ABOUT CARLOS CARVAJAL
Family Background and Introduction
The son of a Filipino immigrant, folk and ballet dancer/choreographer Carlos Carvajal has been recognized as one of the leaders of San Francisco Bay Area's dance. Carvajal was born in San Francisco on June 3, 1931 and has spent most of his life in the city.
On his father’s side, Carvajal is part of the third generation of a famous and much honored Filipino theatrical family. His paternal grandfather, Don Jose Carvajal was the director and actor of the Compania Carvajal of Spanish Operettas and Zarzuelas (zarzuelas are a form of operetta that was brought over to the Philippines from Spain). His paternal grandmother, “La Tagaroma”, was the Compania’s prima donna. Don Jose was also referenced in José Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not), published in 1897, which played a crucial role in the political history of the Philippines, as the controversial novel indirectly influenced the Phillipine Revolution for Independence from Spain in 1898. The following generation was also heavily involved in performance. Carvajal’s uncle Eliseo (Cheong) Carvajal, worked as an actor and starred in the first Filipino film in the Spanish language, Secreto de confesión in 1939. His father (also named Carlos), performed as a stage magician and hypnotist, and his aunt Patring (Monang) Carvajal became famous, first as an expressive dancer, then later as the first Aswang [vampire] in the new talking movies, and was later heralded as the “Queen of Horror Pictures” by the press for her versatility of roles and make up, some created by her own son Ernesto.
Beginning as a folk dancer, Carlos went on to join San Francisco Ballet (SF Ballet), then the Ballet of the Marquis de Cuevas, Opera of Bremen, Opera of Bordeaux and Ballet Nacional of Venezuela as soloist, principal dancer, and choreographer. He created more than twenty works for the San Francisco Ballet as its ballet master and associate choreographer. He founded San Francisco Dance Spectrum, creating over fifty works during its ten year existence. He has also choreographed for the San Francisco Opera, Oakland Ballet Company, and Peninsula Ballet Theatre, among others. Carvajal was named co-Artistic Director for World Arts West's Ethnic Dance Festival in 2005. He held the role until 2017 and was named Artistic Director Emeritus in 2018. Other honors/grants/awards include five from the National Endowment for the Arts, the San Francisco Arts Commission, the Critics’ Circle and an Isadora Duncan Lifetime Achievement Award.
This exhibit follows the trajectory Carvajal's career as a dancer and choreographer. Images were curated with his help and only represent an overview of the materials found in his collection.
CLICK IMAGES BELOW FOR FULL VIEW
EARLY DANCE CAREER
Carvajal began his dance career as a teenager, starting with folk dance. While still in high school, he joined the Chang International Folk Dance Group, as part of the Group’s Exhibition Ensemble (first row, left). At the age of 19, Carvajal became the group's director.
Carvajal then joined the Madelynne Green's Festival Workshop, where he partnered with Madelynne Green herself (first row, right), as shown in this portrait of the group in costume for "Accordion Serenade". He also partnered with fellow Festival member, Marjorie Merkel (second row, left). Carvajal learned various forms of folk dance during this time and in 1954, he was featured on the cover of Let's Dance, the official publication of the Folk Dance Federation of California, Inc (second row, right). The image featured Carvajal dancing in Scottish/Highland dance style at a competition in Sonoma, California, from earlier the same year.
Around the same time Carvajal participated in folk dancing groups, it was suggested to him to try ballet. As a result, he studied at the San Francisco Ballet School and then officially joined the San Francisco Ballet in 1951. After performing with SF Ballet for a few years, Carvajal relocated to Europe, settling in France around 1955, when he joined the corps de ballet of the Grand Ballet de Marquis de Cuevas. While with the company, he had the opportunity to perform in a variety of works such as one of the company's most successful productions, The Sleeping Beauty, performing as the African Prince in the ballet's iconic Rose Adagio (first row, left).
Carvajal was featured in several works with this company, such as George Skibini's Le Prisonnier du Caucase (first row, right); John Cranko's Cat's Cradle (second row, left), in which Carvajal danced the leading role (pictured here with Carvajal and Cranko and dancer Lyde Peralta); and in Barocco with Maria Santesevas (second row, right).
Carvajal also toured to South America with the company. While in Buenos Aires, he had the opportunity to be photographed by renowned German-Argentinian photographer Annamerie Heinrich (third row, left and right).
After the death of the Marquis de Cuevas in February, 1961, Grand Ballet de Marquis de Cuevas dissolved. Carvajal joined the Bremen Ballet as principal dancer and assistant ballet master for two seasons, then to Grand-Théatre de Bordeaux, where Carlos created ballets for many grand operas such as Aida, Lakme, Samson and Delilah, and operettas. Carvajal also choreographed a full-length Coppelia, Nutcracker, and several more original premieres for the ballet company as Danseur Etoile and associate choreographer/ballet master. The year spent at Grand-Théatre de Bordeaux was a very intense and successful learning experience for Carvajal, where "in only one season where [he] spread my choreographic wings with confidence and joy". His mentors were theatre general director, Mr. Roger Lalande, and his wife, a former ballerina.
After Carvajal left Europe, he went to Caracas, Venezuela. During his first season with the Ballet Nacional de Venezuela, besides ballets for the company, he created 48 dances for the popular TV show Show de Aldemaro Romero and learned how to use that technology, which would continue to influence his choreography. While he would continue to work with Ballet Nacional de Venezuela in subsequent years, Carvajal permanently relocated to San Francisco following his first year.
SAN FRANCISCO BALLET AND DANCE SPECTRUM
Following his time in Europe and South America, Carvajal returned to SF Ballet as Ballet Master and Assistant Choreographer. Carvajal worked with dancers on annual works such as Nutcracker, taught company class, and choreographed new works for the company's repertory and summer workshop series. Influenced by his time in Europe, his background with folk dance, and involvement with the artists in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury, Carvajal sought to push boundaries with his choreography. Examples of this included using projections, motion picture, images, and unconventional music in his works.
One such example was his work Genesis 70, set to Terry Riley's In C (Carvajal leading a rehearsal at the San Francisco Ballet studio on 18th Avenue, left). The work used mylar, projections, colors and patterns on stage in a way that had not been done before. The audience reaction was heavily mixed, with some critics and audience members loving the work, and others finding it too chaotic and felt in brought in the "wrong audience". This led to SF Ballet management turning away from venues such as City College and eventually led to Carvajal leaving the company in 1970.
Almost immediately after, Carvajal founded Dance Spectrum in 1971. The company came together quickly as talent Carvajal worked closely with at SF Ballet, including dancers and production staff, joined the company. The critics who had also enjoyed Carvajal's works followed as well, wanting to see what the new company would do. Full length ballets that premiered during this time included Crystal Slipper, Carvajal's adaptation of Cinderella, Wintermas, and Carmina Burana. During the company's tenure, Carvajal choreographed ballets that explored religion, mythology and eastern philosophies, as well as folk dance from around the world, creating over fifty works during the company's ten year existence.
The images below represent a small sample of Carvajal's choreography for SF Ballet and Dance Spectrum:
First row, left: Counterpoise, with music by Sergei Prokofiev and costumes by Sulpicio Wagner. First row, right: Facade, with music by William Walton
Second row, left: Golden Rain, which featured traditional Balinese and Javanese music and costumes designed by Carvajal. Second row, right: The Secret Silence at Stern Grove, with music by Daniel Kobialka
Third row, left: Dance Spectrum in the climax of The Way, with music by Toru Takemitsy. Third row, right: collage of images of Carvajal and his choreographic works for SF Ballet, circa 1960s.
Several images of Carvajal's performances and choreographic works for San Francisco Ballet and Dance Spectrum were digitized for MP+D's grant-funded project, Captured Live: 50 Years of Bay Area Dance Photography.
For San Francisco Ballet performances, click here.
For Dance Spectrum performances, click here.
SELECTED FULL LENGTH WORKS
While working with SF Ballet, Carvajal acquired a master’s degree in Creative Arts from San Francisco State University and his thesis work, Totentanz, premiered with the company in 1967. The ballet featured an electronic score by Warner Jepson, sets and costumes by Cal Anderson, lighting by Richard Tidwell, and props by Jud Stoddard.
The work was a success and remained in San Francisco Ballet's repertory until 1972 and was performed heavily with Dance Spectrum across its tenure, with several performances taking place in Grace Cathedral.
First row, left: Bruce Bain as Death, undated. First row, right: Anton Ness as Death at Grace Cathedral, 1971.
Second row, left: Katherine Warner and Virgil Pearson Smith as the Young Woman and Young Man from Death's Pawn, undated. Second row, right: Rael Lamb as Death and Bruce Bain as the King in the final Dance Spectrum performance at Grace Cathedral in March 1982.
To view additional images from the SF Ballet premiere of Totentanz from the Captured Live exhibit, please click here.
WINTERMAS - A FESTIVAL OF LIGHT
According to Carvajal, if Totentanz was his master's thesis, Wintermas-A Festival of Light, which premiered with Dance Spectrum in 1973, would be his doctoral dissertation. Described as a modern dance/ballet production, Carvajal described Wintermas as "a glowing choreographic reflection of the Winter Solstice." The ballet pulls from Carvajal's knowledge of folk and ethnic dance origins, classical ballet, and modern dance, drawing from various cultural and religious traditions around the time of the Winter Solstice to remind audience members that the significance of this time belongs to the world.
Wintermas featured costumes and sets designed by Donald Ransom with sound design by Dan Dugan, musical arrangement by Carvajal from Nubia, Borneo, African rainforest Pygmies, and Eastern European folk music. Music selections include: Gesang der Jungliche by Stockhausen, Asterism by Toru Takemitsu; Ein Weinachts Maerchen by Carl Orff; Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten.
Crystal Slipper, which premiered in 1977, came about as Carvajal, in his words, "always wanted to choreograph a Cinderella ballet using the classical format ballet d'action and ballet divertissement and to break away from the beautiful but already often used score by Prokofiev. The catalyst for the present work was a discovery of some delightful and almost unheard of music by the composer, Boluslav Martinu, which was used as a vehicle for this ballet. There is a Cinderella in all of us, just waiting to be recognized." The production also featured set and costume designs by Gerd Mairandres.
The ballet was well received and performed on multiple occasions by Dance Spectrum. The original production featured Carolyn Houser Carvajal as Cinderella (first row, left). Along with the traditional Fairy Godmother, the transformation sequence for Cinderella included divertissements featuring characters known as Elementals (Earth, Water, Fire, and Air). Pictured here are Peggy Davis and Joel Harrison as Air (first row, right).
Crystal Slipper has also been featured heavily with others companies, such as Peninsula Ballet Theatre and Oakland Ballet Company. Images featured are from Oakland Ballet Company's 1990 production, with Abra Rudisill as Cinderella (second row, left) and Oakland Ballet Company dancers in Act II, Scene 4, "Search for the Foot" (second row, right).
Through California Revealed, a California State Library initiative that helps public libraries, archives, museums, historical societies, and other heritage groups digitize, preserve, and provide online access to materials documenting the state’s history, art, and cultures, MP+D has been able to digitize and share online original recordings, such as this video below of Crystal Slipper from its premiere in 1977.
Carvajal choreographed a full-length Nutcracker in 1994, which Peninsula Ballet Theatre performed annually until 2010. Carvajal served as the Artistic Director for Peninsula Ballet Theatre from 1992 through 2010 before being named Director Emeritus. This production was also presented by Oakland Ballet Company.
Featured below is an excerpt from the December 16, 2000 performance from Peninsula Ballet Theatre, shot by Carvajal. Excerpt includes part of Scene 2 (Battle with the Mouse King) and Scene 3 (Land of Snow). Featured performers include Tara Laidlaw as Clara, Gustavo Llamas as the Nutcracker Prince, Dudley Brooks as the Mouse King, Brittney Wirth as the Snow Queen and David Henry as the Snow King.
CARVAJAL AND THE ETHNIC DANCE COMMUNUITY
Community ties have always played an integral role for Carvajal, whether it be through participation in local organizations and events, such as participating in the first Folsom Street Parade in 1970, shortly following the establishment of Dance Spectrum in its new studio space on 292 2nd Street. Pictured (upper left) on Dance Spectrum's float with Carvajal are Carolyn Houser Carvajal, Michael Stephens, Marjorie Posner, and John O'Halloran.
Throughout his career, Carvajal remained active with San Francisco's ethnic dance community. While Dance Spectrum was active, the group hosted various ethnic dance artists at their San Francisco studio, such as Flamenco dancer Rosa Montoya and Indian classical dancer Chitresh Das, among others. He is pictured here (upper right) with Helen Bautista, then-director of the Mutya Ng Silangan, a Filipino dance group.
Carvajal's background in folk dance and interest in dance from around the world also helped plant the seeds for what would become the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, as Carvayal played an active role in bringing dancers together for the first festival performance in 1978. In 2005, he was named co-Artistic Director for World Arts West's San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival. He held the role for twelve seasons with co-Artistic Director C.K. Ladzekpo. His last season was in 2017, and he was named Artistic Director Emeritus in 2018.
ABOUT THE CARLOS CARVAJAL PAPERS
The Carlos Carvajal Papers contain paper, photographic, and video documentation of his early career as a dancer/choreographer, his career with San Francisco Ballet, materials related to his company, Dance Spectrum, performances of his works by groups such as Oakland Ballet Company and Peninsula Ballet Theatre (where Carvajal served as Artistic Director then Director Emeritus), as well as materials related to the Worlds Arts West/Ethnic Dance Festival. The papers include programs, pre-performance press and subsequent reviews, flyers, promotional collateral, posters, and videos of various performances of Carvajal's works. The collection also includes several photographs in print featuring key performers and works. The collection also features several scrapbooks from Carvajal's career at San Francisco Ballet and Dance Spectrum, featuring press reviews and interviews.
Original order was mostly maintained, with items being physically stored by medium. The collection is arranged in the following series: I. Personal; II: Photographs; III: Choreographic Works; IV: Dance Spectrum; V: San Francisco Ballet; VI: Other Companies and Professional Work; VII: World Arts West/Ethnic Dance Festival; VIII: Zarzuela Festival; IX: Posters; and X: Audiovisual materials.
To access the finding aid, please click here.
Through California Revealed, a California State Library initiative that helps public libraries, archives, museums, historical societies, and other heritage groups digitize, preserve, and provide online access to materials documenting the state’s history, art, and cultures, MP+D has been able to digitize and share online selected original recordings featuring some Carvajal's choreography in California-based performances. These can accessed by clicking here.