Thursday, January 28, 2016

San Francisco Ballet - Program 2

San Francisco Ballet
Program 2
War Memorial Opera House
January 27th, 2016

Just three days after San Francisco Ballet officially started their 2016 repertory season, they celebrated another opening, that of Program 2. The glorious combination of George Balanchine’s Rubies, Mark Morris’ Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes and the world premiere of Liam Scarlett’s Fearful Symmetries made for a visual dream that celebrated the pure essence of bodies in motion.

Rubies is abstract in the sense that it doesn’t have a storyline, but to say it is about nothing is not true at all. Clear emotive sensibilities inform much of the physicality and architecture. In a triangular formation, thirteen of the fifteen-member cast stand facing the audience, holding hands in a V above their heads. From this first tableau, it is clear that Rubies
San Francisco Ballet in Balanchine's Rubies
Photo©Erik Tomasson
explores connection; the entwining of music and movement. But this is not in a general sense, rather Rubies is about the convergence of this music (by Igor Stravinsky) and this choreography (by Balanchine). The most popular movement from the 1967 ballet Jewels, Rubies runs the gamut choreographically and in that inventiveness, feels ahead of its time. Sultry hip isolations give way to sprightly mimed jump rope; joyful, hopping chaîné turns merge with flexed hands and birdlike arms. And of course, the famous pas de cinq. One man holds onto each of the limbs of the main ballerina (Sofiane Sylve, at this performance). Together, the five cycle through complicated partnering, yet the woman remains in complete control, almost dominating and willing their every move. The bow that occurs after the central pas de deux always strikes me as strange. It is certainly deserved, but nothing like that happens anywhere else in the ballet; it really does break the overarching momentum. And while the entire cast performed the varied and complex choreography with verve and aplomb, some of the large staging patterns lost their sharpness and specificity on Wednesday night.

Morris’ Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes (1988) took the middle slot of the evening, a change in programming due to a schedule conflict. But clearly, this piece is no substitution…what an amazing dance; what an amazing performance by the ensemble! A grand piano was positioned upstage center and pianist Natal’ya Feygina was alone for the first few moments as she introduced Virgil Thomson’s score. Very ‘twentieth-century classical’ in flavor and style, atonal cluster chords met with complex meters. In a matching off-kilter lift, one couple traveled across the floor. Then, the lights rose and the whole cast fed on and off the stage (Morris used the wings to the piece’s advantage) costumed like angels. Otherworldly and ethereal, each dancer painted a picture of elation. A lovely and heartening experience of ballet vocabulary unfolded over the next thirty minutes. Smooth balancés, parallel pirouettes, emboîté turns, balletés – all breathy, airy and elegant. The ‘ballet class’ segment mid-way through continued that commemorative feel: relevés in passé, sissiones, echappés and grand pliés in fifth position. The men’s tango sequence was a standout phrase with its dramatic double pirouettes leading into a flatfoot promenade and then a double rond de jambe en l’air. And the end of the dance was so delicate and beautiful, yet a little sad, as the cast slowly exited the stage. With Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes, Morris communicated the community and camaraderie of artists and their joy for their art. This was also reflected in his egalitarian approach – Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes is truly an ensemble piece with no specific leads or defined chorus.

Liam Scarlett’s previous work for San Francisco Ballet, Hummingbird, had a marked effect – the audience loved it and the critical response was quite something. I liked it too, though my thoughts and reactions were more mixed (less at the second viewing than the first). Not so with Scarlett’s new world premiere, Fearful Symmetries. This is a ballet of genius.

Right from the start, the viewer was confronted with a juxtaposition of ancient and modern. A modular, lined light board illuminated the back of the deconstructed stage (design by David Finn), while a soloist (Sylve) crawled forward, primitively. From out of the darkness, the cast entered like a hunting herd from upstage left, and they would continue to disappear and reappear out of that pitch black throughout the dance. Hungry choreography permeated the space - stalking, commanding and demanding. In the middle of Fearful Symmetries, the dancers walked forward as group with both power and menace. Sitting in the audience, you were afraid and excited at the same time. Lorena Feijoo and Luke Ingham danced the ballet’s central duet, a lengthy and impressive statement that ranged from volatile and combative to erotic and tactile. And then, right near the end, Scarlett introduced a couple (Yuan Yuan Tan and Davit Karapetyan) who had never been seen before. And they were the exact opposite of everything that had been offered thus far. Cool and graceful, dressed in light colors, their presence served as a narrative antithesis.    
Lorena Feijoo and Luke Ingham in Scarlett's Fearful Symmetries
Photo©Erik Tomasson

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