Saturday, February 25, 2012

San Francisco Ballet - Program 3

War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
February 22nd, 2012

With Program 3, San Francisco Ballet celebrates choreography from the past decade: Helgi Tomasson's "Trio" (2011); Yuri Possokhov's "Francesca da Rimini" (world premiere) and Alexei Ratmansky's "Le Carnaval des Animaux" (2003).  Not only does this mixed bill speak to the excitement of today's dancemakers, but also reinforces the technical range and artistic breadth that thrives within this company.  The evening began with neoclassical beauty, moved to narrative drama and ended with playful, spirited comedy. 

Helgi Tomasson's neo-classical brilliance shines once again in his three-part interpretation of Tchaikovsky's "Souvenir de Florence".  Originally I thought that the title of this work referred to the three different segments of the ballet and I still think that is partly true.  However, on closer examination, it is clear that "Trio" also examines three different aspects of neoclassicism: 1st movement - the relationship between choreography and music; 2nd movement - the existence of a narrative; and 3rd and 4th movements - the expressions of athleticism and unison.  Regality covered the stage in the first movement as Courtney Elizabeth and Joan Boada led the corps of ten (including some of my personal favorites - Daniel Baker and Dustin Spero) through their paces.  The entire section ran from beginning to end with no intermediate stopping points between phrases or sections; "Trio"'s first movement was one continuous stream of consciousness.  Every entrance gave the impression that the movement had already been happening off stage and when the dancer or dancers entered from the wings, they were just continuing the choreography that had already been in progress.  Such delicate footwork punctuated the music in unexpected ways, from simple waltz steps to the rarely seen entre chat cinq.  The 2nd movement was a stark contrast, both in scene, feeling and purpose.  Here, we still saw the beautiful neoclassical style, yet it was framed with a narrative quality and a clear love triangle (danced by Dana Genshaft, Ruben Martin Cintas and Anthony Spaulding).  Dynamic and technically challenging jumps were on display in the 3rd and 4th movements, with Gennadi Nedvigin and the corps men stealing the show.  Helgi Tomasson is master of neoclassicism.  This is apparent in so many of his ballets and is only further reinforced with "Trio".  Yet, the takeaway from this piece is much more than that.  Neoclassical partnering can look and appear awkward because of the speed, complexity and footwork, but Tomasson's work never does.  Not only is he an expert in choreographing this genre, he is clearly superb at teaching it to his company.

SF Ballet in Possokhov's "Francesca da Rimini".
Photo: Erik Tomasson

"Francesca da Rimini" took the audience to a very different place - a dark, lusty and dramatic journey with Francesca (Frances Chung), Paolo (Carlos Quenedit) and Giovanni (Vito Mazzeo).  Yuri Possokhov's world premiere re-tells the desperate story from Dante's "The Divine Comedy" with such truth and passion, turmoil oozing from every space and every dancer on-stage.  Inasmuch as the strength of desire was captured (including a stunning light effect where part of Francesca and Paolo's pas de deux was enlarged and reflected on the scrim behind them), Possokhov was also able to inject a nuanced attempt at redemption. 

Program 3 concluded with Alexei Ratmansky's whimsical "Le Carnaval des Animaux".  A funny and clever ode to the animal kingdom, the 2003 composition (also originally set on SF Ballet) shows that this company is very adept at comedy.  The entire cast excelled at Ratmansky's interpretation of Saint-SaĆ«ns score, though Pascal Molat as the lion and Sarah Van Patten as the elephant were hilarious standouts.  The opening scene finds the cast gathered in a center stage huddle around Molat, perfectly introducing each dynamic character.  And, alongside the humor, a hint of neoclassicism was still present as the choreography matched with and emphasized the musical traits: specifically the elephant's arabesque sequence and the chorus' lifts during the spattery scalic glissandos.

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