"Fusion", "Salome", "Fearful Symmetries"
San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA
March 9, 2017
by Rita Felciano
copyright © Rita Felciano 2017
Two stars shine in Arthur Pita’s “Salome”, his first commission from San Franciso Ballet: Dores André as the sexually awakened, stoned heroine and a stretch limousine that glides onto the stage like an ocean steamer in a Fellini movie. The work may also be that rarity in the sense that a woman rapes a man. No wonder that the two reprises, Yuri Possokhov’s 2008 “Fusion” and Liam Scarlett’s 2016 “Fearful Symmetries,” had a difficult time competing with that punch in your stomach dance theater. Helgi Tomasson called this program Contemporary Voices. Ouch.
Dores André and Aaron Robison in "Salome." photo: Erik Tomasson
If ballet ever wants to make it big on Broadway, "Salome" would be a good candidate. It takes a well-known story, puts into it contemporary garb, commissions a theatrically effective score (Frank Moon) and embraces spectacle in every sense of that word. You give it a beautiful heroine/victim who shows what she has never been asked before -- dramatic power -- and you've got yourself a hit. If the art of choreography takes a secondary place, that's the price you may have to pay for a piece that on many levels is crude but also effective in doing out exactly what it wants to be: a bloody thriller.
For André, who has demanded attention ever since I saw her in a nothing role -- a maid in the "Nutcracker which she filled completely -- "Salome" is a star vehicle. From the moment she stepped shyly out of the limousine to the end when she voluptuously kissed you know whose head, she mesmerized with vulnerability and a sexual awakening that that grew in passion and desperation. Her gauzy red dress, full of slits in the right places (Yann Seabra) revealed as much as it covered as she threw her body into the melee, rode her victims -- seven eventually topless "hostages" -- and slithered through the dirt, actually confetti shot from "cannons," and fought John (a hunky Aaron Robison) finally conquering him. This was brutal in the way you imagined the Christians fought the lions in the Colosseum -- at least in Hollywood movies.
The set up was excellent. The limousine pulled up in a dark, deserted place. Bodyguards emerged and Herod (Val Caniparoli) and Herodias (Anita Paciotti), followed by Salome. The spooky woods (Seabra) turned out to be the location for our Beauty's 16th birthday party; it included a cake and a drugged cocktail. Caniparoli and Paciotti made much of their ramrod postures and the simple walking steps; they oozed power and evil Herod showing more than a father's love while touching Salome; Herodias didn't wear stiletto heels but she might as well have. Her form-clinging gown and those subtle hip swings told us all we needed to know. Salome's presents consisted of covered "packages" which revealed to be the hostages from whom Herodias finally selected the chosen one. Choreographically, Salome's dance with those miserable looking prisoners fell short. The men's rolls and leaps and circles and throwing of themselves into an increasing frenzy looked like textbook exercises, bordering on the ridiculous.
The evening had started on a calmer note with Possokhov's "Fusion" in which the then young choreographer tried to bring together East and West. It premiered as part of SFB's New Works Festival. Four male dancers, in dervish dancers' swirling white skirts (costumes by Sandra Woodall), shared the stage with four couples in contemporary dance wear. The idea was to fuse both styles and the piece did it honorably enough. Graham Fitkin and Rahul Dev Burman's fusion score actually did it even better; its music that could stand on its own. "Fusion's" primary pleasure came from the excellent performance and the knowledge that Possokhov had been given the chance to experiment and had made the most of it.
The reprise of Liam Scarlett's 2016 "Fearful Symmetry" to John Adams's eponymous score confirms the beauty and complexity of the music and the choreography's function as an applause machine. What Scarlett missed is the music's multi-leveled trajectory. Darkness (David Finn's set and lighting) relentlessly spits out and reabsorbs the fourteen dancers, pairing them into couples and gender-specific groups. Full-out dancing with leaps and lifts -- even a one-handed one -- slides and thrusts, flips and swings are presented under the motto of fast, faster, fastest. Yet what an odd ending. Out of the darkness emerge Yuan Yuan Tan and Carlo Di Lanno in a soft gentle duet. Were they telling us something that I missed?