Tag Archives: Stanton Welch

Young San Francisco and Houston Dancers

23 Nov

Last year San Francisco Ballet School and the Houston Ballet Academy commenced a two-week exchange for their advanced students, Called Houston Ballet II and in San Francisco Ballet School Trainees. This past late October and early November the exchange occurred in San Francisco with two performances scheduled as the climax of the exchange.

Overall responsibility was shared by the artistic directors, Stanton Welch for Houston and Helgi Tomasson in San Francisco with the details arranged by Shelly Power, House Ballet Academy’s director and Patrick Armand, SFB’s Associate School Director. The nitty-gritty of scheduling and rehearsals clearly was the province of Claudio Munoz and Sabrina Lenzi from Houston and Wendy Van Dyck in San Francisco. Additionally, James Sofranko, San Francisco Ballet soloist, contributed his second work for the young local dancers. Both November 6 and 7 performances were seen in the Lew Christensen Studio at the Franklin
Street location of San Francisco Ballet.

Houston Ballet II comprised thirteen dancers, with three dancers from the Ballet Academy. San Francisco Ballet also had thirteen trainees augmented by several advanced SFB students for the Handel finale. The Houston dancers are on the smallish side, San Francisco’s taller, with the exception of one or two young Asian women .

I saw the November 7 performance, comprised of three works: Sofranko’s Means to an End; Welch’s The Long and Winding Road, ending with Helgi Tomasson’s Handel- A Celebration.

James Sofranko’s Means to an End utilized eight dancers in interesting stop, start, parallel stage movements, entrances and exits down stage left and upstage right as I remember. I found my interest piqued, but need to see it again – I am not that good on a quick first take. The dancers were Blake Johnston, Larkin Miller, Yumi Kanazawa, Joseph Warton, Natasha Sheehan, Nathaniel Remez, Shane Lazarus and David Occhipini

Beatles Go Baroque by Peter Breiner provided the musical background for Stanton Welch’s The Long and Winding Road with titles like Michelle, And I Love Her, Fool on the Hill, Paperback Writer, Here Comes the Sun, Carry That Weight, songs which must mean something to Beatles fans. The dancers slipped in an out of the improvised wings, at least three on each side as I remember.

Of the Houston Dancers my program showed marks for Daniel Durrett, Larkin Miller, and Anabel Katsnelson, along with Alexandra Burman and Jack Thomas. This was because they were featured in Handel A Celebration, an early Helgi Tomasson piece for San Francisco Ballet. A number of the level 8 dancers also participated, since it was a piece designed as a finale for the entire company.

I love the music, with Tomasson’s arm sweeps carryimg through Handel’s capacity for grand sound, a definite declarative phrasing. Annabel Katsnelson of Houston danced section IV, which I would swear was Elizabeth Loscavio’s nimble contribution. Madison Young and Syvert Lorenz Garcia undertook the diagonal approaches once danced by Joanna Berman lower stage left and Anthony Randazzo from upper stage right, the music to which the song “Where’er You Walk” were added, conjuring court costumes fashioned from elegant brocades.

When the program was over and after generous applause, the dancers introduced themselves. Name and age came out strong, but diffidence tended to swallow their city or country of origin, save one husky San Francisco trainee.

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The Joffrey Ballet Returns to Zellerbach

5 Apr

The Joffrey Ballet, now under the artistic direction of Ashley Wheater, a former Joffrey Ballet member and lengthy veteran of San Francisco Ballet’s artistic staff, came to Zellerbach March 14 and 15. I saw the matinee on March 15, and have to say I left my glasses at home. The dancers therefore were not very distinct even sitting in Row G, but the music was loud, clear and, mostly lengthy.

The moves clearly impressed themselves on an enthusiastic audience, probably one of the most responsive and willing any theatrical or musical performer has the good luck to enjoy.

There were three ballets and a pas de deux, all from contemporary choreographers; two have strong ties with San Francisco Ballet; Val Caniparoli and Yuri Possokhov. It was canny of Wheater to include them in the local Joffrey appearance. I think he was determined to assert the historic Joffrey profile as being au courant as much as the Joffrey also demonstrates a sense of history with works like Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table. The Chicago repertoire includes Don Quixote;soon Christopher Wheeldon’s interpretation of Swan Lake,. No one can accuse the company of losing sight of or involvement with the classics. Robert Joffrey’s Nutcracker pointed the way as did the very early Conservitoriat of Auguste Bournonville..

Caniparoli’s piece,Incantations, concerned itself with introspection to a very long, arduous score by Alexandre Rabinovitch-Barakovsky; there was virtually no way the piece could be cut and remain coherent; Caniparoli
adhered to every phrase, allowing toes to point, legs to lift into attitudes and arabesques, smoothly partnered, reflected the lengthy employment of chimes. I am afraid my attention span wants to edit length.

Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili danced Yuri Possokhov’s Bells, set to Rachmaninoff’s Piano Sonata #2. Murkily lit, beautifully danced, there is
something magnetic when Possokhov’s reliance on Russian composers features two dancers trained in the current Russian teaching tradition who also are husband and wife. San Francisco Ballet possesses at least two such couples, They make clear legal intimacy elsewhere helps to foster a special innerness when dancing in a contemporary work without narrative. Someone remarked “They don’t show relationship.” My take was relationship was so strong obvious manifestations wasn’t needed.

Alexandre Ekman’s Episode 31 possessed a certain zaniness about it which echoed faintly some of the Arpino cheekiness, while still being very different. His screen images at the back, the rushings around the stage made me wonder whether it was his reflection of observing workaday life in Chicago. The Joffrey Ballet is housed in the heart of downtown Chicago, so bustle and the El are routinely present. Chicago dwellers must have loved it, recognizing the stop and start, the energy the dancers poured into the work.

As to Stanton Welch’s ballet to the music of John Adams, I remember little except the pleasure of seeing Rory Hohenstein providing a skillful, substantial contribution.

In Dancetabs.com Aimee T’sao expressed the hope that Cal Performances finds a way to give the Joffrey a yearly slot as it allows for the Ailey and Mark Morris ensembles. While I think it unlikely on a yearly basis, I endorse seeing them every other year. Berkeley was an important place in the Joffrey some forty years ago, thanks to the touring program the Dance Program of the NEA fostered for all too brief a time.

Arpino’s Trinity was premiered at the Zellerbach before the Joffrey began to be sponsored by the San Francisco Symphony whose musicians provided the music the Joffrey danced to. It all vanished when the Symphony moved into Davies Symphony Hall and the Opera and Ballet claimed San Francisco’s Opera House all for themselves. No more American Ballet Theatre in February; no more Joffrey Ballet in June; no more theatre space of 2,000-2,500 seats to entice companies to negotiate dates to appear anywhere West or South of San Francisco’s Embarcadero. Apparently, Mayor Ed Lee and others governing San Francisco’s 49 square miles, have no plans for such a theatre, easily accessed, with sufficient parking space to draw a crowd which loves something in addition to rock, hockey, baseball and football.

Still, I want to see Arpino’s Kettentanz again.

Ballet San Jose’s Neo Classical Masters, March 22

15 Apr

Ballet San Jose branched out not only to repeat Sir Frederick Ashton’s Meditations from Thais, but adding his early work, LesRendezvous to its March program, repeating Stanton Welch’s Clear and Clark Tippet’s Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1.  An added draw was Rachel Lee as guest violinist with the small, lively orchestra led by George Daugherty with his usual verve.

It’s rare for Ballet San Jose to repeat a ballet in one season or in back to back seasons.  Dennis Nahat did repeat works but with more than one or two seasons between.  I suspect the company felt the need a) to expose the San Jose audience to a number of good choreographers and revivals because b) that will keep them coming.  The company’s seasons were truncated during the Recession; it remains to be seen when it will return to four spring performances in addition to The Nutcracker, let alone add a fifth.

Les Rendezvous echoes the blithe, crisp tone of Daniel Francoisc Espirt Auber’s music and displays young men posturing a la “pip pip old boy” or “jolly good” as they enter and exit the stage.  The girls are suitably demure in white with pink-bordered skirts,  designed by William Chappell, a mainstay figure in pre-World War II London ballet circles.  Vivacity and The Old School in the Young Bloods might have been a suitable sub-title. Some themes are perennial for this ringer for an opener.  They run one  girl with two or three suitors, here Junna Ige with Alex Kramer and Francisco Preciado; a happy couple, here the confident Amy Marie Briones and Maykel Solas; finally, the gaggle of young women speculating about the young men who in turn are curious about the young women.  The port de bras looked Cecchetti influenced, but the entrances, exits and ensembles were fresh and wonderful, despite its 1933 debut; this work is one lively 80 year old senior.

Ashton’s Meditation from Thais to Jules Massenet’s perennial interlude provided a showcase for Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun’s sustained adagio and warm, liquid port de bras.  She conveyed a dreamy sensuality to this courtesan whose beauty invades a monk’s mind., and was ably partnered by Jeremy Kovitch. Rachel Lee’s violin helped infuse the languor Ashton built into this deceptively simple pas de deux; its creators, Anthony Dowell and Antoinette Sibley acknowledged was “a killer” to dance. At its premiere Ashton induced the audience to want it repeated!

Jing Zhang substituted for Alexsandra Meijer in Stanton Welch’s Clear, set to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto in Gi minor. Zhang’s attack was strong and impersonal in the work Welch acknowledged having been influenced by his presence in New  York on 9/11/2001.  Save for Zhang’s minimal role at the end, it’s a man’s work and they clearly rose to the challenge.

Clark Tippet’s Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 required major exposure to four couples, the women dressed in different colors. Junna Ige and Mayfel Solas led the ensemble while Mirai Noda and Akira Takahashi made the fourth.  Predictably Amy Marie Briones and Maximo Califano were not only red but danced the assertive portions of the 1866 virtuosic violin challenge.  In blue Alexsandra Meijer and Jeremy Kovitch danced the adagio.  Meijer danced correctly but without a particular focus on either mood or music.

Rachel Lee’s rendition of three standard but important violin works justly made her the heroine of the program.

The weekend of April 19-20-20 will see Ballet San Jose dance a work by Merce Cunningham and a premiere by Jessica Lange. Following the April 21 matinee, the company will stage a 7 p.m. farewell celebration for Karen Gabay.  After 30 years and an affiliation which started in Cleveland with Dennis Nahat and Ian Horvath, Gabay is moving on to other realms, one of which is rumored to be American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.

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.