Monthly Archives: March 2011

Coming up this week…

Maria Kochetkova in Balanchine's Coppélia. © Erik Tomasson

I’m leaving on a road trip, long enough to miss the entire run of Program 5 at San Francisco Ballet, the full-length production of Balanchine’s Coppelia! Please report back and tell me what you thought in the comments below – it should be a fantastic production. I will be seeing the SF Giants’ spring training games instead – so excited!

Other things on my radar: it’s a slightly random list, but somehow these events found their way into my consciousness:

  • San Francisco Symphony will be performing Dvorak’s New World Symphony and Mozart’s Violin Concerto #4 with Arabella Steinbacher from March 24-26. Click here for more info.
  • For the new music fans: Symphony Parnassus will be performing a world premiere with young composer Stefan Cwik, a “Piano Concerto” with San Francisco Conservatory of Music professor Scott Foglesong as soloist. Their concert also includes Astor Piazzolla’s “Suite Punta del Este” for Bandoneon and Orchestra and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Cool program, no? This orchestra is conducted by principal bassoon player for the SF Symphony, Stephen Paulson. This concert will take place on Sunday, March 27th, 2011 at 3pm at the Concert Hall at the San Francisco Conservatory. Click here for more information.
  • Sacramento Ballet presents a program titled “Icons and Innovators” including Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments, Lila York’s Celts, and Ron Cunningham’s Bolero. The program runs from March 24-27. Click here for more information.

What’s on your radar? Did you see any of the events listed above, and what did you think?

Have a great week, everyone!

Review: 2011 San Francisco Symphony and Chorus

Bach’s Mass in b Minor, BWV 232

San Francisco Symphony, image provided by the Mondavi Center

Yesterday, San Francisco Symphony came eastward for a second performance this year at the Mondavi Center, adding to the festivity of the occasion with the San Francisco Chorus in tow. The evening was dedicated to performing Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in b Minor conducted by Ragnar Bohlin.

First, a few words on the San Francisco Chorus (a group I’d only heard once before with the weird and tremendous Ligeti’s Requiem). The group was established in 1972 at the request of the symphony’s music director at the time, Seiji Ozawa. The 142 member chorus gives at least 26 performances each season, and is currently made up of 30 professionals and 112 volunteer singers (does this surprise anybody? I just assumed they were all professionals, but I was wrong).

Bach’s Mass in b Minor is considered a seminal piece in classical music, sacred music in particular. Lasting nearly two hours, it’s made up of different sections with a number of songs in each section. Bach first started writing parts of it in 1724 and finished writing the whole score in the late 1740s. Upon my first viewing of this piece, the different songs (gorgeous in itself) felt a little disjointed, and I wasn’t surprised to learn that Bach had written sections of it in different times. It’s a study of contrasts, going from grandiose orchestral resonances with the full chorus to small chamber ensembles with a solo or duet voice. The piece is cloaked in somber tones but with wonderful swells of hope throughout. It’s a piece that I felt needed more of my time to experience and to absorb fully, but the combination of the music and the subject matter was awe-inspiring.

The performance of Bach’s Mass in b Minor was a wonderfully balanced performance. The symphony was a smaller ensemble for this performance with the appearance of several baroque instruments (including the keyboard instrument (anybody know the name?) and the oboe d’amore (thanks for the tip, Patty!)), playing with a pointed but a discriminating presence. The large choral singing was nuanced and expressive, and the vocal soloists were a particular highlight. Mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor sang in warm, lush tones, tenor Nicholas Phan with a wistful quality wrapped in passion, and bass-baritone Shenyang with a unique elegance and precision that appearto be rare qualities in bass-baritone voices.  Soprano Ingela Bohlin’s voice didn’t appear to project very well to where I was sitting, but blended in lovely ways in her duet with mezzo-soprano Abigail Nims.

Some may find the length of the work to be difficult to sit through. But this baroque masterpiece is beautifully served by the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Chorus, a testament to the power of the sounds of beauty and faith to last through the centuries.

For clips of Bach’s Mass in b Minor, check out Patty’s blog entry, here. San Francisco Symphony and Chorus continue their performance of Bach’s Mass in b Minor this weekend at their home symphony hall at the Davies. Check it out on their website including a very cool podcast to learn more about the work.

Mondavi Arts

Review: 2011 San Francisco Ballet’s Program 4

Frances Chung and Taras Domitro in Balanchine's Theme and Variations. © Erik Tomasson

I don’t know what it was this past Tuesday, but whatever it was, San Francisco Ballet’s Program 4 was ravishing. Perhaps it’s because the company’s season is now well under way with four programs under its belt or because it was towards the end of the Program 4 run with the previous few weeks to perfect it and get it down, but whatever it was, the dancing came together and it really took off. An all-Tchaikovsky program was a great showcase for the company’s showy style, with every passionate underpinning in Tchaikovsky’s music matched with elegance and vibrant musicality.

Balanchine’s Theme and Variations was an effervescent display of technique and bravura, led by Frances Chung and  Taras Domitro. Chung flew through the quick and notoriously difficult footwork with a smile, looking as best as I’d ever seen her. The pristine sets speak of royalty or heavenly perfection, but Chung’s charm stems from a style that speaks of of a very human quality, not of an airy ethereal quality that some ballerinas have, but a liveliness that breathes. She possesses a wholehearted enthusiasm in the transfer of weight either in a lunging splits (as shown in the photo above) or in a trusting backbend in her partner’s arms, with energy flowing through her limbs past her fingertips. I’m not sure if I’m alone in this, but I never would have pinned her to be a quintessential Balanchine ballerina, but in this performance (and a previous performance of Balanchine’s Tarantella stands out in my mind as well), she sparkled and was an absolute joy to watch. Domitro was a lovely partner, with elegance in his perfectly proportioned limbs but never quite looking at ease onstage especially when he’s not in the air or turning an astounding number of turns. He shows remarkable potential, and I’m looking forward to watching him grow as an artist. The corps was also a highlight, dancing with breezy confidence and tackling the difficult choreography with a spirited energy. For an abstract ballet such as this one, this performance really brought the piece to life in a celebration of both the company and Balanchine’s choreography.

San Francisco Ballet in Balanchine's Theme and Variations. © Erik Tomasson

The same virtuosity was cloathed in drama during the second piece, MacMillan’s Winter Dreams. Inspired by Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters, every step served the storyline, culminating in a complex interpretation of this dark but richly layered piece. Under a normal appearing surface, jealousy, rejection, isolation, and anger simmers (and explodes in one chilling stroke) in the relationships between a family and their lovers. It’s uncanny how a step – an arabesque, a turn – can communicate both duty and a concealed desire, and the company excels in these complex details, particularly in the three sisters, Yuan Yuan Tan, Frances Chung, and Vanessa Zahorian. A background of normal every day life marches on despite the internal turmoil of each character, and the play ends as it began, with the three sisters, front and center.

Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz in MacMillan's Winter Dreams. © Erik Tomasson

The evening ended with Tomasson’s world premiere of Trio, a pretty showpiece couched in warm and aristocratic colors in gilded impressionistic sets (with scenic design by Alexander V. Nichols and lighting by Christopher Dennis). This piece appears to be made up of three smaller pieces, with each movement possessing a different flavor. Tomasson can’t resist his usual habit of incorporating pseudo-storylines into his abstract ballets particularly in the 2nd movement with Sarah Van Patten, Tiit Helimets, and Vito Mazzeo. Mazzeo is the tall, dark and handsome stranger who takes Van Patten away from Helimets who doesn’t seem upset at this rude turn of events, and the piece ends with Mazzeo leading Van Patten away with his hands over her eyes. Perhaps he represents Death, or a lover, but I can never tell with these sorts of things.

But it doesn’t take away from the fact that the dancing is gorgeous, with Tomasson featuring the men particularly well with broad strokes of unbashed bravura that’s joyful and confident. Soloists Courtney Elizabeth and Joan Boada in the 1st movement and Maria Kochetkova and Gennadi Nedvigin in the 3rd and 4th movements were stellar, embodying a lively energy and beauty that matched Tchaikovsky’s music, and the corps were equally lovely.

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson's Trio. © Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson's Trio. © Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet’s Program 5 begins on March 19 with Coppelia.

Review: Diablo Ballet’s “Inside the Dancer’s Studio”

From the beginning of the evening, there was a strong sense of community in the room at a performance of the Diablo Ballet this past weekend on Saturday evening. Diablo Ballet’s series called “Inside the Dancer’s Studio” is an intimate look at both an art form and a local ballet company. Located in the small auditorium at the Shadelands Arts Center Auditorium in Walnut Creek, the devoted audience swelled with pride, clapping enthusiastically after each piece. And for good reason too – the “Inside the Dancer’s Studio” series is a testament to the vitality of a local ballet company in giving back to its community, in more ways than one.

With a large proportion of the audience consisting of newcomers to ballet and to the Diablo Company, the program was a reaffirmation of the fact that good art is powerful, moving, and needs no translation. In a program that had its ups and downs, Tina Kay Bohnstedt’s The Mirror was a perfect example. Bohnstedt’s choreography captures the dreamy reverie and the angles in Erik Satie’s music, faintly referring to vague ideas of introspection and dreams with the use of a large mirror centered around a woman (Mayo Sugano) and a man (guest artist Rory Hohenstein) who may or may not have been a dream. If he was a dream, he was a powerful one – an awkward entrance brought the audience to uncomfortable giggles, but the audience quickly quieted down as soon as he moved. Hohenstein navigated the small stage with explosive energy and biting irony to the syncopated accents in Satie’s music, commanding everyone’s attention and moving with power and grace in spellbinding ways. In the SF Chronicle review, Hohenstein is described as “easily one of the country’s finest male dancers”, and it’s difficult to disagree. Sugano dived into her contemplative fantasy with a lovely stretch and and a quiet but simmering fire.

In this intimate setting, the pieces that were the most successful were the strongly atmospheric ones, such as Tina Kay Bohnstedt’s Tango Tchak, swathed in the mystery and seduction of Hugues Le Bars’ music. Christopher Stowell’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream pas de deux contained pleasing touches of fantasy, but from such a close distance from the stage, it was too easy to see the work that went into precarious high lifts and ballet poses.

Another notable highlight was the addition of live music in this performance, with all four jazz musicians Frank Martin, Terry Miller, Mike Olmos (a really amazing and nuanced trumpet player), and Diablo Ballet’s new musical director Greg Sudmeier all worthy of mention. Providing the music for Kelly Teo’s Dancing Miles, a tribute to Miles Davis, the music shared the limelight equally with the dancers onstage and basically rocked the house, bringing the experience to another level. The music too was another reminder of the vitality and the power of the fine arts, not being mere entertainment just to keep the audience occupied, but a force to be reckoned with, an atmosphere to get lost in, and a challenge to the eyes, ears, and mind.

The evening ended with a personal Q&A with the dancers and musicians, and a short demonstration of what the Diablo Ballet is doing to support arts education within the community with elementary school children in an amusing demonstration of choreographing to a piece of music a la Whose Line Is It Anyway? with audience participation. (Our world-premiere piece involved a nun and Humphrey Bogart in a short piece called “Jungle Prayer”.) With this program, Diablo Ballet seems to prioritize the important things – live music, fostering a sense of community, arts education, and great dancing – and to prove itself to be an indispensable component of the community.

The next “Inside the Dancer’s Studio” at the Diablo Ballet will be in May with a program including Val Caniparoli’s duet from Gustav’s Rooster, Balanchine’s pas de deux from Apollo, Sally Streets’ Encores, and Tina Kay Bohnstedt’s My Way. Guest artist Rory Hohenstein will continue to perform in the May program as well. Click here for more information.

Coming up: Diablo Ballet’s “the ‘POWER’ of world class dancers and musicians”

Featuring former San Francisco soloist Ballet Rory Hohenstein

Tina Kay Bohnstedt and David Fonnegra in Tango Tchak. Photo Credit: Ashraf

This weekend, Diablo Ballet presents the Bay Area premiere of Christopher Stowell’s Pas de Deux from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and former San Francisco Ballet soloist Rory Hohenstein in a special Miles Davis ballet with live music under the direction of new Music Director, Greg Sudmeier in Kelly Teo’s Dancing Miles. Also included in the performance is ODC’s KT Nelson’s Making Love with Your Socks On, and Tina Kay Bohnstedt’s Tango Tchak (set to the music of Hugues Le Bars) and The Mirror.

This event is being staged as part of Diablo Ballet’s popular “Inside the Dancer’s Studio” series, for which the audience is seated mere yards from the stage and invited to participate in a post-performance Q&A with the dancers, as well meet their favorite performers at a wine-and-appetizers reception directly afterwards. The March 4th program will be hosted by KTVU Sports Anchor, Joe Fonzi and March 5th’s by Walnut Creek Mayor, Cindy Silva.

This program will be held at the Shadelands Arts Center Auditorium in Walnut Creek on March 4 and 5. Click here for tickets.