Sunday, April 12, 2015

San Francisco Ballet - Shostakovich Trilogy

San Francisco Ballet
Shostakovich Trilogy
War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
April 11th, 2015

Bay Area ballet lovers have been waiting all year for San Francisco Ballet’s sixth program, the return of Alexei Ratmansky’s Shostakovich Trilogy. Shostakovich Trilogy enjoyed its West Coast premiere at the War Memorial Opera House last season and to say that the reaction was positive is an understatement. A tribute to the work of twentieth century composer Dmitri Shostakovich, Ratmansky’s three-act ballet weaves music and movement together like no other. 

While Shostakovich Trilogy is certainly not a story ballet, saying it is completely abstract isn’t quite right either. In fact, each of the three acts communicates a wide variety of emotions, ideas and concepts. Symphony #9 kicks off with a men’s quintet, led by Pascal Molat, who are quickly joined by five women, with Dores André in the lead. Ratmansky’s first
Pictured: Sarah Van Patten and Luke Ingham in
Ratmansky's Shostakovich Trilogy
Photo © Erik Tomasson
choreographic statement was a love song to all types of movement – contemporary ballet, traditional vocabulary, folksy character, even social dance. From delicate hops on pointe to grand pas de poisson jumps, the entire first variation was both playful and whimsical. But narratively, the mood shifted as Sarah Van Patten and Luke Ingham began their haunting duet. What had been light and lively suddenly morphed into ominous anticipation. And in the last third of Symphony #9, Francisco Mungamba entered the scene with commanding regality. Mungamba’s gorgeous, controlled extensions were breathtaking, and as he directed the corps de ballet to join him, a sense of dramatic authority swept the stage.

Act II brought Chamber Symphony - the most emotionally and narratively charged section of Shostakovich Trilogy. The ballet centers around a protagonist character, danced with phenomenal abandon by Rubén Martín Cintas, who is caught in a tumultuous internal struggle. Pulled in multiple directions, chaos and torment unfold around him. Three women appear, feeding right into this theme; their presence ranging from flirtatious teasing to coy modesty to heartfelt affection. Of the three, soloist Dana Genshaft must be singled out. Genshaft is such a striking dancer. She has an uncanny ability to transmit everything (big or small) out into space and transitions between each step with such care and attention.

The final act of Ratmansky’s Shostakovich Trilogy is the vibrant Piano Concerto #1. While the scenic design, backdrop and costumes have a 1980s feel to them, the work is anything but dated. From start to finish, Piano Concerto #1 is completely unexpected. Lifts where the point of contact is the hipbone, Sofiane Sylve’s toe emerging from the wings, an inverted split balance, a throw in attitude, flat-footed swivel turns. After the main pas de quatre, all the dancers exit except Joan Boada, who welcomes the corps back to the stage and then does a backwards somersault into the wings. My favorite moment of surprise comes at the very end of Ratmansky’s dance, when the two lead couples perform supported pirouettes downstage. This time, it is the men who are turning and the women who are in the driver’s seat.   

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