Tag Archives: Lew Christensen

2016 at Stern Grove: San Francisco Ballet

3 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

San Francisco Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet on Film

24 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

A New Year’s Tidbit

15 Jan

Not long ago John King who writes on architecture for The San Francisco Chronicle wrote a feature on the manager of the retrofitting of San Francisco’s Veterans’ Building, sitting side by side with San Francisco’s Opera House, with San Francisco’s City Hall on the opposite side of Van Ness Avenue.

Between these two monuments, gloriously subscribed to commemorate the American veterans of World War I, is an oval stretch of green with English plane trees and brick walkways. On warm, sunny days while San Francisco Ballet is having its season, dancers lounge, eat, read and hang out on the ledges around the oval.

Brooke Byrne’s mother mentioned to me that a handful of earth from each European cemetery filled with World War I American soldiers’ remains are part of the soil sustaining the lawn.

I have several memories of dance performances at the Veterans/Herbst Theatre – not only the decade of San Francisco Bay Area Rhythm Exchange in late August, but ones earlier – The Jose Limon Company when it was presented in San Francisco by Spencer Barefoot.

The Joffrey Company appeared just before an alliance was reached with Rebekah Harkness. John Wilson and Brunhilde Ruiz were still in the company and John sang for some Western-type hoe-down finale.

I remember vividly when Lew Christensen’s Con Amore was premiered; Sally Bailey was Queen of the Amazons, Leon Danilian as guest artist the Thief, Nancy Johnson, the flirty wife, Leon Kalimos the husband, Carlos Carvajal, the sailor and I think young Roderick Drew the student with Virginia Johnson as Cupid. The antics in the Amazon camp were danced to the overture of Rossini’s Thieving Magpie.

Pacific Ballet under Allan Howard’s direction danced a number of its seasons there with a range of dancers, some already teaching, others later having substantial careers: Barbara Crockett, Sally Streets, Carolyn Goto, Grace Doty, Arleen Sugano, Kyra Nichols come to mind with Marc Wilde as one of the early choreographers.

The troupe of the Kerala Kalamandalum made its U.S. debut there under the auspices of the American Society for Eastern Arts.

Several sessions of Words on Dance were recorded there.

King’s feature prompted me to inquire what was going to happen to the artists dressing rooms in Herbst Hall. When the Herbst funds permitted a sprucing up of the auditorium, virtually nothing was done to the dressing rooms which were reached by a steep circular staircase, the rooms themselves small, the amenities scanty.

King recently responded to my query saying not only were the dressing rooms going to be remodeled, but they were going to be on the first floor!

Mirabile!

2014 USAIBC Round III, Session I, June 24, 2014

17 Aug

Row O is the last in the orchestra, now divided by a center aisle at Thalia Mara Auditorium in Jackson where the First Session of Round III commenced last night. Amy Brandt of Pointe Magazine, one-time Milwaukee Ballet member and dancer with Suzanne Farrell’s ensemble, sat beside me, just in from an extra wait at O’Hare in Chicago. On the aisle was Rhee Gold of Dance Studio Life.

Amy’s connection with me was Fiona Fuersner, one time San Francisco Ballet soloist and her brilliant dancing, so well remembered, in the third movement of Balanchine’s Symphony in C and Lew Christensen’s Divertissement d’Auber, again with Michael and the late Virginia Johnson. For Rhee Gold the ties are with Cheryl Osseola, the magazine’s editor, and Rita Felciano, dance critic for The San Francisco Bay Guardian.   The connections make for quick and pleasant.

As readers probably know, Round III requires two classical variations of soloists, and one classical pas de deux for couples in the two sections prior to the contemporary round. It makes for a long evening and a longer night for Claudia Shaw who assembled individual DVD disks for each competitor, in addition to producing a master for the USA IBC administration.

With thirty-one finalists, this session saw five juniors and five seniors; two of the latter in pas de deux. Three of the women elected this form. Blake Kessler,  and Steven Loch, chose the Act III male variation from Sleeping Beauty, with its opening pirouettes ending in a darting, low a la seconde, ending with a swift menage of turns. Kessler’s passé preparations could have been more defined.

Taiyu He chose the male variation from The Nutcracker, tidy, crisp, precise. So Jung Lee of Korea danced the almost cobwebby delicate Princess Aurora variation from Sleeping Beauty with correct and musical style, causing me to measure her taller formality to my indelible memory of Margot Fonteyn.

Mizuho Nagata, with Ogulcan Borova as non-competing partner dashed off the Le Corsaire pas de deux, Nagata choosing a flowing, knee-length blue chiffon garment. If I can embellish the word accurate with acute, Nagata demonstrated it, though her overall attack struck me as a trifle metallic.

Daniel Alejandro McCormick danced his own Nutcracker prince, his greater length providing a softer contrast to Taiyu He, an invariably fascinating diversion for the balletomane. Andile Ndlovu’s choice of the same variation was accomplished with definite nobility.

Steven Loch’s Prince’s costume shimmered with a ruff at the neck – a dashing figure. His tours seemed very rushed at upstage center, but the finish was elegant and stylish.

Shiori Kase of Japan essayed that holiday staple, The Sugar Plum Fairy variation – gracious, elegant and delicate of gesture., as close to spun sugar as a dancer can get.

After the first Intermission, Blake Kessler bared his chest in the male variation from Le Corsaire. His delivery was smooth, but demonstrated little emphasis.

Taiyu He and So Jung Lee split Victor Gvosky’s Grand Pas Classique between them. Both phrased the movements well, dancing clearly and without affectation. Lee delivered the battements en avant with steely calm, sending the audience roaring, but I ached for her toes on that supporting foot! She definitely aced it.

Daniel McCormick also bared his chest but as Acteon in Aggripina Vaganova’s famed Diana and Acteon pas de deux from Esmeralda. His multiple turns were clear, and he executed multiple turns with unforced panache.

In the second pas de deux of the evening, Arianna Martin danced Corsaire with Nayon Rangel Iovino. He approach again made me believe she was channeling Alicia Alonso, though I have seen Alonso in the role. My scribbled notes remark “good fouettes.

Andile Ndlovu chose the male variations from the Nutcracker’s grand pas de deux and the Acteon variation from the Diana and Acteon pas de deux in Esmeralda, phrasing well, quite elegant.

Steven Loch’s second variation was Solor’s from La Bayadere, a choice which reinforced his classical abilities, but gave little hint of his range. This was compensated by his own choreography in the contemporary section, Chained: My Struggle With Mental Illness, a prolonged essay of agony, fear and fight.

Irina Sapozhnikova, elected Le Corsaire, Medora and the Slave, with her non-ompeting partner, Joseph Phillips, where she was slightly crisp, well phrased and during fouettes, spun singles and doubles, executed to the four corners, staying more or less in one place through the challenge.

Shiori Kase’s second variation was also Medora’s variation, marked with a deep blue tutu, the skirt larger than normal, the tunic and skirt surface dusted with brilliants. Again, her musical phrasing was notable.

While I mentioned Loch’s contemporary solo, my memory fastened on Taiyu He’s Cupid, portrayed as quite the trickster, while So Jung Lee’s Prayer as evocative of the human will, persisting in the face of harrowing conditions, hers seeming to evoke the Korean War.

Daniel A. McCormick’s offering was choreographed by Parrish Maynard, one of San Francisco Ballet School’s instructors, and a former company principal. Titled Between The Lines, McCormick held a brick-like grey object which defined space; he held it, placed it on the stage, worked around it; at the end he held it once more.

Arianna Martin’s contemporary followed, choreographed by her non-competing partner Nayon Rangel Iovino, danced to Vivaldi music with the title of Inner Layer.  The choreography was an extended exercise in stretching and twining Martin clothed in what looked like grey practice trousers, and it seemed to occupy every second alotted to a contemporary entry.

Andile Dnlovu’s own choreography, Wandering Thought, certainly displayed versatility and seriousness of purpose. I did feel, like Loch’s essay, an earnest and  great personal investment in the performance, which have been assisted by an outside critical yet empathic eye.

Sapozhikova’s contemporary was titled La Manana de San Juan, choreographed by Pavel Glukhov. The Latin theme was reflected in the brown-patterned costumes, a fair amount of heel-toe and lateral emphasis in the choreography, and, as I remember, a sombrero. The tone was light, its execution clear and modest, as mild as Diego Pisador composed it.

Shiori Kase’s solo ending the evening was Moon Cry to the spare sounds of the bamboo flute, the  shakuhachi, choreographed by her coach Antonio Castilla, also ballet master for English National Ballet. She commenced on her knees in a short purple-hued kimono. Reticence, longing and despair flowed through the spare sound, ending, of course, in the same traditional posture, if in despair. It  was  a surprising delicact, an elegant end to Session I.

N.B.  this somehow never made it from Draft and Preview to Published Status.  My apologies to the competitors and any other individuals mentioned.

 

2014 USA IBC More on Round II Choreographic Selections

14 Jul

For the Press Briefing Monday morning, June 23 at Jackson’s Clarion Ledger, jury chair Edward Villella explained the raison d’etre for assigned choreographic selections seen during Round II’s three sessions. As artistic director of the Miami City Ballet, Villella came regularly to Round III and the Gala of prior Competitions; in some instances to Round II also, which up to and including 2010 this round was a choreographic free-for-all. The pieces were either choreographed by the contestants or created by their teachers. Even with restrictions when the works had been created, few, if any, contestants chose a work in company repertoires, although the 1979 Competition enjoyed a Lew Christensen solo from Scarlatti Portfolio, danced by David McNaughton, and possibly others from European repertoire. In subsequent years, some European contestants utilized dances created for other competitions to demonstrate interpretive versatility.

Villella stated he was not impressed by most Round II selections; well he might. In addition to cavorting to pop tunes, some costumes flirted with nudity, a foretaste of the shorts-wearing teen-age students attending this year’s International Ballet School; shorts frequently seemed to be the garment of choice at performances and some social functions usually considered somewhat formal. Though not quite a prude, the sessions made me wonder about the future of the art and the mind-set of some contestants. What a dichotomy when romantic tutus are in a ballet company’s standard repertoire!

Villella mentioned, when approached for the job of jury chair, he expressed his desire to see works by contemporary choreographers which would challenge the dancers, maintain technical skill and foster evidence of individual interpretation. Chosen for this task were works from Trey McIntyre for solos, two for the men, two for the women, one each in the junior and senior categories, two pas de deux by Michael Neenan for seniors and one for the juniors. The costumes also were specified, simple, undistracted by sequins or ruffles.
McIntyre’s choreography, one of the more off-beat of current choreographers, used excerpts from Bad Winter and Leatherwing Bat, which, not seeing the full ballet, says nothing about the charm of the music. Bad Winter employed a vintage-sounding vocal by Steven Tracy of “Pennies from Heaven” for junior women and the delightful Peter, Paul and Mary folk tune, “Leatherwing Bat” for the junior men.

For the senior males, McIntyre selected Book Trio music from Henry Cowell’s Book Trio “Four Combinations for Three Instruments and Trio in Nine Short Movements” under the title (serious.) The senior women got an excerpt from Robust American Love, “A Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” performed by Fleet Foxes.

Michael Neenan’s selections included a ‘Thirties style pas de deux from Penumbra to music by Alberto Ginastra, and a Switch Phase excerpt by “Café Tacuba” from Brooklyn Rider’s Passport album, a selection of angst and tension. The sole junior pas de deux, The Last Glass excerpt, Beirut’s “Un Dernier Verre” but sung in English was suitably gentler. `

Seen once, the choices allowed audience and jurors to assess the competitors’ interpretive abilities. Over the three sessions, this decision manifested wisely, the interpretative edge going to dancers familiar with American predilections for lyrics or dramatic tension. I remember most junior selections and the pas de deux, the senior women’s selection dimmer in my impression. Seniors numbered twenty-three, juniors twenty-one, with twelve senior pas de deux, only six for the juniors. Fifteen juniors danced solos, eleven seniors performed alone.

The Last Glass, the junior pas de deux, featured the girl frequently with her back to the audience, once or twice in broad a la seconde en pointe spider-like in movement, lifted, dancing pirouettes; in the end en pointe, back to the audience, right foot beating delicately on the calf of the supporting left leg, to convey, apparently, the fluttering response of reciprocated young love. Of the juniors, just two junior Brasilians, Yasmin Lamondo and Gustavo Carvalho, danced this pas together into the finalist category. Romina Contreras of Chile, with a senior partner, also made the cut from this pas de deux. The remaining junior males interpreted Leatherwing Bat and the junior women Bad Winter.

For Bad Winter the junior women were required to wear black trunks, a striped stretch tunic covered over by an exaggerated white jacket with wide lapels and lengthy tie-like closing. Standing stage center-back, the dancer started to edge forward foot parallel to the stage, three such movements before the reedy rendition began. The body moves to face back, arms raised to make an incomplete square; some not-quite pirouettes follow before the words “Pennies from Heaven” are heard. There is a jaunty salute and one starts to think “Charlie Chaplin” or “Danny Kaye” as the dancer rolls on the floor under the admonition of not being under a tree. There is another movement upstage, some demi-pointe pirouettes before the dancer lifts the white front tails above her head, falls on her back and lifts her feet as the lights are cut.

Likewise, in Leatherwing Bat, the young men had an elaborate jacket, multi-colored, perhaps the several-hued wings of a parrot, in white tights, lifted their arms like wings, moved the forearm sometimes like semi fores, head twitched bird like, sidewise body lunges, some technical bravura in service to the quirky, occasionally rhyming, bird specie litany, the slightly bouncy rhythm seeping into the pulse. It was one of McIntyre appealing folk themes, easy to appreciate, the men’s interpretive grasp equally clear.

(serious), the McIntyre selection for senior male soloists, combined precision of execution, unexpected gestures in unexpected postures with beautiful, classical movement erupting from the quirky sections. From upstage center, the dancer stood, extended their arms, inspected their hands bending forward, wrapping them around legs in a la seconde, head and body, apprehensive of being followed. The movement heads downstage right, crosses over to mid-stage right, small inflections interspersed with turns and semi-crouching steps. At the finale, the dancer falls to his knees, and falls between the curtains. Interpretation ranged from the totally precise of China’s Mengjun Chen to the controlled frenzy of Ivan Duarte from Brazil.

Matthew Neenan’s pas de deux were easily understood. After all, the two dancers need to react to each other; that necessity alone helps assessing interpretive strength. Combined with steps and music, it provides an accurate appraisal of range. The excerpt from Penumbra, danced by six couples, specified the women wear a floor-length skirt but allowed the women to choose, red, mauve, filmy tulle and uneven-length black. In contrast to Switch Phase, emotional controversy was comparatively minor, though the woman drags herself across the stage to grasp her partner’s legs toward the end, after having lain prone with the suggestion of completed love making. There was a spectacular lift and a startling head-first drop of the woman; in the end man and woman have embraced.

Switch Phase is stormy and the man gets as good as he gives; they turn, head touching head; there is one magical moment when the pair touch each other’s forefingers moving from hip to chest before going into other movements, signaling a cautious recognition of the other’s separate being requiring respect. After the lifts, or supported arabesques, there is upright, body-to-body contact and resolution. Phrasing again was the key to the effectiveness of each presentation. Melissa Gelfin, USA, and Arianna Martin, Cuba, gave distinguished interpretations as did Aaron Smyth.

These three sessions, replete with excitement; revealed the choreography as choices, physical forms of understanding over technical competence. The thirty-one finalists were the result.

N.B. The above was written during the Competition; the prior entry on Round II was written in San Francisco

USA IBC’S #10 Coming Up

17 Apr

The USA International Ballet Competition Number 10 is scheduled for June 14-28. It will be a first for Edward Villella as the jury chair, the final competition for Executive Director Sue Lobrano who has guided the Jackson, Mississippi event since the fall of 1986 when Karlen Bain relinquished direction because her husband’s job took him out of state.

This year 109 candidates have been invited from 21 countries; 48 juniors, ages 5-18, 61 seniors, ages 19-26. Sixty-one dancers are from the United States, eighteen from Japan and fourteen from Brazil.

Latin American juniors will represent Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru; People’s Republic of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea are sending competitors, plus South Africa and Switzerland. Amongst the seniors additional dancers are listed coming from Cuba, Colombia and Panama. Seniors are arriving from Australia, France, Poland and Portugal. Asia will be further represented by Mongolia and the Philippines, and from the Russian Federation add to the countries listed as sending junior hopefuls.

Among the senior competitors will be Mario Vitale Labrador, originally from Alameda, California, one-time dancer with Oakland Ballet who attended the Bolshoi Ballet Academy and upon graduation was given a soloist contract with the Mikhailovsky Theater in St. Petersburg. Labrador was awarded the George Zoritch Prize at the April Arabesque Competition in Perm, Russia. San Francisco Ballet School will be represented by Daniel McCormick, level seven, as a junior entry.

Determining who would be invited were Adam Sklute, artistic director, Ballet West; Virginia Johnson, artistic director, Dance Theatre of Harlem; Megaly Suarez, former teacher at Cuba’s National Ballet School, now artistic director, Florida Classical Ballet. The trio reviewed all tapes submitted by entrants, selecting 109 candidates. It’s also possible there will be last minute drop outs.

The jurors represent Australia, Canada, China, Georgia, Germany, Japan, Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, United Kingdom, and Spain and United States, Chair Edward Villella.

John Meehan, Dance Chair, Vassar College, represents Australia following a career with American Ballet Theatre; Andre Lewis, artistic director, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Canada; Feng Ying, artistic director, National Ballet of China; Nina Ananiashvili, artistic director,State Ballet of Georgia; Gigi Hyatt, deputy director, Hamburg Ballet School, Germany; Hideo Fukagawa, former principal, Munich State Opera Ballet, choreographer, Japan; Hae Shik Kim, founding director, Dance Conservatory, Korean National University of Arts; Ashley Wheater, artistic director, Joffrey Ballet, United Kingdom; Alexei Fadeechev, artistic director, Stars of the Russian Ballet Festival, Russian Federation; Trinidad Vives, former co-director Houston Ballet, Artistic Associate, Boston Ballet, Spain. John Meehan, Hideo Fukugawa and Hae Shik Kim have served previously as Jackson jurors.

It also should be noted Gigi Hyatt was junior gold medalist at Jackson in 1982; Nina Ananiashvili shared the 1986 Competition’s highest award, Prix de Jackson, with Andrus Liepa.

For anyone following ballet from Competition to Competition, jury, hosts, teachers comprise a who’s who in the international dance world, an intense brew with the competition rigors;an incredible sachedule of rehearsal space, production rehearsals, the steady progression of sessions. Round I starts the Sunday morning following the opening entry of the competitors bearing the flags of their respective countries. Jurors, teachers, host and hostess are introduced, the flame is lit to burn in front of Thalia Mara Auditorium throughout the two-week marathon of dance. The opening ceremony is completed by an invited dance company; this year it’s Complexions.

The Competition has carefully calibrated how many competitors it can handle within the length of any given slot in a program, starting with the juniors and progressing to seniors. The competitors have drawn numbers for order of appearance; sometimes a couple will have widely divergent numbers.Round I requires either two variations or a pas de deux by a couple, whether junior or senior; in some instances the partner will be non-competing. After Round I’s winnowing, the eliminated have the choice to remain as the competition’s guests, taking classes, and participating in a large ensemble presentation created by a choreographer to open the Gala. This practice was inaugurated by Dennis Nahat, active at several competitions.

Another gracious gesture by the Competition organizers, now for third or fourth time, are two evaluators. These two individuals take the jurors’ scores and comments and if competitors eliminated want to know, the evaluators will discuss the jurors’ comments with the dancer. The two this year are Ravenna Tucker, former Adeline Genee, Prix de Lausanne winner and Royal Ballet principal, now Associate Professor of Dance, Bellhaven University; William Starrett, Joffrey Ballet dancer, Bronze Medalist, Jackson, 1979; Artistic Director, Columbia City Ballet.

Round II, devoted to contemporary work, makes choreographers eligible for a prize. Some remarkable choreography has been displayed. I fondly remember Lew Christensen’s solo of Harlequin received a bronze medal in 1979, danced by David MacNaughton, awarded the senior men’s silver medal, the gold given to the late Lubomir Kafka, Czechoslovakia.

Round III means back to the classics; if precedent follows, another contemporary piece.For a soloist, it means two classical variations again and another contemporary piece. At the last two competitions each finalist was given a cash award of $1,000 from a fund established for that purpose by a Jackson devotee of dance.

Guiding the sessions will be Wes Chapman and Susan Jaffe, former principals with American Ballet Theatre, serving as host and hostess.

Finally, the International Ballet School Faculty is comprised of several returning instructors, and former Jackson competitors. Tatiana Tchernova, affiliated with the National Ballet of Canada returns as well as Rhoda Jorgenson, one-time dancer with American Ballet Theatre and The Metropolitan Opera Ballet Company, now with Maryland Youth Ballet; veteran teacher at the USAIBC Marcus Alford, once affiliated with Gus Giordano, Atlanta’s jazz master; he will be joined by Meaghan McHale. Contemporary dance is represented by Rachel Leonard and Ashley Walton, university graduates moving from classical training into modern work. Aside from Tchernova, ballet instruction will be given by David Kearny, one-time New York City Ballet member,joining Natalia Makarova’s Makarova and Company.

The two ballet teachers will be joined former former USAIBC competitors Ana Lobe, dancing with Jose Manuel Carreno in 1990. After Ivan Nagy invited her to join the English National Ballet, she danced briefly with Ballet Mississippi before Dennis Nahat engaged her for the Cleveland-San JOse Ballet Company. The second, Laurie Anderson, was Houston Ballet’s first African-American principal dancer, nurtured by Ben Stevenson, partnered by Carlos Acosta. Following a twenty-four year dancing career Anderson is active in Houston Ballet’s education arm, teaching ballet and conducting master classes.

One-time Joffrey dancer Lisa Slagle will be complete the ballet instructor list along with Jerry Opdenaker, former member of Pennsylvania and Kansas City Ballets, now resident in West Palm Beach. Slagle danced with the Tulsa Ballet before starting her own school in the Dallas area.

Along with heat, occasional thunderstorms, and all the incredible logistics, the 10th USA IBC is an exciting dance event to anticipate.

San Francisco Ballet Curtain Talk, April 11

14 Apr

San Francisco Ballet goes to considerable effort to inform its audience. Outreach is part of today’s tool for non-profit organizations to whet an appetite for its offerings, theatrical, symphonic, operatic, etc. San Francisco Ballet is following the precedent of dance in the schools it started back when Richard E. Le Blond, Jr. became the company’s President and CEO; he was charged in acquiring property for the company at the eastern edge of San Francisco Redevelopment Agency’s A-2 borders and across from the San Francisco Opera House.

Le Blond used Dance in the Schools as the vehicle, sending Ruthie Bossieux and later Crystal Mann out into the public schools of the A-2 area to expose the largely African-American school children to the refined delights of classical ballet and the challenge of moving to music, drumming and some form of organized pattern. Needless to report, it worked, handsomely, and the program became a permanent part of the company’s overall education agenda. Two of its earliest students, Ikolo Griffin and Chidosie Nyzerem trained at San Francisco Ballet School and entered the company as members of the corps de ballet. For whatever reason, neither was promoted to soloist status and both left for more fertile ground. Griffin became a principal with Dance Theatre of Harlem and then joined Joffrey Ballet when DTH folded. Returning to San Francisco, Griffin danced with Smuin Ballet, leaving the ensemble following Smuin’s death, San Francisco Opera, Oakland Ballet, Menlowe Ballet and has staged Nutcracker for regional companies. Chidosie looked abroad, returned to San Francisco, eventually dancing with Ballet auf Rhein in Dusseldorf, Germany.

The Dance in the Schools program became a permanent part of San Francisco Ballet when it hired Charles Chip McNeal in 1980. In addition to the various hosts for the 7 p.m. slot on various performance evenings featuring dancers, choreographers and technical personnel and visiting professionals, the program has a staff of three, utilizing four musicians and and three dancers. It’s an impressive outreach program to educate the public about dance and music’s role in dance.

April 11, Mary Ruud hosted a conversation with Concertmaster Roy Malan, a forty year veteran of a forty year old ballet orchestra. He is retiring at the end of the 2014 season. “I wanted to make it a round number,” he remarked in response to Mary’s comment of the curtain talk being “bittersweet,” before her queries and audience questions provided perspective on the delicate and extensive job comprising the post of a concertmaster. The conversation will be available on San Francisco Ballet’s pod cast.

“The company’s orchestra dates from Michael Smuin’s return to San Francisco from American Ballet Theatre. The orchestra was then a pick up company. Michael’s friend Alex Horvath told him he needed a permanent orchestra.” The orchestra was formed with Malan as the concertmaster and principal violinist.

Ruud asked Malan to describe the differences between playing in a symphony orchestra and a ballet orchestra. “The range of music played is more extensive than a regular orchestra. In symphony orchestras one usually plays once and goes home. A ballet orchestra will frequently play twice a day, and the variety within one program can be startling. I can remember playing three concerti in one program, Bruch, Glass and an Australian composer.” A further difference is aim: a ballet orchestra’s job is “to make the dancers look good.” In a symphony orchestra, “it is the music.”

As concertmaster, it is Malan’s responsibility to mark the strings according to the conductor’s desire, to confer with the conductor “how he wants the strings bowed” and to see they are bowed accordingly. “It’s not something you learn in conservatory, it’s a sixth sense you develop with the conductor. It’s what someone in the Boston Symphony Orchestra said, ‘You have to play what you hear from behind while leading,’ because the violinist in the back is not so close to the conductor and may not pick up quickly.”

Malan also mentioned that timing at the beginning of a performance is something else. “You don’t want the orchestra to stand up too early and obscure the conductor or too late so the audience doesn’t know to applaud.”

In response to Ruud’s question about the relationship of choreographer to music, Malan responded, “Lew Christensen never got in the way of music. He used to stop the dancers and make them listen, making them hear what he heard in the music.” He spoke of two other choreographers as having respect for the music: Mark Morris and John Neumeier.

When Ruud queried Malan regarding his personal background, he replied that he was born in South Africa; 15 he received a scholarship which took him to London. One of his first teachers was Yehuda Menuhin who suggested that he apply to Juilliard. He smiled slightly saying that he was in Ivan Galanian’s classes with Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zuckerman. He later studied at the Curtis Institute with Efram Zimbalist, and said that Zimbalist was the type of teacher he benefited from because of his prior training with Menuhin and Galanian.

Malan also mentioned it was the practice for new orchestra leaders to bring their own concert masters with them. When Denis de Couteau retired, the orchestra went to the musician’s union and had the stipulation written into contracts that the concertmaster remained the same and was not replaced by when there was a change in conductors, quite a compliment to Malan.

At one time the orchestra traveled with San Francisco Ballet; increasingly union regulations have contracts with other houses requiring the use of in house musicians, including soloists.

Malan was asked about his instrument. He left Curtis he used scholarship funds to purchase a French violin. He didn’t like it, selling it. He heard a violin he liked and learned it was made by a man named Arthur Smith in Australia. He spent some time in Sydney advertising and interviewing violinists who possessed a Smith. He eventually met one of Smith’s sons and met the violin maker about to retire. He took pity on Malan, sold him a violin which he has played ever since.

Asked retirement plans, Malan said, “Music for its own sake. I practice two hours a day. I also do yoga ninety minutes in the morning, so I have to get up at 4 a.m. to practice before coming to a ten o’clock rehearsal. I live in Santa Cruz; lately, I’ve been feeling the commute and there are always those times when I’m concerned whether I will make it.” Malan’s teaching at U.C. Santa Cruz has been limited to Mondays, his off day, and he looks towards stretching instruction out over the week. “I’ve been playing with a string quartet, participating in contemporary music concerts and leading a small orchestra at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Robin Sutherland and I have participated in the Telluride Festival for four decades.”

It won’t be long before Roy Malan will be so occupied with his active retirement he will wonder how he ever made it to work.