Tag Archives: Maurice Bejart

Violette Verdy. 1933-2016

11 Feb

For some odd reason comments about Violette Verdy written yesterday, along with some comments about Misty Copeland’s coverage on KQED’s Independent
Lens, didn’t make this blog’s printed record. So I will try to rectify.

Facebook messages have been warm, loving, nostalgic and Carol Egan managed
to post a coaching session of Verdy against the background of the Opera in
Paris that is captivating, judicious and clearly supportive.

I remember her coming to San Francisco as a guest artist on two occasions
when I was still a correspondent for Dance News. The first was
when Kimiko Sugano supported her appearance with Edward Villella for a
Pacific Ballet season when Alan Howard was artistic director. I was invited to a pre-performance gathering and was introduced to Verdy who appeared to have read my 1000 word columns in that departed dance journal. I have forgotten how the conversation progressed but I remember expressing my irritation over Maurice Bejart’s use of the opening sequence in a Bharata Natyam concert for an elaborate, sexy exposition which showcased Suzanne Farrell. Verdy smiled with understanding and said, “Ah yes, Maurice is clever but he ia a plagerist.” I could have hugged her, for her appraisal was spot on and, of course, she agreed with me. Violette Verdy!

The next time she appeared was when San Francisco Ballet had a season at
the Palace of Fine Arts, just before Michael Smuin came back from American
Ballet Theatre. At the opening , Verdy danced The Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux,; I can remember where I was sitting for her final movements came downstage on the diagonal. There was the crispness within the lyricism, the Gallic inflection punctuating the music and the correctness of the canon.

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Memory Lane: Olga and Dorothy – III

12 Feb

Four young men and three young women arrived in San Francisco the Monday afternoon before the Saturday evening performance.  Another arrived on Tuesday.  Olga arrived earlier.  From Tuesday until Friday, there was at least one daily telephone call.  “Renee, we need a photographer.  Can you help?” “The tunic for Swan Lake is missing.  Do you know a costumer?” “We’re leaving Mehdi and Marin bare chested for Bayadere and Corsaire. I like good-looking young men bare chested!”  Amid my desk duties at work, it was a great diversion to hear her voice, always enthusiastic, always excited about what was happening on stage.  “Oh, Renee, Mehdi has taken over and is leading the group, and what results he is getting!  He is WONDERFUL!”  My own excitement began to rise. I called my reviewing colleagues; everyone had prior engagements.  I couldn’t believe it.

The photographer materialized by an appeal to Shirley Peltz.  Nita Winter conversed with me late on Wednesday and Thursday.  I wondered if my own excitement could possibly convey to her how important the event was.  To Nita is was an understandable matter of economics, time versus dollars.  Nita was matter-of-fact, went off to Friday’s dress rehearsal with nothing promised about remaining.  She wound up staying until Sunday morning, sleeping on  Dorothy’s couch.

With my friend Remy Munar I took a later morning Greyhound bus to Stockton, knitting while she slept and speculating about the four dancers I had not seen.  Three I saw at Jackson, 1979 and 1982, and I knew just how good they were. It turned out Marin Boieru danced a variation in Maurice Bejart’s Gaite Parisienne during the Belgian-based company’s last Zellerbach auditorium appearance.  From the tension I felt, one would have thought I was the impresario as I taxied from the motel to be with Olga while she handled a last-minute tape tech.

Dorothy greeted me as I walked through the Romanesque arches of the Commodore Stockton Theatre, the high school auditorium she has saved from destruction.  With excellent sight lines, acoustics and rental fees, it could be rented by outsiders.  It conveyed the ambiance of pre-World War II  California Valley, settled, a trifle staid, but solid, enduring and occasionally capable of grace.  Characteristically, Dorothy was steady ahead.  Last-minute television interviews in Stockton and Sacramento had begun to swell last-minute ticket sales.  By curtain, the pre-performance sale of 700 tickets had passed 1000 for the 1500 seat auditorium.   Dorothy remarked to me, “It is going to be a success.  I wanted these dancers here because I wanted Stockton to see the best, to have them as criteria.  I knew they would dance off of each other, stimulated by their mutual presence.  They’re winners, all of them.  Olga is good with her mixes.” While we chatted, the dancers began to file in, to warm up and apply their makeup.

Staying with hosting families, their arrivals were spotty.  The pre performance situation possessed a sparseness because of their small number, and perhaps the physical distance between their regular habitats and Stockton itself.  But the ritual of preparation, using the iron pipes of the orchestra pit for a barre, overrode the strangeness of location, the anomaly created by the confluence via jet travel.

Silhouetted by the dim stage light, curtain up to aid the sound tech, a woman walked towards one of the stage entrances with a large flat box.  “Flowers?”
I inquired. “That’s about it,” came the reply as she marched ahead, sprays for the women, single roses for the men.

Shrouded  with shadows, two dancers entered the back aisle of the theatre.  One sported a discernible soup bowl line of straight brown hair: Marin Boieru, newly a member of Pennsylvania Ballet.  The other had a face familiar to Roman mosaics in the ancient empire ruins in North Africa; the curly mop of  hair, aquiline noise, large eyes with liquid stillness.  Mehdi Bahir, product of Rosella Hightower’s training in Cannes, a kitchen worker to pay his tuition in training for the Prix de Lausanne he won in 1975.  Mehdi’s practice costume was a outlandish a frame as his physical presence startlingly evoked Mediterranean classical artefacts.  A slash of white banding held the curly mop off his eyes; an outsized white shirt draped to the knees over garbage bag green sweat pants.  Face, textures, color conspired to display pure theatre.  Mehdi’s turnout,  diagrammatically correct like the pages of Blasis’ treatise, gave the impression of his oozing into the floor when he sat down, stretching his legs before him.  Boieru appeared in the orchestra pit.  Eric Vu An, white towel slung around his neck, looked as if preparing for a prize fight.  He grasped the painted iron pipe and started his ritual plie, tendu through the five balletic positions, occasionally breaking line to flex a recalcitrant music in the way dancers squiggle idiosyncratically in movement.

Claudia Jung and Nancy Raffa, their personalities to emerge during performance, practiced lifts with Eric Vu An and Marin Boieru before the curtain.

Jung required one-hand lifts above Vu An’s head.  The timing – preparation, transition, breathing and sheer physical heisting – all belonged to the Don Quixote pas de deux for which Mehdi Bahiri had coached them.  With visual acumen and obvious skill, Mehdi had coached the two slender young race horses into one of the most stylish, polished renditions I had witnessed in four decades of ballet going.  Vu An and Jung used their European stage presence and deportment to counter what American audiences usually expect in fiery audience flirtation.  The classicism was a trifle cool, but theirs was an excitement as Jung’s high-arched foot defined the extension of her leg in the up and out of second position. It nearly rammed her ear while retaining a classical look.

Eyeballs had bulged while Jung executed warming up battements for they had become a grand jete, one leg going vertical while the supporting foot of the other remained on the floor.  More exciting than the circus, Jung’s training and stamina for such a flexible body demonstrated the obvious systematic technical mastery  and care lavished on her by Konstanze Vernon of Munich,  one of the 1982 jurors at Jackson.

Memory Lane: Olga and Dorothy IV

12 Feb

Boieru and Vu An both both distinguished themselves with personality variations created by Maurice Bejart.  Boieru’s technique, pushed to the point of wobbling,  was out of practice in dancing classical repertoire.  Vu An brought form, intensity and his cool precision to a variation from Bahkti, Bejart’s questionable pastiche  version of Hindu iconography and philosophy, mutilating traditional Indian dance repertoire and form.  None the wiser for the cultural desecration, the Stockton audience cheered Vu An’s rendition.

Raffa and Bahiri lent a very Mediterranean warmth to Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.  Theirs was an easy elegance and musicality, nurtured by their backgrounds of Algeria, Sicily and Naples, reminding one that some of the early ballet greats were southern Italian in origin.  They skimmed easily across the Marley flooring strips, turning and completing like well-oiled, elegantly constructed tops, pulled and retracted by the musical phrases stringing their steps along time.  Similar ease and understatement was exhibited later in the Kafka-Kurova rendition of La Fille Mal Gardee, an ease deception of the hours of construction and labor, so carefully framed by the technique that it seemed naturally inevitable.

Ballet sometimes seemed to have been made for little girls.  Certain this one performance proclaimed that cliche.  Above and beyond the enthusiasm of the adult audience, the clutch of girls, obviously Dorothy’s pupils, look alikes with long straight filly manes of hair, dresses flouncing a little. Mary Jane shoes, white stockings over sturdy calf and thigh muscles, already showing the effects of ballet barre discipline induced a whisper of moisture in my remembering eyes.

For the finale, Bahiri has just completed his solo variation in Corsaire, the staple made international first by Rudolph Nureyev and now standard competition fare.  Jung, in blue velvet etched with gold braid, had taken her position en pointe and started her variation. Suddenly total BLACKOUT!

An announcement quickly followed ” There has been a total power failure.  Would the audience please leave the auditorium as quickly as possible by the nearest exit.”

The audience complied, rapidly, orderly.  I made my way against the stream of bodies backstage to find Olga, standing calm but stricken, in her yellow silk pant suit.  With the aid of a small pocket flash fished out of my knitting bag, the dancers crept down the stairs to the basement dressing rooms and green carpet area.  They sat mute, expressionless, on the carpet in a near circle while the technicians worked to restore the power.  In less than fifteen minutes the  lights were on again, and some audience stalwarts had returned to their seats.

But fearing injury, the performance did not resume.  Visibly shaken, Dorothy brought the seven soloists on stage, explaining to the audience why it was impossible to ask the dancers to complete Corsaire.  The roses were distributed, the fans applauded and cheered despite the unexpected close to a glorious exposition of classical ballet.

Direction and arrangements were given for tomorrow’s transportation; borrowed tunics were retrieved; plans confirmed for a Sunday evening supper in San Francisco, and an exodus made for the final party near the Stockton Marina.  The power failure had induced a patron to guarantee a new lighting system for the Theatre.

The party consisted of pastry puffs filled with sea food and scallops quickly demolished, virtually gone by the time the dancers reached the party.  Vu An was the first to depart since he, Raffa, Bahiri and Boieru were scheduled to leave San Francisco before noon for New York City.  Dressed like an international preppy, Vu An might have inspired Cole Porter lyrics or inhabited a Noel Coward stage set, rather than the sweat and exertion of Petipa, Lander and Bejart choreography.

In the flat midnight chill that crept up around my ankles from the river at the Stockton Marina, any balletic Cinderella would have treasured pumpkins after a night’s exposure to those four dancing princes.  Olga and Dorothy had conspired to bring that magical story alive.

The only dance review related to that memorable gala was published in the March, 1983 issue of Dance News, an issue which proved to be the journal’s swan song.

A Dancing Season for Cal Performances, 2012-2013

25 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca follow on February 8.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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