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San Francisco Ballet

'7 for Eight,' '... smile with my heart,' 'Theme and Variations'

by Toba Singer

February 12, 2005 - War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

"7 for Eight" is a musing by Helgi Tomasson that allows him to work with his dancers in small numbers, but in a large way. You find yourself studying the first movement as if you were alone in the studio with the two dancers.

They let you witness very intimate breakthroughs, revealing maturation and hopefulness. It used to be that Yuan Yuan Tan’s extensions were the “wow” of her performance, but her heightened artistry and awareness of context now morphs them into curiously fabulous accessories. Yuri Possokhov is finding a candor we have seen mostly as the signature of his choreographic work. Together, the dancers achieve a roll and pitch in their slow adage that fully captures the intent and feeling of the Bach accompaniment, as if they were slowly clearing a path through the increasing complexity of the instrumentation.

Kristin Long and Gonzalo Garcia create a contrasting mood in the second movement. She is brightly athletic and clean. He comes in deep, yet expansive, sweeping the stage as he gains momentum. Tonight, energy is present more than enthusiasm, and as sometimes happens, he cannot always check it when it comes time to finish a turn. But he is forgiven because even such weaknesses issue from his boundless élan.

Frances Chung has been put in for Rachel Viselli in the third movement, which begins as a duet with the sparkling Elizabeth Miner. They deliver technically finished dancing that glistens with musicality. Pascal Molat, who always manages to make the party even more fun, joins them. The fit is good, so much so that you find yourself hoping that, based on her work this season, Frances Chung will be promoted to Soloist.

The fourth movement is a bi-level engagement by four of the dancers, Nicolas Blanc, Garcia, Miner and Long. It shapes a reliable platform for the solo that follows.

Pascal Molat has a warm, friendly and fancy-free presence in his fifth-movement solo. It makes you wonder whether Gene Kelly left some of his “Les Gals” personality in France for succeeding generations to absorb. Molat gives us amazing triple tours en l’aire and then swivels into a contemporary mode, and switches back into a classical battu that is so fast yet extravagant, that you are afraid to blink and miss a single lick of it. He glides, Kelly-like through his pirouettes, and then delivers a battery of rapid jetés that swirl him into an airstream manège around the stage. Whoosh! He’s gone!

The sixth movement reprises Tan and Possokhov, and the Finale offers up a men’s quartet that showcases a brilliant remnant of male dancers: Possokhov, Garcia, Molat and Blanc. The piece is a showcase overall for a tremendous ensemble quality that has positively ballooned over the course of the company’s last season or two.

Lar Lubovitch’s “…smile with my heart” joins dancers and musicians onstage as twin lobes of a musical valentine, neither of which is half-hearted. Composer Marvin Laird has adapted music by Richard Rodgers, and given the old standards a more contemporary, edgy voice. In the first set, (“Do I hear a Waltz?” and “It Might as Well be Spring”) six dancers, Elizabeth Miner partnered by Pascal Molat, Tina le Blanc partnered by Stephen Legate, and Katita Waldo partnered by Damian Smith, access their showmanship. There is a frankness, strength and certainty that comes out of years of collaboration and partnering. Their familiarity and common history allow the dancers to explore the tonality of the music with exaggerated heads and arms set into motion from strong, secure places.

Exaggeration is also at work in the second set, “The Sweetest Sounds.” Elizabeth Miner and Pascal Molat knead their chassés into a thickly stylized taffy-pull of a tango, offset by flexed-foot split jumps—altogether pretty peppery! They throb, and the audience drools.

In “I Didn’t Know What Time it was,” and “Where or when,” we are plunged into the dark side interpretation of that music, in a set lit like a Hell’s Kitchen back alley. Katita Waldo and Damian Smith dance through the dangerous waters of love-turned-cruel. The orchestration sets an ominous “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” tone. Waldo is so versatile! We will have seen her dance everything this week in Programs One and Two — classical, jazz, bobby sox boogie-woogie, and now this “beastro” piece. She’s the Meryl Streep of dance! The piece ends when she extends her arm to mime distancing herself from Smith’s menacing advances. She takes her decision to split in a split second, leaving the audience with a collective chill down our spines. Hers is the bittersweet triumph of a woman who saves her life at the expense of her heart.

The audience adored Legate and LeBlanc in “My Funny Valentine.” It showed the two of them to their best advantage. LeBlanc was costumed in a valentine red leotard that was almost heart-shaped. Legate’s work had an effortless, almost lazy aplomb to it. LeBlanc danced with a gyrokinetic youthfulness that would suggest that she is the least senior member of the company—instead of the veteran! Piano and cello accompaniment added depth to the performance. This was definitely a crowd pleaser, but it sidesteps the temptation to go cheesy ...

Whose heart doesn’t swell as the Tchaikovsky music comes up when the curtain opens on George Balanchine’s "Theme and Variations"? The stage is brightly lit, and the set disgorges infinite glitter and glamour, light bounding off every sequin and faceted reflector. It certainly has our full attention, and we expect great things as the music takes us on its roller coaster ride of dips, grace notes and overtones! The men’s variation won’t be forgotten any time soon—done to perfection by Guennadi Nedviguine, right down to the metronome-like swing of his assemblés, and the lift of his regal battu. The deliberate spindle turns by the corps bring to mind department store window mannequins. If you think women shouldn’t be pictured as mannequins in gorgeous teal bodices and lush white tutus, well, you might find yourself overcome by a mild attack of cognitive dissonance. Hey, they do it well, and besides, it’s Balanchine.

Considering that it’s Balanchine, one wonders why pointe shoes noisily spank the floor. Aren’t heels off when Balanchine’s on. I look on the program for a coach from the Balanchine Trust and see none. The shimmering bourées make me momentarily forget the earlier thumping. Vanessa Zahorian is sparkling as Nedviguine’s partner, and shows nice technical mastery in her developés and arabesque. Held positions and finished, rather than tossed-away, port de bras would make the work more aristocratic-looking. When the male corps refreshes the female corps in the finale, we cheer out loud for Hansuke Yamamoto and Chidozie Nzerem, the leaders of the pack. Hot tubs for all those hardworking dancers, and the time to soak in them!

Edited by Staff.

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