Impactful Journey in ‘Program 5: Contemporary Voices’

Program 5: Contemporary Voices
Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson
For tickets & schedule:

San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA

RUN: March 9-19, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

March 19, 2017

In these three curated pieces, San Francisco Ballet explores a powerful coming of age story in Salome, the intensely sensual Fearful Symmetries, and a hopeful future in the compelling Fusion from Yuri Possokhov. This is a dynamic program, filled with expressive dancing and poignant choreography.

Fusion - San Francisco Ballet

Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith in Yuri Possokhov’s “Fusion” at San Francisco Ballet. (© Erik Tomasson)

Choreographer: Yuri Possokhov
Composers: Graham Fitkin & Rahul Dev Burman

Delicate musicality infuses this melding of traditional and progressive movement. Enhanced with flowing costumes by Sandra Woodall, white robed men turn in casual fluidity, weaving with serene music and simple undulating torsos. The partnering in Fusion is unusual and creative, utilizing angled port de bras and subtle connections—a comforting hand or light twist of the shoulder. In a dramatic pas de deux, the ballerina darts through a wall of corps de ballet to her waiting partner shrouded in darkness, only to find herself alone, cast back into the light.

The steps have a gentle detail to them, rather like ornate filigree. James F. Ingalls’ lighting design brings the piece from soft twilight through the day, sliding gradually into shadow, with a precision that is reflected throughout. It is a restful piece that is elegant and quietly hopeful.

Salome - San Francisco Ballet

Dores André, right, and Aaron Robison in the world premiere of Arthur
Pita’s “Salome” at San Francisco Ballet. (© Erik Tomasson)

Choreographer: Arthur Pita
Composer: Frank Moon

Loosely based on the Biblical tale of King Herod and Herodias, it wavers on the border between theater and dance; as Ballet Master Katita Waldo pointed out in a pre-performance talk, rather than being driven entirely by the movement, Salome depends on sets, lighting, and costumes—they are not just a frame, but integral to the production, leading to the term “dance theater” to describe this type of structure.

An ominous, cinematic score washes across the stage, lifting billowing fog as a black limousine slides into view. Flanked by bodyguards, “the family” emerges, stalking downstage with eerie confidence. While the visuals in this ballet are stunning, at its core is the journey that Salome is forced to endure. She is unsure at first, clutching her gown, eyes darting in exploration and uncertainty. When the hostages appear, she draws on inner strength, her posture straightening, her reactions gathering an elevated domination as she tests her newfound power. When Salome embraces the physicality of her environment, explosions of petals shoot across the stage with deepening red hues, littering the stage in ever fluctuating rivers of blood hued ground, bringing to mind the “red” scenes in Hero, a Chinese film that used a similar cinematic technique. Salome revels in her position, until its inevitable conclusion drives her to question what she has become, leading to a chilling denouement that leaves the audience shivering as the fog returns, covering the glowing limousine as the curtain falls.

Dores André gives riveting performance as Salome, turning her from an innocent child-like girl through a horrific coming of age, revulsion, and ultimate maturing, using body language of how she walks and reacts to others. Aaron Robison’s John maintains a dignity tempered with outbursts of fiery rebellion against his captors, taking to the strongly grounded and primitive choreography with ease. Val Caniparoli’s Herod and Anita Paciotti’s Herodias have no dancing, using their presence and experience to guide them; the stillness adding to their cruelty.

Fearful Symmetries - San Francisco Ballet

Lorena Feijoo, right, and Luke Ingham in Liam Scarlett’s “Fearful
Symmetries” at San Francisco Ballet. (© Erik Tomasson)

Fearful Symmetries
Choreographer: Liam Scarlett
Composer: John Adams

Taken from William Blake’s poem The Tyger, this ballet is starkly contemporary, set on a black stage with geometric bars of white light that shift in patterns. Dancers trace the floor with pulsing energy, isolating joints and limbs for oscillating rhythm interspersed with snapping ferocious speed.

John Morrell’s post-apocalyptic charcoal gray costumes lend a futuristic, ragged feel as multi layered as the music. Despite the frantic pace, there is a sense of community between the dancers onstage, building suspense into a series of intimately sensual encounters under a rich soundscape. The interplay of the corps de ballet keeps the dancers in constant flux, each with a specific role to play, like looking through a powerful microscope. There is a give and take of control throughout the piece, which pairs well with Salome, although it is a darker expression of subjugation.

San Francisco Ballet’s ‘Frankenstein’ is a Modern Masterpiece

Review of Frankenstein
Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson
Choreographer Liam Scarlett
Composer Lowell Liebermann
For tickets & schedule:

San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA

RUN: February 17 – 26, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

February 19, 2017

Joseph Walsh in Scarlett's Frankenstein. (© Erik Tomasson)

Joseph Walsh in Scarlett’s Frankenstein. (© Erik Tomasson)

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is filled with rich angst-driven prose of piercing beauty that drives into the heart of a man plagued by his inner demons. It is a landscape of extremes, from icy tundra to engulfing flames of desire. The intensity of Shelley’s writing is captured in Liam Scarlett’s choreography; Frankenstein is haunted by what should have been an achievement that turns into a nightmare clawing through his family, The Creature is intelligent and desperately lonely, craving attention and love. When denied, he lashes out, his heart broken.

David Finn’s inspired lighting design is a dark atmosphere of gothic horror, from a lightning strewn courtyard to the subtle shadows of towering windows stretching across the stage. He melds in perfect harmony with Finn Ross’ projection design of cruel rain dashing against a battered orphan and hand written notes appearing across the looming skull painting that comes to life, gazing menacingly into the audience.

Frances Chung and Joseph Walsh in Scarlett's Frankenstein. (© Erik Tomasson)

Frances Chung and Joseph Walsh in Scarlett’s Frankenstein. (© Erik Tomasson)

The downward spiral of emotion is exemplified in a pas de deux between Victor Frankenstein (Joseph Walsh) and his love Elizabeth (Frances Chung) in each act. They first meet in playful youth, swinging in utter adoration and bounding through the set with bubbling joy, supported by delicate string music. The second meeting is melancholic—Frankenstein needs her, but keeps his distance and will not tell her what is tormenting him, driving a wedge in their relationship. Soaring lifts maintain a hope that their love will eventually prevail, a tender portrait of their all too human relationship of mislaid trust.

The final pas de deux is shrouded in gloom, despite the sparkling atmosphere of a ball with jewel-tone gowns and flowing jackets. It is somber, with subdued pirouettes in attitude derriere, intimate embraces, and gossamer bourrées. Ghosts of murdered innocents waft past Frankenstein, who freezes in horror at their manifestation in his mind. The scene is chilling, leading to a series of violent encounters with The Creature both with the terrified Elizabeth who is flung about the stage against her will and Frankenstein struggling to realize he is drawn to The Creature, who is a part of himself, and overcome by its monstrous behavior.

Vitor Luiz in Scarlett's Frankenstein. (© Erik Tomasson)

Vitor Luiz in Scarlett’s Frankenstein. (© Erik Tomasson)

Within the emotional resonance of the ballet, there are moments of fun, such as the buffoonery at university, sensual tavern carousing, and the awe-inspiring creation of The Creature. Stage magic has outdone itself with a mechanical device of luminescent green bubbles, cylinders, flashing electricity, smoke, and lights. In an exhilarating scene closing the first act, Frankenstein’s creative genius flows into a spectacular visual that leaves the audience reeling, exploding with delight when the curtain falls for intermission.

San Francisco Ballet’s Frankenstein has infused the intensity of Shelley’s novel into a viscerally meaningful ballet of emotional power and dark beauty. It is certain to become a classic of its own in the years to come, deeply human and operatic in spectacle.

Riveting Artistry in ‘Program 2: Modern Masters’

Program 2: Modern Masters
Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson
For tickets & schedule:

San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA

RUN: January 26 – February 5, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

February 5, 2017

Playful lyricism becomes stark staccato in this diverse program from San Francisco Ballet featuring a world premiere by Yuri Possokhov, “Optimistic Tragedy”. Presented in the opulent War Memorial Opera House by a world renowned company, it exemplifies the mingling of classical and contemporary through narrative and purely abstract movement. Have you wondered why there are three dances in a repertory program? San Francisco Ballet answered in their blog post The History of Triple Bills.

San Francisco Ballet Ratmansky's Seven Sonatas.

Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas. © Erik Tomasson

Seven Sonatas
Choreographer: Alexei Ratmansky
Composer: Domenico Scarlatti

Relationships blossom in this heartfelt examination of community. Couples come together with miniature stories and varied personalities, from coyly flirtatious to tender embraces of mutual affection, reminiscent of George Balanchine’s “Who Cares?” giving vignettes of hope and luminous comfort to each other. Mungunchimeg Buriad flows over the piano, blending perfectly with the dancers, and is on stage with them in a gesture of solidarity. This piece floats with subtle hints of folk dancing and elegant simplicity in Holly Hynes’ costume design of gold edged white gowns.

San Francisco Ballet - Possokhov's Optimistic Tragedy

Possokhov’s Optimistic Tragedy. © Erik Tomasson

Optimistic Tragedy (World Premiere)
Choreographer: Yuri Possokhov
Composer: Ilya Demutsky

In a single short piece, Possokhov elicits a level of emotional resonance that many full length ballets fail to achieve. It is deeply powerful and cinematic, unsurprising considering it was partially inspired by the 1925 film Battleship Potemkin, which I have had the privilege of seeing on a cinema screen with live orchestra accompaniment. The visuals are instantly recognizable, with bold masculine stances in the exclusively male corps de ballet, wild frenzy of battle, augmented by black and white projections, and piles of bodies left from the war that call to mind the bloodied train tracks in Gone With the Wind. It does not glorify conflict; this ballet depicts it in raw ugliness, and through that journey finds beauty.

Yuan Yuan Tan’s Commissary is forced to defend herself from attempted rape, and embodies the shame and shock in a tense pas de deux with the Captain (Aaron Robison) that layers complex feelings of desire, duty, self loathing, and honor with intricate partnering and musicality. Gloomy ocean waves wash across the backdrop, bringing the audience on board the ship, with strong lighting design from Christopher Dennis and mobile ship railings and decks designed by Alexander V. Nichols. Possokhov’s choreography and Tan’s performance are stunning in her character’s death, with seemingly dead weight lifts and manipulation of her limp corpse that require perfect cooperation with her partners. Optimistic Tragedy is a heightened form of dance, showcasing the abilities of the company in a dynamic tribute to those who perished in the Russian Revolution at its 100th anniversary.

San Francisco Ballet - Forsythe’s Pas/Parts 2016

Forsythe’s Pas/Parts 2016. © Erik Tomasson

Pas/Parts 2016
Choreographer: William Forsythe
Composer: Thom Willems

A vividly modern piece surrounded by bare gray walls and marley, an extensive cast takes to the stage with slanted, direct visuals and flawless technique. The dance is stripped down, emphasizing angles with a sculptural aesthetic to the duets. Intensely contemporary music is monotone and gritty, which becomes wearing given the length; the dancers took ownership of the electronic score, pausing, drawing out, or cutting off with sensitivity that maintains interest all the way through, despite a style of music that not all of us appreciate in the same way as traditional classical compositions.

Program 2: Modern Masters is a selection of challenging contemporary works that delight, horrify, and inspire with sublime artistry and movement.

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