Tag Archives: Joffrey Ballet

Intelligent, Colloquial and Smart: SF Dance Works Premiere

26 Jun

SF Dance Works, which gave its premiere performance June 23 at the ODC Performance Gallery,the co-presenter by the bye, elicited a wave of nostalgia for me, thanks to the audience and their enthusiastic support for the dancers and the material they spun before the eyes of these clearly vocal fans.

Well they might. James Sofranko, the founder and artistic director of SF Dance Works, is not only a soloist with San Francisco Ballet, and company member since 2000, he also has co-organized a yearly benefit for cancer research. Additionally, he has choreographed at least two works for San Francisco Ballet’s spring student showcases, reflecting the arrangement smarts he absorbed while at Juilliard Music Institute’s Dance Department. He also has incorporated former Julliard classmate Anne Zivolich-Adams in the inaugural cast, a dancer much missed in the ODC Dance Company.

What wafted over me during the program was the remembered feeling of San Francisco Ballet’s summer programs on 18th Avenue and the rooting nature of the audiences who peopled the risers in the upstairs converted studio those summer weekend programs. These dancers and choreography, to be sure, are infinitely more experienced and savvy, but the ambiance isn’t easily repeated or imitated. Thursday night’s performance, however, evoked those earnest and active days.

The five-part program with one intermission started and ended with the six-dancer ensemble which included former SF Ballet soloists Dana Genshaft and Garrett Anderson, the former now working in modern dance at the company’s school and Anderson, after a stint abroad, with Chicago’s Hubbard Street Dance Company. The additional dancers were Amber Neumann, a Joffrey Company dancer, Ben Needham Wood from the Smuin Company, Kendall Teague, originally hired by Dennis Nahat for Ballet San Jose, and Tobin del Cuore, another Juilliard Alum, with Hubbard credits as well as Lar Lubovitch and Azure Barton, Houston Grand Opera and Chicago’s Lyric Opera.

These seven dancers graced the inventions of Lar Lubovitch, Alejandro Cerrudo, Penny Saunders and the local talents of Dana Genshaft and James Sofranko. The works were enhanced by by Heather Basarab’s lighting, abetted by Rayan O’Gara as well as Jason Brown and a variety of music, the most notable being Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major, and a portion of Franz Liszt.

Penny Saunders’ Joe and Ida, a co-production with Cedar Rapids Ballet supplied a quirky boy meets girl, the sextet seeming a contemporary take on Robbins’ Fancy Free, however minus sailors, shoes and costumed minimally by Saunders and Melissa Leitch. Saunders, another Harid Conservatory graduate like Sofranko, has Hubbard Street and Cedar Lake credits and is now in a three-year residency with Grand Rapids Ballet where Patricia Barker is artistic director.

One can see that this boy-girl encounter can enliven a contemporary program. It’s brim full of body-parts exploration, from the tentative reach of a hand to rotator cuff manipulation, torso undulation and abrupt shifts in weight and position of the legs and feet. I was amazed to see just what Saunders could elicit from a skilled human body. With six composers in a sound mix, Joe and Ida invites comparison to the endless apps on a smart phone.

Dana Genshaft’s Portrait, inspired by the 19th century French novelist George Sand, was the most staged production in that the work possessed floor projections placing dancer Amber Neumann in context – a field of flowers, a scene of Paris in the mid-19th century and then a neutral where Neumann is divested of Karin Mossen’s black horsehair hoop, replaced by the trousers for which Sand was so noted. An intriguing subject, Neumann spent a fair amount of the Max Richter-Franz Liszt score reaching forward and swirling, suggesting protest and groping for an acceptable ambiance.

Bob Crosby’s music gave Sofranko the basis of displaying Anne Zivolich-Adams’ perky side, quick shifts of direction, abrupt elevation, and her dry “Okay, try me.” Next time I hope Sofranko explores her dramatic depth. But it simply was great to see her prodigious talent showcased.

The program’s first half finished with Lar Lubovich’s male pas de deux from Concerto Six Twenty Two to W.A.Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major, a work associated with the AIDS crisis. Danced by Garrett Anderson and Tobin Del Cuore, it is wonderful blend of so-called modern and classical ballet which was expressed without embellishments, but filled with a range of tenderness, sensitivity and respect that a deep bond between two men can possess.

 

SFDanceworks. Garrett Anderson, Tobin Del Cuore in Concerto Six Twenty-Two by Lar Lubovitch. Photo by Andrew Weeks

Following intermission the sextet completed the program with Alejandro Cerrudo’s Likety Split, premiered in 2006 by the Hubbard Street Dance Project. Another semi-comic encounter of the sexes with the inevitable hesitations and awkwardness, it seemed that Penny Saunders had absorbed the situation and provided a more lively comment.

For the rationale behind Sofranko’s choices, let me recommend Toba Singer’s interview for Culture Vulture. The aim has been well interpreted, the material reasonably varied; the second season will doubtless build on this auspicious, beautifully danced beginning.

Rebel On Pointe

3 Jan

Wilson, Lee, Rebel on Pointe
Gainesville FL, University Press of Florida, 2014
ISBN:978-0-8130-6008-8, 215 pages, illus., $24,95

Lee Wilson spent her childhood in Delaware, getting involved in dance classes, starting at age four. Lee’s pediatrician advised her mom that dance classes could correct Lee’s pigeon-toed condition. Nothing was mentioned about the difference in the length of inner and outer thigh muscles. A year later it was ballet; tap had not corrected the toed-in position. She describes vividly the process of learning to toe out, the small school recital, she and her brother Trick tap-dancing, and its enlistment of mothers as seamstresses.

Before she starts to talk about acquiring Capezio’s Duro-Toe shoes her second year, she recaps the background of her father, a chemist with Du Pont, and the housewife routine of her mother. Late in her life, her mother told Lee what her pre-marriage, World War II life had been; in U,S. Army Intelligence she was a code breaker, gifted with facility in three languages plus Latin and Greek. Clearly, that skill was funneled into home schooling and assiduous support of dancing classes.

Lee outgrew, literally, her classes in Wilmington, Delaware and started a commute to Washington, D.C., where she studied until the teacher told her she had outgrown the school and pointed her to Saturday classes in Philadelphia with Maria Swoboda. Here Lee encountered a fixed barre, but a revelation in center work. She learned efface and ecarte positions, moving  behind one set of dancers and in front of another. Her description gave me the feeling of being in the class, enhanced by my own brief experience with Mme. Swoboda in New York City in 1951. She started commuting when the  Philadelphia train trip from Wilmington cost sixty-five cents.

Lee writes clearly about the social mores of the time, the norm of women being homemakers and her determination to be able to rely on herself, not being caught in the repetitive and non-creative chores of wifehood. Julia Child was yet to come upon the scene as well as Martha Stewart.

She writes about the understandable argument about earning a living [Dad] and weight [Mother], plus her growing awareness of the dance world, thanks in part by the purchase of a television set by her father.

At the Philadelphia Dance Academy, Lee encountered Alfredo Corvino and James Jamieson, for whom she executed 16 fouetees right and left. Fortuitously, he opened a school in Wilmington, Delaware and placed Lee in his advanced classes. His criticism of her in his first Wilmington class and her realization the work she needed to do convinced her mother she had the grit to become a professional.

Urged on by Jamieson, at thirteen she competed in Highland dancing, eventually winning bronze, silver and gold medals in various competitions.

Lee’s mother saw to it that she attended a private school so her dance training was not interrupted; Lee took classes with the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo and was considered company material. Her mother pushed her into college entrance exams so she would leave home.

Lee auditioned for Juilliard, aced the dance audition, got a so-so for the piano and was told she was too young to live alone in New York City. Her mother enrolled her in the Professional Children’s School and Lee found herself taking classes with Valentina Pereyaslavec Her description of the floor, the room, the procedures evoke one’s knowledge of what it means to be in a class and trying to establish one’s capabilities. She writes simply and wonderfully about the ambiance, the expectations, and the New York City of 1961, complete with the Automat, even with her academic courses.

She touches on working in commercial shows as well as the nomadic life of dancers, particularly those who have moved from ballet to musical theater. She talks about physical size, what it means in partnering, and how the constant use of toe shoes is the only way to harden one’s foot for that precarious, easily outworn footwear. Her comments includes mention of professional unions, their dues and pensions, although the dollar sign is omitted.

Lee devotes space to joining Mme Persyaslavec’s Professional Class and who she shared class with, with an interesting description of Margot Fonteyn and her method of working to maintain her technique at 40. She also discusses seeing Lucia Chase and the process by which hiring choices are frequently made.

In 1962, however, Lee’s father was posted to Du Pont’s Geneva office for a three year term, and Lee had to decide whether to remain in New York or accompany her family, sailing on the S.S. United States. Lee’s assessment of the dance company situation the year the Ford Foundation made major training grants and New York City Ballet was poised to move to Lincoln Center is excellent.

The next section of the book is devoted to Lee’s relationship to Rosella Hightower, how Hightower encouraged her, and guided her into job openings.

Lee recounts her penury while her family lived in Geneva and her mother reveled in being in Europe, able to travel, freed from the domestic routine back in the United States. It also includes meeting Erik Bruhn and the relationship of Bruhn and Nureyev. It finishes with Lee’s two years as a principal dancer at the Opera in Bordeaux where she met Carlos Carvajal and danced in a pas de deux he created and danced with her.

When she returns to the United States, the Joffrey Ballet had temporarily disbanded; through class with Anthony Tudor she learned that Dame Alicia Markova was taking over the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. Lee joined the company in the fall. She writes of her first experiences auditioning for Broadway musicals, getting to be replacement in Hello Dolly and knowing musical theatre was where she belonged.

Lee’s memoir is well-written, excellent in its information, memorable in its capacity to engage you in her career and her perceptions. I highly recommend it.

 

 

Donald McKayle’s Premiere at UC Irvine, CA.

22 Feb

When Dennis Nahat attended Juilliard School of Music prior to  joining The Joffrey Ballet as it was being reformed the fall of 1965, he had Donald McKayle as one of his teachers. A bond was formed which has lasted these many years. Recently Nahat helped McKayle with administrative papers relating to the McKayle works, some of which were staged at Ballet San Jose when Nahat was the company’s artistic director.

This fall McKayle, at the age of 84 and following a severe illness, choreographed a new work for the dancers at U.C., Irvine where he has been teaching. PERO REPLANTADO (Uprooted) was premiered in mid-February2015. Nahat wrote the following comments about the work.

“From the moment the curtain is lifted onto an empty stage, the dancers enter in such an arresting manner that one dare not breathe until the final moment when the dancers freeze at the foot lights, almost in our lap. The work is an affirmation of humanity in America and is the breath of life in Americans. The finale is especially startling; in a medley written by Woody Guthrie, Pastures of Plenty / This Land is Your Land, which is not the original but a newly composed version that is wonderful, and Land, with lyrics by Lila Downs. The last tableau with the full ensemble running forward, looking directly at the audience, jumping into secondé position ecarté in a deep plié with their arms lifted above their heads in unison, on the last note and word of the song “We will work to keep it (America) FREE”, is a dare to anyone who would try to take that freedom away. Make no mistake here, McKayle tells us in direct, clear and asserted choreography that Americans have worked hard for freedom.

“The entire large ensemble of 18 dancers is terrific, especially well-danced is the solo girl with two casts called La Niña, the girl, danced on Wednesday by Emma Walsh and Thursday’s official opening night by Caitlin Hicks. An arresting solo and a difficult one, you will not see danced this way by many. Both dancers give different interpretations, a McKayle treat; artists can fly in many directions in his works. But it was Ms. Hicks who simply took the show by storm with her intensely beautiful dark features and her ability to isolate movement and direct the viewer to her intended purpose. So well constructed is this solo that by the time both interpreters ran off the stage with hands on their backs in a slight back bend, the audience almost ran off with them, bursting into spontaneous applause.

“The 5-part ballet has a large ensemble. Costumes by Kathryn Wilson were simple, colorful and American/Mexican in flavor, all dancers in different costumes,still remarkably similar. The lighting by Brady Jan King had moments but needed a little more to emphasize the atmosphere and occasional pathos. It is a deeper work than surface light. A little more time and work and possibly more contemporary lighting instruments to sharpen focus might be helpful. Still, we could see what we came to see, the work. For that we are thankful. If the ballet weren’t so strong McKayle would have needed help… There was no help needed, just seeing the dance was a marvel… Another lighting designer could supply a dimension of magic to the international heights this masterpiece is.

“The music sung on records by Lila Downs, excerpts from her album “Border”. A beautifully sung array of songs that are rarely heard and sung in a Spanish dialect. Many of her songs are sung in indigenous languages such as Mixtec, Zapotec, Mayan, Nahuatl and P’urhepecha (Tarascan). In Mr. McKayle’s UPROOTED, Ms. Downs sings in Spanish and English. The second movement for a trio of men, El Feo, the ugly one, the song is sung in Mayan, Spanish and English. They even sound Portuguese at times. Here Ms. Downs is simply sensational and as a singer/songwriter no matter what anyone says… she can only be referred to as extraordinary.

“Donald McKayle hits home and to the heart of the matter, a grand master of innovation. In each work he has created, he is honest in content and the structure is always pure. A lesson for all choreographers…content, structure, original, musical and finally choreography… His voice in movement is again unique in this piece. Its humanity is unmistakable, remarkable. No other choreographer I have seen has created so vast a body of works, each an individual work unto its own. McKayle is a National Treasure and is recognized as such,”originality” his middle name. The more you see the work, the more you want to see it again and again. Like all great artists, McKayle is always surprising, deeply rooted truth, and forever memorable.”

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.

A New Year’s Tidbit

15 Jan

Not long ago John King who writes on architecture for The San Francisco Chronicle wrote a feature on the manager of the retrofitting of San Francisco’s Veterans’ Building, sitting side by side with San Francisco’s Opera House, with San Francisco’s City Hall on the opposite side of Van Ness Avenue.

Between these two monuments, gloriously subscribed to commemorate the American veterans of World War I, is an oval stretch of green with English plane trees and brick walkways. On warm, sunny days while San Francisco Ballet is having its season, dancers lounge, eat, read and hang out on the ledges around the oval.

Brooke Byrne’s mother mentioned to me that a handful of earth from each European cemetery filled with World War I American soldiers’ remains are part of the soil sustaining the lawn.

I have several memories of dance performances at the Veterans/Herbst Theatre – not only the decade of San Francisco Bay Area Rhythm Exchange in late August, but ones earlier – The Jose Limon Company when it was presented in San Francisco by Spencer Barefoot.

The Joffrey Company appeared just before an alliance was reached with Rebekah Harkness. John Wilson and Brunhilde Ruiz were still in the company and John sang for some Western-type hoe-down finale.

I remember vividly when Lew Christensen’s Con Amore was premiered; Sally Bailey was Queen of the Amazons, Leon Danilian as guest artist the Thief, Nancy Johnson, the flirty wife, Leon Kalimos the husband, Carlos Carvajal, the sailor and I think young Roderick Drew the student with Virginia Johnson as Cupid. The antics in the Amazon camp were danced to the overture of Rossini’s Thieving Magpie.

Pacific Ballet under Allan Howard’s direction danced a number of its seasons there with a range of dancers, some already teaching, others later having substantial careers: Barbara Crockett, Sally Streets, Carolyn Goto, Grace Doty, Arleen Sugano, Kyra Nichols come to mind with Marc Wilde as one of the early choreographers.

The troupe of the Kerala Kalamandalum made its U.S. debut there under the auspices of the American Society for Eastern Arts.

Several sessions of Words on Dance were recorded there.

King’s feature prompted me to inquire what was going to happen to the artists dressing rooms in Herbst Hall. When the Herbst funds permitted a sprucing up of the auditorium, virtually nothing was done to the dressing rooms which were reached by a steep circular staircase, the rooms themselves small, the amenities scanty.

King recently responded to my query saying not only were the dressing rooms going to be remodeled, but they were going to be on the first floor!

Mirabile!

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..

2014 USA IBC Round II Results, June 23

14 Jul

The contestants were winnowed to thirty-one from fifty-four, Asia did very well, Latin American representation appreciable also. Statistically, the Republic of Korea garnered six for the finalists out of the original nine. The People’s Republic of China’s dancers numbered four, a total of ten Asian finalists; Japan added four, with a roster of fourteen Asians out of the thirty-one competitors advancing. In my opinion, that says a great deal about the seriousness with which Asians approach ballet

Further it is interesting that three of the Japanese contestants have affiliation with British or U.S. companies, giving them a critical edge in the contemporary ballet choreography assigned for Round II. Korea National University of the Arts [KNUA] train in modern dance as well as classical ballet. The lone finalist from down under, Australia, Aaron Smyth, is a member of the Joffrey Ballet. South Africa’s finalist, Andile Ndlovu, dances with Washington Ballet.

Brazil’s contestants number two juniors and one senior; Cuba has both genders in the senior division, Chile, one, and Mexico, two, are both represented in the junior division; nice going.

These statistics are all probably boring to readers, but in this tenth competition in Jackson, it reflects the growth of training and performance in Latin America along with the importance of the Jackson-based competition to Latin dancers to be seen and possibly to win scholarships or contracts. At Prix de Lausanne some of the sponsors give scholarships with recipients choosing what schools they want to attend. Here at Jackson, the choices are specific to school or company. In the past, happily, company directors have made selections from dancers seeded early; one of the more notable examples was Amy Marie Briones from the San Francisco Bay Area. Dennis Nahat selected her for an apprenticeship out of the Gala Introduction, the last he choreographed for Jackson. Briones, a strong, brilliant technician still in her early twenties, has worked herself up to soloist status with Ballet San Jose, now dancing under the direction of Jose Manuel Carreno. Nahat told me about others he had chosen, including the recently-retired Ramon Moreno, a bronze medalist from Cuba, “I take dancers who like to and are willing to work.” Moreno, a wonderful character dancer as well as admirable technician, also received an Isadora Duncan Dance Award for his performances for the 2009-2010 season.

If I had my way, I would have included a fourth Brazilian senior, Mozart Matsuyama, one of the two most striking males in this competition, the other being Rodrigo Almarales of Cuba. Either one simply has to appear on stage, pause, allowing the audience to see them, before launching into the necessary steps to the chosen music. I probably have mentioned this before, but the real dancer, for me, is one so at home in their bodies that the classical training is a garment refining the natural impulse to move, there to refine the talent, not to restrict the mover to a rigid bearing nor confined like a Victorian girdle.

USA IBC’S #10 Coming Up

17 Apr

The USA International Ballet Competition Number 10 is scheduled for June 14-28. It will be a first for Edward Villella as the jury chair, the final competition for Executive Director Sue Lobrano who has guided the Jackson, Mississippi event since the fall of 1986 when Karlen Bain relinquished direction because her husband’s job took him out of state.

This year 109 candidates have been invited from 21 countries; 48 juniors, ages 5-18, 61 seniors, ages 19-26. Sixty-one dancers are from the United States, eighteen from Japan and fourteen from Brazil.

Latin American juniors will represent Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru; People’s Republic of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea are sending competitors, plus South Africa and Switzerland. Amongst the seniors additional dancers are listed coming from Cuba, Colombia and Panama. Seniors are arriving from Australia, France, Poland and Portugal. Asia will be further represented by Mongolia and the Philippines, and from the Russian Federation add to the countries listed as sending junior hopefuls.

Among the senior competitors will be Mario Vitale Labrador, originally from Alameda, California, one-time dancer with Oakland Ballet who attended the Bolshoi Ballet Academy and upon graduation was given a soloist contract with the Mikhailovsky Theater in St. Petersburg. Labrador was awarded the George Zoritch Prize at the April Arabesque Competition in Perm, Russia. San Francisco Ballet School will be represented by Daniel McCormick, level seven, as a junior entry.

Determining who would be invited were Adam Sklute, artistic director, Ballet West; Virginia Johnson, artistic director, Dance Theatre of Harlem; Megaly Suarez, former teacher at Cuba’s National Ballet School, now artistic director, Florida Classical Ballet. The trio reviewed all tapes submitted by entrants, selecting 109 candidates. It’s also possible there will be last minute drop outs.

The jurors represent Australia, Canada, China, Georgia, Germany, Japan, Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, United Kingdom, and Spain and United States, Chair Edward Villella.

John Meehan, Dance Chair, Vassar College, represents Australia following a career with American Ballet Theatre; Andre Lewis, artistic director, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Canada; Feng Ying, artistic director, National Ballet of China; Nina Ananiashvili, artistic director,State Ballet of Georgia; Gigi Hyatt, deputy director, Hamburg Ballet School, Germany; Hideo Fukagawa, former principal, Munich State Opera Ballet, choreographer, Japan; Hae Shik Kim, founding director, Dance Conservatory, Korean National University of Arts; Ashley Wheater, artistic director, Joffrey Ballet, United Kingdom; Alexei Fadeechev, artistic director, Stars of the Russian Ballet Festival, Russian Federation; Trinidad Vives, former co-director Houston Ballet, Artistic Associate, Boston Ballet, Spain. John Meehan, Hideo Fukugawa and Hae Shik Kim have served previously as Jackson jurors.

It also should be noted Gigi Hyatt was junior gold medalist at Jackson in 1982; Nina Ananiashvili shared the 1986 Competition’s highest award, Prix de Jackson, with Andrus Liepa.

For anyone following ballet from Competition to Competition, jury, hosts, teachers comprise a who’s who in the international dance world, an intense brew with the competition rigors;an incredible sachedule of rehearsal space, production rehearsals, the steady progression of sessions. Round I starts the Sunday morning following the opening entry of the competitors bearing the flags of their respective countries. Jurors, teachers, host and hostess are introduced, the flame is lit to burn in front of Thalia Mara Auditorium throughout the two-week marathon of dance. The opening ceremony is completed by an invited dance company; this year it’s Complexions.

The Competition has carefully calibrated how many competitors it can handle within the length of any given slot in a program, starting with the juniors and progressing to seniors. The competitors have drawn numbers for order of appearance; sometimes a couple will have widely divergent numbers.Round I requires either two variations or a pas de deux by a couple, whether junior or senior; in some instances the partner will be non-competing. After Round I’s winnowing, the eliminated have the choice to remain as the competition’s guests, taking classes, and participating in a large ensemble presentation created by a choreographer to open the Gala. This practice was inaugurated by Dennis Nahat, active at several competitions.

Another gracious gesture by the Competition organizers, now for third or fourth time, are two evaluators. These two individuals take the jurors’ scores and comments and if competitors eliminated want to know, the evaluators will discuss the jurors’ comments with the dancer. The two this year are Ravenna Tucker, former Adeline Genee, Prix de Lausanne winner and Royal Ballet principal, now Associate Professor of Dance, Bellhaven University; William Starrett, Joffrey Ballet dancer, Bronze Medalist, Jackson, 1979; Artistic Director, Columbia City Ballet.

Round II, devoted to contemporary work, makes choreographers eligible for a prize. Some remarkable choreography has been displayed. I fondly remember Lew Christensen’s solo of Harlequin received a bronze medal in 1979, danced by David MacNaughton, awarded the senior men’s silver medal, the gold given to the late Lubomir Kafka, Czechoslovakia.

Round III means back to the classics; if precedent follows, another contemporary piece.For a soloist, it means two classical variations again and another contemporary piece. At the last two competitions each finalist was given a cash award of $1,000 from a fund established for that purpose by a Jackson devotee of dance.

Guiding the sessions will be Wes Chapman and Susan Jaffe, former principals with American Ballet Theatre, serving as host and hostess.

Finally, the International Ballet School Faculty is comprised of several returning instructors, and former Jackson competitors. Tatiana Tchernova, affiliated with the National Ballet of Canada returns as well as Rhoda Jorgenson, one-time dancer with American Ballet Theatre and The Metropolitan Opera Ballet Company, now with Maryland Youth Ballet; veteran teacher at the USAIBC Marcus Alford, once affiliated with Gus Giordano, Atlanta’s jazz master; he will be joined by Meaghan McHale. Contemporary dance is represented by Rachel Leonard and Ashley Walton, university graduates moving from classical training into modern work. Aside from Tchernova, ballet instruction will be given by David Kearny, one-time New York City Ballet member,joining Natalia Makarova’s Makarova and Company.

The two ballet teachers will be joined former former USAIBC competitors Ana Lobe, dancing with Jose Manuel Carreno in 1990. After Ivan Nagy invited her to join the English National Ballet, she danced briefly with Ballet Mississippi before Dennis Nahat engaged her for the Cleveland-San JOse Ballet Company. The second, Laurie Anderson, was Houston Ballet’s first African-American principal dancer, nurtured by Ben Stevenson, partnered by Carlos Acosta. Following a twenty-four year dancing career Anderson is active in Houston Ballet’s education arm, teaching ballet and conducting master classes.

One-time Joffrey dancer Lisa Slagle will be complete the ballet instructor list along with Jerry Opdenaker, former member of Pennsylvania and Kansas City Ballets, now resident in West Palm Beach. Slagle danced with the Tulsa Ballet before starting her own school in the Dallas area.

Along with heat, occasional thunderstorms, and all the incredible logistics, the 10th USA IBC is an exciting dance event to anticipate.

San Francisco Ballet Curtain Talk, April 11

14 Apr

San Francisco Ballet goes to considerable effort to inform its audience. Outreach is part of today’s tool for non-profit organizations to whet an appetite for its offerings, theatrical, symphonic, operatic, etc. San Francisco Ballet is following the precedent of dance in the schools it started back when Richard E. Le Blond, Jr. became the company’s President and CEO; he was charged in acquiring property for the company at the eastern edge of San Francisco Redevelopment Agency’s A-2 borders and across from the San Francisco Opera House.

Le Blond used Dance in the Schools as the vehicle, sending Ruthie Bossieux and later Crystal Mann out into the public schools of the A-2 area to expose the largely African-American school children to the refined delights of classical ballet and the challenge of moving to music, drumming and some form of organized pattern. Needless to report, it worked, handsomely, and the program became a permanent part of the company’s overall education agenda. Two of its earliest students, Ikolo Griffin and Chidosie Nyzerem trained at San Francisco Ballet School and entered the company as members of the corps de ballet. For whatever reason, neither was promoted to soloist status and both left for more fertile ground. Griffin became a principal with Dance Theatre of Harlem and then joined Joffrey Ballet when DTH folded. Returning to San Francisco, Griffin danced with Smuin Ballet, leaving the ensemble following Smuin’s death, San Francisco Opera, Oakland Ballet, Menlowe Ballet and has staged Nutcracker for regional companies. Chidosie looked abroad, returned to San Francisco, eventually dancing with Ballet auf Rhein in Dusseldorf, Germany.

The Dance in the Schools program became a permanent part of San Francisco Ballet when it hired Charles Chip McNeal in 1980. In addition to the various hosts for the 7 p.m. slot on various performance evenings featuring dancers, choreographers and technical personnel and visiting professionals, the program has a staff of three, utilizing four musicians and and three dancers. It’s an impressive outreach program to educate the public about dance and music’s role in dance.

April 11, Mary Ruud hosted a conversation with Concertmaster Roy Malan, a forty year veteran of a forty year old ballet orchestra. He is retiring at the end of the 2014 season. “I wanted to make it a round number,” he remarked in response to Mary’s comment of the curtain talk being “bittersweet,” before her queries and audience questions provided perspective on the delicate and extensive job comprising the post of a concertmaster. The conversation will be available on San Francisco Ballet’s pod cast.

“The company’s orchestra dates from Michael Smuin’s return to San Francisco from American Ballet Theatre. The orchestra was then a pick up company. Michael’s friend Alex Horvath told him he needed a permanent orchestra.” The orchestra was formed with Malan as the concertmaster and principal violinist.

Ruud asked Malan to describe the differences between playing in a symphony orchestra and a ballet orchestra. “The range of music played is more extensive than a regular orchestra. In symphony orchestras one usually plays once and goes home. A ballet orchestra will frequently play twice a day, and the variety within one program can be startling. I can remember playing three concerti in one program, Bruch, Glass and an Australian composer.” A further difference is aim: a ballet orchestra’s job is “to make the dancers look good.” In a symphony orchestra, “it is the music.”

As concertmaster, it is Malan’s responsibility to mark the strings according to the conductor’s desire, to confer with the conductor “how he wants the strings bowed” and to see they are bowed accordingly. “It’s not something you learn in conservatory, it’s a sixth sense you develop with the conductor. It’s what someone in the Boston Symphony Orchestra said, ‘You have to play what you hear from behind while leading,’ because the violinist in the back is not so close to the conductor and may not pick up quickly.”

Malan also mentioned that timing at the beginning of a performance is something else. “You don’t want the orchestra to stand up too early and obscure the conductor or too late so the audience doesn’t know to applaud.”

In response to Ruud’s question about the relationship of choreographer to music, Malan responded, “Lew Christensen never got in the way of music. He used to stop the dancers and make them listen, making them hear what he heard in the music.” He spoke of two other choreographers as having respect for the music: Mark Morris and John Neumeier.

When Ruud queried Malan regarding his personal background, he replied that he was born in South Africa; 15 he received a scholarship which took him to London. One of his first teachers was Yehuda Menuhin who suggested that he apply to Juilliard. He smiled slightly saying that he was in Ivan Galanian’s classes with Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zuckerman. He later studied at the Curtis Institute with Efram Zimbalist, and said that Zimbalist was the type of teacher he benefited from because of his prior training with Menuhin and Galanian.

Malan also mentioned it was the practice for new orchestra leaders to bring their own concert masters with them. When Denis de Couteau retired, the orchestra went to the musician’s union and had the stipulation written into contracts that the concertmaster remained the same and was not replaced by when there was a change in conductors, quite a compliment to Malan.

At one time the orchestra traveled with San Francisco Ballet; increasingly union regulations have contracts with other houses requiring the use of in house musicians, including soloists.

Malan was asked about his instrument. He left Curtis he used scholarship funds to purchase a French violin. He didn’t like it, selling it. He heard a violin he liked and learned it was made by a man named Arthur Smith in Australia. He spent some time in Sydney advertising and interviewing violinists who possessed a Smith. He eventually met one of Smith’s sons and met the violin maker about to retire. He took pity on Malan, sold him a violin which he has played ever since.

Asked retirement plans, Malan said, “Music for its own sake. I practice two hours a day. I also do yoga ninety minutes in the morning, so I have to get up at 4 a.m. to practice before coming to a ten o’clock rehearsal. I live in Santa Cruz; lately, I’ve been feeling the commute and there are always those times when I’m concerned whether I will make it.” Malan’s teaching at U.C. Santa Cruz has been limited to Mondays, his off day, and he looks towards stretching instruction out over the week. “I’ve been playing with a string quartet, participating in contemporary music concerts and leading a small orchestra at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Robin Sutherland and I have participated in the Telluride Festival for four decades.”

It won’t be long before Roy Malan will be so occupied with his active retirement he will wonder how he ever made it to work.

SFIAF’s Final Afternoon, May 20

23 May

Attending San Francisco International Arts Festival’s final afternoon, May 20, I found myself seated beside Val Caniparoli, choreographer and one of San Francisco Ballet’s principal character dancers, who had just finished his cameo as a tavern keeper where Basilio and Kitri manage to trick
Kitri’s father into blessing their union.  Also recently completed was “Incantations,”  a successful choreographic assignment with the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, where Rory Hohenstein, one-time San Francisco Ballet soloist was singled out for his contribution to Caniparoli’s premiere.

When questioned, Val mentioned his take on “Lady of the Camillas,”danced to Chopin’s music, is being revived next season with Tulsa’s Ballet, Ballet West, and Boston Ballet is considering mounting it again.  It has yet to be seen here  in its entirety, although Diablo Ballet has mounted a pas
de deux from it with the gifted Tina Kay Bohnstedt in the title role.  Val also answered my query  about “Lambarena” productions, a cool thirty around the globe.  Smuin Ballet has danced “Swipe” during its spring season.

This late matinee program presented Susanna Leinonen’s Company, here just two, in “Chinese Objects,” originally created for the Royal Swedish Ballet in 2005.  The middle offering, by Cid Pearlman, a faculty member at U.C., Santa Cruz, was titled “This is what we do in Winter,” with five participants, composition by Jonathan Segel.  “Mine is Yours,” the final third,was a quartet, one male and three young dancers, to an original score by Daniel Berkman, choreographed by Robert Dekkers, his ensemble titled Post Ballet.

Elina Hayrynen and Natasha Lommi, wearing off white costumes by Erika Turenen appeared in Hanna Kayhko’s lighting like a cross between Xian tomb soldiers and puppets, aided  by distinct stiffness in correct port de bras. When they did reach in response to Kasperi Laine’s score, it was full, stretched to the finger tips While moving in soft shoes, the ballet schooling
was evident, the combination accented by the ghostly aspects of the lighting.  A short piece, “Chinese Objects”  was cogently rendered by well- trained, interesting dancers, making me want to see Leinonen’s ensemble return or her work produced on a local company.

“This is what we do in Winter” featured three girls and two fellows with all the round-robin that implies,  dancing to country music at the beginning and to similar sounds at the protracted end.  Sections implied lesbian and homosexual explorations, changing  heterosexual efforts, with a fair share of lifting and shoving as a group, sort of Sociology 101 episodes.  A distinct contrast to the prior pas de deux, virtually none of the quintet danced full out in gesture or in movement, but executed their moves in clumps. Lew Christensen once credited Michel Fokine with teaching him that dancing happens in the transitions.  “This is what we do in Winter” was bare of such nuance.

“Mine is Yours” was enhanced by striking cross lighting by David Robertson displaying Domenico Luciano arched like a withdrawn sculpture stage right;  Ashley Flaner, Raychel Weiner and Hiromi Yamazaki like three young fillies occupied mid-stage left, dressed in stretched tunics, one n red.  The filly analogy was enhanced  by paw-like hands throughout.

Costume designer Susan Roemer clad Luciano in a transparent skirt beautfully draped, his bare sculpture-like torso available to admire. Luciano, seen here recently with Diablo Ballet, partnered all three dancers in the course of the ballet.

While Marines Memorial is not a decent stage for dance, orchestra seating lacking any form of slope, SFIAF placed most of its events in one venue with a lounge across the street and closer to the Powell cable car line.  The all over-town approach when two programs follow each other in rapid succession can be difficult.

SFIAF Executive Director Andrew Wood explained to me that for most local groups works presented  at SFIAF constitute premieres.  “I don’t see them before, as I have works which are seen  performed by foreign troupes.  Local groups are booked before their works are seen.”

If I had to summarize this final matinee it would be “a hit, error and hmmh.”