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Joanna G. Harris
Music and Dance Reviews
Performance Programs
Performance Reviews
War Memorial Opera House
United States
San Francisco Bay Area
San Francisco, CA

San Francisco Ballet Program 4: Robbins' 'Dances at a Gathering, Scarlett's 'Hummingbird'

by Joanna G. Harris
March 1, 2015
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 Program 4 achieved It a triumphant success with its production of Jerome Robbins' "Dances at a Gathering" (1969). To the admirable playing of 18 pieces of Chopin's music mazurkas, waltzes, a scherzo and a nocturne, an excellent first cast achieved a joyous hour of real dancing, for men and women, using folk elements, exuberant, expansive use of space and locomotion and general delight among the participants.
. "
The ballet stays and exists in the time of the music and its work," wrote Robbins. "Nothing is out of it, I believe; all gestures and moods, steps, etc. are part of the fabric of the
music's time and its meaning to me.

The dancers are identified by their understated costume colors as seen on an empty stage, backed by a blue scrim, dotted with clouds
(Lighting by Jennifer Tipton). Joseph Walsh (Brown) who only recently joined SFB as principal led off, an almost casual wonderer in the space. We are immediately drawn to him, his explosive leaps and turns, and particularly his expansive expressive upper body, that breathed and complimented his other skills. He was followed by a duet for Carlo Di Lanno (Green) waltzing with Maria Kochetkova (Pink). Then Vanessa Zahorian (Mauve) joined Di Lanno. The work continued with a variety of partner exchanges, flirtations, rejections, gesture jokes and sheer delight in dancing. Robbins punctuated the mazurkas with Polish dance elements (hands behind head, partner twirls, flexed feet) and other attitudes well known to aficionados of folk dancing. Men wearing boots enhanced the folk dance elements.

Soon Davit Karapetyan (Purple), Vitor Luiz (Brick), Mathilde Froustey (Yellow), Dores André (Blue) and Steven Morse :((Blue) join the others. All are to be complimented for skill, splendid partnering and their ability to project the joy of this dancing across the 'footlights'. Special kudos for Froustey (Yellow), Lorena Feijoo (Green), and Vanessa Zahorian (Mauve) for solo work and Kochetkova and Karapetyan (Purple) for duets though all were superb. Costumes were by Joe Eula. Jean-Pierre Frohlich and Jenifer Ringer Fayette of the New York City Ballet staged the work.

About "Hummingbird" choreographed by Liam Scarlett of The Royal Ballet to Phillip Glass' "Trio! Concerto for Piano and Orchestra," there was little that is praiseworthy. It is a great letdown after "Dances.." The first shock is the set design by John Macfarlane. A giant blue/grey roll dominates the upper areas of stage; a ramp fills the upstage floor. Dancers in grey (same designer) crawl and run up and down this ramp, while Yuan Yuan Tan, Luke Ingham, Frances Chung, Gennadi Nedvigin, Kochetkova and Joan Boada enact some kind of unrealized realationship. Tan and Ingham were involved with an endless series of acrobatic lifts and holds. The work had a shocking lack of clarity and appeal. Someone remarked that it might be called, '24 shades of gray.' Unkind, but now the best programming to follow the Robbins' work.

Martin West, conductor and Breda Tom, pianist made the Glass work as accessible to the ear as can be. Future choreographers could happily avoid Glass works.

"Dances at a Gathering" will be repeated Tuesday, March 3, Weds March 4 (second cast), and Sunday, March 8 and 3 PM.
Go ! see it!
San Francisco Ballet dancers in Jerome Robbins' 'Dances at a Gathering.'

San Francisco Ballet dancers in Jerome Robbins' "Dances at a Gathering."

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Tomasson

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