San Francisco Ballet
by Becca Hirschman
March 18, 2009 -- War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, California
Hearing the name “Mark Morris” may give dancers reason to jump for joy or cringe and run. Taking a master class with him requires concentration and a sense of humor, while dancing any of his modern or ballet works calls for impeccable musicality and a deep knowledge of how to curve space and time around quick turns and angled high-flying legs. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that Morris and San Francisco Ballet have experienced a highly successful fifteen-year informal collaboration with Morris’ ballets often showcasing the company’s dancers at their best and brightest.
Program 5 of this year’s season brought three very different works, all enjoyed within a two-hour span. “A Garden,” an intertwining kaleidoscope of patterns and groupings, blends spiral movements with neat arches of the back and arms. Motifs, like a hip roll, return throughout, but Morris’ positions never look dull or overworked. With the women in black boatneck leotards and skirts, and the men in rust-colored polo shirts and black pants, the focus becomes the pairings and unpredictable yet eye-catching movement. Martyn Garside leapt through the air with clear, crisp limbs and plushy feet, and towards the end, Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan shared a lovely duet in the Menuett section.
“Joyride” crams in large, expansive movement highlighted by Isaac Mizrahi’s shiny, metallic unitards. Counting along with John Adams’ non-instinctual score drove my brain crazy, so who could only know what was whizzing through the eight dancers’ heads as they rapidly moved from one beat to the next. But they never paused for longer than a second, pacing themselves along Morris’ ode to possibly random yet utterly entrancing choreography. Garen Scribner powerfully slithered through long, wide demi plies and turns, and Sarah Van Patten and Matthew Stewart paired well in the final duet.
Adding a lighthearted edge to the evening was “Sandpaper Ballet,” which is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. While the costumes may be a little odd, when the 25 dancers arrange in their box formation, we see expansive green hills against a partly cloudy blue sky. Quite an effective little visual. But “Sandpaper,” with the sleigh bells, typewriter ding, and occasionally lost dancer, wavers towards the hokey without crossing the line. Dana Genshaft and Pierre-François Villanoba, creep through the pas de deux with genuine feeling, and Maria Kochetkova proved with heart she can do more than just the classics.
Serveral of the dancers, especially the women, appeared in multiple performances this evening. The regal Elana Altman, in “A Garden” and “Sandpaper Ballet,” continues to dance from her soul, and Erin McNulty, a long-time corps de ballet member, stood out in the same ballets. McNulty has always been dependable, but this season she’s added a greater sensitivity and joy to her performances, and she’s a pleasure to watch. Elizabeth Miner, ever so musical, demanded attention in “A Garden” and “Joyride.” Morris’ “Sylvia” helped push her to the forefront, and she looks incredibly comfortable floating through his movement.
The SF Ballet Orchestra, conducted by David LaMarche (“A Garden” and “Sandpaper Ballet”) and Martin West (“Joyride”), sounded lovely during the three very different scores, and it’s impressive that they can change genres so quickly from more traditional to bang-blast-boom to ticking and tocking with the best of ‘em.
The evening showed that Mark Morris isn’t growing old or boring, and neither is San Francisco Ballet. If fact, they seem to bring out the best in each other.