Tag Archives: Frederick Franklin

A March Bon-Bon: San Francisco Ballet Dances Coppelia

11 Mar

March 8 San Francisco reintroduced its Pacific Northwest Ballet co-production of Coppelia, the George Balanchine-Alexandra Danilova ballet premiered at New York City Ballet in 1974. Staged by Judith Fugate, Before going into detail about designer, the Leo Delibes’ music and etc., let me say that it was memory lane. That effervescent path has been trod by anyone remembering The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and Danilova in Swanhilda’s shoes and Frederick Franklin as the roving-eyed Franz Some San Franciscans will remember Ruby Asquith in the Willam Christensen production. In addition, a small cadre of dancers danced in the Ballet Celeste production mounted by Merriem Lanova who had danced in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo version and passed it along to her young charges, touring it through the United States and Hawaii. Carolyn Carvajal was one such veteran, remembering what remained and what was new, courtesy of Mr. B.

Roberta Guidi de Bagno has given the production pastel prettiness without being goopy or stretching costumes beyond a logical take on Galacia’s folk qualities without becoming too specific. No sequins, feathers and the like. Coppelius’ attic studio is cavernous, Randall G. Chiarelli giving it just the right slightly gloomy light, neither daylight or well illumined, just as Acts I and III are suitably sunny.

Cheryl  Osseola’s extensive program notes provided the audience with Coppelia’s background, E.T.A. Hoffman, the 1870 production created by Arthur Saint-Leon, Franz’ role en traverstie, ultimately Enrico Cecchetti’s revival with Franz becoming danced by a male. The lifts between Franz and Swanhilda are definitely twentieth century additions.

Carolyn remarked that the mime and plot remained untouched. The ensemble dances were different; I remember Robert Lindgren and Sonya Tyyven leading the czardas in the final act, the ensemble dances being broken up into the first and third acts and Yvonne Chouteau in Act III’s Prayer solo. Balanchine has combined them.

Tuesday saw Frances Chung as Swanhilda, Vitor Luiz as her Franz and the superb debut of Pascal Molat as Coppelius. If the program notes mention Chung’s strangeness with mime, she has moved far beyond it to a sparkling, clear ability to convey traditional query and delivery. She is one of the company’s sparkling allegro dancers; there was an almost Fonteyn-like propriety in her delivery, yet still very much Chung. Small wonder she holds an Izzie award for individual performance.

Luiz makes a believable Franz, unforced classicism, unmannered presentation and partnering impeccable. Molat’s elderly doll maker hobbles across the town square with acute accuracy of age and arthritis. His attic scene with Swanhilda’s impersonation of Coppelia was masterly; delusion and elderly excitement.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, it concerns Swanhilda, a spirited young village girl, and her boy friend Franz who also has his eye on Coppelia, a beautiful creature who is wheeled onto a balcony by her maker, Dr. Coppelius. This makes Swanhilda and Franz quarrel. In a twilight excursion, Coppelius is roughed up by Franz and friends, losing his key. Swanhilda and her friends find the key and venture into the Coppelius’ workshop at Act I’s curtain. In Act II, the girls discover the toys and the inanimate Coppelia. Coppelius returns, chasing the girls out; Swanhilda remains assuming Coppelia’s clothing. Franz, meanwhile, attempts to reach the doll via the aid of a ladder; intercepted by Coppelius, he is drugged by wine. Coppelius attempts to bring Coppelia to life using Franz’ life force, pouring over a huge book of spells. Swanhilda plays along with Coppelius, becoming more life like, only to destroy his fantasy and to flee with Franz.

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Frances Chung and Pascal Molat in Balanchine’s CoppÈlia. (© Erik Tomasson)

Act III sees the dedication of the bells, announced in French language banners in Act I. Many wedding couples. Coppelius is seen, heart-broken, with his doll in his arms; Swanhilda and Franz also get married, and several celebratory dances ensue. In this production, a bevy of young students perform a charming dance, impossible for the old touring production. The Ballet Russe production provided recompense to Coppelius; here he is pushed aside all too rapidly.

The Act III divertissements featured Sasha de Sola as Dawn in a costume with golden tracery; Sofiane Sylve’s Prayer was cloaked in blue chiffon with touches of grey; four Jesterettes and finally Discord and War led by Jennifer Stahl and Hansuke Yamamoto, laden with spears, Greek-style plumed helmets and garments of black and silver metallic touches, perpetually leaping with one leg raised to waist height, moving in circles and linear patterns. The dominant note in this finale was twenty-three students in pink tutus, led by Lauren Strongin, in the Waltz of the Golden Hours, the same number commencing the January 2016 Gala. To me it took away from the earlier variations danced by de Sola and Sylve, rendering them more divertissements than sweet, evocative variations.

The Waltz is an inducement to students, and, probably, parents. Balanchine and Danilova undoubtedly had memories of similar use of students in the Imperial Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg. Used to the pared-down version, I found the yards of pink tutu a bit distracting to this French-born bon-bon. Like La Fille Mal Gardee, created in 1789 in Bordeaux by Jean Dauberval and the 1837 premiere of Giselle of Jules Perrot and Juan Corelli, these three durable ballets share French ancestry, however much layers and modifications may have ensued. Vive La France!

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The Mia Documentary

9 Oct

San Francisco Dance Film Festival opened its 2015 series at the Jewish Community Center’s Kanbar Hall, Monday, October 5 with the documentary
“Mia,” the life and accomplishments of Mia Slavenska. Slavenska died in 2002, believing she had been forgotten though she was lionized at the Ballet Russe Celebration in New Orleans in 2000 and subsequently interviewed for the wonderful Geller/Goldfine production Ballets Russes. This documentary was created by Mia’s daughter Maria Ramos and film-maker Kate Johnson. Their choice of signage seems geared to a television screen and smaller viewing space than the Kanbar.

While the documentary has been aired earlier on television, the chance to see it again was memorable, not just because of her life, but with the inclusion of three dance critics active during the height of Slavenska’s appearances: Jack Anderson,  who for many years co-edited the Dance Chronicle quarterly. Anderson also was one of The New York Times dance critics for many years, a poet who also authored The One and Only Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.

George Dorris served on the editorial board of Oxford University Press’ six-volume The Dance Encyclopedia, and contributed to the English publication Dancing Times. George Jackson covered Washington, D.C. for Dance News for many years, as well as writing periodically for The Washington Post; he now writes for the website danceviewtimes.

Newspaper accounts from Mia’s early years were quite amazing. She clearly was sure-footed technically and her debut elicited adoration from the audience. As a young adult, she created quite a stir for her advocacy of expressionist dancers like Harold Kreutzberg and Mary Wigman, causing a non-renewal of her contract with the Zagreb Opera House.

Mia and her mother left Croatia, went to Vienna, managed to get Mia into the cultural branch of the 1936 Olympics, which she won. Moving to Paris, Mia found an impresario who changed her name from Corak to Slavenska and got her into the film Ballerina with Yvette Chauvire and Janine Charrat, who played the young girl crippling Slavenska. The French title was Le Mort de Cygne.

The unexpected death of her impresario triggered Mia’s signing with Leonid Massine and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo where she languished because of a large roster of ballerinas. Here the documentary fails to credit her leading role in Marc Platt’s choreographic debut, Ghost Town, worth at least a photograph.

Also missing was Mia’s decision to spend nearly two years with Vicenzo Celli, the major Cecchetti teacher of the time. and the three seasons she was artistic director of the Fort Worth Ballet. Nor did it touch on the relationship Mia and Rozelle Frey enjoyed, and Frey’s studio where Slavenska periodically taught.

A significant portion of the film concerns Slavenska’s own ensemble, which, for a time, was profitable. Expanding the number of the ensemble proved fatal, causing them to lose their home. A good part of this footage centered around Slavenska and Franklin’s portrayals in Valerie Bettis’ A Street Car Named Desire. Tennessee Williams told Slavenska she was his best Blanche de Bois. Slavenska earlier enjoyed considerable acclaim, dancing Anton Dolin’s Pas de Quatre with Alicia Markova, Natalie Krassovska, and Nora Kaye. An excellent passage of her dancing with Royes Fernandez does not credit him as her partner.

With the fiscal disaster of the Slavenska-Franklin Company, Mia turned to teaching although she spent two seasons as the ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera, concurrently. When she left New York City for Los Angeles, she taught privately and for some years both at UCLA and CAL Arts before her retirement. The retirement years were spent writing her memoir, a copy of which was deposited at the Jerome Robbins Division of the New York City Public Library.

Slavenska attended the Ballets Russes Celebration in New Orleans in 2000; there she was one of the big draws, and is a featured dancer in the Geller/Goldfine documentary Ballets Russes. Unfortunately, she died before the documentary was released.

The film finishes with the touching evidence of the estime with which she is regarded in Croatia. A plaque is embedded in the wall of the house where she was born, and her ashes were interred in a ceremony led by Dido Bogdanovich, the artistic director of the Opera Ballet in Zagreb.

There is only so much footage can cover in an hour’s length; Ramos and Johnson have forged an excellent narrative with just enough actual dancing to fill out what largely are pictures and copies of articles, With this length of time, it only states the environment fostering her, a mother from a prominent family which lost its status and fortune following World War I, a modest father who was a professional pharmacist. Still Brava, Brava, Brava.