Attached at the hip….literally.

Today is the last day to catch Yuri Possokhov’s new Rite of Spring at San Francisco Ballet.  I am sad to see it go away as it was such a great ballet to rehearse and especially perform!  As you can see from the photos, I danced a very unusual role, with an even more unusual costume.  Designed ingeniously by Sandra Woodall, Garen Scribner and I become Siamese twin elders, presiding over the pagan society in which Yuri’s primal ballet exists.rite of spring  We become one entity, slinking in sync across the stage, partnering each other, stretching the fabric of the skirt between us, and using the recoil of the elastic to spin in and back towards each other.  We brandish large sticks and ultimately choose the sacrificial victim.  All while staying with the expansive Stravinsky score.  I can easily say this is one of the most original and challenging roles (and costume) I have ever danced (or worn).  And yes, it is a lot of fun!

People have asked me “what does it mean”, and my first answer is always to say, “what did you get from it?” because there are no wrong answers.  I am happy to explain my take on it, but I always want to hear an audience member’s reaction first.  Many times in human nature, we revere what we don’t understand.  This is how I see the elders’ relationship with the pagan community.  Garen and I are different and deformed and therefore treated with reverence and respect.  When we mark Jennifer Stahl or Dores Andre as “The Chosen One,” everyone commits to the gruesome act without question.

Even her lover turns against her, which in my opinion is the true tragedy of the story.  It brings up questions for me in regards to societal pressure, choosing to act on your own individual thoughts, or rather resorting to social norms.  Maybe her lover has pangs of regret as he ties her up to send her to her demise, or maybe he does not.  How would each of us act or feel in that situation?  We make decisions on how to react to arguably less dramatic, but none less poignant situations in our society every day. What does it mean to be “civilized?”

rite of spring2

The Rite of Spring can be experienced on so many levels, the music, Yuri’s primal (but somehow still classical!) choreography, the tour de force performances by Jennifer Stahl and Dores Andre and the whole cast, the costumes, the sets (by former SFB principal Benjamin Pierce), and the concepts behind what drives this community to extreme actions.

I hope you had a chance to see it, if not, I can only assume that we will bring it back again next year to afford everyone a second chance.


dancers can only count to 8 (false!)

This post will be dedicated to Yuri Possokhov’s new ballet, The Rite of Spring, opening Tuesday, February 26th, at the San Francisco Ballet.

I am dancing in the ballet, but I also have had the unique opportunity to work closely with Yuri during this process as rehearsal assistant, along with Anita Paciotti, ballet master.  It’s not often that a dancer is asked to do double duty so to speak, so I’m very honored that Yuri approached me about helping him with this project.  It has been an extraordinary journey to see this ballet come together.  From working one on one with Yuri in the studio, to watching his vision come to life in rehearsals with the dancers, this has been an amazing experience that I have learned a lot from, and one that I will always remember.

Rite of Spring was composed by Stravinksy in 1913, for Diagihlev’s Ballet Russes, with choreography by Nijinsky.  The Parisian audience at the premiere was induced to near riots due to the shock of the unconventional music and choreography.  Throughout the century however, Stravinsky’s score has been elevated to the status of masterpiece, and stands as a true example of modernism.  After this intimate experience with it, I would now consider it one of my favorite pieces of music.

rite of spring

I obtained a copy of the score, so I could follow along and understand Stravinsky’s rhythms as much as possible while Yuri created the steps.  I can read music from my days playing piano, but this is not your run of the mill score!  The meter goes from 6 to 4 to 3 to 5 to 9, with unexpected accents all over the place!  With Anita and Yuri, we would listen to the recording, refer to the score, and then decide the best way for the dancers to count each section.  There’s a joke that dancers can only count to 8, (which is so not true!!), but what we do have is “dancers’ counts,” where we count our own version, usually different from what the orchestra is counting, mainly just because we don’t have the luxury of having the score in front of us while we’re dancing.  We do have plenty of 11’s and 12’s, even an 18 in one spot!

The more I hear the score, the better it gets.  I also find myself not having to count as much anymore, I just start to feel the rhythm in my body, and its hard to believe that I ever had problems knowing what accent went where.  The SFB orchestra today played two run throughs, with additional players in the pit, and they sounded fantastic.  This ballet will be a feast for your ears as well as your eyes.

Speaking of what you’ll see, I don’t want to give away too much, but it will be a full stage, with full production value!  The cast is huge, and there were many rehearsals where I felt like a traffic cop!  The story follows the original: a pagan society sacrifices a maiden to appease the gods.  The movement is earthy and grounded, and Yuri keeps using the word brutal.  I would also call this ballet: raw, primal, beautiful, and sexual.  I’m excited to hear what other feelings or descriptions people will have for it…

(more to come on Rite of Spring…)

SFB’s 80th season preview

Happy new year, and happy SFB’s 80th season opening night tonight!  (If you don’t count the gala, that is)  There’s a lot to offer our audience this year, and there are a couple programs I’m particularly excited about!  While every program and every ballet deserves mention, I will limit this post to just a few that are highlights in my opinion…so you can plan accordingly of course!  I will do my best to write more posts about the other ballets as well as go more in depth with these few as they approach.

Pascal Molat and Sarah Van Patten in Wayne MacGregor's Borderlands

Pascal Molat and Sarah Van Patten in Wayne MacGregor’s Borderlands

Program 1 opens the season with a bang, with the world premiere of Wayne Macgregor’s Borderlands. If you liked either of his other pieces seen at SFB, Chroma, or Eden Eden, you won’t want to miss this one. His extreme movement style and keen architectural eye always create arresting visuals.

Program 2 is a highlight because it has Hamburg Ballet performing John Neumeier’s full length Nijinsky.  To have a guest company is unusual, and I for one have never seen this company perform live.  Audiences will remember Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid and I have no doubt that he will match the high quality of that production with his own company in Nijinsky.

Hamburg Ballet in John Neumeier's Nijinsky

Hamburg Ballet in John Neumeier’s Nijinsky


Program 3 with Yuri Possokhov’s new Rite of Spring.  100 years ago Rite of Spring was written by Stravinsky and choreographed by Nijinsky.  The score is as much a masterpiece today as it was a revolution then.  I will write more about working with Yuri on this ballet in the near future – I am a dancer in the ballet as well as Yuri’s rehearsal assistant, but I will say this is the one of the ballets I am most excited about dancing in this whole season!  Rite of SpringIt will be big (large cast), bold (sets and costumes), and raw (primal, earthy movement).  I predict it will be the talk of the town the week it opens!

Courtney Elizabeth in Val Caniparoli's Ibsen's House

Courtney Elizabeth in Val Caniparoli’s Ibsen’s House

Program 6‘s Ibsen’s House by Val Caniparoli is a beautiful ballet set to the strains of Dvorak, inspired by the characters of Henrik Ibsen’s plays.  My character is Johannes Rosmer from the play Rosmersholm, and although we are not portraying the plot details, it is always fun to have a character to play on stage.  The Victorian era dresses by Sandra Woodall (who also is designing Rite of Spring) are absolutely gorgeous and the women wear them well!

Maria Kochetkova in Christopher Wheeldon's Cinderella

Maria Kochetkova in Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella

Finally, Program 8 is Christopher Wheeldon’s brand new Cinderella.  A collaboration between SFB and Dutch National Ballet (who premiered the work last year), I have only heard good things about the production.  It is always fun to get a new story ballet in the repertory, and amazing that we have such a talented choreographer to give us his version.  After his success with Alice in Wonderland at the Royal Ballet, I’m sure Cinderella will be not to miss!
See you at the Opera House…