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San Francisco Ballet

Program 4: 'Eden/Eden', 'Spring Rounds', 'Chi-Lin'

by Becca Hirschman

March 13, 2007 -- War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, CA

The city’s ballet aficionados were out in full force Tuesday night for the premiere of San Francisco Ballet’s Program 4, a mixed, and contemporary, bill chockfull of imagery and appeal.

The hit of the night proved to be the US premiere of Wayne McGregor’s “Eden/Eden,” which was originally choreographed for Stuttgart Ballet. A beautifully disturbing look at human cloning, nine dancers, dressed in striking attire by Ursula Bombshell and led by the stunning Muriel Maffre, explore the world of carbon copies and the slight nuances that make us human. Drawing on aspects of Adam and Eve (here, Eve came first!), the dancers delve into the deep issues of immortality, choice, and individuality. Dana Genshaft showed amazing flexibility and line during her sections with Pascal Molat, and Hayley Farr stretched and cavorted like a pixie. In fact, the entire cast astonished me with their ability to move very rhythmically in a very non-traditional way, and if I hadn’t known better, I would have thought we were in Germany. Charles Balfour’s stark lighting initially covered the stage with a silvery-white newness a baby might experience in its early stages, and later the lights transcended to a rich, dewy orange, similar to a sunny evening at Baker Beach. Minimalist Steve Reich’s rich and ear thrilling score combines text, vocals, techno, and classical music in a way that made me bop along in my seat while wishing I could grand battement up the aisle, down Van Ness, and towards the bus stop. Intellectual yet intricately choreographed, “Eden/Eden” builds to a satisfying yet still disturbing climax, which had many jumping to their feet in applause at the end.

The encore of Paul Taylor’s “Spring Rounds,” with music by Richard Strauss, was led by Vanessa Zahorian and Garrett Anderson, who both danced with ease and a genuine nature-- there’s nothing forced here. Both looked natural, and very much like a Taylor dancer (only better) with the tuck of a pelvis here, a curve of the arm there. Their pas de deux spoke volumes, even though it evoked a quiet time of growth between two people. These are dancers who can do more than just ballet. Sprouting up and dancing fervently like spring could end tomorrow, the lime green-clad corps of 12 dancers flew from corner to corner and around in circles, whipping out tuck jumps and sauté attitudes front and back, and while I like my weather a little on the cool side, “Spring Rounds” made me glad spring is truly here.

Helgi Tomasson’s “Chi-Lin,” which debuted in 2002, returned to the Opera House, yet seemed out of place compared to the other two works. Tomasson collaborated with Bright Sheng, a past MacArthur Award winner, on the score and concept, but while there’s plenty of glitz and tricks, the superficial “Chi-Lin” seems to be lacking in substance, development, and musicality. Yuan Yuan Tan seemed warmer and more sensual compared to her “Chi-Lin” of five years ago, and Tiit Helimets proved slow and steady can be beautiful as the Tortoise. But Hansuke Yamamoto’s Phoenix didn’t quite have the spring of Parrish Maynard’s debut, and Pierre-François Vilanoba, bless his heart in those golden hot pants and a wig full of dredlocks, did the best he could with the limited movement vocabulary. The men’s and women’s corps, while mostly there for show, seemed off or out of sync at times, but they also proved the point that sometimes less is more. Too much can be a distraction, and we don’t need a ballet that has everything but the kitchen sink in it, unless everything is just amazingly structured, developed, and presented. Then please, go right ahead.

Program 4, without a tutu in sight, aims to please the contemporary ballet-goer, and “Eden/Eden” is not to be missed. If only all dance programs were this good.

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