Tag Archives: Jose Limon

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!

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Joffrey Ballet at Zellerbach, January 26-27

9 Feb

When the Joffrey Ballet danced last at the Zellerbach, Ashley Wheater had just been named as its new artistic director, former associate artistic director Adam Sklute had been named as Ballet West’s new artistic head, Mark Goldweber had joined Sklute and Cameron Badsen  waited to see what would happen.  Charthel Arthur would remain for at least another two seasons.

Seven years later, Ashley Wheater is definitely in charge with a string of commissions for the company to his credit.  He brought Age of Innocence, a company commission to the Zellerbach along with the full version of Christopher Wheeldon’s After The Rain and Kurt Jooss’s The Green Table, long one of the Joffrey signature revivals of 20th century dance classics.  The overall impression drew enthusiastic applause at the two performances.  Joffrey’s  forty-four dancers are on target,  with several rare, sensitive interpreters.

Edward Liang has a most unenviable position; like most post-Balanchine choreographers working in the abstract mode, he has to take classical choreography beyond the man who trimmed excess from the technique while supported by many sublime choices from the Western musical repertoire.  As a person who enjoys story ballets, particularly on what it brings forward in a dancer’s expressiveness, I don’t envy the challenge he and others face.  Liang’s  choice, however,did hang around an intriguing notion: the tension and emotions in Jane Austen’s novels and the society she inhabited.

Aided by Maria Pinto’s white ball gowns and white-toned tunics for the men, perhaps ironically underscoredwith the music of Philip Glass and Thomas Newman, two lines, eight men and eight women, face each other to approximate an old-fashioned quadrille.  The arms, however, like suspended wings not fully stretched, signal the tension.  The girls are stiff, demure, non-committal, the men are not thoroughly restrained bucks.

A pas de deux ensues, followed by a male quartet and a second pas de deux before the final ensemble.  The quartet provides ample opportunity to exhibit male testosterone, the men short, almost stocky, given jetes, multiple pirouettes, an odd crossing of the legs on the floor from which they rise and fall, a clear exhibition of frustration.  In the two pas de deux, the women are hoisted and lowered in unusual angles; in one or two moments the women gently touch their partners, initiating the subsequent actions.  The couples on the 26th were Jeraldine Mendoza and Mauro Villanueva, Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels; Kara Zimmerman and Rory Hohenstein, April Daly and Dylan Gutierrez on the 27th.  While I didn’t particularly appreciate the amazing variety of positions, I was quite impressed with the care and intimacy the partners share, a quality evident in both performances.

The full version of Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain provided the middle work for the two performances. It seemed a trifle odd to see a work with  two rather than three sections, but it may have been dictated by the Arvo Part selections or by Wheeldon himself; the result contained two couples in the first  section, danced to Tabula Rosa while the second to Part’s ubiquitous slow composition, Spiegel im Spiegel.  The Joffrey is just the second company to have the full rights to the work, created originally for New York City Ballet.

What stunned me in both performances was the quality in the pas de deux, first by Victoria Jaiani, the highly, justly praised soloist originally from Russian Georgia, and Fabrice Culmels. Where San Francisco Ballet’s version is famously danced by Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith and becomes the essence of clarity, cool classicism, the Joffrey dances it for warmth and tenderness within the classical vocabulary. The result was overheard at intermission uttered by a middle-aged woman standing in the aisle, “Thank France for producing Fabrice Culmels!” On Sunday Kara Zimmerman and Mauro Villanueva repeated the same emphasis.

Kurt Jooss’s The Green Table continued to make its chilling impact, a ballet  Ronn Guidi once mounted for Oakland Ballet.  The Joffrey was noted for its first revival, including it in its first Dance in America appearance over PBS. It apparently has been danced by Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal, lending the costumes and sets.

The ballet’s force lies in the brooding nature of Death and the masked, polished figures of the diplomats draping themselves around the green table opening and closing the work  to music played by two pianists, unfortunately not credited  in the program and I have no press notes.  Eight sets of characters are drawn inexorably into Death’s maw and ghoulish domain in separate variations: The Standard Bearer, The Old  Soldier, The Young Soldier, The Young Girl, The Old Mother, The Women, The Partisan, The Soldiers.  Were it not for the overall strength of the work and the dancers the piece could be accused of being  composed of stock  characters.  But, like  Jose Limon’s  The Moor’s Pavanne, the work’s sheer economy contributes to  its iconic stature.

Having seen Christian Holder, Gary Chryst, Charlene Gehm and Charthel Arthur in some roles, some of whom had worked with Jooss but all with Joffrey, I couldn’t help but be viscerally alert to the strength and poignancy of the portrayals.  Rita Felciano was struck by the essence of the period and evidence of the Jooss influence on Pina Bausch.

Dylan Gutierrez as Death stalked heavily throughout the ballet, a menace in his attack. At the matinee Fabrice Culmels glided through some horizontal floor patterns, leaving the inexorable force and heaviness to crucial contact moments.  I was particularly struck by Christine Rocas’ Young Girl, there was a pliancy and desperation with the rigidity of protest, the contrasts particularly appealing.  Joanna Wozniak’s Old Mother held a degree of fragility; both Death figures held this victim with tenderness.  The Profiteer had to compete with my memory of Gary Chryst.  Derrick Agnoletti conveyed the cunning and final desperation with understanding.  Rory Hohenstein’s Old Soldier reminded me just how totally he gives to any assignment and how good it is to see him once more and given a range of roles to challenge him.

The audience response  delighted the Cal Performances staff, making the press hope for an early return.  Given that memorable residency where Gerry Arpino’s Trinity was premiered, the Bay Area understandably harbors a proprietary interest in The Joffrey Ballet.

Diablo Ballet’s Three Premieres November 17

22 Nov

Artistic Director Lauren Jonas possesses a healthy amount of taste; it certainly was on display for Diablo Ballet’s fall performances at Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.  You can also include in that estimate a capacity for wide variety for the dances seen November 16-17 ranged from an extended erotic pas de deux to Jose Limon’s inconic The Moor’s Pavane, ending with Sean Kelly’s commissioned work, A Swingin’ Holiday for four couples and a sizeable swing orchestra.

David Fonnegra was responsible for mounting Vicente Nebrada’s three part Scriabin offering Lento a Tempo e Appassionata played by Roy Bogas with his usual reliable panache.  Fonnegra partnered Hiromi Yamazaki, one of the Bay Area natives who danced elsewhere before returning to the Bay Area.  In the first third, as well as the other two, the pair kept pivoting around each other, the spiral modulating into a supported plunging arabesque, some variation of fish dive, or a left to the shoulder or grand jete aloft which rapidly assumed a different posture, invariably with beautiful finishes in the port de bras.

The middle section saw Yamazaki and Fonnegra separate physically only to rush towards each other to accomplish a spectacular climax to the musical phrase.  When it came to Appassionnato, you got it, rushes together separately, turns and spins of great urgency, concluding on the stage floor intertwined. It was a  major partnering job for Fonnegra and plenty of spacial daring required of Yamazaki, both expertly realized their demands.

After a pause the curtains parted on a reprise of Jose Limon’s The Moor’s Pavane to the music of Henry Purcell, music more popularly recognized as used by Jerome Robbins.  Just four dancers, a swirling red robe for Derek Sakakura as The Moor,  striking sinister hues of mustard for His Friend, interpreted by Robert Dekkers.  Mounted by Gary Masters, the Moor’s Wife was
danced by Heather Cooper and His Friend’s Wife by Maria Basile, both guesting from SjDance Co, headed by Masters.  Mounting this iconic modern dance work is a major event anywhere.

In the Lucas Hoving role, Dekkers came close to the wily deadpan which creates such a sinister aura within the formal structure, where the four dance together, then the men, then the couples, the quartet and all too soon the Moor is tormented into his fatal action.  As noted elsewhere, the quartet dances towards one another,  rather than to the audience.

Sakakura, his chest too large for the costume, conveyed a cooler Moor than one might expect, although his anguish toward the end was plain, having danced it twice before and thus the  opportunity to grow in the portrayal.  Technically quite adequate, I felt I was seeing a Moor with samurai training.

Cooper and Basile both brought maturity to their roles, Basile’s use of her persimmon velvet skirts taunting, flirtatious, a smirk on her face more open to persuasion than the oblique smile of Pauline Koner, while Cooper’s Wife was even more neutral than remembered with Betty Jones.  If Moor’s Pavane goes to Diablo Ballet’s  San Jose and Hillbarn engagements in the spring, it will be interesting to see how the interpretations evolve in this engrossing, classic work.

Following intermission the program closed with Sean Kelly’s A Swingin’ Holiday, utilizing four couples, highly colored zoot suits for the men, ‘Thirties glamour for the women and a fifteen piece orchestra to blare the music hyped up swing era style. The dancers rose to the stylistic challenge ably; it was very nice to see Aaron Orza back on stage since departing San Francisco Ballet.

Kelly created dances appropriate to the music, but a unifying thread was missing, leaving the pas de huit with a series of dances, entrances, greetings and then minor vignettes leaving the impression that strangers had gathered in a night club or dive, but essentially were unconnected.

Deja Vu – The New Dance Stamp

28 Jul

July 28, 2012 The United States Postal Service issues a new series of dance stamps, featuring an artist’s rendition of Isadora Duncan, Jose Limon, Katherine Dunham and Bob Fosse.  The four deceased dancers represent four diverse expressions of dance artistry.

The images have been promoted by the Dizzy Feet Foundation, [DFF] whose prime mover is Noel Lythgoe, executive producer and judge for television’s So You Think You Can Dance.  With the enabling of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, a National Dance Day resolution was introduced in Congress, specifying the last Saturday in July as National Dance Day.  The emphasis is to promote dance education and physical fitness across the United States.

This year’s National Dance Day is Saturday, July 28, which will be observed, in part, by a Gala at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion in Los Angeles.  The Website for DFF gives no particulars about who will dance beyond the date and an invitation to purchase tickets, including the $400 VIP category.

DFF lists three goals.  One: To provide scholarships to talented students studying at accredited dance schools,  institutions or studios.  Its  Angelina Ballerina scholarship has been awarded to a student at the American Ballet Theatre in 2012 and San Francisco Ballet Schools 2011.

There is nothing  posted regarding the criteria which qualifies said instruction.  With such a diversity of styles requiring expertise in instruction and training to achieve a professional level, the standards and those qualified to pass judgment may provide a major challenge towards those admirable goals.

Two: To establish national standards for dance education and an accreditation program to dance schools in all of the major styles of dance. It poses the question of  whether the instruction in non-Western dance forms will be included, and who are the proper evaluators of these forms. Will the styles be limited to  those which promise livelihoods for the student?

Three: To develop, provide, and/or support dance education programs for disadvantaged children through and with local community organizations.

A dazzling list of television connections follows the listing of the executive board: all appear to be  Southern California based.  Among the advisors I recognized the names of Kate Lydon and Rachel Moore, both with strong American Ballet Theatre  connections.

Puzzling, however, is the apparent lack of recognition of National Dance Week or International Dance Day, April 29, celebrating the birth of Jean Georges Noverre, considered the father of modern classical ballet. Is this another manifestation of the proliferation of dance events like the growth of ballets competitions, nationally and internationally.  Certainly, if funding is available, any number can and does play.

I use the term deja vu because of the late Ben Sommers, President of Capezio-BalletMakers, 1940-1976, and President of the Capezio Foundation until his death in 1985. Back in the days of the Regional Ballet Association, Ben promoted the idea of a dance stamp.  His was pretty nearly a two decade campaign before his idea materialized in four idealized images which included modern, ballet, tap and what looked like early hip-hop. While admiring his tenacity, the then small dance community was amused by Ben’s efforts.  Ben persisted, and the dance stamps became a reality.  E-Bay advertises the four,  first class stamps at $.13.

In the late ‘Thirties and early ‘Forties, Ben also was discussing physical fitness through dance with the American Association of Health, Physical Education and Recreation.

On reflection, I think Ben would be pleased that his vision is being re-energized.  Ben would also be assiduous in giving credit to  forerunners in dance organizing.  Let’s see if DFF will emulate Ben’s
admirable quality of crediting predecessors and influences.

SJ Dance Co at San Jose’s California Theatre October 14-15,2011

29 Oct

San Jose State University (SJSU) enjoys an active dance department, headed by Fred Mathews, a member of Jose Limon’s Dance Company with its principal teacher, Gary Masters, another Limon alumni. What could be more logical for them not only to teach Limon’s technique, but to revive signature pieces created by Limon for his company?

SJ Dance Co., formed nine years ago, has danced at the restored California Theatre in downtown San Jose for the past three, a handsome edifice with thick carpets; it is also home to the San Jose Opera and Ballet San Jose’s annual school program headed by Lise La Cour.

This year Limon was represented with his 1958 masterpiece “Missa Brevis” choreographed to Zoltan Kodaly”s Missa Brevis in Temore Belli [A Short Mass in Time of War]; “Dance in the Sun” by Daniel Nagrin solo was included to showcase guest artists Raphael Boumaila, appearing in “Missa Brevis.”

Premieres by Gary Masters, Heather Cooper and Maria Basile formed the remainder of the program, “Velocities,” “Close” and “Ancestral Threads”; all enjoyed the benefit of the San Jose Chamber Orchestra. All three choreographers teach on the SJSU dance faculty.

Michael Touchi’s Tango Barroco gave the music for “Velocities”, a three-part work utilizing improvisation and involving the nine dancer company. Heather Cooper’s “Close” employed two dancers and Maria Basile’s “Ancestral Threads” utilized parts of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s second movement from his Seventh Symphony performed by five dancers. Cooper and Basile are accomplished dancers with substantial credits.

“Dance in the Sun,” a refreshingly brief solo, saw Boumaila arriving on stage
with jacket slung over one shoulder, striding with lungs expanding in sunlit open air. The piece is a brief, explicit solo of relish and jaunty celebration of out-of-doors, punctuated by low, distinct grand jetes, and torso movement as the body responds to the warm environment. At the end Boumaila picks up the jacket and strides off stage, a feel good piece for dancer and audience alike.

“Missa Brevis”, Jose Limon’s urgent interpretation of Zoltan Kodaly’s work of the same name, was choreographed the spring of 1958; Limon’s colleague Doris Humphrey died the following December. How much her approaching death influenced Limon is sheer speculation, but the circles, bow-and-arrow like leaping diagonals, the forward bends, the prevalence of urgently moving circles all speak of an inner majesty and acceptance of life’s great mysteries and rites of passage. This was particularly apparent when first one and then two other figures were hoisted upstage center, suggesting the Jesus’ crucifixion between two thieves. Limon’s affinity for Roman Catholic rites elevated them as much as they may have cleansed his spirit. The thrust of the arms and hands in those leaping diagonals, and forward bends as the women circled, moving all the while, emanated an extraordinary satisfaction in their utter simplicity; at moments the feet collectively fluttered in place.

“Missa Brevis” started and ended with Boumaila [Limon figure] standing alone downstage right, looking at the dancers in a circle, upstage left, the company’s nine dancers augmented by thirteen others. One cannot help but feel honored to
have been witness to the work as well as thanking SJ Dance Company for presenting it.

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