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SFB Program 1

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I'm afraid I can't go on at length - I'm on assignment for Ballet Review, but van Patten's debut in Diamonds was something worth 6 hours in Economy Plus to see. She's got the perfect physique and demeanor for the part, but I've seen her crumble in roles where she ought to have triumphed (2nd Mvt, Sym C.)

She nailed it. Absolutely. I don't know when she'll do it again, but it was just glorious. Icy but yearning and Tiit Helimets set her off exactly right.

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Leigh has nailed it. Sarah Van Patten is sort of the Maria Calegari of SF Ballet. She did everything right and brilliantly so (in an less than overall crisp production of Diamonds).

In 7 for Eight, there was a lot of very very good work, especially from Pascal Molat (our Nikolai Hubbe?), and Joan Boada & Jaime Garcia Castilla (beautiful follow-throughs, but with each of them there is a slightly different locus point). Then there was Dores Andre who always draws my eye, no matter where she pops up on stage. She's sort of Manny Farber's ideal of the 'termite artist', who deals in little throw-away, off-to-the-side performances that nibble and burrow through the whole.

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As luck would have it, I'm flying to SFO this weekend and will be there in time to see Ms. Van Patten on Saturday night. It looks like standing room for me, but the reviewers suggest it will be worth it. As a teenager, I saw NYCB do Jewels in the 1960s at Saratoga. It was one of the reasons I've followed ballet to this day.

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I saw Saturday evening's performance and continue to be impressed by this company. Filling station was well danced and well acted by everyone. As other reviewers have said, Katita Waldo was a riot as the drunken woman. I was also amazed that Val Caniparoli can still move so well. I though Val stopped performing (other than adult Nutcracker parts) long ago. He partnered Katita through their drunken pas de deux perfectly.

I'd seen 7 for 8 before and with Yuan Yuan in the same role. I know she does this sort of choreography well - unfurling her arms and legs and wrapping herself around her partner - but I like her better when she's really moving. I think I'd have liked to see her in Diamonds, even though Mr. Macaulay of the NY Times wasn't very impressed. I especially liked 4th movement when Nicholas Blanc and Gennadi Nedvigin danced together. It reminded me of two violinists playing in perfect unison - feeling and hearing and seeing what each other will do and matching it perfectly. They performed about 45 seconds of fantastic dancing that I don't see very often. That alone would have been worth the trip for me.

I've seen Diamonds here and there since my teenage introduction to ballet at Saratoga, but nothing has had the same impact on me. This came VERY close. My only complaint was the set and the lighting. Both seemed muted and flat. At Saratoga, I remember being dazzled by the diamonds reflecting brilliant white, red and green light hanging over a deep blue background scattered with bright white crystals. The curtain opened on Saturday on a duller version - fewer diamonds, a grayer background all flatly lit. Maybe I'm remembering something better than it actually was, but I don't think so. That said, the dancing was excellent. The corps dancing in the first movement took a little time to take off - out of place arms here and there & fuzzy lines. But it sharpened up and stayed that way for the rest of the ballet. Sarah Van Patten and Tiit Helimets were the finest I've seen do this. Given the reviews of last week, I was expecting to see good dancing but what I saw was much more than that. Now I know what Leigh Witchel was talking about. This was an artistic performance that went way beyond the steps. I'm afraid I can't explain why I feel this way. I don't know what they did in terms of steps or partnering. But the result was a feeling that we (the audience) were voyeurs - being allowed to watch something very personal and very special that maybe we shouldn't be seeing. I feel enriched by the experience.

The magic lasted until the finale when Ms Van Patten looked to run out of steam a little, but still did a fine job with the more technical parts. Tiit Helimets, again, partnered her through this expertly. I was also surprised by Mr. Helimets technical abilities during his variations. I always though of him as a good partner, but he showed he's got some very good technical chops, too.

All in all, a great night at the ballet and, as it was for Mr. Witchel, well worth my 6 hours in economy plus.

Zerbinetta - I looked for Luke Willis, but he wasn't listed on this program. So nothing to report.

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February 9, Saturday matinee of Program 1

Filling Station was unexpectedly funny and I hope it doesn't disappear after this season. There isn't a huge amount of dancing, but it provides a chance for the dancers get out of 'classical ballet' mode and have some fun playing over the top characters. The cast was good with Erin McNulty and David Arce funny as the Rich Girl and Boy, both drunk as lords. Nothing like a couple of sozzled ballet dancers to get the audience chuckling!

7 for Eight was well danced, particularly by Jaime Garcia Castilla (he of the amazingly flexible back) and Gennadi Nedvigin, and the Bach's music was glorious (although I think the pianist hit more than a few clinkers). But Tomasson's static choreography left me cold.

As for Diamonds, Rachel Viselli and Reuben Martin performed the principal parts, and I must say I have a lot of sympathy for Ms. Viselli. Not only did she have to dance a role created for one of the icons of ballet, but this was her debut, a few days after all the raves for Sarah Van Patten's performance. I'm not familiar with Ms. Viselli's dancing, but she got through the technical difficulties well enough - a couple of missed turns - but there wasn't much dazzle or drama, and I thought her arms and hands were occasionally overly fussy. Reuben Martin looked a little strained and earthbound. The corps and soloists made a good impression. I hope a more informed commentator will have something to say about this performance; Ms. Viselli and Mr. Martin don't deserve to be ignored.

Zerbinetta: Luke Willis wasn't on my cast listing either.

tikititatata: Courtney Wright danced twice: the nagging wife of the golfer in Filling Station, and as one of the four soloists in Diamonds. It was fun to see her versatility in such wildly different roles.

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Has anyone noticed Luke Willis (new corps) yet? Favorably, I hope.

I have caught Luke twice now. He was one of peasants in the final performance of Giselle on Sunday 2/24. I also caught him tonight in the company's premiere of West Side Story Suite. Color me impressed. Luke was one of the Jets and featured in the Cool segment. He also was featured in the Somewhere Ballet segment as one of the couples. I hope he will be dancing in a number of the upcoming new works.

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