Tag Archives: Gaetano Amico

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.

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Cinderella: Her Second Season with SFB, March 13

17 Mar

For foodies who also like ballet, the buffet in San Francisco’s Opera House is recommended once you pick up your tickets if not mailed to you. The hot dishes can be impressive, if simple, the roast beef succulent. It is the array of salads and vegetables where the buffet seems to excel; celery root julienned; farro with raisins and carrots; asparagus spears, spinach with citrus fruit. The prospect of second helpings and a complimentary glass of champagne is further inducement.

This year I elected the Thursday night program partly because Norman Hersch could only go that night and I wanted to see Frances Chung switch roles from an ugly sibling to the chosen one, Cinderella herself. She is such an admirable dancer; correct, musical, willing, and also reticent though gracious, altogether a formidable combination. Truly a company dancer, her attitude reminds me a bit of Margot Fonteyn, minus any brouhaha. What’s not to admire?

Davit Karapetyan was Chung’s Prince Charming with Diego Cruz making his debut as Benjamin, the Prince’s friend. Shannon Rugani rendered a powerful portrait of Stepmother Hortensia, understated but definite. Elizabeth Powell and Ellen Rose Hummel horsed it up as the two step sisters, Hummel’s Clementine winning Cruz’ Benjamin. Reuben Martin Cintas created a believable father, bereft, then remarried, pecked and coat holder, but ultimately defender of his blood child. In the royal household, Ricardo Bustamonte and Anita Paciotti were suitably anxious about princely behavior and marital choices, while Val Caniparoli’s Alfred worried a tad about Benjamin’s mischief and as Madame Mansard, Katita Waldo was completely flumoxed by her two young charges. Interesting note: Pascale Le Roy created the Mansard role last May, shortly before she was dismissed from San Francisco Ballet School’s staff, a post filled easily a decade or more.

Missing is the fairy god-mother. At the fireplace she is replaced by the Prince in disguise who is given food by Cinderella, a neat insert for cause and effect. Quickly the four Fates- Gaetano Amico, Daniel Deivison-Oliveira, Luke Willis and Shane Wuerthner intervene; providing wheels for Cinderella’s carriage to the ball, following the seasons’ coaching session in personal qualities. The seasons and their entourages didn’t seem to convey qualities to me, though the dancing was excellent. Jaime Garcia Castilla’s fluid a la seconde developpes were breathtaking as Summer while the Autumnal carrot wig [Halloween?]on Hansuke Yamamoto’s warred visually with his usual allegro fleetness.

One can scarcely fault Julian Crouch’s scenery and costumes except for the questionable taste in costuming the princesses from Spain, Russia and Bali; Goya doublet and hose, Orthodox robes and heavily veiled saris make me cringe over the mental processes which decided the selection and its visualization. His visual reference to the tree emerging from the mother’s tombstone with its weighted reference to the earth and regeneration is apt and touching, regardless of the more traditional story. As a beginning and finale it serves its purpose tidily.

Without doubt it’s a stunning production, from the tree emerging from the mother’s tomb, to the suggestion of regal status by the use of rust-hued pillars and a fussy sofa. Cinderella’s ballgown shimmers with its vertical wheat-like strands matches the billowing scarf-like train as she rides on the wheels of her gallant fates.

I enjoy stage business when it provokes a smile and is appropriate to the action. The global trek changed: three princesses come to conquer in a broadened riff of Swan Lake. Mother Hortensia’s inebriation rated a chuckle or two, and the nastier of the two sisters made appeared in a garmentless hoop with an overnight suitor quickly departing with drooping suspenders. (How could he have reached her?) The candidates to fit the slipper paraded and departed on a row of chairs, any remaining hastened by a functionary in glinting medieval armor; the chairs gradually lurched their way upwards before the final shoe fitting.

Clearly those excellent dancing Fates were employed to emphasize the magical crucial moments; however, the story’s message is strong enough to dispense with their services. When Cinderella retrieves her slipper from the sequestered fireplace niche, she is lifted. Granted, the lodging was high enough to require some assistance; but did it need to be that high in the first place? The interplay between Chung and Karapetyan was sufficiently strong to convey special recognition, a felicity that grew between them throughout the performance.

Would I want to see it again? Sure. I would hope for an unexpected encounter with Elaine Connell, former Asian Art Museum Commissioner and one time seventh grade school teacher in San Francisco who said her class nick-named her Blanca Brujo. Her friend Nancy Zacker regaled us with references to her relatives living in pre Gold Rush Sutter’s Fort. At intermission I was introduced to Don Blateman and his wife Emerald. Blateman was responsible for the inspiring documentary on the three Berkeley housewives/mothers who pioneered saving San Francisco Bay. It was a few hours of evenly balanced fantasy, memoir and social vision.

Second Night with San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker

16 Dec

Because I wanted to see Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz in the grand pas de deux, I opted for San Francisco Ballet’s second performance of The Nutcracker for 2013, December 12. I also saw Vanessa Zahorian and Taras Domitro in the Snow Scene plus Yuri Possokhov as Drosselmeyer with some exuberant flourishe, head movements emphasizing the music. Anita Paciotti and Jim Sohm created their perennially cheerful decrepitude as the grandparents and Gaetano Amico was quite the sinister Mouse King.

Enjoying the 1915 San Francisco scene with me was Lawrence Smelser, long-time balletomane who moved to Portland after retiring from the Library of Congress. Larry has witnessed his fair share of Nutcracker’s including the premiere performance of the Baryshnikov version with Misha B and Gelsey Kirkland. For him to say it was one of the most satisfying he had ever seen was to make this California native’s heart kvell.

This year’s souvenir program has added images from past San Francisco Ballet Nutcracker’s supplied by The Museum of Performance and Design, now located on the south side of Folsom, just east of Fifth Street. The photos make a charming glimpse along Memory Lane, if the printing fades into the pastel of the pages. I guess the thought is that plain ole black and white, or even sepia and white would be too obvious, though readable!

The Act I party scene seemed well coordinated, moving smoothly, also conveying children’s capacity for extra energy and excitement at a party. Diego Cruz as the floppy Harlequin came across as a tad forced, not so freely stretched as previous harlequins, of which Jaime Garcia Castilla was such an example. Doris Andre as the overdressed doll danced with great control but Clara Blanco still takes the prize for being doll like; Max Cauthorn as the party Nutcracker dispatched his jetes with business-like precision; he also made an appealing shaggy bear in Act II emerging from Mme de Cirque’s tent-like skirts.

The Snow Scene enjoyed two wonderful monarchs with Zahorian and Domitro, the latter’s jetes and tours making a minor role major. Tomasson has the advantage of a stable of excellent male partners with techniques to match, a situation which Lew Christensen did not enjoy. What Christensen gave the snow scene was a feeling of wind blowing the snowflakes, moving in
diagonals, clasping hands briefly swirling in and out of the wings. Tomasson’s vision emphasizes the picky, almost icy, stinging qualities in the Tchaikovsky score, the corps constantly crossing the stage on pointe as the falling snow practically obliterates the floor. Zahorian danced with her usual musical aplomb, and the corps seemed particularly strong.

Recently-promoted Jennifer Stahl is tall, slender, musically correct. Still new to an assignment like The Sugar Plum, she concentrates on a musical flow without momentary etchings or pauses in an arabesque, jete or pirouette which should come as she adds emphasis and phrasing to her enchainements.

Amongst the variations two of the favorites remain the Chinese, featuring Wei Wang, an energetic apologist for a U.S. version of mobile Chinoiserie. The second is Anatole Vilzak’s Russian variation with the trio bursting through their egg-shaped enclosures visually adorned with wintry Russian scenes. Daniel Deivision was the central dancer of the trio included Myles Thatcher and Alexander Reneff-Olsen. Deivision livens up anything he dances with intensity. Tomasson should be thanked for retaining Vilzak’s version; it’s classic.

While the other variations were nicely rendered, little in their overall impression stirred me quite so much. I’m sure I will see their interpreters to better advantage during the spring season.

Vitor Luiz was an unaffected but distinctly princely Nutcracker, his mime of the battle crystalline in its clarity as his battements are waist high. His matter-of-factness diminishes the quality and precision of his dancing, but somehow a glint of his authority does peep through to let you know just how privileged one is to watch him dance.

Then there is Lorena, with her extraordinary back and special port de bras flowing from her sculpted shoulders. What a treat it is to see her expression in a variation, eyes a trifle down cast, head resting on a neck which appears free of strain; and in profile to see the line of head to pointed toe, the image of a romantic dancer, with the technical power capable of alternating between single and double pirouettes or fouettes.

Like Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan, Luiz and Feijoo are partners; there definitely is something comfortable in their strenuous collaboration for our visual and emotional pleasure.