Tag Archives: Diablo Ballet

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.

Robert Dekkers’ Triads, Herbst Theatre, July 21

23 Jul

Triads must refer to Robert Dekkers’ third season as artistic director for Post:Ballet, because the program itself only sporadically demonstrated relationships of three in the four dances performed at San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre, July 21.

A scheduled fifth was eliminated due to the destruction of a sculpture in the final work, a pas de deux.  Actually, that was good providing you hold the opinion that final  program numbers should be ensemble ones.

Dekkers comes across the footlights as articulate, very earnest. given to using  “and” frequently.  The program itself displayed a consistent “look” in its  photographs, high black and white contrast;  a ‘Twenties look – Clara Bow lips for the women, marcelled hair, single line eyebrows.  For the men there were Valentino-like side burns, brooding postures, careful hairlines; for both genders clear suggestions of nudity. The dancers themselves were ten; during the rest of the year they are claimed by Smuin Ballet (Jonathan Mangosing, Susan Roemer, Christian Squires); Ballet Arizona (Beau Campbell; Myles Lavallee) Diablo Ballet (Hiromi Yamazaki); Dominic Walsh Dance Theatre (Domenico Luciano) plus three with no obvious company affiliation.  Dekkers himself is currently a dancer with Diablo Ballet; Happy Ending, the evening’s  second work, was premiered  by Diablo  May 4.

Dekkers clearly knows how to package his work; the financial credits and  program testifies to skills so necessary for an artistic director.  Based on the program notes, he also  provides explanations/inspirations for his works, expressing them in contemporary style, which is to say lyricism and conventional romance [read chivalry] between the genders is somewhere waiting in the wings,  scarcely welcomed by musical choices, movement or  spoken opinions uttered as part of the accompanying sound.

Mine is Yours, premiered May 19 during the San Francisco International Arts Festival, here was interpreted by Domenico Luciano with Ashley Flaner, Raychel Weiner and Hiromi Yamazaki as the three women.  Described as “exploring the individual’s physical mental and spiritual relationship with the external world it was initially inspired by the book Sex at Dawn,” it touched on sexual sharing.  The three women walked on demi-pointe throughout, mostly with flexed knees, arms held  upwards in the stick ‘em up position, minus fright.  Torsos rotated from side to side, the head moved as if manipulated by a puppeteer.  In a diaphanous skirt and bare torso Luciano was prone downstage right. The trio moved downstage left before splintering.  Progressively, the trio made contact with Luciano in various ways individually and collectively, contacting him with their heads in his chest, being lifted on his shoulders, slithering through his legs, dragging him upstage.

Three is common in many cultures; I found myself thinking of the mythic Grecian Three Fates; spinning, measuring and cutting of human life; man moving from inertness to active involvement though remaining almost as uncomprehending as the trio’s  detachment.

Happy Ending, initially premiered by Diablo Ballet, is a pas de six with three girls in short skirts and tees, the fellows with suspender-held trousers, the use of the back wall to frame the six starting against it, almost climbing it. Dekkers had his dancers execute melt-down ronde de jambes, wiggling  calves and feet.  Girls were carried, or supported from the knees, heads
near the floor; the men gathered in a trio with spiral body movements, faces expressionless; the girls congregated, comparing notes body style; one moved back to the whitened back wall to execute a six o’clock developpe a la seconde.  “The piece suggests that we can find happiness and fulfillment in all of life’s “little” moments.”  The definition of “little” moments seems to have experienced a generational shift.

Following intermission Jonathan Mangosing and Christian Squires danced an excerpt from “Interference Pattern,’ abetted  by Amir Jaffer’s minimalist film and David Robertson’s lighting recreated by Jack Carpenter.  Both men danced in trunks, bare chested, Squires starting upstage and Mangosing downstage right.  In front of a brick wall, Squires’ head very gradually emerged on film while the two excellent dancers meandered their way towards each other and began to engage, a movement-dominated replica of fully dressed men, off-handed, studiously casual,  cruising for a male sexual partner. Ultimately, after many body rolls, contact was accomplished; as Squires’ face became more prominent, there was a sudden blackout.  Program notes read  “ The work is an intimate exploration of observation and its influence on our  subconscious behavior.”

When in Doubt with seven dancers  got its premiere this season, again with Dekkers’ lengthy explanation, and a fair amount of scattered speech by various voices “when we need to speak out and express our beliefs outweighs any reasons we may otherwise find to keep our thoughts to ourselves.”

At the ballet’s beginning this entailed an accented voice of someone obviously older making a generalized statement about being civilized.  For some time after that, youthful voices gave us monosyllables, and a few double directives, enough to make me cringe at current linguistic skills, gradually becoming phrases, comments, thoughtful reflections.

Dekkers used his seven dancers in a line on stage right, entering, progressing, retreating from the same.  In her single appearance Susan Roemer appeared to be carrying something small, important; later it was imitated by Beau Campbell, if my visual memory is accurate. Throughout  the ballet, this advance, retreat was emphasized against an original score by Jacob Wolkenhauser.

On this second evening Herbst Theater was almost filled.  Dekkers  must be touching a current cord, engaging a different generation of audience goers.

SFIAF’s Final Afternoon, May 20

23 May

Attending San Francisco International Arts Festival’s final afternoon, May 20, I found myself seated beside Val Caniparoli, choreographer and one of San Francisco Ballet’s principal character dancers, who had just finished his cameo as a tavern keeper where Basilio and Kitri manage to trick
Kitri’s father into blessing their union.  Also recently completed was “Incantations,”  a successful choreographic assignment with the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, where Rory Hohenstein, one-time San Francisco Ballet soloist was singled out for his contribution to Caniparoli’s premiere.

When questioned, Val mentioned his take on “Lady of the Camillas,”danced to Chopin’s music, is being revived next season with Tulsa’s Ballet, Ballet West, and Boston Ballet is considering mounting it again.  It has yet to be seen here  in its entirety, although Diablo Ballet has mounted a pas
de deux from it with the gifted Tina Kay Bohnstedt in the title role.  Val also answered my query  about “Lambarena” productions, a cool thirty around the globe.  Smuin Ballet has danced “Swipe” during its spring season.

This late matinee program presented Susanna Leinonen’s Company, here just two, in “Chinese Objects,” originally created for the Royal Swedish Ballet in 2005.  The middle offering, by Cid Pearlman, a faculty member at U.C., Santa Cruz, was titled “This is what we do in Winter,” with five participants, composition by Jonathan Segel.  “Mine is Yours,” the final third,was a quartet, one male and three young dancers, to an original score by Daniel Berkman, choreographed by Robert Dekkers, his ensemble titled Post Ballet.

Elina Hayrynen and Natasha Lommi, wearing off white costumes by Erika Turenen appeared in Hanna Kayhko’s lighting like a cross between Xian tomb soldiers and puppets, aided  by distinct stiffness in correct port de bras. When they did reach in response to Kasperi Laine’s score, it was full, stretched to the finger tips While moving in soft shoes, the ballet schooling
was evident, the combination accented by the ghostly aspects of the lighting.  A short piece, “Chinese Objects”  was cogently rendered by well- trained, interesting dancers, making me want to see Leinonen’s ensemble return or her work produced on a local company.

“This is what we do in Winter” featured three girls and two fellows with all the round-robin that implies,  dancing to country music at the beginning and to similar sounds at the protracted end.  Sections implied lesbian and homosexual explorations, changing  heterosexual efforts, with a fair share of lifting and shoving as a group, sort of Sociology 101 episodes.  A distinct contrast to the prior pas de deux, virtually none of the quintet danced full out in gesture or in movement, but executed their moves in clumps. Lew Christensen once credited Michel Fokine with teaching him that dancing happens in the transitions.  “This is what we do in Winter” was bare of such nuance.

“Mine is Yours” was enhanced by striking cross lighting by David Robertson displaying Domenico Luciano arched like a withdrawn sculpture stage right;  Ashley Flaner, Raychel Weiner and Hiromi Yamazaki like three young fillies occupied mid-stage left, dressed in stretched tunics, one n red.  The filly analogy was enhanced  by paw-like hands throughout.

Costume designer Susan Roemer clad Luciano in a transparent skirt beautfully draped, his bare sculpture-like torso available to admire. Luciano, seen here recently with Diablo Ballet, partnered all three dancers in the course of the ballet.

While Marines Memorial is not a decent stage for dance, orchestra seating lacking any form of slope, SFIAF placed most of its events in one venue with a lounge across the street and closer to the Powell cable car line.  The all over-town approach when two programs follow each other in rapid succession can be difficult.

SFIAF Executive Director Andrew Wood explained to me that for most local groups works presented  at SFIAF constitute premieres.  “I don’t see them before, as I have works which are seen  performed by foreign troupes.  Local groups are booked before their works are seen.”

If I had to summarize this final matinee it would be “a hit, error and hmmh.”

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

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.