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.
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 Brusselgrew 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?
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.
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
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.
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
Bunhead(noun): an extremely dedicated female ballet student or professional. Derives from “bun” (a tight roll of hair in the shape of a cinnamon bun, on the back of the head) and “head” (that thing humans tend to have on top of the rest of their body).
It’s summertime, which means the jackets are off, skimpy clothing is in, which makes it the ideal season for spotting bunheads.
Bunheads come in all sizes and shapes. Ages, too. In their juvenile form, a bunhead is easy to spot. The bun, for starters. The gangly limbs and thin frame, the earnest expression, the leotard, the preference for staying in a pack (young bunheads are very conformist). They can be found either en route to the ballet studio, or returning from it, or anywhere lost in thought, dreaming of what happened, or will happen, at aforementioned studio.
Bunheads don’t die off young, as one might be led to believe, given the dramatic drop in bunhead sightings past age sixteen, and further reduction after age 25. It is simply that older bunheads opt for camouflage and/or cease to venerate conformist attire and behavior. Thus disguised, they retain their private identity as they move into adulthood, through middle age, and even beyond. Yes. A sixty-year old woman can be a bunhead, no matter what she wears or what her hair looks like.
The adult bunhead can still be spotted by the discerning observer. Below are ways and places in which such an encounter might occur.
10 Ways to Spot a Bunhead
In yoga class: she’s the one lifting her hip in Warrior 3 position, and balancing in Tree Pose with a turned-out foot, instead of the preferred yogic parallel position. Attempts by teacher to remedy position will not last, as the bunhead body rapidly returns to what is ingrained.
At a public swimming pool: you’ll see her practicing her développé a la seconde in five feet of water, grinning because her extension is so high and effortless. Will also perform grand jeté leaps underwater while arm remain still and pretty.
In the post office line: she’s the one who waits by standing in fourth position. Or fifth. Or, if the line is super slow, watch closely and you will spot her doing a furtive tendu to the front, to the side. Maybe even a little relevé. In extremely long waits, a shift to one foot, with the other foot tucked in a neat coupé or sur le cou de pied.
In long hallways (think empty corridors, the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, shopping mall), you can spot the urge in them to take off running into a tombe, pas de bourré, glissade, and big-assed leap. On very rare occasions, the adult bunhead will lose inhibition and go for it. Such inhibition usually requires considerable consumption of alcoholic beverage beforehand.
In the wild, during an unexpected downpour in a rain-deprived region, where the adult bunhead might lack the inhibition of the previous situation. Sightings are less rare, but still relatively uncommon.
Below is rare footage of an adult bunhead spotted in the wild:
6. On the beach, under the shade of an umbrella, where beach bag includes water, nutty snacks, 70 SPF sunscreen (bunheads rarely seek out a tan—their species prefers to remain pale and unblemished) and one or more of the following paperbacks: Astonish Me, Bunheads, Off Balance, (PS: this one is FREE this week!) Girl Through Glass, Misty Copeland’s Life in Motion.
7. At the grocery store, where her cart will include yogurt cups, bottled water, Diet Coke, plus over a dozen Luna or Kind bars, or one of the dozens of healthy-but-not-totally bars out there.
8. In restaurants, where they sit very tall, erect, like a princess at a state dinner, and try, not always successfully, to avoid the carbs and scarf down the protein. Gives self brownie points for eating all her vegetables. (Literal “brownie” points.)
9. At the pharmacy/drugstore, her purchase will include bobby pins, black ponytail holders, Band-Aids, hairspray and corn pads.
10. Her phone has a classical music ringtone that, invariably, is Tchaikovsky and, equally invariably, is an excerpt from Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty or The Nutcracker.
Have you spotted a bunhead this season? Got any dead-giveaway tips to add? We’d love to hear about it, and encourage you to share your stories of sightings of bunheads in the wild. Send me a photo and I’ll add it to this post. In the meantime, here are two sensational photos from photographer extraordinaire, Jordan Matter, taken from his book, Dancers Among Us. Check it out; the photos are sublime. You can visit his website HERE.
It was an evening of celebration and great dance as Diablo Ballet fêted its 23rd anniversary Thursday night at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts. Adhering to Artistic Director Lauren Jonas’ mission to offer diverse and relevant works that inspire and engage, the company presented Sally Streets’ 1994 Three to Tango, excerpts from Petipa’s Raymonda, and Robert Dekkers’ Carnival of the Imagination. The celebration program included a short film, plus a slideshow that commemorated the company’s PEEK outreach program, to live music performed by Minor F Jazz Quartet (comprised of students from the Oakland School for the Arts), all of which demonstrate the wonderful synergy between company and community. That Diablo Ballet thrives at twenty-three years is no small feat, and no coincidence.
The 23rd anniversary is referenced in a charming fashion through Three to Tango. In 1994, choreographer and Diablo Ballet artistic advisor, Sally Streets, set this work on Lauren Jonas in the company’s inaugural season. On Thursday night, pianist Andrea Liguori (who performed it in 1994 too), was joined by by cellist Andres Vera for a lively rendition of Astor Piazzolla’s alluring tango music. New company member Felipe Leon, replacing Jamar Goodman for the performance, dazzled with his clean, articulated movements and focus in this classical-based choreography with Argentine twists. Also new to the company is Oliver-Paul Adams who partnered the reliably excellent Rosselyn Ramirez in a pas de deux with proficiency if not particular ardor. Streets’ stylized blend gave us partnered pirouettes with a knee in parallel passé, some ending in a tango step. Ramirez stretched into a beautiful 180 degree partnered arabesque, and the men’s solo passages showcased their strong scissoring leaps.
Oliver-Paul Adams and Rosselyn Ramirez in Three To Tango, photo by Aris Bernales
Marius Petipa’s 1898 Raymonda, like his earlier creation, The Sleeping Beauty, seems to embody Russian Imperial courtliness and grace. Set to Glazunov, it’s old school classicism at its finest. Thursday night’s performance gave us the Pas de Deux and coda, staged by Joanna Berman, company régisseur and former San Francisco Ballet principal. Raymond Tilton and Jackie McConnell, as the pas de deux couple, mostly succeeded, although a few initial rushed poses kept McConnell from looking fluid, her movements fully inhabited, stately and deliberate. Otherwise, the two were a pleasure to watch on the Lesher Center stage. Costumes designed by Sandra Woodall (and Renee Rothmann, Rebecca Crowell Berke), courtesy of Marin Ballet, looked great. A partnered arabesque released from a challenging balance for McConnell, reminiscent of Aurora’s “Rose Adagio” in The Sleeping Beauty, gave way to a confident, self-supported pose. Tilton, a former San Francisco Ballet dancer, is a perfect fit for classics like this. A solid final partnered pirouette ended the piece impressively for both dancers, and the coda that followed, which included three more couples, a flurry of tutus and brisk, well-rehearsed movement, was well executed.
Jackie McConnell in Raymonda, photo by Aris Bernales
Robert Dekkers’ Carnival of the Imagination, a 2016 world premiere, is set to Camille Saint-Saêns’ Le Carnaval des Animaux, and conjures the rich, colorful inner world of a boy’s imagination. Christian Squires reprised his role as “Seven,” or “Our Protagonist” with the same engaging, theatrical flair as last year. Some roles seemed more refined this year, such as the buoyant gleefulness of Pippas (Jackie McConnell), Seven’s imaginary playmate, which hit all the right buttons for me, without ever feeling over-the-top. I particularly enjoyed McConnell’s red-sneakered, flex-footed leaps, their momentary suspension midair. Standouts this year included “Constellations” a dazzler with fiber optic costumes for the women that, along with Jack Carpenter’s dimmed, dappled onstage lighting, simulated a midsummer’s night. Partnered leaps and lifts (Amanda Farris, Larissa Kogut, Rosselyn Ramirez with Oliver-Paul Adams, Jamar Goodman and Raymond Tilton) looked nothing short of magical. “Colors of the Rainbow,” too, offered visual appeal and strong dancing by Adams, Tilton and Felipe Leon. McConnell and Squires charmed in “The Shadow,” and later were poignant in their depiction of a boy outgrowing his imaginary friend. Dekkers’ choreography flows throughout, engaging and creative. An all-cast pillow fight at the end, everyone now clad in onesie pajamas (all costumes designed by Christian Squires), feathers flying, was just plain fun.
Christian Squires and Amanda Farris in Carnival of the Imagination, photo by Bérenger Zyla
Twenty-three years as a successful dance company is indeed something to celebrate, and Artistic Director Lauren Jonas had every reason to be proud of this troupe and the full house and enthusiastic audience Thursday night brought. Really, it does the heart good in these times to see a vibrant local community supporting a vibrant dance company. While a trip to Walnut Creek might not prove possible for everyone (good news: they tour the region), Walter Yamazaki’s short films featuring Diablo Ballet give all a chance to see these talented dancers. Thursday night marked the world premiere of Libera; gorgeously produced, with an original score by Justin Levitt, narrated by Jamar Goodman. Here’s one from 2015, AETERNA XXI created by Yamazaki for their 21st Anniversary celebration, with a gorgeous score by Brian Crutchfield. Enjoy.