Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Nutcracker, SF Ballet

Ninety mi-nut-es of holiday magic
San Francisco Ballet at the War Memorial Opera House
Dec. 18, 2007, 7PM

Sparkly fuschia-colored life-sized dolls, dancing snow, and squeals of tiny children’s joy stir up memories of early dawn on Christmas morning, which is just what Helgi Tomasson’s maturing “Nutcracker” aims to do at each and every performance. Tuesday night was no different, with tots dressed up in their best frocks and suits, sitting at the edge of their seats, and gaping at every turn and leap. “Mom! She just got so tiny!” exclaimed one little child behind me as the tree rose high above the stage. “Ooh! Snow fairies! Hee!” piped another as Snowflakes danced out of the wings. And if I had thought about it less, I probably would have giggled with glee right along with them!

Act I plopped us in the middle of 1915 San Francisco, and the character dancers, supers, and company dancers looked right at home. The party at the Stahlbaums’ passed with ease--a group dance here, children running there, and a graceful Jessica Cohen as Clara--, and it all flowed quite well into the dancing dolls. Rory Hohenstein played the flexible and somewhat dopey harlequin, and Clara Blanco, who’s returned to SF Ballet after a one-year hiatus in England, shined as the spinning, flexedfoot dancing doll. Katita Waldo heralded the stage as the Snow Queen, and as her King, Hansuke Yamamoto displayed impressiveness in both his sissones and partnering. Lily Rogers stood out as a light-footed and stretchy snowflake, and Ashley Muangmaithong’s smile carried all the way to the back of the Opera House. In Act II, encircled by a buzz of butterflies and ladybugs early on and Waltzing Flowers toward the end, Elana Altman commanded as the Lilac Fairy, but she dazzled in the allegro, leaping high above the ground yet always with an air of calm around her. Adeline Kaiser slithered as the lead in Arabian, artfully partnered by David Arce and Aaron Orza, and James Sofranko along with Benjamin Stewart and Matthew Stewart kicked and spun with attack from the first moment they leapt out of the Faberge eggs. The best, though, was saved for last, when Frances Chung and Jaime Garcia Castilla (his debut in the role) performed the Grand Pas de Deux with electricity and finesse. Chung’s piqués were soft yet forceful, and she spun effortlessly through her fouetté turns. Castilla’s chaîné-grand jetés reached forward past his finely pointed feet and stretched arms, covering every inch of the stage, and his artistry proved his “princiness.”

Martin West conducted the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, and its spirit proved merry, adding to a well rounded "Nutcracker" overall. But while I enjoyed this evening’s onstage performance immensely, it was my neighboring children’s intrigue and genuine appreciation for a classic story intertwined with all of the tricks, secrets, and magic that the theater holds so dear (and SF Ballet does so well) that reinforced that the holidays are a time of happiness, joy, and warmth.

Photo © Erik Tomasson

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Margaret Jenkins Dance Company @ Project Artaud Theater

The proof is in its brightness
“Other Suns”
Margaret Jenkins Dance Company
Project Artaud Theater
December 8, 2007

Inspired by her time in spent in Asia, Margaret Jenkins premiered the first part of “Other Suns,” which is set to be a trilogy examining symmetry and asymmetry. Prior to the event, my mind flashed back to my days of geometry and proofs. Would there be iscosoles triangles? Perhaps an investigation of parallel vs. perpendicular lines? No. Of course not. But there was proof that Jenkins’ work is well grounded, and that there’s still quite more to come.

The 40-minute long evening, set in Project Artaud’s spacious theater, began with warm bulb lights shining brightly behind the seven strong dancers: Joseph Copley, Kelly Del Rosario, Melanie Elms, Steffany Ferroni, Matthew Holland, Deborah Miller, and Ryan Smith. With great care and subtle strength, Elms initially drew us in with her deliberate movements and graceful presence. Circling around with a controlled breath, pausing ever so slightly to where I was sitting precariously at the edge of my set waiting for what comes next, she flowed through space with increasing awareness. Hip bumping the dancers as if she was the end piece of a Newton’s cradle, she gently swayed them into motion. As the work progressed, they moved similarly, at times in synch and others not, but the continuum traveled ahead, pulling dancers forward and back, up high into the hung lights and rolling down upon the earth. There was always, though, a return back to the center, whether it was a dancer’s own personal center or that of the space. Similar to a planet or group of planets circling around a sun and the sun’s gravity in holding the planets’ in their orbits, the dancers’ focus remained in the present, even when it seemed like their bodies were forever jutting quickly in infinite directions through space. The dancers ended with a sense of relief, contentment, and solitude, complemented by the final drips of water off of a platform (designed by the always inspirational Alexander V. Nichols) raised high above the dancers. The music, recordings of Paul Dresher’s "Channels Passing" and Bun-Ching Lam’s "Like Water" provided moments of lift and contemplation, easily complementing Jenkins’ choreography without being overpowering or distracting.

I’m curious to see what follows, which will be a collaboration with Guangdong Modern Dance Company of China and scheduled for debut in 2009. Will Jenkins’ subsequent sections build upon the first or incorporate parallels in other movement and dance universes? Or maybe not every sun has such a sunny side as this one.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Faustin Linyekula @YBCA

Let the Festivities Begin
Faustin Linyekula/Les Studios Kabako, "Festival of Lies"
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Forum
November 8, 2007, 8PM

Faustin Linyekula/Les Studios Kabako returned to the Bay Area this week after a two-year hiatus. The company’s previous work, a mainstage performance of "Triptyque Sans Titre," garnered applause and dripping admiration for the choreographer and his dance troupe, and many eagerly awaited their return. As one of several stops on Linyekula’s American tour, last evening provided a very different sensory and imagery experience from the first moments to the last breath. Enclosed within a nightclub-esque setting in Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Forum, "Festival of Lies" explored history, memory, and identity through text, propaganda, movement, and song.

Reflecting on what they know or think they know, the four performers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Marie-Louise Bibish Mumbu, Papy Ebotani, Djodjo Kazadi, and Linyekula, expressed beliefs and desires of a “fictional” people. The concept of what actually occurred versus what people believe or remember is a powerful thing, and can control a nation or body of individuals to where individuality becomes crushed under the weight of the powerful. Ironically, when Linyekula asked everyone in the audience to stand, we did. He told us to eat, and a line formed at the buffet. He instructed us to buy drinks, and we followed. We, too, follow the leader, even in unassuming situations.

The three dancers, Ebotani, Kazadi, and Linyekula, expertly synthesized movement with emotion, their central bodies often the impetus for the dance with the first step initiating from the heart or the hip. At times they sang over or separately from the taped music or speeches, adding another dimension to the already sensory-filled event, and the passion these men displayed shone through their eyes and bodies like the sun breaking through the clouds early in the morning. Mumbu, with a warm, silky voice and mother-like authority, provided context through image-filled text readings.

A Taste of Africa, a Berkeley Cameroon restaurant, provided delicious food, including jollof rice, ewole (sautéed greens in a creamy sauce), and nsoke (stewed black-eyed peas), and the local band Soukous Connection thumped along with contagious beats and rhythms. At the conclusion of the evening, the audience poured onstage to dance the rest of the night away with the company, breaking the last barriers between performer and observer.

This festival of lies, the exploration of lies, seems telling comparing it to the religious Festival of Lights in both Hinduism and Judaism. In India and Nepal, the Festival of Lights signifies good triumphing over evil, and in Judaism, the lights celebrate religious, cultural, and national freedom. Here in Linyekula’s version, the lies are represented by 3 foot lights: coddled, sung to, held, moved, danced over, shaped, and lit and unlit. Perhaps the recognition of a murky past is also a way to bring light, hope, and direction to the future. A festival indeed.

“Festival of Lies” continues tonight with a regular-length performance and Saturday in festival style from 6PM to midnight.

photo by Agathe Poupeney

Friday, October 19, 2007

Armitage Gone! Dance, SFP @YBCA

Going, Going, Gone!
Armitage Gone! Dance
Presented by San Francisco Performances
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Saturday, October 13, 2007, 8PM

Summer is officially hidden away by San Francisco's fall-time fog, which means that dance season is finally here. With a two-day engagement hosted by San Francisco Performances at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Armitage Gone! Dance, a New York-based company led by Karole Armitage, kicked off my dance calendar this past weekend. But alas, the kick proved to be more of a poke and the anticipated bang resembled a sigh.

Armitage, who danced for Balanchine, Cunningham, and others before spending a few decades across the pond (and no, not in Oakland, but in Europe), rests on what she knows, ballet vocabulary, and her two works, Ligeti Essays and Time is the echo of an axe within a wood, display this. But pairing ballet steps and a tinge of modern dance together a ballet you do not make, Yoda might say, and this was the case last Saturday night.

Ligeti Essays, reminiscent of modern versions of Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes, "Rubies," and The Four Temperaments, featured the company with taped music and vocals by composer György Ligeti. Even with the women costumed in basic black leotards and belts and the men in ill-fitting ankle hitting black pants, tanks, and socks, the seven dancers outshined the work by far, kicking, jumping, and pirouetting with grace and power. The choreography, though, suffered immensely, never growing quite past the superficial stage of the "boy meets girl" aspect of steps and positions. The dancers looked disinterested throughout the intermingling of solos, duets, and group work, even with cool blue lights illuminating their feet and the steely silver tree randomly positioned in the background. Perhaps their thoughts were focused more on the international roller derby championships taking place across the city; it sure would have been more exciting.

Time is the echo of an axe within a wood, set to music by Béla Bartók, somewhat improved upon the first half. Strands of sparkly beads hung from the ceiling, creating a box-like effect around the stage, and the dancers were dressed in (again ill-fitting) leotards of gold, silver, and bronze. With softer lighting and more developed movement, the dancers appeared more focused, but again, the choreography left little to be desired. Moving to the beat became monotonous after awhile, and Time’s only saviors were the company’s impressive dancers: Leonides D. Arpon, Matthew Brahnam, Frances Chiaverini, Theresa Ruth Howard, William Isaac, Ryan Kelly, and Mei-Hua Wang.

This performance left me speechless, and not in a good way. Armitage has a small army of well-trained dancers at her fingertips and decades of dance and performance under her belt, but can’t seem to use them to her advantage. Perhaps she’s not meant to be a choreographer. And really, is that such a bad thing?

Photo © Richard Termine

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Lines Ballet in collaboration with the Shaolin Monks, 4/20/2007

Lines Ballet in collaboration with the Shaolin Monks
April 20, 2007
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Most likely, when you think of ballet, you don’t automatically think kung fu. Or monks. Or young boys performing front headsprings (yes, head, not hand) across a stage. But thanks to Alonzo King’s creative wit, that’s exactly what we got with Lines Ballet’s collaboration with San Francisco’s localized Shaolin Monks. This evening (rumored to be titled “Long River High Sky” yet not listed as such anywhere in the materials) combined King’s distinctive contemporary choreography with the Monks’ kung fu, tai chi, gymnastics, and overall calming presence, and what began as a ballet vs. monk dichotomy ended with a common understanding that both performance styles and beliefs held beauty and strength in high regards.

Surprisingly, a third “performance style” emerged quietly yet powerfully through the work: that of the musicians. Hong Wang, Wanpeng Guo, and Shenshen Zhang of Melody of China harmoniously accompanied the performers using 15 different instruments (banhu, dizi, and concert sheng to name a few). At times, I found my mind drifting off listening to the music, harmonious and serene at times and quickly beating at others.

While the program spanned a lot of ground throughout the two halves and its 29 sections, the fusion we all expected never quite took flight. Many times, the monks looked like props to the Lines dancers and vice versa, and the two forms never quite developed a visually pleasing balance. I expected something more than the mishmash of form against form: a newly codified movement style or editing to create more “common ground,” perhaps. But even with these issues, the program envelopes your senses and mind with images of what might be possible with a little bit of artistic effort and imagination (except that of monks in arabesque).

Saturday, March 24, 2007

SF Ballet, Program 5, 3/23/2007

Thirstquenchingly good

San Francisco Ballet
Program 5
March 23, 2007, 8PM

San Francisco Ballet’s season is quickly cresting past the halfway mark, and Program 5 swelled this Friday evening with four contemporary yet differing works.

The evening’s highlight proved to be the debut of Christopher Wheeldon’s “Carousel (A Dance)” to the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical of the same name. Sarah Van Patten and Pierre-François Vilanoba, as the young lovers, transformed the stage from sheer performance into an alluring story, and a well-danced one at that. Wheeldon, breaking out of his Balanchine-esque ways, choreographed an enjoyable vision to watch, and as the couple’s relationship grows, you almost want to giggle giddily along with Van Patten as she realizes she’s in love. The orchestra, conducted by Martin West, swayed confidently through the score, and the corps’ human carousel at the end (oh, what a spectacle!) adds an extra “oomph” element to “Carousel,” all the more reason to relish and bathe in the sweet moment.

Mark Morris’ “Pacific” glided to and fro with a freshness matched only by Lever 2000. Bodies leaped and arched in succession, reminiscent of the ocean on a clear day. Tina LeBlanc and Nicolas Blanc (filling in for an injured Gennadi Nedvigin) displayed warmth and intimacy as the red couple; him lifting her as though she were a continuation of his arms, and she graciously reaching to him as she twisted into a stretched out attitude. Elana Altman, as one of the four “green women,” provided grandeur and tranquility as she jetéd and swirled about.

Not to be outdone, Helgi Tommason’s “The Fifth Season,” to music by Karl Jenkins, returned to the stage with a punch. Katita Waldo looked in fine form with her long limbs jutting forwards and a cool demeanor as she tapped her foot, and Gonzalo Garcia matched her well in both presence and style. Van Patten and Vilanoba moved their way across the stage with a ballet-based tango that would put “Dancing with the Stars” to shame. Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets, as the third couple, connected softly throughout Sandra Woodall’s art gallery-like space. The corps, though, was poorly costumed and unfortunately served no purpose other than to add eight more bodies to the already well-crafted space.

Rushing in like high tide, Jerome Robbins' “Fancy Free” progressed quickly and assuredly. The three giddy sailors (Gonzalo Garcia, Garrett Anderson, and Pascal Molat) had only two things on their mind: girls and girls. With all their might, they competed in their own little dance-off: a battle of jumping, sliding, time-stepping, and posing all for the chance to get a girl. Erin McNulty, clutching a scarlet purse, had great attitude (even with an unfortunate stumble early on), and clad in violet, Vanessa Zahorian daintily humored the men in white. And yet just when the guys think their shore leave has been a bust, in strolled Elana Altman to boost their egos once more.

Cool and hydrating, Program 5 quenches your thirst for edge, variety, and solid dancing. Let’s hope the rest of the season lives up the bill.

Sarah Van Patten and Pierre-François Vilanoba in Wheeldon's Carousel.
© Erik Tomasson

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

SF Ballet, Program 4, 3/13/2007

Just copy and paste
San Francisco Ballet
Program 4
Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The city’s ballet aficionados were out in full force Tuesday night for the premiere of San Francisco Ballet’s Program 4, a mixed, and contemporary, bill chockfull of imagery and appeal.

The hit of the night proved to be the US premiere of Wayne McGregor’s “Eden/Eden,” which was originally choreographed for Stuttgart Ballet. A beautifully disturbing look at human cloning, nine dancers, dressed in striking attire by Ursula Bombshell and led by the stunning Muriel Maffre, explore the world of carbon copies and the slight nuances that make us human. Drawing on aspects of Adam and Eve (here, Eve came first!), the dancers delve into the deep issues of immortality, choice, and individuality. Dana Genshaft showed amazing flexibility and line during her sections with Pascal Molat, and Hayley Farr stretched and cavorted like a pixie. In fact, the entire cast astonished me with their ability to move very rhythmically in a very non-traditional way, and if I hadn’t known better, I would have thought we were in Germany. Charles Balfour’s stark lighting initially covered the stage with a silvery-white newness a baby might experience in its early stages, and later the lights transcended to a rich, dewy orange, similar to a sunny evening at Baker Beach. Minimalist Steve Reich’s rich and ear thrilling score combines text, vocals, techno, and classical music in a way that made me bop along in my seat while wishing I could grand battement up the aisle, down Van Ness, and towards the bus stop. Intellectual yet intricately choreographed, “Eden/Eden” builds to a satisfying yet still disturbing climax, which had many jumping to their feet in applause at the end.

The encore of Paul Taylor’s “Spring Rounds,” with music by Richard Strauss, was led by Vanessa Zahorian and Garrett Anderson, who both danced with ease and a genuine nature-- there’s nothing forced here. Both looked natural, and very much like a Taylor dancer (only better) with the tuck of a pelvis here, a curve of the arm there. Their pas de deux spoke volumes, even though it evoked a quiet time of growth between two people; these are dancers who can do more than just ballet. Sprouting up and dancing fervently like spring could end tomorrow, the lime green-clad corps of 12 dancers clad flew from corner to corner and around in circles, whipping out tuck jumps and sauté attitudes front and back, and while I like my weather a little on the cool side, “Spring Rounds” made me glad spring is truly here.

Helgi Tomasson’s “Chi-Lin,” which debuted in 2002, returned to the Opera House, yet seemed out of place compared to the other two works. Tomasson collaborated with Bright Sheng, a past MacArthur Award winner, on the score and concept, but while there’s plenty of glitz and tricks, the superficial “Chi-Lin” seems to be lacking in substance, development, and musicality. Yuan Yuan Tan seemed warmer and more sensual compared to her “Chi-Lin” of five years ago, and Tiit Helimets proved slow and steady can be beautiful as the Tortoise. But Hansuke Yamamoto’s Phoenix didn’t quite have the spring of Parrish Maynard’s debut, and Pierre-François Vilanoba, bless his heart in those golden hot pants and a wig full of dreds, did the best he could with the limited movement vocabulary. The men’s and women’s corps, while mostly there for show, seemed off or out of sync at times, but they also proved the point that sometimes less is more. Too much can be a distraction, and we don’t need a ballet that has everything but the kitchen sink in it unless everything is just amazingly structured, developed, and presented. Then please, go right ahead.

Program 4, without a tutu in sight, aims to please the contemporary ballet-goer, and “Eden/Eden” is not to be missed. If only all dance programs were this good.

Dana Genshaft and Pascal Molat in McGregor's Eden/Eden.
© Erik Tomasson

Monday, February 26, 2007

SF Ballet, The Sleeping Beauty, 2/24/2007

Smells like teen spirit
San Francisco Ballet’s “The Sleeping Beauty”
Saturday, February 24, 2006, 8PM

As a teen, the first full-length non-Balanchine story ballet I saw was The Royal Ballet’s “The Sleeping Beauty.” One of my fondest memories of this was the awe factor: the first time the fairies entered, Aurora balancing during the Rose Adagio, and later the celebratory wedding scene. Last year’s rendition by the Kirov Ballet didn’t quite hold up to my adolescent memories, but this weekend, San Francisco Ballet stood up to the challenge with its own version.

Choreographed by Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson (after Marius Petipa, of course) in 1990, this Sleeping Beauty paints more than just a pretty picture. Sure, there are attractive sets, happy corps de ballet dancers, lavish yet understated costumes and wigs, and the well-known story, but what’s more, there are also dancers with determination and spirit. Yuan Yuan Tan, Saturday’s Aurora, showed us that beauty is more than skin deep. While not completely believable as a genuine, sprightly 16 year old, Tan performed with grit and flow, with jaw dropping balances in attitude (I think I counted at least 5 seconds in there somewhere. Thank goodness for the evening’s conductor, Martin West, and his baton!) during the Rose Adagio. Later on, when she came “out of retirement” at the ripe ol’ age of 116, Tan seemed more relaxed and refined, allowing her upper body to flow more and adding a peaceful smile to her face. Maybe the 100-year nap was a good thing. Or perhaps this was her reaction to her newfound love for the ever-able Prince Desiré, portrayed by Tiit Helimets, who partnered her soundly and effortlessly throughout while displaying gorgeously centered pirouettes and fantastically light n’ fluffy (just how I like my pancakes!) beats.

With supple limbs and strength running tautly through her veins, the regal Muriel Maffre ruled the stage as the Lilac Fairy and showed that while pantomime in story ballets can sometimes be long winded, it can, if done just right, actually be beautiful to watch. Sarah Van Patten, tonight the Fairy of Generosity, has come far in the past few years, developing from a young unpretentious woman into a self-assured and commanding presence to complement her fine technique. But one of the biggest surprises of the night came from Dores Andre, a member of the corps de ballet, who made her debut as the Fairy of Serenity in Act I along with the White Cat to Matthew Stewart’s nimble Puss In Boots in Act III. Other than a slight bobble at the beginning of her initial variation, Andre danced with a quietness that had me on the edge of my seat, following her from corner to corner as she hopped, balanced, and hopped again. Just two hours later, she transformed into a slinky hip-bopping feline who could purr with the best of them.

Elizabeth Miner’s fluttering and quick-footedness as the Fairy of Playfulness and later the Sapphire Fairy brought a smile to people’s faces, and Molly Smolen was well received in the roles of the tough-as-nails Fairy of Courage and the Diamond Fairy. Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun, the Fairy of Tenderness, melted into every plié with ease, but sometimes her face told a different story. Two very different peas in a pod, Courtney Wright and Courtney Elizabeth sparkled as the Silver and Gold fairies. Wright’s dancing contained a more subtle shine, while Elizabeth glittered with more pizzazz. Katita Waldo (in for Kristin Long) and Joan Boada fluttered as the Enchanted Princess and the Blue Bird. Boada, with his smoldering good looks, seemed ready for takeoff, but Waldo looked out of place, and their partnering was shaky at best. Anita Paciotti's sinister yet gold-clad Carabosse (aka the Fairy of Darkness) creeped me out, and I can easily understand why she was “forgotten” on the guest list. Quinn Wharton was a boyish yet polished Mongolian Prince, and both Garrett Anderson and Jaime Garcia Castilla excelled playing the Cavaliers to the Jewel Fairies. One more of note was Nicole Grand as one of the Little Lilacs. Grand displayed great stage presence, always in character with a smile on and her head held high.

One nice, yet minor edit to Tomasson's "The Sleeping Beauty" is the recent removal of the 2nd intermission between Acts II and III. Yes, it's nice to have that "breather" in there, but for many families, a 3-hour ballet with young kids can be grueling.

There is a lot more to look forward to with this run, including Rachel Viselli’s debut as Aurora and several new Lilac Fairies (Elana Altman, Sarah Van Patten, and Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun). And with such a wonderful start, the momentum is sure to continue on.

Photo by Marty Sohl

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Stephen Petronio Company, 2/9/2007

They’ve Got Kick
Stephen Petronio Company
Presented by San Francisco Performances
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
February 9, 2007 8PM

Do you ever wake up and think, “Hey, I have an urge for some New York-style modern dance today!“? Funny enough, I did so just last week, and what timing with Friday’s return of the Stephen Petronio Company (presented by San Francisco Performances at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts). This evening was a night filled with dance (SF Ballet and Reggie Wilson next door presented by YBCA), and I’m glad I was able to see the Stephen Petronio Company’s return to the city by the bay.

The program opened with what happened to be the shortest yet potentially most fulfilling work, Petronio’s 2006 “Bud Suite,” set to the intelligent music and lyrics by Rufus Wainwright. Funky, edgy, and clever, “Bud Suite” explores the poignancy of youth and the multitude of expectations throughout life without ever feeling like a downer. The dancers, partially in suits or white button downs with tattered backs and short red shorts (with tulle poofs on the rears at one point for the women), moved with incredible ease yet underlying power: Little piques here, a large grand battement originating from the pelvis there. The movement grew, yet not too big for its britches as my grandmother would say, and I enjoyed the understated yet compelling style.

“Bud Suite” acted as a prelude to “BLOOM,” also set to the music of Wainwright (utilizing lyrics from Latin Mass as well as the poetry of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickenson). While Wainwright was prerecorded, additional live accompaniment was also provided by the sweet and melodious sounds of the San Francisco Girls Chorus conducted by Susan McMane. The company’s men wore Rachel Roy’s cream/grey colored vests and shorts, and provided a more grounded contrast to the women, who were dressed in her muted blue/grey dresses resembling tulips blowing in the wind (and some “blooming“ later on into golden shimmer-like baby doll dresses). As the chorus, the music, and the dancers continued to soar, I crept to the edge of my seat, the company moving so fluidly on stage through this harmonious dance that I didn‘t want it to end.

Excerpted from Petronio‘s 1992 “Full Half Wrong, “The Rite Part,” set to Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” and music by Mitchell Lager, is based on Nijinsky’s “Le sacre de printemps.” The company, adorned in sheer black bodysuits clad in fabric scraps, seemed transformed from earlier. No longer were they happy and carefree; instead, the dancers moved with steadfast purpose, some clear end in sight. Shila Tirabassi, as the woman dancing herself to death, jumped, kicked, and paused with sexual abandon, and closing the program, “The Rite Part” drove the evening home with seductive yet fierce imagery.

Photo © Stephen Petronio Company

Monday, February 05, 2007

SF Ballet, Program 2, 2/3/2007

En Fuego. Sort of.

San Francisco Ballet, Program 2
“Blue Rose,” “The Dance House,” “Firebird
Saturday, February 3, 2007, 8PM

This past Saturday evening, it may have been cold and lifeless outside, but the idea of seeing a whirl of high-quality dance brought warmth and excitement to my heart. While some of my newfound inner warmness could possibly be attributed to the recent dinner of miso soup, warmed lotus root, sake, and spicy sushi, my point is that I felt slightly toasty, my thoughts were warm, and I saw red hot, as in San Francisco Ballet’s choreographer-in-residence Yuri Possokov’s “Firebird.”

This new version of “Firebird” hit the spot for what could have been a chilly San Francisco outing, and while it conjured up images such as the Princess and Bowser from Nintendo’s “Super Mario Brothers,” the Phoenix from “Harry Potter,” and the Orcs from “The Lord of the Rings” all rolled into one, Possokov’s “Firebird” conveyed a fantasy all its own. Helping Tiit Helimet’s lovesick Prince rescue his “fairest of them all” Princess (Rachel Viselli) from the clutches of Pascal Molat’s in-need-of-rhinoplasty Kaschei, Yuan Yuan Tan’s orange-wigged, body suit-clad Firebird displayed a rare tenderness that exuded from every limb: an extended arm, a gentle attitude, and a soft yet powerful stare. Possokov’s choreographic skills seem to improve each go-around, and “Firebird” is no exception, infusing folk dance seamlessly with traditional ballet while also adding a comedic touch every now and then. There is continuity throughout without seeming repetitive, and his inclusion of relative props and intriguing yet minimal set design (by Yuri Zhukov) contrasted with Stravinsky's traditional score is a refreshing change. Authoritative without being too serious and mystical with a dash of comedy, this is one bird that gets the worm.

The two other works on the mixed bill didn’t quite have the power that “Firebird” did. “The Dance House,” David Bintley’s introspective take on AIDS within the dance community, debuted on SF Ballet’s stage 13 years ago. Facing reality head on, “The Dance House” abstractly explores not only the contagiousness of the disease, but also the reality that we are all connected to each other in some way whether small or large. Molly Smolen, in the adagio with Tiit Helimets, displayed lovely liquidity through her port de bras and développés. Tina LeBlanc and Kristin Long both shined in roles they originated, and Gonzalo Garcia’s “Patient Zero,” while reckless and crazed, seemed a somewhat fitting portrayal. Today, “The Dance House” can be viewed on a more macro level, with the concept ably being applied to other current day situations such as the impact of global warming, war, and racism, and it’s this ability that makes “The Dance House” work on a larger scale.

Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s “Blue Rose,” which is set to music by Elena Kats-Chernin and premiered last year, probably should have stayed in the past. The choreography feels uninspired, often flat, and if I may be so bold, a bad copy of Mr. Balanchine’s worst works (hip swivels and parallel cou de pied positions abound). However, Vanessa Zahorian and Nicholas Blanc added a buoyancy to the work, infusing a crisp energy to a rather bland piece of fare, and Natal’ya Feygina (piano) and Roy Malan’s (violin) accompaniment proved zesty.

“Firebird” anchors this program well and lives up to its entertainment and story telling potential. Adding balance to the evening, “The Dance House” does a 180°, making us face reality instead of hiding in a fantasy world. Overall (and even with the addition of “Blue Rose”), SF Ballet seems to be on track for the season.

A few other things to note. First, Guennadi Nedviguine is now Gennadi Nedvigin. Have I (and everyone else) been spelling his name wrong all these years? Time to update my spell checker. Second, if you’re waiting for will call tickets, be prepared to get yelled at, whether you’re old or young, and forced to reform your line out the door, down the steps (with no hand rails or assistance for the elderly and disabled) perpendicular to the entry doors, and along Van Ness.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets in Possokhov's Firebird.
© Erik Tomasson