Tag Archives: Jennifer Stahl

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.

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!

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.

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.

Stern Grove’s 76th Season and San Francisco Ballet’s Annual Appearance

1 Aug

July 28 remained stubbornly overcast, but not so cold that union regulations forbade San Francisco Ballet dancing. My friends shared with me a table graced by Teri McCollum and her friend Tab, an excellent view of the stage, and as the program began, anyone who could manage the space between the granite-lined path and bench legs. A couple of women even managed to sit on the Igloo at the end of the table.

What was seen was deliberately selected for an audience as intent on food and company as on the stage, designed to enjoy without heavy emotional engagement, but skillful, very much so. This year’s roster comprised, “From Foreign Lands,” Alexi Ratmansky with Moritz Moszkowski music of the same name, the cultures being Russian. Italian, German, Spanish and Polish; Stone and Steel, Myles Thatcher’s ballet for the School’s May concert to music of Michael Nyman and Yann Tiersen. Then a pas de deux for Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith by Edward Liang to Thomas Albinoni, titled Distant Cries preceded the finale Suite en Blanc, Serge Lifar’s 1943 display for the Paris Opera Ballet to the music of Edouard Lalo.

The Ratmansky work comprised successively a pas de quatre of two couples; a pas de quatre with three women and one man; a pas de quatre with one woman and three men; and pas de quatre for two couples and the finale a pas de huit for four couples. The first, Russian, was a slight rivalry and partner change with Sasha de Sola, Jaime Garcia Castilla, Frances Chung and Gennadi Nedvigin, and the initial pairing, sparkling allegro and a pair of more lyric limbed dancers – in the end winding up one with each. Castilla and Nedvigin made a fascinating visual contrast in their initial appearance, the legato and the crisp, both admirably schooled. In the Italian Joan Boada displayed his elevation for Dores Andre, Dana Genshaft and Sarah Van Patten. Simone Messmer, formerly with American Ballet Theatre, made her debut in the German number opposite Luke Ingham, Myles Thatcher and Shane Wuerthner whose function primarily was to lift her aloft, allowing her to inspect them, the role originally danced by Sofiane Sylve. Frances Chung, Sarah Van Patten, Joan Boada and Gennadi Nedvigin returned to make like Spaniards, all aware of their mutual charms. For the finale, the Polish, there were jumps for the men in addition to partnering for the women. Ratmansky has a deft touch, conveying flavor without laboring the point, and it moves such a slight work along with great charm.

Thatcher’s Stone and Steel is another work displaying his growing capacity to organize an ensemble, moving the dancers individually and collectively. This ten dancer ballet was created to music by Michael Nyman and Yann Tiersen; as suggested by the title, the ambiance was insistent and the execution crisp. Sasha de Sola was the only soloist with the nine from the corps de ballet, including new corps de ballet members, Isabella de Vivo and Wei Wang; both had been utilized during the spring season, either as apprentices or in the student performing group. The other dancers were Jordan Hammond, Kristina Lind, Julia Rowe, Sean Orza, Steven Morse, Henry Sidford and Lonnie Weeks.

Distant Cries started out with Yuan Yuan Tan moving in silence and joined by Damian Smith as the music commences. Their long-standing partnering is invariably a pleasure to watch, he displaying her long limbs to great advantage. At the end Damian retreated upstage center and Yuan Yuan was left alone, perhaps portending his retirement rumored for the end of 2014’s season.

I would love to know the roster of the dancers who created the various sections of Lifar’s Suite en Blanc in Zurich just about six months before Paris was liberated in 1944. I know Lycette Darsonval and Yvette Chauvire were among them, as well as Roland Petit and Janine Charrat. Jean Babilee, because he was Jewish, had left the Opera Ballet to join the Resistance. Carlos Carvajal can recite who danced what when the ballet was danced by the Grand Ballet de Marquis de Cuevas.

Marie-Claire D’Lyse, Kristina Lind and Jennifer Stahl wore romantic length tutus for the opening sieste, followed by another pas de trois with Sasha de Sola, Davit Karapetyan and Vitor Luiz, whose principal assignment seemed to be grand jetes and beats while turning. Clara Blanco in serenade was charm with a fair amount of pique steps; the effectiveness slightly lost because the corps behind her is elevated on ramps when danced on a proscendium arched stage. This also was true for Dores Andre’s appearance in the pas de cinq with Esteban
Hernandez, Wei Wang, Lonnie Weeks and Dmitry Zagrebin.

This served as debut performances for Hernandez and Zagrebin, particularly when the four men beat entrechats in a line. Hernandez is the brother of Isaac Hernandez, now with Het National Ballet in the Netherlands. Shorter thant Isaac, I first saw Esteban at the USA IBC in Jackson in 2010, where he received the Jury Award of Encouragement. I also look forward to seeing more of Zagrebin, Bolshoi trained and former company member; he garnered a gold medal at Seoul’s International Competition in 2010.

Vanessa Zahorian transcended the title of her solo, cigarette, with her usual flair to be followed by one of the company’s India rubber balls, Taras Domitro in mazurka. Wan Ting Zhao and Tiit Helimets were featured in the pas de deux before Sofiane Sylve appeared in flute. In this fleeting glimpse before the finale, Sylve managed to capture the audience’s focus with the like strength that captivated an earlier Stern Grove audience when she danced the second movement of Balanchine’s Symphony in C. She projects simplicity but with a quiet fierce majesty rarely failing to satisfy a witness.

Aside

Two S.F. Ballet Nuts, December 20, 24

31 Dec

Balletomanes and music lovers frequent share an obsession of comparing dancers in traditional roles. More or less I share this fairly narcissistic pastime, finding myself side-tracked on You Tube when referencing a particular dancer or ballet sequence. However, if we didn’t so indulge, we might disappoint the dancers who work hard, inviting us to cite precedents and rate successes.

Nutcracker certainly provides an opportunity for upcoming dancers to essay a variety of roles and for corps members to gain experience in complex partnering. Lacking other responsibilities, I’d gladly sit through three or four performances to see who’s coming along and how well they take center stage. As it was, I saw two, December 20 evening and December 24 matinee.

I found myself thinking this Christmas Eve seeing San Francisco Ballet in its 1915-themed production of this work. Willam Christensen premiered in 1944 with Russell Hartley designing the costumes with cast off curtains and other thrift store items in wartime San Francisco, Bolivian-born Antonio Sotomayor designing the decor.  I saw the original production  in 1946 or 1947 in my home town high school auditorium.

For 12/20 Yuri Possokhov was Drosselmeyer, Jennifer Stahl the Sugar Plum Fairy with Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets in the grand pas de deux; Yuan Yuan Tan and Vito Mazzeo battled the cascades of snow as the monarchs of winter and the Mouse King was an exuberant Sean Orza.

Myles Thatcher, Madison Keesler and Daniel Deivision were the dancing dolls on December 20. The challenge for the trio was being limber and liquid for the Arlequin, stiff joint articulation forthe feminine doll and jaunty briskness for the magical nutcracker, the trio entirely adequate to the task. Atticus Simmons was a nasty Fritz for both occasions, Juliet Doherty for Clara December 20. Louis Schilling was Madame de Cirque both performances; in Romeo and Juliet you could recognize Schilling as the Duke of Verona, in both roles quite hefty. Sylve and Helimets filled the term “grand pas de deux,” cool but expansive.

On Christmas Eve Sylve became the authoritative Sugar Plum Fairy, guiding Val Caniparoli’s Drosselmeyer and Clara through the ghostly evocation of the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers as Davit Karapetyan and Maria Kochetkova presented an impeccable grand pas de deux. For the King and Queen of the Snow, Tiit Helimets squired Wan Ting Zhao, while the fist shaking Mouse King was Sebastian Vinet. On the 24 the doll trio were Francisco Mungamba, Clara Blanco and James Sofranko. Mungamba’s phrasing was distinctive as well as supple while Blanco’s definitive blank-eyed doll  isalmost as an institution; Sofranko’s little nut bruiser was brisk as all get out.

Special mention needs to go to Charlotte Ogden-Moore; jer Clara seemed imbued with spontaneous reaction, in the moment, with a joy and instinctive phrasing reminding me of early Audrey Hepburn films.

I particularly wanted to see Zhao as the Queen of the Snow with her background at the National Academy in Beijing, representing some sixty years of training in the school founded by Dai Ai-Lian at the behest of Chao En-Lai. Beautifully proportioned, as one expects from state-run ballet academies, her attack is clear, confident and musical, and behind the blur of phony snow, a natural pleasure and warmth seemed to lurk. One looks forward to additional assignments.

Two Drosselmeyers could not be more divergent in approach: Possokhov the expansive pater familias for all his single appearance and Caniparoli geniality and the lurking grandiose gesture.