Liam Scarlett’s World Premiere for San Francisco Ballet – Fearful Symmetries – fairly raised the rafters at the War Memorial Opera House at the opening of the second program of the Company’s 2016 repertory season. A powerful and compelling work, it takes no prisoners. Also on the bill are George Balanchine’s fabulous Rubies and Mark Morris’ Drink to me Only With Thine Eyes.
Jewels is a three-part work reflecting three very different facets of Balanchine’s creativity. Rubies takes its place at the center of the ballet, preceded by Emeralds and followed by Diamonds, each precious stone portraying characteristics of countries in which Balanchine had lived and worked. Emeralds, with an elegant and serene score by Fauré, represents France – Balanchine danced with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris – and Diamonds is Balanchine’s homage to his home – the city of St Petersburg, his time at the Mariinsky Ballet and the grandeur of Imperial Russia. The music, of course, is by Tchaikovsky. Rubies recalls Balanchine’s collaboration with Stravinsky after his arrival in America, and it’s upbeat, witty and jazzy.
Rubies is also Balanchine having fun, and Rubies is San Francisco Ballet responding in kind. The dancers, in Karinska’s stunning costumes, enjoyed themselves enormously, combining the technical challenges of the choreography with flirty twists of the body and saucy tilts of the head, principals Maria Kochetkova and Joseph Walsh offsetting their fabulous technique with delightful flashes of humor.
Mark Morris’ Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes, by contrast, is essentially a classical and lyrical work. In a way, it was reminiscent of a ballet class, with a grand piano – played by Natal’ya Feygina – placed upstage, providing the musical accompaniment to a succession of variations by groups of dancers. The score comprises 13 etudes by early 20th century American composer Virgil Thomson, the last taking its inspiration from the old English folk song, Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes.
The ballet was beautifully danced, and although not a work given over to bravura, there were opportunities for some dazzling displays of dexterity. It certainly provided a nice balance to the program – the calm before the storm, you might say.
Liam Scarlett’s Fearful Symmetries is raw and gritty – “feral” is the word he uses to describe it – and from the second that the curtain rises, you know you’re in for something intriguing. The stark background of vertical and horizontal neon lights in bright white sets the mood for a menacing urban location, compounded by John Adams’ pulsating score, which takes its title from the first stanza of William Blake’s 1794 poem, The Tyger. The score, says Adams, has become his most choreographed work.
With the dancers in uncompromising costumes of black and steel-gray – and not a pointe shoe in sight – Scarlett’s version produces a simmering sense of apprehension, similar to the atmosphere created by Jerome Robbins for his warring gangs in West Side Story. The combination of Adams’ relentless rhythms and the shadow of fear created by Scarlett is also vaguely reminiscent of The Rite of Spring.
Fearful Symmetries is a highly physical, almost athletic work, with a thread of sensuality running through it, giving the dancers an opportunity to throw themselves into something completely different, which they did with enthusiasm, Gennadi Nedvigin brilliantly executing an absolute stunner of a solo. Only at the end – when the good, which must inevitably balance the evil, manifests itself – does Scarlett give us a classical pas de deux in pure white – elegantly performed by Yuan Yuan Tan and Davit Karapetyan.
Liam Scarlett set the bar high for the Company, and the dancers certainly rose to the occasion, as did the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra with its spirited performance of Adams’ restless score. The standing ovation was instantaneous and well deserved – choreographer, dancers and orchestra had worked hard for it.
San Francisco Ballet’s Program 2 runs – alternately with Program 1 – until February 6, at the War Memorial Opera House. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Ballet website.
San Francisco Ballet
The George Balanchine Trust