Tag Archives: Willam Christensen

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.

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A March Bon-Bon: San Francisco Ballet Dances Coppelia

11 Mar

March 8 San Francisco reintroduced its Pacific Northwest Ballet co-production of Coppelia, the George Balanchine-Alexandra Danilova ballet premiered at New York City Ballet in 1974. Staged by Judith Fugate, Before going into detail about designer, the Leo Delibes’ music and etc., let me say that it was memory lane. That effervescent path has been trod by anyone remembering The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and Danilova in Swanhilda’s shoes and Frederick Franklin as the roving-eyed Franz Some San Franciscans will remember Ruby Asquith in the Willam Christensen production. In addition, a small cadre of dancers danced in the Ballet Celeste production mounted by Merriem Lanova who had danced in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo version and passed it along to her young charges, touring it through the United States and Hawaii. Carolyn Carvajal was one such veteran, remembering what remained and what was new, courtesy of Mr. B.

Roberta Guidi de Bagno has given the production pastel prettiness without being goopy or stretching costumes beyond a logical take on Galacia’s folk qualities without becoming too specific. No sequins, feathers and the like. Coppelius’ attic studio is cavernous, Randall G. Chiarelli giving it just the right slightly gloomy light, neither daylight or well illumined, just as Acts I and III are suitably sunny.

Cheryl  Osseola’s extensive program notes provided the audience with Coppelia’s background, E.T.A. Hoffman, the 1870 production created by Arthur Saint-Leon, Franz’ role en traverstie, ultimately Enrico Cecchetti’s revival with Franz becoming danced by a male. The lifts between Franz and Swanhilda are definitely twentieth century additions.

Carolyn remarked that the mime and plot remained untouched. The ensemble dances were different; I remember Robert Lindgren and Sonya Tyyven leading the czardas in the final act, the ensemble dances being broken up into the first and third acts and Yvonne Chouteau in Act III’s Prayer solo. Balanchine has combined them.

Tuesday saw Frances Chung as Swanhilda, Vitor Luiz as her Franz and the superb debut of Pascal Molat as Coppelius. If the program notes mention Chung’s strangeness with mime, she has moved far beyond it to a sparkling, clear ability to convey traditional query and delivery. She is one of the company’s sparkling allegro dancers; there was an almost Fonteyn-like propriety in her delivery, yet still very much Chung. Small wonder she holds an Izzie award for individual performance.

Luiz makes a believable Franz, unforced classicism, unmannered presentation and partnering impeccable. Molat’s elderly doll maker hobbles across the town square with acute accuracy of age and arthritis. His attic scene with Swanhilda’s impersonation of Coppelia was masterly; delusion and elderly excitement.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, it concerns Swanhilda, a spirited young village girl, and her boy friend Franz who also has his eye on Coppelia, a beautiful creature who is wheeled onto a balcony by her maker, Dr. Coppelius. This makes Swanhilda and Franz quarrel. In a twilight excursion, Coppelius is roughed up by Franz and friends, losing his key. Swanhilda and her friends find the key and venture into the Coppelius’ workshop at Act I’s curtain. In Act II, the girls discover the toys and the inanimate Coppelia. Coppelius returns, chasing the girls out; Swanhilda remains assuming Coppelia’s clothing. Franz, meanwhile, attempts to reach the doll via the aid of a ladder; intercepted by Coppelius, he is drugged by wine. Coppelius attempts to bring Coppelia to life using Franz’ life force, pouring over a huge book of spells. Swanhilda plays along with Coppelius, becoming more life like, only to destroy his fantasy and to flee with Franz.

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Frances Chung and Pascal Molat in Balanchine’s CoppÈlia. (© Erik Tomasson)

Act III sees the dedication of the bells, announced in French language banners in Act I. Many wedding couples. Coppelius is seen, heart-broken, with his doll in his arms; Swanhilda and Franz also get married, and several celebratory dances ensue. In this production, a bevy of young students perform a charming dance, impossible for the old touring production. The Ballet Russe production provided recompense to Coppelius; here he is pushed aside all too rapidly.

The Act III divertissements featured Sasha de Sola as Dawn in a costume with golden tracery; Sofiane Sylve’s Prayer was cloaked in blue chiffon with touches of grey; four Jesterettes and finally Discord and War led by Jennifer Stahl and Hansuke Yamamoto, laden with spears, Greek-style plumed helmets and garments of black and silver metallic touches, perpetually leaping with one leg raised to waist height, moving in circles and linear patterns. The dominant note in this finale was twenty-three students in pink tutus, led by Lauren Strongin, in the Waltz of the Golden Hours, the same number commencing the January 2016 Gala. To me it took away from the earlier variations danced by de Sola and Sylve, rendering them more divertissements than sweet, evocative variations.

The Waltz is an inducement to students, and, probably, parents. Balanchine and Danilova undoubtedly had memories of similar use of students in the Imperial Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg. Used to the pared-down version, I found the yards of pink tutu a bit distracting to this French-born bon-bon. Like La Fille Mal Gardee, created in 1789 in Bordeaux by Jean Dauberval and the 1837 premiere of Giselle of Jules Perrot and Juan Corelli, these three durable ballets share French ancestry, however much layers and modifications may have ensued. Vive La France!

San Francisco Ballet’s 71st Nutcracker Season

3 Jan

In this third San Francisco production of Petyr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s commission for Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov (Willam Christensen’s ground–breaking undertaking and brother Lew’s the second with at least two different productions), Helgi Tomasson celebrated the city’s emergence from the 1906 earthquake and fire by aligning it to the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition; Michael Yeargen took his clue from images of the 100th year before in slides, Act I’s setting and hints of the Conservatory of Flowers, supported by James F. Ingalls’ lighting. Martin Pakledinaz designed the fetching gowns of the period as well as the traditional and pastiche costumes for Act II. The results congratulate San Franciscans. From the cheerful opening pandemonium sounds December 16 and the December 18 matinee, the seasonal tradition is a winner all the way. The sound pitch opening night was up there with the screams of a basketball game, while volunteers carefully herded toddlers and grammar school attendees for their pictures with a French soloist (the flute soloist for more traditional viewers) and the Mouse King, and off the other side of one of the crimson-carpeted entrances to orchestra seating. Most girls wore aspirational net tutus with frequent rhinestone tiaras. The mother of one girl near me said her chestnut-haired daughter was studying karate and acrobats.

Opening night Val Caniparoli was his genial self, if somewhat perfunctory. Katita Waldo gave us a welcoming Mme Stahlbaum while Ruben Martin Cintus exuded the pleasant organizing half.. Two youngsters, Alexander Renoff-Olson and Kristi DeCaminada made a convincing go as the grandparents. Francisco Mungamba’s displayed flexibility in yellow tights and bobbing trim; Lauren Parrott was mercifully brunette after the memorable tawny blonde of Clara Blanco; Wei Wang jumped energetically as the toy Nutcracker.

One of the production’s charms is the transformation scene, and although the sleepy gestures of Clara’s (Sienna Clark) seemed perfunctory if on time to the music, the enlarging furnishing along with the tree are just right as is the appearance of the Nutcracker Prince in the handsome personage of Davit Kerapetyan. Gaetano Amico was the nasty Mouse King, a role everyone loves to hate and the interpreter tries to make the most of in his brief allotted phrases.

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San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker. (© Erik Tomasson)

Vanessa Zahorian served as a gracious Sugar Plum Fairy with Frances Chung as the grownup Clara, following the Snow Scene with Jennifer Stahl and Luke Ingham as the reigning monarchs of a blizzard almost obscuring the figures midway and towards the end. Why they dancers have to navigate a storm is beyond me. Flurries should be sufficient.  The same threatened obliteration was accorded Koto Ishihara and Joseph Walsh December 18.

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Frances Chung and Davit Karapetyan in Tomasson’s Nutcracker. (© Erik Tomasson)

Distinguishing themselves in the Chinese and Russian were Lonnie Weeks and Esteban Hernandez. The trio bursting from the Faberge-inspired eggs is invariably a treat to be followed by Anatole Vilzak’s variation for the three dancers. It’s one of the supreme relics of the earlier production.

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Lonnie Weeks in Tomasson’s Nutcracker. (© Erik Tomasson)

I saw a second performance, the December 18 matinee to see what Pascal Molat did with Drosselmeyer. I didn’t expect Sancho Panza, of course, but he is just such a wizard with character parts. Of course he was wonderful. His hands were invariably seeking the edges and the corners of what he was assigned, finishing his work before donning his coat, the manner in which he tied the pouch for the clock, his gallantry with the flower seller on the street. His semi-crouching position when levitating the cane was like someone in a contest; I felt an unusual touch in his consoling Fritz at not getting the nutcracker, topped only by the bow with which he tied his handkerchief on the wounded wooden doll. Throughout the scene this Drosselmeyer was intimately attuned to youngsters, at one with them as well as a distinguished, eccentric clock maker. His wizardry with the transformation scene, reassurance to Clara and continued guidance through Act II was simply de rigeur. One can relax with an “ah” watching him, a total treat.

Jeffrey Lyons and Amy Yuki made a jovial and gracious set of Stahlbaums while Val Caniparoli joined Anita Paciotti in the grandparental roles.

Here Esteban Hernandez as the toy Nutcracker bounded electrically from the box. Blake Kessler was the yellow Harlequin and Jahna Frantziskonis, coming to the company from Pacific Northwest Ballet, was the porcelain pink doll.

I noticed in some principals’ tutus a broad, slightly floppy over skirt, like an expansive flower; instead of gradated layers of ruffles,the tutu cuts to the underpinning exposing upper tights and pants when lifted by a partner. What seemed to be a charming floral bouquet, suddenly your eyes were directed, minus smaller petals, to stamens and pistils.

Doris Andre served as The Sugar Plum Fairy regally. I did not notice it much before this season and it may reflect some tweaking, but the Sugar Plum Fairy summoned her waltzing flowers as well as the busy little lady bug, moths and butterflies to hear the tale of the Nutcracker Prince’s battle with the Mouse King. It brought a warmth to the undertaking, a winning witnessing to the otherwise austere evocation of the Conservatory of Flowers.

Normally the French variation, usually belonging to a trio of Dresden Shepherdess but here candy-caned striped can can dancers, appeals to me not at all. In the December 18 matinee, however, I noticed some nice phrasing with adroit finishing emphasis by Miranda Silveira.

Carlo di Lano made his debut in this production of the holiday staple with Matilde Froustey as his adult Clara. What a marvelous pair they were, both in looks and European ambiance. When the Nutcracker’s mask was lifted, di Lano’s breath animated his port de bras: liberation! This sensibility pervaded every motion, making the most logical, the most spectacular special.

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.

The S.O.B. Tale

10 Aug

Ness, Anton, S.O. B. Save Our Ballet: A Story of Hope During a Recession
Charleston, S.C., 2012 104 pp., illustrated.    Pbk, $21.95, e-book: $14.99
ISBN: 9781-478-156-118

This slender paperback tells the background  and the dancers’ fight to rescue San Francisco Ballet from bankruptcy and almost certain dissolution in 1974.  Anton Ness, its author, was a member of the company at the time after studying in San Francisco and attending the North Carolina School of the Arts.

Writing of the company’s early history, Ness recounts the company’s start under Adolph Bolm, Sergei Diaghilev’s great character dancer, when he accepted the post of ballet master of the San Francisco Opera in 1932.  As an historic side note  it remains remarkable that this provincial city, fostered by its strategic position during the brief gold and silver strikes in the Sierra Nevada, should have financed and opened an opera house in the midst of  The Great Depression.

The Christensen era is reviewed and includes Lew Christensen’s background with George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein, complete with a George Platt Lyne’s image of Lew as Apollo in the iconic Balanchine ballet.  Ness recounts briefly the American Ballet Caravan Company as the ensemble was called when touring South America in 1941, but does not touch on Dance Players, the short-lived ensemble   Lew organized while waiting to be drafted and  his choreographing the haunting circus ballet Jinx. Lew’s service in the U.S. Army effectively finished his dancing career. Ness does explain the rationale leading Lew to decide to move to San Francisco, joining Willam and Harold with their San Francisco Ballet enterprise.

Ness leaves further detail to authors Sally Bailey, Debra Sowell  and Cobbett Steinberg for aspects of San Francisco Ballet’s history, concerning himself with his immediate experience and the summer months of the S.O.B. campaign.  Arthur Blum’s brief career as manager is illuminating, along with the singular contribution of the “angels” who sparked the S.O.B. campaign: Maureen Broderick, Nancy Dickson and additionally Damara Bennett,  Roberta Pfeil and Elizabeth Tienken.

I was then San Francisco correspondent for Dance News. Though not intimately involved, I remember the period well.  The can-do spirit of the dancers was simply incomparable, the confidence  spilling over in subsequent years. In a Dance Magazine article, Michael Smuin, then co-directing the company with Lew Christensen, stated he could  not take credit for the results, that it was wholly a dancer-driven campaign to which he gave further support and organization.

A number of the dancers were still dancing in the company in 1985 when Helgi Tomasson was invited to become San Francisco Ballet’s artistic director.  Two dancers, Betsy Erickson and Anita Paciotti,, currently serve the company ably as ballet mistresses.

Ness’ first-hand knowledge and obvious affection for the company makes the account enjoyable and touching.  What adds to the flavor from a long-time viewer’s perspective is the inclusion of several figures whose contributions to the company’s development  do not currently receive much recognition.  Ness is to be thanked for helping to rectify this error.

S.O.B. Save Our Ballet is available through Amazon.Com, Barnes and Noble and independent book stores.

MPD and Muriel Maffre

26 Jul

When Dance USA met in San Francisco the end of June, the Museum of  Performance and Design [MPD] provided an afternoon open house on the fourth floor of the Veterans’ Building.

I’m hazy whether the display had been assembled particularly for the presence of this national dance professional organization or if it had been up for some time. At any rate, I trotted down to Civic Center June 30 to take a look about an hour before closing.

Not only was I curious about the contents, but I wanted to see Muriel Maffre in her new setting as Executive Director of MPD. I’ve been one of her avid fans since she danced Odette/Odile opposite Yuri Zhukov during her initial season with San Francisco Ballet.  She has given not only rare pleasure in her dancing, but she also has given the Bay Area a rare intelligence in her capacity to bridge disciplines effectively.

MPD is lucky to have Maffre’s abilities as it faces a move from the Veterans’ Building as that edifice starts seismic retrofitting in 2013.  MPD not only faces displacement, but the fact it cannot return once the repairs have been made: San Francisco Opera is slated to occupy the space.  Maffre therefore is working to secure space sufficient to house its bulging, disparate collection as well as to imprint the organization’s importance in the life of the Bay Area’s performing arts.

Funds, of course, are a problem.  New York City’s performing arts won city and state support. While MPD receives annual fees from a  number of organizations paying for their archival   maintenance, it also  relies on membership, private donors, and, presumably, funding for specific projects, for its support. I was told by a former president of the organization, then known as San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum [SF PALM] that it very nearly became a part of the San Francisco Public Library system.  Preventing the merger was the fact San Francisco’s library system would not guarantee incorporating SF PALM’s  existing staff into its personnel.

Lord, but my preambles can get involved!  Anyway, the exhibit seen June 30 was sheer delight; bits of everything: costumes, memorabilia, posters, books, generous with, but not limited to, dance.  The nucleus of MPD’s collection started with Russell Hartley, tall, blonde, very artistic and warmly gregarious, the first Mother Ginger in Willam Christensen’s 1944 Nutcracker, also the creator of the costumes – not only the sketches, but the garments themselves.  It was largely his nucleus that was on display.

Russell had blown up opera and theatrical posters, colored them. (He had been a painting conservator until the fumes required his shifting activities) Enrico Caruso stared out at you, head cocked slightly, eyes piercing.  I think I remember seeing Mary Garden near Caruso.
Octavian’s elaborate white satin costume, breeches and jacket from Der Rosencavalier occupied the entry niche and nearby was a poster celebrating La Estralita.  Angels in America was duly recognized.

Under glass was the sumptuous collection of the Stowitts’ costume  (Hubert Julian) sketches for Fay Yen Fah, the opera with libretto by Templeton  Cocker and music by Joseph Redding, premiered at the Bohemian Grove in 1917  before being mounted at the tiny Monte Carlo Opera created by Charles  Garnier.  Ninette de Valois and Alexandra Danilova danced in the opera, the ballet divertissement created by George Balanchine, his eleventh work under Diaghilev’s aegis in Western Europe.  The Stowitts’ designs never made it to the stage because Stowitts spent too much time on his oeuvre, subsidized two years by Crocker to study the objects from the Dun Huang caves brought to London and Paris by Sir Aurel Stein and Paul Peliot. I remember being told by Anne Holliday, Stowitts’ biographer, that he ordered handmade paper from China for the sketches. Little wonder patron and artist parted collaboration.

Totally new to me was a colorful, highly-decorated costume exhumed from a trunk belonging to the short-lived Pavel-Oukrainsky troupe, organized in Chicago in the early ‘Twenties.  Andreas Pavel died in 1931, believed as a suicide.  How long the ensemble survived is not clear, but it  actually  predated San Francisco Ballet.

Serge Oukrainsky followed Adolph Bolm as ballet master for the San Francisco Opera, lasting one season, 1927-38, when his post was assumed by Willam Christensen.  Oukrainsky is credited as having created dances for the SF Opera productions of  Aida, La Traviata, Lakme, Un Ballo en Maschera. The explanatory notes stated a friend told Harlety the Oukrainsky trunks were headed for the garbage and he rescued them.  Maffre exhumed the contents from storage in preparation for this exhibit.

These objects were memory lane for me.  Russell Hartley had been a part of my San Francisco dance going, first when he gossiped while sitting beside me as I watched San Francisco Ballet rehearse  Sylphides at 236 Van Ness the winter of 1947.  For years his conservation studio was on Market Street about a block west of the Academy of Ballet at 2121 Market Street;  dancers were always welcome and parties frequent.  Before starting the Museum, then known at the Archives for the Performing Arts, in the basement of the Sacramento Street branch of San Francisco’s Public Library, Russell operated an art gallery just north of Broadway on the west side of Columbus Avenue.  There, among other artists, he showed Kyra Nijinsky’s paintings of her father.

Russell’s creation of the Archives, now the Museum of Performance and Design, got its major active impetus from two sources. First,  John Kreidler was able to take a U.S. Department of Labor apprentice ruling and make a case for applying the CETA funds to the arts.  It not only
enabled Stephen Goldstine, directing the Neighborhood Arts Program, to employ artists, but it provided personnel to San Francisco Ballet. CETA Funds paid the salaries for Russell Hartley, enabling him to concentrate on organizing the  Archives but hiring Judith Solomon as his assistant. Russell usually spent most of his stipend at flea markets, picking up discarded theatrical memorabilia.

Second, the space at the Sacramento branch came to Russell through the initiative of Kevin Starr during his brief tenure as Librarian for the San Francisco Public Libraries. I think the CETA salaries came through the Library system.  CETA funding went down the drain when Ronald Reagan became President.

Those energetic years came flooding across my memory screen as I regarded what Muriel Maffre had accomplished in this exhibit.  Russell Hartley would feel MPD is in not only competent, but imaginative hands.