Tag Archives: Rudolph Nureyev

Three and Two for SFB

2 Mar

These San Francisco Ballet programs are listed in reverse because that’s the way I saw them.

The February 20 Program Three started with a Russian-born classic, ending with a Russian-themed myth choreographed by a Russian very much at home in San Francisco. The middle belonged to Christopher Wheeldon’s Ghosts.

I saw Nureyev’s version ofLa Bayadere’s Kingdom of the Shades for The Royal Ballet on the same stage, mounted early in his association with the British company. It informed me that this Indian-themed work preceded Swan Lake by nearly two decades. The more recent, storied visit of the Paris Opera to San Francisco and its full-length production, again a Nureyev production, provided another bench mark.

The Kingdom of the Shades from La Bayadere was first mounted for San Francisco Ballet by Natalia Makarova in 2000; this is second time she has staged it, here assisted by Susan Jones. The revival enjoyed three fine soloists: Mathilde Froustey; Frances Chung and Simone Messmer plus Davit Karapetyan as Solor. Karapetyan’s entrance jete, high, clean, energizing, the first of many to follow, his Russian training and deportment clear, was captivating. While Yuan Yuan Tan presented a willowy Nikiya, an elegant shade, her connection to Solor was limited to partnering, lacking hints to their former emotional connection. I did not expect her to be Giselle, but I did want some connection, particularly in the lengthy use of the filmy scarf, symbol of ghostly connection and purity.

Next to Karapetyan, the three soloists were gratifying with Froustey’s lightness, Chung’s careful correctness followed by her usual swift allegro, and Messmer’s soundless landings. Myy memory of Makarova’s first staging for San Francisco was crisp; this seemed closer to Giselle.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Ghosts, sandwiched between La Bayadere and em>Firebird, is distinguished by a hanging sculpture by Laura Jellenek which gradually lowers after each section of the work, music by K.C. Winger. Vitor Luiz, Maria Kochetkova, Sofiane Sylve, Tiit Helimets, Shane Wuerthner made it all seem conjured from the past as the Jellenek strips of grey in a formation like a tangled skein of wool, gradually fell lower and in sections.

Yuri Possokhov took the Firebird myth to the village, giving a proletarian view of a story involving a Prince, captive Princesses, a demon passage before a court finale. He turned to Yuri Zhukov for set design, a series of cut outs and a red-orange cage for the hero’s captivity by the evil Kostei, whose soul resides in a mammoth egg. With Pascal Molat as oily slime, a monster caressing his egg, elevated by his minions, the tale starts off impressively.

Tiit Helimets makes good as the hero, capturing the feel of a golden boy, country-style. His encounter with Sarah Van Patten’s Firebird featured her always eloquent eyes, but Sandra Woodall’s costume is long on a flash of red cloth designed primarily for its effect in grand jetes, awkward in the pas de deux. The encounter lacks gift of the feather, the necessary toekn our hero must produce to summon her return.

Sasha de Sola as the princess is well matched physically with Tiit Helimets. Her garment with its torso slash of red above white skirt is a surprising delineation along with her coronet; neither peasant nor princess,plus she’s a bit nasty to her handmaidens – a pastural imperialist.

Van Patten’s bird is a tad provocative with her circular hip movements; Tan made them neutral. Van Patten’s eyes rendered the bird vivid, eloquent,if the scarlet fabric tail could be effectively shorn.

The final folk groups projected robustness, a feeling Possokhov obviously wanted. The expansive diagonal stage crossings needed to be repeated too often to fill the music. You registered satisfaction early on. Though not following the traditional tale staged by Fokine and Stravinsky, Zhukov’s designs were a delight, and Possokhov’s desire to create a folk version was basically appealing.

Friday, February 21 I caught up with Program Two: Val Caniparoli’s Tears, to Steve Reich’s music and Sandra Woodall’s elegant costumes. Ratmansky’s From Foreign Lands received its second season showing with some debuts of corps dancers – a happy solution and opportunity with more traditional vocabulary than Wayne MacGregor’s Borderlands.

In Borderlands, Wayne MacGregor can be counted on to set his dances in a structure, with lights that bring dancers to our attention or fade them from sight, and props which can obscure or reveal them in dramatic ways. He also can be counted upon to challenge dancers’ flexibility, speed and endurance. You stare at their abilities, hoping they won’t harm their rotator cuffs, or dislocate a hip joint; for despite their training, MacGregor’s movements are demanding and quite outside much of the classical training canon. Oh, yes, you can see an arabesque and an attitude, some amazing lifts, but what is he saying with the talented bodies at his disposal? I would not be surprised if MacGregor cites William Forsythe as an influence. Forsythe, however, has his own visceral familiarity to the classical canon; while he can make dancers look absurd at moments, he does not contort them as if they were spastic or in a drug-induced spasm.

Clearly I did not like it, though the dancers were marvelous, every last one: Maria Kochetkova, Jaime Garcia Castilla; Sarah Van Patten; Pascal Molat; Frances Chung; James Sofranko ; Sofiane Sylve; Daniel Devision-Oliveira; Koto Ishihara; Henry Sidford; Elizabeth Powell ; Francisco Mungamba.

Having spit out my distaste, Val Caniparoli’s Tears featured the three couples in
roles they created on February 18: Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz; Sasha De Sola and Tiit Helimets; Ellen Rose Hummel and Daniel Deivison-Olivera. With the image of water in his mind, the women’s costumes displayed handsome pleats revealing a range of blues and greens; one thinks changing hues, still pools shrouded by hanging branches of venerable trees. The port de bras were liquid, partnering skillful, but the music too lengthy.

What delighted me about Ratmansky’s second season was the insertion of corps members guided by principals; the eagerness, two slight flubs in the beginning, the good-natured cooperation to bring off this important assignment in young dancers’ careers.Participating in this debut were principals Jaime Garcia Castille, Gennadi Nedvigin, Mathilde froustey, soloists Simone Messmer, Hansuke Yamamoto Shane Wuerthner and corps members Shannon Rugani and Luke Willis with the debutantes Isabella De Vivo, Julia Rowe, Elizabeth Powell, Steven Morse. This frothy rendition of European nationalities – Russia, Italian, German, Spanish, and Polish were subtly slight, visually reassuring with Borderlands to follow.

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Two Styles for Giselle, January 29, February 1

9 Feb

Balletomanes must have heard about brother-sister Borzoi incident January 28 when the periodic breeding urge interrupted the hunting scene in Act I of San Francisco Ballet’s production of Giselle. It’s certainly gone the rounds of Facebook,Twitter with numerous reactions.

Wednesday night Matilde Froustey and Tiit Helimets repeated an initial Sunday matinee impression with Simone Messmer as Myrthe, Pascal Molat in the role of Hilarion. At the February 2 matinee Frances Chung danced Myrthe, Molat again Hilarion, with Sarah Van Patten and Luke Ingham as Giselle and Albrecht. Anita Paciotti was Berthe for both Giselles, her mime clear, her portrayal always apt.

The formations in both performances seemed exceptional. I noticed the use of opposition in the corps’ pas de basques as principals Froustey and Helimets danced Act I. Tomasson has provided vigorous lifting for the men with emphatic boot slapping, lending more emphasis on village activity than simply background for Giselle and her romantic betrayal. What’s difficult to believe, however, are hardy peasants when the corps clearly is young, slender and in tip-top condition, though a smattering of supernumeraries soften that distinction and two children scamper in the opening.

The Froustey-Helimets-Messmer casting evoked nineteenth century Romantic era, the ballerina’s fragility, the nobility, little disguised, of Albrecht. The argument of Hilarion in pressing his case, an absolutely minted portrait by Molat, is very French, quite possibly the most peasant of all and thoroughly satisfying. Froustey’s Giselle is fragility personified, a piece of Limoges or Haviland porcelain, finely formed, delicately decorative. She simply has no defense. Her Act II Giselle was exceptionally light, stylistically pure, those Romantic prints come to life, clearly stating its Parisian origins. Messmer’s Myrthe was also a clearly etched, classically-correct performance.

With Sarah Van Patten, Mark Ingham and Frances Chung as the principals on February 2, it was a trans-Atlantic shift, dramatic,valid, the physical proportions from two different continents, North America and Australia, more earthenware, perhaps the finest Deruta. It was easy to imagine Ingham in tennis togs with scarf in a convertible, but here a vigorous count, a drop-out from courtly protocol. Van Patten may well have been a young typhoid survivor, shorn early of her father; her survival makes Berthe doubly protective; her imagination stirred by the young stranger renting the hut across the village square, his coming and going a source of curiosity.

San Francisco Ballet sponsored a series of Giselle-related discussions. Though not attending these sessions, I remarked to my January 31 neighbors Messrs. Nees and Dodson that with first love shattered in a sheltered existence, the humiliation sustained in a closely knit community with the prospect of living around such witnesses, her heart’s dreams destroyed and perhaps ultimately marrying Hilarion, could well be overwhelming.

Van Patten’s mad scene was exceptional, her blue eyes staring vacantly, as if nothing had happened, but oh, yes it had, trying to piece the scenario together, jumbled up, in disorder. Ingham’s Albrecht was fully devastated by the discovery of his duplicity.

Mikael Melbye’s setting for Act II is impressive, its opening scrim of tree trunks with tangled, pointed branches with simulated ground fog behind and a flitting aerial wili setting the tone for Albrecht’s struggle with the Myrthe and her minions. First the scrim recedes, then gradually the tree-shaped flies recede to reveal Giselle’s grave site. It conveys a deepening not only of the stage but also the depth of the forest, along with the upper left entry point for Albrecht and the upper right watery destination for Hilarion.

Chung dances an apt Myrthe, and is particularly vigorous when dispatching the wands when summoning the wilis, whose precision was admirable. I hope, however, Tomasson gives her roles melding her ballon to her effervescence.

From earlier Giselle productions, I realized Hilarion’s downfall is less because of jealousy or exposing Albrecht’s disguise than the more profound malady of lacking love. It isn’t given to Hilarion to grow beyond his grief; it is possible for Albrecht. The tale conveys not only love transcending class barriers but also the soul’s strength to reconcile love’s transcendence in the experience of loss.

Two additional thoughts rise. One, Mark Ingham’s Albrecht in Act II came closest to the interpretations I saw of Rudolf Nureyev with Margot Fonteyn in San Francisco and Mikhail Lavrovsky with Evelyn Hart in Phoenix. Such an interpretation clearly establishes that Giselle is a projection of his mind and the wilis the destructive force of guilt and recrimination.

Finally, when Matilde Froustey received her bouquets, a rose was given not only to Albrecht [Tiit Helimets] but also to Hilarion [Pascal Molat], a testimony perhaps to a fellow graduate of the Paris Opera Ballet School. Van Patten’s rose was limited to Albrecht.

Both performances generated deserved, spontaneous, warm standing ovations.

Memory Lane: Olga and Dorothy IV

12 Feb

Boieru and Vu An both both distinguished themselves with personality variations created by Maurice Bejart.  Boieru’s technique, pushed to the point of wobbling,  was out of practice in dancing classical repertoire.  Vu An brought form, intensity and his cool precision to a variation from Bahkti, Bejart’s questionable pastiche  version of Hindu iconography and philosophy, mutilating traditional Indian dance repertoire and form.  None the wiser for the cultural desecration, the Stockton audience cheered Vu An’s rendition.

Raffa and Bahiri lent a very Mediterranean warmth to Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.  Theirs was an easy elegance and musicality, nurtured by their backgrounds of Algeria, Sicily and Naples, reminding one that some of the early ballet greats were southern Italian in origin.  They skimmed easily across the Marley flooring strips, turning and completing like well-oiled, elegantly constructed tops, pulled and retracted by the musical phrases stringing their steps along time.  Similar ease and understatement was exhibited later in the Kafka-Kurova rendition of La Fille Mal Gardee, an ease deception of the hours of construction and labor, so carefully framed by the technique that it seemed naturally inevitable.

Ballet sometimes seemed to have been made for little girls.  Certain this one performance proclaimed that cliche.  Above and beyond the enthusiasm of the adult audience, the clutch of girls, obviously Dorothy’s pupils, look alikes with long straight filly manes of hair, dresses flouncing a little. Mary Jane shoes, white stockings over sturdy calf and thigh muscles, already showing the effects of ballet barre discipline induced a whisper of moisture in my remembering eyes.

For the finale, Bahiri has just completed his solo variation in Corsaire, the staple made international first by Rudolph Nureyev and now standard competition fare.  Jung, in blue velvet etched with gold braid, had taken her position en pointe and started her variation. Suddenly total BLACKOUT!

An announcement quickly followed ” There has been a total power failure.  Would the audience please leave the auditorium as quickly as possible by the nearest exit.”

The audience complied, rapidly, orderly.  I made my way against the stream of bodies backstage to find Olga, standing calm but stricken, in her yellow silk pant suit.  With the aid of a small pocket flash fished out of my knitting bag, the dancers crept down the stairs to the basement dressing rooms and green carpet area.  They sat mute, expressionless, on the carpet in a near circle while the technicians worked to restore the power.  In less than fifteen minutes the  lights were on again, and some audience stalwarts had returned to their seats.

But fearing injury, the performance did not resume.  Visibly shaken, Dorothy brought the seven soloists on stage, explaining to the audience why it was impossible to ask the dancers to complete Corsaire.  The roses were distributed, the fans applauded and cheered despite the unexpected close to a glorious exposition of classical ballet.

Direction and arrangements were given for tomorrow’s transportation; borrowed tunics were retrieved; plans confirmed for a Sunday evening supper in San Francisco, and an exodus made for the final party near the Stockton Marina.  The power failure had induced a patron to guarantee a new lighting system for the Theatre.

The party consisted of pastry puffs filled with sea food and scallops quickly demolished, virtually gone by the time the dancers reached the party.  Vu An was the first to depart since he, Raffa, Bahiri and Boieru were scheduled to leave San Francisco before noon for New York City.  Dressed like an international preppy, Vu An might have inspired Cole Porter lyrics or inhabited a Noel Coward stage set, rather than the sweat and exertion of Petipa, Lander and Bejart choreography.

In the flat midnight chill that crept up around my ankles from the river at the Stockton Marina, any balletic Cinderella would have treasured pumpkins after a night’s exposure to those four dancing princes.  Olga and Dorothy had conspired to bring that magical story alive.

The only dance review related to that memorable gala was published in the March, 1983 issue of Dance News, an issue which proved to be the journal’s swan song.