Tag Archives: Cynthia Gregory

Diablo Ballet’s 22nd Season November 14

23 Nov

Plucky Diablo Ballet acquired a new venue last year with the 400-seat Del Valle Theater, which I understand is a former school site. A walker dependent on public transportation like myself, Contra Costa County has a bus system but the hours are not solicitous to theatre goers. I am lucky to have friends like Richard and Elizabeth Sah to pick me up at BART. Richard, a balletomane of three decades plus, has served on the  Diablo Board for several years.

A good portion of Diablo Ballet’s pluck emanates form Lauren Jonas, the artistic director, backed by Erika Johnson, a former dancer like Lauren and now in charge of development. Both are alumna of Marin Ballet in one of its most productive periods, a time they shared with Joanna Berman who serves as Diablo Ballet’s regisseur.

While the company’s season is short, three or four weekends a year at most, the community outreach has been steady; the company members are accessible after performances to chat with audience members who linger over coffee, tea and batches of cookies baked by steady supporters. This year has seen the start of a Teen Board, meeting monthly to plan its own brand of community involvement. Clearly, Diablo Ballet, now in its 22nd season, is a genuine, small scale community ballet ensemble and promises to continue flourishing.

Three works comprised the program, starting with Norbert Vesak’s Tchaikovsky Dances Pas de Deux, premiered in 1982 by Cynthia Gregory and Fernando Bujones in Miami June 2, 1982. Staged here by Joanna Berman the Robert Clay de la Rose, the Diablo dancers were Amanda Aeris and Raymond Tilton.

The wide Del Valle Theatre is a definite improvement over the previous Shadelands construction, and one can see how well suited it was for school assemblies. The Vesak stage patterns suggested a deeper stage and more atmospheric lighting . The assignments evoked the long lines of Bujones and Gregoru’s particular stage savvy.  I would rather have seen Diablo’s dancers in tights than in the adapted Empire and bonhommie costume worn by the dancers; I think they would have been more comfortable. The pair danced nicely, but could improve on the transitions of a piece which emphasized line and pauses.

The second piece, AnOther, to Yann Tiersen music was choreographed by Robert Dekkers, Diablo Ballet’s choreographer-in- residence and a company dancer currently sidelined for medical reasons. Premiered in 2008 in Tempe, Arizona, it entered the Diablo Ballet repertoire in January 2014 when Diablo Ballet performed at Shadelands’ Art Center in Walnut Creek.

To semi-lyrical, repetitive music, eight dancers commence in silhouette, lighting amber to café au lait tones, accenting bodies and position changes. Eight dancvers were involved: Tatyana Martyanova, Jackie McConnell, Roselyn Ramirez, Mayo Sugano, Aidan de Young, Jamar Goodman, Raymond Tilton, Christian Squires.

I need to see the work again to comment further.

One of the constant features in a Diablo program is at least one number is danced to live music. After intermission, Sean Kelly’s A Swingin’ Holiday, was danced as its 2015 Edition. The swing sounds were provided by the Diablo Ballet Swing Orchestra, directed by Greg Sudmeier, a sixteen piece orchestra comprising saxaphone, trumpets, trombones, piano, bass and of course drums. Three dancers cavorted down the left aisle, a girl with a pink pom-pom bobbing on a stem attached to a blue Jackie-type hat,  her short blue dress an attitude to match, flanked by Jamar Goodman in a generous yellow zoot suit to her right and a similar suit in red on her left worn by Aidan de Young, who later danced up a storm in a solo combining technical virtuosity and jazzy acuity. The stage was set with table, chairs and the ensemble played out their entrances, encounters and flirtations with ease and energy.

A Swingin Holiday cannot be classified as a deathless perennial by any stretch of the imagination, but the dancers did well by it and it served as a cheery ending

Words on Dance at the Vogue, August 22

27 Aug

There wasn’t much notice for this Tuesday night viewing, but those who were involved in some of the sequences were there in force. At least the way that I got an e-mail, I had no clue that we would see a short film by Quinn Wharton featuring dancers from the Hubbard Street Dance Company cavorting around handsome old brick facades, a secluded garden, into tunnels and at the edge of Lake Michigan under the title Opaque. Visually it was wonderful, the walks in the varying stages of drunkenness and the confused mental processes well depicted. The sexual scenes were prolonged, of course, to show the amazing holds, lifts and rolls of the dancers,although I kept wondering whether the lovers were not just acrobats too immersed in their techniques to risk physical union. Or is that the tell tale sign of an aging expectation?

Then we saw a potpourri assembled from longer individual sessions, Edward Villella, Cynthia Gregory, Jerome Robbins with Damara Bennett and Joanna Berman as interviewers and Amanda Vail for the Robbins sequence with participating panelists Stephanie Saland, Robert La Fosse, Helgi Tomasson, Edward Villella. It was a satisfying glimpse of the rich, rewarding ballet world near the end of the twentieth century. Included as “beyond the ballet category” was Mark Morris with some wonderful clips from his company’s sojourn in Belgium, and one or two sequences of Morris himself dancing, a demonstration of his extraordinary gifts beyond choreographing and directing orchestras.

Following these glimpses of the past was a brief clip of Les Twins, Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, hip hop advocates, opposite Sarah Van Patten and Doris Andre of San Francisco Ballet. If my notes are correct the film maker was Kate Duhamel. The sustained arabesques, developpes and port de bras with the frenetic rubber legs, torso and shoulder inflections of Les Twins was an absorbing visual exercise, centered so the camera did not travel, concentrating effect and contrast.

Deborah Kaufman, the mastermind behind Words on Dance, came forward at the end of the viewing to remind us that WOD would be celebrating its 20th anniversary with a special program November 4. She introduced Judy Flannery, Managing Director of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, which will be running September 12-15, primarily at The Delancey Street Theatre.

Joanna Berman and Damara Bennett were present with Anita Paciotti, the trio
having danced together at San Francisco Ballet during the Lew Christensen- Michael Smuin era. Bennett has returned to San Francisco from Portland, Oregon where she had been in charge of the Oregon Ballet Theatre School when Christopher Stowell had been its artistic director. Anita mentioned Damara was joining the San Francisco Ballet School faculty to teach the beginning students.

Happily for the organizers of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, opening and closing nights of the Festival sold out, some tickets do remain. The Museum of Performance and Design will be showing some exciting French-made documentaries concurrent with the Festival, and Executive Director Muriel Maffre will join Pascal Molat in a discussion of their own Paris Opera Ballet training following the documentary on students at the Paris Opera Ballet School Saturday September 14.

Masha, A Preview at San Francisco’s Vogue Theatre, July 10

13 Jul

On July 10, for the second time, Vogue Theatre, a movie house near Presidio on Sacramento, became a venue for a dance documentary centering on one of San Francisco Ballet’s  principal dancers. This time it was Bolshoi Academy-trained Maria Kochetkova.

This time, Deborah Du Buowy, head of Words on Dance, was more directly involved in the production. A facilitator for the Tiit Helimets footage by Quinn Wharton,   “Masha”  seemed to be benefiting from Du Buowy in its editing process.  Du Bouwy also was able to provide a teaser for a work created by Luke Willis with music by Shannon Roberts, both S.F. Ballet dancers,  to be seen in Octber.

Du Buowy preceded “Masha” with glimpses of the dancers she had recorded in her nearly twenty years of making Words on Dance. It was interesting to hear the audience response as dancers were shown in  snippets; loudly applauded were Joanna Berman in a section of Dance House; Evelyn Cisneros in Lambarena; Muriel Maffre; Yuri Possokhov in Othello; glimpses of  VioletteVerdy; Edward Villella; Michael Smuin dancing in Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free; Cynthia Gregory; Martine Van Hamel; Helgi Tomasson, and a number more testified to the years Du Bouwy has devoted to recording dancers’ careers.

Masha is a Russian nick-name for Maria. Because there was no program and  credits were so swiftly shown, film-making details flashed by, leaving  one  nearly in the dark, except for Kochetkova’s comments in the Q and A following the close of the documentary. In particular, the details of the setting were omitted, although one ultimately could guess that her appearance was part of a quintet of Bolshoi-trained dancers appearing in an  attempt to be the equivalent of the Kings of Dance; both production were organized by the Ardani Managemen,tspecializing in presenting Russian companies and artists.

Visually it was quite a treat, though the venue remained unnamed and the choreographer uncredited, except perhaps at the end in the rapid run through of credits in rather blurry type face.

Still, the camera provided us with some wonderful moments where Masha prepared her toe shoes in the idiosyncratic method utilized by individual dancers. Masha used special pliers to extract part of the shank; she stepped on them and pounded them on the arm of a chair; when finally seen, there were five slippers, one apparently intended for use in supported toe work. The construction of and fitting for costumes was included, including Masha’s being sewn into one between stage appearances. A line up of two pairs of false eyelashes added to the atmosphere. There clearly was self-absorption;  nothing seemed staged for the camera. Kochetkova later remarked she never felt the presence of the camera or the photographer intruding in her performance preparation.

Working with a choreographer and rehearsing certain parts of a solo gave the observer a clear portrait how much repetition, correction and adjustment are involved in the creation of a solo, long or short. In Masha’s instance, a goodly amount of daring was also involved, heightened when she was required to pitch herself off stage to be caught by a waiting pair of arms.

Since the film was a  preview and the viewing intended to fuel further editing of 50 hours of footage, it would be helpful to know, by voice over or via caption, the venue where Kochetkova was recorded, as well as the title of the work(s) rehearsed , choreographic as well as personnel credits. Kochetkova herself during the Q and A following the preview mentioned she would like to see more of a plot.

With a viewing scheduled for October, perhaps these missing components will be on view. But even in this unfinished condition, “Masha” provides an excellent glimpse into the labor intensive preparation for those brief moments when a gifted artist transports her audience.