Tag Archives: Mirai Noda

At Last Ballet San Jose’s Roster 2013-2014

26 Sep

With just five days to go before September’s end, like the U.S. Congress, Ballet San Jose has released its company roster for 2013-2014, placing Karen Gabay in the new category of Artistic Associate and minus Maria Jacobs-Yu, who elected not to sign a contract this year. Jacobs-Yu’s delicate precision will be missed.

Not a dignified way to announce a company’s roster of dancers; but Ballet San Jose’s record makes one want to mention artists contributing to much of its varied repertoire history under its former artistic aegis. What invariably strikes me as noteworthy is that both past and present artistic directors are Ballet Theatre alumni from different periods of ABT’s evolution.

So, onward to glimpse the thinking of artistic director Jose Manuel Carreno and his Associate Artistic Director Raymond Rodriquez. Evidence points to the remarkable training ground of Carreno’s native Cuba for the corps de ballet is gaining three former members of the Ballet Nacioinal de Cuba in addition to principal dancers Ramon Moreno and Maykel Solas.

Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun has been promoted to Principal Dancer status; along with Alexsandra Meijer, they are only two women in the principal dancer roster. The three men are Jeremy Kovitch, Ramon Moreno and Maykel Solas.

The soloists now include Amy Marie Briones, Rudy Candia, Damir Emric, Junna Ige, Beth Ann Namey, Mirai Noda, Akira Takahashi and Jing Zhang. Emric’s status reflects promotion from the corps de ballet.

The new comers to the corps de ballet include Kathryn Meeusen and Thomas Baker from apprentice roles. The Cuban influx includes Jorge Lopez Barani, Walter Garcia and Ihosvany Rodriguez. Also new to the corps de ballet are Grace-Anne Powers, a former member of La La La Human Steps of Montreal and Alison Stroming, a former dancer with Alberta Ballet, both women natives of the U.S.

These new comers join Shannon Bynum, Cindy Huang, Lucius Kirst, James Kopecky, Alex Kramer, Brieanna Olson, Francisco Preciado, Annali Rose, Joshua Seibel, Cynthia Sheppard, Sarah Stein, Kendall Teague and Lahna Vanderbush.

The three apprentices are Emma Francis, Nicole Larson and Mariya Oishi.
Francis previously danced with Oregon Ballet Theatre.

George Daugherty will continue as Music Director. Those who have been fans of Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun look forward to her performances as a principal.

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Karen Gabay’s Gala with Ballet San Jose

1 May

Karen Gabay’s Gala, her final performance as a principal with Ballet San Jose, was rather hastily arranged and followed the company’s final performance of the season April 21.  However short the arrangements were, the tribute selections which started at 7 p.m. were warmly received by the audience in the half filled San Jose Center for the Performing Arts.

Excepting Amour Gitan, the music was recorded.  The selections were apt, however, and included video selections from Gabay’s thirty-some year sojourn with a company originally founded by Dennis Nahat and the late Ian Hovarth.  The first of three videos showed footage from her early Cleveland years, Gabay a glowing young woman with her initial principal role as Maria in the Nahat-Hovarth production of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker; her attentive partner was an equally youthful Raymond Rodriguez. As Maria, Gabay’s hair was noticeable in supported turns; I couldn’t help but wonder what such flung tresses in pirouettes does to a partner.  This section also featured a bespectacled youngish man with an abundant head of hair and an enthusiastic, discerning delivery.  It took me several seconds to register this spokesman as Dennis Nahat.

Fast forward, The Nutcracker  grand pas de deux  provided Gabay in white classical tutu with seven cavaliers dressed in black.  As  arranged by Gabay, each partner supported her for a phrase or two of that swelling hymn to the pas de deux.  The swains were: Maximo Califano, Rudy Candia, Jeremy Kovitch, Ramon Moreno, Anton Pankevitch, Raymond Rodriguez, Maykel Solas.  Bright eyes gleaming, her smile radiant, Gabay looked sensational.

The next video permitted time for Gabay to change for Amour Gitan with Maykel Solas, the pas de deux she created and danced in Ballet San Jose’s spring series.  The video included moments from the Nahat production of Romeo and Juliet which was created on Gabay with Rodriguez as Romeo. While Lev Polyakin was the violinist once more with George Lopez as pianist for the Maurice Ravel Tzigane created for the two instruments; later the orchestrated version was debuted in 1924 under the direction of Pierre Monteux. In 1975  Balanchine created a work for Suzanne Farrell to the symphonic version.

In her one-sided slit ruffled red sheath, Gabay was sufficiently alluring to get her way with the bare-chested Solas after some preliminary squabbles and one or two spectacular Solas jetes. In this partnership Gabay’s upper back stiffness was noted, neck and shoulders creating a forward emphasis in the upper torso, a foreshortening developing over time as a mannerism.  With her petite appeal, generous spirit and steady technique it was little noticed.

Following intermission and another video the program finished with another Gabay creation, 2-2 Tango, featuring many of the company dancers.  One could enjoy the haunting phrases, with that wonderful swoop and punctuation in the tango.  Gabay has the ability to create light-hearted, sometimes cheeky, unexpectedly punctuated dances as demonstrated in Point of Departure summer tours  as well as two pas de deux danced by Junna Ige and Shimon Ito in 2010’s USA International Ballet Competition.  Enjoyable, they register as clever, well constructed, a new take on some formulaic situations if one is scarcely torn asunder emotionally.  It’s  a genuine talent.

Gabay utilized Maximo Califano handsomely.  In suit and fedora at a slight sinister angle, it was a neat touch having him launch the piece evoking the drama inherent in his native Argentine music. He moved around three couples, the women dressed in red with a touch of flounces.  Three couples followed, then a pas de trois where Mirai Noda and Maria Jacobs-Yu skirmished over Akira Takahashi before joining forces to defeat his ambivalence towards their charms. Mordido paired Gabay and Rodriguez in a skillful, if deadly-tender death dance, Gabay’s only appearance here.  Down the line Califano, Beth Ann Namey and James Kopecky reversed the two and one face off.  Eight couples danced the finale with Califano to complete the dance with a final dashing gesture.

Following the warm audience enthusiasm,  there was a large bouquet of red roses for Gabay.  Raymond Rodriguez delivered a tribute after the individual tributes when each dancer in the company, whether on or off stage, brought a single rose to Gabay.  Jacobs-Yu curtseyed, stage hands came on, conductor George Daugherty, the evening’s musicians, costumers, electricians, publicist Lee Kopp.  It was a genuine parade of associates.

A jarring visual note occurred when Alexsandra Meijer in a short strapless white dress retired into the group after giving a rose to Gabay; she  then rendered a curtsey and rose to Maximo Califano before weeping on his shoulder.  Rumored not to have his contract renewed,  Califano and Meijer both joined the company in 2001.

It is thought and hoped that Karen Gabay will remain with Ballet San Jose as ballet mistress.  She would, like Rodriguez, contribute an enormous institutional memory and professional wealth.  Seeing glimpses of her mad scene in Giselle and verve in Toreador in the videos, character roles would benefit from her dramatic skill and theatrical savvy.  Where ever she settles, the organization will be damned lucky.

Ballet San Jose’s Neo Classical Masters, March 22

15 Apr

Ballet San Jose branched out not only to repeat Sir Frederick Ashton’s Meditations from Thais, but adding his early work, LesRendezvous to its March program, repeating Stanton Welch’s Clear and Clark Tippet’s Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1.  An added draw was Rachel Lee as guest violinist with the small, lively orchestra led by George Daugherty with his usual verve.

It’s rare for Ballet San Jose to repeat a ballet in one season or in back to back seasons.  Dennis Nahat did repeat works but with more than one or two seasons between.  I suspect the company felt the need a) to expose the San Jose audience to a number of good choreographers and revivals because b) that will keep them coming.  The company’s seasons were truncated during the Recession; it remains to be seen when it will return to four spring performances in addition to The Nutcracker, let alone add a fifth.

Les Rendezvous echoes the blithe, crisp tone of Daniel Francoisc Espirt Auber’s music and displays young men posturing a la “pip pip old boy” or “jolly good” as they enter and exit the stage.  The girls are suitably demure in white with pink-bordered skirts,  designed by William Chappell, a mainstay figure in pre-World War II London ballet circles.  Vivacity and The Old School in the Young Bloods might have been a suitable sub-title. Some themes are perennial for this ringer for an opener.  They run one  girl with two or three suitors, here Junna Ige with Alex Kramer and Francisco Preciado; a happy couple, here the confident Amy Marie Briones and Maykel Solas; finally, the gaggle of young women speculating about the young men who in turn are curious about the young women.  The port de bras looked Cecchetti influenced, but the entrances, exits and ensembles were fresh and wonderful, despite its 1933 debut; this work is one lively 80 year old senior.

Ashton’s Meditation from Thais to Jules Massenet’s perennial interlude provided a showcase for Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun’s sustained adagio and warm, liquid port de bras.  She conveyed a dreamy sensuality to this courtesan whose beauty invades a monk’s mind., and was ably partnered by Jeremy Kovitch. Rachel Lee’s violin helped infuse the languor Ashton built into this deceptively simple pas de deux; its creators, Anthony Dowell and Antoinette Sibley acknowledged was “a killer” to dance. At its premiere Ashton induced the audience to want it repeated!

Jing Zhang substituted for Alexsandra Meijer in Stanton Welch’s Clear, set to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto in Gi minor. Zhang’s attack was strong and impersonal in the work Welch acknowledged having been influenced by his presence in New  York on 9/11/2001.  Save for Zhang’s minimal role at the end, it’s a man’s work and they clearly rose to the challenge.

Clark Tippet’s Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 required major exposure to four couples, the women dressed in different colors. Junna Ige and Mayfel Solas led the ensemble while Mirai Noda and Akira Takahashi made the fourth.  Predictably Amy Marie Briones and Maximo Califano were not only red but danced the assertive portions of the 1866 virtuosic violin challenge.  In blue Alexsandra Meijer and Jeremy Kovitch danced the adagio.  Meijer danced correctly but without a particular focus on either mood or music.

Rachel Lee’s rendition of three standard but important violin works justly made her the heroine of the program.

The weekend of April 19-20-20 will see Ballet San Jose dance a work by Merce Cunningham and a premiere by Jessica Lange. Following the April 21 matinee, the company will stage a 7 p.m. farewell celebration for Karen Gabay.  After 30 years and an affiliation which started in Cleveland with Dennis Nahat and Ian Horvath, Gabay is moving on to other realms, one of which is rumored to be American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.

Ballet San Jose’s New Nutcracker

12 Dec

Karen Gabay was commissioned to choreograph Ballet San Jose’s “Nutcracker,” following the unfortunate departure of Dennis Nahat, leaving his production of the holiday perennial in limbo. Ms. Gabay was affiliated with that production from its second season onward; thus,  her familiarity with the score, the plot and the choreography was quite logical.

Equally logical, I suppose, was the use of American Ballet Theatre’s production mounted by Mikhail Baryshnikov; it got a new audience and I am sure ABT got some sort of rental out of it. While there were some pleasing touches in Paul Kelly’s designs for the production, the drop curtain’s blue with its concave snow scene and nestled cabins was almost garish in its intensity; it was little relieved by the border with a nutcracker on one side, a pink-tutued dancer arms en couronne on the other side and toys scattered over and around the top. With a fin de siecle First Act set with deep brown walls, it was hard to fathom what had happened to the excitement and the warmth  associated with other versions.  I credit Theoni V. Aldredge,  the original designer, with the women’s gracefully flowing costumes.  George Daugherty kept the orchestra at a lively clip and David K. H. Elliott lit the story with his usual sensitivity.

Raymond Rodriguez, the company ballet master, became Drosselmeyer in  nearly stringed-puppet style, his dark hair topped by an obvious white wig and  demeanor which seemed to copy Charlie Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux, unlike his hilarious  gimpy general in Graduation Ball.  His Drosselmeyer  is a bit of a misogynist;  the family maid  had to heist his bulky box of tricks and gifts.

For opening night, Maria Jacobs-Yu and  Ramon Moreno were cast as Marie and her Prince. Other pairs include Karen Gabay and Maykel Solas and Alexsandra Meijer and Jeremy Kovitch.

The child Clara has been abandoned for an adult Marie dressed in demure calf-length white with touches of lace at the collar and wrists. Mirai Noda participated in a pantomime of ‘The Hard Nut’ where three males contend to crack the nut which will release a royal coma  from the touch of a slinking mouse;  the King and Queen go into paroxysms of grief anger and ineffective broom wielding.  The two unsuccessful suitors, Nimble and Nye, danced by Akira Takahashi and Peter Hershey, danced a pas de deux of a quality equal to their names, one of the best crafted in the ballet and, yes, nimbly executed.

Marie was  assigned the Sugar Plum Fairy music in Act I as a kind of reverie before the mice come round.  Marie was all over the ballet, except the Russian, Arabic and Chinese variations in Act II;   for all Jacobs-Yu’s skill and charm , this omnipresence diminished instead of cohering the story. Ramon Moreno, whose grand jetes, jazz style [en face instead of on a diagonal] were peppered around to a fault, danced with his usual panache; he was allowed to give the hand and cheek of Marie, a refreshing human touch.

Both the Snow Scene and the opening of Act II included students from the San Jose Ballet School, Snow en pointe and Act II opening in soft shoe; that like a year-end student recital. The Waltz of the Flowers, seen previously at the company Gala in November, repeated its geometrical paces with Jacobs-Yu and Moreno making a late appearance as the central couple.

The variations were danced with great energy, the Russian enhanced by Amy Marie Briones as the central figure, doffing her cap at the finale after having dazzled us with the forceful  turns and  strong jumps.  Three Japanese dubbed as Chinese for that variation – Akira Takahashi, Mirai Noda and Junna Ige maneuvering in “Oriental” pastiche typical of Russian ballet.  When it came to the Arabian, Maximo Califano was permitted polygamy with Ruth Ann Namey and Nutnaree Pipit-Suskun.  The latter’s gestures conveyed everything  expected in sensual allure;  hip swivels  delivered with understated humor.

Califano, it should be noted, did more than a lion’s share in the production, moving from the Rat King to the Arabian before shoving himself into Mere Maxine’s eighteenth century hoops which sheltering students dressed as an  international  covey of children.

I enjoy the artistry of Jacobs-Yu and Moreno; but  the choreography did not  create some possible spectacular phrasing in the grand pas de deux.  Emphasized were supported pirouettes, arabesques and attitudes, few, if any, lifts where the Tchaikovsky score swelled to suggest a physical echo.  Since Gabay is  dancing in the production,  Marie’s role may have been tailored to her own technical range.

My reservations did not seem shared with other audience members.  The woman in front of me rose spontaneously when the dancers bowed to the audience.

Ballet San Jose’s Gala November 3

11 Nov

For the first time, Ballet San Jose opened its season with a Gala, featuring a company premiere, war horse pas de deux, some excerpts and a full short ballet culled from American Ballet Theatre’s repertoire.  It also resurrected the use of a full orchestra, led by George Daugherty,  missing in the spring season, its first without its founding artistic director Dennis Nahat.  The program was the joint selection of  Artistic Advisor Wes Chapman and Ballet Master Raymond Rodriguez.

A Gala is designed to whip up interest for the later season, displaying the company roster to  advantage after a fund-minded dinner and before a congratulatory post-performance event. Entering the Frank Lloyd Wright auditorium, characterized everywhere without a center aisle, the front orchestra rows, some eight or so, were vacant, clearly meant for the audience paying $1000 for the privilege, $800 of which was to support a Ballet San Jose community-related activity.

Seated center orchestra, mid-way up, I found myself behind a massive head of white hair; after switching for the final work, a tall head inclined to move to the music, hazards of the no aisle seating arrangement.  The program itself featured an obviously staged photo by Quinn Wharton, dominated by a brunette in a short strapless dress, one knee up on a black backed chair.Its purpose seemed to convey patroness in front of the dancers, two men and a dancer in tutu in broad fourth position, one man on the left stripped to the waist, apparently warming up using scenery for his  barre and the street clothed male to the right, leaping while holding on to a stick.

However, The Nutcracker’s Waltz of the Flowers opened the program featuring eight couples, the women’s knee-length costumes in shades of peach and with paniers, the men sporting green tights with grey vests, flowers and their stems.  This was the first view of Karen Gabay’s take on the holiday staple which will be premiered fully in December.  While the Waltz lacked the focus of a central couple, Gabay’s use of symmetry, varying groups of four to eight and several grand circles, both as couples and men versus women, proved easy on the eyes and agreeable to the mood.  Rita Felciano remarked, “After all, the waltz has always been a couple dance.”

Sir Frederick Ashton’s creation to Jules Massenet’s “Meditation from Thais,” followed with its quasi-oriental garment design by Sir Anthony Dowell,  original male partner to Dame Antoinette Sibley’s Thais.  Subsequent performers have had a hard time matching their supple classicism or conveying that the courtesan Thais is a projection of the Monk’s imagination.  It’s a hard business being very physical, a priest, in his imagination lusting for  the courtesan while pretending she should lead a celibate life in the desert.

This tricky pas de deux, staged by Bruce Sansom, former Royal Ballet principal, was interpreted by Rudy Candia and Alexsandra Meijer with Rachel Lee as violinist.  Meijer’s elegant legs,  displayed to advantage,  were given support by Candia, but ease was missing, Meijer  more austere than evanescent.

From late nineteenth century romanticism Edward Stierle’s athletic, heavily emotional solo from the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Requiem was an explosive contrast.  Created by Stierle as he was dying from AIDS, Lacrymosa challenged Joshua Seibel to start and end with shoulder stands, legs stretched towards the ceiling.  In between, turns, tumbles and other gymnastic skills were required.  I had seen Brooklyn Mack dance it to recorded music at the Jackson Competition in 2010 in tribute to Stierle, but here both sides of the stage apron were filled with The Golden Gate Boys Choir Master Singers dressed in white middies with red ties and skirts who supported soprano Kristin Clayton.  It’s great to employ the community but the contrast jarred.

To see Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun make her Ballet San Jose debut dancing to Bach in Stanton Welch’s ballet Clear was sheer pleasure. With  Jeremy Kovitch, the two echoed the adagio in this work highly influenced by 9/11.  Pipit-Suksun’s musical line, thorough has an unforced finish.  Her emotional presence within the strict demands of this Western classical form flows beyond its boundaries.  In this elegiac pas de deux Pipit-Suksun delivered quiet consolation; later she was pert ensemble  accent  in  Stars and Stripes.  I’m glad  she is still dancing  to Bay Area audiences.

Junna Ige and Maykel Solas danced in white for the Act III pas de deux from Don Quixote. Had they been backed by a set, the costumes would have been fine; as stand alone bravura it needs more flash in the attire.  They are a nicely matched, charming  pair.  In well-schooled Japanese style,  Ige eschews  accent to her finishes. Demure,  a little emphasis is in order, along with consistency in the working foot in fouettes; they tended to become flaccid after the initial thrust.  Solas was, as always, consistent.

Dalia Rawson arranged a complicated mixture of the Ballet San Jose students to Tchaikovsky’s polonaise finale,  a visual announcement of enrollment and instruction,  the new school direction and training based on the American Ballet Theatre curriculum. There was definitely a lot to be seen from tots to teenagers, beginners to apprentice-worthy adolescents.  She used lines, circles, entrances and exits to accomplish the presentation. The audience just loved it, cheering as it did through most of the evening.

Balanchine’s Fifth Campaign from Stars and Stripes brought the full company on stage, if giving Ramon Moreno, Maria Jacobs-Yu and Karen Gabay cameo appearances.  Usually an evening’s ending work, it still was infectious.

The late Clark Tippet’s Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 provided the evening’s finale, allowing four couples solo variations with eight couples as support  Tippet attempted to differentiate the various themes, a little puckish and flirtation by Mirai Noda and Ramon Moreno, sparkle by Junna Ige and Maykel Solas.  Strong assertion by Amy Marie Briones and Maximo Califano demonstrated that Briones’ attack and flair is definite stimulus to Califano.  Alexsandra Meijer and Jeremy Kovitch were paired for the adagio. Meijer’s admirable line got blocked somewhere in  shoulder and head, individual interpretation at  odds with Rachel Lee’s violin passage.

For a first Gala, Ballet San Jose displayed competence;  it remains committed to pleasing an audience.  One awaits Karen Gabay’s Nutcracker and  2013 to assess  its new trajectory.

Ballet San Jose’s Spring Season 2012, Program I

4 Mar

Following  the controversy at 2011’s end, Ballet San Jose mounted the first of three spring programs March 2-4 at San Jose’s Center for the Performing Arts, featuring
two ballets brought through its new collaboration with American Ballet Theatre and
Graduation Ball, mounted by Ballet San Jose’s principal ballet master Raymond Rodriguez.

The first two ballets were  Paquita, its variations staged by Susan Jones, and Jerome Robbins’ second ballet, Interplay,mounted by Edward Verso and Wes Chapman from ABT.  The program marked the first in memory minus live orchestra; a further irony lay in the fact former artistic director Dennis Nahat had himself danced in Interplay while he was an eleven-year member of American Ballet Theatre.

Paquita was initially premiered at the Paris Opera in 1846 and in St Petersburg in 1847.  The version seen was revived by Marius Petipa in 1881. Its bon-bon-in-silver- and-gold foil qualities must have been hugely enjoyed by balletomanes in that imperial city, for the women’s port de bras must be liquid grace with heads, epaulement,torsos gently inclined while the feet stab the floor like steel daggers.

Maykel Solas, the sole male and in white body tights, was given a toreador tunic laden with golden filigree; for all his competence in partnering and skillful  variation. the effect made him seem hunched.

The surprise was assigning the principal role to Amy Marie Briones, a member of the corps since 2006, who danced Myrthe in the 2010 production of Giselle.  Briones is full-bodied, her waist a little high, technically very strong; she dearly loves to dance and shares that love with the audience. She is able to engage the spectator in much the same refreshing style as Evelyn Cisnernos, former San Francisco Ballet principal.  Briones needs to acquire more nuanced dancing which will emerge with appropriate coaching; right now her fouettes, frequently doubles, are rendered in nearly unwavering spot-on position.  Despite a momentary flub near the end, it was an “ah” moment of gratifying  correctness.

In the four supporting variations Junna Ige was musical, her port de bras graceful  accessories to her jetes followed by pauses and Shannon Bynum’s attitudes shared a like phrasing.

Paquita demonstrated that the San Jose dancers require sharpening; rigorous classical assignments in programming will build just that.

The eight dancers cast in Jerome Robbins Interplay enjoyed their assignment ; they could have been classmates in my home town, thanks to the openness of the choreography.  It was like seeing the faint blueprint resulting many years later in Dances at a Gathering. Interplay, however is directly akin to Fancy Free and precursor to West Side Story.  Maykel Solas danced Horseplay effectively, Jing Zhang and Jeremy Kovitch rendered a restrained romantic pas de deux and the Team Play brought the other dancers, Amy Marie Briones, Mirai Noda, Lahna Vanderbush, Seth Parker and Akira Takahashi into full exposure.  For the writer, it is a piece of nostalgia, having seen some of the early Ballet Theatre exponents in the ballet: Ruth Ann Koesun, Eric Braun, Johnny Kriza.

Closing the program with a revival of Graduation Ballet, Ballet San Jose presented a ballet created by David  Lichine for Colonel de Basil’s Original Ballet Russe February 28, 1940. Premiered in Sydney, Australia, when World War II was just six months old, Aussie soldiers were being shipped to Europe.

Creating an evocation of mid-nineteenth century Vienna to the effervescent Strauss waltzes, Lichine created a romp of youth in schools for the privileged that remains engaging despite being 72 years old, and one of the very few remaining active in company repertoires, including American Ballet Theatre

The ballet allowed Raymond Rodriguez as the arthritic, gimpy legged general and Karen Gabay in the pig-tailed role created by Tatiana Riabouchinska to demonstrate what decades of performing can bring to an assignment, consistency, depth and utter focus.  Maximo Califano assumed the role of headmistress, giving the flirtation with the general a visual Mutt and Jeff component, while Briones and Zhang were assigned the competition fouettes.  Ramon Moreno and Junna Ige appeared, dazzling in white, in the pas de deux which replaced the original  Scotsman and the Sylph.  Hopefully, the powder puffs at the beginning and the talismans at
the end will see Graduation Ball enjoying its centennial.