Tag Archives: Joan Boada

A Splendid Last Hurrah: S.F. Ballet’s Eugene Onegin

2 May

Santo Loquasto’s atmospheric setting for the Pushkin-inspired ballet Eugene Onegin started its brief run April 30 at San Francisco’s Opera House where it will close San Francisco Ballet’s 2016 spring season May 8. What it also does is signal the final performances of Joan Boada as Prince Gremin and Gennadi Nedvigin as the ill-fated Lensky with the company where they have danced for nearly two decades.

The roles of Tatiana and Onegin were danced by Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz with Lauren Strongin making her local debut as Olga.

Choreographer John Cranko (1927-1973) is noted for his mounting of the Russian poetic novel, using a different gathering of melodies by Petyr Ilyich Tchaikovsky than his opera of the same name. Cranko’s Taming of The Shrew and Romeo and Juliet are other evidences of his magical ability to transform familiar stories or dramas into absorbing ballets. Cranko’s heritage has been diligently reconstructed by choreologist Jane Bourne, supported by Stuttgart Ballet’s artistic director Reid Anderson.

Loquasto’s set and costumes, borrowed from The National Ballet of Canada, place the story in early-mid-nineteenth century, at a Russian summer home where woman sew, including Olga [Lauren Strongin] for a party while Tatiana [Kochetkova] is absorbed in reading, probably a romantic novel. The results, ball gowns for the two young woman, get scant attention from the dreamy Tatiana, Kochetkova registering her character with a contemplative carriage of the head and shoulders, Strongin quickly prone to impulsive enthusiasm, each affectionate with the other. Loquasto created a pillared porch covering most of stage left, which is transformed as necessary throughout the two scene/three act performance. Olga’s dressmaking skills with the needle seemed excessively exaggerated.

At a downstage left table, a mirror is placed where the two girls look to find a suitor behind. Olga draws Lensky as interpreted by Gennadi Nedvigin. A role he danced in the 2013 season, his dancing and demeanor is to swoon over, his lines clearly muscled, sculptured, correct: heart-breaking visual poetry. His reading of Lensky is warm, open-hearted too sensitive for his own good; a young man filled to his hair follicles with love. Even familiar with the story and Nedvigin’s interpretation I found myself breathing “Oh, no, be careful.”

Nedvigin’s appearance is prelude to a solo passage and then an extended pas de deux  of young romance. Strongin responds as an Olga delighted with the attention, very secure and confident of her hold on Lensky. A little tall for Nedvigin, he adroitly shepherded her under a necessary supported pirouette or two.

When it comes Tatiana’s turn to sit down before the mirror, she is diffident. In the meantime Onegin [Vitor Luiz] has strolled in deliberately from upstage left, an almost pencil-rigid figure in black, to be greeted warmly by Lensky, making polite gestures to the women, clearly mentally checking off the rustic nature of the gathering. His fingers twiddle tellingly behind his back. When he Onegin appears behind Tatiana, his mirror image creates an overwhelming, fluttering response, while one senses it’s for him to pass the time of day..

They engage in quite formal conversation, Onegin inquiring about Tatiana’s reading material ; his veiled expression indicates his distaste, if returning it politely. They exit arm in arm, and the rustics arrive, not quite garrulous serfs [not liberated until 1861], but clearly not dacha occupants. With the girls in equally quasi-peasant dresses, two lengthy diagonals are executed with Olga and Lensky lead participants as the curtain falls.

Tatiana’s virginal bedroom scene follows, empire bed with drapery upstage right and mirror upstage center with modest desk and candle replacing the summer wicker table. Pale blue shawl wrapped around her shoulders, Tatiana tries to pen her emotions on paper, only to be prevented by her devoted nurse who leads her back to bed, taking the shawl. That doesn’t deter Tatiana, who returns to the desk, falls asleep and we are given the substance of her dream, led to the mirror through which Onegin appears and leads her in a rapturous pas de deux  before disappearing into the mirror. Kochetkova and Luiz capture Tatiana’s luscious dream with lifts, supported arabesques, beating with ecstatic satisfaction and pirouettes, reflecting Tatiana’s youthful passion kindled by Onegin’s appearance.

Act II opens with the country ball, where Tatiana appears in her white gown, Olga in pink with various members of the community gather wishing Tatiana well as Lensky and Olga are self-involved. Onegin arrives, with Tatiana aware he has received her letter. There is polite dancing, and Onegin waits until they are alone to withdraw Tatiana’s letter, tearing it up in front of her eyes. At this moment the older Prince Gremin arrives, is presented to Tatiana. He sympathetically engages her,dancing while Onegin plays solitaire on the down stage table.

With Onegin’s tension rising and to alleviate his annoyance, he grabs Olga from Lensky and makes her his partner, as the dancing fever mounts. Lensky tries to reclaim Olga, retrieves her for a moment only to have Onegin grasp her again. Olga is visibly excited at the push and pull, Tatiana distraught, though gently curbed by Prince Gremin. Lensky, beside himself, flings his white gloves on the floor in front of Onegin; he pauses, cooler, tries to dissuade Lensky who, in return, applies the gloves to Onegin’s face.

The second scene, notably spare has Onegin in front of the curtain with a sweeping black cloak, gun in hand, clearly troubled by the result of his impulses. The curtain rises on Lensky moving from upstage right to downstage left, against the a grey landscape marked by birch trees, shedding his equally impressive brown cloak. There follows an eloquently danced soliloquy, Lensky expressing yearning, regret and belief in his doom, before Olga and Tatiana rush from stage left, heads covered with kerchiefs, to attempt to dissuade Lensky. The push-pull of the trio is strong, poignant, futile. Onegin appears from stage right and also tries to dissuade Lensky only to have his face slapped – too much. As the two women crouch in the front of the stage, one hears a fatal shot, a fall. Onegin appears again from stage right, walking across the stage. Tatiana rouses herself, stands and stares at Onegin before leaving with Olga. Onegin suddenly bends, breaking into sobs.

Act III occurs in the St. Petersburg ballroom of Prince Gremin and Tatiana, three massive chandeliers hanging  from scarlet. Onegin is escorted by Prince Gremin, both now  touched  with grey at the temples. Gremin excuses himself; there is a lavish display of dancing and Onegin experiences episodes of encounters wafting in and out of his arms. Gremin appears again with Tatiana, now a composed, clearly sheltered matron; a pas de deux ensues, expressing marital bliss and comfort, particularly Gremin’s protection of Tatiana. Joan Boada, making his final appearances as Prince Gremin, created a solicitous older husband, touches hinting at the understanding present at the Act II country ball, fascinating how many of the same steps convey a special pitch enhanced by the music. After the domestic calm, Tatiana visibly cringes when she encounters Onegin, who has been mesmerized when  recognizing her, a black contrast against the brilliant hues of the dancers, frequently intruding on the dance space of Gremin and Tatiana.

As the scenery is changing Onegin stands before the curtain, immersed in fleeting moments of the brief days at the summer dacha. When the curtain rises, the writing desk is now downstage right, the angled pillars have been domesticated with a hobby horse visible, and the back stage indicates a grand foyer. In brown, Tatiana is visibly disturbed, as Gremin, in uniform overladen with cord and medals, is about to take off for the office. She clings, draws him back for reassurance. He comforts her and departs.

Tatiana sits at the desk, tense, apprehensive; one can see Onegin in the background, moving uncertainly before he bursts on the scene to the opening love sequence of Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini, a completely apt selection for Onegin’s push-pull, knee-crawling, skirt clinging confessional. Just when you think Onegin has made his last plea, something else happens until – Tatiana practically staggers to the desk, picks up Onegin’s letter, lets him look at it. shreds it before him, pointing to the exit to which he rushes. Staggering while trembling and spent, she faces the audience, exhausted but
vindicated at last.

Of course, there was a burst of applause when the curtain rose for the two principals, and it continued for the other three principals, then for the corps de ballet. . Unfortunately there were no individual curtain calls though Boada, Strongin and Nedvigin were warmly acknowledged. I have the feeling it will be several years before we enjoy Onegin again, thanks in part to the decimation of San Francisco Ballet’s three male principals. Nedvigin, Boada and Pascal Molat.

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San Francisco Ballet Loses Three Male Principal Dancers

25 Feb

The San Francisco Ballet Press Department today announced that Gennadi Nedvigin will assume the artistic direction of Atlanta Ballet in August, replacing John McFall who is retiring.

This means that three principal male dancers will leave the San Francisco ranks — Joan Boada and Pascal Molat, whose pending retirement was announced last fall. All are mid-sized brilliant dancers with subsantatial tenure with the company. It is wonderful for Gennadi, but sad for San Franciscans, who have come to love his seemingly effortless classicism and remarkable portraits as Mecutio in Romeo and Juliet and Lensky in Eugene Onegin as well as a mischievous Franz in Coppelia.

It’s interesting that both McFall and Nedvigin have danced for San Francisco Ballet. McFall went to Atlanta after a stint at Dayton Ballet, inheriting a solid company which Robert Barnett built from the foundation that Dorothy Alexander supplied, bringing the company from regional dance status to professional standing. Alexander’s long tenure in Atlanta artistic circles did much to solidfy the ensemble’s standing which Barnett enhanced and turned over to McFall.

Makes me want to try to wheedle a guest couch in Atlanta.

The 2016 San Francisco Ballet Gala

24 Jan

 

January 21 provided the usual well-dressed mayhem in the Opera House Lobby for San Francisco Ballet’s Gala opening.  After the national anthem and Chairman John S. Osterweis delivered verbal thanks to the occasion’s organizers and sponsors,a lengthy roster; he also thanked the Ballet’s Board for its support of a dance institution which has survived its various manifestations and flourished to see its 84 years of performing with its national and international roster of remarkable dancers.  It also goes without saying that Helgi Tomasson is a master in staging a gala, not only for its variety but for using dancers to keep interest high, quite a feat in the stylish, quite self-involved patrons..

The audience enjoyed the choreographic gifts of three Russians: Marius Petipa (2); George Balanchine (4); Yuri Possokov, celebrating a decade as choreographer in residence (1).  The remaining five included Christopher Wheeldon, Hans Von Manen, William Forsythe, Helgi Tomasson and Jiri Bubenchcek.

In collaboration with Pacific Northwest Ballet, San Francisco Ballet will be presenting Coppelia in program four, staged by Alexandra Danilova nad George Balanchine after the original Paris Opera production of 1870 to that delicious music by Leo Delibes.  In pastel pink and following a time-honored practice of providing performance opportunities to students [in Paris it would have been les petite rats], a bevy of San Francisco Ballet students danced the Waltz of the Hours with Jennifer Stahl as the focal point with her high and handsome extensions.  Let it be said that the formations Balanchine devised, staged by Judith Fugate, were as impressive as the students’ execution and doubtless equally stimulating to the performers.

Maya Plisetskaya’s husband Rodin Shchedrin created several musical settings for his late wife, One, based on the story of Carmen, Yuri Possokhov used for his sultry pas de deux for Lorena Feijoo and Victor Luiz, a couple who told the tale of initial attraction between the gypsy and Don Jose with appropriate passion, strains of Bizet reminding the viewer of the seche fleur Jose had possessed in jail.  Possokhov’s understanding of a pas de deux can be picture perfect, and in this instant he was true to his reputation.

From the sultry to the complex music of Bela Bartok’s Divertimento, Helgi Tomasson entrusted his dancing quartet to three members of the corps de ballet, Max Cauthorn,Esteban Hernandez,  and and Wei Wang plus an advanced student of the school, Natasha Sheehan, skillfully staged by Tina Le Blanc.

Number four on the program was clearly a high point, Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, premiered in 1960 at New York’s City Center with Violette Verdy and one time San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Conrad Ludlow.  Here danced by Frances Chung and Gennadi Nedvigin, it was a delight from start to finish, Chung crisp and Nedvigin crystallizing his ascent in jumps
with a moment of distinct clarity.  Her turns were bursts of joy and Nedvigin gave us a mellow classicism that made one wanting to melt.

Christopher Wheeldon’s take on the romance in Carousel was given a dramatic sharpness by Doris Andre and steady persuasion by Joan Boarda.

The final pas de deux before intermission featured the Marius Petipa 1869 war horse Don Quixote Pas de Deux, with Vanessa Zahorian and Taras Domitro dancing to the Ludwig Mnkus music as set by Helgi Tomasson and Yuri Possokhov, virtually unmodified.  The balances required of Zahorian were noticeable, her fouettes in the coda frequently double.  Taras Domitro gave us some alarmingly good grand jetes, eliciting gasps from the audience.  Both were smooth and elegant.  After all,  having outwitted Kitri’s father, the couple are dancing at their wedding, and the ought to be celebrating.

Following intermission, there was a local premiere of Gentle Memories choreographed by the Czech born dancer-choreographer Jiri Bubenicek, created for the Youth America Grand Prix in 2012 and staged that September at the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. With Ming Luke at the piano, the music by Karen LeFrak was filled with musical phrases clearly linked to Scottish folk songs, appropriately enough for Yuan Yuan Tan with four swains, Tiit Helimets, Victor Luiz and Carlos Quenedit.

The temperature raised quite a bit for the next two numbers with Balanchine’s Rubies danced by Maria Kochetkova and Pascal Molat.  It was interesting to remember who else danced the number for Kotchetkova and Molat gave it a polished air beyond the sheer energy it has been danced by American born dancers.

Hans Van Manen created Solo to Johann Sebastian Bach’s violin solo which grows with increasing intensity.  It has been a frequent ballet on the company’s roster, here danced by Joseph Walsh, Gennadi Nedvigin and Hansuke Yamamoto with customary skill and relish.

Mathilde Froustey and Davit Karapetyan matched skill in the Act III pas de deux of Swan Lake, where Petipa created 32 fouettes en tournant for Pierina Legnani in the role of Odile.  It looked like this was Froustey’s maiden attempt in the role/ A charming dancer with beautiful proportions and exceptional port de bras, she did not complete the requisite fouettes or sur la place.  Karapetyan partnered attentively and conveyed his progressive attraction with conviction.

Sofiane Sylve and Carlos Di Lanno provided four minutes from the William Forsythe Pas/Porte to be featured fully in Program I, an angular choreography costumed by Stephen Galloway in practice costumes rendered with large pathches of color – I remember a lime green in particular. The dancers, of course, were spot on.

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Sofiane Sylve and Carlo Di Lanno in Forsythe’s Pas/Parts. (© Erik Tomasson)

The finale saw Luke Ingham in the role Igor Youskevitch created in Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, while Vanessa Zahorian danced Alicia Alonso’s part, created for Ballet Theatre in 1947.  To Tchaikovsky’s radiant music, corps de ballet and demi-soloists  rush on and off in waves, create diagonals, cross lines with jete arabesques, and turn energetically.  Easily, it was a triumphant finale for a grand exhibit of San Francisco Ballet’s continuing strength and excitement.

Sad to say, it also marks the beginning of Joan Boada and Pascal Molat’s final season with the company.

That Time of Year: S.F. Ballet’s Gala Celebrating Thirty Years of Tomasson Guidance

26 Jan

The melange of celebration, virtuosity, fund-raising goals and lavish display of gowns and egos marked San Francisco Ballet’s Gala January 22 with the press placed where tickets had not been sold; i.e. two seats in and in the Grand Tier where I sat with Craig Ashton and Emma, writing for a local Russian weekly. We were treated with the Calla Lily Lady, wearing a dress of white jersey, the shoulders guarded by said floral shape, adorned with green images; it required her to book the couple’s seats on the aisle, final row in the middle of the Grand Tier; sight lines were preserved. Go to S.F. Gate’s website, to see good glimpses of a design fit for Swan Lake or Raymonda at the Bolshoi.

Seen were tops with bra-like backs and a legion of strapless gowns well-stiffened set off by pairs of arms lacking muscular definition. Dressing up is fun, but what of the body it inhabits?

In front of us a young couple exchanged kisses while the rest of us stood, hand over heart, singing The Star Spangled Banner;seats empty following intermission.

The Gala commenced with a local version of the Paris Opera’s defile where the school, the trainees and budding professionals come forward, men with black tights and romantic shirts, girls in white tunics, older ones in white tutus a few in black, and, naturally, tiaras. I couldn’t help thinking what a fiscal outlay the tutus represented, and the hours spent in creating them. The audience cheered.

Following the defile, John S. Osterweis was tasked with acknowledging the sponsors of everything from the cocktail hour to the post-Gala Party, the organizers, and announcing a major capital campaign for $65 millions, of which $43 millions have been raised. Fund campaigns are typically private until at least half the goal has been reached. Exceptional was the information that five endowments have been made for five principal dancers, presumably extending beyond the current occupants’ active dancing careers. Diane B. Wilsey was announced as the chair for the Capital Campaign. (She has just completed a similar task for the UCSF Hospital at Mission Bay.) That declared, the Infinite Romance Gala commenced.

Some five years ago Renato Zanella’s Alles Walzer was performed at a Gala. This time it featured Pascal Molat flexing his biceps, back to the audience, head in profile making certain the audience registered the contours. Besides multiple pirouettes and tours around the stage, Zanella managed to mesh goofy touches with appropriate phrases to Johann Strauss II. Molat gave way to Joan Boada, echoing the movements; the pair wound up dancing identical movements, Molat dancing the most comment, Boada leaning on the bravura.

Val Caniparoli’s pas de deux from A Cinderella Story featured Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz, Feijoo in a frothy white skirt with red accents. They swirled together, beautifully synchronized, to Ming Luke’s piano renditions of Richard Rodgers’ themes.

Helgi Tomasson’s take on the most rapturous variation of Rachmaninov’s Variations on A Theme of Paganini, saw Yuan Yuan Tan leaping and leaning on the arms of Tiit Helimets, with an ultimate lift into Helimets’ embrace.

Kurt Weill’s music was Christopher Wheeldon’s source for the pas de deux between Sofiane Sylve and Luke Ingham, titled There Where She Loved. Sylve danced a reluctant, passionate, partially convinced role while Ingham supported, pursued and persuaded. Finally, Sylve walked away; one could imagine hot and cold continuing.

In a unannounced switch, Francesco Geminiani’s adaptation of Corelli, Concerto Grosso, premiered at another Gala in 2003 featured three young men of the company’s corps de ballet: Esteban Hernandez, Diego Cruz, Max Cauthorn, Francesco Mungamba and Wei Wang. Dancing to two violins, a viola and cello, they commence with outward sweeping arm movements as they turn several times before forming a circle of grand jetes to the persistent, forward sound of the strings, ably played by Matthieu Arama, Marianne Wagner, Anna Kruger and Eric Sung. A series of solo variations follow with a pas de trois insert. Dressed in Milliskin unitards, Mungamba distinguished himself with the liquid quality of his line, Hernandez in red with bursts of virtuosity, Wei Wang for unaffected classic style. Cruz and Cauthorn, who danced the Harlequin in December’s Nutcracker, were hard to identify from the Grand Tier. The five danced as a unit. Tomasson is adept in fashioning classical male bravura.

Post intermission the offering sequence was changed, perhaps because Francisco Mungamba was scheduled for another series of killer variations. Instead Tchaikovsky’s tenuously melodic music sourced Alexei Ratmansky’s choreography, originally for the Het National under the title Souvenir D’un Lieu Cher, with Mathilde Froustey, Sarah Van Patten, Carlo di Lanno and Luke Ingham. Frankly it wasn’t clear whether the former dear was all that “former”, if the connection between the women made clear they were okay with the arrangement. Van Patten seemed to have the worst of it, with soloist Di Lanno, I think making his San Francisco Opera House debut, being very courteous about his position, while Ingham was stalwart about Van Patten’s uncertainty. I hope Ingham isn’t type-cast too much in having to be manly about feminine indecision. Froustey’s impulse contrasted muscularly with Van Patton’s hesitations, and in equal measure Ingham’s body movements with Di Lanno’s. I found the quartet compelling more about the body movements and attack than the content.

Sergei Rachmaninov’s music was Yuri Possokhov’s source for the pas de deux from Bells, apparently a longer work created for the Joffrey Ballet in 2011. Here Maria Kochetkova and David Karapetyan in flaming orange Milliskin, he stripped to the waist, she in bathing suit style by Sandra Woodall, maneuvered in contemporary style out of their mutual Russian training, their comparative height adding to the mix.

Finally, The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude returned the program sequence, choreographer William Forsythe’s familiar acid green pancake tutus inhabited by Dores Andre, Sasha de Sola and Jennifer Stahl, and Francisco Mungamba and Gennadi Nedvigin contrasting in attack and line, both wonderfully correct, and Andre particularly intense in her variation.

Frances Chung and Joseph Walsh premiered Christopher Wheeldon’s present for Helgi Tomasson’s 30th anniversary as artistic director with Borealis, music by Gavin Byrars. In silver tops and blue tights the imagery seemed designed to evoke lights glittering in northern winters.

Just before the finale pas de deux, the Tatiana-Onegin pas de deux was danced by Yuan Yuan Tan and Vitor Luiz. He danced masterfully, she emoted extravagently. Like Francisco Mungamba, Luiz as did Luke Ingham danced twice as did Tan – a double duty series which seemed unusual. That may be why the San Francisco Ballet Website lists an opening for a principal male dancer.

To complete the program Taras Domitro and Vanessa Zahorian winged their way through Le Corsaire pas de deux with clarity and great elan, Domitro’s exciting grand jetes and Zahorian finishing off her assignment with a series of single and double traveling fouettes.

After the curtain applause, the usual basket of flowers and individual nosegays for the cast of women dancing, several men in black emerged with trays of glasses, followed by John Osterweiss offering a toast honoring Helgi’s Thirtieth season. The gold curtain then descended.

Afterthought: the Gala listed three pianists in addition to Roy Bogas for the Paganini: Natal’ya Feygina, Mungunchimeg Buriad, and Ming Luke.

Alexei Ratmansky’s Shostakovitch Trilogy, April 2,11

16 Apr

Some ballets impact me strongly; when they do, it’s necessary to see the work at least a second time to make sure what I saw was what I felt, and why. I’ve not heard much Shostakovitch; one of his was a college favorite, arrogant finale et al. It wasn’t included in Ratmansky’s choices: Symphony #9, Chamber Symphony, Piano Concerto # 1. The San Francisco Ballet premiere of the trilogy follows the two-part premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s essays by American Ballet Theatre.

My initial impression was movement and music were absolutely one and how could this be? Visually, the dancers rose, turned, jumped, pirouetted, were held or fell to the floor just like the notes I was hearing. Opening night audience thought so too – a standing ovation plus enthusiastic written and verbal excitement expressed by critics. What love and admiration can accomplish in the mind and vision of a gifted artist ! There is no questioning Ratmansky’s work qualifies; The MacArthur Foundation also agreed this past September.

Part I, Symphony #9, featured Sarah Van Patten, Carlos Quenedit, Simone Messmer, James Sofranko and Taras Domitro April 2; the April 11 casting; Simone Messmer, Mathilde Froustey, Pascal Molat, Luke Ingham and Hansuke Yamamoto.

Part II, The Chamber Symphony provided Davit Karapetyan with Sasha de Sola, Lorena Feijoo, Mathilde Froustey April 2, Jaime Garcia Castilla, Dores Andre, Simone Messmer and Sarah Van Patten April 11.

Part III, Piano Concerto #1, featured Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith, Maria Kochetkova, Vitor Luiz, on April 2; April 11 Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets, Doris Chung,Joan Boada.

Between the premiere and the dancing of a second cast, seen a week following the premiere, rawness has dissipated, the phrases, the steps, the interplay of bodies, lines all have begun to organize themselves in the dancers’ muscle memory, the hesitations and maneuverings of rehearsal behind. Still, I felt the second cast had meshed uniquely; how likely is it they will get reviewed, particularly a week later.

At the premiere Symphony 9 reflected the musical structure: Domitro jumping, spinning; Messmer and Sofranko flirtatious, Van Patten and Quenedit reflecting the highs and lows in the musical line. April 11, Froustey and Ingham gave me a sense of fear, illusory moments of tenderness, a pervading quality of hopelessness. Messmer with Molat, she replacing the scheduled Lorena Feijoo, provided immediacy, “get it, enjoy it while you can.” Hansuke Yamamoto, whatever he felt, was dancing full out, one of the best I remember, driving forward, upward; what else could one do?

The Chamber Symphony was graced with David Karapetyan, his sculpted body, a controlled stoic aura, even as he reached out for the feminine, Sasha de Sola, the flirt; Mathilde Fourstey the fated one, Lorena Feijoo, required to comfort the forlorn. I read somewhere the quartet of dancers reflected a failed Apollo with unreliable Muses. The quartet sequences seemed particularly reflective of the music. April 11 emotion rippled through Jaime Garcia Castilla, aided by his exceptionally supple physique. Dores Andre invited, then flitted away. Castilla and Simone Messmer seemed keenly aware of their frailty; especially when she is first hidden, held aloft by the group of men before her final disappearance, leaving a wise attending woman, Sarah Van Patten, to touch him compassionately.

For the Piano Concerto, the usual close partnering between Tan and Smith was a given; he slightly somber, solicitous, Tan clearly articulate but remote. Kochetkova and Luiz were livelier, to be expected, both expressive individually. Did I subjectively feel that Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets as Europeans understood the irony better? Perhaps. Frances Chung and Joan Boada melded skillfully, blending in an immediacy underplaying the flash.

Regardless, I only wish the trilogy was to be part of San Francisco Ballet’s 2015 Spring season instead of the Piano Concerto alone. I still have lots to absorb.

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.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Extravagant Story Ballets

17 Jul

Early in May I saw two performances of the San Francisco. Ballet-Het National Ballet production of Cinderella; and on film his earlier creation for The Royal Ballet, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at a 10 a.m. Sunday showing at San Francisco’s Vogue Theater, Sacramento near Presidio.  The screening rated a brief appearance by Christopher Wheeldon, here for the U.S. premiere of Ms. Miserable transformed to Mme Majestic.

I don’t have the roster of production personnel and designers  for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,, but both say a great deal about Wheeldon’s thoroughness and collaboration.  Given the allotted fiscal resources, he scattered the commission funds adroitly and gave both companies and their audiences a ballet  for the memory books and box office receipts. Wheeldon’s employment of  technical advances for stage productions since 1929 when Serge Diaghilev died would have that impresario repeat  his famous edict “Etonne moi!”

I probably shouldn’t mix the two productions, but sentimental reasons are afloat, namely two different USA IBC competitions in Jackson, Mississippi when the Royal Ballet principals Sarah Lamb and Zenaida Yanowsky were handed senior silver and junior gold respectively, Lamb in 2002 and Yanowsky in 1994.  In the special ambiance characterizing Jackson’s ambiance, one acquires a special attachment with the young artists staying the course of climate, adjustments and pressure to emerge with their talents recognized and careers enhanced.

Okay, back to Cinderella.  Wheeldon invited Craig Lucas to fashion the story-line.  The old-fashioned word is librettist; I’ve also heard the word dramaturge.  Taking pieces from Perrault, the brothers Grimm; as Aimee T’sao mentioned in her dancetabs review, the opera  La Perichole, Lucas provides a snippet of Cinderella’s mother and father, the mother dying of consumption, a visit to the tombstone and the emergence of a tree from the gravestone.  Adroitly using children, the girl Cinderella is replaced by the young woman in a filmy dress of blue which needed sleeves present in other versions. At the tombstone/tree the father arrives with Stepmother Hortensia and stepsisters Edwina and Clementine; there Hortensia’s bouquet is offered, thrown to the ground, offered again and reluctantly accepted.

Cut to the Palace, represented by three handsome rust-colored pillars,  Prince Guillaume and friend Benjamin play with wooden swords and destabilize Madame Mansard the dancing mistress.  King Albert and Queen Charlotte as well as master valet Alfred try to control the two frolicking boys with comparatively little effect. No one really seems to mind.

Time passes and the King shows the Prince portraits of potential royal brides: reaction,  dislike.  Required to deliver invitations in person, the Prince and Benjamin swap garments so the royal has a chance to assess necessity and his choices.

Next, Cinderella is seen in her domestic setting, assisted by four masked men  serving as Fates.  The two sisters are sketched further, too little to establish Clementine’s kind impulses, plenty to establish Edwina’s narcissism, less her halitosis, Hortensia’s step-mother’s nastiness, the father’s interrupted attempts at tenderness.

Into this domestic dragnet, Cinderella, out of kindness, perhaps diversion which might net some responsiveness, brings the prince in disguise.  Mayhem, of course, is directed at the would-be derelict until Benjamin’s arrival with invitations; an acknowledgment to the fire huddling humanity, tempers Hortensia.  That humanity tries to console Cinderella, and she yields briefly, with a flare of pride, he is shooed out the door.

Excised are  the shuffling god-mother in disguise, the dance master, the wig makers and the dress-maker, replaced with the antics of the three women, Benjamin disguised as the prince, followed by the three preening, and Hortensia’s waving the fourth invitation before tossing it into the fire.  The disconsolate Cinderella is spared by the four fates lifting her, as the kitchen banishes, bearing her to her mother’s tree where the four seasons with double qualities dance for her; Spring/Lightness; Summer/Generosity; Autumn/Mystery; Winter/Fluidity [the latter is a mystery to me, unless it signifies rain instead of snow and ice]; she joins them in the finale.

The seasons then join, cluster and dance while Cinderella makes a costume change to a golden dress with wheat-like tendrils cascading from the bodice and a golden mask, behind her  a diaphanous golden cape.  The fates and four masked attendants lift her; horses heads appear, the Fates grasp four wheels, the spokes green branches and our heroine is raised, cape billowing,
evoking Audrey Hepburn declaring “Take my picture” near the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Curtain!

Act II brings us Princesses from Russia, Spain and Bali with an orthodox priest diplomat in red, a Velasquez courtier with exaggerated wig and Indian woman with head shawl and covering jacket, all quite amusing with the Balinese princess sporting malevolent talons and luxuriant pantaloons, the Russian princess with outsized headgear and the Spanish candidate more like a
refugee from Lilias Pasta’s tavern.  All very funny, if the parody in some instances is questionable. Colonialism or ethnocentricity will rear collective  heads. Prince Guillaume is understandably put off by all three, much to King Albert’s frustration.  I think Queen Charlotte is relieved.

The two step sisters make their unfortunate attempts, but Benjamin provides Clementine with an alternative while Hortensia proceeds to sloshdom with champagne.  Father has borne heaps of wraps and pursues Hortensia’s quest for yet another glass. The music shimmers, the crowd parts, Cinderella enters and Prince Guillaume is dazzled, the walls disappear along with the crowd and the starry night provides the background for the pas de deux.

The two casts,  opening and the following Tuesday, were:

Friday:                                                                  Tuesday:
Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada               Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan
Benjamin: Taras Domitro                                Benjamin: Hansuke Yamamoto
Cinderella’s Father: Damian Smith               Cinderella’s Father: Reuben Martin-Cintas
Cinderella’s Mother: Dana Genshaft             Cinderella’s Mother: Charlene Cohen
King Albert: Ricardo Bustamonte                  King Albert: Val Caniparoli
Queen Charlotte:Anita Paciotti                       Queen Charlotte: Anita Paciotti
Alfred, Benjamin’s Father: Val Caniparoli   Alfred, Benjamin’s Father Sebastian Vinet
Madame Mansard: Pascale Le Roy                Madame Mansard: Katita Waldo

Stepmother Hortensia: Kata Waldo              Stepmother Hortensia: Shannon Rugani
Stepsister Edwina: Sarah Van Patten           Stepsister Edwina: Dana Genshaft
Stepsister Clementine: Frances Chung        Stepsister: Clara Blanco

At the San Francisco premiere, I found most everything dazzling, but felt Boada somewhat doughy as the Prince.  Waldo etched a sharp Stepmother, Van Patten rather dotty as one stepsister – the halitosis wasn’t so noticeable as it was on Tuesday night, and Chung was a bit subdued as the sister who manages to captivate Benjamin, danced insouciantly by Taras Domitro.  Both Bustamonte and Caniparoli were suitably grandiose as well as genial as the King, and no one tops Anita Paciotti for regal charm as a Queen.

Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan provided an ideal pairing on the Tuesday evening I saw them, clearly filling the romantic element of their respective roles.  The Rugani/Genshaft and Blanco trio of step relatives in size and temperament seemed more cohesive while Yamamoto and Domitro vied for aerial brio.

I forgot to mention  the touching part when Cinderella arrives home, stashes the slipper in a niche in the chimney before the parade of chairs descends from the ceiling to provide the candidates with a place for attempting to fit the shoe size.  The potentials includes the fanciful creatures from Cinderella’s transformation scene.  When it is over, the chair are heisted into the flys with a wonderful uneven line.

I’ve seen Kudelka’s Cinderella, as well as the earlier Christensen-Smuin and Stevenson versions where the latter two use men as the stepsisters.  These productions tended to hew to the musical development more routinely.  There were times when I found myself wondering how that section of the music matched what I was seeing.  In the lengthy, triumphant pas de deux, the lifts were so frequent that their prevalence made for anti-climatic sensations, despite pristine partnering and the beautiful display of musical ballerinas.  Unlike less costumed ballets Wheeldon has created for San Francisco Ballet, these two views made me wonder if he himself had been dazzled by the sumptuous and splendor of the production designed and costumed by Julian Crouch, Natasha Katz’ lighting design and the magic Basil Twist conceived with the tree and the carriage.  Succumbing to the collaborative opulence would be entirely understandable.