Category Archives: ballet

Review: Smuin Ballet’s 2010-11 Fall/Winter Program

Smuin dancers Erin Yarbrough Stewart and Matthew Linzer in Trey McIntyre's world premiere, "Oh, Inverted World" at the Palace of Fine Arts. Photo credit: David Allen

These days, there are a lot of new choreographers, and there are a lot of new pieces being made. Very few however, linger. Trey McIntyre’s Oh, Inverted World is one that lingers.

On first look, it doesn’t seem very outlandish or flashy. Dancers are dressed in 70′s gym clothes, in flat shoes, engaged in athletic choreography. Set to the music of The Shins, the choreography reflects the sadness in the music’s energetic beats. Using deconstructed movements, and a lot of it, the action-packed choreography speaks of something familiar, with phrasing that breathes. In a duet with Erin Yarbrough-Stewart and Matthew Linzer, the physical sparring is immediately interrupted by a surprising intimate moment in stillness – standing behind Yarbrough-Stewart, Linzer places his cheek on hers. Her arms flutter up in surprise, as the music marches on. The quiet moment is sudden, awkward, surprising, and heart catching. The final monologue danced by Smuin newcomer Travis Walker is a powerful tour de force. Caught in a world that’s confusing, frightening, heartbreaking, and beautiful, Walker danced with arresting surrender and abandon. Nothing about this piece seems new or groundbreaking – reminiscent, almost – but it quietly hits at the heart.

Smuin dancer Travis Walker in Trey McIntyre's world premiere, "Oh, Inverted World," at the Palace of Fine Arts. Photo credit: David Allen

Two Michael Smuin pieces rounded out the program. The Smuin dancers’ added a touch of elegance to the evening with the neoclassical Brahms-Haydn Variations. Smuin Ballet’s strength isn’t in the realm of classical ballet, but it was still a classy display. One of the limitations of using taped music is that it can be relentless in terms of tempo especially during the fast sections. But dancer Jessica Touchet kept up with a touch of flair in her solo. The evening ended with Smuin’s Bluegrass/Slyde. Thankfully, not a cowboy hat was in sight. Smuin captures the emotion in each song by Edgar Meyer and Bela Fleck. The bright red industrial sets were a little too incongruent with the music, reminding me of the 80′s. Three spinning poles are used deftly by the dancers to represent the lazy drawl in the music. Smuin creates interesting patterns between groups of people reflecting different countermelodies in the music. Ryan Camou was an audience favorite, a shot of energy amidst the sea of sass and attitude.

The company in Smuin Ballet's BLUEGRASS/SLYDE by Michael Smuin. Photo credit: Tom Hauck

The Smuin Ballet’s Fall/Winter Program ends today at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre. The program will repeat in Mountain View, Walnut Creek, and Carmel in February 2011. Click here for more information.

Other reviews:

Smuin Ballet kicks off their 2010-11 season with a world premiere by Trey McIntyre

Acclaimed choreographer Trey McIntyre (back center) sets his world premiere Oh, Inverted World on Smuin Ballet dancers (l-r front) Ben Behrends, Erin Yarbrough-Stewart, and Matt Linzer opening at the Palace of Fine Arts October 1-9.

Smuin Ballet continues its trend of bringing exciting choreographers to the Bay Area by kicking off  its 2010-11 season with “Oh, Inverted World”, a world premiere by choreographer Trey McIntyre. Set to the music of the Shins, this piece joins two of Michael Smuin’s pieces, “Brahms-Haydn Variations”, and “Bluegrass/Slyde” in their fall season which begins on October 1. Word is that Trey McIntyre turned down an opportunity to choreograph with NYCB so that he could present this piece.

To read more about Trey McIntyre and the decision to base the dance company’s home base in Boise, Idaho, click here.

For information on tickets, click here.

Movie Review: Mao’s Last Dancer

Hello everyone! I hope everyone had a great summer – in the past month, I wrapped up my Ph.D., finished up my dissertation, gave a rushed exit seminar, and started my 3rd year of med school within the span of a week. I’m getting used to my new life as a (busy) medical student, surrounded by runny-nosed babies and other high strung med students, but of course I’m itching to get back to the theater again whenever I get a chance.

The only time that I’ve had recently was to get myself to a movie theater, which I rarely do. I went with my mother to see Mao’s Last Dancer (which appears to be more limited release than I thought). It’s not groundbreaking cinema, but an arresting tearjerker that was perfect for my mom and I. Kudos for an impressive debut with Birmingham Royal Ballet’s dancer, Chi Cao, in the leading role. For dancers, this movie isn’t as dance-heavy as the star-studded Center Stage, but more of a mix of dance that served the storytelling. For the dancing, I thought their choreographed pieces were a bit stilted. Surely they could have picked a better choreographed Rite of Spring than they did for the movie’s climax? And I sort of hated but loved the ending, which was trite but still, completely satisfying. That also sums up my opinion of the whole movie.

Preview for the movie Black Swan

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City Ballet? Cue the cliches, and let the Rodarte-costume viewing begin!

Review: San Francisco Ballet at Stern Grove 2010

Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets in Tomasson's Prism. © Erik Tomasson

Last weekend, I made my annual trek to Stern Grove for the opportunity to see San Francisco Ballet perform in the gorgeous outdoor setting there. One of my favorite things about this performance is that it’s never just about the performance itself. It’s impossible to talk about this performance without mentioning the gorgeous outdoor setting and the huge audience spread out all over the hillside, all enjoying themselves and having a good time in this more casual atmosphere. Also competing this year for the stage, however, was the weather. Not only was the temperature in the upper fifties/lower sixties, there was a heavy mist that would fall occassionally, delaying the performance and then stopping it once in the middle. The stage was fortunately tarped overhead, but the orchestra in front were the unwitting victims. As an ex-flute player, I kept on imagining flute keypads swelling as they filled with water, and conductor Martin West tactfully stopped the performance in the middle of the first piece, Helgi Tomasson’s Prism. Despite a layer of tension that couldn’t be helped, still it was all done very seamlessly, and it seemed to add to the audience’s appreciation.

The dancers flew in Tomasson’s Prism with only a few signs of the weather by resorting to half-pointe. Despite the distracting circumstances, the pristine elegance of the piece shone through, backed nicely by Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, played by Roy Bogas. Vanessa Zahorian was as untouchable and as perfect as a ballerina sparkling in a jewel box. Yuan Yuan Tan showed more generosity of spirit with the same clean lines but a lingering expression in her long arms, partnered tenderly by the princely Tiit Helimets. The smaller ensembles were breathtaking in the way that they matched each other to a tee; Jaime Garcia Castilla and Isaac Hernandez breathed as one with a lovely stretch and lightness. New corps member Daniel Baker fit right in with Myles Thatcher and Matthew Stewart as they flew through the air with the exactness of trapeze artists. Hansuke Yamamoto was the generous master of ceremonies, as if welcoming the audience to his domain with a smile and virtuosic fireworks.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith in Wheeldon's After The Rain. © Erik Tomasson

Right when the worst of the mist seemed to past, the audience laughed at the irony of the next piece, After the Rain. I wondered how Wheeldon’s pas de deux would fare in such a distracted audience. The piece started with a restless audience, but the simplicity of Arvo Pärt’s music soon cast its spell, played by Heidi Wilcox on violin and conductor Martin West at the piano. With Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith on the stage, vulnerable, they quickly cast their hypnotic spell over the audience and held them spellbound in a moving journey. In its awkward beauty and tension filled with regret, Tan and Smith’s partnership spoke of something beyond the steps, but of a deeper relationship of trust and strength. It was moving to the core, and absolutely gorgeous to watch.

Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz in Tomasson/Possokhov's Don Quixote © Erik Tomasson

Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz followed with a truncated version of the pas de deux from Don Quixote, Act III, which I had seen them dance at Napa Valley a few weeks before. It really got the audience going with their technical fireworks, but way too brief. And the lovely afternoon ended with Mark Morris’ irreverent and very funny Sandpaper Ballet. Is it not the equivalent of Mark Morris giving the stuffy institution of ballet, in all its technical rules and pretty floofiness, the middle finger? He has the dancers rolling on the ground, arms hanging loose and being flung wildly about. Not to say that there isn’t a structure or a master plan to this masterpiece, which happens to be one of my favorites. Morris does it with such ingenuity and humor that you can’t help but to laugh. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else dancing this with as much joy and wit as San Francisco Ballet, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

San Francisco Ballet heads to Copenhagen next for their tour on August 21-27.

The Stern Grove Festival continues on through August 22. Click here for more info.

Review: Festival del Sole “Stars of American and Russian Ballet”

Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky, courtesy of ABT

It was a gorgeous drive into Napa Valley on a Friday early evening. Amidst fields of vineyards, Napa Valley got a taste of big city fine arts with the Festival del Sole. Only in its fifth year with a focus on fine arts, food, and wine, this was the first year that this festival included a dance performance, with big names from the New York City Ballet to the Bolshoi. From the start of the performance, there was excitement in the air; the presenter announced his surprise that the full house proved that there really is an audience for dance in Napa.

The program was an eclectic mix of pieces ranging from classical ballet to modern, from the well-known to the more obscure. Not surprisingly, the audience favorites by far were the familiar and the virtuosic. Andrew Veyette and Megan Fairchild brought down the house with  Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes. Veyette ate up the stage with his impressive lines and even more impressive charisma. In the midst of being awed by Veyette’s stretch and artistry, he made you smile with his playful attack and his grin. His chemistry with Fairchild was pure fun, in this glitzy rendition of Stars and Stripes, and it was perfect for the gala atmosphere of this performance. Later, Veyette and Fairchild’s Swan Lake didn’t fare as well; it felt like a more embellished and a slightly more muddled version of the classical ballet.

Petipa’s Don Quixote, danced with flair by San Francisco Ballet dancers Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz, was another standout. I’ve always found Feijoo to be both a stylistic and stylish dancer, and she shines in Don Quixote. Every detail is colored with sass and flirty eyes, and Luiz flew through the air to the audience’s delight. Feijoo and Luiz also performed Forsythe’s in the middle, somewhat elevated with red-hot sensuality, the sexiest rendition I’d seen yet. I wished the music had been louder though; I hadn’t realized how much the heart-pounding beats of Thom Willem’s score was central to experiencing this piece.

The central billing of this evening was American Ballet Theatre’s Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky. Their transparent rendition of Balanchine’s Apollo added touches of humor and humanity amidst its stark angles. Every movement deliberate, Beloserkovsky distinguishes between the soft swoops to the pointed punctuations of quick footwork. Glances and smiles are shared between Dvorovenko and Beloserkovsky, and the expansive ending lingers with Dvorovenko and Beloserkovsky draped over each other looking up with hope. Their other two offerings for the night, however, didn’t fare so well – Jessica Lang’s “Splendid Isolation III” is several minutes of melodramatic posturing, and Anatoliy Beliy’s “Carmen Suite” is even more so,  but more kinetic and even more over the top. Despite their program choices, Dvorovenko is positively statuesque, dancing beyond her diminuitive frame with glamor and dynamism, and Beloskerkovsky is pure elegant strength in various states of bare-chested costumes.

Bolshoi principal Marianna Ryzhkina and ABT soloist Gennadi Saveliev (a substitution for Bolshoi’s Dmitry Gudanov) were the epitome of control in excerpts from Raymonda and Giselle. They especially simmered in Giselle, with sadness and forgiveness in breathtaking balances and heartache.

One of the problems with this gala format is that each piece is so short, and it leaves you wanting to see more. There were some rough edges in the evening, with its stage that often left dancers in the dark practically in the wings when preparing for a set of leaps or turns, some sound fluctuations, and trouble getting people ushered into their seats on time. But these things are trivial; there was an adoring audience (including Rita Moreno and Helgi Tomasson), incredible dancing, and the buzz thanks to the visiting guest stars. Everyone left with something new and challenging, in addition to the familiar classics, and an anticipation for what the festival will offer next year. I hope that Festival del Sole continues to incorporate more dance offerings for the future.

Festival del Sole

New Company Members for San Francisco Ballet’s 2011 Season

Artem Yachmennikov taken at the Het Nationale Ballet, taken by Angela Sterling

New company members for San Francisco Ballet’s 2011 season has been announced! Artem Yachmennikov will be joining as a principal dancer, previously from the Mariinsky Theatre Ballet, Het Nationale Ballet, and the Bolshoi Ballet. Vito Mazzeo will join as a soloist, previously from the Royal Ballet and the Teatro dell’Opera. The new corps members are Daniel Baker (previously a soloist at the Miami City Ballet), Nicole Ciapponi, Koto Ishihara, Elena Kazakova, Dustin Shane, Sebastian Vinet, Lonnie Weeks, and SF Ballet apprentices Kimberly Braylock, Myles Thatcher, and Sylvie Volosov.

Congratulations! It’ll be exciting to see how the newly hired soloists will perform, as well as seeing the familiar faces of previous SF Ballet students and apprentices (apprenticii?) who graced the audience last year in vivid, lasting moments onstage. Check out the new roster, here.

Napa Valley’s Festival del Sole

Summer is a downtime for the arts as many organizations closes its doors for the summer, but there’s still a lot to see, especially in the form of festivals which appear to be everywhere in the Bay Area.

The 5th annual Festival del Sole begins today in Napa Valley. In the beautiful locale, a festival of fine arts, fine foods, wine, and wellness includes, for the

first time, an evening of international dance, featuring stars from the American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, and San Francisco Ballet. Titled, “Stars of American and Russian Ballet”, this is like the all-star exhibition game in baseball that I was forced to watch the other night. Representative dancers from top international ballet companies come together in an exciting program of classical and modern ballet, Â including some of my favorite ballets and some I’ve always wanted to see.

Principals from American Ballet Theatre Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky will be dancing Balanchine’s Apollo pas de deux, Jessica Lang’s Splendid Isolation III, and Anatoliy Beliy’s Carmen Suite. New York City Ballet principals Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette will perform an excerpt from Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes and Jerome Robbins’ Andantino. Bolshoi principals Marianna Ryzhkina and Dmitri Gudanov will perform exceprts from Raymonda and Leonid Lavrovsky’s Paganini. San Francisco Ballet principals Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz will perform excerpts from Forsythe’s in the middle, somewhat elevated and Don Quixote.

The gala will be on Friday, July 23, 2010, 6:30pm, at the Lincoln Theater Napa Valley in Yountville.For more information on this concert as well as the full calendar of the Festival del Sole, click here. Other performers participating in the Festival del Sole include Joshua Bell, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Chris Botti, Conrad Tao, and the Bay Area choir Volti.

ACT’s Tosca Project closes on July 3

San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Lorena Feijoo and A.C.T. core acting company member Jack Willis (pictured at the famed Tosca Café) are part of the multidisciplinary cast of The Tosca Project. Photo by Kevin Berne.

American Conservatory Theatre at San Francisco presents a collaborative project with the San Francisco Ballet in a world premiere dance theater production of The Tosca Project. This piece is a result of a three year collaboration between San Francisco Ballet choreographer Val Caniparoli and A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff, with a cast of dancers and actors. The story is inspired by San Francisco’s Tosca Cafe.

It sounds fascinating, and I’m interested in how artists can switch across theatrical mediums. Pascal Molat has shown ballet audiences that he can act, but can he convince the A.C.T. audience he can act as well? And doesn’t Lorena look fabulous?

A sailor (Pascal Molat) and his girl (Lorena Feijoo) dance a duet to Rosemary Clooney singing “What'll I Do?” Photo by Kevin Berne.

Lorena Feijoo (center) with members of the Tosca Project ensemble (Peter Anderson, left, and Rachel Ticotin, right). Photo by Kevin Berne.

A sailor (Pascal Molat) and his girl (Lorena Feijoo) share a last moment before he heads off to World War II. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Please report back if you’ve seen it – click here for more information and tickets. Check out the SF Chronicle review, here. The Tosca Project closes on July 3 after being extended due to popular demand, with A.C.T. core acting company member René Augesen, Milwaukee Ballet principal dancer Julianna Kepley, and Bay Area ballet dancer Jekyns Pelaez join the ensemble for the extension performances.

Review: Smuin Ballet’s 2010 Spring Program

Brooke Reynolds and Ryan Camou in Jiri Kylian's Petite Mort presented as part of the Spring Program by Smuin Ballet. Photo credit: Scot Goodman

Michael Smuin’s Songs of Mahler
Jiri Kylian’s Petite Mort
Ma Cong’s French Twist

I’ve anticipated Smuin Ballet’s spring program since the beginning of the year, and it rightfully took the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts by storm in a breathtaking display of the power of new choreography. With this program, you see artistic and executive director Celia Fushille’s careful eye for the future of Smuin Ballet and the right feeling for the pulse of what’s hot in the international dance world, with a nod to the company’s history and tradition as well.

This program thankfully gave me new perspective on some recent thoughts of cynicism I’d been having on the world of dance. I’d had the depressing thought that perhaps I’d just seen too much dance, because everything felt so done and overdone. Everything I saw seemed to remind me of Petipa, Balanchine, or more Balanchine. An article I read recently states, “Your average state-of-the-art premiere is so derivative of Forsythe, Tharp, or Martins that it feels secondhand (even when the ballets actually are by Forsythe, Tharp, or Martins, they feel secondhand).” The remedy to cliche is really good choreography, not just rehashed inspirations which just aren’t enough anymore in a bloated dance repertoire filled with similar pieces.

Smuin Ballet in Jiri Kylian's Petite Mort, part of the Spring Program by Smuin Ballet. Photo credit: Scot Goodman

Jiri Kylian’s Petite Mort is a piece which hits right to the heart, dissecting, through movement, the heartache in Mozart’s music. Created in 1991 celebrating the second centenary of Mozart’s death, the music is set to the slow movements of two of Mozart’s piano concertos. Like the music, the choreography is simple and sculptural, yet undercut with drama and melancholy. The dancers are symbolic works of modern art, set in the framework of the prim and proper. Men manipulate fencing foils, and the women navigate their rigid dresses. But within this framework, there is a rapid exchange between the tension in angular limbs and stillness, and the vulnerable release in the partnering lifts. Rounded arcs in the arms breathed with tense and overwhelming desire. The dancers are dressed in flesh-toned minimal costumes with corsets for the women and bare chests for the men, personifying vulnerability and the core of humanity within a rigid society that aims to cover with decorum. The music literally hangs in the air, notes clinging and dying into silence. Petite Mort means “little death”, a metaphor for orgasm. Wikipedia defines, “More widely, it can refer to the spiritual release that comes with orgasm, or a short period of melancholy or transcendence, as a result of the expenditure of the “life force”.” Kylian’s Petite Mort is an ingenious abstract take on this idea.

Travis Walker and Jessica Touchet in Jiri Kylian's Petite Mort presented as part of the Spring Program by Smuin Ballet. Photo credit: Scot Goodman

The world premiere of Ma Cong’s French Twist was a raucous romp of high-speed energy and quirky charm. Made up of a vocabulary of everyday movements with the men in shirt and pants and the women in flat ballet shoes, the shoulders

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and head all get involved in carrying one movement to the next. The costumes seem to refer to people in a French cafe or an every day setting, yet I personally couldn’t help but to wonder if a sleeker look would have worked better than the rumpled white dresses on the women. The earthiness of the grounded movement is mirrored in the throaty yet seductive French spoken word in the darkly humorous music of Hugues Le Bars (preview here). The trio between Susan Roemer, Darren Anderson, and Aaron Thayer was a particular highlight, with these dancers expertly capturing the humor, sarcasm, and violence in this movement with gusto. There is dark mystery, humor, violence, and fun – an all-encompassing exercise of the senses and emotions and poignant musicality. At just the beginning of his career, Cong proves himself to be a masterful fresh voice with a unique vision, and a clever orchestrator of this darkly funny production. It’ll be really exciting to see where his career takes him next.

Ryan Camou, Terez Dean, and John Speed Orr in Ma Cong's French Twist, presented as part of the Spring Program by Smuin Ballet. Photo credit: Scot Goodman

The evening started with Michael Smuin’s ballet, Songs of Mahler. This piece appropriately set the context for the rest of the evening. In Songs of Mahler, Smuin brings a lightness to the movement to set to the densely lush and heavy songs by Mahler. There are a series of sketches, most of them drawing a story of relationships amongst small groups of people. It’s also a technical showcase for the dancers – Brooke Reynolds’ precision in her lines was pointed and poignant, Olivia Ramsay was all softly fluid lines and femininity, and Erin Yarbrought-Stewart embodied effortless grace and a natural flirtiness. Ryan Camou impressed with his high-flying bravura, and Aaron Thayer and Matthew Linzer in elegant lines. Although this piece stretched a little long, it still reminded the audience of the importance of Smuin Ballet’s past and its relevance to the present. It’s the qualities of Michael Smuin’s choreography

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– his musicality, his abilities to weave a heart-tugging storyline – that sets the standard for Smuin Ballet’s present repertory and their future. And with this program, the future of Smuin Ballet looks like one that will definitely be an exciting one.

Smuin Ballet repeats their performances in Walnut Creek, Cupertino, and Carmel. Go see it!! For more information, click here.