"Divertimento No.15," "Scotch Symphony," "The Four Temperaments"
San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA
April 12, 21012
by Rita Felciano
Copyright © Rita Felciano, 2012
San Francisco Ballet's penultimate program of this season reminded me of the time when reservations about Helgi Tomasson's appointment as Artistic Director in 1985 circled around fears that he was going to turn the company into a Balanchine ensemble. Of course, he did, and he didn't make SFB a Balanchine repository.
"Divertimento No. 15," picking up and expanding on the courtliness and elegance of Mozart's score, is surely one of Balanchine's most exquisite creations. Coached by Elyse Borne, the dancers responded to the intricacies of its challenges with assurance and joy. Though, if memory serves correctly, this performance did not quite sparkle with the effervescence of the one I saw in 2008 but the ballet has lost little of its magic.
The little head bobs in the beginning suggest porcelain figurines but opening their arms these "pretty" dancers spring to life. This is a ballet in which the chorus of eight women constantly interacts with the couples. The Minuet gives them the opportunity to shine on their own; this year they did it with a lacy discipline and lovely individuality inside the group.
One of "Divertimento's" ongoing fascinations comes from the fact that five women are partnered by three men; this suggests asymmetry and the tension that goes with it. Yet "Divertimento" is perfectly balanced; its sense of repose vibrant and scintillating. In their light-blue Karinska costumes, the men flying in looking like heavenly messengers. Each one of has a personal approach to his tasks. In his first time in the role Taras Domitro favors slighty over-dramatic attacks; Gennadi Nedvigin invests them with pristine clarity; and Hansuke Yamamoto's brings a growing sense of line and ongoing eagerness to his dancing.
Among the women, Frances Chung's beautifully integrated second variation had her hops in something like a conversation with her port de bras. Corps member Sasha DeSola, pretty as sunshine yet strong in her feet, timed her turns as if following an internal compass. While Vanessa Zahorian, the ballet's reigning ballerina, impressed with the precision and speed of her criss-crossing feet, her performance otherwise looked curiously lack luster. Surveying from the back, she almost seemed bored.
Having to compete with Mozart and Hindemith, the other composers who inspired this evening of Balanchine, Mendelssohn's "Scotch Symphony" didn't have much of a chance. Despite its use of lovely folk melodies, there is a pedestrian earnestness about this score that did not seem to have inspired Balanchine at his best. It was not in Mr. B's nature to be ironic, so what the music seems to have called up is a sense of bemusemen,t perhaps, even wit. The lads' and lassies' pattern dancing and the evocation of "La Sylphide" became an insiders' game, a frivolous amusement not to be taken seriously. The fact that Balanchine managed to pull those these different elements together into a half way decent ballet is just another indication of his genius to take modest material and ennoble it. Still "Scotch" remains a minor work by a major artist. SFB's refined and spirited ensemble -- they have such beautiful legs, particularly with the men in kilts -- showed it at its best.
The middle movement veered between a robust sense of humor and fragile emotions. It featured a lengthy, at times, repetitive Pas de Deux during which a deliciously teasing and impish would-be Sylph, Yuan Yuan Tan, pulled and pushed a no-clues Davit Karapetyan every which way. She literally had him at her fingertips. Tan was all-knowing and all-controlling. Karapeteyan, at one point turned a would-be pirouette into a one-legged whipping turn I don't remember ever having seen.
The stalwart, expertly kilt-swirling lads who dropped in out of nowhere to protect and encage the playful girl, also repeatedly threw her so that she landed just about on top of her swain. These guys looked some devilish deus ex machina. At the end of the ballet you could believe that these lovers were meant for each other. The wedding celebrated the fact that the Sylph had turned into Effie.
If sitting through a piece of fluff was the price to pay to arrive at "The Four Temperaments," almost any amount would not be high enough. Not only the choreography but also Hindemith's score -- beautifully interpreted by the orchestra and the always excellent pianist Roy Bogas -- looked and sounded as fresh and up-to-date as anything that comes down the shoot these days.
The 'Theme's' couples set the tone clearly, economically and with such freshness. Small moves looked big on Kristina Lund/Daniel Deivison; Elana Altman/Quinn Warton; and Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun/ Anthony Spaulding.
I would have preferred Domitro's 'Melancholic' to be more fully integrated but his sense of having to drag himself at the very least allowed the women to kick a modicum of life into him. In 'Sanguinic' Tiit Helimets magnifcently sailed Sarah Van Patten through those huge travelling trajectories. There seemed to be little of a competitive edge between them. Vito Mazzeo, long in limb and odd in composure, did his first 'Phlegmatic'; if phlegmatice signifies total self-absorption, he had it. Sofiane Sylve's' 'Choleric' exploded with enough fire and fury to generate the energy to last through the finale.