Review: 2011 San Francisco Ballet’s Program 4

Frances Chung and Taras Domitro in Balanchine's Theme and Variations. © Erik Tomasson

I don’t know what it was this past Tuesday, but whatever it was, San Francisco Ballet’s Program 4 was ravishing. Perhaps it’s because the company’s season is now well under way with four programs under its belt or because it was towards the end of the Program 4 run with the previous few weeks to perfect it and get it down, but whatever it was, the dancing came together and it really took off. An all-Tchaikovsky program was a great showcase for the company’s showy style, with every passionate underpinning in Tchaikovsky’s music matched with elegance and vibrant musicality.

Balanchine’s Theme and Variations was an effervescent display of technique and bravura, led by Frances Chung and  Taras Domitro. Chung flew through the quick and notoriously difficult footwork with a smile, looking as best as I’d ever seen her. The pristine sets speak of royalty or heavenly perfection, but Chung’s charm stems from a style that speaks of of a very human quality, not of an airy ethereal quality that some ballerinas have, but a liveliness that breathes. She possesses a wholehearted enthusiasm in the transfer of weight either in a lunging splits (as shown in the photo above) or in a trusting backbend in her partner’s arms, with energy flowing through her limbs past her fingertips. I’m not sure if I’m alone in

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this, but I never would have pinned her to be a quintessential Balanchine ballerina, but in this performance (and a previous performance of Balanchine’s Tarantella stands out in my mind as well), she sparkled and was an absolute joy to watch. Domitro was a lovely partner, with elegance in his perfectly proportioned limbs but never quite looking at ease onstage especially when he’s not in the air or turning an astounding number of turns. He shows remarkable potential, and I’m looking forward to watching him grow as an artist. The corps was also a highlight, dancing with breezy confidence and tackling the difficult choreography with a spirited energy. For an abstract ballet such as this one, this performance really brought the piece to life in a celebration of both the company and Balanchine’s choreography.

San Francisco Ballet in Balanchine's Theme and Variations. © Erik Tomasson

The same virtuosity was cloathed in drama during the second piece, MacMillan’s Winter Dreams. Inspired by Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters, every step served the storyline, culminating in a complex interpretation of this dark but richly layered piece. Under a normal appearing surface, jealousy, rejection, isolation, and anger simmers (and explodes in one chilling stroke) in the relationships between a family and their lovers. It’s uncanny how a step – an arabesque, a turn – can communicate both duty and a concealed desire, and the company excels in these complex details, particularly in the three sisters, Yuan Yuan Tan, Frances Chung, and Vanessa Zahorian. A background of normal every day life marches on despite the internal turmoil of each character, and the play ends as it began, with the three sisters, front and center.

Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz in MacMillan's Winter Dreams. © Erik Tomasson

The evening ended with Tomasson’s world premiere of Trio, a pretty showpiece couched in warm and aristocratic colors in gilded impressionistic sets (with scenic design by Alexander V. Nichols and lighting by Christopher Dennis). This piece appears to be made up of three smaller pieces, with each movement possessing a different flavor. Tomasson can’t resist his usual habit of incorporating pseudo-storylines into his abstract ballets particularly in the 2nd movement with Sarah Van Patten, Tiit Helimets, and Vito Mazzeo. Mazzeo is the tall, dark and handsome stranger who takes Van Patten away from Helimets who doesn’t seem upset at this rude turn of events, and the piece ends with Mazzeo leading Van Patten away with his hands over her eyes. Perhaps he represents Death, or a lover, but I can never tell with these sorts of things.

But it doesn’t take away from the fact that the dancing is gorgeous, with Tomasson featuring the men particularly well with broad strokes of unbashed bravura that’s joyful and confident. Soloists Courtney Elizabeth and Joan Boada in the 1st movement and Maria Kochetkova and Gennadi Nedvigin in the 3rd and 4th movements were stellar, embodying a lively energy and beauty that matched Tchaikovsky’s music, and the corps were equally lovely.

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson's Trio. © Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson's Trio. © Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet’s Program 5 begins on March 19 with Coppelia.

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