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San Francisco Ballet - 2018 Unbound: A Festival of New Works Program A

by Joanna G. Harris
April 21, 2018
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
San Francisco Ballet's Unbound Festival has arrived and with it a surfeit of high energy dance, a significant lack of pointe shoes, the introduction of lots of new and popular music, and the wonderful skill of San Francisco Ballet's dancers. There are three more Unbound programs: Saturday, April 21, Tuesday, April 24 and Thursday, April 26. Also scheduled is a long weekend series of ballet symposiums, April 27 and 28.

Local choreographer Alonzo King’s work was first on the opening night program. Entitled “The Collective Agreement,” to original music by Jason Maran, the dance bore all of the King traits we have experienced in his many years of local work. First there was an excellent pas de deux with Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helmets, all beautifully acrobatic, full of lifts and interactive play. Then another duet with Jahna Frantziskonis and Joseph Warton, this a bit less ambitious in technique but pleasing. What followed was King’s usual hodgepodge of entrances and exits, with some solos, large and small groups and many, many unclear dance phrases. A man appears wearing a skirt and twirls. Then he is gone and never reappears. This seemingly fragmented structure has been presented in King’s many Bay Area performances. The “Collective Agreement” in this Unbound presentation did not collect nor was it a very agreeable event.

By contrast “Bound To” by Christopher Wheeldon, was a smashing success! Keaton Henson’s music supported the liquid flow of the dance events and, particularly in the gorgeous duet for Yuan Yuan Tan and Carlo Di Lanno, “Take a Deep Breath,” the music underscores the fluidity of the movement. Wheeldon starts with a satiric take on IPhones (or IPads) with the dancers ‘reading’ their moves ‘on the screen.” “Open your Eyes, “ the next event, is a playful effort by Dores André to rid the iPad from Benjamin Freemantie. Next there’s a brilliant solo by Angelo Greco, entitled “Wavelength.” In all these episodes, Wheeldon is able to construct movement phrases that collect energy, show visible design patterns and bring focus to both the dancers, the lighting and the space. Brilliant set design and words on the back wall (scenic and costume design by Jean=Marc Puissant) help convey the underlying messages.

Wheeldon is to be complimented on bringing this delightful work to San Francisco. Although we have seen his works here on previous occasions, the “Bound to…” is a highlight in his choreographic repertory. At the very end, a solo by Lonnie Weeks, “Trying to Breathe” is finessed, when, at the last moment, his IPad is taken away.
Between the contemporary jokes and the lyric brilliance, Wheeldon has achieved a masterpiece. Conductor David Briskin and the SF Ballet Orchestra and soloists handled the score with great skill. The SF Ballet company was at its best.

I wish Justin Peck’s work, “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” was more fun. Set to a variety of popular songs (Anthony Gonzalez, Yann Gonzalez, Bradley Later, Justin Meldal-Johnson), the dancers, clad in sneakers, designer tights, T shirts and other ‘mod’ clothes could have a better time (and we could to) if the dancing was not so ‘balletic.”

This music need to let bodies free to wiggle, wiggle and play with free rhythms. Instead Peck stays close to his ballet training and presents movement material too familiar to other ‘straight’ ballet works. As it used to be said, “It just didn’t jive.”

Of course the marvelous skills of Dores Andre´, Wei Wang, Sarah Van Patten, Luke Inghanm Gabriela Gonzalez and Ulrick Birkkjaer were visible throughout, but if this work was aimed at the ‘younger’ audience, it missed the ‘moves.’

The enthusiastic audience welcomed Unbound A with standing ovations. It was able to applaud each choreographer and their design team as they made appearances at the curtain calls. We look forward to more.
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