Tag Archives: Robert Joffrey

The Joffrey Ballet Returns to Zellerbach

5 Apr

The Joffrey Ballet, now under the artistic direction of Ashley Wheater, a former Joffrey Ballet member and lengthy veteran of San Francisco Ballet’s artistic staff, came to Zellerbach March 14 and 15. I saw the matinee on March 15, and have to say I left my glasses at home. The dancers therefore were not very distinct even sitting in Row G, but the music was loud, clear and, mostly lengthy.

The moves clearly impressed themselves on an enthusiastic audience, probably one of the most responsive and willing any theatrical or musical performer has the good luck to enjoy.

There were three ballets and a pas de deux, all from contemporary choreographers; two have strong ties with San Francisco Ballet; Val Caniparoli and Yuri Possokhov. It was canny of Wheater to include them in the local Joffrey appearance. I think he was determined to assert the historic Joffrey profile as being au courant as much as the Joffrey also demonstrates a sense of history with works like Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table. The Chicago repertoire includes Don Quixote;soon Christopher Wheeldon’s interpretation of Swan Lake,. No one can accuse the company of losing sight of or involvement with the classics. Robert Joffrey’s Nutcracker pointed the way as did the very early Conservitoriat of Auguste Bournonville..

Caniparoli’s piece,Incantations, concerned itself with introspection to a very long, arduous score by Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky; there was virtually no way the piece could be cut and remain coherent; Caniparoli
adhered to every phrase, allowing toes to point, legs to lift into attitudes and arabesques, smoothly partnered, reflected the lengthy employment of chimes. I am afraid my attention span wants to edit length.

Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili danced Yuri Possokhov’s Bells, set to Rachmaninoff’s Piano Sonata #2. Murkily lit, beautifully danced, there is
something magnetic when Possokhov’s reliance on Russian composers features two dancers trained in the current Russian teaching tradition who also are husband and wife. San Francisco Ballet possesses at least two such couples, They make clear legal intimacy elsewhere helps to foster a special innerness when dancing in a contemporary work without narrative. Someone remarked “They don’t show relationship.” My take was relationship was so strong obvious manifestations wasn’t needed.

Alexandre Ekman’s Episode 31 possessed a certain zaniness about it which echoed faintly some of the Arpino cheekiness, while still being very different. His screen images at the back, the rushings around the stage made me wonder whether it was his reflection of observing workaday life in Chicago. The Joffrey Ballet is housed in the heart of downtown Chicago, so bustle and the El are routinely present. Chicago dwellers must have loved it, recognizing the stop and start, the energy the dancers poured into the work.

As to Stanton Welch’s ballet to the music of John Adams, I remember little except the pleasure of seeing Rory Hohenstein providing a skillful, substantial contribution.

In Dancetabs.com Aimee T’sao expressed the hope that Cal Performances finds a way to give the Joffrey a yearly slot as it allows for the Ailey and Mark Morris ensembles. While I think it unlikely on a yearly basis, I endorse seeing them every other year. Berkeley was an important place in the Joffrey some forty years ago, thanks to the touring program the Dance Program of the NEA fostered for all too brief a time.

Arpino’s Trinity was premiered at the Zellerbach before the Joffrey began to be sponsored by the San Francisco Symphony whose musicians provided the music the Joffrey danced to. It all vanished when the Symphony moved into Davies Symphony Hall and the Opera and Ballet claimed San Francisco’s Opera House all for themselves. No more American Ballet Theatre in February; no more Joffrey Ballet in June; no more theatre space of 2,000-2,500 seats to entice companies to negotiate dates to appear anywhere West or South of San Francisco’s Embarcadero. Apparently, Mayor Ed Lee and others governing San Francisco’s 49 square miles, have no plans for such a theatre, easily accessed, with sufficient parking space to draw a crowd which loves something in addition to rock, hockey, baseball and football.

Still, I want to see Arpino’s Kettentanz again.

Advertisements

Dwight Grell, 6/7/1937- 2/3/2015

3 Mar


The Los Angeles Times
printed Dwight Grell’s obituary March 2, 2015. David Colker did a good job summarizing the outline of Dwight’s passion for Russian Ballet, accurate and anecdotal.

But the skein of association and the times when Dwight stumbled upon his
passion, thanks to the 1959 West Coast tour of the Bolshoi Ballet under Sol Hurok’s auspices lingers for those of us who knew him in varying shades of
intimacy.

I first met Dwight during the 1986 USA IBC Competition in Jackson when Sophia Golovina was one of the master teachers in the International Ballet School, Yuri Grigorovitch the Russian Juror and Robert Joffrey the Jury Chair.Two Russian competitors were Nina Ananiashvili and Andris Liepa. These two young dancers shared the Jackson Grand Prix, the first of only three awarded in the Competition. The second was Jose Manuel Carreno in 1990 and Johann Kobborg in 1994.

Dwight Grell, slender to gaunt because of Chrone’s disease, was there with Todd Lechtik, a short, energetic young photographer whose working hours were spent with a UCLA medical clinic. Todd had taken pictures of the exhibits that Dwight assembled when either the Bolshoi or the Kirov hove into view and he soon became the Archives’ official photographer. Todd said Dwight would go to the flower mart at 4 a.m. to select the flowers to throw on the stage, red and gold streamers for the Bolshoi, blue and white ribbons for the Kirov.

Todd said Dwight would instruct him when to send a bouquet sailing across the orchestra pit. In the beginning, the venue was the Shrine Auditorium which had basketball marks on the floor. The physical anomaly must have made those floral tributes that much more welcome.

Dwight’s genius were the gestures, the smallnesses making a dancer smile, to feel cherished. The flowers, his ability to be around to turn pages for the pianist, to run errands, and in return toe shoes ready for the discard became part of a rapidly growing cache of memorabilia

Todd’s skill as a photographer and as a ballet student with Yvonne Mounsey proved invaluable to Dwight’s Archives.

Mounsey danced in Colonel de Basil’s Original Ballets Russes on its final 1946-47 U.S. tour. When George Balanchine revived The Prodigal Son for New York City Ballet, Mounsey danced The Siren..

“We roomed together in Jackson, in London, in Moscow. Word got around about Dwight’s interest and once he was offered 100 postcards on ballet outside the Bolshoi.”

When I was assisting Olga Guardia de Smoak in organizing for the Ballets Russes Celebraton in New Orleans in 2000, Dwight arrived bearing a large, oblong package which revealed an ornate gilded frame. Inside was the ballet program performed at the Bolshoi celebrating the coronation of Nicholas II in Moscow.

If my memory is accurate, one of the principals was Mathilde
Kessinskaya, one time lover of that last Romanov emperor. It gave me a flutter, along with one or two volumes Olga identified. “Those are the year books which Sergei Diaghilev compiled.”

In 2003 Dwight’s balletic treasure were donated to USC, where not only is it a record of a devoted balletomane, but it also reflects Russian ballet history in the mid-late twentieth century.

A year or two later, Dwight joined Pomona College friends, Irene Nevil, Ina Nuell Bliss, and me for lunch. When it was over, Harry Major said,, “ His work should be featured on California Gold.” I am not sure that ever happened, still, there was no doubt that Dwight Grell was himself a treasure.

Changes ; Jackson, Mississippi, 2014

7 Jul

Yes, there were changes, particularly losses in the individuals who made the Competition first happen. Gone is Thalia Mara, the visionary for whom the Civic Auditorium was renamed; gone also was Robert Joffrey the jury chair for the first three Competitions, 1979, 1982, 1986; Warren Ludlum, the attorney sharing Harvard Law School with Max Thelen, Jr., the connection providing my decision to attend the first Competition through print-maker Phyllis Thelen, Max’s wife, and Warren’s wife, Helen. Missing also is Karlen Bain, who assessed herself as the first “local” Executive Director for the 1986 Competition; her assistant, Sue Lobrano, stepped up to the plate when Travis Bain’s job took him away from Mississippi.

I think that was the last time Frankie Keating climbed around backstage to record the dancers. I remember Estelle Sommers telling me that Frankie broke her foot in Moscow when the IBC Committee went to the Moscow Competition, hoping to enlist Yuri Grigorovitch on the 1986 Jury. The aid of Olga Smoak made that presence possible, Nina Ananiasvili and Andris Liepa representing the USSR and being awarded the first of just three Prix de Jackson’s being awarded competitors, all of them foreign-trained by the bye. Despite the fact Keating was a native of Mississippi, the Competition never asked her to display her record of those first years.

More recent changes include the loss of veteran supporters like Martha Underwood; she organized the hospitality part of the Competition, providing host families not only for the V.I.P.’s but also for the contestants. They ran errands, entertained them at dinners when schedules permitted, some remaining life-long friends with their charges. I well remember a Fourth of July picnic out near a small pond or lake which Martha assembled for those remaining over the national holiday. Marilyn Beach organized the car pools for some five competitions; now she and Ann Cook marshal the volunteer ushers who fill the programs for each session.

The press room also has changed, though the location in the Mississippi Arts Building is along the same corridor, looking out at the stark patio separating the building from Pascagoula Street. The Museum moved to a building behind the auditorium and in the last fours years a garden and extensive patio with stage has covered the bare space between the two cultural buildings, eliminating some of the parking spaces where Competition professionals like Claudia Shaw used to park. Walking along Lamar Street past the Arts Building, the approach to the Museum is gracious with plantings grouped with donors identified. Where border and walk ends, the patio space opens up and you just know it was planned for parties, at least in the summer and early fall. It was utilized for the Grand Ball following the Gala Performance.

From four computers in the press room, it now provides two for writers; access to a printer is through the press personnel. Telephones, still available in 2010, are absent. Cell phones are the instrument of choice and expectation, a little difficult on a hold out like me. I missed some events because of my tardy acceptance of technology. The press office equipment is lent to the Competition like the vans and cars chauffeured by volunteers; their number has dwindled along with the scheduled runs of school buses ferrying dancers to rehearsal halls and the students to classes. 2014 was the first year that the Fourth Estate, writers, photographers, videographers did not spend a Friday lunch with USA IBC Officials.

Budget constraints were manifested in other ways. The Flame was lit at the opening ceremony, by Joseph Phillips, Junior Gold medalist 2002, with appropriate gravitas and flourish. In 2014 it did not burn during the day outside the auditorium.

USA IBC’s Tenth Opening Ceremony, Thalia Mara Auditorium June 14, 2014

5 Jul

Opening Ceremonies are known for honorifics; USA IBC’s Tenth such was no exception; speeches, mercifully short preceded a handsome display of past and present to familiar music played by the Mississippi Symphony directed by Ramona Pansegrau.

The slightly yellow-hued printed pages named the event The Gertrude C. Ford Opening Ceremony. Ford was serious about the arts, a student of Shakepearean literature and an accomplished musician, and married to Aaron Lane Ford, an attorney and one time U.S. Congressman. Established in 1991, The Gertrude C. Ford Foundation’s focus is on education, health and youth services, 2008 assets listed as over $45 million. Support of music is a consistent theme; in the recent Thalia Mara Auditorium renovation, the orchestra pit bears Ford’s name.

Comments about the renovation are elsewhere, including the post-Ceremony reception.

This year a quartet from the Mississippi Chorus replaced the usual soprano soloist leading the Star Spangled Banner, sparing us the possibility of screeching at the high notes. The honors for the U.S. flag and Mississippi State were accomplished by the Germantown High School Marine Corps JROTC Color Guard, notable for the quartet’s varied size and serious demeanor.

Twenty-five year veteran Sue Lobrano’s opening remarks were followed by Tony Yarber, the handsome African-American Mayor of Jackson; short, congratulatory, welcoming. He was followed by Haley Fisackerly, Board Chair of the USA IBC and completed by 1982 Senior Gold Medalist Janie Parker, representing Luigi, the Tenth Competition’s Honorary Chairman. She stated her qualifications arose from classes in modern dance and jazz in Atlanta, Georgia prior to study at the North Carolina’s School of the Arts.

Down came the screen to run Celebrating 35 Years at the USA IBC. Edited by John Stockwell of Times Fly Productions, the audience was treated to glimpses of Thalia Mara teaching class, a brief second or two of Robert Joffrey, and a kaleidoscope of winners. The video warrants being attached to the USA IBC Web page.

Sir Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance #4 provided the background for the ninety some competitors to march down Thalia Mara’s left aisle, cross below the stage and step up, the first of any group or a single competitor bearing the flag of the country represented. Garbed in black sweats and hooded jackets courtesy of Capezio Ballet Makers, Inc., youth and its energy caught the throat, swelling the chest with near patriotic fervor, the pleasure of their massive presence.

Flags ranged behind them, the competitors stood as the Jurors and the Dance School Faculty were introduced to the strains of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Included were the Competition’s Host and Hostess, Wes Chapman and Susan Jaffe. Finally, to Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, Joseph Phillips, USA IBC’s Junior Gold Medalist in 2002, strode with distinct measured stride down the same left aisle, climbed the stairs to lit the Competition Torch, raised back stage center. Everyone clapped and it was time for intermission.

Complexions, the New York City-based company of thirteen dancers, founded by Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson in 1994, was the post intermission invited company, dancing a 2013 Rhoden choreography titled Innervisions, to a suite of Stevie Wonder songs, the work partially supported by the NEA and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, partnering with the City Council.

What a talented mix of dancers that Complexions presents demonstrating multi-culturalism at its best and most skilled! From all parts of the U.S. – Long Island, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Detroit, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Washington State, Ohio were represented; not surprisingly, a number of the locations have high schools emphasizing the arts. Cuba, Japan and Korea also contributed to the mix. Women whose thighs or height precluded membership in any company of note’s classical corps de ballet yielded nothing in technical brilliance, phrasing or presence, to their more willowy sister dancers. They plunged briefly into the arms of partners or in equally short sisterhoods to the over-miked voice of Wonder. As baseball rookies or contract players, the men’s walk and physique yielded nothing to those already in the game. The collective energy level spilled across the footlights as easily as simulated fog, but did not dissipate; it continued throughout the disparate choreography performed. There was no sonata allegro form in the dance witnessed and perhaps just one discernible ensemble phrase of any length. Virtually everyone commented on one small dancer performing downstage left whose ability to fall to the floor and raise himself with equal swiftness testified not only to a flexible spine but abdominal muscles of major flexibility; he was mesmerizing. Little wonder that, beyond the loose format, the audience gave Complexions a roaring ovation, standing.

Memory Lane: Olga and Dorothy Get It Together

11 Feb

In my endless quest to clean out decades of paper accumulated, I came across  something from 1982,  a time before e-mail, I-Phones, Facebook, Twitter, etc. The story was submitted to a local newspaper but was rejected.  But since the tale is rooted in dance history and fact, I want to send it out with my own chuckles at the memory.  So here goes.

Where Olga Smoak is involved, where does one begin?  Knowing her is a tornado, pleasant variety, intense, an artistic typhoon all her very own. My knowledge of Olga Smoak began at Jackson’s First International Ballet Competition, 1979.  She hovered around the Czech entrants, Jana Kurova and Lubomir Kafka, medalists at Varna, Bulgaria, Tokyo and Prague.  They won the silver and gold medals in the senior women and men’s division at Jackson with an additional prize as best partners in the senior division.

The gossip from the Competition was that this energetic, slender, tiny-boned woman from Panama, with her sharp-nosed oval face was not only their interpreter, but the wife of the Czech juror, Pavel Smok.  The different spelling went unnoticed in the heat and steam excitement at that first competition in Jackson, partly because no one wanted to investigate, partly because there was no reason for anything official to bear Olga’s name at the time, nor the fact that this Vassar graduate listed New Orleans, Louisiana as her home and base of operations.

Everything may have appeared arranged.  Jana and Lubomir lived apart from the other contestants at the International Village at Millsaps College, where San Francisco Ballet entrants David McNaughton, Dennis Marshal and Laurie Cowden were housed.  No one took into consideration the list of awards Jana had acquired, including the famous Prix de Lausanne for aspiring dancers up to age 19.  Lubomir Kafka already had a reputation having been featured prominently in the Princess Grace-narrated documentary Theatre Street.  It seemed natural that the Russian-speaking wife of the Czech juror make herself useful while her spouse was out front on official jury business.  Finish memory, Olga Smoak, 1979.

Enter 1982 and Jackson’s Second International Ballet Competition.  The management was different, the publicists were different and a string of advisers was present providing an emphasis on the regional ballet training in the United States with regional preliminaries; a few of us were present at the Competition for the second time. This 1982 format was a precursory for what is now standard for The Youth America Grand Prix competitions.

Marda Burton, Mississippi belle and stringer for UPI, and I had lunch with Ben and Estelle Sommers.  Ben, “Mr. Capezio”, started his theatre business career at 14 as delivery boy for Salvatore Capezio, toting shoes over to Florenz Ziegfeld and his Follies. In 1982 Ben was a special honored guest at the Competition  along with Jackson’s Pulitzer Prize winner, Eudora Welty.  Estelle was co-chairing the Competition with Richard Englund of American Ballet Theatre II.  Ben and Estelle mentioned a Russian had made it to the Competition as a personal guest of Robert Joffrey and William Leighton, Mississippi Ballet International’s Executive Director.  Marda smelled a feature, and I evinced a mild curiosity since my assignment required I focus on the Houston entrants who emerged spectacularly with six prizes.

At the matinee intermission, Estelle, who had to be the Perle Mesta of the dance world, introduced Marda and me to the sandy-haired, grave-faced Gennadi Alferenko, still a trifle woosey from more than twenty-four houses on successive Aeroflot and American Airlines jets.  We smiled at each other, our first meeting with a Russian from Siberia.  Nineteenth Century Russian novels and their mindset did a double take when focused on this slender stranger from an area commonly considered exile, punishment, the back of beyond.

Since the distractions of Round I and the milling in the auditorium aisle were scarcely the ambiance for an interview I suggested lunch.  My American Express charge slip, saved in memory, reads Scroodges.  The occasion added a double memory;  in a nearby men’s clothing store was a promotional brochure with an image of Johnny Frane, a paternal cousin required to change his name because the clan objected to having a pugilist in the family.  That’s an international competition for you; unexpected connections, stronger by the minute, giddy by the second to the imagination.

George [Yuri] Zoritch, Ballets Russe de Monte Carlo principal, heavier in the chest with good living, sat between Gennadi and myself.  Olga Smoak sat on the opposite side with Marda Burton.  Giggling and exclaiming with her prototypic drawl, Marda flipped through Gennadi’s Russian-English phrase book while Olga turned her focus to me to provide a precise description of why she proclaimed herself “the happiest woman in the world.” Roped, collared, gripped, mesmerized, compliant, I listened.  Captivated as much by her intense energy as by her clarity of purpose and accented speech, my extremes of mood swings and checkered balletic love seemed mild morning dew in contrast.

How could a Russian bureaucrat possibly resist Olga’s combination of charm determination, calculation, intelligence and sheer wiles, simultaneously in the service of balletic art?  There she was, the Mata Hari of the ballet slipper,  conspiring to get the balletic best through West to East and East to West.  Olga is a Napoleona in an international warfare against cultural ignorance in an art form. No pitch of the voice, shrug of the shoulders, head nodding or flood of prose could pretend to convey the strength, depth and effectiveness of Olga’s strategies.  In Jackson’s late June heat, splashy drops of a thunderhead disgorging moisture, it was a double charge, honey chile, with the chorus and punctuation provided by the rise and fall of Marda’s relaxed “you alls.”

To be continued.

Joffrey Ballet at Zellerbach, January 26-27

9 Feb

When the Joffrey Ballet danced last at the Zellerbach, Ashley Wheater had just been named as its new artistic director, former associate artistic director Adam Sklute had been named as Ballet West’s new artistic head, Mark Goldweber had joined Sklute and Cameron Badsen  waited to see what would happen.  Charthel Arthur would remain for at least another two seasons.

Seven years later, Ashley Wheater is definitely in charge with a string of commissions for the company to his credit.  He brought Age of Innocence, a company commission to the Zellerbach along with the full version of Christopher Wheeldon’s After The Rain and Kurt Jooss’s The Green Table, long one of the Joffrey signature revivals of 20th century dance classics.  The overall impression drew enthusiastic applause at the two performances.  Joffrey’s  forty-four dancers are on target,  with several rare, sensitive interpreters.

Edward Liang has a most unenviable position; like most post-Balanchine choreographers working in the abstract mode, he has to take classical choreography beyond the man who trimmed excess from the technique while supported by many sublime choices from the Western musical repertoire.  As a person who enjoys story ballets, particularly on what it brings forward in a dancer’s expressiveness, I don’t envy the challenge he and others face.  Liang’s  choice, however,did hang around an intriguing notion: the tension and emotions in Jane Austen’s novels and the society she inhabited.

Aided by Maria Pinto’s white ball gowns and white-toned tunics for the men, perhaps ironically underscoredwith the music of Philip Glass and Thomas Newman, two lines, eight men and eight women, face each other to approximate an old-fashioned quadrille.  The arms, however, like suspended wings not fully stretched, signal the tension.  The girls are stiff, demure, non-committal, the men are not thoroughly restrained bucks.

A pas de deux ensues, followed by a male quartet and a second pas de deux before the final ensemble.  The quartet provides ample opportunity to exhibit male testosterone, the men short, almost stocky, given jetes, multiple pirouettes, an odd crossing of the legs on the floor from which they rise and fall, a clear exhibition of frustration.  In the two pas de deux, the women are hoisted and lowered in unusual angles; in one or two moments the women gently touch their partners, initiating the subsequent actions.  The couples on the 26th were Jeraldine Mendoza and Mauro Villanueva, Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels; Kara Zimmerman and Rory Hohenstein, April Daly and Dylan Gutierrez on the 27th.  While I didn’t particularly appreciate the amazing variety of positions, I was quite impressed with the care and intimacy the partners share, a quality evident in both performances.

The full version of Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain provided the middle work for the two performances. It seemed a trifle odd to see a work with  two rather than three sections, but it may have been dictated by the Arvo Part selections or by Wheeldon himself; the result contained two couples in the first  section, danced to Tabula Rosa while the second to Part’s ubiquitous slow composition, Spiegel im Spiegel.  The Joffrey is just the second company to have the full rights to the work, created originally for New York City Ballet.

What stunned me in both performances was the quality in the pas de deux, first by Victoria Jaiani, the highly, justly praised soloist originally from Russian Georgia, and Fabrice Culmels. Where San Francisco Ballet’s version is famously danced by Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith and becomes the essence of clarity, cool classicism, the Joffrey dances it for warmth and tenderness within the classical vocabulary. The result was overheard at intermission uttered by a middle-aged woman standing in the aisle, “Thank France for producing Fabrice Culmels!” On Sunday Kara Zimmerman and Mauro Villanueva repeated the same emphasis.

Kurt Jooss’s The Green Table continued to make its chilling impact, a ballet  Ronn Guidi once mounted for Oakland Ballet.  The Joffrey was noted for its first revival, including it in its first Dance in America appearance over PBS. It apparently has been danced by Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal, lending the costumes and sets.

The ballet’s force lies in the brooding nature of Death and the masked, polished figures of the diplomats draping themselves around the green table opening and closing the work  to music played by two pianists, unfortunately not credited  in the program and I have no press notes.  Eight sets of characters are drawn inexorably into Death’s maw and ghoulish domain in separate variations: The Standard Bearer, The Old  Soldier, The Young Soldier, The Young Girl, The Old Mother, The Women, The Partisan, The Soldiers.  Were it not for the overall strength of the work and the dancers the piece could be accused of being  composed of stock  characters.  But, like  Jose Limon’s  The Moor’s Pavanne, the work’s sheer economy contributes to  its iconic stature.

Having seen Christian Holder, Gary Chryst, Charlene Gehm and Charthel Arthur in some roles, some of whom had worked with Jooss but all with Joffrey, I couldn’t help but be viscerally alert to the strength and poignancy of the portrayals.  Rita Felciano was struck by the essence of the period and evidence of the Jooss influence on Pina Bausch.

Dylan Gutierrez as Death stalked heavily throughout the ballet, a menace in his attack. At the matinee Fabrice Culmels glided through some horizontal floor patterns, leaving the inexorable force and heaviness to crucial contact moments.  I was particularly struck by Christine Rocas’ Young Girl, there was a pliancy and desperation with the rigidity of protest, the contrasts particularly appealing.  Joanna Wozniak’s Old Mother held a degree of fragility; both Death figures held this victim with tenderness.  The Profiteer had to compete with my memory of Gary Chryst.  Derrick Agnoletti conveyed the cunning and final desperation with understanding.  Rory Hohenstein’s Old Soldier reminded me just how totally he gives to any assignment and how good it is to see him once more and given a range of roles to challenge him.

The audience response  delighted the Cal Performances staff, making the press hope for an early return.  Given that memorable residency where Gerry Arpino’s Trinity was premiered, the Bay Area understandably harbors a proprietary interest in The Joffrey Ballet.

Documentary: Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance

19 Mar

Seeing this documentary March 18, the closing night of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, in the intimate setting the San Francisco Film Festival Theater on Post Street resurrected the intensity and immediacy seeing the Joffrey always evoked in me.  It’s a fine documentary, even when showing early ballets as later ones for thematic argument.

I saw the Joffrey when it first appeared in San Francisco at the old Veterans’ Auditorium and at the Commerce High School Auditorium, through their Stanford and U.C., Berkeley residencies and during its affiliation with the San Francisco Symphony.  Sitting next to Joanna Harris exchanging identities as the individuals appeared on the screen was like a special reunion.

Director Bob Hercules included  interviews of the original dancers in the station wagon for six touring the United States in a series of one-night stands: Francoise Martinet; Brunhilde Ruiz, then others who came shortly after: Paul Sutherland; Diane Consoer plus those from the in-between years and the brief affiliation with Rebekah Harness, principally Helgi Tomasson.  Two of the crop arriving during the rejuvenation of the company, Trinette Singleton and Charthel Arthur, speak with candor as do Christian Holder, Gary Cryst and Dermot Burke, all augmented by Sacha Anawalt whose history of the company is unsurpassed. The dancers especially are wonderfully animated.

Among the close associates speaking are Alex Ewing, an early executive director and son of American Ballet Theatre legend Lucia Chase, and Herbert Migdoll, for years the company’s official photographer. Now American Ballet Theatre artistic director Kevin McKenzie, a four-year company member, also provided salient observations.

Hercules has included not only early Joffrey pictures and an image of Mary Ann Wells, but photos of Jerry Arpino, and footage parallel to American history influencing choices of ballet subject matter, plus Joffrey’s famous revivals of Kurt Jooss’s  Green Table and Leonide Massine’s Parade.  These sections include footage of the choreographers themselves, and, with Leonide Massine, a glimpse of his directorial style.  Jerry Arpino provided wonderful commentary, his style peppering the memories of many interviewed.  A good perspective is provided by Anna Kisselgoff, former chief critic for the New York Times and Heidi Weiss, critic from Chicago.

There is an inaccuracy which I picked up on, an entirely understandable one.  I wish I  remembered the source, but it eludes me.  However,it comes from the late Jeannot Cerrone, who toured the Joffrey for Rebekah Harkness, then managed the Harkness Ballet for two years and ended his life managing Harid Conserevatory in Boca Raton, Florida.  He was credited as saying the following: the Internal Revenue Service was responsible for telling Mrs. Harkness that to continue to use ballet as a tax deduction she had to have a company bearing her name, instead of one with the Joffrey title.  Whether this statement is accurate can only be determined via written records, if such still exist.  It’s unlikely any dance historian wants to spend time on such minutiae.

The hour and twenty-seven minutes sped by, followed by a question and answer period featuring Helgi Tomasson, artistic director, San Francisco Ballet; Ashley Wheater, artistic director, The Joffrey Ballet; Tina le Blanc, former principal, San Francisco Ballet, now a member of the San Francisco Ballet School faculty; and Henry Berg, not only teaching but also working with San Francisco Ballet’s dancers getting back into shape after injury.

There is a DVD available for sale,  Buy it – it’s a history to cherish.