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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Always dancing

I work from home, where I use a standing-height desk. While I do have a high stool to sit on, I usually stand, which is great for doing random steps and exercises while at the computer. So you can imagine me, even as I write this, doing tendus or dégagées and so forth (though I’ve learned to clear a radius around me lest I topple a stack of magazines with an errant grand battement). Or I’ll set the stool to the side, put my foot up on it, and stretch. Or sometimes I’ll use the kitchen counter as a barre, while I wait for lunch or whatever to heat in the microwave.

More and more I’m finding ballet steps working their way into everyday actions. I’d already been doing pliés or penchées when reaching for things on low shelves. Just yesterday I was putting drops in my eyes since my contact lenses were bothering me, and as I started to lean, I found myself going into cambré back… minus the arms of course, though next time maybe I’ll work in a little port de bras. Ha, once dance is in your body, it finds new ways to express itself!

What are some of your–intentional or unintentional–dance multitasks?

Addendum: Here I was talking about dancing through the day, and what do I find: a fun little piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, “How to apply ballet to everyday life.” (See also MAD magazine’s take: “11 little-known, practical, real life uses for ballet.”)

Tonnelets, tutus, and tights

Last week I went to the first class of Ballet 101, a short course on ballet appreciation offered by San Francisco Ballet. This may have been my first time to the SF Ballet studio and office building on Franklin Street–though I may have been there several years ago on a school field trip?–but in any case it was pretty neat to be in the building where so much premier dance activity takes place.

I was led to a boardroom on the first floor, where about fifty or so fellow classmates were already gathered. We were given course readers, and after an introduction by coordinator Cecelia Beam, we got a whirlwind history of ballet entitled “Tonnelets, Tutus, and Tights: Ballet History from France to Russia to America,” given by dance scholar and self-identified “ballet nerd”–my kind of people!–Carrie Gaiser Casey.

Given that I’ve been reading a bunch of ballet history books lately, I was actually pretty familiar with most of the major points from the lecture. But I appreciated that Carrie helped to bring it to life by playing video clips and even having us get up and strike some ballet poses. The video clips were from Le Triomphe de l’amour (reconstructed from a 1680s ballet) (below), La Sylphide (Osipova), and Afternoon of a Faun (Nureyev).

It was all pretty neat, and I was especially interested in her take on where ballet is and where it’s going. She touched on the contemporary trends toward fusion with other kinds of dance, including modern and ethnic styles.

Next time: Ballet 101 doesn’t meet today due to the MLK Jr. Day holiday. Next week it starts up again with a basic ballet technique class taught by SF Ballet School faculty member Pascale Leroy, with company pianist Nina Pinzarrone. We have the choice of participating in the class or observing; you know I’m going to be there dancing!

This is part of a mini-series of posts on Ballet 101 at San Francisco Ballet; check out the others here.

Waltzing into 2012

OK, I meant to post some new stuff in the last couple of weeks (and do indeed have a few ideas in draft form), but you know how it goes, especially over the holidays. I will say that 2011 has been a great year in ballet for me. I started taking classes and attended more performances (and was able to include a bit of travel), and got to know a bunch of you awesome ballet bloggers and tweeters.

One of my little New Year’s traditions is to record the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Day concert. I love Strauss as much as the next Wiener, but when I get around to watching it I fast-forward to the lovely ballet segments (usually filmed in some gorgeous Viennese palace) and to Julie Andrews’s intros from various locations around the city.

There will be three ballet pieces this year, choreographed by Davide Bombana and featuring members of the Vienna State Ballet. The pieces aren’t indicated separately in the program, but I do see that excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty are listed, so I’m guessing that’s one of them.

[Addendum: The three pieces, here linked to YouTube videos are: “Enjoy Life,” “Burning Love,” and “Blue Danube.”]

Check your local listings; here in the Bay Area it airs on KQED on Sunday, January 1, at 10:30 p.m. and again the next day at 4:30 a.m.

See you in 2012 with more ballet shenanigans. Happy new year and happy dancing!

Lady Gaga with a ballet twist

I caught Ellen yesterday ’cause I knew Lady Gaga was going to be a guest, but little did I know her performance of “Marry the Night” would be so ballet-themed! Broken mirrors, crooked barres, torn tights: it’s ballet Lady Gaga-style. There isn’t a ton of bona fide classical ballet steps in this routine, but there are hints of some sprinkled in here and there.

Check it out. And if you’re looking for the danseurs — including my favorite, the quirky SYTYCD contestant turned smoldering backup dancer Mark Kanemura — they come on around 1:40 during Gaga’s shoe change. (And some pointe shoes they are!)

By the way did anyone catch her Thanksgiving TV special? It was pretty good; I have to say I enjoyed it more than I had expected.

All set for Ballet 101

Every year San Francisco Ballet offers a short course on ballet appreciation, called Ballet 101, which I’ve thought of taking someday. Well, now that I’m pretty much obsessed, the time is now. I’ve had the web page open in a browser window for the past several days, and yesterday they sent out an e-mail publicizing it, so I figured I better jump on it. I went ahead and registered!

From the e-mail:

Ballet 101 is a five-week course for adults who are curious about the inner workings of San Francisco Ballet and would like to deepen their knowledge of ballet. The course includes a combination of lectures, discussions with Ballet Masters and Company Dancers, and facility tours, as well as one ballet technique class for beginners with Pascal Leroy, Former Soloist Dancer and current San Francisco Ballet School faculty member.

Ballet 101 begins January 2012 and will meet five evenings (Jan 9, 23, 30 and Feb 6, 13) from 6 to 8pm at the San Francisco Ballet Building, 455 Franklin Street (between Grove and Fulton). Cost of the course is $225 and is non-refundable.

The course sells out every year, so register online today to reserve your space!

I’m especially excited about the technique class. Since San Francisco Ballet doesn’t offer open adult classes, this is a rare chance to take class in their studios. Watch for my full blog coverage of Ballet 101 in a couple of months!

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: piñatas!) 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.”

‘The Ballet Companion’

So not only did I start taking ballet lessons earlier this year, but I am also reading a lot about ballet too. Yes, this has become my new geekdom. I recently finished Eliza Gaynor Minden‘s book, The Ballet Companion: A Dancer’s Guide to the Technique, Traditions, and Joys of Ballet (2005). As the title suggests, this is an all-around introduction, geared to the beginning dancer. It covers a whole range of topics from schools to positions and basic steps to health and nutrition and so forth. There’s also a chapter on ballet literacy with a helpful bibliography and list of other resources. These in any book are great jumping-off points for further reading and watching.

Throughout the book are sprinkled vignettes on dance history, which I’m especially interested in; my only quibble is that they’re so interspersed that much of my reading of the book involved skipping pages and coming back to read the history blurbs. I might’ve preferred they be given their own chapter. (Then again right now I’m reading a book solely about ballet history, so I’m getting my fill.)

While The Ballet Companion isn’t meant to replace a comprehensive ballet dictionary or manual since its chapter on class covers just several basic steps, I commend it for its clear and large color photos (and with one of the models being Benjamin Millepied, I can’t complain) and its breadth of information. I had borrowed this book from the public library, and after I return it I may end up buying a copy for my own ballet reference shelf.

Ballet weekend

I’m still here! I was on vacation in Florida a couple of weeks ago, and while that doesn’t completely explain the lack of blog posts, I am still getting back into a writing routine.

However I did want to check in and say that I will be traveling again this weekend, this time to Southern California for ballet! Yay, my first ballet getaway. When I started planning this, I figured I would just fly down and back the same day to see Kings of the Dance only, but — you know me, I love travel planning — it has ballooned into a full-blown ballet weekend, as I’ll also be seeing New York City Ballet Moves, and taking ballet classes at a couple of places in L.A.

I will report back next week, but in the meantime you can follow my tweets for these and other general ramblings. Have a great weekend!