Tag Archives: Erika Johnson

Diablo Ballet’s 22nd Season November 14

23 Nov

Plucky Diablo Ballet acquired a new venue last year with the 400-seat Del Valle Theater, which I understand is a former school site. A walker dependent on public transportation like myself, Contra Costa County has a bus system but the hours are not solicitous to theatre goers. I am lucky to have friends like Richard and Elizabeth Sah to pick me up at BART. Richard, a balletomane of three decades plus, has served on the  Diablo Board for several years.

A good portion of Diablo Ballet’s pluck emanates form Lauren Jonas, the artistic director, backed by Erika Johnson, a former dancer like Lauren and now in charge of development. Both are alumna of Marin Ballet in one of its most productive periods, a time they shared with Joanna Berman who serves as Diablo Ballet’s regisseur.

While the company’s season is short, three or four weekends a year at most, the community outreach has been steady; the company members are accessible after performances to chat with audience members who linger over coffee, tea and batches of cookies baked by steady supporters. This year has seen the start of a Teen Board, meeting monthly to plan its own brand of community involvement. Clearly, Diablo Ballet, now in its 22nd season, is a genuine, small scale community ballet ensemble and promises to continue flourishing.

Three works comprised the program, starting with Norbert Vesak’s Tchaikovsky Dances Pas de Deux, premiered in 1982 by Cynthia Gregory and Fernando Bujones in Miami June 2, 1982. Staged here by Joanna Berman the Robert Clay de la Rose, the Diablo dancers were Amanda Aeris and Raymond Tilton.

The wide Del Valle Theatre is a definite improvement over the previous Shadelands construction, and one can see how well suited it was for school assemblies. The Vesak stage patterns suggested a deeper stage and more atmospheric lighting . The assignments evoked the long lines of Bujones and Gregoru’s particular stage savvy.  I would rather have seen Diablo’s dancers in tights than in the adapted Empire and bonhommie costume worn by the dancers; I think they would have been more comfortable. The pair danced nicely, but could improve on the transitions of a piece which emphasized line and pauses.

The second piece, AnOther, to Yann Tiersen music was choreographed by Robert Dekkers, Diablo Ballet’s choreographer-in- residence and a company dancer currently sidelined for medical reasons. Premiered in 2008 in Tempe, Arizona, it entered the Diablo Ballet repertoire in January 2014 when Diablo Ballet performed at Shadelands’ Art Center in Walnut Creek.

To semi-lyrical, repetitive music, eight dancers commence in silhouette, lighting amber to café au lait tones, accenting bodies and position changes. Eight dancvers were involved: Tatyana Martyanova, Jackie McConnell, Roselyn Ramirez, Mayo Sugano, Aidan de Young, Jamar Goodman, Raymond Tilton, Christian Squires.

I need to see the work again to comment further.

One of the constant features in a Diablo program is at least one number is danced to live music. After intermission, Sean Kelly’s A Swingin’ Holiday, was danced as its 2015 Edition. The swing sounds were provided by the Diablo Ballet Swing Orchestra, directed by Greg Sudmeier, a sixteen piece orchestra comprising saxaphone, trumpets, trombones, piano, bass and of course drums. Three dancers cavorted down the left aisle, a girl with a pink pom-pom bobbing on a stem attached to a blue Jackie-type hat,  her short blue dress an attitude to match, flanked by Jamar Goodman in a generous yellow zoot suit to her right and a similar suit in red on her left worn by Aidan de Young, who later danced up a storm in a solo combining technical virtuosity and jazzy acuity. The stage was set with table, chairs and the ensemble played out their entrances, encounters and flirtations with ease and energy.

A Swingin Holiday cannot be classified as a deathless perennial by any stretch of the imagination, but the dancers did well by it and it served as a cheery ending

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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.

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.