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San Francisco Ballet - 2013 New York Season
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Author:  balletomaniac [ Thu Oct 17, 2013 7:53 pm ]
Post subject:  San Francisco Ballet - 2013 New York Season

San Francisco Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

October 16, 2013
“Trio,” “Ghosts,” “Borderlands”

-- by Jerry Hochman

After a five year absence, San Francisco Ballet opened its brief two-week 2013 New York season last night at the David H. Koch Theater. I have mixed reaction to the three ballets presented, but based on the performances, having the opportunity to see SFB’s youthful, engaging, and talented group of dancers was worth the wait.

The initial program, all New York premieres, featured Artistic Director Helgi Tommason’s “Trio,” “Ghosts,” choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, and Wayne McGregor’s “Borderlands”. These dances provided a single-evening opportunity to see a broad range of dances and styles, from an up-beat, lyrical, lovely opening piece, to a quirky, interesting concept dance, to an abstract contemporary dance that has no meaning, but that stretches the limits of the dancers’ athletic abilities.

These three pieces also appear to have been selected to demonstrate the breadth of SFB’s talented dancers. That they do. Instead of beginning its tour with the highly anticipated New York premiere of Mr. Wheeldon’s “Cinderella,” which will comprise SFB’s second week of performances but which necessarily has limited lead performance opportunities, beginning its tour with this and other repertory programs provides an opportunity to see, in one sitting, an extensive array of SFB dancers and a treasure trove of SFB principal ballerinas, including Maria Kochetkova, Sarah Van Patten, and Yuan Yuan Tan. With her frequent appearances on the ‘gala’ circuit and as a guest artist, Ms. Kochetkova is not a stranger to New York ballet audiences, but she looks particularly comfortable with her home company. Since I had never seen her dance previously, Ms. Van Patten was a delightful surprise: she dances with a singular purity. I have seen Ms. Tan dance previously – on television in SFB’s performance of John Neumeier’s “The Little Mermaid” – but seeing her live, in “Ghosts,” was a revelation. She has a unique and stunning stage presence, and the opportunity to see her perform live should not to be missed.

I saw Mr. Tommason dance with New York City Ballet many times, and his stellar reputation as a dancer is well-earned, and beyond dispute. Any opportunity to see him perform was a treat. But I confess to being unfamiliar with his choreography. If “Trio” is representative, Mr. Tomasson is as fine a choreographer as he was a dancer.

“Trio,” which premiered in San Francisco in 2011, is an abstract ballet in three movements. Choreographed to Tchaikovsky’s “Souvenir de Florence,” the ballet has a richness to its appearance, but a richness that’s simple and classic rather than opulent or overly ornate. The rear backdrop consists of squares of swirling color and visual texture (the specific base color varies with the three segments of the ballet, presumably arising from different colored light streams) that give the appearance of high-quality mosaic tiles. Florentine mosaic tiles. The costumes – light, flowing, satin-like dresses for the women – complement the set, with one primary color for each movement (e.g., muted burgundy; sienna brown). [Scenic design by Alexander V. Nichols; Lighting Design by Christopher Dennis; Costume Design by Mark Zappone.]

Mr. Tomasson’s choreography is equally ravishing, with swirls of color and motion. It’s an abstract ballet, but its central segment has a compelling emotional component. The 1st Movement, led with verve by Vanessa Zahorian and Vitor Luis, is virtually non-stop motion, broken into components of corps dancers (5/5), couples, the lead couple, Ms. Zaharian solo, and various permutations. It’s a wonderfully lyrical presentation. The closing 3rd Movement, featuring Ms. Kochetkova and Gennadi Nedvigin and another 5/5 corps, had a celebratory air. But the highlight of the ballet was its 2nd Movement, an enigmatic pas de trois with Ms. Van Patten, Tiit Helimets, and Anthony Spaulding. A woman is in love with a man, but a second man appears who has some prior relationship with, and dominance over, the woman. Who this second man is is intentionally unclear. A former lover? Husband? Father? It doesn’t matter. The beauty of the pas de trois is in the deceptively simple choreography, in its restrained passion, and in the wonderfully controlled execution by Mr. Helimets (the first man), Mr. Spaulding (the enigmatic second man), and Ms. Van Patten. All were excellent – Mr. Helimets in his exquisite partnering (his duet with Ms. Van Patten is the centerpiece of the pas de trois), Mr. Spaulding with his air of mystery, and particularly Ms. Van Patten, with her extraordinary clarity, extension, line, and overall polish. The piece has a Jerome Robbins look to it, a sense of humanity that matches its complexity. Mr. Tomasson learned his lessons well.

It’s tempting to say that Mr. Wheeldon’s “Ghosts” gave me the Willis (there, I succumbed to it), but, other than being about spirits of the night, it has no relationship to “Giselle.” Mr. Wheeldon here has created a ballet (to a composition titled “Ghosts,” by C.F. Kip Winger) which visualizes a night at the cemetery where the ghosts of the dead arise at night and do whatever it is that ghosts do. In Mr. Wheeldon’s vision, it’s a utopian Zombieland, filled with romantic and beautiful spirits arising from the ground, and interacting with each other in a disembodied way. There’s no emotion on the ghosts’ faces, because there’s no ‘person’ to show emotion, but there is an abundance of feeling generated by the ethereal, will o the wisp movement quality. [Willis….will o’ the wisp….]

Mr. Wheeldon’s ghosts arise from the ground face down, hoisted by the rear ends of their torsos. It sounds strange and looks stranger, and very un-ghost like (one would think that the lightest body parts would float to the top first, but what do I know?), but after awhile you get used to it. Similarly, these ghosts flow through the air propelled by whirling arm gestures, as if they were mimicking the motion of a vertical spinning top as their hands grab pieces of air. These central images are repeated too much. But that having been said, there’s a strange beauty to this piece, and even though it’s a ‘concept,’ a snapshot in time of ghosts in their natural habitat (complete with dark lighting and a full moon), it works because Mr. Wheeldon is so skilled at creating and conveying a mood, and because of the ability of the SFB dancers to inhabit characters that have no corporeal existence.

The ballet is comprised of a six pair plebian ghost corps, and two sets of lead ghosts (Sofiane Sylve, Mr. Helimets, and Shane Wuerthner; and Ms. Tan and Damian Smith), and the action is skillfully interwoven between the leads and the corps. Ms. Sylve, whom I recall from her performances with NYCB, is a relatively tall, imposing-looking dancer, whose ghost is on a mission (though I’m not sure exactly what that mission is). She’s the only ghost I saw with a personality, albeit a ghostly one. She’s beautiful and dominating and scary – a ghost you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. Ms. Sylve would make a fabulous Myrtha (and perhaps already has).

All the ghosts (at least the women) wore appropriately ghostly diaphanous white costumes. But Ms. Tan was a ghost of a different color. She had no personality. She was dead. But she was so alive. Diligently partnered by Mr. Smith, Ms. Tan also appears to be relatively tall, with a body that is one step removed from being nonexistent. There’s nothing to her. But what made Ms. Tan’s performance remarkable was not just her skill in looking like an elongated breath of air, but the ghostly aura that she transmitted without in any way acting. She wouldn’t scare you away – on the contrary, hers was a ghost who’d draw you in, a ghost you wouldn’t mind meeting in a dark alley, or anywhere else. Considering that she did nothing other than move exquisitely and look blank, emoting only with her eyes, Ms. Tan’s performance was extraordinary. For me, it was the highlight of the evening.

Mr. McGregor has an extraordinary reputation in Europe. He crafts abstract ballets with a combination of angularity and fluidity that, to me, is unique. And his aren’t dances that are just bumps and grinds and contortions and angst. Based on what I’ve seen, his pieces are well crafted, with balance and intelligence. I appreciated the piece he created for NYCB in May, 2010, titled “Outliers.” Like that piece, “Borderlands,” which premiered earlier this year, is austere-looking, appears driven by energy forces outside the control of the dancers, and is virtually non-stop movement. Also like “Outliers,” “Borderlands” displays dancers interacting with other dancers, or not, sometimes in pairs, or not, with no seeming rhyme or reason. And the overall movement quality is the same – the dancers move angularly, but also like human ‘slinky’ toys, and appear to be pulled inward, as if by gravity. This may sound like a collection of incompatible movement qualities, but it works.

But the resemblance between “Outliers” and “Borderlands” stops there. “Borderlands” is all energy force and manipulation. That’s fine, but for me it’s insufficient. There is no sense of anything more than bodies moving in space. Based on the title (and that the title “Outliers” had some meaning within the context of that piece), I expected some sense of ‘borders’ being explored, but aside from taking place within a box-like set, there was no such thematic overlay.

There is no question that Mr. McGregor pushes the envelope with respect to the limits of a body’s endurance and the different ways in which a body can be contorted and manipulated, but in this piece the dancers’ bodies were not only finely-tuned instruments – they were objects. The SFB dancers, however, were magnificent objects, and executed Mr. McGregor’s contortions with skill and finesse. In addition to Ms. Kochetkova, Ms. Sylve, Ms. Van Patten, and Mr. Spaulding, they included Frances Chung, Jamie Garcia Castilla, Koto Ishihara, Pascal Molat, Francisco Mungamba, Elizabeth Powell Carlos Quenedit, and Lonnie Weeks.

The last time I had an opportunity to see San Francisco Ballet was on a visit to San Francisco in the mid-1990s. When I arrived, saw that SFB was in town, and that Tina LeBlanc would be dancing Giselle (I had previously seen Ms. LeBlanc dance with the Joffrey Ballet in New York), I knew it was a performance I could not miss. I still cherish the memory of her performance. I don’t remember much about the company as a whole from that one performance, except that the dancers appeared competent and youthful, and that I sensed that under Mr. Tomasson’s leadership the company was in transition. Slow forward to last night, and SFB’s transition period has ended. It is now a company of national and international renown. Based on last night’s program, and particularly on the quality of its dancers, its reputation is well-deserved.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Oct 18, 2013 2:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: San Francisco Ballet - 2013 New York Season

Robert Johnson reviews "Trio," "Ghosts" and "Borderlands" for the Newark Star-Ledger.

Newark Star-Ledger

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Oct 18, 2013 2:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: San Francisco Ballet - 2013 New York Season

Jocelyn Noveck previews Christopher Wheeldon's "Cinderella" for the Associated Press.

Associated Press

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Oct 18, 2013 3:35 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: San Francisco Ballet - 2013 New York Season

Gia Kourlas reviews "Trio," "Ghosts" and "Borderlands" for the New York Times.

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sat Oct 19, 2013 11:53 am ]
Post subject:  Re: San Francisco Ballet - 2013 New York Season

In the New York Times, Brian Seibert reviews the Thursday, October 17, 2013 program: Alexei Ratmansky's "From Foreign Lands," Mark Morris' "Beaux," Yuri Possokhov's "Classical Symphony" and Edwaard Liang's "Symphonic Dances."

NY Times

Author:  Buddy [ Sat Oct 19, 2013 2:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: San Francisco Ballet - 2013 New York Season

Jerry, I've only had a chance to name scan your review and didn't see her name. Simone Messmer, according to her Twitter site, performed Wednesday and last night (Ratmansky?). Did you notice her Wednesday?

Author:  Buddy [ Sat Oct 19, 2013 4:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: San Francisco Ballet - 2013 New York Season

Jerry, from another report it appears that she didn't perform Wednesday. Her Tweet from Wednesday....

"What an inspiring night at Lincoln Center with @sfballet! Can't wait to preform on Friday."


She performed last night and is scheduled for Sunday, but I'm not sure which ballet. My guess is Ratmansky.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sun Oct 20, 2013 3:45 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: San Francisco Ballet - 2013 New York Season

Here is the casting for the complete New York performances.


Author:  Buddy [ Sun Oct 20, 2013 4:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: San Francisco Ballet - 2013 New York Season

Thanks, Francis. Maria Kochetkova seems to be in just about everything, including both the opening and closing Cinderella. Brava !

Author:  balletomaniac [ Sun Oct 20, 2013 7:37 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: San Francisco Ballet - 2013 New York Season

Buddy - I didn't see Thursday's performance. I saw Friday's, but have been tied up since then. I hope to get the review up tomorrow. Simone Messmer was triumphant. A great return to NY. [And that'll be in the review.]

Also, fyi, and since you know the company well (and tend to focus on the ballerinas), Yuan Yuan Tan gave another remarkable performance (in 'Symphonic Dances'), as did Sofiane Sylve. A couple of soloists ballerinas were quite impressive as well -- Sasha de Sola and Clara Blanco.

Author:  Buddy [ Mon Oct 21, 2013 4:17 am ]
Post subject:  Re: San Francisco Ballet - 2013 New York Season

Thanks very much, Jerry, for your response.

I'm Very, Very Glad to hear that Simone Messmer did so well !

From what she's written she loves NYC and perhaps her leaving may actually make it possibly for us all to see a lot more of her everywhere. I'm sure that she would love to make guest appearances in NYC as much as possible.

Actually I don't know the SFB that well. I live about half the year in the other part of the state. I used to live in SF long before I ever saw my second ballet performance. Now if I were there I would go just to see Maria Kochetkova and Simone Messmer if for nothing else. It's about an hour's plan ride for me and I'm already checking castings. Also northern California has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world, which is another major incentive. Simone Messmer wrote in a tweet that she and her boyfriend spent one Sunday watching the dolphins at a nearby beach, a very good atmosphere for any kind of artist, especially a dancer, I would think.

For Maria Kochetkova, I think it's very important that she is paired with a similar sized partner. She's not tall. Could you let us know how SFB is handling this? I do have to say that I waited at the stage door after her ABT Swan Lake performance this summer to congratulate her, something I seldom do, and she looked about 'ten feet tall' and radiantly lovely. She was also an Absolute Sweetheart in the way that she treated Everyone waiting to see her. I'll never forget that. It left an impression with me that even overwhelmed that of her performance, one of the finest I've ever seen.

I'll also look forward to reading your comments about the other dancers. I haven't had a chance to do so, but it seems that you've already seen some very fine performances.


Simone Messmer will also be making one more appearance Sunday, which I'm sure you already know, Jerry.

Author:  Buddy [ Mon Oct 21, 2013 6:04 am ]
Post subject:  Re: San Francisco Ballet - 2013 New York Season

balletomaniac wrote:
"Buddy....since you....tend to focus on the ballerinas...."

I have mentioned Marcelo a few times.

He's Cool ! :D

Added Comment:

My focus on the ballet world is admittedly on the Ballerina. Yet much of what she does would not be as beautiful, exciting or even possible if it weren't for the often 'invisible' help of her male partner. And some of the 'visible' artistry of the males is incredible.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Oct 21, 2013 12:05 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: San Francisco Ballet - 2013 New York Season

Sondra Forsyth reviews the October 18, 2013 performance for Broadway World.

Broadway World

Author:  balletomaniac [ Tue Oct 22, 2013 3:51 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: San Francisco Ballet - 2013 New York Season

San Francisco Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

October 18, 2013
“From Foreign Lands,” “Beaux, “Classical Symphony,” “Symphonic Dances”

-- by Jerry Hochman

San Francisco Ballet continued its initial week of repertory programs on Friday with four more New York premieres: “From Foreign Lands,” a new ballet by Alexei Ratmansky; Mark Morris’s 2012 piece, “Beaux,” Yuri Possokhov’s “Classical Symphony,” and “Symphonic Dances,” choreographed in 2012 by Edward Liang. It was another well-chosen program showcasing the breadth and quality of the SFB dancers, marred only by what to me was the excessively self-indulgent piece by Mr. Morris.

In “Namouna, A Grand Divertissement,” which is currently in New York City Ballet’s repertory, Mr. Ratmansky crafted an extravagant, standalone ballet that is a series of reimagined dances that could have been a divertissement from a lost classical ballet (“Namouna”). As brilliantly crafted as Mr. Ratmansky’s ballets always are, this one missed the mark because each dance looked unfocused, and with no clear connection to each other or to a whole. On the other hand, “From Foreign Lands” is a suite of standalone dances with considerable individual merit, that are connected to each other by an overall theme, but which collectively impress as a divertissement that would look more complete within some unknown larger context.

Each dance, choreographed to the orchestral arrangement of Moritz Moszkowski’s suite, “From Foreign Lands” (Opus 23), is an exploration of a particular national style: Russian, Italian, German, Spanish, Polish and Hungarian. They’re an intermediate step between the divertissements of classical ballets such as “Swan Lake,” and the deeper exploration of national character that Mr. Ratmansky accomplished with “Russian Seasons” for NYCB, eliminating the stereotyping and caricature of the former, but without the depth of the latter. In each, Mr. Ratmansky integrates folk idioms with ballet, adds a considerable dose of his notorious dry wit, and creates a mood.

Except for ‘German’ (which has a more moderated, brooding pace), each of the dances is choreographed at varying degrees of up-beat sparkle, and was executed with panache by the SFB dancers. Of the twelve-member cast that is spread in varying combinations across the six dances, Sasha De Sola and Davit Karapetyan (a particularly engaging pair in the ‘Russian’ dance), Maria Kochetkova and Sarah Van Patten (in ‘Spanish’), Pascal Molat (in 'Italian'), and Simone Messmer (in ‘German’), merit individual praise. Ms. Messmer, making her New York debut with SFB, was magnificent as the woman courted by three danseurs. Somewhat pensive throughout (not inconsistent with the role), she allowed herself to smile toward its end, when she knew she’d nailed it. It was a flawless, triumphant return to the New York stage following her departure in July from American Ballet Theatre.

One additional observation: Ms. De Sola and Ms. Kochetkova, when they were dancing in sync in ‘Russian’, executed Mr. Ratmansky’s steps somewhat differently. For example, Ms. Kochetkova completed her arabesques/attitudes at 90 degrees, and split jumps at 180 degrees, while Ms. De Sola’s legs were noticeably and consistently held higher. Ms. De Sola’s execution was more consistent with the spirited style of the dance, making her appear considerably more engaged and exciting to watch.

I understand that Mr. Morris created “Beaux” as an alternative view of masculinity from its usual portrayal in classical dance and/or ‘macho’ male dancing in contemporary dance: that is, more lyrical than powerful. But to me, his cure is as bad as the disease. Clothed in skin-tight unitards that match the flowing pastel colors of a rectangular mass centered across the stage’s back scrim (set and costumes by Isaac Mizrahi), the piece opens to the male dancers spanned horizontally across the stage, nearly all with their backs to the audience, providing a detailed view of these dancers’ rears. The movement that follows has a noticeable effeminate gloss, made even more obvious when the chorus line of barefoot male dancers resembles a female corps in Romantic ballets. At various times, one of the male dancers is lifted and carried by other male dancers, or promenades en arabesque, looking like a ballerina. Or the group adoringly watches a single male dancer dancing to them, or for them. A couple sits, reclining, as if watching sunset on a beach.

Lyricism is fine, and Mr. Morris creates beautiful lyrical movement on his male dancers, as well as female dancers, in other pieces. But “Beaux” is as extreme as the testosterone-infused portrayals that Mr. Morris apparently finds so objectionable. More critically, because it is so intentionally titter-provoking, "Beaux" may undermine Mr. Morris's efforts to redirect an audience’s preconceptions. The nine SFB male dancers, led by Mr. Molat, performed Mr. Morris’s choreography superbly, but much of it looked silly, and it grew increasingly tedious as the piece went on…and on…and on. Audiences, even New York audiences, don’t always know what has artistic merit. But with its restrained, politically correct applause, Friday’s audience got it right.

Mr. Possokhov’s “Classical Symphony,” to Sergei Prokofiev’s “Symphony No. 1 in D Major,” is a deceptively simple piece that grows on you – and that it was presented immediately after “Beaux” probably made it look better than it is. It isn’t an unusually structured piece, but Mr. Possokhov, SFB’s choreographer in residence, does a fine job of building on the score’s increasing tempo, and has crafted visually interesting and at times thrilling dances on, or within, each compositional movement. Although basically classical in style, the piece expands the vocabulary somewhat with contemporary touches that sound jarring but work within the context of the piece (e.g., women being pulled across the stage floor by the men). Particularly noteworthy is the corps work he created for the men, including a series of men leaping circularly around the stage (which resembles, but amplifies, Kevin McKenzie’s staging of the opening moments of Act I of “Swan Lake” for ABT). I noted that the timing generally was a bit off the music, and that many of the men had to adjust their landings from jumps and turns, giving a somewhat sloppy appearance. The cast of fourteen was led by with appropriate exuberance by Vanessa Zahorian, Frances Chung, Clara Blanco, Gennadi Nedvigin, Carlos Quenedit, and Jaime Garcia Castilla.

The evening ended with a dramatic performance of Mr. Liang’s dramatic ballet to the equally dramatic “Symphonic Dances,” Op. 45, by Sergei Rachmaninov. Indeed, everything about it is dramatic – from the pacing and choreographic structure, to the striking burnt orange colored costumes for the corps, with diaphanous Romantic tutus on the corps women in contrast with the flowing long dresses on the principal ballerinas (costumes designed by Mark Zappone), to a stage lit as if by the light of a full moon (lighting design by Jack Mehler), to the lush conducting (by SFB’s Music Director and Principal Conductor, Martin West) of the lush score. With all this drama, that that the piece avoids melodrama is to Mr. Liang’s credit. There isn’t a great deal of choreographic variety from movement to movement, but it doesn’t matter: "Symphonic Dances" is a ballet designed to be both visually powerful and entertaining, and it succeeds on both counts.

With respect to the featured principals, Yuan Yuan Tan delivered another exceptional, searingly serene performance, partnered by Luke Ingham. The sight of Ms. Tan, effortlessly coiling her body up and around and back down Mr. Ingham's rock-solid arm, was alone worth the price of admission. Sofiane Sylve, with the able assistance of Tiit Helimets, displayed smoldering volatility beneath her intensely non-emotional surface demeanor. Ms. Kochetkova and Mr. Luiz completed the principals; Ms. De Sola, Dores Andre, James Sofranko, and Hansuke Yamamoto were the able soloists; and all were complemented by the corps of four women and four men.

Mr. Morris’s piece aside, this was another entertaining program creatively designed by Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson to display his dancers at their best. SFB’s visit concludes this coming week with the New York premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s “Cinderella,” the only full-length ballet on this tour.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Oct 22, 2013 11:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: San Francisco Ballet - 2013 New York Season

Robert Gottlieb reviews the first week of the New York season for the New York Observer.

NY Observer

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