Monday, July 25, 2016

Festival Napa Valley 2016 - Dance Gala

Festival Napa Valley 2016
Dance Gala
Dede Wilsey Dance Series
San Francisco Ballet
Lincoln Theater, Yountville
July 22nd, 2016

In individual pools of light at opposite corners of the stage, San Francisco Ballet’s Frances Chung and Aaron Robison faced each other. With sweeping arms, they began a riveting physical conversation that the corps de ballet would soon join. Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson’s The Fifth Season was underway, as was Festival Napa Valley’s annual Dance Gala.

The Dance Gala is always a highlight of the festival, but this year was particularly special with San Francisco Ballet performing the entire program for the first time. And what a program the company designed for this event! A perfect sampler of classical and contemporary favorites, danced by magnificent world-class artists.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets in
Tomasson's The Fifth Season
Photo © Erik Tomasson
An ensemble work for three couples and a corps of eight, Tomasson’s The Fifth Season is a suite of spectacular moments, one that both celebrates and transcends ballet’s various genres and styles. This full-length work, originally choreographed in 2006, strikes a perfect balance between traditional, neo-classical and contemporary choreography. Off-center balances meet textbook developpés (Robison’s écarté extension especially impressed); silky suspensions combine with staccato demi-pointe boureés. In addition, moods and atmospheres vary from the mischievous tango (led by Mathilde Froustey) to the emotive, sculptural pas de deux by Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets. A luminescent start to a phenomenal evening.

Next, the company delved into the narrative story ballets of the late 1800s, with Vanessa Zahorian and Vitor Luiz in the pas de deux from Le Corsaire (choreography after Marius Petipa). Stately and regal, this excerpt was the perfect contrast to the first piece. A signature grand pas de deux with individual variations and coda, it features bravado jumps on the diagonal, lightning fast turns and sharp relevé phrases. And in true classical ballet style, each dancer takes the spotlight with a fouetté sequence near the end.

A collection of duets and one trio made up the second half of Festival Napa Valley’s 2016 Dance Gala, beginning with the pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s After The Rain©, performed by Tan and Luke Ingham. Originally choreographed in 2005, the movement is innovative and contemporary. But for me, this piece is the utmost statement of elegance and grace - non-traditional poses and lifts creating beautiful snapshots in space. Sofiane Sylve and Carlo Di Lanno took the Lincoln Theater stage in the pas de deux from William Forsythe’s famed 1987 ballet in the middle, somewhat elevated. A cutting-edge physical essay of possibility, extremes flourish throughout – in the hands and in the joints, in plié and in hyperextension. Maria Kochetkova and Angelo Greco closed the program in the Act III pas de deux from Don Quixote. Another Petipa story ballet from the late 1800s, this duet is full of spectacle and technique, verve and flirtation. Sky high lifts thrilled, as did Kochetkova’s final fouetté series.

But by far the highlight of the evening was Solo (1997), choreographed by Hans van Manen. Solo is everything contemporary choreography has the potential to be – a stream of varied and intoxicating physicality; a dynamic and playful demeanor; a continual pulse of fun and joy. Danced at this performance by Principal Joseph Walsh, Wei Wang and Francisco Mungamba (both of whom were recently promoted to the Soloist rank), Solo feels like a friendly competition, one with healthy and equal doses of camaraderie, banter, showmanship and fraternity. I’ve seen a number of different casts dance this extraordinary composition and have loved the piece every single time, but there was something about this casting. Walsh, Wang and Mungamba were exceptional in their individual dancing and in their interactions with each other – I hope this trio reappears in future.   

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