Tag Archives: Martin West

A Brilliant, Rapturous Debut and Finale with Onegin

10 May

Thursday Night, May 5, Matilde Froustey and Carlo di Lanno made debuts as Tatiana and Onegin in John Cranko’s Eugene Onegin, augmented ably by Reuben Martin-Cintas as Gremin, Doris Andre as Olga and Benajmin Freemantle making his own debut as Lensky. A near capacity audience greeted them with absorption and an orchestra standing ovation at the conclusion, Behind me were two young women, one recently moved from D.C. and another originally from Texas, the latter being familiar with Miami City and Washington Ballet companies.

It never fails to fascinate me how differing heights and musculature alters not only “the look” of a ballet; without saying, the attack in a role, to say nothing of the artist’s perception of the material. This difference was apparent Thursday evening. Where Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz are small and compact, Froustey, di Lanno and Martin-Cintas are tall, expanding phrases by sheer length, bringing the Russian verse novel into a western European orbit.

Froustey’s Tatiana commences with a pigtail down her back as she sits, stretches or reclines with her novel, appearing more studious than lost in a novel. In her initial encounter with Onegin, she is the polite French girl, propre rather than  curiosity for all the slender, willowy stretch of her body. She has an overwhelming gamine demeanor during the bedroom/mirror pas de deux ; as she writes of her passion, you can just see her at her classroom exercises. Her expression as the mirror dream evaporates is a wonderful, naive young vision of romantic expectation. Interesting was the reach of her lower torso in moments of chagrin or alarm during her name day debacle between Lensky and Onegin, and its effectiveness as she regards Onegin after his duel with Lensky where Froustey’s small round face evinces a stony gaze of defondu.

Ruben Martin-Cintas’ Gremin is more than a cipher. It’s one of the thankless roles in ballet, but he conveys the persona of maturity, a man of substance, secure in his position, and therefore able to appraise and evaluate situations and personalities. He brings this gently to Tatiana’s rescue in the name-day party, where she follows him automatically, while clearly distracted by Onegin’s coldness and the burgeoning confrontation between Lensky and Onegin.

Dores Andre’s Olga is a swift butterfly, skipping from moment to moment, happy at Lensky’s attention, drinking it in, if a bit reluctant to surrender, clearly evidenced by allowing Onegin to dance with her. His greater dance skill and way with women is quite flattering and she allows herself to be swept along with, not resisting until the damage has been done. Her willfulness is matched by the diffidence and decency displayed by Benjamin Freemantle. I wish I could have seen his second performance, which doubtless gained in strength from this initial interpretation. There was the making of a definite character there, but only beginning to be developed in this technically correct performance.

Then there was Carlo di Lanno as Onegin with his Roman coin profile, tall, correct, still; movements  betraying little emotion one way or another, except for a swift disdain for Tatiana’s material, and oh-so-correct-but-perfunctory partnering in the opening scene. In the bedroom mirror scene the emphasis is entirely on Tatiana’s ecstatic vision with beating arabesques, lifts and twists in Onegin’s arms. It is in the name-day scene, especially following the destruction of Tatiana’s letter, when Onegin sits down, having adjusted his cuff as a gesture of finish, to play solitaire, shuffling cards with revealing frequency that he betrays narcissistic  willfulness and the desire to intrude on the happy proceedings of Olga and Lensky. Onegin dances a bit too much with Olga; when she rejoins Lensky briefly, there passes over Onegin’s face an undeniable devilish impulse leading to Lensky’s gloves across his face before tossing them on the ground.

I also saw the season’s final matinee May 8, with Gennadi Nedvigin’s final performance with San Francisco Ballet. Di Lanno was appreciably more relaxed if still deliberate, masking emotion in the beginning; Froustey deepened her impression of the nearly sedate young gamine, kind to elders, who gathers strength in the duel scene; with Ruben Martin-Cintas they  both provide an image of a solid, happy marriage. The thankless role gets substance from Martin-Cintas’ size and demeanour, enhanced by the most over-decorated uniform seen on stage.

Gennadi Nedvigin’s final performance as Lensky seemed natural, unforced, his casual ease illustrating nearly three decades of training and performance.

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Gennadi Nedvigin in Cranko’s Onegin. (© Erik Tomasson)

The final, confrontation scene in Onegin gives both principals total permission to pull out their dramatic capacities; Di Lanno and Froustey rose cogently the two occasions. I saw them tear at their memories, the emotions they aroused against their present status. Their slender builds added to the etched quality of what must be marvelous Russian poetry, their line matching the musical turbulence of Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini’s aural passion. With kisses at the nape of her neck, the firm grip on the hand Onegin used to grasp her from eluding him, memory, reawakened passion and will power visibly struggled in Tatiana’s torso and slender legs. Finally, came the moment when his note was thrust in front of Onegin, ripped apart, “what goes around comes around” and Tatiana’s arm fiercely commands his departure before she struggles, half spent, bent before she faced the audience dead center, exhausted resolution written on her face and body.

Then came the curtain calls – the same order, Di Lanno kissing Froustey’s hands with appreciation. Froustey brought Martin West to stage center before West thrust Nedvigin forward for his final hail and farewell to San Francisco’s audience. Two figures entered from stage right with floral bouquets – Yuri Possokhov and Roman Rykine, who flew in from Winnipeg where he is ballet master for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Bear hugs ensued, clearly great emotions exchanged and lumps in the throat of balletomanes like myself.

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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.

Don Quixote Finale for 2012 San Francisco Ballet’s 2012 Season

30 Apr

From the matadors’ tights to the popsicle-hued dresses on the women’s knee- length dresses, Martin Pakledinaz stepped up the cheerful revival of the Tomasson-Possokhov version of the Petipa-Gorsky romp, loosely based on Cervantes’ Spanish novel, Don Quixote. This ballet version, premiering in 2003, received its new production premiere April 27 as SFB’s finale for the 2012 season.  The audience loved every bravura second of it; from the looks of it, so did the company and conductor Martin West.

Well they might.  Jim Sohm made an auspicious debut as the befuddled Don with Pascal Molat reprising his magnificent reading of Sancho Panza, ever ready to ogle and fondle senoritas, purloin sausage and filch ham.  Right from the beginning Sohm’s eyes conveyed the Don’s slender grasp of earthy reality, holding his imbalance of gallantry and fantasy throughout.

Where the Royal Danish production was soft-hued distinction, Pakledinaz selected a strong emphasis on sun-baked, semi-psychedelic colors, primarily for the toreadors, finishing  with the traditional black squashed-like hat. Black braid generously attached  provided the dash necessary to convey these Hispanic cultural peacocks..

Pierre-Francois Vilanoba led the pack; flanked by a condor-eyed Sarah Van Patten as Mercedes; he gave us an elegant matador,  perhaps influenced by his Galician surname. The pair kept the tension alive with  brief sideline forays.

Gamache, the well-heeled, aging fop Kitri’s father wanted to see married to his daughter, introduced Myles Thatcher to the role, his hobbling interpretation in lavender-toned satins and plumes a nod to Damian Smith’s 2003-2004 over-the-top movement.  Ricardo Bustamonte  conveyed the sharp-eyed tavern keeper father with Anita Paciotti as a mother pre-occupied with tending and tidying up the situation.  And there was that smart, swift moment when Kitri dehatted and dewigged her senior suitor.

Casting Vanessa Zahorian with Joan Boada as Kitri and Basilio initially seemed  anomalous, but any question was rapidly dispelled. Despite a slight imbalance  at Act One’s ending,  Boada was suitably clean, precise,  his elevation reminding us of  phenomenal bravura capacities.

Except for traveling double fouettes in the wedding pas de deux, Zahorian was spot on throughout, balances firm and just long enough to register to the eye if not to linger, her port de bras appropriate, height and thrust of her developpes notable. Her excellence is achieved by a no-nonsense technical approach rendered impressive by her musical phrasing.

The Dryad scene allowed the presence of San Francisco Ballet School students as did  the brief pantomime in the Gypsy camp where Don Quixote tilted with the windmill and Hansuke Yamamoto danced nimbly as the Gypsy chief. Sofiane Sylve and Clara Blanco graced the Dryad scene, Sylve the definitive queen with her deliberate attack, Blanco as Cupid darting nimbly across the boards with her impeccable port de bras.

Added to this production was a 26 year old white horse for Don Quixote and a donkey for Sancho Panza, later utilized for Gamache.  When Gamache dismounted on the left side of his borrowed animal, it made visual the double entendre.

What was not to revel in?

A First at Stern Grove, San Francisco

3 Aug

San Francisco Ballet danced at Stern Grove July 31, and the weather, though grey and overcast,  didn’t pull its usual pakiput off and on. New corps members, apprentices and San Francisco Ballet School trainees  led off the program with two ballets, Andante Sostemuto, choreographed by J. Francisco Martinez and Timepiece by Myles Thatcher, a member of San Francisco Ballet’s corps de ballet.

Andante Sostenuto, set to Franz Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 21, displayed
Elizabeth Powell, Lacey Escobar and Shion Yuasa’s capacity for length of leg and sustained developpes and arabesques.  Supported by Francisco Mungamba, Trygve Campston and Henry Sidford, the choreographer went overboard in his zeal to display the women supported with their crotches displayed front and center,  buns being carried in fetal positions or jack-knifed postures held aloft. Andante and legato tempi can be better used.

A wholly different mood greeted the audience with Myles Thatcher’s  Timepiece. Switching from full skirts to revealing tunics and tights with syncopated rhythms and jazzy accents, nine dancers strutted, preened, darting and breaking momentum to Thatcher’s exploration of what spending time can mean. An effective variation was assigned to Francisco Mungamba, a slender, recent corps de ballet member moving with liquid assurance, halting with equal ease.

Following the Intermission Helgi Tomasson’s 7 for Eight to the strain of Johan Sebastian Bach featured William McGraw at the piano and harpsichord. Maria Kotchetkova, and Ruben Martin Cintas filled the first movement;  her elegant attack  seemed to ask, ‘Do you love me?”  Vanessa Zahorian and Gennadi Nedvigin sparked the 2nd movement, two classicists who each enjoyed one of the early Erik Bruhn citations in Canada. Dores Andre, Elizabeth Miner, Joan Boada wove the third movement followed by a brilliant pairing of Jaime Garcia Castilla and Gennadi Nedvigin.  Joan Boada postured through the fifth movement with the harpsichord encouraging Boada’s accents. Kochetkova and Martin Cintas returned for the sixth movement, affirming their initial appearance, before all eight dancers polished off the seventh momvement.

The program concluded with one of George Balanchine’s eternal sparklers, Georges Bizet’s Symphony in C., Lorena Feijoo with Victor Luiz in the first movement, port de bras en haut, the numerous low jetes together, composed, sensuality lurking around their abundant correctness. Sofiane Sylve with Vito Mazzeo encompassed the second movement.  Sylve could be seen at intermission marking her movements, bundled against the chill, tiara in place; like the other company members swathed in leggings and sweat shirt.  Sylve rarely overstates or prolongs a movement, so that the beauty of her dancing is that elusive element, “Did I really see that?”  And you know you did.  She was partnered by Vito Mazzeo, recently elevated to principal status.

Frances Chung with Isaac Hernandez romped through the third movement, a long-remembered experience when San Francisco Ballet first performed it at the Alcazar Theatre March 12, 1961 with Fiona Fuerstner and Michael Smuin, bursting with energy.  Chung and Hernandez are more polished, but just as ebullient. The finale featured corps de ballet members Nicole Chiapponi with Lonnie Weeks before everyone flooded the stage for the finale.    Martin West, principal conductor, kept the energy and timing consistent.

Tomasson’s programming enjoys high percentages in adroitness and ability to read an audience. To this he has added this special segment of the coming tier of dancers, and what mutual thrill it is likely to be- that is, if the weather in not pakiput as they say in the Philippines.

Should this seem unusually sketchy, I was not perched at the press table, but amidst baseball hats,a ski cap to which a shawl was added in the midst of a series of dazzling pirouettes and the nearly constant movement along a central pathway.  That’s a public performance for you.