Tag Archives: Mario Alonso

Menlowe Ballet, November 15

17 Nov

Menlowe Ballet had what I counted as its fifth performance November 15 at the Menlo Park-Atherton High School Auditorium, a spacious stage, appreciably raked seats, with some futuristic qualities to its ceiling and lobby. Outside, a food truck allowed us to wolf several bites before the program began.

Artistic Director Michael Lowe once again invited an area choreographer to contribute to the program, titled Lineage. A wise move, it enabled dance lovers with memories to revisit choreography not current in any company’s repertoire. Last fall it was Betsy Erikson; the spring performance I did not see featured Viktor Kabanaiev; this fall season featured Ronn Guidi, Oakland Ballet’s founder with his Trois Gymnopedies to Erik Satie’s memorable, limpid composition, and the pas de deux in his reading of Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Lowe himself was featured in a reworked Serei and an extremely clever tribute to two versions of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, the Bronislava Nijinska and the Marc Wilde versions, mingled with his own inventive comments.

Before further comments, let me say the company has accomplished several strategic moves promising a healthy history: Lowe as choreographer, Sarah-Jane Measor as his associate with Julie Lowe as Ballet Mistress have formed a healthy trio and Lisa Shively as executive director. They have the Menlo Park facility as a home theatre; judging from last night’s attendance, a healthy and enthusiastic audience of dance lovers, parents and students. Measor’s direction of Menlo Park Academy of Dance assures a steady stream of students. Between her and Lowe’s invention their inclusion in choreographic offerings is not only stellar, but skillful.

Serei seemed to have been expanded since I first saw it in 2012. Again featuring a koto preface played by Mariko Ishikawa, it evokes the memory of an Asian woman reflecting on various aspects of past lives. I guess Mariko Takahashi’s skillful performance suspended on the silks was designed to convey an ability to see into her past lives, danced by Mariko Ishikawa, Lauren Mindel Julie Giordano, and later by Aurora Frey, Coreen Danaher, Emily Kerr and Megan Terry. Gregory de Santis proved to be an attentive partner, his samurai qualities gentler than the usual two-sword swashbuckling swagger. I was put off by the use of the shakuhachi to singularly strong, almost strident choreography. The shakuhachi was used for meditation and begging by Zen Buddhist monks, allowed for secular performance only with the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Aurora Frey and Damon Mahoney appeared in a glittery unitard appearance in the Kingdom of Koi; this seemed to my questionable memory to be an addition to the original choreography. But the use of the students and their formations spoke well of Measor’s abilities.

Trois Gymnopedies, staged by former Oakland Ballet principal Joy Gim, featured Coreen Danaher, Emily Kerr and Jacob Kreamer with the white unitard costumed by Mario Alonso. Ronn Guidi’s choreography spoke to the correctness of Enrico Cecchetti, particularly in the port de bras and phrasing. I would like to see all three dancer explore the flexibility of the torso, creating a fuller rubato between culminating postures to the musical phrase.

The balcony scene from Ronn Guidi’s Romeo and Juliet was staged by Abra Rudisell, herself a most memorable Juliet. Friday night’s Juliet, Terri McGee-Kelly was shy, introverted, minimally responsive to Gregory de Santis’ thoughtful, if adolescent ardent Romeo. McGee-Kelly’s shoulders and upper torso were simply mute to love’s surging emotion, though Guidi’s choreography depicted those incredibly precious movements with sensitivity and understanding.

Tribute, Michael Lowe’s incorporation to two interpretations of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, was an amazing “kitchen sink” inclusion of styles and habits managing to work to that relentless score, played by musicians Angelo Bundini, Philip Brezina, Allison Lovejoy, Tarik Ragib , Rob Reich, Paul Stinson and Carolyn Walter. Ronn Guidi later remarked that Lowe caught the essence of both Nijinska and Wilde in addition to Lowe’s own comments. These additions included sauntering, gymnastics [Lowe trained as one], floor stretches, groupings, pitos [finger snaps] swiveling hips, solo variations. Something happened concurrently all over the stage, bare except for the circular table [Nijinska] and barre [Wilde], bringing the evening a rousing finale.

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Peninsula Ballet Theatre’s Dracula, October 26

14 Nov

The refurbished Fox Theater in Redwood City provides a lush movie heyday atmosphere, even though half the orchestra seats have been removed to provide a more multi-use venue. It  has the advantage of enough height so that it can fly scenery, making for real theater.

The Fox has become Peninsula Ballet Theatre (PBT)’s resident theater, organized originally  by modern dancer Richard Ford and ballet teacher Richard Gibson in 1967.  Gibson trained Kristine Elliott and Kenny Delmar among other serious dancers. Both Richards went on to other dance-related activities and both company and school was guided for some time by the late Ann Copozzi Bena and her daughter Rosine. The latter is now artistic director of the Sierra Nevada Ballet in Reno, and a certified teacher in the ABT curriculum.

A brief number of seasons ensued before Carlos Carvajal settled in for a nine-year run as artistic director utilizing competent dancers from a variety of schools for the annual ‘Nutcracker’ and a few programs of Carvajal ballets. Carvajal was responsible for engaging Chris Christensen as music conductor of “Nutcracker.” The production was distinctive because  local adult  individuals performed in the First Act, honing their roles through the years with remarkable skill. Carvajal added wonderful touches for the Act II variations. During the Carvajal tenure Claude Dietrich A. was commissioned by President Christine Leslie to design the company’s fluid logo.

Prior to Bruce Stieval’s arrival in 2009, the company was briefly directed by Michael Lowe and Mario Alonso,  dancers with Oakland Ballet when it was directed by Ronn Guidi.  Stieval, artistic director of Nevada Ballet Theatre following the retirement of founding artistic director Vassili Sulich, came to PBT with credits as chairman of the former Luxembourg International Ballet Competition, extensive directorial experience in Hong Kong, Korea and reputation as a master teacher internationally.  Christine Leslie, long-time PBT President, has become executive director of the organization and in charge of the re-activated school.

Stieval’s Dracula had the advantage of atmospheric music of the Polish composer Wojciech Kilar, awarded the 1992 ASCAP award for the musical he provided by Francis Ford Coppola’s film “Dracula.” The taped music, with the exception of the Johann Strauss II’s waltz in Act I, must have come from the movie’s score.

In his conception Stieval switched  artistic Christian  forms from  Orthodox to  Roman, evidenced in the chapel where the central figure is Christ crucified, feet crossed. As a suicide Dracula’s dead wife is denied Christian burial.  Dracula’s curse to God turns him into a vampire.  The scene, enhanced by eight nuns and a priest, introduced guest artist Milos Marijan. His Dracula is a handsome young man, long tapering legs, excellent pirouettes and jetes.  On the agenda, rapid transitions of location, and fateful bedtime activities.

A Victorian garden scene followed where the music supplied is a Johann Strauss II waltz, chosen because Stieval could not retrieve similar music from the Kilar composition roster. The garden  backdrop conveyed more sunlit Italian piazza than dappled English garden.  Lucy, about to meet her death at the hands of Milos Marijan’s  Dracula, was danced by Amanda McGovern, enjoying the attentions of suitors Aiden DeYoung, Michael Dunsmore and Jacob Kreamer. Mina, guest artist Bojana Zegarac, appears, affianced to Jonathan,  a bystander. During a later stroll, Lucy and Dracula meet and Dracula starts his destruction.  Mina, walking in the garden, is drawn to Dracula.

Jonathan in the meantime is in Count Dracula’s castle in Transylvania to handle  business affairs; at night in bed he finds he must fend off three malevolent female figures, greedy for gore,  making for many lifts and females running around the bed .

In London, Lucy is attended by Professor Helsing a vampire authority, advising garlic clusters, the cross and holy water as protection. Alone, Dracula manages to circumvent the protections and drains Lucy’s blood.

Helsing and Lucy’s suitors discuss Lucy’s death and the way to release her soul.  Jonathan arrives. At the crypt she is missing;  she is searching for a victim.  She tries to lure Jonathan.  When her body lies in the crypt one of the quartet drives a stake in her heart to release her spirit.

You guessed it, Mina and Dracula meet in Mina’s bedroom .  Love springs between them and Mina offers herself to Dracula, so dying at his hands, she too can become a vampire.  The suitors arrive to save her, but Mina follows Dracula.

The countryside, en route to Dracula’s castle, sees the ensemble’s orgy while protecting a casket from which Dracula later appears.  Mina disappears and the suitors cope with disbursing Dracula’s wives.  The casket is lain at the altar, Dracula emerges.  Mina appears, the suitors fight to save her, and manage to kill Dracula.  Mina has disappeared, but then she arrives  Dracula enfolds her in his arms placing them both in the casket and closes the lid.

Stievel created his group scenes with skill, whether ecclesiastical, social or wildly rustic.  Given the plot some  pas de deux were predictable while beautifully executed by the guest artists. .  Because of the plot, a seamless progression from scene to scene is impossible, but overall it was enjoyable and absorbing.  I must say I rarely have enjoyed a bow as much as Zegarac’s,  the picture of graceful acknowledgment  was rendered at an angle  making one realize Belgrade’s Opera House’s former  royal box  must be close to stage left.

Menlowe Ballet’s First Season Finale

29 Oct

Menlowe Ballet completed its first season October 5-7 at  San Mateo’s Bayside  Center for the Performing Arts. East of Highway 101,  it takes a knowledgeable driver to know where to turn off.  Carlos Carvajal is one such driver; we made the October 7 matinee,  featuring Betsy Erickson as guest choreographer, two works by artistic director Michael Lowe.  The company comprises seventeen members; Executive Director Lisa Shively and  Michael Lowe have been careful to arrange a program allowing sufficient time for the dancers also to appear in Oakland Ballet’s Nutcracker.

Michael Lowe’s Serei was first on the program.  Set to John Williams’ music, the ballet was preceded by a brief Koto performance by Mariko Ishikawa, setting the tone for Mariko Takahashi’s aerial work on a scarlet scarf hanging vertically on center stage.  Movements wound both upward and down before classical vocabulary appeared, but Takahashi made space within the music for effective pauses.

She was joined by four other dancers; in the third section dancing with Maxim Lin-Yee, a tall, impressive  newcomer, his presence a bit like  Lee CunXin.

The ballet was supposed to deal with Takashashi’s reflections and the degree of fulfillment she experienced in each.  I didn’t feel this  was fully realized choreographically, though the dancing was excellent, the atmosphere absorbing.  Ayako Takahashi was credited with costuming, Ron Ho with the lighting design.

Betsy Erickson’s Songs to Richard Strauss was premiered in Oakland in 1990, five couples, six selections.  Mario Alonzo designed the costumes, differing hues for each couple: cream, grey, purple, red, lavender or light blue.  Patty Ann Farrell was the lighting designer.

Erickson is attracted to flowing movement; during her dancing career, she was distinctive in adagio. I remember in particular her dancing the adagio in Symphony in C.  She remarked  she is influenced by water and wave patterns,  evident in sweep of the port de bras, particularly when the women on pointe were supported  by their partners; at times the entire ensemble’s arms circled like a variation in T’ai Ch’i.

Menlowe Ballet’s finale was a local production of Surfside, originally created for Richmond Ballet, Virginia, 2002. Not quite an update on Todd Bolender’s Souvenirs or Bronislava Nijinska’s Le Train Bleu, it shared the insouciant qualities of the young, their energies on the make, set to the music of Sandy Nelson and The Ventures.  Paul Stinson and John Baker furnished a jazzy pre and postlude.

Utilizing Menlo Park Academy of Dance students, bright, eager, it left the audience convinced it wanted more.

Menlowe Ballet’s spring performances will be April 20-21, 2013 at the 492 seat Menlo -Atherton Performing Arts Center, ideal for the company’s current size.  Nicolai Kobanaiev is guest choreographer.