Sarah Van Patten and Rory Hohenstein in Elo’s Double Evil
Program C rounded out the last of the new works for the festival. Equally diverse the rest of the new works, in my mind it stood out as the riskiest set of pieces. Margaret Jenkins’ Thread is being labeled as the riskiest piece in the entire New Works Festival, and I have to agree. It starts out with stirring anticipation, with a transparent screen with a maze and a video projection of a woman’s face and poetry being spoken over the music, commissioned for this piece and written by Paul Dresher. However, the anticipation fizzles out in a flurry of athletic physicality and drama, where the plotline gets lost in the action. It speaks vaguely of its inspiration, the myth of Aradiane and the labyrinth at Knossos, utilizing an athletic modern dance vocabulary to tell its tale. Damian Smith and Pauli Magierek danced the leads, with a Greek chorus-like ensemble that would often mirror and react to the soloists and their movements. There is a sense of seeking, as the dancers pointed – perhaps they were searching for a plot?? As always, the dancers were wholeheartedly committed to the movement, with a natural inhabitation of the movement in their bodies. The women stood out to me, in their gut-wrenching sweeping passion, where in ensemble dancing, looked like an alive moving organism, breathing as one.
Pauli Magierek in Jenkins’ Thread.
The second piece was Val Caniparoli’s vividly haunting Ibsen’s House, based on the writings of Henrik Ibsen who wrote about challenging feminist roles in Victorian society. This unique subject matter made for a series of fascinating sketches of couples with different stories – real life husband and wife Tiit Helimets and Molly Smolen danced the couple in an abusive relationship, where Helimets partners her threateningly by gripping her upper arms, where the wife tries to maintain a calm exterior by smoothing out her dress and her hair. Dana Genshaft and Garen Scribner portrayed more of an equal partnership, with Scribner showing a moving vulnerability as he grasps Genshaft’s waist as she’s moving away, yet there’s still a sense of the inability to connect as they struggle through awkward partnering moves with as much grace as possible. Scribner and Genshaft danced with a tender tortured transparency, speaking volumes about strife in Genshaft’s arching back and Scribner’s fervent reach. Lorena Feijoo and David Arce danced with fiery abandon, with Feijoo covering her mouth as if to stop herself from speaking her mind. The other couples – Courtney Elizabeth and Pierre-Francois Vilanoba, and Nicole Grand and Anthony Spaulding – were less clear in their specific situations, but no less entrancing as they represented different aspects of diverse relationships. The best thing about this piece was that this is the sort of movement that showcases the San Francisco Ballet company at their best, where you get the sense that the dancers felt completely at ease in this choreography, following through every moment to its fullest.
Tiit Helimets and Molly Smolen in Caniparoli’s Ibsen’s House
Dana Genshaft in Caniparoli’s Ibsen’s House
The evening ended with a bang with the much anticipated and the clear audience favorite, Jorma Elo’s Double Evil. With intrigue around every corner, this piece was all about two extremes. The movement merged lush classical ballet segments with hyperkinetic robotic angular jerking movements, and the music switched from the urgent Philip Glass’ Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra to the minimalist Vladimir Marynov’s Come In!, and the lighting switched from darkly mysterious to a cheery bright white. This use of polar extremes juxtaposed sharply against one another just felt too big of a jarring disconnect in the big picture. In my first viewing of the piece, it left me with a feeling of confusion without quite being able to put my finger on why I felt this way in an otherwise action-packed yet fractured piece. Also, Elo’s movement vocabulary is in itself innovative, but it’s also limited, not only within this piece but also resorting to reusing a memorable motif from a previous piece that I saw, in ABT’s “Close to Chuck” – a move where a female dancer reacts as a ricocheting pinball in response to her partner. In addition, this was the first piece that failed to showcase the company at its best, with lack of group unison and even timing being off by a full beat around every corner in this extremely difficult choreography. This clashed with the showy circus-like nature of the piece, which should have been more of a thrilling showcase instead of a flurry of arms perhaps in response to a suppressed fear of being left behind the music. This is not to say that it was all puzzling and conflicted; there is a pleasing arc to the movements that gets repeated, and the precarious lightning fast action in response to the insistence of the timpani adds to the overall excitement. There are some genuine moments as well, which includes my favorite moment in the piece which is the pose shown above, with Rory Hohenstein supporting Sarah Van Patten from the floor; there is an air of dangerously thrilling riskiness in this careful pose, with a moment of connection as Hohenstein looks up at her. It felt like everything paused in that moment, like an oasis in the middle of a desert storm. Standouts were Rory Hohenstein with his unbridled articulation, Jamie Garcia Castilla in his luxurious extensions, Lily Rogers with her noble lean lines and an increasingly growing confidence, and Maria Kochetkova with her weightless agility bringing a freshly modern sharpness to the choreography. Pascal Molat soared effortlessly, and Nicolas Blanc brought applause with his lively turns.
Sarah Van Patten and Rory Hohenstein in Elo’s Double Evil
Pascal Molat in Elo’s Double Evil
Program C was a risky program, yet thrillingly so. Risk in itself is always admirable, which was a hallmark quality of the entire New Works Festival.
Other notes – why are so many dancers leaving?? Superstar and company darling Rory Hohenstein danced his last performance this past week, with no less than four dancers dancing their last dance on the last day of the season. Principal Molly Smolen has been with the company since 2006, yet the first time I ever saw her dance was in Ibsen’s House. She danced with a multilayered complexity and emotional depth; it would have been great to see her dance more roles. Garrett Anderson, Courtney Wright, and Steven Norman also danced their last. They will all be missed!
The amazing 75th anniversary season is over. What better way to close out the season with the New Works Festival. Innovation is deep in the heart of the company, and it was a privilege to experience it and to get a glimpse into the future of ballet and the San Francisco Ballet company.
Other takes on Program C:
San Francisco Ballet Program C: click for a video preview
All photos Â© ErikTomasson