Tag Archives: Lauren Jonas

Diablo Ballet’s 22nd Season November 14

23 Nov

Plucky Diablo Ballet acquired a new venue last year with the 400-seat Del Valle Theater, which I understand is a former school site. A walker dependent on public transportation like myself, Contra Costa County has a bus system but the hours are not solicitous to theatre goers. I am lucky to have friends like Richard and Elizabeth Sah to pick me up at BART. Richard, a balletomane of three decades plus, has served on the  Diablo Board for several years.

A good portion of Diablo Ballet’s pluck emanates form Lauren Jonas, the artistic director, backed by Erika Johnson, a former dancer like Lauren and now in charge of development. Both are alumna of Marin Ballet in one of its most productive periods, a time they shared with Joanna Berman who serves as Diablo Ballet’s regisseur.

While the company’s season is short, three or four weekends a year at most, the community outreach has been steady; the company members are accessible after performances to chat with audience members who linger over coffee, tea and batches of cookies baked by steady supporters. This year has seen the start of a Teen Board, meeting monthly to plan its own brand of community involvement. Clearly, Diablo Ballet, now in its 22nd season, is a genuine, small scale community ballet ensemble and promises to continue flourishing.

Three works comprised the program, starting with Norbert Vesak’s Tchaikovsky Dances Pas de Deux, premiered in 1982 by Cynthia Gregory and Fernando Bujones in Miami June 2, 1982. Staged here by Joanna Berman the Robert Clay de la Rose, the Diablo dancers were Amanda Aeris and Raymond Tilton.

The wide Del Valle Theatre is a definite improvement over the previous Shadelands construction, and one can see how well suited it was for school assemblies. The Vesak stage patterns suggested a deeper stage and more atmospheric lighting . The assignments evoked the long lines of Bujones and Gregoru’s particular stage savvy.  I would rather have seen Diablo’s dancers in tights than in the adapted Empire and bonhommie costume worn by the dancers; I think they would have been more comfortable. The pair danced nicely, but could improve on the transitions of a piece which emphasized line and pauses.

The second piece, AnOther, to Yann Tiersen music was choreographed by Robert Dekkers, Diablo Ballet’s choreographer-in- residence and a company dancer currently sidelined for medical reasons. Premiered in 2008 in Tempe, Arizona, it entered the Diablo Ballet repertoire in January 2014 when Diablo Ballet performed at Shadelands’ Art Center in Walnut Creek.

To semi-lyrical, repetitive music, eight dancers commence in silhouette, lighting amber to café au lait tones, accenting bodies and position changes. Eight dancvers were involved: Tatyana Martyanova, Jackie McConnell, Roselyn Ramirez, Mayo Sugano, Aidan de Young, Jamar Goodman, Raymond Tilton, Christian Squires.

I need to see the work again to comment further.

One of the constant features in a Diablo program is at least one number is danced to live music. After intermission, Sean Kelly’s A Swingin’ Holiday, was danced as its 2015 Edition. The swing sounds were provided by the Diablo Ballet Swing Orchestra, directed by Greg Sudmeier, a sixteen piece orchestra comprising saxaphone, trumpets, trombones, piano, bass and of course drums. Three dancers cavorted down the left aisle, a girl with a pink pom-pom bobbing on a stem attached to a blue Jackie-type hat,  her short blue dress an attitude to match, flanked by Jamar Goodman in a generous yellow zoot suit to her right and a similar suit in red on her left worn by Aidan de Young, who later danced up a storm in a solo combining technical virtuosity and jazzy acuity. The stage was set with table, chairs and the ensemble played out their entrances, encounters and flirtations with ease and energy.

A Swingin Holiday cannot be classified as a deathless perennial by any stretch of the imagination, but the dancers did well by it and it served as a cheery ending

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Diablo Ballet’s Twenty-First Gala, March 26

6 Apr

At the Lesher Center for the Arts March 26 Diablo Ballet danced its 21st anniversary performance before supporters and dancers retired to Scott’s Garden for a gathering which garnered Contra Costa County’s oldest ballet ensemble with more than $50,000.

I don’t normally participate in such fiscal enterprises, but thanks to transportation arrangements with Richard and Elizabeth Green Sah, I enjoyed a Miller of Dee exposure. In the process I reconnected with poet Gary Soto and his wife Carolyn, with whom I shared a publishing series of classes at U.C. Extension with the late Jean Louis Brindamour, Ph.D. Missing them from the company’s roster I learned that Hiromi Yamasaki and Maya Sugano have each recently given birth to daughters.

Starting at 6:30, the 21st program featured three revivals or reconstructions, two pieces created by current company dancers and one series of images titled Aeterna XXI, following each other with just a short pause.

David Fonnegra’s piece, a pas de deux to Felix Mendelssohn’s “Song Without Words” was danced by Tetyana Martyanova and Fonnegra. Martyanova’s credits were listed as companies in Odessa, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and Tania Perez-Salas Compania de Danza. I found her costume, a long black tunic with slits disconcerting; despite several slits, the length interfered; – just when a phrase reached its completion, there was this distracting black strip, making Fonnegra’s partnering seem labored, distorting line.

A second choice of Mendelssohn was made by Robert Dekkers, performed by Janet Witharm, Cello; Philip Santos, Violin and Aaron Pike, piano. Under the titleSee Saw seven dancers participated in a semi-abstract classical one act. Dekkers is skillful, adept in movement choices, save one noticeable blooper; to fill musical phrases when the strings engaged in extended arabesques. Dekker required the dancers to wave their fingers with a slight flop to the palm, appearing tacked on and extraneous.

Opening the program was the Balanchine pas de deux from Apollo where he and Terpsichore connect, danced by Christian Squires and Sandrine Cassini, a French contribution. Both small, compact, they were well suited to each other, but the snippet was all too short.

Joanna Berman restaged Hamlet and Ophelia, the pas de deux Val Caniparoli created for Berman in 1985 early in her San Francisco Ballet career to Bohuslav Martinu’s music. Dedicated to Lew Christensen’s memory, the work makes much of a lengthy cloak which Hamlet (Squires) wears as he makes his way from upstage left to downstage right. Ophelia flutters around and is strong armed once by Hamlet in a menacing pas de deux. Clearly a teen-ager who hasn’t much of a clue, the bourrees and port de bras, like chicken wings. clue the audience to the inevitable. Christian Squires did double duty as Hamlet with Amanda Harris as Ophelia. After left alone in desperate state, Ophelia witnesses Hamlet retrace his steps with the black cape, leaving it a black river upon which she fatally steps; as she bourrees on it towards stage center, the cloak begins to ripple and turn blue; curtain.

Kelly Teo departed Diablo Ballet nearly a decade ago; Lauren Jonas and Erika Johnson restaged Incitations, the tight little ballet he created to the music of Astor Piazolla in 1997 for two couples, here Martyanova with Derek Sakakura, Rosselyn Ramirez and Justin VanWeest. The quartet performed it with a verve befitting the well-remembered zest of its creator, now a hotelier in Shanghai.

Diablo Ballet’s Three Premieres November 17

22 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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