"The Fifth Season," "Symphonic Dances," "Glass PIeces"
March 21, 2012"
"Raymonda Act III," "Raku," "Guide to Strange Places"
March 23, 2012
San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA
by Rita Felciano
Copyright Rita Felciano © 2012
With the two world premieres by Edwaard Liang and Ashley Page following each other only two days apart, San Francisco Ballet offered an intense dose of works whose choreographers, for all their differences, think of twenty-first century ballet as super-athletic, fractured, ferociously non-narrative, at hurricane-speed and packed with action. Smartly, both Liang and Page also recognized what they had in SFB's superb musicians, under the formidable baton of Martin West, so they chose distinguished scores which highlight symphonic timbre. Liang set Serge Rachmaninoff's "Symphonic Dances"; Page chose John Adams' "Guide to Strange Places." Both works were named after the music.
Mark Zappone's flowing; richly tinted gowns for the women suggested a genteel ballroom scene for Liang's forty-minute endeavor. But there is nothing decorous about Rachmaninoff; the music rides a torrent of clashing, shrieking sonorities, quotes-- including the Dies irea, a Russian resurrection hymn -- and not so subtle references to other composers. Fragmentation suggests a pulling together of material that, however, doesn't. The music seems like a flood you have to survive. So, perhaps, it is not surprising that on first viewing Liang's choreography felt like you might drown in it.
Legs peddle, stretch to high noon, or open into upside down splits. Arms swing and grab, heads push, and women submit to chains of lift in which they sail overhead, slide down a partner's back, hang on to an arm or off a leg. These kinds of athletic maneuvers are much in vogue today, in part because dancers can do them. Up to a point they may feel daring and intrigue for that reason. Here they also sometimes looked as if Liam self-consciously was trying to turn male/female relationship inside out. It would be intriguing to know how SFB's women feel about them.
"Symphonic" did have its affecting moments in which it showed more a nuanced expressivity. Periodically the women fanned their skirts, creating pretty butterfly images. In his partnering mode Vito Mazzeo, long-limbed like Yuan Yuan Tan, donned a courteous elegance. Holding her by the hips as she leaned away, he turned her to have her sit on his knee. In the middle of some vertigo-inducing moves, Sofiane Sylve, shadowed by a group of female dancers, appeared to gently caress Tiit Helimets. They ended their encounter in a quiet hug. Maria Kotchekova and Vitor Luiz shone in a short duet; they danced as if one despite the speed and complexity of the choreography.
A first rate performance of Tomasson's refined "The Fifth Season" proved one more time that excellent choreography can overcome second-rate music. Robbins' fine crowd pleaser "Glass Pieces" closed the evening; it surprised with how dated the score sounded.
For his SFB commission, Page chose Adams' imagistically orchestrated score for a hyperactive work, bathed in David Finn's murky lighting. Barry Kay's two-part set at first suggested a highway disappearing into nowhere to be superceded by a gigantic clock exposing its spidery mechanism. With that and everyone dressed in dark colored-coded leotards and their hair slicked down, the ballet had a sinister film noir quality about it. Individual encounters exploded only to be sucked up by darkness or be crowded out by the small corps suddenly asserting itself. In the way eerie emptiness co-existed with an overload of physical information, Page appears to have followed the score rather closely.
"Guide" started with the well paired Frances Chung and Pascal Molat in a short high velocity give and take. Gennadi Nedvigin and Kotchekova had a playful moment when he turned a back somersault all the while hanging on to her hand. Sara Van Patten and Anthony Spaulding played off their speed and her magnificent lines. Finely matched, Vanessa Zahorian and Jaime Garcia Castilla appeared through the back wall as if in a dream from which they did not want to fully awaken. The choreography built towards a kind of frenzy but mysteriously stopped when the curtain came down. Perhpas the piece had run out of time.
There is an appealingly glossy sheen to "Guide" but I am not sure whether this won't wear off rather quickly. A former ballet dancer friend had a grin on his face and one comment: "Wow!" Seemed fair enough.
Coached by Grant Coyle from the Royal Ballet, who loaned their gold-encrusted sets and costumes, and SFB's own Bruce Samson, this "Raymonda" was a glittering spectacle of exactingly refined dancing. In Raymonda's grand solo, Sylvane -- powerful, phrasing beautifully and VERY regal -- has never looked better. Unfortunately, Yuri Possokhov's dramatic and highly acclamed "Raku" started in a noble key but ended on a melodramatic note. The magnificent Tan, on whom the lead had been created, could not save it.