Tag Archives: John Cranko

2016 Smuin Spring Season

20 May

The May 6-15 Smuin Ballet Spring Season at Yerba Buena Center’s Lam Research Theater presented two revivals and one premiere, Val Caniparoli, Jiri Kylian and Helen Pickett the choreographers. Each work possessed charms, ingenuity or a high degree of emotional response, almost invariably the case when the program includes a gem like Return to a Strange Land, Kylian’s 1975 ballet for six dancers to the music of his fellow countryman Leos Janacek, a tribute to John Cranko’s sudden death.

Tutto Cetto Il Lavandino, Val Caniparoli’s commentary on sleek abstract works, danced to the wonderful sonata allegro form music of Antonio Vivaldi, provided elbows, body lunges, pirouettes, lifts and ensemble groupings in every possible form and stage location for fourteen dancers, with sleek black costumes by Sandra Woodall. The ensembles’ stage location with entry and exit combined with the erect or leaning bodies and gestures kept coming, coming, coming until they vanished as a green laundry sink was pushed sideways on stage at the curtain, as stated, “Everything But The Kitchen Sink.”

Kylian’s tribute employs four men and two women, danced in four parts to a piano rendition of Janecek’s music. Smuin Ballet previously mounted the work in 2013, utilizing the set and costume design by Jiri Kylian, with lighting redesigned by Kees Tjebbes. The quartet of pieces go: a trio of two men and a woman; two pas de deux and a final trio. Against a near monochrome drop suggesting a limitless and somber horizon, the woman seems frequently to be a bird, tossed or buffeted by wind. In each of the four deceptively simple parts, she somehow winds up on the shoulders or the back of one of the men, the dancers facing front, resulting in images elegiac and haunting .

Helen Picket’s Oasis, receiving its premiere during the Smuin Spring season, utilized the entire ensemble of sixteen dancers, with an original score by Jeff Beal, augmented by Emma Kingsbury’s video, also responsible for the costumes and the scenic design. The latter provided wave-like drops which looked white, almost transparent at the beginning and at the end resembled matchstick-like bamboo.

I really would need to see it again to form a definite opinion; Pickett’s capacity for groupings, entrances and exits indicate a keen eye for effective movement, no mean achievement when moving from a rehearsal room to the proscenium arch.

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A Brilliant, Rapturous Debut and Finale with Onegin

10 May

Thursday Night, May 5, Matilde Froustey and Carlo di Lanno made debuts as Tatiana and Onegin in John Cranko’s Eugene Onegin, augmented ably by Reuben Martin-Cintas as Gremin, Doris Andre as Olga and Benajmin Freemantle making his own debut as Lensky. A near capacity audience greeted them with absorption and an orchestra standing ovation at the conclusion, Behind me were two young women, one recently moved from D.C. and another originally from Texas, the latter being familiar with Miami City and Washington Ballet companies.

It never fails to fascinate me how differing heights and musculature alters not only “the look” of a ballet; without saying, the attack in a role, to say nothing of the artist’s perception of the material. This difference was apparent Thursday evening. Where Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz are small and compact, Froustey, di Lanno and Martin-Cintas are tall, expanding phrases by sheer length, bringing the Russian verse novel into a western European orbit.

Froustey’s Tatiana commences with a pigtail down her back as she sits, stretches or reclines with her novel, appearing more studious than lost in a novel. In her initial encounter with Onegin, she is the polite French girl, propre rather than  curiosity for all the slender, willowy stretch of her body. She has an overwhelming gamine demeanor during the bedroom/mirror pas de deux ; as she writes of her passion, you can just see her at her classroom exercises. Her expression as the mirror dream evaporates is a wonderful, naive young vision of romantic expectation. Interesting was the reach of her lower torso in moments of chagrin or alarm during her name day debacle between Lensky and Onegin, and its effectiveness as she regards Onegin after his duel with Lensky where Froustey’s small round face evinces a stony gaze of defondu.

Ruben Martin-Cintas’ Gremin is more than a cipher. It’s one of the thankless roles in ballet, but he conveys the persona of maturity, a man of substance, secure in his position, and therefore able to appraise and evaluate situations and personalities. He brings this gently to Tatiana’s rescue in the name-day party, where she follows him automatically, while clearly distracted by Onegin’s coldness and the burgeoning confrontation between Lensky and Onegin.

Dores Andre’s Olga is a swift butterfly, skipping from moment to moment, happy at Lensky’s attention, drinking it in, if a bit reluctant to surrender, clearly evidenced by allowing Onegin to dance with her. His greater dance skill and way with women is quite flattering and she allows herself to be swept along with, not resisting until the damage has been done. Her willfulness is matched by the diffidence and decency displayed by Benjamin Freemantle. I wish I could have seen his second performance, which doubtless gained in strength from this initial interpretation. There was the making of a definite character there, but only beginning to be developed in this technically correct performance.

Then there was Carlo di Lanno as Onegin with his Roman coin profile, tall, correct, still; movements  betraying little emotion one way or another, except for a swift disdain for Tatiana’s material, and oh-so-correct-but-perfunctory partnering in the opening scene. In the bedroom mirror scene the emphasis is entirely on Tatiana’s ecstatic vision with beating arabesques, lifts and twists in Onegin’s arms. It is in the name-day scene, especially following the destruction of Tatiana’s letter, when Onegin sits down, having adjusted his cuff as a gesture of finish, to play solitaire, shuffling cards with revealing frequency that he betrays narcissistic  willfulness and the desire to intrude on the happy proceedings of Olga and Lensky. Onegin dances a bit too much with Olga; when she rejoins Lensky briefly, there passes over Onegin’s face an undeniable devilish impulse leading to Lensky’s gloves across his face before tossing them on the ground.

I also saw the season’s final matinee May 8, with Gennadi Nedvigin’s final performance with San Francisco Ballet. Di Lanno was appreciably more relaxed if still deliberate, masking emotion in the beginning; Froustey deepened her impression of the nearly sedate young gamine, kind to elders, who gathers strength in the duel scene; with Ruben Martin-Cintas they  both provide an image of a solid, happy marriage. The thankless role gets substance from Martin-Cintas’ size and demeanour, enhanced by the most over-decorated uniform seen on stage.

Gennadi Nedvigin’s final performance as Lensky seemed natural, unforced, his casual ease illustrating nearly three decades of training and performance.

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Gennadi Nedvigin in Cranko’s Onegin. (© Erik Tomasson)

The final, confrontation scene in Onegin gives both principals total permission to pull out their dramatic capacities; Di Lanno and Froustey rose cogently the two occasions. I saw them tear at their memories, the emotions they aroused against their present status. Their slender builds added to the etched quality of what must be marvelous Russian poetry, their line matching the musical turbulence of Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini’s aural passion. With kisses at the nape of her neck, the firm grip on the hand Onegin used to grasp her from eluding him, memory, reawakened passion and will power visibly struggled in Tatiana’s torso and slender legs. Finally, came the moment when his note was thrust in front of Onegin, ripped apart, “what goes around comes around” and Tatiana’s arm fiercely commands his departure before she struggles, half spent, bent before she faced the audience dead center, exhausted resolution written on her face and body.

Then came the curtain calls – the same order, Di Lanno kissing Froustey’s hands with appreciation. Froustey brought Martin West to stage center before West thrust Nedvigin forward for his final hail and farewell to San Francisco’s audience. Two figures entered from stage right with floral bouquets – Yuri Possokhov and Roman Rykine, who flew in from Winnipeg where he is ballet master for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Bear hugs ensued, clearly great emotions exchanged and lumps in the throat of balletomanes like myself.

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.

Smuin Ballet, Palace of Fine Arts, Celebrating Twenty Years

20 Oct

Choreographers Amy Seiwart, Jiri Kylian and Michael Smuin provided three works for this twentieth year inaugural program of Smuin Ballet. Translated emotionally it was adroit folksy, spare elegy and adroit sensuality.

But first, it was evident that Robin Cornwell had left the troupe as well as Jonathan Magonsing, both intrinsic movers, at home in their bodies, the classical technique having honed a natural pleasing sensuality. I remember Lew Christensen once remarking “ Michel Fokine taught me that it is the transitions that make the dancing,” and both dancers were gifted with that quality. Fortunately, two experienced newcomers, Pauli Magierek and Eduardo Permuy, have joined the ranks of Smuin Ballet’s eighteen dancers.

Amy Seiwert’s Dear Miss Cline traces the mood and words of nine songs sung by Patsy Cline,a work premiered on a spring program at Yerba Buena Center’s Theater. Seiwert and Jo Ellen Arntz collaborated on the costumes, set off before a visual and lighting design by Brian Jones, outlines of doors and windows against a butterscotch pudding-hued scrim. Erin Yarborough was featured prominently in “Tra le la le la Triangle” with Weston Krukow and Christian Squires and again with Krukow in “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down.” Nicole Haskins made a nice impression in “She’s Got You,” originally danced by Susan Roemer, losing Joshua Reynolds, Jonathan Dummar and Aidan de Young. As with these numbers the overall tone was light, perky, occasionally a tad ironic, well handled by the dancers.

Jiri Kylian’s Return to a Strange Land was premiered by Stuttgart Ballet May 17, 1975 in tribute to John Cranko, Stuttgart’s artistic director who died en route from New York to Germany. Kylian was responsible for the lighting concept, costumes, the set in addition to the choreography for just six dancers, appearing as trio, pas de deux, pas de deux and trio format to Leon Janacek’s Sonata October 1, 1905.

Kylian’s patterns move smoothly, seemingly seamless, ending almost abruptly, a conversation swifly terminated, important content conveyed succinctly, adornment absent. Eduardo Permuy, Ben Needham-Wood and Joshua Reynolds, stripped to the waist, wearing lightly dyed leotards, conveyed this in understated though clearly classical ballet vocabulary. Jane Rehm and Terez Dean danced with sincerity but seemed shy of a necessary edge or pause to the finish of their arabesques. Somehow I expected more subject crystal, melancholy tones in execution. Conveyed seamlessly and fast, so rapidly I wanted to call out, “Please do it again so that I can check what I saw.”

Carmina Burana
has invited several choreographic versions; some I have seen, others I have only heard about; Michael Smuin’s boasts a spectacular commencement and a repeat finale finale. I had the good fortune to see Pauli Magierek in the central female role, joining the company after attaining soloist status with San Francisco Ballet. Magierek’s maturity, dramatic qualities and ability to sustain motion and sculpt a movement reminded me how interesting she is to watch. She would be spectacular in Smuin’s Medea.

Smuin’s Burana opener and closer has the woman, here Magierek, supported by the feet of the men, raising and lowering her to the explosive chorus and the beat of the music, the women circling the men, making one wonder whether the elevated figure is worshiped or being prepared for sacrifice. This central role provided two solos and a pas de deux with Eduardo Permuy, who proved to be an effective partner, both complementing each other.

Smuin Ballet programs a decent balance, which keeps the entertainment aspect of some dance lovers happy and coaxing the serious with at least one absorbing offer in their mixed bills. The adrooitness keeps audiences coming.

San Francisco Ballet’s Eugene Onegin, March 21

11 Apr

When an audience gives a performance a standing ovation, lingering on its feet as if savoring the ephemeral vision just witnessed, for me that’s news.  Unlike the ovation I witnessed with the final performance of Hamburg Ballet’s Nijinsky, the opening of John Cranko’s Eugene Onegin this season, with its reading of Pushkin’s turbulent love story, the audience response was a certain settled one, perhaps of  the home team support genre.  But to witness critic Toba Singer joining the standing ovation, you know you’ve seen a remarkable performance, even along side one’s own evaluation of 9.5.

The poetic novel Eugene Onegin is considered Pushkin’s masterpiece; the tale of a restless man catching the fancy of young Tatiana at a country estate honoring her birthday, a scene where her sister Olga and lover Lensky are clearly in love.  It is Lensky who brings Onegin to the occasion.  Tatiana dreams of Onegin, writing a passionate love letter, which Onegin tears up at her birthday party.  In that strained social milieu, Onegin, bored and self-absorbed, after playing solitaire, seizes Olga from Lensky as they are dancing, proceeding to dazzle her.  Lensky is startled, then distraught, then incensed at both friend and lover,  challenges Onegin to a dual.  While this has been brewing Tatiana was introduced to Prince Grimin, who leads her gently and persistently through the dance figures, despite Tatiana’s distraction by the growing tension.

This second season for the production, borrowed from the National Ballet of Canada, enjoyed the cast from last year’s opening minus of an injured Gennadi Nedvigin and his marvelous Lensky; the role was assumed by Joan Boada.   Otherwise, this repetition displayed a growing strength and conviction with each variation;  Maria Kochetkova as Tatiana, Clara Blanco as Olga, Vitor Luiz as Onegin and Pascal Molat as Prince Grimin, a role so gentlemanly only a real pro can provide distinction to a character that is bland, a thankless casting. Boada’s Lensky carried in the joyous sections, but in the fated soliloquy Boada’s emotion emerged primarily in the pauses, a disconnect between movement and emotion.

In this ballet of three acts, two scenes to an act, many moments and interpretations took my breath away.  Vitor Luiz as Onegin is small, singular, contained, it’s clear he’s gritting his teeth with boredom, “I have to go through all this for a weekend?”  His courteous approach to Tatiana, asking to see her reading registers “oh,my God,” which she misses out of shyness; it is reinforced as he clenches and loosens his fist behind his back while escorting her off stage in Act I.  Neither can he be credited for gallantry in the mirror scene where Tatiana, asleep, dreams of Onegin emerging from her mirror to lift her, soaring to the heights of romantic desire.  Those lifted grand jetes carrying Tatiana across the stage in a run are hefty tasks,  Cranko threw those challenges to Marcia Haydee and Richard Cragun, the creators of the roles, who danced them when the Stuttgart Ballet first appeared in the Bay Area at Zellerbach  Hall in Berkeley.

Onegin’s gestures with the cards registers growing impatience, erupting in his commandeering Olga from Lensky in the party scene. As Blanco played it, Olga is startled at first, then exhilarated at the attention; impulsive, unconsciously willful, Olga is dazzled by Onegin’s mischievous distraction.  Waggling her finger at Lensky for trying to interfere, it’s simply the last straw.

Tatiana’s solo in the second act opening is eloquently timorous, a sensitivity shining in her attentiveness to the older women in the family circle.  Cranko did a masterful job depicting the intimacy of the country setting with its certain domestic charm amongst the very privileged Russians of the early nineteenth century.  The leisurely warmth with the country guests makes the Onegin eruption and its consequences that more vivid.  Cranko employed the device of the two sisters pleading with Lensky in this scene and before the dual in virtually the same spot, Lensky forcing both women away from him.  In both Act II scenes Onegin tries to dissuade Lensky from dueling, but Lensky’s repeated use of the gloves leaving no other recourse; the fuse has been tempted too far.  Scattered birch trees in the background with muted autumnal hues made the frantic attempts to dissuade Lenskyl the more sombre.  When Onegin strides downstage visibly grim following the duel, Olga prostrate at her feet, Tatiana raises her head, locks eyes with Onegin; his hands rise to his face, in her eyes fully aware of what he has done.

Who knows the number of years elapsing at the beginning of Act III in an elegant ballroom either in Moscow or St. Petersburg where elegant women are dressed beautifully in a later period; Directoire is definitely out.  Prince Grimin makes his appearance and welcomes Lensky, still in black.  Grimin excuses himself.  After a dance of the guests, Onegin goes through a series of recollections, women wafting around him, he passing them along with mind disengaged.  Grimin and Tatiana appear, she in a claret satin gown and they dance a pas de deux of gentle embraces, clearly a marriage of devotion and affection, Tatiana warm in Grimin protectiveness.  Emerging from his mental mist, Onegin recognizes Tatiana and the mature woman she has become. As he observes this marital pas de deux he ventures into their space, transfixed, then retreats, then  drawn again towards the luminescence.  Tatiana retreats with Grimin with a shudder when she and Onegin see each other.

The final scene occurs in an inner room, its domestic detail  best revealed by a half-hidden hobby horse downstage right and Tatiana’s desk downstage left.  To the soaring strains of Tchaikovsky’s music from Francesca da Rimini, Tatiana delays Grimin’s departure, having received Onegin’s letter, seeking reassurance and fortitude in Grimin’s affectionate embrace, he garbed in a splendid green uniform, clearly a commanding officer in the Czar’s military establishment.  Left alone to confront Onegin, she is fearful and agitated, her buried feelings resurrected.  Onegin arrives, intense, promptly falling at her feet, literally crawling across the floor as she tries to disengage herself. One of ballet’s most tempestuous encounters ensues; finally, Tatiana grasps Onegin’s letter from the desk, tearing it to pieces as hers once was and points Onegin to the exit.  As a devastated Onegin rushes out upstage, Tatiana, spent, collects herself as the curtain falls.

Luis gave Kochetkova everything to play against, his singularity of presence a magnificent foil. Arthur Mitchell once made a comment about his partnering of Diana Adams in Agon‘s pas de deux, saying, “It is the man who displays the woman at her best; he controls the situation.”  This was quite patent in the March 21 performance of Eugene Onegin.

As a post-script, I wonder if Alexander Pushkin was not prescient in his poetic novel, ultimately suffering Lensky’s fate in 1837, out of jealousy.  Unlike Lensky, however, Pushkin himself had more than a small touch of Onegin’s character, leaving him vulnerable to rage at the flirtation of his wife with a French-born soldier in the Czar’s Imperial Guard.

San Francisco Ballet’s 2013 Gala, January 24

11 Feb

Celebrating San Francisco Ballet’s 80th season, Helgi Tomasson gave his audience and supporters a sleek event of pas de deux, a pas de trois, one pas de quatre, a solo and a final ensemble excerpt which will begin Program I January 29.

I am fascinated by the choices Tomasson sometimes makes for partners, particularly for fluffy moments like George Balanchine’s Tarantella to the tinkly music of Louis Gottschalk, which sounds  like a precursor to early New Orleans jazz. So much so you can imagine it on an early Victor Red Seal record or envision it being played on an out-of-tune upright piano in some seedy New Orleans dive.  Pairing Sasha de Sola and Pascal Molat was novel, although de Sola conveys jauntiness along with her extraordinarily straight back.  Molat can dance the cheery street urchin in any guise thrown him,  his final measures soliciting every last centime.

Switching gears the suicidal solo from Roland Petit’s L’Arlesienne touched on daring the audience; it worked. Pierre Francois Vilanoba made one of his initial impressions in the company dancing this role and the title of Lar Lubovitch’s Othello.  A dozen years later, Vilanoba conveyed the mental dislocation with a honed ferocity, a  image of suicidal madness worth remembering, circular grand jetes, flailing arms, riveted gaze.  Petit doesn’t always get many marks for his choreography, but his theatricality is unmistakable.

Returning to the light touch, August Bournonville and his Flower Festival at Genzano with Clara Blanco and Gennadi Nedvigin was another surprise pairing, nicely matched in size and sweetness.  Blanco could have been better coached;  she was half way between her iconic Nutcracker Doll and the thoughtless Olga in Eugene Onegin.  Nedvigen’s finishes in tight fifths elicited enthusiastic applause.

Myles Thatcher’s In the Passerine’s Clutch was conceived as a pas de quatre for Dores Andre, Dana Genshaft, Joan Boada and Jaime Garcia Castilla and enjoyed a premiere at the Gala. Thatcher used music from the prolific compositions of contemporary Polish composer Wjceich Kilar and is his third choreographic essay for San Francisco Ballet affiliated dancers.  Passerines are called perchers and number the greatest proportion of birds in the avian kingdom, including swallow, ravens, thrushes, sparrows, warblers, even the Australian Lyrebird.  Thatcher’s attempt to capture the darting, clustering, clampering, quarreling and mating deserves a second viewing.

Lorena Feijoo made her first appearance since giving birth to Luciana in the Act III variation from Raymonda, hand slaps and all  to Alexander Glasunov’s insinuating music .  Feijoo’s delicate sensuality was touched with a distinctly regal quality.  Audience members clapped when she appeared on stage.  Shades of Alexandra Danilova.

Tomasson’s Trio featured Sarah Van Patten, Tiit Helimets and Vitor Mazzo, in the section of the work set to Tchaikovsky music.  They danced an eloquent, inevitable triangle with Mazzeo as the dark figure luring Van Patten from Helimets arms, Mazzeo bearing a limp Van Patten off stage right with Helimets alone and forlorn at the curtain.

The Wedding pas de deux from Act III of the Petipa-Gorsky Don Quixote  completed the Gala’s first half, danced by Frances Chung and Taras Domitro as Kitri and Basilio in the lustrous white costumes designed by the late Martin Pakledinaz.  Rendered with eloquent understatement, and measured formality, Paul Parish mentioned Felipe Diaz, one-time San Francisco Ballet soloist and currently a company ballet master, had rehearsed the two.  Paul observed, “You absolutely have to have someone tell you where your head needs to go, where your eyes should focus.  It’s something you cannot do alone, or just with your partner.”  Chung and Domitro emphasized polish more than bravura.  That seemed to disappoint a number of individuals, but it suited me just fine.

Three pas de deux and one ensemble piece were the  Gala’s second half content, a paean to the company’s repertoire range.  Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz reprised the first act dream scene between Onegin and Tatiana where John Cranko’s Tatiana sees Onegin emerge from her bedroom mirror in a dream.  Given the elaborate set, one understands why Tomasson chose this snippet to open the second  half; it’s a major production operation.

On to the strains of John Philip Sousa and Balanchine’s wonderful spoof of the Sousa  brass umpapa.  This 1958 romp for New York City Ballet was first danced by San Francisco Ballet in 1981; I can remember Madeline Bouchard, Anita Paciotti and David McNaughton scintillating in their assignments.  Here Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan took on the Stars and Stripes  pas de deux created by Melissa Hayden and Jacques D’Amboise.  Here danced for a sunny pertness rather than the broad good humor originally conveyed,   Zahorian and Karapetyan came across cheerfully.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith danced Christopher Wheeldon’s pas de deux from After The Rain, set to Arvo Part’s extended ethereal score which never seems to conclude. It was an etched, elegant performance, tender but seeming to proceed under glass.

Excerpts from Serge Lifar’s Suite en Blanc finished the Gala, an ensemble piece which has become de rigeur in a Tomasson-run Gala, serving to remind the audience that a company stands or falls on the calibre of its corps de ballet as much as the brilliance of its principal dancers.  Lifar, who was the last major male dancer to rise under Sergei  Diaghilev’s influence, was ballet master for the l”Opera de Paris ballet company from the mid-‘Thirties through World War II, including  those four long years of the Nazi Occupation of most of Northern and Central France.  This work was premiered some mother prior to D-Day and in Zurich, appearing to lack any reference to the privation the French dancers were experiencing.

While I intend to discuss the ballet further after seeing the entire work, it was marvelous to see Sofiane Sylve as one of the center dancers, conveying in her bones the style and presentation required for this very French ballet.

Casting for San Francisco Ballet’s January 24 Gala

23 Jan

While there are the usual admonishments regarding program and casting changes, San Francisco Ballet posted the current Gala casting on its website, and it is interesting in new pairings, some new works and a repetition or two from recent elegant memories.

Sasha de Sola and Pascal Molat lead off the evening with Balanchine’s version of  Louis Gottschalk’s  Tarantella, followed by the final solo from Roland Petit’s L’Arlesienne with Pierre-Francois Villanoba, the music by Bizet.

Vilanoba danced it early in his sojourn here, excelling as usual with its dramatic challenge. With either his rumored or stated retirement at the end of this season, the choice is spot on.

From drama to the gentle August  Bournonville flirtation and romance, Clara Blanco will debut in the Flower Festival at Genzano with Gennadi Nedvigin.

Myles Thatcher, still a member of the corps de ballet, has created a pas de quatre for Dores Andre, Dana Genshaft, Joan Boada and Jaime Castilla titled In the Passerine’s Clutch, the score being that by Wojceich Kilar’s  Like me, in case you didn’t know, passerine refers to perching birds, ranging from larks to finches, crows and swallows.  Thatcher has created the costumes with Susan Roemer, the Smuin Ballet dancer.

Lorena Feijoo, dancing for the first time since the birth of Luciana. will probably wow us in Raymonda’s solo from Act III of the same-named ballet set to music by Alexander Glasunov.  Welcome back, Lorena.

I suspect an Intermission will follow after Raymonda or the following pas de trois with Sarah Van Patten, Tiit Helimets and Vitor Mazzeo in Helgi Tomasson’s Trio set to a Tchakivsky score.  It should because a brilliant post intermission launch could be the grand pas de deux from Don Quixote, a debut for Frances Chung with Taris Domitro.  To the warhorse tunes of Ludwig  Minkus and Ricardo Drigo, it’s the version jointly mounted by Tomasson with Yuri Possokhov, with this bravura piece little changed from its original choreography.

John Cranko’s Act I pas de deux from Eugene Onegin will be reprised by Maris Kochetkova and Victor Luiz, who danced it at the company’s local premiere last year.

From bravura to drama to sauce, the program lists next the cheeky  Balanchine salute to John Philip Souza’s The Stars and Stripes, arranged by Hershey Kay, with Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan.

Christopher Wheeldon’s evocative pas de deux to Arvo Part from After The Rain will be danced by Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith.  Smith is another principal dancer who seems to be slated for retirement at the end of the San Francisco Opera House season.

With this quartet of  stylistic difference, the Gala audience will get a bit of 20th century ballet history with a pas de deux from Serge Lifar’s Suite en Blanc, set to music by Eduoard Lalo..  Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets will do the honors of a work Carlos Carvajal, who danced it during his days with the Grand Ballet de Marquis de Cuevas,  says is meant simply to display the company.  The full version is slated for Program I on January 29.

There doubtless will be a final company ensemble, but it was not listed this morning.