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San Francisco Ballet

Program 8: 'Double Evil,' 'Russian Seasons' and 'Fusion'

by Becca Hirschman

April 28, 2009 -- War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

I’m always a little sad at the end of the ballet season. As an audience member, seeing dancers attack new roles, revisit old ones, and expand their performance range feels fulfilling in some strange and unusual way. And each season tends to be different, with various dancers rising to the occasion. These intricate developments can’t be predicted, but they’re sort of like the chili you make on a cold and rainy day: dependent on the ingredients you have at the time, heating time, and a little bit of luck. With this in mind, I watched San Francisco Ballet’s final program of the season (not including Tina LeBlanc’s farewell performance next Saturday evening) with a satisfying hunger in my belly.

Jorma Elo’s “Double Evil,” which premiered last season as part of the New Works Festival, shone brightly here as the evening’s closer. The work features odd quirks such as the women‘s derrieres pushed out behind their abnormally slanted tutus as they frequently stared ahead at the floor instead of up at their partners or the audience, but the slinky and peculiar movement using jagged arms, unexpected lifts, and what might be considered awkward yet incredibly inventive, almost nerdy choreography all came together in a whirlwind 27 minutes.

The music flips back and forth between the quieter music of Phillip Glass and motivating percussion of Vladimir Martinov, and as it did, the eight dancers propelled themselves forward, using large bouts of momentum to continuously push ahead while still looking beautiful. All of the dancers performed well, but especially Elana Altman and Pierre-François Vilanoba, who twinkled in the opening duet; in addition, she continues to amaze me with her various strengths and movement diversity. “Double Evil” may not have made a huge dent in the grand scheme of ballet, but Elo’s unique movement style and structure are both entertaining and imaginative nonetheless.

Alexei Ratmansky, heralded as the next big thing in choreography, delivered a confident yet not too original work entitled “Russian Seasons,” which debuted in 2006 via New York City Ballet’s Diamond Project. Meant to showcase the real goings-on amongst a group, Ratmansky produces an introspective dance that intends to bridge the delicate with the overly dramatic. With the 12 dancers adorned in peasant-like jewel tones, the six pairs moved gracefully through this lengthy endeavor. Lorena Feijoo displayed her soap opera alter-ego as she delved through the work, seemingly tormented, but Yuan Yuan Tan didn’t overdo it as the bride-to-be as she wrestled with her impending marriage and the loss of personal freedoms. It’s unusual to see a cast including nine principals in one place, but soloists Hansuke Yamamoto and Elizabeth Miner, and corps member Isaac Hernandez all held their own and then some, saying a lot about the company’s depth and capacity.

The score, Leonid Desyatnikov’s “The Russian Seasons” provided a moody undercurrent, complete with live vocals from mezzo soprano Susana Poretsky. But none of this could save “Russian Seasons” from feeling unusually overdone.

Additionally on the bill was Yuri Possokhov’s “Fusion,” also reappearing after the New Works Festival. No doubt it’s a fun piece, with new age-crossed-with-jazz accompaniment by Graham Fitkin and Rahul Dev Burman, but Possokov tended on the literal side as he explored his transition from dancer to choreographer. With a corps of four men often dancing in synch or canon and dressed in hats, deep v-necks, and long skirt/pants ensembles (all white), their movement often became hokey and expected as they weaved through the rest of the dancers. The eight principals, though, flew through the air at sonic speeds, whipping their bodies around and about, and this piqued my interest. Garen Scribner, especially, had an instinctive way of connecting the steps, making it look not like twelve different positions, but one remarkable and ever-continuous journey from point A to B.

April is one of those months that is traditionally filled with dance. Many smaller companies tour, the bigger ones are wrapping up their home seasons, and the month’s end hosts National Dance Week in cities and towns all across the country. With the economy a looming question mark at everyone’s dinner table and donations to non-profits dropping, we can’t quite guess what next year’s arts season will bring. With the regular season wrapping up, San Francisco Ballet’s offerings this year have, overall, been strong and sure. The quality of the dancers has been dependable, even with multiple big names injured for most of the run, and many soloists and corps de ballet dancers have risen to the occasion, displaying bright and hidden talents. Here’s hoping that our arts organizations, both large and tiny, can recover (financially and, in SF Ballet’s case, health-wise) from what is assumed to be a difficult few years in the making.

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