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Program 6

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This is a day late, but I thought I'd comment a little on program 6, an all-Balanchine triple bill featuring Square Dance, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, and Who Cares.

I absolutely loved Square Dance. Tina LeBlanc breezed through the intricate footwork like she could do it in her sleep--well, she probably could :wink:. Joan Boada was also impressive, and the corps was as together and energetic as I've ever seen them, such that I couldn't even single out specific corps dancers as having danced particularly well. One small caveat was that the program notes said that there would be a caller and there wasn't, but so what? It worked just fine, and the "square dance" influence was still evident in the energy and interactions of the dancers. Andrew Mogrelia conducted very well.

I wish I could say I fell in love with Stravinsky Violin Concerto, and perhaps someday I will, but right now I feel that this ballet, masterpiece that it is, is an acquired taste, like pate or blue cheese. I couldn't have asked for better dancers, though. Muriel Maffre and Yuan Yuan Tan are perfectly suited to their roles, Aria I and Aria II, respectively, and their partners, Pierre-Francois Vilanoba and Damian Smith, were pretty good too. Once again, the orchestra seemed to play well, although listening to this Stravinsky piece for the first time it was hard to tell.

Who Cares was also quite good; although the pink, teal and lime costumes seemed jarring at first, they grew on me. Lorena Feijoo was smoulderingly sexy in The Man I Love and sparkly in Fascinatin' Rhythm. Vanessa Zahorian was adorable in Embraceable You and did some impressive turns in My One And Only. Katita Waldo in the third role was slightly less impressive, and I think she's too thin, by the way. Stephen Legate partnered all three ably and was nothing to sneeze at in Liza. As I said before, the colors of the costumes worked well together and made for a colorful finale. The drawback here was the orchestra, and since Mogrelia did such a good job on the other two ballets, I don't think it was his fault. My hypothesis is that either the pianist was having an off night, the orchestra isn't used to playing jazz, or both.

Overall, a very enjoyable evening, topped off with a delicious piece of cake, courtesy of SFB, for all the members of the audience, in honor of Mr. B.

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I also LOVED Tina LeBlanc in Square Dance. She is such an amazing dancer. I have seen Square Dance performed with a caller before and I much preferred this production without one. It has such a different flavor without a caller. It seems much smoother. I saw Joffrey perform it with a caller at the Kennedy Center a few years ago at the Balanchine Celebration, complete with haybales on stage. It almost seemed silly. This was much classier and far more to my taste.

I also found the Who Cares costumes distracting. The ones for the principals were fine, but the ones for the corps were terrible. They looked very old and dreadful colors, especially that neon green. I was pleased with the corps in Serenade, 4 Ts and Square Dance, but thought that they were not together for Who Cares. Overall it was a wonderful 2 nights. The audience was very full so obviously the fans enjoyed seeing Balanchine numbers also.

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Thanks for these reviews -- I sympathize with your views on the Who Cares? costumes! It doesn't square with New York's sophisticated image.

I'm a bit surprised at the casting in Violin Concerto -- the first cast had a grat deal of contrast: Karin Von Aroldingen/Jean Pierre Bonnefoux and Kay Mazzo (tiny) and Peter Martins (very tall) Aroldingen and Bonnefoux were probably close in height, but the contrast between the couples was quite strong.

I'd love to see leBlanc in Square Dance!

did others see this program? And we mustn't forget Program 5; it will feel left out of no one talks about it!

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I saw the opening of program five and was very impressed.

I've seen Serenade and Apollo many times and I have to say the work done by Sandra Jennings and Jacques D'amboise in setting these was terriffic! They were very clean, unadorned versions where the choreography was the star.

The dancing was very well done, too. Lorena Fiejoo was a bit too strong as Waltz girl - she can't help it, she just is too much for that role. But Sarah Van Patten was magical as the dark angel - flowing and moving but not posturing or acting.

This is the first time I've seen Apollo with the original beginning. I liked it, though. Yuan Tuan Tan and Gonzalo Garcia did a fine job as Terpsichore and Apollo. Thanks to Van Patten - I finally understood what Calliope was doing. I'd always found those movements coarse and unconnected, but it all made sense with her doing it.

Sorry to say I was still a bit jet lagged so I faded for The Four T's (last on program). I'd never seen it before, so I went back on Sunday to see it fresh. Again - terriffic staging and great dancing! I'm a big fan of Hindemith, so I really enjoyed myself.

Also, I was impressed by the orchestra. They sounded great, especially given the demands and range required of these three pieces (Hindemith, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky!).

I think I'm next in San Francisco in a month or so, and am looking foward to seeing Mark Morris' Sylvia. I know the music, but don't know anything about this ballet. Is it new?

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Globetrotter -

Thanks for chiming in! We saw the same performances (and not that it matters) but we seem to have agreed on much of what we saw! As for Sylvia, it is a premiere. There are reports filtering in about it, because it has already been set by Morris, and a few people have seen parts.

I think Paul (and othe San Franciscans) may know more about it. Mr. Parish? Paging Mr. Parish. . .

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One of the principal dancers speaking at the Ballet's volunteer organization meeting, was very happy with the choreography. He seemed very excited about it. Said that it was funny and very fun to dance. I am looking forward to seeing it also. Right now I am enjoying the Balanchine series. The audiences have continued to be full, showing the community's interest in the Balanchine ballets. I hope that there are more scheduled for next season.

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This past weekend I travelled to San Francisco to see two performances each of Balanchine Centennial programs 5 & 6. I had returned from Dortmund earlier in the week after attending the World Figure Skating Championships, and I've just finished reading Joy Goodwin's book, The Second Mark, about the three pairs vying for the 2002 Olympic gold medal, so my head is swarming with dancing and figure skating. The last time I saw SF Ballet was when I was working extensively in the Bay Area, and I was looking forward to seeing dancers such as Katita Waldo, Yuri Possokhov, Julie Diana, and Muriel Maffre again.

Casting for these programs was stocked with principal dancers; only three -- Hench, Long, Nedviguine -- were not cast this weekend. Sarah van Patten was one of two female soloist to appear in principal roles (Calliope, Marnee Morris' role in Who Cares, and Dark Angel in Serenade). Sherri LeBlanc as Choleric was the other, and corps member Rachel Viselli and soloist Ruben Martin were cast in Who Cares?. Corps men Moises Martin (Waltz Man in Serenade), Jaime Garcia Castilla (Melancholic) and Rory Hohenstein, substituting for an injured Damien Smith as Phlegmatic, were also cast.

I went to the "Meet the Artists" Q&A before the Friday evening performance, and it was cut short because of an emergency rehearsal for the Serenade corps. This may account for the mishaps in the corps during the actual performance, because there were several times where the unison was noticeably off, and the corps didn't breathe together. (The stage seemed a bit small for the corps in Serenade, with a few dancing in the wings at times.) Julie Diana danced Waltz Girl with lovely grace and quiet pathos and no dramatic imposition or story. In this performance, I thought that Tina LeBlanc emphasized the petit allegro rather than the sweep of Russian Girl, until the last movement, when she flew into Vadim Solomakha's waiting arms. I was so looking forward to seeing Katita Waldo, but she looked underpowered in the first movement, and, as in her other roles this weekend, seemed to be adding some strangely baroque flourishes with her hands and wrists, which is the opposite of how I remember her. Vadim Solomakha was affecting as Fate Man, in his ability to convey tension in his poses and the tableaux with the three women.

Sunday afternoon's performance was a marked contrast to Friday night's; on Sunday, I thought the corps were dead on. Music Director Andrew Mogrelia conducted the orchestra masterfully; notable was the way they built the end of the opening phrase, where the women in first position bend backwards with their arms in high fifth. That this would be a very different performance was obvious from the moment Lorena Feijoo stepped onto the stage, a sheer ball of energy and will, and the corps mirrored her energy, as if they were on an adventure. From her performance in The Man I Love the day before I was expecting a lot of acting, but saw none until she was on the floor after the Dark Angel led Fate Man into the wings, and she lowered her head in resignation. If anything, her Waltz Girl wasn't particularly aware of the tragic fate ahead of her, until the end of the third movement. I've never seen a performance of this part quite like it, and I understand why people would say that she was too much for the role, because she wasn't of the world I usually associate with the ballet. LeBlanc, in a terrific performance, balanced the allegro and the sweep in a different performance than on Friday night, and it was a just a great moment when she danced amidst the four "Big Swans" in the first movement and they matched her, as when she danced the opening of the third movement with the "Little Swans." Sarah van Patten gave a marvelous performance of Dark Angel; she's got broad shoulders and muscles, yet she's a lush dancer, all cream and flow. (She reminds me a bit of Meunier.) I would have preferred to see Legate's and Vilanoba's roles switched: Legate gave a fine classical performance of Fate Man, but I felt he was more of a partner than a protagonist, while Vilanoba, a perfectly fine Waltz Man, seemed to have more of Fate Man's sensibility. But, maybe that was because he was paired with Madonna as Waltz Girl :blushing:

As one of the minority of people who suffers from jet lag badly when travelling West, I was not happy when it hit during Apollo. Seeing the complete version for the second time in the last couple of months -- the first when Dance Theater of Harlem toured Seattle -- made me realize how much I love the complete version, especially the birth, the unswaddling, and Apollo's first lute lesson from the handmaidens, which Pauli Magierek and Gonzalo Garcia performed brilliantly. Unfortunately, I started to fade during Apollo's lute scene. In my semi-daze, Sarah van Patten impressed me most as Calliope. Vanessa Zahorian seemed a bit subdued as Polyhymnia, but I chalked this up to my altered state. Yuan Yuan Tan, whom I loved in Lubovitch's Othello, looked spiky to me, and perhaps it was her musculature that made her performance looked a bit forced. The strangest thing was that Apollo, who had faced the Calliope and Polyhymnia from his stool, and had, basically frozen them out so that they skulked away, sat staring at the audience during Terpsichore's solo, as if he were a masked figure in Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex. I didn't get a sense that he was imagining Terpsichore's solo at all from the expression on his face; that he chose her seemed a puzzle. It reminded me of figure skating whem the skaters phone in their performance, and the judges phone in their scores. I really faded after the pas de deux.

I was lucky that the only cast that was the same twice all weekend was for Apollo, so I was able to see it fully awake on Sunday afternoon. van Patten was brilliant again, and Zahorian more vivid, and they both shined in the entire final sections after the pas de deux. My impression of Tan didn't change, unfortunately; I still didn't see much shape to her solo or pas de deux. Garcia gave a complete performance, changing from the yowling infant to the virile and commanding young god through his ascent and final pose.

Four Temperaments was the last ballet on the program, which went from the culmination of the seeds of Balanchine's work in America to the pinacle of the Ballet Russe, to the first full masterpiece made in America. I suddenly had a welcome burst of energy as Hindemith's music began. Emily Ambuul and Aaron Orza danced the first theme softly, but directly, followed by Elana Altman and Brett Bauer's emphatic second theme. Bauer, a classical stylist, impressed me a lot with fine line and balance, here and in the corps in Stravinsky Violin Concernto and as one of the soloist men in Who Cares, even if he's not really a jazz man. Leslie Young, partnerered by Moises Martin, was rather introverted in the third theme; I've been spoiled by Heather Watts' and Stephanie Saland's elastic strength in the role. On Friday night, Pascal Molat's Melancholic was an morphing contrast between extension and contraction, while Jaime Garcia Castilla's on Sunday was all back and legs with a rather hollow center, which made him look a bit Gumbyesque. In Sanguinic Katita Waldo (Friday) and Julie Diana took contrastic approaches; Waldo tried for big movement, while Diana moved softly, but neither approach had a lot of impact until their solo. Both women were partnered by Stephen Legate, who danced with the energy that his partners didn't project.

When Yuri Possokhov entered the stage on Friday night as Phlegmatic, my first thought was that he's dancing Melancholic! He then proceeded to give the most unusually phrased performance with the most unexpected dynamics that I've ever seen in the role. He managed to have a sort of undulating movement to his shoulders, arms and back, like the membranes of a squid as it swins, that made the whole performance look a bit as if it was underwater. I was mesmerized by his interpretation. I remember from performances in the mid-late 90's that he was a fine dancer, but this performance blew me away, clearly one of the highlights of the weekend. Rory Hohenstein gave a rather gentle performance on Sunday. The contrast in Choleric's between Muriel Maffre on Friday and Sherri LeBlanc on Sunday was great, but both gave throughly convincing interpretations: Maffre, tall and imposing and taking no prisoners, and LeBlanc in a vortex of motion that had me squinting to see if it were really she and not Lorena Feijoo! The corps was terrific throughout the entire ballet.

Square Dance opened Program 6. In the afternoon, Vanessa Zahorian and Nicolas Blanc danced the leads. Watching Zahorian was like watching the Lilac Fairy dance the ballet. It was so not allegro. I felt like I was watching a visiting artist dance the ballet, and then I read in the program that she was an apprentice at the Kirov; maybe that was it. There were many nice moments in her performance, but also a couple of show-offy moments that marred it. For example, during the adagio, she did a Cynthia Gregory like balance, which broke the musical phrase. Later she performed a quadruple pirouette, but got stuck in passe and couldn't exit it properly. I only had to look to her left to see the energy and joy in the film of Patricia Wilde embodied by corps member Megan Low, who also shined as one of the demis in Who Cares? and one of the four girls in the opening of the third movement of Serenade. Blanc was terrific as a partner in the group dances, but I was disappointed in his rendition of the great solo. To me it should be like Yo Yo Ma playing Meditation from Thais, with the undertones of the deep cello strings resonant in the opposing movement of the front knee in plie and the back stretch. I thought Blanc was a bit static, but it's an extremely difficult solo to perfect.

In the evening performance, Tina LeBlanc was simply glorious. What linked her bright, fast, clean allegro to the legato phrasing in the adagio was the clarity of her movements, perfectly tempered to the musical phrase. Such a grown-up performance by a dancer in her prime :) Boada was also fine as a partner and in the body of the ballet, but I thought his performance of the solo focused on the extremes and the ends, rather than the transitions. I wonder what direction Bart Cook gave the men as he staged the work, since the solo was made on him. The corps was again magnificent and danced as one. Square Dance is one of the handful of ballet that I want to start over again as soon as it is finished.

What I found interesting in the male casting for Stravinsky Violin Concerto is that the men who danced the Aria I gave the cooler, more detached performances that I associated with Peter Martins in Aria II, and that the Aria II men showed the tension and vivacity that Bart Cook used to show in Aria I. (Cook and Maria Calegari did the staging.) In the evening cast Maffre and Tan were cast strangely together. In the program notes to 4T's, Nancy Goldner writes that the dancers asked Balanchine, "if they were supposed to be worms or insects." (The answer was "no.") That's the best way I could describe Maffre's and Tan's performances in the ballet, as even the Farrell role in Movements for Orchestra never looked as alien as the two female leads did in this ballet. Pierre-Francois Vilanoba and Damian Smith were wonderfully contrasting in the two arias, partnering the praying mantises.

By contrast I think Lorena Feijoo and Julie Diana were perfectly cast and matched in the afternoon performance. Feijoo's energy, dynamism, and range were breathtaking, and her performance was in marked contrast to the clear elegance Diana brought to her role. Possokhov started off rather detached in the opening Toccata, and built his performance slowly over the course of the ballet, while Vadim Solomakha was vibrant from beginning to end. The final practically exploded, between the principals and the excellent corps and the dynamic interpretation and impeccable playing of violinist Roy Malan. This performance was 20 minutes of Ballet Heaven for me.

Who Cares? is not my favorite ballet, and I had discussion thread with myself trying to decide what ballet I would like to have seen it its place. I was glad that the soloists' pas de deux were cut; usually by the time the principals come on, I'm pretty dazed. Luckily I was lucid, because following that great performance of Stravinsky Violin Concerto came Tina LeBlanc in "The Man I Love" pas de deux. One thing that always struck me about Joffrey performances I saw years ago that was reinforced when I saw The Company, is that the best dancers in the Company danced everything as if it were a masterpiece, and they didn't need to add anything extraneous. I think this piece of the Joffrey is still with Tina LeBlanc, because she is one of the few non-NYCB dancers who find the passion in Patricia McBride's role through the steps and the shapes, not through acting. Her "Fascinating Rhythm" was superb, too. She is such a complete dancer. Lorena Feijoo, by contrast, imposed so much pseudo glam on the role in the evening that I though JLo had suddenly materialized on the stage of War Memorial, and it wasn't pretty. Her "Fascinatin' Rhythm" was near perfection below the shoulders, but she seemed to not know what to do with her arms.

I know that Vanessa Zahorian can turn -- she did fouette to an easy triple transitioning perfectly to other turns and an en dedans quadruple pirouette during "My One and Only," but I would have switched her and Feijoo in the casting. Sarah van Patten was wonderful in the turning role, and a nice contrast to LeBlanc. I don't think that either Rachel Viselli (matinee) or Katita Waldo (evening) were successful in Karin von Aroldingen's role. I found Waldo a little fussy and mannered -- maybe I am just too used to Lopez and Melinda Roy and Hall and Whelan -- and Viselli was just sunk in "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" when conductor Richard Bernas slowed down inexplicably as she started her beat sequence, and she never quite recovered. The generally excellent orchestra floundered in the Gershwin arrangements; the orchestra and piano soloist never quite meshed under either conductor. Ruben Martin was the more flamboyant man, but he did a pelvic movement in "Liza" that looked neither Balanchine nor Gershwin. Legate danced more in the Sean Lavery vein, and was quite fine, both as a soloist and as a partner.

In her book The Second Mark author Joy Goodwin quotes Olympic pairs gold medalist and skating coach Oleg Vasiliev as saying that, "In the Soviet Union, the system made the skater," as he noted the last great pair created by the system and the system's great coach Moskvina, Berezhnaia and Sikuharlidze. Watching Lorena Feijoo and remembering her sister Lorna, who I saw dance Giselle with the National Ballet of Cuba, and thinking of the recent influx of Cuban dancers into the US, I wondered if Alicia Alonso, through her system, is, perhaps, the greatest dancer-maker of the late 20th century?

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