Category Archives: news

On My Radar

It’s going to be a late night at work today – I’m just going to jot down some things down while I’m waiting for my protein gel to run.

  • I just saw the documentary Suzanne Farrell – Elusive Muse – my two word review: absolutely riveting. It’s hard to obtain (I believe it’s technically out of production) but rent it from Blockbuster. I always thought that sometimes ballerinas of days gone by looked a bit dated, no matter how amazing they were, most likely due to my “modern” eyes that are used to seeing things in a certain style. Suzanne Farrell proves me wrong, as she is just as uniquely ravishing as any ballerina dancing today.
  • Lots of things starting up in the Bay Area – Berkeley Rep is back with Yellowjackets (check out their free “tastings” and other events that precede their shows), ACT presenting Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll with a stellar cast, and Spring Awakening‘s national tour makes its stop in SF.
  • Movie theaters are hoppin’ these days. Rent, the musical that defined a generation, closed on Broadway this weekend, with its final performance being aired in movie theaters on Sept 24-28. Also, The Met: Live in HD returns this year with even more live performances – I’m especially looking forward to Richard Strauss’ Salome, airing in October, after reading about it in Alex Ross’s book, The Rest is Noise. It sounds hauntingly entrancing.
  • SF Symphony storms in with Beethoven’s 9th symphony, and a Leonard Bernstein program next week in preparation for their performance at Carnegie Hall’s season opener which will be aired on PBS.
  • Due to demand (I know, I can’t believe it myself) on a blog related note – I added an option where you can subscribe for email updates, on the right column of my blog (scroll down). Check it out.

FINALLY…

Newly promoted Sofiane Sylve and Anthony Spaulding in van Manen’s Two Pieces For Het (for Rachel) at the gala last year. © Chris Hardy

San Francisco Ballet announces dancer promotions

San Francisco Ballet has announced the promotion of five Company members and the addition of seven new dancers for the 2009 Repertory Season. Jaime Garcia Castilla has been promoted from soloist to principal dancer, and Dana Genshaft, Pauli Magierek, Garen Price Scribner, and Anthony Spaulding have been promoted from corps de ballet members to soloists. Sean Orza and Jeremy Rucker, both apprentices during the 2008 Repertory Season, join the ranks of the corps de ballet. In addition, Taras Domitro and Ivan Popov join the Company as principal dancers, and new corps de ballet members include Isaac Hernández and Suzy Spaulding. Also, Sofiane Sylve, who performed with the Company as a guest artist last season, will join San Francisco Ballet as a principal dancer for the 2009 Repertory Season. The Company roster now stands at 73 dancers.

Definitely some surprises (good ones!), and some well deserved promotions! I’m really happy about Garcia Castilla’s lightning fast promotion to principal; it’ll be thrilling to see him in more lead roles with his wonderful mellifluous musicality that seeps through every role he takes. The four corps promotions to soloist are all well deserved, but I’m particularly excited about Scribner and Genshaft, two dancers that really stood out for me this year. And Sofiane Sylve, previously with NYCB, is returning! I hardly saw her dance this year, so it’ll be great to see her dance again. I see lots of dancers with really impressive backgrounds – do I sense the standard is getting higher?? Domitro is joining from the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, and Popov is joining from the Kirov. Hernandez is the gold medal winner for the USA International Ballet Competition 2006, coming from ABT II.

I’m really looking forward to some great dancing this year. Enough with the break already! I’m itching for the season to begin again.

For the entire press release, click here.

The Future of Arts Criticism

Capitalism can be so cruel sometimes. Our financially driven society continues to ensure that the arts continue to get marginalized and pushed off to the side. This explains everything from poor arts funding, trickling down to unpopular ticket sales, failing ballet companies, cutbacks on arts education (which has sadly, become the norm now), and the cause of more recent rumblings, the firing of dance and arts critics. Shockwaves rippled when the LA Times fired its chief dance critic, Lewis Segal. It continued like a tidal wave when Deborah Jowitt got cut from full time to freelance status from the Village Voice. The cutbacks continued with critics leaving at the OC Register, and a whopping 85 journalists leaving the NY Times, including a brave but sharp-edged classical music critic Bernard Holland and dance critic Jennifer Dunning, along with a group of arts editors. It leaves people wondering how bad this is going to get, and what is the future of arts coverage and criticism?

It’s so much more than less importance is being placed on the arts. It’s that these people like Jowitt set the standard for the arts and arts journalism; it’s also the fear that the quality of arts criticism will begin to crumble, in addition to the symbolic (albeit unintentional?) message that arts journalism (and thus, the arts) is unimportant and expendable. I realize that many are saying that blogging will take over in return, but that thought scares me. Even as a blogger myself, I realize that my writing is more informal as a single enthusiastic audience member, and coexists with dance criticism but never in lieu of it. It is hard to ignore though, the bigger role that blogging is already starting to occupy. It’s already interesting to see how arts organizations are handling this alarming new trend.

Edwin Denby, a highly influential dance critic of all time, writes that there is a direct relationship between smart incisive dance criticism and the quality of dancing that is shown to the public. In lamenting the lack of great dance critics in newspapers, he writes, “If only another half-dozen specialized and intelligent dance critics were writing on metropolitan papers, the public all over the country would profit considerably. Not that well-informed critics would agree on all details – far from it – but they could with a sharper authority insist on an improved general level of current production”. If the addition of dance critics improves the quality of dance, would the removal of those said critics lead to dance’s deteoriation?

The UK Times writes in a fascinating article, “If there is no intellectual, aesthetic, political, spiritual, passionate argument about what gets made, then the only arbiters of value are the box office and the phone-in. Bad culture drives out good unless there is someone there to stop it. Look at cinema, which is now virtually critic-proof.” It’s interesting that this idea insinuates that arts critics were first installed in order to prevent the natural order of capitalism, where demand and profit drives supply rather than the quality of it. And now critics are losing the war against which they were installed in the first place.

What does the future of the arts and arts criticism look like, withouts its stalwart standards like Jowitt, Segal, and Holland? How will the decline in arts criticism impact the arts itself?

On a side note: with less and less coverage of the arts, it’s sometimes difficult to pick out what to read, and who to believe. My advice is, as an actively engaged audience member, read as much as you can about the shows that you just saw. Read criticism with an open mind, by both opening your mind to accept new possibilities of things you might have missed or not considered, as well as feeling free to disagree. There will always be people who you consistently agree with, but you’ll never find one person you’ll always agree with.There are reviewers that I trust more readily than others, but that only comes with reading their reviews in the first place. I’m also fascinated by reading other people’s thoughts of the shows I just saw; it sometimes changes my mind about things and almost always opens my eyes to view things in a new way.

Other than newspaper arts criticism, I still believe that the strongest way to keep interest in the arts is to encourage audience to think actively about things, form opinions, have discussions and continue reading arts criticism. And ultimately, keep attending events. Quoting the Times quote above, one of the goals of this blog is to encourage “intellectual, aesthetic, political, spiritual, passionate argument about what gets made”, whether you agree with me or not.

Someone brought up the good point that lots of people were complaining about arts critics anyways, and so this is a good time to fix what was broken. I’m not sure if I completely agree with the statement, but we can all do our part in continuing to support the arts. I just hope the art itself won’t suffer because of the media’s decision to cuts its arts critics.

And if they fire all the critics, who will we disagree with? :)

The UK invests in dance education

In America where chief LA Times dance critic Lewis Segal just got fired and Boston Ballet is cutting 20% of its dancers, the UK government has just invested £5.5 million into dance education. (No, not P.E. education, dance education.)

It’s interesting that they state the reason for dance’s popularity is fueled by dance shows on TV. Dance shows on TV has been great exposure for dance, although I personally can’t stand watching too much of it. There’s one commercial I couldn’t escape where they do a close up on a girl’s foot in toe shoes, and her feet aren’t very pointed. I guess toe shoes on TV is pretty novel and so that was the point of that shot, but that’s something that won’t get me to watch, nonetheless. And I’d much rather watch live dance! But it’s great for people who’ve never seen dance before, and it might get people into theaters.

I’m starting to feel like I live in the wrong country.

Can Scientists Dance? Choreographing Your Ph.D. Dissertation

Happy Friday! I have two more reviews to write (San Francisco Ballet’s Program 5 and the Spelling Bee Musical), but I haven’t had a few spare hours to sit down and write them yet. So in the meantime, here’s something I stumbled across in my in my daily dance blog reads.

Lisa Traiger of D.C. Dancewatcher posted about a Science magazine sponsored event, where graduate students, post docs, and professors were invited to come and to dance out their Ph.D. dissertations. The rules were to interpret your Ph.D. thesis in dance form without using words. Winners get a free year’s subscription to Science magazine, one of the top scientific magazines in the field. I know the prize sounds dorky, but it’s very expensive (several hundred dollars? thousands?) and is a great prize worth striving for. Judges were mostly dance folk, with an addition of a “non-profit science communicator”, whatever that is. The winner, Brian Stewart, who not only won for his “graduate student” category but also took the prize overall, danced out his thesis titled, “Refitting repasts: a spatial exploration of food processing, sharing, cooking, and disposal at the Dunefield Midden campsite, South Africa”. An observer writes,

“No one was surprised when he scooped the prize. For one thing, Stewart wore nothing but a shimmering, translucent loin cloth. (That’s worth a few bonus points in my book.) But the judges told me afterward that his dance stood out because it accomplished two things at once. Most importantly, “he connected with the audience,” said Pastorini. “That is the purpose of dance: to create emotions.” A big help was his choice of music—a jazz interpretation of African Pygmy tribal music by Herbie Hancock—which created an atmosphere of funky ancientness.”

I love the title of the postdoc category winner, “mRNA Stability Regulation as a Drug Target”. Hilarious! That title has a world of opportunity in terms of how you can translate that into dance.

The Ph.D. thesis would translate well into a dance for a few reasons. First of all, it has a point – you’re dancing out your thesis, and how well you accomplish this communication to the audience defines good choreography, as it should in the dance world. Also, as I was reminded this past weekend when I saw the scientific based “Eden/Eden” at SF Ballet, science can translate very well into art. I’ll blog more about it later, but the artist’s take on science can be very beautiful and thought-provoking. And multidisciplinary approaches to anything is always fascinating and creative.

Scientists, contrary to popular belief, have to be very creative people. You have to be able to approach a scientific problem in a myriad of complicated ways, and you have to be able to drum up all the possibilities and explanations for the results that you get. (You also have to be used to failure, which I’m sure has parallels in the dance world.) And how fun is it that these creative people get to show their creativity in a different and completely unprecendented way?

My Ph.D. thesis (in the field of neuroscience) has the possibility for a great dance. I work on synapse formation in the brain – so it incorporates broader themes of the creation of memories and thoughts, and destruction of both in abnormal function. The brain (or the higher cortex) is also what defines humanity; it’s what makes us human compared to other animals. It’s also very dynamic, so that could translate well into movement as well. The soundtrack to my dissertation would be… hm, I’d have to think about this. I would love to use Bach, but the sounds of a polymerase chain reaction machine might be more fitting (it’s very John Cage).

Reports that next year it’s going to be global, on Youtube! It’d be fun if there was a U.S. one. I would definitely try for it… anybody want to help?? Any ideas would be appreciated! The stakes are even higher for next year, where for the prize, “Negotiations are underway to have the winners’ latest peer-reviewed publications interpreted by a professional dance company.” Fun!! My feeling is though, that more rules have to be put into place. For instance, you could technically post a video of a ballet company performing “Eden/Eden” for a postdoc or a student who happens to electroporate enucleated eggs, or even for anyone works in the in vitro fertilization field. Can you use professional dancers or choreographers? Does the author of the study in question, have to be a major feature of the dance, perhaps the lead dancer? Perhaps I can borrow Jaime Garcia Castilla for my piece. :)

Jaime Garcia Castilla in “Eden/Eden”
© Erik Tomasson
San Francisco Ballet

Check out the videos in the link below – I found that the links don’t work here, but maybe it’s because I’m at lab and the school’s firewall isn’t happy. You also have to read the entry, especially the last paragraph – I just KNOW the author/observer, John Bohannon, actually sat down to calculate the statistics of the number of grad students and professors dancing on the dance floor to come up with the p-value that he came up with.

Can Scientists Dance? by John Bohannon of Science magazine

This was also covered by the NY Times. And in response to the question asked in the article, no, it would ruin it if it was changed to having the best music video of your thesis. I prefer dance; music video would be too easy, you would just have to explain your thesis verbally and to make it rhyme somehow. Dance would stretch people’s imaginations more, and have scientists’ imaginations really come into play.

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!

Status Quo

Will we have a female American president, before we have a woman running a prominent American ballet company? It’s amazing to think that dance, overwhelmingly female, is less adaptable than Puritan-initiated American politics.

From the NY Times: regarding Trisha Brown’s retirement.
““It’s harder for women,” Ms. Brown said. “It just is. They get fewer grants, fewer bookings, fewer reviews. I’ve known that always.”

“There are all kinds of ways of diminishing a woman’s power,” she added, noting that female dancers face harsher scrutiny, especially as they age. “It’s in the culture. It’s how we think about women.”

She recalled seeing ]Martha] Graham speak late in her career. “I remember asking people around me, ‘Why doesn’t she dance?’ ” Ms. Brown said. “ ‘She looks like she could dance. Is it because she can’t remember her steps?’ I was speculating at the lowest level possible.””

Opening nights

Berkeley Rep’s Argonautika and ABT with Cal Performances

Berkeley Rep’s Argonautika

Two great shows are opening this week:

  • Argonautika, with the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, is officially opening this Wednesday although it’s already opened for previews. It’s amazing that I just saw the set two weeks ago and it only looked half built, and now it’s already up and running. Casting info here, including Justin Blanchard who was amazing in Journey’s End. Really looking forward to this show.
    • While we’re in outline form, might as well insert a sidenote (I’m comfortable writing in outline form these days, since I’m working on my PhD thesis proposal, for which I’m procrastating right now). Mary Zimmerman, who directed Argonautika, was also bringing her production of Lucia di Lammermoor (which opened at the Met this year) this summer to the SF Opera, but now they’ve announced that they’re not going to bring Zimmerman’s production but going to replace it with another. I’m disappointed, but I’m sure it’ll be a good replacement. Good news is that its star, Natalie Dessay, is still scheduled to appear.
  • American Ballet Theatre is opening its weekend stop at Cal Performances this Wednesday. I can’t wait, I haven’t seen this ballet company perform since I saw Vladimir Malakhov and Diana Vishneva dance Giselle at the Lincoln Center… was it last year? I think I held my breath the entire time. During this stop in Berkeley, I’m looking forward to seeing Herman Cornejo, and seeing David Hallberg for the first time. (I keep on having to remind myself that I have yet to see him dance!) I’m really really going to try to catch both programs, since my schedule is so off these days (my thesis proposal requires me to write til the wee hours of the morning, and then waking up and taking random naps in the afternoon in addition to a lot of panicking.)
    • Cal Performances is continuing its “Focus on Twyla Tharp” series that it has going this year. I’m very new to this type of multi-show themed programming, but it’s been very enlightening. I feel like I’m slowly being taught the multi-faceted talents of Ms. Tharp, being shown all her different works over a relatively short period of time. The last two performances I saw at the Zellerbach Hall included Tharp – Deuce Coupe with Joffrey, and Nine Sinatra Songs and In the Upper Room with Miami City Ballet, which have all been so different and yet with Tharp’s characteristic touches. I’ve really been able to appreciate inventive choreography from a choreographer who isn’t so intensely musical (such as Balanchine and Morris), my favorites that resonates so well with me. The only downside that I see to this “focus” is if the featured is on a choreographer that I didn’t like.
    • These gorgeous rehearsal photos from the multi-talented Matt Murphy has really gotten me jazzed about seeing these more contemporary works, including Elo’s “Close to Chuck” and Tharp’s “Baker’s Dozen”. It’s such a privilege to be offered a backstage peek, and to view a bit of the creative process. It really adds to the appreciation of the hard work involved, and enjoyment of the final product.

White crushed velvet leggings? ABT’s Kristi Boone and Isaac Stappas in Tharp’s “Baker’s Dozen”.