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San Francisco Ballet

Program 6 - 'On Common Ground', 'Night', 'Rodeo'

by Katie Rosenfeld

April 21, 2007 -- War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

There are many reasons why an audience applauds for ballet. Sometimes it’s because a piece has transported them through music, through inspired choreography, through a concept that is so creative, so brazen that the sheer excitement surges through the house. Often it is an individual dancer’s interpretation that garners appreciation. Sheer amazement over an especially difficult manège, a series of brilliant fouettés or an especially powerful character development will also result in applause. Rarely, magically, all of these possibilities occur at the same time. 

There were moments throughout Saturday night’s performance that had that special clarity of near-perfection. Helgi Tomasson’s new work, “On Common Ground,” provided shimmers of excellence, although at times there seemed to be a disconnection between the main elements of movement, music and setting. Tina LeBlanc and Lorena Feijoo, when dancing together, seemed to stretch a little further, hold a little longer, as though in competition with each other. Their partners, Ruben Martin and Davit Karapetyan respectively, matched their energy well. Elana Altman and Jennifer Stahl were all leggy length, ably partnered by Jaime Garcia Castilla, who stepped in for an apparently ill Rory Hohenstein.

The dancers at times were a bit adrift in the music, without the support of a strong metronome or memorable melody. The costumes didn’t jibe with the general atmosphere, the blocks of neon colors against solid black seemed borrowed from a more jazzy ballet, and the floating-leaf scrim was more a distraction than a frame for the work. All of that aside, what the piece was really about was the dancers, finding a common language through movement. While this may not have happened entirely, there were moments of point-counterpoint between the dancers that struck a strong chord.

LeBlanc’s performance as the sleeping girl in Julia Adam’s “Night” was a pure delight, the eerie fog of sleep created by a strong supporting cast (including Rubin Martin as her gentle guide) enveloping her and sending her drifting along the slightly spooky and surreal current of the passing night. Altman, Brooke Moore and Stahl resembled escaped runway models from high-fashion Paris, their three-headed woman punctuating the slumbering calm with freaky, angular poise. Choreographic surprises such as the human bed and the sinking sense of submersion created by the rolling movement of the corps brought the audience into the dreamland, allowing us to awaken to the light violet of morning with sweet memories of sleep. The audience’s response was surprisingly honest and raw, the applause punctuated by cheers.

Sarah Van Patten was a treat as the spunky Cowgirl in Agnes DeMille’s classic “Rodeo.” Her disastrous attempts at flirting with Brett Bauer’s aloof Head Wrangler were painfully accurate, and the sweet nature of her developing relationship with Garret Anderson’s swaggering Champion Roper was pure and totally believable. The ensemble work was up to the high standards the corps has established this year:  the play between the Kansas City girls and the local women putting into sharp resolution the Cowgirl’s isolation and desire to become something she isn’t, the tough posturing of the Cow-Hands echoed in her foot-stomping, gleeful solos. When she bursts through the crowd at the dance, huge hair bow askew and yellow dress hastily thrown on in place of her comfortable clothes, the relevance is not limited to a specific time and place: this is the struggle of every independently-minded young woman brought to life with the help of Aaron Copeland’s gloriously American score, immediately familiar and heart-liftingly expansive. Sixty-five years after its premiere, “Rodeo” remains a wonderfully fresh and joyful piece of Ballet Americana. It was a wonderful close to an enjoyable evening.

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