Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
Cal Performances February 5, 2022
Zellerbach Auditorium UC Berkeley

Superb Entertainment

What a wonderful gift the “Trocs” brought to Berkeley this weekend. The company was able to dispel the “pandemic” gloom, brighten our evening, amaze and amuse us with their superb dancing and not-so-subtle satire.

It is not necessary but it adds to one’s amazement if, as a dance audience, you know or have seen the ‘classic’ ballet repertory; “Swan Lake”, “Divertissement“ by Chopin and any or all of the works by George Balanchine. (The Balanchine work is satirized particularly in ”Go for Barocco,” music by J.S.Bach). The “Trocs” know the movements and group patterns (over, under, around and through) and use the repertory of choreographic clichés to execute and satirize such classics.

Each dancer has chosen his name to inform and amuse the audience. For example “Valse, Op. 70, No. 1” is danced by Maya Thickenthighya; a Mazurza by Dimitri Legupski. Their real names are given, but the stage names offer jests about dancers. Although the choreography is accurate to an original, satire works into the performance by exaggeration and diminution of steps, by the addition of non-dance moves (patty-cake with hands meant only to hold) and sudden complete breaks in the movement phrases.

The dance skill is superb. Satire happens when one can see what’s there … and then what comments on it. For example when three dancers perform the “Pas de Trois” from “Swan Lake” the ‘girls’ are usually partnered in lifts and balances by the man. Here he is inert to the women who must assist him to get in place and attempt any action.This “Pas” was performed by Helen Highwaters (Duane Rosa), Eugenia Repelski (Joshua Thake) and Timor Legupski (Jake Speakman).

The ultimate “take-off” on ballet is “The Dying Swan”, a solo made famous by the legendary Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. Here, Olga Supphozova (Robert Carter) performs the drooping creature, feathers falling and feet failing … a complete foolery.
She (he) recovers to take many curtain calls. We all cheer.

Most amazing on this particular performance evening was the appearance of Joshua Thake who’s stage name is “Eugenia Repelski”. Thake is a small person (I guess about 5 feet) but his technique is extraordinary. He is able to move with great skill and accuracy. Appearing as a faun in “Valpurgyeyva Noch” (Walpurgisnacht) in an elaborate panoramic finale. Thake cuts through all the clever satiric movement to amaze and delight with his finesse, his speed, his execution accuracy and his stage presence.

The highlight of satiric fun happens when he appears with to very tall “ballerinas” in “Pas de Trois”. There the ballerinas lift him: they are at least a foot taller!

This finale work work “Valpurgyeyva Noch” offers many of the fabled elements ballet has championed for centuries: Greek myth (with scarves ala Duncan waving about), Bacchates, Fauns, Nymphs and the company ‘maidens”. If you’ve ever wondered how a ‘corps de ballet’ survives the endless minutes they must stand in place, awaiting the next divertissement,” watch the “Trocs”. They poke, play patty-cake and yawn.

(In contract see the current San Francisco Ballet program “Caprice.” There the ballerinas are still, totally composed, hand and feet ‘just so’).

To bring the audience cheering to their feet, the “Trocs” staged a finale, the end piece of “New York, New York” before a backdrop projection of the city. What crowd pleaser!

PBS recently ran a documentary on Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Until Cal Performances can bring the company back, enjoy that hour of delight. The satire is wide and wild; the dancing is superb.

San Francisco Ballet – Program 1

San Francisco Ballet: Program 1
Tuesday, February 1, 2022
TRIO (Tomasson: Tchaikovsky)
MRS ROBINSON (World Premiere) (Marston: Davies)
SYMPHONY IN C (Balanchine: Bizet)

An Elegant Sufficiency.

SF Ballet’s opening program on February 1, 2022 (the last season under the directorship of Helgi Tomasson) offered three complex works. All were danced by large casts, with many episodes and variations, providing much to consider.

The “world premiere” of “Mrs. Robinson” by choreographer Cathy Marston is detailed and complex enough as a choreographic drama to demand an entire evening’s attention. Marston was inspired by the plot of Charles Webb’s novel of the same name on which the 1967 film was based. The remarkable dance/acting was performed by Sarah Van Patten as Mrs. Robinson; Joseph Walsh (named Benjamin Braddock) played her young lover. This main plot through-line is accompanied by the young world of the Robinson’s daughter (danced by Madison Keesler) and twenty-six member corps of that lively group. In the course of events, Walsh, though conflicted, is able to join his peers. Luke Ingham, (as Mr. Robinson), Tiit Helmets (as Mr. Bradock) and Jennifer Stahl (as Mrs. Braddock) all provide well-wrought character movement to the plot. Van Patton and Walsh deserve great applause for their skilled passionate presentation.

Marston contrasts Mrs. Robinson’s dilettante nature with the busy gestures of other women who seem to be occupied with household tasks. Her isolation leads to the dramatic seduction. Surrounding this central action, Marston is able to weave in the gradual emergence of young Braddock as a sociable person, capable and easy with others. Audience members are challenged to follow the complex events and incidents.

Music for “Mrs. Robinson” is by Terry Davies; Scenic and Costume Design by Patrick Kinmonth.

A program change brought Tomasson’s “Trio” as the opening work on Program 1. To   Tchaikovsky’s “String Sextet in D minor”, “Souvenir de Florence”, “Op.70′, the choreographer brings lively activity to our attention. Costumed in brilliant red-orange costumes (with color variations as the work progresses), “Trio” presents the entire SF Ballet’s corps and soloists, displaying their individual and collective skill.

Sasha De Sola, Max Cauthorn led the opening section but the center of the work the “Trio” was danced by Dores André, Luke Ingham and Davison -Oliveira. Thomasson notes that this trio is a dramatic interaction between love and death. Death is inevitable. The three dancers depicted this with gentle, lyrical gestures and great skill.

The third movement returned to lively activity by the ensemble led by Misa Kuranaga and Angelo Greco.

Symphony in C”, Choreography by George Balanchine, Music by Georges Bizet was first presented at the Paris Opera Ballet in 1947 and later in 196l in San Francisco by San Francisco Ballet at the Alacazar Theater. The work Is a “ballet blanc” after the great Russian Ballet tradition. Bernard Taper, Balanchine’s biographer notes that in “Symphony in C” the choreographer caught ‘the youthful freshness of the allegro movements and the dreamy moon-drenched romanticism of the adagio. Balanchine ’s musicality made for the happiest matching of music and dance.” Since Tomasson spent may years with Balanchine at the NYC Ballet, the influence in creating works for the entire ensemble is clearly present from Balanchine.

Sasha De Sola and Aaron Robison led the first movement, followed by Sarah Van Patten and Ulrick Birkkjaer in the second. Dores André and Max Cauthorn led the third and then Jennifer Stahl and Henry Sidford the fourth, leading to a great ensemble wherein the company, corps, soloists and all took their bows.

It was a great, complex and demanding opening program for the SF Ballet. Congratulations to them all. There should be an outstanding season ahead. The orchestra, as usual, was led with great skill by Musical Director, Martin West.

San Francisco Ballet – Program 2

San Francisco Ballet: Program 2
January 3, 2022 War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
Caprice” (Tomasson): “In the Night” (Robbins): “Blake Works” (Forsythe)

Moving Right Along…

The history of ballet, as we know it, goes back at least five centuries. Although scholars will disagree, many concede that Catherine de Medici, an Italian by birth, later Queen of France, brought the pageantry of ballet to the court.

Modified over the centuries by the French, Russian and ultimately, American ballet masters, we continue to see its basic characteristics: symmetry, aerial movement (jumps, lifts, etc.) “pas de deux” (interludes for couples) and mass (often uniform) movement by groups (corps de ballet). (See: Kirstein: “Dance A Short History”)

The 20th and 21st century has brought choreographic modifications including gestures from social dance forms, multiple rhythms and change in group formations. Still, the older patterns remain, and although often gloriously performed technically, they do not enliven the viewing after many repetitions.

Such concerns are visible in both Tomasson’s “Caprice” which opened Program 2 and Forsythe’s new piece “Blake Works”. “Caprice” has four movements each featuring a “pas de deux’. The first was performed by Misa Kuranaa and Angelo Greco: the second and fourth by prima ballerina Yuan Yuan Tan and partner Luke Ingham. The “Trio” provided variation. As the ‘center’ of the work it was danced by Misa Kuranaga, Angelo Greco and Luke Ingram.

Although Tomasson’s notes tell us that he urged the dancers to “enter with more abandon” and “enjoy” (the music is joyous), nevertheless the “neo-classical” tradition, the repetition of ‘side-to-side’ spacial structure and the dominate execution of lifts (right side up and even upside down!) make for both rhythmic and visual monotony. The soloists are in white: the ‘corps’ in vague beige costumes. Since the dancers are all technically brilliant “Caprice” succeeds.

Blake Works”, Forsythe’s premiere piece is costumed in light blue. He is able to bring rhythmic variations to James Blake’s seven songs “The Color of Anything”. Ayman Harper staged the piece for SF Ballet saying he enjoyed ‘seeing the dancers rifting musically off one another.” He adds, “What I value so much about Bill’s work is that it lives and breathes.” Nevertheless, the work stays true to its ballet vocabulary, its group staging and its ‘pas de deux.” The dancers add an occasional ‘wrist-drop” hip wiggles and some off-beat travel but return to the customary skilled solos.

There is a good rapport among the dancers; they enjoy what Forsythe provided. The featured dancers were: Sasha De Sola, Jennifer Stahl, Julia Rowe, Joseph Walsh, Aaron Robison, Max Cauthorn. They are all skilled and delightful. The score, the songs are wonderful. Audiences can look forward to seeing further February, 2022 performances of “Blake Works”.

In the Night”, Danced by three couples, to piano accompaniment (played by Mungunchimeg Buriad), Jerome Robbins brings his 20th century choreographic skill to Chopin’s Piano Nocturnes.(Nocturnes OP. 27, NO. 1; OP. 55, NO.1 & 2; OP. 9, NO. 2.)

Robbins came to the NYCity Ballet during and after a career in musical theater and show ‘biz’. Born in New Jersey and living in NYC during most of his lifetime, he absorbed many styles of the. ’30’s and ’40’s and by 1947 asked Balanchine if he could work at NYC Ballet.(See Jowitt. “Jerome Robbins: His Life, His Theater, His Dance”.)

He had studied ballet early in life and returned to it to choreograph many important and unusual works. “In the Night “(1970) follows an earlier Chopin work, “Dances at a Gathering.”(1969)

In the Night” is a ballet for three couples. The first appears to be for a young couple, playful and delighted in their skills and relationship. The second is more formal; their movements are precise, careful danced almost with disregard for one another. (The man’s suggested military uniform adds to the aloofness.) The third couple is wild; intense with one another and then in total disregard. At one point she throws herself at his feet! Is it an apology? It is a reconciliation.

Robbins choreography for each couple is unique, and although there are lifts and solo interludes, the material is fresh and dramatic for each. We know them and their “stories” as if they were told. Robbins often uses the long diagonal spaces from upstage right to downstage left and the reverse. That is so refreshing after flat cross stage spacing. Program notes quote Jowitt: “By sometimes traveling hand in hand with the music, sometimes jostling subtly against it, his choreography reflects the changeability of relationships.” The work is danced exquisitely. The dancers are: first couple: Mathilde Frousty, Benjamin Freemantle; second couple: Jennifer Stahl, Tiit Helmets; third couple:Sarah VanPaten , Ulrick Birkkjaer. “In the Night” is a dance that demands being seen over and over. It is a joyous dramatic ballet.