Thursday, January 31, 2013

San Francisco Ballet - Program 1

War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
January 29th, 2013

Whether your first opening night or in the case of San Francisco Ballet, your eightieth, a premiere event is both magical and special. While some writers/critics may wince at such banal wording, when it comes to the precipice of a new season, such descriptors are without a doubt the correct choice. To kick-off the eightieth anniversary, Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson has chosen a brilliant mixed repertory program choreographically spanning seventy years: Serge Lifar’s “Suite en Blanc”, Jerome Robbins’ “In The Night” and Wayne McGregor’s highly anticipated world premiere for SFB, “Borderlands”. By selecting and showcasing work choreographed in 1943, 1970 and 2013 respectively, Tomasson and the entire San Francisco Ballet company are paying homage to their history while simultaneously looking ahead to the next eighty years.

Vanessa Zahorian and Ruben Martin Cintas
in Robbins' "In The Night"
©Erik Tomasson
As the curtain rose on Lifar’s “Suite en Blanc”, the entire cast (a total of thirty-seven dancers) was revealed in the form of an elegant life-size painting. After a few frozen moments, most dancers regally and calmly exited the stage leaving behind the first trio: Marie-Claire D’Lyse, Kristina Lind and Jennifer Stahl. Now alone, these three members of the corps de ballet began to dance the first movement of the “Suite”. The beginning trio was all about lightness and delicacy, providing a subtle taste of Bournonville flavor. Then, onto a completely disparate trio that was filled with bravura jumps and high extensions. Sasha DeSola took the third variation, which again worked with petit allegro, yet with a totally different approach. Instead of floating ballon of the first movement, here was precise, staccato, accented footwork. The following pas de cinq provided dramatic dynamics and a delightful brisé sequence across the floor on the diagonal. Sarah Van Patten took the melodramatic ‘cigarette’ vignette, Davit Karapetyan the sensual and gallant ‘mazurka’. Next, the pairing of Yuan Yuan Tan and Vito Mazzeo took the audience on an unforeseen journey: a duet that was eerie in one moment and tender in another - perhaps Lifar’s comment on the unpredictable and complicated nature of romantic love. A stunning visual display, this seventy-year-old ballet’s major accomplishment is its accurate treatment and true representation of the Suite: a choreographic and musical form that is meant to celebrate spectrum, variance and range.

A study for three couples, Jerome Robbins' “In The Night” illustrates how passion plays out in different types of relationships. Vanessa Zahorian and Ruben Martin took on youthful excitement; Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets reserved maturity and Lorena Feijoo and Pierre-François Vilanoba uncontrollable fire. In each pas de deux, the choreography reflected the specific ‘demeanor’ of the couple in question, yet, the common narrative thread held true – passion may not always look the same, but it is still passion.

Wayne McGregor’s “Chroma” was a hit with San Francisco Ballet audiences. So the news that this superstar choreographer was going to create a new work on the San Francisco Ballet was met with quite the anticipatory buzz. Premiering in this opening night performance, “Borderlands” revisits McGregor’s box motif as evident by the large cube-like structure that served as the set. A contemporary work for twelve dancers accompanied by a techno-styled soundscape, the piece definitely contemplates the idea of boundaries. From a very literal perspective, the perimeter of the stage was transformed into the ‘waiting area’; dancers stood frozen and quiet as they awaited the beginning of their individual sequence. The middle space was reserved for the busy action; the constant dancing; the frenetic movement. More conceptually, “Borderlands” challenged all kinds of ballet boundaries and conventions. It was certainly the most avant-garde of the Program 1 offerings, and also the best rehearsed work of the evening, hands down. There were some delicious moments, including Sofiane Sylve’s superhuman contortionist developpé à la second. It was also wonderful to see Maria Kochetkova way out of her comfort zone. She always excels onstage, but here she really embodied McGregor’s movement style with a sublime depth of understanding. Having said that, for me, “Borderlands” was far too much like “Chroma”. The set design, costumes, music and choreography were so reminiscent of McGregor’s 2006 dance, almost making “Borderlands” something of a second installment or subsequent chapter. That might not be a bad thing, but I was definitely hoping for something different.        

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