Thursday, February 27, 2014

San Francisco Ballet

Program 3
War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
February 25th, 2014

Not all triple bills have a unifying theme. And at first glance, the third program of San Francisco Ballet’s 2014 season looks like one such evening: ‘The Kingdom of the Shades’ from “La Bayadère”, Act II, “Ghosts©” and “Firebird”. But there is a common denominator running through these works. For this mixed repertory program, Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson has chosen three ballets that each highlight a style of storytelling: classical narrative, abstract narrative and mythical narrative.

Though the full-length “La Bayadère” is not my favorite ballet, ‘The Kingdom of the Shades’ scene from Act II is really something else – visually transcendent and technically complex. And this particularly staging by legendary ballerina Natalia Makarova (after Marius Petipa) is inspired. The women’s corps de ballet are front and center as they travel down the famous ramp with a well-known series of plié arabesques and tendus devant. Not only do the dancers have to contend with the technical difficulty of the steps but also, they must be cognizant of their spacing, which was well done. High extensions gain serious praise in today’s ballet world; most of the time, it seems like the higher the leg, the better. And many of the San Francisco Ballet corps’ women have sky-high arabesques and developpés in écarté. But in ‘The Kingdom of the Shades’ scene, these high extensions are actually problematic. This is one of those moments where uniformity is required, and it was missing on Tuesday evening. The corps struggled with their cohesiveness; the dancers with the higher extensions really needed to adjust. In contrast, the soloists danced their respective variations exquisitely (though I’m not a fan of winding-up before pirouettes). The stately, regal pas de deux for Nikiya and Solor (danced by Maria Kochetkova and guest artist Denis Matvienko) was the perfect combination of passionate emotion and technical acuity. Incredibly steady partnering (absolutely no wobbles or shaking hands) met palpable passion with an equal dose of magnetism and playfulness. 

Christopher Wheeldon’s “Ghosts©” is a mysterious oscillation between the old and the new. An ensemble work with featured pairings and trios, the ballet blends nostalgic costuming, postmodern sculpture and an atonal score with contemporary choreography. As one might expect from the title, “Ghosts©” contains a variety of floating, whirling and drifting movement sequences. And there is a definite sense of purposeful ‘off-balanced-ness’ as the dance and dancers wander through time.

San Francisco Ballet in Possokhov's "Firebird"
Photo ©Erik Tomasson
A character-driven, mythical story, Yuri Possokhov’s “Firebird” is an expression of universal extremes – night vs. day; good vs. evil; real vs. imaginary; love vs. loneliness; sacrifice vs. gain. And because “Firebird” is such a character-driven ballet, it was the interpretations of the primary roles that really ‘made’ the performance. Sarah Van Patten’s Firebird had a wealth of complexity and artistic depth. She could be commanding yet shy, powerful yet delicate, otherworldly yet human all in the same moment. With a similar intricacy, Sasha De Sola and Tiit Helimets as the Prince and Princess combined love’s innocence, youth’s carefreeness, and naïveté’s hopefulness. And Pascal Molat completed the story with his phenomenal version of the wicked Kaschei.

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