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SFB 2021 Digital Season


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15 hours ago, pherank said:

It's never going to be easy for a company (other than NYCB) to just turn on the Balanchine technique for a single program and then go back to the myriad other choreographies in the repertoire. SFB is lucky to have Tomasson around to poke his head in and say, "that's not quite right, it was meant to be done this way...". Most companies don't even have that. 

P.S. - I felt like I should have said more about WanTing in the Tall Girl role, but TG doesn't really involve a lot of dancing - it's more about presentation. Either the presentation has the right look and character or it doesn't, I suppose.

I must bring up a few points here, and I do this will all due respect to any ballet training or professional experience you have had.

I say all this - without aggression or defensiveness; just a different perspective - from my experience having trained at SAB and danced with two companies - one that was not "Balanchine" but who had a former NYCB dancer as a Ballet Master and another where the director was a principal with NYCB under Balanchine's direction and the Ballet Mistress also a dancer with NYCB - both which included Balanchine ballets in their rep.

Although a certain degree of speediness and a specific aesthetic can be attributed to "Balanchine technique", musicality and articulation cannot; these are qualities that ballet dancers trained in any curriculum and in any professional company must develop. Plus, Balanchine ballets are staged by extremely qualified and chosen repetiteurs who not only teach the choreography but also work on the nuances in both timing and style. So although NYCB is naturally the most practiced in the Balanchine ballets - for obvious reasons - I don't think that being a professional in a company other than NYCB is an excuse to forgive the qualities necessary to execute them as authentically as possible. And I feel in the case of Froustey that we are referencing, many liberties were taken (or given).

To piggy back on this, of course SFB is lucky to have Tomasson at the helm, one of them being his ties with Balanchine and NYCB. This is a nice advantage when it comes to his company performing Balanchine ballets but  - and I have no statistics to prove this, just first-hand experience about how the staging of a Balanchine ballet proceeds - I feel that to say that "Most companies don't even have that" is perhaps not completely true. Again, going back to the significant amount of attention the repetiteurs pay to the details, as much as a reminder about these after she has gone is nice, as professionals, it is our responsibility to carry the words and concepts with us as we develop the roles.

In reference to the soloist in Rubies - and again based on personal experience having performed the role and rehearsing the other - to simplify it to either having "the right look" or not seems to diminish the technique required to perform it. Absolutely, it is not traditionally virtuosic, but this does not mean that it does not involve a lot of dancing.

 

13 hours ago, pherank said:

Yes, at SFB if you don't love one dancer, look to their right or left - you'll probably see something very different.

Absolutely agreed! 

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For someone who is totally unfamiliar with SFB, the recording of Jewels is a great introduction to the company. I was so tired and uninispired of watching ballet on video, that I skipped MIdsummer Night's Dream... which I now regret! Jewels energized me again. The entire company looks great, and I fell in love with Sasha De Sola and the clean clean dancing of Tiit Helimets. I found the camera work mostly excellent, unobtrusive and mostly giving a good view of what was happening onstage. For example, that section in Rubies where the Tall Girl does big second position plies and arabsesques while heading offstage, while the corps slinks off the other side of the stage - I found I got a better view of that overall tableau than I usually do in the theatre. As someone totally new to these dancers, I also enjoyed "meeting" Sasha Mukhamedov (sp?). What a big, warm presence, with beautiful arms and a full-bodied way of moving. I would like to see more of her. Also Wanting Zhao has a great style. I'm mixed on Mathilde Froustey, but mr. cobweb found her "perfect for Stravinsky." I look forward to a few more viewings before it's too late...

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On 4/4/2021 at 12:33 AM, pherank said:

The camerawork was mostly excellent, but I think there was a few points where the Corps dancers were disappearing out of the frame.

I found most of Emeralds filmed much too close, which may be a function of my irl preference for sitting further back from the stage than most people might prefer.  I kept wishing the camera would pull back even just a little bit to put more air in the frame, even (especially!) for the solos and pas de deux. The camera work in Rubies and Diamonds was a bit better in this regard, but not much.

And lordy, that shiny shiny stage floor is distracting.

Edited by Kathleen O'Connell
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2 hours ago, Kathleen O'Connell said:

I found most of Emeralds filmed much too close, which may be a function of my irl preference for sitting further back from the stage than most people might prefer.  I kept wishing the camera would pull back even just a little bit to put more air in the frame, even (especially!) for the solos and pas de deux. The camera work in Rubies and Diamonds was a bit better in this regard, but not much.

And lordy, that shiny shiny stage floor is distracting.

I agree with your "put more air in the frame" observation. Really tight framing may seem dynamic, but it changes the whole atmosphere of a piece. Emeralds would be the ballet most effected by tight framing/cropping - it loses its atmospherics. I think they were trying to find a happy medium (but I'm not sure that exists since the audience preferences run the gamut).

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7 hours ago, The Traveling Ballerina said:

Although a certain degree of speediness and a specific aesthetic can be attributed to "Balanchine technique", musicality and articulation cannot; these are qualities that ballet dancers trained in any curriculum and in any professional company must develop. Plus, Balanchine ballets are staged by extremely qualified and chosen repetiteurs who not only teach the choreography but also work on the nuances in both timing and style. So although NYCB is naturally the most practiced in the Balanchine ballets - for obvious reasons - I don't think that being a professional in a company other than NYCB is an excuse to forgive the qualities necessary to execute them as authentically as possible. And I feel in the case of Froustey that we are referencing, many liberties were taken (or given).

To piggy back on this, of course SFB is lucky to have Tomasson at the helm, one of them being his ties with Balanchine and NYCB. This is a nice advantage when it comes to his company performing Balanchine ballets but  - and I have no statistics to prove this, just first-hand experience about how the staging of a Balanchine ballet proceeds - I feel that to say that "Most companies don't even have that" is perhaps not completely true. Again, going back to the significant amount of attention the repetiteurs pay to the details, as much as a reminder about these after she has gone is nice, as professionals, it is our responsibility to carry the words and concepts with us as we develop the roles.

"I don't think that being a professional in a company other than NYCB is an excuse to forgive the qualities necessary to execute them as authentically as possible"

I tend to agree with you here. Dancers should, ideally, do the research, and put in the time it takes to learn a role thoroughly. But of course life happens and there isn't always time. Both the Froustey and De Sola performances were role debuts (or close to it). De Sola was likely dreaming about the Diamonds role for a number of years before getting a chance to do it. I seriously doubt Mathilde was dreaming of dancing Rubies - it wasn't likely to be on her radar. Ideally, SFB dancers would train for roles in the European manner - spending the month before performances rehearsing constantly. At SFB, all the learning happens the previous summer. There's no time during the season to create or learn new roles. That's all due to the sharing of the opera house with the SF Opera, and other events.

'I feel that to say that "Most companies don't even have that" is perhaps not completely true'

What I meant there was that few companies have a dancer that created roles under Balanchine on staff. SFB had Elyse Borne around as well (originally as Ballet Master), though once she became a répétiteur, not consistently. Whether or not the dancers made use of this resource is another matter.  😉

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1 hour ago, pherank said:

De Sola was likely dreaming about the Diamonds role for a number of years before getting a chance to do it. I seriously doubt Mathilde was dreaming of dancing Rubies - it wasn't likely to be on her radar. Ideally, SFB dancers would train for roles in the European manner - spending the month before performances rehearsing constantly. At SFB, all the learning happens the previous summer. There's no time during the season to create or learn new roles. That's all due to the sharing of the opera house with the SF Opera, and other events.

It's worth noting that I (as well as friends and colleagues I've gone to shows with) avoid Mathilde-heavy shows because of her issues with musicality and articulation in roles like Swan Lake and Giselle—ones that any ballerina would dream of. I don't know if blaming lack of interest, a certain Balanchine role, or SFB's rehearsal schedule adds up with me when discussing critiques of a dancer that follow a pattern. And I say this not because I want to turn this thread into a pile-on about Mathilde's technique, rather something that fellow fans of SFB can note and (hopefully) watch develop as time passes.  

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I'm watching and rewatching the Jewels program, especially "Emeralds" since it's one I haven't seen as often. One thing that I'm particularly awestruck by is Sasha Mukhamedov. She breathes such life into not just the steps, but all of the inbetweens. Watching her, I feel like I'm lifted and just bouyant. She is stunning and such a gem; she elevates this "Emeralds" to a whole new level. Bummed that she wasn't promoted last year; I fear her ACL tear may hinder possibilities for the next year or so. Wona Park, in the pas de trois, was also lovely and bright, and seemed to have that wispy, dream-like air to her.  

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28 minutes ago, PeggyTulle said:

One thing that I'm particularly awestruck by is Sasha Mukhamedov

Agree, PeggyTulle. This was my first time seeing Mukhamedov (actually my first time seeing all the dancers) and I immediately loved her. I found her tall, grand, and yet very warm and human. I gather she has learned Diamonds but couldn't do it due to injury. That would be fascinating to see. 

On rewatching it all again, I especially loved Wanting Zhao as the Tall Girl in Rubies. Considering that she is not at all tall and therefore not an obvious fit for the role, I would say this was an inspired casting choice. 

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10 minutes ago, cobweb said:

Agree, PeggyTulle. This was my first time seeing Mukhamedov (actually my first time seeing all the dancers) and I immediately loved her. I found her tall, grand, and yet very warm and human. I gather she has learned Diamonds but couldn't do it due to injury. That would be fascinating to see. 

On rewatching it all again, I especially loved Wanting Zhao as the Tall Girl in Rubies. Considering that she is not at all tall and therefore not an obvious fit for the role, I would say this was an inspired casting choice. 

Zhao is tall in relation to the other SFB women. But it's true that she's not actually a tall person. SFB has lots of tiny women to choose from, but only a couple - like Jen Stahl and Mukhamedov - that might actually appear normal height, or "tall".

Mukhamedov appeared earlier in the digital season in A Midsummer Night's Dream, but I think that was the only other time. Sorry - she was in Morris' Sandpaper Ballet as well.

Edited by pherank
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9 minutes ago, pherank said:

Zhao is tall in relation to the other SFB women. But it's true that she's not actually a tall person. SFB has lots of tiny women to choose from, but only a couple - like Jen Stahl and Mukhamedov - that might actually appear normal height, or "tall".

Interesting to hear. I have been having trouble judging the height of the dancers from seeing them only on video. For example, De Sola looks tiny (to me anyway) in Diamonds, but I read somewhere that she's of average height. Zhao doesn't look tall compared to the other women in the opening line of Rubies. But, I guess one thing that's certain is that Mukhamedov is definitely tall. 🙂

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1 hour ago, cobweb said:

Interesting to hear. I have been having trouble judging the height of the dancers from seeing them only on video. For example, De Sola looks tiny (to me anyway) in Diamonds, but I read somewhere that she's of average height. Zhao doesn't look tall compared to the other women in the opening line of Rubies. But, I guess one thing that's certain is that Mukhamedov is definitely tall. 🙂

Yep. The tallness is all relative of course. The participating men will make the women look taller or smaller, depending. In the ballets with Ulrik Birkkjaer, for example, he tends to tower over the others. I don't know if you watched the ColorForms ballet shot at SF MOMA, but Birkkjaer does all the heavy lifting (literally) in that ballet. He's one of the superior partners though, and very strong, so it made sense - why watch anyone else working hard when Ulrik can look effortless? Same with Tiit Helimets, though I don't think he's really any more than 6 feet tall, and probably a bit less (I've stood next to him on the street corner and he didn't look to be as tall as me - I'm 6'). Aaron Robison is one of the taller men (so he gets paired with Mukhamedov).

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On 4/4/2021 at 6:43 AM, miliosr said:

I had the opposite reaction to the camerawork for Emeralds. I found it static and inert, and it took me out of the actual performance. Fairly or not, I couldn't help but compare it mentally to the extraordinary film of Suite en Blanc that the Royal Swedish Ballet has been streaming with its "you are on the stage" quality. (Yes, I understand the filming conditions were different.)

A bit off-topic, but Pennsylvania Ballet is apparently using a camera-style perhaps more to your liking:

'"It's going to be something totally unusual that is going to blow people's minds," promises Artistic Director, Angel Corella.

Corella says he wanted to kick things off by pushing the envelope both physically, "show the dancers and show their strength and technique right away," and digitally, with multi-camera angles designed to make audience members feel like they're a part of the performance.

"We had a drone going over the dancers and recording them over the top," Corella says.'

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A few other thoughts. WanTing may not be tall, but she sure dances tall. I kept thinking she was the tallest one on the stage. She commands presence and boy does she move swiftly and every so cleanly. She looks to be dancing in the softest pillows, not rock-hard pointe shoes. Bravo to her. I really liked Sasha in "Diamonds", which didn't surprise me. She seems to do diva (ballet-wise) quite well. Full of passion and she just exudes confidence. I also really enjoyed Natasha Sheehan in the corps. She shone quite brightly throughout. 

One side note: seeing the archived recordings reminds me of how diverse the corps used to be, especially for the women. The corps roster for next year has, if I'm mistaken, no dancers that identify as Black. Am I right?

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After watching the Jewels livestream over and over, I have come to the shocking realization that I have been awfully provincial in my devotion to New York City Ballet. I really have to cast my eye farther afield. It's been a delight to see dancers who are entirely new to me, with fresh interpretations of familiar roles. Somehow it's great to see a dancer I've never seen before, kind of like dating someone new rather than continuing a relationship with a lot of baggage, or past performances however great they may have been. For example, Diamonds. I have seen Sara Mearns, Teresa Reichlen, and Maria Kowroski do this role many many times (am I missing anyone else who's done it recently at NYCB?), with varying interpretations that change over time. De Sola brings a delicacy, warmth and vulnerable humanity that I haven't seen before, and didn't even realize I was hungry for. I love her! And then there's Wanting Zhao, who shimmied and blazed through the Tall Girl in Rubies, as PeggyTulle described above. As it happens, I've been spending a lot of time in the Bay Area during the lockdown. Hopefully I can get to see the company in real life soon! Can anyone clue me in as to what the performing schedule is typically like? Also, I could use some guidance in how to pronounce Tiit Helimets. 

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16 minutes ago, cobweb said:

 Hopefully I can get to see the company in real life soon! Can anyone clue me in as to what the performing schedule is typically like? 

Their schedule is normally January - June (roughly) as they share the Opera House with the Opera. But one thing they do really well: two programs overlapping in the schedule. So it's possible for out-of-towners like me to take in several performances of two different programs over a long weekend. I wish companies like PNB or Pennsylvania would do something like that, although I imagine it's very complicated in terms of logistics, rehearsals, sets, etc., etc.

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1 hour ago, cobweb said:

After watching the Jewels livestream over and over, I have come to the shocking realization that I have been awfully provincial in my devotion to New York City Ballet. I really have to cast my eye farther afield. It's been a delight to see dancers who are entirely new to me, with fresh interpretations of familiar roles. Somehow it's great to see a dancer I've never seen before, kind of like dating someone new rather than continuing a relationship with a lot of baggage, or past performances however great they may have been. For example, Diamonds. I have seen Sara Mearns, Teresa Reichlen, and Maria Kowroski do this role many many times (am I missing anyone else who's done it recently at NYCB?), with varying interpretations that change over time. De Sola brings a delicacy, warmth and vulnerable humanity that I haven't seen before, and didn't even realize I was hungry for. I love her! And then there's Wanting Zhao, who shimmied and blazed through the Tall Girl in Rubies, as PeggyTulle described above. As it happens, I've been spending a lot of time in the Bay Area during the lockdown. Hopefully I can get to see the company in real life soon! Can anyone clue me in as to what the performing schedule is typically like? Also, I could use some guidance in how to pronounce Tiit Helimets. 

His name is pronounced:  Teet Hell-i-mets

You're at an exciting moment, Cobweb - it's always great to happen upon a new obsession.  ;)
With SFB, their most impressive attribute is the great diversity in repertoire they are able to pull off - mostly at a high level. But like any company, particular dancers have their strengths and are most convincing in the certain types of dance/choreography. 

I have to put in a plug for PNB as well - the other excellent West Coast company. They are worth a look too.

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Thank you pherank and California! I would certainly love to see PNB too. Am I missing a digital season there now? Will have a look. I definitely look forward to deeper acquaintance with SFB. Another question, just curious how long is the dancers' contract for SFB? If they perform Jan-June, the dancers must have several months a year without a contract. 

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14 minutes ago, cobweb said:

Thank you pherank and California! I would certainly love to see PNB too. Am I missing a digital season there now? Will have a look. I definitely look forward to deeper acquaintance with SFB. Another question, just curious how long is the dancers' contract for SFB? If they perform Jan-June, the dancers must have several months a year without a contract. 

Actually California may have forgotten about Nutcracker "season" (December): we say season because there's something like 31 or 32 performances of Nutcracker (normally). And the dancers are rehearsing in the Fall prior to that. Short tours happen in May - June and sometimes around October - November.

Contracts are for the year, I believe.

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22 hours ago, PeggyTulle said:

One side note: seeing the archived recordings reminds me of how diverse the corps used to be, especially for the women. The corps roster for next year has, if I'm mistaken, no dancers that identify as Black. Am I right?

That would be a crying shame, if true. I really love seeing the corps in the Diamonds livestream, with so many beautiful young and diverse faces, all looking proud to be there and committed to the art form. 

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19 minutes ago, cobweb said:

That would be a crying shame, if true. I really love seeing the corps in the Diamonds livestream, with so many beautiful young and diverse faces, all looking proud to be there and committed to the art form. 

In the Corps, only Kimberly Marie Olivier identifies herself as "Black". However she seems to be taking a year off for rehab and recovery reasons. But I do think there's a good chance we will see her again. She is still listed on the website as of today. Note that Jasmine Jimison has just been promoted to soloist.

SFB has long been diverse in terms of Asian and Latin-American/Hispanic dancers, but they have seemingly struggled to recruit Black dancers.

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If anyone else watched today's Jewels discussion on Zoom (with Mimi Paul, Edward Villella, Kay Mazzo, and Helgi Tomasson) it would be great to hear from you. I was not able to listen to the entire discussion - I missed the first 20 minutes or so.

My favorite line  was Villella quoting Balanchine:

"The floor upon which we dance is the music."

As the Zen masters like to say, "you should study and investigate this thoroughly."  ;)

Helgi mentioned that the phrasing is important and easily gets lost from one generation to the next.
Mimi Paul mentioned that over time the sense of épaulement is lost in Emeralds and it becomes "flat". "It's become quite flat over time". "The positions have to be clear and épaulement essential in that piece, particularly".

Villella on coaching Rubies and other roles:
"Be guided by me, don't imitate me -- it's your internal understanding of this role."
"[Balanchine's] stuff is not academic. Let go and show yourself - a lot of people are a little reluctant to show themselves."  
"Imitation is not the answer."

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