San Francisco Ballet – Program 2

San Francisco Ballet: Program 2
January 3, 2022 War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
Caprice” (Tomasson): “In the Night” (Robbins): “Blake Works” (Forsythe)

Moving Right Along…

The history of ballet, as we know it, goes back at least five centuries. Although scholars will disagree, many concede that Catherine de Medici, an Italian by birth, later Queen of France, brought the pageantry of ballet to the court.

Modified over the centuries by the French, Russian and ultimately, American ballet masters, we continue to see its basic characteristics: symmetry, aerial movement (jumps, lifts, etc.) “pas de deux” (interludes for couples) and mass (often uniform) movement by groups (corps de ballet). (See: Kirstein: “Dance A Short History”)

The 20th and 21st century has brought choreographic modifications including gestures from social dance forms, multiple rhythms and change in group formations. Still, the older patterns remain, and although often gloriously performed technically, they do not enliven the viewing after many repetitions.

Such concerns are visible in both Tomasson’s “Caprice” which opened Program 2 and Forsythe’s new piece “Blake Works”. “Caprice” has four movements each featuring a “pas de deux’. The first was performed by Misa Kuranaa and Angelo Greco: the second and fourth by prima ballerina Yuan Yuan Tan and partner Luke Ingham. The “Trio” provided variation. As the ‘center’ of the work it was danced by Misa Kuranaga, Angelo Greco and Luke Ingram.

Although Tomasson’s notes tell us that he urged the dancers to “enter with more abandon” and “enjoy” (the music is joyous), nevertheless the “neo-classical” tradition, the repetition of ‘side-to-side’ spacial structure and the dominate execution of lifts (right side up and even upside down!) make for both rhythmic and visual monotony. The soloists are in white: the ‘corps’ in vague beige costumes. Since the dancers are all technically brilliant “Caprice” succeeds.

Blake Works”, Forsythe’s premiere piece is costumed in light blue. He is able to bring rhythmic variations to James Blake’s seven songs “The Color of Anything”. Ayman Harper staged the piece for SF Ballet saying he enjoyed ‘seeing the dancers rifting musically off one another.” He adds, “What I value so much about Bill’s work is that it lives and breathes.” Nevertheless, the work stays true to its ballet vocabulary, its group staging and its ‘pas de deux.” The dancers add an occasional ‘wrist-drop” hip wiggles and some off-beat travel but return to the customary skilled solos.

There is a good rapport among the dancers; they enjoy what Forsythe provided. The featured dancers were: Sasha De Sola, Jennifer Stahl, Julia Rowe, Joseph Walsh, Aaron Robison, Max Cauthorn. They are all skilled and delightful. The score, the songs are wonderful. Audiences can look forward to seeing further February, 2022 performances of “Blake Works”.

In the Night”, Danced by three couples, to piano accompaniment (played by Mungunchimeg Buriad), Jerome Robbins brings his 20th century choreographic skill to Chopin’s Piano Nocturnes.(Nocturnes OP. 27, NO. 1; OP. 55, NO.1 & 2; OP. 9, NO. 2.)

Robbins came to the NYCity Ballet during and after a career in musical theater and show ‘biz’. Born in New Jersey and living in NYC during most of his lifetime, he absorbed many styles of the. ’30’s and ’40’s and by 1947 asked Balanchine if he could work at NYC Ballet.(See Jowitt. “Jerome Robbins: His Life, His Theater, His Dance”.)

He had studied ballet early in life and returned to it to choreograph many important and unusual works. “In the Night “(1970) follows an earlier Chopin work, “Dances at a Gathering.”(1969)

In the Night” is a ballet for three couples. The first appears to be for a young couple, playful and delighted in their skills and relationship. The second is more formal; their movements are precise, careful danced almost with disregard for one another. (The man’s suggested military uniform adds to the aloofness.) The third couple is wild; intense with one another and then in total disregard. At one point she throws herself at his feet! Is it an apology? It is a reconciliation.

Robbins choreography for each couple is unique, and although there are lifts and solo interludes, the material is fresh and dramatic for each. We know them and their “stories” as if they were told. Robbins often uses the long diagonal spaces from upstage right to downstage left and the reverse. That is so refreshing after flat cross stage spacing. Program notes quote Jowitt: “By sometimes traveling hand in hand with the music, sometimes jostling subtly against it, his choreography reflects the changeability of relationships.” The work is danced exquisitely. The dancers are: first couple: Mathilde Frousty, Benjamin Freemantle; second couple: Jennifer Stahl, Tiit Helmets; third couple:Sarah VanPaten , Ulrick Birkkjaer. “In the Night” is a dance that demands being seen over and over. It is a joyous dramatic ballet.


Oakland Ballet’s NUTCRACKER

Oakland Ballet: Graham Lustig, Director
Saturday, December 18, 2021
Paramount Theater, Oakland

Oakland Ballet’s NUTCRACKER: Charming/Delightful

Oakland’s Paramount Theater was allmost full with the enthusiastic audience that supports the Ballet’s performances. The event is dedicated and cast with all the many ethnicities that are Oakland’s people.

Lustig is amazingly capable of producing the NUTCRACKER on the limited, shallow stage space at the Paramount. He is able to arrange groups, focus soloists and, with the help of scenic artists, create the magic that is this annual festive event. He does some changes with the original scenario but those are to the advantage of this show.

The family Christmas Eve party features Paunika Jones as Marie (the child who receives the Nutcracker doll from Uncle Drosselmeyer (Philip Chan). Marie is often besieged by brother Fritz (Alexader Pers) whose battling friends are later imagined as the attacking Rats. In her dream, Marie is able to assist the Nutcracker (Lawrence Chen) by killing the Rat King (Aiden O’Leary). This act of bravery and her imagination take her to the Frozen Forest where she is entertained by dancing Snowmaidens and rolly-polly Snowballs.

All these performers are children and adults of the Oakland Ballet school. Some may be guests for these performances. Both children and adults dance well, are delightfully costumed and, best of all, seem to enjoy their participation.

Marie and the Nutcracker Prince (now marvelously restored to human form) journey to Confiturembourg. There they are entertained by Bonbons, Peppermints, Clowns, Rosebuds, Candy Cooks and a variety of ‘international’ dancers. Finally the Sugar Plumb Fairy (Jazmine Quezada) and her Cavalier (Evan Ambrose) appear to dance the famous “pas de duex” that concludes the dream. Marie awakens, safe at home, happy with her Nutcracker doll and her Christmas dream.

Lustig has made the performance enchanting and within the range of all performers.

The stage space is challenging; so that choreography moves endlessly side to side since the depth is limited. The best dancing is done by Marie (Paunika Jones) and the Nutcracker Prince (Philip Chan). Jazmine Quezada and Evan Ambrose add professionalism to the final “pas de duex”. But it is he tdesign of all the dances and the excellent scenic wonders makes the Oakland Ballet’s NUTCRACKER a delightful holiday treat. Julius P. Williams conducted the Oakland Symphony

Note: The program notes the passing of Oakland Ballet’s former director and founder, Ronn Guidi and Michael Morgan, conductor of the Oakland Symphony, the group that accompanied Tchaikovsky’s score for the Nutcracker for this and previous performances. Julius P. Williams conducted the Oakland Orchestra.


Mark Morris. Cal Performances, 12/17/21

Mark Morris Dance Group
Cal Performances. Friday, December 17, 2021 8 PM
Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley

Holiday Hurrah!

The Mark Morris Dance Group returned to UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall during the weekend of December 17-19, 2021. In other years Morris has brought his “Nutcracker” satire,” The Hard Nut” for the Berkeley audience. This year, we were treated to a repertory of older works. The program featured several group dances and one duet, all performed to live music (works by Handel, Cowell, Schumann) and an arrangement of nostalgic songs, sung by Morris! and Mary Sherhart. A small group of excellent musicians accompanied the dancers….live!

For this reviewer, the duet entitled “Jenn and Spencer,” danced by Karlie Budge and Brandon Randolph was the ‘hit’ of the evening. To Henry Cowell’s “Suite for Violin and Piano” (played by Georgy Valtchev, violin; Colin Fowler, piano), the two dancers created beautifully shaped movement designs and encounters, displaying superb technique and intimate relationships. Karlie Budge, in a long dress and flowing hair, was both dramatic and acrobatic; Brandon Randolf supported and extended all the movement.

Morris got into the act (with soprano Mary Sherhart) by singing in “Dancing Honeymoon,” a selection of songs from past times, including “You Were Meant for Me,” “Do Do Do,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “A Cup of Coffee, A Sandwich, and You” and others. The work, from 1998, was danced by Mica Bernas, Brandon Cournay, Sarah Haarmann, Aaron Loux, Laurel Lynch, Billy Smith, and Noah Vinson.

I don’t know if they all had “tongue in cheek” but the work is charming, funny and delightful.The evening began with “Water” for the company of thirteen dancers to Handel’s “Water Music”.

Indeed the energy and grouping for the thirteen dancers flowed beautifully with many surprises in group patterns, gestures and intriguing floor designs. There is much ‘balletic movement” extended by Morris’ ability to enliven the stage with varying cast groupings, entrances and exits.

The closing work “V” to Schumann’s Quintet in E flat major for Piano and Strings, Op. 44, for fourteen dancers, was less pleasing to this viewer since the dance vocabulary was repetitious and continually ‘on the beat,” which may be accurate but often grows rhythmically very dull. Half the group was consumed in long light green outfits; the other half was in bright blue jackets and shorts. It was impossible not to become entranced by naked legs and bare midriffs as the dancers crawled across the stage, on the staccato beat of the music. Still and all, they are a great ensemble of dancers. They are:

Mica Bernas, Karlie Budge, Brandon Cournay, Domingo Estrada, Jr., Leslie Garison, Sarah,Haarmann, Deepa Liegel, Aaron Loux, Laurel Lynch, Dallas McMurray, Maile Okamura, Brandon Randolph, Christina Sahaida, Billy Smith, Noah Vinson and Malik Q. Williams.

All choreography is by Mark Morris. He has created a great ensemble and a superb repertory, brought fame to Brooklyn (where the company has a gorgeous home) and brought a renewed delight in live music as accompaniment for dance. Bravo Mark! And to all the performers.

Happy Holiday.!