Tag Archives: Sir Frederick Ashton

Ballet Philippines Blue Moon Series

24 Nov

Arriving in the Philippines in late September, I was able to see the opening performance of Ballet Philippines’ Blue Moon Gala program on September 26 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The CCP as it is called locally is situated just off Roxas Boulevard, once named Dewey by the Manifest Destiny proponents when colonizing the Philippines after the Admiral decimated the Spanish Fleet in Manila Bay. The Boulevard runs not far from the edge of Manila Bay itself and must once upon a time been quite scenic; it still is pleasant, but traffic, trash and transients in various combinations have diminished its impressiveness. I can remember a Thursday afternoon in late April 1966 when a group of Filipinos gathered around a heaping spread of off white boulders, the women in their Butterfly-sleeved dresses and the men in gossamer barong tagalogs to witness the dedication of the future CCP, presided over by President Ferdinand Marcos and wife Imelda during their first term of office.

Nearly a half century later, CCP has some problems and some successes; the former concerns a theatre no longer usable, reputed to be sinking into Manila Bay, built at the expense of workmen’s lives at the insistence of Imelda Marcos; construction required completion to impress an imminent international conference. The success includes the residency of Ballet Philippines and the scarlet hued auditorium where BP was celebrating its 35th anniversary.

Had travel plans allowed seeing BP’s production of Giselle I would have a more coherent view of the company’s strengths – as it was, the diversity informed me the company dances contemporary styles extremely well, full out and with passion. I remembered in particular the pas de deux which Candice Adea and Jean Marc Codero danced at the 2010 USA IIBC in Jackson – Evacuation, created in Europe in 1995, still all too relevant in 2014, although one wonders how the Islamic dress code for would allow Adea the range of movement that late twentieth century work required. It is a notable work, but sadly, not performed in the United States, and thought by some San Francisco dance exponents to be a little “old hat.” So much for cross-cultural sensibilities!

Cesar and I arrived just as Je Tu Elle was starting. Danced to Vangelis music, Redha Bontelfour choreographed Je Tu Elle for a female cast of five dancers, strong technicians. With pirouettes and grand jetes and typical resting postures of dancers – hands with elbows out on the hips, either side or in the small of the back, leaning forward with one knee bent over a foot en pointe, a series of bravura variations were given to each dancer. They prowled around the space awaiting their tour, watchful, ready. In short black costumes, varied in torso treatment, the five could just have easily been dressed as Amazons practicing war maneuvers. Scarcely your typical toeshoe demeanor.

Je Tu Fille or I You [intimate] Girl, provided an instant read of the dancers’ energies, their strong attack, the curves of short dancers, thoroughly competent, a silhouette one doesn’t see in ballet troupes on the Pacific Ocean’seastern shores.

In an abupt thematic shift, Candace Adea, now a soloist with Hong Kong Ballet, made a brief appearance in Kitri’s variation from Don Quixote, blithe, sparkling but rushing a bit to recorded music. She experienced a fall, but made a quick rebound.

The Philippine Madrigal Singers lent presence and voices to Alice Reyes’ Bungkos Suite, four dances in the festive attire one expects to see on Filipinos celebrating, dancers moving gracefully and laterally, with slight individual swoops, circlings and ensemble skill, the image one expects to see when Bayanihan visits the United States.

Earl John Arisola danced Max Luna’s Cold Song, a tribute to the late Alvin Ailey to music by Klaus Nomi. Arisola was expected to convey involvement in three conflicting relationships. He danced well and passionately, but about the three relationships, the choreographer’s intent was a bit much for any solo assignment.

Prior to intermission George Birkadze’s Farandole was danced to the music of Georges Bizet. Six dancers were involved with Jean Marc Cordero and Jemima Reyes soloists in Spanish-flavored style.

Candace Adea made a second appearance with Shen Je, another Hong Kong Ballet soloist, dancing to Sylvain Chauveau’s music. Joseph Morrissey choreographed this pas de deux, titled Poised, to depict two individuals who meet, greet and entwine, returning to separate lives.

Technical, admirably interpreted, I kept wondering about the feeling of detachment until I caught up with program notes. Their
interpretation then made perfect sense.

Three numbers in the second half enjoyed musical support from nineteenth and twentieth century classical canon: Agnes Locsin’s Salome to Isaac Albeniz; Carlos Pacis’Nocturne to Felix Mendelssohn’s Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, and Gustav Mahler’s Songs of the Wayfarer for Norman Mailer’s closing work of the same name.

The theme of Salome is one of a sweetheart separated from her lover due to the Spanish revolutionary movement, interpreted by Kris-Belle Pacibar-Mamangun, an eight-year veteran with one of Cirque de Soleil’s productions. The origins of Locsin’s themes eludes me, only familiar with the Biblical femme fatale and the head of St. John the Baptist. I was puzzled, if dazzled by the strength and fire of the piece interpreted with admirable strength and focus by Pacibarf-Mamangun. Her floor work was particularly impressive; at one point from a prone position, legs and feet tucked under her torso, she rose to sitting position with abdominal muscles so amazing that the audience burst into applause.

Carlos Pacis’ Nocturne required Jean Marc Cordero and Katherine Trofeo to approach each other with measured, ceremonious walk in front of the orchestra pit, clad in pinkish flesh tights and pixie-like helmets with crown peaks. Floral-like appliques were applied on their respective torsos to simulate a modesty contradicting the revealing elastic underlay. Contrasted with the push-pull so remembered in Sir Frederick Ashton’s version, Pacis preferred to emphasize Mendelssohn’s melodic swell with lifts. Cordero and Trofeo were nicely matched in size, giving a sense of water sprites at play.

Songs of a Wayfarer is a revival, apparently of a 1973 work for BP by Norman Walker, of love lost, love searched for, and the heart reconciled, depicted via a circular-shaped column of lighted strands at center stage left into which the Wayfarer [Richardson Yadao] moves at the end to be reconciled with his love [Carissa Adea]. Earl John Arisola was the fortunate bridegroom, who made such an impression in his solo, Cold Song choreographed by Max Luna, music by Klaus Nomi.

As a stranger to Manila programming customs, I found it a bit disconcerting to see artistic personnel featured in the program prior to the program listing,usually the opposite in the U.S.

Also in the United States, shorter dancers have a tougher time of it with ensemble companies. If some brilliant exceptions are recorded as defying this norm, another norm expects women with minimal curves and overall, classic proportions. These proportions are standard, regardless of gender.The historic virtuosity of Italian male dancers, strongly muscled, torsos longer then legs, has somehow been forgotten. I wonder what Njinsky’s build would bring him in today’s auditions.


Words on Dance Celebrates Twenty Years With Tanny

26 Feb

For ballet lovers with a grasp of history, the name Tanny conjures up one of the most elegant dancers ever to have graced American ballet floors.

Tanny, of course, refers to Tanaquil le Clerq, the willowy dancer who so enlivened my eyes in New York City in 1951-52 when I saw her in George Balanchine’s La Valse and in Sir Frederick Ashton’s Illuminations. I must have seen her in other works, but these linger. When New York City Ballet came to San Francisco in the ‘Fifties, I think I also saw her, totally dashing in the final movement of Western Symphony, that spoof that Balanchine did so well on hokey Westernisms.

Deborah Kaufman, who is the chief cook and bottle washer of Words on Dance, is bringing a tribute, a reflection and a memory of Le Clerq to the Opera Cinema, Friday, March 31, 2014 with “Afternoon of a Faun, Tanaquil Le Clerq,” a film by Nancy Buirski. Buirski will make an appearance and converse with Anita Paciotti, one of San Francisco Ballet’s Ballet Mistress.

Entrance to this showing, $45, will include an after-showing event in a nearby restaurant.

In my more breathless fan days I wrote Le Clerq a fan letter. She responded with a image in her role as Sacred Love in Les Illuminations and graced it with the comment, “With thanks for the wonderful letter.” A friend remarked, “She’s also grammatical.”

S.F. Ballet’s Guests from Hamburg, February 13

20 Feb

For the second time, San Francisco Ballet has facilitated large-scale collaboration with John Neumeier’s Hamburg Ballet. This time, rather than a ballet mounted on San Francisco Ballet, it was the entire Hamburg Ballet with Neumeier’s 1977 version of Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. I saw the second of two performances with guest artist Alina Cojocaru as Tatiana/Hippolyta and Alexandre Riabokov as Oberon/Theseus. Jurgen Rose was responsible for costume and stage designs, and Michael Schmidtsdorff conducted San Francisco Ballet’s orchestra in Felix Mendelsohn and Gyorgy Ligeti music.

The staging was both grand and minimal, the opening consisting largely of an Empire chaise lounge mid-stage right, wonderful draperies with a slightly off-center entrance in back; Carlos Carvajal pointed out to me gives a greater depth and play for the choreographer’s invention.

Hippolyta observes as Helena and Hermia have dealings with Demetrius and Lysander; all manner of fussing is made over the length and design of the wedding train nearly the length of San Francisco’s Opera’s stage. Theseus makes his entrance, flirting a little with the court minions before gifting Hippoltya with a rose. The craftsmen, better known in Shakespeare as The Rustics, ask permission to perform at the wedding, which Hippolyta grants.

Neumeier’s Act II goes almost extra-terrestrial; the dancers, in silvered unitards, are head-ensnared capped – who the subordinate fairies were I do not hazard a guess. I was intrigued with the movable tree thickets, silvered and squiggly behind which characters could emerge or use as shelter. Tatiana and Oberon were given glimmering gold outfits to distinguish them, and the rustics happily remained their disheveled selves. As Tatiana awakes to be enchanted with Bottom, Neumeier gave her distinctly lusty movements. Arthur Mitchell spoiled me when it comes to Puck – the Hamburg role was trippingly on the tongue, effete.

Act III was appropriately grand. I’m sure the Hapsburgs or the ghosts of Imperial Russia would have agreed with the serried ranks of embellished tunics and delicate dancers en pointe. Cojocaru and Riabokov were both passionate in the beginning, regal in their entrance and elegant in the grand pas de deux, departing in grand style.

The rustics, in slightly changed costumes, did a suitably raucous, over-wrought tale of Pyramus and Thisbe, adding deliberately inept pointe work to the mix accompanied by organ grinder music with a phrase or two of Italian opera to the mix,eliciting lots of laughter.

Puck/Major domo did a more impressive job here, down to the final curtain, only to be upstaged by the return of Tatiana and Oberon in what must have required at least two costumers each to make the transition. Registering that feat almost simultaneously with the appearance indicates admiration for production skills but implies scarce enchantment with the proceedings.

You know, theater is contrived and technology makes for all sorts of effects. But does it warm or awe the heart? I want to be captured emotionally, but remained behind an invisible screen. Perhaps that works in Hamburg; despite the rapturous applause the San Francisco audience provided, I found myself with the usual workaday responses, recalling, along with Carlos Carvajal, cherished memories of Sir Frederick Ashton’s rendering of the same Shakespearean tale.

Ballet San Jose’s Gala November 3

11 Nov

For the first time, Ballet San Jose opened its season with a Gala, featuring a company premiere, war horse pas de deux, some excerpts and a full short ballet culled from American Ballet Theatre’s repertoire.  It also resurrected the use of a full orchestra, led by George Daugherty,  missing in the spring season, its first without its founding artistic director Dennis Nahat.  The program was the joint selection of  Artistic Advisor Wes Chapman and Ballet Master Raymond Rodriguez.

A Gala is designed to whip up interest for the later season, displaying the company roster to  advantage after a fund-minded dinner and before a congratulatory post-performance event. Entering the Frank Lloyd Wright auditorium, characterized everywhere without a center aisle, the front orchestra rows, some eight or so, were vacant, clearly meant for the audience paying $1000 for the privilege, $800 of which was to support a Ballet San Jose community-related activity.

Seated center orchestra, mid-way up, I found myself behind a massive head of white hair; after switching for the final work, a tall head inclined to move to the music, hazards of the no aisle seating arrangement.  The program itself featured an obviously staged photo by Quinn Wharton, dominated by a brunette in a short strapless dress, one knee up on a black backed chair.Its purpose seemed to convey patroness in front of the dancers, two men and a dancer in tutu in broad fourth position, one man on the left stripped to the waist, apparently warming up using scenery for his  barre and the street clothed male to the right, leaping while holding on to a stick.

However, The Nutcracker’s Waltz of the Flowers opened the program featuring eight couples, the women’s knee-length costumes in shades of peach and with paniers, the men sporting green tights with grey vests, flowers and their stems.  This was the first view of Karen Gabay’s take on the holiday staple which will be premiered fully in December.  While the Waltz lacked the focus of a central couple, Gabay’s use of symmetry, varying groups of four to eight and several grand circles, both as couples and men versus women, proved easy on the eyes and agreeable to the mood.  Rita Felciano remarked, “After all, the waltz has always been a couple dance.”

Sir Frederick Ashton’s creation to Jules Massenet’s “Meditation from Thais,” followed with its quasi-oriental garment design by Sir Anthony Dowell,  original male partner to Dame Antoinette Sibley’s Thais.  Subsequent performers have had a hard time matching their supple classicism or conveying that the courtesan Thais is a projection of the Monk’s imagination.  It’s a hard business being very physical, a priest, in his imagination lusting for  the courtesan while pretending she should lead a celibate life in the desert.

This tricky pas de deux, staged by Bruce Sansom, former Royal Ballet principal, was interpreted by Rudy Candia and Alexsandra Meijer with Rachel Lee as violinist.  Meijer’s elegant legs,  displayed to advantage,  were given support by Candia, but ease was missing, Meijer  more austere than evanescent.

From late nineteenth century romanticism Edward Stierle’s athletic, heavily emotional solo from the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Requiem was an explosive contrast.  Created by Stierle as he was dying from AIDS, Lacrymosa challenged Joshua Seibel to start and end with shoulder stands, legs stretched towards the ceiling.  In between, turns, tumbles and other gymnastic skills were required.  I had seen Brooklyn Mack dance it to recorded music at the Jackson Competition in 2010 in tribute to Stierle, but here both sides of the stage apron were filled with The Golden Gate Boys Choir Master Singers dressed in white middies with red ties and skirts who supported soprano Kristin Clayton.  It’s great to employ the community but the contrast jarred.

To see Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun make her Ballet San Jose debut dancing to Bach in Stanton Welch’s ballet Clear was sheer pleasure. With  Jeremy Kovitch, the two echoed the adagio in this work highly influenced by 9/11.  Pipit-Suksun’s musical line, thorough has an unforced finish.  Her emotional presence within the strict demands of this Western classical form flows beyond its boundaries.  In this elegiac pas de deux Pipit-Suksun delivered quiet consolation; later she was pert ensemble  accent  in  Stars and Stripes.  I’m glad  she is still dancing  to Bay Area audiences.

Junna Ige and Maykel Solas danced in white for the Act III pas de deux from Don Quixote. Had they been backed by a set, the costumes would have been fine; as stand alone bravura it needs more flash in the attire.  They are a nicely matched, charming  pair.  In well-schooled Japanese style,  Ige eschews  accent to her finishes. Demure,  a little emphasis is in order, along with consistency in the working foot in fouettes; they tended to become flaccid after the initial thrust.  Solas was, as always, consistent.

Dalia Rawson arranged a complicated mixture of the Ballet San Jose students to Tchaikovsky’s polonaise finale,  a visual announcement of enrollment and instruction,  the new school direction and training based on the American Ballet Theatre curriculum. There was definitely a lot to be seen from tots to teenagers, beginners to apprentice-worthy adolescents.  She used lines, circles, entrances and exits to accomplish the presentation. The audience just loved it, cheering as it did through most of the evening.

Balanchine’s Fifth Campaign from Stars and Stripes brought the full company on stage, if giving Ramon Moreno, Maria Jacobs-Yu and Karen Gabay cameo appearances.  Usually an evening’s ending work, it still was infectious.

The late Clark Tippet’s Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 provided the evening’s finale, allowing four couples solo variations with eight couples as support  Tippet attempted to differentiate the various themes, a little puckish and flirtation by Mirai Noda and Ramon Moreno, sparkle by Junna Ige and Maykel Solas.  Strong assertion by Amy Marie Briones and Maximo Califano demonstrated that Briones’ attack and flair is definite stimulus to Califano.  Alexsandra Meijer and Jeremy Kovitch were paired for the adagio. Meijer’s admirable line got blocked somewhere in  shoulder and head, individual interpretation at  odds with Rachel Lee’s violin passage.

For a first Gala, Ballet San Jose displayed competence;  it remains committed to pleasing an audience.  One awaits Karen Gabay’s Nutcracker and  2013 to assess  its new trajectory.

Ballet San Jose’s 2012-2013 Season

5 Sep

Ballet San Jose will start its 2012-2013 season with a new Nutcracker, choreographed by veteran company principal Karen Gabay, running December 8-22, 2012.  Sets will be designed by Paul Kelly and costumes by Theoni Aldredge.  Gabay has run a summer company, Pointe of Departure, for several seasons, and seen locally at the Mountain View Center for the Arts.

February 15-17, 2013 the company will premiere the Ludwig Minkus  musical romp, Don Quixote , staged by Wes Chapman, Ballet San Jose’s Artistic Advisor, based on the Marius Petipa-Alexander Gorsky choreography.

March 22-24, 2013 Sir Frederick Ashton’s Les Rendezvous, set to Francois Esprit Auber’s ,music, will receive its company premiere as well as the Jules Massenet’s Meditation from Thais,  created on Sir Anthony Dowell and Dame Antoinette Sibley when they were young principals with The Royal Ballet. Stanton Welch’s Clear to J.S. Bach music, will receive an
encore performance and there will be a revival of Kurt Jooss’ iconic anti-war ballet The Green Table, created in 1932, and instrumental in Jooss’ departure from Germany for England for the remainder of the ’30’s and through the World War II years.

The season will complete itself April 19-21, 2013 with some surprising inclusions of modernity.  These are Jorma Elo’s Glow-Stop set to the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Philip Glass and Merce Cunningham’s Duets, a six couple series of pas de deux performed to the music of John Cage. An additional pas de deux will be announced. Jessica Lang will be represented in a world premiere for the company, represented in the 2012 season with Splendid Isolation III.

Ballet San Jose also has announced a new music director and conductor.  George Daughterty comes with a 30-year record of conducting for the likes of Mikhail Baryshnikov, Rudolf Nureyev, Gelsey Kirkland, Suzanne Farrell and Natalia Makarova in addition to American Ballet Theatre, Munich’s State and La Scala Opera Ballets and The Royal Ballet.  He has been musical director for The Louisville Ballet, Chicago City Ballet and Ballet Chicago.  Guest conducting credits include San Francisco Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, and abroad with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, the Danish National and the Sydney Symphonies.  Nominated for five Emmy Awards, he was awarded a Primetime Emmy for the ABC Network production of Peter and the Wolf.

Company promotions and new members have previously been noted.

San Francisco Ballet’s Gala, January 19, 2012

21 Jan

Helgi Tomasson  knows how to assemble a Gala, mixing charm, bravura, substance, sweetness and, where necessary, pathos and high jinks.

Despite the rain after two months of mild sunlit days, the atmosphere in San Francisco’s Opera House was warm .  Chair of the Board of Trustees , John  Osterweis made the usual  opening remarks, mentioning  the Gala was dedicated to F. Warren Hellman’s memory.  He “went off script” to say  Chris and Warren Hellman had recruited him to the Board  twenty-five years ago and that San Francisco Ballet would not be the company today without  Hellman’s involvement.

The ten item program included six pas de deux, two male numbers, one solo, and the finale ensemble. To commence both halves of the program, Tomasson  featured the company’s strong contingent of men,  opening with Yuri Possokhov’s ensemble from Sergei Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony with Jaime Garcia Castilla, Diego Cruz, Isaac Hernandez, Steven Morse, Benjamin and Matthew Stewart. Separated from the women, the glimpse showed several striking devices;  initially silhouetted, the men  bounded across the stage like young stags, singly, successively and simultaneously and pirouettes executed with arms en haut.

The second half opened with Hans Van Manen’s Solo, a trio of male dancers last seen  when  Peter Brandenhoff, Stephen Legate and  Yuri Possokhov shared their farewell to SFB.  This trio included  Gennadi Nedvigin, Garen Scribner and Hansuke Yamamoto, in reverse order. Van Manen makes the three  prance, jump, wiggle and gesture with increasing complexity to J.S. Bach’s Violin Suite No. 1 in D Minor. Yamamoto was fleet, a bit laconic, Scribner contained , and Nedvigin covered territory like a comic in a Moiseyev  suite.

With Sarah Van Patten, Tiit Helimets, Pascal Molat danced in the scruffy red and blue death figure costume from David Bintley’s The Dance House. Van Patten and Helimets sculpted their roles to the Shostakovich music.

Damian Smith in red tights and white mask danced Val Caniparoli’s Aria, music by Handel.  Smith,  gesturing masterfully in commedia del arte tradition.

Three pas de deux followed ;  Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan with Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky’s pas de deux; Sofiane Sylve and Vito Mazzeo in Christopher Wheeldon’s Continuum, topped off by the Flames of Paris pas de deux with Frances Chung and Taras Domitro.

The Zahorian-Karapetyan rendition of roles created by Violette Verdy and Conrad Ludlow in 1960 differed by size and cultural nuance.  Zahorian’s longer limbs stretched the phrasing from Verdy’s accents, but the choreography was served admirably and Karapetyan partnered his new wife solicitously.  Sylve moved around Mazzeo like a vine expanding tendrils, beginning and finishing with each meeting the other with touching  palms, executed with spare deliberation.  It fell to Domitro  to dance the role created by Chabukiani in Flames of Paris; Domitro added his insouciant habit of pointed foot rising in his grand jetes.  Frances Chung polished her soubrette assignment with crisp pirouettes and traveling  multiple fouettes.

The evening’s greatest charm arrived with Sir Frederick Ashton’s Voices of Spring, Maria Kochetkova spewing rose petals, held aloft by Joan Boada, an ineffable nosegay to  Johann Strauss II’s  melody.  Ashton was a remarkable poet in his ability to depict the essence of a culture, a theme or music.

Yuan Yuan Tan was partnered by Hamburg Ballet’s Alexander Riabko in Lady of the Camellias, John Neumeier’s overwrought rendition to Chopin’s Ballade. The choice of music was overly long and required excessive repetition, calling attention to the repetition and not to the love story. Close to home, Val Caniparoli has created a similar pas de deux seen with Diablo Ballet, much  tighter and closer to the story.

The Gala finished with an excerpt from Christopher Wheeldon’s Number Nine, created for the company in 2011, a work  British spit and polish in its wing-like formations. Four pairs of soloists and eight pairs of supporting corps de ballet exhibited  women with bent knee and arabesque held aloft. In executing similar striking formations, the stage was a bit too busy for all out admiration.

Involving nearly half the company for the finale is a typical Helgi Tomasson  completion for  this consistently interesting Gala..