Tag Archives: ODC Theatre

Words on Dance Celebrates Edward Villella

30 Oct

Deborah Kaufman, who started Words on Dance two decades ago, invited Sarah Kaufman, the Pulitzer Prize dance critic for The Washington Post [and its second dance critic award, following the late Alan Kriegsman] to interview Edward Villella for its Monday, October 27 event at ODC’s Theatre at 17th and Shotwell, San Francisco. Villella had taught class at City Ballet School the previous Saturday and there was a reception in his honor the same weekend. The three page notes for the occasion mentioned this was Villella’s fifth appearance for Words on Dance.

Words on Dance typically shows film snippets of the artist, interspersed with the interviewer querying the interviewee. Operation Villella was no exception, and it enjoyed the added section of his 1997 Award Footage at the Kennedy Center, plus three or four separate filmed comments by Jacques d’Amboise, Robert La Fosse and Jock Soto regarding various aspects of Villella’s impact on the U.S. male ballet dancer scene, his artistry and being a member of the same company.

Nine different screenings were preceded by appropriate queries and comments. In addition to the Kennedy Center screening, the Villella solos from Balanchine’s Apollo and Tchaikovsky pas de deux demonstrated his intense kinesthetic impact, and his presence as Oberon in Midsummer Night’s Dream. Villella recounted how the great teacher Stanley Williams provided him with the gesture from which he was able to convey the kingly quality of the elusive summer spirit.

Villella, whose degree in Marine Transportation must also have provided him with some training in analysis, repeated some of the wonderful comments he shared at a lunch at the Tenth USA IBC event in Jackson, Mississippi this past June where he appeared carefully while convalescing with pneumonia. Most of these included the image Balanchine provided to him of Byzantine icons for Prodigal Son and his own realization that the ballet’s style was heavily influenced by the Russian constructive art movement of the early twentieth century. The screening for this was provided by snippets from the 2014 Joffrey Ballet production for which he supplied crucial coaching. From the looks of it, the production was far more stream-lined physically than the images I remembered from the early NYC Ballet productions [I saw Jerome Robbins n the role] and even the seasons when it was included in San Francisco Ballet’s repertoire.

Kaufman asked him about ballerinas, and Villella confined himself to two comments. He extolled Patricia McBride with whom he was frequently featured and told the story of having one dancer counting out loud wrong timing in the finale of Agon.

Perhaps the comments I enjoyed most came from Villella’s observations about Rubies, the middle section of Balanchine’s three-part work, Jewels. He said he realized that it was all about race horses, with the woman as the filly and him as the jockey, reinforced by the four men and the tall woman the other part of Rubies.

The final ballet screening featured Miami City Ballet in Villella’s 2009 production of Symphony in Three Movements. Shot from a distance, the company he directed for twenty-five years looked precision-perfect. Villella was asked during the question and answer period about his experience with Miami City Ballet; he commented on the challenges of working with a small budget with ballet supporters less than familiar with the ballet world, but clearly anxious to display that special sheen in Miami.

He said, “I looked for talent because technique could be acquired.” Those of us attending previous Jackson Competitions knew Villella would appear during Round III. More than one dancer from that final cut found themselves dancing in Miami, including dimunitive Chinese ballerina, Wu Haiyan, gold medalist in 2002 now with her own school in Portland, Oregon and Katia Carranza, a bronze medalist now with Ballet de Monterrey, Mexico. They danced as Miami City Ballet principals.

Villella’s staging of Reveries for the Ice Theater New York and his scene with
Tony Randall and Jack Klugman in The Odd Couple completed the program.

Part of a responsive audience shy of the SRO category were Helgi and Marlene Tomasson, Dennis Nahat, John Gebertz and Kristine Elliott, plus San Francisco Ballet principals Matilde Froustey and Luke Ingham..

West Wave’s Solo Night, August 15, ODC Theatre

23 Aug

Thank Joan Lazarus for selecting the solos – eight of them, not all danced by their creators. Thank Joan Lazarus also for selecting recognizable modern dance technique with many of the strengths of classical ballet.

ODC’s Theatre attracted quite a crowd for a Monday night – friends, colleagues, students to see eight essentially solo pieces, starting with Suzanne Beahrs “Dear Unica” with Molly Stinchfield’s drawings projected as she outlined the body of Julianna Monin and added embellishments to the she either spoke or had previously recorded.  Beahrs had previously attended U.C. Berkeley, which must account for her inclusion while Angela Don’s music was created along with her sound engineering responsibilities with Berkeley Repertory Theater.

Whoever Unica is , she enjoyed a detailed portrait of her strengths and abilities to be greater than the lines projected, the movements made and the sound and words employed. Overall, dancer Juliana Monin lacked the opportunity to dance with any freedom from the enveloping of crossing linear commentary.  An admirable collaboration, it left me questioning the point.

Maria Basile’s “Birthing The Ascension” with music by Thoth followed.  A nude hued costume displayed Basile’s  strong womanly  body and an unwavering technique where arm ended with a poised hand with fingers completing, extending the line or curve of her movement. A sense of the inevitable within the evanescence of dance was rarely more clearly stated.  Basile’s small body reminded one many great dancers have been far from Balanchine’s ideal,  endowed with elegant  curves and a sensuality alive and well in its disciplined expressive vehicle.

Sue Li-Jue continues to plumb aspects of her Asian heritage.  I remember seeing her explore the foot fetish of Chinese bound feet in a performance at The Asian Art Museum.  In “Not What She Seems”, Li Jue chose company member Frances Sedayao to explore alternating nonchalence, frustration and rebellion in an Asian woman’s working life, the score punctuated by the sounds of whirring sewing machines. Sedayao with her tiny physique embodied the contradictions ably.

Stacey Printz collaborated with tall  musician/performer Tommy Shepherd and a raised oblong platform for “If You Knew.” Her body sculpted in a black unitard, Printz explored the corners and edges of the board, at times raising and stretching her arms, the torso reaching across the rim of the board.  This went on a long time when it was obvious Printz would heist herself on to the black plank to continue her strong, impressive movement.  When she finally obliged us, completion seemed relatively fast.  Sans question, Printz’ work  was impressive, though what was conveyed besides prodigious control is a question.

After the intermission Erin Derstine danced “With” to a Yo-yo Ma recording of Bach’s Cello Suite #2, her back to the audience.  Whether on the floor or standing, Derstine’s  technique was laced with a sweet tenderness, which became obvious when Ben Estabrook’s film displayed the abdomen of a woman close to delivery.  After a section displaying the gentle pulse of the foetus, Derstine faced the audience, clearly in post-partum trim condition.  A few gestures of cradling appeared before she finished, making clear the linkage between Bach’s sonorous complexity and the gestation of new life.

Maurya Kerr came to Alonso King’s Lines’ Ballet following sojourns with Fort Worth and Pacific Northwest Ballets, a formed artist giving a dozen years to King’s choreography.  Now teaching in the Lines/Dominican BFA program and in Lines Ballet Training Program, she has guested locally and with Hollins University.  As a free lance choreographer, she set “Billy Tate” on Adam Peterson who responded admirably to her creation of a young man who begins
and ends like a medically identified spastic, in between demonstrating abundant control and technical vocabulary

Angela Mazziotta’s “The Last Ten” and Jazon Escultura’s “Chalk on the Sitewalk” completed the program.  Youthfulness was reflected choreographically in their somewhat diffident invention, though each possesses the requisite technique to  create appealing figures in performance.  Both are beginning seekers, earnest,  honest; a senior, I found it hard to respond to the messages they attempted.  However, they are on the path.

David H. K. Elliott gave each choreographer complementing  lighting.