Paint Your Own Audience

How A Dancer Looking for a Stage Created Her Own Theatrical Oasis in a Desert Ghost Town

Once upon a time there was a dancer looking for a stage.

She had performed on Broadway and been a Rockette, but the roles got sparser as time marched on. One day in 1967, she came across a dilapidated building in a virtual ghost town in the California desert. When she did, this lifelong New Yorker knew that she had found the place that she would make her life’s work. She decided that this was the place where she would paint her own audience.

Marta Becket was 42 when she found herself in Death Valley Junction (founded Amargosa in 1907).

The town is located at what was the terminus of the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad, just east of Death Valley National Park (also known as two hours from anywhere). In 1925, the Pacific Coast Borax Company constructed a building in the town to serve as a whistle stop for borax mine workers and executives. It included a hotel, restaurant, and the meeting hall that would become the Amargosa Opera House.

photo credit: Tuxyso / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Marta leased the theater and got to work making repairs and putting together a show.

I first learned about her when I came across this short (under 10 minute) film about the Amargosa Opera House. I was enthralled. I think that you will find the story as fascinating as I do.

Dust Devil, directed and produced by Poppy Walker

Her first performance was February 12, 1968 for an audience of twelve. For over 40 years, she gave performances three nights a week at 8:15 p.m. (her last performance was in March of 2012 at the age of 85).

Sometimes she performed to an audience of one, sometimes there was no one. Marta never let the number of butts in seats (or the lack thereof) stop her from giving a performance.

To ensure that she would always have an audience she painted one, covering the walls with a fantastical mural that invoked the glamour of an old-world opera house. Why worry about whether there is an audience for your work out there in the world somewhere when you can create your own?

At first pass, the tale of Marta Becket and the Amargosa Opera House is simply a delightfully strange one. I mean, Who does that?  


Think about it.

If you had a flat tire in a desert ghost town and wandered across some abandoned building, would you think, “Ah yes, this is just the place that I am looking for. This is where I am going to create my life’s work.”

But then I suppose the next question should be, Why not?

Why not find your own place to do your own thing?

I’m not suggesting we should all go driving around in the desert waiting to see where we get a flat tire. But I do think that if you find yourself at the metaphorical intersection of passion and purpose there is no reason not to roll up your sleeves and paint your own audience.

Virtual Ballet Season, Program 3 – A Journey Through 20th-Century Music, History, and Literature

Symphony #9 – Alexei Ratmansky, 2014
Wooden Dimes – Danielle Rowe, World Premiere
Swimmer – Yuri Possokhov, 2015

Program 3 of the SF Ballet’s 2021 season was subtitled, A Journey Through 20th Century Music, History, and Literature. An ambitious title for a program of three abstract story ballets, but hey – they were connected by themes rooted in 20th century culture. It is perhaps a tenuous string to tie these works together with, but at least the pieces did seem to compliment rather than detract from each other.

Symphony #9 – Alexei Ratmansky, 2014

Symphony #9 is one of the pieces from Ratmansky’s Shostakovich Trilogy which we saw in 2019. It is about the communist state, control, surveillance, and love. The dance vocabulary for this piece incorporates traditional folk-dance forms into the balletic vocabulary in a highly effective way and the key characters express their roles through their own very clearly defined vocabularies, rather than simply through expression.

One couple represents the Soviet regime. Interesting steps in their particular movement vocabulary include this recurring judgmental snooping posture and the female dancer has this very literal “beating the drum” movement that she uses as a sort of rallying cry for the corps de ballet. The other main couple represent Shostakovich and his wife. There is an underlying sadness mixed with a bit of paranoia in their movement vocabulary.

Then there is a male soloist in an undefined role. In his entrance, he is figuratively waving the flag (for the regime?) and uses his charisma to gather all of the dancers around him (including the Shostakoviches). I was very intrigued by the way that his motives remained vague throughout.

Though the intensity of the tension between the Shostakovich couple and the Soviet regime builds throughout the piece, there is never really a resolution. I suppose as T.S. Elliot would say, “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.”

Wooden Dimes – Danielle Rowe, World Premiere

Since this was a premiere, it was presented as a dance film, but unlike COLORFORMS, it was filmed on stage rather than in the world. The way that it was filmed made me think of a 1940’s musical number although at a certain point the interesting, swirling camera angles detract from rather than enhance the movement.

This ballet has a 1920’s vaudeville vibe. The story itself is an old trope: it starts with a happy, young couple, she gets seduced by stardom, he gets seduced by jealousy, they break up, then try to come back together, but in the end they both wind up alone and miserable.

Even though the story isn’t original, there are certain elements in the way the choreographer tells the story that I found really insightful and interesting. There are two sets of characters in the ballet – Betty’s Shiny Things (her joy and happiness) and Robert’s Dark Angels (his doubts and insecurities), that are portrayed by dancers. I really like the way that these ineffable ideas are embodied and interact with the characters.

Swimmer – Yuri Possokhov, 2015

Swimmer is loosely based on a short story called The Swimmer by John Cheever that was published in 1964. This ballet was an archival performance capture, but the set and staging, particularly the use of projection, translate well to viewing via monitor.

There is an overarching mid-mod style to the work, including scenes that evoke Mad Men and a Frankie and Annette movie pool party. The ballet is comprised of ten vignettes, most of them centering around the main character, but there are some sort-of random interludes, such a section titled Lolita. The scenes in which the lead character is “swimming” are some of the most effective thanks to the way that the projections are used to convey his transition from being on land to being in/under water as well as the movement vocabulary.

Overall, Program 3 was fine, it just didn’t knock my socks off like Mark Morris’s Sandpaper Ballet did. I am looking forward to Program 4 (Balanchine’s Jewels) which starts streaming tomorrow (April 1).

Virtual Ballet Season, Program 2 – A Celebration of Contemporary

Let’s Begin at the End – Dwight Rhoden, 2018 (Unbound Festival)
COLORFORMS – Myles Thatcher, World Premiere
Sandpaper Ballet – Mark Morris, 1999

Well y’all, it was time for program 2 of the San Francisco Ballet virtual ballet season. I forgot to look up the program before I pushed “play,” so I was surprised that there was more to the program than just the world premiere of Myles Thatcher’s COLORFORMS ballet.

The title for this program was A Celebration of the Contemporary. The three works presented were Let’s Begin at the End, a 2018 piece by Dwight Rhoden that had been performed as part of the Unbound New Works Festival, COLORFORMS, a world premiere by Myles Thatcher, and Sandpaper Ballet, a 1999 piece by Mark Morris.

I guess that I could have watched the trailer …

Let’s Begin at the End in 2018 is very clearly a work of this time. There is a certain … I don’t know what to call it – preciousness maybe – that is in fashion in current choreography and this piece is no exception. I won’t get into my feelings about that here. Suffice it to say that a contemporary work can be abstract or it can be narrative, but once you’ve established a narrative, it would be a kindness to your audience to strive for a modicum of coherence.

The work seemed to be about the conflict of male relationships v. male/female relationships. One character kept coming through to disrupt the harmony of the male/female pairings. I interpreted this character as perhaps “bro code” but according to the choreographer, he maybe represented Cupid. I suppose we are all entitled to have different opinions about what love or partnership is.


The second work was Myles Thatcher’s world premiere, COLORFORMS. Because this work was recorded specifically for the 2021 season, it was presented as a dance film versus a live performance capture, meaning that rather than filming one complete run through presented on a proscenium stage, the dance was recorded in various locations with various camera angles and cut together to create one work. The venues included the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, a dance studio, the stage at the Opera House, and a grove of redwoods in Golden Gate Park.

Based on the preview videos, I was expecting a linear progression – the dance would start in the museum then a transition to the performance venue. What they gave me was much more interesting – scenes in the museum would seamlessly transition to the dance studio, then back, as if the dancer was stepping into or embodying a piece of art, then returning to their pedestrian existence. The final transition from the stage into the woods was accomplished by the dancers stepping through a frame-like set piece.  I liked the surreal quality created by these transitions, it really created a theatrical feeling and accomplished something that you wouldn’t have been able to if the work had been presented traditionally.


The final work was Sandpaper Ballet. I am a big Mark Morris fan and maybe even more so now. In my mind, Mark Morris is the dance-world analogue to Isaac Mizrahi, and I mean that in a good way. They are both sort of irreverent, but don’t underestimate their skill in their craft or the seriousness of their intention. Later when I read the program notes I learned that Isaac Mizrahi had designed the costumes for this ballet! Am I psychic? Perhaps.

As for Sandpaper Ballet, this work is serious dancing presented in a lighthearted manner. One element of the choreography that stood out for me was the lusciousness of the por de bras. This piece was light and jazzy and technical and complicated and so wonderful.

Your day will be better if you watch this one minute clip of Sandpaper Ballet, trust me.

This program was an excellent counterpoint to Midsummer Night’s Dream and the three works represented a great diversity within the contemporary, abstract dance sphere. Overall, I would say that the virtual ballet season is off to a strong start. Myles Thatcher’s work was very insightfully presented and the Mark Morris piece was exquisite and timeless. Even Rhoden’s work was more interesting than previous work that I’ve seen by him.

Have you had a chance to check out the virtual ballet season? Program 3 will be launching soon, hopefully I can remember to watch it before the last minute this time and give you a chance to check it out.

Deep Thoughts with Martha Graham

A few years ago, I came across this quote in the course of some random internet trawling that had nothing to do with Martha Graham, dance, or even artistic expression:

You don’t have to believe in yourself or your work.  You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate YOU.

Martha Graham to Agnes De Mille

It really struck me. So I wouldn’t forget, I emailed it to myself and there is sat, in the deep, dark depths of my inbox for some number of years. Recently, I came across the note and thought that Martha Graham would make a good topic for this blog. Of course, today’s post is more of a random survey than a thorough examination of her artistic legacy, but I am just being open to the urges that motivate me.

Did I ever tell you that there was a time in my life that I wanted to grow up to be a dancer in Martha Graham’s company?  It’s true. Although, even in those days I had a hard time visualizing myself living as a starving artist living in New York City.  But there really was a moment in time that I was willing to consider giving up my comfortable, Southern California lifestyle to be a Graham dancer.

Graham technique was very captivating for a young Cynthia whose training up to that point had mainly focused on the classical ballet lexicon.  Not wearing shoes, using the floor in such a way, sure those were novel, but the biggest difference was the power with which one moved.

You see, in classical ballet you are trained to hold your center of gravity roughly around your diaphragm. This enables the lightness and quickness of the legs and feet. Think about lifting, lifting, lifting all of your energy up from your pelvis. Then cap that lift at the shoulders and close your rib cage around it. That energy turns into a little ball that floats around in that area above your waist. You lock it in there and hold it tight, then you move around it.

In Graham technique, you drop your center of gravity below your belly button. I didn’t know anything about Kundalini yoga at that time, but now I would say that you locate your center of gravity in your svadhisthana chakra. All motion then originates and radiates from your center, initiated by either a contraction or release. It creates a very powerful way of moving.

Here is a short video of Graham technique:

Martha Graham (1894-1991) was an innovator during a time of tremendous artistic innovation. She is sometimes referred to as the mother of modern dance because of the thoroughly developed technique and prodigious repertoire that she created. Graham’s early dance training was at the Denishawn School in Los Angeles where she eventually taught before moving to New York City in the 1920’s. There she began creating her own work. She is noted for creating 181 ballets over her 70-year career. Among her students was Merce Cunningham. Isamu Noguchi created sets for many of her ballets including the 1944, Aaron Copeland commissioned, Appalachian Spring.

 Here is an excerpt of Appalachian Spring with Graham dancing the lead role:

 Ok, back to the quote. The thing about it is that in this statement, she completely eliminates the role of ego from artistic expression (at least in principle). What she is saying is that you don’t have to think you’re great (or even good) and you don’t have to like what you create. Your job is just to be open to the act of creation. There are a lot of people who have used a lot more words to express this same idea. I love how Graham is so no-nonsense about it.

Is there something creative that you’ve been putting off?  Maybe it’s time to do it.

White Tutu Moments

After my YouTube ballet class the other day, I got sucked in to watching a video of one of my favorite white tutu moments – the “Dance of the Cygnets” from Swan Lake. It is just so wonderful.

The choreography by Lev Ivanov, circa 1895, features four ballerinas performing a relatively academic, yet precise series of steps. Oh yes, and each is holding the hand of the girl next to her and the girl next to that girl. Dancing in tight quarters like that means that they really need to be together on the movement. If one girl goes up when another is going down, it could be a disaster.

Every time I see this piece, I get the biggest smile.  I don’t know why it makes me so happy, there is something about the combination of all those pas de chats and the tuba that sparks so much joy in my heart. Marie Kondo could never get me to declutter this dance.

I love the repetition and the way that they use their heads – talk about rubbing your head and patting your tummy!  And then they have to do it all linked up together like that.  There is not a lot of room to maneuver there.

Thinking about this made me ask myself what my other favorite white tutu ballet moments are.  If I’m not willing to say this is my ultimate favorite, what are the others?

Of course, “The Kingdom of the Shades” from La Bayadere is a great white tutu moment. No one even bothers to produce La Bayadere anymore, everyone just wants to see that one scene. Those arabesques just keep going and soon the stage is full of white tutus.

And then a different sort of white tutu moment came to mind, the pantomime in Act II of Giselle.  I just love romantic ballet pantomime. It is so corny. It makes me smile every time.  Myrtha, The Queen of the Wilies is so fierce. I guess she is supposed to be the villain, but she is a boss.  I just love when she tells Albrecht,

“You.” (points authoritatively)
“Will Dance.” (hands make a rolling motion over the head)
“To the Death.” (arms crossed at the wrists in front of the body, hands in fists)

It’s no cygnets but it does make me smile so big.

I can’t find a clip of just that part of Act II, so here is a clip of Myrtha’s variation instead.

I hope you enjoyed a little white tutu ballet interlude on your Wednesday.

2020 Ballet Season Opener, Cinderella

It’s that time of the year again!  What time is that?  It’s Ballet Season of course!

Even though the 2020 season opened much like last year with a fairytale ballet, it was certainly not a romantic-era ballet or even an update of a romantic ballet.  This production of Cinderella was created by Christopher Wheeldon in 2012 as a joint commission of the Dutch National Ballet and San Francisco Ballet. Its War Memorial premiere was in 2013.

The libretto was written by Craig Lucas, the playwright who you may be familiar with from Prelude to a Kiss (there was a 1992 film adaptation with Alec Baldwin and Meg Ryan). He brings that same soupçon of strangeness to this work. There is no fairy godmother or mice.  All of the magic in this version of the story comes from a tree that grows out of Cinderella’s mother’s grave.  Of course, you can’t leave Cinderella sidekick-less but instead of mice and birds, she has four fates who provide the magical catalyst (and help her with the chores). This Cinderella also has a respectable amount of gumption for a story where the happy ending entails getting married (spoilers!).

Wheeldon choose to work with Prokofiev’s 1940 score. For me, the music didn’t do much, it is certainly isn’t on par with his Romeo and Juliet.  But I didn’t find choreography particularly impactful either. I don’t know if one fell flat and impacted my impression of the other or if both were just meh. 

As far as the choreography goes, there was a lot of dancing. Really athletic dancing. Maybe too much, as in too many steps. The principals were on stage for long stretches and the corps de ballet really moved. There wasn’t a lot of standing around or running off and on stage. I don’t tend to miss the conventions of romantic ballet, but I do feel that this work would benefit from some of the pauses, stillness, and space that are traditional in the romantic ballets in order to give the brilliant and athletic dancing space to shine.

The night my mom, sister, and I were there, Cinderella was danced by one of our new favorite dancers, Sasha de Sola. She brought a great combination of sassiness and compassion to the role. Luke Ingham was the Prince.  But the stepsister Clementine, who was danced by Ellen Rose Hummel, was the character who really stole the show.  Clementine is the sweet stepsister, who wears glasses and takes the brunt of her mother’s and sister’s meanness when Cinderella isn’t readily available. She is funny and kind-hearted, and she gets the guy too, winning the heart of the Prince’s sidekick.

The novel libretto allows for creative applications of production elements.  The scene where Cinderella is transformed to go to the ball is wonderfully weird and full of inventive staging and effects. For me, this scene is the highlight of the show.

There is so much to like about this production, but like I said before, there was just something about it that felt overwrought.  The last time it was presented was 2017 and I remember enjoying the innovative elements, but I don’t know that it made my heart leap that time either.


A couple of weeks ago, I saw a very entertaining one-woman show by Sarah Jones called Sell/Buy/Date.  I had learned about Sarah Jones when listening to an episode of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast.  In it, she was telling Elizabeth about her current project – a comedic theatrical production about sex trafficking.  Because that sounds like a hoot, right?

It turns out that Sarah Jones is also a Tony and Obie award-winning performer.  Her previous one-woman show, called Bridge & Tunnel was produced by Meryl Streep.

On the podcast, Sarah was very witty and smart and made liberal use of her amazing facility for accents to create all sorts of different characters.  When I saw that she was performing locally, I enlisted a friend and we went!

This performance was of the project she had mentioned on the podcast.  It was a one-woman show about people affected by the sex industry.  I knew that she would be inhabiting a tremendous range of characters, but I had no idea what to expect as far as the storyline.

The story was smartly rendered under the conceit that she was a professor in the future who was presenting a lecture.  In the future imagined in this work, technology enables the presenter to become inhabited by the recorded testimonies of various individuals.

I’d like to consider the two components of the piece: 1) the highly researched and provocative subject matter; and 2) her virtuosic performance, separately.

Sarah’s performance was amazing.  If I had been listening only and not watching, I would not have believed for a moment that all of those characters were being performed by one person.  Even the “lead” character had an impeccable British accent, although Sarah is not. But the virtuosity of her performance was not restricted to her vocal delivery.  Her physicality and facial expressions were also tremendously effective.  It was fantastic the way that that this tall, graceful, and elegant woman could move around the stage in a manner that left no doubt that she was, at that moment, actually an older, overweight, and not particularly athletic man.

In terms of the subject matter – she very deftly presented a highly provocative subject in a very insightful, balanced, and scientific way. There was nothing prurient about it.  Based on comments that she made in the podcast, I would have expected a more overtly biased perspective.  But by presenting the topic with an almost clinical tone, she left the audience to sit with their own feelings and biases, forcing all of us to think about the topic more than if she had shown her hand.

I was certainly eager to have the opportunity to discuss the performance with my friend. For me the topic leads down a rabbit hole of relationship power dynamics. As we talked, unraveling the threads of what we had just watched, we realized that there wasn’t any bow to wrap things up with, just more questions.

The Book of Mormon, the Musical

Mr. Man and I recently had the opportunity to see The Book of Mormon, the musical, with our dear neighbor friends.  They are big musical aficionados and enjoy sharing their love of musicals with us.

Mr. Man and I have enjoyed South Park for years and years and were looking forward to Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s irreverent take on Mormonism.  Something that I didn’t expect was how sweet the musical was.  Don’t get me wrong, it was CRUDE and it was corny; it was everything you would expect the South Park guys to do to a musical.

After I had a chance to think about it, what I realized is that although the show makes fun of Mormonism (as in it SKEWERS everything about the doctrine), it doesn’t make fun of Mormons. One line that comes up at different points in the show is the Mormons saying that they just want to be nice to everybody.

I was speaking to a friend of mine who had also seen the show at one point, and I was not surprised by her reaction.  She HATED it.  I knew why.  There is a whole, big, show-stopping song-and-dance number in the first act in which practically every other word is an f-bomb.  I mean, my first reaction was to clutch my pearls.  Then I remembered that I had left my pearls at home and just sat back and enjoyed the ride.

There is a lot of graphic language throughout the whole show, things that belong to the category of “polite people don’t say those things.” But this show was created by the South Park guys and they have made their career on throwing those things in your face.  Why would you expect any different?

The things that I loved about the show were:

The campy choreography: particularly, the big, corny, old-fashioned tap number in the first act.  So many jazz hands!  So many shuffle-ball-change!

The twist: when the anti-hero is forced to act heroically and the way he goes about it.

SPOILERS (maybe): the part when the villagers tell the disillusioned heroine that, “it’s a METAPHOR!”  This especially tickled me because I had been working on my post about how I think of the Tour de France as a metaphor for the human condition.  Also, because in general, I am terrible for recognizing symbolism so I could sympathize with the character.

I have to say that no matter how mercilessly the show trolled the Mormon Church, the Church did a great job at winning.  The inside, front cover of the program had a full-color ad that read, “you’ve seen the play…now read the book,” along with four different contact options.  As a communication strategist, I couldn’t imagine a better way to turn negative publicity around.

Shostakovich Trilogy

This past Saturday marked the end of our 2019 Ballet Season. Happily, the program was excellent and left us excited for 2020 (yes, we have already renewed our seats).

This program was comprised of three works choreography by Alexei Ratmansky, all to music by Dmitri Shostakovich. Shostakovich Trilogy was co-commissioned by San Francisco Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. The SF Ballet premiere was in 2014.

Alexi Ratmansky is a Russian choreographer who is currently artist in residence at American Ballet Theatre. Previously, he held the position of artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet where he is known for remounting some of the Soviet-era ballets. You can see the influence of his experience with artistic productions of that era in the deft way that he layered the pieces in Shostakovich Trilogy with nuance evocative of the time and place in which the music was created.

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) was an early-twentieth century, Russian composer. Unlike Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) and Stravinsky (1882-1971), Shostakovich spent his entire career in Stalinist Russia where he experienced constraints on his work. Despite these constraints, his music is powerful and timeless. One has to wonder what he could have accomplished if he had the artistic freedom of some of his contemporaries.

Symphony #9 has a movement vocabulary that combines classical ballet steps with traditional Russian folk-dance movements in a very elegant way. The music, composed in 1945, was commissioned by the government as a celebration of the victory of the Soviet people over the Nazis and the conclusion of WWII. This piece sort of switches back and forth from a feeling of self-conscious restraint to rah-rah proletarian propaganda, highlighting the dichotomy of Soviet society at that time.

Chamber Symphony was the most narrative piece in the program. The backdrop for this work was a series of oversized, cubist-style heads suspended in front of the back scrim. The heads shifted and different effects were created with lighting throughout the course of the piece. It created a sort-of “big brother is watching you” feeling. At one point, the music become quite bombastic and the most center-stage heads became quite prominent and menacing.

The main character in this piece represents Shostakovich. Watching it without reading the program notes first made for an interesting exercise in deciphering a story. I was left with the firm conclusion that the central character was a depressive cad.

The corps de ballet in this piece is composed of eight couples who seem to be exerting influence on the behavior of the main character. He alternates between going along with the group, acting out, and utter dejection.   There are also three female soloists who represent different women in the composer’s life. These roles were danced divinely by Sasha de Sola, Yuan Yuan Tan, and Mathilde Froustey.

Piano Concerto #1 was my favorite piece of the three. That being said, I can’t describe the dancing to you at all. I was completely mesmerized by the costumes, which were these extremely simple and effective two-tone unitards. Yes, that’s it. The front was blue, and the back red and it was visually spectacular. I guess that I could say that the dancing was interesting and dynamic because it didn’t detract from the excellent effect of the costumes.

There was an energy to the dancing on this night. We all got the impression that the dancers really enjoyed performing these works (maybe they were just happy that it was the end of the season). It was nice to see such a consistent program of interesting, contemporary work, I think this had to do with the strength of the music.

At any rate, it was a satisfying end to the season.

Lyric Voices

Last Saturday we saw program 5 of San Francisco Ballet’s 2019 season, Lyric Voices.  It was a mixed bill of new work, two ballets that came out of the 2018 season’s new works festival and one brand new piece.

The entire program was very good.  The pieces were complimentary but not derivative and none of them were too long (thankfully!).  This is the kind of dancing that San Francisco Ballet excels at, the dancers are confident and energetic in these kinds of pieces.  There was a lightness and energy to the way that the dancers executed the interesting and appropriate movement vocabulary.

Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem

The first piece, which premiered in the new works festival last spring, was Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem by Trey McIntyre.  The piece was inspired by a photo of a grandfather who he never knew and dealt with themes of loss and longing for connection.

The movement had a lightness, an airiness to it.  McIntyre used a clean, classical movement vocabulary that brought to my mind Balanchine’s mid-twentieth century, neoclassical ballets.

Four of the six movements of the piece very obviously supported the narrative.  I have not been able to decipher the literal meaning of other two movements, one of which was my most favorite dance in the piece.  It was a pas de trois featured Sasha De Sola, Jennifer Stahl, and one of the male dancers who was not the grandfather character.  It was just gorgeous.  For some reason, I am stuck on an idea that Sasha and Jennifer were fireflies.  Whatever they were, their dancing was powerful, clean, and warm.

I will look forward to seeing this piece again and hope to see more work by Trey McIntyre in San Francisco Ballet’s repertoire. 

Bound To

The second piece was Christopher Wheeldon’s contribution to the 2018 new works festival, titled Bound To.  The concept for this piece is the way in which we, as a society, are “bound to” technology and disconnected from the people around us.

In the opening movement, the dancers are all mesmerized by their cellphones.  When they do interact, at least one of the dancers is completely distracted.  The piece then transitions into a series of movements in which the dancers do not have their devices; however, their interactions are still somewhat distant, as if they no longer know how to connect with other people.  In the final solo of the series, this dude loses it.  Everyone goes back to their phones and leave him for dead.

I found myself wondering how this work will stand the test of time.  Will it be something that anyone will want to stage in 20 years?  Will it be “of its time” in a good way?

“…two united in a single soul…”

The title of Yuri Possokhov’s world premiere comes from a line in Metamorphoses by Ovid pertaining to the Greek myth of Narcissus (book III).  The idea of reflection was explored in virtually every element of the piece and was strongly established by the memorable opening scene in which the orientation and direction of each dancer created a powerful hall-of-mirrors effect.

This ballet was gorgeous.  All of the elements were interesting and unexpected – the set, the music, the costumes, and the dancing.

The minimalist set elements were well utilized throughout the work but my favorite effect was at the end of the work.  A black-and-white camouflage pattern projected on the floor reflects the image of a skull on the massive metallic teardrop upstage center.  That moment was a particularly eerie, powerful, and clever use of the scenic elements.

Daria Novo’s musical composition included several arias by Handel sung by a countertenor (the highest male singing voice) and music by Handel was combined with electronic effects throughout.  The singer, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, appeared onstage and interacted with the dancers.  I thought this was a fantastic and effective way to combine operatic singing with dance.  He symbolized another facet of Narcissus.  It was like the singer was telling the story as the dancer showed it.

A great night at the ballet was had by all.