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San Francisco Ballet, Program 4A stellar night of dance


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#1 Terez

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Posted 15 April 2013 - 04:58 PM

[font=Open Sans', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif]Watching “Within the Golden Hour, ” the second ballet of the San Francisco Ballet’s Program 4 was, to me, as satisfying as it gets. “I may as well go home now,” I joked afterward, amid the applause, to the woman next to me. “It can’t get better than this.” But, surprise. The third ballet was another winner. Gorgeous costumes, stellar dancing, another dose of that neoclassic post-Balanchine style choreography, much like “Within the Golden Hour,” that comes across as both innovative and classic, and a true pleasure to watch.[/font]

[font=Open Sans', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif]It was an audience-friendly production in general, starting with Balanchine’s easy-on-the-eyes “Scotch Symphony.” Christopher Wheeldon’s “Within the Golden Hour” followed and the program culminated with Alexei Ratmansky’s “From Foreign Lands.” All the accompanying music was highly satisfying too, particularly in the wake of the previous night’s opener, a John Adams atonal composition, which made the ballet and its fine choreography seem a bit wearying after a spell. Program 4 utilized the work of Mendelssohn in “Scotch Symphony,” contemporary composer Ezio Bosso (with a little help from Antonio Vivaldi) in “Within the Golden Hour” and late 19th century composer Moritz Moszkowski in “From Foreign Lands.” I particularly enjoyed the Ezio Basso score, not surprising, as it featured some gorgeous solo violin and viola work within it. Like the choreography, it was contemporary yet classical, melodic. Haunting. I loved it.[/font]

[font=Open Sans', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif]Program 4 standouts for me included all of “Within the Golden Hour” and, in particular, the pas de deux with Damian Smith and Vanessa Zahorian. That their dancing would be powerful, nuanced, polished, is pretty much a given with these two longtime principals, but there seemed to be a special magic within this pairing that made everything in me fall utterly still, utterly enamored, hoping they would never leave the stage.[/font]

[font=Open Sans', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif]Another one of my favorites, from both this performance and the previous night’s, is principal Sarah Van Patten. She is such an interesting dancer to watch, her movements both fluid and sharply articulated. I noticed this particularly during her Program 3 performance in “Guide to Strange Places.” She has the ability to halt a phrase so abruptly, as if she can arrive in that place a millisecond before intended, and hold it a millisecond longer. It’s almost like the way a violinist can toy with rubato—stretching out a note, a phrase—becoming a master of time manipulation to suit one’s interpretation. It’s fascinating to watch. I have never seen a less-than-stellar performance from this gifted dancer.[/font]

[font=Open Sans', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif]I haven’t much mentioned “Scotch Symphony.” Yes, was lovely to watch, charming and light-hearted, but the truth is, I found it rather forgettable in comparison to the other two ballets. Sorry, Mr. Balanchine. I suppose everyone will have their favorites for the night, which will dim the others by comparison. My vote would be for “Within the Golden Hour.”[/font]

[font=Open Sans', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif]Hats off, SFB. Program 4 is a winner.[/font]

[font=Open Sans', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif]This review first appeared at The Classical Girl http://www.theclassicalgirl.com/?p=160[/font]

#2 Helene

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Posted 15 April 2013 - 05:05 PM

Many thanks for the review, Terez! I wish I had been able to travel for this program.

#3 Terez

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Posted 15 April 2013 - 05:20 PM

Oh, yay, Helene, your reply means I posted the review correctly and according to rules here. Whew! (I sorta stubbed my toe over at the sister forum, BT4Dancers, in my initial posts there, and it felt awkward...) Thank you for your reply, and it really was a lovely performance. I'd seen, interestingly, another SFB performance the night before, as part of a SFB "mini-subscription" program. Getting to San Francisco is a 90 minute drive for me, over mountain roads, so I can't easily go to an 8pm show and go straight home. With the mini-subscription, I got to see two performances, two different programs, and stay in the city that night. Such a great option for me! (Not to mention a big treat.)

I posted a review at my blog that related to the Program 3 night, notable particularly because in "Rite of Spring," SFB corps dancer Jennifer Stahl got promoted to soloist after a rave performance. It's not a full review and doesn't really merit its whole review page, but those interested in SFB tidbits might like to read it. Here's the link: http://www.theclassicalgirl.com/?p=143

#4 pherank

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Posted 17 April 2013 - 04:32 PM

[font=Open Sans', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif]I haven’t much mentioned “Scotch Symphony.” Yes, was lovely to watch, charming and light-hearted, but the truth is, I found it rather forgettable in comparison to the other two ballets. Sorry, Mr. Balanchine. I suppose everyone will have their favorites for the night, which will dim the others by comparison. My vote would be for “Within the Golden Hour.”[/font]


Hi Terez,

When I saw SF Ballet performing Scotch Symphony, it was, as you say, "charming and light-hearted", and professionally executed, but lacking in the enigmatic air I think it is supposed to convey. Balanchine has created an homage to La Sylphide, with nods to Scottish dance and the Scottish military tattoo (which Balanchine saw performed at the Edinburgh Festival of 1952, and the military tattoo definitely influenced his later Union Jack ballet). I was rather bothered by the painted backdrop SFB used in the staging - it just didn't seem to be of a very high standard. And that kind of thing sticks with me in a bad way.

Of course there will be people who say that Scotch Symphony has devolved into something less than what first premiered with Maria Tallchief. The flavor and nuance are gone, or altered to something not originally intended. I can't really comment on that, especially since there is no filming of the ballet from the early years - only a made for TV version - restaged and rechoregraphed for TV (and TV sound studio) that is JUST NOT THE SAME. [Note: I believe that Scotch Symphony was the first Balanchine ballet attempted by the Russians (the Kirov/Mariinsky), but I need someone else to confirm this. It would be interesting to know why that partiular ballet was chosen. Was it assumed to be the one most technically 'doable' (by dancers with a Vaganova school training), and accessible of his masterworks at that time?]

Suzanne Farrell on Scotch Symphony:
http://www.kennedy-c...deos/?id=A74300

Ratmansky's In Foreign Lands was very pleasant to watch, but it is a fairly derivative work. And I have to say, of all the Balanchine works that we can relate Foreign Lands to, it is Scotch Symphony that probably fits the best. There would be no Foreign Lands without Scotch Symphony. Which made me wonder why they were placed together on the same program, but I suppose Tomasson had no idea what In Foreign Lands would turn out to be like - he no doubt expected to have 3 completely different pieces (as he tends to favor that on a mixed bill).

Wheeldon's Within the Golden Hour is really popular with the dance public, and deservedly so. He pushes the envelope with his choreography more than Ratmansky generally does, and is quite clever and dramatic. He is as close to a successor for Balanchine as we are likely to have these days. But Wheeldon is still a ways from changing the way we look at ballet, and completely revitalizing the art form, as Balanchine did in the last century.

#5 GianninaM

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Posted 17 April 2013 - 07:30 PM

Within the Golden Hour will always be special to me. I have two subscriptions to Orange County Performing Arts Center's' dance series, one in my cheap seat (3rd tier) and later in the best seats in the house (1st Tier); I saw WtheGH in my cheap seats and fell in love; I could hardly believe what I had seen and couldn't wait for the Sat. performance and my terrific seats. On Sat. my city was threatened by a brush fire and I simply could not bear to leave my home. Having missed the 2nd performance of WthGR I promised myself I'd go anywhere in the world to see that second performance. I was hoping for Paris, maybe London; I got San Francisco, 400 miles from me. I did see it again and it was everything I had remembered and more.

#6 Terez

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Posted 18 April 2013 - 08:03 AM

Oh, Pherank and Giannina, I so enjoyed reading your comments and hearing your experiences! What a treat for me to discuss these performances and ballets in more detail than I can with friends here. Pherank, love what you said about the Ratmansky, Tomasson's programming choices, and Wheeldon as a choreographer. This was my first Wheeldon, and I was highly impressed. I'm wondering if either of you, or any other reader, have had the opportunity to watch any of the ballets featured in SFB's Program 3. There was Mark Morris' Beaux, the all-male ballet (delightful and fun, but I missed seeing the women), and Possokhov's Rite of Spring (which got reviews all across the board from critics). Most of all, I'm curious about others' take on Ashley Page's Guide to Strange Places. It was set to music by John Adams, and I found it a difficult one to love. Atonal music doesn't tell a story; that's almost its point. Balanchine was the original champion of a "plotless ballet," but there still always managed to be a story in there, quite possibly because the music he chose had its own story. So, a contemporary ballet set to atonal music had me enjoying it, for a while. But I just couldn't sustain a sense of excitement about it. Frances Chung is a powerful, graceful principal, but her dancing didn't evoke a reaction in me, the way Sarah VP's does, or Maria K, or Vanessa Z, or Yuen Yuen. (I haven't seen Lorena F. perform much but happily I will see her this wknd, barring any cast changes.) She is beautiful and highly competent. Everything about the ballet was top notch. But out of the 6 pieces I watched during that "ballet weekend," that was the one that had me feeling underwhelmed.

I'm just loving this opportunity to talk about the performances so much. Again, thank you for your replies, Giannina and Pherank. And now I'm off to look at Pherank's posted link of Suzanne Farrell in Scotch Symphony.

#7 pherank

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Posted 22 April 2013 - 11:56 AM

I'm just loving this opportunity to talk about the performances so much. Again, thank you for your replies, Giannina and Pherank. And now I'm off to look at Pherank's posted link of Suzanne Farrell in Scotch Symphony.


I'm afraid the Farrell link is only audio - she talks about her experiences with the ballet. Unfortunately there's a dearth of video on Scotch Symphony, and Balanchie ballets in general, because of the rights issues.

I didn't go to Program 3 as those pieces don't particularly interest me (and I would have had much the same response as you).

Balanchine was the original champion of a "plotless ballet," but there still always managed to be a story in there, quite possibly because the music he chose had its own story.

Balanchine often had to defend his 'plotless' ballets, and minimal, 'practice clothes' costumes, against critics, but to paraphrase Balanchine, "You put a boy and girl on a stage together, and you have a story. How much story you want?" - in other words, there is an immediate dynamic, and lots of associations to be made about boys, and girls. It isn't that difficult for the human mind to create stories and associations, and I think that is healthy for people to do. Balanchine was simply interested in dancing over story-telling (though he did do that as well in ballets like Midsummer Night's Dream and Don Quixote). But his primary interest was in focusing on the dancer's movements as a complete art form (almost - since the music was treated as an equal partner, and Balanchine loved and respected the music that he chose to choreograph for).

I'm not able to see very many performances of SF Ballet right now because I'm no longer living in the Bay Area (but do hope to return eventually). I was going to go to 3 different programs this year, but may have to skip Wheeldon's Cinderella because I have 'great need' to see Pacific Northwest Ballet's Director Choice program (Balanchine's Agon, Diamonds, and as it happens, a Wheeldon premiere). Ironically, SF Ballet has announced that it will also perform Cinderella next year, and they will perform Agon. PNB is one of the companies best at performing 'authentic' Balanchine. They have the right spirit and technical approach. Miami City Ballet has been the other, must-see company for Balanchine productions (but that may change with Edward Villella now gone).

Frances Chung is a powerful, graceful principal, but her dancing didn't evoke a reaction in me, the way Sarah VP's does, or Maria K, or Vanessa Z, or Yuen Yuen. (I haven't seen Lorena F. perform much but happily I will see her this wknd, barring any cast changes.) She is beautiful and highly competent. Everything about the ballet was top notch.

I actually have the same reaction to Chung - she's very athletic and can be a real powerhorse, but artistically speaking, I'm not 'moved' by her dancing, not in the manner of Yuan Yuan Tan. Lorena Feijoo is a great dancer, full of fire.

Edit: I just ran across this interview with Tan about her LIttle Mermaid role, and you get to see some of her extraordinary Mermaid:
http://video.pbs.org/video/2169840793/
[her English language skills just keep getting better, and better - impressive!]

Edited by pherank, 22 April 2013 - 02:14 PM.


#8 Terez

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 10:57 AM

Pherank, thank you so much for taking the time to offer all these interesting responses. Oh my goodness, I enjoyed reading them so much! Especially enjoyed your comments on the PNB - I'd really, really like to see one of their performances, and the MCB. How ARE things there, this year, w/o Villella? It still stuns me, that whole drama, that they would let him go after the company's stunning success in Paris, but there you have it. It has now become the era of influential members of the company board of trustees to challenge artistic directors. Dennis Nahat ousted from San Jose Ballet in January 2012 - what an ugly scene that was! And I think there has been another one in the past several months. (I take it back: even more. I just Googled a few key words on the subject and up sprang a dozen stories. Yikes!)

I never saw Mermaid - I look forward to watching that interview with Yuan Yuan. I got to see her perform on Saturday afternoon, which reminds me to finish up my notes on the SFB's Program 6 so I can post it on this site. A great show! (The matinee was program 6 and the evening program 7; I saw the matinee.) [Edited on May 1 - whoops, they were both Program 6. The next afternoon was Program 7. My bad...]

#9 pherank

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 12:10 PM

Pherank, thank you so much for taking the time to offer all these interesting responses.


I envy you seeing both Program 6 and 7. [Or did you just see Program 6?] You did the right thing in looking for those program overlap days - I should have done that myself. Perhaps next year. I hope you post your impressions of these programs on the forum.

I should mention that there is a discussion of Balanchine/Stravinksy's Symphony in Three Movements in the 'Aesthetics' section of the forum, but, it may give you the wrong impression of what you will see, because they are discussing a particular conceptual theme present in the music, but I'm not sure that really 'explains' the choreography:

http://balletalert.i...hree-movements/

RE: MCB - In a sense they are staying the course by choosing a "Daughter of Balanchine" to take over from one of the "Sons of Balanchine" (as that generation of male NYCB dancers/directors was known). Though I don't think Lourdes Lopez actually started dancing with NYCB until the year after Balanchine died, but she was a SAB student since the age of 14). It's too early to tell which directions they will move in now. I just hope they don't desert their Balanchine core in favor of a mishmash of styles/approaches, non of which they learn thouroughly - as sooooooo many other ballet companies do. Good thing Suzanne Farrell Ballet is around now too to show people where it all came from...

The Little Mermaid is available on DVD and Blu-ray on Amazon (and please use the Amazon search box at the bottom of this page to link over to Amazon as it helps to pay for this website)

#10 Helene

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 12:36 PM

RE: MCB - In a sense they are staying the course by choosing a "Daughter of Balanchine" to take over from one of the "Sons of Balanchine" (as that generation of male NYCB dancers/directors was known).

Just a note that before the Sons and Daughters took over companies, there were the Aunts, like Boston Ballet's Virginia Williams, to whom Balanchine generously loaned ballets for their fledgling companies to perform.

Though I don't think Lourdes Lopez actually started dancing with NYCB until the year after Balanchine died, but she was a SAB student since the age of 14).

I'm pretty sure Lopez was one of the bumper crop of SAB graduates from the early-mid-70's, like Saland, Calegari, and Nichols, and she was already a soloist when I first saw her during Balanchine's last years. (She became a Principal Dancer the year after Balanchine died.) She performed in the "Dance in America" episodes in the mid-late '70's; I know she was at least one of the women in "Melancholic" in "The Four Temperaments," and I think in "Chaconne," too. In the early '80's, the Soloists ruled the Saturday matinee casts, and I got to see all of them growing in roles before they were promoted.

She was interviewed for the 1993 Balanchine Celebration that was released on video and then on DVD. She recalled telling Balanchine that there was something missing, and that there was something she didn't understand (about dancing). She said he told her that he knew she would eventually get it, and described his metaphor that dancers were like flowers: some bloomed early, some late, some died soon, some lasted a long time, etc. To have had that conversation and to be cast for TV and in roles that would lead to a promotion, she would have had to have been on his radar before he became disoriented and ill.

#11 pherank

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 12:53 PM

To have had that conversation and to be cast for TV and in roles that would lead to a promotion, she would have had to have been on his radar before he became disoriented and ill.


Great information, Helene - now I can feel right about calling her a Daughter of Balanchine. ;)

#12 Kerry1968

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Posted 30 April 2013 - 11:39 PM

I actually have the same reaction to Chung - she's very athletic and can be a real powerhorse, but artistically speaking, I'm not 'moved' by her dancing, not in the manner of Yuan Yuan Tan. Lorena Feijoo is a great dancer, full of fire.


I saw her (Frances Chung) a couple weeks ago in Raymonda Act II (3rd solo), and did not love her. Same in Symphonic Dances. Plus - I hesitate to mention this - she is far from having the ideal ballerina physique. Maria-Claire D'Lyse was given the first solo in Raymonda, and was also one of the women in Ibsen's House. It was my first look at her - I don't suppose she'll be in the corps for very long.

#13 Terez

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Posted 01 May 2013 - 10:38 AM

Kerry1968 - ooh, did we see the same Program 6? I blogged about it at The Classical Girl and posted my review at this forum as well. We had some of the exact same comments (particularly on Marie-Claire D'Lyse as well ). Would love to hear if you had further impressions to share about that performance. Enjoyed seeing your comments here, too.

And thank you, Pherank and Helene, for your comments/analyses on the "progeny of Balanchine" administrators out there. I'm curious - besides Helgi Tomasson (and sort of with PNB's Peter Boal), are there other Balanchine-mentored artistic directors running the big companies in the US?

#14 pherank

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Posted 01 May 2013 - 11:24 AM

I'm curious - besides Helgi Tomasson (and sort of with PNB's Peter Boal), are there other Balanchine-mentored artistic directors running the big companies in the US?


Great question, and probably needs to have its own thread somewhere...

Martins, Boal, Tomasson and Villella are the obvious ones to come to mind. And now, Suzanne Farrell and Lourdes Lopez, obviously.

I think Paul Meija could certainly be considered a "son", but he has had to move about from company to company. He worked with Maria Tallchief originally at the Chicago City Ballet (but that project lasted only about 10 years I believe).

Even someone like Lew Christensen (who danced for Balanchine in the early years) could be considered a "son of", I suppose. It's gets complicated deciding on how much influence Balanchine had on a person's artistic life.

I'm not sure that anyone has ever bothered to put together a list, but between Balanchine and the various Ballet Russes troups, seeds were planted in many places in the U.S., Britain, Australia, and the Continent. It would make for a massive family tree.

#15 California

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Posted 01 May 2013 - 12:20 PM


I'm curious - besides Helgi Tomasson (and sort of with PNB's Peter Boal), are there other Balanchine-mentored artistic directors running the big companies in the US?


Great question, and probably needs to have its own thread somewhere...

Martins, Boal, Tomasson and Villella are the obvious ones to come to mind. And now, Suzanne Farrell and Lourdes Lopez, obviously.

I think Paul Meija could certainly be considered a "son", but he has had to move about from company to company. He worked with Maria Tallchief originally at the Chicago City Ballet (but that project lasted only about 10 years I believe).

Even someone like Lew Christensen (who danced for Balanchine in the early years) could be considered a "son of", I suppose. It's gets complicated deciding on how much influence Balanchine had on a person's artistic life.

I'm not sure that anyone has ever bothered to put together a list, but between Balanchine and the various Ballet Russes troups, seeds were planted in many places in the U.S., Britain, Australia, and the Continent. It would make for a massive family tree.


John Clifford directed the ill-fated Los Angeles Ballet long ago and now works as a Balanchine stager. The current LA Ballet is directed by Colleen Neary. Please also note that Boal's predecessor, Francia Russell, was a Balanchine alumna. Ib Anderson, director of the Arizona Ballet, and Ethan Steifel, now director of the New Zealand Ballet, are two more that I can think of.


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