Tag Archives: Katita Waldo

San Francisco Ballet’s 71st Nutcracker Season

3 Jan

In this third San Francisco production of Petyr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s commission for Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov (Willam Christensen’s ground–breaking undertaking and brother Lew’s the second with at least two different productions), Helgi Tomasson celebrated the city’s emergence from the 1906 earthquake and fire by aligning it to the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition; Michael Yeargen took his clue from images of the 100th year before in slides, Act I’s setting and hints of the Conservatory of Flowers, supported by James F. Ingalls’ lighting. Martin Pakledinaz designed the fetching gowns of the period as well as the traditional and pastiche costumes for Act II. The results congratulate San Franciscans. From the cheerful opening pandemonium sounds December 16 and the December 18 matinee, the seasonal tradition is a winner all the way. The sound pitch opening night was up there with the screams of a basketball game, while volunteers carefully herded toddlers and grammar school attendees for their pictures with a French soloist (the flute soloist for more traditional viewers) and the Mouse King, and off the other side of one of the crimson-carpeted entrances to orchestra seating. Most girls wore aspirational net tutus with frequent rhinestone tiaras. The mother of one girl near me said her chestnut-haired daughter was studying karate and acrobats.

Opening night Val Caniparoli was his genial self, if somewhat perfunctory. Katita Waldo gave us a welcoming Mme Stahlbaum while Ruben Martin Cintus exuded the pleasant organizing half.. Two youngsters, Alexander Renoff-Olson and Kristi DeCaminada made a convincing go as the grandparents. Francisco Mungamba’s displayed flexibility in yellow tights and bobbing trim; Lauren Parrott was mercifully brunette after the memorable tawny blonde of Clara Blanco; Wei Wang jumped energetically as the toy Nutcracker.

One of the production’s charms is the transformation scene, and although the sleepy gestures of Clara’s (Sienna Clark) seemed perfunctory if on time to the music, the enlarging furnishing along with the tree are just right as is the appearance of the Nutcracker Prince in the handsome personage of Davit Kerapetyan. Gaetano Amico was the nasty Mouse King, a role everyone loves to hate and the interpreter tries to make the most of in his brief allotted phrases.

NUT13REP_ET24315

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker. (© Erik Tomasson)

Vanessa Zahorian served as a gracious Sugar Plum Fairy with Frances Chung as the grownup Clara, following the Snow Scene with Jennifer Stahl and Luke Ingham as the reigning monarchs of a blizzard almost obscuring the figures midway and towards the end. Why they dancers have to navigate a storm is beyond me. Flurries should be sufficient.  The same threatened obliteration was accorded Koto Ishihara and Joseph Walsh December 18.

NUT13REP_ET24315

Frances Chung and Davit Karapetyan in Tomasson’s Nutcracker. (© Erik Tomasson)

Distinguishing themselves in the Chinese and Russian were Lonnie Weeks and Esteban Hernandez. The trio bursting from the Faberge-inspired eggs is invariably a treat to be followed by Anatole Vilzak’s variation for the three dancers. It’s one of the supreme relics of the earlier production.

NUT13REP_ET24315

Lonnie Weeks in Tomasson’s Nutcracker. (© Erik Tomasson)

I saw a second performance, the December 18 matinee to see what Pascal Molat did with Drosselmeyer. I didn’t expect Sancho Panza, of course, but he is just such a wizard with character parts. Of course he was wonderful. His hands were invariably seeking the edges and the corners of what he was assigned, finishing his work before donning his coat, the manner in which he tied the pouch for the clock, his gallantry with the flower seller on the street. His semi-crouching position when levitating the cane was like someone in a contest; I felt an unusual touch in his consoling Fritz at not getting the nutcracker, topped only by the bow with which he tied his handkerchief on the wounded wooden doll. Throughout the scene this Drosselmeyer was intimately attuned to youngsters, at one with them as well as a distinguished, eccentric clock maker. His wizardry with the transformation scene, reassurance to Clara and continued guidance through Act II was simply de rigeur. One can relax with an “ah” watching him, a total treat.

Jeffrey Lyons and Amy Yuki made a jovial and gracious set of Stahlbaums while Val Caniparoli joined Anita Paciotti in the grandparental roles.

Here Esteban Hernandez as the toy Nutcracker bounded electrically from the box. Blake Kessler was the yellow Harlequin and Jahna Frantziskonis, coming to the company from Pacific Northwest Ballet, was the porcelain pink doll.

I noticed in some principals’ tutus a broad, slightly floppy over skirt, like an expansive flower; instead of gradated layers of ruffles,the tutu cuts to the underpinning exposing upper tights and pants when lifted by a partner. What seemed to be a charming floral bouquet, suddenly your eyes were directed, minus smaller petals, to stamens and pistils.

Doris Andre served as The Sugar Plum Fairy regally. I did not notice it much before this season and it may reflect some tweaking, but the Sugar Plum Fairy summoned her waltzing flowers as well as the busy little lady bug, moths and butterflies to hear the tale of the Nutcracker Prince’s battle with the Mouse King. It brought a warmth to the undertaking, a winning witnessing to the otherwise austere evocation of the Conservatory of Flowers.

Normally the French variation, usually belonging to a trio of Dresden Shepherdess but here candy-caned striped can can dancers, appeals to me not at all. In the December 18 matinee, however, I noticed some nice phrasing with adroit finishing emphasis by Miranda Silveira.

Carlo di Lano made his debut in this production of the holiday staple with Matilde Froustey as his adult Clara. What a marvelous pair they were, both in looks and European ambiance. When the Nutcracker’s mask was lifted, di Lano’s breath animated his port de bras: liberation! This sensibility pervaded every motion, making the most logical, the most spectacular special.

Advertisements

2014 Nutcracker Season, San Francisco Ballet

15 Dec

December 12 was San Francisco Ballet’s night to start its season of the Nuts, multiple castings, opportunities for corps members. With Martin West conducting the company’s orchestra, the audience enjoyed a remarkably buoyant performance, which can be partially attributed to its enormous success in Europe this summer. Mary Beth Smith, heading the company’s marketing and communications, remarked in the Opera House press room that after the company’s closing night performance at Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, where Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes made its 1909 debut, “The applause went on for twenty minutes. It was spectacular, and you know Parisians know their ballet.” Following this performance, the company goes into a twice daily mode, two and seven p.m., a total of thirty performances, including two on Christmas Eve.

Friday night’s inauguration featured Ricardo Bustamonte with extra flourishes and complete gallantry, while Ruben Martin-Cintas and Katita Waldo made the Stahlbaums elegant, assured, hospitable. Jim Sohm outdid himself as Grandpapa; Kristi DeCaminada as Grandmere. Both parents and small fry were less numerous, but the numbers cohered in the overall scenic impression, avoiding the cast of thousands mould.

Clara Blanco danced her iconic doll, Esteban Hernandez made an impression as the Nutcracker out of the Box and Max Cauthorn in yellow Milliskin was willowy, off balance and technically excellent.

The transformation scene – from 1915 Panama-Pacific era privileged San Francisco to dream exaggeration of furniture, presents, tree, mice and gas fireplace – continues to be impressive; mice scamper, toy soldiers execute the directions of the Nutcracker with his sabre, while Clara watches avidly. Sean Orza’s Mouse King exhibited brawn, and elegaic agony after his leg was caught in the mouse trap, his dying crawl into the prompter’s pit, “Tis A Far Better Thing I Do’ from Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities.

Luke Ingham as Nutcracker Prince cuts a refreshing athletic image once out of Mask and Nut trappings. He’s gallant, but no nonsense, like a good Aussie invariably seems to be; his battement a la seconde is eagle sharp. Not a bad mixture. Audrey Armacost as Clara responded well to his partnering.

The carriage arrival brings its own magic, its white and silver sleigh, pawing, prancing ponies, masks crowned with nodding plumes. I’m not sure the ancien regime could have improved on these equines.

The snow monarch roles were handsomely filled by Vanessa Zahorian and Taras Domitro. who followed after the snowflakes appeared under drifts of artificial flakes continuing to fall, audibly, during the entire number until the final grouping around the principals was almost obscured by moving white density. Early on Domitro stumbled a bit; I suspect this artificial blizzard may have contributed. However, his grand jetes and entrechats were his standard brilliant, Zahorian sailing through her virtuosity with usual aplomb, her earlier injury definitely behind her.

After the intermission the curtain rose on the evocation of the Conservatory, with butterflies, lady bugs, and moths, marking time with port de bras and pique arabesques before the arrival of The Sugar Plum Fairy (SPF) in the person of Mathilde Froustey. Froustey possesses the current ideal for the feminine ballerina; beautiful proportions, long neck, face of piquant charm, port de bras devoid of angled elbow, good jump, supple expressive upper back, an intuitive emphasis in phrasing or response. A cogent example was her emphasis asking the Nut Prince “Why are you here?” Not a doubt about the query.

Luke Ingham’s mime was salutary, particularly good with whiskers. The SPF had decreed the entire dream troupe witness the recitation, a nice move. While the Spanish pas de cinq was good, the Arabian trio was especially well-balanced with Dana Genshaft, and Daniel Devison-Oliveira and Anthony Spaulding, intense, finished. Francisco Mungamba’s Chinese shone with knife-like jetes. The French trio danced my-not-so favorite variation spritely, Wan Ting Zhao’s phrasing eye-catching. The Russian Faberge trio burst out into Anatole Vilzak’s classic variation led by Hansuke Yamamoto with Esteban Hernandez and Wei Wang.

Benjamin Stewart garnered a warm response as Smoky Bear with Louis Schilling and the bevy of San Francisco Ballet School students, precursor to the Waltzing Flowers, framing the SPF in this version of the Tchaikovsky classic. Bland, symmetrical and nicely executed, the ensemble is supposed to set off the central rose; Froustey could be better served. However, the ensemble requires its musical share and the notes received visualization with skill.

In this version the prelude to the Grand Pas de Deux refers to the Chinoiserie tower bibelot, Clara’s gift in the first act. The SPF retrieves a tiara from a cushion brought her by a uniformed attendant which she places on Clara’s head before leading her to the mirror inside the open box. Froustey’s brief escorting, was affectionate, a reinforcement shared with Sofiane Sylve who conveys similar feminine warmth.

The double doors close, the tower turned, the doors reopen and outsteps the adult Clara in hues of gold and celadon, Yuan Yuan Tan, ready to wow us, dispatches the gestures of awe and transforming admiration to the barest stroke, a principal flaw in an otherwise brilliant performance. Tan is becoming accustomed to Luke Ingham as a partner; she should feel utterly secure. Ingham promises Tan as good or better she enjoyed with Damian Smith; the partnering, particularly Tan’s height in the running catch as the Tchaikovsky score soars were. flawless. Tan’s face, with its feline qualities, registered satisfaction along with her usual aplomb.

The variation reprises then follow, to warm applause, and the aggregate ensemble coalesces to allow Drosselmeyer, couch and Clara to enter and for him to reassemble the Stahlaum mansion,for Clara to awaken, clutch her toy and run towards Mother Stahlbaum’s arms as the curtains descend.

Cinderella: Her Second Season with SFB, March 13

17 Mar

For foodies who also like ballet, the buffet in San Francisco’s Opera House is recommended once you pick up your tickets if not mailed to you. The hot dishes can be impressive, if simple, the roast beef succulent. It is the array of salads and vegetables where the buffet seems to excel; celery root julienned; farro with raisins and carrots; asparagus spears, spinach with citrus fruit. The prospect of second helpings and a complimentary glass of champagne is further inducement.

This year I elected the Thursday night program partly because Norman Hersch could only go that night and I wanted to see Frances Chung switch roles from an ugly sibling to the chosen one, Cinderella herself. She is such an admirable dancer; correct, musical, willing, and also reticent though gracious, altogether a formidable combination. Truly a company dancer, her attitude reminds me a bit of Margot Fonteyn, minus any brouhaha. What’s not to admire?

Davit Karapetyan was Chung’s Prince Charming with Diego Cruz making his debut as Benjamin, the Prince’s friend. Shannon Rugani rendered a powerful portrait of Stepmother Hortensia, understated but definite. Elizabeth Powell and Ellen Rose Hummel horsed it up as the two step sisters, Hummel’s Clementine winning Cruz’ Benjamin. Reuben Martin Cintas created a believable father, bereft, then remarried, pecked and coat holder, but ultimately defender of his blood child. In the royal household, Ricardo Bustamonte and Anita Paciotti were suitably anxious about princely behavior and marital choices, while Val Caniparoli’s Alfred worried a tad about Benjamin’s mischief and as Madame Mansard, Katita Waldo was completely flumoxed by her two young charges. Interesting note: Pascale Le Roy created the Mansard role last May, shortly before she was dismissed from San Francisco Ballet School’s staff, a post filled easily a decade or more.

Missing is the fairy god-mother. At the fireplace she is replaced by the Prince in disguise who is given food by Cinderella, a neat insert for cause and effect. Quickly the four Fates- Gaetano Amico, Daniel Deivison-Oliveira, Luke Willis and Shane Wuerthner intervene; providing wheels for Cinderella’s carriage to the ball, following the seasons’ coaching session in personal qualities. The seasons and their entourages didn’t seem to convey qualities to me, though the dancing was excellent. Jaime Garcia Castilla’s fluid a la seconde developpes were breathtaking as Summer while the Autumnal carrot wig [Halloween?]on Hansuke Yamamoto’s warred visually with his usual allegro fleetness.

One can scarcely fault Julian Crouch’s scenery and costumes except for the questionable taste in costuming the princesses from Spain, Russia and Bali; Goya doublet and hose, Orthodox robes and heavily veiled saris make me cringe over the mental processes which decided the selection and its visualization. His visual reference to the tree emerging from the mother’s tombstone with its weighted reference to the earth and regeneration is apt and touching, regardless of the more traditional story. As a beginning and finale it serves its purpose tidily.

Without doubt it’s a stunning production, from the tree emerging from the mother’s tomb, to the suggestion of regal status by the use of rust-hued pillars and a fussy sofa. Cinderella’s ballgown shimmers with its vertical wheat-like strands matches the billowing scarf-like train as she rides on the wheels of her gallant fates.

I enjoy stage business when it provokes a smile and is appropriate to the action. The global trek changed: three princesses come to conquer in a broadened riff of Swan Lake. Mother Hortensia’s inebriation rated a chuckle or two, and the nastier of the two sisters made appeared in a garmentless hoop with an overnight suitor quickly departing with drooping suspenders. (How could he have reached her?) The candidates to fit the slipper paraded and departed on a row of chairs, any remaining hastened by a functionary in glinting medieval armor; the chairs gradually lurched their way upwards before the final shoe fitting.

Clearly those excellent dancing Fates were employed to emphasize the magical crucial moments; however, the story’s message is strong enough to dispense with their services. When Cinderella retrieves her slipper from the sequestered fireplace niche, she is lifted. Granted, the lodging was high enough to require some assistance; but did it need to be that high in the first place? The interplay between Chung and Karapetyan was sufficiently strong to convey special recognition, a felicity that grew between them throughout the performance.

Would I want to see it again? Sure. I would hope for an unexpected encounter with Elaine Connell, former Asian Art Museum Commissioner and one time seventh grade school teacher in San Francisco who said her class nick-named her Blanca Brujo. Her friend Nancy Zacker regaled us with references to her relatives living in pre Gold Rush Sutter’s Fort. At intermission I was introduced to Don Blateman and his wife Emerald. Blateman was responsible for the inspiring documentary on the three Berkeley housewives/mothers who pioneered saving San Francisco Bay. It was a few hours of evenly balanced fantasy, memoir and social vision.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Extravagant Story Ballets

17 Jul

Early in May I saw two performances of the San Francisco. Ballet-Het National Ballet production of Cinderella; and on film his earlier creation for The Royal Ballet, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at a 10 a.m. Sunday showing at San Francisco’s Vogue Theater, Sacramento near Presidio.  The screening rated a brief appearance by Christopher Wheeldon, here for the U.S. premiere of Ms. Miserable transformed to Mme Majestic.

I don’t have the roster of production personnel and designers  for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,, but both say a great deal about Wheeldon’s thoroughness and collaboration.  Given the allotted fiscal resources, he scattered the commission funds adroitly and gave both companies and their audiences a ballet  for the memory books and box office receipts. Wheeldon’s employment of  technical advances for stage productions since 1929 when Serge Diaghilev died would have that impresario repeat  his famous edict “Etonne moi!”

I probably shouldn’t mix the two productions, but sentimental reasons are afloat, namely two different USA IBC competitions in Jackson, Mississippi when the Royal Ballet principals Sarah Lamb and Zenaida Yanowsky were handed senior silver and junior gold respectively, Lamb in 2002 and Yanowsky in 1994.  In the special ambiance characterizing Jackson’s ambiance, one acquires a special attachment with the young artists staying the course of climate, adjustments and pressure to emerge with their talents recognized and careers enhanced.

Okay, back to Cinderella.  Wheeldon invited Craig Lucas to fashion the story-line.  The old-fashioned word is librettist; I’ve also heard the word dramaturge.  Taking pieces from Perrault, the brothers Grimm; as Aimee T’sao mentioned in her dancetabs review, the opera  La Perichole, Lucas provides a snippet of Cinderella’s mother and father, the mother dying of consumption, a visit to the tombstone and the emergence of a tree from the gravestone.  Adroitly using children, the girl Cinderella is replaced by the young woman in a filmy dress of blue which needed sleeves present in other versions. At the tombstone/tree the father arrives with Stepmother Hortensia and stepsisters Edwina and Clementine; there Hortensia’s bouquet is offered, thrown to the ground, offered again and reluctantly accepted.

Cut to the Palace, represented by three handsome rust-colored pillars,  Prince Guillaume and friend Benjamin play with wooden swords and destabilize Madame Mansard the dancing mistress.  King Albert and Queen Charlotte as well as master valet Alfred try to control the two frolicking boys with comparatively little effect. No one really seems to mind.

Time passes and the King shows the Prince portraits of potential royal brides: reaction,  dislike.  Required to deliver invitations in person, the Prince and Benjamin swap garments so the royal has a chance to assess necessity and his choices.

Next, Cinderella is seen in her domestic setting, assisted by four masked men  serving as Fates.  The two sisters are sketched further, too little to establish Clementine’s kind impulses, plenty to establish Edwina’s narcissism, less her halitosis, Hortensia’s step-mother’s nastiness, the father’s interrupted attempts at tenderness.

Into this domestic dragnet, Cinderella, out of kindness, perhaps diversion which might net some responsiveness, brings the prince in disguise.  Mayhem, of course, is directed at the would-be derelict until Benjamin’s arrival with invitations; an acknowledgment to the fire huddling humanity, tempers Hortensia.  That humanity tries to console Cinderella, and she yields briefly, with a flare of pride, he is shooed out the door.

Excised are  the shuffling god-mother in disguise, the dance master, the wig makers and the dress-maker, replaced with the antics of the three women, Benjamin disguised as the prince, followed by the three preening, and Hortensia’s waving the fourth invitation before tossing it into the fire.  The disconsolate Cinderella is spared by the four fates lifting her, as the kitchen banishes, bearing her to her mother’s tree where the four seasons with double qualities dance for her; Spring/Lightness; Summer/Generosity; Autumn/Mystery; Winter/Fluidity [the latter is a mystery to me, unless it signifies rain instead of snow and ice]; she joins them in the finale.

The seasons then join, cluster and dance while Cinderella makes a costume change to a golden dress with wheat-like tendrils cascading from the bodice and a golden mask, behind her  a diaphanous golden cape.  The fates and four masked attendants lift her; horses heads appear, the Fates grasp four wheels, the spokes green branches and our heroine is raised, cape billowing,
evoking Audrey Hepburn declaring “Take my picture” near the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Curtain!

Act II brings us Princesses from Russia, Spain and Bali with an orthodox priest diplomat in red, a Velasquez courtier with exaggerated wig and Indian woman with head shawl and covering jacket, all quite amusing with the Balinese princess sporting malevolent talons and luxuriant pantaloons, the Russian princess with outsized headgear and the Spanish candidate more like a
refugee from Lilias Pasta’s tavern.  All very funny, if the parody in some instances is questionable. Colonialism or ethnocentricity will rear collective  heads. Prince Guillaume is understandably put off by all three, much to King Albert’s frustration.  I think Queen Charlotte is relieved.

The two step sisters make their unfortunate attempts, but Benjamin provides Clementine with an alternative while Hortensia proceeds to sloshdom with champagne.  Father has borne heaps of wraps and pursues Hortensia’s quest for yet another glass. The music shimmers, the crowd parts, Cinderella enters and Prince Guillaume is dazzled, the walls disappear along with the crowd and the starry night provides the background for the pas de deux.

The two casts,  opening and the following Tuesday, were:

Friday:                                                                  Tuesday:
Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada               Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan
Benjamin: Taras Domitro                                Benjamin: Hansuke Yamamoto
Cinderella’s Father: Damian Smith               Cinderella’s Father: Reuben Martin-Cintas
Cinderella’s Mother: Dana Genshaft             Cinderella’s Mother: Charlene Cohen
King Albert: Ricardo Bustamonte                  King Albert: Val Caniparoli
Queen Charlotte:Anita Paciotti                       Queen Charlotte: Anita Paciotti
Alfred, Benjamin’s Father: Val Caniparoli   Alfred, Benjamin’s Father Sebastian Vinet
Madame Mansard: Pascale Le Roy                Madame Mansard: Katita Waldo

Stepmother Hortensia: Kata Waldo              Stepmother Hortensia: Shannon Rugani
Stepsister Edwina: Sarah Van Patten           Stepsister Edwina: Dana Genshaft
Stepsister Clementine: Frances Chung        Stepsister: Clara Blanco

At the San Francisco premiere, I found most everything dazzling, but felt Boada somewhat doughy as the Prince.  Waldo etched a sharp Stepmother, Van Patten rather dotty as one stepsister – the halitosis wasn’t so noticeable as it was on Tuesday night, and Chung was a bit subdued as the sister who manages to captivate Benjamin, danced insouciantly by Taras Domitro.  Both Bustamonte and Caniparoli were suitably grandiose as well as genial as the King, and no one tops Anita Paciotti for regal charm as a Queen.

Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan provided an ideal pairing on the Tuesday evening I saw them, clearly filling the romantic element of their respective roles.  The Rugani/Genshaft and Blanco trio of step relatives in size and temperament seemed more cohesive while Yamamoto and Domitro vied for aerial brio.

I forgot to mention  the touching part when Cinderella arrives home, stashes the slipper in a niche in the chimney before the parade of chairs descends from the ceiling to provide the candidates with a place for attempting to fit the shoe size.  The potentials includes the fanciful creatures from Cinderella’s transformation scene.  When it is over, the chair are heisted into the flys with a wonderful uneven line.

I’ve seen Kudelka’s Cinderella, as well as the earlier Christensen-Smuin and Stevenson versions where the latter two use men as the stepsisters.  These productions tended to hew to the musical development more routinely.  There were times when I found myself wondering how that section of the music matched what I was seeing.  In the lengthy, triumphant pas de deux, the lifts were so frequent that their prevalence made for anti-climatic sensations, despite pristine partnering and the beautiful display of musical ballerinas.  Unlike less costumed ballets Wheeldon has created for San Francisco Ballet, these two views made me wonder if he himself had been dazzled by the sumptuous and splendor of the production designed and costumed by Julian Crouch, Natasha Katz’ lighting design and the magic Basil Twist conceived with the tree and the carriage.  Succumbing to the collaborative opulence would be entirely understandable.

Tiit Helimets helps Estonia Stage June 28-30 San Francisco Festival

5 Jun

San Francisco Ballet dancers usually get a month’s vacation in June, although some times touring individually, collectively or guest performances can fill in the thirty days.  In 2010, Tiit Helimets took an ensemble of ten dancers to Taillin and Tartu, the two principal cities in Estonia. Helimets’ venture had commenced through contacts made during a guest appearance as Albrecht in Ballet San Jose’s 2010 production of Giselle.

The ensemble included Val Caniparoli whose ballet Ibsen’s House to Anton Dvorak music was included in the program; recording this Eastern Odyssey on video was Quinn Wharton, then an SFB corps member, now with Hubbard Street Dance Theater. The video funding was raised through an appeal on Kickstarter, proposal crafted by Terri McCollum, best known for Odette’s Ordeal; it was nicely over subscribed.  The trip included a manager, a massage therapist with Katita Waldo as ballet mistress.

Eastern Odyssey was initially premiered at the Vogue Theatre, San Francisco.  What has happened to it since I’m not sure. But the success of the venture launched Tiit Helimets’ desire and efforts to bring an Estonian ballet ensemble to San Francisco; the end of June will see that realization.

The Festival will be ticketed for all but the June 30 Yerba Buena Gardens Dance Festival.

For tickets, the link is: http://estonianculturefestival.eventbrite.com/s.

Tickets will include entrance to a June 28 12-3 p.m. stage rehearsal at the Palace of Fine Arts with a Q&A by Tiit Helimets;  he is managing the event.

Friday. June 28.  An expo follows 5:00-7:00 p.m., a performance from 7:00-10:00 p.m. With the Estonian National Ballet and guests.

Saturday, June 29 will be marked by a Song Festival at Calvary Presbyterian Church, Fillmore and Jackson Streets, San Francisco, 2-5 p.m.

The final event at Yerba Buena Gardens 12:30-3 p.m. Sunday, June 30 should be open to the public.

Ticket costs and privileges are explained on the website.

For the Friday performance, Helimets has choreographed Time to music by Paula Matthusen, a music professor in electroacoustic and acoustic music at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Estonian ballet mistress Marina Kesler has created Othello to the music of Arvo Part.  In between the two works actress Hanna-Liina Vosa and pianist Andrus Nahkur, distinguished Estonian artists, will appear.  Forty young Estonians, 15-25, members of the Estonian Youth Wind Orchestra will open the program.

The Estonian dancers coming number eleven, five of them soloists, six corps de ballet members. One soloist hails from Russia;  Moldova,  Japan and England are represented in the corps.  The full company numbers 56 under the direction of Thomas Edur whose career with his wife, Agnes Oaks, was principally with the English National Ballet, 1990-2009.

Both Edur and Oaks competed in the USA IBC in Jackson in 1990, where they were cited as the best Senior couple. Edur was also awarded a bronze medal.  They were identified as best couple by the  London Critics Circle in 2002; in 2010 both Edur and Oaks were made Commanders of the British Empire [CBE] by Queen Elizabeth II. Edur was named as the best male dancer in  the 2004 Laurence Olivier citation.

I culled the following from the Web. The Estonian National Ballet began in 1914 when two Russians, Nina Smirnova and Robert Rood, appeared at the Estonian National Opera.  A salaried troupe was started in 1918 and gave independent performances 1919-1920. In 1922, Viktoria Kreger of the Moscow Great Theatre staged Coppelia dancing the role. Rahel Olbrei, one of the ensemble, assumed leadership of the ensemble in 1926,  expanding her ballet training with study under Mary Wigman and Rudolf Laban; left in 1944 due to World War II pressures.  Anna Ekstrom, leading the company from 1944-1951, established the Estonian National School in 1946, which teaches Vaganova technique.

Subsequently The Estonian company had three artistic directors prior to Edur. He assumed a  company where dancers sign contracts with the government and once hired, cannot be fired.  The contract is year round;  after twenty years, they are eligible for a pension.  Corps members are utilized in operas and musicals; soloists appear only in ballets and the artists enjoy roughly two months of vacation in the summer.

Eastern Odyssey, a film by Quinn Wharton

20 Apr

This mostly interesting film received its visual premiere Monday night, April 16, at the Vogue Theatre, Sacramento Street near Presidio in San Francisco;  it covers the two performance appearance June 2011 in Tiit Helimets’ native Estonia with a company he assembled from San Francisco Ballet, Ballet San Jose and Milwaukee Ballet. The presentation was facilitated by Deborah du Bouwy, the force behind the dance documentary series, Words on Dance.

Obviously a work of dedication and affection, it suffers from some technical difficulties and the filmmaker’s “inside” view; he’s a member of San Francisco Ballet. It does emphasize Helimets narrating how his dream received its chance to be realized and commenting on his necessary shift in focus from  self- centered artist to leader responsible for the direction and execution of the ensemble’s brief tour.

One of the most obvious problems was the use of white print for explanatory passages; fine when the background was sufficiently dark, but maddening when light or pastel shades tended to wash out the text.  Another was the uneven nature of the musical score when the sound frequently overwhelmed the visuals, instead of underscoring the action.  This is something  a better sound mix can adjust.

Almost before we see Tiit Helimets interviewed about the genesis of the project we are confronted with backstage images which ultimately seem to have nothing to do with the tour. Wharton later mentioned he had been influenced by some catchy commercials.  We listen to Helimets’ describing the genesis of the film and are introduced to the dancers and the four supporting players. Besides Helimets, the San Francisco dancers were Frances Chung, Nicole Cioppini,  Daniel Deivison-Oliveira,  Sasha de Sola, James Sofranko, Sarah Van Patten; Ballet San Jose dancers Jeremy Kovitch and Alexsandra Meijer; from Milwaukee Ballet  Julianne Kepley and Joshua Reynolds.  Val Caniparoli was the choreographer; his ballet Ibsen Suite was part of the repertoire.  Katita Waldo was ballet mistress, Dan McGary company manager, Jane Green stage manager, Michael Leslie physical therapist.  The entire roster was clearly and nicely identified.

From what I glimpsed Balanchine’s Apollo, Tarantella, and Le Corsaire were on the repertory roster in addition to Ibsen Suite; what else was rehearsed or performed was not easily determined, nor did we enjoy strains of the appropriate music. The program sequence, presumably the same in both cities where the ensemble performed, was not clarified, footage shifting forward and back in kaleidoscopic fashion.

It might have been a salient addition to include more of Helimets as Apollo with his three Muses;  if the role switches actually occurred this needed  to be clear.

Pre-performance rituals, makeup, toe shoe lineup, hair arrangement , warm up, along with muscular mishaps helped to create the atmosphere of tension caused by the unexpected. Helimets’ cool under fire was nicely depicted, as well as his incredibly straight back and pointed feet.

The initial rehearsal venue, one of the major studios of Ballet San Jose, could have been identified.   The Amsterdam airport was prominent as the transfer point for the plane to Tallin, Estonia, part of the most engaging footage in the documentary.  Wharton lingered on this transition, catching qualities of the dancers admirably. Understandably, clinking of beer glasses played their role, and one or two clowning sequences of the ensemble on narrow cobblestone streets.

In the Q & A following the showing, presided over by Garen Scribner, Katita Waldo gave observations which could have been touched upon in the film. (She’s a woman for all seasons.) One was the quality of Tallin’s historic center as one of Europe’s  best preserved medieval cities.  The other involved the differing operation of a small ensemble from a large company relating to costume maintenance.

Tiit Helimets provided valuable information when he disclosed using San Francisco Ballet tour organization format as a model: information, tour guide, ticketing, etc. Inclusion of this information would be salient; in one or two instances we got  a glimpse but no explanation.

Wharton mentioned his problem with the cost of music rights with popular songs used in the documentary’s current form.  The music supplied by his friend seemed far more adequate than the distracting tunes several decibels too loud.

Whether or not Wharton decides to revise the current documentary, carved out of seventy hours of videotape, Eastern Odyssey is an admirable first effort. A lot  depends on where he wishes to take his footage. Seeking an outsider’s view and plotting out his editing with the aid or a story board, will advance   Wharton’s  admirable dance doumcentary debut considerably.