Tag Archives: sf bay area

Merce Cunningham’s “Duets”: Rehearsal Process with Patricia Lent, Merce Cunningham Trust

Master Choreographer Merce Cunningham. Photo by Annie Leibovitz.

Seminal choreographer Merce Cunningham. Photo by Annie Leibovitz.

Contributed by Harriet McMeekin, Ballet San Jose corps de ballet


The rehearsal process we’ve experienced so far is vastly different from our normal rehearsals at Ballet San Jose: no music. Silence. Sing-song rhythms echoing in the studio. We eventually graduate to the soft beep of a stopwatch. “And begin,” then gradually “stop,” and “cue.”

“Not bad, only 15 seconds slow,” she says.

It’s a process that’s taken getting used to but has bolstered my confidence in my inner rhythm. I am better able to connect and communicate with my partner and fellow dancers without words. This is critical, as we don’t know what music we’re performing to until we get onstage.

Ms. Lent gave us a little history about the Cunningham ideology, but Wikipedia sums it up neatly:

The most famous and controversial of these [radical innovations] concerned the relationship between dance and music, which [Merce Cunningham and John Cage] concluded may occur in the same time and space, but should be created independently of one another.

Initially the Cunningham/Cage concept of separation between choreography and music seemed sacrilegious. How do you choreograph if you’re not inspired by the music? How do you dance the steps if the music doesn’t tell you what to do? Typically, the music is the primary focus of classical ballet. You might learn the steps to start, and there might not be music at first, but the ultimate goal is to dance “with” the music. The Cunningham ideology requires getting used to a different style and method of working. Holding the music in different regard. Not relegating it but respecting it as its own separate entity.

The dance happens onstage. The music happens while the dance is happening. It’s their occurrence in time that binds them together.


See Ballet San Jose perform “Duets,” along with works by innovative choreographers Jorma Elo and Jessica Lang, beginning this Friday, April 19, at the San Jose Center for Performing Arts downtown. Buy tickets online at www.balletsj.org, or call our Box Office at (408) 288-2800. See you at the theater!

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Ballet SJ apprentice Thomas Baker. Photo credit: Olivier Wecxsteen.

Ballet SJ apprentice Thomas Baker. Photo credit: Olivier Wecxsteen.

After a successful run of The Nutcracker in December, Ballet San Jose is all caught up in the magic of love! The company has spent the past month preparing in earnest for the company premiere  of Don Quixote — or, as we like to call it, ballet’s original romantic comedy. While Kitri polishes her fouettés and Mercedes perfects her sultry smolder, we’re continuing our Artist Spotlight blog series, in which we have been focusing on the new dancers in the company this season.

For all the male dancers out there, here’s another interview just for you! Thomas Baker is a new apprentice with the company, and he has some pretty interesting stories to tell. Find out how Thomas got his start in ballet, his favorite memories from 2012, and the inspiration that made him such a fabulous “Fritz” in the world premiere of Karen Gabay’s The Nutcracker.

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Artist Spotlight: Ballet San Jose Apprentice Thomas Baker

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Artist Spotlight: Ballet San Jose Dancer Kendall Teague

Ballet San Jose Dancer Kendall Teague

Ballet San Jose Dancer Kendall Teague

Welcome back to Ballet San Jose’s Artist Spotlight blog series, in which we will continue to introduce this season’s newest dancers to our online community! In our last installment, we talked to new corps member Alex Kramer. Today, we catch up with corps member and North Carolina native Kendall Teague. Read on to learn more about Kendall’s favorite dancing icon, his summer movie pick of 2012, and his history with Ballet San Jose.

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A Good First Look: Ballet San Jose’s New “Nutcracker”

From Karen Gabay's "The Nutcracker," performed by Ballet San Jose. Photo by Robert Shomler.

From Karen Gabay’s “The Nutcracker,” performed by Ballet San Jose. Photo by Robert Shomler (2012).

Ballet San Jose’s brand new Nutcracker opened this past Saturday in a gorgeous swirl of snow and infectious energy. Longtime Ballet SJ principal dancer Karen Gabay has choreographed a new production from a unique perspective: that of one of the only female choreographers in the world to choreograph a Nutcracker for a major ballet company. Performed to full orchestral accompaniment by Symphony Silicon Valley, her Nutcracker has given South Bay audiences a new look at the a classic holiday tale.

In her review for the San Jose Mercury News, Rita Felciano wrote:

This year Gabay…joined that still rare breed of women who choreograph major pieces for professional ballet companies. Gabay is no beginner at making dances. Still, tackling “Nutcracker” was a huge challenge — and opportunity. Supported by the Symphony Silicon Valley, under the baton of the ballet’s new musical director George Daugherty, she gave her home team and the legion of “Nutcracker” lovers, a family-friendly, fresh interpretation of the old tale — including a new twist.

Ms. Felciano went on to call parts of this new production of Nutcracker “ingenious,” praising Ballet SJ dancers for worthy performances, and later wrote that the “national dances are every ‘Nutcracker’s’ balletic highlights. Gabay gave us convincing versions with a feminist touch to some of them.”

In her review for triviana.com Arts & Entertainment, Virginia Bock wrote:

With festive sets, elegant costumes, a familiar story and Tchaikovsky’s well-known score, “The Nutcracker” ballet has been an audience favorite and a holiday tradition for decades. Ballet San Jose’s new production adds humor, complexity and some stunning new choreography that should keep audiences coming back for years to come.

Writing for CriticalDance.com, Heather Desaulniers noted:

With its brand new “Nutcracker”, Ballet San Jose continues to inject life, vision and vitality into the South Bay’s performing arts scene. Choreographed by BSJ’s own Karen Gabay, this full-length holiday extravaganza is a thoughtful and fresh interpretation of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story, complete with elegant dancing and striking originality…Accompaniment by Symphony Silicon Valley was the icing on the cake.  Under the direction of conductor George Daugherty, the music was dynamic, articulate and interactive, exactly what is required of and demanded by a Tchaikovsky score.

Dr. Gary R. Lemco, in his review for “The Classical Music Guide” forums at http://www.classicalmusicguide.com, added:

Peter Tchaikovsky’s perennial Christmas favorite, The Nutcracker, hardly needs promotion, but the Ballet San Jose production, with new choreography by former prima ballerina Karen Gabay, struck a chord, both resonant to the ear and panoramic to the eye, that warrants special mention. With the Symphony Silicon Valley under the masterful leadership of conductor George Daugherty, the audience at the Friday, December 14, 2012 performance at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts recovered much of the original wonder and enchantment of both the composer and “librettist,” E.T.A. Hoffmann’s, often nightmarish parable of humanity’s liberation from its primal fears to embrace its own childhood innocence.

And Dr. Lemco also gave Ballet SJ School students a very positive mention:

Ms. Gabay’s singular effort was to engage as many young dancers as possible in the ensemble pieces, so the production glowed with Ballet SJ School Students.

Bravi! Congratulations to Karen, George, the company, Ballet SJ School students, and Symphony Silicon Valley. Every good review is well deserved!

It’s been an amazing run so far, but the show not over yet! Ballet SJ’s new Nutcracker runs through this Sunday, December 23, and there are still tickets available. Buy online or call our Box Office at (408) 288-2800 during regular business hours. Tickets can also be purchased one hour before show time at the San Jose Center for Performing Arts.

Happy holidays!

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A Fairytale Evening: Guest Blog by Mesa Burdick

ABT's Sascha Radetsky and Ballet SJ's Alexsandra Meijer pose for a photo backstage with Mesa Burdick and friends.

ABT’s Sascha Radetsky and Ballet SJ’s Alexsandra Meijer pose for a photo backstage with Mesa Burdick (center, in blue) and friends.

At the beginning of May, Ballet San Jose School student Mesa Burdick participated in one of Ballet SJ’s online contests and won the chance to go behind the scenes of Cinderella (May 4 – 6, 2012) with two of its stars, American Ballet Theatre’s Sascha Radetsky and Ballet SJ’s Alexsandra Meijer. We asked twelve-year-old Mesa to blog about her experience. Continue reading

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Ballet San Jose Dancers Shannon Bynum & Sarah Stein on Growing Up in San Jose

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SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA is an area of such diversity that you may be unsurprised to learn that most of our dancers come from everywhere but San Jose. Whether they trained in Japan, Russia, or Bosnia, Ballet San Jose’s dancers bring to the table a host of different cultural perspectives. And this same multiculturalism is what makes San Jose the heart of the Silicon Valley, a hotbed of innovation and progress. The city itself seems to thrive on its ability to attract people from all over the world.

But what about the dancers who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area? What has it meant for them as people and as artists?

Meet Shannon Bynum and Sarah Stein, the only current Ballet San Jose dancers who were born and raised in the immediate area. While all BSJ dancers seem to have the same easy camaraderie with one another, it is immediately apparent that Shannon and Sarah have known each other for a long time. Last month, I grabbed dinner with them and talked to them about growing up in San Jose. Continue reading

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Opening Weekend Tips from Ballet San Jose’s Lee Kopp

Regular visitors to downtown San Jose know all the secrets–the best parking spots, the best coffee shops, and the best places to catch a show on a Friday night.

But there are few locals who know their way around downtown San Jose better than Lee Kopp, Ballet San Jose’s Director of Marketing and Publicity. Lee has been with our organization for over 12 years! To those of you planning to attend Program One this weekend, Lee offers some tips to save you time and enhance your experience. Whether you are a first timer or a season(ed) subscriber, get ready to lose yourself in the magic of ballet. It’s going to be a spectacular show!

The Program

We’ve posted at length about all three of the pieces that make up Program One of Ballet San Jose’s 2012 Season: Marius Petipa’s Paquita, Jerome Robbins’ Interplay, and David Lichine’s Graduation Ball. Read back through our most recent blog posts for fun information about the choreographers and stagers of the pieces.

Lee’s Tip: You can also look at the recent posts on the Ballet San Jose Facebook page. We’ve shared some great articles about Jerome Robbins and Interplay that are simply fascinating!

The Theater

All performances of Program One will be held at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, which is located at 255 Almaden Boulevard (at the corner of Park Avenue) in downtown San Jose. If you are coming to see Ballet San Jose for the first time, here are some helpful tips about attending our performances.

Lee’s Tip: Did you you know that you can arrive a little bit early to your show and pre-order your refreshments for intermission? It’s true! Instead of standing in long lines, pre-order your drinks and find them waiting for you on the table next to the concession stand at the beginning of each break.

The Best Parking

Parking for the theater can be found at the Adobe office building directly across the street from the theater at 345 Park Avenue. This Adobe parking facility has a live attendant on duty and costs only $5.00 (cash only). Additional parking can be found just a block away in the open air lot at the corner of Almaden Boulevard and Woz Way, directly across the street from the San Jose Convention Center side entrance. This open air ground lot costs $7.00 and accepts credit cards in machines located throughout the area. There is no live attendant.

Lee’s Tip: Adobe’s garage is a great parking deal with a little extra security. I recommend parking in this underground covered garage and entering/exiting the garage through the West Lobby. It’s a short walk from the theater, and you can’t beat the price!

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Ballet San Jose’s Volunteers: They Make the World Go ‘Round

volunteers like Rommel and Minnie have generously donated their time to Ballet San Jose, and we appreciate every moment!

Volunteers like Rommel and Minnie have generously donated their time to Ballet San Jose, and we appreciate every moment!

With 2012 Season subscriptions available for renewal and single tickets for Programs 1 and 2 now on sale, we are gaining momentum in our sprint toward March 2. Ballet San Jose‘s dancers are working closely with people like David Richardson and American Ballet Theatre’s Susan Jones to stage Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 and Paquita, respectively. Meanwhile, we second-floor dwellers are also working hard to get the season’s programs up and running on schedule.

However, the hard work isn’t limited to employees or dancers in the company. Volunteers from around the area have generously stepped forward to donate their time as well.

A number of our season subscribers, parents of Ballet San Jose School students, and long-time supporters have volunteered to help us with community outreach. Since Tuesday, volunteers have arrived at the Ballet San Jose studios every evening and spent hours calling last year’s subscribers, urging them to renew before the 2012 Season opens. The volunteers have a great time talking about last year’s ballets and discussing the upcoming pieces. And with this “Season of Premieres” fast approaching, there is certainly a lot to talk about.

In fact, I’ve heard the volunteers had so much fun Tuesday night that many of them asked if they could come back for a second night of outreach.

Lee told me that he couldn’t have asked for a better crew:

It’s a whole different ball game when the person calling you from Ballet San Jose is a volunteer—a volunteer who really loves the organization and believes in what we do. We are incredibly lucky to have help from people who truly believe in our artistic staff. You can’t really put a price on that kind of support.

As someone who is relatively new to the organization, I can’t describe how cool it is to know that Ballet San Jose has these kinds of supporters. They aren’t limited to doing outreach over the phone; Ballet San Jose is fortunate enough to have volunteers who are willing to help with any number of tasks, from working the “Will Call” booth during shows to helping out at the boutique during The Nutcracker. I come from a small business background, and this is my first foray into the world of nonprofits. Bit by bit, I’m discovering that there are some amazing things about nonprofits that you just don’t find anywhere else.

This morning, we announced an addition to Program 2 (April 13-15) of Ballet San Jose’s 2012 Season: Stanton Welch’s Clear, an introspective work and showcase for male dancers that was inspired by September 11. It looks like this piece is going to be phenomenal. So if you get a call from one of our volunteers in the next couple of weeks, make sure you renew your subscription to see the amazing shows we have lined up for the season. You won’t want to miss any of them.

Social Media Coordinator

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An Unforgettable ‘Graduation Ball’: Guest Blog by Dalia Rawson

Dalia Rawson dances the part of the Pigtail Girl in Ballet San Jose's 'Graduation Ball' (2002). Photo by Marty Sohl.

Dalia Rawson dances the part of the Pigtail Girl in Ballet San Jose's 'Graduation Ball' (2002). Photo by Marty Sohl.

I REMEMBER reading about Graduation Ball as a child in a beautifully illustrated book of stories from the great ballets, a book that was given to me by my mother. I never had the opportunity to see the ballet performed, but I often studied the graceful illustrations and was enchanted by the sweet story: young girls in a boarding school experiencing their graduation ball with gallant cadets from a nearby military academy. Years later as a professional dancer, I was delighted to learn that the ballet would be part of San Jose Cleveland Ballet’s 1996/1997 season. I couldn’t wait to perform the ballet that I had imagined for so long.

Casting went up, and I was thrilled to find myself listed to learn the role of the Mistress of Ceremonies, second cast for one of my idols, ballerina Nancy Latoszewski! I enjoyed working on the role’s challenging variation, complete with a series of hops on pointe, as well as getting to lead a group of dancers in a whimsical polka that we called the “Monkey Dance,” as its choreography mimicked the “see-no-evil,” “hear-no-evil,” “speak-no-evil” monkeys of legend.

But the role I quietly coveted was the Pigtail Girl. She got to have all the fun! Dancing the role that year was Cleveland’s star Karen Gabay in the first cast. Ballerina Grethel Domingo danced the Pigtail Girl opposite me in the second cast. I tried very hard not to be jealous, watching the two of them cause mischief, perform flashy jumps, grab all the laughs and steal the scenes, with their signature pigtails sticking out of their heads like Pippi Longstocking’s. Please don’t misunderstand — I was happy for Karen and Grethel, and I was extremely proud to be dancing the soloist role in which I had been cast. My parents even flew to Cleveland from San Jose to see me dance, as the ballet wasn’t included in the San Jose portion of our season. But secretly I hoped that some day the ballet would return and I would get to be the Pigtail Girl.

As luck would have it, I got my chance. When the ballet appeared in Ballet San Jose’s 2001/2002 season, I was fortunate enough to be cast as the Pigtail Girl, the role I had secretly dreamed of dancing for years.

Dancing the role of the Pigtail Girl was an utter joy. I loved my crazy pigtails, created for me by Ballet San Jose’s hair and makeup designer Robin Church. The cast included many of my best friends: Patricia Perez whirling off fouettés as a Competition Girl, Beth Ann Namey and Catharine Grow looking glamorous as Senior Girls, and Le Mai Linh nobly asking me to waltz after the most handsome cadet turned me down for Tiffany Glenn, who danced the role of the Mistress of Ceremonies.

Other moments from those performances remain etched in my memory: Stephane Dalle performing a technically impeccable rendition of the famous Drummer Boy solo, Raymond Rodriguez creating a hilariously grumpy General, and the glorious Maria Jacobs-Yu, along with Ramon Moreno, glittering in the ballet’s central classical pas de deux. I will never forget hearing the audience laugh out loud as I tried to get away with mischief under the watchful eye of Dennis Nahat, unforgettable en travesti as the Headmistress.

Graduation Ball, with its joyful plot, lovely costumes, and infectious humor, is truly a delight to dance. However, I still have never seen the ballet from the audience; I danced in every performance of the ballet during my tenure with the company! For these reasons, I can’t wait for March 2nd, when I will finally have the chance to sit in the audience and watch the wonderful artists of Ballet San Jose bring to life the ballet I imagined so often as a child.

Dalia Rawson
Ballet Mistress, Ballet San Jose School
Former Principal Dancer, Ballet San Jose

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Tales from the City: San Jose’s Arts Culture

Ballet San Jose packs up the roadboxes for another show.

Ballet San Jose packs up the road boxes for another show. Photo by Ballet San Jose.

WHEN YOU THINK of a city brimming with culture and diversity, San Jose may not be the first metropolis that comes to mind. After all, San Francisco, New York and Chicago are old cities; their places in national memory are characterized by everything from world expositions to groundbreaking political movements to entire decades in United States history.

San Jose may not be San Francisco, but we do have a culture that is unique to our area. Much like Ballet San Jose’s dancers, the people who make up San Jose’s diverse population hail from all parts of the world. It is an important piece of the Silicon Valley puzzle, a symbol of that elusive entrepreneurial spirit.

In some ways, nothing characterizes the essence of San Jose better than its local arts programs. As we look ahead to Ballet San Jose’s 2012 Season, which begins this March, these things are always on our minds. When the curtain rises, we aren’t just putting on a show for the audience — we, along with organizations such as Symphony Silicon Valley and Opera San Jose, are functioning as parts of a larger arts culture.

Talia, a marketing intern here at Ballet San Jose, said it best when she wrote about walking into our building at 40 North First Street for the first time:

Interview day. Burgundy red carpet, white worn-down walls, wall to wall pictures elegantly hung along the stairways. Though it may not seem like much, the front lobby of the Ballet San Jose building looked beautiful to me. It was full of memory. At that moment, something told me that I was going to like it here at Ballet San Jose — not because this vintage building reminded me of New York but because of the warm, historical vibe that washed over me as soon as I stepped through the door.

I snapped back to reality and pressed the button for floor number two. (If I listened carefully, I could hear the dancers upstairs, practicing their routines.) As I waited for the elevator door to open, I didn’t know exactly what would happen. I did know that my day was about to take a whole new turn.

Since starting my internship at Ballet San Jose, I have accomplished many things. Whether I am creating engaging videos that draw people to our Nutcracker, sorting through stacks of mail, or exercising my creativity to develop an archival binder of striking news-clippings, candid pictures, engaging blog posts and reviews about our Nutcracker…I feel like I am creating something, like I am participating in the Silicon Valley arts culture — like I’m really a part of San Jose.

Until next time,
Ballet San Jose

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