Joffrey Ballet 3/4/22

Joffrey Ballet
Friday, March 4, 2022 8 PM
Cal Performances: Zellerbach Auditorium

Celebration! to Excess

Jeremy Geffen, Director of Cal Performances welcomed the “masked” audience with the joyful news that the Joffrey Ballet had returned to the campus after two years away. The company, founded by Robert Joffrey and later directed by Gerald Arpino was based in New York. With sponsorship by various sources, the company moved to Chicago, which is now its home.

The dancers all move beautifully; they are technically excellent. The four large works on the program were long, complex and danced to “canned” music. Each was compelling in its own way, but this reviewer, (well trained in dance observation), found it too much.

Birthday Variations” (1986) to music by Verdi, choreography by Arpino, began the evening. (I was told it was a tribute to a Joffrey Ballet sponsor who brought the company to Chicago). Under a splendid chandelier and with spotlights, six women in pastel costumes, surround and are partnered by one man (Alberto Velazquez). There are six variations, a prologue, an opening, a pas de deux and the finale. Delightful!

After a pause, we are brought to “Swing Low” a 2021 work by Chanel DaSilva. Fernando Duarte is the solo figure; four men carrying large angel wings, surround and eventually ‘capture’ him, finally endowing him with wings. The scenario which may have its origins elsewhere, seems to concern emotional and physical transformation from mortal despair to angelic elevation. This reviewer worried about the feathers dropping on stage and the weight of the wings. “Swing Low” was dramatically moving.

More grand works followed Intermission. Joffrey ballet master Nicolas Blanc’s “Under the Trees’ Voices,” created during the pandemic, “channels the power of community in the age of social distancing.” Set under and around large leaf structures, three couples, a “corps” and a soloist (Christine Rocas) search and find contact and community in one another. Again, Blanc’s piece, to music by Ezio Bosso, demands long and attentive viewing by audience members.

Comic relief was finally performed with the ‘acrobatic’ and incredibly delightful “The Sofa,” choreography (and lighting design) by Itzik Galili to the music “Nobody” by Tom Waits. A large yellow sofa becomes the setting for acrobatic falls, slaps and tumbles. Three dancers, Valentinto Moneglia Zamora, Nicole Ciapponi and Fernando Duarte perform. During a short time, Ciapooni disappears behind the sofa and is replaced by Duarte. The surprises and skill of the performers came at just the right moment in this long evening of complex works.

Bolero” to the familiar Ravel score has become a musical cliche for dance. Here, in the choreography by Yoshihisa Arai, a story line seems to emerge among the fifteen dancers. The soloist, Anais Bueno, costumed in a while shirt, holds center stage and seems totally concerned with self and unable to join the exotically costumed chorus.

Although the ‘bolero’ is defined as “a Spanish dance characterized by sharp turns, stamping of the feet and sudden pauses in position with one arm,” these characteristics are not seen as Bueno writhes in her dramatic isolation.

The audience, welcoming the Joffrey Ballet after the two year hiatus in schedule, nevertheless felt more than a bit overwhelmed with the programming excess. Dancers choreographers and program directors, so skilled and capable and eager to perform, might realize that the audience also needs time to return to be able to focus and applaud.

San Francisco Ballet: Don Quixote


Don Quixote: San Francisco Ballet
Saturday, February 26, 2022 8 PM
Opera House, San Francisco

The San Francisco Ballet, celebrating its last year under the direction of Helgi Tomasson, has pushed its performance skills to achieve an ultimate BRAVO! The current production of Don Quixote is three acts, three hours (with intermissions) and delivers some superb bravura dance solos, duets and chorus performances.

The story, from the well-known book of Cervantes, essentially deals with Don Quixote, a minor nobleman in his late years, longing for romance, adventure and knighthood. He enlists a bumbling but charming servant, Sancho Panza, to accompany him. We see them, later in Act 1 riding upon a white horse and a pale pony. Both animals are live! Jim Sohm gave an exquisite acting performance as Don: Pascal Molat had us giggling with his foolish satire.

But the essential story that provides the ‘through line’ for this ballet is that of Kitri (Misa Kuranaga) and her lover Basillio (Angelo Greco). Basillio, being a poor fellow, is not permitted to marry Kitri. Although Kitri’s father (Van Caniparoli) tries to introduce her to Ganache, a rich fop (Myles Thatcher), the lovers devise many means to escape.

The ballet’s history goes back several centuries in production. Two chapters of the novel were adapted in 1740! and Noverre did one in Vienna in 1768. But it is the Russian verse by Charles Diderot in 1808 and finally a Petipa adaptation for the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg with music by Ludwig Minkus in1869 and one in 1871 that became the basis of the current SF Ballet version. It has had other more recent European and American productions. Tomasson first staged “Quixote” with Yuri Passokhov in March, 2003.

After a busy Act 1 in the Barcelona town square (which includes dances by toreadors and a Seguidilla, a dance native to Seville), the charming couple find their comfort in the Spanish countryside where they are entertained by the Gitano leader (Estaban Hernandez), his Gitano woman, (Ellen Rose Hummel) and numerous Gitanos. The women dance in character shoes.

Quixote, to the rescue, “tilts at the windmill” and is knocked out. A dream scene follows. It is, for the ballet, a reconstruction of a ‘classic’ ballet ‘blanc’, but now the dancers and cupids are in pale blue tutus and tunics. The main dancers (on toe) are Queen of the Driads: Sasha Mukhamedov and Cupid: Norika Matsuyama. Quixote moves among them with longing gestures. There is a chorus of druids and little cupids, again from the Ballet School. Our hero is soon awakened by Panza and off they go to a tavern.

We are finally in Scene 3 of Act II. The taverna is presided by Ricardo Bustamante who is able to evoke many repetitions of dances seen and one on the taverna table. After series of chases and a mock death scene staged by Basilio, Kitri’s father relents and we are off to the wedding in the Town Square (Act III).

There we are entranced by several encores by soloists and groups previously seen and then a marvelous Fandango by the chorus of dancers. But it is Kitri (Misa Kuranaga) and her lover Basillio (Angelo Greco) whose ‘pas de deux” excels even the bravura we have experienced. Greco’s leaps manage to include one in which his back is parallel to the floor; Kuranaga spins endlessly, is caught after many dives into Greco’s arms, and then balances on point, alone, in ‘attitude’ position. Their skills are superb!

It is almost 11 PM. The curtain has gone down: the orchestra is on its feet as is the audience. The curtain calls and applause resound throughout the house. The great conductor, Martin West and the orchestra (including the castanet player) bow. The dancers receive flowers and call for Tomasson. Bravo! Bravo!

Performances of Don Quixote continue at the Opera House through March 6, 2022. See for tickets, times and casting for each performances.


PROLOGUE: Don Quixote’s Study
Don Quixote: Jim Sohm
Sancho Panza: Pascal Molat

ACT I: Town Square in Barcelona
Lorenzo: Val Caniparoli
Gamache: Myles Thatcher
Kitri’s Friends: Isabella DeVivo, Julia Rowe
Mercedes: Sarah Van Patten
Espada: Luke Ingham
Mother: Anita Paciotti
Toreadors: Sean Bennett, Steven Morse, Alexander Reneff-Olson, Henry Sidford, John-Paul Simoens, Mingxuan Wang
Seguidilla: Kamryn Baldwin, Samantha Bristow, Olivia Brothers, Thamires Chuvas, Megan Amanda Ehrlich, Gabriela Gonzalez, Blake Johnston, Elizabeth Mateer, Lauren Parrott, Leili Rackow, Natasha Sheehan, Maggie Weirich, Rubén Cítores, Estéban Cuadrado, Luca Ferrò, Lleyton Ho, Andris Kundzins, Davide Occhipinti, Joshua Jack Price, Nathaniel Remez, Jacob Seltzer, Alexis Valdes, Joseph Warton, Adrian Zeisel


ACT II, Scene One:
Spanish Countryside
Gitano Leader: Esteban Hernandez
Gitana Woman: Ellen Rose Hummel
Gitanos: Juliana Bellissimo, Megan Amanda Ehrlich, Gabriela Gonzalez, Blake Johnston, Swane Messaoudi, Jamie Adele Stephens, Sean Bennett, Davide Occhipinti, Joshua Jack Price, Alexander Reneff-Olson, John-Paul Simoens
Puppets: Students of San Francisco Ballet School


ACT II, Scene Two: Don Quixote’s Dream
Queen of the Driads: Sasha Mukhamedov
Cupid: Norika Matsuyama
Driads: Alexis Aiudi, Kamryn Baldwin, Juliana Belli
ssimo, Samantha Bristow, Olivia Brothers, Jihyun Choi, Thamires Chuvas, Anatalia Hordov, Blake Johnston, SunMin Lee, Elizabeth Mateer, Carmela Mayo, Swane Messaoudi, Pemberley Ann Olson, Lauren Parrott, Leili Rackow, Natasha Sheehan, Tyla Steinbach, Maggie Weirich
Little Cupids: Students of San Francisco Ballet School


ACT II, Scene Three: Taverna
Inn Keeper: Ricardo Bustamante


ACT III: The Wedding, Town Square
Bridesmaids: Isabella DeVivo, Julia Rowe with Kamryn Baldwin, Thamires Chuvas, Carmela Mayo, Lauren Parrott, Leili Rackow, Tyla Steinbach
Fandango: Ludmila Bizalion, Samantha Bristow, Megan Amanda Ehrlich, Gabriela Gonzalez, Anatalia Hordov, Blake Johnston, Elizabeth Mateer, Maggie Weirich, Sean Bennett, Rubén Cítores, Estéban Cuadrado, Nathaniel Remez, Jacob Seltzer, John-Paul Simoens, Joseph Warton, Adrian Zeisel

Smuin Ballet

Smuin Dance Series 1
Lesher Center for the Arts
Walnut Creek, CA
February 19, 2022 2 pm

All the beautiful girls and boys…

The program for the Smuin Dance Series 1 was delightful. It consisted of three works, two by Amy Seiwart (“Been through Diamonds” and “Dear Miss Cline”) and one by Gina Patterson “You Are Here”. Seiwart is a California choreographer whose works have been seen locally. She had been a member of Smuin’s company for eight years. Patterson has choreographed internationally. This is the first work of hers I’ve seen.

All the pieces had the delightful energy of partner dancing, sometimes flirting, sometimes couples entranced. Except for Seiwart’s “Dear Miss Cline,” the women dancers all wear conventional toe shoes and leotards and although there is unusual use of the floor (rolling, falling somersaults, etc.), conventional ballet movement prevails. In “Been through Diamonds” the boys wear suits with open jackets. Parter exchange prevails. Entrances and exits are quick.

Seen Through Diamonds” is performed to Mozart’s “String Quartet C minor”. The music moves fast, as do the dancers. Small groups form, break and reform. There are amazing lifts, falls, spins and balances. It’s all very good, .. and maybe too much.

Dear Miss Cline” Seiwert’s second piece on the program includes the familiar “Bill Bailey Won’t You Please Come Home”. This time costumes are ‘country style’ for the women and easy shirts and pants for the guys. It’s very much a “guys and dolls” work, technically excellent and fun. This reviewer would like to see the ‘girls’ stay on the ground. Endless lifts, tosses, falls and rolls, though amazing, break the dance line and rhythm.

One dancer, Mengjun Chen emerged as technically outstanding and dynamically interesting. His energy, skill and placement reaches out.

You Are Here” to music by Ludevico Einaudi included a quote from an unidentified poem .. which ends “..until darkness falls away and silence whispers you are here.” The dance theme echoes this: one dancer seem unable to unite with a partner, although the work involves many partners dancing. The work was originally performed with the Cincinatti Ballet, 2013. It was the most original work on this program.

The Walnut Creek audience, a full house, seemed delighted with the program. It was a charming Saturday matinee of dance, echoing those often seen in ‘musical-comedy’. Although this reviewer admires the technical skill and clarity of all the dancers, it would be refreshing to see fewer dance phrases that demand partner lifts, spins and falls. Some well phased lyric passages would be refreshing and break the endless dynamic of conventional partnering.

Smuin Dance Series 2 opens in San Francisco April 29-May 4 followed by performances in Mountain View and Carmel.