San Francisco Ballet: Dos Mujeres

San Francisco Ballet
April 4, 2024
Dos Mujeres
San Francisco Opera House

Women Choreographers: Women’s Stories in Dance

An inventive and unusual evening of choreography was presented by San Frncisco Ballet with the “World Premiere” of “Carmen,” choreography by Arielle Smith to music by Arturo O’Farrill. The four principal dancers were (Carmen) Sasha De Sola, (Jose) Joseph Walsh, (Escamillo, A Chef) Jennifer Stahl and (Gilberto) Wei Wang. Moving away from the well-known Bizet opera, Smith notes that, “the story of Carmen, (is of) a strong and feisty woman who craves love and independence without the traps of obsession or jealousy.” In a restaurant setting, a long counter and a table, Carmen and her chef embrace one another, rejecting (and on occasion accepting) the others, two men. The ballet becomes a very dramatic series of encounters between these characters. Yet despite wonderful gesture and dramatic use of space , the story is not always clear. It might well become a play with dialogue to explain and expand these relationships and Carmen’s drama.

To the delight of the audience and the ballet world, “Broken Wings” tells Frida Kahlo’s story with reproductions of her fantastic images (on stage and in the house) to illustrate and portray this fabled woman artist. Choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa notes, “She (Kahlo) was an artist, and yet she was an advocate the rights of the Mexican people that were under the influence of the Spaniards. That’s what I like about her…”

The ballet features Isabella Devivo (as Kahlo), John-Paul Simoens (Alfonso), Cavan (Conley) and (Christina) Sasha Mukhadov. Kahlo’s visions are represented as skeletons, birds, a female deer and a group of “male Fridas.” The scenes come and go in great succession, Kahlo abandoned and accompanied in various parts of the ballet by her visions. “Broken Wings” becomes an elaborate fantasy of color, characters, music (by Peter Salem) and song, (“La Llorona” sung by Chavela Vargas). The principals dancers, Devivo, Simoens, Conley and Mukkamedov all give extradorinaiy performances although Isabella Devivo outshines them all. She is small in stature but extraordinarily skilled in technique and projection.

The stage and house are full of gorgeous Kahlo images. Orchoa adds, “I am a Latina woman giving something back to the Latin culture and the Latin people of San Francisco who will feel represented in ballet.”

BRAVA and Bravo to all the artists who created and performed “Broken Wings.

San Francisco Ballet: “Next @ 90” Curtain Call

San Francisco Ballet
April 2, 2034 7:30pm
“Next @ 90” Curtain Call

Delightful Retrospective

“Next@90” is a program presenting three works seen previously at the San Francisco Ballet. Each is delightful, worth seeing over and over, and especially the last ballet on the program entitled “Madcap”. If dancers and the audience need laughter in these times, “Madcap” provides it.

The program opened with “Gateway to the Sun,” choreography by Nicolas Blanc to music by Anna Clyne. The work is pleasant but its effort to create “diversity” and a sense of “visceral” (that Blanc suggests will ‘move ballet forward’) is not achieved. The twelve dancers, starring Sasha De Sola, Wei Wang, Jennifer Stahl and Stephen Morse were lead by a ‘poet’ Isaac Hernandez. Costumes for all were short skirts, providing fine leg work…but there was no other strong impact in this work.

Violin Concerto,” Stravinsky’s music played by Cordial Marks (on a 1703 Stradivarius!) is led by Sasha Mukhamedov (Muse) who inspires three principal couples and four ensemble couples to dance Yuri Possokhov’s work. The dancers are in shorts and other comfortable costumes and, though formal in ballet vocabulary, it “has an improvisational spirit that was present throughout its creation” says Possokhov.

But it is “Madcap” by choreographer Danielle Rowe that brings down the house and sends the audience into the windy night, delighted and cheerful. The ballet is an imaginary circus featuring clowns, jugglers, a red nose, ‘oom pa-pa’s’ and others unique to Rowe’s imaginative plot wherein events have an improvisational feel, as if the dancers decide when to enter the activities, to just be entertained as we the audience are. Besides the clown, Myles Thatcher, and the ‘oracle’, Jennifer Stahl, all the dancers appear to be having much fun, as we the audience delight in their activities and our surprised joyous response to ballet as sheer pleasure.

The SF Ballet season continues April 4-14 with “Dos Mujeres”, (choreographed by two women) and the return of “Mere Mortals” and “Swan Lake” encore. It has been a very impressive season under the direction of Tamara Rojo. The dancers are wonderful! The choreography often new and different than other seasons. SF Ballet is a gift to the Bay Area community. Go! Whether you have never seen ballet or have seen it all, it is a pleasure.

Joffrey Ballet – Anna Karenina

The Joffrey Ballet
“Anna Karenina”
Friday March 15, 2024
UC Berkeley, Zellerbach Hall

“Outrageous, Extravagant”…Excellent!

The Joffrey Ballet brought its huge company to the Zellerbach Hall this past weekend to amaze us with Yuri Passokhov’s choreography for the famous Tolstoy novel, “Anna Karenina”. It will take the usual reader several months, to read the book, to ‘get to know’ this complex tale. It took the Joffrey a little over two and a half hours, each minute packed with gorgeous dance.

Set in two acts, the narrative proceeds for ten scenes and an epilogue. We witness the joyful yet anguished love of Anna and Vronsky, the discipline and distinction of Karenin, Anna’s husband, (and their son Sertozha), the Moscow court, its protocol and dancers and the charming ultimately fulfilled love of Kitty and Kostantin. We also meet the Russian Society, Jockeys and Peasants. The dancers are all remarkable; the audience was attentive and appreciative, although sometimes more than a little overwhelmed.

Many dancers from the San Francisco Ballet company attended to admire their colleagues.

Kudos to the performers particularly Victoria Jaini (Anna) who accomplished remarkable skill both dramatic and technical in all scenes, from court appearances to sexy bedroom events. She is able to project the dramatic moments while executing extremely difficult technical movement when lifted, when on the floor, in intimate encounters and joyful moments. As Vronsky, Alberto Velazquez is her equal in both drama and skill, performing solo moments with overwhelming balletic display. Dylan Gutierrez portrayed a proud, powerful Karenin. The younger lovers, Kitty (Yumi Kanazawa) and Konstantin (Hyuma Kiyoswwa) portray their romance in a gentler mode, yet they are also powerful dancers . Dozens of others complete the cast.

The choreography by Yuri Possokhov and music by Ilya Demutsky (played by the Berkeley Symphony, conducted by Scott Speck) all must be awarded highest praise for amazing execution and performance. Lindsay Metzger provided vocal music.

This reviewer was amazed and impressed by all performers particularly Victoria Jaini, Alberto Velazquez and all the leading dancers. Kiyosawa is the last dancer on stage in an idyllic field full of flowers and crops. Is this Tolstoy’s message to us from the novel? That the decadent court may have its pride and passion, but that the peasant will prevail? More literate experts than I will provide the answer. The dancing was superb, the drama exciting, the production magnificent.

It was helpful to choose what to see and who to admire. It was often too much!