Tag Archives: Mayo Sugano

Diablo Ballet’s “Celebrated Masters”

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The dazzling world of the imagination; an exploration of the mythic through movement; Shakespearean drama lushly interpreted – these are the worlds revealed in “Celebrated Masters,” Diablo Ballet’s final program in their 22nd season. Saturday afternoon’s performance at Walnut Creek’s Del Valle Theatre reminds me how worth the effort it is to catch one of this troupe’s shows.

Gary Masters’ Mythic Place conjures a sense of sacred ritual and community. Set to a percussion score by Carlos Chavez, arranged and performed onstage by Greg Sudmeier, it delivers its message in movement that’s both primal and contemporary. Masters, founder and Co-Artistic Director of sjDANCEco, has long been associated with the Limón Dance Company, the foundation and its projects, which shows in the angular yet fluid choreography. There are turns with arms in square shapes, long, emotive reaches, leaps that lunge. The cast of five dancers connects in center, touching, before reeling outward in turns and jumps. Memorable was the way Tetyana Martyanova threw her whole body into a curve, and how Rosslyn Ramirez colored her movements with a powerful focus and gaze. Three newcomers to the company this season—Raymond Tilton, Jamar Goodman and Jackie McConnell completed the quintet. The men’s strong presence, in particular, seems to have raised the bar on this boutique company’s high standards. Saturday afternoon’s performance wasn’t flawless; unison movements sometimes fell short of synchronicity, but the live music and Renee Rothmann costumes—leotards in vivid colors of red, orange, yellow, green and blue—helped the dancers achieve a satisfying end result.

Christian Squires and Amanda Farris; Photo by Bérenger Zyla

Hamlet and Ophelia; Dancers Christian Squires and Amanda Farris; Photo by Bérenger Zyla

Val Caniparoli’s dramatic Hamlet and Ophelia pas de deux provided a distinctly different flavor, right down to the dappled, dreamy lighting (Jack Carpenter after Dennis Hudson), and lush orchestral music by early 20th century composer Bohuslav Martinu. Sandra Woodall’s elegant costumes completed the theatrical statement. Christian Squires and Amanda Farris executed it beautifully, under the guidance of stager Joanna Berman, on whom the 1985 San Francisco Ballet premiere was set. Both dancers were well suited to their roles, and gorgeous to watch. This is a dramatic, and highly athletic pas de deux. Caniparoli, former principal and resident choreographer of the San Francisco Ballet and in great demand worldwide since, keeps his choreography thoroughly classical, yet fresh, propulsive. The piece ends as it began, Ophelia bourréeing on Hamlet’s long, long cape as he walks, which is, in and of itself, artful, imaginative, mesmerizing to watch. In the closing moments, the end of the cape becomes paler, more diaphanous fabric, like clouds, or the froth of churning water—the waters in which Ophelia will drown.

Here’s a taste for you:

The program closed with resident choreographer Robert Dekkers’ Carnival of the Imagination, set to Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Le Carnaval des Animaux.” Its opening moments feature Our Protagonist, a boy (Christian Squires), and the Imaginary Friend he has just dreamed up. Behind them, an open wooden treasure chest oozes fog and mystery, all against an orange lit backdrop. It promises exciting things ahead, and boy, it delivered. Raymond Tilton’s Dragon was powerful, impressive. Tilton filled the stage with his dancing, his fine technique, his presence. Formerly from the San Francisco Ballet, his skill shows it. Aiden DeYoung’s Panda grin felt a bit too slapstick, but boy, did the kids love his dance. Jackie McConnell’s portrayal of the Imaginary Friend grew more nuanced as it went on, manic glee replaced by other emotions, such as her sorrowful withdrawal when the Protagonist began to ignore her. Squires, throughout, entertained as he cavorted, pranced, engaged, resisted, conjured up, and shrank from these vivid creatures borne of his imagination. It was darling. Even his dull pajama onesie costume worked, the other, splendid costumes outshining him, of course, because when doesn’t imagination outshine reality? All the costumes—thirty in all—superbly designed by Squires himself, were full of color and imagination. Tetyana Martyanova stole the show not once but twice, as the Unicorn and later as the Butterfly. Gasps of delight could be heard from younger audience members, when Martyanova emerged as a gleaming, sparkling unicorn, in a sleek, opalescent unitard that made her look as though she’d been dipped in liquid pearl. And again, appearing as a butterfly, carried on and emerging from its chrysalis, to the unforgettable cello strains of “The Swan,” she dazzled, with her clean, beautiful classical lines.

Dancers from L to R: Christian Squires, Jamar Goodman & Tetyana Martyanova; Photo by: Bérenger Zyla

Dancers from L to R: Christian Squires, Jamar Goodman & Tetyana Martyanova; Photo by: Bérenger Zyla

Rosselyn Ramirez charmed as the Tortoise, with wonderful attention to detail in moving precisely like a reptile, steps measured and exact. “Constellations” was gorgeous and inventive, the females sporting pale costumes topped with a web of tiny LED lights, glowing under Jack Carpenter’s lighting. Jamar Goodman, Mayo Sugano and the aforementioned DeYoung, Tilton, Martyanova and Ramirez, made this piece pure magic. Amanda Farris danced a compelling “Phoenix” and In “Raindrop/Drip,” Mayo Sugano and Jamar Goodman, a former American Ballet Theatre dancer, shone. The whole crew assembled for the finale, now clad in animal onesie pajamas, like kids at a sleepover, running in with pillows in hand. It was so gleeful, infectiously fun, it was impossible not to grin through it all. A pillow fight, feathers flying, pillows thrown in the air, timed to the millisecond as they landed on the ground in unison and eight heads followed. What a clever, fun ending to a clever, fun ballet.

I am doubly appreciative of companies like Diablo Ballet in the wake of Ballet San Jose’s recent demise after thirty years in the South Bay. It’s no surprise or stroke of luck that Diablo Ballet is going strong as they finish their 22nd year. Credit goes to Artistic Director Lauren Jonas, her dedication, intelligent programming, insight into what works and what won’t, and the way the company reaches out and supports the community that, in turn, supports them. Their outreach program, PEEK, should serve as instruction and inspiration to arts organizations and businesses everywhere. The success of a recent expansion of the PEEK program into the juvenile hall system is so impressive and uplifting, I’m going to save that story for a blog of its own. (Which, in 2017, you can find HERE.)  In the meantime, hats’ off to Jonas, Diablo Ballet’s extraordinary dancers, and all who collaborate to keep this company thriving. Another performance, program and season done right!

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9 Reasons to Watch Diablo Ballet

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  1. Robert Dekkers
  2. Jennifer Friel Dille
  3. David Fonnegra
  4. Tetyana Martyanova
  5. Rosselyn Ramirez
  6. Derek Sakakura
  7. Edward Stegge
  8. Mayo Sugano
  9. Justin VanWeest

Okay, so maybe the title’s sort of a teaser.  I mean, certainly, you should watch Diablo Ballet. And the aformentioned dancers are indeed a good reason to go — odds are you’ll see all of them perform, because they are Diablo Ballet. Just the nine of them, with artistic director extraordinaire Lauren Jonas at the helm. When I first heard about the number of dancers in this elite chamber company, I thought, no, that can’t be right, because I’ve heard so much about Diablo Ballet, online, in the news, making national news, even. But once you see them dance, see what they can do with a small troupe, a small budget, and a hell of a lot of dedication and talent, well, it makes more sense.

And they are marketing wizards. Their motto: Be creative. Be real. Be loud. Their strategies: use social media to interact, engage, involve the online community. They were the first dance company to solicit “text-perts” (audience members who’d tweet their thoughts during a performance), and in 2013, premiere a ballet created via suggestions from the Internet. The company just celebrated its 20th anniversary with a gala performance on March 6th. Yes, I went. Yes, I loved it. Check out my review here:  http://us.bachtrack.com/review-diablo-ballet-20th-anniversary-gala-march-2014

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But back to my point about these nine reasons to watch Diablo Ballet. Artistic director Lauren Jonas is very picky about whom she selects for the company. She hunts down strong, seasoned dancers who are gifted in both ensemble and soloist work. Often they hail from bigger, higher profile companies where competition, politics, stress and high demands made them reconsider their choices. Diablo Ballet gives them the chance to let their artistry shine through, onstage, as well as offstage, in community outreach, which is a big deal for Diablo Ballet. Several of the dancers are also ballet teachers around the Bay Area. Choreographers. All of them are intensely dedicated and hard-working. Allow me to introduce them to you in greater detail…

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1. Robert Dekkers, one of the company’s best known dancers. Named “25 To Watch” by DANCE Magazine in 2011, founder and artistic director of Post:Ballet, recently named Diablo’s resident choreographer, creating cares you know not for the gala. He’s been with the company since 2011. Helluva dancer.

2. Jennifer Friel Dille, with the company since 2012.  A solid classicist, clean lines, with a great sense of ensemble, at the March 6th gala, in both Kelly Teo’s Dancing Miles and Balanchine’s Who Cares?

3. David Fonnegra, company member since 2004, formerly a dancer with Miami City Ballet. Also choreographs and was named artistic director of San Mateo’s Peninsula Ballet Theatre in 2013. Gave a wonderful performance at the gala (Val Caniparoli’s Lady of the Camellias) with Diablo Ballet alum Tina Kay Bohnstedt – my favorite piece of the night.

4. Tetyana Martyanova, new to the company in 2013, hailing from Odessa, Ukraine. She’s a striking dancer, engrossing to watch, with her long limbs, height, and strong technique. Performing last with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal, I’d call her Someone To Watch.

5. Rosselyn Ramirez, company member since 2011. Born in Caracas, Venezuela, and danced first with Ballet Nacional de Caracas. Very strong classical dancer, appearing in three of five pieces at the gala. Especially sweet in the Sweetheart pas de deux from Billy the Kid. 

6. Derek Sakakura, with the company since 2011, paired up nicely with Ramirez for Billy the Kid, and, if I’m not mistaken, they are paired up in real life as well (as in married), which always charms me to see. Sakakura, like Ramirez, had lots of stage time at the gala.

7. Edward Stegge, Company member since 2002, Stegge survived a horrifying mugging attack in 2009 with injuries that threatened not just his career but his life. I’d read about it, back then (Dance Magazine article on it HERE) and I was delighted to see him onstage performing at the gala. Best yet, I couldn’t pick him out of the ensemble dancers initially, which means the guy is 100% back in his game. I love stories like this.

8. Mayo Sugano, born in Japan, joined the company in 2005. In 1997, she’d won a Prix de Lausanne award, a scholarship with the San Francisco Ballet, and went on to dance with the San Francisco Ballet from 2000 to 2004. That’s some stellar pedigree, in my mind, and it shows in her fine dancing.

9. Justin VanWeest, new in 2013, gave a strong performance with Sugano and Martyanova in Dekkers’ cares you know not. Coming from the North Carolina Dance Theatre, he’s a solid technician and tossed out a really great triple pirouette toward the end of Balanchine’s Who Cares? Very satisfying to watch.

I’ll say this about Diablo Ballet as well. Their audience loves them. Sitting among them on the night of the March 6th gala celebration, I could feel it all around me, a palpable sense of community and enthusiasm and pride for this local company of theirs. Small companies (or even bigger ones) can’t exist without regular support, through subscriptions, donations, volunteer time. Artistic director Jonas has been the powerhouse behind keeping this all going, through these challenging economic times, and the Walnut Creek community, not to mention the considerable online community they have drawn, has reached out to help. It’s a pretty cool thing to see.

Here’s raising my glass to a ballet company that’s getting it right, in so many ways. Congratulations, Diablo Ballet, on twenty years of success. Keep up the great work.

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