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San Francisco Ballet

'Square Dance,' 'Stravinsky Violin Concerto,' 'Who Cares?'

by Toba Singer

April 3, 2004 evening -- War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

"Square Dance," staged cannily by Bart Cook, showed the best of Balanchine and was also the best vehicle for the company. Right from the start, the powder blue leotards melt our hearts. We are put in mind of students, and how can we wish them anything but well? Frances Chung catches our eye. Megan Low is fetchingly adorable. Amanda Schull looks attentive and geared in, and Elizabeth Miner downright sparkles. The interpolating, syncopating squares draw the eye to their angles where these dancers shine. The men, especially Steven Norman, Rory Hohenstein and Hansuke Yamamoto, more than held up their end of the conversation.

Joan Boada must have known that his former teacher, Laura Alonso, was in the audience. He was more responsive to his partner (Tina LeBlanc) than I have seen him before. He did everything by the book, including finding fifth for each preparation and finish. Ms. Alonso should come see SFB more often! LeBlanc and Boada looked swell together. In the second, more complicated pas de deux, the energy seemed to wane a bit, but then Boada picked it up as he ran through those off-balance balances like a trouper. The potentially exhausting men's échappés were bright and spirited. Tina LeBlanc's ballon was so full that she landed with her weight too far back on one foot and almost fell, but all that 'air' in the ballon made it worth the risky moment. Boada's smooth marshalling of the difficult pacing and LeBlanc's manege punctuated by a circle of seau de basque jumps were lovely and rather amazing. What difficult steps these are! When the conductor is admiring his orchestra, and only thinks to look up at the couple on stage at the last moment (when they've pretty much nailed it), you have to give these dancers extra credit for their musical feet (feat)!

"Stravinsky Violin Concerto," is a counter-intuitive piece that has the dancers perverting their bodies into what I call "agonmorphs." I did not see the film "The Passion of Christ," but He couldn't have suffered as much as They did in this piece. In spite of the "Let's see how compromised I can make these women look" choreography, Muriel Maffre gave us her splendid Gumby Informed by Passion-of-Maffre work. She dances with Pierre-Francois Vilanoba, who, while an adept partner for Maffre, often has the look of a husband forced to accompany his wife on a shopping spree. Yuan Yuan Tan was the pretzel that is required for this contortionist choreography. It reminds you of the episode on "Friends," when Phoebe, in a coy and suggestive voice, tells Chandler that she is very "bendy."

Damian Smith partnered Tan amiably. Since this kind of choreography looks best on those with "Balanchine" bodies, we are thankful to Bart Cook and Maria Calegari for their casting choices. In this "ladies first" piece, the men come off a little frumpy. As for the ladies, between the arms-brought-in-on-turns, toggling of straight-arm wrists front and back, and myriad clever/less-than-clever conceits that pile up as the piece accelerates, intermission finds you in the lobby, shaking off goo-gobs of cognitive dissonance.

"Who Cares?" gives us Gershwin on Pointe, which can be tons of fun, if you haven't been dancing the fast-footed, crossword puzzle-like choreography in the previous two works to the point of total body dehydration. To cleanse the palate before "Who Cares?" I think I would have preferred not seeing Stravinsky at all, and something with more adage instead.

The Gershwin music is itself a tonic following the dyspeptic violin music of "Stravinsky." Again, Elizabeth Miner, Rory Hohenstein, Frances Chung and Megan Low are where the action is. In "Somebody Loves You," the dancers' green costumes, touched with blue, draw us in. Stephen Legate squires the principals in this performance. It often looks as if someone has just awakened him seconds before he goes on stage, but the Sleeping Linus quality melded easily with the long slides in "I'm Biding My Time."

Lorena Feijoo in that mauve-pink number was simply gorgeous in "The Man I Love." You could almost smell the gardenias. Her body seemed to drink up the melody like a succulent. Katita Waldo follows with delicious tour jetés, and then artful transitions from jumps to slides, and then we have Vanessa Zahorian in "Sweet Embraceable You," who is very with it, if a little coltish on the heels of Feijoo and Waldo.

If you think that "Fascinatin' Rhythm" should be danced on tap instead of toe, Lorena Feijoo could almost convince you that she is doing exactly that. She does not have a Balanchine body, but she has become so versatile that she seems to be able to dance just about any role that comes her way. The coquettish échappés to passé relevé invite you to imagine a trail of bouquet-bearing suitors lining up at the stage door after the show. Zahorian looks more polished as she skims the stage in her solo. The "I Got Rhythm" finale seems a little forced, with some of the corps lagging behind the spirit of the solos and pas de deux that went before.

It was easy to tell the dance professionals from the rest of the audience: While most of the audience applauded wildly, they were the ones twitching slightly as they walked toward the doors. An All- Balanchine program? Well, OK, maybe once every hundred years...

Edited by Jeff.

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