San Francisco Ballet 90th Anniversary Season
January 20, 2023
Strange and Wonderful
Opening night for SF Ballet’s season brought new works to the Opera House stage.
As promised, there were new choreographers and intriguing dimensions to Program One. The San Francisco Ballet is moving into new dimensions.
Robert Garland’s “Haffner Serenade” to music by Mozart (Serenade #7in D Major) was a ‘sweet’ work for “pas de deux” Julia Rose and Esteban Hernandez accompanied by eight dancers, four men and four women who provided the charming but simple interludes before and during as accompaniment to the the “pas de deux.” It is not a distinguished work but it served as the opener. All the dancers were capable, but they were not challenged by the choreographic patterns nor steps. The costumes, men in green and women in pink, did not provide visual delight.“Resurrection” is a challenging work, depicting a dominant woman Queen (described in print as austere and malicious) who kills her partner and “uses her powers of persuasion, beauty and magic…to find a suitor to love and assist in rulership of her tribe.” Jamar Roberts, choreographer, (formerly of the Alvin Ailey Company) is quoted as saying that a choreographer should think like a novelist.
The story of “Resurrection” is novel, dramatic and often painful as the Queen (danced by Doris André) more or less ‘creates’ her suitor (Isaac Hernandez) into the man she desires. Wanting Zhao and Aaron Robison are active candidates in the narrative accompanied by eight “members of the tribe” Although it is a fierce, dramatic work, full of aggressive movement and strong expansive gesture, this reviewer found it dramatically unconvincing. It is a challenge, as one friend remarked, to “create a story that is politically correct and also “Kafkaesque”.The set, a series of wonderful arches by choreographer and designer Jamar Roberts was most attractive and intriguing. “Resurrection” is set to Mahler’s “Totenfeier.”
One of the new dimensions of “Resurrection” is that NO women in the group wore point shoes. This is a challenge for the dancers as well as for an audience for whom ballet’s history of the last hundred years has required ‘pointe’ work. Without ‘pointe’ the dancers seem to have stronger torso and arm gestures; but that might also be part of this powerful new ballet’s choreographic strength.
“Madcap” the closing work on the program, choreographed by a woman, Danielle Rowe, was also a challenging new adventure. To a series of songs by composer Par Hagstom, Ms. Rowe (a former dancer with the Nederlands Dance Theatre) has taken the ‘anatomy’of the clown and dissecting it as inspiration for movement.” Starring as The Clown is the wonderful Tiit Helimets, whose dramatic ability enables the work to be sustained throughout the many episodes of humiliation and recovery. Other characters are The Oracle (Jennifer Stahl) the Juggled (Max Cauthorn, Alexis Valdes and Wei Wang), The Red Nose (Davide Occhipinti, Henry Sidford), The Mirror (Sasha De Sola), The Kid (Parker Garrison) and a chorus of “Mom Pa-Pa’s).
“Madcap” is a delightful yet painful portrayal of what is usually portrayed as a rollicking good time at a circus or carnival. Rowe has stripped the surface and brought forth the complexity and the grotesque beneath the joviality. Again, we the audience are brought to see and experience dimensions of ballet that have been rarely presented.
This challenging program will be repeated at the Opera House through February 11 to be followed by more and other innovative events throughout the “next@90 festival.”
Conductor Martin West and the SF Ballet orchestra continue their outstanding musical skill to accompany the ballets. New director, Tamara Rogo is to be congratulated on her plans for the “next@90 festival”.
See: sfballet.org/events for further information.