Tag Archives: Jerome Robbins

San Francisco Ballet’s Program Five: Gathering and Swimming

29 Mar

March 16 San Francisco Ballet presented just two ballets with highly opposite treatments: Jerome Robbins’ 1969 Dances at a Gathering to Chopin’s music played by Roy Bogas and the 2015 Yuri Possokhov work called Swimmer with a composite score by Shinji Eshima, Kathleen Brannan, Gavin Bryars, and Tom Waits. Hard to conjure more divergent use of the classical canon. The divergence in taste was testified to by a distinct winnowing of the audience following Dances at a Gathering.

Dances at a Gathering was premiered at New York City Ballet 47 years ago. I dare say it is for the American ballet world what Les Sylphides was for Russian Ballet in the early 20th century. Staged again by Jean-Pierre Frohlich with Jenifer Ringer Fayette with Jennifer Tipton’s sensitive lighting, it demonstrates just how aware Robbins could be in his creative insights forty six years ago. The dancers waft on and off with remarkable naturalism, starting with Joseph Walsh touching the earth, the space where the emotions would follow, lightly but indelibly sketched. Lorena Feijoo was given the difficult task of a feminine initiator, rebuffed several times, but taking the rejections with hands moving from the wrist, “ Tout va change, tout va reste le meme chose.”

I was particularly caught by Carlo Di Lanno’s dancing. When he raises his arms en haut, he does it with a breath, the inhalation providing a distinct lightness to the movement. When the group of three man were dancing on a slight diagonal line opposite three women, his port de bras perfectly echoed the line of his extended right leg, a moving diagram in dance.

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Vanessa Zahorian and Carlo DiLanno in Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering. (© Erik Tomasson)

Supported by Ray Bogas at the piano, Dances at a Gathering spun its mid-summer late afternoon magic, leaving us intensely gratified and wanting to see it again soon.

Swimmer enjoys Alexander V. Nichol’s superb visuals with Taras Domitro waking, executing perfunctory exercises, of course exaggerated, showering with projections expanding the splashes – outlandish in our drought conscious society – before sitting down to breakfast with the papers –which were flashed large and varied as Domitro sits in front of cardboard wife and children before having another cardboard wife deliver him his jacket. Kate Duhamel’s video designs accent the vignettes throughout, water being one of the principal themes, from the shower to the ocean. I felt the water image in its various forms was somewhat overdone, a “get my point, see what I mean” emphasis. Domitro was marvelous throughout, lean, agile and airborne.

Next follows “the commute,” featuring fellow passengers, another visual bus, strap-hangers, bus chugging along, going up hills and a thoroughly exaggerated 190 degrees, a wonderful tunnel, before portraying “the office,” equally exaggerated. Projections of computers and reams of paper being spewed out flash across the screen, walked across for checking with a woman signing the stack furiously. No doubt about it, as a retired office worker myself, Possokhov has an unerring comic touch.

Up to that point Possokhov is dead on. Then he has his “hero” encounter mass media, Hollywood, Pool Party and a First Swim, followed by specific literary references; they unfold, conveying the essence of subject matter as seen from a foreign-born, foreign resident’s eye. Apart from content, and unlike prior Possokhov productions, the stage settings begin to blur choreographic patterns and dancers. If that was the intent it certainly succeeded, but it marred some glimpses of excellence, particularly of Gennadi Nedvigin and Pascal Molat whose company performing days dwindle down precipitously, an overly advanced September.

Tiit Helimets and Maria Kochetkova enacted Lolita with the seduction gradually changing from man to nymphet to nymphet to man, followed by Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz on stairs. Carolyn Carvajal observed that both pas de deux were danced to songs rendered with Tom Wait’s gravelly voice; a neat observation between voice and the physical encounter, regardless of motivation.

Swimmer
has an ability to convey a certain quality in contemporary American life, a shallowness all too prevalent, images piled one after another to make one cringe at its unerring display of distractions, of sensation minus feeling. The contrast with Robbins’ work was telling.

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San Francisco Ballet’s Program IV, February 26

1 Mar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ballet San Jose’s Master Pieces, February 20

28 Feb

Using recorded music of Petyr Illich Tchaikovsky, Leonard Bernstein and Philip Glass, Ballet San Jose presented the 1947 Balanchine work Theme and Variations; Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free, premiered in 1944, and Twyla Tharp’s In The Upper Room, choreographed in 1986.

Theme and Variations featured Junna Ige and Maykel Solas in the roles Balanchine created for Alicia Alonso and Igor Youskevitch then dancing with Ballet Theatre before that company acquired the additional label American. The two dimunitive dancers danced with great accuracy, Ige a bit subdued, but sweet, and Solas meeting the demands of those killer turns with equanimity. With the mental images of the creators in my mind, the gentleness was that much more striking, and I dare say the lack of an orchestra created a certain abruptness in the corps de ballet. One also needs to remember that Ballet Theatre at the time wasn’t all that swift classically; the roles given to the supporting males demonstrate that state of ballet’s development in the U.S.

The local production was rendered tidily, everyone dutifully in the right place at the right time. The fire implied by the surges in the music never seemed to translate the dancers’ bodies; I attribute that to the lack of a live orchestra. I saw Alonso and Youskevitch in the roles at the Los Angeles Biltmore Theatre, and watched Yoko Ichino flirt with her partner, along with several other exponents, the daisy chain movements and the male double rond de jambes as well as the sur la place double tours were familiar. Ige and Solas were on time and in command of the required technique, but I think they too would have been more fired up with musicians in the pit.

Then there was Fancy Free with its wonderful World War II subject matter, the music, costumes. For my money Ommi Pipit-Suksun, with her wonderfully articulate body, liquid movement and sensual qualities well dusted with delicacy, displayed the ambiance Janet Reed brought to
the role. Seconded by Grace-Anne Powers, the dame with the red handbag and the jaunty yellow skirt trimmed in black, was saucy without Muriel Bentley’s bite. Emma Francis appeared in a yellow wig as the girl at the curtain who sends the fellows scooting off stage, heftier than Shirley Eckl.

Rudy Candia, Joshua Seibel and Walter Garcia were the three sailors and James Kobecky the bar tender. Candia, in Jerome Robbins’ original role, was far milder in his innuendo than the creator, but truer to the overall spirit. Joshua Seibel came close to the sweet testosterone of John Kriza who danced the role throughout his career with Ballet Theatre. Walter Garcia assumed Harold Lang’s original brash sailor, also made memorable by Michael Smuin. Brooke Byrne
remarked that Dennis Nahat would have been able to heighten their impact, for all the fact that Jose Manuel Carreno danced one of those three on twenty-four hours’ leave.

Twyla Tharp chose Philip Glass’ music of the same title for her 1986 commission for American Ballet Theatre, In the Upper Room, creating a smoke-like atmosphere and demanding an unremitting attack from the dancers; they rose to the challenge with gusto, garnering an enthusiastic, standing response of the evening from the audience for the vigor and zest they brought to their assignment. The costumes looked as if they had been designed for minimal detention quarters with most of the dancers in sport shoes with a couple of women in red pointe shoes.

I do not exactly agree with CEO Alan Hineline’s statement that the company dances world-class, especially minus an orchestra. It does provide a roster of interesting works. Les not forget the repertoire under Dennis Nahat was equally varied, including works both modern and classical.

Words on Dance Celebrates Edward Villella

30 Oct

Deborah Kaufman, who started Words on Dance two decades ago, invited Sarah Kaufman, the Pulitzer Prize dance critic for The Washington Post [and its second dance critic award, following the late Alan Kriegsman] to interview Edward Villella for its Monday, October 27 event at ODC’s Theatre at 17th and Shotwell, San Francisco. Villella had taught class at City Ballet School the previous Saturday and there was a reception in his honor the same weekend. The three page notes for the occasion mentioned this was Villella’s fifth appearance for Words on Dance.

Words on Dance typically shows film snippets of the artist, interspersed with the interviewer querying the interviewee. Operation Villella was no exception, and it enjoyed the added section of his 1997 Award Footage at the Kennedy Center, plus three or four separate filmed comments by Jacques d’Amboise, Robert La Fosse and Jock Soto regarding various aspects of Villella’s impact on the U.S. male ballet dancer scene, his artistry and being a member of the same company.

Nine different screenings were preceded by appropriate queries and comments. In addition to the Kennedy Center screening, the Villella solos from Balanchine’s Apollo and Tchaikovsky pas de deux demonstrated his intense kinesthetic impact, and his presence as Oberon in Midsummer Night’s Dream. Villella recounted how the great teacher Stanley Williams provided him with the gesture from which he was able to convey the kingly quality of the elusive summer spirit.

Villella, whose degree in Marine Transportation must also have provided him with some training in analysis, repeated some of the wonderful comments he shared at a lunch at the Tenth USA IBC event in Jackson, Mississippi this past June where he appeared carefully while convalescing with pneumonia. Most of these included the image Balanchine provided to him of Byzantine icons for Prodigal Son and his own realization that the ballet’s style was heavily influenced by the Russian constructive art movement of the early twentieth century. The screening for this was provided by snippets from the 2014 Joffrey Ballet production for which he supplied crucial coaching. From the looks of it, the production was far more stream-lined physically than the images I remembered from the early NYC Ballet productions [I saw Jerome Robbins n the role] and even the seasons when it was included in San Francisco Ballet’s repertoire.

Kaufman asked him about ballerinas, and Villella confined himself to two comments. He extolled Patricia McBride with whom he was frequently featured and told the story of having one dancer counting out loud wrong timing in the finale of Agon.

Perhaps the comments I enjoyed most came from Villella’s observations about Rubies, the middle section of Balanchine’s three-part work, Jewels. He said he realized that it was all about race horses, with the woman as the filly and him as the jockey, reinforced by the four men and the tall woman the other part of Rubies.

The final ballet screening featured Miami City Ballet in Villella’s 2009 production of Symphony in Three Movements. Shot from a distance, the company he directed for twenty-five years looked precision-perfect. Villella was asked during the question and answer period about his experience with Miami City Ballet; he commented on the challenges of working with a small budget with ballet supporters less than familiar with the ballet world, but clearly anxious to display that special sheen in Miami.

He said, “I looked for talent because technique could be acquired.” Those of us attending previous Jackson Competitions knew Villella would appear during Round III. More than one dancer from that final cut found themselves dancing in Miami, including dimunitive Chinese ballerina, Wu Haiyan, gold medalist in 2002 now with her own school in Portland, Oregon and Katia Carranza, a bronze medalist now with Ballet de Monterrey, Mexico. They danced as Miami City Ballet principals.

Villella’s staging of Reveries for the Ice Theater New York and his scene with
Tony Randall and Jack Klugman in The Odd Couple completed the program.

Part of a responsive audience shy of the SRO category were Helgi and Marlene Tomasson, Dennis Nahat, John Gebertz and Kristine Elliott, plus San Francisco Ballet principals Matilde Froustey and Luke Ingham..

Another Jacques D’Amboise Appearance

21 Jan

Channel 32.5 screened another of the 1955 glimpses of a young Jacques D’Amboise. Again the hue was sepia, images fuzzy, foreshortened with camera’s limited capacities Again, the footage credits were Canadian.

It was thrilling because it was Jerome Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun to that evocative music by Claude Debussy with the girl/woman being Tanaquil Le Clerq. The camera made her legs look heavy, so that her spiky thin quality was almost totally lost. But not her dancing and the thrill of having a record of one of her signature roles, created by Robbins with Le Clerq in mind.

1955 was achingly close to Le Clerq’s falling prey to polio in Copenhagen, making
the footage poignant, the record precious.

Words on Dance at the Vogue, August 22

27 Aug

There wasn’t much notice for this Tuesday night viewing, but those who were involved in some of the sequences were there in force. At least the way that I got an e-mail, I had no clue that we would see a short film by Quinn Wharton featuring dancers from the Hubbard Street Dance Company cavorting around handsome old brick facades, a secluded garden, into tunnels and at the edge of Lake Michigan under the title Opaque. Visually it was wonderful, the walks in the varying stages of drunkenness and the confused mental processes well depicted. The sexual scenes were prolonged, of course, to show the amazing holds, lifts and rolls of the dancers,although I kept wondering whether the lovers were not just acrobats too immersed in their techniques to risk physical union. Or is that the tell tale sign of an aging expectation?

Then we saw a potpourri assembled from longer individual sessions, Edward Villella, Cynthia Gregory, Jerome Robbins with Damara Bennett and Joanna Berman as interviewers and Amanda Vail for the Robbins sequence with participating panelists Stephanie Saland, Robert La Fosse, Helgi Tomasson, Edward Villella. It was a satisfying glimpse of the rich, rewarding ballet world near the end of the twentieth century. Included as “beyond the ballet category” was Mark Morris with some wonderful clips from his company’s sojourn in Belgium, and one or two sequences of Morris himself dancing, a demonstration of his extraordinary gifts beyond choreographing and directing orchestras.

Following these glimpses of the past was a brief clip of Les Twins, Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, hip hop advocates, opposite Sarah Van Patten and Doris Andre of San Francisco Ballet. If my notes are correct the film maker was Kate Duhamel. The sustained arabesques, developpes and port de bras with the frenetic rubber legs, torso and shoulder inflections of Les Twins was an absorbing visual exercise, centered so the camera did not travel, concentrating effect and contrast.

Deborah Kaufman, the mastermind behind Words on Dance, came forward at the end of the viewing to remind us that WOD would be celebrating its 20th anniversary with a special program November 4. She introduced Judy Flannery, Managing Director of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, which will be running September 12-15, primarily at The Delancey Street Theatre.

Joanna Berman and Damara Bennett were present with Anita Paciotti, the trio
having danced together at San Francisco Ballet during the Lew Christensen- Michael Smuin era. Bennett has returned to San Francisco from Portland, Oregon where she had been in charge of the Oregon Ballet Theatre School when Christopher Stowell had been its artistic director. Anita mentioned Damara was joining the San Francisco Ballet School faculty to teach the beginning students.

Happily for the organizers of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, opening and closing nights of the Festival sold out, some tickets do remain. The Museum of Performance and Design will be showing some exciting French-made documentaries concurrent with the Festival, and Executive Director Muriel Maffre will join Pascal Molat in a discussion of their own Paris Opera Ballet training following the documentary on students at the Paris Opera Ballet School Saturday September 14.

A Gala, Estonian Style, June 28

4 Jul

One of the best things about the June 28 performance of the Estonian National Ballet at the Palace of Fine Arts with its accompanying musicians was the audience.  It made me feel comme il faut still existed and a corner of the theatre-going audience  alive and well with its share of handsome young men and comely young women, nicely dressed but not attempting to be fashion plates, or boasting ostentatious rocks. Of individuals observed, I saw one mid-aged couple dressed in Estonian costume, lively if understated members of  the crowd..

Unfortunately, I arrived just before eight to learn that the performance, while starting late, was scheduled for seven – and here I had written an advance piece about Tiit Helimets efforts to bring the company here -so the premiere of the Helimets’ ballet Time was missed.

At the mid-section of the Gala, Hando Nahkur played Schumann and accompanied Hanna-Lina Vosa, singing in both Estonian and English, before Alexsandra Meijer and Tiit Helimets danced the pas de deux from Act II, Swan Lake.  The pair were also featured on the cover of the play bill,  in white on the ticket stubs, but in the Black Swan pas de deux, despite the presence of Helimets, an incongruous image for the cover of an Estonian-themed Gala. The seat rake and the stage width made Meijer look less than long-limbed. It seemed her correct port de bras was placed rather emerging organically from the solar plexus, the positions well practiced but slacking emotional motivation.  But what can one expect from a deliberately programmed cultural pot pourri?

Teric McCollum  later reminded me that Titt Helimets used  a wine promotion to help raise funds for the Estonian Festival using the Black and White Swan motif for a red and a white wine.  The promotion was apparently successful, and Quinn Wharton’s Helimets-Meijer images in those iconic roles made tardy sense (and the legs looked longer!).

The Estonian wares on display for sale quite intriguing and handsome – sand dollars with beaded circles attached for earrings, leather employed for the same purpose, key chains, wallets, a drop dead elegant leather computer case, some dresses with peasant braid arranged in expected locations, CDs of Nahkur in concert.

The Gala closed with Marina Kesler’s Othello, danced to recordings of composer Arvo Part.  It was the first time I had ever heard cacophony and forte connected with the Estonian-born composer.  McCollum also mentioned that Estonians can use his compositions free of charge, which helped understand the choice behind this tumultuous Shakespearean tale.  Unlike Portia, also Venetian, Desdemona is loved by an admiral of Moorish descent whose Christianity  must have rested comparatively lightly upon him.  His lieutenant Iago manages with the aid of Blanka to create circumstantial evidence of his beloved’s infidelity.  Othello chokes her.

Kesler has altered the plot to make Blanka accept money from Iago to plant the scarf on Cassio, a lieutenant Othello loves and trusts with Desdemona, a source of Iago’s envy. Kesler also has Blanka plant the scarf after she seduces Cassio, a considerable departure from  the Shakespearean plot, plus the joint death of Othello following his killing of Desdemona. I suppose such tweakings are permitted, but why call the ballet Othello?

Another departure from the Venetian setting and period were the women’s costumes, short, peachy-pink satin skirts of three tiers of puffs, removed at one point  and worn again at the finale. The men’s costumes looked a bit like replicas of the school uniforms worn by boys in the Russian Imperial Ballet School, admittedly quite handsome though again not of the period.

The dancers themselves were marvelously flexible and technically secure in choreography requiring stretching, bending and a variety of distortions of classical vocabulary though executed en pointe, most of them small of stature.  Any choreographer would be excited to work with such dancers.  The dancing which ignited the ballet was Sergei Lipkin’s; he got the assignment for wiliness, maneuvering, plotting and nearly all the  choreographic solos.  Othello and Desdemona in the persons of Anatoli Arhangelski and Eve Andre looked Mutt and Jeff visually, he tall and the necessary choreographic adjustments, she fair, small, roundly shaped, strong athletic legs – perfect to throw into bends, stretches and lifts or to wrap around the waist.  As Cassio Jonathan Hanks was given something of a cipher role, but still  jaunty emerging from his encounter behind the red draperies and sexual shenanigans with Heidi Kopti’s Bianka, the fated red scarf, rather than white, draped around his neck.

I would love to see the company dance Tudor, Robbins or Balanchine, even to see what they might do with Agnes de Mille.