Tag Archives: Twyla Tharp

Ballet Excerpts

14 Jul

Since signing up for Facebook, “Friends” manage to keep me informed on ballets and dancers I otherwise might never have been.
One of the gems that Dennis Mullen provided was a brief 1909 movie of Tamara Karsavina in a Torch Dance. I think the choreographer was Michel Fokine and it was one of oriental-flair pieces that were so de rigeur at the time. Even with the static choreography, one could see the precision of the Maryinsky training and what a surpassingly lovely woman and good dancer she was.

I’ve also had glimpses of Sarafanov, whom the late George Zoritch saw in Perm at an Arabesque Competition, and mentioned to me; more recently a young Johann Kobborg in Bournonville variations with Rose Gad dancing the feminine role. Those wonderful little running steps in the variation as the dancer turns his back briefly to the audience in preparation for what is one of those light, impressive attitude jetes . Toba Singer was responsible for this banquet.

Daniel Simmons posted the final section of the Rose Adagio with Tamra Rojo as Aurora. She was a wonder; the camera was close enough so one could see her adjusting her weight as she held her pose and offered her hand to one of the suitors. What was remarkable was that she set her arms en haut each time – not just a movement from hand to paw, but a fully formed port de bras phrasing with the suitor gallantly waiting to approach the prize.

Which brings me to TV station 32.5 here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Its home is in Burbank with the offerings sustained by a  legacy. Sad to say I don’t remember the name of the man who left the funding allowing this station to broadcast 24/7 movies, music, dance and commentary, from silent films to Misha’s first days with American Ballet Theatre, partnering Dierdre Carberry in Twyla Tharp’s The Little Ballet.

The last couple of nights I have heard the strains of The Rose  Adagio, and since I saw Maya Plisetskaya in the role, thanks to the station,  I wasn’t very interested. But then I took a look and was astonished.
In flesh colored tights a battery of men, augmented by chrome ballet bars, were dancing, jumping and falling in utter precision to the various orchestral instruments before the ensemble parted to reveal Aurora, also in flesh colored tights.

She was led over and under the bars, she was covered by the male bodies to be revealed prone and spread eagled. One man picked up her arm and swung around on her back on the floor to one of the sequences usually displaying Aurora’s balance.

At that point it began to hit me – all the men around the prize – like dogs around a bitch in heat. Instead of stringing  out the analogy, Aurora was placed on one of the bars and led towards the selected Prince Charming who had thumped his chest. They converged on the bar and kissed. Ritual completed. Blackout.

The piece manages to be well danced, theatrically exciting and more than a little silently satirical in the crisp way European artists manage so well, a tone parallel in quality to Hans Von Manen.

It’s a fascinating piece of choreography; if my eyes are correct, the company is stationed in Biarritz, and bears the name of Malandatin, with Thierry Malandatin the choreographer and artistic director.  The Web carries quite a bit of information on the director, the dancers and the repertoire.

It would be fascinating to see what he might mount on San Francisco Ballet dancers.

Twyla Tharp’s Fiftieth Anniversary Tour At UCB’s Zellerbach

22 Oct

A not-quite full house at UCB’s Zellerbach Auditorium October 16 greeted the superb twelve-dancer ensemble Twyla Tharp assembled for her Fiftieth celebration of making dances. That did not deter the vociferous response after the curtain of the final of three and a half pieces of the program; two and a half were all Tharp high energy, filling almost every note choreographically, utilizing casual and classical movements.

Of all the noted choreographers working today, bridging the millennium, Tharp’s background gives her the American chops of post-World War II; suburbia, with its mass market entertainment diversions. Read her biography growing up in the outer reaches of Los Angeles, working in her mother’s drive in movie theater, the grueling travel to dance classes, and there’s the making of her sensibilities, drive and the so-so of conveniences. She not only was formed outside the envelope she out does that amorphous territory.

The clear triumph of the evening was the finale for audience response. Titled Yowzie, set to rerecorded music by jazz greats like Jelly Roll Morton and Fats Waller, it centered roughly around Rai Okomoto and Daniel Baker as a stoned couple; Haight-Ashbury funk was writ large with a dash of New Orleans, reinforced by a bewildering array of patchwork tie-dye hues in Santo Loquasto’s costume designs. Rai Okomoto was simply extraordinary – not only in technique, formidable along with the other eleven dancers, but her postures, gestures and responses simply glued my attention. It also is a pity that Daniel Baker is not dancing with San Francisco Ballet.

Danced in front of a rust-hued steel girder image backdrop above black curtains for entrances and exits, Tharp’s vignettes were not only on target for accuracy in gesture and posture, a huge disaffected youthful population paraded its cheek, wit and energetic alienation before us. One of the richest veins started with two burly gays, queening movements eliciting laughter, appreciation, body alignment the epitome of male posture, with a dropped wrist gesture crying to be sculpted and enshrined at 17th and Castro.

A final comment is wondering aloud will San Francisco Ballet commission works by another woman choreographer. The last one I recall was from Lila York. I’m sure Tharp could come up with something intriguing.

Misty’s Promotion

4 Jul

July 1 the PBS Newshour carried the news of Misty Copeland’s promotion to principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre. I read with some emotion of Lauren Anderson and Raven Wilkinson’s bearing flowers following Copeland’s first Swan Lake with American Ballet Theatre, well documented by Alastair MacAulay in the NY Times and Marina Harss on DanceTabs.com.

It’s a well-earned bravo on all accounts. Copeland had appeared at Ballet San Jose’s Gala the first season Jose Manuel Carreno commenced his directorship, dancing  so effectively and with such panache in a dance from Twyla Tharp’s Sinatra Suite. She had the IT factor for me.

At perhaps the third USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Lauren Anderson came as one of the contestants, a protege of Ben Stevenson who really knows a thing or two about dancers. Unaccountably, she was limited after Round One, though, as I remember, she wound up with as encouragement award.

In 2000 Raven Wilkinson came as a participant in the Ballets Russes Celebration, organized in New Orleans by the the New Orleans International Ballet Conference, where her history with the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo was duly recorded by Geller/Goldfine Productions for their remarkable documentary “Ballets Russes”.

Missing amongst the roster of flower-bearing ballerinas, however, was Virginia Johnson, a founding member of Dance Theatre of Harlem, who I remember as unforgettable in DTH”s production of their Creole Giselle. I guess the difference is the fact that Johnson, though sans question a principal, she was a principal with an African-American company, and the aim in the recitation was an African American “making it” in a “white” company. Such a pity.

Ballet San Jose and Technology

1 Apr

Ballet San Jose presented Bodies of Technology March 27-29 at San Jose’s California Theatre, an 1100 seat theater which looked almost full at the Sunday matinee. It made me wonder whether the company might seriously consider changing its venue. The sound and look of a full house is better than a half-filled larger location.

Bodies of Technology also served to make an additional contribution to the reputations of Bay Area choreographer Amy Seiwert, This Might Be True, and former San Francisco Ballet principal and City Ballet teacher, Yuri Zhukov, User’s Manual. The third choreographer, Jessica Lang, Eighty One, has had at least one other work presented by Ballet San Jose, originally produced by American Ballet Theatre.

Before the curtain rose on Seiwart’s work with its beautiful, mostly blue, visual design by Freder Weiss, Artistic Director Jose Manuel Carreno, Board Chairman
Millicent Powers and Chief Executive Officer Alain Hineline came out to thank the audience for the support given to raise over $550,000 by March 15 as part of the company’s stabilization efforts.

While the immediate following statements are hors de categorie of performance, the website Charity Navigator gave the company a rating of 68% for the year ending June 2012, lacking availability of information on loans and Form 990, as well as posting a fiscal deficit of $1,130,870 within a year following the forced departure of artistic director Dennis Nahat. Nahat stated the company was in the black when he departed. Available on the Web, such information leads one to wonder why the deadline and why the funding was needed.

Additionally, Hineline announced the projected company’s name change to Silicon Valley Ballet, with the logo displayed on the curtain; small copies were handed out to audience members when they departed the theater.

Throughout the program with its heavy emphasis on ensemble, music was of the minimal variety; melody is out, folks. Seiwart’s musical choices by Nits Frahm and Anne Muller provided ten silver unitard-dressed dancers and the choreographer with a background for geometric patterns of entry, exits and formations on stage, enhanced by Freder Weiss’s visual echoes of the dancers movements. One of the most lovely was like folded ribbon cascading as dancers lifted their partners on entering, the lifting with the supported partner’s leg in a la seconde into arabesque. At the end, however, the visual patterns departed from movement echoes, becoming snowflakes, perhaps spring blossoms. This Might Be True is well worth seeing a second time.

Jessica Lang’s Eighty One, premiered by the company in an earlier season, again had the composer Jakub Ciupinski performing his commissioned score on an elevated platform upstage left, stage light emphasizing his presence like an
all-seeing shaman, the other lighting slanting diagonally as if from dusty skylights from which pointed shoes or an arm were revealed at the beginning.

In the murky light, dancers pirouetted, partnered, lent their backs to the floor if I remember correctly, and in their grey to black toned costumes cohered admirably to semi-robotic commands, light replacing the smoke of the Tharp work seen in the previous trio of ballets.

Yuri Zhukov is the most esoteric and traditional of the three choreographers. When he was producing Zhukov Dance Theatre in San Francisco [with support from Millicent Powers and Cindy Adams], his work was imaginative and spare, focused on contemporary life from an unusual angle. User’s Manual continues in that vein, but with marked differences for the dancers: their faces were whitened and all sported red wigs, the women’s possessing bangs. Usually employed for translations or plot summaries, an overhead prompter first displayed multiple images of stones wrapped with strands of perhaps rope, then later multiple images of a carrot-haired young woman grimacing, several non-human images with vocal English sounds and a few phrases of Japanese.

The commissioned score was performed by The Living Earth Show, electric guitarist Travis Andrews and percussionist Andy Meyerson, a duo with a xylophone producing two notes through most of the ballet, the guitarist whose contribution sounded repetitive. The printed credits stated that the collaboration “thrives on pushing the boundaries of technical and artistic possibility in its presentation of commissioned electro-acoustic chamber music.” From what I heard, I did not hear what could be called acoustic.

User’s Manuel provided the audience with a pas de deux featuring Kendall Teague and Ommi Pipit-Suksun, an intricate passage displaying Pipit-Suksun’s finesse and finished line to advantage and affirming Teague’s capacities as a partner.

The company coheres wonderfully as an ensemble, each dancer attacking the individual assignment vigorously, dancing at full tilt.

I guess I display my age when I am not particularly moved by one note electronic music with hints of outer space. One hopes a) that the company’s performance zeal is rewarded with continued opportunities and b) there will be more melody, not just by Prokofiev May 8-10, but with a live orchestra.

Ballet San Jose’s Master Pieces, February 20

28 Feb

Using recorded music of Petyr Illich Tchaikovsky, Leonard Bernstein and Philip Glass, Ballet San Jose presented the 1947 Balanchine work Theme and Variations; Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free, premiered in 1944, and Twyla Tharp’s In The Upper Room, choreographed in 1986.

Theme and Variations featured Junna Ige and Maykel Solas in the roles Balanchine created for Alicia Alonso and Igor Youskevitch then dancing with Ballet Theatre before that company acquired the additional label American. The two dimunitive dancers danced with great accuracy, Ige a bit subdued, but sweet, and Solas meeting the demands of those killer turns with equanimity. With the mental images of the creators in my mind, the gentleness was that much more striking, and I dare say the lack of an orchestra created a certain abruptness in the corps de ballet. One also needs to remember that Ballet Theatre at the time wasn’t all that swift classically; the roles given to the supporting males demonstrate that state of ballet’s development in the U.S.

The local production was rendered tidily, everyone dutifully in the right place at the right time. The fire implied by the surges in the music never seemed to translate the dancers’ bodies; I attribute that to the lack of a live orchestra. I saw Alonso and Youskevitch in the roles at the Los Angeles Biltmore Theatre, and watched Yoko Ichino flirt with her partner, along with several other exponents, the daisy chain movements and the male double rond de jambes as well as the sur la place double tours were familiar. Ige and Solas were on time and in command of the required technique, but I think they too would have been more fired up with musicians in the pit.

Then there was Fancy Free with its wonderful World War II subject matter, the music, costumes. For my money Ommi Pipit-Suksun, with her wonderfully articulate body, liquid movement and sensual qualities well dusted with delicacy, displayed the ambiance Janet Reed brought to
the role. Seconded by Grace-Anne Powers, the dame with the red handbag and the jaunty yellow skirt trimmed in black, was saucy without Muriel Bentley’s bite. Emma Francis appeared in a yellow wig as the girl at the curtain who sends the fellows scooting off stage, heftier than Shirley Eckl.

Rudy Candia, Joshua Seibel and Walter Garcia were the three sailors and James Kobecky the bar tender. Candia, in Jerome Robbins’ original role, was far milder in his innuendo than the creator, but truer to the overall spirit. Joshua Seibel came close to the sweet testosterone of John Kriza who danced the role throughout his career with Ballet Theatre. Walter Garcia assumed Harold Lang’s original brash sailor, also made memorable by Michael Smuin. Brooke Byrne
remarked that Dennis Nahat would have been able to heighten their impact, for all the fact that Jose Manuel Carreno danced one of those three on twenty-four hours’ leave.

Twyla Tharp chose Philip Glass’ music of the same title for her 1986 commission for American Ballet Theatre, In the Upper Room, creating a smoke-like atmosphere and demanding an unremitting attack from the dancers; they rose to the challenge with gusto, garnering an enthusiastic, standing response of the evening from the audience for the vigor and zest they brought to their assignment. The costumes looked as if they had been designed for minimal detention quarters with most of the dancers in sport shoes with a couple of women in red pointe shoes.

I do not exactly agree with CEO Alan Hineline’s statement that the company dances world-class, especially minus an orchestra. It does provide a roster of interesting works. Les not forget the repertoire under Dennis Nahat was equally varied, including works both modern and classical.

Ballet San Jose’s Second 2014 Program, March15

7 Apr

From the neo-classical to Astor Piazolla as viewed by Paul Taylor, the Ballet San Jose dancers were thrust into a wide range of styles with the company’s second season series. And they did well by it, believe me. In between there was Nat King Cole interpreted by Dwight Rhoden and Vicente Nebrada’s 1976 perspective on romance.

Igal Perry set his bar high with using Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Adagio from the Hammerklavier Sonata for four couples, providing variations for each couple and ensemble work. Named em>Infinity, one signature motif, if you want to call it that, was the having the women supported in an expansive frontal a la seconde, not a jete, but held while they flexed their feet. With the sustained, somewhat prolonged finale to the Adagio, the necessity of repetitive movements was not only required, but was too predictable. Perry respected his music if the figures he devised for the dancers, once initially stated, needed slight variations to retain interest.

Dwight Rhoden’s 2013 Evermore for five couples added torso inflections, unexpected leg thrusts or inflections to fill the liquid, phrases of Cole’s lush renditions. Cole surrendered to the songs and emotions as much as he interpreted them; for me this full-bodied quality was diminished by the busy body motions. Think Twyla Tharp-Frank Sinatra, as possessing an edgier timbre. It seemed Rhoden was shy in echoing Cole’s grand simplicity.

With Nuestros Valses >to the music of Ramon Delgado Palacias and Terese Carreno, Vicente Nebrada provided his couples both variations and ensembles, flirtatious swoons and swooping waltz movements, evoking romance but giving the audience a feel for the Latin view of civilized romance.

Paul Taylor’s Piazolla Caldera found the dancers enjoying themselves, rising to the implicit torrid quality of tango at its sexiest and most suggestive, and leaving the audience exhilarated and enthusiastic.

Ballet San Jose’s Gala, November 16

20 Nov

Scott Horton, Ballet San Jose’s new press representative, arranged to have the entire area’s dance reviewing contingent in attendance at Ballet San Jose’s Gala, November 16 at San Jose’s Center for Performing Arts. Allan Ulrich was seconded by Rachel Howard and Mary Ellen Hunt. Coming with Rita Felciano, covering for the San Jose Mercury, I saw Claudia Baer, Toba Singer, Aimee T’sao plus Odette’s Ordeal Teri McCollum and Janice Berman of S.F. Classical Voice. A number of San Francisco Ballet dancers were present besides Helgi and Marlene Tomasson.

The lengthy program possessed several numbers danced not only by San Francisco Ballet interpreters, but I have been lucky enough to see the original interpreters in one pas de deux. Like it or not, there were measurable standards. I include program readability. Thankfully, the dancers’ names were printed in black; golden script against white made the booklet pages almost unreadable. Apparently an easy read for Ballet San Jose’s program designer wasn’t sexy enough. Whatever the reason, big events tend to seduce planners to emphasize glamor over clarity.

George Daugherty took the small orchestra through the lively paces of a Tchaikovsky Swan Lake entree to showcase the Ballet San Jose students, 100 strong, in a show-everyone arrangement by Delia Rawson. Notable were four young men and perhaps eight young young boys, black tights and white tee-shirts appearing with aplomb, along with tiny tots and adolescent girls pirouetting capably en pointe. The final grouping reminded me of the final movement in Balanchine’s Symphony in C where principals and corps invade the stage space.

From the up energy of the school ensemble, Christopher Wheeldon’s After The Rain pas de deux opened the program, with a distinct drop in energy. The deliberate Arvo Part music provided a glimpse of New York City Ballet dancers Ask La Cour [son of former Ballet San Jose’ School principal Lise La Cour] and Rebecca Krohn from New York City Ballet. The height contrast between La Cour and Krohn was visually awkward. Krohn’s style is soft, almost blurring the edges of Wheeldon’s quirky postures. A signature pas de deux for Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith, the New Yorkers suffered by comparison.

The pace quickened when Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky’s pas de deux featured Ana Sophia Scheller and Gonzalo Garcia, former San Francisco Ballet principal. I saw Violette Verdy and Jacques d’Amboise dance this as guests with for San Francisco Ballet at the Palace of Fine Arts. Verdy, the role’s creator, gave a slight emphasis when finishing s phrase. Scheller relied on the smooth sequences Balanchine created, slight piquancy was missing. Garcia started slowly, gaining in quality; heavier in the thighs than in San Francisco, he danced the ballet with Tina Le Blanc at her retirement; here he seemed sluggish.

A dozen Ballet San Jose dancers appeared in a section of Jorma Elo’s Glow Stop to the Philip Glass music, abounding in jerks and twitches interrupting classical line, phrasing and execution. The twelve made a cohesive ensemble; I wish for them better assignments. The dancers were: Amy Marie Briones, Cindy Husang, Alexsandra Meijer, Annali Rose, Ommi Pipit-Suksun, Jing Zhang, Damir Emric, James Kopecky, Jeremy Kovitch, Joshua Seibel, Maykel Solas, Kendall Teague. Ramon Moreno was absent as was Maria Jacobs-Yu; formally retired from the company, she expects her second offspring.

Gillian Murphy and Thomas Forster in the Black Swan pas de deux was notable; tall, slender Forster’s was a visibly smitten portrayal of Prince Siegfried. Murphy danced like a power house, brashly knowing, teasing, if traveling on the final fouettes. The pair sent the audience out energized for the intermission.

After the intermission Ballet San Jose Board Chair Millicent Powers proudly presented Jose Manuel Carreno to the audience as the company’s second artistic director. In his charming Cuban-Spanish accent Carreno acknowledged visiting artistic directors Kevin McKenzie and Helgi Tomasson plus his amazement as being on the other side of the performing curtain.

Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s balcony pas de deux from Romeo and Juliet provided a glimpse of Julie Kent and Marcelo Gomes. Framed by the set from Dennis Nahat’s production for the Prokofiev score, they left no doubt about the electricity of the two Renaissance Verona adolescents.

Shifting stylea to the Le Corsaire pas de deux Rudolf Nureyev brought westward, Cincinnati Ballet dancers Adiarys Almeida and Joseph Gatti; competitors at the 2006 USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Gatti earned a bronze medal. Small, dynamic, well placed, Gatti danced a very aggressive slave; Almedia was smiling, pert, almost totally en place with her fouettes.

New York City Ballet principal Joaquin de Luz danced David Fernandez’ solo to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Presto movement from the Violin Concerto in G. Minor. The challenge, interspersed with port de bras allowing the dancer to breathe, de Luz’ musicality, engaged the audience with his modest charm.

Another set of New York City principals appeared with George Balanchine’s Tarantella to Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s infectious 19th century interpretation of an Italian staple. Megan Fairchild and Daniel Ulbreicht were perky; Ulbreicht’s fun, teasing and elevation electrified the audience.

Boston Ballet principals Lorna Feijoo and Nelson Madrigal danced the second act pas de deux from Giselle in strong stage light, robbing the mystery, making their appearance abrupt. Stuck between two high energy pas de deux their artistry suffered.

Marcelo Gomes demonstrated his dramatic facility in the penultimate pas de deux,, the two dances Twyla Tharp set to Sinatra Songs. With a scintillating, responsive Misty Copeland, the audience reaction was predictably huge.

San Francisco’s Maria Kochetkova and Taras Domitro completed the gala with the war horse Grand pas de Deux from Marius Petipa’s Don Quixote. Postures, balances, pauses, carefully choreographed glances were etched, delivered with sang froid assurance designed to leave the audience gasping. Domitro, noted for his ballon, surpassed himself. Kochetkova matched previous double and triple fouette turns with carefully spotted ones to the four corners. It was a fitting finale to the evening.

Now comes not only Carreno’s challenge artistically, but Stephanie Ziesel’s responsibilities to provide for Ballet San Jose fiscally; there have been nasty rumors to the contrary.