Tag Archives: Ronn Guidi

Oakland Celebrates A Half Century

2 Jun

A 4 p.m. curtain May 23 at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre was preceded by a series of still images from its memorable repertoire, few unfamiliar. Three were missing, belonging to its inaugural season reminding me of the courage and freshness of the company’s original vision Ronn Guidi hewed to during his tenure as artistic director. The audience included a near who’s who of dancers long associated with the mid to late twentieth century ballet world, their numbers almost bringing tears to my eyes. And as part of the opening, Graham Lustig both on video and in person did the company proud while Joanna Harris remarked that Ronn Guidi not only brought twentieth century ballet incons to the Paramount Theatre, he reintroduced narrative to audiences exposed to balletic abstraction. Further Lustig mounted not only ballet icons excerpts but in the second half gave the Bay Area choreographers who contributed to Oakland’s repertoire their due. The Diaghilev era snippets, familiar to long-time balletomanes, may have seemed strange to ballet-goers whose exposure dates from the first years of the twenty-first century. The dancers were young, eager, willing but as yet unfamiliar with the style and nuance needed to burnish  assignments; hopefully that will emerge if the works are remounted. The second half of the program saw them at their best. Lustig adroitly programed Ronn Guidi’s Secret Garden pas de deux for the ill-fated parents as the opening of the retrospective, danced by Sharon Wehner and Taurean Green, and followed by the frivolous pas de deux from the Bronislava Nijinska-Darius Milhaud-Chanel production of Le Train Bleu with Megan Terry and Sean Omandam cavorting in the Chanel-copies of Twenties beach wear. The Hostess solo in Les Biches was danced by Lydia McRae in that witty satire of Riviera louche behavior choreographed by Nijinska to the music of Francis Poulenc and was followed by the Can-Can from La Boutique Fantasque of Leonide Massine to Ottorino Respighi’s arrangement of Gioachhino Rossini music, with Daphne Lee and Tyler Rhoads essaying the roles created by Massine and Lydia Lopokhova. The elegaic solo from the Michel Fokine-Igor Stravinsky Petrouchka was interpreted by Evan Flood with a brief appearance by Patience Gordon as the Ballerina. It was followed by the one-time torrid pas de deux from Michel Fokine’s Scheherazade danced by Alysia Chang as Zobeide and Michael Crawford.as the Slave. The final two excerpts before intermission were Billy’s Solo from the Eugene Loring–Aaron Copland classic Billy the Kid, effectively interpreted by Gabriel Williams and Claude Debussy’s L’Apres Midi D’un Faune as reconstructed by Ann Hutchinson. Matthew Roberts was the Faun, Emily Kerr as the Chief Nymph. The program notes were quite detailed and included more nymphs than I remembered. The second half of the Oakland Ballet’s Gala comprised eight dances, six premieres. Amy Seiwart’s Before It Begins used Antonio Vivaldi’s Violin, Strings and Harpsichord for her quintet with Alysia chang, Daphne Lee, Lydia McRae, Taurean /Green and Sean Omandam. Seiwart’s overt classicism was followed by Michael Lowe’s trio featuring Megan Terry, Sharon Wehner and Evan Flood in a Mongolian-inspired theme by JigJiddorj. N with an instrument known in the West as Horse Head Fiddle. Flood was garbed in Asian-type garments, dancing frequent frontal grand jetes, softened by flowing sleeves and trousers. Betsy Erickson, who has served as ballet mistress for the Oakland Company for seven and a half years, chose Marjan Mozetch’s Postcards from the Sky music for A Moment- A Lifetime, interpreted by Emily Kerr and Taurean Green Erickson’s contribution was followed by the 1976 production of Carlos Carvajal’s mounting of Green to music of the same name by Toru Takamitsu originally choreographed in 1974 for his ensemble Dance Spectrum. Here danced by Patience Gordon, Lydia McRae and Michael Crawford, it demonstrated the Carvajal capacity for abstraction and use of unusual scores. Robert Moses’ Untitled revealed his ability to choreograph to classical music with Roy Bogas’ rendition of Erik Satie’s Gnossienne No.3, danced by Emily Kerr and Matthew Roberts, as sensitive and lyrical as one would wish. Nine dancers danced Graham Lustig’s contribution, Luminaire to the joint composition November by Max Richter and Alexander Balanescu. The dancers were Alysia Chang, Patience Gordon, Daphne Lee, Megan Terry, Sharon Wehner, Evan Flood, Taurean Green, Sean Omandam and Tyler Rhoads. The 1999 Alonzo King contribution to Oakland’s repertoire, Love Dogs, with music by Francis Poulenc, featured Lydia McRae and Michael Crawford, with King’s characteristic expanded nuances in partnering and individual torso accents. It was followed by Val Caniparoli’s Das Ballett. set to Leopold Mozart’s Toy Symphony, a lively sextette with Alysia Change, Daphne Lee, Sharon Wehner, Sean Omandam, Tyler Roads, and Matthew Roberts, an adroitly festive finale to this fiftieth Oakland Ballet celebration. Two thoughts struck me about this laudable undertaking. One is the fervent hope that the supporters of the occasion will continue contributing to the company’s funding, allowing Lustig additional time to refine the willing dancers who reflect excellent training, but need time and exposure to polish their craft. The second is Karen Brown’s statement in the gala program regarding company member composition. True, Oakland now possesses a 30 per cent complement of African Americans, but they are not and have never been the only minority whose careers Oakland fostered and supported. Asian-American dancers were developed in pre-Brown company years. Carolyn Goto, Joy Gim and Michael Lowe were just a few of those dancing under the Guidi aegis. Further, early on, Judy Titus left Oakland to join Dance Theatre of Harlem where she, like Brown, enjoyed principal status. Omar Shabazz also was a local dancer.Both dancers, I might add, were fostered by Ronn Guidi; Brown’s comments do not acknowledge the considerable change not only in opportunity but in social climate, when few African Americans ventured into the classical classroom.  Guidi fostered anyone truly  interested. Finally, I want to comment not only on the completeness and the generosity of spirit reflected in the program, but to identify two, possibly three, dances I remember well. One was The Proposal of Pantalone by Angene Feves, Associate Artistic Director of the company for the first year or two. Usingivaldi viol de gamba recordings, Feves’ graduating thesis From San Francisco State University involved commedia del arte characters and her extraordinary skills as a seamstress, providing a ballet of wit and panache unhappily lost to history. Angene and Ronn danced Brighella and Harlequin and a young fourteen-year old named Anita Paciotti made a ravishing young Italian whom Pantalone wanted to marry off for a healthy sum. There was a modern work by Nancy Feragallo, name forgotten, but her name was associated with the set designer for San Francisco’s Contemporary Dancers, led by Jay No Period Marks, and husband, Roger Feragallo. Somewhere a review with my byline lies in an issue of Thought magazine, published in New Delhi. There also was a work to Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain in which Debbie Hesse remembers dancing in opaque oblong ghostly garments, all sizes essaying jetes and cartwheels across the stage in orderly abandon. It is such a pity the three works faded in to obscurity save in the minds of those who danced and who saw and remembered.

Catching Up With Richard

18 May

When the Paul Taylor Company appears on San Francisco Performances annual roster of events , it’s a safe bet that Richard Chen See will be around at some point, even though he no longer is a member of Taylor’s main company.  The reason is that Caribbean island-born Chen See has a fair portion of dance history in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Richard first came to my attention as a member of Oakland Ballet.  During his tenure in the East Bay I remember two dances he created, both danced at Laney College if my memory is accurate, and both concerned with his background as a Chinese.  The overseas inference was not explicit, but what intrigued me were two features, which I honestly forget appeared in one or both of the dances.  One was his use of Chinese theatrical convention; a red table fulfilling multiple uses, and the other a memory of and tribute to one of his grandmothers.  Mixed with his acrobatic-movement skills, I remember being satisfied and elated at seeing both works and wanting to see more.

I forget, honestly, what he danced in for Ronn Guidi in Oakland Ballet, although I seem to remember he participated in one of the seasons when Marc Wilde’s version of  Maurice Ravel’sf Bolero was part of the repertoire.  But what I clearly enjoyed was a very brief showing of Shan Yee Poon’s production of Fred Ho’s jazz score about Monkey, the beloved Chinese story of the trouble Monkey got into when he stole peaches from the Pear Garden in the West and was sent to India to bring back the Tripataka to China.  Jack Chen had commissioned the score and Poon danced Spider Woman, one of her last performances as she was starting her ballet school in San Francisco.  Richard was Monkey,a thoroughly engaging one;  I’ve longed to see a new production of the unlikely but lively score.  At one point after the production, I remember Shan Yee Poon and Richard discussing the rigors of their training at The Royal Ballet School at a time when being Asian permitted training but exclusion from becoming a member of the company dancing at Covent Garden.

Somewhere about this time Richard threw a party at his apartment, fashioned out of a spacious downstairs room of a Victorian home.  The edifice was tucked away on a narrow street in Oakland, ending in this surprising structure.  According to Richard, the house had been constructed by a retired sea captain on a lot which provided him with an unobstructed view to San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate.  Clearly time and real estate ventures changed the environment and the house.  But it was typical of Richard to know the details.

Shortly after that short jazz-based production, Richard  joined ODC briefly, before becoming a member of Paul Taylor’s group for  close to a decade if not longer. {My notes are scattered, the written ones not meticulous.]  On the side he took up kayaking, and, as his career with Taylor was winding down, Richard  became affiliated with the New York International Ballet Competition [NYIBC] and was slated to succeed executive director Ilona Copen, then dying of cancer. It seemed an obvious fit.

I don’t know how long he remained as executive director of the NYIBC but the reasons for the brevity seemed cogent and logical when mentioned in 2011. (This January NYIBC’s executive director  announced there would be no 2013 NYIBC competition.)  Richard then delved into a master’s program in dance with Hollins University and The American Dance Festival.  When he lived in the East Bay  Richard studied international business at U.C., Berkeley but did not complete that degree.

Chatting with Richard the final Taylor matinee in San Francisco he said he was heading to Beijing to set Paul Taylor’s Company B at the National Ballet Academy.  H expected to be gone four weeks, spending two weeks teaching the ballet, a week polishing the work and then a week exploring Beijing.  What a fitting chapter in Richard Chen See’s career.

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.

Peninsula Ballet Theatre’s Dracula, October 26

14 Nov

The refurbished Fox Theater in Redwood City provides a lush movie heyday atmosphere, even though half the orchestra seats have been removed to provide a more multi-use venue. It  has the advantage of enough height so that it can fly scenery, making for real theater.

The Fox has become Peninsula Ballet Theatre (PBT)’s resident theater, organized originally  by modern dancer Richard Ford and ballet teacher Richard Gibson in 1967.  Gibson trained Kristine Elliott and Kenny Delmar among other serious dancers. Both Richards went on to other dance-related activities and both company and school was guided for some time by the late Ann Copozzi Bena and her daughter Rosine. The latter is now artistic director of the Sierra Nevada Ballet in Reno, and a certified teacher in the ABT curriculum.

A brief number of seasons ensued before Carlos Carvajal settled in for a nine-year run as artistic director utilizing competent dancers from a variety of schools for the annual ‘Nutcracker’ and a few programs of Carvajal ballets. Carvajal was responsible for engaging Chris Christensen as music conductor of “Nutcracker.” The production was distinctive because  local adult  individuals performed in the First Act, honing their roles through the years with remarkable skill. Carvajal added wonderful touches for the Act II variations. During the Carvajal tenure Claude Dietrich A. was commissioned by President Christine Leslie to design the company’s fluid logo.

Prior to Bruce Stieval’s arrival in 2009, the company was briefly directed by Michael Lowe and Mario Alonso,  dancers with Oakland Ballet when it was directed by Ronn Guidi.  Stieval, artistic director of Nevada Ballet Theatre following the retirement of founding artistic director Vassili Sulich, came to PBT with credits as chairman of the former Luxembourg International Ballet Competition, extensive directorial experience in Hong Kong, Korea and reputation as a master teacher internationally.  Christine Leslie, long-time PBT President, has become executive director of the organization and in charge of the re-activated school.

Stieval’s Dracula had the advantage of atmospheric music of the Polish composer Wojciech Kilar, awarded the 1992 ASCAP award for the musical he provided by Francis Ford Coppola’s film “Dracula.” The taped music, with the exception of the Johann Strauss II’s waltz in Act I, must have come from the movie’s score.

In his conception Stieval switched  artistic Christian  forms from  Orthodox to  Roman, evidenced in the chapel where the central figure is Christ crucified, feet crossed. As a suicide Dracula’s dead wife is denied Christian burial.  Dracula’s curse to God turns him into a vampire.  The scene, enhanced by eight nuns and a priest, introduced guest artist Milos Marijan. His Dracula is a handsome young man, long tapering legs, excellent pirouettes and jetes.  On the agenda, rapid transitions of location, and fateful bedtime activities.

A Victorian garden scene followed where the music supplied is a Johann Strauss II waltz, chosen because Stieval could not retrieve similar music from the Kilar composition roster. The garden  backdrop conveyed more sunlit Italian piazza than dappled English garden.  Lucy, about to meet her death at the hands of Milos Marijan’s  Dracula, was danced by Amanda McGovern, enjoying the attentions of suitors Aiden DeYoung, Michael Dunsmore and Jacob Kreamer. Mina, guest artist Bojana Zegarac, appears, affianced to Jonathan,  a bystander. During a later stroll, Lucy and Dracula meet and Dracula starts his destruction.  Mina, walking in the garden, is drawn to Dracula.

Jonathan in the meantime is in Count Dracula’s castle in Transylvania to handle  business affairs; at night in bed he finds he must fend off three malevolent female figures, greedy for gore,  making for many lifts and females running around the bed .

In London, Lucy is attended by Professor Helsing a vampire authority, advising garlic clusters, the cross and holy water as protection. Alone, Dracula manages to circumvent the protections and drains Lucy’s blood.

Helsing and Lucy’s suitors discuss Lucy’s death and the way to release her soul.  Jonathan arrives. At the crypt she is missing;  she is searching for a victim.  She tries to lure Jonathan.  When her body lies in the crypt one of the quartet drives a stake in her heart to release her spirit.

You guessed it, Mina and Dracula meet in Mina’s bedroom .  Love springs between them and Mina offers herself to Dracula, so dying at his hands, she too can become a vampire.  The suitors arrive to save her, but Mina follows Dracula.

The countryside, en route to Dracula’s castle, sees the ensemble’s orgy while protecting a casket from which Dracula later appears.  Mina disappears and the suitors cope with disbursing Dracula’s wives.  The casket is lain at the altar, Dracula emerges.  Mina appears, the suitors fight to save her, and manage to kill Dracula.  Mina has disappeared, but then she arrives  Dracula enfolds her in his arms placing them both in the casket and closes the lid.

Stievel created his group scenes with skill, whether ecclesiastical, social or wildly rustic.  Given the plot some  pas de deux were predictable while beautifully executed by the guest artists. .  Because of the plot, a seamless progression from scene to scene is impossible, but overall it was enjoyable and absorbing.  I must say I rarely have enjoyed a bow as much as Zegarac’s,  the picture of graceful acknowledgment  was rendered at an angle  making one realize Belgrade’s Opera House’s former  royal box  must be close to stage left.

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.

Oakland Ballet’s Spring Season at Laney College

16 Jul

Graham Lustig, Artistic Director of Oakland Ballet, opened May 20’s spring performance, “Forwards!”, acknowledging the presence of founding director Ronn Guidi and eleven former dancers with the 40 year old East Bay company with former ballet master Howard Sayette in from Colorado.

The spring season, four performances at Laney College’s charming theater, featured two Lustig ballets, one a premiere and one work each for choreographers Amy Siewart and Mills College dance chair Sonya del Waide. “…”  Lustig’s contributions included a premiere “Words Within Words,” to Philip Glass’  Etudes No.5 and Escape plus spoken words from poet Robert
Duncan danced by Brandon Freeman and Sharon Wehner of Colorado Ballet, plus Vista as a finale. David Elliott provided the lighting design, Jamielyn Duggan, Soncheree Giles and Graham Lustig minimal costume ideas.

Seiwart’s Response to Change to Madison Bate’s The Life of Bees, opened the program, eight dancers dressed in trunks and tunics of grey accented by bronze, accenting the paleness of bare skin. The classicism including two centers of choreography, fairly intricate partnering, some fine grand jetes by Ikolo Griffin and  need for more rehearsal.

Lustig’s premiere of words within words followed, sensitively performed by Freeman and Wehner, the spoken text frequently swallowed by the space.  Overall, Lustig spaced  declamation  to the dancers’ lung capacity. The two met their challenges, from the legato to the semi-acrobatic with shuddery passages where both dancers were attuned to each other’s vulnerabilities.

Sonya Del Waide’s “…” concerned six inebriated dancers, the elegant chandelier originally constructed for Carvajal’s Crystal Slipper and Mozart played with a glass harmonica. Del Waide’s witty invention seemed inexhaustible, from one-pointe shoed dancers to intricate pile up male antics. Perhaps due to musical length, the cleverness was overlong.

For the finale, Lustig’s Vista had its Oakland premiere. With eleven dancers in beach-like garb and danced to popular music performed by The Lounge Lizards, it seemed quite frenetic, strenuous and unfortunately repetitive in spots.  Men lacking torso muscle definition should not be nude to the waist, extra peculiar for dancers who purportedly are amongst the fittest in strenuous activity.

If Lustig aimed to demonstrate Oakland dancers are technically strong and raring to go plus willing to undertake new challenges, he made his point admirably.  How much Oakland dance  lovers will respond to more choreography as demonstrated remains to be seen.  With the Ballets
Russes productions partially destroyed through careless warehousing, invention is necessary. But something between the Forward Program and Nutcracker would be welcome to see.