"The Kingdom of the Shades from 'La Bayadere, Act II'", "Ghosts", "Firebird"
San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA
March 2, 2014
by Rita Felciano
copyright © 2014 by Rita Felciano
After six performances of the "La Bayadère's" Shades scene, it is perhaps understandable that the Corps was fatigued by the rigorous disci pline of that descending zigzag line of arabesques and penchées. It was not until the block groupings center stage that the ensemble found its common voice and redeemed itself, but also reminded us of what could have been. So it was left to two relatively recent works, Christopher Wheeldon's so very fine 2010 "Ghosts" and Yuri Possokhov's "Firebird" (new production in 2007), a work originally created in 2004 for Oregon Ballet Theatre, to make this matinee at least partially successful.
While that opening by the Shades was deeply disappointing, it also served as a reminder of the choreography's fragility, which consists of a relatively simple sequence of steps. You miss one cue, and the whole thing begins to wobble. It also made me wonder whether, maybe, this was not much more along the lines of what Petipa's audiences might have seen; his dancers were so much less trained than today's.
Vitor Luiz was a secure and passionate Solor with fine elevation, turning cabrioles into à la seconde and then into pirouettes with the greatest of ease. However, I would have to see him and Frances Chung earlier in the ballet to be convinced of their love for each other. Chung's rock-solid Nikiya had us see every finish as if carved in marble; what I missed -- except in the tender way she used her hands in attitude behind Solor so reminiscent of "Giselle" -- was a touch of Nikiya's vulnerability; something of a still beating heart that made her respond to his grief.
The three Shades danced well. Corps member Koto Ishihara nicely segued into that series of hops on point while Sasha De Sola and Dores André, the Company's quickly rising so very different soloists, danced their parts beautifully. De Sola convinced in the clean and quick turns; the slight retards of her phrasing convinced musically. André kicked off those cabrioles like filly, clearly enjoying every second of that diagonal ride downstage.
On first viewing Wheeldon's "Ghosts", hampered by C.F. Kip Winger's serviceable but piecemeal and rather mediocre score, seemed too fragmentary to hold together. No longer. The individual episodes are windblown and discontinuous with the dancers being simultaneously pulled in all directions. Yet "Ghosts" consistent kinetic palette anchors it on solid ground. Furthermore, Wheeldon's range of invention, from bodies rolling over each other on the floor, to the men traveling the women across the stage as if on water, is rich and far ranging. The work lives off a ghostlike ephemerality, but it might have been more aptly named "Clouds" or "Fog."
In the long duet full huge extensions and abrupt of fragmentations, Luiz's partnering showcased Yuan Yuan Tan's breathtaking ability to use her limbs as calligraphy. Sofiane Sylve -- what a glorious dancer she has become--Tiit Helimets, with Shane Wuerthner as the third, quite fine partner, performed the trio securely.
Setting his "Firebird" in a village setting -- with Kaschei inhabiting a lair in the woods in Yuri Zhukov's set -- allowed Possokhov to expand both the native tradition of the story that is also present in Stravinsky's hauntingly beautiful score. Not all of his ballets are story-based, but Possokhov clearly relishes narrative. This "Firebird" was made from one cloth -- with a comically evil Kaschei (Daniel Deivision-Oliveira); Rubén Martín Cíntas -- who in this part of his career is becoming quite a good dramatic dancer -- as an amiable country lad prince; and André as his sunny princess. Soloist Simone Messmer, who in 2013 joined SFB from ABT, gave her firebird an impressive mix of strength and vulnerability. I particularly loved the moment when this fearful creature caught sight of the country boy "flying" towards her in grand jetés. That's when she fell in love with him.
copyright © Rita Felciano, 2014