Monthly Archives: April 2013

San Francisco Ballet’s Program 6

Looking for more recent and/or specific dance reviews? You can find all those links HERE


When you’re a mixed-bill sort of ballet patron and not a devotee of the full-length story ballets, performances like San Francisco Ballet’s Program 6 give you everything you could ask for. Saturday (April 20, 2013) afternoon’s first ballet, the third act of Nureyev’s Raymonda (restaged from Pepita’s 1898 original) dropped me right into the dazzle and intoxicating festivity of a story-ballet wedding day. The set was opulent and mesmerizing, a medieval Hungarian palace brought to life onstage, all creams and gold, ornate columns, candles and icons. The dancing commenced with an enormous ensemble, corps de ballet couples that filled the stage in appealing Hungarian-style attire, the women’s skirts gorgeous and flowing, all the costumes detailed with fur, feathers, gold. Glazunov’s sweeping score, further, is just plain fun, and the orchestra played it wonderfully.

“Exuberant” best describes the dancing, from the opening ensemble through the solo variations, the Pas de Trois, the Pas de Quatre, all the way to Raymonda’s famous and famously difficult “clap” variation. It’s a damned busy ballet, in truth. In doing a little research, I learned the Act III excerpt is more commonly performed over the full-length ballet, and that Nureyev, in his 1969  restaging, pulled three solos from other parts of the full-length ballet and inserted them into Act III. Makes sense to me. And it explains better why Act III feels so packed with dance, so relentlessly driven (Nureyev liked to make his dancers work), from start to finish.

Much of the choreography remains carefully stylized, the epitome of Mariinsky classicism, and requires a different skill set for the San Francisco Ballet dancers who divide their repertoire equally between the classics and contemporary ballet (the latter of which they are peerless at). The character of Raymonda, in particular has very specific challenges in her solo variation. There are tons of bourées, easy on the eye but deceptively hard for the dancer, not to mention the passage of lightning-quick passés to fifth position. There are little hops en pointe, the occasional Anna Pavlova-esque glance over the shoulder, the arms coyly folded. Coming out of a tour-jeté, Raymonda’s focus shifts downward, toward the floor beneath her feet. If you’ve ever done a tour-jeté, focusing your spotting across the stage to maintain balance after the 180 degree revolution, you could appreciate the challenge, the quirky nature of this landing. Raymonda’s gaze remains downward, her body folding into a demi-plié afterward as if she’s sort of wilted. It’s vintage Pepita, Old World classical, with a touch of earthiness and sensuality injected by Nureyev in his restaging.

Principal Lorena Feijoo played the part of Raymonda flawlessly, nailing the distinct nature of the czardas-like reposes, her chin held high, her hand touching the back of her head, as well as producing the decisive claps punctuating the pirouette passages. She was proud, sassy, noble, spirited. My admiration for Feijoo is compounded by the recently-learned news that she is a new mother and has just recently resumed a full onstage presence after time off for maternity leave. Wow. So very impressive.

Here’s a link to the production:

The second piece on the program was Val Caniparoli’s Ibsen’s House, which portrays five female characters taken from iconic Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s best known plays. Ibsen, in his work, liked to challenge rigid Victorian conventions about respectability, marriage, women’s place in society, and the ballet highlights the pathos and angst of these five women. Bold, dramatic, decisive female dancing, starting with Frances Chung, whose steely muscularity and determined expression and body language served the role well. Her greatest competition for my attention, however, was the music: Dvorák’s Piano Quintet no. 2. Oh, my goodness, this piece of music is a favorite of mine. Being a classical music lover and a violin student, not to mention having an excellent view of the quintet, well, it sort of upstaged the dancing in my heart. In the best of ways, mind you. And as musicians for the ballet rarely get the shout-out they deserve, allow me a moment to say thank you, Loma Mar Quartet* and pianist Roy Bogas. Their performance was so very good; it was hard to know where to focus my attention.

Three corps dancers shared the lead roles alongside Frances Chung and Sarah Van Patten, which always gives me a frisson of pleasure to see. They were Marie-Claire D’Lyse (used in a soloist capacity, as well, in Raymonda), Kimberly Braylock and Ellen Rose Hummel. Particularly memorable was D’Lyse, with her striking lean, elegant lines (long limbs, long neck, and works them well). The five women took their turns dancing solo and with partners (Sarah Van Patten and Daniel Deivison were especially mesmerizing). When dancing together, the quintet of women produced a wonderful ensemble effect. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the corps dancers of this company are among the best in the business. I’d love to see them all promoted to soloist. (Speaking of corps dancers with tremendous merit, I was sorry to learn that lovely, talented Madison Keesler will be leaving the SFB corps at the end of this season to join the English National Ballet. Our loss!)

And finally, Symphonic Dances, choreographed by Edwaard Liang, set to Rachmaninov’s music of the same name. Beautiful, diaphanous costumes in autumn hues. Grouped up couples, six principals, four soloists, eight corps de ballet couples. So very pleasing to the eye, the ear, this ballet. Really enjoyable to watch and again, as a classical music lover I was over the moon, relishing both sight and sound. I didn’t want the ballet to end. I didn’t want the afternoon to end. Among the dancers, I particularly enjoyed the partnership of Yuan Yuan Tan and Luke Ingham. I haven’t seen Yuan Yuan Tan onstage in a while, and she is as lovely and compelling as ever. Luke Ingham, new to the company this year, coming in as a soloist, likely had a tough bill to fill, partnering up with the iconic Tan (joined as a soloist in 1995, made principal in 1997), but his performance drew no complaints from me. He made his partner shine and never upstaged her: that, in truth, is a big part of the male dancer’s role. (I’m thinking I should duck about right now, dodging the hurled tomatoes for such a comment.)

A lovely ballet, and with its agreeable choreography, gorgeous costumes, lush, cinematic music, I would have thought this one would hold onto “favorite ballet of the show” status for me. But here we are, a week later, I’m composing my final notes, and darned if it isn’t that story-ballet Raymonda Act III that I’m remembering. I wonder if this means it’s time for me to go beyond my mixed bill preference. Hmmm.

Until next season, San Francisco Ballet!

*Members of the Loma Mar Quartet performing on Saturday: Krista Bennion Feeney, Anca Nicolau, David Cerruti, and Myron Lutzke


PS: A good story here, on how I got to see this performance for only $14:

PPS: if you enjoyed this you might enjoy my review of Program 4 and Program 3


Dancer warrior hero: Adrianne Haslet-Davis

In the midst of my efforts to produce a blog-worthy review of San Francisco Ballet’s Program 6, which I attended last Saturday, this dance news arose, something too important not to blog about. Adrianne Haslet-Davis is a dancer, a ballroom dance instructor who was running the Boston Marathon when a bomb exploded right next to her. She lost her foot.

What’s so notable about this, the tragedy of her loss aside, is how she is getting up out of that hospital bed, willing to talk to people, the media, adopting an astonishing “can do,” or more like “I WILL do” attitude about it all. She will return to dance. She will return to run the Boston Marathon again.

Honestly, people like this are one of the reasons I chose to blog, so I could shout out my support and admiration to the whole world. Adrianne Haslet-Davis, you are a warrior woman and a hero and an inspiration to hundreds of thousands (sure to be millions in no time) of people, dancers and non-dancers alike. But especially dancers, I’m going to guess.

Here is a wonderful BBC interview of her. It astonishes me, the way she comports herself with such grace, dignity, candor. What a woman.

And here is an article from the Huffington Post about her:

My next post will be about the San Francisco Ballet’s Program 6, I promise. But this one just had to come first.


Thank You, Adult Ballerina Project!

What I’m enjoying most about stepping out into the blogosphere, is discovering all the wonderful people out there who are creating blogs and sites and inviting readers into their worlds, their experiences. Ballet is one of those things that your average neighbor isn’t going to strike up a conversation about, or know how to reply when you natter on about that grande allegro combination that so troubled you in class the previous week. Or the bunion cropping up that makes demi-pointe hurt so much. Or the bargain you got on tights last week – what a coup! But thanks to the Internet, here, at my fingertips, are chronicles of adult beginners at ballet, seasoned dancers, dance teachers and writers, all of whom share this same interest, this hunger to dig ever deeper into the craft, the art, of ballet. Through Dance Advantage, I found the link to Adult Ballerina Project, two great sites, both of which have prompted me, as well, to finally create a blog roll.

I want to offer a special shouted out THANK YOU to Adult Ballerina Project, for giving me the opportunity to talk about my ballet past in a recent interview. I had a lot of fun compiling replies to the questions about dance, what I liked and didn’t, what made me stop and what made me return. You can check out the full interview (and you KNOW you want to) here:

Now that I’ve got this nifty blog roll set up, drop me a line if you’re a dance blogger and would like me to include a link to your site there. Or feel free to post a link to your blog below, in comments, so that others stopping by can go take a peek at your site as well. It’s all about sharing the experience, and the more the merrier!

Thank you Nichelle, from Dance Advantage, and Kristen, from Adult Ballerina Project, for helping me get to better know this lovely online ballet world! May it only be the beginning.

Bombs or Ballet?

This week’s headlines…

  • Boston Bombing Suspect Killed in Shootout
  • Texas Fertilizer Plant Blast kills up to 15, with over 60 injured
  • Death Toll Rises to 32 in Iraq Café Suicide Bombing

These unfortunate headlines demonstrate a stark, inescapable facet of today’s world. Bombs. Violence. Death. Chaos. We live in violent times, bitterly relevant times. And then here’s me with my ballet post, my Tweets and Facebook shout-outs (peddling this blog:, telling people to hurry over and see a ballet dancer because she’s very pretty and graceful and you will swoon and it will be great, you’ll see.

Is ballet unnecessary or fluffy or irrelevant? Should I feel ashamed of my priorities, my preferences? Possibly. There’s room for all sorts of unappealing emotions in my psyche. But here’s the thing: for the past two days, I’ve needed it to retreat into. I’ve needed to go to a place of beauty and grace that’s separate from the chaos, the grim headlines.

I can’t change what’s going on in the world today. I won’t hide from it. I’ll process the tragic news with the dignity and respect it deserves. I’ll help where/when I can, and support those who fight for justice, peace, a better world. But at the end of the day (or, today, eight o’clock in the morning), I’ll slip away to spend some time with my lighter fare.

“Lighter fare” is, perhaps, the wrong word. The arts exist on a different realm. They represent explorations of all those complex emotions and snarled situations that waft in and out of our lives. They try to express the inexpressible. They explore the pathos in beauty, and the beauty in pathos. They lift us out of the everyday muck and allow us a glimpse of the bigger picture.

In my last blog, I extolled the virtues of “Old World” ballet, that era of beauty and charm and gorgeous classical music. Royal Ballet principal Alina Cojocaru is a stellar example of this and a link to her sublime dancing can be found on the post I linked above. But for today, I’m thinking I need a dose of Damian Smith and Yuan-Yuan Tan in Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain (filmed outdoor, the Pacific Ocean as a stunning backdrop). It reminds me that, after the rain, after the bombing, can come the healing. Watching it, listening to the hauntingly beautiful music, something tight in me loosens. Something else, loose and ungrounded in me, settles, finds its place.

A must watch. Really. I must insist. And you’ll see for yourself just how relevant the arts can, and should be, in today’s world.

Artist Spotlight: Alina Cojocaru


Alina Cojocaru, one of my favorite ballet dancers to watch, is a principal with the English National Ballet in London (as of fall 2013). She looks like she’s fifteen, but she’s looked that way for decades now. She’s tiny, but she does so much with her size, you don’t think “petite.” Long limbs go a long way in helping her look just the right size onstage. (It’s tough for ballet dancers under 5’5”. If you’re under 5’3”, even harder. Cojocaru is 5’2”.)

I love her because watching her makes me smile. It makes me forget myself. It makes the nagging, edgy, incessant voices in my head go quiet. There’s no analysis of her technique as I watch. There’s just the joy of watching her be joyful. She makes me believe in storybook fairy tale princesses and happily-ever-afters, even as my cynical side scoffs that there’s no such thing. But an accomplished ballet dancer is also an illusionist: her performance allow you to suspend any disbelief. Believe again in magic. Feel it, all around you, seep into you.

Here’s Alina Cojocaru, at age 25, as Aurora in the Rose Adagio from the ballet, The Sleeping Beauty. (This was during her Royal Ballet days.) Go check it out.

[Editor’s note on March 19, 2014: heartbreakingly, they removed the gorgeous video clip. Sob! Here is a link to a pirated copy. She’s sooooo good that her talent breaks through the icky nature of seeing someone’s bootleg version. It’s a “better than nothing” glimpse, in my mind:]

And here she is, in a different variation, but still as Aurora.


Now allow me to share an article, by The Guardian’s Luke Jennings, on what makes this rendition of Cojocaru’s particularly impressive and astonishing.

I have to say, there are many ballet dancers in the world who are so technically accomplished and talented that your eyes pop out, but there are far fewer who manage that along with projecting an organic innocent delight. Alina Cojocaru, as Aurora, seems to be discovering the beauty of ballet, of art, of movement, as if for the first time, and there’s a delight and amazement not just on the face, but emanating from her, filling the stage, filling your heart as you watch.


A few details: Cojocaru was born and raised in Bucharest, Romania. She started off in gymnastics first and was nine when she shifted to ballet. She was almost immediately singled out, chosen by the director of the Kiev Ballet to take part in a student exchange program, which meant leaving home, her native country and language behind, to focus on ballet. In 1997, she won the gold medal at the Prix de Lausanne, at the age of fifteen, and her future was launched. Here are a few interviews that share more of her story, one from 2011 and one from 2001

I’ll close my swooning praise of her with a second YouTube clip that had me equally mesmerized, for different reasons, and a different role entirely. It’s a Swan Lake pas de deux, out in the open air, in Denmark and it rains on her and her partner (fellow Royal Ballet principal and Cojocaru’s offstage partner as well, Johan Kobborg, who also left the Royal Ballet in 2013). There’s misty, bucolic scenery, like something out of a dream. As is her performance: exquisite in every way. A jaw-dropping partnered pirouette with nine rotations. Or more. I lost count. She did it a second time too. Oh, my. And the way she can hold her en pointe arabesques and extensions a la seconde. It seems to defy gravity. Her technique and artistry seem to defy the rules of being mortal.

In the end, isn’t that why we all love our prima ballerinas? They make us believe in magic once again. And it’s a beautiful, beautiful place to return to.