Tag Archives: Mingxuan Wang

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)

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!

San Francisco Ballet time again!

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Watching the San Francisco Ballet perform Nutcracker is a big deal for two reasons. First, because the company does a bang-up, never-seen-it-done-better job on the production. Second, it gives SFB patrons a chance to see what the company is shaping up to look like for their upcoming winter/spring repertoire season. Rosters change, dancers come and go, and we haven’t seen our SFB dancers performing since they closed their 2013 season last May. It’s a long time to wait. As the lights dimmed on Nutcracker opening night at the War Memorial Opera House and the jaunty Tchaikovsky overture commenced, I thought, dang. It’s good to be back here.

The December 11th performance was as great as I’d hoped. You can find my review of it here, at Bachtrack. http://us.bachtrack.com/review-dec-2013-sfballet-nutcracker-san-francisco?destination=%2Finstrument%2Fchoreography The performance run will continue through December 29th. If you’re even pondering the possibility of squeezing it in, go for it. It’s a holiday classic, and a classic that started right here for U.S. audiences, on this very stage, on Christmas Eve day, 1944. (Russia gets credit for the 1892 premier.) Yet another third reason it’s thrilling to watch San Francisco Ballet.

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Here’s new talent brought in from other companies for the 2014 season:

  • Mathilde Froustey, from Paris Opera Ballet, joining as a principal
  • Simone Messmer, from American Ballet Theatre, joining as a soloist
  • Julia Rowe and Grace Shibley, from Oregon Ballet Theatre (precipitated, perhaps, by the  resignation of Christopher Stowell as artistic director in late 2012?), joining the corps de ballet.

Further new additions to the corps de ballet roster include Isabella DeVivo and Esteban Hernandez. Alexandra Meyer-Lorey has returned after a year’s absence; Nicole Ciapponi was off the company roster in July 2013 and back on in August—yay! The following former apprentices have been promoted to the corps de ballet: Lacey Escabar, Lauren Parrott, Alexander Reneff-Olson, Emma Rubinowitz, and Wei Wang. Five new apprentices have joined the company: Liana Carpio, Aaron Renteria, Miranda Silveira, Mingxuan Wang and Max Cauthorn. The latter, Cauthorn, already looks like he’s being put to good use, dancing his way favorably through Nutcracker as one of the Russian dance trio, and as Madame du Cirque’s (AKA Mother Ginger) dancing bear. New corps dancer Esteban Hernandez joined him in the Russian dance, along with soloist Hansuke Yamamoto, for a strong opening night performance with great ensemble work between the three, which I loved watching (did you read my review yet? Because I mention it there. So go read it).

Also on Nutcracker opening night I was pleased to see corps de ballet dancers Kristina Lind and Marie-Claire D’Lyse getting some quality stage time alongside soloist Jennifer Stahl in the French dance trio. Lind and D’Lyse also got later shots at a principal role, cast as the role of Queen of the Snow on Saturday Dec 14th and  Wednesday December 18th respectively (matinee performances). New corps de ballet dancer Julia Rowe performed as the Sugar Plum Fairy on Tuesday, Dec 17’s matinee performance. (At Oregon Ballet Theatre, she was a soloist with experience in principal roles as well.) Which all means that Helgi Tomasson has a very strong group of corps dancers this year, and oh, what a fun 2014 season it’s going to be to watch, seeing what he does with all this talent.

Newcomers I can’t wait to watch in action are principal Mathilde Froustey, from Paris Opera Ballet, and soloist Simone Messmer, from American Ballet Theatre. The latter would appear to have a strong fan base, mourning that the ABT’s loss is the SFB’s big gain. Check out some of the buzz about Simone Messmer, along with a few media links, over at Ballet Alert. http://balletalert.invisionzone.com/index.php?/topic/37425-simone-messmer-abt-soloist-leaving-to-san-francisco/ (If you’re a dance peep and are not familiar with this site, get yourself right over there. A great source of information and discussion about dancers, companies, ballets, and the ballet world in general, frequented by interested, intelligent people in the know.)

As for Mathilde Froustey, oh wow, check out this rehearsal footage of her. I think she is going to be a very exciting addition to the SFB principal line-up.

In short, get thee ready, San Francisco Ballet patrons. We’re in for an exciting 2014 season, which will commence on Saturday, January 25 with Giselle. And that Nutcracker thing? Still ten days to go. Get thee over there, too.

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