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San Francisco Ballet

Program 2 - How Sweet It Is

by Becca Hirschman

January 31, 2008 -- War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

Thursday, a few colleagues and I went to celebrate the last day of “Dine About Town” with a prix fixe lunch at Fringale, a lovely little French restaurant just a few blocks from work. Our appetizers and entrées hit the spot (I savored the couscous with mushroom and chestnut ragout and white truffle oil--how divine!), but by the time we were faced with dessert, we were perplexed. Should we each order what our hearts desired, or do we agree to order one of each of the three choices and share amongst ourselves? We went with the latter, and boy, were we happy. Our mixed bill of a warm chocolate gourmand, hazelnut and roasted almond mousse cake, and apple tart tatin pleased all of the senses, and we came away with an appreciation for how each dessert complemented the other. The same could be said for Program 2 of San Francisco Ballet’s current season. Featuring works by George Balanchine, Mark Morris, and Yuri Possokhov, there was something for everyone, and while each work could hold its own on the expansive Opera House stage, the evening closed with a sense of completeness.

The evening opened with Balanchine’s “Divertimento No. 15,” set to music by Mozart. Balanchine has become synonymous with American ballet, so perhaps this was the program’s equivalent to my lunch’s apple tart. Showcasing musicality and pure, codified ballet, the work followed a theme of crisp fifth positions, deep pliés, pure, balanced attitudes, and long, sweeping penchées. Kristin Long energized the stage with her feet of fury, and Gennadi Nedvigin knows how to maximize his plié, showing off luscious jumps, beats, and pirouettes that all seemed to melt and then spring upward from his ankles to the rafters. The principal cast also included Frances Chung, Rachel Viselli, Katita Waldo, Vanessa Zahorian, Nicolas Blanc, and Hansuke Yamamoto. All looked well-rehearsed, except for Yamamoto, who was a late addition, and this may just not be his forte.

Mark Morris’ “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes” a highlight of the evening, brought Virgil Thomson’s score to life as a visual cornucopia of notes, beats, pauses, and rhythms. The cast, dressed in conservative yet flowing white attire, looked comfortable yet fresh dancing the stripped down, unaffected movement. Anthony Spaulding invited us to share the moment as he gracefully balancéed side to side, and Maria Kochetkova delighted, bounding with zest in her jetés. Courtney Elizabeth shone throughout, her smile reaching past the last rows of seats and out onto Van Ness Street, and elegance radiating through her limbs and out the top of her bun. Rory Hohenstein looked at home in the relaxed movement and overall style; he truly is a chameleon of his trade. Morris knows how to create a work of art, and here, he's spun ballet on it's side, infusing it with a warm summer's day and a cool winter's night to create an effortless array of well-developed and joyous-to-watch movement. Drink to Me, though, was a true ensemble piece, and it wouldn’t have been as effective without the entire cast, which also included Elana Altman, Dores Andre, Ruben Martin, Elizabeth Miner, Pascal Molat, Garen Scribner, James Sofranko, and Sarah Van Patten. Nataly’a Feygina played the piano upstage center with ferocious abandon.

Yuri Possokov’s theatrical “Firebird” made an encore appearance. A brief 35 minutes, this is a short story for the kid in you. There’s love, intrigue, giggles, a chase scene, eunuchs cavorting about, and a glittering, orange, leggy bird with a wig. The contemporary set design by Yuri Zhukov includes anime-like trees, a spare red “town”, and at one key moment, sweeping grayish fabric for a quick scene change. But even though Pascal Molat’s sinister Karchei had captured the princess (an endearing Rachel Viselli) and her fellow friends, and entrapped our prince-of-the-day (Damian Smith) in a Red Vine-like curly enclosure, in this universe, Yuan Yuan Tan, as the Firebird, ruled. With each spin or lift in Smith’s arms and leap towards Molat, the audience grew quieter and quieter, seeming to bow to her spellbinding ability to twist, turn, and sparkle at every moment. Martin West conducted the thumping San Francisco Ballet Orchestra. “Firebird” may not be the best ballet has to offer, but it sure did end the night with a loud round of applause and a smile on many faces.

You’re probably wondering which one I liked the most. Well, I’ll be honest: it was the chocolate gourmand. Pure, self-indulging, and rich down to the last bite. Just how I like ‘em.

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