San Francisco Ballet
March 6, 2008, 8PM
As San Francisco Ballet celebrates its 75 years of pointe shoes, faux snow, and tulle, it also honors one of America’s best-loved choreographers, Jerome Robbins. Robbins, who passed away 10 years ago, brought out the sass and flair of contemporary ballet. While best known to the average person for rhythmic snapping and double passé hops in the musical and movie versions of “West Side Story,” Robbins made handfuls of well-crafted dances over a 54-year career. SF Ballet’s Program 4 showcases three of Robbins’ ballets: his first official jaunt into dancemaking with “Fancy Free”; a retrospective of love and lovers in “In the Night”; and the toe-tapping “West Side Story Suite.”
Dancers, and ballet dancers at that, are normally known for being quiet. They leap quietly, wave and spin their arms to mime when it’s time to dance, and whisper like tiny mice while waiting in the wings. In “West Side Story Suite,” though, they sing, both as a chorus and solos, a reworked and shorted version of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s “West Side Story.” On this opening night, Rory Hohenstein, leading the Jets as Riff, belted out “Cool” while strutting about the stage. His singing was adequate, but he shouldn’t quit his day job. Shannon Roberts, a dark-haired, blue-eyed corps member, shone as the fiery Anita, and along with Nicole Grand as Rosalia, they sang and shimmied their hearts out in “America.” Roberts’ portrayal is a break out performance. Here’s hoping to more golden opportunities for her in the future. As Tony, Garrett Anderson proved that you can dance in Levi’s and loftily leapt across the stage while company member Matthew Stewart sang “Something’s Coming.” Stewart deserves high praise: this is the first time a ballet company member has sung this role (in the past, it’s been filled by a professional). Dores Andre, as Maria, looked lovely, even with little to do, but in the “dream” sequence at the end (“Somewhere Ballet”), the corps members overshadowed her. I’d be curious to see Andre in the lead role in Christopher Wheeldon’s “Carousel (A Dance),” another duet about ill-fated lovers. Pierre-François Vilanoba slithered about as the knife-wielding Bernardo, and peppy Julianne Kepley gave the Jets a little extra pizzazz as the uncredited Graziela. Three cheers to Jean-Pierre Frohlich and Jenifer Ringer; they sure staged a winner, and the audience couldn’t have been happier.
Also on the bill was “In The Night,” which invites us to watch the nighttime tussles and embraces of three couples set against Frederic Chopin’s piano nocturnes. Yuan Yuan Tan and Ruben Martin explored that happy-go-lucky honeymoon stage. Martin looked every part the gentleman, but Tan focused too much on the pretty, the posing, and the audience as if she were dancing Odette and not an “in the flesh” woman in the early stages of love. There was no lack of feeling, though, with Elana Altman and Tiit Helimets. Even with some partnering goofs (he’s just not tall enough for her finger turns), they moved with careful restraint, as if we were peaking through their curtains and looking in on a private moment in their constantly intertwined lives. It’s beautifully tender to watch, especially when she’s tipped upside down, trembling her foot in cou de pied as Helimets slowly spins her right-side up. Perhaps it’s all about finding that sense of balance in life. Lorena Feijoo and Damian Smith complete the trio of duets with a passionate cat and mouse chase, evoking fireworks as they lifted and held each other close. Roy Bogas matched the dancers on the piano, and his performance sounded spectacular all on its own.
“Fancy Free,” a cute little romp with music by Leonard Bernstein, featured Garrett Anderson, Pascal Molat, and Davit Karapetyan as three sailors looking for love, short-term companionship, and/or a beer. These leading men one-upped each other as they battled it out for the affections of Erin McNulty, Vanessa Zahorian, and Mariellen Olson. Zahorian and Anderson’s duet sparkled as the highlight. They stared into each other eyes, beamed brightly, and reminded us of what falling in “like” used to be like. David Arce did all he could as the bartender, but one day I’m secretly hoping he’ll get the girl.
The program, and especially the company’s premiere of “West Side Story Suite,” shows the company's and its dancers variety. It sure is a sweet “Suite.” And how can you say no to that?
San Francisco Ballet in Robbins' "West Side Story Suite."
Elana Altman and Tiit Helimets in Robbins' "In The Night.
Vanessa Zahorian and Garrett Anderson in Robbins' "Fancy Free."
All photos © Erik Tomasson