Tag Archives: Evelyn Cisneros

San Francisco Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet on Film

24 Sep

At a September 21 preview in San Francisco’s Century Theatre, housed in the old Emporium building, a selected audience saw San Francisco’s current Romeo and Juliet production which starts the Lincoln Center at the Movies series October 1. While it is not PBS’ Great Performances series in which Michael Smuin’s version opened the dance series to full-length ballets, the Helgi Tomasson version enjoyed a remarkable production thanks to Thomas Grimm, and the various fiscal sponsors acknowledged by Tomasson and on the screen.

What made a notable difference from the early PBS series, created by the memorable trio of Merrill Brockway, Jak Venza and Judy Kinberg, were the use of closeups and deliberate cutting of movement, filmed May 7 at San Francisco’s Opera House. Cuts to an individual face or chest shots infused more drama than long shots with feet and body moving to the Prokofiev score. In addition, shots of the towns people and the harlots during the action added to the overall ambiance, the sense of a small interactive community.

Maria Kochekova and Davit Karapetyan were the fated lovers, supported by Pascal Molat as Mercutio and Luke Ingham as Tybalt with Joseph Walsh as Benvolio. Anita Paciotti reprised her role as the Nurse; Jim Sohm stepped eloquently in as Friar Lawrence while Ricardo Bustamonte and Sophiane Sylve were the steely Capulets, Ruben Martin and Leslie Escobar the Montagues. Myles Thatcher, the choreographic wunderkind of the corps, was a blond Paris. [Readers of my earlier SFB R&J review know my feelings about a too-early age of County Paris.]

There were at least three interviews between the acts, which were identified on the upper left, along with quotations from Will’s play; Helgi Tomasson; Warren Pistone who doubles as sword master and the Prince of Verona; Anita Paciotti
who speaks of the use of children in the production. Additional comments included Davit Karapetyan, Maria Kochetkova and Pascal Molat regarding the roles and the challenges of the fight scenes. Kochetkova was quite coy.

The handsome production additionally featured Martin West commenting on the score, the costume and makeup departments received their share of footage along with a small group of children making their contribution. I would pay to see the movie again.

The following evening, at a gathering to celebrate the 41st wedding anniversary of Carlos and Carolyn Carvajal Tony Ness, former San Francisco Ballet dancer who belonged to the Smuin era of the PBS filming of Smuin’s reading of Shakespeare’s tragedy to Prokofiev’s music, was present. He refreshed my memories of the Smuin production, both for the premiere and the PBS production when Diana Weber and Jim Sohm were the ill-fated teens with Anita Paciotti as Lady Capulet, Attila Ficzere as Mercutio, Gary Wahl as Tybalt, and Tina Santos the nurse.

At Smuin’s premiere, Vane Vest and Lynda Meyer were Romeo and Juliet and Anita Paciotti was the nurse. The balcony was upstage right and the entire set designed so that it could travel, a fact heading the review for The Christian Science Monitor. Tony was the Duke of Verona, but the PBS version placed Vest in the role. Paula Tracy appeared as Lady Capulet with Keith Martin and Susan Magno as the street dancers in the original production. Magno later danced Juliet with Tom Ruud and Jim Sohm. There were a succession of dancers in the roles – David McNaughton with Linda Montaner and later Alexander Topciy with Evelyn Cisneros. I believe Smuin’s production was later mounted by Ballet West, a natural connection for Smuin’s dance career started under Willam Christensen.

Most touching, however, in the PBS version Lew Christensen was Friar Lawrence. I also couldn’t help thinking of the succession of roles Sohm has assumed with such finesse following his active dance career; Grandfather in Nutcracker; Don Quixote in that ballet and now Friar Lawrence.

Earlier Tomasson Romeos, Anthony Randazzo, Yuri Possokhov, Pierre Francois Villanoba, and Joanna Berman’s Juliet, also floated to the surface. Clearly, the Tomasson production, elegant as it is, beautifully realized by the dancers, prompted memory lane meanderings.

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San Francisco Ballet Program I

9 Feb

Program I started with a near sublime performance of George Balanchine’s Serenade, a world away from the image of him working with scattered dancers on an open air stage in Connecticut with Ruthanna Boris scratching her head while contemplating her share of the dancing. From 1934 to 2015 – 81 years, and I venture in another 80 it will rank up there with Petipa if it hasn’t already in the minds of discerning balletomanes.

Second was Yuri Possokhov’s Raku for which Yuan Yuan Tan earned a London Critic’s Award when she danced the role at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in 2013. It’s clear choreographer Yuri Possokhov was principally concerned in creating a star vehicle for Yuan Yuan Tan; I understand she guards the role zealously. Carlos Quenedit took over Damian Smith’s portrayal as samurai while Pascal Molat continued his memorably slimy interpretation of the monk who rapes Tan and sets the temple on fire. Tan was responsible for producing the librettist of the piece, with the result not unlike Balanchine’s take on Bugaku, a Russianized view of some Japanese cultural practices. The four retainers are costumed more like Roman soldiers, comporting their movements in a similar vein. Shinji Eshima’s score suggests the menace skillfully; perhaps he understands better than many of us something told me by a Chinese journalist about the nature of many Asian dramatic entertainments. “One tragedy isn’t enough; it has to be piled on.”

Val Caniparoli’s Lambarena completed Program I with Lorena Feijoo dancing the role created by Evelyn Cisneros. Feijoo’s torso and hips deliver a more nuanced version than Cisneros’ square somewhat stiff upper back, though the weight in the arms, while present, lacked the earthly sense Evelyn brought to the role. No matter how you cut it, undulating on pointe is a definite feat.

I found myself remembering some of the men in the roles;-Pierre Francois Villanoba bringing a clarity to the pieta passage less clear in this revival. Daniel Devison-Oliviera brought that amazing upper torso nuance movement which is one of African dances’ continuing excitements in the role created by David Justin whose own flexibility was equally remarkable. Another dancer whose freedom of attack was totally right for the piece was Isabella De Vivo.

The wonder of Lamberena’s popularity around the globe is its joyousness, affirmation, its immediacy. Interweaving traditions of Gambon and Johann Sebastian Bach, twenty years later, Lambarena continues to gladden the heart.

San Francisco Ballet’s 81st Gala, January 22

26 Jan

Early dinner at Indigo with John Gebertz, Dennis Nahat and Nahat’s cousin Rose preceded a most memorable San Francisco Ballet Gala. It seemed less hyped, more down to the business of dancing. Still,John Osterweis, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, covered the usual list of sponsors and underwriters plus how many years there were repeats of support for the annual Gala. From four to thirteen years of repeat sponsorsship, it was impressive,plus the announcement the event had garnered SFB 2.4 million dollars.

After the dress parade and the seat scramble as the orchestra tuned up for the Star Spangled Banner, the curtain opened to the pas de cinq from Giselle’s Act I, choreographed by Helgi Tomasson. Lauren Parrott substituted for Clara Blanco; Sasha de Sola and Julia Rowe shared the partnering with Daniel Deivison-Oliviera and Hansuke Yamamoto. De Sola’s opening pirouette a la seconde was expansive, held in arabesque just long enough to gladden the eye. I was struck how evenly paired Parrott and Rowe appeared,how distinctive Deivison and Yamamoto were; the former’s muscular punch incisive emphasis, Yamamoto’s presence conveying flowing evenness. It was a sunny commencement, whetting the appetite.

Alberto Iglesias’ music provided Yuri Possokhov with a wonderful vehicle for Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz under the title of Talk to Her, hable con elle. From the costume looks, Luiz in open black shirt and Lorena’s cascading hair and filmy garment implying either boudoir or bed, the couple conversed with intricate lifts, an occasional drop to the floor, each accenting their movement with a heel click or foot stamp at least once, the intricacy mounting as a voice (singer’s name forgotten) erupted into a short series of melismatic sounds preceding flamenco song. There was a lifted embrace and finis. The audience responded enthusiastically; the evening’s ambiance began to build.

Frances Chung made her debut in the role made memorable by Evelyn Cisneros in Val Caniparoli’s Lambarena. As petite and tidy as Cisneros was sturdy and sensual, it was a definite challenge. Chung responded with small, cheeky and delicious, torso undulation and hip wiggle to size, not giggly but clearly enjoyable, a gently infectious joy of music and movement.

The second pas de deux, from Balanchine’s Who Cares featured Simone Messmer and Ruben Martin Cintas. The “Some Day He’ll Come Along” melody floated in front of a New York City backdrop; the rendition was competent, but emotionally neutral. I wonder if Mr. B had choreographed it with like feeling, a filler nod to popularity, even though he had spent nearly a decade stageing dances for Broadway musicals.

Hans Van Manen’s Variations for Two Couples&lt excerpt used four composers, principals Sofiane Sylve and Sarah Van Patten, partnered by Luke Ingham and Anthony Spaulding, a work premiered not quite two years ago in Amsterdam, intensified the evening’s substance.

I want to see it again; stylishly gratifying is my overall take. Two couples together, then each couple with a passage, some in and outs,the quartet together for the finale, fronting a deep blue scrim, a low-drawn concave line of white near the stage floor. The pace shifted from legato to quirky, evidenced by shaking heads. Intriguing was Anthony Spaulding’s response to the music, an easy-moving neck and responsive torso muscles. Then Sofiane Sylve’s majestic port de bras carried through to her sternum – or should it be the other way around? Sarah Van Patten was correct, classic in line, a pool of concentration. My first real exposure to Mark Ingham showed a compactly built dancer capable of energic bursts, a supportive partner, shy of legato line.

Diana and Acteon, the Agrippina Vaganova pas de deux, sandwiched into a full -length ballet, enlivening the Cesare Pugni score I’ve see at competitions enough to know how difficult it is, and how admirably Vanessa Zahorian carried on after slipping in the entry. She carried on apparently unruffled, only to learn her injury necessitates several weeks of rest. Otherwise hops into arabesques, pirouettes and tours were lyric, musically phrased, a typical Zahorian rendition.

Taras Domitro was paired as Acteon, in a phony leopard skin with an initial saute nothing short of phenomenal. One of the Domitro signatures are strong high thrusts finishing in a slightly curved hand that’s a hand, not five fingers. His menages were swift, complicated, clear. Chabukiani would have applauded just as hard as the audience, a rousing finish to the Gala’s first half.

After intermission, guest artist Johan Kobborg lent San Francisco his dramatic chops, partnering Maria Kochetkova in the Manon’s Act I Bedroom Scene, one of the most lyric choreographies Sir Kenneth MacMillan ever devised. A bed upstage right, a desk and chair downstage left, yin and yang positions to meet stage center with low supported turns, the occasional soaring lift and the final ecstatic floor embrace, a simply exquisite portrait of flowering passion.

From high emotions to equally high jinks, Les Lutins or The Imps, Kobborg’s 2009 trio created for the Royal Ballet was reprised by Gennadi Nedvigin, Esteban Hernandez and Dores Andre as Roy Bogas at the piano and violinist Kurt Nikkaren played, Nikkaren announcing the numbers. Beginning with Nedvigin, It was an “I dare you” allegro exposition with Nedvigin giving sporadic gestures to Nikkaren. Hernandez entered, the maneuvers veered dancer to dancer, with the occasional nod to the violinist, until Dores Andre appeared, black tights, suspenders over white shirt. You guessed it, the expected rivalry is danced out. more allegro, more body language. Enlivening the usual cliche, Kobborg created 95 per cent delight.

Numbers nine, ten,eleven displayed pas de deux, classic glacial, classic bravura, classic elegiac: Sarah Van Patten with Tiit Helimets, Mathilde Froustey and Davit Karapetyan; Yuan Yuan Tan partnered by Damian Smith for number eleven

Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s choreography to Dmitri Shostakovich’s music, provided another glimpse of Van Patten’s cool absorption, displayed by Tiit Helimets; the image of traditional classical dancers. Six corps members accented the movement; Isabella DeVivo, Koto Ishihara, Elizabeth Power with Diego Cruz, Francisco Mungamba and Myles Thatcher. Perhaps seeing the entire work would satisfy me; this glimpse was vaguely dissatisfying.

Grand Pas Classique, music by Francois Auber, staged by Patrick Armand, is a 20th century bravura pas de deux staple at international ballet competitions. Mathilde Froustey and Davit Karapetyan, made it easy to see why. Incredible strength and balance from the woman, flash from the man, Froustey was required to balance several times at the beginning, sustained releves with developpes an avant. Karapetyan’s partnering was the usual exemplary; his variation seemed hampered by excessive costume details. Victor Gsovsky created a fascinating challenge.

Edward Liang’s pas de deux “Finding Light” to Antonio Vivaldi’s Andante from his Violin Concerto in B flat was a peculiar title for Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith’s admirable dancing, unless one believes one comes to recognition with another in twilight. There were the usual lovely lines, considerate partnering, Tan’s long line in developpes, arabesques, and the almost geometric qualities when lifted in some variation of an attitude. Most touching was Tan’s spontaneous embrace of Smith during the bow his kissing of her hand, a signal of Smith’s impending retirement later this spring.

From this exquisite emotion, the finale was the second Balanchine of the evening, the 4th movement from Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet, featuring Sofiane Sylve and Luke Ingham again, with members of the company decked in white with gold and red accents, an effect fluffy, decorative, regrettable. Ingham wasn’t comfortable in his assignment; Sylve managed to make a balloon-like skirt an accessory to her spirited attack. If the work is mounted again for the full company, I hope it rates different costuming. It’s my least favorite work created by this son of the Georgian Caucasus, a work dished up for the 1966 season, forty-eight years ago.

The audience provided the dancers with enormous, deserved applause, shouts and a standing ovation at the end, topping costume parade, decibel levels before the Gala and at Intermission, making one feel there’s nothing better than participating in a finely-conceived Gala. I don’t remember seeing a Tomasson-selected Gala failing to enchant; this year’s seemed the best yet.

Ballet San Jose’s Spring Season 2012, Program I

4 Mar

Following  the controversy at 2011’s end, Ballet San Jose mounted the first of three spring programs March 2-4 at San Jose’s Center for the Performing Arts, featuring
two ballets brought through its new collaboration with American Ballet Theatre and
Graduation Ball, mounted by Ballet San Jose’s principal ballet master Raymond Rodriguez.

The first two ballets were  Paquita, its variations staged by Susan Jones, and Jerome Robbins’ second ballet, Interplay,mounted by Edward Verso and Wes Chapman from ABT.  The program marked the first in memory minus live orchestra; a further irony lay in the fact former artistic director Dennis Nahat had himself danced in Interplay while he was an eleven-year member of American Ballet Theatre.

Paquita was initially premiered at the Paris Opera in 1846 and in St Petersburg in 1847.  The version seen was revived by Marius Petipa in 1881. Its bon-bon-in-silver- and-gold foil qualities must have been hugely enjoyed by balletomanes in that imperial city, for the women’s port de bras must be liquid grace with heads, epaulement,torsos gently inclined while the feet stab the floor like steel daggers.

Maykel Solas, the sole male and in white body tights, was given a toreador tunic laden with golden filigree; for all his competence in partnering and skillful  variation. the effect made him seem hunched.

The surprise was assigning the principal role to Amy Marie Briones, a member of the corps since 2006, who danced Myrthe in the 2010 production of Giselle.  Briones is full-bodied, her waist a little high, technically very strong; she dearly loves to dance and shares that love with the audience. She is able to engage the spectator in much the same refreshing style as Evelyn Cisnernos, former San Francisco Ballet principal.  Briones needs to acquire more nuanced dancing which will emerge with appropriate coaching; right now her fouettes, frequently doubles, are rendered in nearly unwavering spot-on position.  Despite a momentary flub near the end, it was an “ah” moment of gratifying  correctness.

In the four supporting variations Junna Ige was musical, her port de bras graceful  accessories to her jetes followed by pauses and Shannon Bynum’s attitudes shared a like phrasing.

Paquita demonstrated that the San Jose dancers require sharpening; rigorous classical assignments in programming will build just that.

The eight dancers cast in Jerome Robbins Interplay enjoyed their assignment ; they could have been classmates in my home town, thanks to the openness of the choreography.  It was like seeing the faint blueprint resulting many years later in Dances at a Gathering. Interplay, however is directly akin to Fancy Free and precursor to West Side Story.  Maykel Solas danced Horseplay effectively, Jing Zhang and Jeremy Kovitch rendered a restrained romantic pas de deux and the Team Play brought the other dancers, Amy Marie Briones, Mirai Noda, Lahna Vanderbush, Seth Parker and Akira Takahashi into full exposure.  For the writer, it is a piece of nostalgia, having seen some of the early Ballet Theatre exponents in the ballet: Ruth Ann Koesun, Eric Braun, Johnny Kriza.

Closing the program with a revival of Graduation Ballet, Ballet San Jose presented a ballet created by David  Lichine for Colonel de Basil’s Original Ballet Russe February 28, 1940. Premiered in Sydney, Australia, when World War II was just six months old, Aussie soldiers were being shipped to Europe.

Creating an evocation of mid-nineteenth century Vienna to the effervescent Strauss waltzes, Lichine created a romp of youth in schools for the privileged that remains engaging despite being 72 years old, and one of the very few remaining active in company repertoires, including American Ballet Theatre

The ballet allowed Raymond Rodriguez as the arthritic, gimpy legged general and Karen Gabay in the pig-tailed role created by Tatiana Riabouchinska to demonstrate what decades of performing can bring to an assignment, consistency, depth and utter focus.  Maximo Califano assumed the role of headmistress, giving the flirtation with the general a visual Mutt and Jeff component, while Briones and Zhang were assigned the competition fouettes.  Ramon Moreno and Junna Ige appeared, dazzling in white, in the pas de deux which replaced the original  Scotsman and the Sylph.  Hopefully, the powder puffs at the beginning and the talismans at
the end will see Graduation Ball enjoying its centennial.