Thursday, May 01, 2014

San Francisco Ballet - Program 7

War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
April 30th, 2014

With the final two programs now running concurrently, San Francisco Ballet’s 2014 season will soon be a memory (May 11th to be exact). For the penultimate mixed repertory program, SFB has paired Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s “The Fifth Season” (2006) and Serge Lifar’s “Suite en Blanc” (1943) with the world premiere of Liam Scarlett’s “Hummingbird”.

Opening the evening was Helgi Tomasson’s stunning “The Fifth Season”. A suite of dances, “The Fifth Season” brought gorgeous performances by the entire ensemble and creative neo-classical choreography. Tomasson aptly captured the style and character of each individual variation: waltz, romance, tango, and largo. But he didn’t stop there; “The Fifth Season” reaches deeper and grasps the essence of physicality. Being adept in translating style and character into movement is a necessary skill for choreographers, but not all possess the ability to simultaneously reveal the underlying spirit of the music and score. Tomasson made it happen in “The Fifth Season”. Neo-classical ballet vocabulary punctuated the score throughout – Mathilde Froustey’s series of developpé grand battements; Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz’s staccato arms; Froustey and Sarah Van Patten’s travelling rond de jambes en l’air. The largo section (danced by Van Patten and Tiit Helimets) was by far the highlight of the entire ballet. Highly emotive, it was both expansive and delicate at the same time. The two were so in sync that their connection was like breathing; an automatic, fundamental function that is still, incredibly complex. In one of the quietest moments, Van Patten and Helimets wrapped their arms around each other; you could have heard a pin drop in the War Memorial Opera House.

SFB premiered Serge Lifar’s “Suite en Blanc” early last year and I know I’m not the only one who is thrilled that it made an encore appearance this season. A picturesque work of classicism, everything in Lifar’s “Suite en Blanc” is sculptural. While the choreography is very specific in its placement, ample stylistic variety abounds - romantic vignettes give way to flirty, cheeky dances and culminate in a regally grand finale. “Suite en Blanc” is elegance and grace personified, and there is nothing stuffy about it. Jaime Garcia Castilla and Vitor Luiz shone in the pas de trois. From the unison in their changement/pirouette sequence to their beated cabrioles, every moment had the ‘wow factor’. The four men from the pas de cinq (Max Cauthorn, Esteban Hernandez, Francisco Mungamba and Wei Wang) also knocked their batterie out of the park, particularly the lengthy brisé pattern. And if ever there was a ballet that highlighted the architectural element of classical dance, it is Lifar’s “Suite en Blanc”.

Program 7 concluded with the world premiere of “Hummingbird”, choreographed by The Royal Ballet’s current Artist-in-Residence, Liam Scarlett. This new full-length work for nine couples (three principals, two featured, and a chorus of four) was a concept-ballet, all about action and emotion. Neither abstract nor story-based, verbs took center stage as
San Francisco Ballet in Scarlett's "Hummingbird"
Photo ©Erik Tomasson
“Hummingbird” explored and revealed divergent responses to various actions – being open, being hesitant, being willing and being defiant. Frances Chung and Gennadi Nedvigin took the lead in the first chapter, and their theme was sliding. Scarlett created partnering that was purposefully off-center and off balance, with an intention that oscillated from deliberate to (cleverly appearing) accidental. The middle section of “Hummingbird” belonged to the pairing of Yuan Yuan Tan and Luke Ingham. With an abundance of plié, melting was their subject matter. Not disintegrating, but morphing from one state to another. In their lengthy and emotional pas de deux, we saw complete transformation at play: soft, graceful movements into quick turns, tender affection into absence; high energy into quiet walking. Dores André and Joan Boada served as the third couple in a flying, soaring duet. Not necessarily from a literal perspective (they weren’t jumping all the time), but more metaphorically. There was a consistently buoyant joy no matter what choreography they were performing. Overall, Scarlett’s movement vocabulary is fresh and innovative and his re-visioning of the traditional pas de deux relationship, a delight. And these gifts are reflected well in “Hummingbird”. But the ballet did come up against some obstacles and challenges. From time to time, the duets looked awkward, and the presence of the third couple seemed like an afterthought. And though Tan and Ingham gave remarkable performances, their section of the ballet went on far too long.

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