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San Francisco Ballet - ‘Square Dance’, ‘Continuum’, ‘Le Carnaval des Animaux’

by Rosie

September 20, 2004 – Sadler’s Wells, London

When the curtain went up on Monday night for George Balanchine’s "Square Dance," I felt an immediate burst of joy come from the stage, which is the quality I most remember from the previous performances by San Francisco Ballet I’ve seen. I haven’t seen huge amounts of Balanchine, but I’ve always found watching his ballets a wonderfully relaxing experience. The choreography fits so effortlessly with the music that you can just sit back and enjoy the patterns and shapes emerging in front of you. This was the case last night with “Square Dance,” which was beautifully danced by the company.

Both principals were brilliant, with Tina LeBlanc dealing with the ultra-fast footwork with ease as she skimmed neatly over the tricky choreography. Joan Boada had an impressive stage presence and showed both his sweeping line and precise movement qualities. I loved his solo and loved that Balanchine had choreographed such a slow, elegant, grounded passage for the leading man instead of the perhaps more expected virtuoso one. It was a lovely uplifting performance.

From grey leotards to dark green, and Christopher Wheeldon’s “Continuum.” Another pure dance work, but very different, and far less comfortable to watch, though in a good way.

After a striking opening, beautifully lit by Natasha Katz, came the first pas de deux for Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith. This was very reminiscent of the Wheeldon I’d seen before (though that is only two pieces …) with the same shapes, the same lifts with the woman curled round her partner flexing her feet and the same slow and controlled dynamic. I felt a bit like I’d been there -- seen that. But things picked up once I got into it and I found it a complex work which I’d really like to see again in order to absorb it all properly.

The ballet is a series of pas de deux, all --with the exception of one -- slow and controlled in pace, with sections of solos and group work interspersed. I felt that most of the time these bits between the pas deux felt a little like fillers, and by the end, my attention was wandering. I also could have done with a bit more in the way of changes in pace, but on the whole the movement was so inventive that there was enough variety and density to keep the attention.

The high point for me was the second pas de deux for Tan and Smith. It’s a slow, smooth pas, very feline in feeling -- the dancers like cats stretching in the sun. It suited Yuan Yuan Tan so well, and was beautifully controlled by both dancers. I also enjoyed Kristin Long in both her pas de deux with Gonzalo Garcia and her short solo spot where she brought a change in pace and spark to the ballet. And Muriel Maffre and Katita Waldo looked superb in their pas de deux.

”Le Carnaval des Animaux” by Alexei Ratmansky ended the evening and I’m sorry but I have to say that I hated it. But I was obviously in a minority as it drew a huge response from the audience. I found it tedious with fairly boring choreography. I thought the costumes were muddy and uninspiring and at times I struggled as to what was going on. I found the whole ballet pretty dire really and while the rest of the audience found it very funny, I barely cracked a smile. Maybe I missed something or had a sense of humour bypass last night!

This is not to detract from the dancers though who were great. I particularly enjoyed Lorena Feijoo as the Elephant and Maffre as the Jellyfish. Her "Dying Swan" was effective too, though if you’re going to parody this piece, I prefer the Trocks rather than this rather flimsy attempt.

Edited by Jeff.

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