Sun Valley Scores Major Ballet Coup, Along with the Eclipse

BY KAREN BOSSICK

The temperature was in the teens and the snow was piling up in the streets of Ketchum as Dan Drackett greeted Bob Smelick and Jennifer McGrath over lunch at Cristina’s in late January.

But the three were too flush with excitement to notice the wintry scene around them.

They were looking forward to three days in August when Isabella Boylston is primed to return to her native Sun Valley, bringing some of the top ballet dancers in the world with her.

“We’re talking about dancers from the San Francisco Ballet, New York Ballet, Royal Ballet, St. Petersburg Ballet and others all coming together,” said McGrath, stage manager for American Ballet Theatre. “It’s so rare to have members from all these different ballet companies on the stage at the same time. And the mish mash of the different dancers creates a different ballet experience.”

Indeed, The International Ballet could rival the much-heralded full solar eclipse as it offers two very different performances at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 22 and 24 at the Sun Valley Pavilion.

“This is going to be a big deal,” said Drackett. “And it will be an interesting time in Sun Valley, with the full solar eclipse coming during that time. People will be coming here from all over to see the eclipse as it passes over Stanley on its way to Rexburg.”

One show will feature 10 numbers—a lot for a ballet performance. Tentatively, it’s slated to include  works by George Balanchine, Alexei Ratmansky, Christopher Wheeldon, Justin Peck, Pontus Lidberg and, possibly, Trey McIntyre.

The other performance will include the premiere of a commissioned piece by American Ballet Theater dancer/choreographer Gemma Bond that was inspired by the full solar eclipse that is taking place over Sun Valley during the festival. Bond’s premiere will feature a score by Judd Greenstein and video designs by Kate Duhamel.

“We think people who are very serious about ballet will come to both,” said Drackett, a serious connoisseur of ballet himself, having had two daughters danced their way through prep school and college.

Isabella Boylston hopes to feature 22 dancers, many of them principals with other ballet companies.

Dancers will include American Ballet Theatre dancers Isabella Boylston, Stella Abrera, Misty Copeland, Marcelo Gomes and James Whiteside, as well as New York City Ballet dancers Tyler Angle, Robert Fairchild and Tiler Peck. Lauren Cuthbertson will represent the Royal Ballet and Maria Kochetkova, the San Francisco Ballet. Ida Praetorius and Alban Lendort will represent the Royal Danish Ballet and there will also be dancers from The Marinsky Ballet.

The performances will feature live music from 25 symphony musicians.

Dancers will offer free classes for children and master classes on Aug. 23.

“My daughter is a dancer and I can’t imagine being 8 years old and told, ‘Oh, by the way, Robbie Fairchild is going to teach a class for you,’” said Smelick, a board member of the San Francisco Ballet.

Drackett and Smelick, both board members of the Sun Valley Summer Symphony, invited the San Francisco Ballet—America’s most venerated and longest running ballet company—to perform in Sun Valley the summer of 2012. They raised enough sponsor money that they were able to give some to  Higher Ground, Sun Valley Summer Symphony, Footlight Dance Centre and Sun Valley Ballet following the performance.

And the performance proved so successful that they immediately vowed to repeat it.

“The dancers performed some of their favorite repertory pieces, some of the most exciting ballet they’d ever done,” said Drackett. “We’re convinced we ought to continue to bring performances like that to Sun Valley because they bring fabulous fame and fortune to Sun Valley.”

Tickets will be available for purchase beginning June 1, 2017. Organizers are also seeking sponsors who might provide the funds to ensure, among other things that dance students and ballet teachers can attend the performance free of charge.

Sponsors will be given front-row seats and they will feted at a sponsors dinner party along with the dancers at Dan and Martine Drackett’s Pavilion in Greenhorn Gulch.

The 30-year-old Boylston, who is the dance double for Jennifer Lawrence in the upcoming movie “Red Sparrow,” has always wanted to curate a show of her own. And she’s called on her many friends in the world of ballet to join her in this endeavor, said Drackett.

Boylston, originally named Hildur Isabella after her Icelandic great-grandmother, seemed destined to become a professional skier since her parents Mike and Cornelia met on a Sun Valley ski lift. But her mother, a Swedish electrical engineer, enrolled her in dance classes at age 3 and she danced her way to become one of America’s premier ballerinas.

The New York dancer made her debut in Alexei Ratmansky’s “The Bright Stream,” a spoof of Soviet style ballet, in 2011 while still in ballet corps. By 2014 she was the soloist in “Giselle.” A former artist-in-residence at the Vail International Dance Festival, she’s been praised for the freshness she brings to dance, as well as her athletic abilities and her relaxed demeanor.

“Isabella is not a diva,” said Smelick. “She smiles and she lights up the room. She has such a great personality that everyone can’t help but love her. How else could she have gotten all these dancers to come together for this?!”

“She’s a hometown success story, who has risen to the pinnacle internationally,” added McGrath.

Most recently, Boylston went to Budapest to be the dance double in “Red Sparrow,” which stars Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton and Jeremy Irons. The film revolves around a young Russian dancer who’s recruited against her will to participate in an operation against a CIA officer. The dance in the film, set to be released in November 2017, was choreographed by Justin Peck.

For more information, visit www.balletsunvalley.com. For inquiries, call 208-727-7437 or email info@balletsunvalley.com.

A Ballerina’s Gift to Her Hometown: A Summer Ballet Festival

By GIA KOURLAS
MARCH 2, 2017
View original NY Times article here.

This summer, Isabella Boylston, the American Ballet Theater principal, will realize a dream, to bring ballet to her hometown, Sun Valley, Idaho. Ballet Sun Valley, a three-day event with performances Aug. 22 and 24 at the Sun Valley Pavilion, and free classes for children on Aug. 23, will feature dancers from major companies, including Ballet Theater, New York City Ballet, the Royal Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and the Mariinsky Ballet.
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Review: SF Ballet's multimedia 'Swimmer' employs music by Tom Waits

By Ann Murphy / Correspondent / San Jose Mercury News

"Swimmer," according to the program notes, is resident choreographer Possokhov's ode to Americana, as he'd envisioned it as a boy in the Soviet Union. Thanks largely to Kate Duhamel's video wizardry, Possokhov captures iconic midcentury scenes, ranging from an Eichler-style ranch house to Edward Hopper's iconic painting "Nighthawks."

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SAN FRANCISCO -- In one of the company's quirkiest evenings, San Francisco Ballet launched this season's Program 7 with a splash at the War Memorial Opera House on Friday, and the audience avidly soaked it up.

The audience, in fact, roared approval as the curtain came down on the evening's last piece, Yuri Possokhov's world-premiere work "Swimmer," an ambitious multimedia dance whose abundant images of water banished thoughts of California's drought for most of its 41-minute program.

With only "Romeo and Juliet" remaining on this season's calendar, Program 7 was a dependable hodgepodge -- a trio of dances that by turns frothed, prowled and swam across the stage in a lineup that made a strange kind of sense by the evening's end.

"Swimmer," according to the program notes, is resident choreographer Possokhov's ode to Americana, as he'd envisioned it as a boy in the Soviet Union. Thanks largely to Kate Duhamel's video wizardry, Possokhov captures iconic midcentury scenes, ranging from an Eichler-style ranch house to Edward Hopper's iconic painting "Nighthawks." John Cheever's celebrated tale "The Swimmer" is the fulcrum here, and the dignified but expressive Taras Domitro took on the role of John Cheever's narcissistic anti-hero, who blithely gives himself the challenge of swimming back home via the pools in his neighbors' backyards. Along the way, he plunges into an increasingly surreal world.

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The dance's scenes have titles like "House to Hollywood" and "Final Swim (Martin Eden)." Duhamel gives them a picture-book flow with ever-shifting and complex imagery, which Possokhov fills with moving bodies, supported by Alexander V. Nichols' ingenious series of platforms, which become the spine of the action, real or virtual. As in a Wes Anderson film, the environment becomes a central star of the dance.

The actual choreography for "Swimmer" is largely unremarkable, but that doesn't matter because the dance is a minor character. The star here -- and the news -- is that the company has mounted a stunning video dance that's youthful, quirky and visually arresting. It is set to a patchwork of music by Kathleen Brennan and Tom Waits, as well as the ballet orchestra's own double bassist, Shinji Eshima. If developing young audiences for San Francisco Ballet is a priority (and no doubt it is), such tech-savvy, eye candy work will play a key role.

Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson's own ballets are reliably pretty and well-constructed. They also tend to be arid and to suffer from a lack of musical complexity, as was the case with Friday's reprise of his "Caprice" (2014), which opened the evening. Against a backdrop of moving striped columns (Alexander V. Nichols), two dominant couples are echoed by six secondary pairs, who stole the show as they washed from wing to wing in sharp changes of direction and fleet "capricious" action. By contrast, the lead couples seemed trapped center stage in a force field of stodgy classicism. Holly Hynes' drab classical costumes only deepened the sense of static bravura, which talented soloists Maria Kochetkova, Davit Karapetyan, Yuan Yuan Tan and Luke Ingham were unable to overcome.

Ironically, "Caprice" felt less academic in light of George Balanchine's fiercely austere "Four Temperaments" (1946). Depicting the four medieval humors (melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic and choleric), Balanchine set such a high bar that this dance both supported, and made sense of, the rest of the program. Pascal Molat in Melancholic was a broken puppet, and Davit Karapetyan in Phlegmatic made us see Balanchine's witty allusions to water and sea life. Frank and powerful, Sofiane Sylve performed "Choleric" with the spirit of "Giselle's" Myrtha -- anger as a cold, implacable offering.

Dueling mixed bills delight

by Paul Parish Bay Area Reporter

Possokhov's composed a bright satirical piece that opens in the style of a Broadway show. A movie is projected on a semi-transparent scrim, showing an Architectural Digest -worthy house with a snappy young professional jumping out of bed at stage left, shadowed behind the scrim by a dancer going through exactly the same moves. He does the shit-shave-shower routine in the next room over, shadowed by a naked dancer whom we see nearly all of (except the naughty bits), throws a sharkskin jacket on like Don Draper, rushes across to the kitchen, grabs a bite, and hits the road.

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Well, I'll be damned! It's impossible to prefer one over the other of San Francisco Ballet's mixed bills that opened last week at the Opera House. Both are extraordinary and diametrically opposed, tragic and comic, and alternate with each other through this Sunday. It's a stunt, almost as if Matthew McConaughey were playing a starving junkie one night and the priest of the male strip-joints matinee and evenings.

The big news is two-fold: they're showing Alexei Ratmansky's Shostakovitch Trilogy, which is without a doubt the greatest new choreography in the classical idiom for at least a decade, dancing even better than they did when they gave the West Coast premiere here last year. And they've introduced a splashy, mind-blowing mixed-media spectacle, Yuri Possokhov's Swimmer, to show a Twitterist go on an acid trip in search of his soul, "till human voices wake us, and we drown."

I've rarely seen programs argue so strongly for the power of a non-verbal art to deal with a broad spectrum of human possibility. Ratmansky deals with politics, life, love, art; Possokhov with suburban alienation, the madness of the rat race, high fashion, advertising, consumer fetishism. There's a huge back-story to all this, which I do not have space to go into besides to say that both Ratmansky and Possokhov are Russian emigres with roots in Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet school in Moscow, and they grew up nursed on the heroic Bolshoi idiom, which the Soviet Union used both as an export and for propaganda. Both also grew up under the shadow of repression – Soviet artists who made the commissars look good lived in luxury, with big apartments, fancy clothes, large cars. Those who did not lived in terror, or in the gulag, if they lived at all.

Shostakovitch the composer walked a tightrope, and Ratmansky's trilogy of ballets set to his 9th Symphony, Chamber Symphony, and Piano Concerto # 1, respond in the largest possible way to the moods and thoughts encoded in the music – which is not cryptic, but was evidently subtle enough to get past the censors. Davit Karapetyan repeated his stunning portrayal of Shostakovitch in the central ballet.

San Francisco Ballet dancers in Yuri Possokhov's Swimmer. Photo: Erik Tomasson
Possokhov's premiere goes in entirely the other direction. He's composed a bright satirical piece that opens in the style of a Broadway show. A movie is projected on a semi-transparent scrim, showing an Architectural Digest -worthy house with a snappy young professional jumping out of bed at stage left, shadowed behind the scrim by a dancer going through exactly the same moves. He does the shit-shave-shower routine in the next room over, shadowed by a naked dancer whom we see nearly all of (except the naughty bits), throws a sharkskin jacket on like Don Draper, rushes across to the kitchen, grabs a bite, and hits the road.

The Mad Men prologue is so dazzling you're stunned to see they're able to keep this up. The interplay of film designs (by Kate Duhamel), the brilliant skeletal set designs (Alexander V. Nichols, who catches the essence of mid-century modern with astonishing accuracy), costumes (Mark Zappone) and wizardly lighting (David Finn) makes visions happen in the most extraordinary ways over and over again. The mind races to guess how they did that even as one episode succeeds another like dreams, with scary discontinuities and also the recurring crazy motif of the anti-hero trying to swim his way home through his neighbors' swimming pools.

Possokhov did not live through the era of John Cheever and John Updike in this country. He's picked up on the drunken lostness of that generation through voracious reading and immersing himself in American culture long after the fact, starting somewhere in the 1990s and catching up. So his version of the 60s is not much like mine, which was filled with the blues, the Civil Rights and anti-war movements. It's a Russian looking at America – and if he sees it in a fun-house mirror, well, he does stuff that was there. Each episode takes him deeper into American alienation: there's Lolita, there's the Catcher in the Rye, trying to save all those children from falling off the cliff and not be phony.

Possokhov has used many of the stars of the company in his vignettes. Perhaps it's no accident that most of them were trained in Communist countries: Cuba (Taras Dimitro, in the recurring role of the swimmer; Lorena Feijoo); Russia (Maria Kochetkova, Gennadi Nedvigin); Estonia (Tiit Helimets); China (Yuan Yuan Tan). Perhaps that is just an accident. Everyone deserves high praise.