Thursday, March 17, 2016

San Francisco Ballet - Program 5

San Francisco Ballet
Program 5
War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
March 16th, 2016

Both pieces on San Francisco Ballet’s fifth program are reappearances from last season: Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering and Yuri Possokhov’s Swimmer. Last year, the two ballets were featured separately, but their 2016 pairing is truly inspired. Seeing the 1969 work and the 2015 work (respectively) in the same evening reveals an unpredictable and unexpected narrative consonance. A throughline of community, of togetherness, yet set in different containers and offered by distinct voices.

While the entire ensemble is hardly ever onstage at the same time in Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering, the one-Act, sixty-five minute ballet feels like a continuous conversation between ten individuals. Solos feed into duets; duets into trios; trios into vignettes and back again. An ongoing, ever changing dialogue where the participants share unique points of view. An uninterrupted flow of beautiful choreography and movement. But it’s more than that too. It surprises you. It encourages you to consider many avenues: form, structure and how the movement is conversing with the Chopin score (played by the glorious Roy Bogas). As such, Robbins’ is inviting the audience into something more than just viewership, he is inviting them to join this particular conversation.

San Francisco Ballet in
Robbins' Dances at a Gathering
Photo © Erik Tomasson
Joseph Walsh opened the ballet with Robbins’ complex and flowing waltz solo. It was absolute perfection and established an undeniable truth. Walsh gave the standout performance in this dance – his technique was impeccable, his presence captivating and every time he was onstage, he was joyful! Davit Karapetyan’s double tours also impressed, as did the flirty pas de trois by Walsh/Sasha De Sola/Yuan Yuan Tan and the set of comical theatrical tableaux. Moments of simple elegance (slow chaîné turns, single arm port de bras and running prances) met with complex footwork patterns and intricate petit allegro. Karapetyan and Walsh’s duet had a great sense of both competition and camaraderie and a later series of thrown lifts, each more advanced than the previous, absolutely awed. The entire cast performed superbly throughout, though a few of the couples did have some challenges with the transitional steps.

About halfway through the lengthy ballet, the tenth cast member (Lorena Feijoo) makes her first appearance in an interesting structural and narrative turn. Again another example of how Dances at a Gathering has the capacity to surprise. Even at this late point, Robbins’ wanted to bring another player to the table, someone brand new to offer their input. And the last scene is the ultimate statement of community. The ten dancers acknowledge each other’s contributions, say thank you and move onto their next conversation.

Kimberly Braylock-Olivier and Sean Bennett in
Possokhov's Swimmer
Photo © Erik Tomasson
From its onset, Possokhov’s Swimmer is an immersive visual stunner. Placed into the mid-twentieth century by a collaborative combination of lights, videography, sets and costumes, the first few scenes paint an unforgettable picture. We meet the title character (danced opening night with style and strength by Taras Domitro) who is stuck in a repetitive routine and looking for something more, something beyond, something exciting. His story moves quickly; the dance constantly pushing forward as he searches for this ‘better’. The allure of celebrity and glamour tempt him. As does the carefree-ness of youthful community at a pool party. This pool party is super fun to watch but it is also a pivotal moment in the dance, for two reasons. Here we realize that while this man may crave a new personal existence, he may also be seeking a new community to be a part of. And in addition, the scene sets up the frame for the next leg of his exploration, his ‘swim’.

Possokhov has crafted this swim as a collection of solos and pas de deuxs, varied in technique and in meaning. In Domitro’s first solo, you can clearly see the internal struggle between staying grounded in reality and surrendering to the possible. Then Maria Kochetkova and Tiit Helimets arrive on the scene in a sexy pas de deux of longing and desire. Feijoo and Vitor Luiz offer a bittersweet duet that oscillates between holding onto the familiar and accepting change, followed by Domitro and Tan (as a genie/mermaid being) in a game of seduction. It’s the narrative arc of these solos and duets that is interesting to consider. Are they real individuals that Domitro is meeting on his journey? Are they figments of his imagination? Are they the embodiment of his hopes and regrets? The answer isn’t totally clear and that ambiguity plays perfectly in the piece.

The men’s ensemble sequence, led at this performance by Wei Wang, Gennadi Nedvigin and Pascal Molat, is something to behold - dramatic, technical and powerful; huge jumps, diving rolls and pulsing batterie. With subtle inspirations from martial arts, together as a community, the men stir and whirl the entire stage into a frenzied fervor. And after all that movement and presence, Domitro is left alone, suspended mid-air, swimming in projected water, in a place that is in between. He is not in his old world, but has yet to reach his new destination. 

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