Tag Archives: Yuri Zhukov

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.

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Three and Two for SFB

2 Mar

These San Francisco Ballet programs are listed in reverse because that’s the way I saw them.

The February 20 Program Three started with a Russian-born classic, ending with a Russian-themed myth choreographed by a Russian very much at home in San Francisco. The middle belonged to Christopher Wheeldon’s Ghosts.

I saw Nureyev’s version ofLa Bayadere’s Kingdom of the Shades for The Royal Ballet on the same stage, mounted early in his association with the British company. It informed me that this Indian-themed work preceded Swan Lake by nearly two decades. The more recent, storied visit of the Paris Opera to San Francisco and its full-length production, again a Nureyev production, provided another bench mark.

The Kingdom of the Shades from La Bayadere was first mounted for San Francisco Ballet by Natalia Makarova in 2000; this is second time she has staged it, here assisted by Susan Jones. The revival enjoyed three fine soloists: Mathilde Froustey; Frances Chung and Simone Messmer plus Davit Karapetyan as Solor. Karapetyan’s entrance jete, high, clean, energizing, the first of many to follow, his Russian training and deportment clear, was captivating. While Yuan Yuan Tan presented a willowy Nikiya, an elegant shade, her connection to Solor was limited to partnering, lacking hints to their former emotional connection. I did not expect her to be Giselle, but I did want some connection, particularly in the lengthy use of the filmy scarf, symbol of ghostly connection and purity.

Next to Karapetyan, the three soloists were gratifying with Froustey’s lightness, Chung’s careful correctness followed by her usual swift allegro, and Messmer’s soundless landings. Myy memory of Makarova’s first staging for San Francisco was crisp; this seemed closer to Giselle.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Ghosts, sandwiched between La Bayadere and em>Firebird, is distinguished by a hanging sculpture by Laura Jellenek which gradually lowers after each section of the work, music by K.C. Winger. Vitor Luiz, Maria Kochetkova, Sofiane Sylve, Tiit Helimets, Shane Wuerthner made it all seem conjured from the past as the Jellenek strips of grey in a formation like a tangled skein of wool, gradually fell lower and in sections.

Yuri Possokhov took the Firebird myth to the village, giving a proletarian view of a story involving a Prince, captive Princesses, a demon passage before a court finale. He turned to Yuri Zhukov for set design, a series of cut outs and a red-orange cage for the hero’s captivity by the evil Kostei, whose soul resides in a mammoth egg. With Pascal Molat as oily slime, a monster caressing his egg, elevated by his minions, the tale starts off impressively.

Tiit Helimets makes good as the hero, capturing the feel of a golden boy, country-style. His encounter with Sarah Van Patten’s Firebird featured her always eloquent eyes, but Sandra Woodall’s costume is long on a flash of red cloth designed primarily for its effect in grand jetes, awkward in the pas de deux. The encounter lacks gift of the feather, the necessary toekn our hero must produce to summon her return.

Sasha de Sola as the princess is well matched physically with Tiit Helimets. Her garment with its torso slash of red above white skirt is a surprising delineation along with her coronet; neither peasant nor princess,plus she’s a bit nasty to her handmaidens – a pastural imperialist.

Van Patten’s bird is a tad provocative with her circular hip movements; Tan made them neutral. Van Patten’s eyes rendered the bird vivid, eloquent,if the scarlet fabric tail could be effectively shorn.

The final folk groups projected robustness, a feeling Possokhov obviously wanted. The expansive diagonal stage crossings needed to be repeated too often to fill the music. You registered satisfaction early on. Though not following the traditional tale staged by Fokine and Stravinsky, Zhukov’s designs were a delight, and Possokhov’s desire to create a folk version was basically appealing.

Friday, February 21 I caught up with Program Two: Val Caniparoli’s Tears, to Steve Reich’s music and Sandra Woodall’s elegant costumes. Ratmansky’s From Foreign Lands received its second season showing with some debuts of corps dancers – a happy solution and opportunity with more traditional vocabulary than Wayne MacGregor’s Borderlands.

In Borderlands, Wayne MacGregor can be counted on to set his dances in a structure, with lights that bring dancers to our attention or fade them from sight, and props which can obscure or reveal them in dramatic ways. He also can be counted upon to challenge dancers’ flexibility, speed and endurance. You stare at their abilities, hoping they won’t harm their rotator cuffs, or dislocate a hip joint; for despite their training, MacGregor’s movements are demanding and quite outside much of the classical training canon. Oh, yes, you can see an arabesque and an attitude, some amazing lifts, but what is he saying with the talented bodies at his disposal? I would not be surprised if MacGregor cites William Forsythe as an influence. Forsythe, however, has his own visceral familiarity to the classical canon; while he can make dancers look absurd at moments, he does not contort them as if they were spastic or in a drug-induced spasm.

Clearly I did not like it, though the dancers were marvelous, every last one: Maria Kochetkova, Jaime Garcia Castilla; Sarah Van Patten; Pascal Molat; Frances Chung; James Sofranko ; Sofiane Sylve; Daniel Devision-Oliveira; Koto Ishihara; Henry Sidford; Elizabeth Powell ; Francisco Mungamba.

Having spit out my distaste, Val Caniparoli’s Tears featured the three couples in
roles they created on February 18: Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz; Sasha De Sola and Tiit Helimets; Ellen Rose Hummel and Daniel Deivison-Olivera. With the image of water in his mind, the women’s costumes displayed handsome pleats revealing a range of blues and greens; one thinks changing hues, still pools shrouded by hanging branches of venerable trees. The port de bras were liquid, partnering skillful, but the music too lengthy.

What delighted me about Ratmansky’s second season was the insertion of corps members guided by principals; the eagerness, two slight flubs in the beginning, the good-natured cooperation to bring off this important assignment in young dancers’ careers.Participating in this debut were principals Jaime Garcia Castille, Gennadi Nedvigin, Mathilde froustey, soloists Simone Messmer, Hansuke Yamamoto Shane Wuerthner and corps members Shannon Rugani and Luke Willis with the debutantes Isabella De Vivo, Julia Rowe, Elizabeth Powell, Steven Morse. This frothy rendition of European nationalities – Russia, Italian, German, Spanish, and Polish were subtly slight, visually reassuring with Borderlands to follow.

Company C’s Winter Program, Yerba Buena Center, February 14

20 Feb

Charles Anderson strode across the Lam Theatre Stage to welcome the audience and to inform it he is switching the 12-year dance organization format to special projects. This means furloughing dancers, most of whom have danced with the company at most 2 seasons; only one joined in 2009. The dancers as a whole seem more uniform in overall body builds as well as better dancers, making layoffs more daunting.

Anderson has a plan to mount a Hallowe’en production which he’d like to see become an annual event. If the premiere is this fall, then the spring layoff won’t be too drastic if the dancers are able to stick around. The second plan is to stage an international dance festival. The way Anderson speaks of it sounds like a different version of Micaya’s amazing Hip-Hop Festival. As such, such a vision sounds very much in need of some assistance from practiced visa facilitators like the San Francisco International Arts Festival. Visa clearance is a daunting process, particularly since 9/11.

The winter repertoire comprised five short ballets, three premieres, Yuri Zhukov, Anderson, Susan Jaffe; two revivals, one by Anderson, the other by Charles Moulton, his noted Nine Person Precision Ball Passing.

Yuri Zhukov’s Railroad Joint opened the program to Scott Morgan’s Lake Orchard. Seven dancers started lined up like waiting passengers down stage right. Blasting sounds of a locomotive, and the repetitive turn of metal wheels on metal rails dominated. The dancers seemed to be waiting for a train or subway, but there was little sense any gave of boarding the train except they lurched individually. There seemed attempts to dash from one platform or one train schedule or not. Rather than clear patterns of leaving, crossing and boarding another train, the action was careful plotted, individualized passing making more sense to me with a Grand Central montage behind it. For the finale, Yuri brought the seven back to their original position.

Anderson’s premiere, Between the Machine, featured Sarah Nyfield and guest Aaron Orza in Laura Hazlett’s glittering gold, semi-mechanized togs. Competently danced, it was nice to see Orza’s strength as a partner still being utilized.

Nine Person Precision Ballet Passing with its three tiers of three dancers, again in simple Laura Hazlett designs is both devastatingly simple and totally complicated; a ball for each dancer, exchanging first between the other two on the same platform, top tier and bottom tier mirroring each other, over under, everything short of down and under. Then the exchange between middle and upper, upper and lower begins; arms wave like so many flags, interweave between the three levels to the simple bouncy music of A. Leroy. The audience relished it; so did I.

After the intermission Anderson’s A Night in Tunisia, premiered in 2002, provided us with music by David Balakrishnan and David Anger, performed by the Turtle Island String Quartet. Clearly Balakrishnan gave the Quartet selections influenced by the North Indian musical tradition. Eight dancers, including guest Barry Kerollis, danced a work demonstrating nothing near its title. With its beguiling music, it was so vertical, a sexual, and lacking even in ye olde cliches that reconciling title and visual reality was quite a stretch.

Another intermission ensued before Susan Jaffe’s choreography,Weather One to the first movement of Michael Gordon’s Weather, half lighting by Patrick Toebe, danced in Laura Hazlett’s almost unitards of greys and blacks. The scurrying and effects of weather were conveyed within the ballet conventions of solo, pas de deux, pas de trois, pad de quatre and ensemble finale. I somehow expected a thread of plot and more shivers than ponte shoes and classical vocabulary conveyed. I would need to see the work a second time to see if first impressions were solid ones.
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Zhukov Dance Theatre, S.F. Jazz Center, October 29

8 Nov

Yuri Zhukov’s Dance Theatre comes around just once a year, in late summer or early fall. This year’s two performances are the latest into the fall yet. S.F. Jazz Center, as venue, provided Zhukov’s five dancers with a thrust stage environment, the audience on three sides, much like an outdoor amphitheatre. For the kind of message Zhukov provides an audience, it’s an excellent choice; the dancers are totally exposed and the lighting provides them with the chance
to fade into the background, but not leave the stage. It was S.F. Jazz Center’s first dance event.

This year Zhukov shared choreographic honors with Idan Sharabi, an Israeli whose professional performing credits include Nederlans Dans Theatre and Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company, and choreographic accomplishments for Ballet Junior de Geneve and the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, a full evening for The Belgrade Dance Festival, and teaching at the University of California, Irvine.

Both choreographers come from specific traditions, Zhukov’s more ancient than Sharabi’s, which is nonetheless strong and committed. They possess a strong grasp of technique and craft mingled with highly individual approaches to themes.

I have watched Zhukov since he arrived in San Francisco, dancing opposite Muriel Maffre in Swan Lake, their acknowledging bows embodiments of their two traditions. Certainly after the Birmingham Royal Ballet and teaching for the Royal Swedish Ballet, Zhukov’s return to San Francisco signaled a commitment to personal vision, which include intriguing visual as well as choreographic skill.

The annual two evening performances have been labeled “product,” of which this is the sixth. Zhukov’s work titled Enlight employed squares of light merging gradually into full stage lighting before returning to the squares under which five dancers danced to music played by Jordi Savall, on the viol de gamba, some of it Johann Sebastian Bach, by also Icelandic composer Johann Johannson for contemporary dissonance and angst.

Sharabi”s piece Spider on a Mirror was based and expanded on gestures observed on San Francisco’s streets before spinning into incredibly athletic displays where dancers would emerge from the sidelines or next to each other, and then retreat. In the beginning, the glances, the turns of heads and shoulders created an almost lacy spatial effect before the dancers became almost violently active, their plasticity stretched as far as their highly trained physiques allowed. Spider on a Mirror concludes with the repetition of a young man’s quandry, the other dancers regarding him sympathetically, ultimately moving away, reminding us we are ultimately alone.

The dancers were Rachel Fallon, Doug Baum, Christopher Bordenave, Nick Korbos, Aszure Barton and Jeremy Neches. Fallon was new to the Zhukov ensembles, the others having appeared in Zhukov’s Product Five and earlier, Bordenave one of the oldest. Both choreographers made enormous demands on the dancers who gave themselves to the two works with skill, energy and amazing virtuosity.

Yuri Zhukov’s annual two evening seasons, with his visual art available for purchase, make a statement about him as a special artist and, also, about San Francisco. Some artists prefer a milieu where it is possible to explore multiple avenues and to develop their vision at a pace where their sensibilities are challenged primarily by their own vision. San Francisco seems to be
such a place, and it has harbored some remarkably unique dance artists in this regard. I think of the late Ed Mock, June Watanabe and Brenda Wong Aoki as such special talents; Yuri Zukhov clearly is among that number San Francisco is fortunate to possess. Undergirding Zhukov’s multiple talents is his Russian heritage; in his explorations he combines the extremes of sensibility and an acuity of vision reminiscent of Dostoevsky.

Vive La France

26 Jul

San Francisco Ballet’s 2013-2014 roster includes a new principal dancer of French background; Mathilde Froustey.  Reading her background, and the fact she earned a gold medal at the Varna International Ballet Competition in 2004 reminded me of Muriel Maffre, now executive director of The Museum of Performance and Design, who came with a similar medal from the first Paris International Ballet Competition directed by Cyril La Faure. Said competition lapsed when La Faure retired.

From 1985, when Helgi Tomasson assumed San Francisco Ballet’s artistic directorship, there has been a periodic welcome mat to feminine dancers, French trained.  Pascale Le Roy was the first; she segued briefly into Smuin Ballet as I remember, but has continued to make her mark as one of San Francisco Ballet School’s teachers, as Mrs. Stahlbaum in the annual Nutcracker production. More recently she created the role of the dance mistress, Mme Mansard, in “Cinderella,”  mansard being the name of a type of handsome building roof. Mansard’s character, seen briefly, never quite manages that, but Le Roy belongs to another location in a building, the bearing wall perhaps.  And I had better stop this train of irrelevant connections!

The next dancer was Karen Averty who danced perhaps two seasons before returning to Paris to complete her performing career.  She was one of the early Odette-Odiles in the Tomasson version of the Petipa-Ivanov-Tchaikovsky classic.

Then came La Maffre as a quite young principal.  I still remember her initial season when she danced “Swan Lake” with Yuri Zhukov, products/exponents of two great schools of classical ballet, Paris and now again St. Petersburg.  I not so much remember the dancing as the two of them taking their curtain calls to vociferous applause – their schooling, their bowing  response  to the audience and to each other I found intoxicating.  I remember Maffre in a number of other things, of course, but that was the forerunner of what we enjoyed of her dancing for nearly two decades.

We got Sofiane Sylve first as a guest principal and the following fall as a full-fledged member of the company.  She can be sweetly maternal as the Sugar Plum Fairy in”The Nutcracker”; steel “In The Middle Somewhat Elevated”; sublime in “Symphony in C’s” second movement in the bucolic distraction of Stern Grove, for which she received an Izzie for individual performance.

Froustey enjoys some formidable performing credits, but I just wanted to mention her countrywomen predecessors, such a  formidable roster.  We are richer for their distinction and I trust Froustey will simply add her only polish to that luster.

Words on Dance with Joanna Berman October 22

24 Oct

Deborah DuBowy has taped interviews with dancers mostly by dancers for nineteen years in San Francisco, usually including stills and sometimes taped footage of the dancer’s signature roles.  This year’s Isadora Duncan Dance Award Ceremony recognized this  record with its modest certificate and “dustable.”  Her presenter was Edward Villella who will be the subject of the next interview, scheduled for the Paley Center for Media, New York City, March 11, 2013.  September 15, 2013, capping the second decade of endeavor will see Maria Kochetkova interviewing Carla Fracci, the memorable Italian ballerina.

October 22 DuBowy arranged for another memorable interview, which probably won’t ever be seen visually because the Vogue Theatre on Sacramento Street simply did not possess stage lights.  Nonetheless the audience not glued to the third presidential debate  got to hear Joanna Berman answer the adroit questions posed by James Sofranko and see snippets of Berman in Rodeo, Swan Lake, Company B, Damned and Dance House.

The comparatively brief interview was preceded by nine films of varying length, some of them gem like.  It commenced with Natalia Makarova dancing with Mikhail Baryshnikov to a Chopin Mazurka, part of a lengthier exposition created by Jerome Robbins for the January 17, 1972 Gala to raise money to keep the New York Public Library Dance Collection open.  Both dancers were at the peak of their careers, their elevations impressive, their elan unmistakably Russian.

A considerably edited interview with Yvonne Mounsey this past June was next, conducted by Emily Hite, capturing in speech Mounsey’s performance qualities.  It was wonderful to see Mounsey wrap hercomments around her favorite role, the Siren in the Balanchine ballet Prodigal Son. I saw her dance when Jerome Robbins was the Prodigal; her understanding of the predatory female remains undimmed.

A brief film by Quinn Wharton followed. Mechanism, had a text relating to machines  and featured two Hubbard Street Dance Company members, Johnny McMillan and Kellie Eppenheimer. Her balance, barefoot on demi-pointe, was cool, controlled, mind-boggling.

This was followed by Miguel Calayan’s short, Prima,  featuring Shannon Roberts (she has a new name Rugani) with  modest tiara, romantic length tutu topped by a royal blue tunic. Dancing  around a spacious vintage ballroom whose location I’d love to know, the footage captured her feet in releve, her body in grand jete and turning attitude, at the barre, covering space, ending in a wheel chair with a doll-sized proscenium stage and puppet dance figure.

Carolyn Goto, former principal dancer with Oakland Ballet, created a DVD of Ronn Guidi in connection with the Legacy Project, affiliated with the Museum of Performance and Design.  Careful editing allowed the audience to see segments of three important Oakland Ballet restagings: Michel Fokine’s” Scheherazade,” Eugene Loring’s “Billy the Kid” and Bronislava Nijinska’s “Les Noces.” In addition Guidi  was seen evaluating Sergei Diaghilev’s benchmark influence on the arts.

Following intermission, San Francisco Ballet member Luke Willis introduced “Freefall,”a partially completed film created with his brother. It featured a charming child, Pauli Magierek playing her mother, and two dancers in space, Sean Bennett for certain and perhaps Kristine Lind; it seemed to explore a child’s fascination with potential future romance.

The choreographic  process between Jorma Elo and Maria Kochetkova in the creation of a solo for her  in the 2012 Reflections tour came next, an interesting exploration of the  making and interpreting of a choreographic vision.

Judy Flannery, the Managing Director of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, brought trailers from this year’s Festival and the news that September 12-15, 2013 will feature the Festival’s collaboration with an international dance component, information which has yet to make it to the Festival’s website.  She also introduced Kate Duhamel’s “Aloft,” with Yuri Zhukov’s choreography for six dancers,  photographed on the northern edge of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Credited as being inspired by the America’s Cup sailboat races and the qualities of the swift vessels, the dancers moved against whipping wind, gravelly ground with the City in the distance as backdrop.

A final break ensued before Joanna Berman and James Sofranko followed the brief glimpse of Joanna in “Rodeo,” and her entrance as Odette in “Swan Lake,” with Cyril Pierre as Siegfried. Berman remarked that Christine Sarry warned her against emoting at the Cowgirl and in “Swan Lake,” she felt exposed and uncomfortable, enjoying Odile more because she, essentially, didn’t
have to be “pure.”  Berman liked story ballets because sa narrative provides meaning to the work,the why the preference for  “Serenade” and “Dances at a Gathering” to the more abstract repertoire  created for New York City Ballet.

Berman had studied at Marin Ballet with Margaret Swarthout before a year at San Francisco Ballet led to a six month apprenticeship before joining the corps de ballet.  What wasn’t mentioned was Berman’s attending the International Ballet Competition in Moscow, the youngest entrant to date, being eliminated in the second round because of a stumble.  Returning with her coach, Maria Vegh, there was a solo performance in celebration at the Marin Civic Center before Berman moved over to San Francisco Ballet School.

Joanna Berman’s dramatic gifts shone in “Company B”, “Damned” and “Dance House.”  I did not see her in the Possokhov reading of the Medea tragedy, associating it with Muriel Maffre and Lorena Feijoo.  Berman’s warmth, a quality Paul Parish calls “creamy,” at odds with Medea’s decision, made the brief footage that much stronger.

Berman now periodically sets “A Garden” for Mark Morris and works by Christopher Wheeldon. She spoke concisely about the responsibility of realizing the choreographer’s intent, a focus she followed when she danced.

James Sofranko also asked her about her post S.F. Ballet guest appearance with ODC, dancing with Private Freeman to choreography by Brenda Way.  When he asked Berman about the arc of her career, she replied she had no desire to go elsewhere because of the calibre of the company and the presence of her family.

The evening reminded one of the elusive quality of comfortable familiarity that seems to have seeped out of many dance occasions with the generational shift. It was good to enjoy the sensation once more.

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.