Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo – Jan 27, 2024

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
Cal Performances UCB
January 27, 2024. 8 PM

Wonderful! Oh wonderful to behold!

What a pleasure it is to welcome the “Trocs” back to UC Zellerbach Hall. They (the company) have often appeared at Zellerbach. Tonight’s event was listed as a 50th Anniversary.

So much of what they do its amazing, preposterous and wonderful! It helps if one knows a little of ballet repertory to appreciate the skill – and satire each program event presents.The choreographic patterns are there for each item…yet the “Trocs” take every advantage to make the audience laugh…not just at their playful physical dance jokes…but at the choreography itself.

We are offered “Le Lac des Cynes” (Swan Lake Act III), perhaps the best known ballet in the western world. To music by Tchaikovsky (1877), a princess becomes a swan by an ‘evil’ sorcerer. (Apparently this was a well known fable of Russian folklore). In 1893 the Maryinsky Ballet produced the version presented (always with alterations) by most companies today

The “Trocs” know how to build satire into performance. In “Swan Lake,” Prince Siegfried (Araf Legupski) and his friend Benno (Kraviji) attempt to win the Queen of the Swans (Collete Adae) from the evil Van Rothbart (Yuri Smirnov). Many unsucessful pas de deux and pas de trois are danced, but alas! Rothbart prevails. All this and the splendid accompanying dances of the corps de ballet reconstruct this most popular of all ‘romantic/classical” ballets .. And/But the choreography is complete with prat falls, slaps,”incorrect” positions and postures and the amazing skill of every “Troc”…soloist and corps de ballet.(Men..in point shoes!)

Next, to our further delight is “Yes, Virginia, Another Piano Ballet” to music by Chopin. There is a grand piano on stage; we hear music; no one is playing. This work is a direct satire on “Dances at a Gathering,” a ballet by Jerome Robbins when Robbins was ‘away’ from Broadway (1969) and in residence at the NYC Ballet. To the ballet world at that time, the work was a direct challenge to the full orchestra, classical events presented by George Balanchine, the famous director and choreographer.

As the “Trocs” performed it three “women” Greanya Protozoa, Ludmilla Beaulemova and Holly Day-Abroad dance with the boys, Parcel Tord and Chip Pididonda to give us a more contemporary play time, embracing the piano and sometimes each other in Robbins’ modern ballet style. It is a romp and as the program says, “plain folk relating to each other”. However these “plain folk” are amazingly skilled dancers and comedians with superb timing.

We are treated to the most divine solo work in ballet repertory, “The Dying Swan”.(Alas I cannot find the brilliant artist’s name who performed this evening). Originally Anna Pavlova was the first in this role, in 1916. Although its intention is to portray the ‘fragility of life’ the Trocs Swan ballerina was losing her feathers at the start and it got better (or worse) as the solo continued. Nevertheless, she(He) gathered her feathers and took numerous bows and curtain call.

The evening’s finale “Paquita”(a superb exapfeifengesictmple of “French” style ballet) is now seen as ‘academic classical dance’ enriched by unexpected “combinations and steps”. We are entranced by the Ballerina Varvara Laptopova and Cavalier Bruno Backpfeiferngesicht as they command our attention and that of the five ‘ballerianas” who dance the five variations. As in other inventive, funny and classically profound work,

Paquita” shows us what ballet is (and was) and above all, the many superb skills in performance and satire of “Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo”. Come back again every year for another 50 years!

SF Ballet – “Mere Mortals”

SF Ballet – “Mere Mortals”
Friday, January 26, 2024
SF Opera House

Brave New Ballet

Tamara Rojo, the new director of San Francisco Ballet, in her new 2023 program booklet remarks, “Greetings” says commenting on “Mere Mortals” …”I truly hope this ballet leaves you curious about the creative promise that this new technology holds…”

Yes! But are we the ‘older’ audience ready for the use of technology at the ballet when we became so fond of the orchestra (directed by Martin West), clearly visibly sets and costumes and a presentation of solos, duets and group work, either with or without narrative? This reviewer, for one (and many agree) that “Mere Mortals” was a thorough challenge as the opening event of the 2024 season. We have much to learn.

Background. Over half a century ago I, as a dance student, worked with Hanya Holm, a German choreographer (who eventually did “Kiss Me Kate” and “My Fair Lady’). We, the student chorus faced upstage and in total ensemble performed simple walking steps. Meanwhile on the stepped set, a soloist performed. We never saw her. It was “expressionism”! Some of this pattern, for me, was present in “Mere Mortals”.

In “Mere Mortals” the soloists dominate the choreography although from time to time the group is challenged to move with them in various unified patterns. The soloists are all fantastic. In early sections, the group is almost always on its knees. “Ouch”!

There is a complex narrative. Hope (Wei Wang) portrayed by “both male and female dancers” is first. Then Prometheus (Isaac Hernådez) (a rebel who thrives in chaos) steals fire from the Gods. Pandora (Jennifer Stahl) “has a totally different skill set from the group…”. And finally Epimetheus, (Parker Garrison) ,“one of the few fearless beings…who welcomes new ideas and inventions.” If only we knew more of this mythology.

A major problem for this viewer was the lighting (or lack of it) for the opening sections. All the dancers were in black, soloists and chorus. The floor (which I heard later, seen from above) was lit, but it was not adequately lit from orchestra seats. Darkness prevailed although the remarkable light show technology (by Hammill Industries) broke into the darkness. The mythic environment remained dark. The music (by Floatjng Points) added to the “technological update” of this work choreographed by Azsure Barton (a woman from Canada). The “older audience” had much to learn, to experience, to question… and to accept.

Two brilliant dance episodes were worth close observation and appreciation.Jennifer Stahl (Pandora) and Parker Garrison (Eptmetheus) performed a duet that was thrilling in its innovative movement vocabulary. Stahl also held still for a long solo episode while the music and technical visuals surrounded her. All the soloists, (cited above) and Prometheus (Isaac Hernandez), deserve praise and applause.

But it is the chorus, in opening sections, almost always on the ground as worshipers of Prometheus who make the greatest impact as they move in powerful unison. They (all 40 of them) later serve, responding to the other ‘immortals”.

When finally in the last section the costuming changes to gold body suites (for all dancers), the chorus is on its feet, performing brilliantly in geometric patterns behind and with the soloists, particularly with Wei Wang as Hope.

Audiences usually do not read program notes before the show. So…much of the characterization of the soloists challenged their ‘information’ understanding. For many in my seating area “Mere Mortals” was a light show, complete with technical and sound technology, a setting for some stunning soloists performances and much empathy for the dramatic, brilliant corps.

Then, to everyone’s delight as the audience moved into the Lobby, a dance event was going on! SFB promises that will happen after all shows, There, at last, we could understand and enjoy as we are and what it is to be “Mere Mortals”.


Nutcracker 2023

San Francisco Ballet “Nutcracker
December 13, 2023 7 pm
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA

Happy Holiday!

It was delightful to see all the children – dressed up in festive wear- enjoying the opera house and the 2023 production of “Nutcracker”. Tamara Rojo, the new director of SFB has brought back Helgi Tomasson’s production of the ballet from previous 50 year seasons! SFB is credited with doing the first “Nutcracker”.

This current production is lively and notable for several individual outstanding performances. The corps performances, straightforward and clear as it is, back up these individuals and provide the live ‘decor’ needed to enhance the production. “Nutcracker” is always spectacular even to those who have seen it numerous times.

The production elements (setting, costumes, special effects, snow falling on dancers…) are the stars of the show. This year’s unique dancers deserve special attention.

Uncle Drosselmeyer” was performed by the very competent actor/dancer Val Caniparoli.”The dancing dolls” who entertain the children in Act 1 were Joshua Jack Price, Julia Rowe and Lleyton Ho. In the battle between the mice and the Nutcracker Prince (Aaron Robinson), the “King of the Mice” Alexander Reneff Olson was particularly powerful: Olson was uproariously funny as he rolled off the stage into the orchestra pit. Act I ends with the Queen and King of the Snow, Jasmine Jimison and Mingxuan Wang leading the corps of “snowflakes

Act II brings even more magic. We meet Sasha De Sola as the “Sugar Plum Fairy” who greets the charming Clara (the family heroine played by a modest Danielle Hilman) and “Uncle Drosslemeyer” as they travel to the enchanted kingdom in a marvelous sleigh. The sleigh is pulled by four dances costumed as horses. We, and they, travel the world to see “Spanish”, “Arabian”, “Chinese”, “French” and “Russian” dances…all producing characteristic rhythms and costumes of those dances. But the big treat of the evening, for parents and children in the audience, is the arrival of “Madame Du Cirque” (Louis Schilling) with his/her baffoons! The baffoons are all students of the San Francisco Ballet School!. With them is Lleyton Ho, a star performer. The audience is delighted!

After the “Waltzing Flowers” we are finally treated to the “Grand Pas de Deux” by the ‘star performers’, Nikisha Fogo and Aaron Robison.

It is too long a year to wait to see Nikisha Fogo’s dancing. Due to some injury she appeared in only two events last year. Most dancers have extraordinary technique; many are able to project their roles in a dramatic fashion. Fogo has the great talent of projecting her skill and her role’s “character” across the footlights. Her technique seems effortless and/but it is her dramatic skill that is amazing and fascinating.

Nutcracker” is the “end of the year” celebration (and money earner) for the ballet.

This year audiences were given an elaborate program with not only the complete story, but within its pages, an opportunity to write to dancers, learn details of the company and the administration and see endless photographic material. However the ‘cast list’ had to be photographed to be learned. To give them the credit, due to such talented performers, the dancers deserve a page of printed listing.

Martin West conducted the brilliant San Francisco Ballet orchestra.