Tag Archives: Kurt Jooss

The Joffrey Ballet Returns to Zellerbach

5 Apr

The Joffrey Ballet, now under the artistic direction of Ashley Wheater, a former Joffrey Ballet member and lengthy veteran of San Francisco Ballet’s artistic staff, came to Zellerbach March 14 and 15. I saw the matinee on March 15, and have to say I left my glasses at home. The dancers therefore were not very distinct even sitting in Row G, but the music was loud, clear and, mostly lengthy.

The moves clearly impressed themselves on an enthusiastic audience, probably one of the most responsive and willing any theatrical or musical performer has the good luck to enjoy.

There were three ballets and a pas de deux, all from contemporary choreographers; two have strong ties with San Francisco Ballet; Val Caniparoli and Yuri Possokhov. It was canny of Wheater to include them in the local Joffrey appearance. I think he was determined to assert the historic Joffrey profile as being au courant as much as the Joffrey also demonstrates a sense of history with works like Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table. The Chicago repertoire includes Don Quixote;soon Christopher Wheeldon’s interpretation of Swan Lake,. No one can accuse the company of losing sight of or involvement with the classics. Robert Joffrey’s Nutcracker pointed the way as did the very early Conservitoriat of Auguste Bournonville..

Caniparoli’s piece,Incantations, concerned itself with introspection to a very long, arduous score by Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky; there was virtually no way the piece could be cut and remain coherent; Caniparoli
adhered to every phrase, allowing toes to point, legs to lift into attitudes and arabesques, smoothly partnered, reflected the lengthy employment of chimes. I am afraid my attention span wants to edit length.

Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili danced Yuri Possokhov’s Bells, set to Rachmaninoff’s Piano Sonata #2. Murkily lit, beautifully danced, there is
something magnetic when Possokhov’s reliance on Russian composers features two dancers trained in the current Russian teaching tradition who also are husband and wife. San Francisco Ballet possesses at least two such couples, They make clear legal intimacy elsewhere helps to foster a special innerness when dancing in a contemporary work without narrative. Someone remarked “They don’t show relationship.” My take was relationship was so strong obvious manifestations wasn’t needed.

Alexandre Ekman’s Episode 31 possessed a certain zaniness about it which echoed faintly some of the Arpino cheekiness, while still being very different. His screen images at the back, the rushings around the stage made me wonder whether it was his reflection of observing workaday life in Chicago. The Joffrey Ballet is housed in the heart of downtown Chicago, so bustle and the El are routinely present. Chicago dwellers must have loved it, recognizing the stop and start, the energy the dancers poured into the work.

As to Stanton Welch’s ballet to the music of John Adams, I remember little except the pleasure of seeing Rory Hohenstein providing a skillful, substantial contribution.

In Dancetabs.com Aimee T’sao expressed the hope that Cal Performances finds a way to give the Joffrey a yearly slot as it allows for the Ailey and Mark Morris ensembles. While I think it unlikely on a yearly basis, I endorse seeing them every other year. Berkeley was an important place in the Joffrey some forty years ago, thanks to the touring program the Dance Program of the NEA fostered for all too brief a time.

Arpino’s Trinity was premiered at the Zellerbach before the Joffrey began to be sponsored by the San Francisco Symphony whose musicians provided the music the Joffrey danced to. It all vanished when the Symphony moved into Davies Symphony Hall and the Opera and Ballet claimed San Francisco’s Opera House all for themselves. No more American Ballet Theatre in February; no more Joffrey Ballet in June; no more theatre space of 2,000-2,500 seats to entice companies to negotiate dates to appear anywhere West or South of San Francisco’s Embarcadero. Apparently, Mayor Ed Lee and others governing San Francisco’s 49 square miles, have no plans for such a theatre, easily accessed, with sufficient parking space to draw a crowd which loves something in addition to rock, hockey, baseball and football.

Still, I want to see Arpino’s Kettentanz again.

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Menlowe Ballet’s Fall Season, November 7, 2014

12 Nov

Now in its fifth season, Menlowe Ballet mounted its fall program November 8-9 and 15 at the splendid Menlo Park High School Auditorium. Titled Legend, I saw the afternoon program with its three ballets, two by artistic director Michael Lowe and one by guest choreographer Dennis Nahat.

Lowe created Plague in 2006 with a mixed score first seen in Anandha Ray’s Moving Dance ensemble tours in eastern Europe; Dennis Nahat mounted his Gounod-Verdi music based In Concert, premiered in 1977 and Lowe’s new work, Legend of the Seven Seas, utilized music from the Silk Road Ensemble, Melody of China, Mongolian, Aitain Ensemble and Jack Thorne. Thorne I suspect was responsible for merging the divergent sounds of the source scores into coherent musical support.

Lowe’s Plague, with sixteen dancers and its simple grey-toned costumes designed by Allison Porter and Christina Weiland, was created as an expression of hope in the midst of uncertainty, pain and helplessness. With a mixture of John Cage, John Dowland, Guillaume de Machaut, Arvo Part, Harry Partch, Christopher Tye and Hildegard Von Bingen, Plague reflected a mute, subdued reflection which might have emerged from Europe after World War I; its anguish never assaulted the viewer, never burst into overt agony. Rather it reminded me a little of Kurt Jooss and Trudi Schoop’s imagery minus the narrative. The death figure, Anton Pankevich, was assigned a stillness, a dignity, almost reluctance in his task. A former member of Ballet San Jose, Pankevich partnered well, his deportment and correctness emphasizing an almost ecclesatical approach to mortality.

Terrin McGee Kelly danced opposite Pankevitch, small, blonde and dressed in black; the fabric moved well, the style bare-shouldered with a plunging neckline allowed for easy lifts, turns and phrases danced to and from the floor. In this final pas de deux , however, Kelly signaled all too often what her next movement was going to be, and that was a pity. Her death struggle impressed me more with its choreographic intricacy the unusual choreographic achievement it signaled for Michael Lowe. Association with Ray clearly stretched his vision along with life experience.

The ensemble, their backs to the couple, was given some striking arm movements, like a clock’s minute arm, but down and up on opposite sides. Three women may have been affected by the plague, but I was unconvinced of the urgency, the imminent finality of life, though this intent was clear throughout the work.

In Concert,
with its pas de cinq finale to Gounod and Verdi ballet music and one luscious aria was created by Dennis Nahat in 1977 for Cleveland Ballet and danced by Cynthia Gregory among others. The dancers here were Aidan DeYoung, Brian Gephart, Demetria Schioldager, Megan Terry and Emily Kerr, stepping in for Jenna McClintock and sporting fetching costume designs by Christina Weiland. Included were an Entree and Finale and Coda for all five dancers, a Waltz, Gallop and Allegretto with a lively duet for de Young and Gephart, plus an effective Prelude danced by Demetria Schioldager. The dancers were on the mark, if I noticed areas of tension which diluted some of the effectiveness of this canny classical divertissement. It definitely provided a programmatic highlight.

I wish I could be as positive regarding Legend of the Seven Suns, the Mongolian-themed premiere by Michael Lowe, a favorite local choreographer. In this five-part work, however, the story was given only the slightest of narratives, resembling more an updated format so successful in Lowe’s Izzie Award-Winning Bamboo where there was no attempt to tell a story.

The three daughters of Emilej, the God of Fire, decked out in harem trousers and bras, movied with approximations of belly dancing – in Mongolia? Then there were the hunter and huntress, Erkhii and Eiluj, whose costumes strongly resembling tunics a la Daphnis and Chloe; in that windswept terrain covered with snow much of the year?

Of course animals figured in this nomadic environment, dressed in unitards of various colors sporting clever headdresses, the most recognizable being those of the Elk and his herd. For the backdrop there were six ovals, five of which apparently had to be vanquished, originally created by the conflict between Emilej and his harem-trousered daughters.

Clearly, I was puzzled by the proceedings though I figured out the general drift before reading the program notes following the final curtain. My take on the work is that Lowe wanted to create a work involving students, devising variations for individual dancers, honoring a culture fascinating him and telling one of its folk tales. The costumes alas fell short of meaningful adaptation, while Lowe’s choreography veered more to divertissement than drama. Hopefully, choreographer and costumer will take another look at their chosen material.

Menlowe Ballet has achieved competence in its ensemble; it enjoys an excellent venue for its performances, enjoying an admirable level of technical expertise. Hopefully, the spring performances, March 27-29,2015 will reinforce the progress achieved in these past five years.

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.

Ballet San Jose’s 2012-2013 Season

5 Sep

Ballet San Jose will start its 2012-2013 season with a new Nutcracker, choreographed by veteran company principal Karen Gabay, running December 8-22, 2012.  Sets will be designed by Paul Kelly and costumes by Theoni Aldredge.  Gabay has run a summer company, Pointe of Departure, for several seasons, and seen locally at the Mountain View Center for the Arts.

February 15-17, 2013 the company will premiere the Ludwig Minkus  musical romp, Don Quixote , staged by Wes Chapman, Ballet San Jose’s Artistic Advisor, based on the Marius Petipa-Alexander Gorsky choreography.

March 22-24, 2013 Sir Frederick Ashton’s Les Rendezvous, set to Francois Esprit Auber’s ,music, will receive its company premiere as well as the Jules Massenet’s Meditation from Thais,  created on Sir Anthony Dowell and Dame Antoinette Sibley when they were young principals with The Royal Ballet. Stanton Welch’s Clear to J.S. Bach music, will receive an
encore performance and there will be a revival of Kurt Jooss’ iconic anti-war ballet The Green Table, created in 1932, and instrumental in Jooss’ departure from Germany for England for the remainder of the ’30’s and through the World War II years.

The season will complete itself April 19-21, 2013 with some surprising inclusions of modernity.  These are Jorma Elo’s Glow-Stop set to the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Philip Glass and Merce Cunningham’s Duets, a six couple series of pas de deux performed to the music of John Cage. An additional pas de deux will be announced. Jessica Lang will be represented in a world premiere for the company, represented in the 2012 season with Splendid Isolation III.

Ballet San Jose also has announced a new music director and conductor.  George Daughterty comes with a 30-year record of conducting for the likes of Mikhail Baryshnikov, Rudolf Nureyev, Gelsey Kirkland, Suzanne Farrell and Natalia Makarova in addition to American Ballet Theatre, Munich’s State and La Scala Opera Ballets and The Royal Ballet.  He has been musical director for The Louisville Ballet, Chicago City Ballet and Ballet Chicago.  Guest conducting credits include San Francisco Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, and abroad with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, the Danish National and the Sydney Symphonies.  Nominated for five Emmy Awards, he was awarded a Primetime Emmy for the ABC Network production of Peter and the Wolf.

Company promotions and new members have previously been noted.

A Dancing Season for Cal Performances, 2012-2013

25 Apr

April 24 Cal Performances formally announced its 2012-2013 season which starts September 30 with the National Circus of China September 15-16.  Knowing a smidge about training for the performance arts in the PRC, the ensemble has had its share of dance training.

Cal Performances Free for All is scheduled for Sunday September 30 and will include Lily Cai’s  and Chitresh Das’ Dance Companies, Eth-Noh-Tec and Gamelan Sekar Jaya, as well as UCB’s Dance Department.

October 10-12 The Maryinsky Ballet and Orchestra will present Konstantin Sergeyev’s reconstruction of the Marius Petipa-Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky Swan Lake. [Good luck with the stage size!]

With choreography by Lucinda Childs, Robert Wilson and Philip Glass present Einstein on the Beach October 26-28, a West Coast Premiere.

The veteran act of Mummenschanz appears at Zellerbach Hall November 23-24.

December 14-23 The Mark Morris Dance Group will appear in The Hard Nut.

The 2013 dance offerings start January 26-27 with the Joffrey Ballet, featuring The Age of Innocence (2008) with choreography by Edwaard Liang, Christopher Wheeldon’s take on Arvo Part’s After the Rain (2005) amd Kurt Jooss’ iconic anti-war ballet from 1932 The Green Table.

February 1-2 Hubbard Street Dance Chicago was appear with Too Beaucoup (2011) choreographed by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar; Little Moral Jump (2012) with choreography by Alejandro Cerrudo and a very mixed score and as yet unnamed work by Alonzo King.

February 3 Kodo brings their Taiko ensemble to Zellerbach and their dance-like attack on the traditional Japanese drum.

Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca follow on February 8.

Trisha  Brown Dance Company dances a one-night stand March 15.

The dates for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will be April 23-26.

May 3-5 Les 7 Doigts de la Main Circus, Canada’s nouveau cirque troupe  brings its production of PSY.

May 10-11 Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg will bring Boris Eifman’s 2011 production of Rodin for its West Coast premiere.

If you aren’t already breathless, the 2012-2013 season dance component will complete itself with Bejart Ballet Lausanne May 15-16 with two programs: May 15 Bolero (1961) Bejart’s take on the Maurice Ravel music and Figures of Thought (2011) with music by Zakir Hussain and choreography by Alonzo King.   May 16 will be devoted to Bejart’s 1959 production of  Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Bejart’s Le marteau sans maitre (1973) to Pierre Boulez music.

I count these  events as fifteen.  Whew!  and Hooray!!!

Oh, if you consider Mark Morris as dance figure though in the guise of music director, he will bring the Ojai Festival north to Zellerbach June 11-13.

Other fascinating artists will appear, principally musicians.  Visit Cal Performances’ Website.

Documentary: Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance

19 Mar

Seeing this documentary March 18, the closing night of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, in the intimate setting the San Francisco Film Festival Theater on Post Street resurrected the intensity and immediacy seeing the Joffrey always evoked in me.  It’s a fine documentary, even when showing early ballets as later ones for thematic argument.

I saw the Joffrey when it first appeared in San Francisco at the old Veterans’ Auditorium and at the Commerce High School Auditorium, through their Stanford and U.C., Berkeley residencies and during its affiliation with the San Francisco Symphony.  Sitting next to Joanna Harris exchanging identities as the individuals appeared on the screen was like a special reunion.

Director Bob Hercules included  interviews of the original dancers in the station wagon for six touring the United States in a series of one-night stands: Francoise Martinet; Brunhilde Ruiz, then others who came shortly after: Paul Sutherland; Diane Consoer plus those from the in-between years and the brief affiliation with Rebekah Harness, principally Helgi Tomasson.  Two of the crop arriving during the rejuvenation of the company, Trinette Singleton and Charthel Arthur, speak with candor as do Christian Holder, Gary Cryst and Dermot Burke, all augmented by Sacha Anawalt whose history of the company is unsurpassed. The dancers especially are wonderfully animated.

Among the close associates speaking are Alex Ewing, an early executive director and son of American Ballet Theatre legend Lucia Chase, and Herbert Migdoll, for years the company’s official photographer. Now American Ballet Theatre artistic director Kevin McKenzie, a four-year company member, also provided salient observations.

Hercules has included not only early Joffrey pictures and an image of Mary Ann Wells, but photos of Jerry Arpino, and footage parallel to American history influencing choices of ballet subject matter, plus Joffrey’s famous revivals of Kurt Jooss’s  Green Table and Leonide Massine’s Parade.  These sections include footage of the choreographers themselves, and, with Leonide Massine, a glimpse of his directorial style.  Jerry Arpino provided wonderful commentary, his style peppering the memories of many interviewed.  A good perspective is provided by Anna Kisselgoff, former chief critic for the New York Times and Heidi Weiss, critic from Chicago.

There is an inaccuracy which I picked up on, an entirely understandable one.  I wish I  remembered the source, but it eludes me.  However,it comes from the late Jeannot Cerrone, who toured the Joffrey for Rebekah Harkness, then managed the Harkness Ballet for two years and ended his life managing Harid Conserevatory in Boca Raton, Florida.  He was credited as saying the following: the Internal Revenue Service was responsible for telling Mrs. Harkness that to continue to use ballet as a tax deduction she had to have a company bearing her name, instead of one with the Joffrey title.  Whether this statement is accurate can only be determined via written records, if such still exist.  It’s unlikely any dance historian wants to spend time on such minutiae.

The hour and twenty-seven minutes sped by, followed by a question and answer period featuring Helgi Tomasson, artistic director, San Francisco Ballet; Ashley Wheater, artistic director, The Joffrey Ballet; Tina le Blanc, former principal, San Francisco Ballet, now a member of the San Francisco Ballet School faculty; and Henry Berg, not only teaching but also working with San Francisco Ballet’s dancers getting back into shape after injury.

There is a DVD available for sale,  Buy it – it’s a history to cherish.