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by Diane Claytor
Diablo Ballet’s latest performance, Body and Soul, is February 3-4 at Walnut Creek’s Del Valle Theatre (1963 Tice Valley Blvd.) This soulful program features the romantic duet from Mercurial Manoeuvres, by Broadway’s “An American in Paris” Tony award- winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon; the classically spirited 2nd Act Pas de Deux from Don Quixote; a World Premiere by award-winning Canadian choreographer, Sonya Delwaide, Trait d’union; and the Diablo Ballet premiere of When in Doubt, an ensemble piece driven by spoken word choreographed by Robert Dekkers and set to Jacob Wolkenhauer’s hypnotic score.
Below is some wonderful information on each of these upcoming repertoires.
Last April, when Christopher Wheeldon was interviewed on the venerable 60 Minutes, reporter Lesley Stahl called him “one of the most celebrated choreographers in the world today; turning the tradition-bound dance form into something athletic, sensual and edgy.” Diablo Ballet audiences will have the opportunity to experience that incredible talent during their upcoming show, “Body and Soul.”
Born in England, Wheeldon began dance lessons at 8 years old; from age 11-18, he trained at London’s Royal Ballet School. According to his listing in the Encyclopedia of World Biography, even in those early days, “hints of his future as a choreographer shone through. ‘I enjoyed being the center of attention, being bossy,’” he told the Washington Post. At 17, Wheeldon, a Gold Medal winner at the international dance competition, Prix de Lausanne, joined London’s Royal Ballet Company.
An injury two years later presented Wheeldon with a life-changing opportunity. According to the Encyclopedia of World Biography, “While recovering…, Wheeldon was lying on his sofa with a bag of frozen peas on his ankle…, watching endless hours of television. A commercial promising a free plane ticket to New York City for everyone who bought a Hoover vacuum came on. Wheeldon bought the Hoover and claimed his ticket.” Healed, Wheeldon took the trip, visited the NYC Ballet Company and was invited to join; in 1998, he was promoted to soloist.
As much as he enjoyed dancing, Wheeldon found that he was equally passionate about choreography. In the spring of 2000, Wheeldon, only 28 years old, quit dancing to focus his energies on choreography. Peter Martins, director of the NYCB, created a position for Wheeldon, naming him the company’s first artist in residence. His first choreographed ballet in this role had its world premier in January 2001. It received excellent reviews as well as the London Critics’ Circle Award for Best New Ballet. Following his choreography for Variations Serieuses later that year, Anna Kisselgoff, considered the dean of American dance critics, wrote in the New York Times, “No ballet choreographer of his generation can match his imaginative use of the classical vocabulary.” And that is what the budding choreographer became known for: his ability to modernize the classical ballet
without sacrificing its strength and beauty. Wheeldon credited his training. “I feel quite…grateful for growing up in the environment of theatrical story ballets and a very solid, very old tradition in ballet,” he said. He won countless awards for his many ballets, and more than one New York critic called him “the best thing to happen to ballet for 50 years.”
Wheeldon created Mercurial Manoeuvres for the NYCB Diamond Project festival of new choreography; it was the last work he created while still dancing with the company. According to a 2011 review in the New York Times, in this “witty and cheerful” piece, Wheeldon’s “command of stage space, group formations and dance vocabulary keep the eye constantly satisfied and stimulated. He does so in intelligent, sensitive response to his music. His control of intersecting verticals, horizontals and diagonals is masterly.” NYCB’s Tyler Angle, who danced in Mercurial Manoeuvres in 2014, noted that Wheeldon is very specific. “…He likes the arms to carve certain shapes through the air, he knows very well how to keep very complex movement organized that allows the audience to see it simply…the music (Dmitri Shostakovich’s Concerto in C minor) sounds very serious,…the scale of the work is there but I don’t think it takes itself too seriously. I think you can see that in Chris’ choreography.”
Wheeldon, now in his early 40s, has created over 90 works, many for the world’s major ballet companies. He also won a Tony award for best choreography in 2015 for the Broadway production of “An American in Paris.”
Don Quixote was first a book, written by Miguel de Cervantes in 1605. It regularly appears high on lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published, and has even been called the “best literary work ever written.” With its experimental form and literary playfulness, Don Quixote has been referred to as the first modern novel. According to goodreads.com, the book has had enormous influence on a host of writers, from Fielding and Sterne to Flaubert, Dickens, Melville, and Faulkner. The story has influenced painters, illustrators and sculptors and over the years, has been turned into a musical (Man of LaMancha,) a movie, an opera, a tv movie, and, perhaps most famously, a ballet.
Legend has it that the first ballet production of Don Quixote dates back to 1740 in Vienna by Franz Hilverding. In 1869, Marius Petipa, often considered to be the most influential ballet master and choreographer in ballet history, choreographed Don Quixote to the music of Ludwig Minkus for the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow. This was the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration between the two men. Aware of the worldly tastes of the Moscow audiences, Petipa incorporated several Spanish folk dances and some theatrical scenes and elements into his production. Two years later, Petipa and Minkus revised the ballet in a far more expanded and elaborate edition for the Imperial Ballet, knowing this audience’s tastes were more sophisticated. They refined the Spanish character of the ballet and placed much greater emphasis on pure classical dancing.
In 1900, budding ballet master Alexander Gorsky staged another variation, this one again for the Bolshoi Ballet. According to pnb.org, Petipa, then 82 years old, was greatly displeased. He described Gorsky’s alterations as “meaningless innovations and changes” and accused him of seriously lowering the quality of his production. “The main change Gorsky made was to heighten the dramatic expression…He scattered the dancers over the stage, thus breaking with the strictly symmetrical lines and patterns of his predecessor. As he explained to a journalist prior to the Moscow premiere, he hated symmetry.”
It is uncertain which aspects of later productions of Don Quixote come from Gorsky and which have been preserved from Petipa’s original production. Today’s productions of the ballet often combine symmetrical scenes in the first act with asymmetrical choreography in the dream scene, which supports the view that present-day versions of Don Quixote bear the hallmarks of both choreographers.
The ballet was brought from Russia by Anna Pavlova’s company in 1924 in an abridged version of Gorsky’s production. The famous Grand Pas de Deux from the ballet’s final scene was staged in the West as early as the 1940s, given first by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. The first full revival of the original production in the West was 1962; in 1966, Rudolf Nureyev staged his version for the Vienna State Opera Ballet, with Minkus’ score adapted by John Lanchbery. George Balanchine famously created a modern version in 1965 for the New York City Ballet to the music of Nicolas Nabokov, with Balanchine himself appearing as Don Quixote and Suzanne Farrell as Dulcinea. In 1973, Nureyev filmed his version with the Australian Ballet with Robert Helpmann as Don Quixote. Mikhail Baryshnikov mounted his own version in 1980 for American Ballet Theatre, a production that has been staged by many companies, including the Royal Ballet. Today, the ballet is considered to be among the great ballet classics and, according to sfballetblog.org, “the ultimate romantic comedy.”
Over the years, many dancers have contributed to the fame and glory of the characters. Pnb.org writes that, “They are some of the most challenging roles in the classical ballet repertory. The ballerina needs incredibly strong pointe work technique, her partner has to be able to pirouette endlessly, and light-hearted nonchalance and explosive jumps are demanded of them both. A new standard was set for the role of Kitri in the fifties and sixties by the Russian ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, and this was followed by outstanding interpretations from Gelsey Kirkland from the United States, Sylvie Guillem from France, and Diana Vishneva from Russia, among others.
A 2016 review in the LA Daily News states that Don Quixote is known for its “nonstop bravura dancing.” Diablo Ballet’s Artistic Director, Lauren Jonas, calls Don Quixote “one of my favorite ballets to dance and I’m looking forward to staging the 2nd act Pas de Deux for our company.”
The world premier of Trait d’union by award-winning Canadian choreographer Sonya Delwaide will entertain Diablo Ballet audiences at its Body and Soul program. And, if all goes according to Delwaide’s image of the dance, it may also cause those in attendance to think about the world in which we live and, perhaps, how we can make it better.
The original idea for this piece came from the music, Elegie, written by the French composer Gabriel Faure in 1880. According to Wikipedia, the work features “a sad and sombre opening and climaxes with an intense, fast-paced central section, before the return of the elegiac opening theme.” Delwaide calls it intense, but says “it gets lighter as you go along. It’s real.”
Delwaide’s daughter, a 14-year-old cellist, played this piece years ago and Delwaide “fell in love” with it. “I knew I had to choreograph it,” she said. “I had a really clear image of what the music was telling me. I got so attached to it.” And that’s how it all began.
Through the music, Delwaide began thinking about our world today and why there is such a major divide in our country. Why are we where we are now, she wondered. “And these are the ideas I’m exploring through dance,” she explained.
Two men and a woman are dancing in Trait d’union but, for Delwaide, the female is more than just a woman. “She’s more the positive force between two people who have differences. What do we have in common? What are our differences? How can we build, move forward, even though we have all these differences. The woman represents the commonality,” she continued. Working on this choreography, Delwaide admits, has created more questions, which she hopes may come through: why are our differences so much more powerful than our similarities? Why can’t we build on whatever we have in common rather than become more divided based on our differences?
Describing the repertoire, Delwaide explained that it begins with the two men who seem to be testing their boundaries. When the woman appears, the partnering moves to a new level, reigniting what they have in common and making the men realize they share similarities and can work in unison. “If we keep taking risks with each other, “Delwaide asks, “can we trust and can we then build on that trust?”
Of course, Delwaide is fully aware that the audience may take a different story away with them. “As a choreographer,” she said, “you can think of all these images and all these messages but the bottom line is that the audience makes their own story.” And that’s what’s most important to her. “If they create a story out of what is presented – even if it’s not my story, then I feel I’ve succeeded. For me, it’s important that the audience has an experience and gets something out of what they see.”
Delwaide left Canada for the Bay Area 20 years ago and has been a Professor of Dance at Oakland’s Mills College since 2003. This is her second world premier for Diablo Ballet, the first being Serenade pour Cordes et Corps two years ago and again inspired by a piece she heard her young cellist daughter play. Theclassicalgirl.com called it an “enjoyable melding of contemporary and classical…enough contemporary for those who like that…enough classical for those of us who lean that way.”
When in Doubt
Diablo Ballet’s Resident Choreographer, Robert Dekkers, will premier his When in Doubt, an incredible piece driven by the spoken word and set to Jacob Wolkenhauer’s hypnotic score, at the February Body and Soul Program.
Dekkers is well known to Diablo Ballet audiences and dance enthusiasts throughout the Bay Area. Nominated for an Isadora Duncan Award for “Outstanding Performance-Individual” for his 2012-13 season with Diablo Ballet, Dekkers was also named by DANCE Magazine as a “25 to Watch” artist. He has created six new works on Diablo Ballet since joining the company in 2011. In 2015, the Huffington Post wrote, “Dekkers partners to realize his often cerebral, cutting-edge creations – work that never seems to tread the same ground twice. He has always juggled his roles as dancer, choreographer, teacher, and director of his own small but highly visible company with seemingly superhuman energy.”
When in Doubt is the third collaboration between Dekkers and Wolkenhauer. According to Dekkers, Wolkenhauer was inspired by a Bertrand Russell quote, essentially stating that love is wise, hatred is foolish and we all need to coexist. And this is how When in Doubt begins. This piece was originally presented in 2012 at Post:Ballet, Dekkers San Francisco-based ballet company. At the time, Dekkers told the San
Francisco Chronicle, “We started with the question of faith. How do we know what we know…what we believe.” With the divisiveness the world is experiencing now, Dekkers felt it was important to bring this work to Diablo Ballet at this time. “We have that need to live together, understand each other. We’re all trying to process how to live the belief that we need to coexist. It sounds great when you say it, but how do you actually do it on a day to day basis,” Dekkers said. Wolkenhauer recorded each of the dancers talking and spliced it together, interspersing it with his score. “It’s really interesting what he did with the score,” Dekkers stated. “It’s an interesting use of vocals the way he used the ‘ums’ to make percussive sounds. There’s a feeling of intimacy with the dancers and there’s also an abstraction to it.
“The goal is to explore the question: When in Doubt, that feeling that we can all share” Dekkers continued. Wolkenhauer told the SF Chronicle in a 2012 interview, “I hope these snippets, although used in an abstract way, will capture that moment when you stand up for what you believe. The ballet is about that process of opening your mouth and taking a risk, whether you’re right or wrong.” Each time the ballet is performed, the new dancers comments are recorded and added, which are then woven in to the existing score. “It’s a wonderful tapestry of thoughts and ideas,” Dekkers noted. “It just gives it so much more depth; each time the piece is done it grows and matures.”
Myreveler.com posted about Dekkers last year: he…. “is constantly inventing and scheming up new ways to give audiences an immersive and thought-provoking experience.” No doubt, When in Doubt proves that yet again.
If you’ve already gotten your tickets for this wonderful performance, we look forward to seeing you there. If not, don’t wait another minute! Go to https://lesherartscenter.showare.com/eventperformances.asp?evt=659 or call 925-943-7469.
by Diane Claytor
On May 26, 1971, Lew Christensen’s Airs de Ballet made its debut at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts. Created for the San Francisco Ballet, choreographed for and danced by New York City Ballet principal dancer Violette Verdy, the ballet was described by the San Francisco Chronicle as a “whirlwind of non-stop dancing and bliss, innocent grace and an expression of joy.” While the ballet remained in SF Ballet’s repertory for many years, it hasn’t been performed for quite some time. And, research indicates that, surprisingly, Airs de Ballet has likely never been performed by any other ballet company either.
On Fri., Nov. 11, this light and playful ballet makes a glorious return when Diablo Ballet opens their 23rd incredible season at Walnut Creek’s Del Valle Theatre. Artistic Director Lauren Jonas said, “I last saw Airs de Ballet when Joanna Berman (Diablo Ballet’s Regisseur) danced it for the San Francisco Ballet. When she suggested it for our holiday program, I was extremely excited. Its musicality, fast footwork…it’s a wonderful, joyful ballet.”
Joanna performed in this ballet many times as a former principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet. “As soon as I heard the music again,” Joanna said, “all the steps came flooding back to me. I could see my friends on stage dancing it. This ballet is so musical, your body just remembers the steps. It’s a total pleasure to dance. It’s joyous. It’s pretty. It’s clean. It’s simply the joy of dance. And it’s perfect for the Diablo Ballet dancers.” She and Lauren are working together to coach the dancers.
Also working with the Diablo Ballet dancers is Leslie Young, who retired as a soloist with the San Francisco Ballet and now stages Lew Christensen’s works around the country. She echoed Joanna’s thoughts when describing Airs de Ballet: “It’s so musical. You just can’t forget it.” She, too, is so excited that it’s going to be performed again after all these years. “It’s a sweet and beautiful ballet. Dancers have told me that once they dance it, they remember it always.”
Lew Christensen was born into a musical family in 1909; his grandfather taught dance and both his brothers were dancers – in fact, all three young Christensens danced with the SF Ballet after its founding, by William Christensen, in 1935. The three boys formed a vaudeville act and all three also performed in a Broadway musical, The Great Waltz. In 1935, Lew and Harold joined the Metropolitan Opera’s American Ballet Ensemble. Lew joined the SF Ballet and was named associate director in 1949; he co-directed the company with brother William in 1951 and was promoted to director in 1952, a position he held until his death in 1984. It is said that Lew transformed the SF Ballet to an internationally recognized company, creating more than 50 ballets, choreographing over 110 pieces, and introducing them to the world through highly acclaimed national and international tours. His ballets are known for their craft, musicality and wit.
One early review of Airs de Ballet stated that, “Christensen sees to it that every action of the dancers’ joints and limbs is stimulated by a musical prompting…the light flinging patterns and sizzling beats give the impression that the dancers are skating on air.” Another, from a 1975 performance, referred to Airs de Ballet as a “poem in true romantic vein.”
As wonderful and exciting as Airs de Ballet is, it’s only one of the three amazing and uplifting ballets in Diablo Ballet’s 2016-17 premier. The show also features A Swingin Holiday, said to be “a wonderful fusion of styles (ballet, jive, social dance, jazz)…” by heather dance.com. This fifth annual edition of A Swingin’ Holiday is again staged by Broadway choreographer Sean Kelly, and set to the music of Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, and jazzy renditions of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite, all performed live by the Diablo Ballet Swing Orchestra. Rounding out this holiday program is Happy Ending by Resident Choreographer Robert Dekkers, first introduced to Diablo Ballet audiences in 2012. Robert described his ballet as “a quirky and whimsical work that wryly alludes to our never-ending search for happiness. It’s set to a playful score by Australian composer Pogo and will definitely put a smile on everyone’s face.”
There’s no better way to kick off the holiday season than a trip to Walnut Creek’s Del Valle Theatre (1963 Tice Valley Blvd.) to enjoy another phenomenal and spirited Diablo Ballet performance. Performances are Nov. 11 at 8 p.m., Nov. 12 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Nov. 13 at 2 p.m. Tickets may be purchased online by going to diabloballet.org or https://lesherartscenter.showare.com/eventperformances.asp?evt=662 or by phoning 925-943-7469.
by Diane Claytor
Smoked trout salad on a peppered crostini with red pepper jam!
Bay shrimp gazpacho!
Ahi Tuna Poke Bites!
Wines from Jacuzzi Family Vineyards!
Is your mouth watering yet? Are you wondering why we’re teasing you with the thought of these delectable gourmet treats while you’re sitting at your computer with nothing more exciting to eat than a tuna sandwich or last night’s leftovers?
We don’t mean to tease. But we do mean to entice. These wonderful sounding — and no doubt even better tasting — culinary dishes are just a few of the incredible foods and wines you’ll be able to sample when you sign up for Diablo Ballet’s 6th annual Gourmet Gallop. With 13 Walnut Creek restaurants offering delicacies to nibble and/or drink, the Gourmet Gallop is a fun — and yummy — way to spend a warm summer Thursday evening (so much better than working or watching reruns). And not only will you end the evening with a happy palate and full stomach (and perhaps a few new restaurants you want to return to), you’ll know that you helped raise funds for Diablo Ballet’s PEEK Outreach programs for underserved children and the PEEK Extension program for teen girls incarcerated within the Juvenile Justice System.
This is an evening to Sip, Sample and Stroll. You’ll enjoy the tastes and views of beautiful downtown Walnut Creek. Maybe you’ll purchase an incredible olive oil from We Olive while you’re enjoying the Cold Corn Chowder they’re serving. Or pick up a bottle of wine from Buon Vino while sampling the wines they’re pouring.
The August 11 evening begins at 6 p.m. at Massimo, where you’ll check in and nibble on their incredible Pasta with Pesto. You’ll receive a map of the participating restaurants and then you’re off….to 1515 Restaurant & Lounge; Buon Vino; Cinco De Mayo; Lark Creek; Opa!; Peet’s Coffee & Tea; San Francisco Creamery; Silk Road; Steinway Piano Gallery; Sunol Ridge; Walnut Creek Yacht Club; and We Olive.
One Yelp reviewer called the Gourmet Gallop “a great way to experience a taste of Walnut Creek,” while another said “Great date night…strolling through WC and grabbing small bites along the way is a fun event.”
You — and your friends — can be part of this incredible evening. Tickets, which may be purchased online at diabloballet.org or by calling 925-943-1775, are $45. Come with 9 friends and they’re only $30 per person. It’s a night you won’t forget. Your stomach will thank you. Diablo Ballet and their PEEK programs will thank you. And your tv, which will not have to show one more rerun of Scandal, will thank you for a night off.
by Diane Claytor
Lights! Camera! Action! OK. You might not actually hear these words when Diablo Ballet again presents their very popular Dance on Film Series. Instead, more descriptive words you may hear (or even say) are incredible, fantastic, beautiful, amazing, groovy, awesome and fascinating.
For the fifth consecutive year, Diablo Ballet is teaming up with the Lafayette Library to present this very successful – and very fun and entertaining – film series that always has audiences dancing in their seats and humming (or singing) as they walk out. And this year, as a special addition, the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, an international platform for the presentation and development of dance-based films, is joining in by screening highlights from their amazing 2015 celebration of dance on camera.
Most of us probably weren’t around when the first Dance on Film movie was made. And if we were, we were likely too young to know anything about movies, dancing or the film’s stars – Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly. So, while 1944’s “Cover Girl,” being shown on July 21, is truly an old classic, this could be the first time many of us have had the opportunity to see it.
In addition to stars Hayworth and Kelly, other cast members’ names that might be familiar to older movie-going audiences include Phil Silvers, Eve Arden and Lee Bowman. And while the songs might not be as recognizable as those in some other classic musicals, Cover Girl was the first film collaboration of Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin, won the 1944 Academy Award for best musical scoring, and features the popular song, Long Ago and Far Away. The movie, a story of a chorus girl given a chance at stardom when she’s offered an opportunity to be a highly paid cover girl, was also Columbia Studio’s first Technicolor musical.
TCM.com calls the movie lavish and notes the positive chemistry between Hayworth and Kelly; the site also says that one of the movies’ pleasures is Eve Arden, in one of her “best performances…her acid wit and perfect timing keep the over the top glamour in perspective.” Tony Thomas, author of “The Films of Gene Kelly,” wrote “…Cover Girl marks a major turning point…at which the long-familiar concept of the movie musical as a string of songs strung together by a skimpy plot gave way to a broader concept in which the musical sequences would form a part of the plot.” A movie-goer, reviewing the movie on TCM.com states “What a treat it would have been if Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth had been allowed by their studios to become a dance team…they make a delightful duo.”
Saturday Night Fever
Many of us remember when polyester ruled, the disco ball provided sparkle and a very young John Travolta was king of disco dancing. Saturday Night Fever, being shown on Aug. 18, premiered in Dec. 1977 and it is unquestionably a classic dance film.
A huge commercial success, Saturday Night Fever contributed greatly to the popularity of disco music and, according to wikipedia.com, made Travolta a household name. Not to mention that the movie’s soundtrack, featuring disco songs by the Bee Gees, is one of the best selling soundtrack albums of all times — remaining at the top of the charts for 24 weeks. If you didn’t dance to the music in the 70’s (or even if you did), you’ll certainly feel like moving your feet after seeing the film now. Some of the better-known songs include Stayin’ Alive, How Deep is Your Love, More Than a Woman and You Should Be Dancing.
Other than Travolta, most of the cast was unknown; and in spite of the film’s immense popularity, the majority of names are still unfamiliar. The story is about a young Italian-American man who doesn’t have much going for him in his dead end job or at home, living with his parents. But he lives for the weekends when he goes to a local Brooklyn disco and dances the night away. There he’s king of the dance floor, which helps him temporarily forget the negatives of his life. When a big dance competition is announced, he convinces a beautiful and talented dancer to be his partner. And, of course, they start to fall for each other.
With glowing reviews, Saturday Night Fever was regarded by many critics as one of the best films of 1977. In fact, the late film critic Gene Siskel said it was his favorite movie (he reportedly watched it 17 times) and, referring to Travolta’s energetic performance said, “Travolta on the dance floor is like a peacock on amphetamines. He struts like crazy.” It’s reported that Siskel even bought the famous white suit Travolta wore in the movie. Film critic Pauline Kael, also a huge fan, wrote a gushing review in The New Yorker: “These are among the most hypnotically beautiful pop dance scenes ever filmed…At its best, though, Saturday Night Fever gets at something deeply romantic: the need to move, to dance, and the need to be who you’d like to be.” And rottentomatoes.com states, “Boasting a smart, poignant story, a classic soundtrack, and a starmaking performance from John Travolta, Saturday Night Fever ranks among the finest dramas of the 1970s.”
For this Aug. 18 showing at the Library, everyone is encouraged to drag their disco clothes out of the closet and wear them — bright colors, sequins, bellbottoms, spandex, platform shoes, leisure suits, halter dresses, loud patterns, dancing shoes — and, of course, polyester!
Diablo Ballet’s Artistic Director, Lauren Jonas, and Edward Stegge, Associate Director of the Ballet’s PEEK Outreach Program, will present interesting and often little known facts and humorous stories about each film before the showing. And, you never know – maybe, with a little coaxing, in August they’ll teach you the hustle. After all, as the Bee Gees sang in the movie, “You Should Be Dancing.”
On August 4, the San Francisco Dance Film Festival will show highlights from their 2015 festival, including award-winning screen dance shorts and the documentary Rare Birds, about the epic undertaking of choreographer Alexander Ekman’s 2014 A Swan Lake for the Norwegian National Ballet. Rare Birds is an intimate look at creativity. Following Ekman during production of A Swan Lake, the film tracks dance creation from ideas to hard reality. The Festival’s Executive Director, Judy Flannery, will introduce the film.
Each of the 3 evenings of unparalleled entertainment begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Lafayette Library and Learning Center, 3491 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette. The cost is $5 per film or $10 to enjoy all 3 — and yummy treats are included! For ticket information, go to https://lafayettelib.givezooks.com/events/dance-on-film-series.
by Diane Claytor
If you’re reading this Diablo Ballet blog, you probably already know that a pas de deux is a dance performed by two dancers. If you live in the Bay Area, you can experience Diablo Ballet’s PAWS de Tutu, a fun-filled beautiful June morning, replete with a dog PAWrade, costume comPAWtition, music, celebrities, prizes and a stroll around the picturesque Lafayette Reservoir.
On Sat., June 18, dogs and their human companions are invited to the Lafayette Reservoir stage at 10 a.m. to walk the red carpet and kick off the PAWS de Tutu event, which benefits Diablo Ballet’s PEEK (Performing Arts Education and Enrichment for Kids) outreach programs. Charley Kayle, KOIT radio personality and self-professed dog lover, will emcee the PAWrade of pups and the costume comPAWtition which follows.
“People are encouraged to think ‘outside the box,’ perhaps even be a little outrageous,” said Kerry Silverstone, event chair and former Diablo Ballet board member. While costumes are certainly not required – even dogs are not required – “we’re hoping to have an incredibly visual spectacle of creative costumes. People can – and hopefully will — go a little crazy” when coming up with costume ideas, Silverstone added. Her dogs, Ricky and Lucy, will be there and “you can guess how they’ll be dressed,” she stated, with a twinkle in her eye.
“We plan to start promptly at 10 a.m.,” Silverstone explained, and suggests participants arrive at the Reservoir by 9:30 a.m. to check in and get ready to PAWrade in front of the judges.
Judging the comPAWtition will be Renel Brooks-Moon, public address announcer for the SF Giants (and baseball’s only female public address announcer); Pam Kessler, Publisher, Walnut Creek Magazine; and Scott Ostler, SF Chronicle sports columnist for the last 25 years. Prizes will be awarded, with the grand prize winner receiving a $500 VISA gift card and $250 gift basket from Pet Food Express. Refreshments will be available and all human participants will receive a t-shirt and goodie bag.
Following the comPAWtition, everyone is invited to take a walk around the Reservoir before returning to the stage area to learn which innovative and adorable canines get to take home one of the three PAWards.
Coordinated by Diablo Ballet’s Teen Board with input and help from Silverstone and Diablo Ballet’s Artistic Director, Lauren Jonas, this unique fundraising event benefits PEEK, the only arts education program of its kind offered by a local professional dance company. PEEK provides in-school movement curriculum & free dance performances for students & families in under-served areas; last year it began a program within the Contra Costa County juvenile justice system bringing creative movement classes to incarcerated young women.
Teen Board president Marissa Lapointe is so excited about PAWS de Tutu. “Everyone loves dogs,” she noted. “Who isn’t going to want to watch dogs in cute costumes and then walk around the Reservoir on a summer morning?” This feeling is echoed by Isabella Gravano, secretary of the Teen Board and a Miramonte sophomore. “It’s a beautiful venue, a fun and unusual event with fantastic prizes and PEEK, which makes a huge difference in the community, will benefit,” Gravano said. “It doesn’t get much better.”
Don’t PAWS another minute. To register, go to diabloballet.org. The cost is $30 for adults, $20 for those 17 and under. You’ll have a PAWsitively wonderful day and at the same time, will be supporting PEEK, an important and extremely worthwhile outreach program.
by Carol L. Stefan
We’re all familiar with Shakespeare’s “To be or not to be” speech in Hamlet, but the character in the play who is often overlooked and under-appreciated is Ophelia, Hamlet’s true love, one of only two women in this tragedy.
Val Caniparoli, internationally acclaimed dance maker, has righted that wrong by creating a poetic, exquisite pas de deux, Hamlet and Ophelia, danced to the stunning music of Bohuslav Martinu, a Czech composer of the last century. The role of Ophelia was originated by Joanna Berman, an audience favorite of the San Francisco Ballet, at the world premiere in 1985, which was a brilliant addition to her repertoire and gave a major boost to her career.
Says Joanna, “Hamlet and Ophelia” is special to me for so many reasons. The fact that Val chose and trusted me to dance this role when I was so new to the Company, was not only a huge privilege but it also opened so many doors for me at San Francisco Ballet. I love this pas de deux because it’s so expressive and satisfying to dance. I learned so much from Val and the other dancers that I worked with during the choreographic process because I was new and young and was working with such established and generous artists.”
Caniparoli is considered an American Master for his unique style, blending classical, modern, ethnic, and social dancing. He has done productions for ballet, opera, and theater for over forty-five companies world-wide, including Joffrey Ballet, Scottish Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, and Israel Ballet. His career as a choreographer carried on even as he continued dancing with the San Francisco Ballet, which he joined in 1973 and where he was appointed principal dancer in 1987. Caniparoli has thrilled audiences with numerous works performed by Diablo Ballet, including the recent Tears from Above, which was originally created for Diablo Ballet 2011.
Martinu, a prolific composer, has written at least eleven operas, several symphonies, and a number of ballets and orchestral works that have thrilled audiences for decades.
In the passionate Hamlet and Ophelia, we see our tragic heroine’s increasing madness and isolation, as she and Hamlet interact. In the end, as Hamlet walks upstage, his cloak seems to turn into a river where it appears Ophelia will drown, in a doleful and pitiable Shakespearean moment. As we watch the dance performed, to quote the Bard, “What dreams may come.”
Hamlet and Ophelia is part of Diablo Ballet’s Celebrated Masters production at the Del Valle Theatre in Walnut Creek, marking the finale of the 2015-2016 season. The production also includes Carnival of the Imagination, choreographed by our own Robert Dekkers, and Mythic Place, choreographed by Gary Masters.
Performances are May 6 at 8pm, May 7 at 2pm and 8pm. Call 925-943-7469 for more information.
by Diane Claytor
In less than a month, Diablo Ballet will bring down the curtain on its very successful 22nd season. The final show – Celebrated Masters, featuring a new production of Carnival of the Imagination, the breathtaking Hamlet and Ophelia, and the world premier of Mythic Place – will be enjoyed on May 6 & 7 in Walnut Creek’s Del Valle Theatre.
If you are one of those fortunate enough to have been mesmerized by a previous Diablo Ballet performance, you already know what’s in store for lucky audience members at this final show: elegant movements; bold, innovative and creative pieces; amazing artistry; powerful classic and contemporary dance; and talented, flexible, strong, fluid, beautiful dancers. But don’t just take my word for it.
The most recent performance, Diablo Ballet’s 22nd Gala Celebration, received glowing reviews. Some of the comments written by Grier Cooper, who describes herself as a “writer in a dancer’s body,” should entice you to attend a future production: “Diablo Ballet has a lot to celebrate: This year the company marked twenty-two successful seasons… and the company has never looked better…Diablo Ballet brings an eclectic offering of dance to the stage and beyond into the community through its PEEK Program…”
Describing one piece in the program, Cooper writes, “The dancers’ technique was gorgeously fluid, yet they held nothing back as they undulated, leapt, and turned wildly… Diablo Ballet’s 22nd gala was a wonderful retrospective for the company, with something old, something new, and even something blue (the costumes in Serenade). It’s easy to see why they’re still going strong.”
On criticaldance.org, Bryn E. Namavari wrote, “A host of Bay Area dance icons filled the auditorium, signaling that the company holds a significant presence on the arts scene… Making a strong showing of not only the company’s talent but also its artful collaboration with local musicians and artists, most of the pieces were performed with live music. Artistic Director Lauren Jonas has built the company’s reputation both on the resurrection of historical material and the fostering of new and innovative pieces…”
Describing the film, “We, Divine” featured during the March gala performance, Namavari noted “the dancers’ sterling grace and athleticism.” And with the concluding sentence of the review highlighting the final repertoire in the show, Namavari wrote, “the final piece of the evening, La Fille Mal Gardée (choreographed by Jonas after Marius Petipa) elicited the proper audience gasps for this revived classic’s seemingly unending and radiant leaps, lifts and turns. There was much applause for the merry and lively choreography that tested the dancers’ versatility in its combinations — saying much for their strength and for Jonas’ expertise.”
You can read the two reviews in their entirety by clicking on the following links:
But even better, if you’re in the Bay Area, you can purchase tickets to next month’s show and “experience the power of dance” yourself.
To get tickets to Celebrated Masters, go to http://diabloballet.org/tickets/ or call 925-943-7469.
by Carol L. Stefan
They say it started with a painting! The 18th century choreographer, Jean Dauberval, was amused and inspired by a work of art by Pierre Antoine Baudouin called La Réprimande/Une Jeune Fille Querellée Par Sa Mère. He created a dance, originally called Le Ballet de la Paille (Ballet of the Straw), relating the story of a young village girl, Lise, who tries to trick her widowed mother into letting her marry a farmer named Colas, whom she loves, and not the man her mother has chosen for her, dim-witted Tom, son of a rich countryman.
The ballet was first performed in Bordeaux, France in 1789. It is a comedic piece and is one of the oldest still performed today! It has gone through many versions over the years—in staging, music, and title. It is now called La Fille Mal Gardée (The Badly Guarded Girl) and was first staged with that name in London in 1791.
In 1885, choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov decided to bring the dance to the Imperial Ballet in Russia, where it stayed in repertoire until the Russian Revolution in 1917, accompanied by the music of Peter Ludwig Hertel. A more modern version was choreographed by Alexander Gorsky but based on the work of Petipa and Ivanov. Another rendition, commonly performed today, was choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton.
As part of their 22nd Season Celebration Performance and Gala Dinner on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, Diablo Ballet will be performing the pas de deux and finale from La Fille Mal Gardée. Lauren Jonas, Artistic Director, has staged this ballet based on the work of Petipa and Ivanov.
It will be performed along with Tears from Above, by renowned choreographer Val Caniparoli, and accompanied by two cellos; Sonya Delwaide’s Sérénade pour Cordes, a marvelous mix of contemporary and classical dance set to Ernö Dohnányi’s Serenade in C major for String Trio, performed by a trio of musicians; Pitch Pause Please, created and danced by Robert Dekkers; the solo from Gary Master’s Diablo Opus; and finally an exciting World Premiere, by Robert Dekkers, Diablo Ballet’s resident choreographer, collaborating with film-maker Walter Yamazaki. In 2011, Dekkers was named a “25 To Watch” artist by DANCE Magazine and called a “mad genius” by the Huffington Post. He founded his own San Francisco dance company in 2009: “Post:Ballet.” Diablo Ballet is thrilled to welcome Dekkers back to the stage after an injury last March kept him sidelined.
The 22nd Anniversary Performance begins at 6:30 p.m. Then, the celebration continues with the Gala at Scott’s Garden at 8:00 p.m., with a wine tasting, an auction, and dinner with the dancers—tickets for the performance and the dinner are sold separately.
For tickets, go to http://diabloballet.org/tickets or call (925) 943-1775 for information.
by Diane Claytor
Looking for something fun to do? Want to try a new restaurant, visit a new museum, enjoy a new performing art? How about a round of golf, a Bay cruise or soaring over the scenic beauty of San Francisco in a private plane? Do you live in the San Francisco Bay Area but are getting tired of the same old activities? Or maybe you’re planning a trip to the area and are looking for something different and interesting to do. Wouldn’t it be great to know that while you’re having a fun time, you’re also doing something really good, bringing joy and happiness to thousands of underserved children in the Bay Area? Diablo Ballet is offering you both. But it’s for a short time only so you’d better start your search now!
Twenty-two years ago, when Lauren Jonas co-founded Diablo Ballet, one of her goals was to offer programs for local children who might not otherwise have the opportunity to experience dance. In fact, the Ballet’s Mission Statement includes this as a listed purpose: “To support youth by using the arts to teach in-school lessons of self esteem, group process and, most profoundly, the joy of artistic expression.” Diablo Ballet’s PEEK program (Performing Arts Education and Enrichment for Kids) has successfully accomplished this, reaching over 65,000 diverse school children throughout the local community with its in-school movement classes and free dance performances, as well as teenage girls incarcerated within the California juvenile justice system. These programs are funded through a myriad of sources, one of which is the annual auction, conducted in conjunction with the Diablo Ballet’s anniversary gala, this year scheduled for March 17.
Some wonderful items are being auctioned off – meals, lodging, theater, museum passes, fitness activities, sightseeing trips, even a new hairdo or a day at Disneyland — and all monies go to the PEEK program. So get busy. Go to biddingforgood.com
(https://www.biddingforgood.com/auction/search/search.action?search=&query=diablo+ballet) Find something fun to do and know that you’re helping young children experience something extraordinary.
Does any of this sound like fun? Something you want to do?
- Park Hopper Tickets for both Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park.
- How about museums: You can find tickets to the Exploratorium, California Academy of Sciences, Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa and Hiller Aviation Museum.
- Museums aren’t your thing? Well, what about tickets for a performance at 42nd Street Moon Mainstage; Eureka Theatre in San Francisco; ACT (American Conservatory Theater); BATS Improv Theatre; Beach Blanket Babylon; or The Lamplighters production of the comic and cheerful “The Mikado.”
- Need a little more culture? You can get tickets to Marin Shakespeare Company; Marin Symphony; the 2016 Merola Grand Finale, which is the culminating event of the Merola Opera Program; San Francisco Ballet; or San Francisco Symphony’s performance of Beethoven’s Symphony #2.
- Looking for something with a little more action? That’s available too: 2 bicycles or one tandem bike to ride through Sonoma and Napa Valley Bike Tours; tickets to NASCAR at Sonoma Raceway; golf at Little River Inn; or skiing at Sugar Bowl
- Want to take the kids out for a fun time? How about admission to Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park; Happy Hollow Park & Zoo; family membership to the Lindsay Wildlife Experience; Walt Disney Family Museum; or jumping fun at Rockin’ Jump, an enormous arena of stretchy trampolines, elastic arenas, and soft foam blocks.
- There are relaxing getaways: Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno; Healdsburg’s Camellia Inn; Garden Court Hotel in Palo Alto; Walnut Creek’s Marriott; Hotel Triton in San Francisco; Hyatt Regency in Sacramento or Hyatt House in Pleasant Hill; Napa’s Meritage Resort; Renaissance Club Sport.
- How about enjoying the beauty of the Bay Area on a Blue and Gold Fleet bay cruise or a private San Francisco Bay Tour from the air!
- Think about pampering yourself – or someone you love. Get a style consultation from C2 Style Consulting; workouts at Curves or Forma Gym; new hairdo from diPietro Todd Salons; pilates training at Fit Studio; portrait photography from Thomas Fallon; or a luxurious body treatment at SkinSpirit Skincare Clinic and Spa or The Studio.
- And finally, since no one should go hungry, there are delicious food items from We Olive, Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria, Buckhorn Grill, Kerry’s Cookies, Neiman Marcus, Sunol Ridge, San Francisco Creamery and SemiFreddi’s
New listings are being added frequently. You don’t want to miss your opportunity to bid on the items you want. The auction closes at 11:59 p.m. on March 15 so time is running out. Act quickly. Go to https://www.biddingforgood.com/auction/search/search.action?search=&query=diablo+ballet and put in your bid for the items you want. And then check back frequently to see what’s new.
by Diane Claytor
On Feb. 5 and 6, Diablo Ballet will again dazzle and inspire audiences with its second program of the 2015-16 season. “Precision and Balance” will feature My Way, choreographed by beloved Diablo Ballet alumna Tina Kay Bohnstedt (who, in 2010, the SF Chronicle called “one of the Bay Area’s hidden dancing treasures”) and set to music by Frank Sinatra; Milieu, staged by resident choreographer Robert Dekkers and set to a live performance of a commissioned score by Daniel Berkman; and George Balanchine’s masterpiece, Apollo, a perennial favorite of the ballet world.
My Way will feature Sinatra’s music, arranged by Greg Sudmeier, Diablo Ballet’s music director, and performed live by a cellist and pianist; the cellist had actually played with Sinatra many years ago. In Milieu, Dekkers explores our evolving relationships with the world, ourselves and one another in a rapidly changing environment. The music is not only an original composition by Berkman, a Bay Area electronic musician, composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer, but will be performed by him as well.
Apollo, originally titled Apollon Musagète, was created for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes; it premiered in Paris in 1928 and was Balanchine’s first major collaboration with composer Igor Stravinsky, often acknowledged as one of the great 20th century composers. (According to webcitation.org, Stravinsky actually was commissioned in 1927 “to compose a ballet for a festival of contemporary music to be held the following year at the Library of Congress, Washington. It was specified that this work should require only six dancers and last not more than half an hour, but he was given a free choice of subject. Stravinsky apparently had for some while been thinking of writing a ballet on an episode in Greek mythology and decided to center it on Apollo, leader of the muses.” The Washington premiere, said to be unsuccessful, was choreographed by Adolf Bohm; the first European production in Paris was choreographed by Balanchine.)
With this dramatic and powerful ballet, which created a sensation when it was first performed, the 24-year-old Balanchine achieved international recognition and began his long-term collaborative partnership with Stravinsky. The 1928 premiere of the ballet featured sets and costumes by French painter André Bauchant; the following year, new costumes were created by Coco Chanel.
Apollo depicts the young god as he is inspired into adulthood by the muses of poetry, mime, and dance. The three muses, wearing brilliant white costumes, dance solo variations before Apollo dances a pas de deux with the muse of dance. Roh.org.uk, the website of the Royal Opera House, said that “Balanchine’s choreography is perfectly in tune with Stravinsky’s music, which moves between dynamic playfulness and moments of solemnity.” It’s also said that Balanchine took cues from Stravinsky’s music, writing that when he heard the score, all he could see was pristine white. “Dancing is music made visible,” Balanchine stated. Nycballet.com reports that Balanchine said “I look back on Apollo as the turning point of my life. In its discipline and restraint, in its sustained oneness of tone and feeling, the score was a revelation. It seemed to tell me that I could dare not to use everything, that I, too, could eliminate.”
Serge Diaghilev, the Ballets Russes’ great impresario, who, watching a rehearsal one day before the premiere, is said to have remarked about Balanchine: “What he is doing is magnificent. It is pure classicism…” In her book, “Balanchine Variations,” former dance critic Nancy Goldner wrote about Apollo, stating “It remains a reference in the field of 20th century classical dance: sobriety combined with fantasy; rigour combined with liberty and abstraction combined with expression. All this is expressed in just a few minutes.”
In 2011, attheballet.com reported that “As Balanchine’s ballets are so often described, Apollo is pristine. Balanchine’s inventive, neoclassical steps evoke an entirely classical setting but small, intimate gestures are recognizable to the modern viewer…It remains one of the best and most important, enduring ballets.”
Finally, almost 10 years ago, Dede Barfield, former principal dancer with the Pennsylvania Ballet, said, “The choreography is so incredibly musical, so pure…the choreography tells you everything. The greatest challenge . . . I’d have to say, is to give the music everything it deserves . . . to really give credence to the music, to become the music.”
Diablo Ballet Artistic Director Lauren Jonas agrees with all of these accolades. One of her favorites, Diablo Ballet first performed Apollo in 1998. “Every time I watch it, I am reminded of George Balanchine’s genius. His use of musicality is masterful and the Ballet is absolutely timeless. You can’t tell where the music is coming from – the musicians or the dancers,” she said. “It’s such an honor to perform this and the company is as excited as I am.” Lauren is also thrilled to have Christopher Stolwell, an old friend and former artistic director at Oregon Ballet Theatre, staging this ballet for the company. “Watching Christopher in rehearsals is an education in itself,” she commented. “His knowledge is amazing.”
Apollo, My Way and Milieu will be performed on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 5-6 at Walnut Creek’s Del Valle Theater. Following each performance, there will be an interactive Q&A session with the dancers and choreographers; after that, audience members are invited to enjoy a complimentary dessert reception and meet Diablo Ballet’s world-class dancers. For tickets, call 925-943-7469 or go to http://diabloballet.org/tickets. We sincerely hope to see you there!