Tag Archives: Sasha De Sola

San Francisco Ballet’s Swan Lake, February 19 and 23

12 Mar

Swan Lake’s opening lost to Jacques d’Amboise appearance at Nourse
Auditorium so I saw Davit Karapetyan and Maria Kochetkova in the principal roles February 20. On February 23 I paid for a ticket to see Carlo de Lanno and Sofiane Sylve in their second essay as Siegfried and Odette/Odile. I am here to tell you I was glad for each dollar spent on a credit card.

Rita Felciano has written a brilliant commentary for Danceviewtimes on the rationale of the Swan Lake setting, much of which is supported in the programnotes. The physical setting is handsome and, architecturally, more than a little overbearing, clearly the intention. Siegfried isn’t supposed to have many options, and in Act III, the staircase is overpowering and intrusive, diminishing the depth of dancing space.

Inspired by Rita’s observations I went back to Wikipedia’s time line for Russian history and, in particular, Nicholas II, Imperial Russia’s last czar. His marriage as well as the death of his father occurred in 1894. Swan Lake got its Petipa-Ivanov premiere in St. Petersburg in 1895, and the time lines suggest unrest, acknowledged or not in the program. Serfdom had been abolished by Nicholas II’s ancestor, Alexander I, in the 1860’s with not much thought to the ramifications.

In Mongolia or the northern reaches of Imperial Russia there was a tradition of imitating swans. At the 1979 International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Alexandra Danilova urged me to see the second performance of some Chinese guests where the man did a swan dance to boggle the mind at the similarity with Odette’s movements in Act II. Though there is no written verification of Siberian travels, Lev Ivanov may well have seen traveling performers in St Petersburg in this evocative solo and incorporated elements of it into Act II’s haunting Odette solo.

The story is much more medieval and Eastern European than the current production would have you believe visually. With the Queen Mother’s silvery white wig out of Gainsborough and the elegant tones of deep greens and rusty scarlets, as well as the graceful swirl of skirts below Empire bodices, it is definitely early 19th century, quite at cross purposes with the bow bestowed upon Siegfried by his mother. Anita Paciotti gave us an imperious, well-meaning mother, well-meaning in the sense that dynasty must go on.

Paired with Davit Karapetyan and Maria Kochetkova were Daniel Dievison-Oliviera with predartory glances and smouldering postures as Von Rothbart with Gennadi Nedvigin in the pas de trois with Koto Ishihara and Lauren Strongin. For Sylve and de Lanno, their Von Rothbart was an icy, remote Tiit Helimets. the Act I trio included Taras Domitro, Doris Andre and Sasha de Sola.

While dancers are all different, Karapetyan and Kochetkova share the Russian tradition in training, while the Sylve-de Lanno schooling seems more firmly based in Western European lineage with a certain understated directness that nonetheless manages nuance and musicality where the two K’s possess a grander attack. Karapetyan is more clearly the prince receiving homage, de Lanno deferential and vulnerable, both clearly alone facing the maternal demand. Kochetkova dances Odette as a young girl, her Odile a sly vamp, while Sylve’s Odette is youthful if mature, though still trapped, and her Odile focused and calculated.

While I was somewhat relieved not to see six identically dressed princesses dancing the same waltz at the same time, which would beleaguer any young man’s judgment, the choice of transforming four national dancers, with two Russians to make up the roster, struck me as odd. The setting and story implies purity of the prospective brides, but they are partnered and frequently hoisted by their countrymen, scarcely a virginal display in any one of the four styles.

The swan corps, the cygnets and the lead swans were all admirable as was the
level of the production. Swan Lake is clearly a classic; one likes to see what the principals will make of their assignments, but I now find other full length works more absorbing.

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A March Bon-Bon: San Francisco Ballet Dances Coppelia

11 Mar

March 8 San Francisco reintroduced its Pacific Northwest Ballet co-production of Coppelia, the George Balanchine-Alexandra Danilova ballet premiered at New York City Ballet in 1974. Staged by Judith Fugate, Before going into detail about designer, the Leo Delibes’ music and etc., let me say that it was memory lane. That effervescent path has been trod by anyone remembering The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and Danilova in Swanhilda’s shoes and Frederick Franklin as the roving-eyed Franz Some San Franciscans will remember Ruby Asquith in the Willam Christensen production. In addition, a small cadre of dancers danced in the Ballet Celeste production mounted by Merriem Lanova who had danced in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo version and passed it along to her young charges, touring it through the United States and Hawaii. Carolyn Carvajal was one such veteran, remembering what remained and what was new, courtesy of Mr. B.

Roberta Guidi de Bagno has given the production pastel prettiness without being goopy or stretching costumes beyond a logical take on Galacia’s folk qualities without becoming too specific. No sequins, feathers and the like. Coppelius’ attic studio is cavernous, Randall G. Chiarelli giving it just the right slightly gloomy light, neither daylight or well illumined, just as Acts I and III are suitably sunny.

Cheryl  Osseola’s extensive program notes provided the audience with Coppelia’s background, E.T.A. Hoffman, the 1870 production created by Arthur Saint-Leon, Franz’ role en traverstie, ultimately Enrico Cecchetti’s revival with Franz becoming danced by a male. The lifts between Franz and Swanhilda are definitely twentieth century additions.

Carolyn remarked that the mime and plot remained untouched. The ensemble dances were different; I remember Robert Lindgren and Sonya Tyyven leading the czardas in the final act, the ensemble dances being broken up into the first and third acts and Yvonne Chouteau in Act III’s Prayer solo. Balanchine has combined them.

Tuesday saw Frances Chung as Swanhilda, Vitor Luiz as her Franz and the superb debut of Pascal Molat as Coppelius. If the program notes mention Chung’s strangeness with mime, she has moved far beyond it to a sparkling, clear ability to convey traditional query and delivery. She is one of the company’s sparkling allegro dancers; there was an almost Fonteyn-like propriety in her delivery, yet still very much Chung. Small wonder she holds an Izzie award for individual performance.

Luiz makes a believable Franz, unforced classicism, unmannered presentation and partnering impeccable. Molat’s elderly doll maker hobbles across the town square with acute accuracy of age and arthritis. His attic scene with Swanhilda’s impersonation of Coppelia was masterly; delusion and elderly excitement.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, it concerns Swanhilda, a spirited young village girl, and her boy friend Franz who also has his eye on Coppelia, a beautiful creature who is wheeled onto a balcony by her maker, Dr. Coppelius. This makes Swanhilda and Franz quarrel. In a twilight excursion, Coppelius is roughed up by Franz and friends, losing his key. Swanhilda and her friends find the key and venture into the Coppelius’ workshop at Act I’s curtain. In Act II, the girls discover the toys and the inanimate Coppelia. Coppelius returns, chasing the girls out; Swanhilda remains assuming Coppelia’s clothing. Franz, meanwhile, attempts to reach the doll via the aid of a ladder; intercepted by Coppelius, he is drugged by wine. Coppelius attempts to bring Coppelia to life using Franz’ life force, pouring over a huge book of spells. Swanhilda plays along with Coppelius, becoming more life like, only to destroy his fantasy and to flee with Franz.

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Frances Chung and Pascal Molat in Balanchine’s CoppÈlia. (© Erik Tomasson)

Act III sees the dedication of the bells, announced in French language banners in Act I. Many wedding couples. Coppelius is seen, heart-broken, with his doll in his arms; Swanhilda and Franz also get married, and several celebratory dances ensue. In this production, a bevy of young students perform a charming dance, impossible for the old touring production. The Ballet Russe production provided recompense to Coppelius; here he is pushed aside all too rapidly.

The Act III divertissements featured Sasha de Sola as Dawn in a costume with golden tracery; Sofiane Sylve’s Prayer was cloaked in blue chiffon with touches of grey; four Jesterettes and finally Discord and War led by Jennifer Stahl and Hansuke Yamamoto, laden with spears, Greek-style plumed helmets and garments of black and silver metallic touches, perpetually leaping with one leg raised to waist height, moving in circles and linear patterns. The dominant note in this finale was twenty-three students in pink tutus, led by Lauren Strongin, in the Waltz of the Golden Hours, the same number commencing the January 2016 Gala. To me it took away from the earlier variations danced by de Sola and Sylve, rendering them more divertissements than sweet, evocative variations.

The Waltz is an inducement to students, and, probably, parents. Balanchine and Danilova undoubtedly had memories of similar use of students in the Imperial Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg. Used to the pared-down version, I found the yards of pink tutu a bit distracting to this French-born bon-bon. Like La Fille Mal Gardee, created in 1789 in Bordeaux by Jean Dauberval and the 1837 premiere of Giselle of Jules Perrot and Juan Corelli, these three durable ballets share French ancestry, however much layers and modifications may have ensued. Vive La France!

That Time of Year: S.F. Ballet’s Gala Celebrating Thirty Years of Tomasson Guidance

26 Jan

The melange of celebration, virtuosity, fund-raising goals and lavish display of gowns and egos marked San Francisco Ballet’s Gala January 22 with the press placed where tickets had not been sold; i.e. two seats in and in the Grand Tier where I sat with Craig Ashton and Emma, writing for a local Russian weekly. We were treated with the Calla Lily Lady, wearing a dress of white jersey, the shoulders guarded by said floral shape, adorned with green images; it required her to book the couple’s seats on the aisle, final row in the middle of the Grand Tier; sight lines were preserved. Go to S.F. Gate’s website, to see good glimpses of a design fit for Swan Lake or Raymonda at the Bolshoi.

Seen were tops with bra-like backs and a legion of strapless gowns well-stiffened set off by pairs of arms lacking muscular definition. Dressing up is fun, but what of the body it inhabits?

In front of us a young couple exchanged kisses while the rest of us stood, hand over heart, singing The Star Spangled Banner;seats empty following intermission.

The Gala commenced with a local version of the Paris Opera’s defile where the school, the trainees and budding professionals come forward, men with black tights and romantic shirts, girls in white tunics, older ones in white tutus a few in black, and, naturally, tiaras. I couldn’t help thinking what a fiscal outlay the tutus represented, and the hours spent in creating them. The audience cheered.

Following the defile, John S. Osterweis was tasked with acknowledging the sponsors of everything from the cocktail hour to the post-Gala Party, the organizers, and announcing a major capital campaign for $65 millions, of which $43 millions have been raised. Fund campaigns are typically private until at least half the goal has been reached. Exceptional was the information that five endowments have been made for five principal dancers, presumably extending beyond the current occupants’ active dancing careers. Diane B. Wilsey was announced as the chair for the Capital Campaign. (She has just completed a similar task for the UCSF Hospital at Mission Bay.) That declared, the Infinite Romance Gala commenced.

Some five years ago Renato Zanella’s Alles Walzer was performed at a Gala. This time it featured Pascal Molat flexing his biceps, back to the audience, head in profile making certain the audience registered the contours. Besides multiple pirouettes and tours around the stage, Zanella managed to mesh goofy touches with appropriate phrases to Johann Strauss II. Molat gave way to Joan Boada, echoing the movements; the pair wound up dancing identical movements, Molat dancing the most comment, Boada leaning on the bravura.

Val Caniparoli’s pas de deux from A Cinderella Story featured Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz, Feijoo in a frothy white skirt with red accents. They swirled together, beautifully synchronized, to Ming Luke’s piano renditions of Richard Rodgers’ themes.

Helgi Tomasson’s take on the most rapturous variation of Rachmaninov’s Variations on A Theme of Paganini, saw Yuan Yuan Tan leaping and leaning on the arms of Tiit Helimets, with an ultimate lift into Helimets’ embrace.

Kurt Weill’s music was Christopher Wheeldon’s source for the pas de deux between Sofiane Sylve and Luke Ingham, titled There Where She Loved. Sylve danced a reluctant, passionate, partially convinced role while Ingham supported, pursued and persuaded. Finally, Sylve walked away; one could imagine hot and cold continuing.

In a unannounced switch, Francesco Geminiani’s adaptation of Corelli, Concerto Grosso, premiered at another Gala in 2003 featured three young men of the company’s corps de ballet: Esteban Hernandez, Diego Cruz, Max Cauthorn, Francesco Mungamba and Wei Wang. Dancing to two violins, a viola and cello, they commence with outward sweeping arm movements as they turn several times before forming a circle of grand jetes to the persistent, forward sound of the strings, ably played by Matthieu Arama, Marianne Wagner, Anna Kruger and Eric Sung. A series of solo variations follow with a pas de trois insert. Dressed in Milliskin unitards, Mungamba distinguished himself with the liquid quality of his line, Hernandez in red with bursts of virtuosity, Wei Wang for unaffected classic style. Cruz and Cauthorn, who danced the Harlequin in December’s Nutcracker, were hard to identify from the Grand Tier. The five danced as a unit. Tomasson is adept in fashioning classical male bravura.

Post intermission the offering sequence was changed, perhaps because Francisco Mungamba was scheduled for another series of killer variations. Instead Tchaikovsky’s tenuously melodic music sourced Alexei Ratmansky’s choreography, originally for the Het National under the title Souvenir D’un Lieu Cher, with Mathilde Froustey, Sarah Van Patten, Carlo di Lanno and Luke Ingham. Frankly it wasn’t clear whether the former dear was all that “former”, if the connection between the women made clear they were okay with the arrangement. Van Patten seemed to have the worst of it, with soloist Di Lanno, I think making his San Francisco Opera House debut, being very courteous about his position, while Ingham was stalwart about Van Patten’s uncertainty. I hope Ingham isn’t type-cast too much in having to be manly about feminine indecision. Froustey’s impulse contrasted muscularly with Van Patton’s hesitations, and in equal measure Ingham’s body movements with Di Lanno’s. I found the quartet compelling more about the body movements and attack than the content.

Sergei Rachmaninov’s music was Yuri Possokhov’s source for the pas de deux from Bells, apparently a longer work created for the Joffrey Ballet in 2011. Here Maria Kochetkova and David Karapetyan in flaming orange Milliskin, he stripped to the waist, she in bathing suit style by Sandra Woodall, maneuvered in contemporary style out of their mutual Russian training, their comparative height adding to the mix.

Finally, The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude returned the program sequence, choreographer William Forsythe’s familiar acid green pancake tutus inhabited by Dores Andre, Sasha de Sola and Jennifer Stahl, and Francisco Mungamba and Gennadi Nedvigin contrasting in attack and line, both wonderfully correct, and Andre particularly intense in her variation.

Frances Chung and Joseph Walsh premiered Christopher Wheeldon’s present for Helgi Tomasson’s 30th anniversary as artistic director with Borealis, music by Gavin Byrars. In silver tops and blue tights the imagery seemed designed to evoke lights glittering in northern winters.

Just before the finale pas de deux, the Tatiana-Onegin pas de deux was danced by Yuan Yuan Tan and Vitor Luiz. He danced masterfully, she emoted extravagently. Like Francisco Mungamba, Luiz as did Luke Ingham danced twice as did Tan – a double duty series which seemed unusual. That may be why the San Francisco Ballet Website lists an opening for a principal male dancer.

To complete the program Taras Domitro and Vanessa Zahorian winged their way through Le Corsaire pas de deux with clarity and great elan, Domitro’s exciting grand jetes and Zahorian finishing off her assignment with a series of single and double traveling fouettes.

After the curtain applause, the usual basket of flowers and individual nosegays for the cast of women dancing, several men in black emerged with trays of glasses, followed by John Osterweiss offering a toast honoring Helgi’s Thirtieth season. The gold curtain then descended.

Afterthought: the Gala listed three pianists in addition to Roy Bogas for the Paganini: Natal’ya Feygina, Mungunchimeg Buriad, and Ming Luke.

Alexei Ratmansky’s Shostakovitch Trilogy, April 2,11

16 Apr

Some ballets impact me strongly; when they do, it’s necessary to see the work at least a second time to make sure what I saw was what I felt, and why. I’ve not heard much Shostakovitch; one of his was a college favorite, arrogant finale et al. It wasn’t included in Ratmansky’s choices: Symphony #9, Chamber Symphony, Piano Concerto # 1. The San Francisco Ballet premiere of the trilogy follows the two-part premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s essays by American Ballet Theatre.

My initial impression was movement and music were absolutely one and how could this be? Visually, the dancers rose, turned, jumped, pirouetted, were held or fell to the floor just like the notes I was hearing. Opening night audience thought so too – a standing ovation plus enthusiastic written and verbal excitement expressed by critics. What love and admiration can accomplish in the mind and vision of a gifted artist ! There is no questioning Ratmansky’s work qualifies; The MacArthur Foundation also agreed this past September.

Part I, Symphony #9, featured Sarah Van Patten, Carlos Quenedit, Simone Messmer, James Sofranko and Taras Domitro April 2; the April 11 casting; Simone Messmer, Mathilde Froustey, Pascal Molat, Luke Ingham and Hansuke Yamamoto.

Part II, The Chamber Symphony provided Davit Karapetyan with Sasha de Sola, Lorena Feijoo, Mathilde Froustey April 2, Jaime Garcia Castilla, Dores Andre, Simone Messmer and Sarah Van Patten April 11.

Part III, Piano Concerto #1, featured Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith, Maria Kochetkova, Vitor Luiz, on April 2; April 11 Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets, Doris Chung,Joan Boada.

Between the premiere and the dancing of a second cast, seen a week following the premiere, rawness has dissipated, the phrases, the steps, the interplay of bodies, lines all have begun to organize themselves in the dancers’ muscle memory, the hesitations and maneuverings of rehearsal behind. Still, I felt the second cast had meshed uniquely; how likely is it they will get reviewed, particularly a week later.

At the premiere Symphony 9 reflected the musical structure: Domitro jumping, spinning; Messmer and Sofranko flirtatious, Van Patten and Quenedit reflecting the highs and lows in the musical line. April 11, Froustey and Ingham gave me a sense of fear, illusory moments of tenderness, a pervading quality of hopelessness. Messmer with Molat, she replacing the scheduled Lorena Feijoo, provided immediacy, “get it, enjoy it while you can.” Hansuke Yamamoto, whatever he felt, was dancing full out, one of the best I remember, driving forward, upward; what else could one do?

The Chamber Symphony was graced with David Karapetyan, his sculpted body, a controlled stoic aura, even as he reached out for the feminine, Sasha de Sola, the flirt; Mathilde Fourstey the fated one, Lorena Feijoo, required to comfort the forlorn. I read somewhere the quartet of dancers reflected a failed Apollo with unreliable Muses. The quartet sequences seemed particularly reflective of the music. April 11 emotion rippled through Jaime Garcia Castilla, aided by his exceptionally supple physique. Dores Andre invited, then flitted away. Castilla and Simone Messmer seemed keenly aware of their frailty; especially when she is first hidden, held aloft by the group of men before her final disappearance, leaving a wise attending woman, Sarah Van Patten, to touch him compassionately.

For the Piano Concerto, the usual close partnering between Tan and Smith was a given; he slightly somber, solicitous, Tan clearly articulate but remote. Kochetkova and Luiz were livelier, to be expected, both expressive individually. Did I subjectively feel that Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets as Europeans understood the irony better? Perhaps. Frances Chung and Joan Boada melded skillfully, blending in an immediacy underplaying the flash.

Regardless, I only wish the trilogy was to be part of San Francisco Ballet’s 2015 Spring season instead of the Piano Concerto alone. I still have lots to absorb.

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.

San Francisco Ballet’s 81st Gala, January 22

26 Jan

Early dinner at Indigo with John Gebertz, Dennis Nahat and Nahat’s cousin Rose preceded a most memorable San Francisco Ballet Gala. It seemed less hyped, more down to the business of dancing. Still,John Osterweis, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, covered the usual list of sponsors and underwriters plus how many years there were repeats of support for the annual Gala. From four to thirteen years of repeat sponsorsship, it was impressive,plus the announcement the event had garnered SFB 2.4 million dollars.

After the dress parade and the seat scramble as the orchestra tuned up for the Star Spangled Banner, the curtain opened to the pas de cinq from Giselle’s Act I, choreographed by Helgi Tomasson. Lauren Parrott substituted for Clara Blanco; Sasha de Sola and Julia Rowe shared the partnering with Daniel Deivison-Oliviera and Hansuke Yamamoto. De Sola’s opening pirouette a la seconde was expansive, held in arabesque just long enough to gladden the eye. I was struck how evenly paired Parrott and Rowe appeared,how distinctive Deivison and Yamamoto were; the former’s muscular punch incisive emphasis, Yamamoto’s presence conveying flowing evenness. It was a sunny commencement, whetting the appetite.

Alberto Iglesias’ music provided Yuri Possokhov with a wonderful vehicle for Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz under the title of Talk to Her, hable con elle. From the costume looks, Luiz in open black shirt and Lorena’s cascading hair and filmy garment implying either boudoir or bed, the couple conversed with intricate lifts, an occasional drop to the floor, each accenting their movement with a heel click or foot stamp at least once, the intricacy mounting as a voice (singer’s name forgotten) erupted into a short series of melismatic sounds preceding flamenco song. There was a lifted embrace and finis. The audience responded enthusiastically; the evening’s ambiance began to build.

Frances Chung made her debut in the role made memorable by Evelyn Cisneros in Val Caniparoli’s Lambarena. As petite and tidy as Cisneros was sturdy and sensual, it was a definite challenge. Chung responded with small, cheeky and delicious, torso undulation and hip wiggle to size, not giggly but clearly enjoyable, a gently infectious joy of music and movement.

The second pas de deux, from Balanchine’s Who Cares featured Simone Messmer and Ruben Martin Cintas. The “Some Day He’ll Come Along” melody floated in front of a New York City backdrop; the rendition was competent, but emotionally neutral. I wonder if Mr. B had choreographed it with like feeling, a filler nod to popularity, even though he had spent nearly a decade stageing dances for Broadway musicals.

Hans Van Manen’s Variations for Two Couples&lt excerpt used four composers, principals Sofiane Sylve and Sarah Van Patten, partnered by Luke Ingham and Anthony Spaulding, a work premiered not quite two years ago in Amsterdam, intensified the evening’s substance.

I want to see it again; stylishly gratifying is my overall take. Two couples together, then each couple with a passage, some in and outs,the quartet together for the finale, fronting a deep blue scrim, a low-drawn concave line of white near the stage floor. The pace shifted from legato to quirky, evidenced by shaking heads. Intriguing was Anthony Spaulding’s response to the music, an easy-moving neck and responsive torso muscles. Then Sofiane Sylve’s majestic port de bras carried through to her sternum – or should it be the other way around? Sarah Van Patten was correct, classic in line, a pool of concentration. My first real exposure to Mark Ingham showed a compactly built dancer capable of energic bursts, a supportive partner, shy of legato line.

Diana and Acteon, the Agrippina Vaganova pas de deux, sandwiched into a full -length ballet, enlivening the Cesare Pugni score I’ve see at competitions enough to know how difficult it is, and how admirably Vanessa Zahorian carried on after slipping in the entry. She carried on apparently unruffled, only to learn her injury necessitates several weeks of rest. Otherwise hops into arabesques, pirouettes and tours were lyric, musically phrased, a typical Zahorian rendition.

Taras Domitro was paired as Acteon, in a phony leopard skin with an initial saute nothing short of phenomenal. One of the Domitro signatures are strong high thrusts finishing in a slightly curved hand that’s a hand, not five fingers. His menages were swift, complicated, clear. Chabukiani would have applauded just as hard as the audience, a rousing finish to the Gala’s first half.

After intermission, guest artist Johan Kobborg lent San Francisco his dramatic chops, partnering Maria Kochetkova in the Manon’s Act I Bedroom Scene, one of the most lyric choreographies Sir Kenneth MacMillan ever devised. A bed upstage right, a desk and chair downstage left, yin and yang positions to meet stage center with low supported turns, the occasional soaring lift and the final ecstatic floor embrace, a simply exquisite portrait of flowering passion.

From high emotions to equally high jinks, Les Lutins or The Imps, Kobborg’s 2009 trio created for the Royal Ballet was reprised by Gennadi Nedvigin, Esteban Hernandez and Dores Andre as Roy Bogas at the piano and violinist Kurt Nikkaren played, Nikkaren announcing the numbers. Beginning with Nedvigin, It was an “I dare you” allegro exposition with Nedvigin giving sporadic gestures to Nikkaren. Hernandez entered, the maneuvers veered dancer to dancer, with the occasional nod to the violinist, until Dores Andre appeared, black tights, suspenders over white shirt. You guessed it, the expected rivalry is danced out. more allegro, more body language. Enlivening the usual cliche, Kobborg created 95 per cent delight.

Numbers nine, ten,eleven displayed pas de deux, classic glacial, classic bravura, classic elegiac: Sarah Van Patten with Tiit Helimets, Mathilde Froustey and Davit Karapetyan; Yuan Yuan Tan partnered by Damian Smith for number eleven

Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s choreography to Dmitri Shostakovich’s music, provided another glimpse of Van Patten’s cool absorption, displayed by Tiit Helimets; the image of traditional classical dancers. Six corps members accented the movement; Isabella DeVivo, Koto Ishihara, Elizabeth Power with Diego Cruz, Francisco Mungamba and Myles Thatcher. Perhaps seeing the entire work would satisfy me; this glimpse was vaguely dissatisfying.

Grand Pas Classique, music by Francois Auber, staged by Patrick Armand, is a 20th century bravura pas de deux staple at international ballet competitions. Mathilde Froustey and Davit Karapetyan, made it easy to see why. Incredible strength and balance from the woman, flash from the man, Froustey was required to balance several times at the beginning, sustained releves with developpes an avant. Karapetyan’s partnering was the usual exemplary; his variation seemed hampered by excessive costume details. Victor Gsovsky created a fascinating challenge.

Edward Liang’s pas de deux “Finding Light” to Antonio Vivaldi’s Andante from his Violin Concerto in B flat was a peculiar title for Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith’s admirable dancing, unless one believes one comes to recognition with another in twilight. There were the usual lovely lines, considerate partnering, Tan’s long line in developpes, arabesques, and the almost geometric qualities when lifted in some variation of an attitude. Most touching was Tan’s spontaneous embrace of Smith during the bow his kissing of her hand, a signal of Smith’s impending retirement later this spring.

From this exquisite emotion, the finale was the second Balanchine of the evening, the 4th movement from Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet, featuring Sofiane Sylve and Luke Ingham again, with members of the company decked in white with gold and red accents, an effect fluffy, decorative, regrettable. Ingham wasn’t comfortable in his assignment; Sylve managed to make a balloon-like skirt an accessory to her spirited attack. If the work is mounted again for the full company, I hope it rates different costuming. It’s my least favorite work created by this son of the Georgian Caucasus, a work dished up for the 1966 season, forty-eight years ago.

The audience provided the dancers with enormous, deserved applause, shouts and a standing ovation at the end, topping costume parade, decibel levels before the Gala and at Intermission, making one feel there’s nothing better than participating in a finely-conceived Gala. I don’t remember seeing a Tomasson-selected Gala failing to enchant; this year’s seemed the best yet.

Stern Grove’s 76th Season and San Francisco Ballet’s Annual Appearance

1 Aug

July 28 remained stubbornly overcast, but not so cold that union regulations forbade San Francisco Ballet dancing. My friends shared with me a table graced by Teri McCollum and her friend Tab, an excellent view of the stage, and as the program began, anyone who could manage the space between the granite-lined path and bench legs. A couple of women even managed to sit on the Igloo at the end of the table.

What was seen was deliberately selected for an audience as intent on food and company as on the stage, designed to enjoy without heavy emotional engagement, but skillful, very much so. This year’s roster comprised, “From Foreign Lands,” Alexi Ratmansky with Moritz Moszkowski music of the same name, the cultures being Russian. Italian, German, Spanish and Polish; Stone and Steel, Myles Thatcher’s ballet for the School’s May concert to music of Michael Nyman and Yann Tiersen. Then a pas de deux for Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith by Edward Liang to Thomas Albinoni, titled Distant Cries preceded the finale Suite en Blanc, Serge Lifar’s 1943 display for the Paris Opera Ballet to the music of Edouard Lalo.

The Ratmansky work comprised successively a pas de quatre of two couples; a pas de quatre with three women and one man; a pas de quatre with one woman and three men; and pas de quatre for two couples and the finale a pas de huit for four couples. The first, Russian, was a slight rivalry and partner change with Sasha de Sola, Jaime Garcia Castilla, Frances Chung and Gennadi Nedvigin, and the initial pairing, sparkling allegro and a pair of more lyric limbed dancers – in the end winding up one with each. Castilla and Nedvigin made a fascinating visual contrast in their initial appearance, the legato and the crisp, both admirably schooled. In the Italian Joan Boada displayed his elevation for Dores Andre, Dana Genshaft and Sarah Van Patten. Simone Messmer, formerly with American Ballet Theatre, made her debut in the German number opposite Luke Ingham, Myles Thatcher and Shane Wuerthner whose function primarily was to lift her aloft, allowing her to inspect them, the role originally danced by Sofiane Sylve. Frances Chung, Sarah Van Patten, Joan Boada and Gennadi Nedvigin returned to make like Spaniards, all aware of their mutual charms. For the finale, the Polish, there were jumps for the men in addition to partnering for the women. Ratmansky has a deft touch, conveying flavor without laboring the point, and it moves such a slight work along with great charm.

Thatcher’s Stone and Steel is another work displaying his growing capacity to organize an ensemble, moving the dancers individually and collectively. This ten dancer ballet was created to music by Michael Nyman and Yann Tiersen; as suggested by the title, the ambiance was insistent and the execution crisp. Sasha de Sola was the only soloist with the nine from the corps de ballet, including new corps de ballet members, Isabella de Vivo and Wei Wang; both had been utilized during the spring season, either as apprentices or in the student performing group. The other dancers were Jordan Hammond, Kristina Lind, Julia Rowe, Sean Orza, Steven Morse, Henry Sidford and Lonnie Weeks.

Distant Cries started out with Yuan Yuan Tan moving in silence and joined by Damian Smith as the music commences. Their long-standing partnering is invariably a pleasure to watch, he displaying her long limbs to great advantage. At the end Damian retreated upstage center and Yuan Yuan was left alone, perhaps portending his retirement rumored for the end of 2014’s season.

I would love to know the roster of the dancers who created the various sections of Lifar’s Suite en Blanc in Zurich just about six months before Paris was liberated in 1944. I know Lycette Darsonval and Yvette Chauvire were among them, as well as Roland Petit and Janine Charrat. Jean Babilee, because he was Jewish, had left the Opera Ballet to join the Resistance. Carlos Carvajal can recite who danced what when the ballet was danced by the Grand Ballet de Marquis de Cuevas.

Marie-Claire D’Lyse, Kristina Lind and Jennifer Stahl wore romantic length tutus for the opening sieste, followed by another pas de trois with Sasha de Sola, Davit Karapetyan and Vitor Luiz, whose principal assignment seemed to be grand jetes and beats while turning. Clara Blanco in serenade was charm with a fair amount of pique steps; the effectiveness slightly lost because the corps behind her is elevated on ramps when danced on a proscendium arched stage. This also was true for Dores Andre’s appearance in the pas de cinq with Esteban
Hernandez, Wei Wang, Lonnie Weeks and Dmitry Zagrebin.

This served as debut performances for Hernandez and Zagrebin, particularly when the four men beat entrechats in a line. Hernandez is the brother of Isaac Hernandez, now with Het National Ballet in the Netherlands. Shorter thant Isaac, I first saw Esteban at the USA IBC in Jackson in 2010, where he received the Jury Award of Encouragement. I also look forward to seeing more of Zagrebin, Bolshoi trained and former company member; he garnered a gold medal at Seoul’s International Competition in 2010.

Vanessa Zahorian transcended the title of her solo, cigarette, with her usual flair to be followed by one of the company’s India rubber balls, Taras Domitro in mazurka. Wan Ting Zhao and Tiit Helimets were featured in the pas de deux before Sofiane Sylve appeared in flute. In this fleeting glimpse before the finale, Sylve managed to capture the audience’s focus with the like strength that captivated an earlier Stern Grove audience when she danced the second movement of Balanchine’s Symphony in C. She projects simplicity but with a quiet fierce majesty rarely failing to satisfy a witness.