San Francisco Ballet’s Festival of New Works – creativity given free rein

This third program of San Francisco Ballet’s Unbound festival features works by Stanton Welch, Trey McIntyre and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa – who have taken inspiration for their creations from an eclectic range of sources.

Stanton Welch has links with San Francisco Ballet which go back a few years, for – following his basic training in Australia – he won a scholarship to study at the San Francisco Ballet School. He subsequently returned to his home country to join The Australian Ballet, where he became a leading soloist, and ultimately rose to the position of Resident Choreographer. He had occasion to return to San Francisco in 1995, having been commissioned to write a work for the United We Dance festival held in the city that year, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Charter. In addition to The Australian and San Francisco ballet companies, Stanton Welch has created works for Houston Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Birmingham Royal Ballet and Royal Danish Ballet. He is now Artistic Director of Houston Ballet.

The work which Welch has created for this festival is entitled simply Bespoke, and for the score he’s selected five movements from two violin concertos by J S Bach. It was the dancers themselves, he says, who influenced the way in which this work was created – their love for their art having provided the source of his inspiration. Obviously enjoying his participation in Unbound, he says that the interesting thing about this initiative is having “all these choreographers together feeling unbound – we’re not restricted by where we work or our responsibility as directors – it’s just about creation”.

Creation certainly is the buzz-word at Unbound – and the festival isn’t restricted to choreographers who operate in the world of ballet alone. Take filmmaker, writer and photographer Trey McIntyre, for instance, the creator of the second work on this program – Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem. His second commission for San Francisco Ballet, it was inspired by an old photograph of his grandfather, taken in the 1920s. This was a man whom McIntyre never knew, but with whom he somehow felt a link – a link strong enough to persuade him to create a ballet around it. The work is set to music by American singer-songwriter  Chris Garneau, and although the underlying theme of the ballet centers around loss and pain, the score has enough bright interludes to provide the work with its lighter moments.

Trey trained as a dancer, had the position of Choreographic Apprentice at Houston Ballet created for him, and later became the company’s Choreographic Associate. The recipient of numerous awards – including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Society of Arts and Letters – he founded his acclaimed dance company, Trey McIntyre Projects in 2005, but in 2014 turned his focus towards new artistic ventures in film and the visual arts – such as the feature-length documentary Gravity Hero.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa had a somewhat unusual introduction to ballet – she says that her mother decided that her tomboyish daughter ought to “become elegant and feminine, so she sent me to ballet.” Ballet was obviously where Annabelle was meant to be, for – following her education at the Royal Ballet School of Antwerp – she pursued a 12-year long career with various dance companies in Europe, before deciding in 2003 to concentrate on choreography. She has created works for over 50 companies around the world, and has an impressive list of nominations and awards to her name.

Lopez Ochoa describes her ballet Guernica as “an ode to Picasso, to cubism and to his …. body of work, but especially to his painting Guernica”, the compelling work which so powerfully represents the tragedy of war and the suffering it leaves in its wake. She says that she “feels so helpless against this senseless violence that we’re faced with,” but knows that what she can do is “create art and put it in front of an audience”. Guernica has been set to a range of works by composers which includes Joe Andrews and Tom Halstead – who go by the name of Raime, and who were included in Rolling Stone’s 2016 ’20 Great British Artists to Watch’ – Dutch composer Michel Banabila, and 19th century composer Charles Valentin-Alkan – making quite a combination of elements in one work. The result is, as can be seen from this short film, is fascinating.

San Francisco Ballet’s Unbound C runs at the War Memorial Opera House from April 24th for four performances, the final one being on May 5th. For more information visit the San Francisco Ballet website.

 

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Ballet program notes by Cheryl A Ossola

Artists’ websites:

Stanton Welch

Trey McIntyre

Chris Garneau

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa

Pablo Picasso

Raime

Michel Banabila

Charles Valentin-Alkan

 

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Three more world premieres from San Francisco Ballet’s ‘Unbound’ festival

San Francisco Ballet swings into the second program of its Unbound festival with three more very individual world premieres, by three very different choreographers – the company’s own Myles Thatcher, and two British choreographers, Cathy Marston and David Dawson

Myles Thatcher, a member of the company’s corps de ballet, has had a fascination for choreography from his early years – he says he remembers putting steps together to the Spanish variation from The Nutcracker at a very young age. He has already created three works for San Francisco Ballet – Ghost in the Machine, Manifesto, and In the Passerine’s Clutch – and also a work entitled Foragers for The International Competition for the Erik Bruhn Prize, as well as works for the Rolex Arts Weekend in Mexico City, for New York City Ballet, Joffrey Ballet and four works for the San Francisco Ballet School.

For this Unbound festival, Thatcher has choreographed a work entitled Otherness which explores the themes of conformity and individualism in society, and set it to a lively piece by John Adams which carries the cheerful title of Absolute Jest – a work commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony, and which takes its title (at the suggestion of Michael Wilson Thomas) from Stravinsky’s Pulcinella. See Myles talk about the ballet and the music in this video clip. He has some interesting theories to impart.

The inspiration for Cathy Marston’s ballet Snowblind came from the 1911 novel Ethan Frome by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edith Wharton. This American classic, set in a fictitious town in Massachusetts, tells of the fraught emotional tangle which develops between a struggling farmer, his demanding and unappreciative wife who is also a hypochondriac, and a beautiful young girl who arrives to help the ailing wife – three people trapped in a situation restricted by the times in which they live. The score, arranged by Philip Feeney, is taken from works by Amy Beach, Arthur Foote, Arvo Pärt and Feeney himself.

Apart from her enthusiasm for presenting audiences with new ideas, using both classical and contemporary art forms, Cathy Marston also has a special gift for narrative ballet, and a passion for literature, and she has successfully combined both gift and passion in her interpretations of literary classics. These include Ibsen’s Ghosts – a highly acclaimed work created during her five years as Associate Artist of the Royal Opera House – Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Chekov’s Three Sisters, Nabokov’s Lolita and Witch-hunt – created for Bern Ballett in Switzerland and inspired by the true story of Anna Goeldi, the ‘last witch of Europe’.  Here’s a preview clip of Snowblind.

Among the prestigious awards and accolades received by choreographer David Dawson is the Prix Benois de la Danse Award for The Grey Area – which was also nominated for the UK Critics’ Circle National Dance Award for Best Classical Choreographer. He also has the honor of being the first British choreographer to have received Russia’s highest theatre prize for visual art, the Golden Mask Award, for Reverence, created for the Mariinsky Ballet. He is currently Associate Artist of the Dutch National Ballet and a freelance choreographer, and this is his first commission for San Francisco Ballet.

In Anima Animus, Dawson – himself a former dancer – says he was working with the ideas of opposition, hence the title – anima being Carl Jung’s term for the feminine part of a man’s personality, and animus being the reverse.  Dawson has set the ballet to a violin concerto by Italian conductor, composer and pianist Ezio Bosso – Principal and Resident Conductor of the Fondazione del Teatro Lirico Giuseppe Verdi in Trieste, and Resident Conductor and Art Director of the StradivariFestival Chamber Orchestra. Dawson says, in this interview, that it’s been very interesting trying to place this concept of opposites onto the music, “because essentially it’s about visualizing the music …. that’s the communication to the public – that’s what’s special about dance – no words necessary, heart to heart”.

San Francisco Ballet’s second program in Unbound: A Festival of New Works opens at the War Memorial Opera House this evening (April 21st) for four performances, until May 4th. For further information, visit the San Francisco Ballet website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Ballet program notes by Cheryl A Ossola

American Literature

and

Artists’ websites:

Myles Thatcher

John Adams

Cathy Marston

Philip Feeney

David Dawson

Ezio Bosso

 

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San Francisco Ballet presents Unbound: A Festival of New Works

Never a company to be left behind when descriptives like “entrepreneurial” and “enterprising” are being used, San Francisco Ballet embarks on a completely new initiative this week – 12 new ballets, created by 12 contemporary choreographers, specifically for the company, in a program entitled Unbound: A Festival of New Works.  This celebration of contemporary choreography gives a pointer to the future of ballet – an art form which has never stood still, which has constantly been evolving, and will doubtless continue to do so.

These world premieres have been created by some of the finest and best known choreographers of today – Alonzo King, Christopher Wheeldon and Justin Peck; Myles Thatcher, Cathy Marston and David Dawson; Stanton Welch, Trey McIntyre and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa; Edwaard Liang, Dwight Rhoden and Arthur Pita.

The first of the programs opens with a ballet by Alonzo King, founder and artistic director of the Alonzo King LINES Ballet in San Francisco. King has been described by the New York Times as a choreographer with “astonishing originality”, and – according to William Forsythe of Frankfurt Ballet – is “one of the few, true Ballet Masters of our times”.

Each of the visionary and fascinating new works which King creates for LINES Ballet features a collaboration with an artist acclaimed in his or her respective field – musicians, composers and visual artists such as tabla master Zakir Hussain, bassist Edgar Meyer, jazz saxophonists Pharaoh Sanders and Charles Lloyd, Sudanese composer, instrumentalist and vocalist Hamza al Din, Polish composer Pawel Szymanski, jazz pianist Jason Moran, mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani and architect Chris Haas.

The Collective Agreement is King’s first work for San Francisco Ballet, with an original score by Jason Moran, master of a variety of different musical styles, and an artist with whom King has a particular affinity and a professional relationship of some years’ standing. In a video recorded description of the ballet, King says: “My sense was: let’s create a world, let’s have everyone involved in it and so it’s kind of the collective agreement that we’re not only aiming for harmony, but we want the community to be lifted up …”.

Internationally acclaimed Christopher Wheeldon is certainly one of the most successful of contemporary choreographers – his gift being an enviable ability to create contemporary movements whilst still retaining the style of the classical tradition. With well over thirty ballets in his portfolio – ten of them created for San Francisco Ballet – he has also demonstrated his versatility by directing and choreographing a hugely successful revival of An American in Paris on Broadway and beyond. Little wonder then that he’s been likened to Jerome Robbins, one of the most illustrious names in American dance, and one of two celebrities whom Wheeldon credits with having had a significant influence on him. The other was British choreographer Kenneth MacMillan who encouraged Wheeldon to develop his obvious talent for choreography.

Wheeldon’s ballet for this festival is called Bound To, because – as he says in the interview above  – “we … seem so bound to technology. The over-arching theme is the disconnectiveness of our time – how we are perhaps even more connected with our devices than we are with each other ….”. The score is by British composer Keaton Henson, with whom Wheeldon worked on a project for Ballet Boyz, and whom Wheeldon says tends to include everyday sounds in his music – a feature which has the effect of  highlighting the rather sobering fact that while we’re so busy concentrating on the technology that governs our lives, the world around us continues to function, without our realization.

As a dancer with New York City Ballet, Justin Peck has performed a wide repertoire of works – by choreographers such as George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Peter Martins, Alexei Ratmansky, Benjamin Millepied and also Christopher Wheeldon. Now resident choreographer of the company, he is only the second person in the history of New York City Ballet to hold this position – the first having been Wheeldon. Peck has created more than 10 ballets for NYCB, and his work has been performed internationally by a diverse range of companies which includes Paris Opera Ballet, Dutch National Ballet and LA Dance Project.

Peck’s first commission for San Francisco Ballet, In the Countenance of Kings, was a huge success, and he now follows that with Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. He describes his style of choreography as a combination of musicality and athleticism, influenced by various other types of dance, notably classical ballet, in which he was trained. The inspiration for this new work came during his last visit to San Francisco, when he was walking around, listening to an album by a group called M83 and “to me” he says, “it really meshed well with the feel of the city, and actually a lot of it is inspired by the way that we dream as human beings”. Unusually, the dancers wear sneakers, which Peck says enabled him to look at the effect that they have on the way that the dancers move, and gave him an opportunity to incorporate different influences in the work.

San Francisco Ballet presents the first of four programs in its Unbound Festival at the War Memorial Opera House, on Friday April 20th, running until May 6th. For more information visit the San Francisco Ballet website.

 

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Ballet program notes by Cheryl A Ossola

Artists’ websites:

Alonzo King

Jason Moran

Christopher Wheeldon

Keaton Henson

Justin Peck

M83

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San Francisco Symphony plays Debussy & Ravel with Tortelier & Graham

Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham sings ‘Shéhérazade’ with Yan Pascal Tortelier and the San Francisco Symphony – Photo © Dario Acosta

The San Francisco Symphony celebrates the musical heritage of France this week, paying homage to two of the country’s finest 20th century composers – Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. In a program led by French conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier, the guest soloist is mezzo-soprano Susan Graham performing Ravel’s song cycle Shéhérazade, and the program also features Debussy’s Sarabande from Pour le Piano, Danse from his Tarantelle styrienne, and a concert version of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé.

Chief Conductor of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and Conductor Emeritus of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Yan Pascal Tortelier is also a guest conductor for some of the world’s finest orchestras. He has held the position of Principal Conductor and Artistic Director of the Ulster Orchestra, Principal Guest Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Principal Conductor of the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra, and is currently Principal Guest Conductor at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

Maestro Tortelier’s 2014 interpretation of the Sibelius Symphony No 5 with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra was described by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review as “magnificently conceived and performed”, and his conducting style as “magnificent to watch” by KDHX Radio, as he “uses his very expressive hands to shape phrases”.

Conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier – photo courtesy IMG Artists

Susan Graham, celebrated as one of the leading exponents of French vocal music, is also a recipient of the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur.  She is well loved in France, due – no doubt – to what the Washington Classical Review describes as “her excellent French pronunciation and her understanding of that delicate style”. Equally popular here in the United States, Ms Graham is hailed by the New York Times as “an artist to treasure”, with what the Cleveland Plain Dealer refers to as her “ ….. lustrous voice that abounds in expressive colors…”.

Having risen to stardom in a relatively short time-frame, Susan Graham has a wide repertoire, her operatic roles ranging from early works such as Monteverdi’s Poppea to the more contemporary role of Sister Helen Prejean in Dead Man Walking – a part written for her by Jake Heggie. Her recital roles reflect an equally impressive range of composers, and she was the recipient of a Grammy Award for her collection of songs by Charles Ives.

The first two works on this week’s program were both written for the piano by Debussy, and both subsequently orchestrated by Maurice Ravel. The Sarabande s the second of three movements in Debussy’s suite Pour le Piano, written in 1901 and premiered the following year. Playing the Sarabande, according to pianist Shirley Gruenhut, writing on the Grand Piano Passion website, “is like losing yourself in a gorgeous Impressionist painting ….”.

Debussy’s Danse was originally entitled Tarantelle styrienne, a work written in 1890 following the composer’s return from a two-year stay at the Villa Medici in Italy, where he’d been studying as part of his 1883 Prix de Rome award. It’s a delightful, lyrical little piece, as would be expected from its title – the Austrian version of the Italian dance.

Ravel orchestrated both of these works by Debussy in 1922, and they were given their premiere in Paris in 1923 by the Orchestre Lamoureux, conducted by Paul Paray.

Ravel’s song cycle Shéhérazade is a musical interpretation of three poems by a Parisian writer who went by the name of Tristan Klingsor – a member of the coterie of artists, musicians and writers with whom Ravel associated.

These poems are based on some of the legendary folk tales which became known as The Thousand and One Nights, the origins of which are not really known, but are thought to have been gathered from India, Persia, the Middle East and the Levant. As is well known, Shéhérazade uses this seemingly endless series of stories – which include tales of Sinbad, Ali Baba and Aladdin – to save her life, since her Indian husband, having been betrayed by his first wife, has a reputation for killing each of his wives after their wedding night. Shéhérazade skillfully manages to leave the ending of each tale up in the air so that her husband is driven by curiosity to spare her life for just another day.

The concert ends with Yan Pascal Tortelier’s concert version arrangement of Ravel’s Choreographic Symphony in Three Parts – Daphnis et Chloé. A work written for the largest orchestra required for any of Ravel’s works, it was commissioned in 1909 by impresario Sergei Diaghilev for his Ballets Russes. The scenario was devised by Michel Fokine, a classically trained dancer and choreographer for Diaghilev’s company, and adapted from a pastoral romance by the Greek writer, Longus, telling of the love between a goatherd, Daphnis, and a shepherdess, Chloé.

Léon Bakst’s original design for the Ballets Russes production of ‘Daphnis et Chloé’ – courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The three suites of this work each portray a segment of the story – the courtship of Daphnis and Chloé, her abduction and ultimate escape from a band of pirates, and the morning after a night of terror, in which the young lovers give thanks to the god Pan whose intervention ensured Chloé’s safe return.

Yan Pascal Tortelier leads the San Francisco Symphony and guest artist Susan Graham in a program of works by Debussy and Ravel at Davies Symphony Hall from April 19th to 21st. For more information, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

Read more about the works on the program:

Debussy – Sarabande and Danse

Ravel – Shéhérazade

Ravel – Daphnis et Chl

Information sourced from artists’ websites:
Yan Pascal Tortelier
Susan Graham

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Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet celebrates 35th Anniversary

LINES Ballet’s Shuaib Elhassan and Zakir Hussain – © R J Muna

Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet celebrates it 35th Anniversary this year, with a range of highly creative and unusual presentations including a World Premiere in collaboration with tabla master Zakir Hussain, the creation of a new work for San Francisco Ballet’s Unbound Festival with a score by jazz composer Jason Moran, an exhibition of photographs by company photographer R J Muna in Terminal 3 at San Francisco International Airport, performances at the COAL + ICE Festival, a multi-media exhibition at Gallery 836M, and another world premiere collaboration – this time with the Grammy Award-winning Kronos Quartet – an impressive line-up!

Alonzo King’s name has been synonymous with contemporary ballet, extraordinary vision and a unique brand of creativity since 1982. Known for his striking originality, King has works in the repertoires of companies such as the Royal Swedish Ballet, Frankfurt Ballet, Ballet Bejart, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, Joffrey Ballet, Alvin Ailey, Hong Kong Ballet, North Carolina Dance Theatre and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.

LINES Ballet’s Michael Montgomery – © R J Muna

In addition to collaborations with Zakir Hussain – which go back over the past 20 years – King has worked with visual artists, musicians and composers the world over – such as bassist Edgar Meyer, jazz saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders, Sudanese composer, instrumentalist and vocalist Hamza al Din, Polish composer Pawel Szymanski, jazz musicians Jason Moran and  Charles Lloyd, mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani and architect Chris Haas.

Also an internationally acclaimed ballet master, Alonzo King was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Corps de Ballet International Teacher Conference in 2012. In collaboration with LINES Ballet’s Co-Founder and Creative Director Robert Rosenwasser, King and his company of highly skilled and amazingly gifted dancers continue to present some of the most riveting and unusual performances to be seen anywhere.

LINES Ballet’s anniversary celebrations open in San Francisco tomorrow evening – April 6th – with a work entitled Sutra, featuring tabla virtuoso, composer and percussionist Zakir Hussain. Hussain – regarded as “a national treasure” in his home country, India – is also highly regarded and extremely popular the world over. Not only does he accompany many of India’s classical musicians and dancers, but he has made a huge, and unique, contribution to contemporary music, collaborating with names as illustrious as YoYo Ma, Joe Henderson, Van Morrison, Pharaoh Sanders, Charles Lloyd and Eric Harland. April 2009 saw Zakir Hussain honored with four sold-out concerts at Carnegie Hall’s Perspective series, and just over a year ago, he was honored with the SFJAZZ Lifetime Achievement Award at the celebration of the organizations’s 5th anniversary in the SFJAZZ Center.

Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet performs Sutra in a World Premiere collaboration with Zakir Hussain at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, from April 6th to 15th, with a Gala Performance on April 7th. For more information visit the LINES Ballet website , and tickets may be purchased from the YBCA website.

Information sourced from:

LINES Ballet program notes

Artists’ websites:

Alonzo King

Zakir Hussain

and

San Francisco Ballet

SFJAZZ