Monday, November 10, 2008

Printz Dance Project, Cowell Theater, 11/7/2008

Printz Dance Project and Siamsa Tire
Friday, November 7, 2008
Cowell Theater, Fort Mason

Stacey Printz’ local dance company collaborated with Ireland’s National Folk Theater of Ireland, Siamsa Tire, to bring an inspired program to Fort Mason’s Cowell Theater this past weekend. Both companies alternated segments with a big bang of a finale, which featured a lighthearted work that sprung from their collaboration last summer in Ireland.

Printz Dance Project opened with the earthy “Urban Primates.” With Laura Sharp flapping and wringing her arms and back with animalistic passion, the black-clad group got off to a raucous start with monkey-like squats, rhythmic bouncing, and wild arm-waving. Dudley Flores’s fresh, carefree style stood out in all he was cast in, but especially with Jenni Bregman and Katie Aggen in the playful romp about an evening with an orange pillow in “Dark Spaces/looking through windows” (excerpt). Printz herself made a quick appearance in the prologue from “Prague” (excerpt), which focuses on ghettos, art, and culture. With only a brief 10 or so minutes, the snippet didn’t do Prague’s intricate pairings or premise the justice it may deserve. “Prague” also featured original live music by Jon Sung on violin and beatboxer Carlos Aguirre, which is unusual for a small company. Kudos to Printz for this, and I hope the full-length work will be shown soon.

Most Americans' knowledge of Irish step dancing begins and ends with “Lord of the Dance,” a highly theatrical, commercialized vehicle for shirtless men, muscles, and Rockette-like lines of women. Siamsa Tire showed us that this art form goes farther than the superficial, and over the evening, they snapped their snazzy feet together in two quartets, “An Damhsóir/The Dancer” and “Seville Suite.” The kicker proved to be the former, with high energy, lots of fancy footwork, and lullaby-like vocals, but both were fun and invigorating to behold.

The evening sizzled to an end with “Cross Talk,” combining dancers from Printz Dance Project and Siamsa Tire in an international Gap ad to and fro across the Cowell Stage. In jeans paired with bright colored t-shirts, the two groups danced separately, together, and exchanging genres until modern, hip hop, and step dancing all melded into one big blur of sound and movement. Sure, you could tell which dancers were step dancers and which weren’t, but that wasn’t the purpose. The point was that we could share dance forms, learn from this partnership, and create something all-together unique to experience and enjoy. And truly it was fun while it lasted.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Keyhold Dances, EmSpace Dance, 9/27/2008

“Keyhole Dances”
EmSpace Dance
Saturday, September 27, 2PM

Saturday morning I walked over to see the California Academy of Sciences’ opening, which felt like an environmentally friendly three-ring circus at 9:30 in the morning. I survived two hours before feeling overwhelmed with the tens (or hundreds ) of thousands of museum-going people wrapped down the music concourse and along JFK. Making my way home, I felt ready for a nap, but by mid-afternoon, I was glad I didn’t snooze; EmSpace’s “Keyhole Dances” made my weekend.

Erin Mei-Ling Stuart knows how to transform the mundane into something uniquely special, and her choreography and point of view continue to captivate her audience. “Keyhole Dances” is no different. Set inside a lovely flat situated where Western Addition and Alamo Square collide, guests are invited to peek in on rooms of individuals as they go about their lives. The location provides perspective as well as a cost-effective venue. No major fees and crews. She just needs to negotiate with the housemates.

Guests begin by walking through the apartment and peering in on the pre-show installations, all improvised to some extent. There’s a sensual yet somber tango in the living room, childlike twister down the hall (I was a mistress at spinning that dial), a drama queen contemplating suicide via bathroom window, and an orange fight in the TV room. Fast forward to a culmination in the living room with a tango featuring our main cast, wine glasses, and a potted tree (and on this afternoon, a fellow audience member who unknowingly joined them on the couch prior to “curtain”), and the rest of us assembled in chairs or leaned against a wall, almost like a giant house party with 25 of your newest friends. With drinks in hand, we divided into groups to view three five-minute segments. Christine Bonansea and Thomas Boyles shifted through a nighttime ode (to an original composition sung by Boyles) to the little things that irk us about our mates. Down the hall in the bathroom, Bekah Barnett sang in the shower as Isabelle Sjahsam moved passionately around the sink and her mate Malinda Trimble, and into the polished clawfoot tub. With Scott Simón accompanying on his guitar in the pantry, our group ended the afternoon around the kitchen table where Blane Ashby and Julie Sheetz hosted us while in the middle of a lovers‘ quarrel. They glared at each other with pure hatred and adoration swirling in their eyes, she fastidiously wiped his toast with her toes, and he giddily dumped an entire bowl of sugar into her coffee; these two turned little everyday gestures into a fast-paced, introspective amusement park ride. If I could, I’d go around again.

Stuart may have hit the nail on the head with this one, providing a fresh way to look at relationships and ourselves. And while I wouldn’t want a bunch of people looking in on my daily activities, if they ever did, I’d hope I‘d be under Stuart‘s masterful direction. And could I have a percussionist in my closet, please?

---Following a sold-out run, one additional performance has been added: October 5th at 5PM. Go to for more details.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Zhukov Dance Theatre @YBC

Zhukov Dance Theatre
“M&W” and “Passing”
Novellus Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
August 8, 2008

Yuri Zhukov, a former ballet dancer turned teacher and choreographer, introduced his new company to the Bay Area last weekend at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ newly named Novellus Theater as part of the Bay Area Now series. The evening, aptly titled “Product 01,” focused on two new works, but neither really defined who Zhukov or his dancers are. Maybe that’ll be “Product 02”?

“Passing” seemed to be the evening’s more mature production. With the dancers dressed in muted grays, the six dancers flitted through group work and solos with cool calm. Zhukov created a movement vocabulary and built upon it, something that wasn’t very evident in the opening piece, “M&W.” Yet when Vladimir Martynov’s “Come In!” poured through the speakers, the soaring strings many times overtook the dance onstage. Sometimes, though, simple is the right way to go, and “Passing,” while tackling issues of death, longing, and separation, didn’t call for a lot of bells and whistles to catch my interest, and that’s to be commended.

Zhukov, though, got muddled in “M&W,” overusing unison to the point where I cringed. Unison works well to drive home a point, but one, it needs to be done well. And two, too much of it, especially combined with uninspiring and disjointed choreography, brings the attention to my least favorite choreography crutch (but a delicious ice cream flavor): everything but the kitchen sink. The stage filled with excess choreography, bodies, and lighting. There was, though, one point where everything came together with clarity, as the men poked their heads about under the upstage lighting while Marcos Vedoveto mesmerized me, gyrating and flapping his legs about while slinking his shoulders downstage, resembling both a peacock and a lion all at once.

Perhaps “Passing” and “M&W” reflect Zhukov’s spectrum as a choreographer: pure, mishmashed, understated, and puzzlement. With “Passing” showing promise, here’s hoping Zhukov resolves his identity crisis soon.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Scott Wells & Dancers at Project Artaud

Scott Wells & Dancers
Presented by ODC Theater
At Project Artaud Theater
July 10, 2008, 8PM

Scott Wells & Dancers flew through the air last night at the Project Artaud Theater. With captivating lifts and contact movement, Wells seemed poised to take our breath away, but I left without needing an inhaler, a slight shame when reflecting on the overall scheme of things.

Wells’ “Home,” an early 90s cult hit, closed the show, and while it reminded me of how my high school and college days could have been but weren't, the ending fizzled into a blur. The five dancers spent the first portion building relationships to a montage of music and old-style radio ads, but then it became more about headswishing to Nirvana and swaying to Handel than anything else. The mood, though, filled me with hope that I might just be able to perform a double twist onto my living room's aged Busvan for Bargains sofa. I more so enjoyed the smaller and more intimate connections built throughout. Suzanne Lappas and Lindsay Gauthier explored girl power with sweetness, and Hallie Aldrich and Ross Hollenkamp shared special times over chairs. Andrew Ward played the odd one out, yet still won our hearts.

“Gym Mystics,” which premiered last year, opened with Rajendra Serber twirling and coddling a wood beam. Eight dancers gracefully flew across the floor with an eye-catching cartwheel-and-somersault canon, and the work later moved to a hilarious pas de trois with Serber, Lappas, and Aldrich on the segmented balance beam. These three played with ideas of emotional and physical support while building confidence to tackle the difficult, all while looking semi-swanlike, even in their striped yoga pants and tanks.

“West Side (story) Dances” also made it’s debut on the bill, but fell short of expectations. After seeing San Francisco Ballet sing and dance its way through Jerome Robbins’ ballet version, I felt like this one didn’t quite cut the mustard. Or as Randy Jackson may say, Wells didn’t make it his own. Using a lot of unison, both in groups and partner dancing, the audience sort of “got it” quickly. People are happy. People are sad. People are fighting. People are singing (and these people shouldn’t sing). Oh, and people are doing the mambo. For me, the choreography shined when Wells jumps about fifteen steps outside of the box. Part way through, dancers ran, slid, jumped, and spun onto the dimly stage from the audience’s side entrance, and all of a sudden, there was something unexpected. And that left me breathless.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

SFB's New Works Festival (Program C)

San Francisco Ballet
New Works Festival, Program C
May 3, 2008, 2PM

San Francisco Ballet’s New Works Festival is still the talk of the town, and luckily I was able to catch a matinée of Program C, featuring three very diverse ballets. This afternoon's cast showcased mainly dancers from the corps de ballet and soloists, a refreshing treat perhaps foreshadowing the company's future, and if so, this vision is grand.

Val Caniparoli's "Ibsen's House," gets my vote as winner of the afternoon. With dark fabric and a brightly draped "window" adorning the back, the 10 dancers emotionally poured through Caniparoli’s circular and attractive movement while portraying various characters from five Henrik Ibsen's plays, each focusing on women's place in society. These women aren’t cookie-cutter, and Caniparoli intends to prove it. Obviously, the ladies were the focus here, dressed in Sandra Woodall's dark jewel-tone dresses. Lorena Feijoo, in burgundy as Hedda Gabler, treaded lightly as she expansively lept forward and extended her arms, and Aaron Orza (a last-minute replacement for David Arce), as her husband, seemed indifferent to her needs. Clara Blanco shone as the young Nora Helmer, and Luke Willis as Torvald Helmer picked her up like a doll whether in second position en pointe or grasping his neck more like a father than a husband. I greatly enjoyed seeing the glowing Blanco in a featured role: she's got lovely, pure technique plus a special presence. Courtney Elizabeth and Pierre Françios Villanoba played the couple from “Lady from the Sea” with electricity and passion, but Patricia Perez, looking lost compared to the other women, danced somewhat tentatively with Steven Norman as the couple from “Rosmersholm.” Dana Genshaft, with enchanting musicality, and Garen Scribner paired well as the mother and son from “Ghosts,” dancing naturally and with confidence. “Ibsen’s House” featured innovative lifts along with 10 dancers’ sensitive and dramatic performances, and to top it off, Dvoràk’s “Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 81” sounded divine from the pit. Caniparoli sure has a hit on his hands.

Coming in a close second, Jorma Elo’s contemporary “Double Evil” highlighted the program’s only tutu ballet. Dressed in Holly Hynes’ greens and turquoise, the six dancers pranced, skittered, and dove like zoo animals finally allowed to roam freely in the wild. Lily Rogers and Ruben Martin, as the lead couple, partnered in a sensitive opening duet, he sneaking under her leg as she smoothly extended to arabesque. Courtney Wright, Dana Genshaft, Garrett Anderson, James Sofranko, and Nicolas Blanc looked to be enjoying themselves, but Dores Andre, a more demure dancer, seemed out of sync with the rest. Elo blended two very different music scores well in the 20-some odd minutes, and James Ingalls’ juxtaposition of full lighting with Philip Glass’s “Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra,” a rhythmic and rumbling feat of semi-minimalism, and dewy, overhead spot lighting for Vladimir Martynov’s softer and lyrical “Come In!” worked wonders to distinctly differentiate the two ever-competing onstage moods. "Double Evil" was quite a treat.

“Thread,” San Francisco’s modern dance maven Margaret Jenkins’ contribution to the program, played on the concept of the myth of Ariadne, Theseus, and the labyrinth at Knossos. Jenkins produced some interesting movement vocabulary, especially with the smaller group partnering, but “Thread” felt drawn out and lengthy at times, never quite finding the center of the labyrinth, and instead getting stuck in a dead-end half way in. Jenkins’ incorporated some very hard-to-see movement behind a scrim, and Paul Dresher’s composition, made especially for “Thread,” lingered but didn’t help move the story along. Luckily, the dancers looked comfortable in the more modern movements, and Pauli Magierek sparkled as a refreshing Ariadne. Too bad this wasn’t enough to save the more muddled choreographic sequences from becoming a faint memory.

San Francisco Ballet’s New Works Festival, though, made a splash on my dance calendar, featuring a slew of dancers from corps de ballet to principal over the course of a few weeks. I enjoyed myself immensely, and I’m glad that many of the works will revisit the Opera House’s stage next year.

Pauli Magierek in Jenkins' Thread.
Dana Genshaft in Caniparoli's Ibsen's House.
© Erik Tomasson

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

SFB's New Works Festival (Program B)

San Francisco Ballet
Works Festival, Program B
Saturday, April 26, 2008, 2PM

The city’s been abuzz with chatter surrounding San Francisco Ballet’s New Works Festival, a three-program, multi-week spectacle of new choreography created by some of ballet’s most loved and well regarded dance makers, and Helgi Tomasson, looking to knock everyone’s socks and slipp
ers off, seems to have delivered. At least, if Program B is any indication, I should be walking barefoot through the city for months to come.

Due to some personal scheduling, I started the Festival out of order, yet my gut tells me this shouldn’t be a problem. Ideally, each program should be able to stand on its own, yet as a festival, they should complement each other, too. In addition, each program’s individual works should also balance one another, yet Saturday’s matinee didn’t quite achieve my own expectations. Part of that may have been my fault, as who knows what to expect from something titled “New Works Festival.” Similar to the new InterContinental Hotel down on Howard Street, you’ve got to see it to believe it. And so I did.

The evening’s winner was a tie: Mark Morris’ continuously leg-kicking “Joyride” worked my brain into overtime while James Kudelka’s “The Ruins Proclaim The Building Was Beautiful” forcefully sauntered forward. With eight dancers clad in Isaac Mizrahi’s metallic unitards, “Joyride” takes no prisoners. The work highlights kicks, sharp arabesques, and wonderfully executed in-sync pirouettes, just as John Adams’ score (with him conducted the orchestra on this sunny afternoon) punches along at breakneck speed. Sarah Van Patten and Gennadi Nedvigin, dressed in shiny gold, led the way, steering everyone down a pulsating path of skill and gusto. Young corps member Jennifer Stahl, swathed in gunmetal grey, showed amazing control, and Rory Hohenstein flowed through the ever-challenging movement with a sexy naturalness.

Kudelka’s “Ruins” explores the social undertones of humanity, and the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, under the direction of David Briskin, brought Rodney Sharman’s score, based on pieces by composer César Franck, to life. The darkly lit corps of women, adorned in pink sliced-and-diced tutus and nests of wispy hair (potentially by Helena Bonham Carter but credited to James Searle), waltzed like rosy waves from corner to corner. Frances Chung and Elana Altman were first to face the well-coifed and finely dressed (if slightly creepy) threesome of Pierre-François Vilanoba, Aaron Orza, and Martyn Garside, and the women pushed and fought, but easily gave in to the support, direction, and control the men provided. Yuan Yuan Tan, as the more modern woman in red, proved a better opponent to Vilanoba, but again, she finally succumbed to the weight and demands required of her to survive. Kudelka choreographs in stunning tangents, spilling forward with expansive ideas, and “Ruins” proved both lovely and disturbing all at the time.

Stanton Welch’s “Naked” showcased unimaginative yet structured choreography to music by Francis Poulenc. With the title, splash of neutrals across the back scrim, and peachy tutus and tunics, I expected raw expressive movement and something more telling than the basic leaps and turns. Still, the twenty-six minutes moved briskly, and the dancers brought their A-game, moving crisply across the stage. The two highlights of what “Naked” almost was were Kristin Long, who lit up the stage with her fresh spring in her jumps, and Frances Chung in her pas de deux with Brett Bauer with Chung dancing tenderly in Bauer’s arms. Why these two were not listed in the “principal” section of the casting sheet is beyond me…

Julia Adam’s “A rose by any other name” oddly set to Bach’s “Goldberg Variations,” sadly prompted me to recall “Angelo,” a static ballet I sat through more times than humanly necessary. With excessive posturing, gesturing, and two-dimensional walking about with arms up and down (I felt like I was examining Aztec codices or Egyptian hieroglyphs after the first few minutes), “Rose” drooped from the beginning. Yes, Adam changed the story up by having the fairies be men who then are recycled as the suitors/forest later on, and some of the ideas behind the fairy variations were cute (Bauer as Beauty always stared at himself via a mirror, even it was under his legs), but these tricks couldn’t save the ballet from wilting. Long appeared underused, but she was adorable nonetheless.

So with Program B complete (at least for me), I’ve seen it, and so far, I believe it. Sure, some of the choreography wasn’t to my taste, but I enjoyed seeing the company’s dancers in top form and on display for all to see. And to me, that's what matters most.

Sarah Van Patten and Gennadi Nedvigin in Morris' Joyride.
Elana Altman and Aaron Orza in Kudelka's The Ruins Proclaim The Building Was Beautiful.
Yuan Yuan Tan and Pierre-François Vilanoba in Kudelka's The Ruins Proclaim The Building Was Beautiful.
Frances Chung and Brett Bauer in Welch's Naked.
Elizabeth Miner and Gennadi Nedvigin in Adam's A rose by any other name.

All photos © Erik Tomasson

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Doug Varone and Dancers @YBCA

Doug Varone and Dancers
At Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Presented by San Francisco Performances
Sunday, April 20, 2008, 2PM

Doug Varone and Dancers, a fixture in the New York City dance scene and modern dance departments at various New England colleges for years, graced San Francisco with its presence this past weekend. The company, plus Mr. Varone himself, skipped across the stage and back into our hearts, reminding us that dance is an everlasting feeling, even when sitting upright in a well padded chair.

The evening opened with Varone’s shining “Lux,” a visual kaleidoscope of Philip Glass’s minimalist “The Light.” The ever-introspective Eddie Taketa opened the work with soft jumps and a thoughtful look upon his face while a round, yellow moon began to rise in the background. The seven other dancers, dressed in Liz Prince’s elegant black separates, sprung out of the wings to join Taketa in this intelligent yet deceivingly simple-looking romp. They circled about in pairs, trios, and groups, continuously growing and retreating with the pulsing music until everyone burst into a glowing lit of bodies against the darkness behind.

“Home,” a dance theater duet with Natalie Desch and Varone, swayed the mood from lighthearted to downright serious and depressing. “Home” may be where the heart is, but Desch and Varone investigated some ups and mostly downs of life at home: the angst, love, passion, hate, and need. Both of the performers put their best into this performance, and their powerful presence grew as they shifted their wooden chairs from one spot to another quickly. Clack, Clack. Bang, Bang. Boom, Boom. But the mood had shifted so far from the tenderness and beauty of “Lux” that I felt it hard to become totally immersed in “Home.”

“Boats Leaving,” though, mixed the best of both worlds into one picturesque movement score. Accompanied by Arvo Pärt's “Te Deum,” a choral work with voices beautifully rising and falling, the eight dancers formed into snapshots and then elaborated on them, expressing emotions and feelings as they fluttered about or wiggled on the floor face down. Bathed in Jane Cox’s golden and then cooler side lighting, the dancers pushed forward, supporting each other as they danced in isolation or together. Taketa and Desch led the way, whether leading the group in a sharp diagonal or gesturing with an arm or head, and Netta Yerushalmy danced with a quiet intensity.

Each of Varone’s dancers displayed impressive qualities, which is a telling sign. He understands how to direct and showcase a remarkable complement of abilities within his own well-structured and developed movement, and he tells a good story through airy gestures and musical choreography to boot. Varone and his troupe aren’t scheduled to return to San Francisco anytime soon, but let’s hope they do.

"Boats Leaving" Photo © Richard Termine

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Urban Bush Women and Compagnie Jant-Bi @ YBCA

Urban Bush Women and Compagnie Jant-Bi
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
“Les écailles de la mémoire (The scales of memory)”
Friday, April 4, 2008

Urban Bush Women and Compagnie Jant-Bi have collaborated on “Les écailles de la mémoire (The scales of memory),” a full-evening length work centering on identity, family, and history. I’ve seen both companies before, albeit separately, and this unique union proved that collaboration is a good thing.

The dancers begin by reciting their names and their ancestors: parents, grand parents, great grandparents, etc. There’s a connection, even if just by blood, that we can’t deny. “Memory” tackles many of the same issues as Company Ea Sola’s “Draught and Rain, Vol 2” did, but with much more choreographic development and success.

The men of Compagnie Jant-Bi easily compare to Urban Bush Women’s dancers. These strong men display presence and fortitude. Had I not known these were two separate groups, I would have assumed the dancers formed one complete troupe. The men strutted across the stage early on wearing red shirts that they later pulled off and slapped the floor with. The images of the bright red striking against their backs and then the ground as they hovered in a low squat lingered in my mind, and while I consciously knew they were up on a stage, dancing, performing, I still cringed and tried to look away. These men were enjoyable to watch, but their shapes and motions felt haunting all the same.

Nora Chipaumire, a 2007 Bessie Performer Award winner, led the Urban Bush Women with fire in her belly. A tall and striking woman, Chipaumire may not have looked the sharpest at times, but her passion and full-bodied submission to the movement overwhelmed everything else around her. The women kicked high and thrusted their hips deep, sending excitement through the audience. They giggled and flirted with the men, looking happy or competitive at times and disturbingly trapped at times. No one’s past is a perfect image, and “Memory” explored this well.

The eclectic score sampled beat box by Babacar Ba, wolof flows by Pape Ibrahima Ndiaye (Kaolack), the Drummers of L’Ecole des Sables, Kinshasa Theme music by Frederic Bobin, and other vocals and sound score by Christine King. Each choice pushed the evening forward, while highlighting the ins and outs of Germaine Acogny and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s developed yet fun-to-watch choreography. Now if only the two companies could come back. That’d be an even better thing.

Photos by Thomas Dorn and Antoine Tempé

Thursday, April 03, 2008

A Tribute to SF Ballet, Program 6

San Francisco Ballet
Program 6


The National Ballet of Canada, New York City Ballet, and Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo
Tuesday, April 1

San Francisco Ballet’s Program 6, billed as an international salute to the company’s 75th ann
iversary, doesn’t even showcase SF Ballet. Or at least not directly. Three companies have traveled to San Francisco with the goal of honoring SF Ballet, presenting works reminiscent of its rich and varied history while also showcasing their own strengths. Probably unintentionally, the evening also focused on relationships.

Traveling the farthest yet almost making the greatest audience impact, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, hailing from the tiny yet regal country of Monaco, presented the U.S. debut of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s “Altro Canto,” a smorgasbord of shapes, pairings, and dramatic imagery set against a never ending backdrop of rising and falling candles. Haunting baroque music played on as the 20 dancers explored ideas of loneliness and tension of relationships. Gender didn’t appear to be much of an issue at first, but as half of the dancers (male and female) were wearing trendy bubble skirts and the other half are wearing corsets and pants (all designed by Karl Lagerfeld), the androgyny question took on the role of white elephant. Maillot likes a show, and there’s no middle ground here. The choreography focuses on relationships of friends and lovers. Chris Roelandt, Jérôme Marchand, and Ramon Gomes Reis crossed and linked hands, creating a fluid wave motion reminiscent of scenes from “Winged Migration” with their arms, producing a beautiful and tender moment on stage. Later several of the men propelled Bernice Coppieters into the air, and she soared, doing an aerial worm up and over the men below. Coppieters and Reis also had a touching yet anger-filled duet: he trying to figure out just how to let her be while still being with her. It’s something we all wrestle with every day. That idea of self, of who we are alone, and who we are with others. Is there compromise or can we continue on this path, never yielding to anyone but ourselves? There’s a downside, though. Maillot tends to rely on big ideas, repetition and canon, and “Altro Canto” feels recycled after the first few sections. Reduce, reuse, and recycle would have worked wonders here, potentially transforming a barely simmering ballet to boiling. The majority of the audience, though, seemed to enjoy it.

The National Ballet of Canada journeyed south of the border to present Matjash Mrozewski’s “A Delicate Battle.” NBC’s dancers displayed strong technique and commanding stage presence, and “Battle” illustrated this well. With white flakes floating from the rafters, seven dancers (including Brett van Sickle, a former apprentice with SF Ballet), dressed in white dancewear, socks, and shoes, piqued into arabesque, flicked their wrists, and turned on a dime. This was crisp and honest ballet, even without pointe shoes. Alejandra Perez-Gomez, Heather Ogden, and Sonia Rodriguez rushed through the stage in 19th century gowns, and Etienne Lavigne, Patrick Lavoie, and Christopher Body chased them through people and falling pieces of white paper until each woman found herself facing the question of who they were and how they were supported: physically, emotionally, and relationship-wise. Perez-Gomez expressed anger and suppression in her pas de deux with Lavigne; she tensed her shoulders but furrowed her brow, and even with the enormous, billowy skirt and high neck of her dress, nothing could constrict her elegant presence or poise.

New York City Ballet brought George Balanchine’s “Duo Concertant,” a pas de duex of fancy, intrigue, and love. A lovely study of romance, opening night featured Yvonne Borree and Jared Angle being inspired by Anton Delmoni playing the violin and Cameron Grant on the piano. Borree projected innocence and coy well, and as she batted her eyes for the first time, you couldn’t help but not like her. But she didn’t quite measure up to Angle’s stage presence. He just projected a certain calmness that, even in his little sauté entournant (jumps in a circle), made him look much more well at ease up on the Opera House stage.

For the most part, the program worked. Plus, it’s a nice change to see other companies here in San Francisco, which is a rarity because if they visit the Bay Area at all, it’s normally in Berkeley. I just wish the end of the program achieved what the first few portions promised. One of the biggest positives of this program is that it offers the company’s own dancers a short but well deserved performance break while rehearsing for the grueling 10 new repertory pieces that are part of the New Works Festival. So here’s to the company’s past successes and future achievements. Salud!

Ramon Gomes Reis and Bernice Coppieters in Maillot's Altro Canto.
Sonia Rodriguez and Christopher Body in Mrozewski's A Delicate Battle.
Yvonne Borree and Jared Angle in Balanchine's Duo Concertant.

All photos © Erik Tomasson

Friday, March 07, 2008

SF Ballet, Program 4

Robbins, the boy wonder
San Francisco Ballet
Program 4
March 6, 2008, 8PM

As San Francisco Ballet celebrates its 75 years of pointe shoes, faux snow, and tulle, it also honors one of America’s best-loved choreographers, Jerome Robbins. Robbins, who passed away 10 years ago, brought out the sass and flair of contemporary ballet. While best known to the average person for rhythmic snapping and double passé hops in the musical and movie versions of “West Side Story,” Robbins made handfu
ls of well-crafted dances over a 54-year career. SF Ballet’s Program 4 showcases three of Robbins’ ballets: his first official jaunt into dancemaking with “Fancy Free”; a retrospective of love and lovers in “In the Night”; and the toe-tapping “West Side Story Suite.”

Dancers, and ballet dancers at that, are normally known for being quiet. They leap quietly, wave and spin their arms to mime when it’s time to dance, and whisper like tiny mice while waiting in the wings. In “West Side Story Suite,” though, they sing, both as a chorus and solos, a reworked and shorted version of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s “West Side Story.” On this opening night, Rory Hohenstein, leading the Jets as Riff, belted out “Cool” while strutting about the stage. His singing was adequate, but he shouldn’t quit his day job. Shannon Roberts, a dark-haired, blue-eyed corps member, shone as the fiery Anita, and along with Nicole Grand as Rosalia, they sang and shimmied their hearts out in “America.” Roberts’ portrayal is a break out performance. Here’s hoping to more golden opportunities for her in the future. As Tony, Garrett Anderson proved that you can dance in Levi’s and loftily leapt across the stage while company member Matthew Stewart sang “Something’s Coming.” Stewart deserves high praise: this is the first time a ballet company member has sung this role (in the past, it’s been filled by a professional). Dores Andre, as Maria, looked lovely, even with little to do, but in the “dream” sequence at the end (“Somewhere Ballet”), the corps members overshadowed her. I’d be curious to see Andre in the lead role in Christopher Wheeldon’s “Carousel (A Dance),” another duet about ill-fated lovers. Pierre-François Vilanoba slithered about as the knife-wielding Bernardo, and peppy Julianne Kepley gave the Jets a little extra pizzazz as the uncredited Graziela. Three cheers to Jean-Pierre Frohlich and Jenifer Ringer; they sure staged a winner, and the audience couldn’t have been happier.

Also on the bill was “In The Night,” which invites us to watch the nighttime tussles and embraces of three couples set against Frederic Chopin’s piano nocturnes. Yuan Yuan Tan and Ruben Martin explored that happy-go-lucky honeymoon stage. Martin looked every part the gentleman, but Tan focused too much on the pretty, the posing, and the audience as if she were dancing Odette and not an “in the flesh” woman in the early stages of love. There was no lack of feeling, though, with Elana Altman and Tiit Helimets. Even with some partnering goofs (he’s just not tall enough for her finger turns), they moved with careful restraint, as if we were peaking through their curtains and looking in on a private moment in their constantly intertwined lives. It’s beautifully tender to watch, especially when she’s tipped upside down, trembling her foot in cou de pied as Helimets slowly spins her right-side up. Perhaps it’s all about finding that sense of balance in life. Lorena Feijoo and Damian Smith complete the trio of duets with a passionate cat and mouse chase, evoking fireworks as they lifted and held each other close. Roy Bogas matched the dancers on the piano, and his performance sounded spectacular all on its own.

“Fancy Free,” a cute little romp with music by Leonard Bernstein, featured Garrett Anderson, Pascal Molat, and Davit Karapetyan as three sailors looking for love, short-term companionship, and/or a beer. These leading men one-upped each other as they battled it out for the affections of Erin McNulty, Vanessa Zahorian, and Mariellen Olson. Zahorian and Anderson’s duet sparkled as the highlight. They stared into each other eyes, beamed brightly, and reminded us of what falling in “like” used to be like. David Arce did all he could as the bartender, but one day I’m secretly hoping he’ll get the girl.

The program, and especially the company’s premiere of “West Side Story Suite,” shows the company's and its dancers variety. It sure is a sweet “Suite.” And how can you say no to that?

San Francisco Ballet in Robbins' "West Side Story Suite."
Elana Altman and Tiit Helimets in Robbins' "In The Night.
Vanessa Zahorian and Garrett Anderson in Robb
ins' "Fancy Free."
All photos © Erik Tomasson

Friday, February 22, 2008

Compañía Nacional de Danza @YBCA

Compañía Nacional de Danza
Presented by San Francisco Performances
Performed at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Program A
Wednesday, February 20, 2008, 8PM

San Francisco houses numerous dance companies, but we don’t have anything quite like Compañía Nacional de Danza. Led by artistic director and choreographer Nacho Duato, the company’s amazingly talented dancers hail from all over the world and what they brought to the Yerba Buena stage last night was something I’ve never experienced. The company, over two hours, explored current and historical issues through powerful contemporary dance and received a well-deserved standing ovation from a full house.

Duato has a style all of his own, stressing the strong use of canon, repetition, rhythm, and justifiable unison. His movement leans towards curves and sweeping limbs with well-placed hops, and themes range from literal to more abstract. Here on the local stage, we were treated to three of his more focused issues: castration, slavery, and drugs, all in some way or another delving into who we are as individuals and in short, how we define ourselves and identify with those around us.

“White Darkness,” Duato’s introspective look at drug use and abuse, brought the crowd to its feet. With sand dropping from above and brushing to and fro, Ana María López, Amaury Lebrun, Soojee Watman, Francisco Lorenzo, África Guzmán, Randy Castillo, Inês Pereira, and Fabrice Edelmann, dressed in reddish black, danced in pairs. They resembled the body and how it responds to drugs: quick and flighty at the onset and lethargic at the end. As the lead couple, Yolanda Martín and Dimo Kirilov swept from one end of the stage, leaping and embracing until she makes a potentially deadly decision. All the while Jaffar Chalabi’s honeycomb-like structure grew and stretched upwards in the background, and the dancers, set, and falling dust continued to morph like a quick-spinning kaleidoscope against Karl Jenkins’ “Adeimus Variations” and “String Quartet No. 2”). Joop Caboort’s lighting design came to fruition at the finale, leaving many to gasp as the beauty of sand, body, and shadow.

“Castrati” opened with eight male dancers (including Dimi Kirilov, Isaac Montllor, Clyde Archer, Joel Toledo, Fabrice Edelmann, Francisco Lorenzo, Amaury Lebrun, and Héctor Torres) dressed in long sleeveless black capes and nude cropped pants moving through Karl Jenkins’ “Palladio.” Mental images of De Beers commercials quickly flashed in my mind, but retreated. These men were as durable as diamonds, but they caressed the stage with liquid strength and agility, lifting each other in arabesque-like positions and pushing their hands up and out as if they were offering themselves to the audience and something higher. Stein Flujt, as the latest to lose his manliness, showed compassion and thoughtfulness; he moved softly yet with a deep determination. Duato’s choreography showed these men as that: men. Even when castrated, they had their brawn, and they were a force to be reckoned with.

With sweeping backdrops by Walter Nobbe, Duato’s softer, more introspective “Rassemblement” explores slavery and resistance through Toto Bissainthe’s Haitian music and song, but it didn’t have the same force that the other two did. Slavery is a touchy subject, and to have mainly white people dancing about it is, well, ironic and hard to swallow. And yet to watch these dancers portray slaves, their feelings of resistance, their attempts to reject the ways of their captors and spin what is given to them into something of their very own: that held its own unique power unto itself. The final product, performed by Ana María López, Kayoko Everhart, Yolanda Martín, África Guzmán, Francisco Lorenzo, Mathieu Rouvière, Joel Toledo, and Isaac Montllor (with cameos by Gentian Doda and Fabrice Edelmann), weaved together a dramatic display of heart and fortitude.

Nacho Duato choreographs in big, bold gestures and it’s not something that can be ignored. His fervent success has been heard around the globe, and I hope it echoes here for many years to come.

Photo courtesy of Compañía Nacional de Danza

Monday, February 11, 2008

Company Ea Sola @ YBCA

Company Ea Sola, "Drought and Rain, Vol. 2"
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
February 6, 2008

Generally, the thought of Vietnam might bring to mind hot, flavorful pho; communism; and Lyndon Johnson, but modern dance and performance art probably don’t surface. Company Ea Sola’s “Drought and Rain, Vol.2” may change your mind.

Sola left home country at the end of the Vietnam War and lived in Paris for about a decade, where she explored movement in both formal and informal settings. Focusing on war and the responsibility and effects it has on individuals and a people as a whole, Sola incorporates dance, live music and vocals, projected images and text, and props, creating a multi-dimensional and potent 45 minutes of theater. Her dancers come from the Vietnam Opera Ballet of Hanoi, and while not having strong technique in traditional ballet and modern dance, they moved effectively enough, tiptoeing like a knock-kneed little child early on and, by the end, fully engrossing their entire bodies in Sola’s ideas and concept.

One of the most powerful images came when the dancers presented portraits of those touched by war. A scorching red glow fired down from above, and 16 hands, palms side up, reached out. There’s blood painted on these hands, even if they didn’t cause, participate in, or support war itself; everyone is connected to war. And this is what Sola’s work is ultimately getting at. How do we treat war? How much responsibility do we have for our community’s previous, past, and future actions? And how do we emotionally process this into our own consciousness? Sola says that her choreographic approach is “like an animal. I don’t have a lot thinking, but a lot of feeling.” The eight dancers gesture, shake, pause, and walk. The women’s hair flies naturally as they slide and lunge, looking uniform in their black tops and pants as the men jump about in colorful pants, shirts, and shorts. There’s rarely interaction between their bodies, adding a feeling of solitude, and there’s a definite end game in sight. The laid-back structure may seem muddled in certain moments, but what Sola lacks in choreographic structure and traditional dancemaking, she and her dancers make up for in heart and effort.

Photo © Company Ea Sola

Saturday, February 02, 2008

SF Ballet, Program 2

How Sweet It Is
San Francisco Ballet, Program 2
January 31, 2008

Thursday a few colleagues and I went to celebrate the last day of “Dine About Town” with a prix fixe lunch at Fringale, a lovely little French restaurant just a few blocks from work. Our appetizers and entrees hit the spot (I savored the couscous with mushroom and chestnut ragout and white truffle oil- how divine!), but by the time we were faced with dessert, we stood perplexed. Should we each order what our hearts desired, or do we agree to order one of each of the three choices and share amongst each other? We went with the latter, and boy, were we happy. Our mixed bill of a warm chocolate gourmand, hazelnut and roasted almond mousse cake, and apple tart tatin pleased all of the senses, and we came away with an appreciation for how each dessert complemented the other. The same could be said for Program 2 of San Francisco Ballet’s current season. Featuring works by Balanchine, Morris, and Possokhov, there was something for everyone, and while each work could hold their own on the expansive Opera House stage, the evening closed with a sense of well-deserved completeness.

The evening opened with George Balanchine’s “Divertimento No. 15,” set to music by Mozart. Balanchine has become synonymous with American ballet, so perhaps this was the program’s equivalent to my lunch’s apple tart. Showcasing musicality and pure, codified ballet, the work followed a theme of crisp 5th positions, deep pliés, pure balanced attitudes, and long, sweeping penchés. Kristin Long energized the stage with her feet of fury, and Gennadi Nedvigin is a man who knows how to maximize his plié, showing off luscious jumps, beats, and pirouettes that all seemed to melt and then spring upward from his ankles to the rafters. The principal cast also included Frances Chung, Rachel Viselli, Katita Waldo, Vanessa Zahorian, Nicolas Blanc, and Hansuke Yamamoto. All looked well-rehearsed, except for Yamamoto, who was a late addition, and this may just not be his forte.

Mark Morris’ “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes” brought Virgil Thomson’s score to life as a visual cornucopia of notes, beats, pauses, and rhythms. A highlight of the evening, the cast, dressed in conservative yet flowy white attire, looked comfortable yet fresh in the stripped down, unaffected movement. Anthony Spaulding invited us to share the moment as he gracefully balancéd (think waltzing) side to side, and Maria Kochetkova delighted, bounding with zest in her jetes. Courtney Elizabeth shone throughout, her smile reaching past the last rows of seats and out onto Van Ness and elegance radiating through her limbs and out the top of her bun. Rory Hohenstein looked at home in the relaxed movement and overall style; he truly is a chameleon of the trade. Morris knows how to create a work of art, and here, he's spun ballet on it's side, infusing it with a warm summer's day and a cool winter's night to create an effortless array of well-developed and joyous-to-watch movement. “Drink to Me,” though, was a true ensemble piece, and it wouldn’t have been as effective without the entire cast, which also included Elana Altman, Dores Andre, Ruben Martin, Elizabeth Miner, Pascal Molat, Garen Scribner, James Sofranko, and Sarah Van Patten. Nataly’a Feygina played the piano upstage center with ferocious abandon.

Yuri Possokov’s theatrical “Firebird” made an encore appearance. A brief 35 minutes, this is a short story for the kid in you. There’s love, intrigue, giggles, a chase scene, eunuchs cavorting about, and a glittering, orange, leggy bird with a wig. The contemporary set design by Yuri Zukov includes anime-like trees, a spare red “town”, and at one key moment, sweeping grayish fabric for a quick scene change. But even though Pascal Molat’s sinister Karchei had captured the princess (an endearing Rachel Viselli) and her fellow friends, and entrapped our prince-of-the-day (Damian Smith) in a Red Vine-like curly enclosure, in this universe, Yuan Yuan Tan, as the Firebird, ruled. With each spin or lift in Smith’s arms and leap towards Molat, the audience grew quieter and quieter, seeming to bow to her spellbinding ability to twist, turn, and sparkle at every moment. Martin West conducted the thumping San Francisco Ballet Orchestra. “Firebird” may not be the best ballet has to offer, but it sure did end the night with a loud round of applause and a smile on many faces.

You’re probably wondering which one I liked the most. Well, I’ll be honest: it was the chocolate gourmand. Pure, self-indulging, and rich down to the last bite. Just how I like ‘em.

Vanessa Zahorian and Kristin Long in Balanchine's "Divertimento No.15."
San Francisco Ballet in Morris' "Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes."
Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith in Possokhov's "Firebird."
All photos © Erik Tomasson.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Compañía Nacional de Danza

¡Bailamos! Nacho Duato’s Compañía Nacional de Danza to debut in San Francisco at the end of the month

Nacho Duato’s Compañía Nacional de Danza will soar in and make its San Francisco debut at the end of February. Duato studied at the Rambert School in London, Maurice Bejart’s Mudra School in Brussels, and The Alvin Ailey American Dance Center in New York before pursuing a professional career, dancing with the Cullberg Ballet and Nederlands Dans Theater before trying
his hand at choreography in 1983. Since then, he’s created renowned works for companies all across the globe, and his company, based in Madrid, Spain, is known for its strong dancers and unpretentious style, boasting 27 dancers and a well-regarded second company.

Kayoko Everhart, a dancer with the main company, trained for several years here in San Francisco and graciously agreed to answer a few questions about her formal dance training, performing career, and current experiences with CND in advance of the company's West Coast visit.

How did you get started in dance? What is your background and training?

The women in my family were very much involved with dance. My mother danced in a well-known theater/dance group in Tokyo, my aunt and cousin were competitive ballroom dancers, and my grandmother did traditional Japanese dance. Her last show was at the age of 92... I think she's about 96 now. I trained [for] nearly 10 years under Kay Englert at Washington Contemporary Ballet in Tacoma, WA. Then, in 2000 San Francisco Ballet School offered me a tuition scholarship to join the school. I had attended 2 summer programs with SF Ballet School before attending the [residency] program.

You studied at the Washington Contemporary Ballet and San Francisco Ballet, working with
well-known dancers and artistic directors. How did your training prepare you for a professional career in dance?

My training at WA Contemporary Ballet gave me a strong base in classical ballet as well as in contemporary movement. Without it I wouldn't have gotten into SF Ballet School. I was given many opportunities to perform with the company while I was in San Francisco, and that definitely help to build an awareness of how everything functions in a professional company. The most valuable training I received was the time spent on stage and of course the time spent preparing for the performances.

Prior to Compañía Nacional de Danza, you danced with Tulsa Ballet and CNDII [the “second”
company of CND]. What were these experiences like, and how do they differ from CND?

Tulsa Ballet is a mixed rep company, meaning they do a wide range of pieces from classical to modern. It's very interesting to have to constantly change styles. Being in CND2 was a great experience. It's a group of 14 dancers all between the ages of 17-24 from many different countries so we all had a lot of fun touring together. CND2 performs most of Nacho's older pieces, as well as choreographies by CND1 dancers, other up-and-coming choreographers, as well as pieces by the Co Artistic Director of CND2 Tony Fabre. The atmosphere in the 1st company is very different from the 2nd. The dancers are older and more experienced so there's a lot I can learn just by watching and being around them. Because there are twice as many people in the 1st company the group is not as closely knit. It did take some adjusting in the beginning.

What spurred your move to Spain and your inclination to join CNDII and, ultimately, CND?

I was given my first opportunity to dance a Nacho Duato piece (“Arenal”) while I was at Tulsa Ballet, and I quickly fell in love with the style. It's organic, and I felt very comfortable doing his movement. After some urging from a close friend, I decided to fly to Madrid for the audition. I didn't know much about the company at the time, and had never been to Spain, let alone Europe, but I knew I would be happy dancing his ballets. After being in CND2 there was no question about wanting to be in CND1.

Here in the US, companies often hire international dancers. How has your transition from American to European life progressed? And what differences or similarities have you experienced? How's your Spanish?

Naturally, I was ecstatic about joining CND2 and moving to Spain, but at the same time it was very unnerving to be in a country where I had no friends or family, and where I didn't speak the language. I started studying Spanish right away, but it took about a year to feel comfortable using the Spanish that I had learned. These days I can understand nearly everything and speak well enough to express myself. The lifestyle in Spain is comfortable and laid-back, but there are many smaller comforts that I miss about the US like all the 24hr stores and the huge number of choices at the supermarket.

What are some of your favorite works to perform? And will you be dancing any of them on tour?

While I was dancing with CND2 my favorites to perform were “Arenal,” “Na Floresta,” and “Rassemblement” (which I'll be performing on Feb 21). My current favorites with CND1 are “Herrumbre,” “White Darkness” (Feb 21), and “Por Vos Muero” (Feb 24).

Describe one of your favorite moments with CND and/or CNDII.

I was lucky enough to join CND1 in the middle of last season (Jan 2007), and my second tour with the company was to Yokohama, Japan. It's where my sister and nephew live, and it's just next to Tokyo where I was born and where my mother's family lives. My parents flew out from Tacoma, WA to see the show. I was completely nervous because it was my premiere with the 1st company, and it was the first time for all of my friends and family in Japan to see me dance, but in the end it was a great and memorable experience! I'm really thrilled that my 96-year-old grandmother got to see me perform.

With your, albeit brief, return to San Francisco, are there any places you hope to visit? Or favorite restaurants or places in the city you aim to revisit?

Most important on my agenda is to get in contact with old friends. It's been 6 years since my last visit to San Francisco, and that was only for a few days. If I have any time left after that I'll probably rediscover the city a bit.... walk around Fisherman's Wharf, Haight-Ashbury, Golden Gate Park, or Ocean Beach. Maybe I'll even ride a cable car, which I never did when I lived in San Francisco.

You can see Compañía Nacional de Danza February 20-24 (off-day on February 22), 2008 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Compañía Nacional de Danza is presented by San Francisco Performances.

Program A, February 20-21 includes:
    Rassemblement - (Music Toto Bissainthe from Haitian folk songs)
    Castrati - (Music Antonio Vivaldi [Nisi Dominus RV 608; Stabat Mater RV 621; Salve Regina RV 616; Concerto RV 439 “La notte”], Karl Jenkins [Palladio])
    White Darkness - (Music Karl Jenkins [Adiemus Variations, String Quartet No. 2])
Both performances are at 8PM.

Program B, February 23 (8PM) and 24 (2PM) includes:
    Gilded Goldbergs – US Premiere (Music: Robin Holloway)
    Gnawa (Music by Hassan Hakmoun/Adam Rudolph (Gift of the Gnawa, Ma’Bud Allah)
    Por Vos Muero (Music: Old Spanish music—fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (Cançons de la Catalunya millenària—
    El Mestre, popular music of Catalonia by La Capella Reial de Catalunya, directed by Jordi Savall; Canciones y Danzas de España; and España, Antología de la Música Española)
More information can be found at San Francisco Performances’ website,

Photos courtesy of Compañía Nacional de Danza.

Friday, January 25, 2008

SF Ballet's 75th Anniversary Gala

San Francisco Ballet
75th Anniversary Gala
War Memorial Opera House
anuary 23, 2008

San Francisco Ballet’s 75th anniversary officially kicked off last night with the Diamond Gala Celebration, an evening-long tribute to America’s oldest professional ballet company. The evening
’s performance portion opened with the "Star Spangled Banner" and a welcome and salute to past Christensen Medals awardees hosted by Board Co-Chairs Pamela Joyner and James Herbert (who was presented with his own medal onstage), and what followed was a lengthy but congratulatory tribute to the company.

First to take the stage (at least in pointe shoes and slippers) were advanced-level students of San Francisco Ballet School, performing excerpts of the American premiere John Niemeyer’s “Yondering,” a work that examines the transition from adolescent to adult (and with nice, expressive choreography to boot). What a joy it was to see these young dancers perform on the mainstage! They leaped, sautéd, and spun with crisp attack and flowing, natural epaulment.

th 14 former SF Ballet principal dancers onstage as the “audience,“ Rachel Viselli and Damian Smith coyly moved through an excerpt from Sir Kenneth Macmillan’s “Elite Syncopations. Following a season-ending knee injury last year, Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun returned to the stage with Molly Smolen, Brett Bauer, and Aaron Orza. All four looked wonderful technique wise, but former Principal Dancer Parrish Maynard’s “Secret Places” couldn’t quite hold it’s own. Sizzling in Helgi Tomasson’s “Two Bits,” Gennadi Nedvigin commanded the stage out with his soft yet powerful persona, and Katita Waldo boldly piquéd to and fro as his female equal.

Sarah Van Patten and Pierre-François Vilanoba brought the lulls of dreams and romance to the stage in the pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s “Carousel (A Dance).” But one of the low points of the evening came with Wade Robson‘s “The Energy Between Us,” set to music by Télépop Musik. Robson, of Britney Spears/N’Sync/“So You Think You Can Dance?” fame, choreographed this thankfully short ballet, which featured Pauli Magierek and Rory Hohenstein as the slinky “Us.“ Frances Chung, Julianne Kepley, Jaime Garcia Castilla, and Matthew Stewart, all of star quality on their own, overtly played the part of some funky energy (imagine red kimonos, red shoes, red striped eye makeup, and spiky Mohawks for the women), but the choreography was so simplistic that I was offended. Really, all six of these dancers deserve much more than an MTV/FOX mishmash of second-rate choreography. Luckily there were seven more pieces to make up my disappointment.

Sofiane Sylve, who has joined the company for the first five programs as a guest principal artist, and corps de ballet member Anthony Spaulding presented Hans van Manen‘s “Two Pieces for Het (for Rachel)” with intense heat. Sylve, with the requisite pillow-like feet and incredible extension, swept across the stage as if she’s been here in the Bay Area for years, but it was Spaulding who exceeded all expectations, rising to the occasion and equaling Sylve in just about every way. I have high hopes for him in the future.

Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan danced José Martinez’ “Delibes Suite,” dressed in lovely deep bluish purple costumes designed by Agnès Letestu. Karapetyan moved admirably, but Zahorian stole the show with her impressive and successive display of relevés and spot-on-a-dime piqué turns. Pascal Molat and Nicolas Blanc added a little humor and wit to the evening in an excerpt from Renato Zanella’s “Alles Walzer,” and their “who can outdo the other” mentality brought jolly chuckles from the seats around me. Tina LeBlanc, another dancer who has returned after undergoing knee surgery, joined Ruben Martin in the heartfelt adagio from Tomasson’s “Sonata.” LeBlanc proved she is the epitome of a ballerina, easily fusing her amazingly fine technique with the intangible quality of performance. There was no turn, head tilt, or arabesque; instead, there was "the dance," and over and over again, you felt for her and with her. Roy Bogas and David Kadarauch accompanied them splendidly on the piano and cello respectively.

Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada brought a little tradition to the stage with the pas de deux from “La Esmeralda.” Kochetkova, with her sly échappés and forceful grand battements, captivated the audience with her charm and phrasing, but Boada didn’t quite measure up, hurrying his jetés and pirouettes while not quite finishing each movement. Changing things up, Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith flowed in Edwaard Liang’s “Distant Cries,” an ever-moving river of lifts, reaching, and grasps. Liang designed the costumes: Tan in a light colored dress and Smith in black pants, and both dancers looked effortless, moving through the cornucopia of shapes and feelings with complete abandon.

Aptly, the finale from George Balanchine’s stately “Diamonds” closed out the evening. Featuring Zahorian and Karapetyan, the company courted and promenaded, but somehow the stage looked slightly cluttered. Zahorian and Karapetyan, though, soared through, leading the evening to a close with rounding applause during the company bows, compete with confetti and a balloon drop from overhead. The evening's performance wrapped up at 11:20PM, and not a moment to soon. Forty minutes later, I would have turned into a pumpkin. But that’s a totally different ballet!

Photo Credits:
San Francisco Ballet School Students in Neumeier's "Yondering" © Chris Hardy
France Chung, Julianne Kepley, and Pauli Magierek in Robson's "The Energy Between Us" © Erik Tomasson
Sofiane Sylve and Anthony Spaulding in van Manen's "Two Pieces For Het (for Rachel)" © Chris Hardy
Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan in Martinez' "Delibes Suite" © Chris Hardy
Maria Kochetkova in Perrot's "La Esmeralda" © Erik Tomasson
Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith in Liang's "Distant Cries" © Chris Hardy