Tag Archives: The Joffrey Ballet

San Francisco Ballet’s Program Five, Don Q

3 Apr

Even with the umpah nature the Minkus score provides for Don Quixote, it’s a romp;for these creaky old bones, it’s like comfort food as visible signs of the old order, mythical or otherwise, crumbles at each pothole on San Francisco’s principal streets. Only the new dual fuel buses with their accommodating buttons and the hand friendly curve below on the yellow painted metal poles can convince me The City That Knows How is doing exactly that for its motley inhabitants. And it’s really nice that the Civic Center Parking Lot charges only $3 an evening to devotees of ballet’s classical war horses. I grab for reassurance anywhere that the world can still possess moments of “It’s all right Jack!” or similar Cockney cheer. Recently, there has been Lawrence Ferlinghetti for back up on PBS.

My colleagues are swifter, faster, more disciplined when it comes to credits for the make overs of this Petipa production adapted by Gorsky for the Bolshoi Ballet. Gorsky’s influence is felt because Yuri Possokhov, who danced in it, collaborated with Helgi Tomasson on San Francisco Ballet’s production, with its lovely set but some color clashes in Packledinaz’ costuming. The work itself is meant to tease, dazzle technically and embrace romance with just a dusting of Spanish flavor. Marius Petipa must have been far enough away from his own Spanish shenanigans to incorporate them in the original production. Yes indeed, in his early years he was something of a rogue.

My colleagues doubtless have explained that from a small segment of the Spanish novelist’s opus, there was a Kitri; she was extracted and made central to a plot prevalent through most of social history: Daddy, an innkeeper or tapas supplier, wants daughter to marry well and safely; translate money. Daughter wants to choose; in this tale, with the “quixotic” Don and his retainer Sancho Panza it happens with the aid of gypsies and a wind mill, providing the excuse for some very classical 19th century style dancing. In between, sunny Spain provides friends and townsfolk who love to gather in taverns and some toreadors and their romantic partners. Finally with a feigned suicide, the lovers are blessed and the marriage scene is danced with the warhorse pas de deux, which, when done well, gets us all whooping and hollering with delight at the curtain.

Jim Sohm is making an unofficial second career portraying seniors, daft or domestic; he is doing it very well. He’s tall and hefty enough to give Don Quixote a presence and muscle. With Pascal Molat’s minted Sancho Panza, gem-like in his rogue behavior and eye for purloined gluttony, the pair thread through the narrative, making it coherent while still implausible. The selling point of the ballet for me is the contrast between the girl-boy spectacle and the wonderful characterizations possible in stock theatrics. Val Caniparoli and Anita Paciotti provide the cantina parents with Ricardo Bustamonte the inn keeper where papa gets foiled into blessing the pair. Then there is Gamache, which Ruben Martin-Cintas is undertaking for the first time, with all his pastel furbelows and foppish behavior.

We have Carlos Quenedit as Basilio, the penniless barber, opposite Mathilde Froustey as Kitri. Both danced their respective roles before; Carlos with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba and with the Joffrey Ballet before joining San
Francisco Ballet and Froustey with the Paris Opera Ballet. Hard to imagine the Froustey delicacy in Giselle doing a volte face into Spanish spunk. Overall, she
managed it nicely the more she danced; her beginning was a bit tense; her overall portrayal reminded me of the cliche April in Paris rather than Seville in summer.

Quenedit electrified the audience, and deservedly so, in his opening variation; prodigious elevation, crispness and an insouciant command of his whipping tours. (I really don’t understand why international competitions don’t allow this pas de deux as part of their official assignments for prize aspirants.) That accomplished, the performance settled into its narrative and one really good time.

This mood was enhanced by the crispness of Kitri’s girl friends, Doris Andre and Noriko Matsuyama, matched for size and general ebullience. For the major toreador, Espada, and girl friend Mercedes, Daniel Deivison-Oliveira and Sarah Van Patten came on strongly, matching intensity, both posturing and smouldering with elan. Having remembered the taller interpreters, Pierre-Francois Vilanoba and Muriel Maffre, it was good to see another pair make a strong, well-matched impression.

Hansuke Yamamoto and Dana Genshaft dominated the gypsy segment, Yamamoto’s jumps compensating for his build, slighter than one expects for a gypsy. This gypsy scene also is more out of Romany than Granada, bandanas replacing combs and ruffles. The gypsy scene, of course, ends when Don Q attacks the lumbering turn of the windmill and falls into a injury-induced sleep. Here Sancho Panza’s concern assumed genuine pathos – Molat blending concern and fatalism.

For Don Q, however, it provides a vision of skillful, saccharine femininity with the ballet’s most classical passages, led by Sofiane Sylve’s formidable, very classical Queen and a nimble, delicate Cupid portrayed by Koto Ishihara. Never mind that Cupid mythologically is male; here it’s a fleet young female. Kitri has been transformed into Dulciana and Don attends her dancing in a manner worthy of the Prince’s vision in Sleeping Beauty. Who knows, this may have been Petipa’s first sketch of that hide and seek vision of 1890, just as La Bayadere predated Lac de Cygnes.

Then it’s on to the tavern operated by Ricardo Bustamonte , a table dance by Marcedes, and Daddy Caniparoli in hot pursuit with Gamache locating the hidden Kitri with an eloquent pointed finger, gloved of course. The would-be alliance is interrupted by suicide bent Basilio, laying down his cloak, plunging his long, wicked knife into his side, having, of course, clued Kitri into his deception, fondling her when she raises his head. Don Q to the rescue with the aid of his lengthy spear, separating Gamache from the scene and with height and metal-tipped spear inviting Papa to bless the dying union. Bien sur, surprise!

Intermission!

The Wedding Festivities comprise the entire final act, with the toreadors rushing in with their capes, their partners flouncing in with black bordered white gowns almost equal to the finale of flamenco performances and a bevy bridesmaids. The setting is the same as that of Act I; one wonders how the Inn Keeper and spouse can afford such an outlay.

Basilio and Kitri are both garbed in white, he with a fair share of gilt braid and she with a fairly elaborate bodice above the crisp classical tutu, both prepared to dance a pas de deux one has seen often enough to demand the dancers astonish us. [A balletomane attending international competitions is particularly prone to such views.] The inaugural adagio seems to provide the best passage to impress the audience, where Basilio spins her and when they face each other at a distance. Kitri’s balances should be strong and long enough to emphasize the Spanish Je ne sais quoi in allure. The male solo doesn’t do nearly enough for the man, and the female variation has to be distinguished by the use of the fan. Lorena Feijoo managed to employ it in the final menage, a feat I have yet to see equaled, and any fouettes that appear should not travel. Froustey’s balances were secure and Quenedit partnered and postured very well. I had hoped to see Feijoo and Vitor Luiz at the final matinee May 29 but a minor injury changed the casts.

Like Giselle and Romeo and Juliet yet to come, Don Quixote was programmed to help celebrate Helgi Tomasson’s three decades as San Francisco Ballet’s artistic director. All hail! For 2015-2016, let’s hope we see Don Q repeated. Not only is it a romp, it provides a healthy range of opportunity for the company’s dancers. Who can quibble with that?

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A Program Change for The Joffrey Ballet

7 Feb

When Cal Performances issued its program brochure for the 2014-2016 season, the Joffrey Ballet’s March appearance at Zellerbach listed Gerald Arpino’s Round of Angels in its roster of ballets. The folder for Programs I and II of San Francisco Ballet has Round of Angels replaced by Val Caniparoli’s Incantations, I believe created on and for the Joffrey Ballet, commissioned by artistic director Ashley Wheater.

I can’t say I am sorry; I know a little about the back story of the Arpino work which I mention now. Though I don’t believe it explicitly stated, Arpino’s use of the Gustav Mahler’s music was a tribute to James Howell, his musical collaborator, who died of AIDS before Arpino started to set the work. Arpino came to San Francisco where Howell had settled, and stayed through Howell’s final days. Following his departure from the Joffrey staff, Howell studied physical therapy and eventually worked as a practitioner of Alexander technique, though he still advised Arpino musically, and may well have chosen the music Arpino used for his silver-Milliskin clad men and the single woman who is manipulated in swooping, bird-like patterns to Mahler’s elegaic themes.

In two events related to the Joffrey Ballet’s local seasons
under San Francisco Symphony auspices, Howell remarked he chose music for Arpino by stacking records to listen to while he was vacuuming. If anything stood out while thus occupied, Howell made a note of it, joining his suggestions to Arpino.

Together Howell and Arpino renovated a building on Sanchez; the basement provided space for a handsome studio and the upstairs housed Howell’s Joffrey materials. Arpino retained the building following Howell’s death, visiting periodically.

I was informed that the building has vast problems with termites; the guardians of the Howell legacy were forced
to move the material elsewhere. It is not the first time that rare artistic material languishes, despite the efforts of the guardians to place material safely in a public institution.

So perhaps it’s just as well Round of Angelsawaits a different tour to be seen again. Lets hope Howell’s collection eventually finds an appreciative, public home where the dance world can enjoy Howell’s remarkable eye.

2014 USAIBC Results, June 27, 2014

20 Aug

These comments will see the website not quire two months following the announcement of winners for the 2014 USAIBC Competition. In thirty-five years technology has devastated “scoops”, Facebook and YouTube almost decreeing “sayonara” to ritual and decorum.

The IBC Staff, Jurors, finalists, seeded dancers, coaches, press, family, friends and IBC volunteers gathered on the Mezzanine to learn the results of 8 sessions of Round I, 3 sessions each of Rounds II and III. Vicki Blake Harper, a six- competition press and public relations veteran, had managed to print the three page announcement to supply the press with the data.

The third page was nearly full listing scholarships and positions with junior companies of U.S. companies before the perfunctory notice of the Gala, and statements by Edward Villella, Jury Chair, and Sue Lobrano, Executive Director.

Ashley Wheater, Artistic Director of The Joffrey Ballet offered full scholarships for 2015 Summer Intensive to Blake Kessler, Matthew Griffin; from the People’s Republic of China Taiyu He and Yue Shi plus Gustavo Carvalho from Brasil. Griffin, He, Shi and Carvalho are also designated to continue into the Joffrey Studio Company.

The Joffrey also offered positions in the Joffrey Company for the 2015-2016 season to the Koreans Dae Han Na and Jeong Hansol. The two Koreans are still students, Dae Han Na of Korea National University of Art, Jeong Hansol of Sejong University.

Trainee and company contracts, 2014-2015, have been offered by Ballet West to semi-finalist Anita Sineral-Scott, U.S.A; Makenzie Richter, U.S.A. with Houston Ballet’s Second Company; Texas Ballet Theater to semi-finalist Paula Alves, Brazil; Memphis Ballet offered Matthew Griffin, U.S. a trainee position for 2014-2015.

Matthew Griffin also garnered a full tuition scholarship for Colorado Ballet’s 2015 Summer intensive and a one-season contract with Columbia City Ballet.

Gisele Bethea, U.S.A., has been offered a full scholarship and stipend for the fall 2014 and a Studio Company position, Spring 2015 with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre.

Finally, Olga Marchenkova and Ilya Artamonov, Bolshoi Ballet dancers from Russia, are invited to dance leading roles in South Mississippi Ballet’s 2014-2015 production of The Sleeping Beauty.

In all, these opportunities count as much as the following awards:
Robert Joffrey Award of Merit: Daniel Alejandro McCormick-Quintero, representing Mexico, but a student at San Francisco Ballet School,$1,000.

Jury Award of Encouragement, Female: Romina Contreras from Chile, $500.

Jury Award of Encouragement, Male: Yue Shi, People’s Republic of China, $500.

The Choreographic Award went to Nicholas Blanc for Rendez-vous, danced by finalist Aaron Smyth, Australia. Both Blanc and Smyth are affiliated with the Joffrey Ballet, Blanc a former principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet, then ballet master with the Royal Scottish Ballet before assuming the same position with the Joffrey Ballet. The Award brings with it $2,500.00

For the Best Couple Awards, the Junior went to Yasmin Lomondo and Gustavo Carvalho of Brazil; scarcely surprising since they were the sole couple participating throughout in the junior division, courteous and attentive as well as exact and musical. Both receive $1,000 each. The Senior Best Couple were
from Korea, Ji-Seok Ha and Ga-yeon Jung.

Announcement of Medals start with the Bronzes. The Jury is permitted to award two Bronzes and two Silvers for either men or women and this occurred amongst the Junior Women’s Bronze, the Men’s Bronze, the Women’s Senior Silver. The list went as follows:

Junior Women Bronze: Yasmin Lomondo, Brazil and Paulina Guraieb Abella, Mexico, each $1,500.

Junior Men’s Bronze, Gustavo Carvalho, Brazil, $1,000.

Junior Women’s Silver, MacKenzie Richter, U.S.A., $3,000.

Junior Women’s Gold, Gisela Bethea, U.S.A., $5,000.

In the Senior Division, the Awards lined up as follows:

Senior Women Bronze: Ga-Yeong Jung, Korea, $3,000

Senior Men’s Bronze: Aaron Smyth, Australia and Ivan Duarte, Brazil, each $3,000.

Senior Women’s Silver: Irina Sapozhnikova, Russia, and Tamako Miyazaki, Japan, each $5,000.

Senior Men’s Silver: Byul Yun, Korea, $5,000.

Senior Women’s Gold: Shiori Kase, Japan, $8,000

Senior Men’s Gold: Jeong Hansol, Korea, $8,000.

Missing from this roster were some dancers I liked enormously but who apparently took too much liberty in their classical variations. Jurors, enjoying coaching lineages stretching back almost to the time the classical repertoire was being established at the Maryinsky and Bolshoi Theatres in St. Petersburg and Moscow, or managed to acquire similar guidelines through migrating teachers or lengthy observation, pick up on such deviations. Generalized performances may permit such liberties; competitions do not and should not. As a result, one or two riveting dancers remained in the finalist category and the anguish was apparent
on their faces as the press conference terminated.

Adding my own opinion, there were several dancers already dancing with ensembles or companies. Beyond the requirements in classical variations, the professional rigors gave those competitors an edge in sheer performing skills; in the instance of the senior women it definitely showed. One or two other dancers revealed growing pains amongst the jurors manifesting such physical adjustments in degrees of reticence.

At the Gala, the medalists achieving gold status will dance twice, one classical variation and their contemporary selection.

Historical Interlude

7 Jul

Anything about Paris – history, memoir, map – is a magnet for me, even though I’ve spent only three brief visits to The City of Light. Browser Books on the west side of Fillmore just before the #1 California bus stop on Sacramento, San Francisco, carries a fair amount of reading enticements. I want to mention one, just finished, because of its unexpected foray into dance history – the Diaghilev Era.

Specifically, the book is Paris at the End of the World; The City of Light During the Great War, 1914-1918, paperback, $15.99, ISBN #978-0-06-222140-7. The author, John Baxter, is Australian, a long-time resident married to a French woman, Dominique by name. He also has authored several other books on Paris, also biographies of several noted cinematographers.

Baxter was interested in World War I because his grandfather, Archie, volunteered for replacement Australian forces in 1916. The circumstances of the enlistment, his return, and later abandonment of the Baxter family became a trigger for his grandson’s tracing his steps in the Parisian world of the time. Each short chapter manages to capture vividly a sense of the times, a paperback to finish in as non-stop as daily routine permits.

I harbored a more personal interest in wartime Paris, also. Beyond the fact that my father joined the Canadian artillery as a replacement, also in 1916, a fact and resulting ambiance that hovered around the family during most of my childhood, I wrote about Josephine Redding, a young American volunteer nurse during the first year of the war, who died in a New York hotel room in 1915. Her diary provided perspective and fuel for Baxter’s descriptions.

Several years ago, I registered that Diaghilev premiered Leonid Massine’s Parade in Paris in 1917, and that World War I was still being fought not so very far away from Paris, some forty miles in fact. This information both thrilled and gave me a shudder. The Russian Revolution had started in February with the abdication of Czar Nicholas II and the effective loss of Russians fighting as the Communists endeavors to solidify their control of the former Russian empire.

On pages 217-219, Baxter records Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso’s trip made to Rome to pitch the idea of Paradeto Serge Diaghilev. True to his dictum, Etonne moi, “Astonish me”, Diaghilev bought the idea of a ballet roughly based on a traveling circus.

Chapter 31, “I Love a Parade,” pages 289-299, tells the story of the production. It has just about everything to qualify it for a zany Marx brothers feature; I think it’s safe to say it introduced the particular form of social chaos that came to be known as The Roaring Twenties.

For starters, this is the first account I have read placing Parade’s premiere at the Theatre du Chatelet in the afternoon; it was a charity matinee, wartime conditions ruling electricity and public transportation, even the number of times a theater could be open for performances. The 3K sized venue was jammed, thanks not only to Cocteau and Picasso, but also to Erik Satie; he was morose when horns and jostling milk bottles were added for effect.

The work was startling; Massine had incorporated ragtime, the cakewalk and the “one-step”, placing them on stage with a company noted for oriental exoticism,” Russian folk and fairytales. Anyone seeing Gary Chryst in the Joffrey Ballet’s revival understands some of the impact. Francis Poulenc was shocked and the music critics slammed the production. Cocteau was delighted; he had created a scandale to rival Sacre du Printemps. With the rumor that in certain loges love-making occurred during the performance, Baxter concluded the chapter, “It really was the hottest ticket in town.”

Draw your own examples in the contemporary dance world.

Documentary: Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance

19 Mar

Seeing this documentary March 18, the closing night of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, in the intimate setting the San Francisco Film Festival Theater on Post Street resurrected the intensity and immediacy seeing the Joffrey always evoked in me.  It’s a fine documentary, even when showing early ballets as later ones for thematic argument.

I saw the Joffrey when it first appeared in San Francisco at the old Veterans’ Auditorium and at the Commerce High School Auditorium, through their Stanford and U.C., Berkeley residencies and during its affiliation with the San Francisco Symphony.  Sitting next to Joanna Harris exchanging identities as the individuals appeared on the screen was like a special reunion.

Director Bob Hercules included  interviews of the original dancers in the station wagon for six touring the United States in a series of one-night stands: Francoise Martinet; Brunhilde Ruiz, then others who came shortly after: Paul Sutherland; Diane Consoer plus those from the in-between years and the brief affiliation with Rebekah Harness, principally Helgi Tomasson.  Two of the crop arriving during the rejuvenation of the company, Trinette Singleton and Charthel Arthur, speak with candor as do Christian Holder, Gary Cryst and Dermot Burke, all augmented by Sacha Anawalt whose history of the company is unsurpassed. The dancers especially are wonderfully animated.

Among the close associates speaking are Alex Ewing, an early executive director and son of American Ballet Theatre legend Lucia Chase, and Herbert Migdoll, for years the company’s official photographer. Now American Ballet Theatre artistic director Kevin McKenzie, a four-year company member, also provided salient observations.

Hercules has included not only early Joffrey pictures and an image of Mary Ann Wells, but photos of Jerry Arpino, and footage parallel to American history influencing choices of ballet subject matter, plus Joffrey’s famous revivals of Kurt Jooss’s  Green Table and Leonide Massine’s Parade.  These sections include footage of the choreographers themselves, and, with Leonide Massine, a glimpse of his directorial style.  Jerry Arpino provided wonderful commentary, his style peppering the memories of many interviewed.  A good perspective is provided by Anna Kisselgoff, former chief critic for the New York Times and Heidi Weiss, critic from Chicago.

There is an inaccuracy which I picked up on, an entirely understandable one.  I wish I  remembered the source, but it eludes me.  However,it comes from the late Jeannot Cerrone, who toured the Joffrey for Rebekah Harkness, then managed the Harkness Ballet for two years and ended his life managing Harid Conserevatory in Boca Raton, Florida.  He was credited as saying the following: the Internal Revenue Service was responsible for telling Mrs. Harkness that to continue to use ballet as a tax deduction she had to have a company bearing her name, instead of one with the Joffrey title.  Whether this statement is accurate can only be determined via written records, if such still exist.  It’s unlikely any dance historian wants to spend time on such minutiae.

The hour and twenty-seven minutes sped by, followed by a question and answer period featuring Helgi Tomasson, artistic director, San Francisco Ballet; Ashley Wheater, artistic director, The Joffrey Ballet; Tina le Blanc, former principal, San Francisco Ballet, now a member of the San Francisco Ballet School faculty; and Henry Berg, not only teaching but also working with San Francisco Ballet’s dancers getting back into shape after injury.

There is a DVD available for sale,  Buy it – it’s a history to cherish.