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San Francisco Ballet

Program 1: 'Prism,' 'Diving into the Lilacs,' 'The Four Temperaments'

by Becca Hirschman

Tuesday, January 27, 2009 -- War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

The city may be experiencing a slight chill, but last night, San Francisco Ballet opened Program 1 with sizzling pizzazz. There was nary a tutu in sight, but the dancers onstage displayed classic technique combined with a refreshing sincerity, providing the perfect warmth to melt any cold winter’s night.

Yuri Possokhov’s “Diving into the Lilacs” provided the evening’s subtle dash of royalness. Set to Boris Tchaikovsky’s hauntingly beautiful “Sinfonietta for String Orchestra,” Possokhov played with dark, wintry moods and full shapes, reminiscent of his youth in Russia. He succeeded in highlighting the women in “Lilacs;” adorned in Sandra Woodall’s flowing chiffon dresses, they looked to be in full bloom, and the men complimented them as supportive stems. The dancers jogged, tiptoed, and skipped backwards, sweeping their bodies in arc-like ways, and partway through the third section, Anthony Spaulding leaped through the gaggle of women like a child running through a garden on a warm spring day.

Maria Kochetkova, in a pale pink-purple, resembled a coy butterfly, fluttering effortlessly between the traditional ballet steps and contemporary movements with Pascal Molat. Yuan Yuan Tan, adorned in an almost-white purple, graced the stage with her lean, long limbs, a stunning contrast to Spaulding’s protective demeanor. And while Lorena Feijoo looked lovely in deep purple, she didn’t seem to be in sync with her partner, Joan Boada; but this was a minor glitch in what was otherwise a lovely build over twenty-five fast-paced minutes. Not to be outdone, former principal dancer Benjamin Pierce collaborated with lighting designer David Finn to create a kaleidoscope of copious blossoming lilacs against the backdrop that, depending on their lighting, simmered vividly in varying pastel hues. With numerous intricacies and tiny details, this is a special work that easily deserves multiple viewings. It’s just that good.

Helgi Tomasson’s “Prism” and George Balanchine’s “The Four Temperaments” bookended the evening. “Prism” uses neoclassical ballet to reflect on space and light, and the large corps de ballet acts as reflections or echoes of the principal dancers; this is unison used wisely. Kristin Long sprightly turned on a dime, and Sofiane Sylve looked positively regal as she weaved herself through the adagio with an underwhelming Ivan Popov. Clara Blanco and Isaac Hernandez stood out in the corps, their technique and presence easily surpassing their peers. But the “breakout star award” goes to Taras Domitro, a Cuban-born dancer. While his technique sometimes seemed iffy, this guy offered a wow factor, especially when he turned in the air and whipped out a massive 210 degree straddle split. The orchestra played Beethoven’s “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1” admirably, and throughout the evening, pianist Roy Bogas has never sounded better.

“The Four Temperaments,” set to an evocative score by Paul Hindemith, showed a more steely side of the company. This is neoclassical ballet at its truest. Elana Altman, in the second theme with Brett Bauer, danced with amazingly strong assurance and commitment. Over the past few years, she’s slowly come out of her shell, and now performs with a wonderful newfound musicality and radiance. Davit Karapetyan, debuting in ‘Phlegmatic,’ danced with such unaffected lushness; he’s proven that he’s the epitome of a dancer’s dancer, having impeccable technique while also moving with fresh honesty. There’s no pretentiousness here. Ruben Martin and Sarah Van Patten partnered together in ‘Sanguinic,’ but while Martin looked to be back to form, Van Patten moved with awkward, and unexpected, stiffness. Sofiane Sylve, followed in the final variation, ‘Choleric,’ and was a dream to watch.

The company is lucky to have Sylve return this year. She’s a dancer unlike anything else SF Ballet has to offer. She’s athletic yet supple, and every time she’s onstage, she’s focused on the performance. The way she uses the muscles of her back, her legs, her eyes, her entire body, shows a confidence that only comes with years of practice, dedication, and experience, and as a dancer is never done learning and improving, I bet she has a lot to offer the company.

Last year, San Francisco Ballet celebrated its 75th anniversary, and the elephant in the room over the summer may have been how do you top a season of new works, large-scale celebrations, and world-renowned visiting companies. The answer, at least for SF Ballet, is to keep plugging away. And they have.

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