‘Dunas’ and ‘Spinae’

City Hall, San Francisco — April 6, 2012

Sounds like a pair of mythological creatures, no? These are the names of two pieces danced by students of the San Francisco Ballet School trainee program at a free noontime performance today. Over my lunch break I headed to San Francisco City Hall to check it out, and as always was impressed and inspired by these kids (pre-professionals really).

I think I had seen these pieces performed before, at the Ballet 101 session that included an introduction to the trainee program (and a trip to the costume shop: definitely a topic for another blog post, with pictures!). Dunas and Spinae are choreographed by Francisco Mungamba and Myles Thatcher, respectively, both former SFB trainees who are now in the corps with the company.

Here are a few photos…

…and a video:

I only recently found out about these free performances at City Hall, called the Rotunda Dance Series. Presented by Dancers’ Group and World Arts West, they usually happen once a month and cover a wide range of dance styles, so if you’re in the area, check it out!

Program credits for today’s performance:

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Burning bright

War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco — March 23, 2012

I went to see San Francisco Ballet‘s Program 6 last Friday night: Raymonda Act III (Nureyev), RAkU (Possokhov), and the world premiere of Guide to Strange Places (Page).

Raymonda was a glittering gala with Sofiane Sylve in command, and Guide to Strange Places was a striking work that I’d like to see again, but that evening I was completely blown away by RAkU. It was so dramatic and powerful that even after the intermission I was still reeling from the emotional punch. Yuan Yuan Tan, who is of course lovely and haunting in everything, was no less perfect here.

RAkU premiered last year but I didn’t see it then, so I’m glad it was programmed again this year. And I felt like I had an additional musical appreciation of RAkU thanks to the Ballet 101 talk I attended (which, yes, I need to blog about) with composer Shinji Eshima and conductor Martin West. By the way, the ballet orchestra has just released a recording of the score.

The story of RAkU is based on the burning of Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion in 1950, but set earlier in the samurai era. Here are excerpts featuring Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith, and a short interview with Yuan Yuan Tan:

Amazing. Definitely see RAkU if you can. Remaining performances for Program 6 are tomorrow afternoon and evening, March 31; and Tuesday evening, April 3. The main cast I saw on March 23 is listed below:

Continue reading “Burning bright”

Ballet ’round the Bay

This year I decided to start seeing as much ballet as time and money will allow (in addition to my San Francisco Ballet subscription which I’ve had for a few years now), and boy, it is hard work! Ha, not really, but my already glacial blogging pace hasn’t kept up so far. My performance reviews end up being tweets at intermission:

(Apparently I love exclamation points as well.)

So given the fact that I’m seeing another performance tomorrow night and next Friday night (San Francisco Ballet’s Programs 6 and 5, respectively), let me catch up with a quick listing of what I’ve seen recently and call it a day.

Whew. I used to keep a spreadsheet of the ballets I’d seen–nerd!–with the pieces and choreographers noted; I need to get back to that! It’s nice to look back and jog your memory if and when you’ve seen a certain piece before.

Aside from San Francisco Ballet, the other companies above are ones I saw for the first time: Company C, Diablo Ballet, and Ballet San Jose. It was great to check these folks out, and I look forward to seeing more of them in the future.

By the way, to help dispel the myth of ballet as a wholly expensive pursuit (or an image of me as made of money), let me say that there are a bunch of ways to save money on tickets. Keep your eyes peeled for discount tickets on Goldstar or on deal sites like Groupon. Or check if the company you want to see offers standing room or rush tickets or other discounts. I try to post ones in the Bay Area to my Twitter feed when I come across them. (Full disclosure: Thanks to Diablo Ballet for inviting me as press to their performance in Walnut Creek.)

All right, enjoy the rest of the week, and I’ll leave you with this video by Company C, which was shown as a prologue at their recent performances:

Dancing through a prism

War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco — February 17, 2012

On Friday night I saw San Francisco Ballet’s Program 2, which consisted of Wayne McGregor’s Chroma, Mark Morris’s world premiere Beaux, and Christopher Wheeldon’s Number Nine.


For me the revelation of the evening was Chroma. I had only heard about it fleetingly and seen only very short video clips of it, so I went in with few set expectations. Well, actually my one expectation based on the photos I’d seen was that it would be very stark or cold and I wasn’t sure I would like it or get into it. Finally seeing it totally blew that away.

The music for Chroma, by Joby Talbot and Jack White III, was much more lush, lyrical, and cinematic than I’d expected. And paired with the starkness of the set and lighting, and the boldness of the choreography, there was a kind of tension in the whole thing, a dynamic range of music and emotion that I enjoyed. Well done.


I wanted to love Beaux more but unfortunately it felt like the weak link. I was excited by the idea of a new, all-male work by Mark Morris with costumes by Isaac Mizrahi, but the costumes and lighting — mostly pink and orange — were a distraction. (Thom says the costumes are Slim Goodbody-ish.) I enjoyed the middle and later movements more, where the lighting wasn’t as harsh as the beginning. I know this makes me sound old! Otherwise the choreography, which made me think men at leisure in some sylvan utopia, is playful, fraternal, even emotionally touching, which you rarely see in ballet partnering among men.

Number Nine

I had first seen Number Nine last year at its premiere (and again at this year’s gala). I felt like the dancing was just a tad imprecise now and then during this most recent time, but it’s still a relentless, colorful delight. Indeed when I first saw it last year I was distracted by the bright costumes and saturated lighting but here coming after Beaux, it was almost refreshing. (See video.)

By the way, Number Nine is the ballet I’m having fun with here:

Now do I just pop on down to the costume shop to get fitted for a bright yellow unitard?

» See also: Reviews from the Chronicle (“Ballet’s candy-colored ‘Beaux’ plays with imagery“) and San Francisco Classical Voice (“Beauxs will be beauxs“). Program 2 runs through Saturday, February 25. The main cast I saw on February 17 is listed below.

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Bella Notte: San Francisco Ballet gala

War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco — January 19, 2012

Last Thursday night I went to the San Francisco Ballet opening night gala performance. What an entertaining and inspiring evening of dance!

I went on a totally last-minute decision; even though I had been tempted in the months leading up to it, I thought, well, as I subscriber I see SF Ballet enough that I can save my money, that I don’t need to go to the gala. (Then again when you’re obsessed with something, there’s no talking rationally!) The program and casting were announced a few days beforehand, and I thought, OK, twist my arm, I’ll get a performance-only ticket (i.e., no fancy pre- and post-performance shindigs) and go check it out.

First, the glitz. I threw on my tuxedo–so glad I finally bought one a few years ago–and headed to the Opera House.

Complimentary bubbly? Don’t mind if I do!

Most of the orchestra-level crowd sauntered in well past eight. I assume that one can’t help but dawdle when one has dinner across the street at City Hall and then is greeted by free-flowing Champagne in the lobby.

People-watching from the Ballet Shop on the mezzanine during intermission:

So, the dancing! It was all pretty amazing. I had seen two of the pieces before, and while I’d heard of some of the others, like Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, it was the first time I’d seen them performed live. I’m still rusty at writing reviews (and I’ve procrastinated on this post long enough), so I’ll lead you to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s review, which covers all the bases: “Gala’s depth, daring.” (See below for program listing.)

I will say that one of my highlights was the one-two punch of Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada in Voices of Spring followed by Yuan Yuan Tan and guest star Alexander Riabko in Lady of the Camellias. One so light and exuberant, the other so dark and moving. Also I appreciate them showing off the men (they are inspiring!), especially in the lively men’s section from Classical Symphony and the fun piece Solo, whose lighthearted camaraderie reminded me a bit of Kings of the Dance.

So I think I’m hooked. I went stag this time, but next year I’m bringing Thom and we’ll just have to do the after-party too. Cheers to a new SF Ballet season!

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Trey McIntyre Project

Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley — November 18, 2011

Last night I went to see Trey McIntyre Project at Cal Performances in Berkeley. This was my first time seeing them, and I’m so glad I roused myself out from under the weather to see them. What an exciting, energetic dance company!

They performed three pieces:

  • In Dreams (music by Roy Orbison)
  • Gravity Heroes (music by Antony and the Johnsons, The Sex Pistols, Benjamin Britten, Tommy James and the Shondells, and Ray LaMontagne)
  • The Sweeter End (music by Preservation Hall Jazz Band)

As you can see, the music was eclectic (and in the case of Gravity Heroes, the set was kind of surreal: pi√Īatas!) but everything and everyone worked well together and you could really see the strong ballet underpinnings in the choreography, which melded ballet, modern, and jazz. The pieces were so different it’s hard to pick a favorite; each moved me in a different way, but all stretched my ballet mind a bit more.

I would love to see more of Trey McIntyre Project — and indeed my partner Thom, who went with me last night, said they may be his “new favorite dance company” — I’ll definitely try to catch them if they tour through here again. Also, I’ve never been to Idaho, but hey, when I do visit, I’ll be sure to check in on them.

See also: Program notes (PDF) and PBS NewsHour story from December 2010:

Addendum: See also San Francisco Chronicle review, “Jazzy Number” (November 21, 2011): “smart, vibrant dancing,” “robust muscularity of McIntyre’s freewheeling choreography.”

Next steps

Class notes

So since the last dance diary entry several weeks ago, Level 2 of the absolute beginner workshop wrapped up at LINES. After the first few meetings I was starting to feel like the class was in a slow rut, but past the midway point the pace picked up nicely. Not only that but in the last two classes we’ve had live piano accompaniment, which is quite blissful.

At the final class this past Sunday I had some encouraging chats with a couple of the other students and the teacher about what to take next. It turns out that our teacher might not be teaching Level 3 until early next year, so in the meantime I’ll go to drop-in classes and may branch out and check out other schools in the city as well. She mentioned an advanced beginning class at ODC, which I had thought I might not be ready for, but she said that I had been dancing well in class and to check it out. Yay for confidence!

By the way I’m going to be on vacation in Anaheim starting tomorrow, so I’m going to try and carve out some time while we’re there to take a class at Anaheim Ballet. I’m totally excited about the idea of taking ballet class wherever I am, even on vacation.

Dance gear

I bought some new shoes. Thanks to Endless’s free shipping and free return shipping, I just ordered a few pairs in a range of sizes, kept the ones that fit, and returned the ones that didn’t. I ended up getting a pair of Sansha Pro 1 in black canvas. The Capezios I used previously were just a little too big. They were the smallest size in their men’s line (yes, I have relatively small feet, for a guy) so I needed to go unisex. So far, so good.

With my new Under Armour compression shirts (which are kind of flattering if I do say so myself; my workouts during the week are paying off), the dance belt, the tights, the shoes… I am looking very much the real deal.

Around town

Last week I saw a concert by Man Dance Company, an LGBT-focused dance company in San Francisco. This was my first time seeing them, and they seem like a good group of talented dancers. And let’s face it, you just don’t see male couples a lot in ballet or in mainstream dance for that matter, so their dances are kind of refreshing. The highlight for me was several pieces set to songs inspired by Brokeback Mountain. Singer Ryan Harrison and composer Shawn Kirchner were there to perform the songs live. I’d heard a couple of these songs at the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus concert earlier this year and really liked them. So it was neat to see them danced to.

I can’t find any video of the dance performance yet, but here is one of the songs, “Meet Me on the Mountain,” as performed by Ryan and Shawn at a Man Dance concert a few years ago:

Your other left

Class notes

Not much to report on the class front: so far, so good. My July 10 class was my tenth consecutive class, yay.

So it’s funny (but probably not surprising) how sometimes steps that you can do with no problem in one direction are another story in the other direction. Last class (July 17), my teacher combined two steps we’ve been doing (polonaise, I think that’s what it’s called but I still haven’t confirmed, and balancé). Going to the right (diagonally downstage right), no problem. Going to the left–even though these are basically the same steps, just in reverse order–I was all awkward limbs everywhere. Kind of amusing. Ah well, something to work on.

Around town

Universal Ballet, based in Seoul, is on tour in San Francisco right now, and I went to see them last night at the Opera House. (I hadn’t heard any buzz about it beforehand, but $30 center orchestra seats from Goldstar made it hard to pass up.) The program was Shim Chung: The Blindman’s Daughter, a three-act story set in ancient Korea. For some reason going in I was afraid it might be a bit heavy-handed or cheesy, but overall it really is enchanting. (I will try to forgive the improbable, deliriously happy ending. Improbable, even given the already fantasy-laden story.) The dancing is entertaining, and the sets and costumes are impressive, especially in the underwater kingdom scene.

Shim Chung plays again in San Francisco on Sunday afternoon, July 24, then the tour continues in Vancouver.

End of Workshop 1

Class notes

Last Saturday (May 28) was the last class in the four-week “absolute beginner” ballet workshop I’ve been taking. New stuff:

  • cambr√©
  • fondu
  • balanc√©: we actually started balanc√© in the previous class, but this time added the arms, changing from side to side
  • across the floor: polka steps (step, step, step, hop; most of my background is in jazz dance, but there’s a lot of crossover… I wanted to be all, “Oh, so chass√©, hop?”)

As I mentioned last week, my teacher is on a ballet-related trip to Saint Petersburg, Russia, so I have a couple of weeks coming up without a regular class. She suggested a particular intro class, which I plan to drop in on tomorrow and the following Sunday. Then on June 19 she returns to lead the the next phase of her ballet workshop. I’d gone online yesterday to register for it and was disappointed to see it was already full. So I called the dance center, and apparently they’d gotten similar inquiries about it; they got back to me and said they would let a few additional people register, so I’m in. Yay!

Dance around town

San Francisco Ballet: I renewed our subscription for the 2012 season. I’m especially looking forward to Onegin and Don Quixote, as well as Chroma, which we didn’t see last season. We’ve been doing a partial-season subscription (five of eight programs) for the last few years; we’re doing the same for next season but we decided to forgo the LGBT Nite Out receptions. I appreciate them, but for us it just wasn’t worth the added expense for all three receptions as a package. We’ll maybe go to one √† la carte, if friends are going.

Royal Danish Ballet: The RDB is currently on a U.S. tour and we saw them last week in Berkeley performing The Lesson and La Sylphide. They’re also performing a more modern program on other nights, but after reading about August Bournonville and the RDB origins of La Sylphide, I definitely wanted to see it, one of their signature works. They did not disappoint. Both pieces were lovely and entertaining, and I wish I could’ve come back to see their other program as well. During the Sylphide Act I reel, I leaned over to Thom and asked, “So when are we having our Scottish Highland-theme wedding party?”

La Sylphide

Men in tights? No, men in kilts! (Photo: SFGate.com)

Papa got a new pair of shoes

Shoe business

If I’m going to dance again, I need new shoes, right? A few weeks ago I bought a couple of pairs of ballet shoes: black Capezio split soles, one pair in leather and another in canvas. I love how Capezio’s main men’s ballet shoe is called Romeo. It’s all very “I’ll be doing pas de deux in no time!”

My previous shoes, which are several years old from a ballet class I took in college, have full soles and are kind of beginner-y. So with my new split-sole shoes, I feel like I’ve “graduated.” In any case, they conform to your arches and show off your feet better. Here you can see the difference between my old shoes (leather full sole) and new shoes (canvas split sole):

Ballet shoes

Side note while we’re talking about shoe photos: For my Stanford application (lo, those many years ago), the main essay prompt was to take a picture of something important to you and write about it. The subject I chose was my jazz shoes. I guess quirky does indeed help.

OK, curious Tiki kind of photobombed this one:

Ballet cat

I sewed the elastics on the canvas pair–not rocket science, but I was proud, since I sew so infrequently–and wore them for class the next day. I definitely like the look and feel. Pretty feet! I mean, strong, manly feet!

Another wardrobe change: I haven’t quite made the leap to tights, though I did buy a suitable pair of thin Adidas pants apparently meant for soccer, but they work well for class.

Class notes

This was the second meeting of my beginner ballet workshop, and most of it went over the previous class’s steps, plus a few additional things:

  • toe and pointing exercises
  • rond de jambe √† terre
  • more work from 3rd position
  • across the floor: turning waltz steps, basically like ballroom turns
  • more step combinations, like one that starts with pli√©, tendu side (still in pli√©), straighten/close, then repeats with the final step changing to relev√©, then again changing to jump/changement

Stuff I need to work on:

  • arms: rounding arms more in 1st and 2nd position, hands closer to chest in 1st
  • turnout: though like flexibility, this is more of a long-term goal of course

And with that, the four-week workshop is already half over! I definitely want to sign up for the next phase, which is thankfully more substantial at eight weeks long.

Dance around town

Last week I went to see Smuin Ballet‘s spring program, a mixed bill of three pieces: Momentum by Choo San Goh, set to Prokofiev; Mozart Requiem, a world premiere by Amy Seiwert; and To The Beatles by Michael Smuin. I think my favorite piece has to be the Requiem. It was totally mesmerizing. (Though I have to admit a kind of soft spot for Mozart’s Requiem; Thom and I once sang it at a choral society sing-along at National Cathedral, and it kind of kicked my ass so I give it respect.) I especially liked how the choral movements with the four vocal soloists corresponded to four dancers in the choreography. Here’s a Facebook album I found with some great shots of the piece by photographer Keith Sutter.

The next performance to see on my calendar is the Royal Danish Ballet, which is going on a four-city U.S. tour and will perform in a couple of weeks at Cal Performances in Berkeley.