Sarah Van Patten and Garen Scribner in Elo’s Double Evil. Â© Erik Tomasson
It’s been an amazing 76th year for the San Francisco Ballet. Ever since the programming was released last year, I knew that it would be a great year, maybe even better than their 75th anniversary year. I realize that my reviews for this year have been filled with an even higher-pitched feverish enthusiasm than ever, but, no really, this year was really well deserved and a level of variety and quality that’s going to be difficult to repeat.
The year started out a tad slow, with the pretty yet insubstantial Diving into the Lilacs and a smattering of Tomasson’s choreography. Swan Lake picked up the momentum again despite its flaws, and successfully showcased some of the most memorable dancing of the year. Mark Morris’ program was perfection and one of the top programs of the year, if not the best. After a West Side Story suite that lost some of its novelty, interesting programs rained down one after another, with Tudor’s haunting Jardin aux Lilas, Robbins’ The Concert, Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour, and Balanchine’s Jewels (which should be sold out for every show, and is my pick over Tomasson’s Swan Lake).
The final fireworks of Program 8 proved to be a satisfying end to a glorious year. Despite San Francisco Ballet’s well-deserved reputation of versatility, I truly feel like San Francisco Ballet feels most at home in the repertoire of modern ballet. It doesn’t hurt that two out of the three ballets in Program 8 were built on the company itself, merely a year ago in the New Works Festival. Program 8 was the perfect showcase, and on Sunday afternoon, the company stepped up and tore up the floor in one of the most exciting performances of the year.
The dancers of the San Francisco Ballet are always world class, but for some reason on Sunday afternoon, they were astonishing. Soloist Frances Chung burst forth with an expansiveness and a sostenuto in her phrasing in Possohkov’s Fusion that was dazzling. There was life pulsing through her very limbs. I’ve always seen her as a wholesome dancer who fully embodies sunny exuberance, and it’s been fun to watch her grow into something freer and deeper, with increasing confidence. She’s also had a very good year starting with the lead in Balanchine’s Tarantella at the opening night gala. But for the first time, I saw flashes of a superstar who could hold her own in SF Ballet’s star-studded roster of female principals. Guest artist Rory Hohenstein’s electrifying presence drew your eye whenever he was onstage. His dancing embodies a contrasting balance of dangerous power and a hint of gentlemanly elegance, and dances with razor-sharp articulation. His year away from the company must have been a very good one, and he came back an even better dancer than before, with a deeper commitment to movement and the emotional soul of the moment. In Possohkov’s Fusion, Hohenstein and Clara Blanco, who matched him with her sparkling wit, was both terrifying and beautiful to watch. Principal Nicolas Blanc wowed with the fluidity of his turns and phrasing, alternating with intensity of sharply punctuated attack in Elo’s Double Evil, causing the audience to burst out into spontaneous applause. Not a particularly loud, flashy dancer, Blanc’s dancing is filled with nuanced detail and a quiet strength that is more than what it looks like at first glance. Watching him on Sunday made me want to see him onstage more often than I do. Principal Maria Kochetkova seemed destined to be typecast as the precise classical technician, yet for some reason, I always delight in seeing her cast against type, which is a huge testament to her artistry and versatility. In Elo’s Double Evil, a far cry from the classics she does so well, she brings herself to the role with a commitment and an enchanting presence. She never ceases to charm.
Possohkov’s Fusion, along withÂ Elo’s Double Evil, premiered at the New Works Festival last year, and the company dance these pieces as if they were born to do it. Fusion is shrouded in a heaily perfumed air, and as if in a dream, episodes fade in and out, alternating between four men in Middle Eastern dress and a group in boldly-colored sleek, modern costumes. Momentum is fueled by a pulsating score by Graham Fitkin and Rahul Dev Burman and a melancholy heart-tugging saxophone melody. The central pas de deux with the sexy, seductive and playful Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith flowed seamlessly from one dramatic geometric shape to another and cast a hypnotic spell.Â Â
Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith in Possohkov's Fusion. Â© Erik Tomasson
Lorena Feijoo, Frances Chung, and Maria Kochetkova in Possohkov's Fusion. Â© Erik Tomasson
Elo’s Double Evil trembles with excitement. The ballet is divided into contrasts of the extremes. There is light and dark. Slow (supported by the music of Vladimir Martynov) and fast (supported by Philip Glass’ Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra). There is ballet and anti-ballet movements -Â robotic and even a little hip hop.Â Movements don’t necessarily reflect the differences in extreme, with robotic, jerky arm movements to singing strings in the slow sections. Movements double over themselves in the blink of an eye. I still find this piece a bit random and haphazard, but there’s no denying its high speed adrenaline rush and standing ovation-inducing finish.
The biggest news of the night was the replacement of Ratmansky’s Russian Seasons with Balanchine’s Rubies. I was initially disappointed, but in retrospect, I couldn’t deny that this is a fabulous program, even if I had seen Rubies mere days ago. Taras Domitro was the last minute replacement for Vanessa Zahorian’s partner. Reminiscent of a glittering playground with its mischievous air, they imitate jumping rope and Domitro motions his arm to have a group of men follow him as if inviting them to revel with him. Zahorian, looking more confident than on opening night for Jewels, shows off with sass and playful flirtation. Domitro dances big, adding a fresh and thrilling energy. I found Lily Rogers’s rendition of the siren soloist in Rubies to be a rather careful one, but she emphasized a slow seductiveness to the role as her arm flutters down her other arm in a very come-hither sort of way. The second time around, I was able to watch the ensemble more, with equally fascinating choreography as the soloists. Often they act as a Greek chorus, commenting on the action or nonchalantly watching it, adding a new layer of intrigue to this flashy piece.
Vanessa Zahorian and Pascal Molat in Balanchine's Rubies. Â© Erik Tomasson
It’s always sad when the San Francisco Ballet season nears its end, but Program 8 is a fantastic end to a wonderful year. It’s also a great program for ballet newbies as well. So be sure to grab your friends and go, before the season ends this weekend.Â
For fun, I wrote a haiku review for Fusion last year. Maybe with some inspiration and cajoling I can be convinced to write ones for the others. Here it is.
A sharp breath caught in midair
San Francisco Ballet’s Program 8: click here for more info. Be sure to check on programming for Ratmansky’s Russian Seasons. If you saw it, be sure to comment – I’ve never seen it, and please tell me I’m not missing much!