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SMUIN’S DANCES LIVE ON

SMUIN’S DANCES LIVE ON

His ‘Stabat Mater’ Eloquently Marks the 9/11 Anniversary

By Paul Hertelendy 
artssf.com, the independent observer of San Francisco Bay Area music and dance 
Week of Sept. 25-Oct. 2 , 2016
Vol. 19, No. 4

WALNUT CREEK, CA—It never fails–election year brings out inconsistencies galore.

For instance, the Smuin Ballet, a Bay Area staple for more than 20 years, has now renamed itself the Smuin Contemporary American Ballet. And the first work on its fall season is choreographed by——an Australian, Stanton Welch. Tilt!

No matter. Whatever the name, the 16 dancers of the Smuin Co. carried off an animated quality program in which the American works  were predominant.  Of these, the most lasting impression was left by the work of the late founder Michael Smuin, “Stabat Mater,” created in commemoration of 9/11’s tragic attacks of 15 years ago. Smuin led off with the ladies fainting one after the other, deftly caught by the partners. The piece is a moving testament of consolation, as played out by the lead couple Erica Chipp and Robert Kretz. Gliding across the stage with easy grace, Kretz consoled the grieving Chipp and succeeded through dances that flowed as they have rarely flowed since Smuin’s own demise. The work is inspired vintage Smuin, a masterful memorial set to the  deep romantic choral-orchestral score by Dvorak. The lighting by Slocum and Oesch, with costumes of Ann Beck, showed iridescent colors that clung to memory.

In contrast, for a madcap comic finale there was Garrett Ammon’s world premiere piece  “Madness, Rack and Honey,”  seen in its 2nd performance Sept. 24. Adroitly selecting a music that many might call staid and formal (Mozart’s “Violin-Viola Sinfonia Concertante”), Ammon sets it afire, with frisky, cheeky partying couples  flying about the stage, stealing each others’ hats, and often falling atop one another in a somewhat suggestive manner. No holds were barred in this racy escapade of total fun-loving abandon, with Erica Felsch leading off in an ebullient  dancing-doll solo, reminiscent of the angular Meissen  porcellain figurines cast by Kaendler.  Adding to the quality mix was the indestructible Erin Yarborough-Powell, 13 years now dancing with the Smuin co. after a career almost as long with the Oakland Ballet.

The program opened in lackluster fashion with Welch’s “Indigo,” a highly angular, even jerky enterprise for ladies dressed as if in a harem, lifted and carried about by Smuin’s powerful males.

Overall, the 16 Smuin dancers showed off their versatility in dances both serious and frivolous, both profound and commercial.  If the players looked dreadfully uncomfortable in “Indigo,” they amply made up for it in the remainder. Prerecorded music was used throughout at the appealing Lesher Center site.

Smuin Contemporary  American  Ballet, Celia Fushille artistic director, Sept. 23-24. For Smuin info: (415) 912-1899, or go online.

©Paul Hertelendy 2016
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Paul Hertelendy has been covering the dance and modern-music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area with relish — and a certain amount of salsa — for years.

These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never weakly) will focus on dance and new musical creativity in performance, with forays into books (by authors of the region), theater and recordings by local artists as well.
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SMUIN BALLET: PREDICTABLY ATTRACTIVE

SMUIN BALLET: PREDICTABLY ATTRACTIVE

But Are These Modern Ballets Mired In the Past?

By Karl Toepfer
artssf.com, the independent observer of San Francisco Bay Area dance
Weeks starting May 15, 2016
Vol. 18, No. 71

The San Francisco Ballet is such a powerful cultural presence in the Bay Area and in the world that other local ballet companies must struggle mightily to achieve a sustaining level of recognition from audiences, donors, and arts councils. Local companies must show what ballet can do with much more modest resources than are available to the SF Ballet. The Smuin Ballet, founded in 1994, is less closely identified with San Francisco than it once was. Most of its performances take place elsewhere in the Bay Area, and it therefore seems that annual performances are like “visits” to the city that was originally its home and perhaps remains so for the members of the company.

At any rate, the Smuin Ballet was at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for the weekend of May 12-15, presenting its “Dance Series Two,” a program of three pieces, including a premiere. The corps de ballet consists of fifteen dancers, of whom nine are women. All the dancers appear equally beautiful and talented, and the program was designed to make that point.

But stylistically, the program presented looks as though it could have been created 40 years ago.

The first piece was “Tutto eccetto il lavandino” (Everything but the Kitchen Sink), with choreography by Val Caniparoli and music by Vivaldi; it had its premiere in 2014. The piece involves eleven brief scenes in which the entire ensemble alternates with duets and trios of dancers. For different performances, different dancers perform the duets and trios, so a purpose of the piece is to display the talents of the company dancers. Scenery is non-existent; lighting is minimal; and costumes are somewhat drab, greenish-grey uniforms of tights, T-shirts, and swim suits. This is a conventional postmodern work: a dance about dance. No drama, no story, hardly any theater.

Vivaldi’s music creates a cheerful mood to support the theme of dance creating a happy community in which all bodies are equally beautiful and exuberant and all dancers seem interchangeable and even indistinguishable. All of the duets seem like the same duet performed by different dancers. Conflict is utterly absent within the ensemble and within the duets and trios. So the point of the whole piece is to show that dance levels off differences between people and creates a “democratic” community of equals, especially when it doesn’t pretend to represent anything other than itself.

This way of thinking about dance is hardly innovative, as was evident from the second piece, “Return to a Strange Land,” with choreography by Jiri Kylian (b. 1947). This piece premiered at the Stuttgart Ballet in 1975, and it has been in the Smuin repertoire since 2013. Kylian composed the ballet as a memorial to the choreographer John Cranko, who died suddenly in 1973. An elegiac tone pervades the work, which uses piano music by Leos Janacek to move the dancers. One can see how Kylian is a model for Caniparoli, for again we see dance unfold without any context other than the stage, although the lighting has a vaguely autumnal feel. Here the men are bare-chested and indeed they have spectacular abs, whose movements are fascinating to watch even when the men are just breathing. The four scenes consist of alternating duets and trios, but the choreography is somewhat more complex and glamorous than in the Caniparoli piece.

Again: no conflict or drama emerges, as if Kylian and the dancers are trying to offer up a series of beautiful images to honor one of their own who has fallen. The two trios are interesting, although again, for different performances different dancers perform them. In each of the trios, two men dance with a woman. The relation between the three in each dance is ambiguous. Are the two men sharing or exchanging the woman? Or does the woman require more than one man to establish her beauty? The piece concludes with a beautiful tableau of two men on their knees balancing a woman on her back gazing up into the “sky.”

The final piece was the world premiere of “Oasis,” with choreography by Helen Pickett, a former student of Smuin, and music composed for the ballet by Jeff Beal. This was the most theatrical piece on the program: Emma Kingsbury was responsible for the costumes, décor, and video projection, and Nicholas Rayment did the lighting. Smuin established a reputation for introducing elements of popular culture into ballet, and Pickett seems to have absorbed a bit of his pop spirit in her ballet, although her piece is not nearly as emphatic in developing this spirit as Smuin himself. Silvery, thread-like veils suspended above the stage combined with vaguely aquatic video projections behind them evoke the atmosphere of a nightclub.

The choreography is sleek and athletic. The ensemble keeps moving in and out of one configuration after another, for the piece is ostensibly a “celebration” of water inspired by Jessica Yu’s documentary film, Last Call at the Oasis (2011). Thus much of the choreography creates “eddies” or “currents” of movement, with perhaps some movements “inspired by” rather than actually representing “drops” or “waves” or “foam.” The storm scene finally brings something stirring to the evening, although it is by no means scary or in any way an image of raw power in nature. The piece also contains a charming ensemble waltz, for which Beal has written a strong, haunting melody. “Oasis” is a pleasant, pretty piece excellently performed. But it is like so many other postmodern dance pieces that wish to “celebrate” or “honor” nature, persons, or dance itself: it focuses on movement tropes that can be distributed equally across all members of the ensemble to make everyone beautifully indistinguishable. When presented in conjunction with Kylian’s piece, it feels as if Pickett’s ballet, like Caniparoli’s, might have been done forty years ago.

Smuin Ballet will present Dance Series Two May 27-28, 2016 • Lesher Center for the Arts (Walnut Creek); June 3-4, 2016 • San Mateo Performing Arts Center (San Mateo); June 10-11, 2016 • Sunset Center (Carmel). For info: (415) 556-5000, or go online.

© Karl Toepfer 2016

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Karl Toepfer is a dance reviewer for artssf.com.

These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never weakly)focus on theater, dance and new musical creativity in performance, with forays into recordings by local artists, and a few departures into books (by authors of the region) as well.

OLD-RUSSIAN TRAGEDY AT S.F. BALLET

OLD-RUSSIAN TRAGEDY AT S.F. BALLET

‘Onegin’ in Dazzling Return Trip

By Paul Hertelendy
artssf.com, the independent observer of San Francisco Bay Area music and dance
Week of May 1-8, 2016
Vol. 18, No. 66

The brilliant evening-length “Onegin” is back at the S.F. Ballet, chockful of elevated drama, dancing, and the elegant old-Russian milieu. You can nod toward Pushkin for the plot, and to Tchaikovsky for the (unfamiliar) music, but ultimately it comes down to the genius of the choreography by the late John Cranko created in the 1960s.

The tale of the surfeited, Weltmuede Eugene Onegin is well known. Bored with life, he keeps reaching for the forbidden fruit and loses both his girl (twice) and his best friend Lensky. But Cranko went a few steps beyond: There are no fillers extraneous to the plot; there’s a show-stopping series of jetees by eight ladies in a line from stage right to stage left, as if becoming airborne; and, also in act one, in the night the restless Tatiana has her dreamboat Onegin emerge from a full-length mirror, a transformed vision dancing with greater joy and passion than he ever does in his real life.

Much like Onegin, the heroine Tatiana has a dual personality shifting from ingénue to mature married woman, also very much like Juliet in that other great full-length 20th-century opus “Romeo and Juliet.” You know that she will spurn the returning (and suddenly fascinated) Onegin at the end. But the way their long dance is played out, with her nearly seduced by the intruder, is a masterpiece of characterization.

As expected on opening night, the tall Brazilian actor-dancer Vitor Luiz and petite Maria Kochetkova were back in their roles of 3-4 years ago, with Luiz a particularly crass, arrogant aristocrat portraying the decadence of the privileged class. Two male leads who had already had their retirement parties two weeks earlier, Gennadi Nedvigin (Lensky) and Joan Boada (Gremin, Tatiana’s eventual husband), returned with distinction. Luiz and Nedvigin are both gifted actors, playing out the nuances of these complex characters.

And as Olga, Lensky’s girlfriend, Laura Strongin projected such a bubbly personality, and weightless movement, you felt she was ready to step in as Tatiana any day now.

The lavish Santo Loquasto production from the National Ballet of Canada is stunning and efficient, from the palatial ballrooms to the forests of birches, with lickety-split scene changes through the three acts, helped by a scrim curtain allowing three depths of action.

Martin West’s orchestra was 1st class.

The music is all Tchaikovsky, but none of it from his opera “Eugene Onegin,” much of it smaller pieces orchestrated by Kurt-Heinz Stolze. It rarely sounds like real Tchaikovsky—but when did you ever hear a composer successfully aping any dead master’s style in orchestration??? Not this listener, ever.

While Nedvigin and Boada get good roles and good looks this week, fans will not encounter the other treasured SFB retiree, Pascal Molat. Adieu, Pascal!

Casts rotate. The second cast the next day, with Luke Ingam and Yuan Yuan Tan in the leads, gave up nothing in quality.

Cranko’s ballet “Onegin,” music of Tchaikovsky, by S.F. Ballet. Closes with season’s end May 8. For info: (415) 865-2000 or go online.

©Paul Hertelendy 2016
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Paul Hertelendy has been covering the dance and modern-music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area with relish — and a certain amount of salsa — for years.
These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never weakly) will focus on dance and new musical creativity in performance, with forays into books (by authors of the region), theater and recordings by local artists as well.
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S.F. BALLET’S ARCTIC ‘SWAN LAKE’

S.F. BALLET’S ARCTIC ‘SWAN LAKE’

If you’re looking for sheer technical perfection, you cannot excel or exceed the newly revamped version of the Helgi Tomasson “Swan Lake” that opened at the S.F. Ballet.

From that first ingratiating flow of 30 swans in an arrow-straight line (opening the so-called White Act) to the lovers ultimately hurling themselves lakeward in a Russian Liebestod, this is the most romantic story ballet of them all. In between, the lines of swans were as letter-perfect as the cadet drill teams at West Point on visitor’s day.

The revamped Jonathan Fensom production offered a whole new look to act one, now moved from the luxurious ballroom to the grounds in front of the wrought-iron palace gates, giving a more populist look, in tune with certain politicians’ mindset this year. The revelers there are dressed more like burgers than courtiers—an effective shift of emphasis, appropriate to 21st century America.

Yet on opening night, this was a flawed show, devoid of the passion, drama and heart-break inherent in this nonpareil fairy tale/tragedy. Has choreographer (and SFB chief) Helgi Tomasson lost all interest in the dramatic side of this beloved spectacle—the ardor, the tenderness, the fragility?

The tall blond hero Siegfried (Tiit Helimets) was content to be a boring golden-boy totem. As the white swan queen Odette, Yuan Yuan Tan was a superlative technician in every step, in every hovering moment she spent on pointe; yet in manner she was supremely ascetic, as if caught up in an Asperger’s Syndrome breakout among the swans. She has enviable slender floating arms, when pushed back suggesting feathered wings. But there was no fluttery fear of the stranger-hunter, nor quivering magnetism, nor visible love. And playing the (bad) black swan Odile, she left all the villainy to the swan enchanter-collector Rothbart, expertly played by a crafty, athletic Alexander Reneff-Olson, who was the theatrical highlight of the night. Having just joined the SFB corps de ballet less than two years ago, this local product was enjoying his biggest role ever.

But, give them credit: The audience went wild with a standing O. after the final curtain.

Various acts and two short intermissions brought the length down to two and a half hours. (The whole score runs over three hours of music, unperformable unless you pay costly overtime to 100+ performers.) The music of course is one of Tchaikovsky’s best, fortified by Riccardo Drigo’s brass-drum-cymbal splashiness in the Black Swan scene—orchestrations provided by Drigo for the 1895 posthumous revised score, and for almost all reprises since. The ballet’s composer, to be entirely accurate, is Tchaikovsky-Drigo, though Tchaikovsky did the lion’s share.

Martin West’s pit orchestra was sensitive, dynamic, impeccable.

National dances dominated the courtly scenes, with performers moving freely despite the elaborate regal costumes and head-dresses. Noteworthy in the “Peasant Pas de Trois” was Dores André, promoted to principal just last year. The best Queen Mother I have seen since ABT’s Lucia Chase, Anita Paciotti, carried off the pantomime all night long convincingly.The Oaklander joined the SFB in 1968, 48 years ago.

BALLET NOTES—The emotional cold spell of the opener may be isolated. Reliable reports from performances 2 and 3 were emotionally far more fulfilling….Scenic/costume designer Fensom, who was brilliant in this 2016 redo of the 2009 SFB “Swan,” had never designed for ballet before, only theater. The newcomer’s biggest challenge was not palaces, changing skylines, airborne flapping-swan silhouettes and wrought-iron gates, but rather offering elegant court costumes still allowing multi-flex dancers full mobility.

The nefarious Black Swan of Odile, providing a delicious contrasting part to the Odette ballerina as well as fatal deceit for the duped hero, has long reigned as one of the stirring highlights of “Swan Lake.” Yet the first well-documented appearance of the guile-fueled Black Swan is from 1941, nearly a half century after the 1895 production in Russia. Previously, the woman had merely been the daughter/accomplice of Rothbart, not that seeming identical twin of Odette.

Only snippets of the early St. Petersburg choreography by Petipa and Ivanov are still known. Tomasson neatly crafted most of the dances, with Petipa-Ivanov only retained for Act Two, and the Black Swan Pas de Deux, the latter with Odile’s famous rapid 32 fouetté spins that leave many a prima ballerina on the verge of exhaustion and oxygen deprivation. Tan managed it, but with very little to spare.

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s “Swan Lake,” music of Tchaikovsky. Through Feb. 28. For info: (415) 865-2000, or go online.

©Paul Hertelendy 2016
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Paul Hertelendy has been covering the dance and modern-music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area with relish — and a certain amount of salsa — for years.
These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never weakly) will focus on dance and new musical creativity in performance, with forays into books (by authors of the region), theater and recordings by local artists as well.
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Week of Feb. 22-29, 2016
Vol. 18, No. 48

HOT S.F. BALLET PREMIERE BY SCARLETT

HOT S.F. BALLET PREMIERE BY SCARLETT

‘Fearful Symmetries,’ with J. Adams score

A ho-hum S.F. Ballet night burst into flame figuratively with a world premiere created by a man last seen in the low-profile corps de ballet. The Opera House crowd stood spontaneously to applaud and cheer choreographer Liam Scarlett’s “Fearful Symmetries,” a high-energy pulse-quickening modern ballet. Doing his second work for the SFB, Scarlett shares the current bill with Balanchine and Mark Morris—-pretty good company!!

The flamboyant, fast-flying piece for 16 is sexy and contemporary, setting off with a blur of movement by an untamed apache dancer (Sofiane Sylve) of the sort more often encountered in a wee-hours nightclub. There are large group dancers who never seem to take breaths in their unceasingly frisky jumping and whirling. A devastating Lotte-Lenya-like cabaret figure (Lorena Feijoo) takes turns riding her swain like a horse, as sensual as anything in 1920s Berlin. And there are bold athletic turns as a flying woman jumps at a man from behind, with him somehow catching her unseen, flipping her over and setting her down cautiously.

Much of the work’s success was attributable to the eponymous John Adams score of great rhythmic force and density, giving Martin West’s crack SFB Orchestra challenges comparable to “The Rite of Spring.” What I like about Adams is his use of minimalism (repetitious patterns) as a tool, not as a dominant force.

Was the ballet complete? Sort of. A short tack-on slow section introduces a pas de deux (Yuan Yuan Tan, David Karapetyan) nicely done, but a letdown, like a wavering rocket ending a fireworks show.

Scarlett, who is choreographer in residence at the Royal Ballet no less, has a problem. There’s an unwritten rule that new ballets run 20-30 minutes, as does this one at 28. But “Fearful Symmetries” cries out for a proper appended finale, perhaps via one of Adams’ shorter works (“Short Ride in a Fast Machine”)? And traditional ballet length be damned!

Would that the rest of the program were as pulse-quickening as this one. Laying an egg at center stage was Mark Morris’ austere “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes” (1988), saddled with Virgil Thomson’s underwhelming piano exercises played solo on stage, without décor. The large ensemble emerges in white floppy outfits giving a minimal impression, as if this were only a rehearsal. Admittedly, Morris gets his dozen troops on and off the stage seamlessly. And one of them, corps de ballet member Lonnie Weeks, floated through an ethereal set of jumps, perfectly attuned to the music, lingering in memory long after.

The program opened with one of Balanchine’s most eye-catching works, “Rubies” (1967), excerpted from his evening-length “Jewels.” The burgundy-red costumes and coronets as only designer Karinska could make them suggest an uncommon regal, courtly setting to complement the precise neoclassical choreography for which the choreographer was duly renowned. The lead performers were stars Maria Kochetkova and Sylve, with partnering by a dashing 2nd-year SFB artist, Joseph Walsh, a man well worth keeping your eye on.

Assessed the evening overall Jan. 27, the SFB performers never looked better. Casts rotate, with principals changing in reprise evenings.

BALLET FLIP-FLOPS—The originally scheduled “Continuum” on this program was moved to the late-season Program Seven, changing places with the Mark Morris piece. The reason was scheduling difficulties, a true jigsaw puzzle every season. That can mean anything from a key performer nursing injuries, to avoidance of overtime scheduling for dancers or orchestra ….The ballet “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes” has nothing to do with the sentimental old song we know so well.

S.F. Ballet in Program 2. Liam Scarlett’s “Fearful Symmetries” (world premiere) and other works, through Feb. 2. Opera House, S.F. For info: (415) 861-5600, or go online.
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© Paul Hertelendy 2016
Carol Benet is a regular theater reviewer for artssf.com.
These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never weakly)focus on theater, dance and new musical creativity in performance, with forays into recordings by local artists, and a few departures into books (by authors of the region) as well.
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A DANCE-TILL-YOU-DROP PREMIERE

A DANCE-TILL-YOU-DROP PREMIERE

By D. Rane Danubian
artssf.com, the independent observer of San Francisco Bay Area music and dance
Week of Jan. 29-Feb. 5, 2016
Vol. 18, No. 42

The new Forsythe ballet is like a 1,800-second group max-out-workout regimen at the gym, to see which dancer would drop first.
No one did, happily. Only that at the end I left my Row N seat feeling totally exhausted.

Modernist William Forsythe, an expat who has enjoyed a huge career in Europe, is presenting his “Pas/Parts” work at the S.F. Ballet, evoking Sisyphus far more than Fokine or Nijinsky. Set on a large barren stage devoid of décor, it has close to a dozen spidery performers come out in small groups or solos to kick, thrust, dash, and gesticulate energetically until they drop. All to a first-rate electronic score by Thom Willems.

And about 10 percent of the visible Opera House audience gave it a standing ovation Jan. 28—either for Forsythe, or for the endurance of the dancers, the way you offer “Jolly-good-show-chap” plaudits to the depleted finisher of a marathon.

The dancers evidently relished the challenge, battling to get into the cast; most of the SFB stars were in it, often in minor assignments. This was no European repackaging; Forsythe had recreated three-quarters of it for the SFB since its 1999 Paris launch.

The rest of the program offered much softer landings. Yuri Possokhov’s “Magrittomania” (2000) tries hard to be funny and whimsical and surreal like the Belgian painter Magritte himself, occasionally with success. The designs by Thyra Hartshorn use nonsequitur Magritte images like the giant apples floating in space, or the balloons in place of faces, plus the mandatory black bowler hats atop most of the dancers. Dancing in suits and civvies, the men never appeared incongruous, and their mobility was not compromised; it was just madcap Magritte coming back to life nearly a century later, enlarged and fast-moving too.

It was accompanied by much-adulterated Beethoven excerpts, some of them unrecognizable.

Helgi Tomasson’s “Seven for Eight” revival was as close as he ever seems to get to sensual ballet, with various couples dancing to Bach excerpts. It was a rare chance to see a soaring solo by Joan Boada, who retires after this season, as well as attractive pairings of Mathilde Froustey with partner Tiit Helimets.

San Francisco Ballet at the Opera House Jan. 28 in Program One, through Feb. 3. For info: (415) 861-5600, or go online.

©D. Rane Danubian 2016
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D. Rane Danubian has been covering the dance and modern-music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area with relish — and a certain amount of salsa — for years.
These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never weakly) will focus on dance and new musical creativity in performance, with forays into books (by authors of the region), theater and recordings by local artists as well.
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DANCE INSPIRED BY WRITERS

DANCE INSPIRED BY WRITERS

Smuin Ballet Pursues a New Tack in Premieres

By Paul Hertelendy
artssf.com, the independent observer of San Francisco Bay Area music and dance
Week of Sept. 19-26, 2015
Vol. 18, No. 15

WALNUT CREEK, CA—Inspiration from writers is the driving force behind two arresting premieres offered by the stylish Smuin Ballet to open its 22nd season.

As always, the 16-member company offers an array of extra limber dancers, athletic, yet unified in closely coordinated group moves in a chameleon mix of styles linking modern ballet, modern dance and a bit of Broadway too, much as its founder had done.

The new works were a surprise. The psychologist Abraham Maslow, probing inside the mind of a man searching for the true self, inspired Ben Needham-Wood’s 10-minute modern-dance piece “Maslow.” Here Robert Kretz is an everyday man in his easy chair, conjuring up a spirit-self (Terez Dean) in an elaborate interplay, with uncertainty who is manipulating whom—a concept comparable to that oldie, “Invitation to the Dance.” Their pas de deux is elaborate and acrobatic, demanding the max of the heavily muscular Kretz.

Then the ubiquitous Amy Seiwart unveiled her large-scale, 24-minute opus for eight couples, “Broken Open,” citing writer Neil Gaiman on the elusiveness of creativity in literature—an elusiveness that choreographer Seiwart admits hit her as well in creating the dance, though you wouldn’t know it.

There was no dearth of high energy, pretzel-whipped bodies, sharp-edged gesture or varied movement in the work, providing a strong and fitting capstone to the evening at the Lesher Center.

The mandatory work by the late choreographer-founder Michael Smuin was “Bouquet” (1997), showing off the tireless Erin Yarborough-Powell, a leading lady in Bay Area ballet for close to two decades. She can still produce the romantic interludes and thought-provoking pauses in her classical ballet, happy to say, bringing to bear a keen musical sense. She is that rare figure who can radiate feelings, not just speed and agility. If the work resembles the famous 19th-century “Rose Adagio,” with multiple swains, at least Smuin never included the offering of a rose.

The program opened with the lively, flashy “French Twist” (2010) by Ma Cong, an irreverent amusement for the whole cast with fast pace and lot of sassy hip swings.

All the music was prerecorded.

Smuin Ballet opening program at the Lesher Center, Walnut Creek, Sept. 18-19, going on to Mountain View and San Francisco, concluding Oct. 4. For info: (415) 912-1899, or go online.

©Paul Hertelendy 2015
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Paul Hertelendy has been covering the dance and modern-music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area with relish — and a certain amount of salsa — for years.
These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never weakly) will focus on dance and new musical creativity in performance, with forays into books (by authors of the region), theater and recordings by local artists as well.
#

UNIQUE AQUATIC CREATION AT S.F. BALLET

UNIQUE AQUATIC CREATION AT S.F. BALLET

But Will It Have Legs (or Fins?) to Endure

Vol. 17, No. 52

Computer animation in live ballet took a quantum leap with the premiere work “Swimmer,” at the S.F. Ballet through April 21. Techno-enhanced ballet will never again be the same.

The blending of projections with live dancers was so well done (by Kate Duhamel, the trompe-l’oeil video designer) that you were never quite sure where one ended, the other began. Live strap-hangers peopled a projected commuter bus. Dancer Joseph Walsh, in the harried title role, disrobed and his shadow figure dove into the “pool.” Supine live dancers with “grassy” limbs waved their legs aloft looking like the underwater plants swaying in the videos.

Choreographer Yuri Possokhov’s new work is a pop ballet with dance-theater and video, immensely sophisticated in its amalgam. Yes, pop ballets built around modern social culture are flash-in-the-pan, tending to close early, like Friday nights. But to gauge by the rousing audience reaction, “Swimmer” might have a lot of legs (or fins?) to endure into the future. And it certainly woke up the crowd in Program No. 7 after two moribund works that preceded.

The story after John Cheever is of a stressed office worker on the treadmill eventually finding his true persona in swimming and meditation, ending with the (suspended live) title character ecstatically swimming down, down, down into the (projected) deep blue sea in heightened realism. Depicting swimming and the sea on a dry Opera House stage is hardly a routine assignment, one where Possokhov and the techno-design team outdid themselves. There are varied allusions crammed in here too, among them the recurrent lonely individual from a Hopper painting.

Scenes of show-girls, Santa Monica beach parties and various frivolities occupy much of this 41-minute ballet to a mishmash of music, where the women, for once, are just so much decoration on the cake, and the fast-flying males are central, ending with an exhausting solo for the title figure in swim-trunks (the SFB’s newest principal, the youthful Joseph Walsh on April 15), darting all over the stage in an exuberance of energy taking your breath away long before the plunge. His last plunge is accompanied by the timeless death dirge “Dies Irae,” suggesting an enigmatic ecstasy/fulfillment in death as found in Wagnerian opera.

Or perhaps merely decadence in modern society.

This unusual blend of the hero’s ultra-exuberance with meditation is like real life, not your customary ballet. A huge throng of 44 dancers cover the stage and cavort, turning The Swimmer evermore into the outsider. This night ballerina Maria Kochetkova showed off a slinky, sexy side we’d never seen before. A dazzling dancer I’ve seen too little of this season, Pascal Molat, teamed with Max Cauthorn and Gennadi Nedvigin in a whirlwind trio.

Throughout, Possokhov continues to show novel movement ideas, as the way the man slides his partner casually and effortlessly over his shoulder. And ballet directors will want to see this one to guide technology to enhance future gala productions.

The stellar design team included Duhamel, Alexander Nichols, Mark Zappone and David Finn.

“Swimmer” roused the audience after two humdrum pieces: a collection of classical-ballet moves in Tomasson’s “Caprice,” and Balanchine’s severe, angular oldie “Four Temperaments” (1946), done with the precision of computers.

S.F. Ballet, Opera House, S.F., Yuri Possokhov’s new “Swimmer,” and 2 other works in Program 7, through April 21. For info: (415) 865-2000, or go online.

©Paul Hertelendy 2015

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Paul Hertelendy has been covering the dance and modern-music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area with relish — and a certain amount of salsa — for years.

These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never weakly) will focus on dance and new musical creativity in performance, with forays into books (by authors of the region), theater and recordings by local artists as well.
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RATMANSKY’S TRIUMPHAL BALLET NIGHT

RATMANSKY’S TRIUMPHAL BALLET NIGHT

The brilliance and imagination of choreographer Alexei Ratmansky flows abundantly over the stage, where the San Francisco Ballet performed his arresting “Shostakovich Trilogy,” honoring the composer through a trio of works co-produced with the American Ballet Theatre.

Whether it’s the feathery-light steps of the dancers giving the illusion of floating, or the corps’ arms undulating overhead in unison like willows in the wind, Ratmansky takes dance to a new level quite different from Balanchine (though both emerged from St. Petersburg, USSR). Classical ballet is still the essence, but the variety of clever moves and pairings are as astounding as they are ingenious. The West Coast dancers leapt into the Ratmansky formations hand-in-glove, even though Ratmansky is a transplanted Russian still living 3,000 miles away. The second viewing has as strong an impact as the first.

The stunner in all this is the middle piece, the passion-torn “Chamber Symphony,” built around the male figure of the Outsider, the Misfit, the Enigmatic Visionary: Shostakovich himself. The trials and tribulations of the composer are embodied in this work, signaled by his repeated initials set in music in the opening movement (which meant that here were his most deeply felt emotions on public display). The male figure (Davit Karapetyan at the April 8 opener) dances enigmatically with the three women in the composer’s life, from the flirtatious girlfriend to the two wives to come (Dores André, Mathilde Froustey, Sarah Van Patten); ultimately he collapses in despair. Overseeing the stage are depictions of the two-faced, hollow-eyed informants in a grim society, as designed by George Tsypin.

That despair fails to permeate the other works. The “Piano Concerto No. 1” provides two pas de deux, one for a taller pair (Sofiane Sylve, Tiit Helimets) and a shorter pair (Frances Chung, Joan Boada). They carry out deft and darting maneuvers, sparked by lifts of a spinning lady, perfectly caught. The ballet is totally abstract and modern. Brilliant iridescent corps costumes by Keso Dekker—gray in front, red in back—suggest a whole new ensemble on stage every time they turn in unison.

The opening ensemble piece “Symphony #9” is no less frisky, no less innovative. Just in case you want to become a Ratmansky leading man: Stand, then tip over till one stiff arm keeps you off the floor in a near-recline, and execute a few rapid steps. Hard enough to do them when standing!!

The SFB dancers showed their world-class polish in this one, however unfamiliar the repertoire. And Martin West made the pit orchestra sound downright symphonic.

San Francisco Ballet in all-Ratmansky Program 6. Opera House, S.F. For info: (415) 865-2000, or go online.

©Paul Hertelendy 2015
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Paul Hertelendy has been covering the dance and modern-music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area with relish — and a certain amount of salsa — for years.
These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never weakly) will focus on dance and new musical creativity in performance, with forays into books (by authors of the region), theater and recordings by local artists as well.
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Week of April 9-16, 2015
Vol. 17, No. 50