All photos Â© Erik Tomasson
Lorena Feijoo and Joan Boada in Possohkov’s Fusion. Â© Erik Tomasson
After too long of a hiatus, I finally got a chance to see my beloved San Francisco Ballet on their American Tour in Orange County this weekend. After hearing all the rave reviews in the other stops on their tour, I was curious to see how the company looked after the summer. It was fun to see many of the men sporting spiffy new haircuts, and even though it’s late in the tour with only one more stop after Orange County, the company showed no signs of wear or tear and looked absolutely phenomenal.
I had previously seen Possohkov’s Fusion and Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour at the opening night of their world premiere back in April, and in the few months that have passed, the pieces looked like completely new pieces. For both dances, the choreography had seeped more into the dancers’ pores, where the movements looked more instinctual and were performed with more of a natural flair compared to opening night. In Fusion, resident choreographer Possohkov has his finger on the pulse of the company, where the dancers looked like they were born to dance this piece. Despite some structural issues I still have with this piece with the two groups of opposing dancers (the whirling dervishes and the contemporary costumed dancers) integrating cohesively into one dance, with every whirling turn to every sensuous hip wiggle, each movement was sold to the eager and captivated audience. The overall effect was hauntingly mystical, yet complexly modern.
Yuan Yuan Tan and Benjamin Stewart in Fusion
Vanessa Zahorian in Fusion
Bathed in a warm glow, Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour was especially breathtaking. You can almost hear Wheeldon working the steps, trying new things, and reinventing movements and poses. But rather than spiralling into an esoteric multilayered analytical mess, Wheeldon as a master sculptor shapes the steps into something more than the sum of its parts. There’s delight at every corner. Lilting quirks punctuate the gently nimble music by Vivaldi and Ezio Bosso. Wheeldon’s invention worked especially well in the ensemble dancing, where different groups are set up against each other, each group quickly melting into the next and culminating in a triumph with the dancers swirling around each other in a circle. There’s a pas de deux with the lead couple, danced by Katita Waldo and Damian Smith that tripped along charmingly, with Waldo’s leggy glamour and Smith’s unwavering strength. A recurring motif with two male dancers, Garen Scribner and Martyn Garside, burst with lithe agility and vivid sensuality. Scribner was his usual self with his clean lines and striking stage presence. I had to look up Garside, a dancer I didn’t initially recognize, as he stepped up to match Scribner’s presence with his eye-catching dramatic authority and fiery abandon. Some of the pas de deux (what is plural of pas de deux?) especially in the slower ones had the drawn out feeling of a measured awakening that evolved over time but never resolved, still maintaining Wheeldon’s inventiveness. The overall effect was a joyful and richly layered enchanting journey of a sunny, warm world that was winningly the audience favorite of the night.
Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada in Within the Golden Hour
The program ended with an about face with Balanchine’s Four Temperaments. Set in a stark setting with severe black leotards and simple background, the atonal pulsing music by Paul Hindemith propelled the physicality and the sharp angles of this piece. The overall effect is cool, detached, and a “better than you” distance that makes this piece in my personal opinion, a piece to be respected and admired but difficult to love. There’s lots to think about however, as the evening’s theme of invention continues. The Four Temperaments which premiered in 1946 is so forward thinking that one could easily guess that this piece was made this year. Loosely based on a theme and variations with each variation based on the four humors of the body (black bile, blood, phlegm, and yellow bile whatever that is), these associations with the human body are hard to visualize. A group of four girls (representing the four temperaments?) repeatedly make an appearance as an aloof and unrelentless army of Fembots in leotards, pushing forward with razor sharp pointed feet. My favorite variation was Phlegmatic, with Pierre-Francois Vilanoba in the foreground of these four girls, carving out his presence in space and time with his long sinuous limbs. Pascal Molat flew as the soloist in the Melancholic variation, and Lorena Feijoo and Tiit Helimets created a whirlwind of energy in the Sanguinic variation. In terms of audience response, this 180 degree turn in the mood seemed to catch everyone off guard as the ready applause died down a bit, but perhaps everyone was deep in thought rather than on reflex emotional response. The evening ended with an overwhelming presence of the entire ensemble dancing with hard edged precision, led by the polished Sofiane Sylve.
San Francisco Ballet with Pierre-Francois Vilanoba in Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments.
In all, this was a very long way of saying that San Francisco Ballet overwhelmingly succeeded in showing the audience that ballet is not merely a showcase of tricks, but a complete intellectual and emotional experience that is as diverse as it is deep. It was in a series of Pascal Molat’s entrechats near the end of the night that I realized that I hadn’t seen a fouette or the usual ballet applause-generators, but all the steps were seamlessly incorporated artistically into generating a mood, an emotion, a thought. This is a huge testament to the skill of the company and their ability to completely transport the audience into worlds unseen, and I can’t remember the last time that I found a ballet performance so complete and thrillingly satisfying. It’s also to San Francisco Ballet’s credit that they seem to send their best dancers out on tour, which is a different approach from some ballet companies, leaving a trail of obsessive fans in its wake. The dancers have never looked better; there was a moment in the Wheeldon piece where Damian Smith, Pierre-Francois Vilanoba, and Joan Boada were merely standing in a line in an easy fourth position. There was something about their similar build and jaw-dropping stage presence that was simply awe-inspiring. I’m also sure that pride in my hometown ballet company and the long hiatus added to my enjoyment as well. What a perfect way to officially end San Francisco Ballet’s 75th anniversary with a national tour that sets its stamp on the dance world as a pioneer and leader in the world of contemporary ballet.
San Francisco Ballet stops in Washington D.C. next, November 25-30 as the last stop of their American Tour. Be sure to catch their Giselle!! Here’s my review of SFB’s Giselle.
UPDATE: In the spirit of innovation and as a result of a conversation I had with a friend, I decided to write up reviews for Fusion and Within the Golden Hour in haiku (in the loosest syllable definition of the word). For what it’s worth, enjoy.
A sharp breath caught in midair
For Within the Golden Hour:
Trusting hands, we melt as one
Gently lilting waltz