Tag Archives: Dance News

Violette Verdy. 1933-2016

11 Feb

For some odd reason comments about Violette Verdy written yesterday, along with some comments about Misty Copeland’s coverage on KQED’s Independent
Lens, didn’t make this blog’s printed record. So I will try to rectify.

Facebook messages have been warm, loving, nostalgic and Carol Egan managed
to post a coaching session of Verdy against the background of the Opera in
Paris that is captivating, judicious and clearly supportive.

I remember her coming to San Francisco as a guest artist on two occasions
when I was still a correspondent for Dance News. The first was
when Kimiko Sugano supported her appearance with Edward Villella for a
Pacific Ballet season when Alan Howard was artistic director. I was invited to a pre-performance gathering and was introduced to Verdy who appeared to have read my 1000 word columns in that departed dance journal. I have forgotten how the conversation progressed but I remember expressing my irritation over Maurice Bejart’s use of the opening sequence in a Bharata Natyam concert for an elaborate, sexy exposition which showcased Suzanne Farrell. Verdy smiled with understanding and said, “Ah yes, Maurice is clever but he ia a plagerist.” I could have hugged her, for her appraisal was spot on and, of course, she agreed with me. Violette Verdy!

The next time she appeared was when San Francisco Ballet had a season at
the Palace of Fine Arts, just before Michael Smuin came back from American
Ballet Theatre. At the opening , Verdy danced The Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux,; I can remember where I was sitting for her final movements came downstage on the diagonal. There was the crispness within the lyricism, the Gallic inflection punctuating the music and the correctness of the canon.

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The Mia Documentary

9 Oct

San Francisco Dance Film Festival opened its 2015 series at the Jewish Community Center’s Kanbar Hall, Monday, October 5 with the documentary
“Mia,” the life and accomplishments of Mia Slavenska. Slavenska died in 2002, believing she had been forgotten though she was lionized at the Ballet Russe Celebration in New Orleans in 2000 and subsequently interviewed for the wonderful Geller/Goldfine production Ballets Russes. This documentary was created by Mia’s daughter Maria Ramos and film-maker Kate Johnson. Their choice of signage seems geared to a television screen and smaller viewing space than the Kanbar.

While the documentary has been aired earlier on television, the chance to see it again was memorable, not just because of her life, but with the inclusion of three dance critics active during the height of Slavenska’s appearances: Jack Anderson,  who for many years co-edited the Dance Chronicle quarterly. Anderson also was one of The New York Times dance critics for many years, a poet who also authored The One and Only Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.

George Dorris served on the editorial board of Oxford University Press’ six-volume The Dance Encyclopedia, and contributed to the English publication Dancing Times. George Jackson covered Washington, D.C. for Dance News for many years, as well as writing periodically for The Washington Post; he now writes for the website danceviewtimes.

Newspaper accounts from Mia’s early years were quite amazing. She clearly was sure-footed technically and her debut elicited adoration from the audience. As a young adult, she created quite a stir for her advocacy of expressionist dancers like Harold Kreutzberg and Mary Wigman, causing a non-renewal of her contract with the Zagreb Opera House.

Mia and her mother left Croatia, went to Vienna, managed to get Mia into the cultural branch of the 1936 Olympics, which she won. Moving to Paris, Mia found an impresario who changed her name from Corak to Slavenska and got her into the film Ballerina with Yvette Chauvire and Janine Charrat, who played the young girl crippling Slavenska. The French title was Le Mort de Cygne.

The unexpected death of her impresario triggered Mia’s signing with Leonid Massine and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo where she languished because of a large roster of ballerinas. Here the documentary fails to credit her leading role in Marc Platt’s choreographic debut, Ghost Town, worth at least a photograph.

Also missing was Mia’s decision to spend nearly two years with Vicenzo Celli, the major Cecchetti teacher of the time. and the three seasons she was artistic director of the Fort Worth Ballet. Nor did it touch on the relationship Mia and Rozelle Frey enjoyed, and Frey’s studio where Slavenska periodically taught.

A significant portion of the film concerns Slavenska’s own ensemble, which, for a time, was profitable. Expanding the number of the ensemble proved fatal, causing them to lose their home. A good part of this footage centered around Slavenska and Franklin’s portrayals in Valerie Bettis’ A Street Car Named Desire. Tennessee Williams told Slavenska she was his best Blanche de Bois. Slavenska earlier enjoyed considerable acclaim, dancing Anton Dolin’s Pas de Quatre with Alicia Markova, Natalie Krassovska, and Nora Kaye. An excellent passage of her dancing with Royes Fernandez does not credit him as her partner.

With the fiscal disaster of the Slavenska-Franklin Company, Mia turned to teaching although she spent two seasons as the ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera, concurrently. When she left New York City for Los Angeles, she taught privately and for some years both at UCLA and CAL Arts before her retirement. The retirement years were spent writing her memoir, a copy of which was deposited at the Jerome Robbins Division of the New York City Public Library.

Slavenska attended the Ballets Russes Celebration in New Orleans in 2000; there she was one of the big draws, and is a featured dancer in the Geller/Goldfine documentary Ballets Russes. Unfortunately, she died before the documentary was released.

The film finishes with the touching evidence of the estime with which she is regarded in Croatia. A plaque is embedded in the wall of the house where she was born, and her ashes were interred in a ceremony led by Dido Bogdanovich, the artistic director of the Opera Ballet in Zagreb.

There is only so much footage can cover in an hour’s length; Ramos and Johnson have forged an excellent narrative with just enough actual dancing to fill out what largely are pictures and copies of articles, With this length of time, it only states the environment fostering her, a mother from a prominent family which lost its status and fortune following World War I, a modest father who was a professional pharmacist. Still Brava, Brava, Brava.

Memory Lane: Olga and Dorothy IV

12 Feb

Boieru and Vu An both both distinguished themselves with personality variations created by Maurice Bejart.  Boieru’s technique, pushed to the point of wobbling,  was out of practice in dancing classical repertoire.  Vu An brought form, intensity and his cool precision to a variation from Bahkti, Bejart’s questionable pastiche  version of Hindu iconography and philosophy, mutilating traditional Indian dance repertoire and form.  None the wiser for the cultural desecration, the Stockton audience cheered Vu An’s rendition.

Raffa and Bahiri lent a very Mediterranean warmth to Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.  Theirs was an easy elegance and musicality, nurtured by their backgrounds of Algeria, Sicily and Naples, reminding one that some of the early ballet greats were southern Italian in origin.  They skimmed easily across the Marley flooring strips, turning and completing like well-oiled, elegantly constructed tops, pulled and retracted by the musical phrases stringing their steps along time.  Similar ease and understatement was exhibited later in the Kafka-Kurova rendition of La Fille Mal Gardee, an ease deception of the hours of construction and labor, so carefully framed by the technique that it seemed naturally inevitable.

Ballet sometimes seemed to have been made for little girls.  Certain this one performance proclaimed that cliche.  Above and beyond the enthusiasm of the adult audience, the clutch of girls, obviously Dorothy’s pupils, look alikes with long straight filly manes of hair, dresses flouncing a little. Mary Jane shoes, white stockings over sturdy calf and thigh muscles, already showing the effects of ballet barre discipline induced a whisper of moisture in my remembering eyes.

For the finale, Bahiri has just completed his solo variation in Corsaire, the staple made international first by Rudolph Nureyev and now standard competition fare.  Jung, in blue velvet etched with gold braid, had taken her position en pointe and started her variation. Suddenly total BLACKOUT!

An announcement quickly followed ” There has been a total power failure.  Would the audience please leave the auditorium as quickly as possible by the nearest exit.”

The audience complied, rapidly, orderly.  I made my way against the stream of bodies backstage to find Olga, standing calm but stricken, in her yellow silk pant suit.  With the aid of a small pocket flash fished out of my knitting bag, the dancers crept down the stairs to the basement dressing rooms and green carpet area.  They sat mute, expressionless, on the carpet in a near circle while the technicians worked to restore the power.  In less than fifteen minutes the  lights were on again, and some audience stalwarts had returned to their seats.

But fearing injury, the performance did not resume.  Visibly shaken, Dorothy brought the seven soloists on stage, explaining to the audience why it was impossible to ask the dancers to complete Corsaire.  The roses were distributed, the fans applauded and cheered despite the unexpected close to a glorious exposition of classical ballet.

Direction and arrangements were given for tomorrow’s transportation; borrowed tunics were retrieved; plans confirmed for a Sunday evening supper in San Francisco, and an exodus made for the final party near the Stockton Marina.  The power failure had induced a patron to guarantee a new lighting system for the Theatre.

The party consisted of pastry puffs filled with sea food and scallops quickly demolished, virtually gone by the time the dancers reached the party.  Vu An was the first to depart since he, Raffa, Bahiri and Boieru were scheduled to leave San Francisco before noon for New York City.  Dressed like an international preppy, Vu An might have inspired Cole Porter lyrics or inhabited a Noel Coward stage set, rather than the sweat and exertion of Petipa, Lander and Bejart choreography.

In the flat midnight chill that crept up around my ankles from the river at the Stockton Marina, any balletic Cinderella would have treasured pumpkins after a night’s exposure to those four dancing princes.  Olga and Dorothy had conspired to bring that magical story alive.

The only dance review related to that memorable gala was published in the March, 1983 issue of Dance News, an issue which proved to be the journal’s swan song.