writers on dancing



"Prism”, “In the Night”, “Rush”
San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco
April 14, 2005

by Rita Felciano
copyright ©2005 by Rita Felciano

Familiar repertoire offers the comfort of the known but it lacks the spice of anticipation that a new piece injects into a program. Second and third looks, however, offer opportunities to notice details one may have missed during earlier viewings. And then, of course, there is the always special pleasure of watching new dancers put their own stamps on works from the past.

Helgi Tomasson’s “Prism, was commissioned in 2000 by the New York City Ballet as part of the Diamond Project. It seems a homage to the formality of Balanchine’s neo-classicism much the way Beethoven’s youthful “Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15” is an homage to Mozart. “Prism” is conservative in the way it uses the traditional soloist, demis and corps structure, but fresh in the details of its realization.

In the first movement, Tomasson, for instance, changed the position of the three demis around so that each had a turn at being “first among equals.” He did have Tina le Blanc enter with the soloist (pianist Roy Bogas) but two cavaliers joined her almost immediately. It spread the focus of attention. To have the radiant ballerina partnered by the two French-trained Nicolas Blanc and Pascal Molat was inspired casting. Similar in body build and sense of refinement, their gallantry never let up in framing and supporting the soaring LeBlanc.

Sarah Van Patten and Brett Bauer were less ideally matched in the adagio movement. Van Patten is a technically beautiful dancer with something of a smoldering personality but she danced so deliberately that one wondered if and how she heard the music. Every move from giving in to Bauer’s arms to the rounded port de bras looked calculated. Only in the cadenza did she finally come alive. Bauer is a tall, somewhat gangly corps member who partnered adequately but looked bland. A lovely touch was the way the corps couples shadowed Van Patten and Bauer out of a semi-dark background. It deepened the music’s lush romantic air.

Hansuke Yamamoto, a bouncing ball of a dancer, took Benjamin Millepied’s part in the third movement. He used to push his jumps and turns more like an athlete than a dancer but this has been a season of maturing for him. Despite a couple of missteps, he gave an integrated, crowd pleasing performance.

Male bravura dancing always excites audiences so Tomasson, no slouch at having the public in mind, choreographed the movement as a whirlwind of male dancing, set off by the soloist and, picked up by another half dozen males. Towards the finale he brought the whole ensemble together. Since Beethoven often builds his pieces towards such applause machines, Tomasson’s response made musical as well as audience-pleasing sense.

Jerome Robbins’ “In the Night” has been part of SFB's repertory since 1985 and was last seen in 1998 during the company’s all Robbins program. Katita Waldo and Vadim Solomakha, who is leaving SFB at the end of the season, again were paired as the mature couple; Yuri Possokhov repeated his role in the third pas de deux, partnering Lorena Feijoo. Premiering as the young lovers were soloists Rachel Viselli and Sergio Torrado. (I saw their second performance) Daniel Waite again was the excellent pianist.

Viselli and Torrado colored their budding romance with a sense of disbelief. Whether they had their arms around each other or approached from opposite directions, their dancing spoke of surprise and delight. They seemed to know what they were getting themselves into though not necessarily from personal experience but from having dreamed about it. A refined dancer with beautifully tapered feet, Viselli’s sense of wonder made her yielding to Torrado’s at times lankish entreating as natural as water finding its own path.

Gorgeous in Anthony Dowell’s golden brocades, Waldo and Solomakha’s dancing exuded a quasi aristocratic self-confidence and contentment. The pacing, the slight distance between them, the lightness with which her arm rested on his, or those funny perfectly synchronized knocks all spoke of ease and mutual respect. They also spoke of public persona. That’s why whatever caused Waldo’s agitation half way such a surprise. All of a sudden the private person came out. Waldo danced the disturbance as if she had been violated, and Solomakha answered in kind. The tiny beats in the upside down lift made one think of the Odile’s trembling heart. When the couple exited—she being carried overhead—their relationship had been changed.

Possokhov, who has danced little this season, matched Feijoo’s fiery temper displays with a quieter but no less authoritative power. Balanchine may not have liked that gesture of submission when the woman walks her hands from his head to his feet, but as a loving peace offering it has no equal. How Robbins created these abrupt, sometimes almost staccato turnabouts and dramatic throws to that particular music remains a wonder. A ballroom has been suggested as the meeting place for the couples’ get together but their airy spaciousness looked more like a moon light stroll in the Jardin de Luxembourg.

A new second cast—I saw them also in their second performance—interpreted Christopher Wheeldon’s “Rush”, in a lively, convincing manner. Commissioned for and first performed at SFB’s 2003 Edinburgh Festival appearance, the work entered SFB’s rep last season. The piece starts out rather calmly with two silhouetted couples (Elizabeth Miner/Rory Hohenstein and Megan Low/Jaime Garcia Castilla) bending and hopping as they stepped into the light. A rustling shudder traveling through the women’s torso set the stage for the vigorous but playful partnering to follow. Moves included floor level back bends for the women and moderate elevation lifts. The lovely central adagio paired Viselli with Moises Martin in an busy duet but with a calm center. Repeatedly Martin shifted Viselli’s body around, holding her leg like a crank to turn her or walking her gallantly around the stage. Clearly, in Wheeldon’s mind the idea of the man displaying the woman is alive. At the movement’s end Viselli tenderly cupped Martin’s head before they both sank to the ground. “Rush’s” most attractive derives from the windblown quality with which the piece’s five couple corps filled the large Opera House stage. Repeatedly Wheeldon set them up like soldiers on the sidelines only to have them explode across the space and pair up into what looked like individual duets. In fact they simply were the result of cleverly staggered variations.

Volume 3, No. 15
April 18, 2005

copyright ©2005 Marc Haegeman


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last updated on April 18, 2005