Monthly Archives: September 2009

Preview: Smuin Ballet Rehearsal

Smuin Ballet rehearsing Amy Seiwert's world premiere piece

Smuin Ballet rehearsing Amy Seiwert's world premiere piece

Last weekend, Smuin Ballet invited a group of bloggers and journalists to attend a rehearsal of their opening night gala at their sunny studio in San Francisco. With their opening night only a week away on Friday October 2, it was a thrill to be able to preview a performance so close to the final product.

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Click photos to enlarge

For me, it was a rare thrill to be able to take a peek behind-the-scenes about a company that I’d heard so much about. The folks at Smuin Ballet were also nice enough to set up a casual interview with their artistic and executive director, Celia Fushille. An ex-dancer herself with the Smuin Ballet and associate director working directly alongside Michael Smuin, Fushille painted a picture of a company that still lives very much under the legacy of Michael Smuin, who passed away less than three years ago. The company continues to present Michael Smuin’s broad range of work, ranging from classical ballet to Broadway, set to music from Mozart to the Beatles. Fushille stresses the importance of continuing on in light of Michael Smuin’s absence, and diversifying to keep new works in its repertory. Choreographer in residence Amy Seiwert shares many of Michael Smuin’s traits as a choreographer, Fushille explained, sharing a keen sense of musicality and innovation. The company is also proud to acquire new works as well, including Jiri Kylian’s Petite Mort, which the company will perform in the spring.

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It was a thrill, as a ballet enthusiast, to be able to watch from such close proximity. You get a real sense of how much effort it takes, and the physicality of it is impressive.

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The pieces presented began with Amy Seiwert’s new piece, set to the music of the Kronos Quartet performing “Pieces of Africa”. Some of the dancers told me that they finished it just as recently as two days before the rehearsal, although you couldn’t tell since it looked so finished. The choreography and music at first glance was delightful – quirky, gentle, intelligent, and joyful. Smuin’s Medea followed, and I was surprised when I was drawn into the familiar story, even without the dramatic elements of costumes and lighting.

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The rehearsal ended with Michael Smuin’s “Fly Me to the Moon”, set to the music of Frank Sinatra and a big Broadway style.

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This company’s repertoire seems perfect to introduce new generations to ballet with its ease of style, yet it proved to me, as the seasoned veteran, that dramatic storytelling through dance never gets old. There is a sense of fun and drama that’s infectious and easy to get lost in. I’ll be watching the full performance next week, and will review it more fully then. But judging from this rehearsal, the opening night program seems like it’ll be a really fun one.

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A random note: this was my first attempt at dance photography. I learned several things – 1) it is very, very, very difficult. I got a good pose about 10% of the time, and even then, the lighting or something else would be off. 2) I’m horrible at it. But the dancers are too beautiful not to post, so I’m posting a lot of my photos anyways. I hope you enjoy.

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Click here for tickets, and be sure to check out the soiree for young professionals on October 10.

Links:

  • More links and photos on the Smuin Ballet blog
  • sfmike’s take here and here with lots of pretty pictures and a lot more history of the Smuin Ballet and its reputation

A sneak peek at Amy Seiwert’s new ballet, with a lovely duet by Erin Yarbrough-Stewart and Aaron Thayer.

Dancing with the Stars: Macy Gray

Jonathan Roberts and Macy Gray in ABC's "Dancing with the Stars"

Jonathan Roberts and Macy Gray in ABC's "Dancing with the Stars"

Come on, ABC producers, throw Jonathan Roberts a bone.

I haven’t watched it of late, but Jonathan Roberts first caught my eye during the first season of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. It was his elegant carriage and a classy presence that probably did it, although his tall, dark and handsome looks didn’t hurt either. I know to the ballroom world he isn’t ranked the best in the world, yet I’ve always liked watching him. And he continues to get kicked off early in the show. Isn’t it time for him to get paired with a young hottie, just once? I recommend Taylor Swift, or wouldn’t Britney Spears be cool?

With Macy Gray, I couldn’t think of a pair that was more mismatched or more opposite. Yet they still made an admirable effort that was refreshing to watch, capitalizing on her strengths and sassiness that have long made her popular through her songs. Judge Carrie Ann Inaba said astutely, “It was beautiful in it’s own bizarre way.” Not classic ballroom, mind you, but with her proportions (towering above Roberts in her low heels) and personality, it was impossible to be. It was a great message that anyone can dance. And now, she’s gone.

This was the first time I’d seen the show in a long time, probably since the second season or so, and I was a bit appalled at the number of promotional ads that run DURING the show. A rapper singing a song whose album is dropping the next day, and pulling in stars from ABC sitcoms to sit in the audience? I wonder how many teeth they had to pull to get them to sit there.

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I probably won’t continue to watch. Is anyone still watching it? Any thoughts on how the show has evolved over the past few seasons?

Preview: Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Roméo et Juliette

There’s lots of fun things coming up for fall, and the newspapers are alive with fall previews. Here’s Claudia LaRocco’s NY Times fall preview (which includes SF Ballet’s upcoming season) and a more local one in the SF Weekly. And from a more audience-and-not-professional-critic point of view, here’s Patrick’s observant take on the upcoming fall offerings. I’ll be featuring some events that are coming up for fall.


Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Lucien Postlewaite and former principal Noelani Pantastico in PNB’s 2008 staging of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette.  Photo © Angela Sterling

Starting this Thursday on September 24, our northwest neighbors, the Pacific Northwest Ballet, will be opening their season with Jean-Christophe Maillot’s ultra-sleek Roméo et Juliette. Maillot will be familiar to San Francisco audiences thanks to a visit from the Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo last year (Maillot is that company’s director and principal choreographer). From the images and videos being released by the Pacific Northwest Ballet, it looks to be a production that promises to update a classic into this century, with sleek sensitivity and stark emotion. If you’re not already, be sure to be a fan of their Facebook page, which is a paradigm for dance marketing, offering excellent media presentations of performance, interviews, and every fan’s gold standard – rehearsal footage. Check it out, here.

Here are some preview photos from the Pacific Northwest Ballet and an interview with the two lead couples, including a tantalizing look at the promising choreography. All photos © Angela Sterling.  Click on the image to enlarge.


Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Olivier Wevers (center) with corps de ballet dancers Josh Spell and Jerome Tisserand (l-r) in PNB’s 2008 staging of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette.  Photo © Angela Sterling

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Olivier Wevers (center) with corps de ballet dancers Josh Spell and Jerome Tisserand (l-r) in PNB’s 2008 staging of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette. Photo © Angela Sterling

The Death of Tybalt: Pacific Northwest Ballet company members in PNB’s 2008 staging of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette.  Photo © Angela Sterling

The Death of Tybalt: Pacific Northwest Ballet company members in PNB’s 2008 staging of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette. Photo © Angela Sterling

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Lucien Postlewaite and former principal Noelani Pantastico in PNB’s 2008 staging of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette.  Photo © Angela Sterling

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Lucien Postlewaite and former principal Noelani Pantastico in PNB’s 2008 staging of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette. Photo © Angela Sterling

Former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Louise Nadeau and Noelani Pantastico in PNB’s 2008 staging of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette.  Photo © Angela Sterling

Former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Louise Nadeau and Noelani Pantastico in PNB’s 2008 staging of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette. Photo © Angela Sterling

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Jonathan Porretta in PNB’s 2008 staging of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette.  Photo © Angela Sterling

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Jonathan Porretta in PNB’s 2008 staging of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette. Photo © Angela Sterling

Former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Casey Herd and principal Jonathan Porretta in PNB’s 2008 staging of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette.  Photo © Angela Sterling

Former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Casey Herd and principal Jonathan Porretta in PNB’s 2008 staging of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette. Photo © Angela Sterling



Rom̩o et Juliette runs from Sept 24 РOct 4. Click here for more information.

2009 San Francisco Symphony Opening Night Gala

Pianist Lang Lang

Pianist Lang Lang

Last night at the opening night gala for the San Francisco Symphony, the Davies Symphony Hall sparkled with the usual glamor and glitz of concertgoers dressed in their finest to celebrate the opening of the season. Despite the glittering decadence and the appropriate celebratory atmosphere, I sensed an undercurrent of respect acknowledging the current economic situation that has been especially hardhitting for the arts. This sensitivity seemed to be reflected in the programming as well, with a rather cautious program geared towards appealing to the familiar.

Led with stylish charm by Michael Tilson Thomas, the program opened with three waltzes – Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No. 1, Ravel’s La Valse, and Richard Rodgers’ Carousel Waltz. These waltzes were not your mother’s normal antediluvian tame tunes. Playful rhythms and a pulsing momentum shaped the Mephisto Waltz, setting the stage with brisk anticipation. Ravel’s haunting La Valse built to a rollicking climax, fraught with suspense and regret the entire way. Rodgers’ Carousel Waltz opened with gentle, atonal chords that quickly morphed into a Broadway-esque chick flick of a high school romance blossoming on a hot summer night at the fairgrounds. The effect was lushly romantic.

Even though the three waltzes were different, nostalgia was the common thread. Waltzes conjure up images of tradition and days gone by, and there’s a comfort in experiencing up the good old days. Who doesn’t love a waltz? I grew up listening to Strauss waltzes and the Waltz of the Flowers in the Nutcracker, and my date and I spent intermission humming familiar waltzes that we knew.

Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 yanked the audience to the 20th century featuring the celebrity pianist Lang Lang. Famous for performing at the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics as well as making People Magazine’s 2008 Sexiest Men Alive list, he is well-known for his infamous ostentatious style. Technically beyond belief, Lang Lang perfectly captured the brashness of the Prokofiev concerto. There were moments of heartstopping beauty in the quieter sections, played with sensitivity and tenderness. But overall, I thought his playing lacked clarity and direction. His playing was very in-the-moment, with no sense of the overall structure of the piece. Each moment alone was beautiful, but I felt a bit like being jerked from one measure to the next. The second movement also began to sound tediously unvaried in volume and style, where I craved more contrast and character. But there’s no denying that Lang Lang has passion to spare spilling through every pore, and he’s really fun to watch. (I was admittedly disappointed he wasn’t wearing his self-designed gold-emblazoned Adidas kicks however.)

Put together a series of familiar (yet slightly edgy – it’s still San Francisco, after all) waltzes and a celebrity pianist that everyone knows, and you’re guaranteed an evening of content customers. It’s nothing revolutionary, yet a solid showcase for the San Francisco Symphony nonetheless. In this economic climate, people seem to prefer comfort over risky innovation. It’s also guaranteed to satisfy the audiences who rarely attend classical music performances, yet still continue to support the arts. And that alone is cause to celebrate.

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