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SFB Programs 6 & 7

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Program Six:

Raymonda, Act III – Nureyev / Glazunov

Ibsen’s House – Caniparoli / Dvořák

Symphonic Dances – Liang / Rachmaninov

Program Seven:

Criss-Cross – Tomasson / Scarlatti (Avison), Schoenberg after Handel

Francesca da Rimini – Possokhov / Tchaikovsky

Symphony in Three Movements – Balanchine / Stravinsky

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Program Seven featured the last Balanchine piece San Francisco Ballet will do for a whole year – brilliantly, almost the best I've seen since my City Ballet-going days. It's almost as if the company wants to prove that they still can do Balanchine as well as anyone else, but for the time being they'd prefer not to.

Symphony in Three Movements, set to Stravinsky's score, seems to begin where Four Temperaments leaves off, but much more cooly and a little unattractively, with hard movements and diagonals which then break up into subsidiary groups and ideas, accented and softened with brilliant cabrioles. At the end of the movement the diagonal reassembles and a shiver goes through it, like the movement of a caterpillar traveling along a twig.

There follows a wonderful pas de deux of hinging and valve movements, hands turned flat to the audience, then turned perpendicular in a sort of basketweaving effect. There is the lifting of the woman overhead who holds a stiff sitting position, hands flat to her face, that could come out Wheeldon, and there is a lovely little inner pas of side-to-side neck movements.

It's all done with great logic, clarity, a crisp vocabulary, and a unerring philosophy of spatial values. There are no arbitrary add-ons.

Both casts were great but I especially enjoyed watching Carlos Quenedit (also excellent in Borderlands) who is a very effective Balanchine dancer – his trunk is very solid and tips forward and side to side nicely and he uses his arms beautifully and very intelligently. Vito Mazzeo was also great to watch in the first cast, crisp and clean and slightly bemused, but he is all long limbs and no trunk, so the effect is different. Lonnie Weeks and Clara Blanco were also austerely charming.

Francesca da Rimini, by Yuri Possokhov, the second piece on the program, is an extended version of the pas from Romeo & Juliet with all hell boiling over from the get-go. The two lovers, who in Dante are so lightly carried by the wind, are here in the midst of a tempestuous affair and thrash out their feelings for each other. Three figures from Rodin’s Gates of Hell preside over the events in high Motown style. Francesca’s husband Giovanni, in the first cast Taras Domitro, is a smoldering-eyed street fighter from West Side Story, and after he kills Francesco and Paolo with an imaginary knife, is lassoed with three enormous tugboat ropes – each almost as big as he is – that haul him offstage. Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada were brilliant with their material, especially so on first Thursday – their quick hand movements like flashing knives – and they received loud and enthusiastic ovations, of the sort usually reserved for Don Quixote.

Criss-Cross by Helgi Tomasson is fun and playful, a little in the manner of Square Dance. There is a nice transition where the members of the first part pivot on the spot, like a suite of swinging doors, to reveal the cast of the second half of the ballet just behind their backs. The piece begins with sunny Scarlatti, then switches to stately Handel, but then Schoenberg takes over, xylophone notes float just overhead and there are little twitchy and twiggy sounds all along the perifery. It's somewhat like what goes on in Brahms-Schoenberg, and likewise a little too sweet and melodical. It was all beautifully played by the ballet orchestra, as was the astringent and endlessly inventive Stravinsky score.


Added Wednesday:

Frances Chung and Carlos Quenedit in Francesca articulated the choreography with all sorts of fine details I hadn't seen before, in general opening it up and making it much more interesting. Chung developed more of a character than Kochetkova and Quenedit was more introspective than Boada and calmed down the character considerably. Now if only all the surrounding stagecraft, dry ice and ropes would quietly disappear ...

And Maria Kochetkova was perfect in Criss-Cross, as if the part had been written for her; she filled out every corner of the choreography.

Two distinguished ex-Balanchine dancers were in the audience, so it felt a little like the days of the B celebrations of 2005 or 2006.

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