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SFB Program 4|Tribute to Jerome Robbins

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Tonight I attended the first performance of Program 4 - A Tribute to Jerome Robbins. On the program: Fancy Free, In the Night, and West Side Story Suite.

Fancy Free - The sailors were Pascal Molat, Garrett Anderson, and Davit Karapetyan. The first two women were Erin McNulty and Vanessa Zahorian. Mariellen Olson was the woman at the end. This was really fun as I remembered. The three men were really believable as great friends but great rivals when it came to women. I especially liked the pas de deux with Garrett and Vanessa. I still gasp when Pascal does the splits - twice!!!!

In the Night - I have to admit when I first saw this in 2004 I wasn't exactly enthralled. Maybe it was the memory of having to learn two of the Nocturnes when I was younger. Anyhow, I really did come to love and appreciate this piece until the retirement gala for Stephen Legate, Yuri Possokhov, and Peter Brandenhoff. Tonight it was beautifully performed. However, I must vent about a couple of things regarding the audience at tonight's performance. First, there were a number of people who were talking through the start of the third tempestuous couple (Lorena Feijoo and Damian Smith). I don't know why they were talking for almost the first minute!!! Second, during the fourth nocturne (when each couple comes out separately, then comes together at the end) the audience was laughing when the first couple (Yuan Yuan Tan and Ruben Martin) made a quick entrance and exit during couple number three. I don't think it was suposed to be funny. I saw it as they (couple 1) were intruding on couple 3 and thus left quickly. I found the laughter to be a bit disconcerting. I hope I'm not being too uptight about this, but I just didn't see what was funny and I don't recall hearing laughter the previous times I saw this piece.

I thought each couple represented each mood beautifully. Couple 1 is young and innocent, discovering a new love. Couple 2 (Elana Altman and Tiit Helimets) were more restrained yet noble. Couple 3 was emotional and fiery. I swear that I was holding my breath at times when Damian swept Lorena up and swooped her down and set her down again.

West Side Story Suite - This piece does not tell the story of West Side Story. It is a compilation of the best dance sequences from the show and movie. There is both dance - and song!!!! It opens with the Prologue - a back and forth between the Jets and the Sharks. Next is Something's Coming. Garrett Anderson as Tony is the soloist. Matthew Stewart (Corps member) comes on stage left to sing. He has a nice voice, but I think he was a bit nervous. The Dance at the Gym follows, including the first meeting of Tony and Maria (Dores Andre). The dance was very energetic. Next was Cool - sung by Rory Hohenstein. It just doesn't seem fair that he's handsome, he dances, AND he sings!!!! America was next - but it was just the Shark girls (unlike the movie). Shannon Roberts shined as Anita. The Rumble was next (which ended with the killing of Riff and Bernardo). The last piece was the Somewhere Ballet (which is in the stage version, but IIRC not in the movie). Another singer (not sure who from the cast sheet) and Matthew Stewart came onstage to sing. Matthew sounded great on Somewhere.

Wow!!! This was great. It was also a crowd pleaser. I'm looking forward to seeing other casts. Katita Waldo as Anita and Damian Smith as Riff are listed in the casting for Saturday matinee and Tuesday night. I also know that Lorena Feijoo has learned the part of Anita, so I hope that she will perform as well.

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Unless things have changed since we last spoke - Riff's girlfriend - Julienne Kepley, my gorgeous Joffrey girl (incredible Square Dance lead) sings "Somewhere". This apparently has only been done by a hired singer in the pit up until now.

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Unless things have changed since we last spoke - Riff's girlfriend - Julienne Kepley, my gorgeous Joffrey girl (incredible Square Dance lead) sings "Somewhere". This apparently has only been done by a hired singer in the pit up until now.

For whatever reason, Julianne (who I loved as one of the head Willis in Giselle and also in Divertimento No. 15) did not sing Somewhere - unless I really missed something there. It was sung by a hired female singer (stage right) and Matthew Stewart (stage left). Curiously, on the casting section of the website she is listed as Graziela (http://www.sfballet.org/performancestickets/casting.asp). However, in the casting sheet at the Opera House, she was only listed as one of the Jets girls. Maybe she will sing in future performance? I know I will try to catch at least one more performance of this program.

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I wanted to add a few comments about the March 8, Saturday matinee cast for this program.

FANCY FREE with Benjamin Stewart, James Sofranko, Ruben Martin, Sarah Van Patten, Erin McNulty, Mariellen Olson

Sofranko was funny and brash and very endearing, although in the first solo, when he the hit the floor in a split, he tended to land with his feet and then slide down. He needs to watch some old movie musicals with the Nicholas Brothers.

Stewart was beautifully controlled in his quieter second solo. And Martin's suave dance was wonderfully sensuous, although in the pas de deux with Van Patten, I didn't see much connection; this is a chance encounter with no future, so there has to be some immediate heat or there's not much point.

One minor problem, for me anyway, is the way the costumes looked on the female dancers: women in the '40s and '50s had curves, and if they didn't, they bought them (my mother had a drawerful). On bodies that look like anorexic pencils the clothes from that period hang oddly and don't move right. Not much anybody can do about it, but I found it a little distracting here and in West Side Story Suite.

And here's another movie recommendation for anyone preparing to perform Fancy Free: get in the mood by locking yourself in movie theater and watching all the musical numbers Betty Hutton and Gene Kelly ever committed to celluoid.

IN THE NIGHT: Vanessa Zahorian/Garrett Anderson, Elana Altman/Tiit Helimets, Sarah Van Patten/Pierre-Francois Vilanoba

I didn't read the program notes for this beforehand and just assumed the ballet was intended to be abstract, so I wasn't sure what to make of the emotional differences between the first two couples (beautifully performed by Zahorian/Anderson and Altman/Helimets). Where the first couple was discovering passion, the second had found and lost it, maybe reconnecting now and again with memories of the past.

But when Van Patten and Vilanoba hit the stage, all doubts were gone: nothing abstract here; this was emotion in its most elemental form. Not having seen the ballet with different casting, I can't say if this third couple's tempestuousness was due entirely to the choreography or if Van Patten brought something special, though I suspect the latter. After being a little underwhelmed by her in Fancy Free, I was completely unprepared for the intensity of the drama she projected here.

Some performers are good enough actors to get by (for example Yuan Yuan Tan's Giselle -- she's a charming live peasant, a charming crazy peasant, and a charming dead peasant, but you forgive her anything when she starts waving those endless legs and boneless arms around), but others pull something from inside that doesn't come across as 'acting' at all (I think Fonteyn was like that). I'd say most dancers fall into the former category, largely because a dancer's primary focus has to be the the technical demands; competent acting is a bonus if you can get it. But to see the of rawness Van Patten's performance...all I can say is 'wow'. My favorite moment (how to pick one?) came when she walked across the stage to Vilanoba, caressed his face, then ran her hand down his body and finally knelt before him, head down in what...submission, obedience, apology, worship? Don't know, don't care; it brought me close to tears (although if any founders of 'Ms' magazine were in the audience, I suspect they had a collective stroke!).

BTW, nobody laughed at the upside down ballerina.


I'm going to play the curmudgeon here and say that this didn't quite do it for me, and that's definitely NOT a comment on the amazing versatility displayed by these dancers. But I didn't sense the anger in 'Cool' or the humor in 'America' or the tension in the gym scene. I've never seem the stage show, only the movie (which has enough dead spots to qualify as Arlington National Cemetery, so I always fast forward straight to George Chakiris); therefore, I don't know how the dances looked on stage, but here I thought they seemed under populated and, well, 'danced'. The 'Maria' number and the rumble were, for me, the most effective, but I really could have done without 'Somewhere'. The audience went bananas at the end, so I guess I'm odd man out on this one. Having said that, my admiration is endless for performers who are willing (not to mention able) to take on something that must be pretty far outside their comfort zone; the cast performed well and it's always fun to see ballet dancers out of 'ballet' mode.

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Peggy R, you captured my feelings precisely for this program (esp with West Side Story Suite), despite having seen a different cast! Can't agree more :rofl: For variety-sake, this is an interesting program, but there is very little actual dancing; it ends up being less interesting, content-wise. bummer.

Saw the March 8 evening show.

Fancy Free (with Molat, Anderson, Karapetyan; Elizabeth, Zahorian, Olson) was fine. Davit Karapetyan suits this trio better (than last year's casting), and they look good together. This piece is more difficult to pull off than I thought. Everyone has to be "into it" 100% for us to be fully convinced of the scenario. Pascal Molat is such a showman; I still remember seeing him last year and being floored by his solo! Pretty good repeat this year. Garrett Anderson's musicality and movements are perfect for his role here; great casting.

In the Night (with Tan/Martin, Waldo/Vilanoba, Feijoo/Smith) UGH what a horrible piece. I suppose I haven't seen enough Robbins, and prematurely figured I'd like most of them... except this! Had relatively high expectations (so much you can possibly portray in a piece entitled "in the night") but it seemed one dimensional and boring. THE EXCEPTION BEING -- Lorena Feijoo to the rescue!! The third duet with Lorena was AWESOME. She brought so much fire and passion to the stage, I couldn't dare take my eyes off of her. The only time I was able to blink was when she stepped off stage. She has an amazing ability to transform otherwise mundane pieces into something special; she is a true professional. I wouldn't watch this piece again; unless it's just the third couple. with Lorena.

Westside Story Suite Great to see the corp de ballet showcased, but I'd like more classical ballet in a given program. BIG shout out to Shannon Roberts who came blasting out of nowhere and rocked as Anita. Her singing and dancing (broadway style?) is very convincing (she sheds any inkling of ballerinaship), good for her!

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Tikititatata: Thanks for your comments about West Side Story Suite; I've been feeling pretty lonely in my somewhat negative opinion.

The third duet with Lorena was AWESOME. She brought so much fire and passion to the stage, I couldn't dare take my eyes off of her. The only time I was able to blink was when she stepped off stage.

Also, I saw Feijoo yesterday in After The Rain PDD, and here I completely agree with you (although I liked In the Night better that you did). This was my first sight of her and she's a stunner; put me in mind of Anna Magnani. I hope she shows up in the New Works Festival.


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