Tag Archives: Jim Sohm

San Francisco Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet on Film

24 Sep

At a September 21 preview in San Francisco’s Century Theatre, housed in the old Emporium building, a selected audience saw San Francisco’s current Romeo and Juliet production which starts the Lincoln Center at the Movies series October 1. While it is not PBS’ Great Performances series in which Michael Smuin’s version opened the dance series to full-length ballets, the Helgi Tomasson version enjoyed a remarkable production thanks to Thomas Grimm, and the various fiscal sponsors acknowledged by Tomasson and on the screen.

What made a notable difference from the early PBS series, created by the memorable trio of Merrill Brockway, Jak Venza and Judy Kinberg, were the use of closeups and deliberate cutting of movement, filmed May 7 at San Francisco’s Opera House. Cuts to an individual face or chest shots infused more drama than long shots with feet and body moving to the Prokofiev score. In addition, shots of the towns people and the harlots during the action added to the overall ambiance, the sense of a small interactive community.

Maria Kochekova and Davit Karapetyan were the fated lovers, supported by Pascal Molat as Mercutio and Luke Ingham as Tybalt with Joseph Walsh as Benvolio. Anita Paciotti reprised her role as the Nurse; Jim Sohm stepped eloquently in as Friar Lawrence while Ricardo Bustamonte and Sophiane Sylve were the steely Capulets, Ruben Martin and Leslie Escobar the Montagues. Myles Thatcher, the choreographic wunderkind of the corps, was a blond Paris. [Readers of my earlier SFB R&J review know my feelings about a too-early age of County Paris.]

There were at least three interviews between the acts, which were identified on the upper left, along with quotations from Will’s play; Helgi Tomasson; Warren Pistone who doubles as sword master and the Prince of Verona; Anita Paciotti
who speaks of the use of children in the production. Additional comments included Davit Karapetyan, Maria Kochetkova and Pascal Molat regarding the roles and the challenges of the fight scenes. Kochetkova was quite coy.

The handsome production additionally featured Martin West commenting on the score, the costume and makeup departments received their share of footage along with a small group of children making their contribution. I would pay to see the movie again.

The following evening, at a gathering to celebrate the 41st wedding anniversary of Carlos and Carolyn Carvajal Tony Ness, former San Francisco Ballet dancer who belonged to the Smuin era of the PBS filming of Smuin’s reading of Shakespeare’s tragedy to Prokofiev’s music, was present. He refreshed my memories of the Smuin production, both for the premiere and the PBS production when Diana Weber and Jim Sohm were the ill-fated teens with Anita Paciotti as Lady Capulet, Attila Ficzere as Mercutio, Gary Wahl as Tybalt, and Tina Santos the nurse.

At Smuin’s premiere, Vane Vest and Lynda Meyer were Romeo and Juliet and Anita Paciotti was the nurse. The balcony was upstage right and the entire set designed so that it could travel, a fact heading the review for The Christian Science Monitor. Tony was the Duke of Verona, but the PBS version placed Vest in the role. Paula Tracy appeared as Lady Capulet with Keith Martin and Susan Magno as the street dancers in the original production. Magno later danced Juliet with Tom Ruud and Jim Sohm. There were a succession of dancers in the roles – David McNaughton with Linda Montaner and later Alexander Topciy with Evelyn Cisneros. I believe Smuin’s production was later mounted by Ballet West, a natural connection for Smuin’s dance career started under Willam Christensen.

Most touching, however, in the PBS version Lew Christensen was Friar Lawrence. I also couldn’t help thinking of the succession of roles Sohm has assumed with such finesse following his active dance career; Grandfather in Nutcracker; Don Quixote in that ballet and now Friar Lawrence.

Earlier Tomasson Romeos, Anthony Randazzo, Yuri Possokhov, Pierre Francois Villanoba, and Joanna Berman’s Juliet, also floated to the surface. Clearly, the Tomasson production, elegant as it is, beautifully realized by the dancers, prompted memory lane meanderings.

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Program VIII SF Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet

6 May

May Day, May Day, May Day – San Francisco Ballet opened Helgi Tomasson’s Romeo and Juliet at San Francisco’s Opera House with the incredible costumes and set by Hans Jens Worsae, some stalwarts in their accustomed roles and several new ones, and, of course, that score by Sergei Prokofiev.

I would swear the some of the choreography had been altered; such imaginings the curse of an imprecise memory and seeing a number of same named productions by different companies. Here there are so many wonderful touches, from the Verona town square arousing from dawn to early morning. I do not remember the rose window of the church being illuminated, or reflected either in the scene where Romeo and Juliet are wed by Friar Lawrence, or when Juliet comes rushing for guidance from that pivotal ecclesiastical figure.

When the company first produced the ballet, Rita Felciano and Eric Hellman organized a symposium around the production, mentioning the original production by Vana Psota in Brno, Slovakia just before World War II and the German takeover of the short-lived republic of Czechoslovakia. Juliets then in the company also were interviewed.

The key speaker for me, however, was an historian who had researched the demographics of Renaissance Italy, basing his findings on the data available in Florence, and, presumably, Tuscany. He found a substantial number of
single parent households, the woman in charge of young children, the husband deceased, documents recording his age at least a decade or two older than the widow. The historian, and forgive my failure to identify him at this juncture, concluded that the young men went off to war, the older men, survivors of conflicts, married the dewy young damsels, and that romance, let alone marriage between age-alike young men and women was unthinkable. Ergo, why is County Paris clearly a stripling in the figure of Steven Morse? Why not Jim Sohm or Reubin-Martin-Cintas as more historically accurate, whose name also implies his possession of quite a spread of hectares?

That harangue completed, I have only praise for the pairing of Val Caniparoli and Sofiane Sylve as the Capulet parents, the easy grandeur of Caniparoli and the intense swirling elegance of Sylve were exactly right. Sherri Le Blanc, making a debut as The Nurse, seemed less lusty but equally caring as Juliet’s Nurse, and as Tybalt, Anthony Vincent (heretofore named Spaulding) was elegant, sinister, a calculating figure, clearly frustrated by Lord Capulet’s insistence on politeness within the family palace.

When the House of Montague appeared, Jeffrey Lyons and Lacey Escabar seemed slightly defensive in the power contest, given to spirit more than concerned with tangible spoils. In Mercutio, Taras Domitro seemed to personify this, less an older pal to Romeo than an impulsive intuitive with vast technical gifts. As Benvolio, Hansuke Yamamoto was required to bring some gravitas to the merriment which he did with elevation and elan. In Carlos Quenedit, there was Romeo you might have seen with his gang, sporting a Giants ballcap turned backwards, relaxing around a motorbike or with a group of mechanics, likeable, young, competent, as innocent of poetry as he was on the mark as Basile in Don Quixote.

The role of Verona’s Prince has always been well served by Martin Pistone, cutting a figure of physical power with the will to use it. Dores Andre and Dana Genshaft made slender, spirited, clearly street-wise harlots, Andre’s discovery of Mercutio’s imminent death particularly sharp. The trio of acrobats, Noriko Matsuyama, Francisco Mungamba and Wei Wang were adept in their assignment, Wang’s strength an interesting contrast to Mungamba’s flexibility and Matsyama’s pertness. Mercutio’s death scene gave Domitro the chance to demonstrate dramatic power, combined with his prodigious technique, showing what his dramatic gifts can provide. I wonder if he might make a better Romeo.

Sarah Van Patten first danced Juliet when she was 16 with the Royal Danish Ballet, before joining San Francisco Ballet. Her partner prior to Carlos Quenedit was Pierre-Francois Vilanoba; I confess to missing him. Her interpretation possesses a gossamer dusting of impulse and emotion; the initial meeting and the balcony scenes were explorations to be followed by the culmination in the early morning final pas de deux. Particularly impressive was Van Patten’s fateful behavior in her bedroom with the senior Capulets and Paris. The Capulets’ insensitive ploughing ahead with nuptial plans despite Tybalt’s death, more implacably so by Lady Capulet – the sweep of her skirt as telling here as in the ballroom, Sylve’s face marvelously stoical, her gestures and movements conveying it all, pulling the velvet yardage away from Juliet’s grasp. Helgi Tomasson’s production, visually splendid, is both a challenge to the company and a pleasure to its audience.

San Francisco Ballet’s Program Five, Don Q

3 Apr

Even with the umpah nature the Minkus score provides for Don Quixote, it’s a romp;for these creaky old bones, it’s like comfort food as visible signs of the old order, mythical or otherwise, crumbles at each pothole on San Francisco’s principal streets. Only the new dual fuel buses with their accommodating buttons and the hand friendly curve below on the yellow painted metal poles can convince me The City That Knows How is doing exactly that for its motley inhabitants. And it’s really nice that the Civic Center Parking Lot charges only $3 an evening to devotees of ballet’s classical war horses. I grab for reassurance anywhere that the world can still possess moments of “It’s all right Jack!” or similar Cockney cheer. Recently, there has been Lawrence Ferlinghetti for back up on PBS.

My colleagues are swifter, faster, more disciplined when it comes to credits for the make overs of this Petipa production adapted by Gorsky for the Bolshoi Ballet. Gorsky’s influence is felt because Yuri Possokhov, who danced in it, collaborated with Helgi Tomasson on San Francisco Ballet’s production, with its lovely set but some color clashes in Packledinaz’ costuming. The work itself is meant to tease, dazzle technically and embrace romance with just a dusting of Spanish flavor. Marius Petipa must have been far enough away from his own Spanish shenanigans to incorporate them in the original production. Yes indeed, in his early years he was something of a rogue.

My colleagues doubtless have explained that from a small segment of the Spanish novelist’s opus, there was a Kitri; she was extracted and made central to a plot prevalent through most of social history: Daddy, an innkeeper or tapas supplier, wants daughter to marry well and safely; translate money. Daughter wants to choose; in this tale, with the “quixotic” Don and his retainer Sancho Panza it happens with the aid of gypsies and a wind mill, providing the excuse for some very classical 19th century style dancing. In between, sunny Spain provides friends and townsfolk who love to gather in taverns and some toreadors and their romantic partners. Finally with a feigned suicide, the lovers are blessed and the marriage scene is danced with the warhorse pas de deux, which, when done well, gets us all whooping and hollering with delight at the curtain.

Jim Sohm is making an unofficial second career portraying seniors, daft or domestic; he is doing it very well. He’s tall and hefty enough to give Don Quixote a presence and muscle. With Pascal Molat’s minted Sancho Panza, gem-like in his rogue behavior and eye for purloined gluttony, the pair thread through the narrative, making it coherent while still implausible. The selling point of the ballet for me is the contrast between the girl-boy spectacle and the wonderful characterizations possible in stock theatrics. Val Caniparoli and Anita Paciotti provide the cantina parents with Ricardo Bustamonte the inn keeper where papa gets foiled into blessing the pair. Then there is Gamache, which Ruben Martin-Cintas is undertaking for the first time, with all his pastel furbelows and foppish behavior.

We have Carlos Quenedit as Basilio, the penniless barber, opposite Mathilde Froustey as Kitri. Both danced their respective roles before; Carlos with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba and with the Joffrey Ballet before joining San
Francisco Ballet and Froustey with the Paris Opera Ballet. Hard to imagine the Froustey delicacy in Giselle doing a volte face into Spanish spunk. Overall, she
managed it nicely the more she danced; her beginning was a bit tense; her overall portrayal reminded me of the cliche April in Paris rather than Seville in summer.

Quenedit electrified the audience, and deservedly so, in his opening variation; prodigious elevation, crispness and an insouciant command of his whipping tours. (I really don’t understand why international competitions don’t allow this pas de deux as part of their official assignments for prize aspirants.) That accomplished, the performance settled into its narrative and one really good time.

This mood was enhanced by the crispness of Kitri’s girl friends, Doris Andre and Noriko Matsuyama, matched for size and general ebullience. For the major toreador, Espada, and girl friend Mercedes, Daniel Deivison-Oliveira and Sarah Van Patten came on strongly, matching intensity, both posturing and smouldering with elan. Having remembered the taller interpreters, Pierre-Francois Vilanoba and Muriel Maffre, it was good to see another pair make a strong, well-matched impression.

Hansuke Yamamoto and Dana Genshaft dominated the gypsy segment, Yamamoto’s jumps compensating for his build, slighter than one expects for a gypsy. This gypsy scene also is more out of Romany than Granada, bandanas replacing combs and ruffles. The gypsy scene, of course, ends when Don Q attacks the lumbering turn of the windmill and falls into a injury-induced sleep. Here Sancho Panza’s concern assumed genuine pathos – Molat blending concern and fatalism.

For Don Q, however, it provides a vision of skillful, saccharine femininity with the ballet’s most classical passages, led by Sofiane Sylve’s formidable, very classical Queen and a nimble, delicate Cupid portrayed by Koto Ishihara. Never mind that Cupid mythologically is male; here it’s a fleet young female. Kitri has been transformed into Dulciana and Don attends her dancing in a manner worthy of the Prince’s vision in Sleeping Beauty. Who knows, this may have been Petipa’s first sketch of that hide and seek vision of 1890, just as La Bayadere predated Lac de Cygnes.

Then it’s on to the tavern operated by Ricardo Bustamonte , a table dance by Marcedes, and Daddy Caniparoli in hot pursuit with Gamache locating the hidden Kitri with an eloquent pointed finger, gloved of course. The would-be alliance is interrupted by suicide bent Basilio, laying down his cloak, plunging his long, wicked knife into his side, having, of course, clued Kitri into his deception, fondling her when she raises his head. Don Q to the rescue with the aid of his lengthy spear, separating Gamache from the scene and with height and metal-tipped spear inviting Papa to bless the dying union. Bien sur, surprise!

Intermission!

The Wedding Festivities comprise the entire final act, with the toreadors rushing in with their capes, their partners flouncing in with black bordered white gowns almost equal to the finale of flamenco performances and a bevy bridesmaids. The setting is the same as that of Act I; one wonders how the Inn Keeper and spouse can afford such an outlay.

Basilio and Kitri are both garbed in white, he with a fair share of gilt braid and she with a fairly elaborate bodice above the crisp classical tutu, both prepared to dance a pas de deux one has seen often enough to demand the dancers astonish us. [A balletomane attending international competitions is particularly prone to such views.] The inaugural adagio seems to provide the best passage to impress the audience, where Basilio spins her and when they face each other at a distance. Kitri’s balances should be strong and long enough to emphasize the Spanish Je ne sais quoi in allure. The male solo doesn’t do nearly enough for the man, and the female variation has to be distinguished by the use of the fan. Lorena Feijoo managed to employ it in the final menage, a feat I have yet to see equaled, and any fouettes that appear should not travel. Froustey’s balances were secure and Quenedit partnered and postured very well. I had hoped to see Feijoo and Vitor Luiz at the final matinee May 29 but a minor injury changed the casts.

Like Giselle and Romeo and Juliet yet to come, Don Quixote was programmed to help celebrate Helgi Tomasson’s three decades as San Francisco Ballet’s artistic director. All hail! For 2015-2016, let’s hope we see Don Q repeated. Not only is it a romp, it provides a healthy range of opportunity for the company’s dancers. Who can quibble with that?

2014 Nutcracker Season, San Francisco Ballet

15 Dec

December 12 was San Francisco Ballet’s night to start its season of the Nuts, multiple castings, opportunities for corps members. With Martin West conducting the company’s orchestra, the audience enjoyed a remarkably buoyant performance, which can be partially attributed to its enormous success in Europe this summer. Mary Beth Smith, heading the company’s marketing and communications, remarked in the Opera House press room that after the company’s closing night performance at Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, where Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes made its 1909 debut, “The applause went on for twenty minutes. It was spectacular, and you know Parisians know their ballet.” Following this performance, the company goes into a twice daily mode, two and seven p.m., a total of thirty performances, including two on Christmas Eve.

Friday night’s inauguration featured Ricardo Bustamonte with extra flourishes and complete gallantry, while Ruben Martin-Cintas and Katita Waldo made the Stahlbaums elegant, assured, hospitable. Jim Sohm outdid himself as Grandpapa; Kristi DeCaminada as Grandmere. Both parents and small fry were less numerous, but the numbers cohered in the overall scenic impression, avoiding the cast of thousands mould.

Clara Blanco danced her iconic doll, Esteban Hernandez made an impression as the Nutcracker out of the Box and Max Cauthorn in yellow Milliskin was willowy, off balance and technically excellent.

The transformation scene – from 1915 Panama-Pacific era privileged San Francisco to dream exaggeration of furniture, presents, tree, mice and gas fireplace – continues to be impressive; mice scamper, toy soldiers execute the directions of the Nutcracker with his sabre, while Clara watches avidly. Sean Orza’s Mouse King exhibited brawn, and elegaic agony after his leg was caught in the mouse trap, his dying crawl into the prompter’s pit, “Tis A Far Better Thing I Do’ from Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities.

Luke Ingham as Nutcracker Prince cuts a refreshing athletic image once out of Mask and Nut trappings. He’s gallant, but no nonsense, like a good Aussie invariably seems to be; his battement a la seconde is eagle sharp. Not a bad mixture. Audrey Armacost as Clara responded well to his partnering.

The carriage arrival brings its own magic, its white and silver sleigh, pawing, prancing ponies, masks crowned with nodding plumes. I’m not sure the ancien regime could have improved on these equines.

The snow monarch roles were handsomely filled by Vanessa Zahorian and Taras Domitro. who followed after the snowflakes appeared under drifts of artificial flakes continuing to fall, audibly, during the entire number until the final grouping around the principals was almost obscured by moving white density. Early on Domitro stumbled a bit; I suspect this artificial blizzard may have contributed. However, his grand jetes and entrechats were his standard brilliant, Zahorian sailing through her virtuosity with usual aplomb, her earlier injury definitely behind her.

After the intermission the curtain rose on the evocation of the Conservatory, with butterflies, lady bugs, and moths, marking time with port de bras and pique arabesques before the arrival of The Sugar Plum Fairy (SPF) in the person of Mathilde Froustey. Froustey possesses the current ideal for the feminine ballerina; beautiful proportions, long neck, face of piquant charm, port de bras devoid of angled elbow, good jump, supple expressive upper back, an intuitive emphasis in phrasing or response. A cogent example was her emphasis asking the Nut Prince “Why are you here?” Not a doubt about the query.

Luke Ingham’s mime was salutary, particularly good with whiskers. The SPF had decreed the entire dream troupe witness the recitation, a nice move. While the Spanish pas de cinq was good, the Arabian trio was especially well-balanced with Dana Genshaft, and Daniel Devison-Oliveira and Anthony Spaulding, intense, finished. Francisco Mungamba’s Chinese shone with knife-like jetes. The French trio danced my-not-so favorite variation spritely, Wan Ting Zhao’s phrasing eye-catching. The Russian Faberge trio burst out into Anatole Vilzak’s classic variation led by Hansuke Yamamoto with Esteban Hernandez and Wei Wang.

Benjamin Stewart garnered a warm response as Smoky Bear with Louis Schilling and the bevy of San Francisco Ballet School students, precursor to the Waltzing Flowers, framing the SPF in this version of the Tchaikovsky classic. Bland, symmetrical and nicely executed, the ensemble is supposed to set off the central rose; Froustey could be better served. However, the ensemble requires its musical share and the notes received visualization with skill.

In this version the prelude to the Grand Pas de Deux refers to the Chinoiserie tower bibelot, Clara’s gift in the first act. The SPF retrieves a tiara from a cushion brought her by a uniformed attendant which she places on Clara’s head before leading her to the mirror inside the open box. Froustey’s brief escorting, was affectionate, a reinforcement shared with Sofiane Sylve who conveys similar feminine warmth.

The double doors close, the tower turned, the doors reopen and outsteps the adult Clara in hues of gold and celadon, Yuan Yuan Tan, ready to wow us, dispatches the gestures of awe and transforming admiration to the barest stroke, a principal flaw in an otherwise brilliant performance. Tan is becoming accustomed to Luke Ingham as a partner; she should feel utterly secure. Ingham promises Tan as good or better she enjoyed with Damian Smith; the partnering, particularly Tan’s height in the running catch as the Tchaikovsky score soars were. flawless. Tan’s face, with its feline qualities, registered satisfaction along with her usual aplomb.

The variation reprises then follow, to warm applause, and the aggregate ensemble coalesces to allow Drosselmeyer, couch and Clara to enter and for him to reassemble the Stahlaum mansion,for Clara to awaken, clutch her toy and run towards Mother Stahlbaum’s arms as the curtains descend.

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.

Don Quixote Finale for 2012 San Francisco Ballet’s 2012 Season

30 Apr

From the matadors’ tights to the popsicle-hued dresses on the women’s knee- length dresses, Martin Pakledinaz stepped up the cheerful revival of the Tomasson-Possokhov version of the Petipa-Gorsky romp, loosely based on Cervantes’ Spanish novel, Don Quixote. This ballet version, premiering in 2003, received its new production premiere April 27 as SFB’s finale for the 2012 season.  The audience loved every bravura second of it; from the looks of it, so did the company and conductor Martin West.

Well they might.  Jim Sohm made an auspicious debut as the befuddled Don with Pascal Molat reprising his magnificent reading of Sancho Panza, ever ready to ogle and fondle senoritas, purloin sausage and filch ham.  Right from the beginning Sohm’s eyes conveyed the Don’s slender grasp of earthy reality, holding his imbalance of gallantry and fantasy throughout.

Where the Royal Danish production was soft-hued distinction, Pakledinaz selected a strong emphasis on sun-baked, semi-psychedelic colors, primarily for the toreadors, finishing  with the traditional black squashed-like hat. Black braid generously attached  provided the dash necessary to convey these Hispanic cultural peacocks..

Pierre-Francois Vilanoba led the pack; flanked by a condor-eyed Sarah Van Patten as Mercedes; he gave us an elegant matador,  perhaps influenced by his Galician surname. The pair kept the tension alive with  brief sideline forays.

Gamache, the well-heeled, aging fop Kitri’s father wanted to see married to his daughter, introduced Myles Thatcher to the role, his hobbling interpretation in lavender-toned satins and plumes a nod to Damian Smith’s 2003-2004 over-the-top movement.  Ricardo Bustamonte  conveyed the sharp-eyed tavern keeper father with Anita Paciotti as a mother pre-occupied with tending and tidying up the situation.  And there was that smart, swift moment when Kitri dehatted and dewigged her senior suitor.

Casting Vanessa Zahorian with Joan Boada as Kitri and Basilio initially seemed  anomalous, but any question was rapidly dispelled. Despite a slight imbalance  at Act One’s ending,  Boada was suitably clean, precise,  his elevation reminding us of  phenomenal bravura capacities.

Except for traveling double fouettes in the wedding pas de deux, Zahorian was spot on throughout, balances firm and just long enough to register to the eye if not to linger, her port de bras appropriate, height and thrust of her developpes notable. Her excellence is achieved by a no-nonsense technical approach rendered impressive by her musical phrasing.

The Dryad scene allowed the presence of San Francisco Ballet School students as did  the brief pantomime in the Gypsy camp where Don Quixote tilted with the windmill and Hansuke Yamamoto danced nimbly as the Gypsy chief. Sofiane Sylve and Clara Blanco graced the Dryad scene, Sylve the definitive queen with her deliberate attack, Blanco as Cupid darting nimbly across the boards with her impeccable port de bras.

Added to this production was a 26 year old white horse for Don Quixote and a donkey for Sancho Panza, later utilized for Gamache.  When Gamache dismounted on the left side of his borrowed animal, it made visual the double entendre.

What was not to revel in?

Three Romeos, Three Juliets, March 6, March 9, March 11, 2012

17 Mar

Seeing Helgi Tomasson’s fated lovers to Sergei Prokofiev’s score March 6, was followed with seeing two more performances; March 9 with March 11 from San Francisco’s Opera House’s Grand Tier.

Interpretation varied because of personality, height and bone structure.  Joan Boada and Maria Kochetkova  managed swiftness and a comparative fragility impossible for Pierre-Francois Vilanoba and Sarah Van Patten, or Vitor Matteo and Yuan Yuan Tan.  Still, vulnerability, passion and fragility of love against the fortress of Renaissance social structure remained alive in the other casts.  The audience’s warm enthusiasm to William Shakespeare’s tale was undeterred at Sunday matinee’s standing ovation.

I quibble a tad historically.  County Paris implies a man of ample means and possessions, not likely young. Italian Renaissance history records  youthful maidens marrying older, frequently battle-scarred men, leaving young women early widows.  Lovers/partners of even age was social revolution stuff, and explored at the critical conference held during the 1994 premiere of the Tomasson  production.  Missing was the fact  Paris and Mercutio are kinsman to the Prince of Verona, explaining why Mercutio takes such liberties,  enjoying princely protection.  Did the Prince register his kinsman Mercutio lying dead?

Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun was present as a silken, socially assured Rosaline for the three casts seen, also Val Caniparoli as Lord Capulet, Jim Sohm as Lord Montague twice,  Martino Pistone’s sturdy square build lent rough authority as the Prince of Verona as did Anita Paciotti’s peasant Nurse.  Jorge Esquivel replaced Ricardo Bustamonte as Friar Lawrence March 11.

Cast changes played as a unit with the three Juliets and Romeo: the evenly matched Benvolio and Mercutio, Jaime Castilla Garcia and Gennadi Nedvigin for Boada, Daniel Deivison a ferocious Tybalt, Pauli Magierek a histronic Lady Capulet .

Pairing Boada and Maria Kochetkova, matched for size and  bravura,  subjected the audience to dangerous  breath suspension.  Kochetkova’s acrobatic training permitted an abandoned plunging into lifts, quick reverses of direction; Boada’s balcony scene was ardor and aerial wed.

Nedvigin’s Mercutio evoked the Russian character dancer, ready to strike boots and extend arms in deep plie.  He used the same solar plexus base struggling to maintain Mercutio’s  nonchalance, mortally wounded, staggering towards the church, collapsing on the stairs.

Elana Altman danced Lady Capulet March 9 and Sofiane Sylve March 11.   Sylve seemed to personify nobility, hinting at her attachment to Damian Smith’s brooding Tybalt in the ballroom. Altman’s explosion over Tybalt’s body would be great as the Queen in Jerome Robbins’ The Cage. Her Tybalt was Antony Spaulding, elegant, silkily sinister.

The Van Patten-Vilanoba partnership possesses a humanism, a warmth when   physically relating to the other characters.  When Pascal Molat as Mercutio staggers towards the church, dying on the steps, he dies in Romeo’s arms, emphasizing the subsequent fight with Tybalt. Romeo is gentle, even being mesmerized at the Capulet’s ball. Van Patten’s demureness is  poised, puzzled, questioning.  She staggers against the balcony steps railing when Romeo  kisses her.

Yuan Yuan Tan’s line sang lyrically, thanks to Vitor Matteo’s height, possessing perhaps ballet’s longest legs. As Romeo Matteo is on native Italian earth.  Her smile evoked Ching Dynasty feminine portraits and she avoided  rendering Juliet as another victim.

Hansuke Yamamoto as Benvolio, Taras Domitro as Mercutio matched each other for height and swiftness, excellent contrast to Smith’s Tybalt in the ballroom scene.

One could write a chapter on each casts, from the principals to the acrobats, the touches Tomasson has gradually assembled to coalesce this exciting production, to be performed this fall in Washington, D.C.