San Francisco Ballet’s Program III, February 16, 26

18 Mar

For San Francisco Ballet’s Program III, Yuri Possokhov’s reading of Francesca da Rimini, Peter Tchaikovsky’s tone poem, was premiered between Helgi Tomasson’s Trio, also to Tchaikovsky music plus the revival of Alexei Ratmansky’s Les Carnival des Animaux, created for the company in 2003.  Making a balanced program is a challenge; happily, Tomasson’s commissions and staging of ballets premiered elsewhere has built up a healthy repertoire.

Trio provides some Russian accents and a Death  pas de trois conjuring Balanchine’s La Valse, made so memorable by its original trio of Tanaquil LeClerq, Nicholas Magallanes and Francisco Moncion. Here Sarah Van Patten, Tiit Helimets and Vito Mazzeo handled the pull and retreat of the fated female in more prolonged and in direct fashion.  Van Patten, of course, sharpened her role considerably.  Helimets and Mazzeo seemed muted.

The most frequently mentioned production of Francesca da Rimini prior to Possokhov’s interpretation was David Lichine’s for De Basil’s Ballets Russes; his first ballet, featuring Lubov Tchernicheva, Paul Petroff with Marc Platoff as Maletesta, here called Giovanni. There may be snippets available in the bootleg movies recorded by Ann Barzel in Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre;  otherwise, nothing remains beyond  a few telling  photographs by Maurice Seymour.

Possokhov eschews heavy makeup for the vengeful husband , and enjoys inspired costuming by Sandra Woodall with a spare, massive set design by Alexander Nichols. He modeled three Inferno guardians after Rodin’s sculptures of The Gate of Hell, with five shades in filmy scarlet with a touch of the medieval in stiff circles, higher than the most daring tutu, over which diaphanous fabric falls.  Francesca is given a faint grey gown accented by gold banding at the breast, looking as if it’s about ready to fall, though firmly attached to a nude chemise.  Paolo is given a red cap and an equally diaphanous  romantic blouse while Giovanni’s garment includes a short cape swirling effectively over substantial tunic  during the final confrontation.

Joan Boada and Maria Kochetkova danced the fated lovers at the premiere with Taras Domitro as Giovanni; starting stage right on stark stone steps Paolo/ Boada stood above the couple in the shadows, emerging to place the fated book in Francesca/Kochetkova’s hands.  Possokhov visualized the Tchaikovsky score as giving turbulence and a bitter sweet tenderness, using Francesca’s hands over Paolo’s shoulders, both moving their heads along the arms of each other, This  device I first saw used sparingly in Lew Christensen’s Norwegian Moods.  With the Possokhov use, it became a mournful repetition.

In his employment of scarlet shades, the figures from Hell, and the agony of the extended  pas de deux it was not hard to see Possoskhov’s own visceral images translated to the dancer, true to his comment about the choreographer feeling a ballet first on himself before objectifying it with his chosen dancers. Giovanni’s stabbing first of Francesca and then of Paolo as he lifts his beloved was stark, then being lassoed into the mists of the Inferno by the guardians,  the intensity of his vision matching the Tchaikovsky score.

Frances Chung and Carlos Quinidet were oddly juxtaposed, he an awkward post-adolescent wearing a scarlet cap, reminiscent of a Renaissance masterpiece.  Chung had just danced the third movement with Gennadi Nedvigin in Tomasson’s Trio; the exhaustion gave a quiet making her Francesca all too aware of her helpless situation. Between infatuated youth and fated woman scarcely her senior, the prolonged pas de deux seemed totally impelling.  Daniel Deivison-Olivera’s predatory Giovanni helped dance the narrative its intense way to Tchaikovsky’s score’s soaring conclusion.

Les Carnival des Animaux, the Alexei Ratmansky revival from 2003, allowed the audience to wind down to a whimsical program ending.  To the Saint-Saens suite, the animals clustered anxiously around the Lion, Pierre-Francois Vilanoba  February 14, only to see him  pecked comically into submission by the Hens.  Vilanoba conveyed a wry comic confusion ; ditto Sofiane Sylve’s Dying Swan, carted off in a collective disposal effort.  The brief pas de deux between Clara Blanco and Isaac Hernandez as Hen and Rooster in the second cast was marked  by alluring invitation.


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