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San Francisco Ballet

Muriel Maffre and Pierre-Francois Vilanoba'Square Dance,' 'Stravinsky Violin Concerto,' 'Who Cares?'

by Rebecca Hirschman

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

Even though the audience would soon be losing an hour of sleep, they were wide-awake for San Francisco Ballet’s Saturday evening performance at War Memorial Opera House. Seats were mostly full, and attendees varied from young to elderly, singles to families, and dressed casually to dressed to the nines. At times an entire evening of Balanchine can feel repetitive, but the three works presented offered variety as well as excellent dancing.

Program 6 opened with Balanchine’s "Square Dance" set to music by Antonio Vivaldi and Arcangelo Corelli, and as the curtain opened on the corps de ballet, true dance ignited on stage. Feet and arms pointed with precision, and each dancer’s movement was full of breath. Tina LeBlanc, as the female principal, exhibited excellent carriage and technique as she flowed through the difficult choreography with an effortlessness rarely seen on any stage. Joan Boada, as her steady partner, danced with polish. But, it seemed he was thinking too much about the choreography and initiated the movements from his limbs instead of moving as a whole body. Female corps members, Frances Chung, Megan Low, and Dalene Bramer, displayed gorgeous technique along with a wondrous feel for the music. Pablo Piantino, Garrett Anderson, and Jonathan Mangosing showed wonderful lift in their jumps and tight fifths throughout. The lighting was fresh and complemented the pastel costumes nicely, lending a sense of openness and directness to the choreography.

Muriel Maffre and Pierre-Francois VilanobaSecond on the bill was Balanchine’s "Stravinsky Violin Concerto," which contrasted nicely with "Square Dance." Instead of what traditionalists would call pure dancing, "Stravinsky Violin Concerto" contained more angular positions and extremeness of the limbs. Innovative positions were used to create a more abstract movement vocabulary. Muriel Maffre and Pierre-Francois Vilanoba danced Aria I with steadiness. Vilanoba seemed to suffer from the same malady as Boada, using his limbs to propel and place him instead of moving from the center of his body. Maffre, whom I normally enjoy, looked emaciated, and perhaps it was because of the skin-tight costume. But, her performance was difficult to watch. In Aria II, Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith easily performed Balanchine’s choreography as if it were second nature. Tan danced with a certain “come-hither” attitude that drew the audience in with every movement, and Smith presented each step and phrase with great conviction. In the corps, Elana Altman and Rachel Viselli displayed grace and security, and Mangosing’s and Karill Zaretskiy’s clarity of movement stood out among the men. Roy Malan performed the violin solos with ease.

Last was Balanchine’s "Who Cares?" set to music by Gershwin. Yes, the costumes and backdrop sets are a little bright and dated, but it is spring, so get used to the colors. They’ll be around for awhile. Stephen Legate was a gentle partner for all of the women, and he performed with a great Broadway style that wasn’t too showy or flashy. While his role was not as technically demanding as some of the other principals of the evening, he danced with such refinement and charm that I could watch him move for hours.

Lorena Feijoo performed “The Man I Love” and “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” technically well. But, her arms seemed to be displaced from the rest of her body, moving harshly and without direction rather than softly as the rest of her body was. Vanessa Zahorian danced “Sweet Embraceable You” with an alluring quality I never knew she possessed. Her technique continues to amaze me, but so does her personality that is beginning to emerge quietly from within. Katita Waldo, in “I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" performed with maturity and zest. Waldo seemed more comfortable in this Balanchine-meets-Broadway style than Zahorian and Feijoo, and because of this, I found her to be my favorite of the three lead women. In the corps, Megan Low, Dalene Bramer, and Frances Chung impressed me again, dancing with joy and excellent technique, and Courtney Elizabeth’s personality projected throughout the entire work. Brett Bauer and James Sofranko performed with suave style.

Overall, the corps looked well-rehearsed (thanks to Bart Cook and Sandra Jennings), and the principals appeared comfortable. With San Francisco Ballet’s Balanchine Centennial celebration, Helgi Tomasson and San Francisco Ballet have proved that the legacy of Balanchine continues to live on today.

Edited by Jeff.

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