Tag Archives: Paula Tracy

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.

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Culture on the Web: Classical Arts Station

18 Jan

Channel 32.5 provides San Franciscans with 24/7 doses of culture: opera, symphony, drama, the occasional interview, and dance. Marc Platt, the venerable centenarian, first told me about it but it took me a while before I could say, “Me, too.” My exposure is sporadic – usually it’s The PBS Newshour, the BBC, NHK and occasionally the German-based news broadcaster – most saying the same things, but in varying order of importance and amount of coverage.

But 32.5 in the Bay Area can be a real treat – I recently saw Manuel Legris whirling through some palace in Vienna; every time he moved to a palatial hall with a differing dominant color, the patterns on his tights were color-coded to match.Dancing down the staircase to his final pose, the tights matched the opening footage. For the perfectionist part of one’s taste, it could not have been bested.

Last night, however, I turned it on after the witching hour and was treated to the dancing image of a very young Jacques d’Amboise, Janet Reed and Todd Bolender in a sequence from Lew Christensen’s Filling Station, that beloved precedent-setting ballet piece and the initial tour of Ballet Caravan, libretto by Lincoln Kirstein, music by Virgil Thompson, the first all American piece by an American ballet ensemble, premiered in Hartford, Connecticut, November 1937.

The visual tone was a varied shade of sepia with the setting rendered far more minimal than the traditional one, telephone poles trailing off into the distance, the lone gas pump. Otherwise the costumes were the same, the choreography adapted to the needs of television, some skillfully. D’Amboise was Mac, the filling station attendant, young, cheerful, wings on his heels metaphorically speaking, his sautes and pirouettes dazzling, a worthy exponent in the role. Janet Reed was the drunk socialite and Todd Bolender her equally smashed escort.

Pint-sized, Reed had worked with Lew Christensen during the painful period as he waited the call to military service during World War II. She was the original tight-rope walker in Christensen’s Jinx. After a period with Ballet Theatre, she moved over to New York City Ballet where she was filmed in the socialite role originally danced by Gisela Caccialanza. The closeups showed Reed raucously comic, Bolender, off center, but still standing. The pas de deux, then the pas de cinq where the socialite is tossed or hoisted by all four men, after the two mechanics show up, hints broadly how boundlessly innocent pre-World War II behavior could be, an insular innocence which competed with Helen Hokinson’s fading middle-aged luncheon goers for gentle humor.

The bandit also appeared and a tad of the search scene, much too truncated, minus the excitement of the darkness happening in a stage production with the socialite’s cortege too close for the best visual effect, her last gesture much too broad. I could spin a visual litany of the dancers I’ve seen in the role, particularly at San Francisco Ballet- Jocelyn Vollmar, Paula Tracy, Anita Paciotti.
It’s a stellar role.

Still I was delighted to see one of Lew’s signature ballets available to today’s viewers, a vignette of a bygone era. The Philippines still has its gas station attendants. It’s a pity there is no angel to supply the funds to see it stages by Ballet Philippines, with son Chris Christensen conducting the orchestra. What a treat that might be.

Smuin Ballet’s Spring Season, Bayside Performing Arts Center, May 28

16 Jul

San Francisco’s dance history in the second half of the twentieth century is marked by the presence, achievements and career of Michael Smuin.  The native Montanan danced for San Francisco Ballet before moving on to night club routines with his former wife Paula Tracy, then to American Ballet Theatre where he was principal dancer until rejoining San Francisco Ballet as co-artistic director.  A dozen years later, Smuin’s contract with the company was not renewed. After a successful interim with Broadway musicals, in 1994 Smuin started his own company. Following Smuin’s sudden death in 2007, artistic direction was assumed by Cecilia Fusile with former Smuin dancer Amy Seiwart as choreographer in residence.

Choo San Goh’s Momentum, created for the Joffrey II Company in 1979, opened the program. The ensemble, white unitards slashed with black, dancing to Prokofiev, initially formed a close circle. In their presentation,the Smuin dancers consistently hit the beat together, dancing as a unit, energy and pleasure reaching across the footlights. The men are consistently strong, the women substantial and feminine though one would be hard pressed to  believe the latter as Sylph, although some may once have been cast as a Wili.  With the exception of Erin Yarborough-Stewart, the women’s shoulders and necks tend to stiffness, lacking  articulation; several tend to force movement, blurring finish.

Amy Seiwart’s choreography to Mozart’s Requiem is her best to date.  The dancers are seen crouching in two diagonal lines at the beginning; when Yarborough-Stewart bourrees towards them, they rise. Performing before a central veil used as retreat and emergence, the partnering at times sees the women raised in jack-knife position.  Floor work is combined with classical
vocabulary sometimes surprising, sometimes harmonious.  Two couples differently echo the wonder of Balanchine’s Apollo quartet formations.  It is a work to be seen again.

The program finished with Smuin’s work “To The Beatles,” first created for San Francisco Ballet shortly before Smuin’s contractual difficulties.  I never saw it but it is clear now how it must have nettled many company contributors. Smuin’s sass and theatrical savvy was out in full display, abetted by Sandra Woodall’s costuming, quite in keeping with mid’80’s pop taste, swivel hips, short skirts, choli tops with bell bottom trousers, tie-dye hues.  Heaps of
technical bravura was present, the most subtle being Shannon Hulbert’s tap improvisation to J.S. Bach. While nuance or depth was lacking, the audience loved it. Clearly, its periodic revival will continue to elicit affectionate response.

A personal delight was seeing the return to the Bay Area from Hong Kong of Jonathan Mangosing. Starting his career with San Francisco Ballet, impressively substituting in Helgi Tomasson’s Concerto Grosso, Mangosing has retained his floating jumps; like all dancers truly at home in their bodies, he possesses the sense of line in space which makes for distinction.