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San Francisco Ballet

Program 2 - 'Blue Rose', 'The Dance House', 'Firebird'

by Becca Hirschman

February 3, 2007 -- War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, CA

This past Saturday evening, it may have been cold and lifeless outside, but the idea of seeing a whirl of high-quality dance brought warmth and excitement to my heart. While some of my newfound inner warmness could possibly be attributed to the recent dinner of miso soup, warmed lotus root, sake, and spicy sushi, my point is that I felt slightly toasty, my thoughts were warm, and what I saw was red hot- San Francisco Ballet’s choreographer-in-residence Yuri Possokov’s “Firebird.”

This new version of “Firebird” hit the spot for what could have been a chilly San Francisco outing. While it conjured up images such as the Princess and Bowser from Nintendo’s “Super Mario Brothers,” the Phoenix from “Harry Potter,” and the Orcs from “The Lord of the Rings” all rolled into one, Possokov’s “Firebird” conveyed a fantasy all its own. Helping Tiit Helimet’s lovesick Prince rescue his “fairest of them all” Princess (Rachel Viselli) from the clutches of Pascal Molat’s in-need-of-rhinoplasty Kaschei, Yuan Yuan Tan’s orange-wigged, body suit-clad Firebird displayed a rare tenderness that exuded from every limb: an extended arm, a gentle attitude, and a soft yet powerful stare. Possokov’s choreographic skills seem to improve with each go-around, and “Firebird” is no exception, infusing folk dance seamlessly with traditional ballet while also adding a comedic touch. There is continuity throughout without seeming repetitive, and his inclusion of relative props and intriguing yet minimal set design (by Yuri Zhukov), contrasted with Stravinsky's traditional score, is a refreshing change. Authoritative without being too serious and mystical with a dash of comedy, this is one bird that gets the worm.

The two other works on the mixed bill didn’t quite have the power that “Firebird” did. “The Dance House,” David Bintley’s introspective take on AIDS within the dance community, debuted on SF Ballet’s stage 13 years ago. Facing reality head on, “The Dance House” abstractly explores not only the contagiousness of the disease but also the reality that we are all connected to each other in some way whether small or large. Molly Smolen, in the adagio with Tiit Helimets, displayed lovely liquidity through her port de bras and développés. Tina LeBlanc and Kristin Long both shined in roles they originated, and Gonzalo Garcia’s “Patient Zero,” while reckless and crazed, seemed a somewhat fitting portrayal. Today, “The Dance House” can be viewed on a more macro level, with the concept ably being applied to other current day situations such as the impact of global warming, war, and racism. It’s this ability that makes “The Dance House” work on a larger scale.

Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s “Blue Rose,” which is set to music by Elena Kats-Chernin and premiered last year, probably should have stayed in the past. The choreography feels uninspired, often flat, and if I may be so bold, a bad copy of Mr. Balanchine’s worst works (hip swivels and parallel cou de pied positions abound.). However, Vanessa Zahorian and Nicholas Blanc added buoyancy to the work, infusing a crisp energy to a rather bland piece of fare, and Natal’ya Feygina (piano) and Roy Malan’s (violin) accompaniment proved zesty.

“Firebird” anchors this program well and lives up to its entertainment and storytelling potential. Adding balance to the evening, “The Dance House” does a 180°, making us face reality instead of hiding in a fantasy world. Overall (and even with the addition of “Blue Rose”) SF Ballet seems to be on track for the season.

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