Tag Archives: Michael Smuin

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.


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.

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.

Ballet San Jose’s Master Pieces, February 20

28 Feb

Using recorded music of Petyr Illich Tchaikovsky, Leonard Bernstein and Philip Glass, Ballet San Jose presented the 1947 Balanchine work Theme and Variations; Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free, premiered in 1944, and Twyla Tharp’s In The Upper Room, choreographed in 1986.

Theme and Variations featured Junna Ige and Maykel Solas in the roles Balanchine created for Alicia Alonso and Igor Youskevitch then dancing with Ballet Theatre before that company acquired the additional label American. The two dimunitive dancers danced with great accuracy, Ige a bit subdued, but sweet, and Solas meeting the demands of those killer turns with equanimity. With the mental images of the creators in my mind, the gentleness was that much more striking, and I dare say the lack of an orchestra created a certain abruptness in the corps de ballet. One also needs to remember that Ballet Theatre at the time wasn’t all that swift classically; the roles given to the supporting males demonstrate that state of ballet’s development in the U.S.

The local production was rendered tidily, everyone dutifully in the right place at the right time. The fire implied by the surges in the music never seemed to translate the dancers’ bodies; I attribute that to the lack of a live orchestra. I saw Alonso and Youskevitch in the roles at the Los Angeles Biltmore Theatre, and watched Yoko Ichino flirt with her partner, along with several other exponents, the daisy chain movements and the male double rond de jambes as well as the sur la place double tours were familiar. Ige and Solas were on time and in command of the required technique, but I think they too would have been more fired up with musicians in the pit.

Then there was Fancy Free with its wonderful World War II subject matter, the music, costumes. For my money Ommi Pipit-Suksun, with her wonderfully articulate body, liquid movement and sensual qualities well dusted with delicacy, displayed the ambiance Janet Reed brought to
the role. Seconded by Grace-Anne Powers, the dame with the red handbag and the jaunty yellow skirt trimmed in black, was saucy without Muriel Bentley’s bite. Emma Francis appeared in a yellow wig as the girl at the curtain who sends the fellows scooting off stage, heftier than Shirley Eckl.

Rudy Candia, Joshua Seibel and Walter Garcia were the three sailors and James Kobecky the bar tender. Candia, in Jerome Robbins’ original role, was far milder in his innuendo than the creator, but truer to the overall spirit. Joshua Seibel came close to the sweet testosterone of John Kriza who danced the role throughout his career with Ballet Theatre. Walter Garcia assumed Harold Lang’s original brash sailor, also made memorable by Michael Smuin. Brooke Byrne
remarked that Dennis Nahat would have been able to heighten their impact, for all the fact that Jose Manuel Carreno danced one of those three on twenty-four hours’ leave.

Twyla Tharp chose Philip Glass’ music of the same title for her 1986 commission for American Ballet Theatre, In the Upper Room, creating a smoke-like atmosphere and demanding an unremitting attack from the dancers; they rose to the challenge with gusto, garnering an enthusiastic, standing response of the evening from the audience for the vigor and zest they brought to their assignment. The costumes looked as if they had been designed for minimal detention quarters with most of the dancers in sport shoes with a couple of women in red pointe shoes.

I do not exactly agree with CEO Alan Hineline’s statement that the company dances world-class, especially minus an orchestra. It does provide a roster of interesting works. Les not forget the repertoire under Dennis Nahat was equally varied, including works both modern and classical.

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.


Smuin Ballet’s XXSeason Finale. Mountain View, May 25

29 May

Because of a quick trip to Manila, I missed Smuin’s spring season at Yerba Buena Center. Too jet lagged to make it to Walnut Creek, if not wheedling an early June ride to the Monterey Peninsula, it had to be a matinee via Caltrain. Either side of Castro Street’s four blocks in Mountain View between the Caltrain Station and Mountain View’s Center for the Performing Arts is lined with restaurants, bistros and snack establishments. It was a formidable phenomenon to regard, even registering Sillicon Valley proximity, making my way to the box office to buy a ticket for the Smuin Ballet’s final spring season performance, XXCentric. Some eateries had sidewalk tables, all full.

Just before boarding the Bullet train in San Francisco, the queue waited while Giant fans streamed through the gates; cane-assisted seniors, white haired actives in shorts and backpacks, overweight young women in spaghetti -strap tees looking for a sunburn along with baseball, and middle aged women with shoulder-length black hair, white tee shirt covering small boobs a Giant logo in between, all punching Clipper cards at a machine before heading to AT&T Park.

Because I wanted to see Smuin from a buyer’s perspective, I paid a $60 plus price, to see was worth it? Years ago, a fellow reviewer accused critical practitioners as being parasites. There might be some justification when 300 words is all allowed the writer and told reviews are not a specialty coverage. Having written for dance-focused outlets, and some newspapers for most of a half century, I occasionally teeter on agreement. But I also know a bevy of excellent prose practitioners with definite ethics disputing that broad brush allegation. They work damned hard.

The choreographers’ represented were Val Caniparoli, Amy Siewart, Michael Smuin; Tutto Eccetto il Lavondino; But now I must rest; Dancin’ with Gershwin respectively, the music Antonio Vivaldi, Cesaria Evora, George and Ira Gershwin, and an additional lyric by Bud de Sylva.

Caniparoli came up with a delicious twist with two Antonio Vivaldi violin concerti, bowing accents forming unexpected head, shoulder, torso inflections, along with wonderful port de bras looking as though illustrations from a Carlo de Blasis dance manual. This alone is enough to provide delight. Juxtaposed against multiple pirouettes or attitude turns the eye kept busy and the mind agog. I don’t know if it really was necessary to slide a mint-colored kitchen sink on to stage center to reinforce the translation, “Everything but the kitchen sink.” The ballet itself continued some of Caniparoli’s special choreographic essays, Lambarena being the most widely mounted. Tutto Eccetto il Lavondino deserves to be another.

Amy Siewart’s But now I must rest is gentle, evocative, lyrical with formality while it also is earthy and sensual. There were forward and backward dips of the torso as the leg is thrust forward in Sandra Woodall’s costumes, two splits at the outer hip of the ankle length skirts for men and women. There were arm placements over the chest and upper hips which hinted at some form of religious ritual. The fluidity and feeling shared similarities with the movement skills of the Philippines, hardly surprising since both sets of islands share roughly the same latitude below the Tropic of Cancer.

Dancin’ With Gershwin premiered in May 2001, but this was my first viewing of Smuin’s tribute to George and Ira Gershwin. It is a charmer, commencing with a slide show of musical poster and sheet music covers of Gershwin’s music, enhanced by Willa Kim’s costuming, decor by Rick Goodwin and Lighting by Sara Linnie Slocum. A white-gowned Erin Yarbrough danced with Weston Krukow in dark suit to “They Can’t Take that Away From Me.” Following “S’Wonderful,” Marilyn Monroe’s rendition of “Do It Again” saw Erica Felsch in slinky scarlet surrounded by white ostrich plumes wafted by the company men; plumes and Felsch’s positions and postures echoed the breathily-delivered lyrics. Roland Petit created something similar for his wife Zizi Jeanmaire, but where motion matches emotion, it’s always appropriately piquant.

Then Shannon Hulburt emerged from darkness to tap under variously placed spots in otherwise murky space, executing his magical phrasing of The Canadian Brass. Listed as guest artist, Hulburt has been a company mainstay. I hope he stays around, is invited often.

Susan Roemer and Erica Felsch were paired in “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” turning Roemer into a male figure, and even involving some quick lifting – clearly a Smuin reference to the rising importance of the LBGT population. It was followed by Jane Rehm in billowing tiers of white ruffles for “Summertime.”

Two more numbers and then the finale “Shall We Dance” with the company in frequent couples formations, adding Hulburt’s partnering skills to the ensemble’s full-bodied ending. The dancers relished every minute of the Smuin creation. It also led me to an interesting evaluation.

Was I satisfied? Yes. Was I entertained? Yes. Was I enthralled or inspired? No. Currently, for all the competence, rigor and sustained skill, the Smuin Ballet focus is to entertain and satisfy. The possibility of a Jiri Kylian work included in a season’s repertoire now and again testifies to the difference in overall vision.

I do not intend to denigrate Smin Ballet’s clear accomplishments, not the least of which provides sixteen dancers and a guest artist with Social Security payments, with a livelihood for a six person production crew, ten persons for artistic and administrative guidance, apart from invited choreographers, designers, photographers and publicists. That achievement is no mean feat in today’s economy. That I can also celebrate and believe I got my money’s worth.

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.