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SFB 2010 Program 4

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Casts for the first two performances of Program 4.

From the company's YouTube channel here's a video of selections from Possokhov's Diving Into the Lilacs. The first couple is Maria Kochetkova and (I think) Pascal Molat. The second couple (and the longest excerpt) starting about 1:04 is Yuan Yuan Tan and Anthony Spaulding.


Program 4 Opening Night
Tuesday, March 02, 2010, 8pm

San Francisco Ballet Premiere

Choreographer: Michel Fokine

Conductor: Martin West

Petrouchka: Pascal Molat*

Ballerina: Clara Blanco*

Moor: Brett Bauer*



Choreographer: Yuri Possokhov

Conductor: Martin West

Maria Kochetkova, Pascal Molat

Yuan Yuan Tan, Anthony Spaulding

Lorena Feijoo, Vitor Luiz*



Choreographer: William Forsythe

Music: Tape

Sofiane Sylve, Katita Waldo

Vanessa Zahorian, Lorena Feijoo

Elana Altman, Frances Chung

Tiit Helimets*, Davit Karapetyan, Gennadi Nedvigin*


Program 4 Evening
Wednesday, March 03, 2010, 7:30pm


Petrouchka: Taras Domitro*

Ballerina: Elizabeth Miner*

Moor: Daniel Deivison-Oliveira*



Frances Chung, Hansuke Yamamoto

Yuan Yuan Tan, Anthony Spaulding

Elizabeth Miner, Gennadi Nedvigin*



Kristin Long, Frances Chung

Maria Kochetkova, Sarah Van Patten

Charlene Cohen*, Courtney Elizabeth

Pierre-François Vilanoba, James Sofranko, Joan Boada#, Garen Scribner*

#pas de deux

* Denotes premiere in role.

^ Denotes guest artist.

Casting subject to change.

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This is an important program to see, I think, even a couple of times and with a couple of different casts. Petrushka is big and full of life, and you get to see the whole company, including students and future company dancers, a snapshot of the whole (“it’s the Nutcracker in a nutshell -- a bear, dancing Russians, and snow,” a friend commented) and you also see replicas of the vintage Benois sets.

With the Wednesday cast I was drawn to the acting between the Daniel Deivison-Oliveira as the Moor and Elizabeth Miner as the Ballerina, deliciously salacious and dry & poker-faced, but on Tuesday there was the brilliant counterpoint dancing of Brett Bauer and Clara Blanco in the same roles. Pascal Molat’s and Taras Domitro’s Petrushkas were both fine, Pascal’s perhaps a bit more to the quick.

And there is another Petrushka, it should be noted, who haunts the Opera House -- that of Pierre Monteux, conductor of the San Francisco Symphony for many years, 1935 to 1952 -- in the very same space -- who also conducted the premiere of Petrushka for Diaghilev in Paris in 1911. In Monteux’s Petrushka, which he recorded in the fifties, the rhythms are drier than Martin West’s, the piano faster and quirkier, and there is more inner detail and little strange emotional cul de sacs and arid melancholy, all of which help balance down the big crowd scenes with the small interior ones. And Monteux’s resolution of the drama stings -- salt in a wound -- more than San Francisco’s current version, all of which is probably much more lush and operatic than the original.

Yuri Possokhov’s Diving into the Lilacs seems clearer, and there is also maybe more diving, than last year’s version and there is lots of great dancing for everyone. Maria Kochetkova’s part seemed especially to be tailored around her endearing characteristics -- and my eye always catches Vitor Luiz with his beautifully transparent and articulate way of linking form to form.

In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated goes on forever, and you do want it to go on and on, but you lose your place in it -- or can only gauge your place by whether you hear dogs barking or other identifiable found-sounds in the background or not. In Tuesday’s cast Sofiane Sylve’s highly individual style seemed to help the piece find its way to, and shape, its finish. Garen Scribner and James Sofranko were especially fine, but everyone is dancing at such a high level you can let your eyes wander anywhere and not seem to miss anything.

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Program 4 review Friday March 5, 2010, War Memorial Opera House

This is a program I was really looking forward to seeing, both because I love most of Forsythe's works, I really wanted another view of Possokhov's Diving in the the Lilacs and it's always interesting to see how a company deals with the chestnuts from the Ballets Russe. In this case, the verdict was 1/3 not so good, 2/3rd sublime.

SFBallet must be the 5th or 6th company I've seen do Petrouchka. SFB's production was staged by Isabelle Fokine, Mikhail Fokine's granddaughter who has been pretty much making a speciality of mounting her ancestor's works. The results, I must say, were mixed and somewhat disappointing. The good: Martin West and the SFB orchestra did a wonderful job playing the Stravinsky score... no easy task. The endless changes in meter and key make for a hard work to play, but they performed it beautifully (I did notice a drum roll went on for an inordinately long time between the first and second scene but I'm sure that had more to do with the scene change than the orchestra.

The scenery mostly stuck to the original Benois designs although they lacked some of the vibrancy I've seen in other productions and there was something... I'm not sure how else to say it, not Russian enough about them. I felt the Shrovetide scenes looked as if they could be in any European City, not St. Petersburg.

Petrouchka lives and dies with its crowd scenes, and I thought the ones in the SFB version looked like a mess. Yes, you could pick out the Dores Andre and Frances Chung as the street dancers and mummers are always striking, but the rest of it was a mess. Instead of being glorious patchwork of a brutal yet festive country, it was just chaos leading to nothing.

Pascal Molat, one of my favorite SFB dancers, was dancing the title role for the first time. It may be that he'll settle into it, but I didn't like him as Petrouchka. I have memories of performers like Gary Chryst in that role and infusing it with a kind of desperation, pathos and horror which I just didn't see. There's something about Molat which says "fun" but it doesn't work for this role, nor did I think he captured the ragged helplessness it needs for both the acting and movement.

Clara Blanco looked the perfect kewpie doll as the Ballerina but didn't put much spark into the role. Brett Bauer as the Moor didn't seem to click with the style of movement. I've always thought modern dancers or ones who had a very contemporary style of moving, like Christian Holder, do the best in this role. I saw in Bauer that showed how revolutionary the movement in this ballet was in 1911.

All in all, either Ms. Fokine didn't have enough time to properly stage it or they should have relied on people from the Joffrey's glorious versions from the 1970s-80s who did such an incredible job bringing Ballets Russe works back to life.

Much as I like Diving Into the Lilacs last year, I remember thinking it didn't totally click. What a difference a year makes. Yes, the beginning of the piece is still a little rough, but after a few minutes, it takes off into a feast of glorious dancing and passion that anyone lucky enough to see it will remember for a long time. I still loved the costumes with their handsome doublets for the men and the background created by former SFB dancer Benjamin Pierce which has you mesmerized throughout the entire piece... is it coral, is it sea anemone? Oh, yeah, lilacs. But as it's lighted differently throughout the different sections, it takes on a life of its own and is glorious.

Soviet composer Boris Tchaikovsky's score (no, not related to the other Tchaikovsky) is gorgeous. Flowing, romantic without being cloying and full of memory and regret. And it's to this score which Yuri Possokhov has created, which is for me, his best work. Tasty, ever-changing movement. From a classical tradition but a very different take on it than, say, Balanchine. Perhaps closer to someone like Leonid Yacobson, which would be apt, because I think this is a lot about Possokhov's memories about growing up in the Soviet Union.

All the dancers were wonderful but special mention has to go to the amazing Hansuke Yamamoto and Frances Chung who were magical together. Equally wonderful were Yuan Yuan Tan and Anthony Spaulding (looking gorgeous!!) The third main couple was Lorena Feijoo injecting her usual passion and athleticism into her dancing and Vitor Luiz who was good, but not quit up to the level of the other performers (he's new to this work). I didn't want it to end.

Last but not least was the Forsythe's 'in the middle, somewhat elevated'. Every time I see this company dance Forsythe (like his previous Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude) and how beautifully SFB meshes with his works, it makes me wonder why they bother dancing 80% of the other middlebrow stuff they do. For a piece that's from 1987, it looks way more modern than anything else SFB does (even Wayne McGregor) and it was one of the best performances I've ever seen in 30+ years of seeing this company. The score by Thom Willems (a longtime Forsythe collaborator) is incredible. Hostile, surprising, repetitive, blaring and beautiful all at once (it was a recording, not live).

Forsythe, along with some other 'European' choreographers like Neumeier and Nacho Duato, creates movement so tasty, and at even nearly a quarter century old so modern, that it just blows away some people like Christopher Wheeldon, some of whose works already look tired to me. He falls back on none of the cliches of highly-gendered classical movement and creates a kind of aesthetic of total equality between the sexes in a way no other choreographer does (well, maybe Alonzo King who has a lot of Forsythe influence in his works). It's a true post-classicism at it's best with no less beauty .

The cast of Helimets, Waldo, gloriously tall Elana Altman (channeling Muriel Maffre!), Zahorian, Nedvigin, Elizabeth (always wonderful in modern ballet pieces) and Molat. But special mention has to go to my favorite addition to SFB in years... Sofiane Sylve. SFB was so lucky to have her join them. She is a brilliant technician with an unusual, wholly contemporary powerful body unlike any ballerina I've ever seen. And her dancing in this work (and from what I've seen on YouTube) is genius. Again, a completely modern ballet dancer who interprets classicism in a new way and make it really sing. I so look forward to seeing more.

So, whatever disappointment I felt about Petrouchka was more than overcome by Lilacs and In the Middle, two pieces which will make you fall in love with SFB all over again.

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Program 4 Saturday matinée 3/6/10

To be honest when I saw the ballets scheduled for this program, I was a little skeptical -- why put the meat of the program (Petrouchka) first: wouldn't everything else look a little pallid after it? Why not have three Russian works and call it something deeply original like 'An Evening of Russian Ballet'? Why not this why not that? In the future I'll trust Helgi: he knows what he's doing. With the exception of one casting misstep this was not only a fully satisfying program but an opportunity to see some fine dancers in new roles (or new to me).

Loved Petrouchka. Gennadi Nedvigin made his debut in title role -- Nedvigine has a rather sad-eyed look on his own and the makeup just enhanced it -- hard to imagine a more heart-breaking character. It's too bad this isn't more widely performed in this country; I'd love to have GinaSF's perspective.

Looking even better than last year, Diving Into the Lilacs is a keeper. Although B. Tchaikovsky's music strikes me a pretty but unmemorable, Possoukov uses it well, bringing out its airiness, playfulneww and lyricism. Having missed them last season, this time I was glad to see the creators of the beautiful, lyrical second pdd, Yuan Yuan Tan and Anthony Spaulding -- now there's a match made in heaven. There's not much more to be said about Tan's gorgeous warm honey style, but this is the first time I've seen Spaulding in a pure dancing role and he was impressive. At times, he and Tan matched their long, beautiful lines to breathtaking effect. And I must say that after all those von Rothbarts he's danced the last couple of seasons, it's nice to see him survive to the end of the ballet.

And why on earth is ...in the middle, somewhat elevated so darned entertaining? And what on earth happened to demure, pretty, charming Frances Chung? As the second female lead, she let loose with some unexpected (and unexpectedly sexy) fireworks. Where did THAT come from? I've always been impressed with her pirouettes -- she's not a turn machine, but her turns are almost always beautifully controlled. Seeing her in the leotard costume, her body not obscured by tutus and skirts and the like, it's easier to see how exquisitely centered she is. It'll be interesting, now that she's a principal, so see what roles she takes on; obviously, she's not your grandmother's soubrette.

And I have to mention Lorena Feijoo in, I'd guess based on curtain call order, the third female lead. I couldn't see who her target was, but at one point she glared at somebody with such withering contempt that the audience had to laugh.

For me, the problem came with Kristin Long as the lead female, and particularly in the final pas de deux (with a wonderful Pierre-François Vilanoba). When I saw she was cast in the part, my first thought was this was a little like casting June Allyson as the bunny boiler in Fatal Attraction. Long did the steps, but she never boiled the bunny.

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Loved Petrouchka. Gennadi Nedvigin made his debut in title role -- Nedvigine has a rather sad-eyed look on his own and the makeup just enhanced it -- hard to imagine a more heart-breaking character. It's too bad this isn't more widely performed in this country; I'd love to have GinaSF's perspective.

I'd have much rather seen Gennadi Nedvigin in the role than Molat who seemed like he was always about to smirk. Petrouchka was done quite a bit during the 1980s (in my review I quoted my fondness for the incredible Joffrey version). I think it's a piece which requires really expressive dancers who can act and get out of their ballet bodies. It also requires a lot of FOCUS while dancing. Gennadi is such a performer and I know what you mean about his beautiful melancholy. I think you saw the better cast.

Hey, personally, I'm glad to see Frances Chung show a little fire. For a while I was really worried her promotion to principal was getting ahead of her development as a dancer. I've always thought of her as a "nice girl" dancer. Yaaawwwn. After see the Forsythe, I'm more convinced of her versatility and loved what she did.

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