Tag Archives: Shannon Bynum

At Last Ballet San Jose’s Roster 2013-2014

26 Sep

With just five days to go before September’s end, like the U.S. Congress, Ballet San Jose has released its company roster for 2013-2014, placing Karen Gabay in the new category of Artistic Associate and minus Maria Jacobs-Yu, who elected not to sign a contract this year. Jacobs-Yu’s delicate precision will be missed.

Not a dignified way to announce a company’s roster of dancers; but Ballet San Jose’s record makes one want to mention artists contributing to much of its varied repertoire history under its former artistic aegis. What invariably strikes me as noteworthy is that both past and present artistic directors are Ballet Theatre alumni from different periods of ABT’s evolution.

So, onward to glimpse the thinking of artistic director Jose Manuel Carreno and his Associate Artistic Director Raymond Rodriquez. Evidence points to the remarkable training ground of Carreno’s native Cuba for the corps de ballet is gaining three former members of the Ballet Nacioinal de Cuba in addition to principal dancers Ramon Moreno and Maykel Solas.

Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun has been promoted to Principal Dancer status; along with Alexsandra Meijer, they are only two women in the principal dancer roster. The three men are Jeremy Kovitch, Ramon Moreno and Maykel Solas.

The soloists now include Amy Marie Briones, Rudy Candia, Damir Emric, Junna Ige, Beth Ann Namey, Mirai Noda, Akira Takahashi and Jing Zhang. Emric’s status reflects promotion from the corps de ballet.

The new comers to the corps de ballet include Kathryn Meeusen and Thomas Baker from apprentice roles. The Cuban influx includes Jorge Lopez Barani, Walter Garcia and Ihosvany Rodriguez. Also new to the corps de ballet are Grace-Anne Powers, a former member of La La La Human Steps of Montreal and Alison Stroming, a former dancer with Alberta Ballet, both women natives of the U.S.

These new comers join Shannon Bynum, Cindy Huang, Lucius Kirst, James Kopecky, Alex Kramer, Brieanna Olson, Francisco Preciado, Annali Rose, Joshua Seibel, Cynthia Sheppard, Sarah Stein, Kendall Teague and Lahna Vanderbush.

The three apprentices are Emma Francis, Nicole Larson and Mariya Oishi.
Francis previously danced with Oregon Ballet Theatre.

George Daugherty will continue as Music Director. Those who have been fans of Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun look forward to her performances as a principal.

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.

Ballet San Jose’s Spring Season 2012, Program I

4 Mar

Following  the controversy at 2011’s end, Ballet San Jose mounted the first of three spring programs March 2-4 at San Jose’s Center for the Performing Arts, featuring
two ballets brought through its new collaboration with American Ballet Theatre and
Graduation Ball, mounted by Ballet San Jose’s principal ballet master Raymond Rodriguez.

The first two ballets were  Paquita, its variations staged by Susan Jones, and Jerome Robbins’ second ballet, Interplay,mounted by Edward Verso and Wes Chapman from ABT.  The program marked the first in memory minus live orchestra; a further irony lay in the fact former artistic director Dennis Nahat had himself danced in Interplay while he was an eleven-year member of American Ballet Theatre.

Paquita was initially premiered at the Paris Opera in 1846 and in St Petersburg in 1847.  The version seen was revived by Marius Petipa in 1881. Its bon-bon-in-silver- and-gold foil qualities must have been hugely enjoyed by balletomanes in that imperial city, for the women’s port de bras must be liquid grace with heads, epaulement,torsos gently inclined while the feet stab the floor like steel daggers.

Maykel Solas, the sole male and in white body tights, was given a toreador tunic laden with golden filigree; for all his competence in partnering and skillful  variation. the effect made him seem hunched.

The surprise was assigning the principal role to Amy Marie Briones, a member of the corps since 2006, who danced Myrthe in the 2010 production of Giselle.  Briones is full-bodied, her waist a little high, technically very strong; she dearly loves to dance and shares that love with the audience. She is able to engage the spectator in much the same refreshing style as Evelyn Cisnernos, former San Francisco Ballet principal.  Briones needs to acquire more nuanced dancing which will emerge with appropriate coaching; right now her fouettes, frequently doubles, are rendered in nearly unwavering spot-on position.  Despite a momentary flub near the end, it was an “ah” moment of gratifying  correctness.

In the four supporting variations Junna Ige was musical, her port de bras graceful  accessories to her jetes followed by pauses and Shannon Bynum’s attitudes shared a like phrasing.

Paquita demonstrated that the San Jose dancers require sharpening; rigorous classical assignments in programming will build just that.

The eight dancers cast in Jerome Robbins Interplay enjoyed their assignment ; they could have been classmates in my home town, thanks to the openness of the choreography.  It was like seeing the faint blueprint resulting many years later in Dances at a Gathering. Interplay, however is directly akin to Fancy Free and precursor to West Side Story.  Maykel Solas danced Horseplay effectively, Jing Zhang and Jeremy Kovitch rendered a restrained romantic pas de deux and the Team Play brought the other dancers, Amy Marie Briones, Mirai Noda, Lahna Vanderbush, Seth Parker and Akira Takahashi into full exposure.  For the writer, it is a piece of nostalgia, having seen some of the early Ballet Theatre exponents in the ballet: Ruth Ann Koesun, Eric Braun, Johnny Kriza.

Closing the program with a revival of Graduation Ballet, Ballet San Jose presented a ballet created by David  Lichine for Colonel de Basil’s Original Ballet Russe February 28, 1940. Premiered in Sydney, Australia, when World War II was just six months old, Aussie soldiers were being shipped to Europe.

Creating an evocation of mid-nineteenth century Vienna to the effervescent Strauss waltzes, Lichine created a romp of youth in schools for the privileged that remains engaging despite being 72 years old, and one of the very few remaining active in company repertoires, including American Ballet Theatre

The ballet allowed Raymond Rodriguez as the arthritic, gimpy legged general and Karen Gabay in the pig-tailed role created by Tatiana Riabouchinska to demonstrate what decades of performing can bring to an assignment, consistency, depth and utter focus.  Maximo Califano assumed the role of headmistress, giving the flirtation with the general a visual Mutt and Jeff component, while Briones and Zhang were assigned the competition fouettes.  Ramon Moreno and Junna Ige appeared, dazzling in white, in the pas de deux which replaced the original  Scotsman and the Sylph.  Hopefully, the powder puffs at the beginning and the talismans at
the end will see Graduation Ball enjoying its centennial.