San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
April 8th, 2014
San Francisco Ballet’s 2014 season has passed its half-way point and the final four productions will unfold in the next two months. And though not all of the programs have yet to hit the War Memorial Opera House stage, it is safe to say that Program 5, Alexei Ratmansky’s “Shostakovich Trilogy” is one of the best this year. A San Francisco Ballet and West Coast premiere, co-produced by American Ballet Theatre, this abstract masterpiece captures its audience from beginning to end. In each of the three acts, a particular aspect of Dmitri Shostakovich’s compositions is explored through choreography. And, the work carries a great truth - Ratmansky’s “Shostakovich Trilogy” is one of the great marriages between movement and music.
Set to Shostakovich’s ‘Symphony #9’, Part I was all about atonality. ‘Symphony #9’ exists in that ‘in between’ tonal space; sometimes it sounds major, sometimes minor, sometimes modal, sometimes none of the above. Ratmansky choreographed in a similar fashion, transcending typical notions of genre and style. He created an amazing array of movement that was equally atonal in nature; a mirroring of ‘Symphony #9’s’ glorious ambiguity. Parallel legs spoke of contemporary technique; Russian pas de chats of traditional ballet vocabulary. Neo-classicism also played a role as the entire cast executed difficult sequences at high speeds and with great boldness. In addition, musical motifs were marked by cleverly matched physicality (the drumming arms); another trademark of the neo-classical era. Variety also occurred in the dynamic feel of the multiple scenes. Pascal Molat’s opening variation (with the corps men) had a humorous quality; while Luke Ingham’s solo towards the end of the work (which also featured a phenomenal double arabesque turn) was dark and mysterious.
Next up was Ratmansky’s interpretation of Shostakovich’s ‘Chamber Symphony’ – an ode to the drama, uncertainty and complexity of chromaticism. The music is not solely chromatic, but the chromatic scale is heavily utilized throughout the symphony. As it ascends, this half step scale brings with it a sense of anticipation and then, an equal wildness and desperation occurring in its descending form. It carries with it the unmistakable dissonance of the elusive minor second interval and a hope for resolution. Ratmansky beautifully transferred this musical tenet into this second movement of “Shostakovich Trilogy”. Jaime Garcia Castilla’s main solo had all the abandon of the descending chromatic scale as did Mathilde Froustey’s divine spinning turn in attitude that went from standing all the way to the floor. And the corps de ballet’s entrance mid-way through the piece was filled with excitement and forward motion, just like the ascending chromatic scale.
Shostakovich’s ‘Piano Concerto #1’ served as the final section of the ballet; a physical expression of musical details and intricacies. Ratmansky brought the score to life by injecting similar choreographic subtleties: the slight movement of the head, a downward glance, Sofiane Sylve’s lightning fast batterie sur le cou de pied, Joan Boada’s flexed frappés. The corps worked together to create picturesque living sculptures and though there was an unexpected collision on stage, ‘Piano Concerto #1’ also featured a brilliant set of side by side pas de deuxs. Danced by Sofiane Sylve, Tiit Helimets, Frances Chung and Joan Boada, the unison was impeccable. The success of Part III was not just the mere presence of these choreographic details, but how Ratmansky wove them together into something truly grand and magnificent. If ever there was a ballet that fully comprehends the relationship between movement and music, it is Alexei Ratmansky’s “Shostakovich Trilogy”.