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Ballet in San Francisco


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 12 June 2001 - 05:51 PM

I've been working on the season's preview piece for Ballet Alert! and was struck by how varied the ballet offerings are in the San Francisco area. I don't think they're trying to "counter-program" or compete, either, but there are so many companies, with such different visions.

San Francisco Ballet, of course, has a mix of full-lengths, the artistic director's ballets, and the rest a mix of new (mostly contemporary dance) works and a few standards, if not quite classics -- and they're getting "Dances at a Gathering" next season. A mainstream rep, one might say.

Then there's Ballet San Jose of Silicon Valley. I'm giving it Ballet Alert's Most Original Repertory for the season -- I don't mean this is to my taste, but just that it doesn't look like any other rep. A full-length ballet by Flemming Flindt that was a bomb in Copenhagen ("Legs of Fire"), a story ballet about one of Denmark's most interesting ballerinas. Roland Petit's "Carmen" and "Graduation Ball." !!!!!!! And "District Storyville," a modern dance from the 1930s about happy hookers and their clients (when they see the huge satin covered bed, they bounce on it.) A new ballet by the artistic director and "Apollo." Talk about something for everyone!

The Oakland Ballet, once known for its interesting revivals of older 20th century ballets is under new directorship -- Karen Brown, who danced with DTH. This rep looks heavily tilted to contemporary dance, with a token ballet or two.

I haven't gotten the reps for the Michael Smuin's company (where showmanship reigns) or the Diablo Ballet (another mostly contemporary troupe). One might say that pure classical and neoclassical ballet gets short shrift here (I don't think Tomasson's productions of the classics are top drawer, or even second drawer) but it's certainly a varied and distictive rep.

The modern dance scene is equally diverse.

#2 LMCtech

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Posted 13 June 2001 - 08:35 PM

What about Alonzo King's Line Contemporary Ballet?

This is one of the reason's I love living and dancing in the SF Bay Area. Anything goes here. And I can enjoy it all. I never get bored.

#3 Terry

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Posted 22 June 2001 - 01:45 PM

Alexandra, I completely agree with you. The repertory in companies in SF is simply amazing and so rich. To be honest, and IMO, I think they are much more "interesting" there than over here in NY. I'm especially glad to hear that they challenge themselves in many avante-garde European choreographies too. Has ABT or other dance companies here ever done Forsythe? Ek? Kirian? I hope they will soon...

[ 06-22-2001: Message edited by: Terry ]

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 22 June 2001 - 03:45 PM

I'm not at all boosting ballet companies dancing the works of "contemporary European choreographers"!!!!!!!! (ABT has danced Kylian.) The whole point of this board is for the discussion of classical and neoclassical ballet, and one of the main reasons it was established was to sound an alarm of what was happening to ballet (and ballet companies) because ballet companies were drifting so far into the realm of modern and crossover dance. There have been many discussions about this topic, in the past, and there's material on the main site -- commentary, interviews.

I didn't mean to dredge that one up again, but merely thought it interesting that San Francisco had so much dance, and that it was so varied. I don't think San Francisco dance, at its best, is better than New York dance, at its best, but it's interesting to see the different way the city is developing a distinct identity.

#5 LMCtech

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Posted 22 June 2001 - 06:56 PM

A very insightful post. There have been discussions here about who's "better" us or them. Having lived and danced on both coasts, I always answer that we're just different.

This is a metropolitan area that prides itself it its diversity and progressiveness and that is reflected in our ballet companies. We aren't afraid to try something new. I think audiences expect a little "edge" in every performance out here.

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 22 June 2001 - 07:43 PM

LMTech, I think you've expressed the attitude of a lot of people, but I'm afraid it always makes me sigh because it reflects what I think is a general misunderstanding: people who are interested in ballet are not afraid of the new. I'd also argue that there's nothing inherently good about novelty and being constantly "on the edge." People have written that this or that choreographer has turned ballet inside out, kicked its butt, turned it on its ear, etc, etc, etc, so often since 1960 -- that is over 40 years ago!!! -- that I don't see how it's "new" or "on the edge" any more. (This is an aspect of the age-old seesaw between classicism and romanticism; one or the other is dominant in every age, and people in every age have one or the other sensibility.)

People who like to think that what they're watching is new or on the edge are more than welcome to do so, but the assumption that those who don't are "afraid" or somehow backwards is off the mark.

#7 felursus

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Posted 22 June 2001 - 11:34 PM

Unfortunately, I think that a lot of what companies put on depends on either where the money is coming from (i.e. did someone/some organization give money to the company just to put on a particular ballet or a ballet by a particular choreographer, etc.?) vs. what will sell tickets in that particular locale. Now if a company has a good sponsor who will pay for a new, modern piece and if the people making up the program are smart, they can have their cake and eat it by scheduling the new piece with something that is bound to be wildly popular. If they are even better endowed, they can afford to put on a whole program of new, untried works - especially of the work is "cheap" to put on (i.e. no scenery and simple costumes and music that is out of copywrite and doesn't call for extra musicians or unusual instruments).

One of the problems with companies that depend heavily on ticket sales to meet their budget is that the need for popular draw is going to limit what they can afford to put on, and a strict catering to local taste limits the company from fulfilling its need to educate the public. Ergo, lots of companies live for the year on the profits of their production of "The Nutcracker". Other classical, full-length ballets are also likely draws, and the costs can (and ususally are) kept down by renting or sharing productions. On the other hand, a public fed only a steady diet of "Nutcrackers", "Beautys" and "Swan Lakes" isn't being given the opportunity to broaden its taste and find out what more contemporary choreography can do. Unless people are exposed to contemporary works, they can't learn to appreciate them, and the dancers don't get the opportunity to stretch their wings. :eek:

#8 Alexandra

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Posted 22 June 2001 - 11:47 PM

The 19th century classics are scarce as hens teeth in the regions now, felursus. (Really. There are only two productions of "Swan Lake" this season that I've found so far, none of "Beauty." I just finished the season's preview issue of Ballet Alert!) They've been replaced by what I call the faux classics -- Dracula, Mme. Butterfly -- full-length ballets with not much choreographic content. Very popular. What I wrote in the preview piece was that we've developed a bipolar audience -- a huge chunk want the faux classics and a huge chunk want contemporary dance, and this doesn't leave much room for ballet. (One of the most important driving forces for contemporary dance replacing ballet is economics: often no toe shoes, small casts, easier to rehearse, and a lot less complicated than trying to mount a "Swan Lake." Not that I think the repertories should only be doing "Swan Lake" either, but I think the barre needs to be raised.

#9 Guy Fletcher

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Posted 23 June 2001 - 03:25 PM

This is slightly off the subject but: Are performances in San Fransisco generally sold out? ie since i'm going this summer do I need to book in advance or am i likely to get tickets on the night?

#10 Alexandra

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Posted 23 June 2001 - 03:55 PM

Practical questions always welcome, Guy :)

I can't answer this one, but I hope some of our Bay Area posters will.

#11 BalletNut

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Posted 23 June 2001 - 07:15 PM

Guy--I hope it doesn't disappoint you, but SFB only gives one Bay Area performance in the summer, at the Stern Grove Festival, which is free. As for everybody else, whether or not a performance sells out over here depends on a number of factors:

1. Who's dancing--It is my understanding that all of the POB's Bayadere performances were sold out weeks in advance; while the wonderful Miami City Ballet did not sell out, since its name is not as recognized among non-conoisseurs. Likewise, certain dancers at SFB [who shall remain nameless ;)] seem to sell more tickets than others; also, SFB seems to sell out much more often than the smaller companies here-- Oakland Ballet, Ballet San Jose, Lines, Smuin Ballets/SF, or the Diablo Ballet, among others.

2. When--Opening nights usually are fuller than other evenings, and evenings in general are fuller than matinees.

3. The program--Full lengths, not surprisingly, sell much more quickly than mixed bills, and mixed bills with famous choreographers [Balanchine, Robbins, Tudor] seem to go faster than those without.

In any case, POB notwithstaning, it shouldn't be too hard to get tickets if you get them about a week ahead of time.

#12 Guy Fletcher

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Posted 24 June 2001 - 05:10 AM

Thanks! Now where can I find out what is on offer during the month of August?

#13 LMCtech

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Posted 25 June 2001 - 06:06 PM

The two venues that present the most dance are Yerba Buena Center in SF and Zellerbach Hall at UC Berkeley ( called CalPerformances). I think they both have website listings.

The Cowell theater also presents dance but that is mostly locally produced modern dance.

#14 LMCtech

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Posted 25 June 2001 - 06:07 PM

Alexandra...

I get the feeling you don't like modern or contemporary dance of any kind. Why?

#15 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 25 June 2001 - 10:41 PM

LMCTech, I think you'll find that most people here, including Alexandra, do not dislike modern dance. Alexandra began publication with Washington Dance View (now just Dance View) which concentrated on the local modern dance scene in the capital. However, one of the reasons Alexandra started this site was be a site that was not anti-modern, but was pro-classical and neoclassical ballet in an unadulterated form. It's not modern dance that usually comes under fire here. It's choreography that is a bad blending of the two, or choreography that assumes that in order for ballet to be any good, it has to "turn classicism on its ear". The assumption that classical ballet is outmoded, irrelevant or somehow just a waystation on the road towards the enlightened state of contemporary ballet or modern dance is one that I think will be questioned here every time it's mentioned.

I didn't want to leave your statement hanging unanswered but I'm sure Alexandra can answer better for herself.


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