Monthly Archives: April 2014

My 100th Post! (Plus a Table of Contents)

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Today I bid farewell to the double digits, as 99 posts shifts over to 100. An exciting moment for me – I think I need to celebrate the occasion with cake and champagne. Care to join me? But before that, care to join me in a look back on the last 100 posts? In fact, what this site needs, I now realize, is a Table of Contents. Sure, you can click on Archives, scrolling through them a month at a time, or a category at a time. But that’s a lot of potential scroll fatigue. So how about this – here’s a list of posts/blogs/essays by category. Some are hyperlinked, some aren’t. I’ve yet to discover whether the stress of 100 linked posts will make my blog implode. If you want to read one that’s not hyperlinked, select and cut/paste it into “search.”

Okay, here we go. And BTW, if you see an asterisk in front of a title, it means it’s a post that has drawn a lot of readers. “What do ballet dancers eat?” in particular, draws readers in the triple digits on a daily basis. Cool! Love it when that happens!

First, ballet…

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Then, classical music…

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Next, the violin…

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And now, life…

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Culminating with Classical Girl’s fiction in “The Writing Life”

Thank you, thank you, readers and family and friends and all who’ve stopped by The Classical Girl to read one of my yarns. I soooo very much appreciate all of you!

And now, something about a promised glass of champagne, right?

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San Francisco Ballet’s Triple Treat: Maelstrom, Caprice, Rite of Spring

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It was a night for music lovers, not just ballet lovers, last Saturday at the San Francisco Ballet. Beethoven’s Piano Trio no. 1, Saint Saens’ Symphony no. 2 (injected with the sublime 2nd movement from his Symphony no. 3) and Stravinsky’s iconic The Rite of Spring. We are so fortunate, we of the San Francisco Bay Area, to have such quality music performances available, and not just from the Symphony across the street. Music director Martin West and the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra did a knock-up job Saturday night. The Rite of Spring, in particular, was astonishing.

The night’s dancing, too, was sublime. There was Mark Morris’ Maelstrom, twenty years after its premiere, the first of eight ballets the San Francisco Ballet has commissioned from him. Caprice, a world premiere this season from SFB artistic director Helgi Tomasson. Yuri Possokhov’s The Rite of Spring, a reprise from last year’s premiere that itself commemorated the centennial of the ballet’s first turbulent, riot-provoking Paris debut. Great stuff.

More about the opener, Mark Morris’ Maelstrom. Morris’s choreography is widely acclaimed for its musicality, craftsmanship and ingenuity. More of a modern choreographer at heart, he likes to push the boundaries on what constitutes classical movement. The result is neoclassicism tinted with modern, a flexed foot or hand thrown in, a pause in an inelegant position. Twenty years after its premiere, the ballet still looks fresh and interesting. The dancing felt rather busy in the first movement, however, with small groups of dancers repeating the same combinations, only some a few counts behind, producing a quasi-confused swirl of syncopated (and sometimes not) dancers, which I guess is a good definition of a maelstrom as well. The cast was a fourteen member ensemble. It was hard for me to follow which dancer was which. (Notable, in spite of this, were Sarah Van Patten and Sasha de Sola.) But it’s to the corps de ballet dancers’ credit that, often, I couldn’t even discern rank. Bravo (bravi?) to dancers Shannon Rugani, Steven Morse, Julia Rowe, Lee Alexandra Meyer-Lorey, Jeremy Rucker, Wei Wang. You all looked great amid your higher ranked peers.

Sasha De Sola and Steven Morse in Morris' Maelstrom. © Erik Tomasson

Sasha De Sola and Steven Morse in Morris’ Maelstrom.
© Erik Tomasson

A musical treat: a live piano trio, just off stage right, in the pit. Musicians—violinist Kay Stern, cellist Eric Sung, Roy Bogas on the piano—did a wonderful job. Beethoven’s Piano Trio no. 1 is nicknamed the “Ghost” trio for the ghostly beauty of second movement. It all worked so well, music and dancers and musicians. 

Hopping ahead to Possokhov’s The Rite of Spring, last year’s premiere celebrating the centennial of the 1913 Ballets Russes production, deemed so unorthodox it incited riots outside its Paris theater. Stravinsky’s music, created for the ballet, (choreographed by Nijinsky for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes), is extravagant, compelling, a mammoth of a score, at turns chaotic, sensual, gleeful, and terrifyingly remorseless.

Benjamin Stewart and James Sofranko in Possokhov's Rite Of Spring. © Erik Tomasson

Benjamin Stewart and James Sofranko in Possokhov’s Rite Of Spring.
© Erik Tomasson

Possokhov has nailed the mood, the original ballet’s intention. Based on Russian folklore, The Rite of Spring depicts a primal culture, relishing the arrival of spring and sensuality. Lights rise on a woodland set, a hillside incline, designed by Benjamin Pierce. Sleepy young women awaken, roll down it, and stand to greet the spring day, embracing it as well as their own sensuality (dresses slowly pulled up, over their heads, revealing their gorgeous young bodies, the ultimate symbol of fecundity). Young men join them, quivering and eager to embrace the spectacle (not to mention the girls). Ah, spring. But there’s a price to pay. A young woman, “the chosen,” must be sacrificed to appease the gods, so the others might live. The sensual, feral nature of the ballet, the choreography, was engrossing to watch last year, and even more enjoyable this time. Jennifer Stahl, as the chosen one, nailed the role for the second year in a row, and now officially owns it, as do the deliciously fearful pair of conjoined elders (sharing the same skirted costume) James Sofranko and Benjamin Stewart, spears in hand, who carry out the dictate. And kudos to Luke Ingham, the chosen one’s consort, his second big role for the night, following Caprice. Busy night for Ingham. Lots of lifting. Well done.

Sandwiched between these two ballets was Helgi Tomasson’s world premiere, Caprice, which featured nineteen dancers, including two pas de deux couples. A shifting backdrop designed by Alexander V. Nichols was mesmerizing: lit beams, like pillars intersected by one horizontal beam, all of which moved closer/further between movements, creating a different mood each time. Wonderfully effective. Costumes, designed by Holly Hynes, were flowing and lovely, the two principal women in paler colors than their ensemble counterparts. “Flowing and lovely” describes the neoclassical choreography as well. Lyrical, easy on the eye, no great risks, no pushing at the boundaries.

Maria Kochetkova and Davit Karapetyan in Tomasson's Caprice. © Erik Tomasson

Maria Kochetkova and Davit Karapetyan in Tomasson’s Caprice.
© Erik Tomasson

Principals Maria Kochetkova, Davit Karapetyan and Yuan Yuan Tan rank among the company’s top dancers, and they all were in fine form. Tan, skillfully partnered by Luke Ingham, had her signature liquid elegance, those distinctive long limbs and feet and airy lyricism. In the second movement, she was slid along on the floor by Steven Morse and Hansuke Yamamoto (and Luke Ingham?) and it was so playful, so deliciously smooth and quick-moving, like watching a nice sailboat skim across the San Francisco Bay on a sunny day.

Davit Karapetyan, too, was a powerhouse that night. Is it just me or is he suddenly magnificent this season? There’s an authority, a power to his jumps, his upper body presentation made him thrilling to watch. Kochetkova, his partner, was wonderful; she always is. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her paired up right next to Tan, though. This ballet allows for a study in contrasts from these two very popular, beloved principals. The third movement, in particular, where the music shifts from Saint Saens’ Symphony no. 2 to the second movement his Symphony no. 3 gives us an unprecedented opportunity to watch not just one but two pas de deux lead couples sharing the adagio movement.

I’ve long been in love with this movement/symphony ( http://www.theclassicalgirl.com/haunted-by-saint-saens-organ-symphony/ ) which gave this shared pas de deux Peak Moment Status for me. Honestly, I can’t wax lyrically enough about it. The music, and the dance, transported me.

The last minute of the movement has the two pas de deux couples alternating overhead grand jeté lifts, moving from one side of the stage to the other. Lighting (by Christopher Dennis) was perfect. Both the movement and the music were gorgeous, dreamy. A six-note descent motif offers first the woodwinds. The violins repeat. There’s almost a searching motif, the first voice on a quest, the lower voice responding, a haunting counterpoint.

Take a listen for yourself, down below. The score traditionally calls for an organ (thus the symphony’s nickname, “The Organ Symphony”) but the SFB orchestra fared very well with a transcribed use of woodwind voices instead. The second movement starts around 10m29. The six-note descent section (think ethereal overhead grand-jeté lifts as you listen) is at 18m30.

No doubt about it, a night of great dance and music. Well done, San Francisco Ballet and SFB Orchestra both.

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

Family: Ein Prosit and Gemütlichkeit

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My father just celebrated his 88th birthday and my son and I flew out to Kansas City for the family gathering. Thirty of us sang “Happy Birthday” to him and consumed cake and ice cream, but the real highlight was when we sang “Ein Prosit” together. I suppose you could call singing this German drinking song a family tradition; certainly for my father’s generation it was. We, his children, honor our German heritage in a casual, vaguely hedonistic fashion: drinking beer, eating bratwurst, singing songs together, particularly when generous amounts of the aforementioned beer have been imbibed. As the years have accrued, some of us have moved out of town, all have aged, and redefined our own family rituals and traditions. For this birthday, however, we returned to where it all started. My oldest sister Googled the song “Ein Prosit” and printed out the lyrics so that all thirty of us could sing it. Humorously, few family members beyond my dad’s generation know the actual words following “Ein Prosit,” and, over the years, have fudged it in the way you do in church when you know the tune but not the words and don’t have a music book. (In this case the second line is roughly “Ghur ghur GHUR, ghick, ghite!” Just for the record. In case you, too, are caught, hapless, during an Oktoberfest celebration, forced to join the crowd in singing this celebrated drinking song.)

“Ein Prosit” (the “s” sound is sharp, like the z in Cheez-Its) means “a toast,” here, to Gemütlichkeit, the meaning of which we’ll get to later. The words to the song are easy. There are four.

  • Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
  • Der Gemütlichkeit
  • Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
  • Der Gemütlichkeit!

Then you say 1, 2, 3 [in German that’s eins, zwei, drei or the older, more rustic oans, zwoa, drei], followed by the baffling “g’suffa!” And you raise your beer stein higher, and you drink. Below is a real-life example of how you need not have a beer stein in your hand in order to participate in the toast. (Note small children imitating holding a beer stein. Isn’t that the sweetest? Or wait. Is that scary?)

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Thanks to YouTube and Videohostess and the band, Those Austrian Guys, you can hear what the song sounds like and even read along (thanks for super-imposing the words, guys!). Heck, go ahead and sing along. Go on. No one’s watching. Go fetch yourself a beer, stein or not, and join in here. I’m with you all the way.

I love how the German language has in its lexicon these single words that describe what, in English, takes an entire sentence, words like Bildungsroman, Waldeinsamkeit, Schadenfreude, Weltanschauung and Gemütlichkeit. (Note that Germans always capitalize their nouns.) Here’s how Wikipedia defines Gemütlichkeit: “a situation that induces a cheerful mood, peace of mind, with connotation of belonging and social acceptance, coziness and un-hurry.”

Nice, huh? And there was Gemütlichkeit in heaps in that room, that night. All family. My dad, his children, and their own children. There were children’s children’s children, and one special young couple, engaged to be married this June. The husband-to-be is my nephew, Justin. Among his generation of the family, he is the lone carrier of the Mertes name. I am one of six females and two males, one of whom became a Catholic priest. So. One Mertes son produced (with a little help from his wife) one Mertes son. And that Mertes son, Justin, will marry in June and there you have it, the opportunity for my father to see that Mertes name carrying on, through this lovely young couple.

I don’t think this was necessarily on his mind at that moment, though. Instead, he told us, his voice faltering, his eyes getting misty, that he was thinking of our mom, who died twenty-three years ago.

Oh, the ghosts that join you, the darker side of Gemütlichkeit. The poignancy in seeing my father tearful immediately tore at my own heart. And our Uncle Joe, from my dad’s generation, there alone, because his wife, our beloved Aunt Lois, my father’s sister, died two years earlier. My dad has lost his two other siblings and their spouses, as well. Now it was just him and Uncle Joe, and the spectral (and welcome) presence of those departed. And the haunting nature of my dad’s next words.

He rose to his feet. “If I’m not here next year to celebrate like this again,” he told us, “do this for me. This.” He gestured to the table, the room, the copies of “Ein Prosit” some of us still clutched.

Because the reality is that he, too, might be gone. He’s already beat the odds of his genetic legacy of bad hearts and early deaths. His mother lived the longest, to 83, outpacing the others by decades. Each year my father has remained alive since his 75th birthday has felt like a gift to me. He is my son’s only surviving grandparent. He’s a great guy. For so many reasons, I want him to stay with us longer. We all do. But a situation like this gently reminds you to embrace the moment, what you have right here, right now. Everything we had in that room that night.

Pure Gemütlichkeit.

Happy Birthday, Pop. I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say I look forward to joining you this time, next year, for another “Ein Prosit.” Be there. We’re counting on it.

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Artist Spotlight: SFB’s Maria Kochetkova

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She showed up in London, an apprenticeship with the Royal Ballet secured after her win in the Prix de Lausanne. Bolshoi Ballet had said “no thanks” upon her graduation at their ultra-elite training school. Here in the West, she decided, she would build her career. Shockingly, though, her Royal Ballet contract wasn’t renewed the next year. The English National Ballet picked her up, but went on to keep her in the corps de ballet through her four years there, her talent and skill as a soloist remaining largely hidden.

I read this about Maria Kochetkova, 29, principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, and my mind whirled. This extraordinary dancer, in the corps? A contract with a company not renewed? Were they at the Royal Ballet crazy?  Good thing San Francisco Ballet wasn’t. When Kochetkova saw them perform in London, something must have whispered this is where you’d thrive, not here in London. She decided to send artistic director Helgi Tomasson a DVD of her work. Tomasson, he with the oh-so-keen eye in spotting extraordinary, world-class talent, invited her out to the West Coast to take class with the company, after which he offered her a contract. Not as a corps dancer, or even a soloist. As a principal.

Oh, how delicious to imagine how Masha took this news. Surely a dream come true after having been relegated to the corps, forced to fit into an ensemble look and “not stand out.” At just over five feet, to boot, she had likely been told, time and time again, that she was too short for a ballet dancer. Her neck, as well, was too short. She simply didn’t look like a prima ballerina. Here was someone, finally, giving her the chance she deserved.

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In 2007 she  moved to San Francisco, stepped onto that stage at the War Memorial Opera House, and dazzled the hell out of audiences. Within a season, her name was on every SFB patron’s lips. A mere seven years later, it’s the whole dance world that can’t stop talking about her. And with reason. She’s extraordinary.

Here is a profile produced by the Anaheim Ballet in 2011, which is one of the most inspiring and interesting ones I’ve ever seen. Watch it and weep. With happiness, with powerfully good feelings.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmRpNwb0NZ0

http:// An interesting fact: Kochetkova, born in Moscow, initially had more interest in ice skating and gymnastics, but her mother nudged her in the direction of ballet. Winning a place at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy (also called the Moscow Ballet School or the Bolshoi Ballet School), she trained for eight years before making a foray into the international ballet scene. She used the competition circuit as a way of getting seen, helping to promote herself. For the Prix de Lausanne, she went alone, without a coach, much less a support team. If you’ve watched First Position (and please. Tell me you have. And if you haven’t, well, um, GO DO IT), you know that these dance competitions are very, very support-driven. Coaches, ballet studio owners and/or teachers. Parents devoting their lives to supporting their child’s passion. It takes a village for a young ballet dancer to successfully compete in one of these things. That Kochetkova did it on her own points to the kind of person she is. Extraordinarily driven. Extraordinarily talented. Oh, and by the way. She won.

Kochetkova has the most astonishing feet and extensions. You watch her effortlessly développé à la seconde, legs at a 180-degree split, and it steals your breath. She can switch from liquid classical elegance to razor-sharp contemporary angularity from one piece to the next, or even within the same piece. There is no role I have seen her perform that she hasn’t mastered. Offstage, she’s surprisingly unassuming, more sweetly cute than conventionally pretty. She’s oh-so diminutive, with brown hair, brown eyes, neutral features. But here’s what neutral gives you: the perfect backdrop for any persona you want to take on. She can be the most beautiful woman in the room if that’s the look she’s going for. She can look like someone’s bookish little sister. She can become Giselle, Odette, Odile, Nikiya, Aurora, Juliet, Cinderella. She’s also a total hipster, sporting a eclectic wardrobe, with giant goggle glasses that dominate her fine boned face. A fashion trendsetter, not a follower.  Case in point below.

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Lucky for all of us, she loves sharing her world via social media. You can follow her on Twitter where her handle is @balletrusse, or check out her generous photo sharing via Instagram (http://web.stagram.com/n/balletrusse/).

You can find her on the cover of this month’s Dance Magazine, along with a feature article inside entitled “Being Masha.”  Great read. Here’s the link: http://www.dancemagazine.com/issues/March-2014/Being-masha

Photo by Nathan Sayers for Dance Magazine

Photo by Nathan Sayers for Dance Magazine

PS: If you still haven’t gotten enough of her, here’s a great article by San Francisco dance critic Allan Ulrich, from the December 2008 issue of Dance Magazine, which I found particularly interesting because at that time, she’d only been with the San Francisco Ballet for a little over a year. http://www.dancemagazine.com/issues/December-2008/Small-Wonder

And here’s a link to San Francisco Ballet’s own “Artist’s Spotlight” featuring her (in truth, I liked the personal, candid nature of the Anaheim Ballet’s clip more). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drcEqlAA4F4

© 2013 Terez Rose