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The DanceView Times, San Francisco Bay Area edition

Celebrating Balanchine

Square Dance, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Who Cares?
Balanchine Celebration: Program 6
San Francisco Ballet
t War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco, CA
March 26, 2004

By Marilyn Tucker
Copyright © 2004 by Marilyln Tucker
published 12 April 2004

Balanchine ballets have always been a strong suit in San Francisco Ballet's repertoire and for good reason. Lew Christensen, for more than 30 years the company's artistic director, had been Balanchine's first American Apollo in 1937, and the company's current director, Helgi Tomasson, was a principal with the New York City Ballet for many years. For the Balanchine Centennial Celebration San Francisco Ballet had no trouble coming up with six Balanchine ballets, including one local premiere. Two separate programs were offered a total of 17 times, with the company dancing its heart out and into ours.

With the inclusion of Who Cares? and Square Dance, the second program in the tribute had a certain Americana cast, although the ballet is now probably a square dance in name only. Created in 1957 to selections from Vivaldi and Corelli, Square Dance showed the links between classical ballet and American folk dance and featured a genuine square dance caller to call the action. Balanchine revised the ballet in 1976, eliminating the caller and the on-stage orchestra. While other companies like the Joffrey may still do the older version, San Francisco Ballet dances the revision. The program was completed with that cool classic, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, one of eight new ballets created by Balanchine for New York City Ballet's Stravinsky Festival in 1972. San Francisco Ballet has been dancing it since 1995 and never better nor more electrifying than in the performance I saw in March.

Bart Cook, along with Maria Calegari, staged Violin Concerto as a genuine tour de force. The first movement, the Toccata, crackled with energy and wit, the stage coming alive as each of the four principals—Lorena Feijoo, Julie Diana, Yuri Possokhov and Vadim Solomakha—led various combinations—girls, boys, boys and girls—of the 16 corps dancers in its joyous spin of complex rhythms and unaffected folk design. In Aria I, Feijoo, paired with Possokhov, did her best to tear up the stage, finally getting the best of an utterly exhausted Possokhov, who ended the duet flat on the floor. Feijoo is quite possibly the most intense and fearless of San Francisco Ballet's current female contingent.

But if this Aria struck fear, Aria II, danced by the lovely Julia Diana and a gallant Vadim Solomakha, was its opposite emotional number, with Diana seeming to put absolute trust in the chivalrous courting of Solomakha, the whole section appearing as the fulfillment of affectionate grace. The closing Capriccio, featuring the entire large cast, reached out like a hymn of praise.

Andrew Moreglia, San Francisco Ballet's new chief conductor, led the excellent ballet orchestra as he did for the other works on the program. Concertmaster Roy Malan was the soloist, giving a spirited account of this wonderful music, although focus and finish were not always up to par.

Bart Cook was also on hand to stage Square Dance, in which he danced the principal male role when Balanchine restaged it in 1976 in its present classical form. At that time, Balanchine gave Cook a great gift, adding a wonderfully pensive Sarabande solo, danced in San Francisco by Nicolas Blanc with right-on balance and depth. The weight of the Sarabande and its performance by Blanc gave to Square Dance was a welcome respite from the hurricane speed and fancy footwork that is otherwise the norm in this ballet. Vanessa Zahorian was the ballerina—a virtuoso role originally created by Patricia Wilde—and she never missed a beat. Zahorian is the most outgoing of dancers, combining requisite technique with warmth and an unwavering smile that puts an American heart back into Square Dance despite its classical makeover. Cheers also to the corps de ballet, which was unstoppable. The audience breathed a sigh of relief when it was all over, but then, I suppose, these terrific dancers did as well.

The company had much fun putting on the ritz with Who Cares?, settings of a bag full of Gershwin tunes that most anyone of a certain age would recall with great pleasure. Sandra Jennings staged the show, which Balanchine choreographed in 1970. The performance I saw seemed under-rehearsed, although the ensemble dances—"Somebody Loves Me," "Bidin' My Time," etc.—were OK. My main objection was the sameness and blandness of interpretation in the three solo women's dances: Rachel Viselli in "I'll Build a Staircase to Paradise," Tina LeBlanc in "Fascinatin' Rhythm," Sarah Van Patten in "My One and Only." I was grateful for the strong performance of the solo male, Ruben Martin, company soloist since last year, who is from Spain. I was seeing him for the first time, and I may take an oath to watch his progress in the future. Martin got the juices going in his Liza solo, and in his "The Man I Love" duet with Le Blanc the pair got temperatures to rise. A similar emotional transformation informed the cheeky and impudent "Who Cares?" duet with Viselli.

Photo:  Tina LeBlanc and Joan Boada in Balanchine's Square Dance (photo courtesy of SFB)

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 13
11 April 2004
Copyright ©2004 by Marilyn Tucker




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