Friday, April 14, 2017

San Francisco Ballet - Program 7

San Francisco Ballet
Program 7 – “Made for SF Ballet”
War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
April 13th, 2017

Mixed repertory dance programs don’t necessarily need a theme. Some of the most striking double bills, triple bills and quadruple bills that I have witnessed actually had no common throughline. That is, other than the fact that the various choreographic works were sharing the same space at the same time.

Having said that, themed programming definitely has virtues and merits, like context, framing and curation. This season, San Francisco Ballet has opted for this approach with respect to its mixed repertory offerings, arranging fifteen one-act ballets into five categories. The result -- smart, cohesive programs, in which each individual piece has been afforded the opportunity to speak on its own while simultaneously contributing to a group statement. Program seven “Made for SF Ballet”, the final mixed rep night for 2017, follows in kind. As the title indicates, the commonality between Trio, Ghost in the Machine and Within the Golden Hour© is that they were all uniquely made on and for this company. But that is not their only unifying thread. All three ballets are layered mosaics of fellowship, camaraderie and expansiveness.

Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson’s Trio (2011) made for a solid start to the evening, a back wall of gilded squares (design by Alexander V. Nichols) framing the ballet from start to finish. Many of my observations from years past held true at this viewing, particularly that the work communicates a number of different neo-classical tenets in its three distinct movements. Choreographic/music consonance were at play in part one with flowing temps leveé, turning waltz sequences and spinning lifts accompanying the lilting score. Vanessa Zahorian, partnered by Jaime Garcia Castilla, employed Tomasson’s collapsing arabesque motif, bending her leg bit by bit, as descending sostenuto arpeggios similarly sang from the orchestra. But this first movement was not only about the relationship between dance and music. By initiating phrases in the wings and then having them travel onto the stage, there was also an expansion of the traditional proscenium container. Of course, this is by no means a new choreographic device, but the effect was particularly elegant and telling in Trio. Employing another aspect of the neo-classical genre, an emotive statement was sandwiched right in the middle of the two abstract chapters. What begins as an innocent, hopeful pas de deux (Lauren Strongin and Daniel Deivison-Oliveira) eventually grows into a more distressed and poignant pas de trois with the addition of the third character (Aaron Robison). And while non-linear in scope, the whole thing has such a significant narrative undertone that it looks like it could have been part of a full-length story ballet. Led by Maria Kochetkova and Angelo Greco, Trio’s final section shows ballet vocabulary infused with additional movement styles, in this case world dance forms and a courtly Renaissance spirit. The sultry, rhythmic sequence features athletic jumps, percussive phrase material, sharp directional pivots and footwork sequences complete with flexes and batterie. Appearing in both the first and last sections, the corps did well with the different choreographic styles, though unison seemed a little elusive on Thursday evening.

The world premiere on program seven, Myles Thatcher’s Ghost in the Machine was a true ensemble work, the cast of ten coming together to reflect a vulnerable and real human microcosm. And to that end, the ballet was full of extremes. Right as the curtain went up, the juxtaposition of the casual everyday was countered with the stylized - relaxed walking, running and swimming motions being paired with highly athletic choreography. With aggression and affection playing equal parts in the thirty-plus minute work, Ghost in the Machine also sought to explore the porous space in choreographic structure, morphing between abstract form and connective conceptual tissue. Dancers menacingly circled as if engaging in a dispute, intimidating and pushing each other away. But the opposite intention was also present with beautiful tender moments of care and support oozing from the stage. Bodies enveloped together, holding on in unconditional love. Thatcher injected yet another extreme into the work, examining isolation versus togetherness. Secluded, searching solos met with cluster formations, the entire cast acting as collective group. Cantilevered postures, which require cooperation, spoke to this as did smaller group variations with entwined hands. But the most potent expression was when one dancer stood alone in the center, and one by one, others joined to embrace her. Then that formation shifted like a kaleidoscope – another dancer was in the center, and the motif repeated, twice more. And hanging above the dancers throughout the dance was another mesmerizing design by Nichols, furthering solidifying Ghost in the Machine’s message of extremes – a large sculpture of steely fibers that were parallel to each other on one side and twisted on the other.

San Francisco Ballet in Christopher Wheeldon's
Within the Golden Hour©
Photo © Erik Tomasson

Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour© (2008) closed the evening – an ongoing conversation between bodies on stage, both with each other and with the space itself. Gorgeous choreography and gorgeous dancing. Three gold panels (designed by Martin Pakledinaz) floated to the ceiling as Diego Cruz and Wei Wang opened the scene with sophistication and regality, the movement following the crest of each music phrase. As the rest of the dancers joined, the choreography continued that crescendo and decrescendo, moving effortlessly and seamlessly through a series of vibrant, living pictures, the body often on an unexpected and unpredictable axis. Fourteen dancers worked together to create these images and physical snapshots. And while there were certainly featured moments – Sasha De Sola and Thatcher’s Baroque inspired duet; Cruz and Wang’s second duo of unison and canon; Sarah Van Patten and Luke Ingham’s melty meditation - Within the Golden Hour©, like Ghost in the Machine, felt like an ensemble work. In fact, unless I missed it, there aren’t any solos (at least in the traditional sense) in the dance, the choreography always seeking an expression of harmony.

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