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San Francisco Ballet

Mixed Bill

by Stuart Sweeney

September 14, 2012 -- Sadler's Wells Theatre, London, UK

A San Francisco Ballet visit is always a special occasion for me. The quality of the dancers and the breadth of the repertoire make for an exciting event, but in addition, the SFB visit to the Royal Opera House in 2001 was one of early triumphs of criticaldance with several reviews each night and a host of interviews, diary jottings and live coverage of the “baked potato incident”, where an SFB encounter with a microwave led to the evacuation of the Opera House. You can see all the coverage here:

http://www.criticaldance.com/sfb/index.html

And now they are back with several of those who came originally, such as Vanessa Zahorian, Gennadi Nedvegin and Yuan Yuan Tan, plus a host of new talents. Three programmes brought ten pieces, many of them UK premières and I cursed my schedule, which meant I could only see programme A. Director, Helgi Tomasson, chose Balanchine's “Divertimento No.15” to open proceedings and this was a fine choice for several reasons: it's a beautiful work, but also an ensemble piece, providing a series of variations showing off a range of the company's dancers. As always, I enjoyed Balanchine's masterful control of space and pattern, and in this work to Mozart's eponymous score, the combination of traditional formations and steps was enhanced by jazzy elements from time to time. My overall impression was of the musicality of all 17 dancers, which ensured they were always synchronised in the ensemble sections and expressive in the variations. Tomasson has always been keen to give outstanding young dancers from the corps their chance and here we saw Koto Ishihara, performing with great skill and elegance – a star of the future. And to finish the variations, there was Vanessa Zahorian. commanding the stage with her power, the strength of her personality and her superb technique.

Edward Liang's “Symphonic Dances” to Rachmaninov is a romantic, declamatory work and the ensemble sections had a rough edge after Balanchine's perfection. But the saving grace was the lyrical duets especially the one for Yuan Yuan Tan and Vito Mazzeo. I remembered Tan - who could forget – for her dazzling technique, but now she has developed an extraordinary lyricism, which left me gasping. Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets also excelled in a duet with Sylve portraying a more independent soul than Tan's character.

SFB and Tomasson have the knack of keeping choreographers happy and willing to return. I was sorry to miss “Beaux” by Mark Morris, scheduled in the third programme, but did see one of no less than three Christopher Wheeldon works on show during SFB's week long stay at Sadler's Wells. “Number Nine” to music by Michael Torke moves at a brisk pace and again emphasises ensemble work rather than solos. And what terrific dancers they are moving with confidence and pace. Wheeldon matches Balanchine here with his masterly control of space.

It's good to see that SFB continues to develop new dancers and commission work within a company style that emphasises musicality and expression alongside the highest technical standards. Come back soon!

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