Monthly Archives: April 2012

Review: 2012 San Francisco Ballet’s Don Quixote

Vanessa Zahorian in Tomasson/Possokhov's Don Quixote. © Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet’s vibrant production of Don Quixote has many delights, and this full-length production closes the season with a reminder of what we will dearly miss until the 2013 season. Two seemingly very different elements of this production – slapstick humor and high-flying virtuosity – are blended together seamlessly in this wonderful production. It is to the audience’s delight that SF Ballet places equal emphasis on both elements, and the result is just so much fun. Humor is difficult to do well, particularly in ballet, but the company pulled it off with perfect comedic timing and creativity. The colorful costumes and beautiful sets by Martin Pakledinaz pop off the stage and frames the spirited dancing within this production, and brings the familiar Cervantes novel to life. I saw the Sunday matinee performance on April 29, 2012.

Sarah Van Patten in Tomasson/Possokhov's Don Quixote. © Erik Tomasson

One of the highlights of this performance was Frances Chung’s debut performance in the role of Kitri. In a word, her debut was astounding. Chung’s Kitri had a mischievous sense of humor and an unquenchable spontaneity. She exuded a cool confidence and appeared very well prepared to perform this role. She embodied clean lines in her poses and well-articulated feet; however, more than any technical details, Chung still maintains a quality that made her unique even as a dancer in the corps. From dancing Lubovitch to Wheeldon to classics such as Don Q, she always looks like she is having a great time. How many times have we as audience members seen dancers “check out”, with the equivalent

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of yawning or sighing on stage, or look as if they are nursing an injury, or look like they can’t wait to go home? (Yes, audiences can tell!) Years of dancing hasn’t taken away this quality from Chung, and it’s so thrilling and refreshing to watch. When dancing allegro, she really goes for it, with every molecule of her being. Her adagio is quiet and still as she takes her time to stretch her legs and arms with all the time in the world. Her pas de deux with Vitor Luiz as Basilio in Act 2 flowed effortlessly like a story unfolding, a story of falling in love, with a lovely cinematic quality to it.

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson/Possokhov's Don Quixote. © Erik Tomasson

In fact, as a couple, Chung and Luiz were successfully more about heart than head in this performance. Technical details wavered a bit, with a wobble here, a failed attempt at a balance there, and a fall onto outstretched hands after a particularly forceful turning jump. However, these details were rare,

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and it was their spirit that soared; both Chung and Luiz went for it, and everyone was rooting for them. Give me that kind of gumption over textbook poses anyday.

And the comedy! Garen Scribner’s Gamache was an absolute scene-stealer every second he was onstage, even when he was sitting on the sides, fanning himself. James Sofranko’s Sancho Panza was earnest and energetic, bouncing off of Luke Willis’ regal yet absurd Don Quixote.

Vanessa Zahorian and Joan Boada in Tomasson/Possokhov's Don Quixote. © Erik Tomasson

In spite of the comedy, the virtuosity in this ballet makes this ballet a classic, and this production showcases the strengths of the company beautifully. Chung flew through her fouettes and ended with a clean double, and Vitor Luiz drew gasps from the audience with his turning jumps that whips his legs around in the air, defying gravity. Pierre-Francois Vilanoba as the bad-ass matador and Elana Altman as his dramatic partner, Mercedes, mesmerized with their sensual power and intensity. The female corps looked pristine in the airy Dream scene, with soloists Sasha DeSola sailing through with a bright innocence, and Koto Ishihara, all leggy extensions, expertly covered up a wobbly

ending to her bird-like solo with a charming flurry of smiles. Pascal Molat and Courtney Elizabeth also added an element of passion as leaders of the gypsy camp, Molat with power and Elizabeth with melodrama.

Having never seen this ballet in its full-length version before, I really didn’t know what to expect. I know that full-length classics can

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have its slow moments; however, this production surprised and delighted. The virtuosity is thrilling and definitely worth seeing more than one cast, and the comedy is entertaining. It was a really fun way to end the 2012 season.

San Francisco Ballet’s website

Review: 2012 San Francisco Ballet’s Program 5

Sofiane Sylve and Pierre-François Vilanoba in Robbins' Glass Pieces. © Erik Tomasson

I may be late to the Robbins’ bandwagon, but previously I had always considered Robbins in the context of a Balanchine-centered world. However the more that I see his choreography, the more I am impressed with his ingenuity. In San Francisco Ballet’s Program 5 of contemporary ballets, Robbin’s Glass Pieces was the shining pinnacle in an evening of contemporary ballet pieces. I attended Sunday’s performance on April 1, 2012. In this piece set to the hypnotic music  by Philip Glass, Robbins exemplifies musicality in a unique way. In the background of shimmering chaos, Robbins adds phrases and organizes the music with movement, with everyone walking on stage turning suddenly and changing directions, choreographically marking out measures and bars where none is heard. His musicality is subtle, not bold and flashy like Balanchine can be sometimes, but his is a more gentle musicality that imbues and even adds to the music. His musical ear transcends what we actually hear, but he gently points out the pauses and phrasing in Glass’ music that is not so obvious.

The famous first scene “Rubric” is breathtaking both in its mundane quality and simplicity. A large company of people walk across the stage, each with a different direction and intent, yet they all appear the same. Couples dance in and amongst the crowd, but in fleeting and shifting moments. Interactions are brief (perhaps meaningful?). Who are these people, and what are their relationships? The answer is unclear as they disappear into the crowds.

The second movement “Facades” features a corps de ballet with a fascinating yet repetitive linear movement motif that is repeated throughout the entire movement in the background. Meanwhile, a couple dance in the foreground, oblivious to their surroundings, in suspended and slow partnered dance. Victoria Ananyan and Ruben Martin Cintas inhabited these roles with long phrases, but despite Ananyan’s perfectly proportioned legs, she never quite appeared completely comfortable with a stiff upper body. The piece ended with a rousing movement “Akhnaten” driven by tribal beats and a driving momentum for a large group of dancers, colored by athleticism. The dancing was gorgeous, and the piece

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San Francisco Ballet in in Robbins' Glass Pieces. © Erik Tomasson

The program also included a world premiere by Edward Liang called Symphonic Dances. This was my first viewing of Liang’s choreography, and I could see glimpses of why his reputation as a choreographer is so stellar. He has an uncanny sense of ensemble patterns that captures the viewer’s interest. His use of space is great, as he places dancers from the highest lifts and also uses the floor as a a medium as well, giving his work a sense of broad and grandiose strokes. Liang’s musicality shines through set against the music of Rachmaninov; Frances Chung and Jaime Garcia Castilla’s duet has a quiet transparency set amongst the drama of the music. And the music! Romantic and opulent, Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances is packed with instruments not always heard at the ballet, including a seductive saxophone and a percussive piano. An especially strong male ensemble including Hansuke Yamamoto with firecracker reflexes and dancing in a refreshingly large space. Despite all these great qualities, the bottom line for me is that this piece didn’t keep my attention, and sections appeared overworked and felt like it could have said the same thing in a shorter period of time. There was enough there however, that made me curious to see more of Liang’s choreography.

Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets in Liang's Symphonic Dances. © Erik Tomasson

The program also included Tomasson’s The Fifth Season. The music by Karl Jenkins was especially quirky and interesting, although the pieces included didn’t appear cohesive as a whole. But sculptural in nature, Tomasson does what he does best, which is to showcase his gorgeous dancers in the best way possible. Lighting by Michael Mazzola highlighted the atmosphere in stark and dramatic ways. Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets showed us a flirtier side to their dancing, and Sarah Van Patten and Pierre Francois Vilanoba danced with a free flying spirit. This piece especially featured a fresh corps with lots of new faces who were especially bright and crisp, capturing the spirit and style of the ballet with confidence.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith in Tomasson's The Fifth Season. © Erik Tomasson

Sarah Van Patten and Pierre-François Vilanoba in Tomasson's The Fifth Season. © Erik Tomasson

SF Ballet’s Program 7 continues with an all-Balanchine program on April 12-18. Click here for more information.