That Time of Year: S.F. Ballet’s Gala Celebrating Thirty Years of Tomasson Guidance

26 Jan

The melange of celebration, virtuosity, fund-raising goals and lavish display of gowns and egos marked San Francisco Ballet’s Gala January 22 with the press placed where tickets had not been sold; i.e. two seats in and in the Grand Tier where I sat with Craig Ashton and Emma, writing for a local Russian weekly. We were treated with the Calla Lily Lady, wearing a dress of white jersey, the shoulders guarded by said floral shape, adorned with green images; it required her to book the couple’s seats on the aisle, final row in the middle of the Grand Tier; sight lines were preserved. Go to S.F. Gate’s website, to see good glimpses of a design fit for Swan Lake or Raymonda at the Bolshoi.

Seen were tops with bra-like backs and a legion of strapless gowns well-stiffened set off by pairs of arms lacking muscular definition. Dressing up is fun, but what of the body it inhabits?

In front of us a young couple exchanged kisses while the rest of us stood, hand over heart, singing The Star Spangled Banner;seats empty following intermission.

The Gala commenced with a local version of the Paris Opera’s defile where the school, the trainees and budding professionals come forward, men with black tights and romantic shirts, girls in white tunics, older ones in white tutus a few in black, and, naturally, tiaras. I couldn’t help thinking what a fiscal outlay the tutus represented, and the hours spent in creating them. The audience cheered.

Following the defile, John S. Osterweis was tasked with acknowledging the sponsors of everything from the cocktail hour to the post-Gala Party, the organizers, and announcing a major capital campaign for $65 millions, of which $43 millions have been raised. Fund campaigns are typically private until at least half the goal has been reached. Exceptional was the information that five endowments have been made for five principal dancers, presumably extending beyond the current occupants’ active dancing careers. Diane B. Wilsey was announced as the chair for the Capital Campaign. (She has just completed a similar task for the UCSF Hospital at Mission Bay.) That declared, the Infinite Romance Gala commenced.

Some five years ago Renato Zanella’s Alles Walzer was performed at a Gala. This time it featured Pascal Molat flexing his biceps, back to the audience, head in profile making certain the audience registered the contours. Besides multiple pirouettes and tours around the stage, Zanella managed to mesh goofy touches with appropriate phrases to Johann Strauss II. Molat gave way to Joan Boada, echoing the movements; the pair wound up dancing identical movements, Molat dancing the most comment, Boada leaning on the bravura.

Val Caniparoli’s pas de deux from A Cinderella Story featured Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz, Feijoo in a frothy white skirt with red accents. They swirled together, beautifully synchronized, to Ming Luke’s piano renditions of Richard Rodgers’ themes.

Helgi Tomasson’s take on the most rapturous variation of Rachmaninov’s Variations on A Theme of Paganini, saw Yuan Yuan Tan leaping and leaning on the arms of Tiit Helimets, with an ultimate lift into Helimets’ embrace.

Kurt Weill’s music was Christopher Wheeldon’s source for the pas de deux between Sofiane Sylve and Luke Ingham, titled There Where She Loved. Sylve danced a reluctant, passionate, partially convinced role while Ingham supported, pursued and persuaded. Finally, Sylve walked away; one could imagine hot and cold continuing.

In a unannounced switch, Francesco Geminiani’s adaptation of Corelli, Concerto Grosso, premiered at another Gala in 2003 featured three young men of the company’s corps de ballet: Esteban Hernandez, Diego Cruz, Max Cauthorn, Francesco Mungamba and Wei Wang. Dancing to two violins, a viola and cello, they commence with outward sweeping arm movements as they turn several times before forming a circle of grand jetes to the persistent, forward sound of the strings, ably played by Matthieu Arama, Marianne Wagner, Anna Kruger and Eric Sung. A series of solo variations follow with a pas de trois insert. Dressed in Milliskin unitards, Mungamba distinguished himself with the liquid quality of his line, Hernandez in red with bursts of virtuosity, Wei Wang for unaffected classic style. Cruz and Cauthorn, who danced the Harlequin in December’s Nutcracker, were hard to identify from the Grand Tier. The five danced as a unit. Tomasson is adept in fashioning classical male bravura.

Post intermission the offering sequence was changed, perhaps because Francisco Mungamba was scheduled for another series of killer variations. Instead Tchaikovsky’s tenuously melodic music sourced Alexei Ratmansky’s choreography, originally for the Het National under the title Souvenir D’un Lieu Cher, with Mathilde Froustey, Sarah Van Patten, Carlo di Lanno and Luke Ingham. Frankly it wasn’t clear whether the former dear was all that “former”, if the connection between the women made clear they were okay with the arrangement. Van Patten seemed to have the worst of it, with soloist Di Lanno, I think making his San Francisco Opera House debut, being very courteous about his position, while Ingham was stalwart about Van Patten’s uncertainty. I hope Ingham isn’t type-cast too much in having to be manly about feminine indecision. Froustey’s impulse contrasted muscularly with Van Patton’s hesitations, and in equal measure Ingham’s body movements with Di Lanno’s. I found the quartet compelling more about the body movements and attack than the content.

Sergei Rachmaninov’s music was Yuri Possokhov’s source for the pas de deux from Bells, apparently a longer work created for the Joffrey Ballet in 2011. Here Maria Kochetkova and David Karapetyan in flaming orange Milliskin, he stripped to the waist, she in bathing suit style by Sandra Woodall, maneuvered in contemporary style out of their mutual Russian training, their comparative height adding to the mix.

Finally, The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude returned the program sequence, choreographer William Forsythe’s familiar acid green pancake tutus inhabited by Dores Andre, Sasha de Sola and Jennifer Stahl, and Francisco Mungamba and Gennadi Nedvigin contrasting in attack and line, both wonderfully correct, and Andre particularly intense in her variation.

Frances Chung and Joseph Walsh premiered Christopher Wheeldon’s present for Helgi Tomasson’s 30th anniversary as artistic director with Borealis, music by Gavin Byrars. In silver tops and blue tights the imagery seemed designed to evoke lights glittering in northern winters.

Just before the finale pas de deux, the Tatiana-Onegin pas de deux was danced by Yuan Yuan Tan and Vitor Luiz. He danced masterfully, she emoted extravagently. Like Francisco Mungamba, Luiz as did Luke Ingham danced twice as did Tan – a double duty series which seemed unusual. That may be why the San Francisco Ballet Website lists an opening for a principal male dancer.

To complete the program Taras Domitro and Vanessa Zahorian winged their way through Le Corsaire pas de deux with clarity and great elan, Domitro’s exciting grand jetes and Zahorian finishing off her assignment with a series of single and double traveling fouettes.

After the curtain applause, the usual basket of flowers and individual nosegays for the cast of women dancing, several men in black emerged with trays of glasses, followed by John Osterweiss offering a toast honoring Helgi’s Thirtieth season. The gold curtain then descended.

Afterthought: the Gala listed three pianists in addition to Roy Bogas for the Paganini: Natal’ya Feygina, Mungunchimeg Buriad, and Ming Luke.

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