Tag Archives: susan Magno

San Francisco Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet on Film

24 Sep

At a September 21 preview in San Francisco’s Century Theatre, housed in the old Emporium building, a selected audience saw San Francisco’s current Romeo and Juliet production which starts the Lincoln Center at the Movies series October 1. While it is not PBS’ Great Performances series in which Michael Smuin’s version opened the dance series to full-length ballets, the Helgi Tomasson version enjoyed a remarkable production thanks to Thomas Grimm, and the various fiscal sponsors acknowledged by Tomasson and on the screen.

What made a notable difference from the early PBS series, created by the memorable trio of Merrill Brockway, Jak Venza and Judy Kinberg, were the use of closeups and deliberate cutting of movement, filmed May 7 at San Francisco’s Opera House. Cuts to an individual face or chest shots infused more drama than long shots with feet and body moving to the Prokofiev score. In addition, shots of the towns people and the harlots during the action added to the overall ambiance, the sense of a small interactive community.

Maria Kochekova and Davit Karapetyan were the fated lovers, supported by Pascal Molat as Mercutio and Luke Ingham as Tybalt with Joseph Walsh as Benvolio. Anita Paciotti reprised her role as the Nurse; Jim Sohm stepped eloquently in as Friar Lawrence while Ricardo Bustamonte and Sophiane Sylve were the steely Capulets, Ruben Martin and Leslie Escobar the Montagues. Myles Thatcher, the choreographic wunderkind of the corps, was a blond Paris. [Readers of my earlier SFB R&J review know my feelings about a too-early age of County Paris.]

There were at least three interviews between the acts, which were identified on the upper left, along with quotations from Will’s play; Helgi Tomasson; Warren Pistone who doubles as sword master and the Prince of Verona; Anita Paciotti
who speaks of the use of children in the production. Additional comments included Davit Karapetyan, Maria Kochetkova and Pascal Molat regarding the roles and the challenges of the fight scenes. Kochetkova was quite coy.

The handsome production additionally featured Martin West commenting on the score, the costume and makeup departments received their share of footage along with a small group of children making their contribution. I would pay to see the movie again.

The following evening, at a gathering to celebrate the 41st wedding anniversary of Carlos and Carolyn Carvajal Tony Ness, former San Francisco Ballet dancer who belonged to the Smuin era of the PBS filming of Smuin’s reading of Shakespeare’s tragedy to Prokofiev’s music, was present. He refreshed my memories of the Smuin production, both for the premiere and the PBS production when Diana Weber and Jim Sohm were the ill-fated teens with Anita Paciotti as Lady Capulet, Attila Ficzere as Mercutio, Gary Wahl as Tybalt, and Tina Santos the nurse.

At Smuin’s premiere, Vane Vest and Lynda Meyer were Romeo and Juliet and Anita Paciotti was the nurse. The balcony was upstage right and the entire set designed so that it could travel, a fact heading the review for The Christian Science Monitor. Tony was the Duke of Verona, but the PBS version placed Vest in the role. Paula Tracy appeared as Lady Capulet with Keith Martin and Susan Magno as the street dancers in the original production. Magno later danced Juliet with Tom Ruud and Jim Sohm. There were a succession of dancers in the roles – David McNaughton with Linda Montaner and later Alexander Topciy with Evelyn Cisneros. I believe Smuin’s production was later mounted by Ballet West, a natural connection for Smuin’s dance career started under Willam Christensen.

Most touching, however, in the PBS version Lew Christensen was Friar Lawrence. I also couldn’t help thinking of the succession of roles Sohm has assumed with such finesse following his active dance career; Grandfather in Nutcracker; Don Quixote in that ballet and now Friar Lawrence.

Earlier Tomasson Romeos, Anthony Randazzo, Yuri Possokhov, Pierre Francois Villanoba, and Joanna Berman’s Juliet, also floated to the surface. Clearly, the Tomasson production, elegant as it is, beautifully realized by the dancers, prompted memory lane meanderings.

Lew Christensen’s Legacy

1 Jan

With Virginia “Ginny” Johnson’s death September 21, 2011, Lew Christensen’s
balletic legacy faces an uncertain future.  Ginny was responsible for mounting
his ballets on companies desiring a Christensen work in its repertoire. Christensen’s widow, Gisella Caccialanza, gave San Francisco Ballet permission to accomplish its own revivals so long as there was someone in its ranks who worked with Lew and danced in the ballet.  The last works the company has revived were “Con Amore” and “Filling Station;” outside of “Jinx”, they perhaps are the best known.

Given the Christensen brothers’ background in vaudeville, many of Lew’s works are not only story-based, but filled with business, the business of situational movement. This vaudeville background was first demonstrated in Lew’s 1938 Ballet Caravan choreographic debut, “Filling Station.” Those who have seen it know the horseplay by the truck drivers, the eerie chase with flash lights after the lights have been switched off.  How much of this was the Lincoln Kirstein libretto might be questioned, but Lew knew what caught an audience’s attention.  The same can be said of “Jinx,” created in 1942 while Lew was waiting to be called into the Army.

Vaudeville  manifested itself in “Con Amore,” not only in the plot, but in the fake trees used by the Amazons, their pursuit of the pirate, foot flirtations by the errant wife,  the presence of Cupid and the final aiming of Cupid’s arrow on the student. In Lew’s “Don Juan,” 1975, few who saw it will forget the chase in the nunnery. In “Scarlatti,” Harlequin’s hoop dance earned a bronze medal for choreography at the inaugural international competition in Jackson, Mississippi and helped David MacNaughton to walk away with a senior men’s silver medal.

Given the company’s practice, there may well be archival video footage of other works which could provide guidance in reviving some of the works.  There are additional memorable works, like “Shadows” and “Divertissement d’Auber,” in which every young male dance in the company in the ‘60’s possessed of a  decent jump was cast: Roderick Drew, Michael Smuin, Terry Orr, David Coll all come to mind.  There may have been others created during the summer sessions in the upstairs convertible studio on 18th Avenue.  I believe 18th avenue was the site of the first performances of “Il Distratto,” rendered memorable because it provided disembodied legs as part of its source for chuckles. Ballet San Jose mounted it during this century’s first decade.

“Original Sin” was created during one of the brief spring seasons the company occupied the former Alcazar Theater. I seem to remember two rather witty works for the same venue, one of them “Stravinsky’s Danses Concertantes” and another “Pied Piper,” or some such name with lots of green in the costumes and a version of medieval ramparts as part of the scenery.  A more romantic work was “The Lady of Shallott,” an exclusive vehicle for Jocelyn Vollmar with Kent Stowell, retired co-artistic director of  Pacific Northwest Ballet, featured as one of the knights passing through the Lady’s vision. “Norwegian Moods” has to wait about a decade and it formed a pas de deux danced by Susan Magno and Keith Martin, former Joffrey and Royal Ballet soloists,a work both tender and lively.

Lew’s choreography suffered because of the technical level of dancers passing through the school.  The female students seemed a little strident during thebetter part of the ’60’s as Lew strived to stand his company technically that  of New York City Ballet.  While the level of dancing rose markedly when Michael Smuin brought several dancers west with him to share co-artistic direction, Lew’s snow scene in his Nutcracker Act I early distinguished itself for the swirling movement of the dancers, catching the feeling of wind pushing the snowflakes into drifts.

One hopes that a company suddenly will remember several of these ‘oldies
and goodies’ so they won’t get entirely consigned to the written word or
the limited life span of videotape or DVDs.