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’.

Smuin 30

Smuin 30
Feb. 29, 2024 7:30. pm
Yerba Buena Center
San Francisco,CA

Ballet as ‘show-biz

Michael Smuin was founder of his company and director for thirteen years. Now the company is still going strong after 30 years, says Celia Fuschille, current artistic director. Smuin emphasized ‘entertainment, “to mix the popular with the classical.” Celebrating the company’s 30th years, this event, “Celebration Smuin” accomplishes that..providing a ‘story’ ballet (Zorro!), and another work set to songs by Sinatra. (“Fly me to the Moon.”)

Zorro! (world premiere) goes on for eleven scenes during which we watch the emergence of a young (movie) usher, Emilio, who is bullied by his boss, and eventually emerges as a brave swordsman and lover with the help of the famous Zorro! The name of the film playing at the theater is Zorro!, so that no less than three Zerro’s help Emilio learn bravery and swordsmanship. All this is accomplished with the assistance of the movie audience the ballerinas who participate in the chorus. Lively and charming as it is, it does go on too long and has many complex (but exciting) incidents to follow. The choreography as all this and ‘classical’ ballet steps and patterns.. I believe that Marc Lapierre played Emilio: he and all the Zorros displayed amazing skill and drama.

Fly Me To The Moon” to well-known Sinatra songs is easier to follow since each is a unique event, for solos, duets and the group. The movement vocabulary entails mime, ’show-biz’ wiggles and even a short foray into tap dancing. The dancers are all very accomplished…and (but) the ‘classical’ ballet technique is sometimes awkward as the vocabulary for this entertainment. As the program notes indicate, this was Smuin’s intention: to make classical ballet ‘entertainment’. The performers are all ‘top-notch’ and/but this reviewer longed to free them from toe shoes and the formality that classical ballet demands, to let them sing and dance and really bring us ‘show-biz’.

The Rite of Spring

common ground(s)* The Rite of Spring
Zellerbach Hall UC Berkeley
Friday, February 16, 2024 8 PM
Sunday, February 18, 2024 3 PM

École des Sables: dancing the work of Pina Bausch

This event was danced by “a specially recruited ensemble”, and for first time performed by dancers from African countries. Germaine Acogny, co-founder of the ´Ecole des Sables, Senegal, is quoted, saying… “When I first saw Pina’s “Rite of Spring,” I felt it was an African rite.” As if to further the African environment the stage is ‘prepared’ for the dancers by covering the floorboard with ‘peat’. Several stagehands with carts fill the stage with earthen ‘dirt’, smoothing the surface so that it can become a dance floor. It was an event worth watching. The working crew got resounding applause.

After extensive selection and workshops in Senegal, 38 of the 137 applicants were chosen. About an earlier work (seen by Acogny in Berart’s production), she says, “It felt like a primitive rite… and there were even elements of traditional African dance in his (Bejart’s) production.

The dancers are all amazing, skilled, fused as ensembles with perfect timing. There is a woman’s group (about 17 dancers) and a men’s group of the same size. Two ‘solo’ figures emerge…one who (as a priest figure) and one (as the sacrifice) who dominate the final moments of the work. Alas, the program listed all the dancers’ names but did not name the soloists!

And what a work it is! Both, all the group’s movements are superbly synchronized, so that the force of each group’s leaps, jumps, turns and frantic arm gestures become powerful forces. The women mRite of Springove as a group but often, one by one, leave the group to address, comfort and echo the ‘sacrificial’ chosen one. There are wild open arm and hand gestures, twists and bends…and a range of movement not often seen in any ballet.

Opening the evening Germaine Agony and Malou Airaudo, (directors of the company), danced a quiet retrospective piece to music by Fabrice Bouillon LaForest. The dance was a duet of ‘remembrance’ and gentle interaction between these powerful but aging dancers. Audience members understood their need to perform and be introduced, but the work itself is too long, without dynamics and for many, a poor opening for an otherwise exiting dynamic performance event.Rite of Spring

Pina Bausch’s “Rite of Spring” is an amazing response to the famous Stravinsky score. Although the riots it produced in 1913 will not be repeated a hundred years later, still, this production by ´Ecole des Sables deserves tumultuous applause. Bravo all!