Tag Archives: aquariums

San Francisco Sojourn: Part 1

13 Feb

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.

The San Francisco War Memorial Opera House. Photo ©Steve (you can tell because it's blurry!)

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).

Outside the planetarium. You can see part of the mangrove shallow water exhibit on the lower left and the bluer water on the right is one of the coral reefs. Photo ©Steve

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.

Sharp as a Tharp

16 Nov

I interrupt this program with an unscheduled but entirely expected aside, a review of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s All Tharp program.  I feel the need to treasure these waning moments of sanity, for I am succumbing to the incurable disease of swan-psychosis.  However, far from visions of lakefaring waterfowl, All Tharp presented a trio of mastermind Twyla Tharp’s works: Opus 111, Afternoon Ball and Waterbaby Bagatelles (okay, it’s possible that last one may have had something to do with aquatic creatures, but not necessarily bird imagery).  Obviously the run of shows is already over, but it’s still worth talking about.

I actually had a tough time with yanking this review out of my head though and I’m not entirely sure why.  After the show I felt speechless and not in the life-altering kind of way…just at a loss for words, even though I knew they were there.  This was weird for me, a perpetual chatterbox whose kindergarten teacher (among others) said I talk too much.  Luckily, I took some notes for myself and I’m good but it was a slightly alarming moment.  Like I like to do, I feel it pertinent to give a brief synopsis of my experiences with Twyla Tharp choreography…I did minor in dance after all.  So the breakdown is, I’ve seen Deuce Coupe on film from my first dance history class so I have some fuzzy images but nothing too clear and of course I’ve seen Hair, excerpts of which were also shown in class.  Interestingly, I have seen Sinatra Suite live, as performed by good ole’ BalletMet in Columbus.  Unfortunately, my oddly brilliant photographic memory happens to be very selective and completely unpredictable and I don’t recall Sinatra Suite at all.  It obviously didn’t make a huge impact on me, but to give you an example of my freakish memory (which I find is actually quite ordinary amongst dance patrons) I distinctly remember a piece called Maquillage, which had female dancers in chiffon dresses of sunset hues (orange, pink, lilac, mauve, etc.) dancing to “the diamond commercial song,” which needs to be known as the Allegretto from Karl Jenkins’ Palladio suite.

Where was I…Tharp, right.  Well, there was definite impact this time around (though I can never guarantee for how long that will last) but I really enjoyed the first piece, Opus 111.  My favorite of the night, it was an arcadian display of buoyancy, like a festive summer gathering.  Set to Johannes Brahms’s String Quartet No.2 in G major, Op. 111, it was by far the most musically linked of the three pieces and just a constant barrage of movement.  The style of it was very free—lots of swinging and drifting without a single pause—a visual feast with almost no relief for the senses.  I couldn’t believe how the dance just kept going and going…the pace never let up, a characteristic shared in the other works as well.  I would almost liken Tharp’s choreography to stream of consciousness but not in an improvisational sense.  When it comes to stream of consciousness, although we may not necessarily form coherent paragraphs, we still think in terms of fully formed words and phrases which was the same in Opus 111; codified steps and organized phrases of movement were what materialized on stage.  On Saturday night, the softness of the piece was perfect on the lovely Carla Körbes but the dance also revealed rare moments of contrast, like when Carrie Imler came charging out of the blocks in a series of châinés turns.  I think the word is “attacked,” and it was almost feral in comparison (in the good way).

Meanwhile, Afternoon Ball was a sometimes sad, sometimes awkwardly funny commentary on the plight of the homeless.  There were three main characters: a sassy drunkard, a ferocious prostie (that’s Australian for “prostitute”) and a forlorn junkie.  The dancing was quite aggressive, to this maddening, minimalist violin score that would build ever so slightly and go nowhere.  It’s a somewhat similar concept that is heard in Maurice ravel’s famous Bolero (which I hate, by the way) in that a constant rhythm is the driving force.  There were moments of whimsy between the three hobos, but you have to wonder if chuckling at a homeless drunkard falling over is…appropriate.  However, what was most intriguing in the way they danced with each other is that these were people who were stripped of the choice to form relationships with other people…in many ways, they could only dance with other paupers out of default, because nobody else would give them the time of day.  This was further emphasized by the introduction of an elite couple, dressed in formal clothing and doing a very formal waltzy pas de deux with the lady on pointe.  The rich couple never acknowledged the hobo trio, who sort of danced around them, in particular the junkie, who is later claimed by an angel of death, shivering as the ghostly figure in white embraced him.  Beautifully danced, Afternoon Ball was a delicious helping of food for thought.

Then came Waterbaby Bagatelles.  I was lost in this piece, literally drowning in everything there was to take in.  The stage was starkly lit in blue, and hanging from the ceiling were rows of fluorescent tube lights, much like in an aquarium, except this was a sad aquarium without a hint of environmental enrichment.  In that sense it’s hard to say what the dance was about, other than imagery and feelings invoked by water.  You had some dancers dressed as swimmers (shirtless guys and women in more modest bathing attire with swim caps) but then you also had more animal-like movements, like Carla Körbes and Batkhurel Bold’s eely pas de deux.  There were also bodily illustrations of water itself, with dancers appearing and receding like waves or pirouetting in swirling eddies.  Even more amusing was when they would vibrate their entire bodies, which you might think would seem out of place, but if you think about bubbles rising to the surface, it’s not a smooth trajectory…they sort of flutter as they wiggle their way upward.  I had to let go of trying to decipher excessive meaning in the piece because if I held on, I’m pretty sure my brain would have exploded when the company broke out into a tango.

Overall, quite an interesting evening…and by interesting I mean intense.  I can’t stress enough the seamlessness of Tharp’s choreography, which can actually be quite taxing, but beautiful in its potency.  I leave you with PNB’s video of images and clips from All Tharp in the hopes that my descriptions of her work do the real thing justice.

And now back to the regularly scheduled programming…Swan Lake Month…

The Human Aquarium

10 Dec

I’ve had this lingering Ashton after taste for a while, even though I haven’t watched an Ashton work in weeks.  For whatever reason, it’s fresh in my mind and despite the fact that I’m anxious to watch the DVD of his The Tales of Beatrix Potter that I just got from the library, I was getting the feeling that watching another Ashton work would drive me insane.  Nothing wrong with his ballets (obviously), but I need variety to survive.  For me it’s not the spice of life; it’s the chocolate chips to my cookie.  Life is worthless without variety.

Being in the funk that I was, I decided to take my first step into the world of Wayne McGregor, resident choreographer for the Royal Ballet.  Back when I went to see Manon at the beginning of the summer, his work Chroma was featured as a part of a triple bill that the Royal Ballet was also touring.  Between the two I chose Manon because of Carlos Acosta, but the playbill for the Royal Ballet featured a photo from Chroma and the image is kind of burned into the recesses of me brain.  Since then, I’ve categorized Chroma as “the one that got away,” because I had the opportunity to see it, but neither the knowledge nor the money.  Accordingly (and because my life hates me), it still eludes me because McGregor ballets haven’t been released on DVD as far as I know, but Infra, another one of his works is available in full on YouTube.  Okay, so maybe life doesn’t hate me after all.

After watching a brief interview with McGregor in a video by the Royal Opera House (who maintain an excellent presence on YouTube, Twitter and now iTunes), I had a sinking feeling I was in trouble.  His piece is about “inferences” and “human relationships” and I hate to say it, but I get a little annoyed when choreographers say that their dances are about “human relationships,” because that is the vaguest answer in the entire world.  I don’t have a problem with viewing a dance as a work of art and deciding for myself what I get out of the piece, but when I hear “human relationships” I can’t help but lose a sense of…something.  I can’t put my finger on it, but somehow dances inspired by human relationships fall into a certain abyss in my mind.  It’s not that I didn’t see or that I don’t understand human relationships in Infra, I just don’t see them the way McGregor does.  As usual, I blame the Aries in me…we don’t like to beat around the bush and inferences are often seen as a waste of time when one can head butt the source.  Crude, but true.

What I found interesting about Infra was that it has a lot of itsy-bitsy movements and explored the body in different ways, and although the dancers rely on their grounding in ballet technique, the overall piece lacked shapes.  To me, a leg extension or arabesque has a certain shape and a resulting aura, which was completely deconstructed and thus absent in Infra.  I’m fascinated by McGregor’s ability to create ballet without shapes, when those very shapes are what I typically see, almost as if his choreography is the absence of whatever it is that defines the art to my eyes.  Fascinating and a little disconcerting, because it almost felt overloaded with little detailed movements.  It’s kind of like staring at a tapestry and trying to count each individually woven stitch, thus losing sight of the bigger picture.  However, in Infra there really is no bigger picture, and only a few subtle changes of mood to inform us that there is a sense of passing time in the piece.  But maybe the point is we should take the time to stare at the stitches in a tapestry from time to time, just to see what’s there.  There’s a moment in Infra where a bunch of people are walking across the stage and one dancer (I don’t know who…I’m still unfamiliar with who’s who in the Royal Ballet.  I only recognized Edward Watson, who is pretty hard to miss!), breaks down and is grief-stricken.  Nobody knows why she’s crying, and the people on stage certainly don’t give a damn, but that’s one of those details that is lost when we don’t take the time to look.

Another interesting moment was one section in the middle where there are a few rectangular spotlights on the stage, neatly arranged in a row with each rectangle containing a duo of a male and female dancer, doing their own phrases of movement which occasionally coincided with another couple’s.  It reminded me of looking at an office building at night, and seeing people at work in the windows, and judging by the fact that during the credits an office building with workers in windows, I think that’s what’s being inferred (Aha!  I got an inference!  Victory!).  The whole piece has a pedestrian quality to it, obviously because of the backdrop with the LED figures walking on a street.  The piece’s structure reminded me of Cunningham’s Biped, although the color (literally and figuratively) of each piece was different.  Biped was more multi-dimensional while Infra, although not really a narrative was linear…ish.  Obviously the effect was different as well, as I was getting this “human aquarium” vibe from Infra.  Like, you’re watching and you can see people/fish communicating with each other, doing things, or being on their own and you can only “infer” what they might be saying.  Sometimes when I go to an aquarium I like to make up a conversation between the fish, like “hey, those fins make you look fat” but that wasn’t appropriate for this piece.

At any rate, I’m a little ambivalent with Infra.  I could see beauty in it, but it wasn’t a beauty that moved me or produces some intense reaction to it.  After I sort of gave in to just letting myself experience it, without looking for anything in particular it had a sort of soothing quality that aquariums have.  And sometimes I like to brainlessly stare at aquariums with no purpose.

Without further ado, Infra (in three parts), for your viewing pleasure (or not…it’s nobody’s fault if you don’t like it):

Rattle me bones

4 Oct

First post of October, one of my favorite months of the year!  I’m also writing this on about two hours of fragmented sleep, which is probably not a good idea and guarantees zero well thought out…content…but you only live once.  I love October because it puts me in the mood for many things…the changing leaves (I’ve always loved the smell of dead, wet leaves), anything involving pumpkins, and All Hallow’s Eve.  It doesn’t really make sense that Halloween would be one of my favorite holidays, considering I don’t go trick-or-treating, attend costume parties, or go to haunted houses, but there’s something about the cheery atmosphere, the symbolic characters, the massive amounts of discounted chocolate (the solution to all problems), and yes, pumpkins.  I do think some aspects of Halloween are pretty lame, and the lengths to which some people will go for costumes is wasteful, but I can’t help but admire the festive spirit.  Plus, one of my favorite memories of one of my best friends occurred on a beggar’s night, when a little child jumped out of a bush and startled her, and without thinking she said “God damn you!”  Good.  Times.

In terms of music, Halloween is ALL about Camille Saint-Saëns Danse Macabre for me, one of my absolute favorite pieces of all time.  Although in a past life I was definitely an orchestra patron who walked out of a Stravinsky concert outraged, I was most defos fascinated by Saint-Saëns.  Most balletomanes would know his name from The Dying Swan set to Le Cygne from Le Carnaval des Animaux.  Although, let it be known that Le Cygne is not my favorite movement, but rather Aquarium and Fossiles are instead.  It’s all a part of my geeky nature…just as I had aspirations to see Carlos Acosta, the Bolshoi Ballet, etc. so do I have aspirations to see certain sea creatures, with whale sharks being the current flavor (it was sea otters before, which was accomplished at the Seattle Aquarium where I bought a magnet).  Whale sharks are going to be tricky though because they’re raised in captivity in far fewer places, most of them in Asia, and I’m banking on my best bet being the Georgia Aquarium, which is also one of the few aquariums to house a manta ray.  Ideally, I would love to dive with whale sharks off the coast of Thailand or Australia, but that’s a much more complicated matter.  Anyway, Saint-Saëns, Aquariums, awesome, Fossiles, wonderful, and the latter quotes Danse Macabre in a major key, bringing us back to the original topic.

People who hang with me are forced to pose with dinosaur bones.  And yes, I've made her do this on more than one occasion.

People who hang with me are forced to pose with dinosaur bones. And yes, I've made her do this on more than one occasion.

I was fortunate to play Danse Macabre as a part of an orchestra, although my favorite arrangement is a chamber version for violin and piano, from the album Devil’s Dance, by Gil Shaham and Jonathon Feldman.  Another great track on there is Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Caprice Fantastique, but the whole album is really good and highly recommended, with endless potential for great dances.  As far as Danse Macabre is concerned, I love the time signature (it’s a waltzy three), and the texture is a bizarre juxtaposition of lyrical and bony…a lot like me, which I guess makes it easy to feel at home with it.  It has an element of playfulness to it that you wouldn’t expect from a dance involving death, and interested in seeing how people would interpret this, I of course carried out my usual excavations through YouTube, this time coming up with three unique interpretations.  The first is a fairly run of the mill “the Wilis have come out to play” group dance called La Melodie, and I have to say that I wasn’t particularly moved.  It was a little too technical and got “stuck” in several places, and although not every dance needs a story, I do think that it should evoke some kind of feeling and it was rather flat.  Are the Wilis happy to be playing?  Or are they somber as they journey into the underworld?  In all fairness, the choreographer mentions that it was their first classical work, but I do wish there was some more risk taking.

Next we have a solo from now San Francisco Ballet principal Tan Yuan Yuan, performing a modern solo entitled “Startling Dream,” and accordingly stiffness in her port de bras and the pencil straight lines of her legs were used as a way to convey the awkwardness of the music itself.  It’s an interesting solo, marred by a heinous competition number fluttering from her leotard.  It doesn’t say who conceived the choreography, but I like the real sense of desperation and terror that we often feel in nightmares.  Interestingly enough, I’m not bothered by the lack of a setting, and I think the all black stage enhances the piece, kind of like a body floating in nothingness, which my nightmares sometimes look like.  And sometimes in those nightmares I’m wearing a high cut leotard too.

Last, is a brilliantly disturbing interpretation by a famous Norwegian choreographer, Kjersti Alveberg.  I looked for a website on her, and her bio alone screams “creative mind” (something about her being a gypsy living in the universe of her unconscious where it matters more “who we are than who we want to be.”  She’s deep…and this coming from someone who takes fortune cookies seriously).  Her Danse Macabre is by far the most imaginative and the most grotesque (maybe even too much…I mean speaking of nightmares, her dance might give me them for a week), and her imagery is so creative…reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil but without the concern for acrobatics and impressing audiences, just pure art.  I think it really touches on an innate morbid curiosity humans have, where you can’t look away no matter how unsettling it can be.  It’s an utterly fascinating video dance, although I was a little disappointed with the very end, because the end of Danse Macabre is a cheeky plucking of two notes, which is one of the moments in the music that I find just a little saucy, and pardon the imagery but it’s like a “giving of the finger” if you know what I mean.  It’s a great moment that was purposely edited out, but I have to question that decision.  Tan Yuan Yuan’s solo only used an excerpt and didn’t have this, and La Melodie had it, but didn’t give it enough pizzazz.

So, I’m exhausted, and I’m sorry this entry isn’t particularly funny…when I’m tired most of my humor manifests in slapstick, and I’m glad none of you saw how I tripped coming up the stairs or shampooed my hair twice because I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing.  And WOW I had a lot of typos…