Shostakovich was a Genius!

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I’m very happy to be working on Alexei Ratmansky’s Shostakovich Trilogy again. For most musicians, Dmitri Shostakovich was one of the very greatest composers of the last century and his music is both challenging and rewarding to play.

Here I am rehearsing with the SF Ballet Orchestra.

Here I am rehearsing with the SF Ballet Orchestra.

This year, l’m delighted that my friend David LaMarche, who has conducted Shostakovich Trilogy at American Ballet Theatre (ABT), will be joining us to conduct some of our performances. All three pieces of music in the ballet are not only Shostakovich’s most popular works, but they also provide a different perspective on him as both a person and a composer. Read More »

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The Bus Swims Too!

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Last summer, SF Ballet Choreographer in Residence Yuri Possokhov and Composer Shinji Eshima asked me to create the animation for Yuri’s new ballet, Swimmer. Yuri’s intricate vision for the piece was a tall order for the multi-media projections and animations. For starters, the ballet is set in the 1960’s and Yuri had a number of specific iconic American images, stories, and movies he wanted to reference throughout the piece. He also had a clear sense of the expressive arc of the ballet—from light and comic at the beginning, to more serious and realistic at the end.

All of these components added up to an eclectic mix of color, style, and images that we set out to incorporate into the overall production. Animation is a series of moving images, and my goal was to enhance the ballet, not to distract from it. The score, choreography, and sets were mostly done by the end of November, and at that point, we started “swimming” as fast as we could.

Nikita Dimitrievsky, part of the Swimmer team, taking photos in the pool.

Nikita Dimitrievsky, part of the Swimmer team, taking photos in the pool.

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Composer Shinji Eshima on World Premiere of Swimmer

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When Swimmer premieres, it will be the third ballet that I have composed for SF Ballet Choreographer in Residence Yuri Possokhov. The first was RAkU in 2011, which has since toured the globe and was also presented as part of Program 1 of the current season. When I first met Yuri on June 19, 2010 at the bar in Jardinere restaurant and he asked me to compose music for him, little did I know how our lives would be intertwined.

Swimmer is both Yuri’s life and his obsession and it is loosely inspired by “The Swimmer,” a short story by John Cheever. In the story, which is also a movie starring Burt Lancaster, we find the main character in a distant neighbor’s pool swimming on a hot summer day. He decides to swim all the way home, from one neighbor’s pool to another. As he proceeds, we learn about him through his interactions with his neighbors.

Yuri’s concept is different in that he uses each scene at each pool to reveal what he loves about American art, particularly of the 60’s–including cinema, music, dance, painting, and literature. It’s a great way to gain insight into Yuri and learn about him through the art that he admires. Perhaps my greatest joy is to hear him say “It is bee-youUU-tea-full!,” in his thick Russian accent–which he says a lot.

Swimmer incorporates numerous references to iconic American art including the book Martin Eden by Jack London and the songs of Tom Waits–all in 37 minutes.

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A scale model for Swimmer by set designer, Alex Nichols

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Five Facts: Shostakovich Trilogy

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Alexei Ratmansky’s full-evening work Shostakovich Trilogy is an emotionally charged tribute to the great Russian composer, Dmitri Shostakovich. Described as an abstract story ballet for the 21st Century, the San Francisco Chronicle said, “Every moment feels like a fragment of a masterpiece.” This groundbreaking work returns to the War Memorial Opera House after an overwhelmingly successful run last season. Here are five facts about this electrifying program:

1. Shostakovich Trilogy is a deeply personal ballet for choreographer Alexei Ratmansky. It pays homage to Shostakovich’s experience living in Russia under Stalin, as well as experiences he had later in life. You can see references to these periods in Russian history reflected in many of the production’s design elements. These references can be found in the obvious use of the revolutionary red and the hammer and sickle in the backdrop.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Maria Kochetkova in Ratmansky's Shostakovich Trilogy. (© Erik Tomasson)

Yuan Yuan Tan and Maria Kochetkova in Ratmansky’s Shostakovich Trilogy.
(© Erik Tomasson)

2. George Tyspin, the scenic designer for Shostakovich Trilogyalso designed the Opening Ceremonies for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Read More »

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