Tag Archives: Karen Gabay

Silicon Valley Ballet Has Problems

8 Mar

Teri McCollum, whose Odette’s Ordeal manages to “scoop” news in the best
Hedda Hopper fashion, has reported an indefinite layoff of dancers and administrative staff at Silicon Valley Ballet. Announcements in the San Jose Mercury or San Francisco Chronicle are yet to appear. Apparently the Silicon Valley Ballet School continues at the spacious studio on First Street in San Jose.

McCollum spoke with Millicent Powers who has headed both the Board of
Directors and assumed the executive directorship last year; she was informed that a search for funding to complete the 2016 season was not forthcoming from the Santa Clara Valley art patrons. Clearly, the renaming of the company is a model in wishful thinking.

The angst felt by the dancers started in 2012 when Dennis Nahat’s contract with the company was terminated following The Nutcracker season. Nahat,
who brought the nucleus of the company with him when the joint-city arrangement with Cleveland was terminated, stated the company’s coffers held a million dollars at the time of his departure. It also had a history of interesting productions ranging from Donald McKayle and Martha Graham revivals [Rainbow Round My Shoulder, Appalachian Spring] to David Lichine’s Graduation Ball, the Bouronville Toreador, along with Swan Lake, Giselle and his own production of The Nutcracker, Lew Christensen’s Il Distratto and Michael Smuin’s Tempest.

Wes Chapman was brought in as an interim artistic advisor, and the company
direction began to align itself with productions first seen with American Ballet Theatre. The school also became infused with the certificate program started by ABT. After two such seasons, it was announced that Jose Manuel Carreno was contracted for three years as artistic director.  Carreno was able to call upon his ABT colleagues for an interesting Gala in 2014, but funding remained slim and, after a tardy salary settlement for both orchestra and conductor, performances were danced to recorded music.

In 2015, there was a flurry of fund-raising towards the retirement of a 3.5 million dollar debt; enough funds were raised to complete the season. Following the Nutcracker season, sixteen dancers toured Spain under the auspices of a Spanish impresario, according to Teri McCollum, the same program presented to San Jose audiences in February.

While company was in Spain, Karen Gabay, Artistic Associate and 36-year veteran and sometime principal dancer with the company, was abruptly terminated, with the statement Gabay had resigned. Following the February performances, the administrative staff was also abruptly laid off;  the management was dickering with the union to permit a three week lay-off for the dancers while fund raising was being pursued.

Based on McCollum’s report, the fund raising was not successful; dancers and administrative staff now are confronted with seeking employment elsewhere. Those of us who have enjoyed the company’s performances; in particular, some of the dancers, pray for ready alternate options for each and every one dancers, administrators and artistic directors.

Interesting and ironic is that both Nahat and Carreno were members of American Ballet Theatre, over two decades apart. Nahat was also active with the USA IBC in Jackson, Mississippi in 1990 when Carreno won the Prix de Jackson medal.

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Silicon Valley Ballet Dances Modern

1 Mar

Silicon Valley Ballet gave its subscribers and audience three modern works, two of which I have seen and, one, a local premiere under the overall title Director’s Choice, February 19-21.

It started off however, with a classical pas de deux apparently different at every performance. For the matinee it was the Diana and Acteon pas de deux from Esmeralda, the original pas de deux by Marius Petipta adapted by Jose Manuel Carreno with no credit given for the in between Agrippina Vaganova version seen in many gala performances and international competitions.

Carreno cast two corps members, Chloe Sherman and Yuto Ideno in this pas de deux with workmanlike results. Both were correct, but had not danced it enough to feel comfortable or to give it the bravura touch. Sherman’s performance was the more reticent, hueing to correctness rather than the dash of the mythic huntswoman. Ideno danced with more freedom and spirit.

Next on the program was Jorma Elo’s Glow-Stop with its snippets of Mozart and Philip Glass, a work which has gone around the block since it was premiered by Boston Ballet where Elo is the resident choreographer. The dancers are assigned to act or perform like animated puppets, port de bras thrust into angles when finishing pirouettes, sudden bends of the torso, disparate and multiple maneuvers happening all over the stage, sudden arrivals and departures; in essence, it is the classical vocabulary employed to be contradicted. The dancers danced it energetically.

Prisom
, the work by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, left me minus lingering thoughts other than flashes of color and a sudden, brief interlude of tights and a white spaghetti stringed bodice with curlicues of black worn by Ommi Pipit-Suksun and her partner.

Ohad Naharin’s Minus Sixteen with a diverse score completed the program. It far and away captured my attention. Outside of the structure, it is Naharin’s satire of orthodox Israeli society and conflicting poles – orthodoxy against near desert climate, youth against tradition before the anomaly of come on, come all, all accented by Klesmer song, repeated multi times. Apart from the lively performance with the visual interest of a line of sixteen-chaired dancers suddenly flopping on the floor, discarding hats, then jackets and shirts, with one stubborn hold out downstage left, who simply collapses while others divest themselves of their clothing, its structure holds even after seeing it three or four times. Undoubtedly a vintage piece, it does remain a distinct statement evoking the social disparities in Israel today. And, of course, when the dancers go out into the audience and acquire temporary partners, the audience enjoyed not only the spectacle of the amateur recruits but are left with amusement and the good sensation it elicits.

The program notes did acknowledge Dennis Nahat as the founding artistic director of Ballet San Jose, but no mention was made of Karen Gabay as Artistic Associate.

Silicon Valley Ballet’s Production of Giselle

19 Oct

It was a case of something old and something new for this 1841 Romantic Era tale of love, class, love betrayed and love transcendent October 16-18. And, yes, it was the U.S. first, Alicia Alonso’s take of the classic Giselle thanks to Jose Manuel Carreno’s dream to bring it to the United States It was however, something, if not old, borrowed, since the sets and costumes utilized were first seen when this San Jose-based ensemble was directed by Dennis Nahat, a fact overlooked in the pre-performance promotion. Scenic credits go to Gianni Queranata for the excessive floral scenery scenery, perhaps late summer abundance; Act I costumes to Paul Plesh and Act II costumes to David Guthrie with David K. H. Elliott as the lighting designer. Who knows the credit for the recorded music.

While the company possesses three ballerinas undertaking the coveted role of the delicate peasant girl, it has also acquired a principal male dancer in Brett Bauer, one-time member of San Francisco Ballet, principal with the Oregon Ballet Theatre under Christopher Stowell. My main objection to his performance was his hair was too crew cut for Albrecht and his costume in Act II hit at an ungainly length on his hips. I attribute such concerns to the late Russell Hartley; his eye for costume and decor was such that he said, “I get so disturbed by some costumes, I can’t see the ballet.”

Saturday night Ommi Pipit-Suksun made her debut as Giselle, as Junna Ige did in the afternoon. Pipit-Suksun’s face and body lines make for an ideal Giselle; she added inherent diffident movements I consider Asian, endearing, moving through her postures naturally. Her eyes possessed the unblinking attention of a bird, fluttering; ultimately when she realized the betrayal, caged, deprived of the incandescent joy experienced dancing with Loys, Albrecht in disguise. It was wistful, tender, sanity bending inexorably against the facts of fate and class.

Instead of game, Hilarion, hesitancy sensitively portrayed by Akira Takahashi, wanted to give Giselle a white floral bouquet; there were the villagers arriving as he is about to place the blossoms in a receptacle. His approach to Giselle was more physical before the sparring between Hilarion and Loys [Albrecht], upstage until aware of Hilarion’s physical importuning. The tangle of wills provoked Giselle’s anxiety and her sinking to the bench, an Alonso motive seen in Alonso’s Giselle segments on Channel 32.5, a singular contribution Alonso included in her production.

Later, when there was the second attack, her friends rush to provide a chair, and Loys’ concern is more than passing. One could see Pipit-Suksun upstage, gathering her strength as she joined the circling villagers. Avoiding some of the technical challenges, [the toe hopping on the diagonal and dancing before the Courland party because of hyper-extended muscles], Pipit-Suksunl, along with her exquisite presence, conveyed a technically strong portrait of the fated adolescent.

Berthe was ably portrayed by Karen Gabay; not so many years ago, she was a memorable Giselle. The mime scene was expanded, with a Wili appearing in the background. Berthe, corralled a villager physically to demonstrate the ugly fate of woman unfulfilled and male caught at midnight in the forest. Here Alonso has been not only specific, but the background  Wili  is visible only to the audience. I wonder at the connection between Cuban folk rites and interpretation of the ballet’s libretto.

Act II enjoyed spreading rays of light from center stage, moon hovering slightly orange in the background, stage necessities triumphing over scenery. As Myrthe, Jing Zhang’s port de bras, with the other Wilis, demonstrated they were not quite alive, along with steady arabesques moving horizontally across the stage. Skillfully dancing as Moyna and Zelma Amy Marie Briones and Cindy Huang emphasized this semi-worldliness. The clear box sounds of the toe shoes in Zhang’s rendition showed little sign of special Marley flooring, or a sprung floor underneath, the San Jose Performing Arts Center might consider as a good investment.

Pipit-Suksun was elegant, a fluid sprite, tenderly supported by Bauer. One particular touch I enjoyed was the use of simple blossoms in the initial encounter which Albrecht picked from Giselle’s raised arms. No great tossings, it reminded me of Igor Youskevitch’s feats when dancing with Alonso several decades ago, and seemed a fitting tribute.

As Aimee T’sao noted in her San Jose Mercury review, the pity is the production is unlikely to be reproduced soon, giving the dancers the opportunity to grow in their roles, as well as the possibility of hearing an orchestra in the pit once more.

Given only six of the corps de ballet were hired by Dennis Nahat, with thirteen corps dancers arriving during the interregnum and under the direction of Jose Manuel Carreno, it’s difficult to assert how changed the former Ballet San Jose has become. The uncertainty prior to Carreno’s arrival was palpable, along with the deficit non-existent under the Nahat aegis. Given all the adjustments, the new SVB has made a major stride in this production of Giselle. But there still is must yet to be done fiscally and artistically. This production speaks to future possibilities.

Ballet San Jose’s 2015-2016 Season

21 Jun

Ballet San Jose’s 2015-2016 season will open with Alicia Alonso’s production of Giselle, October 16-18,  Karen Gabay’s version of The Nutcracker. follows December 12-27.

Sometime during this fall Ballet San Jose’s name will become Silicon Valley Ballet , replacing San Jose’s name as the principal identification for the company Dennis Nahat secured for the Santa Clara Valley back in 2000. It potentially is a mistake. No municipality currently bears the name. Certainly the 21st century phenomenon for the original prune and apricot acerage lacks the history associated with the Spanish and Mexican beginnings on that once agriculture-rich soil.

With a 3.5 million payment due this fall, a double challenge is posed: will tech companies and their employees rise to cover the payment and to support the ensemble further. And how do San Jose supporters feel at the loss of the city’s name on the company?

The situation is also complicated by the sudden resignation of Alan Hineline, Ballet San Jose’s executive director/CEO, “for personal reasons.” It would be an intrepid individual to assume the daunting fiscal challenge on such short notice.

Three scheduled 2016 performance series start February 19-21 with Balanchine’s Who Cares; Minus 16 by Ohat Naharin and Annabella Lobez Ochoa’s Prism. March 25-27 will see a second viewing of Amy Seiwart’s This Might Be True and two additional premieres as yet unspecified. Septime Weber’s Alice in Wonderland will complete the 2016 spring season April 29-May 1. I believe it will be a first for the company and the area to witness one of Weber’s works.

Stay tuned.

At Last Ballet San Jose’s Roster 2013-2014

26 Sep

With just five days to go before September’s end, like the U.S. Congress, Ballet San Jose has released its company roster for 2013-2014, placing Karen Gabay in the new category of Artistic Associate and minus Maria Jacobs-Yu, who elected not to sign a contract this year. Jacobs-Yu’s delicate precision will be missed.

Not a dignified way to announce a company’s roster of dancers; but Ballet San Jose’s record makes one want to mention artists contributing to much of its varied repertoire history under its former artistic aegis. What invariably strikes me as noteworthy is that both past and present artistic directors are Ballet Theatre alumni from different periods of ABT’s evolution.

So, onward to glimpse the thinking of artistic director Jose Manuel Carreno and his Associate Artistic Director Raymond Rodriquez. Evidence points to the remarkable training ground of Carreno’s native Cuba for the corps de ballet is gaining three former members of the Ballet Nacioinal de Cuba in addition to principal dancers Ramon Moreno and Maykel Solas.

Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun has been promoted to Principal Dancer status; along with Alexsandra Meijer, they are only two women in the principal dancer roster. The three men are Jeremy Kovitch, Ramon Moreno and Maykel Solas.

The soloists now include Amy Marie Briones, Rudy Candia, Damir Emric, Junna Ige, Beth Ann Namey, Mirai Noda, Akira Takahashi and Jing Zhang. Emric’s status reflects promotion from the corps de ballet.

The new comers to the corps de ballet include Kathryn Meeusen and Thomas Baker from apprentice roles. The Cuban influx includes Jorge Lopez Barani, Walter Garcia and Ihosvany Rodriguez. Also new to the corps de ballet are Grace-Anne Powers, a former member of La La La Human Steps of Montreal and Alison Stroming, a former dancer with Alberta Ballet, both women natives of the U.S.

These new comers join Shannon Bynum, Cindy Huang, Lucius Kirst, James Kopecky, Alex Kramer, Brieanna Olson, Francisco Preciado, Annali Rose, Joshua Seibel, Cynthia Sheppard, Sarah Stein, Kendall Teague and Lahna Vanderbush.

The three apprentices are Emma Francis, Nicole Larson and Mariya Oishi.
Francis previously danced with Oregon Ballet Theatre.

George Daugherty will continue as Music Director. Those who have been fans of Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun look forward to her performances as a principal.

Ballet San Jose Announces its 2013-2014 season

24 Aug

Ballet San Jose will start its 2013-2014 season with a November 16 Gala before proceeding to Karen Gabay’s Nutcracker December 13-26. 2014 will see three repertory programs starting February 13 and ending May 11 in this first season with Jose Manuel Carreno as artistic director, Raymond Rodriguez as Associate Artistic Director with George Daugherty as Music Director and Conductor.

Choreographers for the spring season will include Twyla Tharp, Paul Taylor, Ohad Naharin, Vicente Nebrada, Jorge Amarante, Igal Perry, Jorma Elo, and Dwight Rhoden. Their works will represent company premieres.

The Benefit Gala on November 16 reflects Carreno’s drawing power from his years with American Ballet Theatre, and his ability to attract fellow Cubans and
notable Spaniards to spice the occasion, beyond obvious guest contracts. The Gala roster will include from American Ballet Theatre: Julie Kent, Marcelo Gomes, Misty Copeland, Gillian Murphy. From New York City Ballet; Gonzalo Garcia, Joaquin de Luz, Daniel Ulbricht and Megan Fairchild. It is probably Garcia’s first area appearance since leaving San Francisco Ballet for New York City’s namesake company. Boston Ballet will be represented by Lorna Feijoo, Nelson Madrigal, Adiarys Almeida and Joseph Gatti. Topping the list will be Tamara Rojo, one time Royal Ballet principal and now Artistic Director and principal dancer with the English National Ballet. The artists will bring welcome glimpses since their companies have not appeared here recently.

Program I, February 14-16, 2014 will include George Balanchine’s Serenade, credited as 1949, probably in a current form; it was initially created in 1935 soon after Balanchine arrived in the United States. Jorma Elo’s 2006 work, Glo-Stop will be included with Ohad Naharin’s company premiere of his 1999 work, Minus 16. The theme of the program is Neoclassical to Now.

Popular Music, Transcendent Dancing is the title for Program 2, March 21-23.
The five works are company premieres and include Vicente Nebrada, 1975, Nuestros Valses; Argentine-born choreographer Jorge Amarante, 2007, Grapa Tango; Israeli Igal Perry, 2013, Infinity to Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Hammerklavier’s Adagio; Paul Taylor, 1997, Piazzolla Caldera, Astor Piazzola music. Dwight Rhoden, one time Alvin Ailey Company member now most noted as the artistic director of the Complexions ensemble, shares his 2013 Evermore to the music of Nat King Cole.

Two works will complete the third Program May 9-11 titled Masterworks of Movement and Theatre. They are the 1949 Roland Petit Carmen, in the company’s repertoire for some time, and Twyla Tharp’s 1986 ballet for American Ballet Theatre In the Upper Room to the music of Philip Glass.

Ballet San Jose will announce the company member roster in September.

Ballet San Jose’s Spring Revolutionary Program

30 May

For the 2013 Season finale, April 19-21,  Ballet San Jose featured contemporary choreography, including a pas de deux choreographed by Karen Gabay as part of her final appearances with the company she has served for three decades.  Part of the draw was Merce Cunningham and a premiere by Jessica Lang, plus Jorma Elo.

I have written about Gabay’s Amour Gitan in her Gala finale; by what must have been her fourth performance April 21, she had hit her stride.  Coming after Merce Cunningham’s Duets to John Cage’s esoteric sounds it was quite a jump.

Duets comprised a dozen dancers or six pairs. One pair danced and another arrived towards the end, then there were two pairs, three and briefly the entire dozen dancers, arriving and departing unexpectedly.  The original choreography must have required the dancers to move barefooted; here they moved in soft shoes which displayed the upward thrust of ballet technique.  Merce
Cunningham’s dancers not only emphasized the level nature of their bodies, but also the weight and texture derived from the contact with the floor.

It’s hard for classically-trained dancers in a ballet company to alter their stage presentation.  They smile;  and except for dramatic situations, are required to exude good cheer, health and all’s right with the world.  Cunningham asks nothing of that; he wants neutrality,certainly not the front and center most classical abstractions somehow built in to the phrasing.  One could quickly see why this work would be attractive to a ballet company wanting to stretch dancers and repertoire.  What was needed is a massive re-education of performing premise, doubtless something the artistic direction of Ballet San Jose did not have time or resources to supply this season.

Jorma Elo’s Glow Stop was another the works from American Ballet Theatre brought in to fit the overall program title, aided by  juxtaposing Mozart’s Symphony 28 in C major and Philip Glass’ 2nd movement from the Tirol Concerto for Piano and Music.  While stager Christophe Dozzi commented on Elo’s desire for speed and the need for precision in the intricate motions, only classically trained dancers are capable of hitting the arabesque on pointe and then wiggling the line trying to  resemble a pretzel;  undertake an turn of the torso bent at the waist under an outstretched arm,grasping the turner’s arms while on pointe, then coming out to stretch the torso elegantly before buckling it from an  efface.  My degree of interest, having seen two or three other Elo works, and with Boston Ballet where he is its resident choreographer, was what kinds of distortion Elo utilized to what kind of phrases.

Jessica Lang’s premiere of Eighty-one, with its lighting and raised level where composer Jakub Clupinski directed the music, couldn’t have been further in theme than her extended pas de deux Splendid Isolation III danced in 2012 to Gustav Mahler’s extended adagietto, where the woman was swathed in white and the man had to reach over the expanse of train to reach her.
Where that was ghostly  lit,  Eighty-one was sci fi, with music to match, the composer changing the action with gesture and the start and stop of movement, classical in quality.

The dancers were required to move in geometric patterns with frequent lighting adjustments; at several points in the procedure, I half expected to see the hull of a space ship move behind the composer.  Whether Eighty-one will invite the enthusiasm given it at this premiere performance in a second season only repetition will tell.