"Haffner Symphony" "Fragile Vessels" "In the Countenance of Kings"
San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera HouseSan Francisco, CA
January 24, 2017
by Rita Felciano
copyright © Rita Felciano 2017
Four world premieres, in addition to three story ballets, are part of this year's SFB season. First off was Jiri Bubenicek's "Fragile Vessels"'. Upcoming are works by choreographer in residence Yuri Possokhov, Arthur Pita and Miles Thatcher. Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson clearly takes chances on lesser-known talents. Whether there will be another Ratmansky among them -- SFB gave him his first American commission with the 2003 "Le Carnaval des Animaux" -- remains to be seen. At the very least the dancers test themselves in a wide variety of styles and approaches to classical dance. It's one of the reasons that for many SFB became a company of choice. Audiences also greet new work with a great deal of good will; it's rare that these newbies are not heartily welcomed. So it would gratifying to say that "Fragile Vessels"was a welcome surprise.
San Francisco Ballet in Bubenicek's "Fragile Vessels". Photo © Erik Tomasson
But "Fragile" also featured unfortunate ensemble choreography. Dressed in brother Otto Bubenicek's nude, gender obliterating tops and tights, the dancers may have stood for emotional turmoil. Yet sweeping on and off stage, almost tumbling over each other, this was a chaotic race with every dancer on his/her own. Choreographer Bubenicek, apparently, didn't realize that even chaos on stage needs to be shaped. A taut trio for André, Wang and Walsh that spread showed what "Fragile" could have been. Drawing room drapes and a highway-to-heaven set proved more distracting than informative.
Tomasson's "1991 Haffner Symphony" to Mozart still charms with its attention to the music and its sense of softened formality. Santo Loquasto's tutus and his set of a slightly misty garden perfectly matched the Mozart. Maria Kotchekova performed with an easy grace as she dismissed her ladies-in-waiting and welcomed Angelo Greco's courting. Kotchekova's magisterial technique sometimes has a touch of imperiousness about it. Here she was all enchantment. New soloist Greco surprised pleasantly with his fine all-round La Scala technique. He leapt high, whipped tours en l'air, beat entrechats, timed the pirouettes and landed softly. As a partner he extended himself graciously not only to Kotchekova but to the court ladies Lauren Strongin, Koto Ishihara and Julia. Strongin and Diego Cruz' easy elegance stood out.
In its second showing Justin Peck's "In the Countenance of Kings" offered the evening's third surprise. Splendidly responsive to Sufjan Steven's high-octane score that veered between the intimate and the operatic, Peck sent the dancers through their paces at a non-stop, yet never hurried tempo. With their fingers on the starting line of a race, they shot themselves vertically in the air with feet perfectly synchronized. Speed, elegance and playfulness shone in kaleidoscopic patterns, always in good-humored companionship. André and Frances Chung teased each other in a mirror duet while the former just about melted into Joseph Walsh's arms at the center of a whirling mass of revelers.