writers on dancing


Fresh Talent

San Francisco Ballet School
Palace of Fine Arts
San Francisco, California
May 11, 2005

By Rita Felciano
copyright ©2005 by Rita Felciano

School recitals bring their own pleasures and perplexities, San Francisco Ballet’s being no exception. Quite remarkable at the most recent one was the lack of theater etiquette by some audiences members who felt free to talk through the introductory music or deliver mid-performance comment on particular dancers. They should have taken a lesson from these hard working, poised and beautifully disciplined young people they had come to watch. Or is it maybe time to introduce to the ballet a soccer parents rule: you may watch and cheer but not comment?

Recitals are wonderful showcases for illustrating a dancer’s progression. It’s easy to see in the nine year olds working on their pirouettes, the little girls who a couple of years ago proudly showed off tendus, croisés and port de bras. But they also illustrate how performers often are more born than made. Downstage center in Group I performed a future ballerina. Head tilted just so, shoulders down, a confident smile on her face, she opened her arms and invited us to admire her.

The Showcase also demonstrated that by the time dance students move into their teens, girls are thoroughly put into a mold, individual personalities not to emerge again until later in their schooling. The boys on the other hand seem to be given more leeway to draw on what they have inside all the while submitting themselves to the rigors of the curriculum. As a friend observed, at this stage the girls dance like girls, the boys like men. Maybe three of the girls in Group VIII—after all there were 18 of them—had small solos. All six of the Group VII boys had an individual solo set on them, highlighting their strengths—speed, elevation, or turns. Yet just about all of them suffered from a case of nerves.

Recitals at SFB used to include one piece in which students demonstrated skills in modern dance but in recent years the practice has been discontinued, probably reflecting the reality of what ballet students want and need at this point in their development.

Two small works presented higher level students before the evening’s major accomplishment, a very decent performance of the entire “Stars and Stripes.”

Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley dancer Avichai Scher—about to depart for the Joffrey Ballet—choreographed a sextet on a number of Brahms piano pieces. The transitions between the musical sections were not as smooth and musical logical as they could have been, but the nicely detailed choreography moved fluidly, shifting moods, quickly changing levels and directions. Though retaining the classical pattern of a main couple and supporting ones, the partnering was fluid and fresh. Particularly notable was Scher’s allowance for lyrical male dancing with a lovely use of the arms. Alissa Halpin, a beautiful round faced dancer with exquisite port de bras and a soft line was partnered by tousled-haired Christopher Mondoux. The other dancers were Jeremy Kovitch, Ashley Muangmaithong—who also danced the pas de deux in “Stars”—Quinn Wharton, who will join SFB as an apprentice, and Nicole Yoshikane.

Ilan Kav’s partnering of Mona Meng in the pas de deux from “Flower Festival at Genzano” was so self-confident as to be almost cool, but the two dancers delivered Bournonville’s intricately laced steps and lilting buoyancy with aplomb and understanding.

If truth be told, the ensembles sections in Balanchine’s gloriously silly “Stars and Stripes” really need crisper performances than these inexperienced dancers were capable of delivering at this point in their development. The mixture between discipline and freedom is a tricky one because you want a certain amount of uniformity but not a sense of regimentation. For Balanchine, any way, the spirit was always more important than technical perfection. In addition to considerable know-how, these young students brought exuberance, and an infectious sense of discovery to their intricate tasks. They may not have quite understood the wit of Balanchine’s choreography, and the women’s legs may not always have come down together but these dancers sure knew the sheer fun of shooting them up into those six o’clock extension like a filly let out the starting gate. As a learning experience—moving with others through fixed crystalline patterning—“Stars” no doubt, proved also an important lesson for the exigencies of corps work.

An ebullient Jennifer Stahl led her troops into the first movement’s high kicks--holding on to her leg like a parade banner—while Kate Oderkirk confidently sent her regiment through the third movement’s sparklingly crisp marching patterns. A tiny, high-splitting, whiplash-turning Logan Learned set the tone for his comrades’ excursions into tours en l’air—some more vertical than others—and the requisite turns a la second—some at better angles than others. No matter, this was spirited dancing by everyone.

Muangmaithong danced the Belle in ‘Liberty Bell.’ And a belle she was. Delicately boned, maybe just a tad shy for the part, she nevertheless confidently sailed through her fiendishly fast variation with the aplomb of a much more experienced dancer. Daniel Deivison, who will join SFB as the other of two apprentices, brought a cocky self-assurance to the Captain’s strutting that made one worry about whether he could bring off its technical demands. Except for a couple of times, when he seemed awfully closing to missing his partner, he brought it off. It will be interesting to see how this dancer, who has such a flair for the stage, will develop at SFB.

It might not be a bad idea for SFB to get some smaller sizes of Karinska’s male costumes since boys at that age still have growth spurts in ahead them. Some of them looked like they might drown in those helmets.

Volume 3, No. 19
May 16, 2005

copyright ©2005 Rita Felciano



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last updated on May 1, 2005