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San Francisco Ballet's Opening Gala Program earns Kudos

by Joanna G. Harris
January 22, 2014
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
It is wonderfully festive to attend the SF Ballet's opening Gala. The men and women look gorgeous; the Prosecco is free in the lobby of the War Memorial Opera House, and the program numbers are short and usually sweet. Except for a long and dull closing pas de deux, the "4th Movement from Balanchine's "BRAHMS-SCHOENBERG QUARTET", the evening was a great success.

Twelve numbers were presented. Outstanding among them was the U.S. premiere of Han van Manen's "Variation for Two Couples" with music by Britten, Rautavaara, Tickmayer and Piazzolla danced by Sofiane Sylve, Sarah Van Patten, Luke Ingham and Anthony Spaulding. Given today's ballet efforts to invent the 'new,' this piece relied on the timeless use of superb dynamics, fascinating duet variations and fine lighting and costuming. The four dancers in it were concentrated, focused and accomplished. Van Manen is 81 years old. Younger choreographers take note!

Maria Kochetkova and Johan Kobborg (guest artist from the Royal Danish Ballet) were most commendable in the bedroom pas de deux from Act I from Sir Kenneth MacMillan's "Manon". Kochetkova was outstanding in her ability to portray character. She was poignant indeed and well matched in acting and technical skill by Kobborg.

The U.S. premiere of "Les Lutins," choreographed by Kobborg to music by Antonio Bazzini and Henri Wieniawski provided comic entertainment. With Kurt Nikkanen on the violin and Roy Bogas at the piano, the dancers - Joan Boada, Gennadi Nedvigin and Dores André - mimicked the pizzicato rhythms of the fiddle with fast footwork and charming grimaces. In attempting to outdo one another, André won since she flirted with the violinist.

Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz provided flamenco rhythms in Yuri Possokhov's "Talk to Her (hable con ella)" with music by Alberto Iglesias, and Frances Chung brought a solo Val Caniparoli's "Lambarena" to life after a long absence. SFB audiences well remember Evelyn Cisnaros' lovely performance in it. Chung did very well in this revival from 1995.

Numbers which did not quite accomplish heights of performance were: "The Man I Love" from Balanchine's "Who Cares?" with music by the Gershwins. In it, Simone Messmer could not fulfill the jazzy elements of the piece while partner Ruben Martin Cintas fared better; The SF Ballet premiere of the pas de deux from Agrippina Vaganova's "Diana and Acteon" in which Vanessa Zahorian, a great ballerina, fell in its opening but overcame all in the end, and also in the classical tradition Victor Gsovsky's "Grand pas Classique" danced by Mathilde Froustey and Davit Karapetyan as well as a pas de deux from MacMillan's "Concerto".

In the U.S. premier of Edwaard Liang's "Finding Light" set to music by Vivaldi, Yuan Yuan Tan and retiring dancer Damian Smith established a lovely lyrical line together. Tan grew sentimental and affectionate as she honored Smith as he starts his final year with the company.

Kudos to Helgi Tomasson, all the members of the SF Ballet Company, the orchestra (under music director Martin West), the board members and many volunteers who made the gala possible.
Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz in Yuri Possokhov's 'Talk To Her'.

Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz in Yuri Possokhov's "Talk To Her".

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Tomasson

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