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San Francisco Ballet 2008New Works Festival


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#1 PeggyR

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Posted 26 April 2008 - 10:41 PM

Today I saw the matinee Program B of the San Francisco Ballet's New Works Festival. The Links section has links to some interesting and thoughtful reviews; I'll just give some of my own impressions.

After Alastair Macaulay's comment in the Times that the first three works in this program were 'ghastly', I approached the afternoon matinee with a good bit of trepidation. Not to worry: some good, some interesting, some just plain weird, but mostly reasonably entertaining.

Naked
Choreographer: Stanton Welch
Composer: Poulenc (Concerto in D minor for Two Pianos)
My alternate title: How to be Naked with All Your Clothes On

Not sure why this was called Naked; everyone was fully clothed -- men in pinkish pants and shirts, women in conventional pancake tutus, also pinkish. Plotless, slight, pretty, utterly conventional. Pleasant enough, but of the four works today, this is the only one I wouldn't really care to see again.

A Rose By Any Other Name
Choreographer: Julia Adam
Composer: J.S. Bach (Goldberg Variations, arranged for orchestra by Matthew Naughton and Martin West)
My alternate title: How Aurora Grows Up and Becomes a Lingerie Model

I'd read some pretty negative comments about this, but it turned out to be enjoyable, though it could have done with five minutes cut out.

So, here's the Sleeping Beauty story, filtered through Ms. Adam: Aurora's mom and dad meet, fall in love, get married, shed their clothes, have their wedding night, and produce a baby, all within the first four minutes. Aurora appears and spends the rest of the ballet sometimes wearing, mostly not, a fetching little teddy. At some point, the fairies (danced by men who double as suitors and, later, a forest) give their gifts. Particularly funny: Beauty who manages to twist himself into various pretzel shapes while keeping his mirror planted firmly in front of his face; and Generosity, who graciously gives away all his money and then has second thoughts (I mean, we are paying $4+ for gas out here in California, so, really, who can blame him). Carabosse, who's definitely got some issues, shows up and gives Aurora the fatal spindle. A gigantic black pillow is produced, Aurora goes to sleep on it, the Prince (who also danced Lilac, though I'm not sure when) fights his way through the forest (fairies/suitors carrying tree branches), sees Aurora, falls instantly in love (must be that teddy), tries to wake her by picking up a foot (which flops), arm (flops), head (flops), tries to turn her over (splat - falls off the pillow); finally, she starts to revive but can't quite maintain the vertical. At last, she recovers, falls instantly in love with the Prince, off comes the teddy, curtain down. Maybe a little slapstick and lowbrow, but more fun that I expected.

Adam has a very individual sense of movement: there was an almost Egyptian feel to the sideways, hands forward stance used repeatedly. I'd love to see more of her work, preferably something with a little less plot.

Cast was great, Kristin Long as Aurora particularly appealing. According to Maria Kochetkova's website, she also learned this role and I think she'd be very good.

The Ruins Proclaim the Building Was Beautiful
Choreography: James Kudelka
Composer: Rodney Sharman after Cesar Franck
My alternate title: How the Costume Designer Went Wacko with the Pinking Shears

According to the program notes, this ballet deals with the social decay of civilization. Kind of a lot for a 30 minute ballet.

Corps de ballet of 12 women enters wearing tattered tutus and fright wigs (I think they represent 'social decay' though it looks more like 'tutu decay'). After some dancing in the dark (crepuscular lighting throughout), three men appear wearing gray Victorian frock coats, gray makeup on faces and bare chests, and Beethoven wigs (think Sweeney Todd with attitude). They dance with the corps, wave their arms like airplane propellers, and generally look menacing. During all of this, two female soloists in longer tattered tutus dance. Don't know what they're supposed to be. About 2/3 of the way through, Yuan Yuan Tan shows up wearing a red dress and red high-heeled shoes (red shoes: you KNOW that means trouble). Everyone else disappears, she and the main gray man (Pierre-Francois Vilanoba) have not so much a pas de deux as a pas de hissy fit: she pushes him, he pushes back, she kicks out, he restrains her. This goes on for a while, finally she ends up on the floor, face up, corpselike, he folds his arms and smirks. Yup, another uppity woman bites the dust.

The work was saved by the superb performances by the two soloists in the longer tattered tutus, Frances Chung and Elana Altman. Tan is always lovely, but she's as fragile as an icicle and doesn't come across as a match for the beefy Vilanoba. I'd live to see someone like Sarah Van Patten in the role; if she pushes the drama button, that would be a fight of equals.

On the whole, very, very weird, worth it for the fine performances.

Joyride
Choreographer: Mark Morris
Composer: John Adams (Son of Chamber Symphony)
My alternate title: Gee Mr. Morris, Why Are the Dancers Dressed Up Like Cans of Tuna Fish?

Well, it's not really that bad, but the costumes by Isaac Mizrahi do have that look at first. Some full length neck to ankle, some neck to mid-thigh (like biker shorts), all either silver or gold metallic. Digital numbers on the midriffs flash randomly (tuna talk?). Odd, but effective with Morris' breakneck, spiky choreography. There are movements like kick boxing; sometimes the dancers take the position of a racer at the starting line; sometimes a pose vaguely resembling a body builder. The whole thing is headlong and a good showcase for these fine dancers. For example, a couple of times, the dancers, in unison, do a simple double pirouette, but they do it together, rotate at the same speed, end -- BAM -- exactly together. I suspect that's partly the dancers' skill and partly the music; it gives no quarter -- you're either on the beat or lost in the Pine Barrens. Superb performances all around and undoubtedly the major work of the program.

Sunday: Program A

#2 Juliet

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Posted 27 April 2008 - 07:30 AM

love your alternate titles ;)

and review!

#3 Helene

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Posted 03 May 2008 - 02:05 AM

According to the program notes, this ballet deals with the social decay of civilization. Kind of a lot for a 30 minute ballet.

Given the subject matter, you were probably lucky that it was limited to 30 minutes :helpsmilie:

Many thanks for your descriptions and reviews of these new works!

#4 Memo

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Posted 03 May 2008 - 09:34 AM

Thanks so much for the reveiws I really enjoyed that.
My DS is joining SFB in July as an apprentice so I am interested to read all I can about it as I am not so familiar with the company.
I also loved the alternate titles. Very funny.
There also a very interesting series of Podcasts on their website about the festival that I really enjoyed listening to the insights of the choreographers about their pieces.
Wish I could get up there to see it but work does not allow it. There has been a lot of buz about this festival and I salute the company for introducing so many new works.

#5 bart

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Posted 03 May 2008 - 09:45 AM

According to the program notes, this ballet deals with the social decay of civilization. Kind of a lot for a 30 minute ballet.

Given the subject matter, you were probably lucky that it was limited to 30 minutes :)

On the other hand, one hears that everything in the 21st century seems to be happening so much faster. It took the Roman Empire quite a few hundred years to reach decay and fall. Possibly 30 minutes -- in today's culture -- is all we have time (or attention span) for. :helpsmilie:

#6 Memo

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Posted 03 May 2008 - 09:47 AM

According to the program notes, this ballet deals with the social decay of civilization. Kind of a lot for a 30 minute ballet.

Given the subject matter, you were probably lucky that it was limited to 30 minutes :)

On the other hand, one hears that everything in the 21st century seems to be happening so much faster. It took the Roman Empire quite a few hundred years to reach decay and fall. Possibly 30 minutes -- in today's culture -- is all we have time (or attention span) for. :helpsmilie:


Hey why not microwave it, 30 minutes is way too long. :)

#7 PeggyR

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Posted 03 May 2008 - 10:30 PM

Memo: I don't know if you are aware of this, but a lot of critics think SFB's biggest asset is its contingent of excellent male dancers, so it's very impressive that your son has been accepted as an apprentice. :clapping: Hope to see him on stage soon.

[size=4]Program A[/size]
Matinee, Sunday, April 27
Two solid works and one disappointment.

Fusions
Choreography:  Yuri Possokhov

Music:  Graham Firkin, Rahul Dev Burman

A great showcase for the dancers, particularly Yan Yan Tan in her pas de deux and solo; Possokhov allows her to be herself -- no acting required, just flexible, graceful, lovely.  And Vanessa Zahorian was a treat; she was the only one who really 'got' the jazz-inflected music of the middle section.   Never out of sync with the rest of the dancers, and without losing her beautiful classical placement, unlike the others she didn't dance on top of the music but down inside it, allowing the jazz rhythms to propel her movements.  Good show.

Inside the Golden Hour 

Choreography:  Christopher Wheeldon 

Music:  Ezio Bosso

Like Fusions, an abstract ballet but with more substance.  There's a beautiful pas de deux for Sarah Van Patten and Pierre-Francois Vilanoba that seemed to be done entirely in slow motion; amazing control.  The many pleasures included the exquisite lighting, and a marvelous ending image as the dancers formed rows, hands crossed and clasped in front, each row rocking, rocking side to side as the curtain came down; hard to describe, but stunningly beautiful.  Probably the major work of the festival, Inside the Golden Hour will bear repeated viewings. 

Changes
Choreography:  Paul Taylor (staged by  Patrick Corbin) 

Music:  performed by the Mamas and the Papas

A disappointingly fluffy bit of hippie nostalgia, Changes benefitted greatly from the fact that these young dancers didn't look nearly as ridiculous in the clothes of that era as we old timers probably did. The biggest problem for me was the music: when I moved to San Francisco in 1969, musical tastes ran to Janis and Jimi, the Airplane and the Dead; my friends and I would have given up our Red Mountain wine ($1.79 a gallon -- those were the days) before we'd have listened to the Mamas and the Papas -- they were soooooo Southern California. The dancers were fine, as usual: in particular, Courtney Elizabeth as the in-your-face hippie chick, and Pauli Magierek as the unattainable glamor girl.


[size=4]Program C[/size]
Matinee, Saturday, May 3

Thread
Choreography: Margaret Jenkins
Music: Paul Dresher

From the program note: "Thread embodies a contemporary reading of the myth of Ariadne and the labyrinth of Knossos...Ariadne and her double serve as guides, spinning out their thread along the many windings of [the] path..."

Ms. Jenkins is a well-known Bay Area modern dance choreographer; this is her first work for a ballet company. My knowledge of modern dance is too limited to judge how well Jenkins melds modern and classical dance, but the movement vocabulary she developed for this work makes good use of the dancers' classical technique while, at the same time, nudging them pretty far away from it. I'd be curious to see this performed by Jenkins' own company of modern dancers: how would their attack differ, would they be sharp and angular where SFB dancers were soft and curved? Worth another look.

Ibsen's House
Choreography: Val Caniparoli
Music: Antonin Dvorak

Five couples, each a woman and a man in her life from one of Ibsen's plays (Hedda Gabler, A Doll's House, Ghosts, Lady from the Sea, Rosmersholm). Like most poorly educated Americans, I've heard of Hedda Gabler and A Doll's House (actually saw that one on TV long ago), and that's about it, Ibsen-wise. So it's fortunate that, despite the theatrical sources, the ballet is plotless; instead, each character, in solos and pas de deux, expresses her or his emotions: the women repressed, oppressed, depressed; the men repressing, oppressing, depressing (if this one ever shows up on the same program as The Ruins Proclaim the Building Fell Down, they'll have to provide vats of Zoloft in the lobby). It's an unusual way to tell a story, but fairly effective due in large part to some very good performances, particularly the Hedda Gabler of Lorena Feijoo( who is rapidly becoming my favorite dramatic ballerina), and all the men (Orza, Willis, Scribner, Vilanoba, Norman).

Double Evil
Choreography: Jorma Elo
Music: Phillip Glass, Vladimir Martinov

Fifty-odd years ago, my mother taught me that, if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

Edited to add performance dates.

#8 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 04 May 2008 - 04:19 AM

It's an unusual way to tell a story, but fairly effective due in large part to some very good performances, particularly the Hedda Gabler of Lorena Feijoo( who is rapidly becoming my favorite dramatic ballerina),

Oh yes Peggy, Lorenita surely projects that dramatic aura around-(can't miss Alonso's old school on her). She was also one of my favorites back at her Havana days with Ballet Nacional de Cuba and now through her appearances with the Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami. (BTW, she's due to dance "Carmen" for the CCBM's next Season!. :clapping: )

#9 Memo

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Posted 04 May 2008 - 09:52 AM

I saw Lorena Feijoo perform at a Gala in Orange County California last month. She danced with Jose Manuel Carreno, La Corsaire pas de deux. She was really beautiful to watch and I look forward to seeing her more in the upcoming season. I read that SFB is scheduled to perform in Orange County in the fall of 2008. I could not find any information as to what the program will be but I am hoping that some of the new works will be presented.

PS: Thanks Peggy for your good wishes. Hopefully you will be able to spot him before too long.

#10 glebb

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Posted 04 May 2008 - 10:15 AM

Just got home from programs B (Fri, Sat.) and C (Sat.) Gorgeous Ballet Company.

From what I hear I'm sorry I didn't get to see the new Wheeldon.
My friends were dazzled by it.

I enjoyed Adam and Caniparoli very much.
Their works are exquisite. It is a pleasure to see how they've grown.
I think they are two of the best this country has to offer and I know that many directors from here and abroad have become interested in them through this festival.

James Kudelka's THE RUINS PROCLAIM THE BUILDING WAS BEAUITFUL blew my mind.
I'm so glad I saw it twice. I don't have adequate words to review so I won't but I do believe as just as Mr. Caniparoli and Lorena Feijoo must work together often so should Mr. Kudelka and Yuan Yuan Tan.

I was sorry that Julianne Kepley did not dance. Parts were created for her by Adam and Caniparoli but she was hurt in a dress rehearsal.
I still think we will hear from this talented lady in the future.

Lastly I must mention Tina LeBlanc just back from last year's injury.
She is more gorgeous than ever and in A Rose By Any Other Name she looked twelve years old at least from row N.

#11 PeggyR

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Posted 04 May 2008 - 10:48 AM

From what I hear I'm sorry I didn't get to see the new Wheeldon.
My friends were dazzled by it.

It's a shame you missed the Wheeldon, but it's part of the 2009 season so maybe you can see it then.

BTW, what did you think of Double Evil? I seem to be the only ballet-goer in San Francisco who didn't like it. I'd be interested to know what others saw in it that I missed. That one is being shown next season too; guess I'll have to give it a second look.

Peggy

#12 glebb

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Posted 04 May 2008 - 11:10 AM

Let me start by saying that I greatly admire each choreographer and would give my eye teeth to be able to do what they do.
But I would rather see THE GOLDBERG VARIATIONS which I love before seeing DOUBLE EVIL again. Just my personal taste.
DOUBLE EVIL has great energy and I can tell that young dancers love dancing it but it's just not my cup of tea though I didn't dislike it.

#13 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 04 May 2008 - 04:51 PM

Make that three. But I've never met a Jorma Elo ballet I liked. I disliked this one less than Brake the Eyes, if that is any improvement.

#14 GWTW

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Posted 05 May 2008 - 08:04 AM

Thanks to everyone for the reviews. The quantity of new works and the stature of the choreographers involved (regardless of the quality of the works, which seems to have been mixed :bow: ) is quite awesome! What a gift for San Francisco.

#15 ggobob

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Posted 18 May 2008 - 08:00 AM

A bit post performance ruminating...agree pretty much with the reviews on this site; less to with the Times and Chronicle. In general, little of the choreography will live beyond a season or two as SFB attempts to draw dividends from its investment. What was spectacular was the level of dancing - ABT's Kevin McKenzie was in the audience and noted during an intermission that there is nothing like the attention of a first level choreographer to draw out the best in a dancer and that was evident in what we were seeing in the Opera House.


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