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San Francisco Ballet - 2007 Gala

Glamour and Glitz

by Katie Rosenfeld

January 24, 2007 -- War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, CA

San Francisco Ballet kicked off its 2007 season January 24th with a gala full of surprises and magical moments. The excitement was tangible as patrons and guests filled the grand lobby with swirling skirts, perfectly coiffed hair and the low rumble of delighted, anticipatory chatter. The champagne flowed freely as the audience geared up for an evening of eclectic pieces spanning the spectrum from pure classical ballet to neo-modern contemporary. The program promised a little something for everyone, and the company delivered on that promise.

Following the opening remarks and traditional-but-strange audience sing-along of the Star-Spangled Banner, Jacques Garnier’s “Aunis” opened the performance. The three dancers, Nicolas Blanc, Pascal Molat and Pierre-François Vilanoba, were well matched to each other and to the choreography, which combined ballet and modern movements with the suggestion of folk dancing and a sea shanty, the accordion music helping to set the scene. Their movements were clean and energetic, and a tone of joviality and camaraderie developed nicely between the three men.

The first few moments of the pas de deux from “Sleeping Beauty” Act III, danced by Vanessa Zahorian and Gonzalo Garcia, exhibited the twinges of nerves that must always accompany the excitement of a gala. A tiny wobble here, a minor hitch there, the couple found their connection with the floor and the audience and went on to shine in the solos and coda. Garcia’s double tours to perfect fifth positions and soaring ménege met with happy applause. Even more impressive was Zahorian’s solo – her upper body light and elegant, each landing was completely silent, which is the sign of a truly impressive technique. The two whirled through the coda and accepted their well-earned applause.

Davit Karapetyan’s “Last Breath,” which he choreographed and danced, was the first 21st Century piece on the program. The techno-based music, from the “Matrix: Revolutions” soundtrack, served to rattle the classical foundation and supported Karapetyan’s primal, urgent dancing well. If anything, the piece was disappointingly short.

The pas de deux from “7 For Eight,” choreography by Helgi Tomasson, was danced beautifully by Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun and Pierre-François Vilanoba. Pipit-Suksun is one to watch; her long limbs and fluidity of movement made every step languid and sumptuous, Vilanoba’s able partnering allowing her the freedom needed to move fully.

Molly Smolen danced Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan” with all the introspective soul-searching and contemplative movement necessary for the challengingly spare piece, not easy to pull off with an audience full of champagne and restless with the extended moments of silence. While those “in the know” recognized its historical importance, it was perhaps a stretch for the average audience member. That said, taken in context of the full evening it provided an interesting perspective. We look forward to seeing more of Smolen throughout the season.

Closing the first act was Tomasson’s “Soirées Musicales,” danced brilliantly by Kristin Long and Joan Boada. The two are well matched in physicality, technical virtuosity, and pure energy, Tomasson’s choreography showcasing all to perfection. Boada’s superhuman elevation drew a few gasps from the audience, and Long’s sparkling footwork and crisp turns were a joy to watch. The piece was a perfect choice just before the intermission, leaving the audience primed for more.

Intermission gave the audience just enough time to stretch their legs and discuss favorite moments of the first half. It is important to note that the gilded décor surrounding the stage and throughout the Opera House has been cleaned and returned to its rightful gleaming state.

Opening the second half was the pas de deux from the second act of “Giselle,” with Lorena Feijoo in the title role and Tiit Helimets as her Albrecht. This pas is incredibly challenging, especially for the woman, as she must be as weightless as a ghost. Feijoo’s floating port de bras and silky footwork and Helimets’ partnering, portraying the sorrowful Albrecht, brought the tragedy into sharp relief.

Another piece that proved challenging for the audience was “Bitter Tears,” choreographed by Yuri Possokhov in honor of Muriel Maffre’s final season. The accompaniment for the piece was an aria sung by countertenor Mark Crayton. His unusual vocal quality seemed to be more than the audience was prepared for, and unfortunate titters of discomfort marred the first moments of the piece. Once Maffre’s outrageously long legs emerged from her overskirt, the audience refocused. The piece showcased her unique movement quality and stunning lines well, and her interaction with Crayton was both intimate and universally understandable. News of Maffre’s retirement has rippled through the dance community and met with palpable dismay, and the choreography echoed the sense of finality and loss associated with the changes to come.

Gerald Arpino’s “L’air d’Esprit” was a tasty treat, the choreography balanced between traditional and contemporary. Danced by Tina LeBlanc and Gennadi Nedvigin, the partnering work was as crisp and clean as well-starched curtains. LeBlanc’s footwork in the fiercely fast solo sparkled, every beat and gargouillade perfectly placed. Nedvigin also held his own with the variation’s difficult jumps and turns and the two ended the coda as cleanly as they had started.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith danced a subtle and stunning pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s “After the Rain.” The silence that filled the Opera House spoke volumes: here was something truly magical unfolding on the stage and everyone in the house knew it. Arvo Pärt’s music, set for piano and violin, matched the aching, heartbreakingly elegant choreography. After the audience released its collectively held breath, the applause was thunderous.              

To close out the show in true Gala style the company danced the fourth movement and the finale from George Balanchine’s “Symphony in C.” While the soloists (including Elana Altman, Frances Chung, Sarah Van Patten, Garrett Anderson, Ruben Martin and Moises Martin) certainly earned their stripes with the fast, complicated steps and syncopation typical of Balanchine, it was the ensemble work that stood out. As line after line of white-tutued women and all-in-black men filed in to create the backdrop for the soloists, the stage seemed filled to capacity. And while perhaps not every line was perfectly spaced, the nearly-frantic exuberance was contagious and left the audience cheering for more.

And more is what we will get, as San Francisco Ballet heads into a promising and exciting spring season.

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