"Seven Sonatas" "Optimistic Tragedy" "Pas Parts 2016'
San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA
January 26, 2017
by Rita Felciano
copyright © Rita Felciano, 2017
Yuri Possokhov’s “Optimistic Tragedy” is both a tribute to his Bolshoi training and a farewell gift to Principal Lorena Feijoo who will retire at the end of this season. The world premiere was seen between two superb works from last season, Ratmansky’s “Seven Sonatas” to Scarlatti, and Forsythe’s “Pas/Parts 2016”. This trio of works offered an encouraging perspective on ballet in our time, at least as presented by San Francisco Ballet.
Lorena Feijóo in Posskhov's "Optimistic Tragedy. Photo copyright Erik Tomasson
Possokhov's based “Optimistic Tragedy,” a paean to people who died in the Soviet revolution, on a 1932 play by the same name. Alexander V. Nichols scenic and projection design borrowed from Sergei Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin ” and the 1963 Soviet film based on the play. The murky, silent film quality of the visuals made for an effective contrast to the hard-edged steel scaffolding on stage.
The play had been built around the historic conflict between the anarchists and the communists. Possokhov underplayed that fact, yet divided the male groups into two, four and eight dancers with Anarchist (Taras Domitro) and the Captain (Luke Ingham) as their leader. The ballet opened with Angelo Greco and James Sofranko downstage as cadet sailors, eager to follow their older colleagues into the fray.
Possokhov choreographed his all-male ensembles in terms of group identity with the sailors being more disciplined than the anarchists. The overlapping patterns of unisons, phalanxes of opposing ensembles and the explosive fragmentation of cohesion showed great skill in spatial deployment. It was impossible not to think of what is going on in the world around us, with thousands dying for a “cause.”
The choreography abounded with small groups within larger ones, traces of a folkloric spirit but also pistons and working engines. The mechanistic quality and the sense of group identity kept the choreography at an emotional distance. It worked best in the finale in which everyone facing the upstage guns, dropped “dead” in domino fashion, Beautifully “Optimistic” left us with a moment of silence.
In a sleek black suit, the lone woman, Lorena Feijóo, as the newly appointed Commissar, stalked onto stage with what as well might have been goose steps. At first implacable — indifferent by the men’s rushing her even when lifting her to heroic heights — her armor cracked in a hot and heavy duet with the conflicted captain. Ingham marvelously partnered her in travelling leaps, whipping turns and lift after lift even though Possokhov unnecessarily prolonged this affair.
Ilya Demutsky’s elegant commissioned score was as good as it could be; the choreographer and conductor Martin West honored it.
The return of Ratmansky’s “Seven Sonatas”, again played splendidly by Mungunchimeg Buriad, confirms this jewel-like sextet as a major contribution to SFB’s repertoire. The choreography is transparent with moods that shift from troubled to playful to intimate. The performance was fleet, measured and impeccably musical. With a slightly different cast on opening night, Joseph Walsh now partnered the lyrical Lauren Strongin; the ebullient Frances Chung took on Angelo Greco, who needs to get control of his landings. Sofiane Sylve and Carlo Di Lanno completed the cast. This is a ballet full of traditional virtues —softest of arms, impeccable unions, perfect beats and passés and, above all exquisite musicality. And there were the surprises: the dancers crouching in tribute to the floor and rolling on it; Chung's playful hide-and-seek with Greco, Strongin’s ambivalence in getting away from Walsh. DI Lanno twirled Sylve in an outstretched X-position only to support her in fleeting jetés that somehow ended with her triumphantly exiting on his shoulders.
“Pas/Parts 2016”, apparently is 75% re-choreographed from the 1999 Paris Opera Ballet commission. Maybe that was done in order to fit SFB’s make-up. If it was, it fits them better than the proverbial glove. In this second viewing, even Thom Willems' percussive electronic score did its part to make this an exhilarating ballet. It highlighted individuals as well as the ensemble. Thrusting hips and elbows, rocking torsos, interlocking limbs and impossibly off-center balance suggested the body as a collection of three dimensional parts, held together by sturdy joints.
The speed never lets up, the changes topple on top of each other, yet “Pas” rides an undercurrent of common purpose with dancers at ease in their work, affirmed in the unisons, such as they are. But this is a ballet that highlights individuals. A stretched out Sofiane Sylve started, followed by Sasha de Sola and Wei Wang’s handholding duet and then, in a trio with Walsh, Carlo DI Lanno prettily carried Julia Rowe on his hands. And so it went for the next 30 minutes until the curtain came down. Reluctantly.