Tag Archives: Reuben Martin-Cintas

A Brilliant, Rapturous Debut and Finale with Onegin

10 May

Thursday Night, May 5, Matilde Froustey and Carlo di Lanno made debuts as Tatiana and Onegin in John Cranko’s Eugene Onegin, augmented ably by Reuben Martin-Cintas as Gremin, Doris Andre as Olga and Benajmin Freemantle making his own debut as Lensky. A near capacity audience greeted them with absorption and an orchestra standing ovation at the conclusion, Behind me were two young women, one recently moved from D.C. and another originally from Texas, the latter being familiar with Miami City and Washington Ballet companies.

It never fails to fascinate me how differing heights and musculature alters not only “the look” of a ballet; without saying, the attack in a role, to say nothing of the artist’s perception of the material. This difference was apparent Thursday evening. Where Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz are small and compact, Froustey, di Lanno and Martin-Cintas are tall, expanding phrases by sheer length, bringing the Russian verse novel into a western European orbit.

Froustey’s Tatiana commences with a pigtail down her back as she sits, stretches or reclines with her novel, appearing more studious than lost in a novel. In her initial encounter with Onegin, she is the polite French girl, propre rather than  curiosity for all the slender, willowy stretch of her body. She has an overwhelming gamine demeanor during the bedroom/mirror pas de deux ; as she writes of her passion, you can just see her at her classroom exercises. Her expression as the mirror dream evaporates is a wonderful, naive young vision of romantic expectation. Interesting was the reach of her lower torso in moments of chagrin or alarm during her name day debacle between Lensky and Onegin, and its effectiveness as she regards Onegin after his duel with Lensky where Froustey’s small round face evinces a stony gaze of defondu.

Ruben Martin-Cintas’ Gremin is more than a cipher. It’s one of the thankless roles in ballet, but he conveys the persona of maturity, a man of substance, secure in his position, and therefore able to appraise and evaluate situations and personalities. He brings this gently to Tatiana’s rescue in the name-day party, where she follows him automatically, while clearly distracted by Onegin’s coldness and the burgeoning confrontation between Lensky and Onegin.

Dores Andre’s Olga is a swift butterfly, skipping from moment to moment, happy at Lensky’s attention, drinking it in, if a bit reluctant to surrender, clearly evidenced by allowing Onegin to dance with her. His greater dance skill and way with women is quite flattering and she allows herself to be swept along with, not resisting until the damage has been done. Her willfulness is matched by the diffidence and decency displayed by Benjamin Freemantle. I wish I could have seen his second performance, which doubtless gained in strength from this initial interpretation. There was the making of a definite character there, but only beginning to be developed in this technically correct performance.

Then there was Carlo di Lanno as Onegin with his Roman coin profile, tall, correct, still; movements  betraying little emotion one way or another, except for a swift disdain for Tatiana’s material, and oh-so-correct-but-perfunctory partnering in the opening scene. In the bedroom mirror scene the emphasis is entirely on Tatiana’s ecstatic vision with beating arabesques, lifts and twists in Onegin’s arms. It is in the name-day scene, especially following the destruction of Tatiana’s letter, when Onegin sits down, having adjusted his cuff as a gesture of finish, to play solitaire, shuffling cards with revealing frequency that he betrays narcissistic  willfulness and the desire to intrude on the happy proceedings of Olga and Lensky. Onegin dances a bit too much with Olga; when she rejoins Lensky briefly, there passes over Onegin’s face an undeniable devilish impulse leading to Lensky’s gloves across his face before tossing them on the ground.

I also saw the season’s final matinee May 8, with Gennadi Nedvigin’s final performance with San Francisco Ballet. Di Lanno was appreciably more relaxed if still deliberate, masking emotion in the beginning; Froustey deepened her impression of the nearly sedate young gamine, kind to elders, who gathers strength in the duel scene; with Ruben Martin-Cintas they  both provide an image of a solid, happy marriage. The thankless role gets substance from Martin-Cintas’ size and demeanour, enhanced by the most over-decorated uniform seen on stage.

Gennadi Nedvigin’s final performance as Lensky seemed natural, unforced, his casual ease illustrating nearly three decades of training and performance.

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Gennadi Nedvigin in Cranko’s Onegin. (© Erik Tomasson)

The final, confrontation scene in Onegin gives both principals total permission to pull out their dramatic capacities; Di Lanno and Froustey rose cogently the two occasions. I saw them tear at their memories, the emotions they aroused against their present status. Their slender builds added to the etched quality of what must be marvelous Russian poetry, their line matching the musical turbulence of Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini’s aural passion. With kisses at the nape of her neck, the firm grip on the hand Onegin used to grasp her from eluding him, memory, reawakened passion and will power visibly struggled in Tatiana’s torso and slender legs. Finally, came the moment when his note was thrust in front of Onegin, ripped apart, “what goes around comes around” and Tatiana’s arm fiercely commands his departure before she struggles, half spent, bent before she faced the audience dead center, exhausted resolution written on her face and body.

Then came the curtain calls – the same order, Di Lanno kissing Froustey’s hands with appreciation. Froustey brought Martin West to stage center before West thrust Nedvigin forward for his final hail and farewell to San Francisco’s audience. Two figures entered from stage right with floral bouquets – Yuri Possokhov and Roman Rykine, who flew in from Winnipeg where he is ballet master for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Bear hugs ensued, clearly great emotions exchanged and lumps in the throat of balletomanes like myself.

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Program VIII SF Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet

6 May

May Day, May Day, May Day – San Francisco Ballet opened Helgi Tomasson’s Romeo and Juliet at San Francisco’s Opera House with the incredible costumes and set by Hans Jens Worsae, some stalwarts in their accustomed roles and several new ones, and, of course, that score by Sergei Prokofiev.

I would swear the some of the choreography had been altered; such imaginings the curse of an imprecise memory and seeing a number of same named productions by different companies. Here there are so many wonderful touches, from the Verona town square arousing from dawn to early morning. I do not remember the rose window of the church being illuminated, or reflected either in the scene where Romeo and Juliet are wed by Friar Lawrence, or when Juliet comes rushing for guidance from that pivotal ecclesiastical figure.

When the company first produced the ballet, Rita Felciano and Eric Hellman organized a symposium around the production, mentioning the original production by Vana Psota in Brno, Slovakia just before World War II and the German takeover of the short-lived republic of Czechoslovakia. Juliets then in the company also were interviewed.

The key speaker for me, however, was an historian who had researched the demographics of Renaissance Italy, basing his findings on the data available in Florence, and, presumably, Tuscany. He found a substantial number of
single parent households, the woman in charge of young children, the husband deceased, documents recording his age at least a decade or two older than the widow. The historian, and forgive my failure to identify him at this juncture, concluded that the young men went off to war, the older men, survivors of conflicts, married the dewy young damsels, and that romance, let alone marriage between age-alike young men and women was unthinkable. Ergo, why is County Paris clearly a stripling in the figure of Steven Morse? Why not Jim Sohm or Reubin-Martin-Cintas as more historically accurate, whose name also implies his possession of quite a spread of hectares?

That harangue completed, I have only praise for the pairing of Val Caniparoli and Sofiane Sylve as the Capulet parents, the easy grandeur of Caniparoli and the intense swirling elegance of Sylve were exactly right. Sherri Le Blanc, making a debut as The Nurse, seemed less lusty but equally caring as Juliet’s Nurse, and as Tybalt, Anthony Vincent (heretofore named Spaulding) was elegant, sinister, a calculating figure, clearly frustrated by Lord Capulet’s insistence on politeness within the family palace.

When the House of Montague appeared, Jeffrey Lyons and Lacey Escabar seemed slightly defensive in the power contest, given to spirit more than concerned with tangible spoils. In Mercutio, Taras Domitro seemed to personify this, less an older pal to Romeo than an impulsive intuitive with vast technical gifts. As Benvolio, Hansuke Yamamoto was required to bring some gravitas to the merriment which he did with elevation and elan. In Carlos Quenedit, there was Romeo you might have seen with his gang, sporting a Giants ballcap turned backwards, relaxing around a motorbike or with a group of mechanics, likeable, young, competent, as innocent of poetry as he was on the mark as Basile in Don Quixote.

The role of Verona’s Prince has always been well served by Martin Pistone, cutting a figure of physical power with the will to use it. Dores Andre and Dana Genshaft made slender, spirited, clearly street-wise harlots, Andre’s discovery of Mercutio’s imminent death particularly sharp. The trio of acrobats, Noriko Matsuyama, Francisco Mungamba and Wei Wang were adept in their assignment, Wang’s strength an interesting contrast to Mungamba’s flexibility and Matsyama’s pertness. Mercutio’s death scene gave Domitro the chance to demonstrate dramatic power, combined with his prodigious technique, showing what his dramatic gifts can provide. I wonder if he might make a better Romeo.

Sarah Van Patten first danced Juliet when she was 16 with the Royal Danish Ballet, before joining San Francisco Ballet. Her partner prior to Carlos Quenedit was Pierre-Francois Vilanoba; I confess to missing him. Her interpretation possesses a gossamer dusting of impulse and emotion; the initial meeting and the balcony scenes were explorations to be followed by the culmination in the early morning final pas de deux. Particularly impressive was Van Patten’s fateful behavior in her bedroom with the senior Capulets and Paris. The Capulets’ insensitive ploughing ahead with nuptial plans despite Tybalt’s death, more implacably so by Lady Capulet – the sweep of her skirt as telling here as in the ballroom, Sylve’s face marvelously stoical, her gestures and movements conveying it all, pulling the velvet yardage away from Juliet’s grasp. Helgi Tomasson’s production, visually splendid, is both a challenge to the company and a pleasure to its audience.

San Francisco Ballet’s Program Five, Don Q

3 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intermission!

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

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

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

2014 Nutcracker Season, San Francisco Ballet

15 Dec

December 12 was San Francisco Ballet’s night to start its season of the Nuts, multiple castings, opportunities for corps members. With Martin West conducting the company’s orchestra, the audience enjoyed a remarkably buoyant performance, which can be partially attributed to its enormous success in Europe this summer. Mary Beth Smith, heading the company’s marketing and communications, remarked in the Opera House press room that after the company’s closing night performance at Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, where Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes made its 1909 debut, “The applause went on for twenty minutes. It was spectacular, and you know Parisians know their ballet.” Following this performance, the company goes into a twice daily mode, two and seven p.m., a total of thirty performances, including two on Christmas Eve.

Friday night’s inauguration featured Ricardo Bustamonte with extra flourishes and complete gallantry, while Ruben Martin-Cintas and Katita Waldo made the Stahlbaums elegant, assured, hospitable. Jim Sohm outdid himself as Grandpapa; Kristi DeCaminada as Grandmere. Both parents and small fry were less numerous, but the numbers cohered in the overall scenic impression, avoiding the cast of thousands mould.

Clara Blanco danced her iconic doll, Esteban Hernandez made an impression as the Nutcracker out of the Box and Max Cauthorn in yellow Milliskin was willowy, off balance and technically excellent.

The transformation scene – from 1915 Panama-Pacific era privileged San Francisco to dream exaggeration of furniture, presents, tree, mice and gas fireplace – continues to be impressive; mice scamper, toy soldiers execute the directions of the Nutcracker with his sabre, while Clara watches avidly. Sean Orza’s Mouse King exhibited brawn, and elegaic agony after his leg was caught in the mouse trap, his dying crawl into the prompter’s pit, “Tis A Far Better Thing I Do’ from Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities.

Luke Ingham as Nutcracker Prince cuts a refreshing athletic image once out of Mask and Nut trappings. He’s gallant, but no nonsense, like a good Aussie invariably seems to be; his battement a la seconde is eagle sharp. Not a bad mixture. Audrey Armacost as Clara responded well to his partnering.

The carriage arrival brings its own magic, its white and silver sleigh, pawing, prancing ponies, masks crowned with nodding plumes. I’m not sure the ancien regime could have improved on these equines.

The snow monarch roles were handsomely filled by Vanessa Zahorian and Taras Domitro. who followed after the snowflakes appeared under drifts of artificial flakes continuing to fall, audibly, during the entire number until the final grouping around the principals was almost obscured by moving white density. Early on Domitro stumbled a bit; I suspect this artificial blizzard may have contributed. However, his grand jetes and entrechats were his standard brilliant, Zahorian sailing through her virtuosity with usual aplomb, her earlier injury definitely behind her.

After the intermission the curtain rose on the evocation of the Conservatory, with butterflies, lady bugs, and moths, marking time with port de bras and pique arabesques before the arrival of The Sugar Plum Fairy (SPF) in the person of Mathilde Froustey. Froustey possesses the current ideal for the feminine ballerina; beautiful proportions, long neck, face of piquant charm, port de bras devoid of angled elbow, good jump, supple expressive upper back, an intuitive emphasis in phrasing or response. A cogent example was her emphasis asking the Nut Prince “Why are you here?” Not a doubt about the query.

Luke Ingham’s mime was salutary, particularly good with whiskers. The SPF had decreed the entire dream troupe witness the recitation, a nice move. While the Spanish pas de cinq was good, the Arabian trio was especially well-balanced with Dana Genshaft, and Daniel Devison-Oliveira and Anthony Spaulding, intense, finished. Francisco Mungamba’s Chinese shone with knife-like jetes. The French trio danced my-not-so favorite variation spritely, Wan Ting Zhao’s phrasing eye-catching. The Russian Faberge trio burst out into Anatole Vilzak’s classic variation led by Hansuke Yamamoto with Esteban Hernandez and Wei Wang.

Benjamin Stewart garnered a warm response as Smoky Bear with Louis Schilling and the bevy of San Francisco Ballet School students, precursor to the Waltzing Flowers, framing the SPF in this version of the Tchaikovsky classic. Bland, symmetrical and nicely executed, the ensemble is supposed to set off the central rose; Froustey could be better served. However, the ensemble requires its musical share and the notes received visualization with skill.

In this version the prelude to the Grand Pas de Deux refers to the Chinoiserie tower bibelot, Clara’s gift in the first act. The SPF retrieves a tiara from a cushion brought her by a uniformed attendant which she places on Clara’s head before leading her to the mirror inside the open box. Froustey’s brief escorting, was affectionate, a reinforcement shared with Sofiane Sylve who conveys similar feminine warmth.

The double doors close, the tower turned, the doors reopen and outsteps the adult Clara in hues of gold and celadon, Yuan Yuan Tan, ready to wow us, dispatches the gestures of awe and transforming admiration to the barest stroke, a principal flaw in an otherwise brilliant performance. Tan is becoming accustomed to Luke Ingham as a partner; she should feel utterly secure. Ingham promises Tan as good or better she enjoyed with Damian Smith; the partnering, particularly Tan’s height in the running catch as the Tchaikovsky score soars were. flawless. Tan’s face, with its feline qualities, registered satisfaction along with her usual aplomb.

The variation reprises then follow, to warm applause, and the aggregate ensemble coalesces to allow Drosselmeyer, couch and Clara to enter and for him to reassemble the Stahlaum mansion,for Clara to awaken, clutch her toy and run towards Mother Stahlbaum’s arms as the curtains descend.

Cinderella: Her Second Season with SFB, March 13

17 Mar

For foodies who also like ballet, the buffet in San Francisco’s Opera House is recommended once you pick up your tickets if not mailed to you. The hot dishes can be impressive, if simple, the roast beef succulent. It is the array of salads and vegetables where the buffet seems to excel; celery root julienned; farro with raisins and carrots; asparagus spears, spinach with citrus fruit. The prospect of second helpings and a complimentary glass of champagne is further inducement.

This year I elected the Thursday night program partly because Norman Hersch could only go that night and I wanted to see Frances Chung switch roles from an ugly sibling to the chosen one, Cinderella herself. She is such an admirable dancer; correct, musical, willing, and also reticent though gracious, altogether a formidable combination. Truly a company dancer, her attitude reminds me a bit of Margot Fonteyn, minus any brouhaha. What’s not to admire?

Davit Karapetyan was Chung’s Prince Charming with Diego Cruz making his debut as Benjamin, the Prince’s friend. Shannon Rugani rendered a powerful portrait of Stepmother Hortensia, understated but definite. Elizabeth Powell and Ellen Rose Hummel horsed it up as the two step sisters, Hummel’s Clementine winning Cruz’ Benjamin. Reuben Martin Cintas created a believable father, bereft, then remarried, pecked and coat holder, but ultimately defender of his blood child. In the royal household, Ricardo Bustamonte and Anita Paciotti were suitably anxious about princely behavior and marital choices, while Val Caniparoli’s Alfred worried a tad about Benjamin’s mischief and as Madame Mansard, Katita Waldo was completely flumoxed by her two young charges. Interesting note: Pascale Le Roy created the Mansard role last May, shortly before she was dismissed from San Francisco Ballet School’s staff, a post filled easily a decade or more.

Missing is the fairy god-mother. At the fireplace she is replaced by the Prince in disguise who is given food by Cinderella, a neat insert for cause and effect. Quickly the four Fates- Gaetano Amico, Daniel Deivison-Oliveira, Luke Willis and Shane Wuerthner intervene; providing wheels for Cinderella’s carriage to the ball, following the seasons’ coaching session in personal qualities. The seasons and their entourages didn’t seem to convey qualities to me, though the dancing was excellent. Jaime Garcia Castilla’s fluid a la seconde developpes were breathtaking as Summer while the Autumnal carrot wig [Halloween?]on Hansuke Yamamoto’s warred visually with his usual allegro fleetness.

One can scarcely fault Julian Crouch’s scenery and costumes except for the questionable taste in costuming the princesses from Spain, Russia and Bali; Goya doublet and hose, Orthodox robes and heavily veiled saris make me cringe over the mental processes which decided the selection and its visualization. His visual reference to the tree emerging from the mother’s tombstone with its weighted reference to the earth and regeneration is apt and touching, regardless of the more traditional story. As a beginning and finale it serves its purpose tidily.

Without doubt it’s a stunning production, from the tree emerging from the mother’s tomb, to the suggestion of regal status by the use of rust-hued pillars and a fussy sofa. Cinderella’s ballgown shimmers with its vertical wheat-like strands matches the billowing scarf-like train as she rides on the wheels of her gallant fates.

I enjoy stage business when it provokes a smile and is appropriate to the action. The global trek changed: three princesses come to conquer in a broadened riff of Swan Lake. Mother Hortensia’s inebriation rated a chuckle or two, and the nastier of the two sisters made appeared in a garmentless hoop with an overnight suitor quickly departing with drooping suspenders. (How could he have reached her?) The candidates to fit the slipper paraded and departed on a row of chairs, any remaining hastened by a functionary in glinting medieval armor; the chairs gradually lurched their way upwards before the final shoe fitting.

Clearly those excellent dancing Fates were employed to emphasize the magical crucial moments; however, the story’s message is strong enough to dispense with their services. When Cinderella retrieves her slipper from the sequestered fireplace niche, she is lifted. Granted, the lodging was high enough to require some assistance; but did it need to be that high in the first place? The interplay between Chung and Karapetyan was sufficiently strong to convey special recognition, a felicity that grew between them throughout the performance.

Would I want to see it again? Sure. I would hope for an unexpected encounter with Elaine Connell, former Asian Art Museum Commissioner and one time seventh grade school teacher in San Francisco who said her class nick-named her Blanca Brujo. Her friend Nancy Zacker regaled us with references to her relatives living in pre Gold Rush Sutter’s Fort. At intermission I was introduced to Don Blateman and his wife Emerald. Blateman was responsible for the inspiring documentary on the three Berkeley housewives/mothers who pioneered saving San Francisco Bay. It was a few hours of evenly balanced fantasy, memoir and social vision.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Extravagant Story Ballets

17 Jul

Early in May I saw two performances of the San Francisco. Ballet-Het National Ballet production of Cinderella; and on film his earlier creation for The Royal Ballet, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at a 10 a.m. Sunday showing at San Francisco’s Vogue Theater, Sacramento near Presidio.  The screening rated a brief appearance by Christopher Wheeldon, here for the U.S. premiere of Ms. Miserable transformed to Mme Majestic.

I don’t have the roster of production personnel and designers  for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,, but both say a great deal about Wheeldon’s thoroughness and collaboration.  Given the allotted fiscal resources, he scattered the commission funds adroitly and gave both companies and their audiences a ballet  for the memory books and box office receipts. Wheeldon’s employment of  technical advances for stage productions since 1929 when Serge Diaghilev died would have that impresario repeat  his famous edict “Etonne moi!”

I probably shouldn’t mix the two productions, but sentimental reasons are afloat, namely two different USA IBC competitions in Jackson, Mississippi when the Royal Ballet principals Sarah Lamb and Zenaida Yanowsky were handed senior silver and junior gold respectively, Lamb in 2002 and Yanowsky in 1994.  In the special ambiance characterizing Jackson’s ambiance, one acquires a special attachment with the young artists staying the course of climate, adjustments and pressure to emerge with their talents recognized and careers enhanced.

Okay, back to Cinderella.  Wheeldon invited Craig Lucas to fashion the story-line.  The old-fashioned word is librettist; I’ve also heard the word dramaturge.  Taking pieces from Perrault, the brothers Grimm; as Aimee T’sao mentioned in her dancetabs review, the opera  La Perichole, Lucas provides a snippet of Cinderella’s mother and father, the mother dying of consumption, a visit to the tombstone and the emergence of a tree from the gravestone.  Adroitly using children, the girl Cinderella is replaced by the young woman in a filmy dress of blue which needed sleeves present in other versions. At the tombstone/tree the father arrives with Stepmother Hortensia and stepsisters Edwina and Clementine; there Hortensia’s bouquet is offered, thrown to the ground, offered again and reluctantly accepted.

Cut to the Palace, represented by three handsome rust-colored pillars,  Prince Guillaume and friend Benjamin play with wooden swords and destabilize Madame Mansard the dancing mistress.  King Albert and Queen Charlotte as well as master valet Alfred try to control the two frolicking boys with comparatively little effect. No one really seems to mind.

Time passes and the King shows the Prince portraits of potential royal brides: reaction,  dislike.  Required to deliver invitations in person, the Prince and Benjamin swap garments so the royal has a chance to assess necessity and his choices.

Next, Cinderella is seen in her domestic setting, assisted by four masked men  serving as Fates.  The two sisters are sketched further, too little to establish Clementine’s kind impulses, plenty to establish Edwina’s narcissism, less her halitosis, Hortensia’s step-mother’s nastiness, the father’s interrupted attempts at tenderness.

Into this domestic dragnet, Cinderella, out of kindness, perhaps diversion which might net some responsiveness, brings the prince in disguise.  Mayhem, of course, is directed at the would-be derelict until Benjamin’s arrival with invitations; an acknowledgment to the fire huddling humanity, tempers Hortensia.  That humanity tries to console Cinderella, and she yields briefly, with a flare of pride, he is shooed out the door.

Excised are  the shuffling god-mother in disguise, the dance master, the wig makers and the dress-maker, replaced with the antics of the three women, Benjamin disguised as the prince, followed by the three preening, and Hortensia’s waving the fourth invitation before tossing it into the fire.  The disconsolate Cinderella is spared by the four fates lifting her, as the kitchen banishes, bearing her to her mother’s tree where the four seasons with double qualities dance for her; Spring/Lightness; Summer/Generosity; Autumn/Mystery; Winter/Fluidity [the latter is a mystery to me, unless it signifies rain instead of snow and ice]; she joins them in the finale.

The seasons then join, cluster and dance while Cinderella makes a costume change to a golden dress with wheat-like tendrils cascading from the bodice and a golden mask, behind her  a diaphanous golden cape.  The fates and four masked attendants lift her; horses heads appear, the Fates grasp four wheels, the spokes green branches and our heroine is raised, cape billowing,
evoking Audrey Hepburn declaring “Take my picture” near the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Curtain!

Act II brings us Princesses from Russia, Spain and Bali with an orthodox priest diplomat in red, a Velasquez courtier with exaggerated wig and Indian woman with head shawl and covering jacket, all quite amusing with the Balinese princess sporting malevolent talons and luxuriant pantaloons, the Russian princess with outsized headgear and the Spanish candidate more like a
refugee from Lilias Pasta’s tavern.  All very funny, if the parody in some instances is questionable. Colonialism or ethnocentricity will rear collective  heads. Prince Guillaume is understandably put off by all three, much to King Albert’s frustration.  I think Queen Charlotte is relieved.

The two step sisters make their unfortunate attempts, but Benjamin provides Clementine with an alternative while Hortensia proceeds to sloshdom with champagne.  Father has borne heaps of wraps and pursues Hortensia’s quest for yet another glass. The music shimmers, the crowd parts, Cinderella enters and Prince Guillaume is dazzled, the walls disappear along with the crowd and the starry night provides the background for the pas de deux.

The two casts,  opening and the following Tuesday, were:

Friday:                                                                  Tuesday:
Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada               Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan
Benjamin: Taras Domitro                                Benjamin: Hansuke Yamamoto
Cinderella’s Father: Damian Smith               Cinderella’s Father: Reuben Martin-Cintas
Cinderella’s Mother: Dana Genshaft             Cinderella’s Mother: Charlene Cohen
King Albert: Ricardo Bustamonte                  King Albert: Val Caniparoli
Queen Charlotte:Anita Paciotti                       Queen Charlotte: Anita Paciotti
Alfred, Benjamin’s Father: Val Caniparoli   Alfred, Benjamin’s Father Sebastian Vinet
Madame Mansard: Pascale Le Roy                Madame Mansard: Katita Waldo

Stepmother Hortensia: Kata Waldo              Stepmother Hortensia: Shannon Rugani
Stepsister Edwina: Sarah Van Patten           Stepsister Edwina: Dana Genshaft
Stepsister Clementine: Frances Chung        Stepsister: Clara Blanco

At the San Francisco premiere, I found most everything dazzling, but felt Boada somewhat doughy as the Prince.  Waldo etched a sharp Stepmother, Van Patten rather dotty as one stepsister – the halitosis wasn’t so noticeable as it was on Tuesday night, and Chung was a bit subdued as the sister who manages to captivate Benjamin, danced insouciantly by Taras Domitro.  Both Bustamonte and Caniparoli were suitably grandiose as well as genial as the King, and no one tops Anita Paciotti for regal charm as a Queen.

Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan provided an ideal pairing on the Tuesday evening I saw them, clearly filling the romantic element of their respective roles.  The Rugani/Genshaft and Blanco trio of step relatives in size and temperament seemed more cohesive while Yamamoto and Domitro vied for aerial brio.

I forgot to mention  the touching part when Cinderella arrives home, stashes the slipper in a niche in the chimney before the parade of chairs descends from the ceiling to provide the candidates with a place for attempting to fit the shoe size.  The potentials includes the fanciful creatures from Cinderella’s transformation scene.  When it is over, the chair are heisted into the flys with a wonderful uneven line.

I’ve seen Kudelka’s Cinderella, as well as the earlier Christensen-Smuin and Stevenson versions where the latter two use men as the stepsisters.  These productions tended to hew to the musical development more routinely.  There were times when I found myself wondering how that section of the music matched what I was seeing.  In the lengthy, triumphant pas de deux, the lifts were so frequent that their prevalence made for anti-climatic sensations, despite pristine partnering and the beautiful display of musical ballerinas.  Unlike less costumed ballets Wheeldon has created for San Francisco Ballet, these two views made me wonder if he himself had been dazzled by the sumptuous and splendor of the production designed and costumed by Julian Crouch, Natasha Katz’ lighting design and the magic Basil Twist conceived with the tree and the carriage.  Succumbing to the collaborative opulence would be entirely understandable.