Tag Archives: George Balanchine

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.

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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!

Words on Dance at the Vogue, March 6

7 Mar

Deborah Kaufman started Words on Dance some twenty-two years ago, and she started the 2016 San Francisco components of this interview series on a rainy Sunday evening March 6. The water didn’t deter balletomanes and fans who came to see a brief but beautiful tribute to Violette Verdy with her wonderfully danced inflections, plus an absorbing, articulate documentary about Merrill Ashley’s navigation post-performing leading dancer career. Deborah Kaufman has dedicated the 2016 Words on Dance series to the memory of Violette Verdy

The Ashley documentary covered the ups and downs of a post highly active leading dancer performing, in addition to the ability to dance over pain. Towards the end of the film she is shown dancing the roles of Carabosse and Madge the Witch. Clearly she is still dancing but exploring character roles in the same manner that Erik Bruhn inhabited the same roles with such lust and vigor.

An interview ensued with Merrill Ashley questioned by Sara Jennings.

Part of the documentary’s fascination was Ashley’s description of navigating injury, describing a permanent change in her style of walking, difficulty with ligaments, an ankle bone fracture, all of which are difficult enough. Ashley’s surgery for hip replacement with images of her hospitalized and beginning to work with the exercises for a return to normal navigation held particular interest to someone with an arthritic condition.

Two other components of the documentary were obvious. Clips of her dancing and being seen with George Balanchine whose faithful muse she has been. The second is how incredibly photogenic she is with her well-proportioned oblong face and clearly slender body, with its ideal elongations Balanchine increasingly gravitated towards.

The film was enhanced by the commentary not only of Jacques d’Amboise [how could any documentary remotely connected with New York City Ballet fail to include him] but John Meehan who partnered Ashley in non NYC pas de deux, and her husband Kibbe Fitzpatrick.

The evening included snippets of a documentary in process on the intriguing subject of partnering from the male’s viewpoint, and an informational on a spring series of three at the Baryshnikov Center in New York City: March 23 with Mark Moris and Surupa Sen of Nrityagam, noted for its Odissi style; May 24 with Wendy Whelan and Christopher Wheeldon; Doug Elkins and David Neuman, organized by Lisa Rinehart as artistic director with Words on Dance as the producer.

In the reception prior to the program, a number of long-time dancers and teachers were present: Carlos Carvajal; Richard Gibson, who was acknowledged in the opening remarks. With Kaufman, Gibson’s niece Carmen Zegarelli and Christine Elliott were present; all studied at Peninsula Ballet Theatre with Gibson when the San Francisco area dance world was beginning to thrust itself into greater prominence in the early and mid Sixties. Even with the rain, Vogue Theatre provided  quite a memory lane.

Book Review: Vaganova Today

6 Feb

Book Review

Pawlick, Catherine E., Vaganova Today: The Preservation of Pedagogical Tradition
Gainesville Fl, University Press of Florida, 2011,  201 pp, $29.95
ISBN: 978-0-8130-3697-7

The name Vaganova usually fills the ballet lover with suitable respect.  The noted pedagogue’s name recurs regularly during a ballet competition when the Diane and Acteon pas de deux is performed, whether as one of the two variations or by an ambitious couple.

Any mention of schooling in a dancer’s biography leads to the fundamental expectation of purity and possibly virtuosity.  I remember Julia Vershbinsky telling me that her daughter Asya was one of six girls selected for study at that St. Petersburg institution out of several thousand – I venture six – but my memory is not that accurate.  But it gives one some notion just how lucky a child is when selected.

So it’s hardly surprising that Catherine Pawlick would be drawn to explore the school, its teachers and system as it existed when she started an interesting career in translation in that most elegant of Russian cities, the northern capital hewn from marshes by Peter the Great.

As Pawlick explains in the Preface, her initial exposure to the Vaganova syllabus was as an exchange student.  Duly impressed with the purity of the system under the Soviet regime, she returned to Russia in 2003 she made the decision to return to St. Petersburg to live in 2004, spending six years immersing herself in its ballet world, writing and interviewing members of the Institute; absorbing the structure and subtle ambiance inevitable with such a legacy of rigorous training and extraordinary artistic accomplishment.

Following the Preface with an impressive list of individuals in Acknowledgments she provides the reader with a Chronology of the Vaganova Institute, beginning in 1737 with Jean Lande,  the first French ballet master in St. Petersburg, requesting permission to open a ballet academy, and May 4, 1738 when Anna Ivanova signed a decree opening the “Dancing School of Her Highness.” This beginning was reorganized in 1779 forming the Imperial Theatre School, mandated to prepare dancers, musicians and actors.  [Compare the date: the British North American colonies were immersed in the American Revolution.]

Pawlick follows with a chronology of Agrippina Vaganova’s life, with its surprising credits for having served as artistic director of the Kirov, 1932-1937 when The Flames of Paris, and The Fountains of Bakshchsirai entered the repertoire.  Restagings included Swan Lake and Esmeralda, the latter providing the Diane and Aceton pas de deux has become such a staple.

Also during this time, her Basic Principles of Classic Ballet was published, which was published in English in New York by Kamin’s Book Store and translated by Anatole Chujoy with a red paperback cover and spiral binding if memory serves. Truly, Vaganova was a formidable contributor to the classic tradition which many of us today revere and extoll.

To return to the book’s format, following the Chronologies and Preface, it constitutes three sections: Vaganova, the Dancer [pages 5-28]; Vaganova, the Teacher [pages 29-74]; and Vaganova Today: Her Students pages 75-178] before Pawlick’s Conclusion.

A well-documented history of Vaganova includes comments about Olga Preobrajenska and her teaching methods, not only by Vaganova but visitors to Paris from Russia and by George Zoritch, a Preobrajenska student devoted to her memory.  As a strict classicist, Vaganova was ill suited to Fokine’s romantic approach; this prevented her from joining the dancers of the Diaghilev company either at its inception or with the four dancers, including Balanchine and Danilova, who left to tour Germany the summer of 1924 and never returned.  A further restriction on her career, Vaganova believed, was the lack of influential patronage.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Vaganova’s position after the Russian Revolution was not an easy transition, again mostly because of the hierarchy briefly remaining in St. Petersburg where Vera Trifilova was preeminent. In the text Konstastin  Sergeyev also explains the pros and cons which raged in the ‘Twenties artistically and classical ballet was not immune to controversy. It seems clear that the fact Vaganova never enjoyed the status her talent deserved . Lacking aristocratic or royal patronage provided her with opportunity under the Communist regime. Making do in the interval with other schools her diary records as awful, following Trifilova’s departure, Vaganova was invited to teach children’s classes because of her love of the school and “her irreproachable professionalism.”

Part of Vaganova’s success can be attributed to her ability to analyse her own physical difficulties with the classical syllabus. this enabled her to spot problems in students and to provide corrections and approaches to overcome the challenge of this most rigorous training.  The pictures opposite pages 25 and 33 give the reader some idea of Vaganova’s strength and commanding presence. A contemporary equivalent, though quite different, might  be Martine Van Hamel whose road to principal with American Ballet Theatre was singularly rigorous.

At the same time, Vaganova emulated Olga Preobrajenska’s approach to the students assigned her with equally reverential results.  Students were treated with respect and corrections were gentle though firm.  “Preo’s” student believed in training the entire body; I think this to mean she wanted a dancer to move as herself with the classical technique developed upon the intrinsic body style; this is something one can see clearly in a dancer, whether moving a trained body or the
technique pasted on.

The praise showered upon Vaganova’s pedagogical efforts are uniformly high with lavish, though discerning comments from Pyotor Gusev, Konstatin Sergeyev, and Fyodor Lubukhov as well as Ludmilla Blok and Nikolai Ivanovsky.
Opinions about her tenure as artistic director of the Kirov Ballet do differ, particularly when Vaganova opted for more naturalistic and expressive gestures
rather than traditional mime.  Lubukhov chides her for reorganizing the Diana
and Acteon pas de deux in Esmeralda, citing the role of a satyr danced by Georgy Kyasht with a conflict including a young Vaslav Nijinsky, a section Vaganova excised from the ballet; it had included Anna Pavlova in the Petipa production.

Reaching Vaganova Today: Her students, it is further divided.  First is
the Role of Pedagogue.  This describes a former dancer who received the full nine years of training in the academy, received a diploma, danced in a professonal Russian theatre and completed the Vaganova’s Academy graduate program for pedagogues, roughly a four year process.  Completing this course enables the dancer to coach other dancersin the theatre or to teach in the Academy.  This rigorous process still allows for performance.  Until recently, no individual trained in another academy or school was permitted, although individuals setting ballets for the repertoire are permitted in to stage the given work.

Pawlick then provides lengthy quotes from dancers turned pedagogues
either who remember Vaganova or who have come through the system and exemplify the tradition.  It is amazing and singular just how many of the individual teachers speak almost identical phrases.  This repetition, Pawlick commented to me, was nothing of her doing.  She interviewed the individuals separately and on a one-to-one basis.  Such is the veneration which existed at the time of Pawlick’s research and at a time when Altenai Assylmuratova was directing the Academy.

Ballet San Jose’s 2015-2016 Season

21 Jun

Ballet San Jose’s 2015-2016 season will open with Alicia Alonso’s production of Giselle, October 16-18,  Karen Gabay’s version of The Nutcracker. follows December 12-27.

Sometime during this fall Ballet San Jose’s name will become Silicon Valley Ballet , replacing San Jose’s name as the principal identification for the company Dennis Nahat secured for the Santa Clara Valley back in 2000. It potentially is a mistake. No municipality currently bears the name. Certainly the 21st century phenomenon for the original prune and apricot acerage lacks the history associated with the Spanish and Mexican beginnings on that once agriculture-rich soil.

With a 3.5 million payment due this fall, a double challenge is posed: will tech companies and their employees rise to cover the payment and to support the ensemble further. And how do San Jose supporters feel at the loss of the city’s name on the company?

The situation is also complicated by the sudden resignation of Alan Hineline, Ballet San Jose’s executive director/CEO, “for personal reasons.” It would be an intrepid individual to assume the daunting fiscal challenge on such short notice.

Three scheduled 2016 performance series start February 19-21 with Balanchine’s Who Cares; Minus 16 by Ohat Naharin and Annabella Lobez Ochoa’s Prism. March 25-27 will see a second viewing of Amy Seiwart’s This Might Be True and two additional premieres as yet unspecified. Septime Weber’s Alice in Wonderland will complete the 2016 spring season April 29-May 1. I believe it will be a first for the company and the area to witness one of Weber’s works.

Stay tuned.

The Four Programs of Paul Taylor’s Company

21 Apr

San Francisco Performances brought the Paul Taylor Company to the Lam Research Theatre at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts April 15-19 with four programs, ten dances, some of his oldies and goodies, including Fibers ,1961, Aureole. 1962, and a West Coast premiere, Death and the Damsel.

Taylor’s appearances every other year possess so many treats it’s hard to know where to begin. The audience reflects a wide range of tastes and inclinations,united in their appreciation of good dancing, good theatre and a modern dance company, managing to survive and flourish over a half century.

Then there are the sixteen dancers with their obvious quantity of highly active grey matter. Fourteen dancers holder BFA degrees; there’s a joint major in music and business administration. In the roster two bear sheepskins with magna cum laude written on them and three with summa cum laude imprinted; one magna also was elected Phi Beta Kappa,; Yale and Columbia universities are represented; there are two possessors of master’s degrees. Verily Taylor works with brains and bodies.

The bodies themselves are interesting; women are rounded, boobs as well as butts; several men look qualified for the heftier of Olympic field sports or tensile strength required on the tennis court. Seeing them execute the winged V’s Taylor requires in many stage crossings or watching them, one knee bent, torso tilted, head raised, or the modified cross body front or back attitude as the recorded music soars gives empathetic muscles a thorough engagement in relaxing “ah” sensation; reveling in the delicious little side hops which are almost minuscule or expand into space-covering reaches.. Riches, riches, riches.

These movements are managed in ways that spare them from being cliched, in the same style good ballet choreographers can make an arabesque into a question mark or an attitude an embrace. Certainly we see it most clearly when Taylor decides his theme needs to be aligned with a great composer like Georg Frederick Handel, for Aureole, his frequent use of Johann Sebastian Bach, Brandenburg Concertoes,Promethean Fire>, Esplanade. It is evident also when the composer is Arnold Schoenberg, the musical source of the 1961 Fibers, with an evocative tree with its filigree branches a delicate contrast to the
the rigid,layered strips of cloth on the men, the white sheen of the women’s bathing suit-like costumes further emphasized with lines of black, skillful dissonance and conformity.

Then there was Ralph Vaughn Williams’ musical setting for Eventide gracing Program Three, providing the very polite, conventional but heart-touching formalities of ten dancers headed by Parisa Khabdeh and Michael Trusnovec.

Their two duets early and penultimate in the piece were marvelous reflections of the doubts men and women feel as they begin to commit themselves to long-term partnership, first the woman, then the man; the breakaways, hesitations, pauses, with understanding reinforcements etched in posture, gesture, line.

I wonder if I am accurate in assuming that Taylor turns to commissioned music when he has his story doesn’t fit the existing musical archive. If so, his choices are reflected in the music of Davis Israel for The Word, 1998, and Death and the Damsel receiving its West Coast Premiere in Program II. Aided in both works by design Santo Loquasto and light designer Jennifer Tipton, Taylor’s view of society’s underside is clearly crafted. The Word featured twelve bodies encased in would-be leaderhausen/ schoolboy knee-highs, string ties and white shirts responding to and regimented by a doctrine delivered in demogogic style; Heavy lurches and lunges, collective jumping, all of it weighted, awkward and joyless; fascism or hyper-evangelistic religion, take your pick. You can imagine the release felt with Taylor’s Brandenburgs.

Death and the Damsel’s
set evoked Paris garrets before the inevitable dives. Jamie Roe Walker, with a substantial ballet history, was the delicate young blonde rising out of her bed, stage center, lively, chipper, ready to conquer the world. At the edges figures like ravens, hints of the deep green-black plumage, lurked. She repeated her cavorting, slightly subdued; a third time more subdued as the creatures crept closer. She dived into the bed, pulling the pillow over her head. Jerked from hiding, thrust into a dive, she was pulled, hoisted and ritualistically raped, her legs a constant V-shape to the audience as the ominous-winged males approached her. She staggered to her feet to fight her captors, flinging them one way and another with increasing confidence, fearless. She stood with them, lying around her feet, dazzling, triumphant; inevitably, the death figures rose. surrounding her clumped on the floor; quick curtain.

Again, it took Bach to bring the audience to resolution With Taylor’s 2002 creation of Promethean Fire, Led by Trusnovec and Khabdeh in magnificent black unitards with circular lines of velvet, equally black, moving inexorably to the peals of Bach’s organ music, Toccata and Fuque in D-minor, Prelude in E-Flat minor and Chorale Prelude BWV680, circling, falling into a body heap where Khabdeh is pulled by Trusnovec. In the lines the weight of shoulders and backs were accented by the costumes, the shoulders held naturalistically, ballet technique moulds differently. The Taylor steps, drops, hops and run, fortified by the huge aural organ sounds, assume an inevitability, compelling many in the audience to rise and cheer at the end of the evening.

Finally, Taylor never leaves his audience without some relieving humor. Aureole supplied it in Program I. In Program II it’s Diggity, 1978, a piece with various dog profiles scattered over the stage, eight dancers hopping around and in between the profiles, one of two mutts highlighted at various moments.

It was Program III which gave us Amilicare Ponchielle’s Dance of the Hours disguised as Troilus and Cressida (Reduced), With Parisa Khabdeh as Cressida, Troilus in Robert Kleiendorst, forever hoisting his royal blue sweats in front of Loquasto’s well-imagined pieces of rococo swirls at the borders of a backdrop with blatant bright hues.

Three Cupids flip their hands and wings coaching a waiting Khabdeh who awkwardly imitates necessary come-hither gestures before the Cupids rouse the born-yesterday figure of Troilus. The mating attempts were deliberately broad, comical against the bubbly, twinkling Ponchielle tune. Add to it three Roman soldiers in scarlet, with voluminous cloaks who want to abduct Cressida, but decide the cupids are better prey. Everyone completes the ditty with can-can kicks; the audience loved it.

The season finished with Esplanade, 1975, a pell-mell exposition to the score George Balanchine employed for Concerto Barocco, somersaults, Michelle Fleet hopping merrilly over her colleagues’ hunched figures; nine figures streaked in diagonals until they disbursed and Fleet, stage center raised her arms graciously to mark the finale.

Diablo Ballet’s Twenty-First Gala, March 26

6 Apr

At the Lesher Center for the Arts March 26 Diablo Ballet danced its 21st anniversary performance before supporters and dancers retired to Scott’s Garden for a gathering which garnered Contra Costa County’s oldest ballet ensemble with more than $50,000.

I don’t normally participate in such fiscal enterprises, but thanks to transportation arrangements with Richard and Elizabeth Green Sah, I enjoyed a Miller of Dee exposure. In the process I reconnected with poet Gary Soto and his wife Carolyn, with whom I shared a publishing series of classes at U.C. Extension with the late Jean Louis Brindamour, Ph.D. Missing them from the company’s roster I learned that Hiromi Yamasaki and Maya Sugano have each recently given birth to daughters.

Starting at 6:30, the 21st program featured three revivals or reconstructions, two pieces created by current company dancers and one series of images titled Aeterna XXI, following each other with just a short pause.

David Fonnegra’s piece, a pas de deux to Felix Mendelssohn’s “Song Without Words” was danced by Tetyana Martyanova and Fonnegra. Martyanova’s credits were listed as companies in Odessa, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and Tania Perez-Salas Compania de Danza. I found her costume, a long black tunic with slits disconcerting; despite several slits, the length interfered; – just when a phrase reached its completion, there was this distracting black strip, making Fonnegra’s partnering seem labored, distorting line.

A second choice of Mendelssohn was made by Robert Dekkers, performed by Janet Witharm, Cello; Philip Santos, Violin and Aaron Pike, piano. Under the titleSee Saw seven dancers participated in a semi-abstract classical one act. Dekkers is skillful, adept in movement choices, save one noticeable blooper; to fill musical phrases when the strings engaged in extended arabesques. Dekker required the dancers to wave their fingers with a slight flop to the palm, appearing tacked on and extraneous.

Opening the program was the Balanchine pas de deux from Apollo where he and Terpsichore connect, danced by Christian Squires and Sandrine Cassini, a French contribution. Both small, compact, they were well suited to each other, but the snippet was all too short.

Joanna Berman restaged Hamlet and Ophelia, the pas de deux Val Caniparoli created for Berman in 1985 early in her San Francisco Ballet career to Bohuslav Martinu’s music. Dedicated to Lew Christensen’s memory, the work makes much of a lengthy cloak which Hamlet (Squires) wears as he makes his way from upstage left to downstage right. Ophelia flutters around and is strong armed once by Hamlet in a menacing pas de deux. Clearly a teen-ager who hasn’t much of a clue, the bourrees and port de bras, like chicken wings. clue the audience to the inevitable. Christian Squires did double duty as Hamlet with Amanda Harris as Ophelia. After left alone in desperate state, Ophelia witnesses Hamlet retrace his steps with the black cape, leaving it a black river upon which she fatally steps; as she bourrees on it towards stage center, the cloak begins to ripple and turn blue; curtain.

Kelly Teo departed Diablo Ballet nearly a decade ago; Lauren Jonas and Erika Johnson restaged Incitations, the tight little ballet he created to the music of Astor Piazolla in 1997 for two couples, here Martyanova with Derek Sakakura, Rosselyn Ramirez and Justin VanWeest. The quartet performed it with a verve befitting the well-remembered zest of its creator, now a hotelier in Shanghai.