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San Francisco Ballet

'Allegro Brillante,' 'Concerto Grosso,' 'Polyphonia,' 'Elite Syncopations'

by Art Priromprintr

October 9, 2003 -- Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles

Thursday evening was a mixed repertory program, and the “mixed” ended up being true of both the performances and the repertoire. The dancing shined spectacularly in some parts of the program, and went up and down in others.

George Balanchine’s “Allegro Brillante” opened the program; Vanessa Zahorian and Zachary Hench danced the principal couple. The program notes that there is motion flowing throughout the piece; well, they were moving, yes, but there wasn’t very much excitement in all that movement. It looked more like they were just going through the motions Thursday night, and while Zahorian and Hench impressed technically in parts, the performance could have used more punch.

Case in point: the piano cadenza in the middle of the piece that is used as a solo for the principal ballerina was danced competently by Zahorian, but it seemed to be lacking the attack it needs in order to be truly be thrilling. The Balanchine choreography for the corps and principals, in the way it weaves around the stage and plays with the music, was there in all its “classic”-status form, but the spirit of it was lacking. Matters didn’t help in the pit, however. Andrew Mogrelia conducted the orchestra competently, but pianist Roy Bogas gave a rather lifeless playing of the piano part, the heart and soul of any piano concerto, not just the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 3 that Balanchine chose for “Brillante.”

From the moment the curtain lifted on “Concerto Grosso,” one could tell that things were going to be much different – in a good way. There was an immediate sense of energy from the five men dancing the piece – Pascal Molat as the principal, with Garrett Anderson, Jaime Garcia Castilla, Rory Hohenstein and Hansuke Yamamoto. The choreography is very athletic and virtuosic, and the five men lived up to its challenges, especially Pascal Molat, who impressed with spectacular, high jumps. The choreography was a fantastic match with the Baroque-flavored concerto that Tomasson chose to accompany the piece. Even though it was choreographed principally as a gala showpiece, and the constant appearance of technical tricks certain does make it more of a show piece than a super-serious contemporary ballet, “Concerto Grosso” holds its own with Tomasson’s intelligent use of the music and the charisma of the five men dancing the piece.

Christopher Wheeldon’s “Polyphonia” was really intriguing exploration of very modern sounding piano music by Gyorgy Ligeti. The opening piece, “Dosordre” from “Etudes pour piano, primier livre,” sounds like it would be undanceable. But Wheeldon uses a good approach to it with his choreography, with each of the four couples doing separate, assertive movements stepping down stage to complement the assertiveness of the piano piece. I’ll need to see the piece another time to really feel its full effect, but what I saw Thursday night I liked. The Ligeti score is pretty complex, and Wheeldon mines it well, with interesting solos and some really wild partnering. There were great performances all around from the eight dancers in the piece – Katita Waldo, Yuri Possokhov, Lorena Feijoo, Gonzalo Garcia, Julie Diana, Ruben Martin, Kristin Long and Guennadi Nedviguine. They appeared to take the piece more seriously and were more interested in dancing it than the company performing “Allegro Brillante.” That attitude comes right through, and there is a certain intensity that comes with dancing it.

The evening concluded with what I felt was an overall charming but mixed performance of “Elite Syncopations.” It didn’t seem as bouncy as it should have been, what with the loud costumes and the Joplin music. But it was ultimately very charming, especially in some of the solos and pas de deux. The highlight was Muriel Maffre and James Sofranko as a very tall woman and a shorter man dancing a comic duet that involved many jokes about her being much taller. It was like a woman being taken to the dance floor by a little boy – a very cute piece that also involved some complex partnering as well. Katita Waldo was on fire in James Scott’s “Calliope Rag” and Julie Diana was an impressive presence all in white. Otherwise, however, in the large group dances, there appeared to be some sense of quietness, for lack of a better word, in the air; there needed to be a bit more “oomph” in the proceedings to make the whole thing much more exciting. A charming piece, though, and the audience especially liked Maffre and Sofranko’s duet.

I’m going back to see this program again principally to see “Polyphonia.” I’ve only seen two Wheeldon pieces so far (the first being “Mesmerics” this past weekend with George Piper Dances), and I respond to it very well. I have to admit, though, that I’m not as exposed to much of the work that many of his critics say he draws heavily from, so I can’t comment on that. I like what I see, though, and I look forward to x2 of “Polyphonia.”

Edited by Jeff.

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