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
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.
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.
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.