Geneva Anderson digs into art

San Francisco Ballet closes its season with “Don Quixote”—all new costumes and scenery, this Friday through May 6, 2012

Vanessa Zahorian, a principal with SF Ballet since 2002, dances the lead role of Kitri on opening night of Tomasson/Possokhov’s “Don Quixote,” at SF Ballet through May 6, 2012. Photo: © Erik Tomasson

Driven by stories of ancient rivalries and his vision of female perfection—Dulcinea—the wildly romantic aging nobleman Don Quixote sets off on an epic journey with his trusty squire Sancho Panza in tow.  When he encounters the lovely Kitri in a gypsy camp, he is smitten believing that he has found his Dulcinea.  Helgi Tomasson and Yuri Possokhov’s staging of Russian master choreographers Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorsky’s 1869 Don Quixote returns to San Francisco Ballet this Friday, April 27, 2012, with spectacular all-new scenery and costumes by Tony Award-winning designer Martin Pakledinaz.   There are just 10 performances of SF Ballet’s highly anticipated season closer and if you are going to be impacted by this weekend’s Doyle Drive closure, you can skip the opening weekend and attend the following week, which offers 7 performances, starting Tuesday May 1, through Sunday, May 6, 2012, including convenient Saturday and Sunday matinees.

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson/Possokhov’s “Don Quixote,” which includes live animals on stage, at SF Ballet through May 6, 2012. Photo: © Erik Tomasson

Miguel de Cervantes’ romantic and witty story, placed in the colorful streets of Spain, comes to life with comes to life with a lively cast of characters and the bravado and excitement of some of classical ballet’s most technically demanding dances.  Under the expert conducting of Martin West and David Briskin, Austrian composer Léon Minkus’ lushly light and melodic music with its clear dance rhythms will be brought to life.

Traditionally, the scene stealer in this ballet is the live horse or donkey that makes a stage appearance, delighting the audience to no end.  Most of the dancing glory in this sweeping classic ballet is in the lead role of Kitri.  Vanessa Zahorian will dance the opening and Maria Kochetkova and Frances Chung will alternate thereafter.  All eyes will be upon Kitri as she executes dozens of fouteé turns and triple pirouettes in the grand pas de deux which will also see her Basilio put through his paces.  Joan Boada, will dance the role of the barber Basilio for the opening, with Taras Domitro, Vitor Luiz, Davit Karapetyan and Gennadi Nedvigin alternating in subsequent performances.

Helgi Tomasson, SF Ballet’s Artistic Director, discusses  Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes for Don Quixote:


SF Ballet’s 2013 Season:  San Francisco Ballet is the oldest professional ballet company in America and, in 2013, will celebrate 80 years of performances.  SF Ballet’s 2013 Repertory Season will begin with Nutcracker, which runs December 7 through 28, 2012 for a total of 31 performances.  Following the Opening Night Gala on Thursday, January 24, 2013, the season will consist of eight programs performed in alternating repertory, from January 29 to May 12. The season includes the U.S. premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s full-length Cinderella; the Northern California premiere of Nijinsky by Hamburg Ballet Artistic Director and Chief Choreographer John Neumeier, which will be performed on Program 2 by the renowned Hamburg Ballet; the SF Ballet premiere of Serge Lifar’s Suite en Blanc; plus world premieres by Wayne McGregor, SF Ballet Choreographer in Residence Yuri Possokhov, and Alexei Ratmansky. The season will also feature works by acclaimed choreographers such as George Balanchine, John Cranko, Edwaard Liang, Mark Morris, Rudolf Nureyev, Ashley Page, Jerome Robbins, and San Francisco Ballet Artistic Director & Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson. For detailed programming information and subscription and ticket information go to SF Ballet’s  2013 season announcement.

Details: Don Quixote opens Friday, April 27, 2012 and runs through May 6, 2012 at the War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue, in San Francisco’s Civic Center.  (415) 865-2000 or

April 27, 2012 Posted by | Dance | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ahhhh love! SF Ballet’s breathtaking premiere of “Onegin” depicts the downside of pouring your heart out in a letter, through Friday, February 3, 2012

Maria Kochetkova as Tatiana and Vitor Luiz as Eugene Onegin in Cranko's Onegin, at San Francisco Ballet through February 3, 2012. Photo: Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet’s 2012 season officially opened this weekend with the premiere of John Cranko’s exquisite Onegin, which is based on Alexander Pushkin’s classic 19th century novel-length poem, Eugene Onegin, and set to a lush Tchaikovsky score.  With Santo Loquasto’s scene and costume design and James Ingalls’ lighting, both echoing the romanticism of Pushkin’s old Russia, and the dancing, which builds steadily throughout the three acts, this production dazzles.  

As stories go, Onegin is timeless—a gripping drama that pulls you in quickly and keeps you referencing your own love life as well.  Eugene Onegin is a sophisticated and aloof young man of privilege from the big city (St. Petersburg) who visits his friend Lensky in the countryside.  Onegin immediately inflames the heart of young, naive and bookish Tatiana whose sister, Olga, is Lensky’s fiancé.  Caught in the spell of first love, Tatiana recklessly pours her heart out in a passionate letter to Onegin and has her maid deliver it (the olden day equivalent of hitting “send”).   Onegin comes in person to Tatiana’s birthday party and offers his answer—“NO”─rejecting the smitten young girl publicly and wounding her to her core.   Then, just to toy with his buddy Lensky and see how he will react, Onegin flirts openly with Olga.  Hotheaded Lensky become enraged and challenges Onegin to a duel whose consequences ruin a number of lives.  In the final scene, which transpires years later in St. Petersburg, Tatiana has settled into a comfortable marriage with the kind-hearted Prince Gremin and has transformed from a naive country girl into an elegant, stately, and very attractive woman.  Now, it’s Onegin’s cold heart that burns for her and it is he who desperately pens the love letter.   And it is she who now rejects him, telling him that while she still loves him, she is a woman now and will stay with her husband because she could never respect him or find true happiness with him.  They had a chance for real love, long ago, but he toyed with her.  Now, sadly, neither will know the joy of passionate romantic love.   Ahhhh love!

Onegin relies heavily on choreography and eschews classical pantomime—it has a series of pas de deux and robust ensemble dances that fill the stage with traditional Russian steps, polonaises, and courtly promenades.  Cranko has also infused it with very modernist elements.  Even something as complex as the passionate content of Tatiana’s letter is handled through dance─as she pens her late-night letter to Onegin, she dreams their deeply emotional pas de deux.  The cast changes frequently throughout the production.  Saturday’s matinee performance was superb with the dashing Armenian-born Davit Karapetyan as Onegin and the Kirov-ballet trained American Vanessa Zahorian as Tatiana.  Both danced their physically-challenging roles with grace and passion and delivered wonderfully complex lifts that required complete coordination between the partners.  Karapetyan and Zahorian are famous off-stage partners as well and made headlines the world over in May 2010 when, after their last performance of Romeo and Juliet, where they each played the title roles, he dropped down on one knee and pulled out a ring that had been hidden in his costume’s poison pouch and proposed to her in front of a packed house.  Their roles in this venerated classic also require a great deal of emotional presence, which both summoned masterfully on Saturday.  Onegin, in particular, struggles throughout the ballet, to find meaning in his life but never does because he is superficial and not able to connect to his feelings. Tatiana experiences her feelings fully and yet still rejects Onegin in the end, leaving the audience to ponder the deep meaning of love, honor, and commitment and to replay their own experiences with unrequited love.  From Zahorian’s first glimpse of Onegin, she conveys the dizzying passion of first love and literally opens to him and appears to be floating in air while he remains cool and unresponsive.

Maria Kochetkova as Tatiana in John Cranko's Onegin, at San Francisco Ballet through February 3, 2012. Photo: Erik Tomasson

Dana Genshaft delivered a charming Olga and a wonderful on stage chemistry with Zahorian’s Tatiana as well as with Domitro’s Lensky.

The music is a Tchaikovsky compilation arranged by Kurt Heinz Stolze in 1965 and is completely different from the music in Tchaikovsky’s beloved opera of the same name.  Instead, it is a less powerful orchestration of some of his little-known piano works such as The Seasons (1875-76), along with themes from the 1885 opera Cherevichki (The Slippers), and the latter part of the symphonic fantasia Francesca da Rimini (1876).  Martin West, SF Ballet’s Music Director and Principal Conductor and guest conductor David LaMarche alternate performances.  Saturday’s matinee was handled quite proficiently by LaMarch.     

Santo Loquasto’s scene and costume designs, traditional in all regards, echo the romanticism of Pushkin’s old Russia.  From Madame Larina’s countryside garden to Tatiana’s bedroom and her birthday party to Prince Gremin’s Palace, the sumptuous sets beckon the intensifying tragic drama. 

Run Time: 2 hours, 16 minutes with two intermissions

Details: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.  Tickets: $36- $285 For further information: (415) 865-2000 or

Remaining performances:  

Sunday, January 29, 2012 2 p.m.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012 8 p.m.

Wednesday February 1, 2012 7:30 p.m.

Thursday February 2, 2012, 8 p.m.

Friday, February 3, 2012, 8 p.m.

January 29, 2012 Posted by | Dance | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Nutcracker:” the holiday classic runs through December 27, 2011, at San Francisco Ballet—ARThound talks with two participating Sonoma County musicians

Val Caniparoli is the toymaker, Drosselmeyer, in Helgi Tomasson's “Nutcracker,” at San Francisco Ballet December 9- 27, 2011. © Erik Tomasson

Nutcracker season is here and San Francisco’s Ballet’s production, which opened last Friday, is one of the best in the country.  Its sumptuous blend of Tchaikovsky’s music, exquisite dance, and Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s ingenious bow to San Francisco─setting the ballet in San Francisco on Christmas Eve during the 1915 Pan Pacific International Exhibition─make it a unique treat.  And there’s nothing like the festive experience of dressing up and celebrating the season at the stunning grand War Memorial Opera House.  For the musicians in the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, the experience is also one of endurance.  This year, the orchestra, under the direction of SF Ballet Music Director Martin West, will perform the beloved production 30 times throughout December, often twice daily, and it’s estimated that close to 100,000 people will attend.  For listeners in the audience, it’s impossible to imagine that Tchaikovsky’s score ever palls.  Parts of it are so familiar─the Sugar Plum Pas de Deux or the Danse des Mirlitons or the March of the Toy Soliders─that they are steeped in our subconscious and always enchanting.  Aside from its difficulty─it’s Tchaikovsky─one of the challenges Nutcracker presents for musicians is simply keeping it fresh performance after performance. The orchestra finished up with Carmen at San Francisco Opera and began rehearsing Nutcracker the first week of December and had a rehearsal with the actual dancers just prior to last Friday’s opening performance.  I spoke with two Sonoma County musicians in the orchestra who have each played countless Nutcrackers─bassoonist Rufus Olivier, of Sebastopol, and cellist Ruth Lane, of Petaluma and our conversations are below.   If you’re attending the ballet, especially with children, a wonderful opportunity exists before each performance to walk right up to the pit and meet and greet and observe the musicians in the orchestra who play such an integral part in the magic of the ballet.   

San Francisco Ballet Orchestra Principal Bassoonist Rufus Olivier, of Sebastopol. Olivier has played the “Nutcracker” for over thirty years at the San Francisco Ballet and will perform it thirty times this season. Olivier has recorded many movie, video, CD and TV soundtracks including Disney’s “Never Cry Wolf” and he won a Grammy for the soundtrack “Elmo in Grouchland.” Photo: Geneva Anderson

Rufus Olivier, Principal bassoonist, SF Ballet and Opera Orchestras, is a Sebastopol resident and is one of two bassoonists with the ballet orchestra.  Even before arriving in the Bay Area, Olivier had quite a reputation.  In 1975, Zubin Mehta, the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, gave the 18 year old Olivier a chance to play a concerto with the orchestra and he did such a good job that, afterwards, Mehta immediately offered him a co-principal position.  Olivier went on to play with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra under Neville Marriner, and the Goldofsky Opera Tours.  He moved to the Bay Area in 1977 and by 1980, he was the youngest principal to ever play in the SF Opera Orchestra and started playing Nutcracker in San Francisco some 30 years ago with Christensen’s production which predates both Martin West and Helgi Tomasson.  Olivier studied under David Breidenthal of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and currently teaches at Stanford one day each week.  Olivier has been guest soloist with numerous orchestras all over the world.   He has recorded many movie, video, CD and TV soundtracks including Disney’s Never Cry Wolf and San Francisco Opera’s Grammy-nominated CD Orphée et Eurydice, and he won a Grammy for the soundtrack Elmo in Grouchland.  Olivier’s son, Rufus David Olivier, is also an accomplished bassoonist.

With over 30 seasons of Nutcrackers under your belt, how do you keep it fresh?  

Rufus Olivier: First of all, it’s Tchaikovsky and very, very good music.  Second, Tchaikovsky keeps you on your toes─it’s very hard─ and that’s takes care of keeping it fresh.  That’s pretty much it.

What is the most challenging part for you as a bassoonist?

Rufus Olivier:   There’s two—in the very beginning, in the first minute or two, there’s the woodwind interlude where there are these wild triplets, very high, and technically hard.  And then there’s the Arabian Dance (Act II) which is musically hard and, by that, I mean it’s hard to put across the expression that I would like to convey, which is actually harder than being technically proficient.  You can work through technical issues but it’s very hard to get to the point musically where I can make someone feel something that I want to convey and I want the dancers to feel something so that they dance better.  If I play it more expressively, maybe sweetly, then anything can happen with the dancers and with the audience and they won’t know why but they will feel it.  At a certain point in one’s career, the competition is with oneself.  You’re not competing with anyone except yourself and you are challenging yourself all the time.  All of my colleagues are trying, all the time, to sound as good as they can sound.

With Helgi Tomasson’s production, are there any cuts to the original score? 

Rufus Olivier: Yes. The original score would come in at over three hours and Helgi’s production comes in at about 2 hours, but all the important and well-known parts are there and, actually, he’s added some things that weren’t in the previous production.

How aware are you of what the dancers are doing? 

Rufus Olivier: I can’t see the dancers at all and completely reply on Martin who is watching the stage and I am watching him.  Unlike the opera, I can’t hear anything.

What is the most challenging thing about playing the bassoon in an orchestra? 

Rufus Olivier: Coming in when you’re supposed to (laughing).  There are so many things you have to do and you are operating at a very high level of consciousness.  By the time you reach the level of the opera, symphony or ballet, it’s almost automatic but your ears are everywhere.  You are hyperaware even though your heart rate may be at rest.  Everything can be hard but trying to play in tune with other instruments can be challenging and so can solos and dealing with conductors who can be crazy at times. And, when you’re not playing, whether it’s 3 bars or 20 bars, you can’t leave, you’ve got to sit there and be engaged and stay awake and count so you know when to come in. 

What are the great bassoon solos in orchestral music?

Rufus Olivier:  Two of the most famous symphonic solos for the bassoon include the theme for grandfather in Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and the opening solo in Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring.

What performances are you looking forward to musically in the coming season? 

Rufus Olivier: We are playing RakU, which is one of the pieces written by our bass player Shinji Enshima. (RakU is part of the SF Ballet’s Program 6, and plays March 23-April 3, 2012. Click here to read more.)  The piece just premiered last year and one day it may well be one of the premiere bassoon solos. 

San Francisco Ballet Orchestra Cellist Ruth Lane, of Petaluma, in the pit before Thursday’s performance of “Nutcracker,” which runs through December 27, 2011. Lane’s cello, which is painted with images of the Sistine Chapel, was custom made for her by her husband, Anthony Lane of Lane Violins in Petaluma. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Ruth Lane, cellist, is a Petaluma resident and has been playing with the San Francisco Opera and Ballet Orchestras since 1990.  This is her 6th year of playing Nutcracker for an entire season’s run and she is one of six cellists in the ballet orchestra.  Prior to that, she played several performances annually as a substitute musician.  Lane has performed Nutcracker under Music Directors Dennis de Coteau and Martin West and under various guest conductors.  Lane came from a family that was passionate about classical music and started studying cello at age 10 and received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from USC.  In addition to the Bay Area, Lane has been heard in recital in the Los Angeles, and London.  She is a member of the Bay Area’s Temescal String Quartet and she performed this September in Petaluma in “The V Concert” (click here to read ARThound’s coverage.)  Strad magazine calls her “a cellist of scrupulous intentions and dexterous manual coordination . . . unimpeachable intonation and admirable poise.” (as quoted on the Temescal String Quartet page.)

What are the most important and challenging parts of Nutcracker for cello? 

Ruth Lane:  We don’t have any solos and I am one of six cellos and we are all playing the same music.  Woodwinds have the solos and the strings, which are a quieter instrument, tend to be like a chorus—it’s all the instruments together that create this blanker of sound that you recognize as the orchestra.  The cellos play throughout but, in Act 1, we play what used to be a bear dance but is now a solider dance.  We also play a lot in the battle scene and also in the Russian Sailor’s Dance.

All Tchaikovsky is challenging because he writes for the breadth of the cello and its very passionate music, so it really takes your all to play it well.  You’ve really got to draw on that emotional level of interpretation beyond the technical.  Performing a piece like Nutcracker so many times and trying to really keep it vital is very demanding emotionally.

With so many Nutcrackers under your belt and so many coming up, how do you keep it fresh night after night?  

Ruth Lane: What I always draw on is the audience.  Every night, at least 30 children with their parents will come up to the orchestra pit before the performance and they are pointing and waving and they are so excited.  It’s so different from the opera performances where some of the front row is falling asleep.  This just doesn’t happen in the Nutcracker.  We’re always joking about how the age goes down by about 20 to 30 years across the board, from the performers to the audience, when you go form opera to ballet and the Nutcracker is just full of children. It’s that and the music itself which requires a lot from you.

How aware are you of what the dancers are doing? 

Ruth Lane: From where I sit, I can usually see the dancers from the chest up, so I see them moving up and down.  I follow the conductor and it’s his job to keep the orchestra and the dancers all together.  I really like Martin West in conversation with Tchaikovsky─it’s passionate but he doesn’t tend to go overboard.   He keeps the tempos up.  Martin is very very good at coordinating the action he is seeing on stage with the sounds that come out of the pit.  I haven’t worked with anybody who is as good as doing that as he is. 

What’s your favorite ballet in terms of music?

 Ruth Lane:   Well, Nutcracker has some of the greatest music but my very favorite ballet is Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev which we are also performing later this season. The cellos do the love scene on the balcony, which is incredibly emotional and passionate, which keeps coming back again and again. 

The scene on the back of Ruth Lane’s exquisite custom-made cello was inspired by a dream her husband Anthony Lane had. Lane, a highly respected violin maker, drew the basic design and artist Margrit Haeberlin did the actual painting and the cello was Lane’s gift to his wife. Photo: courtesy Anthony Lane Violins of Petaluma.

I know that some string instruments are extremely valuable and are meticulously handcrafted.  Is there anything special about your cello? 

Ruth Lane:  Yes, my husband, Anthony Lane of Lane Violins, custom built my cello for me about 10 years ago and it’s got a wonderful sound and is beautifully decorated with painted images from the Sistine Chapel and the life of a violin maker. I’ve really enjoyed this special gift.

What’s the biggest challenge during the Nutcracker? 

Ruth Lane:  It’s stamina.  The Nutcracker and Tchaikovsky in general require a lot of muscle when playing the cello.  For example, the Pas de Deux (Act II), at the end, is so rigorous that I have to know when to lay back and when to really pull out all the stops.

Do you have a favorite part? 

Ruth Lane:  I’ve always like the Trepak or Russian Sailor’s Dance (Act II) and the Pas de Deux (Act II) at the end.

Two Great SF Ballet Orchestra Nutcracker Recordings: 

 Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker (1991) with Denis de Coteau.  This recording is groundbreaking.  The San Francisco Ballet Orchestra collected money from each individual musician and recorded this on their own at Skywalker Ranch in 1988.  They were the first group to record and self-produce Nutcracker and received all royalties. 

Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker- San Francisco Ballet (2008) with Martin West, available as a DVD of the ballet performance or as a CD of the music.  

Details:  San Francisco Ballet performs at the historic 1932 War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco. Nutcracker runs December 9 through December 27, 2011.

Tickets: $22 to $275 available (415) 865-2000 or

Parking:  Civic Center Garage (on McAllister Street between Larkin and Polk); Performing Arts Garage (on Grove between Franklin and Gough streets); Opera Plaza Garage (valet only, 601 Van Ness, enter on Turk).

Arrival Time:  Plan to arrive early to enjoy the sumptuous atmosphere and to ensure that you are seated.  The theater enforces a no late seating policy and guests will not be seated after the lights have dimmed. Latecomers will be asked to stand until there is a break in the program, and will be seated at management’s discretion. 

Run-time: Two hours with a 20-minute intermission.

December 18, 2011 Posted by | Classical Music, Dance | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment