"Trio", "Francesca da Rimini", "Le Carnaval des Animaux"
San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA
February 18, 2012
by Rita Felciano
Copyright © Rita Felciano, 2012
Watching second casts at work has its own pleasure. You discover less experienced artists and see others in unusual roles. Who would have thought that Sarah Van Patten could be such a fine elephant? Choreographically, SFB's third program ranged from delicious to middling to ill conceived. It was not one of the Company's glory points.
Tchaikovsky's eponymous 1876 score is lush, dramatic and ever so romantic. At one point, I thought, I heard an echo of "Swan Lake", and you can't miss the fact -- particularly in the opening evocation of hell -- that the composer wrote it during a visit to Bayreuth. For some reason, Possokhov felt a need to dramatize this delicate and poignant episode from Dante's "Divine Comedy" histrionically. At its center he placed a gymnastically challenging, convoluted Pas de Deux that would have a place with Boris Eifman. But there is precious little in this duet that tells us about the soul-wrenching guilt, fear or shock that the two lovers live through. It did help that Frances Chung, a reliably sunny and competent Principal, gave the dramatic performance of her life. Fierce in her passion and despair, Chung revealed a little known aspect of her abilities. Whatever ounce of truth she found in Possokov's choreography, she wrung out of it. This was particularly impressive because her Paolo -- Cuban Soloist Carlos Quenedit, who joined the company this year -- partnered her insecurely and remained emotionally distant. Vito Mazzeo, Francesca's husband, stalked the stage and swung his cape like a second-rate Von Rothbart.
In subsidiary roles, the cavorting hunks, Jeremy Rucker, Quinn Wharton and Luke Willis, as the Rodin-inspired Guardians of the Inferno, looked comical as did the spidery and mocking-the-lovers court ladies Elana Altman, Dores Andre, Kristina Lind, Mariellen Ohlson and Jennifer Stahl. One had the impression that these dancers got a kick out of those roles. Production values, however, were excellent. Alexander V. Nichols created a huge smoke-belching entrance to Hell; Sandra Woodall designed the fine Renaissance-inspired costumes and hairdos.
As for Helgi Tomasson's "Trio" (2011), gorgeous as Nichols' design of a view into a fresco-filled Renaissance palace was, it again seemed a little too opulent for Tchaikovsky's "Souvenir de Florence." Perhaps the Boboli Gardens might be an airier inspiration for the easy gentility of Tomasson's choreography. He bracketed a trio, here performed by Dana Genshaft, Ruben Martin Cintas and Anthony Spaulding, with two movements with Pas de Deux's and Corps. One could think of the first couple in a youthful, the second in a more complex relationship. Jaime Garcia Castilla gently and attentively partnered Corps member Sasha Desola -- a pretty dancer with lovely feet and an underdeveloped port de bras -- in the first movement. Gennadi Nedvigin squired a self-involved Maria Kochetkova in the third.
The middle trio evolved out of a duet with Spaulding becoming figure of an intruding Death -- in the way it worked in "Serenade; it showed Genshaft almost dreamily moving back and forth between the two men. Her beautifully pliant upper body responded to the two of them like waves to a breeze. The trio also showed the value of potent single gestures. When Spaulding sinuously inserted his arm between the two lovers, it looked like a snake.
The ensemble work in Ratmansky's "Le Carnaval des Animaux" (2003) was not as smooth as I remembered it from previous incarnations but no trace of hoakieness marred these beasts, whether mammal, fowl or reptile. They all had a splendid time, including the orchestra under the brisk baton of Maestro Charles Barker.