Tag Archives: Erik Satie

Oakland Celebrates A Half Century

2 Jun

A 4 p.m. curtain May 23 at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre was preceded by a series of still images from its memorable repertoire, few unfamiliar. Three were missing, belonging to its inaugural season reminding me of the courage and freshness of the company’s original vision Ronn Guidi hewed to during his tenure as artistic director. The audience included a near who’s who of dancers long associated with the mid to late twentieth century ballet world, their numbers almost bringing tears to my eyes. And as part of the opening, Graham Lustig both on video and in person did the company proud while Joanna Harris remarked that Ronn Guidi not only brought twentieth century ballet incons to the Paramount Theatre, he reintroduced narrative to audiences exposed to balletic abstraction. Further Lustig mounted not only ballet icons excerpts but in the second half gave the Bay Area choreographers who contributed to Oakland’s repertoire their due. The Diaghilev era snippets, familiar to long-time balletomanes, may have seemed strange to ballet-goers whose exposure dates from the first years of the twenty-first century. The dancers were young, eager, willing but as yet unfamiliar with the style and nuance needed to burnish  assignments; hopefully that will emerge if the works are remounted. The second half of the program saw them at their best. Lustig adroitly programed Ronn Guidi’s Secret Garden pas de deux for the ill-fated parents as the opening of the retrospective, danced by Sharon Wehner and Taurean Green, and followed by the frivolous pas de deux from the Bronislava Nijinska-Darius Milhaud-Chanel production of Le Train Bleu with Megan Terry and Sean Omandam cavorting in the Chanel-copies of Twenties beach wear. The Hostess solo in Les Biches was danced by Lydia McRae in that witty satire of Riviera louche behavior choreographed by Nijinska to the music of Francis Poulenc and was followed by the Can-Can from La Boutique Fantasque of Leonide Massine to Ottorino Respighi’s arrangement of Gioachhino Rossini music, with Daphne Lee and Tyler Rhoads essaying the roles created by Massine and Lydia Lopokhova. The elegaic solo from the Michel Fokine-Igor Stravinsky Petrouchka was interpreted by Evan Flood with a brief appearance by Patience Gordon as the Ballerina. It was followed by the one-time torrid pas de deux from Michel Fokine’s Scheherazade danced by Alysia Chang as Zobeide and Michael Crawford.as the Slave. The final two excerpts before intermission were Billy’s Solo from the Eugene Loring–Aaron Copland classic Billy the Kid, effectively interpreted by Gabriel Williams and Claude Debussy’s L’Apres Midi D’un Faune as reconstructed by Ann Hutchinson. Matthew Roberts was the Faun, Emily Kerr as the Chief Nymph. The program notes were quite detailed and included more nymphs than I remembered. The second half of the Oakland Ballet’s Gala comprised eight dances, six premieres. Amy Seiwart’s Before It Begins used Antonio Vivaldi’s Violin, Strings and Harpsichord for her quintet with Alysia chang, Daphne Lee, Lydia McRae, Taurean /Green and Sean Omandam. Seiwart’s overt classicism was followed by Michael Lowe’s trio featuring Megan Terry, Sharon Wehner and Evan Flood in a Mongolian-inspired theme by JigJiddorj. N with an instrument known in the West as Horse Head Fiddle. Flood was garbed in Asian-type garments, dancing frequent frontal grand jetes, softened by flowing sleeves and trousers. Betsy Erickson, who has served as ballet mistress for the Oakland Company for seven and a half years, chose Marjan Mozetch’s Postcards from the Sky music for A Moment- A Lifetime, interpreted by Emily Kerr and Taurean Green Erickson’s contribution was followed by the 1976 production of Carlos Carvajal’s mounting of Green to music of the same name by Toru Takamitsu originally choreographed in 1974 for his ensemble Dance Spectrum. Here danced by Patience Gordon, Lydia McRae and Michael Crawford, it demonstrated the Carvajal capacity for abstraction and use of unusual scores. Robert Moses’ Untitled revealed his ability to choreograph to classical music with Roy Bogas’ rendition of Erik Satie’s Gnossienne No.3, danced by Emily Kerr and Matthew Roberts, as sensitive and lyrical as one would wish. Nine dancers danced Graham Lustig’s contribution, Luminaire to the joint composition November by Max Richter and Alexander Balanescu. The dancers were Alysia Chang, Patience Gordon, Daphne Lee, Megan Terry, Sharon Wehner, Evan Flood, Taurean Green, Sean Omandam and Tyler Rhoads. The 1999 Alonzo King contribution to Oakland’s repertoire, Love Dogs, with music by Francis Poulenc, featured Lydia McRae and Michael Crawford, with King’s characteristic expanded nuances in partnering and individual torso accents. It was followed by Val Caniparoli’s Das Ballett. set to Leopold Mozart’s Toy Symphony, a lively sextette with Alysia Change, Daphne Lee, Sharon Wehner, Sean Omandam, Tyler Roads, and Matthew Roberts, an adroitly festive finale to this fiftieth Oakland Ballet celebration. Two thoughts struck me about this laudable undertaking. One is the fervent hope that the supporters of the occasion will continue contributing to the company’s funding, allowing Lustig additional time to refine the willing dancers who reflect excellent training, but need time and exposure to polish their craft. The second is Karen Brown’s statement in the gala program regarding company member composition. True, Oakland now possesses a 30 per cent complement of African Americans, but they are not and have never been the only minority whose careers Oakland fostered and supported. Asian-American dancers were developed in pre-Brown company years. Carolyn Goto, Joy Gim and Michael Lowe were just a few of those dancing under the Guidi aegis. Further, early on, Judy Titus left Oakland to join Dance Theatre of Harlem where she, like Brown, enjoyed principal status. Omar Shabazz also was a local dancer.Both dancers, I might add, were fostered by Ronn Guidi; Brown’s comments do not acknowledge the considerable change not only in opportunity but in social climate, when few African Americans ventured into the classical classroom.  Guidi fostered anyone truly  interested. Finally, I want to comment not only on the completeness and the generosity of spirit reflected in the program, but to identify two, possibly three, dances I remember well. One was The Proposal of Pantalone by Angene Feves, Associate Artistic Director of the company for the first year or two. Usingivaldi viol de gamba recordings, Feves’ graduating thesis From San Francisco State University involved commedia del arte characters and her extraordinary skills as a seamstress, providing a ballet of wit and panache unhappily lost to history. Angene and Ronn danced Brighella and Harlequin and a young fourteen-year old named Anita Paciotti made a ravishing young Italian whom Pantalone wanted to marry off for a healthy sum. There was a modern work by Nancy Feragallo, name forgotten, but her name was associated with the set designer for San Francisco’s Contemporary Dancers, led by Jay No Period Marks, and husband, Roger Feragallo. Somewhere a review with my byline lies in an issue of Thought magazine, published in New Delhi. There also was a work to Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain in which Debbie Hesse remembers dancing in opaque oblong ghostly garments, all sizes essaying jetes and cartwheels across the stage in orderly abandon. It is such a pity the three works faded in to obscurity save in the minds of those who danced and who saw and remembered.

Menlowe Ballet, November 15

17 Nov

Menlowe Ballet had what I counted as its fifth performance November 15 at the Menlo Park-Atherton High School Auditorium, a spacious stage, appreciably raked seats, with some futuristic qualities to its ceiling and lobby. Outside, a food truck allowed us to wolf several bites before the program began.

Artistic Director Michael Lowe once again invited an area choreographer to contribute to the program, titled Lineage. A wise move, it enabled dance lovers with memories to revisit choreography not current in any company’s repertoire. Last fall it was Betsy Erikson; the spring performance I did not see featured Viktor Kabanaiev; this fall season featured Ronn Guidi, Oakland Ballet’s founder with his Trois Gymnopedies to Erik Satie’s memorable, limpid composition, and the pas de deux in his reading of Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Lowe himself was featured in a reworked Serei and an extremely clever tribute to two versions of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, the Bronislava Nijinska and the Marc Wilde versions, mingled with his own inventive comments.

Before further comments, let me say the company has accomplished several strategic moves promising a healthy history: Lowe as choreographer, Sarah-Jane Measor as his associate with Julie Lowe as Ballet Mistress have formed a healthy trio and Lisa Shively as executive director. They have the Menlo Park facility as a home theatre; judging from last night’s attendance, a healthy and enthusiastic audience of dance lovers, parents and students. Measor’s direction of Menlo Park Academy of Dance assures a steady stream of students. Between her and Lowe’s invention their inclusion in choreographic offerings is not only stellar, but skillful.

Serei seemed to have been expanded since I first saw it in 2012. Again featuring a koto preface played by Mariko Ishikawa, it evokes the memory of an Asian woman reflecting on various aspects of past lives. I guess Mariko Takahashi’s skillful performance suspended on the silks was designed to convey an ability to see into her past lives, danced by Mariko Ishikawa, Lauren Mindel Julie Giordano, and later by Aurora Frey, Coreen Danaher, Emily Kerr and Megan Terry. Gregory de Santis proved to be an attentive partner, his samurai qualities gentler than the usual two-sword swashbuckling swagger. I was put off by the use of the shakuhachi to singularly strong, almost strident choreography. The shakuhachi was used for meditation and begging by Zen Buddhist monks, allowed for secular performance only with the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Aurora Frey and Damon Mahoney appeared in a glittery unitard appearance in the Kingdom of Koi; this seemed to my questionable memory to be an addition to the original choreography. But the use of the students and their formations spoke well of Measor’s abilities.

Trois Gymnopedies, staged by former Oakland Ballet principal Joy Gim, featured Coreen Danaher, Emily Kerr and Jacob Kreamer with the white unitard costumed by Mario Alonso. Ronn Guidi’s choreography spoke to the correctness of Enrico Cecchetti, particularly in the port de bras and phrasing. I would like to see all three dancer explore the flexibility of the torso, creating a fuller rubato between culminating postures to the musical phrase.

The balcony scene from Ronn Guidi’s Romeo and Juliet was staged by Abra Rudisell, herself a most memorable Juliet. Friday night’s Juliet, Terri McGee-Kelly was shy, introverted, minimally responsive to Gregory de Santis’ thoughtful, if adolescent ardent Romeo. McGee-Kelly’s shoulders and upper torso were simply mute to love’s surging emotion, though Guidi’s choreography depicted those incredibly precious movements with sensitivity and understanding.

Tribute, Michael Lowe’s incorporation to two interpretations of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, was an amazing “kitchen sink” inclusion of styles and habits managing to work to that relentless score, played by musicians Angelo Bundini, Philip Brezina, Allison Lovejoy, Tarik Ragib , Rob Reich, Paul Stinson and Carolyn Walter. Ronn Guidi later remarked that Lowe caught the essence of both Nijinska and Wilde in addition to Lowe’s own comments. These additions included sauntering, gymnastics [Lowe trained as one], floor stretches, groupings, pitos [finger snaps] swiveling hips, solo variations. Something happened concurrently all over the stage, bare except for the circular table [Nijinska] and barre [Wilde], bringing the evening a rousing finale.

Eifman’s Perspective on Rodin at Zellerbach Hall, May 12

22 May

Without question, Boris Eifman’s company elicits great praise for its dancing and similar controversy about its choreography.  Nothing, however, keeps the transplanted Russian speaking public from attending his ballets in droves; they were out in force for the May 12 matinee when I went to see Eifman’s interpretation of Auguste Rodin’s tumultuous love affair with Camille Claudel.

What one can expect from an Eifman ballet are slender dancers with jaw-dropping flexibility, striking sets, many with metal structures which get incorporated into the action because the dancers climb, crawl or drape themselves along one of another of the bars while the taped music blares one of several climatic moments.

For the matinee the cast included Oleg Gabyshev as Rodin,  Lyubov Andreyeva as Camille and Nina Zmievets as Rose Beuret, Rodin’s long-suffering companion, and mother of his son, whom Rodin married at the end of his life.  Not only are the soloists less than mid-thirties in age, but the matinee’s three principals were trained outside the main stream of Russian classical academies.  Gabyshev hails from Novosibirsk, Andreyeva from Minsk, Belarus and Zmievets from Kiev, Ukraine.  Two others featured on Saturday graduated from the Vaganova Academy, two hailed from Perm.

Eifman very cleverly utilized a series of French composers for his dramatic exposition, most  pieces with which American audiences likely were familiar: Maurice Ravel; Camille Saint-Saens; Jules Massenet; Claude Debussy; Erik Satie, cutting and pasting where score and dramatic action seemed to jibe.

Eifman seems to be at his best at moments crystalizing action, the last visual image before a blackout. Also effective with repetitive movements, he shows Rose’s providing Rodin with his food – the economic serving gesture, the slump of Rodin, his quick dispensing of the meal, mind distracted.  Zmievets’ use of her torso snaking forward, profile to the audience, her sharp nose, dark hair and supple reach of her body from neck through to her hips was a sculpture in itself.

Several instances occur when the metal structures frame images indelibly associated with Rodin, most notably when the corps members assume the famous, if never realized Gates of  Hell. (The crowning three figures of which were inspiration for Yuri Possokhov’s Francesca da Rimini.)Also, the movement of bodies which assumed the positions of The Burghers of Calais, a copy known to many visitors to San Francisco’s Palace of the Legion of Honor.  Yet another device was Rodin moving dancers’ limbs before throwing a canvas over the figures displaying yet another famous statue such as The Lovers.

One expects Eifman to depict the triangle in extreme fashion and he doesn’t disappoint.  I found my stomach churning even when observing and feeling skeptical about the feverish extremes of Claudel.  In that category I would place Eifman’s assignments for the inmates of the mental institution.  Granted time and culture divergence, having worked in an inpatient psychiatric setting, the costuming and circle arrangement for the women inmates rang false, if perhaps quite necessary for Eifman’s concept of the tangled love and sculptural collaboration. He depicts only Camille’s destruction of her work, nothing of what remained, and, of  course, her subordination to Rodin’s endeavors.  Eifman may have felt it would soften the stark contrasts which are such a hall mark of his choreography.  In his choices, Eifman eliminated Rodin’s contacts with the dancing greats of the day: Isadora Duncan; Anna Pavlova; Vaslav Nijinsky.

Obviously, I have not reprised the story line, but for those interested Wikipedia provides outlines of both artists.  It also might be noted that little, if anything, was made of Camille’s brother, Paul, the French diplomat and poet, who was responsible for placing his sister into an asylum, or of the asylum staff who made repeated efforts to see her released, actions unsupported by her family. That is the final part of the horror story.

Russell Maliphant Dance Company, The Lam Research Center Theater

18 Oct

Russell Maliphant  really brought a trio to the Lam Research Center  Theatre,  Buena Center for the Arts, October 13 and 14 under the auspices of S.F. Performances in one of those 60 minute performances without intermission, fast  becoming de rigeur mode for modern dance ensembles. The title was Afterlight.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the evening followed the performance, when  Maliphant’ commented about his association with Michael Hulls whose lighting creates an atmosphere enhancing, perhaps structuring the movement quality. Adding to the ambiance was the Gnossiennes1-4 of Erik Satie, placing the patterns executed by Thomasin Gulgec, Silvina Cortes and Gemma Nixon  clearly in the realm of personal rumination.

Maliphant also said the genesis of Afterlight stemmed from a Sadler’s Wells Commission for its 2009 Spirit of Diaghilev season. He went beyond his Royal Ballet training to study not only t’ai ch’i and ch’i gong, but the Rolfing Method of Structural Integration, contact improvisation, capoeira and yoga.  Hitching such diverse movement principles to a study of Vaslav Nijinsky’s drawings brought him to what was seen on stage.

At the opening,Gulgec was seen  in movements balletomanes could recognize as influenced not only by the circles, exaggerated eyes and heads in Nijinsky’s drawings but by the character of Petrouchka in that most perfect of dance theatre productions.  Thomasin seemed to embody the drawings as well as the character of that puppet.  Silvina Cortes and Gemma Nixon brought to the piece touches of Nijinsky’s third work, Jeux, all backed by the limpid Satie compositions.

Most difficult  was where it led.  After the  trio’s appearances and the exposition evoking the brief Nijinsky career, nothing seemed resolved.  The piece floated onward until the music’s end.  The dancing was elegant, skilled, the stage spare, the lighting and music intimate and  evocative; that was the entire sum.  No convention in modern dance these days seems to  require a conventional conclusion to an idea or an exposition. Russell Maliphant hued to this line of permission.

With all the resources, music, lighting and participating dancers, what a pity.