Gualala Arts: the future of ballet is secure
By Iris Lorenz-Fife
Independent Coast Observer
November 19, 2010
San Francisco Ballet at Gualala Arts -- it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the palpable excitement, the youthful energy on stage, and for the total commitment of twelve young dancers and their audience.
The first of two programs opened at Gualala Arts (on Friday November 12, 2010 (the second was on Saturday)) with twelve dancers from the San Francisco Ballet School Trainee Program on stage before an eager audience.
The opening dance, an excerpt from Helgi Tomasson's Giuliani, featured ten of the dancers in light airy costumes with touches of bright color. The guys were clearly reining-in their grands jetés to our small stage, the gals seemed willing to dance up a storm; there was a nice partnering and mostly good unison as they settled into the somewhat restricted space.
These young trainees perform at schools and community centers, corporate and special events, as well as on the Opera House's main stage during the current ballet season.
Next, Lew Christensen's Pas de Deux to Vivaldi's Concerto Grosso featured the exquisite WanTing Zhao from Beijing, and Trygve Cumpston (IL). Cumpston proved himself a caring, and limber, partner as he presented Zhao with her perfect sense of balance.
For the Flower Festival Pas de Deux with choreography by August Bournonville a folkloric couple sold their dance with delightful smiles. Ellen Rose Hummel (SC) and Geraud Wielick (Belgium) interwove solos and duets with winsome interaction. Wielick's athleticism made me wish the stage was much bigger, while Hummel's balance became more secure with her second solo.
The program's first half concluded with an unforgettable dance to Franz Schubert's Piano Sonata No.21 in B-flat, D.960, choreographed as Andante Sostenuto by Francisco Martinez. Three couples in white (the guys in white trousers, the gals in long dresses) presented Martinez's angular and sophisticated dance. The lifts were light as air and took on modern, angular, shapes; the partnering presented each couple as a seamless whole.
Jessica Cohen (CA) and Francisco Mungamba (Spain) opened the pas de deux with an evocative dance, somewhat sad, deeply felt. Elizabeth Powell (MA) and Henry Sidford (MA) were lovers who could not bear to part. And Lacey Escabar (CA) and Cumpston showed the joyful side of unity.
This last pair -- Escabar and Cumpston -- showed how dancers' physiques are changing. From the days when ballerinas were no more than half to two-thirds the height of their partners, (or if tall then grotesquely thin,) we now have more pairs of equal height with slim healthy bodies. This must mean that the women have to have more strength, more ability to leap, while the men are required to have even greater upper body strength than in the past. Escabar and Cumpston gave us overhead lifts with changing positions that were both modern, and required more strength from each dancer.
Handel's music with Tomasson's choreography brought us A Celebration with quintets, duets and quartets involving all the dancers. They sparkled.
Lusions, the closing dance choreographed by Parrish Maynard to Roland Chadwick's music was also a full ensemble piece -- but more modern and with great ensembles of guys together, just gals, and duets. The Eastern sensibility came through from the initial stick dance to the rhythmic nature of the individual movements.
As Andante Sostenuto was the highlight of the first half, so Threading was the unforgettable piece from the whole program. Sea-greens gave an underwater feel that enhanced Francisco Mungamba's lifts of Elizabeth Powell -- holding her aloft to arc and undulate like seals in deep water. This special mood piece kept the audience spellbound to the last graceful arched back and legs, the last sensitive partnering, the last steps of Parrish Maynard's choreography, and the last notes of Ludovico Einaudi's composition Svanire.
These Trainees may stay in the Ballet School program for one or two years. I hope we can welcome the 2011 Trainees next November.
© 2010 Independent Coast Observer, Gualala, CA