Still,John Osterweis, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, covered the usual list of sponsors and underwriters plus how many years there were repeats of support for the annual Gala. From four to thirteen years of repeat sponsorsship, it was impressive,plus the announcement the event had garnered SFB 2.4 million dollars.

After the dress parade and the seat scramble as the orchestra tuned up for the Star Spangled Banner, the curtain opened to the pas de cinq from Giselle’s Act I, choreographed by Helgi Tomasson. Lauren Parrott substituted for Clara Blanco; Sasha de Sola and Julia Rowe shared the partnering with Daniel Deivison-Oliviera and Hansuke Yamamoto. De Sola’s opening pirouette a la seconde was expansive, held in arabesque just long enough to gladden the eye. I was struck how evenly paired Parrott and Rowe appeared,how distinctive Deivison and Yamamoto were; the former’s muscular punch incisive emphasis, Yamamoto’s presence conveying flowing evenness. It was a sunny commencement, whetting the appetite.

Alberto Iglesias’ music provided Yuri Possokhov with a wonderful vehicle for Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz under the title of Talk to Her, hable con elle. From the costume looks, Luiz in open black shirt and Lorena’s cascading hair and filmy garment implying either boudoir or bed, the couple conversed with intricate lifts, an occasional drop to the floor, each accenting their movement with a heel click or foot stamp at least once, the intricacy mounting as a voice (singer’s name forgotten) erupted into a short series of melismatic sounds preceding flamenco song. There was a lifted embrace and finis. The audience responded enthusiastically; the evening’s ambiance began to build.

Frances Chung made her debut in the role made memorable by Evelyn Cisneros in Val Caniparoli’s Lambarena. As petite and tidy as Cisneros was sturdy and sensual, it was a definite challenge. Chung responded with small, cheeky and delicious, torso undulation and hip wiggle to size, not giggly but clearly enjoyable, a gently infectious joy of music and movement.

The second pas de deux, from Balanchine’s Who Cares featured Simone Messmer and Ruben Martin Cintas. The “Some Day He’ll Come Along” melody floated in front of a New York City backdrop; the rendition was competent, but emotionally neutral. I wonder if Mr. B had choreographed it with like feeling, a filler nod to popularity, even though he had spent nearly a decade stageing dances for Broadway musicals.

Hans Van Manen’s Variations for Two Couples&lt excerpt used four composers, principals Sofiane Sylve and Sarah Van Patten, partnered by Luke Ingham and Anthony Spaulding, a work premiered not quite two years ago in Amsterdam, intensified the evening’s substance.

I want to see it again; stylishly gratifying is my overall take. Two couples together, then each couple with a passage, some in and outs,the quartet together for the finale, fronting a deep blue scrim, a low-drawn concave line of white near the stage floor. The pace shifted from legato to quirky, evidenced by shaking heads. Intriguing was Anthony Spaulding’s response to the music, an easy-moving neck and responsive torso muscles. Then Sofiane Sylve’s majestic port de bras carried through to her sternum – or should it be the other way around? Sarah Van Patten was correct, classic in line, a pool of concentration. My first real exposure to Mark Ingham showed a compactly built dancer capable of energic bursts, a supportive partner, shy of legato line.

Diana and Acteon, the Agrippina Vaganova pas de deux, sandwiched into a full -length ballet, enlivening the Cesare Pugni score I’ve see at competitions enough to know how difficult it is, and how admirably Vanessa Zahorian carried on after slipping in the entry. She carried on apparently unruffled, only to learn her injury necessitates several weeks of rest. Otherwise hops into arabesques, pirouettes and tours were lyric, musically phrased, a typical Zahorian rendition.

Taras Domitro was paired as Acteon, in a phony leopard skin with an initial saute nothing short of phenomenal. One of the Domitro signatures are strong high thrusts finishing in a slightly curved hand that’s a hand, not five fingers. His menages were swift, complicated, clear. Chabukiani would have applauded just as hard as the audience, a rousing finish to the Gala’s first half.

After intermission, guest artist Johan Kobborg lent San Francisco his dramatic chops, partnering Maria Kochetkova in the Manon’s Act I Bedroom Scene, one of the most lyric choreographies Sir Kenneth MacMillan ever devised. A bed upstage right, a desk and chair downstage left, yin and yang positions to meet stage center with low supported turns, the occasional soaring lift and the final ecstatic floor embrace, a simply exquisite portrait of flowering passion.

From high emotions to equally high jinks, Les Lutins or The Imps, Kobborg’s 2009 trio created for the Royal Ballet was reprised by Gennadi Nedvigin, Esteban Hernandez and Dores Andre as Roy Bogas at the piano and violinist Kurt Nikkaren played, Nikkaren announcing the numbers. Beginning with Nedvigin, It was an “I dare you” allegro exposition with Nedvigin giving sporadic gestures to Nikkaren. Hernandez entered, the maneuvers veered dancer to dancer, with the occasional nod to the violinist, until Dores Andre appeared, black tights, suspenders over white shirt. You guessed it, the expected rivalry is danced out. more allegro, more body language. Enlivening the usual cliche, Kobborg created 95 per cent delight.

Numbers nine, ten,eleven displayed pas de deux, classic glacial, classic bravura, classic elegiac: Sarah Van Patten with Tiit Helimets, Mathilde Froustey and Davit Karapetyan; Yuan Yuan Tan partnered by Damian Smith for number eleven

Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s choreography to Dmitri Shostakovich’s music, provided another glimpse of Van Patten’s cool absorption, displayed by Tiit Helimets; the image of traditional classical dancers. Six corps members accented the movement; Isabella DeVivo, Koto Ishihara, Elizabeth Power with Diego Cruz, Francisco Mungamba and Myles Thatcher. Perhaps seeing the entire work would satisfy me; this glimpse was vaguely dissatisfying.

Grand Pas Classique, music by Francois Auber, staged by Patrick Armand, is a 20th century bravura pas de deux staple at international ballet competitions. Mathilde Froustey and Davit Karapetyan, made it easy to see why. Incredible strength and balance from the woman, flash from the man, Froustey was required to balance several times at the beginning, sustained releves with developpes an avant. Karapetyan’s partnering was the usual exemplary; his variation seemed hampered by excessive costume details. Victor Gsovsky created a fascinating challenge.

Edward Liang’s pas de deux “Finding Light” to Antonio Vivaldi’s Andante from his Violin Concerto in B flat was a peculiar title for Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith’s admirable dancing, unless one believes one comes to recognition with another in twilight. There were the usual lovely lines, considerate partnering, Tan’s long line in developpes, arabesques, and the almost geometric qualities when lifted in some variation of an attitude. Most touching was Tan’s spontaneous embrace of Smith during the bow his kissing of her hand, a signal of Smith’s impending retirement later this spring.

From this exquisite emotion, the finale was the second Balanchine of the evening, the 4th movement from Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet, featuring Sofiane Sylve and Luke Ingham again, with members of the company decked in white with gold and red accents, an effect fluffy, decorative, regrettable. Ingham wasn’t comfortable in his assignment; Sylve managed to make a balloon-like skirt an accessory to her spirited attack. If the work is mounted again for the full company, I hope it rates different costuming. It’s my least favorite work created by this son of the Georgian Caucasus, a work dished up for the 1966 season, forty-eight years ago.

The audience provided the dancers with enormous, deserved applause, shouts and a standing ovation at the end, topping costume parade, decibel levels before the Gala and at Intermission, making one feel there’s nothing better than participating in a finely-conceived Gala. I don’t remember seeing a Tomasson-selected Gala failing to enchant; this year’s seemed the best yet.

Second Night with San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker

16 Dec

Because I wanted to see Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz in the grand pas de deux, I opted for San Francisco Ballet’s second performance of The Nutcracker for 2013, December 12. I also saw Vanessa Zahorian and Taras Domitro in the Snow Scene plus Yuri Possokhov as Drosselmeyer with some exuberant flourishe, head movements emphasizing the music. Anita Paciotti and Jim Sohm created their perennially cheerful decrepitude as the grandparents and Gaetano Amico was quite the sinister Mouse King.

Enjoying the 1915 San Francisco scene with me was Lawrence Smelser, long-time balletomane who moved to Portland after retiring from the Library of Congress. Larry has witnessed his fair share of Nutcracker’s including the premiere performance of the Baryshnikov version with Misha B and Gelsey Kirkland. For him to say it was one of the most satisfying he had ever seen was to make this California native’s heart kvell.

This year’s souvenir program has added images from past San Francisco Ballet Nutcracker’s supplied by The Museum of Performance and Design, now located on the south side of Folsom, just east of Fifth Street. The photos make a charming glimpse along Memory Lane, if the printing fades into the pastel of the pages. I guess the thought is that plain ole black and white, or even sepia and white would be too obvious, though readable!

The Act I party scene seemed well coordinated, moving smoothly, also conveying children’s capacity for extra energy and excitement at a party. Diego Cruz as the floppy Harlequin came across as a tad forced, not so freely stretched as previous harlequins, of which Jaime Garcia Castilla was such an example. Doris Andre as the overdressed doll danced with great control but Clara Blanco still takes the prize for being doll like; Max Cauthorn as the party Nutcracker dispatched his jetes with business-like precision; he also made an appealing shaggy bear in Act II emerging from Mme de Cirque’s tent-like skirts.

The Snow Scene enjoyed two wonderful monarchs with Zahorian and Domitro, the latter’s jetes and tours making a minor role major. Tomasson has the advantage of a stable of excellent male partners with techniques to match, a situation which Lew Christensen did not enjoy. What Christensen gave the snow scene was a feeling of wind blowing the snowflakes, moving in
diagonals, clasping hands briefly swirling in and out of the wings. Tomasson’s vision emphasizes the picky, almost icy, stinging qualities in the Tchaikovsky score, the corps constantly crossing the stage on pointe as the falling snow practically obliterates the floor. Zahorian danced with her usual musical aplomb, and the corps seemed particularly strong.

Recently-promoted Jennifer Stahl is tall, slender, musically correct. Still new to an assignment like The Sugar Plum, she concentrates on a musical flow without momentary etchings or pauses in an arabesque, jete or pirouette which should come as she adds emphasis and phrasing to her enchainements.

Amongst the variations two of the favorites remain the Chinese, featuring Wei Wang, an energetic apologist for a U.S. version of mobile Chinoiserie. The second is Anatole Vilzak’s Russian variation with the trio bursting through their egg-shaped enclosures visually adorned with wintry Russian scenes. Daniel Deivision was the central dancer of the trio included Myles Thatcher and Alexander Reneff-Olsen. Deivision livens up anything he dances with intensity. Tomasson should be thanked for retaining Vilzak’s version; it’s classic.

While the other variations were nicely rendered, little in their overall impression stirred me quite so much. I’m sure I will see their interpreters to better advantage during the spring season.

Vitor Luiz was an unaffected but distinctly princely Nutcracker, his mime of the battle crystalline in its clarity as his battements are waist high. His matter-of-factness diminishes the quality and precision of his dancing, but somehow a glint of his authority does peep through to let you know just how privileged one is to watch him dance.

Then there is Lorena, with her extraordinary back and special port de bras flowing from her sculpted shoulders. What a treat it is to see her expression in a variation, eyes a trifle down cast, head resting on a neck which appears free of strain; and in profile to see the line of head to pointed toe, the image of a romantic dancer, with the technical power capable of alternating between single and double pirouettes or fouettes.

Like Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan, Luiz and Feijoo are partners; there definitely is something comfortable in their strenuous collaboration for our visual and emotional pleasure.

Stern Grove’s 76th Season and San Francisco Ballet’s Annual Appearance

1 Aug

July 28 remained stubbornly overcast, but not so cold that union regulations forbade San Francisco Ballet dancing. My friends shared with me a table graced by Teri McCollum and her friend Tab, an excellent view of the stage, and as the program began, anyone who could manage the space between the granite-lined path and bench legs. A couple of women even managed to sit on the Igloo at the end of the table.

What was seen was deliberately selected for an audience as intent on food and company as on the stage, designed to enjoy without heavy emotional engagement, but skillful, very much so. This year’s roster comprised, “From Foreign Lands,” Alexi Ratmansky with Moritz Moszkowski music of the same name, the cultures being Russian. Italian, German, Spanish and Polish; Stone and Steel, Myles Thatcher’s ballet for the School’s May concert to music of Michael Nyman and Yann Tiersen. Then a pas de deux for Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith by Edward Liang to Thomas Albinoni, titled Distant Cries preceded the finale Suite en Blanc, Serge Lifar’s 1943 display for the Paris Opera Ballet to the music of Edouard Lalo.

The Ratmansky work comprised successively a pas de quatre of two couples; a pas de quatre with three women and one man; a pas de quatre with one woman and three men; and pas de quatre for two couples and the finale a pas de huit for four couples. The first, Russian, was a slight rivalry and partner change with Sasha de Sola, Jaime Garcia Castilla, Frances Chung and Gennadi Nedvigin, and the initial pairing, sparkling allegro and a pair of more lyric limbed dancers – in the end winding up one with each. Castilla and Nedvigin made a fascinating visual contrast in their initial appearance, the legato and the crisp, both admirably schooled. In the Italian Joan Boada displayed his elevation for Dores Andre, Dana Genshaft and Sarah Van Patten. Simone Messmer, formerly with American Ballet Theatre, made her debut in the German number opposite Luke Ingham, Myles Thatcher and Shane Wuerthner whose function primarily was to lift her aloft, allowing her to inspect them, the role originally danced by Sofiane Sylve. Frances Chung, Sarah Van Patten, Joan Boada and Gennadi Nedvigin returned to make like Spaniards, all aware of their mutual charms. For the finale, the Polish, there were jumps for the men in addition to partnering for the women. Ratmansky has a deft touch, conveying flavor without laboring the point, and it moves such a slight work along with great charm.

Thatcher’s Stone and Steel is another work displaying his growing capacity to organize an ensemble, moving the dancers individually and collectively. This ten dancer ballet was created to music by Michael Nyman and Yann Tiersen; as suggested by the title, the ambiance was insistent and the execution crisp. Sasha de Sola was the only soloist with the nine from the corps de ballet, including new corps de ballet members, Isabella de Vivo and Wei Wang; both had been utilized during the spring season, either as apprentices or in the student performing group. The other dancers were Jordan Hammond, Kristina Lind, Julia Rowe, Sean Orza, Steven Morse, Henry Sidford and Lonnie Weeks.

Distant Cries started out with Yuan Yuan Tan moving in silence and joined by Damian Smith as the music commences. Their long-standing partnering is invariably a pleasure to watch, he displaying her long limbs to great advantage. At the end Damian retreated upstage center and Yuan Yuan was left alone, perhaps portending his retirement rumored for the end of 2014’s season.

I would love to know the roster of the dancers who created the various sections of Lifar’s Suite en Blanc in Zurich just about six months before Paris was liberated in 1944. I know Lycette Darsonval and Yvette Chauvire were among them, as well as Roland Petit and Janine Charrat. Jean Babilee, because he was Jewish, had left the Opera Ballet to join the Resistance. Carlos Carvajal can recite who danced what when the ballet was danced by the Grand Ballet de Marquis de Cuevas.

Marie-Claire D’Lyse, Kristina Lind and Jennifer Stahl wore romantic length tutus for the opening sieste, followed by another pas de trois with Sasha de Sola, Davit Karapetyan and Vitor Luiz, whose principal assignment seemed to be grand jetes and beats while turning. Clara Blanco in serenade was charm with a fair amount of pique steps; the effectiveness slightly lost because the corps behind her is elevated on ramps when danced on a proscendium arched stage. This also was true for Dores Andre’s appearance in the pas de cinq with Esteban
Hernandez, Wei Wang, Lonnie Weeks and Dmitry Zagrebin.

This served as debut performances for Hernandez and Zagrebin, particularly when the four men beat entrechats in a line. Hernandez is the brother of Isaac Hernandez, now with Het National Ballet in the Netherlands. Shorter thant Isaac, I first saw Esteban at the USA IBC in Jackson in 2010, where he received the Jury Award of Encouragement. I also look forward to seeing more of Zagrebin, Bolshoi trained and former company member; he garnered a gold medal at Seoul’s International Competition in 2010.

Vanessa Zahorian transcended the title of her solo, cigarette, with her usual flair to be followed by one of the company’s India rubber balls, Taras Domitro in mazurka. Wan Ting Zhao and Tiit Helimets were featured in the pas de deux before Sofiane Sylve appeared in flute. In this fleeting glimpse before the finale, Sylve managed to capture the audience’s focus with the like strength that captivated an earlier Stern Grove audience when she danced the second movement of Balanchine’s Symphony in C. She projects simplicity but with a quiet fierce majesty rarely failing to satisfy a witness.

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.