Tag Archives: Sergei Diaghilev

Oakland Celebrates A Half Century

2 Jun

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

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Dwight Grell, 6/7/1937- 2/3/2015

3 Mar


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2014 Nutcracker Season, San Francisco Ballet

15 Dec

December 12 was San Francisco Ballet’s night to start its season of the Nuts, multiple castings, opportunities for corps members. With Martin West conducting the company’s orchestra, the audience enjoyed a remarkably buoyant performance, which can be partially attributed to its enormous success in Europe this summer. Mary Beth Smith, heading the company’s marketing and communications, remarked in the Opera House press room that after the company’s closing night performance at Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, where Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes made its 1909 debut, “The applause went on for twenty minutes. It was spectacular, and you know Parisians know their ballet.” Following this performance, the company goes into a twice daily mode, two and seven p.m., a total of thirty performances, including two on Christmas Eve.

Friday night’s inauguration featured Ricardo Bustamonte with extra flourishes and complete gallantry, while Ruben Martin-Cintas and Katita Waldo made the Stahlbaums elegant, assured, hospitable. Jim Sohm outdid himself as Grandpapa; Kristi DeCaminada as Grandmere. Both parents and small fry were less numerous, but the numbers cohered in the overall scenic impression, avoiding the cast of thousands mould.

Clara Blanco danced her iconic doll, Esteban Hernandez made an impression as the Nutcracker out of the Box and Max Cauthorn in yellow Milliskin was willowy, off balance and technically excellent.

The transformation scene – from 1915 Panama-Pacific era privileged San Francisco to dream exaggeration of furniture, presents, tree, mice and gas fireplace – continues to be impressive; mice scamper, toy soldiers execute the directions of the Nutcracker with his sabre, while Clara watches avidly. Sean Orza’s Mouse King exhibited brawn, and elegaic agony after his leg was caught in the mouse trap, his dying crawl into the prompter’s pit, “Tis A Far Better Thing I Do’ from Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities.

Luke Ingham as Nutcracker Prince cuts a refreshing athletic image once out of Mask and Nut trappings. He’s gallant, but no nonsense, like a good Aussie invariably seems to be; his battement a la seconde is eagle sharp. Not a bad mixture. Audrey Armacost as Clara responded well to his partnering.

The carriage arrival brings its own magic, its white and silver sleigh, pawing, prancing ponies, masks crowned with nodding plumes. I’m not sure the ancien regime could have improved on these equines.

The snow monarch roles were handsomely filled by Vanessa Zahorian and Taras Domitro. who followed after the snowflakes appeared under drifts of artificial flakes continuing to fall, audibly, during the entire number until the final grouping around the principals was almost obscured by moving white density. Early on Domitro stumbled a bit; I suspect this artificial blizzard may have contributed. However, his grand jetes and entrechats were his standard brilliant, Zahorian sailing through her virtuosity with usual aplomb, her earlier injury definitely behind her.

After the intermission the curtain rose on the evocation of the Conservatory, with butterflies, lady bugs, and moths, marking time with port de bras and pique arabesques before the arrival of The Sugar Plum Fairy (SPF) in the person of Mathilde Froustey. Froustey possesses the current ideal for the feminine ballerina; beautiful proportions, long neck, face of piquant charm, port de bras devoid of angled elbow, good jump, supple expressive upper back, an intuitive emphasis in phrasing or response. A cogent example was her emphasis asking the Nut Prince “Why are you here?” Not a doubt about the query.

Luke Ingham’s mime was salutary, particularly good with whiskers. The SPF had decreed the entire dream troupe witness the recitation, a nice move. While the Spanish pas de cinq was good, the Arabian trio was especially well-balanced with Dana Genshaft, and Daniel Devison-Oliveira and Anthony Spaulding, intense, finished. Francisco Mungamba’s Chinese shone with knife-like jetes. The French trio danced my-not-so favorite variation spritely, Wan Ting Zhao’s phrasing eye-catching. The Russian Faberge trio burst out into Anatole Vilzak’s classic variation led by Hansuke Yamamoto with Esteban Hernandez and Wei Wang.

Benjamin Stewart garnered a warm response as Smoky Bear with Louis Schilling and the bevy of San Francisco Ballet School students, precursor to the Waltzing Flowers, framing the SPF in this version of the Tchaikovsky classic. Bland, symmetrical and nicely executed, the ensemble is supposed to set off the central rose; Froustey could be better served. However, the ensemble requires its musical share and the notes received visualization with skill.

In this version the prelude to the Grand Pas de Deux refers to the Chinoiserie tower bibelot, Clara’s gift in the first act. The SPF retrieves a tiara from a cushion brought her by a uniformed attendant which she places on Clara’s head before leading her to the mirror inside the open box. Froustey’s brief escorting, was affectionate, a reinforcement shared with Sofiane Sylve who conveys similar feminine warmth.

The double doors close, the tower turned, the doors reopen and outsteps the adult Clara in hues of gold and celadon, Yuan Yuan Tan, ready to wow us, dispatches the gestures of awe and transforming admiration to the barest stroke, a principal flaw in an otherwise brilliant performance. Tan is becoming accustomed to Luke Ingham as a partner; she should feel utterly secure. Ingham promises Tan as good or better she enjoyed with Damian Smith; the partnering, particularly Tan’s height in the running catch as the Tchaikovsky score soars were. flawless. Tan’s face, with its feline qualities, registered satisfaction along with her usual aplomb.

The variation reprises then follow, to warm applause, and the aggregate ensemble coalesces to allow Drosselmeyer, couch and Clara to enter and for him to reassemble the Stahlaum mansion,for Clara to awaken, clutch her toy and run towards Mother Stahlbaum’s arms as the curtains descend.

San Francisco Ballet’s 2013 Gala, January 24

11 Feb

Celebrating San Francisco Ballet’s 80th season, Helgi Tomasson gave his audience and supporters a sleek event of pas de deux, a pas de trois, one pas de quatre, a solo and a final ensemble excerpt which will begin Program I January 29.

I am fascinated by the choices Tomasson sometimes makes for partners, particularly for fluffy moments like George Balanchine’s Tarantella to the tinkly music of Louis Gottschalk, which sounds  like a precursor to early New Orleans jazz. So much so you can imagine it on an early Victor Red Seal record or envision it being played on an out-of-tune upright piano in some seedy New Orleans dive.  Pairing Sasha de Sola and Pascal Molat was novel, although de Sola conveys jauntiness along with her extraordinarily straight back.  Molat can dance the cheery street urchin in any guise thrown him,  his final measures soliciting every last centime.

Switching gears the suicidal solo from Roland Petit’s L’Arlesienne touched on daring the audience; it worked. Pierre Francois Vilanoba made one of his initial impressions in the company dancing this role and the title of Lar Lubovitch’s Othello.  A dozen years later, Vilanoba conveyed the mental dislocation with a honed ferocity, a  image of suicidal madness worth remembering, circular grand jetes, flailing arms, riveted gaze.  Petit doesn’t always get many marks for his choreography, but his theatricality is unmistakable.

Returning to the light touch, August Bournonville and his Flower Festival at Genzano with Clara Blanco and Gennadi Nedvigin was another surprise pairing, nicely matched in size and sweetness.  Blanco could have been better coached;  she was half way between her iconic Nutcracker Doll and the thoughtless Olga in Eugene Onegin.  Nedvigen’s finishes in tight fifths elicited enthusiastic applause.

Myles Thatcher’s In the Passerine’s Clutch was conceived as a pas de quatre for Dores Andre, Dana Genshaft, Joan Boada and Jaime Garcia Castilla and enjoyed a premiere at the Gala. Thatcher used music from the prolific compositions of contemporary Polish composer Wjceich Kilar and is his third choreographic essay for San Francisco Ballet affiliated dancers.  Passerines are called perchers and number the greatest proportion of birds in the avian kingdom, including swallow, ravens, thrushes, sparrows, warblers, even the Australian Lyrebird.  Thatcher’s attempt to capture the darting, clustering, clampering, quarreling and mating deserves a second viewing.

Lorena Feijoo made her first appearance since giving birth to Luciana in the Act III variation from Raymonda, hand slaps and all  to Alexander Glasunov’s insinuating music .  Feijoo’s delicate sensuality was touched with a distinctly regal quality.  Audience members clapped when she appeared on stage.  Shades of Alexandra Danilova.

Tomasson’s Trio featured Sarah Van Patten, Tiit Helimets and Vitor Mazzo, in the section of the work set to Tchaikovsky music.  They danced an eloquent, inevitable triangle with Mazzeo as the dark figure luring Van Patten from Helimets arms, Mazzeo bearing a limp Van Patten off stage right with Helimets alone and forlorn at the curtain.

The Wedding pas de deux from Act III of the Petipa-Gorsky Don Quixote  completed the Gala’s first half, danced by Frances Chung and Taras Domitro as Kitri and Basilio in the lustrous white costumes designed by the late Martin Pakledinaz.  Rendered with eloquent understatement, and measured formality, Paul Parish mentioned Felipe Diaz, one-time San Francisco Ballet soloist and currently a company ballet master, had rehearsed the two.  Paul observed, “You absolutely have to have someone tell you where your head needs to go, where your eyes should focus.  It’s something you cannot do alone, or just with your partner.”  Chung and Domitro emphasized polish more than bravura.  That seemed to disappoint a number of individuals, but it suited me just fine.

Three pas de deux and one ensemble piece were the  Gala’s second half content, a paean to the company’s repertoire range.  Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz reprised the first act dream scene between Onegin and Tatiana where John Cranko’s Tatiana sees Onegin emerge from her bedroom mirror in a dream.  Given the elaborate set, one understands why Tomasson chose this snippet to open the second  half; it’s a major production operation.

On to the strains of John Philip Sousa and Balanchine’s wonderful spoof of the Sousa  brass umpapa.  This 1958 romp for New York City Ballet was first danced by San Francisco Ballet in 1981; I can remember Madeline Bouchard, Anita Paciotti and David McNaughton scintillating in their assignments.  Here Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan took on the Stars and Stripes  pas de deux created by Melissa Hayden and Jacques D’Amboise.  Here danced for a sunny pertness rather than the broad good humor originally conveyed,   Zahorian and Karapetyan came across cheerfully.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith danced Christopher Wheeldon’s pas de deux from After The Rain, set to Arvo Part’s extended ethereal score which never seems to conclude. It was an etched, elegant performance, tender but seeming to proceed under glass.

Excerpts from Serge Lifar’s Suite en Blanc finished the Gala, an ensemble piece which has become de rigeur in a Tomasson-run Gala, serving to remind the audience that a company stands or falls on the calibre of its corps de ballet as much as the brilliance of its principal dancers.  Lifar, who was the last major male dancer to rise under Sergei  Diaghilev’s influence, was ballet master for the l”Opera de Paris ballet company from the mid-‘Thirties through World War II, including  those four long years of the Nazi Occupation of most of Northern and Central France.  This work was premiered some mother prior to D-Day and in Zurich, appearing to lack any reference to the privation the French dancers were experiencing.

While I intend to discuss the ballet further after seeing the entire work, it was marvelous to see Sofiane Sylve as one of the center dancers, conveying in her bones the style and presentation required for this very French ballet.

Words on Dance with Joanna Berman October 22

24 Oct

Deborah DuBowy has taped interviews with dancers mostly by dancers for nineteen years in San Francisco, usually including stills and sometimes taped footage of the dancer’s signature roles.  This year’s Isadora Duncan Dance Award Ceremony recognized this  record with its modest certificate and “dustable.”  Her presenter was Edward Villella who will be the subject of the next interview, scheduled for the Paley Center for Media, New York City, March 11, 2013.  September 15, 2013, capping the second decade of endeavor will see Maria Kochetkova interviewing Carla Fracci, the memorable Italian ballerina.

October 22 DuBowy arranged for another memorable interview, which probably won’t ever be seen visually because the Vogue Theatre on Sacramento Street simply did not possess stage lights.  Nonetheless the audience not glued to the third presidential debate  got to hear Joanna Berman answer the adroit questions posed by James Sofranko and see snippets of Berman in Rodeo, Swan Lake, Company B, Damned and Dance House.

The comparatively brief interview was preceded by nine films of varying length, some of them gem like.  It commenced with Natalia Makarova dancing with Mikhail Baryshnikov to a Chopin Mazurka, part of a lengthier exposition created by Jerome Robbins for the January 17, 1972 Gala to raise money to keep the New York Public Library Dance Collection open.  Both dancers were at the peak of their careers, their elevations impressive, their elan unmistakably Russian.

A considerably edited interview with Yvonne Mounsey this past June was next, conducted by Emily Hite, capturing in speech Mounsey’s performance qualities.  It was wonderful to see Mounsey wrap hercomments around her favorite role, the Siren in the Balanchine ballet Prodigal Son. I saw her dance when Jerome Robbins was the Prodigal; her understanding of the predatory female remains undimmed.

A brief film by Quinn Wharton followed. Mechanism, had a text relating to machines  and featured two Hubbard Street Dance Company members, Johnny McMillan and Kellie Eppenheimer. Her balance, barefoot on demi-pointe, was cool, controlled, mind-boggling.

This was followed by Miguel Calayan’s short, Prima,  featuring Shannon Roberts (she has a new name Rugani) with  modest tiara, romantic length tutu topped by a royal blue tunic. Dancing  around a spacious vintage ballroom whose location I’d love to know, the footage captured her feet in releve, her body in grand jete and turning attitude, at the barre, covering space, ending in a wheel chair with a doll-sized proscenium stage and puppet dance figure.

Carolyn Goto, former principal dancer with Oakland Ballet, created a DVD of Ronn Guidi in connection with the Legacy Project, affiliated with the Museum of Performance and Design.  Careful editing allowed the audience to see segments of three important Oakland Ballet restagings: Michel Fokine’s” Scheherazade,” Eugene Loring’s “Billy the Kid” and Bronislava Nijinska’s “Les Noces.” In addition Guidi  was seen evaluating Sergei Diaghilev’s benchmark influence on the arts.

Following intermission, San Francisco Ballet member Luke Willis introduced “Freefall,”a partially completed film created with his brother. It featured a charming child, Pauli Magierek playing her mother, and two dancers in space, Sean Bennett for certain and perhaps Kristine Lind; it seemed to explore a child’s fascination with potential future romance.

The choreographic  process between Jorma Elo and Maria Kochetkova in the creation of a solo for her  in the 2012 Reflections tour came next, an interesting exploration of the  making and interpreting of a choreographic vision.

Judy Flannery, the Managing Director of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, brought trailers from this year’s Festival and the news that September 12-15, 2013 will feature the Festival’s collaboration with an international dance component, information which has yet to make it to the Festival’s website.  She also introduced Kate Duhamel’s “Aloft,” with Yuri Zhukov’s choreography for six dancers,  photographed on the northern edge of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Credited as being inspired by the America’s Cup sailboat races and the qualities of the swift vessels, the dancers moved against whipping wind, gravelly ground with the City in the distance as backdrop.

A final break ensued before Joanna Berman and James Sofranko followed the brief glimpse of Joanna in “Rodeo,” and her entrance as Odette in “Swan Lake,” with Cyril Pierre as Siegfried. Berman remarked that Christine Sarry warned her against emoting at the Cowgirl and in “Swan Lake,” she felt exposed and uncomfortable, enjoying Odile more because she, essentially, didn’t
have to be “pure.”  Berman liked story ballets because sa narrative provides meaning to the work,the why the preference for  “Serenade” and “Dances at a Gathering” to the more abstract repertoire  created for New York City Ballet.

Berman had studied at Marin Ballet with Margaret Swarthout before a year at San Francisco Ballet led to a six month apprenticeship before joining the corps de ballet.  What wasn’t mentioned was Berman’s attending the International Ballet Competition in Moscow, the youngest entrant to date, being eliminated in the second round because of a stumble.  Returning with her coach, Maria Vegh, there was a solo performance in celebration at the Marin Civic Center before Berman moved over to San Francisco Ballet School.

Joanna Berman’s dramatic gifts shone in “Company B”, “Damned” and “Dance House.”  I did not see her in the Possokhov reading of the Medea tragedy, associating it with Muriel Maffre and Lorena Feijoo.  Berman’s warmth, a quality Paul Parish calls “creamy,” at odds with Medea’s decision, made the brief footage that much stronger.

Berman now periodically sets “A Garden” for Mark Morris and works by Christopher Wheeldon. She spoke concisely about the responsibility of realizing the choreographer’s intent, a focus she followed when she danced.

James Sofranko also asked her about her post S.F. Ballet guest appearance with ODC, dancing with Private Freeman to choreography by Brenda Way.  When he asked Berman about the arc of her career, she replied she had no desire to go elsewhere because of the calibre of the company and the presence of her family.

The evening reminded one of the elusive quality of comfortable familiarity that seems to have seeped out of many dance occasions with the generational shift. It was good to enjoy the sensation once more.

Russell Maliphant Dance Company, The Lam Research Center Theater

18 Oct

Russell Maliphant  really brought a trio to the Lam Research Center  Theatre,  Buena Center for the Arts, October 13 and 14 under the auspices of S.F. Performances in one of those 60 minute performances without intermission, fast  becoming de rigeur mode for modern dance ensembles. The title was Afterlight.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the evening followed the performance, when  Maliphant’ commented about his association with Michael Hulls whose lighting creates an atmosphere enhancing, perhaps structuring the movement quality. Adding to the ambiance was the Gnossiennes1-4 of Erik Satie, placing the patterns executed by Thomasin Gulgec, Silvina Cortes and Gemma Nixon  clearly in the realm of personal rumination.

Maliphant also said the genesis of Afterlight stemmed from a Sadler’s Wells Commission for its 2009 Spirit of Diaghilev season. He went beyond his Royal Ballet training to study not only t’ai ch’i and ch’i gong, but the Rolfing Method of Structural Integration, contact improvisation, capoeira and yoga.  Hitching such diverse movement principles to a study of Vaslav Nijinsky’s drawings brought him to what was seen on stage.

At the opening,Gulgec was seen  in movements balletomanes could recognize as influenced not only by the circles, exaggerated eyes and heads in Nijinsky’s drawings but by the character of Petrouchka in that most perfect of dance theatre productions.  Thomasin seemed to embody the drawings as well as the character of that puppet.  Silvina Cortes and Gemma Nixon brought to the piece touches of Nijinsky’s third work, Jeux, all backed by the limpid Satie compositions.

Most difficult  was where it led.  After the  trio’s appearances and the exposition evoking the brief Nijinsky career, nothing seemed resolved.  The piece floated onward until the music’s end.  The dancing was elegant, skilled, the stage spare, the lighting and music intimate and  evocative; that was the entire sum.  No convention in modern dance these days seems to  require a conventional conclusion to an idea or an exposition. Russell Maliphant hued to this line of permission.

With all the resources, music, lighting and participating dancers, what a pity.

The S.O.B. Tale

10 Aug

Ness, Anton, S.O. B. Save Our Ballet: A Story of Hope During a Recession
Charleston, S.C., 2012 104 pp., illustrated.    Pbk, $21.95, e-book: $14.99
ISBN: 9781-478-156-118

This slender paperback tells the background  and the dancers’ fight to rescue San Francisco Ballet from bankruptcy and almost certain dissolution in 1974.  Anton Ness, its author, was a member of the company at the time after studying in San Francisco and attending the North Carolina School of the Arts.

Writing of the company’s early history, Ness recounts the company’s start under Adolph Bolm, Sergei Diaghilev’s great character dancer, when he accepted the post of ballet master of the San Francisco Opera in 1932.  As an historic side note  it remains remarkable that this provincial city, fostered by its strategic position during the brief gold and silver strikes in the Sierra Nevada, should have financed and opened an opera house in the midst of  The Great Depression.

The Christensen era is reviewed and includes Lew Christensen’s background with George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein, complete with a George Platt Lyne’s image of Lew as Apollo in the iconic Balanchine ballet.  Ness recounts briefly the American Ballet Caravan Company as the ensemble was called when touring South America in 1941, but does not touch on Dance Players, the short-lived ensemble   Lew organized while waiting to be drafted and  his choreographing the haunting circus ballet Jinx. Lew’s service in the U.S. Army effectively finished his dancing career. Ness does explain the rationale leading Lew to decide to move to San Francisco, joining Willam and Harold with their San Francisco Ballet enterprise.

Ness leaves further detail to authors Sally Bailey, Debra Sowell  and Cobbett Steinberg for aspects of San Francisco Ballet’s history, concerning himself with his immediate experience and the summer months of the S.O.B. campaign.  Arthur Blum’s brief career as manager is illuminating, along with the singular contribution of the “angels” who sparked the S.O.B. campaign: Maureen Broderick, Nancy Dickson and additionally Damara Bennett,  Roberta Pfeil and Elizabeth Tienken.

I was then San Francisco correspondent for Dance News. Though not intimately involved, I remember the period well.  The can-do spirit of the dancers was simply incomparable, the confidence  spilling over in subsequent years. In a Dance Magazine article, Michael Smuin, then co-directing the company with Lew Christensen, stated he could  not take credit for the results, that it was wholly a dancer-driven campaign to which he gave further support and organization.

A number of the dancers were still dancing in the company in 1985 when Helgi Tomasson was invited to become San Francisco Ballet’s artistic director.  Two dancers, Betsy Erickson and Anita Paciotti,, currently serve the company ably as ballet mistresses.

Ness’ first-hand knowledge and obvious affection for the company makes the account enjoyable and touching.  What adds to the flavor from a long-time viewer’s perspective is the inclusion of several figures whose contributions to the company’s development  do not currently receive much recognition.  Ness is to be thanked for helping to rectify this error.

S.O.B. Save Our Ballet is available through Amazon.Com, Barnes and Noble and independent book stores.