Saturday Matinee

Thoughts on theater in the Bay Area

Review: 2014 Ballet Arizona’s La Bayadere February 19, 2014

Filed under: ballet,ballet arizona — Jolene @ 9:52 pm


Ballet Arizona in La Bayadère, photo by Alexander Iziliaev Photography

Ballet Arizona in La Bayadère, photo by Alexander Iziliaev Photography

Ballet Arizona has been catching more national attention in the past few years, with its Nutcracker catching the attention of the difficult-to-please NY Times, and more. Their “Ballet Under the Stars” program that I mentioned in the previous blog post gave me a glimpse of the company that I’d heard about, with its Balanchine style really popping off the stage on their quietly unassuming but commanding dancers. It was with this, I was excited to see what this company is all about.

It’s funny how ballet companies all over the world all seem to be performing the same productions yearly. Last year, it seemed like everyone was performing Cinderella, and this year, the production of the year appears to be La Bayadere. It’s my first viewing of this iconic ballet, particularly striking for its famous scenes, with the Kingdom of the Shades, and the insect-like Bronze Idol. It was great to finally see these scenes within the context of the ballet.

The Ballet Arizona teams up with the Phoenix Symphony to continue to provide live music to Phoenix audiences. Ludwig Minkus’ score for La Bayadere soared through the auditorium, with every nuance and color to bring this production to life. During Nikiya’s famous dance with the

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flower basket, her sad arms are buoyed strongly with the surging melody from the principal cello who mourns with her.


Ballet Arizona in La Bayadère, photo by Alexander Iziliaev Photography

India makes for an exotic setting for Ballet Arizona’s production of La Bayadere. Artistic Director Ib Andersen’s vision for this production is a refreshing one. Reportedly pared down from its original length and size to fit his company, my feeling is that his cuts were for the better. This production clips along at a lively pace without any down time, with the dancing flowing seamlessly from scene to scene. He never takes away from the impact of pivotal moments, with the best scene being the famous Kingdom of the Shades. The impact of this scene is breath taking, with its corps of women in white both strong and sad, both intimidating and vulnerable.

Like most classical ballets, the plot line can be silly, and thankfully the dancers never convincingly sell the story itself. Solor swears his love to Nikiya and then marries another without so much as a shoulder shrug – or is it more of a general statement on men?? The plot however doesn’t take away from the dancing itself. In the matinee show that I saw, Arianni Martin danced the role of Nikiya with soulful arms and beautiful extensions. Amber Lewis is a spirited Gamzatti, probably the most convincing of the characters onstage. Nayon Iovino as Solor doesn’t get a chance to fly until his solo, where his jumps brought enthusiastic applause from the audience.

Ballet Arizona’s La Bayadere was an extravagant production that showcased Ib Andersen’s vision for his company, in addition to the fine classical dancing of the Ballet Arizona dancers as well as the lovely musicality of the Phoenix Symphony. It was a great first look for me, for both Ballet Arizona as well as La Bayadere.

Ballet Arizona’s website. Their next performance is tited “Masters of Movement”, and will feature works by Cerrudo and Andersen on March 27-30.


Intermission February 15, 2014

Filed under: ballet,life — Jolene @ 12:20 pm

Hello? Anybody there?

Forgive the long hiatus. I see that my last blog entry was almost a week before a showstopper of my own, a little baby named Marcy. In addition to starting a new job working up to 80 hours a week and a temporary move to another state of Arizona, it has been busy. But no worries, I will be back in Nor Cal in a few months for the next few years!

IMG_5749M was terribly excited for her first ballet performance, the outdoor performance of Ballet Arizona called “Ballet Under the Stars” this past fall. However, she woke up for Balanchine’s The Four

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Temperaments. Definitely a girl after her own mother’s heart.

I’ll be seeing Ballet Arizona’s production of La Bayadere today, and will post a review soon. In the meantime, a lot of fun stuff going on in the ballet world. Ballet superstar Alina Cojocaru just performed at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House stage this past week in the Hamburg Ballet’s “The Midsummer NIght’s Dream”. Of course she has to come the one year I’m not in California. Did anybody see it?

Also, big news at Pacific Northwest Ballet – they are changing their Nutcracker and sending the famous Maurice Sendak sets into storage! In the same spirit though, they will be hiring the illustrator for the children’s books Olivia, Ian Falconer. The public seems to be disagreeing with this one. I have to say that my heart was won over by the previous production (review here), but also realize that these decisions aren’t made lightly.



2013 Fourteenth Van Cliburn Piano Competition June 5, 2013

Filed under: classical music — Jolene @ 4:19 pm

Four years ago, I became hopelessly addicted to the livestream of the famous international Van Cliburn Piano Competition. The fact that it featured a blind piano player Nobuyuki Tsujii (who ended up winning a shared gold medal) and some brilliant performances that still stand out in my mind today, only fueled the fire. The fourteenth Van Cliburn Piano Competition is currently underway in Fort Worth, Texas, once again, and again, the competition is kindly offering a free livestream of the competition to audiences all around the world.

And people are watching. And commenting. And having opinions. And in general, having a blast and enjoying some incredible piano playing. It’s so amazing that although these young piano players are playing halfway across the US, we are able to peek in and experience their triumphs.

The format of the competition has changed a lot this year, with all thirty preliminary round competitors playing a whopping two 45 minute recitals in the prelim rounds, and in exchange, taking out the solo recital in the finals. Thus it means in the finals, competitors are solely judged on their concertos and their ability to work with an orchestra, rather than their ability to take the stage as soloists. It’s nice to be able to hear more piano playing in the prelim rounds with lots more music to experience in this new format, but I’m afraid that this shifts the final winners to be better collaborators rather than solo piano players. But perhaps this is what also made the namesake Van Cliburn famous, with his Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 that earned him accolades at the International Tchaikovsky Competition, and thus it’s fitting that the competition reflects Van Cliburn’s success.

In general compared to four years ago, my opinion is that the general standard of piano playing is higher this year, with some incredible piano playing and virtuosity. However, I haven’t really heard anything outstanding yet, not like four years ago. No one performance has stuck out above the rest in my mind – Tomoki Sakata

may have come the closest, but to be fair, I haven’t listened to all of the competitors play their entire recitals yet. Sean Chen also plays with incredible intelligence. And thankfully, the judges appear to be looking for the same thing I’m looking for, which is something surprising and unique. A lot of people were shocked when American Steven Lin didn’t make it to the semi-finals, a player leading his virtuositic foot that literally made my jaw drop. But it proved to not be enough. In the world of classical piano playing, even winning this competition means a very tough career ahead of these young piano players. There are so many players competing for a career, and in a saturated market, these judges appear to realize that virtuosity and the “wow” factor isn’t enough. Give us something unique, something surprising, something that grabs our attention in a busy iPhone crowded world. And the jurors have appropriately been picking competitors to advance based on these qualities rather than audience popularity alone.

The finals should be fascinating. I’m so looking forward to the Mozart Piano Concerto in d minor by Tomoki Sakata, as well as by Nikita Mndoyants, in addition to the standard romantic concertos by Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky. Kholodenko’s Mozart concerto in C major should

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be interesting as well.

A huge shoutout to the webcast team, who is doing an excellent job. I am consistently amazed at the quality of the filming on the webcast, as well as the excellent lighting.

Please keep the webcast free, Cliburn! Be sure to watch the livecast, here. Follow their twitter feed for comments and information, here.


Review: 2013 San Francisco Ballet’s Program 8: Wheeldon’s Cinderella May 13, 2013

Filed under: ballet,review,San Francisco Ballet — Jolene @ 5:01 pm

Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada in Wheeldon's Cinderella. © Erik Tomasson

The sold-out run of the U.S. premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella brought a modern fairytale to life on the War Memorial Opera House stage in San Francisco. This much anticipated production revived a classic fairytale that both appeals to today’s audiences with an appropriate nod to its past, with an updated libretto by

Craig Lucas that adds interest to the age-old story. Costume and scenic design by Julian Crouch is equally spare with clean lines as well as expansive in scope, which adds both intimacy and luxury to this new production. All these production elements, including the choreography, complements the sumptuous and dark score by Sergei Prokofiev, played by the San Francisco Ballet orchestra and conducted by Ermanno Florio in the Wednesday May 8 production that I saw, which was worth the price of admission alone.

Wheeldon’s choreography fills in the normally perfunctory plotline-moments with interesting twists and turns that continually engages the mind and heart, with the classic Balanchinian traits of speed and heartaching musicality. Experimentation with both creative partnering challenges and delights the audiences throughout the production. There is a particularly lovely pas de deux at the end of Cinderella with her prince under a tree, and although they had fallen in love at the ball, you get the sense that they are truly falling in love as they as dancing under no false identity for the first time. The variations of the “spirits” in Act I were colored by the seasons that each variation represented, keeping to the tradition of the classic ballet but also adding the twist that each variation “taught” Cinderella a dance move she could use at the ball. Each variation was charming and delightful, danced by soloists Clara Blanco, Jaime Garcia Castilla, Hansuke Yamamoto, and Sasha DeSola.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon's Cinderella. © Erik Tomasson

However, I do think that Wheeldon is a better choreographer than storyteller; the beginning of the production stalls a bit with brief scenes and quick scenery changes that is disorienting. There are quirky production elements such as a bevy of floating chairs and the appearance of tree gnomes which add a touch of fantasy but appear a little out of context. There are also the four “Fates”, danced by Gaetano Amico, Daniel Deivison, Anthony Spaulding, and Shane Wuerthner, who make the most out of this difficult but mostly thankless part, which mostly requires overseeing the important plot points and partnering as they are masked. But overall, this production serves as a stunning vehicle for his choreography, heightened by the sumptuous Prokofiev score.

Yuan Yuan Tan lit up the stage as Cinderella, playing the youthful and kind heroine who uses her fluid limbs and speed to the fullest to highlight the wonders of Wheeldon’s choreography. She was partnered by the fresh-faced Luke Ingaham as the Prince Guillaume, who danced with more youthfulness than royalty. He danced with broad strokes in his phrasing, and

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he often took his time in the air which lent a mellow air to his dancing. It was also great to see Katita Waldo back on the stage as the droll Stepmother Hortensia, with an amusing interlude of a drunken solo during the royal ball. The roles of the stepsisters were danced by Vanessa Zahorian and Dores Andre, which made most of the slapstick elements but didn’t quite rise to meet the comedic demands of the roles, with Andre more of a natural

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fit than the understated Zahorian. Garen Scribner danced the role of Benjamin (the Prince’s friend) in his last performance with the SF Ballet, with his usual elegant carriage that may have been more fitting as the prince rather than a valet’s son. His dancing will be sorely missed by SF audiences, and it is our loss that the company is losing an amazing and

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unique dancer.

Maria Kochetkova in Wheeldon's Cinderella. © Erik Tomasson

In a single production, Cinderella manages to delight its audience with a modern retelling of a classic fairytale that highlights Wheeldon’s sparkling choreography. The production is especially arresting on a company like SF Ballet that is so used to the speed and style of Wheeldon’s choreography, and will no doubt be a staple in the company’s repertoire for years to come.

San Francisco Ballet’s website


Review: 2013 Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the Mondavi Center May 3, 2013

Filed under: ballet,dance,mondavi arts,review — Jolene @ 9:11 am

Alicia Graf Mack of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. © Andrew Eccles

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater cranked up the temperature on the Mondavi Center stage this past week with a smashing program of their usual American hits as well as exploration into new worlds, for this company at least. The highlight of the program for me was Jiri Kylian’s Petite Mort, a choreographic gem I’ve had the pleasure of seeing before on other companies. With spare costumes that highlight the physicality of bare bodies and quirky use of props, it was a perfect vehicle to highlight the athleticism of their dancers as well as their silky sensuality. Set to silence as well as the steely clarity of Mozart’s piano concerto, tension constantly simmers underneath in a riveting display. On a minor note, a few fumbles and the slightest hint of caution suggested that perhaps this realm of neo-modernism isn’t a comfortable fit for this company yet. The company emphasized the softness of rippling arms rather than the laser-sharp intensity of pinpoint urgency in the choreography. The halts and pauses in the choreography and music weren’t necessarily as heart-stopping as it could have been. Still, the effect was mesmerizing and it will be interesting to see how this piece grows on this company as it will become more instinctual with time.

Alvin Ailey’s Night Creature was a more natural fit for the company, and it’s like watching them do what they do best. Set to the music of Duke Ellington, the dancers become communal

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animals that play in the night. Led by the magnificent Alicia Graf Mack, she makes you believe in her sensual, swiveling hips and incredible extensions at her glorious height of 5′ 8″. She personifies elegance and a technical finesse and stage presence that makes her a standout. She makes you wonder why there aren’t more tall dancers onstage. She is partnered by the amazing Vernard Gilmore who gives Mack a run for her money with his elegant port de bras and power. It’s a fun piece, with a myriad of influences from classical ballet to jazz, a nice representation of this company as the quintessential American dance company.

Strange Humors is a piece by Alvin Ailey’s artistic director Robert Battle, highlighting a duet of two men with bare chests and bright orange pants (costumes by Missoni). Dramatic, powerful, and athletic, this piece highlights the strength of its dancers, Jermaine Terry and Yannick Lebrun. The statement this piece is making is unclear however, but it was a visually pleasing presentation that is too brief.

And of course, the program ends with Alvin Ailey’s Revelations, a piece that the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company performs at every performance. It’s a wonder and a blessing that they perform it with gusto and spirit, and you could never tell they perform it so often. The liveliness is genuine, and the spirituals that accompanies the piece is rousing. Deeply spiritual but also fun and uplifting, the words of the songs speak of so much more than what is seen onstage. The company looked amazing on tour, particularly the men with their refined and fierce arms – is there something in the lighting the emphasizes their musculature in such a flattering light?? – and long, tapered legs that extend to the skies with such distinction and nobility. It was an amazing

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Mondavi Center


Review: 2013 San Francisco Ballet’s Program 5: Onegin March 27, 2013

Filed under: ballet,review,San Francisco Ballet — Jolene @ 11:19 pm

Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz in Cranko's Onegin. © Erik Tomasson

I think it’s fair to say that San Francisco Ballet’s Onegin was a certifiable hit from their 2012 season. This year, the ballet in three acts returned again, looking as fresh and as new as ever. The epic melodrama graced the stage looking just as ravishing as it did last year, with gorgeous sets by Santo Loquasto and lighting design by James F. Ingalls.

The ballet reads like a novel, with a storyline that is mercifully easy to follow. All the theatrical elements merge to serve the over arching story, including choreography by John Cranko, who pulls the audience on a dramatic love story told through gesture and emotion. Literary metaphors are sprinkled throughout, which pleases the thinker in me. In the final pivotal pas de deux between Tatiana and Onegin as Tatiana is torn between her emotions and her morality, Onegin is draped across her back as she tries hard to walk forward. Through this small bit of choreography, the audience sees what a burden Onegin was to Tatiana, and how difficult it was for her to move forward in life after her heartbreak. He pulls her back as she tries to move forward, another powerful gestural metaphor. Cranko is a a master craftsman at his finest, sweeping up the audience in the story.

The melodramatic choreography also allows a number of San Francisco Ballet dancers to shine and to stretch their artistic muscles. Yuan Yuan Tan, as Tatiana, is absolutely luminous. She flies through the dream sequence in her bedroom when she is dreaming about falling in love with her ideal man, as light as a feather and in complete control. She matures and grows as the character grows, both through Tatiana’s heartbreak and anguish and ultimately, acceptance.

Onegin was danced by guest artist Cory Stearns from the American Ballet Theater, in a richly psychological portrayal of a cruel and arrogant but conflicted character. Stearns’ rendition of Onegin was a deeply satisfying one; through his cruelty and arrogance, we see how Tatiana’s heartbreak was so deep and why it took her so long to get over him. Despite the arrogance, you also see flashes of his compassion and empathy, as he reaches out to Lensky to plead for forgiveness, or through his sudden tears after a fatal moment of anger. Through his chiseled face, perfectly proportioned body and tapered legs, the audience also understands why she fell in love with him in the first place. His portrayal is not a particularly demonstrative one, but it works in this case, as a dark and mysterious Onegin with an extraordinary temper. The character’s motivations have never been clearer as it had with Stearns’ portrayal of Onegin. Jaime Garcia Castilla and Dores Andre danced as Lensky and Olga.

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Castilla danced with a pure lyricism, with beautiful positions in the air. Dores Andre was a strong

and flirtatious Olga, and was really fun to watch. Damian Smith made a brief appearance as Prince Gremin, an epitome of strength and solidarity and grace.

The corps were also very strong as well, particularly the corps of men. Much has been written about the men in the San Francisco Ballet, and their corps is strong evidence of this fact. They are each very strong jumpers and very unique; they embody both an elegant grace and a charismatic masculinity.

In all, San Francisco Ballet’s Onegin remains a hit, and is sure to please ballet lovers and newcomers alike.

San Francisco Ballet’s website


Happy Valentine’s Day February 14, 2013

Filed under: ballet — Jolene @ 11:56 am

Happy Valentine’s day, everyone. In grand celebration of this holiday, I will be doing a night shift in the emergency room in celebration. (If I’m feeling particularly festive, I may bring a bag of raspberry white chocolate Hershey’s hugs with me to share.) Hopefully everyone else has better plans than mine. I

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did get to take my beagle puppy on her first walk today, as she just recently received all of her immunizations.

It is also because of my insane night shift schedule in the emergency room that I can’t make it to Program 2 of San Francisco Ballet’s season, which features the Hamburg Ballet in John Neumeier’s Nijinsky. If you enjoyed Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid, you may enjoy this as well. Nijinsky plays at the War Memorial Opera House until February 19.

When I think of romantic ballets, for me, nothing tops it more than Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Romeo et Juliette, which I flew up to Seattle to see a few years ago. And it was totally worth it, especially with Carla Korbes in the title role. Lucky New Yorkers will get a chance to view this marvelous production during PNB’s tour in New York at the New York City Center. Click here for more info, and yes, it’s a definite must-see.

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Lucien Postlewaite and Carla Körbes in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette. Photo © Angela Sterling.

Are there other ballets that speak of romance to you? Any abstract ballets come to mind? For me, a lot of Tomasson’s pieces have romance interwoven into its choreography, and Wheeldon also speaks of a sexy sort of sensuality.

Erin McNulty and Pascal Molat in Robbins' The Concert. © Erik Tomasson

Sarah Van Patten and Pierre-François Vilanoba in Wheeldon’s Within The Golden Hour. © Erik Tomasson

Vanessa Zahorian and Ruben Martin Cintas in Tomasson's Swan Lake. © Erik Tomasson

Pierre-François Vilanoba and Sofiane Sylve in Balanchine’s Jewels. © Erik Tomasson



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