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San Francisco Ballet - 'Square Dance,' 'Continuum,' 'Le Carnaval dex Animaux'

by Julia Skene-Wenzel

20 September, 2004 -- Sadler's Wells, London

After a three year wait, the San Francisco Ballet is back with a striking line up of three programmes, including several UK and London premieres. Under the artistic direction of Helgi Tomasson, the company sparkled at the opening night, displaying its varied talents in a well-rounded triple bill.

Balanchine's ‘Square Dance,' a charming mixture of American folk dance and classical virtuosi, proved the perfect vehicle for the company's return. Clean footwork and defined formations gave way to a radiant and uplifting performance of all dancers. Confidently led by Tina LeBlanc and Joan Boada, the company flawlessly captured the choreographic challenges of this piece. Accompanied by the English Chamber Orchestra, Vivaldi and Corelli merged with Balanchine's sensitive choreography, allowing the male cast to soften into gentle passages of adagio, while the women's clarity and sharpness kept the mood light and airy.

Choreographed on the San Francisco Ballet in 2002, Wheeldon's ‘Continuum' thrives on the cast's ownership. In a stunning series of duets, Wheeldon highlights each dancer's individual movement quality and allows the piece to move from sensual to dynamic, from defined pas de deux to fluid group sections. Natasha Katz's scenography features a large backdrop that changes colour and shape to reflect and underline the changing mood of each section -- tightly held in embraces, the couples yield to each other and the ground, while defying gravity's pull by holding distinct poses, stretching and turning towards and away from the mounting force. Gyorgy Ligeti's music, a combination of various piano scores, drives the dancers forward and its harshness creates a refreshing contrast to the angular, yet tender shapes on stage. ‘Continuum' is a truly beautiful piece that allowed the San Francisco Ballet to present its full range of talent.

Ratmansky's ‘Le Carnaval des Animaux' closed the evening on a light-hearted note. The present artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet borrowed the basic structure of Camille Saint-Saen's study to create a parody on one of ballet's biggest creations. In a slightly tangled fashion, the piece unfolds by presenting the various animals, leading up to Mikhail Fokine's ‘Dying Swan' fluttering across the stage. It struck gold with the audience, who relaxed into its jovial air and allowed the company to show yet another side to its artistic abilities.

Edited by Mary Ellen.

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