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San Francisco Ballet

'Trio', 'RAkU', 'Voices of Spring', 'Number Nine'

by Carmel Morgan

November 13, 2012 -- JFK Center for the Performing Arts, Opera House, Washington, DC

The end of the 2012, just prior to Nutcracker season, brought the San Francisco Ballet (“SFB”) to DC’s Kennedy Center. It was nice to see this company on the East Coast, and especially nice to be treated to a mixed program featuring diverse works, including three DC premieres that had debuted in San Francisco in 2011. Although Sir Frederic Ashton’s 1977 “Voices of Spring” was the lone “oldie” in an evening showcasing new pieces choreographed for the company, it held up well and garnered several delighted giggles from the audience. Maria Kochetkova and her partner Joan Boada playfully breezed through the brief light duet. The pair crisply executed the slightly clownish classical work. Kochetkova tripped along in the air like a happy pony as she was guided by Boada. At another point, held high aloft, pink petals rained from her fingertips.

The gem of the night, as judged by the huge amount of enthusiastic audience applause, was “RAkU,” a Japanese-inspired ballet by Yuri Possokhov, a choreographer in residence with the SFB. “RAkU” elicited gasps of wonder, rather than giggles. The audience was greeted with truly gorgeous sets (Alexander V. Nichols), costumes (Mark Zappone), and lighting design Christopher Dennis), and also a terrific original musical score by Shinji Eshima that was commissioned for the piece and that incorporated a live Buddhist chant. According to program notes written by Cheryl A. Ossola available on the SFB’s website, Possokhov based“RAkU” on the burning of Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion in 1950, but set the work in an earlier time period, where samurai with swords still roamed Japan.

Yuan Yuan Tan absolutely stunned as an aggrieved woman suffering the loss of her lover. The ballet is heavy with emotion, and Tan convincingly and heart-wrenchingly displayed her character’s anguish through her highly skilled dancing. In a quiet moment, her long kimono sleeves swayed beautifully. In a much harsher moment, Tan tossed her lover’s ashes into the air and then smeared them into her face, echoing the dramatic style of Butoh.

Two more contemporary ballets graced the program: “Trio” by SFB’s Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson, and “Number Nine,” by the British phenom Christopher Wheeldon. Neither of these ballets particularly captivated me, but of the two, I preferred Wheeldon’s piece. In “Number Nine,” the dancers excelled at fast-paced movement, with rapid arm changes and innovative lifts. Wheeldon’s choreography kept them busy, with little room for adding personal flourishes in the tightly controlled architecture of the ballet. The neon-hued costumes by Holly Hynes and lighting design by Mary Louise Geiger jarred, but the score composed by Michael Torke (“Ash”) provided great richness and depth. The dancers made precise shapes with their bodies, which neatly complimented the complex music.

I regret to say that I was bored by Tomasson’s “Trio.” There was nothing objectionable about it, nor exciting. For my taste, there were too few surprises. Only in the second movement when Sarah Van Patten took the stage did I begin to feel any connection to the work. Van Patten spun like the point of a compass, light and straight. The actress in her enlivened an otherwise unremarkable role, and she made her dancing look meaningful.

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