Tag Archives: Pascal Molat

A Splendid Last Hurrah: S.F. Ballet’s Eugene Onegin

2 May

Santo Loquasto’s atmospheric setting for the Pushkin-inspired ballet Eugene Onegin started its brief run April 30 at San Francisco’s Opera House where it will close San Francisco Ballet’s 2016 spring season May 8. What it also does is signal the final performances of Joan Boada as Prince Gremin and Gennadi Nedvigin as the ill-fated Lensky with the company where they have danced for nearly two decades.

The roles of Tatiana and Onegin were danced by Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz with Lauren Strongin making her local debut as Olga.

Choreographer John Cranko (1927-1973) is noted for his mounting of the Russian poetic novel, using a different gathering of melodies by Petyr Ilyich Tchaikovsky than his opera of the same name. Cranko’s Taming of The Shrew and Romeo and Juliet are other evidences of his magical ability to transform familiar stories or dramas into absorbing ballets. Cranko’s heritage has been diligently reconstructed by choreologist Jane Bourne, supported by Stuttgart Ballet’s artistic director Reid Anderson.

Loquasto’s set and costumes, borrowed from The National Ballet of Canada, place the story in early-mid-nineteenth century, at a Russian summer home where woman sew, including Olga [Lauren Strongin] for a party while Tatiana [Kochetkova] is absorbed in reading, probably a romantic novel. The results, ball gowns for the two young woman, get scant attention from the dreamy Tatiana, Kochetkova registering her character with a contemplative carriage of the head and shoulders, Strongin quickly prone to impulsive enthusiasm, each affectionate with the other. Loquasto created a pillared porch covering most of stage left, which is transformed as necessary throughout the two scene/three act performance. Olga’s dressmaking skills with the needle seemed excessively exaggerated.

At a downstage left table, a mirror is placed where the two girls look to find a suitor behind. Olga draws Lensky as interpreted by Gennadi Nedvigin. A role he danced in the 2013 season, his dancing and demeanor is to swoon over, his lines clearly muscled, sculptured, correct: heart-breaking visual poetry. His reading of Lensky is warm, open-hearted too sensitive for his own good; a young man filled to his hair follicles with love. Even familiar with the story and Nedvigin’s interpretation I found myself breathing “Oh, no, be careful.”

Nedvigin’s appearance is prelude to a solo passage and then an extended pas de deux  of young romance. Strongin responds as an Olga delighted with the attention, very secure and confident of her hold on Lensky. A little tall for Nedvigin, he adroitly shepherded her under a necessary supported pirouette or two.

When it comes Tatiana’s turn to sit down before the mirror, she is diffident. In the meantime Onegin [Vitor Luiz] has strolled in deliberately from upstage left, an almost pencil-rigid figure in black, to be greeted warmly by Lensky, making polite gestures to the women, clearly mentally checking off the rustic nature of the gathering. His fingers twiddle tellingly behind his back. When he Onegin appears behind Tatiana, his mirror image creates an overwhelming, fluttering response, while one senses it’s for him to pass the time of day..

They engage in quite formal conversation, Onegin inquiring about Tatiana’s reading material ; his veiled expression indicates his distaste, if returning it politely. They exit arm in arm, and the rustics arrive, not quite garrulous serfs [not liberated until 1861], but clearly not dacha occupants. With the girls in equally quasi-peasant dresses, two lengthy diagonals are executed with Olga and Lensky lead participants as the curtain falls.

Tatiana’s virginal bedroom scene follows, empire bed with drapery upstage right and mirror upstage center with modest desk and candle replacing the summer wicker table. Pale blue shawl wrapped around her shoulders, Tatiana tries to pen her emotions on paper, only to be prevented by her devoted nurse who leads her back to bed, taking the shawl. That doesn’t deter Tatiana, who returns to the desk, falls asleep and we are given the substance of her dream, led to the mirror through which Onegin appears and leads her in a rapturous pas de deux  before disappearing into the mirror. Kochetkova and Luiz capture Tatiana’s luscious dream with lifts, supported arabesques, beating with ecstatic satisfaction and pirouettes, reflecting Tatiana’s youthful passion kindled by Onegin’s appearance.

Act II opens with the country ball, where Tatiana appears in her white gown, Olga in pink with various members of the community gather wishing Tatiana well as Lensky and Olga are self-involved. Onegin arrives, with Tatiana aware he has received her letter. There is polite dancing, and Onegin waits until they are alone to withdraw Tatiana’s letter, tearing it up in front of her eyes. At this moment the older Prince Gremin arrives, is presented to Tatiana. He sympathetically engages her,dancing while Onegin plays solitaire on the down stage table.

With Onegin’s tension rising and to alleviate his annoyance, he grabs Olga from Lensky and makes her his partner, as the dancing fever mounts. Lensky tries to reclaim Olga, retrieves her for a moment only to have Onegin grasp her again. Olga is visibly excited at the push and pull, Tatiana distraught, though gently curbed by Prince Gremin. Lensky, beside himself, flings his white gloves on the floor in front of Onegin; he pauses, cooler, tries to dissuade Lensky who, in return, applies the gloves to Onegin’s face.

The second scene, notably spare has Onegin in front of the curtain with a sweeping black cloak, gun in hand, clearly troubled by the result of his impulses. The curtain rises on Lensky moving from upstage right to downstage left, against the a grey landscape marked by birch trees, shedding his equally impressive brown cloak. There follows an eloquently danced soliloquy, Lensky expressing yearning, regret and belief in his doom, before Olga and Tatiana rush from stage left, heads covered with kerchiefs, to attempt to dissuade Lensky. The push-pull of the trio is strong, poignant, futile. Onegin appears from stage right and also tries to dissuade Lensky only to have his face slapped – too much. As the two women crouch in the front of the stage, one hears a fatal shot, a fall. Onegin appears again from stage right, walking across the stage. Tatiana rouses herself, stands and stares at Onegin before leaving with Olga. Onegin suddenly bends, breaking into sobs.

Act III occurs in the St. Petersburg ballroom of Prince Gremin and Tatiana, three massive chandeliers hanging  from scarlet. Onegin is escorted by Prince Gremin, both now  touched  with grey at the temples. Gremin excuses himself; there is a lavish display of dancing and Onegin experiences episodes of encounters wafting in and out of his arms. Gremin appears again with Tatiana, now a composed, clearly sheltered matron; a pas de deux ensues, expressing marital bliss and comfort, particularly Gremin’s protection of Tatiana. Joan Boada, making his final appearances as Prince Gremin, created a solicitous older husband, touches hinting at the understanding present at the Act II country ball, fascinating how many of the same steps convey a special pitch enhanced by the music. After the domestic calm, Tatiana visibly cringes when she encounters Onegin, who has been mesmerized when  recognizing her, a black contrast against the brilliant hues of the dancers, frequently intruding on the dance space of Gremin and Tatiana.

As the scenery is changing Onegin stands before the curtain, immersed in fleeting moments of the brief days at the summer dacha. When the curtain rises, the writing desk is now downstage right, the angled pillars have been domesticated with a hobby horse visible, and the back stage indicates a grand foyer. In brown, Tatiana is visibly disturbed, as Gremin, in uniform overladen with cord and medals, is about to take off for the office. She clings, draws him back for reassurance. He comforts her and departs.

Tatiana sits at the desk, tense, apprehensive; one can see Onegin in the background, moving uncertainly before he bursts on the scene to the opening love sequence of Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini, a completely apt selection for Onegin’s push-pull, knee-crawling, skirt clinging confessional. Just when you think Onegin has made his last plea, something else happens until – Tatiana practically staggers to the desk, picks up Onegin’s letter, lets him look at it. shreds it before him, pointing to the exit to which he rushes. Staggering while trembling and spent, she faces the audience, exhausted but
vindicated at last.

Of course, there was a burst of applause when the curtain rose for the two principals, and it continued for the other three principals, then for the corps de ballet. . Unfortunately there were no individual curtain calls though Boada, Strongin and Nedvigin were warmly acknowledged. I have the feeling it will be several years before we enjoy Onegin again, thanks in part to the decimation of San Francisco Ballet’s three male principals. Nedvigin, Boada and Pascal Molat.

San Francisco Ballet’s Program Five: Gathering and Swimming

29 Mar

March 16 San Francisco Ballet presented just two ballets with highly opposite treatments: Jerome Robbins’ 1969 Dances at a Gathering to Chopin’s music played by Roy Bogas and the 2015 Yuri Possokhov work called Swimmer with a composite score by Shinji Eshima, Kathleen Brannan, Gavin Bryars, and Tom Waits. Hard to conjure more divergent use of the classical canon. The divergence in taste was testified to by a distinct winnowing of the audience following Dances at a Gathering.

Dances at a Gathering was premiered at New York City Ballet 47 years ago. I dare say it is for the American ballet world what Les Sylphides was for Russian Ballet in the early 20th century. Staged again by Jean-Pierre Frohlich with Jenifer Ringer Fayette with Jennifer Tipton’s sensitive lighting, it demonstrates just how aware Robbins could be in his creative insights forty six years ago. The dancers waft on and off with remarkable naturalism, starting with Joseph Walsh touching the earth, the space where the emotions would follow, lightly but indelibly sketched. Lorena Feijoo was given the difficult task of a feminine initiator, rebuffed several times, but taking the rejections with hands moving from the wrist, “ Tout va change, tout va reste le meme chose.”

I was particularly caught by Carlo Di Lanno’s dancing. When he raises his arms en haut, he does it with a breath, the inhalation providing a distinct lightness to the movement. When the group of three man were dancing on a slight diagonal line opposite three women, his port de bras perfectly echoed the line of his extended right leg, a moving diagram in dance.

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Vanessa Zahorian and Carlo DiLanno in Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering. (© Erik Tomasson)

Supported by Ray Bogas at the piano, Dances at a Gathering spun its mid-summer late afternoon magic, leaving us intensely gratified and wanting to see it again soon.

Swimmer enjoys Alexander V. Nichol’s superb visuals with Taras Domitro waking, executing perfunctory exercises, of course exaggerated, showering with projections expanding the splashes – outlandish in our drought conscious society – before sitting down to breakfast with the papers –which were flashed large and varied as Domitro sits in front of cardboard wife and children before having another cardboard wife deliver him his jacket. Kate Duhamel’s video designs accent the vignettes throughout, water being one of the principal themes, from the shower to the ocean. I felt the water image in its various forms was somewhat overdone, a “get my point, see what I mean” emphasis. Domitro was marvelous throughout, lean, agile and airborne.

Next follows “the commute,” featuring fellow passengers, another visual bus, strap-hangers, bus chugging along, going up hills and a thoroughly exaggerated 190 degrees, a wonderful tunnel, before portraying “the office,” equally exaggerated. Projections of computers and reams of paper being spewed out flash across the screen, walked across for checking with a woman signing the stack furiously. No doubt about it, as a retired office worker myself, Possokhov has an unerring comic touch.

Up to that point Possokhov is dead on. Then he has his “hero” encounter mass media, Hollywood, Pool Party and a First Swim, followed by specific literary references; they unfold, conveying the essence of subject matter as seen from a foreign-born, foreign resident’s eye. Apart from content, and unlike prior Possokhov productions, the stage settings begin to blur choreographic patterns and dancers. If that was the intent it certainly succeeded, but it marred some glimpses of excellence, particularly of Gennadi Nedvigin and Pascal Molat whose company performing days dwindle down precipitously, an overly advanced September.

Tiit Helimets and Maria Kochetkova enacted Lolita with the seduction gradually changing from man to nymphet to nymphet to man, followed by Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz on stairs. Carolyn Carvajal observed that both pas de deux were danced to songs rendered with Tom Wait’s gravelly voice; a neat observation between voice and the physical encounter, regardless of motivation.

Swimmer
has an ability to convey a certain quality in contemporary American life, a shallowness all too prevalent, images piled one after another to make one cringe at its unerring display of distractions, of sensation minus feeling. The contrast with Robbins’ work was telling.

A March Bon-Bon: San Francisco Ballet Dances Coppelia

11 Mar

March 8 San Francisco reintroduced its Pacific Northwest Ballet co-production of Coppelia, the George Balanchine-Alexandra Danilova ballet premiered at New York City Ballet in 1974. Staged by Judith Fugate, Before going into detail about designer, the Leo Delibes’ music and etc., let me say that it was memory lane. That effervescent path has been trod by anyone remembering The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and Danilova in Swanhilda’s shoes and Frederick Franklin as the roving-eyed Franz Some San Franciscans will remember Ruby Asquith in the Willam Christensen production. In addition, a small cadre of dancers danced in the Ballet Celeste production mounted by Merriem Lanova who had danced in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo version and passed it along to her young charges, touring it through the United States and Hawaii. Carolyn Carvajal was one such veteran, remembering what remained and what was new, courtesy of Mr. B.

Roberta Guidi de Bagno has given the production pastel prettiness without being goopy or stretching costumes beyond a logical take on Galacia’s folk qualities without becoming too specific. No sequins, feathers and the like. Coppelius’ attic studio is cavernous, Randall G. Chiarelli giving it just the right slightly gloomy light, neither daylight or well illumined, just as Acts I and III are suitably sunny.

Cheryl  Osseola’s extensive program notes provided the audience with Coppelia’s background, E.T.A. Hoffman, the 1870 production created by Arthur Saint-Leon, Franz’ role en traverstie, ultimately Enrico Cecchetti’s revival with Franz becoming danced by a male. The lifts between Franz and Swanhilda are definitely twentieth century additions.

Carolyn remarked that the mime and plot remained untouched. The ensemble dances were different; I remember Robert Lindgren and Sonya Tyyven leading the czardas in the final act, the ensemble dances being broken up into the first and third acts and Yvonne Chouteau in Act III’s Prayer solo. Balanchine has combined them.

Tuesday saw Frances Chung as Swanhilda, Vitor Luiz as her Franz and the superb debut of Pascal Molat as Coppelius. If the program notes mention Chung’s strangeness with mime, she has moved far beyond it to a sparkling, clear ability to convey traditional query and delivery. She is one of the company’s sparkling allegro dancers; there was an almost Fonteyn-like propriety in her delivery, yet still very much Chung. Small wonder she holds an Izzie award for individual performance.

Luiz makes a believable Franz, unforced classicism, unmannered presentation and partnering impeccable. Molat’s elderly doll maker hobbles across the town square with acute accuracy of age and arthritis. His attic scene with Swanhilda’s impersonation of Coppelia was masterly; delusion and elderly excitement.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, it concerns Swanhilda, a spirited young village girl, and her boy friend Franz who also has his eye on Coppelia, a beautiful creature who is wheeled onto a balcony by her maker, Dr. Coppelius. This makes Swanhilda and Franz quarrel. In a twilight excursion, Coppelius is roughed up by Franz and friends, losing his key. Swanhilda and her friends find the key and venture into the Coppelius’ workshop at Act I’s curtain. In Act II, the girls discover the toys and the inanimate Coppelia. Coppelius returns, chasing the girls out; Swanhilda remains assuming Coppelia’s clothing. Franz, meanwhile, attempts to reach the doll via the aid of a ladder; intercepted by Coppelius, he is drugged by wine. Coppelius attempts to bring Coppelia to life using Franz’ life force, pouring over a huge book of spells. Swanhilda plays along with Coppelius, becoming more life like, only to destroy his fantasy and to flee with Franz.

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Frances Chung and Pascal Molat in Balanchine’s CoppÈlia. (© Erik Tomasson)

Act III sees the dedication of the bells, announced in French language banners in Act I. Many wedding couples. Coppelius is seen, heart-broken, with his doll in his arms; Swanhilda and Franz also get married, and several celebratory dances ensue. In this production, a bevy of young students perform a charming dance, impossible for the old touring production. The Ballet Russe production provided recompense to Coppelius; here he is pushed aside all too rapidly.

The Act III divertissements featured Sasha de Sola as Dawn in a costume with golden tracery; Sofiane Sylve’s Prayer was cloaked in blue chiffon with touches of grey; four Jesterettes and finally Discord and War led by Jennifer Stahl and Hansuke Yamamoto, laden with spears, Greek-style plumed helmets and garments of black and silver metallic touches, perpetually leaping with one leg raised to waist height, moving in circles and linear patterns. The dominant note in this finale was twenty-three students in pink tutus, led by Lauren Strongin, in the Waltz of the Golden Hours, the same number commencing the January 2016 Gala. To me it took away from the earlier variations danced by de Sola and Sylve, rendering them more divertissements than sweet, evocative variations.

The Waltz is an inducement to students, and, probably, parents. Balanchine and Danilova undoubtedly had memories of similar use of students in the Imperial Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg. Used to the pared-down version, I found the yards of pink tutu a bit distracting to this French-born bon-bon. Like La Fille Mal Gardee, created in 1789 in Bordeaux by Jean Dauberval and the 1837 premiere of Giselle of Jules Perrot and Juan Corelli, these three durable ballets share French ancestry, however much layers and modifications may have ensued. Vive La France!

San Francisco Ballet Loses Three Male Principal Dancers

25 Feb

The San Francisco Ballet Press Department today announced that Gennadi Nedvigin will assume the artistic direction of Atlanta Ballet in August, replacing John McFall who is retiring.

This means that three principal male dancers will leave the San Francisco ranks — Joan Boada and Pascal Molat, whose pending retirement was announced last fall. All are mid-sized brilliant dancers with subsantatial tenure with the company. It is wonderful for Gennadi, but sad for San Franciscans, who have come to love his seemingly effortless classicism and remarkable portraits as Mecutio in Romeo and Juliet and Lensky in Eugene Onegin as well as a mischievous Franz in Coppelia.

It’s interesting that both McFall and Nedvigin have danced for San Francisco Ballet. McFall went to Atlanta after a stint at Dayton Ballet, inheriting a solid company which Robert Barnett built from the foundation that Dorothy Alexander supplied, bringing the company from regional dance status to professional standing. Alexander’s long tenure in Atlanta artistic circles did much to solidfy the ensemble’s standing which Barnett enhanced and turned over to McFall.

Makes me want to try to wheedle a guest couch in Atlanta.

The 2016 San Francisco Ballet Gala

24 Jan

 

January 21 provided the usual well-dressed mayhem in the Opera House Lobby for San Francisco Ballet’s Gala opening.  After the national anthem and Chairman John S. Osterweis delivered verbal thanks to the occasion’s organizers and sponsors,a lengthy roster; he also thanked the Ballet’s Board for its support of a dance institution which has survived its various manifestations and flourished to see its 84 years of performing with its national and international roster of remarkable dancers.  It also goes without saying that Helgi Tomasson is a master in staging a gala, not only for its variety but for using dancers to keep interest high, quite a feat in the stylish, quite self-involved patrons..

The audience enjoyed the choreographic gifts of three Russians: Marius Petipa (2); George Balanchine (4); Yuri Possokov, celebrating a decade as choreographer in residence (1).  The remaining five included Christopher Wheeldon, Hans Von Manen, William Forsythe, Helgi Tomasson and Jiri Bubenchcek.

In collaboration with Pacific Northwest Ballet, San Francisco Ballet will be presenting Coppelia in program four, staged by Alexandra Danilova nad George Balanchine after the original Paris Opera production of 1870 to that delicious music by Leo Delibes.  In pastel pink and following a time-honored practice of providing performance opportunities to students [in Paris it would have been les petite rats], a bevy of San Francisco Ballet students danced the Waltz of the Hours with Jennifer Stahl as the focal point with her high and handsome extensions.  Let it be said that the formations Balanchine devised, staged by Judith Fugate, were as impressive as the students’ execution and doubtless equally stimulating to the performers.

Maya Plisetskaya’s husband Rodin Shchedrin created several musical settings for his late wife, One, based on the story of Carmen, Yuri Possokhov used for his sultry pas de deux for Lorena Feijoo and Victor Luiz, a couple who told the tale of initial attraction between the gypsy and Don Jose with appropriate passion, strains of Bizet reminding the viewer of the seche fleur Jose had possessed in jail.  Possokhov’s understanding of a pas de deux can be picture perfect, and in this instant he was true to his reputation.

From the sultry to the complex music of Bela Bartok’s Divertimento, Helgi Tomasson entrusted his dancing quartet to three members of the corps de ballet, Max Cauthorn,Esteban Hernandez,  and and Wei Wang plus an advanced student of the school, Natasha Sheehan, skillfully staged by Tina Le Blanc.

Number four on the program was clearly a high point, Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, premiered in 1960 at New York’s City Center with Violette Verdy and one time San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Conrad Ludlow.  Here danced by Frances Chung and Gennadi Nedvigin, it was a delight from start to finish, Chung crisp and Nedvigin crystallizing his ascent in jumps
with a moment of distinct clarity.  Her turns were bursts of joy and Nedvigin gave us a mellow classicism that made one wanting to melt.

Christopher Wheeldon’s take on the romance in Carousel was given a dramatic sharpness by Doris Andre and steady persuasion by Joan Boarda.

The final pas de deux before intermission featured the Marius Petipa 1869 war horse Don Quixote Pas de Deux, with Vanessa Zahorian and Taras Domitro dancing to the Ludwig Mnkus music as set by Helgi Tomasson and Yuri Possokhov, virtually unmodified.  The balances required of Zahorian were noticeable, her fouettes in the coda frequently double.  Taras Domitro gave us some alarmingly good grand jetes, eliciting gasps from the audience.  Both were smooth and elegant.  After all,  having outwitted Kitri’s father, the couple are dancing at their wedding, and the ought to be celebrating.

Following intermission, there was a local premiere of Gentle Memories choreographed by the Czech born dancer-choreographer Jiri Bubenicek, created for the Youth America Grand Prix in 2012 and staged that September at the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. With Ming Luke at the piano, the music by Karen LeFrak was filled with musical phrases clearly linked to Scottish folk songs, appropriately enough for Yuan Yuan Tan with four swains, Tiit Helimets, Victor Luiz and Carlos Quenedit.

The temperature raised quite a bit for the next two numbers with Balanchine’s Rubies danced by Maria Kochetkova and Pascal Molat.  It was interesting to remember who else danced the number for Kotchetkova and Molat gave it a polished air beyond the sheer energy it has been danced by American born dancers.

Hans Van Manen created Solo to Johann Sebastian Bach’s violin solo which grows with increasing intensity.  It has been a frequent ballet on the company’s roster, here danced by Joseph Walsh, Gennadi Nedvigin and Hansuke Yamamoto with customary skill and relish.

Mathilde Froustey and Davit Karapetyan matched skill in the Act III pas de deux of Swan Lake, where Petipa created 32 fouettes en tournant for Pierina Legnani in the role of Odile.  It looked like this was Froustey’s maiden attempt in the role/ A charming dancer with beautiful proportions and exceptional port de bras, she did not complete the requisite fouettes or sur la place.  Karapetyan partnered attentively and conveyed his progressive attraction with conviction.

Sofiane Sylve and Carlos Di Lanno provided four minutes from the William Forsythe Pas/Porte to be featured fully in Program I, an angular choreography costumed by Stephen Galloway in practice costumes rendered with large pathches of color – I remember a lime green in particular. The dancers, of course, were spot on.

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Sofiane Sylve and Carlo Di Lanno in Forsythe’s Pas/Parts. (© Erik Tomasson)

The finale saw Luke Ingham in the role Igor Youskevitch created in Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, while Vanessa Zahorian danced Alicia Alonso’s part, created for Ballet Theatre in 1947.  To Tchaikovsky’s radiant music, corps de ballet and demi-soloists  rush on and off in waves, create diagonals, cross lines with jete arabesques, and turn energetically.  Easily, it was a triumphant finale for a grand exhibit of San Francisco Ballet’s continuing strength and excitement.

Sad to say, it also marks the beginning of Joan Boada and Pascal Molat’s final season with the company.

San Francisco Ballet’s 71st Nutcracker Season

3 Jan

In this third San Francisco production of Petyr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s commission for Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov (Willam Christensen’s ground–breaking undertaking and brother Lew’s the second with at least two different productions), Helgi Tomasson celebrated the city’s emergence from the 1906 earthquake and fire by aligning it to the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition; Michael Yeargen took his clue from images of the 100th year before in slides, Act I’s setting and hints of the Conservatory of Flowers, supported by James F. Ingalls’ lighting. Martin Pakledinaz designed the fetching gowns of the period as well as the traditional and pastiche costumes for Act II. The results congratulate San Franciscans. From the cheerful opening pandemonium sounds December 16 and the December 18 matinee, the seasonal tradition is a winner all the way. The sound pitch opening night was up there with the screams of a basketball game, while volunteers carefully herded toddlers and grammar school attendees for their pictures with a French soloist (the flute soloist for more traditional viewers) and the Mouse King, and off the other side of one of the crimson-carpeted entrances to orchestra seating. Most girls wore aspirational net tutus with frequent rhinestone tiaras. The mother of one girl near me said her chestnut-haired daughter was studying karate and acrobats.

Opening night Val Caniparoli was his genial self, if somewhat perfunctory. Katita Waldo gave us a welcoming Mme Stahlbaum while Ruben Martin Cintus exuded the pleasant organizing half.. Two youngsters, Alexander Renoff-Olson and Kristi DeCaminada made a convincing go as the grandparents. Francisco Mungamba’s displayed flexibility in yellow tights and bobbing trim; Lauren Parrott was mercifully brunette after the memorable tawny blonde of Clara Blanco; Wei Wang jumped energetically as the toy Nutcracker.

One of the production’s charms is the transformation scene, and although the sleepy gestures of Clara’s (Sienna Clark) seemed perfunctory if on time to the music, the enlarging furnishing along with the tree are just right as is the appearance of the Nutcracker Prince in the handsome personage of Davit Kerapetyan. Gaetano Amico was the nasty Mouse King, a role everyone loves to hate and the interpreter tries to make the most of in his brief allotted phrases.

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San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker. (© Erik Tomasson)

Vanessa Zahorian served as a gracious Sugar Plum Fairy with Frances Chung as the grownup Clara, following the Snow Scene with Jennifer Stahl and Luke Ingham as the reigning monarchs of a blizzard almost obscuring the figures midway and towards the end. Why they dancers have to navigate a storm is beyond me. Flurries should be sufficient.  The same threatened obliteration was accorded Koto Ishihara and Joseph Walsh December 18.

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Frances Chung and Davit Karapetyan in Tomasson’s Nutcracker. (© Erik Tomasson)

Distinguishing themselves in the Chinese and Russian were Lonnie Weeks and Esteban Hernandez. The trio bursting from the Faberge-inspired eggs is invariably a treat to be followed by Anatole Vilzak’s variation for the three dancers. It’s one of the supreme relics of the earlier production.

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Lonnie Weeks in Tomasson’s Nutcracker. (© Erik Tomasson)

I saw a second performance, the December 18 matinee to see what Pascal Molat did with Drosselmeyer. I didn’t expect Sancho Panza, of course, but he is just such a wizard with character parts. Of course he was wonderful. His hands were invariably seeking the edges and the corners of what he was assigned, finishing his work before donning his coat, the manner in which he tied the pouch for the clock, his gallantry with the flower seller on the street. His semi-crouching position when levitating the cane was like someone in a contest; I felt an unusual touch in his consoling Fritz at not getting the nutcracker, topped only by the bow with which he tied his handkerchief on the wounded wooden doll. Throughout the scene this Drosselmeyer was intimately attuned to youngsters, at one with them as well as a distinguished, eccentric clock maker. His wizardry with the transformation scene, reassurance to Clara and continued guidance through Act II was simply de rigeur. One can relax with an “ah” watching him, a total treat.

Jeffrey Lyons and Amy Yuki made a jovial and gracious set of Stahlbaums while Val Caniparoli joined Anita Paciotti in the grandparental roles.

Here Esteban Hernandez as the toy Nutcracker bounded electrically from the box. Blake Kessler was the yellow Harlequin and Jahna Frantziskonis, coming to the company from Pacific Northwest Ballet, was the porcelain pink doll.

I noticed in some principals’ tutus a broad, slightly floppy over skirt, like an expansive flower; instead of gradated layers of ruffles,the tutu cuts to the underpinning exposing upper tights and pants when lifted by a partner. What seemed to be a charming floral bouquet, suddenly your eyes were directed, minus smaller petals, to stamens and pistils.

Doris Andre served as The Sugar Plum Fairy regally. I did not notice it much before this season and it may reflect some tweaking, but the Sugar Plum Fairy summoned her waltzing flowers as well as the busy little lady bug, moths and butterflies to hear the tale of the Nutcracker Prince’s battle with the Mouse King. It brought a warmth to the undertaking, a winning witnessing to the otherwise austere evocation of the Conservatory of Flowers.

Normally the French variation, usually belonging to a trio of Dresden Shepherdess but here candy-caned striped can can dancers, appeals to me not at all. In the December 18 matinee, however, I noticed some nice phrasing with adroit finishing emphasis by Miranda Silveira.

Carlo di Lano made his debut in this production of the holiday staple with Matilde Froustey as his adult Clara. What a marvelous pair they were, both in looks and European ambiance. When the Nutcracker’s mask was lifted, di Lano’s breath animated his port de bras: liberation! This sensibility pervaded every motion, making the most logical, the most spectacular special.

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.