San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA
January 19, 2012
by Rita Felciano
Copyright © Rita Felciano, 2012
Besides filling the coffers of ballet companies, Galas serve a dual purpose: to see and to be seen, offstage and on. The San Francisco Opera House is a place of nonpareil elegance but the sea of black that filled the Lobby could have used a wider set of chroma. It was up to Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson to make this evening the colorful, festive and thoroughly enjoyable event it became. He chose wisely, cast beautifully and brought the package in at just under two hours.
The other, what one might call, novelty piece, was the Pas de Deux from "Flames of Paris," (1932) a favorite in competitions because it demanad a thoroughly trained classical performer. Frances Chung and Taras Domitro did the honors, she bringing charm and insouciance to her fouettés and nicely spaced hops on point, he manly vigor to his traveling leaps and impressive control over the contracting turns. They even made Boris Asafiev's score acceptable -- but just barely so. David Bintley's 1995 SFB commission, "The Dance House" is a somber, mourning piece. Sarah Van Patten and Tiit Helimets -- with Pascal Molat as the intruder, perhaps Death -- danced the Pas de Deux with calm deliberation, moving through the upside-down turns as if they were second nature. They gave this excerpt much dignity though I wondered how meaningful the piece could be outside its context. Helimets brought nobility to his partnering tasks.
In 1977 Ashton choreographed Johann Strauss' delightful "Voices of Spring" for a production of "Fledermaus."
Maria Kotchekova and Joan Boada danced the San Francisco premiere effervescently and with great charm. Ashton packed this bonbon with quick changes of direction, flying leaps that hardly touched the ground and lifts that demanded perfect coordination. Putting "Voices" on the same program as Balanchine's 1960 "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux" was an inspired choice since it gave audiences an opportunity to observe two kindred spirits taking on the classical language and making it their own. Despite a tiny misstep, Vanessa Zahorian, who is fast emerging as SFB's second-to-none ballerina, and Davit Karapetyan gloriously sailed through this lovely heart-throb of a jewel.
Christopher Wheeldon's 2002 "Continuum" paired Sofiane Sylve and Vito Mazzeo to spectacular results. Neither of them had performed it before. With pianist Michael McGraw doing the honors on Ligeti's score, this duet became one of the Gala's highlights. On the surface Mazzeo played the traditional role of "showing off the ballerina," supporting her in cantilevered turns, fractured lines and joint-challenging entanglements. But these dancers worked together like one organism, he the source of energy that allowed her metamorphosis. Watching them was like observing evolution in action or time-lapse photography of something mysterious being born.
Good choreographies in a solo and "Solo" also received fine performances. Val Caniparoli's 1997 "Aria," to two oddly matched pieces by Handel, used the simple prop of a mask to show emotional and physical confinement and liberation from it. Damian Smith once more proved just how deep he can go even with conventionally non-virtuosic material. Clearly, he communicated with this Gala audience who gave him one of the biggest ovations. Lot's of bravura dancing was demanded from Garen Scribner and Hansuke Yamamoto -- both premiering their parts -- and Gennadi Nedvigin in Hans Van Manen's 1997 "Solo." Each of the three brought his own perspective: Yamamoto looked as if on fire, Scribner seemed almost gentlemanly, and Nedvigin's suggested suave bemusement about the whole affair.
The program opened with the sextet of leaping males from Yuri Possokhov's fine 2010 "Classical Symphony" to Prokofiev delightful "Symphony No. 1". At first these "pups" appeared have to push the energy; in subsequent trajectories the air had become their natural playground. The evening ended with a reprise of Wheeldon's latest SFB work, "Number Nine" from 2011, to Michael Tork's "Ash." On second viewing, I am not sure that this high-octane essay for four couples and a sizable corps will stand up. The choreography looks too schematic, as if drawn on a flowchart. But since the work will return on Program 2 of the upcoming season, scheduling it for the Gala, at the very least, saved some rehearsal time.