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 Post subject: Diary - Wednesday, Day 3
PostPosted: Wed Aug 15, 2001 9:24 am 

Joined: Sat Mar 10, 2001 12:01 am
Posts: 1889
Location: London
Wednesday, 15th August<BR>Backstage with the San Francisco Ballet<BR>Royal Opera House, London<P>SFB, in town for a week, has now performed Programmes 1 and 2, is due to perform Programme 2 for the second time this evening, and will perform Programme 3 tomorrow. I went to the Royal Opera House this morning to meet the company PR manager, Krya Jablonsky, to find out a little more about the daily schedule of the dancers and to interview two of the principals, Joanna Berman and Pierre-Francois Vilanoba.<P>Waiting outside the company’s headquarters for the week, a fairly small room hidden away in the maze of corridors backstage at the Royal Opera House, I see the dancers coming out of the lift, bringing them from the studio in which they have just completed the morning’s hour class to their dressing rooms. It is humid in London today and they are not quite acclimatised to the constant weather changes we suffer during our summers, so there is an aura of exhaustion about them as they drag their heavy limbs back to the dressing rooms, sipping from square bottles of Volvic water. I am waiting for Joanna Berman. Joanna is one of the longest serving dancers with the company. She joined in 1984 and has been a principal for 13 years. Tiekka Schofield, who has just joined as soloist, passes us and Kyra tells me that she is injured and so not dancing much this week. It must be difficult for a dancer just starting with a company, wanting to make a good impression, to be out of action. Muriel Maffre returns to the lift. I am pleased to observe her close up having been totally impressed with her performance in Robbins’ “Glass Pieces” last night. I had also singled her out for attention during the opening piece in London, as the ‘harp’ in Robbins’ “Fanfare”. She is very tall and willowy and moves with a slow grace as she manoeuvres her long limbs into the lift. She turns and leans up against the back of the lift, her arms outstretched to support her. She looks stern and deep in thought. Although she appears tall to me for a French woman, she looks typical of her race. Whilst the other dancers look quite layered and improvised in their ordinary garb for class, Maffre is the essence of Parisian chic in an elegant black halter-neck with red trim, and with her long legs encased in slinky black tights.<P>Joanna arrives. She is the first to look energetic and perky. With her direct gaze and big smile, she is, for me, the “all-American girl”. We wander up to the canteen to conduct the interview (which will appear on criticaldance soon). Joanna is the most gracious of women and totally easy to engage in animated debate about her life. I engage her for a half-hour and then she leaves to join in the rehearsal for tomorrow’s “Sandpaper”, choreographed by Mark Morris and brought to London by the company for the second time. Company rehearsal normally takes place between 12 and 2. After that, certain dancers will be rehearsed in individual parts whilst the others rest and prepare for the evening’s performance. Kyra estimates that dancers will have between 2 and a half to 5 hours before the performance starts in the evening. Tomorrow afternoon the company will have the dress rehearsal for Programme 3. Today they are totally in character – of themselves – showing their individuality in their own practice clothes..<P>In trying to join the dancers on stage I first find myself on the wrong side of the safety curtain. This gives me time to sit for a moment in the empty, ghost-like auditorium which, devoid of an audience, is a sea of red velvet. Neal Stulberg, one of the American conductors, is rehearsing the orchestra. Eventually Kyra figures out how to get us through the safety curtain and we arrive in the middle of a semi-dance, semi-walkthrough of “Sandpaper” led by ballet mistress, Betsy Erickson. Betsy is dressed in a crisp white shirt tucked into well-pressed trousers, which makes her look more business executive than ballet mistress. (I always think of ballet mistresses in long loose skirts with a cardigan featuring somewhere in the ensemble). Ashley Wheater, the one ballet ‘master’ of the company, is watching from the wings.<P>Joanna notices me sitting in the wings and smiles. She shares a fun moment with the stern looking Maffre who breaks into a smile when they crash into each other. This confirms what I have observed about the company so far: the dancers work well together and appear good friends. There is lots of laughter on stage. Gonzalo Garcia performs all the steps properly whereas many of the others are just marking. He pushes some of the soloists out of the wings to get them on stage on cue and chases them off the other side showing the boyish energy of an enthusiastic school sports captain. Julia Adam’s variation has the rest of the gang clapping the rhythm for her in the wings, making her laugh so much that she loses her steps. Clearly an ‘in joke’ that is lost on me, but I enjoy being part of it, observing the dancers in their natural habitat, so to speak.<P>Lorena Feijoo, looking very exotically Cuban in her big gold hoop earrings, dances in soft shoes. Julia Adam wears bright green pointe shoes. Muriel Maffre keeps to her chic look with pink satin shoes. A less superficial diversity between the dancers is body type. Having participated in the debate on criticaldance surrounding the Keefer case, and the question as to whether the SFB School handpicks ballerinas on the basis of a body type which favours the excessively thin, I was nervous that, having given the school the benefit of the doubt on the issue (due to a lack of first-hand knowledge and not ever having seen the company, let alone any pupils from the school), I was nervous that I would meet a bunch of emaciated waifs draped over the furniture without the energy to hold themselves upright. Would I be under some duty to express concern or alarm in the forum? Not at all. These dancers are healthy and diverse in their figures. Yes, you can see the vertebrae at the top of Maffre’s spine, but this dancer is clearly naturally very slim. The others are healthy slim, but not thin, and the majority of women have, well dare I say it, breasts? They have women’s figures, not androgynous bodies produced from starving themselves.<P>And a good diversity of heights. I had noticed that the company repeated well Balanchine’s choreographed line of tall to small women in “Symphony in Three Movements”. Kyra confirmed that the members range from 5 foot 1 to over 6 foot 2. I understand that the costumes for Sandpaper Ballet will also play on this diversity by having green bottom halves and white top halves, with the dividing line varying for each dancer to ensure that a continuous line across the dancers’ bodies links them, whilst the proportions of green and white varies according to their height. <P>Rehearsal over, I am introduced to a handsome Jean-Pierre Vilanoba who escorts me up to the canteen, somewhat nervously awaiting his interview. We sit outside on the terrace overlooking the old Covent Garden market with the sun streaming down on us and chat about his penchant for playing chess against strangers in cyberspace. Find out more soon.<P><BR>

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