"Agon", "Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet", "Glass Pieces"
San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA
May 1, 2014
by Rita Felciano
copyright © Rita Felciano, 2014
For San Francisco Ballet, a company that prides itself in new choreography, it's almost a novelty that on the last of this season's programs, the evening's newest work, Jerome Robbins' "Glass Pieces," dated from 1983. George Balanchine choreographed "Agon" in 1957, and "Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet" in 1966. Still, it was "Agon" that, one more time, offered the most satisfying viewing experience. "Brahms", for all of some of its fine choreography, remains an unwieldy work that became an overly rich meal."Glass Pieces'" suave urbanity still appeals and remains admirable for the complexity made out of individually simple patterns.
In the Sarabande a strongly dancing Pascal Molat beautifully sent his leaps beyond the confines of the stage, but he seemed to reach so far to the beyond that when, Grace Shipley and Jennifer Stahl returned for the Coda, he had to re-tune himself towards them.
Tiit Helimets showcased the magnificent Sofiane Sylve in the Pas de Deux. In Balanchinian terms, this still so daring duet, full of moments of precariousness, is supposed to be a give and take between two equals. While Helimets' partnering was secure, stylistically he danced outside his comfort zone, making for an uneven relationship.
At close to fifty minutes the "Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet" is huge; its movements are so independent of each other that they might best be seen individually. Brahms is rarely light, in Schoenberg's orchestration -- excellently played by the SFB orchestra under Maestro Martin West -- however, the music often sounded ponderous. It was not very danceable.
Keeping the interest alive were the four duets featuring four different ballerinas. In the first movement an exuberant Simon Messmer streaked across the empty stage until a bevy of young men caught up with her. But then the tone became more lushly romantic with Carlos Quenedit partnering a radiant Mathilde Froustey who extracted every ounce of emotional nuance to be had from rather conventional choreography. To watch her upper body comportment, her soft landings or holds on a pose became a treat. No wonder Quenedit looked every bit the stricken lover as his jetés encircled her like an embrace. My suspicion is that we'll see more of this promising partnership.
Maria Kotchekova and Vitor Luiz attacked their furiously paced yet sever so liquid pas de deux with the utmost confidence. Their dancing had speed, precision and yet stayed close to the edge of something dangerous. Kotchekova threw her self into one backbend after another, allowing herself just a moment of languid repose before going to the next. It felt like an unspooling of a process. The three supporting dancers (Isabella De Vivo, Julia Rowe and Shannon Rugani) wove in and out of what looked like observer roles.
The lovely third movement opened with the dozen women creating a background for Frances Chung and Joan Boada. They reshaped themselves into pretty, handholding combinations which, at one point, suggested something out of Fragonard. Yet into the middle of this leisurely dancing, Brahms inserted a quasi military march whose tone, however, Chung picked up with apparent amusement. Boada's solo came out of nowhere though he delivered its demanding turns and leaps efficiently.
The ensemble choreography for the final rondo looked as if taken from a Viennese operetta. However, the marvelous Sarah Patten, flirtatious, swift, and assertive played wonderfully with her steps as she was teasing her (would-be) beau Davit Karapetyan who deserved stronger choreography.
"Glass Pieces" received a fine reading with Sasha de Sola/Yamamoto, Stahl/ Gaetano Amico, and Dores Andre/Shane Wuerthner as the couples in pastel. They also told us about that crop of dancers who this season has repeatedly proved its technique as well as artistry. Tan and Damian Smith, in one of their last, mesmerizing performances, danced as one glorious unit, stopping and starting, stopping and starting -- on the same heartbeat.
copyright by Rita Felciano, 2014