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San Francisco Ballet - 'Allegro Brillante,'
'Paquita' Pas de Trois, '7 for Eight,' and 'Rush'
Thea Nerissa Barnes
September 22, 2004 -- Sadler's Wells, London
I had a friend tell me the other day that San Francisco Ballet did not
impress him on Monday night. I then had another friend tell me she was
not impressed by SFB’s performance in New York a few years ago.
Embodiment, what the dancers do, and apprehension of that embodiment,
what an audience member sees, can and does invariably contradict each
other. Well, I will have to suggest to my friends that perhaps they did
not see a program of works of their liking or maybe the dancers were a
bit off those nights. What I saw 22 September at Sadler’s Wells
One can only imagine what the differences were that I saw and what my
friends saw, but one thing is for sure: most discussions of San Francisco
Ballet remark on the eclectic repertory and the personality and technical
achievements of the dancers,and indeed these were the most accomplished
aspects of this performance. From the precision of Balanchine to the showcase
piece of virtuosity of "Paquita," to the neo classical
expressions of Tomasson and Wheeldon, SFB gave evidence of its extensive
body of work. The dancers' depth and breadth of technique set a standard
of proficiency. Choice of music and design -- economical and stunning
in its ability to narrow the vision or broaden scope to create a landscape
of vibrancy -- defined the richness in aesthetic expression. All this
characterizes what it means in 2004 to be a repertory classical ballet
Balanchine’s "Allegro Brillante" began with an ensemble
of couples in blue and immediately recalled similar configurations and
approaches to movement and design of other Balanchine ballets. When Lorena
Feijoo and Vadim Solomakha entered, the first impression was that this
ballerina seemed rather compact and was not endowed with the lushness
in moves expected to match the music. This first impression was just a
minor lull. Somewhere around one of those beginning piano solos in Tchaikovsky’s
Piano Concerto No. 3, Op 75, Feijoo switched gears and navigated between
spot-on pirouettes to lush balancés with the arms to match. Feijoo
had transcended and added the length with dexterity most associated with
Makarova’s staging -- after Petipa -- of the pas de trois from "Paquita"
dating from 1980 has a history dating from 1846. It is this work that
gives evidence of the eclectic vision of artistic director Helgi Tomasson.
The vision is to choose a repertory supported by a school that provides
the technical training necessary to underpin choreography, music and design
that span almost two centuries. To have the dancers to perform this repertory
is the other challenge. The pas de trois is a soloists’ vehicle
to display technical prowess of line, beat and jump, meshed with personality.
Frances Chung, Guennadi Nedviguine and Vanessa Zahorian were exceptional
and representative of SFB's expertise with the classics.
The second half of the program demonstrated the company's expertise in
performing the neo-classical. Tomasson’s "7 for Eight"
presented the neo-classical, illustrating that there are yet more inspired
interpretations to be made of the often heard and used Bach piano concertos.
Handsomely played by Micheal McGraw this performance was simply stunning.
This work was about sumptuous details. All the way down to the beautifully
tailored “V” sculpted backs of the female dancers’ costumes
designed by Sandra Woodall to the lighting design of David Finn, this
work illustrated its pedigree extended from Balanchine. This work was
also an indication of evolution. This work illustrated its 21st century
inclinations in the elegance coupled with dramatic extensions of Yuan
Yuan Tan to the spatial and musical counterpoint with classical and modern
dance hybridity in the duet of Nicolas Blanc and Gonzalo Garcia.
It was this hybridity of classical, modern and minute essences of jazz
also noted in Christopher Wheeldon’s "Rush" that confirmed
the current benchmark in breath and depth for the dancers' technical skill
in San Francisco Ballet and in the United States. Credit Tomasson for
not just continuing the classical ballet legacy with the presentation
of reconstructions and revivals. SFB also enriches its particular repertory
of classical ballet by taking informed approaches from “neo”
and contemporary innovations. In "Rush," offsetting the scenic
and costume design of Jon Morrell’s vibrant orange, maroon, purple,
ocean and royal blue costumes with Mark Stanley’s vibrant lighting
design was an inspiration of visual art for the cyc that countered the
dancers’ live visceral sculptures and spatial patterns.
Balanchine broke the line of ballet and added the angularity of modernity
with which he was surrounded in America when he choreographed works like
"Agon," works that pushed classical ballet into its "neo"
era. Being non literal and non narrative, there were some of these approaches
in "Rush" that hinted at the drama of movement taking place.
Bohuslav Martinu music with its classical and bits of jazz marked its
hybridity and this hybridity was echoed in the dance. Slight hip shimmies
for soloist, modern dance approach to slipping into and rising from the
floor, angularity in the arms and a sense of vast landscapes in some of
the solo and ensemble work confirmed Wheeldon’s openness and American-ness
to varied movement styles. This was the palette of choice to create the
movement languages of Tomasson’s "7 for Eight" and Wheeldon’s
"Rush." The temperament of the dancers was where the drama lay,
bringing to line, gesture, and the transition from move to move their
participation and contribution in making these works distinctive neo-classical
Edited by Jeff.
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