San Francisco Ballet
For full program notes, tickets, and schedule : San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, CA
RUN: February 24 – March 7, 2015
RATING: 4 of 5 stars
(March 1, 2:00pm, 2015)
Variations for Two Couples, choreographed by Hans van Manen, is a lyrical reflection of intimacy, augmented by a haunting score that moves you to the core thanks to brilliant artistry from the orchestra. The movement is subtle and contemplative, with simple jewel colored unitards to fully show the streamlined shapes. It is ballet stripped down to its essence, and fascinating to watch, each line formed with exact accuracy, elongated like living statues.
In contrast, The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, choreographed by William Forsythe, sparkles with vivacious energy. Dancers fly across the stage with intricate footwork, never halting in intensity. While technically difficult to perform, it has a lightness and charm to it, complete with a snarky set labeled “Backdrop” and whirling green dervish tutus. Francisco Mungama shone in this piece with grace and flowing port de bras like ever moving water. It is a cheerful, sparkling ballet, bringing a sense of fun to Program 3.
Miles Thatcher is an up and coming choreographer, named apprentice in 2009 and joining the corps de ballet in 2010. Manifesto is his first Repertory Season commission, although he has been creating dances for the trainees program for some time. Manifesto is a strong piece, and uses all levels, not afraid to stretch out on the floor or soar in the air with gymnastic lifts. The dancers exude strength and physicality, with women as the dominant role in an ongoing motif. The lighting design by Mary Louise Geiger was especially intriguing, moving from dim warmth to cold chiaroscuro and a fully bright stage depending on the mood of the music. I particularly enjoyed the curtain going down on movement, rather than a static tableaux.
The program closed with “The Kingdom of the Shades” from La Bayadère, Act II. To give some background into the story, the ballet opens showing the love between Solar, a warrior, and Nikiya, a lowly temple dancer. The Rajah has other plans, and engages Solar to his daughter Gamzatti. When Gamzatti discovers the secret affair, she is furious and confronts Nikiya. The encounter escalates into a knife fight, and Gamzatti vows revenge. She arranges to have a poison snake placed in a basket of flowers, and sends it to Nikiya, claiming it is from Solar. Nikiya is bitten and dies, thinking Solar has betrayed her. Grief stricken, the warrior takes to opium to dull his pain, and hallucinates that he sees the shades come down from the mountains, and his beloved Nikiya is among them.
Known as the “white act” due to the shades traditionally in white tutus with tulle sleeves, it can be either stunningly beautiful or uncomfortable to watch, depending on the level of execution. Most likely due to lack of rehearsal due to a challenging season schedule, this production could use more polishing. The corps de ballet is the backbone of The Kingdom of the Shades, and their spacing was off, timing ragged, and steps wobbly in presentation, but it is also one of the most difficult pieces in ballet repertoire. I have not seen an American company create a perfect white act, because the European companies have more rehearsal time to finesse the piece. Julia Rowe, one of the soloists, shone in her variation by throwing herself into the steps, bringing grace and strength to the shades. Joseph Walsh as Solar was fluid and delightfully on the music, while bringing a sense of pathos to the role that is perfect for Solar’s plight. It was still beautiful to watch, despite imperfections, and a lovely tranquil close to the performance.
Program 3 is well balanced with a variety of pieces, and would be a good entry for introducing a friend to contemporary ballet, while pleasing them with a fully traditional piece at the end. Myles Thatcher is a young choreographer to watch, his work already showing a maturity in the craft.