San Francisco Ballet Opening Night Gala
Jan. 22, 2014
War Memorial Opera House,
San Francisco, CA
by Catherine Pawlick
The 2014 San Francisco Ballet Opening Night Gala offered a unique program with numerous visual delights. Reaching a record number of attendees -- nearly 1000 -- for the first time since the economic dip of 2008, the hall was filled with high heels, satin, and tuxedos who languored over prosecca prior to the evening's performance.
As the viewers filled their seats, all stood for the Star Spangled banner -- the opening night tradition-- and then the announcement of the gala campaign's results. Despite the financial-focus of the pre-performance announcement, the enchantments onstage that followed managed to draw everyone back to the true focus of the evening: the dance.
There were memorable moments during the evening, and not surprisingly, many of them come from the men. Taras Domitro joined Vanessa Zahorian in the excerpted pas de deux from "Diana and Acteon," stealing the show in a series of triple tours and air-cutting pyrotechnics. Domitro's combination of easy delivery and energetic punch drew roars from the crowd. This Cuban superstar is one of the company's greatest assets.
Not to be outdone, Gennadi Nedvigin opened "Les Lutins," an infectious piece by Johan Kobberg that first premiered at Covent Garden in 2009, with humor and breezy perfection. The ballet features an onstage pianist, Roy Bogas, and violinist, Kurt Nikkanen, with Nikkanen announcing the pieces they are about to play. Nedvigin takes on the challenge of outdoing the musical performers with his technical dancing prowess -fast petit allegro footwork, and perfect double tours- and is soon joined by a competitor, Esteban Hernandez. Indeed the competition was close, with Nedvigin's perfect lines an ode to his Russian training, while Hernandez's good natured rivalry softens the blow. The storyline is then further complicated by the appearance of a girl, Dores Andre, who joins the duo, as both boys try to win her affection. Clothed in smooth black pants and suspenders over loose white shirts, the men try to outdo each other, and finally lose ... to the violinist. This humorous, short work is the perfect vehicle for a gala, an example of ideal programming. Hopefully the wider city audience will see it in the future.
A less fortunate programming choice was Hans Van Manen's "Variations for Two Couples" which, while intriguing in its original quirkiness, seemed overly long and morose for a gala event. The dancers --Sofiane Sylve and Sarah Van Patten alongside Luke Ingham and Anthony Spaulding-- skimmed the floor beautifully in unitards and pointe shoes, but the dark blue tones and somber atmosphere added unnecessary weight.
The much talked-about newcomer, Simone Messmer from New York, joined Ruben Martin Cintas in the short "The Man I Love" pas de deux from "Who Cares?" Gershwin is addicting, Messmer's lines are easy on the eyes, and Cintas proved an attentive partner. Another apt programming choice that underscores where San Francisco Ballet's true strengths lie: in the neoclassical lineage.
Mathilde Froutsey, formerly of the Paris Opera Ballet, performed Grand Pas Classique, known elsewhere as the Auber Grand Pas in reference to its composer, Francois Auber. This purely classical vehicle allowed Froutsey to flaunt some masterful balances in her variation while partner David Karapetyan gave his solo full dedication.
Edwaard Liang's November 2012 premier of "Finding Light", set to Vivaldi for Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith, reappeared this evening as well, giving those audience members who missed the premiere a chance to see Liang's choreographic talents once more. This pieces is the ultimate vehicle for Tan's lines: fragile, ethereal, long. Themes of search-struggle, impulse-reaction, together-apart crossed through the couples' movements.
Local choreographer's also contributed: Val Caniparoli's earthy solo from "Lambarena" previously danced by local favorite Evelyn Cisneros, was reprised carefully by Frances Chung. Yuri Possokhov's "Talk to Her" revealed the Latino roots of Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz, the onstage sparks palpable in this intricate tango-like dance.
In all the gala was a visual announcement of the coming season - there are delights to be found.
Author, "Vaganova Today: The Preservation of Pedagogical Tradition" (available on amazon.com)