Monthly Archives: November 2007

I was on NPR today

Sorry for the lack of posts! I still have a lot to write about, but just haven’t had the time. I’m preparing for my PhD thesis defense, so I’ve been up to my neck in neuroscience-related things. D-Day is December 7, and it ends at noon (not that I’m counting).

Anyways, I was on NPR today! It was just to ask a question though. I know how bad it is – 30 minutes before I was to give a talk, I’m supposed to be preparing for my highly intellectual talk on synaptogenesis in the brain. Instead, I’m huddled in my car on my cell phone in the parking lot, my thoughts wandering on ballet programming and Ballet Russe instead of my talk. It was such an interesting radio show – I caught snippets of it before and after my car oil change, about the San Francisco Ballet, some of its specific dancers, Michael Smuin’s legacy, boys and its association with being “sissies”, and a lot of inherent homophobia that runs through callers and even experts’ comments that really startled me. I’ll need to listen to it more carefully, and then will blog more later, I’m sure. Anyways, I thought I’d share my exciting and exceedingly fleeting time on the radio by sharing the link. It’s super short because I was trying to limit my words in order to decrease my chances of screwing up on the air – I wanted to say hello though to Janice Ross, who was my dance history and dance criticism professor at Stanford. (Her classes were one of my most memorable ever, and my friends and I still argue about dance and “the gendered view”.) I’m about 10 minutes from the end, after “Lenore”. I asked a question about how SFB has been adapting its programming in order to attract younger and newer audiences, and in short, the answer was “cutting edge choreography”. (I even got a “that’s a very good question”! How exciting~)

NPR should have more shows like this!! It was so much fun for me to listen to. Let me know what you guys think!

KQED Forum with Michael Krasny: San Francisco Ballet’s 75th Anniversary

The Big Strike

I know that it’s big news when a sports fan friend of mine told me he was worried about the strike on Broadway. Just in case you’ve been living under a rock lately, the stagehands on Broadway have been on a strike since Nov 10, closing almost all the Broadway shows. It’s so unheard of, to think that almost all of Broadway has closed for the past few weeks! I just can’t imagine all these theaters being dark for so long. Hope seems to be on the horizon – I believe that both parties are in negotiations as we speak. And I’m sure that things are getting more desperate the longer the strike goes on, so someone will cave and negotiations will be reached. I wonder how this strike is affecting people’s desires to go see a show, even after the strike is over? Perhaps it will color people’s thoughts of Broadway, or maybe it won’t affect it at all?

Oddly enough, a lot of the shows that I’ve been wanting to see are still running at any rate. Pygmalion, with the amazing Jefferson Mays and Boyd Gaines and oh yeah, Claire Danes, Xanadu, and the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (a sentimental favorite, since I won my district spelling bee when I was 10, and it’s closing in January!). Cymbeline also looks intriguing, with an amazing cast, and NYCB is currently performing Balanchine’s Nutcracker as well.

NY

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Times’ Broadway Strike Survival Guide

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I hope everyone had a good drama-free one. I swear I’m not going to eat for a week, I’ve been eating constantly since last Wednesday. For the first time, our family went out to eat for Thanksgiving dinner and it was great. The picture is featuring the watermelon kiwi lemonade that my mom had at one of my favorite restaurants in San Diego, Hash House a Go Go. Yum.

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The nutcracker modeling for Apple

Art and its audience

Marcelo Gomes and Paloma Herrera making pretty poses in Milledpied’s “From Here on Out”

Unwittingly, I set off a flurry of discussion (resultant comments here) on dance critic Apollinaire Scherr’s site, writing about my thoughts on ABT’s recent performances of Elo’s “C to C” and Milledpied’s “From Here on Out” (what does that title even mean? You could have titled it something like, “Gone in 60 Seconds” and it wouldn’t have made a difference.) I knew instinctually that these pieces were not great pieces, but I was absolutely flustered by the point of these pieces. Both pieces had their moments – Elo had me briefly mesmerized in places, and Milledpied’s was intricately detailed and so much so that every picture I’ve seen of this piece is breathtaking. But both pieces lost me at the overall picture. (I should note that my dissatisfactions with the piece had nothing to do with the talent seen onstage; the dancers of ABT were amazing, as always.)

Anyways, the interesting discussion on Apollinaire’s site brought up analogies to writing, where an author, as should a choreographer, should start with a thesis or an idea, with a logical flow that supports this thesis. Dance is a communication, is it not, of the choreographer’s ideas and thoughts? Clarity of meaning and point, then, should be well in order for the audience to appreciate and to understand and fully appreciate the artist’s work.

One of the foundational points of discussion is whether or not dance is really instinctual in nature. Is movement able to convey meaning, that all audiences can understand and resonate with? In an analogous way, people can argue that there are aspects of visual art, which can be just as difficult if not more so in the viewer’s quest for deciphering meaning, that are universal and understandable. And if so, then are program notes and audio tours of art museums necessary for the full enjoyment of a work of visual and theatrical art? These questions remind me of a discussion we’ve had on this site, where I asked the question if a dance in itself should be complete; should we all be provided with program notes and an audio tour of museum art works before we “get” a piece? Or should we be able to watch it and enjoy it for what it is? Elo’s “C to C” required a knowledge that the dance was about an artist (whose face was emblazoned across the backdrop) and his struggle in living with the effects of a debilitating aneurysm. I completely missed reading through the program notes before I saw the piece, thanks to the Cal vs. USC football game going on outside amidst mobs of drunk fans, which barely put us on time for the performance (we rushed down the aisles in the dark to the “overture” of Tharp’s Baker’s Dozen). I still don’t know the answer to this question, although what I am sure about is that a work of art HAS to work on a level of being enjoyed and understood as a piece in itself, without prior research and program notes. Even if it’s on a different level than having read about the creator’s motivations, a work in itself has to be complete.

Perhaps visual art has been seeping into my thoughts thanks to a recent visit to one of my favorite art museums, the SF Museum of Modern Art. The picture below is Jim Dine’s “Blue Clamp”, where in the middle of a dripping acrylic heart is a blatant vice-like C-clamp. The clamp’s obvious presence is magnified by the use of a contrasting bright blue color. See, this piece communicates and communicates well. If this piece isn’t universal, I don’t know what is – if you don’t understand this, then you probably haven’t had your heart broken.

Pictures in the mail

Sort of a lazy post today. Still recovering from the past few days, I went to see The Color Purple again. Felicia Fields is completely worth it and that show never fails to get me.

It’s nice though to pull out all the mail and find some gems in the midst of bills, such as this picture as a part of a Gap promo. Gorgeous – featuring Greta Hodgkinson of the National Ballet of Canada. I wonder if she’ll be coming as a part of SFB’s International Salute next season? Does anyone know who her gorgeous partner is?

The cast of Spring Awakening was also featured in their holiday ads. What a fun picture.

I also got a promo for Mark Morris’ The Hard Nut. For the first time, I wished I was a Berkeley student so I could access their 50% off discount.

Who says that snow is exclusively female??

On a separate note, I finally put the final excruciating finishing details on my PhD thesis proposal and sent it in to my committee members. I’m about halfway there… as I sent it off, hoping there were no dumb mistakes, I was reminded of this comic strip (a favorite of procrastinating graduate students everywhere), from PhDComics.com .

I made sure that I spelled my name right.

Does Twyla know what ABT is doing to her pieces?

or…

ABT at Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, CA….Program B

You know, I really love ABT and the work that they do…a ballet company of superstars, can they really do wrong?

Sadly to say, yes. I saw them eagerly last weekend in my new home in the East Bay area in Northern California…to be completely disappointed. I wondered whether it was worth going at all? To see such a great company, and see them fall so short of what I knew they were capable of. Pieces that were done haphazardly, cautiously (which is a big no-no in Tharp), and without passion or flair. What the…?!? If ABT’s good at classical/modern neo-balletic dances, they should stick to those pieces. I think Tharp lies completely within the modern dance arena, is it really fitting for a ballet company to do Tharp? Just because Baryshnikov did it, does it mean other ballet companies should? Is there such shame in sticking to dances that require pointe shoes, or at the very lease, classical ballet technique? Why is there this need for ballet companies to be “edgy” and “modern” and don character shoes?

The most disappointing ABT performance that I remember is a performance I saw at City Center, a few years ago, when Marcelo Gomes performed in Twyla Tharp’s Sinatra Suites. I thought perhaps it was a fluke, and I was completely bored…I even shut my eyes during this piece to open them, to see the piece was not over, and nothing had changed onstage. (So sorry Marcelo…you really are a beautiful dancer in other pieces). Following this performance, I then saw ABT perform “In the Upper Room”, where I saw ballerinas trying to be rough and ready…while not really succeeding. I just have this image in my head of Michele Wiles flopping across the stage in clumsy white Keds.

With my favorite ballet company, I decided to give it another go watching Tharp at Zellerbach last weekend.

I’m not sure if it’s fair that I saw the spectacular Broadway production of “Movin’ Out”, with seasoned Tharp dancers performing a show that remains one of the highlights of my Broadway audience career. The passion! The humor! The ease of partnering! So incredibly easy! Was it too much to expect ABT would do a similar job?

“Baker’s Dozen” was incredibly disappointing. I felt that all the dancers looked uncomfortable on stage, with faces that said, “Uh oh, I’m not used to this technique so I’ll be careful“, without really letting go and filling up the stage. Many jumps landed with an awkward thud, as if the dancers were holding their muscles so tightly because the movements felt so strange. I dunno, it was really…unsatisfying. There are really funny moments in the choreography; too bad the audience wasn’t sure whether they were dancers’ mistakes (did he really enter the stage and dash off?) or just really hesitant and without flair and confidence. The dancers seemed to loose up in the last 1/3 of the piece, but it was too late…the audience laughed in the last few moments. Sinatra Suites was performed by Herman Cornejo, and Misty Copeland, who really saved the piece. She danced with confidence and flair, too bad Herman was so intensely focused on his hands, the ground and her waist because he looked so concerned about the partnering…he barely had a moment where he had his head facing up at the audience. Is ABT just made up of bad pas de deux partners? Fabulous soloists, sloppy partners? Twyla has such innovative partnering movements, but it was all completely lost. We didn’t even get to see Herman’s dimples and smile, which we see so easily when he’s flipping in the air in Corsaire or pirouetting a billion times. Such a changed person in a Tharp piece!

Jorma Elo’s piece “Close to Chuck” really began in such a different mood; the dancers seemed so much more relaxed and more comfortable with the movements…thank you Elo! You put the ballerinas back into pointe shoes. Sascha sported his amazing 8 pack body, and Blaine’s extensions amazed. Craig Salstein danced with fun and sloppy ease that was really charming, even in such an edgy piece. Hee Seo sparkled with her mile long extensions and lightness of steps. In contrast, Jackie was subtly beautiful, clean and neat, making the movements smooth and oh so easy. Benjamin Millipied’s piece also impressed me with its great detail and innovative movements; however, thinking about these two pieces, they are similar…I think these modern pieces were above average, but not really amazing modern dance pieces. While both had its really intricate movements and edginess, they seemed to be a little too enveloped in the details, and the larger perspective of the dance was lost. It wasn’t clear that these pieces would differentiate themselves as a front leader in the modern dance repertoire. I think in contrast to the Tharp pieces, these were much better in comparison. However, I couldn’t help feel that I was disappointed, as these pieces didn’t really showcase the talents of these amazing dancers.

While it’s always great to see my favorite company…I do hope I see ABT next time in a production that they are famous for…great ballet dancing. Should ballet dancers be required to do great ballroom dancing? Should ballet dancers be great actors? OK, that’s another post for another time….

The Nutcracker and Childhood Memories

eee… Gonzalo Garcia is dancing the Cavalier at the NYCB Nutcracker for its second cast (not the opening night cast, unfortunately but completely understandable). It makes it real to me that he’s really left the SF Ballet. I was happy that he left for the NYCB, but this also makes me a little sad but excited for him. He’s dancing with Megan Fairchild – an interesting pairing, I’m curious what that’ll look like.

Picture taken from the SF Ballet website

There’s nothing that brings me back to one of the best aspects of my childhood like the Nutcracker. I’m sure dancers hate it because it’s so overplayed and so overwrought, but it brings back my best ballet dancing days, the magic of childhood, and that irresistible sweeping music, all wrapped up in one. Jen and I even made it onto the front page of our local newspaper as “party girls” in the first act.

I stumbled onto Garcia’s casting when I was researching my options for the Nutcracker this year. Weird, the three options I have for Nutcracker this year are SF Ballet, NYCB, or Paris Opera Ballet! (My cousin who’s in Paris, emailed to notify me that Casse Noisette was playing at the Paris Opera House.) I could be in either of these three places during the second week of December. These are great options. :)

Be sure to get your tickets for the SF Ballet Nutcracker this year. Tickets go REALLY fast, and when I saw it last year, I swear I was smiling the entire time. I also had a fascinating conversation with the four year old girl who was sitting next to me in a booster chair, who was telling me very seriously that this was just imagination and it wasn’t real.

SF Ballet Nutcracker

Review: ABT at Zellerbach Hall 11/08/07

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The show of the night: Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo

I finally got to see ABT last night at Berkeley! It was a highly anticipated night, where I was excited due to the internet buzz about their new programs as well as watching interesting photos from rehearsals. And, to top it off, we got great seats in the fourth row orchestra. I love sitting up close and watch sweat spin off from Sascha Radetsky’s face and shower Julie Kent as he turned in Fancy Free.

It’s always interesting to look around the audience – in addition to the usual sea of gray hair, I notice a percentage of youngish girls in the audience who twittered audibly at the onstage appearance of Sascha Radetsky. I believe this is what is called the Center Stage effect. It probably is worse during tour, I imagine. I spotted some SF Ballet dancers as well – I wonder if they were comparing interprations and techniques on Fancy Free, which SFB performed last year??

Anyways, this was the first time I’d seen ABT perform a City Center-like repertory program. It’s a series of short pieces, and I know that sometimes it’s easy to walk away from repertory programs feeling unsatisfied, like you were being shown a series of excerpts from multiple books without getting a good idea of the big picture of each excerpt. You can’t get invested in a full sweeping story of something like Swan Lake, but what ABT has done is to pick a series of pieces that really showcase the talents of its individual principal dancers. Ballo is a great example – they opened with this sparkling but harmless Balanchine piece, which for reasons I understand now, isn’t one of Balanchine’s more famous pieces. But, what it does do is to showcase the precise quick footwork of Gillian Murphy, in which I felt like she thrived and blossomed and really came alive only during her variation. It also showcases David Hallberg’s amazing ballon and quick footwork. And it was really nice to see the big smiles on stage! The four female soloists were great as well. Maria Riccetto was clean and sharp, and Hee Seo has that extra special something that was amazing to watch.

The Sleeping Beauty Rose Adagio, with Paloma Herrera was next. Despite emotional lackluster performances the last few times I’ve seen her (including Giselle), I was still excited to see her because of her amazing balances and technique which would completely work in her favor here. But I was confused when her balances were completely cut short, and it didn’t even look like she tried. When I saw SF Ballet perform Sleeping Beauty last year, usually the last balance they try to go for it and stretch it out, despite wobbling – and it’s always thrilling to watch because you’re rooting for them at the same time. Perhaps she was tired and touring is tough, and I know it’s still a difficult piece. It’s just that with stories of how amazing her balances are that she gets stuck doing pirouettes and can’t come down from them, I expected longer balances. Oh well. This review mirrors my sentiment as well. One note on the princes – their costumes really are outrageous. Blaine Hoven’s wig is priceless (poor guy, it’s not his fault!). A bob is rarely attractive on men, especially a prince! But at least his costume was better than the Celtic prince.

The next piece stole the entire program and was my favorite. It was Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo in the Le Corsaire pas de deux. I can’t remember the last time that I heard an audience gasp and go crazy at a ballet performance, with one of Cornejo’s flying leap entrances where he must have been more than a few feet off of the ground. He was absolutely thrilling to watch, and of course this is the sort of thing where he excels. Xiomara Reyes made a lovely partner as well, understated but perhaps unfairly overshadowed by the showier Cornejo. This piece also reminds me of Mark Morris saying how he sometimes doesn’t like ballet because a lot of times it’s all about the tricks. And this pas de deux is definitely about tricks, but still, it’s so much fun!

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The man of the hour: Herman Cornejo at curtain call

The show ended with Jerome Robbin’s Fancy Free. It’s all-American fun, a story of three sailors on leave and looking for girls. It’s so much fun, yet it’s not just fluff – it’s very layered and really well choreographed. The choreography was reminiscent of West Side Story, another example of the collaboration between Robbins and Bernstein (I thought one move was very similar to the lollipop munchkins in Wizard of Oz with the side head jerks – does anyone else know what I’m talking about? But that was probably just a fluke). The three male leads were danced by Craig Salstein, Sascha Radetsky, and Marcelo Gomes. I’d never seen Marcelo in a contemporary role like this (the last time I saw him was Albrecht in Giselle), but it was really fun and his samba made me laugh. Craig Salstein had great comedic timing and really sank his teeth into the role, and it was fun to watch him go. The camaraderie between the three of them was so easy and kept me smiling the entire time. Julie Kent also made a very luminous girl that Sascha charms, and even watching her brief pas de deux with him, I realized she was the only female dancer that really had me breathless the entire night, even in her non-pointe shoes. She literally glows, and she melts with her amazing extensions. I know people always talk about the amazing talent of men in ABT (and rightly so!) but dancers like Julie Kent and Diana Vishneva (my faves) are absolutely rare and just as praiseworthy as well.

Just one note on the bartender in Fancy Free, played by Julio Bragado-Young. I wondered why Robbins kept him in this piece when all he does is smoke, read his paper, and move the bar stool at one point so Sascha can jump over it. I thought his bland cynicism was an excellent commentary on the ridiculous goings on inside his bar. In a sense, he’s almost like the narrator of the story, and by his cynical quiet contempt that’s highly contrasted by the testosterone-driven hyperactivity of the three sailors, says volumes in his silence. And yes, I thought the bartender merited his own paragraph. I thought his part was hysterical and absolutely essential to this piece.

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Curtain call for Fancy Free – I accidentally cut out Craig Salstein! The guys’ costumes look like a nightmare to dance in, and I’m sure the hat doesn’t help either. L to R: Marissa Thomas, Marcelo Gomes, Julie Kent, Sascha Radetsky, Stella Abrera

Now for Program B coming up this weekend! It’s going to be a more contemporary program, with Elo’s “C to C”, “Sinatra Suite”, Tharp’s “Baker’s Dozen”, and Millepied’s “From Here on Out”. Unfortunately, the biggest Cal football game of the year is also taking place that day (Cal vs. USC), so it’s going to be absolutely insane, so I’m told. I should wear red just to be anti-Cal (representing my alma mater, Cal’s rival!) but afraid I’m going to get jumped.

What did people think of Ballo della Regina? ABT’s Fancy Free?