Mozart," "Concerto Grosso," "Study in Motion,"
"The Four Temperaments"
by Rita Felciano
Lacking the demands of new work where you just try to keep up with the ideas that choreographers throw at you, San Francisco Ballet’s fifth program was a relatively relaxed affair. Those thirsting for the new were likely to be disappointed. The evening, however, allowed you to pay attention to dancerly highlights, such as the expressivity of Katita Waldo’s back, whether in cambré or not, or the force of Sarah Van Patten’s grand battement. When you attempt to simply figure out what comes out of what such smile evoking particulars sometimes get lost. Still, dancers are only as good as the material they are given.
Helgi Tomasson’s juxtaposition of his 1991 “Meistens Mozart” with “Concerto Grosso” from two years ago may have been intended as a presentation of companion pieces. Both of them are small scale; “Mozart” employs three couples, “Grosso” eight men. One of them is intimate and lyrical, the other boisterously athletic. Both make use of appealing classical music. “Mozart” employs Viennese Choir Boy type of arrangements of songs by Mozart (and others); “Grosso” gets its name from Francscesco Geminiani‘s arrangement of a Corelli concerto—easy listening from the Baroque.
Yet there is a world of difference between these works Actually it’s the twelve years that lie between them. In that period Tomasson has become a much better, more subtle choreographer. With all the charm of its pastoral pursuits—the tiny flirtations, the picnic on the lawn atmosphere, the boys showing off for girls, the languid reposes—there is something almost cloyingly cute about “Mozart’s” posturings. “Concerto” is straightforward; its easy grace is not painted on but intrinsic to the choreography.
“Mozart’s” all new cast (Elizabeth Miner, Dores Andre, Dalene Bramer, Nicolas Blanc, Matthew Stewart and Joseph Phillips) imbued this slipper ballet with the requisite charm. Blanc danced his angled feet jumps and pristine entrechats with equal grace and just a touch of detachment. Andre delivered her sneezes on cue and, in the thigh slapping show off duet, Stewart and Phillips, a new, eager and open faced dancer with an appealing deportment, kept the reins in and didn’t fall into the parody trap.
Tomasson choreographed “Grosso” for the 2003 Gala and, because it proved to be a popular hit, added it to the subscription season at the last minute. Its point, as a showcase for male dancing still is valid; SFB’s men more than hold their own against the women. The cast (Pascal Molat, Garrett Anderson, Jaime Garcia Castilla, Rory Hohenstein and Hansuke Yamamoto) has remained the same. What about the dancers? Yamamoto’s performance was more integrated and relaxed though he still relishes his airbornness; Hohenstein showed an open-body lyricism which came as a pleasant surprise, and Castilla (who got injured right after the Gala) was pure elegance in wonderfully skimming jetes and modest cabrioles. The leader of the gang, Molat—at the time another newcomer from France—pulled off his tight pirouettes and such frolics as landing triple pas de chats on one knee with consummate ease.
The repeat of Yuri Posskhov’s “Study in Motion” (2004) proved a welcome opportunity to look at that work again, welcome in particular because this year’s full company “Reflections”, an ambitiously conceived though imperfectly realized essay on the complexities of classical structure, proved that choreographers, even gifted ones, have a learning curve that can trip them up.
Possokhov set “Motion” on four couples to rarely heard Scriabin piano pieces (superbly performed by Michael McGraw). Throughout fragments of narrative glinted like mica hit by light. The choreographer also played with perspective; unison duets seen from different angles looked as if performed on a turntable. When the women were sucked up into a corner, the seem to contract into a point. But then they splattered like water on a griddle, leaving Lorena Feijoo nakedly exposed.
The current performance showcased a partially new cast. Waldo was paired with Pierre-Francois Vilanoba while Peter Brandenhoff now partnered new-to-the-role Rachel Viselli, a lovely, delicatedly limbed corps member with a Modigliani-style face.
When the piece opened, Blanc lay on his side and, getting up, he began to explore the space, defined by wafting white curtains. Feijo blew in seemingly out of nowhere, or maybe almost accidentally. Throughout the relationship between these two very different dancers crackled, his cool elegance tempering but not extinguishing her more overt expressiveness. At times she seemed to submit to him—he traveled her in large floor-sliding second positions almost like a push car or, at another spot, she almost melted into him in a back-to-back encounter—but also she strongly asserted herself when trying to escape his reach.
Vilanoba’s partnering of Waldo—whether supporting her in under-arm lifts or on top of his shoulders—was always from the background. “I am here for you, whatever you need,” he seemed to say and she responded in a full-bodied, gracious way that was quietly sensual. Brandenhoff, who danced a beautifully detailed and mature Hilarion only a few days ago, looked oddly stolid in his mirroring duet with Viselli. He also appears to have bulked up, which tends to shorten lines.
Viselli, paired with Moises Martin, also danced the third theme in “The Four Temperaments.” These masterfully designed little duets set the tone for the variations. Viselli on Martin’s chest looked as if she was in a cocoon, stretching her legs out as if opening them into a brand new world. Such a simple gesture, yet so eloquently realized.
Gonzalo Garcia, danced Melancholic, with the echo of his first Apollo still resonating in his body. A lovely performance. Van Patten and Vadim Solomakha, as Sanguinic, were oddly matched. Her assertiveness, which even extended into the way she opened her arms in the traveling lifts around the stage periphery, pushed him into the shadows. It would have been easy to overlook the refined, technically excellent, but lacking presence, Solomakha.
Possokhov, languid, almost somnolent, defined Phlegmatic in the opening gestures. When he dropped his wrists and then his arms, he could have stopped right there. He still has a wonderful slinkiness about him though his plies are not quite as silken anymore. Muriel Maffre danced Choleric with accustomed authority.
With the principals doing their parts so expertly, this “Temperament” offered the opportunity to contemplate the supporting role for the corps. Clearly in part all female, because that’s what Balanchine had a lot of when he choreographed the piece in 1946, on one level they are almost the most interesting part of this extraordinary work. So impersonally conceived, so unified in their attacks, they feel like forces of nature. Or maybe rules that govern something or another. Do they react to or control these temperaments? I wish I could put my finger on it. If you do, please let me know.
Photo on front page: Nicolas Blanc and Lorena Feijoo in Possokhov's Study in Motion