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Joanna G. Harris
Performance Reviews
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War Memorial Opera House
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From the 20th to the 19th Century: San Francisco Ballet Program 7 - All Balanchine & Program 8 - Don Quixote

by Joanna G. Harris
April 13, 2012
War Memorial Opera House
301 Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 861-5600
Joanna G. Harris
Author, Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, 1916-1965. Regent Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009. Contributor to reviews on culturevulture.net
What pleasure it is to watch Balanchine's ballets! If the choreographic intention is at all fulfilled in performance, they are the most satisfying works, particularly in terms of spatial design, ensemble and step patterns. When the pieces transmit some degree of emotional content, as happens in "The Four Temperaments," there can be no better dance event.

"Don Quixote" on the other hand is a 19th Century celebration of visual design, mime, a vague storyline based on a great 17th century novel, lots of costumes - all an excuse for bravura dancing. On opening night, April 27, 2012 San Francisco audiences delighted in Helgi Tomasson's and Yuri Possokhov's version of the Gorsky/Petipa original premiered December 28, 1869 and updated at SFB on March 14, 2003.

The Balanchine program opened with "Divertimento No. 15" with music by Mozart, first performed by NYCB in 1956 and by SFB in 1979.

It is a work I found profound (though others disagree!) since during all movements, Allegro, Theme and Variations and the Minuet, Balanchine introduces us, the audience, and the dancers to the fundamentals of his art; steps, patterns, ensemble work and bravura solo dancing. The SFB company's stars were at ease in it; on the second night, Maria Kochetkova was added to the Allegro and along with Frances Chung, Sasha De Sola, Courtney Elizabeth, Taras Domitro, Gennadi Nedvigin and Hansuke Yamamoto, all shone brilliantly. The traditional costumes, after Karinska, brought smiles to those who remember her many devoted years of dressing ballet dancers so elegantly

"Scotch Symphony" is a ballet with very different Karinska costumes. Set in the land of kilts and jaunty hats, it too has a long history with NYCB and SFB. The opening celebrates the Edinburgh Tattoo, that parade of pipers at Edinburgh Castle at Festival Time. Then, with a whisper of recollection of the 19th Century romantic ballet, "La Sylphide" set in Scotland, Yuan Yuan Tan and Davit Karapetyan enacted the dream of capturing the unreachable maiden, though this time the lover succeeds. Courtney Elizabeth was the "other girl". On a second performance, the roles were well matched by Sara Van Patten, Tiit Helimets and Dores André.

Finally, on the all Balanchine program, we saw "The Four Temperaments," a masterpiece that goes back to the days of Ballet Society, which preceded the NYC Ballet! In 1946, Balanchine commissioned little known composer Paul Hindemith to do the score.

The medieval temperaments are evident in all mankind: they are Melancholic, Sanguine, Phlegmatic and Choleric. For these performances the solo work of both Jaime Garcia Castilla (April 13) and Taras Domitro (April 14) in Melancholic were fully expressive, realizing the extremes of feeling in outstretched arms and collapsed falls. On the 14th, Sophiane Sylve conquered Choleric with her amazing projection. The entire company is to be complimented on its ability to conquer the range of styles these three Balanchine works demand.

As for "Don Q" as the show is affectionately called by ballet lovers, well, it's a romp. The Russian Czar may never have been to Spain, but Petipa and Gorsky brought it to him. Jim Sohm as Don Q, Pascal Molat as Sancho Panza have no equals as comic actors.

The corps de ballet conquered style, tambourines, swords and daggers as needed, and all soloists excelled. For this viewer, the flirtation and bravura of Maria Kochetkova and Taras Domitro exceeded the power and presence of Vanessa Zahorian and Joan Boada who played Kitri and Basilio on a previous night. But each soloist has their special skill and all were happily applauded by delighted audiences both nights.

SFB has ended its 2011-2012 season. Next year will bring more story ballets and many surprises.
Vanessa Zahorian in Tomasson/Possokhov's Don Quixote.

Vanessa Zahorian in Tomasson/Possokhov's Don Quixote.

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Tomasson

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