Catching San Francisco Ballet’s Program 6 and 7 at matinees this weekend provided a rich and varied experience of styles, emotions, and music. As the season-closing John Cranko “Onegin” (April 30-May 8) is approaching these are the penultimate programs still available: Program 6 through April 16, and Program 7 through April 17. (And then begins the long wait for the 2017 season.)
Program 6 offers one of company director Helgi Tomasson’s best works, “Prism” (featuring both Yuan Yuan Tan and Mathilde Froustey on Sunday, and a virtuoso turn by Francisco Mungamba (a Corps member from Spain, surely on his way to soloist status); Alexander Ratmansky’s lengthy, substantial “Seven Sonatas” (with a luxury cast of Lorena Feijoo, Carlos Quenedit; Dores André, Vitor Luiz; Sofiane Sylve, Carlo di Lanno); and Christopher Wheeldon’s “Rush©,” 16 dancers filling the stage (in Jon Morrell’s dazzling costumes) as if they were multiples of that number.
Program 7 opens with the neoclassic gem of Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations” (starring Frances Chung and Vitor Luiz on Saturday) and Christopher Wheeldon’s “Continuum©,” and concludes with the world premiere of Justin Peck’s “In the Countenance of Kings” – one of the season’s prime attractions.
Peck is ballet’s 28-year-old wunderkind, with 30 works under his belt, the unique title of Resident Choreographer of New York City Ballet, and the http://byteclay.com/review/nyc-ballet-commission-from-25-year-old-da… film “Ballet 422” about him. “In the Countenance of Kings” is a brilliant work, using fascinating music from Sufjan Stevens.
With the single miscalculation of presenting an abstract work in the guise of a story ballet, using mysterious (and nonsensical) back story and character names (“Quantus,” “Electress,” etc.), “Kings” is bursting with energy and inventions, a work just over a half an hour but with the feel of an evening-length ballet. Besides moving the corps de ballet in dazzling formations, Peck has created two pas de deux that equal or surpass anything in contemporary ballet.
Performed to perfection at the Saturday matinee by Isabella DeVivo and Mungamba, then Norika Matsuyama and Daniel Deivison-Oliveira. Remarkably, three of these memorable star turns came from members of the Corps (Deivison-Oliveira is a soloist).
Stevens’ music is probably more acceptable-attractive now that so many of us have embraced the “rap musical” of “Hamilton.” So many elements cross over in Stevens’ work that just to call it “crossover” doesn’t do the job. The opening of “Kings” is remarkable, a birth-of-planets din from which emerge strands to be woven together later in various configurations. It doesn’t all work, John Adams doesn’t need to work about competition… yet. But West’s description of the relationship between music and dance stands:
“Sufjan wrote such a huge piece of music, with so much energy and speed and athleticism and changes in rhythm, that it would be impossible not to create something similar in scale. I’m riding the wave of the music. It’s like matter is not created nor destroyed. So it’s taking these dancers and what they’re capable of — using it and recycling it and seeing how it comes back to life.”
Music, not always observed closely at dance events, encompasses a wide range at these programs, from Tchaikovsky to György Ligeti to Sufjan Stevens on one afternoon; Beethoven, Scarlatti, and Martinu on the other. Not to many symphonic concerts provide a similar variety.
Also, unlike the insufficient acknowledgment for the excellent SFB Orchestra and its music director, Martin West, at least at these two programs fabulous pianists received applause on-stage, where they belong, along with the dancers: Mungunchimeg Buriad and Natal’ya Feygina, taking turns in a dozen tough György Ligeti pieces for “Continuum©”; Roy Bogas in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 for “Prism”; and Buriad again in 48 minutes of pristine Scarlatti for Alexei Ratmansky’s “Seven Sonatas.”