San Francisco Ballet
Program 2: 'Symphonic Variations', 'Raku', 'Symphony in C'
by Catherine Pawlick
February 6, 2011 -- War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, CA
A mixture of British and Russian influences spanning over 60 years of ballet history colored one of San Francisco Ballet’s performances of Program 2, a mixed bill with works by Frederick Ashton, Yuri Possokhov and George Balanchine.
The afternoon began with Frederick Ashton’s “Symphonic Variations,” a ballet created in the war-torn 1940s that is a treat for San Francisco audiences who have little exposure to many of Ashton’s works. Inspired by the choreographer’s own study of mysticism and set to the delicate piano music of Belgian-French composer Cesar-Franck, “Symphonic Variations” appears at first glance to echo much of Balanchine’s 1928 “Apollo”: white tunics with short skirts for the three female muses, upturned wrists, heaven-bound glances and low arabesques. Traces of Enrico Cecchetti’s technique, which was a significant influence in the development of the Russian system of ballet training, is evident among the pristine lines, simple poses, and movements performed fully and purely.
There was no better choice in the company to express the nuances of Ashton’s work than two exquisitely trained Russians: Maria Kochetkova, leagues above the rest for her physique, lines and high level of training, and partner Gennadi Nedvigin who offered soundless cabrioles with deep, cushioned landings. In their adagio together he lifted Kochetkova like a cloud; she was an unhampered summer breeze slowly floating, unrushed. While the two demi-soloist women seemed to have stepped erroneously out of the corps de ballet, the section of bourrees with all three women trembling across the stage en pointe, made up for it in tenderness and feminine grace. One of the demi-soloist males executed a series of pirouettes finishing with the arms in third en haut, an impressive choreographic detail. Ashton’s choreography at times suggests a European classical exercise --emboîtés or simple pirouettes for the men-- but at others a exudes a neoclassical flair. One can hope that more Ashton works will appear in the company’s repertoire in the future.
Another new addition to the repertoire, a fresh ballet by resident choreographer Yuri Possokhov, presents the burning of the temple in Kyoto, Japan by a jealous monk as its focal point. "RaKu" was created to a score commissioned by Shinji Eshima that includes tribal drum beats, offstage choral music and Asian-influence rhythms. Upstage, Japanese pagodas are projected onto screens while a large wooden box opens to reveal the protagonists: a white-faced Japanese Geisha in white satin robes, danced by Chinese dancer Yuan Yuan Tan, and Damian Smith, her initial partner, dressed as a Samurai of sorts. Tan’s Asian features and fragile bone structure suggested the beauty and form of Japanese art and perfectly fit her role of the quiet, elegant Japanese lady. Smith’s costume and physique represented those of a strong Japanese warrior who, after an initial pas de deux with Tan, is given a sword and led off to war. In his absence, a third man enters, presumably the monk, danced by Pascal Molat. His violent approach frightens Tan; after their struggle she is shorn of both clothing and dignity.
The theme of unrequited love and rage suddenly becomes clear: as Tan crumples to the floor, a fire consumes the upstage scrims, and presumably, part of her soul. A box and sword are delivered to her as she performs a wrenching dance of grief with four other warriors. She is hoisted, thrown and rolled in an intricate choreographic weave. The most heart-wrenching moment comes when she opens the box of her lover’s ashes, pouring them all over herself, and finally folding onto the ground in the falling snow. The audience was on its feet in applause.
George Balanchine’s “Symphony in C” opens to women in white tutus already posed on stage, and a resulting “oooh” from the entire audience. This neoclassical work set to Geroges Bizet’s symphony of the same name includes four main pas de deux, each echoing the musical tempo and mood. Lorena Feijoo with Vitor Luiz danced the First Movement, Luiz outshining her with unquestionably sturdy jumps and turns. Maria Kotchetkova graced the stage again in the Second Movement, infusing this considerably challenging adagio section with sensitive, graceful movement (absent one missed balance –Joan Boada seemed to have missed her hand). While the talk of the ballet world in the city, newcomer Nicole Ciapponi, was listed as the lead in the Third Movement with Taras Domitro, Sasha De Sola with Mariellen Olson performed as demi-soloists in this section. While perhaps adequate, the two demi-soloists lacked the polish and physique that Kochetkova and others have on offer, and their exactitude --especially in the string of grand jetes-- was below that of partner Domitro, whose verve draws one’s eye immediately. Domitro has the skill of an indulgently slow, balanced pirouette--so slow one can almost see the physics of his rotations—and high, airborne jumps. He’s an endless pleasure to watch. The corps de ballet did not manage to keep time to the music throughout this quicker section, but Domitro’s presence was enough to both distract and compensate. Clara Blanco surprised considerably as the lead of the Fourth Movement. Alongside Lonnie Weeks, Blanco appeared every bit the ballerina, her long slender neck leading to a crop of auburn hair, her graceful arms and precise dancing suggesting a promising future.
Martin West conducted the first and last pieces on the program.