San Francisco Ballet’s Gala, January 19, 2012

21 Jan

Helgi Tomasson  knows how to assemble a Gala, mixing charm, bravura, substance, sweetness and, where necessary, pathos and high jinks.

Despite the rain after two months of mild sunlit days, the atmosphere in San Francisco’s Opera House was warm .  Chair of the Board of Trustees , John  Osterweis made the usual  opening remarks, mentioning  the Gala was dedicated to F. Warren Hellman’s memory.  He “went off script” to say  Chris and Warren Hellman had recruited him to the Board  twenty-five years ago and that San Francisco Ballet would not be the company today without  Hellman’s involvement.

The ten item program included six pas de deux, two male numbers, one solo, and the finale ensemble. To commence both halves of the program, Tomasson  featured the company’s strong contingent of men,  opening with Yuri Possokhov’s ensemble from Sergei Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony with Jaime Garcia Castilla, Diego Cruz, Isaac Hernandez, Steven Morse, Benjamin and Matthew Stewart. Separated from the women, the glimpse showed several striking devices;  initially silhouetted, the men  bounded across the stage like young stags, singly, successively and simultaneously and pirouettes executed with arms en haut.

The second half opened with Hans Van Manen’s Solo, a trio of male dancers last seen  when  Peter Brandenhoff, Stephen Legate and  Yuri Possokhov shared their farewell to SFB.  This trio included  Gennadi Nedvigin, Garen Scribner and Hansuke Yamamoto, in reverse order. Van Manen makes the three  prance, jump, wiggle and gesture with increasing complexity to J.S. Bach’s Violin Suite No. 1 in D Minor. Yamamoto was fleet, a bit laconic, Scribner contained , and Nedvigin covered territory like a comic in a Moiseyev  suite.

With Sarah Van Patten, Tiit Helimets, Pascal Molat danced in the scruffy red and blue death figure costume from David Bintley’s The Dance House. Van Patten and Helimets sculpted their roles to the Shostakovich music.

Damian Smith in red tights and white mask danced Val Caniparoli’s Aria, music by Handel.  Smith,  gesturing masterfully in commedia del arte tradition.

Three pas de deux followed ;  Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan with Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky’s pas de deux; Sofiane Sylve and Vito Mazzeo in Christopher Wheeldon’s Continuum, topped off by the Flames of Paris pas de deux with Frances Chung and Taras Domitro.

The Zahorian-Karapetyan rendition of roles created by Violette Verdy and Conrad Ludlow in 1960 differed by size and cultural nuance.  Zahorian’s longer limbs stretched the phrasing from Verdy’s accents, but the choreography was served admirably and Karapetyan partnered his new wife solicitously.  Sylve moved around Mazzeo like a vine expanding tendrils, beginning and finishing with each meeting the other with touching  palms, executed with spare deliberation.  It fell to Domitro  to dance the role created by Chabukiani in Flames of Paris; Domitro added his insouciant habit of pointed foot rising in his grand jetes.  Frances Chung polished her soubrette assignment with crisp pirouettes and traveling  multiple fouettes.

The evening’s greatest charm arrived with Sir Frederick Ashton’s Voices of Spring, Maria Kochetkova spewing rose petals, held aloft by Joan Boada, an ineffable nosegay to  Johann Strauss II’s  melody.  Ashton was a remarkable poet in his ability to depict the essence of a culture, a theme or music.

Yuan Yuan Tan was partnered by Hamburg Ballet’s Alexander Riabko in Lady of the Camellias, John Neumeier’s overwrought rendition to Chopin’s Ballade. The choice of music was overly long and required excessive repetition, calling attention to the repetition and not to the love story. Close to home, Val Caniparoli has created a similar pas de deux seen with Diablo Ballet, much  tighter and closer to the story.

The Gala finished with an excerpt from Christopher Wheeldon’s Number Nine, created for the company in 2011, a work  British spit and polish in its wing-like formations. Four pairs of soloists and eight pairs of supporting corps de ballet exhibited  women with bent knee and arabesque held aloft. In executing similar striking formations, the stage was a bit too busy for all out admiration.

Involving nearly half the company for the finale is a typical Helgi Tomasson  completion for  this consistently interesting Gala..

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