Ballet boys on ‘Jeopardy!’

Last night on a Kids Week episode of Jeopardy! one of the categories was “Boys in Ballet.” Neat! The kids left it to the very end, though it turned out to be a pretty easy category. By the way I was surprised there wasn’t a clue about Billy Elliot. Here are the clues and responses; test your knowledge!


  • $400 This stretchy one-piece garment for both sexes was named for a guy, a French acrobat
  • $800 In the ballet Checkmate, the red one of these gets to die an agonizing death at the hands of the black queen
  • $1200 Boys’ classes often emphasize jumps, maybe even the difficult tour en l’air, which means this in the air
  • $1600 (Daily Double) A boy named Fritz breaks this title gift given to his sister Clara by Drosselmeyer
  • $2000 After a performance, ballerinas curtsy; men perform a small one of these equivalent gestures
“What is…?”

Correct responses

  • Leotard
  • King
  • Turn (The contestant answered twirl, which was accepted.)
  • The Nutcracker (The contestant–the same one who answered twirl/turn above–risked $1000, but couldn’t come up with an answer.)
  • Bow

How’d you do?

Post:Ballet presents ‘Triads’

Herbst Theatre, San Francisco — July 21, 2012

A quick-bite review: Founded in 2009 by dancer and choreographer Robert Dekkers, innovative dance company Post:Ballet capped its third season with a program entitled Triads, consisting of four pieces, including a world premiere. The first half of the program (sensual Mine Is Yours and darkly whimsical Happy Ending) was beautiful but left me a little cold and puzzled. It was the second half that delivered. A pas de deux from Interference Pattern felt intimate and honest; Jonathan Mangosing and Christian Squires were a pleasure to watch. When in Doubt, whose original score included recorded spoken word from the dancers themselves, had depth both in choreography and meaning.

Kudos to Robert Dekkers for taking risks and pushing the ballet envelope. This was my first full evening of Post:Ballet, and I look forward to many more seasons of interesting, imaginative dance. (I also have to say I love the styling of their new headshots!)

Post-performance Q&A with Post:Ballet dancers and collaborators

Post:Ballet director Robert Dekkers

» See also: Post:Ballet Facebook page, and Triads reviews from the San Francisco Chronicle and California Literary Review.

Program listing and video excerpts are below:

Continue reading “Post:Ballet presents ‘Triads’”

‘Masha’: A portrait of Maria Kochetkova

San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Maria Kochetkova is certainly a ballet star, and the Vogue Theatre was packed last week with local balletomanes (as well as several dancers) for a preview of Masha, a documentary that follows Maria’s participation with the Bolshoi Reflections project in Orange County and Moscow.

The film gives us a glimpse of life behind the scenes, as it wanders with Maria through costume fittings, rehearsals, performances, and more personal moments like that classic ballerina ritual, preparing (i.e., violently breaking in) pointe shoes. (Without a narrator, this fly-on-the-wall style brings to my mind Frederick Wiseman’s 1995 film Ballet, a profile of American Ballet Theatre.) I enjoyed it thoroughly: there are both grand and intimate moments, even slightly comical ones, and they all make you realize how much work goes into ballet despite how effortless it seems from afar. More importantly you get a glimpse of Maria as a dancer at her craft: very detailed and direct as she figures out if a costume will fit right, perfects a particular step or move with the choreographer (in one of the scenes, Jorma Elo), and so forth. Here’s a clip:

After the screening, Maria took the stage to answer audience questions, which ranged from her childhood and training to her onstage state of mind (“freaking out!”; she tries to work extra hard in the studio so she doesn’t have to overthink during performance) to if she had kids whether she would encourage them to take ballet (yes, why not?) to dream roles she hasn’t yet played (she’s starting to run out, but upcoming SFB production Cinderella appeals). I love Q&As. This was the first time I had attended one with Maria, and it was lovely to get a sense of her quick, sparkling personality away from the Opera House stage.

Directed by Bronwen Parker-Rhodes, Masha now continues in editing and is likely to have a further or final-cut screening later this year. I’m looking forward to it!

» See also: A couple of videos featuring Maria Kochetkova, San Francisco Ballet Artist Spotlight; and one of the pieces featured in Masha, Jorma Elo’s One Overture.

Dance diversity at Dance/USA

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco — June 28, 2012

I am continually amazed not just at the amount of dance being performed in the Bay Area but also at its diversity, which was showcased recently at a couple of performances produced in conjunction with the Dance/USA annual conference, held in San Francisco last week.

By the way I totally missed the boat with the Dance/USA conference: granted I am not a dance professional, but as a local dance geek-in-the-making I should’ve volunteered or networked my way into some of the sessions. Still, I followed the conference tweetage (and picked up a few interesting ideas to chew on) and made some great online connections. Hello, new followers!

As I was saying, the conference put together a couple of performances (each with a different program) highlighting Bay Area dance companies, and I went to the evening performance last Thursday. I loved the range of dance: not only ballet and modern, but the fortunate concurrence of the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival facilitated plenty of ethnic dance numbers, including Native American, flamenco, West African, Hawaiian, and a fusion of South Indian classical and Japanese taiko, which I especially liked.

I’ve been to a few similar Bay Area-wide dance concerts in the past few months now (namely benefits like Dances from the Heart and Get in Front, at which I had first seen two of the Dance/USA numbers), and each has inspired me in my own dancing and renewed my pride in the local dance community. I hope they continue, ’cause I’ll keep coming back for more.

Notes: The dances I saw are listed below, some of which I’ve annotated with YouTube clips (not necessarily the same dancers). The program notes for the two performances are available in PDF (it’s in booklet format for printing, so the PDF layout is pages 4, 1 and 2, 3).

Continue reading “Dance diversity at Dance/USA”

Tweeting at the ballet

Sometimes when I watch performances I write down notes in the program during intermissions, but more often than not… I tweet. (Hat tip to Carla Escoda of Ballet to the People and her bite-size reviews!)

March 30: San Francisco Ballet, Program 5 (Tomasson: The Fifth Season, Liaang: Symphonic Dances, Robbins: Glass Pieces).

Continue reading “Tweeting at the ballet”

Now on Facebook

The Music and the Mirror now has a Facebook page! Yay, another bit of Internet to move into and make pretty. Not that anyone had been clamoring for it (yet!), but I figure, hey, I spend a fair amount of time on Facebook…maybe you do too?

Check it out and “like” for assorted ballet and dance tidbits and of course notices of new blog posts. Enjoy!

‘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:

Continue reading “‘Dunas’ and ‘Spinae’”

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:

La vie d’une étoile

I went to the San Francisco Dance Film Festival for the first time last week and had a great time. Apparently it’s a relatively new festival, just having started in 2010, and it takes place mainly at the Ninth Street Independent Film Center. Friday evening’s program consisted of seven short films and a feature called Claude Bessy: Lignes d’une vie.

Selected shorts

All of the shorts were well done, and if I had to choose a favorite perhaps it would be In a Moment. About a man who loses his memory following a car accident, the film plays with themes of time, memory, and relationships.

Another interesting short was Beautiful Illusion, which drew me of course since it has ballet, but its spark is in the tension between the beauty and pain of ballet. A woman dances through an art gallery, and a few times she pauses while an X-ray image is projected onto her body; the words are not mere labels of bones but of a dancer’s potential injuries. The entire four-minute film is available online:

Again, they were all interesting in their own ways, but I’ll give another honorable mention, to There, Again, a project that began as a staged dance performance on a set with four dancers, each in one of four small, linked rooms. Everything from the lighting and staging to the music and choreography itself is mesmerizing.

Lignes d’une vie

The second part of the evening was devoted to a documentary on legendary Paris Opera Ballet dancer and educator Claude Bessy. Actually I didn’t know anything about her beforehand, so the film was both entertaining and informative for me. What a career, from Paris to New York to Hollywood and back. I loved all the archival rehearsal and performance footage. (It draws from many sources, including a couple of documentaries on the POB school, parts of which I’d seen online before.) Watching Lignes d’une vie makes me want to jet off to see the Paris Opera Ballet and the Palais Garnier this very minute!

Following the screening, director Fabrice Herrault was on hand for an insightful Q&A along with San Francisco Ballet principal dancers Pascal Molat and Sofiane Sylve. Pascal (below, far left) especially talked about his experience at the school and Madame Bessy as a “tough love” kind of figure.

I enjoyed the evening so much I wish I’d also gone to the other festival programs, especially to see Never Stand Still and Joffrey. In any case I hope to make it to many more festivals in the future!

[Addendum (March 22): The festival awards have been announced, and if you missed out on the shorts, some of them will be screened at the San Francisco Public Library on Saturday, April 21 (2 p.m.), and Wednesday, April 25 (5:45 p.m.), as part of Bay Area Dance Week.]