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West Coast Wonders:

Preview - San Francisco Ballet’s London Season


By Mary Ellen Hunt

September 2004


With three completely different programs at Sadler’s Wells this month, San Francisco Ballet is bringing a little something for everyone to London. Versatility and style have always been hallmarks of the company, and with the eleven works planned for the tour, director Helgi Tomasson seems intent on showcasing those strengths.

Casting for the performances will be available as the dates draw closer, but here are a few glimpses of the ballets on the tour from a long-time observer of the company.

And if you have a bit of time, take a tour of SFB’s new website (http://www.sfballet.org). Along with the usual schedules and information, they’ve added new features – including some entertaining “What I did on my summer vacation” updates from the dancers.


Program I - Sept. 20 & 23, 7:30 pm

George Balanchine's “Square Dance”

Balanchine’s tip of the hat to an American folk style doesn’t have the square dance “caller” anymore, but the unique mix of formalism and folk is as delightful as ever. Last season Tina LeBlanc tore up the stage with the sort of astonishingly swift and clean pointe work that would have most dancers’ feet tied in knots. But probably the most appealing part of this light, lemon mousse confection was the playful connection she had with a boyish and bravura Gonzalo Garcia.

Christopher Wheeldon's “Continuum”
What does it all mean? Christopher Wheeldon’s “Continuum” (a companion piece to New York City Ballet's "Polyphonia") is one of those ballets likely to leave the audience wondering and thinking. There are Balanchinean echoes in the simple tights-and-leotard costumes, which play starkly against the architectural lighting, but it’s the dancers -- the spirited Kristin Long, the lithe Damian Smith, and the indomitable Muriel Maffre -- who bring a human quality to this meditative series of etudes.

Alexei Ratmansky's “Le Carnaval des Animaux”
Child-like, but not childish, Bolshoi director Alexei Ratmansky’s lighthearted ballet takes the Saint-Saens “Carnival of the Animals” as inspiration for a whimsical menagerie of animal-based vignettes. Everyone in the company always seems to be in high-spirits for this piece: from the gaggle of hens -- led memorably last season by Elizabeth Miner -- to Stephen Legate’s preening cockerel to the coltish James Sofranko and Pablo Piantino to Muriel Maffre’s sadly dilapidated Swan.

Program II - Sept. 21 & 24, 7:30 pm

George Balanchine's “Ballo della Regina”
Principal dancer and technical whiz Lorena Feijoo seems made for this light, delicate and choreographically nerve-wracking ballet by George Balanchine. Last August in the outdoor Stern Grove, she performed “Ballo” with singular aplomb – she was on fire even though the temperature was so cool that her partner Sergio Torrado was forced to resort to leg warmers. And when she took a nasty spill in her bourrees, she was up in a trice and fiercely attacking the steps as if nothing would stop her.

George Balanchine's “The Four Temperaments”
George Balanchine’s towering work to the music of Paul Hindemith was a highlight of last season’s Balanchine Celebration. SFB’s take doesn’t quite have the same refined look as that of New York City Ballet but it does have lots of glamour. When the company performed “Four Ts” at Stern Grove, Gonzalo Garcia captivated attention as Melancholic in an appealing solo that seemed to simultaneously soar and slouch. Nicolas Blanc, dancing the same part last season, was no less impressive for his obvious understanding of the choreographic structure, right down to the peculiar arm-leg coordination. Yuri Possokhov’s languishing Phlegmatic is also distinct from Damian Smith’s more inquisitive, quirky approach to the role. But truly from another planet is Muriel Maffre’s Choleric, who eats up space and lashes out those limbs like an alien predator.

Helgi Tomasson's “Concerto Grosso”
Dominated at the premiere by the sleek insouciance of Pascal Molat, Helgi Tomasson’s ballet for five men was a hit with the audience from the start. Turns, jumps, and personality –- Molat has it all, but don’t underestimate the other men. “Concerto Grosso,” in fact, is an excellent chance to see some of the corps de ballet men -- Jaime Garcia Castilla, Hansuke Yamamoto, Garrett Anderson, and Rory Hohenstein, to name a few -- take centerstage and shine.

Yuri Possokhov's “Study in Motion”
One of the big highlights of last season was the premiere of Possokhov’s third work for San Francisco Ballet. Elegant, stark, and filled with breathless, powerful dancing, the ballet became an instant favourite. Possokhov has an eye for talent, and almost all of the dancers he’s picked have extraordinary speed, articulation, and passion, but the real beauty of the ballet is how he’s melded together individual inspirations.


Program III - Sept. 22, 7:30 pm & Sept. 25, 2:30 pm & 7:30 pm

Note: in the Saturday matinee, Wheeldon's “Rush”is replaced by Ratmansky's "Le Carnaval des Animaux" (see Program I).

George Balanchine's “Allegro Brillante”
Graceful and courtly, George Balanchine’s “Allegro Brillante” is one of those rare ballets that can show you almost instantaneously whether someone is a good dancer, a great dancer, or a ballerina. Can she mesh groundedness with noblesse? Generosity with technique, par excellence? There will be no doubt when the Cuban-born Lorena Feijoo dances with Vadim Solomakha on the opening night of this program. When Vanessa Zahorian led this ballet over a year ago, she dive-bombed unforgettably secure turn combinations, but was still finding her way with the style. Now, it will be the London audiences who will have the chance to mark her growth in the role.

Natalia Makarova's pas de trois from “Paquita”
Should you have the fortune to see Guennadi Nedviguine in this test of classical nerve, brace yourself for some of the cleanest technique around. Last year he, along with Vanessa Zahorian and Katita Waldo, delivered a detailed classical trio with a brio that sent waves of murmurs through the audience. In the summer performance, corps member Frances Chung took Waldo’s part with a sunny brilliance that left no doubt that she’ll be one to watch for the future. In fact, treats abound in both casts -- the alternate trio features Jaime Garcia Castilla, whose sailing elevation and a sly humour as the God of Love in Mark Morris's "Sylvia" last season delighted fans.

Helgi Tomasson's “7 for Eight”
Set to the music of J.S. Bach, Tomasson’s neo-classical “7 for Eight” puts the dancers through some fiendish paces, with intricate footwork, flashing duets and tidy solos for technical masters of the likes of Joan Boada, Nicolas Blanc, Gonzalo Garcia and Pascal Molat. At the center of this universe of speeding particles, though, is the exquisite duo of Yuan Yuan Tan and Yuri Possokhov, dancing the two mysterious central pas de deux. With a second cast that includes former Royal Ballet School student Nutnaree Pipithsuksunt with Pierre-Francois Vilanoba, aficionados of the company may have to go at least twice.

Christopher Wheeldon's “Rush”
Wheeldon’s love of geometry is written all over “Rush” which is driven by the jazzy music of Bohuslav Martinu’s "Sinfonia La Jolla." The ballet took off with daredevil speed when the affectionately-termed “mommy cast” – featuring the three ballerina moms of the company, Katita Waldo, Kristin Long, and Tina Le Blanc – took the stage over the summer. The pairing of Blanc and LeBlanc, (Nicolas and Tina, respectively) was a fortunate one, bringing the punctuation of wit to the ballet, while Waldo and Damian Smith stretched out into never-ending lines in their dreamy pas de deux.

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