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Alexandra

San Francisco -- regional or international?

19 posts in this topic

I hesitate to post this, since the last time we did, several years ago, it drew blood and some of the most unpleasant posts we've ever had the misfortune to have here. I hope history won't repeat itself :cool:

BUT I noticed that the NYTimes review called SFB (not THAT SFB, Farrell Fan, the other one) an "international level company." However, friends of mine who just saw the company in NY -- 2 critics, 2 not -- both said some variant of, "They're good -- but regional" or "for a regional company."

What do you think, and why?

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It depends on what night you've seen them.

Tuesday and Wednesday nights I'd have said International, without a doubt. But they looked great in ensemble works in which classical style, precision and clarity aren't essential (the two Morris pieces), or in works which could be carried by a few strong dancers (and they certainly have more than a few!). It certainly looks like Tomasson has assembled an interesting and catholic repertory, more so than Martins or McKenzie, it seems, although it's hard to judge on the strength of a few mixed bills.

Thursday was the night of the big tests of how well SFB could do classicism and neoclassicism: Paquita and Rubies. And in these it looked almost more Civic than Regional. I was really surprised and disappointed to see how the company floundered here. In Paquita, the corps looked like they were taking an examination, and doubtful of passing, and in Rubies, like a pickup game of touch football. Was it just an off night? I'd like to think so, but I don't know.

I do know I would be happy to see them again, and hope they return soon.

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Actually, the comments I got were from the opening, I think :cool: But I can understand the distinction you're making.

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The female corps de ballet, indeed the women in the company as a whole, are week in the feet. And small in their feet. I've never seen a corps with such little feet, almost distorting the line. They mostly seem to be short brunettes of a sunny disposition with one or two cheerleading blonds out front. And very sloppy in the use of their feet also, most of the women. Rarely if ever did we see a closed fifth position, except from the beautiful and amazing Maffre -- with what I assume is her POB training? -- and from the precise Yuan Tan, even amongst the principals and the soloists. In the feet and the legs of the women is where you see the difference between the training of this company and the training of both City and ABT. None of the steps seem to be finished.

The men, among the soloists and the principals, were better than I had expected.

As a company, they excell at crossover ballet. "Night" explored some of the same landscape which Peter Matins attempted to explore in "Harmonielehre," only did so much more profitably and even compellingly.

The basic trouble with Paquita was that the dancers didn't "get" the basic rhythm and phrasing of Petipa, the emphasis on hitting and holding the poses on the upbeats, for example. The question is whether, if you don't do that sort of thing well, you should be doing it at all.

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I had never seen the San Francisco Ballet before last Thursday. Somehow I was under the impression that it was a "world class" company; however, I don't think I would have been so very disappointed had I thought of them as a regional company. I wholly agree with Manhattnik's assessment of the Paquita/Rubies program on its opening night. However, when I went back for the closing night program (which had the same ballets), I enjoyed it more just because I had lower expectations. I can't honestly say whether it was a truly better performance or just the fact that I didn't expect an international-level performance.

By the way, I too heard the loudly shouted bravos from somewhere in the mezzanine level during the performances; I assumed they were from local friends of the dancers.

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I think they're a very versatile company, they can do many things well, but not one thing great.

And they've recruited nicely in upper ranks for both men and women. For me, I just haven't figured out their "style" and perhaps that's b/c they've gotten people from the "outside".

I think they perform well, but I'm not sure they're an international company.

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You made a lot of good points, Michael. And let's not forget the matchstick arms, often flung around with the wild abandon so missing in the footwork.

Anyone see Lorena Feijoo in the lead in Paquita last Sunday?

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I wasn't able to make it to their season at all unfortunately, but to pose a general question - what does it take for a company to seem on an international level to us? How many viewings would we need, and do we need to adjust our eyes to that company's style? I'm asking because I wonder how long it takes to "get" the Kirov or NYCB if you're used to the other (or any other) company.

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As I did in 1998, I found the company very appealing. There's a warmth and togetherness of the dancers that's attractive to me. The men are strong, perhaps stronger as a group than the women. But I think they do have a group of woman that can be stacked up against many other company's, even without Ms. Laccara (who left earlier this year). They do seem to have been able to cultivate a varied rep. I was impressed by the new ballets - the company, for whatever technical shortcomings it might have, does seem to inspire interesting choreography. Morris seemed to pick up on the company's comraderie in Sandpaper Ballet. And Wheeldon highlighted the wit and warmth in his latest piece for SFB. It was interesting to compare his work in San Francisco with that at NYCB, and I preferred Continuum for SFB. Damned and Chi-Lin might have been two of the weaker works brought to New York, but they were refreshing to me as they tried to invoke either a bit of a story or atmosphere with clever use of props and lighting, showing you can have narritive ballets without a cast of thousands and a plot from Disney. As Michael and Manhattnik said, shortcomings were revealed in the performances of Rubies and Paquita (although I thought the later was nicely done in many places, some more work on it will only make the company stronger). They are doing Don Q this season (working on it right now) and this should only improve their classical dancing.

However, I think it is unfair to judge a company without seeing it its home theater or on just a few visits. But from seeing the company on its last few tours to New York, reading reviews from San Francisco as well as from its trips abroad, I think I would rank SFB as just under NYCB and ABT, but above or tied with Miami City Ballet atop the National companies. One thing that impressed me is that SFB got pretty good reviews on its recent trips to Europe (Miami did as well) while Pacific Northwest Ballet got mixed notices on its recent London visit.

I have a feeling Washington D.C. viewers next month will give SFB even better notices as the rep is a little less "classical." I certainly wouldn't mind having SFB as my home company.

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It looks from the responses as if we have two potential definitions for "international level company." The first might be, roughly, "A company with: dancers with schooling and technique of the first rank and a definable individual style that is capable of meeting the demands of canonical classical choreography in the Petipa-Balanchine-Ashton tradition." The second might be, "A company with: good intentions, good training, good to excellent dancers, and good coaching that can go abroad and perform respectably without disgracing the nation." I'm not saying these two definitions are necessarily exclusive, just that much depends on the standard you're using.

Leigh's post about assimilating and assessing the style of an unfamiliar company (and the discussion on another thread of dueling critics) reminds me of a classic face-off between Clive Barnes and Arlene Croce over the Stuttgart, with Barnes hailing Cranko and company as a great new international force and Croce not agreeing, to put it mildly. You would have thought, did these two see the same company?

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Agree that you must see a company over a period of time in it's home theater to have a "solid" opinion about it. You can't judge a company on two or three performances. But also, if the canonical "classical" repertory a la Petipa is performed, you can easily compare how a particular company looks doing it with others you have seen, at least at those one or three performances. And although there are several permissible ways to arrive at the "throne of grace" in performing such a classical piece as Paquita, I think there is such a figurative place and one sees when a company knows, or doesn't know, where that is, whether they "get" the heart of the ballet, at least at a particular performance.

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Dirac, you wrote "The second might be, "A company with: good intentions, good training, good to excellent dancers, and good coaching that can go abroad and perform respectably without disgracing the nation."

I don't think anybody used this definition to explain why SFB should be considered an international or national level ballet company.

You see the company more often -- where do you think the company stands?

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I was just extrapolating, rather flippantly. As for the company, I'm very grateful to have SFB nearby, especially under the current regime.

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I'm going to seriously dissent here.

If you are judging SFB to be a regional company because they don't use their feet to your liking then ABT should be a regional company as well. I have never seen such floppy fish feet on a professional company as I saw in Giselle last year.

Does a regional company tour to Athens and London? Does a regional company score new ballets by the most major choreographers in the world? Does a regional company have a $25 million budget?

There are many people who believe that any company based outside of New York is a "regional" company. The same people who call SF Ballet a regional company often call SF Opera a regional company. This distinction for both companies are ridiculous.

I've seen this discussion many times and every time I throw up my hands. It is a waste of time.

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Part of my own personal distinguishment for a company as to whether or not it is international level is fiscal. Do they bring in enough $$ to subsidize tours elsewhere and be successful enough on the road to fund other tours, bigger ones.

NYCB and ABT established themselves early on as "road" companies and I think in order to "recruit" audiences you need to tour. It's not enough to say you have a great rep and fabulous dancers if no one sees you.

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I think this discussion must be just that--a discussion. I don't necessarily see "a point" to it, if one means we must draw one, final conclusion.

I also would, by no means, classify SFB as a regional company.

I don't think that any company based outside of New York is regional. I have, however, seen internatioal calibre dancers in smaller companies.

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When a company bills itself prominantly as a "major company" or an "international company" it invites discussion of the question. Touring does not make a company "international." There are very minor companies who appear abroad. There are major companies that do not tour -- i.e., NYCBallet. I would hate to see budget as a measuring stick -- it's like "we have 10 dancers with gold medals on our roster". It's easy, it's American, it's quantitative. It means nothing.

Good dancers, good repertory -- able to attract major choreographers. THAT's important. So is a coherent style and a consistent technique. And yes, the company does have to perform well in "the standard classical canon" IF it wants to be considered as a "classical company of international level." That's why an SFB or a PNB does Petipa or Balanchine. And there is a standard of bodies and feet that matters in this regard.

And that's why companies tour. Not for fun, or to see the country, but so that the critic for a major paper will say, "Wow! How wonderful. They're a major international company!" One of the reasons that companies travel, too -- and specifically travel to major dance centers -- is to get feedback, to test themselves -- do they measure up? My new dress may knock 'em dead in Myhometown, but if I wear it to a party in Paris, I might get a different reaction. No matter how many writers say it's beautiful. :D (I always hesitate about ABT as an international level company, despite its roster of stars. If it took its Petipa ballets to St. Petersburg or Paris, I don't think it would come home with good medals.)

As I've written before on this subject, when SFB, or any other mid-rank company vaults into the international ranks, we'll know not because the press says so, but because people stop asking the question. When was the last time you heard a debate about whether the Kirov was a regional company or not? When a company has a school/recognizable style, a distinguished, individual repertory, and a roster of talent, it can weather a few bad seasons -- it doesn't have to worry about getting good reviews in London, or Dusseldorf, one year -- Major International Company!!! -- and bad reviews the next.

I also think there's a big distinction between the "major international company" question and the worth of a company or its director. I admire SFB, and I admire Tomasson's direction and always have -- the way he turned the company around in a season, his sense of acquiring ballets that suit his dancers (very Danish :) Yes, I know he's an Icelander, but his teachers were Danes and he spent much time in Copenhagen), and the way he attracts and develops dancers. I'm very much looking forward to seeing the company here in November -- especially since they're bringing "Dances at a Gathering."

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I agree that touring is a major factor in raising a company's prospects.

It's a shame NYCB can't tour more. They are one of our best and should be shared with the rest of the world.

And what is an international company exactly?

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LMCTech, there have been many discussions here about what is an international company -- good hunting :D

The topic of this thread really wasn't to rehash this one more time, but to ask those who saw the company in New York this season what they thought on this question, pro or con.

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