Tag Archives: Francisco Mungamba

2016 at Stern Grove: San Francisco Ballet

3 Aug

When you park off Wawona for a Sunday Stern Grove matinee, the path to the
meadow-auditorium as remodeled by the late Lawrence Halprin does three or four turns on its sloping route to the wonderful meadow given to San Francisco by Mrs. Sigmund Stern honoring her husband. You come out near the clubhouse which some decades earlier was a roadhouse and now houses a series of both gender toilets adjoining the original building. A few feet downward and there are a slew of short-order vendors and the Stern Grove Association booths for information and assistance.

As VIP’s [read press affiliates] it was still necessary to trek across the meadow, brimming with multi-cultural humanity, to the VIP tent to get badges and green wrist bands enabling our party of five to imbibe beer and wine as well as claim our share of Table 35, next to the bona fide press table. This year the press has been moved to the lower of three tiers of tables, if off side, so that our view of San Francisco Ballet was decidedly at an angle. It also enabled us to observe Frances Chung stretch her legs and bend her back prior to entering as Odette in Swan Lake, her debut in the role. She doubtless will appear in the ballet during the 2017 spring season at the Opera House.

In addition to Tiit Helimets as Siegfried and Alexander Renoff-Olson as Von Rothpart, the program included Helgi Tomasson’s Fifth Season, music by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins and two pieces appearing semi-regularly on SFB’s programs: Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain pas de deux to Estonian composer Arvo Part, finishing with George Balanchine’s Rubies with Vanessa Zahorian, Joseph Walsh and Jennifer Stahl.

Before further comment, our party of five included Carlos and Carolyn Carvajal, who have graced performances and mounted works locally both in the earlier San Francisco Ballet days, with Carlos’ Dance Spectrum and Carolyn’s witty performances with Dance Through Time and in the ballet parts of San Francisco Opera seasons. Carlos’ tenure with San Francisco Ballet goes back to Willam Christensen’s years, and two subsequent stints under Lew Christensen with Le Grand Ballet de Marquis de Cuevas, Breman and Bordeaux Opera Ballets in between.

Dennis Nahat and John Gebertz made numbers three and four, both having assignments with Akyumen Technologies since Nahat’s abrupt termination at Ballet San Jose, bringing two Chinese productions to De Anza Auditorium in Cupertino and Southern California, and participating in the affairs of Donald McKayle at U.C. Irvine. Dennis regaled us with stories of ABT’s Swan Lake in the rain at New York’s Delacorte Theater and the ingenuity of Lucia Chase.

Swan Lake
brought swoons of admiration from Carolyn Carvajal for the dancing of the corps de ballet, remarking on the correctness of the staging as she remembered it with Merriem Lanova’s Ballet Celeste. Dennis observed how crisp the angles in the line of foot and leg in Odette’s solo because of short tutus, unlike the knee-length costumes so remarked upon in Ratmansky’s production of Sleeping Beauty. We had to assume Tiit’s interpretation because his back was to us ninety per cent of the time, but Chung’s expression provided the clue of Odette’s concern and wavering. For the first time I could feel a thought process from the progression of Odette’s choreography, as well as the touching moment when she ventures under Siegfried’s arm in the pas de deux, a creature moment for certain.

Wan Ting Zhao and Jennifer Stahl provided the leaping choreography and Isabella DeVivo, Jahna Frantziskonis, Noriko Matsuyama and Emma Rubinowitz, precise, multi-cultural little cygnets, hopping in sync for all their worth.

Tomasson’s Fifth Season was garbed in Sandra Woodall’s sleek tight and top fashion de rigeur with choreographic abstraction, divided into sections titled Waltz, Romance, Tango, Largo and Bits, eight corps in the ensemble with principals Mathilde Froustey, Yuan Yuan Tan, Doris Andre , the men Carlos Quenedit, Tiit Helimets, Aaron Robison in his local San Francisco Ballet debut.

Yuan Yuan Tan seemed to have cornered the feminine role in After The Rain
pas de deux, her sinuous,willowy length adapting to Luke Ingham, a second
Australian to partner her in Christopher Wheeldon’s protracted study of langeur
and emotional connection, minimally costumed in flesh tones by Holly Hynes. Ingham made an effective foil to Tan, clearly an excellent partner.

Rubies is, to me, a very urban ballet, brash, out there with a neat dash of Broadway. Jennifer Stahl danced the figure manipulated by the four corps men Max Cauthorn , Blake Kessler, Francisco Mungamba and John-Paul Simoens. From a distance it seemed effective, given location reservations and the vivid memory of Muriel Maffre in that role. Vanessa Zahorian and Joseph Walsh danced the leads with aplomb and good humor.

San Francisco Ballet annually draws some of Stern Grove Festival’s biggest audiences. Halprin’s design gives the public an amazing series of alcoves where they can stash their bodies and their lunches. Halprin’s vision reinforced that fact Stern Grove Festival, at the threshold of celebrating its 80th annual summer, continues to be one of the crown jewels of San Francisco’s cultural and recreation diversions.

San Francisco Ballet’s 71st Nutcracker Season

3 Jan

In this third San Francisco production of Petyr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s commission for Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov (Willam Christensen’s ground–breaking undertaking and brother Lew’s the second with at least two different productions), Helgi Tomasson celebrated the city’s emergence from the 1906 earthquake and fire by aligning it to the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition; Michael Yeargen took his clue from images of the 100th year before in slides, Act I’s setting and hints of the Conservatory of Flowers, supported by James F. Ingalls’ lighting. Martin Pakledinaz designed the fetching gowns of the period as well as the traditional and pastiche costumes for Act II. The results congratulate San Franciscans. From the cheerful opening pandemonium sounds December 16 and the December 18 matinee, the seasonal tradition is a winner all the way. The sound pitch opening night was up there with the screams of a basketball game, while volunteers carefully herded toddlers and grammar school attendees for their pictures with a French soloist (the flute soloist for more traditional viewers) and the Mouse King, and off the other side of one of the crimson-carpeted entrances to orchestra seating. Most girls wore aspirational net tutus with frequent rhinestone tiaras. The mother of one girl near me said her chestnut-haired daughter was studying karate and acrobats.

Opening night Val Caniparoli was his genial self, if somewhat perfunctory. Katita Waldo gave us a welcoming Mme Stahlbaum while Ruben Martin Cintus exuded the pleasant organizing half.. Two youngsters, Alexander Renoff-Olson and Kristi DeCaminada made a convincing go as the grandparents. Francisco Mungamba’s displayed flexibility in yellow tights and bobbing trim; Lauren Parrott was mercifully brunette after the memorable tawny blonde of Clara Blanco; Wei Wang jumped energetically as the toy Nutcracker.

One of the production’s charms is the transformation scene, and although the sleepy gestures of Clara’s (Sienna Clark) seemed perfunctory if on time to the music, the enlarging furnishing along with the tree are just right as is the appearance of the Nutcracker Prince in the handsome personage of Davit Kerapetyan. Gaetano Amico was the nasty Mouse King, a role everyone loves to hate and the interpreter tries to make the most of in his brief allotted phrases.

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San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker. (© Erik Tomasson)

Vanessa Zahorian served as a gracious Sugar Plum Fairy with Frances Chung as the grownup Clara, following the Snow Scene with Jennifer Stahl and Luke Ingham as the reigning monarchs of a blizzard almost obscuring the figures midway and towards the end. Why they dancers have to navigate a storm is beyond me. Flurries should be sufficient.  The same threatened obliteration was accorded Koto Ishihara and Joseph Walsh December 18.

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Frances Chung and Davit Karapetyan in Tomasson’s Nutcracker. (© Erik Tomasson)

Distinguishing themselves in the Chinese and Russian were Lonnie Weeks and Esteban Hernandez. The trio bursting from the Faberge-inspired eggs is invariably a treat to be followed by Anatole Vilzak’s variation for the three dancers. It’s one of the supreme relics of the earlier production.

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Lonnie Weeks in Tomasson’s Nutcracker. (© Erik Tomasson)

I saw a second performance, the December 18 matinee to see what Pascal Molat did with Drosselmeyer. I didn’t expect Sancho Panza, of course, but he is just such a wizard with character parts. Of course he was wonderful. His hands were invariably seeking the edges and the corners of what he was assigned, finishing his work before donning his coat, the manner in which he tied the pouch for the clock, his gallantry with the flower seller on the street. His semi-crouching position when levitating the cane was like someone in a contest; I felt an unusual touch in his consoling Fritz at not getting the nutcracker, topped only by the bow with which he tied his handkerchief on the wounded wooden doll. Throughout the scene this Drosselmeyer was intimately attuned to youngsters, at one with them as well as a distinguished, eccentric clock maker. His wizardry with the transformation scene, reassurance to Clara and continued guidance through Act II was simply de rigeur. One can relax with an “ah” watching him, a total treat.

Jeffrey Lyons and Amy Yuki made a jovial and gracious set of Stahlbaums while Val Caniparoli joined Anita Paciotti in the grandparental roles.

Here Esteban Hernandez as the toy Nutcracker bounded electrically from the box. Blake Kessler was the yellow Harlequin and Jahna Frantziskonis, coming to the company from Pacific Northwest Ballet, was the porcelain pink doll.

I noticed in some principals’ tutus a broad, slightly floppy over skirt, like an expansive flower; instead of gradated layers of ruffles,the tutu cuts to the underpinning exposing upper tights and pants when lifted by a partner. What seemed to be a charming floral bouquet, suddenly your eyes were directed, minus smaller petals, to stamens and pistils.

Doris Andre served as The Sugar Plum Fairy regally. I did not notice it much before this season and it may reflect some tweaking, but the Sugar Plum Fairy summoned her waltzing flowers as well as the busy little lady bug, moths and butterflies to hear the tale of the Nutcracker Prince’s battle with the Mouse King. It brought a warmth to the undertaking, a winning witnessing to the otherwise austere evocation of the Conservatory of Flowers.

Normally the French variation, usually belonging to a trio of Dresden Shepherdess but here candy-caned striped can can dancers, appeals to me not at all. In the December 18 matinee, however, I noticed some nice phrasing with adroit finishing emphasis by Miranda Silveira.

Carlo di Lano made his debut in this production of the holiday staple with Matilde Froustey as his adult Clara. What a marvelous pair they were, both in looks and European ambiance. When the Nutcracker’s mask was lifted, di Lano’s breath animated his port de bras: liberation! This sensibility pervaded every motion, making the most logical, the most spectacular special.

Program VIII SF Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet

6 May

May Day, May Day, May Day – San Francisco Ballet opened Helgi Tomasson’s Romeo and Juliet at San Francisco’s Opera House with the incredible costumes and set by Hans Jens Worsae, some stalwarts in their accustomed roles and several new ones, and, of course, that score by Sergei Prokofiev.

I would swear the some of the choreography had been altered; such imaginings the curse of an imprecise memory and seeing a number of same named productions by different companies. Here there are so many wonderful touches, from the Verona town square arousing from dawn to early morning. I do not remember the rose window of the church being illuminated, or reflected either in the scene where Romeo and Juliet are wed by Friar Lawrence, or when Juliet comes rushing for guidance from that pivotal ecclesiastical figure.

When the company first produced the ballet, Rita Felciano and Eric Hellman organized a symposium around the production, mentioning the original production by Vana Psota in Brno, Slovakia just before World War II and the German takeover of the short-lived republic of Czechoslovakia. Juliets then in the company also were interviewed.

The key speaker for me, however, was an historian who had researched the demographics of Renaissance Italy, basing his findings on the data available in Florence, and, presumably, Tuscany. He found a substantial number of
single parent households, the woman in charge of young children, the husband deceased, documents recording his age at least a decade or two older than the widow. The historian, and forgive my failure to identify him at this juncture, concluded that the young men went off to war, the older men, survivors of conflicts, married the dewy young damsels, and that romance, let alone marriage between age-alike young men and women was unthinkable. Ergo, why is County Paris clearly a stripling in the figure of Steven Morse? Why not Jim Sohm or Reubin-Martin-Cintas as more historically accurate, whose name also implies his possession of quite a spread of hectares?

That harangue completed, I have only praise for the pairing of Val Caniparoli and Sofiane Sylve as the Capulet parents, the easy grandeur of Caniparoli and the intense swirling elegance of Sylve were exactly right. Sherri Le Blanc, making a debut as The Nurse, seemed less lusty but equally caring as Juliet’s Nurse, and as Tybalt, Anthony Vincent (heretofore named Spaulding) was elegant, sinister, a calculating figure, clearly frustrated by Lord Capulet’s insistence on politeness within the family palace.

When the House of Montague appeared, Jeffrey Lyons and Lacey Escabar seemed slightly defensive in the power contest, given to spirit more than concerned with tangible spoils. In Mercutio, Taras Domitro seemed to personify this, less an older pal to Romeo than an impulsive intuitive with vast technical gifts. As Benvolio, Hansuke Yamamoto was required to bring some gravitas to the merriment which he did with elevation and elan. In Carlos Quenedit, there was Romeo you might have seen with his gang, sporting a Giants ballcap turned backwards, relaxing around a motorbike or with a group of mechanics, likeable, young, competent, as innocent of poetry as he was on the mark as Basile in Don Quixote.

The role of Verona’s Prince has always been well served by Martin Pistone, cutting a figure of physical power with the will to use it. Dores Andre and Dana Genshaft made slender, spirited, clearly street-wise harlots, Andre’s discovery of Mercutio’s imminent death particularly sharp. The trio of acrobats, Noriko Matsuyama, Francisco Mungamba and Wei Wang were adept in their assignment, Wang’s strength an interesting contrast to Mungamba’s flexibility and Matsyama’s pertness. Mercutio’s death scene gave Domitro the chance to demonstrate dramatic power, combined with his prodigious technique, showing what his dramatic gifts can provide. I wonder if he might make a better Romeo.

Sarah Van Patten first danced Juliet when she was 16 with the Royal Danish Ballet, before joining San Francisco Ballet. Her partner prior to Carlos Quenedit was Pierre-Francois Vilanoba; I confess to missing him. Her interpretation possesses a gossamer dusting of impulse and emotion; the initial meeting and the balcony scenes were explorations to be followed by the culmination in the early morning final pas de deux. Particularly impressive was Van Patten’s fateful behavior in her bedroom with the senior Capulets and Paris. The Capulets’ insensitive ploughing ahead with nuptial plans despite Tybalt’s death, more implacably so by Lady Capulet – the sweep of her skirt as telling here as in the ballroom, Sylve’s face marvelously stoical, her gestures and movements conveying it all, pulling the velvet yardage away from Juliet’s grasp. Helgi Tomasson’s production, visually splendid, is both a challenge to the company and a pleasure to its audience.

That Time of Year: S.F. Ballet’s Gala Celebrating Thirty Years of Tomasson Guidance

26 Jan

The melange of celebration, virtuosity, fund-raising goals and lavish display of gowns and egos marked San Francisco Ballet’s Gala January 22 with the press placed where tickets had not been sold; i.e. two seats in and in the Grand Tier where I sat with Craig Ashton and Emma, writing for a local Russian weekly. We were treated with the Calla Lily Lady, wearing a dress of white jersey, the shoulders guarded by said floral shape, adorned with green images; it required her to book the couple’s seats on the aisle, final row in the middle of the Grand Tier; sight lines were preserved. Go to S.F. Gate’s website, to see good glimpses of a design fit for Swan Lake or Raymonda at the Bolshoi.

Seen were tops with bra-like backs and a legion of strapless gowns well-stiffened set off by pairs of arms lacking muscular definition. Dressing up is fun, but what of the body it inhabits?

In front of us a young couple exchanged kisses while the rest of us stood, hand over heart, singing The Star Spangled Banner;seats empty following intermission.

The Gala commenced with a local version of the Paris Opera’s defile where the school, the trainees and budding professionals come forward, men with black tights and romantic shirts, girls in white tunics, older ones in white tutus a few in black, and, naturally, tiaras. I couldn’t help thinking what a fiscal outlay the tutus represented, and the hours spent in creating them. The audience cheered.

Following the defile, John S. Osterweis was tasked with acknowledging the sponsors of everything from the cocktail hour to the post-Gala Party, the organizers, and announcing a major capital campaign for $65 millions, of which $43 millions have been raised. Fund campaigns are typically private until at least half the goal has been reached. Exceptional was the information that five endowments have been made for five principal dancers, presumably extending beyond the current occupants’ active dancing careers. Diane B. Wilsey was announced as the chair for the Capital Campaign. (She has just completed a similar task for the UCSF Hospital at Mission Bay.) That declared, the Infinite Romance Gala commenced.

Some five years ago Renato Zanella’s Alles Walzer was performed at a Gala. This time it featured Pascal Molat flexing his biceps, back to the audience, head in profile making certain the audience registered the contours. Besides multiple pirouettes and tours around the stage, Zanella managed to mesh goofy touches with appropriate phrases to Johann Strauss II. Molat gave way to Joan Boada, echoing the movements; the pair wound up dancing identical movements, Molat dancing the most comment, Boada leaning on the bravura.

Val Caniparoli’s pas de deux from A Cinderella Story featured Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz, Feijoo in a frothy white skirt with red accents. They swirled together, beautifully synchronized, to Ming Luke’s piano renditions of Richard Rodgers’ themes.

Helgi Tomasson’s take on the most rapturous variation of Rachmaninov’s Variations on A Theme of Paganini, saw Yuan Yuan Tan leaping and leaning on the arms of Tiit Helimets, with an ultimate lift into Helimets’ embrace.

Kurt Weill’s music was Christopher Wheeldon’s source for the pas de deux between Sofiane Sylve and Luke Ingham, titled There Where She Loved. Sylve danced a reluctant, passionate, partially convinced role while Ingham supported, pursued and persuaded. Finally, Sylve walked away; one could imagine hot and cold continuing.

In a unannounced switch, Francesco Geminiani’s adaptation of Corelli, Concerto Grosso, premiered at another Gala in 2003 featured three young men of the company’s corps de ballet: Esteban Hernandez, Diego Cruz, Max Cauthorn, Francesco Mungamba and Wei Wang. Dancing to two violins, a viola and cello, they commence with outward sweeping arm movements as they turn several times before forming a circle of grand jetes to the persistent, forward sound of the strings, ably played by Matthieu Arama, Marianne Wagner, Anna Kruger and Eric Sung. A series of solo variations follow with a pas de trois insert. Dressed in Milliskin unitards, Mungamba distinguished himself with the liquid quality of his line, Hernandez in red with bursts of virtuosity, Wei Wang for unaffected classic style. Cruz and Cauthorn, who danced the Harlequin in December’s Nutcracker, were hard to identify from the Grand Tier. The five danced as a unit. Tomasson is adept in fashioning classical male bravura.

Post intermission the offering sequence was changed, perhaps because Francisco Mungamba was scheduled for another series of killer variations. Instead Tchaikovsky’s tenuously melodic music sourced Alexei Ratmansky’s choreography, originally for the Het National under the title Souvenir D’un Lieu Cher, with Mathilde Froustey, Sarah Van Patten, Carlo di Lanno and Luke Ingham. Frankly it wasn’t clear whether the former dear was all that “former”, if the connection between the women made clear they were okay with the arrangement. Van Patten seemed to have the worst of it, with soloist Di Lanno, I think making his San Francisco Opera House debut, being very courteous about his position, while Ingham was stalwart about Van Patten’s uncertainty. I hope Ingham isn’t type-cast too much in having to be manly about feminine indecision. Froustey’s impulse contrasted muscularly with Van Patton’s hesitations, and in equal measure Ingham’s body movements with Di Lanno’s. I found the quartet compelling more about the body movements and attack than the content.

Sergei Rachmaninov’s music was Yuri Possokhov’s source for the pas de deux from Bells, apparently a longer work created for the Joffrey Ballet in 2011. Here Maria Kochetkova and David Karapetyan in flaming orange Milliskin, he stripped to the waist, she in bathing suit style by Sandra Woodall, maneuvered in contemporary style out of their mutual Russian training, their comparative height adding to the mix.

Finally, The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude returned the program sequence, choreographer William Forsythe’s familiar acid green pancake tutus inhabited by Dores Andre, Sasha de Sola and Jennifer Stahl, and Francisco Mungamba and Gennadi Nedvigin contrasting in attack and line, both wonderfully correct, and Andre particularly intense in her variation.

Frances Chung and Joseph Walsh premiered Christopher Wheeldon’s present for Helgi Tomasson’s 30th anniversary as artistic director with Borealis, music by Gavin Byrars. In silver tops and blue tights the imagery seemed designed to evoke lights glittering in northern winters.

Just before the finale pas de deux, the Tatiana-Onegin pas de deux was danced by Yuan Yuan Tan and Vitor Luiz. He danced masterfully, she emoted extravagently. Like Francisco Mungamba, Luiz as did Luke Ingham danced twice as did Tan – a double duty series which seemed unusual. That may be why the San Francisco Ballet Website lists an opening for a principal male dancer.

To complete the program Taras Domitro and Vanessa Zahorian winged their way through Le Corsaire pas de deux with clarity and great elan, Domitro’s exciting grand jetes and Zahorian finishing off her assignment with a series of single and double traveling fouettes.

After the curtain applause, the usual basket of flowers and individual nosegays for the cast of women dancing, several men in black emerged with trays of glasses, followed by John Osterweiss offering a toast honoring Helgi’s Thirtieth season. The gold curtain then descended.

Afterthought: the Gala listed three pianists in addition to Roy Bogas for the Paganini: Natal’ya Feygina, Mungunchimeg Buriad, and Ming Luke.

2014 Nutcracker Season, San Francisco Ballet

15 Dec

December 12 was San Francisco Ballet’s night to start its season of the Nuts, multiple castings, opportunities for corps members. With Martin West conducting the company’s orchestra, the audience enjoyed a remarkably buoyant performance, which can be partially attributed to its enormous success in Europe this summer. Mary Beth Smith, heading the company’s marketing and communications, remarked in the Opera House press room that after the company’s closing night performance at Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, where Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes made its 1909 debut, “The applause went on for twenty minutes. It was spectacular, and you know Parisians know their ballet.” Following this performance, the company goes into a twice daily mode, two and seven p.m., a total of thirty performances, including two on Christmas Eve.

Friday night’s inauguration featured Ricardo Bustamonte with extra flourishes and complete gallantry, while Ruben Martin-Cintas and Katita Waldo made the Stahlbaums elegant, assured, hospitable. Jim Sohm outdid himself as Grandpapa; Kristi DeCaminada as Grandmere. Both parents and small fry were less numerous, but the numbers cohered in the overall scenic impression, avoiding the cast of thousands mould.

Clara Blanco danced her iconic doll, Esteban Hernandez made an impression as the Nutcracker out of the Box and Max Cauthorn in yellow Milliskin was willowy, off balance and technically excellent.

The transformation scene – from 1915 Panama-Pacific era privileged San Francisco to dream exaggeration of furniture, presents, tree, mice and gas fireplace – continues to be impressive; mice scamper, toy soldiers execute the directions of the Nutcracker with his sabre, while Clara watches avidly. Sean Orza’s Mouse King exhibited brawn, and elegaic agony after his leg was caught in the mouse trap, his dying crawl into the prompter’s pit, “Tis A Far Better Thing I Do’ from Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities.

Luke Ingham as Nutcracker Prince cuts a refreshing athletic image once out of Mask and Nut trappings. He’s gallant, but no nonsense, like a good Aussie invariably seems to be; his battement a la seconde is eagle sharp. Not a bad mixture. Audrey Armacost as Clara responded well to his partnering.

The carriage arrival brings its own magic, its white and silver sleigh, pawing, prancing ponies, masks crowned with nodding plumes. I’m not sure the ancien regime could have improved on these equines.

The snow monarch roles were handsomely filled by Vanessa Zahorian and Taras Domitro. who followed after the snowflakes appeared under drifts of artificial flakes continuing to fall, audibly, during the entire number until the final grouping around the principals was almost obscured by moving white density. Early on Domitro stumbled a bit; I suspect this artificial blizzard may have contributed. However, his grand jetes and entrechats were his standard brilliant, Zahorian sailing through her virtuosity with usual aplomb, her earlier injury definitely behind her.

After the intermission the curtain rose on the evocation of the Conservatory, with butterflies, lady bugs, and moths, marking time with port de bras and pique arabesques before the arrival of The Sugar Plum Fairy (SPF) in the person of Mathilde Froustey. Froustey possesses the current ideal for the feminine ballerina; beautiful proportions, long neck, face of piquant charm, port de bras devoid of angled elbow, good jump, supple expressive upper back, an intuitive emphasis in phrasing or response. A cogent example was her emphasis asking the Nut Prince “Why are you here?” Not a doubt about the query.

Luke Ingham’s mime was salutary, particularly good with whiskers. The SPF had decreed the entire dream troupe witness the recitation, a nice move. While the Spanish pas de cinq was good, the Arabian trio was especially well-balanced with Dana Genshaft, and Daniel Devison-Oliveira and Anthony Spaulding, intense, finished. Francisco Mungamba’s Chinese shone with knife-like jetes. The French trio danced my-not-so favorite variation spritely, Wan Ting Zhao’s phrasing eye-catching. The Russian Faberge trio burst out into Anatole Vilzak’s classic variation led by Hansuke Yamamoto with Esteban Hernandez and Wei Wang.

Benjamin Stewart garnered a warm response as Smoky Bear with Louis Schilling and the bevy of San Francisco Ballet School students, precursor to the Waltzing Flowers, framing the SPF in this version of the Tchaikovsky classic. Bland, symmetrical and nicely executed, the ensemble is supposed to set off the central rose; Froustey could be better served. However, the ensemble requires its musical share and the notes received visualization with skill.

In this version the prelude to the Grand Pas de Deux refers to the Chinoiserie tower bibelot, Clara’s gift in the first act. The SPF retrieves a tiara from a cushion brought her by a uniformed attendant which she places on Clara’s head before leading her to the mirror inside the open box. Froustey’s brief escorting, was affectionate, a reinforcement shared with Sofiane Sylve who conveys similar feminine warmth.

The double doors close, the tower turned, the doors reopen and outsteps the adult Clara in hues of gold and celadon, Yuan Yuan Tan, ready to wow us, dispatches the gestures of awe and transforming admiration to the barest stroke, a principal flaw in an otherwise brilliant performance. Tan is becoming accustomed to Luke Ingham as a partner; she should feel utterly secure. Ingham promises Tan as good or better she enjoyed with Damian Smith; the partnering, particularly Tan’s height in the running catch as the Tchaikovsky score soars were. flawless. Tan’s face, with its feline qualities, registered satisfaction along with her usual aplomb.

The variation reprises then follow, to warm applause, and the aggregate ensemble coalesces to allow Drosselmeyer, couch and Clara to enter and for him to reassemble the Stahlaum mansion,for Clara to awaken, clutch her toy and run towards Mother Stahlbaum’s arms as the curtains descend.

Three and Two for SFB

2 Mar

These San Francisco Ballet programs are listed in reverse because that’s the way I saw them.

The February 20 Program Three started with a Russian-born classic, ending with a Russian-themed myth choreographed by a Russian very much at home in San Francisco. The middle belonged to Christopher Wheeldon’s Ghosts.

I saw Nureyev’s version ofLa Bayadere’s Kingdom of the Shades for The Royal Ballet on the same stage, mounted early in his association with the British company. It informed me that this Indian-themed work preceded Swan Lake by nearly two decades. The more recent, storied visit of the Paris Opera to San Francisco and its full-length production, again a Nureyev production, provided another bench mark.

The Kingdom of the Shades from La Bayadere was first mounted for San Francisco Ballet by Natalia Makarova in 2000; this is second time she has staged it, here assisted by Susan Jones. The revival enjoyed three fine soloists: Mathilde Froustey; Frances Chung and Simone Messmer plus Davit Karapetyan as Solor. Karapetyan’s entrance jete, high, clean, energizing, the first of many to follow, his Russian training and deportment clear, was captivating. While Yuan Yuan Tan presented a willowy Nikiya, an elegant shade, her connection to Solor was limited to partnering, lacking hints to their former emotional connection. I did not expect her to be Giselle, but I did want some connection, particularly in the lengthy use of the filmy scarf, symbol of ghostly connection and purity.

Next to Karapetyan, the three soloists were gratifying with Froustey’s lightness, Chung’s careful correctness followed by her usual swift allegro, and Messmer’s soundless landings. Myy memory of Makarova’s first staging for San Francisco was crisp; this seemed closer to Giselle.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Ghosts, sandwiched between La Bayadere and em>Firebird, is distinguished by a hanging sculpture by Laura Jellenek which gradually lowers after each section of the work, music by K.C. Winger. Vitor Luiz, Maria Kochetkova, Sofiane Sylve, Tiit Helimets, Shane Wuerthner made it all seem conjured from the past as the Jellenek strips of grey in a formation like a tangled skein of wool, gradually fell lower and in sections.

Yuri Possokhov took the Firebird myth to the village, giving a proletarian view of a story involving a Prince, captive Princesses, a demon passage before a court finale. He turned to Yuri Zhukov for set design, a series of cut outs and a red-orange cage for the hero’s captivity by the evil Kostei, whose soul resides in a mammoth egg. With Pascal Molat as oily slime, a monster caressing his egg, elevated by his minions, the tale starts off impressively.

Tiit Helimets makes good as the hero, capturing the feel of a golden boy, country-style. His encounter with Sarah Van Patten’s Firebird featured her always eloquent eyes, but Sandra Woodall’s costume is long on a flash of red cloth designed primarily for its effect in grand jetes, awkward in the pas de deux. The encounter lacks gift of the feather, the necessary toekn our hero must produce to summon her return.

Sasha de Sola as the princess is well matched physically with Tiit Helimets. Her garment with its torso slash of red above white skirt is a surprising delineation along with her coronet; neither peasant nor princess,plus she’s a bit nasty to her handmaidens – a pastural imperialist.

Van Patten’s bird is a tad provocative with her circular hip movements; Tan made them neutral. Van Patten’s eyes rendered the bird vivid, eloquent,if the scarlet fabric tail could be effectively shorn.

The final folk groups projected robustness, a feeling Possokhov obviously wanted. The expansive diagonal stage crossings needed to be repeated too often to fill the music. You registered satisfaction early on. Though not following the traditional tale staged by Fokine and Stravinsky, Zhukov’s designs were a delight, and Possokhov’s desire to create a folk version was basically appealing.

Friday, February 21 I caught up with Program Two: Val Caniparoli’s Tears, to Steve Reich’s music and Sandra Woodall’s elegant costumes. Ratmansky’s From Foreign Lands received its second season showing with some debuts of corps dancers – a happy solution and opportunity with more traditional vocabulary than Wayne MacGregor’s Borderlands.

In Borderlands, Wayne MacGregor can be counted on to set his dances in a structure, with lights that bring dancers to our attention or fade them from sight, and props which can obscure or reveal them in dramatic ways. He also can be counted upon to challenge dancers’ flexibility, speed and endurance. You stare at their abilities, hoping they won’t harm their rotator cuffs, or dislocate a hip joint; for despite their training, MacGregor’s movements are demanding and quite outside much of the classical training canon. Oh, yes, you can see an arabesque and an attitude, some amazing lifts, but what is he saying with the talented bodies at his disposal? I would not be surprised if MacGregor cites William Forsythe as an influence. Forsythe, however, has his own visceral familiarity to the classical canon; while he can make dancers look absurd at moments, he does not contort them as if they were spastic or in a drug-induced spasm.

Clearly I did not like it, though the dancers were marvelous, every last one: Maria Kochetkova, Jaime Garcia Castilla; Sarah Van Patten; Pascal Molat; Frances Chung; James Sofranko ; Sofiane Sylve; Daniel Devision-Oliveira; Koto Ishihara; Henry Sidford; Elizabeth Powell ; Francisco Mungamba.

Having spit out my distaste, Val Caniparoli’s Tears featured the three couples in
roles they created on February 18: Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz; Sasha De Sola and Tiit Helimets; Ellen Rose Hummel and Daniel Deivison-Olivera. With the image of water in his mind, the women’s costumes displayed handsome pleats revealing a range of blues and greens; one thinks changing hues, still pools shrouded by hanging branches of venerable trees. The port de bras were liquid, partnering skillful, but the music too lengthy.

What delighted me about Ratmansky’s second season was the insertion of corps members guided by principals; the eagerness, two slight flubs in the beginning, the good-natured cooperation to bring off this important assignment in young dancers’ careers.Participating in this debut were principals Jaime Garcia Castille, Gennadi Nedvigin, Mathilde froustey, soloists Simone Messmer, Hansuke Yamamoto Shane Wuerthner and corps members Shannon Rugani and Luke Willis with the debutantes Isabella De Vivo, Julia Rowe, Elizabeth Powell, Steven Morse. This frothy rendition of European nationalities – Russia, Italian, German, Spanish, and Polish were subtly slight, visually reassuring with Borderlands to follow.

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.