Tag Archives: Muriel Maffre

2016 at Stern Grove: San Francisco Ballet

3 Aug

When you park off Wawona for a Sunday Stern Grove matinee, the path to the
meadow-auditorium as remodeled by the late Lawrence Halprin does three or four turns on its sloping route to the wonderful meadow given to San Francisco by Mrs. Sigmund Stern honoring her husband. You come out near the clubhouse which some decades earlier was a roadhouse and now houses a series of both gender toilets adjoining the original building. A few feet downward and there are a slew of short-order vendors and the Stern Grove Association booths for information and assistance.

As VIP’s [read press affiliates] it was still necessary to trek across the meadow, brimming with multi-cultural humanity, to the VIP tent to get badges and green wrist bands enabling our party of five to imbibe beer and wine as well as claim our share of Table 35, next to the bona fide press table. This year the press has been moved to the lower of three tiers of tables, if off side, so that our view of San Francisco Ballet was decidedly at an angle. It also enabled us to observe Frances Chung stretch her legs and bend her back prior to entering as Odette in Swan Lake, her debut in the role. She doubtless will appear in the ballet during the 2017 spring season at the Opera House.

In addition to Tiit Helimets as Siegfried and Alexander Renoff-Olson as Von Rothpart, the program included Helgi Tomasson’s Fifth Season, music by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins and two pieces appearing semi-regularly on SFB’s programs: Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain pas de deux to Estonian composer Arvo Part, finishing with George Balanchine’s Rubies with Vanessa Zahorian, Joseph Walsh and Jennifer Stahl.

Before further comment, our party of five included Carlos and Carolyn Carvajal, who have graced performances and mounted works locally both in the earlier San Francisco Ballet days, with Carlos’ Dance Spectrum and Carolyn’s witty performances with Dance Through Time and in the ballet parts of San Francisco Opera seasons. Carlos’ tenure with San Francisco Ballet goes back to Willam Christensen’s years, and two subsequent stints under Lew Christensen with Le Grand Ballet de Marquis de Cuevas, Breman and Bordeaux Opera Ballets in between.

Dennis Nahat and John Gebertz made numbers three and four, both having assignments with Akyumen Technologies since Nahat’s abrupt termination at Ballet San Jose, bringing two Chinese productions to De Anza Auditorium in Cupertino and Southern California, and participating in the affairs of Donald McKayle at U.C. Irvine. Dennis regaled us with stories of ABT’s Swan Lake in the rain at New York’s Delacorte Theater and the ingenuity of Lucia Chase.

Swan Lake
brought swoons of admiration from Carolyn Carvajal for the dancing of the corps de ballet, remarking on the correctness of the staging as she remembered it with Merriem Lanova’s Ballet Celeste. Dennis observed how crisp the angles in the line of foot and leg in Odette’s solo because of short tutus, unlike the knee-length costumes so remarked upon in Ratmansky’s production of Sleeping Beauty. We had to assume Tiit’s interpretation because his back was to us ninety per cent of the time, but Chung’s expression provided the clue of Odette’s concern and wavering. For the first time I could feel a thought process from the progression of Odette’s choreography, as well as the touching moment when she ventures under Siegfried’s arm in the pas de deux, a creature moment for certain.

Wan Ting Zhao and Jennifer Stahl provided the leaping choreography and Isabella DeVivo, Jahna Frantziskonis, Noriko Matsuyama and Emma Rubinowitz, precise, multi-cultural little cygnets, hopping in sync for all their worth.

Tomasson’s Fifth Season was garbed in Sandra Woodall’s sleek tight and top fashion de rigeur with choreographic abstraction, divided into sections titled Waltz, Romance, Tango, Largo and Bits, eight corps in the ensemble with principals Mathilde Froustey, Yuan Yuan Tan, Doris Andre , the men Carlos Quenedit, Tiit Helimets, Aaron Robison in his local San Francisco Ballet debut.

Yuan Yuan Tan seemed to have cornered the feminine role in After The Rain
pas de deux, her sinuous,willowy length adapting to Luke Ingham, a second
Australian to partner her in Christopher Wheeldon’s protracted study of langeur
and emotional connection, minimally costumed in flesh tones by Holly Hynes. Ingham made an effective foil to Tan, clearly an excellent partner.

Rubies is, to me, a very urban ballet, brash, out there with a neat dash of Broadway. Jennifer Stahl danced the figure manipulated by the four corps men Max Cauthorn , Blake Kessler, Francisco Mungamba and John-Paul Simoens. From a distance it seemed effective, given location reservations and the vivid memory of Muriel Maffre in that role. Vanessa Zahorian and Joseph Walsh danced the leads with aplomb and good humor.

San Francisco Ballet annually draws some of Stern Grove Festival’s biggest audiences. Halprin’s design gives the public an amazing series of alcoves where they can stash their bodies and their lunches. Halprin’s vision reinforced that fact Stern Grove Festival, at the threshold of celebrating its 80th annual summer, continues to be one of the crown jewels of San Francisco’s cultural and recreation diversions.

San Francisco Ballet’s Program Five, Don Q

3 Apr

Even with the umpah nature the Minkus score provides for Don Quixote, it’s a romp;for these creaky old bones, it’s like comfort food as visible signs of the old order, mythical or otherwise, crumbles at each pothole on San Francisco’s principal streets. Only the new dual fuel buses with their accommodating buttons and the hand friendly curve below on the yellow painted metal poles can convince me The City That Knows How is doing exactly that for its motley inhabitants. And it’s really nice that the Civic Center Parking Lot charges only $3 an evening to devotees of ballet’s classical war horses. I grab for reassurance anywhere that the world can still possess moments of “It’s all right Jack!” or similar Cockney cheer. Recently, there has been Lawrence Ferlinghetti for back up on PBS.

My colleagues are swifter, faster, more disciplined when it comes to credits for the make overs of this Petipa production adapted by Gorsky for the Bolshoi Ballet. Gorsky’s influence is felt because Yuri Possokhov, who danced in it, collaborated with Helgi Tomasson on San Francisco Ballet’s production, with its lovely set but some color clashes in Packledinaz’ costuming. The work itself is meant to tease, dazzle technically and embrace romance with just a dusting of Spanish flavor. Marius Petipa must have been far enough away from his own Spanish shenanigans to incorporate them in the original production. Yes indeed, in his early years he was something of a rogue.

My colleagues doubtless have explained that from a small segment of the Spanish novelist’s opus, there was a Kitri; she was extracted and made central to a plot prevalent through most of social history: Daddy, an innkeeper or tapas supplier, wants daughter to marry well and safely; translate money. Daughter wants to choose; in this tale, with the “quixotic” Don and his retainer Sancho Panza it happens with the aid of gypsies and a wind mill, providing the excuse for some very classical 19th century style dancing. In between, sunny Spain provides friends and townsfolk who love to gather in taverns and some toreadors and their romantic partners. Finally with a feigned suicide, the lovers are blessed and the marriage scene is danced with the warhorse pas de deux, which, when done well, gets us all whooping and hollering with delight at the curtain.

Jim Sohm is making an unofficial second career portraying seniors, daft or domestic; he is doing it very well. He’s tall and hefty enough to give Don Quixote a presence and muscle. With Pascal Molat’s minted Sancho Panza, gem-like in his rogue behavior and eye for purloined gluttony, the pair thread through the narrative, making it coherent while still implausible. The selling point of the ballet for me is the contrast between the girl-boy spectacle and the wonderful characterizations possible in stock theatrics. Val Caniparoli and Anita Paciotti provide the cantina parents with Ricardo Bustamonte the inn keeper where papa gets foiled into blessing the pair. Then there is Gamache, which Ruben Martin-Cintas is undertaking for the first time, with all his pastel furbelows and foppish behavior.

We have Carlos Quenedit as Basilio, the penniless barber, opposite Mathilde Froustey as Kitri. Both danced their respective roles before; Carlos with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba and with the Joffrey Ballet before joining San
Francisco Ballet and Froustey with the Paris Opera Ballet. Hard to imagine the Froustey delicacy in Giselle doing a volte face into Spanish spunk. Overall, she
managed it nicely the more she danced; her beginning was a bit tense; her overall portrayal reminded me of the cliche April in Paris rather than Seville in summer.

Quenedit electrified the audience, and deservedly so, in his opening variation; prodigious elevation, crispness and an insouciant command of his whipping tours. (I really don’t understand why international competitions don’t allow this pas de deux as part of their official assignments for prize aspirants.) That accomplished, the performance settled into its narrative and one really good time.

This mood was enhanced by the crispness of Kitri’s girl friends, Doris Andre and Noriko Matsuyama, matched for size and general ebullience. For the major toreador, Espada, and girl friend Mercedes, Daniel Deivison-Oliveira and Sarah Van Patten came on strongly, matching intensity, both posturing and smouldering with elan. Having remembered the taller interpreters, Pierre-Francois Vilanoba and Muriel Maffre, it was good to see another pair make a strong, well-matched impression.

Hansuke Yamamoto and Dana Genshaft dominated the gypsy segment, Yamamoto’s jumps compensating for his build, slighter than one expects for a gypsy. This gypsy scene also is more out of Romany than Granada, bandanas replacing combs and ruffles. The gypsy scene, of course, ends when Don Q attacks the lumbering turn of the windmill and falls into a injury-induced sleep. Here Sancho Panza’s concern assumed genuine pathos – Molat blending concern and fatalism.

For Don Q, however, it provides a vision of skillful, saccharine femininity with the ballet’s most classical passages, led by Sofiane Sylve’s formidable, very classical Queen and a nimble, delicate Cupid portrayed by Koto Ishihara. Never mind that Cupid mythologically is male; here it’s a fleet young female. Kitri has been transformed into Dulciana and Don attends her dancing in a manner worthy of the Prince’s vision in Sleeping Beauty. Who knows, this may have been Petipa’s first sketch of that hide and seek vision of 1890, just as La Bayadere predated Lac de Cygnes.

Then it’s on to the tavern operated by Ricardo Bustamonte , a table dance by Marcedes, and Daddy Caniparoli in hot pursuit with Gamache locating the hidden Kitri with an eloquent pointed finger, gloved of course. The would-be alliance is interrupted by suicide bent Basilio, laying down his cloak, plunging his long, wicked knife into his side, having, of course, clued Kitri into his deception, fondling her when she raises his head. Don Q to the rescue with the aid of his lengthy spear, separating Gamache from the scene and with height and metal-tipped spear inviting Papa to bless the dying union. Bien sur, surprise!


The Wedding Festivities comprise the entire final act, with the toreadors rushing in with their capes, their partners flouncing in with black bordered white gowns almost equal to the finale of flamenco performances and a bevy bridesmaids. The setting is the same as that of Act I; one wonders how the Inn Keeper and spouse can afford such an outlay.

Basilio and Kitri are both garbed in white, he with a fair share of gilt braid and she with a fairly elaborate bodice above the crisp classical tutu, both prepared to dance a pas de deux one has seen often enough to demand the dancers astonish us. [A balletomane attending international competitions is particularly prone to such views.] The inaugural adagio seems to provide the best passage to impress the audience, where Basilio spins her and when they face each other at a distance. Kitri’s balances should be strong and long enough to emphasize the Spanish Je ne sais quoi in allure. The male solo doesn’t do nearly enough for the man, and the female variation has to be distinguished by the use of the fan. Lorena Feijoo managed to employ it in the final menage, a feat I have yet to see equaled, and any fouettes that appear should not travel. Froustey’s balances were secure and Quenedit partnered and postured very well. I had hoped to see Feijoo and Vitor Luiz at the final matinee May 29 but a minor injury changed the casts.

Like Giselle and Romeo and Juliet yet to come, Don Quixote was programmed to help celebrate Helgi Tomasson’s three decades as San Francisco Ballet’s artistic director. All hail! For 2015-2016, let’s hope we see Don Q repeated. Not only is it a romp, it provides a healthy range of opportunity for the company’s dancers. Who can quibble with that?

Zhukov Dance Theatre, S.F. Jazz Center, October 29

8 Nov

Yuri Zhukov’s Dance Theatre comes around just once a year, in late summer or early fall. This year’s two performances are the latest into the fall yet. S.F. Jazz Center, as venue, provided Zhukov’s five dancers with a thrust stage environment, the audience on three sides, much like an outdoor amphitheatre. For the kind of message Zhukov provides an audience, it’s an excellent choice; the dancers are totally exposed and the lighting provides them with the chance
to fade into the background, but not leave the stage. It was S.F. Jazz Center’s first dance event.

This year Zhukov shared choreographic honors with Idan Sharabi, an Israeli whose professional performing credits include Nederlans Dans Theatre and Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company, and choreographic accomplishments for Ballet Junior de Geneve and the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, a full evening for The Belgrade Dance Festival, and teaching at the University of California, Irvine.

Both choreographers come from specific traditions, Zhukov’s more ancient than Sharabi’s, which is nonetheless strong and committed. They possess a strong grasp of technique and craft mingled with highly individual approaches to themes.

I have watched Zhukov since he arrived in San Francisco, dancing opposite Muriel Maffre in Swan Lake, their acknowledging bows embodiments of their two traditions. Certainly after the Birmingham Royal Ballet and teaching for the Royal Swedish Ballet, Zhukov’s return to San Francisco signaled a commitment to personal vision, which include intriguing visual as well as choreographic skill.

The annual two evening performances have been labeled “product,” of which this is the sixth. Zhukov’s work titled Enlight employed squares of light merging gradually into full stage lighting before returning to the squares under which five dancers danced to music played by Jordi Savall, on the viol de gamba, some of it Johann Sebastian Bach, by also Icelandic composer Johann Johannson for contemporary dissonance and angst.

Sharabi”s piece Spider on a Mirror was based and expanded on gestures observed on San Francisco’s streets before spinning into incredibly athletic displays where dancers would emerge from the sidelines or next to each other, and then retreat. In the beginning, the glances, the turns of heads and shoulders created an almost lacy spatial effect before the dancers became almost violently active, their plasticity stretched as far as their highly trained physiques allowed. Spider on a Mirror concludes with the repetition of a young man’s quandry, the other dancers regarding him sympathetically, ultimately moving away, reminding us we are ultimately alone.

The dancers were Rachel Fallon, Doug Baum, Christopher Bordenave, Nick Korbos, Aszure Barton and Jeremy Neches. Fallon was new to the Zhukov ensembles, the others having appeared in Zhukov’s Product Five and earlier, Bordenave one of the oldest. Both choreographers made enormous demands on the dancers who gave themselves to the two works with skill, energy and amazing virtuosity.

Yuri Zhukov’s annual two evening seasons, with his visual art available for purchase, make a statement about him as a special artist and, also, about San Francisco. Some artists prefer a milieu where it is possible to explore multiple avenues and to develop their vision at a pace where their sensibilities are challenged primarily by their own vision. San Francisco seems to be
such a place, and it has harbored some remarkably unique dance artists in this regard. I think of the late Ed Mock, June Watanabe and Brenda Wong Aoki as such special talents; Yuri Zukhov clearly is among that number San Francisco is fortunate to possess. Undergirding Zhukov’s multiple talents is his Russian heritage; in his explorations he combines the extremes of sensibility and an acuity of vision reminiscent of Dostoevsky.

Words on Dance at the Vogue, August 22

27 Aug

There wasn’t much notice for this Tuesday night viewing, but those who were involved in some of the sequences were there in force. At least the way that I got an e-mail, I had no clue that we would see a short film by Quinn Wharton featuring dancers from the Hubbard Street Dance Company cavorting around handsome old brick facades, a secluded garden, into tunnels and at the edge of Lake Michigan under the title Opaque. Visually it was wonderful, the walks in the varying stages of drunkenness and the confused mental processes well depicted. The sexual scenes were prolonged, of course, to show the amazing holds, lifts and rolls of the dancers,although I kept wondering whether the lovers were not just acrobats too immersed in their techniques to risk physical union. Or is that the tell tale sign of an aging expectation?

Then we saw a potpourri assembled from longer individual sessions, Edward Villella, Cynthia Gregory, Jerome Robbins with Damara Bennett and Joanna Berman as interviewers and Amanda Vail for the Robbins sequence with participating panelists Stephanie Saland, Robert La Fosse, Helgi Tomasson, Edward Villella. It was a satisfying glimpse of the rich, rewarding ballet world near the end of the twentieth century. Included as “beyond the ballet category” was Mark Morris with some wonderful clips from his company’s sojourn in Belgium, and one or two sequences of Morris himself dancing, a demonstration of his extraordinary gifts beyond choreographing and directing orchestras.

Following these glimpses of the past was a brief clip of Les Twins, Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, hip hop advocates, opposite Sarah Van Patten and Doris Andre of San Francisco Ballet. If my notes are correct the film maker was Kate Duhamel. The sustained arabesques, developpes and port de bras with the frenetic rubber legs, torso and shoulder inflections of Les Twins was an absorbing visual exercise, centered so the camera did not travel, concentrating effect and contrast.

Deborah Kaufman, the mastermind behind Words on Dance, came forward at the end of the viewing to remind us that WOD would be celebrating its 20th anniversary with a special program November 4. She introduced Judy Flannery, Managing Director of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, which will be running September 12-15, primarily at The Delancey Street Theatre.

Joanna Berman and Damara Bennett were present with Anita Paciotti, the trio
having danced together at San Francisco Ballet during the Lew Christensen- Michael Smuin era. Bennett has returned to San Francisco from Portland, Oregon where she had been in charge of the Oregon Ballet Theatre School when Christopher Stowell had been its artistic director. Anita mentioned Damara was joining the San Francisco Ballet School faculty to teach the beginning students.

Happily for the organizers of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, opening and closing nights of the Festival sold out, some tickets do remain. The Museum of Performance and Design will be showing some exciting French-made documentaries concurrent with the Festival, and Executive Director Muriel Maffre will join Pascal Molat in a discussion of their own Paris Opera Ballet training following the documentary on students at the Paris Opera Ballet School Saturday September 14.

Vive La France

26 Jul

San Francisco Ballet’s 2013-2014 roster includes a new principal dancer of French background; Mathilde Froustey.  Reading her background, and the fact she earned a gold medal at the Varna International Ballet Competition in 2004 reminded me of Muriel Maffre, now executive director of The Museum of Performance and Design, who came with a similar medal from the first Paris International Ballet Competition directed by Cyril La Faure. Said competition lapsed when La Faure retired.

From 1985, when Helgi Tomasson assumed San Francisco Ballet’s artistic directorship, there has been a periodic welcome mat to feminine dancers, French trained.  Pascale Le Roy was the first; she segued briefly into Smuin Ballet as I remember, but has continued to make her mark as one of San Francisco Ballet School’s teachers, as Mrs. Stahlbaum in the annual Nutcracker production. More recently she created the role of the dance mistress, Mme Mansard, in “Cinderella,”  mansard being the name of a type of handsome building roof. Mansard’s character, seen briefly, never quite manages that, but Le Roy belongs to another location in a building, the bearing wall perhaps.  And I had better stop this train of irrelevant connections!

The next dancer was Karen Averty who danced perhaps two seasons before returning to Paris to complete her performing career.  She was one of the early Odette-Odiles in the Tomasson version of the Petipa-Ivanov-Tchaikovsky classic.

Then came La Maffre as a quite young principal.  I still remember her initial season when she danced “Swan Lake” with Yuri Zhukov, products/exponents of two great schools of classical ballet, Paris and now again St. Petersburg.  I not so much remember the dancing as the two of them taking their curtain calls to vociferous applause – their schooling, their bowing  response  to the audience and to each other I found intoxicating.  I remember Maffre in a number of other things, of course, but that was the forerunner of what we enjoyed of her dancing for nearly two decades.

We got Sofiane Sylve first as a guest principal and the following fall as a full-fledged member of the company.  She can be sweetly maternal as the Sugar Plum Fairy in”The Nutcracker”; steel “In The Middle Somewhat Elevated”; sublime in “Symphony in C’s” second movement in the bucolic distraction of Stern Grove, for which she received an Izzie for individual performance.

Froustey enjoys some formidable performing credits, but I just wanted to mention her countrywomen predecessors, such a  formidable roster.  We are richer for their distinction and I trust Froustey will simply add her only polish to that luster.

MPD’s Angel Wings in Motion

15 Jun

A recent  Face Book invitation came my way from Muriel Maffre, San Francisco Ballet’s retired principal dancer turned executive director of the Museum of Performance and Design, to accompany white wings glistening at their tips from MPD’s former location to its new one on Folsom, 893 to be exact.  The wings, an MPD acquisition from “Angels in America,” were being transported on Patricia Kelleher’s back; Kelleher is a San Francisco Ballet trainee who will join the National Ballet of Portugal in September.  How widespread the posting was, I don’t know but, as a Maffre invitation, I didn’t want to miss it.

The call was for noon on Thursday, June 13; thanks to a brief flub on the #5 Fulton, I arrived on the bus at Van Ness, just as Maffre; Kirsten Tanaka, Librarian/Archivist; Elyse Eng, MPD’s president, and Supriva Wroncieviez, San Francisco Ballet’  Archivist, were crossing the street in my direction accompanying the wing bearer, who was moving with an unconscious deliberation, evoking the Louvre’s Winged Victory at Samothrace.

Kelleher, in white with MPD’s new location emblazoned in gold on her tee-shirt, balanced the wings strapped to her back with two blue metallic pieces down her back, bracing both bulk, spread  and weight of the attachment.  Further down the sidewalk, Benjamin Pierce, in shorts and tee, was manipulating a small video camera, turning it on and off to husband the battery power.

“You’re all right with this?” Muriel inquired, “It’s 1.9 miles.”  “I’m here,” I replied, winding up walking up and back a full extra block.

Our path led us along the north side of City Hall, across to the central part of the City Square, where a newly wed couple asked to be photographed with the angel.  Then it was across to the north side of the Public Library’s Main Branch where men dosed in the noon-day sun or hunched on the grass.  The entourage crossed over to the United Nations Plaza where crafts are sold on Thursdays, eastward towards Market and Seventh Street.

It was fascinating to observe who questioned Patricia and who didn’t, ignoring the phenomenon of the obviously well- trained young dancer sporting wings sauntering on the mild, sunny San Francisco mid-day.  As we crossed the Plaza towards the end where the water spewing like momentary flights of fancy, it was the street people who asked, exclaiming, “An angel, just what I needed.”  “Can I hug you?”.  Every so often, the wings would be spread and Patricia would hold the bottoms while Benjamin recorded her against some background.

As we progressed, Muriel, Kirsten and Elyse occasionally used their cell phones to snap stills.  Walking along the north side of Market between Seventh and Sixth a grey haired, rotund woman passed us, eyes unswerving in front of her, pushing a red market basket.  The middle of its front bore the metallic plaque ‘angel,” but there was no chance to stop her march for a photo op.

Reaching Powell and Market, Benjamin had Patricia move across the turning of a cable car, and several pedestrians stopped her. The men playing chess on the public tables ignored her.  We crossed over to enter Bloomingdale’s, where two older men in business suits stopped to chat with Patricia. Muriel remarked she remembered the old Emporium was still open when she first arrived in San Francisco.

Inside Bloomingdale’s, Benjamin ran up the escalator before Patricia started her own ascent.  On the second level, several young adults asked to take pictures, at least one side by side. We all trekked up to the fourth floor, thinking the restaurants would be active.  Instead, we descended to the second floor and the entrance to Bloomingdale’s then down to the Mission Street exit headed for Yerba Buena Gardens, nicely dotted with reclining bodies, reading, eating, kibitzing in the sun.  Crews were trundling boxwood in green wood containers with other crew members consulting clipboards and still others unloading shrink wrapped
beer cans in preparation for a sizeable social gathering.

Our ensemble called a halt in front of The Samovar on the upper level of YBC where Muriel, still the quintessential slender dancer in her own whites, directed a rendezvous between angel Patricia and Jill, MPD’s receptionist, who, dressed in black, crossed YBC’s grass to invite the angel to walk with her to the Museum’s new location.

Back upstairs and across the walkway above Howard Street, past the Children’s Theater and down the Fourth Street stairs to Folsom, skirting workmen in orange and equipment extracting sidewalk.  Crossing to the south side of Folsom, Muriel suggested that I walk on ahead.  I walked an extra block, having transposed the numbers in my head.  Retracing my steps, the next door deli directed me to the grill behind which the riches of MPD were plainly crowded in piles of boxes, in a space smaller than its former fourth floor digs in the Veterans’ Building.  Patricia had already relinquished the wings to their  new home.

Our ensemble went next door for tea and a sandwich, chatting about local bargains and unexpected locations of luxe items for a few minutes before scattering.  Waiting briefly, Elyse Eng and I boarded the #12 Folsom, chatting until I got off  at Second and Market to catch the #5 Folsom.

MPD’s Website soon will update the Museum’s location and hours of operation.  The #45 Union Bus currently goes down Fifth Street to its 4th and Townsend terminal, and the #12 Folsom/ Pacific stops almost in front of the Museum’s door inbound, crossing Market at Second Street.  Outbound to 24th Street,  along Harrison until it reaches 11th and Folsom.  The Museum’s telephone number is:415-255-4800.

Words on Dance with Joanna Berman October 22

24 Oct

Deborah DuBowy has taped interviews with dancers mostly by dancers for nineteen years in San Francisco, usually including stills and sometimes taped footage of the dancer’s signature roles.  This year’s Isadora Duncan Dance Award Ceremony recognized this  record with its modest certificate and “dustable.”  Her presenter was Edward Villella who will be the subject of the next interview, scheduled for the Paley Center for Media, New York City, March 11, 2013.  September 15, 2013, capping the second decade of endeavor will see Maria Kochetkova interviewing Carla Fracci, the memorable Italian ballerina.

October 22 DuBowy arranged for another memorable interview, which probably won’t ever be seen visually because the Vogue Theatre on Sacramento Street simply did not possess stage lights.  Nonetheless the audience not glued to the third presidential debate  got to hear Joanna Berman answer the adroit questions posed by James Sofranko and see snippets of Berman in Rodeo, Swan Lake, Company B, Damned and Dance House.

The comparatively brief interview was preceded by nine films of varying length, some of them gem like.  It commenced with Natalia Makarova dancing with Mikhail Baryshnikov to a Chopin Mazurka, part of a lengthier exposition created by Jerome Robbins for the January 17, 1972 Gala to raise money to keep the New York Public Library Dance Collection open.  Both dancers were at the peak of their careers, their elevations impressive, their elan unmistakably Russian.

A considerably edited interview with Yvonne Mounsey this past June was next, conducted by Emily Hite, capturing in speech Mounsey’s performance qualities.  It was wonderful to see Mounsey wrap hercomments around her favorite role, the Siren in the Balanchine ballet Prodigal Son. I saw her dance when Jerome Robbins was the Prodigal; her understanding of the predatory female remains undimmed.

A brief film by Quinn Wharton followed. Mechanism, had a text relating to machines  and featured two Hubbard Street Dance Company members, Johnny McMillan and Kellie Eppenheimer. Her balance, barefoot on demi-pointe, was cool, controlled, mind-boggling.

This was followed by Miguel Calayan’s short, Prima,  featuring Shannon Roberts (she has a new name Rugani) with  modest tiara, romantic length tutu topped by a royal blue tunic. Dancing  around a spacious vintage ballroom whose location I’d love to know, the footage captured her feet in releve, her body in grand jete and turning attitude, at the barre, covering space, ending in a wheel chair with a doll-sized proscenium stage and puppet dance figure.

Carolyn Goto, former principal dancer with Oakland Ballet, created a DVD of Ronn Guidi in connection with the Legacy Project, affiliated with the Museum of Performance and Design.  Careful editing allowed the audience to see segments of three important Oakland Ballet restagings: Michel Fokine’s” Scheherazade,” Eugene Loring’s “Billy the Kid” and Bronislava Nijinska’s “Les Noces.” In addition Guidi  was seen evaluating Sergei Diaghilev’s benchmark influence on the arts.

Following intermission, San Francisco Ballet member Luke Willis introduced “Freefall,”a partially completed film created with his brother. It featured a charming child, Pauli Magierek playing her mother, and two dancers in space, Sean Bennett for certain and perhaps Kristine Lind; it seemed to explore a child’s fascination with potential future romance.

The choreographic  process between Jorma Elo and Maria Kochetkova in the creation of a solo for her  in the 2012 Reflections tour came next, an interesting exploration of the  making and interpreting of a choreographic vision.

Judy Flannery, the Managing Director of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, brought trailers from this year’s Festival and the news that September 12-15, 2013 will feature the Festival’s collaboration with an international dance component, information which has yet to make it to the Festival’s website.  She also introduced Kate Duhamel’s “Aloft,” with Yuri Zhukov’s choreography for six dancers,  photographed on the northern edge of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Credited as being inspired by the America’s Cup sailboat races and the qualities of the swift vessels, the dancers moved against whipping wind, gravelly ground with the City in the distance as backdrop.

A final break ensued before Joanna Berman and James Sofranko followed the brief glimpse of Joanna in “Rodeo,” and her entrance as Odette in “Swan Lake,” with Cyril Pierre as Siegfried. Berman remarked that Christine Sarry warned her against emoting at the Cowgirl and in “Swan Lake,” she felt exposed and uncomfortable, enjoying Odile more because she, essentially, didn’t
have to be “pure.”  Berman liked story ballets because sa narrative provides meaning to the work,the why the preference for  “Serenade” and “Dances at a Gathering” to the more abstract repertoire  created for New York City Ballet.

Berman had studied at Marin Ballet with Margaret Swarthout before a year at San Francisco Ballet led to a six month apprenticeship before joining the corps de ballet.  What wasn’t mentioned was Berman’s attending the International Ballet Competition in Moscow, the youngest entrant to date, being eliminated in the second round because of a stumble.  Returning with her coach, Maria Vegh, there was a solo performance in celebration at the Marin Civic Center before Berman moved over to San Francisco Ballet School.

Joanna Berman’s dramatic gifts shone in “Company B”, “Damned” and “Dance House.”  I did not see her in the Possokhov reading of the Medea tragedy, associating it with Muriel Maffre and Lorena Feijoo.  Berman’s warmth, a quality Paul Parish calls “creamy,” at odds with Medea’s decision, made the brief footage that much stronger.

Berman now periodically sets “A Garden” for Mark Morris and works by Christopher Wheeldon. She spoke concisely about the responsibility of realizing the choreographer’s intent, a focus she followed when she danced.

James Sofranko also asked her about her post S.F. Ballet guest appearance with ODC, dancing with Private Freeman to choreography by Brenda Way.  When he asked Berman about the arc of her career, she replied she had no desire to go elsewhere because of the calibre of the company and the presence of her family.

The evening reminded one of the elusive quality of comfortable familiarity that seems to have seeped out of many dance occasions with the generational shift. It was good to enjoy the sensation once more.