Tag Archives: David Fonnegra

Diablo Ballet’s Twenty-First Gala, March 26

6 Apr

At the Lesher Center for the Arts March 26 Diablo Ballet danced its 21st anniversary performance before supporters and dancers retired to Scott’s Garden for a gathering which garnered Contra Costa County’s oldest ballet ensemble with more than $50,000.

I don’t normally participate in such fiscal enterprises, but thanks to transportation arrangements with Richard and Elizabeth Green Sah, I enjoyed a Miller of Dee exposure. In the process I reconnected with poet Gary Soto and his wife Carolyn, with whom I shared a publishing series of classes at U.C. Extension with the late Jean Louis Brindamour, Ph.D. Missing them from the company’s roster I learned that Hiromi Yamasaki and Maya Sugano have each recently given birth to daughters.

Starting at 6:30, the 21st program featured three revivals or reconstructions, two pieces created by current company dancers and one series of images titled Aeterna XXI, following each other with just a short pause.

David Fonnegra’s piece, a pas de deux to Felix Mendelssohn’s “Song Without Words” was danced by Tetyana Martyanova and Fonnegra. Martyanova’s credits were listed as companies in Odessa, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and Tania Perez-Salas Compania de Danza. I found her costume, a long black tunic with slits disconcerting; despite several slits, the length interfered; – just when a phrase reached its completion, there was this distracting black strip, making Fonnegra’s partnering seem labored, distorting line.

A second choice of Mendelssohn was made by Robert Dekkers, performed by Janet Witharm, Cello; Philip Santos, Violin and Aaron Pike, piano. Under the titleSee Saw seven dancers participated in a semi-abstract classical one act. Dekkers is skillful, adept in movement choices, save one noticeable blooper; to fill musical phrases when the strings engaged in extended arabesques. Dekker required the dancers to wave their fingers with a slight flop to the palm, appearing tacked on and extraneous.

Opening the program was the Balanchine pas de deux from Apollo where he and Terpsichore connect, danced by Christian Squires and Sandrine Cassini, a French contribution. Both small, compact, they were well suited to each other, but the snippet was all too short.

Joanna Berman restaged Hamlet and Ophelia, the pas de deux Val Caniparoli created for Berman in 1985 early in her San Francisco Ballet career to Bohuslav Martinu’s music. Dedicated to Lew Christensen’s memory, the work makes much of a lengthy cloak which Hamlet (Squires) wears as he makes his way from upstage left to downstage right. Ophelia flutters around and is strong armed once by Hamlet in a menacing pas de deux. Clearly a teen-ager who hasn’t much of a clue, the bourrees and port de bras, like chicken wings. clue the audience to the inevitable. Christian Squires did double duty as Hamlet with Amanda Harris as Ophelia. After left alone in desperate state, Ophelia witnesses Hamlet retrace his steps with the black cape, leaving it a black river upon which she fatally steps; as she bourrees on it towards stage center, the cloak begins to ripple and turn blue; curtain.

Kelly Teo departed Diablo Ballet nearly a decade ago; Lauren Jonas and Erika Johnson restaged Incitations, the tight little ballet he created to the music of Astor Piazolla in 1997 for two couples, here Martyanova with Derek Sakakura, Rosselyn Ramirez and Justin VanWeest. The quartet performed it with a verve befitting the well-remembered zest of its creator, now a hotelier in Shanghai.

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Diablo Ballet’s Three Premieres November 17

22 Nov

Artistic Director Lauren Jonas possesses a healthy amount of taste; it certainly was on display for Diablo Ballet’s fall performances at Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.  You can also include in that estimate a capacity for wide variety for the dances seen November 16-17 ranged from an extended erotic pas de deux to Jose Limon’s inconic The Moor’s Pavane, ending with Sean Kelly’s commissioned work, A Swingin’ Holiday for four couples and a sizeable swing orchestra.

David Fonnegra was responsible for mounting Vicente Nebrada’s three part Scriabin offering Lento a Tempo e Appassionata played by Roy Bogas with his usual reliable panache.  Fonnegra partnered Hiromi Yamazaki, one of the Bay Area natives who danced elsewhere before returning to the Bay Area.  In the first third, as well as the other two, the pair kept pivoting around each other, the spiral modulating into a supported plunging arabesque, some variation of fish dive, or a left to the shoulder or grand jete aloft which rapidly assumed a different posture, invariably with beautiful finishes in the port de bras.

The middle section saw Yamazaki and Fonnegra separate physically only to rush towards each other to accomplish a spectacular climax to the musical phrase.  When it came to Appassionnato, you got it, rushes together separately, turns and spins of great urgency, concluding on the stage floor intertwined. It was a  major partnering job for Fonnegra and plenty of spacial daring required of Yamazaki, both expertly realized their demands.

After a pause the curtains parted on a reprise of Jose Limon’s The Moor’s Pavane to the music of Henry Purcell, music more popularly recognized as used by Jerome Robbins.  Just four dancers, a swirling red robe for Derek Sakakura as The Moor,  striking sinister hues of mustard for His Friend, interpreted by Robert Dekkers.  Mounted by Gary Masters, the Moor’s Wife was
danced by Heather Cooper and His Friend’s Wife by Maria Basile, both guesting from SjDance Co, headed by Masters.  Mounting this iconic modern dance work is a major event anywhere.

In the Lucas Hoving role, Dekkers came close to the wily deadpan which creates such a sinister aura within the formal structure, where the four dance together, then the men, then the couples, the quartet and all too soon the Moor is tormented into his fatal action.  As noted elsewhere, the quartet dances towards one another,  rather than to the audience.

Sakakura, his chest too large for the costume, conveyed a cooler Moor than one might expect, although his anguish toward the end was plain, having danced it twice before and thus the  opportunity to grow in the portrayal.  Technically quite adequate, I felt I was seeing a Moor with samurai training.

Cooper and Basile both brought maturity to their roles, Basile’s use of her persimmon velvet skirts taunting, flirtatious, a smirk on her face more open to persuasion than the oblique smile of Pauline Koner, while Cooper’s Wife was even more neutral than remembered with Betty Jones.  If Moor’s Pavane goes to Diablo Ballet’s  San Jose and Hillbarn engagements in the spring, it will be interesting to see how the interpretations evolve in this engrossing, classic work.

Following intermission the program closed with Sean Kelly’s A Swingin’ Holiday, utilizing four couples, highly colored zoot suits for the men, ‘Thirties glamour for the women and a fifteen piece orchestra to blare the music hyped up swing era style. The dancers rose to the stylistic challenge ably; it was very nice to see Aaron Orza back on stage since departing San Francisco Ballet.

Kelly created dances appropriate to the music, but a unifying thread was missing, leaving the pas de huit with a series of dances, entrances, greetings and then minor vignettes leaving the impression that strangers had gathered in a night club or dive, but essentially were unconnected.

Diablo Ballet’s March 2 Program, Shadelands, Walnut Creek

9 Mar

Shadelands in Walnut Creek is a community facility with a makeshift stage where Diablo Ballet performs twice a year.  The company’s dancers have taught there and provide the city with outreach programs. There just may be a fiscal advantage over full season at the Dean Lesher Center downtown.

Neither venue is ideal for dance. Dean Lesher needs more front lighting.  Shadelands gives lousy sight lines for an audience member seated  behind someone  moving their head for their own viewing convenience.  The Diablo dancers rise above the limitations ,and in assignments in listed ballets project the skill and refinement defining the small ensemble since its inception eighteen years ago.  The level surpasses several larger professional ensembles, including  the beautiful lighting of Jack Carpenter.

This March  program displayed three women and four men in four works proceeding without pause, two initially mounted on Diablo Ballet, one a totally new work and Christopher Wheeldon’s pas de deux a West Coast premiere of the 2000 work Mercurial Maneuvers for New York City Ballet. Former S.F. Ballet principal Joanna Berman mounted Wheeldon’s work, occasioning two interviews.

Tina Kay Bohnstedt, now ballet mistress with Houston Ballet, created “First Movement from A Path of Delight or…” to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major in 2009, inspiring a pas de quatre danced at various stage locations. Characterized by Bohnstedt’s particular penchant, an upper torso roll to the trills and arpeggios frequently appears with a forward thrust of one foot, shoulders back.  Bohnstedt also uses the device in lifts, contrasting to picky little bourrees with the dancers’ head concentrated on the floor in tricky passages.  Visually the patterns are quite different from the quiet clarity of the piano, but they also cohere to the music and were nicely performed.

David Fonnegra’s Back in The Day uses pop tunes for a pas de trois with Edward Stegge and Fonnegra lightly vying for Rosselyn  Ramirez’ favors. A completely predictable piece, with populist overtones, it was neatly danced with Ramirez gently personifying the why of the competition.

Hiromi Yamazaki and Derek Sakakura were neatly matched in the Wheeldon piece, a lovely essay in turning dancers’ back to the audience, lifts that displayed Yamazaki like a banner in the wind, and the choreographer’s amazing capacity to visualize the music, here Dmitri Shostakovitch’s Piano Concerto No. 1

K.T. Nelson’s 1997 work for the company, The Escaping Game, closed the program.  Utilizing the music of Zap Mama, I remember the work as using more dancers than the five featured. Nelson creates a cheeky form of bravura, part classic, part modern with a lively spread of corn pone.  Her imagination is in a class by itself.

Following the brief program a question and answer period followed.  Diablo Ballet will dance at the end of March at Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City, at San Jose State University and at Napa’s Opera House, giving the program and dancers a seven performance run. If  such runs become a company habit. it would be a welcome and deserved development.

Diablo Ballet Started its Eighteenth Season November 19

26 Nov

Starting its eighteenth season at Walnut Creek’s  Dean Lesher Center for the Arts, Diablo Ballet danced three performances of three ballets, two new to the repertoire, one a world premiere.  Seeing the November 19 matinee, I had mixed reactions to Le Spectre de la Rose, Tears From Above and Fluctuating Hemlines.

Val Caniparoli’s premiere was a pas de quatre for Tears from Above, danced to music for two cellos by Elena Kats-Chernin, a composer originally from deep in central Asia but now residing in Australia. As one might expect the hints of melancholy were strong, reflecting vast stretches of land with little deviation of lifestyle.  Danced by Mayo Sugano and new comers Hiromi Yamazaki, Derek Sakakura and Robert Dekkers, I want to see the piece a second time before venturing my response.

Of Spectre de la Rose, the reaction was easier, thanks to the music’s familiarity and the voluminous prose written regarding Fokine’s ballet and its phenomenal role for Vaslav Nijinsky.

The period difference from nineteenth to early twenty-first centuries could scarcely be stronger in this tale of love’s awakening dream as conceived by Dominic Walsh.  Domenico Luciano as Spectre had created the role in this adaption.  A handsomely-sculpted dancer, Luciano was garbed in a cluster of  rust- colored petals on his left chest over flesh-hued body suit and something obscuring his dark hair.  Rosalyn Ramirez, first seen in Diablo’s spring program, was dressed in a simple white sheath-like tunic with slits up the side.

Katy Heilein’s solution for the appearance of the Spectre was hanging white draperies for the Spectre’s appearing and vanishing. Both dancers, skilled performers, had to dance at times when the Spectre manipulated the Girl’s head or moved her abruptly in ways a young woman’s first romance isn’t  likely to be dreamed, unless prone to some degree of masochism. It was a bit as if  the Spectre was playing Lermontov in The Red Shoes. I found myself wincing, but the Spectre vanished in a whoosh of white curtain and I was relieved it was over.

Septime Weber’s “Fluctuating Hemlines” was revived from its fall, 2001 Diablo Ballet premiere, but was choreographed originally in 1995 for the American Repertory Ballet.  Weber, artistic director of the Washington Ballet, used exaggerated wigs and nearly Barbie Doll costumes for the four women and de rigeur jacket, ties, trousers and shirts for the men.  Weber utilized pantomime
to indicate the four girls were manifestations of prissiness.  The men were given gestures of compulsive awareness of time, checking their watches, adjusting ties, inspecting trousers for creases in the wrong places.

The coming together of male and female registered signals  of “no-no,” and “you mustn’t” in liberal dosages.  That is, until male and female attires were shed, trunks and body suits revealed and a good time was had by all;  although it seems the gestural traces of former behavior kept cropping up.  The idea was clever, but there’s so much one can do  before the lack of characterization begins to be felt.  One then desires more specificity, which Fluctuating Hemline sacrificed in the interest of generalities.  The cast comprised all the previously mentioned dancers in addition to Edward Stegge. David Fonnegra and Erika Johnson.

Diablo Ballet’s early spring season, March 2-3 will be danced at Shadelands Arts Center, Walnut Creek with an additional two performances March 30-31 at Foster City’s Hillbarn Theater.

May 4 and 5 will again see the company finish the season with three performances at Shadelands.

West Wave Dance Festival, July 30

2 Aug

This two-choreographer program by Tina Kay Bohnstedt and Vikto Kabanaiev
was unusual fare for much seen at West Wave Festivals.  The two choreographers come from unusually distinguished training and professional experience. It very much showed,  providing a satisfying ninety minutes of excellent dancing.  Bohnstedt had one work in each half of the program, Kabanaiev two.

Bohnstedt trained at the Heinz Pohl Academy in Bavaria and spent the first
eight years of her professional career as a  Bavarian State Opera Ballet principal before personal interests brought her to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1998. She joined Diablo Ballet in Walnut Creek, gracing it for a dozen seasons until an injury in 2011 required major surgery.  In 2007 she turned towards choreography, already having taught in the Diablo Ballet Outreach program, out of which she developed a Grand Prix finalist.  This September she becomes Houston Ballet’s  ballet mistress, where I trust she will be duly cherished.

A twin, Viktor Kabanaiev completed his ballet training at the Vaganova Institute during the last years of the Soviet Regime along with his brother Nikolai who now teaches at the Kirov Academy in Washington.  He has choreographed some 40 ballets for companies throughout the United States and some 60 for Youth America Grand Prix aspirants, with his works having been performed in Eastern and Western Europe as well as Japan.  He currently teaches in the Professional Program of Daly City’s Westlake School for the Performing Arts.

Two different sounds from Arvo Part were selected by Kabanaiev and Bohnstedt
followed by his solo to Jean Sibelius before intermission. To Part’s sedate  legato, Lauren Denney and Jennifer Bummer stretched, bent, postured, at times upending themselves aided by knee pads under the virginal white romantic length tutus attached to tunics heavily reinforced in the rib cage.  Given the stretches, lunges and knee  traveling, such precaution was well taken.  The movements’ anomaly vis-a-vis costumes was augmented by unpredictable black outs and spots over the stage.  Both dancers, as most others until the final number, danced in soft shoes. Denney and Bummer’s port de bras were beautiful and well phrased.

In 2010 to Part’s intense strings, Bohnstedt created Just Another Day for Jenna McClintock and David Fonnegra, who reprised the striking pas de deux of tension, empathy, argument and understanding in a relationship, ending in a dead heat.  The artists’ riveted  dancing illuminated  the ebb, flow and turbulence brilliantly.

Irene Liu, trained by Kabanaiev and Bohnstedt, danced Left Unsaid, set to Sibelius music.  Dressed in brown tunic and shorts, making it difficult to decide whether she was  fantasizing or remembering, her portrait of physical yearning and tactile evocation of a missing figure was convincing.

Following intermission, Fonnegra was joined by Darren Devaney in Bohnstedt’s
male duet to My Way, here to Frank Sinatra’s vocals.  Well matched in size,
Devaney’s beginning grand developpe a la seconde was a beauty, complimenting Fonnegra’s tighter, more dynamic attack.  Their execution was harmonious, given brief rehearsal time.

Kabanaiev’s Series of Unrelated Events utilized seven advanced dance students from Orange County Ballet Theatre, led by Dmitri and Jennifer Kulev. Their training has given their students  unusual aplomb and technical security.  The piece was crafted to give each several moments, displaying Sam Zaldivar and Marshall Whiteley as male principals in the making. Combining serious exposition with deliberate pratfalls, Kabanaiev’s humor made an adroit finale.

Diablo Ballet’s 2011-2012 Season

2 Aug

Val Caniparoli is providing Diablo Ballet with a world premiere titled A Phoenix Story for its opening 2011-2012 season at Dean Lesher Center for the Arts, November 18-19. Set to a two-cello composition by  Elena Kats- Chernin, originally from Uzbekistan and now living in Australia, the theme revolves around the Chinese theme of Yin and Yang, balance and imbalance.  Robert De La Rose will costume.

The program will also include a contemporary interpretation of Michel Fokine’s Le Spectre de la Rose, Dominic Walsh choreographing, who also designed the set and costumes. Washington Ballet’s Septime Weber’s Fluctuating Hemlines will complete the program.

Diablo Ballet will return to Shadowlands for its second and third programs.
March 2 and 3 will see the Bay Area premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s duet from Mercurial Manoeuvers and a new work from K. T. Nelson of ODC.
Former San Francisco ballet principal Joanna Berman will stage the Wheeldon
work.

May 4-5 Diablo will stage a new work by David Fonnegra and K. T. Nelson’s Escaping Game.

Alas, Diablo Ballet is losing one of its shining contributors: Tina Kay Bohnstedt, who has been inspiring its seasons since 1998.  She assumes the position of ballet mistress at Houston Ballet September 13.  Her artistry will be sorely missed, not just with Diablo, but amongst the balletomanes who have traveled to Walnut Creek to see her dance so memorably and a Terpsichore in Balanchine’s Apollo long to remember.

Diablo Ballet’s 2010-2011 Season’s Ending at Shadowlands

16 Jul

This talented eight dancer ensemble is completing its seventeenth season across the Bay from San Francisco.  It has provided a venue for chamber-sized works by K.T. Nelson of ODC/SF’s artistic staff, Val Caniparoli of S.F. Ballet, Christopher Stowell now heading Oregon Ballet Theater and its dancers eager to further their aesthetic exploration.  The company has enlisted the talents of Katherine Wells, an extraordinarily versatile dancer native to the Bay Area and
Tatyana Martyanova, tall and elegant, originally from Odessa via Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal and other companies.

For this season’s round up both David Fonnegra and Tina Kay Bohnstedt contributed works, along with revivals by Sally Streets and Nelson with a local premiere by Caniparoli.The program started, however, with Balanchine’s pas de deux from Apollo with Mayo Sugano as Terpsichore and Jenkins Pelaez as a warm and  gallant Apollo.  The raised platform arrangement at Shadowlands and the resulting low ceiling clearance did not lend much magic to this excerpt from Mr. B’s classical milestone, but the two dancers made the best of it.  Sugano must have enjoyed the opportunity which would have eluded her during her seasons with San Francisco Ballet.

The local premiere of Caniparoli’s Gustav’s Rooster to Hoven Droven’s music teamed Katherine Wells with Rory Hohenstein who has guested during the season.  The two were well-matched in size, physique and their ability to embrace quirky choreography deftly. One-time San Francisco Ballet soloist who joined Christopher Wheeldon’s short-lived ensemble Morphoses,  Hohenstein’s singular abilities with idiosyncratic choreography has been missed. One wants to see him join Wells more often.

Sally Streets’ Encore, created for the company in 1996 for two couples, was danced in memory of her son dancer Robert Nichols, who died this spring. Pelaez partnered Martyanova and Edward Stegge joined Sugano in this tribute.

David Fonnegra shared Tina Kay Bohnstedt’s take on “My Way” with Hohenstein, mericfully minus Frank Sinatra’s voice.  Bohnstedt. temporarily side-lined by surgery, gave the men large sweeping movements, body stretches and jumps to accent the rise and fall of the music.

Nelson’s Walk before Talk, premiered by the company in 1998, completed the program with Wells prominent at the beginning, followed by an energetic rendition by the entire troupe.

A discussion followed the performance with audience and dancers exchanging views and background information.  Caniparoli also was on hand to comment.

Diablo Ballet has recently been awarded a grant from The San Francisco Foundation to support its outreach program in the Contra Costa Public Schools.