Category Archives: cal performances

Review: 2012 Mariinsky Ballet’s Swan Lake

Photo courtesy of Gene Schiavone, used with permission.

It was such a treat when the Mariinsky Ballet breezed through northern California at Berkeley’s Cal Performances a few weeks ago. There were many pleasures to be had in their brief stay, and adjectives such as “traditional” and “old world”

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come to mind with the feeling that perhaps this is a little closer to what the original Swan Lake was intended to be like. But who knows, right? More than that, this production made me realize how “stylized” my ballet-watching eyes were, and how it had been shaped by the flashy (perhaps Balanchinean?) styles of American dance companies in modern ballet companies today.

One big difference – American dance companies appear to favor soloists over the corps. Say what you will about possible political influences of American individualism and freedom vs. Russian communism, but there is more flash and individuality in the dancers I’m used to seeing on the North American stage, with big personalities. In the Mariinsky Ballet’s Swan Lake, the corps were impeccable and beautiful, the heart of the show. They didn’t dance to announce, “see, we can dance together”, but the corps breathed together in a collective and powerful tour de force. The corps dancing was more instinctive, rather than intentional, with incredible awareness of the placement of the other dancers. The effect was in short, breathtaking.

On the flip side however, there were a few characters who could use a bigger personality. The role of the jester was rather lackluster, without humor or joyful buoyancy, appearing to merely perform the steps. I could think of more than a few dancers who could have danced that role better for laughs and in general be more “jester-like”.

Ekaterina Kondaurova. Photo by Gene Schiavone. Used with permission.

Ekaterina Kondaurova. Photo by Gene Schiavone. Used with permission.

Not to say that there weren’t amazing soloists. Ekaterina Kondaurova showed us how much fun it is to be Odile, with a look that could kill and a fierce sexuality. She tore up the stage as Odile, and it was obvious that she loving every minute of it. Her Odette was characterized by sensual

back bends that arched forever, a strong portrayal filled more with tragedy rather than fragility. She imbued cool elegance and glamour in her long extensions, but I couldn’t help but to feel that there was a detached cold quality to her dancing particularly in her Odette. Systematic yet ultimately still it was lovely – it was a quality I couldn’t quite put my finger on. She was partnered by Danila Koruntsev, who danced the role of Prince Siegfried. He was a deft partner, but unfortunately this role is not a good showcase of his skills as a soloist, but he performed ably and nobly. Another standout dancer was Xander Parish in the male lead in the peasant trio, looking anything but peasant-like. His long extensions were noble and graceful, with a regal elegance that really stood out.

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He is definitely a dancer to watch, with an arresting stage presence and perfect body proportions for ballet.

Xander Parish. Photo by Gene Schiavone. Used with permission.

Photo by Gene Schiavone. Used with permission.

Another huge asset to this production was the Mariinsky Orchestra. Not only is live music becoming more rare these days, but the emotive power of this famous orchestra surged and propelled the story in its wake. Unfortunately the music surged towards the tragic ending, but the Mariinsky chose a happy ending where Von Rothbart is killed in a semi-ridiculous and half hearted dance-fight and Prince Siegfried and Odette are united in love forever. The most discordant part about this happy ending was the music sustained tragedy in gorgeous phrases, but a short and quickened happy ending was an unexpected twist that I hadn’t been expecting.

Overall, it was a glimpse of old world charm on a classic, Swan Lake. This production is the reason why this production still stands today, and the Mariinsky Ballet breathed life into this production with an emphasis on all the right things. We can quibble about details, but most likely this is secondary to my taste – I could not get used to the bows after every movement of the pas de deux, and I think my jaw dropped when the music actually stopped and Kondaurova took a bow after her fouettes in the Odile variation – but this really is the reason why this ballet has stayed so long in our repertoire as well as our hearts.

Many thanks to Gene Schiavone for letting me use his gorgeous photos. Check out his Facebook page for many more photos of this production as well as others.

Choreographing *My* PhD Dissertation!

Promoting conversation between science and the arts
Dance Your PhD
My first choreographic effort

It’s so great to start with an idea, and to actually devote a lot of time, energy, money, a lot of hoping and crossing fingers to get a studio, to ultimately see the project come to completion. I stumbled across this event “Choreograping Your PhD” earlier this year, and just thought it was hilarious as well as very fitting – science and dance is a novel yet symbiotic relationship that could lead to a greater understanding of both fields. After all, science has been a subject of dance for a while now, from Balanchine’s Four Temperaments (based on the subject of physiology) to the more recent work of Wayne McGregor’s groundbreaking work in artificial intelligence, cloning, and the heart. Add to that the quirkiness of scientists on display doing something out of the ordinary, and you end up with NY Times coverage.

So here I present my soul to the world, my first choreographic effort as someone clearly out of my own element. Bottom line – choreographing is SUPER HARD, and my respect for ALL choreographers just skyrocketed. Forget about any body issues that I have; I can’t even think about that without cringing. And I definitely need to go to ballet class more; I really need to work on keeping my torso upright (my technique seems to get worse every time I watch the video). But I’m forcing myself to get over it because after all this work, and I can’t not upload it now. Remember as you watch it that normally I am a geeky sedentary scientist and not a trained dancer by any means. My ultimate goal is to be able to choreograph as well as Balanchine or Wheeldon can do molecular biology.

The Stats: for the five of us in the studio filming this video:

  • Collective education (earned and ongoing): one Masters in Computer Science, two PhD’s in Neuroscience, one PhD in Nutrition, one medical (MD) degree, one veterinary (DVM) degree.
  • Collective dance experience: 17 years and three months of ballet, one quarter of Renaissance dance, a smattering of swing experience.

The Science:

How does a developing nervous system form connections (synapses)? It’s directed by a series of molecular cues, which is the basis for my PhD dissertation. Our lab studies synaptogenesis and the molecular cues involved in synapse formation and differentiation that is essential for the developing nervous system. Specifically, our lab studies agrin, a heparan sulfate proteoglycan that has been widely studied for its synaptogenic effects at the neuromuscular junction. My project studies agrin’s function in synaptogenesis in the peripheral nervous system.

The Dance:

I represent a motile growth cone, an immature neuron searching for its postsynaptic partner to form a synapse. It starts out as a slow awakening, as I explore my environment. I liked the breathing quality of the awakening process, waxing and waning, breathing with the music. The other dancers represent potential postsynaptic partners, where I dance with them to see if they have the correct synaptogenic cues that dictates my final destination. I ultimately find my final postsynaptic partner (who also happens to be the only one strong enough to hold me in a dip :) ) and synapse with it.

I was disappointed that the resolution of the video wasn’t good enough to capture my leotard. It’s nude colored to represent an unmyelinated neuron – with myelin, I would have worn white, but without myelin, I’m basically membrane colored. I also drew on these open geometric circles to represent presynaptic synaptic vesicles, which unfortunately you can’t see.

The Experience:

Everyone learned everything within the span of two and a half hours – teaching it and communicating what I wanted was harder than I thought, but everyone picked it up really quickly. I loved that I did this together with my friends; we’re definitely not the best dancers in the world, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way, all but one of them graduate students themselves. It was also amazing to be back in a dance studio for a few hours. Many special thanks to the UC Davis Theatre and Dance Department who were so welcome in letting me use the studio on a rainy Saturday on such short notice; Professor David Grenke (former principal dancer with the Paul Taylor Dance Company, founding member of Armitage Ballet) couldn’t have been nicer nor more encouraging.

Some photos we took for fun -

In short: It was a great time! Thanks to everyone who made my vision possible, including my friends who helped bounce ideas around. It definitely wouldn’t happened without everyone’s support. So with great humility, I hereby present to you my final product. Be sure to watch through til the end.

Check out the other entries, as well as last year’s (live) contest, here. Please submit a video, especially if you are a post doc or a professor, because there aren’t too many videos in those categories. The deadline is Nov 16.

P.S. Speaking of science and the arts, who’s excited for the next four years?? I am!

Updated: Very special and very kind blog endorsements! Thanks to everyone -

SR, SRO, and $1200+

The Opportunities and Frustrations of a Theater Loving Student

While reading through the Cal Performances’ new 2008-2009 season, I ran across this notice for buying tickets to Yo Yo Ma’s concert:

Available only to $1,200+ Donors and above; see our Support Cal Performances section for full listing of donor benefits and to become a Producers Circle donor today.

Now Ma is an amazingly lyrical player, and he is playing the Bach suites – but this sort of blatant soliciting by opening up this concert only to $1200+ donors is sobering. I saw Ma play in Shanghai a few years ago, and I would actually rather fly to China and see him for the same amount of money than supporting this bold move. It’s not surprising that people call theater elitist and find it uninviting.

Note that even if you donate $1200, it’s an additional $150-250 to see the Yo Yo Ma concert.

Ticket pricing is an issue that’s near and dear to my heart, because it directly affects my ability to see shows. For a person who’s willing to devote time, gas, and effort to see as much theater as I can, ticket prices are the only obstacle to enjoying my favorite and notoriously expensive hobby.

I realize that it takes a lot of money to put on the quality theater that I enjoy. The San Francisco Ballet has reportedly poured in $3 million into the New Works Festival, with Silicon Valley royalty like Yahoo’s founder Jerry Yang sponsoring Elo’s piece, Double Evil. With this, I am eternally grateful to the many institutions in the Bay area that remember the peons the students and offer great discount ticketing options. My favorite is San Francisco Ballet, where you can buy tickets over the phone for same day discounts. It’s such a luxury, and one that I utilize often. (One small complaint: this luxury was yanked for certain days over the New Works Festival which prevented me from watching Program A twice – check out sfmike’s take on what he calls the “only serious misstep” over this decision.) San Francisco Symphony also offers Center Terrace seats (located behind the stage, great for a piano concerto but not so great for something like a violin solo where the soloist faces the front) and rush tickets for certain performances based on availability. Berkeley Repertory Theatre has the most aggressive program aimed at attracting younger audiences, with a great “Under 30″ program with half priced tickets and access to their great Under 30 parties. All these programs are great for reeling in new audiences otherwise intimidated of going to see theater, and hopefully keeping these audiences as salaries expand with age. These programs have allowed me to experience and to keep my theater hobby alive, and whereve I end up, I will be a season subscriber to as many of these venues (or similar ones) as possible.

Cal Performances doesn’t have a consistent general student rush policy except for Berkeley students, which I am not, and rare occasions when most of the theater is empty, which coincidentally don’t occur in the shows that I usually want to see.

It’s also impossible to completely boycott its ticket policies when Cal Performances is bringing Mark Morris’ new Romeo and Juliet and his L’Allegro this year, in addition to the Kirov Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, and Alvin Ailey. It just means I have to limit my support and keep away from the programs that I could live without seeing. It also means no running to the Berkeley campus for last minute viewings when an evening opens up.

(On a side tangent: more information on Morris’ new Romeo and Juliet production. Not only am I looking forward to Morris’ ingenuity in seeing what he’ll do to the sweeping Prokofiev score, but this show will be a premiere in itself using the original music that Prokofiev was forced to rewrite in order to accomodate the strict Stalinist regime. Check out the new website for Morris’ Romeo and Juliet, .)

I wrote briefly about this topic before, citing a NY Times article that when NYCB changed its cheapest tickets from $30 to $15, sales tripled. Sometimes I wonder why I couldn’t have cheaper hobbies than theater, like movies or hiking. But thanks to the great student programs out there, it’s really allowed me to see as much as I can without too being too much in debt. I can only hope that these student policies don’t change.

From the NY Times article, If You Discount It, Will They Come?

Updated: Are you a student at UCSF or the SF Conservatory? Check out the SF Performances Culture Card, where you can see over 20 shows for $25. It’s got to be one of the best deals that I’ve ever heard of.

Polina Semionova and Vladimir Shklyarov in Makarova’s Swan Lake

Tchaikovsky Perm Ballet and Orchestra


The legendary Natalia Makarova, with Vladimir Shklyarov and Polina Semionova

There’s something special about seeing a Russian company dance a classic such as Swan Lake, which took the Cal Performances stage this past weekend, danced by the Russian company the Tchaikovsky Perm Ballet staged by the legendary Natalia Makarova. With a relatively unknown ballet company (unbeknownst to me, at least), the company made a smart move by scheduling in two superstars as their leads – 24 year old Polina Semionova, who joined as principal at the Berlin Staatsoper Ballet at age 18 and a music video star, and a second soloist of the Mariinsky Theatre, Vladimir Shklyarov, a replacement of the previously scheduled Denis Matvienko.

The biggest nagging thing about the show was the cramped stage, with the dancers eyeing the wires running across the front of the stage warily in the middle of their dancing, cutting tour jetes close as their feet brushed the backdrop, and preparations for jumps starting in the wings. There was only one moment in the performance where the cramped space was used to their advantage; with the swans running around in such a cramped space, it made for a beautiful packed whirlwind effect. Other than that, the movements in general felt limited, taking away from the expansiveness of the show. Despite the limitations of the stage, the company was precise, a fine display of Russian ballet training. I can’t help but to compare this company to the last company I saw here, the State Ballet of Georgia with Nina Ananshiavelli, who danced mostly Balanchine and modern works. I admire what the State Ballet of Georgia was trying to do, yet the classics are where the Russian ballet training is really displayed at its best, and the difference in the quality and ease of dancing was palpable.

Polina Semionova was a gorgeous solid presence, with her tall height and muscular arms carving through the air in time and space. She is no wispy wilting Odette, with a solidarity and earthiness and a depth of passion in her interpretation, which translated better in character as the seductress, Odile. As Odile, she grabbed Prince Siegfried with her eyes, daring him to fall in love with her. Her technique unwavered, with impossibly long balances and spinning fouettes (I swear she was doing triples, but I might be wrong). Vladimir Shkylarov used his boyish good looks to make the prince seem as young as he probably is supposed to be, yet the lack of chemistry with Polina and lack of emotional depth made it hard to be a believable character. Semionova’s solid stage presence and height overpowered his rather one-note boyish lightness, and he came across more of a moody teenager than a tortured soul. At one point in the dance in the second act when he is told to pick a princess, he looked like a a 13 year old ready to kick a trashcan. That moment actually made my seat neighbor to laugh out loud. His jumps were sky high, yet there was a lack of completion and follow through in the long time that he actually was in the air, aside from a scary moment after his tours where he almost fell and looked like he injured himself. I felt like he would have made a better Romeo than a Prince Siegfried. I couldn’t help but to feel that San Francisco Ballet dancer Tiit Helimets would have made a much better partner for Polina, with his tragic tortured quality and the solidarity to match hers. Perhaps most of my complaints have to do with the fact that he was a last minute replacement with minimal rehearsal time, and he fulfilled his role dutifully. Shkylarov will definitely be a dancer to look out for, however, and time will only bring about the emotional maturity to fill the character onstage.

Despite imperfect staging, it felt like such a treat to be able to watch superstars such as Polina Semionova locally in the Bay Area. And who can resist Swan Lake, with its tragic story and gorgeous swirling music?

As a personal preference, I found that I liked Giselle more than Swan Lake. Perhaps it’s an unfair comparison due to the staging of this particular show, and the fact that I completely fell in love with Giselle first. I don’t remember much about the last Swan Lake I saw (it was with the Royal Ballet about ten years ago), and I had on ABT’s Swan Lake on TV as I was making dinner tonight. Swan Lake is more of the quintessential ballet classic, but there’s something about Giselle that resonates more on an emotional level for me – the offense is bigger, and the forgiveness more divine. In Swan Lake, Prince Siegfried’s biggest offense (aside from falling in love with a swan) is to dance briefly with Odile and to pledge his love to her but only because she reminds him of his real love Odette, which lasts all of a pas de deux, and he does it unintentionally. In Giselle, Albrecht intentionally leads on Giselle with the full knowledge that he is already engaged. But the forgiveness in the second act, where Giselle protects her love from death, is made purer given what he did to her. Not that I’m for more broken hearts in the world, but there’s something divine and inspiring about the second act of Giselle for me.

Some more blurry pictures below – flashes from cameras started going off like crazy as soon as Makarova took the stage.




Nina Ananiashvili and the State Ballet of Georgia

Nina Ananiashvili in Alexei Ratmansky’s Bizet Variations

Just got back from watching Nina Ananiashvili and the State Ballet of Georgia at Cal Performances. In general, it was an uneven evening, especially in Balanchine’s Chaconne. It’s a young company, and they can only get better, but at times, it felt a bit student-showcase-y, with many loose ends, such as floppy feet and a complete lack of confidence and musicality. With that, Nina Ananiashvili is very good at bringing this ballet company into modern times; I just happened to catch her at the beginning of this company’s rise. I’m impressed by their repertoire with progressive pieces, as well as the traditional standards such as Giselle, which they’ll be performing later this weekend. It’s a great example of a ballet company incorporating good modern choreography, and they can only get better.

With that, the best piece of the night was Yuri Possohkov’s Sagalobeli, where the company literally came alive and seemed to be having fun for the first time. The dancers looked confident, and played more, even to the point of a dancer falling in her solo. But the enthusiasm showed, and the audience felt it. The music was traditional Georgian music, but the ballet was refreshingly un-folkloric nor old. Possohkov’s choreography was freshly inventive and sensual, with an unexpected move at every turn that kept the audience engaged and delighted. He has a true talent for inventive corps formations, as well as innovative lifts and partnering. When I think of Possohkov, I think of a couple in the middle of a whirling spin, with legs and arms whipping around, and then stopping as the woman leans into a deep arabesque, with her partner pulling on her hand. This is truly the best I’ve seen of Possohkov’s choreography, and SF Ballet is truly lucky to have him as their resident choreographer.

Nina Ananiashvili danced in Ratmansky’s Bizet Variations. This is the first time that I’ve seen Ratmansky’s choreography. I didn’t see anything truly special nor outstanding; I see some Petipa in his choreography, and it looks like he based this piece deeply rooted in the Russian tradition. Nina A. however, was lovely; she looked like a cloud, floating in a lovely way. She would make a great Giselle, it would have been great to see her dance more.

The other piece was Balanchine’s Duo Concertant, danced by Nino Gogua and Lasha Khozashvili. They didn’t look as comfortable as they danced in the Possohkov piece, but did passably well. I can’t wait to see NYCB dance it when they dance at the War Memorial Opera house later this season.

One note: it’d be great if this show had timed the dancers’ bows and the curtain. The curtain kept on falling in the middle of the performers bows, as they were running downstage with arms uplifted, to take their bows. The lighting was awkward too; a percentage of the show was in muted darkness, as well as misplaced spotlights (is the spotlight supposed to only highlight the hands in Duo Concertant? The spotlight didn’t seem too sure if it was supposed to include the body or not). If Alastair Macaulay had a problem with the lighting at the SF Ballet programs, he would have had a field day with this one.

Edited to add: The problem with Duo Concertant is that it lacked the extra extension, the snap and verve – it was more than proficient given the material.

The theater was teeming with San Francisco Ballet dancers last night – they’re not performing in Giselle until Saturday. Spotted were artistic director Helgi Tomasson, dancers Yuan Yuan Tan, James Sofranko, and Gennadi Nedvigin, who got accosted by a group of giddy pre-teens in the lobby, and SF dance critics Rachel Howard and Allan Ullrich. It was a great audience, and the theater was pretty packed.

Bolshoi’s Alexei Ratmansky turns down NYCB

Ratmansky to turn down the job as NYCB’s resident choreographer

Aw, I’m a bit disappointed, although I’m sure it’s for the best. This weekend is shaping up to be a Ratmansky-filled weekend for me, with Nina Anashiavelli and the State of Georgia Ballet at Cal Performances, and Diana Vishneva and the Kirov (with Desmond Richardson) in Orange County.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Jolene’s Best of 2007 list


Best performance of the year: Two shows come to mind -

I spent as much space in a scary moment in Joshua Bell’s show than the more positive aspects of the show, but thinking back in 2007, Bell’s fresh and innovative take on a beautiful yet overfamiliar piece really brought it to life, and it shines in my memory as one of the best performances of the year. Two runner ups, in two pieces that really stand out just because they were so fun: Miami City Ballet’s “In the Upper Room” and SF Ballet’s Nutcracker.

Best male performer of the year: Raul Esparza in Company, Herman Cornejo spicing up a random collection of pieces at ABT’s first program at Cal Performances in the Le Corsaire pas de deux.

Best female performer of the year: Felicia Fields in the Color Purple, Lea Salonga as Fantine in Les Mis.

Best new discovery of the year: Miami City Ballet

Best regional production of the year: My discovery of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre was a great one, in which I still feel the effects of the quietly moving ripple that was after the quake. Another fun one was Expedition 6, at a much smaller local theater. Just wondering how many more local gems remain to be discovered?

Best performance event in a non-traditional theater venue: Project Bandaloop at Orange County’s Fall for Dance on the outdoor walls of the OCPAC.

Favorite televised theater event: Mark Morris’ Mozart Dances on PBS

Biggest theater obsession: Jersey Boys

Most anticipated performance for 2008: Company on PBS, watching Alvin Ailey for the first time, SF Ballet’s 75th anniversary season, esp the New Works Festival and Giselle!

Theater Favorites 2007

Best performance of the year (ex. best ballet performance, best play, best musical, best classical music concert, best opera, any/all of the above)

Mark Morris, Mozart Dances at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Best male performer of the year

Raul Esparza, Company. Honorable mention: John Gallagher in Spring Awakening.

Best female performer of the year

Alessandra Ferri, Manon

Best new discovery of the year

Journey’s End

Best performance event in a non-traditional theater venue (ex. performance in the street, art gallery, library, trash dump)

Stars in the Alley

Favorite televised theater event

Mark Morris’ Mozart Dances (see a theme?), Wynton Marsalis Red Hot Holiday Stomp, Met’s I Puritani

Most likely to be the next big thing (ex. performer, choreographer, playwright, etc. based on something you saw this year)

Lin Manuel Miranda, writer, creator and performer in “In the Heights”, Jamie Garcia Castilla from SF Ballet

Most anticipated performance for 2008

PBS broadcast of Company, Alvin Ailey at Cal Performances, Nina Anashiavelli’s Giselle, “In the Heights” performance on the Tony broadcast!

Best of 2007, alphabetically

Inspired by mmonk’s yearly tradition, I am presenting the theatrical memories version for this year:

Avenue Q cast party

Blythe, Gil


Des Grieux (Bolle & Corella)

Ehle naked

F*cked, Totally


Hell No

Idiot Tony voters

JLY & John Gallagher


Lovely ladies (esp. Lea)

Mozart Dances

Neuenmeier at BAM

Othello twice

Private Mason

Quoted in the NYTimes

Rush opera tix (totally worth it)

Stars in the Alley



Valentine’s Day with Mark Morris

Wynton Marsalis’ Red Hot Holiday Stomp

Xanthe’s breathtaking performance

Young soldiers topless

Zany Nut

The Hard Nut, Mark Morris Dance Group 12/15/2007

I saw this wonderful performance last night at Zellerbach Hall, at the courtesy of Rachel Howard, dance correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle (Thanks Rachel!). As a fellow Nutcracker lover (we’re not jaded like so many other balletomanes), it was great to be put under the spell of the Nutcracker once again. I have been hesitant to see “trendy” version of the classic Nutcracker; I’ve loved the ballet since I was a little girl! Of course, I was being silly because Morris always bring a new perspective on a classic piece, full of humor and humanity, and would create a whole new piece that’s not just “fluff”. There is so much to love about this production, but just don’t expect another version of Morris’ delightful (and my personal favorite) Mozart Dances. As expected, the camp was out in full force, which made a really really fun first act (the act which usually the children get to portray their talents and are quickly ushered off stage before the snow scene when the “real” dancing begins), but during the Waltz of the Flowers, began to seem a bit Trockadero-ish. The several instances which made sly homages to the other kind of nuts (besides walnuts) was a bit childish? but funny maybe the first time. But I think I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

Humanity abounds in this piece, and with the spectacular acting of his modern dancers (who knew?), esp. Lauren Grant–who balances humor and subtelty so well (she never attempts to get “cheap” laughs, even when wearing a horrendous pink frilly nightgown complete with bunnies on her pointe shoes) and always dances with such compassion and ease, June Omura –as Fritz, looking like a mischievous Alfalfa imbibing her steps with great acting, humor and pathos (Fritz waving at the TV at his sister was particularly touching), and Julie Worden, playing the hypersexual adolescent Louise at the Christmas party, imbibing even the smallest dance steps with chest shimmies, pelvic thrusts…little actions you would totally miss if you weren’t watching but making her characterization of Louise so…dare I say it?…deep… It was great to see such acting especially in the first act of the Nutcracker. Mark Morris makes a hilarious cameo as the drunk uncle, sporting a fro which looks particularly striking on him (perhaps a future consideration for a haircut, Mr. Morris?)

I love Morris’ use of gender bending characters; the mom is played by a male dancer, male snowflakes and flowers, pointe shoe wearing male dancer as the maid…I love it because MOrris does what he always does; makes us look at “traditional” gender roles and puts them in a new light. Morris rarely does this in a way to point out obviously “Look, it’s a guy in a dress”, but he portrays these characters in such a normative manner, it’s like “Why didn’t we think of this before?” Marie’s “dad” was much shorter than Marie’s “mom”, but it didn’t look “weird”–as the fact that both were played by male dancers– but gave a new look to the Christmas scene that was refreshing to see, and more reflective of the real world. There were a few instances in which I thought that dancers played to the audience too much, smiling widely as if to say “this is supposed to be funny”, which I felt really took away from the piece (Ahem, the Waltz of the Flowers scene). John Heginbotham as “Mrs. Staulbaum” was lovely, beginning the ballet with a delightful homage to ballet, doing a perfect port de bras, a slow preparation into a pirouette, recognizable to any ballet student, garnering audience applause from those were have spent time in the dance studio.

The music was supplied by a great orchestra (The Berkeley Symphony Orchestra supplemented by musicians from the symphony/opera orchestras), except for a obvious trombone mistake during the Waltz of the Flowers. (Personally, I thought they sounded better than the NYCB ballet orchestra.) The Piedmond Children’s Choir was pitch perfect during the snowflake scene, I loved how many choristers were smiling and almost laughing at the craziness of the snowflakes dancing on the stage. Again, thanks to Mark Morris who always insists on high quality music for all of his productions. (No canned music here).

So many thoughts about this piece, but mostly, just wanted to end saying that the snowflake scene is the best piece of all. The only snowflake dance where I feel the dancers aren’t incredibly bored the whole time, (It actually looks super fun to be a Morris Hard Nut snowflake!), you couldn’t tell who was male/female but who cares, the oh-so-musical throwing of the snow was brilliant (my favorite being the puff of snow that comes from the wings, perfectly on beat, of course), making the piece look a bit like a snow firecracker show. SO much fun, without going for the cheap laughs but allows the dance to communicate humor and charm to the audience. Morris does this so perfectly in the snowflake scene.

And while I do miss the solid dancing from Morris’ other pieces, this was a brilliant new perspective on the classic Nutcracker ballet. What a fun, campy, night! I walked to the BART station with Loren Tayerle,

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a french horn player in the Berkeley Symphony, chatting about working with Mark Morris and being a musician (one perk to playing at Zellerbach, french horns can see what’s happening on stage!). The holidays really seem to begin once I’ve seen the Nutcracker. Although this isn’t your run of the mill Nut, this is a great and unique start to the Christmas season.