Gala Event, Season Opening
San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, California
19 January 2012
By Catherine Pawlick
On January 19th, San Francisco Ballet opened its 79th season on a posh note that rivaled Hollywood. Excitement and good cheer emanated from ladies bedecked in long gowns and glittering jewels accompanied by their daft gentlemen in tuxedos as they all floated around the “Prosecco Promenade” that greeted the Opera House attendees. But the evening offered sparkle in forms other than the bubbles in champagne flutes, for that lobby atmosphere of rich splendor hinted at what was to come: once the curtain rose, the evening’s true brilliance came from the program of short pieces that offered something to suit every mood, taste or fancy.
Following the patriotic delivery of the Star-Spangled Banner, in which the entire house stood and sang along, some would say the best representation of San Francisco Ballet’s talent came with the very first piece on the program. The excerpt from Yuri Possokhov’s “Classical Symphony” pushed the company’s greatest strength to the forefront of the evening: it’s male dancing. Featuring six men who first appear suspended in a series of jetés like seagulls coasting high above, Jaime Garcia Castilla, Diego Cruz, and Isaac Hernandez stood out in particular for their refined grace. The musicality innate in Possokhov’s choreography makes it utterly danceable and pleasing to watch, and these men were an ideal vehicle for its delivery.
The mood turned more somber in David Bintley’s “The Dance House,” where the Apollonian Tiit Helimets partnered Sarah Van Patten in a studio-like setting, in which a red barre placed upstage served as Van Patten’s initial partner. This score, Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 1, is better known in ballet circles for its first use by Yuri Grigorovich within the full-length Soviet-era work, “The Golden Age,” set for the Bolshoi Ballet. Thus the newer choreography distracted, for the haunting, melancholic music – here also used for a pas de deux-- still imparts undeniable visions of the Bolshoi’s idyllic Natalia Bessmertnova alongside Irek Mukhamedov, clothed all in white.
The first half of the evening included four other works, among which the excerpt from Christopher Wheeldon’s “Continuum,” stood out. Here, bathed in dark light, the leggy, fluid Sofiane Sylve stretched her legs into an impossibly wide fourth position, her feet rising en pointe with rubber-like pliancy as Mazzeo reached, lifted, shifted and molded her into any number of poses. Moments of tenderness etched a romance into their duet, and the unique, acrobatic exit –she bourrées up into a table position and he carries her off on his back-- offered a visual puzzle that continued in the mind long after the music had finished.
The requisite ode to Balanchine came in the form of “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux,” where Vanessa Zahorian appeared to move at the speed of light in her final blur of chainé turns. Despite a slight wobble at the end of a grand pirouette, her partner Davit Karapetyan’s solo work was reliable, his jumps smooth and his partnering noble; he was every bit the prince.
But it was Taras Domitro who stole the evening in “The Flames of Paris” where his unbelievably slow, centered pirouettes and explosive split-jetés made one wish that he’d had an entire act to himself. Domitro’s talent is delivered without fanfare or ego; it is almost matter-of-fact in its ease, and therein lies its attraction. He surpasses others in technical feats that seem to come naturally, delivering it all with a casual, youthful vigor.
Hans Van Manen’s light-hearted “Solo” set to the music of Johann S. Bach, featured the comedic Gennadi Nedvigin, a silly Garen Scribner, and the unstoppable Hansuke Yamamoto in a lightning bolt of endless motion. Van Manen’s innovative choreography echoes the speed of Bach’s notes, but adds an emotional element: shuffling, dry humor and shrugged shoulders (for Nedvigin), samba hips (for Scribner) and sharp attack (for Yamamoto). Over before it began, the piece was nonetheless jolly, and the three men each infused it with their own flavor of inspirational dancing.
The princess of the evening without any question was Maria Kochetkova in “Voices of Spring,” a light-hearted pas de deux by Frederick Ashton. As local favorite Joan Boada carried her the length of the stage in a one-handed overhead-lift, Kochetkova announced the couple’s entrance by sprinkling the length of the floor with rose petals. A garland of flowers encircling her head, Kochetkova embodied the essence of springtime, her long legs moving in slow motion, pricking the floor every several meters as she “walked” across the length of the stage. Boada lifted her so imperceptibly that she seemed to skim the surface as only a fairy could. Kochetkova’s technical delivery is precise and flawless, but she delivers Ashton’s choreographic text with a sense of abandon that few can master with such elegance.
The rustle of Yuan Yuan Tan’s multi-layered black silk overdress in John Neumeier’s “The Lady of the Camellias” inscribed itself into the mind’s eye as she danced alongside guest artist Alexander Riabko, from the Hamburg Ballet. The infectiously tragic Chopin ballade (No. 1 in G Minor), played with perfection by piano soloist Roy Bogas, is laden with a degree of emotion that the choreography keenly matches, and here the lyrical dramatism of the pair perfectly depicted the poor Camille, dying of consumption in her lover’s arms. Would that SFB could present the full-length version; one can dream.
The company begins its official run next Friday night with “Eugene Onegin,” one of the most delicious, multi-layered artistic subjects in the ballet repertoire. Given the season’s majestic beginning, it is certain that “Onegin” will only continue that trend.
Author, "Vaganova Today: The Preservation of Pedagogical Tradition" (available on amazon.com)
Last edited by Catherine Pawlick on Sat Jan 21, 2012 1:21 pm, edited 2 times in total.