Tag Archives: Frederic Chopin

Lena Hall Makes It Home

27 Apr

April 24 and 25 Lena Hall appeared at the Nikko Hotel’s Feinstein Room, presumably to capacity crowds both nights. I managed a reservation for Saturday buying Viognier and some cheese for what seemed a modest price to listen to one ninety minute performance of Lena and four musicians. She
appeared with her musical director, Watt White, plus three locals, piano, drums and guitar whom she praised for a first-time Thursday night rehearsal of her set.

For those of you unfamiliar with her name, Lena Hall won a Tony recently for her appearance in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, plus a two-week gig at New York City’s Carlyle Hotel. Behind her were leads in Kinky Boots, Tarzan and a good stretch in Cats, the musical in which she made her first professional appearance in one of its traveling ensembles. She was just twenty when I saw her in Cats in San Jose.

There she stood for ninety minutes in a two-piece nearly total silver sequin outfit, (fabric unadorned from mid-back shoulder to waist), and an ingenious left hand, middle ring finger through wrist set of crystal beads accessory and pumps with their current fashion of extra high wedge, belting out songs I never heard of nor did I find particularly captivating. (You need to realize that mine is the Frank Sinatra, Perry Como generation for popular music choices; Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin or the Beatles were mostly lost on me.)

What mesmerized me was the strength of the voice emerging from Hall’s slender body with the possessor’s command of impeccable American Southern takes on the English language. It was little surprise Hall helped herself to sips of water from a plastic bottle frequently. Via a Southern-born maternal grandmother, I am attuned to a drawl and the softness of tone, while surprised at the punch of Hall’s delivery and her sustenato in the final line of the lyrics.

Hall was received with deafening applause. Next to me was Jared Kassof, a young executive from Sephora, who had seen her on Broadway and had become a good fan of hers; he said he had obtained the last seat available for this show.

During the ninety minutes Lena provided introductory comments to most, if not all, the songs she had selected, Led Zepplin was familiar to me, but the names of Eric Clapton, David Byrne and Tori Amos sent me to Wikipedia to expand contemporary musical education. I found Clapton’s use of a French phrase, je’c’est ca, plus “fa,fa,fa” an intriguing foray into that funny mixture fo English and French which can appear so affected, but in song, okay. Lena’s comment that “for her generation” Tori Amos was like Chopin was equally provocative, taking Wikipedia’s info to understand.

Mid-way through the concert, Lena talked about herself, mentioning her Tony and a benefit concert for Elaine Stritch at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre where the Carlyn Hotel management approached her regarding a gig. Lena remarked, “But you know I’m not a sweet ballad style,” or words to that effect. The management said they wanted to attract a younger crown and to do “whatever you want.” Her gig there included Bynre’s “Psycho-Killer” and the use of a tambourine. Lena also disclosed growing up in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, mentioning the colorful interior of the family home.

Periodically a man in front of me rose enthusiastically, after Lena had finished either head and torso forward or arched backward, all depending on the nature of the lyrics. At times the atmosphere, despite the glowing scarlet draperies, mike and musicians, seemed a tad like a carnival with Hall as the sideshow barker, edgy though free of tawdry qualities.

All this, plus the many times her face at an angle displayed the same jawline of her mother Carolyn, a quality in her smile part of the smarts her mother had given her which Lena had cheerfully accepted as part of her heritage of talent. Carlos, her father, said Lena’s ear had always been acute and that she had picked up Chopin on the piano without lessons, simply by hearing the tones and replicating them on the keys.

The intimate crowd provided a standing ovation at the conclusion of Lena Hall’s set. She stood outside, obliging fans with photographs, poised, friendly. Carlos greeted Lena’s former classmates at SOTA, the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, while Carolyn and I shared impressions about the facial similarities. As Carlos Carvajal likes to say of his daughter, born Celina, “From Manila to Broadway in four generations.”

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San Francisco Ballet’s Program IV, February 26

1 Mar

Just two on this program, Jerome Robbins Dances at a Gathering and Liam Scarlett’s Hummingbird, premiered last year at San Francisco’s Opera House.

This was the second time this month I listened to Philip Glass as the background/inspiration (?) For a ballet. Both pieces, excessively long, found me fighting drooping eyelids, I’m afraid. Somehow Jerome Robbins’ Glass Pieces is more interesting.

Once again, also, Maria Kochetkova, like Francis Chung the program before, was called upon to dance major roles twice in a program. Both dimunitive principals rose to the occasion. Fortunately, the entrance for Kochetkova was in the final third of Hummingbird. While Francis Chung and Gennadi Nedvigin flirt, spin, turn in the first third, Chung emerging from the strange black-streaked billows in the back as well as overhang to engage Nedvigin, she in deep shimmering blue, he in a dusky blue trousers and shirt. It doesn’t take long to get the feeling that Scarlett created movement for every note. I wondered if there was another position besides over the knee, under the arms, over the head, tossing, dipping, flinging that Nedvigin could challenge Chung with.

The piece de resistance in Hummingbird, however, is the pas de deux for Yuan Yuan Tan and Luke Ingham. Last year I thought it was incredible; this year, while the ambivalence goes on and on and on, it still is a satisfying section to witness, though Tan’s ambivalence to Ingham’s clear, sustained and patient desire is finally rejected. As a pas de deux representing a flawed relationship it is remarkable, though with different music it might well be just as effective. As it is, Tan’s long legs are arched, and her torso snaked around Ingham in a variety of ways; she is lifted, lowered, raised and embraced by Ingham’s enviable capacity as partner and lover. Ultimately Tan’s final farewell is tender, reluctant but resolved.

Back to Ballet Number One – Dances at a Gathering, which has not been danced here since Joanna Berman was one of the company’s principals. Again, Chopin was felicitously supported by veteran pianist Roy Bogas. The line up, identified by colors, included Maria Kochetkova paired with Davit Karapetyan; Vanessa Zahorian with Carlo Di Lanno; Mathilde Froustey with Joseph Walsh; Dores Andre with Stephen Morse and Lorena Feijoo with Vitor Luiz.

New comers de Lanno and Morse did well by their assignments, and Froustey was light, effervescent. Lorena Feijoo, given the role of the unsuccessful flirt, made you want the fellows to stop and take a good look, while Luis and Karapetyan added the touches of mazurka and czardas which Robbins is known to sprinkle when he choreographs to Chopin. Joseph Walsh as the man in brown was given the entry and the poignant moment when he touches the earth.

I have the memory of the earlier staging as being more intimate, more clannish, but would need to see the work again to see if this revival is simply new on the dancers’ bodies; eight of the the opening cast are listed as dancing their roles for the first time, with Feijoo and Zahorian as the veterans. SF members of the former casts may well have gone on to other tasks. It’s another sea change.