Tag Archives: Millicent Powers

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.

Ballet San Jose and Technology

1 Apr

Ballet San Jose presented Bodies of Technology March 27-29 at San Jose’s California Theatre, an 1100 seat theater which looked almost full at the Sunday matinee. It made me wonder whether the company might seriously consider changing its venue. The sound and look of a full house is better than a half-filled larger location.

Bodies of Technology also served to make an additional contribution to the reputations of Bay Area choreographer Amy Seiwert, This Might Be True, and former San Francisco Ballet principal and City Ballet teacher, Yuri Zhukov, User’s Manual. The third choreographer, Jessica Lang, Eighty One, has had at least one other work presented by Ballet San Jose, originally produced by American Ballet Theatre.

Before the curtain rose on Seiwart’s work with its beautiful, mostly blue, visual design by Freder Weiss, Artistic Director Jose Manuel Carreno, Board Chairman
Millicent Powers and Chief Executive Officer Alain Hineline came out to thank the audience for the support given to raise over $550,000 by March 15 as part of the company’s stabilization efforts.

While the immediate following statements are hors de categorie of performance, the website Charity Navigator gave the company a rating of 68% for the year ending June 2012, lacking availability of information on loans and Form 990, as well as posting a fiscal deficit of $1,130,870 within a year following the forced departure of artistic director Dennis Nahat. Nahat stated the company was in the black when he departed. Available on the Web, such information leads one to wonder why the deadline and why the funding was needed.

Additionally, Hineline announced the projected company’s name change to Silicon Valley Ballet, with the logo displayed on the curtain; small copies were handed out to audience members when they departed the theater.

Throughout the program with its heavy emphasis on ensemble, music was of the minimal variety; melody is out, folks. Seiwart’s musical choices by Nits Frahm and Anne Muller provided ten silver unitard-dressed dancers and the choreographer with a background for geometric patterns of entry, exits and formations on stage, enhanced by Freder Weiss’s visual echoes of the dancers movements. One of the most lovely was like folded ribbon cascading as dancers lifted their partners on entering, the lifting with the supported partner’s leg in a la seconde into arabesque. At the end, however, the visual patterns departed from movement echoes, becoming snowflakes, perhaps spring blossoms. This Might Be True is well worth seeing a second time.

Jessica Lang’s Eighty One, premiered by the company in an earlier season, again had the composer Jakub Ciupinski performing his commissioned score on an elevated platform upstage left, stage light emphasizing his presence like an
all-seeing shaman, the other lighting slanting diagonally as if from dusty skylights from which pointed shoes or an arm were revealed at the beginning.

In the murky light, dancers pirouetted, partnered, lent their backs to the floor if I remember correctly, and in their grey to black toned costumes cohered admirably to semi-robotic commands, light replacing the smoke of the Tharp work seen in the previous trio of ballets.

Yuri Zhukov is the most esoteric and traditional of the three choreographers. When he was producing Zhukov Dance Theatre in San Francisco [with support from Millicent Powers and Cindy Adams], his work was imaginative and spare, focused on contemporary life from an unusual angle. User’s Manual continues in that vein, but with marked differences for the dancers: their faces were whitened and all sported red wigs, the women’s possessing bangs. Usually employed for translations or plot summaries, an overhead prompter first displayed multiple images of stones wrapped with strands of perhaps rope, then later multiple images of a carrot-haired young woman grimacing, several non-human images with vocal English sounds and a few phrases of Japanese.

The commissioned score was performed by The Living Earth Show, electric guitarist Travis Andrews and percussionist Andy Meyerson, a duo with a xylophone producing two notes through most of the ballet, the guitarist whose contribution sounded repetitive. The printed credits stated that the collaboration “thrives on pushing the boundaries of technical and artistic possibility in its presentation of commissioned electro-acoustic chamber music.” From what I heard, I did not hear what could be called acoustic.

User’s Manuel provided the audience with a pas de deux featuring Kendall Teague and Ommi Pipit-Suksun, an intricate passage displaying Pipit-Suksun’s finesse and finished line to advantage and affirming Teague’s capacities as a partner.

The company coheres wonderfully as an ensemble, each dancer attacking the individual assignment vigorously, dancing at full tilt.

I guess I display my age when I am not particularly moved by one note electronic music with hints of outer space. One hopes a) that the company’s performance zeal is rewarded with continued opportunities and b) there will be more melody, not just by Prokofiev May 8-10, but with a live orchestra.

Ballet San Jose’s Gala, November 16

20 Nov

Scott Horton, Ballet San Jose’s new press representative, arranged to have the entire area’s dance reviewing contingent in attendance at Ballet San Jose’s Gala, November 16 at San Jose’s Center for Performing Arts. Allan Ulrich was seconded by Rachel Howard and Mary Ellen Hunt. Coming with Rita Felciano, covering for the San Jose Mercury, I saw Claudia Baer, Toba Singer, Aimee T’sao plus Odette’s Ordeal Teri McCollum and Janice Berman of S.F. Classical Voice. A number of San Francisco Ballet dancers were present besides Helgi and Marlene Tomasson.

The lengthy program possessed several numbers danced not only by San Francisco Ballet interpreters, but I have been lucky enough to see the original interpreters in one pas de deux. Like it or not, there were measurable standards. I include program readability. Thankfully, the dancers’ names were printed in black; golden script against white made the booklet pages almost unreadable. Apparently an easy read for Ballet San Jose’s program designer wasn’t sexy enough. Whatever the reason, big events tend to seduce planners to emphasize glamor over clarity.

George Daugherty took the small orchestra through the lively paces of a Tchaikovsky Swan Lake entree to showcase the Ballet San Jose students, 100 strong, in a show-everyone arrangement by Delia Rawson. Notable were four young men and perhaps eight young young boys, black tights and white tee-shirts appearing with aplomb, along with tiny tots and adolescent girls pirouetting capably en pointe. The final grouping reminded me of the final movement in Balanchine’s Symphony in C where principals and corps invade the stage space.

From the up energy of the school ensemble, Christopher Wheeldon’s After The Rain pas de deux opened the program, with a distinct drop in energy. The deliberate Arvo Part music provided a glimpse of New York City Ballet dancers Ask La Cour [son of former Ballet San Jose’ School principal Lise La Cour] and Rebecca Krohn from New York City Ballet. The height contrast between La Cour and Krohn was visually awkward. Krohn’s style is soft, almost blurring the edges of Wheeldon’s quirky postures. A signature pas de deux for Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith, the New Yorkers suffered by comparison.

The pace quickened when Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky’s pas de deux featured Ana Sophia Scheller and Gonzalo Garcia, former San Francisco Ballet principal. I saw Violette Verdy and Jacques d’Amboise dance this as guests with for San Francisco Ballet at the Palace of Fine Arts. Verdy, the role’s creator, gave a slight emphasis when finishing s phrase. Scheller relied on the smooth sequences Balanchine created, slight piquancy was missing. Garcia started slowly, gaining in quality; heavier in the thighs than in San Francisco, he danced the ballet with Tina Le Blanc at her retirement; here he seemed sluggish.

A dozen Ballet San Jose dancers appeared in a section of Jorma Elo’s Glow Stop to the Philip Glass music, abounding in jerks and twitches interrupting classical line, phrasing and execution. The twelve made a cohesive ensemble; I wish for them better assignments. The dancers were: Amy Marie Briones, Cindy Husang, Alexsandra Meijer, Annali Rose, Ommi Pipit-Suksun, Jing Zhang, Damir Emric, James Kopecky, Jeremy Kovitch, Joshua Seibel, Maykel Solas, Kendall Teague. Ramon Moreno was absent as was Maria Jacobs-Yu; formally retired from the company, she expects her second offspring.

Gillian Murphy and Thomas Forster in the Black Swan pas de deux was notable; tall, slender Forster’s was a visibly smitten portrayal of Prince Siegfried. Murphy danced like a power house, brashly knowing, teasing, if traveling on the final fouettes. The pair sent the audience out energized for the intermission.

After the intermission Ballet San Jose Board Chair Millicent Powers proudly presented Jose Manuel Carreno to the audience as the company’s second artistic director. In his charming Cuban-Spanish accent Carreno acknowledged visiting artistic directors Kevin McKenzie and Helgi Tomasson plus his amazement as being on the other side of the performing curtain.

Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s balcony pas de deux from Romeo and Juliet provided a glimpse of Julie Kent and Marcelo Gomes. Framed by the set from Dennis Nahat’s production for the Prokofiev score, they left no doubt about the electricity of the two Renaissance Verona adolescents.

Shifting stylea to the Le Corsaire pas de deux Rudolf Nureyev brought westward, Cincinnati Ballet dancers Adiarys Almeida and Joseph Gatti; competitors at the 2006 USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Gatti earned a bronze medal. Small, dynamic, well placed, Gatti danced a very aggressive slave; Almedia was smiling, pert, almost totally en place with her fouettes.

New York City Ballet principal Joaquin de Luz danced David Fernandez’ solo to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Presto movement from the Violin Concerto in G. Minor. The challenge, interspersed with port de bras allowing the dancer to breathe, de Luz’ musicality, engaged the audience with his modest charm.

Another set of New York City principals appeared with George Balanchine’s Tarantella to Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s infectious 19th century interpretation of an Italian staple. Megan Fairchild and Daniel Ulbreicht were perky; Ulbreicht’s fun, teasing and elevation electrified the audience.

Boston Ballet principals Lorna Feijoo and Nelson Madrigal danced the second act pas de deux from Giselle in strong stage light, robbing the mystery, making their appearance abrupt. Stuck between two high energy pas de deux their artistry suffered.

Marcelo Gomes demonstrated his dramatic facility in the penultimate pas de deux,, the two dances Twyla Tharp set to Sinatra Songs. With a scintillating, responsive Misty Copeland, the audience reaction was predictably huge.

San Francisco’s Maria Kochetkova and Taras Domitro completed the gala with the war horse Grand pas de Deux from Marius Petipa’s Don Quixote. Postures, balances, pauses, carefully choreographed glances were etched, delivered with sang froid assurance designed to leave the audience gasping. Domitro, noted for his ballon, surpassed himself. Kochetkova matched previous double and triple fouette turns with carefully spotted ones to the four corners. It was a fitting finale to the evening.

Now comes not only Carreno’s challenge artistically, but Stephanie Ziesel’s responsibilities to provide for Ballet San Jose fiscally; there have been nasty rumors to the contrary.