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