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!


San Francisco Ballet: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
San Francisco Ballet Opera House
March 12, 2024 7:30 PM

What dreams are made of…

San Francisco Ballet has brought back Balanchine’s “Dream” after four years. At that time the production had to close…or be postponed until this year due to the COVID virus that threatened audiences…and dancers. Now. in 2024, SF Ballet has engaged “couturier”, Christian Lacroix as designer of the sets and costumes. “Dream” remains magical, funny (as only Shakespeare can provide), elegant and excellent in dancing.

It was choreographed by the famous George Balanchine and premiered on 17 January 1962 and considered as his “first completely original full-length ballet.” That production starred Edward Villella as Oberon, Melissa Hayden as Titania and Arthur Michell as Puck. SF Ballet has in this 2024 production kept the two act structure (Act I) In the forest, (Act II) in Duke Theseus’ Athens palace. Shakespeare’s tale is told in the first act; the second is a ‘courtiers’ wedding celebration and an opportunity for multiple ‘divertissment’. It seems that every dancer in the company and all the children of the SFBallet school participate in the enchanting event.

Compliments and kudos to all: Sasha De Sola (Titania), Esteban Hernandez (Oberon) and wild applause for Cavan Conley as Puck! Bottom was comically portrayed by Alexis Francisco Valdes, bravely and delightfully even wearing the donkey head. We were even treated to the dancing of Nikisha Fogo as Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.

All this and the company and school’s children as principles, pages, butterflies and courtiers. In the pit, with the fine SFBallet orchestra (conducted by Martin West), we were also treated to singers, members of San Francisco’s Volti vocal ensemble.

Dream” continues at San Francisco Ballet through March 23. If you can give yourself the pleasure of re-reading the play, do it! If not, go the SFBallet’s production! It will encourage you to reread the play, rejoice in its humor and charm and enjoy ‘the dream.’ If you can find a copy of Jennifer Homan’s “Mr.B”, you will discover that the choreographer himself (a 20th century genius of many dimensions) identified most with “Bottom,” the lover, player, braggart who is comically portrayed as an ‘ass’.