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Wheeldon's “Continuum” Highlights San Francisco Ballet Program 7

by Joanna G. Harris
April 9, 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
Program 7 of San Francisco Ballet's 2015-2016 season at the War Memorial Opera House brought the long awaited “In the Countenance of Kings,” by Justin Peck, the much-celebrated young choreographer of the NYC Ballet.

Although the ballet has much to recommend in its invention, dancr groupings, ensemble work and excitement, to this reviewer, his work was eclipsed by Christopher Wheeldon’s “Continuum.”

Wheeldon’s piece opened the program on April 7. It was seen at SFB in 2002. To a Ligeti score played by pianists Mungunchimeg Buriad and Natal’ya Feygina, eight brilliant soloists gave us a series of solos, duets and other groupings that were delightfully designed and rhythmically pleasing.

Joseph Walsh was outstanding in this ballet and in Peck’s. His footwork, focus, turning and leaping were brilliant. He also seemed to be having a good time dancing it.

All the dancers in “Continuum” were notable. They were: Vanessa Zahorian, Dores André. Luke Ingham, Steven Morse, Frances Chung, Sophiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets. Wheeldon’s pas de deux for Sylve and Helimets was particularly distinguished by the use of their hands and arms in contact and the ingenious shapes they produced. All in all, “Continuum” provided kinesthetic and visual excitement.

Peck’s ballet was more frivolous in spirit and performance. Choreographed to Sufjan Steven’s mixed media project “BQE” (Brooklyn-Queens Expressway), the piece was intended, as Peck says, to be “bursting with opposing energy, suspension, expansiveness, freeze-frame 'Kodak-moments’; and a kind of languid movements…called ‘gooey.'” He also called for endless athleticism, running, falling, lifting.

There was also some kind of pseudo-storyline as the dancers were given character names but nothing much materialized in that regard except for "The Protagonist," portrayed by the extraordinary Joseph Walsh who seemed to be envisioning the various onstage events. Walsh was joined by Dores André, Frances Chung, Jennifer Stahl, Gennadi Nedvigin and Luke Ingham. How some of them managed both the first two works on the program is unbelievable.

To soothe the excitement, the concluding ballet on the program was Balanchine’s “Theme and Variation" (1947), set to the final movement Tchaikovsky’s “Suite No. 3 in G, Op. 55). It was like going home, back in time, to see the exquisite precision of the choreography and watch its brilliant execution by Maria Kochetkova, Gennadi Nedvigin and the corps.

Martin West and the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra did a superb job with the Tchaikovsky work. They also conquered the complexity of the score by Sufjan Stevens. Bravo!
San Francisco Ballet in Justin Peck's 'In The Countenance Of Kings.'<br>(© Erik Tomasson)

San Francisco Ballet in Justin Peck's "In The Countenance Of Kings."
(© Erik Tomasson)

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Tomasson

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