Monthly Archives: February 2012

Review: 2012 San Francisco Ballet’s Program 2

McGregor’s Chroma
Morris’ world premiere Beaux
Wheeldon’s Number Nine©

Yuan Yuan Tan and Taras Domitro in McGregor's Chroma. © Erik Tomasson

Program 2 burst onto the War Memorial Opera House stage with a repertory program of contemporary ballets from three very prominent modern choreographers. It was a great study of three very different styles, vaguely within the same genre. I got to watch this program for the matinee show on Sunday February 19.

The program opened with Wayne McGregor’s Chroma, a rollercoaster of angular twists and turns around every unexpected corner. With this piece, we as an audience get to experience the joys of having a modern dance choreographer bring his primary expertise to the world of ballet. The stage is set with a bright white background by Jack Pawson lit with different shades of white (with lighting design by Lucy Carter and costumes by Moritz Junge). Within this setting, McGregor places his dancers as superhuman athletes in an alien world. His choreography encompasses a wide range of movements, focusing on the extremes of physicality, from unending fast solos to slow duets where the woman orbits  slowly wrapped around her partner’s torso as if she was underwater. Propelled by music by composer Joby Talbot (including orchestral transpositions of Jack White III’s songs of the White Stripes), every image onstage is riveting and hypnotic. The dancers were spectacular. Vito Mazzeo shaped the space around him beautifully. Sarah Van Patten showed us a flair for contemporary choreography with clear and sharp punctuation in her movements. Sofiane Sylve was stunning, dancing with remarkable sculptural elegance. In a complex duet with Vito Mazzeo, she showed multiple facets of her

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artistry, from pure strength, to outright sex appeal, to moments of disarming delicacy – and always in command. She was breathtaking to watch. Lonnie Weeks was also another standout, dancing with a fierce intensity. He will definitely be one to watch.

Frances Chung and Pascal Molat in McGregor's Chroma. © Erik Tomasson

Maria Kochetkova in McGregor's Chroma. © Erik Tomasson

Mark Morris’ world premiere Beaux was next. A dance set for nine men and set to the music of Martinu’s Concerto for Harpsichord and

Small Orchestra, Morris shows us a more intimate portraiture of male virtuosic dancing. The sets and costumes (both by Isaac Mizrahi) colorfully warn the audience that this might not be what we’re used to seeing, with bright pink unitards and a hot pink camouflage backdrop. Gestural motifs are peppered throughout, but nothing is too forced. The choreography flows like a casual conversation. Morris makes us sit up, pay attention, and look closely, to see that in the opening line of men standing in front of the stage, all but one is facing the same direction. There were references (intentional or not, most likely not) of Rodin’s sculptural figures that I used to bike by at the Stanford campus, standing and posturing with other statues around them. There was beauty in the simplicity of the movements with a communal spirit throughout, and the men danced with full hearts.

San Francisco Ballet in Morris' Beaux. © Erik Tomasson

With the program closing with Christopher Wheeldon’s Number Nine© (is that title really copyrighted?), it was like watching the company do what they do best. The brightly colored costumes by Holly Hynes lit up the stage in a blaze of pristine ensemble work by the excellent corps, and it was thrilling to watch some of the company’s best dancers take over the stage in a showcase of virtuosity. Gennadi Nedvigin made the audience gasp with his flying entrance with his delicate and nimble duet with Maria Kochetkova, and Frances Chung and Pascal Molat flew lightning-fast through the choreography with ease and limber musicality. Yuan Yuan Tan was fun, playful and flirty in her pas de deux with Carlos

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Quenedit, and Elana Altman and Anthony Spaulding were statuesque in spite of a brief fumble early on. With music by Michael Torke, it was thrilling to watch the dancers dance with such style and mastery over the music’s complex rhythms, and a proper end to a gorgeous evening of contemporary ballet.

Ruben Martin Cintas and Sarah Van Patten in Wheeldon's Number Nine. © Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon's Number Nine. © Erik Tomasson

Program 2 will end on February 25, 2012. Click here for more info. Program 3 is also playing at this time, and will play through February 26, 2012.

Review: 2012 Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo at the Mondavi Center

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo's Swan Lake

Balanchine famously said, ballet is woman. Not always so, as this all-male troupe demonstrated. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is a pointe-shoe wearing all-male ballet troupe that breaks every ballet stereotype in the

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book. Anorexic ballerinas? No one could ever imagine such bulging biceps and healthy thighs peeking out from layers of tulle in their tutus. How about the age-old mantra that the female roles/dancers should always be shorter than their male counterparts in point? Not true – the Trocks demonstrate how arresting a 6+ foot dancer can be, majestic and powerful, and always with a touch of humor. In fact, I learned that it’s impossible to take your eyes off a dancer like that. (On this point, I guess the Trocks and Balanchine share their love for tall dancers and their resulting long lines).

It might be difficult to get past the tufts of hair peeking above sparkling white bodices and a flash of dark armpit hair under a gracefully waving arm. But try as you might, and if you can see past your tears of laughter, you will see that the Trocks aren’t just a comedic act. They have a style that is entirely their own, backed by incredible technique. In their famous Act II of Swan Lake (do the Trocks perform this at every performance?), they perform a slightly altered rendition of the notoriously difficult Dance of the Cygnets. I’m so used to seeing the original Dance with at least a little bit of trepidation on stage, which always makes me uneasy as a result. But not only did the Trocks nail it, they tossed off the choreography with humor and flair, complete with facial expressions in addition to the intricate choreography,

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like it was easy. The effect is hilarious and utterly triumphant.

In fact throughout the entire evening, there was not a whiff of caution onstage. The Trockaderos’ style is bold and exuberant. Their attack is strong and sure. Every step is full out at full speed, whether they go up on point in an arabesque, or whether they are tossing off fouettes with a rare confidence that many ballerinas dream of. Their balances are extraordinary. It’s for these reasons that I particularly enjoy the pieces that they perform without jokes around every corner. Their Go for Barocco choreographed by Peter Anastos is a brilliant spoof of Balanchine’s stark, sexy ballet style, parodying Balanchine’s geometric formations and ensemble work. But even if you had never seen Balanchine before, it’s a delightful musical sketch that holds interest through its lightning fast and repetitious footwork. It’s Balanchine with a wink and a smile.

The evening ended with Majisimas, a Spanish-inflected showcase of classical ballet technique. Danced mostly straight without too many stabs at humor, it was a refreshing showcase of what these men can really do. Through seductive hips, the dancers sailed through this showcase of classical ballet fireworks and technique. I was reminded of the Trockadero’s performance of Paquita that I saw two years earlier at the same venue, and this piece reminded me of the same joy and celebration that I still recall from that performance two years ago. (Their Paquita is a must-see, and something I’d love to see live again someday.) And Paul Ghiselin’s rendition of The Dying Swan is pitch perfect, down to every detail, and a personal favorite.

Hilarious, yes – their Swan Lake is both funny and creative, and kids and adults alike will love this show. But what makes this troupe “the real deal” is their artistry, with their hearts on their sleeve. It doesn’t hurt that names such as Jacques d’Aniels (come on, a ballet and alcohol reference all in one!) and my husband’s favorite, Stanislaus Kokitch is in the program (I had to say that last one out loud before I got it, to my husband’s chagrin). And the dancers! I’m sorry I don’t recognize a lot of the dancers yet, but the fabulous Robert Carter was a standout.

Go see it!!

For a particularly good piece on the Trockaderos, check out this great entry on You Dance Funny. And for an added bonus, you can read in

the comments my personal story of seeing the Trocks for the first time. :)

Click here for more information on the Mondavi Center.