San Francisco Walnut Creek Chicago Grand Rapids Houston

Excerpts from Azlan Ezaddin’s travel diary which by no means represents an impartial review, for besides being married into the performing arts world, he also travels to catch up with the works of family, friends and acquaintances.

March is an exciting month for me – my birthday aside, it is also when I get to enjoy my hometown company’s gala, a cutting edge program in Michigan and an international festival in Texas.

San Francisco Ballet – Dances at a Gathering – San Francisco
16 March 2016

Maria Kochetkova and Joseph Walsh in Robbins' 'Dances at a Gathering'. Photo © Erik Tomasson

Maria Kochetkova and Joseph Walsh
in Jerome Robbins’ “Dances at a Gathering”
Photo Erik Tomasson

First up was San Francisco Ballet’s Program 5 which featured Dances at a Gathering. Jerome Robbins created this work – recognized as a masterpiece by many – to touch audiences on different levels. It is joyous and pretty on the eyes as well as technically impressive, with awe-inspiring moments of acrobatics sparingly sprinkled throughout.

Helgi Tomasson’s choice of casting was a slight surprise to me though, as I feel it resulted in an opening performance of more exuberance than I expected of SFB’s performance of this Robbins classic. Nonetheless, I thought the dancing was effective and fairly even throughout, with Yuan Yuan Tan perhaps shining a tad more than the others.

Diablo Ballet – 22nd Anniversary Celebration and Gala – Walnut Creek, California
17 March 2016

Diablo Ballet's Amanda Farris and Christian Squires in "La Fille Mal Gardée" Photo Bérenger Zyla

Diablo Ballet’s
Amanda Farris and Christian Squires
in “La Fille Mal Gardée”
Photo Bérenger Zyla

This one-time a year event has become a regular, stirring fixture for our family but this year it has become even more of a family experience with niece Hannah Mayer, daughter of Corinne Jonas who is a former Diablo Ballet dancer and Lauren’s sister, performing with her teenage quartet ‘Minor F.’ Rather than a full program of ballets, the Diablo Ballet gala and pre-gala show combine an exciting and celebratory blend of film, slide show, live music, awards, commendations, and live performances of classics from the repertory as well as a work new to the company.

While the live ballets – of which, Val Caniparoli’s Tears from Above, a work commissioned by Diablo Ballet in 2011, was my personal highlight – are central to the company’s mission, the other components are important in reminding us of the amazing journey and adventure that is Diablo Ballet, a small but highly professional ballet troupe that for 22 years has been thriving amongst a sea of competition and international financial crisis.

We can be very proud of our very own Lauren Jonas for being at its artistic helm.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago – Spring Series – Chicago
18 March 2016

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's Ana Lopez and Jonathan Fredrickson in Alejandro Cerrudo's "The Impossible" Photo Jamie Kraus

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s
Ana Lopez and Jonathan Fredrickson
in Alejandro Cerrudo’s “The Impossible”
Photo Jamie Kraus

The first stop of my tour through the U.S. Central and Eastern time zones was Chicago, to visit clients, see another of our nieces, and watch family friends perform in Hubbard Street Dance. And it was worth it as this must have been one of the more completely satisfying programs of my personal arts season. All three works were entertaining yet deeply artistic and creative in a way not typically seen from major American-based dance companies. I had a sense of watching an European troupe in the middle of the U.S.

I am Mister B is an imaginative ode to George Balanchine by Gustavo Ramírez Sansano and a clever reimagining of Tchaikovsky’s Theme and Variations, while Lucas Crandall’s Imprint showcases the athleticism of the company members, with a stellar turn by David Schultz as both dancer and percussionist (I can see why his brother Nick is so proud of him). But Alejandro Cerrudo’s The Impossible was my personal favorite with its stylistic telling of relationships, drama and dark memories.

Grand Rapids Ballet – The Best of Movemedia – Grand Rapids, Michigan
19 March 2016

Grand Rapids Ballet dancers in PennySaunders's "Joe & Ida" Photo Monroe O'Bryant

Grand Rapids Ballet dancers
in PennySaunders’s “Joe & Ida”
Photo Monroe O’Bryant

The Movemedia series of programs has been one reason why a trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan, from anywhere in the world (I have done so many times!) is well worth it for serious dance aficionados. Each program packed full of new works by both new and established choreographers from around the globe offers a great chance to see fiercely creative minds at work and young but competent dancers reacting to them. Grand Rapids, as it turns out, is a safe haven for experimentation.

This season’s edition is a compilation program, with the world premiere of the lyrical Joe & Ida by Penny Saunders alongside a ‘playlist’ of the best of the best; works in full or in parts from five years of Movemedia programs.

With a programming context different than their respective world premieres, the works by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Robyn Mineko Williams, Kirk Peterson, Olivier Wevers and Brian Enos seemed fresh and new, which is pleasantly remarkable for this jaded audience member. As usual, the other Schultz brother I know, Nick, features quite a bit. Alas, I did not get to spend too much time with my artistic cousins, Artistic Director Patricia Barker and husband Michael Auer, as they had conflicting functions.

Dance Salad Festival – Houston
25 and 26 March 2016

Dance Salad Festival 2016 Royal Ballet of Flanders Drew Jacoby and Matt Foley in “Fall” Photo Amitava Sarkar InSight Photography

Dance Salad Festival 2016
Royal Ballet of Flanders
Drew Jacoby and Matt Foley in “Fall”
Photo Amitava Sarkar InSight Photography

Despite hosting a dozen dance troupes and choreographers from around the world in one weekend of performances, the Dance Salad Festival can always be counted on in the last several years to present high-caliber performances and choreography. So it was unexpected to see some works that didn’t seem to belong to the same level of quality as the rest of the program.

Of the companies that impressed National Ballet of Canada, Ballett des Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz, Spellbound Contemporary Ballet, Royal Ballet of Flanders and Stuttgart Ballet – the most captivating was the ensemble from Gärtnerplatz, in highly original works by two different choreographers Marguerite Donlon (Made in Love: Minutemade) and Jacopo Godani (Versus Standard); Donlon’s was charming yet also technically impressive, fusing together a multitude of genres, dance styles (sometimes in a single movement or gesture!), and all manners of costumes raided from the opera shop.

The final performance of the festival underlined my observations from the previous evening. One addition however that made it more than worth my while sitting through an encore of the previous evening’s program was Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s atmospheric and highly technical Faun so powerfully projected from stage by Virginia Hendricksen and Yevgeniy Kolesnyk of the Royal Ballet of Flanders.

A special mention needs to be made of Drew Jacoby always an impressive dancer and a new addition to the Flanders company who immediately drew attention in Cherkaoui’s Fall due purely to her extremely artistic athleticism. It is nice to see her moving on from Pacific Northwest Ballet and San Francisco Ballet to the European stage.