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San Francisco Ballet

New Works Festival, Program C

by Becca Hirschman

May 3, 2008, 2PM -- San Francisco

San Francisco Ballet’s New Works Festival is still the talk of the town, and luckily I was able to catch a matinée of Program C, featuring three very diverse ballets. This afternoon's cast showcased mainly dancers from the corps de ballet and soloists, a refreshing treat perhaps foreshadowing the company's future, and if so, this vision is grand.

Val Caniparoli's "Ibsen's House," gets my vote as winner of the afternoon. With dark fabric and a brightly draped "window" adorning the back, the ten dancers emotionally poured through Caniparoli’s circular and attractive movement while portraying various characters from five of Henrik Ibsen's plays, each focusing on women's place in society. These women aren’t cookie-cutters, and Caniparoli intends to prove it. Obviously, the ladies were the focus here, dressed in Sandra Woodall's dark jewel-toned dresses. Lorena Feijoo, in burgundy as Hedda Gabler, treaded lightly as she expansively leapt forward and extended her arms, and Aaron Orza (a last-minute replacement for David Arce), as her husband, seemed indifferent to her needs.

Clara Blanco shone as the young Nora Helmer, and Luke Willis as Torvald Helmer picked her up like a doll whether in second position en pointe or grasping his neck-- more like a father than a husband. I greatly enjoyed seeing the glowing Blanco in a featured role: she has lovely, pure technique plus a special presence. Courtney Elizabeth and Pierre Françios Villanoba played the couple from “Lady from the Sea” with electricity and passion, but Patricia Perez, looking lost compared to the other women, danced somewhat tentatively with Steven Norman as the couple from “Rosmersholm.” Dana Genshaft, with enchanting musicality, and Garen Scribner paired well as the mother and son from “Ghosts,” dancing naturally and with confidence. “Ibsen’s House” featured innovative lifts along with ten dancers’ sensitive and dramatic performances, and to top it off, Dvoràk’s “Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 81” played divinely from the pit. Caniparoli has a hit on his hands.

Jorma Elo’s contemporary “Double Evil” was a highlight as the program’s only tutu ballet. Dressed in Holly Hynes’ greens and turquoise, the six dancers pranced, skittered, and dove like zoo animals finally allowed to roam freely in the wild. Lily Rogers and Ruben Martin, as the lead couple, partnered in a sensitive opening duet, he sneaking under her leg as she smoothly extended to arabesque. Courtney Wright, Dana Genshaft, Garrett Anderson, James Sofranko, and Nicolas Blanc looked to be enjoying themselves, but Dores Andre, a more demure dancer, seemed out of sync with the rest. Elo blended two very different music scores well in the twenty-some odd minutes, and James Ingalls’ juxtaposition of full lighting with Philip Glass’s “Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra,” a rhythmic and rumbling feat of semi-minimalism, and dewy, overhead spot lighting for Vladimir Martynov’s softer and lyrical “Come In!” worked wonders to distinctly differentiate the two ever-competing onstage moods. "Double Evil" was quite a treat.

“Thread,” San Francisco’s modern dance maven Margaret Jenkins’ contribution to the program, played on the concept of the myth of Ariadne, Theseus, and the labyrinth at Knossos. Jenkins produced some interesting movement vocabulary, especially with the smaller group partnering, but “Thread” felt drawn out and lengthy at times, never quite finding the center of the labyrinth, and instead getting stuck in a dead-end half way in. Jenkins’ incorporated some very hard-to-see movement behind a scrim, and Paul Dresher’s composition, made especially for “Thread,” lingered but didn’t help move the story along. Luckily, the dancers looked comfortable in the more modern movements, and Pauli Magierek sparkled as a refreshing Ariadne. Too bad this wasn’t enough to save the more muddled choreographic sequences from becoming a faint memory.

San Francisco Ballet’s New Works Festival made a splash overall on my dance calendar, featuring a slew of dancers from corps de ballet to principal over the course of a few weeks. I enjoyed myself immensely, and I’m glad that many of the works will revisit the Opera House’s stage next year.


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