Tag Archives: Quinn Wharton

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.

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A Gala, Estonian Style, June 28

4 Jul

One of the best things about the June 28 performance of the Estonian National Ballet at the Palace of Fine Arts with its accompanying musicians was the audience.  It made me feel comme il faut still existed and a corner of the theatre-going audience  alive and well with its share of handsome young men and comely young women, nicely dressed but not attempting to be fashion plates, or boasting ostentatious rocks. Of individuals observed, I saw one mid-aged couple dressed in Estonian costume, lively if understated members of  the crowd..

Unfortunately, I arrived just before eight to learn that the performance, while starting late, was scheduled for seven – and here I had written an advance piece about Tiit Helimets efforts to bring the company here -so the premiere of the Helimets’ ballet Time was missed.

At the mid-section of the Gala, Hando Nahkur played Schumann and accompanied Hanna-Lina Vosa, singing in both Estonian and English, before Alexsandra Meijer and Tiit Helimets danced the pas de deux from Act II, Swan Lake.  The pair were also featured on the cover of the play bill,  in white on the ticket stubs, but in the Black Swan pas de deux, despite the presence of Helimets, an incongruous image for the cover of an Estonian-themed Gala. The seat rake and the stage width made Meijer look less than long-limbed. It seemed her correct port de bras was placed rather emerging organically from the solar plexus, the positions well practiced but slacking emotional motivation.  But what can one expect from a deliberately programmed cultural pot pourri?

Teric McCollum  later reminded me that Titt Helimets used  a wine promotion to help raise funds for the Estonian Festival using the Black and White Swan motif for a red and a white wine.  The promotion was apparently successful, and Quinn Wharton’s Helimets-Meijer images in those iconic roles made tardy sense (and the legs looked longer!).

The Estonian wares on display for sale quite intriguing and handsome – sand dollars with beaded circles attached for earrings, leather employed for the same purpose, key chains, wallets, a drop dead elegant leather computer case, some dresses with peasant braid arranged in expected locations, CDs of Nahkur in concert.

The Gala closed with Marina Kesler’s Othello, danced to recordings of composer Arvo Part.  It was the first time I had ever heard cacophony and forte connected with the Estonian-born composer.  McCollum also mentioned that Estonians can use his compositions free of charge, which helped understand the choice behind this tumultuous Shakespearean tale.  Unlike Portia, also Venetian, Desdemona is loved by an admiral of Moorish descent whose Christianity  must have rested comparatively lightly upon him.  His lieutenant Iago manages with the aid of Blanka to create circumstantial evidence of his beloved’s infidelity.  Othello chokes her.

Kesler has altered the plot to make Blanka accept money from Iago to plant the scarf on Cassio, a lieutenant Othello loves and trusts with Desdemona, a source of Iago’s envy. Kesler also has Blanka plant the scarf after she seduces Cassio, a considerable departure from  the Shakespearean plot, plus the joint death of Othello following his killing of Desdemona. I suppose such tweakings are permitted, but why call the ballet Othello?

Another departure from the Venetian setting and period were the women’s costumes, short, peachy-pink satin skirts of three tiers of puffs, removed at one point  and worn again at the finale. The men’s costumes looked a bit like replicas of the school uniforms worn by boys in the Russian Imperial Ballet School, admittedly quite handsome though again not of the period.

The dancers themselves were marvelously flexible and technically secure in choreography requiring stretching, bending and a variety of distortions of classical vocabulary though executed en pointe, most of them small of stature.  Any choreographer would be excited to work with such dancers.  The dancing which ignited the ballet was Sergei Lipkin’s; he got the assignment for wiliness, maneuvering, plotting and nearly all the  choreographic solos.  Othello and Desdemona in the persons of Anatoli Arhangelski and Eve Andre looked Mutt and Jeff visually, he tall and the necessary choreographic adjustments, she fair, small, roundly shaped, strong athletic legs – perfect to throw into bends, stretches and lifts or to wrap around the waist.  As Cassio Jonathan Hanks was given something of a cipher role, but still  jaunty emerging from his encounter behind the red draperies and sexual shenanigans with Heidi Kopti’s Bianka, the fated red scarf, rather than white, draped around his neck.

I would love to see the company dance Tudor, Robbins or Balanchine, even to see what they might do with Agnes de Mille.

Tiit Helimets helps Estonia Stage June 28-30 San Francisco Festival

5 Jun

San Francisco Ballet dancers usually get a month’s vacation in June, although some times touring individually, collectively or guest performances can fill in the thirty days.  In 2010, Tiit Helimets took an ensemble of ten dancers to Taillin and Tartu, the two principal cities in Estonia. Helimets’ venture had commenced through contacts made during a guest appearance as Albrecht in Ballet San Jose’s 2010 production of Giselle.

The ensemble included Val Caniparoli whose ballet Ibsen’s House to Anton Dvorak music was included in the program; recording this Eastern Odyssey on video was Quinn Wharton, then an SFB corps member, now with Hubbard Street Dance Theater. The video funding was raised through an appeal on Kickstarter, proposal crafted by Terri McCollum, best known for Odette’s Ordeal; it was nicely over subscribed.  The trip included a manager, a massage therapist with Katita Waldo as ballet mistress.

Eastern Odyssey was initially premiered at the Vogue Theatre, San Francisco.  What has happened to it since I’m not sure. But the success of the venture launched Tiit Helimets’ desire and efforts to bring an Estonian ballet ensemble to San Francisco; the end of June will see that realization.

The Festival will be ticketed for all but the June 30 Yerba Buena Gardens Dance Festival.

For tickets, the link is: http://estonianculturefestival.eventbrite.com/s.

Tickets will include entrance to a June 28 12-3 p.m. stage rehearsal at the Palace of Fine Arts with a Q&A by Tiit Helimets;  he is managing the event.

Friday. June 28.  An expo follows 5:00-7:00 p.m., a performance from 7:00-10:00 p.m. With the Estonian National Ballet and guests.

Saturday, June 29 will be marked by a Song Festival at Calvary Presbyterian Church, Fillmore and Jackson Streets, San Francisco, 2-5 p.m.

The final event at Yerba Buena Gardens 12:30-3 p.m. Sunday, June 30 should be open to the public.

Ticket costs and privileges are explained on the website.

For the Friday performance, Helimets has choreographed Time to music by Paula Matthusen, a music professor in electroacoustic and acoustic music at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Estonian ballet mistress Marina Kesler has created Othello to the music of Arvo Part.  In between the two works actress Hanna-Liina Vosa and pianist Andrus Nahkur, distinguished Estonian artists, will appear.  Forty young Estonians, 15-25, members of the Estonian Youth Wind Orchestra will open the program.

The Estonian dancers coming number eleven, five of them soloists, six corps de ballet members. One soloist hails from Russia;  Moldova,  Japan and England are represented in the corps.  The full company numbers 56 under the direction of Thomas Edur whose career with his wife, Agnes Oaks, was principally with the English National Ballet, 1990-2009.

Both Edur and Oaks competed in the USA IBC in Jackson in 1990, where they were cited as the best Senior couple. Edur was also awarded a bronze medal.  They were identified as best couple by the  London Critics Circle in 2002; in 2010 both Edur and Oaks were made Commanders of the British Empire [CBE] by Queen Elizabeth II. Edur was named as the best male dancer in  the 2004 Laurence Olivier citation.

I culled the following from the Web. The Estonian National Ballet began in 1914 when two Russians, Nina Smirnova and Robert Rood, appeared at the Estonian National Opera.  A salaried troupe was started in 1918 and gave independent performances 1919-1920. In 1922, Viktoria Kreger of the Moscow Great Theatre staged Coppelia dancing the role. Rahel Olbrei, one of the ensemble, assumed leadership of the ensemble in 1926,  expanding her ballet training with study under Mary Wigman and Rudolf Laban; left in 1944 due to World War II pressures.  Anna Ekstrom, leading the company from 1944-1951, established the Estonian National School in 1946, which teaches Vaganova technique.

Subsequently The Estonian company had three artistic directors prior to Edur. He assumed a  company where dancers sign contracts with the government and once hired, cannot be fired.  The contract is year round;  after twenty years, they are eligible for a pension.  Corps members are utilized in operas and musicals; soloists appear only in ballets and the artists enjoy roughly two months of vacation in the summer.

Thirty Years of Lines’ Contemporary Ballet

5 May

With an enthusiastic audience at the final Sunday matinee April 28 Lines’ Contemporary Ballet danced indications of subtle shifts in Alonzo King’s choreography, an impetus possibly due to the commission for the Hubbard Street Dance Theater which debuted the work at Zellerbach Hall in February.

Many things, however, remain constant in this dozen dancer ensemble, a steadfast trait being the dancers’ eloquence and what superb instruments King has shaped them for his choreographic vision.  Works dating from 1994, 2005, 2010 plus this season’s premiere, Collaborations with Edgar Meyer, demonstrates part of that evolution.

Before comments on the dances, let me say the program itself celebrated King’s longevity, not only with elegant advertising, which probably covered the cost of the letter-size doubled 50 pages of text plus advertising and R. J. Muna’s spectacular photography. Following the current program and roster of dancers photographed by Quinn Wharton, there was a list of ballets created from 1982, an enumeration of King awards, dancers and guest artists over thirty years, collaborators, comments by the dancers and Pam Hagen, the third member of the founding trio, the King Training programs, board members, staff and donors, of course. The design was credited to Nancy Bertossa who moved over last year from ODC to head the Lines’ Marketing Division.  It’s a handsome record.  If space had permitted, dates and specifics might have been added to the Isadora Duncan Dance Award citation.  It also would have been  nice to acknowledge Lines’  president, Dennis Mullen, who was on board with Pam Hagen when the initial fiscal budget moved from $500 to $1.2 million.  Mullen now chairs the Isadora Duncan Dance Award Committee.

To George Frederic Handel music, work unspecified, King utilized the extended phrases of organ music to move his dancers horizontally.  In other works diagonal or upstage entrances tend to introduce the dancers.  Here it seemed they skittered to a tone or pitch held by the organ.  The body rolls, pumping, circling or flaying arm use strangely complimented music large enough  in sound and scale to accommodate the highly individualistic emphasis based on classic ballet vocabulary.  I found myself intrigued and engaged.

I remember the stretch of Kara Wilkes, torso in profile, partnered by David Harvey, her line from ear through shoulders, hip and knee ending in point as she was absorbe in a rendering of the sonorous organ music sounds.  Earlier, Ashley Jackson introducing the piece, arms flexing, but also pausing in a motion driven arabesque, poised on her pointe in momentary infinity.  With such balance the Rose Adagio would be a breeze.

King has acquired a remarkably agile exponent in Ricardo Zayas, a movement style which is elemental, not simply well trained and flexible. Stripped to the waist, his muscles and bones at peak movement were mesmerizing to regard.  In a similar vein, Yujin Kim’s final variation demonstrated the slender Korean incorporates her culture’s rhythmic response, the slight flexing of her shoulders as she began to dance.

The excerpt from The Writing Ground, premiered by the Monte Carlo Ballet in 2010 for the Ballets Russes Centenary and commissioned by  artistic director Jean-Christophe Maillot,  gave Meredith Webster an extended solo with four men as support. Portraying a woman in extremis, the men attentive, supporting, waiting for her to move, Webster struggled handsomely, lurching, collapsing, staggering, paralyzed.  Sinister, it also displayed a mastery of controlled collapse, one of the more ultimate examples of what the King training can accomplish for a dancer.  Performed to The Tsok Offering by Jean-Phillipe Rykiel and Larna Gyurme, it was easy connecting the imagery to contemporary horrors.  Mid-way a friend remarked to me “epilepsy.”

This season’s collaboration with Edgar Meyer was titled just that.  The musician/composer was seconded by Gabriel Cabezas on cello and Robert Moose on the violin.  As background,  Jim Doyle created vertical streams of water, starting with slender double strands, gradually increasing to six or eight before sheets, sporadic and then steady, like daubs of glistening paint wielded by a master Asian calligrapher.

While some musical sections were plucked strings, others hinted at melody, particular in a pas de deux for Meredith Webster and David Harvey.  Titled 7 First Impressions, it seemed to try connecting with the sweet tunes of Stephen Foster.  In section 5, Cards, Kara Wilkes and David Harvey appeared guided by a hing of the sonata allegro form, one of Western symphonic music’s cornerstones. And in VI, Pas Solo, Men to Trio Movement 3, there actually were sections where three men executed the same movement in a line, and something similar occurred with four women.  For the Finale, Trio 88, Movement 4, the ensemble approximated a semblance of a conventional formation.

While highly individualistic movement was clearly present, the formations of company ensemble were clear, if absent the single line repetition like Balanchine’s opening in Symphony in Three Movements. It seems King’s three decades of accomplishments are allowing him to entertain such conventions without sacrificing his individualistic approach.  It’s a welcome development.

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Ballet San Jose’s Gala November 3

11 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Masha, A Preview at San Francisco’s Vogue Theatre, July 10

13 Jul

On July 10, for the second time, Vogue Theatre, a movie house near Presidio on Sacramento, became a venue for a dance documentary centering on one of San Francisco Ballet’s  principal dancers. This time it was Bolshoi Academy-trained Maria Kochetkova.

This time, Deborah Du Buowy, head of Words on Dance, was more directly involved in the production. A facilitator for the Tiit Helimets footage by Quinn Wharton,   “Masha”  seemed to be benefiting from Du Buowy in its editing process.  Du Bouwy also was able to provide a teaser for a work created by Luke Willis with music by Shannon Roberts, both S.F. Ballet dancers,  to be seen in Octber.

Du Buowy preceded “Masha” with glimpses of the dancers she had recorded in her nearly twenty years of making Words on Dance. It was interesting to hear the audience response as dancers were shown in  snippets; loudly applauded were Joanna Berman in a section of Dance House; Evelyn Cisneros in Lambarena; Muriel Maffre; Yuri Possokhov in Othello; glimpses of  VioletteVerdy; Edward Villella; Michael Smuin dancing in Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free; Cynthia Gregory; Martine Van Hamel; Helgi Tomasson, and a number more testified to the years Du Bouwy has devoted to recording dancers’ careers.

Masha is a Russian nick-name for Maria. Because there was no program and  credits were so swiftly shown, film-making details flashed by, leaving  one  nearly in the dark, except for Kochetkova’s comments in the Q and A following the close of the documentary. In particular, the details of the setting were omitted, although one ultimately could guess that her appearance was part of a quintet of Bolshoi-trained dancers appearing in an  attempt to be the equivalent of the Kings of Dance; both production were organized by the Ardani Managemen,tspecializing in presenting Russian companies and artists.

Visually it was quite a treat, though the venue remained unnamed and the choreographer uncredited, except perhaps at the end in the rapid run through of credits in rather blurry type face.

Still, the camera provided us with some wonderful moments where Masha prepared her toe shoes in the idiosyncratic method utilized by individual dancers. Masha used special pliers to extract part of the shank; she stepped on them and pounded them on the arm of a chair; when finally seen, there were five slippers, one apparently intended for use in supported toe work. The construction of and fitting for costumes was included, including Masha’s being sewn into one between stage appearances. A line up of two pairs of false eyelashes added to the atmosphere. There clearly was self-absorption;  nothing seemed staged for the camera. Kochetkova later remarked she never felt the presence of the camera or the photographer intruding in her performance preparation.

Working with a choreographer and rehearsing certain parts of a solo gave the observer a clear portrait how much repetition, correction and adjustment are involved in the creation of a solo, long or short. In Masha’s instance, a goodly amount of daring was also involved, heightened when she was required to pitch herself off stage to be caught by a waiting pair of arms.

Since the film was a  preview and the viewing intended to fuel further editing of 50 hours of footage, it would be helpful to know, by voice over or via caption, the venue where Kochetkova was recorded, as well as the title of the work(s) rehearsed , choreographic as well as personnel credits. Kochetkova herself during the Q and A following the preview mentioned she would like to see more of a plot.

With a viewing scheduled for October, perhaps these missing components will be on view. But even in this unfinished condition, “Masha” provides an excellent glimpse into the labor intensive preparation for those brief moments when a gifted artist transports her audience.