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San Francisco Ballet's Mixed Bill, a Mixed Bag

by Joanna G. Harris
February 10, 2016
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 always a delight, for me, to revisit a Balanchine work. “Rubies*” the second part of the 1967 ballet entitled Jewels, is the flashy "red" centerpiece that uses hip movement, flexed feet and hands, and a jazzy take on Stravinsky’s 1949 "Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra." The brilliant teasing costumes are by Karinska. Balanchine’s choreography is as pleasing to the eye with its inventive stage design, use of corps de ballet, contrasting soloists and well-shaped movement vocabulary, as is Stravinsky’s rhythms. Roy Bogas, as usual, did a heroic job at the piano.

For this revival, part of San Francisco Ballet's Program 2, February 6 at San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House, the leading dancers were Vanessa Zahorian, Taras Domitro and Sofiane Sylve, all in top form, entertaining, witty and wonderful. The lyric duet by Sylve and Domitro evoked sustained applause.

Balanchine maintained that, “ballet is woman,” and the idea is well demonstrated in his ballets. As we moved on to Mark Morris’ work, Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes, the women became angels, carried aloft and delicately handled, except in the "tango" section, beautifully executed by Vanessa Zahorian and Pascal Malot. Hansuke Yamamoto echoed the same steps facing upstage.

Natal’ya Feygina played Virgin Thomson’s songs centerstage on an elegant grand piano. Morris’ work brings a bit more of modern dance to the ballet stage. This piece as in others of his uses the upper body and arms in free swinging patterns. SF Ballet patrons saw this work before in 1996. It is pleasant, and except for the music, not notable.

The new boy on the block, choreographer Liam Scarlett brought to the program the world premiere of his “Fearful Symmetries” to music by John Adams. It is a bang-bang ballet. The music is loud and percussive and only sometimes lyrical. Eight men and women dance, but the women take a back seat to the men. It’s a men’s dance, characterized by big movement in the air and on the floor. The men are barely dressed in raggedy costumes.

The women wore scanty black leotards. Only one wears a skirt. The stage was barely lit with stark florescent light bulbs providing the décor.

Scarlett makes a point in his notes that the women are to wear flat shoes. “Flat shoes for the women also help to create a ballet that’s gender-ambiguous…then you have a pack as apposed to a divide.” To this reviewer, the gender divide was clear; the men prevailed, the women flailed and failed. One ballerina was quoted as saying, “the movement was very grounded, very athletic and physical.” One audience member commented that the work could be likened to a “rave dance at a club.” Lorena Feijoo and Luke Ingham highlighted the energy in a stunning duet. Of course the audience gave it a standing ovation. I felt attacked and overwhelmed by its big bang.

Costumes (what there were) by Jon Morell; Lighting (what there was) by David Finn. Martin West conducted the Adams score to its best production.

*Editor's Note: The legendary Violette Verdy who originated the lead role in Balanchine's "Rubies," passed away February 8, 2016, just days after this performance.
San Francisco Ballet dancers in Liam Scarlett's “Fearful Symmetries.”

San Francisco Ballet dancers in Liam Scarlett's “Fearful Symmetries.”

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Tomasson

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