Tag Archives: Damian Smith

San Francisco Ballet Program I

9 Feb

Program I started with a near sublime performance of George Balanchine’s Serenade, a world away from the image of him working with scattered dancers on an open air stage in Connecticut with Ruthanna Boris scratching her head while contemplating her share of the dancing. From 1934 to 2015 – 81 years, and I venture in another 80 it will rank up there with Petipa if it hasn’t already in the minds of discerning balletomanes.

Second was Yuri Possokhov’s Raku for which Yuan Yuan Tan earned a London Critic’s Award when she danced the role at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in 2013. It’s clear choreographer Yuri Possokhov was principally concerned in creating a star vehicle for Yuan Yuan Tan; I understand she guards the role zealously. Carlos Quenedit took over Damian Smith’s portrayal as samurai while Pascal Molat continued his memorably slimy interpretation of the monk who rapes Tan and sets the temple on fire. Tan was responsible for producing the librettist of the piece, with the result not unlike Balanchine’s take on Bugaku, a Russianized view of some Japanese cultural practices. The four retainers are costumed more like Roman soldiers, comporting their movements in a similar vein. Shinji Eshima’s score suggests the menace skillfully; perhaps he understands better than many of us something told me by a Chinese journalist about the nature of many Asian dramatic entertainments. “One tragedy isn’t enough; it has to be piled on.”

Val Caniparoli’s Lambarena completed Program I with Lorena Feijoo dancing the role created by Evelyn Cisneros. Feijoo’s torso and hips deliver a more nuanced version than Cisneros’ square somewhat stiff upper back, though the weight in the arms, while present, lacked the earthly sense Evelyn brought to the role. No matter how you cut it, undulating on pointe is a definite feat.

I found myself remembering some of the men in the roles;-Pierre Francois Villanoba bringing a clarity to the pieta passage less clear in this revival. Daniel Devison-Oliviera brought that amazing upper torso nuance movement which is one of African dances’ continuing excitements in the role created by David Justin whose own flexibility was equally remarkable. Another dancer whose freedom of attack was totally right for the piece was Isabella De Vivo.

The wonder of Lamberena’s popularity around the globe is its joyousness, affirmation, its immediacy. Interweaving traditions of Gambon and Johann Sebastian Bach, twenty years later, Lambarena continues to gladden the heart.

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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.

Alexei Ratmansky’s Shostakovitch Trilogy, April 2,11

16 Apr

Some ballets impact me strongly; when they do, it’s necessary to see the work at least a second time to make sure what I saw was what I felt, and why. I’ve not heard much Shostakovitch; one of his was a college favorite, arrogant finale et al. It wasn’t included in Ratmansky’s choices: Symphony #9, Chamber Symphony, Piano Concerto # 1. The San Francisco Ballet premiere of the trilogy follows the two-part premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s essays by American Ballet Theatre.

My initial impression was movement and music were absolutely one and how could this be? Visually, the dancers rose, turned, jumped, pirouetted, were held or fell to the floor just like the notes I was hearing. Opening night audience thought so too – a standing ovation plus enthusiastic written and verbal excitement expressed by critics. What love and admiration can accomplish in the mind and vision of a gifted artist ! There is no questioning Ratmansky’s work qualifies; The MacArthur Foundation also agreed this past September.

Part I, Symphony #9, featured Sarah Van Patten, Carlos Quenedit, Simone Messmer, James Sofranko and Taras Domitro April 2; the April 11 casting; Simone Messmer, Mathilde Froustey, Pascal Molat, Luke Ingham and Hansuke Yamamoto.

Part II, The Chamber Symphony provided Davit Karapetyan with Sasha de Sola, Lorena Feijoo, Mathilde Froustey April 2, Jaime Garcia Castilla, Dores Andre, Simone Messmer and Sarah Van Patten April 11.

Part III, Piano Concerto #1, featured Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith, Maria Kochetkova, Vitor Luiz, on April 2; April 11 Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets, Doris Chung,Joan Boada.

Between the premiere and the dancing of a second cast, seen a week following the premiere, rawness has dissipated, the phrases, the steps, the interplay of bodies, lines all have begun to organize themselves in the dancers’ muscle memory, the hesitations and maneuverings of rehearsal behind. Still, I felt the second cast had meshed uniquely; how likely is it they will get reviewed, particularly a week later.

At the premiere Symphony 9 reflected the musical structure: Domitro jumping, spinning; Messmer and Sofranko flirtatious, Van Patten and Quenedit reflecting the highs and lows in the musical line. April 11, Froustey and Ingham gave me a sense of fear, illusory moments of tenderness, a pervading quality of hopelessness. Messmer with Molat, she replacing the scheduled Lorena Feijoo, provided immediacy, “get it, enjoy it while you can.” Hansuke Yamamoto, whatever he felt, was dancing full out, one of the best I remember, driving forward, upward; what else could one do?

The Chamber Symphony was graced with David Karapetyan, his sculpted body, a controlled stoic aura, even as he reached out for the feminine, Sasha de Sola, the flirt; Mathilde Fourstey the fated one, Lorena Feijoo, required to comfort the forlorn. I read somewhere the quartet of dancers reflected a failed Apollo with unreliable Muses. The quartet sequences seemed particularly reflective of the music. April 11 emotion rippled through Jaime Garcia Castilla, aided by his exceptionally supple physique. Dores Andre invited, then flitted away. Castilla and Simone Messmer seemed keenly aware of their frailty; especially when she is first hidden, held aloft by the group of men before her final disappearance, leaving a wise attending woman, Sarah Van Patten, to touch him compassionately.

For the Piano Concerto, the usual close partnering between Tan and Smith was a given; he slightly somber, solicitous, Tan clearly articulate but remote. Kochetkova and Luiz were livelier, to be expected, both expressive individually. Did I subjectively feel that Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets as Europeans understood the irony better? Perhaps. Frances Chung and Joan Boada melded skillfully, blending in an immediacy underplaying the flash.

Regardless, I only wish the trilogy was to be part of San Francisco Ballet’s 2015 Spring season instead of the Piano Concerto alone. I still have lots to absorb.

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.

Ballet San Jose’s Gala, November 16

20 Nov

Scott Horton, Ballet San Jose’s new press representative, arranged to have the entire area’s dance reviewing contingent in attendance at Ballet San Jose’s Gala, November 16 at San Jose’s Center for Performing Arts. Allan Ulrich was seconded by Rachel Howard and Mary Ellen Hunt. Coming with Rita Felciano, covering for the San Jose Mercury, I saw Claudia Baer, Toba Singer, Aimee T’sao plus Odette’s Ordeal Teri McCollum and Janice Berman of S.F. Classical Voice. A number of San Francisco Ballet dancers were present besides Helgi and Marlene Tomasson.

The lengthy program possessed several numbers danced not only by San Francisco Ballet interpreters, but I have been lucky enough to see the original interpreters in one pas de deux. Like it or not, there were measurable standards. I include program readability. Thankfully, the dancers’ names were printed in black; golden script against white made the booklet pages almost unreadable. Apparently an easy read for Ballet San Jose’s program designer wasn’t sexy enough. Whatever the reason, big events tend to seduce planners to emphasize glamor over clarity.

George Daugherty took the small orchestra through the lively paces of a Tchaikovsky Swan Lake entree to showcase the Ballet San Jose students, 100 strong, in a show-everyone arrangement by Delia Rawson. Notable were four young men and perhaps eight young young boys, black tights and white tee-shirts appearing with aplomb, along with tiny tots and adolescent girls pirouetting capably en pointe. The final grouping reminded me of the final movement in Balanchine’s Symphony in C where principals and corps invade the stage space.

From the up energy of the school ensemble, Christopher Wheeldon’s After The Rain pas de deux opened the program, with a distinct drop in energy. The deliberate Arvo Part music provided a glimpse of New York City Ballet dancers Ask La Cour [son of former Ballet San Jose’ School principal Lise La Cour] and Rebecca Krohn from New York City Ballet. The height contrast between La Cour and Krohn was visually awkward. Krohn’s style is soft, almost blurring the edges of Wheeldon’s quirky postures. A signature pas de deux for Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith, the New Yorkers suffered by comparison.

The pace quickened when Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky’s pas de deux featured Ana Sophia Scheller and Gonzalo Garcia, former San Francisco Ballet principal. I saw Violette Verdy and Jacques d’Amboise dance this as guests with for San Francisco Ballet at the Palace of Fine Arts. Verdy, the role’s creator, gave a slight emphasis when finishing s phrase. Scheller relied on the smooth sequences Balanchine created, slight piquancy was missing. Garcia started slowly, gaining in quality; heavier in the thighs than in San Francisco, he danced the ballet with Tina Le Blanc at her retirement; here he seemed sluggish.

A dozen Ballet San Jose dancers appeared in a section of Jorma Elo’s Glow Stop to the Philip Glass music, abounding in jerks and twitches interrupting classical line, phrasing and execution. The twelve made a cohesive ensemble; I wish for them better assignments. The dancers were: Amy Marie Briones, Cindy Husang, Alexsandra Meijer, Annali Rose, Ommi Pipit-Suksun, Jing Zhang, Damir Emric, James Kopecky, Jeremy Kovitch, Joshua Seibel, Maykel Solas, Kendall Teague. Ramon Moreno was absent as was Maria Jacobs-Yu; formally retired from the company, she expects her second offspring.

Gillian Murphy and Thomas Forster in the Black Swan pas de deux was notable; tall, slender Forster’s was a visibly smitten portrayal of Prince Siegfried. Murphy danced like a power house, brashly knowing, teasing, if traveling on the final fouettes. The pair sent the audience out energized for the intermission.

After the intermission Ballet San Jose Board Chair Millicent Powers proudly presented Jose Manuel Carreno to the audience as the company’s second artistic director. In his charming Cuban-Spanish accent Carreno acknowledged visiting artistic directors Kevin McKenzie and Helgi Tomasson plus his amazement as being on the other side of the performing curtain.

Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s balcony pas de deux from Romeo and Juliet provided a glimpse of Julie Kent and Marcelo Gomes. Framed by the set from Dennis Nahat’s production for the Prokofiev score, they left no doubt about the electricity of the two Renaissance Verona adolescents.

Shifting stylea to the Le Corsaire pas de deux Rudolf Nureyev brought westward, Cincinnati Ballet dancers Adiarys Almeida and Joseph Gatti; competitors at the 2006 USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Gatti earned a bronze medal. Small, dynamic, well placed, Gatti danced a very aggressive slave; Almedia was smiling, pert, almost totally en place with her fouettes.

New York City Ballet principal Joaquin de Luz danced David Fernandez’ solo to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Presto movement from the Violin Concerto in G. Minor. The challenge, interspersed with port de bras allowing the dancer to breathe, de Luz’ musicality, engaged the audience with his modest charm.

Another set of New York City principals appeared with George Balanchine’s Tarantella to Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s infectious 19th century interpretation of an Italian staple. Megan Fairchild and Daniel Ulbreicht were perky; Ulbreicht’s fun, teasing and elevation electrified the audience.

Boston Ballet principals Lorna Feijoo and Nelson Madrigal danced the second act pas de deux from Giselle in strong stage light, robbing the mystery, making their appearance abrupt. Stuck between two high energy pas de deux their artistry suffered.

Marcelo Gomes demonstrated his dramatic facility in the penultimate pas de deux,, the two dances Twyla Tharp set to Sinatra Songs. With a scintillating, responsive Misty Copeland, the audience reaction was predictably huge.

San Francisco’s Maria Kochetkova and Taras Domitro completed the gala with the war horse Grand pas de Deux from Marius Petipa’s Don Quixote. Postures, balances, pauses, carefully choreographed glances were etched, delivered with sang froid assurance designed to leave the audience gasping. Domitro, noted for his ballon, surpassed himself. Kochetkova matched previous double and triple fouette turns with carefully spotted ones to the four corners. It was a fitting finale to the evening.

Now comes not only Carreno’s challenge artistically, but Stephanie Ziesel’s responsibilities to provide for Ballet San Jose fiscally; there have been nasty rumors to the contrary.

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.