Monday, March 20, 2023

San Francisco Ballet - "The Colors of Dance"

San Francisco Ballet in 
Tomasson's 7 For Eight
Photo Lindsay Thomas
San Francisco Ballet
The Colors of Dance
War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
March 18th, 2023 (matinee)

San Francisco Ballet’s 90th season has been epic thus far. First, an astonishing festival of new works; next, an injection of fresh energy into Giselle. Later this season, audiences can look forward to two more mammoth full-length classics: Cinderella and Romeo & Juliet. Sandwiched in the middle of all this deliciousness was Program 3, a mixed repertory collection dubbed The Colors of Dance. 

First up on this charming triple bill was 7 For Eight, a 2004 composition by former Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson. 7 For Eight is the epitome of a neo-classical suite, very Balanchine-esque in both flavor and look. It emits soothing, pleasant tones, never asking too much of the audience (other than to bear witness to the lovely movement). Neo-classical tenets abound throughout the thirty-minute work. There is no linear story, though the ballet still had emotive tones of drama, playfulness and spirit. The choreography has speed, particularly prominent in the second episode’s pas de deux, danced on Saturday afternoon by Julia Rowe and Mingxuan Wang. Physicality converses deeply with J.S. Bach’s Baroque score, sometimes even matching a strong chord or a staccato accent. Delightful surprises peppered the choreographic language, like double attitude jumps, upper body contractions, partnered slides and sudden, sharp directional shifts.

Esteban Hernández’ solo variation (the 5th chapter) was by far, the star of the piece. Crisp, clean and resolute, every motion, every step sparkled. Lofty briseés, elastic sissones, textbook batterie and jumping turns that seemed to defy gravity. As expected with a neo-classical work, the design elements were pared down, so as to not distract from the movement. Though at the same time, it was unexpected that this piece was chosen as the opening for The Colors of Dance program. Overall, 7 For Eight is missing much visual color, making that choice somewhat curious. 

San Francisco Ballet in Thatcher's Colorforms
Photo Lindsay Thomas

In contrast, Myles Thatcher’s Colorforms was an explosion of vibrancy, particularly Jim French’s lighting design and Susan Roemer’s costumes. The film version of Colorforms (filmed in and around the SFMOMA) originally premiered as part of SFB’s 2021 virtual season and was adapted to the War Memorial stage for this program. French’s scenic design was phenomenal and accomplished two important goals. His large frame structures and movable viewing benches not only captured the sense of place (the art gallery), but also helped solidify the layered theme of the viewership lens. We, the audience, certainly had a lens into what was happening onstage, but his set also allowed the dancers to have their own unique experience as both performer and viewer. Like 7 For Eight, Colorforms doesn’t appear to be telling a story, though it does have several tonal throughlines that come across in the scenework and choreography. First and foremost was joy. Every moment was so full of delight. And, befitting the art gallery container, there was also a sense of noticing, of curiosity, of exploration. Several choreographic moments shone, like the picturesque vignettes that the cast had to create as a collective, and the stunning unison near the end. 

Nikisha Fogo and Joseph Walsh in
Forsythe's Blake Works I
Photo Lindsay Thomas
William Forsythe’s Blake Works I (2016) held the final place in The Colors of Dance, the largest ensemble piece on the program. The suite of dances is set to a James Blake score, a recorded collection that oscillated between R&B, jazz, hip hop and electronic dance music. Against that changeable frame, Forsythe introduced classroom ballet exercises with a twist. While dancers (clad in beautiful light blue costumes) cycled through the positions of the body, a hip might swivel. The transfer of weight in temps lié investigated both external and internal rotation. Port de bras was embellished; one sequence even had a distinctively macarena feel to it. It was academic phrase material, re-imagined. Blake Works I was fun and dynamic, save for the number of internal stops and starts. And while there were leads and featured sequences, the ballet is definitely an ensemble piece, and so, not surprisingly, it was strongest and most captivating when most of the dancers were onstage.