Tag Archives: John Cage

Menlowe Ballet’s Fall Season, November 7, 2014

12 Nov

Now in its fifth season, Menlowe Ballet mounted its fall program November 8-9 and 15 at the splendid Menlo Park High School Auditorium. Titled Legend, I saw the afternoon program with its three ballets, two by artistic director Michael Lowe and one by guest choreographer Dennis Nahat.

Lowe created Plague in 2006 with a mixed score first seen in Anandha Ray’s Moving Dance ensemble tours in eastern Europe; Dennis Nahat mounted his Gounod-Verdi music based In Concert, premiered in 1977 and Lowe’s new work, Legend of the Seven Seas, utilized music from the Silk Road Ensemble, Melody of China, Mongolian, Aitain Ensemble and Jack Thorne. Thorne I suspect was responsible for merging the divergent sounds of the source scores into coherent musical support.

Lowe’s Plague, with sixteen dancers and its simple grey-toned costumes designed by Allison Porter and Christina Weiland, was created as an expression of hope in the midst of uncertainty, pain and helplessness. With a mixture of John Cage, John Dowland, Guillaume de Machaut, Arvo Part, Harry Partch, Christopher Tye and Hildegard Von Bingen, Plague reflected a mute, subdued reflection which might have emerged from Europe after World War I; its anguish never assaulted the viewer, never burst into overt agony. Rather it reminded me a little of Kurt Jooss and Trudi Schoop’s imagery minus the narrative. The death figure, Anton Pankevich, was assigned a stillness, a dignity, almost reluctance in his task. A former member of Ballet San Jose, Pankevich partnered well, his deportment and correctness emphasizing an almost ecclesatical approach to mortality.

Terrin McGee Kelly danced opposite Pankevitch, small, blonde and dressed in black; the fabric moved well, the style bare-shouldered with a plunging neckline allowed for easy lifts, turns and phrases danced to and from the floor. In this final pas de deux , however, Kelly signaled all too often what her next movement was going to be, and that was a pity. Her death struggle impressed me more with its choreographic intricacy the unusual choreographic achievement it signaled for Michael Lowe. Association with Ray clearly stretched his vision along with life experience.

The ensemble, their backs to the couple, was given some striking arm movements, like a clock’s minute arm, but down and up on opposite sides. Three women may have been affected by the plague, but I was unconvinced of the urgency, the imminent finality of life, though this intent was clear throughout the work.

In Concert,
with its pas de cinq finale to Gounod and Verdi ballet music and one luscious aria was created by Dennis Nahat in 1977 for Cleveland Ballet and danced by Cynthia Gregory among others. The dancers here were Aidan DeYoung, Brian Gephart, Demetria Schioldager, Megan Terry and Emily Kerr, stepping in for Jenna McClintock and sporting fetching costume designs by Christina Weiland. Included were an Entree and Finale and Coda for all five dancers, a Waltz, Gallop and Allegretto with a lively duet for de Young and Gephart, plus an effective Prelude danced by Demetria Schioldager. The dancers were on the mark, if I noticed areas of tension which diluted some of the effectiveness of this canny classical divertissement. It definitely provided a programmatic highlight.

I wish I could be as positive regarding Legend of the Seven Suns, the Mongolian-themed premiere by Michael Lowe, a favorite local choreographer. In this five-part work, however, the story was given only the slightest of narratives, resembling more an updated format so successful in Lowe’s Izzie Award-Winning Bamboo where there was no attempt to tell a story.

The three daughters of Emilej, the God of Fire, decked out in harem trousers and bras, movied with approximations of belly dancing – in Mongolia? Then there were the hunter and huntress, Erkhii and Eiluj, whose costumes strongly resembling tunics a la Daphnis and Chloe; in that windswept terrain covered with snow much of the year?

Of course animals figured in this nomadic environment, dressed in unitards of various colors sporting clever headdresses, the most recognizable being those of the Elk and his herd. For the backdrop there were six ovals, five of which apparently had to be vanquished, originally created by the conflict between Emilej and his harem-trousered daughters.

Clearly, I was puzzled by the proceedings though I figured out the general drift before reading the program notes following the final curtain. My take on the work is that Lowe wanted to create a work involving students, devising variations for individual dancers, honoring a culture fascinating him and telling one of its folk tales. The costumes alas fell short of meaningful adaptation, while Lowe’s choreography veered more to divertissement than drama. Hopefully, choreographer and costumer will take another look at their chosen material.

Menlowe Ballet has achieved competence in its ensemble; it enjoys an excellent venue for its performances, enjoying an admirable level of technical expertise. Hopefully, the spring performances, March 27-29,2015 will reinforce the progress achieved in these past five years.


Ballet San Jose’s 2012-2013 Season

5 Sep

Ballet San Jose will start its 2012-2013 season with a new Nutcracker, choreographed by veteran company principal Karen Gabay, running December 8-22, 2012.  Sets will be designed by Paul Kelly and costumes by Theoni Aldredge.  Gabay has run a summer company, Pointe of Departure, for several seasons, and seen locally at the Mountain View Center for the Arts.

February 15-17, 2013 the company will premiere the Ludwig Minkus  musical romp, Don Quixote , staged by Wes Chapman, Ballet San Jose’s Artistic Advisor, based on the Marius Petipa-Alexander Gorsky choreography.

March 22-24, 2013 Sir Frederick Ashton’s Les Rendezvous, set to Francois Esprit Auber’s ,music, will receive its company premiere as well as the Jules Massenet’s Meditation from Thais,  created on Sir Anthony Dowell and Dame Antoinette Sibley when they were young principals with The Royal Ballet. Stanton Welch’s Clear to J.S. Bach music, will receive an
encore performance and there will be a revival of Kurt Jooss’ iconic anti-war ballet The Green Table, created in 1932, and instrumental in Jooss’ departure from Germany for England for the remainder of the ’30’s and through the World War II years.

The season will complete itself April 19-21, 2013 with some surprising inclusions of modernity.  These are Jorma Elo’s Glow-Stop set to the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Philip Glass and Merce Cunningham’s Duets, a six couple series of pas de deux performed to the music of John Cage. An additional pas de deux will be announced. Jessica Lang will be represented in a world premiere for the company, represented in the 2012 season with Splendid Isolation III.

Ballet San Jose also has announced a new music director and conductor.  George Daughterty comes with a 30-year record of conducting for the likes of Mikhail Baryshnikov, Rudolf Nureyev, Gelsey Kirkland, Suzanne Farrell and Natalia Makarova in addition to American Ballet Theatre, Munich’s State and La Scala Opera Ballets and The Royal Ballet.  He has been musical director for The Louisville Ballet, Chicago City Ballet and Ballet Chicago.  Guest conducting credits include San Francisco Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, and abroad with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, the Danish National and the Sydney Symphonies.  Nominated for five Emmy Awards, he was awarded a Primetime Emmy for the ABC Network production of Peter and the Wolf.

Company promotions and new members have previously been noted.

Menlowe Ballet Makes Its Debut November 5

17 Nov

With its two performance debut November 5, Menlowe Ballet is off to an
encouraging start, enjoying former Oakland Ballet dancers and choreographers in the evening’s  audience.

The company has a singular advantage for its future: a school closely connected to the performing ensemble; this provides a key element in a company’s growth and stability.  The other key is the choreographic force guiding the artistic vision. With Michael Lowe, the fledgling ensemble demonstrated definite promise.

The program comprised two ballets previously choreographed by Lowe, two brief pas de deux by guests Nikki and Ethan White, and Cirque, Lowe’s new work which adroitly combined professionals and children in well-balanced doses.

Chuntian (In the Spring) seemed a reworking of  his Award-winning Bamboo. themes, using nature images as a springboard for the choreography. With Chinese-accented music by Liu Xing and Wang Dong, it reminds one a great strength is utilizing what one knows.  Lowe’s Asian background provides just the right touch for tadpoles, lotus, and crickets.  For the evening performance guest artists Akira Takahashi and Amy Briones of Ballet San Jose chirped with skill.

The two pas de deux “Halleluja” and “Over The Rainbow” demonstrated the
Nikki and Ethan White skills in partnering and rapport.  “Halleluja” bore
little relation to the lyrics, but its  performance for Paula Abdul’s television show garnered third place.  “Over The Rainbow” evoked nostalgia but the partnering feats revealed the effort.

“Plague”, Lowe’s creation for Moving Arts Dance in 2006, reflected that company’s emphasis on “significant” work, featuring Damon Mahoney as the fateful figure, and utilizing music from six composers: Guillaume de Machaut, Arvo Park, John Dowland, Harry Partch, Christopher Tye and John Cage.  Decimation and Death enjoyed full play and eleven dancers threw themselves into the maw of Mahoney as grim reaper.

“Cirque” as program finale enforced Lowe’s deftness with story telling, this time to  seven composers: Gavin Bryars, Gioacchino Rossini, Scott Killiam, Benajmin Britten, Rolft Kent, Dmitri Shostakovich, Jacques Offenbach. Each selection was
employed adroitly. Also acknowledged were ballets by John McFall and Lew Christensen in which Lowe danced.

Whether “Cirque” can travel using devoid of Silly Sailors and Saucy Swashbucklers or Flying Tigers is moot.  Seeing young students cleverly integrated in a largely adult assignment  is delightful, standard and an astute eye to the future.  Lively, well disciplined, they attacked their assignments with infectious spirit.  Their support to Ikolo Griffin as Ringmaster was for smile making, particularly when Griffin  partnered Mariko Takahashi in a Bohemian Rose Adagio.  With eyelids glittering and Danse Arabe costume prancing, Takahashi was supported a fish dive or two or settled herself on Griffin’s shoulders.

For Maria LaMance as the Strongwoman  Lowe provided several instances to display disdain personified.  At the end of the demonstration her small assistants carted the heavy barbell off stage with utter nonchalance.

Griffin supervised an Exotic Bird Bath before sharing A Tight Rope proving fatal to a young tight rope walker. Lowe’s invention registered the necessary gasp and sorrow; typical to his narrative talent he told the story without undue emphasis.

It was good to see Griffin in a role displaying his line, jump and turns.  Let’s
trust to Lowe’s ability to challenge Griffin further.

Menlowe Ballet moves to Mountain View’s Center for the Performing Arts in
mid-March 2012.