SF Ballet – (Re)Visions

SF Ballet Program 2
Season 2020
February 11, 2020
SF Opera House

(Re) Visions

SF Ballet has made quick program changes for the 2020 season. For the opening of Program 2, Mark Morris’ “Sandpiper Ballet was the major concluding work on the program, preceded by “Director’s Choice(s)”.. For the February 11 evening, the choices were “Foreshadow”, Val Caniparoli’s trio of characters from “Anna Karenina”; “Pas de duel” from “After the Rain” by Christopher Wheeldon and “Soréess Musicales” by director Helgi Thomasson.

Of this selection, “After the Rain” emptying the talents of Yuan Yuan Tan and Luke Ingham was the most successful. To music by Arvo Part, the duet established a new dimension of lyricism for Tan and noble partnering by Ingham. The piece is slow moving, even sentimental, a sober quiet performance by two established artists. Tan transcended her acrobatic skills and was nobly supported by her partner.

Best of the program was Stanton Welch’s “Bespoke” to Bach’s Violin Concerto in A Minor, brilliantly performed by violinist Cordula Merks and the SF Ballet Orchestra. Six couples enter and leave the stage in exuberant long dance phrases, sometimes partnered and sometimes solo, joining together with trios and the entire ensemble.

It is the silent solo by Esteban Hernandez that starts the piece; then the orchestra picks up his energy. It is arresting and exciting and the audience anticipates each time Hernandez reappears with his wonderful focus and superb jumps. All the men are capable of such technique and the women are swift and sure in long locomotor patterns that whisk across the stage. Frances Chung, sometimes partnered by Hernandez and often solo, again, for this reviewer, stole the show.

Caniparoli’s “Foreshadow” with Jennifer Stahl (Karenina), Tiit Helmets (Vronsky) and Elizabeth Powell (Kitty) is a lyrical introduction to the famous characters. the dynamics are established, but the work does not develop the tensions necessary to bring the drama to fulfillment. Perhaps it just needs to be extended.

Mark Morris intrudes into the ballet world and seems to make audiences happy. For “Sandpiper Ballet” he uses the familiar music of Leroy Anderson; everyone can leave humming. Twenty-five dancers in Mizrahi green/blue costumes fill the stage for 35 minutes displaying Morris’ “tricks of the trade:” extensive geometric patterns, lots of acrobatic leaps and lifts and a sight gag now and then. (The downstage left corner of the line-up welcomes a dancer who is late to get in line.) A fellow audience member, admiring the work, nevertheless remarked that the ‘greenbeans’ on stage got a bit tiresome to watch.

SF Ballet’s 2020 season as (Re) Visions is off the a lively start. The soloists, primarily the men, and some of the women dancers are brilliant; the corps de ballet well trained. There will be more Dance Innovations in the weeks to come before full-length programs follow.

Kudos as always to the fabulous SF Ballet Orchestra, Martin West conductor, The orchestra’s ability too go from Bach to Anderson in one evening deserves special applause.

Joanna G. Harris

Mark Morris’ “Sandpiper Ballet


Sharp & Fine Company

Just Ahead is Darkness
Sharp and Fine Company
Z Space Theater
February 7 – 9, 2020

Memory and Celebration

Sharp & Fine is a San Francisco based contemporary dance company founded in 2011 by sisters Megan and Shannon Kurashige. Their aim is “to create narrative performance work that brings together physical exuberant choreography, emotionally nuanced text, live music and multi-disciplinary collaboration.“ (quote from program notes)

For the most part they succeed with an extremely talented group of dancers and musicians. The thematic material of “just Ahead is Darkness” concerns family life, death, and memory. It draws on the “Japanese and Japanese-American tradition of remembering the dead to tell a poignant and magical take about family, love, loss and the eternal return of ghosts.”

There are two stories. The first, featuring dancers Sonja Dale (child), Sarah Woods-LaDue (mother), Chistian Burns (father), Megan and Shannon Kuashige (aunties) involves the father and daughter sharing infatuation with the starry night. After the father’s death, he returns as a ghost and haunts the family’s memory. Burns is a particularly interesting dancer, able to perform extremely articulate dramatic movement with his arms and legs as extensions of his torso. Dale and Woods-LaDue both have great range of movement skills and dramatic ability.

All dancers execute long phrases of movement combining ballet, modern dance and contact improvisation skills. These are accompanied by dramatic dialogues and monologues which can be beautiful and sentimental. Alas, there are too many movement phrases, mostly with the same dynamic and also spoken interludes which(at this event suffered from technical difficulties in the sound system.

The second story, introduced by a long monologue by Tristan Ching Hartman as “Death” tells the story of a boy who, holding a rock in water for a long time, nevertheless, drowned. Hartman’s descent from an upstage right staircase was an arresting, breathtaking event, as was Woods-LaDue’s similar action carrying the rock. Again, family story telling and long interactive movement phrases amplified the memories and sentiment.

At the start of the program and at an interval, the company danced with members of audience as if to bring memories with them. These events were prelude to the demonstration of “Fukushima Ondo” by Kay Fukumoto, Brian Nagami and Jen Sumida of Maui Taiko during which most of the audience danced. This last event celebrated the Obon festival that Megan and Shannon experience in Hawaii. Shannon writes; “Bon dances are part family reunion, part ritual…but mostly about bringing people tougher.” That celebration and the festival of food that graced the end of the evening in the lobby, surely accomplished her aim.

Musicians Steve Adams (woodwinds), Jordan Glenn (percussion), John Schoot (guitar) and Cory Wright (woodwinds) deserve special recognition for their excellent accompaniment.

Technical credits include Allen Willner (lights), Emily Kurashige (costumes) and Mika Hamamura, Jason Kurashige and Jon Hamamura (scentic design and production). Bravo!

Joanna G. Harris

Sarah Woods-LaDue (Mother), with rock, and Christian Burns (Father) in Just Ahead is Darkness. Photo by Stephen Texeira.


SF Ballet – Cinderella

SF Ballet “Cinderella
Tuesday, January 21, 2020
SF Opera House

Brilliant Ballerina

Frances Chung joined the SF Ballet in 2001, became soloist in 2005 and was made principal dancer in 2019. Now, in the opening work of the 2020 season, Chung, as “Cinderella” in Christopher Wheeldon’s production, has achieved greatness.

Other dancers exude technical brilliance; some have dramatic ability and project ideas and emotions suitable to their role. Chung has accomplished a balance of skill (without the flashy ‘show-off’ display), dramatic depth and character interpretation that fascinates and intrigues the audience. It was truly drawn into her performances. Brava!

There are many compliments to be paid for this revival. “Cinderella” was produced at SF Ballet on May 3, 2013. (Chung portrayed the ‘near-sighted’ sister in that production!) It was originally premiered in Amsterdam by the Dutch National Ballet (that claim co-production still) on December 13, 2012.

The ‘stage-magic’ accomplished by Natasha Katz (Lighting), Julian Crouch( Scenic and Costume Design), and especially Basil Twist (Tree and Carriage Sequence Direction/Design) bring this “Cinderella” to the fairy tale status longed for by adults and children.

It all just doesn’t seem possible but there it is: the tree grows up and out; the carriage wheels appear and then take Cinderella to the ball; the chairs float up and frame the stage. To this stage-magic, add the roles of the four “Fates” who help Cinderella accomplish her personal magic. Max Cauthorne, Daniel Deivison-Olivera, Steven Morse and Alexander Renneff-Olson are sometimes seen and often un-seen, but accomplish the moments when transformation must happen. A particularly delightful moment occurs when the “Fates” slide Cinderella across the stage to grasp the slipper which will prove her as the bride-to-be.

Joseph Walsh as Prince Guilloume is an accomplished partner for Chung. Their sizes are compatible; therefore the lifts and balances are secure. Esteban Hernandez provides the comic and skilled, ‘friend’ of the Prince, who, by switching roles achieves his own romance. (The early childhood scene in the ballet, provides the backstory.)

Sarah Van Patten achieves the master acting award as the Stepmother. She is skilled and very funny, as are the step-sisters, Elizabeth Powell and Ellen Rose Hummel.

Wheeldon and librettist Craig Lucas chose to let the tree (which grows from Cinderella’s mother’s grave) substitute for the usual “fairy-godmother” character. Lucas says the tree is “a living thing that can embrace the action,” and Wheeldon chooses the Fates “who offer guidance and protection.” (SF Ballet program notes, pg.19)

The production is complete with almost all members of the SF Ballet company and school dancing as Spirits (Spring, Summer, Winter, Autumn), as elegant couriers at the ball and as tree gnomes, puppeteers, servants. “Cinderella” is a sumptuous dance production.

Three temping princesses (a faint, but funny echo of “Swan Lake”?) Madison Keesler, Russian, Isabella DeVivjo, Spanish and WanTing Zhao, Balinese, add to ethnic/romantic interest at the ball. But again and again it is Chung, as Cinderella, whose entrances, appearances and disappearances claim the Prince’s heart, as they do ours.

Martin West accomplishes wonders as he conducts the Prokofiev score with the SF Ballet orchestra.

(Chung will appear again as Cinderella on February 1, 2020 at 8 PM. Don’t miss this!)

Joanna G. Harris

Frances Chung as “Cinderella” aided by the Four Fates

Alexander Reneff-Olson Daniel Deivison-Oliveira Frances Chung

Max Cauthorn Steven Morse

Photo: Chris Tomasson