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San Francisco Ballet
New Works Festival, Program B

'Joyride,' 'The Ruins Proclaim the Building was Beautiful,' 'Ruins,' 'Naked,' 'A rose by any other name'

by Becca Hirschman

Saturday, April 26, 2008, 2PM - War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

The city’s been abuzz with chatter surrounding San Francisco Ballet’s New Works Festival, a three-program, multi-week spectacle of new choreography created by some of ballet’s most loved and well regarded dance makers. Helgi Tomasson, looking to knock everyone’s socks and slippers off, seems to have delivered. At least, if Program B is any indication, I should be walking barefoot through the city for months to come.

Due to some personal scheduling, I started the Festival out of order, yet my gut tells me this shouldn’t be a problem. Ideally, each program should be able to stand on its own, yet as a festival, they should complement each other, too. In addition, each program’s individual works should also balance one another, yet Saturday’s matinee didn’t quite achieve my own expectations. Part of that may have been my fault, as who knows what to expect from something titled “New Works Festival.” Similar to the new InterContinental Hotel down on Howard Street, you’ve got to see it to believe it. And so I did.

The evening’s winner was a tie: Mark Morris’ continuously leg-kicking “Joyride” worked my brain into overtime while James Kudelka’s “The Ruins Proclaim the Building Was Beautiful” forcefully sauntered forward. With eight dancers clad in Isaac Mizrahi’s metallic unitards, “Joyride” takes no prisoners. The work highlights kicks, sharp arabesques, and wonderfully executed in-sync pirouettes, just as John Adams’ score (and he conducted the orchestra on this sunny afternoon) punches along at breakneck speed. Sarah Van Patten and Gennadi Nedvigin, dressed in shiny gold, led the way, steering everyone down a pulsating path of skill and gusto. Young corps member Jennifer Stahl, swathed in gunmetal grey, showed amazing control, and Rory Hohenstein flowed through the ever-challenging movement with a sexy naturalness.

Kudelka’s “Ruins” explores the social undertones of humanity, and the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, under the direction of David Briskin, brought Rodney Sharman’s score, based on pieces by composer César Franck, to life. The darkly lit corps of women, adorned in pink sliced-and-diced tutus and nests of wispy hair (potentially by Helena Bonham Carter but credited to James Searle), waltzed like rosy waves from corner to corner.

Frances Chung and Elana Altman were first to face the well-coifed and finely dressed (if slightly creepy) threesome of Pierre-François Vilanoba, Aaron Orza, and Martyn Garside, and the women pushed and fought, but easily gave in to the support, direction, and control the men provided. Yuan Yuan Tan, as the more modern woman in red, proved a better opponent to Vilanoba, but again, she finally succumbed to the weight and demands required of her to survive. Kudelka choreographs in stunning tangents, spilling forward with expansive ideas, and “Ruins” proved both lovely and disturbing all at the time.

Stanton Welch’s “Naked” showcased unimaginative yet structured choreography to music by Francis Poulenc. With the title, splash of neutrals across the back scrim, and peachy tutus and tunics, I expected raw expressive movement and something more telling than the basic leaps and turns. Still, the twenty-six minutes moved briskly, and the dancers brought their A-game, moving crisply across the stage. The two highlights of what “Naked” almost was were Kristin Long, who lit up the stage with her fresh spring in her jumps, and Frances Chung in her pas de deux with Brett Bauer with Chung dancing tenderly in Bauer’s arms. Why these two were not listed in the “principal” section of the casting sheet is beyond me.

Julia Adam’s “A rose by any other name” oddly set to Bach’s “Goldberg Variations,” sadly prompted me to recall “Angelo,” a static ballet I sat through more times than humanly necessary. With excessive posturing, gesturing, and two-dimensional walking about with arms up and down (I felt like I was examining Aztec codices or Egyptian hieroglyphs after the first few minutes), “Rose” drooped from the beginning. Yes, Adam changed the story up by having the fairies be men who then are recycled as the suitors/forest later on, and some of the ideas behind the fairy variations were cute (Bauer as Beauty always stared at himself via a mirror, even it was under his legs), but these tricks couldn’t save the ballet from wilting. Long appeared underused, but she was adorable nonetheless.

So with Program B complete (at least for me), I’ve seen it, and so far, I believe it. Sure, some of the choreography wasn’t to my taste, but I enjoyed seeing the company’s dancers in top form and on display for all to see. And to me, that's what matters most.


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