"Guide to Strange Places," "Beaux," "The Rite of Spring"
San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA
February 26, 2013
by Rita Felciano
Copyright © Rita Felciano, 2013
Two radically different premieres from last year by Ashley Page and Mark Morris preceded SFB's much-anticipated "Rite of Spring" by choreographer-in-residence Yuri Possokhov. His interpretation showed little kinship with an agricultural people's need to call upon the regenerative power of the earth. It did evoke, however, another more contemporary spring ritual when hordes of college students descend on the beaches of Florida during their annual Easter break. The work also got Jennifer Stahl, Possokhov's Virgin -- though one almost hesitates to call her that -- an on the spot promotion to soloist.
This "Rite" is devoid of mythological overtones; it offers a harsh, nihilistic perspective on human behavior. Yet it opens on a beautifully poetic note: young girls spread on a hillside awaken to their sexuality. Sliding down the incline, they nuzzle each other and try out their limbs like newborn colts finding their legs. Rolling their spines, they prominently put their rear ends on display, just about sending out a mating call. Lifting their transparent shifts overhead (gorgeous costumes by Sandra Woodall), they show their nude-looking bodies, whirling excitedly in anticipation of what they clearly know will come. Here Possokhov's use of the point shoe and the flexed foot gives Stravinsky's beats rollicking accents. As if called by the women, the men pop up from the behind the hillside, kicking, skating and leaping down the slope to hook up with more than willing partners.
Stahl, a delicate blonde with beautifully tapered limbs and a steely technique is their leader. Throughout, she manages to project vulnerability and voracity in about equal measure. In the Pas de Deux with a buff Luke Ingham, she is very much his equal; theirs becomes a struggle both sexual and emotional. Giving an excellent, daring performance, she more than deserved that instantaneous promotion.
Posskhov's major invention comes with the introduction of a ghoulish creature in the shape of Garen Scribner and James Sofranko whom Woodall's skirt joined at the hip. They appear to have risen from a netherworld and look like something out of the Walking Dead. Possokhov clearly had fun creating this grinning, finger pointing, rapacious menace. Scribner and Sofranko gave it every ounce of the theatricality it deserved.
For the sacrificial offering, Possokhov basically created a mob that whips itself into an unstoppable frenzy. However, the sticks they used to join the ghoul's frenetic pounding of the beats rhythm looked rather silly. Stahl ends up being carried aloft on some poles -- like what a trophy hunter might use to show his catch of the day: a carcass.
Page set his 2012 SFB commission, "Guide to Strange Places," on four prominent and two supporting couples, as well as a quartet of four. The inspiration, apparently, came from John Adams' eponymous, darkish and brassy score. "Guide" surprised by how dated it looked. On second viewing the work revealed few if any additional insights.The upstage flow with the supporting dancers left much to be desired.
"Guide" is a bravura endeavor of fierce athleticism, ferocious attacks, supersonic speed and every anatomically conceivable lift. It does manage to draw on the special abilities of many of its performers--the out-of-one mold dancing by Pascal Molat and Frances Chung; Sarah Van Patten sultry power, here nicely supplemented by Carlos Quenedit; Vanessa Zahorian and Jaime Garcia Castilla's fleetness; and Maria Kotchevkova' and Gennadi Nedvgin's wit. Unfortunately, first-rate dancing does not make a first-rate ballet.
With the same cast as last year, Morris' elegant "Beaux" still looked wonderful. It's a work that celebrates men dancing with, and perhaps, for each other. The convivial group was made up of five principals and four corps members: Sean Bennett, Jaime Garcia Castilla, Diego Cruz, Ruben Martín Cintas, Vito Mazzeo, Pascal Molat, Gennadi Nedvigin, Jeremy Rucker and Benjamin Stewart who soared in his center space solo.Though finely danced, "Beaux's" major delight comes from Morris' vision of a luminous classicism in which form -- the play with numbers, the witty unison line-ups, the structural clarity -- speaks about containment and harmony. With Bradley Moor as the soloist and Martin West at the podium, Bohuslav Martinu's "Concerto for Harpsichord and small orchestra" received an appropriately refined performance. Yet I wondered if the music would have sounded as good hadn't we heard it through Morris' ears.