Tag Archives: Helgi Tomasson

SFB from Nuts to 2017

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Okay, so I’ve reviewed San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker before. Like, well, five times. It’s a little humbling when you pen a shiny new review, only to discover that you’ve unwittingly used much of the exact same wording in past reviews. Actually, it’s embarrassing, or would have been, if I hadn’t caught myself before submitting THIS REVIEW of Nut’s opening night to Bachtrack. And when it came to penning a few words here, for The Classical Girl, whaddya know, the same thing started happening.

So let’s do this instead of risking self-plagiarism, not to mention boring you. What changes annually in an established production is the casting and the dance performance. Costumes, lighting, scenic design, the musical score—no changes. You can find my “baseline” review HERE, complete with links to past reviews. Read first… or not.

And now, without further ado, here are 14 Really Great Things worth mentioning

1) The gorgeous set: an Edwardian house with a posh living room, circa 1915, that I really want to live in. Act 1 just flies, with pantomime and dances that are elegant and unfettered. It’s why I can watch this production over and over.

2) Grooving on the little kids in the audience, hushed and wide-eyed and totally absorbed in everything happening, especially Drosselmeyer’s magic. Their hushed intake of breath when the Nut doll turned life-sized in a clever shifting of boxes (or however they do it. Six times now, and I still don’t get some of the “magic” tricks. Isn’t that so cool? Bravo, SFB.)

© Erik Tomasson

© Erik Tomasson

3) Rubén Martín Cintas’ Uncle Drosselmeyer, particularly compelling as he rose from within the fog during Clara’s dream, at the commencement of The Best Music Ever, and where he made Very Psychedelic Things happen.

4) The Best Music Ever = as the Christmas tree keeps growing and growing, Drosselmeyer does his mysterious stuff, and the music reaches this thundering crescendo. In a lightning-fast set change, furniture and wrapped presents are whisked away, replaced by wildly oversized ones and in the blink of an eye we’ve all been shrunk to mouse size. Best. Moment. Ever. Kudos to the incomparable San Francisco Ballet Orchestra and music director Martin West.

5) Opening night’s Mouse King’s (Alexander Reneff-Olson) antics. So entertaining, I kinda started rooting for him. Hilarious, too, was Dec 27th matinee’s Mouse King, Benjamin Freemantle, when he grabbed a big hunk of cheese and gnawed on it, dropping it in shock at the BOOM of the cannon the toy soldiers set off. Never noticed that detail before. Crack me up.

6) The snow. And more snow. And more. Opening night’s Snow Queen and King Mathilde Froustey and Carlo Di Lanno were equally sublime, in this brilliantly staged Land of Snow.

Jennifer Stahl in Tomasson's Nutcracker. (© Erik Tomasson)

Jennifer Stahl in Tomasson’s Nutcracker.
(© Erik Tomasson)

7) Little scuttling ladybugs, in the Act II opener, so cute you could scream. Wonderful use of the kids from the SF Ballet school, whose dancing is genuinely enjoyable to watch.

8) Sofiane Sylve’s elegant, never-too-sugary Sugar Plum Fairy. Quietly perfect.

9) Seeing corps dancers Isabella DeVivo and Mingxuan Wang dance Snow Queen and King on Dec 27th matinee. Occasional unsteadiness, but otherwise a delight to watch them, the way they ended each passage and/or step with regal finesse. I’ve seen DeVivo in soloist roles before; she made my 2016 promotion wish list (http://wp.me/p3k7ov-Cn) but I’ve never seen Mingxuan Wang in a big role. Wow, he did great. Give him more!

10) In Spanish Dance, seeing former trainee and new corps member Natasha Sheehan living up to the buzz she’s generated.

11) WanTing Zhao in Arabian Dance on opening night. She owns this role. Sexy, sinuous, classical, mysterious, like something out of an opium-laced dream. And she arrives onstage inside an oil lamp carried onstage by her partners Daniel Deivison-Oliveira and Anthony Vincent. Way cool.

12) The pleasure of watching Max Cauthorn (also on my promotion wish list) continue to dance really well, particularly in Russian Dance on Dec 27th matinee. And speaking of Russian…

13) Finally learning when not to blink as the Russian Dance commences (a millisecond before the music) and the three dancers leap out from their respective papered Fabergé eggs. Gotta see it to appreciate it. An iconic holdover from a past staging, choreographed by Anatole Vilzak.

14) Hansuke Yamamoto dancing as Nut Prince on Dec 27th matinee. A longtime soloist, it was wonderful seeing him in this lead role. He might fall short of the powerhouse presence of some of the company’s male principals, but in its place he offers such graciousness, likeability, and clean technical work, with feather-soft landings to the jumps. Paired nicely with Koto Ishihara in the Grand Pas de Deux, whose performance was a solid notch up from last year, where she seemed a touch green, tentative in her pirouettes and presentation. Very rewarding to watch a dancer like this mature and develop artistically.

I love the way artistic director Helgi Tomasson gives his younger, newer dancers an opportunity to shine in solos during the Nut run. Here are castings and pairings that I wish I could have seen as well (some of which didn’t actualize due to injuries):

Sugar Plum Fairy

  • Jahna Frantziskonis
  • Norika Matsuyama
  • Elizabeth Mateer (new this year)
  • Isabella DeVivo

Queen and King of the Snow

  • Koto Ishihara, Francisco Mungamba
  • Elizabeth Mateer, Steven Morse
  • Norika Matsuyama, Hansuke Yamamoto
  • Isabella DeVivo, Max Cauthorn

Grand Pas de Deux

  • Lauren Strongin, Wei Wang
  • Julia Rowe, Angelo Greco (new this year)
  • WanTing Zhao, Tiit Helimets

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The company’s 2017 repertory season begins on Jan 24th with Program 1, featuring Tomasson’s “Haffner Symphony,” Bubeníček’s “Fragile Vesssels” and Justin Peck’s “In the Countenance of Kings.” Program 2 follows right on its heels on Jan 26th and features Ratmansky’s “Seven Sonatas,” Possokhov’s “Optimistic Tragedy” and Forsythe’s Pas/Parts 2016 (which I reviewed HERE.) Performances of these two programs are intertwined, date-wise, and will finish on Feb 4 and 5 respectively. And then, look out, because Frankenstein, a co-production with The Royal Ballet, opens on Feb 17th and you’re right in thinking this is going to be one unique, talked-about production. (Read my review of it HERE.) I’ll be leaving links for future program reviews here, as well. Look for those in mid-and-late March.

Want to know about new dancers and promotions for the 2016-17 season? Here you go!

Promotions/Level

  • Carlo Di Lanno                 Principal
  • Sasha de Sola                   Principal (just promoted! Effective Jan 2017)
  • Francisco Mungamba       Soloist
  • Julia Rowe                           Soloist
  • Wei Wang                            Soloist
  • WanTing Zhao                    Soloist
  • Blake Kessler                     Corps de Ballet (from apprentice)

New Company Members/Level

  • Ludmila Bizalion                Corps de Ballet
  • Angelo Greco                      Hired as soloist, promoted Feb 2017 to principal (Yay! Congrats!)
  • Elizabeth Mateer                Corps de Ballet
  • Aaron Robison                    Principal Dancer
  • Natasha Sheehan              Corps de Ballet (from SFB trainee program)

New Apprentices

  • Alexandre Cagnat
  • Shené Lazarus
  • Davide Occhipinti
  • Nathaniel Remez
  • Isabella Walsh

Congratulations to all San Francisco Ballet dancers and trainees on another successful Nut run, and I look forward to seeing all of you dance in 2017!

10 Don Quixote ballet trivia bits

Mathilde Froustey and Carlos Quenedit in Tomasson/Possokhov's Don Quixote. Photo by Erik Tomasson

Mathilde Froustey and Carlos Quenedit in Tomasson/Possokhov’s Don Quixote. Photo by Erik Tomasson

Do you know your Don Quixote ballet trivia? So maybe you’ve seen the entire ballet, or plan to. Here are ten bits to entertain and educate:

  1. The staging you were/will be watching, whether it is American Ballet Theatre, Royal Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Mariinsky, Bolshoi or other, has stemmed from the same source: Alexander Gorsky’s 1911 restaging of the even more original source, Marius Petipa’s 1869 four-act, eight-scene ballet for Moscow. Which blossomed two years later into an even bigger restaging for the St. Petersburg stage and the Imperial Ballet: five acts and eleven scenes. Which surely made for a long night of dancing and set changes. Which is probably why Gorsky restaged it in 1911 (for the Moscow stage and, two years later, for the St. Petersburg Imperial Ballet stage).
  2. The ballet, in some form, has been around for over 250 years. First in 1740, in a muted, era-appropriate style, by Franz Hilverding, in Vienna. In 1768, Jean Georges Noverre offered his version; 1808, Charles Didelot did the same. On and on, through the 19th century: one for the London court, one for Berlin, one for Turin. The best known Petipa/Gorsky staging sort of of knocked the others out of importance, which is unfair, but so is life.
  3. The ballet isn’t supposed to reflect the entire Cervantes tome, but instead is based on one extended episode from the novel. Yes, in the ballet, there is still a windmill and Don Quixote does fight with it, but only a brief exchange, swiping at it ineffectually with his jousting pole before he falls to the ground and drifts off to dreamland (followed by an utterly delicious dream ballet scene). Some stagings try to coax more out of his character and his presence in the libretto, but most just focus on dance, dance, dance, and Kitri and Basilio’s romance. Which, hey, works.

    San Francisco Ballet, Don Quixote, photography Erik Tomasson

    San Francisco Ballet, Don Quixote, photography Erik Tomasson

  4. More frequently performed than the full-length ballet is the famous Grand Pas de Deux from the final scene. It’s one of those bravura numbers soloists love to tour, with good reason. It’s lovely, technically demanding, memorable. Kitri’s solo variation is also commonly performed on the competition circuit. You might remember this pas de deux from the 1977 film, The Turning Point, where Leslie Brown and Mikhail Baryshnikov tear up the stage as Kitri and Basilio. I loved it so much.Here’s that pas de deux featuring American Ballet Theatre principal dancers Paloma Hererra and Angel Corella. (Best viewed through Safari and not Chrome; here’s the link if you can’t see the embed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHLjVBq_zm0) They are stupendous. Really. I must insist you watch this, even, or especially if you’ve never seen this before, or are one of my readers more interested in music and not pas de deux. This is one of the best in the repertoire and these two dancers are among the best in the business (although Corella left the ABT in 2012 and Hererra, sadly, is retiring at the end of the 2015 season).
  5. Cuban-trained dancers know this ballet very, very well. For the men, Basilio is a role they have performed and enjoyed through many years of training. I have to say, they seem to have an astonishing knack for the part. When I saw San Francisco Ballet principal Carlos Quenedit tearing up the stage on the company’s recent opening night of Don Quixote, I was stunned by how well he did. He very much had the “wow” factor going that night, in this, his first season as a company principal. Mathilde Froustey, too, as Kitri, was knockout wonderful. (You can read my Bachtrack review here: http://bachtrack.com/review-don-quixote-san-francisco-ballet-war-memorial-opera-house-san-francisco-march-2015)
  6. The Ludwig Minkus score is not as thrilling as La Bayadére, which he also composed, but it certainly does the job of propelling the dancers and production ever onward at a brisk clip. This is not a short ballet. Nor is it the breathtakingly soulful Kingdom of the Shades. It moves, moves, moves.
  7. For the female dancers, the fan flourish movements are a dance in themselves, a difficult one to master. And hanging on tight to those fans through all the dancing is tougher than you’d imagine.
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  8. Famous stagings of this ballet, since the Petipa/Gorsky staging, include Ninette de Valois for Royal Ballet (1950); Rudolph Nureyev for Vienna State Opera Ballet (1966); Mikhail Baryshnikov for American Ballet Theatre (1980). Recent restagings include The Royal Ballet’s version by Carlos Acosta (2013) and San Francisco Ballet’s, by Helgi Tomasson and Yuri Possokhov. (2003, with gorgeous new costumes and set in 2012).
  9. Balanchine created his own Don Quixote during his Suzanne Farrell obsession years. And, you guessed it, he was Don Q and Farrell his idealized love, Dulcinea (whom Don Quixote mistakes Kitri for, in most of the versions). But he used none of the original staging, nor the libretto, ignoring the Minkus score as well. Seems to me the production was a little um, self-serving. Perhaps the public felt the same, as the ballet was pulled from NYCB repertoire ten years later.
  10. The best bit of trivia is the newest: just weeks ago, Spanish authorities revealed that they have found what appears to be the remains of Don Quixote’s creator, Miguel Cervantes, 400 years after his death. (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/18/world/europe/cervantes-remains-madrid-spain.html?_r=0) (How quixotic that search must have been. And thank you, Cervantes, for giving us that lovely adjective!)

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San Francisco Ballet and the (sorta) first Nutcracker

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Willem Christensen and Gisella Caccialanza, 1944

It hadn’t been intended as a “timeless holiday classic,” that first year, on Christmas Eve day, 1944, when Willem Christensen, artistic director of the fledgling San Francisco Ballet, presented to audiences his complete, two-act Nutcracker production. He’d known he was doing something relatively new. The only other complete Nutcracker ballet outside Russia had been in London by the Vic-Wells Ballet (a pre-precursor to the Royal Ballet) in 1934. The Ballet Russe of Monte Carlo, an offshoot from the disbanded Ballets Russes, had been touring its own one-act “Nutcracker Suite” production since 1940, but not with any holiday theme in mind. Christensen wanted the full works. He met up with two Ballet Russe luminaries during one of their San Francisco stops: George Balanchine, ballet master, and ballerina Alexandra Danilova. The three of them sat and Christensen listened as the Russians talked about the original two-act Maryinski production, the specific details they remembered from past productions, what had made it magical. Christensen voiced his own ideas and the two Russians nodded, smiled, and offered the Russian equivalent of “dude, go for it.”

So he did.

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The 1944 production was a labor of love and a collaborative effort involving all the San Francisco Ballet dancers and staff. A $1000 budget had to stretch across all cost, including Antonio Sotomayor’s scenic design, Russell Hartley’s costume design, and 143 costumes. Since it was wartime and material for making clothes [much less costumes] was rationed, the dancers helped by standing in long lines to purchase the allocated 10-yard lengths of fabric. At a Goodwill store, Russell Hartley discovered a treasure: red velvet stage curtains from San Francisco’s closed-down Cort Theatre that the company bought and fashioned into Act 1 costumes. (The remaining fabric would go on to produce red velvet costumes for another ten years.)

Gisella Cassialanza Christesen, wife of Lew Christensen (then serving in the army, but who would come back and help run the company, taking over as artistic director) and the production’s Sugar Plum Fairy, shared these amusing impressions. “Onna White helped me make my costume, which was really awful. We made our own tights then too. They weren’t like tights worn today. We had to sew our stockings onto little pants to make tights and, like old-style tights, they’d bag out and wouldn’t bounce back and cling to your legs. We sewed pennies or nickels to the waistbands so we’d have something to grab onto to yank up the tights.  You couldn’t practice pliés or anything before a performance or else you’d be standing there with baggy knees when the curtain came up.”*

They did it, these determined, talented dancers, carrying armfuls of costumes across the street to the theater on Christmas Eve day, 1944, for a matinee performance of America’s first full-length Nutcracker Ballet. The performance was a rousing hit. And oh, what a holiday classic they started. (It was, in truth, Balanchine’s own full-length production, ten years later, that would really set the ball rolling in the U.S., and funding for the arts in the 1970’s even more so, but why spoil the pretty story here?)

SFB dancers Sue Loyd, Gloria Canicilla, and Sally Bailey
SFB dancers Sue Loyd, Gloria Canicilla, and Sally Bailey (year?)

Here’s a fun archival photo:

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The true first Nutcracker ballet. Imperial Mariinski Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia, 1892

Fast forward 122 years, to 2014. This year, the San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker is notable for another reason: it’s the ten-year anniversary of San Francisco Ballet artistic director Helgi Tomasson’s current production. (Tomasson, BTW, took over as artistic director after the death of aforementioned, long-time artistic director Lew Christensen.) Here, we get a distinctly San Francisco version of the holiday classic. It’s set in 1915 San Francisco, during the time of the Panama Pacific Exposition, which helped celebrate the city’s rise from the ashes after the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire. In this version of the story, Clara is an adolescent, on the cusp of awakening to the adult world around her. It lends an elegance and sophistication to the story that serves it well. I’m crazy about the production; the quality of dance and the set (Michael Yeargan) and costumes (Martin Pakledinaz) is unparalleled. You can read my review of the opening night performance here: http://us.bachtrack.com/review-nutcracker-san-francisco-ballet-war-memorial-opera-house-san-francisco-december-2014.

Kudos to all the wonderful dancers on Friday night, particularly Ricardo Bustamante, Max Cauthorn, Sean Orza, Mathilde Froustey,  Dores André, Yuan Yuan Tan and Luke Ingham. Oh, heck, ALL the Act II soloists: Lee Alex Meyer-Lorey, Gaetano Amico, Sean Bennet, Steven Morse joining Dores André in the Spanish dance. Dana Genshaft, Daniel Deivison-Oliveira, Anthony Spaulding in Arabian; Francisco Mumgamba in Chinese; Kristina Lind, Jennifer Stahl, WanTing Zhao in French; Hansuke Yamamoto, Esteban Hernandez, Wei Wang in Russian. And Act 1’s Snow Queen and King, Vanessa Zahorian and Taras Domitro.

What a show you all put on. Willem Christensen would be so proud.

Willampor

* Text courtesy of San Francisco Ballet’s fact sheet and archives.

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

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

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.

images-104     Photo by Nadya Wasylko  

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