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San Francisco Ballet

'Beaux', 'Classical Symphony', 'RakU', 'Within the Golden Hour'

by Charlotte Kasner

September 19, 2012 -- Sadler's Wells Theatre, London, UK

The final programme of San Francisco’s London visit was packed with goodies. There was a packed house too, with expectations high all round.

The evening opened with “Beaux”, delightful Mark Morris choreography and a wonderful backcloth by Isaac Mizrahi with costumes that, not so much matched, as camouflaged. Alas the men struggled to maintain the standards with lots of fluffing and some unseemly shuffling from one dancer in particular who found himself not quite centre stage. They seemed nervous and uncomfortable with Morris requiring them to get in touch with their feminine side, although it improved towards the end.

There were duets and trios and conspiracies of men in gaggles. There was a lot of lifting and pairing to glorious music by the not-often-enough-heard Martinu. Morris is not shy of using different levels with a mosh-pit style lift as a motif, making the dancer borne thus aloft seem to fly.

With Yuri Possokhov’s “Classical Symphony”, we were on much more familiar territory and he did not manage to deliver anything that was in danger of shaking that familiarity. There was nothing to suggest this was Prokofiev’s tribute to classicism in the choreography, which lacked subtlety in its musical approach. He was not helped by Sandra Woodall’s custard yellow costumes for the girls with extremely ugly plates that were simultaneously rigid and wobbly and less than flattering bare legs beneath.

Having said all that, there were moments of interest, especially in his use of the floor with the girls pirouetting downwards as their ankles flexed outwards then inwards and some sharp, fast, Balanchine-like work in the last movement. It went down well with the audience and one would imagine is a favourite with their home audience.

“RakU” which followed the interval could not have produced a greater contrast. Based on the burning of Kyoto’s pavilion, it at times seemed like a Japanese Polotsvian Dances: one could imagine Diaghilev producing such a work. Whilst it tended towards cliché, it was saved by a stunningly dramatic performance from Yuan Yuan Tan who brought total commitment to her role. Shinjin Eshima’s score was terrific, especially the opening. Alexander Nichols’ set was extremely effective, comprising blocks on which was projected a broken image of the temple before and after the fire. The projection was particularly effective in establishing a sense of indoors and outdoors.

No question, though, that the best was saved until last. Christopher Wheeldon’s “Within the Golden Hour” was simply terrific and showed the Company at its finest. It was complex, subtle and exciting and he even managed to make the mish-mash of music appear seamless. The pace ebbed and flowed with the central pas de deux leaving the audience gasping. He is not afraid to introduce an element of wit, even in a fairly serious work, not least at the finale with the dancers frantically swapping hand holds as the false endings cannoned around them.

Once again, one cannot ignore the superb conducting from Martin West who led a fine ensemble of players. Their versatility and professionalism was memorable and would have put more than one concert orchestra to shame. What a privilege after so much recorded and badly relayed dance accompaniment.

Lucky London to have witnessed this Company who must surely rank amongst the best in the world. Come back soon!

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