Billy Elliot, did I have a busy week! Most of it was just in the last couple of days during a whirlwind trip to San Francisco to see San Francisco Ballet, but before I get to that, a little housekeeping…Nichelle over at DanceAdvantage has started a group called Terpsichorus, which will do book club-style open discussions for anyone who wants to participate. Terpsichorus will pick various dance media, from books to the latest in dance films, like those made available for rent by TenduTV. In fact, the first discussion will be focused on Wayne McGregor’s Entity, already available for rent (just $3.99) or permanent download on iTunes and Amazon Video on Demand (UK participants can purchase a DVD from SadlersWells.com). The discussion on Entity will open on February 24th, 2011 and all you have to do is watch it beforehand and collect some thoughts you’d like to share. It is also most desirable that you encourage your friends to participate as well, no matter their dance background! Terpsichorus is a great opportunity for people who may not know much about dance to ask questions and share their thoughts without fear of being shot down…you have my guarantee, which is important because I am on the moderating team! Surprise! Nichelle, friend Robin and myself comprise team Terpsichorus and trust me when I say we value all opinions equally. So please head over to DanceAdvantage for more details, and I hope to see you on the 24th!
Okay, so back to my trip, I took a brief vacation (if you can call it that, considering how tired I am now) to San Francisco mainly to see Frederick Ashton’s Symphonic Variations. It is applicable to say that my obsession with the piece is well documented, and with San Francisco Ballet being one of the few companies outside of the Royal Ballet to perform it (and quite possibly the only American company to have done it for a good decade), I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity. Symphonic Variations was part of a mixed bill that the company performed on the 11th, and the mixed bill was staggered with performances of Giselle, which I saw on the 10th. San Francisco Ballet is one of the few companies in the US that overlaps their programs, which is great for out-of-towners because we can catch multiple, different performances in just a couple of days. Smaller ballet companies will do two week runs of just the same show and it seems the bigger (and richer) the companies are, the more overlapping you will see.
Before seeing Giselle on Thursday, I did of course, do some sight seeing which I must preface with saying that I despise super-touristy activities. I like to do things on my own, with plenty of time to wander and muck about. I also hate touristy souvenir shops and I probably hate tourists too (even though I was one…it’s completely irrational, so don’t expect me to explain it). Outside of the ballet, the highlight for me was going to the California Academy of the Sciences, where I got my geek on. I adore geeky science stuff, and the Academy of the Sciences has an indoor rainforest biodome, a planetarium, an extensive aquarium (my second priority in life after ballet…I could spend, okay I did spend hours in the aquarium alone. Three words…’leafy sea dragons’), and many other exhibits (including an albino alligator). Admission was a whopping $30, but I recommend a visit! Although, while inside the rainforest biome, I urge you to exercise caution and know that there are poison dart frogs roaming freely in the habitat…which I did not know until after I got close to a couple in order to snap some photos. Not the best idea I’ve had, but I also have a history of unwittingly getting close to wild animals when I should not (like the prairie dogs in the Badlands, or the hawks at the beach in Yokohama, one of which snatched a sandwich right out of my hand).
Meanwhile, the worst part of the day award goes to Fisherman’s Wharf, a tourist attraction to the extreme, with heinous shops that had more shotglasses, keychains, magnets and t-shirts than I ever want to see in my entire life. Interestingly enough, Fisherman’s Wharf is something of an equivalent to Seattle’s own Pike Place Market (the latter of which is much more focused on local artists, farmers, etc., and thus, in my humble opinion much more charming, as I actually enjoy Pike Place), but here’s something very telling—San Francisco residential areas are PACKED…all the buildings are connected together and walking the streets makes you feel like you’re in a giant labyrinth, while the shops at Fisherman’s Wharf are fairly spaced out. Meanwhile, in Seattle, residential areas are the ones with breathing room and Pike Place is crammed into a very small section of the city, which says it all about Seattle’s perhaps “thorny” attitude towards visitors (which is further emphasized by the fact that San Francisco actually has bus maps at all the bus stops, while Seattle has no bus maps available, except for the brochures you can pick up AFTER boarding the bus). Let’s just say tourism is a much bigger industry in San Francisco and leave it at that (and I’m okay with it!).
Anywho, San Francisco is fun and games for sure, but I was on a mission to see ballet, and I had the pleasure of seeing Giselle with Maria Kochetkova in the title role and Gennadi Nedvigin as Albrecht. My first time seeing Giselle live as well as my first time to see San Francisco Ballet would be an all-Russian affair as far as the principal roles were concerned, and they certainly have a wonderful chemistry. The petite Kochetkova is as refined as a porcelain doll and I mean this in the best way possible, is unlike any Russian trained dancer I’ve ever seen. Sometimes I have some issues with Russian training, like too much legato, forced turnout, or hyperextension on these string bean, Amazonian frames but Maria’s technique is far more prudent. For example, in her Act I variation, she kept many of her extensions lower, drawing attention to the shaping of her feet and presentation of her arms and upper body. It was night and day (well, literally) in Act II, where she proved she has the litheness to promote ethereal wonder. Maria’s Act II is simply sensational—it highlights the softness of her arms and innocence in her demeanor. I was a big fan of the squareness in her arabesque, the use of her flexible torso and the sincerity with which she approached the role. I’m so thrilled to have had her be the first Giselle I ever saw live, and will never forget it.
Gennadi Nedvigin (apparently returning from injury) was a boyish but crooked Albrecht, with an elastic plié that allowed for smooth jumps. His partnering was wonderfully attentive, his solos brilliant, and his Act II variations near death experiences (in a good way of course). Many seasoned Giselle fans will be happy to know that in the second act, he did the twenty-something entrechats, and they were HUGE. An entrechat six is a beast by itself, the twenty-something in succession a Herculean task, but to do them with the buoyancy with which he did (to an achingly slow tempo) makes your calves burn just watching. I also thought he was very playful with the miming sections throughout, drawing audible chuckles in the unabashed way he plucked the petal from Giselle’s fortune-telling flower and I know I sighed a little bit when he collapsed on Giselle’s grave and mourned her.
Helgi Tomasson’s Giselle is quite playful throughout, like Hilarion (danced by Pascal Morat) showing such a sardonic disgust when he was mocking Albrecht was a definite highlight. In fact, the whole production had a lighthearted feel, and it seemed by embracing some of the more absurd elements in ballet, the production succeeded in really captivating the audience. For instance, in the opening of Act II, when Hilarion is loping through the forest, some of his companions flee when they get creeped out by the Wilis. This can be done a number of ways, and Tomasson chose to actually have one of the Wilis fly overhead, suspended by wires or what have you. It’s not something that is intended to be funny, and yet its inclusion is funny indeed and even though the second act is supposed to be more tragic, it somehow makes the audience laugh while not damaging the integrity of the ballet as a whole. I’m sure there are some that may feel a flying Wili is just too ridiculous, but I didn’t think it detracted from the performance at all (I’ll admit it—part of me wanted to be that flying Wili of doom).
San Francisco’s corps de ballet also deserves a LOT of credit—they were exceptional. Frances Chung cast a spell in her dynamic solo as Myrtha, and the corps ran with it. They had precision in their timing and wonderful detail in their lines and their interweaving arabesque pattern received well-deserved applause. San Francisco is a lucky company to have such a fine corps, especially because they have the added challenge of trying to unify dancers with so many different backgrounds and training methods, which tends to be the case for many American companies.
However, everything about their production of Giselle was tastefully done, and I could find no faults worth mentioning. It was well worth the trip!
…or was it? To be continued!
P.S. To see clips of Maria dancing Helgi Tomasson’s Giselle, visit San Francisco Ballet’s website! Their interactive media gallery as a whole is amazing.