Smuin Ballet

Smuin Dance Series 1
Lesher Center for the Arts
Walnut Creek, CA
February 19, 2022 2 pm

All the beautiful girls and boys…

The program for the Smuin Dance Series 1 was delightful. It consisted of three works, two by Amy Seiwart (“Been through Diamonds” and “Dear Miss Cline”) and one by Gina Patterson “You Are Here”. Seiwart is a California choreographer whose works have been seen locally. She had been a member of Smuin’s company for eight years. Patterson has choreographed internationally. This is the first work of hers I’ve seen.

All the pieces had the delightful energy of partner dancing, sometimes flirting, sometimes couples entranced. Except for Seiwart’s “Dear Miss Cline,” the women dancers all wear conventional toe shoes and leotards and although there is unusual use of the floor (rolling, falling somersaults, etc.), conventional ballet movement prevails. In “Been through Diamonds” the boys wear suits with open jackets. Parter exchange prevails. Entrances and exits are quick.

Seen Through Diamonds” is performed to Mozart’s “String Quartet C minor”. The music moves fast, as do the dancers. Small groups form, break and reform. There are amazing lifts, falls, spins and balances. It’s all very good, .. and maybe too much.

Dear Miss Cline” Seiwert’s second piece on the program includes the familiar “Bill Bailey Won’t You Please Come Home”. This time costumes are ‘country style’ for the women and easy shirts and pants for the guys. It’s very much a “guys and dolls” work, technically excellent and fun. This reviewer would like to see the ‘girls’ stay on the ground. Endless lifts, tosses, falls and rolls, though amazing, break the dance line and rhythm.

One dancer, Mengjun Chen emerged as technically outstanding and dynamically interesting. His energy, skill and placement reaches out.

You Are Here” to music by Ludevico Einaudi included a quote from an unidentified poem .. which ends “..until darkness falls away and silence whispers you are here.” The dance theme echoes this: one dancer seem unable to unite with a partner, although the work involves many partners dancing. The work was originally performed with the Cincinatti Ballet, 2013. It was the most original work on this program.

The Walnut Creek audience, a full house, seemed delighted with the program. It was a charming Saturday matinee of dance, echoing those often seen in ‘musical-comedy’. Although this reviewer admires the technical skill and clarity of all the dancers, it would be refreshing to see fewer dance phrases that demand partner lifts, spins and falls. Some well phased lyric passages would be refreshing and break the endless dynamic of conventional partnering.

Smuin Dance Series 2 opens in San Francisco April 29-May 4 followed by performances in Mountain View and Carmel.

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.