"Criss-Cross," "Francesca da Rimini," "Symphony in Three Movements,"
San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA
April 11, 2013
by Rita Felciano
Copyright Rita Felciano © 2013
In the penultimate line-up of its 80th season, Helgi Tomasson mixed his choices with a vengeance. The program highlighted, among other things, how much we are missing. It's all well and good to offer the public a solid dose of today's star choreographers, most prominently Alexei Ratmansky, Christopher Wheeldon and Wayne McGregor. Liam Scarlett will join them next year. But we have come a long way since 1985 when Tomasson's appointment as Artistic Director raised fears in some circles that he would turn SFB into Balanchine Company West. The great choreographer never dominated the repertoire; now it feels that he has become an also-ran. "Scotch Symphony" and last night's "Symphony in Three Movements" this season; "Agon" and "Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet" next year. This program left me wanting more.
As staged by Richard Tanner, the dancers gave "Symphony" a first-rate reading. They attacked the staccato rhythms with gusto and kept those overlapping patterns together so that one had at least some sense of who was going where, when. Thank you, however, for those color-coded costumes. James Garcia Castilla positively exploded onto the stage to then partner a radiantly dancing Sasha DeSola. Good to see was tiny Clara Blanco, finally stepping outside her 'petite-dancer' box. With Lonnie Weeks, she danced big and forcefully; Balanchine's speed and hot-pepper footwork apparently agree with her.
Given Tan's heritage, the mesmerizingly performed Pas de Deux's Asian influence of flexed feet and angled arms acquired a special resonance. Mazzeo (Rome Opera Ballet, Royal Ballet) also has little Balanchine in his repertoire. So it's perhaps fair to see their encounter as two people getting to know each other. There was weariness in the way they initially circled each other or she'd slip out of a hold. Offering hand gestures, they seemed to will the partner to respond. If Tan at times looked liking taking the lead, she had a good student. His head on her shoulder might have been a thank-you.
The program opened with Tomasson's 1997 bifurcated "Criss-Cross", a direct and curious response to two pieces of musical adaptations. The first half was set to 18th century composer Charles Avison's four concerto responses to Domenico Scarlatti harpsichord sonatas. For the second half, Tomasson choreographed Schoenberg's Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra, based on a Handel Concerto Grosso. In both compositions, the originals shimmered through, giving the music a kind of double perspective. This is what interested Tomasson -- a veiled vision of tradition and its interpretation.
"Criss-Cross" is refined, elegant and fluidly sets up two primary couples against ten corps members. Its various combinations echo and comment male/female relationships. The two sections complement each other, making a valid, though perhaps one-shot point.
The first part, with the dancers in Carmen Alie and Denis Lavois approximations of doublets and corsets, suggested a genteel garden party among equals. Vanessa Zahorian and David Karpetyan set the tone, sparkling in the way they partnered each other and participated the whole. In a nice touch, small ensembles gave opportunities to the corps. In their leaps and onsideration for each other, Hansuke Yamamoto, Garen Scribner and Benjamin Stewart looked particularly fetching.
The Schoenberg, with its rougher harmonies and a nicely textured orchestration, had the dancers in more rustic costumes of brown leather vests and pants. Mazzeo and Tan led a group; flips and somersaults inserted a witty and athletically tinged sense of play.
With "Francesca da Rimini", which premiered last year, SFB appears to have a hit. The performance received a just about standing ovation. I so wish I could share the enthusiasm for this over-inflated simplistic melodrama that ended with the murderer being sucked into hell. The Tchaikovsky score certainly didn't help.
I understand that Possokhov comes from the Bolshoi, that he wants to make dances that arise out of deep and important emotions. He wants to tells stories -- human stories, even with guts and blood to them. But here he gives his characters no depth, no motivation except undifferentiated passion. That's not enough. Not even the considerable artistry of Taras Domitro (Giovanni), Joan Boada (Paolo) and Maria Kotchekova (Francesca) could save a sad ballet.