"Raymonda Act III," "Ibsen's House," "Symphonic Dances,"
San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA
April 9, 2013
by Rita Felciano
Copyright Rita Felciano © 2013
Taking a second or third look at previously seen work may not offer the excitement of figuring out what this or that choreographer had in mind in his or her latest creation. But rarely, if ever, are there no new discoveries to be made. During the reprise of Rudolf Nureyev's 1966 "Raymonda Act III," I kept wondering whether a company can do justice to this refined, so highly specific style without it being part of the dancers' daily bread. Dramaturgically Val Caniparoli's "Ibsen's House", commissioned by SFB for the 2008 New Work's Festival, remains problematic but his choreography movingly delves into the soul of Ibsen's anguished characters. I had high hopes for Edward Liang's 2012 commission, "Symphonic Dances", his first one for SFB. Unfortunately, they were not fulfilled.
It was the opening Hungarian Cortege that made think that this "Raymonda" needed more stylistic coaching and rehearsal than is realistically possible on SFB's crowded schedule. The Czardas, a pretty wild folkdance, looked completely bleached out of this balletic interpretation. The dancers' upper body comportment was so stiff as to looked corseted -- forced instead of formal. In the Grand Pas Classique the ensemble fared better though shadowing those lifts was still problematic. The final "hoedown" -- probably Nureyev's idea of an applause machine -- looked like a lot more fun to do than to watch.
But then, of course, there is Glazunov's score -- so lyrical, so melodious and so danceable -- patched together as it is; new guest conductor Ming Luke gave it as much lively coherence as is possible. Nureyev's choreography, after Petipa, offered some wonderful examples of exposed, pristine dancing, most of it confidently realized by SFB's dancers.
In the first solo Sarah Van Patten's measured port de port de bras on top of those little hops spread a sense of assured elegance. It was nicely countermanded by Frances Chung's short but sparkly variation with their cross-stitching hops. In the third solo Sasha DeSola impressed with her balances and the lovely ease to her upper body and butterfly footwork. But it was the extraordinary Lorena Feijoo whose imperial grandeur electrified the stage from the moment those handclaps set the pianist in motion.
The Grand Pas -- with its wondrous echoing by the corps of the principal couple -- is this "Raymonda's" jewel. Vanessa Zahorian and Taras Domitro sailed through their Pas de Deux with utmost assurance. They looked regal and yet like kids having the time of their life. Skimming throug bourrées and finely shaping turns, Zahorian graciously responded to her partners. She excellently paced herself through those crescendoing passés only to top them off with a series of pristine rond-de-jambes on point. Secure in those shoulder and overhead lifts, Domitro seemed to relish the technical demands of his variation, putting himself with apparent ease and pure joy through cabrioles every which way and at least one of those compulsory manèges of jetés.
Caniparoli's wildly applauded "Ibsen's House" faces a probably insurmountable challenge. The choreographer explained that he did not want to tell the plays' stories. Yet he named each of the sections after a play and called the protagonists by their name. This set up expectations; I for one wished the women, and to a lesser extent the men, had been more individualized through the choreography. The piece did convey an overall, more than a little somber impression that institutionalized male/female relationship, marriage being one of them, don't work. Perhaps, that's enough.
What speaks strongly in this Caniparoli work is the absence of connection between its characters. It's a piece about struggle--mainly husband and wife--that is fierce, unrelenting and utterly hopeless.These characters are frozen inside themselves and even if they walk out, they can't escape. They roam the stage, confront each other, rage at themselves and their partner, and they remain in prison. In that way, the piece feels very contemporary and speaks to an audience even if unfamiliar with the plays.
Caniparoli's choreography also offers dancers a rare opportunity for emotional expressiveness arrived at through movement. SFB's cast seemed to relish their assignments and gave the work a convincing, dramatically nuanced performance. The rousing applause was well deserved.
Tiit Helimets, wooden yet ferocious and unrelenting in the way he slashes out, reveals a side of him rarely seen in other ballets. When Davit Karapetyan leaps from a crouch and tries to tear his heart out, you belief that this is a madman. Who knew that Dana Genshaft (Mrs. Alving) could draw on that kind of intensity from inside her. Fragile and touching were Courtney Elizabeth and a tender Pierre-François Vilanoba in a young love that could not be.The other dancers were Lorena Feijoo (a man-eating Hedda Gabbler), Vitor Luiz (not well enough delineated as George Tesman), Sofiane Sylve (developing a back bone as Nora) and Sasha de Sola and Anthony Spaulding (haunted by a guilty love).
Liang's "Symphonic Dances", featuring the same three couples on whom it was choreographed last year (Yuan Yuan Tan/Vito Mazzeo, Sylphe/Helimets and Maria Kotchekova/Luiz), did not prove richer than when first seen. The work, set to Rachmaninoff's eponymous orchestra score appears to make a point about ballet being an airborne athletic endeavor. This was a piece that after a while began to look like a catalogue of possible lifts.
The entanglement between Tan and Mazzeo worked as well as it did because they were so physically matched, both them sporting very long limbs with which to curl around each other. What the duet did not do, show us anything that we did know about these performers.
The most intriguing pairing was for Sylphe and Helimets, set against a female corps of which Sylphe was either a leader or she was their property. Rachmaninoff's waltz rhythms infused that section with almost threatening sense of mystery.