to you by
New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women
and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a
list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always performance at its best.
Out of the Fog, 3-26: Legacies
Kochetkova highlights new SFB 'Swan' and Isadora awards
By Aimée Ts’ao
Copyright 2009 Aimée Ts’ao
SAN FRANCISCO -- Despite the recent series of
rainstorms, California is suffering from a
long-term drought. But can that explain why the
lake in Helgi Tomasson's new production of
Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake," for the San Francisco
Ballet, seems to have evaporated completely? Not at all. Read on.
During this production's debut run, from February 21 through March 1 at the War Memorial Opera House, I saw two of the six casts: Lorena Feijoo with Pierre-Francois Vilanoba, on Wednesday, February 25,
and Maria Kochetkova with Davit Karapetyan, in
the evening performance of February 29. Feijoo possesses a strong
dramatic presence and is a much needed locus of
intensity in this rather bland production. Her
portrayal of the Black Swan had the audience
truly excited for the first time all evening as
she whipped through her variations and ended with
the requisite fouettes, executing the
interspersed doubles with a wing-like arm
overhead. Sadly, her pairing with Vilanoba left
her without a comparable foil to play against.
Her passionate Latin temperament demands equally
strong qualities in a partner, though not
necessarily in the same vein. His lack of
enthusiasm for the artistic demands of the role, coupled
with a dearth of meticulous attention to technical detail, made a lackluster impression.
|San Francisco Ballet's Maria Kochetkova and Davit Karapetyan in Helgi Tomasson's production of Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake." Erik Tomasson photo ©Erik Tomasson and courtesy San Francisco Ballet.
Casting Kochetkova and Karapetyan together proved
to be felicitous. Each dancer drew more and more
out of the other. One could believe in the
power of true love by the end. Both are strong
technicians, but both always use technique in
the service of artistry. Karapetyan's meditative
solo at the end of the first act was supple and
nuanced and whetted my appetite for the rest of
his performance. Kochetkova's Odette showed the
distillation of her training at the Moscow State Academy of Choreography (the official name of the Bolshoi Ballet School), a lineage reaching back for
generations that is rich and deep beyond what any
American schooling can provide. Yet she is not a
slave to those traditions, but uses them as the
springboard for her own interpretation. The facets of her Odile
caught the light in delightfully surprising ways.
She did not attempt the all too frequent femme
fatale approach nor that of the icy calculating conniver.
Instead, one moment she could be a teasing imp, twinkle in eye and head cocked
ever so slightly, trying to get away with as much
as she possibly can, and then in a quick shift appear as a flirtatious imposter.
These two artists have a rapport that is seldom
days. More than just demonstrating a
synchronicity of movement, they are sharing and evolving
in their portrayal of the lovers
over the course of the performance.
Hopefully they will be dancing together
often in the future.
In both performances, the talented Anthony Spaulding was
quite striking as von Rothbart. However, the contorted choreography and
twisted gesturing, along with Spaulding's tall but slender
physique, made the magician seem like a mutated Michael Jackson,
showing a sinister stealth instead of the
embodiment of far-reaching evil. With more
suitable steps from Tomasson and more appropriate attire
from costume and set designer Jonathan
Fensom, I'm sure Spaulding would have
projected a more satisfying character. Other
notable performances were given by Clara Blanco
in the Act I Pas de Trois (2/25) and as a Cygnet
Neapolitan Princess in Act III (both
performances), Isaac Hernandez (2/25) and Taras
Domitro (2/28) in the Pas de Trois and Elana
Altman and Lily Rogers as the Swan Maidens
(2/28). The corps de ballet of swans deserves
special mention for its precision. In general, the
dancers are working at a very high level
technically, though they could use some coaching
in creating the background ambience on stage. (For more on this issue at SF Ballet, see my Flash Review of the company's "Don Quixote."
"Swan Lake" is undoubtedly the best known
classical ballet and the Petipa/Ivanov
choreography or productions based on it are the
most prevalent. Tomasson has made his Act II and
the Black Swan Pas de Deux after theirs, but the
rest of the choreography, though serviceable, is
not memorable. The other elements of the
production vary widely in their contribution to
the whole. Not particularly flattering are the
feathered "wigs" for the swans, which suggest
1950s swimming caps or '70s disco coiffure. The
spiky black under-layer around the face and nape of the neck is the antithesis of soft and feminine, as the swan maidens are meant to be. (Unless you are Matthew Bourne.)
Fensom's three sets, for the birthday party of
Act I, the lake of Acts II and IV, and the Act
III ballroom, dominated, even distracted,
than contributing to the overall ambience of each
scene. We don't need a literal representation
of a lakeside glade, but the monolithic
stratified outcropping of basalt or coal
resembles a highly magnified, half-buried, sloping black brick
wall. No lake, no trees or bushes, not even a
tuft of native grass quivering in the wind,
only an overblown moon to further distort the scale. A friend
reported that during the pre-show talk on Wednesday Tomasson claimed that
the lighting on the rock suggests moonlight reflecting off the
surface of the water. In that case, the lake is in front of the rock wall instead of behind it where it is traditionally placed in most versions. Thus the
swan maidens are wading in the water on the stage, instead of dancing on the shore. Then at the end of Act IV, when the lovers throw themselves upstage from the top of the "rock"
they are jumping off a cliff, as the lake isn't behind the rock
formation but in front of it. I suppose
it doesn't help that Fensom, who has dressed and framed an
impressive list of plays, has never before created sets and
costumes for a ballet. The San
Francisco Ballet program book, with its lengthy
description of the inspiration and execution of
the visual elements of this version, would have
you believe that he was the "right person" for the
job. I am not opposed to a new look, new
choreography, or a new scenario for "Swan Lake."
John Neumeier, Matts Ek, Frederick Ashton, and
Eric Bruhn each put his own stamp on his
version of this iconic masterpiece.
However, the choreographer's artistic decisions
and choices must make sense in relation to each
other. In this case, arbitrarily choosing
effects only for their novelty yields a Pop Art collage, a
Frankenstein of a ballet. More than a century
ago the melding of all the parts -- music, movement,
visual design -- was called Gesamtkunstwerk, an ideal that
has surfaced many times in many cultures and
historical periods. Neo-classicism, Modernism
and Post-modernism do not
throw this concept out the window,
they simply have their own respective aesthetics.
Fensom's designs reveal a lack of understanding of the
function of sets and costumes in dance. In a symbiotic
synthesis the sets need to create atmosphere and space for
the choreography, without competing with it; the
choreography should fill that space with movement, and that
movement should resonate with the shape of the space and
further the narrative, if there is one.
The winners of the 2007-2008 season
Isadora Duncan Dance Awards, a.k.a. Izzies, were announced at the 23rd annual awards ceremony at Brava Theater in San Francisco on Monday:
Outstanding Achievement in Choreography: Joe Goode for "The beauty that was mine/ through
the middle, without stopping."
Outstanding Achievement in Performance -- Individual (two recipients): Maria Kochetkova as Giselle in "Giselle," San Francisco Ballet; Emily Leap, "Sol Niger," Circo Zero.
Outstanding Achievement in Performance -- Ensemble (two recipients): Rodney Bell, Sonsheree Giles, "To Color Me Different," AXIS Dance Company, 2008 WestWave Dance Festival; Laurel Keen, Bret Conway, "Rasa," Alonzo King's LINES Ballet.
Outstanding Achievement in Performance -- Company: InkBOAT, "C(H)ord."
Outstanding Achievement in Visual Design (Costumes, Lights, and Sets): Della Davidson, David K.H. Elliott, Ellen Bromberg, Jennifer Michelson, Dawn Sumner, Louise Kellogg, Gerald Bawden, Oliver Kreylos, Michael Neff, "Collapse (suddenly falling down)," Sideshow Physical Theatre.
Outstanding Achievement in Music/Sound/Text: Sean Feit, "Sol Niger," Circo Zero.
Outstanding Achievement in Restaging, Revival, or Reconstruction (two recipients): Zenon Barron, Ensambles Ballet Folklorico de San Francisco, "Danza del Venado" by Amalia Hernandez (1959);
Donald Mahler, Company C Contemporary Ballet,
"Dark Elegies" by Antony Tudor (1937).
Special Award -- for outstanding achievement
during the previous calendar year by or for a Bay
Area individual or organization (two recipients): San Francisco Ballet, Helgi Tomasson, artistic
director, New Works Festival (2008); Katie Faulkner, Benjamin Goldman, "Loom."
Sustained Achievement -- for outstanding
contributions spanning 10 or more years in any
field of Bay Area dance (two recipients):
Gary Masters, artistic director, San Jose Dance
Company, 19 years of service to the Bay Area
dance community and specifically: in San Jose;
Cher Delamere, Librarian, the Bernard Osher
Foundation Art, Music and Recreation Center, San
Francisco Public Library (Main Branch).