Tag Archives: Jerry Arpino

The Joffrey Ballet Returns to Zellerbach

5 Apr

The Joffrey Ballet, now under the artistic direction of Ashley Wheater, a former Joffrey Ballet member and lengthy veteran of San Francisco Ballet’s artistic staff, came to Zellerbach March 14 and 15. I saw the matinee on March 15, and have to say I left my glasses at home. The dancers therefore were not very distinct even sitting in Row G, but the music was loud, clear and, mostly lengthy.

The moves clearly impressed themselves on an enthusiastic audience, probably one of the most responsive and willing any theatrical or musical performer has the good luck to enjoy.

There were three ballets and a pas de deux, all from contemporary choreographers; two have strong ties with San Francisco Ballet; Val Caniparoli and Yuri Possokhov. It was canny of Wheater to include them in the local Joffrey appearance. I think he was determined to assert the historic Joffrey profile as being au courant as much as the Joffrey also demonstrates a sense of history with works like Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table. The Chicago repertoire includes Don Quixote;soon Christopher Wheeldon’s interpretation of Swan Lake,. No one can accuse the company of losing sight of or involvement with the classics. Robert Joffrey’s Nutcracker pointed the way as did the very early Conservitoriat of Auguste Bournonville..

Caniparoli’s piece,Incantations, concerned itself with introspection to a very long, arduous score by Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky; there was virtually no way the piece could be cut and remain coherent; Caniparoli
adhered to every phrase, allowing toes to point, legs to lift into attitudes and arabesques, smoothly partnered, reflected the lengthy employment of chimes. I am afraid my attention span wants to edit length.

Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili danced Yuri Possokhov’s Bells, set to Rachmaninoff’s Piano Sonata #2. Murkily lit, beautifully danced, there is
something magnetic when Possokhov’s reliance on Russian composers features two dancers trained in the current Russian teaching tradition who also are husband and wife. San Francisco Ballet possesses at least two such couples, They make clear legal intimacy elsewhere helps to foster a special innerness when dancing in a contemporary work without narrative. Someone remarked “They don’t show relationship.” My take was relationship was so strong obvious manifestations wasn’t needed.

Alexandre Ekman’s Episode 31 possessed a certain zaniness about it which echoed faintly some of the Arpino cheekiness, while still being very different. His screen images at the back, the rushings around the stage made me wonder whether it was his reflection of observing workaday life in Chicago. The Joffrey Ballet is housed in the heart of downtown Chicago, so bustle and the El are routinely present. Chicago dwellers must have loved it, recognizing the stop and start, the energy the dancers poured into the work.

As to Stanton Welch’s ballet to the music of John Adams, I remember little except the pleasure of seeing Rory Hohenstein providing a skillful, substantial contribution.

In Dancetabs.com Aimee T’sao expressed the hope that Cal Performances finds a way to give the Joffrey a yearly slot as it allows for the Ailey and Mark Morris ensembles. While I think it unlikely on a yearly basis, I endorse seeing them every other year. Berkeley was an important place in the Joffrey some forty years ago, thanks to the touring program the Dance Program of the NEA fostered for all too brief a time.

Arpino’s Trinity was premiered at the Zellerbach before the Joffrey began to be sponsored by the San Francisco Symphony whose musicians provided the music the Joffrey danced to. It all vanished when the Symphony moved into Davies Symphony Hall and the Opera and Ballet claimed San Francisco’s Opera House all for themselves. No more American Ballet Theatre in February; no more Joffrey Ballet in June; no more theatre space of 2,000-2,500 seats to entice companies to negotiate dates to appear anywhere West or South of San Francisco’s Embarcadero. Apparently, Mayor Ed Lee and others governing San Francisco’s 49 square miles, have no plans for such a theatre, easily accessed, with sufficient parking space to draw a crowd which loves something in addition to rock, hockey, baseball and football.

Still, I want to see Arpino’s Kettentanz again.


Smuin Ballet at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts, September 15, 2011

29 Sep

Smuin Ballet danced two weekends at the Palace of Fine Arts, in San Francisco, September 15-October 1, 2011with three Smuin works and “Dear Miss Cline,” a premiere by Amy Seiwert, the company’s resident choreographer.  The Smuin Ballets included “Eternal Idol,” which Michael Smuin created in 1969 and interpreted by Cynthia Gregory and Ivan Nagy for American Ballet Theater.  The works for Smuin Ballet were “”Tango Palace” and “Stabat Mater,” the latter Smuin’s response to 9/11,  all danced to taped music.


” Tango Palace,” created for the fall 2003 season, was new to me.  Employing six dancers, Smuin gave great attention to the three-quarters view, or efface, as the women sat in three separated chairs up stage, waiting for the men to appear as they did from mid stage right, in somber tones with hats to be discarded at suitable moments. Shannon Hurlburt and Christian Squires danced an interesting pas de deux following Hurlburt’s rejection by Robin Cornwell, only to receive a second rebuff following their beautifully accented execution.  Cornwall and Jonathan Dummar completed this first section with one of Smuin’s sensual and suggestive pas de deux.


After a black out, Smuin followed this absorbing dance with a bland exposition of the women on pointe, their skirts discarded, partnered by the men.  It was an addition one suspects designed to make the ballet  suitably  covering until intermission. What a pity;  it watered down the initial punch and excitement,. another example where Smuin failed to recognize to quit when ahead.


“Stabat Mater,” set to Anton Dvorak’s music, presented a somber theme in a range of brilliant satin hues, striped with black, as if trying to straddle theatrics with the emotion of loss, remembering and disappearance.  Erin Yarbrough-Stewart and John Speed Orr danced the principal roles, Yarbrough-Stewart  conveying the stark theme with her small body as earnestly as she invariably does. Having seen Smuin’s “Mozart Requiem” in his San Francisco Ballet days,  I recognized a number of movement phrases lifted from parts of that earlier work, copied from Jerry Arpino’s “Trinity.”


“The Eternal Idol” provided Robin Cornwell with an excellent vehicle to display her length and sensual fullness, well supported by Jonathan Dummar; his height and partnering skills allowed Cornwell full expression to Chopin. “Dear Miss Cline,” Seiwert’s contribution, relied on the lyrics of the late Patsy Cline’s hit tunes, country music style. The ballet exhibited an innocence and honesty in its approach to corn-pone fare relying on the body and the movement patterns to convey the emotions.


It is the closest Seiwert has come to emulating her mentor , but with  a crispness where Smuin would have leaned on theatrics. The lyrics were adroitly interpreted by the company, particularly Susan Roemer in “She’s Got You,” where Roemer progressively lost her partner while retaining the vocal souvenirs.  Erin Yarbrough-Stewart swung her attention left and right to Christian Squires and John Speed Orr in “Tra le la le la Triangle” just like Oklahoma’s “Cain’t Say No.”  She again was winsome with Orr in “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down.”  In sum, it was a pleasant closer.