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San Francisco Ballet

Program 4: 'Jardin Aux Lilas,' 'The Concert' and 'On a Theme of Paganini'

by Becca Hirschman

March 12, 2009 -- War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

With “Swan Lake” packed up, San Francisco Ballet is churning out several mixed bills, and last night’s opening of Program 4 presented timeless works and a more recent, yet questionable, addition.

Antony Tudor’s “Jardin Aux Lilas” melds intricate emotion and circular, unrestrained movement into a compact spin through love, lust, and gut-renchingly difficult life choices, all at a moonlit garden party. “Jardin” moves through streams of consciousness, throttling forward as Caroline, danced with raw emotion by Lorena Feijoo, wrestles between her future and her heart. Sofiane Sylve played coy and jealous, showing added dimension as the strong yet possessive mistress of Caroline’s stoic husband-to-be, Pierre François-Villanoba. This marriage of convenience doesn’t seem convenient to anyone, really, but before Caroline and The Man She Must Marry walk down the aisle, she and her lover, Ruben Martin, share a passionate but unresolved goodbye. Tudor’s movement still rings fresh, some 70 years later, and violinist Roy Malan’s tearful and discontented final note rang true, reminding me that not all choices are for love and happiness, but sometimes for some other grand purpose.

Balancing “Jardin’s” sorrowful tone was Jerome Robbins’ “The Concert,” set to the music of Frederic Chopin, and staged by Jean-Pierre Frohlich. Sarah Van Patten’s hammy Ballerina immediately caused the audience to break out into boisterous, unapologetic snorts with her adoration and forceful slap-turned-bear-hug of Michael McGraw’s grand piano, and the good times just kept rolling with Erin McNulty’s prissy wife and Pascal Molat’s uncommitted but hysterical husband. The rest of the cast didn’t disappoint either, with the corps of women journeying through a side-splitting lesson on timing and a few very obvious and appreciative glances at ballet’s extremes. I’m curious to know what other casts might do with this special work, especially Vanessa Zahorian as the Ballerina. Comedic timing worthy of “Whose Line is it Anyway?” and first-rate ballet aren’t normally thought of in the same vein, but maybe choreographers should rethink things because “The Concert” was rip-roaring fun and, again, like “Jardin,” relevant and highly enjoyable years after its debut.

Seeing these two after Helgi Tomasson’s encore of “On a Theme of Paganini” made it even clearer that Tomasson, while a wonderful and well-respected artistic director, isn’t meant to choreograph. Last night, I scratched my head, trying to figure out why “Paganini” returned, and my gut tells me that if it were any other choreographer, it would have been shelved or majorly retooled. In “Paganini,” Tomasson’s ballet vocabulary mixes traditional moves with those associated with George Balanchine: 180 degree kicks, open hips, and flexed hands. He also leans on awkward, jagged, karate-like jumps and, while they’re certainly unique, they’re not eye pleasing or consistent. This, combined with large sections of unison and lack of emotion or impetus, tended to make the dancers, from the principals to the corps, look messy and hesitant. The high point of “Paganini” came in the packages of the smaller, focused sections like the pas de deux featuring Maria Kochetkova and Davit Karapetyan in a tender moment of quiet retreat. Nice, yes, but four minutes couldn't ease the pain.

“Jardin aux Lilas” and “The Concert” alone are worth the price of admission, and I hope both return next year. They’re oldies, but goodies.

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