Tag Archives: Wan Ting Zhao

2016 at Stern Grove: San Francisco Ballet

3 Aug

When you park off Wawona for a Sunday Stern Grove matinee, the path to the
meadow-auditorium as remodeled by the late Lawrence Halprin does three or four turns on its sloping route to the wonderful meadow given to San Francisco by Mrs. Sigmund Stern honoring her husband. You come out near the clubhouse which some decades earlier was a roadhouse and now houses a series of both gender toilets adjoining the original building. A few feet downward and there are a slew of short-order vendors and the Stern Grove Association booths for information and assistance.

As VIP’s [read press affiliates] it was still necessary to trek across the meadow, brimming with multi-cultural humanity, to the VIP tent to get badges and green wrist bands enabling our party of five to imbibe beer and wine as well as claim our share of Table 35, next to the bona fide press table. This year the press has been moved to the lower of three tiers of tables, if off side, so that our view of San Francisco Ballet was decidedly at an angle. It also enabled us to observe Frances Chung stretch her legs and bend her back prior to entering as Odette in Swan Lake, her debut in the role. She doubtless will appear in the ballet during the 2017 spring season at the Opera House.

In addition to Tiit Helimets as Siegfried and Alexander Renoff-Olson as Von Rothpart, the program included Helgi Tomasson’s Fifth Season, music by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins and two pieces appearing semi-regularly on SFB’s programs: Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain pas de deux to Estonian composer Arvo Part, finishing with George Balanchine’s Rubies with Vanessa Zahorian, Joseph Walsh and Jennifer Stahl.

Before further comment, our party of five included Carlos and Carolyn Carvajal, who have graced performances and mounted works locally both in the earlier San Francisco Ballet days, with Carlos’ Dance Spectrum and Carolyn’s witty performances with Dance Through Time and in the ballet parts of San Francisco Opera seasons. Carlos’ tenure with San Francisco Ballet goes back to Willam Christensen’s years, and two subsequent stints under Lew Christensen with Le Grand Ballet de Marquis de Cuevas, Breman and Bordeaux Opera Ballets in between.

Dennis Nahat and John Gebertz made numbers three and four, both having assignments with Akyumen Technologies since Nahat’s abrupt termination at Ballet San Jose, bringing two Chinese productions to De Anza Auditorium in Cupertino and Southern California, and participating in the affairs of Donald McKayle at U.C. Irvine. Dennis regaled us with stories of ABT’s Swan Lake in the rain at New York’s Delacorte Theater and the ingenuity of Lucia Chase.

Swan Lake
brought swoons of admiration from Carolyn Carvajal for the dancing of the corps de ballet, remarking on the correctness of the staging as she remembered it with Merriem Lanova’s Ballet Celeste. Dennis observed how crisp the angles in the line of foot and leg in Odette’s solo because of short tutus, unlike the knee-length costumes so remarked upon in Ratmansky’s production of Sleeping Beauty. We had to assume Tiit’s interpretation because his back was to us ninety per cent of the time, but Chung’s expression provided the clue of Odette’s concern and wavering. For the first time I could feel a thought process from the progression of Odette’s choreography, as well as the touching moment when she ventures under Siegfried’s arm in the pas de deux, a creature moment for certain.

Wan Ting Zhao and Jennifer Stahl provided the leaping choreography and Isabella DeVivo, Jahna Frantziskonis, Noriko Matsuyama and Emma Rubinowitz, precise, multi-cultural little cygnets, hopping in sync for all their worth.

Tomasson’s Fifth Season was garbed in Sandra Woodall’s sleek tight and top fashion de rigeur with choreographic abstraction, divided into sections titled Waltz, Romance, Tango, Largo and Bits, eight corps in the ensemble with principals Mathilde Froustey, Yuan Yuan Tan, Doris Andre , the men Carlos Quenedit, Tiit Helimets, Aaron Robison in his local San Francisco Ballet debut.

Yuan Yuan Tan seemed to have cornered the feminine role in After The Rain
pas de deux, her sinuous,willowy length adapting to Luke Ingham, a second
Australian to partner her in Christopher Wheeldon’s protracted study of langeur
and emotional connection, minimally costumed in flesh tones by Holly Hynes. Ingham made an effective foil to Tan, clearly an excellent partner.

Rubies is, to me, a very urban ballet, brash, out there with a neat dash of Broadway. Jennifer Stahl danced the figure manipulated by the four corps men Max Cauthorn , Blake Kessler, Francisco Mungamba and John-Paul Simoens. From a distance it seemed effective, given location reservations and the vivid memory of Muriel Maffre in that role. Vanessa Zahorian and Joseph Walsh danced the leads with aplomb and good humor.

San Francisco Ballet annually draws some of Stern Grove Festival’s biggest audiences. Halprin’s design gives the public an amazing series of alcoves where they can stash their bodies and their lunches. Halprin’s vision reinforced that fact Stern Grove Festival, at the threshold of celebrating its 80th annual summer, continues to be one of the crown jewels of San Francisco’s cultural and recreation diversions.

2014 Nutcracker Season, San Francisco Ballet

15 Dec

December 12 was San Francisco Ballet’s night to start its season of the Nuts, multiple castings, opportunities for corps members. With Martin West conducting the company’s orchestra, the audience enjoyed a remarkably buoyant performance, which can be partially attributed to its enormous success in Europe this summer. Mary Beth Smith, heading the company’s marketing and communications, remarked in the Opera House press room that after the company’s closing night performance at Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, where Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes made its 1909 debut, “The applause went on for twenty minutes. It was spectacular, and you know Parisians know their ballet.” Following this performance, the company goes into a twice daily mode, two and seven p.m., a total of thirty performances, including two on Christmas Eve.

Friday night’s inauguration featured Ricardo Bustamonte with extra flourishes and complete gallantry, while Ruben Martin-Cintas and Katita Waldo made the Stahlbaums elegant, assured, hospitable. Jim Sohm outdid himself as Grandpapa; Kristi DeCaminada as Grandmere. Both parents and small fry were less numerous, but the numbers cohered in the overall scenic impression, avoiding the cast of thousands mould.

Clara Blanco danced her iconic doll, Esteban Hernandez made an impression as the Nutcracker out of the Box and Max Cauthorn in yellow Milliskin was willowy, off balance and technically excellent.

The transformation scene – from 1915 Panama-Pacific era privileged San Francisco to dream exaggeration of furniture, presents, tree, mice and gas fireplace – continues to be impressive; mice scamper, toy soldiers execute the directions of the Nutcracker with his sabre, while Clara watches avidly. Sean Orza’s Mouse King exhibited brawn, and elegaic agony after his leg was caught in the mouse trap, his dying crawl into the prompter’s pit, “Tis A Far Better Thing I Do’ from Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities.

Luke Ingham as Nutcracker Prince cuts a refreshing athletic image once out of Mask and Nut trappings. He’s gallant, but no nonsense, like a good Aussie invariably seems to be; his battement a la seconde is eagle sharp. Not a bad mixture. Audrey Armacost as Clara responded well to his partnering.

The carriage arrival brings its own magic, its white and silver sleigh, pawing, prancing ponies, masks crowned with nodding plumes. I’m not sure the ancien regime could have improved on these equines.

The snow monarch roles were handsomely filled by Vanessa Zahorian and Taras Domitro. who followed after the snowflakes appeared under drifts of artificial flakes continuing to fall, audibly, during the entire number until the final grouping around the principals was almost obscured by moving white density. Early on Domitro stumbled a bit; I suspect this artificial blizzard may have contributed. However, his grand jetes and entrechats were his standard brilliant, Zahorian sailing through her virtuosity with usual aplomb, her earlier injury definitely behind her.

After the intermission the curtain rose on the evocation of the Conservatory, with butterflies, lady bugs, and moths, marking time with port de bras and pique arabesques before the arrival of The Sugar Plum Fairy (SPF) in the person of Mathilde Froustey. Froustey possesses the current ideal for the feminine ballerina; beautiful proportions, long neck, face of piquant charm, port de bras devoid of angled elbow, good jump, supple expressive upper back, an intuitive emphasis in phrasing or response. A cogent example was her emphasis asking the Nut Prince “Why are you here?” Not a doubt about the query.

Luke Ingham’s mime was salutary, particularly good with whiskers. The SPF had decreed the entire dream troupe witness the recitation, a nice move. While the Spanish pas de cinq was good, the Arabian trio was especially well-balanced with Dana Genshaft, and Daniel Devison-Oliveira and Anthony Spaulding, intense, finished. Francisco Mungamba’s Chinese shone with knife-like jetes. The French trio danced my-not-so favorite variation spritely, Wan Ting Zhao’s phrasing eye-catching. The Russian Faberge trio burst out into Anatole Vilzak’s classic variation led by Hansuke Yamamoto with Esteban Hernandez and Wei Wang.

Benjamin Stewart garnered a warm response as Smoky Bear with Louis Schilling and the bevy of San Francisco Ballet School students, precursor to the Waltzing Flowers, framing the SPF in this version of the Tchaikovsky classic. Bland, symmetrical and nicely executed, the ensemble is supposed to set off the central rose; Froustey could be better served. However, the ensemble requires its musical share and the notes received visualization with skill.

In this version the prelude to the Grand Pas de Deux refers to the Chinoiserie tower bibelot, Clara’s gift in the first act. The SPF retrieves a tiara from a cushion brought her by a uniformed attendant which she places on Clara’s head before leading her to the mirror inside the open box. Froustey’s brief escorting, was affectionate, a reinforcement shared with Sofiane Sylve who conveys similar feminine warmth.

The double doors close, the tower turned, the doors reopen and outsteps the adult Clara in hues of gold and celadon, Yuan Yuan Tan, ready to wow us, dispatches the gestures of awe and transforming admiration to the barest stroke, a principal flaw in an otherwise brilliant performance. Tan is becoming accustomed to Luke Ingham as a partner; she should feel utterly secure. Ingham promises Tan as good or better she enjoyed with Damian Smith; the partnering, particularly Tan’s height in the running catch as the Tchaikovsky score soars were. flawless. Tan’s face, with its feline qualities, registered satisfaction along with her usual aplomb.

The variation reprises then follow, to warm applause, and the aggregate ensemble coalesces to allow Drosselmeyer, couch and Clara to enter and for him to reassemble the Stahlaum mansion,for Clara to awaken, clutch her toy and run towards Mother Stahlbaum’s arms as the curtains descend.

Stern Grove’s 76th Season and San Francisco Ballet’s Annual Appearance

1 Aug

July 28 remained stubbornly overcast, but not so cold that union regulations forbade San Francisco Ballet dancing. My friends shared with me a table graced by Teri McCollum and her friend Tab, an excellent view of the stage, and as the program began, anyone who could manage the space between the granite-lined path and bench legs. A couple of women even managed to sit on the Igloo at the end of the table.

What was seen was deliberately selected for an audience as intent on food and company as on the stage, designed to enjoy without heavy emotional engagement, but skillful, very much so. This year’s roster comprised, “From Foreign Lands,” Alexi Ratmansky with Moritz Moszkowski music of the same name, the cultures being Russian. Italian, German, Spanish and Polish; Stone and Steel, Myles Thatcher’s ballet for the School’s May concert to music of Michael Nyman and Yann Tiersen. Then a pas de deux for Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith by Edward Liang to Thomas Albinoni, titled Distant Cries preceded the finale Suite en Blanc, Serge Lifar’s 1943 display for the Paris Opera Ballet to the music of Edouard Lalo.

The Ratmansky work comprised successively a pas de quatre of two couples; a pas de quatre with three women and one man; a pas de quatre with one woman and three men; and pas de quatre for two couples and the finale a pas de huit for four couples. The first, Russian, was a slight rivalry and partner change with Sasha de Sola, Jaime Garcia Castilla, Frances Chung and Gennadi Nedvigin, and the initial pairing, sparkling allegro and a pair of more lyric limbed dancers – in the end winding up one with each. Castilla and Nedvigin made a fascinating visual contrast in their initial appearance, the legato and the crisp, both admirably schooled. In the Italian Joan Boada displayed his elevation for Dores Andre, Dana Genshaft and Sarah Van Patten. Simone Messmer, formerly with American Ballet Theatre, made her debut in the German number opposite Luke Ingham, Myles Thatcher and Shane Wuerthner whose function primarily was to lift her aloft, allowing her to inspect them, the role originally danced by Sofiane Sylve. Frances Chung, Sarah Van Patten, Joan Boada and Gennadi Nedvigin returned to make like Spaniards, all aware of their mutual charms. For the finale, the Polish, there were jumps for the men in addition to partnering for the women. Ratmansky has a deft touch, conveying flavor without laboring the point, and it moves such a slight work along with great charm.

Thatcher’s Stone and Steel is another work displaying his growing capacity to organize an ensemble, moving the dancers individually and collectively. This ten dancer ballet was created to music by Michael Nyman and Yann Tiersen; as suggested by the title, the ambiance was insistent and the execution crisp. Sasha de Sola was the only soloist with the nine from the corps de ballet, including new corps de ballet members, Isabella de Vivo and Wei Wang; both had been utilized during the spring season, either as apprentices or in the student performing group. The other dancers were Jordan Hammond, Kristina Lind, Julia Rowe, Sean Orza, Steven Morse, Henry Sidford and Lonnie Weeks.

Distant Cries started out with Yuan Yuan Tan moving in silence and joined by Damian Smith as the music commences. Their long-standing partnering is invariably a pleasure to watch, he displaying her long limbs to great advantage. At the end Damian retreated upstage center and Yuan Yuan was left alone, perhaps portending his retirement rumored for the end of 2014’s season.

I would love to know the roster of the dancers who created the various sections of Lifar’s Suite en Blanc in Zurich just about six months before Paris was liberated in 1944. I know Lycette Darsonval and Yvette Chauvire were among them, as well as Roland Petit and Janine Charrat. Jean Babilee, because he was Jewish, had left the Opera Ballet to join the Resistance. Carlos Carvajal can recite who danced what when the ballet was danced by the Grand Ballet de Marquis de Cuevas.

Marie-Claire D’Lyse, Kristina Lind and Jennifer Stahl wore romantic length tutus for the opening sieste, followed by another pas de trois with Sasha de Sola, Davit Karapetyan and Vitor Luiz, whose principal assignment seemed to be grand jetes and beats while turning. Clara Blanco in serenade was charm with a fair amount of pique steps; the effectiveness slightly lost because the corps behind her is elevated on ramps when danced on a proscendium arched stage. This also was true for Dores Andre’s appearance in the pas de cinq with Esteban
Hernandez, Wei Wang, Lonnie Weeks and Dmitry Zagrebin.

This served as debut performances for Hernandez and Zagrebin, particularly when the four men beat entrechats in a line. Hernandez is the brother of Isaac Hernandez, now with Het National Ballet in the Netherlands. Shorter thant Isaac, I first saw Esteban at the USA IBC in Jackson in 2010, where he received the Jury Award of Encouragement. I also look forward to seeing more of Zagrebin, Bolshoi trained and former company member; he garnered a gold medal at Seoul’s International Competition in 2010.

Vanessa Zahorian transcended the title of her solo, cigarette, with her usual flair to be followed by one of the company’s India rubber balls, Taras Domitro in mazurka. Wan Ting Zhao and Tiit Helimets were featured in the pas de deux before Sofiane Sylve appeared in flute. In this fleeting glimpse before the finale, Sylve managed to capture the audience’s focus with the like strength that captivated an earlier Stern Grove audience when she danced the second movement of Balanchine’s Symphony in C. She projects simplicity but with a quiet fierce majesty rarely failing to satisfy a witness.

Aside

Two S.F. Ballet Nuts, December 20, 24

31 Dec

Balletomanes and music lovers frequent share an obsession of comparing dancers in traditional roles. More or less I share this fairly narcissistic pastime, finding myself side-tracked on You Tube when referencing a particular dancer or ballet sequence. However, if we didn’t so indulge, we might disappoint the dancers who work hard, inviting us to cite precedents and rate successes.

Nutcracker certainly provides an opportunity for upcoming dancers to essay a variety of roles and for corps members to gain experience in complex partnering. Lacking other responsibilities, I’d gladly sit through three or four performances to see who’s coming along and how well they take center stage. As it was, I saw two, December 20 evening and December 24 matinee.

I found myself thinking this Christmas Eve seeing San Francisco Ballet in its 1915-themed production of this work. Willam Christensen premiered in 1944 with Russell Hartley designing the costumes with cast off curtains and other thrift store items in wartime San Francisco, Bolivian-born Antonio Sotomayor designing the decor.  I saw the original production  in 1946 or 1947 in my home town high school auditorium.

For 12/20 Yuri Possokhov was Drosselmeyer, Jennifer Stahl the Sugar Plum Fairy with Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets in the grand pas de deux; Yuan Yuan Tan and Vito Mazzeo battled the cascades of snow as the monarchs of winter and the Mouse King was an exuberant Sean Orza.

Myles Thatcher, Madison Keesler and Daniel Deivision were the dancing dolls on December 20. The challenge for the trio was being limber and liquid for the Arlequin, stiff joint articulation forthe feminine doll and jaunty briskness for the magical nutcracker, the trio entirely adequate to the task. Atticus Simmons was a nasty Fritz for both occasions, Juliet Doherty for Clara December 20. Louis Schilling was Madame de Cirque both performances; in Romeo and Juliet you could recognize Schilling as the Duke of Verona, in both roles quite hefty. Sylve and Helimets filled the term “grand pas de deux,” cool but expansive.

On Christmas Eve Sylve became the authoritative Sugar Plum Fairy, guiding Val Caniparoli’s Drosselmeyer and Clara through the ghostly evocation of the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers as Davit Karapetyan and Maria Kochetkova presented an impeccable grand pas de deux. For the King and Queen of the Snow, Tiit Helimets squired Wan Ting Zhao, while the fist shaking Mouse King was Sebastian Vinet. On the 24 the doll trio were Francisco Mungamba, Clara Blanco and James Sofranko. Mungamba’s phrasing was distinctive as well as supple while Blanco’s definitive blank-eyed doll  isalmost as an institution; Sofranko’s little nut bruiser was brisk as all get out.

Special mention needs to go to Charlotte Ogden-Moore; jer Clara seemed imbued with spontaneous reaction, in the moment, with a joy and instinctive phrasing reminding me of early Audrey Hepburn films.

I particularly wanted to see Zhao as the Queen of the Snow with her background at the National Academy in Beijing, representing some sixty years of training in the school founded by Dai Ai-Lian at the behest of Chao En-Lai. Beautifully proportioned, as one expects from state-run ballet academies, her attack is clear, confident and musical, and behind the blur of phony snow, a natural pleasure and warmth seemed to lurk. One looks forward to additional assignments.

Two Drosselmeyers could not be more divergent in approach: Possokhov the expansive pater familias for all his single appearance and Caniparoli geniality and the lurking grandiose gesture.