Tag Archives: Santo Loquasto

A Splendid Last Hurrah: S.F. Ballet’s Eugene Onegin

2 May

Santo Loquasto’s atmospheric setting for the Pushkin-inspired ballet Eugene Onegin started its brief run April 30 at San Francisco’s Opera House where it will close San Francisco Ballet’s 2016 spring season May 8. What it also does is signal the final performances of Joan Boada as Prince Gremin and Gennadi Nedvigin as the ill-fated Lensky with the company where they have danced for nearly two decades.

The roles of Tatiana and Onegin were danced by Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz with Lauren Strongin making her local debut as Olga.

Choreographer John Cranko (1927-1973) is noted for his mounting of the Russian poetic novel, using a different gathering of melodies by Petyr Ilyich Tchaikovsky than his opera of the same name. Cranko’s Taming of The Shrew and Romeo and Juliet are other evidences of his magical ability to transform familiar stories or dramas into absorbing ballets. Cranko’s heritage has been diligently reconstructed by choreologist Jane Bourne, supported by Stuttgart Ballet’s artistic director Reid Anderson.

Loquasto’s set and costumes, borrowed from The National Ballet of Canada, place the story in early-mid-nineteenth century, at a Russian summer home where woman sew, including Olga [Lauren Strongin] for a party while Tatiana [Kochetkova] is absorbed in reading, probably a romantic novel. The results, ball gowns for the two young woman, get scant attention from the dreamy Tatiana, Kochetkova registering her character with a contemplative carriage of the head and shoulders, Strongin quickly prone to impulsive enthusiasm, each affectionate with the other. Loquasto created a pillared porch covering most of stage left, which is transformed as necessary throughout the two scene/three act performance. Olga’s dressmaking skills with the needle seemed excessively exaggerated.

At a downstage left table, a mirror is placed where the two girls look to find a suitor behind. Olga draws Lensky as interpreted by Gennadi Nedvigin. A role he danced in the 2013 season, his dancing and demeanor is to swoon over, his lines clearly muscled, sculptured, correct: heart-breaking visual poetry. His reading of Lensky is warm, open-hearted too sensitive for his own good; a young man filled to his hair follicles with love. Even familiar with the story and Nedvigin’s interpretation I found myself breathing “Oh, no, be careful.”

Nedvigin’s appearance is prelude to a solo passage and then an extended pas de deux  of young romance. Strongin responds as an Olga delighted with the attention, very secure and confident of her hold on Lensky. A little tall for Nedvigin, he adroitly shepherded her under a necessary supported pirouette or two.

When it comes Tatiana’s turn to sit down before the mirror, she is diffident. In the meantime Onegin [Vitor Luiz] has strolled in deliberately from upstage left, an almost pencil-rigid figure in black, to be greeted warmly by Lensky, making polite gestures to the women, clearly mentally checking off the rustic nature of the gathering. His fingers twiddle tellingly behind his back. When he Onegin appears behind Tatiana, his mirror image creates an overwhelming, fluttering response, while one senses it’s for him to pass the time of day..

They engage in quite formal conversation, Onegin inquiring about Tatiana’s reading material ; his veiled expression indicates his distaste, if returning it politely. They exit arm in arm, and the rustics arrive, not quite garrulous serfs [not liberated until 1861], but clearly not dacha occupants. With the girls in equally quasi-peasant dresses, two lengthy diagonals are executed with Olga and Lensky lead participants as the curtain falls.

Tatiana’s virginal bedroom scene follows, empire bed with drapery upstage right and mirror upstage center with modest desk and candle replacing the summer wicker table. Pale blue shawl wrapped around her shoulders, Tatiana tries to pen her emotions on paper, only to be prevented by her devoted nurse who leads her back to bed, taking the shawl. That doesn’t deter Tatiana, who returns to the desk, falls asleep and we are given the substance of her dream, led to the mirror through which Onegin appears and leads her in a rapturous pas de deux  before disappearing into the mirror. Kochetkova and Luiz capture Tatiana’s luscious dream with lifts, supported arabesques, beating with ecstatic satisfaction and pirouettes, reflecting Tatiana’s youthful passion kindled by Onegin’s appearance.

Act II opens with the country ball, where Tatiana appears in her white gown, Olga in pink with various members of the community gather wishing Tatiana well as Lensky and Olga are self-involved. Onegin arrives, with Tatiana aware he has received her letter. There is polite dancing, and Onegin waits until they are alone to withdraw Tatiana’s letter, tearing it up in front of her eyes. At this moment the older Prince Gremin arrives, is presented to Tatiana. He sympathetically engages her,dancing while Onegin plays solitaire on the down stage table.

With Onegin’s tension rising and to alleviate his annoyance, he grabs Olga from Lensky and makes her his partner, as the dancing fever mounts. Lensky tries to reclaim Olga, retrieves her for a moment only to have Onegin grasp her again. Olga is visibly excited at the push and pull, Tatiana distraught, though gently curbed by Prince Gremin. Lensky, beside himself, flings his white gloves on the floor in front of Onegin; he pauses, cooler, tries to dissuade Lensky who, in return, applies the gloves to Onegin’s face.

The second scene, notably spare has Onegin in front of the curtain with a sweeping black cloak, gun in hand, clearly troubled by the result of his impulses. The curtain rises on Lensky moving from upstage right to downstage left, against the a grey landscape marked by birch trees, shedding his equally impressive brown cloak. There follows an eloquently danced soliloquy, Lensky expressing yearning, regret and belief in his doom, before Olga and Tatiana rush from stage left, heads covered with kerchiefs, to attempt to dissuade Lensky. The push-pull of the trio is strong, poignant, futile. Onegin appears from stage right and also tries to dissuade Lensky only to have his face slapped – too much. As the two women crouch in the front of the stage, one hears a fatal shot, a fall. Onegin appears again from stage right, walking across the stage. Tatiana rouses herself, stands and stares at Onegin before leaving with Olga. Onegin suddenly bends, breaking into sobs.

Act III occurs in the St. Petersburg ballroom of Prince Gremin and Tatiana, three massive chandeliers hanging  from scarlet. Onegin is escorted by Prince Gremin, both now  touched  with grey at the temples. Gremin excuses himself; there is a lavish display of dancing and Onegin experiences episodes of encounters wafting in and out of his arms. Gremin appears again with Tatiana, now a composed, clearly sheltered matron; a pas de deux ensues, expressing marital bliss and comfort, particularly Gremin’s protection of Tatiana. Joan Boada, making his final appearances as Prince Gremin, created a solicitous older husband, touches hinting at the understanding present at the Act II country ball, fascinating how many of the same steps convey a special pitch enhanced by the music. After the domestic calm, Tatiana visibly cringes when she encounters Onegin, who has been mesmerized when  recognizing her, a black contrast against the brilliant hues of the dancers, frequently intruding on the dance space of Gremin and Tatiana.

As the scenery is changing Onegin stands before the curtain, immersed in fleeting moments of the brief days at the summer dacha. When the curtain rises, the writing desk is now downstage right, the angled pillars have been domesticated with a hobby horse visible, and the back stage indicates a grand foyer. In brown, Tatiana is visibly disturbed, as Gremin, in uniform overladen with cord and medals, is about to take off for the office. She clings, draws him back for reassurance. He comforts her and departs.

Tatiana sits at the desk, tense, apprehensive; one can see Onegin in the background, moving uncertainly before he bursts on the scene to the opening love sequence of Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini, a completely apt selection for Onegin’s push-pull, knee-crawling, skirt clinging confessional. Just when you think Onegin has made his last plea, something else happens until – Tatiana practically staggers to the desk, picks up Onegin’s letter, lets him look at it. shreds it before him, pointing to the exit to which he rushes. Staggering while trembling and spent, she faces the audience, exhausted but
vindicated at last.

Of course, there was a burst of applause when the curtain rose for the two principals, and it continued for the other three principals, then for the corps de ballet. . Unfortunately there were no individual curtain calls though Boada, Strongin and Nedvigin were warmly acknowledged. I have the feeling it will be several years before we enjoy Onegin again, thanks in part to the decimation of San Francisco Ballet’s three male principals. Nedvigin, Boada and Pascal Molat.

Twyla Tharp’s Fiftieth Anniversary Tour At UCB’s Zellerbach

22 Oct

A not-quite full house at UCB’s Zellerbach Auditorium October 16 greeted the superb twelve-dancer ensemble Twyla Tharp assembled for her Fiftieth celebration of making dances. That did not deter the vociferous response after the curtain of the final of three and a half pieces of the program; two and a half were all Tharp high energy, filling almost every note choreographically, utilizing casual and classical movements.

Of all the noted choreographers working today, bridging the millennium, Tharp’s background gives her the American chops of post-World War II; suburbia, with its mass market entertainment diversions. Read her biography growing up in the outer reaches of Los Angeles, working in her mother’s drive in movie theater, the grueling travel to dance classes, and there’s the making of her sensibilities, drive and the so-so of conveniences. She not only was formed outside the envelope she out does that amorphous territory.

The clear triumph of the evening was the finale for audience response. Titled Yowzie, set to rerecorded music by jazz greats like Jelly Roll Morton and Fats Waller, it centered roughly around Rai Okomoto and Daniel Baker as a stoned couple; Haight-Ashbury funk was writ large with a dash of New Orleans, reinforced by a bewildering array of patchwork tie-dye hues in Santo Loquasto’s costume designs. Rai Okomoto was simply extraordinary – not only in technique, formidable along with the other eleven dancers, but her postures, gestures and responses simply glued my attention. It also is a pity that Daniel Baker is not dancing with San Francisco Ballet.

Danced in front of a rust-hued steel girder image backdrop above black curtains for entrances and exits, Tharp’s vignettes were not only on target for accuracy in gesture and posture, a huge disaffected youthful population paraded its cheek, wit and energetic alienation before us. One of the richest veins started with two burly gays, queening movements eliciting laughter, appreciation, body alignment the epitome of male posture, with a dropped wrist gesture crying to be sculpted and enshrined at 17th and Castro.

A final comment is wondering aloud will San Francisco Ballet commission works by another woman choreographer. The last one I recall was from Lila York. I’m sure Tharp could come up with something intriguing.

The Four Programs of Paul Taylor’s Company

21 Apr

San Francisco Performances brought the Paul Taylor Company to the Lam Research Theatre at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts April 15-19 with four programs, ten dances, some of his oldies and goodies, including Fibers ,1961, Aureole. 1962, and a West Coast premiere, Death and the Damsel.

Taylor’s appearances every other year possess so many treats it’s hard to know where to begin. The audience reflects a wide range of tastes and inclinations,united in their appreciation of good dancing, good theatre and a modern dance company, managing to survive and flourish over a half century.

Then there are the sixteen dancers with their obvious quantity of highly active grey matter. Fourteen dancers holder BFA degrees; there’s a joint major in music and business administration. In the roster two bear sheepskins with magna cum laude written on them and three with summa cum laude imprinted; one magna also was elected Phi Beta Kappa,; Yale and Columbia universities are represented; there are two possessors of master’s degrees. Verily Taylor works with brains and bodies.

The bodies themselves are interesting; women are rounded, boobs as well as butts; several men look qualified for the heftier of Olympic field sports or tensile strength required on the tennis court. Seeing them execute the winged V’s Taylor requires in many stage crossings or watching them, one knee bent, torso tilted, head raised, or the modified cross body front or back attitude as the recorded music soars gives empathetic muscles a thorough engagement in relaxing “ah” sensation; reveling in the delicious little side hops which are almost minuscule or expand into space-covering reaches.. Riches, riches, riches.

These movements are managed in ways that spare them from being cliched, in the same style good ballet choreographers can make an arabesque into a question mark or an attitude an embrace. Certainly we see it most clearly when Taylor decides his theme needs to be aligned with a great composer like Georg Frederick Handel, for Aureole, his frequent use of Johann Sebastian Bach, Brandenburg Concertoes,Promethean Fire>, Esplanade. It is evident also when the composer is Arnold Schoenberg, the musical source of the 1961 Fibers, with an evocative tree with its filigree branches a delicate contrast to the
the rigid,layered strips of cloth on the men, the white sheen of the women’s bathing suit-like costumes further emphasized with lines of black, skillful dissonance and conformity.

Then there was Ralph Vaughn Williams’ musical setting for Eventide gracing Program Three, providing the very polite, conventional but heart-touching formalities of ten dancers headed by Parisa Khabdeh and Michael Trusnovec.

Their two duets early and penultimate in the piece were marvelous reflections of the doubts men and women feel as they begin to commit themselves to long-term partnership, first the woman, then the man; the breakaways, hesitations, pauses, with understanding reinforcements etched in posture, gesture, line.

I wonder if I am accurate in assuming that Taylor turns to commissioned music when he has his story doesn’t fit the existing musical archive. If so, his choices are reflected in the music of Davis Israel for The Word, 1998, and Death and the Damsel receiving its West Coast Premiere in Program II. Aided in both works by design Santo Loquasto and light designer Jennifer Tipton, Taylor’s view of society’s underside is clearly crafted. The Word featured twelve bodies encased in would-be leaderhausen/ schoolboy knee-highs, string ties and white shirts responding to and regimented by a doctrine delivered in demogogic style; Heavy lurches and lunges, collective jumping, all of it weighted, awkward and joyless; fascism or hyper-evangelistic religion, take your pick. You can imagine the release felt with Taylor’s Brandenburgs.

Death and the Damsel’s
set evoked Paris garrets before the inevitable dives. Jamie Roe Walker, with a substantial ballet history, was the delicate young blonde rising out of her bed, stage center, lively, chipper, ready to conquer the world. At the edges figures like ravens, hints of the deep green-black plumage, lurked. She repeated her cavorting, slightly subdued; a third time more subdued as the creatures crept closer. She dived into the bed, pulling the pillow over her head. Jerked from hiding, thrust into a dive, she was pulled, hoisted and ritualistically raped, her legs a constant V-shape to the audience as the ominous-winged males approached her. She staggered to her feet to fight her captors, flinging them one way and another with increasing confidence, fearless. She stood with them, lying around her feet, dazzling, triumphant; inevitably, the death figures rose. surrounding her clumped on the floor; quick curtain.

Again, it took Bach to bring the audience to resolution With Taylor’s 2002 creation of Promethean Fire, Led by Trusnovec and Khabdeh in magnificent black unitards with circular lines of velvet, equally black, moving inexorably to the peals of Bach’s organ music, Toccata and Fuque in D-minor, Prelude in E-Flat minor and Chorale Prelude BWV680, circling, falling into a body heap where Khabdeh is pulled by Trusnovec. In the lines the weight of shoulders and backs were accented by the costumes, the shoulders held naturalistically, ballet technique moulds differently. The Taylor steps, drops, hops and run, fortified by the huge aural organ sounds, assume an inevitability, compelling many in the audience to rise and cheer at the end of the evening.

Finally, Taylor never leaves his audience without some relieving humor. Aureole supplied it in Program I. In Program II it’s Diggity, 1978, a piece with various dog profiles scattered over the stage, eight dancers hopping around and in between the profiles, one of two mutts highlighted at various moments.

It was Program III which gave us Amilicare Ponchielle’s Dance of the Hours disguised as Troilus and Cressida (Reduced), With Parisa Khabdeh as Cressida, Troilus in Robert Kleiendorst, forever hoisting his royal blue sweats in front of Loquasto’s well-imagined pieces of rococo swirls at the borders of a backdrop with blatant bright hues.

Three Cupids flip their hands and wings coaching a waiting Khabdeh who awkwardly imitates necessary come-hither gestures before the Cupids rouse the born-yesterday figure of Troilus. The mating attempts were deliberately broad, comical against the bubbly, twinkling Ponchielle tune. Add to it three Roman soldiers in scarlet, with voluminous cloaks who want to abduct Cressida, but decide the cupids are better prey. Everyone completes the ditty with can-can kicks; the audience loved it.

The season finished with Esplanade, 1975, a pell-mell exposition to the score George Balanchine employed for Concerto Barocco, somersaults, Michelle Fleet hopping merrilly over her colleagues’ hunched figures; nine figures streaked in diagonals until they disbursed and Fleet, stage center raised her arms graciously to mark the finale.

Paul Taylor Company’s Alternate San Francisco Season, May 1-5, 2013

25 May

San Francisco Performances has a loyal history of presenting Paul Taylor at Yerba Buena’s Theater throughout that theater’s various name changes.  Paraphrasing the alternate year arrangement, at the closing performance executive director John Tomlinson said is due to just one thing: audience size.  “You bring the audience, we’ll be here every year,” asserting that San Francisco is the company’s favorite city to visit.

In a way I can see why the alternate year became an adroit necessity for San Francisco Performances.  Audiences crave diversity, and there is something so comfortable, so reassuring about Paul Taylor’s choreographic output, even in its darker side.  It has become “good old modern.”  The lines are straight, formations are crafted; the bodies may be required to bend and squirm, stretch or curl, but they don’t break into small jerks, rolls. The dancers don’t break line unless there is some characterological reason requiring it.  Instead, you see the broad V of the arms and a stride where the torso might twist as the body is propelled forward, but the body as a unit isn’t compromised.  Outside of the perpetual arabesques or attitudes in classical ballet, I feel it as comfortable as the round table in the midst of an old-fashioned kitchen with some marvelous odors emanating from the stove.

The three programs included San Francisco and West Coast Premieres – Kith and Kin, The Uncommitted in the former category and To Make Crops Grow and Gossamer Gallants in the latter, with the three memorable works Le Sacre du Printemps, 3 Epitaphs and Company B, dances dating from 1956 through 1991.

To Make Crops Grow relied on Ferde Grafe’s, Grand Canyon Suite, movements 1,2 and 5,minus the clip-clop movement so indelibly associated with the Standard Oil Company’s educational program for California children of the ‘Thirties. Santo Loquasto designed costumes quite in keeping with the stark economy of the Depression, colorless drapery for the Needy Couple and Their Children; white suit with paunch and watch chain for the Elderly Husband. Flashy black and red for the Young Wife, danced by Parisa Khabdeh. is all  sultry boredom and flirty defiance  before becoming defiant and desperate,  chosen to insure fertility in this bleak southwestern landscape.

It astonished me to see figures so like childhood characters seen on the street or at the schoolyard transformed into ritual killers, KKKs in sandy soil, minus masks or racial intent.  This simply made it the more terrible, precisely Taylor’s intention; such connections may have eluded Manhattan dwellers.

Gossamer Gallants flitted across Bedrich Semtana’s vibrant dances from The Bartered Bride with Santo Loquasto’s inspired brown-black male leotards with colored dashes, lime green ones for the women dusted with glittering red up near the boobs.  Both sported matching caps with little antennae and wings. Twitches and itches were endemic for the men as they contemplated a lone female insect flitting across the stage, flicking her legs behind her provocatively.  Whether singly or in formation, the agitation belonged to the best of vaudeville.  Until, that is, the winged ladies arrived in force to perform their role in creation’s orders.

Female feistiness proved fatal, hip swivels or cocked pelvis provoking panic in the winged hunks.  One  colleague disparaged the portrait saying that Taylor needed to learn something about women’s behavior.  I thought not. Taylor displayed his situational spoof and what if’s regarding the sexes.  Some women can do that – here it was a collective band of amazonic insect moms,  ahypothetical situation to be enjoyed thoroughly.

From insects to another form of tribal life, three decades earlier, Taylor’s employedf a two-piano rendition of Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps using a rehearsal, rigidity,  and uni-dimensional movement style, to weave an improbable series of events where nearly everyone gets murdered and the Rehearsal Mistress assumes a titanic scale beginning and ending the piece.
Practically everything seedy or fatally innocent is included; a crook, his mistress, henchmen, a private eye, a girl with a swaddled baby;  an improbable jailing, a breakout, Nijinsky faun-like stage progressions, a baby kidnapping and later its freak death.  Taylor’s style uses a cartoon-like series of sections within the larger musical structure; thirty years out, it remains absorbing.

3 Epitaphs’dancers were clothed in black tights, gloves and head coverings, designed by Robert Rauschenberg, with a few large sequins on the heads and bodies at random locations.  The music is a grainy recording of early New Orleans Jazz;  the dancers move like black rag dolls with a floppy capacity to jump, stand limply or move their hands.  Quite brief, this fifty-plus year old dance  never fails to elicit deservedly strong applause.

An historical note: San Francisco’s Danny Grossman was one of the original five when he danced in Paul Taylor’s company as Danny Williams. Grossman left the company after some eight years before moving to Canada where he started his own company.

Sandwiched between Epitaphs and Company B, The Uncommitted, created in 2011 to several of Arvo Part’s compositions, is an  unsettling portrait of human beings literally uncommitted evoked with unsettling clarity; shifting allegiances, half  hearted connections, uncertain meetings flowed in and off stage to the deliberate, measured sounds of the composer.  Taylor’s style does not change  that much, but how  he utilizes it and shapes a theme, particularly when dealing with human perplexity, reaches inside personal armor to register its message clearly.

Company B,with the Andrews Sisters’ cheerful renditions, a little  loud, confident, extraverted, is a time warp, and Santo Loquasto clearly reflects World War II’s  youthful energies and sartorial tastes.  After seeing it on San Francisco Ballet’s dancers on the War Memorial Opera House stage, the Taylor Company’s rendering is more personal and certainly more rooted in its delivery, the opening and closing polka like a Saturday night high school dance to 78 rpms. Behind it, the threading profile of soldiers moving from stage right to left, some falling, evoked memories of the discrepancy between adolescent distractions and war news over the family radio.
Amy Young’s rendition of There Will Never Be Another You was poignant, knowing she is retiring from the company.  Even more, her pause before rejoining the final ensemble seemed  particularly stark, an inevitability beyond the boisterous sounds of Bei Mir Bist du Schon.

Little question that a Paul Taylor Company visit is to be anticipated, a periodic, brief but definite source of nourishment.

Ballet San Jose’s Don Quixote

26 Feb

Ballet San Jose seems to have acquired the habit of importing major male dancers for its full length productions, principally to partner Alexsandra Meijer as well as jack up the box office receipts.  It occurred when Tiit Helimets was given S.F. Ballet’s permission to dance Albrecht to Meijer’s Giselle and when Sasha Radetsky assumed the Ben Stevenson take on Cinderella’s Prince in San Jose’s production of Stevenson’s  interpretation of the Sergei Prokoviev score.

For Don Quixote, however, it was Jose Manuel Carreno’s turn, dancing Basilio in a Mikhail Baryshnikov reading of the Marius Petipa-Alexander Gorsky 1869 production of Don Quixote, here staged by Wes Chapman who had danced it during his years with American Ballet Theatre and mounted it twice for Alabama Ballet when he was that company’s artistic director.

On February 15, Junna Ige stepped in to dance Kitri on opening night.  For the Saturday matinee, Amy Marie Briones was assigned the Kitri plum opposite Jeremy Kovitch.  Saturday night was slated to be Ige’s second performance but with Maykel Solas with the Sunday matinee featuring Meijer with Carreno’s second appearance.  Apparently Meijer’s neck injury was comparatively minor.

The production struck me as a catch all with the physical set borrowed from Hans Christian Molbech’s set for Ballet San Jose’s earlier production of August Bournonville’s Toreador augmented in Act II’s Gypsy Camp and the Vision Scene by Santo Loquasto.  I wish Karen Gabay had been given something besides the brassy orange-red wig as bar maid in Act III, where her role took over some of Mercedes’ dancing seen in the San Francisco Ballet production.  Which production is more accurate is up for grabs, given the Bolshoi-influenced version with SFB via Yuri Possokhov and the Kirov/Maryinsky/ Baryshnikov flavor which probably found its way into the Ballet San Jose production.  The sources and their differences could be the source of animated discussions amongst balletomanes more avid than yours truly.

Other discrepancies included the absence of the Inn Keeper’s wife or an expanded role for Sancho Panza, which would have allowed Juan Moreno to exercise his marvelous comic skills which vie with Pasal Molat’s for acuity in the moment.  Costume wise, one might expect Inn Keeper Lorenzo as played by Anton Pankovitch to take off a towel-turned apron in honor of his daughter’s nuptials.

There’s not much new to say about the plot, derived from a small section of  the novel Don Quixote of Miguel de Cervantes.  The ballet reduced the Don to a facilitator of the romance between Kitri, an Innkeeper’s Daughter and Basilio, a young barber.  The Don is utilized to thwart the Innkeeper into blessing the union  even though Lorenzo has been trying to marry Kitri to Gamache, an aging fop with some aristocratic  pretenses and an evident money bag.  Their successful maneuver, brought about by Basilio’s faked attempt at suicide, creates the raison d’etre for the wedding scene and the war horse favorite pas de deux, a constant presence at many galas and international ballet competitions.  In the mix are some gypsies, a street dancer called Mercedes, a Toreador and his cloak-swishing companions plus a dream scene permitting Cupid and the Queen of the Dryads to flit en pointe with the corps de ballet in formation.

Maria Jacobs-Yu piqued effectively as Cupid in the two performances I saw and Jing Zhang and Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun traded roles as Queen of the Dryads and Mercedes.  In the mix were a Toreador and his cloak-swishing companions and a dream scene following the Don’s mishap with the windmill, permitting him a vision of Cupid and the Queen of the Dryads.  Pipit-Suksun’s sensual correctness made her Mercedes a full-fledged flamenco artist, not merely a street dancer, and her Dryad Queen a bit remote but very regal.  Her timing is musical, unforced, never hurried, her port de bras a consistent dream.  Jing Zhang is openly dashing, an  extravert, inclined to sell the high points of her assignments.

Damir Emric and Maximo Califano traded roles as Don Quixote, but Emric took on the role of Espada, the Toreador to Califano’s Don when Wes Chapman gave us a Gamache edged with sarcasm and Califano’s was given to the grandiose gesture. Rudy Candia danced Espada opening night.  When it came to the Gypsy interlude, Beth Ann Namey was the opening woman and Shannon Bynum for Saturday’s matinee.

I saw Jose Manuel Carreno win the Jackson Grand Prix in 1992; his prize money probably is still impounded in a Jackson bank because of his Cuban origins.  He was immediately snapped up for the English National Ballet then under Ivan  Nagy’s direction.  Nearly twenty years later, Junna Ige was a finalist at Jackson, partnered by Shimon Ito in the 2010 Jackson marathon.  It seemed fitting that an unanticipated accident brought the two together, seasoned by that competitive pressure nearly two decades apart.  Carreno’s genial classicism is as correct as ever, master of multiple pirouettes, his grand jetes low and space filling.  Practiced in the role, he enjoyed it.  Except for an off-balance flub in her final fouettes in the grand pas de deux, Ige was spot on, charming, her technique well proportioned and clear.  Her smiling oval face reminded me of Margot Fonteyn in her prime, lively, nothing forced, in the moment.

Saturday’s matinee possessed some ballet history for Bay Area devotees because of Amy Marie Briones’ debut as Kitri; she demonstrated principal role status in this 1869 Ludwig Minkus melodic favorite.  A bevy of students and fans plus Briones’ teacher Ayako Takahashi were witness to Briones’ command of the role, aided by Jeremy Kovitch.  Briones dances large scale, with spirit, her technique ample, final fouettes, if traveling, alternated between singles and doubles.  Briones’ outstanding gifts could incorporate more nuance in her port de corps and port de bras, but as a debut she was simply grand and refreshing.

Kovitch did all right by Basilio, but he could allow himself to assume a macho emphasis, lengthen his sideburns, even add dark rinse to his hair, augmenting his steady partnering and overall dependability.

I hope Don Quixote won’t be out of the repertoire too long.   George Daugherty conducted the orchestra with  much verve  and I’m sure inspired the relish with which the dancers delivered their assignments. The audience responded enthusiastically.

John Cranko’s Onegin Mounted for San Francisco Ballet January 27

9 Feb

Malfunctioning U-Verse connections to my computer delayed posting these comments.

With  Santo Loquasto set and costumes borrowed from The National Ballet of Canada, San Francisco Ballet staged their elegant reading of John Cranko’s Onegin January 27 in a cast giving remarkable readings for the first of their  two scheduled  performances.  Vitor Luiz, cast as Onegin and Gennadi Nedvigin, Lensky, paired with Maria Kochekova as Tatiana and Clara Blanco as Olga.  Pascal Molat filled the blander role of Gremin with his usual warmth.

Other scheduled casts were: Davit Karapetyan and Vanessa Zahorian as Onegin and Tatiana with Taras Domitro and Dana Genshaft  Lensky and Olga, Quinn Wharton as Gremin. Sarah Van Patten and Pierre-Francois Vilanoba as  principals are flanked by Isaac Hernandez and Courtney Elizabeth as Lensky and Olga, Tiit Helimets as Gremin.  Yuan Yuan Tan as Tatiana was partnered by Ruben Martin Cintas as Onegin, Jaime Garcia Castilla as Lensky, Dores Andre, Olga, with Damian Smith as Gremin.

Casting gave major roles to Clara Blanco and Dores Andre as well as for Courtney Elizabeth, Dana Genshaft and Quinn Wharton. Blanco and Andre were promoted to soloist status following their debuts as Olga.

The production displayed a beautiful, classic columned  porch on the diagonal from upstage right, hinting at a comfortably grand country home; later it was Tatiana’s bedroom with an anteroom, then  an elegant palace in Act III’s  ballroom and the private room of  Tatiana, with the telling touch of a hobby horse downstage right, symbol of  her domestic existence. In Act II, the girls wore gauzy grey fluffy dresses contrasting to the townspeople wearing modified versions of  Regency dress with  bonnets;  Act III displays filmy  pastel elegance de rigeur for St. Petersburg. My one hesitation in believability was in the birches, Act II is Lensky’s and Onegin’s duel, despite pleadings by Tatiana and Olga.  A whiff of snowflakes falls where Tatiana’s birthday party was outdoors.

The five principals were matched in size, the timbre of their performances well- pitched from Kochetkova’s awkwardly romantic Tatiana to Luiz’  tensile precision, while Nedvigin as Lensky with Blanco as Olga displayed the image of warmth and assured young love with their remarkably correct, fluid style, breathtaking to watch. Molat as Gremin presented an assured, diplomatic, an ultimately family man.

Cranko’s assignments of  pas de deux fascinated – Act I, Scene I belonging to Lensky and Olga, Scene II with Tatiana’s letter  visualized through Onegin’s miror emergence.  Act II given to conflict; after the distasteful rejection of Tatiana’s letter,  Onegin’s provocation of Lensky ups the tension;  Scene II , filled with Lensky’s soliloquy, before the pas de trois with Olga and Tatiana prior to the senseless duel.

Luiz gave Onegin’s Act III demeanor bravado consistent with the character’s restlessness; his response seeing Tatiana was in the best coup de foudre style, clear contrast to the domestic  pas de deux between Tatiana and Gremin. Kochetkova made the Onegin  struggle  genuine by  drawing Gremin back from departing, seeking strength for her encounter,  passionate,  but never warm.

I saw the second performance of Van Patten-Vilanoba with Hernandez and Elizabeth and Helimets as Gremin. Van Patten and Vilanoba have partnered elsewhere; both share a believable stillness. Van Patten is naturally engaged whether in reading or in tending older folk at the party, hesitant but not awkward.  Her affection with Helimets as Gremin was warm, comfortable, making the struggle with Onegin monumental.

Vilanoba’s smiles and disdain  were  quiet, calm, thorough,  icy in impact where Vitor’s Onegin  smoldered intensity. Hernandez’ Lensky was the warm young romantic, broken in pieces. Elizabeth’s Olga’s was brittle and shallow.

San Francisco Ballet usually gives a new work two seasons; this holding true, the audience can enjoy the reprise of John Cranko’s dramatic, elegantly potent ballet in 2013.