San Francisco Ballet Program 5

Program 5: “The Fifth Season”  “Harmony” “Magrittomania
Saturday, April 2, 2022 San Francisco Opera House


Program 5 of this season, celebrating the departure of director Helgi Tomasson, brought delightful levels of performance and choreography to the Opera House stage. Opening with “The Fifth Season”, a work Tomasson premiered in 2006, the evening continued with the director’s new work, “Harmony.” There are echoes of the earlier work in the latter; easy lyrical dance moves, pleasing, pleasant solos and duets in both and light costumes, primarily leotards, tights and simple ‘shifts’, which display the gorgeous bodies and the dancers lines.

“The Fifth Season bring almost all of the principles of the company into focus. Dores André and Benjamin Freemantle lead off with an ensemble of eight. There follows ”Waltz” by Yuan Yuan Tan, Sarah Van Patten, Tiit Helimets and Luke Ingham, all tightly skilled and thrilling to watch as the “Romance” by Dores André and Benjamin Freemantle. Some of the principles return to do “Tango”, (Sarah Van Patten Benjamin Freemantle, Tiit Helimets Luke Ingham), followed by a sultry “Largo” (Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets). The finale “Bits” is danced by the entire ensemble. It is a joyful reminiscence of Tomasson’s former work and a lead in to this next, his final work.

The music for “The Fifth Season” is “String Quartet No. 2”, Karl Jenkins, composer.

Harmony” (2022) was choreographed during the pandemic in 2020 when the dancers first returned to the studio. Tomasson decided to choreograph the work as a “celebration of dance and dancers…the result of that time in the studios-a hopeful look forward in an uncertain moment.”…”it’s more the emotion and feeling in the music that I’m going with.” The dance is accompanied by Natal’ya Feygina on the piano.

There are several sections to “Harmony”: each is danced with corps members of the company except for Wona Park, Max Cauthorn, Misa Kuranaga and Angelo Greco,who are principles. To music by Jean Pjillipe Rameau, (1683-1764), we are entertained by classic forms: Gavotte; Entrée de Polimnie; L’Eygyptienne ;Tambourin; Musette en rondeau; Rigaudon; Les Sauvages; Les Cupis and Les Cyclops.

Kuranaga and Greco are outstanding performers but all the dancers were charming and seemingly delighted to perform this work. They were costumed again in light simple dance clothes by Emma Kingsbury, lighting by Jim French. Tomasson took a bow.

Magrittomania” a work by former SFB dancer Yuri Passokhov (premiered March 30, 2000) provides a well-needed, delightful opportunity to laugh … certainly not at the dancers, but with them as they create various romps to selected pieces by Beethoven!, surrounded by decor images from the work of the Belgian surrealist, Rene Magritte.

The hats, clouds, chimneys and other visual. ‘quotes’ in the background provide the dancers with the opportunity to ‘play’ with the images and realize the humor. For example, Jennifer Stahl, dressed in red, dances a solo with one hand behind her back; in the pas de deux she wears a shroud. Luke Ingham loses, and finally regains the bowler hat so dominant in Magritte’s paintings; all the men wear bowlers while dancing. Max Cauthorn, Esteban Hernandez and Wei Wang also play important roles.There are nine excellent dancers with them. Follow the fast movement throughout.

Yuri Krasavin, composer has selected familiar Beethoven works and added some of his own contemporary music which includes ”some Jewish folk melodies.” The whole presentation, including the decor (by Thyra Hartshorn) encourages laughter at recognition of the images (including green apples) but also the delightful playful dance energy of the soloists and group. Don’t leave before the last moment!

Program 5 of this 2022 season not only celebrates the tenure of Helgi Tomasson, but it has brought the company to a new level of choreographic, technical and dance presentation skill. For this reviewer, It is the best event so far. Bravo to all!

Ming Luke was the conductor for the Beethoven/Krasavin score.

Program 5 continues April 5, 8,13,14, and 15; evening performances. Do go for the fun!

Ailey Dance

Ailey Dance
UC Cal Performances
March 30-April 2, 2022

50 Years of Ailey: Now Battle

Program A: Robert Battle 10th Anniversary Program

Since 1968 Cal Performances has proudly presented the Ailey Dance Company. Now under the direction of Robert Battle, the Company continues its remarkable performances and the sponsorship of the summer program for children, The Ailey Dance Camp.

The opening program, Program A celebrated 10 years of choreography by Robert Battle, now company director. The dancers are gorgeous, marvelously trained, technically brilliant. For this reviewer, the performance lacked emotional projection and emphasized technical achievement. Perhaps it is that the company is now very professional and/or has performed the works many, many times. It needs coaching.

Battle’s choreographic work enlists the accompaniment of many famous musicians. For “Ella” he used Ella Fitzgerald: for “For Four” Wynton Marsalis: for “ Takaheme” Sheila Chandra and for “Love Stories”, Stevie Wonder. For audiences who know and remember these musicians, it was a series of nostalgic treats. Except for “For Four” and “Love Stories”, the dances were duets, though “Takaheme” was a solo for Kanji Segawa. The work entitled “Unfold” was accompanied by the voice of Leontyne Price, a formidable opera star. However, the music was blasted at a volume that did no service to the singer. Lighting on several of these works was intense, bright and complex. For this reviewer, the dancers, though technically marvelous, were often lost in the production details. Dance that emphasizes technical skill often loses both dramatic and emotional impact. Battle’s works seem to be thus characterized.

The favorite work, “Revelations” which Ailey choreographed in 1960 is danced to a series of prayers, hymns and jubilant exultations. It celebrations the ‘baptism’ ceremony which is the “Revelation”. The work consists of nine hymns or ‘shouts’ that are performed by the group and various soloists. “I wanna be ready” danced by Vernard J. Gilmore is particularly poignant. It is a longing for purification. For this reviewer, it expresses a deep feeling for life, sin and death. Mr. Gilmore was beautiful, but alas, not emotionally moving. Years ago, an Ailey dancer, Dudley Williams, did that solo, leaving us in tears.

Program C introduced an entirely new work, “Busk” which has had much publicity and even access to a video and an interview with the choreographer, Aszure Barton. She tells us that “I made the work for the dancers.” So it seems, and although we are only able, in the stage production, to see some solo moments, “Busk” is largely a group work. Dressed in black, the dancers rock back and forth as if mourning and often are lined up together to emphasize their status. The stage was dimly lit, again, making the dance material evoking but not provoking.There is a staircase stage left; a solo figure runs to it; we don’t know why. Without program notes (which not everyone can access on the QR code previous to the show), we are left, again, fascinated but confused.

Program D was designated as “All Ailey”. We were able to see “Blues Suite”(1958), “Pas de Duke” (1976), “Cry” (1971) and again the closing celebration “Revelations” (1960). “Blues Suite” danced long and lovingly by the company and various soloists, is noted with the following lines: “Been down so long Getting up don’t cross my mind..When you see me laughing I’m laughing to keep from crying.” The nine sections of the work fitfully illustrate the many sorrowful “songs of love, despair and anger.”

To Duke Ellington’s music dancers Yannick Lebrun and Jacqueline Green offered a moving, although not very innovative series of moves in “Pas de Duke.” In “Cry,” dedicated “For all Black Women-everywhere, especially our mothers,” Constance Stamatiou was a strong soloist. And again, with great energy and skill, the dancers closed the program with “Revelations”, this time with an encore.

The Ailey Company is remarkable. It consists of people of different colors, all skilled and beautifully trained. Perhaps they tour too much; perhaps they grow tired. Ailey’s work is glorious … and it is difficult and demanding. For this reviewer, all performances and performers could cultivate and project the range of emotional and dramatic material inherent in the dances.

Dancing Moons Festival, Oakland Ballet

Dancing Moons Festival
Oakland Ballet
Oakland Asian Cultural Center
March 24-26, 2002

A Graceful Event

Graham Lustig, Artistic Director of the Oakland Ballet, has made the company an integral part of the community by reaching out and bringing its components into the Ballet School and Ballet performances. The company has sponsored events at various community holidays and brought performances to schools and community centers. Here at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center with the event entitled “Dancing Moons Festival”, he features dancers and choreographers of Asian cultural heritage.

The evening began with an informative informal discussion of choreographic input with the dancers and choreographers moderated by Robert Minz of the SF Asian Art Museum. It was an important time to learn the motivation and material presented. Technically the microphones and amplification would have made the discussion clearer.

Before the dancing began pitas Min Kwon played a composition for the piano by Derrick Skye, entitled “Woven Gesture, Flow”. It set a lyrical atmosphere for the dancing that followed. Choreographer Phil Chan set dancers Paunika Jones and Alberto Andrade into a lyric mode entitled “Amber Waves”. The dancers executed a beautiful ‘pas de deux’ demonstrating bravura technique and fine partnership.

Next, a quartet of dancers, Jazmine Quezada, Lawrence Chen, Samantha Bell and Aiden O’Leary performed a fast, dynamic exchange of dynamic energy featuring exuberant lifts, holds, catches and falls. It seems that current ballet technique is infused with gymnastic tumbling. I find Lawrence Chen particularly fun to watch.

The most “ethnic” event so far was Ahana Mukherjee, guest artist, performing “Malkauna Tarana” a work conceived and composed by Pandit Chitresh Das.

The artist displayed wonderful rhythmic foot work, extraordinary turning and expressive facial responses to bring authenticity to this dance. It made for variation in a program of ballet.

Layer upon Layer” a trio for Jazmine Quezada, Ashley Thopiah and Lawrence Chen, performed by the “Youth of Pirae” group, also demonstrated exuberant ballet skills layered with lively floor work. The energy and enthusiastic performers is extraordinary. Choreographically one might wish for more design, structure and range of movement ideas.

The Oakland Asian Art Center has a pleasant auditorium. The stage is not large; the dancers filled it with ease. The audience sits in chairs; there is no raking, so that watching dance with heads tilted to see becomes tiresome. But, it was a special event for a special community effort … and all must be congratulated.

The evening continued with works by Linli Wang, Phil Chan, the Parangal Dance Company and choreographer Michael Lowe, who was with the original Oakland Ballet.

This reviewer was not able to stay after intermission.

{The program was dedicated to the memory of Wilma Chan.}