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 Post subject: San Francisco Ballet Program 6, Falling, Rubies, Artifact Su
PostPosted: Mon Apr 03, 2006 2:40 pm 
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San Francisco Ballet Program 6, War Memorial Opera House, March 30, 2006

The linchpin work of the evening’s program comes last, William Forsythe’s “Artifact Suite.” The dancers appear to have collectively fallen in love with Forsythe, having consecrated their bodies to him, and so if there was an impatience to “get on with it,” it showed up ever so slightly, as a zephyr of resistance that blew through “Rubies.”

“Rubies” opens up with an innocent-looking line of dancers, holding hands, dressed in dreadfully cut costumes (“redfully cut”?} that are of course ruby in color, with three giant scallops at the bottom, covered with red sequins wherever there’s an edge. The scallops create a bunting effect, spreading out the tummies and midriff areas on the women who wear them, with the notable exception of Muriel Maffre, who, along with Vanessa Zahorian, was cast as the principal sparkler of the piece. Maffre has such a long line that even scallops can’t bulk it up. The dancers comprise a veritable rivière, which is French for river, but as such, is a metaphor for a shimmering necklace. Maffre steps out of the necklace and into the fray that is about to develop around her. Her partner is Gonzalo Garcia and if the piece contributes nothing else to the evening, it shows that he is the very embodiment of versatility, having just finessed his way through Stanton Welch’s “Falling,” looking like Marlon Brando in “The Wild Ones,” he’s now giving us the lightness of Balanchine, proving that he can switch dance styles at the rise of a baton.

Even though everyone is on the counts, they are dancing against the music by Stravinsky, because that’s the way Balanchine set the steps. The resulting frenzy doesn’t give anyone an opportunity to relate to, or even much notice the audience. It’s a dancer’s composition because it’s a fun house of crazy steps you’d otherwise never get to do—or do quite as fast—and you never have to look at anyone on the other side of the proscenium until the last part. You skip, skip rope, and show “modernist” material that is now, in my opinion, dated—especially those silly, though ubiquitous prances. It’s a little like window shopping for furniture on Valencia Street. I’ll take modern over modernist. There are only about four dancers who look at home with their contortions, and they are: Maffre, Garcia, Jonathan Mangosing and Clara Blanco. They possess that dead heat concentration and focus that is essential. The four men who clump around Maffre as if they make up the setting for her baguette, seem distracted and even uncomfortable dancing the roles of precious stones. “Jewels” is of course the mother lode of which “Rubies” is just one of three facets. The legend attached to it has Balanchine asking the jeweler Harry Winston to lend the company actual diamonds, rubies and emeralds for the show—the bargain being that Winston’s company would receive free advertising, with the dancers doing double duty as artists and models. Rumors have Winston saying “No” to Balanchine, a man who inhabited the world of “Yes.” Others have the dancers bedecked in the borrowed gems. Perhaps Balanchine was hoping to probe the possibility that “all that glitters” is not sold on commission; Some of it can be sold to audiences on the necks (not to mention backs) of dancers.

Stanton Welch’s “Falling” opened the program. A pair of dancers in blue hurry upstage and then back down, dance a bit and then make way for another two in pink, who make their way to the center spot and then give the stage over to two in green. The greenies are Katita Waldo and Rory Hohenstein. I haven’t seen them partner before and their pas de deux is sumptuous. Then Yuan Yuan Tan and David Arce arrive and we see the musicality that is always at the heart of Welch’s quirkily themed contemporary repertoire. The footwork is sprightly and intricate, but unlike the Balanchine piece, it invites the audience in immediately. Arce leads Tan into a promenade that builds into an adagio featuring scissor legged lifts and multi-level work, where she climbs up his torso from the floor. The couple in blue, Tina LeBlanc and Gonzalo Garcia, do a kind of metronomic tic tock lift. The piece is rife with flourishes of this kind, including the signature side to side head bob “amuse tête,” that looks to be Welch’s version of the culinary amuse bouche that most of us learned about by watching “Friends.” And indeed, dance vocabulary may have to be expanded to accommodate some of Welch’s inventions. For example, I think we need to solemnly baptize a certain jump of his “sauté crispé” to accurately capture its frittery morphology. (There’s a kanga in there somewhere, so leave the “s” in crispé: don’t de-Aussie it by substituting an “î”!)

The trio of Arce, Waldo and Hohenstein shows off Waldo’s fearlessness. She’s both lyrical and brave, and it’s a combination that’s hella hard to find in one dancer! Welch’s lifts are the kind that nightmares are made of for the dancer en l’aire, but Waldo transports herself mentally first, leaving the physical remainders to her partners to sweat. She doesn’t even blink as Elizabeth Miner makes her entrance under the airborne Waldo, just as the threesome exits via the upstage curtain. Miner’s virtuosity and versatility announce themselves once again in her solo. She makes a great play date for a contemporary choreographer such as Welch. Kristin Long comes along, and the two of them scoop up all available energy and send it out to the audience in this piece that might be better titled, “Quizzical Quandary of Quirkles,” or “Three Q’s,” for short.

The United States premiere of “Artifact Suite” starts off darkly. Out of the obscurity, surrounded on three sides by the corps de ballet, come Muriel Maffre and Pierre-François Villanoba. Elana Altman is facing them, with her back to the audience. She is leading the corps in calisthenics restricted to the arms, head and shoulders. They mark the locus of their heads with their arms and hands in response to her commands. Then there are two couples because Lorena Feijoo and Pascal Molat join the first pair. It is like looking at this set of dancers for the first time, as they perform work they’ve never seen themselves dance before. The intense Molat is no longer the easygoing guy gamboling through a pas de deux. Feijoo is working beyond her acquired aplomb on a new plane of uncertainty, Villanoba is frankly a little scary, and Maffre is probing the fault lines of her composure. It’s a push-pull partnership for all four, and nobody is slacking off. The men are dressed in pea green from head to toe, and the women in pea green tops and black tights. It is a surprise when the fire curtain comes crashing down onto the stage, but it reminds us that we are borderline voyeurs here, seeing something new in the dancers onstage, as they are seeing it themselves for the very first time. It feels like someone has slammed shut a dressing room door.

A minor adjustment forges a major set change, and now the backdrop is lit so that the dancers’ silhouettes appear on it, giant-sized, as they perform life-sized before our eyes. Do we focus on Maffre’s delicious stretches or Feijoo’s fierce attack? Neither—because there’s another curtain crash to settle the dilemma. The curtain then rises on a diagonal mad dash of the corps doing arms again. Crash! The tower of strobes we noticed at the top of the piece is now illuminated and blinding two quadrants in of our field of vision like a slit lamp. Maffre is exultant, and giving her all, as she works in front of the corps. They lie upstage on the floor, heads pointing downstage, lattice-armed, until they change arms so that each arm lies across the adjacent back and shoulder of the person next to them. It is a stirring moment, when you think of all that happens in the world of dance to destroy camaraderie, and all that can happen creatively to reknit it in a single performance—or slam the curtain down on it forever. All elbows rise, trimming the upstage fringe of the curtain with a band of scalloped arms. These scallops are not garish, like on the Rubies costumes. They are more like seashore mementos, softening the memory and the stage as well. If the dancers appear to be in an extraordinary moment of flow and responding to an elevated level of artistry, it doesn’t prevent Feijoo from feeling right at home in the new accommodations, as she and Molat perform a dazzling series of turns during which she opened and closed her legs as if they were steering the couple along their trajectory. CRASH! And then violin music by Bach suffuses the Opera House.

This time when the curtain rises, it does so on a corps that looks to be doing their morning ablutions as artists, or what Svetlana Afanasieva used to refer to as “Brrikfyest (Breakfast)”: warm-up exercises. The port de bras and dégagés are shown on diagonals, lit so that you cannot see faces, only light playing on shoulders and forearms. It is a simple, familiar lexicon, and yet, the repetitions of combinations are presented in the context of a definitive compendium of dance syntax, and so there is no aftertaste from what might have waxed derivative, were it just a snapshot of the piece, ripped out of its organic whole. They are followed by the tiniest of prances, just footwork really. How fresh they look compared to the hobbyhorse “Rubies” prances! Then come the piqués and the contrapuntal clapping, and if there is such a thing as fundamentalist ballet, where the deity is Terpsichore and the spirit is kinesiology, its secular pastor is without a doubt, William Forsythe! How is it possible to create such an uplifted, elevated work when the accents are all down? The template for this seems to emerge from the simplest movements turned choral and three-dimensional, combining hip thrusts with pas de chats. Five men are led by Rory Hohenstein in this choral kaleidoscope of downward accented movement, which then flips into another five men being led by Jaime Garcia Castilla. They thread through the stage, leading with their sternums until you can hear them breathing in row N of the orchestra, the men twining their arms as they work their feet, the pianist repeating the same three or four notes, finished with a one-handed chord.

Nobody has succeeded in evincing this level or artistry, camaraderie, esprit de corps, or commitment to their art from this company before. William Forsythe has teased out the best in one of the finest companies in the Western Hemisphere, irrefutable evidence that if you live right and work by the Golden Rule, the value of what results can prove to be more precious than Rubies.


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 05, 2006 1:40 am 
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Some quick impressions.

I enjoyed Welch's "Falling." Cute without overdoing it.

"Rubies" is one of my favorite works. The music alone gets my attention. Elana Altman, Vanessa Zahorian and Gonzalo Garcia were fun to watch but I felt a little boost was required in the overall performance, with the tempo slower than I like...

"Artifact Suite" was powerful but combining two ballets into a suite felt longish, especially having accustomed to seeing "I" and "II" separately (on other companies). Part 1 got the audience's attention but Part 2 dragged on.

My comments on Ballet Mori are here:

http://www.ballet-dance.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=26345


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 05, 2006 1:40 am 
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"Nobody has succeeded in evincing this level or artistry, camaraderie, esprit de corps, or commitment to their art from this company before. William Forsythe has teased out the best in one of the finest companies in the Western Hemisphere ..."

I agree with you completely, Toba. I just saw "Artifact Suite" and don't think I've ever seen this company dance in a more powerful or convincing way. For me it's been the highlight of the season, and of many seasons. This is the piece SFB should take on tour, and certainly to Lincoln Center this summer, because it shows where this company wants to go, and can go. Tonight was Muriel Maffre's night, in this her last season at SFB, the night she danced (and helped create) "Ballet Mori," a one-time only performance commemorating the 100th anniversary of the San Francisco earthquake and fire. Choreographed by Yuri Possokhov it was improvised by Muriel to the sound of the earth moving as measured by a UC Berkeley seismometer at the Hayward Fault and transmitted in real time via the Internet. Her movements conveyed awe, terror, tenderness and joy. Eight minutes long, it felt like time had stopped. The audience was stunned and then roared when it was over. A few minutes later Muriel was dancing Forsythe; she is one of his best interpreters and his movements suit her perfectly. The corps was truly magnificent tonight, sharp, precise, sweating (I've never seen so much sweat on dancers in performance), and completely given over to the piece. Elana Altman, born and raised in San Francisco and recently promoted to soloist, had her true debut in this piece. I've never seen her dance with such conviction and assurance, but that could be said about virtually everyone on stage in Artifact Suite. There is still time to see it, and there were plenty of empty seats tonight, a cold, rainy Tuesday in San Francisco. I'm glad we didn't have the earthquake tonight. When we do have it, I'm quite sure the image of Muriel Maffre dancing to the earth's movement will come back to haunt and comfort me.


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 05, 2006 1:50 am 
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Interesting that Forysthe's piece is known in the US as "Artifact Suite"... the version he staged recently for Scottish Ballet is "Suite from Artifact". I wonder if it was renamed here to reflect the changes made for Scottish Ballet.

I must admit that both times I've seen the ballet, the 'crashing curtain' has been, as one London critic put it, irritating. Once is interesting, the second time is tolerable, but after that it just seems repetitive.

Kate


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 05, 2006 7:32 am 
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I agree the loud crash of the curtain loses its effect after one or two rounds. In the SFB version of Artifact the crash only occurs three times (I think) in a fairly short period. But the rapid curtain falls do have a cinematic effect (like quick cutting) that adds tension to the piece. But it's a small effect compared to the power of the way Forsythe has his dancers move.


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 05, 2006 7:47 am 
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"With William Forsythe at the helm, there's no holding back. New 'Artifact' is no exception. Classicism taken to new bounds" [headline]


Rachel's Howard's review for the San Francisco Chronicle is here:

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.c ... 002&sc=933


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 05, 2006 11:48 pm 
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"Interesting that Forysthe's piece is known in the US as "Artifact Suite"... the version he staged recently for Scottish Ballet is "Suite from Artifact". I wonder if it was renamed here to reflect the changes made for Scottish Ballet. "

Kate,

According to a program note I hadn't noticed until I returned for another performance of Artifact Suite tonight, San Francisco's "Artifact Suite" was originally titled "Suite from Artifact" and was given its World Premiere on September 15, 2004 at the Scottish Ballet Theater Royal, Glasgow. It seems almost certain that SFB's version is the one you have already seen, except of course for the improvisation that makes every performance unique. I did count the curtain crashes in Part 1 tonight: there were 6 (there are no sudden curtain drops in Part 2). But my enthusiasm for the way the piece was danced remains. Two other principals (Yuan Yuan Tan and Kristin Long) gave the piece an entirely different feel from what I saw last night.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 06, 2006 12:00 am 
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"Having seen William Forsythe’s “Artifact” in Frankfurt several years ago, I must confess to a degree of discomfort at the idea of an “Artifact Suite.”. . ."

Rita Feliciano's review in Dance View Times is here:


http://www.danceviewtimes.com/2006/Spri ... tter5.html


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 06, 2006 9:01 am 
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Last night the Pointes of View lecture series, sponsored by the Education Department of the SFB, featured a panel discussion on Forsythe's Artifact Suite by Lorena Feijoo, Pierre-Francois Vilanoba (principals) and Ricardo Bustamante (ballet master for Artifact Suite). The night before I saw Lorena dance in Artifact Suite and had never seen her dance so well. Her comments on Forsythe last night helped me understand why:

--This is the first experience like this I have had in my career—to make your own steps on stage. How scary is that? Up to now it's a sacrilege to do your own thing; girls especially are trained to do what they are told (boys can get away with more).

--Forsythe uses your arms incredibly, plus you need really strong pointe work to dance his way. A lot of his moves are off your leg; you're on the verge of falling and you have to stay there.

--Forsythe wants you to show the struggle of the dance. We have been trained not to show the struggle, to put on a smile no matter what. His message is the opposite. It's thrilling.

--Forsythe says, "show me everything you have learned in your career in this one dance." That was a challenge I appreciated.

Comment from Ricardo Bustamante:

--Forsythe places enormous trust in his dancers, and they respond to that trust with new courage and daring.


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 07, 2006 11:49 am 
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I really enjoyed this program in general.

Falling is delightful. I'm not a big Stanton Welch fan, but I like this piece. It's light without being fluffy and amusing without being cutesy. It's a hard balance to find. The dancers looked good as well. This is a good role for Vanessa Zahorian. Yuan YUan Tan looked less dour and cold than usual.

Rubies is always fun. A couple of years a go I didn't fell like the corps was getting enough "hip" into the choreography, but they seem to have fixed that issue. Elana Altman looked a bit tentative at first, but relaxed and then looked great.

Artifact Suite has some incredible dancing for the corps. Bewtween this and Glass Pieces, the corps has really been getting good play this year. And they look strong and on top of their game. It's nice to see Anthony Spaulding on stage since he has spent so much time injured last year.


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 Post subject: Forsythe amazing
PostPosted: Sun Apr 09, 2006 5:48 pm 
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I agree with you completely, Toba. I just saw "Artifact Suite" and don't think I've ever seen this company dance in a more powerful or convincing way. For me it's been the highlight of the season, and of many seasons.


I totally agree. I understand the concerns of people who've seen Artifact by itself, but I think the two pieces work together beautifully. I can't remember when I've loved something performed by SF Ballet more than this. Does anyone move dancers (and large number of dancers) through space like Forsythe does? It made the entire season worthwhile.

ralphsf


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 09, 2006 6:45 pm 
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At today's "Subsciber Appreciation Day" at the Opera House, Helgi announced that the company *is* taking Artifact Suite to Lincoln Center this July. Tomasson is a man of few words, but when he called SFB "this magnificent company" and said it was time for New York to see it again, I couldn't have agreed more.


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 12, 2006 11:36 pm 
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April 4th's ballet was the first time I've seen a ballet since The Nutcracker when I was 5 years old. I went this time mainly to see Ballet Mori, because it had to do with seismology, but I found the entire night very entertaining and thrilling.

Mori was pretty cool. The sound of the Hayward Fault was spooky. While watching the show, I imagined myself on an adventure in some underground cave. Yeap, I zoned out for about two seconds! =P

Overall, I liked the costumes, the lighting, the dances and the music. The entire show was surprisingly modern. I liked it!


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 13, 2006 3:17 am 
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Welcome Janey and I'm delighted that your first ballet experience in quite a while was a success. Hope we hear more from you in the weeks and months to come.

Thanks very much to all the posters giving SF perspectives on Forsythe and "Artifact Suite". He is controversial in some circles, but I can't think of a more interesting ballet choreographer working today. And that's the view of most of the dancers and administrators I know.

As chance would have it, Scottish Ballet are performing the same work currently and I saw them in London a couple of weeks ago. I have seen the evening length "Artifact", which is great, but I suspect I prefer this distillation. In addition, I consider the whole of the "Suite" greater than the sum of its two parts, particularly with the development of the "Master of Ceremonies" role.

Overall, my reaction was very similar to the SF experience: one of the most enthralling performances I will see this year and it made the Company look SO good. The repeated curtain falls are not gratuitous, in my view, as a new vista is unveiled after each drop, like a jump-cut in a film. Further, contemporary dance regularly challenges the stereotypical theatre experience and it does no harm for ballet to follow suit every now and again.

As the galvanic reaction of the two companies emphasises, dancers adore working with Forsythe. I've just loaned Forsythe's "Improvisation Technologies" CD-ROM to a young Estonian ballet and contemporary choreographer - expect another convert.


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 13, 2006 5:25 am 
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I don't think the Scottish Ballet version is quite the same - for one it's always carefully referred to as "Suite from Artifact", not "Artifact Suite" or "Artifact". Also, Forsythe himself staged the piece for Scottish Ballet, and my understanding is that he tailored this staging specifically for the company.

To clarify - I like the curtain effect, just not the 'bang' when the curtain hits the stage. The 'bang' is only really effective if the curtain drops at the right point and the curtain operator is doing it at the right speed. Otherwise - as was the case in Edinburgh - you get kind of half hearted thuds or ker-clunks. (I wonder how it would be handled at a theatre where the curtain splits in the middle... a good reason not to make curtain effects too pivotal...)

Kate


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