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