San Francisco Ballet
'7 for Eight,' '... smile with my heart,' 'Theme and Variations'
Gambling on one
by Mary Ellen Hunt
February 1, 2005 - War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
What a nice luxury it is to be able to see a show -- even the same cast a few times. A few looks at San Francisco Ballet’s first two rep programs at the War Memorial Opera House these last couple of weeks offer the perfect examples of what a widely varying reaction one can have, and why coming back can be so rewarding. After all, the dancers might be dancing differently of course; but then I might be feeling a little better or worse. Certainly it reminds you why having only a single chance to see something seems like such a gamble at times.
I arrived to see the opening night of Program 1 feeling a touch rushed, but in enough time to stop into the press room for a moment before the show and pick up any last minute news. It was nearly time for things to start though, and feeling like an unconscientious critic, I slid into my seat without even quite knowing who was dancing in the first piece, Helgi Tomasson’s “7 for Eight.”
I had liked the work the previous season, although I was afraid that this time, given how tired I was and how dark the lighting was, I’d doze. No fear though. Yuan Yuan Tan and Yuri Possokhov’s duets were enough to keep me in rapt attention and Gonzalo Garcia and Tina LeBlanc’s securely centered jumps and turns looked as dazzling as ever.
The fourth movement, featuring Garcia and LeBlanc teamed with Nicolas Blanc and Elizabeth Miner, did seem to drag out unnecessarily, but by the time Possokhov returned, carrying Tan in the same curled position in which they had exited –one imagines they had been slowly walking around the Opera House like that since their last exit – the energy on stage seemed to rise up from its sleepiness.
The company premiere of Lar Lubovitch’s “...smile with my heart,” a bit of which LeBlanc and Stephen Legate had danced at the gala, was a more frustrating proposition. I kept trying to find reasons to like it, but the music –sort of tone-deaf, noodling versions of otherwise lovely Richard Rogers standards, arranged by Marvin Laird – kept getting in the way. At the first number, “Do I Hear a Waltz?” I kept thinking, “Well, no, I actually don’t hear a waltz.” With all the running and swooping and swaying and whipping on stage though, I did feel a little dizzy.
Frances Chung and Garcia made a valiant go of “The Sweetest Sounds,” but seemed unable to reconcile the natural, perky buoyancy of their personalities with the decidedly un-fun music. The always lovely Katita Waldo and Damian Smith fared better with a heavy-deep-and-real rendition of “I didn’t Know What Time It Was” and “Where or When.” Given a sketchy characterization -- Smith plays an abusive lover and Waldo is torn over leaving him—they have obviously filled in the spare choreography with details that make their brief vignette come to life. In other hands it might not have had any impact at all, though.
Of the three, LeBlanc and Legate get the juiciest of the not-so-juicy choreography. During the gala, I noticed how extended LeBlanc’s legs were at every moment. Like the rest of the cast, she wears soft shoes, but it looks like she’s on pointe from the length and activation of her muscles. Legate and LeBlanc too, had the details a performer of maturity would add – when Legate’s arms wrap around her, LeBlanc finds the time to nestle her head into his shoulder and in his turn, Legate tenderly moves her hair aside before bestowing a kiss on her neck.
The ability to give a finished performance like that must be why Lorena Feijoo is often cast in the “ballerina” classics – sometimes at a moment’s notice – on these big nights. Making her debut in Balanchine’s supreme test of ballerina nerve, “Theme and Variations,” Feijoo didn’t exactly have an off night, but certainly wasn’t her at her peak form. You have to admire her ability to get out there and pull things off; but throughout the evening there was a clear look of trepidation, as if she were gripping onto the steps like grim death. But except for a small loss of her turns at the end of her variation before the big central pas de deux begins, there was nothing unacceptable about the performance technically. I wished I could see her later in the run when she’d no doubt feel more comfortable in the role and perhaps have more of her usual sparkle – but ultimately I missed all the second chances. Vadim Solomakha, who has just the right look for a piece like this, partnered her consistently, but seemed to enjoy his solos even more. Among the soloists though, Chung – now decked out in tutu and pointe shoes -- looked as though she were having the night of her life, and her and partner Rory Hohenstein’s smiles were the freshest on the stage.
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