San Francisco Ballet has just opened its 2016 repertory season and if the opening program is anything to go by, there’ll be plenty to enjoy over the coming months. The triple bill in Program 1 certainly confirmed the Company’s reputation for versatility, highlighting three different facets of the dancers’ impressive range of capabilities.
Helgi Tomasson’s 2004 creation, 7 for Eight, is a beautiful and elegant work set to music from four of Bach’s keyboard concertos. It’s a winning formula, as Balanchine discovered, and since Tomasson was “one of the foremost interpreters” of the works of Balanchine (SF Ballet) at New York City Ballet during Balanchine’s time, it’s hardly surprising that the influence of the master choreographer has left its mark.
From the lovely languid opening pas de deux (exquisitely danced by Matilde Froustey and Tiit Helimets) to the sparkling divertissements which followed, the dancers – simply and stylishly costumed in pure black – were at their classical best, combining crisp, technical precision with romantic lyricism. It’s also a work which gives the male members of the Company a chance to shine, and once again they demonstrated their formidable skills – a distinctive feature of San Francisco Ballet.
When Yuri Possokhov – Resident Choreographer at SF Ballet – produced his sensational ballet Swimmer last season, he confirmed his obvious talent for creating ‘character’ ballets. Magrittomania – the second work on this bill – was Swimmer’s predecessor in this genre, and was his first commission for the Company, premiering in 2000. Inspired by the Surrealist period of René Magritte’s career, Magrittomania is set in 1920’s Paris, the avant-garde capital of the world, which attracted almost everyone who was anyone in the world of the arts and literature. By turns witty, vibrant and sombre, Possokhov’s ballet features some amazing feats of virtuosity by the male dancers, and an emotional portrayal of Magritte’s painting The Lovers by Yuan Yuan Tan and Davit Karapetyan.
Designer Thyra Hartshorn has produced an ingenious succession of backdrops – cleverly incorporating the hovering presence of the artist, or capturing the mood of Paris with a simple skyscape or streetscene.
The score, by Ukranian composer Yuri Krasavin must also come in for a mention. He gave Possokhov a set of re-arranged pieces from the works of Beethoven which he’d previously created for a film score, added some of his own music and some Jewish folk melodies, and produced a fascinating work – brilliantly orchestrated – even though it did raise a question about the combination of Beethoven and avant-garde Paris. The San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Martin West, absolutely went to town with it – a fitting opening to their 40th anniversary celebrations this year.
If 7 for Eight shone the spotlight on the classical artistry of San Francisco Ballet, William Forsythe’s Pas/Parts was a display of stunning virtuosity, which showed that nothing is beyond these dancers. Powerful, dynamic and utterly riveting, Pas/Parts was originally created for the Paris Opera Ballet, but for its first performance outside Europe, Forsythe has re-choreographed parts of the ballet, working with the SFB dancers to produce a ballet that very much belongs to the Company.
The score is by Dutch composer Thom Willems – he and Forsythe have collaborated on at least 25 ballets over time – and although this score isn’t necessarily what you might choose for a quiet Sunday evening’s listening, it’s a perfect complement to Forsythe’s challenging choreography, and seemed to encourage the dancers to scale ever dizzying heights of technical achievement.
Pas/Parts has no elaborate costumes and no sets. Neither is needed – just a variation on simple practice clothes, and a bare stage with a succession of fascinating lighting effects. The choreography and its execution are all that are needed to produce a simply brilliant work, and the standing ovation was spontaneous and well deserved.
San Francisco Ballet’s Program 1 runs until February 5 – alternating with Program 2 which opens on January 28th. For more information, visit www.sfballet.org