Tag Archives: Joseph Walsh

2016 at Stern Grove: San Francisco Ballet

3 Aug

When you park off Wawona for a Sunday Stern Grove matinee, the path to the
meadow-auditorium as remodeled by the late Lawrence Halprin does three or four turns on its sloping route to the wonderful meadow given to San Francisco by Mrs. Sigmund Stern honoring her husband. You come out near the clubhouse which some decades earlier was a roadhouse and now houses a series of both gender toilets adjoining the original building. A few feet downward and there are a slew of short-order vendors and the Stern Grove Association booths for information and assistance.

As VIP’s [read press affiliates] it was still necessary to trek across the meadow, brimming with multi-cultural humanity, to the VIP tent to get badges and green wrist bands enabling our party of five to imbibe beer and wine as well as claim our share of Table 35, next to the bona fide press table. This year the press has been moved to the lower of three tiers of tables, if off side, so that our view of San Francisco Ballet was decidedly at an angle. It also enabled us to observe Frances Chung stretch her legs and bend her back prior to entering as Odette in Swan Lake, her debut in the role. She doubtless will appear in the ballet during the 2017 spring season at the Opera House.

In addition to Tiit Helimets as Siegfried and Alexander Renoff-Olson as Von Rothpart, the program included Helgi Tomasson’s Fifth Season, music by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins and two pieces appearing semi-regularly on SFB’s programs: Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain pas de deux to Estonian composer Arvo Part, finishing with George Balanchine’s Rubies with Vanessa Zahorian, Joseph Walsh and Jennifer Stahl.

Before further comment, our party of five included Carlos and Carolyn Carvajal, who have graced performances and mounted works locally both in the earlier San Francisco Ballet days, with Carlos’ Dance Spectrum and Carolyn’s witty performances with Dance Through Time and in the ballet parts of San Francisco Opera seasons. Carlos’ tenure with San Francisco Ballet goes back to Willam Christensen’s years, and two subsequent stints under Lew Christensen with Le Grand Ballet de Marquis de Cuevas, Breman and Bordeaux Opera Ballets in between.

Dennis Nahat and John Gebertz made numbers three and four, both having assignments with Akyumen Technologies since Nahat’s abrupt termination at Ballet San Jose, bringing two Chinese productions to De Anza Auditorium in Cupertino and Southern California, and participating in the affairs of Donald McKayle at U.C. Irvine. Dennis regaled us with stories of ABT’s Swan Lake in the rain at New York’s Delacorte Theater and the ingenuity of Lucia Chase.

Swan Lake
brought swoons of admiration from Carolyn Carvajal for the dancing of the corps de ballet, remarking on the correctness of the staging as she remembered it with Merriem Lanova’s Ballet Celeste. Dennis observed how crisp the angles in the line of foot and leg in Odette’s solo because of short tutus, unlike the knee-length costumes so remarked upon in Ratmansky’s production of Sleeping Beauty. We had to assume Tiit’s interpretation because his back was to us ninety per cent of the time, but Chung’s expression provided the clue of Odette’s concern and wavering. For the first time I could feel a thought process from the progression of Odette’s choreography, as well as the touching moment when she ventures under Siegfried’s arm in the pas de deux, a creature moment for certain.

Wan Ting Zhao and Jennifer Stahl provided the leaping choreography and Isabella DeVivo, Jahna Frantziskonis, Noriko Matsuyama and Emma Rubinowitz, precise, multi-cultural little cygnets, hopping in sync for all their worth.

Tomasson’s Fifth Season was garbed in Sandra Woodall’s sleek tight and top fashion de rigeur with choreographic abstraction, divided into sections titled Waltz, Romance, Tango, Largo and Bits, eight corps in the ensemble with principals Mathilde Froustey, Yuan Yuan Tan, Doris Andre , the men Carlos Quenedit, Tiit Helimets, Aaron Robison in his local San Francisco Ballet debut.

Yuan Yuan Tan seemed to have cornered the feminine role in After The Rain
pas de deux, her sinuous,willowy length adapting to Luke Ingham, a second
Australian to partner her in Christopher Wheeldon’s protracted study of langeur
and emotional connection, minimally costumed in flesh tones by Holly Hynes. Ingham made an effective foil to Tan, clearly an excellent partner.

Rubies is, to me, a very urban ballet, brash, out there with a neat dash of Broadway. Jennifer Stahl danced the figure manipulated by the four corps men Max Cauthorn , Blake Kessler, Francisco Mungamba and John-Paul Simoens. From a distance it seemed effective, given location reservations and the vivid memory of Muriel Maffre in that role. Vanessa Zahorian and Joseph Walsh danced the leads with aplomb and good humor.

San Francisco Ballet annually draws some of Stern Grove Festival’s biggest audiences. Halprin’s design gives the public an amazing series of alcoves where they can stash their bodies and their lunches. Halprin’s vision reinforced that fact Stern Grove Festival, at the threshold of celebrating its 80th annual summer, continues to be one of the crown jewels of San Francisco’s cultural and recreation diversions.

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San Francisco Ballet’s Program Five: Gathering and Swimming

29 Mar

March 16 San Francisco Ballet presented just two ballets with highly opposite treatments: Jerome Robbins’ 1969 Dances at a Gathering to Chopin’s music played by Roy Bogas and the 2015 Yuri Possokhov work called Swimmer with a composite score by Shinji Eshima, Kathleen Brannan, Gavin Bryars, and Tom Waits. Hard to conjure more divergent use of the classical canon. The divergence in taste was testified to by a distinct winnowing of the audience following Dances at a Gathering.

Dances at a Gathering was premiered at New York City Ballet 47 years ago. I dare say it is for the American ballet world what Les Sylphides was for Russian Ballet in the early 20th century. Staged again by Jean-Pierre Frohlich with Jenifer Ringer Fayette with Jennifer Tipton’s sensitive lighting, it demonstrates just how aware Robbins could be in his creative insights forty six years ago. The dancers waft on and off with remarkable naturalism, starting with Joseph Walsh touching the earth, the space where the emotions would follow, lightly but indelibly sketched. Lorena Feijoo was given the difficult task of a feminine initiator, rebuffed several times, but taking the rejections with hands moving from the wrist, “ Tout va change, tout va reste le meme chose.”

I was particularly caught by Carlo Di Lanno’s dancing. When he raises his arms en haut, he does it with a breath, the inhalation providing a distinct lightness to the movement. When the group of three man were dancing on a slight diagonal line opposite three women, his port de bras perfectly echoed the line of his extended right leg, a moving diagram in dance.

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Vanessa Zahorian and Carlo DiLanno in Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering. (© Erik Tomasson)

Supported by Ray Bogas at the piano, Dances at a Gathering spun its mid-summer late afternoon magic, leaving us intensely gratified and wanting to see it again soon.

Swimmer enjoys Alexander V. Nichol’s superb visuals with Taras Domitro waking, executing perfunctory exercises, of course exaggerated, showering with projections expanding the splashes – outlandish in our drought conscious society – before sitting down to breakfast with the papers –which were flashed large and varied as Domitro sits in front of cardboard wife and children before having another cardboard wife deliver him his jacket. Kate Duhamel’s video designs accent the vignettes throughout, water being one of the principal themes, from the shower to the ocean. I felt the water image in its various forms was somewhat overdone, a “get my point, see what I mean” emphasis. Domitro was marvelous throughout, lean, agile and airborne.

Next follows “the commute,” featuring fellow passengers, another visual bus, strap-hangers, bus chugging along, going up hills and a thoroughly exaggerated 190 degrees, a wonderful tunnel, before portraying “the office,” equally exaggerated. Projections of computers and reams of paper being spewed out flash across the screen, walked across for checking with a woman signing the stack furiously. No doubt about it, as a retired office worker myself, Possokhov has an unerring comic touch.

Up to that point Possokhov is dead on. Then he has his “hero” encounter mass media, Hollywood, Pool Party and a First Swim, followed by specific literary references; they unfold, conveying the essence of subject matter as seen from a foreign-born, foreign resident’s eye. Apart from content, and unlike prior Possokhov productions, the stage settings begin to blur choreographic patterns and dancers. If that was the intent it certainly succeeded, but it marred some glimpses of excellence, particularly of Gennadi Nedvigin and Pascal Molat whose company performing days dwindle down precipitously, an overly advanced September.

Tiit Helimets and Maria Kochetkova enacted Lolita with the seduction gradually changing from man to nymphet to nymphet to man, followed by Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz on stairs. Carolyn Carvajal observed that both pas de deux were danced to songs rendered with Tom Wait’s gravelly voice; a neat observation between voice and the physical encounter, regardless of motivation.

Swimmer
has an ability to convey a certain quality in contemporary American life, a shallowness all too prevalent, images piled one after another to make one cringe at its unerring display of distractions, of sensation minus feeling. The contrast with Robbins’ work was telling.

San Francisco Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet on Film

24 Sep

At a September 21 preview in San Francisco’s Century Theatre, housed in the old Emporium building, a selected audience saw San Francisco’s current Romeo and Juliet production which starts the Lincoln Center at the Movies series October 1. While it is not PBS’ Great Performances series in which Michael Smuin’s version opened the dance series to full-length ballets, the Helgi Tomasson version enjoyed a remarkable production thanks to Thomas Grimm, and the various fiscal sponsors acknowledged by Tomasson and on the screen.

What made a notable difference from the early PBS series, created by the memorable trio of Merrill Brockway, Jak Venza and Judy Kinberg, were the use of closeups and deliberate cutting of movement, filmed May 7 at San Francisco’s Opera House. Cuts to an individual face or chest shots infused more drama than long shots with feet and body moving to the Prokofiev score. In addition, shots of the towns people and the harlots during the action added to the overall ambiance, the sense of a small interactive community.

Maria Kochekova and Davit Karapetyan were the fated lovers, supported by Pascal Molat as Mercutio and Luke Ingham as Tybalt with Joseph Walsh as Benvolio. Anita Paciotti reprised her role as the Nurse; Jim Sohm stepped eloquently in as Friar Lawrence while Ricardo Bustamonte and Sophiane Sylve were the steely Capulets, Ruben Martin and Leslie Escobar the Montagues. Myles Thatcher, the choreographic wunderkind of the corps, was a blond Paris. [Readers of my earlier SFB R&J review know my feelings about a too-early age of County Paris.]

There were at least three interviews between the acts, which were identified on the upper left, along with quotations from Will’s play; Helgi Tomasson; Warren Pistone who doubles as sword master and the Prince of Verona; Anita Paciotti
who speaks of the use of children in the production. Additional comments included Davit Karapetyan, Maria Kochetkova and Pascal Molat regarding the roles and the challenges of the fight scenes. Kochetkova was quite coy.

The handsome production additionally featured Martin West commenting on the score, the costume and makeup departments received their share of footage along with a small group of children making their contribution. I would pay to see the movie again.

The following evening, at a gathering to celebrate the 41st wedding anniversary of Carlos and Carolyn Carvajal Tony Ness, former San Francisco Ballet dancer who belonged to the Smuin era of the PBS filming of Smuin’s reading of Shakespeare’s tragedy to Prokofiev’s music, was present. He refreshed my memories of the Smuin production, both for the premiere and the PBS production when Diana Weber and Jim Sohm were the ill-fated teens with Anita Paciotti as Lady Capulet, Attila Ficzere as Mercutio, Gary Wahl as Tybalt, and Tina Santos the nurse.

At Smuin’s premiere, Vane Vest and Lynda Meyer were Romeo and Juliet and Anita Paciotti was the nurse. The balcony was upstage right and the entire set designed so that it could travel, a fact heading the review for The Christian Science Monitor. Tony was the Duke of Verona, but the PBS version placed Vest in the role. Paula Tracy appeared as Lady Capulet with Keith Martin and Susan Magno as the street dancers in the original production. Magno later danced Juliet with Tom Ruud and Jim Sohm. There were a succession of dancers in the roles – David McNaughton with Linda Montaner and later Alexander Topciy with Evelyn Cisneros. I believe Smuin’s production was later mounted by Ballet West, a natural connection for Smuin’s dance career started under Willam Christensen.

Most touching, however, in the PBS version Lew Christensen was Friar Lawrence. I also couldn’t help thinking of the succession of roles Sohm has assumed with such finesse following his active dance career; Grandfather in Nutcracker; Don Quixote in that ballet and now Friar Lawrence.

Earlier Tomasson Romeos, Anthony Randazzo, Yuri Possokhov, Pierre Francois Villanoba, and Joanna Berman’s Juliet, also floated to the surface. Clearly, the Tomasson production, elegant as it is, beautifully realized by the dancers, prompted memory lane meanderings.

San Francisco Ballet’s Program IV, February 26

1 Mar

Just two on this program, Jerome Robbins Dances at a Gathering and Liam Scarlett’s Hummingbird, premiered last year at San Francisco’s Opera House.

This was the second time this month I listened to Philip Glass as the background/inspiration (?) For a ballet. Both pieces, excessively long, found me fighting drooping eyelids, I’m afraid. Somehow Jerome Robbins’ Glass Pieces is more interesting.

Once again, also, Maria Kochetkova, like Francis Chung the program before, was called upon to dance major roles twice in a program. Both dimunitive principals rose to the occasion. Fortunately, the entrance for Kochetkova was in the final third of Hummingbird. While Francis Chung and Gennadi Nedvigin flirt, spin, turn in the first third, Chung emerging from the strange black-streaked billows in the back as well as overhang to engage Nedvigin, she in deep shimmering blue, he in a dusky blue trousers and shirt. It doesn’t take long to get the feeling that Scarlett created movement for every note. I wondered if there was another position besides over the knee, under the arms, over the head, tossing, dipping, flinging that Nedvigin could challenge Chung with.

The piece de resistance in Hummingbird, however, is the pas de deux for Yuan Yuan Tan and Luke Ingham. Last year I thought it was incredible; this year, while the ambivalence goes on and on and on, it still is a satisfying section to witness, though Tan’s ambivalence to Ingham’s clear, sustained and patient desire is finally rejected. As a pas de deux representing a flawed relationship it is remarkable, though with different music it might well be just as effective. As it is, Tan’s long legs are arched, and her torso snaked around Ingham in a variety of ways; she is lifted, lowered, raised and embraced by Ingham’s enviable capacity as partner and lover. Ultimately Tan’s final farewell is tender, reluctant but resolved.

Back to Ballet Number One – Dances at a Gathering, which has not been danced here since Joanna Berman was one of the company’s principals. Again, Chopin was felicitously supported by veteran pianist Roy Bogas. The line up, identified by colors, included Maria Kochetkova paired with Davit Karapetyan; Vanessa Zahorian with Carlo Di Lanno; Mathilde Froustey with Joseph Walsh; Dores Andre with Stephen Morse and Lorena Feijoo with Vitor Luiz.

New comers de Lanno and Morse did well by their assignments, and Froustey was light, effervescent. Lorena Feijoo, given the role of the unsuccessful flirt, made you want the fellows to stop and take a good look, while Luis and Karapetyan added the touches of mazurka and czardas which Robbins is known to sprinkle when he choreographs to Chopin. Joseph Walsh as the man in brown was given the entry and the poignant moment when he touches the earth.

I have the memory of the earlier staging as being more intimate, more clannish, but would need to see the work again to see if this revival is simply new on the dancers’ bodies; eight of the the opening cast are listed as dancing their roles for the first time, with Feijoo and Zahorian as the veterans. SF members of the former casts may well have gone on to other tasks. It’s another sea change.

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.