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San Francisco Ballet

Program Seven

by Toba Singer

April 12, 2007 -- War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, CA

It’s all there: Mambo, précipité, Macarena, jazz arms, swivel hips, low lunges and imploring arms.  It’s Lar Lubovitch’s “Elemental Brubeck,” the evening’s springy opener. Rory Hohenstein dazzles the audience reprising the solos he performed last year, which, along with his Champion Roper in “Rodeo,” helped push him up a rank to soloist. As his body matures and facility increases, he’s demonstrating over and over that he’s going places.

The duet couple is Katita Waldo and Ruben Martín. Whether she’s holding her position in a slow swing lift or breaking out into jazz soutenu turns with arms to match, Waldo, costumed in tangerine, is ever the sweater girl who dances with her partner as if it were their very first encounter.  What makes her dancing so steamy is that she knows what to awaken and how—in her partners and the audience.  The choreography reads like a low rumble of thunder under the lightning Brubeck score.  Sometimes it leaves the sextet coryphée dancers unsupported. They are led by Frances Chung in a lavender swing costume.  Chung is commanding as she is lifted above the others in her party: Elizabeth Miner, James Sofranko, Garrett Anderson, Courtney Elizabeth and Matthew Stewart.  They all meet the challenges posed by the plaintive saxophone and the weightier trumpet and violin riffs with waltz steps souped up for the jazz accompaniment.  Chung has always danced with great confidence, but now the openness in her rib cage gives her dancing a powerful soaring quality.  Courtney Elizabeth dares the others with high energy and Elizabeth Miner envelops the sextet with her signature charm, offering a lovely echo of Waldo as they dance side by side toward the close of the piece. 

“Concordia” opens in the bass range to music by Matthew Hindson.  “Flight of the Bumblebee” comes to mind as Tiit Helimets and Sarah Van Patten begin their push-pull pas de deux bathed in light against a black backdrop. The costumes by Christopher Reed are slate blue and grey tunics over black briefs.  The choreography—a new challenge for this company, and there have been several of them this season, not the least of which was Forsythe’s “Artifact Suite-” comes this time from 33-year-old Matjash Mrozewski, whose work is received here in the way that “foreign” (e.g. European) films once were.  Audiences, but especially dance critics, will ask the question, “What is he doing and why does he work that way?”   It’s a fair question and while it’s under consideration we get to see some deep work from Sarah Van Patten, whose affect seems more genuine and fully present in contemporary than classical ballet.  In Mrozewski’s work, she and Helimets must live with their choices for extended phrases as poses morph into lengthier investigations.  It is fascinating to watch and tremendously encouraging for future casting.  Van Patten is a modernist, and perhaps because she’s so young, has been saddled with predictable vocabularies—until now!   

The second couple, Vanessa Zahorian and Pascal Molat, wear more stylized grey and blue costumes; hers with a tutu. His tunic is more classical, as are the steps and movement here. Still, there is a thread that continues from the previous couple, where he places his leg across hers, and she places hers across his—equanimity that is not usually present in classical designs. Then with a touch of gallantry, again offered reciprocally by the male and female partners, we get a “Now you jump,” “Now I jump” sequence that brims over with civility.  Suddenly that is undone by Molat’s fast and furious footwork to music that oddly enough has a chamber quality to it. Zahorian, with hyperextended back, gives us exaggerated arabesques and long arm reaches, her solo circumnavigating her spine.  Each movement in this piece looks discreet, but then labors somewhat to give birth to its successor like a funicular discharging its passengers.  Every rill has its run and chords get the closed steps.  The not-for-Hollywood production values have you believing that the dancers have been carved out of some centuries’ old organic material—where you can smell the bourrées as if they were coming off a buzz saw. Considering that the steps are danced in such a stylized manner, it is curious that so many of them are also on flat instead of pointe and that texture changes are achieved by quick foot swivels during jumps—the Discordia that renders the Concordia more compelling.  Concordant or discordant, one thing is crystal clear: Van Patten has found her choreographer.

“We’re going to see another ‘Symphony in C,’” intones my long-lost friend who I run into at intermission. Though I nod sympathetically, the thought occurs that perhaps we should have to see it every few years because, to paraphrase Elyse Borne, who staged it, it’s a kind of litmus test for new company members.  As it opened, the dancers seemed a bit cold (in the muscular sense) and unready.  Tina Leblanc, who would partner with Davit Karapetyan, woke up the sleepers with her lively échapées.  Karapetyan’s sissons were clean and lean.  The other cast members filled in, placing all the right pieces in all the right places, setting the stage for Yuan Yuan Tan to breathe life into her lifts, supported ably by Tiit Helimets who carried her across an arc described by two flanks of dance couples.  Are Tan’s 180 degree penchées still considered penchées?  Shouldn’t we call them something else?  What’s the French word for divining rod?  The “after Karinska”-designed tutus are too long.  They foreshorten the legs and make every female dancer look like she’s in Level Three of the school, and those wobbles and bobbles receive indeterminate sentences: Long tutus have long memories.

The more they danced, the better it got. Seasoned in Balanchine, Kristin Long and Gennadi Nedvigin, jumped right in and turned up the flame, and everyone who came after them caught the fire and the whole thing suddenly pulled itself together in the end.  If there’s a lesson from this year’s “Symphony in C” assay, it’s for the corps to work on focus and balance, chanting “I’ve got the line if you’ve got the verve!” 

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