Category Archives: Ballet

Musings of a former ballet dancer who’s returned, years later, to the studio as a student.

San Francisco Ballet waltzes into 2018

 

Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers” is still looping through my mind, even as the curtain closed for the last time on San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker last weekend. I’m crazy about this production; I’ve raved about it HERE and HERE. You can see my Bachtrack review of this year’s opening night performance HERE. I like to attend the production a second time, later in the run, which gives me the opportunity to see different casts. The Dec 27th matinee performance was fantastic, as fresh as opening night, due in part to a sublime rendition by the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, Martin West conducting. Standouts included Angelo Greco’s Nutcracker Prince, Nathaniel Remez’s King of the Mice, Frances Chung and Vitor Luiz as Queen and King of the Snow, Mathilde Froustey’s Sugar Plum Fairy, all of Spanish Dance (Lauren Parrott, Natasha Sheehan, Davide Occhipinti, Mingxuan Wang, Adrian Zeisel – who, WOW, might still be a student with the ballet school). I could go on and on. In fact, I will; scroll down to the bottom of this blog for more mentions.

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Nutcracker. (© Erik Tomasson)

But the performance I found particularly unforgettable was Ana Sophia Scheller with Angelo Greco in the Grand Pas de Deux, which produced a visceral reaction of wow, this is a dazzler in me. Beautiful adage, fabulous solos, great onstage chemistry between the two dancers. Just before the adage ends, when the music turns tender, almost sorrowful, the way the two of them connected, with eye contact and something more elusive, gave me prickles. It made me feel like I was watching something extraordinary. Certainly they both have extraordinary talents. She is new, a principal, and he was promoted to principal last season. Thrilling, to watch a new partnership take hold. It’s a very exciting time for the San Francisco Ballet, with so many promotions announced in 2017 (and, regrettably, departures of favored dancers). In fact, before we get on to what the company will be delivering through their repertory season, let’s talk about its 2017-18 company roster. It incorporates ten promotions, eight new company members, and six apprentices. Here’s the SFB’s announcement:

“Soloist Jennifer Stahl has been promoted to principal dancer, and Isabella DeVivo, Jahna Frantziskonis, Esteban Hernandez, and Steven Morse have been promoted to soloist. In addition, SF Ballet Apprentices Alexandre Cagnat, Shené Lazarus, Davide Occhipinti, Nathaniel Remez, and Isabella Walsh have been promoted to the corps de ballet. Ulrik Birkkjaer and Ana Sophia Scheller join the Company as principal dancers and Solomon Golding, Gabriela Gonzalez, Blake Johnston, Madison Keesler, Wona Park, and Joseph Warton have joined SF Ballet as corps de ballet members. Ethan Chudnow, Anatalia Hordov, Carmela Mayo, Swane Messaoudi, Larisa Nugent, and Benjamin Pearson of San Francisco Ballet School have been promoted to the rank of apprentice.”

A bit about the new principals. Copenhagen-born Ulrik Birkkjaer, is coming from The Royal Danish Ballet, where he’d been a principal dancer. Ana Sophia Scheller, born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is coming from the New York City Ballet, where she’d been a principal dancer. While I haven’t had the chance yet to see Birkkjaer perform, I can happily confirm that Scheller is marvelous.

And now on to what the 2017–18 season looks like. Following a Jan 18th gala, it begins on Jan 23rd with The Sleeping Beauty, and is followed by five programs (more details HERE) and finally, “Unbound: A Festival of New Works,” for which a dozen international choreographers are creating inventive, daring works for the dancers. San Francisco Ballet says, “We’re celebrating the San Francisco spirit of curiosity, experimentation, and invention with Unbound—a festival of 12 world premieres spanning 4 programs over 17 days.”

In short, it’s going to be a very exciting year for the San Francisco Ballet. But don’t take my word for it – check out their website HERE.

PS: those other dancers from Wed 12/27 matinee performance that deserve mention? Here you go. Elizabeth Mateer in Arabian Dance, supported by Sean Orza and Henry Sidford. Act I Dancing Dolls Mingxuan Wang and Natasha Sheehan. Angela Watson as the adolescent Clara. Chinese dancer Steven Morse. French dancers Anatalia Hordov (kudos to her – she is an apprentice this year and fit right in), Blake Johnston, Isabella Walsh. Russian dancers Benjamin Fremantle, Sean Bennett, Alexander Reneff-Olson. The way they burst through those paper, life-sized Faberge eggs in perfect unison, the millisecond the music commences? Too much fun.

Esteban Hernandez in Tomasson’s Nutcracker. (© Erik Tomasson)

A Ballet Dancer’s Guide to Africa

 

Back in the 1980’s, I was a ballet dancer who went off to Africa. I could have used a guide. But I was young and didn’t even give the concept — ballet dancer + Africa = not — much thought. For the previous five years, ballet had been my world, even as I concurrently earned my college degree and worked. English teacher in the Peace Corps seemed to be a fun role to audition for. So I tried out, got cast, moved to Central Africa for two years. During which time I came to realize that classical ballet and provincial Africa don’t particularly mix and that I was a fish out of water.

Cut to present day, where I just recently completed my rewrite of “that Africa novel,” now in its third incarnation. If you’re one of my earlier readers, you might remember reading this post, and you’ll know the original 2002 novel was titled Black Ivory Soul. During the past six months as I rewrote, the working title became The Art of Foreign Relations. Last week, however, I pitched titles to a group of writer buddies, and they pointed out potential flaws to my shortlist (favored by me was A Ballet Dancer’s Guide to African Survival, which even I knew was too damned long). The trimmed title that resulted from the group brainstorm is A Dancer’s Guide to Africa, and does just what it’s supposed to do. Because, invariably, my elevator pitch for the project starts off with, “So, it’s about this ballet dancer who runs off to Africa to escape her problems…” No, the novel is not autobiographical. Well. Maybe a teensy bit. 

But I digress. That guide I could have used? While it doesn’t seem to exist, here are a few of my personal impressions. And bear in mind the impressions date back thirty years. Also, I’m not counting South Africa here. It does have its dance companies, choreographers, ballet dancers. I am thinking of Central and West Africa. If you have more recent information to share, or information about other parts of Africa, my readers and I would LOVE it if you added what you know below, in comments.

Tips for the ballet dancer heading to Africa…

  • Reconsider bringing your pointe shoes. They just go mushy fast in the humid, warm climate. Give your poor feet a well-deserved rest.
  • Don’t make any assumptions about the availability of a studio, a class, a space to do ballet.
  • Giving yourself a barre twice weekly in your home IS something you can do. Yes, for two years. Don’t think you have to give up ballet completely just because there might not be a single ballet community outside the capital city. (Or even there.)
  • Expect kids to hear your music and come running, and watch whenever possible. This classical ballet stuff is fascinating for them.
  • Ballet means something different in French-speaking Africa.  The French word for what I call “ballet” is la danse classique. On the other hand, Les Ballets Africains is a dance company based in Conakry, Guinea, one that promotes traditional dance and culture of Africa.
  • Dance is something so innate in the African culture, it’s a difficult concept for Africans to consider, the way Westerners compartmentalize dance, into something a young girl might do once a week, in a studio, paying for lessons, and no more. It baffles them to consider that some people prefer not to dance at all.

In A Dancer’s Guide to Africa, my character, Fiona, muses about dance and its place in Africa. Here’s an excerpt, where she’s talking with Christophe, her Gabonese friend (and so much more, but let’s not get into that angle here). And lest you feel annoyed with Fiona for clinging to her “I only do ballet” attitude toward dance in Africa, know that her metamorphosis from “ballet only” to embracing African dance is part of the story. A big part.

               

                                                                           ***

I waded out into the Atlantic, diving through the breakers. The undertow tugged at me as I sliced through the warm water, stretching my muscles, freeing my body. It felt glorious – the closest thing to dance I’d found in a long time. I swam back and forth for twenty minutes, releasing the surplus dancer energy I’d carried for weeks. Months. Finally I made my way back to shore and the chairs, dripping, chest still heaving.
“That was quite a workout,” Christophe said as I collapsed in the seat next to him.
“I needed it. Bad.”
“Are you dancing these days?”
I shook my head. “Got my ballet shoe stolen, remember?”
“We both know you could have obtained a replacement. In fact, give me the size and maker and I’ll order you a pair. A gift.”
I ignored the offer. “What would be the point, anyway?”
“Because you’re a dancer.”
“Ballet doesn’t work here.”
“Ballet is not the only form of dance.”
“It’s what I excel at. I’m not comfortable doing the other styles.” I watched the ocean thunder onto the beach and whisper its retreat.
“Have you tried?” he asked.
“Of course I have. It would be hard to avoid.”
Dance, I’d come to see, was everywhere here. The Gabonese danced at clubs, bars, parties. They danced in church; they danced in rituals; they danced to honor the arrivals of politicians and luminaries. They danced any time someone put on the right music, which meant, any music with a drum beat. Or any beat. One thing they didn’t dance to was classical music. I hadn’t heard a whisper of anything classical, aside from my cassettes—stolen in theft number six—since my arrival in Africa.
“And how was it?” Christophe prodded.
“I can’t dance African.”
“Can’t, or won’t?”
“Why are you pushing this issue? You’ve seen me dance. I’m classical. I’m Caucasian. I cannot move like an African.”
And I didn’t need Christophe to inform me why, that something in me was too rigid and had to loosen, not just physically but psychologically. I knew this. I’d watch the Gabonese move with a freedom within their bodies that I couldn’t even imagine. Relaxed energy flowed from all parts of their body: the legs, the torso, the arms. Sometimes the movement would be so small, just this gentle, rhythmic shifting from one foot to another. There was an innate flexibility in their hips. When I saw toddlers learning to dance in tandem with learning to walk, I understood the source of the intuitive movement. Even before that, actually. Babies were tucked on their mother’s backs, tied in place with a spare pagne. Every movement the mother made, and she went right along with her business, the child felt. Jiggling, swerving, dancing, striding, straining, from a child’s earliest kinetic memory. I thought of my own Omaha upbringing and my first exposure to dance at age eight, with Miss Claireen’s class. And even then, it had been once a week, only in later years three and four times weekly. Less than six hours a week, through my adolescence. Ballet alone. Which I loved fiercely. No ballet available here? Fine. No dance, I told myself.
Christophe studied my stubborn expression. He shook his head and, to my irritation, began to chuckle.

                                                                       ***

Got questions related to Africa and/or trying to maintain a private dance practice there? Drop me a line! And be on the lookout, in November 2018, for A Dancer’s Guide to Africa. It’s a great yarn, with plenty of humor and heart. And heaps of Africa.

Want to see some great African dance? This is a YouTube of Umoja, a 2011 collaboration that brought together three artist groups in the West African tradition – Voice of Culture, Duniya Drum and Dance, and Oyin Dance. The event was held at Caponi Art Park in Eagan, MN. I love that there’s a Caucasian dancer in the mix. She rocks. It makes me think of my character, Fiona, once she’s evolved.

“Requiem for a Rose” ignites Smuin’s Dance Series 01

Fly Me to the Moon; photo: Keith Sutter

There is something distinctly fresh and contemporary going on at Smuin right now, beautifully apparent in their 24th season opening program, “Dance Series 01.” The company, led by artistic director Celia Fushille, was subtly rebranded in 2016, incorporating “contemporary” in their title to emphasize their mission, to present work that melds classical ballet and contemporary dance. Smuin’s collaboration with inventive choreographers offers an experience of contemporary ballet that is entertaining, evocative, and original. Case in point: the West Coast premiere of Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s impressive 2009 “Requiem for a Rose.”

Saturday afternoon’s mixed-bill program in San Francisco opened with the return of Garrett Ammon’s effervescent Serenade for Strings, another dose of the inventive and contemporary, a 2013 ballet set on Smuin dancers in 2014. Ammon, acclaimed choreographer and artistic director of Denver-based Wonderbound, likes to blend tradition with adventurous new ideas, and here, has set his work to the music of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, best known for its accompaniment to Balanchine’s legendary Serenade (1934). Adventurous, indeed. Happily, it works. Brisk, flowing movements and classical lines are interspersed with flexed wrists, ankles, jazzy head bobbles. Costumes, designed by Rachael Kras, add to the piece’s lighthearted nature, with the females sporting mint-green bodices and short skirts fluffed up with layers of petticoat-meets-tulle. They looked as adorable as dolls. The men, in trousers and untucked button-downs, appeared both relaxed and energized. Gorgeous arabesques, strong footwork and assured partner work came from the entire ensemble, which, on Saturday afternoon, included Tessa Barbour, Robert Kretz, Valerie Harmon, Dustin James, Erin Yarbrough-Powell, Rex Wheeler, Lauren Pschirrer, company newcomer Oliver-Paul Adams, Mengjun Chen and Erica Chipp-Adams.

Serenade for Strings; Photo: Keith Sutter

The stunning “Requiem for a Rose” was the program’s centerpiece, literally and figuratively. Created in 2009 for the Pennsylvania Ballet, the work opens as a lone woman (Erica Felsch), a Venus figure, stands under a spotlight, center stage, bent from the waist, her long, flowing hair a pale curtain, a flesh-colored leotard rendering her nude [looking] and vulnerable. A tremor shakes her inert body and soon she moves to the sounds of an electronic pulse, a heartbeat, punctuated by pizzicato twangs of a plucked stringed instrument. Slowly she straightens to reveal a red rose against her mouth, the stem clenched between her teeth — one that would stay right there, through the curtain call. The image was unforgettable. Her ensuing movements remained stark, angular, arching. The boom-boom of the electronic heartbeat increased in speed and fervor, until soon a half-dozen men joined her onstage, circling her. Bare from the waist up, they sported full, red skirts, marvelously designed by Tatyana Van Waslum, like petals of a rose, flowing fabric that undulated and created waves when they turned. Six similarly clad females (wearing flesh-colored leotards in lieu of bare chests) joined them to complete the image of a full bouquet of red roses.

Requiem for a Rose; photo: Keith Sutter

 

The Colombian-Belgian Ochoa is a masterful, innovative choreographer who has created nearly fifty dance works for companies worldwide, including Dutch National Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, New York City Ballet, The Royal Ballet of Flanders, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Ballet Nacional de Cuba. (Bay Area audiences will get to see new commissioned work this spring in San Francisco Ballet’s 2018 “Unbound: A Festival of New Works.”) European trained and Netherlands-based, Ochoa’s choreography, accordingly, delivers movements both classical-infused and abstract. Particularly satisfying to watch were the big, luxuriant port de bras, cambrés back, pirouettes and leaps from the dancers. Occasionally passages came to a halt with a squared-off elbow, arm gesture, a propulsive movement, that seemed to insist “not classical.” Legato stretches within movements lent an uncluttered, spacious feeling to it all. The music, too, the adagio from Schubert’s Quintet in C-Major, was lush, full of space, and romantic possibilities. Indeed, Ochoa, chose this music because she found it to be “the most romantic music I know.”

“Requiem for a Rose,” according to Ochoa, strives to highlight the differences between romance and love, the former, elegant, easy, the latter, raw, angular. The lone, vulnerable female with the red rose in her mouth is a metaphor for real love. Roses, of course, are vivid and romantic. But roses die, and the red-skirted dancers at one point sway forward, bending over, a sort of wave, hand over heart, a hesitation. Throughout, Tony Tucci’s lighting (Michael Oesch’s adaption for Smuin) lent the piece further theatricality. Ochoa also creates for theatre, opera, and fashion events, and it shows, in all good ways. The opening scene had been like living art. The colors, the contrasts, the textures, the sounds; days later, it, and Felsch’s compelling performance, still haunt me.

Fly Me to the Moon; photo: Keith Sutter

Concluding the program was the late Michael Smuin’s Fly Me to the Moon, a ballet that eschews innovation in favor of nostalgia. It’s a fun, light-hearted romp through a string of Sinatra classics, against a dark backdrop that alternates with stars and a crescent moon. While some of the vignettes are starting to feel a bit dated, costumes continue to hit the right mark, both nostalgic and contemporary. The men wore slacks, fedoras, and their vests matched the women’s diaphanous skirts and bodices in pastel colors, Highlights for me included “I Won’t Dance” (Tessa Barbour, Benjamin Warner), “Moonlight Serenade” (Jonathan Powell, Erica Felsch) and Robert Kretz’ solo, set to “That’s Life.” Mengjun Chen and Dustin James danced notably well through the program, and Valerie Harmon’s bright smile shone throughout. The entire ensemble dazzled in the closing, “New York, New York.” It was very signature Smuin; it made my throat tighten, as if Smuin’s spirit had descended to enjoy it along with us. At the ballet’s conclusion, several members of the audience leapt up to give the dancers a standing ovation, and you could tell it was equally for the memory of the man and his considerable legacy.

Dance Series 01 runs until Oct 7 at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. It will also be presented in February and March 2018 in Mountain View and Carmel.

© 2017 Terez Rose

Choreographer Marika Brussel is creating from shadows

Photographer: Marina Eybelman

 

There exists within all of us a shadowed place tucked deep within our psyche. Usually it stems from a childhood experience, something harsh that slips easily behind our barely formed defenses and brands our tender soul. San Francisco-based choreographer Marika Brussel poignantly chronicled one such experience here:

You are eight. Your father brings you to a strange apartment in a neighborhood far away from where you live. It’s dark and smells like pee. He holds your hand as the door opens and a man in a white, stained tee-shirt says something to your father that may or may not be in English. It’s a question and your father knows the right answer. The door opens to let him in.  

“I’ll just be a minute,” your father says. And you believe him because he’s your father. And he’s tall and strong, and he takes care of you.  

The door shuts behind him.

The hall makes funny sounds. Shuffling, as if there is an animal somewhere. You hear whispering, but can’t tell where it’s coming from. A door downstairs slams. A baby cries. You father is taking a long time. Your belly feels funny—hollow and tight. Steps sound behind you, so you fold yourself into a small ball near the wall. A man passes. He doesn’t notice you. You are invisible. The apartment door opens again, and as the man goes in, your father comes out and, as you breathe again, he holds his arms out to you.  

As writers, we are taught to mine those dark places as a source of the richest material. Choreography, it’s clear, is cut from the same cloth. Particularly choreographers who have MFAs in creative writing, who’ve captured the poetry and the pathos of a child torn between loyalty and unease over her heroin-addicted father’s actions that will, ultimately, land him out on the streets, homeless. From these shadows comes art. Fitting, then, that Marika Brussel’s newest work is titled From Shadows, and is a contemporary ballet that explores homelessness and addiction through the eyes of a young girl looking for her father. The sixty-minute ballet will have its world premiere on Oct 12 and 13, at ODC Theater in in San Francisco.

     

One afternoon in late August, I join Marika and her dancers for rehearsal. Fog outside creates a more insular world but doesn’t mask the San Francisco cityscape through the windows. A cheery red shopping cart is parked on the gray marley floor, looking festive, out of context. Earlier, Marika borrowed it from a local choreographer friend and wheeled it over to the studio. In the area of 16th Street and Mission, rife with transients, it made her look like she herself was a transient. “Pedestrians seemed embarrassed to meet my eyes,” she told me. “Especially the more affluent white people.” In truth, the very people she hopes will support the arts and attend her ballet’s performances.

Today’s rehearsing dancers—Nina, Theresa, Emily H and Nick—are warming up, the women putting on pointe shoes before stowing their dance bags under the barre, affixed to a wall dominated by east-facing windows. “Let’s take it from where Nina comes in,” Marika tells them. The dancers nod, take their places. Without the music, Nina, dancing as the young girl, steps onstage into a commanding piqué arabesque, arms stretched in an imperious high fifth elongé that says back off to the bullying women nearby. She’s clutching a precious sweater, the only item she has of her father’s. But Theresa, a weaker, mentally ill transient, reaches over and unsteadily pulls it from her grasp. Marika, observing from the corner, calls out to Nina.

“You’re not sure if you want to touch her, or your sweater now, because, basically, she smells.” Accordingly, Nina backs off with a grimace from Theresa. Nick enters, upstage left, pushing a cart. Shoulders and head slumped, he is slow-moving, beaten down. He spies Theresa and they begin to interact. Her smell doesn’t bother him, likely because he’s used to it. She lunges out, as his hands reach out to catch her, support her. Through a partnered lift, they are momentarily entwined. Afterwards he places her tenderly in his shopping cart, tucks the jacket over her, around her.

Marika halts the flow of movement to step over and murmur with Theresa and Nick. The three discuss a better way of getting her into the shopping cart. Behind them, Nina stretches and understudy Emily H marks the steps on her own. “Try it over the shoulder,” Marika urges, and the two dancers implement the suggestion.

The movements all come alive when run through with the music. It’s marvelous stuff, at once contemporary and classic, melodic and jarring, reminiscent of the staccato second movement of Debussy’s Quartet in G. It’s “Dream House” by Mary Ellen Childs, Marika informs me when I ask, a composition reflecting Childs’ experience of having her house torn down and rebuilt. Musicians are the New York-based string quartet, ETHEL whose unique, classical-but-not-entirely sound Marika admires. The second vignette, “Shopping Cart,” brings in an utterly beautiful, plaintive violin lament, reminiscent of John Corigliano and The Red Violin. Later in the ballet will come a more jarring, percussive, drum-infused musical movement, which signals the arrival of the police, bent on dispersing the sleeping transients. But for now, bittersweet tenderness.

Throughout From Shadows, the choreography, much like the music, is steeped in classicism, technically assured movements that leave plenty of room for more contemporary touches: heads thrown back; arms flung out; staccato touches that hint at instability, mental illness, the dark side of addiction. It’s movement that is both beautiful and stark. It is the humanity behind the shadows, illuminated.

Marika Brussel grew up in New York, the daughter of hippie artists. In ballet, she took quickly to the structure and discipline her household lacked and ballet mandated, showing great promise at an early age. She was selected to be a scholarship student at the Joffrey Ballet School. But pre-professional ballet training is fearsome, daunting, with countless sacrifices, physical and emotional. It’s a heavy burden for a pre-teen girl, made worse when her father was kicked out of the household for his heroin addiction. He sank deeper, and landed on the streets of New York when she was eleven. “I would walk around Chinatown and Greenwich Village looking for him,” she shared in an essay recently published by Street Sheet. (http://www.streetsheet.org) “Usually, I knew where he would be – he had found a home of sorts in a theater dressing room. But sometimes he would be nodding out at Bagel Buffet, near where I went to ballet classes. And sometimes he would be just in the doorway of my ballet studio, watching his daughter, like any father, except he hadn’t bathed, and his many layers of clothes told his story, right there for everyone to see.”

                   

Marika remained doggedly committed to ballet until age 18, when, now aware of how much normal teen life she’d sacrificed through her adolescent years, she decided she wanted to experience other things in life. At twenty, she moved to San Francisco, curious to explore what it was like to be a young adult in a new city. “I wasn’t dancing at the time, but working on a novel,” she shared. “The loss of ballet had created a void in my life, which was filled somewhat by writing. But it wasn’t until I came back to ballet that I felt wholly myself again. In 1999 I moved from San Francisco to Santa Fe. I started dancing again there, professionally, with Ballet Theater of New Mexico. There, I started dipping into choreography, a little, although it wasn’t until 2014 that I started seriously choreographing.”

She and I discuss writing. It’s not often I get to connect with choreographers who also have MFAs in creative writing, and I relish the opportunity. When she asks about my current novel-in-progress, I tell her it’s set not in the professional ballet world, like my two previous novels, but in Africa, an ex-ballet dancer’s response to living there, its harshness, its mysticism. Her eyes light up. She asks whether I’m familiar with the Nigerian writer, Amos Tutuola, and his novel, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. I tell her “yes” on the former and “no” on the latter (which I’ve since remedied—what a vivid, amazing, intensely African novel). It’s the story of a boy who inadvertently wanders over to a land populated entirely by ghosts, dozens upon dozens of communities of them, and the curious adventures he encounters during his time there. In one of those “small world!” moments, she shares that this African novel provided the spark for this ballet’s creation.

“Originally, I was interested in doing a ballet version of the novel,” she tells me, “but I couldn’t connect to it on a deeply personal level. Another choreographer asked me what resonated and I realized it was that the ghosts in the novel were neither dead nor alive. They were their own thing. The homeless seem to be like that too: not quite living, but also not dead.”

Back in rehearsal, the cart itself has become an interesting partner. During breaks, Theresa idly improvises with the cart, and it’s amazing, the grace and beauty from this pedestrian vehicle, as it supports her arabesques, her pirouettes. At one point, her two legs press together to give the illusion of one leg, hobbling along, made mobile only by the shopping cart. It’s a beautiful leg, a gorgeous line, en pointe, pretty as can be. But since most humans have two legs, the image becomes ugly by inference. Which somehow describes the experience taking place near the studio, in the heart of the Mission District. The homeless and the home-owners co-mingling. Some hurrying, some loitering; some reeking, others perfumed. Some conversing on their cell phones, others conversing with themselves. Such disparity. Yet every last one of those people were, at one time, whole, beautiful, healthy.

   

A second rehearsal three weeks later allows me to watch what is sure to be one of the ballet’s most riveting scenes, the “Invisible Police” movement, where the arriving police (portrayed by flashing red lights) violently disperse the homeless in their encampment. There is chaos, confusion, a perfect mesh with the boldly propulsive music. Today is the dancers’ first glimpse of the choreography, only recently created by Marika. “I’m a little nervous,” she tells me, with a chuckle. “I’ve never worked this with a large group of dancers before. And I’ve only marked it in my kitchen.”

Two more dancers, Cal and a second Emily, have joined the others today. The six of them mark the steps and then dance them. Again. Again. Again. Emily No. 1 (“Emily H”) radiates tireless energy as she runs, alerting the others, and embarks on a circle of impressive grand-jeté leap turns. Later, I watch as Nina and Cal, closest to me, nail the ensemble passage, flinging their bodies through the movements with razor precision and technique. It’s a lament of sorts, eyes and arms to the sky as violence swirls around them. “Why this? Why us?” they seem to be asking. “Are we not people, too?”

Marika’s father, homeless on New York’s streets, was one of the lucky ones. He came clean after two years, went through rehab, and remained clean, off the streets, through the last twenty years of his life. He did it, he told Marika, for her and her brother. Meeting Marika in San Francisco at one point, he called out an easy greeting to one of the homeless people clustering on the sidewalk. It turned out to be someone he’d met in rehab, who, regrettably, had gone back onto the streets. But his sense of familiarity with the transients, the way he really saw them, engaged with them, burned a permanent impression in Marika’s mind. Now she tries to do her own part, to help them, engage with them. See them.

I asked Marika what she would like audience members to draw from watching her ballet. “In a word,” she replied, “empathy. But in more words, I hope the ballet starts a dialogue about how we can change the situation in our culture of seeing homeless people as “other,” as a threat, and instead treat them with dignity and compassion.”

A grant from The Fleishhacker Foundation gave her the opportunity to expand this from an eleven-minute piece to a sixty-minute ballet. She is also the recipient of a 2017 Classical Girl Giving donation, awarded to companies, choreographers and dance organizations that strive to take ballet out in the world or use ballet to deliver important social messages.

Want a taste of From Shadows? Here is part of that original, eleven-minute piece:


From Shadows: a ballet about homelessness, will be presented on Thursday, October 12 and Friday, October 13, both at 8 pm. Run time is one hour. ODC Theater is located at 3153 17th Street near Shotwell in San Francisco, a short walk from the 16th St. BART station. Tickets are available at the door, $25 regular; $40 community partner ($20 from each ticket will be donated to the Coalition on Homelessness and Farming Hope) A percentage of the proceeds from the performances will go to local homeless organizations such as Project Homeless Connect and Farming Hope.

You can find out more about Marika by going to her website HERE, or take a ballet class from her at ODC, where she teaches adults on Mondays and Wednesdays at 6:15. She teaches Dance for Parkinson’s Disease in Berkeley on Mondays at 12 noon and in San Francisco on Thursdays.

 

***

PS: A “thank you!” to the dancers who allowed me to watch them rehearse on 8/29 and 9/19 respectively. They are: Nina Pearlman (pictured in rehearsal photo above with Marika), Emily Hansel (ditto), Nick Wagner, Theresa Knudson, Cal Thomas, Emily Kerr. Joining them for the performance will be Sharon Kung, Ruby Rosenquist, Alexandra Fitzgibbon, Allie Papazian and Jackie McConnell.

PPS: HERE is intriguing backstory of Mary Ellen Childs’ “Dream House” which opens with ETHEL performing the “Invisible Police” movement.

PPPS: Want to hear more from the string quartet, ETHEL? You can find it HERE.

PPPPS: It was getting a little crowded up above, so I couldn’t make room for this lovely pic of Theresa, but I say, hey, there’s always room for an extra notice, or pic, in the PS section. Am I right?

PPPPPS: See what I mean? Plenty of room, still. And, by the way, that’s Emily H, Cal, and Nina in the photo above. And since we’re squeezing in pics that I wanted to use but couldn’t, and by now, the readership is down to the people who like to read to the very end, much like those who watch movie credits to the very, very end (count me in here!), here is one last goodie. It’s of Marika, dancing, from years past. Maybe she’ll chime in here and give us an exact year. Cool pic.  And no, it wasn’t planned in any way that her leotard bears an uncanny resemblance to Theresa’s above. Let’s just call it one of those serendipitous, end-of-the-blog-and-still-reading kind of moments.

PPPPPPS: Last one. I promise. Nick, the shopping cart, and his recent acquisition (Theresa)

PPPPPPPS: I lied. Nina, in silhouette. I mean, why WOULDN’T you want to see this very cool pic?

World Ballet Day 2017 is October 5th!

October 5th was World Ballet Day — let’s celebrate all month! Off Balance, Book 1 of the Ballet Theatre Chronicles is $0.99 HERE and Outside the Limelight, Book 2, is $1.99 HERE

                             

Three cheers for World Ballet Day, which made its return for the fourth consecutive year on Thursday, October 5, 2017! Did you have to miss it? Here are links to archives; just click on the company’s name.

The Royal Ballet   (Part I; the link for Part II is HERE)

San Francisco Ballet

The Australian Ballet (only until Nov 10th, so enjoy now!)

National Ballet of Canada  (they were on tour in Paris, so pre-taped feed was only 2 hrs)

2015 coverage for Bolshoi Ballet (note: doesn’t look like 2017 is available)

 

And now here is the original post, from August…

On this auspicious day, you’re being treated to 22 hours of live, behind-the-scenes footage from five of the world’s leading ballet companies (plus taped footage from guest companies). Same as last year. And, like last year, you can watch this live-stream broadcast as it links the ballet world, literally and figuratively. On the big day, you can find that link embedded here, or head over to your favorite company’s website, or check out the Facebook live stream.

Here are the Big Five. You can find a schedule of who dances when at the bottom of this post. (New this year: most segments are five hours long — National Ballet of Canada’s is the exception, with only two hours, as they are on tour in Paris, live-streaming from there.)

  • The Australian Ballet
  • Bolshoi Ballet
  • The Royal Ballet
  • The National Ballet of Canada
  • San Francisco Ballet

Ahh… Watching  that got you hungry to watch more ballet now, didn’t it? Here you go! Following is the class portion of The Royal Ballet’s live stream from 2016. One of my favorite companies watching one of my favorite portions of the coverage. Enjoy!

Are you new to the World Ballet Day experience? You should plan on seeing all sorts of fun stuff, including company class (my personal favorite), rehearsal footage, interviews with choreographers and leading dancers, and pre-recorded vignettes from another dozen companies around the world.

New information will be forthcoming as we approach the date. I’ll stay on top of things for you, so stop by this spot regularly between now and October 5th.

Updates…

  • SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 4, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The fourth annual World Ballet Day LIVE, will be broadcast in China for the first time. Tencent‘s digital channels offer a combined reach of many millions, bringing the joy of dance to new audiences. The full broadcast will be streamed on sfballet.org/WBD.
  • From the World Ballet Day website: All five companies have invited a wide range of regional dance organizations geographically close to their location to be part of World Ballet Day LIVE. The companies included are: The National Ballet of Japan, Singapore Dance Theatre, The National Ballet of China, Ballets du Monte Carlo, Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Scottish Ballet, Northern Ballet, Houston Ballet and Ballet West.
  • From National Ballet of Canada’s website: “The National Ballet of Canada will be on tour in Paris on World Ballet Day and will be an active participant via a video transmission featuring the company in rehearsal for Nijinsky, Paz de la Jolla and The Winter’s Tale, which opens the 17/18 season in November.”
  • From The Australian Ballet’s website: “Rehearsals will be for upcoming shows including Swan Lake, Nijinsky, Spartacus and Coppélia. The broadcast will include guest appearances from Queensland Ballet and West Australian Ballet and Hong Kong Ballet.
  • Schedule of events from The Royal Ballet’s website: 12pm: Company class; 1.15pm: Robert Binet’s The Dreamers Ever Leave You (rehearsal); 1.45pm: Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (rehearsal); 2.50pm:; MacMillan Anniversary Hour: Jeux, The Judas Tree, Elite Syncopations (rehearsal); 4.05pm: Arthur Pita’s new ballet The Wind (rehearsal); 4.35pm: The Cards from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (rehearsal) 
  • During Bolshoi Ballet coverage, Les Ballet de Monte Carlo will contribute a guest segment.
  • San Francisco Ballet reports that their coverage will include “rehearsals of classical works [see below], a sneak peek into  Unbound: A Festival of New Works , artist interviews and more. Our final hour, from 3-4pm will incorporate pre-recorded segments from guest companies Houston Ballet and Ballet West.
  • Rehearsals planned for San Francisco Ballet:
    *Opus 19/The Dreamer – Composer: Sergei Prokofiev – Choreographer: Jerome Robbins
    *New Work for Unbound: A Festival of New Works – Composer: TBA – Choreographer: Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
    *New Work for Unbound: A Festival of New Works – Composer: Philip Glass – Choreographer: Dwight Rhoden
    *New Work for Unbound: A Festival of New Works – Composer: Elio Bosso – Choreographer: David Dawson
    *The Sleeping Beauty – Composer: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Choreographer: Helgi Thomasson after Petipa
    *Serenade – Composer: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Choreographer: George Balanchine

PS: check out my coverage of 2016’s World Ballet Day HERE and 2015’s coverage HERE, which also includes detail on the day’s scheduling at each location – just scroll down.

PPS: That schedule I mentioned? Here it is!

My own time zone gets to go first. If you live in California, on the West Coast, or elsewhere that employs Pacific Time, here you go!

  • The Australian Ballet (Melbourne) – 6pm -11p on Oct 4th, 18 hours ahead of San Francisco  
  • The Bolshoi (Moscow) – 11p – 4a, Oct 4-5th, 10 hours ahead
  • The Royal Ballet (London) – 4a – 9a, 8 hours ahead
  • National Ballet of Canada (Toronto) – 9a – 11a, 3 hours ahead
  • San Francisco Ballet – 11a – 4p, local time

San Francisco Ballet

Now here’s a chart for everyone, showing *Greenwich Mean Time, Eastern Time and local time (*Note that London is currently GMT+1 because of British Summer Time)

  • The Australian Ballet: 1am GMT on 10/5, 9pm Eastern Time on 10/4, 12 noon local time (*head’s up: this is 1pm AEST time, but currently they are observing AEDT – Daylight Savings Time) 
  • The Bolshoi: 6am GMT, 2am Eastern, 9am local time
  • The Royal Ballet: 11am GMT, 7am Eastern, 12 noon local time
  • National Ballet of Canada: 4pm GMT, 12 noon Eastern, 12 noon local time
  • San Francisco Ballet: 6pm GMT, 2pm Eastern, 11am local time