CriticalDance Forum

San Francisco Ballet at Stern Grove: August 13, 2006
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Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu Aug 03, 2006 10:59 am ]
Post subject:  San Francisco Ballet at Stern Grove: August 13, 2006

Here is a link to the Stern Grove Festival's page on SFB's appearance at Stern Grove on Sunday, August 13, 2006:

SFB at Stern Grove 2006

Author:  mehunt [ Wed Aug 09, 2006 4:31 pm ]
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Casting is now available:


Conductor: Martin West

Vanessa Zahorian, Gonzalo Garcia


Conductor: Martin West

Yuan Yuan Tan, Tiit Helimets


Conductor: Martin West

Muriel Maffre, Damian Smith


Conductor: Martin West

Pascal Molat
Garrett Anderson, Jonathan Mangosing, Garen Scribner*, Joseph Phillips


Conductor: Martin West

Sarah Van Patten, Pierre-François Vilanoba


Conductor: Martin West

Cowgirl: Kristin Long
Wrangler: Ruben Martin*
Roper: Rory Hohenstein
Rancher's Daughter: Pauli Magierek

Author:  bcx [ Tue Aug 15, 2006 8:01 am ]
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Rachel Howard on this year's Stern Grove performance :

" . . .the weather was gray yet warm and a large crowd happily roosted on the Grove's newly terraced hillside while dragonflies swooped overhead. Onstage, the dancers looked relaxed but not spent just two weeks after a taxing New York engagement. It was a charmed afternoon." ... KH7901.DTL

Author:  Toba Singer [ Tue Aug 15, 2006 5:31 pm ]
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I find myself in agreement with Rachel's assessment, except on two points. Stern Grove is a different venue than the Opera House, and so showing "Reflections" doesn't seem like a bad idea, since most in the audience are seeing it for the first time.

Her observation that Helmets brought Tan out of her usual "coolness" is not exactly how I would put it. I think that she brought herself out, and while he did a lovely job of squiring her, the work that we saw was all hers on an emotional level, and that is what impressed me so much about it. I think that she has shown a powerful arc of development since she began dancing with the company, and her performance on Sunday was evidence of her ability to grow emotionally and theatrically as a dancer. It was a riveting and very moving performance.

Author:  crandc [ Tue Aug 15, 2006 8:39 pm ]
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I also pretty much agree with the Chronicle review. Re: Yuan Yuan Tan. She has been called "icy"; I think that for Odette a dancer should be, not icy, but remote. I can't think of a better word, but Odette is after all not quite human. She is an ideal that is impossible to possess (IMHO this is one thing that makes Odette and Sylphide different from Giselle, with a similar plot; Giselle is entirely human. But that is another story). Tan's remote quality, and her grace, and exquisite hands, make her a favorite Odette. She and Tiit Helimets were a great partnering. I wanted to see them start all over so I could see it again.

Speaking of partnering, I liked Sarah Van Patten better with P-F Vilanoba than I did when she was partnered with Sergio Torrado. She showed a lightness and liveliness I had not seen with her.

Rodeo is the kind of fun ballet you can see over and over again. I loved the conductor in a 10 gallon hat. I agree that Ruben Martin did not quite make it in his role; his looks were fine but he did not project the aplomb needed for the part. Kristin Long and Rory Hohenstein were fabulous, though.

Once again, and I know I sound like a stuck record, the Moron Parade had me ready to spit nails. I had thought that one of the purposes of the renovations at Stern Grove were to make it easier to funnel late comers up the hill. No, during the entire first program and second program, and endless parade of morons who, in the words of one attendee, think that arrivng late entitles them to the best seat in the house, marched up and down the front aisle in front of us who had arrived 4 hours early to sit up close. Some idiots spent the entire afternoon parading up and down; why go to a ballet if you don't want to watch it? One man was up and down yapping loudly on his cell phone. During Swan Lake a couple came and loudly asked "can we sit here?", then sat and talked loudly between themselves about whether that was where they really wanted to sit. I know Miss Manners says rudeness should not be countered with rudeness, but to me disrupting Swan Lake is as close to sacrilege as anything comes and, at the end of my tether, I hissed "sit down and shut up!"

Fortunately I had already seen Allegro Brillante as I only saw about half of it between the legs of the Moron Parade.

Author:  djb [ Tue Aug 15, 2006 11:36 pm ]
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But you must have been happy to hear the announcement about no smoking anywhere in Stern Grove, eh?

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Wed Aug 16, 2006 3:18 am ]
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Thanks for all the comments on Stern Grove. Good to hear that Tiit Helimets is already making an impression.

Author:  djb [ Wed Aug 16, 2006 10:45 am ]
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Something (among many things) I enjoyed about Tan & Helimets' performance is that I could completely relax because I knew there'd be no partnering goofs. You'd think that would be a given among principal dancers in a major ballet company, but it really is rare for me to be able to forget entirely about the possibility of slip-ups.

Author:  Azlan [ Sat Aug 19, 2006 4:05 pm ]
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Finally finding the time to post. Last weekend was a blur (I think I was even a chauffuer for stretches at a time...).

While "Allegro Brillante" (spelled "Brilliante" in the program notes) isn't my favorite ballet in terms of excitement, Vanessa Zahorian and Gonzalo Garcia certainly sizzled. Zahorian has come a long ways but for those of us who've known and observed her for a long time, she still needs to work on timing and musicality.

"Concerto Grosso" one of Helgi Tomasson's ballets that I actually like seemed to lack oomph in an outdoor setting, not for lack of effort on the part of Pascal Molat and the other male dancers.

"Rodeo" appeared to be the audience favorite and was therefore provided for a fitting finale, with Kristin Long more than aptly suppressing her natural feminine sensuality to play the Tomboy heroine with delight! Rory Hohenstein played off her goofiness very well.

Author:  Toba Singer [ Sun Aug 20, 2006 12:59 pm ]
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"Rodeo" has turned out to be a great vehicle for putting Long's sensibilities on display. You can easily take her for an athletic dancer, and leave it at that. What came out in the Cowgirl role was in direct contrast to the "femininity" of the women who shunned her. Their femininity was a function of artifice. Her personality issued from a genuine source, unlike their coquettishness. We could see that most clearly when she stood stock still in the yellow dress. Intended to feminize her, it might as well have been a hairshirt. You had the feeling that she was standing so still to stop herself from squirming. It was that quality, along with her vulnerability to the Head Wrangler (Ruben Martin) and myopia in "getting" that the Champion Roper (Rory Hohenstein) was smitten with her that showed a kind of earnest femininity that actually shares some common turf with feminism. That's what makes the relationship between Long and Hohenstein work so well. The audience is right there trotting alongside him as he begins to find her less infuriating and more endearing.

Author:  Dean Speer [ Wed Sep 06, 2006 3:56 pm ]
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Ballet al Fresco
San Francisco Ballet at Stern Grove
Sunday, 13 August 2006, 2:00 p.m.

by Dean Speer

There is something delightfully delicious about getting together with a few thousand of your most intimate friends and watching a performance of the ballet from the safety of your picnic table some yards away.

So it was with this year’s edition of Stern Grove’s presentation – and return – of San Francisco Ballet in the newly reconstituted grove. The ambiance of this venue has only been enhanced by the changes made: a new stage and backstage area, better lighting, more modern conveniences for the public, and a re-built seating area.

Unchanged were the quality of the ballets and of their execution by the dancers. With a something-for-everyone program, SFB presented a representative sampler of the variety of movement palettes extant within ballet today – from tutu and pointe shoes, to contemporary ballet, to Agnes de Mille’s historic and ever-fresh 1942 “Rodeo.”

Opening with a Balanchine ballet that’s never been out of the repertory since it was first created in 1956 for Maria Tallchief, “Allegro Brillante” is set to Tchaikovsky’s third piano concerto, which is essentially one long movement. I always think of this ballet is of “lean and lunge.” There is one, marvelous section where the corps men do just that, in canon, strongly and to different stage diagonals. I can hear the music in my head right now. Ta-toom, ta-toom, bah-toom! These wonderful, plunging cascading chords in the piano part are matched visually by the men on stage. “Brillante” is just that – a brilliant piece of choreography that was very nicely danced by its leads Vanessa Zahorian and Gonzalo Garcia. Fresh from her stint as “non-competing partner” at the USA International Ballet Competition, Zahorian is dancing with great energy, verve and authoritative ease. Garcia handled the challenges of the sautés into pirouettes quite well. Even though slightly shorter than Zahorian, they were good together and it was nice to see this paring. A perfect opener and one that said clearly to the gathered masses, “Ah, ballet!”

Very much saying, “Ah, ballet!” next was the second act pas de deux from “Swan Lake,” probably one of the most revered and well known classical dances on the planet. With her endless line, unfolding the bitter sorrow of Odette, the queen of the swan maidens, Yuan Yuan Tan led Siegfried (newcomer Tiit Helimets) through their tender pas that, as he falls in love with her, gives her hope of love and redemption (and of not having to shed white feathers everywhere she goes). The music (also by Tchaikovsky) is essentially a violin concerto that is simply exquisite and renders all the dramatic Russian emotion into a focused and discrete sound. Tan is ever fabulous and since the part for the man in the duet is mostly that of being a porteur, it will be fun to watch Helimets at future performances where he’ll really get to break out and dance. Clearly, he’s a good partner and a welcome addition to the already impressive stable of danseurs.

It’s an odd thing that seem to have migrated south from OBT’s “Swan Lake” in Portland, but I couldn’t help but notice that there were a few times that the conductor and choreography missed each other during the performance. There are certain landmarks where they need to hit each other just so, but were off a handful of times. It’s hard to describe in print but if we could watch it together and I could point and shout it out and say, “Right there!” I would.

“Reflections” is a fairly new duet (2005) by recently-retired-from-performing principal dancer and now Choreographer in Residence, Yuri Possokhov. Created to the second movement of the young Mendelssohn’s first symphony, it is a sustained adage for Muriel Maffre and Damian Smith that has them draped over each other at times and rarely letting go. Probably the most “contemporary” in feel of the three duets on the program.

It was nice to be able to revisit Helgi Tomasson’s tribute to his company men, “Concerto Grosso.” When I use the metaphor of having a stable of men, I’m not really kidding. These guys are as strong and well-bred as horses and just as beautiful to look at. This is the kind of work, while perhaps something of a pièce d’ocassion, that is a big hit with audiences and it appears to also be something the dancers themselves genuinely like doing. Pascal Molat led his retinue in both ensemble and solo turns – Garrett Anderson, Jonathan Mangosing, Joseph Phillips, and Garen Scribner. We were only left wanting more and, in my case, wishing that Tomasson had occasionally challenged a bit more. Some of the steps and sequences were of the advanced student variety – classroom effect – and it would have made the experience more compelling had he thrown in just a little more. I know it’s a tricky balance because sometimes “hard” steps can come across as appearing “easy” while “easy” steps can sometimes come across as really spectacular. Never the less, it would be fun to have an upgraded version, perhaps “Concerto Grosso 2.0.”

Richard Rodgers gave us many memorable show tunes and Principal Character Dancer Val Canaparoli created a petite riens to “Beneath the Southern Cross” for a dance tribute to Rodgers four years ago and his duet “No Other” showcased Sarah Van Patten and Pierre-François Vilanoba. With a hint of jazz and more than a dash of musical theatre, they gave us an easy turn through swoops and swirls that evoked a sense of the ‘40s.

De Mille’s “Rodeo” is probably her masterwork of stage dance. Certainly it’s one of her best-known, beloved and frequently performed works. Her stories of its creation and of its first performances are legendary. I recall an interview where she passionately recalled that some of its popularity was due to reminding people of why and for what we were fighting “back home” early in World War II.

What a treat is was for us to get the whole kit and caboodle. As staged by Christine Sarry, probably one of her generation’s best interpreters of The Cowgirl role, Sarry set the ballet as I like to see it – with the a cappella transitions, and with the square dance sampler and the real-live caller. Kristin Long was delightful in Sarry’s part, clearly etching out her spunk, character, intelligence, and sensitive feelings as she moves from innocent cowgirl to maturing young woman, mourning the loss of one but embracing her future. But it’s not a future with the man she’d grown up mooning over – The Head Wrangler – but instead with The Champion Roper, who makes it clear he’s in love with her and ‘re-directs’ both the Cowgirl’s attention to himself and states his proprietary claim to the Wrangler (who had already wrangled himself a girl from the city). Pathos, love, gleeful dancing and joy are all embodied in this gem of a ballet. When all hands come together for the hoe-down finale, we also get caught in this rousing spirit.

Each work was accompanied by the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, let by maestro Martin West.

The Stern Grove experience is a fun way to enjoy the ballet, visit with friends and colleagues, and to live it up a little under the tent of the flora and fauna of this historic and cultural venue. I look forward to next year’s edition and to being able to say about SFB in the Summer of 2007, “I’ll take mine al fresco!”

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