San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
April 10th, 2016
As the curtain came up on Sunday afternoon’s performance at San Francisco Ballet, the action was already afoot. Dancers populated the stage, engaging in the joyful, buoyant movement that is Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s Prism (2000). As suggested by its title, Prism examines the full spectrum of ballet vocabulary and does so in three abstract chapters. Traditional temps levées and jeté entralaces burst forth, pas de chats travel backwards in space, lifts utilize both legs in attitude and demi-pointe work flourishes. The trio of Max Cauthorn, Myles Thatcher and Diego Cruz shone every minute they were onstage, whether in unison pirouette sequences, split jumps in second position or double tours.
Prism’s second movement opens with a luxurious duet of affection and adoration, danced by Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets. While still not conveying a particular story, these emotions and sentiments spoke loud and clear from the stage. Tan and Helimets went on to lead the corps in a beautiful partnering variation - an elastic, stretchy and elegant phrase. And while there were sky-high extensions and grand lifts, it was the quiet movements that truly stunned. When Tan walked towards Helimets with sweeping arms, it took one’s breath away. Francisco Mungamba’s solo work in the third movement had a number of standout moments, but the way he finished every pirouette was by far the most astonishing. After multiple rotations, he stopped in high relevé, in a perfect passé position and suspended in the air before closing. He was saying farewell to one step before moving onto to the next.
The middle spot on program six was reserved for Alexei Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas (2009), a suite of dances accompanied onstage by a solo piano (played with sensitivity and skill by Mungunchimeg Buriad). The cast is comprised of three couples, though Seven Sonatas actually reads like more of a sextet. The pairings change and shift (especially in the opening statement) and a number of solo variations occur in addition to the three duets. And speaking of the cast, what a group on Sunday afternoon – Lorena Feijoo, Carlos Quenedit, Dores André, Vitor Luiz, Sofiane Sylve and Carlo Di Lanno. It was their remarkable dancing that was the highlight of this ballet.
The intimate nature of Seven Sonatas is certainly compelling and I love how Ratmansky surprises the audience at the piece’s conclusion. Rather than bringing everyone back to the stage at once, he opts to re-introduce the cast with a collection of pas de trois. And in the final moments, each dancer expresses themselves individually instead of a unison or group charge. Having said that, the dynamics do stick out. While Seven Sonatas is actually the same length as Prism, it feels much longer and this is because the dynamics don’t change very much. There are a few exceptions. With its whimsical nature, Luiz’s solo halfway through offered a bit of dynamic range. And Sylve and Di Lanno’s pas de deux added some crescendo in its batterie and echappé motif and turning sequence. But for the most part, the sections in Seven Sonatas feel very similar to each other, at least in terms of flow, weight and ambiance.
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Photo © Erik Tomasson
Christopher Wheeldon’s Rush© (2003) is a fantastic piece for this company – an athletic work full of imagery and acceleration. And imagery is an important word here because it is the images in Rush© that stick with you, hours, weeks, even years later. Wheeldon’s use of second position, in relevé and in slides across the floor; his attention to the back of the body and how lifts may be experienced from different angles; the changing levels, the poses on the ground, the running motifs; the scissoring legs and forward propulsion of the body. And of course, the middle pas de deux, danced beautifully at this performance by Sasha De Sola and Luke Ingham. The stage darkens, except for a glowing red light on the backdrop. Costumed in black, the two dancers walk slowly toward each other. Once they meet, they immerse in a sculptural partnering sequence, full of off-center leans and sostenuto articulation. And while the mood is serious, it is also incredibly uplifting.